2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Tina has read 0 books toward her goal of 39 books.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

REVIEW AND AUTHOR INTERVIEW for The Smart One and the Pretty One


TITLE: The Smart One and the Pretty One

AUTHOR: Claire Lazebnik
DATE: September 2008
GENRE: Contemporary Fiction

RATING: 4 Stars

I was privileged to be able to read this book, thanks to the author Claire Lazebnik and her publicist Miriam who were kind enough to send me an ARC.

Thank you to both of you. You were a joy to work with.

I loved Claire Lazebnik's book - Knitting Under the Influence and was thrilled to find out that she was writing another book!

When I received The Smart One and the Pretty One, I jumped on it and I was not disappointed.

In The Smart One and the Pretty One, we find two sisters - AVA and Lauren and while both of them are extremely different (one is supposedly smart and the other one is supposedly pretty) the reality is that both are extremely similar both in the smarts department and in the beauty department - except that neither believes it. Ava is convinced that her only attribute is that she is smart and Lauren believes that her only attibute is that she is pretty, yet Lauren has not trouble seeing both brains and beauty in Ava and Ava has no trouble seeing the same of her sister.

I loved this relationship. Unliked many storylines, the two sisters truly and honestly care about each other, without any of the petty jealousy that often flares up in this type of situation. The author also adds a surprising twist in the earlier part of the book, when AVA and Lauren's mother gets sick - this adds a heavy dose of reality to the storyline and brings the sisters closer still.

Throughout all of this, both sisters will each meet a man of their own (I loved the way Ava meets her guy - very clever and cute), but I have to say that the guy aspect of this book is not at the forefront of this book.

Claire Lazebnik main relationship here is that of the sisters and this works very, very well. Its nice to see the men take a backseat to a loving, sisterly relationship.

Both of the girls are strong in their own rights and stand by their beliefs and principles.

I love the way Claire writes. Her writing is down to earth (a high compliment from me), interesting, reverent, funny and an absolute joy.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Run to the bookstore!


Welcome Claire!!!!

Q: This book clearly shows the differences between the two sisters AVA and LAUREN - but there is no petty jealousy or hate between them - they truly care about each other - which is refreshing. What is the basis behind the creating of this relationship?

CLAIRE: Well, I'm the youngest of four sisters (and one brother) so it's pretty much based on my real-life experience--not the plot but the feeling behind it. I wrote an article for SELF magazine last year in which I wrote about how hard it is to maintain a sense of self growing up when you're constantly being compared to your sisters, but I also pointed out "it takes a sister to know a sister." No one else gets you the same way, and while you can drive each other crazy at times, there's a basic loyalty there that pretty much nothing can destroy. My whole writing career was started because my sister Nell was a successful magazine writer and was offered an article that she told the editor to let me try my hand at. Since then, she's promoted my career in every way possible. That's the kind of support I was thinking about when I had Ava and Lauren set out to help each other, despite their differences and occasional squabbling.

Q: Why is Ava unable to show emotion to her father?

I think that's simply a reflection of who she is AND who he is. He's prickly and moody--although there's no question he loves his family (or I hope there's no question). Because Ava is self-conscious and sensitive, she's a bit nervous around him. It sort of shuts down her ability to just reach out to him for a hug or anything like that. And because she's close to her mother, she gets all that emotional warmth from her so she doesn't really look to him for that. Meanwhile Lauren, who assumes everyone adores her, has no fear of her father's moods and is comfortable with him physically. And I think the dad kind of likes that, so he becomes more comfortable with her.

There's a real epiphany for Ava in the book when it dawns on her how much her parents really do love each other. I think parents are often so busy with the kids during the day that they don't appear to interact with each other all that much, and the kids grow up feeling like their parents don't necessarily have much of a relationship, that they're all about the kids. But of course a family starts (and ends) with that original couple.

Q: Lauren does a lot of growing up in this book and Ava does a lot of growing down - do you feel as though they are on a more similar footing now?

Oh, that's interesting. I would never have said that Ava grows DOWN necessarily. I guess I would put it this way: Lauren learns to be more responsible and Ava learns to be more self-confident. The irony of the book's title is that they're both smart and they're both pretty, and the arc of the story is really more about their realizing that--and accepting it--than anything else. For Lauren, accepting her own intelligence means she can't just pretend not to understand how finances work--she has to take responsibility for her own profligacy. And for Ava, accepting her own attractiveness means she has to come out of her shell, allow herself to love and be loved, and even enjoy flaunting and increasing her beauty.

Ava's constant comment that she wants to meet a man who will not change her is a common theme throughout the book - why is she so worried about this?

Because if someone wants to change you, that might mean he isn't happy with you the way you already are. And if you're self-conscious and insecure--like Ava--then that's your secret terror--that everyone thinks there's something deeply wrong with you. It's not that she's scared of changing, it's that she's scared that someone she could fall in love with might think she NEEDS to change before he'd be willing to love her back. She needs to feel like she's loved for who she is already--and then she'd be open to anything, I think. Once again, it's all about self-confidence.

Now to change to a broader subject, what is your general feeling about contemporary stories written for a female market? Do you believe that the market is still as strong as ever and that the quality is getting better and better?

Well, Jane Austen is dead, so no.

More seriously, I think there's no simple answer to that last question. There are always really talented, amazing writers out there and some real duds. And popularity doesn't necessarily correlate to talent, but that's probably always been true--I'm sure Jane complained about Mrs. Radcliffe's success.

One problem with the market today is that it's so swamped you have to find a way to sell yourself, and that's not easy if what you love to do is sit in a room and write. Selling a book is a completely different skill from writing one but it's just as necessary for a successful writing career these days. Which also means that being famous makes it much easier to sell a book, so you're finding a lot of bestseller books out there written by the already-famous (or the married to the already-famous) and that's a bit maddening. I co-write non-fiction books about autism and when our first book was published, we noticed that half the authors on the non-fiction bestseller list had appeared naked in some public way. My co-author Lynn Koegel and I always joke about how we're going to release a sex video right before our next book comes out.

It would be nice if literary success were always about the quality of the book, but that's just not how it works. That's probably true in any field, by the way--being able to sell yourself or your product is probably more linked to success in general than any actual skill. Of course, I'd rather read an obscure good book than a bestselling bad one--but don't ask me which one I'd rather write. That's way too hard to answer.

Q: What is your view of chick lit?

Oh, it's like anything else--some books that fall into that category are genuinely good, smart, inventive books and some are formulaic and uninteresting. I don't think it needs to exist as a genre--I think most of those books could just be "fiction"--but if it's a useful marketing tool, who am I to complain?

When I wrote my first novel (Same as it Never Was, for St. Martin's), I was surprised to find it was being classified as "chick-lit." As far as I was concerned, I had just written a novel. Since then, I've accepted the fact that the kind of book I write fits into the chick-lit mold, and am just grateful that the word "intelligent" often gets slapped on before the "chick-lit." But it still seems a little weird to me to be categorized like that.

But I'm not on a soapbox about this or anything. I feel incredibly lucky to have been picked up by 5 Spot--I love their books and am truly honored to be on that list.

Q: If you were not a writer, what other profession would you have chosen?

I was an English Lit major in college which prepares you for absolutely nothing other than going to graduate school. I did that, by the way--I got a full scholarship to get my PhD in English Literature. I lasted three weeks in the program. Apparently, I was done with school and just hadn't realized it.

I was never good at anything other than writing--I have no other talents. Although I do like to bake. I doubt I could have succeeded at that as a career, but it's a nice dream.

The truth is I could be very happy simply being a full-time mom and actually did that for a while. Sometimes I think it would be nice to retreat to that one main task--if I weren't trying to have this writing career, I could focus more on just being a good mom (and also probably keep the house much neater). Sometimes that sounds really wonderful to me. There are days when balancing work and home feels really hard. But overall I'm glad I have both things in my life. And I think it's good for the kids to know that I have my own life, my own career, my own thoughts and pursuits. It's what I want for all of them.

Q: Some authors feel as though their books are like their children, is this true for you?

I have four kids and am about to have my fourth book published so it does make for a perfect parallel.

But, nah, not really. When someone criticizes a book of mine, I'm likely to think, "Oh, yeah, I did mess up, I should have done better." Whereas if someone were to criticize a KID of mine, I'd think, "Screw you, my kid's great." That's a pretty big difference.

Plus books don't wake you up at 2 am because they're throwing up.

Actually, now that I think about it, I don't get people who say that. My kids are living, breathing, interesting, maddening, lovable human beings with unknown futures. A book is a finished product. Once I've finished promoting a book, I don't think about it all that much anymore--I'm onto the next project.

Q: Describe your ideal writing place.

The Starbucks on Montana and 15th. I realize you probably mean "ideal" as in the "perfect, imagined," but my ideal place exists. I love writing there (so long as I get a good table). It's got the right noise level, the right coffee, the right outlets (so I can plug in my laptop). Most of The Smart One and the Pretty One was written there. There's a Starbucks in the Palisades I like too, but this one's my favorite. I don't know why people bother renting offices when Starbucks exists--I get ten times more work done there than in the same amount of time at home. Oh, and best of all, Joss Whedon writes at that Montana Starbucks sometimes. I've never had the guts to approach him, but someday I will.

Q: Any plans for future books? if so, can we get a little scoop?

Well, I have another non-fiction book coming out this winter--does that count? Growing up on the Spectrum will be published in March by Viking. It's sort of a sequel to the first book about autism I co-wrote (with Lynn Koegel) which is called Overcoming Autism. This one is about how to support teenagers and young adults on the spectrum as they grow up, date, get jobs, go to college and so on.

As far as fiction goes, I'm working on something, but it's in the very very early stages and I'm a little superstitious about talking about a project that might never see the light of day. Plus I rewrite everything so much that nothing stays the way it starts out. So far it's in the first person, like my first novel. I kind of love writing in the first person--it's much more emotionally involving for me, although I do find I have a tendency to retreat into sarcasm as a narrator.

I've been blogging a bit, so if anyone wants to read what I'm thinking about these days, they can check out
It's not polished, but I'm learning as I go along and welcome comments and advice.

A huge thank you to Claire. Please make sure to check out her new book.


Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie said...

Thanks for the great review and interview. This book is definitely going on my TBR list.

The two sisters in the story seem very similar to how people view a few sets of twins I know, saying "oh she's the smart one" while the other is "the pretty one".

avisannschild said...

Great interview, Tina. I know you think I don't read chick-lit, but this book sounds like one I'd enjoy. I love that she writes in the same coffee shop as Joss Whedon!

Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the My Time kit by Studio Thaty Borges