Monday, January 24, 2011

A Reliable Wife

I have a love-hate relationship with the neighborhood book club. Basically, I love the snacks and hate most of the selected books.

Actually “hate” is too strong a word since I don’t manage to get around to reading most of the books. If the selection is too scholarly or lengthy, I won’t even seek out a copy at the library. I have far more important things to do, like catch up on “Real Housewives” marathons.

And if a book doesn’t grab me at the start, I don’t feel compelled to keep reading it (which is why I’m still not even 50 pages into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; I keep hoping I’ll be stranded somewhere long enough that I’ll have no choice but to get to the parts that I’m promised will suck me into the story).

So when my neighbor offered me her library copy of this month’s selection, I figured I’d page through it, then pass it along to someone more worthy. I sure didn’t expect to be sucked in so much that I finished it over one evening and morning, reading pretty much nonstop. It certainly helped that it was written in true “potboiler” style, but the characters turned out to be compelling, too.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick involves the arranged marriage of Ralph Truitt, a wealthy small-town businessman in turn-of-the-century Wisconsin who advertises for “a reliable wife, compelled by practical, not romantic reasons.” Catherine Lands answers the ad – but this is no Sarah, Plain and Tall. Both Ralph and Catherine have sordid pasts that contributed to their desperate present circumstances. While Ralph is forthcoming about the good, bad and (very) ugly of his history, Catherine is nothing close to how she has presented herself to her new spouse.

The narrative moves along at a good clip, so I won’t go into the plot any further. I will say, however, that the author does a very good job of presenting very complete characters. The reader isn’t thoroughly repulsed by character faults and weaknesses, and character development comes about very organically. Ralph, Catherine, and others who play heavily in the story have nothing to recommend them, but we are led to understand and accept why they are as they are, and how their traits and experiences influence the story.

It was also very interesting to read what could be loosely considered an historical romance that’s written by a man, not a woman. Sex plays heavily in this story, and it’s not the romance-driven sex of your typical bodice-ripper; nor is it a Victorian-era “Penthouse.” It is the blunt, sometimes graphic viewpoint of a typical male, and as a reader who isn’t into romance as a genre, I found that refreshing.

From a historical standpoint, the author was inspired by works about madness running rampant through small towns in the early 20th century. In an era of both innovation and desperation, people from all walks of life were drawn to unspeakable acts. I’m now interested in delving deeper into this time period; the author’s note mentions a book that inspired the novel’s setting, and I plan to check it out.

Best of all, this month at book club I won't be the attitude problem in the corner, hoarding the snacks.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


By Emma Donoghue  336 pages, winner of's Best of the Month, Sept 2010.

This book is very hard to put down.  It is the story of a young boy, 5 years old, who is held captive with his mother in an old shack behind the house of their captor.  We learn he is the product of a rape, and his mother does everything in her power to allow him to be as normal as possible given the circumstances.

This story is full of painful moments, but it is told through such an innocent voice. So many things that we take for granted, such as the feel of the breeze, are foreign for Jack, the narrator, and when they finally escape from their captor, a whole new world of dangers and problems arise.

It is an amazing story of survival, courage, and most of all, a mother's love.  Highly recommend!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I'd enjoyed Jonathan Franzen's first book, "The Corrections," so I thought I'd read his next. Good choice.

This was the story of two people who needed to tear themselves apart before they could be together. It's also a story of family, diverse backgrounds and ways of life.

I have more fun reading the books than talking about them; that's why I won't join a book club, even though my friend has been pestering me to join hers forever! At least here, I can say as much or as little as I want.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Writing Circle.. by Corinne Demas

Just finished this last night.  I loved the book, the characters were vivid and engaging.  The plot was well thought out and well executed, but (you knew there was a but in there, didn't you?) I was not happy with the ending.  I won't give anything away, but I closed the book feeling like I missed something, or more aptly, was left hanging.  There were too many ends which remained loose, too many questions unanswered for the novel to feel finished.

Overall, however, I would recommend it. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Beth's Summer Reading Extravaganza

OK. So I read a LOT this summer. It felt so GOOD to read so MUCH. In previous summers, I was plowing through graduate school, so I was doing a lot of reading, but not much that others would enjoy.

But THIS summer!!!

So here's a list, along with a sentence or two about my impressions:

1. "Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace," by Ayelet Waldman. This is a collection of essays over all things motherhood. Waldman is known for her plain speaking about motherhood, both the good and the bad. One of the things she wrote about that really resonated with me was that we need to be the parents our children need us to be, not the parents that we wish we were or that we wished we had when we were kids. I have to keep that in mind all the time, because I'm all getting worked up over some perceived injustice regarding my kids that my kids don't really care about. So I have to restrain myself.

2. "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present," by Harriet M. Washington. I decided to read this book after reading "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," which I reviewed previously. This book upset me SO MUCH. What in the hell makes people think it's OK to experiment on black people just because they're black? I was just stunned and shocked and pissed off.

3. "Columbine" by Dave Cullen. Another book that made me angry. The day that the Columbine shootings happened, I was six months' pregnant with Kyle. I am not pro-homeschooling for many reasons, but that day, that instant, I thought that all I wanted to do was keep my son in my house and not let him out for any reason whatsoever. This book was written with a journalist's eye and a lot of what I learned surprised me.

4. "My Horizontal Life" by Chelsea Handler. This was a desperation book. I had tried to read something by Sarah Vowell and it wasn't happening. So I read this one. I had heard that Chelsea Handler was hilarious, but I didn't really feel it with this book. It was OK.

5-7. "Poppy Done to Death," "Last Scene Alive," and "A Fool and His Honey," by Charlaine Harris. These are very light reading books, from the Aurora Teagarden series. They're mysteries and fairly enjoyable.

8. "Theater Geek: The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor, the Famous Performing Arts Camp: by Mickey Rapkin. This was pretty interesting. He basically gave the history of this drama camp, as well as followed some campers during their summer there. I enjoyed it.

9. "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory" by Mickey Rapkin. A chronicle of four or so a cappella groups as they travel to nationals. Entertaining.

10. "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal" by Ben Mezrich. Follows the founding of Facebook from the college dorm room where it all began. It's a more complicated story than you'd think. It's relevant because the legal battle is still going on.

11. "Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook" by Anthony Bourdain. Yum! This was a collection of essays by Bourdain. I liked it, although I wanted MORE. He talked about a dinner he was invited to at a restaurant with a bunch of famous chefs. But he didn't talk about the chefs themselves or what they said.

12. "The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story" by Richard Preston. Preston relates the story of the summer of the anthrax attacks. Fascinating.

13. "The Cobra Event" by Richard Preston. OK. Preston is known for writing non-fiction about weird illnesses and biological terrorism and stuff. So I bought this book and started reading it, thinking it was the same as his others. Except I didn't recall any of these events happening. Yep, it was total fiction. Good thing, because it was damn scary. I liked it, though.

14. "Shiprocked: Life on the Waves with Radio Caroline" by Steve Conroy. I watched "Pirate Radio" about the pirate radio ships in the international waters off Britain and wanted to know more (the movie is really good, BTW). This book served as a reference of sorts to the people who made the movie. It was interesting, although I would like a little more background to the whole thing, some history.

15. "The Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People," by Tim Reiterman. I am fascinated by cults. I always wonder how people fall for that crap. Well, now I know. As I started reading this HUGE book, I was thinking, "Hmmm. Jones' ideas sound pretty good to me." He advocated socialism, which I'm actually a fan of, but then it turned ugly. Whenever you involve people, a pure idea always gets turned. Anyway, the whole thing was horrifying, but incredibly interesting. Sort of like a car wreck that you can't turn away from.

16. "Whip It by Shauna Cross. I love the movie, and this is the novel upon which it was based. It's very, very close to the movie, so it was OK. I would love to find a non-fiction book about roller derby. That's really what I was looking for.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

Can a book be pretty good, but at the same time make you feel pretty bad? What an oxymoron, but that’s exactly what I thought as I read this novel. It pulls you in with its intriguing story line. You get pulled into the world of the pessimistic little girl, Rose, whose point of view the story is told from. Rose finds out on her ninth birthday that she has an unusual gift (or curse). She can taste feelings and emotions in her food. She knows immediately how the person preparing the food felt. She tastes sadness, depression, anger, loneliness and occasionally she can taste their joy. Its one thing to identify with someone’s emotions, but it’s a whole different thing to actually feel what they are feeling. The reader is swept up in waves of emotions right along with little Rose.

The characters in Rose’s family are an engaging bunch. There is her hardworking but distant father, her flighty mother, a sullen and mysterious older brother and her out of state grandmother who seems to be mailing her entire life away piece by piece. Rose, as a child, has to deal with all the emotional turmoil going inside each of them, understanding more about her parent’s true emotions and feelings in each of their relationships than any child should.

This seems to be a novel without an ending. There is no resolution or final wrap up. Things are just they way they are. It’s a journey and for awhile, you get to travel along with Rose on her journey and feel what she feels. She pulls you in as she deals with her unusual ability while juggling, school, friendships, work, and of course love over the years. Then the novel ends and you are still there - - feeling all emptiness and sadness long after the final page and in a weird way, wishing the journey wasn’t over quite so soon. The novel challenges you to think about those around you and what their true feelings may be under the mask of the smile on their face. It makes you examine your own life and your own relationships and try to taste the underlying flavors of the people that surround you every day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows.  Dial Press, 279 pages

This was a tough book for me to get into, because it is unconventional in its presentation.  This story unfolds through letters written to and from the main characters.  Much like keeping the time-frame correct when reading THE TIME TRAVELERS WIFE, you need to be cognizant of the author of each letter, as well as its intended recipient.  There are holes in the story, which one would expect if only reading letters between people, and this made me a bit confused at times.

The story is, however, very worth the effort.  Its a lovely sliver of a view into the lives of people who lived on the island during the German occupation, their survival, and how they, through it all, never lost their sense of community, or their sense of humor.  There were times I laughed out loud at some of the exchanges.  I'd recommend this for times when you have both the energy and time to devote to getting into it.