Sunday, February 28, 2010
Review: A Reliable Wife
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Reasons for reading: Book club selection for March
Description: "He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for "a reliable wife." She responded, saying that she was "a simple, honest woman." She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly and carefully, leaving her a wealthy widow, able to take care of the one she truly loved. What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own. And what neither anticipated was that they would fall so completely in love."
First line: "It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet."
My thoughts: This one didn't really do it for me. My friend Vidalia described it as "dreary" and a lot of it is, slogging through the Wisconsin winter. It's an intriguing premise, the ad in the paper. And there's also a lot of lust and sexual guilt and attempted murder! But even those didn't really spice it up much. The lust and guilt made me feel rather icky (particularly Truitt's religious zealot mother who brands him as a lustful sinner from the moment of his birth). And a lot of the time I found myself saying to the characters, especially Catherine, "What are you doing? Stop this and live a decent life, it's not that hard! You can change the path you're on." I don't buy the "they would fall so completely in love" from the description - Truitt appears to love Catherine and she loves him in a way, but it's hardly the romance of the century. They each have secrets and misdeeds and ulterior motives. But there are some twists and turns that jazzed it up a bit.
There are also these weird references to people going mad, killing themselves and each other, drowning babies, etc. Goolrick's note says it was inspired by a nonfiction book called Wisconsin Death Trip that contained similar events during this time period, the beginning of the 20th century. That actually sounds fairly intriguing, but sprinkled throughout this novel, it just added to the general oddness. And I'm just not that into oddness in my fiction. But do check out other reviews online, most of them are great. I seem to be in the minority.
Four Month Challenge Part 2 Wrap-Up
Hooray, I finished just in the nick of time with a fairly respectable 105 points! Thanks so much to our lovely hostess at She Read a Book for hosting - it's fun to have a shorter-duration challenge with so many options!
A book with a wintry theme:
Let it Snow by John Green, et al.
A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction:
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
A book starting with A and one with Z:
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Zombie Blondes by Brian James
A book and write a review:
Full of Grace by Dorothea Benton Frank
A biography: Dear Fatty by Dawn French
A book about a king/queen:
The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory (also for What's in a Name?)
A book by an author born during one of the 4 months:
Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson (February 16!)
Review: Dear Fatty
Dear Fatty by Dawn French
Reasons for reading: I lurve Dawn French; 15 points for the Four Month Challenge for an autobiography
From the jacket flap:
So, you're still dead. It's been over 30 years and every day I have to remind myself of that fact, and every day I am shocked. I'm not 19 anymore and many things have happened that we haven't shared, so I have decided to write this book for you. I want to remember our time together and I want to tell you about lots of stuff since. So far, it's been better than expected...
With a sharp eye for comic detail and wicked ear for the absurdities of life, Dawn French shows just how an RAF girl from the west country with dreams of becoming a ballerina/air hostess/bridesmaid rose to be one of the best loved comedy actresses of our time.
Here Dawn French shares her story, and in particular with her father who committed suicide when she was nineteen years old. She invites us into her most personal relationships with, among others, her mum and dad, her husband, her daughter and her friend Jennifer.
Dawn reveals the people, experiences and obsessions that have influenced her and that helped shape her comedy creations - including kissing, dogs, grandmas, David Cassidy, teenage angst, school, stealing, Madonna and not forgetting chocolate. She is as open about her fears and sorrows as she is about her delights and joys, and for the first time shares the experience of losing her beloved dad and later finding a tip-topmost chap in Lenny Henry.
From raging about class, celebrity and bullying to describing the highs and lows of motherhood and friendship, Dear Fatty reveals the surprising life behind the smile."
My thoughts: The letters-to-people method was a pretty good way of writing an autobiography. It made it fairly quick to read and some of them are hilarious, particularly the ones (actual or re-rememered, I'm not sure) to celebrities from the young Dawn. My favourite was "Dear The Monkees" where she asserts that, unlike all those other silly fans who have a favourite Monkee, she loves them all the same even though Peter is "the good-lookingest and funniest for me." I have to disagree with her there, I had a crush (approximately 20 years later than hers) on all of the other 3 Monkees, but never Peter. So she and I may have to have a throw-down on that one.
She states and it's true that the book should be called Dear Dad, because most of the letters are to him. It's really touching how she still feels a connection with him, despite his suicide so many years ago. And it makes sense, I can see how she'd want to tell him all the things that have happened since then. The part about his suicide is gut-wrenching to read and it really shows her strength of character and the strength of her family to have come through it and still manage to be such a life-affirming person. She's obviously blessed to have attracted so many "beloveds" into her life - I really envy her all those deep, varied friendships. Made me think I need to work harder with my own beloveds.
The letters to Fatty, who is Jennifer Saunders, are almost all horrendously bad jokes, although there's a great one that sums up their friendship and partnership at the end, as they're just finishing their last French and Saunders tour.
I love how Dawn has such positive self-esteem, a rarity for us larger ladies. She gives the credit to her parents. I also like how she can laugh about her size - she goes on about her shape in a letter to her niece, describing herself as a Weeble or hobbit and wondering about the purpose of "these massive ocean-going buoy chests? I know bosoms are womanly, but these surely belong to many women." I hear ya, sister!
There's a lovely letter describing her husband to her dad, since he didn't get to meet him, with mostly his many virtues but also his quirks and flaws. She writes not so much a love-letter as a thank you letter to her husband, which shows they've had many happy years together and have come through some tough times, too. There's a hilarious one about seeing The Exorcist with her mum. There's a series of very funny, very badly-grammared ones to Madonna, who apparently F&S have a bit of a hate-love relationship with because she constantly refused to come on their show. And the Queen Mum visited their house on the RAF base when Dawn was a toddler and scared the poor little thing (Dawn, not the QM, even though they were roughly the same height) to death! Oh, and she recounts her painfully bad audition to be in the Mamma Mia film - apparently Dawn's singing is actually worse than a cow in labour.
The only minus of the letters is that some of them it's hard to know who the person is. Maybe her British audience knows all of them. And it doesn't really matter. There were just a few where I kept wondering "Who are you?"
The verdict: If you like Dawn French, you'll like this book. I learned a lot about her and now want to see even more of her TV shows and films. I especially have to buy the complete Vicar of Dibley DVD set and have a lovely marathon.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Review: The Key to the Golden Firebird
The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson
First line: "Chome on," Palmer said, her words dulled from numb-tongue syndrome caused by the Icee she was slurping. "You haff to admit it wash funny."
My thoughts: This is definitely not my favourite Maureen Johnson book. I think that's still 13 Little Blue Envelopes. But it's still a good book. The reason I had put off reading it is that I (correctly) assumed that the death of a parent was going to cast a pretty big pall over the usual Johnson crazy-funny, and I was right. But that's not entirely a bad thing, it just makes it a different kind of book. It was really sad to see the way the Gold women completely fell apart. I felt sorriest for the girls, though, because even though I know the mother was suffering, too, she's the adult in the situation. But, of course, she had to support the whole family, so she ended up dumping most things on May and can't see that her one daughter is a drunk and the other has panic attacks so bad she never sleeps. But sweet Peter, who is definitely not May's childhood nemesis any more, continually steps in to save the day, so he's a real bright spot in the book. And there's definitely lots of Johnson's trademark humour, especially at the beginning (a plot to get naked photos of Peter) and the end (a highly illegal but wonderful stunt at a baseball game). By the end, the sisters have started to heal both themselves and their relationship with each other. And the Golden Firebird provides a nice link to their father - each girl has different memories of spending time in the car with him. And May's attempts at driving it are also humour high spots.
The verdict: This definitely feels like the earlier work that it is, but for a fairly quick read about an interesting trio of sisters, it's worth a look.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Click the image to tell MizB what you found!
As part of the Blog Improvement Project, I want to get more involved in the blogging world, so I'm trying out some of these weekly events. Here are some books I added to my TBR list this week! (Sorry they're not all from blogs this week, but I figured a good book spotted would count either way!)
From the Food category of the What's in a Name? Challenge, I found:
Roastbeef's Promise by David Jerome at Lynne's Little Corner
The Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman at Reading, Writing, and Retirement
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman was featured in my library's monthly new books e-newsletter.
I liked the title and the look of The Corner Booth Chronicles when I saw it on my library's New Books shelf, but discovered it's a sequel, so first I need to read Welcome to Eudora by Mimi Thebo.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
Reasons for reading: I knew as soon as I read the review and ordered it for the library that I had to read about this unicorn hunter!; Young Adult Challenge
Description: "Astrid had always scoffed at her eccentric mother's stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend—thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to the prom—Astrid finds herself headed to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries. However, at the cloisters all is not what it seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from the crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to—perhaps most dangerously of all—her growing attraction to a handsome art student . . . an attraction that could jeopardize everything."
" "I WILL NEVER REALLY LEAVE," said the unicorn. Diamond sparkles floated from the tip of its glittering silver horn. "I will always live in your heart."
I swallowed the bile rising in my throat and forced myself to continue reading."
My thoughts: This was a cool book! The reviews contain lots of apt comparisons to eternally-fabulous Buffy and it made a nice change from vampires and zombies. Some of the best parts are the ones like the first lines, where the fairytale version of unicorns is contrasted against the man-eating beasts of "reality" - there are even various species of unicorn, who knew? I really liked Astrid, she comes across as very sardonic and not too sure of herself and she blossoms (rather against her will at first) into Astrid the Warrior.
I confess I got a bit confused about the history of the battles between hunters and unicorns, but that was pretty minor and my fault for not paying enough attention. And Astrid is confused at first, too, so I wasn't the only one! There is nothing fluffy about this book - there's a lot of violence and gore and some pretty bad people. Astrid's mother is horrific, first weird and unsympathetic, then actively cruel, then completely useless. That probably took away a quarter star for me - I could have forgiven her the first two if she'd come through in the end, but she didn't in a major way. But even with that (and hey, Buffy's mom was often a raging bitch, too), there's a good dose of female cameraderie and girl power in this book. And even though the girls have to be virgins to be hunters, there's a fair bit of lust, too!
The verdict: I passed the book on to a colleague and all I had to say was "Killer unicorns." and she was completed excited! It just might be the best hook for a book ever!
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Review: Olive Kitteridge
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Reasons for reading: heard lots of great things about it; Pulitzer Prize-winner for the Four Month Challenge and Book Awards Challenge 4
Description: "At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse. As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires."
First line: "For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy."
My thoughts: This was a really good book - I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize. I was a bit concerned, as I often am, that it would be too "literary" for me to enjoy, but it's very accessible. It's just about....life. I was also concerned because it's a series of intertwined stories rather than a typical novel and I usually don't like short stories, but Olive held them all together. A few times I couldn't remember if I was supposed to know who that townsperson was, but overall they fit together very well. And it was wonderfully written - I'm not usually one for lots of descriptions, but as you can see from the first line, Strout writes them very well and they add a great deal to the book.
Olive was interesting to read about - she's a very real person, which I liked. She could have just been a rather stock character, the town's grumpy old woman, but she's not. I thought this was an excellent description of her: ". . . she had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away." Overall she's known for being crotchety, and she has a very strong work ethic, appreciates beauty in the natural world (especially tulips), has a sharp wit and experiences sudden moments of great tenderness and kindness. She hid a lot of despair behind her hard shell and admits that she's not fun to live with - at one point she's addressing Henry in her mind and describes herself as a beast. Yet Henry, who is liked by everyone in town, loves her with all his heart.
The book is filled with moments of happiness (Olive calls them "small bursts," like going to the doughnut shop, as opposed to life's big bursts like weddings). I was going along happily with that until she gave herself another small burst of pleasure by stealing bits out of her new daughter-in-law's bureau to mess with her head! Although the daughter-in-law is pretty awful, so I can't blame her. That little bit of wickedness really fit Olive. But these bursts often quickly turn to sadness - children hate their parents, people kill themselves or others, they drink, they commit or are victims of horrible crimes, and, in many cases, they stray outside marriage. I did find it really sad that every couple in the book has at least some form of infidelity, even if it's never acted on physically. But a lot of the couples have been married for more decades than I've been alive, and not many actually committed adultery, so who knows?
The book ends with Olive finding some small comfort in someone else, which is pretty rare for her. I thought the book dealt well with old age - people still need love and physical affection, they can still be vital people, but they've also lived a very long time with perhaps not enough bursts of happiness, either large or small, to sustain them.
It's Tuesday, Where Are You?
Click the globe to tell Raidergirl where you are this week!
I've just finished several books, so I'm only in one place at the moment. That hardly ever happens!
So, it's 1907 and I'm snowed in in a small Wisconsin town, about to marry a stranger who is completely and utterly consumed by lust, yet hasn't so much as kissed anyone in 20 years. (A Reliable Wife)
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Review: Big Cherry Holler
Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani
My thoughts: This was a great sequel. It's funny, I found Ave Maria frustrating in the first book and I found her frustrating here, but it was okay - after all, you get frustrated with real people even when you like them, why not people in a book? The most frustrating thing was that both Jack and Ave Maria come very close to having affairs and this saddened me - Jack's temptation comes first and I was angry at him and then of course I was really mad at Ave Maria, because, hello, she's been worrying about Jack doing it to her! I wanted to slap some sense into her.
But their relationship is very complicated, it seems. He blamed her for a lot of their problems and then she blamed herself, but I felt more blame should have gone to him (not that she was blameless, but neither was he). Ave Maria has a weird combination of low self esteem and self-reliance - she feels badly about herself yet feels she's always right - she runs everything well. But her husband isn't the kind of man to accept that kind of self-reliance and she did often show that, even if she thought she was trying, she wasn't really thinking about him. But I was upset that he refused to go on their planned trip to Italy (which really disappointed their daughter, which was unkind), yet it was Ave Maria's fault for not begging him to go with her. But even if it frustrated me, it was good to see a marriage portrayed as hard work and imperfect. Even if I wanted them to live happily ever after, it was more satisfying to see them have a realistic relationship and work through their problems.
As the summary says, the supporting characters are still entertaining (although Theodore seems to have taken on a cruel-to-be-kind approach to their friendship, which I found a bit harsh at times). Pearl Grimes really comes into her own as a businesswoman and Iva Lou is still there to offer advice about men. Etta is a smart and lovely child to read about - the parts near the end where she's starting to think about makeup and boys are hilarious. Example, "I spent a lot of time with Peter [the almost-affair] in Italy this summer, Iva Lou," Etta says in an accent no one has heard since Grace Kelly used it in High Society.
The Gap setting is rendered wonderfully, it makes me want to visit the mountains of Virginia. And Trigiani's love affair with Italy continues, making it sound like a heavenly place to spend a summer.
Her snappy humour is in full force, there were lots of lines that made me laugh. For some reason, this was my favourite. Pearl is talking about reopening the pharmacy's soda fountain (and boy, do I wish I had one like it nearby, it sounds like wonderful fun!).
Friday, February 12, 2010
I'm fairly savvy...
Your result for The Improved Book Character-Savvy Test...
You scored 76% Best Seller, 71% Classic and 75% Fantasy/Sci-Fi!
Oh, yes, somehow you made it. Did you cheat? I hope not. Sophocles is reported to have said, "I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating." Meh, I'll trust you this time. Anyway, I hope you've had a good time.
Your rank: The Puzzle Dog (You know, a little bit of this, a little bit of that...)
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
It's Tuesday, Where Are You?
Click the globe to tell Raidergirl where you are!
I'm still in the abandoned convent in Rome, learning to kill unicorns, although the drug company funding our training is starting to act weird... (Rampant)
And in the small bayside town of Crosby, Maine with crusty yet occasionally tender Olive Kitteridge as she interacts with other people in town and also goes through her own rather sad life. (Olive Kitteridge)
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Fun Facts About Maureen Johnson
1. Her birthday is coming up - February 16.
2. She shares her name with a character from Rent, but assures us she was here first.
3. Her books are currently published in the following languages (other than English, obviously): French, German, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Catalan, Croatian, Romanian, Dutch, and Turkish.
4. She has this to say about people who ban books: "Banners . . . they love to ban. It makes them feel important."
5. While she hasn't seen Hamlet performed on unicycles (found in Suite Scarlett) she has seen "Shakespeare sets comprised entirely of fruit."
Here is a picture of her, isn't she pretty?
And here is a link to a list of her books!
For the second part of the assignment, here are some other people's posts about authors I like!
Puss Reboots looked at Nick Bantock - his Griffin and Sabine books are amazing.
At Other Stories we have Michel Faber - I couldn't put down The Crimson Petal and the White.
Melissa chose the fantabulous Mo Willems - fantabulous sums him up! :-)And since my husband is reading one of his books right now and because Suey's great, here's her post on Brandon Sanderson.
DanaB posted about the wonderful Maeve Binchy.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
"This particular geeky assignment was posted by Dewey back in November of 2008, just weeks before she died. Here's what she posted then:
This week’s theme is: fun facts about authors.
1. Choose a writer you like.
2. Using resources such as Wikipedia, the author’s website, whatever you can find, make a list of interesting facts about the author.
3. Post your fun facts list in your blog, maybe with a photo of the writer, a collage of his or her books, whatever you want.
4. Come sign the Mr Linky below with the url to your fun facts post.
5. As you run into (or deliberately seek out) other Weekly Geeks’ lists, add links to your post for authors you like or authors you think your readers are interested in."
I'm choosing Maureen Johnson, cool YA author extraordinaire, because I've often thought she'd be very fun to have over for dinner! So, post to follow....
Passion by Louise Bagshawe
Reason for reading: I've enjoyed her other books
Description: "A super-charged, irresistible tour de force about two people fighting their own feelings - and fighting for their lives... A failed marriage between Melissa Elmett and Will Hyde did a lot of damage. She was too young, he was hurt when she left him. Years later, Melissa becomes the target for a kidnap plot, a consequence of her father’s ground-breaking energy-saving invention, and Will is the only man who can protect her. Now they’re on the run, thrown together again by the pursuit of vengeance, will their passion for each other reignite?"
First line: "Dimitri slid the photograph across the desk."
My thoughts: I've really enjoyed some of Bagshawe's bonkbusters, like Sparkles, but this one was just okay. The spy element (as one description called it, "James Bond for girls!" - ick) was an interesting idea, but for all his super-spydom, Will Hyde seemed to make some pretty obvious mistakes, that even I could figure out. I found myself saying things like, "Wouldn't a person be able to gain entry through there?" "Would he know they'd follow him to the safe house?" And the "passion" doesn't get reignited until Melissa miraculously changes her body after a few days of working out and dyes her hair red. I liked that the master assassin was a woman, but, of course she's no match for the hero of the story in the end.
The verdict: An okay chick lit read, but not one of Bagshawe's best.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The original unicorn
"The most wonderful man in the world. I don't know what to say about him that hasn't been said. He's like the George Clooney of television. You're allowed to love him no matter who you are. He is the original unicorn. If he touches your iPhone you can get bars everywhere you go from that point forward. He says he's into magic tricks but that's only because if he admitted that he was actually magical and could do actual magic, the government would come take him."
And, to share some of the magic, here he is as Dr. Horrible!
Evelyn Waugh has kicked my ass
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
It's Tuesday, Where Are You?
I don't know why I've never posted about this before - it's a great thing from the lovely Raidergirl that lets us share where reading is taking us. (Click on the globe to go to her post for today.)
I am in several places:
- On an ocean liner from New York to London with a wife I no longer love (did I ever?), flirting with the sister of my drunkard Oxford chum (Brideshead Revisted - which I'm starting to wish would end already!)
- In a mountain town in Virginia, worrying about my husband who has just lost his job because the mine closed and also about our 8-year marriage, which seems to have hit a rough patch. (Big Cherry Holler)
- In an abandoned convent in Rome, learning how to kill unicorns. (Rampant)
Blog Improvement Project Week 1
How weird is this? I was just thinking this weekend that my blog isn't interesting enough and lo and behold, the Blog Improvement Project is starting - just what I need!
This week's task is to create a blogging to-do list of what you want to improve. I'm a bit worried about what I should do because I don't think this is ever going to be a really, really impressive blog - I have no graphics capabilities myself, don't want to pay for any or any other bells and whistles, I'm not very technical, and I'm just not a Twitter/Facebook person. But that doesn't mean I can't do some stuff to improve what I've got.
I'd like to:
- make commenting friendlier/easier - I've just put in the word verification because I was getting spam, but I'll try a different route; I also want to try asking more comment-inducing questions
- work on engaging with the book blogging community more - I try to visit other blogs and post comments a lot, but it usually ends up being done in one big rush and then I don't visit many others for a while
- figure out how to add subscribe by e-mail/RSS links
- while this will always be mainly a book blog, try and include other types of posts
- look at improving the sidebars
Hmmmm....I think mainly I need to get my blogging self-confidence up! If you think you're lame, others will, too. :-)