Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

In Robert Goolrick's debut novel, A Reliable Wife, the reader witnesses the coming together of two extremely twisted and tortured souls. Ralph Truitt, a very rich but emotionally damaged man, is looking for (You guessed it!) a reliable wife. Catherine Land, a mysterious woman with a sordid past, answers his call and as the reader soon discovers is something all together different from what Ralph thinks he has found. The plot of this story is as dark as the cold Wisconsin winter upon which it is staged.

I loved this book and didn't want to put it down. After having read it cover to cover in one sitting I then passed it on to a few friends who, it turns out, were less then enchanted by what I thought to be a literary masterpiece (or at least a really good book). Perhaps the characters do lack sound morals but we can't all be perfect. Maybe the plot is a bit dark but who doesn't get a little depressed every now and then?

Goolrick writes about horrible characters who have done horrific things. However, despite their vile personas, one can't help but be captivated; wondering what crimes they may commit next. This is a truly unique and well written book, with well developed characters and an authentic plot. I feel as though the author must have spent countless hours racking his brain for just the right words to evoke just the right amount of suspense and foreboding to truly suck the readers in. I LIKED THIS BOOK!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless as told by author Jon Krakauer. In 1992 subsequent to graduating with honors from an Atlanta University, McCandless discarded his possessions, gave his complete $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska, where he then went off on his own to live in the wilderness. Four months later his body was discovered. His diary and letters, found at an isolated campsite tell of his desperate efforts to survive.

I was disappointed with this book and after reading other reviews was expecting much more. This is actually the second book that I have read by Krakauer and I must admit I wasn't a fan of his previous work either (Why did I give him another try? Because I am a fair and just ruler.). Maybe it is the author's bragging of his life experience and his experience as a writer for Outdoor magazine that has elevated my expectations but this book was a definite let down. I was expecting to read the story of Chris McCandless, but instead felt as if I were reading a disjointed assemblage of magazine and newspaper articles. I often felt the author to be self serving and his tone even a bit uncaring as it seems like he spent much of the book putting more feeling into the retelling of his own explorations and adventures than into those of McCandless.

That having been said I too am about to sound a bit uncaring... Chris McCandless was an arrogant idiot. He committed some of the most basic errors of survival in the wild and people are holding him up as though he was some sort of modern hero, in truth he was a misguided fool. Reading a few Jack London novels and then believing yourself an expert in wilderness survival is almost as intelligent as the idea of me reading a few Louis L'Amour novels and then taking up ranching. It was very frustrating the way Krakauer attempted to validate McCandless' actions through the telling of his own imprudent adventures, but even more disturbing was the way Krakauer seemed to actually be encouraging others to go "into the wild" unprepared.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."
-The Thirteenth Tale

I picked this book up on the advice of my son’s kindergarten teacher (Thank you Justine). It began a little bit slow for my taste and I ended up putting it down several times, but by the time I had finally worked my way through the first three chapters I was completely engrossed. The plot was brilliant and once it got going, very well-paced

Love, deceit, secrets, violence, mental illness and truly disturbing imagery… this book pays homage to nineteenth century British literature, a great gothic mystery novel along the lines of those by Bronte or Radcliffe. The Thirteenth Tale tells the disturbing story of reclusive author Vida Winter (I picture her as an ancient Danielle Steel). After spending the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself, both intriguing and confusing her readers for years, she is ready to disclose the truth about her astonishing life and the tragic past she has managed to keep hidden for so long. To tell her story she enlists the help of budding biographer Margaret Lea who, it turns out, has secrets of her own.

I don’t want to divulge too many details about this book, partly because I don’t want to spoil it for you and partly because I am not sure I can conceivably do it justice. It is difficult to believe that this is Setterfield’s first novel, it is so skillfully written and the passages so descriptive that you feel as though you are there.

Should you take my advice and decide to read this book I suggest you first prepare yourself, find a comfy chair in front of a warm fireplace, because once you start this book you will be reluctant to put it down. This is a novel that pulls you in and refuses to let you go. After you have turned the final page and find yourself unmoving, trying to take it all in, you will swear that you can feel that cold English fog slowing weaving its way around your mind.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands upon the original text of Jane Austen’s treasured tale of the Dashwood sisters by adding new scenes of enormous crustaceans, rampaging octopi, mutant sea monsters, and other aquatic horrors.
I am a huge Jane Austen fan. I have read every book and watched every movie. I tried so hard to like this book but just couldn’t get into it. It was a funny story and perhaps if I was not already a lover of all things Austen I might have appreciated the humor much more. I feel like I have dropped the ball a little with such a brief review but in all honesty my feelings about this book can best be described as indifferent

Monday, March 8, 2010

Up Next

Just a little peak at what I am reading right now...

The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden

When Bill Alexander makes up his mind to plant a large vegetable garden he finds himself at odds with nearly all of creation. Near the top of the food chain are the landscapers, always behind schedule, often strange and occasionally frightening. Then there is the wildlife, the herds of deer that pummel the electrified fence to get at Alexander's crop, and the groundhog (Super Chuck) who merely squeezes through the wires, apparently savoring the shocks. Most menacing of all are the colonies of maggots, worms, and grubs that provoke Alexander, an organic-produce enthusiast, into soaking his entire property with potentially harmful pesticides. He suffers these ordeals, along with days of grueling labor and the eye-rolling vexation of his wife and kids, all in the pursuit of the lusciousness that is homegrown fruits and vegetables. And yet through out all these trials and tribulations he manages to maintain his sense of humor. So has all of his hard work paid off? When Alexander decides to run a cost benefit analysis, adding up everything he has spent on his garden, from the electric fence to the garden rake, and then averages it over the life of his garden so far, it comes as quite an astonishment to discover that it has actually cost him a shocking $64 to grow each one of his treasured Brandywine tomatoes.

This book is an entertaining horticultural memoir. While each chapter is its own stand alone adventure full of funny gardening mishaps it also has some great historical information on topics from Johnny Appleseed to Thomas Jefferson. It made for pleasant reading, especially on a cold winter day when you can’t help but long for the early spring planting season. If you have ever tried any type of gardening you will be able to relate to the many misfortunes Alexander experienced on his journey toward the perfect produce, along with the feeling of ultimate satisfaction that one achieves upon biting into the juicy heirloom tomatoes that you have grown yourself. That having been said you don't need a green thumb to enjoy this book.

I would like to point out that this book is not for the animal rights activist. About midway, the author goes into unnerving detail about his pains to get rid of several of those irritating creatures that most of us call wildlife. Though I found many of his actions were a bit extreme, I will readily admit that there has been more than one instance when the thought of clobbering of my husbands cat with a shovel brought me some great satisfaction.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist's Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big or Why Pie Is Not the Answer by Jen Lancaster

Whether you are overweight, underweight or somewhere in between Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster will keep you laughing throughout.

The book chronicles Lancaster’s journey to try to lose those extra fifty pounds and adopt a healthier life style; not that she isn’t fabulous just the way she is but because the doctor has ordered her to do so. But bear in mind readers this is not your mother’s diet book.

Jen’s writing style is very sarcastic and she makes no apologies for who she is, readily admitting to being a bitch of the first order. While I was reading her book I couldn’t help but feel like she was sitting right next to me telling me her story. I felt like I could relate to everything she said from her struggles to lose weight to her love of bad reality TV. What makes this book so different from other weight loss memoirs is Jen’s attitude. She isn’t self depreciating, she has no problem with the way she looks and wouldn’t be changing her life style if not for medical reasons.

"I want to change my life...except I sort of like it. I mean, I couldn't be more delighted every Monday night after Fletch goes to bed when I come downstairs, pull up the Bachelor on TiVo, drink Riesling, and eat cheddar/port wine Kaukauna cheese without freaking out over fat grams. I'm perpetually in a good mood because I do everything I want. I love having the freedom to skip the gym to watch a Don Knots movie on the Disney Channel without a twinge of guilt. I've figured out how to not be beholden to what other people believe I should be doing, and when the world tells me I ought to be a size eight, I can thumb my nose at them in complete empowerment."
-Jen Lancaster

From the moment I picked it up Jen's witty, sarcastic rhetoric held my attention and literally made me laugh out loud. I made the mistake of bringing this book to read on an airplane and numerous times I was laughing so hard I was crying- definitely earning me some strange looks from other passengers. If you're offended by a foul mouth and raunchy humor (think female David Sedaris), then this is probably not the best book for you. Otherwise get yourself a copy and several other copies for all your girlfriends… It is a must read for anyone who is looking for a real look at life that will make you laugh and laugh!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I will admit that Shakespeare, Chaucer and their contemporaries have much to offer the World but... just like the latest "as seen on TV" (aqua globe anyone?) what they're selling I'm not buying.

When I was a child and learning to read I was taught, in addition to my letters and sounds, that once you start a book you have an obligation to finish it. Born to a family of readers this is a belief that I honored all of my life. So what if it isn't the greatest book you've read, you can't just stop mid-story, my mother would lament. I never questioned this law, I plodded on through the good and the bad never stopping to ask why it should be so.

Life changed when I decided to read Anna Karenina. Tolstoy's novel of a doomed love affair between a Russian woman and her dashing soldier has been praised as one of the greatest novels ever written, I have to disagree. I should have put the book down 200 pages in when I decided that the contrast between different ilks of Russian society just wasn't my cup of tea, but like a good little soldier I marched on determined to see it through. When I was 400 pages in I struggled with the internal turmoil of do I or don't I need to build a database to keep all of the Ivanovichs and Alexandroviches straight. By page 600 I was compiling a list of all the ways I could end Anna's tragic life just a few hundred pages early, effectively ending both her pain and my own. When I finally finished after 800 some odd pages I felt like I had sacrificed a year of my life (in reality 5 or 6 torturous days).

By now you must be asking yourself, why this tell of woe? Because Anna taught me some valuable lessons, first lesson being that your mother is not always (in fact rarely) right, more importantly though is the realization that I do not need to read to enrich my mind, body or spirit; Who cares if Oprah and The Times think it's a great book? Not I. From this day on I read for pleasure pure and simple. Our time is valuable, so whether I am 2 or 200 pages into a book if I find myself searching for the will to go on, that's it, I'm out.