Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Reading Musings

I've read a number of books recently that I thought I'd share my thoughts on in case you're interested in any of them ...

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrich
Goodreads description:
Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt — a passionate man with his own dark secrets —has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways. With echoes of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, Robert Goolrick's intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.

My review:
Although I can see why this is not a book that would be enjoyed by everyone, I really did enjoy every moment of reading it. It was very dark, very twisted and relatively sexual but it was really well written with interesting characters that leapt off the page for me. The writing just pulled me into each and every scene, the author made the places he described come alive. I found the story itself riveting, sad and very suspenseful. I love that the novel was so accessible yet very suspenseful. I didn't find the 'twist(s)' particularly innovating and I did see them coming in many ways BUT that did not take away from the overall feel and impact of the novel.
4 out of 5 stars 

On Writing by Stephen King
Goodreads description:
Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You're right there with the young author as he's tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms, and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber." As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing."
King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from H.P. Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard's Be Cool could be the antidote.

My review:
 I really enjoyed this one. I wasn't sure if I would so it was a nice surprise. I felt the book had lots of great advice for those truly interested in writing. Although many would say that King is not a great writer, I would disagree. I think he is very talented at the craft and I enjoyed hearing his perspective on writing. 
4 of 5 stars

 That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Goodreads description:
Following Bridge of Sighs—a national best seller hailed by The Boston Globe as “an astounding achievement . . . a masterpiece”—Richard Russo now tells the story of a marriage, and all the other ties that bind, from parents and in-laws to children and the promises of youth.

Thirty years ago, on their Cape Cod honeymoon, Jack and Joy Griffin made a plan for their future that has largely been fulfilled. He left Los Angeles behind for the sort of New England college his parents had aspired to, and now the two of them are back on the Cape—where he’d also spent his childhood vacations—to celebrate the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. Sure, Jack’s been driving around with his father’s ashes in the trunk, though his mother’s very much alive and often on his cell phone. Laura’s boyfriend seems promising, but be careful what you pray for, especially if it happens to come true. A year later, at her wedding, Jack has another urn in the car, and both he and Joy have brought new dates. Full of every family feeling imaginable, wonderfully comic and profoundly involving, That Old Cape Magic is surprising, uplifting and unlike anything this Pulitzer Prize winner has ever written.

My review:  
Let me start out by saying that I'm a HUGE Russo fan. I love it all. Every single word he writes is magic. And this book is good, not his best but definitely good. I love how adept he is at creating characters that you get to know inside and out. Lovely. The themes of this book are wonderful and keep you engaged throughout the novel. Although not his best, this book is still ten times better than most other novels just for being written by Russo. I enjoyed every moment. 
4 out of 5 stars

I See You Everwhere by Julia Glass
Goodreads description:
From the author of the best-selling Three Junes comes an intimate new work of fiction: a tale of two sisters, together and apart, told in their alternating voices over twenty-five years.

Louisa Jardine is the older one, the conscientious student, precise and careful: the one who years for a good marriage, an artistic career, a family. Clem, the archetypal youngest, is the rebel: uncontainable, iconoclastic, committed to her work but not to the men who fall for her daring nature. Louisa resents that the charismatic Clem has always been the favorite; yet as Clem puts it, "On the other side of the fence–mine–every expectation you fulfill...puts you one stop closer to that Grand Canyon rim from which you could one day rule the world–or plummet in very grand style."

In this vivid, heartrending story of what we can and cannot do for those we love, the sisters grow closer as they move farther apart. Louisa settles in New York while Clem, a wildlife biologist, moves restlessly about until she lands in the Rocky Mountains. Their complex bond, Louisa observes, is "like a double helix, two souls coiling around a common axis, joined yet never touching."

Alive with all the sensual detail and riveting characterization that mark Glass's previous work, I See You Everywhere is a piercingly candid story of life and death, companionship and sorrow, and the nature of sisterhood itself. 

My review:
I started this book with great expectations. Although I wasn't a fan of Three Junes, I hoped that this one would WOW me. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Overall, the book was good. I liked it. For the most part. Nothing breathtaking, nothing outstanding. Just good. The story was not particularly inspiring - the characters were difficult for me to feel anything for ... it wasn't even that I didn't like them but more that they were very much like cardboard cut outs to me with very little substance. I kept hoping that some life would begin to show in the character development but it never really came. The big 'twist' came out of nowhere for me and didn't seem to really flow well. I think this was in part because of the way the story is told - each chapter a different character. It made the novel (and therefore the story) feel very dull in some way. I kept reading, hoping that it would pick up, that I'd see some glimmer of that something we all look for in a great novel. Unfortunately, it just never came for me. So, in the end, I liked the book but it wasn't particularly impactful to me as a reader.
3 out of 4 stars  

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong 
Goodreads description:
 Book II in the Darkest Powers trilogy takes us deeper into a world where the supernatural intrudes on the everyday with riveting effect.

If you had met me a few weeks ago, you probably would have described me as an average teenage girl—someone normal. Now my life has changed forever and I'm as far away from normal as it gets. A living science experiment—not only can I see ghosts, but I was genetically altered by a group of people who call themselves The Edison Group. What does that mean? For starters, I’m a teenage necromancer whose powers are out of control: I raise the dead without even trying. Trust me, that is not a power you want to have. Ever.

I'm running for my life with three of my supernatural friends—a charming sorcerer, a cynical werewolf, and a disgruntled witch—and we have to find someone who can help us gain our freedom back before The Edison Group finds us first. Or die trying.

My review:
I think this novel was even better than the first, building on the first book and taking the story to the next level. The characters are amazing and the story is fantastic. I love Kelley Armstrong and she's done an amazing job with this series. I can't wait to read number 3!
5 out of 5 stars  

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman   
Goodreads description:
Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who—or what—could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?
Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been? Why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn't a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead end—a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.
In a story that moves back and forth across the decades, there is only one person who dares to be skeptical of a woman who wants to claim the identity of one Bethany sister without revealing the fate of the other. Will he be able to discover the truth? 

My review:
I think the premise of this novel is very interesting and gave Laura Lippman a great deal of material to work with ... However, the novel never really reached the heights that it could have. I figured out the big twist in the middle of the book and really only kept reading to see if I was right (and I was). That was disappointing. I just kept feeling as if something was missing but I still cannot put my finger on exactly what was missing. I liked the novel overall but it definitely wasn't an outstanding read.
3 out of 5 stars

The Space Between Before and After by Jean Reynolds Page
Goodreads description:
Forty-two and divorced, Holli Templeton has just begun to realize the pleasures of owning her life for the first time. But the experience is short-lived. Her son Conner has unexpectedly fled college in Rhode Island and moved to Texas with his troubled girlfriend, Kilian. This alone is difficult to handle, but as Holli begins to understand the depth of the girl's problems, concern turns to crisis.
Conner's situation is worsening, and as if that's not enough, Holli notices signs of serious decline in the beloved Texas grandmother who raised her. She has no choice but to leave the comfort zone of life in New York and return to her hometown in Texas to care for the people she loves.
In the tight space between these two generations, Holli initially feels lost. The journey back stirs so many unresolved hurts from her childhood. But something else happens in this uneasy homecoming. Comfort arrives in the ethereal presence of the mother long lost to her, and Holli is surprised to find that as she struggles to help her son and grandmother, the wounds of her own past begin to heal.
The space between before and after—easily the most challenging place she has ever known—begins to reveal an unanticipated hope for what the future might hold. 

My review:
I struggled with whether or not to give this 3 or 4 stars. I'd prefer 3.5 to be honest. I enjoyed the book - good story, nice characterizations, interesting plot, etc. However, it must not have been particularly engaging as I sat it down for over a month as I read some other items that I got from the library. I think that the writing is definitely reminiscent of Jodi Picoult but not nearly as engaging. The novel focused on character development and did an amazing job of it with the weaving in and out of the present and past for the characters of the story. I really thought that the family dynamics were interesting and well written. Overall, I enjoyed it and will be looking at some of Page's other novels in the future.
3.5 stars out of 5 

Books I've got in my hands now to read (so be ready for reviews to come ...) include:

1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
2. Columbine by Dave Cullen  
3. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
4. South of Broad by Pat Conroy
5. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry 
6. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
7. July, July by Tim O'Brien

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