"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bonus: A Most Inconvenient Marriage

Bethany House Publishers
A Most Inconvenient Marriage
Regina Jennings

The Summary
"With few options of her own, nurse Abigail Stuart agrees to marry her patient, a gravely wounded soldier calling himself Jeremiah Calhoun.  They arrange a quick ceremony before he dies, giving Abigail the rights to his Ozark farm and giving Jeremiah the peace of knowing someone will care for his ailing sister after he's gone - a practical solution for both of them.

"After the war, Abigail fulfills her side of the bargain - until the real Jeremiah Calhoun shows up, injured but definitely alive, and wastes no time in challenging Abigail's story.  Abigail is flummoxed.  After months of claiming to be his widow, how can she explain that she's never seen Jeremiah Calhoun before?  How can she convince him that she isn't trying to steal his farm?  And will she find a way to stay, even though this practical arrangement has turned into a most inconvenient marriage?"

The Good
I liked the development of the characters, the antagonism between the two primary characters (Abigail and Jeremiah) feels appropriate.  If their animosity seems exaggerated, their situation probably merits it since both individuals are unable to trust the other for losing what little they have.

I liked Abigail Stuart.  She's a strong, dynamic woman who's willing to take charge and work hard.  I enjoyed watching her develop in a difficult situation, seeing the different ways in which she develops in conjunction to Jeremiah.  Likewise, I like Jeremiah Calhoun for many of the same qualities - even if I do think he's a bit of an oaf when it comes to love.

It's a pretty decent novel perfect for light, afternoon reading.

The Bad
I don't like convoluted relationships.  Is it a love triangle?  A quadrangle?

I don't know.  Either way, I can't say I enjoy a complicated romantic dynamic.  It eats up too much of the novel when you're trying to sort out relationships, when you're trying to figure out all the names and romantic aspirations.  And it doesn't help that there's a hint of identity theft going on.

The Ugly
The Civil War was a harrowing time in American history.  It tore deep fissures between people, even family members, and it destroyed many, many lives; more to the point, it nearly destroyed an entire country.  Injuries weren't just on the surface and the effects of such carnage ran deep, taking a toll both physically and psychologically.

And the author doesn't shy away from telling even the darkest, saddest tales.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Financial Lives of Poets

Image courtesy of Harper Perennial
The Financial Lives of Poets
Jess Walter

The Summary
"A few years ago, small-time finance journalist Matthew Prior quit his day job to gamble everything on a quixotic notion:  a website devoted to financial journalism in the form of blank verse.  When his big idea - and his wife's eBay resale business - ends with a whimper (and a garage full of unwanted figurines), they borrow and borrow, whistling past the graveyard of their uncertain dreams.

"One morning, Matt wakes up to find himself jobless, hobbled by debt, spying on his wife's online flirtation, and six days away from losing his home.  Is this really how things were supposed to end up for me, he wonders:  staying up all night worried, driving to 7-Eleven in the middle of the night to get milk for his boys, and fall in with two local degenerates after they offer him a hit of high-grade marijuana?

"Or, he thinks, could this be the solution to all my problems?

"Following Matt in his weeklong quest to save his marriage, his sanity, and his dreams, The Financial Lives of Poets is a hysterical, heartfelt novel about how we can reach he edge of ruin - and how we can begin t make our way back."

The Good
The Financial Lives of Poets was not what I expected.  It's about poets and money and financial distress, as I expected; however, it's light-hearted and heavy by turns, combining a scathing wit and humor with astute insights into the emotional and financial lives of Americans, not just poets.

I found the novel unique, inventive, and thought-provoking if only a little perturbing.  The narrator is excellent:  concerned parent meets desperate, irreverent observer.  Matt Prior is intelligent, articulate and highly cynical, and I enjoyed reading his story, his thoughts as he made his way through life and struggles to right his financial status.

Although his story is not always satisfying, although I was not always satisfied by how things turned out, I really enjoyed reading Jess Walter's novel.  Matt Prior, for all his wild flaws, for all his problems, is truly an endearing narrator.

The Bad
I enjoyed reading The Financial Lives of Poets.  I like Matt Prior, but I found I became fed up with the narrator on more than one occasion.  Sometimes, I just wanted to reach into the book ad shake the narrator, shouting:  "Seriously?  You're going make that decision?"

Because I know it won't end well.

The Ugly
Absolute financial ruin is not a pretty sight, and it doesn't really make for a pretty story.  It makes a desperate man out of a (typically) grounded, thoughtful individual.  If you heap on paranoia about an extramarital affair and generous exposure to weed, you basically get The Financial Lives of Poets.

Let's just say I wouldn't recommend it for light afternoon reading.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Back Bay Books
Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Maria Semple

The Summary
"When fifteen-year-old Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica, a reward for perfect grades, her fiercely intelligent but agoraphobic mother, Bernadette, throws herself into preparations for the trip.  Worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Bernadette is on the brink of a meltdown.  As disaster follows disaster, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces.  Which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together emails, invoices, and school memos to reveal the secret past that Bernadette has been hiding for decades.  Where'd You Go, Bernadette is an ingeniously entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are, and the power of a daughter's love for her imperfect mother."

The Good
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is an intriguing and wacky tale that the upsets in the life of Bernadette, as her daughter, Bee, attempts to recreate her mother's past and uncover where and why her mother disappeared.  It's a sweet story, showing how close mothers and daughters are.

I liked that Bee carefully developed "sources" for her story, pulling from her private collection of notes and report cards and transcripts and emails, combining a multitude of different files to show how the tale progressed and how Bee ended up going in search of her mother.  It's interesting to see all the clues and breadcrumbs come together, even if the story keeps you guessing.

The Bad
While I can appreciate the thought and detail put into compiling Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, I can't say I was completely hooked by Maria Semple's novel.  I liked the novel, but I didn't love it.  I found it sometimes dragged - okay, it was boring - and I wasn't captured by the story.  I wanted to know how everything sorted out in the end, but I think that was my own overwhelming need for closure rather than a desire to round out the story.

I liked the end, at least, even if I didn't always like how cruel the characters were to one another - or how Bernadette just leaves her daughter, or how Bernadette's husband tries to have her committed, or any number of confusing and frustrating things that I feel like any basic human should know.

Like giving away your social security number online.  Like letting blackberry brambles grow in your house.  Like trying to have your wife committed to a mental institution without actually talking to her.  Like harassing you neighbor to the point that she has a mental breakdown.

You get my point.

The Ugly
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? explores the darker side of exclusion and seclusion.  Bernadette has her own problems, of course, among them denial of aforementioned problems, but it seems that the exclusive attitude of the other parents at Bee's school, the cruelty of other individuals, and the misunderstandings between spouses, exacerbates her difficulties.

Moreover, it's hard to watch a family fracture and (potentially) completely fall apart.