A Reliable Wife

Our last book club pick was Vicki’s and we read A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolick. I really wasn’t sure about this one at first because it got mixed reviews. I always check out the reviews on amazon.com. It’s a very dark story about some really dysfunctional people. It takes place in the early 1900s in Wisconsin and also in St. Louis. Ralph puts an ad in a Chicago paper looking for “A reliable wife, compelled by practical not romantic reasons.” Catherine is the woman he chooses, but she has much bigger plans than to just settle down and be his wife. Little does she know that Ralph has plans of his own.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad book. There were a few parts where I felt that the author went on and on for far too long about the setting, the rich furnishings, and clothing of the characters. I also wasn’t very impressed with the ending of the book. It just didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story.

I have to apologize for my crappy book review. I just haven’t been inspired to write lately, so I sat myself down and forced myself to at least do a book club post, and well, this is all you get. I guess better than last month, since I didn’t write a review at all for Jodi Picoult’s Change of Heart. It was my turn again to choose the next book so now we are reading A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Book Club Flunkie

I’m really late in posting about this month’s book club pick and I have to admit, it’s because I didn’t read it. Ugh…I know, bad, bad, bad! When Michelle first introduced the book at our last meeting, I was intrigued and interested in reading it, especially since the last few books we read were a little fluffy for me. I was ready to tackle something a bit meatier, so I was anticipating this read, Ireland by Frank Delaney. It’s history and storytelling interwoven in a fictional milieu.

BUT, life happened. I got about 20 pages in and just realized, “I am not going to be able to finish this book.” So, I decided to take a hiatus from the book club and now I am rested and ready to go for Becky’s choice: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult.

Dear John

Our latest book club read was Dear John by Nicholas Sparks and I have to admit that I didn’t think I would like it. I am not usually a fan of idealistic, romancy-type books and I had never read anything by this author. Overall, I have to say that it wasn’t bad. It certainly did spark a lot of good conversation at our meeting last week. I think because the story was so contemporary and mainly focused on the relationship between the main characters, it seemed more like we were gossiping about a friend than talking about a book. Everyone had an opinion about how the book should have ended and whether or not the main characters should have ended up together. Oh, and our group is growing! What started as 3 has turned into 7!

Without giving away too much of the story, I will try to summarize. John is on leave from the army for two weeks when he meets Savannah, an innocent, caring type who sees the world through rose colored glasses. She is in his town with a Habitat for Humanity group and they are building a house there. The two spend most of their time together during those two weeks and fall deeply in love (or as much in love as two people can fall in two weeks). Savannah even meets John’s quiet and socially awkward father and tries to help John understand some of his father’s frustrating behavior. When the time comes for John to leave, the two promise to write and that they will be together when he returns, but then 9/11 happens and John decides to re-enlist, which takes a huge toll on their relationship. It’s difficult to go into too much detail about the characters or events of the story without giving it away, because I found it to be pretty predictable.

If you like romance, you will probably like this book, though the ending may disappoint. Overall, it was an easy read and kept me engaged throughout, but I think I will spare myself on the movie. That being said, I am pretty grateful for the light read because I am about to sink my teeth into our new book, Michelle’s choice, Ireland by Frank Delaney. It’s a 600 pager, so I’d better get crackin’.

Water For Elephants

I really, really liked this book and I’m not just saying it because it’s the book I chose for our book club this month. Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob, a veterinary student from Cornell, who decides to run away with the Benzini Brothers Circus after the death of both his parents and just weeks before he was due to take his exams to finish school. The story is told by Jacob, both as the 21 year old youth who joined the circus, and as the ninety (or ninety-three) year old man, who is now at the end of his life and looking back.

The story take place during the Depression and the author has really done her research, providing a vivid picture of what life would have been like under the big top. The story is filled with gritty, interesting characters, charming animals, and danger around every corner. Jacob is hired to care for the animals and he falls in love with Marlena, a performer, who is also the wife of August, the animal trainer, a paranoid schizophrenic who can be both charming and psychotic.

With other circuses collapsing across the nation, the threat of going under is real and workers sometimes go for weeks without being paid. The Benzini Brother’s boss, Uncle Al, puts all his hope in Rosie, a stubborn elephant, who he acquires after the demise of another circus. But Rosie proves to be hard to handle until Jacob figures out the secret to working with her.

All this leads up to an uproarious climax and an ending that made me smile. I really enjoyed this book. It made me very interested in doing some more research on my own about the circus, especially during the Depression era. It’s not a book that blew me away or really moved me, but it was a good read, so if you happen to stumble across it, give it a try.

Next month I’ll review Jennifer’s pick: Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

Firefly Lane

Firefly Lane, a story of best friends that spans 3 decades, was a bit fluffy for me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it’s not the type of book I usually choose.

It starts out in the 1970s when Kate, a lonely geek with an overprotective family is befriended by Tully, the beautiful, popular, girl next door with a troubled home life. They become the best of friends and together they weather life’s many storms. Somehow they manage to stay friends, though they are polar opposites. I was able to relate to Kate in many ways, but she made me mad most of the time by always playing second fiddle to Tully and allowing herself to be “second best” in her own mind. Tully is a person I could never befriend. Her selfish ambition was hard for me to swallow. The main conflict of this story is that each woman has all she ever wanted in life, and yet it’s not enough for either of them. They each want something the other one has and live with a profound feeling that “something is missing.” One of the points that we discussed during our book club meeting is that each of them could have had the things they wanted, but they did not allow themselves to take those steps. Their relationship was infuriating to me and at several points I just wanted to put the book down, though I suppose the fact that they affected me so strongly suggests well-written characters and familiar subject matter.

Since the book takes place during the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, the author uses that as an excuse to take a stroll down memory lane and makes frequent references to the music and pop culture of those decades, which I found too deliberate and kind of hokey.

One thing that I really did appreciate about this novel is that the author created a real and honorable male character. It seems like the men in many women’s novels are either fantasy perfect or complete dogs. Johnny is neither. He’s a real man, flawed, but ultimately, good.

Overall, I liked this book, but I wouldn’t list it as one of my favorites. We have been using discussion questions from this site during our meetings. Coming up next month: my pick, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

The Help

Recently, I became part of a book club with a few women from my church. As our first pick, we decided to read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and we had our first meeting a few nights ago.

The Help is a novel that takes place in Mississippi in the 1960s and tells the story of three women who embark on a risky and controversial project. Awkward and unmarried, Skeeter is a new graduate of Ole Miss with a degree in English and finds herself a stranger among her friend who are married with families and have hired the help of black women who raise their children and care for their homes. Disturbed by her friend’s mission to keep separate bathrooms for the help and by the unexplained disappearance of the beloved maid who raised her, Skeeter sets out to write a book about the experiences of the maids in the community.
She enlists the help of Aibileen and Minny, two maids who, despite their fears, agree to be interviewed in secret and who eventually enlist the help of 10 other maids to complete the book.

Aibileen reminds me a lot of Miss Celie from The Color Purple. She is quiet and obedient seems to have accepted her place in the grand scheme of things, even if she is quietly infuriated under the surface. She just doesn’t see how life could be any different. She has loved and raised 17 white children and watched them turn into their parents with the same racist views. Minny is sassy and outspoken and keeps getting fired for talking back to her employers. She realizes the danger of telling her story, as they all watch people being beaten and assassinated for crossing racial lines. The three women become unlikely friends as they invest their lives in Skeeter’s first book.

I loved this book. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but once I get into it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s got an interesting cast of characters who illustrate the racial division of the time period from both sides. I don’t want to give too much away by talking too much about our meeting. I had to laugh that one of the burning questions we had was, “Did Minny really commit the chocolate pie offense?” We talked a lot about the motivations of the characters and why they did what they did. Here’s a link to some discussion questions associated with the book. It’s definitely a recommended read!

So our book club plan is to meet once a month to discuss the latest book and we’ll take turns choosing the book. Next up: Vicki’s pick, Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah.