Saturday, May 28, 2016

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace

Edward Bloom has lived an extraordinary life.  He has an extensive repertoire of corny jokes, had a very successful career and yet has remained a mystery to his son, William.  As Edward lay on his death bed, William struggles to get to the truth of who is father really is.

I think we all long to learn who our parents are on some other level than as our parents.  Edward relishes in living somewhere between reality and fairy tale.  We are never sure what is fact and what has been massaged and embellished over time.  And neither is William.  Edward's stories are funny but often heartbreaking.  He's loved by so many others yet he never learned how to love or be loved by his own son.

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions is charming and witty. It's fun and easy to read. Being, however, that I'm a more practical type, Edward's tales grew more and more outrageous as the book went on. While  I'm fully onboard with embracing a fantasy every now and then, this fish grew to large and too fast into something too far fetched for even my dreamy side to believe in.  I won't tell you how it ended but I thought Edward's balloon burst for good.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.  Fact or fantasy, Edward is one big fish of mythical proportions but I'm sure he's been caught by now.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Adult Sized Spelling Test

Recently I read Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  The girls in the story wore bandannas.  Notice the two "n"s.  It looked weird to me each time I read the word.  Next I read The Liars' Club by Mary Karr.  She too had a bandana but hers only had one "n".  I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

I started a new book the other day, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace.  And guess what!  He's wearing a bandanna.  Ugh.  I'm back to two "n"s. Miriam Webster defines a bandanna as a square piece of cloth that is used as a head covering or worn around the neck. A variant of bandanna is bandana.  Oh, thank God, I really did pass my fourth grade spelling test.

Wikipedia on the other hand says a bandana is a type of large, usually colorful kerchief worn on the head or around the neck of a person or a pet and is not considered a hat. Having taught my dog, Ginger everything she knows, the cute and colorful bandana she wears home from the groomer only has one "n".  I'm sure of it.

Synonyms for a bandana are, do-rag, hachimaki, headband and tengkolok.  OK.  I know what headband is and I can tell a funny story about when I learned about a do-rag.  Let's just say the white women got a hairdressing lesson from the black women.  But I haven't met anyone yet who is willing to educate me on the care and use of those other two strange bandana word look a likes.

I'm also told that bandanas reached their peak of popularity in the 1970's, 80's and 90's.  Based on all the contemporary novels I've been finding them in, I believe a resurgence is happening.  Although I struggled with the spelling of this item, I would have been even more freaked out if I'd caught any of these characters wearing a kerchief.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

I often read two books at a time and I'm currently reading On Writing by Stephen King.  He raved about The Liars' Club.  Since I enjoy memoirs and the writing of them, I'm working on one of my own right now, I thought I'd give this one a spin.

I don't even know where to start to give this book a short recap.  Mary Marlene and her sister, Lecia have the misfortune or fortune, depending on how you look at it, of having been born to highly dysfunctional and alcoholic parents. While I believe that the stories within this book are true, many of them seemed so unbelievable based on my personal frame of reference, that I couldn't place them in any kind of reality.  This book contains tales of mental and physical abuse of every kind imaginable and then some.

No question, Mary Karr is a talented writer.  The story telling is mesmerizing most of the time, but some parts dragged on and others seemed disconnected from the rest. A large portion of the book is Mary as a seven or eight year old.  So much happened that I had the feeling more time should have passed and Mary has grown.  But no, she was still only eight.  For me, the timing was kind of off.

The one big mystery of The Liars' Club is how Mary and Lecia both found their way out with college educations and successful careers.  Or maybe that's the life lesson to be learned from someone else's misery, anything is possible. Be prepared however, if you decide to take the plunge on The Liars' Club.  It's one wild, disgusting and unbelievable ride.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Carly and Jen are sisters who are walking to California in search of Teddy, someone who will take care of them. They find themselves alone after the sudden death of their mother and her current creepy boyfriend, Wade.  Teddy was a previous boyfriend who had been kicked out of their home right before Wade came on the scene.  Terrified they will fall into the hands of Child Protective Services, they begin the long walk.

When exhaustion and hunger take over, the girls find themselves behind the wrong end of a shotgun belonging to Delores, an elder of the Wakapi tribe.  She insists they stay and work off their debt of stolen eggs from her henhouse. The younger Jen welcomes the sense of security they are given in Delores' care.  Sixteen year old Carly does not.  She's a teenager fighting with every ounce of strength to become an adult.  We've all been there in our lives so it is easy to see what drives her.

I've read several novels written by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  They all share a message of hope, pitting bad people against all that is good in the world.  But please don't think that one is the carbon copy of another, far from it.  Ms. Hyde's most well known book is Pay It Forward, which I haven't read yet.  I've gotten so much enjoyment from Take Me With You, Worthy and now Walk Me Home that I never seem to get to it. I'm still basking in the glow of a well written book with a feel good ending, knowing there are far more good people in the the world than bad.  And that's worth reading about over and over again.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Call The Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary J MacLeod

Call The Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary J MacLeod

My sisters and I are going to Scotland this summer to visit our ancestral home.  Dunrobin Castle is in the Scottish Highlands and we've been studying about wars and royalty in preparation for our trip.  It's not just Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, I'm longing to find, it's to learn about the culture, food and customs of my homeland.

I came across this book, Call the Nurse and boy did I learn a lot!  Mary MacLeod and her family decide they want a simpler life and move to one of the many islands of Scotland.  She is a nurse and quickly lands a job taking care of the people on the island.  At first she is considered an outsider but soon becomes entwined in their lives.  Some are kind, some are cranky and all are a bit quirky.

I got an in depth look into the ways of the Scottish people.  While the Scots speak English, it's combined with the Gaelic so quite a bit of translation happens.  My mouth waters every time I think of the food she described being served at the many gatherings.  Scottish pancakes are at the top of my list of must have foods.  Hagis, a kind of sausage, is also on that list but I'm not so sure I'm going to enjoy that as much as a sweet fluffy pancake drizzled with syrup.

Call the Nurse is a charming collection of stories of life and death and all that happens in between.  I absolutely adored this book.  I learned so much and I can't wait to see the Sottish heather on the hillside with my own eyes.  Whether you are a Scot or not, this is a book that will make you laugh and make you cry and is sure to warm your heart forever.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists is the story of an English newspaper that is published in Rome, Italy. Each chapter tells the story of a different person with a link to the paper, some are employees, their significant others and one is a customer of the paper.  In between are flashback of how the paper came into being in the mind of Mr. Ott and how his family over the years led to its demise in a now digital world.

Each character's story stands on it's own.  I have to say for the first half of this book, I had no idea how these stories were connected and I almost gave up.  These were a bunch of people struggling to make something of themselves in a dirty and dusty newsroom.  It was not really all that exciting for me.

It took awhile, but them the story clicked.  Finally the author started making the connections.  There is not a single likable character in this entire novel.  Not one!  And their interactions are tense and unpleasant.  But I had to laugh at one reference.  Anyone who knows me well will understand it.

Accounts Payable, as she's called, made the decision to fire one of the employees in an effort to cut costs.  She finds herself on an airplane sitting next to a man she sizes up as dull and drab and must have a job working at Office Depot.  Since I worked for Office Depot for over 15 years, I don't know a single person there who would classify themselves as uninteresting.  I laughed over that line for a very long time.  Accounts Payable finally realizes that he's the one she fired and the overseas flight is not very pretty.

I think the writing in this story is fresh and sharp, but kind of dark.  It's not an uplifting book to read by any stretch of the imagination.  For me as a writer, The Imperfectionists is a great study in the craft of writing. Not every story has a happy ending and this one shows how rough and raw life can be.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

I recently read an article about Herman Wouk.  He's 100 years old and still going strong.  He's led a great writing life which all of us wanna be authors long to have.  I knew his name but had never read any of his work so I was ecstatic when my trusty book club decided to read it.  It was the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1951 so I'm always happy when I can cross one of those off my list.

Willie Keith is a Princeton boy, fresh out of college and off to Naval Officer Training school to serve his country during World War II.  While there he earns the distinction of having more demerits than anyone else, and barely shy of requiring expulsion.  Willie has a talent for making up silly songs which he sings in a nightclub just for fun.  While there he meets a beautiful lounge singer, May Wynn.  The pair fall in love but struggle to reconcile the very different cultures in which they've been raised.

Willie is shipped off to an ancient rust bucket, a minesweeper, The Caine.  His life on board under the direction of an eccentric and overwhelmed, Captain Queeg, turn the pampered mama's boy into a man.  As a writer, I pay attention to how characters change and grow in the midst of the story.

Herman Wouk doesn't write fancy prose or use complicated literary devices.  He's simply an excellent storyteller.  The Caine Mutiny is a compelling story, well told.  I felt it dragged on especially during the court martial and I didn't quite understand the the storyline of the naval lawyer, but neither detracted from my overall enjoyment of the novel.

I have to add that the history lesson that lives within these pages is a good one.  The Caine Mutiny is one that will stick with me for a long time.  Sometimes there is nothing like a good, old fashioned classic to stimulated my gray matter and enrich my reading list.  


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan Anna Kerrigan is a young woman who is doing her part in the war effort by working at the Brooklyn Navy ...