April 25, 2009

(34) Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz



There is something about college life that I find fascinating. The behind the scenes kind of thing is what I enjoy reading about. I think it is for the same reason why I enjoy reading books set in summer camps. I lived the experience as an attendee, so to read about it from the back-end of things is a real eye opening experience.

Which is why I have been eager to read Admission since I first read the synopsis. I was not disappointed.


It has been a while since I have read a 450 page book. I forgot what it was like to be totally immersed in a story. Immersed in a character is more like it. Portia Nathan is the kind of character where you just submerge yourself in her life.

Portia works for the Admissions Office at Princeton University. She holds the keys to some of the most hallowed halls in America, if not the world. She has been in "the business" since graduating from Dartmouth, herself. She is living a pretty charmed life with her partner of sixteen years, Mark. They are established in the Princeton community and have created a happy life together.

A trip to Vermont during the fall changes it all. On a recruiting trip to a new charter school her pasts collides with her present in more than one way. When she returns home, she discovers that her future is not as solid as she once had thought and her world starts to unravel.

Jean Hanff Korelitz has written an amazing book. Her fictionalized account of what happens in the Admissions Office of a prestigious University makes for a fascinating story. As readers, we find ourselves falling deeper and deeper into Portia's disintergrating life. The deeper we fall, the more we desperately want Portia to pull herself up and continue her life. With Mark or without. There are points in the book where the sense of voyeurism is so great, I almost felt embarrassed to be reading it.

The thought of reading a 452 page book is daunting to a lot of people. Have no fear, Admission is one of those books that is over before you know it. The writing is superb, the characters are like able, and the story is captivating. Admissions is not a book to be missed. Portia Nathan is a woman you will be glad you met.

April 22, 2009

(33) The Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick



Make no mistake. A Reliable Wife is a gothic romance novel disguised as contemporary fiction. But this gothic romance is a book you will not to be able to put down.

Catherine Land has answered an ad in the paper for a wife. Ralph Truitt is a wealthy business man that lives in the wilds of Wisconsin. The year is 1907. Mr. Truitt has lived twenty years without another human to love. His housekeeper & her husband are often times the only interaction he has with anything living.

Catherine Land has responded to the advirtisement. She has told Mr. Truitt that she is the daughter of a Missionary man, plain & looking for someone to take care of as she ages. But she has not been honest. And it isn't until much later in the book you realize the depth of her deception.

It is hard to go into great detail about the plot without giving away it's secrets. And the secrets start spilling out about halfway through the book. And the secrets send everything spinning out of control. Will Catherine be able to live with herself he she continues down her deceptive path? Will Ralph Truitt ever be able to forgiver her? Or himself?

A Reliable Wife is fabulously dark & twisted gothic romance. The secrets that haunt both Catherine and Ralph give the book a Thirteenth Tale or Rebecca kind of feel. The story gets in your heart & you can't help but ache for Ralph & Catherine. All they want is to have a happy ending, but as the author states towards the end of the book,

It was just a story about despair

.

You are not going to find a happy, feel good story within the pages of The Reliable Wife, but it is a story that you will devour and not be able to put down. Sometimes, those are the best books of all.

April 19, 2009

(32) Confessions of A Counterfeit Farm Girl


While I did not grow up on a farm, I grew up in rural America and I spent plenty of time on the farms of various family members. I jumped hay bales & played in the fields of my Uncle's farms. I drank my fair share of fresh milk & rode the 3-Wheelers on my Grandma's dairy farm. Even as recently as last summer I spent a weekend on a farm & took a gazillion pictures of my nephews & my cousin's kids feeding the baby calves & riding a pony.

Having given you a little bit of my background, I must say that I ran hot & cold with Confessions of A Counterfeit Farm Girl.

At first glance Susan McCorkindale appears to be a spoiled brat. She is a corporate big wig with Family Circle magazine. Excuse me, a "Whining Big Wig" as stated in Part One, Chapter One of her book. She brags about her "Top Ten Ways to Pass the Day", none of which really involve work. She lives up to the stereotype that all of the corporate employees have of the "big wigs". Managing your minibar? Check. Planning a party completely unrelated to work? Check. Catching up on your reading, under the disguise of writing the budget? Check. Watch a movie? Check. It's no wonder "Corporate Big Wigs" are reviled by their subordinates.

And then Suzy Mac quits her job & moves to the sticks. Where she is so far out of her element that it is funny. Literally, laughable. You almost feel bad for her being the outsider at the social functions of rural Virginia. She is so grossly out of her element, thinking that "riding" means riding the subway, instead of riding horses. But it is really hard to be too empathetic during her home renovations because she is staying at her wealthy in-laws posh "farm". While most farmers in our country are living near poverty, using equipment older than me. Working full time jobs off the farm to pay for health insurance & pay the bills to be able to hold onto homesteads that have been in the family for generations.

Okay. So as I write this, I realize that there was more about this book that I didn't like than I did like. Maybe because I don't feel sorry for the "poor little rich girl" who moved to the country. The mocking of her husband got to the point that I was embarrassed for him. If she said "I love him, but..." once, she said it a million times. Not to mention her sons. I grew up with 5 (FIVE) brothers. FIVE. I *get* what it is like to fall in the toilet because *someone* forgot to put the seat down. I have seen my fair share of pissing contests, both literally & figuratively. I wasn't as uncomfortable reading the stories about her boys as I was reading the stories about her husband. The continued mocking of her husband was rough for me to read. But that is just me.

I got the impression that Susan McCorkindale was trying too hard. Sarcastic, biting memoirs are the "in" thing. It works for Jen Lancaster. It does not work for Susan McCorkindale.

But I am not the "big wig" I could be wrong.

April 15, 2009

(31) An Offer You Can't Refuse by Jill Mansell


Let's talk about moral dilemmas.

What would you do if the mother of your boyfriend offered you an obscene amount of money to walk away from the love of your life? What if you found out just a few hours later that someone in your family desperately needed that money.

Would you do it? Would you make that sacrifice for your family?

That is the dilemma that Lola has been faced with. Her boyfriend, Dougie, comes a posh, uppercrust London family. His mother approaches Lola with an offer that she refuses at first. Then she discovers a member of her family has a desperate need for that money. So Lola walks away. She goes abroad & tries to put Dougie out of her mind.

Flash forward ten years and Lola is back in London. She is managing a bookstore. And as a bookseller, I love to read about booksellers & bookstores in books. I can always tell which authors have BEEN THERE. It is obvious to me, that Jill Mansell is one who has been there.

"She adored her job and she loved her customers -- dealing with the public
was her forte -- but sometimes they were capable of testing her patience to the
limit. Especially in the run-up to Christmas, when vast hordes of people who
didn't venture into bookshops at any other time of the year came pouring through
the doors with a Great Need to Buy coupled with Absolutely No Idea What. It
could be an enjoyable challenge."


The accuracy of this passage had me laughing out loud. So very accurate. And very cleverly written.

Returning to London does mean the possibility of running into Dougie. And through a freak accident, it happens. Lola decides that enough time has passed and the statute of limitations on the "deal" she made has expired and she is determined to get Dougie back.

But at the same time , there are several other sub plots going on in the book. Some of them seemed a bit forced and really unnecessary. But at the heart of the book is Lola's story. Trying to figure out exactly what (and who) she wants in this life.

An Offer You Can't Refuse is written in a smart, funny way that will have you chuckling in several spots. You will find yourself getting emotionally attached to Lola, Dougie, Gabe & Sally. You will finding yourself rooting for them all and hoping for the best. Trust me, Jill Mansell will not disappoint you in the end.

April 10, 2009

~~Life Sentences by Laura Lippman~~


I was lying in bed last night working on Chapter 8 of this book. But my mind was wandering into the other room. Where I had just unpacked 40 boxes of books, half of them I have not read yet, and I closed the book.

I was eight chapters in and had no interest in the main character. I had no desire to see what happened. I just didn't care.

Life Sentences becomes my second "Did Not Finish" of the year.

April 7, 2009

(30) The Big Love by Sarah Dunn


I apologize for my absence. I moved this past weekend & my life, for the last week, has been devoted to packing & unpacking boxes. But now I am done and I have created the perfect little reading nook in the bay window of my new house. It was here that I finished my latest book, The Big Love, by Sarah Dunn.

I am firmly convinced that Sarah Dunn is the one author that relates the best to me. I suspected it when I read her other book, but now I am convinced. It is great to read a book that you can identify with, but to have actually had to deal with the same weird situations as the heroine in not one, but two books? LOL it is almost frightening.

Alison Hopkins is living the charmed life. She lives with her boyfriend, Tom. She is a writer for a Philly newspaper, and she has an amazing group of friends. She is hosting a dinner party & sends Tom out to pick up some mustard. But her world falls apart when he calls to say he isn't coming back. Ever.

Alison does what every girl who has just been dumped does, she does a relationship autopsy. She dissects every fight, every conversation they ever had looking for clues that she missed the first time. Trying to figure out what she could have done differently to prevent Tom from running to the arms of his ex-girlfriend. She tries to reconcile her strict, evangelical upbringing with the woman she is now and what she is looking for in a boyfriend:

I wanted a boyfriend. I wanted a boyfriend who was Christian, but who wasn't too uptight about it, who was good-looking and intelligent and had an interesting job and a sense of humor, who said "fuck" when the situation
warranted it, who had attempted but been unable to finish St Augusine's City of God, who could argue politics with my mother and talked business with my father, who liked Indian food and had nice friends and knew how to dress and would like to someday live abroad.

Oh yeah. That would be the ideal boyfriend. LOL. Does he really exist? Or is that kind of "wish list" unrealistic?

Alison has to take a good, hard look at herself. At her wants & needs in a relationship. And when Tom wants to come back, will Alison welcome him with open arms? Or did she learn enough about herself to be able to see that she deserves so much more.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Big Love. I know what it is like to hope & dream for "the big love". I know, quite painfully, what it is like to try & force "the big love" where it will never be. It is hard. And embarrassing. But it is a lesson that I felt I had to learn.

At least I know I am not alone. The Alison Hopkins' of the world are out there to keep me company.