Book Review: Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

Many years ago I watched Tim Burton’s Big Fish having no clue the story was actually a novel by Daniel Wallace.  A few years ago, I purchased the novella on a whim and it has sat on my to-read bookshelf for ages.  Well, not anymore!  Let’s read the first sentence together, shall we?

On one of our last car trips, near the end of my father’s life as a man, we stopped by a river, and we took a walk to its banks, where we sat in the shade of an old oak tree.

As far as first sentences go, this one is a whopper because the rest of the novel builds off this very sentence – almost every arc of the story can be found within its premises.   We have a father, Edward Bloom, and a son, William, who are coming to terms with the death of the former.  Water plays a huge role – death is only really a rebirth after all.  And Edward’s leaving this life as a man to become a myth and eventually a legend.

One of the best father/son narratives I’ve ever read and really a great parent/child story altogether.  William doesn’t know much about his dad as Edward has devoted his life to work.  What William has are his father’s silly jokes and tall tales of his life from birth through death.  At the end, William wants the truth about his father, directly from the source and that brings us our conflict.  We relive these far-fetched wonderings through short, episodic chapters with titles like The Day He Left Ashland which beautifully captures the fear we have of failing to achieve our dreams.

If I were to create a list of my top 100 novels EVER, Big Fish would absolutely find itself somewhere on said list.  Such a deeply literary novel, yet so concisely written – so available to all readers.  I wholeheartedly believe that everyone will find something to love within the mere 180 pages of Wallace’s novel, whether it be a greater understanding of how mythic we make our relationships with our parents or simply a bed-time story for your children – you won’t be disappointed!!

Rating – 5/5

Published – 1998

Pages – 180

Next up – The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Watch This!

Two new Wednesday night shows have caught my attention, both of which are on ABC.

First, Revenge:

Talk about some soap opera-y goodness.  Emily Thorne is a cray-cray badass.  Also, you’ll find Kyle from Roswell and Serena’s little brother from Gossip Girl in better roles.  Plus, you’ll get to see rich snobs from the Hamptons get destroyed one episode at a time!

Suburgatory:

Wasn’t even on my radar until tonight.  Story follows girl and her father who move from NYC into the ‘burbs.  My younger self relates to the daughter so much – and Jeremy Sisto and Alan Tudyk  (Firefly) are fantastic.

Member Spotlight: Meet Holly Rauckman!

What is your earliest (approx.) reading memory?

My dad taking me to the Bookstore every weekend. The very first book I bought was The Chronicles of Narnia when I was 8. 

What are your favorite kinds of books to read?

It varies. I like reading just about anything. But lately I’ve been liking to read Mysteries. Give me Sherlock Holmes or a book by Agatha Cristie and I’m happy. I also like YA paranormal fiction. And Science fiction. And anything by Stephen R. Lawhead. 

Other than your passion for books, what should members know about you?

I  am obsessed with British T.V. Mostly Doctor Who. My favorite Atlanta Hangout is Little Five Points, because it has a very eclectic mix of people and shops. I love music. My CD collection is so varied, if you can think of a type of music, I most likely have it.  I have a passion for cooking, and I’d like to open my own restaurant one day.  Every September I work at an anime convention in the art show room, where I am the assistant director.

Name your favorite restaurant in the Atlanta area (or two or three!).

Provino’s Italian, Kobe Japanese Steakhouse, And The Vortex in Little Five Points. 

If you could get on a plane bound for anywhere tomorrow, where would you go and why?

England. I’ve always wanted to go to England. I am an Anglophile. I love everything about England. Or The Netherlands because I have a couple of friends from Harleem and Rotterdam. And I’m learning Dutch, so I’d like to put it to good use.

Book Fair!!

The 52nd Annual Atlanta AAUW Bookfair at Perimeter Mall is quickly approaching!  The dates are October 4 through October 9!  The website is http://bookfairaauw.org/ and you’ll find all the important information there!  I also encourage you to find their book donation boxes!   I donate books to this organization throughout the year where I know they will be put to good use and help raise money for women in the Atlanta Metro area!  A great way to give back to the community. Hope to see everyone at the fair!

Book Review: A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maquire

I recently finished the third novel in the Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire – A Lion Among Men.  The story begins with Yackle trying to die:

The time came for her to die, and she would not die; so perhaps she might waste away, they thought, and she did waste, but not away; and the time came for her to receive final absolution, so they set candles upon her clavicle, but this she would not allow.

Wicked was such a fantastic novel (the musical, although different, is also superb) that the sequel, Son of a Witch, could not live up to it.  Whereas Maquire tried too hard to force a sequel he had never intended to write, A Lion Among Men is written tepidly and forgets to add anything of value to the Wicked mythology, almost an apology for the atrocious Son of a Witch.

We follow Sir Brrr, the Cowardly Lion, as he remembers the story of his life to Yackle, an oracle.  Sir Brrr’s present day job is to find the Grimmerie or Liir (Elphaba’s son) against the backdrop of the Munchkinland/Emerald City war.  The Lion’s story is fruitless – he is proclaimed a coward, a hero, a friend, an enemy – all without doing ANYTHING.  However, his story is fast-paced and easy to read (unlike the first two novels).

I do recommend reading Maquire’s Oz novels, especially Wicked.  I would simply recommend Wicked, but if you fall in love with that book, you’ll read the next one despite how awful it is.  The first two novels aren’t light reading.  They are heavy-handed with political, social, and economic commentary.  Maquire is preachy, but his preaching is at least creative.  His world-building talent is phenomenal.  One of the hardest parts of these books is how deeply these worlds are created – at times you feel like you have to be a part of Oz to understand what is going on.  I swear that Maquire takes some sort of Ozian drug when he writes these things so that he is actually transported to his beloved Oz.

The fourth and final novel in the series is due to be released this fall.  I will, of course, read and review that one as well.  I hope we get a satisfying ending to a series that probably should never have existed.  So go read Wicked and let me know what you think!  And go see the musical!

Rating:  2/5

Published:  2008

Pages:  309

Next Review:  Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

Book Review: Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte’s 1849 novel, Shirley, begins as follows:

Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England:  they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good.

Colons, commas, and semi-colons, oh my!  These kinds of sentences often put modern readers right off of reading any further, but I love them!  Anyway, I’m sure you don’t care much about me waxing poetic the beauty of a well structured complex sentence.

Bronte wrote four novels in her lifetime and Shirley is perhaps the most ambitious and the least popular.  The novel centers around several social conflicts of the early 19th century – labor disputes, the replacement of human workers with machines, women’s upward movement, and corruption of the clergy.  We also have the Napoleonic Wars as a backdrop.  Meanwhile, we follow two female leads, Caroline and Shirley, as they navigate the murky waters of love and marriage.

The novel’s strongest point is characterization.  You’ll fall in love with Caroline from the beginning just as you’ll fawn over Shirley once she is introduced somewhere after the first third of the novel.  The former is quietly strong , sincere, and caring – the latter fiercely stubborn, smart, and charismatic. Just when you think you’ve figured out who will end married to whom – you get thrown for a loop!

Unfortunately, the novel suffers from a lack of focus.  The first third of the story is fairly boring, doesn’t include the title character, and is forgotten for most of the last two/thirds.  No real action occurs until the last 100 pages or so.  Bronte’s ending just kind of fixes itself all of a sudden – perhaps she had bored herself long enough?  Who knows.

My final verdict is this:  If you like Bronte and other 19th century novels, you’ll like Shirley as well – but it won’t be your favorite.  If you’ve never been able to get through anything written around this time period before, Shirley will just end up another unfinished on your pile!

Rating:  3/5

Published:  1849

Pages :  560