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

Tuesday Television!

My Tuesdays are slim pickins as far a quality television is concerned.

We had episode 1.2 of RingerShe’s Ruining Everything.  The show’s pilot episode last week earned it strike one. And this week, unfortunately, earned it strike too.  While last week’s episode was just silly, this week’s episode managed to improve to dull, but terribly dull.  My heart isn’t even in this anymore and I’m fairly sure next week will result in the final episode I watch.  Better luck next time, SMG.  I might tune in to see Jason Dohring, maybe.

Glee returned and I had high hopes after a disappointing third season.  But honestly, nothing really won me over in the premiere.  I do like Quinn as a bad girl and that Blaine has joined New Directions.  Rachel and Kurt have some of the best scenes, but I just feel like it’s too little, too late.  We’ll see how I feel once Idina returns next week.

I am happy to announce that I adored the New Girl premiere.  I know a ton of people are annoyed by Zooey Deschanel, but her quirkiness I find endearing.  Honestly, I don’t really separate the actress from her character, Jess.  The role just has a sense of sincerity that is lacking on television, especially comedic television.  Her roommates (the premise has her character moving in with three guys) are fantastic in their own right – I see you there, Deputy Leo!  I haven’t forgotten our Veronica Mars love!  The Douchebag jar is genius and the reverse mormonism is beyond genius.  When the boys show up at the restaurant to save her from being stood up my heart might have melted just a little!  Kudos, new show!  I see love in our future.

Book Review: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

I thought it might be fun to begin each review with the book’s first sentence or two.  So here you go:

“The Swede.  During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical name in our  Newark neighborhood, even to adults just a generation removed from the city’s old Prince street ghetto and not yet so flawlessly Americanized as to be bowled over by the prowess of a high school athlete.”

American Pastoral by Philip Roth is a book I might never had read if left to my own devices.  However, with the undertaking of reading Time Magazine’s 100 Best English language novels since 1923 I could not hope to escape Roth.  I’m always apprehensive to read an acclaimed writer – and Roth’s accomplishments are heady.  With mild trepidation, I opened American Pastoral and found myself lost amongst mid-century Newark, New Jersey.

Roth holds true to that sage, old advice:  write what you know.  His books are highly autobiographical – they often take place in Newark, involve battles between Jewish and American culture, and have an insane amount of penis references (or so I’m told).  Pastoral tells the tale of Seymour ‘The Swede’ Levov – a neighborhood hero both in childhood and adulthood.  He’s the star athlete, the patriotic marine, and the apple of his father’s eye who transcends his Jewish beginnings to end up an American ideal.  He marries Miss New Jersey (a Catholic!) and they have a daughter, Meredith (Merry).

When his beloved daughter commits an act of political terrorism against the Vietnam War, Levov’s life is utterly changed.  The bubble of perfection is burst and now he must deal with the social and familial ramifications, the loss of a daughter, and try to find where it all went so wrong when he had done everything right.

The story unfolds in three parts:  Paradise Remembered, The Fall, and Paradise Lost.  We often find ourselves looking at Swede through the eyes of his younger brother’s friend and classmate, Nathan Zuckerman, an accomplished writer.  At other times we get lost in Swede’s thoughts as he meanders through the past – trying desperately to pinpoint the exact moment he lost his dear, Merry.  Roth buries us in the past – overwhelms with nostalgia and the illusion of better times.  But it’s the illusion that truly dies the morning Merry commits her sin.  Roth wants us to understand that no matter how much we idolize generations past – each decade has its monsters.  No one year is any better than the other.

Personally, I do believe that everyone (especially Americans) should read at least one Roth in their lifetime.  Why just one?  Many people have criticized that once you’ve read one – you’ve read them all.  But he writes beautiful prose, renders a masterful story, and his diction is easily understood.  His characters are at once loathsome and enchanting.  Just wait until you meet, Lou Levov, the Swede’s father!  What he lacks in subtlety he makes up in humorous insight.  So go forth and read!

Very rare:  5/5 stars

Year Published:  2007

Pages:  423

Monday television!

I wholeheartedly promise to update with a book review post later today (for American Pastoral by Philip Roth), but until then enjoy my feelings on 2 Broke Girls and the Castle premiere.

2 Broke Girls wanted me to love it and I tried very hard.  Unfortunately, the off-putting laugh track, the forced jokes that my husband decided could only be hilarious to high-schoolers, and the predicable story lines ruined our potential love affair.  And come on – they get the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn so entirely wrong.  I think the show lacked subtlety and charm.  Two more episodes to win me over – good luck!

Castle, I hope, needs no introduction.  I would watch this show even if it were awful just because of Nathan Fillion, but thankfully this show is filled with win.  Season 4 picks up right where Season 3 left off – with Beckett shot, Montgomery still dead, and everyone else devastated.  Kate survives only to kick Castle to the curb for a few months as she needs ‘time’.  I hate when people need time.  The rest of the episode is fairly straightforward.  Castle very quickly forgives Beckett for  ignoring him for months.  He’s such a puppy dog, I swear.  The new Captain is Woman-Hear-Me-Roar type who likes to be called Sir.  I hope we can put Beckett’s shooter/mommy killer storyline to bed soon.  And I’m pissed that Kate is pretending she doesn’t remember Castle’s love confession.  Not the most awesome of episodes, but I know the awesome will return.