Not Feeling the Love for A RELIABLE WIFE

In which I rip on a book everyone loves…

Disclaimer:  This is not a review, just rambling.  I’m not trying to be a literary critic, just a reader who didn’t care for a popular book.  I know many people will disagree with me.

When A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick was suggested and then voted in as my book club’s selection for March, I was so excited.  Having seen the buzz on the book blogs last year, my expectations were pretty high.

I thought it would be a dark story set in a bleak environment.  It was.  I assumed the setting would play a role on the psyche of the characters.  It did.  Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I couldn’t wait to find out.

Well.  Let’s just say this book is not for everyone.  I did not love it; in fact I found parts of it silly.  I’m clearly in the minority, so maybe it’s me.

Ok, so to bring you up to speed in case you haven’t read the book, there is Ralph Pruitt, a wealthy man in frozen-over Wisconsin living in a town named for his family.  He’s lived alone for 20 years with no love in his life and no family.  He owns everything and everyone works for him.  He advertises for a reliable wife and Catherine Land has answered his ad.

Catherine, we know immediately (from the back of the book and in the very beginning), is anything but honest.  She’s playing a role.  She flings her red velvet dress out the window of the train headed for Wisconsin and dons a basic black wool dress, more appropriate for an honest, sensible woman.  She has tiny blue bottles of liquid that she keeps with her.  She sews gems into the lining of her dress.  She’s up to something.

We find out soon enough that Ralph had another family, years ago.  He has an estranged son, Tony (or Andy, or some form of Antonio) from his first marriage.  Ralph made him pay for the sins of his mother and feels guilty for the way he treated him.  That guilt is the driving force of the story.

So it sounds good, right?  These aren’t really spoilers, mind you.  All of this unfolds very early on, and I’ll admit I was hooked.  I knew something was up- there were big red flashing signs all over the place- it was just a matter of what.  The book got off to a great start.  I wanted to know what would happen.

But then a lot of things went wrong, for me.  Without giving anything away, let’s just say Ralph sends Catherine on a big errand- which is the entire reason he needed a reliable wife.  My question, for those who’ve read the book, is why?  Why would he need to get married to do this?  Why did he need her to do this particular task?  Couldn’t he have paid one of the many townspeople who answered to him?  He had buckets of money.. there was no other way?

And Tony.  He also sends Catherine on an errand.  Why couldn’t he accomplish his mission on his own?  Couldn’t he have carried out his personal vendetta without her?

Yes, these men were using Catherine for their own purposes.  But please don’t feel bad for her, for she is a lying, murderous, despicable person who I thought at times was becoming a decent human but really wasn’t.  She had me fooled more than once.

There were some gaping plot holes and unexplained motivations and some head-scratcher stuff.  There was some laughable, silly dialog.  I found myself thinking, “That’s dumb” or “WTF?” a number of times.

The destructive, deceitful, selfish, sexually fixated characters were disturbing- and this book has three of them.  And I’m generally ok with dark and disturbing.   But then there were long looooong passages about sexual obsession that were a complete yawnfest.  It’s a sad day when reading about sex is boring, but the lengthy descriptive paragraphs were icky and tedious and I found myself doing a lot of skimming.

Another thing that was creepy and odd was Ralph’s obsession with people in town going mad and killing themselves or their families.  Apparently all that Wisconsin snow during the long hard winters made them crazy. Why was he so fascinated with sex, money, his long lost son, and tragic stories, to the exclusion of all else?

Ralph seemed so pathetic to me.  He did not seem like a powerful, wealthy tycoon so much as a passive old man.  Catherine, with her little blue bottles, is not a loving wife, and he knows it, and he does not care.  In fact, he welcomes her betrayal, allowing it to happen and even hastening it’s progression.  She’s aware that he knows, and everyone is acting like it’s perfectly ok.  And I did not understand that.  Why would he resign himself to that fate, willingly?  Somebody smarter than me, help me out.  Was it because he thought Andy/Tony would never come home?  And if that’s the reason, could he think of nothing else to live for (regular sex, perhaps, after the 20 year drought?)

There was a ton of repetition.  Like the phrase “such things happened”.  And I found the imagery of birds tedious.  Also the imagery of water- at first I thought the author was doing something kind of cool and subtle with the imagery, but after the 5th description of something being like water, or another mention of a bird (the heart beating like a bird, her hands fluttering like birds, “welcome home” sex like the singing of a bird, and the bird in the cage, and the bird in the garden..) I was rolling my eyes.  Again, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t need to be beaten over the head with imagery (or feathers) to get the meaning.

The whole scenario seemed vaguely familiar to me.  The frozen tundra, the long-suffering and wealthy bachelor with a haunted past, the beautiful woman with secrets of her own..  where have I read this before?  An old dusty classic from high school, perhaps?  I couldn’t place it but it had a very familiar feel.

So tonight is our book club meeting, and I cannot wait to see what everyone else thought about A Reliable Wife.  Someone else is leading the discussion tonight and I’m guessing she’s done a little research.  I’m going to sit back with my mouth closed and let the meeting unfold before I say a word about my impressions.  Maybe I will learn something and be enlightened.  Maybe I’ll see the error of my “analysis,” such as it is.  Maybe I’ll be the only one who doesn’t think the book is amazing and brilliant.  Or maybe not.

I’ll let ya know.

Keeping the Feast discussion with author Paula Butturini

Hello, readers!

Tonight we are privileged to welcome Paula Butturini, author of Keeping the Feast, to our Winter Reading Series discussion.  She will be here “live” participating in our discussion and answering questions at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) in the comments section of this post.

The conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for Paula.

I’ve been gathering your questions for Paula and of course would welcome more.  Here’s what we have so far.

My questions:

How does John feel about Keeping the Feast?  How might the book have been different if he’d been the one to write the memoir?

Your beating was so brutal.  At what point did you feel safe and confident enough to work again?

I remember reading that you kept a journal (I can’t find it in the book, but I remember reading that!)  Did you know then that you might write a book like this?  How were you journals used in writing the book- did you re-read them, use whole sections, or just refer back to them as necessary?  Did John also keep a journal?

The bullet that ripped through John changed your lives so dramatically.  Journalists put themselves in harms way in the most dangerous places in the world, getting as close to the action as possible in order to share it with the masses.  Why do they risk their lives that way?  At what point is personal safety more important than the public’s need to know?

From Jill at Fizzy Thoughts:

I was surprised by their decision to buy a house in France…I would’ve expected a return to Italy. I was wondering if she’d be willing to speak a little bit about what factors influenced their decision to buy a house in France, and if Italy was even a consideration.

Also.. has living in France changed the way she cooks?

When I saw Thrity Umrigar at FoB last year she mentioned that journalism gave her good work ethics for writing her novels…that writer’s block wasn’t an issue, as she considered it her job to sit down and write every day (I’m totally paraphrasing here). Did Paula find it difficult to transition from journalism to writing a book? Did she build on her experiences as a journalist, or was it a completely different writing experience?

From Kathy at Bermuda Onion:

I loved all the food descriptions and kept hoping for recipes, so I’m wondering if Paula has considered writing a cookbook.

From Susan at Suko’s Notebook:

The only additional question I might add is if there will be a sequel at some point in time, or even a book exclusively about food–not necessarily a cookbook, but something very food-related?  The author writes so beautifully about food.

From Dar at Peeking Between the Pages:

1.  I was amazed by your perseverance and patience in the face of John’s depression especially having grown up with it.  How difficult was that for you and how were you able to put aside your feelings and anger to be there for him like that? I think it takes a special kind of person to do that.

2.  How is your relationship with your daughter given how yours was with your mom?  It’s great how honest you are with her regarding John’s depression – she will grow up understanding depression hopefully instead of resenting it.

3. I really loved how food was something that always brought comfort whether shopping for it or preparing it.  I think it’s important to find that something that will bring you through the tough times.  I thank you as well for sharing your story with us about depression because too often it’s a hidden disease and it shouldn’t be.

And one from “anonymous” – ok, it’s me..

My husband had a nervous breakdown 4 years ago and suffered a scary bout of depression and anxiety after his business of 11 years failed.  I worry about a relapse whenever anything goes wrong and nervously watch for signs of it.  So, my question is, has John ever had a relapse?  Do you live in fear that he might?

Come by tonight at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) to say hi to Paula and see how she answers our questions!  Hope to see you then!

Winter Reading Series: KEEPING THE FEAST Discussion Questions

Hello Winter Readers!

This month we’re reading Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini, a beautiful and inspiring memoir of food, depression, marriage, and family that took us on a journey from the dinner table in her childhood home in Connecticut all the way to the open air markets in sun-drenched Italy.  We are so excited to have Paula here in real time answering any questions you might have on Monday, February 22, at 5 pm PST (which is my time zone- she lives overseas but will be in Washington, DC, on the day of our discussion).  If you’ve read Keeping the Feast, or are curious about it, please mark your calendars and join us as we discuss the book with Paula!

Here is a synopsis of the book, followed by a few discussion questions:

Keeping the Feast is a story of love, trauma, and the personal and marital healing that can come from a beautiful place and its simple traditions. It’s a memoir about what happens when tragedy and its psychological aftershocks strike a previously happy marriage and a couple must stubbornly fight to find its bearings. Most significantly, it is a book about the power of one of the most fundamental rituals – the daily sharing of food around a family table. Food — the growing, shopping, preparing, cooking, eating, talking, sharing and memory of it — becomes the symbol of a family’s innate desire to survive, to accept and even celebrate what falls its way.

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to add your own questions, and respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book?  Did you enjoy it?  Was it what you expected?

2.  Were there parts of this book that were difficult to read?

3.  What aspect of the book did you enjoy most?

4.  John and Paula’s marriage was brand new when tragedy struck.  It might have been easier to leave than stay, yet they got through it.  Would you have had the strength to stay, given the circumstances?

5.  What role do you think Rome and rituals played in their recovery?

6.  What role does food play in your family?  Do you live to eat or eat to live?

7.  While reading Keeping the Feast, did you ever get frustrated with Paula?  With John?

8.  Paula had firsthand experience with depression through her relationship with her mother before it overtook her husband.  Were you surprised that she handled her husband’s bouts with depression the way she did, given her history?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Keeping the Feast. Thanks for reading along with us.  And don’t forget to join us on February 22nd for our discussion with Paula!

Book Review: The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf was my book club’s selection for our February discussion.  It was also a book we had on tour recently through TLC so I’d read a few reviews before I ever opened the book- although I don’t think that swayed my opinion of it.

Calli and Petra are 7 year old friends and playmates.  Calli is a selective mute.  You’d think that would make friendships difficult at best, yet Petra understands her, knows what she likes and dislikes, and is able to talk for her and smooth things over for her socially.  Friendship is easy at 7, and their friendship was very sweet.

Calli and Petra go missing from their respective homes in the wee hours of the morning on the same day.  Both girls’ homes back up to a wooded area where the girls have spent many happy hours playing, so the families think perhaps they are together and for some reason playing in the woods (at 4:30 am?).  Calli’s mom, especially, is not very concerned, having grown up in and around those woods.  But Calli’s dad, an abusive alcoholic asshole, was supposed to be leaving on a fishing trip with a friend at 3:00 am that very morning, and no one really thinks too much about that (I’m not giving anything away here because the reader knows from the beginning that dear old dad didn’t go fishing).  The police chief has a romantic history with Calli’s mother and a rivalry with Calli’s father, so there’s a massive conflict of interest, yet he’s on the case.  Small towns do things differently than the big cities, I ‘spose.

This book is told in very short chapters with very short sentences in the voices of different characters including Calli, Petra, Calli’s mom, Calli’s brother Ben, Petra’s dad, the police chief Louis.  Oddly, all the voices sounded the same to me, whether it was a 7 year old girl, a middle aged cop, or a 57 year old professor.  Same vocabulary, same tone- there just was no discernable difference.  I guess this bugged me more than it might have had it not been for the fact that the book I just finished prior to The Weight of Silence (American Rust) did that one particular thing VERY well- making the characters really distinct and individual.  I’m sure it’s not an easy thing for an author to do but it really goes a long way in engaging the reader.

This book was a page turner and I read it in two sittings (it would have been one, but I had to force myself to put it down and go to bed).  I wanted to know what would happen and so I kept going. And throughout I kept thinking, what is the deal with the dad?  What the heck is going on? However, the ending was unsatisfying and the writing unsophisticated.   The plot was full of so many coincidences that believability went right out the window.  Maybe I’m just a much more discerning reader than I used to be, but this one felt very amateurish.

I wonder what the other members of my book club will think..

Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This month my book club discussed The Boy In the Striped Pajamas by Irish author John Boyne.

I was quite stunned by this book, a book meant for children but one that carries very adult themes.   I’ve read other books about the Holocaust but never one like this.

Bruno is a 9 year old boy, the son of a Nazi commandant living in Berlin in 1942.  After the “Fury” comes to dinner, his dad takes an ‘important’ job and the family has to move far away to a smaller home outside “Out-with”.  Bruno is really unhappy about this because there is no one to play with and nothing to do at the new house.  He is lonely and bored until one day he looks out his bedroom window and sees dozens of men and children, oddly all wearing striped pajamas.  The curious Bruno decides to do some exploring to find out what those people are doing there.

I worried about this innocent boy going too far with his exploring, and then it occurred to me that I was worrying more about the child of a Nazi than I was about all the people in the book wearing the pajamas.  They were all innocent, of course.  Did I believe that boy’s life was more important than the others?  I really had to question myself about why I was so concerned for him.  Perhaps because I already knew the fate of the others- I knew they were doomed.  That knowledge allowed me to put those feelings aside and put all my worrying into Bruno.

It was an odd experience reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas because the reader knows more about what’s going on than the sheltered young Bruno, and can understand what’s happening while he cannot.  And, because you’re reading about the Holocaust, you know it can’t end well, but the ending of this book was like a punch in the face.  I’m not kidding- I never saw it coming.  I have no desire to spoil it for you here so I won’t comment further- just know it’s shocking.  I’m glad I didn’t know more about the book before I picked it up because I like being surprised like that.

Parts of this book were a little hard to swallow (a child of a Nazi commandant would be that clueless?) but I got past that and didn’t let it spoil the book for me.  Kids are self absorbed, so perhaps he really wouldn’t have known anything about what was going on.

My 12 year old read the book too but I had to explain the ending to her as she hasn’t learned very much about the Holocaust or concentration camps yet.  She was quite horrified (by what I told her, not by the book) and asked a lot of questions.  I’d recommend the book for mature 12 years olds, on up.  It opened the door to a good introductory conversation on the topic between my daughter and me.

For our book club meeting we watched the movie.  For the most part it was true to the book, however the ending was a bit different.  In the book, the parents are left wondering what happened and eventually figure it out.  In the movie, they know immediately.  I thought the movie was good but (as usual) I preferred the book.

You can find book club discussion questions for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas at ReadingGroupGuides.com.

The Boy In the Striped Pajamas is different, well written, heartbreaking, and tender.  And shocking.

Very highly recommended.

For the FTC:  I bought this book with my hard earned cash.

Q & A with Peter from Flashlight Worthy

Today I welcome Peter Steinberg, creator of Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations, a site dedicated to giving out great recommendations for book clubs.

BOTB:  Hi Peter!  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Peter:  I’m 39, and live with my wife and our dog Henry in Brooklyn, NY. We actually live in a neighborhood called Brooklyn Heights which has quite a literary past. W. H. Auden lived here. Hart Crane lived here. Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood here. Norman Mailer spent the last 30 or 40 years of his life here. Carson McCullers, Arthur Miller, Walt Whitman… the list goes on and on.

BOTB:  What types of books do you enjoy most?

Peter:  Good ones? 😉 Seriously, I’m a little bit all over the place. Good novels. Memoirs and biography. American history. Books about specific times or places or objects (think “Devil in the White City” or Salt“). If I had to pick a single genre that makes me different, it’s probably food/restaurant/cooking memoirs. I’ve read about 25 of those in the last 5 years and have a stack to dive into.

BOTB:   Have you ever been in a book club?  If so, can you tell us about it?

Peter:  I spent a year+ in a “Brooklyn” book club — Not only located in Brooklyn, but we only read books set in Brooklyn. It was fun while it lasted, but like so many book clubs it seemed destined for a short life.

BOTB:  If you came to my book club, what kind of food/beverage would you bring?

Peter:  I’d bring dessert. Most likely my famous butterscotch pudding. Or maybe just some vanilla ice cream… but with my homemade caramel sauce that’s been known to start wars between small nations.

BOTB:  Ok, you can come!  What made you decide to start Flashlight Worthy?

Peter:  I started Flashlight Worthy because I wanted to combine my professional skills (running websites) and my personal passion (books). While there are a tremendous number of good sources for book recommendations out there, I think Flashlight Worthy’s take on things — only really great books. very short write-ups, gathering the books into themed lists — is a fun and different approach. And it’s been a great experience — people seem to love the content and the book blogging community has been incredibly supportive!

BOTB:  Book bloggers are awesome 🙂   Peter, I think Flashlight Worthy is a great resource for book clubs and I hope you have much success with it.  I understand you have a request for book club recommendations, so I’ll post that here.  Thanks so much for your time.. it was great getting to know you better!

Here is Peter’s Open Call for Lists of Book Club Recommendations!

Hello and Happy New Year from Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations — where you can find books so good, they’ll keep you up past your bedtime. 😉

It seems the book club community has recently discovered my book club recommendations.  From the feedback, not only are the lists very much enjoyed, but people are clamoring for more.

That’s where you come in.  While I’ve read plenty of books, I’m looking to book club members to contribute new lists —  annotated lists of highly discussable books.

Can you name and describe 5+ flashlight worthy, discussable books that follow a theme?  Maybe ‘7 Great Books that Revolve Around Food’?  Or ‘6 Women’s Memoirs That Will Start an Argument’.  How about ‘5 Discussable Novels Set in Africa’?

Take a look at the lists I have and give it some thought  If you’re interested, email me at Info AT flashlightworthy DOT com.  Thanks so much and have a great new year!

Peter

(The guy who runs Flashlight Worthy)


The Sunday Salon – January 10, 2009

Happy Sunday, everybody.  I’m sitting in my family room that is flooded with bright sunlight trying to wrap my head around the fact that this is January.  We’ve had blue skies and temps in the mid to upper 70s for over a week.  While it’s not unusual to have a day like that in January in Southern California, an entire week is weird, even for us.  We are enjoying it by getting out to ride bikes, visiting the beach, etc.  Typical January activities, right?  (I apologize to all you frozen-over mid-westerners for rubbing it in!)

This past week has been a whirlwind for us, trying to get back into a normal routine after the loosey-goosey schedule of winter break.  The Hub’s been in Vegas for a convention since Tuesday so the girls and I have been on our own.  I’ve gotten back to work and it’s a good thing because things had really piled up while I was off playing with the kids.  School mornings have been crazy (nobody wants to get up) and the homework battles have begun anew.  The kids have also taken to fighting over who gets to sleep with me each night while Dad’s away.  Tonight is the last night before he comes home and I think I’m going to demand that everyone sleep in their own bed.

The kids and I have been reading in the evenings.  My youngest and I are reading Fablehaven by Brandon Mull together for our mother/child book club and really enjoying it.  (My oldest is already on Book 4 of the series).  It’s the story of a brother and sister who go to their reclusive grandparents’ home for 2 weeks while their parents are on a cruise.  The home and property turn out to be a centuries-old refuge for mystical creatures (fairies, etc.) that can only be seen by drinking special milk.  Reading Fablehaven has been a great way for me to get my kids to drink their milk!!

I’m currently reading an old favorite author, Sue Grafton, and her latest, U is for Undertow.  I’d stopped reading this series a few years ago (the last one I read was M is for Malice) but I have no idea why… I LOVE Sue Grafton’s sense of humor, and this book is really fun.  My kids have caught me laughing out loud several times (it’s a mystery but her humor shines throughout).  Her sarcasm and wit just kill me and the way she intersects the various characters is really clever.  Now I’ll have to go back and read N, O, P, Q, R, S, and T to see what I’ve missed!

Tonight is book club night and it’s my turn to host our meeting.  I had my servants kids dusting and vacuuming in preparation yesterday.  The whining and complaining could be heard for miles around.  I decided to go super easy with the food and order out- Pizza Hut makes an awesome chicken fettucini alfredo so that’s what I’m serving.  No cooking!  Tonight we will discuss The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  We’re also going to watch the movie.  This is something new for us and I’m looking forward to discussing the book vs. movie.  It was such a powerful book and I can’t wait to see Hollywood’s interpretation of it.

Well I’m off to rouse the troops- the bathrooms need attention, the dog needs her pills, the front porch needs to be hosed off, the dishwasher needs emptying, clothes need to be  put away.. the list goes on.  It’s not easy being a taskmaster but someone has to do it!

Thanks for stopping by Books on the Brain.  Leave me a note and tell me what you’re up to this weekend.

Have a great week!

A (Thankful) Sunday Salon

I don’t know about you but I hate those posts where the blogger apologizes for not blogging because they are _________ (fill in the blank) busy, lazy, distracted, sick, tired, *whatever*.  So, I won’t do that.  Because really, nobody cares.

But from looking around I see it is time to dust off the cobwebs in the corners, water the plants, throw open the windows to air the place out and try to get rid of that smell of neglect.

Whew!  That’s better.  (Thank you, BOTB readers, for understanding, and for checking in with me.  I’m fine!  Just uninspired!)

At some point in recent weeks I all but stopped writing reviews.  I have all the usual excuses (busy, etc.) but mostly I’ve just not had the writing mojo.  I would sit down to write a review and the words wouldn’t come.  Now I have so many to write I may never catch up.  I’m thinking of clearing the slate and starting fresh, with the exception of books I agreed to review for others (thank you, authors and publishers, for your patience).  Has anyone else done this?  Just wiped the slate clean and moved on rather than trying to write reviews for books you read weeks ago?  (Thank you, blogging friends, for your advice in this area).

What happened to me?  There was a time when I reviewed everything I read, immediately upon finishing.  It’s much easier to write a review that way.  If enough time passes, the details get fuzzy, and nobody likes a fuzzy reviewer, right?

My aim in the new year:  fuzz-free reviews in a timely manner.

We’re looking forward to some quality family time this week.  The kids are off from school and I do not have to bust my butt cleaning my house and gearing up for company (yay!  YAY!) because Thanksgiving dinner will be somewhere else this year (thank you, Mom, for making dinner!).  All I’m required to do is show up with clean, well behaved children (ha!), a bottle of wine, and a casserole dish full of sweet potatoes (thank you, Tara, for the most excellent recipe!).   My holiday responsibilities end there.

The girls have NO HOMEWORK over the break (thank you, teachers!  I was expecting the worst!)  So we will be out carousing this week.. shopping, seeing movies, going roller skating, and just generally hanging out.  With no school projects to attend to, it will be a real break for them.  We are dying to see New Moon (even Mom’s looking forward to seeing werewolf  Taylor HOTner-all three of us are TEAM JACOB) and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (thank you, Hollywood, for all the great movies this time of year!).  Daddy has to work (thank you, Dad, for being a great provider!), so it will be a whole lot of girl time. Hopefully there will be no drama and we will all get along.

I’m also looking forward to some reading time.  I’m reading How to Save Your Own Life by Michael Gates Gil, a super quick little guide to finding joy in unexpected places.  I need to finish Bold Spirit for a December book club discussion (thank you, book club friends, for enriching my life!).  And finally, I can’t wait to start Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini this week (thank you, Penguin Group, for sending the book!)

What are your plans this Thanksgiving?  What are you reading?

I’m thankful for YOU.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Review: In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

In-a-Perfect-World-199x300It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine.. that song kept running through my head as I was reading this book..

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke is a story set in the near future.  It’s a dystopian family drama, with a growing sense of doom extending right through to the very end.

Jiselle is a busy flight attendant who, at 32 years of age, has been a bridesmaid six times. After one particularly difficult evening at work (seven hours in a plane full of passengers that never left the runway) she is sitting in an airport bar, sipping a glass of wine, when a gorgeous pilot, Captain Mark Dorn, takes notice of her.  Three months later, after a whirlwind courtship, they become engaged.

It’s on the afternoon of Mark and Jiselle’s engagement that they see the white balloons for the first time.  One balloon for every victim of the Phoenix flu.  Groups in every major American city are releasing white balloons.  Are they a compassionate expression of concern, or a political statement and condemnation of the current administration in the White House?  The media can’t decide.

And when Mark and Jiselle go out of the country for their honeymoon, they are warned that people aren’t renting rooms to Americans.  Taxi drivers won’t drive Americans. Jiselle and Mark view it all as a minor inconvenience rather than any kind of true threat. The Phoenix flu, reminiscent of swine flu or bird flu, is spreading across America and beyond. Fear and panic are taking hold throughout the world and Americans are being shunned wherever they go.  But Mark and Jiselle are in love *cue the angels* so they don’t focus on that.

Before Jiselle knows what hit her she is living in Mark’s log cabin and stepmom to his three children.  Everything is picture-perfect.  Unfortunately, Mark’s daughters hate her and make no effort to hide it, but Mark’s little boy Sam is a sweetie and they form a bond.

The new family has some adjustment issues.  Jiselle quits her job to take care of the kids, and Mark, due to his flight schedule, is frequently absent.  The older girls are horrible to Jiselle but she remains kind to them.  The family situation reaches a crisis level and their marriage is put to the test when Mark, after a flight to Germany, is quarantined for months in that country. Even though the kids and Jiselle are still getting to know one another, they must rely on each other as the flu becomes a pandemic and the outlook is dire.  Will the family survive?

This isn’t an easy review to write because the book has a bit of an identity crisis.  Is it a ripped-from-the-headlines tale about a flu epidemic?  Yes.  Is it a romance?  Sort of.  A family drama? Sure.  Just when I thought the story would go down one path, it went down another.  I was most drawn into the story line about the pandemic.  I’ve got the swine flu symptoms memorized and my kids never leave the house without hand sanitizer, so I read that part with fascination and dread.  The fact that something like this could happen (is happening) makes it scary.  The author included plenty of information surrounding the flu and the spread of disease to make it timely and realistic.

But the reading experience wasn’t intense.  I wasn’t on the edge of my seat.  I thought Jiselle was a little silly, worrying more about her relationship (‘he hasn’t called.. what does it mean?’) when there were much bigger things to worry about, like how they would survive.  I was less interested in the romance and subsequent family drama than about the pandemic, and when Jiselle would blather on about how handsome Mark was, it was all I could do not to skim and skip ahead to get back to the sections about the flu.  It felt like two separate stories, with the one being much more compelling than the other.

I liked this book for the beautiful writing.  It was a quick read that I didn’t put down until I had finished it.  But I didn’t care for the ending.  I don’t need a perfect ending but I do like to have something of a clue as to what happens.  It’s all left up to speculation, which would probably make it an excellent choice for a book club.  They could debate what happens to this family. They could give opinions on what, if anything, Jiselle heard at the end.

In a Perfect World isn’t perfect, however I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject matter.  It’s a thought provoking read and one I won’t soon forget.

For other opinions of the book, check out the rest of Laura Kasischke’s virtual book tour:

Monday, October 12th – Starting Fresh

Wednesday, October 14th – BookNAround

Thursday, October 15th – Book Club Classics!

Monday, October 19th – A Reader’s Respite

Friday, October 23rd – The Book Nest

Monday, October 26th – Galleysmith

tlc-logo-resizedThursday, October 29th – A High and Hidden Place

Monday, November 2nd – Word Lily

Tuesday, November 3rd – Books on the Brain

Thursday, November 5th – Write Meg

Many thanks to Trish for including me on this TLC Book Tour.

Sunday Salon

images-1Happy Sunday!  We are having a lovely fall weekend in Southern California that actually feels like fall- cool and crisp with a light wind.  The weather put me in such a fall mood that I made a big batch of pumpkin bread yesterday and curled up with my book all afternoon.  The kids were busy with homework and friends and the hub had little projects all day, so I was able to take a break from being the Family Boss and do whatever I wanted.  It was nice!

In-a-Perfect-World.JPGThis morning they are giving out free flu shots at our church (not H1N1, just the regular flu) and I’m forcing my family to get them.  The kids are not happy and I’m gearing up for a scene with them later, but I will stand firm and insist on the shots.  I mean, you can’t beat ‘free’, and I want us all to have them.  Especially after the book I finished yesterday, In a Perfect World, about a flu pandemic that spreads across the country and then the world, killing thousands and causing all kinds of panic and hysteria.   Good book, by the way, and very timely, what with the Swine Flu always in the media.  We’ll be getting Swine Flu shots as soon as they make those available.  Are you getting flu shots this year?

My book club meets this afternoon to discuss Olive Kitteridge.  New England clam chowder and donuts are on the menu!  Olive is an odd bird, but I really liked her, and by the end of the book I felt I knew her better than probably any other character I’ve ever read about.  And I missed her when the book was over!  I loved the way the book was set up with different stories, some about Olive and some not, although she makes at least a brief appearance in each one.  I’m looking forward to this discussion.

43594542.JPGSo I’m currently in-between books!  I’ve got a ton to choose from but nothing that’s screaming my name and no pressing obligations.  I think I’ll go through my TBR pile and read the first couple of pages of each one until something grabs me.  The first few on the stack are:  Who by Fire, Julie and Julia, Homer and Langley, The Middle Place, Precious, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  I want to read at least 2 of them before I sit down with my November book club pick, The Wednesday Sisters.  Any suggestions?

Hope you’re all have a relaxing weekend! Have a great week, and thanks for stopping by Books on the Brain!