Life with Bingo by Jim Black & Jim Lewis

Life with Bingo    

Jim Black and Jim Lewis

(Reviewer’s Note: I normally review older books, but this newly released book was sent to me personally by the author, Jim Black. His kindness continues to overwhelm me and reinforces the unique bond shared between author and reader. Despite my appreciation for his kindness, my review—as with all of my reviews—is honest and impartial. To provide anything less would be a disappointment and a disservice to this author and I would never do either.)

Life can be daunting on your own—especially when you’re only sixteen years old. But things can be a lot less scary and intimidating when you have your best friend by your side. This is the story of two best friends who escape an abusive home and make their way from Texas to Montana. Along the way, they experience both the dark and light side of humanity and while mankind’s seedy nature allows our travelers to learn valuable lessons about life, it’s the random acts of decency, generosity, and kindness that carry them through to the next day and remind them that there is still good in the world. Good that is just waiting to shower itself onto a teenage boy and his dog.

Jim Black and Jim Lewis take readers on an unforgettable journey told in the alternating voices of our young man and his furry sidekick. Armed with nothing more than a backpack, sheer determination, and each other, our travelers embark on a nearly two-thousand-mile trek that tests their resolve, challenges their trust, and opens up their heart to the possibilities of faith and providence. Life with Bingo is not just a story about running away, it’s about running to and that indescribable force that enables us to keep putting one foot in front of the other or that promises us that things will be better tomorrow if we can just make it through today. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have someone right there beside you to remind you that you are not alone.

Life with Bingo is a fast-paced read with the narration providing poignant and often humorous points of view. While some might see this story as a bit schmaltzy when compared to the stark truths of modern-day reality, I enjoyed immersing myself into this world where good people do good and selfless things—not for clicks or views or likes or fifteen minutes of fame—but because it is the right thing to do. Because helping others not only makes us feel good, but it reminds us of our connectedness. Our understanding that we are merely just one little piece in a very big puzzle and that even though we’re uniquely shaped, we all fit together to form something quite wonderful and special. Aesop wrote, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Schmaltzy or not, that’s the kind of world I want to live in…especially if there’s a trusty friend by my side.

Special Note: If you are a victim of domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit http://www.thehotline.org.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com 

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Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell

Interred with Their Bones

Jennifer Lee Carrell (Adult Suspense)

There are many who regard William Shakespeare, often called the “Bard of Avon” or simply “the Bard”, as the greatest writer in the English language. There are others, however, who believe that Shakespeare’s works are not his, but were written by another writer—or perhaps a group of writers. These two schools of thought belonged to Stratfordians who recognized Shakespeare as the true author of his works and Oxfordians who believed the rightful author to be Edward de Vere. While history may look upon this as mere conspiracy theory, others loyal to Shakespeare are willing to die—even kill—to keep the truth from ever surfacing. No one knows this better than Kate Stanley, Shakespeare scholar and theater director who finds herself thrown into a complex and dangerous mystery after her mentor leaves her with a box and a warning: “If you open it, you must follow where it leads.” Where it leads is a journey tangled with secrets, lies, danger, and death, but Kate must rely on her wits and her knowledge of the Bard to help her navigate the clues and to stay alive.

Like most, I am aware of William Shakespeare and I’ve read many of the Bard’s works—sadly, all while I was in either high school or college. Although I appreciate his work, I never fully reached “fan” status and so it was difficult to totally immerse myself in this book. However, I was unaware of the controversy surrounding Shakespeare’s credibility and so I found this topic to be extremely compelling and thought provoking (I may never look at the man born in Stratford-upon-Avon in the same way again). Shakespeare and Hamlet devotees will appreciate the numerous references made to the tragic play about power and revenge while those of us on the respectful fringe might find that parts of the story seem to languish at times under the burden of historical facts and literary details. Also, readers are taken on an exhaustive trek from Europe to America and back again with many stops in between. It’s a lot to take in, but the story’s momentum quickly gains steam and reaches a heart-racing pace near the end. That and several twists and turns will ensure that your tenacity is well rewarded.  

As the story’s protagonist, I liked Kate Stanley and will probably read Carrell’s sequel Haunt Me Still which focuses on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. However, I did find it somewhat irritating that whenever Kate found herself in a potentially dangerous and unfamiliar situation, her first instinct was to let anyone and everyone know her exact location by saying, “Is anyone there?” Several times I found myself shushing her from the safety and security of my living room couch. Aside from this and a few other questionable choices, I gave Kate props for her intellect, loyalty, and all-around mettle. She’d make a fine Shakespearean heroine. Her mistakes and miscalculations only reinforce her humanness and vulnerability and make her a believable, relatable, and likeable character.

I think the one thing that Carrell points out in the book that is worthy of highlighting—and perhaps remembering—is that you should never judge a book by its cover. This may seem an oversimplification of what Carrell is conveying with her novel, but this is the main crux behind Shakespeare’s detractors: how can a simple man who came from nowhere and had nothing author some of the world’s greatest plays and sonnets? But it was the story’s Sir Henry Lee, a legend of the British stage, who reminded Kate of the unpredictable and serendipitous nature of greatness: “Like your Abraham Lincoln in his log cabin, the Stratford boy’s story illustrates a point that matters a great deal: Genius can strike anywhere. Anyone can be great.” So, whether you’re a Stratfordian, an Oxfordian, or just a lover of suspense novels, I think we can all come together and agree on that.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor

Yoko Ogawa

I was used to absurd demands from my employers—that I wear a different color ribbon in my hair every day; that the water for tea be precisely 165 degrees; that I recite a little prayer every evening when Venus rose in the night sky—so the old woman’s request struck me as relatively straightforward. “Could I meet your brother-in-law?” I asked. “That won’t be necessary.” She refused so flatly that I thought I had offended her. “If you met him today, he wouldn’t remember you tomorrow.”

By the time that Akebono Housekeeping Agency had sent her to work for the Professor, his card had already amassed nine blue stars—one for each time a housekeeper had to be replaced. If she failed, she would be the tenth. The job seemed easy enough: care for a man in his early 60s, work Monday to Friday from 11 am to 7 pm, prepare lunch and dinner, perform basic housekeeping, and do the shopping. The only caveat? The man—a former math professor—had a memory that only lasted eighty minutes. So began a unique friendship that would start over every hour and twenty minutes. A relationship as mysterious, complex, and intricate as the numbers that filled the Professor’s life.

Ogawa gives us a hauntingly beautiful story about kindness, loyalty, and friendship. Despite giving her characters no names (with the exception of the Housekeeper’s son who is nicknamed Root), these individuals still manage to leap off the page and burrow their way deep into your heart. Both the Professor and the Housekeeper are sympathetic and deep characters who justly deserve our compassion. The Professor remains largely unaffected by the new memories and friendships he’s made; however, when he becomes aware (either vocally or visually) of his loss, you can feel the torment, anguish, and misery literally slicing through his soul. Likewise, the Housekeeper bears an equally heavy emotional burden as she lives each day with the realization that after eighty minutes has passed, the Professor will neither remember nor miss her. This book will tug on every single heart string you possess, yet Ogawa still manages to give us a story filled with joy and hope.

The only minor downside is that The Housekeeper and the Professor does go deep into the mathematical weeds on several occasions with lengthy explanations of various theorems, laws, and formulas. Fans of Pierre de Fermat, Leonard Euler, and Pythagoras will appreciate their numerous references (with Euler’s Formula being specifically highlighted). While the majority of us will tend to glaze over these facts (while reliving some uncomfortable high school math memories), math is the singular means with which the Professor has to communicate and connect with those around him and so these enthusiastic explanations are easily forgiven as they provide valuable insight into a complicated and troubled individual.

Galileo Galilei wrote, “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” No matter how much had been taken away from him, the Professor realized that math connects us all. It is indeed a universal language without barriers or limits. Understanding this now makes me wish that I had spent just a little bit more time appreciating my high school math teachers and everything they patiently tried to teach me.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

Drowning Ruth

Christina Schwarz

Ruth remembered drowning. “That’s impossible,” Aunt Amanda said. “It must have been a dream.” But Ruth maintained that she drowned, insisted on it for years, even after she should have known better.

Amanda Starkey is a nurse—a brilliant one in fact. She’s known for having “the touch”, but recent events have brought her mental stability into question and has forced her to leave her work at the hospital. Seeking a change of venue, she travels to her family farm at Nagawaukee. Perhaps there she’ll get the rest and clarity she needs while allowing her to reconnect with her younger sister, Mathilda, and Ruth, her niece. Soon, tragedy strikes and mystery surrounds the shocking drowning of Mathilda and as the years pass, dark secrets begin to crowd the deepest corners of both Amanda’s and Ruth’s memories. What happened that winter night in 1919 that led to a young mother’s watery death? How much does Ruth remember? What are those horrible scars on Amanda’s hand?  Are they a clue to the past? But like ice, secrets eventually thaw and allow the truth to rise to the surface. What will happen to Amanda and Ruth once these secrets are finally discovered?

Christina Schwarz’s Drowning Ruth is an Oprah Book Club pick and I can see why. Oprah’s selections often involve dark, broody themes with complex characters and intricate plots. This book is wonderfully no exception. Schwarz packs her book with flawed and fractured characters who carry their own unique burdens and baggage. Schwarz is able to flesh out each of her pivotal characters amply (from Amanda’s old love interest to Ruth’s beautiful and vivacious new friend) and doesn’t waste precious words with throw-away details or pointless subplots. The story switches from past to present and from third-person narrative to first-person points of view of both Amanda and Ruth. It is perhaps these personal perspectives that give readers the most honest and raw insights into these women, the motivations behind their actions, and how each are dealing with loss, adversity, betrayal, and heartache. Drowning Ruth moves along at a vigorous pace with plenty of plot twists to keep the reader engaged and guessing. The farther you get into this story, the more you realize how all of Schwarz’s character’s lives are deeply intertwined and entangled. The result is a satisfyingly suspenseful and captivating read.

One of my favorite authors, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, wrote in his book The Shadow of the Wind, “A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.” Like Mathilda and Ruth, Amanda Starkey was drowning as well, but her water was the weight of the secrets she wrapped around herself. Despite her need to keep them submerged, Amanda’s dark secrets eventually found their way to the bright surface and as they emerged, they brought Amanda up as well and introduced her to the fresh air that only life and living can provide.    

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.thriftbooks.com

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Bed & Breakfast by Lois Battle

Bed & Breakfast

Lois Battle

Josie Tatternall, military widow turned Bed & Breakfast proprietor, is about to reunite her thrown grown daughters for the holidays.  Following a sudden medical emergency of one of her closest friends, Josie realizes the fragility and uncertainty of life and decides that there is no time like the present to bring her estranged family together after ten long years apart.  But will her three headstrong daughters agree?  Can the beauty and majesty of Christmas yield hope and forgiveness and unite this broken family?  Josie is about to find out.

I began this book with very high expectations.  After all, the cover is brimming with glowing reviews: “Full of warmth, humor, and characters I completely adore,” touted author Dorothea Benton Frank and “An irreverent holiday treat,” exclaimed the Chicago Tribune.  Author Cassandra King said the characters in Battle’s book were “wonderfully eccentric” and “heartwarming” who have “become her friends”.  But alas, you truly can’t judge a book by its cover and my experience with this story and its characters left me feeling more bah humbug than holly and jolly.  Before delving further, let me explain how I rate books—50% of my review is about the book itself (story, characters, pace, themes, etc.) and the other 50% is how the book left me feeling (enlightened, hopeful, disturbed, retrospective, etc.).  With a rating of 2/5 stars, the latter far outweighed the former as I am still reeling with contempt at such an aggravating cast of characters. Allow me to elaborate without spoiling the story too much…

First, let me go down the list of main characters that ran the gamut of predictable and overused stereotypes: Josie, the dutiful military wife who puts her own wants and needs last; Josie’s domineering and womanizing military husband, Bear; Cam, Josie’s eldest who fled small town South Carolina for the bright lights of New York only to be rudely awakened by the fact that she is a very small fish in a huge pond; Lila, middle child, doting daughter, and perfect Southern wife who seemingly leads an idyllic, charmed life; and Evie, Josie’s youngest who was a one-time runner-up in the Miss South Carolina pageant and who uses her legs and lashes to their full advantage.

Second, it was actually surprising to read a book, written by a woman, with so many unlikeable female characters.  The daughters were all self-centered, selfish, whiny, immature, and just plain insufferable. Josie was a little more tolerable, but it’s one thing to be loyal to a husband who is a known philanderer (at least she respects and honors her vows) and quite another to pledge allegiance to a friend who—more likely than not—had abused her trust and taken advantage of their friendship.  This makes Josie more of a chump than a champion.  Overall, I’ve never met a more contemptible set of women that I disliked a lot, respected less, and fell victim to their own self-destructive behaviors and personalities.  Oddly, it was the men (Josie’s brother-in-law, Cam’s love interest, and Lila’s husband) who came across as decent, sympathetic, reliable, honorable, and morally grounded. 

This was the first book by Lois Battle that I’ve read.  The Florabama Ladies’ Auxiliary & Sewing Circle is still on my bookshelf and, rather than potentially throw the baby out with the bathwater, I will be giving Battle another try to see if her female leads fare any better in this book. 

I’ll end this review by mentioning a sentiment of Josie’s that she recalls several times throughout the book as she looks at the lives of her grown daughters: she did the best she could.  Unfortunately, I believe Battle could have done a little better for all of the women in the Tatternall family.

Rating: 2/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

The Girl She Used to Be 

David Cristofano

I open my eyes and realize there is no way to turn this around. Before, there was one good guy and one bad guy; now I’m lost in a world of distrust and corruption and the odds of my survival have slipped to about one in a thousand.  The only person left I can trust is myself—and I have no idea who I am.

Melody Grace McCartney has been in the Witness Protection Program since she and her parents observed a violent murder on the morning of her sixth birthday.  By the age of 13, Melody had already exhausted six identities.  Through years of countless cities, occupations, and names, the only thing that Melody knows is that there is certainty in numbers.  In numbers, there is stability and consistency.  Math never lies.  Now 26, Melody is about to be relocated again when she encounters Jonathan Bovaro.  He’s charming, rich, and the son of the man who is the reason behind her seclusion and the murder of her parents.  Jonathan tells her that she is safe while she is with him, but after twenty years of hiding in the dark, can this man actually show Melody the light?

The Girl She Used to Be is a prime example of when people make very (very, very) bad decisions.  The book starts off promising, but with each chapter, the ludicrous choices begin to pile up faster than traffic on US 101 in California during rush hour.  Although we lament Melody’s loss of a “normal” childhood because of the secret she’s forced to keep, her twenty-year plight becomes a bit tedious and whiny as she is being relocated for the umpteenth time due to boredom (she gets a tad itchy at about the 18-month mark). Sadly, Jonathan “Johnny” Bovaro doesn’t come across any more likable or sympathetic.  His good intentions are clouded by a quick-trigger violent streak and his optimism of his Mafia family is laughable (hasn’t he seen The Godfather?  Even Zootopia should have clued him in—the arctic shrew mafia boss is cinematic genius by the way).   

All in all, David Cristofano’s novel isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but after an interesting enough start, it begins to fall apart about midway through and then just ends up in a tangled pile of spaghetti.  The actions and judgments of the story’s two main characters make the story implausible (surely adults aren’t THIS naïve) and hard to wrap your arms around.  Interestingly, Cristofano starts each chapter not with a title, but with an equation.  Unfortunately, his numbers just don’t quite add up.

Rating: 3/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.thriftbooks.com

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The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries

Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus (Adult Fiction)

“There are essentially three types of nanny gigs.  Type A, I provide ‘couple time’ a few nights a week for people who work all day and parent most nights.  Type B, I provide ‘sanity time’ a few afternoons a week to a woman who mothers most days and nights.  Type C, I’m brought in as one of a cast of many to collectively provide twenty-four/seven ‘me time’ to a woman who neither works nor mothers.  And her days remain a mystery to us all.”  Nan would categorize Mrs. X as definitely a Type C.  In her final year at NYU, Nan is juggling school, her roommate’s obnoxious and hairy boyfriend, a self-absorbed boss, a promising romance, and a precocious four-year old by the name of Grayer.  As Mrs. X becomes increasingly more demanding—while blurring the lines between hired help and servant—Nan begins to wonder how much she can possibly bear for the sake of a single child.

Authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus have worked for over thirty New York City families and claim that their story of Mrs. X and her family is entirely fictional and not based on an actual family.  Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief and hope that’s true.  To imagine such a cold, disconnected, passive-aggressive, self-entitled woman and an equally despicable, philandering, and narcissistic man actually being parents that possess such a profound and everlasting effect on another human being is beyond the pale and frightening to think about.  As loathsome characters go, let’s not leave out our poor and hapless Nanny…Nan for short.  Although she has a genuine regard for Grayer and clearly has his welfare in mind, one cannot overlook her obvious lack of a spine, as well as dignity and self-respect.  One of my biggest pet peeves is a person—either real or imaginary—who complains constantly about his or her current circumstances, but does not a single, solitary thing to remedy it (Kathy Nicolo from House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III quickly comes to mind).  Nan hates her employer and despises her current living situation yet she refuses to quit or move.  Either she’s unimaginably loyal or really likes being miserable.  Unfortunately, when Nan is miserable, she shares her misery with us and then WE become miserable and unless you’re Job, being subjected to perpetual pain and suffering is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Nanny Diaries isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read and it does contain some self-deprecating humor, but the deplorable supporting characters and a whiny main character make this an overall annoying read resulting in an unpleasant (and yes, miserable) experience.  The only character with heart who deserves any semblance of sympathy is Grayer who represents any child who was conceived to be nothing more than an accessory worn on the arm versus a being to be held in your heart.

If you want an insight into the world of high-priced fashion designers and luxury brand names (Chanel, Prada, Judith Leiber, Lalique, Ferragamo, Armani, Gucci), then this is the book for you.  If you are looking for a heartwarming and feel-good story about nannies and the children in their care, amble down the children’s section of your local library or bookseller and check out the adventures of Mary Poppins or Nurse Matilda.  You’ll find nary a Hermès bag or Manolo Blahnik pump in these stories, but you might feel a little better about the world and those among us who have more money than manners…unless you like feeling miserable and then the Book of Job is right up your alley.

Rating: 3/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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The Walk by Richard Paul Evans

The Walk

The Walk

Richard Paul Evans (Adult Inspirational)

Alan Christoffersen had it all: a successful advertising agency, a big house, luxury cars, and a beautiful wife who was the love of his life.  But a horrible accident would set off a series of events that would send his world crashing down.  Within weeks, he would lose everything and Alan Christoffersen, the man who had everything, was suddenly left with nothing.  It seemed that even God had abandoned him.  So, Alan decided to walk away from his troubles…literally.  With nothing more than a backpack and a few essentials, Alan set off on a near 3,500 journey stretching from Seattle, Washington to Key West, Florida hoping that this walk might bring him some clarity to a life that didn’t make sense anymore.

I’ve read many What-would-you-do-if-type books: What would you do if you could live forever?  What would you do if you had one wish?  Go back in time?  Trade places with someone?  Were invisible?  This one was different.  Tackling the idea of how to move forward after you’ve lost everything is daunting.  Alan faced this situation, questioned his own faith, and wondered why love, hope, and grace had been so mercilessly taken from him.

The Walk is the first in a series of five books in The Walk Series by Richard Paul Evans.  This first installment takes Alan all the way across the state of Washington: from Seattle to Spokane.  During this first leg of his journey, he meets several people who remind him what kindness, generosity, and gratitude look like: a handless man looking for answers, a scarred woman offering hope, an innkeeper who faced death, and a stranger returning a favor.  Each person along his journey offers Alan little bits of wisdom and insight and their brief presence in his life leaves him undeniably changed.

The Walk is an easy and quick read.  Evans deals with religion and faith without being overly preachy and gives us a likeable protagonist who seeks the good in humanity although he himself has been betrayed by those he had trusted most.  In the opening pages, we know Alan completes his walk and eventually reaches Key West, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” and we know that Alan has a very long journey ahead of him.  A journey that will hopefully answer some of his questions and perhaps even restore his faith.

Alan keeps a diary of his walk.  In one entry, he wrote, “We truly do not know what’s in a book until it is opened.”  Likewise, we often don’t know what’s in a person until we ask or until we have the opportunity to get to know them.  We don’t know their past, the burdens they may carry, or the pain they may be enduring.  The few people that Alan encountered during his walk through Washington began as unopened books, but by extending a kindness or even just a simple greeting, those books began to open and Alan discovered that perhaps the love, hope, and grace that he thought had been denied him had never really abandoned him after all.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

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In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods

In the Woods

Tana French (Adult Mystery)

On August 14, 1984, Jaime Rowan, Adam Ryan, and Peter Savage—all twelve years old—were playing in the surrounding woods of their small Dublin neighborhood of Knocknaree when the unthinkable happened.  Jaime and Peter disappeared and Adam was found in blood-soaked sneakers clinging to a tree with no memory of the event.  Flash forward twenty years and Adam Ryan, now Detective Rob Ryan, is investigating the murder of twelve-year-old Katy Devlin in Knocknaree.  Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, diligently work the case to find Katy’s killer while Ryan grapples with lost memories that may link the two cases together.  But Knocknaree is a small place.  What are the chances that two different child murderers live in the same village?

In the Woods is French’s debut novel and she handily presents an interesting and compelling police procedural.  Clocking in at 429 pages, she manages to hold our interest throughout her novel while creating a slow and steady momentum as our main characters flesh out four different threads of theories and begin peeling back multiple layers on two seemingly-connected murder cases.  Her characters are multi-dimensional and French gives us time to become familiar with them; however, the portrayals are a bit biased since we are seeing everything through Ryan’s eyes, our story’s narrator.  By his own admission, he lies and so we are already aware that throughout the case, we’re going to run into credibility problems.  (Personally, I don’t like unreliable or untrustworthy narrators, but I digress.)  The thing which pleasantly surprised me was the relationship between Ryan and Maddox.  French chose a professional relationship for these two versus the obligatory romantic/sexual conflict that readers often get when presented with a male/female partner pairing.  We see the ease they have around one another, as well as the mutual respect they share.  This platonic relationship allows the reader to concentrate on the case rather than muddy the waters with “will they/won’t they” expectations.

Despite these positives, I found this book fell short on multiple levels.  In the Woods starts off riveting and suspenseful and then—through a series of professional negligence (some folks should have lost their jobs), self-destructive decisions, and just plain sloppiness (or laziness) on the author’s part—the story begins to unravel and disintegrate right before our eyes.  Ryan is not a very likeable guy and he knows this: “I am intensely aware, by the way, that this story does not show me in a particularly flattering light.”  More often than not, he comes off as whiny and immature and his love for the bottle (which leads to more hangovers that I could count) makes me wonder how he manages to stay gainfully employed let alone be put in charge of a murder investigation.  Despite his horrifying backstory (which should have earned him at least a few pity points), it was simply impossible for me to connect with Ryan and feel any kind of sympathy for him.  Conversely, Cassie Maddox is bright, intuitive, hardworking, and a much more likeable character, which is probably why Tana French gave her the starring role in her novel’s sequel The Likeness (book two of six in the Dublin Murder Squad series).  Positives and negatives aside, the biggest problem I had with this book is the giant red herring that French made the cornerstone of her story.  I won’t divulge any spoilers, but I will say that by the end of the book, I was left feeling irritated, unsatisfied, and frankly duped.  I did stop myself from throwing the book against the wall so I guess this can be added to the positive column.

In the Woods won several awards and inspired an eight-episode series for the BBC and Starz.  Obviously, a lot of people thought that this novel and its sequel were the greatest thing since the melon baller.  However, between an annoying main character and a plot line that utterly evaporated, I hope to find satisfaction in French’s sequel.  Until then, any closure that I thought I would find in this book will remain elusive for I believe that it is still probably hiding somewhere.  Somewhere in the woods.

Rating: 3/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com

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A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife

Robert Goolrick (Adult Fiction)

Ralph Truitt was fifty-four years old, rich, and alone.  He had been alone for twenty years and if the loneliness didn’t kill him, then another year in a bleak and barren Wisconsin winter might.  So, he placed an ad in the Chicago paper: “Country businessman seeks reliable wife.  Compelled by practical, not romantic reasons.  Reply by letter.”  He received many responses, but it was Catherine Land’s letter that he would choose.  He had read it so many times, he knew it by heart.  It was the first sentence that piqued his interest: “I am a simple honest woman.”  But letters can be deceiving and all this “simple honest woman” wanted—ever wanted—was to acquire both love and money.  Catherine would not live without some portion of both and Ralph Truitt was the ticket to her dream.  With a beautiful face and a sympathetic backstory, she was well on her way of inheriting a vast fortune…unless Ralph Truitt had other plans.

A Reliable Wife is one of those books that if you don’t stick with it, you would simply give up on it and unapologetically mark it as “Did Not Finish”.  With its foreboding and depressing backdrop of a 1907 Wisconsin winter, to its flawed and morally corrupt characters, to its underlying themes of lust and sexual fantasies, it really takes a herculean effort to weed through all of the debauchery and depression.  Thankfully, a nice story twist about midway through the book rewards those who stick it out and marks the beginning of several plot turns that will keep the reader’s interest and make the remaining scenes of lust and unrequited passion a little more forgivable.

The story centers on three main characters: Ralph Truitt, Catherine Lane, and Tony Moretti (Ralph’s illegitimate son).  All three do their fair share of whining and complaining and mourning a past that is lost and hating themselves for who they might have been.  Interestingly, I found Tony’s character the most sympathetic of the three, although Goolrick paints him as the antagonist.  He is the only one who truly deserves to feel betrayed and abandoned and can safely shroud himself in the term “victim”.  Don’t get me wrong, all three have their reasons to mope and feel wronged by life, but only one trophy can be awarded and I don’t give out participation ribbons so Tony gets the prize.

Robert Goolrick gives us a tale of regret and remorse and poses the question of how far would someone go in order to make a person love them?  I enjoyed this work far more than his book Heading Out to Wonderful, which I only gave 3/5 stars.  Unlike the latter, A Reliable Wife felt consistent all the way to the end and proved to be a suspenseful and compelling read.

I’ll end this review with four important takeways that I learned from A Reliable Wife: 1) If you live in Wisconsin, get out of Dodge before the first snowflake falls.  Winter marks the beginning of crazy season and you’re apt to either kill yourself, kill your family, kill yourself and your family (not in that order), or maim yourself (and possibly your family); 2) If your mother is a fanatical religious zealot, chances are you are going to grow up to be a hot mess; 3) A promise is a promise.  No matter how ridiculous, immoral, unethical, or illegal the promise is, you have to keep it.  No backing out.; and 4) Money doesn’t bring you happiness.  No matter how good looking you are, well educated, worldly, well-spoken.  It doesn’t matter.  You are going to be miserable so just pin that badge to your chest and wear it proudly.  So take a lesson from Ralph, Catherine, and Tony, just live a poor life in the tropics with a good therapist and don’t ever, EVER, make any promises.  You can thank me later.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.target.com

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