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Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust Without Reason

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"I believed that art, for me the art of the story, the written word, was worth dying for."We hear about great writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Pound and Eliot, and their names are nearly mystical and eons away from us. But what would it have been like to be near to the pathos and genius, to be moving in the same circles as the novelists, poets, and playwrights that were giants in their day? Men like George Plimpton and Doc Humes, founders of The Paris Review? William Styron and Norman Mailer. Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Would it influence how you view yourself? Would it affect your priorities? How far would you go to stay in that world? What would it take to pull you away from it?Anne Roiphe's Art and Madness covers a time during the fifties when she partook in that literary monarchy. Not as a writer herself, but as one of dozens of girls, attracted to these fatalistic, complex, seductive, self-aggrandizing men-- women who sacrificed pieces of themselves, martyrs in the name of Art. Much has changed since the days the public revered The Writer. Now, writing is viewed more through the prism of a career, rather than a "calling." As Kate Roiphe reveals in the foreword, her mother (now a well regarded author with many accolades of her own) treats her own work "with all the romanticism of a factory worker off for a day on the assembly line." Art and Madness charts that transition, that "slow and painful and interesting evolution." "Normal life beckoned with all the appeal of soiled bedsheets. I wanted to dance in the dark, cheek to cheek, with something dangerous, something that would make me feel alive."As a student enrolled in Smith College, Roiphe begins to realize she doesn't want to share in the type of lifestyle that her fellow classmates are destined to have. She looks at her mother, and rejects the ideals and setting of her childhood. She will not be a part of the staid suburbs, country club luncheons, golf get- togethers, and other banal happenings. Dammit, she will not be the kind of woman who wears pearl necklaces. But at that time, what is the alternative? Transferring to Sarah Lawrence is the inception of her intellectual and philosophical transformation. But what are her alternatives? Even at this new college, an eminent professor declares that the words of women are "not worth the paper they [are] written on." If she cannot be a writer, she will be a muse.And so she dons her non-conformist uniform of jeans and black leotard. Heavy eye makeup and no lipstick. (Think back to the fifties and remember what they wore then.) If she cannot make the earth tremble with her words, she will flit about, in the world of those who do--self-destructive, selfish men who neglect their families and dive headfirst into an existence full of raving and roaring, of alcohol and heavy drug use, all the in the pursuit of Greatness. Roiphe's memoir goes back and forth in time, in seemingly random scenes, and eventually culminates to the moment when she realizes that this pursuit of literary immortality and creation has resulted in a vast landscape of casualties. It is not a price she is willing to pay anymore.Salvaging what she can of her life, and her child's well-being (she marries and then divorces a tortured playwright), Roiphe once again transforms, this time from a muse to a writer. It is a long and arduous passage, full of one epiphany after another, but Roiphe writes with an unflinching eye towards her younger self, chronicling her flawed aims and her many mistakes. For those of you who have not read this novel, it would appear that I have included spoilers. Actually, Roiphe's memoir unfolds in a way that you know how the story ends at the very beginning. All in all, a gripping read. Roiphe writes with poetic compactness and illustrates a bygone era with such precision you will be surprised to realize you weren't there yourself.
The Bluest Eye

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This isn't an easy book to read, and I found myself not being able to get through more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. Then I would put the book away, disheartened and angry. Sooner or later, I would pick it back up, not only because Ms. Morrison's writing is that good, but because she demands to be read. Her writing grabs you by the scruff of your neck, throws you on the ground and lets you know you're not going anywhere. And you don't just read her books, you live them. You anguish over the things you've said, the ways you've acted (or not acted) and the injustices you may have committed over the years, wittingly or not. this isn't a novel for the squeamish. It's not a novel for those who want to maintain their distance from issues like race, gender, rape, ideals of beauty, poverty, and incest. Morrison drags you right down in the muck of Percola Breedlove's life and you're standing shoulder to shoulder with her through it all, which is an accomplishment in itself, since the point of view isn't even Pecola's, but her friend, Claudia's. And you will not only walk a mile in Pecola's shoes, but also in the shoes of the people who inhabit her life, and who play a part in her victimization. This is the story of an ugly black girl. She knows she's ugly because she sees in everyone else's eyes. Her ugliness is why boys taunt and bully her at school. Why little girls won't play with her. Why her life at home is brutal, violent, and unpredictable. Why can't she live the life of a white girl, as in the Dick and Jane books? Why can't she live in a nice home, with a dog and cat, pretty dresses, and happy parents who will protect her? Why can't she be someone else? Why can't she have blue eyes and the life that comes with those eyes? Teachers and adults will be kind to her. She will have many friends. A golden paved road will lay itself before her and all will be better, shinier, happier. "As long as she looked the way she did, as long as she was ugly, she would have to stay with these people. Somehow, she belonged to them. Long hours she sat, looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike. She was the only member of her class who sat alone at a double desk...Her teachers had always treated her this way. They never tried to glance at her, and called on her only when everyone was required to respond. She also knew that when one of the girls at school wanted to be particularly insulting to a boy, or wanted to get an immediate response from him, she could say,"Bobby loves Pecola Breedlove! Bobby loves Pecola Breedlove!" and never fail to get peals of laughter from those in earshot, and mock anger from the accused." And Pecola Breedlove clings to this ideal of beauty, nonsensical as it sounds, because she lives in a world where beauty is defined by how white you are. From the dolls that black children are given, to the kindness shown to those frail little white girls by adults who treat their own children like burdens. There is a heirarchy within the black community, and Pecola sees it. And not just Pecola, but her friends, Frieda and Claudia. When Maureen Peel, a "high yellow dream child" enrolls at their school, it becomes confirmed that whiteness is beauty. Teachers smile at her "enchantingly," black girls stepped aside when she needs to use the sink in the bathroom, boys don't tease her. Children flock to sit with her during lunch. Frieda and Claudia are filled with hate, envy, fury, and a passion of emotions they can't deal with all contained within this child with "sloe green eyes, something summery in her complexion, and a rich autumn ripeness in her eyes. " Her pretty dresses and fancy shoes "[threaten] to derange" the girls. How is it possible for them to deal with these message and remain sane and healthy in this context? How? In an important scene in the novel, Pecola is being bullied by a group of boys (see page above) and Frieda breaks up the gleeful group. Maureen (walking home with Frieda and Claudia that day) sweetly grabs Pecola's arm and starts talking with her like they're best friends. The two sisters believe perhaps they may have underestimated Maureen all this time, perhaps they too have judged her by her looks . When the girls bicker over some small thing, the girls are stunned when Maureen reverses herself and reiterates the very things said to Pecola by the boys. She scampers off, telling the girls she is beautiful and they are ugly. And here is where you can see the difference between the two girls: Pecola and Maureen. Where Pecola is brutalized by life, Maureen feeds off the anger and rage. She grows stronger with every attempt to squash her. When Maureen runs off after she's done a bit of bullying:"Pecola stood a little apart from us, her eyes hinged in the direction in which Maureen had fled. She seemed to fold into herself, like a pleated wing. Her pain agonized me. I wanted to open her up, crisp her edges, ram a stick down that hunched and curving spine, force her to stand erect and spit the misery out on the streets. But she held it in where it could lap up into her eyes."But Maureen and Pecola don't have the same life. Though Maureen's isn't a picture perfect home, Pecola's home life is worse. Her father is an alcoholic, her brother is a habitual runaway, her mother lives vicariously through the white family by which she is employed, and domestic violence is the norm. When Pecola is raped by her father, who is in a confused, drunken state of mind, any chance she may have had to survive is minimized exponentially. Pregnant, still black,, and still condemned, Pecola pins all her hopes and dreams on those blue eyes that hold the key to her happiness. How far will she go to get them? What will happen if she does? Why would a child believe herself to be ugly simply because she is black? Why would a community hold those same values? You will find yourself asking yourself these very questions and more with each turn of the page. You will think long and hard about the standards of beauty in America, and about the black women who are considered beautiful. Interesting how many of them seem to be half-white, or very light skinned blacks. Women like Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and Thandie Newton. In 40 years, has it changed all that much? Oprah herself has covered racism within race many times. It is a pervasive issue that never seems to be resolved. And it makes itself at home, not only in the Black culture, but in the Mexican-American culture as well. Latinos regularly categorize beauty dependent on not only how white they are, but in the "whiteness" of their features. To possess Mestizo physical characteristics isn't a good thing. Another character in the novel, Geraldine, is a black woman who has consistently tried to dilute her blackness. She is determined to set herself apart from the rest:She has explained to [her son] the difference between colored people and niggers. They were easily identifiable. Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud...The line between colored and nigger was not always clear; subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant.The afterward written by Ms. Morrison is also a must read. In it, she tells of her inspiration of the novel (a friend of hers in middle school wanted blue eyes), the problems of executing the point of view, her struggle with technique and so on. She says:"The Bluest Eye was my effort to say something about that; to say something about why she had not, or possibly ever would have, the experience of what she possessed and also why she prayed for so radical an alteration. Implicit in her desire was racial self-loathing. And twenty years later I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her? Who made her feel it was better to be a freak than what she was? Who had looked at her and found her so wanting, so small a weight on the beauty scale? The novel pecks away at the gaze that condemned her."Toni Morrison was awarded the Novel Prize in Literature in 1993 and the national Book Award Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1996. Some other books she has written: Beloved, Sula, Tar Baby, and Song of Solomon.
Something Borrowed: A Novel

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I "read" Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed last year through my library's eaudiobook collection. All the books I really wanted to check out had ridiculously long wait lists and I needed to get a mountain of cleaning done because family was getting into town two days later. So, I halfheartedly downloaded the foofy-covered book and expected some mediocre hours of entertainment. It is, after all,chick-lit.But this isn't a justification for chick-lit genre, whatever the term has come to mean over the last few years. In fact, after I read this book, I vowed to discount labels. Why bother to try categorizing anything these days? Labels mean so little; most of the time we slap on a label it's wrong, or it doesn't present an accurate picture, or it's plain misleading. So, you can call this chick-lit. And I'll say it's escapist. Entertaining. Funny. Heartrending. Vivid. Made housework enjoyable (ok, well maybe tolerable). Anyhow, while at Walgreen's last night, I saw the paperback edition of the book next to the checkout stand. I'm not one for movie-tie ins. I'm also not a fan of mass market paperbacks, but I enjoyed this book so much, I couldn't resist. Needless to say, I re-read it last night in a few hours and here we are.Product Description:The smash-hit debut novel for every woman who has ever had a complicated love-hate friendship. Rachel White is the consummate good girl. A hard-working attorney at a large Manhattan law firm and a diligent maid of honor to her charmed best friend Darcy, Rachel has always played by all the rules. Since grade school, she has watched Darcy shine, quietly accepting the sidekick role in their lopsided friendship. But that suddenly changes the night of her thirtieth birthday when Rachel finally confesses her feelings to Darcy's fiance, and is both horrified and thrilled to discover that he feels the same way. As the wedding date draws near, events spiral out of control, and Rachel knows she must make a choice between her heart and conscience. In so doing, she discovers that the lines between right and wrong can be blurry, endings aren't always neat, and sometimes you have to risk everything to be true to yourself.*Ok, the blurb is a mite bit misleading: Rachel does not confess her feelings to Dex on that night. It happens a little differently. Okay--now the arguments I had with myself over enjoying this book as much as I did. 1.Women-Stop competing with each other.2. Never pick a man (boy) over your female friend. 3. Men should not complete you. I try to practice what I preach as well. I'm not competitive by nature, so the first one is easy. But when I was younger (like high school younger) I was on both sides of number two. I lost one friend when she screwed me over for a guy, and even though I got over it, she couldn't get past it, weirdly enough. And as much as I wish I hadn't, I also screwed over a couple friends for their boyfriends. In one case, I confessed. In another, I was found out. The second case ended badly and we didn't speak for over ten years.It's amazing what we girls do to get attention from boys. It's also sad how we depend on them for sources of confidence. As an adult, and now a mother of four daughters, I try my hardest to instill in my girls that confidence should come from no one but you, and that self-esteem comes from "doing" and not "being."And yet...The world will not change overnight. Girls are competitive. I don't know where it comes from; we can blame social conditioning, parenting, gender....who knows? Maybe we contribute to it every time we tell our tell our little girls (after we've dressed them up) to "Go show Daddy." I mean, what is we are really doing when we set this up? What information are we unwittingly transmitting? My fifth grader is a wealth of information on this. I hear her on the phone, and in the course of one day, she talks to Skylar about Hunter, then tells Hunter that Skyler likes him. Then talks to Haylee and tells her that Skyler is not pretty enough for him. Then tells Skyler that Hunter likes her too (Even though Hunter doesn't) and I'm by turns confounded, horrified, angry, and devastated. Who is this child? From where the hell did she learn this? From the time she was small, I have hammered it into her head, that girl-friends come before boys. Always. And yet...Giffin handles this material wonderfully. No one is entirely a villain in this book. Darcy is the spotlight stealer for sure, and she rides roughshod over Rachel many, many times. But she is also the girl who stands up to rude men in airplanes and senior girls with attitudes for Rachel.Darcy, unlike many girls her age, never ditched her friends for a boy, instead bringing her friends along with her on dates. But she's also the girl who lies about her SAT scores to one-up her friends. And she goes out with Rachel's fourth grade crush. And she.... really, it's hilarious to hear Rachel try to justify her actions to a made up jury present in only her mind. Because, when it comes down to it, we have a whole group of characters (all thirty-ish)who lie without remorse, who shy away from make decisions based on their future, who run away from any sort of real-ness in their lives, who worry more about what people will say, than about what matters most. And in the middle of it all, there's Rachel: passive in her own life. Scared of asking for what she wants. Ready to please anyone who demands to be pleased. Taking the little that comes her way. In short, I have no real faith in my own happiness. And then there is Darcy. She is a woman who believes things should fall into her lap, and consequently, they do. They always have. She wins because she expects to win. I do not expect to get what I want, so I don't. And I don't even try. Fellow feminists, you might not like this book. You may say it perpetuates the cycle of women bashing that we see everywhere. And you might be right. But it is an enjoyable read. And it does a good job of portraying the competition between two female best friends, and the small and big slights that happen every day. There are no earth shattering insights in here, or stunning literary feats. But it's a thoughtful, well written novel that explores the relationship between women, and the ways we both contribute to and debilitate each other's growth. 4 out of 5 stars.Oh, and there's a second in the series (Something Blue). And this time, it's from Darcy's point of view.
Don't Breathe a Word: A Novel

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“Once you go through that door out there, you can’t come back, no matter how bad you might want to.”Twelve year old Lisa went missing in the woods behind her house 15 years ago and was never found. That summer, Lisa, her brother Sam, and their cousin Evie, were beginning to hear strange sounds emanating from the woods, the site of the abruptly abandoned town, Reliance. Locals whispered that the Devil lived there, and many said they heard bells ringing, muttering in a language no one could recognize, and some saw green mists in the shape of body. Legends claimed that there was a door that led to another place, a place where Lisa believed that she would meet Teilo, The King of the Fairies. “What if things happened to you—special, magic things—because you’d been preparing for them? What if by believing, you opened a door?”15 years after Lisa’s disappearance, Sam and his girlfriend, Phoebe, receive a mysterious phone call from a frightened girl instructing them on the hiding place of a book no one has seen since that fateful summer—The Book of Fairies. Who was the girl? Why was she frightened? What did she know?As Sam and Phoebe scramble to find the answers, and learn once and for all what happened to Lisa so many years before, they will have to untangle the web of lies they’ve been told, and figure out who they can trust in a crime that is steeped in myth and fable. “Storytelling wasn’t about making things up. It was more like inviting the stories to come through her, let themselves be told.”A skeptic of all things supernatural, Sam believes that Lisa’s disappearance had nothing to do with fairies, or silly stories told by mothers to keep their children out of the forest. But Phoebe knows about things that go bump in the night, of haunted and hunted people, of doors that shouldn’t open, but nevertheless, do. Jennifer McMahon does a wonderful job of balancing the supernatural and realistic throughout this darkly atmospheric novel of the loss of innocence and the corruption of a soul. The suspense builds to an explosive climax, maintained throughout this long tale. Though rereading some passages was necessary, this is a fast read; I finished it in a day, simply because I could not put it down. At the end, it is certain the reader will come away with more questions than answers, which makes it an even better read.
Amaryllis in Blueberry

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I finished reading this novel over a week and a half ago. I didn't want to scrawl off a review hastily. I had to let it sit for awhile..."Dick is dead. Seena knows this, of course: her husband is dead. Yet she keeps expecting him to barrel in, his enormous, gangling self plodding along, a spectacle unaware that he is one."And thus begins Amaryllis in Bluberry. The novel works from the end to the beginning. Seena Slepy is on trial in a West African village for the murder of her husband, Dick Slepy, missionary. Her judge and jury are the village elders, a witch doctor, and a queen. Through a series of various perspectives and the intertwining of past and present, the reader is given tantalizing glimpses of the motivations that have landed Dick and Seena Slepy to this current tragedy. The parents of four daughters-- Mary Grace, Mary Catherine, Mary Tess and the youngest, Amaryllis-- Seena and Dick have abruptly departed from their home in Danish Landing, Michigan to escape their individual demons and their rapidly disintegrating marriage. Emotionally guarded, more at home among her mythology than in the real world, Seena has separated herself from her husband and her children, with the exception of Amaryllis. Dick, a pathologist, decides he will follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become a missionary. The implication of this move has far reaching consequences for their daughters. They are suddenly propelled into a country where food is a luxury, good health is a dream, and education is a myth. Gender can mean the difference between whether or not you can read, whether or not you are shunned, whether or not you are someone's slave. Each individual in this beautifully flawed family is depicted with impressive clarity:Mary Grace is the beauty who is tired of the role in which she's been cast. She's more than her relationships, more than her looks, and more than what those who are closest to her conceive her to be. Struggling with her own identity and her future (and also the oldest of the daughters), she goes to Africa of her own free will instead of staying enrolled at the university.Mary Tessa is the daredevil who never halts for the danger signs. Until she goes to Africa and sees the tenuous link to life. The throbbing undercurrent of death, ever present. The suddent snatching of life, in a moment, regardless of age.Mary Catherine is the daughter most like her mother, and yet most different. A child of the church, she holds true to her faith despite her mother's ridicule and her own crises. Or maybe because of it. She alternates between cutting herself and starving herself as she values the spiritual life more than the earthly one. Her road to some semblance of enlightenment is very interesting.Amaryllis-Blue eyed, dark child. Youngest. Different in temperament and looks. Favorite child of her mother. Synesthete (something I hadn't read about until this novel). Seer of truth, lies, and everything in between. Adamant that her father is not Dick Slepy, but a Native American Indian she encountered while collecting firewood with Mary Tessa. Christina Slepy--A woman who on the outside sacrifices her life to her family and her children, but on the inside gives nothing of herself away to them. She wraps herself in the mythology and the gods and goddesses of the past, in order to escape the life that she is living now. She regards her husband with a combination of contempt and animosity. She sums up her children in a catch-phrases (The Beauty, The Daredevil, The Saint, and The Favorite) and never gets to know who they are until she is forced to. Until her oblivion wrenches them further from her than she ever through possible. Dick Slepy-A man of religion who has his own demons with which he wrestles. A past that haunts him. A wife who shuns him. Shortcomings that plague him. A daughter whose mere presence taunts him with suspicions of his wife's infidelity. A sudden choice to leave life as they know it behind, in order to stay together. The hope of redemption for all of them.This is an ambitious novel with enormous scope. Let me tell you why it fell just short of brilliant. The book felt a bit didactive. I felt the author's hand, pushing me in a certain direction. It was always there, nudging. The mythology wasn't woven in as well as it could have been. Ex: Seena is Psyche and intentionally leaving name blank is Eros. He vists her, yet he is invisible to her, and she is in love with him even though she can't see him. Yet isn't it Seena who lit the lamp? Isn't it she who made him run from her? And now she roams the earth, trying in vain to find him and to lose him.While I loved the mythological aspect, it could have been embedded better, and I suspect that for those who won't like this novel, the mythology will play a huge role. There were too many obvious, trite phrases Ex: He is dust from dust. Ashes from ashes. Dead as a doornail. And she has the devil to pay.Despite these shortcomings, the novel was a joy to read, and it is a certain reread for me. But because I saw the glimmer of genius in Meldrum, this novel was a double edge sword of joy and disappointment for me.Don't let that keep you from reading this novel. It's still amazing. The scenes are illustrated with such care, you feel you are right in the middle of both Michigan and later West Africa. The ceremonies celebrated by the people and the conditions in which they live are mangificently delineated.Also, this a wonderful read for feminists. The female characters all refuse to become who others expect them to be. While they make many mistakes along the way, you can't call any one of them shrinking violets.One wonderful passage:Even so, Seena mostly complied, let Dick own her on the surface, let him touch nothing beneath. He'd possess her body at times, but that was the surface--another incarnation of taking his name. It was form. Not content. Ritual, not meaning. So she could cling to the meaningless.Why didn't she see this? she wonders. Why was she so determined to hollow herself out, let nothing in? So that when lust rained down on her--this torrent--there was nothing at all to keep it out. It trickled into every crack, through every seam. Every cranny and crater and concave void in her being was transformed from parched to pulsing. And she mistook this pulsing for meaning.
Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays and Observations From An Odd Mom Out: Essays and Observations

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Some of us mommies don't fit in with the others. We paint our nails black, or wear converse. We say inappropriate things or don't participate in fundraisers. Sometimes we roll our eyes at school administrators or cut in the car line. You would think we'd have learned by now how to fit in a little more. How to keep our mouths closed from time to time. How to be an adult. For those of you who rail against conformity, I recommend you read this book: Jill Kargman's Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays and Observations. You will laugh. You will be scandalized. You might look over your shoulder a time or two, hoping no one sees what the fuss is about. You will cover your mouth in horror. And then you will laugh again. Kargman tells you just why she has a deep aversion to clowns. And you will never hire one for your child's birthday party again. She will let you glimpse a day in the life of the momzillas that will have you swear against overstructured schedules and timelines. She will even give you a list of vocab words she wants to see in heavy rotation again. She will tell you why she's a gay man trapped in a woman's body (funniest chapter in the book!) And there are sweet chapters in here as well: one devoted to her apartment, which saw her through the good, the bad, the ugly, and the transitional. We learn how Kargman's vanity saves her life. And even funnier, how Jill's daughter is learning to be a bad-ass like her mom...At one point, Jill's daughter gets in trouble at school:"At pickup one day when Sadie was three, the teachers, stifling a smile, informed me that my little smocked-dress-wearing daughter said the F word.Mildly mortified, I asked for more details.'Well,' said the teacher, 'Charlie told her that her dress was hideous and she told him to fuck off.''Oh, okay, well, she used it in the right context then!' was my reply."I'm not going to lie. I've instructed my girls to say/do things that might land them in detention one day. But at least the little boy picking on her in the bus will learn his lesson. There are some downsides: the book is dedicated to Woody Allen, whose name makes me break out into a nauseatingly cold sweat. That's a personal thing, I guess: I'm not a big fan of Woody Allen or the Soon Yi debacle. Second, the author tries a little too hard to sound trendy and blase that sometimes it seems like you're watching a bad episode of Will and Grace. It's rare, but it does happen. Other than that, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any woman who doesn't quite fit it in with the other perfect mommies.
A Reliable Wife

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A man waits at the train station to meet his soon to be bride. A woman whom he does not recognize claims to be her, and in a blizzard, they set out to their future."A Reliable Wife" is a fury of tempestuous emotion, a flurry of vengeance and rage, a promise of passion and rapture, and a ride through the travesties of words left unsaid, words that should never be uttered, and depravities that consume. A woman refuses to live a live without love and money. A man struggles to find a remnant of his past: the son he tortured and hated. A son plots to kill his father to avenge his mother's death. All of these individuals are motivated by the fear of loneliness and despair. All will do anything to get what they want.The third part of the book is emotionally eviscerating. I just finished this, and want to read it again. I was horrified, disgusted, and irrevocably drawn and taken in by "A Reliable Wife."4 1/2 stars
The Terror of Living

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A drug deal gone bad has been written from here to there to everywhere. And that's what this book ostensibly is about? a huge crate of heroine is dropped from a helicopter somewhere in the mountains of Washington state. Instead of making a smooth delivery, the town sheriff hears the commotion (you'll find out why he's nearby later in the novel) foils the plan and takes one victim into custody. What happens thereafter is that the gates of hell are swung open: the drug dealers have turned against their own man, Phil Hunt. But while a drug deal gone bad is the moving force behind it all, don't let that dissuade you literary-loving people from buying this one. It reads like a dream. This gorgeously written suspense thriller is about desperation, about the pursuit of a little peace, about trying to carve out a place in the world for yourself and how sometimes you get lost on the way. It's about getting in over your head, and then having to run like hell to keep it from catching up with you. Let me tell you a little about the characters:"He'd gone through a door that only swung one way."Phil Hunt: A former convict who's been living in a beautiful secluded piece of land with his wife, Nora. They operate a small farm and raise several horses. Basically living hand to mouth, Hunt does a little on the side for extra income. He picks up the drugs and then shuttles them to their assigned destination. He gets enough out of it to keep paying his mortgage, but never enough to quit. And because he's served time for a 2nd degree murder years before, finding decent work isn't an option. In his mind, he's doing what he has to, to survive."This land, these mountains and valleys, carved by glaciers and erosioin were all Drake had left of a former life."Bobby Drake: The town sheriff. But it's more interesting than just that: Drake's father, the previous sheriff, was busted years afo for smuggling drugs at Silver Lake, and just like that, Drake's entire life changed. He becomes a hardline man of the law, intent on integrity and honor. He makes it his personal mission to not be associated with the legacy of his corrupted father, and to sniff out the smuggling at its source."Keep your knives sharp and they'll cut through just about anything."Grady Fisher: Bloodlust has never been so chillingly illustrated. A hired hitman for the dealers, Fisher is more like the butcher (and how appropriate, since he's also a cook). Instead of killing efficiently with a gun, he prefers to slice and puncture and eviscerate with his cherished collection of knives. The drive to kill is ever present, "humming away like a little bird trying to take wing." Grady is hired to take out Hunt before Bobby Drake can get to him first (and find more about the vast illegal operation). But his thirst for the kill isn't so easily focused; he will indulge himself wherever and whenever he can. This is the male triumvirate of characters that provides the bellowing locomotive that is the plot. The secondary characters include a namelss lawyer that coordinates the logistics for the deals; Eddie, friend and fellow drug-runner of Hunt; and the DEA agent, Driscoll, who's in charge of the federal investigation.Which brings us to the female characters, Nora and Sherie:Why would anyone want to marry a convicted murderer and live a life of unease and the potential for disaster at any given moment? That's what makes the character of Nora so fascinating: she s no simpering subordinate. She owns up to choosing this fate and yet maintains some measure of morality and decency. In another writer's less skilled hands, this may not have worked. Sheri, Bobby's wife, is also an engaging character. Every step of the way, in every decision he makes, she is there challenging him, his perceptions, his judgments, his ideals. She questions him relentlessly for his motivations and through her, we see Drake's development and transformation.All in all, a great read. Typically, I lose the thread and have to convince and cajole myself to get back to the story. But not this time!And now time for the excerpts: "The smell of him, in his new old clothes, was something of dust, something of mildew and dark, locked away places, so deep it seemed to come from his skin itself.""For a moment he'd dreamed of being back in prison, that locked-away, lonely feeling worse in his dreams than it had been twenty years ago. Hollow sounds of voices echoing down cement hallways. The poor, eaten-away souls residing there, the weak and starved, blubbering non-sense, rib cages like two claws come together across their sternum. He woke, stunned, his tongue pulled back in his throat, floating back there like something meant to suffocate him."
The Ice Princess (Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck, Book 1)

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I may be the only living female who hasn't yet read Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy. So, when Lackberg's new book is compared to the Scandinavian publishing phenomenon, it doesn't register much with me.Maybe that's a good thing. There's nothing to compare The Ice Princess to. I'm not a reader of the recent craze of Swedish noir, though I will venture into Henning Mankell territory next week. Thus, this novel will be considered strictly on its own merits.The Story:Erica Falck moves to her hometown of Fjallbacka, Sweden after the death of her parents. A writer, she is attempting to finish her fourth biography when she discovers the death of her childhood friend, Alex. Found in a tub of nearly frozen water with both wrists slashed, Alex's death sets off an investigation to which no one person is exempt. Erica is drawn into the tragedy and mystery surrounding the life and death of her estranged friend. Along with Patrik Hedstrom, a police detective assigned to the case, Erica finds out more about the quiet close-knit seaside community than she ever wanted to know. The Review:There was so much going on in this thriller. A prodigious amount of colorful characters: from the eccentric elderly Mrs. Petren, who uses thousands of Santas and a state of the art coffee machine to ensure a steady stream of guests; to the aging socialite Nelly Lorentz, who is somehow involved in Alex's death; to Alex's sister, Julia, who is grieving in a very unusual way. Lackberg touches on a number of issues--domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, mental illness, and adultery--without devolving into the typical moralistic fare. Every detail of human nature is spot on, except the voice of the victim of domestic violence; in this case, it seems Lackberg consulted case studies and assigned the voice of the psychologist to the victim herself. In addition to that, there was an awkwardness to some of the sentences; I don't know whether that was caused by the translator or the author herself. It's nothing especially jarring, just an awareness of the bump in the flow.In addition to that, one of my chief complaints is that the deceased character seems to be the one most filled with life. Alex is well defined, which distinguishes from most of the other characters. Even Erica's voice didn't seem quite her own (as much as the author's) until about 100 pages in, when the writing noticeably improves and the story becomes more gripping.I've heard that Lackberg's writing improves with each new book, so I'm interested to see how the next one goes. This story was engrossing, the characters profound, and the atmosphere well drawn. The Opinion:Aside from those negatives, The Ice Princess is a fast, light read that will keep you racing through the pages to find answers that will make your jaw drop. Seriously. 3.75 out of 5 stars
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