Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

the paris wifeThis month, my book club is discussing The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which tells the story of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage with Hadley Richardson. I didn’t know much about Hemingway’s personal life before reading this book, much less about Hadley – which I know is probably a major crime for an English major, but I was kind of glad to be able to read this story blind to the historical ending.

Here’s a description of the book from goodreads.com:

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

Things I loved about this book:

  • McClain’s writing style is pretty much to die for – descriptive and passionate – you really get a full sense of Hadley and the world that she and Ernest shared together.
  • Hadley – I am very drawn to character driven novels and this one definitely fits the bill. If you don’t like Hadley, you might have a hard time reading this book – but I loved her and found her to be a compelling main character.
  • The literary references! English majors will rejoice at this book which tells not just Hemingway and Hadley’s story, but also features Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and more.

Things I loathed in this book:

  • Ernest Hemingway – He may be brilliant, but he was an ass – at least in this story. The fact that Hadley put up with all of his shenanigans is a real testament to her love for him or possibly just the time period. He just might win the award for Worst Husband Ever.
  • Marriage in this circle of friends was just a sad, cruel joke really. The insane amounts of adultery and betrayal were heart breaking and I often wondered “Is it the time period? The effects of the war? The literary world? Is this just how a lot of marriages are?” It really saddened me how many of Hadley and Hemingway’s friends were in equally awful marriages.
  • The Other Women in this book really had a lot of nerve. I won’t name names because I don’t want to give any spoilers for people who have yet to read the book and are equally unaware of the historical facts surrounding this crazy Literary Soap Opera!

Basically, I really loved this book and I’m looking forward to my book club’s discussion tomorrow!

Have you read The Paris Wife?

Any other similar historical fiction books you think I should check out?

Nightstand: November 2011

So it’s mere days before Thanksgiving, which is exciting in it’s own right, but it also means that it’s time for me to fill you in on my nightstand! Haven’t done this before? The fabulous ladies at 5 Minutes for Books ask us each month which books we are reading, read recently or plan to read soon – basically this amounts to “What’s on your nightstand right now?” Get it?

When we last nightstanded, I was reading The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent – the story of Martha Carrier, one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. (description from goodreads.com)

I have to say I really kind of adored that book, although it was slow reading at times, it really kept me hooked and the story was just fascinating, though heart breaking. I definitely recommend it!

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen SimonsonAfter finishing The Heretic’s Daughter, I had planned to read our November book club pick, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This is the story of Major Ernest Pettigrew, retired, of Edgecombe St. Mary, England, [who] is more than a little dismayed by the sloppy manners, narcissism, and materialism of modern society. The decline of gentility is evident everywhere, from tea bags, to designer sweaters, to racism masquerading as tolerance…

But after about three chapters (or 40 pages or so) I honestly couldn’t read anymore. It is not often that I will put down a book after only a few chapters, but lately I have been thinking that my time is too precious to read books I’m not enjoying. And I wasn’t enjoying this one at all. The book was intended, I think, to be a fairly light-hearted satire, but I found the main character so annoyingly cynical that I couldn’t read it without rolling my eyes at him. I don’t know if the book would have gotten better or if I was being too hard on it. I’d guess there are people who loved it and would enjoy it. But I honestly don’t think I was going to be one of them.

My only reason for reading the book would have been because it was a book club pick and normally I’d give myself a harder time and make myself read it anyway, but I decided to go easy on myself this once because my nightstand is kind of overwhelming me at the moment with books to read and truthfully? There was one book in particular beckoning to me. It’s been sitting there patiently for months, picked up in between books just long enough to read a chapter or so, giggle to myself and then move on to my next mandatory read. Well this month it said, “Um, Jen, knock it off and read me already. You’re gonna love it!”

Such a Pretty Fat by Jen LancasterAnd I totally am! What book am I finally digging into and adoring something fierce? Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster. It’s basically the funniest book about dieting that you’ll ever read and I think I especially love it because (especially when it comes to food and dieting) Jen Lancaster and I are kind of kindred spirits. It’s like reading my own thoughts on paper except then sometimes SHE goes to the gym or starts a diet or loses weight and I’m all, “Oh, hey, wait for me!”

I’m kind of hoping that this will be a book that motivates me to finally kick my ass and start eating better and exercising (I’m already trying) and that she doesn’t end the book with, “And then I gave up, who are we kidding, really?” We’ll see…. Either way, as far as book choices go, I’m glad I made this one because I now go to bed at night eager to read!!!!! Instead of “Oh yeah… that book….. Maybe I’m tired?”

So what am I going to read NEXT? Man, guys, I have no idea… There are kind of a million positions I’m being pulled in, but here are some of my ideas:

  • Attempting Wicked by Gregory Maguire again and then possibly reading the rest of the Oz series by him.
  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave which I keep hearing is some kind of fantastic
  • Some more funny books like Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin or Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner
  • Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi has also been waiting patiently for me for awhile…
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde looks really good – I love his Thursday Next series.
  • And then let’s not even talk about all the OTHER books I own but haven’t read yet and guys, what about the books I WANT to buy? What if I get books for Christmas? If you don’t hear from me for awhile, you’ll know that my TBR pile finally fell over and buried me.

What are you reading right now?

American Idol’s Gone Country

This week the folks at Idol got back to MY roots with country week. I’m sure a lot of people across the globe (my husband included) groaned a little when they saw this. I groaned a little bit less. Country music is not my favorite genre but I think I can fairly well judge it as I don’t hate it, and I lived in Kentucky for almost ten years. I’ve heard a lot of it – I learned to sing with country music (Reba is my home girl). Okay fine, I like country music. I just like a lot of other genres more. Which means – if their performances aren’t good – I’m going to be pretty critical or at the very least bored, which doesn’t say much for them either. Here’s how they did in my quasi humble opinion:

Michael Sarver, Sun Comes Up: This was a good old fashioned fun time. Was it his best vocals? No, how could it be? That was hardly the point – this was about kicking back, engaging the audience and having a blast – and he did that in spades. Or something. I don’t know – the judges were not so much loving it, but I think any of his fans will have eaten that ish up. I enjoyed it, even though I couldn’t understand a word he said.

Allison Iraheta, Blame It On Your Heart: I think I might be in love with Allison’s voice. She had better get a record deal out of this (assuming she doesn’t win) because I love love love her music. I love this song – a lot – my husband groaned a little (or a lot) when I started singing along (to be fair, Allison sang it way better than I did). The judges love her – no duh – what’s not to love?

Kris Allen, To Make You Feel My Love: The judges were over the moon for this performance. I was over it. I get it, he’s cute – he has a decent voice. But really? Is he REALLY that good? I gotta be honest, I was mostly just bored.

Lil Rounds, Independence Day: Okay so this wasn’t her best performance, but all I mean by that is that she is amazing and going places and oh my god and this song was just really good. She’s not a country star, but she clearly wanted to try it anyway – honestly, okay. Her voice is beautiful and she did a good job – but it’s hard not to compare her to her usual swaggering self. I still love me some Lil’ Rounds and I’m assuming she’ll be fine. (Right?)

Adam Lambert, Ring of Fire: “Are you wearing an Aluminum suit?” “Are you in a rocket?” “Are you David Bowie?” If you got that reference you win 100 cool kids points. Moving on, my point – this performance was out there – it was that kind of Bowie-esque performance that I felt an artist would pull out after really well establishing themselves because let’s be honest, it was weird. And it was so busy being weird and hypnotic that there didn’t seem to be much time left for strong vocals. Which is fine. I just said that was fine for Oil Rig Guy – but this isn’t oil rig guy, it’s Adam Lambert. I love Adam Lambert. I guess I expect more from him? My husband, by the way, bless his stuck in the 70s soul, loved this performance. It was like the first and only time he smiled all night. The judges looked equally baffled and maybe a little violated and confused. Or maybe I’m just vaguely quoting Kara.

Scott McIntyre, Wild Angels: I’ll be honest, I somehow tuned this performance out. It was fine – it sounded like most of his songs. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s talented, but in all truthfulness, he’s not an artist whose record I’d buy. I’d just admire it a ton and nod my head in enthusiasm in polite company. Some weird fight broke out over “to piano or not to piano” and it was kind of awkward and I might have gotten up to get a snack around here.

Alexis Grace, Jolene: I definitely got up to get a snack because although I remember hearing Alexis sing, I  cannot remember my reaction to it – I remember the judges disagreeing some more (I think) and that Alexis looked a little unkempt – like in a sweaty, tired kind of way that I don’t remember seeing before. She’s still adorable and I love her voice. I might have loved the performance if I’d been listening like I was supposed to.

Danny Goeke, Jesus Take The Wheel: This song got on my nerves, from the very topic of the song, to this weird ranting about not turning to god to solve all your problems that my husband and I got into, rather than being forced to listen to the whole song (this was an us agreeing rant by the way). Danny has a nice voice and a lot of people loved it but my husband and I kind of agreed with Simon (about him looking ridiculous) and that was that. A pregnant woman by the way? Should not be forced to listen to those lyrics. Yikes – add black ice to my list of now irrational fears. Thank God Spring is coming.

Anoop Desai, Always On My Mind: Oh my wow. I was just in raptures over this performance. Anoop Dogg is back in the house – this might have been my favorite performance of the night and my favorite Anoop performance ever. This boy clearly thrives under pressure (better late than never) and I think we were all reminded why we love him. He’s like that surprise you never see coming but it turns out to be the best surprise EVER.

Megan Joy, I Go Walking After Midnight: Love her. Love that the awkward wiggly dance was back (as much as I liked her actually moving her legs last week, we’ve come to love the awkward). I think the song suited her well and while it wasn’t without a couple of spotty moments, overall? Loved her. And the fact that she was sick as a dog the whole time? Commendable (even though even from across the tv screen I kept kind of cringing over the germs ick factor. Hope she wasn’t contagious…)

Matt Giraud, So Small: Okay fine – I’ll admit, I turned the tv off before he even came on stage. I don’t care. I’m sure he was fine. I have yet to be blown away by him and I was tired (and pregnant tired at that) so I went to bed. If you stayed up to listen to his song – please comment and tell me how he did.

So who did you love? Who did you hate? Who do you think will be saying auf weidershein tonight?

Book Review: God’s Debris

Grade: B+

Scott Adams is probably best known for his hugely popular comic strip, Dilbert, but he’s also written a couple of books that you could categorize as philosophical fiction, or as he likes to call it, a thought experiment. My husband (who is a fan of both Dilbert and Adams’s books) has been encouraging me to read God’s Debris for years and I finally broke down and did so a couple weeks ago. It didn’t take long – these books are very thin, quick reads, despite the whammy of intellectual stimulation going on between the covers, I managed to finish it in a few days.

This book is fiction, but the ideas in it are very philosophical. The ideas presented in the story might offend some people or simply confuse, but if you like challenging your opinions on things possibly well established as facts, this might be the book for you. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that college aged guys in particular will like this – people who say, “Why?” a lot might like this. People unsatisfied with conventional outlooks on religion, science and life will like this.

I’ll confess I got frustrated with this book a lot, especially in somewhere in the middle when the two (only) characters seemed to go off on the world’s longest tangent talking about I still don’t even know what – something in the math science realm I’m assuming. For me, it was akin to being in a room with two people talking about a subject you know so little about that they could be speaking a foreign language for all you know, and ignoring you completely. I almost put it down and moved on, but my husband insisted that I finish it and keep reading so I did and it did get better. The end of the book was probably my favorite. Now that all the big walls of thought have been essentially torn down, physics, math, science and religion sort of redefined – they move onto much easier to digest concepts and I found myself nodding along and going WOW to a lot of basic concepts about things about relationships, communication and how we learn. I even learned a thing or two.

So where does that leave me? I think that if you are like me, in that you are comfortable with having things you consider a fact questioned – maybe you are even a little thrilled by it – that you will likely enjoy the book, at least in parts. For me it was worth the quick read entirely for the few things I took away from it. If you have a scientific or mathematic background and can handle and understand language from those areas – man, I think you will love this book with a passion. I highly recommend it for those people and cautiously recommend it for the rest of us.

Book Review: Wicked: Witch & Curse

Grade: B+

It’s tough having the same title as a literary phenomenon turned Broadway musical. How do you compete and set a name for yourself? Well if you’re smart you get a really standout cover and make the book as huge as possible (even if you have to combine two books in one). Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie can consider this a job accomplished. Their book practically leaped off the shelf at me while perusing my local bookstore and I thought, “If you can judge a book by it’s cover, this is going to be a good one.”

I really enjoyed this story of Holly Cathers and her cousins Amanda and Nicole, descendants of a hugely powerful wiccan tribe, the Cahors whose long running blood feud with warlock family the Deveraux has been passed down from generation to generation as the ghosts of Isabeau Cahors and Jean Deveraux attempt to live out their destinies through each generation, resulting in bloody massacres, heart break and deception.

The book’s story is rich and complex, and grows more and more intricate with each chapter, but never feels like too much – Holder and Viguie masterfully weave their tale in just the right way, the mix of current teen culture and ancient magical history is well accomplished. I really enjoyed the story and definitely plan to read the next book, Wicked 2: Legacy & Spellbound. I did feel like some of the story was rushed, some tragedies seemed to simply fix themselves with little explanation.

I also think this story might be way too much for some teenagers to handle. This book has a lot of death – and a lot of the deaths are friends and family. There are some very dark passages describing magical rituals, some involving sex, though not explicit, it isn’t romantic either. I’d be hesitant to recommend it to just anyone in the teenage set. A college student and above I think could easily handle it and some mature teenagers might do fine, but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

Still, all said, I really enjoyed this story and look forward to the next installment.

This review can also be found at @ Momma’s Review.

Children’s Classics: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

I wasn’t sure what I was going to blog about for this month’s Children’s Classics carnival @ 5 Minutes For Books. But as I finished reading The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe last night it occurred to me that it was both a children’s book and a classic – it was simply a slightly older read than the things I’m reading to my own son who is just two years old. Still it does qualify even if I haven’t been reading it with a child (just a child at heart). I do hope to read this to MM when he gets older and I hope he enjoys this story as much as I have.

First, to be honest, I didn’t love this book as much as I’d expected to – I read The Magician’s Nephew first and liked it more – but I think that is only because The Magician’s Nephew was a new read for me – The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe is a story I already knew well, and I’d seen the movie adaptations a couple times. I have a very hard time reading a book whose movie I’ve already seen, but I did read and enjoy this book. It is possible I liked the movie more though – but really, in a book this small, it was easier I think to give more details in the movie, something that rarely happens in a book-to-movie adaptation. The length of the movie and being able to see it all unfold in front of your eyes was magical and the recent movie especially was very well done. So while I did like the book, I think I handicapped my own enjoyment by seeing the movie first.

But I love C.S. Lewis’s writing style and the book is very well written and perfect for children. I think it will be a very fun book to read aloud to my own children someday and the story is truly a classic that anyone can enjoy. I recommend both the book and the movie.

For more reviews of children’s classics, head over to 5 Minutes For Books for a list of participants.