A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick

  • Title: A Reliable Wifegoolrick
  • Author: Robert Goolrick
  • Pages: Hardcover 291
  • Published: March 2009, Algonquin Books
  • Why did I read this book: It was on the end cap of my library’s New Release section and the title sounded vaguely familiar. NOTE TO SELF: stop picking up books with no research!

Set in 1909 Wisconsin the story opens in soon-to-be-familiar detailed and deeply moving writing style with a lonely man waiting on a cold platform for a train to beat the incoming blizzard. Ralph Truitt is waiting for the “reliable wife” for whom he advertised. Despite being the tycoon of his small Wisconsin town with business dealings reaching nationwide we learn that because of his lost family, no social interaction with anyone in the town, how they whisper about him, his loneliness and his desires, and a secret reason to unfold later…all led him to advertize and accept the responding letter of Catherine Land to be his new wife.

But as she steps off the train she is not what he expected, not the woman in the photo, and her surprising beauty is dangerous to him. He agrees to discuss it at home, but after a near fatal accident in the blizzard puts him under her immediate care they get to know each other and Catherine is in his home to stay. But for what reason? While Ralph’s back story of inheriting his father’s business enterprises, his wastrel youth spent in erotic debauchery abroad, change of lifestyle upon falling in love with a young Italian girl from a noble family, and then her and their daughter’s death is shared up front – Catherine remains a mystery. It slowly becomes apparent however that she came for more reasons that just to wed him in rural, snow-bound Wisconsin.

As you may be able to tell this book is mainly character driven but it also has a sub-plot of finding a missing person and a few attempted murders – actually all the sub-plot points are tied to Ralph’s family and Catherine’s lover, so it all circles back to the characters. There was much examination of the motivations of human beings to act the way they do, what shapes them? What drives them? What comforts them? And Ralph and Catherine were both obsessed with how people went “crazy” with multiple examples for local news and stories world-wide:

Every week the papers were filled with the barn burnings, the arsenic taken, the babies drowned in wells to keep their names a secret, to keep their fathers away from them, to keep them from knowing the craziness of love. To send them home to the holiness of God. He read these stories aloud to Catherine at night, after supper, and she would invent stories about the sad women and the deranged men.

It was sort of sick how many times they talked about people chopping off their hands because the “devil was in it” or shooting their wife while drunk. But that was part of them overall theme, telling the stories of the protagonists, telling the stories of secondary characters, telling the stories of the townsfolk who went crazy.

In fact, the book summarised itself perfectly right at the very end (it was very obvious it was coming, sort of like an 8th grade paper where you had to start building up towards your conclusion). This is NOT A SPOILER even though this quote takes place on page 281 out of 291 total. I just wish I had known what this book was about before I read it. As much as the summaries said it was a “dark tale” and Catherine had a nefarious purpose is responding to Ralph’s ad, I just didn’t know that was going to be the whole POINT. So here is how the book wraps itself up:

But there was no use. There was no point. It was just a story. It was just a story of people, of Ralph and Emilia and Antonio and Catherine and the mothers and the fathers who had died, too soon or late, of people who had hurt one another as much as people can do, who had been selfish and not wise, and had become trapped inside the bitter walls of memories they wished they had never had…

It was a story of people who hurt themselves, who wreck their own lives and then go on to wreck the lives of those around them, who cannot be helped or assuaged by love or kindness or luck or charm, who forget kindness, the feeling and practice of it, and how it can save even the worst, most misshapen life from despair.

It was just a story about despair.

So um yeah, not my usual lusty reading fare! This is what I get for trying to mix up my reading with some “literary fiction.” I find that any of those book club-y type books (especially Oprah’s book club) do NOT work for me. I find that many of them “try too hard” to make statements and be full of commentary on the human psyche, or too full of symbolism and want to be popular for making a point instead of telling a satisfying story.

And that was what happened here, the characters were so twisted it seemed like it was done on purpose, to wring a reaction out of the reader and also too much of a statement of the “badness” of human beings. There were no “good” characters to be found in the entire cast of secondary characters either. And I did not find Catherine redeemable in the least and Ralph’s last decision in the closing scene* about how to deal with her was not explained AT ALL it just ended. When Catherine started doing really bad things I started skimming, it was unreadable to me, it disgusted me, and even if that was the point, to examine how disgusting and horrible we can be to each other that’s why I watch the news. Not read a book.

So this is entirely based on my personal preferences, of course since this is a “lit fic book club” type book I am a very small voice in a crowd of many who adored it. If anything I wrote this review to myself to say, “Hey self? Be careful how you pick books!”

I must say that the prose was very evocative (I think that’s the word I wanted?), it was moving and detailed. It was beautiful. I felt the emotions of the characters, Catherine’s guilt, pain and love; Ralph’s sexual hunger, need to buy expensive things; Antonio’s abandonment and loss of compassion. The description of the wintery landscape, the view from the windows, the luxurious clothes, the rising industrial cities of St. Louis and Chicago…all of it laid out in metaphors and rich descriptions. But (yes there is a but) at some points I also wondered if the prose itself was also trying too hard? Maybe I’m being too harsh and am biased against literary fiction because I think it tries too hard in general to be the next Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird. But sometimes I felt the detailed descriptions were trying too hard to be “quotable” in a way, like how many adjectives and analogies can be fit into one paragraph about snow?

Please check out some of these other reviews as my thoughts are so influenced by my personal opinions:

*SPOILER ALERT for those who care about happy endings…

Yes this has a happy ending for Catherine and Ralph, but it was not satisfactory because it was completely not explained how forgiveness was possible or how anyone had changed. And everyone was so TWISTED and awful I didn’t care about them.

End Spoiler.

Black Silk, by Judith Ivory

black_silk_jivory

  • Title: Black Silk
  • Author: Judith Ivory (aka Judy Cuevas)
  • Pages: 480 in paperback
  • Published: By Avon in 2002
  • Series?: no, standalone
  • Bought it myself

Lovely Lusty Reader reader Christina suggested this title based on our mutual love for more old school romances (my list of my favorite 16 has 10 books published before 1995) even though Black Silk was published in 2002. I agree in that the long, descriptive sweeping prose meant to relish slowly reminds me of Virginia Henley or Kathleen Woodiwiss. However this book did not ending up suiting my personal tastes.

Summary: As befitting her name, lovely Submit Channing-Downes was the proper, obedient wife of an aging marquess – until her husband’s death left her penniless and alone…with one last marital obligation to fulfill. Entrusted with delivering a small black box to its rightful owner, she calls upon Graham Wessit, the notorious Earl of Netham, life has been forever marred by rumor and scandal. But Graham wants nothing to do with a bequest from the man he holds responsible for his ruin – or with thebewitching emissary who brings it. In the face of breathtaking erotic mystery – in the throes of an inflamed passion unbeckoned but impossible to deny – a rogue’s hardened heart may be undone by love…and a staidbeauty in straits may learn the exquisite, sensuous freedom of surrender.

Although I was disappointed Christina’s and my thoughts didn’t match up here is what I told her:

It was a GREAT recommendation! Black Silk seems pretty well known as a “classic romance” and Judith Ivory a classic romance author, and I had never read anything by her before! So I can only say thanks for the introduction and enthusiastic recommendation to further my romance education! Plus Black Silk is obviously still a hot topic, Phyl just read it this month (review here) and as did Jessica of Racy Romance Reviews. So now I’m trendy, and can join in on their discussions!
 
I loved the premise of Black Silk: a prim, proper, subtly beautiful widow paired with fun-loving, care free, seemingly shallow rake both connected through a shared deceased family member – Henry. Her elderly husband was his childhood guardian.
 
I also loved the whole “black box” plot point – at a bequest from Henry’s will Submit is to deliver this mysterious box to Graham, with the interesting layer that the Henry had no contact with Graham after he was banished from Henry’s care after getting expelled from University as a young man. What was in in the box, how it affects Submit and Graham’s relationship and their perceptions of each other, how Submit sees past the erotic, dirty side of it and him.
 
But the focus didn’t work for me. To me, the focus of the story was WAY too concentrated on Henry. They spoke of, referred to, and thought about him more than anyone else! So much so that I pretty much expected him to come back from the dead, or posthumous letters would surface written to both of them. I understand how big of an influence he was but ENOUGH about him! I wanted more Gray and Submit!
 
Secondly, we spent more time in Graham’s relationship with his mistress Rosalyn than with Submit too. Like three-quarters of the way through he was still sleeping with Rosalyn and still saying he loved her. While I can appreciate the auythor trying to do something different from the romancelandia norm, this just didn’t suit my taste.
 
Lastly there was this whole legal battle thing with Graham, with a paternity suit from a poor commoner girl claiming he was the father of her unborn babies. Those scenes were so boring to me, and besides giving us insight into Graham’s perceived character, his reputation, and how he handles problems I thought the whole plot line was reeeally boring. I started skimming through the pages of him meeting with his lawyer or in court. There were over a hundred pages about this story and then it comes to a sudden end with someone’s death! What was the point?
 
I really prefer more focus on the Hero and Heroine and more action in their relationship. I felt like the whole book was more about Henry, Rosalyn, and historical legal processes.
 
Very last dislike, the ending. Submit acted so thoroughly retarded (pardon my french) by hatching this whole “runaway scheme”  that made NO SENSE. That bothered me so much. And then it wrapped up way too neatly without me totally understanding how Submit had changed to be happily ever after with someone like Graham when they were so different.
 
The good stuff though? The angst, the poignancy of Gray’s dawning feelings for Submit, The Staircase Scene, the wistfulness, and the descriptive writing were absolutely gorgeous.
 
So the caveats to my recommendation are mostly based on my personal preferences, but I am definitely going to read more by this author!

Final grade: D

The Secret Heiress, by Judith Gould

Dammit my first guess was right, The Secret Heiress was HORRIBLE. As Scobberlotch commented the title was intriguing and doubled with the innocuous cover and the provocative back-cover summary I picked it right up at the library. EPIC FAIL in that the blurb was totally misleading…

In fact the more I read the more I felt like this book was written on opposite day. Sadly I did finish it, although I starting skimming after the first half. The only thing preventing it getting an F is that I happened to glance at the acknowledgements on the last page and apparently Ms. Gould was inspired by Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask. As I have not seen the movie nor read the book I will rate this book a D as I might not have been able to appreciate the parallels.

But look how alluring the cover is:

secret_heiress

And how non-horrible sounding the back cover is:

Separated at birth by a tyrannical father and reared continents apart, Nikki and Ariadne are twins with only their beauty in common. Nikki, raised by the mad tycoon in luxury, is heiress to his empire. Living in obscurity is the brilliant Ariadne, unaware of her bloodline-until she’s given an opportunity to reclaim her share of the family fortune. Seduced into a deadly masquerade, she finds he only protection in the arms of a bodyguard. But in the mysterious shadows of this privileged new world, can she really trust the passion of a stranger?

And here begins my rant, spoiler and curse filled… Continue reading

Bet Me and Faking It

A two for one special today kids, a lightning review round of Jennifer Cruise’s Bet Me and Faking It. I read these both a few weeks ago and have been procrastinating with my reviews, mainly because I really thought I was going to love them both after reading all the snark-free, positive reactions to them on my favoritest of all favorite book blogs Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and when I didn’t love them I wasn’t sure how to admit it.

First is the worst: Faking It

fakingitI think I was tired and not paying attention when I was reading this one, and was just skimming the words or something because I never got into it, I never got inside Tilda or Davy’s heads, I just didn’t get them or like them. My favorite character was Tilda’s sister – Eve/Louise, if I had my ‘druthers Cruise would have written her romance story with Tilda and Davy as secondary characters instead. The only thing I loved about Tilda was her Scarlet created furniture, I would just DIE for a brightly painted jungle on a dresser, or a butterfly headboard! But this is a D grade for me, sadness, sorry!

Second is the best: Bet Me 

betmeI loved both the Heroine and Hero, Min and Cal, thought their personalities, quirks, and hopes were well developed, well written, and attractive as a reader. I especially loved Min’s shoe fetish, incongruous with the rest of her demure look. I believed their attraction to each other, but the main device that kept them together was stretched far too thin and left out to dry far too long for me. Can you guess what it was?

If you guessed a BET you’d be right! This was similar to the typical “Big Misunderstanding” plot line and this bet had the stamina of the Engergizer Bunny. Overall rating: solid B, I would read it again and if anyone told me they were going to read it I wouldn’t dissuade them, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a must buy or must have.

Given that Cruise is so popular and I have heard gobs of great things about her I would definitely read other books by her in the future.

Sorry, I don’t have a third is the one with a hairy chest this week…I haven’t even read any books recently where they mention a hairy chest either, is everyone metro and waxing these days in literature?

The Prince Kidnaps a Bride, by Christina Dodd

doddAs the owner and admirer of several of Christina Dodd’s Governess Series books, when I saw this title available in trade paperback at my library I checked it out without reading the summary. The title should have been a dead giveaway that it wouldn’t be one of my favorites as I am not a huge fan of the “made up royalty” characters in my romance novels. If the setting of the story is all true, but the two main characters are a Prince and Princess of fake kingdoms high in the French Alps? I just don’t enjoy it as much.

 

If a story is set up from the beginning as a fantasy or science fiction world in which there is a King of America and Queen of Mexico, or secret Wizard school and muggles who don’t know about magic, or vampires and werewolves co-exist with humans then my brain flips a switch as soon as I read the first page and my imagination accepts every word and generates lovely images and scenes in my head as I read. But for some reason if the setting of a story is historically factual in every way but the hero and heroine could not have existed, my imagination does not run smoothly.

 

I love the fantasy of romance novels, with the perfect endings, and have no idea why my imagination has no trouble accepting any amount of absurd situations, but not the Price/Princess, so I usually stay away from those plot lines.

 

For the rest of my thoughts please read on:

  Continue reading

Size 12 Is Not Fat, Meg Cabot

megcabotThis book came recommended by the younger sister of my bestie (let’s call her J) from college. We were having brunch at Circa before bridesmaid dress shopping for J’s upcoming nuptials! Selfishly I am super lucky that J picked Aria Dresses because she lives in NYC, found them online, and 1 of their only 3 stores is in my neighborhood in DC! (Aside: almost wedding season, such is the life in your mid-twenties!)

 

 Before checking it out from the library I did zero research, I picked it up based only on “I think you will like books by Meg Cabot.” I only knew she wrote the book that was turned into The Princess Diaries (I liked the movie, but only because I have huge crushes on Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway).

i have such a huge girl crush on her!!11!1

i have such a huge girl crush on her!!11!1

As I skimmed through her books on the shelf I chose it because the prose was written “normally,” the others I picked up were all written as letters, emails, and IM conversations back and forth between characters, which I did not find very appealing.

 

Size 12 is Not Fat started off pretty well for me, the first scene giving good insight into Heather’s character and setting up her background story as a fallen pop-star. I liked that she retained a good self-image throughout the story even though (per the title) others perceived her as fat, she never obsessed about her weight or losing it.

 

However, the main conflict in the book, the murder mystery, was based on a premise that didn’t work for me and subsequently annoyed me until the end. Then Heather’s narrative voice annoyed me even more, and finally the ending annoyed me to MAX when the romantic element (the most important part of any read to me) was NOT resolved! As I turned the last page I discovered the rest of Cabot’s backlist, explaining why Heather did not have a happy ending, this is a SERIES!   Continue reading