Publish & Perish

Publish & Perish (Ben Reese, #1)Publish & Perish by Sally Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was one of my random reads from drawing slips at the beginning of the year. I drew three slips from my “new series” pile. This was on my TBR because later titles in the series were take-offs on Jane Austen titles, an old “theme” that still gets my attention. And the main character has a Welsh last name – Ben Reese – so that got my attention too, and the next book in the series takes place in Scotland, and he is an archivist interested in rare books, coins, paintings, and ancient documents so that all appealed to me.

It’s an old series, published in 1997, but set in 1960. Reviews have compared the author to Dorothy Sayers. I think that’s a stretch but it does have something of that flavor revolving around academia. It started a bit slow, but it grew on me. I’ve already started the second book Pride & Predator. Although marketed as “Christian” fiction, I didn’t find anything off-putting here. He talks about God, and ponders some theological/existential questions but there is nothing pushing his views (or the author’s views) on anyone else. Nothing incompatible with my own decidedly liberal views.

The set up for a series is okay – we get to know the main character, but there is not much in the way of character development for anyone else. The plot moves quite slowly and is mostly introspective until the very end. More thoughtful than action, with some subtle humor. Still, I liked Ben Reese enough to want to read more and find out more about him and what makes him tick.

Book description: Publish And Perish, the first Ben Reese novel, begins in 1960 at an academic research institute near Oxford, England, though the story grows out of tangled relationships at the small Ohio university where Ben Reese is an archivist – an expert in antiquities, in coins and paintings and the dating of ancient texts. He’s also a thirty-seven year old veteran of WWII; a behind-the-lines reconnaissance expert who captured German command posts across France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany until he was stopped by a Tiger Tank.

His war experiences aren’t something he talks about easily. He’s a quiet man, who lives close to the country, and rides his horse, and enjoys the accomplishments of long dead craftsmen, while he tries to get over the death of his wife. It isn’t until his closest friend dies, minutes after phoning Ben in England, that Ben has to rely again on the characteristics that kept him alive from Omaha Beach to the Saarbrucken Forest. Ben looks under a lot of academic rocks at the politics, prejudice and ambition that had to be navigated even then by those with unpopular opinions. That leads the killer to come after Ben with a calculated brutality that takes Ben back to the war, and makes the question of his own survival more than a matter of academic interest.

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Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An overly clever pastiche with an ensemble of mostly unlikeable characters. The main storyline involving the almost-romance between Pasquale and Dee is sweet. Most of the characters border on caricatures. Some of the writing is quite lovely, and it does have its humorous moments. We go back and forth between the 1960’s and the present day, following a variety of people. How they all relate to each other doesn’t come together until the end of the book. Then throw in some chapters like the first chapter of one character’s unfinished war novel, another character’s movie pitch about the Donner Party, or the first chapter of the movie producer’s autobiography. A little pretentious, but it sort of works. Woven throughout is the theme of looking for happiness by following your desires, no matter how ruinous or self-destructive those desires might be. Pasquale and Dee make a different choice – to do the right thing instead of what they think will bring them happiness. I think a second theme might be the hunger that we all have to create something that will outlive ourselves. Hence the Donner Party with its images of cannibalism, one character’s obsession with anorexia, various forms of artistic expression – wartime artwork in a cave, movies, plays and music – keeping dreams alive (extreme plastic surgery?), and sublimating the loss of those dreams through alcohol, drug abuse, and pornography. It’s a book that makes for interesting discussion. Of course, I enjoyed Richard Burton as a character and I now have to watch the movie Cleopatra.

Book Description: The story begins in 1962. On the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies a tall, thin woman approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, an American starlet, and she is dying. And the story begins again today when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot, searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

The Help

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t know what to say beyond “5 stars” – one of the best reads of the year! I loved the characters, and didn’t want the book to end. Can’t wait to see the movie. This one is destined to become a classic.

Description:
Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.