June’s Book: The Pact

For the longest time I was apprehensive about reading a Jodi Picoult book.  I work in a bookstore and she’s a very popular author so I’m familiar with many of her titles.  I was sure they were probably good, but they all sound so depressing.  They just didn’t seem like anything that I wanted to read about.  However, I got a copy of one of her newer books for Christmas, so I figured I’d give it a try.  And I ended up being completely sucked in by Picoult’s writing.  When it got to be my turn to pick the next book club book, I decided to pick another of her novels.  I was interested to find out how my fellow book clubbers would react to her writing.  After much debate, I ended up choosing The Pact, one of Picoult’s most popular titles. 


The novel begins with the devastating moment that becomes the focus of the story- the moment when a boy and a girl kiss and then a shot is fired.  As the novel progresses, we are told the story of Emily Gold and Chris Harte.  They were born only a few months apart and lived next door to each other their entire lives.  As they grew up they were inseparable.  In fact they spent so much time together that they seemed to become two halves of the same person.  When their relationship seemed to evolve into romantic love no one was surprised, in fact, their families were thrilled.  That was until the moment that left Chris wounded and Emily dead from a gunshot wound.  Both families struggle to understand what happened as their worlds are completely destroyed.  And then they find out that the police believe that Chris murdered Emily. 


What is most compelling about Picoult’s writing is the way she lets the story unfold.  Rather than starting at the very beginning, when they are born, and telling the story chronologically until we reach Emily’s death and then the aftermath, Picoult goes back and forth between the present and the past.  As we see how each person reacts to unthinkable tragedy, we also see how their lives intertwined and what led each person to the moment that Emily died in what Chris claimed was a botched suicide pact.  It’s not until the last days of his trial that we finally learn exactly why Emily died that night.  Picoult keeps you in suspense and makes it impossible to put the book down until the very last word.  

Published in: on July 3, 2008 at 9:53 am  Leave a Comment  

June’s Meal: Fondue

June’s meal represented a slight departure from our traditional routine.  My mother and I hosted the other members of the book club and two other mothers for a night of fondue fun.  The evening began when actonbell and her mother brought a simple but delicious salad with balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing to accompany it.  They also brought two bottles of wine to enhance the festivities.  We began with a crisp, playful Riesling and later moved on to a delightful Rosé.  After we finished the salad we moved on the fondue.  It was the first fondue experience for several of the participants, so we began with a quick lesson about always cooking the meat completely and being sure not to stab yourself.  There were three pots with three different choices for cooking the food- peanut oil, beef broth, and chicken broth.  There were three meat choices for dinner: beef, chicken, and shrimp.  The shrimp in particular was a hit as it took the least amount of time to cook.  There were also several vegetables to accompany the meat including broccoli, carrots, and my personal favorite, zucchini.  There were also a large variety of sauces to complement the meats such as cocktail sauce, plum sauce, sesame ginger sauce, and lemon pepper sauce to name just a few.  And while there was some confusion over which stick belonged to which person, and several lost vegetables, on the whole it was a satisfying meal.  However, the desert fondue stole the show.  My mother and I picked out a decadent dark chocolate fondue recipe that included cream and Kahlua.  Talesfromthebookshelf and her mother brought cut up strawberries and pineapples, maraschino cherries, marshmallows, and angel food cake to dip in the chocolate, which proved to be absolute heaven. 

Published in: on July 3, 2008 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  

May’s Meal: Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken enchiladas have nothing to do with 19th-century British literature. But we’ve never concerned ourselves with matching our dinners to our books. Our dinner rotations work like this: the person who picks the book also hosts the dinner and discussion. The remaining members divide up the rest of the meal among them: usually, someone brings alcohol, someone brings an appetizer or salad, and someone brings dessert. For our Tenant discussion, I made chicken enchiladas, thedarklady made margaritas, marionevans brought chips and salsa, and talesfromthebookshelf made a chocolate tart.

The enchiladas refused to roll properly, so in frustration I created something that was more like an enchilada casserole: I layered the tortillas and filling like I would in a lasagna. I also omitted the jalapenos and only used 2 chipotles. It was pleasantly spicy still. I also made some Uncle Ben’s Fiesta rice as a side dish. Our margaritas and chips and salsa were great, and we all managed to save enough room for some of the heavenly chocolate tart. We’re getting this down to a science now.

Published in: on June 15, 2008 at 1:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

May’s Choice: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Let me begin by saying that of the three Bronte sisters, Anne is the least well-known and almost certainly the least appreciated. Say the name “Bronte” and you think instantly of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights (both of which are books that I love and have read multiple times). But Agnes Grey? The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Neither of Anne’s books are widely read, though I think they deserve to be. I’ve had a love affair with the Brontes since I read Jane Eyre when I was 12 and Wuthering Heights when I was 13. I’d read Agnes Grey as part of a research project on the Victorian governess, and I decided to have the book club read Tenant with me.

The story of Tenant begins in the autumn of 1827, when Helen Graham, a widow with a young son, moves into a few rooms at the largely decrepit Wildfell Hall. An artist, her reclusive ways first intrigue and then frustrate the townspeople. Gilbert Markham, a young gentleman farmer, though he thinks himself in love with Eliza Millward, the vicar’s daughter, is intrigued by Helen, and after a chance meeting he strikes up an acquaintance with her son. Helen, however, is much more difficult to befriend. Helen is very private and unwilling to really be friends with anyone. Slowly, however, Gilbert and Helen’s friendship grows, until Gilbert realizes that he is in love with her. In the meantime, rumors about Helen have begun circulating – that she is no widow; that the landlord of Wildfell Hall, Mr. Lawrence, is actually the father of her son. When Gilbert goes to Wildfell Hall to try to find out the truth from Helen, she promises that she will tell him all the next day. As he is leaving, he stays behind in the garden for a moment. His fears about Helen’s character are confirmed when he sees her walking arm-in-arm with Mr. Lawrence. In anger, he fails to meet her the next day. Several days later, after another chance meeting with Helen, she gives him her diary and asks him to read it to find out the truth. After this point, Helen, through her diary, becomes the narrator for around 250 pages.

The truth revealed in her diary is this: that Helen is not a widow. Her name is not Helen Graham at all: it is Helen Huntingdon. She has fled her callous, drunkard (and still-living) husband Arthur to live secretly at Wildfell Hall, which is owned by her brother, Frederick Lawrence. Her diary tells of her life from the time of her courtship and marriage at 19 to her husband’s worsening behavior (including alcoholism, gambling, and adultery). Though she did her best to live with the reality that her marriage was nothing but a sham, Helen is spurred to do the unthinkable and leave Arthur when she sees the effects his behavior is having on their son.

I’m going to stop here. I hate having the ending of a novel spoiled for me, and even though all of us here at Tales from the Bookshelf have read the book, I’ll leave the rest of the story untold for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

Coming soon . . . our discussion.

Published in: on June 15, 2008 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment