Friday, June 29, 2007

Summer People by Brian Groh

This first-time author needs to blame his publisher for a misguided cover. The title and the picture on the cover makes you think you’re getting an easy chick lit read, but that definitely isn’t what this is. Nathan is a college dropout and takes what he thinks is an easy job as a caretaker for 8 weeks on the east coast for a 72-year-old lady. He thinks he is to be her escort, but he ends up having to watch her more closely than he thinks he will because she is suffering from dementia.

Nathan is not someone I would like, so I have a hard time judging the novel because I dislike the main character. He’s a wuss and is constantly looking for love when it isn’t there. He lies a lot. He doesn’t take care of the old lady like he should, but at least he feels guilty about it. He is an artist, but can’t quite figure out what he wants to do with his talent.

All in all, this isn’t a novel I’ll recommend to anyone. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it, either. Nathan is one messed up kid.

Ghost, Interrupted by Sonia Singh

This cute ghost novel involves one rich boy who tries his hand at stock broking but is bored, one former computer programmer who tries to deny her psychic ability, and one cowboy who uses his telepathic powers to throw people against brick walls. It works in a cute, fluffy way. The three work for The Cold Spot, a paranormal investigation firm in California. They are called out to investigate hauntings, and the three of them use their knowledge to send the ghosts/entities to the next level. Of course, there are some love interests thrown in the book to keep things interesting.

Child of the Jungle: the true story of a girl caught between two worlds by Sabine Kuegler

This adult memoir was an interesting read, but I don’t think it’s something high school students will fight over. Sabine’s parents were linguists who went to live with the Fayu in Indonesia. Saine, her sister, and her brother grew up among the natives, learning to hunt and survive in the jungle, while teaching the native children how to play and laugh. Throughout their time in the jungle, the German missionaries encouraged the Fayu to be less violent and more loving. Sabine started to feel differently when her native friends began getting married. She ended up going to a private boarding school to become a lady.

The end of the memoir deals with her depression. She attempted suicide at one low point in her life because she didn’t feel at home in the civilized world or in the jungle. Like the subtitle of the book states, she was caught between two worlds.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

This adult novel cracked me up, but it's also one that I'll forget pretty soon. Think of High Fidelity--chick lit for guys. The author, Larry Doyle, has written for The Simpsons, and it shows. I laughed out loud on the train when I was reading this one. The movie quotes and caricatures of the main character at the beginning of each chapter are hilarious. The author has to be around my age because one was Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything and another was Back to the Future. Those were the ones I recognized. I'm sure I've heard the others!
The book is one night in the life of Denis Cooverman. But it's also the most action filled night he has ever had. In his valedictorian speech, he declares that he loves Beth Cooper. The problem is that she is head cheerleader, he has never talked to her, and he has a boyfriend home on leave from the army. Scary. Throughout the night, he gets beaten up. Constantly. He makes out with Beth Cooper eventually, drinks plenty of alcohol, gets beaten up again, and eventually survives the night. There are some sex scenes typical for this type of book, but poor Denis never gets lucky. But his possibly gay best friend does. Maybe.
If you need a quick, funny read, this one is for you!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Crashing Through: a True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See by Robert Kurson

This biography is the story of Mike May, a man who lost his vision at age three in an accidental chemical explosion. His mother didn't baby him, and Mike spent his childhood exploring, crashing into things, and not letting his vision stop him from doing what he wanted. He rode bikes, has the world record in speed skiing, and even drove a car for a bit by himself. Nothing scared him.

Then a doctor tells him of a new procedure involving a cornea transplant and eye stem cell transplants. After thinking about it for months and reviewing the risks, he does it. And things are strange. May becomes a test subject because although his vision is good, his brain doesn't recognize what he is seeing. He sees color and motion, but can't recognize faces or depth perception. He trips on curbs and stairs and can't drive. And he has to live with this. May fights the depression that often hits other people who have vision restored, and uses his personal strengths of hearing and memorization to help his vision. It works.

This was one of those pick-me-up books, but not one I recommend for high school students. I had to force myself to finish it. The section on the technical vision/brain research was a struggle although the author's description of the eye shots almost killed me. I had LASIK surgery last year and I teared up as I read that portion of the book. Ugh. It hurts! And 1/2 a Valium at the eye doctor's didn't work for me!

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Time it Takes to Fall by Margaret Lazarus Dean

This adult novel was much better than the cover picture indicated! I was expecting sappy Challenger woe-is-me tale, but was impressed by the author's fictional spinning of a NASA mechanic's daughter during the 1980s.

Dolores has a younger sister she has to take care of, a mother she strongly dislikes for deserting them, and father she is embarrassed by because he isn't an engineer or "someone important" at NASA. Most of all, she struggles with becoming comfortable with herself. She gives into peer pressure a lot and acts the way she thinks the cool teenagers act. The great thing about the character is her love for physics and her determination to be an astronaut. This saves her and keeps her grounded while the rest of her world is falling apart.

Now for my Challenger story. I was 10 years old and home from school with the typical fever/sinus infection/whatever I always got at least once a school year. I was hanging out on the couch and extremely ticked that I couldn't find anything to watch on TV. Because all we got were CBS, PBS, NBC, ABC, and some Christian station, nothing was on except for footage of the crash. In my selfish, inconsiderate mind, I just wanted The Price is Right and cartoons. I couldn't wait to go back to school the next day. But, just like Sept. 11, I'll always remember what I was doing on the day the Challenger went down.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of the Iron Crotch: an Odyssey in the New China

This adult memoir wins the "Best Title of the Year Award!" And it lives up to its name. I couldn't put this one down, and I hate kungfu movies. So the author did something right. I think this one has wide appeal, especially for high school students, and it definitely shouldn't be purchased for "large psychology collections." Puh-leese. I can't believe I just read that in a review.

Matthew Polly is a wuss from Topeka, Kansas, who gets into Princeton. But things aren't going right and he needs a change. Since he knows Chinese, a little bit about kungfu, and a need to figure out what to do with his life, he decides to set out to the legendary Shaolin temple of bad kungfu movie fame. The memoir focuses on his time in China and his spiritual and physical growth. He becomes a man, learns how to kick some serious butt, and becomes an expert on Chinese culture. Polly also made me giggle with his tales of Chinese "dancers," Americanisms, and observations of the local people. Go to to find out more and see some videos of his time in China.

Deep Storm by Lincoln Child

This audiobook was pretty good if you're looking for an adventure similar to Relic. Think of it as a less technical Tom Clancy.

Dr. Peter Crane is sent to an oil rig platform to find out what is making workers sick. Then he finds out they are looking for Atlantis. And then he finds out the real reason the military is present. Something is down there, underneath the multiple layers of the earth's crust. New technology is being found, theta brain waves are going crazy, and all sorts of other things go wrong. Dr. Crane, of course, saves the day, along with hundreds of lives.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

This will probably make me look stupid, but, oh well. I know Chabon won the Pulitzer and he's supposed to be great. But I didn't get past the 2nd CD of this 10 CD audiobook.

First of all, I disliked the narrator, Peter Riegert. To understand him, I had to fiddle with the bass and treble and I shouldn't have to do that.

Secondly, while I understand the whole genre of alternate history, I don't like it. I'm sorry. Maybe someone could recommend a good one for me to read, because I haven't read one yet that I liked.

In this one, after WWII, Israelis relocate to Alaska, which was FDR's original suggestion. I didn't know about that, but I read it in a review. So in "Jew-laska" (the author's word, not mine), a murder is committed and the Yiddish police officer has to solve the crime. The dead guy is a chess master. Really, that's about as far as I got. Sorry. If this sounds like a good book to you, then read it! But I won't. I have tons of books I need to read this summer, and I'm moving on!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

Here's one for the Fine Arts reading list! Vreeland is amazing. She took one of Renoir's paintings and made a 429 page book out of it. And it wasn't bad. Wasn't exactly fast paced, but what do you expect when you read historical artistic fiction? Did I just make up that subject?

Renoir is frustrated. His Impressionists are falling apart. Newcomers are painting strange things like beggars instead of bringing out the beauty everywhere. He's scraping for money and decides to paint a huge scene with 14 people, food and a landscape in the back. And he does it in a few weeks. Models come and go, Renoir falls in love twice, and what makes the book great is the interaction between the models in the painting. Renoir chose people from all walks of life and their conversation is stimulating. '

I kept looking at the painting as I read the book. You have to. I feel like I know the models now and can't wait to see it in D.C. next week.

I don't think this will fly off my shelf at school, but it would be a great read for students who like art or French students.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Rhythm of the Road by Albyn Leah Hall

I don't know what to think about this adult novel.

Was I wowed by it? Yes.
Do I love it? Not really.
Did I read it in one night? Yes.
Am I still thinking about it? Yes.

Jo is the modern day British girl growing up with her truck-driving daddy on the road. What a strange life.

Bobby and Rosalee are Jo's parents and not exactly the parents you want to have. Rosalee leaves Jo after her birth. Bobby suffers from depression.

Bobby and Jo pick up a hitchhiker one day who eventually hits it big as a country singer. Jo tries to become a groupie and fails.

I'm failing at this. I can't even sum up everything that happens. It's a tale of dysfunctional families, mental illness, alcoholism, drug use, sex, growing up, Britain, country music and America. And it works.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Boomsday by Christopher Buckley

This is one of the best political satires I've ever read. Okay, it's also one of the few political satires I've ever read. But I also get a kick out of reading Swift's A Modest Proposal.

Janeane Barofalo read this one for Hachette Audio and did a wonderful job. The main character, Cassandra Devine was the ideal high school student who earned a spot in the freshman class at Yale. Then she finds out her father spent her 529 on his Internet start-up business. So she has to go to the army where she ends up in Bosnia in public relations. Enter Randolph Jepperson (the name kills me) who visits the war torn country for a "fact-finding tour" and ends up getting them both blown up in a mine field. He loses part of his leg. She loses her reputation because the rumor is that she was driving. And that they were "busy" in the minefield. They weren't. Through tricks and turns, she ends up working at a PR firm in DC and eventually dating and leading the presidential campaign for Jepperson. She also is Cassandra, one of the top political bloggers. She leads a revolt encouraging "voluntary transitioning." Old people kill themselves at age 70 to get tax breaks and solve the country's social security debt. It works. It's hilarious. The country takes to the idea.

Cassandra is hilarious. I laughed and couldn't help telling people about this one. I'm not sure if high school students would enjoy it though unless they know a lot about our government. Most of the satire would slip right over their innocent heads. But this is definitely going on the recommended reading list for AP American History!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

I listened to the audio version of this adult comedic mystery and was laughing out loud. And I mean laughing. This family of private investigators cracked me up. They spy on each other, follow each other, make each other's lives a living you-know-what, and yet they love each other. Strange. One of my favorite parts was when the entire family spends a day smashing the headlights and taillights out of their cars so that they are easier to follow. Strange.

Izzy's sister is missing. But she isn't a typical 14-year-old. Right before she disappears from the curb, she is hanging out at a bar. And she's already learned to pick locks, tail strangers, blackmail (or negotiate) with family members, and other interesting things. Izzy, a reformed twenty-something who also works for her family of PI's has to find her. Most of the story is Izzy relating the events of the past few weeks to a cop who is on the missing sister's case. And, boy, what a past few weeks. This family is full of non-stop action. I thought it was funny. And I know a few kids at school who would eat this up, especially the typical Cornwell/Evanovich readers.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead

This adult Civil War novel was a disappointment. It's too literary for me and for my students. The author definitely did his research on what the aftermath of a battlefield looked like though. At some parts I felt like I was reading from my old Civil War textbook. Yes, I really did take a class for my minor called THE CIVIL WAR. My professor even shot a musket on campus. I bet they don't do that anymore!

I'm sure I'm supposed to use words like beautiful, stunning, powerful, blah, blah, blah, but I just think the book was kind of boring. Robey is a young boy when his mother has a vision. General Jackson is dead and Robey has to fetch his dad home. Robey is lent a coal black horse from the blacksmith, and off he goes on his quest. He gets shot while his horse is stolen. He sees a girl get raped and he doesn't do anything to stop it (that part really bothered me). He sees hell during and after a battle. And he finds his father dying. Then he meets up with the girl and avenges everything he has dealt with, now that he is a man. He travels back home, taking the girl with him. This won't be one I purchase for school. The action is there, but I just didn't get into the book at all.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Society of S by Susan Hubbard

This was a surprisingly decent vampire novel. I must admit that I went through a vampire stage when I was in high school and read every fiction novel out there about them. Since then, I haven't been too keen on vampires, other than Twilight by Meyer and Peeps by Westerfeld.

Hubbard has the action move slowly and calmly. I picture the author as someone who speaks deliberately and carefully. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I get from reading this author's first novel. Ariella is a 13 year old wise beyond her years. Her handsome father home schools her and she has received quite the classical education. But her young teenage mind knows that something isn't right. She has never met her mother. Her father is weird. She sunburns easily. The mirrors in their old Victorian house don't work. And her father researches blood in the basement of their house. So, she finds out that they are vampires. What I like about this novel is that this discovery is a slow one. And Ariella completes quite the research process to discover what is going on. She begins a quest to find her mother and there are even a few murders thrown in her to leave the reader guessing. All in all, it's a good book. I don't know if I'm wowed by it, but I can give this to Twilight readers and I think they will enjoy it.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Zoology by Ben Dolnick

I was pleasantly surprised by this sweet coming of age adult novel. And I'm sickened that the author is SEVEN years younger than me and writing like someone who has real promise. Ugh.

Anyway, Henry Elinsky is a college dropout (actually the college told him to take a break) and he's bored to tears living with his parents again. His older brother David, a dermatologist, and his girlfriend offer to share their apartment in NYC. On the condition that Henry gets a job. At the Zoo. Henry, who doesn't know what the word ambition is, interviews and lands the job in the children's zoo. He's cleaning poop, cutting vegetables, and not doing much else with the little animals. But he attaches himself to Newman, the goat that listens carefully to everything Henry says. And Henry attaches himself to Margaret, a girl visiting NYC from Montana. The novel tells the story of Henry during that one summer in NYC--his job, his girl, his parents' failing marriage, and his goat. Newman is by far the strongest character in the novel, followed closely by Ramon and Sameer.

I'm not sure what adjectives to use with this novel. There isn't a wow factor, but there is a quiet, settled part of my gut that says, "yesssss." Perhaps I should think on it some more. I'll let you know. Right now I'm thinking about old Seinfeld episodes....