Thursday, September 30, 2010

American Rust - Phillipp Meyer

Recommended by my friend Rob, American Rust is one of the better books I've read this year, and one I probably never would have known about but for Rob pointing me in the right direction. Likened to The Grapes of Wrath because it deals with restless life in small-town America, American Rust is principally the story of two friends. One, Isaac, is a rare intellect in the midst of average Joes. He has been itching to get away from his nowhere Pennsylvania town, and the ailing father he has taken care of since his mother died and his sister left to better herself at an Ivy League university. The other, Billy, a washed-up high school football player with a quick temper, is destined for a life of trailers and pick-up trucks. When Isaac's plan to escape goes horribly wrong, the two find themselves lost and alone, and struggling to make sense of the life around them. Told from the perspective of these two, along with Billy's mother and the town sheriff, I found the pace of this book and its exploration of the characters just what I needed - wonderfully written and a fulfilling interesting story. Thanks Rob!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Firegirl - Tony Abbot

This book is about seventh graders, but I would probably put the appropriate grade level for an actual reader a couple grades lower. The subject matter had the potential to be a bit more sophisticated, but the manner in which it was dealt with was pretty superficial. Firegirl takes place in a private school on the east coast, where a new student has arrived. The new student was the victim of a horrible fire, and as a result, the majority of her body (including her face) suffered third-degree burns. The student's "otherness" is immediately apparent, with the other students not wanting to hold her hand in a sharing circle, and starting vicious rumors about what "really" happened and her role in the fire itself. The main character of the book, Tom, is fascinated by her, and when a teacher asks him to bring her schoolwork over to her house one day, he has the opportunity to get to actually talk to her. At the same time, Tom is experiencing some growing pains in his relationship with his best friend, whose parents are going through a divorce, as well as developing a crush on the school's best looking and most popular girl. There's a lot going on, and the book is only 149 pages, so as you can imagine, all the themes get short shrift. The main, lesson, of course, is that one should not judge a book by its cover, that a person's appearance does not dictate their worth, and that everyone is worth getting to know. Certainly an important lesson, but I'm not sure the way in which this particular story was told worked for me. I would be interested to hear kids' opinions on this one.

The Lonely Polygamist - Brady Udall

I admit a fascination with the concept of polygamy. I don't like the obvious sexist elements, or the idea of having so many children that no one seems to be able to keep track of them all. But, I do like the idea of communal living, and support for mothers by other women (and ideally, their husband(s)). So, I have been a fan of the HBO series "Big Love," as well as David Ebershoff's novel, The 19th Wife. And, since I did enjoy Brady Udall's earlier novel, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, I thought this one looked promising. The Lonely Polygamist is the story of Golden Richards - husband to four women and father to over 20. He is a developer, hiding the fact that his latest project consists of building a whorehouse. Given Golden's overwhelming brood and the constant pressures put on his to spend time with each of his children, as well as his wives, he finds himself without an outlet for his frustrations and loneliness. So, of course, he turns his attention to another woman - and the fantasty of running away and starting all over, just with her. And while he's off not paying attention to his family, one of his wives is becoming increasingly unhappy with her 4th wife position, another wife is experiencing extreme mental instability, and the strangest of his many weird children is having a crisis of faith, self-esteem, and overall existence. All together, it makes for interesting characters who lives you do want to know more about. But, frankly I found the actual stories told a little tedious and frustrating - perhaps a bit like Golden feels about his own life. A lot of interesting area to cover here, but unfortunately, it didn't carry through for me, and the secrets of the polygamist lifestyle remain hidden.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Little Bee - Chris Cleave

With overwhelming amounts of work lately, I have fallen grossly behind on updating the blog.
Luckily, however, I have been able to continue to read - though not at the pace I need to in order to meet my 2010 reading goal of 150 books...but I soldier on. Little Bee is one of those books I see all over the store and public transportation, so I was eager to see what the hype was all about. The book starts out in a British detention center which houses immigrants. Little Bee, a refugee from Nigeria, has fled the violence of her home country, and goes in search of a couple she met on their ill-fated African beach vacation. As is probably obvious even from this brief description, this is a pretty bleak and depressing book. It deals powerfully with the idea of how we all create our own realities (or escapes from reality) when live becomes a little too horrific to handle.

Monday, September 6, 2010

So You Want to be a Wizard - Diane Duane (Young Wizard Series #1)

My brother-in-law Mark recommended this to me as good young adult science-fiction. The protagonist is 13-year old Nita, an avid reader, and somewhat of a social outcast. One day, while hiding in the library from her tormentors, she stumbles across a book entitled, So You Want to be a Wizard - a how-to manual on becoming a wizard. At first, Nita thinks it's nothing more than a joke, but of course, she takes the book home and learns it's so much more. When completing her first spell, she meets up with fellow outcast/wizard Kit, and together they set out in Manhattan to track down a lost spell book. This book has the usual good kid messages - even once you obtain the power to destroy your enemies, it's always better to exercise a little mercy. It was a little heavy on the science and detailed explanations of physics and black holes and the like - which I think a super-science-y kid would really love. I also appreciated that there was one main female character, and one main male character - someone for everyone to identify with. There are nine books in this series - enough to keep a bookworm kid busy all summer - or an adult like me who likes kids' books busy through the school year.

Innocent - Scott Turow

The long-awaited sequel to Presumed Innocent, Innocent takes place 20 years later. Rusty Sabich has since overcome the stigma of being accused of murdering his mistress, and has risen to the appellate court bench. His nemesis Tommy Molto is now the head of the DA's office, and has seemingly moved on from his failed prosecution. Sabich's son is a timid recent law school grad, madly in love with his father's former law clerk and sometimes lover. When Rusty's wife, Barbara, is found dead in bed from an apparent heart condition, it doesn't take long before the coroner alleges foul play and Rusty finds himself on the losing end of yet another murder rap. For those who have read and remember Presumed Innocent, I think it'll be difficult not to think you know who the real murderer is right away - and the fun is then trying to figure out how the murder went about commiting the crime and framing Rusty for it. There are a few twists and turns, and a little more about Rusty's personal life, with the involvement of his son in the story. I found the relationship between Rusty's former girlfriend and his son, a little too creepy/unnecessary, but it does add a layer of question about who could possibly have done it. A decent page-turner that held my attention well into the night.