Monday, July 30, 2012

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

Alan Clay has a life that's unravelling - a series of bad decisions have brought him to middle age with a bitter ex-wife, no money, a shattered career, and a strange lump on the back of his neck. He's sure one meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia would solve all his problems - if only the King would show up!

With this novel, Eggers presents a mash-up of "Death of a Salesman" and "Waiting for Godot." Pathetic salesman waits for his next (last?) big presentation that he's sure will finally bring him success. While waiting for the king, it seems Alan may completely fall apart - or die by his own ineptitude.

It's a slow-speed car crash that you can't avoid. From the start you know the storyline is unlikely to come out well for Alan, but just how it goes and where it ends is the mystery. Alan's wandering mind takes us back and forth in time, in jerky bits of story and memory. He bumbles into several adventures that could either bring epiphany or the end.

I enjoyed this book simply as one man's foibles and failures - but if you wish, you could also analyze lots of ideas about commercialism, out-sourcing, modern technology, consumerism ...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

A sequel that works equally well as a stand-alone title, "Where She Went" is about the three years since the action of "If I Stay." I'd loved that book, and was surprised when this book was told from boyfriend Adam's point of view. I was also surprised by what's happened in the mean time.

Adam's got everything a guy should want: he's a rock star with serious money, his girlfriend is a gorgeous and smart movie star. But he's tired of the tabloids, and he's lost the spark for his music. While the last three years have been a rocket ride, gravity's kicking in and Adam's parachute isn't opening. Sometimes a perfect facade hides deep, tragic cracks.

Audiobook reader Dan Bittner did an amazing job on this one - he's really got a talent for narration and brought just the right edge to Adam's voice.

And yeh, I cried.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Greg Gaines is clueless. And since this book is a kind of journal from Greg's point of view, as a reader you see that sometimes Greg understand how clueless he is (ie: girls) and sometimes Greg is utterly clueless as to his cluelessness (ie: friendships). But he's both charming and annoying, and you root for Greg to come around eventually - because really, aren't we all clueless? 

Greg's been carefully cultivating a non-persona all through high school. He's pretty happy that now, as a senior, he's not associated with any group, scorned by any clique, or shackled by any categorizations. 

Then, his mother strong-arms him into a friendship with Rachel.

It's a funny book about friendship and growing up, about finding something only when you lose it. Greg's sure - right up until the last page - that he didn't learn a thing from his experiences, and he can't believe you're even interested. This light-hearted style makes the novel a quick read despite its thematic weight. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

I thought this book might be interesting based on my hobby as a quilter, but I've found much more than artistic stimulation to ponder; my initial mistake was thinking about creativity as confined to a leisure activity, when in fact creativity is the key to innovation and problem-solving in all parts of life.

Why does Apple headquarters only have one restroom? How did a sandpaper salesman invent the now-ubiquitous roll of masking tape? How do small changes in the presentation of a problem effect the perspectives we use in solving it?

This book is EXTREMELY interesting - and not at all boring. Lively writing and stellar examples illustrate a complex subject, and I often found myself putting the book aside at chapter ends to contemplate useful applications for the things I'd just read. Highly recommended!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Devine Intervention by Martha Brockenbrough

Jerome might be the worst guardian angel ever: it's a community service project because he's not "good" enough to get into "real" heaven, he didn't read the handbook, he's breaking all the rules, etc.

I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, I found it just average: it's not bad, but it's not especially good either. I read 100 pages during a pedicure - that's a big enough percentage of the book that I should have been consumed in the characters and itching to finish.. And then I just couldn't force myself to finish it. 

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore

I could tell you what this book's about, but you wouldn't believe me (no vampires!). 

I should just tell you it's hilarious, and that it has two of the most disturbing, alarming sex scenes you'll ever encounter. 

This is 1999 book, mid-way through Moore's writing career to-date: not heavy on message, but plenty thick with absurdity.

The Year of Disappearances by Susan Hubbard

Ari is a 14-year-old half-vampire who's way more mature than her years would indicate. Because she was homeschooled until recently, Ari's never really had friends - and her new relationships aren't 100% successful: She falls in with girls that my mother would have said were the wrong crowd. Then one of the girls disappears. 

You don't have to have read "The Society of S" to read this book. Which is good, because even though I read that (and I can't find it anywhere on this blog - it must have been before we started, but I swear I read it!), I have no recollection of the storyline. At all. Almost like I'd been hypnotized by one of the main characters ...

This is a more literary style of vampire story, and I'm not sure I'm smart enough for it. There are a lot of quotes from literary figures and philosophers. Ari gets mixed up in politics. Now that I reflect on the story, a lot happens in the novel. And this could have been a edge-of-your-seat thriller. But it's not.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wicked business

by Janet Evanovich

Evanovich returns to her supernaturally charged "Wicked" series with another puzzling adventure.  Lizzy and Diesel are now searching for the Lust stone which is said to contain all the power of that particular deadly sin.  The question is, can they find it before one of the more dangerous individuals with special powers gets their hands on it?  Also, can they keep themselves apart when the stone starts having effects upon the people near it?
This is another riotous romp filled with nearly as many explosions, and flames as one of Evanovich's famed Plum novels.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Me and You

by Genevieve Cote

Two best friends long to be like one another.  Children who are learning about friendship and how to be a good friend will learn about being true to one's self.  Many common objects are used to allow the duo to emulate each other.  The watercolor style images are actually mixed media, and they evoke a calm feel even when the friends experience a mild catastrophe.  The descriptive text creates visual ideas that are more complex than what is typical for this category of picture book. Tails that are "curly as a lemon twist" and "fluffy as cotton candy" made this even more ideal to be read during the week of our local agricultural fair. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wizard's Hall by Jane Yolen

So I picked up this book because it features a quilted monster. (How could that even be scary? Oh, maybe an ugly quilt? Just kidding. It's sewn up of people!)

And then when I finished the book, I wondered if this was part of a series. This can't be all, can it? It seems like just the start of a much bigger story. But it turns out that this is all in Yolen's series ... because eventually JK Rowling wrote the rest instead. Yolen published this book, about a reluctant boy wizard named Harry who's forced into wizarding school, in 1991. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book in 1997. 

Much, much too similar. And I just wasn't feeling the drama in Yolen's story like I was meant to. I wanted the original to be superior. But really, it just feels like it needs more (it's a pretty slim volume) - it feels like it should have been the first half of a longer book, or (I guess) the first book in a series. That never was.

I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

Justin Halpern was one of those geeky, awkward kids who hit puberty late and maturity even later. As he ponders whether or not to ask his girlfriend to become his wife, he takes a day to trip down memory lane to revisit what he's learned (or not) about women over the years.

Halpern's most famous for "Shit My Dad Says" on Twitter, in book form, and in the short-lived sitcom version. But this book proves he hasn't emptied his arsenal of straight-shooting parental munitions - and also, proves that Dad's not the only one giving hilarious advice in Justin's life.

100 Unforgettable Dresses by Hal Rubenstein

Underwhelming may be the best way to describe this coffee table book of fashion.

I love pop culture and was excited to revisit some iconic dresses and images - and there is a bit of that. The dresses are described elegantly, but I wanted more pictures of details and other angles to get the full drama. There's really only one photo of most dresses, along with tons of text and more history on the designers than is truly necessary. 

Additionally, the random pages featuring reversed out white text on black page are AGONIZING to read. Too fine a font makes the text smudgy and illegible. 

I was interested, but ultimately disappointed and wanted a lot more from this book.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters, Black Bears to Bumble Bees by Charles Finn

Each essay is brief, so I was tempted to gobble up another and another, but I think they'd be better savored one or two at a time. Fans of Aldo Leopold will swoon - these are similar in tone, and perhaps more accessible (less scholarly) than his Sand County essays.

While not all of his 29 creature encounters are native to Wisconsin, local nature enthusiasts still will appreciate his reflective, observational style. The language is gorgeous, and Finn has a knack for simile. My only criticism may be that he's a bit heavy-handed with the religious, spiritual end of his reverie - but Finn's is an easy-going kind of "gee whiz, observing nature sure proves there must be a higher power!"

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

The bus ride to school takes a fateful turn in this gripping, completely engrossing apocalypse story. Boulder-sized hail and a deadly bus crash are just the beginning, and a group of kids (kindergarten through high school) are forced to persevere during an epic crisis.

Fortunately, they're trapped inside a superstore. As they find ways to be safe, stay well, and keep busy, the kids form a community - complete with romances, rivalries, and disagreements.

I loved this book, until I got to the very end: This book has NO conclusion. Perhaps they're planning on a series. Even with that plan, there needs to be some resolution at the end in order to make a stand-alone story. I needed something! Instead, there's action-action-action ... blank page.