Monthly Archives: June 2014

Never Met a Bryson Book I Didn’t Like

BrysonbookBill Bryson has an amazing talent for taking the mundane facts of history and weaving them into a funny, thrilling, fascinating and readable work on non-fiction.  His topics have ranged from travel adventures such as his exploration of the Appalachian Trail and the Australian outback,  or the examination of social history from his own childhood memories to the history of his house.  Bryson’s recent work, One Summer America 1927 takes the reader on a chronological trip through the summer of 1927 in America, carried along by a host of events and characters from the era including sports legends, political figures, “heroes” and criminals.  The structure of the work starts with the contest to over-fly the Atlantic ocean from New York to Paris in early May and ends with a fall from grace for America’s hero, Lindbergh, in late September.  Interwoven in this adventure are all the other stars who appeared on the public stage during the summer of this particular year: Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Al Capone, Henry Ford, Calvin Coolidge, Sacco and Venzetti, and many others.  These people defined an era and helped form and characterize a nation before the Great Depression.  What I found particularly compelling were the similarities between the mindset of the late 1920’s and today.  Although this book would not be listed as one of Bryson’s best in my opinion, it was an interesting and very worthwhile read.  I was appalled and disappointed to learn, however, that most of these larger-than-life sports and other historical figures were truly reprehensible people in many regards.  Why, you ask?  You’ll have to read the book.

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Define “Normal”

"Kelcie" by Frank Kovalchek  Flikr IMG_1330a

“Kelcie” by Frank Kovalchek
Flikr IMG_1330a

Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters is a story about looks being deceiving.  It centers around a young middle schooler, Antonia, who is selected by the guidance office to provide peer counseling to troubled fellow student, Jasmine “Jazz” Luther.  Antonia is immediately put off by the girls looks — piercings, black lipstick, tattoos — and assumes she’s unintelligent, sub-human, and trouble.  As the story unfolds, we learn that it is Antonia — a model straight A student, who is struggling with a home life that’s falling apart: her dad has deserted the family and her mother is increasingly dysfunctional.  Antonia, left to pick up the slack for her two young brothers, tries to hide the facts from neighbors and school officials and refuses to ask for help.  Despite their differences, the girls begin to trust one another.  Antonia discovers that Jazz lives in a mansion and is a gifted classical pianist.  Jazz, on the other hand, takes part in supporting Antonia when she and her brothers are sent to live in a foster home.  The author, Peters, weaves a masterful portrayal of Antonia’s mother’s descent into crippling depression.  Although the book is a bit dated, it is a fast and enjoyable read.  Peters, who has made her mark in the young adult fiction scene with stories about struggles faced by gay/lesbian teens, made the characters in this story, however, a bit too stereotypical.  The “good girl” Antonia is too naive and often talks like a middle-aged woman, whereas the “bad girl” Jazz trots out all the clichéd bagged of a teen rebelling against her parents.  I also question the age of the girls, who are supposed to be 8th grade middle schoolers.  The fact that Jazz sports tattoos and such without parental permission is questionable, and some of their activities seem more appropriate to high school.  Overall, a good story that kept this reader engaged.

 

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What Did We See at Night?

This YA series by NYT best selling author Jacquelyn Mitchard is a huge disappointment.  The first book, What We Saw at Night, held great promise as the story of three teens with a rare disease which restricts them from ever going outside during the day–Xeroderma Pigmentosum or XP.  The main character, Allie Kim, is greatly influenced by her life-long free-spirited friend, Juliet, who introduces them to the dangerous but exhilarating “sport” of Parkour– scaling and leaping off of tall buildings.  Rob–Allie’s friend and blossoming love interest–joins the girls and soon has them going out on summer nights, breaking into construction sites and parks, to do Parkour, which is the only thing that makes them feel truly alive and lifted from their early death sentence.  It is during one of their building scaling escapades that Allie witnesses what she is sure is a murder scene. Mitchard’s portrayal of the murderer, a man with a strange streak of white down his hairline, is chilling.  Allie, who dubs him “Blondie,” his horrified to realize that her friend Juliet may have some deadly connection with him and is mysteriously subject to his influence. The plot hooks the reader, but then lets you down as Allie shuttlecocks through the story without being effective in any direction she takes.  For example, she spots Blondie with a bundle, possibly the body, who seems to disappear in an area she later learns contains a trap door to a stairwell.  This stairwell leads to the ruins of an old boathouse, yet in the rest of the novel she alerts no one, not even Juliet’s police chief father, to go check it out.  Worst of all, the book just ends without any resolution and is taken up in the next of the series, What We Lost in the Dark.   Although the voice of Allie is compelling, I felt cheated by the non-ending.Whatwesaw

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