Monday, November 22, 2010

2-Fer: IOU: New Writing on Money edited by Ron Slate and The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

Received IOU as part of the mission of Concord Free Press.

Thank goodness for Meg Cabot, because after finishing IOU, I felt ready to put off reading for the foreseeable future. It's not that it was bad, it just draaaaaaagged. A few of the stories within were even quite engaging, but overall, it was difficult to keep going. But keep going I did, and here are my thoughts.

The book is comprised of short stories (some in the form of "advice"), poems, and two interviews. All of the pieces deal with money in some form. If you like poetry or spoken word, you may actually enjoy a good portion of the book. If I am going to read poetry, however, it should be moving, engaging, not just a series of short phrases, truncated for appearance-sake, about something not-that-surprising or unique. But, like I said, if you enjoy reading poetry, you will probably enjoy at least half of this book.

The two interviews are interesting. One is with a woman who was involved in a bank robbery in 1970 (Katherine Ann Power) and the other is with a woman who pled guilty to embezzling a couple hundred thousand dollars from her bank-employee (Donna Lee Munson). If not insightful (though the second certainly was), the interviews were entertaining.

And then the stories. These really varied, story-to-story. If I may be allowed a moment to go through, briefly, the stories w/ my quick thoughts... (if you would like to skip this section, please proceed to the Boy Next Door review, below):
  • Interest by Michelle Huneven: It is a slow read, hard to get involved, but I appreciated the pay-off. No real climax, but an interesting view of father-daughter interaction wherein the daughter has asked her father for assistance purchasing a home.
  • Tycoon by Michael Greenberg: I start to realize that this type of short-story does not necessarily have a point. I liked some of the information therein, though - the perspective of a man who briefly entered the stock market.
  • Dear Yale by Jess Row: I actually loved this one, though it was also a slow-read. The story interchanges between a letter from Yale asking for contributions and a "response" from the old man who delves into his private and what should be embarrassing stories before his answer.
  • Income by Dolly Freed: I hated this one. It was advice in the form of a "story"?
  • Free Meals by Jonathan Ames: Pretty uninspired story about an adult who needs money from his/her parents. Like hearing a story from a friend where you smile politely at the end.
  • From Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston: Another somewhat entertaining but pointless read from the perspective of a child whose mother has the collectors calling.
  • Coins by Mona Simpson: I did not like this at all - the perspective of the foreign nanny in a big city. It was just a stream of consciousness with the point, of course, being that foreign nannies are respectful and their employers are shallow, pointless, rich people. And I say this with a sister who is a nanny and coming from a family that has never been affluent enough to afford one. I am not in defense of those families (or on the other side of the fence, as it were), but come on. Cliche.
  • The Entrepreneurs by Tony Eprile: This was interesting. A Zulu man desiring to be rich seeks his answer in the form of a "secret" from a washed-up teacher and finds trouble. The story is interesting and rewarding.
  • Poetry and Blue Jeans by Jenny Boully: I did not like this one either. It was another hate-the-Man, companies are evil, feel bad story. I know. These stories need to exist to establish sympathy or at least awareness. But, again, show some originality in your presentation.
  • Broadway Taxes by Geoffrey Becker: Wonderful. Well-told and interesting. A man seeks to sell his tax-preparation business.
  • Local Money by Douglas Rushkoff: Again, not a story. I mean, maybe the "writings" did not need to be in the form of fictional stories, but that was what I had been anticipating. Maybe that was my bad... But interesting information explaining the benefit of "local money" (complementary money).
  • An Inheritance by Dan Pope: This was interesting with a good "conclusion" (short stories don't really seem to "conclude," do they). A man deals with his aunt's illness.
  • Immorally Bankrupt by Augusten Burroughs: This was a very short, fun little story. As expected.
  • The Back of the House by J.C. Hallman: Very interesting story of a dealer in a casino.
  • Nannies, Maids, and Money by Kate Clanchy. This was from the perspective of the employer and it was a little more original. I enjoyed the story and the information - it was morose but somehow hopeful.
  • The Price of Waterfalls by Michael Guista: A man makes money instead of pursuing his passion. Not terribly interesting or original.
  • Sixty per Bird by Samantha Peale. I really enjoyed this story about a prodigal artist and the one who sells out to pay the rent.
  • Old Money by Terese Svoboda: In the end, the story was interesting. As in, looking back on it, I like what it did. But while reading about the two spinster sisters, I was uninspired.
  • The Price of a View by Castle Freeman, Jr: A story about buying property with nothing surprising or particularly informative (unless, I suppose, you know nothing about property).
  • Plunder by Jane Delury: I loved this one. The story is about an elderly couple with the husband very ill. The story weaves around the past and present and draws the reader into the pain. I actually cared about the characters in only 12 pages.
  • Where the Money Went by Kevin Canty: Interesting. Well done in the less-than-2-pages.
As you can see, overall, the book was disappointing because my feelings were often summed up with: "so, what's your point." Overall, 2 of 5 stars. Because some of it was really good. But, I needed something interesting, stat!

Along came The Boy Next Door. This was the first book by Meg Cabot I have read. I am glad I did! I read the book yesterday evening. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram called it "A fast, addictive read." Indeed it was.

The book takes the form of emails. The entire story is told through emails. It's like those books written through letters or a diary. Except this one was well done. The story was complete but did not feel unrealistic. The emails were not so complete as to render them unrealistic, and yet all of the facts were disclosed in a timely and interesting manner.

Mel Fuller, gossip columnist for the NY Journal, meets her neighbor Max Friedland, who is really his friend John Trent "of the Park Avenue Trents" because of an attack on her elderly neighbor, Max Friedland's aunt and only living relative. Max, of course, is too busy to take care of his neighbor himself, which is why he sends his friend John in his place.

It was so enjoyable to read. The story was somewhat "fairy tale," but in a real-life kind of way. To top it off, there was also a mystery to be solved?! For a girl, at least, the story had it all: mystery, friendship, parent-interaction, job drama, and love. Highly recommend for a quick escape into a wonderful fantasy where men are somehow both sensitive and masculine. 4 of 5 stars.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

This was my first Palahniuk. I had heard that this book was incredibly disturbing and was, of course, intrigued. The book was disturbing, I suppose, but I would not add the modifier "incredibly." The book is, however, graphic and detailed and delves into the more deranged parts of the human mind. Although I had not read Palahniuk before, I have of course seen Fight Club, and I understand that Palahniuk takes extreme situations and explores human interactions and reactions within those situations. Haunted does this and takes it just one step beyond "the line."

The way I think of the book is as a warped reality tv show gone wrong. Imagine a group of people, psychologically messed up because of the realities inflicted upon them and because of the choices they have made. Lock them together in a building with no escape for three months and see what happens. It's like The Cube meets Saw. Palahniuk's characters are actually believable in their extreme behavior and those with weaker stomachs should refrain.

The format the book takes is relatively unique. The characters in the book are identified by nicknames that somehow represent how the author is warped. Each "chapter" includes a narrative, a poem, and a story. The narrative is told from the perspective of one of the individuals locked in the building -- though we are never quite sure which aspiring author is speaking. The narrative is followed by a poem "about" the aspiring author, which hints at something the author has experienced and sheds a little light on the nickname the author has received. The poem is then followed by a story written by the character that has been discussed in the preceding poem. The story explains the primary traumatic incident (or portion of that incident) that resulted in the author's warped personality and nickname.

I liked the format of the book and appreciated Palahniuk's timing. Some of the most intriguing (to me) characters' personalities and nicknames were revealed at the end of the book, which certainly kept me attached to the book -- even though it almost read more like a series of non-related short stories than a novel. In addition, although it was not immediate, I was eventually drawn into the narrative of the authors trapped in the building and felt invested in how it would all play out.

The writing was great, too. I suppose the reason I'm still rambling about this, somewhat incoherently, is because I recognize the good qualities of the book, cannot think of any particularly bad ones, but still was not blown away by the book. I expected to be more disturbed, more intrigued, more saddened, more anything... but mostly I was just reading without much emotion at all. It was certainly good enough to continue reading and good enough to casually recommend, but it made no strong lasting impressions on me.

Recommended for someone who likes gore and exploring the deranged ways in which humans can behave in extreme situations.

THREE AND A HALF of five stars.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vanishing Girl: The Boy Sherlock Holmes - His 3rd Case by Shane Peacock

Review based on ARC.

It is quickly apparent why Peacock's works have won him several awards. Vanishing Girl is the third in a young adult series establishing Sherlock Holmes' detective career and prowess. I had not read the first two when I received this book. Although it would have added a little bit of clarity to the past referenced throughout, it is certainly not necessary to have read the other books before enjoying the third.

In Vanishing Girl, Holmes attempts to beat Scotland Yard to the solution of the kidnapping and burglary crimes. In the process of discovering the answers and solving the riddles, Holmes learns more about himself as a young man, as a friend, and as a detective. He employs many of the technical skills he has begun to learn to solve the crimes, but the real reward arrives when he learns what kind of person he will choose to be.

Peacock weaves a believable and solvable mystery around a great story of a young man with a troubled past and a complicated future. I was drawn into the mystery and its facets, but I was even more taken by Holmes, his guardian Bell, his friend Irene, and all of the minor characters that plotted the story. I look forward to reading more of the books in this series.

Highly recommended for all young adult readers, mystery readers, and Holmes fans.

FOUR of five stars.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spooky Little Girl by Laurie Notaro

This was my first Notaro. Being drawn to funny and supernatural, I thought it would be a perfect introduction, even though I understood that it would be different from her "essays." Overall, Meh.

The book is good enough, interesting enough, and original enough to keep you reading, and pretty quickly. It did not, however, in any way impress me. But it was enough to pass the time.

The book starts with Lucy, the protagonist, who has a terrible day and then, to top it all off, dies. She ends up in Ghost School where she will need to learn the tricks of the trade, and then apply them to determine how she moves on. The idea is intriguing and has a fun spin to it, but, in the end, it fell a little flat. It was hard to care a whole lot about ... well, any of the characters. They were amusing enough but, again, didn't leave any lasting impressions.

Nevertheless, I would recommend to Notaro fans and people looking for a light, quick read.

THREE AND A HALF of five stars.