Month: October 2007

by LouAnne Johnson

My Posse Don\’t Do Homework is the true account of an ex-Marine who becomes a teacher in a California high school. She ends up with a class of the worst-behaved kids in the school, near juvenile delinquents who consistently fail classes, threaten other students and went so far as to put their previous teacher in the hospital. Determined to prove that all students can learn, she sets out to earn the kids\’ trust, spark their interest in school, and prove that instead of basic math and spelling, they are capable of dealing with algebra and Shakespeare. Her commitment to her students leads her to visit their homes and neighborhoods, meet their families, and become somewhat involved in their personal lives, in an effort to show them how much she cares.

Apparently in the years since I first read My Posse Don\’t Do Homework, it has been reprinted under a new name and look. Dangerous Minds was a bestseller and made into a film in 1995. I can see why. It\’s a very inspirational look at how one teacher made a difference among students everyone else saw as a lost cause. (I\’m thinking the film would be along the lines of Stand and Deliver, and I intend to view it soon and find out!)

Rating: 3/5                  226 pages, 1992

by Jeannette Walls

The most amazing thing about this story to me, is its truth. It sheds an entirely different light upon homelessness than The People of the Abyss. Jeannette Walls and her siblings grew up in poverty, because her parents chose to live that way. They were both highly intelligent widely read people. They taught their children to read and do math in binary numbers before attending school, yet they couldn\’t hold a job between them long enough to pay rent or keep food in the house. More shocking to me than the descriptions of living in derelict houses and scrounging in garbage for food was this attitude. The father was an irresponsible drunk, shifty and highly distrustful of law and established order. The mother was an artist and a \”free spirit\” She simply didn\’t want to do housework or care for children, so her kids lived in filth and faced starvation while she sat reading stacks of books from the public library and painted pictures that piled up to the ceiling. Smart and determined, the kids found ways to fend for themselves, until they were old enough to leave. They all fled to New York where they found work, attended college and made careers for themselves. Their parents eventually followed, choosing to continue living on the streets and in abandoned buildings rather than feel beholden to anyone, even their own children!

I felt vaguely uneasy reading The Glass Castle, because the mother shared my two great passions: books and painting. I kept feeling like I was reading about an alternative version of myself, one who was totally selfish in indulging herself while her family suffered. I just could not picture myself being like that, and it almost made my skin crawl with shame when she spouted views I have held myself (but rarely acted upon), and then lived them to the greatest extreme.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 288 pages, 2005

More opinions at:
Tip of the Iceberg

by Kazuo Ishiguro

This quiet yet disturbing novel begins as the reminisces of a thirty-year old woman of her years growing up in a secluded boarding school called Halisham. Never Let Me Go is the story of Kathy, her best friend Ruth and the passive Tommy, a trio that forms a shifting love triangle. At first the focus is on kids in a private school with their cliques and changing loyalties, pranks, team sports, art classes and speculations about the professors. But there\’s something very odd about this school. The materials are downright shabby, the teachers are overly anxious to instill in the students how \”special\” they are, there\’s a strange emphasis on creativity and very strict regiments to keep them in excellent health. Kept confused and unknowing, the reader shares Kathy\’s ignorance, only seeing the world through her naive perspective. Slowly it becomes clear what is going on, suspicions being quelled as quickly as they arise- because the truth is so awful the students don\’t want to know about it and keep themselves in the dark, acting like perpetual children. Even when they grow into young adults and leave Halisham for their final purpose, they retain a passivity and apathetic acceptance of their fate that stems from a loss of all hope…

Ishiguro\’s understated writing style echoes the mood of the story: solemn, overshadowed and monotone. The whole book feels like an overcast day where you can\’t see far ahead of you but it\’s all so gloomy you don\’t even want to very much. We never learn much about the world at large and its connections to the awful purpose for students of Halisham, because the book isn\’t about science fiction or medicine. It\’s about humanity and hope in the face of severe exploitation of the most disposable group of human society: clones.

Rating: 3/5           288 pages, 2005

Read more reviews at:
Book Addiction
Trish\’s Reading Nook
Things Mean a Lot
Book Chase

by Khaled Hosseini

The story of Amir, a boy from Kabul and his childhood friend, Hassan. Amir\’s family is very well off, and Hassan is the son of his father\’s servant. The two boys are very close friends despite the gap in their social status, until a horrific incident occurs in which Amir betrays his friend\’s trust. For the rest of his life Amir wrestles with his secret guilt, especially after moving to America with his father. Finally, as an adult, he returns to Afghanistan in an attempt to redeem himself and assuage his guilt. The last quarter of the book is particularly suspenseful, as Amir conducts a desperate search through an Afghanistan unrecognizable from his idyllic childhood homeland, altered forever by war and the rule of the Taliban.

I was not enthralled with The Kite Runner, in spite of the fact that I enjoyed many aspects of it. It is a vivid picture of life in Afghanistan, and a strong portrait of the people\’s pride and sense of honor. I especially loved the descriptions of a boy\’s sport called kite running, in which the children coat the strings of their kites with crushed glass, then battle them in the sky. However, there were many parts of the story that felt so contrived, melodramatic or violent I had difficulty believing it. I\’m sure that in a war-torn country such terrible things really do occur, but I had the feeling I was reading a narrative that had been over-dramatized for effect, and lost some of its realism. Nevertheless, it is a very powerful story about friendship and honor, war, guilt, and redemption.

Rating: 3/5                  371 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
Melody\’s Reading Corner
Advance Booking

by Jack London

In 1903 Jack London went to live in a slum in the worst area in London\’s East End, known as \”the Abyss.\” For several months he explored the maze of slums, rubbing shoulders with the masses of poverty-stricken people, learning firsthand what it was like to live literally hand to mouth. His documentary book graphically depicts the suffering, disease, starvation and horrible conditions the poor lived in. Low wages, inadequate housing, serious lack of healthcare and illiteracy were rampant. Over 50% of children died before the age of 5. Any small event could plunge a person into a downward spiral that inevitably lead to death: illness, injury, loss of a job or lodgings. London spent time living in small rooms, staying in workhouses and sleeping on the streets. The People of the Abyss was a plea for assistance and humane treatment of the poor to people in power. It can be very political at times, but is mostly thorough journalism colored with firsthand experiences.

The powerfully detailed descriptions of abject poverty really brought home to me how horrible and inescapable their conditions were. When I was younger, I used to see homeless people on the street and think they had brought that situation upon themselves, they could get a job if they wanted to. But after reading a book like this, it makes you realize they often have little ability to escape their condition. The oppression they live under and lack of skills makes it near impossible for them to get ahead.

People of the Abyss inspired George Orwell to live as a tramp in England in the 1930\’s, resulting in his semi-documentary book Down and Out in Paris and London. It has a similar feel as well to Upton Sinclair\’s The Jungle, both great works on social inequality and the conditions of the poor.

Rating: 4/5                388 pages, 1903

by Clay Morgan

I had recently finished a number of books about herding dogs when this book caught my eye on the library shelf. It\’s the story of a cabin boy who gets shipwrecked alone on a deserted island off the coast of New Zealand. He discovers that there are no longer people on the island, but dogs and sheep descended from their domesticated animals. The dogs have split into two groups- one that still tends the sheep even without human direction, and another wild pack that lives in the forest and preys on the sheep. The boy learns to survive on the island and slowly gets accepted into the group of sheep-herding dogs, bonding close enough to communicate with them. Then he becomes caught up in the battle between the two groups… There is a lot in this book about how dogs perceive the world through their senses, and the relationship between man and dog. However, the story had some awkward moments that made little sense, and the prose was not very good. I wish it had been better.

Rating: 2/5 ……. 176 pages, 2005

Read another review at: SMS Book Reviews

The Adventures of a City Vet
by Stephen Kristick, D.V.M. and Patty Goldstein

Experiences of a vet in New York City\’s ASPCA and the overnight emergency department of the Animal Medical Center. Also some snippets of his first job cleaning cages in a private New England practice, a short stay in another private clinic in a quiet suburb, and Boston\’s Angell Memorial Animal Hospital. Most interesting are the personalities of the owners described in the book: homeless people, crazy men, little kids, Mafia members, college students and lonely housewives. He even makes a visit to an Iranian princess with a pet pigeon on a ship- the only superfluous chapter in the book (there wasn\’t much about animals and I don\’t think the pigeon was even sick). A large part of the story is about how Dr. Kritsick became interested in veterinary practice, events that altered the course of his career, his pursuit of women, and office politics in the various practices. Creature Comforts doesn\’t approach the level of James Herriot, but it comes pretty close. My favorite parts were the chapter about the snakes and the woman who \”didn\’t know that boy dogs have titties.\” I laughed so hard.

Rating: 3/5                   250 pages, 1983

by Jean Hegland

Two teenage sisters, Eva and Nell live in a house thirty miles from town, on the edge of a forest in Northern California. Although their parents value their solitude and peace there, the girls have other dreams: Nell wants to study at a university and Eva aspires to be a ballet dancer. Then an unknown disaster strikes. Power supplies fail, fuel becomes scarce, the economy collapses. Before they realize what\’s happening, Eva and Nell find themselves orphaned and alone in their house, isolated in the forest. What ensues is an unfolding struggle for survival. Initially the girls hold out hopes of eventually being able to make it into town for some necessary items. By the time they realize that is improbable, almost all their supplies are gone. They have no choice but to turn to the forest for their entire sustenance and support. Most of all, they have to grow up and learn to work together. When a passing stranger rapes one of the girls, a baby arrives and challenges the loyalties between them…

Into the Forest is a wonderfully compelling story. It really makes you think: what would I do if I was in that situation? Forced to survive and figure out how to provide everything for myself? Living with only one other person to talk to and depend upon. Would you go crazy, starve, or become best friends with a sister who had the potential of being your greatest rival?

Rating: 4/5 …….. 241 pages, 1996

More opinions at: Presenting Lenore

anyone else?

An Asperger\’s Love Story
by Jerry Newport

This is the true story of two adults with Asperger\’s Syndrome (a high functioning form of autism) who meet and fall in love. Mozart and the Whale presents alternating chapters from each perspective, starting when they were young and progressing through their relationship. Both struggled through a confused and frustrating childhood. When they met as adults, they were thrilled to find kindred spirits in each other. But when they got married, it was a near disaster.

When they met, Mary had been through many troubling relationships, Jerry had never had one before. Mary is highly artistic and musical, Jerry is a numerical savant. Mary was wildly spontaneous, unpredictable and prone to depression. Jerry had a very routine, structured life with terrible outbursts of anger when his order was disrupted. Due to their disability, they both had a serious lack of empathy and inability to compromise. Through sheer willpower they tried to stay together. Their story is told with brutal honesty, frankness and quite a bit of humor. It will make you laugh and nearly cry, and admire the great strides Jerry and Mary make in struggling to overcome their difficulties and keep their relationship intact.

Rating: 4/5                   272 pages, 2007

by M.J. Rose

Every now and then I will try a book from a genre I don\’t usually read. The Reincarnationist is a mystery/suspense thriller on the subject of reincarnation and ancient religious practices. Its main character suffers intense flashbacks of memories not his own, from a life he comes to believe his spirit lived over 2,000 years before in ancient Rome. Seeking help from the Phoenix Foundation, an institution which studies and treats \”past-life regression\” in children, he becomes involved in a search for some ancient jewels rumored to hold a secret that can connect the past to the present. His search quickly becomes tangled with love, murder, secrecy, ancient mysteries and a kidnapping.

I found it rather difficult to read this book. The story was told in a very disjointed fashion, with important background events explained at current moments in the plot, instead of being introduced earlier to build up to that point. As a result I felt disconnected from the characters, not really caring about what happened to them, because I didn\’t get any sense of why things were important to them, other than it was told to me. The book wound to an unsatisfying, abrupt close that left some unanswered questions.

It was just a rather boring read. I have heard that this book is along similar lines to The Da Vinci Code, so I suppose it may appeal to readers who liked that book (which I haven\’t read). I concluded after this experiment that I still don\’t like thrillers much at all.

Rating: 1/5                 458 pages, 2007

Read another review at:
Booking Mama

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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