Thursday, June 26, 2014


Driving to DC and finished listening to Holes by Louis Sachar, which I really enjoyed!  It is a great read for young people to learn a life lesson about a bad luck life which becomes good luck… at some point in time.  Imagine being named Stanley Yelnats, yes that is your first name being spelled backwards for your last.  An innocent boy who get charged with stealing shoes (which were actually thrown out the window of a car, hit him on the head, and then blamed for the theft).  Stanley is sent to the “chain gang line” in Texas to dig holes.  The group of young adolescents are serving their time digging these 5 by 5 feet holes…. Why?  You will find out in the end which brings all things together.  Poor Stanley, what a bad situation to be in, but like all things he does his time, dealing with a group of “hard core” young boys who place Stanley at the bottom of the pecking order.  But Stanley befriends one of the boys and after a rift occurs runs away to look for on the dessert grounds of their “jail”.  A wonderful story, great message and quick read!  We all have our journey to live, but it is how we live it and help others along the way that make it worth living.  Thanks Stanley for you and your family’s story!  Get this one, a fun read!  Listening was great as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Pact

The second book I finished yesterday was The Pact by Jodi Picoult, a seemingly favorite author since she has the most favorite books from the RAs, six on my list!  Like most of Picoult’s stories, she begins with a brief “end moment” and then she fills in the details.  Picoult’s books remind me of a lengthy “Lifetime” channel movie of the week.  I have no doubt her books become movies of the week on Lifetime. The Golds and the Hartes are next door neighbors for eighteen years.  Their families share everything… meals, vacations, and children who are best friends.  Emily and Chris grew up being born three months apart from each other and eventually become romantically involved.  During their senior year, as the college application process looms large, an “event” occurs, which will change forever the two family’s bond to each other.     A phone call comes in late to both families.  The call from the police asks both sets of parents to come to the hospital immediately there has been an “accident.”  When the parents arrive, they learn that one child is dead, the other appears to be critically injured.  Once the “dust settles” we learn that Emily is dead by a gunshot to the head, and Chris is fine with 70 stitches to the head.  What happened?  Initially it appears as a suicide pact between two teenage lovers, but the district attorney thinks otherwise.  Chris is charged with homicide and the rest of the story captures the months leading up to the trial, Chris being in jail, and the demise of the relationship between the Hartes and the Golds. Chris himself doesn’t know whether he actually pulled the trigger or not and finally it is the turn of the jury to make their decision on Chris’ fate. With most of Picoult’s books the reader is never really sure what will happen.  I won’t reveal the ending to this “mystery” story.  I will say, while the story is riveting and one really never knows what will end up happening in Picoult’s books, I really felt the story itself was quite disturbing.  Hard to be completely comfortable with a teenage suicide past.  There were some strange character behaviors that didn’t seem consistent, nor did I really like a few of the parents.  The psychological churnings of the main character of Chris was believable but a hard sell for me to really endorse this one from Picoult.  Maybe her seventh book that the RAs suggest might be a winner for me.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The American Wife

Welcome to the summer solstice! I was able to complete two books on this gorgeous day, though I’ll only write one entry for today and one for tomorrow. In some ways the two books had a lot in common, drama!  Let’ start with the book I actually finished first, The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. Enter Alice Lindgren, the somewhat likeable young liberal from Wisconsin who works as a librarian in the local elementary school.  Who would have thought this book was drawn from the real life experiences of former First Lady Laura Bush!  While there are many “similarities,” I’m sure there are also some embellishments along the way.  Now back to Alice’s life… Alice grows up in 1950s in suburban America the only child of a stay at home mom and banker Dad (and a grandmother who has moved in).  The story follows Alice’s journey from awkward young teenage girl, to her arrival to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the wife of the President.  Sounds like a lovely fairy-tale, right?  Not quite.  Alice‘s critical life detour comes when she has her first “high school crush” on Andrew Imhof, whom she “steals” from her best friend, Dena, after Dena breaks up with him.  Because Dena is so jealous of the fact that Alice is falling for her ex, she makes Alice feel guilty, which leads to Alice not driving with the group of girls to the big picnic, which Andrew is to attend.  As fate would have it, Alice gets in a car accident (she misses the stop sign which is somewhat obstructed from her view) and the other driver is killed.  Of course who would the other driver be?  Andrew!  It goes downhill from there…  After months of guilt, Alice goes to the Imhof family to deliver an apology.  What turns out to be a note under the door, turns into Alice being used as an “object of physical aggression” by Peter, Andrew’s brother.  When Alice learns she is pregnant, her grandmother who notices the signs, brings her granddaughter to Chicago to have an abortion performed by the grandmother’s female lover, which will come back in the story!  Years later after working in the library, her friend Dena convinces her to come to a party where she meets the son of former Governor Charlie Blackwell.  The rest is history, well, sort of.  Alice get married after a quick dating period (well really a pretty intense sexual encounters), has a daughter, gets involved in the community, deals with her husband’s alcoholic ways, almost gets divorced,  deals with her grandmother’s death, her mother’s failing health, and becoming the First Lady.  Remember that abortion that Alice had… well when it comes time for her husband to appoint the next Supreme Court judge, guess who plans on letting the world know about Alice’s history, grandma’s lover, who does not agree with the candidate’s Pro-Life stance.  The book is well written and the pace moves quickly.  I can see why it received lots of awards, but for me, read more like another book I finished later in the day… The Pact!  (see tomorrow’s entry).  I have to say, I guess I didn’t pay much attention to the public life of our President as I had no idea some of the real revelations that were shared in the Alice Blackwell story.  Not that I needed to know.  Not a top read for me, but for someone looking for a book while hanging on the beach over a tequila… hey, why not?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Kitchen God’s Wife

A relatively short read, and even shorter when listening on tape at double speed, but I didn’t do that!  The book was the Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan.  I would call it a “chicklit” book mainly because of the focus on female relationships.  The story is about a Chinese-American woman, Pearl, and her learning the history of her family’s heritage.  Pearl is called by her mother, Winnie, to attend a family engagement, which she doesn’t want to attend, but the next day learns of her aunt’s death.  When she arrives, she meets with her Aunt Helen, who wants Pearl to inform that she has the debilitating disease MS to her mother.  Aunt Helen holds over Pearl the fact that she has a brain tumor, though she doesn’t let Pearl know it is benign.  Helen also encourages Winnie to tell her daughter her life, and all of the things that she went through coming to the US. Winnie goes into great detail her horrific life in China, including being abandoned as a child, being married to a abusive man, not really being related to Helen, and finally the fact that Pearl was not really the biological daughter of the man that had raised her, a loving Chinese Baptist Minister, who helped Winnie escape from the rapist husband and come to the US.  Wu-Fen, the husband of Winnie at that time, was actually Pearl’s biological father.  After learning of these revelations, Pearl shares with her mother her serious medical condition. All the sharing leads the three women to plan a trip back to China.  Obviously there is much more to the depth of the sharing and issues that arose from Winnie’s history, but I provided some of the highlights.  The story gives insight to some of the atrocities and secrets that stay within families.  A well written story, but just not my favorite type of story.  I think this would be a good short book club read for twenty-somethings.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Foreign Student - Philippe Labro (Extra book)

How strange to read my second The Foreign Student in two days, this one by Philippe Labro.  This one is a bit more of what I expected.  A quick read and a “coming of age” autobiographical story that the author lived himself (or at least it appears a good deal of it is) in 1955. The story is based in a small liberal arts college in Virginia (Washington and Lee?) where the young French student is awarded a one year scholarship to attend for his freshman year.  The book is broken into cycle of the academic year, autumn, winter, and spring and all of the highlights and traditions that a college campus offers.  Philippe experiences the transitions that any first-year student does: fitting in, finding friends, and dealing with academic difficulties, plus all of the issues that an international student would experience as well (language barriers, American colloquialisms, feeling self-conscious).   The book includes some of the same issues that we experience today as back in 1950s: sexual orientation, homosexuality, social class, sexual promiscuity, race issues, financial difficulties, role of alcohol on campus, suicide, and self-esteem (He jammed in all of the same issues we see these days!).  The book begins as a self-reflective look back on the freshman year where Philippe remembers the death of a fellow classmate and moves into his elicit sexual relationship with an African-American older women.  It was interesting how realistic the story was and how much it relates to many of the issues that we find on our campuses today.  It was one of those fast reads I finished on my day off and enjoyed the journey and growing up phases that Philippe went through.  There are a number of issues that would help people who work on a college campus to think through the life of an international student.  There is also the changing societal issues happening during the 1950s with race relations in the south, especially the surprise relationship that develops for Philippe (music’s impact on students, on-coming sexual revolution, and the Civil Rights movement).  The book was a #1 best-selling book in France when published.  I can see why, kind of like the Catcher in the Rye sort of journey.  A period piece, yet does more than one would expect for even today’s readers.  Worth picking it up for student affairs staff.