Saturday, August 8, 2015

Whipping Boy by Allen Kurzweil

Whipping Boy author Allen Kurzweil is not the first, and unfortunately not the last, to suffer at the hands of a childhood bully. Kurzweil crossed paths with a boy named Cesar Augustus while attending Aiglon, a Swiss boarding school. While he only spent a year there, Kurzweil found several of the humiliations Augustus dished out to him so disturbing that the memories haunted him into adulthood. These incidents included Augustus tossing a watch Kurzweil inherited from his late father out the window. (While he didn’t witness this act, Kurzweil was sure that Augustus did it.) Something even more bizarre occurred when Augustus repeatedly whipped Kurzweil while playing a cassette of a particular scene of the Jesus Christ Superstar cast recording.

After Augustus appeared as one of the characters in Kurzweil’s children’s book Leon and the Spitting Image, he began to wonder what had happened to him in the intervening years. Even with his unique name, Augustus proved difficult to track down. Kurzweil eventually discovered that he was part of an incredibly complicated loan scam involving, among other things, fake royalty. Celebrities such as Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and Ernest Borgnine were involved in the scam and unraveling it steers a good chunk of the book into the true crime genre.

Fact proves stranger than fiction in this engrossing read. After years of tracking Augustus through court documents and online searches, Kurzweil does eventually meet up with him. Like most of Whipping Boy, the oddness of Kurzweil’s long-awaited reunion with his childhood bully shows that fact really can be stranger than fiction.

John

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Sound of Glass by Karen White

             There are many, many ways to describe Karen White's newest novel, The Sound of Glass. Bittersweet comes to mind, as well as sad, heartwarming and beautifully written. This author is exceptional (in my opinion) when it comes to describing the settings for her novels. This time the story is set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, and involves long-ago buried family secrets.

Recently widowed Merritt Heyward has moved to Beaufort, South Carolina for a new start. She has just inherited her late husband's ancestral home and even though it is very far away from her Maine roots, she has decided it is time to move forward. At the same time Loralee Connors, also a widow who happens to have been married to Merritt's father, is also looking for a new start. She and her young son Owen decide to pay Merritt a visit at her new home in South Carolina. However, unlike Merritt, Loralee has her own reasons for her move...

In addition, Merritt meets a brother-in-law that she did not even know she had. Why didn't her late husband Cal ever mention him or for that matter, anyone from Beaufort?

Why all the secrets?

Karen

Read alike author: Diane Chamberlain

Friday, July 24, 2015

Somebody I Used to Know by David Bell

I cannot believe that I have somehow managed to NOT read this author's work before. David Bell's newest, Somebody I Used to Know, is one of the best suspense novels I have read in a long time!

Like many of us, Nick Hansen fell truly and madly in love when he was in college. He and his girl, Marissa, had all of the usual hopes and dreams that we all have at that age. But tragedy struck, and Nick is all alone.

Now jump ahead two decades, and Nick is once again alone (recently divorced; no children) and has a decent job as a social worker. His life is settled. Some might say even boring and a little bit sad. But at the grocery store one day, all that is about to change. Right in front of Nick is a young woman that he swears is Marissa, but when he approaches her, she runs away. Acting almost afraid of him. Could it have been Marissa? But she's been dead for 20 years and this girl could not be more than 20 years old...

Hours later, he is contacted by the police. Why? Because a young woman has been found murdered with Nick's name and phone number on her person and her description matches the girl Nick saw in the grocery store. And the police want to know the connection.

So does Nick.

Karen

Read-alike author: Harlan Coben

Monday, July 20, 2015

Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri



Amit Chaudhuri’s Odysseus Abroad follows a day in the life of Ananda, a young Indian student at University College in London. Ananda is a literature student whose interests lie mostly in writing and reading poetry. He has little interest in the pre-twentieth century writers his professors keep forcing on him and some interest in a former professor of his named Hilary. Her vision problems worsened to such a degree that she had to take a leave from the college. Ananda merely mulls over memories of her, particularly a time when she took his arm and he helped walk her around the campus. Like a lot of this novel, his relationship with her is in the past even though his feelings don’t seem to be entirely there. Over the course of the day Ananda also meets up with Radhesh, his equally displaced and unhappy uncle.

There’s more action in one paragraph of a Baldacci thriller than in all of Odysseus Abroad. I’d like to think that I don’t mind subtlety in writing, but this one was far too subtle for me. Ananda almost seems to be sedated, and most plot points in the book, if they could even be called that, are left unresolved. I thought Ananda would run into Hilary at some point but Chaudhuri seems dead set on such usual plot points not taking place. This approach makes Odysseus Abroad memorable but not in a particularly good way.

John

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate by Naomi Klein



In This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate, Klein provides a thought provoking, and in depth look, at climate change and that in order to really bring about change developed countries may need to readjust their economic ideologies. This work takes a look at climate change science, climate change deniers, communities, people, and other species impacted by dirty energy, and how money, trade laws, and timing play into it all. While an interesting and well researched read it is not a light summer pick-me-up. However, it does build up to a more hopeful tone (hope with caution, but hope none the less), with stories of ground up movements making actual impacts, people taking the time to defend their rights, and homeowners fighting to keep things like fracking away from where they live (including one Exxon CEO who joined a neighborhood lawsuit, claiming a concern for property values). 

Lisa

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi



The Republic of Imagination is a wonderful book if you like to read about books (which I generally enjoy). Nafisi breaks the book down into three books, The Adventures of  Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (which she argues all the others are derived from), Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. These books are discussed as art that has not only reflected our culture but has effected it as well - the importance of Huck, who casts off "sivilized" society being an icon American literary hero. Nafisi interweaves analysis of these works with reflections on America and her journey to becoming a citizen of this country. While I prefer her first book Reading Lolita in Tehran (another book about books) and this title can sound a bit too much like and English thesis at points, I still found it to be beautiful done and a great way to look at our culture (especially through the eyes of someone who choose to be an American).

Lisa

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Judy Blume is back with a wonderful adult novel that, on the surface, appears to be about a teenage girl growing up in New Jersey during the 1950s. But In the Unlikely Event is so much more! Although this is a work of fiction, the story line is based on three plane crashes that really did occur in this area during this time.

The novel focuses on 15-year-old Miri Ammerman, and how the horror of these crashes affect her and her friends and family. We must remember that airplane travel was very new and glamorous back then, and when this small town in New Jersey is hit, it hits hard. Remember, too, that the undercurrents and fear of communism and UFOs was also running rampant, and you can imagine how much torment was going around.

Judy Blume, in my opinion, captures perfectly the feel of that time on a young girl. Once again she has done what she does best, write about the feelings, hopes, and drama of young adult life.

Karen

Read-alike: Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. This is her other adult novel.