Thursday, July 25, 2013


Thanks to my cousin Kate for this one--probably one of the cleverest, most heartbreaking books I've read all year. It's a YA heroine in an adult tale, about Blue, a precocious seventeen-year-old, who explains in the introduction that she will "write about my childhood--most critically, the year it unstitched like a snagged sweater." This unstitching is largely due to her father, the narcissistic and charming Dr. Van Meer, who drags her from second-rate university to second-rate university as he writes his Grand Manuscript. Throw in an eccentric and charismatic high-school teacher named Hannah who teaches film and collects unusual students. Add in about a thousand references to books, films, music, TV (I had the feeling I was working a crossword puzzle the whole time, but it's done so that I felt very clever for solving the clues!) and some lovely, imaginative prose (I have underlines everywhere, sentences I wish I'd written myself). But the cleverness is the lesser part of the book; Blue has heart, and she lays bare the most painful moments of adolescence--how it feels to find out that boy you love thinks you kiss horribly and is telling everyone, to find out that all the people you thought were your friends aren't, to find out your parents are capable of anything, and that to survive it's good to be somewhat like a goldfish. Five stars for this one.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


It's a ridiculously long subtitle and sounds pretty negative. But this book, by a Harvard psychologist, is for the most part compassionate, positive, forthright, and insightful. It identifies some of the tensions and difficulties involved in parenting today, and suggests ways to create morally aware children. These are kids who have traits such as the ability to appreciate others (and their differences), to empathize, to recognize their responsibilities to their families and communities, to understand increasingly complicated contexts (as in, looking beyond themselves). While it is not dogmatic, it does offer some realistic suggestions and urges conscious choices about our parenting. I would LOVE other people's thoughts on this one.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Veronica Roth, DIVERGENT

I have to admit I winced at the opening: a girl looking in the mirror. It's a rookie writer strategy to convey what a first-person protagonist looks like. But my friend Evan and my daughter Julia both said the book was worth reading ... Julia read it in one day and then started it over because the library was closed and she couldn't get the next one in the series. I have to admit, it's a page-turner. Like Hunger Games and others of the ilk, it's a story about two exceptionals (one boy, one girl), told from first-person girl perspective, who are chosen in some way, and must prove their worth and save the world (as the romantic tension grows). But it's a fun read. Yes, I will go see the movie : )

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Antony Beevor, THE FALL OF BERLIN 1945

On page 360 (of 431), Beevor writes, "During heavy shelling, [civilians] made their way underground from cellar to cellar. 'When will this nightmare end?' German women asked her." I was asking the same thing. The book is very well written (and seems scrupulously researched) but I apparently like my history leavened with a bit of fiction (or my medicine taken with jam?) and a character or two that I can like, or at least care about. Jeff Shaara's books make me turn pages compulsively ... FALL OF BERLIN felt like one long shelling (throw in raping and pillaging, too, for good measure) after another, and the anecdotes that brought it to life for me were few and far between. I couldn't keep track of the fifty different armies, and after a while I realized I didn't care. They were too much alike. It's horrifying, the whole thing--the viciousness, the violence toward civilians, the vengefulness, the lies, the reshaping of history to suit different agendas, the posturing. It's a good book if you're interested in the topic--but it is not, shall we say, a summer hammock read. (I know, I know. What was I thinking?)