Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

This book came highly recommended, lots of 5 star reviews on Amazon.  One even says this book "perfectly captures the plight and desperation of today's displaced executive".  Really??

Matt is a reporter who quits his job to realize his dream of starting a financial website for poets.  Until he finds out that his credit cards are maxed out, his house is going into foreclosure and his wife has stocked the garage with soon to be valuable stuff she bought on eBay.  He's hardly a person anyone should take financial advice from.

One night he goes out to pick up something at the 7 Eleven and ends up befriending some characters who turn out to be drug dealers.  As they drag him deeper into their web, he thinks that selling pot is the answer to his financial nightmare.  I don't need to tell you the rest of the story only to say Matt's life goes even further south from there.

If this book is the story of the future of America then I am going back to the store to buy that bumper sticker I saw the other day.  It said, "Where am I going?  And why am I in a hand basket?"

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I read The Glass Castle years ago and enjoyed the story.  The Walls family is led by an alcoholic father, Rex and a mentally ill and eccentric mother, Rose Mary.  They lead a nomadic life for many years through small towns in California and Arizona.  When the bill collectors or the police got too close, they did a middle of the night skedaddle, as Rex Walls called it.  Eventually the family came back to Welch, West Virginia where Rex had been raised and couldn't wait to escape.  But with all his options depleted, it seemed like the only place left for the family to go.

This time I listened to the book as read by the author.  At first I didn't like the sound of her voice, the pace of the reading.  It felt like I was listening to a child.  As the story went on, I finally got it.  As she grew up, the words grew with her and the storytelling also matured.  Brilliant.

The Glass Castle is amazing because it's so hard to imagine the lives of these children as controlled by their self absorbed parents.  The children suffered without food to eat, clothes to wear, or a roof over their heads most of the time.  Neither parent could hold a job and what little money they did scrape up went toward alcohol or paint supplies.  I found myself screaming at these parents.  And at other times I laughed out loud at them.

What I found most interesting is the fortitude of Jeannette and her siblings.  They worked and worked hard to save enough money to get out of Welch.  They knew the value of a good job and a steady income, both things that their parents couldn't teach them.  And yet they figured it out all on their own.  Children are a product of their environment, but it takes a village to raise and educate them.

If you are feeling sorry for yourself, think you aren't getting enough out of life, read The Glass Castle.   It will raise you out of the doldrums and show you what is possible in your life.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

I thought it was only fitting as Hurricane Matthew bears down on the State of Florida, that I review a book set in Florida, written by a Florida author.  And Carl Hiaasen, a Florida native, has the ability to make all the quirky things we love about the state and weave them into a fantastically, funny novel.

When Lane Coolman's rental is rear ended by a sexy, long legged, redhead en route to the Florida Keys, let the party begin.  Add an expensive diamond ring, the mob and a gambian pouch rat and the pages will seem to turn all by themselves.  Detective, demoted to health inspector, Andrew Yancy tries to make sense of it all.

I had the privilege of meeting Carl Hiaasen at the Vero Beach Book Center.  He was hysterically funny as he described a gambian pouch rat to us.  He's also extremely gracious as he signed our books and posed for pictures.  A wonderful time was had by all.  Carl's a charming kind of guy, who writes a delightful novel.

I've lived in Florida for 36 years, so I get all the inside jokes in Razor Girl.  Someone not familiar with Florida might read those things as they are and not get the extra chuckle that I did.  But that won't make this wild romp in paradise any less enjoyable.  It will keep you laughing from start to finish.  And you'll be itching to come back to Florida hurricanes and all.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Unfamiliar Fishes starts with the author explaining she's in Hawaii sitting under a Banyan tree eating a plate lunch of macaroni salad and chicken.  These are all things that have come from somewhere else and are non native to the islands, including herself.  It's a metaphor for the kind of history lesson she's about to tell.

Christian missionaries from New England are on their way to Hawaii to convert and civilize the natives.  The journey is long and tedious and upon arrival in the harbor they are not allowed to get off what has become their floating prison.  Or vomitorium as Ms. Vowell calls it.

The business of changing the natives is no easy task.  The clash of cultures runs from a simple thing as outlawing the hula all the way to stopping the incestuous relationships of the Hawaiian royalty.  The cast of characters changes over time but always include a fair amount of tricksters and shysters. And their desire to make the islands just like home never wavers.

I love Sarah Vowell and her funny quirky way of explaining history.  Her research is impeccable and her ability to apply historical events to the modern day taught me a lot.  All while giving me a good laugh!  This is fascinating stuff.  I learned so much that now I'm itching to go back to Hawaii.  I won't be lounging on a beach when I get there, I'll be exploring all the historical spots and museums, using Unfamiliar Fishes as my guidebook.  Oh and I'll be having a plate lunch followed by a shave ice sitting under a Banyan tree.  

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...