Friday, August 11, 2017

The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers

I found myself tearing up a bit at some of the diary entries in this book. Dammit, kids!


First year teacher Erin Gruwell found herself handed a class of "undesirable" kids that no one wanted and no one thought would go anywhere, let alone graduate. Thank goodness Ms. Gruwell was crazy optimistic and never lost faith. Her classes, 150 kids, ended up being the center of attention nationwide for their success. And that success started through reading and writing. My 2 favorite things. This book is a compilation of their diaries that take us through their freshman year to beyond.

In Long Beach, the good neighborhoods are not that far from the bad neighborhoods but they might as well be light years apart. The kids in Ms. Gruwell's class are mainly from the bad areas, where they worry that they'll be shot coming to and from school, or beat up because they are the wrong color, or whether they will have food once they get home or even if they will have a home. It's nearly impossible for kids in these circumstances to succeed. How do you split your time fearing for your life and doing homework? Most teachers had given up on the kids, knowing they'll end up like everyone else in their families. Ms. Gruwell didn't give up.

Reading the entries as the kids mocked this young white lady, knowing she wouldn't last 6 months there and how she earned their respect and brought out the best in them was amazing. Dust got in my eyes a few times.

The Freedom Writers went on to have a movie made about them, a documentary and created a foundation to assist teachers in helping at risk youth as well as mentoring and sponsoring the youth themselves so they can graduate and go to college.

Good book for some inspiration just when this world seems a bit worse for wear.





Friday, August 4, 2017

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

I love Sedaris' sense of humor. It's witty and dry and often self-deprecating. Sedaris has been keeping diaries for 40+ years and this book contains the ones from 1977 to 2002. If anything, it's inspired me to start writing in my in journals again.

The diary entries are entertaining and Sedaris does admit that he left some of the more druggie ones out because he sounded like a crazy person. Considering what he left in, I'm surprised Sedaris is still alive.

There is no plot to discuss, no spoilers. Just a witty man with an incredible ability to observe and record the mundane and the bizarre from his life. If you've never read Sedaris, I wouldn't start with this. I would start with Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim or When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Then come back to his diaries.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Monster by Jonathan Kellerman

Hey look, I read this out of order. Surprise!

I've had this book for over 17 years. I know this because the bookplate in the front has my old address. I had a strange feeling of deja vu when I read this but I also don't think I've read this before. Ardis Peake is a mad man and his killings were what sounded familiar.

Anywho, Dr. Delaware is back again helping solve a series of strange murders that, on the surface, don't really look related. But somehow, things tie back to Peake, locked up in Starkweather Hospital for the criminally insane and, boy, is he insane. Or, at the least, so medicated for insanity he's practically a vegetable. Until he escapes. WHAT? Yes.

The murder that got Delaware and Milo Sturgis to Starkweather was of Claire Argent, a psychologist at the hospital. As they start snooping around, or detecting, things start to become more confusing.

Is Peake a prophet?

Why was Claire so interested in Peake?

This was a pretty decent mystery that took me a bit to guess what was going on in the end. Clever.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Look at me, actually finishing an IRL book club book prior to book club night. I actually prefer the classics as book club fodder, rather than bios and more modern books. Discussing the latter with folks just doesn't hold my interest.

This was a pretty short (and free on Kindle) book. I was really diving into my pile o'mysteries but needed to get this read. Surprisingly, once I downloaded it and started reading, I was in it for the short haul. Before long I was at 30% read then 55% then 80% and hell, I might as well finish!

Buck is our main character. He's a large dog, weighing in at 140lbs, who lives a good life in Santa Clara Valley. The gardener, needing to pay some gambling debts, steals and sells Buck to folks who mistreat and starve him and ship him to Seattle. There, Buck encounters the man in the red sweater and starts shedding his domestic existence and embracing his wild side. Having to train as a sled dog in the Yukon ("train" - ie. being beaten and whipped until he does the right thing), Buck becomes more and more feral.

People can suck and Buck encounters those people in Hal, Charles and Mercedes from the US who buy Buck and his team to mush them across thousands of miles for gold. These people are so inept and cruel they deserved their fate, but taking the dogs down with them.... broke my heart. I find I usually feel more for animals than for people lately.

Buck ends up in the hands of Thornton and finally finds love of his master, which surprisingly, he realizes he didn't have in Santa Clara Valley. When a terrible and gruesome end comes, Buck is left on his own and gives over completely to his wild instincts and runs with a wolf pack for the reminder of his days.

Despite being a domesticated dog for a good portion of his years, Buck had the instincts of his foredogs and he learned to follow them and survive.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Dr. Death by Jonathan Kellerman

Looking at a regular Dr. Kevorkian here. Except in this case, the Dr. Death was Eldon Mate and he was found brutally murdered in his own "death van". Alex Delaware is a psychologist who sometimes (as in 14 books, sometimes) assists his Homicide Detective friend, Milo Sturgis, on cases.

Sturgis calls in Delaware to the scene and they meet the couple of hikers who discovered the body. It's a gruesome one and one where a considerable amount of people are happy Mate is dead, while others are sad that their confederate in assisted suicide was murdered. Very odd split of people. Delaware's first thought was to Richard Doss, a man whose daughter he counseled after her mother was "assisted" to death by Mate previously. Doss, a wealthy asshole, already has an alibi (well, isn't THAT suspicious?) but wants Delaware to see his daughter again to counsel her on college choices.

Things just start getting messy and complicated, with more and more characters filing into the scene, all with ample motive to want Mate dead. The story got interesting as you tried to sort everyone out and discard who couldn't possibly have performed such a murder.

And then, near the end, you are walloped in the face clear from left field. Thanks to this, I ended up with a book hangover this morning because I had to stay up, damn the time!, and finish.

Good job, Mr. Kellerman.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen

I really suck at series. Apparently I read the second book in the Mick Stranahan series first and the first one second. In my defense, I didn't realize it was a series since each book really stood alone pretty well. According to Goodreads, I read Skinny Dip back in 2005 and I gave it 2/5 stars. Huh....


Skin Tight was so entertaining that I read it in one day (thank goodness for vacations!). I had been reading some pretty heavy material and really just needed a fun, light book. Our mall now has a used book store (Book Nook) that benefits the Madison County Literacy Program and since I don't need a lot of reasons to book shop, I stopped in. Skin Tight was one of the books I picked up there.

So Mick Stranahan is an ex-investigator with the State Attorney's office. Ex because he shot a judge through the nostril. Technically self-defense against a corrupt judge who was trying to kill him but it made enough people uneasy that Mick was let go with a decent pension plan. Now he lives in a house on stilts in the backwaters of Florida, preferably without seeing people at all. All is well and good until someone shows up to his stilt house and tries to kill him. Dispatching the intruder with the pointy end of a stuffed marlin, Mick is just beginning this adventure of murder and mayhem.

Seriously, almost everyone dies in this book. I don't think I've seen so many deaths - intentional, humorous and otherwise.

The characters are truly characters and not quite so madcappy (that's a word, I swear) that you are put off by them, but you definitely lead the cheering squad when they get their (odd) comeuppance.

Hiaasen is one of those authors whom I love to read but kind of forget about until I come across his books somewhere. Then I buy up as many as I can.

Skinny Dip is book #2 (of 2 books, apparently) and, since I read it 12 years ago, I can't remember why I gave it 2/5 stars but Skin Tight was pretty good and I bet Skinny Dip would be good read immediately afterwards.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hunger by Roxane Gay

I've never heard of Roxane Gay, didn't know who she was and was only half listening to Trevor Noah interview her on The Daily Show. I ended up stopping what I was doing to listen to what she was saying. She wrote a book about being fat?



Hunger is a memoir of her body. Gay was gang raped at the age of 12 and, in a very short summary, began eating and eating and eating in order to build a fortress around her. She felt that if she was bigger, men wouldn't hurt her.

The book was amazing. Gay really articulated how she has to move through this world in her body. She was a "hot mess" for a while and has since moved into a better type of mess and is able to share her history, and how she became the woman she is, to us. It pained me to read, and know as true, how people think they can offer advice and criticism to fat people without batting an eye. I hear this stuff in our break room at work almost daily - someone critiquing someone else's food choices "That's not healthy. Aren't you diabetic?", "Should you be eating that?", "How many miles do you need to walk to burn THAT off?". Some of those were said to me, and even though the BMI says I'm overweight, my food choices shouldn't invite criticism from co-workers (or anyone for that matter).

Gay talks about being invisible yet highly visible. People don't see her, but they are upset she takes up so much space. Women, all women, are not supposed to take up space. Girls are taught that, either explicitly or implicitly, throughout their whole lives. And yet, here she is, taking up space.

This is really a great book to read to gain a perspective you probably didn't know you needed. EVERYONE targets fat people. Everyone has judgments about fat people and the majority of people love voicing those opinions. It's insane that we, as a whole, can target a group of people and think it's ok.

Read this.....