Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

So, I read a review of this novel on the NY Times review blog/book review and thought that I would take a look at it. 

Bitter End is a "young adult" novel - I think mostly so because the protagonists are in high school. The main character is Alex, the middle of three girls whose mother died when Alex was young (but old enough to remember her at the same time). Alex's dad, also, unfortunately, checked out sometime before the events in this novel - he's emotionally unavailable and doesn't really pay attention to the girls, even though he generally provides the physical necessities to the girls. While she isn't close to her sisters, Alex is very close to her two best friends with whom she is planning a trip to Chicago. She eventually meets cole, the new guy in town, because she is his English tutor. They start dating and Alex is tremendously happy - cole seems to be the perfect guy. But things go downhill once Cole begins to get jealous and possesive.

Maybe it's because I see this sort of thing in my real life work. Or maybe it's because I studied domestic violence and the cycles of violence in law school. Regardless, I didn't like this book all that much - it wasn't very well written and I thought that it dealt too much in stereotypes.  It was too smarmy and too tidy. It was also way too predictable and the writing wasn't even that great - this book was too much like a Lfietime movie to really engross me or to make a point. 

Pass on this one.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

This Won't Hurt a Bit (and Other White Lies): My Education in Medicine by Michelle Au

I was really excited to hear that Michelle had a book coming out, particularly when I learned that it was a memoir about her time in medical school and how she balanced it with being a parent.  Michelle is the author of The Underwear Drawer, a popular blog that she updates pretty much everyday.  So I was super excited to see that she had a book coming out.

Michelle went to Columbia for law school and this memoir details her training in precise, exqusite detail that isn't too much to get into. She's also really funny. The book starts off, literally, with Michelle sticking her finger up a patient's butt in an attempt to get a stool sample.  It then proceeds to talk about her motivations in going to medical school, all the way through her medical training, intern years and residencies (including deciding to change residencies while pregnant and halfway through her previous residency). 

I loved Michelle's voice - she's down to earth, funny and honest.  She's brave too - she really puts herself out there in ways that not many people would have the confidence too because, of course, as with any parenting or professional decision, people are going to second guess every breath you take (or so it feels). I really, really liked this book generally and can't wait to see if she writes another one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Onward by Howard Schultz and Joanne Gordon

So, I spend time at Starbucks. Anyone who works with me or lives with me or knows me knows that.  So I was curious. I know about how Starbucks is supposed to be the evil coffee company that drives other, independent coffee houses out of business so i was curious to see how Howard Schultz, the current CEO, handled that. And he handled it poorly.

In 2000, Howard Schultz left the company to become chairman of the board; however in 2008, he returned to the position of CEO. The economy was tanking and so was Starbucks (which is no big surprise - I mean, people don't want to spend $2.00 for a cup of coffee when you can pay $1.00 for the same size coffee at the independent, fair trade, organic local coffee shop and the coffee is better!). This book is a business memoir, for lack of a better way of describing it and covers the period of time from 2007 to 2010. This is the period where Schultz retakes the helm as CEO and attempts to bring Starbucks through one of the worst recessions in recent memory.

What I disliked the most about this book was not the premise of it.  I really like transparency.  I like it when companies, no matter who they are, strive to make their decisions and the methodology by which they get to that decision public.  It gives me faith and makes me feel like I can give feedback about the process and the decision. However, that isn't what necessarily happened here. There were definitely times where Mr. Schultz attempted to be honest about the decisions he made and why. But I also feel like he was sugarcoating things and making Starbucks out to be this great, wonderful company when I'm not sure that it's all that different from any other big company - the bottom line. So i found that he came across as smarmy and slimey and trying to sell me on Starbucks, when really, it isn't all that great.  I felt like it was fake and it was forced. 

Sorry, you didn't sell me and, as The donald would say, you're fired.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

No Permanent Scars by Michael Hemery

I must disclose that I got this book for free as a review copy from LibraryThing... but don't let that scare you away. It's actually a really good, enjoyable read. This book is a non-fiction collection of essays that details the author's life. In essence, it is a memoir, but not one that is told necessarily as one continuous narrative.  Its stories jump from time period to time period in the author's life and aren't in chronological order.

I really enjoyed this book much more than I thought that i would. Lately, I've been reading a lot of memoirs, so I thought that I would be memoir'ed out, but this one actually gave me a lot energy.  I attribute that to how Hemery actually writes. The stories were short and written in elegant language, but they were still really richly done. It was almost like reading a novel. The people that i met were so memorable. I felt like I was there with Hemery listening to them as they spoke. For instance, Hemery spends a period of time working on his uncle's farm, helping to pick and process garlic.  I felt as if I could smell the garlic and hear his uncle talk to him and feel the swarm of bugs around his head. 

The book flew by.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone - it's exactly as a memoir should be.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Color of Water by James McBride

This is a memoir written by McBride detailing his life, at the same time, it also serves to detail the story of his mother's life. James is one of 12 children who grew up the son of a black man and a white woman, living mostly in New York and New Jersey. His mother, Ruth, grew up in Suffolk, Virginia. Her family was a conservative, Jewish family where her father was a rabbi and her mother spoke only Yiddish. Ruth had a really tough childhood and adolescence that included everything from being sexually abused to having a black boyfriend (which was illegal in the South in the 30's and 40's and 50's, when this occurred) to having an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy.

I really, really liked this book.  It tells the stories of people in spare prose that is still magnificently poignant and the struggles that he had as a mixed race child that appeared black trying to deal with how his mother stuck out like a sore thumb in the predominantly black neighborhoods they grew up in. I really thought that this book did a really decent job in exploring the intersection of race and religion and economic class.  The way that the book is constructed was also really effective. McBride alternated chapters between his own voice and his mother's voice. Both voices were equally fascinating.

My Education by Susan Choi

I admit it: I have a thing about academic novels.  And by that, I  mean novels that occur on campuses and are about characters that are ent...