Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice

This book starts really, really well.  The opening chapter is likely to leave few parents dry eyed ....but I won't spoil it.

It's a tear-jerker; very over the top emotional in the Nicolas Sparks vein.  And I like Sparks and have written about him.  Women targeted, politically correct, it touches on a child's death and possible suicide, a lost immigrant girl (of the desert) and a romance between the two surviving parents.  One, our heroine, Julia, married a lawyer and has a glamourous aunt and uncle pair (famous both...actress and writer).  And her flame, Roberto, is a poor Mexican immigrant in charge of her aunt and uncle's Malibu estate and lemon orchard.

You either like this kind of book or you don't.

Add in an aging actor, a forest fire and a retired INS border agent and you can see where the story leads.  I live locally so like the touches of Los Angeles and environs sprinkled in.  I didn't like the politically correct angle...why can't we all just get along...thrown in.  The latter detracted from the believability of the story.  Prejudice does exist; writing about it can easily sound stereotyped and just as condescending.

But I really enjoyed this story.  And I wanted our heroes to win in the end.  To her credit, Rice skips some obvious ending plot turns and lets her characters suffer...which makes for a better book.  She's also got a great visual sense.

Score:  B+

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Education by Susan Choi

This book is addictive and I couldn't put it down.

It does remind me a bit of the Marriage Plot (an absolute love of mine) yet it's also very very different; in fact, more different than the same.  It shares a time period...the 1980s or so (Choi isn't as clear) and a revisiting of a love from college.  We see the vantage point of our young heroine in her early 20s and then fourteen years later.  How different our relationships look when viewed at through the lens of maturity.

Choi writes about love, obsession and how badly we can behave in its depths.  And how little we understand at the time.  I'm not sure I could have fully understood this book when I was younger, at the heroine's age but I probably would have enjoyed it anyway.

We watch Regina get enthralled by her dashing professor and his compelling wife, Martha.  Various friends impact the plot.  But Choi surprises us with how the story unfolds.  She adds interesting quirks to her characters, mostly believable, though not always.  Still, this is fiction and the story held me to the point I couldn't put the book down.

What Choi does right is to really understand young love.  The topic is hard to write believably and throwing intimacy into the mix can be virtually impossible without veering into parody.  What she didn't do well is that the ending is predictable and some of the details strained.

Choi is also a great writer.  She doesn't fall into that category of sloppy novel which seems too often to arrive in my mailbox.  I recommend this book for both men and women.  Better done than most on love, it struck a chord.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This book is so fun!

Shadow of the Night is book 2 of the All Souls Trilogy.  I haven't read book 1 - but didn't have a hard time following the story.  Basically, this novel is about a love affair between a witch and a vampire, Diana and Matthew.  But, they're on a quest for a lost enchanted book and use time travel to go back to Elizabethan England to find it.  Throw in a taboo for relationships among their types, and that Matthew's friends in the past were the School of Night, a shadowy and mysterious group made up of the time's great (subversive) talents such as Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare.

To me, this premise sounds a bit silly and is so complicated that only a very good writer could carry it off.  Harkness is such a writer.  I'll admit to floundering through the first few pages and wondering at how anyone could presume to turn some of these famous historical figures into characters.  But writers do it all the time and its whether the character is believable and interesting that ultimately carries the day.

Harkness knows the time period well, which helps.  And she tells a good story.  Anytime witches and vampires are thrown into the mix, along with time travel, a reader has to be willing to suspend disbelief.   To me, the time period is an interesting one and I enjoyed being thrown into a different time period by such a knowledgable writer.  And that's the real skill of the author...taking what we know a little about...and creating a believable and engaging related world.

My goal this year was to read more "new" book,s and outside my normal genre.  I don't usually touch anything like this one.  But I still enjoyed the book so much I'll be buying book 1 and reading it eagerly.

A worthwhile read and not nearly as light as one might assume.  But, to go back to the beginning in time of this post, so fun.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Patriarch by David Nasaw

I love this biography.

Kennedy was a complex character and Nasaw rips into him.  I go with the extremes of love and hate...biographies that ignore the negatives of their subject.  Nasaw does not do so and portrays Kennedy as a rounded character, extreme and calculating, not always likable, but real.  I know some people like him (self serving and always on the ask) and I appreciate how Nasaw can delve into those not always likable characteristics and still show us the person behind them.

Kennedy is deeply and richly portrayed, and so are his business and political contacts.  His personal relationships, including his family, as less so.  Which might reflect the man.  Rose Kennedy especially is not treated so well.  I really found myself not liking her in the book.  So be it.

This book is very long but worth every page (I savored them and didn't want it to read).

Reminds me a bit of my idol, Robert Caro.  Not there completely but so close!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

What an amazing read!  I haven't read Dickens for a while; this book was recommended.

Essentially, this book is the story of an older very wealthy man, the first Martin, and his grandson, the second Martin.  They have a falling out, mostly over a girl.  She's the grandfather's caretaker, the grandson's love and childhood friend and among the most likable characters in the book.

For Dickens has cast his pessimistic viewpoint of life over the whole story.  The elder Martin has a brother, also wealthy.  A motley assortment of truly horrible relatives circle the brothers like vultures, hoping to gain a prime seat in their wills.  And bad people attract bad company.  I've never met a more unlikable group.

But Dickens is too much a master not to sprinkle virtue throughout the novel.  And while the more likable characters spend some time getting the short end of the stick, Dickens does ultimately give most all their just rewards, good and bad (not to give too much away...but I will reference Picture of Dorian Grey, another book in which evil rots you from the inside and has outside implications).

There are gems in this book.  We are made to wonder at a wise old man falling fool to an evil idiot late in life after having fended off so many much more clever.  And the idiot in question is noted to make all his adversaries look like saints when standing next to him.  The wit and biting commentary of the author is unparalleled.

The book is long, starts slow and sometime falters on older English.  It's still one of the best books I've ever read.  Love it!

Friday, June 7, 2013

How To Get Your Child To The Top is available on Amazon

Foreword by Richard J. Riordan, former Los Angeles Mayor and California Secretary for Education.


How do children succeed today?

Our world is undergoing dizzying change comparable to the Industrial Revolution or introduction of the printing press.  The globe truly has become flat and workers struggle to adapt as jobs are outsourced, industries rise and fade in a heartbeat and opportunities increasingly go to the more educated and skilled.

Education is not keeping up with the changing realities our children face as they graduate into a weak job market, breakdown of traditional career paths and new industries.  Yet children are also more than the sum of what they know.  Values, leadership, creativity, critical thinking, continued learning, innovation and passion are too often never part of any curriculum.

Get Your Child to the Top contains insight from educators, kids, venture capitalists, thought leaders and CEOs to provide constructive answers and real solutions to prepare children for the ever-evolving opportunities and challenges of the modern world.  The book also describes the realities our kids inhabit in and out of school, including the impact of technology.  Aimed at parents, educators and children it empowers each to help kids succeed long term.  Updated resources are available at

Interviews include:  Richard Riordan, former Mayor of Los Angeles and California Secretary of Education; Frank Baxter, former CEO of Jefferies and Ambassador to Uruguay; Tim Draper founder Draper Fisher Jurvetson; Marty Albertson, Chairman and former CEO of Guitar Center; Terry Moe of the Hoover Institute and Arthur Levine, head of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, both education authors and innovators; Laird Malamed, of Activision and USC Gaming school professor; and Kris Duggan, serial entrepreneur and founder of Badgeville, recently named by Forbes as one of the hottest companies in America and Shannon Rotenberg of J.K. Livin Foundation (Matthew McConaughey’s foundation).