Monday, July 30, 2012

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Barnes & Noble

Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate strategies for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.

How much money do you make?  More than $15 an hour?  More than $20?  Then you need to read this book.  From an intellectual standpoint, of course I knew that people who work minimum-wage jobs have it tough.  But wow.  I had no idea how bad it was.

This was quite eye-opening and has changed the way I view the dramatic differences in salaries. How can billionaire owners of franchise restaurants and retail stores treat their employees -- the people who keep their businesses running -- so poorly?  No health care.  Back-breaking work.  Not enough money to find a safe place to live or a healthy meal to eat.

How do people afford to live when making minimum wage? Answer: they barely survive.

Scary, scary stuff.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Realm of Possibility, by David Levithan

Barnes & Noble

One school. Twenty voices.

Endless possibilities.

There's the girl who is in love with Holden Caulfield. The boy who wants to be strong who falls for the girl who's convinced she needs to be weak. The girl who writes love songs for a girl she can't have. The two boys teetering on the brink of their first anniversary. And everyone in between.

As he did in the highly acclaimed
Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan gives us a world of unforgettable voices that readers will want to visit again and again. It's the realm of possibility open to us all - where love, joy, and the stories we tell will linger.

:: swoon ::

I love David Levithan. And I love how he wrote this book in twenty different perspectives, all in verse. I need to read it again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Barnes & Noble

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (Fran├žois Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

I'm afraid that The Fault in Our Stars has ruined me for all other John Green books. Looking for Alaska was good, just not as great as TFiOS.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Barnes & Noble

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. 

Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. 

Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

HO-LY crap. Holy.crap. Holy crap holy crap holy crap holy crap.

This was my reaction throughout the book. The Entire.Flipping.Book. Gillian Flynn is a master of throwing in another fact or assumption to make you question everything you've thought up to that point. Twist & turn. Twist & turn. Twist & turn. This book makes San Francisco's Lombardi Street look like a straight line. I mean, it's brilliant! Pure.Flipping.Genius.

The book is broken down into three parts, which I think of as Before, During, and After (my brilliance is astounding, I know).

Before: Did Nick kill his wife? Flynn kept me guessing, which I love in a book! I really connected with the characters and went through a range of emotions as this part progressed.

During: H-O-L-Y Crap. Did that just happen???  Talk about extreme. I am amazed at the planning and patience involved. Psycho, but impressive.

After: Someone's going to need a good shrink.

I'm so bummed that the book is over. I want to know what happens next!

I was hooked from the very beginning. RUN--do not walk--to read this book. I borrowed the audiobook from the library and am running over to Amazon to buy the Kindle version right now!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

Barnes & Noble

"What do you want from me?" he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

I was very confused for the first third of the book, but the story is weaved together so beautifully that I just *had* to keep reading it. This is an amazing book and I'm looking forward to reading other works by Ms. Marchetta.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

11/22/63, by Stephen King

Barnes & Noble

If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be worth it?

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who teaches adults for extra money. One student submits a gruesome, harrowing first-person essay about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane — and insanely possible — mission to try to prevent the 11/22/1963 J.F. Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

Explore the Possibilities...

This is the first Stephen King book I've finished and I am IN LOVE. I only read this because of a book club challenge. I am not a fan of horror, so I have dismissed King's previous works. I'm VERY glad that I picked this up.

I had a hard time putting the book down: I could "see" the world that King built and felt like I knew Jake/George. I couldn't want to read more! I got very little sleep last night, but it was totally worth it. I put the kids in front of the t.v. this morning so I could finish reading.

The ending was perfect. Bittersweet, but perfect.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

Barnes & Noble

A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave--"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"--wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. 

Beautiful and heartbreaking. I was afraid to read/listen to this for the longest time, because I was sure that I was going to end up a blubbering mess. Instead, I feel hopeful. Randy Pausch knew how to live. What an inspiring person.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Barnes & Noble

The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters' breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.

I'm not sure why this is part of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It was just "meh" for me.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Future of Us, by Jay Asher

Barnes & Noble

It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long - at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD in the mail,his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And they're looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.

By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right - and wrong - in the present.

Decent book. Very quick read. I think more could have been done with the plot (such an awesome premise!), but younger teenage readers will enjoy it for what it is.