Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dave Barry Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster)

By Dave Barry

Humorous essays by the master of the humorous essay, Dave Barry. Frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Dave Barry is as funny as ever and reading this book was a true pleasure. He is a national treasure, that is for sure.

If you enjoy Dave Barry, this book is sure to please.

For another review, see:

Cabin Pressure

By Josh Wolk

The true story of the summer Josh Wolk spent as a camp counselor at the beloved camp that he attended as a youngster.
Wolk was a successful man in his thirties and engaged to be married in the fall when he decided to spend the summer at the camp where he spent so many happy days as a youngster. Being a camp counselor is not a new experience for him, as he used to do it when he was younger. But it has been a long time since he worked as a counselor and he has some questions as to how he will fit in to the camp where most counselors are in their late teens and early twenties. Also, he will be away from his fiancee for the whole summer, as she has the chore of making all the wedding arrangements.
At first, he does feel a bit of an outsider, especially after hours when the counselors all gather to shoot the breeze and relax. He is kind of the "old man" of the group, although I think the differences that worry him are fairly superficial and that he having a hard time fitting in because he is so concerned about it.
Being with the kids is easier and he quickly gets into the swing of things with them, supervising his assigned cabin, leading his kids to their meals and making sure they perform their chores. He also is one of the swimming counselors and together they spend the summer teaching the sometimes reluctant boys how to swim with the goal that they earn their swimming certificates before leaving camp at the end of summer.
So Josh gets to relive his happy childhood days as a camper before settling down to marriage and having children of his own. And hopefully, his own children will get to enjoy the experience of summer camp in their own turn.

This was an okay story. It kind of dragged at times and didn't really grab my attention. It was an easy book to put down and walk away from and let sit for weeks at a time. I wish it had been a little more exciting, a little more dramatic. Perhaps part of the problem was that I have never been to summer camp and maybe those who have done so would be more involved in its depictions of camp life.
But despite its rather sedate tone, I still, mostly, enjoyed the book. Wolk seems like a really nice man, sincere and kind and he really loves summer camp. He also seems like he enjoys kids too.
After reading his memoir, I feel like I know a bit more about summer camp without the pain of actually attending it!


By Clare Darcy

Regency England and young Elyza Leigh has been placed with a with a respectable lady, Mrs. Winlock, in London who has been charged with finding a suitable match for Elyza.
Elyza is pretty young woman but her particular looks are not in fashion at the time and she has been overlooked by the local eligible bachelors. On the other hand, Elyza is her father's sole offspring and will inherit a nice fortune. Which why Winlock has arranged for stodgy and boring Sir Edward Mottram, a young man who finds himself in need of an heiress, to ask for Elyza's hand. Elyza dresses herself in men's clothing and flees London, intending to take refuge with her aunt in Bath. But while traveling, Elyza lands in trouble when she is robbed of all her money. Fortunately, she encounters Cleve Redmayne, who sees through her disguise and is willing to rescue a maiden in distress.
Redmayne sensibly points out that no one can force Elyza to marry Mottram and he advises her to return to London. As her guardian, Mrs. Winlock is planning to shortly travel to Brighton and since Redmayne is also on his way to Brighton, he promises they will soon meet up again there.
Redmayne has returned to England after gaining his fortune in India. He became enamored of a girl he met briefly a few years before he left for India, Corinna Mayfield. Redmayne, son of a poor clergyman, plans to display his new-found wealth for Corinna's benefit and woo her to become his bride.
Once Elyza and Winlock are in Brighton, it doesn't take long for Elyza to realize that she has fallen in love with Redmayne. But Redmayne has his sights set on Corinna. Corinna seems dazzled by Redmayne's charm, good looks, wealth and his apparent fascination with herself. Elyza decides she must do everything to make her beloved happy even if that means giving him up to Corinna. But "the course of true love never did run smooth." So naturally there are complications involving blackmail and kidnapping and falls from grace.

This was a pretty good story. Elyza is a good-hearted, sweet girl who is willing to give up her own desires to ensure the happiness of the one she loves. Redmayne is portrayed as a handsome, athletic and accomplished man, but in view of his crush on Corinna, he is a bit lacking in judgment. The same of which can be said of Elyza, who preferred to run away rather than face her problems. Of course, they are destined for each other! A nice read, if a bit of a disappointment in the scene where Redmayne confronts the kidnapper  which the author chooses to tell in a mere three paragraphs, instead of going into the juicy details. Other than that one disappointing section, the rest of the novel was quite satisfying and enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Summer Sisters

By Judy Blume

Victoria (Vix) and Caitlin come from opposite sides of the tracks. Caitlin is pretty, rich and popular. Vix is smart, quiet and ignored.  Out of the blue, Caitlin invites Vix to spend the summer with her and her dad at Martha's Vineyard.
Vix and Caitlin are pretty much opposites. Vix is more practical and Caitlin is flaky. After that first summer together where Vix gets to know Caitlin's family and they both get to know the local boys, Caitlin and Vix go on to spend every summer together which they do for several years.
As teens one summer, Vix and Caitlin become involved with two local boys, relationships that will affect the rest of their adult lives. Vix likes Bru and Caitlin likes Von, but Vix then makes out with Von and the two girls get into a fight over it, with Vix accusing Caitlin of setting the whole thing up.
Bru eventually asks Vix to marry him but she declines, thinking that the two of them want different things in life. The book actually starts with Caitlin calling Vix to inform her that Caitlin is marrying Bru and that she want Vix to be her maid of honor. Vix is so upset by this news that she has to run to the bathroom and vomit.
Vix goes on to make a good life for herself and gets married and has kids. Caitlin drifts through life, spending most of her time in Europe. She never seems to settle down or grow up compared to Vix, who lives a normal, everyday life.

An interesting portrait of two teen girls growing up together, growing close then growing apart, for various reasons. Caitlin pretty crashes and burns and Vix manages to make something good out of her life despite the toxic influence of her friend, Caitlin.

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President

By Josh Lieb

If you saw 12-year-old Oliver Watson, you might write him off as a big loser. He fat and dumb and has no friends. But that is all an act, except for the no friends part. That part is true. He probably has no friends because he actually despises everyone in the world, including his own parents. Because Oliver is a genius and sees through all the nonsense with which most people surround themselves.
Oliver has made himself the third richest person in the world. He has secret bases, a blimp he rides in when ever he wants, and an extensive spy network set up in the school he attends, Gale Sayers Middle School in Omaha. His influence is pervasive and completely covert. Even his own covert bodyguards have no idea that Oliver is their employer. All they know is they are supposed to protect him.
Oliver plays the fool at school and at home. Although he does love his mother he also has little respect for her, dismissing her as a vapid dunce. But it is his father that he really hates. An incident when Oliver was little has earned his undying enmity for his father.
As a joke, a fellow student nominates Oliver for class president. And Oliver declines the nomination, naturally. It's a waste of his time and a meaningless position and he knows it was just a cruel joke against him. But when his father hears about the nomination, the father goes on and on about how he ran for and won class president in high school. So, to spite his father, Oliver changes his mind and runs for class president. And all his massive resources and penchant for dirty tricks will come into play, in an effort to show up his father. Oliver really has some "daddy issues."

This was an ok story. I didn't find the Oliver character particularly believable, though. It strains my credulity that no one noticed that this kid has fantastic resources at his beck and call. The story is mildly amusing, not the laugh-fest I was hoping it was. Maybe the humor is a bit too juvenile to appeal to me. I also thought Oliver's speech at the end was very cynical and made me wonder if the author really feels that voting is a waste of time and that the government is only after your money.
By the way, Captain Beefheart is a real musician, something I did not know until I read some reviews of this novel.

For another review, see

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Martian

By Andy Weir

Mark Watney is one of a team of astronauts who are the first humans to set foot on Mars. They have set up a camp and are already to spend weeks on the surface when a violent dust storm threatens to engulf the camp. For safety sake, they are told to abandon the camp and leave Mars. But in the process, Mark gets injured and is given up for dead and left behind. But he's not dead. And now he has to survive for years until rescue can be effected. Problem is, he doesn't have enough food to last that long. He will have starved to death before rescue can ever reach him.
Can Mark's ingenuity and the best scientists back home come up with a way for Mark to survive until then?

This was an interesting if very technical story. I liked the whole idea of one man surviving against all the odds on his own. I didn't care for the technical descriptions of how the various contraptions and machinery that Mark used worked. Not being a technical person, the descriptions were too complex and so I just skipped a lot of that. But despite that, it was an exciting and probably believable story. I don't have the technical know-how to really assess how believable it was. But it seemed pretty believable to me.