Monday, July 18, 2011

Vacation Reading, Part I

I hope you gathered from my pre-vacation post that I was, in fact, going on vacation! I've been out of New York for, pretty much, the last three solid weeks. I spent a week in New Orleans at ALA, a week in Nashville, and a week on real vacation at the beach in Florida. I've read a ton the past three weeks, so much that I'm going to have to scramble to write about all the good books I've read so that I remember something about them later!

I'll start with the first leg of my trip: What I read in New Orleans

First up, Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagan. This book was more of a mystery and more thrilling than I expected, and I loved it. It's been a while since I've read something that gets my heart racing. In the story, it's the summer of 1969 and Shenandoah's mother has been missing for a year. Her father has turned into an unhappy drunk, and her twin sister Woody has gone mute. Once Shenny gets over her own heartbreak, she storms into an investigation to find the truth about what happened the night her mother disappeared, with the belief that Woody may know something that's shocked her into silence. Shenny is a headstrong girl who is smart, but whose weakness is her own innocence. It's one of those situations where we, as the reader, cringe or get anxious as we realize things that Shenny, as an 11-year-old, does not. Overall, I enjoyed this one and got through it pretty quickly.

In between novels, I opted for Life With Mr. Dangerous, a graphic novel by Paul Hornschemeier. Amy is in the latter half of her 20s (I am hitting this mark with my own birthday this October, so I am refusing to call it her "late twenties") with a crappy job, a best friend (and love interest) living across the country, and having just broken up with a crappy boyfriend. Basically, she's down and out. And she's surrounded by people who give her little hope that things will ever get more interesting. I liked Hornschemeier's drawings a great deal, but in this case, the story just didn't do it for me. I'm a 20-something, so I get it. I get how your twenties can feel boring, exciting, bleak, meaningless, adventurous, stressful, hopeful and hopeless, all at the same time. But this story just had a serious WOMP WOMP tone to it. Frankly, it was Amy. I would not hang out with her because she'd just bring me down. She notices the sad things that exist about people and their lifestyles, and yes, these things exist and are sad. But she wallows in them and just seems kinda...pathetic. Here's it in a nutshell: She's waiting for life to happen to her instead of seeking things out for herself. And that is not an attitude I want to live by. And ranting spoiler alert (highlight to read): I don't buy the sudden happy ending that just "worked out" in her favor. Seems totally unrealistically optimistic for a story about this character that's all about the depressing realities of her age. Nor do I buy the fact that multiple men are interested in her, because from these 160 pages, she was permanently moping and always thinking/talking about an obscure TV show. 

My last book of the trip, mostly an airplane read, was Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace. I really liked this one too, for a few reasons. It had a likable main character—Ruby is tough and does what she has to do; you cheer for her. It's historical fiction set in New York, and I love reading about places I encounter daily. It's about baseball, particularly women in baseball, reminding me of A League of Their Own, for which I will always have a special place in my heart. It ties in all sorts of historical people and places and events, which just makes a story much more rich. Anyway, it's about a girl, Ruby, whose parents and other family members die in the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 and she's left to take care of her two young nieces. She's got something special, though—an arm that can throw as fast and as accurate as a major league pitcher. Diamond Ruby spans the 1920s, from Ruby's gig as a sideshow artist on Coney Island to the starting lineup of the minor league Brooklyn Typhoons and encounters with Babe Ruth, the Ku Klux Clan, gangsters, rumrunners, and gamblers. This is a really good story to get sucked into—the writing is quality with lots of plot twists and turns to keep you guessing, the characters elicit an emotional connection, and it's one of those books that has so many details woven in that it feels like an educated read.

What have been your vacation reads this summer?


Amanda said...

I have Diamond Ruby on my shelf to read too. I'm glad it was a good book!

Joshua said...

I see. Your description of Amy in Life with Mr. Dangerous sort of reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye. No matter how many times I've read that book, I just couldn't bring myself to like it because of the main character's heavy negativity. Thanks for sharing your take on these books.

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