Review: My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe

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I’ve never thought about what it might be like to own a convenient store in Manhattan. Me? I just want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. Without getting shot. Or leered at. So this book was an important read. Turns out, owning a convenient store is hard and stressful and risky. Who knew lottery tickets could single-handedly keep a store alive? Or those gruff delivery men could wield so much power?

The most entertaining part of this book is the author’s dealings with his in-laws. Howe’s recounts of living in the basement of his in-law’s house is a perfect mixture of hilarious and pathetic. He is ever respectful, however, regardless of the strain his in-laws place on his marriage – and this makes his readers love him even more. Plus, he works for George Plimpton at The Paris Review and generously offers up the inside skinny on this eclectic and privileged man.

The book might be a little bit longer than it needed to be, but don’t let that deter you. It’s still a great, fun read.

Review: Confessions of A Male Nurse by Michael Alexander

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Confessions of a Male Nurse is not what I thought it would be. For some reason, I expected this book to be funny, light and occasionally hilarious. That was my pre-conceived notion of a male nurse rearing its ugly head and I’m happy to say I got it all wrong. Michael Alexander as nurse, may have been a novelty a decade or so ago, but that didn’t mean he capitalized on it. Breaking into the formerly women-dominated vocation was frightening and bewildering at times, and the author does a good job showing us why. By now, most of us understand how hard it was for women to break into the male-dominated work force and it’s refreshing to see the tables turned.

Then, there is the down and dirty side of hospitals. People’s toes falling off and morphine addicted heart-transplant patients are just two of the medical stories Alexander delivers. Not having a stone stomach about bodies and their flaws in general, I had to skip a few of these stories. If I was hesitant of hospitals before, I’m now petrified. Happily, however, after reading Alexander’s book I’m a bit more respectful of nurses. It behooves anyone who is about to have a syringe shoved into their butt to show a bit of respect, does it not?

Covers are tricky and subjective in general. But I wish this one had better reflected the book. The cartoonish picture just doesn’t accurately express the contents. On the other hand, it may be smart marketing. After all, it was that pre-concieved notion of hilariousness that got me, a major non-fan of medical pain, to read a book about male nurses in the first place.

Review: Sam Cruz’s Infallible Guide to getting Girls

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Goodreads does a much better job delivering a synopsis than I could ever do. So here it is:

“Why the hell can’t chicks be more like guys?

That question plagues high school senior Sam Cruz. Sam is perfectly happy being a player. He just wishes girls wouldn’t change the game from sex to relationships. It makes him look like an asshole. But when Sam’s best friend, Ally Klinger, gets dumped, she begs him to transform her into someone who can screw around then screw off. No risk of heartbreak that way. It’s Sam’s chance to create the perfect female AND cheer up his best friend. Armed with Sam’s Three Step Guide to Backseat Success, Ally gets the game better than Sam thought she would and before long, Sam has his wish: the female version of himself. Too bad it’s driving him nuts. Told from Sam’s and Ally’s alternating POVs, Sam Cruz’s Infallible Guide to Getting Girls is a fast-paced romantic comedy that follows these teens as they navigate the minefield of sex, love, and friendship.”

See what I mean? Goodreads is the man here.

Now then, Sam Cruz’s Infallible Guide to Getting Girls starts off with huge promise. The dialogue is quick and cool and entertaining until about halfway through the book. Then, unfortunately, this same dialogue begins to straddle funny and contrived. And this is important because much of the book is dialogue. Still, the alternating POV’s are well-written and both characters are likable and fun.

This is probably not a book for the younger teenager, however. The pace is quick, and sometimes even a little too quick. So much is happening all the time! You sort of feel out of breath just reading it. Which isn’t a bad thing, of course, but worth mentioning.

Overall, this is a fairly entertaining (older) teen read, with a lot of crude language and a great title.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

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Forget The Bible, this is the book that should be in every drawer of ever bedside table in every hotel room. Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky is just about the most horrifying (in a good way) book I’ve ever read. I had no idea that doing the “crinkly handshake” could get you a better room.  Or scarfing down the entire mini-bar just before demanding a room change (too smoky, too loud, too pink, whatever) would get you free grub. And more sadly, I was not aware of just how many housekeepers/heads of housekeeping may have had sex in my room just minutes before my initial entry.

And then there’s the dialogue.

“Imma take these five twenties and get myself a bobo.” (Pg. um, well location 2033).

You might not know what “bobo” means, but I do and I’m never calling a hundred dollar bill anything else. I’m also never not using a doorman. You’d be smarter to defriend someone on Facebook. No bag you say? Let him carry your iPhone. Your kid. Anything. But use him. Give him the crinkly handshake and your every wish will be his command. Unless he simply doesn’t like you (you screamed at your kid, cut a little old lady in line – they see it all) and then you’re pretty much doomed and housekeeping might very well do something unsanitary to your toothbrush.

Not only will this book make you laugh, it will make you smarter. Let the other yahoos suffer the consequences of calling the Front by their first name at check-in. And try not to break into chokes of laughter while watching that guy march up to the desk, throw down a Ziploc bag with a small black dot in it (raisin?), and try to swindle a bed bug room rate. Do, however, record it. And put it on YouTube.

Were it merely fiction, this book might not be one of the most entertaining books to grace my kindle. But being a memoir, it is. And the author didn’t even have to slide me a baby brick to say that.

Review: Rape Girl

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Rape Girl By Alina Klein could have been so many things: it could have been depressing, it could have been unconvincing, it could have been hard to read. But it wasn’t any of those things. It was great. And not just a little bit great either.

Valerie’s story makes me mad, and it will probably make you mad too. If you are a teen girl, it will make you wiser. If you are a teen boy, well, consider yourself informed. And if you are a parent of either, this book will do both. This is the kind of story that chips away at taboo topics and makes the world a better place. Really. It’s that simple.

Valerie’s character makes me proud to be a girl. The courage and strength she summons will make any girl proud. Because what Valerie suffers during the rape is horrid, but what she suffers afterwards is a longer version of horrid. Bullied, ignored, blamed, Valerie becomes a shell of her former self. Almost. But then there’s that courage and strength and inner power ever present and ready to bloom in all of us that peeks out for a tiny look. It takes an undefined faith in the human heart to rise above a horror that a fellow human being has caused, and not everyone can or maybe should do it. But Valerie does. Valerie’s mom does. And after reading the author’s notes, you will know too that the author does as well.

Klein is a magical writer. This is her recipe: start with a pinch of John Green, sprinkle with a bit of Wally Lamb, punctuate with some Laurie Halse Anderson. Then cook on perfect pace and speak in dead-on dialogue until done. Cool. You’ve got the amazing Alina Klein. Trust me, you won’t be able to put your fork down.

Review: Klonopin Lunch

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From the beginning, this author does a very smart thing. Before the reader has a chance to condemn her for her behavior, she takes care of that herself. Never defensive about her poor choices, Jones instead makes it very clear that her biggest critic is herself, which immediately takes her readers off the hook. We don’t have to decide whether we like her or not, because she’s already told us that we don’t. And this gives us the freedom to read her story without judgment. (Almost.)

The author’s exploits are wild, dangerous, sometimes hilarious, and always expertly told. Jones is a master with words, able to at once use some pretty big language while keeping her writing conversational. Which makes us wonder: How can this well-educated and articulate person keep company with such low-lives? It isn’t drug addiction, because Jones never gets to that point. So what is it? The initial answer is good sex, but the ultimate one is the freedom to fail. Successful, responsible, and miserable, the author’s path to finding herself is to lose herself first and start from there.

This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it does seem incredible that her husband allows her this very long leash without once confronting her, but this is a memoir so we have to take it at face value. Cup of tea or not, however, there is no arguing the fact that Jones is a very very good writer. She could probably spin a list of ingredients into a good read.

Review: The Kitchen Shrink

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Dee DeTarsio told me all about the time she agreed to do a TV reality show called The Kitchen Shrink. This is what I thought the whole time I was reading her book. The thing is though, I’ve never met Dee and I’m pretty sure I’ve never talked to her on the phone unless she works at Verizon which I hope she doesn’t because they spend a lot of time redirecting phone calls. Anyway. After every time that I remembered I didn’t know Dee, my next thought was: Wow, her writing is good. She writes like she’s speaking to me and only me. That’s not an easy thing to do.

The Kitchen Shrink was a delight. I suspect (my friend) Dee works in the TV industry because there are insights here that only those on set could know. Which makes her book that much more fun to read. This is the perfect summer read. Thanks to (my friend) Dee for making me laugh on the trains, planes and automobiles that I took last week.

Review: The Legacy of David Foster Wallace

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What’s so reassuring about this book is that even the equally intelligent and academic contributors admit that they might not quite understand the immense talent of David Foster Wallace. And for those of us decidedly non-academic writers, this is a very inviting thing. David Foster Wallace’s writing, while incredible, is also intimidating and the contributors seem to sympathize. What a gift to anyone who has ever wanted to learn more about Wallace but has been too afraid to open his pages.

Beauty and pain hide between every line in each one of Wallace’s stories and this book will attempt to explain why. Wallace was an author who had so much more to tell, but yet had already said it all by the time of his death. Yes he was flawed, and we are flawed, but the world is still a heartbreakingly beautiful place. And The Legacy of David Foster Wallace is one of the reasons why – if just for its superb cover art.

A great read for anyone who admires Wallace and anyone who hopes to.

Review Island Practice: Cobblestone Rash, Underground Tom, and Other Adventures of a Nantucket Doctor

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“If you need an appendectomy, he can do it with a stone scalpel he carved himself. If you have a condition nobody can diagnose—“creeping eruption” perhaps—he can identify what it is, and treat it. A baby with toe-tourniquet syndrome, a human leg that’s washed ashore, a horse with Lyme disease, a narcoleptic falling face-first in the street, a hermit living underground—hardly anything is off-limits for Dr. Timothy J. Lepore. This is the spirited, true story of a colorful, contrarian doctor on the world-famous island of Nantucket.”  — netgalley

Island Practice by Pam Belluck is a nicely drawn biography of the infamous Dr. Lepore, the landmark doctor on Nantucket. Belluck writes with an overall sense of admiration for the doctor, even while describing some of his most controversial tactics. She makes it clear that the islanders feel this same admiration. The reader, however, might not. Dr. Lepore may make house calls and deliver emergency C-Sections, but he also allows islanders to live in underground caves and have sex with animals. Whether you like him or not, however, Dr. Lepore is an engaging and eccentric character, and one well worthy of a biography.

Belluck has certainly done her homework. Her interviews with key figures are short and to the point, and perfectly placed. She does a great job recounting each one of the sometimes strange, sometimes heroic situations the doctor finds himself in. Her readers are sure to come away with an entirely different image of Nantucket. In fact, it’s almost impossible to recognize the Nantucket of the uber-wealthy summer goers inside these pages.

Island Practice is part survival guide, part snap shot of one of the most beautiful and unique places in America. I chose to review this book because my father was raised on Nantucket and my grandmother lived on the island until her dying day. An uncle and cousin still reside year-round and I imagine remain ever grateful for Dr. Lepore.

The Fault In Our Stars

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If you’ve ever read Eckart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, you may better understand why I’m about to compare it to John Green’s magnificent The Fault in Our Stars. The idea behind Tolle’s spiritual self-help book is that who you are, right now, is good enough for the Universe. And if there’s not enough religion in that statement for you, “Universe” can be exchanged for whatever religious figure you choose. The point is: while we may all want a little (or a lot) of fame and fortune, the Universe doesn’t much care. In fact, the only thing the Universe requires of you is to accept the present moment as it is.

Enter Hazel.

Hazel, the protagonist with stage IV thyroid cancer in Green’s latest book, embodies this principal. Brutally aware that she has limited time, the only thing Hazel really wants at this point is not to break her parent’s hearts.

But things change when she meets Augustus.

Augustus, a cancer patient as well, wants more than to accept the present moment as it is. He wants to leave a legacy. And why shouldn’t he want that? The average person would. Hazel, however, is far from average.

Green’s writing is pitch perfect. His lightning quick dialogue is simply fun to read. But the best part of the novel is Hazel, who is not just sweet and down-to-earth and protective, she does what most of us can’t: she dares to be unimportant. Perhaps that’s the definition of a true hero.