Archive for November, 2011

Review: Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always loved Steve Martin’s comedy – his surreal and silly standup routines were a favorite of mine in high school, years after he’d already moved on to movies. The book is a touching account of his life as the son of strait-laced Texas Baptists who moved to California, how he escaped from his stifling and disapproving father by learning magic and working at places like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, and how he developed a comedy act that changed how comedy worked for a whole generation of performers who arrived after him.

This is a funny, touching, honest and beautiful story, laced throughout with Martin’s weird and self-deprecating humor.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I didn’t yet know its name but found out later it was called Flower Power, and I was excited to learn that we were now living in the Age of Aquarius, an age when, at least astrologically, the world would be taken over by macramé. Anticorporate, individual, and freak-based, it proposed that all we had to do was love each other and there would be no more wars or strife. Nothing could have been newer or more appealing. The vast numbers of us who changed our thoughts and lives for this belief proved that, yes, it is possible to fool all of the people some of the time.”



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Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you could go back in time to change anything, what would it be? What would change? Would you be brave enough to do it?

Jake Epping gets that chance – to go back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK. He is certain that he can change the course of history, prevent the escalation of Vietnam, prevent race riots and the death of Martin Luther King, just by keeping Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting those three bullets from the Texas Schoolbook Depository.

He is able to enter the past through a doorway in an old diner – repeatedly. Any time he steps through, it is a September day in 1958 in his small town in Maine. After a few trial runs where he experiments with the “butterfly effect,” he is ready to embark on his five-year mission to establish a life in the past, move to Dallas, and change history.

With the help of the friend who showed him the entrance to the past, his friend’s copious notes and research, and the knowledge that there isn’t much in his 2011 life to hold him here, he steps into 1958 to change history.

Along the way, he encounters obstacles that show him proof of the “obdurate past,” reminders that the past doesn’t want to change, that it is a force working against him and that he must always be prepared for emergencies. Then he meets someone – Sadie – who makes him question whether he wants to leave the 1950s and 60s or if he wants to work to accomplish his mission and then stay with her to live out his life there, or return to 2011.

Stephen King’s book is an amazing epic novel about so much more than time travel – it is presented in a way that doesn’t seem fantastical, but deeply moving and incredibly exciting. I found myself crying in spots, and my pulse raced in others. The buildup of suspense was CRAZY, and King’s research exhaustive.

One of the best books I’ve read in years.


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Review: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier

The Dive From Clausen's Pier
The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the depth of all the characters in this book, how the author layered them and made them come to life. So many books I’ve read recently have one-dimensional characters with the main character perhaps two or three millimeters deeper than the page.

But in this book, the author does a wonderful job of making each person into a whole being that rises from the page and you feel that you know them, that you are right there with them.

Carrie Bell is a Wisconsin girl. She’s a good girl who is engaged to her high school sweetheart, whom she’s been with for seven years, ever since she was sixteen years old. They live a life that is calm and pleasant and unexceptional. They have a small group of friends, they get along with one another’s families, everyone likes them.

Carrie is bored. She is restless. She doesn’t know why, but she’s distancing herself from her fiance and friends. Then on Memorial Day, they all gather at a lake and Mike, her fiance, teases her that he’s fearless, that he’s exciting, that he and his friends will dive off the pier even though the water is cold and even though Carrie is not rising to his challenge to swim with them.

That dive results in a terrible injury that leaves Mike paralyzed, and Carrie even more trapped than before. The book deals with how Carrie tries to escape and the impact her decisions have on her family, her fiance, her friends, and herself.

A fantastic story with expertly drawn characters. An absolute pleasure to read fiction done RIGHT.


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Review: How to Be an American Housewife

How to Be an American Housewife
How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked it.

The story is told from the point of view of Shoko, a Japanese woman who married an American GI and moved to the United States. Each chapter includes an exerpt from a book purportedly written to instruct Japanese women on how to assimilate into American culture and be good American housewives.

It outlines her attempts to fit in, to make a good home, and to raise her two children. Yet almost everything is a disappointment to her after she tries her best to do as the book tells her – her husband isn’t like the husbands in the books, her son is still living at home in his 40s, her daughter is a divorced single mother with whom she barely gets along.

Most of all, she is saddened and disappointed that she has not heard anything from her younger brother since leaving Japan. And now that time is running out, she wants to see him one last time, to heal their broken relationship. But her health is so fragile, she must trust someone else to carry the message back to Japan for her.



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Review: Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first saw a children’s adaptation of this story in the bookfair at my daughter’s school and didn’t realize it was based on a true character. I thought, from glancing at the cover, that this was a storybook cat named Dewey and the book was a cutesy thing to teach kids about the Dewey Decimal System in libraries.

Instead, the book (the original book, the grown-up edition) is about a small town in Iowa where someone in the dead of winter in 1988 put a tiny, half-starved kitten down the book return chute at the public library. The librarian found him, cleaned him up, fed him, and he became part of the “staff” at the library. In time, the people of this small town came to love him and then he became a national and international celebrity.

This book was about so much more than a cat, but the cat himself was a wonderful character. The book showed how communities can be fractured and how the power of affection and connection can heal a community. I especially loved the story of how this cat helped people in crisis feel hope again, simply by allowing them to love him. I loved this book so much!


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