Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Catching Up


I know, I know, I haven't posted in a bit but school is crazy right before spring break and I had zero time to blog. I did read a couple books in that time, though.

First up is The Darlings, by Cristina Alger. This book just came out in February and I grabbed it right away. It's the story of Paul Ross, a lawyer who is married into a wealthy NYC society family, the Darlings. It's 2008 and he has recently become the in house attorney for the family firm. The Darlings are ridiculously rich with all the usual NYC society trappings including a Park Avenue apartment and a house in the Hamptons. Paul and his brother-in-law, Adrian, both work for their father-in-law, Carter Darling. However, it is 2008, the year that disasters occurred across Wall Street and people began to become aware of corruption in companies like Lehman Brothers.

This is a very topical story of what happens when a company starts to fall apart. Alger creates quite a few characters here who follow the breaking story of a suicide by one of the major investors in the family company. The suicide thrusts the family into the media spotlight and starts to expose the company's unethical behavior. The action takes place over Thanksgiving weekend, which leads to a lot of tension over the holiday dinner.

While I don't really follow all of the financial stuff, Alger did a good job of explaining what was going on. I was really engaged by the story itself, although I found that she had too many characters. Paul made sense as a point of view character, as did Carter. Other major characters included a guy who worked at the SEC and his girlfriend, Alexa, (Paul's ex) who were trying to blow the whistle on the Darlings' company but got stopped at the top for some reason. There was also a character who worked for a magazine who wanted to profile the family, and his assistant. Then there was the family lawyer, Sol, and his secretary, Yvonne (I think that was her name). So those were all interesting characters but Alger got lost a bit in irrelevant back story. A lot of these characters were connected (the magazine editor is the uncle of Alexa, Paul's ex), which was cool, but Yvonne had this whole back story with a son who got suspended that frankly detracted from the main point of the story. Then Alger wrote chapters from the perspective of Lily and Adrian, Carter's other daughter (besides Merrill, Paul's wife) and son-in-law that just felt unnecessary. I get that she wanted to show the whole family reeling in different ways from the suicide and what it led to, but again, too much back story and not enough focus on the main plot. It could definitely have been shorter.

But in the end, the story was gripping and had lots of twists and turns that I did not see coming. Even though I am so not into financial stuff, I still found it really good. It's a great story.

Buy it at amazon and barnes and noble.

 Next up was Sophie Kinsella's, I've Got Your Number. I don't read a ton of "chick lit" books, but I have a soft spot for Sophie Kinsella. I read most of the Shopaholic books years ago and loved them, although Becky got a bit repetitive as a character as the series continued. I think her stand alone books are cuter. Anyway, my awesome friend Kate mentioned that she had just finished it so we did a kindle book exchange and I dove right in. I ended up being home sick one day so I finished this in just under two days (a gorgeous hour in Central Park one afternoon helped me finish it off).

Like Kinsella's other books, this featured a slightly ditsy heroine, Poppy, and a straight-laced business man, named Sam (maybe not all her books had this type of pairing but it seems like they do). The premise is totally ridiculous but this is an easy, breezy book that is perfect for spring break or just being outside in this gorgeous weather.

The premise is that Poppy's family heirloom engagement ring disappears during a chaotic fire drill at a tea with her girlfriends. In a panic, Poppy is desperately trying to get a signal on her phone when someone steals it from her hands. Luckily, she finds a discarded cell phone in a rubbish bin (what? the books are British!) and starts to give out the number to the hotel. She quickly learns that the phone belongs to the former PA of a business man named Sam who tries to get the phone back. She convinces him to let her hold onto it for a little bit, which somehow he allows.

So now Poppy has to cover for the missing engagement ring and has to forward all of Sam's messages onto him. Of course the two of them start communicating over the phone. Clearly things are not entirely perfect with her academic fiance, Magnus. She also has a crazed wedding planner, Lucinda, and she quickly gets caught up in a potential scandal with Sam's work.

Anyway, the book was adorable and as I said, I read it quickly. If you like Kinsella's books, this is perfect for you. If you're heading anywhere for a spring vacation, this is a great beach/vacation book. I loved it!

Buy at amazon and barnes and noble.

I'm about 60% into David Benioff's City of Thieves right now and when that's done I'm going to catch up on some graphic novels. I'll try not to fall behind with posting again!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Death Cure Review

Lots of spoilers ahead! Read at your own risk... 

The Maze Runner trilogy ended well with The Death Cure. The story mostly took place in Denver, Colorado, which was one of the few cities left standing, although it quickly becomes clear to Thomas that the city is falling apart. The book starts where it left off, in the Wicked facility where Thomas had ended the Scorch Trials. All of the characters are told that they will have a medical procedure to get their memories back. Out of those characters, only Thomas, Newt and Mingho refuse to do so. However, the "Rat Man" forces them to get the procedure, but at the last minute, Brenda (who, along with Jorge, had been a secret Wicked employee) saved the day and helped them escape. Turns out that Theresa had already escaped with the other surviving kids. Later we learn that she only left because she thought Thomas had some some reason.

Everyone ends up in Denver, where Gally makes an appearance. He is part of a group called the Right Arm that is fighting against Wicked. Together, they plan to infiltrate the Wicked headquarters and take it down. They send Thomas in early to "turn himself into Wicked." Much to his dismay, he learns that as the Final Candidate, he is going to be kept alive while the doctors dissect his brain, so he would literally be donating himself to science. Fortunately, his friends show up in time, but the original candidates learn that Wicked has been gathering other immune people (about 500) and keeping them in the maze, while the Right Arm plans on blowing up the entire facility. However, Chancellor Paige, who we only hear about in the epilogue, gives Thomas a note with the blueprints of the facility, along with the directions that a Flat Trans is available to take him to safety.

Thomas has to race to rescue his friends, gather the immune people from the maze, fight more Grievers, as well as the crazed Right Arm people and Rat Man, who still wants to use Thomas' brain. The last third of the book is packed with action and violence. People die, buildings get blown up but it more or less ends well. In the end (SERIOUS SPOILERS AHEAD)... the surviving immune people go through a flat trans to some sort of idyllic place where they can reform society. Teresa died at the end, but Brenda made it. Clearly she and Jorge were aware of the chancellor's secret plan if the cure itself didn't work. So now two hundred or so people survived and were left to repopulate the world.

I thought this was a good ending to the series. A couple things annoyed me, though. First of all, why in god's name would Thomas not want his memories back? Sure he's been getting memories but still has a lot of questions. Why wouldn't he just get his memories back. Also, the back up plan for saving society was smart but they should have gathered all the immune people and put them in the safe place, while still running the trials to find a cure.

Anyway, it was a solid ending. The prequel (The Kill Order) is coming out in August, so I'm going to get that. It focuses on the decision that Wicked made to release the Flare disease into the public to control the population after the earth got ruined by the solar flares. Sounds interesting!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mini-Term Reading

I've been reading a ton lately. We do this three and a half week mini-term at my school where regular classes, except math and language, stop and the teachers create fun electives for the kids. So they are totally overbooked as they take math, language, a humanities class and three electives, plus a two hour festival of arts elective. It's a little nuts. There's tons of reading for the kids and of course for me. I have to read what I assign. It's only fair, right?!

So here's what I've been reading. For my zombie class, An Apocalyptic Adventure, I've read a couple chapters from Wade Davis' The Serpent and the Rainbow, as well as several articles on apocalyptic literature, Wade Davis and George A. Romero and short stories by Edgar Allen Poe (The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar), W.B. Seabrook (Dead Men Working in Cane Fields) and Guy de Maupassant (Was it a Dream?)

I also teach a seminar on Harry Potter. Each class is led by two students who each pick one chapter that fits a theme that they were assigned to, like Love, Death, Choice, Rebellion, etc. So I have at least two chapters to read from every class. And since I love Harry Potter as much as I do, I've been flipping around a bit more and reading a little extra. I really want to sit down and reread the whole series at some point. I'll get there eventually.

For both of those classes I'm also reading the kids' work, which mostly consists of responding to forum question. And on top of that, I'm reading history term papers in my "free" time. Finally, I teach a Roald Dahl class. My co-teacher and I assigned five books to four teams of kids. They have to read and present their books to the class, but as a whole class, we're reading Dahl's first autobiography, Boy.  I finished it today and found it absolutely delightful. I remember my mom reading Boy to my brother but I never read it myself, even though I adored some of his books, especially Matilda and The BFG. Boy is short but filled with adventures from Dahl's life, hints as to where he got his stories from and funny little moments from prep school. It was a really cute book and I'm glad I had to read it.

Mini-term is exhausting but I'm always glad to experience authors and books that I might not have read otherwise. A few years ago I taught a class on Ragtime, which was my co-teacher's idea. I never picked up an E.L. Doctorow book before but I am so glad that I ended up reading it. I never loved required reading in school, but as I get older, I like being exposed to things that I might never have read otherwise.

The Scorch Trials Review

This week I was talking to my students about  apocalyptic literature in  our zombie class (yes, I'm teaching a class about zombies - more on that later). We were making a list of all the books about apocalypses and dystopian societies that they knew, including The Giver and its two companion novels and The Hunger Games trilogy. One student brought up The Maze Runner. I was surprised that she didn't really like it. A couple of the kids had read it and agreed with her. One boy liked it but not the sequel, The Scorch Trials. Granted this series isn't exactly like The Hunger Games, but who wants an exact copy of another story?
The Scorch Trials starts out right where The Maze Runner left off.  Beware, spoilers ahead! Thomas, Teresa and the Gladers who survived the last book are sleeping in a dormitory. Thomas and Teresa (who is in a different room) have a telepathic conversation that cuts off suddenly when something happens to Teresa. The boys all wake up in their dorm to find that they are alone. There are Cranks, men and women  gone insane from a disease called the Flare, trying to get in through the windows, plus bodies hanging from the ceiling in the main room and Teresa is gone, replaced by a new boy named Aris. And all the boys now have tattoos on their backs with some sort of designation, like Leader or Glue. Thomas' says that he is destined to be killed by Group B.
After a few days of starvation, a man appears from WICKED, the group that put them through the maze trial. He explains that they have all been infected by the Flare disease and now much undergo one more trial: they have two weeks to make it one hundred miles to a safe hven where they will be given the cure.
Since they seem to have little choice in the matter, Minho, Newt and Thomas lead their group through underground tunnels (where horrible metal balls decapitate a couple kids) and into the scorching hot desert around where Mexico used to be. Along the way, the Gladers face more awful tests (Teresa's betrayal, a city full of Cranks, lightening that destroys some kids and of course, the mysterious Group B) and James Dashner never shies away from the violence, which is pretty intense, like The Hunger Games.  Group B is a group of girls who also went through the maze trials. More of them survived and they figured out the maze earlier than the boys (there's some girl power for you).
During all of this, Thomas keeps having dreams, which are clearly memories of his past. He meets two new people: Jorge and Brenda, who help the Gladers survive to the safe have, more or less in one piece. But the stakes are high. The very existence of humanity is at stake, and of course Thomas has no idea who he can really trust. 
I liked the sequel. I finished reading it on the subway and immediately bought the third book while walking home. I'm about 40% into it so I should finish soon. While I don't love these the same way that I did The Hunger Games, it's still an exciting series and I can't wait to see how it ends (and starts - the prequel is out in August!)

Buy it at and