Monday, June 22, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Middle School, Actors and Homicide

I'm going to be out of commission all of this week thanks to work and travel, but before I go dark, I thought I'd take the opportunity to post some mini-reviews. A hodge-podge of titles that aren't romance (for a change of pace).

From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot is the first in a new middle-grade series and takes place in the author's Princess Diaries world.  Events in this book run parallel to the events in Royal Wedding, which was the author's first adult book featuring Princess Mia Thermopolis.  Turns out Mia's Dad is a busy boy, and he has another daughter, 12-year-old Olivia Harrison, growing up in New Jersey, being raised by an aunt and uncle after her pilot mother dies.  Word has gotten out that she's a Real Life Princess and naturally you know what that means - a mean girl bully.

This was a really cute read, complete with illustrations (which Cabot drew!), that as an adult reader you can literally plow through in an hour (I whipped through it on a lunch break at work).  What I liked here is that while Cabot is staying in her series world, Olivia isn't a cookie cutter of Mia.  Olivia is more self-assured, but still pretty typical 12-year-old girl.  A nice diversion for fans of the series and something to consider if you know any young girls in your life who may enjoy this sort of read.

Final Grade = B

I don't read (or listen to in this case) a lot of celebrity bios, but So That Happened by Jon Cryer intrigued me.  OK, I was mostly in it for the Pretty In Pink "stuff" since I've never watched Two & a Half Men a day in my life.  This was a really fun listen on audio (Cryer narrates) and a great way to pass the time on my daily commute (which can be annoying).  Cryer comes off as a nice guy, and I enjoyed all the tid-bits about his theater background (which I knew nothing about).  He also dishes some dirt without going balls-out with the mud-slinging.  Are any of us shocked that Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy don't come off so well in Cryer's PiP recollections?  Although James Spader is apparently a pretty nice guy.  Or that even when it became sadly evident that Superman IV was going to be an epic debacle for the ages - that Christopher Reeve was still, as Cryer describes, "a good soldier?"

Most people will pick this book up for the Charlie Sheen meltdown "stuff" - and Cryer doesn't disappoint.  He pretty much lays it all out - right down to his disgust with the media and hangers-on who were feeding this frenzy (Cryer was preparing himself for the day when he would get the phone call informing him Charlie was dead).  I wouldn't say you need to drop your life and pick up this book right now - but as far as celebrity bios go this one was light and entertaining.  I'm not sorry I listened to.

Final Grade = B

 Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy was another audio listen and the sort of book I feel guilty about not liking more.  It's about South Los Angeles and the book is framed around the murder of a cop's son - that cop living in South LA with his family and working for the elite LAPD RHD (Robbery Homicide) division.  His son's case is assigned to a local homicide unit in South LA, and it taken up by one of the best detectives in that unit.

My disappointment in this book stems from my own expectations.  I wanted a more narrative style true crime story.  Where we really get to know all the players, and crawl around in their heads like they were "characters."  Leovy is a journalist and that's how this book is written.  When she starts rattling off statistics and gets into Let Me Educate The Reader mode, my eyes would glaze over.  Largely because a lot of the stuff she is "educating" the reader about is stuff I already knew.  She does do a good job with the homicide detectives and detailing how their work (and world) is different from that of uniformed cops who patrol the streets - but while she does introduce us to some players in those neighborhoods?  Not enough for my liking and her humanization of all the players (cops, criminals, innocent bystanders - all of them) wasn't as in depth as I wanted.

But.

It's an important book.  My gut tells me though that the people who should read it, and really think about it, will likely dismiss it out of hand because again - I don't think Leovy spends enough time on "humanizing" the players and having us "get to know them" outside of their "type."  It's too easy to still put everyone in their own little box (OK, you go in the cop box and you go in the gangster box and you go in the lawyer box).

So Wendy's grade would probably be a C.  But I feel guilty about that C because really that's a Wendy's Gut Reaction C.  It was kind of a slog at times, even on audio.  But the topic, the research?  It's probably more in the B range for a typical non-fiction reader.

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