One-Minute Book Reviews

February 25, 2010

2010 Delete Key Awards Finalist #7A (tie) – ‘Stories From Candyland’ by Candy Spelling

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Candy Spelling’s Stories From Candyland tied with Tori Spelling’s Mommywood for this spot on the shortlist.

From Candy Spelling’s Stories From Candyland (St. Martin’s), a memoir of her life with Dynasty producer Aaron Spelling:

“There’s a big celebrity culture that you’d have to be here in L.A. to truly understand.”
Unless your supermarket sells the National Enquirer.

“Celebrities get way too much attention and credit, but they certainly sell movies, music, products, and entertainment.”
The way to fix that is by writing a memoir about your famous family and your celebrity friends?

“Being a celebrity, knowing celebrities, working with celebrities, writing about celebrities, feeding celebrities, repairing celebrity cars, and photographing celebrities – these are just some of the elements of our local economy. There is no end to the public’s fascinating with all things (and people) celebrity.”
Enough word-repetition for an early reader called Dick and Jane Go to Hollywood.

Read the full review of Stories From Candyland.

The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being named in random order, beginning with No. 10, but numbered for convenience. This is finalist No. 7A, which tied with finalist No. 7B, Tori Spelling’s Mommywood, for this spot. You can also read about the Delete Key Awards on Janice Harayda’s page (@janiceharayda) on Twitter. The grand prize winner and runners-up will be announced on March 15 on One-Minute Book Reviews and on Twitter. 

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

 

2010 Delete Key Awards Honorable Mention – ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ by Rhoda Janzen

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:46 am
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From Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home (Holt):

“Al’s enrollment at St. Veronica’s had not been a shoe-in, but Phil and Hannah had decided that Christian guilt was better than bad math.”


“With a pattern of dodgy behavior already established, I was a shoe-in for further scrutiny.”


“Aaron sang close harmonies in a madrigal group, his rich-timbered baritone blending like butter.”

You could argue using “shoe-in” for shoo-in and “timber” for “timbre” ought to have won Janzen an automatic spot on the shortlist. But copyeditors typically catch such mistakes and may have caught similar errors in the books of the other finalists. So Janzen gets only an honorable mention to avoid penalizing her for lapses by an editor.

Read the full review of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.

You can also read about the 10 Delete Key Awards finalists on Janice Harayda’s page on Twitter (@janiceharayda). The winner and runners-up will be announced on March 15 on One-Minute Book Reviews and Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 5, 2009

A Rain Delay for Mitch Albom’s ‘Have a Little Faith’

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A short rain delay for my post on Have a Little Faith, Mitch Albom’s memoir of his encounters with his childhood rabbi in New Jersey and a pastor he met as an adult in Detroit: The review scheduled to appear this week will be posted next week.

May 6, 2009

How Tori Murden McClure Became the First Woman to Row Alone Across the Atlantic in Her New Memoir, ‘A Pearl in the Storm’ – Coming Soon

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Remember when your eighth-grade English teacher told you that the three great themes in literature were “man against man, man against nature, and man against himself”? My favorite man-against-nature books include Adrift (Mariner, 256 pp., $14.95, paperback), Steven Callahan’s bestselling memoir of spending 76 days lost at sea on an inflatable raft after his sailboat sank during a race from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. The woman-against-nature category has produced other gems, such as Atlantic Circle (Norton, 1985), Kathryn Lasky Knight’s true story of sailing across the Atlantic with her husband. Can Tori Murden McClure hold her own in her new memoir of rowing solo across the Atlantic, A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean (HarperCollins, 304 pp., $24.95)? A review will appear soon.

February 5, 2009

A Review of Jon Scieszka’s ‘Knucklehead’ — Coming Saturday

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:48 pm
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Jon Scieszka first captured the hearts of preteen boys when he launched his popular “Time Warp Trio” series about three time-traveling male friends whose escapades had wacky titles like Your Mother Was a Neanderthal. Scieszka has since become a supernova in children’s literature: He’s won awards, seen the “Time Warp Trio” tales made into a series on the Discovery Kids Channel, and been named the first national ambassador for young people’s literature by the Library of Congress. Now he returns to writing for preteen boys in Knucklehead : Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka (Viking, 106 pp., $19.99), a memoir of growing up with five brothers in Michigan during the baby boom. How does it compare to his earlier work? One-Minute Book Reviews will have a review Saturday.

© 2009 Janice Harayda.

December 22, 2008

The Five Worst Books of 2008 – Entertainment Weekly’s Annual List

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Which authors deserve a lump of coal in their stockings this year? Tina Jordan and Kate Ward of Entertainment Weekly have compiled the magazine’s annual list of the five worst books of the year, and the winners are:

1. Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger: “There’s something to disappoint everyone” in this novel by the author of The Devil Wears Prada, the EW critic Jennifer Reese wrote when she reviewed the book in May. “Those who prefer to dismiss the author as a backstabbing ditz without a shred of talent will be sorry to hear her third book isn’t entirely unamusing … But anyone looking forward to a dishy beach read à la The Devil Wears Prada will be even sorrier to hear that the fluffy fun bits are lost in a blobby mess of a narrative.”

2. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. Barry spent $50,000 to self-publish this novel about a woman who returns to her hometown of Salem, Masschusetts, and tells people’s fortunes through a piece of lace, but it didn’t bewitch the EW editors.

3. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. “This much-hyped book is eye-bulgingly atrocious, packed with medieval history to disguise prose that’s worse than your average Dungeons & Dragons blog,” Gregory Kirschling wrote in an EW review. “The unnamed narrator is a repugnant coke-addled porno actor … who, in the first scene, burns himself alive after driving off a bridge while high.”

4. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey. What could Frey do for an encore after admitting that he made up parts of his memoir, A Million Little Pieces? Write “this slack, self-indulgent mess” of a novel, EW says. Frey did a lot of research for on LA for the book, and it shows, badly: “He produces lists of gang names, eight pages describing the city’s highways, five pages of natural disasters in its history, another five naming patients in VA hospitals, eight pages of ‘Fun Facts’ and ‘Facts Not So Fun.’ The lists go on. And on.”

5. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs. “How many lurid memoirs can a writer get away with before we suspect he’s full of baloney?” EW‘s Reese asked in her review of this book by the author of Running With Scissors. She added: “In 2005, the family Burroughs lived with as a teenager sued him, alleging that he fabricated and sensationalized events in Scissors; last year, he settled for an undisclosed sum. There is no one to challenge his version of events in Wolf, as his father is dead … “

Read more about why the EW editors think you should avoid these books at www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20246889,00.html.

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the winners of its annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books on March 15, 2009. Read about last year’s winners and find samples of their bad writing at oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/03/page/2/ (three posts on the same day for the winner, first runner-up and second runner-up, which you ‘ll see below the Daughter of York review when you click on that link). You can find earlier winners using the Search box to search for Delete Key (without quotes).

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 10, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda — Dewey Is Not Marley

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:47 am
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My library wouldn’t let me take out the story of Dewey the Library Cat today because I owe $38 in fines. I was willing to pay the fines, but the library refused to take my money. A staff member said I have to bring my overdue books back first. Apparently I am the literary equivalent of a drunk who has had so many accidents, she can’t get bail until she goes into rehab.

I read bits and pieces of the book before my privileges got cut off, and here is my opinion of Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (Grand Central, 288 pp., $19.99), the No. 1 bestseller by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter. Dewey is not Marley, because Vicki Myron is not John Grogan. Not close. And Marley was a bad, bad dog. Dewey was a good, good cat that, as a kitten, got dropped into a metal after-hours book-deposit slot at a library in Iowa on a freezing winter night.

Dewey a sweet memoir by the librarian who found him the next day with frostbite, and I might give it to a couple of people for Christmas. But I had the feeling that after 50 pages or so, you’d wish this cat would show a little of Marley’s spirit and start destroying priceless first editions of The Son Also Rises. What would the visitors to Dewey’s Facebook page think of that idea www.facebook.com/pages/Dewey/34303826286?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 17, 2008

Tuesdays With More Jewelry – The 13 Women You Meet in ‘The Necklace’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:34 am
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“I told Wayne, ‘I’ll make a deal with you. If you vote for Bush I’ll give you sexual favors.’ I live with a Democrat. What else could I do?’ Men are distracted by their little brain, as we call it.”
— Nancy Huff, who chipped in with 12 other women buy a $15,000 diamond tennis necklace, on her husband, Wayne

The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives. By the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis. Ballantine, 240 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

Think of this book as Tuesdays With More Jewelry. Or For One More Day With a $15,000 Necklace. Or The 13 Women You Meet in Midlife If You’re Planning to Live to Be 100+.

Mitch Albom doesn’t have a new book out this year, but if you’re having withdrawal symptoms, The Necklace offers an antidote in the form of a variation on the Tuesdays With Morrie formula: Take two or more middle-aged or older people, have them meet regularly, and write about the self-evident truths they say “learned” from their get-togethers.

In this case 13 California women, all in their 50s or early 60s, chipped in to buy a $15,000 diamond tennis necklace and named it Jewelia. Then they took turns keeping it for a month at a time, sometimes lending it to others or using it as a draw for fund-raisers, and wrote a book about their experiences.

The Necklace brims with praise for the benefits of sharing a necklace that has 118 diamonds. One borrower said, “I’d been depressed because I’m overweight, but the necklace made me feel happy.” This is not a practical solution to America’s obesity epidemic.

Even so, The Necklace has more going for it than much of Albom’s fare, chiefly because the sex is better. The owners of the necklace had an understanding: “Each woman, when it’s her time with the necklace, has to make love wearing only the diamonds.” Thus we learn that Nancy Huff gave her husband “sexual favors” in return for a vote for George Bush. (“I live with a Democrat. What else could I do?”) Dale Muegenburg surprised her husband by dressing in schoolgirl porn — “a plaid, pleated miniskirt, a sexy white blouse, and kneesocks” — when they stayed in a dorm at his college reunion.

As proof of what they learned from their purchase, the women offer banalities — including talk about about “second chances” and “the road less traveled” — that hardly seem worth an investment of more than $1,000 apiece. But the bromides don’t count the book, movie and other deals that flowed in after the media heard about their project. And although none of the women acknowledges it, each owner of The Necklace learned something about her death if not about her life: Each woman now knows what the first line of her obituary will be.

Best line: “Men are distracted by their little brain, as we call it.”

Worst line: “Patti didn’t feel the same ecstasy with regard to the group necklace. ‘Diamonds are too common for me.’”

Reading group guide: A reading group guide to The Necklace was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on Nov. 17, 2008, in the post that directly preceded this review.

Caveat lector: This review was based on an advance reading copy. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Wish I’d written that: Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times: “The group unquestionably helps others by using the necklace to raise money for charities and by appreciating the intangible, self-actualizing gifts that can’t be had in jewelry stores.

“But real honesty and insight are antithetical to this book’s experiment. It wants to simultaneously exploit and renounce the same craving. So the diamonds are cannily manipulated throughout The Necklace to both titillate and congratulate readers and to reinforce what they already know.” stores.
www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/books/05book.html?pagewanted=print

Editor: Susan Mercandetti

Published: September 2008

Read an excerpt at www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345500717

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Necklace’ by the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives
By the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

A few years ago, thirteen California women agreed to pay $15,000 for a diamond necklace and take turns keeping it for a month at a time. They explain why they did it – and what they got out of it – their collective memoir, The Necklace, a New York Times bestseller.

Questions for Readers

1 The Necklace has the subtitle Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives. Did the authors of this book convince you that their lives really had been “transformed”? Why or why not?

2 The authors began to attract media attention when Maggie Hood (“the adventurer”) told KCBS-TV in Los Angeles that she would be skydiving in a diamond necklace — an event that seems to have occurred not long after the purchase. [Page 79] This development makes it harder to tell whether the women’s lives were changed by the necklace or by becoming celebrities. What do you think accounted for any transformations that occurred: the diamonds or the publicity (including the resulting book and movie deals)? Would the necklace have had the same effect without the media attention?

3 Some of the women in The Necklace make pointed comments on how Americans see middle-aged women. Roz McGrath (“the feminist”) says, “I hate it when people call me young lady.” [Page 190] Do you think The Necklace makes a statement about women “of a certain age”? What is it?

4 Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times: “Because Ms. Jarvis writes in the simple, virtual Young Adult format of self-help, The Necklace gives each woman a stereotypical handle: ‘The Loner,’ ‘The Traditionalist,’ ‘The Leader,’ ‘The Visionary’ and so on. (‘The Feminist’ is the group’s only brunette.) It shapes each thumbnail character sketch to fit these stereotypes.” Do you agree that the book stereotypes the owners of the diamonds? Or do you think the handles were just chapter titles?
www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/books/05book.html?pagewanted=print

5 Maslin also wrote that “real honesty and insight are antithetical to this book’s experiment. It wants to simultaneously exploit and renounce the same craving [for diamonds]. So the diamonds are cannily manipulated throughout The Necklace to both titillate and congratulate readers and to reinforce what they already know.” Do you agree that the authors of the book want to have it both ways?
www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/books/05book.html?pagewanted=print

6 The Necklace was written before the current financial crisis. In theory, this shouldn’t matter, because good books are timeless – but sometimes it does. How did the economic turmoil affect your view of the book?

7 Each of the 13 owners of the necklace gets similar amount of space in this book. This approach differs from that of most novels and many nonfiction books, which give characters space based on their importance to the “plot.” How well did it work? Would you have liked to hear more about some women and less about others?

8 At one point, a group of men see the diamonds and debate what they could share: “a boat, an RV, a Porsche?” [Page 128] Would a similar experiment have worked with men? Why or why not?

9 Were you surprised by how lonely some of the authors sounded – at least before they bought the necklace – even though they have full lives? For example, Mary O’Connor (“the rock ’n’ roller”) says: “Having these women in my life fills a tremendous void.” [Page 183] Do you think that loneliness is unique to women or to women of a certain age? Or does it affect men?
10 What did you think of Jonell McLain’s “guideline”: “Each woman, when it’s her time with the necklace, has to make love wearing only the diamonds.” [Page 62] Do you think she was serious? How well would this have worked in your circle of friends?

Vital Statistics:
The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives. By the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis. Ballantine, 240 pp., $24. Published: September 2008

Read an excerpt and more at www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345500717

A review of The Necklace appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Nov. 17, 2008, in the post immediately following this guide www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/11/17/.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. To avoid missing them, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com/twitter

November 13, 2008

Andrew Bridge’s ‘Hope’s Boy’ – A Memoir of His Experiences in Foster Care, He Says

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A former foster child recalls his time in “the closest thing that Los Angeles County had to a public orphanage.”

Hope’s Boy. By Andrew Bridge. Hyperion, 306 pp., $22.95.

By Janice Harayda

Like Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, Hope’s Boy deals with a subject so tragic you wish the book were more credible. Andrew Bridge says he spent 11 years in foster care, part of it in “the closest thing that Los Angeles County had to a public orphanage,” after being snatched from his apparently psychotic mother on a street by authorities who made too little effort to reunite them after placing him with another family. And he makes a fair case that those things did happen to him.

But Bridge undercuts his credibility by describing early childhood and later events in implausible and gratuitous detail, including pages of line-by-line dialogue. Generations of creative-writing professors have said in effect to their students: If you want to get your character out of a parking lot, you can just have him drive away. You don’t have to say that he got out his keys, unlocked the door, and climbed in the car. Hope’s Boy is full of such padding and is consequently far longer than necessary. It is also overwrought. Bridge shows his love of purple when he describes going to bed at night when he was in kindergarten: “Tired, my mind emptied slowly into the raven night of the room’s deepening corners.”

Yet amid the surfeit of detail, Bridge leaves many questions unanswered. Why doesn’t he give the real name of his high school, where he clearly did well? Why does his say nothing about his time at Harvard Law School and instead go from his acceptance in once sentence to his graduation in another, though his book carries his story well into adulthood? Why doesn’t he mention the religion of the woman who served as his foster mother for 11 years, whom he says the Nazis had imprisoned in a Dachau satellite camp for children?

Bridge says he has changed “identifying details.” But if you change details, your story still needs to cohere. It’s natural to assume, for example, that a Holocaust survivor would be Jewish and Judaism would play a role in her life. And if this was true of his foster mother, Bridge doesn’t say so. He portrays her so unflatteringly that you wonder if he ignored the religious issue for fear of appearing anti-Semitic. But because he says his foster mother spent four years a labor camp, the issue is there, anyway. His silence just makes things murky. And Hyperion has billed his book as a memoir of “one boy who beat the odds.” Don’t we have a right to know if religion helped or hurt him along the way?

In an epilogue, Bridge tries to put his experiences in a national context by drawing on court records of the mistreatment at Alabama’s Eufaula Adolescent Center in the 1990s. This final section describes practices such as confining children for indefinite periods in six-by-nine foot cells, abuses that led to the appointment of a court-ordered monitor for Eufaula. Brief and direct, the epilogue is the strongest part of the book, because it reflects a principle too little in evidence elsewhere: Real tragedies are often so painful to read about that they are best served by understatement.

Best line: “Over half a million American children live in foster care. The majority of them never graduate from high school, and overwhelmingly, they enter adulthood only semiliterate. Fewer than ten percent of former foster children graduate college; many experts estimate the number is closer to three percent. Thirty to fifty percent of children aging out of foster care are homeless within two years.”

Worst line: Another example of Bridge’s overwrought prose appears when he describes the school bell that rang daily to announce the start of classes at his high school: “Every morning, the claxon was loud enough to taunt the boundaries of silence. Pricking thousands of eardrums, the blast walloped though the wide corridors lined with amber-colored lockers, then with nothing to stop it other than exhaustion, it spread over the large campus, across the lines of concrete and grass, dicing through the chain link fences. Muted by it, students and teachers halted their progress for the slightest moment, then once it ceased, proceeded onward with their new day.”

Published: February 2008 www.HopesBoy.com

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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