Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: Eggs by Jerry Spinelli

Well, I don't know what's gotten into me this holiday weekend, but I both started and finished this book yesterday. Part of it was the ease of reading (it's a middle-grade novel), but I guess I've had some time on my hands, as well.

I purchased Eggs quite awhile ago from Barnes & Noble. I'd been wanting to read some more middle-grade/YA fiction, since I think it's a "genre" (don't get me started on whether or not it's really its own genre) I could really get into more. There are so many books for younger readers that sound SO GOOD. So this book was an attempt to dip my toe into the middle-grade/YA pool. And, apparently, reading more YA would be good for my numbers too!

Okay. So this book was incredibly sad. I'm not sure if I would react the same way to it if I had read it at a different time, but it just made my heart ache. David, the protagonist, has recently (within the last year) lost his mother. He's living with his father and paternal grandmother and trying to cope with the loss. He's in the bargaining stage of grief - if he doesn't break any rules, his mom will come back; if he doesn't ever see the sun come up, she'll return. David hasn't made any new friends in his new town and is having trouble adjusting...until he meets Primrose. Her mother is possibly crazy, a fortune-teller who lives in her own reality, causing Primrose to move out of the house and into an abandoned van in their front yard, just to have a space of her own. David and Primrose form a tight bond, but fight just like siblings. The book details their exploits over one summer as they get to know each other and learn to deal with their losses.

This really isn't one of those books with a major central event - no one is kidnapped, murdered, raped, etc. David's mother even dies off camera. It's a book about how children deal with loss, how they come to terms with the disappearance of stability, how they learn about and cope with death. I cried as David tried to reason out the WHY of his mother's passing and groped about for a (admittedly lacking) substitute mother.

I would highly recommend this book, especially to families who are learning to cope with some kind of loss. Four and a half out of five Whatevers. I'm really looking forward to reading Spinelli's Stargirl books now. He has a great voice and doesn't condescend to kids, which makes for an enjoyable reading experience for adults too!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review: The Barfighter by Ivan G. Goldman

The Barfighter is a book I received for review from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, quite a while ago. I'm miserably behind on my reviews from LT, which probably explains why they haven't given me any books in the last several months. I'm trying to get caught up as quickly as I can, but there are just too many books out there, calling my name!

The Barfighter switches between 1965 and 1985. Our main character is Lee Cheskis, who started out as an Army boxer during the Vietnam War. Boxing for the Army was a way for men who had the talent to avoid being shipped overseas. Lee had the talent. Fast forward to the 80's, and Lee is in anger management, drifting through life, working part-time at the local college to pay the rent. He meets Marvin O'Brien in anger management and, when the boy shows promise as a fighter, decides to become O'Brien's manager to try to make a pro out of him.

Boxing is not my thing. I don't like it, I don't watch or follow it in any way, I basically, like Lee's girlfriend Lorraine, think it's a brutal sport. I don't see the point in putting two men in a ring to beat the shit out of each other and see who falls down first. So I'm not sure what prompted me to select this book for review. Maybe the Vietnam War aspect. I've always been interested in that conflict, but, unfortunately, Lee never even sees Vietnam.

This book is dude lit, if there is such a thing. We women have both chick lit and women's fiction (which I see as two different things, one being lighter and "fluffier" than the other, but both focusing on women and their relationships, usually with other women). This book does the same for men...focuses on their relationships, especially how Lee interacts with his fighter, his former sparring partner during the war, the promoters, trainers and managers he works with and comes across in his work, even random men he beats in bar fights.

The book is largely written from Lee's point of view, however there are brief instances when the point of view (although third person omniscient) switches to Valaitas, Lee's commanding officer during the war and a fellow trainer afterwards, and, at the end, to Quick O'Brien's, Lee's fighter. These switches in point of view were a bit confusing. We're used to seeing Lee's perspective and, when the POV shifted, I had to keep checking back to see if it were Lee or Valaitas who was thinking and doing these things. At the end, when the POV switched to O'Brien, I was puzzled. We'd never seen things from his perspective at all during the course of the novel, so why did it end with him? I have some ideas about that, which involve spoilers, so I don't want to get into them here, but ultimately, I didn't like the POV switch. We didn't know enough about either Valaitas or O'Brien for them to work for me as the main POV. And the ending, from O'Brien's POV, was rather abrupt. I wanted it to be tied up a little more neatly, but that's life I guess.

Overall, the book was good. Three out of five Whatevers. Someone who enjoys boxing more than I do would probably REALLY enjoy the book. There were quite a few typos for my taste, but I have a bound galley, so I'm hoping those were fixed by the time the book went to press. The book would be great for boxing enthusiasts, reluctant readers of the male persuasion, maybe even as a Christmas gift for Dad or an uncle who remember the golden days of boxing.