Monday, December 23, 2013

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn ---------------------- 2.5 Stars

It was not long ago I finished Gillian Flynn's smash hit Gone Girl, which earned a very solid review from me back in August.  It only seemed like a natural to check out her earlier book Sharp Objects when a friend recommended.  I don't if my expectations were so high after reading Gone Girl, or if the book is just not good, but I was not a big fan.

If you had the pleasure of reading Gone Girl (which, if you haven't, you really should stop reading this right now and go pick that up) you know how great a gruesome mystery novel can be. Riddled with great plot elements, crazy characters, and a side of yuckiness that worked perfectly together, it was a great novel.  I think Flynn tried to do the same with this book, but it just didn't work as well.  (Side note: this actually came first so I probably shouldn't compare them that way; maybe this book helped her get to Gone Girl :) ). 

Basic plot -- newspaper writer who follows the crime beat, goes back to small town in Missouri she grew up in to cover the story of two murders of young kids.  Shocking, she gets woven into the craziness of the town and has something to do with the killer/killings.  So, not a bad set up, but we have some problems.

1. I never bought into the character as she just never seemed real to me.
2. Some of the story lines were so ridiculous especially those of her 13 year old sister and crazy mother
3.  I never bought into some of the workings of the police and cops
4.  There was minimal action and the "mystery" was so slow to develop
5.  Some of it was just gross

There were some good parts though.  It WAS fairly entertaining and an easy read.  It had a lot of dialogue, which I like and the story was pretty scary so it kept me interested for the most part (just slow).

Overall, do yourself a favor and check out Gone Girl if you haven't yet.  If you love it, and are okay with a second best novel with similar theme and set up, then read Sharp Objects, otherwise, I say it's a skip.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How Children Succeed -- Paul Tough ------------------------ 4 Stars

I try not to read too many education books during my free reading time.  As I do it for a living, it's nice to have a get a way sometimes as I spend time with it all day long.  So, when I do read education focused books, those that are written in a 'non-academic' way, are the easiest to get through.  Those that are also quite interesting are a big bonus.  So, Paul Tough's How Children Succeed was a pleasure it was an easy and fascinating text. 

The subtitle of this book is "Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character", you can probably gather that the main focus of the book is the author's claim that how much effort a students put into school is the most important element of success.  This goes counter to what many believe, as most think student's IQ and intelligence is the main determinant of future well being.  Needless to say, I truly enjoyed the idea behind his premise and believe in it fully.

The book is a quick, easy read and he does a fine job of relating a variety of anecdotal and data drive information to prove a variety of points.  Written in a "Gladwellesque" style, the reader goes from chapter to chapter being told interesting story after interesting story all to make certain points clearer and more easy to believe. 

While I think Tough's major push in the book was to get a wide audience to read the book in a bigger context of looking at students in a whole in our educational system, he really does a bait and switch as his true goal is to make the reader aware of his biggest area of interest: poor students in under performing schools.  Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a great book and well argued, but the major case he is making are for specific ways we could change the system to make massive saves of a consistently under performing, and often forget about, group.  He reminds me a lot of Jonathan Kozol, for you fans of him.

No real drawbacks besides the fact that the book does not fully deliver on the expectation of the title.  Additionally, it does kind of get bogged down in some areas and I don't think he hammers home his points as well as possible.  Also, as I judge mostly on entertainment value, this book does pretty well but it's still a book about education, albeit, an awfully good one that I urge you to read even if you are not an educator as it gives you great insights into why people are successful.