Tag Archives: U.C. Santa Cruz

A Not-So-Blue Christmas

We can’t mandate happiness on the calendar…  and yet…  we try to do it anyway.   We strive to be merry and joyful.

I’m not a big fan of holiday stories so I approached this trade paperback with some trepidation.   As I walked through Target one day, the cute cover caught my eye and I noticed that the author, Sandra Harper, is a USC graduate.   Ok…   I didn’t buy it that day but I finally gave in to temptation on my next trip to Borders.

Let’s just say that this book was not as bad as I feared it would be (holiday theme and all), but not as good as I hoped it might be.   Still, it’s an easy and relaxing read and if you’re going to read a story about Christmas, why not do so in December?   Oh, and it has a great subtitle:  “It’s all relatives…”

Over the Holidays deals with three women:  the usually happily married Vanessa who faces temptation in the form of a young playwright, her artist sister Thea, and sister-in-law Patience.   It seems that each year Vanessa and her all-too-dependable spouse visit the uptight, if extroverted, Patience in the Boston area for the holidays, but this year many factors combine – including economic hardships – to change the typical plans.   Thus it turns out that Patience, her husband and their soon-to-leave-for-college daughter (U.C. Santa Cruz or USC?) travel to Los Angeles to celebrate the holidays at Vanessa’s.

Part of the fun of the story is seeing how the visitors from the east react to a Christmas in a city where many simply don’t celebrate it, at least not in traditional ways.   Patience’s brood is like a trio of aliens who’ve landed in the overly sunny and warm climate of L.A.   Then there’s the fact that Vanessa and Patience have completely different perspectives on holidays:  “I’m just not great in the holiday department…  I’m better at everyday life…” says Vanessa.   To this, Patience replies, “I’m definitely a holiday person, I like to look forward to things.   Special days.   It keeps me going.”

There’s a good deal of humor in Holidays, although it’s covered up with more than a touch of sadness.   (“Why do we pretend things are different than they really are?”)   And while it’s a fun read, it starts off quite slowly, not really moving along until the reader has hit page 80 out of 325.   There are also far too many long conversations used to tell the story, to the point where it reads like a court transcript.   Pick up the book at Target, for example, and read page 66 – it’s just people talking back and forth to each other and all in quotes.

There are also too many characters for the average reader to follow without difficulty, and a few too many crude moments/scenes (and overly adult language) that could have been left out.   But in the end, the characters learn to accept what they already have and not to mistake paradise for that home on down the road.   Yes, they learn to love what they already have; at least once they’ve reached the month of January.   As Vanessa concludes:  “I love January, so blissfully free of holidays…”   Exclamation point.

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A new book giveaway!

My name is Will 2To celebrate the upcoming Wordstock book festival in Portland, Oregon – about which we’re more than a bit excited – we’re announcing our fourth book giveaway.   This time we’re giving two books away to one lucky reader.   The first is a new trade paperback copy of My Name is Will by Jess Winfield.   This book has received a 4.5 average star rating at Amazon and a 4 star average rating at Powells, so you know it has to be good!   “What a piece of work!” said the New York Times Book Review.   It’s a unique story about a University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) student, Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, whose life in 1986 shares some interesting parallels with an 18-year-old William Shakespeare circa 1582.   How’s that for a set-up?

The second book is an advance review copy (ARC) of Sara Paretsky’s mystery Hardball, which we just looked at.   Yes, this ARC is a bit used, but it is still in B+ condition.   Also, keep in mind that this 13th entry in the Detective V.I. Warshawski series will cost you $26.95 to purchase new.   This ARC is basically a trade paperback version that’s for your personal use only – it is clearly marked NOT FOR SALE.   

So, we’re offering a brand new book and a collector’s item ARC…   What do you need to do to enter?   Simple, just send your name and e-mail address to josephsreviews@gmail.com to enter this contest once.   To enter a second time, fill in the blank in this sentence, “Chicago is known as a ______ city.”   Anyone living in the continental U.S. is eligible to enter this contest, prior winners are eligible and in this instance we can and will mail to a P.O. box.     

This contest closes at midnight PDT on Wednesday, October 13, 2009.   Munchy the cat will pick the winner of the two books on October 14th and the winner will be announced here on the 15th.   That’s it, good luck and good reading!  

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Glory Days

If there’s one thing you learn as an undergraduate, it’s that trouble can always be found on a college campus.   More than a few of us will recognize facets of our own schools in Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost by Richard Rushfield.   Rushfield here writes of his years at Hampshire College “in the twilight of the 80’s.”

Hampshire, in Massachusetts, comes off as the east coast version of U.C. Santa Cruz.   At this college in the woods there  were no grades, students could design their own learning program and attending classes was – well – optional.Don't Follow MeRushfield majored in drugs, alcohol and trouble.   He found his way into the major trouble-making group on campus, the Supreme D—s.   The Supremes sound a bit like the Yellow Turban Alliance from my own first college – a legendary group whose exploits may have been real or fictional.   (Very real or highly fictional.)

The first few dozen pages of Don’t Follow can irritate the reader due to the fact that the young Rushfield is not easy to relate to.   But whether you wish to or not, you’ll soon be laughing at the exploits of Richard and his friends.   At one point in the memoir, they’re already in trouble (with administrators and their fellow students) when they decide to form a 3-member fraternity.   Oh, they decide to do this since it will make them eligible for the social activity funds (party money) distributed by the student council.   Never mind that they don’t seek recognition from the national fraternity’s headquarters.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?   And you can probably see why it took Rushfield two years to learn that he could no longer “try anything” on the Hampshire College campus, and a full five years to graduate.

Once you get a good start on this truly hilarious read, you’ll find it hard to put down!   Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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