Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin ***

I'm going to attempt to read all the Mark Twain Award nominees again this year, & this is my first one! 
If you like solving all kinds of puzzles, then this may be the book for you.  Eric Berlin does a good job of injecting math, word, geometry, & other kinds of puzzles into this fairly entertaining book.
Winston Breen is a puzzle sleuth, so when he helps the principal of his junior high solve a puzzle they find out that there is going to be a puzzle-solving competition, & of course Winston will be on the team from his school.  The team of three students & one teacher must solve 6 different puzzles in order to win the prize:  $50,000 for their school.  But they're up against some of the best puzzle pros in the area.  Can they win?  And which team is cheating?
There was a lot of excitement in this book as the teams raced to solve the puzzles, but I was confused by the difficulty of some of them.  Some were so hard to me that it seemed like I'd never have solved them on my own (lucky for me the answers are in the back of the book!).  Yet I was surprised that the final puzzle wasn't as hard as I expected.  Also I thought there would be more of a twist in the story at the end, so I was mildly disappointed when I reached the end of the book. 
Overall, though, I think it's a great book for the puzzle-minded kid aged 8-14.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes ***

Tony is remembering his first girlfriend from back in the 60's.  He's retired now, divorced, & rather confused when he gets an inheritance from Veronica's mother.  Why would he get 500 pounds from his ex-girlfriend's mom 40 years later?  He soon finds out it has something to do with his friend Adrian. After Tony & Veronica broke up back then, she started dating Adrian.  A few months later, Adrian killed himself.  Is Tony remembering the past correctly?  And what is the past, if not what we remember? 
Overall, this was a great book.  The writing was excellent & it read quickly.  You tend to feel Tony's confusion along with him, & you can become very emotionally invested in the outcome.
That said, there are two things about this book I didn't like.  The first is something that has happened to anyone who reads. You've heard of a great book, everyone says it's the wonderful.  So you get it & read it.  And you just don't quite get it.
That happened to me with this book.  It has a twist at the ending & I understood that.  But there was an aspect of it that I just didn't grasp, & it's not because the author didn't supply it, it's because sometimes I just don't get the obvious.  I don't want to give away the ending, but it's so hard not to & properly discuss this book.  So I'm going to make an announcement:


OK, so in the end we find out that Adrian killed himself because he'd gotten Veronica's mother pregnant.  Alright, I get that.  But what I fail to grasp is why Tony has anything to do with that.  There's the implication that maybe he somehow encouraged it in his angry letter to Adrian when he found out he & Veronica were dating.  But I don't see how that has made him some sort of accomplice to the whole affair.  I just don't get it, so if you've read this book & you understand what the heck is going on, please leave a comment & tell me!
The second thing that upsets me is the portrayal of Adrian's son.  He obviously has a developmental disability of some sort, but lame approach is taken that this is a horrible tragedy.  I guess I'm tired of seeing people with those types of disabilities as being tragic figures.  They can be tragic, don't get me wrong, but not because of their disability.  The only tragedy that I saw was the fact that a young man would rather kill himself than deal with impregnating someone, even if it is his girlfriend's mom. 
And that brings me back to the first problem--why would she leave money to Tony? 
I think I better just leave it there & start reading a new book!