Monday, March 30, 2009

mailbox delight: smart girls marry money

Smart Girl$ Marry Money is not normally a book I would seek out. Nomadreaderboy and I are getting married, and it's safe to say neither one of us is marrying for money. We are definitely in it for love. Still, I'm intrigued by this book. The subtitle of the book is How Women Have Been Duped into the Romantic Dream-- and How They're Paying for It. The opening lines of the press release are: "Why does society applaud a woman who falls for a guy's 'big blue eyes' yet denounce one who chooses a man with a 'big green bankroll'? After all, isn't earning power more a reflection of a man's values and character?" I know my economic views are left of most everyone, and I think it's more often that earning power often stems from the absence of value and character. It's outrageous to think income is a reflection of value and character. Don't we all know plenty of teachers, librarians, clergy, non-profit workers, and social workers who have value and character? Our current state of capitalism does not value contributions to society equally.

Why do I want to read and review a book that seems it will make me incredibly angry? I try to not (literally) judge a book by it's cover, and I think it's important to listen (or read) things you disagree with. In the midst of planning a wedding, I'm fascinated by all issues of love, romance and marriage. There are two authors: a producer of The Doctors (I don't know what that is) and a primary care physician. I'm curious to see the medical elements of this argument. Lastly, each woman gets one blurb, yet their shared blurb is "Both women have married (for love) and have reaped the consequences. They live in Los Angeles, CA." Is it a personal vendetta at two marriages gone bad or will it manage to be a thoughtful inquiry to what and how attracts us to mates? I'll report back soon with how many times I groan, throw the book across the room or actually enjoy it.

In the meantime, check out the reaction of Bitch magazine when they received a review copy.

picture book review: the house in the night

The House in the Night is a wonderfully simple nursery-rhyme-like story with beautiful pictures. The story, inspired by an actual nursery rhyme, involves a young girl reading a book about a bird and then imagining she is flying on the bird's back to explore the universe. The pictures appear almost like etchings. They are predominantly black and white, but each picture includes selected areas of yellow. The book literally illuminates the universe by looking at the size, shape and scope of objects. It's a book whose power lies in the simplicity of words, the beauty of pictures, and its seemingly endless ability to incite the imagination of children and adults alike. It's the perfect book to read before going to bed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

book reviews: heart sick and sweetheart by chelsea cain

I read Heart Sick on the recommendation of Stephen King, with whom I don't always agree. He had these two novels as one slot in his Top 10 of 2008. I'm also intrigued by female serial killers, especially given their statistical rareness.

Heart Sick introduces readers to brilliant and beautiful serial killer Gretchen Lowell. Gretchen managed to kill 200 people, mostly in Portland, itself almost a character in these books. She posed as a psychologist helping the task force, and she managed to kidnap and torture Det. Archie Sheridan, the task force leader. Mysteriously, Gretchen held Archie for ten days but did not kill him. In fact, she called 911 to turn herself in. Archie is physically, emotionally and psychologically scarred from the encounter; Gretchen is in prison. Quirky reporter Susan is doing a profile piece on Archie for the Portland newspaper.

Archie and Susan both offer first-person narratives. These damaged characters are emotionally compelling, and although there are many mysteries going on simultaneously, they do not clutter the narrative. I really liked Heart Sick, but I'm glad I had heard good things about it. I wanted to stop reading during the first chapter; apparently I don't handle graphic depictions of torture well. I confess to skimming the more gruesome parts (perhaps Beat the Reaper was still fresh in my mind?) I'm glad I stuck with it.

I enjoyed Heart Sick so much, I wanted to read Sweetheart next. As a duo, the novels work well together. They feel less like a series and more like two parts of the same novel. I confess, I did not enjoy the mystery and storyline of Sweetheart as much, but I did enjoy the characters more. Cain has created mesmerizing portraits of human imperfection. The third book in the series, Evil at Heart, is set to be published in September. I will be eager to read it, and I trust it will be a good story. My one hope is that Chelsea Cain recognizes the limits of these characters; at a certain point, the continuation of this story may become preposterous. Until then, I'll be tuning in.

Ratings: Heart Sick 4.5 (out of 5); Sweetheart 4 (out of 5)

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library

Thursday, March 26, 2009

book review: beat the reaper by josh bazell

Beat the Reaper is one hell of a gritty, engrossing, hilarious, but at times disturbing, mystery novel. I winced more than once at it's graphic depictions of death and medical procedures, but my heart also warmed to the unlikely hero, Peter Brown.

Peter Brown is a resident at the worst hospital in Manhattan. He's in the witness protection program because he used to be a hit-person in the mob. The story takes off quickly: someone comes into the hospital and recognizes Peter. The patient assumes Peter there to kill him; Peter assumes his cover is blown, and the patient is there as a rouse to kill him. For the rest of the novel, Bazell alternates chapters between the present day drama and the story of how Peter became involved with the mob. Bazell somehow managed to have simultaneous cliffhangers. Throughout the entire book, I was thrilled with the story unfolding in the chapter I was reading and impatiently waiting to return to the other time of the story.

Even though a few scenes turned my stomach, I loved this book. It was original, entertaining, hilarious and absolutely riveting. Nomadreaderboy read it in two sittings. The book has a pretty fantastic Web site too. I'm excited for both the movie version (set to star Leonardo DiCaprio) and Josh Bazell's next book. He must actually enjoy practicing medicine because he's already made enough on this book to be a full-time writer or retire from both professions.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Challenges: Support Your Local Library, 100+ Reading Challenge, 2009 Pub Challenge

Friday, March 20, 2009

wish list: things i want but cannot afford

Allison Moorer is one of my favorite singers and songwriters. She's also a talented designer who sells her organic creations online. I am completely enamored with this scarf, but I do not have a spare $90. At least I can stare at it online and not actually feel its softness in person.

orange prize long list announced

Orange Prize for Fiction 2009 Long List:
  • Debra Adelaide The Household Guide to Dying

  • Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress

  • Lissa Evans Their Finest Hour and a Half

  • Bernardine Evaristo Blonde Roots

  • Ellen Feldman Scottsboro

  • Laura Fish Strange Music

  • V.V. Ganeshananthan Love Marriage

  • Allegra Goodman Intuition

  • Samantha Harvey The Wilderness

  • Samantha Hunt The Invention of Everything Else

  • Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog

  • Deirdre Madden Molly Fox’s Birthday

  • Toni Morrison A Mercy

  • Gina Ochsner The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight

  • Marilynne Robinson Home

  • Preeta Samarasan Evening is the Whole Day

  • Kamila Shamsie Burnt Shadows

  • Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife

  • Miriam Toews The Flying Troutmans

  • Ann Weisgarber The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

Although I've only read one of the long list books this year, Curtis Sittenfeld's brilliant American Wife (my review is here), I love this list. For those unfamiliar with the Orange Prize for Fiction, their Web site describes the prize:
The Orange prize was set up in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction by women throughout the world to the widest range of readers possible and is awarded for the best novel of the year written by a woman in the English language. Any woman writing in English, whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter, is eligible.
American women dominate the entries this year, and most of the books are on my to read list. I'm so glad to see Curtis Sittenfeld get more acclaim for American Wife, which has become my favorite book ever.

The shortlist will be released April 21, and the prize will be awarded June 3. Good luck, Curtis!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

periodical perusing: us weekly

I shamefully, yet joyously, read US Weekly each and every week. The never ending pile of magazines to read by my beside never has any US Weekly issues in it. I can't explain why I find the news more pressing in it than The New Yorker, but I do admit I often read magazines on the verge of sleep, and my sleep-ready mind can always handle celebrity gossip, but I hate to start an article in The New Yorker I won't have to finish before sleep catches up with me.

Despite my familiarity with US Weekly, I am still regularly mesmerized by some of the sentences formed. I don't have literary expectations for this periodical, but I am still amazed at the style choices they make. For once, I am not speaking of their attempts at witty photo captions. This sentence was in the middle of a paragraph of an extended article:

"On a night when Jolie and Pitt would ordinarily be the full center of attention toasting their great year (two Oscar noms! Twins! General hotness!), the actors instead found themselves undercut by Aniston's buzzed-about presence." (March 9, 2009 issue, p. 83)

First, readers of US Weekly are familiar with the facts that Brad and Angelina were both nominated for Oscars, had twins and recognize their hotness. Dare I say, readers of US Weekly could name all six of the couple's children. Yes, I can.

I don't expect great journalism, but parenthetical exclamations mesmerized and amazed me. Does anyone really think Brangelina would toast their great year publicly? We love humble stars; we want to toast their greatness (and General hotness!), but the moment they do, we stop.