Monday, May 28, 2007

Love Is In The Air!

Yes, even I read cheesy romances sometimes. In my humble defense, however, I didn't buy any of the following. Two were gifts, and one was a loan. Still, they were all enjoyable!

Title: Mr. Darcy’s Diary
Author: Amanda Grange

Mr. Darcy’s Diary. The title speaks for itself.

As far as Jane Austen knock-offs go, Grange’s sugary confection wasn’t too terrible. At least it didn’t make the ultimate mistake of taking itself seriously. It’s fluff, but at least it knows it’s fluff. Harmless.

If one thing irked me, it was how Lizzy’s eyes were always “sparkling” and her smile “mischievous.” Ugh.

In short, Mr. Darcy’s Diary rather reads like the Gothic romances that Austen herself skewered so brilliantly in Northanger Abbey. Not the plot, of course, so much as the cheesy writing. Sometimes I wonder how Austen would react to the current mania surrounding her. I can imagine her mocking it savagely and merrily.

The best thing about the book? It made me appreciate Austen all over again. Her critics often lambaste her marriage-happy endings, but reading a book like this makes one realize that it’s not the romance at all that’s so endearing about Jane. It’s her wit and subtlety and affectionate (often impatient) appreciation of the ridiculousness of others. No one draws the character of a self-important fool better.

I’ll recommend this for a breezy beach read, if you’re craving Austen-lite. Hell, it can’t be worse than the reputed awfulness that is Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife.

Title: Key of Knowledge
Author: Nora Roberts

Ket loaned this to me almost half a year ago. I spent a “mental vacation” evening curled up in bed skimming it, a glass of wine in one hand. That was probably sometime back in November.

In other words, I can’t remember even the slightest scrap of the plot.

At one point, I did have a legitimate (though short) review written. But then I found the following description of the book on Amazon, and realized that nothing I wrote could possibly compare. So I’m not even going to try. Here’s the review. It’s written by a kid, and entitled “censored faeire fun.”

“it was a little more adult than im used to (im only 13) but its hard to find a faerie novel that doesnt suck monkey butt”

The book doesn’t suck monkey butt. It has sex and faeries. Really, what more is there to say? I definitely voted that a “useful” review!

Title: The Givenchy Code
Author: Julie Kenner

Saving the best for last!

The Givenchy Code is another book from ket, although this was a gift rather than a loan. In fact, she’s already gave it a glowing review on this blog. It definitely lived up to my expectations, being fun, clever, and completely ridiculous (in a good way)! The only times I cringed were when the main character mentioned running in her “Prada sneakers” – which she does periodically while fleeing the crazed assassin. I can follow high fashion to a certain level, but not to the point where running is involved! Nobody can look good running…not even with Prada sneakers (sneakers?!) on their feet.

I’ll confess, the puzzles and clues stumped me. At one point I did manage to recognize the equations for a circle and a line, but I had no idea how they fit in with the code the characters were trying to break. Although this was one of the few times I’ve found all that math I had to swallow in high school and college even remotely useful in real life, which was kinda cool.

Overall, definitely recommended, especially because it’s fun to read a book that is so clearly “ket”!

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posted by Elizabeth at 8:50 PM


Friday, May 18, 2007

but seriously...

Title: Dance of the Gods
Author: Nora Roberts

This would be the middle book of the trilogy, not that it really matters.

The other couple fall for each other, sleep together, fall in love, then have to decide whether to live in our world (she’s a demon hunter from Chicago) or the magical kingdom of Geal (he’s a cousin to the queen, kindof a farmer, and has magical shape-shifting abilities where he can turn into any animal he wants!). And they’re still battling the vampires (because the epic battle is in the last book, which I already read – not that there’s any chance the protagonists in a trashy romance novel would be defeated by the queen of the vampires…).

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posted by ket at 12:16 AM


when computers take over the world, I guess they should all be like this one?

Title: Access Denied
Author: Donna Andrews

I’m pretty sure I’ve read another book with these same characters, perhaps preceding it in the timeline.

Turing is a computer. Artificial intelligence gone haywire, and she’s capable of completely independent thought. She has her assistant, Maude, and a PI they trust implicitly, Tim, in on the secret, and everyone else thinks she’s just an oddly reclusive CEO.

There’s back story involving a stolen clone of Turing who was “kidnapped” by a bad guy, who they’re trying to track down; they bring in a lawyer and a spare PI, Tim gets accused of murder and then cleared, etc., etc.

Rather bizarre. Actually, come to think of it, I also once read a series of trashy romances involving a similar AI character, that time inhabiting the car of the hero (who was highly intelligent and rich, shockingly). Anyway…

There’s a minor love interest between Maude and an FBI agent who doesn’t know about Turing and finds their activities highly suspicious, since they all keep happening upon murders.

In the end, the clone is still out there, needing to be rescued, which means there’s another book on the way.

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posted by ket at 12:13 AM



Title: The Friday Night Knitting Club
Author: Kate Jacobs

This is going to be full of spoilers. There’s a very climactic event toward the end of the book that’s totally going to be discussed here. If you ever considered reading this book, don’t go past like the second paragraph or so of this.

Georgia Walker is the single mother of a 12-year-old daughter, Dakota. She and her boyfriend at the time, James, became pregnant, and then he ran off to France, deserting her, though occasionally sending money.

Georgia was sitting in Central Park, very pregnant, and knitting, when she met Anita, an older woman with an incredibly generous nature; it was a day or so before she was about to go home to her father and rather judgemental mother. Anita saw her knitting, admired her pattern, and, respecting her pride, offered her a commission to make a sweater. As it turns out, Anita was also an avid knitter.

Over the years, with a loan from Anita (the widow of a very wealthy man), Georgia started a knitting shop, selling all kinds of fantastic yarn, but she also always harbored a dream of designing and knitting her own creations. She picked up a group of friends, some of whom were talented knitters, and others who were just good people who attempted to knit but never finished anything.

Eventually, they started just hanging around the shop on Friday nights, and it quickly turned into the Friday Night Knitting Club. Dakota, who loves to bake, uses them as guinea pigs. There’s a whole gaggle of characters – Lucie, the freelance video producer who’s over 40 and single, and who decided it was time to have a child. KC, a publisher, who Georgia worked with pre-Dakota. Peri, the former law student who gave up school to design and make a line of purses that are being carried by Bloomies. Darwin, a grad student who starts out very dismissive of these women who waste time on such an archaic hobby. Cat, Georgia’s best friend from high school who betrayed her and broke their promise to go to college together, ending up taking over her spot at Dartmouth, who ended up a trophy wife, and who, over the course of the book, leaves her incredibly awful husband, and discovers she can be herself again.

James, Dakota’s father, comes back, and wants to get to know Dakota, meeting her for the first time as a 12-year-old. He realizes he’s still in love with Georgia. Eventually, they work back towards each other, though not enough to really reveal it to Dakota, in case she gets her hopes up too high and things go awry.

Anita discovers she can fall in love again (at 72) with Marty, the owner of the deli downstairs from the knitting shop.

I read this while wishing I was good enough at knitting to make it worthwhile to purchase real yarns, like those sold at a knitting store, instead of the cheap acrylics from craft stores that I always end up playing with.

Lucie encourages Georgia to make some “how-to-knit” videos, which come together no problem, but she has so much extra footage that she makes a documentary about the knitting club. They plan a showing/release at the shop.

Georgia seems like such an incredible person – she succeeded as a single mother, raising an independent daughter while simultaneously establishing and running a business.

And then the shit hits the fan.

(this would be the part where we get into the major spoiler)

Georgia makes an appointment for Anita to see a gynecologist, since she’s been widowed for a good 10 years before starting this relationship with Marty; the receptionist coerces her into making an appointment for herself, since it’s been a while (hello, single mom with a business = no sex for years and years, so she didn’t bother).

And they found a tumor on her ovary. An aggressive one. Georgia has incredibly aggressive surgery, losing her ovaries, uterus, etc., and then having to suffer through chemo for weeks.

The knitting club rallies around her. They knit her an afghan – even the members who can barely finish a row manage an entire stripe.

Lucie goes into labor at the shop; as she and Darwin (her labor coach) rush to catch a cab to the hospital, Georgia also experiences incredible pain in her abdomen, and she’s right behind Lucie and Darwin in another cab.

Georgia has sepsis; she’s around long enough to talk to her daughter, James, Anita, and other friends, and then passes away. (I can’t begin to summarize that part.) I cried. I never cry from books; occasionally (though rarely movies), but never books. And I’m not going to blame it on the wine with dinner.

The knitting club documentary showing is already scheduled for less than a week later; it goes on, though the group barely registers what’s happening, and it’s a success.

The book ends on a hopeful note – Cat (back to Cathy, now) has started an antiques shop out in a distant NYC suburb. Dakota is living with James, and Anita moved in with Marty. Darwin reconciled with her long-distance husband (he had a residency in LA), and KC found a new, more satisfying job. Lucie, up all night every night with her baby, is editing the documentary for submission to the Tribeca film festival, and, under Peri’s management, the knitting shop is still going strong.
The story is much more nuanced than I make it sound. Very enjoyable.


posted by ket at 12:05 AM


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Contrary to popular belief, "Elizabeth" is not the actual receptacle of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE. This book is.

Title: The Areas of My Expertise, Which Include: Matters Historical – Matters Literary – Matters Cryptozoological – Hobo Matters – Food, Drink, & Cheese (A Kind of Food) – Squirrels & Lobsters & Eel – Haircuts – Utopia – What Will Happen in the Future – And Most Other Subjects
Author: John Hodgman

The image I conjure of you, dear reader, begins with this book. For if you are reading these words, chances are you are probably reading this book, or one so similar to it that it doesn’t matter. Moreover, I may presume you are holding this book with your own hands, or possibly mechanical hands that replaced your own hands after a terrible accident. […]

Finally, I may conclude that you are a curious person who thirsts for knowledge, for this is in fact a compendium of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE. Here you shall find the answers to all of the questions you have been asking.

Rejoice, Ragers, for you will never have to read another book again. (Although you may, of course, choose to.)

Why? Well, simply because John Hodgman has saved us the trouble by writing an almanac of complete world knowledge – or at least all the knowledge that matters. (This, of course, is not quite the same thing as all the knowledge that is true. But who cares about truth nowadays? “Truthiness” is far more fashionable.)

Within the pages of this slim, easily-portable volume, you will find everything you ever wished to know – or might one day need to know. You should commence the reading process immediately.

For example, you will learn that if you ever observe a woolly bear crossing the road within the same three month period as you see a cat consorting with a skunk, it is an omen that mankind will soon learn to communicate with cheese. You will also learn the basics of snow and ice warfare, and the many secrets of Yale University. Have you ever wondered about the role of eels in colonial America? You won’t after reading The Areas of My Expertise.

Most importantly, Hodgman dedicates an entire chapter to hoboes and the history of the hobo wars, when the United States of America was nearly overrun by the wily varmints. (This is before, of course, the hoboes departed the Earth for the hobo paradise, Uranus.) Who was Hobo Joe Junkpan, and how did he became Secretary of the Treasury? This book will tell you the answer. There is also a handy list of seven hundred known hobo names for your benefit. “Dora the Explorer” is number 166.

I nibbled on Hodgman’s opus over the course of several months. A chapter here, a page or two there, delicious little delicacies interspersed between weightier fare. Thus, I was able to fully digest each bountiful nugget of knowledge Hodgman imparts, savoring the experience as I felt the light of wisdom spread through me, illuminating my soul.

For example, I gave over several weeks to pondering the import of Hodgman’s “Five Secrets of Successful Negotiation.” Secret 1 reads as follows:

1. A prominent attorney writes: “Remember that as a negotiator, you are first and foremost a mental warrior.Think like a ninja. But note, it is not appropriate to dress like a ninja.” (Note: It is acceptable to dress like a samurai.)

I anxiously await the day that I can put such practical guidance to use in my own professional career. Sun Tzu never gave such good advice.

In conclusion, I repeat: this book should be read immediately.

[Reviewer’s Note: I frequently amuse myself by telling my friends (and my brother) complete and bold-faced lies. I enjoy seeing how far I can spin my tale before they either call me on it or my mouth begins “smirking.” (Usually, it’s the latter, and I don't last very long.) Readers who take a similar pleasure in outrageous lies will likely enjoy The Areas of My Expertise as much as I did.]


posted by Elizabeth at 9:39 PM


Friday, May 04, 2007

Ladies: Ever wonder why guys are terrified of you?

Paul Feig

Dear Paul Feig,

I admit, I never watched your show Freaks and Geeks. Honestly, I was in high school at the time, and didn't want to get any more of it at home. And I hated high-school-based tv shows anyway. They never look like high school to me. So maybe I'm partially to blame for the show only lasting about half a season, but at least some of those crazy kids went on to stardom, right? Tonight I might even go see your buddy James Franco kick Tobey Maguire's ass. Point being, I never really got to know you as a writer until last week, when my 16-year-old cousin recommended this book to me.

First, I'm not quite sure how to feel about the kid reading this book, especially after finishing it myself and finding out what's in there.

Second, thank you, Paul Feig, for having the courage to write this book. I don't even care if you pulled a James Frey and made the whole damn thing up, because it sure as hell felt true, and more than a little felt eerily familiar. Especially page 117. I spent a good deal of high school genuinely concerned about making my fumbling, inept, ham-fisted attempts at flirting with any girl because I had just read Disclosure, and sexual harassment suits were kind of the "in" thing to do at the time, and I generally decided that if the girl actually wanted my attention, she'd make it pretty damn clear herself first, and then I could chase her away with my romantic ineptitude. No reason to scare her off before giving her a chance, or worse yet, get sued because she REALLY didn't want my attention in the first place. (In case you're wondering, Paul, my motivations have changed--slightly--, but my tactics have not)

You've written about a topic that terrifies most of us geeks to contemplate even in the darkest recesses of our cubicle hell, or lonely Monty-Python-postered dorm rooms, or secret public blogs. We don't even like to think about our (lack-of-)love lives, and you bared every excruciatingly embarassing moment of yours to the world. I notice the chapters never proceed so far as to tell us about your wife and how that relationship flourished, though--I can only assume that after reading the rest of the book, she threatened divorce and subsequent legal action if you ever tried.

It was sad, sweet, (too) often awkwardly familiar, and so bloody goddamned funny I had to stopreading it in public places because I was usually asked to leave after a couple pages. Those emergency room staff have no sense of levity at all. You have written the story we have all thought, yet none of us dared to write it. You even put your own, real picture and name on the cover. Paul Feig, I salute you.

However, I have to tell you something about the event you described in "Please Do Not Read This Chapter". You open (after begging me several times to not read it) by saying that perhaps the reason for writing it is to find "that other guys will tell (you) that they too have done what (you are) about to tell." Um, Paul? I'll back you up on every chapter of that book, except that one. That shit is just... damn, dude. Don't get me wrong--it was funny as hell. But. Just. Damn, dude. No, I never, ever tried that. Never even considered it. Not even close.

Great book, though. Thanks for having the balls to write it--I sure don't. Yet.

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posted by reyn at 3:29 PM


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Title: Prozac Nation
Author: Elizabeth Wurtzel

This book has been on my reading list for years - probably since early undergrad at least, and I have finally gotten around to reading it.

It is the true story of a severely depressed young woman, who, in the deepest moments of depression, doesn't get out of bed for days, doesn't shower for weeks, is committed to hospitals, and so much more that epitomizes deep-seated depression.

She blames her parents' divorce when she was very young for much of her depression. Not really the divorce so much as the ensuing battles afterwards. At times her psychologists and psychiatrists contact her father, who has excellent health care benefits, to tell him that Elizabeth is in desperate need of therapy and if he would pay for it, she'd surely have a chance of getting better. Even then, despite the fact that his insurance would cover 90% of the cost, he refuses repeatedly on the grounds that it's her mother's job to pay that cost. Her mother does not have good health care, nor often a full time job.

His daughter is sick and suicidal and it's still a war between the parents.

Divorce is awful and all, but far worse is a situation in which the child is put in the middle, in which the child is made to go from parent to parent trying to solve things, in which the child's needs are not put before the parents' needs. This book very clearly shows the effects that situation can have.

Also very interesting in this book is the very end - Prozac has come out and Elizabeth has finally been given a prescription after more than a decade of battling severe depression. She writes of the overabundance of Prozac prescriptions that shot up not long after, often given out by doctors who spent less than 3 minutes talking to patients before writing the prescription. She addresses the trivialization of depression and the drugs used to treat it. It becomes so commonplace. At one point she learned that 6 million Americans had taken Prozac. If I had to sum up her feelings about the drug, it's that for far too many, Prozac has become the first treatment method, instead of a last resort as it was for her.

This was a decade ago, but what about today? Are we still taking Prozac or other antidepressants too quickly, too lightly, too easily? It's a good question. I wonder what today's statistics show about the number of people on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.


posted by Kate at 10:36 AM