Archive for Lisa

Bonk by Mary Roach

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on May 20, 2008 by Lisa

With a subtitle like The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, how can you resist reading this one? Bonk is Mary Roach’s third book exploring a taboo topic. This one, obviously, is about sex. The previous two- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife were both pretty popular. I’ve read Stiff and I have Spook in my giant TBR.

It’s a little odd to me to talk about a book about sex.  I admit, I didn’t take this one around with me. Despite this, it was a great book. The prologue is called “Foreplay” if that gives you an idea of the book. Roach is hilarious- the book is full of footnotes and it is clear that she can’t help but make mention of irrelevant things she finds amusing. For a book about science, and don’t be fooled, it IS about science, it’s incredibly easy to read. (The same could be said for Stiff.)

What did I learn from the book? Way more than I ever dreamed about the sex life of pigs. How penis implants work. How erections happen. If female orgasm is necessary for conception. How Kinsey did his research, and where. It was fascinating. I’m not going to go into greater detail, I can’t imagine what kind of people are gonna find this blog now anyway, and I’d just as soon stop here. If you are at all interested in this kind of book, I highly recommend it as a great read.

Dedication by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , , , , on May 13, 2008 by Lisa

By the authors of The Nanny Diaries, Dedication is the story of Katie and Jake, who used to be high school sweethearts. Now in their 30s, Kate has spent her entire adult life listening to Jake sing about their relationship and break-up over the airwaves. Jake is back in their hometown for the holidays and Kate rushes home to confront him about it all.

The story is told in alternating chapters from the present and their past. It starts in 7th grade and ends at prom- when Jake vanished without a word until they heard him singing about Katie on the radio. Jake has taken advantage of their friends and written about every ugly secret they ever had in high school. I really enjoyed the parts from high school. Jake was a jerk… or was he? Some of what he did was explained… maybe. The chapters about the current day were much less satisfying. One interesting thing is that the characters are about the same age I am, so the flashbacks to high school felt pretty familiar. The clothing, the makeup, the trends- all that was pretty amusing. I don’t want to give away how it ends, but I was a bit disappointed in the very end. I’m not sure if there were a skillful buildup to the end or if it’s a bit of a cop out. I can’t decide if the story actually works or not. It was an entertaining book but it won’t go on my top ten.

Candy Girl by Diablo Cody

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , , on May 5, 2008 by Lisa

Review also posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Candy Girl? Subtitled A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, Candy Girl is the memoir of Diablo Cody, a nice girl who started stripping in order to challenge herself to something scary and a little dangerous. She had a good job, a good boyfriend, didn’t have a background of prostitution, or drugs, or sexual assault or abuse. One day she walked past a strip club advertising for Amateur Night and decided to give it a go. This book is a recounting of that year.

I admit to a little bit of fascination with strippers (along with a lot of other people, judging by the rash of stripper/call girl memoirs I’ve seen around lately.) Like most everything I read, I requested this one from Paperbackswap and it sat on the shelves for a good long while. With the recent spotlight on Cody due to the success of Juno, I was inspired to pick it up. I brought it out to the living room and it sat here on my end table for a while. Last night (yes, just last night!) I picked it up and started it. I was a bit dubious during the first chapter. Cody uses a lot of slang and it really felt a bit overdone. I have so many books that I considered just giving up that quick, but I decided I owed it a couple of chapters at least. After the first two chapters she really cuts back on the slang and it becomes a lot more readable. (There is still a lot of slang, just not like in the first chapters- or the last chapter. It’s almost like she wrote those to pitch the book and then her style smoothed out during the actual writing of it.)

The book is a bit of an eye opener. I admit, I’ve never been in a strip club. I’ve never seen Showgirls.* I have no interest in male strippers. I have been in Video Blue exactly once- as part of a Bachelorette party, a phenomenon she addresses in the book. I am amazed at the line between legal and illegal and how closely the clubs skirt that line. I was fascinated by what works and what is sexy and what isn’t (Dayglo bikini gets you lapdances but fishnets are for the waitress, who knew??) Obviously, if I read the book so quickly, I ended up enjoying it. It’s not hard to read at all, no thought to it. If you’re at all offended by sex or nudity you should certainly stay away (if you didn’t know that already, I’ll just state the obvious.) If you’re looking for an account of how a “nice girl” could possibly find herself stripping, this is a good place to start.

*This reminds me, is anyone else watching Step it up & Dance on Bravo? I didn’t recognize Elizabeth Berkley at first.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , , , on April 17, 2008 by Lisa

Also posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has been on everyone’s blog in the last year or so. Most everyone loved it to death. I put it on my paperbackswap list and got it in the mail some time last year, but never got around to reading it. This January, I put it on my personal TBR challenge list (found here.) Last week when I was looking for a book for this challenge, I picked it up. I read about a third of it, and then decided to take a little break to have a baby. I took the book to the hospital and on my last day there mostly finished it. (I spent a lot of time hoping to sleep, but due to being in a “semi-private” room didn’t really sleep. Or read. Or watch tv. Just laid there trying to ignore my roommate and her family.)

Snow Flower is about two women, Snow Flower and Lily, who are pledged together as laotong- a special type of friends. Lily is poor and uneducated, but has perfect feet. Snow Flower is from a wealthy family and is very proper and educated. Over the course of the book we see both women from about age 7 until their death(s). The girls get their feet bound, are matched and married, and become mothers themselves. The laotong friendship is supposed to benefit both girls. From the beginning it is obvious how this will benefit Lily. The connection with a wealthy influential family will give her some prestige and Snow Flower will teach Lily manners she wouldn’t learn at home. It is not so clear how this helps Snow Flower. The girls marry off in very ritual ceremonies and then… wait, you don’t want to know what happens, right?

This book was fascinating look at the history of the women in China. The rituals of footbinding and the marriage traditions are very interesting. The way the women lived was very eye-opening to me. Much of the book is about nu shu- a “secret” women’s writing that Lily and Snow Flower used to communicate when they weren’t together. Snow Flower and Lily use nu shu to write important events on the folds of a fan which travels between the girls as well. The books is written as a memoir written by Lily, looking back at the past.

The pages of the book just flew by. I expected it to be hard to get into the groove because of the time period, but there was never a moment of slowness. At the beginning, I was a bit annoyed at Lily’s heavy foreshadowing of what would happen. By the end of the book it wasn’t so noticable, and it started to feel like the way Lily was berating herself rather than foreshadowing. The trajectory of the girl’s lives was perfect and dramatic. Details were revealed very slowly but when you did find some new detail it was both surprising and expected due to what Lily had already known. (Ok, that makes no sense, but trust me on it.) Overall, an excellent book, highly recommended.

This review is for avidbookreader‘s TBR challenge, and also fulfills a book on my own list. I have barely proofread it, as I have barely slept and find that prospect much more appealing. My apologies.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , , , on March 22, 2008 by Lisa

(crossposted from Books. Lists. Life.)

One day last weekend while I was confined to my chair by the weight of a lethargic almost-three-year-old I was faced with the problem of having no book within reach. My laptop was here, but I’d already read all of the internets. So I did the unthinkable, I asked my husband to choose a book for me. I should have known better. My husband reads as much as I do, but our tastes very rarely overlap. He has a strong preference for non-fiction, specifically relating to WWII, Mt. Everest, business, and baseball. He is often saying things like, “you should read this one, it’s really good!” and I say, “Sure dear, one day.” Well, that day finally came.

The book he handed me was Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. Now, we have entire shelves devoted to baseball. We watch a lot of games. It is hard to live in this house and NOT pick up on some of the names and facts. So this book didn’t come as a complete and total shock. I’d heard bits and pieces of it before. Regardless, it’s sat on the shelf for a couple of years while I said “Sure dear, one day.”

The short version of what the books is about is: it’s about how the Oakland As continue to win despite having the second lowest payroll in MLB. The long version is: oh my god there are some SERIOUS baseball geeks out there (and I’m married to one of them.) See, Oakland realized that if they didn’t do something different that they didn’t stand a chance against teams like the Yankees who have huge bankrolls. There was no way they were going to be able to buy star power. They had to find a way to work with what they could afford and still have a winning team.

They start by not listening to the scouts. They needed an all new way. They hired Harvard grads and stock traders and analysts who knew how to read the numbers. They didn’t go with “wow, he looks great” but rather “THIS stat is the one that directly correlates to wins. Who can do THAT?” When they lost s great player they carefully determined how to go about replacing what he really meant to the team. There are entire chapters devoted to single players (ie Jason Giambi). It talks about why pitching isn’t the most important factor, as I believed. There is a chapter devoted to Bill James, who is near unto a god at my house.

I wasn’t surprised that I found this interesting. I mean, it’s hard to live with baseball as much as I do and not be a little interested. I was surprised to find it entertaining. It’s really easy to read (except when it’s NOT because it does go a little over my head in places.) My only complaint is that occasionally there was a sentence in need of an editor. I don’t claim to be the world’s best at grammar- I can’t use a comma correctly to save my life- but there were way too many instances where the sentence was missing something vital- like the verb- or where the clauses didn’t match up or something. (Please note this lovely sentence I have crafted to describe my complaint!) Overall, thumbs up. If you (or someone you love) is obsessed with baseball I’d recommend reading this one.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , , on February 24, 2008 by Lisa

If you’re a reader of my other blog, you know that I’m a fan of urban fantasy. The Dresden Files are a hugely popular urban fantasy series, so it only follows that I’d eventually get around to them. My husband  has read the first 6 and has been urging me to jump on the bandwagon as well.  Last year I (we) read most of Simon R. Green’s Nightside series and did enjoy them, and Mike claims the Dresden Files are even better. So last weekend I decided to give Storm Front a try.

Storm Front is the first in the series (duh.)  Harry Dresden is a licensed detective who barely does enough business to make ends meet.  Oh, and he’s a wizard. When a brutal murder is discovered, the local police bring him in to take a look and see if it could be magical.  Add in a missing husband case, a mobster, a talking skull, some fairies, and a new illegal drug and there you have it.  Dresden is a bit annoying.  Butcher is clearly trying to strike a balance of knowing it all and being uncertain of his abilities. It comes off a bit like a geeky loser. (And I mean that in the *nicest* possible way!)  The story line itself was pretty good,  believable even.  The supporting characters aren’t so memorable, but it is a long series, so I’m sure we’ll see them again and they will develop more.

If I were to compare this first Dresden file book to the first Nightside book, I’d favor this one. Something From the Nightside  takes off into a complete fantasy world, whereas this one sticks firmly in the real world- except for the magic part. My husband says this is the weakest of the series of what he’s read, and that overall it gets much better.  I’m really glad that we have the first 6 waiting for me to dip into at will.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , , , , on January 21, 2008 by Lisa

I admit it, I’ve become something of a Jane Austen fan in the last year. Along with half the reading world it seems. Books about Austen abound. There are books about her books, books about her, books that retell her books from the standpoint of another character. It started when I signed up for DailyLit and choose Pride and Prejudice (my review here) as my first choice. I’d read P&P before but it was in high school and I didn’t remember it so well. This time around I discovered just how witty and sharp Austen is and immediately requested Sense and Sensibility (my review here). I read that one last fall and made the decision to try and read the remaining novels in 2008.

One of the many books that play off Austen is Austenland by Shannon Hale. Jane Hayes is 32 and single. She’s obsessed with finding her own Darcy and is unable to find the perfect man because of this. Her great aunt dies and leaves her a non-refundable trip to Pembrook Place. Pembrook Place is a resort where guests give up all trappings of modern life and live by the Rules of Austen’s time. It comes complete with costumed actors, clothing, dance lessons, and fake eligible bachelors. Jane (who becomes Miss Erstwhile at Pembrook Place) is to stay for 3 weeks and is determined to get over her Darcy fixation for good.

It was very hard for me to buy into the whole concept of living in that time and pretending to fall in love with the actors. I don’t have a problem with living history (I worked at a museum with costumed actors for years) but the idea that at the end of the 3 weeks she should fall in love with one of the actors was hard for me. Fortunately for me, the idea was often hard for her to fall for as well. Jane alternates between having a blast pretending to live in that time and feeling like a fool for pretending. If it hadn’t been for this awareness on her part, if she’d gone for it full speed, I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much. The actors are well done, rarely breaking character and when they did it was subtle. There was one who surprised me at the end- I really truly didn’t see it coming. I felt a bit of the P&P references were a bit heavy handed. Mr. Nobley was clearly Darcy, it couldn’t be more obviously done. Overall it was a good read and I’m a bit tempted to keep it until after I’ve finished up the rest of Austen’s novels but I think I’ll pass it on for now.

There are tons of references to Austen’s books, of course, and it just inspired me to read them even more. I have Emma and Northanger Abbey on my shelves and Persuasion waiting in email. I’m not sure which I’ll tackle next. PBS is showing the movies this winter and while I’d like to see them, I think I’ll wait and only watch the ones I’ve already read.

Review cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.