I’m Hooked: The Husband’s Secret is Great (and Not at All as Soap-Opera-ish as the Title) from Page 1

the_husbands_secret1-e1391558876465I started in on “The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty, and no, it’s not soap opera fan fic (though…note to future self: Be a millionaire by writing soap opera fan fic)—it’s about a woman who comes across a letter from her dead husband who is not-so-dead. They each wrote letters to each other in the event of either’s death, and she happened to find his before he kicked the bucket. Turns out, he’s been harboring a fairly nasty secret, and now she has to decide whether or not to tell on him. Oh, marriage, you crafty minx.

Anyway, that’s not what got me hooked. It’s the paragraph Ms. Moriarty included before the book even begins:

“Poor Pandora. Zeus sends her off to marry Epimetheus, a not especially bright man she’s never even met, along with a mysterious covered jar. Nobody tells Pandora a word about the jar. Nobody tells her not to open the jar. What else has she got to do? How was she to know that all those dreadful ills would go whooshing out to plague mankind forevermore, and that the only thing left in the jar would be hope? Why wasn’t there a warning label? And then everyone’s like, Oh, Pandora. Where’s your willpower? You were told not to open that box, you snoopy girl, you typical woman with your insatiable curiosity; now look what you’ve gone and done. When for one thing it was a jar, not a box, and for another—how many times does she have to say it?—nobody said a word about not opening it.”

Can’t wait to keep reading!

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Movie-Based-On-A-Book Review: The Great Gatsby

GG Movie

Despite an almost to-the-word adherence to the book by the Baz Luhrmann-directed movie incarnation of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby, I can’t say that the movie does the book  justice. But you know who it does justice? Baz Luhrmann. And barely even then.

The tragedy of The Great Gatsby the movie, besides the story (obviously), is that without the spectacle that is Baz, it could have been great. It had all the makings of a great movie: a willing cast that slipped subtly into their roles, fabulous costumes and music that was, somehow, both appropriate and inappropriate. It’s hard to comment on the script in that if it were bad, no one in Hollywood would have touched it. Who wants to screw up Fitzgerald?

If you’ve read the book, you know how big a role symbolism plays in it: the green light, the ash heaps, the ever-vigilant eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the changing seasons that mirror Gatsby’s moods. While many people don’t like how over-wrought the symbolism is in Fitzgerald’s writing, Luhrmann takes it to a new level of in your face-ness—to the point that, after the first couple of scenes, you’re going, “OK, I get it! Are you done yet?”

And if wading through the muck of obvious symbolism wasn’t annoying enough, let’s talk about 3-D. I should tell you that I didn’t see the movie in 3-D, but if you’re going, you should. There are many parts of the movie that would have been better, specifically the party scenes. And, at the very least, the writing that jumps from Nick’s page and runs across the screen IN CASE WE MISSED IT at least feels like it would serve a purpose. Otherwise, it’s too much.

It sounds like I don’t like Baz Luhrmann movies, but that’s not true. He has a unique style—quick, jerky, exaggerated—that serves him well for movies like Moulin Rouge. While, at the beginning, it seems like the movie was about to amp up and go full speed, Luhrmann style, it seems like he stopped short of his signature type of all-out crazy and instead just said, “whatevs.” I mean, like I said earlier, he still makes it typical Baz spectacle, just not in the right way.

Enough with the complaining. What’s great about The Great Gatsby? Well, Leo is great. Particularly at the end, when he’s waiting for Daisy to call. His hope is so heartbreaking and it almost makes you think he’s right—she will call! She must! Even though you’ve read the book and know exactly what’s about to happen, you think maybe you read it wrong and everything will turn out fine.

Carey Mulligan is good, but not hypnotizing like I’d imagine a real-life Daisy would be. Her looks make her perfect to play any 20s-era character, but her voice isn’t full of money. Not that it matters here, because Gatsby’s biggest line in the entire book ISN”T EVEN IN THE MOVIE. Issues. I have issues with this.

Overall, I’m inclined to tell people—see it, don’t see it, it won’t change your life, but it won’t waste your $23 (at least here in L.A. Side note: remember when movie tickets were $6? Ah, the 90s).

Bitch Rating: 2.5 out of 4 bitches — worth watching.

Title: The Great Gatsby

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Length: 142 minutes

The Worst: Movie Posters as Book Covers

Seriously …

GG Movie

Is there anything worse …

the road

Then going to the book store, excited to read a new book  …

let the right one in

Only to find …

fight club

THIS

American-Psycho

NOOOOOOO. Wrong.

atonement

extremely-loud-and-incredibly-close-cover-195x300

memoirsofageishavintagecanadasmall

shutter island

high fidelity

lovely bones

Gender Neutral Book Covers, Please

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The call-to-action started with a simple tweet yesterday from author Maureen Johnson: “I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says: ‘Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it – signed, A Guy.'”

The Huffington Post continued the discussion with a slideshow of re-imagined covers of famous books written by men but designed as if they were written by women. It was brilliant.

I’ll admit that I had never noticed this, um, I’m going to call it a “point” instead of a “problem,” as I’m still not sure it’s something to complain over—anyway, I’d never really noticed this point until it was brought up. But even in discussion, I’m just not convinced this is an actual thing. It seems like it would be more common and concerning in the Young Adult book market, where growing teens are extremely concerned with gender stereotypes and may actually judge a book by its cover.

But in a market for grown-ups? Eh. As an example, I’d like to present one of my all-time favorite book. Not by a woman, but just ever, and it happens to be written by a women: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Definitely not a girly cover.

However, this small discussion seemed to open up to a much wider issue detailed in an article from The Guardian, “Coverflip: Author Maureen Johnson Turns Tables on Gendered Book Covers,” written by Allison Flood:

Bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult agreed. It’s “totally true”, she told Johnson. “I was critiqued for having ‘obligatory romance’ in all my books. When in fact, just last year, my book had none,” she tweeted. “Why is it ‘domestic fiction’ if a woman writes about family/relationships, but if a man does that, it’s Pulitzer-worthy? … The follow-up: what would happen if a woman submitted a book under male pseudonym to a publisher? Would it be treated differently?”

Amanda Hocking, the million-selling self-published novelist who landed a mega-bucks book deal for her paranormal romances, said the “gender cover-up” exposed by Johnson had made her “angry”. “I’m sick to death of this. I am so sick of the constant, blatant sexism. And any time anyone points anything out as being sexist, they’re accused of ‘whining’ or ‘nagging’ or ‘not taking a joke’,” wrote Hocking on her blog. “From the Steubenville rape trial to the obituary of Yvonne Brill, to the fact that more women read books than men, more women write books then men, but only a small fraction of books that win literary awards are written by women. Women are the publishing industry’s bread and butter, we are the backbone of the damn entertainment industry, but we are constantly demoted to ‘fluffy’ to ‘light’ to ‘meaningless.'”

Comments are there below for your views. Discuss!

Side note: I am, like many other readers, anxiously waiting for Marisha’s sophomore effort, Night Film, due out August 20 (two days after my birthday—it’s like she knows!)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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There’s only one word I wouldn’t use to describe Ranson RiggsMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: peculiar. And what a shame, because this is a really cool idea for a book.
Don’t get me wrong, the characters are plenty peculiar in the sense that they’re different. But “magical” or “unusual” may be better words for what these children are.

Also, the description tends to be a bit misleading. It comes off as though the protagonist, Jacob, travels oversees to a remote island to find out more about his grandfather’s past and meets “peculiar” children who turn out to be dangerous. Most of this is on point; he does travel to a remote island following the strange (“peculiar” might be a good fit here), tragic and untimely death of his grandfather. Jacob swears up and down that he saw what killed his grandpa Abe—monsters. Unfortunately, the only other person who was there didn’t see a thing and aids everyone else in the belief that Jacob has lost his non-peculiar marbles.

So, after some sleuthing to decipher the meaning behind Abe’s last words (which can also be classified as peculiar), he finds out the name of the island that Abe had told many fantastical stories about while Jacob was growing up. So he heads out with his father to find Abe’s old home, the home for peculiar children.

The characters are fairly well thought out, but none of them seemed especially unique. They were mainly cartoonish incarnations of other sci-fi characters we’ve all likely come across. Especially the villain, which had a mustache-twirling air about him.

The best part of the book was the extremely strange and often creepy vintage photographs that served as illustrations of the characters and some of the plot points.

Lucky for all of us, this book has been greenlit as a movie directed by Tim Burton. I’m really looking forward to doing a movie-based-on-a-book review for this one.

Bitch Rating: 1.5 out of 4 bitches — A little boring, but still a satisfying read.

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Author: Ranson Riggs

Publisher: Quirk Books

Length: 352 pages (hardcover)

The Dinner

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Here’s the best advice I can give you when you start reading The Dinner by Herman Koch: Open the cover and then immediately turn to page 100. Because you will be bored for awhile if you start at the beginning.

Here, I’ll help you skip ahead. The first 100 pages are as follows: couple A and couple B meet in a restaurant. Flashbacks ensue, describing how the couples met, how they’re related (brothers!) and how many children they have (couple A: one; couple B: two. One is adopted. This comes into play.)

We learn there’s a secret the husband A has been keeping from wifey A. Or at least thinks he’s keeping.

Boom! The first 100 pages. Done. You’re welcome.

That said, the next 200 pages are pretty fucking good. There are surprises and twists, emotional outbursts and tears when they’re least expected. Koch touches upon a variety of topics: class warfare, racism, politics. And he does so with subtlety and a bit of humor. Well played, Herms.

Look, I don’t want to spoil the rest for you, and going into much more detail would do that, as it’s really a fairly short book. But one that I recommend.

Bitch Rating: 2.5 out of 4 bitches — very engaging with a satisfying conclusion. Cheers!

Title: The Dinner

Author: Herman Koch

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Length: 304 pages (hardcover)

Drinking and Tweeting: And Other Brandi Blunders (this book, for instance)

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Uuuuuhhhhhh…

No.

Just stop, Brandi. Put down the wine. And the computer, because you don’t need to be writing anymore.

I thought Drinking and Tweeting: And Other Brandi Blunders by Brandi Glanville would be a good one for hate reads, and it almost was — it just wasn’t enough of a guilty pleasure to be enjoyable. It was more like a guilty hangover. It gives you a bad headache and won’t end.

I’d advise against this. You’ll get some funny bits about LeAnn Rimes, and that’s about it.

Bitch Rating: .5 out of 4 bitches — sad face emoticon for all the texting bitches out there

Title: Drinking and Tweeting: And Other Brandi Blunders

Author: Brandi Glanville (Should I put her name in quotes? I think Leslie Bruce is billed as the co-author.) 

Publisher: Gallery Books

Length: 256 pages (hardcover)

After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead

After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead by Alan S. Blinder

So a big, thick almost-500-page book about finance and economics sounds boring, yes?

It kind of is, unless you’re into that kind of thing. Fortunately, I am.

You know what sucks? Being in the middle of a fascinating debate about the economic recovery (or lack thereof? You’ll have to keep reading to find out) and realizing you don’t have the goods to back up your case. I hate feeling stupid.

The worst part is, I didn’t have to be caught unprepared. My bad. I headed straight to the bookstore to get some better background on what exactly went wrong with the economy, the financial system, the Lehman Brothers, and all that fun stuff.

And you know what? It’s REALLY FUCKING COMPLICATED. Do you know what a credit-default swap is? Yes? Well, congratulations, you don’t need to read this book. For the rest of you, start reading After the Music Stopped: the Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead by Alan S. Blinder. And keep your computer handy because, unless you have a minor in economics, you’ll be looking up more than a few words.

Don’t worry, it’s not impossible to understand. Actually, Blinder does an excellent job of detailing exactly what went wrong with the economy, what led up to it and what the fallout means for our future. And considering the topic, he does an even better job of making it interesting. But let me be clear: You really need to be interested in this topic if you’re going to enjoy this book. Otherwise, put it down, save your money.

Bitch Rating: 2.5 out of 4 bitches — well done!

Title: After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead

Author: Alan S. Blinder

Publisher: The Penguin Press

Length: 476 pages (hardcover)

“The Psychopath Test” aka A Guide to Evaluating Your Ex-Boyfriends

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

There is a fairly standard test for evaluating whether or not someone is a psychopath. And not a “this guy almost sideswiped my car in rush hour traffic, what a psycho” kind of test, but a scientific evaluation: the Hare Test. Jon Ronson explores this in “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry.”

The Hare Test gives you a number of personality traits (aggressive narcissism) and actions (case history, aka, socially deviant lifestyle) on which you score the person you’re evaluating. Handy! And entertaining, especially when applied to ex-boyfriends and dick-wad co-workers.

But let’s be serious, when we say “evaluating” about ex-boyfriends workplace non-friends, we mean “judging.”

Now we have to pause for a moment. I wanted to jump in on the most interesting part of the book right away, the psychopath test. But I’ll rewind to the beginning of the book, where Ronson is summoned to solve an extremely intricate, far-reaching puzzle. It’s a riddle, crafted by an anonymous prankster, that was sent to people around the world. But not just any people; the riddle was sent to professors, psychologists, authors, etc., all who are respected in their fields. So, Ronson is drawn into this puzzle, and in his hunt for the source, it leads him to a mental hospital where he meets a patient with a unique problem.

In an effort to avoid jail time, this patient pled insanity, thinking he would land in a cushy mental ward where the patients play games and argue over the remote all day. Not so much. Instead, he ended up in one of the most notorious mental institutions in the world sleeping next to the scary kind of insane patients and wishing he’d thought his plan through a bit more. He tried to come clean, but it didn’t work. The sane man was diagnosed as insane and spent 12 years trying to get out of the institution. For perspective, had he served jail time, he would have only spent 4-5 years behind bars.

Being the intrepid journalist, Ronson researched both sides of the case. As it turns out, yes, the psychologists at the institution knew he was faking the insanity plea. His true diagnosis (or untrue, we’re never really told who’s right) is psychopathy. This is where the book gets interesting as Ronson dives into the field of psychology. This takes him all over the place, from inside Scientology to a meeting with a CEO who enjoyed, just a bit too much, firing people. Somewhere along his winding path, he meets Bob Hare, creator of the the Hare Test. Interesting conversations ensue.

Ronson ends up on a few different paths in his book, all of which are interesting, but not vital. Unfortunately, the variety of topics pulls focus from his most interesting subject: psychopaths. To Ronson’s credit, he left me wanting to know more about psychopathy and the tangled web of ethics in psychology. The problem is that he should have let this be the overall theme of the book. Instead, we get lost on a search for the creator of the riddle.

Oh yeah, the riddle! We forget about that for awhile, and that’s not a bad thing. Though he wraps it up nicely in the end (no spoilers ahead, you can keep reading), I would willing trade the mystery of the riddle for more tales of insanity — or non-insanity? Surprisingly, that’s the strength of the book. Ronson makes it clear that we just don’t know who’s right and who’s crazy.

Let’s jump back to the guilty-pleasure subject of evaluating the psyche of exes. To give you an idea of how useful this test is in finally figuring out why your ex was Such A Fucking Asshole, I have lovingly evaluated the worst of my pretty bad ex-boyfriends. Let’s call him “Richard.”

To accurately evaluate a proposed psychopath, for each item listed below (keep in mind, this isn’t the full test), you assign a score of 0-2. A psychopath will usually fall in the 30-40 points range. So, Richard:

  • Glibness/superficial charm (Unfortunately, I was not the first naive lady to be lured in by his silver-tongued charm. Also, not the last.)
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth (He was convinced he would be governor of Texas one day. And considering his borderline-legal teenage antics, this was a complete delusion.)
  • Pathological lying (Do I even have to … no. You get it.)
  • Conning/manipulative (Every time we fought, he would find a way out of the dog house and back to our bed.)
  • Lack of remorse or guilt (Thinking back, he would sometimes say he was sorry, but there was always a weirdly frozen look in his eyes. Like not even he believed what he was saying.)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (Ha. Clearly.)
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (He could not ever sit still. There was no hanging out and being lazy on a Sunday afternoon, one of my most cherished activities.)
  • Poor behavioral control (There was one night where he ended up driving his car THROUGH THE SUNROOF. Like, he was riding on the roof of his car, steering while someone else worked the pedals.)
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals (I mean, governor? When he always traveled with brass knuckles in his pocket?)
  • Impulsivity (“We’ve been dating a month— you should move to Texas! So we can get married! Hey, I’m bored and your flight leaves in two hours, let’s go look at engagement rings!”)
  • Early behavior problems (See above: brass knuckles. Coupled with many bottles of Jack Daniels.)
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior (Oh, oh, this is the best part. Have you ever seen cheaterville.com? You know, where disgruntled exes post their partner’s indiscretions? Not only has he been written up, but he has also been searched for multiple times.)

In the end, I scored Richard a 28.

But here’s the problem with the psychopath test, which Ronson relies on heavily to highlight a major problem with the field of psychology: the whole thing is subjective. There was a scientific basis in creating the test, but in executing it, you rely on a process that is marred with human error.

Try as I might, of course I’m going to score Richard as borderline psychopath. Hello, he’s still my ex-boyfriend, there is no objectivity in that. But I’ll happily admit, there is a sense of closure that comes with feeling that all of his obscene behavior wasn’t a result of my actions alone.

Bitch Rating: 3 out of 4 bitches — excellent!

Title: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

Author: Jon Ronson

Publisher: Riverhead Trade

Length: 288 pages (paperback)