I’ve Got Your Number

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
2012, 422 pages

Sophie Kinsella has a formula. Slightly goofy, sometimes clueless girl gets into trouble. Guy she is involved with is probably not the right guy. Right guy enters and clueless girl has to choose between the two. Some crisis appears and things look bleak. Somehow all ends well.

This is most definitely chick lit. And for the most part I enjoy Kinsella’s books. The Shopaholic series was not good. That girl was way too whiney and ugh. This book, on the other hand, is a good one.

Poppy is engaged to Magnus. She has a super expensive engagement ring and then loses it (gasp!) at a function. While trying to phone someone to find her ring, it is stolen. She finds another phone in a trash can and decides to use that one instead. Unfortunately for her, that phone was the PA for a guy named Sam. So, she ends up using the phone and sort of being his temporary PA. They end up getting along, and texting each other.

Meanwhile, Poppy is having trouble with Magnus. He is getting cold feet big time. Who will Poppy choose?!

The funniest part of the book is when Poppy has like broken up with everyone and is sitting on her couch watching sappy movies. Which movies does she pick?! Finding Nemo! “Nemo always makes me cry anyway, but this time I’m a sniveling wreck before Nemo’s even lost.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 bedazzles

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
1943, 493 pages

I will admit, the only reason that I ended up with this book was because I was testing the Kindle’s ability to borrow books from my library. This was the first one that popped up and I said, okay, maybe I’ll try it.

Surprisingly, I liked it. I figured I would hate it, because it IS a bit depressing. Francie lives with her brother and parents in Brooklyn, where only one type of tree is able to grow out of the pavement and hard ground, hence the title. They are poor, the father’s a drunk, the mother wanted better for her kids and the kids are struggling in school and cannot seem to dig themselves out of poverty. But everyone in the neighborhood is struggling with the same thing, and observations are made about everyone who lives in the area.

Yet, even though the plot would normally send me for the hills, I enjoyed this book. Francie reads constantly, and my favorite quote from the book is:

“She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones. She remembered that the first author had been Abbott. She had been reading a book a day for a long time now and she was still in the B’s. Already she had read about bees and buffaloes, Bermuda vacations and Byzantine architecture. For all of her enthusiasm, she had to admit that some of the B’s had been hard going. But Francie was a reader. She read everything she could find: trash, classics, time tables and the grocer’s price list.”

A bookworm after my own heart. The story focuses on Francie and their lives as she grows up, goes to school, gets out of school at 14 to go get a job.

I’m not sure if I would read this again, but I did enjoy it.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5 bedazzles

Speed Round

I have not been good about posting my last few books. And about half of the last six books that I tried to read, I abandoned due to their awfulness. So here are the ones that I finished, whether or not I liked them all that much.

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
2013, 338 pages

I read this one at work yesterday. The mall was so dead! There were no customers and it was a long shift. So I read this. Here’s the thing. This is number 13 in the Sookie Stackhouse series. I remember reading the first one around the time that Twilight came out and feeling a sense of relief that at least in these books the vampires were badass and did not sparkle. So I liked the first few.

Now, however, it’s getting a bit old. The last few have not been very exciting. Harris kept adding all these characters, and now it seems that the last couple of books have just been bloodbaths trying to get rid of some of these extra characters. And I also think that Sookie always having someone shoot at her or attempt to kill her is getting old. It’s a formula that seems to be working, but it’s no longer interesting to read.

The other problem is that 1. there are 13 of these books and remembering what happened in the last one is impossible and 2. the problem of not remembering what happened is compounded by the TV show True Blood which has some elements of the books and some it has completely made up. All of this made it very hard to follow the story and remember what on earth is supposed to be going on in this little supernatural universe.

It was an okay read, fast and relatively interesting, but I wasn’t really into it.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5 bedazzles

Typhoid Mary by Anthony Bourdain
2001, 160 pages

As mentioned in my post about Fever, I wanted to learn more things about Typhoid Mary. I had originally started reading the book Typhoid Mary: Captive to Public Health, which was mentioned in both this book and Fever, but it is a long, dry book that is more focused on the laws and health department itself during this time. That book was also written in 1996, so it spent a lot of time comparing the typhoid epidemic to the AIDS epidemic. This one was way easier to read and interesting.

It focused on the life of Mary, from her first arrest to her death in 1938 on North Brother Island, where she spent 26 years of her life. The last 6 she was bedridden from a stroke, so that’s no good. Reading this one showed how much creative license was taken in Fever. For example, her boyfriend got sick from pneumonia and died in the hospital before her second arrest, not becoming a severely burned drug addict in the fictionalized version. I guess that made a better story, but I don’t think it was necessary.

Another huge difference was how Mary was caught the second time. In the fictionalized account it would have you believe that she was caught while working in a hospital, but that was not the case. She was found hiding in a bathroom in the apartment of a friend.

The one interesting thing is that there is very little actual information to go on from Mary. She never spoke about typhoid, or her life before coming to North Brother or really gave anyone anything about her. So she’s, in some respects, just as much a mystery now as she was before. Interesting stuff and written in an easy to follow, amusing story, written by a chef who understood her as a chef.

There were also interesting bits about life at the beginning of the 20th century in New York. For example, rich women were expected to be huge and would eat a ton of food just to remain well over the 200 pound mark. So, that’s weird.

Rating: 4 out of 5 bedazzles

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
2012, 337 pages

Let’s face it, part of the book’s appeal is the cover. Who doesn’t want to go visit a cute little island in Italy? While the town of Porto Vergogna, the city where much of the book is set, is imaginary, it is set in the Cinque Terre of Italy. Which looks like this:

Yes, I will now be getting on a plane…(if only!)

There are so many stories happening in this book, it’s a little bit hard to keep track.

There’s Shane and Sophie. She works for a movie producer, becoming disillusioned by all the reality shows that just keep getting worse. Shane wants to create a movie called Donner!, about the one guy who escapes from the Donner Party and then comes back for help.

There’s Pasquale, whose story takes place in the 1960s, when a beautiful American actress comes to his super tiny little town when he is young.

There’s Michael Deane, a movie producer who is Sophie’s boss and trying to stay relevant.

There’s Dee, an actress in the 1960s who has been filming Cleopatra in Rome but had an affair with Richard Burton and ended up needing to leave, thus she ends up at Pasquale’s hotel.

There’s Pat, a 40-something musician trying to make a living and failing at it. His mom, Dee, former actress, is dying yet he still wants money.

All of these stories kind of come together when Pasquale appears in Deane’s office, asking where Dee is.

Ok, I got all those little stories down, and the jumping from the 1960s to the 2000s, and back into the 1970s. And then, with about 150 pages left, I said, “ugh.” I just gave up. I couldn’t handle any more back and forth and people being sad and longing for whatever it is that they didn’t end up with. And let’s face it, I skimmed to the back to see if the payoff would be great enough for me to stick with it. My opinion was no. So I stopped reading.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 bedazzles. Started off well, just not my thing.

Now I have a biography of Typhoid Mary to begin.

Peaches for Father Francis

Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris
2012, 453 pages

I have been waiting for this book to appear in a library for a while. It is the third book written about Vianne Rocher, the protagonist of Chocolat and The Girl With No Shadow. Peaches has Vianne and her daughters returning to the small town of Lansquenet, which makes me want to move to a small French town.

One that looks like this would be nice. It’s actually the town, Flavigny, where the film Chocolat was made.

I mean, come on!

Anyway, Father Reynaud, the priest who wanted Vianne run out of town in Chocolat, now needs her help. Things are not working out for Reynaud in Lansquenet. He has been replaced by a younger priest who wants to get rid of the pews and replace them with plastic chairs, and to use PowerPoint during his sermons. So there’s that. Also, a group of Muslims have moved to the town and are becoming more and more religious. Father Reynaud just wants to help, but is being framed for having burned down the house of a Muslim woman.

It is left up to Vianne to sort all of this mess. She becomes friends with everyone and tries to get to the bottom of why the Muslim community is divided against each other and against the Christian community. Mostly, it just made me want to be French. Things did not work out the way that I thought they would either.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bedazzles

So Much Knowledge!!

Oh man, my dear readership, you have no idea about the amount of knowledge I am about to drop on you right now. I read this book and ended up Googling so many things, because some of it is just too bizarre to be real! But it is! So great ready to learn a lot about early 20th century New York City.

So the book is this:

Fever by Mary Beth Keane
2013, 320 pages

This follows the life of Mary Mallon, otherwise known as Typhoid Mary, from about 1905 to 1917. Mary, an Irish immigrant, was a cook for many rich families in New York City during the early 1900s. At many of the houses where she worked, people would start coming down with typhoid fever. It is said that she wasn’t washing her hands nearly enough when cooking, so that was probably part of it. Ew.

Eventually Mary was caught and sentenced to quarantine because she was seen as a carrier for typhoid, even though she was never sick. She ended up being pursued by Dr. Soper who ended up having her arrested and quarantined without giving her any say, or possibly a reasonable explanation for what was happening. She ended up spending THREE years!! on Brother Island in New York City. The island is a hospital for tuberculosis, and other contagious diseases, and where everyone except Mary goes to die. She had her own little bungalow and lived there by herself.

It seems that she was the first most public case of a typhoid carrier, just as people were starting to learn things about germs and transmitting diseases and the importance of sanitation. During her time in quarantine, other cases of typhoid carriers were discovered and allowed to continue living among people. The main problem was that Mary was a cook, and so she was getting people sick and some of them died. Hers was not the worst case of a carrier getting people sick though.

Anyway, Mary gets released from the island on the condition that she no longer works as a cook, even though it is what she loves to do most. She agrees and becomes a laundress but can’t resist the temptation to cook. She ends up going to work in a bakery, because that’s not the same thing, right? and gets caught. She eludes Dr. Soper (who is apparently evil, at least in this book), and goes off to live with her drug addict boyfriend (see below). After escaping she gets another job, using a different name, at a maternity hospital. Then a lot of people start getting sick and she is finally caught and sentenced to quarantine. She goes back to her little bungalow and stays there for the next twenty three years until she dies from pneumonia. Holy crap.

Mary was a bit of a badass, really. She had a boyfriend who she never married, very against the way things were done at the time. She clearly didn’t think that certain laws or restrictions were going to get in her way, as she went back to cook. She ran from the police the first time she was quarantined and hid for a while. Dr. Soper claimed she came after him with a knife a few times. She just did not fit the mold that people wanted her in.

So, whose fault is it? Is it Mary’s fault for being sick and continuing to cook, even after she realized she was the carrier? Should something more have been done somewhere? Was the doctor really such an incredible ass? Was she quarantined when others weren’t because she was a woman? Or a woman who worked for prominent New York families?

Ok, time for the knowledge bits:

Oppenheimer Treatment. This is mentioned about Mary’s boyfriend. As an alcoholic, he is given the Oppenheimer Treatment to quit, which apparently works for a while.

According to the book, I could not verify it online very easily, this “cure” for drug addiction and alcoholism involved drinking a lot of quinine. So much, in fact, that the person would then become sick and vomit a lot, which I guess does get rid of the need for alcohol, since nothing is being kept down anyway.
Unfortunately he can’t stay off the booze for long and ends up trying to light a lamp while drunk and it explodes instead. Severely burned, he goes to the hospital where he is treated. What kind of pain medication is available in the first decade or so of the 20th century? Well, let me tell you. Morphine, cocaine, heroin, codeine and opium are easily available and used. Guess what, those are mighty addictive! So, after he gets out of the hospital he is still addicted and the doctors continue prescribing the medicine for “maintenance.” Eventually the government catches on and says whoa, this is not good, and the various narcotics can no longer be prescribed. However, there are still ways to get them, even if not all the doctors will prescribe it. Heroin turns out to be super cheap. Boyfriend OD’s and dies.

In other medical grossness: apparently the way to make vaccines back then was to inject the disease into a horse. The horse was then left to develop an immunity to the disease. The horse was then bled, and out of the blood they took the serum and created a vaccine. It seems that horses had to die for this. And that’s all just gross.

The Triangle Shirt Factory and Titanic feature briefly. Man, not good times in the life of NYC right then.

Now I need to go find a biography of this stuff because how can this possibly be real?! Also, warning. If you are a little bit of a hypochondraic beware. You are going to want to wash your hands a bunch. Mostly because you just do.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bedazzles