Review: Dumb History - The Stupidest Mistakes Ever Made, by Joey Green

Dumb History: The Stupidest Mistakes Ever Made,
by Joey Green
May 29, 2012
256 pgs
When I received Joey Green's Dumb History: The Stupidest Mistakes Ever Made from Plume, I (mistakenly) assumed that it would not only be about history, but also follow the Dave Barry style of mocking said history. After all, the title is Dumb History. Alas, I was wrong on both counts.

What Mr. Green has compiled here is a completely unorganized catalogue of items - some actually are anecdotes about historical blunders, but the majority of them are mistakes made by advertisers (such as accidentally marketing something tasty in a native language with a word that means manure) and casting directors (such as suggesting over and over again--sometimes correctly--that so-and-so was miscast in such-a-movie and spoke with such-an-accent the whole time). The rest aren't even mistakes, they're simply a matter of ignorance or misinformation, such as:

Ancient Hindus believed that the world was supported on the backs of four elephants standing on top of a giant turtle.


While signing his name in cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in September 1981, actor Burt Reynolds misspelled his name.

Are both of these mildly interesting? Sure. Are they mistakes? Well, the second one was; t
he first one was just a matter of being pre-...I don't know, pre-enlightenment? It's not like President Clinton said the world was supported on the backs of a bunch of pachyderms riding a tortoise. He didn't inhale, remember?

In all seriousness though (and I do hate to be serious when talking about a book that contains an anecdote about David Caruso's acting career) I cannot imagine what the prerequisites must have been for getting into this collection of weird facts.

My curiosity, however, must be sidelined by my frustration with the structure of the book: it has none. Which means none of the weird sports facts are together, none of the weird tv facts are together, etc. And should you find something that's actually worth remembering (i.e. the bit in Robinson Crusoe where he strips naked and swims to the ship where he stuffs his pockets--I know, right? What pockets??--with biscuits), good luck finding it.

Monday Mailbox 6/25/12: Four Books and a Giveaway

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Marie Burton over at Burton Book Review.

I received one ARC:
From the press release: 
In 1978, Dawit, a young, beautiful, and educated Ethiopian refugee, roams the streets of Paris. By chance, he spots the famous French author M., who at sixty is at the height of her fame. Seduced by Dawit's grace and his moving story, M. invites him to live with her. He makes himself indispensable, or so he thinks. When M. brings him to her Sardinian villa, beside the Bay of Foxes, Dawit finds love and temptation—and perfects the art of deception.

The Literary Gothamite in association with Penguin Books is giving away a copy of Sheila Kohler's The Bay of Foxes which comes out this week! The giveaway is open to U.S. Residents. Must enter by 11:59PM on Sunday July 1st. Each entry is good for one chance to win, but you can get a second entry by tweeting about the giveaway and linking to this page. 
Enter here to win: 

I also got a few books from my late grandmother's apartment this week:

Blaze, by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)
I don't really understand the pseudonymous lifestyle, but whatever.

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
This is a 1931 edition from Houghton Mifflin Company's Riverside Literature Series. It was purchased by the Board of Education of the City of New York and stamped as such Feb. 5, 1932 (in purple!) and then stamped as property of Eastern District Evening High School in February 1938 (in blue, and in black). Someone, possibly my grandmother (who would have been 14 at the time) wrote 1954 on the title page. But my favorite part is probably inside the back cover where Eastern District Evening H.S. stamped a check-out list (instead of a card) which was then filled in by four students in separate years, each for their English 802-202 class. There's an "Anna LaGuardia" of Powers Street, a "Moccia-Avmand" of Grand Street, a "Ioving (or Loving, it's hard to tell, and Loving is funnier) Angelo" of Kent Avenue, and a "Rhoda Becher" of Scholes Street. So interesting. 

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson / Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling
A weird little book published by J.J. Ives & Co., Inc. in 1948. Someone's selling theirs on Etsy for $6.40 if anyone's interested. I'm keeping mine. I did borrow their image (above) though. 

Review: The Mercury Fountain, by Eliza Factor

The Mercury Fountain
by Eliza Factor
Akashic Books
February 28, 2012
312 pages
Owen Scraperton, the landowner patriarch near the center of Eliza Factor's novel The Mercury Fountain, had a dream. He dreamt of a utopia of his own construction - a land where men worked the ground for its mercury, and where families lived principled lives. He called his utopia Pristina. 

He outlawed alcohol, cards, and Catholicism. He built his little empire in the Texan desert at the turn of the twentieth century, and he started a family with his headstrong Mexican wife Dolores. When Factor's novel begins, Owen's life has been (apparently) perfect. By the time the novel ends, the toxicity of Owen's ideology (built upon principles that ignore both science and human nature) has doomed him and his utopia to failure.

But any allegory, such as this is, would be pale without a little personification. Chalk the downfall of Owen's system up to his deluded sense of right and wrong, and all you've got is a morality play. But pour the poison of Owen's unyielding ideals into the form of his forked-tongued daughter Victoria, and you've got the stuff that myths are made of. Factor has written Victoria as a goddess.

Dr. Badinoe observes regarding his friend Owen's mercury mine: "Poison is in everything and no thing is without poison, the dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy."That is to say, of course, moderation in all things. Victoria is not inherently evil, but her disposition coupled with her mutilation (a split tongue, the result of an injury sustained on a family trip to Washington D. C.) and her singular love of snakes make her appear so. It is her father's lessons that actually make her a kind of evil but, as with the mine, evil shall always return to the source. It is Owen's self-righteous and poorly-founded ideals that eventually poison Victoria against him, just as it is Owen's unwillingness to see the scientific truths about his mercury mine that leads to his physical demise.

Although Factor's writing has a modern feel to it, she does not appear to be targeting any current political issue or policy explicitly; rather she seems to be advocating a fluid sort of social consciousness, noting that any ideology that cannot bend and stretch can not guide nor govern either. In a world where hatred based on race, creed, gender, class and sexual orientation seems to be endemic, it's a lesson that most people could stand to learn.


Monday Mailbox 6/18/12

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Marie Burton over at Burton Book Review.

For those of you who don't know, my family suffered an unexpected loss last week. My grandmother, my only remaining grandparent, passed away suddenly at the age of 71. We'd all like to think that our parents and grandparents will go on forever, that they'll always be present in our lives. Having already lost my other grandparents prior to this, I know quite well how unreasonable that notion is. But I had begun to think that my grandma would be with us for a while more. It's been a trying week, and it's only going to get worse in the next two weeks while I try to juggle work and family. Thank you for your patience while I try to figure this all out. I finished two books last week and haven't been able to find the motivation to post either review or to start my next book. *sigh*

I got a bunch of new books this week, the following two were purchased via Amazon with the gift card my sister gave me for my birthday. By the way, for anyone who loves all things Disney or likes looking at wedding stuff, or who might be looking to plan a wedding, my sister's blog is pretty cool. 

by Shirley Jackson
One of the best ghost stories of the twentieth century, Shirley Jackson's novel was adapted for film twice, both with the title truncated as "The Haunting." The original is pretty intense, the remake is...well it's pretty silly. It scared the crap out of me when I was 14, but looking back it's pretty wretched. I've never read the book, but I'm pretty excited.

by Susan Hill
I'm pretty excited. The movie was pretty scary and, from what I understand, the play (which has been running in the West End since 1989) is also pretty darn scary. I think, to be safe, I'll be reading this one in the daytime. Yeah. 

The following were collected from my apartment building's lobby, where someone had left a bunch of crap for the taking. Among that crap:

by Dan Brown
I still haven't seen the film that they made of this. I saw The DaVinci Code twice, so I guess that counts for something? I remember liking this novel more than the other one. I may have to re-read...if I ever get through my TBR pile.

by Lewis Carroll
I don't know what happened to the copy I had in high school, and that makes me sad. I haven't read this in eons. 

Volume C (1865-1914)
Volume D (1914-1945)
Volume E (Literature since 1945)
7th Ed. Vol. E was published in 2007, so that would make it 1945-200...6?

8th ed, Volume C (The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century)

Giveaway News

Last week's giveaway was for a copy of Brian Cronin's WHY DOES BATMAN CARRY SHARK REPELLENT? which was recently published by Plume. Thank you to all who participated! 
This week's winner was:

Angel A.

Please check your email for details about getting your book! 


Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme organized by the girls over at The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Beach Reads!
I'm stealing Jen's preface to this week's post because I simply couldn't say it any better:

The ocean, the waves, the salty air and cool sea breeze. Even the annoying seagulls who try to steal your food. Going to the beach is an entire experience. I love everything from picking the perfect spot to spread out your towel to frantically trying to brush off all the sand on your legs/feet before getting into the car to go home. Luckily, there are many beaches near me. Unfortunately, I have things like work which prevent me from going as much as I'd like! But while at the beach having a book to read is a necessity, it's just as important as having a bottle of sunscreen!

Top Ten Books I Would Recommend as Beach Reads

1. I'll Mature When I'm Dead, by Dave Barry
Because when I go to the beach, it's happy time. And nothing makes me happier than reading Dave Barry.
2. Jaws, by Peter Benchley
This is actually probably my #1 but I didn't wanna scare you away right away. :D
3. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
You could also just read Sense & Sensibility, but this one makes a little more sense. 
4. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
With a warning: don't try Louisa's stunt at home, kids!
5. The Princetta, by Anne-Laure Bondoux
A children's epic of adult proportions, this book is one of my favorites. It'll just make you wanna sail away. 
I don't need to explain myself.
Because a little nonfiction goes a long way, especially when it's about things like Pixar, which automatically evoke childhood memories and happiness. And I actually read this one at the beach, so I know what I'm talking about.
8. Silver Girl, by Elin Hilderbrand
Hilderbrand loves writing beach reads, you can tell. She's got a new one coming out this month called Summerland to which I'm looking forward.
9. Nocturnes, by John Connolly
Because some most of these stories, you don't want to read in the dark...read 'em where the sun's shining brightest!
10. Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos
A step above it's raunchier regency cousins in the romance aisles at B&N, this book is pretty great...nothing to do with the beach at all, but pretty great. 

If you haven't already entered, don't forget there's a giveaway this week!


Monday Mailbox 6/11/12 (and a giveaway)

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Marie Burton over at Burton Book Review.

I received one book this week:
True Believers, by Kurt Andersen
I received this book from Random House as part of Librarything.com's Early Reviewers program. 

From Amazon:

Karen Hollander is a celebrated attorney who recently removed herself from consideration for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her reasons have their roots in 1968—an episode she’s managed to keep secret for more than forty years. Now, with the imminent publication of her memoir, she’s about to let the world in on that shocking secret—as soon as she can track down the answers to a few crucial last questions.

As junior-high-school kids back in the early sixties, Karen and her two best friends, Chuck and Alex, roamed suburban Chicago on their bikes looking for intrigue and excitement. Inspired by the exotic romance of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, they acted out elaborate spy missions pitting themselves against imaginary Cold War villains. As friendship carries them through childhood and on to college—in a polarized late-sixties America riven by war and race as well as sex, drugs, and rock and roll—the bad guys cease to be the creatures of make-believe. Caught up in the fervor of that extraordinary and uncanny time, they find themselves swept into a dangerous new game with the highest possible stakes.

Today, only a handful of people are left who know what happened. As Karen reconstructs the past and reconciles the girl she was then with the woman she is now, finally sharing pieces of her secret past with her national-security-cowboy boyfriend and Occupy-activist granddaughter, the power of memory and history and luck become clear.

This book will be published by Random House on July 10, 2012.

This week's reviews:
All Men Are Liars, by Alberto Manguel
Little Night, by Luanne Rice (Guest Review)


Last week's giveaway was for a copy of Jean Zimmerman's THE ORPHANMASTER which will be published by Viking on July 10th, 2012. The winner was:
Carol V.
Please check your email for details about getting your book! 

THIS week's giveaway is for a copy of 
Brian Cronin's 
published by Plume on May 29, 2012.

Enter to win your copy HERE!


Guest Review: Little Night, by Luanne Rice

A review by Jessica Pruett-Barnett

Little Night
by Luanne Rice
Pamela Dorman Books
June 5, 2012
336 pgs
Reading material targeted toward adult women can be difficult. On one hand you have fluffy chick lit where the protagonist seems to have an underdeveloped brain until a man comes along to save her.; on the other hand you have sensationalist erotica (50 Shades of Grey, if I wanted to read BDSM fanfic, I would read Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy) and romance novels (which I happen to adore). There isn't much of an in-between for women. This is where Luanne Rice's books come in.

Little Night, Rice's thirtieth book, explores the bonds between sisters who have been torn apart by abuse. Clare and Anne are sisters who haven't spoken to each other since Clare tried to kill Anne's abusive husband. After her time in jail, Clare goes back to her life in New York City, living in the family home, trying to maintain distance with her old (but still in the picture) boyfriend, and missing Anne. Out of the blue, Anne's daughter, now in her early 20s, comes to stay with Clare, turning her life upside down.

Familial relationships are front and center in Little Night, and this is Rice's strength. You feel Clare's pain at being ripped from her sister by an abuser, and her joy at having her niece come and live with her. As the story unfolds and you find out more of the history of Clare and Anne's relationship, you can't put the book down; you have to find out what will happen. The ending is shocking and not at all what I expected, a pleasant relief after the last few books in my pile.

Part of the beauty of Luanne Rice's writing is her ability to suck her readers into her setting. As a New York City resident of many years, I was impressed by her attention to detail. I was particularly tickled by the description of Zelda, the turkey that (presumably) lives in Tribeca. I also learned about parts of the city I didn't even know existed, like the owl-watching grounds in the northern section of Central Park.

I'm not trying to say that Luanne Rice is a writer for only women, but I'm happy that she writes about real women for real women: No vampires or werewolves need apply.

Review: All Men Are Liars, by Alberto Manguel

All Men Are Liars
by Alberto Manguel
Riverhead Books
June 5, 2012
206 pgs
"Lying: that is the great theme of South American literature," says Andrea, the only female narrator in Alberto Manguel's complex novel All Men Are Liars, out this week from Riverhead Books.

Hers is also the only narrative that can be trusted, for her perspective is entirely prejudiced by her own pride and does not allow for any other potentialities. All the other contributors are most certainly lying in one way or another; in some cases it is because they were lied to themselves and, in all cases, it is because they are of the literary persuasion.

Yes, all men are liars, and all writers are liars, too.

The story, told initially from four different perspectives, is that of an Argentinian expatriate living in Madrid, a writer by the name of Alejandro Bevilacqua. Bevilacqua comes to Spain straight from an Argentinian prison. His small literary reputation proceeds him and he his scooped up by Andrea who seeks to passionately cultivate his talents. 

While collecting his laundry for washing, Andrea comes across a handwritten masterpiece in Bevilacqua's bag titled In Praise of Lying and, believing that her beau has constructed a masterpiece, she goes about having the novel published in secret which, as it turns out, is the first in the chain of events that leads to Bevilacqua's apparent suicide. He is surrounded by a number of other expats, one of whom is "Alberto Manguel," an incarnation of our author positioned to blur the lines between fact and fiction for the reader, and off of whose balcony Bevilacqua found his end.

At least, that is the truth that Andrea tells; the other perspectives (that of "Manguel;" of "El Chancho," who was Bevilacqua's cellmate in Argentina; and of Gorostiza, who knows Bevilacqua casually in Spain, but whose real place in the novel is not comprehended until his narrative) provide the other pieces to the Bevilacqua puzzle, all being sent to a French journalist who is trying in vain to piece together the real story of the author's tragic life. 

But these pieces are swollen with lies and touted self-worth and, therefore, do not quite fit together; the journalist, Jean-Luc Teradillos, is forced to conclude (in what is the final narrative of the novel) that no story, not even his own, may ever be told in full.

Of course, only the reader might really decide what to believe, and what is true and what might be a lie. It's a boon to a reader's imagination to be gifted that kind of power, and that's the generosity of Manguel's novel: he provides all the perspectives, you make the judgement call. But, in doing so, you're forced to question the application of literary perspective on actual life: surely, you can establish for yourself what the truth in your own life is; you know just what your life is or has been, and you know just how you'll be remembered when you're gone...or do you?


Monday Mailbox 6/4/12: Playing Giveaway Catch-up

June's Monday Mailbox is was going to be hosted by Alternative-Read.com, but I guess there's some confusion. There will be someone else hosting for the rest of June, but for this first week it'll be hosted by the true home of Monday Mailboxing.

This week I received one book, an ARC from Plume titled

by Joey Green
This book was released by Plume on May 29th.
From the press release:
We all make mistakes. However, the next time you make a truly dumb error, take heart--it doesn't hold a candle to the tremendous blunders made throughout history by remarkably smart people--including novelists, rocket scientists, and world leaders. Bestselling humor author and former National Lampoon contributing editor Joey Green shares a collection of surprising slip-ups spanning civilization in Dumb History: The Stupidest Mistakes Ever Made.


Last week's giveaway was for a new copy of Alberto Manguel's ALL MEN ARE LIARS which will be released this Tuesday. The winner was:
Please check your email for details about getting your book! 

THIS week's giveaway is for a copy of Jean Zimmerman's THE ORPHANMASTER which will be published by Viking on July 10th, 2012. 
From the press release:
It's 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are disappearing or turning up dead, and among those investigating the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted twenty-two-year-old trader, Blandine van Couvering, herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy named Edward Drummond.

Click here to enter to win your copy!


Review: A Small Fortune, by Rosie Dastgir

A Small Fortune
by Rosie Dastgir
Riverhead Books
May 24, 2012
384 pgs
Harris, a devout Muslim with an extended family that crosses Britain and Pakistan, has just received his final divorce settlement check from his ex-wife, a snappish English woman with whom he fathered a daughter who now attends university. Called on from all corners of his family to provide financial assistance, Harris rashly doles out this small fortune to the least deserving of his cousins. What follows is a trickling down of his unfortunate mistake, a landslide that pulls on the dual strings of religious obligation and familial duty. Only when Harris' daughter and her cousin step in, in very different ways, can the tide of misfortune turn.

With a cunning talent for pitting the generations against one another, Dastgir tells a story that is both classic in its roots and fervently modern in its portrayal of a Pakistani family at odds with itself and its surroundings. And while the sympathy and understanding seem to lie most with the younger generation, it is the elders of the family that appear to have the most endurance in the face of all that comes at them.

But what is special Ms. Dastgir's novel is her classical emphasis on one small event (or even a small fortune, as it were) rippling out into a murderous tide; as with the real things, the calm will only come after the worst has passed. For Harris' family, no resolution will be simple but, like any story rooted in Greek tragedy, everyone will have a lesson to learned. This is a very smart novel with multiple but clear perspectives, one that has a sort of shyness to it; Dastgir does not grandstand, she merely seeks to inform, and she does so with a heartbreaking kind of clarity that would otherwise elude any and all of her characters.