Archive for January 30th, 2014

January 30th, 2014

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

by Gwen

Shovel Ready

Let me give you the blurb first:

An addictive genre-blend of a thriller: the immersive sci-fi of Ernest Cline; the hard-boiled rhythms of Don Winslow; the fearless bravado of Chuck Palahniuk; and the classic noir of James M. Cain
Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a bombed-out shell of its former self. Now he’s a hitman.
In a New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to “tap into” a sophisticated virtual reality for months at a time and those left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His clients like that he doesn’t ask questions, that he works quickly, and that he’s handy with a box cutter. He finds that killing people for money is not that different from collecting trash, and the pay is better. His latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist. Finding her is easy, but the job quickly gets complicated: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has an agenda far beyond a simple kill. Now Spademan must navigate the dual levels of his world-the gritty reality and the slick fantasy-to finish the job, to keep his conscience clean, and to stay alive.
Adam Sternbergh has written a dynamite debut: gritty, violent, funny, riveting, tender, and brilliant.”

Okay, after reading that, the only reason that I can see how this ARC landed on my doorstep is the two words, “classic noir”.  I typically don’t do sci-fi/dystopian and while I am quite handy myself with a box cutter, hit men in books are a dime a dozen. Somehow though, it was that hard charging noir rata-tat-tat style of writing that sucked me in right from the beginning.

The only problem was that then it lost me.  It seemed to go from Double Indemnity of the Future to I don’t give a care about any of these characters within about 100 pages. The noir tempo seemed to fail or be feigned at points and what started out as a book ended up reminding me of scripts that I read in my Scriptwriting 101 class.

What should have stayed along the lines of “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and …blow” (thank you Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not) turned into …

No, Mark. I said absolutely-

Persephone cuts me off.  Fiercely.

Look, I am very grateful for all that you have done for me, but I am not your f *&% daughter. I’ll do what I want. And I’m doing this. I need to.

There is a long silence. During which we all listen to the stillness of Chinatown.

Broken finally by Mina’s best Axl Rose falsetto.

Mop becomes mike stand.

Knock knock knocking on heaven’s door

I figure it’s time to call the meeting to a close.”

It was almost a farce and it lost me.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, it wasn’t like I threw it against the wall or didn’t finish or anything…it was just blah and there was no there, there, if you know what I mean.

Shovel Ready: A Novel by Adam Sternbergh

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (January 14, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0385348991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385348997


January 30th, 2014

Two Looks at Typhoid Mary

by Gwen

Fever  Deadly

In October, I read Fever by Mary Beth Keane and then earlier this month, I got my hands on Deadly by Julie Chibbaro. Both deal with Typhoid Mary in very different styles and from extremely different angles.  Also, it must be pointed out that Deadly is considered Young Adult, even won the National Jewish Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, while Fever is geared towards adult historical fiction.

Since Deadly is more fresh in my mind I will tackle that one first.  Prudence is a young lady slightly ahead of her time. Her losses, a brother to some disease and her father MIA in the Spanish-American War, have led her to be obsessed with what makes the body tick and what makes it stop ticking. Luckily she lands a job in the fairly new Health Department and this feeds her need for knowledge and leads her on the hunt for what turns out to be Typhoid Mary alongside her boss, George Soper.

Now Deadly, is a great book for young adults. It shows that women had to fight for their place in the world (especially the sciences), to be taken seriously, and to be sexually harassed while doing so at the beginning of the 20th century. However, it really didn’t focus one bit on the Typhoid Mary other than a few inner conflicts that Prudence felt about her treatment. The focus of Prudence’s strife could have been set in any backdrop at that time period, say a woman that wants to be a clerk as opposed to a shirt waste maker or any other field/area that women had yet to really enter at the time. At it’s heart, it is a story of a young girl with dreams  that are “above her station” and trying to achieve them. A great story until I compare it to Fever.

Fever was for adults and told from the viewpoint of Typhoid Mary herself, Mary Mallon. Imagine yourself, an Irish woman, never been sick a day in your life that you can remember, immigrating to the United States by yourself and working hard enough to become a well-known for hire cook in some of the more respected households. You live a fairly moral life, except for the fact that you have never married the man that you live with. It is the the early 20th century, so fevers and other often deadly illnesses are still common among all classes.  You, Mary the cook, pitch in when fevers hit a household that you are working in; preparing cold compresses, ice baths, and the like.

Suddenly, in 1906, some man named George Soper from the Health Department starts chasing you down telling you that you are the one responsible for all of those illnesses and deaths.  (Insert my great-great-grandmother’s Irish brogue here saying, “Are ye daft man? I’ve never been sick a day of me life, hows could I be making these people sick? ‘Tis crazy) She ran off from the man, multiple times and from job to job.

No matter, eventually Soper captures our dear Mary Mallon by force and quarantines her on North Brother Island in a hospital usually used for Small Pox victims. She is still healthy as a horse, but all told, spends 26 years living in a wee house on that island, not sick, but not allowed to leave.

Obviously, Mary’s travails griped me in Fever in a way that Deadly couldn’t and wasn’t meant to. The injustice, the loneliness, the longing, the sheer uncertainty of life and science at that point left me wanting to find the  grave of Mary Mallon and apologize for what we did to her.

So if you want a light young adult overview of Typhoid Mary, pick Deadly. If you want to feel her pain and really dealve into the story of Mary Mallon, read Fever.  And….if you ever find yourself wandering around Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx, doff your hat to her for me.

Fever: A Novel by Mary Beth Keane

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (March 12, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1451693419
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451693416

Deadly by Julie Chibarro

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (February 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 068985739X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689857393