Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's not often I can pinpoint the single worst book I read in a particular year. But oh boy can I this year. Stephanie Kuehnert's I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone has a great title that's absolutely wasted on some of the worst writing and characterization I've read in a long time. No one had brown hair - it was chocolate. And eyes weren't green, they were jade or sea-green. Not to mention their eyes were always glittering, flashing, or laughing. It was like beginning fan fiction level writing. I seriously wanted to throw it out the window by the time I hit page 30, but Daisy said it got better so I kept going. By page 100 I really, really wanted to throw it out the window but by that time I was also weirdly fascinated at just how bad it could get. And it did get very, very bad. At one point I was actually laughing at a character's rape because it was like every badfic cliche I'd ever read all rolled up into one. The characters weren't believable at all - none of their actions ever felt like anything other than the author moving them around and making them behave whatever way she needed for them to forward the story. Ugh. Skip this one at all costs.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The only note I have on Harlen Coben's Hold Tight is that it had a few too many cute connections at the end but overall it was pretty good. Although I don't remember a single thing about the plot, so maybe it wasn't all that good.

Meg Gardiner, on the other hand, is my new favorite mystery/thriller author. Like most everyone else I first heard about her from Stephen King via Entertainment Weekly, who thankfully had enough pull to get her published in the US. I started with China Lake and I don't think I took a breath until I closed the back cover. It introduces Evan Delaney and her friends and family, in particular her brother, who is being threatened with a nasty custody battle with his ex-wife who has joined a religious cult. Next in the series was Mission Canyon which gets into Evan's boyfriend Jesse and the accident that left him in a wheelchair. It wasn't as good as China Lake, but was still good. The next was Jericho Point which was again non stop action, this time concerning identity theft and Evan's growing stress in her relationship with Jesse. I liked that there was actual character growth in this one with fallout from the last book. Crosscut was the best next to China Lake with a truly scary villain and a great setup to the the last of the series (so far), Kill Chain, which took Evan's action on a global scale. I loved Gardiner's commitment to the story and the characters, even when that meant hard choices that actually made me cry, damn it. I also read her stand alone mystery The Dirty Secrets Club which was just as action packed as the Evan Delaney books plus had a bonus Bay Area setting, which was cool because I could picture most of the events.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith had a lot of excellent buzz, so I grabbed it when it came in. It was good, a little impersonal, but definitely exciting at times. The frustration of dealing with the Soviet system that refused to acknowledge the existence of a serial killer came through, as did the legitimate paranoia and fear it inspired.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson got even more buzz and I had it on my list for months before it came out. The title actually doesn't work with the book at all (the original Swedish title is much better). It took its time, but wasn't too slow at all and once things came to a head the action came quick. It was a nice, complex mystery (although parts of it weren't terribly difficult to figure out) but what I really liked were the two main characters who joined forces to investigate. Apparently they're also in the other books Larsson completed before he died.

I had no idea until very recently that Eddie And The Cruisers was actually based on a book by P. F. Kluge. And that we had it. I have a great affection for that movie, so once I knew I ran upstairs (okay, I took the elevator, but you get the idea) and checked it out. It was pretty good! There were a couple of extra characters and although it's been a long time since I've seen the movie, I'm pretty sure there was a different bad guy but it still worked really well. When they made the movie they swapped out the book of poems Eddie uses for inspiration from Leaves Of Grass to A Season In Hell, which I suppose sounds more manly but is no less gay, which made me laugh (and also check out a biography of Rimbaud).


Monday, December 08, 2008

Non-fiction roundup:

First is The Feminine Mistake: Are we giving up too much? by Leslie Bennetts, which read like she took every thought I ever had about marriage and put them in writing. It was really excellent and I thought she was wise in sticking to an economic focus and not getting bogged down in the moral and social aspects, although she didn't ignore them either. Here, have a couple of quotes. "It has become inescapably clear that choosing economic dependency as a lifestyle is the classic feminine mistake. No matter what the reasons, justification, or circumstances, it's simply too risky to count on anyone else to support you over the long haul." And "Women are still presumed to find true fulfillment by limiting themselves to the care of their families rather than exploring their own intellectual, creative, financial, and political potential in the larger world." That one goes along with the insightful part about how the Baby Boom women perhaps failed to communicate to their daughters the enjoyment they got from their jobs. And finally, "Whether or not women choose to admit it, however, dependency breeds vulnerability, inhibits open communication, and creates an unhealthy balance of power in which the subservient partner must always fear the loss of her meal ticket - unless she's in complete denial, which is often the case." Amen, sister. It's just a shame that the women who would get the most out of this book will probably never read it.

I also read Anne Kingston's The Meaning of Wife which I didn't like nearly as much. It tried to get at the sociological meaning behind the term "wife" and how those views have changed in recent history but I had issues with it, especially her use of out of date statistics presented without historical context. Also, the chapter on woman as victim was a little weird and almost seemed dismissive of the possibility of genuine detrimental psychological effects due to long term abuse.

I finally read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, which was probably one of the first books Daisy ever recommended to me. It was a little weird for a true crime book because of the author involvement in the story. There was a lack of full details on the crimes throughout and so I felt a little blindsided at the end when a more full account was given, which was probably the effect she was going for. I highly recommend reading this in a distracting setting (I was in Italy) because it makes it easier to detach from the story.

I enjoyed Dean Wareham's Black Postcards: A rock & roll romance in much the same way I enjoy his music - I'm a casual fan but not totally invested. I appreciated the matter of fact tone Wareham used to tell his touring stories about drugs and women. It made it all feel more authentic and not a big source of drama, well, until Britta joined Luna, of course. I liked reading about the DIY recording and the label drama and the myriad obstacles indie bands encounter trying to make a living at music.

I had Breakfast With Tiffany by Edward Wintle on my to be read list for a long time. The author takes in his troubled fourteen year old niece when she and her mother's relationship deteriorates. Unfortunately it wasn't particularly notable.

I enjoyed Doreen Orion's Queen of the Road: The true tale of 47 states, 22,000 miles, 200 shoes, 2 cats, 1 poodle, a husband, and a bus with a will of its own which is pretty accurately summed up in the subtitle. It was a nice travelogue and while I have more of a taste for kitsch than Orion, we share a remarkably similar philosophy regarding hiking: "I'd always believed the government should install escalators in the mountains of national parks, making them not only accessible to the handicapped, but also to lazy sloths like me." It's clear the book started life as a blog, and the drink recipe gimmick got old pretty quickly, but those are minor quibbles.

I'm a recent fan of Chelsea Handler, whose Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea actually startled me into loud laughter in public more than once. I don't know a better recommendation than that.

I'm not entirely sure why I even finished The Film Club by David Gilmour. I enjoyed it when he was discussing the movies, but I actually disliked both David and his son and the whole situation of him letting his son drop out of school in exchange for watching movies with him kind of distasteful. Just to give you a taste, this is the son, Jesse, after another breakup: "Do you think I'm ever going to get a girlfriend as good looking as her again?" Ugh. I pretty much wanted to kick both of them through most of the book.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Okay, I'm totally going to overwhelm you with books until the end of the year in an effort to get current. First up are Brian Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness, and Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, all of which I read at Nora and Claire's place on various occasions, usually while in my pajamas. Um, all I have in my notes is "Loved them." So there's that.

I re-read two early Sean Stewart books, Passion Play and Nobody's Son. Passion Play was his first published novel and I'd forgotten how everything I love about his writing was all there right from the beginning, if not quite as developed. It's set in a theocratic future not that far from The Handmaid's Tale and is a fantastic murder mystery in addition to being good science fiction. Nobody's Son is about what happens after the happily ever after when the hero and the princess he won have to make a life together.

So Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake was pretty much set up to fail by this blurb from Jonathan Lethem: "Sloane Crosley is another mordant and mercurial wit from the realm of Sedaris and Vowell. What makes her so funny is that she seems to be telling the truth, helplessly." Yeah, not so much. Sure, there are some funny moments, but she's not at that level.

Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Station was a weird read. It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the book, which is kind of chaotic with lots of characters and a few ongoing plot lines laced through. It's not fantastic writing, but often funny and by the end I was genuinely caught up in the characters, enough to read the sequel.

Next was Too Much Too Late by Marc Spitz. In this book a garage band with some limited local success gets a second shot at fame twenty years after giving it all up. They have one perfect pop song that becomes an unexpected hit after an influential blogger hypes them on her site. I liked the book although the ending feels kind of unfinished and abrupt.

Lock & Key, Sarah Dessen's last book wasn't her best, but I liked the ways she played with her usual formula.

Hadley Freeman's The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a guide to almost all things fashionable was a cute and funny, if fairly inconsequential collection of short essays about fashion.

61 to go...


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