Monday, May 29, 2006

The Thing about Jane Spring

In general, I am not a great fan of Chick Lit. This book, written by Sharon Krum, is an exception. Jane Spring is an assistant DA who was raised under, and wholly embraced, total military discipline. Dissatisfied with her persistent single status, she decides to morph into Doris Day.

Good things: Pleasant upbeat voice. Cute plot. Better written than the usual Chick-Lit novel. Explicit is not in the story, unless you count the noisy upstairs neighbors, and they're just noisy.

Not-so-good things: ...I'm thinking....It's not Literature. It's definitely a fantasy, but is that bad? It stays barely within the bounds of believability, until when it steps over the line, I was hooked, and decided to enjoy the ride. Which I did, all the way to the end.

Jane Spring would be a fun role for Reese Witherspoon or Kate Hudson. I think either could play Jane pre-Doris Day. Think "Legally Blonde." Think "Just like Heaven." And think "How to Lose a Man..". And that's The Thing about Jane Spring.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Penelopiad

The story of the Odyssey is the story of the hero Odysseus and his lengthy travels following the Trojan war, as he tries to hurry home to his long-suffering wife Penelope. This book, written by Margaret Atwood, tells her story.

Good things: it's short. It has an interesting point of view: Penelope in the 21st century, long dead and accustomed to the realm of the afterlife. She has a wry and somewhat disgruntled voice, and the story is well told.

Not-as-good things: the maids. Apparently Odysseus, after he killed all the suitors who were hanging around Penelope, hanged 12 maids for some reason or another. The maids do Greek Chorus numbers between the chapters, and seem to take up a lot of space in the story. I'm not familiar with this footnote to the story, so I cannot get into their claims of injustice, but considering how much death and destruction take place in the Iliad and the Odyssey, it's hard to get terribly worked up about it. If you're going to defend the maids, what about the shepherd, and the suitors, and Cyclops? It's a slippery slope to try to apply 21st century ethics to Greek hero myths.

One of my most unfavorite parts is an analysis of the Odysseus/Penelope reunion story as "represent[ing] the overthrow of a matrilineal moon-cult by an incoming group of usurping patriarchal father-god-worshipping barbarians." Naturally, the maids' chorus does this one. How like them.

So. I'm not reading it again. Once was enough. But it wasn't all bad.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Once Upon a Day

This novel, by Lisa Tucker, has been only recently published. This story has a great "what if" premise: "What if you were raised in complete isolation, protected from every possible threat, and then suddenly had to cope with the modern world?" Of course, the plot is rather more complicated than that, and with the viewpoint shifting from time to time, it's hard to know where to start. With Stephen the cab driver? Or Dorothea, who knows only Father, Jimmy, and Grandma for as long as she can remember? Or Lucy, whose fairy-tale life took a tragic turn once upon a day?

I have mixed emotions about the whole thing, but looking back, mostly negative. I liked the storyline, by and large, but not enough to read it again. Father was a well-developed character, Lucy and Stephen less complete, Jimmy a mere cipher. Dorothea I find somewhat unbelieveable. How could a girl so sheltered and so willing to accept the reality her father presented adapt so completely to the modern world? She has panic attacks with disturbing frequency, and yet she drops the manners and morals of her Ozzie-and-Harriet upbringing without a qualm and embarks on an affair with remarkable speed and self-possession. Right. That would happen. And, while we're on the topic, I am bored bored bored with all the open discussion of everyone's sex life. Can we stop pretending that a relationship is defined by the physical, and close the bedroom door?

And in the end, after all the sordidness and upheaval, all the mental illness, drug addiction, kidnapping, near-death, heart-wrenching grief, rebellion, hostility, anger, blah blah blah---all this is tied up in a neat little package in the end. Oh, there is a disclaimer--all this will take time, etc., but you know everything is on the right track after all, and everyone will settle down to a pleasant and healing reality. Pardon me while I lift a skeptical eyebrow. Life just isn't that simple.

And so, I cannot recommend this story. If you find the premise intriguing, and it was, ask me and I will give you the short version, complete with thematic elements. Meanwhile, go read something else.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Death of a Dreamer

I liked this book by M. C. Beaton, and found it satisfactory. Part of it was timing; I was in the mood for harmless entertainment, and while I hadn't read this book before, I knew what I was going to get.

Death of a Dreamer is the latest in a series of murder mysteries set in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, and featuring the local policeman, a lanky redhead named Hamish Macbeth. This is a B series, not to be compared with Ellis Peters or Dick Francis or Anne Perry, my A-list favorites. No, this is more like Hostess Snowballs or Cupcakes or Twinkies--they're good enough if you like them, dreadful if you don't, but in no way comparable to a good homemade brownie or toasted almond cake.

But I confess a certain guilty pleasure in Hostess Snowballs, and I like this particular B series. I like Hamish and Priscilla, and the other characters are reasonably distinctive if annoying. The setting is interesting enough, the plots are reasonably cohesive, and they're not so long that the imperfections get to me. It was good enough, and I still liked it when it was all over.

And I won't regret the calories later.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Maltese Falcon

I had always thought of The Maltese Falcon as a movie starring Humphrey Bogart, and so it is, but the movie was preceded by the book, and both are classics of their genre. Though I haven't seen the movie (yet), I have not escaped the gazillion spoofs and cultural references, and so reading the book was a unique experience. Sam Spade is described thoroughly on the first page of the book, and so I have a vivid mental picture, but as Sam Spade plies his craft in the dark streets of San Francisco, I sometimes catch flashes of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Falk, who played Sam Diamond in Murder by Death. It is disquieting, and central to my experience of the book.

The plot twists and turns--I was not certain how it would end until the last page. The characters are crisply defined, with Sam Spade looming over all, flaws blazing and cold cynicism unabated. The setting, San Francisco, is almost a character itself, an integral part of the story--and I am glad I started reading it while I was in San Francisco. But again, because of its classic status, the story seems also to parody itself, and how do I escape this illusion? Like the Shakespeare student who complained that the Bard used too many cliches, it's hard to distinguish the freshness in a story that has been photocopied so many times.

The real question, to the newcomer to film noir and the literary genre from which it sprang, is: should you watch the movie first, or read the book? I usually spring for reading the book first, but in this case I might suggest watching the movie, which is supposed to be a faithful renditon of the book. Perhaps then the ghosts will become the characters, and Humphrey Bogart will fill your mind's eye when you read the book for the first time.

But I can't be sure. Ask me after I've seen the movie.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Saddle Up, Bookaroo

Reading a blog about what someone else is reading can be weird at best, so this is more like a journal where Karren & I record our thoughts about what we are reading--an open public journal, that is.

Why Karren and me? Because we were both thinking about doing this at the same time, and when we found out we were on the same wavelength, we went with it. We hope that combining our book-blogging efforts will make the sum greater than its parts, kind of like Reese's peanut butter cups.

Who is chocolate and who is peanut butter? you decide.