Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Bones, by Seth Greenland

First, let me say that I really hope that this book is made into a movie. It will be funny and edgy in that great Hollywood kind of way; Seth Greenland is a talented writer, good at the one liner and the film/lit reference, which always makes the reader, or viewer, feel smart and with it. I must admit that I am a tiny bit tired of the entertainment industry as entertainment: don't they already control the world and most of its content? That, however, is more a matter of my literary choices, and less a matter of the quality of this book.

That being said, I loved the first 3/4 of this book, and was frustrated by (surprise!) the ending. I had it pegged for the perfect vacation read, but I think it would hold up best if you read the very end just as your plane was landing, while you were filled with the sentimentality of exhaustion and longing that comes with the end of a trip.

Okay, plot. This book is about two friends, more or less. One is an extremely, if inadvertently, successful TV writer. The other is a very talented and moderately successful stand up comic. As the writer's star rises, the comedian's is setting. Jealousy ensues on both sides, as no one has quite achieved the life he envisioned. Fate pulls them back into the same orbit, and a series of poor decisions drives the story to its wacky conclusion. It's written in a sardonic, visual style. I pictured the whole story taking place onscreen.

What I liked about this book
: The characters are sympathetic, the writing is very engaging.

What I didn't like about this book: Tenses. For heaven's sake, don't mess with the tenses. I was unable, ultimately, to determine whether the author was using the present tense as a literary device, then deliberately switching to the past, or whether the publishers simply forgot to hire a copy editor. Either way, it was damned annoying.

The ending. Both the very end, and the penultimate journey. I think that if you are going to go that far over the top, and introduce a lot of bad guys and weapons and getaway cars, it's just not cool to get all rainbow-hued and sappy at the end.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Deaf Sentence, by David Lodge

This novel is far milder than David Lodge's usual fare, which generally features bitingly funny satire and hilariously over the top plot twists. This kinder, gentler Lodge is still very funny, and nails his characters in a way few can imitate.

Where I heard about this book: Looking for something funny to read, I checked out the Lodge shelf.

What I thought about this book: It was chugging along at 4 stars, but an anemic ending brings it down to 3. And a half.

What this book is about
: Desmond Bates is a retired professor of linguistics who is well on his way to becoming deaf. His inability to hear much of what is going on around him leads to some very funny situations, such as his inadvertently making a date with a comely young American student. It is also the basis many touching ruminations on community and isolation. David Lodge is himself a victim of hearing loss, which is probably the basis for his gentle treatment of the subject. Unfortunately, he is shade too gentle with the somewhat pompous Bates, and lets him slide easily out of the difficulties he's created for himself. The gorgeous setup of Desmond's accidental relationship with the increasingly odd American, his tough-as-nails wife and his senile and uncooperative father begs for a major fall. He is allowed, however, to slip through the trap unscathed. The novel ends up being amusing and sweet, but misses the wickedly funny mark Lodge usually hits.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sweet Mary, by Liz Balmaseda

I don't really have much to say about this book. It was entertaining, it started out much more strongly than it ended, the heroine was engaging. I don't really expect thrillers to adhere to the laws of reality, but this one stretched, to the point of discomfort, my ability to believe. The things I did like about it: Miami is just a really cool place to set a book. The protagonist was likable, as were her family and friends. The good guys were vindicated, the bad guys got theirs. (Not much of a spoiler - you expect this from the outset.) If there were a sequel I would probably give it a chance.

Where I heard about this book: Browsing at the library again - I am truly a geek. I chose it because it had a Carl Hiasson quote on the cover.

What I thought of this book
: Okay. 2 stars.

What this book is about
: Mary, a successful single mother, is arrested in her house, in broad daylight, in front of her child, accused of being a drug lord. It is a case of mistaken identity, which Mary is determined to clear up. A sort of typical woman-as-amateur-sleuth story ensues, replete with rekindled flame and spunky best friend. I only wish that the end had lived up to the promise of the beginning - I engaged in a lot of eye-rolling before I reached the end.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

The silver lining to my hour and a half wait at the doctor's office (I never did manage to see him, but that's a managed care horror story for another time), is that I persevered through the slow beginning of this book. Once in, I enjoyed the careful combination of erudition and entertainment. The ending, unfortunately, was not terrific. I admit to being a pretty harsh judge of endings, but honestly, after the work that went into all of the palatable-for-the-public philosophical musings in this book, I think we could expect a little more subtlety. Here's a nice review from the Guardian; their reviewer is a little more enthusiastic and doubtless more thoughtful than I.

Where I heard about this book: Can't really remember - it was reviewed everywhere.

What I thought of this book
: Pretty good - 3 1/2 stars.

What this book is about
: Narrated alternately by its two main characters, this book consists of the musings of a middle-aged concierge and one of the residents of her building, a world-weary 12 year old. Both are unusually brilliant outsiders, with penchants for philosophy and Japanese culture. They are ultimately saved from their parallel states of solitude by the mysterious stranger who comes to live in their midst. And, of course, they're all French, so they easily sound much smarter and more interesting than the rest of us.