The Vile Village, by Lemony Snicket

Hey, look, another road trip happened! You’ll be seeing this and two more Series of Unfortunate Events posts over the next several days. These books are just so perfect for driving — they’re simple, they’re engaging but not so much that you cause an accident, and they are easy to pick up again after you’ve taken a pee break. They should clearly list these qualities on the CD case.

Okay, so, we pick up on the V.F.D. thing in this book with a trip to a town called V.F.D., where the citizens have decided to take part in an orphan-raising program based on the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. Yes, you can groan.

The Baudelaires find a friend in the town handyman, who helps them attempt to decipher notes that are clearly coming from the Quagmire triplets but who is too “skittish” to do any good defending of the orphans when Count Olaf comes waltzing into town accusing the orphans of murder. Oh, snap.

In the last book, the series got an overarching storyline (finding V.F.D), but this book radically changes the way that the Baudelaires will follow that storyline, as they go from “orphans being shipped around the greater Earth area to increasingly inappropriate guardians” to “orphans running around the greater Earth area trying to find V.F.D. and also avoid the people who think they’re murderers.” I don’t really remember the rest of this series very well, so I don’t know if this is a good shift or not, but it definitely makes the series a bit easier to bear over the next couple of books, as you’ll soon see.

Recommendation: I really like this series, even if it’s not exactly “good.” You should read this if you like sarcastic humor, and you should listen to this if you like Tim Curry.

Rating: 8/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Night Bookmobile, by Audrey Niffenegger

Oh, Audrey. I know we’ve had our differences before, but I was hoping that maybe if you wrote another book with a librarian in it, we’d be good as new. Sadly, I am still ambivalent.

This is a super-duper short story, told in a graphic format, and there’s not much I can say without giving the whole thing away. Baaaasically, there’s a thing called a Night Bookmobile, which is a sort of mobile library that comes when you need it. Or something. And it holds all of the things you’ve ever read in your life. And the main character, Alexandra, finds her bookmobile and becomes a little obsessed with it, as I imagine one might.

And so that’s an interesting premise, but then the story goes a little crazy at the end, there, and a whole host of issues crop up that would be interesting to address but that do not get addressed. Niffenegger writes in the “After Words” that this is the first installment of a larger work, so I hope that perhaps I will get to see that larger work and that it will tell me what the heck is going on.

Recommendation: Eh, it’s a quick read and it’s certainly ripe for discussion… probably an interesting pick for a voracious reader.

Rating: 5/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Mr. Peanut, by Adam Ross

This is a strange, strange book. I’m not sure what I think about it. I liked the concepts that Ross was working with, of Escher and tessellations and Hitchcock and disorientation; I liked the way he built up a million questions and seeming incongruities and then made them all work out, in one form or another, at the end; I liked that he gave me a nudge in the right direction when things got all literary and subtextual. I didn’t like the characters, who were by design all very similar and possibly by design all really annoying; I didn’t like the interlude with Sam Sheppard that didn’t really go anywhere, by which I mean it didn’t seem to move the story along and also it didn’t seem to fit in with the story, at the end; I didn’t like that Ross’s nudges sometimes turned into pushes or slaps.

If you had asked me yesterday, when I was about halfway through, what this book was about, I would have told you pretty much what you’ll see on the jacket flap: some guy called David Pepin is said, on the very first page, to be a continual day-dreamer of ways that his wife might die. He’s a little morbid, that one. And then poof! A few pages later, his wife is dead, and the manner in which she died is either a suicide or a murder and it’s pretty much impossible to figure it out. But a couple of detectives, including Cleveland’s own Sam Sheppard, are working on it. Slowly. While dealing with bad relationships of their own.

But today… it’s odd, because on the one hand I don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining the intense maze that is this novel, but on the other hand I’m pretty sure that no matter how much of the plot or conceit I gave away there would still be something in this book that would surprise you. Because there is a LOT of stuff in here.

So I think I will talk about my favorite and least favorite parts: the Escher and the characters, respectively. Bad things first!

The characters are whiny as all hell. In an interview, Adam Ross said that he didn’t consider his characters’ marriages dysfunctional, because what’s functional and also don’t all marriages have their ups and downs? I can agree with him on that, and I didn’t mind too much that his married characters were sometimes in love and sometimes not — I’ve certainly seen that enough in my lifetime.

BUT. I have never heard of anyone staying bed for five months to prove a point, what point I’m still not sure. And I swear, if the dead wife in this story were mine, I would be seriously contemplating her death as well. I cannot deal with people who don’t use their words, and I especially cannot deal with people who use their words to say, “If you don’t know what’s wrong, I’m not going to tell you.” Ri-freaking-diculous. And all of the female characters, and to a lesser extent the male characters, do this throughout the novel. Scott heard me loudly complain more than once about it.

Okay, good things. I wrote on the Twitter that the title page of this book is decorated with Escher, who is one of my favorite artists ever. This predisposed me to like the novel, and it also helped me get through a lot of the novel. See, it’s broken up into bits and pieces, with some dude-wanting-his-wife-dead over here and some detectives-investigating-the-mystery there and some oh-hey-I-should-probably-explain-who-Sam-Sheppard-is-because-it-turns-out-he’s-just-like-that-guy-that-wanted-his-wife-dead right in the middle. And then these pieces, they’re sort of thrown up in the air and land wherever they want and there aren’t any chapters and you just sort of have to hope that when you get to a new paragraph you’ll be able to figure out what’s going on. And that is SO Escher.

Oh, and one of those smacks to the face that Ross doles out is all but breaking the fourth wall to tell you that you should read this book to figure out the plot, then read it again to take notes on it, and then discuss it with people. And so I will do this! Thanks goodness for a book group.

Recommendation: Read this if you like or are at least intrigued by movies like Memento or Primer. Also very good for Hitchcock fans, I think.

Rating: 8/10 — Most of this rating comes from the novel’s structure. If it were just the murder-mystery plot or those darned characters it would be much lower.
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Devourer of Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich

The other day at the library, I asked a woman if I could help her find anything. She was standing in front of the “new mysteries” section, and she said that she’d read all of these already and asked if I could help her find a good action or adventure mystery. I was like… um…

Because I haven’t read an adventure-y mystery in a really long time! Most of my fare is either classics or literary-style mysteries, neither of which would probably have appeased this woman. And in fact, I realized that of all the mystery authors who get multiple shelves with multiple copies of each book? I’ve read exactly zero. I decided I ought to rectify this, so I grabbed a copy of One for the Money and went to town.

Well. I suddenly remember why I like the classics and the literaries. Stephanie Plum is not a detective; she’s an unemployed lingerie-buyer who conveniently has a bail bondsman cousin who, with a little blackmailing, is willing to let her “shag” (you would not believe how happy I was to discover the 1994 definition of that word!) a bail jumper for a cool ten grand. And this jumper is none other than some guy who diddled her in kindergarten and then again in high school. And he’s a cop. Who killed someone. And Plum is totes going to get him. Somehow.

I will grant that it was interesting watching Plum be a complete idiot (V.I. Warshawski she is NOT) about… everything related to nabbing a bail jumper, and also to watch the strange cat and mouse game that she and the guy were playing. But the whole story just required this drastic suspension of disbelief that I just could not manage. Many things were incredibly convenient, many people were conveniently very stupid and/or bad at their jobs, and Plum seemed pretty much devoid of common sense and yet still managed to get her man.

It makes the brain hurt.

Please, suggest to me another popular mystery author, and perhaps a title of his/hers that won’t make me want to cry over the inanity?

Rating: 5/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Y: The Last Man Book 4, by Brian K. Vaughan

I ended up reading this one pretty quickly after the last because I seem to have gotten Scott interested in the series and thus I didn’t want him stealing this before I got a chance at it. Because I’m territorial like that. But now I think Scott’s going to end up reading them first…

Okay, so, book the first was all exposition-heavy and kind of annoying, but then book the second was a lot better with the action and the plot moving forward, and then book the third was pretty equally okay. But then I got completely squicked out and a little derailed by this book, and I can only hope the squicky stuff NEVER COMES BACK AGAIN.

I’m sure it was at least a little on purpose, but these weird scenes in which repressed sexuality is made unrepressed and some odd form of torture happens really made me cringe. It was just so… weird and awkward and so seemingly completely irrelevant to the story (which is actually how I feel about the Israelis in this series, too, now that I think about it) that I just wanted that half of the book (yes, half) to be over now!

Luckily, once it’s done you can see that there was, in fact, a point to all the awkward and it actually makes me feel a little less annoyed with Yorick because he becomes a slightly less annoying person. So that’s a plus. And the second half of the book is fairly interesting, with yet another set of crazy people and an equally crazy throwdown between them and our heroes (who are still Yorick, Mann, and 355).

So… I think I’m going to put this series away for a little bit and come back to it once I can repress those unrepressing scenes. Makes perfect sense, yes?

Recommendation: Ehhhhhh… let me get back to you on this. If it makes sense in the overall story, I’ll give it a thumbs up.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Y: The Last Man Book 3, by Brian K. Vaughan

More Yorick! Good times! Well, good for me. Not Yorick. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Let’s see, who’s a player in this book? We’re still following Yorick, his monkey Ampersand, 355, and Dr. Mann on their journey to California. But there’s a quick detour in Kansas when a terribly accented Russian shows up ready to rescue some male astronauts (well, one is obviously a cosmonaut) on their Houston-unsupported return to Earth. Which would be going fine, except…

The strange Israeli army people are back, apparently following the orders of Yorick’s mother who thinks that 355 is going to do something terrible to Yorick… or something. It’s not terribly clear. What is clear is that the Israelis’ leader is bent on kidnapping Yorick for herself… not like that. Maybe like that? Okay, not as clear as I thought.

Who else, who else… there are some geneticists, which is cool. Oh! Right! And a troupe of actors who stage a play about the last man on Earth, make meta-commentary on this series (“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s crappy works of fiction that try to sound important by stealing names from the Bard”), introduce me to a work by Mary Shelley called The Last Man (which is on my TBR pile effective immediately), and piss off a bunch of Kansas ladies who really just wanted someone to continue their stories (you know, soap operas) for them.

OH. And then there is someone called Toyota who for some reason wants Ampersand. I imagine that will come back again quickly.

So all in all the series remains on a high level of ridiculousness tempered by an intriguing question and some fine illustration.

Recommendation: Yeah, you should probably pick up this series. It’s pretty cool.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race

I haven’t read The Daily Show staff’s other book, America (The Book), but I’ve heard good things about it and also Earth, so when I saw the latter in the library browse area while shelving the other day, and most importantly when it was still there when I was leaving, I felt compelled to snap it up. And, because it was a 7-day loan book, I was even more compelled to read it right away!

Of course, “right away” doesn’t mean “in one sitting,” and so it took me the better part of five days to get through the 240-odd pages of insanity that is Earth. The book and the planet.

Part of that I blame on the conceit of the book — it’s set up as a textbook for use by aliens who come to visit us but find that we’ve already killed ourselves off in some fashion. It’s full of pictures and captions and “educational information” and even, wonderfully and nostalgically, one of those stamps on the inside front cover that we all had to fill out every year for all of our textbooks, with our name and the condition of the book. I had completely forgotten about those. Oh, how wonderful college would have been with free books.

Anyway. The other thing that I was made to remember about my grade-school textbooks is that they can be INTENSELY boring, even if the information is good, because it’s just fact after fact, and in this case joke after joke, and it gets tedious after a while. I might suggest you get this on a 14-day loan, at least. Your brain will thank you.

When taken in the proper dosage, the factoids in this book are delightful and come in several flavors:

Amusing Truths
“This is Barb. She’s the best. If you need to know where anything is, just ask her. Or call or IM her, or just email or send a text. Barb’s great. Oh, but don’t fuck with her yogurt in the shared fridge or she will cut you.”

“It was a sad but universal fact of human life that any technology — no matter how incredible — eventually came to be seen as cumbersome. For instance, the first cordless telephone inspired awe. One year later, using the very same phone could only be seen as an ironic tribute to a time when we were forced to lug around comically giant cordless phones.”

Depressing Truths
“[P]igmentation was a quick and convenient way of judging a person. One of us, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once proposed we instead judge people by the content of their character. He was shot.”

“While millions of us died of starvation and thirst, millions of others were so sated they could afford to use pies — round fruit or cream-filled pastries with enough fat content to sustain a human being for several days — as comedic projectiles, and water as giant slide lubricants.”

Flat-out Lies
[On Monopoly money] “While not legal tender, this $100 bill was still widely used by hats, racecars, thimbles and Scottish terriers to buy property, pay taxes and post bail from the jail in which they were sometimes arbitrarily incarcerated.”

“After winning seven gold medals Geraldo Rivera went on to become one of the world’s most prominent reporters.”

So… basically it’s pretty much like The Daily Show. In book form. And without those “special reports” I dislike so much. If you can get through the pop-culture references and the sarcasm, you might even learn something!

Recommendation: If you like The Daily Show and you like reading very short tidbits of information, this is for you. If you are even slightly ambivalent to the comedy stylings of Jon Stewart et al., you should probably skip right over this.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

I mentioned on Sunday that I was reading and greatly enjoying this book, and while it took me several days longer than I thought it would to finish it, I did end up retaining that enjoyment throughout. So, yay! Of course, it’s no Fingersmith, but I think I was plenty warned about that going in. 🙂

So this is a creepy little story that I still think is most closely related to The Fall of the House of Usher and The Haunting of Hill House, largely because the house itself is a main character of the book. On the Poe side, you also have a house-going-mad/family-going-mad connection; on the Jackson side you have people being drawn to this house like flies to flypaper (that is, reluctantly at first, but then SMOOSH).

But of course, this isn’t either of those books, so many other things happen. The general plot here is that our intrepid narrator, a Dr. Faraday, finds himself the new family doctor of the Ayreses, who live in an awesome house called Hundreds Hall that Faraday has been attracted to since he was a child. It’s a beauty — or it was until World War II happened and all the money went away and Mrs. Ayres and her two children and her two servants couldn’t keep the thing up properly. Faraday is having fun hanging out in his idolized house and being friends with high society people, right up until things start to go CRAZY. And by CRAZY, I just mean that some bad things start to happen, like dogs biting and war veterans going a little daft, and strange smudges show up and no one who actually lives in Hundreds actually likes being there all that much, but Faraday just thinks that they’re all a little touched in the head, there’s nothing creepy at all about mirrors walking on their own or the telephone ringing in the dead of night with no one on the other end.

Ahem. It’s a little creepy. And the creepiest part of all of it is that you’re never quite sure what’s actually going on. I, at least, was like, “Oh, the house is haunted. Or maybe it’s not. No, it definitely is. No, that’s crazy, everyone else is just haunted,” for pretty much the whole book.

And I thought that everything resolved itself quite appropriately (if not terribly informatively) at the end of chapter 14. But then there is a tiny little epilogue chapter, which is something that I hate, and which is not really especially useful here, so I recommend you just go ahead and skip that and know that nothing really happens after the end of chapter 14. 🙂

Recommendation: For fans of Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, other people who do interesting psychologically scary stories. Not for people who like plots wrapped up with a bow.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Book Addiction
Chrisbookarama
things mean a lot

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Y: The Last Man Book 2, by Brian K. Vaughan

This is definitely better than the first collection of the series, mostly because there is nearly 100 percent less exposition. So relaxing to just read a story!

The plot is still generally the same, of course — Yorick is probably the last man on Earth, making him a very hot commodity for many groups who want him in varying levels of alive. A government operative called 355 and a Dr. Mann would like to figure out why he’s still alive and possibly clone him, because that would be useful, but the group farthest to the “dead” end of the aforementioned spectrum is hunting this little group down as they travel from Boston to California. They make it as far as Ohio in this book and stir up quite a bit of trouble in the process.

This series continues to provide an interesting answer to the “what if we got rid of all those pesky men” question, though the focus on the Daughters of the Amazon in this set got pretty tedious pretty fast — I get it, they’re a cult, they’re quite crazy, can we move on now? But of course we can’t, because Yorick’s sister has gotten herself caught up in the crazy.

With any luck, things will get crazy in a different direction in the next book.

Recommendation: Read the first set; if you like it, read this!

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist

Dudes. This was a really good book. I love me a dystopian novel, and I thought this one was especially effective because I could really, definitely see it happening. The Hunger Games? Eh, maybe. Shades of Grey? Definitely not. The Handmaid’s Tale, which this reminded me strongly of? Not really. This? Oh, I could totally see this.

The “this” I’m talking about is a world where the people we love are no longer dying for stupid reasons like decades-long organ transplant waiting lists… because the older, procreatively-challenged members of society are ready and mostly willing to fork over a kidney, or a cornea, or an auditory bone, or a liver, or a heart whenever there isn’t anyone else around to do it.

See, over in that Scandinavia area (if not everywhere), the population is divided into “needed” people — parents, schoolteachers, nurses — and “dispensable” people, with no one to take care of. These dispensable people are taken away at a ripe old age (50 for ladies; 60 for gents, who can sow their seeds a bit longer) to live in one of the titular Units, where they live wonderful lives of comfort and ease, with no need to earn money or cook for themselves or do anything at all that they don’t want to, except, you know, participate in medical and psychological experiments and donate an organ here or there until it’s time to donate a major organ.

Our dispensable friend is Dorrit, who didn’t try terribly hard to become needed and is rather enjoying her time in the Unit. We follow along as she has a relatively easy time of things, makes friends, makes a “friend,” and then makes a baby, which sort of throws everything out of whack both in the Unit and in Dorrit’s life. And boy, do things get interesting from there.

It’s not ever terribly exciting… the story is fairly slow-paced and the focus is really on the emotions of the people within the Unit, which are quite up and down, as one might imagine. And Holmqvist does a great job of this. She also does an excellent job portraying the whole Unit system as a pretty good idea, really, if not a very easily sustainable one.

There is a whole boatload of intriguing in this novel, and I may have to read it again at some point to really appreciate what Holmqvist has done and to look again at the interactions between the characters in a new light.

Recommendation: Grab it if you like a good dystopian novel or a good psychology-driven narrative.

Rating: 9/10
(Orbis Terrarum: Sweden, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Reading matters
Jules’ Book Reviews
At Home With Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.