Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse (13 August − 17 August)

It struck me that I’d seen all of the Jeeves and Wooster series, but I’d never actually cracked open one of Wodehouse’s books. Clearly, this needed to be rectified.

If you don’t know Jeeves, he’s the butler to a bit of a ditz called Bertie Wooster. Bertie thinks he’s the brains of the operation, but it’s always Jeeves who comes to the rescue when Bertie’s plans go awry. In this novel, we have relationships being weird everywhere — Bertie’s cousin breaks off an engagement over a tiff, a friend of his can’t talk to the woman he wants to marry without bringing up newts, and Bertie’s aunt loses her husband’s money at baccarat and can’t bring herself to ask for more. Bertie, in trying to help, makes it worse, but in the end it is all resolved in a properly oojah-cum-spiff way. I loved it.

Rating: 9/10

Dictation, by Cynthia Ozick (7 August − 13 August)

This is a book of four short stories (less than 50 pages each) that weren’t really connected in any way, as I thought they were going to be when I picked up the book.

The first is about the amanuenses (typists, basically) of Henry James and Joseph Conrad. James’s girl has a plot to hatch, and by golly she’s going to seduce every girl she needs to to get it done. No, really.

The second is about a bit actor who gets a leading role but has to change himself to do it, and oh, also he’s being sort of stalked by the father of the woman who wrote the play he’s in. Hmm.

The third is about an American writer type who goes off to a conference in Italy and gets himself married to the chambermaid four days later. This one I understood the least.

The final story is the one I enjoyed the most; it’s about a girl who, through her mother and her mother’s crazy universal-language-loving cousin, learns a lot about lies and deception.

My problem with the set was really that the stories were a bit too literary — they reminded me of trying to decipher Hemingway and I just wasn’t in the mood.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2008)

The Twelfth Card, by Jeffery Deaver (11 August − 12 August)

I picked this up for a go at a mystery book discussion group, so I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. Luckily, I was not disappointed.

Here we have a quadriplegic detective, Lincoln Rhyme, who picks up a seemingly simple case to avoid a doctor’s appointment (great idea!) and gets way more than he bargained for. The case involves a clever girl called Geneva who avoids an attack in a library by putting a mannequin in her place at the microfiche. Unfortunately, the bad guy is out to kill her, so that’s not the last she’s seen of him. She can’t figure out why he’d be attacking her — is it because of what she read? Something she might have seen out the window? Something she got involved with earlier? There are a lot of possible motives, a lot of potential killers, and a whole slew of red herrings to confuse the crap out of you.

But it’s good. Every once in a while Deaver throws up a dossier of facts and clues that Rhyme has collected so that you don’t get too lost, but he also writes from nearly every character’s point of view at some point in the story so you’ve got extra clues floating around that may or may not be useful. Deaver gets a little preachy about African American Vernacular English and the plight of blacks in Harlem, but the story is engaging enough that I didn’t feel too smacked in the face by it.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2005)

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo (3 August)

I saw a trailer for a movie based on this book when I went to see WALL-E. It looked adorable, and I like an adorable story. This book definitely fit the bill.

There’s this mouse, Despereaux, who lives in a castle and doesn’t act like a mouse − he can read, he likes music, and he’s not at all afraid of humans. When he is caught at the foot of the king, the other mice send him off to the dungeon to be eaten by rats. We follow the mouse for a while, then move on to a rat, the princess, a serving girl, and various other players in the huge series of coincidences that makes up this story. It’s very cute, but the author tries a bit too hard to be Lemony Snicket with a couple of definitions and a lot of talking to the reader and I have to say that Daniel Handler did it much better.

Rating: 5/10

Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher (30 July − 3 August)

This is the second book of the Dresden Files series. The supernatural culprit this time is werewolves, as you might have guessed by the title. A few people show up dead, ravaged by not-quite-wolves, and Harry is called in to figure things out. He is first lead to a gang called the Streetwolves, nerdy college types who have decided to become werewolves and who are led by a not-at-all-human werewolf called Tera with a proclivity for walking around naked. He also finds a businessman who is cursed to become a wolf at the full moon and who has irked the mob boss from the previous novel. Also, a misunderstanding leads his cop friend to arrest him as an accomplice, making finding out which wolf did it a little more complicated.

Rating: 8/10

The Reincarnationist, by M.J. Rose (6 July − 24 July)

You know, I really liked this book, but it took me forever to read it, due to a combination of business, tiredness, and the 450 pages I had to get through.

The premise of this one is that there’s a guy, Josh, who has “lurches” that take him back to his previous lives as a pagan priest and a rich kid. Other people have these lurches, too, so he’s not completely crazy. The story starts off in Rome, where an archaeological dig is going on to find these things called memory stones that, with a mantra, allow the holder to go back to his past lives. They are found but quickly stolen by one of the guards at the site, and Josh and one of the archaeologists, Gabriella, are off to get them back − Gabriella because she spent so much time finding them and Josh because he really wants to use them to prove this whole reincarnation thing. The story is told partly in the present, partly through flashback, and both sides are equally engaging to read. Some of the writing is a little shady − misplaced punctuation and odd grammar − but bad editing aside it’s a good book.

Rating: 7/10

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher (4 July − 6 July)

This is the first book in a series called The Dresden Files, about a wizard who investigates paranormal crimes. It was recommended to me by a librarian, and I quite enjoyed it.

The wizard is called Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, and he’s got a lot of baggage − he has killed a few people in his time, had some uncomfortable interactions with black magic, and has a pretty crappy love life. In this book, he’s out on two weird cases: in one, people are dying by having their hearts explode, and in the other, a guy who is sort of into magic disappears and his wife wants him found. The Chicago mob gets involved, and also demons, and a skull that contains a spirit who knows all about potions. It’s a little bit all over the place, but it’s totally fun. I’ve got the next book in the series lined up on my shelf.

Rating: 8/10

The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (21 June − 29 June)

After an aborted attempt at reading The Other, I abandoned realistic fiction and picked up another book about deities. I was not disappointed.

The Palace of Illusions tells the story of an Indian princess who was born out of a fire as a sort of throw-in with the son her father asked for. The son, Dhri, was called upon to kill his father’s greatest enemy, but it is the daughter, Panchaali, who is to be the catalyst for the event. The novel tells the story of Panchaali from her youth until the end of her life, and it tells it in a really engaging way by giving away the ending and most of the important points of the story really early in the book. Panchaali, the narrator, goes to a fortune-teller early on who tells quite a bit of the story, and at the end of each chapter she says things like, “Later, when this REALLY IMPORTANT thing happened, I understood why I shouldn’t have done this stupid thing here” that totally spoil what’s going to happen. I kept reading because I needed to know how it happened. Really cool.

Rating: 9/10

A Fractured Truth, by Caroline Slate (12 June − 14 June)

At the beginning of the story, this chick Grace is out of jail on parole after 7 years served for the murder, and she’s trying to readjust to life — including e-mail, because this book was published in 2003. There are some fishy things about Grace’s life before this event: her father is killed or possibly has just gone missing, he was involved with some loan sharks and some iffy money practices, her husband caused her business to go bankrupt… it’s not a good time. She’s also now being followed around by a reporter that wants to write the “true” story of her husband, which Grace doesn’t even know because he was basically a pathological liar. This is a pretty good novel — the conceit of a liar’s history is neat, and I definitely wanted to find out why Grace killed her husband (it’s revealed at the end of the book, no worries), so it went fast.

Rating: 7/10

Change of Heart, by Jodi Picoult (6 June − 8 June)

So… yeah. I think we established a long time ago that I love Jodi Picoult. This is her newest book, and I waited a few weeks in a library queue for it. Unfortunately, the book was okay. I was expecting awesome.

The premise of the book is that the hired help kills a woman’s husband and daughter and is given the death penalty for it. He seeks to atone by donating his heart, after his execution, to the woman’s other daughter who has some heart condition or other. The catch is that he can’t give his heart after dying by lethal injection, so an ACLU lawyer starts up a fight to get him hanged instead using some laws about religion and a lovely court battle. Along the way miracles happen. Like, miracles miracles − water into wine, feeding many with a little, curing the sick/dead (very Green Mile), etc. Some people think the murderer is a second coming, others don’t, religion starts fights again.

Like I said, the book was okay − I saw a couple plot twists coming a hundred pages ahead, and the religion thing got a bit heavy-handed, but I still stayed up until 4 in the morning finishing it, and that’s got to be a good sign.

Rating: 6/10