Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas (16 August)

I posted a while back about how I don’t read enough funny books; I’m starting to think it’s because I don’t have the right sense of humor for them. I don’t know what sense of humor you need to read this book, but I certainly don’t have it.

The stories in the book were definitely interesting; Dumas talks about her life as an Iranian transplant to America and how she grew up translating things for her parents (even before she spoke English well) and how much culture shock there is between Iran and California. But there was only one story that actually made me laugh, and it had nothing to do with either of those topics — this story (the second to last in the book) detailed a trip to the Bahamas during the spring break season which led to Dumas and her husband judging a beauty pageant. Oh, yes.

I think the problem I had with Dumas’s stories was that she tried really hard to shoehorn a moral or just a point into almost all of them. Of course, a story should have a point, but I feel like if you have to tell the reader what the point is, the story didn’t have one to begin with. I found myself thinking of a Certain Journalism Professor throughout the book; he says that after you write a story, you should remove the last sentence and see if it still works. If it does, kill the last sentence. CJP would have used a trusted assassin for this book.

Rating: 5/10

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Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (8 July — 10 July)

Back in the day when I could easily creatively acquire television shows (ahem), I watched a lot of TV. Possibly too much. But one of the shows I dearly loved was Dexter, a show about a serial killer who kills serial killers. It was interesting and quirky and starred Michael C. Hall, and I would still be watching it today (it’s still on, right?) if I wanted to pay for Showtime. Which I don’t. Maybe I’ll be able to grab the seasons from the library, but that is for the future.

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes. This excellent show is based on the book Darkly Dreaming Dexter, a short-ish novel about, well, a serial killer who kills serial killers. Shocking. Dexter is a blood-spatter analyst for Miami Dade, working alongside his foster sister, Deborah/Deb/Debs/Debbie, a vice cop looking to move up to homicide. Deb’s father, Harry, was a cop himself, and took Dexter in after finding him at some crime scene that he kept a secret from Dexter even in his death. All Dexter knows is that he’s emotionless (sort of), not-quite-human, and carries a “Dark Passenger” inside him that likes to kill people. But Dex follows his foster dad’s advice and keeps the DP at bay by killing only people who really deserve it. But then, one day, another serial killer pops up with an M.O. rather like Dexter’s for disposing of bodies, and Dexter’s world goes a little lopsided.

This book is not for the faint of heart, though it’s a bit less graphic than the series. Also, while it covers the same time span as the first season and is pretty much the same plotline, it has a rather different ending, so don’t feel like you’ll be spoiled too much.

Unfortunately, the ending is my one big beef with the novel — not that it’s different, of course, because that’s allowed, but because Lindsay leaves a couple of my questions unanswered (like [spoiler alert] what the heck happens to the killer and how Dexter convinced Deb to be okay with any of what just happened to her [end spoiler alert]), after he complained about LaGuerta not asking questions and therefore being a bad detective. Whatever. My recommendation: read this first, then go watch the series and love every bit that doesn’t have Lilah in it.

Rating: 6.5/10

Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi (18 May — 19 May)

I think I’ve mentioned before that I rather like John Scalzi’s work, from his Old Man’s War series to his wonderful blog. So when I saw this book, his first (but not first published) novel, for 25 cents at a street fair, well, I couldn’t help but purchase it. And Zoe’s Tale, for another quarter. If only the rest of his work had been there too!

Anyway. Agent to the Stars is fun and fluffy. Tom Stein is an agent to a variety of Hollywood “stars” — one real star, a few decent actors, and a bunch of riff-raff. After landing his star, Michelle Beck, a $12 million contract for some crap movie, Stein gets a meeting with the boss, all by his lonesome. His assistant isn’t even allowed in! This is because boss dude Carl wants Tom to represent a new client… a blob alien called Joshua. Joshua and his blob-alien kin have travelled to Earth to make friends and have decided that since American entertainment rules the world, why not get an American entertainment agent to represent their interests? Of course.

The plot is a liiiiittle ridiculous, but it’s throughly entertaining if you don’t think about it too hard. Which is as it should be. 🙂 I hope that my hypothetical first novel is (hypothetically) as awesome as Scalzi’s was.

Rating: 8/10

Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat?, by Maryse Condé (13 May — 18 May)

Note to Mary: If the next book recommended by you that I read has even one person dying in it, I’m going to consider this a trend.

To everyone else: Remember how I read this book and I was all, “suddenly everyone and his sister wants to kill someone else”? Well, even if they had, there still wouldn’t be as many deaths as happen in this book! But, luckily, these deaths aren’t quite so graphic as Zola’s.

Basically what happens in this book is that there’s a missionary called Celanire who shows up at a village in Africa conveniently soon (practically immediately after) the death of the man she was meant to work for, so she gets his job of running a home for “half-castes” — basically biracial children whose parent(s) don’t want that transgression running around underfoot. Celanire does awesome things with the home and also starts empowering women and also starts making moves on pretty much every sentient being in the town. There’s more to Celanire than meets the eye, which we find out in bits and pieces as we follow her from the Ivory Coast to Guadeloupe to Peru on her quest to set right some old wrongs.

It’s not really a page-turner, as they say, but Condé kept me interested in the book’s big questions: Who is this Celanire? Who slashed her throat, and why? What kind of person would allow that to happen? Just how exactly does karma feel when it comes back to bite you? How much weird shit can Celanire get away with?

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Guadeloupe)

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris (30 April — 7 May)

I had this collection of Sedaris essays as my car audiobook for those long drives to and from my music ensembles, and I thought it worked pretty well. Stopping in the middle of a story left me confused, but when I could listen to a whole story at once I was highly entertained.

Most of the stories in this collection are ruminations on Sedaris’s life, both now and as a kid growing up in North Carolina. I felt a little awkward hearing Sedaris talk about playing strip poker and being beaten up by bullies and his brother training the dog to eat poo, but I thoroughly enjoyed his more humorous stories. In particular, I listened to his essay on Christmas in the Netherlands by myself and then immediately replayed it for Scott to hear. It was good.

That story and another were taped as Sedaris read them in front of an audience, but most of them were just Sedaris talking into a microphone, and you could really hear the difference. The man has a stage presence, but he seems to forget to use it without an audience! I wonder if the stories read differently without Sedaris talking.

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

Mister O, by Lewis Trondheim (11 April)

Teehee. This little book was both fun and cute. Even Scott liked it! It was almost impossible to find in the children’s section, though, because all of those books are tall and thin like this one!

So. Our hero, Mister O, is a little stick figure with an O-shaped body who needs to cross a cliff gap. On each of 30 pages he tries a new way of doing so, with varying levels of failure. And failure there is. If you think you might feel squeamish about the death of a a circle with legs, you should probably not read this.

There aren’t any words in the book, and only a couple of pictorial exchanges of dialogue, so you can have fun making Mister O say silly things as he tries to fill the gap with tiny stones, tries to fly using large leaves, and steals some springs to use to jump across the gap. It’s a good time.

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

Plain Truth, by Jodi Picoult (15 January — 16 January)

Oh, Jodi Picoult. Just when I’m so angry at you, the library suddenly has all of your books. I remembered this as one of Picoult’s books that Laura loved a bunch, so I grabbed it. Thank goodness I did!

Plain Truth starts with a girl secretly giving birth in a barn and hoping for God to solve her problem. She falls asleep holding her baby, but when she wakes up it’s gone, and that makes her pretty happy. Unfortunately, it is found in the morning, dead and hidden in a pile of clothing. Katie, eighteen years old and found bleeding from her vagina, is the prime suspect in the baby’s murder, but she is saying she never even had a baby.

Ellie, a high-powered defense attorney, has just completed the case of her life in acquitting a child molester and is feeling pretty dirty about the whole thing. She leaves Philadelphia and her lame-tastic boyfriend for some relaxing time near Amish country with her cousin Leda. Unfortunately for Ellie, Katie is Leda’s niece and Ellie finds herself not only representing an alleged baby-killer but also living and working on her farm as well.

I thought this novel was just great. I enjoyed learning about the Amish culture, and seeing how Ellie and Katie both had to make concessions to the other to make their partnership work. There was, as always, a bit of melodrama, and a nice neat little ending (I would love to cut out that page and just leave some ambiguity for the next reader, but the library probably frowns on that), but overall a good time and a much more engaging read than most of the books I’ve grabbed recently.

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

Cadillac Beach, by Tim Dorsey (29 December — 4 January)

Yes. Well. I read this book because my dear friend Pat told me it was awesome. I can definitely understand why he would find it awesome, but it was definitely not the right fit for me.

This book is weird. No, WEIRD. The plot, what there is of one, is that the main character, Serge, is out to solve the mystery of his grandfather’s death. It was ruled a suicide, but Serge just knows that it had something to do with the theft of a bunch of jewels from a museum. He sets off to find some answers and ends up creating a tour company, getting on the outs with the mob and the police when some of his customers kill a mob boss who is ratting and going into witness protection, and creating an invasion that sort of happens but doesn’t but makes everyone like him again.

It doesn’t make any sense. It’s pretty funny in parts, when you see all the threads of all the different stories that are going on start to come together, and when Serge does things like threaten someone with a leaf blower. But I just couldn’t hold all of those plotlines in my head and still figure out what each sentence meant. Sorry, Pat, but I think I’m going to take a pass on Tim Dorsey.

Rating: 3/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2004)

Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher (20 December — 27 December)

This is the first of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, not about wizards for hire but about a fantasy world where people can control the elements through spirits called furies.

In this first book we meet Amara, a Cursor (still not clear exactly what that means) of the First Lord of the Aleran people. She is performing her Academy graduation exercise of infiltrating a rebel camp and finding out what they are planning when she is thwarted by an unexpected source — her mentor, who has been by her side in planning the investigation but also by the side of the rebels in leading Amara into a trap. She escapes to the Calderon Valley, where…

Tavi, a teenager who is well past the age for coming into furies but who does not have any. Tavi has let some of the sheep from his uncle Bernard’s farm stay out all night, impressing a girl instead of herding them as he is meant to, but when he and Bernard go to find them in the morning, they find instead a Marat soldier, something not seen in the Calderon Valley for years. Bernard is nearly killed and Tavi must figure out how to survive a violent storm and return to the farm to warn everyone of the impending danger.

Along the way he meets up with Amara, she explains what’s going on, and adventures are had, as they are in any good fantasy book.

I quite liked this book. The pacing was decent, the plot connected well, and the characters were interesting. There wasn’t any of the “and then Tavi comes into his furies right when he needs them most!” that I was expecting, and little details fell into place really well. I especially appreciated the fact that the book was only 450 pages long, because those epic novels (see next post) can get a little tedious. Butcher cut out the fat but left in all the tasty protein (whoo metaphor!) I was looking for.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2004)

Something Rotten, by Jasper Fforde (25 November — 28 November)

Something Rotten is the last of the first four books of the Thursday Next series… I figure that since Jasper took a few years off, I can take a break now, too. 🙂

This was definitely a great conclusion for the set… basically, a whole bunch of odd things that happened in the previous books were recalled and sometimes explained here, and, of course, even more odd things happened!

It’s a hard book to summarize, though, because so much of what happens here is tied to things that happened in other books — a fictional character comes to power, Thursday’s husband is reactualized (or is he?), Thursday’s friend’s wife is an assassin out to kill Thursday… yeah.

The new things in the story are a plot by the aforementioned fictional leader to convince England to hate Denmark, going so far as to claim that Volvos are both unsafe and Danish; Thursday’s acquisition of the Swindon Mallets croquet team which needs to win the SuperHoop to take down the Goliath Corporation; and that Thursday needs to find a new Shakespeare to rewrite Hamlet after its characters wreak havoc on the piece.

Basically, if you’ve liked the previous books, read this one. But do not under any circumstances read this first.

Rating: 7.5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2004)