The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

The Secret Diary of Lizzie BennetOh, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, how I adore them. As I mentioned when I finally read it, it took me a looooooong time to work up the will to sit down and finish Pride and Prejudice, due largely to the fact that I don’t read books from that time period and didn’t understand the nuances of class and society and all the things that make that book really good.

So The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which is a modern-day adaptation of the book as a YouTube vlog, was perfect for me. Five unmarried daughters? So what? Three underemployed daughters still living under their parents’ roof while their parents are having financial troubles? That I understand. The series made the book so much clearer and more entertaining to me, and I maaaay have watched Episode 98 more times than I am willing to quantify in a public forum. Dizzie 4eva!

Naturally, when I found out that this book, which purports to be a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the vlog and Lizzie’s life in general, existed, I had to read it. Give me all the juicy details, Bernie Su!

There are some of those juicy details, definitely, like why Jane wanted to get the heck out of Netherfield and what exactly was in the letter Darcy gave to Lizzie (which is only really hinted at in the web series) and a better look at Lizzie’s transition from hatred to tolerance to love of Darcy, and if you’ve watched the series you’re probably going to enjoy reading the book.

But the novel as a novel is… lacking. It bounces between being Lizzie’s actual diary with actual diary-type writing and being more or less an updated version of the original Pride and Prejudice novel (now with more internets!) complete with long passages of quoted conversation that you would not see in an actual diary. It sometimes obliquely references events from the web series that I didn’t quite remember and sometimes copies verbatim the script but leaves out important things like stage directions and, you know, emotions. Episode 98 appears as just such a transcript, and considering most of that episode is pregnant pauses and searching looks, it does not come across well.

I’m left wondering if I’m missing something here — I read the book as an advance copy in ebook form and I’m hoping that the finished book fills in some of the missing context or has some kind of fancy formatting that make things make more sense. Fingers crossed?

Recommendation: If you’ve watched the series, go for it. If not, go watch the series immediately. It won’t take long.

Rating: 6/10

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

The Thousand-Dollar Tan LineThis is a book about Veronica Mars. SOLD.

So… here’s the thing. I discovered Veronica Mars in college and loved the heck out of the first season and thought the second season was okay and the third season was fine too, whatever, put Kristen Bell on my television and I will watch it. But it turns out that you put Kristen Bell on my movie screen and I will only watch it if it’s at a theater I like, which the recent movie was not, and also cheap, which the digital rentals of said movie were not. So I haven’t actually seen the movie yet, but I will once it makes its way to my local Redbox, I promise!

And it turns out that this book takes place basically immediately after the events of the movie, which I knew the results of well enough not to be surprised that Veronica was back in the PI game but not well enough to realize that Dan Lamb wasn’t a typo until I got so irritated that I googled it literally two paragraphs before the exposition fairy comes to explain it.

Maybe watch the movie first, is what I’m saying, or don’t watch any of the series first and then you won’t be confused by changes.

Aaaanyway. This is a book about Veronica Mars, who has left potential high-money lawyering in New York to slum it in Neptune as a PI with Mac, who has left actual high-money computering for this job, which… was part-time not an option? Whatever. The book opens with a girl gone missing, and Veronica is called in to do all the investigating while the sheriff’s office gets all the credit. There is some classic undercover work (with Wallace yay!) and sleuthing, and then another girl goes missing and her family (well, one member in particular) knocks Veronica for a tiny loop after which she gets the job done like an awesome person.

The mystery is pretty solid; I certainly didn’t know whodunnit until Veronica uncovered the appropriate number of clues and also the herrings and twists are well placed to be “Wow!” rather than “What.” Good job, Jennifer Graham!

But I think I might have liked this book better if it starred people I didn’t know (well, “know”), because everything was weird from a character angle. I didn’t understand some of the interpersonal dynamics, which is my fault for not watching the movie first, I guess, but also there’s the fact that it seemed like a few show characters were thrown into the story just to have them there rather than for a useful purpose. One character’s conspicuous absences also called for some more thorough investigating by a certain tiny PI, but I didn’t get any resolution on that at all! Next book, maybe?

And, as many others have complained, the book is written in third person rather than the show’s more first-person point of view, which, I never realized what a strange word Veronica is until I saw it once every two sentences for this entire book. Veronica. Veronica. Veronica. Weird, right?

Overall, a delightful read and a happy reunion of my favorite characters (Veronica and Mac, obvs) and a good impetus to finally seek out the darn movie.

Recommendation: For mystery lovers and Veronica Mars lovers.

Rating: 7/10

When We Were Strangers, by Pamela Schoenewaldt

When We Were StrangersIt’s a bad sign for a book when I have nothing to say about it at book club. It’s even worse when I have nothing to say about it after book club. Plenty of people at the table were all, “This book is excellent!” and, “Wasn’t this part excellent?” and I was just sitting there, eating my food, thinking, “How long ’til I can go read a better book?”

Well, okay, there’s a start. This wasn’t a bad book, not by any stretch of the imagination. The writing was good, the premise was solid, and the characters were interesting, if not sympathetic. I just… didn’t care about the book.

So there’s a girl called Irma, and she lives in BFE Italy, where her mother has always told her she must stay, or else die with strangers like all of the other people who’ve left for greener pastures. But then Irma’s mother dies, and her father gets all weird, and her aunt is sick, and everyone’s like, hey, it’s the late 1800s and therefore you should go to America, land of plenty, and send us back all the dollars. And so she goes, and she meets people along the way who are cool and not-so-cool, and she takes a crappy job and learns about how mean people can be, and other nice and horrible things happen to her, and then she American Dreams her way to a better life. Spoiler?

I’ve certainly read books like this before, books with no discernible plot other than “life happens” but that are still awesome because of the characters or the writing. But they have to have awesome characters and writing, and this book just had pretty decent characters and writing.

Others in my book club praised the historical fiction aspect of the book, which is something I’ve never really gotten into, and the sense of culture and culture shock that Irma experiences. I’m not sold. But I will praise the American Dream aspects, especially in our current non-dreamy recession time, because it’s always nice to see a person with no money and no job raise herself up with nothing but hard work and dedication. Maybe some of that will rub off on me!

So… yeah. Have any of you read this? What did you think? Can you explain what I’m missing?

Rating: 5/10

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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Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.