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WiB Summer Edition, Week 7

July 4, 2010

Started the week with Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear.  This is the second of his Nursery Crime books, which I have enjoyed more than I ever enjoyed the Thursday Next series.  (I have read The Eyre Affair three times: disliked it the first, liked it the second, and disliked it the third.  Go figure.)  The Nursery Crimes books follow Detective Jack Spratt (that’s TWO t’s, you see), a thin man whose first wife died of obesity.  He and his partner, Mary Mary, are on the tail of a missing Goldilocks, who may or may not be THE Goldilocks, which leads them to learning the ins and outs of cucumber raising, discovering the joys (or lack thereof) in creating an amusement park out of war themes, and following the politics of whether there should be the right to arm bears.  All of this is happening while serial killer The Gingerbread Man is again on the loose, and you know how hard it is to catch him.  Fforde is one of those authors I will never love, because I don’t care for books where everything’s funny all the time (they always seem to try too hard), but this series entertains the heck out of me, and Fforde never takes being funny too seriously.  This book never feels forced, which is saying a lot for that style of writing.

Next, I read Jane Green’s Bookends,which was erroneously shelved in the Young Adult section of my library.  I soon realized that it wasn’t and fortunately the mislabeling didn’t put me off of the book entirely.  The novel follows a group of friends through university to adulthood; the posh, manipulative Mean Girl has long been out of the group but her shadow still lingers, and when she is discovered to be nearby and writing their past and present lives together into fiction for a television show, the friends can’t help but wonder whether the fiction of the show is fiction at all.

I’m forced to agree with the review on Amazon: “Bookends makes a great case study because it has little going for it besides plot. Dialogue? Stilted. Characters? Clichéd. Writing style? Sloppy. And yet the book is well-nigh impossible to put down.”  Bookends is filled with little weaknesses–most especially for me that its protagonist, Cath, is supposedly a reader but rarely mentions books or reading even when she opens up a bookshop and cafe with a close friend; but also because the end starts to read like an informational pamphlet at times.  Green also takes the path of easy resolution with almost every storyline, and yet…and yet…it was an enjoyable book.  I read it quickly, and had a good time reading it.  I’m looking forward to reading more by her, although I’m hoping for something tighter–and, frankly, better–in my next choice.

(Also, books about people who drink and party heavily through their teens and twenties always weird me out, because it’s the very opposite of what I was growing up and I think to myself, “Do I really want to read about someone I wouldn’t like in real life?”  As a reader, it’s strange sometimes to be in that kind of minority, rather than fondly remembering my own days with my head over a toilet.)

Next, I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, which I spotlighted here.  But for those who don’t want spoilers (or to read me whining about my past and current life), Prep follows a young woman on scholarship at an almost entirely rich and exclusively boarding school.  Lee goes from being a regular kid back in her hometown to a painfully insecure teen at her new school, among the class, race, and general teen issues of a privileged, closed environment.  Sittenfeld captures well the precarious sense of being a teenage girl in ANY school environment, but the book is not without flaws (many readers find themselves unable to sympathize with Lee’s passivity).  Still, a recommended title.

THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS: I finished up the last two of Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses books, This Duchess of Mine and A Duke of Her Own. The former was one of the weakest books in the series.  I never before wanted a hero of a book to die so much while still liking him at the same time.  The entire beginning of the book is awkward as heck and basically is just a weak attempt to keep the hero and heroine apart until the middle of the book, where they then proceed toward the end alternately having sex and bemoaning his heart condition and ever-impending death.  The duke’s miraculous recovery thanks to digitalis is historically interesting, but almost feels like a cop-out after James’s ability to defy reader’s expectations.  Even the Duchess of Beaumont herself could not argue that this book is, as she might say “tedious.”  On the other hand, A Duke of Her Own is both one of the strongest books in the series and, perhaps because of that, has the largest flaws.  (Well, maybe after the whole “running in shorts”/Buddhist thing from Isidore’s book.)  The Duke of Villiers has been charged to take in his six bastard children–if only he knew where they were–and he knows he needs a wife for such a Herculean task, and only a duke’s daughter will do, as anyone of lower rank might shudder at the very thought of so many by-blows being raised almost legitimately.  Villiers basically has two choices: Eleanor, who cannot get over her first love’s terrible betrayal (especially since she has to see him around the ton all the time); and Lisette, the utterly beautiful and completely charming–if a bit eccentric–daughter of a duke, who lives entirely out of society’s prying eyes.  The back of the book AND the cover of the book set up Lisette as the winner of the Duke’s heart–note the blonde hair on the cover, and the little crown that’s also mentioned in the text–but, sorry to spoil, DAMN RIGHT he doesn’t get with Lisette.  After eighty pages of how awesome Eleanor is, we head to Lisette’s home and she becomes a rival, presumably a successful rival, which makes the reader irritated from the get-go.  Lisette, at first, is adorable, but James reveals her inability to fill the role of the Duke’s wife to the audience almost as slowly as she does to the hero, which impressed the heck out of me.  Eleanor and the Duke end up quickly in lust and, later, love, and it’s completely charming.  What’s NOT charming, however, is how quickly the children are pushed into the background for the duration of the story.  While three of the six are on board for the storyline at Lisette’s, the other three are back at the Duke’s place, conveniently forgotten while the story progresses.  Did James never think that these little kids are just SITTING BACK AT THE DUKE’S HOME THE WHOLE TIME, that they’ve been scooped up by strangers and basically told, “Wait here” without even their oldest brother to comfort them?  (He’s needed to be the Snarky Voice of Reason and The Sign that Eleanor is the Best Choice.)  Also, Eleanor is revealed to be the best mother for the job, AND YET SHE DOESN’T EVEN THINK TO TRAIN HER DAMN PUPPY.

So weird.

Finally, I read Dead Until Dark, which minus the joy of Tara and her mother is the practically word-for-word basis of the first season of the HBO show True Blood, which won me over after about three or four episodes, although I’m still behind right now because we don’t have cable at my house.  Unlike True Blood, however, this book is…bland.  The author’s writing is missing something essential to storytelling, but I can’t tell you what it is exactly.  I just can’t pin it down.  It’s all there, every bit of it, everything funny and sexy and almost as gross as the show can be, but it’s just not the same.  Unless you’ve got a weak stomach or no desire to see Anna Paquin naked (no offense, Miss Paquin, but I don’t myself), skip the book and go straight for the DVDs.

Next week: Why when Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes real-people fan fiction, I toss the book, and yet when Curtis Sittenfeld does it, I can hardly put it down.

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