Perfect Match and Vanishing Acts, Jodi Picoult

Sigh.

I know she’s better than this.  Ms. Picoult is an excellent writer.  She does good dialogue, her characters are generally consistent, the little kids are really good little kids.  In each case where I have begun reading a book of hers, I have stayed up way past my bedtime finishing it.  (In the case of Vanishing Acts, I was already up thoroughly late because I was introducing my friend Teacher to Firefly and I didn’t want to let her leave until she totally liked it and had stopped saying snide things about Kaylee.  Victory!)  So I will not suggest that she is a bad writer, at all.

Here’s the thing.  Sister loves her some dramatic irony.  And, um, also just some irony.  Also just some drama.  She is much with the drama and the irony and the dramatic irony.  It detracts from her books.  I mean, I didn’t even think it was possible to use the adjective “silly” to describe a book all about child sex abuse, but I can’t use any other adjective to describe Perfect Match.  I don’t even know where to begin spoiling it.  I mean, there’s the part where Nina shoots the priest in court and then acts crazy; there’s the part where it turns out that not he but a similarly-named priest from Loosiana (of course) who happens to be the dead priest’s half-brother who donated bone marrow to him to cure him of leukemia.  I mean, because why not?  And then there’s the part where the husband, who’s spent the whole book being all judgey-judge, secretly flies down to Loosiana and poisons the real perpetrator with antifreeze.  Oh, and the requisite guy in love with the female protagonist, hovering sadly in the wings.

It’s a shame, you know?  I feel like Jodi Picoult could write much better books than she is actually writing – though I suppose she’s feeling if it’s not broke don’t fix it.  (That expression never fails to make me think of that moment in the Disney Beauty and the Beast where Cogsworth and Lumiere are showing Belle around the castle and he’s talking about the baroque tapestries and he says “And as I always saaaay, if it’s not baroque – don’t fix it!”  Anyone else?  Anyone?)  It’s not the writing, it’s the plots.  She can’t resist high drama, and she can’t resist crazy plot twists, and it detracts from her books.  Making them into guilty pleasure type books, when I really think they could be a lot more.

Which of course isn’t stopping me from being on my massive Jodi Picoult kick, so I’m just off to read Nineteen Minutes now.  I am sure I will feel much the same about that one.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Markus Zusak

I read this because I bought Getting the Girl, and then it turned out that Getting the Girl was a sequel to Fighting Ruben Wolfe.  I haven’t liked reading things out of order since I was a young lass reading Patricia C. Wrede’s Dragons books.  I read Talking to Dragons first and found it totally confusing, and after that I resolved to read things properly and in order thereafter.  (The one exception being the Chronicles of Narnia.  I can see a person being just as happy reading those books in the order they were written, which would give them the joyous good fortune of reading The Horse and His Boy rather late in the game.  Also The Magician’s Nephew – it is my fourth favorite, but it clusters high up with the four best ones, rather than down a bit lower with Prince Caspian, The Terrifying Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.  I like Uncle Andrew.

Er, anyway.  Fighting Ruben Wolfe is all about two brothers, Ruben and Cameron, whose father has lost his job, and their whole family is trying really hard to keep its head above water.  And Ruben and Cameron – ostensibly to get some extra money for themselves – get involved doing fights for money.  Ruben always wins, and Cameron often loses.

In fact I wasn’t expecting to like this book much.  People’s first novels are sometimes not very good, and this was Markus Zusak’s first novel.  Furthermore I have only sisters and am greatly averse to pain, so I was thinking that I would be unable to identify with anything here.  But actually it was quite moving.  I didn’t cry at the end – not like when I read The Book Thief and weep helplessly every time – but I got pretty teary-eyed and sniffly.  They fight their circumstances!  They stick together and are brothers!  It’s very uplifting.

Miss Wyoming, Douglas Coupland

The fact that I stopped reading All Families Are Psychotic and started reading this is just further proof that I think an enormous lot of thoughts in my brain, and many of them are rather irrational.  In this case, my thinking was that if I was going to be disappointed in Douglas Coupland I’d rather be disappointed sooner than later.  So instead of reading All Families are Psychotic, which Nymeth said was pretty good, I read Miss Wyoming, which I’d heard wasn’t very good at all.  And then I shall read JPod because it looks strange, and then I shall read All Families are Psychotic, and we’ll see how it goes.

Miss Wyoming is all about two people – John and Susan – who have both, at different points in their lives, disappeared from their lives for a while.  This is why I liked it, I think.  I’m in love with the idea that it can be possible to extract yourself from where you are living and just, pfft, slip out of your life.  But anyway, John and Susan meet once, and they like each other tremendously, and then Susan vanishes agan and John tracks her down.  Interspersed with this is a lot of backstory about both of them, in varying degrees of interestingness.

I liked it. I loved this thing that one of the characters did about tracking someone down based on the typos they make.  The idea being that people’s typing mistakes tend to remain the same – I myself am constantly typing “foundaiton” for “foundation” – and you can use that to find what computer somebody is using.  What an excellent idea!  So I still like Douglas Coupland.  I am feeling better about my reading diversity now that I have recently discovered two authors who are men that I really, really like; as well as reading Markus Zusak’s other books.  I am not a sexist reader.  Yay.

Lux the Poet, Martin Millar

I am afraid that if I keep saying sweet to describe Martin Millar’s book, it will seem to be that I am damning him with faint praise and denying that he has any edge. Because his books contain themes about racism and drugs and sex and whatnot, and these aren’t things generally associated with books that are sweet. On the other hand, if Martin Millar didn’t want his books to be described as sweet, he should not have written such extremely sweet books. So it’s not really my fault.

Lux the Poet is about several things. It’s about a poet called Lux who is incredibly vain, and to whom nobody will listen when he tries to recite his poems. He is in love with a girl called Pearl, who has made a film and is (sort of) dating a girl called Nicky, who is manic-depressive and has irritated the vengeful leaders of a company that was trying to breed genius babies, by stealing their genetic programme so they can’t carry on with their plan to breed genius babies. Also, there is a fallen heavenly person called Kalia who has to do a million good deeds before she can get back into heaven, and she continues to be reincarnated until she has done this. Her plans are being thwarted by wicked Yasmin, who in this incarnation is hunting down Nicky and Pearl to get the genetic programme back. Um, and also Lux is being hunted down by an angry thrash metal band called the Jane Austen Mercenaries, because he stole their demo tape which is now wanted by a record company. Also there is a book reviewer trying to get back a manuscript he left with Nicky. Oh, and also – I forgot this until just now, which you wouldn’t think I would have because it’s the whole point – they are all in Brixton during the reportedly very unpleasant Brixton riot in 1981. It was a great big riot, and it contained racial tension. Apparently. I wasn’t born yet. Anyway there is a big riot and everybody is going round and round Brixton trying not to get burned up or intimidated or arrested.

And it was very sweet. Mostly. Apart from a wee bit in which this woman got raped – but because that’s upsetting to me I’ve decided to believe Nicky was hallucinating it, which, hey, she may have been – and apart from how occasionally some unpleasant people used a word I don’t use and really, really, really don’t like (it’s a racial slur – you know what I mean). It is one of very few words I actively dislike. In fact it is my least favorite word. If I ever get interviewed by James Lipton – which is unlikely – I will tell him this word is my least favorite word. Ugh, I really hate it. I decline to write it because I dislike it so much.

I read Lux the Poet in order to make myself not dislike Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me. In case I haven’t said so, I am greatly looking forward to reading Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, but I’m holding off until I have finished reading my new Markus Zusak books (which are short), and the two Douglas Coupland books I have out of the library, and The Vampire Tapestry. It’s all about delaying gratification. However, I have noticed a trend with new authors where I really like the first two books I read by them and then the third one is a letdown (this has held true with Martine Leavitt and Salman Rushdie and Mary Renault and probably others but I can’t remember), and since I already bought Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, I didn’t want it to be a letdown. So I read Lux the Poet as my number three Martin Millar book. It wasn’t a letdown but it was less good than the first two books I read by him, and therefore I am now safe to read Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me.

Anyway, Lux the Poet was good. Except too short. I can envision a world in which one would find Martin Millar’s writing to be choppy and disjointed, but I’m glad to report I don’t live in that unfriendly depressing world. I liked this book, and I especially liked Kalia, who was the fallen heavenly creature trying to find her way home. I liked it how Lux was very okay with discovering this about Kalia, and I liked it that major problems throughout the book sometimes got resolved suddenly and easily (it’s so relaxing). Lux reminded me a bit of the poet ghost in The Graveyard Book, one of several characters in The Graveyard Book that there was not enough of, so it was quite convenient to have read this straight away after reading The Graveyard Book. I’m sad I have to return Lux the Poet to the library. Maybe I will steal it.

I’m sort of sad that Lonely Werewolf Girl was only released last year. It appears to take four or five years for Martin Millar to write a new book, which is fine but sad for me because now I have to wait until 2012 for his next one. 2012. That is a long time away, and it seems like a very improbable year to me. 2012. Like 2012 could ever happen.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

The reason for the brevity of those last two reviews is that I am really mostly just excited about The Graveyard Book, which came out today.  At last!  The Graveyard Book!  I have been yearning and yearning and yearning for it, and at last it came out, and I read it all outside on a blanket in my side yard, and it was nice and shady and breezy, and I felt very, very, very happy!

I went to Bongs & Noodles today to get The Graveyard Book, and they had not yet even opened up the box with the display that The Graveyard Book was going to be on.  The salesperson had to get a pair of scissors and open the box up just for me.  (I offered her my keys, which would have been more effective actually, but she insisted on using the scissors.)  It was very exciting.  I love it when Neil Gaiman writes a new book.  He should write a new book every day, and then I would be happy every day, and I wouldn’t have enough time to read all of them, so that when he died way off in the future I would still have dozens of new books by Neil Gaiman to read.

That would be nice.

The Graveyard Book is all about a boy whose family is killed when he is very wee, but he escapes and toddles away into a graveyard, and the graveyard decides to adopt him.  The ghosts all look after him and teach him useful lessons like Fading and Dreamwalking, and he has got a guardian called Silas, who consumes only one food, and it is not bananas.  He grows up gradually, and they call him Bod (with a D), short for Nobody.  The man Jack, who killed his family, remains interested in killing him, so Silas and the rest of the ghosts do their utmost best to keep him safe until he is a grown-up.  He becomes clever and resourceful, and he doesn’t like people who are wicked.

How I loved The Graveyard Book!  It was such a dear book!  There are all these ghosts you don’t get to know nearly well enough, and every chapter is a little story, and Bod gets into all kinds of trouble and learns valuable lessons and sometimes makes a friend.  I only wished there were more of it.  More Silas and more of the poet ghost, who was extravagant and helpful.  I am not usually overcome with sadness when a book ends, but I was extremely sad when I got to the end of The Graveyard Book.  I suppose because it was rather episodic, I expected it to go on and on and on, and then instead of that it ended, and I felt really sad because I was sure there were more bits that could have happened in the middle before it got to the end.  I was insupportable.  I had to lie on my back and stare at the humongous sky for a while before I was able to overcome my grief and start reading it all over.

Read it!  Neil Gaiman is wonderful!  I am glad he is still so young and can continue to write for many years still!

The Mercy of Thin Air, Ronlyn Domingue

Recommended by my mother.  Of course.

This is a book about a girl in 1920s New Orleans who dies prematurely, before anything about her life gets properly decided, particularly before she makes a decision about her boyfriend Andrew, a fact that proves troublesome to her after she dies.  She is called Razi, and she haunts a Baton Rouge couple, Amy and Scott, who are dealing with the fallout from a loss of their own.  The story flips back and forth between their story and Razi’s life as a – for lack of a better word – ghost, over the years, and Razi’s life when she was properly alive.  She is a really excellent character.  When she is alive she says to her Andrew, “One lifetime isn’t enough to make all the trouble of which I am capable.”

I really love the main character’s name – it’s Raziela, the meaning of which I’ve seen alternately given as God’s secret and My secret is God, both of which are wonderful.  I like My secret is God particularly, to be honest.  My secret is God.  That is a good sentence.  I will have to find a use for that sentence.

The Mercy of Thin Air was good.  I like books about people successfully coming to terms with things that have been problematic to them.  This was melancholy in bits and joyful in bits and with good characters and good dialogue and I just liked it a lot.  Plus, you know, sister’s from the home state and her characters are always going to places that I have been, in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans.  Hooray for Louisiana!  We have good food!  We have streetcars!  If anywhere in this country was going to have ghosts, it would be us!  Up with Louisiana!

Blankets, Craig Thompson

On reflection, I believe I am glad I didn’t buy this in my recent spate of bookbuying, because I have still not decided whether I want to own it forever.  It’s very good – a graphic novel memoir about first love and losing faith – and I enjoyed it both times I read it, and I am looking forward to Craig Thompson’s next, whenever that may be.  I don’t have anything bad to say about it, actually.  The drawings are black and white, line drawings, and Mr. Thompson makes excellent use of the whole graphic novel form to do things with implication and without words, which is something I so adore about graphic novels.  For someone who loves words as much as I do, I am incredibly pleased when an author can make something go without saying.

I suppose the reason I haven’t bought this even though it’s excellent is that it’s also awfully sad.  Awfully awfully sad.  I mean not depressing, but just very sad.  Plus memoirs make me a little anxious – which is funny considering how many memoirs I read – but it’s just that people write these books that tell dreadful stories about them and their family members, and it makes me anxious for their family.  Even though I’m sure they asked permission about everything they wrote.

Still it’s very well worth reading.  I shall probably continue to check it out of the library periodically until I eventually cave and buy it so I won’t have to keep getting it at the library every few years.  We’ll see.

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, Ruth Rendell

On with the reading of books by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine to decide what I indeed think of her!

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me – of whose title, incidentally, I simply cannot approve – is all about a caddish man called Jeffrey John Leach, who is wickedly assuming false names and seducing women so that they will give him money, and then he ups and vanishes, leaving them a bit in the lurch.  He has done just this to two of the three central characters here – crazy Minty Knox who has OCD and hears voices, and opportunist Zillah Leach who is now about to enter into a marriage of convenience with a childhood friend and queer MP – while carrying on an affair with a woman called Fiona, whose married neighbors don’t much care for him.

This book was interesting, and I read it straight through in one go, though more because I want to return it to the library when I go at two than because it was so frightfully gripping.  Everyone was just so unpleasant, it was difficult to care at all what happened to anybody.  I was pleased Michelle and Matthew ended up happy, although less pleased than I would have been before Michelle started getting all hysterical (why do Ruth Rendell’s women all go to pieces every time something goes wrong?).  But Zillah was awful, Fiona was neurotic, and Minty Knox with all her craziness just didn’t ring true for me.  So oh well.  On to the next.

The Hills at Home, Nancy Clark

“Did someone die in here or what?” ….

“Yes,” she told Andy, “somebody die die in here but I have, of course, since changed the sheets.”

I read about this book here, and felt smugly certain that I would not be, as Powell’s review suggested some would be, “deaf to this novel’s considerable charm”, thus would not have “wandered away long before those scenes [the ones with plot in them] arrive.”  They said it was like Jane Austen, and I suppose I thought that meant gently satirical and not very exciting in a Scarlet Pimpernel way, but nevertheless containing various things for its well-drawn characters to do.

It’s all about a family of Hills, and they all come to live with their Aunt Lily in her large house.  Lily’s brother Harvey comes, and he doesn’t like damn liberals; and histrionic Ginger with her teen daughter Betsy; and out-of-work Alden and his wife Becky and their four children; and Arthur and Phoebe, who are someone’s nephew and his girlfriend but I can’t remember whose because my brain doesn’t have the capacity for all this; and finally a distantly-related sociology student called Andy who wants to study the Hills.  And I think that’s all of them.

I got on pretty well for a while.  The characters were indeed entertaining, if too numerous to be bothered keeping track of (Ms. Clark appeared to feel the same way), and the dialogue could be funny, and everyone thought a number of humorous thoughts, and all.  But seriously, nothing ever happened.  I mean nothing.  They would eat breakfast and go into town and come back from town and talk, but there was nothing ever actually happening.  I appreciate having characters at whom the author pokes gentle fun, and at the same time, that doesn’t make a book.  After a while I found myself flipping through pages trying to discover whether anything, ever, was going to happen to induce change, and when I had pretty well figured out that nothing ever would, I returned the book to the library.

Oh well.  Then I no longer had it to worry about, and I settled down instead and read Tom Finder, which I liked a very great deal more.

Tom Finder, Martine Leavitt

I just bought a bunch of new books.

Tom Finder is the fifth from the bottom.  Two of the other books I got, I have not included in this picture, because I am going to get them for my oldest sister for Christmas, and although I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read this blog, I don’t want to take chances.

See, it turns out I was entitled to get this gift card from Amazon for $100, so I claimed it, and then I spent it.  I spent my money very sensibly, which allowed me to get free shipping and two of those books for free, and I ended up with a dozen of them.  A baker’s dozen.  I mean, fourteen – the dozen of an extremely generous baker.  I am exceptionally pleased with myself, and I am most excited about Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, which I am putting off reading because I enjoy to delay gratification.

Anyway, I read Tom Finder first of the new-to-me books above pictured (only three are new), because I want to read the book to which Getting the Girl is the sequel, and it’s not yet in at the library, and because I thought I wasn’t going to like it that much.  I knew it was about a boy living on the streets, and I didn’t like Heck Superhero, which was similarly themed; whereas I loved The Doll-Mage and Keturah and Lord Death.  But indeed it was quite, quite, quite wonderful.

Tom finds himself on the street and can’t remember anything about his life before.  But he meets a man called Samuel who tells him that he is a Finder, and he must find Samuel’s son, Daniel Wolflegs, who has gone missing.  Samuel says that Tom has to find Daniel before he can find his own home.  Tom gets good at finding things – money, books, library cards, food – and he writes down all the things he can figure out about himself, so he won’t forget again.  He comes up with a theory that words are in charge of everything – because he writes things down and discovers they are true.  He writes down “Tom is nice”, and he always tries to be nice after that – because he remembers that he has written down that he is.

I really, really liked this.  I am about to write a geeky fangirl letter to Martine Leavitt and tell her how much I admire her.  Because honestly, her books are very very good.  Tom Finder was.  I feel guilty for reading it as a substitute for Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me.  I completely forgot about Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me while I was reading it, which is funny given how much I’ve been yearning to read Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me for the past, I don’t know, week and a half.  And I forgot all about the stabbing pain about which I am too much of a lady to say more.  And I was too absorbed to stop long enough to write down in my commonplace book the bits I wanted to write down in my commonplace book.  So props to Martine Leavitt.  Again.

(Did I already discover she was Mormon, and then forget I had discovered she was Mormon?  She’s Mormon.  Who knew?)

Edit to add: This afternoon I went grocery shopping with my mum, and we stopped at Bongs & Noodles just for fun, but mainly I believe so she could get Chalice, and I was looking at bargain books, and I got Eleanor Rigby and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, both in hardback, for just shy of twelve dollars.  It is a banner week for me and new books!  So while I watched the very exciting LSU football game, I covered all my new paperbacks in contact paper, and I put plastic dustjacket covers on my new hardbacks until I ran out of plastic covers (need to order more).