Monday, July 27, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

Maybe it’s because my husband watches the Food Network when I want to watch Law and Order reruns, but I quickly tired of the cooking theme in Janet Evanovich’s new Stephanie Plum novel, Finger Lickin’ Fifteen. Readers familiar with the series already know Stephanie only orders in for food and Lula makes a mess of everything she touches, I was looking for more. Evanovich’s books are the ones I pick up when I want an easy read with frequent laugh out loud moments and lots of sexual tension. Fifteen had the laughs but this time the only sizzling was in the kitchen or on the grill.

Lula, the loud and large ex-ho in Stephanie’s life, witnesses a murder (think head flying action), while Ranger, security pro and sexual tension source, experiences a series of break-ins at his clients’ homes and businesses. Stephanie assists them both while tracking down her own bounty hunter cases in her own hilarious bumbling fashion. Getting sucked into Lula’s crazy bar-be-que sauce cooking scheme is understandable and provided those moments where I giggled and snorted my way though Evanovich’s wonderful descriptions. Stephanie, dressed in a hotdog costume and falling down repeatedly, was some of the written word’s physical comedy at its best. But I struggled with the plot line when Ranger seeks Stephanie’s detective prowess; the man is the epitome of security and bounty hunting skills. Seeing him in a weakened position may have been where the current of sexual tension died for me. I found it easier to believe a man could get beheaded in broad daylight and Stephanie and Lula could lose yet another criminal to a second floor window escape than to think Ranger would ever need her help.

By and large, the novel achieved what it set out to do. Although at times predictable - Stephanie spent a lot of nights in Ranger’s bed and muttered about his salads and lack of pie, granny was toting her gun in inappropriate settings, and cars were destroyed every other chapter– Evanovich is still innovative. Who knew so many elderly women would look forward to a daily neighborhood flasher, and cross-dressing firemen would work as fast food mascots to pay for their sequined tops?

The ending wrapped up a bit too suddenly. I felt myself running out of pages and wondering if ten more might have been able to provide readers with a more satisfying adversary for Ranger.  Carrying his problem to the next novel might have been a better choice. With Stephanie ending the novel back with her steady lover, Joe, I’m not too excited for what book sixteen will bring. I think I’ll go back and enjoy my favorite taxidermy squirrel bombs and Ranger in Stephanie’s bed instead of picking up number sixteen when it hits the shelves.

For a list of all the Stephanie Plum novels and a chance to name book sixteen, visit Janet Evanovich’s website

Friday, July 10, 2009

People Of The Lie

First of all, absolutely necessary to understanding the spirit in which this book was written, one must read the introduction open-mindedly before moving forward. The subject of human evil is one too difficult and prevalent to merit no explanation as to why anyone would try and write a book about it. The introduction explains why Dr. Peck chooses to speak of human evil from a Christian perspective, but aimed for all people to consider, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof). This is a book about human evil, but not about religion—since evil transcends all boundaries and is prevalent in all mankind. Personally, I am relieved by how the author makes no pretenses about his own beliefs, and also mentions that the book will probably offend WAY more fundamental Christians then it ever will anyone else. (Let’s face it: it’s remarkably easy to offend most Christians.) Instead the author attempts to approach the disease of evil from a moralistic viewpoint—morality being separate from individual religious identity.

Like most books from a psychiatric perspective, People Of The Lie uses case studies from real patients to make a point—however, confidentiality demands that not much is realistically cited. This is fine with me, since I’m not a purist for data. If you are, though, this might tickle your skepticism a bit. The personality types so defined do meet with reality in that I think everyone could recognize someone they know in what he lays out with the case studies, so all together I do find them effective.

Dr. Peck seeks to approach evil in a multi-faceted way. Moreover, he recommends approaching as many things in life as possible with a multi-faceted view. The more simplistic and basic a concept is—such as evil—the more elusive it becomes, the more mysterious. In fact, he posits that such seemingly ingrained features of mankind are never fully understood. We approach them with all the tools at hand, reaching the best knowledge on the subject we can obtain. The closer we approach such mysteries, the more we don’t understand.

“Then why try to understand? The very question speaks the language of nihilism, since time immemorial a diabolic voice. Why do or learn anything? The answer is simply that it is far better—both more fulfilling and constructive—to have some glimmer of understanding of what we are about than to flounder around in total darkness.” –Peck, p. 39.

This book is amazing and a must-read for anyone interested in the depths of the human soul—particular the dark and disturbing aspects.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mother of Sorrows

In Richard McCann’s Mother of Sorrows the short stories read more like memoir than fiction and each carries its own sadness. They link together well or can be read individually, both creating a picture of a single life and segmenting it into different time periods. The foreknowledge of the dead father (if you read the stories in order) gives “The Diarist” a heart wrenching sadness that surpasses the sorrow of any other piece. The image of the destroyed car and the angry father stand out brilliantly through McCann’s descriptive language and the intense connection he forms between the reader and the young boy. The mother, as a character, is much harder to define and pin down than the father, thus making her more realistic, more frustratingly human. Her presence tinges every aspect of the boy’s life and makes me wish he could pull away.

The brother, Davis, comes about slowly, developing a little more in each story until his life is told as well. “Fugitive Light, Old Photos” gives quick glimpses of Davis’ life, after his death. The mother is grieving again, she is constantly grieving throughout the book, and it is difficult to imagine her happy or fulfilled. “My Brother in the Basement” shows more about Davis; McCann uses the similarities between the two brothers seem to highlight their differences. Davis had been close to their father, a man’s man; while the narrator coveted his mother’s attention. Yet both are gay and it is the narrator who hides his sexuality from his mother, fearing her reaction after his brother’s disastrous coming out. The two brothers seem much closer in this story than in the previous ones, in “My Mother’s Clothes” they were opposed, although this may have been because Davis was resisting the urges the narrator gives in to.

The standout story is “Some Threads Through the Medina”. The drifting writing style perfectly depicts the narrator’s confusion and frustration with his growing sexual urges. He does not know where he is or where he plans on going but simply feels the desire to keep moving. The story is beautifully written and although it is difficult to keep straight at times I believe the intention is to give off the same feelings the narrator experiences. The reader feels a bit lost, floating from memory to memory with no idea of the places in between.

Knowing the bare bones of McCann’s life I see how closely the narrator in Mother of Sorrows resembles who he has been. With so many memoirs exposed as fabrication I understand the urge for caution, painting your own past is dangerous ground and with this book labeled fiction McCann is able to take liberties otherwise off limits. But perhaps if readers and critics alike could remove the restrictions on memoir, poignant stories like these could be embraced as the writer’s truth with no one quibbling about the details.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Storm Front

A friend just loaned me Storm Front by Jim Butcher. It's book one of the Dresden Files series, and I liked it.
It's a tale of a wizard detective-for-hire in Chicago. His business isn't doing very well, but he does occasionally get work helping out the Chicago Police Department, as when they find two people with their hearts exploded out of their chests mid-coitus. When things of an obviously magical nature are involved, he is their go-to man, as he's the only wizard listed in the Yellow Pages.
The supernatural aspects of the book-- vampires, faeries, the methods of magic-use-- don't seem to be incredibly innovative. Rather, Butcher sticks mostly to the classics, drawing from established mythology and lore, Paganism, voodoo, and the like. He hints at things that have happened to the main character, Henry Dresden, in the past, and at an organization in the magical world that I look forward to learning more about.
Some aspects of the writing do seem a tad overdone, like Dresden's hard-boiled, sarcastic inner monologue and his contact in the Chicago PD's tough-woman-in-a-man's-world demeanor, but I believe it is Butcher's first novel, so much can be forgiven. Besides, I don't think it detracted from the overall quality of the book to any significant degree.
Also, on Dresden's staff on the cover of the book, it looks like there is some backwards katakana (one of the phonetic alphabets of Japanese) spelling out matorikkusu. Matrix? My tricks? Just some random symbols chosen for the aesthetics of the thing? Not sure.
I look forward to reading about more of Dresden's undoubtedly shenanigan-filled cases.

Four out of five magic wands!