Saturday, October 28, 2006

Seven Up by Janet Evanovich

While Stephanie struggles to reconcile her feelings for the two hot guys in her life, one of whom wants to marry her and the other of whom is just plain hot and wants to get into her pants, she tries without much success to finish her latest bounty hunter task. She's been asked to bring in Eddie DeChooch, a wily old guy who keeps slipping through her fingers again.. and again... and again. And then there's the troubling disappearance of Stephanie's two gentle loser pals, Mooner and Dougie, who have gone AWOL in a haze of pot smoke... Somehow she knows this is connected to the case she's working on, which is getting more and more bizarre and sinister.

Throw an unwanted Harley, some female mud wrestlers and a frozen pig heart into the mix and you have a typical week in the life of Stephanie Plum.

This was another fun installment in the series. The only real surprise here is that one element I expect to find in every Stephanie Plum novel was missing. If you have read this series up to this point, let me know what you think. I kept waiting for this thing to happen and was disappointed when it didn't -- but I still enjoyed the story.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lies, damned lies, and...

Yesterday, this blog officially turned one year old. In honour of the anniversary, I have decided to indulge my love for "interesting" statistics.

Here are some highlights of the past year here at Literary Afterthought.

Number of books I blogged about: 105
Average number of books read per month: 9
Number of books I rejected without finishing them: 9
Author whose books I read the most of: Alexander McCall Smith
Month that I read the most books: November 2005

Five best novels:
1. The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone
2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
3. Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella
4. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
5. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Best new discovery: Sophie Kinsella
Best humorous novel: Divorcing Jack by Colin Bateman
Best children's/young adult book: City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Best non-fiction book: Twilight children by Torey L. Hayden
An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof

Worst book:
Dark Tort by Diane Mott Davidson
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence

Biggest disappointment: Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

Keeping this blog has been incredibly fun, and it has changed the way I read books. Thanks to everyone who read and especially to those who took the time to leave comments! I look forward to sharing more discoveries and disappointments here in the coming year.

Newfoundland by Rebbecca Ray

Short, deep sentence fragments. Quaint and heartfelt imagery, excessive use of commas, fear of linking sentence clauses with conjuctions.

Books like this, they bug me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hot Six by Janet Evanovich

Contrary to what the title of this book suggests, there is no hot sex in this book. You see, Stephanie Plum's grandma has rebelled against her own daughter and son-in-law and decided it's time to move out on her own. But while she's looking for a place, she figures Stephanie won't mind giving up her bed (and her privacy) for an old lady. There are two evil but incompetent guys following Stephanie everywhere she goes. And then there's the cop friend who tricks Stephanie into taking on the burden of his dog, Bob. So, there isn't a whole lot of time or space for hot sex, but Stephanie has plenty of other action to keep her mind off it. She's been asked to track down her fellow bounty hunter, the mysterious and sexy Ranger, who is caught up in some serious trouble.

Another fun, light, fluffy and funny book with the usual heroics and hi-jinks. The serious prize-winner sits on the shelf while I dig out book seven to help take my mind off the stresses of my busy life.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

When I started this book, I had no idea what it was about. The dust jacket had been removed, and I haven't seen the movie based on it. A friend loaned it to me and said she'd liked it, and that was enough for me.

By the time I was halfway through chapter one, I was completely sucked in. The story was vivid, the characters were so deftly described that in just a few sentences I understood what kind of person each was, and the action picked up pretty quickly. I was so enthralled by this story that I realized it had been a very poor choice for reading on the ride up to campus, because I have to switch from bus to train to bus and there was a pretty good chance I'd miss my stop. Still, I persevered with both my journey and my book, though I was resentful of the need to pay attention to the outside world.

At some point halfway through The Horse Whisperer, though, something changed. At first, I was reading a compelling story about a New York City family with one beloved child, a family struggling to overcome a shocking tragedy and move on with their lives. A story about Pilgrim, a horse that had been through such severe trauma that everyone had pretty much given up on him ever being able to go back to his former life. And a story about the "horse whisperer", the man with a gift for taming the wildest and most nervous horse with his gentle, empathic approach. So that was all good. But then... Sometime after Tom, our horse expert, is reluctantly hired to work with Pilgrim, suddenly I found myself reading an entirely different book. Equally well written, but... well... it was a sappy romance! Featuring adultery! With lame, poetically written justifications for it!

And geez, I just didn't want to read a romance novel; I wanted more of what there was at the beginning of this book. So, in spite of the great writing, the characters, the vivid descriptions, in the end I felt somewhat let down by The Horse Whisperer. At least Evans had the courtesy to tie up the loose ends, to give us a happy ending for some of the characters (and I guess it makes me just a tad sappy to like happy endings and loose ends tied up), but... geeeeeez. Enough with the long meaningful looks, the desperate lovers, the hot sex scenes. I want to hear more about the horse, dammit!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

High Five by Janet Evanovich

Business is slow at the bail bonding agency, so Stephanie Plum agrees to help out with a family matter. Her tight-fisted uncle Fred has disappeared, shortly after an argument with his garbage pickup company over a $2 refund. Somehow, Stephanie's family has gotten it into their heads that she can find Fred. Unfortunately, while she investigates this matter, she discovers a trail of dead bodies -- none of them Fred's.

Meanwhile, one of Stephanie's small jobs turns into a big headache when a little person (don't call him a midget!) moves in with her after she wrecks his apartment during his apprehension. Her Grandma gets hold of Stephanie's stun gun, a crazy ex-boxer is stalking her, she can't seem to get her uncle's ugly old Buick out of her life, and she's torn between the attentions of two really hot men... just another average episode in the life of this bounty hunter.

In short, a highly enjoyable novel that had me laughing out loud -- and looking lost when I finished it and realized that number six wasn't waiting on the shelf.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Four to Score by Janet Evanovich

Exciting stuff happens to Stephanie Plum in her fourth adventure. Cars explode, molotov cocktails are thrown, scary Italian grandmas give people the evil eye, grumpy old elderly women perform daring hamster rescues, and Stephanie finally gets laid.

All of this excitement is part of the background to her latest job as a bounty hunter. Stephanie needs to track down Maxine, a woman who skipped bail after the seemingly innocuous crime of "borrowing" her loser ex-boyfriend's car for a while, and ended up getting arrested when, to retaliate, he called the police and reported his car stolen. Unfortunately for Stephanie, Maxine is just a little too determined to not be found, and our heroine finds herself having to dig deeper and deeper into this puzzling situation - with occasionally disastrous results. On the positive side, though, Stephanie has gained a new sidekick, a transvestite named Sally who is a master codebreaker. The scene where Stephanie ends up taking Sally, Lula and her Grandma on a stakeout in a crowded casino is a priceless example of Evanovich's flair for mixing the serious and hilarious.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith

This book was in some ways a departure from the series, in other ways not.

For one thing, instead of being asked to investigate some outside mystery, Isabel Dalhousie is instead preoccupied with matters of the heart in this book - her own heart, as well as the hearts of others. Her traditional nosiness - err, curiosity about the doings of others, I should say - comes into play here. The book focuses far more on character development than the previous two titles, and I enjoyed getting to spend some time focused on Isabel instead of on whatever matter she is investigating this time around.

On the other hand, The Right Attitude to Rain continues in the thoughtful and contemplative tone that I expect from this series. Being a moral philosopher by profession, Isabel Dalhousie can't help but consider the ethical implications of her actions, and she spends a fair bit of time thinking about general moral and ethical issues as well. Although this means the series will always be short on action, long on navel-gazing, it's an interesting sort of navel-gazing that gives you a glimpse into the curious, observant and gently mocking mind behind these books. I offer you a sample of these unique musings on modern life, as Isabel goes about her part-time job of editing the Review of Applied Ethics:

By lunchtime she had read and corrected almost half of the issue. Several of the authors' footnotes had been mangled in the setting, with page numbers disappearing or inflating impossibly and requiring to be deflated. Page 1027 could not exist; page 127 could, or page 102 or 107. This involved bibliographic checking, which took time, and sometimes required getting back in touch with the author. That meant e-mails to people who might not answer them quickly, or at all. And that gave rise to the thought that an article on the ethics of e-mail would perhaps be a good idea. Do you have to answer every e-mail that you get? Is ignoring an electronic message as rude as looking straight through somebody who addresses a remark to you? And what, she wondered, was a reasonable delay between getting a message and responding to it? One of her authors had sent her an enquiry only two hours after sending an initial e-mail. Did you get my message? Can you give me a response? That, thought Isabel, could be the beginning of a new tyranny. Advances in technology were greeted with great enthusiasm and applause; then the tyranny emerged. Look at cars. They destroyed cities and communities. They laid waste to the land. Our workship at their altar choked us of our very air, constrained us to narrow paths beside their great avenues, cut us down. And yet... she thought of her green Swedish car, which she loved to drive on the open roads, which could take her from Edinburgh to the west coast, to Mull, to the Isle of Skye even, in four or five hours, just an afternoon. The same trip had taken the choleric Dr. Johnson weeks, and had been the cause of great discomfort and complaint. it was an exciting tyranny, then, one which we liked.

I have to admit that this series isn't my favourite by Alexander McCall Smith - I read it mostly because I'm waiting for the next No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel - but it does have a unique charm that makes for a fun and restful (though not thrilling and action-packed) read.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Three to get Deadly by Janet Evanovich

This series just keeps getting more and more hilarious.

In the third installment of Stephanie Plum's misadventures as a bounty hunter, she acquires a new sidekick, her pal Lula - a 200+ lb ex-whore turned file clerk at the bail bonding agency. Lula's big ambition is to become a bounty hunter herself, and she seems to be under the impression that Stephanie knows what she's doing and could teach her a few tricks of the trade. The problems that beset Stephanie and Lula as they pursue Mo, the beloved owner of a local candy shop who skipped bail, sound serious (ie, discovery of multiple corpses, death threats, being shot at multiple times) but they had me laughing so hard that I got the hiccups.

I don't want to give away the story, but be assured that if you pick this one up, you'll get more of the same things that made the first two books so great. Family dynamics, romance, thrills, and the defence of an innocent hamster's life - it's all here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich

The story picks up a few weeks after One for the Money ended. Stephanie Plum has started to settle into the life of the bounty hunter, but she's still learning from her mistakes, still being a total pain in the ass to the cop and fellow bounty hunter she's learning from, still being plagued by her overbearing mother and still having to look out for her crazy granny. Luckily (or not so luckily) for Stephanie, she's trying to bring in a man who is helping her do lots of learning from mistakes. Kenny Mancuso is showing increasing evidence of being totally insane... and he isn't shy to let Stephanie know that he's not too happy about her interest in his life and whereabouts. When body parts start showing up in unexpected places, and Kenny starts targeting Stephanie's loved ones, this case becomes just a little too personal. Look out, Kenny - you won't like Stephanie when she's angry...

This book had action, suspense, and way more laugh-out-loud moments than I usually get in a mystery novel. So far this series is proving to be thoroughly enjoyable... so much so that I'm passing up the other titles on my bookshelf to read the third installment next.