Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lord Vishnu's Love Handles by Will Clarke

Here's a book that started out self-published, made it to commercial publication and deserves to be made into a movie too. It's a comedy, a thriller, a spy novel and just plain good fun to read.

Travis Anderson is your average schmuck - a dot-com millionaire living in a pretentious Dallas suburb with his wife and young son. Unfortunately, Travis has been cursed with an unusual gift; he gets psychic visions showing him all kinds of interesting (and often unpleasant) possibilities for the future. Travis copes with his unwanted visions by drinking almost constantly. When the IRS comes after him and his business partner for tax evasion, Travis discovers that his unique talent can save him and his family from financial ruin, and gets sucked into a secret organization of psycho paranormal spies who promise to fix his problems if he'll just do a little bit of work helping them. As you'd expect, he finds he's gotten way more than he bargained for and it's up to Travis to save his own sorry ass and fight to keep his family intact.

Lord Vishnu's Love Handles was difficult to put down; once the story got going, the pace kept picking up and I found I was waiting with increasing amusement to see what kind of wacky mess Travis would get into next. Travis is the kind of main character who wins you over even while you want to smack him, and the bizarre collection of people that he meets during his work as a psychic spy make the story even more readable. Highly recommended!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich

Meh... That would be the word to sum up my reaction to this book. Somehow in the last couple of books, Janet Evanovich has lost the charm that made me enjoy the previous titles in this series so much. Again I had the sense of her plugging in the various bits of the formula for a Stephanie Plum book but there was nothing to hold the whole story together and make it memorable.

Which is too bad, because it's an interesting premise. Stephanie's sexy bounty hunter pal Ranger has run into some trouble and gone into hiding. The feds seem to be looking for him, as is a somewhat crazed woman claiming to be his wife. And then there's the ten year old girl who has been kidnapped and who both Ranger and Stephanie desperately want to find. There's a lot going on in this novel, and it could have made for a really exciting, edge-of-your seat type of fluffy suspense novel, but alas, the whole thing pretty much fell flat for me.

Here's hoping that Evanovich's unique voice kicks in again for book thirteen...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum decides that she's tired of dealing with the hassle of bounty hunting. She's ready for a change of career. Unfortunately, right around the time that she starts her new job working for a local factory, she discovers that someone is out to get her. It seems like being a bounty hunter isn't something that Stephanie can easily walk away from - or drive away from, for that matter, as the creep who's threatening her life seems intent on blowing up her cars.

Something about this book didn't quite click for me. Although it was an easy and reasonably enjoyable read, it wasn't up to the previous standard of "compelling fluff" that I've found in previous installments of this series. All the elements were there but it felt like Evanovich was just going through the paces of writing another Stephanie Plum novel.. "oh, better make sure we put in a good sex scene here... oh yeah, a slapstick scene here... and another one here..." I'll pick up the next novel, Twelve Sharp, and hope that it proves more entertaining.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby

This young adult fantasy novel takes place in an alternate version of New York City where some pretty strange things are going on. Most people can fly, for instance - so birds are revered, cats are considered vermin and those born without flying abilities are mockingly called "leadfeet". There are also some very odd creatures living in the city's subway system - rat people, punks, albino alligators and terrible musicians. (OK, maybe that last one is not TOO different from some modern day subway systems.) Then there's the odd, reclusive professor with a garden growing on his head...

The Wall and the Wing centers on the adventures of two children, nicknamed Gurl and Bug, who meet up in an orphanage where none of the children can remember their past and the matron, Mrs Terwiliger, is Miss Hannigan's evil twin. The discovery that Gurl has the very rare ability to make herself completely invisible leads to all kinds of interesting problems for both children. Eventually, they manage to find happy endings in spite of the nefarious adults in their lives who don't have their best interests at heart.

This was a cute book - it managed to put a fun and creative spin on some rather tired storytelling devices. If there's a 9-13 year old fantasy fan in your life, you might want to suggest this book next time you visit the library. I'm going to see if I can convince my own picky 11 year old bookworm to give it a try.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

This excellent follow-up to Case Histories was well worth waiting for.

One Good Turn centers on a single event and its repercussions. A crowd of people waiting to attend a festival show in Edinburgh one summer watch a fender-bender turn into "road rage" when one of the drivers attacks the other with a baseball bat. By switching perspectives through each chapter, Atkinson shows us how those who took part, those who stood by and watched, and those who tried to help are each affected over the next few days by their decisions. Perhaps most affected is Martin Canning, a quiet writer of bad post-WWII mystery novels who in a rare moment of courage throws his laptop bag at the man with the baseball bat. He soon comes to realize the heavy responsibility of having done a good turn for a stranger. Meanwhile, ex-police detective Jackson Brodie tries to avoid involvement by leaving the scene but finds he's unable to "let go" of what he's seen. Soon he, too, is caught up in the chain of events.

It's an interesting exploration of how the decision to help someone in need of assistance - or not - can impact you. The subplots in this story are cleverly wound together, leading to a seemingly unavoidable meeting between the major players in the story.

One Good Turn is a fine example of the contemporary British crime novel. Sometimes when writers switch genres it really doesn't work (see my commentary on Goodnight Nobody, Jennifer Weiner's attempt at a mystery novel) but in Kate Atkinson's case, while I thoroughly enjoyed her earlier novels (particularly Behind the Scenes at the Museum), I'm very glad she decided to try something new.