Monday, June 28, 2010

"Sizzling Sixteen" by Janet Evanovich

Have you ever made one of your favorite recipes, anticipated the mouth-watering goodness of the dish, only to dig in and find you've somehow screwed it up? This is exactly how the latest Stephanie Plum book feels to me - like all the ingredients are there but somehow not put together correctly.

Stephanie's latest caper involves rescuing her sleazy boss, cousin Vinnie. Turns out he's been kidnapped by some goons over possible gambling debts. There's a ransom demand of some $700,000+, and of course no one in the bond office has that sort of dough. They can't go to the cops, either, as Vinnie has had his fingers in some rather illegal pies. What can the gang do? Well, maybe they can use the lucky bottle that Steph's Uncle Pip left her. Looks like a fancy beer bottle, might have something in it, might just be a complete dud. Lula truly believes the bottle will bring them luck, and it does seem to work a little.

And, of course, there are the two men in Stephanie's life, Ranger and Joe Morelli. Both men are present and accounted for, and Stephanie still can't make up her mind which guy to really go with. There are doughnuts, chicken from Cluck-in-a-Bucket, and a pot roast dinner at Stephanie's parents' house. Grandma Mazur demands to see the body at one of the viewings at the funeral home - she hates a closed casket (she does have a point when she asks how can she know the person is really in there? But I still think open casket viewing is creepy, myself).

So what's missing? Good question. As I said, it would seem that all the usual ingredients are here, just not blended well or in the right order. "Sizzling" is a complete misnomer, as well; there's very little heat of any type in this book. More importantly, I think the humor is missing, too. I wondered if I was starting to find Evanovich boring, but then I remembered how much I had liked "Finger Lickin' Fifteen"; I laughed out loud a lot, and so hard during the barbecue scene, that I thought I might pee my pants. Sadly, that type of humor is missing here. There are some cute scenes, and I might have giggled once or twice, but nothing of the usual hilarity can be found in this installment.

What interests me more are some of the reviews on Amazon. There were at least two people who threw out the theory that Evanovich herself did not write this book, that there's a ghostwriter at work, someone who was given all the "facts" and an outline to work from. I'm not sure I believe that myself, but it would be curious to know if they're on the right track. Also, it would appear that Evanovich is publishing her first graphic novel with her daughter, Alex - could Alex be the mystery writer here? It's a good conspiracy theory to work from, especially for those of us disappointed by this book.

Overall, this is probably a solid C rating. It's not horrible, but it's not what I've come to expect from Evanovich. Luckily, I can pick up the next one here at the library, so I'm not out any money!

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story" by Carolyn Turgeon

What if Cinderella never made it to the ball? What if her fairy godmother had gone in her place? Would the world still be the same? Or would everything change? This is the premise of "Godmother", an interesting if somewhat ultimately disappointing book by Carolyn Turgeon.

Lillian ("Lil"), an older woman in her 60s,  is employed at Daedulus Books. She loves going to work early and putting the store right, dusting shelves, processing books and checking up on her employer, George, a newly divorced man who spends more time with his books than with people. Lil is a devoted employee, even though she doesn't make much money working for George; she often talks about being hungry and needing to watch her pennies. She's lived in the same apartment for decades, walked the same streets, ate in the same restaurants. And she desperately wants to go home - back to Fairyland. You see, Lil is no ordinary human...

Once upon a time, Lil was a fairy, along with her sister Maybeth and their friends Gladys and Lucibell. She lived a perfect life, flying through the air, popping in on humans, and generally influencing the path of several lives. Then she learns that she has been given the most important assignment ever given to a fairy - she must ensure that Cinderella attends the ball, thus falling in love with the prince and marrying him. Cinderella's mother had some fairy blood in her, and the elders want the tradition to continue. It's a very big job for a young fairy, and Lil immediately starts feeling the pressure. To help her in her quest, she convinces her sister to fly to the palace with her; she wants to see what all the fuss is about regarding the handsome prince. What she doesn't expect is for the prince to fall in love with her - he sees her, something most humans can't do. When she takes on her human form, Cinderella's destiny hangs in the balance, as Lil now wants to be the one dancing with the prince.

Back in the human world, Lil thinks she's found a way to make everything right again. Tired of binding her wings daily, tired of being bound to the earth as well, she's struck by a new customer, Veronica. The girl reminds her so much of Cinderella, she can't help but believe that she's been giving a chance to set things right, thus earning her place back in the world of Fairy. She learns that George has to attend a charity ball and doesn't have a date - perfect! She sets up the two young potential lovers, and all seems to be headed in the right direction. But at the last minute, Lil forgets an important item and has to rush off to the ball. Will she reach Veronica in time? Will she be able to fulfill her own destiny?

Most of the book is great. The chapters tend to jump between present day Lil and Cinderella-time fairy Lillian. You feel Lil's pain of being banished from everything she knew and loved, and you root for her to find her way back. I liked George and Veronica, although I didn't necessarily believe they were "right" for each other. I did believe that they both truly cared about Lil, though. The biggest problem I have with this book is the "twist" at the end. If you're paying attention, and I was, you'll see it coming a mile off; I caught on about half-way through the book. It was interesting to read the reviews on Amazon; most loved the book until the end, then felt they'd been had (one reviewer even went so far as to claim "bait and switch" - a bit harsh IMHO). I can't say that I'm that opposed to the ending, but I do admit that I was disappointed. Guess I was hoping that I would be wrong about the direction things ultimately took.

Overall, not a bad book, but not exactly what I expected.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"I See Rude People" by Amy Alkon

I love this book! The subtitle is "One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society." Yeah, I've felt that way quite a lot as I get older; I find myself wanting to go up to people and say "Didn't your mother teach you any better?" Seems like rude people are everywhere you turn around, making one wonder why we ever walk out our front doors in the first place.

No one is safe from Alkon: lax parents, internet bullies, rude drivers, negligent businesses, telemarketers, car thieves, and cell phone "yakkers" all bear the brunt of her displeasure, and her attention. What's more interesting to me is that she takes on what really is a serious subject, injects it with enough humor to keep you reading, and gives you some history/anthropology lessons to boot.

See, we've always been rude, us humans. We're just noticing it more in today's modern world. Way back when, say during the Stone Age (OK, you could even go as far forward as Hunter-Gatherer societies), we wanted to act out - but we caved (pardon the pun) to peer pressure. Basically, if you were the snottiest one of the small group, you could and would be left behind by your fellow cavemen if you misbehaved; you needed them to survive. Alkon points out that there are still "nice" societies in our complex world today, but they tend to have no more than 150 people in them. Anything above that and you start to lose the peer pressure, thus resulting in boorish behavior.

Perhaps the most novel advent in the war on manners is the Internet. While there are several cases of cyber-bullying in the news these days, there are also people like Alkon who have taken to "blogslapping" - outing people via the blogs regarding bad behavior. Think of all the viral videos you see about cops beating suspects, teachers freaking out on kids, etc, and you know what I'm talking about. Alkon theorizes that this is the new way in which we will exert peer pressure, a way that will hopefully make people more aware of their actions - or at least more aware that there are people out there watching them.

The stories are too funny, from Alkon tracking down the home address and phone number of telemarketing execs (and yes, she calls them during dinner!) to her quest to track down the man who stole her beloved Pink Rambler - and her subsequent harassment of said thief. She's not shy about what she wants, and she's a journalist who knows how to get it. My advice? Mind your P's and Q's because there's a very good chance that someone out there is watching you.