Sunday, March 11, 2012

Death of a Kingfisher

M.C. Beaton breaks little new ground in her 28th installment of the Hamish Macbeth series, Death of a Kingfisher. Hamish hasn’t progressed personally or professionally. He hasn’t even aged—I started reading the series as a teenager, and I am now officially older than he is!—yet Sergeant Macbeth is as pleasant and comfortable a companion as ever. Kingfisher is a cozy, painless read—if you consider murder cozy and painless—and the book does end on a minor cliffhanger. Now, I just have to wait another year for the next entry in the series.

Why We Broke Up

I really wanted to like Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up. I mean, who wouldn’t like such a catchy title from no less than Lemony Snicket himself?

It’s no spoiler to write that Min, a would-be film director, and Ed, co-captain of the high school basketball team, broke up. In fact, the entire book (and it is one thick, heavy book) is Min’s account of their relationship and why they broke up.

I wanted to cheer for Min, but I actually found her pretentious and just plain annoying. She goes on and on, comparing every incident in their relationship to some obscure film. Frankly, I was bored with her narrative. Maybe if I was as artsy, or “different,” as Min, I’d find her charming, but her voice is just plain obnoxious.

As for Ed, I wish he’d been more than the stereotypical athlete. And, to be quite frank, the relationship and the break up simply did not ring authentic. Why would a jock be attracted to such a weirdo? And if he were attracted to someone because she was so different, why would he treat her so badly? It just didn’t make sense.

The book isn’t a complete failure. I felt sad and depressed most of the way through because I, like almost every other person in the universe, could relate to breaking up. The book did bring up memories of first love and sweet love and the tragedy of a dead romance, so I was left with a feeling of nostalgia and a general unease. Maybe some memories are just better left unremembered.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Withering Tights

As a super-fan of Louise Rennison’s now complete Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, I was thrilled when the author published a new book. The Misadventures of Tallulah Casey series premieres with Withering Tights.

Fourteen-year-old Tallulah just happens to be Georgia’s younger cousin. She has been accepted into a summer workshop at a performing arts academy, with the possibility of full-time acceptance in the fall. Over the summer, Tallulah experiences several “misadventures” as she makes friends, meets boys, and struggles to find her individual talents.

I wanted to rave about this series. I wanted to love it like I love Confessions. I wanted to laugh out loud for hours. Sadly, Withering is, as Georgia says, a mere “facsimile of a sham.” It reads like someone trying to copy, unsuccessfully, the style and charm of Confessions.

Tallulah needs to develop her own voice and her own style, instead of simply piggybacking on her cousin’s. I’m not ready to give up on her yet, and I hope Rennison isn’t, either.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley

P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley suffers from overhype. Based on rave reviews and all the Top 10 lists the book appeared on, I was expecting nothing less than the reincarnation of Jane Austen herself. Of course, I set myself up for disappointment.

Death takes place several years after Austen’s Pride and Prejudice concludes. Darcy and Elizabeth are happily married, living a life of peace and satisfaction at Pemberley. That is, until Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s youngest sister, breaks that peace by appearing unexpectedly at their doorstep, declaring her husband has been murdered.

The book follows the case, and subsequent trial, and its effects on the residents of Pemberley. The mystery is interesting, although somewhat predictable, but James often gets bogged down in the legal procedures of 19th-century England. I often felt like I was reading a law textbook, not exactly my choice of pleasure reading.

I've never been a proponent of fan fiction, and I'm not sure why James, who has no need to piggyback on Austen's reputation, chose to write this sequel, particularly since the story could easily have been told without the aid of Austen's characters.  (That said, I was also surprised James paints Elizabeth's character, at times, in a rather unflattering, mercenary light.) 

Death does attempt to emulate Austen’s style, often dwelling on details and meandering through descriptions. What delights me in Austen’s novels, however, frustrates me in Death. If I want to read an Austen-esque novel, I will read an actual Austen novel. 

If you don’t expect a great read, Death is a satisfactory mystery. If you buy into all the hype, you’ll just be disappointed.