Thursday, April 03, 2008

Book Report Roundup

The car shopping I did yesterday was online. I found a fun feature at the Ford web site where you could build your ideal car and then search local dealership inventory for it. I put in the same parameters as at the comparison shopping web site that led to all those pointless dealer contacts, and it turns out the dealer contacts were even more pointless than I thought. None of them had what I wanted in their inventory. It seems that they said they had what I wanted because they had cars that color -- but I had just gone with the default color on that form. I'm far more concerned with stuff like engine and body type. But I guess if you've got the right color, minor details like the engine and body type don't matter. I'm trying to decide whether I want to keep that appointment today and then make them squirm about not having what I want or just cancel it entirely. The weather is looking icky, so I may just cancel and tell them why.

I've been reading a ton lately but got sidetracked, so I'm way behind on Book Report duty. I was going to wait until I had some thematic clusters, but if I keep that up, then I may not get around to talking about some of these while I still remember them. So, here goes:

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie -- My neighborhood library has one of those book club (the kind where they send you a special collector's edition once a month, not the kind where you drink wine and chat) type sets of all the Agatha Christie books, with just plain covers, so there's no hint of what each book is about. I admit that I picked up this particular one because I'd heard there was going to be an episode of Doctor Who this season involving Agatha Christie, and I'd seen some speculation as to whether it might have anything to do with this book, as we do know a certain man in a (usually) brown suit. I don't know about that, as this particular man in a brown suit is supposed to have a dark tan and light eyes, while the Doctor is quite the opposite. As for the book itself, it was very different from any other Agatha Christie book I've read (though that was a junior high phase, so I could have forgotten). It's more of an adventure story than a traditional mystery, and it reads almost like chick lit (and I don't mean that as a put-down). Our heroine witnesses a mysterious death, decides to investigate it because she wants adventure in her life, and soon she's on a boat to South Africa, where danger and intrigue ensue. This book was written in the 20s, but it still sounds very contemporary, aside from some slang and, of course, the level of technology.

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde -- I think I liked this one better than the first in the series, but now I want to go back and re-read that one because I was in a rush when I read it and I think I missed some things. LOVED this book. In a weird, oddball way, my relationship with books is very similar to the way things happen in this world. I want to crawl into books I love, and I imagine the characters doing things behind my back when I'm not watching them. I suspect I'm going to end up devouring the series, but I'll try to pace myself.

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst -- This is one of those books that had me kicking myself because I didn't come up with this idea. The fairytale characters have managed to escape the Wild and build lives in our world -- Rapunzel is a hairstylist and the mother of our heroine -- but then the Wild makes a comeback and starts to encompass the town. Our heroine has to make sure not to get trapped in any one story because if she reaches the Happily Ever After, she'll be reset to the beginning and forget everything. So she tries to jump from story to story on the way to getting things set right again. Loads of fun, especially if you know your fairy tales. (And I'm not biased because the author reads my books and is part of the Curly Mafia.)

The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson -- I read this one because it was on the Nebula ballot, and it's probably not something I'd have thought to read otherwise, but I really enjoyed it. I'd probably classify it as closer to magical realism than fantasy, and it's a difficult book to describe. It involves life in the Caribbean, some seals that don't seem to belong in these waters, some people who are a bit too at home in the sea, and a woman who has a strange knack for finding things that have been lost for a long time. The writing is just lovely, and if you want to try to write something in which the characters speak in dialect, this is a good book to use as an example. The entire book has the flavor of the Caribbean without going overboard with clunky dialect. It's very subtle and it works.

Flora Segunda (Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog) by Ysabeau S. Wilce -- If you're looking for something to read after Harry Potter, this would be a good contender (I think it's the start of a series). A young girl is meant for the military, like the rest of her family, but she really wants to be a Ranger (a sort of magical secret agent). Unfortunately, the Rangers have been disbanded. Meanwhile, the magical butler associated with her once-great house has been banished and wants her help being brought back, and a famous pirate (her best friend's hero) has been captured. Guided by paperback novels about her favorite Ranger heroine's adventures, she sets out to prove herself worthy of being a Ranger by carrying out her missions -- but things aren't quite what they seem. Some truly fun world building with fabulous detail and characters I just loved. It also made me nostalgic for my childhood as an army brat.

Quirkology by Richard Wiseman, Ph.D. -- This is kind of a Mythbusters of psychology (the book even refers to a Mythbusters test). The author defines quirkology as "the quirky science of everyday life," and he looks at psychological studies into all sorts of things. Some of the research is his own, which he's conducted through TV shows in England, and some is research that's been done in these areas over the years. The book looks into such subjects as how your birth date and your name affect your life, how to tell someone is lying (it's not what you've always heard -- body language is actually pretty useless), the best things to talk about (and the worst) on a first date, and the search for the world's funniest joke (yes, a scientific experiment inspired by a Monty Python sketch). And the afterword describes yet another study, in which he tested the factoids in the book as dinner party conversation, so he lists the top ten factoids rated as most likely to generate good conversations at even the dullest parties. If you're at all interested in psychology or human behavior, this is a fun book. There's also a quirkology web site that has some of the info from the book, as well as videos relating to the studies mentioned in the book.

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