Saturday, March 31, 2007

Catching Up

I've read several books lately, but haven't had time to sit down and write about them. I'll try to summarize them below:

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brasheres

This series tells the story of 4 close friends who find a magic pair of pants - at least the jeans seem to be magic, since they look great on all of the differently-shaped girls. In the first book, the girls decide to pass the pants around to keep them close throughout their summer apart. Each of the girls has ups and down - Lena is in Greece, smack dab in the middle of a family crisis; Bee's spending her summer at a soccer camp in Mexico, trying not to get herself into too much trouble, especially with an attractive, older coach; Tibby's working at a drug store, when an intriguing little girl enters her life; and Carmen discovers that her Dad's got a few surprises that will change the shape of her whole summer. The book is funny, realistic and surprisingly deep, even heartbreaking in spots. The sequel is just as good as it continues the story of each of the girls. There are two more books in the series that I haven't read yet, but I'm definitely planning to read them soon.

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

This was an interesting read about Quentin Clark, a Baltimore lawyer, who is determined to solve the mystery surrounding the death of his favorite author, Edgar Allen Poe. The year is 1849 and Poe has just been found dead in the city. Clark, outraged by the press' coverage of the author's demise, commits himself to finding Poe's murderer, thereby restoring the writer's good name. Realizing that he cannot solve the puzzle himself, Clark travels to England to find Auguste Dupin, a famed detective. Together, the two men return to Baltimore, where they set about collecting clues. Increasingly frustrated with the eccentric Dupin, Clark obsessively scours the city for information, determined to solve the mystery. He's not the only one looking into the matter, however, and he soon finds himself looking over his shoulder for would-be attackers. As if that isn't enough, Clark is in danger of losing his career, his fiancee and his best friend.

Unfortunately, the plot summary makes the book sound much more exciting than it really is. It is a compelling mystery story, but it plods along so slowly that I was tempted to ditch it several times. I stuck with it, but was disappointed in the ending, which tied up the loose ends in far-fetched and unconvincing ways. After reading Pearl's debut novel The Dante Club, I was looking forward to reading his sophomore novel, but I simply found it too long and tedious to be enjoyable.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is another interesting book. It tells the story of Jacob Jankowski, a young man who finds himself adrift after his parents die in a car accident. Rather than face a bleak future at home, he takes off and unwittingly joins a circus. Here, a meets a host of strange characters, who show him the ropes, as well as the gritty underworld of circus life. Eventually, it is discovered that Jacob is almost a veterinarian - he skipped his final exams after finding out about his parents - and he is put in charge of the show's menagerie. He enjoys his new-found status as a higher-up, but finds that it has its own problems, including his boss, a charismatic and dangerous man named August. Worse still, Jacob finds himself longing for August's wife, a beautiful, disillusioned performer. A relentless do-gooder, Jacob fights to keep his sanity and soul in the strange, dazzling world of which he is suddenly a part. Like I said, an interesting story. It's well-written, but odd and shocking in parts. I found it riveting, but...strange.

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

I just finished this cozy English mystery about an aggressive businesswoman who decides to retire to a cottage in the Cotswolds. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the quiet life is not for a woman like Agatha Raisin. Determined to make her dream work, Agatha decides to win over the village by entering its annual cooking competition. The fact that Agatha has never touched an oven doesn't bother her in the least - she happens to know a lovely shop that makes a killer quiche. She enters the dish, clears a spot on her mantle for the winner's cup, then sits back to wait. Pretty soon, the local police are knocking on the door accusing her of poisoning the judge with her quiche. Determined to clear her name, she sets about solving the mystery. Although the book is poorly-edited and predictable, it was entertaining, mostly because of the caustic Mrs. Raisin. Her brash nature is balanced nicely by her vulnerability, making her interesting and likable. The mishaps she gets herself into are humorous and somewhat original. All in all, the book is okay, although I don't think I'll be reading the rest of the books in the series.

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