Friday, July 13, 2012

One for the Money

The widely popular Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich begins with One for the Money; Stephanie is a Jersey Girl who has been laid off from her job as a lingerie buyer for what I suppose is a department store.  She's had to hock all her furniture and most of her household appliances just to make rent and attempt to keep her phone active, and her car has just been repossessed.  She hears that her cousin Vinnie, a bail bondsman, is looking for a file clerk, and even though he is completely skeevy (he has apparently done some very...intimate...things to a duck), Stephanie is desperate.

Turns out Vinnie is no longer hiring, but his receptionist lets Stephanie know that they're down a recovery agent, and if she's really in need of the cash, she could take up the guy's cases while he's out.  One of those cases is Joe Morelli, the neighborhood heartbreaker.  He introduced Stephanie to below-the-belt kinds of games when they were young children, and in high school he sealed the deal and never called her again (what a catch, right?).  After that, she ran him down with her dad's car.  Now he's a cop who's been charged with murder and he's skipped bail.  This puts the tempting price of $10,000 on his head, and Stephanie immediately agrees to take  the job.

So when her first attempt to bring Morelli in fails miserably - did she really think she could go in, completely unprepared, and he'd go down to the station with her, just like that?  - Vinnie's receptionist gets Stephanie in touch with Ranger, some hotshot bounty hunter, to show her the ropes.  It's a good thing, too, because she ends up needing his help several, several times.  

Stephanie runs into Morelli many times, and even steals his car since it's nicer than her Nova, but she never actually gets any closer to bringing him in.  She does, apparently, continue to find him irresistible, and who can blame her, what with his charming track record?!?  He does save her from a criminally insane prize boxer, Benito Ramirez, when the guy tries to proposition her and beat her in view of several other men (who neither say nor do anything to stop it), after she tries to question him about a woman associated with Morelli's case.  Things get worse for Stephanie (and pretty much for everyone she talks to, as well) as she starts to close in on something big, and it doesn't help that she is now being stalked and terrorized by Ramirez, who has taken it very badly that she refused his advances.

This is all very overwhelming for someone with zero real training or experience, and whose street smarts extend only as far as removing the distributor cap from a vehicle to prevent auto theft (though I'm not sure that counts, since that trick is apparently common knowledge in her neighborhood).  Will Stephanie Plum be able to put together all the pieces and bring in Morelli to collect on the ultimate payday?  Or will she die trying?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is a truly lovely debut novel from Jenny Wingfield.  We're in a small rural community in mid-1950s Arkansas; every year, the Moses family has their reunion at John and Calla's home.  It was tradition.  And every year, Samuel Lake would drop off his wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children.  He couldn't stay himself, because every year he had to attend a convention where all the Methodist ministers would find out where they would be preaching, and therefore, whether they would have to move.  The Lake family moved a lot, because Samuel had his own way of doing things that didn't quite meet eye-to-eye with the church and his congregations.

This summer, though, everything begins to change, and not always for the better.  Samuel has faith that God's plan is at work underneath all the apparent misfortune, but that doesn't make it any easier when things gradually start to go from bad to interesting, back to bad, and then about as bad as you might think it could possibly get.

A lot of the focus of the story is around Swan, the Samuel and Willadee's spunky 11-year-old daughter.  Her brothers, Noble and Bienville, are endearing in their own ways as well.  Noble is only 12, and still plays with his brother and sister in their extremely imaginative and enthusiastic games of make-believe, but he is also beginning to think about being a man.  Bienville is a reader with a scientific kind of curiosity.

I could go on and on about every character in the novel, to be honest (Just Plain Honest, not Moses Honest), because I really felt that I had a good sense of each one.  And those I didn't know as well, I wanted to.  I didn't feel that any of them where caricatures; they are all complex, which brings them to life in a way that makes them seem very real.  My favorites, though, would have to be Swan and her uncle, Toy Moses.  I probably fell a little bit in love with him, actually, which maybe is a little weird.  But so what.  As for Swan, I sincerely hope that if I ever have a daughter, she would be just like this little girl.  She's a good-hearted child with a lot of spirit.  She's just not enough of a handful to be what I would consider "naughty" or bratty, but she's enough of a handful that you know she will grow to be a strong, independent, confident woman one day.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Catching Fire

I know that at this point, it is probably unnecessary to explain anything about Suzanne Collins' amazing dystopian Hunger Games series.  I reviewed the first book earlier this year, so that I would have read it before seeing the movie.  I knew before I had even finished the first chapter that I was hooked and needed to start trying to get my hands on a copy of the second in the trilogy, Catching Fire.  I had received my copy of The Hunger Games in a giveaway, and I needed to get the UK edition of the sequels, so that they would match on my bookshelf.  Yeah, yeah...picky, I know, but so what?  I like the covers better anyway.  It was sold out on The Book Depository, but I couldn't wait any longer for them to email me about it being restocked, so I ended up finding it on Better World Books.  It came in the mail last week, and I could not wait to read it - I know those of you who have read it already understand.

I stayed up almost all night rereading the first book, and I started reading Catching Fire earlier today.  And I did not stop until just a little while ago, when I had finished.

Even those of you who have not read the books or seen the movie of the first book likely know that Katniss survived the Games, since you know...there are two books after that first one.  It's no secret anyway, since anyone can pick up the sequels and figure that out from the cover blurbs.  Their final act in the Games which secured their co-victory - something without precedent - has been seen as one of open defiance.  The Girl on Fire may have ignited a spirit of rebellion in the districts and become the symbol of a coming revolution.  But the smoking patch of rubble that was once District 13 makes it very clear what lengths the Capitol is willing to go to, to put a stop to things, and the game they must now play against President Snow may prove to be much more dangerous than the Hunger Games itself ever was.

Catching Fire, just like its predecessor, is absolutely amazing.  The entire series so far is thrilling; Collins writes in such a way that it is very easy to become immersed in the world she has created in Panem:  to visualize the surroundings as if you were there yourself, to find yourself crying with and for characters at emotional moments, to find yourself holding your breath for several pages before finally sighing with relief or gasping and/or yelling out of something else entirely, be it anger, disbelief, or surprise.  There is every bit as much suspense and action as in The Hunger Games - arguably more, even, and the stakes are much higher now that the citizens of all the districts are potentially involved, affected by whatever move is made.  This time, it isn't just about killing or out-living 23 other people.  It's about Prim.  Rue's family.  Gale.  Peeta. Her mother.  Everyone.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Call of Earth

Orson Scott Card's The Call of Earth is the second installment in his Homecoming Saga.  The direct sequel to The Memory of Earth, this one picks up pretty much right where that one left off.  Basilica, the "women's city" is still reeling somewhat from the events that have taken place and upon hearing of its current vulnerability, the powerful Gorayni general "Moozh" sees a distinct strategic advantage for himself.  He has a true gift in his way with words and manner, and in no time he has abandoned his post and started out for Basilica with a thousand of the Gorayni soldiers under his command.

Meanwhile, Wetchik and his sons continue to try and make sense enough of the Oversoul's messages to them, to be able to truly act.  Within the city's walls, the Lady Rasa and her gifted and insightful nieces, Luet and her sister Hushidh, attempt the same.  Time seems to be running out, however, and the abilities and intent of the Oversoul starts to be questioned.  Is the manipulative general a part of the Oversoul's plans, or is he a bigger threat than he seems?  Does the Oversoul even really know what it's doing?  Is it merely a flawed creation of equally flawed humans, or are they right to put their trust and faith in its will, and continue down the path on which they've now begun?  Whatever they decide, there may be no going back, and whatever their choice, the fate of their beloved city as well as their own lives will likely be greatly affected.


I remember feeling that The Memory of Earth began rather slowly, but The Call of Earth started at a good pace which was maintained throughout the whole book.  There is just as much intrigue, if not more, in this book than in the first, which I appreciated, and while the religious theme of the series is still quite strong, I still didn't find it to be overbearing or preachy.  The main characters are not necessarily blind followers of the Oversoul, and faith is questioned and put to the test.  More than anything, I think of this more as an interesting story of a social engineering project that may be either near to or at the end of its effectiveness.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It's Time: Writing on the Wall

Pavel Kostin's It's Time is a somewhat philosophical novel set in contemporary urban Russia.  Max is a young man working as a night watchman who doesn't do much besides work and hang out around the city with his friends, a small group of street artists.  At the book's opening, Max is sitting on the edge of the roof on a tall building - there seems to be a sort of panic below him on the street, but Max is rather calm.  He isn't up on the roof alone, either; a strange and beautiful young woman who calls herself "Lady F" appears near him and they chat.  After this, she shows up throughout the story at the most random moments.  Mysterious and a little cryptic.  Max and his friends contemplate life, the future, and art, and Max tags along as his friends tag the walls of the city.  Every blank wall is a potential canvas, and the city is their gallery.  

This might sound so far like some kind of pretentious hipster philosophy, a beatnik novel for this generation.  When I read the synopsis on LibraryThing (I received the book through their Early Reviewers program), I kind of expected some sort of modern day Russian La Bohème.  That isn't quite what I got, though.  Honestly, the very beginning was a bit slow.  Boring, almost.  It took me a little while before I really got into it.  

And then things get more and more weird, and the rest of the book had me questioning at every turn whether what was happening was real or whether Max was hallucinating.  Lady F keeps showing up and the questions just pile on until at a certain point, I couldn't put the book down until I'd finished it and found out what in the heck was going on.  Things ended up getting very strange, yes, but also rather interesting.  Much like with Julie Cross's Tempest, I'm unsure just how much I can even say without ruining some twist in Max's story.  The philosophical discussions and comments in the book are worth considering as well; some of them are quite poignant, sometimes so much so that they made me stop and really think for a moment, not about the story exactly, but about what was just said and how it does or does not seem to really apply to my own life and my own experience.