Sunday, October 31, 2010

Setting, Characters... Who Needs Plot? :)

Funny-ish story - on Friday, I got out my book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, to read as usual on the train on the way to work, and I flipped through it looking for my place... and after a while I realized that, I had in fact, finished it the night before! oops :) This makes this the first book I have finished during the week, with the help of the daily commute and some nightly reading.  I had a lot of help though, having read the first half of the book when I got it out from the library over Succos... but anyway, to begin at the beginning, this is actually a recommendation of Jen T's.  I'm not quite sure why she though I would enjoy it - I think mainly because it's English - but she liked it so she handed it on.  Sarah Sp.  pointed it out to me too, so it certainly came with solid backing :)

Now against recommendations, we have a mystery written by a man, about a twelve year old girl.  So we're talking a lot of tension and no romance.  So why? Well if you recall, if there's one male writer archetype I actually enjoy, it's British comedian authors.  And while this book isn't strictly comedy, it certainly maintains a lightness throughout characteristic of both male Brits and twelve-year-old female prodigies.  I'm using a lot of big words here, but what I'm saying is, I liked the book.  There were two things I found appealing.  The first was the more obvious one - Flavia, the main character, is just the type of spunky, independent, and unique child to make for a good narrator.  I like her because she's smart and doesn't let anything bother her.  She just barrels right along and solves the case.  If there's an issue, it's that there's some slight inconsistency about her ultimate decency.  I mean she's not supposed to be a bad person, for sure not.  But at times, she seems like she really needs to grow up, and at times, she seems like a misunderstood and slightly naive child.  Of the two, I think I prefer the second, even if it makes her more vulnerable.  Little terrors don't appeal to me.

The real reason I liked the book was the setting.  The book is a mystery and has a pretty typical mystery setting - 1950's English countryside.  And this is where you go, oh.  That's why Rochel liked it :) Because it may not be Regency, but it's amazing how much I like reading about England, and mostly about the English upper class.  Maybe it's just that I've read so much about them, I found their attitudes especially sympathetic.  Maybe it just harks back enough to my favorite time period... Oh, I don't know why I'm rhapsodizing, England in the 50's, (or at least according to this book) still had its old dignity and ordered way of life that makes me love Regency so much (other than the for the romance of course :)) Maybe I should read more of these... but the truth is, this book is more of history than a mystery - I mean we find out whodunit, but a lot of the book is concerned with the minutiae of Flavia's life, and of course of her relationship with her family.  And until almost the end, the tension of a murderer on the loose is pretty much kept on the d.l., which is fine with me :)

I guess if I have a complaint, I didn't really like the ending so much, at least how it was handled.  I mean, the villain was fine and everything, but it wasn't such a surprise.  It was kind of blown up a little too much - forced drama.  But whatever, that's not why I was reading the book anyway... and everything I cared about was present and accounted for :)

Verdict: 3.75/5
Food: thoroughly delightful, if not my usual... for some reason, tacos just came into my head (was thinking of going to Carlos and Gabby's today) so let's just go with tacos... I mean, corn isn't bread, and some of the flavors are a little hot, but altogether a pretty good mix (I talk as if I've ever eaten a taco, when the closest I've come is an Ortega shell with meatballs, but whatever :))

Everyone Has An Off Day...

I was all excited about my new reading time on the subway, and how I was going to finish so many more books but here I am posting on Sunday again... Well the truth is, I did read most of the third of Gail Carriger's series, Blameless, on the train/at night before I went to sleep, but then I only read a very little bit on Shabbos.   So basically, I'm still holding at one book a week, which I suppose is status quo, but not nearly up to my library book taking out rate - oh well :) At least at nypl, you can renew books up to 10 times, supposedly.
So anyway, like I said, this is the 3rd in the series - and the other 2 are actually reviewed here as well! My little blog is getting so old... :) If you recall, (and I know you do :)) I had actually read a review of this one after  I finished the second, and it was rather unenthusiastic about this one.  So I wasn't completely excited to read it, even though there was the whole mess between Alexia and Lord Maccon to allow for some potential romance :) And of course, it makes the review a lot more boring if someone else wrote it already... so boring that I started this last Sunday and here I am *next* motzei shabbos posting... and with two more in the wings, don't expect me to take too much time with this one :)
Anyway,  what can I say? It definitely wasn't great... I suppose the style was the same as the first two, but somehow, it wasn't pulled off as well as in the second one at least.  I mostly found Alexia to be kind of pushy, yet without confidence.  She doesn't really shine for the most part... I mean if anyone does, Madame Lefoux comes off nicely enough, but even she has lost some of her suavity.  Lord Akeldama was totally absent, Lord Maccon was drunk, Professor Lyall... well he was doing pretty well actually, as was Floot.  Whatever, some of the characters weren't in top form, but that isn't really my main complaint.  My main complaint was that there was all together too much drama and not enough fluff in this installment.  It goes from chase to chase, danger to danger, with ne'er a bit of fun thrown in (well not much anyway).  And who reads these books for the action? I know I'm not the only one who could do very well with no action whatsoever... or not more than is strictly necessary for the plot... but here, even the humor was mostly pratfalls... and I hate physical comedy.  Sigh... this book just wasn't that much fun.

And that was before it got to the ending... well not the very ending, which was more just an opening to the next book (which may be very good, I'm certainly holding out hope). The almost ending in which... well I suppose I won't tell you, but I"m referring to what happens to Biffy, if you've read the book.  I mean, why? why? we did *not* need more pathos! A perfectly fun relationship and lighthearted secondary character gone... and for what? I guess we'll see in the next book, but I don't think it'll be worth it.  So that was annoying.  But I probably could have stomached it if the rest of the book was better.  Oh well.  I'm going to read the next one anyway.... and it might be better, because there's enough real plot available that we may be able to do without the manufactured drama of this one :)

Oh and I totally forgot to mention the romance! Well the pathos of Lord Maccon's regret at his mistake was definitely the best part of the book.  But 1) it was a little too pathetic, even by my standards and 2) it was over half way through... so not a completely redeeming factor

Verdict: 2.5/5
Food: Not as good as the original... like cherry vanilla dr. pepper - we did *not* need that addition

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who Cares What You Throw In There When You Mix it So Well?

A few months ago, Austenprose did a review of Allegra Goodman's latest, The Cookbook Collector.  She got rave reviews, as she is apparently "the modern day Jane Austen", which seems to mean that she's a good writer whose genre is somewhat social commentary.  Now I'd never heard of her before, but apparently I'm the last one - Chava R. says she loves her books, which I didn't find suprising, but Sarah S. laughed at me when I asked if she had heard of her, and said that she, Yaffa, and Malka all hadn't liked this book as much as the others.  So with that said, I will of course be reading the rest of them... but first let me talk about this one. 

It was naturally with some trepidation that I even took out this book, because whatever the modern Jane Austen is, she isn't the writer of light and funny romance where everyone is either totally likeable or not meant to be liked.  There's seriousness, there's complications, there's weighty issues... in short, this ain't chic lit.  And much as I keep proving to myself that good writing matters, I just don't like reading books for the writing.  But, you know, I don't think an author would ever be compared to Jane Austen without having happy endings, and Laurel Ann (austenprose proprietor) really raved about her, so I thought it was worth trying.  And you know what, it was.  Right off, I just wanted to keep reading.  Despite the fact that there were a lot of not such likeable characters and tension out the wazoo, she somehow managed to write a book that was fun to read.  Fun enough that I read half of it on the subway, even when standing! (and almost missed my stop a few times :)) (sidebar, I think that's the biggest advantage to public transportation - time to read!) So as far as the writing goes, this is a case where good writing is everything.  But it's not good writing in the sense that the prose is magical or amazingly descriptive - it's more like the pace is just perfect, there's exactly the right amount of detail to captivate without getting boring, and the plot has enough small twists to be riveting without being improbable.  And I really liked that almost every character gets a voice at at least some point - which can lead to some unexpected sympathy with some rather unlikeable characters.

So that was the good part.  And it was good, definitely good.  But there was *plenty* to complain about.  Let's just start with the tension, which I mentioned already.  This book is like the poster child for dramatic irony.  It's about computer firms in the late nineties, early oughts, forming IPOs... yes we all know where that went- but they didn't. (side note - it was funny reading about the heady optimism of software companies at the same time I'm starting at Google... but of course, there's not really such a comparison - I hope :)) So of course, the whole time I'm reading it, I know that all that money is going to go down the toilet and everything is going to be a distaster... so it's like, what's the point of even caring? But you know what, I cared anyway (read the paragraph above :)) and as it turned out, it wasn't even a big deal.  Both companies survived the crash at least, and no one ended up disastrously poor (yay :)) (oh and this review is going to be full of spoilers, so stop right now if you care). 

But then of course, when I got over that there was the next big event on the horizon... September 11.  As Sarah S. pointed out, it fit with the time period, so I guess I don't really fault her for putting it in, but did Jonathan have to die on the plane? Even if she had to kill him (which she didn't, a breakup would have been way more satisfying IMO), it didn't have to be that way.  I just don't have patience with using September 11 for dramatic purposes.  It has a way of turning it into history that I don't like.  In general, I felt like the whole book relied too much on these kind of deep and dramatic moments for a plot.  There was September 11, there was a dead mother, there was a long-lost family... I thought it was a bit much, especially because so much of the book moved along just fine with the ordinary stuff.  Relationship issues, job/school issues,  family issues, maybe a little bit of existential issues... but nothing that doesn't happen to half the world, if you know what I'm saying.   Oh and there was a whole lot of stuff involving Lubavitchers (called Bialystockers for legal reasons I assume) that was very positive on the whole, but still just made me uncomfortable (of course).  And then there's the number one complaint - why everyone else didn't love it - the ending! Of the two sisters, Jess ends up with a great guy (and a decent kind of romance leading up I guess), while Emily ends up okay - with a start up that I don't find impressive and no guy as of yet.  And frankly, Jess does not deserve her luck.  She really doesn't ever grow up throughout the book - she takes care of Emily when she needs her, but whoop de do.  And poor Emily, who always did everything right, ends up content, but not in a great place... so what's the point? Okay, I know the point... this is real life we're talking about, and everyone deals just perfectly with it in the end, so yay for them.  But as a reader, come on, give me what I want! :)

Verdict: 3/5 - because whatever my complaints, she is one great writer (please no more comparisons with JA though :))
Food: something I'm skeptical of that turns out to be great... tofu! I'm so proud of myself for thinking of it, it is *perfect* for this book - healthy first of all, and so much fun in a way b/c it cuts up so nicely... but boring in lots of other ways.  But it was so good the way Chava made it on Thursday night!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Finally, a Non-Book Review Post :)

Wow. Thrill.  I'm sure you were wondering why I didn't visit the NY library yesterday (let's pretend you know I didn't :)) until you remembered - oh right, yesterday was Columbus Day.  So I couldn't get there till today, when I naturally hopped on the subway straight after work and restored your faith in my dedication to libraries (yes this was all facetious).  So of course I had to make the mistake of hopstopping to the central research library were I took the elevator to the 3rd floor and returned when I realized I could not, in fact, take out books from this building.  A helpful security guard pointed me two block down (short ones at least :)) to the Mid-Manhattan library, which I am fairly sure is the main circulating library branch.  It certainly looks like it :)

This library got me so excited that I didn't even wait to get home to write my post - I'm writing it in a notebook *by hand* on the F train - okay really I just needed s/t to do and I'm getting home late so this just seemed most expedient, but you should see how fast I'm writing - thoughts are just flowing... :)

So anway, the first thing  I noticed was the huge line waiting to check out - I mean it confirmed my suspicions that the NYpl is under provisioned for its citizenry but, wow, a lot of people read (or at least watch DVDs :)) in this city.  The long checkout line could be avoided by using the self-checkout, but apparently people don't use that here? Well I tried it and my card wasn't working, but I assume that's b/c it's brand new... but I'm getting ahead of myself. 

So the truth is, the fiction available isn't *that* impressive.  I looked first at the old books (not new) and most of them seemed quite... old.  Do they just get rid of their books when they're not new anymore?  The truth is, I think there were more books than at Towson (not EP central, they let you take out all the stuff back in stacks) and definitely a lot I've never heard of but cursory inspection is not enough to get a complete read.  I shall have to return for a more substantial inspection :) The more impressive display was the new books.  First of all, they had some of the new books I had to return to my library w/o reading, which made me happy.  Also, they had the new Gail Carriger that I mentioned earlier (the 3rd one) - and that one had a longer due date than the others - 3 weeks, not sure why.  Most interestingly, they actually have an express section! New books that can be taken out for a week only and I think no renewals.  That puts the pressure on the reader to be fast, but isn't that the coolest?  Means you get new books *fast*, even if you're not high on the reserve list.  Of course, I plan to be high on the reserve list as much as possible :) I have a bunch of things I'm planning on reserving tonight... as long as my card  works, please oh please! And I'm sure when I look through the catalog I'll find plenty of books I haven't been able to get a hold of in Baltimore (well, maybe a few :)) So I've got plenty to look forward to :) And one last thing - weeknight closing time? 11 PM.  Yes, you read that right.  Now *that's* how to run a library :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Good Writing Evens the Odds

I'm not really in the mood of posting - stressed about my new job and all - but I just want to do this so I don't have to think about it later... On Shabbos I read Deanna Raybourn's Dark Road to Darjeeling, the 4th in the Lady Julia series.  If you remember, (I know you don't, don't worry :)) I mentioned this series previously as very similar to Tasha Alexander.  Both are recommendations I picked up from Lauren Willig - so they are Victorian mystery/romances.  That's similar enough to Lauren Willig herself's books, to Gail Carriger... but beyond that, they are both about independent widows whose first husbands died under mysterious circumstances and whom they were not in love with.  They both solve the mysteries of their husbands' death and then more mysteries side by side with the professional inquiry agents, eligible, handsome men, up to now impervious to ladies' charm.  Both get married at the end of the third book... both ladies celebrate their independence and indifference to societal norms, and both travel in the fourth book.
Okay, fine, so how do they compare? Well as I mentioned in the Tasha Alexander post, Lady Emily comes off as more annoying than independent and the writing is not the best.  Lady Julia is a much more well-crafted character, not bucking the ways of society for no reason, but only when they get too much in her way.  She has a lot of respect for tradition, earl's daughter that she is.  And in general, the book is much better written, the drama not feeling at all manufactured.  So that's one for Ms. Raybourn.  On the other hand, the Lady Julia books are just plain too dramatic, too serious.  There's not enough fun stuff in them! Especially when they take place in the wilds of India.  And person after person dies.  First the murderered one of course, but also the dr's wife b/4 we come on the scene.  And then there are two dramatic deaths at the end, of arguable necessity.  And then, right at the end, a *thoroughly* UNnecessary death.  Really ruined the happy ending.  So that's one-all.  Any way to break the tie? Well, I'd say both did a fair job of keeping the angsty romance alive post marriage (pregnancy issues vs. unresolved professional differences) but Deanna Raybourn has one more annoying thing that puts me off the books - annoying to those of us who do not share her liberal sensibilities- and I'll just leave it at that.  So I guess in the end, it's Tasha Alexander.  Except... well good writing is good writing... So I'm leaving this unresolved for now :)

Verdict: 3/5
Food: Solidly good in its way, but not the kind of thing that excites me, or anything overly healthy - perhaps sauted vegetables... though that might be healthier than appropriate... sauted w/ soy sauce

Friday, October 8, 2010

What Happens When You Read Old Chic Lit

I've delayed shamefully in reviewing my fourth last days read, but I was wallowing in a sea of disinterest in any extra effort, having spent the week taking care of things in my new NY apartment... farewell, home and all I know and love :( Seriously, wasn't in the mood of reading and certainly not of reviewing... but now I'm back in Baltimore, for Shabbos at least, and I know I've got to finish this up so I can move on with reading this weekend (hopefully more on that on Sunday :)) Anyway, continuing with the trend of over-indulged chic princess lit, (pretty impressive I think, 3/4 were actually part of this sub-genre) we have the original princess chic lit novel (or at least one of them that I can think of), Bergdorf Blondes.  Back when this was written, I don't think there were so many books about rich, pretty, fashionable girls whose only problems were catching a man... unless those books took place in the nineteenth century (oooh, snaps :)) This book wasn't written so much as a romance as an expose, or at least documentary, or the "Bergdorf Blonde", i.e. Upper East Side single gal, lifestyle. 

And I'm pretty sure that when it was written, it may have been a bit of a novelty to read about that kind of girl.  The girl who shops at sample sales, has a team of beauty experts, eats out at Michelin-rated, vacations in Italy, in St Tropez and whenever... okay, it's still fun to read about it, but it's not a novelty anymore.  And that means that a book can't be based *solely* on the lifestyle to be interesting.  At this point, it's more like, okay, I get it, stop trying to impress me, you and e/1 else :) (in chic lit anyway :))  And I don't find moi's (yes her name is moi) disingenuous flaunting of her lifestyle quite so adorable as I might have.  I mean, is the book meant to glorify, to condemn, or simply to illustrate the lifestyle? moi herself vacillates between stupid/needless indulgence and disapproval of some of her friends' over-the-top antics.  Make up your mind! B/c I sure already have - this lifestyle is fun to read about, but like, don't make such a big deal out of it - it makes you seem so.... nouveau riche :)

So basically, my feeling about this was, why did I like it so much the first time I read it? I think it's because 1) like I said, the first time I read it, there weren't a million books just like it and 2) I wasn't really expecting any romance at all, so the romance was a quite a pleasant surprise.  But this time, I read it more for the romance and all the other stuff, while funny at times, was more distracting.  And the romance is just not a huge part of the book.  That being said, it's a pretty darn cute romance, with none other than an English lord SLASH up and coming director! playing the male lead :) He's a lot more attractive than she is, to say the least.  And towards the end of the book, (the last... 4th maybe?) the romance comes more into focus, so I started to enjoy it a lot more.  And by the end, I'd say I look back on the reading experience with more pleasure than exasperation.  And I think in a few years, I may even read it yet again :)

Verdict: beginning: 2/5, end: 4/5, overall: 3/5
Food: s/t I don't enjoy and then get used to? that's a hard one, it's usually the reverse... maybe I should go with the was a novelty, but now kind of passe aspect - like a chicken caeser salad.  It used to be I was happy to get any grilled chicken salad, even *w/o* dressing... but after quite a number of boring old lettuce, tomato, and grilled chicken mixes, I need a little more than that to get me excited... like a chicken cobb salad - yummers :)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Well, I Didn't Stop In the Middle

Chic lit these days... I don't know why I even bother.  Next on the list Nancy's Theory of Style, by Grace Coopersmith, which is some random chic lit I found in the new section of the library.  Now, I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to expect from chic lit anyway - I mean I know the writing isn't going to be stellar, so it comes down more to plot, characters, and of course romance.  And some writing is better than others.  This particular story... well let's start with the plot - I suppose the plot was fine, actually better than fine.  Spoiled little rich girl tries to make it on her own with her event planning business, all with the help of her efficient and eminently eligible assistant, who is secretly in the employ of her estranged hubby (lots of es there :)) So that's got plenty of potential.  Unfortunately, the book fails utterly in the character department.  Nancy herself comes across as frankly fairly nasty - her only real friends are her non-silver spoon ones but she completely looks down on them.  She's supposed to be cute in her insistence on "perfection" but she's more silly than anything else.  Derek/Rick (main guy) is okay I suppose... but so many of the other characters are wring-your-neck annoying.  And who wants read a book where you don't like anyone? And then there's the romance... like I said, there's potential... but it is, how shall I say it... unrealized. 

More than anything else, the failures of this book come back to none other than the writing.  Characters that are supposed to be likeable are not, the plot is twisted with tension... and there's a whole lot of maudlin moments which I could do without quite easily involving Nancy's niece Eugenia (yes, Eugenia).  And besides that, the author is always using these annoying similes/metaphors/references to obscure art or random phenomena - which possibly are supposed to reflect Nancy's innate appreciate of true "style" but come off as guess what? pretentious. 

So no matter what I'd like to think, writing just matters even in chic lit.  It doesn't have to be great, but it can't get in the way.  On the other hand, I didn't stop reading this book in the middle.   And I did kind of - and I mean kind of - enjoy parts of it... so I guess it doesn't matter that much after all :)

Verdict: 2.5/5
Food: Disappointing... has potential but disappointing... one time I bought a sugar free vanilla latte from Pete's - appropriate for a San Francisco settting :) - it was NOT Starbucks

Delightful Reading We're Having

Next up is an author that is both familiar and new (how confuciusdic, no? :)) - I haven't yet reviewed a P.G. Wodehouse but I've definitely mentioned him as one of my favorite funny authors (see this post).  How unoriginal, you say? Well yes, but he is a master.  It's fun to wax rhapsodic about an author whose acknowledged as one of the good ones... so you see I do enjoy good literature :) Well seriously though, his writing is just so much fun to read - it has this delicately ironic tone that's really easy on the ear but full of subtle jokes.  And besides, it's exclusively English.  Well not exclusively, but even the Americans are English :) P.G. Wodehouse is similar to Georgette Heyer in that they both create worlds that may somewhat resemble an actual history on the surface, but are complete fantasy in their attitudes and every day events.  And what fun fantasy it is! The upper class British country life must be the most idyllic one ever imagined.  These people do nothing but get arrested for d&d and get engaged.  And it's not like they take either one of those things seriously.  And they do it in such a refined tone too :)

So I like P.G. Wodehouse - like everyone else.  And, like everyone else, I like the Jeeves and Bertie books best.  Bertie is just too funny - a total idiot, but also really nice and always ready with a rather neat turn of phrase (did I sound anything like him just now? :)) This particular book was actually not a Jeeves and Wooster.  It's called... Galahad at Blandings, I think.  So it doesn't have Bertie's unique voice (it's 3rd person narrated) and features Galahad instead of Jeeves as the man behind the curtain - and he doesn't quite measure up.  And the three marriages that make up the plot don't really have much connection beyond Blandings, whereas I feel like the Bertie books often to a good job of snowballing the story with little effort.  On the other hand, Lord Emsworth brings his own charm to the story.  So I'm not really complaining - it's good stuff, classic Wodehouse.  I mean the truth is I have a hard time differentiating these books (I can never remember which Bertie ones I've read) and I don't actually care because they're fun in any case. 

Verdict: 3.75/5 (4/5 would be a Jeeves and Bertie I think)
Food: classic, well-crafted... but maybe not the absolute best of its kind... shall we say an omelette, but maybe mushroom and onion instead of cheese... i do like eggs in all forms :)

Romping Along In Good Humor

Well, I've got a new crop of books for you, product of the last days (as promised, I think).  I'm kind of tired right now, but I think it's best to get right down to it, don't you? :) So without further ado (gosh, not really my most original or spicy turn of phrase)... My first read of the last days was Sophie Kinsella's Mini Shopaholic, #6 in the series.   I actually had totally forgotten to check when a new one of these was coming out but it happened to be displayed on the library website, so I reserved it and my wonderful mother actually went and picked it up for me (don't I have the best mother? :)) But anyway, of course I wasn't the only one interested in this book, so I discussed it with Huvi, even though I warned her that would affect the freshness and spontaneity of my review... but what can I do? I am putty in her hands :)

So... the Shopaholic series isn't exactly prime reading for me in any case, as may be indicated by my ignorance of the publishing date.  But I always read them, because having started, I haven't had any reason to stop.  The first book was somewhat romantic, which of course was the chief attraction, but since then the romance has been at best sporadic (well, actually it's been there sporadically in every book - more on that in a bit).  But the main attraction to these is actually that they're funny.  Funny because Sophie Kinsella just has great comic timing.  And of course, I'm not averse to reading about London girls living the high life surrounded by D&G, Fendi, Chanel and all that other stuff :)

So that's the good part of these books.  The bad part is that Becky Bloomwood is a first class idiot.  She is completely irresponsible, getting herself in spending trouble in every book, but that's not even the worst of it.  She's also compulsively dishonest with herself and others, until you just want to scream at her, stop it! just be sensible for once.  I mean, it's just difficult to sympathize with her when she's so clearly doing something idiotic.  So even though everything always works out in the end, it can get pretty tough to slog through all the schemes and disasters that make up the Becky Bloomwood Brandon life. 

But what about Becky's and Luke's relationship, which could potentially be the best part of the book? First off, I like Luke - I don't think he's mean (expressed opinion of my sister) - I think he's just much too reserved.  Which is a problem for the Brandon marriage, but doesn't make me hate him.  Especially because he may be too reserved, but Becky tends to hide things from him as well (things like credit card bills and whatnot...) so the lack of communication is really both their faults.  But - and this is where the sporadic romance comes in - that lack of communication actually makes for some decent angst... and the occasionally re-declaration of love and devotion to spice things up for the old married couple :) So I guess I should really complain... but these characters do make you scream with their stupidity here as well.

So much for the series in general? What to say about this book... Two things I guess, one for each of the subplots in the book.  #1 is the newest Brandon, Minnie, now age 2 and a SPOILED ROTTEN BRAT.  So obviously the proud parents need to deal with that... and they do, in a matter of speaking.  But two things - Becky Bloomwood is a *horrible* mother - I mean other people can control her daughter, but she never makes the slightest push to do so.  And that is never acknowledged at all, or dealt with - as far as the book is concerned, Becky's parenting skills are just fine.  And guess what? (spoiler) Apparently, Minnie isn't even a little terror, just a spirited toddler! To which I say, my toddler *better* not have that much spirit! So even though I never have much interest in parenting stories, I'd say this one was worse than average.  At least it never gets too tense... Which is more than I can say for the other subplot.  If it can even be dignified with that title... Becky's big plans in this book are all dedicated toward throwing Luke a spectacular surprise birthday party.  The amount of trouble she ends up getting into, the harebrained schemes that don't work out... it's the same as every other book but this time it's about something that TOTALLY DOESN'T MATTER! Sorry for the abuse of caps, but this annoyed me.  I mean, seriously, when I read the book jacket I was like, umm... where's the plot? I'm sure something else happens... but nothing does. It's just about throwing a party.  But I guess the plus side is no matter how tense it all gets, it just can't be that bad... be who cares anyway?

Actually I got the feeling that this book was mostly filler anyway, kind of like the 5th Harry Potter.  Life goes on, setting the stage for some new scenes in Book 7 (wow, Book 7), but there's not much crucial development.  And do we care? Well not much, after I get over my annoyance with all the above things I just complained about.  After all, I'm not exactly a stickler for meaning in literature :) I'm not sure why it even bothered me that this book was about a party... maybe just because there is so much tension... and you know I don't like tension :) But the point is, after all that, the book was still fun to read! Because guess what? Sophie Kinsella knows what she's doing.

Verdict: 3.5/5
Food: There's a lot I don't like about it... but I still enjoy it in the end - is there *any* food like that? Maybe tropical mike and ikes.  They are *not* my favorite flavor - kind of weird and somewhat too sweet... but you know, they're still pretty good