Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Steve Martin is known as a top-notch comedic actor. He worked on Saturday Night Live, starred in Father of the Bride, and penned the novella Shopgirl. Martin can act. He can also write -- expertly.

Shopgirl centers on the romantic relationships of one Mirabelle Buttersfield. Mirabelle is reserved and refined. She spends her hours standing behind the glove counter at Neiman's in Los Angeles, creating works of art, and parading about with a Mr. Ray Porter, a wealthy older gentleman who romances her on accident. But Shopgirl is far from a romance. It's a fictional (possibly autobiographical) story about people and their maturation.

Martin's characters are likeable, lovable in fact. Mirabelle is alluring and sexy, even though the reader never sees her. Ray Porter is seductive and exciting. And then there's Jeremy, Mirabelle's first tryst of the novella. He's naive and charming, albeit idiotic at times. But they all have their flaws. Mirabelle is unambitious and stiff. Ray is heartless. But these flaws make Martin's characters more human and extremely relatable. They are not flat or perfect (as a majority of characters from recent decades are).

But it's not just the cast that draws the reader in. It's also the writing. Martin is witty, creating clever turns of phrase and machinations. His descriptions are works of art, painting beautiful scenes in the mind. It's a delightful romp that lasts only 130 pages. Perfect for a couple-hour-long flight, train ride or car ride.

And during those 130 pages, Martin's characters develop better than in much longer, more verbose novels. The growths are not forced or contrived. They feel real and right. They make sense. Readers can easily infer the characters' developing because it is so natural.

Comical yet touching, joyous yet heartbreaking, Martin's Shopgirl is a wonderful, quick read.

This book goes on the shelf.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson's crime thriller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, has received what seems to be nothing but praise. It reached the "acclaimed" number one spot on the New York Times Bestsellers List. I'm so tired of that marketing gimmick.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is not a life-changing novel. It's not the greatest crime thriller. It's nothing more than an enjoyable read and a commentary about violent crimes against women in Sweden.

There isn't much thrill in Dragon Tattoo until about halfway through. Much of the first half is buildup, back story. Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist convicted of libel, is hired by Swedish economic powerhouse Henrik Vanger to investigate the 40-year-old case involving the disappearance of Henrik's then-16-year-old niece Harriet. He spends the first half of the book working on the other part of his contract: a chronicle of the expansive Vanger family.

On the sidelines, we meet Lisbeth Salander, a social outcast decked in tattoos and piercings. She's a hacking prodigy, putting her natural talents to use at Milton Security. Hired to perform a background check on Blomkvist, Salander eventually becomes involved in the Harriet investigation.

It's at this point that the book takes a decidedly dark turn. The duo uncovers decades-old grisly murders of women throughout Sweden that seem to be connected to the final diary entry of Harriet Vanger. After that, it's connection after connection, a confrontation, confusion, and then finally clarification and comprehension. The mystery seems to be solved and ended so quickly, that it ends up being rather unsatisfying in a way.

While there are some foibles in Larsson's characters, he is a master at making the reader fall for them. I found Mikael Blomkvist inspiring and Lisbeth Salander enticing. When sparks started flying between the two, I was rightly pleased.

In the end, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is slow then fast then slow, hard to get into at first then hard to put down, boring then thrilling then interest-fading. It's unfortunately inconsistent at holding my attention. It might have better luck with you, but for me, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a solid but unsatisfying thriller. I still plan on reading the next one as I've become quite invested in the life of Lisbeth Salander.

This book goes back to the library.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Michael Chabon's Summerland is a tough book to get into. It's starts off slow for an adventure story, but eventually picks up the pace.

Chabon's story centered around the lovable game, baseball. Creating an interestingly intertwined mythology, Chabon builds a world based on the ballgame many consider the American pastime. But sadly, Chabon just didn't hit the ball out the park.

Summerland struck out. It had some good hits at times during the game, but at the end, Summerland missed every ball that makes a great book.

The errors in Summerland's game can be chalked up mostly to Mr. Chabon. He wrote himself a team of characters who either swung too early in the characterization department, or just weren't relatable. The best character was the villain of the piece, a Mr. Coyote. I found myself routing for him to win and dissolve the Tree of Worlds. But alas, Mr. Chabon was quick to reveal that our "heroes" (his word, not mine) succeeded as he constantly commented about how the baseball games the main cast played were recorded in the history books.

Chabon's book makes for a good young adult or children's novel, but in the grand scheme of things, it just isn't worth taking off the bench.

I hate to do this, but this book goes in the bin.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Tao of Pooh

I'm going to try to keep this less side-commentary and more review. The Tao of Pooh is a delightful little taste of enlightenment sprinkled with just the right amount of wit.

In his philosophical prose, author Benjamin Hoff claims the world's most beloved bear is also the world's foremost Taoist master. How could that be? You'll have to read the short work for the answer.

I flew through my 158-page edition with relative ease. Hoff's writing style flows incredibly well, engaging the reader and informing at the same time. Though Hoff speaks through and with our favourite Hundred-Acre Wood inhabitants, he does not patronize his readers. He instructs them about a life philosophy that seems genuine and accessible in a manner that is such.

This book goes on the shelf.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Once again, I come out of a Harry Potter book satisfied. While the first book's purpose is to paint the picture of the world and to introduce the heroic company, the second book has a different purpose.

The second book brings depth to the villain, Lord Voldemort, or his given name, Tom Marvolo Riddle. It also contrasts the two, while comparing them at the same time.

But the most important part is that Harry must go through his ordeals alone. In the first book, Harry is left to face Quirrel/Voldemort alone. In the second book, Harry is once again left alone to face Riddle/Voldemort. Yes he gets help in both instances, his mother's protection through love and Fawkes bringing him the Sorting Hat and ridding him of Basilisk venom, but it is a foreshadowing of his future.

Another thing I noticed was that it was Harry's and Ron's bonding story. The first book was the meeting of the friends, while the second book is a strenghthening of Harry's and Ron's relationship. The third book is therefore Harry's and Hermione's bonding story, as they share an important experience together.

J.K. Rowling may not be one of the best writers in the world, but she does know how to develop relationships and characters (even though she has to do a character/relationship per book).

This book goes on the shelf.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ender's Game

At first when I started this, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. Orson Scott Card apparently claimed that J. K. Rowling had stolen from his book when she tried to sue the creators of the Harry Potter Lexicon. I stumbled upon the transcript of his alleged accusation.

After reading the transcript, I gave him credit for proving somewhat that the skeleton story was very similar to the Harry Potter series. After reading Ender's Game, I have found no similarities other than the British motif of the hero's journey.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly. It was rough at first, seeming a little far-fetched with it's main character being a military genius and accidental killer at age 6, but I was able to get past that as I sympathized with Ender because of the isolation he had to endure.

Card brillantly weaves a story of a unique child who loses his innocence and never gets to experience his childhood. A common theme in literature, but it can never be overdone. Card uses it magnificently to bring out the reader's sympathies, making me at least want to free Ender from the Battle School even if he is humanity's last hope for survival agaisnt the buggers.

A truly enlightening read, one that teaches the greatest gifts anyone can give are forgiveness and love.

This book goes on the shelf.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a wonderful book. It follows the life of Richard Mayhew, a Scot who moves to London for work. Richard has a normal, boring, safe life, until the evening he meets Door. Door is a curious girl from the world of London Below, a sprawling expanse of sewers, tunnels, and Tube stations.

Richard encounters Door en route to dinner with his girlfriend Jessica. Door was badly injured by a Mr. Croup and a Mr. Vandemar, the vilest assassains in all of London Below, and when Richard tries to take her to a hospital, she implores him not to. So Richard, being the good-hearted man he is, takes Door back to his apartment, thereby thrusting him into the world of London Below and removing him and his existence from London Above.

The book follows Richard as he joins Door on her quest to discover the truth about who killed her entire family and why. On their journey, they come across the many odd inhabitants of London Below including the incorrigible Marquis de Carabas and the infamous bodyguard Hunter, both of whom join Door on her journey.

This is a wonderful book. Gaiman even tricks the readers into thinking that Richard will fall in love with Door, and while they don't get together in the book, the ending is very ambigious. All in all, this is a wonderful tale of growing up and finding where you belong.

This book goes on the shelf.