The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya
The third volume of the Haruhi Suzumiya series turns out to be a collection of short stories set between the first two novels. This is a bit confusing as the events of some of these stories were referenced in Sigh, so really you should read this first -- except that Kyon is telling these tales retrospectively sometime after the Cultural Festival, and makes reference to the events of Sigh. So, yeah, anachronic order is a bitch.
Anyway, the stories:
The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya: Haruhi decides to enroll the SOS Brigade in a local baseball tournament. There are, of course, two problems here. First, no one in the Brigade has any real experience at baseball except Haruhi, who, if you'll recall from the first book, is a master of all sports but finds sports teams as boring as any other school club. Secondly, the Brigade only has five members. That last obstacle is solved by recruiting outside the club -- Mikuru gets her friend Tsuruya (who is, unbelievably, an even bigger Genki Girl than Haruhi) to join, while Kyon drafts his friends Taniguchi and Kunikida, and his little sister.
Why would he ask his little sister to participate in a tournament against adult baseball players? Well, he really wants the SOS Brigade to get elliminated in the first round. He sees the whole tournament as a huge chore, and the sooner they get out of it the better.
Unfortunately Haruhi doesn't share his perspective, and once their team starts losing she goes into a funk -- and when Haruhi's in a funk, the whole world trembles.
Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody: Mikuru takes Kyon back in time three years where he helps a younger Suzumiya perform a certain act of vandalism that was mentioned at the start of the first book. There are a few complications, but really, that's all there is to the story. Why Mikuru does this is never fully explained, though it's clear that in doing so she creates a big timey-wimey ball in which Kyon's actions are what start the whole series in motion.
The Mysterique Sign: The SOS Brigade finally gets a client. A girl named Kimidori comes to the literary room to ask the Brigade to find her missing boyfriend -- who just happens to be the President of the Computer Society. Haruhi delights at the chance to play at Scooby-Doo but quickly grows annoyed when there's no obvious solution. Which is ironic, because it turns out something supernatural is going on. But then, the last thing the other Brigade members want is for Haruhi to find out that the supernatural exists, so they're more than happy when she leaves in frustration and they can solve the mystery without her.
Remote Island Syndrome: Summer vacation is here, and Koizumi invites the Brigade to visit his uncle's villa on a remote island. Haruhi's read enough books to recognize the setting of a cozy mystery and leaps at the offer. And sure enough, the day after arriving, an unexpected typhoon hits the island, and then Koizumi's uncle turns up dead...
The stories in this volume are entertaining, but they have a certain filler quality about them. There's certainly some good character development, particularly for Nagato in the middle two stories and Koizumi in the last, but by the end of the book it's starting to feel like The Famous Five Go out for Icecream. The only story here that feels consequential is "Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody," which does in fact turn out to be integral to the plot of the next book -- and that book is so awesome that you absolutely have to read this one, flaws and all.