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2011/05/26

Gods in Alabama




Talk about misleading cover blurbs. To read the marketing description, you'd think this book was a white trash version of a Tyler Perry movie -- white chick leaves her redneck little Alabama town, promising God that she'll never again lie, fornicate, or return. Ten years later her black boyfriend wants to get married, but he won't do it if he can't meet her family first. So they head down south for what's sure to be a wacky encounter with wacky relatives, full of wacky culture shot. Hoo-hoo-hoo. This is sure to be a laff riot.

Yeah. Not so much. There are some laughs, but the plot turns on the reason Our Heroine left town -- mainly she killed the high school's star QB and hid the body in some kudzu. Those promises she made -- they were in return for God keeping the murder a secret. All the humor in the book comes in scenes set in the present, which play out in a manner reminiscent of My Cousin Vinny, but the flashbacks to the murder, which account for about half the content, are pure Southern Gothic, and while no one's going to mistake Jackson for Faulkner or O'Connor, the book's certainly better than Charlaine Harris.

2011/05/23

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.

2011/05/17

The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya




So, the SOS Brigade is back, and this time Haruhi decides they should make a film for the school's cultural festival. The fact that she knows nothing about film-making doesn't deter her in the least -- that's what her favorite buttmonkey, Kyon, is for. She tells him what to shoot, and he damn well better shoot it, or else. As for what he shoots -- no surprise, it involves Mikuru in a variety of absurd costumes.

The film's plot (to the extent it has one, which it doesn't really) centers on a battle waitress from the future named Mikuru (played by Mikuru, naturally) sent back to protect an esper named Itsuki Koizumi (played by Koizumi) from an evil alien witch named Yuki Nagato (played by, yes, Yuki). The fact that Haruhi has somehow assigned everyone roles nearly identical to their real selves, despite the fact that she's not supposed to know about them, disturbs the SOSers. To make matters worse, as they film the movie, aspects of the story begin to take on reality. Now the Brigade must find a way to stop Haruhi from using her powers -- but if they just outright refuse to participate, she might destroy the world! (Dun-dun-dun!)

If there's an overall plot to the series, we really don't get much of it here. We get some insights into Yuki, Mikuru and especially Koizumi's views of Haruhi's powers and some hints about how their superiors differ in their goals, but there's no real advancement plotwise. The next book is a series of short stories, so I don't expect much more from that, but the fourth volume sounds like it gets deeper into how the universe works.

2011/05/16

The Naked Dame by Jason Bovberg




Fun hardboiled thriller in the style of early Spillane. Guy Redding is a detective who's going through a bad patch after his last peep-job ended with his client murdering his cuckolding wife. To make matters worse, Guy took the opportunity to cuckold the client himself, and now the client, who, oh yeah, is a mobster, has a grudge against him.

But all that is prologue. The story begins when Guy, while stumbling home from a night of drinking, discovers the titular naked dame, beaten and bloody hiding in an alley. Being a man who is not himself mean, Guy takes it upon himself to find what happened to her.

But this is the dark city, and nothing is ever that simple. Before long, Guy's been crossed, double-crossed, and triple-crossed.

The book, as with all good pulps, is short and to the point. Bovberg's taken Elmore Leonard's advice and didn't write any of the parts that everyone skips. The plot moves through its convolutions at a fast pace, and builds to one hell of a climax. My only qualm is that I figured out the set-up about twenty pages before Redding, though I must note that Redding was drunk and more than a little messed up by that point.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya




The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is about a 14 year old Japanese schoolgirl.

(Well, there's a surprise. When was the last time you came across a light novel that didn't have a teenage girl as the protagonist? Japanese authors write about schoolgirls the way Americans write about middle aged white guys.)

True. Although to be fair, Haruhi isn't really the protagonist. She's more a force of nature. The real protag of the story is the narrator, Kyon. He doesn't want to be the hero -- he'd rather be a Nick Carraway type, watching interesting action from the sidelines and occasionally hanging out with the real hero. But on the first day of high school, he's assigned a seat in front of Haruhi and is thus sucked into Cloudcuckooland.

Haruhi is the sort of weird girl who, in an American movie version, would be played by a young Winona Ryder/Christina Ricci type. She hates the ordinariness of her life and wishes to encounter something interesting -- aliens, espers, sliders, time travelers. She'll talk to her fellow students just long enough to determine there's nothing interesting about them, then ignore them. But Kyon somehow gets past her defenses and she ... "takes a liking to him" isn't quite it. Drafts him as her first buttmonkey captures the relationship quite well. Soon Haruhi, inspired by one of Kyon's offhand remarks, decides to form a new school club, the SOS Brigade (that's the "Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade," which has to be the worst acronym since Calvin founded Get Rid of Slimy Girls).

Instead of chartering the club the proper way, Haruhi simply takes over the Literature Club, which has only one member, a girl named Yuki Nagato. Haruhi also shanghais an upperclassman, Mikuru Asahina who happens to have the qualities Haruhi wants in an SOSer -- i.e., big boobs. Later, when she hears about a mysterious transfer student named Itsuki Koizumi (all transfer students being mysterious in Haruhi's mind), she pressgangs him into the Brigade as well.

So what does the Brigade do? It's complicated, but mostly it involves Haruhi forcing Mikuru into revealing outfits (which wouldn't be so bad if she didn't do it in front of the guys. Yeah, for a YA novel, there's some real ickiness here.) They also make occasional weekend excursions to hunt mysterious phenomenon, though they fail to find any, much to Haruhi's frustration. Which is ironic, because it turns out every Brigade member beside Kyon is a mysterious figure working for mysterious organizations who were sent to keep an eye on Haruhi.

And why does Haruhi need to be surveilled? That's really complicated and should best be discovered by reading the book (though skip the back cover, because it gives away the big secret).

Apart from the supernatural elements, the book reminds me a lot of my high school years, when walking across the library could end with me getting shanghaied into a bizarre adventure with women of questionable sanity. Ah, those were days.

2011/05/03

Words you don't normally see together: "mummified Playmate." http://lat.ms/jbqOLT

2011/05/02

Big news of the day: Canadian election comes down to Conservatives vs NDP; Liberals totally suck. http://bit.ly/lNECQb