Saturday, February 17, 2007

Size 14 is Not Fat Either (Meg Cabot)

While my friend Skinny takes on M. John Harrison, I say hello to Meg Cabot. So I need brain candy.

Meg is seriously fun. When she's good, that is. I loved her The Boy Next Door and am a fan of her Mediator series. Size 14 is actually the second book to her Heather Wells mysteries, whose initial offering, Size 12 is Not Fat, was something I quite enjoyed. Heather Wells is a pop star has-been turned resident hall assistant with a penchant for putting her nose into other peoples' business. Who is now a Size 12! And lives with a gorgeous PI! Well, not live live, seeing as he's her landlord, but well. A girl can dream. The mystery is fun, the romance infectuous, and Heather engaging.

Sadly, the new book makes Heather two sizes bigger and two notches more boring. It doesn't carry Meg's usual girlish charm at all. The mystery was a bit predictable. The romance aspect was non-existent. The only bright spot in the whole book is Heather's resident, Gavin, a loud yet sweet college student who has an adorable crush on her. Gavin comes alive under Meg's writing, which is a good thing because my other favorite characters (like Cooper, the gorgeous dick), felt like walking corpses.

Oh, Meg, Meg, Meg. If you're writing a mystery-romance, and need to sacrifice the romance for the mystery, then give me a damn good mystery, please! I love Heather and will still continue to read about her, but I do hope she takes on more interesting cases after this. I read chick lit for fun, but if that will elude me, then... hand me my Orhan Pamuk. I'm off the brain candy for now.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Haruki Murakami)

I suppose it would be easier to blame work for my lack of updates, but the nobler thing would be to admit that I've been too lazy. Mr. Murakami tore me out of that funk. I've been a fan since Sputnik Sweetheart, and it would be such a shame to let his latest short story collection go by without paying homage to it.

I've actually read two of the stories featured in this collection. "Birthday Girl" is included in Birthday Stories, which he edited, while "A Shinagawa Monkey" is something I came across in a fairly recent issue of the New Yorker. The rest of his collection came as a pleasant discovery. In Blind Willow, Mr. Murakami still writes with his delicious mix of the real and the surreal, using man-eating cats as a jump-off point to explore an adulterous affair or taking a quiet look at the life of a man who used to talk as if reciting poetry. Of these, though, my favorites are "Where I'm Likely to Find It," about an investigator hired to look for a missing husband, and "The Kidney-Shaped Stone that Moves Every Day," which theorizes that of all the women that a man meets in his life, there are only three who will have any real meaning for him.

While his stories can be quite unexpected, Mr. Murakami's graceful writing is a constant. There is something more reserved about Blind Willow, though, than his after the quake or The Elephant Vanishes, and in hindsight, it was this quiet storytelling that I enjoyed most. I'm a weird short story reader; I don't read short story collections in order. I just pick one whenever I feel like it (usually in the middle of a busy morning before I go to work) to shake things up. But the tone that he uses in most of his stories here has some soothing effect on me, and it is this vein that the collection carried, notwithstanding the order in which I read his stories.

"I imagine my search will continue -- somewhere. A search for something that could very well be shaped like a door. Or maybe something closer to an umbrella, or a doughnut. Or an elephant. A search that, I hope, will take me where I'm likely to find it (p. 290)," he writes. And here lies a promise. I'm just waiting to read about whatever Mr. Murakami is searching for.