Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Second City Unscripted (by Mike Thomas)

This seriously could have been so much better. It's in the same style (interview snippets) as the wonderful Live from New York about SNL, but it suffers in comparison.

The biggest problem is that a lot of things are never explained. For instance, they don't even outline what constitutes a "revue" or what the rules for improv are in their shows. I would have loved some nitty gritty talk about how a show is written and put together, but it's all just vague.

Also, they almost never talk about cast members leaving or why, so you don't get a clear sense of when people came and went (which is something else the SNL book does really well) or how the cast and their comedy styles evolved. They don't talk to a lot of key people (I don't recall anything from Steve Carell or Andrea Martin or Nancy Walls or Catherine O'Hara, for instance, just to name a few).

Some of the people they do talk to are just underused--I would love to hear more from the trio of Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert, for just one example. You get these frustrating tidbits, and not enough depth. I would love more specifics about the shows and what they included--I'm familiar with SCTV of course, and some of the offshoots of Second City (like many SNL performers and sketches, or Strangers with Candy) but a lot of it goes unsaid.

I got really annoyed when I saw the afterword, where the author talks about how much he cut out of the final edit. Um, maybe some of that stuff would have helped your book NOT BE SO ANNOYING, Mr. Thomas. Thumbs, sadly, down.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

U is for Undertow (by Sue Grafton)*

I used to read the alphabet novels religiously and repeatedly, but I skipped a couple that looked dumb and got bad reviews. I decided to read this one because the reviews were pretty good, and I thought I'd take a chance on the audiobook.

The book itself, I did like. I would rather stick with Kinsey's point of view for the whole book rather than jumping around, but the other sections were well done and even when I didn't know how they were going to connect with the final mystery, were interesting on their own. Vaguely annoying: Grafton always uses at least one name that starts with whatever letter the book is. In this case, a family had the last name of Unruh. That name was so unlikely as to be annoying! A nitpick, I know. But the mystery itself was good, and Kinsey as the heroine continues to satisfy.

(I do have to say that there is quite a bit of filler, and some random sidebars that didn't really seem to fit in. But it was entertaining enough for the most part.)

My big complaint? I didn't like the narrator, Judy Kaye. She sounded like a really bitter Ellen Degeneres. The real problem was that every phrase seemed to be dripping with sarcasm. Even innocuous phrases like "Chapter 17." So it made Kinsey (and many of the other characters) less likeable than they should have been. I had to keep reminding myself, Kinsey isn't being bitchy and sarcastic to everyone she meets; it's the narrator's tone! So I was kind of sorry I hadn't just waited for the paperback.

Also on audiobook, you notice how unlikely some of the dialogue is. Like three characters use "net" as a verb, even though in real life, I don't think I've ever heard anyone use it. One character says "my proverbial ass is grass" in the middle of an argument. "My proverbial ass"! Someone else says, "I don't think the admonition applies if there's a serious crime involved.." and someone else constructs a sentence that starts something like: "Your plan, we can implement when..." On audio, you really notice clunky dialogue that probably would read fine on the page.

Anyway, these are nitpicks. Like I said, I don't recommend the audiobook, but the mystery itself was a fine return to form for Grafton.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Jane Austen: A Life (by Claire Tomalin)

This book caused me to jaunt over to my Amazon wish list and add three more books about Jane Austen. Not a perfect book ala an Antonia Fraser biography, because Tomalin makes a few too many assumptions, some of which seem like stretches of the imagination.

Also did not answer my burning question about Jane Austen, which is, how did she name her characters? (Perhaps, given how little we know of her, this is not known.) Jane Fairfax and Jane Bennet both (obviously) share her first name, and both are looked up to by the other characters in the book. She had two Fannys in her family, and in the books are Fanny Price (goody two-shoes) and Fanny Dashwood (evil). There is her cousin Eliza and Eliza Bennet, any connection? And then there's the fact that her beloved sister was named Cassandra, and she didn't name anyone Cassandra. It just makes me curious about the overlaps and omissions. Such a minor thing, but... I always wonder.

Um, that's really beside the point. Anyway, it's good, and I did learn a lot about Austen that I didn't know. I'm hoping to visit the Jane Austen sites in England this summer, so it's a good time to read up on her!


Thursday, February 04, 2010

A Monstrous Regiment of Women (by Laurie R. King)*

The second book in the Mary Russell series, and what a strange book. I loved half of it (the relationship between Russell and Holmes), and hated the other half (the Temple plot). I will elaborate between spoiler tags!

Ramping up the sexual tension was just awesome, and I loved the tension, the resolution, the thole thing. I also loved her inheriting her money, and getting fancy clothes, a new apartment, having a kind of Cinderella moment. I mean who doesn't love that?

HOWEVER. The Temple plot was so bad. At first it just felt pointless, like, why the hell is Mary even involving herself in this clearly bizarre cult-like organization? Then it was boring, with long recountings of the "sermons" and arguments about the Bible, and it was like, oh my god I DO NOT CARE JUST FUCK SHERLOCK ALREADY.

Then the mystery part started, and it got much better. I liked the denouement, Annie Mudd, the resolution, all that stuff. What I DID NOT ENJOY was ALL THAT NEEDLE BUSINESS. I have a PHOBIA vis a vis injections, which made a plotline ALL ABOUT INJECTIONS (mostly involuntary ones) incredibly disturbing. Since I was listening to it, I couldn't exactly skip paragraphs. I would turn the volume all the way down and turn it back up when I thought I was safe only to hear "syringe" or "plunger" or "under the skin" or some other HORRIFYING PHRASE. At one point I almost thought I would have to take a Valium to avoid crashing my car. (You will be glad to know I didn't. I really don't take Valium very much at all, but I do enjoy the comfort of knowing it's there.) Anyway that is not Laurie R. King's fault, but it WAS A PROBLEM FOR ME.

I'm sure I'll download the next one, though. People who have read it can tell me if it gets better and less needly in book three.