Friday, July 10, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

Lately when I read reviews and comments on book blogs, some lines from the Sondheim musical "Into the Woods" start going through my head: "You're so NICE...you're not good, you're not bad, you're just NICE..." Because a lot of bookish bloggers are increasingly unwilling to publish a bad review. There are a lot of reasons for this, and some of them are good ones. But I'm not going to join the crowd. Sometimes I read a book and I think afterwards that I wish I could have the time back that I wasted reading that one! Perhaps I should make this a weekly meme--thumbs down Thursday, or something. (Ok, I think that popped into my mind because of the recent musing over at Opiate of the Masses about starting memes like "Bodacious Tata Thursday.")

The book I read this week and didn't like is Janet Evanovich's Finger Lickin' Fifteen. It's too bad, because I liked all fourteen of the previous Stephanie Plum novels, and even one of the "between the numbers" novels she came out with, Plum Spooky. When I look back at my review of Fearless Fourteen, though, I see that I didn't like the writing or the relationship between Stephanie and Ranger or Morelli as much as in the previous ones. Mostly I was in the mood for the silliness about video game terms. Well, in fifteen the writing has literally descended to the level of fart jokes. The reason Stephanie can't choose between Ranger and Morelli is so contrived that it reminds me of the last season of an old tv show, Moonlighting, in which the sexual tension between the two main characters was such a vital ingredient in the show's success that the writers went to ludicrous lengths for weeks and weeks to keep the characters from getting together. Even Grandma Mazur, who was good for comic relief in the previous novels, isn't funny explaining why old women love exhibitionists and cooking with Lula.

Lula, also previously good comic relief, becomes more of a two-dimensional character in this book. You'd think that characters once fleshed out (generously, in Lula's case) couldn't go backwards, but that's exactly what Janet Evanovich has achieved in Finger Lickin' Fifteen. Even the junk food of the title is robbed of its fun in this one, as it's obviously something only the young can indulge in. I'm sorry, Ranger fans, but Ranger is old in this book--he's too old to eat junk and still look good. Morelli doesn't appear much, so I declare him the winner in the contest for Stephanie--at least he still seems fun.

No one who appears in Finger Lickin' Fifteen comes off well. The book is like a joke that's been told once too often. If you have to find out for yourself, go ahead, but you can believe what I'm telling you about this one because "I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right."

I think being right about book reviews is more important than being nice. (Do you disagree? Tell me why in the comments!)

18 comments:

Harriet M. Welsch said...

I do not disagree, especially as, in this case, you have felt generally positive about the work of an author, but that a particular book seems subpar. But I think it's also a problem to err in the other direction. I have even less patience with reviews that seem to cut a book down in order to build up the reviewer. Such reviews are particularly unconscionable when directed at first books. Is balanced and useful criticism too much to ask for?

J. Kaye said...

"Because a lot of bookish bloggers are increasingly unwilling to publish a bad review."

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say unwilling in my case. If I can't warm up to a book in 25 pages, I move on to the next. When that happens, I had to ask myself where's the review? I don't feel qualified to speak about the book if I didn't complete it.

Now as far as being right or wrong? These are opinions...not facts. It's like judging any kind of art. A great example of this was over a review I just read on Trin's blog. She claimed a book was a "horrible" read. I read the same book last year and thought it was one of the author's better books. So who is right?

BTW, great post!

Jeanne said...

Harriet, "useful criticism" is a very interesting idea. I don't think it can be very useful to the author (unless he/she wants to put it on Worse Review Ever), but it can be useful to a blog's readers in terms of what they want to spend their time and possibly their money on.

J.Kaye, what's "right" in terms of reviewing books is to say what you thought about them and why. You certainly do that! I think the fun we're missing out on in the book blog world is the pleasure of arguing about what makes a book "good." There are good books that I hated reading (often in my first reading--yes, I think re-reading can be important). And then there are books like Juillard's recently published The Blue Notebook that I hated reading and also thought was a bad book.

Jeanne said...

I meant Levine's The Blue Notebook, about a child prostitute in India.

J. Kaye said...

Jeanne ~ Gotcha! I came from an insane family where arguing was never pleasurable. Guess that's why I tend to avoid it.

Anna said...

I haven't read anything by this author, and while I've heard good things about her books, I'm not sure they're my cup of tea.

I'm not one of those unwilling to publish a bad review. I try to focus on the positives and the negatives of each book I review, but if I loved a book, I'm going to tell you I loved the book...and vice versa. I think I've become better at judging which books I'll like, but regardless, it's important to give your honest opinion.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Nymeth said...

I do think being honest is more important than being nice. J. Kaye's point that a lot of us have limited reading time and so abandon books we aren't enjoying is a good one too, though. As for me, I enjoy reading negative reviews as long as they don't belittle anyone who has a different opinion. And I can't think of any book bloggers who do that anyway. It has happened that a negative review has lead me to think "hey, I'd enjoy this" and made me pick up the book in question.

Jeanne said...

Anna, Good point about how we get better at judging what books we like--that's one of the reasons I'm looking for a book I think I might not agree with to read this summer.

Nymeth, when a negative review makes you think you'd enjoy a book, that's a review that has given enough detail!

FreshHell said...

I agree. I've read a couple of her books but, frankly, they leave me wanting more. They are written in such a tossed-off sort of way that I get the feeling the writer's not particularly interested in what she's writing (and maybe by now she isn't)or her readers. Snoresville. I think it's important for a reviewer to give her opinion of a book, esp if there's an explanation for the opinion. Why is it good? Why is it bad? The reviewer may not like a book because of the story, the theme, etc. But I might. What I do want to know is, does the reviewer feel the book is well written? Or, is it cliche-ridden, done to death, etc? Is it original? Or an original take on an old story? Worse book I read this year was Kingsley Amis' The Green Man. Before that, it was Woody Allen's most recent book. BLECH.

CSchu said...

I have always found it puzzling that you like the Stephanie Plum books so much, and I could never get into them. We so rarely disagree so strongly about a series. Moreover, I usually like detective series, even if they are not particularly highbrow or deep. But my reaction to this series was pretty much the same as FreshHell's. (Based on your pleasure in the series, I keep thinking that I should go back and try again, maybe it was just not my week to read that book, but if I do, I will definitely stop before I get to "Finger Lickin'..."

Jeanne said...

Freshhell, I think you're right--even the author is no longer very interested in this series.

CSchu, You like silliness less than I do, and that's one of the pleasures of the first fourteen books in this series.

Lezlie said...

I haven't read any of this particular series, but I have read some very, very early books by her and thought a few of them were very funny. Others, just so-so. Once a series gets to be of the length this one has reached, I assume there are going to be some clunkers somewhere along the way.

Lezlie

Jemima said...

It was interesting reading all the comments about negative book reviews. I have only been reviewing a short time and so I am just feeling my way around. I think so far I have been too polite about books that were badly written. I try to say it gently instead of just putting the truth of what I think out there. Thanks for the input.

M Denise C said...

Personally, I had to stop reading the books at about Twelve. Evanovich just did not evolve in her writing. Six to Eight were laugh out loud hilarious and I loved them but it kind of went down hill for me after that. So I lost all desire to even pick up any of the newer ones. But I have found this trend to be true for many authors who have found a cash cow series and just keep writing in a series that they are no longer interested in but still just keep churning them out. Some examples are Danielle Steel, those Left Behind books, and to an extent John Grisham. The only series I never tire of are the characters of Stuart Woods and I have no idea why . . .

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I liked the Stephanie Plum books for awhile, but then somewhere in the middle (8, 9?) they started to get really repetitive for me.

As for bad reviews and being "right," I think the important part is being honest. I just drafted a review of a book I disliked a lot, even though many people thought it was great. I was honest about why I didn't like it, but tried to also link to other reviews that disagreed with me so people can get some other perspective.

It was tough though -- I usually write positive reviews because I'm generally good at picking out books I enjoy reading. This one was a more recent book and, apparently, an exception to my ability to pick out books I like :)

Jeanne said...

Yes, as many of you point out, I should have given up on the Stephanie Plum series three or four books ago. As my post today (The Sagan Diaries) points out, I have trouble stopping.

Kim, that's a really good idea, to link to positive reviews of a book that you're reviewing negatively. I've done that before, but it occurs to me that usually I link to something I can use as a straw man.

bermudaonion said...

Sorry to hear this doesn't live up to the rest of the series, because I have it in my stacks to read.

farmlanebooks said...

I agree with you - I am one of the few who are happy to write a negative review for a book. I really wish more people would do it, as I think it is very useful for comparing book tastes.

I have actually found that more people buy books via my links when I say I don't like a book than they do when I rave about one - weird!