by syaffolee

Book Reviews: Lab Lit, Whodunits, Excessive IMs

A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies by John Murray

This collection of short stories is no longer than the typical book, but it took me a while to finish it. That’s the problem with short stories even though I profess to prefer this form of fiction due to my short attention span for anything mediocre. Once you’ve finished a short story, there’s nothing to stop you from not beginning the next one. But in A Few Short Notes, I didn’t stop after I’ve finished a story, I stopped in the middle of one. “All the Rivers in the World” was the weakest of the bunch–probably because the focus continually shifted between two characters making me feel like I was having a bit of insomnia.

I would describe Murray’s stories as “lab lit”, a bit akin to Andrea Barrett. The stories are tied together with science infused with humanity and culture clashes. Many of Murray’s characters are Indians trapped between ambitious Western upbringings and traditional backgrounds. In “The Hill Station”, a microbiologist used to sterile American labs gets a culture shock when she heads to the Indian subcontinent to combat cholera first hand. A young man struggles to understand how his mother’s ambition to become a famous paleontologist splinters his family in “White Flour.”

Another major theme present throughout the stories is the characters’ attempts at reconciling their training in systematic rigor with the messiness inherent in real life. This is exemplified by “Acts of Memory, Wisdom of Man” where a young man’s desire to please his beetle-collecting father ultimately leads to his brother’s fatal enlistment into the Vietnam War. In the short story “A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies”, an aging surgeon, shaped by stories of his adventurous grandfather, jeopardizes his marriage by burying himself in butterfly collecting rather than taking risks.

In all, I enjoyed most of the stories in this collection. Murray manages to blend natural history and biology into some literary food for thought without bogging down on the technical and pedantic.

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Get a Clue by Jill Shalvis

Breanne Mooreland is having a very bad day. She gets dumped at the altar (for the third time), loses her luggage on her way to a mountain lodge, gets snowed in, and her honeymoon suite is already occupied by someone else–Cooper Scott, a burned-out vice cop on a much needed vacation. To top it off, Breanne stumbles upon a dead body at the lodge.

Mostly, I found the relationship between Breanne and Cooper annoying. Actually, it was Breanne who was annoying. I’m sure getting abandoned at the altar and having all the other mishaps happening would certainly make one depressed, but her constant hang-ups and whining made her sound like an unlikable and spoiled brat. There wasn’t even enough development of her character in the novel to really make her sympathetic to the reader. In other words, Breanne was a pampered chick-lit stock character who neither grew nor sufficiently acknowledged her own short comings.

The mystery in Get a Clue is intriguing although not all that original. The deceased is the universally hated lodge manager thus making everyone present a suspect. But the clues weren’t sufficient (or even necessary) for a reader to really figure out what was going on. Without giving anything away, the solution was more of a deus ex machina rather than any logical deductions that one could make. As a romance or as a mystery, this novel unfortunately flounders on both counts.

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Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex? by Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg, M.D.

If you’ve read the first book, Why Do Men Have Nipples?, this is more of the same thing. I will say this though, if you found the first book irritating, you’ll find the sequel even more so. Interspersed between sections are transcribed instant messages between the two authors–some of it discussing their bad reviews on Amazon. I found them funny in the first book, but by this time it gets a bit tiring. It doesn’t help that those IMs are lengthier giving the impression that this is just a gimmick, a one-trick pony.

There were a few questions in which I was interested to read the answer to: What are those dust particles you sometimes see floating in front of your eyes? and What makes self-tanner work? come to mind. But I already knew the answers to many of the other questions, which leads me to ask, exactly who is the intended audience?

If you like Leyner and Goldberg’s brand of sophomoric, eclectic, and somewhat crass humor, this is a riot. Otherwise, this is the perfect gift for kids with wrong-headed notions about sex, people who need some convincing that all the wives tales that they believe are hogwash, and those who want to step into a bit of medical science without being confounded by too many esoteric terms. As for all those obscure scientific journals that are cited, I’m feeling a bit dubious….