The Gryphon by Nick Bantock: C

From the back cover:
With over three million copies sold, the Griffin & Sabine novels are beloved around the world for their artful fusion of captivating storytelling, lush illustration, and fascinating correspondence. At last, best-selling author Nick Bantock brings us a new volume in the Griffin & Sabine story—a tale rich in the artistry, mystery, and surprise that makes the original saga so beloved. As the remarkable fates of Griffin and Sabine are gradually revealed, we are introduced to Matthew and Isabella, long-distance lovers who find themselves entwined not only in each other’s lives, but also in a perilous and alluring intrigue.

First off, I don’t recommend buying these books simply because they’re very costly. They’re about $20 each because of all those aforementioned lush illustrations, but can be read in about the same amount of time as a graphic novel but with less overall content. If you’re lucky like me, your library will have them and the patrons will have been conscientious and not messed any of the letters up. (You can actually slip these out of envelopes and unfold them and stuff.)

This is the first book of the second trilogy regarding the correspondence of Griffin and Sabine. The line up there about their fates being revealed is not true at all. They’re still as murky as ever. And now more murk has been introduced with Matthew and Isabella, who I think are both actually real, but I’m not sure. There are lots of debates regarding these novels as to whether Sabine’s real or if Griffin’s just insane. I definitely tend toward the latter camp, but would like some confirmation. Alas, I don’t think I’m going to get any.

These books are like poetry. Lots of postcards with weird art and letters with cryptic hints that’re probably symbolic but which I often don’t fathom and can’t really be bothered to try too hard to interpret. Still, they’re pretty interesting and not any serious investment of time. Just don’t fork out $120 for the whole set because you’ll regret it.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding: C

From the back cover:
Lurching from the cappuccino bars of Notting Hill to the blissed-out shores of Thailand, Bridget Jones searches for The Truth in spite of pathetically unevolved men, insane dating theories, and Smug Married advice. She experiences a zeitgeist-esque Spiritual Epiphany somewhere between the pages of How to Find the Love You Want Without Seeking It, protective custody, and a lightly chilled Chardonnay.

Several things annoyed me about this book. I don’t like plots that hinge on misunderstandings that nobody really tries to explain. And Bridget somehow seems even more incompetent than the last book, letting a situation with a builder just linger on unresolved, and just not earning my sympathy very much. It was still cute, and funny at times. It’s probably worth a read, but I found it quite frustrating.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding: A-

From the back cover:
Bridget Jones’s Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget’s permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement—a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult—and learn to program the VCR.

I’d seen the film but never read the book, so recently listened to the unabridged audio read by Barbara Rosenblatt. She was particularly adept at making Bridget’s mom even more crazily annoying, and did lots of amusing things with all of Bridget’s aha!s and la la las.

This is a quick, funny, and enjoyable book, with a few flaws that are forgivable. I’m still not convinced how Mark Darcy fell in love with Bridget to start with, and seriously, 131 lbs. is so totally not fat whatsoever. I can’t believe Hollywood made a big deal of Renee Zellweger plumping up for this role when the character only weighs 131 lbs. at the most! It’d be one thing if Bridget were the only one to believe this, but various people she meets seem to reinforce the notion.

The parallels with Pride and Prejudice are cleverly done. I particularly like how Bridget’s mom is sort of Mrs. Bennet and Lydia simultaneously. It’s also v. addictive in terms of language. Go read it!

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: A

From the back cover:
Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of 1967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Calliope into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

I don’t normally go in for multi-generational family epics, and I still think the basic concept is a boring one, but in Middlesex it’s handled in such a way that it’s all leading up to some revelations made in the first paragraph and explains how they came about. About halfway in or so when I discovered I was enjoying the sprawling epic, I looked it up and found that it had won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. I think it’s well-deserved in this case.

Although I do own a paperback copy of Middlesex, I actually listened to an unabridged audio recording read by Kristoffer Tabori, who was excellent. The language is not exactly florid, but it is pretty detail-rich. It might’ve been annoying to me if I were looking at it on a page, but Tabori adopts a storyteller mien that makes all the description seem necessary to convey the proper atmosphere.

There are a few things that keep this from getting an A+, however. There are two characters who receive quirky nicknames, which can come off as just a little pretentious. When Calliope’s brother is called Chapter Eleven in the first chapter, it totally elicited a groan from me, because I generally hate books that do stuff like that. It is eventually explained, but it just seems a little look-at-me clever. Also, there’s a bit of a plot hole at the end.

So, a plain ol’ A it is. Get the unabridged audio if you can.