Talk to the Hand by Lynn Truss (2005, Gotham Books)
Lynne Truss became internationally famed due to her angry treatise on punctuation, Eats, Shoots, & Leaves. The book, part love letter to the communication skills and part frustrated venting about their ill treatment in modern society, struck a chord with many who had tired of seeming professionals make simple punctuation errors.
Talk to the Hand is another book about her frustrations, but her target this time is rudeness; specifically, the rudeness which permeates British society and undermines simple face-to-fact interactions between people.
It recreates the same breezy, authoritative style Truss brought to her international bestseller, but because her target is exclusively British failings, it loses much of its impact when read by non-Brits. She repeatedly uses the manners of people in the United States, Canada and various European nations as examples to demonstrate Great Britain’s failings, and because she does so it becomes tempting to take a surface-level response that they shouldn’t be concerned.
That’s not the correct message to take from the book. The underlying concerns of Truss are seen in the countries she uses for examples even as their manifestations of symptoms are slightly different. As a result, her suggestions on how to address the problem of a gradual loss of civility are fairly universal. It’s a serious topic addressed with aplomb and humor, leaving the reader with a number of entertaining anecdotes and something to consider. If Erma Bombeck had regularly addressed the great issues of her time, books like this might have resulted.
Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn (2005, Grand Central Publishing)
With a likeable, intelligent protagonist and an early chapter that can hook a reader perfectly, the book has much going for it; unfortunately some of that is lost because of werewolf sex.
The book is a traditional fantasy novel which crosses over into paranormal romance. The main character is Kitty Norville, a late-night talk radio host who, amidst the calls for romantic advice and warnings about UFOs, successfully hides that she survived a werewolf attack in the past and now shares that curse.
The book is disjointed. The aforementioned early chapter – where she is on the air and talking with a caller who has been paid to kill her – is worth the price of admission. It’s so well constructed, in fact, that it stands out after the looser chapters prior. This is due to the chapter having been a short story which had been tightened prior to publication in Weird Tales. The book came shortly after that story was released, and as a reader I was left to suspect she’d been asked to complete this first novel rapidly to capitalize on the industry buzz around the story.
The resulting work slips into being a little too explicit during an altered-consciousness scene (the aforementioned werewolf sex) and makes the mistake of wrapping up Kitty’s storyline so well that a reader doesn’t feel they’re missing anything if they don’t pick up the second book in the series – always a problem for a continuing character.
Along the way the reader is given a different take on some familiar tropes. After Kitty is publicly outed as a werewolf, the obligatory police investigation into a serial murderer seeks her help. She has to deal with a vampire organization. The men in her life are dangerous and flirtatious. It’s fairly standard fare in that regard, but for a change she doesn’t start the series as a dominant force but rather as a normal person backed into corners – sometimes by chance, sometimes because of her good nature in a world of predators.
It’s worth a read if you enjoy paranormal romance or werewolf books. Thankfully, future books in the series did away with the rare explicit sex and focused on Kitty’s character, and Vaughn’s growing experience as a novelist served to smooth the rough edges from the books following Midnight Hour.