BookBin2010: Batwoman: Elegy

I don’t even know why I’m listing Batwoman: Elegy as part of the BookBin2010 project other than the obvious reason that it’s a book that I have recently read. However, it is not a book that was for even a nanosecond considered as a possible candidate for donation.

Oh no. This is a book that is going to stay with me for a very long time.

There are some amazing things transpiring in this graphic novel, which is a compilation of the story arc that originally appeared in issues 854-860 of Detective Comics. I don’t want to say much about the story itself, which is brilliantly written by proliferate comics writer Greg Rucka, other than it is expertly crafted to give readers a roller coaster of a ride for the present-day battle with villainous Alice, a psychopathic cult leader who speaks mostly in Lewis Carroll quotes, while weaving in flashback moments that give us a proper foundation for Kate Kane’s transformation into Batwoman.

However, what I find most stunning about this compilation…what I keep coming back to on an almost daily basis since I received my copy from Amazon…is the magnificent artwork by J.H. Williams, III. This is the whole point of the graphic novel after all, isn’t it? To take a powerful story and increase its impact through glorious full-color artistic renderings? Williams fulfills this purpose in mind-blowing ways that are sharpened to even greater impact by amazing color work by Dave Stewart. Simply put, this is a masterpiece of storytelling, artistry, and coloring, making Rucka, Williams, and Stewart an unstoppable Holy Trinity of comic book magnificence.

I want so badly to post some of Williams’s art here, but most of my favorite images from the novel give away far too much if you are as attentive and intuitive as I know many of my denizens are. This is also why I urge you not to do image searches on your own. There are several sites that post some blatantly surprise-spoiling images from Elegy. Do not spoil this one for yourselves, denizens. Trust me on this one.

Final Verdict: Get your own copy of this compilation as soon as possible…because there’s no way you’re borrowing my copy.

BookBin2010: Dead Until Dark

I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken about this at length here at the lair, but I enjoyed the first season of HBO’s True Blood immensely. I decided to rent the show after learning that it was the latest effort from Alan Ball. For those who don’t know who he is, Ball is the writer of the brilliant film American Beauty as well as the creator of Six Feet Under, which I consider one of the greatest television shows ever created. He also used to write for Grace Under Fire, the sitcom headed by one of my all-time favorite comediennes, Brett Butler.

Needless to say, all I needed to know was that Ball was the creative force behind True Blood for me to immediately hop on board. In fact, I didn’t even realize that the series had literary roots until I was about halfway through watching the first season.

Imagine my delight, then, when I did realize that there was a whole series of novels behind this wonderful show! Author Charlaine Harris has been writing the adventures of Sookie Stackhouse since her 2001 inaugural “Southern Vampire” novel, Dead Until Dark.

I was so excited that I nearly bought the entire series tout de suite. Then my older and wiser (and cheaper) self spoke up and kindly suggested that perhaps I should only buy the first book, just to be on the safe side. And so I followed these wiser words and picked up a copy of Dead Until Dark back in January with a gift card I’d gotten for Christmas. However, the novel became lost amidst my maelstrom of book piles until renting the second season of True Blood jogged my memory regarding its existence in my collection. What better time to read the book that inspired the first season than while watching the second season?

Indeed.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that the acronym for the first Sookie Stackhouse novel is “DUD,” because that’s pretty much how I felt toward it as I was reading it. Harris subscribes to a belief that I simply do not embrace regarding vampires, and that is the belief that they are sexy.

Vampires are not sexy. Vampires are a hair’s breadth away from total death. This truth causes me to suspect that the stink of decay is always about them, more than likely worsening the longer they go in between feedings. Additionally, their personal grooming is hampered by the fact that they can’t really check what they look like in a mirror, and their breath must reek of a fetid, coppery tang that no amount of Scope could ever hope to erase. What part of that description screams sexy to you?

True, Harris’s story is nowhere near as insipid or poorly written as that other vampire series, but I still wasn’t enamored of her take on the vampire mythology. I suppose I prefer my vampires cruel like Keifer or campy like Cruise.

[Loba Tangent: There’s a confession for you all. I love Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview With the Vampire. I think, however, that’s because I don’t view his performance as most people view it: a failed attempt at depth and darkness. I see it instead as one of the most delightfully campy and subsequently hilarious takes on a vampire that’s ever been committed to film. I mean, come on, how can you not find him funny when he says things like “Evildoers are easier, and they taste better” or “All I need do to find you, Louis, is follow the corpses of rats”? Lestat as played by Cruise was pure camp and vamp, which I admittedly found refreshing among the hordes of dark and brooding vampires before him.]

However, I am thankful to Harris for providing the foundation on which Ball built the first season of True Blood. Ball was able to expand upon and deepen the allegorical aspects of Harris’s tale of outsiders and the fear held by the majority that prevents them from ever finding acceptance in mainstream society. I think this was the strength of that first season for me. It definitely was not the relationship aspect. Again, vampire ≠ sexy.

Also, there was the joy of Ball being able to expand certain peripheral characters and even add new blood to the character pool from that first novel. I think the character who benefited the most from this freedom was Lafayette Reynolds. Mentioned only in random and disappointingly brief moments in Dead Until Dark, Lafayette becomes one of the strongest secondary players in Ball’s True Blood. As portrayed by Nelsan Ellis, Lafayette is a delicious dichotomy of stereotyping both fulfilled and nullified. He is at times coarse and spiteful, but always with a savory complexity that draws you in for another taste.

Ellis’s portrayal of Lafayette was, in fact, one of the few bright spots from the disappointingly anemic second season of True Blood. I was extremely let down by this show’s second season. Every bit of the nuances and complexities that drew me in with the first season were apparently drained from the show in order to make room for more focus on the relationship tangles of Sookie, Bill, and vampire competition Eric, as well as for a completely ridiculous storyline that I believe was added as a means of keeping the residents of Bon Temps in the mix while Sookie went to Dallas for most of this season. The failure of the Bon Temps story was even more disappointing for this Trek aficionado since it featured the ever lovely and forever Bajoran Michelle Forbes.

Final Verdict: I’m very glad that I’m much wiser or at least much cheaper than I was in my youth. Otherwise, I fear I would be stuck with a whole series of novels to sell on eBay right now rather than simply having one Sookie Stackhouse novel to tote to the thrift store. One visit to Bon Temps and Sookie’s literary world was quite enough for me, thank you. As for True Blood, my interest in revisiting the show is about as dead as all those non-sexy vampires. For me, the magic is most assuredly gone, replaced by too much focus on vampiristic love and lust in Louisiana. Still, I’m glad I own the first season on DVD, and I’m forever grateful to the show for introducing me to one of the most wonderful songs in the history of television themes.

BookBin2010: The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing

Although I finished Melissa Bank’s novel, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, approximately a week ago, I’m just now getting around to writing this review. That was probably a huge mistake on my part.

I’m finding it rather difficult to come up with what I’d like to say about this book. It’s not that I hated the novel, which is in fact a collection of vignettes either narrated by, focused upon, or somehow related to the book’s protagonist, Jane Rosenal. It’s more a matter of my own failure to retain memories of this book. It seems that, within the past week, the stories have faded and blurred like sidewalk chalk drawings in a summer storm.

The one thing that has prevailed, though, are my thoughts about Bank’s writing style: controlled, concise, and very much indebted to Raymond Carver. I’ve mentioned Carver here before, but only in passing. He happens to be one of my favorite short story authors, mainly for his inclination toward, in his own words, “brevity and intensity.” His prose is beautifully restrained, forcing you to savor each word, let it linger on your palate until you’ve drained it of every meaning, every flavor. Even then, there’s still more to find in subsequent visits to his worlds.

I wish I felt the same about Bank’s debut novel. However, there was very little depth within these stories for me to plumb. There are moments of beauty, wit, and warmth suffused throughout, but the stories themselves lacked the ability to reach me in any meaningful way. I suppose that’s in part due to my innate aversion to “chick lit,” a literary subgenre that sets my teeth on edge.

Does Bank’s debut qualify as part of this subgenre? Perhaps not in the traditional way of writers such as Candace Bushnell or Jennifer Weiner, but, yes, I believe that it has the flavor of chick lit about it…and that’s unfortunately a flavor I do not savor. I do think that Jane Rosenal’s life and love experiences are more universally relatable than, say, Carrie Bradshaw’s jejune exploits (let the flaming begin), but holistically, she was not a character with whom I could or would want to connect.

Final Verdict: The fact that these stories didn’t stay with me means that this book doesn’t get to stay with me either. It was a quick read with enjoyable moments, but if I want a Raymond Carver-esque reading experience that leaves a bit of a stronger impression on my soul, I’m going to go with Raymond Carver.

BookBin2010: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Oh noes. Another book with a dog on the cover. A cute, adorable, fluffum-wuffum doggy. Loba’s literary kryptonite. Why is it that I can’t stay away from books with canines on the cover? It’s quite sad, really.

However, I must say that I have yet to be disappointed by the contents of such books. And Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain is definitely no exception to this rule.

First, let’s deal with a few things right up front. Yes, I picked up this novel because there was a dog on the cover. I’ve already confessed this particular weakness to you, so it’s not that surprising to hear again, right? Beyond the dog, however, I knew nothing of this story or its author. So imagine my surprise when I realized that it was a story told from the perspective of a linguistically erudite dog named Enzo who loved auto racing.

I kid you not.

To those of you who are cringing at one or more of the things I just wrote, let me reassure you now. First, reading a book written from a dog’s POV is not as disconcerting as you might initially think. In fact, such a story allowed me to discover the brilliance of Paul Auster. When in the right hands, such a story is a gift, pure and simple.

Next is the auto racing angle. Yes, naïveté led me to originally believe that the novel’s title somehow related to the dog doing the racing. I was genuinely surprised when I realized it was in reference to cars. I’m not a fan of watching any sports, so the thought of reading a book that focuses on car racing was initially quite off-putting. Here, though, it works. It works in the most exquisite ways.

Stein took a huge chance with the concept for this story…and he slams it right out the park (ooh, another sports analogy to describe a book rife with sports analogies!). His writing is strong, streamlined and well-oiled like the racing machines Enzo and his owner love so dearly. The story itself—the story of ordeals suffered by Enzo’s owner and, subsequently, Enzo—runs like a dangerous track, an endurance test that only the greatest drivers can survive. As you can see, the racing analogy runs deep in this story, but never runs trite.

In fact, the only fault I can find with this novel is the final chapter, which felt too schmaltzy and tacked on to warrant reading. However, perhaps this is my own personal mishegas, and you should simply ignore me.

Final Verdict: Enzo and his love of racing in the rain definitely will be staying in my library. Right in the section set aside for books with dogs on the covers. And, yes, this is a significant-sized section. Shut up.

BookBin2010: Speak

There is a certain skill that very few authors can wield with such clarity of purpose. It’s the ability to strip a story down to its simplest, purest elements, to leave behind the flowery prose and the impressive vocabulary and, with the sparsest language, tell the most powerful story.

Laurie Halse Anderson has that skill and she flaunts it quite well in her 1999 novel, Speak.

I’m not saying that I think this book is simple in any way. It’s quite complex, actually, and the themes that Anderson captures are so resounding for anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender.

Yes, the story focuses on one traumatic event survived by the novel’s heroine, Melinda Sordino, and her journey back from the nadir of that moment to when she finally reclaims her voice. But it’s also the story of depression (not emo teen angst, but honest depression), not fitting in, not belonging, not being understood, not being heard because you don’t know how to be.

What teenager doesn’t understand these feelings? Hell, what adult doesn’t understand these feelings? I’m nearly 34 years old and I still feel as though some days I’m struggling to find my voice.

Anderson does an exemplary job of capturing all these emotions and moments, not in any overly sentimental or schlocky ways, and of creating one of the most extraordinarily human characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I can honestly say, with all the books I have read and all the wonderful characters I have met throughout my literary perambulations, Melinda Sordino has earned her place as one of the few characters I didn’t want to leave. She was this beautiful, breathtaking combination of fractured and fierce, funny and heart-breaking. Very rarely do I wish that a book character was real, but such was the case with Melinda.

Perhaps that’s partially why I love the movie with equal fervor and why I’m also going to praise what I think is one of the finest book-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen.

I’ve actually already talked a little bit about the movie version of Speak. It came in the form of what could be construed as a back-handed compliment to Kristen Stewart while unleashing my vitriol on Stephenie Meyer and the scourge of inanity she’s unleashed with her bullshit sparkly vampire stories.

[Loba Tangent 1: That reminds me. Another thing I spent considerable time doing at the beach this past weekend was flipping around all the copies of Meyer’s latest abomination so that no one could recognize it. I also flipped around a couple of displays so that people couldn’t see them either. Hell hath no fury like an offended literary snob.]

In my rant/review on Twilight, I mentioned how taken aback I’d been after seeing Stewart’s performance as Melinda Sordino. For that brief period of time, Melinda existed in such a believable, genuine way, gaining life through one of Stewart’s more inspired performances thus far.

[Loba Tangent 2: In his review of Adventureland, another of my recent favorite movie acquisitions, Roger Ebert wrote,

What surprised me was how much I admired Kristen Stewart, who in Twilight, was playing below her grade level. Here is an actress ready to do important things.

I can’t agree more with Ebert, and I can’t wait until she can finally put behind her these insipid Twilight movies and move on to do the important things I believe await her.]

Again, I have no children. But if I did, regardless of whether they were girls or boys, I’d give them this book to read and/or the movie to watch (although I think the movie sharpens the focus of the story, whereas the book is a little more inclusive of all outsiders). Anderson has done something so amazing with this novel: She has captured an astonishing array of overarching issues that affect so many teenagers, and brought them together in this perfectly crafted tale.

Final Verdict: Melinda Sordino will be staying in my collection, thank you. Although I don’t think I will be reading any further into Anderson’s oeuvre. I know this is going to sound strange, especially coming from as big a book geek as me, but this book resonated so strongly with me, not only for the complex simplicity (oh, yes, indeed) of the story, but for the absolutely beautiful way in which it was told…I can’t imagine Anderson ever topping the power of this novel.

What’s more, I don’t want her to. I want Melinda to remain the solitary spectacular gift that Anderson has given to my library. I know that sounds bizarre, but that’s the way I feel, at least right now. I’ll let you know if I change my mind.

BookBin2010: My Favorite Horror Story

I knew this was going to be a keeper the minute I picked it up and read the description: a collection of favorite horror stories as selected by some of the finest horror writers the genre has to offer. Um. Yes, please.

Then I saw the Table of Contents and was walking to the cashier before I’d even finished:

  • “Sweets to the Sweet” by Robert Bloch :: chosen by Stephen King.
  • “The Father-Thing” by Philip K. Dick :: chosen by Ed Gorman.
  • “The Distributor” by Richard Matheson :: chosen by F. Paul Wilson.
  • “A Warning to the Curious” by M.R. James :: chosen by Ramsey Campbell.
  • “Opening the Door” by Arthur Machen :: chosen by Peter Atkins.
  • “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft :: chosen by Richard Laymon.
  • “The Inner Room” by Robert Aickman :: chosen by Peter Straub.
  • “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne :: chosen by Rick Hautala.
  • “The Rats in the Walls” by H.P. Lovecraft :: chosen by Michael Slade.
  • “The Dog Park” by Dennis Etchison :: chosen by Richard Christian Matheson.
  • “The Animal Fair” by Robert Bloch :: chosen by Joe R. Lansdale.
  • “The Pattern” by Ramsey Campbell :: chosen by Poppy Z. Brite.
  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe :: chosen by Joyce Carol Oates.
  • “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce :: chosen by Dennis Etchison.
  • “The Human Chair” by Edogawa Rampo :: chosen by Harlan Ellison.

This is such an amazing collection of short stories, bringing together some of my all-time favorite writers with several I’ve wanted to discover for quite a while. And the discovery of these authors was well worth the wait, including (finally!) my first taste of H.P. Lovecraft.

I know! How the hell I’ve gone this long without truly experiencing Lovecraft is a horror unto itself. I don’t know why, but I have a bit of a Cthulhu hurdle, which has in time metamorphosed into a Lovecraft hurdle. I think it has to do with the people whom I have encountered who were huge into the Lovecraft mythos of Cthulhu. They were hurdles to me, and I guess I now link the two so closely that I can’t think of one without shuddering at the other.

The two Lovecraft offerings in this anthology, “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Rats in the Walls,” were by far two of the strongest stories in a collection of absolute champions. Also, Harlan Ellison’s selection, “The Human Chair” by Edogawa Rampo, gave me chills, even as I sat on a scorching hot beach. Same with Dennis Etchison’s “The Dog Park” or Robert Bloch’s “The Animal Fair.” Oh wow, was that an awesome ending, even if fairly predictable. Still scores high on the creep-o-meter.

I think that’s the key for each of the stories in this collection, at least for me: They’re not in-your-face gore fests. They inch slowly under your skin, sending out tendrils that wind their way straight through your core and leave you feeling thoroughly unsettled, invaded, filleted. I love this kind of horror. I love this anthology. Plus, the stories selected to represent Poe, Hawthorne, and Bierce are three of the key discoveries that helped lead me to the altar of horror literature in the first place.

Final Verdict: Yeah, like I’d give up this collection. This is so worth the price of admission. If you love horror stories and can find a copy, I would highly recommend adding it to your own collection.

BookBin2010: American Nerd

I’m a nerd. There’s really no denying this truth. From the roots of my red hair to the tips of my hipster Docs, I. Am. A. Nerd.

And I’m okay with this. I’m not just “okay” with it, actually. I revel in it. There is something liberating about being apart from the masses, liking what you like for reasons other than this popular person or that trendy person approves. It’s no surprise, I’m sure, to hear that I’ve never been all that good at fitting in with others. I’m okay with that, too.

So when I saw a copy of Ben Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People sitting in a remainder bin at the local Borders a while back, I knew this was a book I needed to read. Honestly, though, I assumed from the whimsical cover that it was going to be a funny, self-deprecating memoir in which Mr. Nugent waxed poetic about his nerdy adolescence.

Instead, what I got was a a rather fascinating sociological examination of the history of…the American Nerd (der!), from etymological discourse on the actual word to the earliest appearances of the now widely accepted visual and descriptive caricatures of a “nerd” (think bespectacled with physical weaknesses and antisocial behavior disorder).

The second half of the book is a series of case studies, if you will…discussions on accepted nerd “categories”: D&D nerd, hipster nerd, debate team nerd, etc. Interspersed are vignettes either from Nugent’s own adolescence or from those childhood friends who shared his nerdy penchant. Don’t be fooled, however, into thinking that this is the part of the book that will appease those needs for whimsy and fluff.

Honestly, these glimpses into the nerdery of time past are oftentimes bleak and in some instances rather upsetting. The humorous, Falstaffian nerd ideal put forth by movies like Sixteen Candles or Revenge of the Nerds is a false one, indeed. Though one might grow to appreciate and enjoy not fitting in as they get older, truth is it’s quite awkward and unpleasant during those years of soul-scarring adolescence. This is most definitely reflected in this part of the novel.

Final Verdict: I’m hanging on to this one for now. As I mentioned already, I had originally assumed that this would be a light, fluffy read. I was hoping for light and fluffy. What I found instead was a provocative (if slightly biased by his and friends’ experiences) examination of the history of American nerdery. I don’t quite think I was completely up to the task of absorbing such a serious work at this point, but what I was able to absorb impacted me significantly. I believe there is something to be found in a second reading at some point in the future.

BookBin2010: The Lives of Dax

After struggling through two back-to-back book bummers, I decided to dip once more into my stash of reliable literary sorbet: Star Trek novels. Well, maybe not reliable (I’m still pissed off at Peter David for Before Dishonor), but quick and relatively brainless.

So, have I ever mentioned before how much I love the Trill? I think, after Bajorans, they’re one of my favorite Trek aliens. Maybe not in execution, which was always somewhat spotty (no pun intended), but in concept. I mean, think about it: It’s an entire race of people who at some point in their cultural evolution decided that, if they could just figure out some way of inserting giant slugs into their abdomens, they would finally be complete.

I’ve seen my share of slugs and snails before, but never once have I had an overwhelming urge to ingest one. Okay, maybe the ones sauteed in a nice butter herb sauce…but I don’t think that’s quite the Trill way of symbiotic bonding.

That’s one of the things that I always wanted answered about the Trill: How exactly did this symbiotic relationship begin? Who was that first Trill who went back to his or her peers and said, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! You know those big slugs that live in those milky pools underground? Call me crazy, but I’ve got this hunch that one of those in my gut would be AWESOME!”

Maybe I’m just thinking about this too much. But it’s a bizarre thing to contemplate, to be sure. And not something that has an obvious answer. Maybe that’s why no one ever tried to answer it on any Trek series. It’s right up there with the question about how the Trill hosts/hostesses went from have lumpy foreheads to looking like Famke Janssen’s character from “The Perfect Mate.”

[For the record, Terry Farrell actually did test variations of the original Trill headpiece, but TPTB hated every attempt to make her an “attractive Trill.” Don’t believe me? Go to Memory Alpha’s Jadzia Dax page and scroll to the bottom. And never doubt Loba again.]

And don’t even get me started on how the Trill couldn’t use transporters in their TNG appearance while Jadzia and Ezri were beaming fools on DS9. Actually, there’s such an overwhelming amount if incongruity between the TNG Trill and the DS9 Trill that I might injure myself trying to figure it all out in the scope of this one post.

But yet again I’m derailing myself by my own insurmountable nerdiness.

Back on track: The Lives of Dax is just as the title indicates: a compilation of stories that give tiny glimpses into the lives of each host to carry within them the symbiont known as “Dax.” The book is broken down into a chapter apiece for each of Dax’s hosts: Lela, Tobin, Emony, Audrid, Torias, Joran, Curzon, and Jadzia (yes, even bad boy Joran gets his own chapter). Plus, there’s a chapter at the beginning and at the end for Ezri.

I always took slight umbrage at Ezri. Really, I took umbrage at how Paramount so royally screwed over Terry Farrell, and Nicole DeBoer’s presence was just a constant reminder of that bit of underhandedness. But that’s a rumor for another mill. Ezri never got a chance to develop properly on the show, but I’ve read books that deal much more adeptly with her character. Her portions of this novel are equally well-played, as are most of the other hosts.

Admittedly, some of the storylines were predictable. We get more about Torias’s shuttle accident, young Sisko’s first encounter with the “Old Man,” Joran’s homicidal side, etc. Standout stories were the ones for Audrid and Joran, ironically the two written/co-written by S.D. Perry, my new Trek author crush (take that, Peter David!). Biggest letdown for me was probably the Curzon Dax vignette. Happily, Jadzia’s story was unexpectedly strange but still satisfying.

Another bonus from this compilation are the appearances of others from the Trek universe: Odan, Leonard McCoy, Kathryn Janeway’s admiral father, Ben Sisko, Vic Fontaine, and a surprise appearance by a TNG alien species seen only once…but in a menacingly memorable episode.

Final Verdict: This solid offering, released as part of a DS9 10th anniversary celebration, definitely gets to stay. It was a wonderful way to wile away some time away from reality. Plus, you’re never going to hear me complain about getting to spend time with the lovely Dax. I just have to remember to keep it away from salt. So no margaritas. And no more bad slug jokes. Honest.

BookBin2010: The Likeness

[Loba Note: This is another post that I started a while ago and have just now finished.]

Maybe mystery novels simply aren’t my cup of tea. I know I’ve read them before, but I also know that I can’t tell you anything about any of my previous attempts. And now, here I sit, trying to figure out a nice way to state how much I disliked yet another mystery written by Tana French. This time, as I mentioned when I reviewed her first book, In the Woods, I read her follow-up, The Likeness.

As I pointed out in my review of In the Woods, my major hurdle with that book was that I felt that French, while an admirable word nerd, didn’t create what I felt was a believable male protagonist. To me, the emotional damage from his past that so thoroughly distorted the logic of Detective Rob Ryan was unbelievable and instead came across as a veiled attempt by French to somehow exonerate herself for any failings to write convincingly from the male perspective. So what started out as an enjoyable and engaging mystery soon began to unravel into a tangled mess that left me feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

And yet there was enough glimmer of hope in one of the secondary characters, Detective Cassie Maddox, that when I learned that French’s follow-up novel was all about her, I decided I’d give French another chance. After all, this time she’d be writing from the female perspective. Something better suited for her perhaps?

Perhaps not. Detective Maddox, just like her former partner Detective Ryan, is prone to making some of the worst decisions I imagine possible for someone who is supposed to be trained to be smarter in situations like the ones posed in this novel. I’m by no means well-versed in what makes a police detective great at his or her game, but even simple civilian me was left mouth agape at some of the things Maddox did throughout this story.

Oh, and let’s not forget the story itself. Though intriguing in concept, it was a situation that I found did not bear the weight of closer examination at all. Maddox is called back to undercover work, where she started, when the murder squad discovers the body of a woman who not only looks exactly like Maddox but has been living under the name of Maddox’s last undercover persona. Maddox is assigned to go undercover, to live with this woman’s four friends, and try to discover the truth of her murder.

Marinate on that idea for a moment. Maddox is being sent in to try to convince four people who shared an intimate friendship (and possibly more) with the person she’s now tasked with impersonating. Her only guidance regarding the personality of this dead woman and the relationships she shared with these four individuals are some videos saved on her mobile phone as well as information that police were able to gather from other friends and acquaintances.

I’m a mimic. I always have been. I love to impersonate voices and accents. One of my favorite accents to impersonate is a Cockney accent. When I was younger, I was actually bold enough to fool a few Americans into believing that I was from England. I’ve never fooled an actual English person. Why? Because they’re English and able to pick up on nuances and differences that I’m not at all privy to…because, sad though this truth makes me, I’m not really English.

Now imagine me going to London and trying to convince a group of English people that I’m really one of them after watching a few EastEnders clips on YouTube. Think I’d be successful? Think I could keep it up for several weeks? Truth is, I can listen to the Slater sisters call each other “stroppy mare” or “dozy cow” all day long, but that’s only going to get me so far in my impersonation. What about all the other details that I’m missing? How quickly will they become obvious to someone intimately familiar with the language?

See why I simply couldn’t suspend my disbelief for the duration of this novel? This very, very long novel. I could believe the coincidences of the story’s setup. I could even buy the concept at first. But the implementation of the plan in all its clumsy, drawn-out execution was just too much. Plus, to make matters worse, the four friends Maddox was sent in to fool were all English majors. I can assure you, denizens, if there’s one thing English majors excel at more than anything else, it’s in picking apart the details of any situation like wild dogs picking apart roadkill. They would have sussed Maddox out at about half past immediately.

Of course, this would have greatly decreased the length, which might not have been all that bad, actually. I think the story lost me about halfway through. I forged ahead only because I’m stubborn and secretly optimistic that even something bad has the potential to improve. Or maybe I’m just a literary masochist. I don’t know.

In the end, I was possibly even more let down by this book than I was by French’s first novel. Perhaps it was because Cassie Maddox was one of the few redeeming qualities of the first novel and the only reason that I decided to read the second novel. To then watch this character devolve in similarly frustrating and unbelievable ways as Rob Ryan did in the first novel was more than I anticipated or desired to witness. My dissolution regarding French and her abilities as a storyteller is now complete and I can say with all honesty that not only will I not be returning for a third taste of French’s offerings, but I also feel somewhat soured to the whole detective/mystery genre at the moment.

Final Verdict: Not only will I not be adding this one to my collection any time soon, but I will also definitely be releasing the first novel to that great thrift store in the sky. As for my attempt to crack into the mystery genre, if anyone has any suggestions, I’m all for them…but as of right now, I’m really not feeling the mystery vibe.

BookBin2010: In the Woods

Haha, bet you thought I was finished with my book postings, didn’t you? I actually finished Tana French’s In the Woods before the last book I posted, but I held back. Why? Because this isn’t going to be a quick posting. I have a lot to say about this book. A lot.

[Loba Tangent: Ever notice how I always have so much more to say about the things that I don’t like than I do about the things I do like? Well, except for Star Trek. I can talk about that for hours. I think in another universe, I actually do.]

Wha?

Dammit, focus, Loba! Okay, so this is actually one of my books rather than another library book. Finally! I’ve been quite excited to read this one since I received it for Christmas 2 years ago (believe me when I say that getting to it within 2 years of receipt is proof of my excitement; some of my books have been waiting patiently for double that time or more).

I need to stop being excited for things, because my excitement is inevitably converted into bitter disappointment.

Okay, that was a bit hyperbolic. I was very excited to read this novel. And I wasn’t completely disappointed. French has an adept grasp of language that was a pleasure to read and that never faltered throughout the story. I love a skilled wordsmith more than any of you might truly understand, and I strongly believe that French is high-caliber in her writing style.

It’s the story that left me flat. It’s also the story that I’m about to ruin in some ways because of the nature of my gripes. So if you’re interested in reading this novel and would rather I not ruin it for you with my whiny hating, I recommend you stop here.

So, here’s the basic gist of the book: It’s a first-person account, told from the perspective of Detective Rob Ryan, from the Dublin Murder Squad. He and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are assigned to a child murder that takes place in the same place where two unsolved child disappearances took place several years before. Only one witness survived this earlier case: Detective Ryan, who has no memory of what happened and later changed his name and completely hid this event from almost everyone (he does tell his partner, however).

Of course, there’s overlap between the two cases in Ryan’s and Maddox’s mind, and they subsequently come at the new case from this and several other angles. In fact, this takes up a significant portion of the story. Are these cases linked? Is it a serial killer? Will they find the bodies of Ryan’s long-lost friends? How long can Ryan keep his secret from his superiors? Better yet, how long can he keep his secret from unraveling him completely? Will it consume him? Stop him from solving the current case? Destroy his relationships with his partner and other detectives? Destroy everything he’s fought so hard to achieve? Destroy him completely? How many more questions can I come up with before you scream ENOUGH!

Okay, enough.

So, here’s the thing that really ticked me off. The whole plot about Ryan’s forgotten traumatic event from his childhood (and, believe me, it’s definitely set up as traumatic right from the start) turns out to be nothing more than a red herring that I think French included to give her main character an excuse to be flawed. Why? This is just my theory, mind you, but I think it’s because she was writing from the perspective of a male character. I think she gave him this significant flaw so that if anyone questioned how he was behaving throughout the story, she’d have the fallback of being able to say, “Well of course he’s not going to behave like a typical guy. Look what he went through as a child!”

Again, this is completely my own theory, and probably a huge assumption on my part. However, there was just something so…wow, I hate what I’m about to write, but there was something so stereotypically female about many of Ryan’s actions, reactions, and behaviors throughout the novel that is served as quite a distraction from the real action. The way he behaved throughout a lot of this book, especially toward the end when the unraveling was becoming more prevalent, was erratic, irrational, and at times almost borderline hysterical (see why I hate writing this? I hate every single one of those behavior traits and how they’re always ascribed to women…and how, when they’re ascribed to a male character, they become distracting).

You know what it made me think of, actually? The line from Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets. You know, when the woman asks him how he writes women so well, and he replies, “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” That’s terrible (and terribly funny in the context of this movie), but that’s precisely how I felt Ryan had been written.

Do I think that French made this decision as a way to cover for any failings she may have encountered in writing from the male perspective? Possibly. Maybe more than possibly. I totally understand if this was indeed her rationale for adding the childhood trauma angle. I was just so irritated as I approached the end of the novel and realized that this particular piece of the puzzle was going to remain unsolved. I don’t usually have a problem with things like that (some of my favorite episodes of CSI are the ones that are left unsolved for another day), but this really pissed me off. I guess I felt as though, I’ve stuck it out this long, I deserve a little closure, goddammit!

Ah well. Can’t always get what we want, right Mick?

Final Verdict: I haven’t come to a complete decision on this one, but I’m almost 100 percent positive that this book will not remain in my collection. The uncertainty stems from the fact that I’m intrigued enough by French’s other detective, Cassie Maddox that I’ve already borrowed from the library French’s followup novel, The Likeness, which is all about Maddox. It’s my next read, in fact (so much for reading my own books, eh?). If I like it enough to want it for my collection, there’s the slightest of possibilities that I might want to hang on to In the Woods as its companion piece. But that’s a very slight possibility, indeed. We’ll see. For now, though, I’m placing this one in my donation box. The thrift store is going to love me…