Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Girl in the Green Raincoat

The Girl in the Green Raincoat, by Laura Lippman

This novella merits a resounding "meh".  It was written with serialization in mind-- and apparently it's not the first in a series about the same group of characters-- so maybe either or both of those things have something to do with my reaction... but no.  Honestly, there are more things I disliked than liked in this one, yet I won't go so far as to say it was unreadable or even terribly written.  Based on some of the other reviews I've skimmed since finishing the novella, even her fans feel this work wasn't her best, but I doubt I'll be tempted to try any of the novel-length works in the series.  There's just so much to choose from in the mystery genre.  Why settle for characters that don't grab your interest?

My Long List of Mostly Complaints:
(Slight spoilers to follow...)

•  I selected this book because I liked the title, the cover, and the indication that it was inspired by Rear Window.  I think I would've been better off just rewatching Rear Window.  Also, this is a perfect example of how a nice cover so often leads you astray.

•  I had to groan when I realized that the gimmick that lands the character on bed rest was a difficult pregnancy.  Preeclampsia?  It's not the kind of thing I really want to read about, to tell the truth.  That's actually exactly the sort of thing I least want to read about, ever.  Fortunately, the pregnancy/health aspects aren't described in too much detail.  

•  Unfortunately, the mystery itself is skimpy, predictable, and buried in the character's own life stories.  Which I found uninteresting.

•  One of the things I dislike about modern novels (mostly those set in contemporary times) is so many authors' penchant for inserting references to pet causes, current events, and "cutting edge" technology-- whether or not they'll add anything of value to the story they're telling.  Maybe it's asking too much of authors to wish that such things be kept at a minimum.  Probably some people love these references, and I can deal with them when they have anything significant to do with the plot or the character, but often they seem shoehorned into place.  The author wanted to make a Statement about this or that issue, so s/he works hard to find a way to work it in,  Even if it doesn't really "work".

•  I dare you to forget, while reading, that this story is set in Baltimore.  It's vitally important, apparently, based on how often it's mentioned.  However, despite the frequent mentions of Baltimore and local attractions/features that (I assume) Baltimoreans would recognize, I couldn't get a real sense of the place at all... (What it looks like, feels like, etc.) Which, considering that the main character is bed-ridden, was not that big of a deal.  I didn't read the book because I wanted to experience Baltimore vicariously.  But if it's not important to this particular story, why keep mentioning that it's set in Baltimore?  Baltimore. Balt. i. more.  BALTIMORE. 

•  Does product placement exist in books?  Did the author receive reimbursement from Apple?  Seriously!  The first mention of the iPhone, I thought, "Ok, I get it.  You're writing a story set in modern times-- times congruent with the miraculous invention of the iPhone.  Wow, that reference to the iPhone sure does make the story and its characters feel real to me!"  Then there's this:  "Even as she spoke, her well-trained thumbs had found a local rescue group for Italian greyhounds on her iPhone's Web connection and a single tap dialed the phone number."  ...Um, what?  Oh, sorry, I mean, wow, I gotta get me one of them iPhone things.  "A single tap"!  Fancy that!  Later on, we get another sales pitch:  "She had mocked Tess's iPhone, but it had a GPS function, something she would dearly love to have right now."

•  So, the main character and practically every "good" character in the book is identified as a democrat?  How nice for them all.  I, however, am not, and I'll admit that I got tired of the frequent references to political issues and/or leanings.  

•  "Whitney had a well-trained mind and she knew her anecdotal experiences were proof of nothing, but she believed in climate change and worried that things might be more dire than anyone realized  How did someone bring a child onto this fragile planet, when it might not even exist in a few decades?"   #1:  Gee, thanks for the science lesson, 'specially since it had nothing to do with the story I was reading.  #2:  Whitney, dear, Earth has been around a long, long time.  I doubt it's quite as fragile as you think, and I find it even more doubtful that it's going to cease to exist.  Any given species, on the other hand, now...

•  Tess (the main character) has been smoking marijuana "as recently as four months ago-- before she knew she was pregnant"?  Oh yeah, she's an ideal woman, for sure. 

•  What is it with calling a police officer working homicide "a murder police"?  She does it more than once, uses "police" as though it's singular.  It just sounds wrong to me.  "Police officer", please. 

•  There's a dog who uses a chamber pot.  Without being specifically trained to do so.   ...Has Ms. Lippman ever actually owned a dog?

•  "But even as her wireless connection allowed her to collapse time and space, it could never provide the serendipity of legwork she had known... She couldn't help wondering if this was part of some conspiracy, if this excess of access was a form of sleight of hand.  Look over here, look how much you can find.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."  ...Uh, yeah.  It's probably a conspiracy of some kind.  A deep, dark conspiracy. 

•  Augh!  Stop the pop culture references!  I beg you!

•  Possibly the best part of the book was something borrowed from another author:  "As Sherlock Holmes had said to Watson, to lose one wife was tragic, two was careless, and three-- well, Holmes hadn't had a word for that, as Whitney recalled."

•  I'll admit it:  I looked up the handbags mentioned in the Nordstrom's scene-- or at least the one mentioned by a specific name.  It's a real handbag.  It's big and pretty hideous. No wonder Whitney disapproved.

•   "I heard it on NPR!"  :o/  Sure, it's put in as a joke, but still... Myuck. 

•  "A man who believed in the death penalty--ugh."  Consider my eyes rolling in disgust right about at this point.

•   When the story begins to "climax" (if it can be said to climax when it's really not that much of a shocking twist and you never feel seriously worried over the main character's safety), there was this weird abrupt shift back and forth between two points of view-- Tess's and Whitney's.  A little visual cue that the POV is about to change might have been nice.  It was pretty jarring-- completely inelegant.  

•  "Thank God she had her handgun in her purse. Which was in the car."  Really?  Man, I don't think Whitney's really cut out for this line of work... It's getting close to sundown and you're being driven out into the middle-of-nowhere-in-the-woods by a guy you have reason to suspect may have murdered a handful of women (even if you do find him inexplicably attractive), and when the two of you get out of the car, you neglect to carry your purse, where you stowed your "just in case" handgun?  That's kind of careless.

• They gave the baby "Scout" for a middle name?  Well, what can you expect from a dad who calls himself "Crow"? 


While I was discussing the book with Donald, he observed that it sounded like it was full of cliches, and I think that's it exactly.  Basically, think of your (stereo)typical literary "liberated" female P.I. and ask yourself what you think her opinion of X, Y, or Z would be.  When I do that, pretty much every assumption I can think of is there.  It makes for dull reading.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Child Called "It"

A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive, by Dave Pelzer

First things first:  I really only selected this title because I wanted to try out the newly available feature of checking out Kindle-format e-books from public libraries.  (Please note that not all libraries offer this service... yet.)  Honestly, I had a little trouble finding a title I really wanted to read that was currently available, and the Overdrive search engine leaves something to be desired, but assuming you can find a book you want to read that's not already checked out... and is in the Kindle format... it's a very quick and easy process.  With just a few clicks (after signing in with your library card number and PIN), you're ready to turn on your Kindle's wireless and load the library e-book just as quickly and painlessly as you load any book through Amazon. 

So, I chose this book because it was available for instant download and was in the Kindle format.  It's not the type of book I usually read, and it's not the kind of book I think I want to read very often-- but that said, it was compelling enough that I finished it in one day.  (And I'm not usually a finish-a-book-in-one-day kind of person, because I tend to prefer to read in smaller chunks of time.  This book's short though.  Speed-readers probably zoom through this one in an hour or so.)

There may be spoilers to come, so read at your own risk.

This book is purportedly a non-fictional, firsthand account of a child's experiences in an abusive household.  It's not what I would describe as "well written" (though I've certainly read worse), but with such a shocking story-- from a child's perspective-- simplicity is perhaps best.

It's difficult to believe that someone-- and a child, at that-- actually endured years of such treatment.  It's impossible to understand how anyone could do such things to any innocent creature-- much less her own child (in the case of the mother)-- or how someone could stand by and not intervene in any significant way (in the case of the father).

We are asked to believe that "it wasn't always like this"-- that there were "good years" before the author's mother became an abusive (more than abusive-- demented, torturous) alcoholic-- years in which his mother was the Brady Bunch ideal mom.  I have trouble accepting that.  Oh, I can believe that's how a child might remember it... but... I just don't see how that can happen.  I can't believe a person can just turn that completely evil-- not even with alcohol and marital problems.  The only way I can buy that is if his mother developed some form of insanity.

This isn't a recent publication (it's from 1995), and apparently there has been controversy surrounding the legitimacy of Dave Pelzer's story-- if not over the basic fact that he was abused as a child, then over the degree of abuse and the details he recounts.  I'll admit, several times while I read, I wondered... I felt a little guilty for doing so, because I know abuse exists, but some of it was so outlandish...  It reminded me at times of Sybil (definitely one of those books I almost wish I hadn't read, so I wouldn't have some of those images in my head)-- another work of non-fiction that seems too awful to have been completely true.

In any case, however much veracity there is in this book, at least it does offer a positive message.  (The reader's reward for suffering through the second-hand horribleness?)  Despite the stomach-turning awfulness of David's experiences, he manages to survive and achieve the kind of life he always wanted-- one full of love and warmth.  I appreciate the "moral" that no matter what anyone does to you-- no matter what happens to you--  you don't have to let it determine who you will be or how you will live your life going forth.  It's a powerful and uplifting statement-- especially if coming from someone who faced such darkness during his formative years.  ...I think I've gotten the message, though.  There's no need for me to read the two subsequent entries in this trilogy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare

I read this at least once as a young teen or pre-teen, and after coming across a mention of it online, I had a hankering to revisit the story.  It's written for children/young adults, and I think I enjoyed it more the first time I read it, but it's held up pretty well after all those years-- not one of those things you go back to as an adult and wonder how you ever found it entertaining.  I don't think I'll be tempted to read it again, unless I forget this most recent experience, but I'd recommend it for girls (particularly) of the target age.

Spoilers follow!

Negative reactions:

•  The Cruff woman is a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out.

  Mercy is unpleasantly reminiscent of Beth March.  (Stand up for yourself, girl!)

  Uncle Matthew (that was his name, right?)... We're obviously supposed to respect (if not admire) him by the end of the novel, but frankly, he's too much of a tyrannical grump for my taste.  A truly great man commands respect without being so harsh and unrelenting.

•  Yes, this is set in a Puritan village and is a story for "children", but still... the romantic relationships are mostly poorly drawn.  I guess Kit and Nat are the best-presented couple in the bunch, but even they are a bit of a mystery.  Ok, so they're in love by the end of the book-- or possibly from the very beginning, depending on how you look at it.  But why do they love one another?  Most of the time they're together "on screen", they're annoying one another.  Which is a time-honored way for writers to show that people are In Love, but come on, give us a little more basis for a relationship than that.  It's a little weak... As for the other relationships (Mercy and John, Judith and William, William's infatuation with Kit), I guess they were cases of love at first sight... or love based on mutual obsession with fancy new houses.

•  This one is actually as case of "I Listened to This", since it was an audio book. This is aimed at children, and they may be more likely to enjoy the different voices the reader used, but I often found them distracting or even irritating.  (She made Judith sound even ickier than she deserved, Prudence was sickly sweet, so on and so forth.)  I don't have tons of experience with audio books; maybe this type of "every character gets a different voice (from the same reader)" thing is the norm.  Possibly I'm weird for not liking readers who "do all the voices"...  (It's different when you're reading to a young child, I'll admit.)

Positive reactions:

•  If nothing else, this has made me glad I don't live in Puritan New England.  ~shudder~

•  Kit matures over the course of the novel, which is nice to see...

•  There are some historically interesting tidbits scattered through the book-- without it devolving into a lecture or history textbook.

•  Speare does a good job of showing the world through Kit's eyes.  

•  Listening to this, I was surprised how much of it I remembered.  This is worth mentioning as a positive reaction because it means I can on occasion recall details from books.  ;o)  (However, some of the episodes turned out to be much shorter and less detailed than I thought I remembered.  The corn husking party, for instance...)

•  Ah, a happy, tidy ending.  One of the best things about reading "children's" or YA fiction.  Or at least from the olden times.  Modern YA might be more prone to dark or open endings... I'm not sure, honestly.

Altogether, a nice story.  A bit tame from an adult's perspective-- and occasionally very annoying, what with all the insistence on conformity and the characters who act like superstitious fools-- but interesting, all the same.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

This is a creepy novel, without question.  I think two or three parts of the book, in particular, are the eeriest, creepy-crawliest things I've read in a long time.  I have a feeling Shirley Jackson won't be to everyone's taste.  Some modern readers (especially those who enjoy graphic, explicit gore) may even be bored, but this is definitely more my style of horror.  Tension, suspense, "the unseen" vs. "in your face" scariness, slightly (or not so slightly) off-kilter characters and dialogue, uncertainty of the reality of your main character's perceptions.  This is the kind of writing that stays with you a while.  I think I may finally have had my fill of being creeped-out, though, for the time being.  I'm ready for something lighter.

More detailed (even rambling) reactions & observations (which may be spoilerish in nature):

•  The writing style of the first part of the novel (most particularly) reminds me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which probably means it's Shirley Jackson's usual style.  It's haunting, dark, bizarre in spots, familiar in others.  I recognize aspects of myself in Eleanor.  Some of her daydreams as she drives to Hill House had me nodding in understanding.  Recognizing parts of yourself in a character makes it all the more disturbing when you then have to watch her slowly losing her grasp of reality.

•  Suffocation seems to be one of the central themes of Hill House.  The descriptions of the house and its situation make it feel buried in plushness and lushness... drowning in close, silent darkness.   Also, I dare anyone not to notice the frequent cropping-up of references to "mother". 

•  What is real in this book?  It's frustrating, never knowing, but I'm sure that was the intention.  How much of what Eleanor hears and sees is real?  Is Theodora really that cruel?  Is Luke actually so clueless?  Or is Eleanor distorting what they say and do?

•  Why does Shirley Jackson love the word "concretely" so much?  ;o)

•  The single biggest question one has when reading this novel-- the point that requires the greatest suspension of disbelief-- is simply this:  Why in the heck don't these people leave that creepy, horrible place?!  Nell (Eleanor) feels she has no other option-- stay at Hill House or go back to live under the thumb of her sister-- but what of the others?  You'd think that what they experience would be enough to make most people flee the very next day.  Dr. Montague has some motivation to stay, I suppose (research for his book), but what about Theodora and Luke?  Also, why are Mrs. Montague and Arthur apparently immune to the house's evil?  We are given to understand that everyone else who's come to stay over the years has been horrified and left within just a few days... I guess one could argue that they simply haven't been in residence long enough yet, or maybe that the house has (by that time) focused its attention on Nell and can't be bothered with the comic relief.

•  Speaking of Mrs. Montague and Arthur-- they do seem to be comic relief, but they are (or mostly she is) also horrible... Mrs. Montague is such a strange character.  (I don't remember her in the 1999 film version of the story, but then I don't remember much about that, except that it was weird and not very good.  Some of the dialogue in the novel felt very familiar, though, so I know it must've been incorporated in at least one film version I've seen.)  She reminds me forcibly of the banker's wife (Mrs. Maxwell, thank you, Google) in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, but there's something a tiny bit sinister in her, too.  She's so utterly cold and selfish-- and so blind to what's happening under her very nose.  The combination of her yoga lessons and the planchette (before it turns goose-fleshy) also reminded me, fleetingly, of Miss Mapp in E.F. Benson's Lucia novels.  (Read them to find out why. (g)) 

•  This part confused me:  The night when the four central characters are hiding in the same bedroom, there's this sentence:  "Then there came, suddenly, quiet, and the secret creeping silence they all remembered..."  See, I thought the men didn't hear/experience the pounding on the earlier night.  So how could they all remember the sudden silence?  It's a small detail, but still it jumped out and bothered me.

•  Eleanor can be so completely pathetic at times... It's sad, really, but also somehow disgusting.  The part where she practically begs Theodora to let her live with her after they leave Hill House... It's degrading.  But then Theodora is so cold... I don't know what we're supposed to think.  How accurate a view of Theodora's behavior are we getting, here (and elsewhere)?  Is she really being so harsh-- so mean-- to the obviously fragile Eleanor?  Why?   It makes no sense!  (People don't make sense, sometimes, self.)  These people sometimes seem to be very aware of Eleanor's fragility, then they go and ignore her, taunt her... Unless what we're getting is Eleanor's distorted viewpoint...  But even assuming that, why doesn't Dr. Montague notice her odd behavior and send her home (much) sooner?  

  Occasionally, the others say things (such as Luke's talk about the house as a mother and reiteration of Nell's mantra, "journeys end in lovers meeting") that make it seem as though they're going mad, too.  I can only assume this is being filtered through our unreliable... not narrator, exactly, but main character.  

•  Dr. Montague is a bit of a dunce.  Otherwise, he might have been my favorite character of the bunch (simply because he seems so normal and canny compared to the others)-- but I have a hard time forgiving him for his inability to predict what was coming at the end.  He should've known better.  Too wound up in his "research" and his book to protect the lives in his care.

•  Mrs. Dudley is a creeper (as they say) for most of the book.  You almost suspect that she might be "touched", with her repetitive insistence on the keeping of the schedule.  But then there's that very odd section near the end where Nell eavesdrops on Mrs. Dudley and Mrs. Montague's conversation.  Mrs. Dudley suddenly sounds normal-- even sympathetic.  Befuddling.  

•  Ok.  So there's the 1999 movie adaption and one from 1963.  (I'm not sure I've seen the latter, but I'll try, now, out of curiosity.)  I thought that The House on Haunted Hill (you know, the one with Vincent Price, where he invites a group of total strangers to stay in the rented haunted house to celebrate the birthday of his wife?) was also based on / inspired by this novel, but any connection between the two must be extremely tenuous.  (Possibly the makers of the movie thought the title would remind people of the book and draw in a larger audience.)  The movie, so far as I recall, is not genuinely frightening, but least one aspect of the movie that makes more sense than the novel is that the guests have to spend the night in the house in order to receive a substantial amount of money.  Not enough to risk your life or sanity over, but at least there's some reason for them to stay when things start getting scary.  Plus, the doors are locked at some point, so that they no longer have the option to leave.  (Yes, very safe practice, that.) 

•  I'll have to see if I can get my hands on anything else Shirley Jackson wrote (apart from "The Lottery" and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, both of which I have read).  I find her style intriguing-- even darkly spellbinding-- but I think she has a depressing effect on me and requires something light and life-affirming as an antidote.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"The Mummy's Foot"

"The Mummy's Foot", by Théophile Gautier
(in Humorous Ghost Stories, compiled by Dorothy Scarborough)

This story seems out of place in a collection of supposedly humorous ghost stories.  At least, I didn't find it particularly amusing.  I think it will only truly interest those who are deeply enamored of ancient Egypt or those looking to supplement their vocabularies with some new words.  Unfortunately, most of those new words will probably be almost useless today, as even the built-in Kindle dictionary didn't recognize most of them. Then there's the ending.  Apparently it's meant to be a surprising, gasp-worthy moment, but it's glaringly obvious instead.  I was not impressed. (Skip it.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"The Transferred Ghost"

"The Transferred Ghost", by Frank R. Stockton
(in Humorous Ghost Stories, compiled by Dorothy Scarborough)

This one merited a few chuckles, though it's pretty silly.  It certainly presents a unique version of how the whole "ghost" thing works.  (g)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Dey Ain't No Ghosts"

"Dey Ain't No Ghosts", by Ellis Parker Butler
(in Humorous Ghost Stories, compiled by Dorothy Scarborough)

Erm, this one is even more likely to offend some people...  Add to that the facts that it's repetitive and the punchline's not even that funny, and I think you're safe skipping it.  It is, however, somewhat remarkable in that it is written in some of the thickest dialect I have ever come across.

At least it was relatively short.

"The Ghost-Extinguisher"

"The Ghost-Extinguisher", by Gellet Burgess
(in Humorous Ghost Stories, compiled by Dorothy Scarborough)

Though not laugh-out-loud funny (in my humble opinion), this short story is still amusing.  It is certainly an interesting concept-- sort of like an early 20th-century prototype for the Ghostbusters franchise.  (If you're a serious Ghostbusters fan, you really ought to read this.  It-- like the other stories in this compilation-- is free online, in multiple places.  I got my copy from Amazon in ebook form, but there's even a free audio version on Librivox.)

The humor comes from the completely straight-faced narration of an entrepreneurially minded young (?) man (?) who strives to build a business around the removal of pesky phantoms.  As anyone who's started or observed the workings of a new small business knows, there are inevitably hiccups-- not to mention the never-ending need to adapt oneself to the marketplace.  Don't kid yourself; the ghost-extinguishing business is no different.  ;o)

The juxtaposition of the eerie and ghostly with cold, hard "science", practical business matters* , and realistic frustrations* held my interest nicely.  Personally, I found some of the pseudo-scientific jibber-jabber a little boring, but it didn't go on long enough to put me to sleep, and someone out there probably thinks it's the best part of the story.  

Some may be offended when they come across the term "Jap" (though apparently it wasn't considered derogatory before WWII) or the stereotypical "Oriental" dialect (r's replaced with l's, etc.).  However, both occur fairly early in the story and are soon finished.  Furthermore, such persons probably need to try not to be so sensitive when reading old works of fiction.  (There are so many bigger problems in the world to spend that energy on.)

Altogether an interesting short story-- better than I expected from the title.* 

*Here are some spoilers:

I love the bit where he tries to increase his profit by "recycling" the captured ghosts (putting them in "heavily embossed tins with attractive labels in colors" for future use)-- and then has to deal with the man who originally paid him to remove said ghosts and who feels that he ought to receive a rebate "equal to the value of the modified ghosts".  Ha!  You just know that's how it would work out in real life, don't you?  Gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit (and the haggling over price well after the contract's been written up an the job done)!

I do wonder what starts the fire that destroys his laboratory, though, and I would prefer it if the poor guy could come to a happier ending-- but I guess that's what you get when you meddle with the spirit world.  ;o)

Monday, September 12, 2011

"The Canterville Ghost"

"The Canterville Ghost", by Oscar Wilde
(in Humorous Ghost Stories, compiled by Dorothy Scarborough)

I laughed at least a few times, so I mark this a success.  Some of the humor may be slightly dated, but what can you expect with the relentless passage of time?  It felt a little long for a short story-- mostly when the sentimental element came into play, which I could have done very well without, honestly-- but all told, it was a nice beginning to the book and good enough that I'll give the next story a read, too.

If you like (older, since the book was put together in 1921) humorous ghost tales, this whole volume of them is available for free on Amazon. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Terrible Beauty

A Terrible Beauty, by Graham Masterton

Short version of this "review":
This was a so-so (grisly, gruesome) crime novel with some elements of horror-- and a slight touch of the supernatural (maybe kinda sorta).  It wasn't exactly bad for this sort of thing, but neither was it brilliant.  I'm mostly just glad it's done so I can move on to something else.  (Once I get far enough into this sort of story, I feel I "have" to finish it so I at least will know whodunit.)

Long version, with various reactions and observations:
I started this novel under a misapprehension, which never bodes well.  I somehow got this author mixed up with another, different author (Richard Matheson), and chose this book based on the other fellow's reputation.  (Oops.  It turns out that Masterton has a reputation of his own, though, so I probably would've wanted to try something of his, anyway.  It just turns out that this is probably not his best work.)

I'll try to separate the spoilery "observations" from the non-spoilery ones.
Non-spoilery first!

  There's a glossary of "Cork Slang" at the beginning of the book, which I found somewhat intimidating at first.  I'd say you needn't bother reading through it unless you're just interested in Irish slang.  There's really not that much slang in the novel, and when it does occur, context clues are your friends.  (Or you could always flip back to the glossary as needed.) I read the glossary and found it a snoozy way to start a novel. 

  Despite the scary Glossary o' Slang, most of the dialogue isn't written in heavy dialect-- or at least it wasn't heavy in my opinion.  It was nowhere near the Judy Plum level of Irish dialect (for the benefit of other L.M. Montgomery fans). 

  It took me a little while to get into the story and accustomed to the author's writing style.  It felt somewhat journalistic, bland, and "telling, not showing", to me, but at some point I became acclimated.  (What was I reading recently that wasn't guilty of "telling, not showing"?  I'm not sure, but it felt more blatant in this work.)

•  The first real "horror moment"-- Katie's first nightmare-- seemed like someone just describing what they saw happening in a movie.  It probably would've been creepier in a movie-- the kind of scene where you feel certain you know what's coming, but you have to keep watching, anyway, knowing that at any moment something terrible's going to happen.  As it was, in print, it felt simply predictable.  (But maybe I'm just not used to reading horror...  If that's how it always is, I'll be snubbing the genre soon.)

•  Masterton seems to be almost as interested in wardrobe as Sookie / Charlaine Harris is (...are?).  I find this foible more amusing... and irritating... in a male author.  (To the gender role-obsessed among us, I say, "Whatever."  I reserve my right to be a traditionalist.)  I mean, seriously.  A little mention now and then of what someone's wearing is fine, if you think it tells us something about the character or paints a picture for the reader-- but when you're frequently stopping to describe someone's clothes, like it's the most important thing about him/her, I find it distracting.  It also lessens my opinion of you as a writer (amateur hour!) and makes me question my decision to read your work.  You like to play dress-up with your characters, like they're a bunch of Barbies or paper dolls?  Ok, fine, but don't expect me to sit through it happily.  (I've got better things to do! ;o))

•  This book reminded me of The Killing (that new/recent cable TV series) based on just a couple of things.  First, the main characters in both are strong, petite, red-haired women in law-enforcement (who just happen to be trying to solve a murder mystery).  Second, is always always always always (almost) always raining.  A lot. Apparently, it rains 99.9% of the time in both Cork and Seattle.  (Personally, I don't mind watching and/or reading about either of those things, though-- the red-haired "cop/detective" woman or the rain-- so this isn't a complaint.  Just an observation.)

•  A little heavy on the crows, there, Mr. Masterton. 

The story did seem to get better (or at least more interesting) as it went along.  Despite my complaints, it wasn't too bad, for what it was.  And what was that?  Mostly a (fairly grisly) straightforward, realistic crime novel set in modern-day Ireland... with touches of horror / the supernatural (kind of).  

•  The Travellers were an... interesting element of the story.  I've never really understood the gypsy mentality, though.  Is it the ultimate freedom, not being tied down to one place, able to pull up your stakes and move somewhere else at almost a moment's notice?  Perhaps...  But at what cost?  

•  At some point in the novel, it felt like the title should've been Everybody Loves Katie.  Come on.  Sure, she's supposed to be an attractive woman, but does (nearly) everyone have to "fancy" her?  *sigh*  That gets so old and predictable.

•   The "side stories"--  Paul and Katie's interactions, Paul and his dealings with the criminal underworld, the Irish vs. the English-- were... how shall I put this?... kind of blah.  I could've done without most of them.  I guess the main story wasn't enough for a whole novel, though, so more "stuff" had to be thrown in the fill out the book.  

So, I guess that does it for the strictly non-spoilery thoughts.  
Bring on the spoilage!!  

•  Lucy seemed suspicious right from the start.  I won't say that I guessed the whole truth about her until nearer the book's end (still pages before the, erm, "big reveal"), but I had an immediate feeling she wasn't "right".  (Ok, I'll admit that I liked her a little better during the near-drowning scene, though that feeling didn't last long.)

•  Also weird (very) was the bath scene.  It was... odd.  In the extreme.  But I'm not from California, so what do I know?  ;o)  (Seriously, Katie?  You think that's common practice in California? Okaaaay.) Then again, neither was "Lucy", I guess.  (From California, that is.) Which brings up another topic:  I guess that either the Irish can't tell the difference between Californian and Boston accents, or Lucy didn't have a strong accent.

•  Related:  Wouldn't Fiona at least have noticed that Lucy didn't have an Irish accent and immediately commented on it, as a fellow American?  (Unless Lucy was faking an Irish accent...) 

•  Nooooo!  Not the dog!  

•  I was surprised the author "let" the two girls die.  I guess after the first one, I shouldn't have been surprised when it happened again, but I was.  The torture scenes were... well, awful, of course.  I kept wishing they'd just hurry up and end-- and not always for the reasons you'd expect (i.e. such things are awful to think about).  

  When I got to the part where Gerard couldn't/wouldn't just tell Katie his big news over the phone, I had to put down the book and laugh.  Uh-oh.  The old "can't really discuss it over the phone" thing, huh?  Well, say bye-bye to Gerard, everyone, 'cause you know he's going to be making a speedy exit.  

•  How did no-one see Gerard's body sooner?  He lives in an occupied apartment building.  The police / detective / whatever-guy doesn't stop by Gerard's place until well into mid-morning, if I recall correctly, and when he finally enters the building, he hears people moving around / living upstairs and down-- and yet no-one happened to look right outside the window that day, despite the a group of crows down there, presumably causing a ruckus?  Unlikely.  

•  Plot hole:  Didn't the murderer think, while abducting Fiona, that she caught wind of "his" nefarious intentions faster than "the others"?  I seem to recall something like that-- something indicating that this wasn't his first time to kidnap a girl-- and yet this should have been "his" first victim.  It makes no sense.

•  Honestly, I was disappointed when it turned out that the murderer was just a solitary, completely mortal psycho, even if s/he was a hermaphrodite (*eye roll*).  I'd begun to hope that Callwood was still around, somehow-- through supernatural means, of course-- and that Lucy was his accomplice. 

•  For most of the novel, it felt like the story would stay more or less firmly planted in the realm of reality, despite the frequent mention of crows here, there, and everywhere.  Then (can't remember at what point) I started to think that maybe I was wrong, so I adjusted my expectations.  Then the whole thing about Callwood came to a conclusion-- he was executed and was apparently (really, truly) dead-- so I went back to my "realistic" model predictions-- only to have that very weird episode in Iollan's Wood near the conclusion.  I guess you're supposed to make your own decision regarding the supernatural elements of the story.  :o/

•  The Lusitania aspect of the story was also "blah".  After the mini history lesson at the beginning of the book, it was clear that it would be worked into the story, eventually, but when we finally learn how it fits in, it's a little of a let-down.   Just another side story that I didn't really care about, to tell the truth.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Unexpectedly Fun & Useful Kindle Features

(This "review" stretches the purpose of this blog a bit, but it's a related topic.)

When I bought my Kindle, I didn't expect to use it for anything other than reading (duh) and possibly viewing a PDF of a crochet pattern now and then.  But of course, Kindle* can do more. 

There's the (somewhat limited) web browser.  At this point, I haven't used that feature since the first week I got the device.  (It could come in handy, someday, but at its current level of usability, it's really more for "emergencies".  If you have access to a real computer or tablet, you'll want to use that instead.) 

Then there's the ability of the Kindle to play mp3 files-- whether you want to listen to music while you read (no thanks, too distracting) or an audio book.  Mp3 files eat up space on the Kindle pretty quickly and for that reason (and others) I prefer to use a good old-fashioned ;o) mp3-player for most of my listening.  However, if you don't have an mp3-player or just don't want to lug around another gadget, hey, at least it's possible to use Kindle for music and audio books. 

One feature that I have used more than I thought likely is text-to-speech.  The text-to-speech function has been disabled on some books (thanks to certain publishers), but for those that allow it, you can sit back and listen to your book for a while-- very nice when you need to rest your eyes, turn off the light, walk from place to place, exercise, crochet, etc., but want to keep the story going.  It's a computerized voice, so it's not nearly on the same level as a true audio book, where you have a recording of a real person reading with natural inflection and emotion.  Still, the listenability is much better than you might imagine; clearly, this technology has made some significant strides in the past several years.  (Search YouTube for examples, if you're interested.)  Some books (or writing styles) seem to translate to "speech" better than others.  You have the choice of a male or a female voice and three reading speeds, and of course you can plug in headphones / earbuds if you don't want to disturb those around you. 

Another unexpected development in my Kindle usage has been my interest in some of the games available for play on the device.  My favorites at the moment are Thread Words and Jigsaw Words (some of which is almost too easy for adults, but is still fun).  There are a few other free word games-- Every Word, Every Word Crossings, Shuffled Row-- but there are also other types of games available for free--  Blackjack, Pixel Perfect Puzzles, Number Slide, Dots and Boxes, Minesweeper, Video Poker, etc.  (And if you're willing to pay for a game, there are many to choose from starting at 99 cents each.)  I'd forgotten how much I enjoy word games.  The only downside is that now I'm addicted to Jigsaw Words, to the point that I'm not making any progress in my reading.  (g)  Well, I've nearly solved all those puzzles, so I'll be forced to go back to the book.

...So that's why I'm taking my time with my current read.  Every time I should be reading a page or two, I'm playing Jigsaw Words instead.   ;o)

*I'm writing about the WiFi Kindle 3.  Some of this may not apply to other versions of the Kindle.