This Blog is Dedicated to our dear friend Karen.
When she left this life she left a hole in our hearts as well as several to be read books.
We, her friends, will read these books for her.
This blog will be a sort of book club for us to post our thoughts and feelings about the stories and feelings we have of Karen while we read.

Monday, November 23, 2015

#305 Kiss the Girls by James Patterson


So... yeah...
Parts of this book were ok. It's a mystery, and the mystery part is pretty solid. Women are disappearing from the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina; Alex Cross's niece is one of them. Alex leaves Washington DC to investigate his niece's disappearance. He has absolutely no jurisdiction, but what the hey, the local cops end up inviting him in on their investigation. Because he's that guy that was on the tv, that caught that guy that kidnapped that girl. Also, that one FBI guy vouches for him.
Cross spends I don't know how long down in North Carolina, away from his job, because what the hey, there's probably nothing going on in Washington that requires his attention, right? ( After the case is resolved, the kidnapped girls are found, etc., he spends some more time away from his job, lounging oceanside with his maybe - girlfriend. Maybe I should be a police detective in DC, so I could take a bunch of time off whenever I want.
The main thing I need to say about this book: parts of it are very graphic. The kidnapper is a serial rapist (and murderer, although the murdering is kind of an afterthought); there's a pretty graphic description of him raping one of his victims, and another scene that involves milk, a snake, and a woman's anus. The point Patterson is making, I think, is that this guy feels society's rules and norms don't apply to him. Which could probably have been established without the (sometimes literally) gory details.
Overall, the book was a decent read, an improvement over the first one. Patterson still stumbles when writing from the point of view of a black man, but he does better than previously. I still can't understand how there can be a fully functional piano on the front porch of a house in Washington in the middle of winter, but whatever.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#306 Along Came a Spider by James Patterson


James Patterson has written, or co-written, nearly 150 books, some of them really good examples of the mystery/suspense genre. This is not one of them.

The plot of this book centers around the high-profile kidnapping of two children - the son of the US Secretary of the Treasury, and the daughter of a famous actress - by the math teacher at their posh private school. Only it turns out that their math teacher is actually a sociopath and serial killer. Due to his previous training as a psychologist and FBI agent, Washington DC detective Alex Cross (and his character, Sampson) are called on to work with the FBI and the Secret Service on the case. (I mention Sampson in parentheses, because Patterson seems to forget him sometimes, putting Cross into investigative situations where his partner would should be with him.)

One of the main issues I have with this book is in Patterson's method of jumping from one point of view to another, and from one story thread to another. He has done this well in other books; it's something he's known for doing. Here, though, he doesn't do a good job of making clear to the reader that, ok, now we've moved from Alex Cross's p.o.v. to that of the killer, and now we're moving to Jezzie (really? Jezzie?) Flanagan's p.o.v. The transitions from one part of the story to another are confusing at times.

Another area of contention is in Patterson's writing of characters who aren't white men. I've mentioned this before regarding his writing of Lindsay Boxer in the Women's Murder Club books, as a weak-willed woman controlled by her woman-parts. At the beginning of Along Came a Spider especially, and (to a lesser extent) throughout the book, Patterson's portrayal of African American characters is pretty stereotypical. This is especially in evidence when he's writing dialog for Cross, a trained psychologist and highly educated man, who speaks at the beginning of the book exactly like the hoodlums and drug dealers in his neighborhood, peppering his dialog (and his asides to the reader) with "brotha" and "nigga" and other fun words. This "street talk" gradually diminishes by the end of the book, but it's insulting to consider that Patterson thinks all African Americans talk this way.

Aside from these issues, and a few smaller issues (Cross has a piano on his front porch. In Washington D.C. In the middle of winter.) the actual mystery is pretty interesting. There's (of course) a major plot twist (somebody kidnaps the little girl from the kidnapper!), and in the end the villain gets his comeuppance (sort of).

One other quirky note: in my library copy, someone has taken it upon themselves (bless their heart) to scribble out every instance of the word "fuck" and all of its various forms. The quirkiness comes in the fact that they did not deem it necessary to scribble out any other curse words. Or any of the somewhat graphic sex scenes between Cross and one of the other characters.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

#254 The Mechanical Cat by Torey Hayden


I really don't even know where to begin with this one. I guess I could start with a general observation about the author: Hayden is an American (grew up in Montana), writing about events taking place in the United States, but moved to Wales in 1980 and (I believe) still lives there. Although her fictional characters and the real people she writes about are all from the United States, she still peppers her books with British words. I'm not just talking about spelling color "colour", or saying "socialising" instead of "socializing", although she does do that; I'm talking about having American children refer to their "Mum" or using "boot" instead of "trunk", etc. This Anglicizing begins to feel like an affectation, and it can be a bit jarring to the reader. An American author writing about American characters for an American audience, I feel, should be using American English; otherwise she comes off as a bit pretentious. A small quibble, true; but if it's scattered throughout the book, and I cringe a little bit each time I see it, it slows the reading down.
Update: I just read that Overheard in a Dream is actually the English title of the book; the American title is The Mechanical Cat. So apparently, I've read the English edition of the book, and that would explain why this particular book is filled with "English-isms". But Hayden has done this in most of the other books I've read as well.

To be honest, I've gotten a bit burned out on Hayden. Not because she's a bad writer; while she comes across as a bit naive, she does an excellent job of describing the harrowing conditions her clients have gone through. And really, that's what has me burned out - the rough, incredibly violent and emotionally exhausting situations these children have been through. I tried to break things up a bit by reading some lighter fare (James Patterson) in between Hayden's books, but when I would return to her work, I was faced by yet another example of adults destroying children's lives. I need to take a break, so I'll be holding off on reading and reviewing any more of Hayden's work for a while.

I started reading the book quite a while ago (October 12); I don't know if it's the book itself, or being burned out on Hayden, or the fact that this is fiction, while most of her other books I've read are not, but I just could not get motivated to continue reading. I thought of putting it to the side and coming back to it later, but knew I wouldn't return to it if I left it. So I soldiered on, and things started to get better.

This book is about four intertwining stories. The narrator, James, is a child psychologist who has recently divorced his wife and moved from Manhattan to the Badlands of South Dakota. His interactions with his ex-wife, his children, and his co-workers are one of the stories (and really, probably the least necessary to the main plot). Conor, one of James' clients, is a young boy who has been (possibly incorrectly) diagnosed with autism; James' sessions with Conor and Conor's treatment are a second part of the plot. As part of his methodology, James requires the parents and siblings of his patients to participate in counseling as well; these sessions are a third part of the story, especially Conor's mother, Laura's recounting of her childhood and early adulthood. In counseling, Laura confides to James that she can see into a different world, that of a woman called Torgon; Laura's stories of Torgon's life are the fourth and final part of the story. Hayden switches back and forth among these four story lines, and in fact, there is a point where she spends so much time with Laura's and Torgon's stories, that I thought she had forgotten about what was supposed to be the central issue in the book - Conor's treatment. But by the end of the book, I realized (or realised) that the stories of Torgon and Laura actually explain the defining moments that caused Conor's withdrawal and autistic-like behavior.

I enjoyed reading James' interactions with clients like Conor and other children; it was interesting to compare that to how he spoke with and treated his own children. Hayden also did a good job of giving Conor his own, different way of speaking - referring to himself in the third person, making statements or requests via his stuffed cat, and his way of making observational statements: "Here is a window.", etc.

So, really, I did enjoy parts of this book. And the book, as a whole, wasn't bad; Hayden's writing style is smooth and (usually) easy to follow, and she doesn't bury the reader under a lot of technical lingo. The characters were, for the most part, interesting, but I didn't care about them as much as I had those in her nonfiction. And maybe, at the end of it all, that's why I didn't like this book as much as I did her nonfiction - I didn't have that emotional investment in the characters.