I’m back and with mini-reviews

Well! It’s been another hiatus. There was a weekend spent without power thanks to the derecho that came through a couple of weeks ago. And then another weekend (last weekend) I was in North Carolina visiting friends. In between, there was my birthday, a cold, and two seasons of Downton Abbey. I hope to return to regular posting, especially now that I have a new laptop. My seven-year old ponderous desktop has been almost as much of a hindrance to my blogging participation as my former commute.

I have been reading steadily this summer though. There are a couple of books that will get the full review treatment (including Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book) but here is a collection of mini-reviews to start.

The Moonpool by P.T. Deutermann

2008. St. Martin’s Press. Hardcover. 292 pages.

From: picked this up from The Book Thing of Baltimore.

Review: This is the third book in Deutermann’s Cam Richter thriller series. I reviewed the first two here. Former cop Richter now runs a private investigation business. When one of his PI team members dies from exposure to radiation, Richter is led to look at a nuclear power plant in Wilmington, N.C to figure out what happened to her. As per usual in this series, Richter gets on the wrong side of the law because he won’t back off the case (this time with a Homeland Security twist). Also, as usual with the series, Richter ends up at one point trapped with a nasty critter (first book it was a mountain lion). And finally, per usual, Richter’s two German Shepherds – Frick and Frack – end up being the Most Valuable Players of the action and of the story.

I don’t read many macho thrillers and I seriously suspect this series won that slot in my reading attention because of those dogs. It’s not even that I’m a dog lover, but I get a thrill every time the dogs end up being a game-changer in the action. Also, while Cam Richter has work partners and a special lady friend, the true emotional core of the book is his relationship with his dogs as the ending makes clear.

I read The Moonpool in the week before my move and with its pages packed with action and peril, it was the right book for the time. I think there is at least one more book in the series which I plan to get to at some point.

Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

1985. Fawcett Juniper. Paperback. 288 pages.

From: won this book in middle school

Review: So I had just moved into my new apartment and realized that I didn’t have a book on hand to read (I’d already finished The Moonpool). My brain went “Need. Book. Now.” So I sliced opened the nearest box that said “Books” in it and selected Jackaroo from the contents. I’ve had the book since I was eleven or twelve, but I hadn’t re-read it in a long time.

Jackaroo is set in a time and place that is vaguely medieval, with rigid division between the classes and a hard life for all but the nobility. Gwyn, the Innkeeper’s Daughter, is the pragmatic and capable teenage protagonist who hates the injustice she sees around her. When Gwyn saves the life of a Lord’s twelve-year-old son during a blizzard, the repercussions of that action change how she views her world, her family, and the legend of Jackaroo, a Robin Hood type character she had always thought to be make-believe.

Jackaroo stood up well on my re-read. I loved the character of Gwyn when I was twelve and she’s still a character I admired. She’s flinty and principled. What I like even better about her is that her heroine status is not something that comes from her possession of a special ability. While trained to defend herself with a staff, she has little experience with weaponry or even horse-riding. Her greatest strength is her political savvy – she is illiterate but she knows how her world works, and so she can strategize based on that. She doesn’t have big dreams of changing the world, but what she can do she feels she must do even if it risks her life. In the end, she accomplishes good in her community but at significant personal cost. I don’t read a lot of young-adult novels, but enough of them to think that this 1980’s YA novel feels refreshing somehow. I’m not sure why.

In the Woods by Tana French

2007. Penguin. Paperbook. 429 pages.

From: the public library

Review: I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, ever since I kept seeing it everywhere. In case you haven’t heard of this book, here’s the premise: a child is murdered in a Dublin suburb and this murder may be connected to a missing child case from twenty years ago.

At first I loved reading this book. The writing was superb. French uses her descriptive powers judiciously. The partnership relationship between Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox was intriguing and felt really fleshed-out. I was a very impressed reader for about 200 or so pages.

I’m not sure what exactly happened that turned me off the book. I’m not a reader who reads the end first, but it’s not uncommon for me to peek ahead into later chapters if I’m anxious about something. For In the Woods, I was made anxious by Ryan’s narration (the book is written in first-person from Detective Ryan’s perspective.) He kept dropping alarming hints of future catastrophe and finally I caved in and flipped forward. And what I found just really put me off finishing the book. It may not be an objective reason for disliking a book, but I just didn’t like where it went plot-wise.

*Spoilers* First, the dissolution of the partnership between Maddox and Ryan was very disheartening. It may have made the book more epically tragic, but it made me not want to hang around with Rob Ryan anymore and he was the narrator. So. Second, I am tired of psychopath killers in fiction, especially when they are children or teenagers. It’s been done to death on crime shows and in books, and it’s just not that shocking anymore nor that interesting (to me). There was a moment in In the Woods where it seemed like it might go in a Stephen King direction and I’m kind of sad that it didn’t, because that element of the missing children’s case I found spookier than any psychopath teenager. *End spoilers*

I saw a Goodreads review of this book by someone named Karen and she quoted a friend’s reaction who had said “I liked it until I didn’t.” And basically that’s the way it was with me and In The Woods. I properly read only 250 pages of it and don’t plan on reading the rest of it or any other book in the series. But I can see why some readers would love it.

The Call by Yannick Murphy

2011. Harper Perennial. Paperback. 220 pages.

From: the public library

Recommended by: raych of books i done read

Review:

So this was an overall pleasant little read, but I suspect a forgettable one. The appeal is in the style. The first-person narrator is a large-animal vet in Vermont whose life is disrupted by his son’s serious injury in a hunting accident. He tells the story in a series of concise reports.

Especially at the beginning, the reports start with The Call, that is whatever veterinary calamity summons the doctor, followed by the Action, which is what the vet does for the animal, and then the Result, which is self-explanatory. However, the narration applies this reporting style to all aspects of the vet’s life. The story really is more about his family life than about his job, though his job continues to be an important throughline of the narrative.

A sample:

WHAT THE CHILDREN SAID TO MET WHEN I GOT HOME: Pop, you smell like manure, and what’s that on your upper arm?

WHAT I SAID: Why, that’s horse saliva.

WHAT THE WIFE COOKED FOR DINNER: Pizza.

WHAT KEPT ME AWAKE AT NIGHT: Pizza.

As I hope the above excerpt shows, the style was very conducive to “brevity is the soul of wit” moments. And yet, sometimes the narrator had trains of thought that I did not follow or didn’t find interesting; there were these random observations that I think are meant to be profound or quietly beautiful but just did nothing for me.

So, I’m not sorry that I read the book because the novelty of the style was engaging and doesn’t wear out its welcome, thanks to the short length of the book. But it didn’t have a whole bunch to offer beyond the style, in my opinion.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “I’m back and with mini-reviews

  1. Yours is the second negative review I’ve seen of In the Woods this week. (The first was from CB James at Ready When You Are CB.) I love good crime fiction, so I’ve been meaning to get to these, but I’m starting to rethink. I still have so many Ruth Rendell novels, most of Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Laurie King’s Kate Martinelli books to read. Perhaps it’s smarter to stick with those.

  2. Oh good, now I don’t feel so alone in my dislike of In the Woods!

  3. I read The Likeness without realizing it was a sequel to In the Woods — it is narrated by Cassie Maddox (instead of her ex-partner), and I ended up loving it. I probably won’t go back and read In the Woods as The Likeness is pretty spoiler-y in that regard, and because I’ve heard such ho-hum things about it… but I’d encourage you not to give up on French altogether!

  4. Teresa – What’s puzzling about my not liking In The Woods is that French’s writing is very good. But the construction of the story itself didn’t sit quite right with me once I saw where it was headed.

    softdrink – Solidarity is good. I’ll admit that I sought out some like-minded Goodreads reviews after I decided to abandon In the Woods, to assure myself I wasn’t alone.

    Kerry – Thanks for letting me know about The Likeness. I really was impressed by French’s writing.

  5. i absolutely agree with everything you said about in the wood! i was really annoy because everywhere i’ve read people were saying read in the woods. and so when i was at the book store i picked up in the woods and the follow up book in likeness, which has now sat on my bookshelf for over two years unread because i was so upset with in the woods. i was really mad about the dissolution of the friendship too. i honestly can’t remember anything about that book now other than wanting to toss it against a wall when i was done with it. yeah i was that unhappy with it.

  6. I read In The Woods awhile back but am having a hard time remembering much about it. I remember feeling unsatisfied with the way the author ended the book but I believe I enjoyed the book otherwise. I’ve always meant to continue on with the 2nd book but haven’t done it yet. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on it!

  7. I haven’t heard of the Deutermann series, but I bet the dog angle would hook me too, in the same way that it has you. That’s probably the only Voigt novel that I did not read when I was a kid; I read a lot of similar stories by other authors, but I had her pegged as a contemporary writer and she was a favourite of mine, and it inexplicably put my young reader’s nose out of joint to think she’d change writing gears on me that way: I’m happy to know that it’s a good story nonetheless. She does great heroines. I was really sad about two things with In the Woods (their friendship dissolving) and the way that things were left so unresolved at the end, but in both instances I felt that it had to be that way, that it was realistic, even if I didn’t like it. The Call sounds really great; I’ve added it to my TBR as I’m collecting books about animals these days and this one sounds a little different (in a good way).

    Glad you’re back!

  8. The Call looks interesting indeed with that little snippet.

  9. toothy – I can see why people liked it, but like you, that turn in the relationship between Ryan and Maddox just overrode the book’s other merits.

    Samantha – I keep hearing good things about the later books, especially Faithful Place, so I don’t think this will be my last Tana French after all.

    buriedinprint – Thanks for your comments on each book in my post. I know the Deutermann books are fairly unknown, at least in book blog circles.Glad you found The Call sounded interesting.

    Kristen – Glad I chose a good snippet to share. 🙂

  10. Just wanted to let you know that I came by today via a link on Shelf Love.

    I had largely the same reaction to In The Woods that you did, though I think you liked the writing much more than I did. It’s too bad, because I like the overall premise of the series and was looking forward to reading more of them.

    But enough serial killers already.

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