The Dark and Hollow Places, by Carrie Ryan

I just… I… hmmph. Pout. Frustrated dance. Etcetera.

I shouldn’t have picked up this book. I really shouldn’t have. I quite liked The Forest of Hands and Teeth, but I did not like The Dead-Tossed Waves, and I knew that I was not going to like this book but I had to give it a chance, right? And when I saw the audiobook sitting on the shelf, just waiting there for me, knowing that I lots of time for listening to audiobooks at work… well, I couldn’t resist.

True story: I listened to probably the first three or four hours of this book before realizing that it wasn’t still about Gabry of the previous installment. I was very very confused and wondering how I had managed to forget all this stuff that must have happened, and then finally I figured out that it’s actually from the point of view of Gabry’s sister, Annah. So I gave up and started over, and things made so much more sense then. Well, comparatively.

Right, so, Annah. She’s living in the Dark City (no, really), and she’s been waiting for her boy-thing to return from the army-type-thing for several years now, but with all the zombies and the really crappy living conditions she’s like, okay, fine, I’m out of here. Except then she sees herself, and by herself I mean her twin sister, and she’s like, oh, how interesting, considering the last time I saw her I was leaving her to her doom in the woods. And so she heads back into the city to find her sister and, you know, catch up.

But, if you’ve read the other novels, you know that Gabry doesn’t remember a thing about Annah, and also she’s trying to run from some zombies and army-type people herself, oh, and also, she’s madly in love with Annah’s boy-thing. And he’s pretty in love with her, too.

And so there is love triangle-age, no, love square-age because another fella is there who was once in love with Gabry and who is now thinking about being in love with Annah, like, seriously? And there is also danger because said fella has this immunity thing to the zombie-ism and the army wants him. And then they get him, and also the other boy fella and also the twins and they aren’t very nice and they show Annah that the world has really gone all to crap and so isn’t it okay if they leer at her and abuse her? Of course it is.

It’s… uncomfortable.

So, yeah. The book doesn’t have much of a discernible plot, that I could tell, unless you count making me hate Annah so hard as a plot β€” if I have to hear one more time about how no one loves her or how her scars make her unlovable or how she uses her hair as a shield or how she once associated a certain affectation with her old boy-thing but now it’s totally her new boy-thing’s affectation, I may scream a little. I did actually say “I KNOW.” out loud a couple of times, at my desk, while listening to this. Frustrating.

I’m not sure how this series went so off the rails (in my opinion, as I’ve seen many people loving on this book) after this first book β€” I think part of it is that the protagonists have gotten progressively weaker, and also the fact that the love parallelapiped has gotten progressively more important to the story. Whatever it is, I’m giving this book a solid MEH.

Recommendation: I guess if you’re looking for a love story with zombies, you could read the last two books of this series.

Rating: 3/10
(A to Z Challenge)

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

Hmm. I wanted to like this book, I did. It came with good recommendations, and it’s even on one or more of those award lists I’m reading from for my YA lit class. But except for maybe twenty or thirty minutes, I spent the six and a half hours of audiobook rolling my eyes and bitching at Hannah. I’m not thinking I was supposed to do that. I am really getting old before my time.

The story revolves around Clay Jensen, who gets a package of thirteen cassette tapes in the mail. He is intrigued by this strange anachronism and begins listening to them, only to find out that they are essentially the last words of Hannah Baker, a girl who committed suicide a couple weeks back. On each tape Hannah details an event or person who made her life so horrible that she was driven to kill herself, and instructs the listeners to pass on the tapes, lest a second set be released to the general high-school public for everyone to listen to.

So on the one hand, it’s an interesting read/listen, because most of the events are teeny-tiny things that no one would think anything of on their own, but you can understand how the combination of all of them might make someone want to just disappear off the face of the earth. However, I had a hard time thinking of these things as being enough to make someone want to stop living completely. There were a couple of events that made me think, “Wow. Those suck. I would probably go into a very deep depression if those happened to me,” but those were completely unrelated to the other events and as such I think Hannah’s cassette package could have been much smaller.

I imagine that back in high school, when I was even less popular than Hannah Baker (but didn’t have any crazy rumors floating around… that I know of…), I might have connected more with this book. As it stands, I was a little too busy thinking about how stupid Hannah was to think about other things, like how her situation might apply to my life or how I might go about being nicer to other people.

Rating: 4/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2007, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
books i done read
The Written World
Maw Books Blog
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
My Friend Amy

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Cat Breaking Free, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Hey, so, remember how I’m all prejudiced about books? And how I’m trying to read books I’ve avoided reading? Well, I can now say I have read a cat detective novel, and that I am slightly less prejudiced toward this particular brand of story. But only slightly.

I actually found this book through an online readers advisory service (an activity for one of my library science classes), using The Eyre Affair as a starting point. I’m not really clear how this book is related to that one at all, but I’m not entirely dissatisfied with the result.

In case you’ve never heard of this particular mystery genre, and I surely hadn’t, when I say “cat detective novel” I mean “novel in which the detective is a cat.” A talking cat. Who can use the phone and stuff. No, really. Really. For real.

I have to admit that were it not for the Critical Monkey Challenge, I would have given up on this book after, oh, the first sentence, which is as follows: “‘We don’t need that bimbo living next door,’ the tomcat hissed.” But in the spirit of reading outside my comfort zone, I continued. At the fifty-page cutoff, I still had no idea what on earth the mystery of the book was, but I continued. At the end of the book, I really wasn’t sure what the point of the book was, but it wasn’t the most horrible thing I’ve ever read so we’ll call that a good thing.

The bimbo from the first sentence is a character called Chichi Barbi (no, really), who has apparently been previously involved with the tomcat’s owner, Clyde. The tomcat, Joe, dislikes her immensely (as you probably figured out), and thinks that the fact that she’s moved in next door means she’s up to no good. So Joe spies on Chichi and, conveniently, she’s up to no good. The no good is related to the burglary of a jewelry store, though Joe’s not clear how Chichi’s involved, but it’s also related to some feral cats, who can also talk and who apparently used to hang out with another of the main talking cats, Kit. So another part of the story is about Kit and how she deals with the return of these cats. And then it turns out that the first jewelry heist is just a practice run for a huge burglary spectacular, so the main talking cats go wandering about the village collecting information and calling the police with it. And then the crime is stopped. (Oops, spoiler?)

Maybe it’s because the book is in the middle of a series, but I was really apathetic about the characters. Especially Clyde. He was maybe interesting, but his personality grated on me, and his weirdness with Chichi just made absolutely no sense. And the cats seemed completely unnecessary; almost all of their detective work could have been done by a human, and some of it is done by humans even in the book! The conceit of the talking cat did not do anything for me.

But after slogging through the first two-thirds or so of the book, wondering why I was putting myself through this, I did find that I cared about the story β€” I wanted to know more about these feral cats and I wanted to see how the mystery played out. And the ending scenes with the police sting and the rounding up of the criminals were moderately interesting. But the book is certainly no Eyre Affair and I do not plan on reading another cat detective book again (unless you’ve read one that’s really really good that you’d like to recommend).

Rating: 4/10
(Critical Monkey Challenge, Countdown Challenge: 2005, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean (14 October β€” 18 October)

Sigh. I just don’t even know what to say about this book. Remember People of the Book? That was a good book, but I would have liked it better if I didn’t have to read about Hanna Heath in the present. Madonnas suffers from the same problem, only I don’t even care about the parts in the past. Sigh.

Summary: The story follows our protagonist, Marina, in the present day and in her past when she was in Leningrad during World War II. Back then, she was a docent at a museum and was kept on to pack up all of the artwork and ship out what could be shipped out to save it from the German bombs. She also lived with her family and many others in the cellars of the museum, where they could save themselves from said bombs. Sometime during that, another museum worker recruits Marina to remember every single piece of art in the museum, even some that were taken away before Marina started there. So she does. Now, in the present day, Marina has Alzheimer’s, and instead of being present with her husband and at her granddaughter’s wedding, she flashes back to all these scenes of the past.

It’s a pretty flimsy narrative device, especially since more time is spent in the past than in the present, and the past scenes don’t tie in very well with the present scenes anyway. And, unlike People of the Book, the past scenes aren’t very compelling. I understand why she would want to try to remember all of the works in the museum, but it never really pays off (unless “ironically” getting Alzheimer’s counts as paying off). Also, there are a couple of magical/mystical/fantastical elements involving [spoiler?] sex with a god and some soldiers “seeing” the paintings that aren’t there that just took me completely out of the story and irked me a bit.

Like I told one of my book club members, if it weren’t a book club read I’d tell all of them not to finish it. It just wasn’t worth it, to me.

Rating: 3/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006)

See also:
Peeking Between the Pages
Age 30+… A Lifetime of Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Woods, by Harlan Coben (12 July)

Let me just start by saying that I am very glad I only paid 14.7 cents for this book. Yeah. I must have read a glowing review somewhere, but honestly I would not have finished this book if it weren’t the only book I had to read on my drive home Sunday.

Maybe it’s because it’s Coben’s what, fourteenth book (and I haven’t read any others), but the premise seems a little… out there? and also it seems that his editors took a nap on this one. There are a lot of little annoyances, like using seem(s) in three of four consecutive sentences, and a couple big things, like harping on a character’s hatred of the outdoors for a paragraph and then five pages later telling me that she’s enjoying climbing on rocks and around trees, that just made it really hard to get into the story.

But back to the premise: Paul Copeland was a camp counselor at a summer camp the year that his sister and three other kids disappeared into the woods. Two of them turned up dead; Paul’s sister and one of the boys were never found. Now, 20 years later, Copeland is a county prosecutor, trying high-profile cases in Essex County, New Jersey. He’s dealt with his sister’s ambiguous death (with just a disappearance, there’s always hope) as best he can, but then a couple of cops show up with news that a now-dead guy seems to have been looking for him in relation to the camp deaths. When Copeland goes to identify the mystery man, he realizes it’s none other than the boy who disappeared from the woods along with Copeland’s sister. Copeland starts an investigation into this thing (yeah, I don’t know how that works, either) and learns a lot of things he might not have wanted to know about what really happened.

And that seems okay, I guess, but there’s a lot more to it β€” Copeland’s high-profile case has a couple of defendants whose parents decide to drag his name through the mud a few dozen times, he reunites with his summer-camp girlfriend who also wants to know what’s going on, his dad may or may not be KGB, there are cover-ups of all sorts of different crimes rolled up into this one…. It’s just too much. It’s like Coben thought, how many different twists can I throw into this mystery before my readers will strangle me?, and then added two or three more. And then he pulls the “I don’t care that the mystery is over, let me throw in just one more twist that the readers will find shocking but that doesn’t really factor into the story at all” bit that Jodi Picoult likes so much, and really. Come on. Come on.

I understand that Coben has won some awards for previous novels. If you’ve read both this one and (one of) those β€” are they better?

Rating: 4/10

The Weatherman’s Daughters, by Richard Hoyt (5 May β€” 11 May)

Um. Well. Maybe I should learn to read the flap more closely. I picked this one up at the library because of its interesting title and the image on its cover β€” fish raining down. I looked at the flap. “Two daughters of a Portland weatherman have been killed for no apparent reason and John Denson and his Native American partner, Willie Sees the Night, are called from their remote cabins on Whorehouse Meadow in the Cascade Mountains to help. But for once Denson is stumpedβ€”this is a trail he can’t seem to follow.”

Okay, cool, right? Murder, interesting-sounding detective, let’s go! And the first part of the book is cool like that. Denson is out driving when a waterspout causes a rain of salmon; when he pulls off to take some photos and video, he finds a dying body whose last words are “Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle ther. Gurgle, gurgle, ister. Gurgle, gurgle ill gurgle.” Yeah.

So then, there’s some stuff about the ethics of releasing the salmon storm video, and then eventually we get back to the mystery at hand, and then someone else is dead, oh no!, and then Denson goes on some acid-tripping spirit walk and meets his creator (no really, he meets Richard Hoyt at his house in the Phillipines) and something about owls, and then there’s an exotic dancer and a militia and then more killing. I kept going because I really did want to know who killed the weatherman’s daughters, but then the mystery got “solved” and I still don’t really understand what happened. Blast.

And if I had just read the rest of the flap, wherein the out-of-body flying and exotic dancers, and bear gall bladders are mentioned, I might not have picked it up and wasted that week of reading. Oh well.

Rating: 4/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2003, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson (21 February β€” 28 February)

Hmm. I read this book because Scott read it last summer on his trip to China and he said it was pretty good. But. I started reading it and it was not. He claimed that it got better (insert Monty Python joke here), so I buckled down and kept going. It certainly did get better… after the first 300 pages. Of 571. And then some of those remaining pages were also bad. But not all of them.

The story itself is a long-winded affair about the colonization of Mars, at first by a small group of Russians, Americans, and various other nationalities, and then by the rest of Earth. At the very beginning you read about one of the first hundred killing another, and you’re like, “Whoa! Crazy! Why did that happen?” and Robinson tells you IN EXCRUCIATING DETAIL, starting with the selection of the colonists several years earlier. There are also a lot of weird tangents about areology (the study of Mars) and psychology that are interesting to a point, but a) have nothing to do with the plot and b) read more like a journal article than a novel.

When the action picks up and the story goes back to the whole someone-getting-killed thing it’s fairly well done, but other than that it’s a snooze.

Rating: 4/10
(Chunkster Challenge)

Cadillac Beach, by Tim Dorsey (29 December β€” 4 January)

Yes. Well. I read this book because my dear friend Pat told me it was awesome. I can definitely understand why he would find it awesome, but it was definitely not the right fit for me.

This book is weird. No, WEIRD. The plot, what there is of one, is that the main character, Serge, is out to solve the mystery of his grandfather’s death. It was ruled a suicide, but Serge just knows that it had something to do with the theft of a bunch of jewels from a museum. He sets off to find some answers and ends up creating a tour company, getting on the outs with the mob and the police when some of his customers kill a mob boss who is ratting and going into witness protection, and creating an invasion that sort of happens but doesn’t but makes everyone like him again.

It doesn’t make any sense. It’s pretty funny in parts, when you see all the threads of all the different stories that are going on start to come together, and when Serge does things like threaten someone with a leaf blower. But I just couldn’t hold all of those plotlines in my head and still figure out what each sentence meant. Sorry, Pat, but I think I’m going to take a pass on Tim Dorsey.

Rating: 3/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2004)

Afterlife, by Douglas Clegg (13 October β€” 15 October)

I found this book on one of my local library’s blogs and I thought it would make a good RIP read β€” it’s a horror novel and it’s available free online. Brilliant!

Or not so.

The novel opens with a few brief glimpses of its themes: a scene at a government school called Project Daylight, a woman suffocating, a man being killed by someone reading his thoughts.

Then we meet the main character, Julie Hutchinson, a woman with some marital problems but an undying love for her kids. We soon find out that the dead man is Julie’s husband, “Hut” Hutchinson, which sucks for her. She goes through some depression about his death, seeing a shrink and trying to make sense of life without her husband. She also wants answers about his life β€” Was he cheating on her? To what lock do a strange set of keys belong? What really happened in the childhood he avoided talking about?

As Julie searches for answers she learns more about psychics, Project Daylight, and the weird things her husband can do, even after death.

This all sounds good, I guess, but I found it poorly executed. Clegg could have used an editor or three to clean up his sentences and check for continuity errors that can be glaring throughout the novel. I would have stopped reading it, but I really wanted to understand what was going on β€” but I still don’t know. Sigh.

Rating: 3/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2004, RIP Challenge)