The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins – A Book Review

I picked this book up based upon a considerable amount of buzz in my community.  I have to be honest, I nearly didn’t make it past the first chapter.  Our main character is Rachel, and in the beginning, the story is told solely from her perspective.  Because I found her so boring and, frankly, pathetic, I didn’t know for sure if I could continue.  But then It became very clear by the end of the chapter that she is a drunk, unreliable, and possibly deranged.  Though slow at first, once these characteristics arise, the book suddenly became very interesting and Rachel transformed into a figure I’ve never quite experienced in books.

In fact, I became so engrossed in the book I could hardly put it down.  Rachel is seemingly stalking her ex-husband and his new wife, has constructed a fantasy world for the people she sees in their homes as she rides the train, and is generally falling apart as she makes one awful, drunken decision after another.

A mystery begins, though, concerning some injuries she suffered during a blackout.  Plus, a very violent crime arrives, one tied to her ex-husband and a specific couple she fantasized about from the train.

The book is addictive in that it plays with timelines, revealing tidbits of information at different intervals and demands the reader put them together chronologically.  As the book progresses, it also offers other perspectives, specifically from Megan, the woman Rachel fantasizes about, and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife.  Through these various perspectives, you learn that none of these women are completely honest, and some of them are downright dangerous.

Near the end, however, the book completely lost me.  I won’t spoil too much, but Rachel, one of the most unconventional and original female characters I’ve encountered in quite some time, becomes totally beholden to the men in the story.  In fact, the entire story line hinges upon her ex-husband and the man Rachel fantasizes about from the train.  The women suddenly serve only to propel the plot, to act as tools of the men, and that’s a real travesty considering the magnificent characterization unfolding up to that point.

Slade House by David Mitchell – A Book Review

Much of the promotion surrounding this book touts it as a haunted house story, a work of horror.  However, it readily became apparent that it is nothing of the sort – it’s an unrelenting companion piece to The Bone Clocks.  In fact, if you haven’t yet read The Bone Clocks, I wholeheartedly recommend you read Slade House first.  It serves as an excellent introduction to that book’s general plot and tone.

Like The Bone Clocks, Slade House is fairly direct storytelling from David Mitchell.  Yes, he bends genre brilliantly to suit the story’s needs, and his ideas are inventive as well as captivating, but the writing isn’t necessarily difficult to read.  In fact, I rather like the fact that Mitchell is streamlining his style a bit.  Make no mistake, though, this is still an extremely creative artist who forges worlds masterfully.

Though a quick read, Slade House forces us to dive deeply into the lives of doomed characters, characters connected from one decade to the next, characters with no hope against the monsters hunting them.  But, as you well know, monsters always have hunters of their own, and I believe the reader will be satisfied by this tale’s conclusion.

East of West: Volume 4 by Hickman and Dragotta – A Book Review

East of West continues to be one of my favorite series.  In this fourth volume, HIckman and Dragotta continue to expand their complex world, even going so far as providing maps and timelines.  This series is a little bit western, a little bit alternate history, a little bit science fiction, a little bit near-apocalyptic dystopia, a little bit social, political, and religious commentary, and a whole lot of action.

The United States is not united in this story.  The South, Texas, the Native Americans, and the Chinese all have a territory and do not get along. In fact, all-out war festers due to political and religious conflict.  To complicate matters, Death rides the plain, separated from his Horsemen because they want to destroy one of the only things he cares about – his son.

Each volume reveals new depths of story, and characters become more and more complex as the series progresses.  Though there is a multitude of characters, each is given a moment to shine, and each is fascinating.

The artwork is surprisingly simple, yet always dynamic.  Each character has a distinct body language and “look.”  Death, in particular, always jumps off the page.  The action flows from panel to panel, yet their is also a nuance to the scenes.  You’ll find little details in the most unexpected places.

This is a must-read series.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – A Book Review

A friend recommended I give We Were Liars a read, and so I promptly picked it up at my local library.  I’m unfamiliar with E. Lockhart, but the blurbs, particularly John Green’s, encouraged me.

Most of We Were Liars captivates.  Our main character and narrator, Cadence, belongs to an old old money family and she, along with her cousins, spend their summers on their own private island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Something happened to Cadence on that island, though, something that resulted in amnesia, crippling migraines, and depression.  The majority of the book sets up the mystery, providing clue after clue as it races along, and it is difficult to put down.

However, the ending fell a little flat with me.  Without giving anything away, I felt the conclusion switched direction without much precedence and that abrupt shift in tone disheartened me.

We Were Liars features young adult characters.  They are filthy rich thanks to their racist grandfather and probably too clever.  We even have a festering teenage romance between Cadence and Gat, an Indian cousin who is not really blood-related and forever falls into the category of “outsider.”

But despite some of the genre’s cliches, I must admit the sparse language, short page count, and mysterious plot kept me turning page after page.  I think some will love this book and most will like it very much.  Sure, the ending disappointed me, but the book as a whole proved satisfying.

Though, admittedly, I think John Green may have been a little too generous.

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith – A Book Review

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, yet I chose this book solely because of just that.  I saw the cover art on First Second’s (@01FirstSecond) Twitter page and then immediately picked it up at my local library.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Alex Crow even after reading its synopsis.  It’s comprised of three seemingly unrelated stories that, as you probably guessed, ultimately merge.

The first story focuses upon Ariel, a Middle Eastern refugee trying to make sense of his tortured past and his perplexing present after a family in West Virginia adopted him.  They also have a son Ariel’s age and a reincarnated crow named Alex.  Alex is not reincarnated in the strictest sense.  Ariel’s new father works to reintroduce formerly extinct species through his scientific endeavors.  Ariel and his new brother, Max, are soon sent to camp where they are meant to bond.  Unfortunately, the camp is intended for boys addicted to gaming, and when surrounded by teenagers going through cold turkey, both Ariel and Max feel as though they’ve been dropped into an asylum.

The second string focuses upon a mad bomber named Leonard Fountain.  Leonard believes he’s trailed by an invisible drone, hears voices, and has skin that is literally falling off his body.  He drives his U-Haul around the countryside, listening to the voices help him find the perfect place to detonate.  As fate would have it, he’s connected to the Alex Division of the Merrie-Seymour Research Group, the very company where Ariel’s adopted father works.

The last plotline features a doctor in the late 1800s aboard the Alex Crow, which is a sea faring vessel attempting to reach the absolute north.  When the ship becomes trapped in ice for months on end, the doctor and his shipmates must fight for their very survival.  They eventually find something encased in the ice, something long since dead, something hellish, and the doctor knows then and there that he must somehow reincarnate it, even if it takes a century.

The Alex Crow’s genre is undefinable, which is the highest compliment I can offer any work.  Though it features young adults, this old man very much enjoyed it.  At times the book is brutally realistic, especially when revealing Ariel’s past, but it also holds nothing back in the realm of science fiction.  It is at times adventuresome, creepy, absurd, touching, unsettling, and thought provoking.  Amidst its multifaceted threads, however, it is consistently humorous.  The humor is sometimes good-natured, sometimes discomforting, and sometimes inappropriate, but it is always there.

Though I’ve discussed the major beats of The Alex Crow, this book is complex beyond description.  One must read this book truly to experience Smith’s originality, intricacy, and hilarity.  I highly recommend you do so.

Foxcatcher by Mark Schultz – A Book Review

Of course, after seeing the mesmerizing film of the same name, I had to go directly to the source material. I’m happy to report that Mark Schultz’s account of his time with John du Pont is a fascinating read that puts a lot of the movie in the proper context.

Let’s be clear, Foxcatcher the film took some artistic liberties as you would expect any movie to do.  However, according to Schultz’s nonfiction writing, most of the movie’s high notes were accurate.  Things were embellished a bit, and the timeline was condensed heavily, but it seems as though the movie truly captured du Pont’s oddity and, to be fair, even Schultz’s.

The first half of the book recounts Schultz’s early life, how he came to wrestle, his life victories, his missteps, and he seems to do so honestly and with humility.  He is the first to admit his intensity made him aloof during competition and practice, and that people often misunderstood his brooding silence.  The film really played up this aspect of the man.  Schultz practically deifies his older brother, and who can blame him?  It sounds like David was every bit as likable and charismatic as the film depicted him, and after meeting such a horrendous end, how can we speak poorly of a surviving brother praising his lost loved one?

The second half of the book is when I became acutely interested.  Of course, this is when du Pont enters the scene.  Schultz clearly hates du Pont, but even so, he did not spout only nasty things about the man.  In fact, I was actually surprised that Schultz remained far more objective concerning du Pont than I would have expected.  He confesses his own errors with du Pont, he laments putting up with as much as he did, and he regrets ever playing a role in David and du Pont meeting.  However, his role was not as great as the movie would suggest, and he certainly wasn’t quite the victim the movie made him out to be.  Schultz in fact did stand up to du Pont and left on his own terms more so than the movie stated.

If you were captivated by the film, I urge you to read the book.  It is a sobering recollection of an already disturbing story, and it offers insight into the only surviving member of the trinity, a man we really did not get to know all that well beyond the surface – Mark Schultz.

Injustice by Tom Taylor – A Book Review

I’m not a gamer, but I heard the DC series titled Injustice, which serves as an introduction to the video game, regularly impressed readers.  When I happened across it at my local library, I knew I had to give it a read.

Wow.  I’m glad I did.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the Joker manipulates Superman into killing his wife, Lois Lane.  Superman loses it, punches Joker through the chest, and then promptly establishes a new world order in which all countries must be peaceful or suffer his wrath.

But this is not a maniacal Superman.  Taylor is brilliant in that it is still largely the Superman we know and love, but it’s a Superman who, little by little, loses his famous sense of morality.  Like all the best villains, he firmly believes he is in the right, and when things go wrong, it’s never his fault.

Of course, Batman has no wavering morality issues, which puts he and Superman squarely at odds.  Batman forms a team to challenge Superman’s Justice League which is comprised of Wonder Woman, Shazam, Green Lantern, Flash, Cyborg, and others.

Anything goes in this title, and no one is ever safe.  That sort of climate makes it an exciting, unpredictable read, which is something mainstream super hero titles need.

Consequently, many of the characters are, well, out of character, particularly the Flash.  I’m glad that Taylor makes Flash the most hesitant of Superman’s acolytes, the one who questions their actions, but, in the end, I realize this book is a different take on our beloved heroes and so I’m willing to accept heroes like Wonder Woman and Cyborg acting harsher than usual.

If you’ve seen the video game, you know how radical some of the costumes are.  Batman’s works very well in this comic book, others, such as Catwoman’s, falls very flat.  Most of them are interesting variations on an already established theme, such as with Nightwing, Robin, and Green Arrow.

If you’re a DC super hero fan, I think you’ll enjoy this title.  Sure, it explores ideas already established by titles such as Kingdom Come and Red Son, but it does so more deeply and at a much more satisfying pace.  In fact, that’s how I would describe this title – very satisfying.

I cannot wait to check out the rest of this series’ installments.