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.

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A Book Review

I promise to reveal nothing secretive about this book during my review, for to give away even a single detail will likely ruin the experience as a whole to the new reader.

I will simply say this: the first half of the book is utter genius.  I can’t recall of late a time I found myself so riveted, so completely engrossed, so eager to turn the page.  Flynn set everything up perfectly.  Perfectly.

As I read that first half, I actually found myself thinking, “Where will Flynn take it from here?  What direction is this thing ultimately going?”

And then, I reached the book’s halfway point, and Flynn blew my mind.  I’m talking my jaw hit the table.  The book completely changed direction and I loved it even more.

Sadly, however, the last third of the book did not delight so thoroughly.  Without being too specific, I found Flynn tossing in characters and details that, compared to the earlier installments, felt poorly conceived and even flat.  I hate to say that because this is a really well written book.  Flynn has a great style and proved herself skilled at constructed interesting, varied sentences.  It seemed almost as though she pinned herself into a corner and didn’t quite have the best exit strategy.

Honestly, the first half of the book was so good that there really was no place to go but down.  It would have been nearly impossible to deliver a satisfying ending to a story that broke out of the gates so hard.  I’m okay with the ending, don’t get me wrong, I just didn’t find it as masterfully plotted.

Would I recommend this book to a friend?  Absolutely.  I haven’t read anything quite like it—period.  I love Flynn’s characters, her style, her themes, her dialogue, and most of all, I love her plot.  I simply didn’t love the immediate events leading up to the ending, or, obviously, the ending itself.

In Regards To The Final Solution, My Apologies To Michael Chabon

I’ve deemed this summer one in which I will reread several books, and one of those book is in fact Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution.  I originally read this novelette sometime in early 2006 and subsequently wrote a scathing review (found here).  During the past seven years, I’ve remembered the book negatively and would not recommend it to others.  This hurt my heart because I tout Michael Chabon as one of America’s greatest living authors and hated to say anything disparaging about him.

I am a fool.

As I reread this book, I am embarrassed, ashamed, and, perhaps most importantly, humbled.

You see, though I’m only half finished with the slender book, I’ve already come to a startling realization about the book’s protagonist, one I never before realized and one that is incredibly significant.  How I didn’t make this deduction seven years ago is beyond me, especially considering I deal with literature and writing regularly in my professional life.  Were I a prouder man, I wouldn’t even reveal this to you.

But wait, let’s see if you can figure it out: the story takes place in 1944 England and features a very old, retired detective.  This detective was once the toast of England, renowned for his brilliance and adventures.  He smokes a pipe, wears an Inverness, and uses a magnifying glass.  Have you solved it?  Yes!  Though only referred to as “the old man” throughout the novelette, he is clearly supposed to be Sherlock Holmes!

I have no idea why I didn’t consider this out upon my first reading, but the book is so much more enjoyable if making this assumption.  So, though I’m not quite done with my rereading, I assure you, it’s thus far a wildly entertaining read if you keep “the old man’s” true identity in mind!

 

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton – A Book Review

I recently discovered Steve Hamilton and read his work entitled The Lock Artist, a book I thoroughly enjoyed.  So when the opportunity arose to procure an advance copy of his latest, a thriller called Misery Bay, I jumped at the chance.

Misery Bay stars a character called Alex McKnight.  McKnight has, apparently, appeared before in previous Hamilton works, but my unfamiliarity with McKnight proved inconsequential.  Hamilton eased me into McKnight’s world by utilizing an organic, smooth narrative style that subtly revealed the character’s history.  In fact, so seamless was Hamilton’s introduction of McKnight that I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if this was the character’s first appearance!

McKnight is a former Detroit cop who now resides in Paradise, a frigid little town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  McKnight has a long history of tragedy, one I won’t spoil here, but the man keeps a good sense of sardonic humor about him and is, by all accounts, a capable protagonist.  He doesn’t particularly want to be a hero, however, and is very much at ease hanging out at his favorite bar and drinking his favorite beer.

Through a series of gruesome events, though, McKnight finds himself ensnared in a case involving multiple suicides and murders, all involving state police officers and their children.  Honor and duty binds him to the case, and while he doesn’t necessarily want to take on the role of “detective,” he can’t turn his back on those in need of help.  In the end, it’s a grisly affair, one that will shock you and keep you on the edge of your seat.

Hamilton’s writing style is fluid and conversational with a special emphasis on realistic, dynamic dialogue.  Though there’s a mystery in Misery Bay, I’m not sure I would classify it as such.  I would be more comfortable calling it a thriller.  There’s plenty of action, humor, gore, and even a touch of drama which all come together to form a true page-turner.  Michael Connelly and James Patterson offer favorable quotes in regards to Hamilton and his McKnight, and after reading Misery Bay I can understand why!

X-Files: I Want To Believe – A Movie Review

I loved this movie!

I enjoyed the X-Files television program.  I wouldn’t say I was a diehard fan or anything, but I liked it quite a bit.  So when I saw the commercials X-Files: I Want To Believe, I made a note to check it out on DVD, but didn’t get worked up enough to go to the theatre for it.

X-Files: I Want To Believe has virtually nothing to do with the previous X-Files movie.  And it also thankfully didn’t demand expert knowledge of the television show, either.  A few terse lines of dialogue pretty much caught everyone up to speed.  Sure, there were a few moments for the devout fans, but by and large, anyone could come into X-Files: I Want To Believe and simply enjoy a good movie.

Speaking of which, I just had a great time watching this film.  Mulder and Scully are such cool characters, and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have such wonderful chemistry, I just really can’t get enough of these two on screen.

The plot is devoid of aliens or monsters; rather, it’s a murder mystery that takes on a slight science fiction element, but nothing supremely outlandish.  The crux of the story revolves around Billy Connolly playing a former man of the cloth who has visions related to missing women.  Scully, of course, doesn’t believe a word of it, but Mulder, as you would expect, gives Father Joe (Connolly) the benefit of the doubt.

In true X-Files fashion, the movie ends with just as many questions as answers, but hey, that’s what makes it an X-File, right?  Even with that being said, Anderson and Duchonvy offer fine performances and the movie is well made and very exciting.  Some of the acting is a little below par, specifically in regards to Amanda Peet and Xzibit-yes, Xzibit plays an FBI agent in this movie.  Also, they used the phrase “I want to believe” so many times it got to be a distraction.  I got it when it was first said-I caught the connection to the title.  No need to drive it home over and over again.

Instead of trying to create a garish, monstrosity of a movie, Chris Carter and the gang deliver an enigmatic, tense mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and felt more like a really long episode of the TV show-and that’s a good thing!

Oh, and by the way, the subplot featuring Scully’s patient brought tears to my eyes.  Seriously.  If you’re a parent, keep the tissue nearby.

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

You don’t know how difficult this is for me, but I really and truly did not care for this book.  You must keep in mind that I’m a big Michael Chabon fan, I’ve even gone so far as to say he IS America’s greatest contemporary author.  But, The Final Solution simply did not ignite a spark for me on any level.

The Final Solution is a mystery story set in the United Kingdom during WWII, but I found the mystery about a missing parrot and a murdered traveler rather uninteresting and unimportant.  Furthermore, Chabon’s characters, which usually jump off the pages at me and shake my hand, did not inspire a connection whatsoever.  His two main characters, an old, retired detective, and a young, mute, boy who escaped the Nazi’s, while dynamic in concept, did not translate onto the paper like other Chabon characters have done in the past.

The Washington Post, New York magazine, and the New York Times all gushed over this novelette (among many, many more), but it didn’t do much for me.  I didn’t even find myself interested in structure or style, which is usually something I can find redeeming in any work I read.

So, while I urge you to check out Michael Chabon if you have not done so already, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book.