Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

We all know that once you see something, it's not only burned into your retina, but also your mind.  And by trying to not imagine a pink elephant, what the first thing is that comes to mind.  Is it also possible then, that once I know a book is written by J. K. Rowling, I will always compare it to Harry Potter?

The answer is fuck yes.  EVERYTHING gets compared to Harry Potter.  All other YA books I've read?  Not as good as Harry Potter.  The coffee I had this morning?  Not as good as Harry Potter.  That dress I want to buy?  Won't make my hips look as good as Harry Potter.  You get the point.  That series has been burned into my mind, heart, and soul.  I cannot and will not unremember it.  Does Rowling even stand a chance against herself?

Maybe she knew the answer...maybe she anticipated this inevitable proclivity which we all have.  And maybe that's why she wrote The Cuckoo's Calling under a pseudonym.  Because she knew assholes like me would never forgive her for writing *just* another novel.  I think her prologue says it all, "Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous."  Freudian slip of the pen much?

So how to proceed now that I've compromised any semblance of neutrality?  I'll just get on with it.  I didn't find the story compelling,  I didn't like the characters, and I didn't buy the ending.  This was a book I read for the sake of finishing, so I could move on to another book.

My first complaint, her characters.  Mean, selfish, or boooooring.  Sure, some people are pricks, but really?  THAT many people?  Everyone we meet, even our protagonist, is a prick.  His sister?  A prick.  His client?  A prick.  Everyone else in the book?  Pricks.  Every one.  I wanted to avada kedavra all their asses.  The only character I wouldn't call a prick is Robin, our detective's wingman secretary (her fiance though?  You guessed it).  The problem with Robin was she's as interesting as a Kardashian sex tape.

Another complaint is the ending.  I felt like Rowling left some loose ends unaddressed.  And the only reason I was surprised by the ending is because it just didn't make sense.  Sure, she offered a one sentence explanation, but I don't buy it.  I also don't feel her trail of bread crumbs would have led many readers to the right conclusion without a lot of blind speculation.  But then again, I'm not a detective like Cormoran Strike.  And then again, Rowling's only an author, (sniff).

To be fair, murder mysteries aren't my genre of choice.  True, I went into it with high expectations, which can be a buzzkill for even above average performances.  But really, I think a great story can rise above its genre, or age group, or expectations.  Isn't that what we loved about...well, you know.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Maze Runner Series (books 1-3) by James Dashner

**No more spoilers given than what is published to advertise each book**

Thomas wakes up one day to find himself in a field with other boys surrounding him.  He has no memory of who he is or how he got there.  Same as the others before him.  He soon learns he is trapped in a maze and joins their quest to find a way out.

This series starts as many YA series do.  Strong, compelling, slightly twisted.  But by book three, I find myself back to 2006, watching the third season of LOST - frusterated, confused, and less willing to believe.

The maze runner was good, if not a bit strange.  Thomas becomes a "runner," or one of the boys whose role is to map out the constantly changing maze and try to find a way to solve it.  The entire first book is consumed by the maze itself and the boys' lives therein.  My questions are the same as the boys'.  Why?  Where?  What caused this?  What is going on in the rest of the world?  But because they have no memory and I don't really know when this takes place or in what kind of world, I am along for the ride.  Dashner ends the book strongly - with a promise of answers to many, if not all, of my questions.  Ok, I say, I can continue down this rabbit hole with you.

So I pick up book two.  Here's where we get into season two of LOST.  I'm invested in these characters, I understand the premise, and I like it.  Yeah, there are some strange things that happen, but I'm willing to trust Dashner and see how he'll tie everything together in the end.  Ok, maybe this book isn't quite as good as the first...but we're building to something here.  I can feel it.

Without giving too much away, book two places Thomas and the other boys, or "The Gladers" as they've called themselves, into the "Scorch," which is basically the desert.  And here's where the series evolves into basically a zombie tale (no complaints yet).  The Gladers have learned they are a part of a special group undergoing trials in order to hopefully effect a cure for the condition of the world today.  Just as a drug undergoes trials in testing, the Gladers, quite literally, are enduring their course of trials.

This second book has a bit more teenage angst and drama, which I feel just meh about.  Thankfully Dashner keeps things platonic and the drama more on an emotional level, which I think is fair.  I'm more interested in how jacked up everything has become and why.  But do I get many answers?  No.  Just more questions.  Well, I'm already invested.  Might as well pick up book three.

Book three picks up the pace.  Answers begin to come.  But the more I understand what is going on, the more I realize how everything in the previous two books was kinda meaningless, subplots within the grand scheme of things,  I guess.  Are the Gladers really accomplishing anything?  Or are they literally just running around for no good?  Dashner puts in details that seem so important at the time but become forgotten as the series evolves.  Is it poor planning?  Did he abandon those ideas?  I start to get ambivalent.  I start to think Dashner has made more happen than he's going to explain.  I can't decide if I like the series or feel jilted by it.  I look at the book like an old lover.  Do I keep you in bed with me?  Or throw you across the room?

After much frustration and some eye rolling, I've finished.  (In case you're wondering, I'm not still using the jilted lover parallel here.)  I like the ending, in all, an interesting series.  There is a fourth book, a prequel.  Will I read it?  Probably.

So it's a mixed recommend.  Definitely something different with its ups and downs, but Dashner has managed to keep me interested and feeling...something...while I read.  I suppose that's the point.

And for you lazies who like the on screen version, I hear this book has a movie in post production, scheduled to be released this fall.  Should make for a great movie.