"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Friday, February 28, 2014

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter book cover
Image courtesy of
Darkly Dreaming Dexter
Jeff Lindsay

The Summary
Dexter Morgan is a blood spatter analyst for the Miami police department.  He's also a serial killer, a serial killer with a rigid rule that he never kills an innocent person.  Never.

But, now, Dexter has a problem.

Faced with a string of murders with striking similarities to his own style of disposing of victims, Dexter is confronted with the knowledge that someone knows about his extracurricular activities - and that someone may be him.

The Good
Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a unique novel in that it snares you with an interesting and dynamic character who is, in fact, a certified sociopath.  He's a murderer - granted, he's a murderer who only kills "bad guys" who slip through the system - and yet Jeff Lindsay gives you every reason to like his homicidal narrator.

Quirky, eloquent, and chillingly descriptive, Dexter Morgan is a fun narrator to follow.  I mean, he's obviously a bit off.  He's a killer with a Dark Passenger and a Need, so, of course, he's going to be different.  But Dexter is a surprisingly enjoyable narrator.

He does sometimes speak in the third person, and he has a habit of alliteration and grandiose internal musings, but that's just part and parcel of the whole package.  You get used to it.

The Bad
Although this may be an obvious observation, here it is:  Dexter is a broken individual.  Not for the obvious reasons, I should point out, like his uncontrollable desire to kill.

No, during the culmination of Lindsay's novel, Dexter frequently struggles to distinguish between reality and memory, fact and fantasy - and, as a witness to his thoughts and misadventures (as his extra "passenger"), that broken and disjointed perspective is eventually passed on to you, the reader.

While I can appreciate this gives Dexter's tale a dramatic twist and offers readers the opportunity to see what kind of emotional (?) and psychological stress Dexter suffers from, his insanity - his actual mental break-down - is sometimes difficult to read.  After reading pages and pages of an eloquent Dexter, it's a bit of a turn to meet a deteriorating Dexter.

The Ugly
Dexter Morgan is a sociopath.

We've established this, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that, as you read, you'll become intimately acquainted with his diabolical thoughts and, more to the point, be an eye-witness to the murders he commits.  There's blood and gore, and then more blood and gore.

And it isn't like the TV show.  The camera doesn't pan away at the precise moment Dexter begins to mutilate his victims.  You know what's coming, and you get to be audience to every brutal hack and slash Dexter commits.

Even if they are "bad guys" - even if you know they deserve this moment of so-called "justice" - you can't help but feel a little bad for the man or woman Dexter has set his sights on.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bonus: Chew: Taster's Choice (Volume One)

Chew, Volume 1: Taster's Choice
Image courtesy of
Chew:  Taster's Choice (Volume One)
John Layman
Rob Guillory

The Summary
Tony Chu is a police officer - turned FDA agent - and he is a cibopath.  As a cibopath, Tony can taste or eat anything (and I do mean anything) and figure out what it's made out of, where it comes from, and what happened to it.

In fact, he can figure out just about anything from a single bite.

Except beets.  Beets don't work.

Now, along with Agent Mason Savoy (a cibopath like Tony), Tony can - and will - use his gift to solve food-related crimes.  Like contraband chicken.  Or cannibalism.  Or murder.

The Good
Quirky and dark, Chew is a unique blend of cleverness and the supernatural.  Throw in a hint of political intrigue, and you have a surprisingly good series to read.

Strewn with bits of comedy, fast-paced action, and odd-ball mysteries that can only be solved by the FDA - currently, the most powerful bureau in the U.S. government and, perhaps, the entire world - and the cibopathic abilities of Tony Chu and Mason Savoy, Chew is energetic and pretty fun to read.

The characters are unusual and intriguing enough to keep you riveted, and the story is well-constructed and interesting to hold your attention from beginning to end.  It moves quickly, so it's easy to read in one sitting and easy to become hooked.

The Bad
Altogether, it's a good story.  An odd art style, yes, but it's vivid in its depictions and it's oddly fun.

However (and this is a very big "however"):

If you have an aversion to violence, or foul language, or things just plain gruesome - like vomiting induced by a sabocrivner (one who writes so vividly that people can actually taste the things she describes), or homicidal cannibals - or other unsavory events, Chew may not be the best read for you.

The Ugly
Because Tony can receive psychic impressions from the food (and other things) he eats, he encounters some very unusual situations during his investigations.  Situations that invariably force him to eat unsavory foods.

And other things.

Like fingers.  Or dead animals.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Empire Falls

Empire Falls
Image courtesy of
Empire Falls
Richard Russo

The Summary
In the tiny Maine town of Empire Falls, Miles Roby works at the floundering Empire Grill and deals with the imperious Francine Whiting - of the Whiting family which owns everything and everyone in Empire Falls - on a frequent basis.

And all the while, he struggles with his soon-to-be-finalized divorce and attempts to properly raise his daughter, Tick.

Despite it's small-town roots, however, Empire Falls is anything but small:  big in story and big in heart, Richard Russo's novel tells about all the struggles of a tiny, former factory-town and the people who live there from day to day.

The Good
Intricate, well-written, and emotional, Russo's Empire Falls is fantastic to read for the list of human interactions and connections it cultivates, as well as the tragedy it sometimes invokes.  The connections between characters, as well as the relationships they create or, as is sometimes the case, destroy, allows the reader to truly see the world of Empire Falls and embrace it.

Although Russo's novel isn't filled with thrills for every minute, it's certain to get you hooked as you strive to figure out what has happened - what secrets are hiding within the Whiting family and within the town itself - and wrap your mind around what will continue to happen in the tiny town of Empire Falls.

You're sure to become invested in Russo's characters.

The Bad
Empire Falls often appears to reveal the futility of the human condition.  Full of cases where people become trapped by their fears, trapped by their circumstances, or simply trapped, it's a sad commentary of how life can go awry from what one anticipates and it can leave you speechless, wounded, or worse.

While sprinkled with plenty of warm moments, especially those between father and daughter duo, Miles and Tick, Empire Falls is a story more of the heart-wrenching variety.  The seemingly inevitable climax will surprise you - and certainly not in a good way.

The Ugly
Throughout the course of Russo's novel, one anticipates a tragedy to occur - i.e. you just get a "bad feeling" about how the story will end and what will happen to the characters in which we have invested our time and feelings.

Personally, I feared for Tick.

As one of the few good things Miles still has in his life, Tick seems crucial not only to Miles' story but the story of Empire Falls.  And, perhaps in the middle of the novel, I uncovered a sense of foreboding - in fact, a genuine fear - for the safety of Tick.

Whether I imagined she was in danger of becoming trapped in Empire Falls by Francine Whiting, like her father, or becoming the fixation of a disgruntled ex-boyfriend, I worried Tick would not reach the end of the novel.

I won't spoil the conclusion (of course, I wouldn't), but I found this sense of foreboding had an influence on my entire reading of Russo's Empire Falls.  I still enjoyed the novel; however, I probably didn't enjoy it half so well as I might have if my mind hadn't been plagued by fears of impending tragedy.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Snow Child

Image courtesy of
The Snow Child
Eowyn Ivey

The Summary
Set on the Wolverine River of Alaska in the early twentieth century, The Snow Child recounts the experiences of Jack and Mabel, homesteaders on the frontiers of the far north, as they struggle to survive another year in grief and another winter.

But on an especially cold night with the first snow of winter, Jack's and Mabel's lives change forever when they meet a little girl name Faina, a mysterious young girl surviving in the inhospitable wilderness - a girl who seems to have sprouted from the snow.

The Good
The Snow Child is a hauntingly beautiful story.  Well-paced, intricate, and emotional, Eowyn Ivey's novel pulls together all the elements of a great novel by combining legends with simple, human psychology and amazing literary skill.

Although occasionally tragic, this novels combines evocative imagery, heart-warming depth, and fantastic characterizations to create a wonderful story that's sure to keep you glued to its pages.  In particular, Ivey appears to take great care in forming her characters, giving them emotional depth and heart-breaking honesty.

On a personal level, I also loved the way Ivey managed to weave together all the elements of legends - i.e. Little Daughter of the Snow by Arthur Ransome and "Snegurochka" - and fairy tales but still remain true to her own story.  While it borrows from old works, it also manages to forge a path of its own and tell an intriguing and riveting tale of sorrow, joy, and life.

The Bad
Perhaps my one and only complain about The Snow Child is the feeling of impending calamity.  From the instant you meet Faina - in fact, from the minute you see her becoming like a daughter to this sad, wonderful couple - you begin to wonder and worry and fret over who Faina is and, occasionally, what she may be.

More to the point, you begin to wonder what will happen to her by story's end.

The Ugly
Living and surviving in the Alaskan wilderness can be especially difficult.  More importantly, it can be brutal - and, as a reader, you may be witness to a few ugly and brutal things that may make you feel squeamish or may tug at your heart strings.