Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Heart Sick by Chelsea Cain

This was a book that I never would have picked up, as I don't generally go for the serial killer murder mystery type stories. But it was one of the Best Books of 2007, on a couple of different lists, so I decided to see what the fuss was about.
The story follows detective Archie Sheridan, who is on medical leave as the book begins, as a result of his encounter with the serial killer Gretchen Lowell, who confessed to dozens of murders after torturing Sheridan for a week. Sheridan is called back on duty when another serial killer begins kidnapping girls, but no one really knows if he can handle it. He and Lowell have a demented relationship still, and he is wounded in more ways than one. The other main character is a columnist for the local paper, Susan Ward. Archie agrees to allow her to profile him for the paper, and in some way he hopes this will help him begin to heal. As they track down the killer, their stories become more and more woven together.
I really liked the characters of Archie and Susan, both written very well. They are rather original and have character details that make them very endearing and knowable to the reader. Cain sets them up to work well together in sequels, which may or may not be written, I haven't heard. The character of Gretchen Lowell is not nearly as original as reviews make her sound. Maybe I just haven't read enough serial killer thrillers to know what is supposed to be original. She almost seems contrived. The story itself, the mystery, is not as mysterious as the reader hopes either. It becomes relatively obvious, and resolves itself in a way that is not entirely original, or even interesting. While the characters of Archie and Susan are intriguing, and the story has potential, it does not live up to it, and I probably will not be looking for a sequel.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

In all honesty, I was not expecting much from this book, regardless of the fact that it was on many "Best Books of 2007" lists. The subject matter just did not seem especially interesting to me. I was, however, pleasantly surprised.
The story takes place in 2001, in a Chicago advertising agency, one that is going steadily downhill. It is told in first-person voice, but not by any one particular character. Rather, the story is told from a collective "we" or "us" voice. The reader is thus made part of the group that is experiencing the downsizing of their company. The various characters created are all very realistic, and easy to identify from real-life experiences. The office environment is also recognizable to anyone who has ever had to work in a cubicle, whether or not you worked for an ad agency. As the layoffs increase, the office tension noticeably increases along with it. Those that are laid-off behave erratically, and office gossip centers on what they might do, or who will be next to follow them.
Although this story could seem tragic, it is told in a humorous voice. The firings themselves are difficult for the characters to deal with, but they all seem to have very personal tragedies in their lives as well. This trials are fodder for the office gossip mill, but there is sympathy for the individual characters as well. While the book is very funny, it is also a real look at office relationships, both the superficiality and depth that can occur in the confines of the cubicles.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan

"In the winter you come to the pit to warm your feet in the tar. You stand long enough to sink as far as your ankles - the littler you are, the longer you can stand. . . But in summer, like this day, you keep away from the tar . . . Ikky was tall, but she was thin and light from all the worry and prison; she was going to take a long time about sinking."

So begins the first story in this collection of short stories; this story's title is "Singing My Sister Down". Even before the story begins, you have a sense of unease about it, and the description quoted above only confirms your suspicion. But it is a wonderful story about family, and gives you a glimpse of what this society is like. As in every short story told here, a glimpse is all we are given. At times it feels like the world that is being described could be our own, as in the story of the elephant trainer, in "Sweet Pippit". In most of the stories, however, there is introduced an aspect of reality that is so fundamentally different from our own that it cannot possibly take place in the world we know. And yet the characters are all very human, and react to these strange, unsettling situations in the same way any of us would.

The beauty of this book is that each story opens the reader up to a different sense of what reality can be. Each story makes the reader question how they would act in the situation being presented. The stories are technically simple, yet very morally complex, making them an excellent choice for any teen who wants to think a little bit. Readers of fantasy and horror, as well as regular fiction, will appreciate these stories, as they offer something completely different than most teen books in these genres. Each of the tales stays with you for much longer than expected, as your imagination continues to work on the situation presented by the story. In this way, you are never finished with Black Juice.

*This review also posted at hip librarian's book blog*