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Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Book Type: crime drama, thriller

Stereotype Alert: Other than the jaded cop with a personal tie to a case, no. 

Cover Art: Big face with a blindfold?

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Oh geeze.  Verhoeven/Armand/Vasseur. 

Character Score: 5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: A woman has been abducted off the street in Paris.  Can Commandant Verhoeven find the victim before she is murdered?  And is she really a victim?

X-Factor: France!  

Anti X-Factor: Acid

Cover Art: Well big face, it's, uh, nice to see you.  My advanced copy was a sort of tan color instead of blue but the effect is the same.  Is that really what Alex looks like, or is that a wig?  That's all I'm sayin'. 

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: This was a bit tricky.  I wasn't really invested in any of the characters enough to want to sleep with or marry them.  But Verhoeven quite obviously needs more action in his life and Armand was just crazy enough that I sort of wanted to know more about him personally.  And Felix Vasseur?  There is a special place in hell for that mother f*cker.  

Character Score: Again, not totally in love with the characterization in this book, but that wasn't the point.  Lemaitre told a great detective story with lots of twists and turns.

What's the Story?:
Alex by French author Pierre Lemaitre will be published in September by MacLehose, and imprint of Quercus Books.  What's so special about Quercus?  They were the lucky publishing group who snagged Stieg Larsson's wildly popular Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium) trilogy.  Quercus is again hoping to strike crime fiction gold with Lemaitre's newest novel.  

There are a few similarities between Larsson's Lisbeth Salander and Lemaitre's Alex Prevost. Both are strong, vibrant characters who are stuck in rather unfortunate situations.  And like Dragon TattooAlex has another main character who is trying to solve a crime/mystery; in this case, police Commandant Camille Verhoeven.  And guess what, this is going to be a trilogy!  But the similarities pretty much end there.

Camille has worked for the brigade criminelle for years and there is only one kind of case he won't work: kidnappings.  It isn't any wonder, considering his wife (who was eight months pregnant) was abducted on her way to the hospital and later found murdered.  But Camille's boss has forced him to be the lead investigator on a new case which involves, of course, a kidnapped young woman.  The Commandant tries his best to ignore his emotions and does what he can to try to find missing Alex Prevost.

Alex was out for a night of shopping and dinner when she was pummeled by a very large man, tossed into a van and taken to a secret location.  When she wakes, the man forces her into a rough wooden crate and suspends her from the ceiling of what appears to be a warehouse.  After who knows how many days, Alex realizes that the water and dog kibble the man has been feeding her daily, was not to keep her alive but to attract a horde of rats that live in the building.  More terrifying than being eaten alive by rats, however, is the fact that the crate is too small for Alex to even stretch out and, being a nurse, she knows her muscles are beginning to deteriorate.  
Camille is working with a very small pile of evidence.  There was witness who saw the woman get thrown into a van, there is a little bit of vomit on the street and not much else.  Camille knows that the more hours that pass, the less likely they are to find their victim alive.  After a stroke of luck identifying the van that the criminal used, the police now know who they are looking for.  When they find the man, he throws himself off a bridge into oncoming traffic rather than tell the police who Alex is or where he has hidden her. Back to square one and the clock continues ticking.  More investigation into the kidnapper leads to the discovery that the man's son went missing year or so ago.  When they go to ask questions at the former home of the son's girlfriend, they discover the son's body.  Is Alex really just the victim of a kidnapping or is she a murderer?  By the time Camille and his men have discovered the warehouse where Alex was taken, she has managed to escape.

X-Factor: Paris!  Who doesn't want to see a little bit of France from time to time?  I know I do.

Anti-X Factor: Acid.  Seriously.  You think it's horrible to hear a description of someone being hacked to death by a machete?  Try descriptions of people being forced to drink sulfuric acid.  Gross.

This book is full of twists and turns and is a fascinating detective story.  A word of warning, however, for the folks who were put off by the sexual violence in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- this also appears in Alex.  But it is a thriller that will keep you guessing.  A thriller that might just answer the question: is there a worse way to die than being eaten alive by rats?

Alex is available everywhere in the US on September 3rd.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Scary-Bad Book Covers

Today's Scary-Bad Library Book Cover:

Time-Life's The LIFE History of the United States, Volume 5: 1849-1865

Where did the picture for this photo come from?????? I (of course) looked in the book to see who was credited with this masterpiece but could find NOTHING!

Several possible inspirations for this work come to mind:

1.  This was originally a painting of Moses telling Pharaoh to "Let my people go!!!!"  Just substitute a staff for the gun and some sort of ten commandments thing-y for the book (yeah, yeah.  I know the commandments happened after the Jewish people were free).  You see it, right?

2.  Paul Bunyan showed up to free the slaves in the South.  But where is Babe????

3.  Zeus decided to come down and was all like, "What up, Civil War people?"  I mean, he is HUGE compared to everyone else in the picture!  What's up with that?  

You cannot un-see it!  Happy Friday, ya'll!!!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

***Warning*** There are significant plot spoilers included below.  I'll warn you when to stop reading.

Book Type: fiction, psychological experiments with humans and animals

Predictability Factor: not so much.

Cover Art: color block w/ bonus monkey!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Um, Lowell/Rosemary/ (fictional) Indiana University

Character Score: 5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Rosemary Cooke has always known a life with her sister Fern by her side.  At the age of five, Rosemary is moved to a new home and Fern is nowhere to be found.  Years later, suppressed memories start to surface and Rosemary must find out what really happened to her sister.

X-Factor: Science experiments/animal activists

Cover Art: Kinda boring.  Brightly colored, but boring.  I already knew about the big plot point involved in the story so that was why I wanted to read it.  Not because of the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Who wouldn't want to sleep with mysterious animal activist/ domestic terrorist Lowell?  I feel bad that Rosemary is constantly worrying about her actions in society.  Whether her facial reactions are proper, if she's standing too close to other people.  I want to be the perfect person so she can feel comfortable and just be Rosemary.  And shame on you (fictional) Indiana University and other similar institutions who say "Hey!  Let's do some awesome animal experiments!"  Several years later: "Oh, hey.  This isn't really working out/we're not getting the results we expected.  We're terminating the program."  And then you just sell the test subjects (animals) to whoever will buy them regardless of the conditions in which they will live for the rest of their lives.  Shame, shame on you folks who do this in real life.

Character Score: Here's what I'll say:  I enjoyed seeing inside Rosemary's head.  But I thought that the addition of Harlow as a plot device was stupid.  She was vapid and I couldn't stand reading about her interactions with Rosemary.  Lowell, on the other hand, I would like to know more about.  Tell me what you've been doing all these years you've been on the run from the FBI!

***Spoilers!  Stop reading now!***

What's the Story?: Rosemary Cooke spent the first five years of her life joined at the hip with her beloved sister Fern.  Thing is, Fern is a chimpanzee and Rosemary's dad is a psychologist who is studying both of his "daughters."  One day, Rosemary is sent away to her grandparent's house for three weeks only to be returned to a different house with no explanation. But as distressing as this might be for a five-year-old, the worst is yet to come:  Rosemary cannot find Fern anywhere.  What happened to her sister?  Why will no one in her family speak Fern's name?  Why is her older brother so angry all the time?  The once motor-mouthed child withdraws deeper and deeper into herself as her family begins to self-destruct around her.  Rosemary starts kindergarten and begins to see just how non-traditional her upbringing has been: she can't connect with any of the other children.  As the years pass, Rosemary copes with having zero friends and blocks out practically all memories of Fern.

Fast forward almost ten years and we find Rosemary in college at the University of California, Davis.  She hasn't thought about Fern in ages.  She barely even thinks about her brother Lowell who disappeared at the age of 18 and became what amounts to a domestic terrorist.  Rosemary is pulled into the path of an unusual girl named Harlow and suddenly many things from her past return to her all at once.  Why was Fern taken away?  Where did she go? Was it all Rosemary's fault?  Will Lowell return even for the briefest of moments? Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is an interesting look at the institution of family, scientific experimentation and self identity.

X-Factor: People have raised chimps in human homes for years.  This is not a new concept, but it certainly is an interesting one.  I picked the book up because it sounded like an interesting idea- raising your daughter alongside a newborn chimp.  I'm going to go out on a limb, however, and say that this probably isn't the best book on the subject.  I'd like to read some real-life memoirs of people who tried to do the same thing.  The thing that kills me, though, is that so many of these people commit their lives to this experiment.  They swear that the chimp will always be a part of their family etc. etc.  But accidents happen, chimps grow up big and strong or the humans simply become bored or inconvenienced by the experiment.  And then the chimps get sent to creepy labs where they don't know how to act with other chimps and bad things happen.  That's what gets me about this story.  That people can just shrug off another living creature so easily.