Book Review: White Bodies by Jane Robins

White Bodies by Jane Robins

Callie and Tilda are twins, though they couldn’t be more different. Tilda is beautiful, outgoing, and a successful actress. Callie is quiet and introverted, and worships the ground her sister walks on. When Tilda becomes involved with successful stockbroker Felix, Callie is at first happy that her sister has found someone so perfect. But after Tilda starts behaving oddly, and displaying mysterious bruises, Callie begins to worry that Felix is dangerous. Getting drawn into an internet site for abused women, Callie becomes more and more obsessed with revealing the truth about Felix. But as the foundations of Callie’s concern begin to shift and crumble, can her perceptions be trusted?

I am now in full-fledged psychological thriller burnout. I have to admit that I feel a bit more justified in my feelings on the subject after reading Emily Martin’s article on Bookriot entitled “Why We Should Stop Searching for the Next Gone Girl” (warning: spoilers for Gone Girls, The Couple Next Door, and The Girl on the Train). Martin makes the point that in the rush to achieve to runaway success Gillian Flynn did with Gone Girl, folks have been cranking out similar stories, each trying on their own brand of mental illness to up the suspense. However, as much as Amy Dunne was a psychopathic bitch, her flaws and intelligence made her a complex and compelling (if horrible) character. As Emily Martin points out in her article, Flynn was able to give us a leading female character who was pretty much unlikeable in every way.

The inevitable consequence of Flynn’s success, according to Martin

. . . is a new and equally problematic female character archetype – the unwieldy off-the-rails woman. This woman is not any more complicated than the “strong female character.” Her craziness is not a personality, and her bouts of insanity that not even she can control allow for absolutely any twist possible that the writer wants to imagine.

And with this, I can finally put my finger on what has been bugging me about this genre recently. None of the recent protagonists of these books have been more complex than their mental illness. And while our current protagonist, Callie, is probably the weirdest I’ve seen yet, simply being crazy does not a compelling character make.

The books also by necessity rely heavily on inevitable plot twist(s), and this one is no exception. The problem is, that while reading these books (much like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie) we are looking into every crevice and casually uttered word for said twist. With that amount of scrutiny, any surprises the plot might hold are going to be guessed long before the climax; if not from the evidence at hand, then simply by trying to think of ways to make the ending more shocking.

I apologize that this review is less about White Bodies specifically and more about the genre as a whole, but the field is crowded at the moment, and it takes a truly remarkable talent to separate oneself from the pack. White Bodies, unfortunately, does not do this. Callie is simply one more protagonist who’s mental illness is used to facilitate contortions of the plot.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

virgin of the wind rose.jpg

The Virgin of the Wind Rose: A Christopher Columbus Mystery-Thriller by Glen Craney

While investigating the death of her fiance in Ethiopia, State Department newbie Jacqueline “Jac” Quartermane stumbles upon a mysterious word puzzle in an underground church in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Determined to solve the puzzle, she finds herself thrown into an ancient Christian mystery. Her investigations spark a wide ranging race to resurrect the Temple of Solomon. Running parallel to this, we travel back to 1452, where a Portuguese secret society seeks to avert the Spanish crown’s designs to bring about judgement day.

If you’re thinking that this sounds very like The Da Vinci Code, you’re not alone. The promise of an interesting mystery tied to a historical thriller sounded like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the main character, Jacqueline Quartermane, is a literalist, born-again Christian. Her mentor is a megachurch pastor with most of the GOP in his pocket. Forgive me for saying this, but I find the idea of cheering for someone like Jac to be repellent. The historical portions of the plot were interesting, although the time jumps did get confusing at times. It was the modern-day portions, with Jac at the helm, that ultimately turned me off this book. Perhaps I’m letting my personal feelings have too much sway, but especially in this day and age I find I have no patience for the religious set. If this book had been more secular, like The Da Vinci Code, it would have been much more palatable for me.

So, this book was entirely not to my tastes. For those who don’t mind the overly-religious bits, you may still enjoy it. One person’s tastes are not the be-all and end-all (which is the whole point of this blog). But for myself, I had to say no.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Visionary Mayan Queen by Leonide Martin

Mayan Queen.jpg

The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque by Leonide Martin

This is a historical fiction novel about Yohl Ik’nal, a Maya queen who ascended to the throne of Palenque in 583CE. The book is the first in a trilogy detailing the early years of Yohl Ik’nal and her reign.

I didn’t finish the book. I had my doubts when it began with Yohl Ik’nal meditating in the jungle, then abruptly mind traveling to speak with a young (Scottish? Scandinavian?) girl who also visited the “realm of faeries.” While I’m not opposed to fantasy, I generally expect historical fictions to trend more towards history than outright fiction.

I also found the dialogue to be stilted and lacking in subtlety. Characters simply state their feelings to one another, or allow the omniscient narrator to tell us exactly what so-and-so was thinking. While Maya culture is formal and regimented, I feel there are better ways to demonstrate this than through awkward dialogue. Along these lines, Martin also gives the reader explanations and translations for various aspects of Maya life, often in parentheses within the paragraph. While this isn’t entirely a bid idea, this approach is more appropriate for an academic work; within a fictional setting the effect is jarring and tend to take the reader out of the story.

Leonide Martin is a scholar of Maya history, and there is no debating her knowledge. However, her strengths do not seem to lie in the fictional realm. A less fictional, more historical/anthropological work might be better suited to showcase her attention to detail and intimate knowledge of  the subject matter. Something along the lines of The Woman Who Would Be King, by Kara Cooney, which stays mostly within the verifiable history but adds in conjecture by the author would have worked well here.

In all, I feel like the fictional aspects of this book are not as engaging as they could be, and the historical aspects are not well integrated with the fictional portions of the book. Yohl Ik’nal is a fascinating figure, and one certainly deserving of wider attention. Maya history enthusiasts may still want to investigate this book, but this may not be the best for the more casual reader.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. The Visionary Mayan Queen is currently available for purchase.

 

The Curse of the Bridal Chamber

The Curse of the Bridal Chamber

The Curse of the Bridal Chamber By Hunter Murphy

2 out of 5 Stars

I received an advance ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book seemed like it would be a lot of fun. Murder. At a mermaid convention. In the swamps of Florida. A pair of kooky old women as amateur detectives. This had all the makings of a great summer read, something along the lines of a Dave Barry or Carl Hiassen novel.

I tried. I really did, but I couldn’t finish the book. The mermaid convention is just beginning, the old ladies are appropriately saucy, and the dead body shows up within a few chapters. But the way most of the characters interact is so overblown and far from believable, it was hard to read. It was a bit like watching one of those day time reality shows, a Jerry Springer or some such. Most of the characters behavior seems overblown and overly confrontational. And two of the leads, Imogene’s son Billy and his partner, Jackson (who, I presume are not meant to be suspects in this case, as we follow them and the old women from the start of the book), make several choices after the discovery of the body so strange as to defy belief.

I hate not finishing a book, but sometimes it’s for the best.