Tuesday, October 4, 2011

book review time: In the Woods (Tana French) and The Borrower (Rebecca Makkai)

I confess....I'm halfway through my next book so have been totally slacking on the book review portion of my blog. 

I feel like I start a lot of reviews with "I don't usually read X," but I'm doing it again anyway.  I really think context is key in reviews since my preferences certainly impact my opinion.  So...I don't usually read detective novels but this one sounded intriguing and had some strong reviews so I decided to give it a whirl.

There are two mysteries at play in In The Woods.  The first happened twenty years prior when two twelve year olds vanished in a wooded area and a third was found clutching a tree and wearing bloodied sneakers with no memory of the events that left him there.  In the current day, the boy has grown into a detective and is investigating the murder of a twelve year old girl in the same woods (he has changed his name and only his partner knows the link). 

I'm falling back to my 3.5 stars.  I'm rounding down simply because I wasn't compelled by the current-day story (which got more pages, though not more emotion).  I was interested in the character of the detective and how his history impacted his life, but had some trouble suspending disbelief that he hadn't been "found out" in terms of his history as a victim.  It is a solid detective story with interesting and unique characters but it just didn't hold me as well as I'd hoped.  I am sure bigger readers of the genre would enjoy it more.  For me, I knew I had to round down when I didn't feel interested in reading the twenty page preview of the next book (focused on another detective we "met" in this book) that followed the novel.

In contrast to my previous read, this book was pretty squarely up my alley.  I definitely put being a reader high on my list of qualities that define me and I have a love for books about readers and books.  I'd actually been looking out for a copy of this one (discounted/used) for a while and was very excited when it arrived.

The protagonist of The Borrower is a children's librarian who pretty much happened upon that line of work when she was looking to use an English degree (a bit of a nitpick here in that I have lots of friends who have gotten master's degrees to pursue library careers and didn't so much buy her falling into the work).  The librarian feels a special attachment to one young patron who shows a love for books but has a very controlling mother who tries to limit his reading choices and sends him to a group intended to reverse suspected homosexual tendencies.  One day, the librarian finds the young boy has run away and is hiding in the library and the two take off on a road trip.

As with many books that I've been anticipating, I did feel a bit let down with this one but I'm still happy to give it 4 of 5 stars.  I enjoyed the young boy's character the most and felt a bit mixed on the librarian.  I did appreciate that the narrator very much acknowledged she might ot have made the smartest choices.  I do like my flawed characters, especially when they are a bit self-aware, and the book clearly didn't attempt to make her actions seem perfect or even heroic (she wants to be a hero, but knows she's a flawed one).  There was a bit of writer-magic in the ending but it also didn't fall victim to the too perfect, all-wrapped-in-a-bow finale....I wasn't thrilled my the former but appreciated the latter.  I'm rambling so will try to sum up...it isn't a book I'd put on a shelf-of-honor but it was a fun read for a book fan (and rewarded being well read with lots of references).

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