Note to literary fiction authors.

Anatomy of Dreams
by Chloe Benjamin and Chloe Krug BenjaminTrade Paperback

And here it is: I don't really need all of my novels to turn into a thriller about halfway through.

Now sure, I know that thrillers are hot and are what is selling these days. But lately it seems like whatever novel I start always has some big sinister twist in the middle, and I really don't need that. Because here's the thing: I'm older now, and I realize I don't really need all that much excitement. To me life itself is the big thriller. And the sinister twist in the middle? Yeah, it's called middle age, and I'm going to be busy for a while seeing if that ends well*, so in the meantime I'd just like to read a good book about some human relationships that I don't have to be in.

The book that made me think that just lately was Chloe Benjamin's The Anatomy of Dreams. Here's some of the copy from the back: "It's 1998, and Sylvie Patterson, a bookish student at a Northern California boarding school, falls in love with a spirited, elusive classmate named Gabe. Gabe is a protege of their charismatic headmaster, Dr. Adrian Keller, a scientist who has staked his career on the therapeutic potential of lucid dreaming...Years later, Sylvie decides to follow Gabe--now a fierce devotee of Keller and his cause--and they assume a peculiar, nocturnal existence, traveling from the redwood forests of Eureka to the New England coast."

Now, that wouldn't make you think that the book was particularly thriller-ish, would you? Maybe a bit coming of age, maybe a bit love triangle-y or weirdly co-dependent, but not necessarily a thriller. It wasn't badly done, it just wasn't quite what I was expecting. I suppose I should have known it probably wouldn't be my cuppa when I saw the blurb from Lorrie Moore on it. I am no fan of Lorrie Moore.

But what about you? Finding that every novel you pick up these days is trying to be noir-ish? Or is that just me?

*And by ends well I mean I hope my middle age is followed by an old age that is just long enough and no longer. You know what I'm saying? That's not too much to ask, is it?

The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Water Knife
by National Park Service and National Park ServiceHardcover

So, just a couple of months ago, I was thinking about dystopian novels. What I thought was, someone should write a dystopian novel that looks a lot like our society does now, but just carries all our boring old unsexy problems to their logical and horrifying conclusions. You know, like the unsexy problem of how our health care costs in this country are going to bury us all alive. (I think I actually had this thought after trying to figure out health insurance plans and medical bills.)

And, lo and behold, Paolo Bacigalupi has come along and done in it his novel The Water Knife. But what's the unsexy problem he follows to its logical conclusion? Oh yeah, that would be the one where we're wasting the natural resource of water like we're never going to run short of it. Now, on most days my worries run along very small and predictable lines: I hope no one needs to visit Urgent Care today. I sure would like to make a bit more money so I never have to staff a public library desk at 9 p.m. again. I hope people I love who are aging and lonely don't suffer too much as all our times start to run out. You know, those sorts of things. But sometimes I like to treat myself to BIG worries about the future and the world, and the one worry I land on the most is that something is going to go awry with our water supply. (I'm not alone in this concern.) And not only because we need to ingest it to live. Primarily because I know that if I couldn't start the day with a hot shower, I would want to kill someone (mostly myself) all the time.

The book is set mainly in Phoenix, Arizona (a Phoenix going down the tubes, with its own #PhoenixDowntheTubes hashtag to match) and bounces in perspective among the various main characters of Angel Velasquez (the Water Knife himself, employed by a cutthroat administrator doing anything to ensure her own city of Las Vegas's water rights); journalist Lucy Monroe, who decides at a very bad time that she wants to write bigger stories about the growing ugliness in the fights for water, and Maria Villarosa, a refugee from Texas (very bad things have happened to Texas in this book's near future) doing whatever she can to survive between criminals and non-criminals driven to the criminal because they are struggling. And really? It's horrifying. And yet it ends on a very interesting, not completely horrifying note.

And it's well worth the read. I thought some of the characters' actions toward the end started becoming a bit out of character, but that's a minor quibble. I'll say this: I thought it was about a million times better than Lauren Groff's novel Fates and Furies*, and everyone fell all over that one as the best novel of the year. I think this book got robbed of that title.

*Every review of this book that I read said it was such an astounding take on the complexities of marriage. Yeah, whatever. To me it just seemed like some overblown, completely unrealistic, Greek-tragedy-meets-magical-realism literary fiction novel.

Holy depressing books, Batman: The Silent Wife

The Silent Wife
by A.S.A. Harrison

Third and last in our series of fiction books I read, three in a row, that kicked me in the gut.

Today's book is A.S.A. Harrison's novel The Silent Wife, and I'm telling you, if you haven't yet read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (or even if you have), kick that one to the curb and read this one instead. In all fairness, I think Gone Girl was meant to be just a thriller, whereas this one is a thriller with a bit more literary style behind it. This is how it begins:

"At forty-five, Jodi still sees herself as a young woman. She does not have her eye on the future but lives very much in the moment, keeping her focus on the everyday. She assumes, without having thought about it, that things will go on indefinitely in their imperfect yet entirely acceptable way. In other words, she is deeply unaware that her life is now peaking, that her youthful resilience--which her twenty-year marriage to Todd Gilbert has been slowly eroding--is approaching a final stage of disintegration, that her notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable than she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her." (pp. 3-4.)

Now, that makes you think this is going to be a straight-up thriller. But it's not. And in their own "imperfect yet entirely acceptable way" (I love that phrase), the main characters here are both somewhat sympathetic and likable.* For a long time the story just moves along, making you think it is one thing (quite skillfully), but the middle, there's a couple of sucker punches that I was completely not expecting. Maybe you will--there are hints throughout the book. But I did not, and the punches were very sad ones.

I think my one-sentence review to Mr. CR was, "this book is horrifying--in a good way." And that sort of sums up how I felt about all three of these depressing books. They made me think; I thought they were good books; but can I, in all conscience, actually RECOMMEND them to others to read? I just don't know. What do you do when you want to suggest scary or depressing books to others?

*Unlike in Gone Girl, where I found the husband and wife both to be completely uninteresting, unlikable people. Which hampered my caring about them, or the story, in any way whatsoever.

Even I have a thriller weak spot.

by Robin Cook

Oh, Robin Cook. How I enjoy you and your terrible, terrible writing.

If you've not heard of him, Robin Cook is the author of multiple bestselling medical thrillers. He is perhaps best known for the thriller Coma, which became a well-received movie by the same title.* I personally know him best for an even earlier book, the (non-medical) thriller Sphinx, which featured a feisty Egyptologist who stumbled onto an antiquities scam while in Egypt. As I first read this book when I was about eleven, when I actually wanted to BE an Egyptologist, you can imagine that was a reading experience that stuck with me.

Cook's medical thrillers are almost always based on some recent medical breakthrough or topic; in this one, Cell, the focus is on a medicine app called iDoc. While being tested (and seeming very successful at becoming patients' virtual primary care provider), iDoc eventually starts taking all that it learns about patients and uses that information in some unorthodox ways. I'll give him this: his books are all that thrillers should be: quick reads (I plowed through this one in couple of days) and somewhat unnerving (especially for someone who already distrusts the medical establishment). Hilariously, they also always offer one tryst scene, and here is the one from this book:

"With a certain desperation the two old friends hesitantly clung to each other, then abandoned restraint. They tore off their robes. Sinking into the canopied bed, they devoured each other, making mad, passionate love. For a few paradisiacal moments they allowed their minds and bodies to be completely absorbed in the giving and receiving of pleasure. Some time later, locked in an embrace as if afraid their coupling had been a dream and that the other was going to disappear, they fell into an exhausted, sublime sleep." (p. 337.)

Ah, canopied beds. So great for sinking into. But what can I say? Even a hardcore nonfiction reader sometimes needs a good fiction reading vice.

*Note to my sister: it featured Tom Selleck!

Max Barry's Lexicon.

by Max Barry

After my disappointments this summer with Max Brooks's World War Z and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, I was very, very glad to chance across Max Barry's spectacular novel Lexicon.*

The novel tells two concurrent stories: that of Wil Parke, who in the very first chapter is abducted by two men out of an airplane bathroom because he's something called the "outlier," and Emily Ruff, a runaway who is scouted by an exclusive school that trains "poets," or people who can peg your specific personality type and use that knowledge and language to control you through words and sounds.

It sounds like a lot to take in, but Barry's writing is crisp and the narrative is easy enough to follow (I'm not a fiction reader who enjoys or understands real convoluted plots, so if I can follow the story, I know it's pretty "follow-able"). The one thing that does get tricky is that the book's timeline jumps around a bit, and sometimes I found that hard to figure out, but as noted, when I read fast (which is how I read fiction, mostly) I don't pay as much attention to detail as I should.

The book was a good read, but it was even better as food for thought about language and privacy rights (with "newsy" interludes sprinkled throughout, like Internet quizzes and items about cover-ups). Trust me, after reading this book, you'll feel slightly differently about taking quizzes in Facebook and that pop up in every browser window (most often pegged to your Google subject searches). 

I also enjoyed this book because it gave Mr. CR and I a lot to chat over. Libraries may not own enough copies of this one to make it feasible, but I think it would make a fantastic book club read.

No text snippets from this one, I just want you to read it. But I did enjoy this bit, from the acknowledgments: "And, hey. You. Thanks for being the kind of person who likes to pick up a book. That's a genuinely great thing. I met a librarian recently who said she doesn't read because books are her job and when she goes home, she just wants to switch off. I think we can agree that's as creepy as hell."

*And I owe Mr. CR for the favor: he's the one who requested the book from the library.

Another disappointing bestseller (to me, anyway).

For whatever reasons, this summer I have been taking a look at a few bestselling novels, just to see if I've been missing anything.

Turns out, I haven't been.

So after I was underwhelmed by World War Z, I turned to the Thriller genre and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 65 weeks now.

And yes, I should really have known better. Thrillers and I are just not a good mix.

So the premise of the book is deceptively simple: Amy Dunne disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary. Has there been foul play? Is her husband Nick the source of that foul play? The story is told in the alternating voices of Amy and Nick, both before and after the disappearance. I won't tell you any more; I don't want to give away any spoilers, and if you're interested, you can read an actual review here.

But I will be up front with you about how I screwed this book up for myself: I read about 150 pages, and then I read the last few pages just to see how it ended, because I didn't have time to read the whole book in one sitting, and I didn't really want to read it anymore. (Although I did go back over the next few days and read the intervening pages, just for actual closure.)

I know. Mr. CR was appalled.* I told him that I already had heard enough about the book that I kind of knew what happened anyway, so it wasn't that big a deal.

But knowing the ending didn't really change what I thought were some of the weak points of the book: namely, Amy was portrayed as an almost alarmingly smart person, and yet she did several quite stupid things over the course of the narrative. Also: I didn't find Amy or Nick particularly likable or interesting characters. Was that on purpose, I wonder? And last but not least: plot holes.

So there you have it. This girl is gone too, back to nonfiction.

*Mr. CR liked the book better than I did, but wasn't all that crazy about it either.

A disappointing thriller.

FaceI do not read a lot of thrillers or a lot of fiction, but if I see new books out by an author I've previously enjoyed, I'll almost always give it a try. This was the case with Eli Gottlieb's new suspense novel, The Face Thief.

Earlier I had read and enjoyed, although I can't remember a thing about its plot, Gottlieb's novel Now You See Him. Like, really enjoyed. Not only on a thriller level but also on a literary level. In this new book, Gottlieb is similarly ambitious with the plotlines and style. The book is about a young woman named Margot, who develops her skills of reading and manipulating people. Ostensibly she does this primarily to men, primarily to wreck their lives (she runs a scam to bilk one man out of his retirement nest egg, and ruins another's marriage), but I don't feel the author ever really gave a compelling reason for why she was doing so, outside of the usual "rocky childhood" issues (the words used on the book jacket, not mine).

The style of the book is ambitious, with several storylines coming together in the end--an internal monologue of Margot's, as she recovers from a serious head injury, and two others told from the points of view of two of her victims. And it did keep me reading. But I did not find the ending particularly satisfying and throughout I never felt like Margot was developed as anything other than a blank evil slate. The book is short--248 pages--and reads quickly (I'm actually surprised it was that long, I had the idea it was much shorter), so I wouldn't have minded another fifty pages or so if the author could have wrapped things up a bit more satisfactorily. I'd say pass on this one--read Now You See Him instead.

*And I found one of the victims to be a complete dick. I was rather cheering for Margot to best him, myself.

Here's a surprise: another thriller I didn't enjoy.

Before I go to sleep tonight I have to tell you about the utterly disappointing reading experience that I had with S. J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep.

Sleep This novel's been getting a lot of buzz, and I understand that the author is being heralded as a prodigious talent (who was accepted into the new Faber Academy Writing a Novel course, where this novel was completed). I think it's being marketed as a thriller, although whether it should actually be called a thriller or a suspense novel is a fight I'll leave up to people who do more reading in those genres.

This novel worked in that I had to finish it for some closure, and in that it was a quick read, which seems to be what most people desire in a thriller. Christine is a middle-aged woman who wakes up every morning not remembering any of her life that came after her "accident," which her husband Ben, with whom she lives, tells her happened when she was twenty-nine. Each day, therefore, is a similar one of getting up, being told who she is and what happened, and then whiling away the day at home until Ben comes home and they spend time together. Until, that is, Christine starts secretly meeting with a doctor who has some ideas for how to help her regain her memory, including the suggestion that she start a journal (which he will call her about every day, to remind her of their treatment and to read the journal).

So far so good. And for about 50 pages I was actually interested. But then it slowed down and I started to get the inkling that the solution to the suspense part of the novel was going to be pretty simple. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: if I'm figuring out the mystery, the mystery is TOO EASY. I then shot myself in the foot and read the last ten pages, which I do a lot with mysteries*, but which pretty much confirmed what I already knew. In all the only feeling I can sum up about this one is "meh."** But that's largely the way I feel about thrillers anyway, so no news there.

*I know you're not supposed to do that with mysteries, but it's just habit now. And if it's a good mystery I'm reading, I don't mind...I read the end, then just go back to whatever page I was on and finish the whole thing with no less enjoyment. It's too late to change now--once I read all the Agatha Christies that way the habit was formed.

**Mr. CR read this one too, even though I tried to warn him off about it. He was liking it for a quite a while, but last night when I was reading something else he came into the room to discuss what he thought were a few of the gaping plot holes and the abrupt ending. I agreed with him completely, and also couldn't help reminding him that I tried to spare him the time of reading the whole thing, he just didn't listen. Because that's just the super-special wifely way I roll.

The Great Fiction Reading Adventure of 2010: Part 4

Today's feature is a double: two thrillers for the price of one!

Monkeewrench I'd been meaning to read P.J. Tracy's Monkeewrench for ages and finally got it done. For one thing, it's the first book in a popular thriller series; for another, it's written by a mother-and-daughter team, and I always find co-written books, if not great reads, at least interesting to consider from a mechanical point of view (how did they work together? Did one person come up with the plot and the other person do the writing? etc.). It's also been heralded here in the Midwest for its dual setting in Minnesota and Wisconsin.*

As is typically the case with thrillers, the plot is not really the point, but here it is: An uber-religious couple is found shot dead in a church in Wisconsin. At the same time that law enforcement there is trying to unravel that case, a series of grisly murders is playing out in Minneapolis. What do those murders have to do with a software/gaming company called Monkeewrench? Well, the murders are copycat versions of murder scenario's in the company's new crime investigation game, several of which have been previewed on the company's website. Is somebody who accessed the website re-creating the murders, or is it one of the employees of Monkeewrench, all of whom, by the way, clearly have their own dangerous secrets?

And again, as is typically the case with thrillers, I had to read the whole thing--so the prose was clearly compelling. And actually, for a thriller, the character development was pretty good too. I particularly liked the feisty head of Monkeewrench, Grace MacBride. So yeah, okay read. But, unfortunately, the thriller genre and I are destined never to be one. For one thing, somewhere in the middle, I always desire simply to be done with the book, at which case I either start skimming to finish or I simply read the last couple of chapters and call it a day. I don't know why this is. Secondly, I always feel vaguely dirty when finishing them--they never seem like something I should have enjoyed. Weirdly, I don't have this problem when reading True Crime books.

Ritual The other thriller was Mo Hayder's Ritual, which again, I plowed all the way through (you can't really read these books slowly, I find--if there's one thing these authors are really, really good at, it's pulling you through chapters and making it hard for you to ever put the book down until you're done). Ritual was a bit more disturbing than Monkeewrench; Hayder's a Brit author and they just seem to do DARK, even in thrillers, better than American authors. Her book opens with police diver Flea Marley finding a hand--that's it--in a small inlet in the port town of Bristol. The greater scheme the hand was part of--having to do with the city's underground and some unsavory ritual practices being adapted from their African roots to very modern criminal settings--is quite complex, but readers are warned this is one of your more graphic variety thrillers.

Hayder was recommended to me a long time ago, by a thriller-reading friend, for her book Birdman, which was also creepy as hell. I can find no fault with Hayder's writing, plotting, or characterization, and of course I love her British tone--but the fact remains that when I was done with this book I just felt sick, and didn't really want to talk about it at all.** I just don't enjoy ending books on that note, so why do it?

*Mr. CR liked Monkeewrench okay, but was endlessly annoyed at this quote: "'I am not one of your abuse cases, Sharon, and I don't need analysis from a kid with a penny-ante U of W psych degree, so give it a rest.'" They're referring to the UW-Madison, which anyone from Wisconsin knows is referred to as "the UW." He thought, even if one of the authors was from Minnesota, not Wisconsin, they should still know that. Mr. CR can be very demanding about the details, and that's why we love him.

**This does not mean I think people who love thrillers are sick or wrong. I routinely read True Crime and other disturbing NF titles that would disgust most people--three of my favorite books of all time are a true crime classic, a book about torture, and the true story of the assassin who was hired to kill the Palestinians who killed the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics--so I'm not judging anyone else.

Summer suspense.

Lately I have been trying to read more suspense and thriller books, because it's a genre I know hardly anything about, and it's only growing in popularity. In fact, one of my librarian friends tells me that many books that would have been published in years past as "mysteries" are now being published as "thrillers," because thrillers are more popular.

Now, I am not qualified to say what makes a thriller a thriller, or a suspense novel a suspense novel, or how they differ (and how they all differ from mysteries). If you want to talk about the nuances of nonfiction genres, like True Crime or Micro-histories, I could argue all day about those. But novels? I'm just not fussy enough to make the distinction.

Haunted All of that said, I did recently read Erin Hart's novel Haunted Ground, and really enjoyed it. I think I'm going to call it suspense, because, although it kept me wanting to turn the pages, I tend to think of "thrillers" as James Patterson-esque hack books, with two-page chapters and widely spaced text, with lots of chapter-ending cliffhangers and very little in the way of character development or graceful prose. This book was different; actually, when I started it, I thought the text was going to be a bit too dense. But once I got about thirty pages in, the author had me hooked.

The story is this: an Irish farmer, digging his own peat for fuel, comes across a perfectly preserved human head. The authorities call Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin, both of whom have some expertise about such "bog bodies," and soon they find themselves investigating both the historical mystery of who the head belonged to, as well as the more modern mystery of the disappearance of the wife and child of the local British "lord of the manor." Sparks may or may not fly between Maguire and Gavin; I'm not telling. All told there's a couple of great mysteries here, plus lots of fascinating information about British and Irish history.

I'm giving it a big thumbs up (it reminded me, a bit, of another one of my favorite British suspense authors, Minette Walters), and I'm excited to get the next two books in the series. Suspense novels may actually be making a little inroad into my reading heart.

That's enough mystery for a while.

After I read Lisa Scottoline's surprisingly amusing essay collection Why My Third Husband Will be a Dog a couple of weeks ago, I made the effort to read one of her mystery novels, for which she is much better known (most of her fiction titles frequently make the bestseller lists). I picked up the first title in her Mary DiNunzio series, Everywhere that Mary Went.

I enjoyed the novel tolerably well, by which I mean I largely liked it, was motivated to finish it, and didn't feel like Ms. Scottoline was a hack (a la James Patterson) when I was done. This is really all I ask of my mystery novels (which, with the exception of Agatha Christie novels, which I LOVE and consume and regularly re-read, are not books that I read all that often).

Scottoline The story is engagingly simple: attorney Mary DiNunzio, a lifelong Philadelphia resident, is stressed because she is trying to make partner in her law firm. It doesn't help that her husband was killed by a hit-and-run driver a year previously, or that she is receiving weird and vaguely threatening anonymous notes and phone call hang-ups. Legal cases and Mary's growing suspicions of everyone around her ensue, all leading to a brisk conclusion with a suitably icky perp.

It was okay, but I don't need to read any more of her mysteries.* For one thing, I think most attorneys hate their careers, so I've never been interested in "legal thrillers" (I also usually get bored by the complexities of the stories and cases in books by authors like John Grisham). For another, I always feel vaguely unsatisfied when I finish even skillfully done genre books. I know that sounds book-snobby as hell, but I can't help it. I think it's because I try to lead an escapist life, so escapism is the last thing I need in my reading--there, I want good, thoughtful prose, characters who aren't developed primarily for their potential to star in a series, or some new factual or fun information or thoughts to ponder. It's just the way I roll.

*It didn't help my enjoyment of the situation that I finished the book as I was sitting at the auto mechanic's, feeling like I was getting screwed. I don't know that I was, but as a girl at the mechanic's, that's just always the way I feel. ("Look! It's a girl! With a checkbook! Make up something plausible sounding and show her something questionable-looking on her car to pad the bill!") It put me in a bad mood.

My new favorite subgenre: Art Thrillers.

By and large I am not a big Thriller reader (see earlier tirade against a favorite thriller author of many, Lee Child). But I find that there is one subgenre of thrillers that makes it through the chink in the nonfiction armor of my reading heart: Art Thrillers.

Which is hilarious, because I don't know anything about art. Scratch that. I know that I like to look at art. But I never took an Art Appreciation class (big mistake, that, what the hell was I doing in college?) and so couldn't tell a Monet from a Manet, or name you any artistic style outside of Impressionism. Wait: Cubism. That's one too, right? So I can name two styles.

Garden But I LOVED Arturo Perez-Reverte's novel The Flanders Panel, and any other time art is involved (even in nonfiction), I'm enthralled.* It was no surprise, then, that I loved David Hewson's thriller The Garden of Evil, which is about an Italian police detective, Nic Costa, and his pursuit of a shadowy killer who is apprehended in the presence of two dead bodies and a lost Caravaggio painting, but who escapes and manages to kill Costa's wife in the bargain. I loved everything about this novel; its atmosphere, the Italian location, the description of Caravaggio's paintings, and shortish sections divided into shortish chapters (but longer than three pages, mind). But my very favorite thing about this novel?

The art expert that the Italian police turn to is a nun named Agata Graziano. Actually, she's not a nun, she's a sister (she didn't take the final vows), and she's awesome. I enjoyed this exchange between her and Detective Costa:

"'[Call me ] Agata, please. When I am here, I am here as an academic. When I am at home, you can call me 'Sister.' Except you are not allowed in my home. So the point is moot.'

'I consider myself both enlightened and chastised.'

She laughed. 'Oh...a sarcastic detective. I like that. Convents lack sarcasm. Throw it at me as much as you like." (p. 76.)

She's one of the best and strongest female characters I've ever come across in fiction, and she's totally unique. She also knows a bunch of other nuns, who play a role in the novel's conclusion and who work to exact their own type of justice. Awesome.

I'm actually joining this series in the middle; there's several earlier books featuring Nic Costa, and the first title is A Season for the Dead. I know Sister Agata won't be in it, but I'm going to try it all the same. Have a good weekend, all.

*Matthew Hart's The Irish Game, about art theft, is one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time.

Is it me or is it the book?

Over the weekend I read Kate Atkinson's well-reviewed and bestselling novel Case Histories. It's a literary crime/suspense novel featuring former police detective and current private investigator, Jackson Brodie, and the three different cases he's brought in to investigate: a little girl's disappearance (which happened in 1970); the seemingly random attack on an eighteen-year-old office worker; and a woman's post-partum stress and her murderous attack on her husband.

Case It totally sucked me in; I wasn't really able to put it down until I was done. I liked the characters, including Jackson Brodie, and of course, Kate Atkinson is a British author, lending her narrative that certain British something that I can't define, but I usually recognize and always love.

And yet?

When I was done with the novel I felt bad. There's no more nuanced way to put it. And I don't know why that was. It just made me sad. It's not shocking in subject matter, but throughout the story the author does provide glimpses of the nasty underbelly of her stories. It was actually quite well done; Atkinson did a nice job of slipping the ugly in and not reveling in its descriptions. (I wonder if that didn't almost make it worse.) So what bothered me?

I gave it a little thought, and eventually shrugged and marked it up to the mood I was in the day I read the book. I do believe that one's mood can affect the reading experience, so I was satisfied with that. (Although doubts still niggle--I've read a lot uglier books, like Irvine Welsh's Crime*--and liked them, so is playing the mood card the easy out?) And, I can't say I was completely unpleased with my personal reaction. Sometimes I feel like I'm not much of a book "reviewer," in that I believe in saying what I think about a book, even if I didn't like it; but I do like to think there's a difference between calling a book bad and recognizing that a book is good, but simply not for me. (Hence the two categories in the sidebar; "Phoning it in" is for the bad books, "Not for Me," well, is self-explanatory.)

Case Histories was a good book. Why it made me so unhappy I don't know. When I want to figure it out I might pick up its sequel, One Good Turn, make a note of the mood I'm in when I read it, and see how it makes me feel.**

*Okay, this is really weird, but if you search Powell's for "welsh crime," the top titles, several of them nonfiction, all feature similar cover art of people holding hands with or standing near children, photographed from the back. Did the cover designer for Welsh's book know that?

**I know, life's too short to read books you don't love. But, honest to pete, charting my reading experiences and reactions is a hobby. Then, when people pick on me for not being very well-rounded in my hobbies, I have my own defense: "I don't only read." They don't really have to know that my other hobbies include making notes of my reading experiences, writing about reading, touring area libraries, visiting bookstores when I travel, and watching BBC adaptations of British novels.

Nope. Not for me. (Part 2.)

Welcome back to this second part in a series about my unenjoyment of Lee Child's thriller Killing Floor!

So yesterday we learned about one of my reading "deal-breakers," namely, military and ex-military characters. Today's subject is even more unreasonable (are you surprised?):

Thrillers piss me off.

Thrillers, by their very nature, are manipulative. Particularly when they're done well. They are often written with chapters that are two to five pages long, with lots of short action words, lots of action, period, and often some punchy dialogue. Their chapters often end with tiny cliffhangers. They usually set forth some sort of puzzle that the reader's supposed to want to solve, or else they offer suspenseful foreboding, making you wonder what's going to happen to the characters next. They are called page-turners because they are designed to make you want to turn the pages faster. And you know what? I resent that.

This is the point where Mr. CR would say I am over-thinking my reading (or, in all honesty, my mother would tell me I over-think everything). But I do not like being manipulated. If I wanted to be manipulated I would go to a full-time job with a boss schooled in management techniques who would try to motivate me using the "levity effect" or "total quality management" or some other bullshit scheme. I do not need to be manipulated in my downtime. When I finished Killing Floor, which I had to do, and quickly, because I'd been manipulated into needing the ending, I felt angry, just like I'd felt when I finished Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Yes, I'd cried over it, and was pissed that I'd cried, because I felt that the author had manipulated me into it.

And here's where I have to ask the question I invariably have to ask after I've totally started babbling about a book and my reaction to it: Does any of this make sense?

Okay. We're done here. I'd leave you with a cliffhanger but I don't want you to feel manipulated into reading this blog tomorrow. I will share my favorite part of reading this book, however. It was a book I checked out from the library, and at one point in the narrative, there was this sentence: "'Pluribus?' she said. 'Isn't that something to do with politics? Like on the podium when the president gives a speech?'"

In the library copy that I had, someone had crossed out "podium" with pencil and written in "lecturn." That made me very happy. (And it didn't really manipulate me into feeling happy, either.) I couldn't decide what was cuter: that someone felt strongly enough to write in "lectern," or that they'd spelled it "lecturn." What's your vote?

Nope. Not for me. (Part 1.)

Every now and then, reading outside of one's favorite genres or comfort zone can be a very good idea. I say this for at least two reasons: 1. it is always good to see what other people like to read, in a "can't we all get along" sort of way; and 2. It makes you that much gladder to get back to your preferred type of reading.

Killing Floor (Jack Reacher)Rarely had I felt so glad to get back to nonfiction than after forcing myself through Lee Child's thriller Killing Floor, the first in his popular Jack Reacher series. Actually, "forcing through" is the wrong phrase. I did read the whole thing, and I raced through it, which is what you're supposed to do with thrillers. More on that later.

One reason it was not for me? Reacher is ex-military. I am to the point where I can't read anything with remotely military characters. Even ex-military characters. It makes me too sad to think of all these servicepeople out there, moving from base to base and raising children feeling no ties to and no particular fondness for anyplace. Not to mention growing up and continuing the lifestyle themselves. It is close-minded of me, and probably wrong, and there you have it. Not to mention, how in the hell could someone as "lone wolf" as this character is made out to be have managed to stay in the military so long?

I'm still forming my thoughts on this one, so I'll end it there for today. I just thought the ex-military thing was an interesting stumbling block, and a good reminder that even when a book is written serviceably well (the writing here is roughly one thousand times better than that of James Patterson), you just never know what's going to be a deal-breaker in a particular book, for any particular reader. Doesn't make it a bad book. Maybe just not right for readers with close-minded hang-ups about the military. And really, how could anyone predict that?*

More tomorrow. I know, you're all just on the edges of your seats, aren't you?

*I throw this out there because a lot of times librarians, bookstore staff, and anyone who suggests books to readers takes it personally when someone doesn't love a book the way we think they should. It's not personal. It's proof that reading is a mystery, and people are a mystery. And a little mystery is necessary in life, let's face it.