Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: 44 (#1) by Jools Sinclair

44 (44, #1)44 by Jools Sinclair

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Abby Craigers drowned in a frozen lake and was pronounced dead for forty four minutes before miraculously returning to life. There is a strange side effect to her rebirth, however, she can only see in black and white--save the colors of the "emotional auras" of the people around her.

The easy, breezy prose, and swift pacing marks this as young adult novel with a clear voice. Abby is a broken protagonist, who has lost her old friends, her star spot on the school soccer team and is struggling in her relationship with her best friend, and possible love interest, Jesse. Regular hospital checkups and psychiatric evaluations mark Abby's days but this depression only serves to paint the canvas of Abby's character, and does not drown the reader in histrionics.

The plot moves at a lightning pace, and is a bit of a familiar one. I think by this point we are all familiar with serial killers, and psychic dreams, and heroines no one believes. Abby confides in her sister, an up and coming reporter who is drowning in trivial small town stories. Abby is having dreams of murders before they happen, and her sister is upon each and every story. Together, the girls set upon investigating the murders themselves and with all the pluck and vigor of classic detective sleuths. A little boy trouble thrown into the mix doesn't hurt proceedings any.

I found this read fun and refreshing, if a bit light. I would have liked to have had a richer sense of surrounding with Abby's color-blind affliction. I was disappointed at an apparent "blooper" in the prose where Abby describes in 1st person the sight of a pink dessert box, which should have been impossible for her to do. (Unless the dessert box was emitting some sort of emotional aura, which would make an entirely different sort of story all together!)

I did find Abby and Kate spunky and likable enough to worry about their welfare, which is always a good thing.

There are no scenes of excessive violence, cursing, or sex. Although, Abby deals with the pains of love, it is not poured all over each page with the smothering treacle that many young adult novels seem to have these days. It really does make a great choice for a super picky parent overseeing their child's reading material.

As this book is the first of a series, the ending does leave off rather abruptly with a hook for more and I must say I won't mind taking a peek at future volumes.

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Book Review: The Missionary and the Beast by John Kenworthy

The Missionary and the BruteThe Missionary and the Brute by John Kenworthy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The opening of this strange, cold tale set in the heart of sweltering Tanzania is a good one. Missionary Jadwin Ross is being pummeled in a creaky interrogation room, accused of a murder he did not commit. There is hardly a better way to open a book, and it hooked me instantly. Ross, as a character, is very clearly defined. Lusty, apathetic at times, and even mean-spirited, Ross is not your garden variety missionary.

He is in charge of a small village in Tanzania, and a flock of American visitors who range from the stereotypical dress-alike married couple, the mother with a problem goth-daughter, and a beautiful guest named Leah. Ross's peers also include a fellow minister, his beautiful bespectacled daughter Imura, and a misogynistic tour guide named Daud.
Imura and Leah are the best defined of the side characters, and both at times objects of Ross's lust. Daud is also well done, a vicious, sharp tongued sulker who becomes a thorn in Ross's side.

In between the day to day goings on of the characters, the story jumps forward to Ross's ordeal in interrogation. The story shines best with all the little details throughout. The Missionary work, Africa, traditions, local colloquialisms, scents, sounds, heat, sweat, smells, all of it shines through from an author who clearly has mastery of his setting and subject. I found it a personal joy to experience this detailed world I'd never previously put much thought to.

Ross himself, however, is a tricky fellow. A man of God, to be sure, and one dedicated to his work. This is outlined with a constant inner monologue, that, to be honest, got old fast for me. The florid quoting of scripture and lofty sentiments muttered over and over, comparing himself to martyrs and to righteous suffering became quite redundant for me to read.

The man of God lapses and quite often, I might add, into another man, an Earthy lusty fellow at that. A disturbing glimpse of his character is shown in a graphic sex scene where the woman in question is degraded to nothing more than a pliable sex toy to satiate Ross's lust.

The center of this novel is sprinkled with mystery and the specter of death. Nevertheless, it did sag somewhat for me. Although I did appreciate the flash-forward format, I still sometimes felt stifled by some of the pacing and befuddled by Ross's increasingly callous nature. I wanted a character to bond with, and Ross remained fiercely resistant to that, no matter how intriguing I found the plot.

A violent, surreal world spills across the pages in the third act however. Bloody, heart pounding, and heartbreaking, with just the right amount of twist, and with no regard at all for expectations, I found myself nodding and smiling at this brilliant final act. A few of the more "infuriating" points I found in the first two acts were actually cleared up for me with the final act and I am so glad to have stuck with it. "The Missionary and the Brute" is an offbeat, uneven thriller but the mastery Mr. Kenworthy has over his setting and the brutal confidence he has in presenting Jadwin Ross to the reader makes this a bizarre, deadly little read.

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