Mini-Reviews: Chutes & Adders, The Spellman Files, Caliban’s Hour

226. Chutes and Adders by Barbara Block
Publication: Kensington Publishing Corp. (August 1, 1994), Hardcover, 296pp / ISBN 0821745336
Genre: Mystery
Rating: Bin it
Read: November 25-26, 2010
Source: Paperback Swap
Summary from Amazon:

Running a small pet shop that sells a variety of small animals, widow Robin Light becomes the chief suspect in a murder case when her partner is killed by a poisonous saw-backed viper that arrived in an unmarked package.

Review

I feel sort of weird for not liking this one more than I do, because it seems like it’d be right up my alley. Strong female protagonist, little to no romance, decent mystery, thrills and chills, and a theme that isn’t too stupid. However, while Robin herself was fully fleshed out and reasonably functional as a character, none of the other characters were. Robin had depth and layers, but all the rest of them acted like they were playing a role. Even the villain was playing a role, and the big “reveal” at the end with the true killer showing up and explaining their motivation for being a killer read like it was checking stuff off a list. Like, “captured protagonist and tied her to a chair.” Check! “Taunting her and throwing my cleverness in her face.” Check! “Setting up her death in such a way that she can escape at the last moment, a la James Bond.” Check!

Plus the dialogue really fell apart at the end.

223. The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
Publication: Simon & Schuster (March 13, 2007), Hardcover, 353pp / ISBN 1416532390
Genre: Mystery
Rating: Buy it
Read: November 24, 2010
Source: Bought
Summary from Amazon:

Isabel Spellman may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism — but she’s good at her job as a licensed P.I. with her family’s firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people’s privacy comes naturally to Izzy and all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office. Izzy walks an indistinguishable line between Spellman family member and Spellman employee. But when Izzy decides to get out of the family business in search of normalcy, she ends up taking on the most important case of her life.

Review

Where Chutes & Adders fell short of my enjoyment, The Spellman Files did not! Here was everything I liked (see above), plus really excellent writing, a kick ass (albeit weird as hell) family, humor and a great story overall. I wouldn’t want the Spellmans to be related to me– I don’t think I could handle the snooping, as I value my privacy a lot– but I liked that they’re different from other families and that they’re so dedicated to their job (although that leads to some REALLY bad behavior).

Izzy was great, too. She’s flawed and she knows it, but she doesn’t let that stop her from a) trying to find a boyfriend and b) getting on with her life. It was a big treat to have a character like that for once, mostly because it’s so unusual.

221. Caliban’s Hour by Tad Williams
Publication: Harper Prism (December 1994), Hardcover, 201pp / ISBN 0061052043
Genre: Historical Fiction (?), Fantasy
Rating: Bin it
Read: November 21-22, 2010
Source: Paperback Swap
Summary from Amazon:

Beautiful Miranda is compelled to listen to the Beast Caliban’s dark tale of desires and wizardry in spite of his ugliness as he weaves a story of passion and longing and creates the magic of love.

Review

Ugh, I don’t know how to write about this. For one thing, the summary up there doesn’t even really make any sense. It’s not that Miranda has to listen to his version of The Tempest in spite of his ugliness, it’s that he’s forcing her to listen to him by way of threatening her physically. He says he’s going to kill her and that no one can help her and that he DESERVES her attention because of both that and the fact that she and her father ruined his life.

Now, I think the main point Caliban’s Hour is trying to drive at is that Caliban-before-Prospero was ignorant but happy, that because Prospero taught Caliban to read and write (and speak) ruined Caliban’s life forever. Also that Miranda somehow enticed Caliban to fall in love with her because she’s so beautiful (and, presumably, because she was the only woman on the island at all). It’s about the power of words and the dichotomy of civilisation and wilderness (or wildness). Good stuff, I suppose, except it read to ME like “why wouldn’t you sleep with me you stupid whore.”

Caliban’s life was MOSTLY ruined by Prospero taking over the island (colonisation, I guess, except Caliban in this book is actually white like Prospero/Miranda. He’s just “wild” which I guess is equivalent to “uncivilised”) but it was ALSO ruined by Miranda not sleeping with him. Really? He’s blaming Miranda for ruining his life because she didn’t want to have sex with him? That’s just…ARGH. Come on!

Recommended I GUESS if you like reading fanfic about Shakespearean characters, but not if you have even a tiny bit of respect for women. Screw you, Caliban– you big whiner. I wouldn’t want to sleep with you, either.

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