Review: What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know Saturday, Sep 11 2010 

What My Girlfriend Doesn't KnowWhat My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Until two days ago, I had never heard of a novel written in verse. I picked this up to use in a sample unit plan for one of my English Education classes fully expecting to at least appreciate and hopefully like it. I was blown away by not only how well the story was told, but by the story as well. Amazed would not be too strong a word at all.

It didn’t hurt that I identified with Robin Murphy at all, of course. I graduated from high school in 1991. Up until recently, geeks were the social pariahs of my high school. My son has followed in my footsteps, but has a huge clique of friend. I didn’t have that until my senior year. Like Robin, I was mocked in school pretty much all my life. First I was gawky, then I was fat, then I lost the weight, but was just too much of a geek to fit in. Once I graduated and started college, I found myself in much the same situation of finally fitting in. Due to circumstances mostly under my control, I left college and only recently returned. That feeling of being among friends and peers is still very much a part of what I love about it.

Now that my credentials are in order, I must say that Sonya Sones picked up the feelings that I felt in high school with 100% accuracy. Even when I had a girlfriend, things never went right. I didn’t handle the mocking as well as he did, and the girls didn’t either in a couple of cases. I loved Robin’s reaction to temptation. It was very realistic and matched what I think most anyone might do in his situation.

I am a 38-year-old man (or, as Robin would say, 38 and 5/6) who likes getting emotionally invested in the books I read. I found myself alternately angry, cheering, smiling, and even crying (a lot) while reading this book. In fact, my greatest moment of rage and disappointment came when I reached the last page. I turned back and forth twice to make sure I hadn’t skipped a page. I didn’t want it to end.

Alas, all good reads must end, and this was a very good read.

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Impressions: Dean Koontz Monday, Jan 11 2010 

***If spoilers trouble you, skip this review***

Odd Thomas

Good God, I loved this book.  The premise was what hooked me.  That is typically the primary selling point for me.  If the concept is good, I will give the book a try.  Sometimes, the execution of said concept fails to deliver, but this book is not one of those debacles, though it skirts the edge of credulity due to Koontz’s proclivity toward spectacle.

In the book, we meet Odd Thomas.  He seems to be your above average fry cook, but in his off hours – and sometimes during his on hours, too – he sees dead people.  These people tend to want something from Odd, whether it be justice (i. e.: murder victims) or companionship (i. e.: a certain King of Rock & Roll).  Odd is whip-smart and self-deprecating as he narrates his story and, as is typical of Koontz, has a host of colorful side characters in his life.

The humor in this book reminded me very much of “The Dresden Files.”  I found myself going beyond enjoying the story and falling in love with the voice of Odd Thomas himself.  He has a way with words so much that I often found myself forgetting that this was a character written by Dean Koontz.  I thought of him as an entity unto himself, which is the highest compliment any writer can receive.

The plot itself is where I found the primary snarl, though it was a small one.  It’s as though Koontz sincerely wanted to write a story about this bizarre kid with the ability to see the dead, but figured it would never sell unless the story had that BANG, POW, and ZIP that Koontz fans have come to expect.  Thus, the simple murder investigation escalates into a hunt for a potential mass murderer and ends up ***SPOILER ALERT*** being a desperate search for a team of mass murderers intent on killing everyone at a mall.

I follow the KISS Principle when I read books.  In this case, the main character and his quest are so compelling that I gave the over-escalation a chance and was thrilled to have done so.  The story paid off in ways I could have never imagined, though not everyone lived happily ever after.  I think my love of certain characters was substantially boosted due to how they dealt with the aftermath of the story.

So, when I finished the first book, I immediately jumped to the next one in the series.

Forever Odd

If you have watched other Keanu Reeves movies, you will perhaps remember watching The Matrix for the first time.  Maybe you even found yourself thinking, “Wow!  Keanu is actually doing a good job in this flick.”  It was refreshing to see him actually acting and not falling into his typical Ted Theodore Logan antics.

Then came the scene where Morpheus jumped from one building to another with impossible ease.  We all waited with bated breath to see what Keanu would do.  Would he have that Keanu Moment and let Ted slip out?

Then he tilted his head and said it.

“Woah…”

Oh Keanu.  You had to let Ted out, if only for a moment.  So sad.

That was what “Forever Odd” felt like to me.

***Do I need to keep warning about spoilers?***

It started out simple enough, but quickly escalated into this farce about some sincerely screwed-up woman who desperately wanted to see a ghost.  She needs this so bad that she searched out Odd, kidnapped a close friend who was never mentioned in the first book, and held him captive to draw Odd out.  Oh, and this friend has brittle bone disease, so he can’t run.  Oh yeah, she also knows everything about Odd and can almost predict his every move with startling accuracy.

Still, it was a fun book.  I had to swallow the premise like a dose of bad medicine to get the healing goodness of Odd Thomas himself, but it was great to see Odd again.  It felt like that really good friend who you love hanging out with, but he keeps bringing his horrid girlfriend with him.  Then you have to put up with her to hang with your buddy.  But I digress.

Brother Odd

I thought that this would be the book to get the series back on track.  The setting and premise was simple enough: Odd feels the need to escape from life for a time and goes to St. Bartholomew’s Abbey for a little R&R.  While there, chaos ensues, proving that Odd can not run from his gift.  Sounds simple, right?

***Enter Spoilers***

You know that moment in Batman Forever where you finally knew that they were never going to take that particular Batman franchise seriously?  This was that revelation for the Odd Thomas series.  One of the monks is a former physicist who has created a computer model of the innermost fabric of reality.  He creates bone monsters and a Grim Reaper to attack Odd and the other monks, one of whom is a former mobster called Brother Knuckles.

Oh, and Elvis crosses over, which would be sweet, except that he is replaced by… Frank Sinatra.  BANG!  POW!  WOWZERS! Yeesh…

I started to read the next in the series, “Odd Hours.”  I read the Wikipedia article about it and decided that discretion was, indeed, the better part of valor.  I ran for it with my tail between my legs lest the proposed plot completely ruin the entire series in much the same way that “Batman & Robin” ruined my memories of the Batman franchise up until that point.

Oh, the humanity!

So here I am, the aspiring novelist casting aspersions on a well-known novelist.  Brilliant tactic, right?  Well, fear not, true believer.  Next up is my thoughts on “The Husband.”  Here’s a hint: I liked that book quite a bit.

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Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.

~ E.L. Doctorow

 

Listening to: Weezer – Freak Me Out

Impressions: Dean Koontz Sunday, Jan 10 2010 

As you may have noticed, I have read a lot of Dean Koontz this last year.  I just discovered his books just this past year and found parts of his style appealing while other parts lost me.

***If spoilers trouble you, skip this review***

 

The Good Guy

The first of his books that I read was kind of the epitome of both sides of this equation.  I loved the repartee between the main protagonist, Tim Carrier, and the assassin’s target, Linda Paquette, who Tim has to save after inadvertently receiving the hit notice on her.  The contract killer, Krait, is both chilling and entertaining… the latter being true only if you are not on his hit list.  He has bizarre idiosyncrasies that make his scenes some of the best in the book.

That said, the thing that bothered me was how Koontz took one of the main draws of the book (i. e.: what would happen if Joe Schmo accidentally intercepted a killer’s hit contract and had the choice to help the victim) and chickened out at the last minute. 

***This is where the spoilers really kick in, by the way*** 

The story’s protagonist, who was supposedly an average Joe, ends up being a highly-trained Congressional Medal of Honor awarded military hero.  This fact is not revealed until near the end of the story.  It comes off as though Koontz get to the moment of truth and has no idea how a normal guy would be able to take down this expert psycho and says, “Oh wait.  I never really clarified the reason why he has been avoiding any discussion of his past.  Maaaaybe I could make him secretly uber!  That would solve all my problems right there.”

Except that it doesn’t.  It feels like a cop out.  As a reader, I feel like the promise of seeing someone just like me (only a little more buff and manly) take down a contract killer against improbable odds has been broken.  Like when my teacher told the class that any one of us could become President and then I grew up to understand how the system really works.

I was going to cover a few more, but I think this pretty much sums up my growing disillusionment with Dean Koontz.  He is an excellent storyteller who never seems to be happy with just telling a good story.  He wants to add a little zest and zing to his books.  The bad part for me is that I don’t want zest and zing.  I want the good story I was promised.  The added BAM and POW are unnecessary additions that end up taking the original promise of the story away.

I should add that I was sold on Dean Koontz because my friends told me he was a horror writer.  He is not.  Koontz writes thriller and suspense stories, which are not always my cup of tea.  In a recent episode of “Writing Excuses,” the guys explained the core difference between horror and suspense.  In a horror story, the protagonist’s competence must not be equal to the dangers they are facing.  They quoted Stephen King, “Horror is an unknown actress, perhaps the girl next door, cowering in a cabin with a knife in her hands we know she’ll never be able to use.”  That is completely appropriate. 

The protagonist in “The Good Guy” starts out looking like an average brick mason facing a skilled, competent psycho.  When it turns out that he is actually more than equal to the task, it pulls the rug out from under the reader’s expectations.  Now that I have read more of Koontz’s works, I understand that, if you like an equal meeting of forces, you will love his books.  I want the protagonist to be screwed on every front and have a very real possibility of failure.  I really am a cup’s-half-full kind of guy, I swear.

Next: Odd Thomas: The awesome book followed by the series that lost me.

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Although I’ve said a million times that I’m not a horror writer, I do like horror.

~ Dean Koontz

 

Listening to: Roy Orbison – Oh, Pretty Woman

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