Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book 23 - The Talented Mr. Ripley

By Patricia Highsmith

I’m surprised at myself for not being aware of Patricia Highsmith sooner - she has such a deliciously sardonic yet razor-sharp view of human nature. I’d already seen the Anthony Minghella movie when it came out in 2000, and even though it was a very good film and quite well-cast, it nevertheless tainted my own personal envisioning of the novel. I can’t help but picture the big stars Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow in their respective roles. I hate it when that happens!

In any case, TTMR was excellent. I’ve mentioned before in my review of A Suspension of Mercy how Highsmith has a way of making you relate to her characters, no matter how unlikable or despicable they may be. When characters get themselves into crazy or self-destructive situations the choices they make, however irrational, are understandable according to their motive and reasoning. This makes for intelligent and satisfying suspense.

TTMR was published a decade before ASoM, so Highsmith was on the right track for her characterization of Tom Ripley. The title itself describes the basic premise of an ordinary young man who discovers he has some special talents indeed. In a way, the novel is like a twisted version of A Portrait of the Serial Killer As a Young Man. By all accounts, Tom Ripley sounds like a very scary dude. But the story begins with Tom leading a rather unhappy mediocre existence in NYC and you kinda feel sorry for the guy as he seems kind of stuck in a rut and lacks the resources to get himself out.

Then our dear Tom is presented with an opportunity to go to Europe for the first time with the task of bringing home an errant millionaire’s son, Dickie Greenleaf. Tom is completely enthralled by Dickie and wants more than anything to be his friend. At first Dickie genuinely enjoys Tom’s company, but soon enough gets the creepy feeling that his new friend may like him just a little too much. And of course it doesn’t help that Dickie’s girlfriend Marge insinuates that Tom might be gay. It’s in meeting Dickie that Tom realizes his true nature. Does Tom really want to be with Dickie, or does he actually want to be Dickie? Creepy!

The novel smoothly vacillates between you feeling repulsed yet fascinated by Tom Ripley. When Dickie distances himself from Tom, you really do feel Tom’s torment at the possibility of being rejected and alone again.

Tom felt a painful wrench in his breast, and he covered his face with his hands. It was as if Dickie had been suddenly snatched away from him. They were not friends. They didn’t know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future: each had stood and would stand before him, and he would know time and time again that he would never know them, and the worst was that there would always be the illusion, for a time, that he did know them, and that he and the wordless shock of his realization seemed more than he could bear.

When Tom assumes Dickie’s identify, not only is he uncannily good at impersonating the one-time friend he murdered, he also relishes being him, like how he spends his evenings “handling Dickie’s possessions, simply looking at his rings on his own fingers, or his woolen ties, or his black alligator wallet”. Creepy!

And then, when it looks like Tom has to give up Dickie's identity because the police are closing in, you go back to feeling bad for Tom again:

This was the end of Dickie Greenleaf, he knew. He hated becoming Thomas Ripley again, hated being nobody, hated putting on his old set of habits again, and feeling that people looked down on him and were bored with him unless he put on an act for them like a clown, feeling incompetent and incapable of doing anything with himself except entertaining people for minutes at a time. He hated going back to himself as he would have hated putting on a shabby suit of clothes, a grease-spotted, unpressed suit of clothes that had not been very good even when it was new.

It’s a real tribute to Highsmith’s skill as a writer. As another reviewer sums this up rather well:

What the reader has to remember again and again is that you are inside Ripley's head, and that every word is skewed toward his notion of reality. Reader's can conclude for themselves Ripley's motives and feelings, as he will never tell them outright. This, I think, is the most intriguing quality of reading the novel -- what the reader brings to the book and their own perceptions of emotion and morals informs the story almost more than anything Highsmith lays before you. In that way, she manages to insinuate just how much Ripley is like the reader, and as uncomfortable as that may be to conclude, it also rings impressively true.

Reading the book also inspired me to finally see the 1960 film adaptation by Rene Clement, Plein Soleil (aka Purple Noon), which was in itself a good film, but it disappointingly over-simplified or white-washed some key elements of the novel, namely replacing any homosexual undercurrents for friendly male competition and conceding to the conventional need for the murderer to get caught. Perhaps this was an indication that having a complex yet sympathetic protagonist-villain was still an unthinkable concept, at least in cinema, a few decades ago.

My only complaint is that the 1992 Vintage Crime paperback edition had a fair number of typos in it. It made for distracting reading!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book 22 - The Little Friend

By Donna Tartt

Finally! Here is what I think of the 600+ page tome I’ve been laboring thru for bloody weeks. The one where I had to take two breaks for some needed levity and brevity, even if to endure subpar werewolf fantasy. Despite the fact that Tartt is a wonderfully gifted writer, her long-awaited second novel has some huge flaws – it's much too wordy and hubristically long-winded for its own good. If only she had a Nazi editor to mercilessly trim down 200 pages, The Little Friend would’ve been a less torturous read. I much admired her debut novel The Secret History and considered it a bit of a masterpiece, as did legions of fans and critics. It must have been a Herculean task for Tartt to equal or surpass TSH (and a decade later too), and unsurprisintly her sophomore effort received a deal of buzz and fanfare. Ironically, what I enjoyed most about TLF was reading the divided yet entertaining reviews it generated at the time. One Guardian reviewer summed up quite well how I felt:

No [worthy fan] is going to let the author of The Secret History's second book pass by unread, though what they will find is frankly frustrating. For most of its length, The Little Friend lacks the drive of a book that needs to be written, even if it offers the considerable pleasures of being the work of someone who knows how to write.

On the surface, TLF takes a familiar premise—the plucky child sleuth—to a new literary level—kind of like a twisted Southern Gothic fairy tale meets Harriet the Spy. In a backyard somewhere in Alexandria, Mississippi, a little boy named Robin is found dead hanging from a black tupelo tree. Ten years later, the mystery of Robin’s death remains unsolved and the various members of the Dufresnes and Cleve clan are still struggling to move on from that tragic event. The story centres on Harriet, who was only a baby when her brother died. She grows up to be a highly precocious yet troubled 12-year-old who becomes obsessed with finding Robin’s purported killer. She enlists Hely, her best (and only) friend, to exact clumsy, misguided vengeance.

The first half of the book moves along languidly yet interestingly. Tartt does a meticulous job recreating Southern society in the 1970s with its decaying colonial houses overtaken by bland suburbia. Tartt grew up in Mississippi, so she’s obviously writing what she knows. Her treatment of societal subsets -- the tottering spinsters clinging to what’s left of their Southern ways and aging black maids, or the poor white trashy folk who live on the edge of town -- verges on caricature at times. But she take a lot of care in her depiction of Harriet’s dysfunctional, female-dominated family: comatose pill-popping mother, Charlotte, dreamy older sister, Allison, indomitable grandmother-matriarch, Edie and the cluster of doting great-aunts.

Tartt also mines the vast body of juvenile literature to make her own unsentimental, anti-coming-of-age novel and she does a great job portraying Harriet as an anti-heroine who is more hedgehog than Nancy Drew. According to her friend Hely, who is also her secret admirer:

There were plenty of girls at school prettier than Harriet, and nicer. But none of them are as smart, or as brave. Sadly, he thought of her many gifts. She could forge handwriting—teacher handwriting—and compose adult-sounding excuse notes like a pro; she could make bombs from vinegar and baking soda, mimic voices over the telephone. She loved to shoot fireworks—unlike a lot of girls, who wouldn’t go near a string of firecrackers. She had got sent home in second grade for tricking a boy into eating a spoonful of cayenne pepper; and two years ago she had started a panic by saying that the spooky old lunchroom in the school basement was a portal to Hell.

A NYT reviewer described TLF as a young-adult novel for grown-ups and how Tartt bestows Harriet with a

fierce, adolescent sense of right and wrong and [a] dangerous habit of sticking her nose where it doesn't belong. If these aspects of her personality make her recognizable, they also make her memorable and unique: she is part of a literary sisterhood of smart, prickly loners, and as such she is likely to attract generations of loyal followers.

But somewhere around the halfway point, I didn’t feel like reading TLF anymore. I became impatient and frustrated at how slowly events were unfolding. I started skimming through the densely descriptive passages because I had enough of the precious atmosphere and just wanted to find out what happens next. Looking back, I pinned down the key events or turning points:

p. 150 - Harriet pins Robin’s old classmate Danny Ratliff as the murderer.

p. 234 - Harriet and Hely stalk out Danny for the first time.

p. 370 - Harriet and Hely make their first clumsy and failed attempt to kill Danny.

There are 220 pages between 150 and 370, and I started losing interest around p. 300.

Now I understand that TLF isn’t meant to be a plot-driven novel, but there was definitely an overwhelming amount of exposition to muddle through, and worse, it was bogged down by overindulgent prose, which did not go unnoticed by reviewers, one of whom was rather unforgiving by describing TLF as a pretentious, incoherent melodrama as well as “an extended prose catastrophe”, where Tartt has strained too hard to create an air of unreality at the expense of plot and character:

Characters say things ''soberly,'' ''belligerently,'' ''faintly,'' and ''impassively,'' while exhaling ''audibly'' and stuffing bills into pockets ''laboriously.'' That's just page 204. Laughingly, I turned to discover Danny twisting ''rather spasmodically.'' Dumbfoundedly, I wondered how a mosquito might sting someone ''luxuriously.'' Such prose events disqualify ''The Little Friend'' as literature and also rule it out as decent trash. It's hard to dive into an action scene when people running for their lives turn to notice ''the path they'd beaten through the yellow-flowered scraggle of bitterweed, and the melancholy pastels of the dropped lunchbox....''

Even those who liked the book couldn’t help but notice “her tendency to describe things in threes, in arching adjectival triplets”:

Someone’s heart "vaulted up for a soaring, incredulous, gorgeously cruel moment".
A china dinner service that is "heavenly, glorious, a complete set”
A photograph in which the light is "fractured, sentimental, incandescent with disaster".

But despite Tartt’s overwrought writing style, the same reviewer also thought she ultimately succeeded in creating a richly detailed universe.

Even if she stumbles over details, the pace of this novel remains impressive. Tartt is able to make "reading time" slow down, so that you feel you are experiencing the events she describes in real time, or even more slowly than real time. This groggy, dreamlike pace is particularly effective at moments of high drama. One action scene, in which Harriet and her best friend are caught for a few hours between a set of poisonous snakes and two violent criminals high on drugs, takes up 24 pages of unflagging description, which will speed your pulse as if you were trapped along with the children.

And here is someone actually defending Tartt’s overwrought writing style:

Critical puritans (or merely Yankees) will point to its Dixie weakness for verbosity, caricature and melodrama. Yet the verbosity yields passages of mesmerising beauty; the caricature, stretches of delirious comedy; and the melodrama, moments of nerve-shredding excitement. At its close, few readers will wish The Little Friend a page shorter, or a shade paler.

TLF also made me think of the disappointing The Lovely Bones (TLB!), which was also published the same year in 2002. Both novels received mucho hype, both are set in 1970’s suburbia and present realistic portrayals of a family dealing with the tragic aftermath of a murdered son or daughter. More significantly, both are burdened with glaring flaws that pretty much ruined the entire reading experience for me. Also interesting to note that the killer in both novels never gets caught. But where Sebold resorts to a consolatory ending: the killer gets his comeuppance and the victim finds heavenly harmony, Tartt offers no such reassurance nor does she feels a need to assuage her readers in such romantically saccharine notions.

So let’s close with this fair assessment from the NYT :

What this all adds up to is a tragic, fever-dream realism. Though the world Harriet discovers is unquestionably haunted, there is nothing magical about it, or about the furious, lyrical rationality of Tartt's voice. Her book is a ruthlessly precise reckoning of the world as it is -- drab, ugly, scary, inconclusive -- filtered through the bright colors and impossible demands of childhood perception. It grips you like a fairy tale, but denies you the consoling assurance that it's all just make-believe.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book 21 - Stolen

By Kelley Armstrong

(interesting how the cover design of this 2009 trade paperback reprint has the same blood-red monochromatic look of the mega successful Twilight books)

So this next installment continues with Elena, our very special female werewolf, resuming her Pack duties by sniffing out misbehaving mutts and researching the internet to see if anyone’s got any dirt on werewolf activity. The Pack must protect their secret identify at all cost!

Elena follows a lead and encounters an elder witch and her young apprentice, who seem to know everything about Elena and her Pack. Once upon a time, reps of various supernatural races would gather together to share info and discuss issues about potential exposure – like a “Supernatural United Nations”. This is no longer the case, which is a bit odd considering how easy it'd be for undercover supernaturals to exploit today’s technology in order to communicate with each other, so you’d think the situation would be the reverse. Anyway, the witches warn Elena that human bad guys are kidnapping shamans and half-demons for nefarious purposes. And witches, vampires and werewolves are next. What’s more, the whole operation is funded by an evil Bill Gates-type billionaire named Ty Winsloe!

Soon enough, Elena gets caught in a trap and spends the bulk of the novel imprisoned inside a high security underground research facility along with other fascinating nonhumans. Sound familiar? Buffy fans will recognize this premise from Season 4 which aired in 1999 (Stolen was published in 2003). Vampires and demons were captured by a secret military project called "The Initiative" and imprisoned in cells within a high tech underground complex. In good form, Armstrong meta-references this fact but she also makes a cheap diss: her heroine blithely quips about how subpar that season was and how she fell asleep for half the episodes.

Ok, I understand that Season 4 was voted least favourite by a number of Buffy fans, but when it’s so obvious that you’re basing an entire storyline on a season’s premise from a well-regarded TV series, wouldn’t you want, at the very least, to pay it some respect? Especially how even the worst S4 episodes have been funnier and more entertaining than any passage I’ve read in Bitten and Stolen so far.

So that confirms it for me: Kelley Armstrong is a misguided snob who’s really a square. I understand not everyone can be Anne Rice or Stephen King in terms of writing quality genre fiction, but if you can’t reference pop culture properly, then don’t do it. At their best, Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi have taken the horror/sci-fi genres to new levels while at the same time giving respect where its due. Armstrong, at best, merely recycles already tried and true tropes, and worse, seems ignorant of the influences she’s drawing from (at least this provides unintentional meaning to the title Stolen). With this in mind, I can see how Armstrong wants to model Elena as a smart-talking Buffy-esque heroine (Elena the Mutt-Slayer doesn’t quite have the same ring), but lacks the referential know-how and finesse to make her novel truly playful and clever.

On a more positive note, I did enjoy the setup and pacing of Stolen much better than the previous Bitten. Perhaps this was due to there being less romantic Elena/Clay time (sadly they had to have corny reunion sex like multiple times for what seemed like pages and pages; there was even a scene where Clay feeds Elena ham and pancakes as he’s penetrating her, I kid you not). And this time, there were some interesting (mainly supernatural) characters introduced during Elena’s imprisonment at the nefarious research facility. Armstrong does a competent job in weaving together the various character dynamics and motivations. But again she doesn’t explore her universe deeply enough and focuses her attention on action and plot.

For one thing, almost every human portrayed in Stolen is basically bad, since they are all involved in the nefarious research project, with the exception of one resesarch assistant, who gets killed anyway. The three or four dozen human stormtroopers, I mean, guards employed at the nefarious facility are basically faceless entities, like the Mutts. And if they do have a bit of characterization, they are violent would-be rapists in the guise of military men. In Stolen, Elena is just starting to feel like she belongs to her werewolf pack, but you’re not sure if she still considers herself part human, since she already killed a couple of guards without any remorse. When the baddest military dudes, under Winsloe’s command, cruelly kill a Mutt (even though this Mutt tried to rape her too), Elena draws the line between us (the supernaturals) and them (human baddies who try to mess with supernaturals).

Eventually, Elena escapes (I don’t think I’m giving too much away) and subsequently returns with the Pack and some supernatural friends to infiltrate the nefarious compound and a bloodbath ensues. After a particularly violent confrontation, she thinks about all the stormtroop— I mean, guards she has killed and wonders “if they had wives, girlfriends, children”. But then she justifies it by telling herself: “They had to die to protect our secrets. They’d understood the danger when they signed on to this project… there was no other way. Everyone had to die.”

So Elena has a pang of conscience for a few sentences, and then she promptly moves on, taking disappointing revenge on the billionaire Ty Winslow . So a potentially complex moral grey area is conveniently left unexplored, given over by the need to deliver mediocre action and drama. It also makes for boring reading.

Stolen was interesting enough to pass the time, but it also relieved me of any remaining interest in pursuing the next Otherworld installment. I’m glad because there are way better books out there to explore. In fact, after reading Bitten and Stolen almost back-to-back, I really need to immerse myself in some high-caliber writing again - a tautly structured thriller by a writer who can really delve into the complex psychological examination of a character's amoral universe - Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Book 20 - Bitten

By Kelley Armstrong

I had only a hundred pages left of the “serious” novel, but then it took yet another dark and heavy turn. Damn this 600+ tome which has dramatically reduced my reading rate to ONE book for the month of July. Then a friend lent me Bitten, the first book in the Women of the Otherworld series about werewolves, witches, necromancers, and vampires struggling to fit into contemporary human society. Perfect – just when I needed to take a break with something fluffy!

And did it deliver some fluff. Bitten introduces us to Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf in the world. Cuz one, the werewolf gene only gets passed from father to son. Two, werewolves don't have long-term relationships but they can mate with a human woman. If a male baby pops out, the father kidnaps said baby and boy is secretly raised with his werewolf brethren. Three, humans can turn into werewolves by getting bitten, but the majority do not to survive their first agonizing transformation. And it’s super duper rare for a woman to survive a werewolf bite. This is why Elena is so highly coveted in the werewolf world, they all want to do her.

The back-story is told via flashback when our heroine falls hard for Clayton Danvers, a blonde curly-locked academic with piercing blue eyes and a body straight out of Baywatch. Clay has a dirty little secret: he is actually the Beta male of the only werewolf pack in the world, aka the Pack, as well as the foster son & bodyguard of Jeremy, the Alpha (leader of the Pack :-). Clay may lack basic social skills and possess a disdainful attitude towards people, but Elena would never suspect this is because her BF is more wolf than man! Did I mention that on top of Clay’s wolfish sex appeal, he is also a brilliant academic who earned his Ph.D. specializing in ancient anthropomorphic religions?

When Clay ends up biting Elena without her consent, she doesn’t exactly embrace her newfound wolfenness. Instead she spends much of the novel being pissed off at her BF. It isn’t so much that he lied to Elena about his true identity, but he had to thoughtlessly ruin any chance for her to attain the normal happy human life she never had. How bloody inconvenient is that? Elena may not get past the indignant “how could you!” phase but it doesn't stop her from having hot outdoor sex with the guy (in bipedal form unfortunately). You see, our heroine was orphaned at a tender age and subsequently suffered abuse in the hands of foster daddies. After surviving her childhood she became a strong, independent woman, yet she still longs for acceptance and belonging. So Bitten begins with Elena having left the Pack to salvage and resume the ordinary life she was having in… Toronto (what better place to live out a bland, conformist lifestyle?).

Of course, Elena’s attempt at a normal lifestyle gets kiboshed when Jeremy summons her back to his estate in upstate New York to deal with an emergency. Non-Pack werewolves are stirring up trouble in their territory of Stonehaven, perhaps even staging a coup. Pack werewolves use the more derogatory term – mutts (I know, don't laugh) - for these problematic lone wolves. To keep mutts in check, the Pack routinely seeks out and punishes those who try to settle down, since making a home for oneself means claiming territory - and only the Pack could claim territory. As a result, mutts drift from place to place, stealing and killing humans for food.

Armstrong has a couple of interesting spins on the werewolf mythos, but she doesn’t delve into her universe deeply enough for me. The Pack versus Mutts issue plays out like werewolf politics, where the Pack is like a fascistic oligarchy, but I’m not sure Armstrong sees it this way, therefore dodging any complexity by portraying mutts as bad werewolves who really just want to kill people whenever they want, just like in the good old pre-Industrial days.

Pack werewolves are more highly evolved somehow and they also have successful careers in the human world (due to the ability to live in one place and cultivate yourself). Since all mutts live by their own rules, they aren’t exactly team players and thus, not worthy of the Pack. What’s more, murderous mutts call attention to themselves and threaten the safety of all werewolves, so this gives reason for the Pack to eliminate them with impunity. So yes, the Pack is good, Mutts are baaaad. There is no comparison, I know, but if you really want to read a meaty novel about how otherwise civilized people succumb to the pack instinct and transform themselves into barbaric murderers, I suggest you read The Secret History.

But what if there are mutts who don’t want to kill, keep a low profile and want a bit of territory? Just enough land to hunt some wild game, so they don’t have the urge to kill humans. This way the Pack won’t have to waste time traveling around the world rousting out stray mutts, and werewolves can all live happily ever after… oh but wait, we won’t have much of a story then, will we?

So a few conniving mutts want to either destroy the Pack or negotiate territory for themselves, so they come up with the brilliant idea of turning human serial killers into werewolves and sicking them on members the Pack. This would be an exciting plot device but the villainous mutts and serial killers-turned-werewolves are disappointingly two-dimensional characters. Come to think of it, the good guys aren’t very dynamic or charismatic either, but at least they're given a little more development and back-story.

There are also some nagging logistical omissions in the storylines. Since bodies can pile up during werewolf skirmishes, the narrator explains it can take at least half a day to make a body disappear. When Pack brother Logan gets killed, they just bury him in the forest and move on. But didn’t Logan fly in from Los Angeles in order to help his pack? In the human world, didn’t he have a successful career as a lawyer and a long-term girlfriend in Albany? If he had loved ones, they’d want to know what happened to him. His law firm would no doubt report him missing. Yet the novel conveniently avoids going into the ramifications of dealing with the recently deceased.

Another issue I have is the interpersonal dynamics within the Pack itself. Armstrong models much of these dynamics on real wolf behaviour, ie. the pack hierarchy. If Elena is the only female werewolf in existence, then wouldn’t wolf behaviour dictate she belong to the Alpha male, and not the Beta? When Clay betrays Elena and Jeremy spends time taking care of her and teaching her the ways of the werewolf, wouldn’t he want to claim Elena as his mate? Oh wait, but the Alpha is conveniently beyond that, ie. the bonds of brotherhood is stronger than succumbing to instinctual behaviour, or whatever. And why can’t mutts claim any territory again? In any case, it is more convenient for Jeremy to be the benevolent father-figure than for the story to have a potentially interesting love triangle.

I’m also not big on Armstrong’s writing style and Elena’s smart-alecky sense of humour is more jarring than amusing. What’s more, the author’s few attempts at pop culture reference backfires. Badly. When Elena tells her hohum human BF that she’s watching Evil Dead 2 on TV, she quips: “This one’s pure camp… It’s a sequel. Horror sequels suck.” Armstrong may have wanted our heroine to sound clever, but she is embarrassingly unaware that ED2 is the rare classic sequel that surpasses its predecessor in sheer awesomeness! But that isn’t the worse offense. She had to have another character proclaim that Scream 2 is actually superior, pretty much destroying any hipster or geek cred she may be trying to grab.

There was another thing about the novel that bugged me, but I couldn’t put a finger on it until near the end, when Elena’s Pack brother Nick confesses:

“I don’t know how you did it in Toronto all those months,” he [Nick] said with a shudder. “I had to do it a couple times last winter… Anyway, I had to Change by myself…. It was awful. It was, like walk out to the woods, Change, stand there until enough time passed, Change back. It was about as much fun as taking a shit… I’m serious. Come on, Elena. Admit it. That’s what it’s like if you’re by yourself.”

I guess if you’re a Pack werewolf there is no joy in embracing the freedom of running in solitude. Elena ends up making fun of her Pack brother because she was a true loner, not by choice, but by circumstance. What Elena ultimately wants is to belong to a community or family because she never had those things growing up. The running theme of Bitten may be about how supernatural beings (outsiders) try to fit into normal society, but it seems the idea it's perpetuating is that the desire to belong to a group is normal and good. To want to be alone, or worse, to want to live a fulfilling life alone, is bad or undesirable. For me, it seems that Armstrong is an extravert who does not understand non-extravert mentality.

As a werewolf, Elena still clings to the artifacts of human society, like wanting to celebrate Christmas every year. Eventually her werewolf family replaces her need for a human one. But the novel provides no option for her to reconcile her humanity with her werewolf side. Genetic werewolves do not identify with humankind, which makes sense, and neither do made werewolves like Clay, who were bitten when they were young. But what about werewolves like Elena, who were turned as adults, what's more a female adult? Sadly, this potentially interesting theme isn’t explored as deeply as I'd like either, or in the way that I was expecting.

I guess the reason I’m giving this book a hard time is because I was really looking forward to reading this book, and it’s the first in a series of like a dozen. But Armstrong’s universe just didn't turn out as rich and rewarding as I hoped it’d be. Her style, humor and aesthetics seem to be opposite of mine and I didn't find anything particularly remarkable or different in her take on the werewolf mythos. Even though I’m already reading the next book, Stolen, it’s mainly because it's already been lent to me, it’s a quick read and I have a mild curiosity in wanting to know what happens next. But it isn’t strong enough to sustain an interest in following the rest of the Otherworld series. One thing Bitten did do for me though, was to rekindle my interest in going back to the ordinary, yet ultimately much more complex, world of my “serious” novel.