Wednesday, June 16, 2010

From the Archives: Review of The Rosary Girls by Richard Montanari

I began keeping a reading journal several years before I began blogging. I find it interesting to sift through my thoughts of books that I read back then. Most of my reviews were short and too the point, and so I was surprised to come across this one, written in March of 2005:

The Rosary Girls by Richard Montanari
Ballantine Books, 2005
Crime Fiction; 400 pgs

A serial killer is targeting Catholic teenage schoolgirls in Philadelphia and veteran homicide detective Kevin Byrne and his rookie partner Jessica Balzano are determined to stop him. The novel was well crafted and entertaining. I found the religious slant of the motive behind the killings intriguing.

My husband and I were talking recently about what I look for in a novel. The characters, plot lines, and the setting all play an important role in any novel for me. I like to lose myself in a book as I read the words on each page. I get a rush out of not being able to read fast enough to find out what happens next. And, yes, I even talk to my books sometimes, which makes my husband smirk and chuckle at my expense.

Character development is perhaps the area I am most critical. If I do not like the main characters, I have a tendency not to like the book, no matter how good the story may be. I like characters who are realistic, likable, sympathetic, and ones I can relate to on some level. I thought Mr. Montanari’s characters were well developed and interesting, both professionally and personally. In just a few hundred pages he made his characters real and brought them to life for me.

Although the least likely part to make or break a book for me, the setting plays an important role in my enjoyment of any type of book. I like to read a book that has a well-defined setting, and if the setting itself becomes a character of its own, all the better. I like to visit familiar places now and again, but always enjoy being taken to somewhere new, whether it be an exotic city, a small town, or even a neighborhood. The setting plays an important role in creating the backdrop for a story and better defines the characters within it. In the case of The Rosary Girls, Mr. Montanari has set his book in Philadelphia and chose specific settings to build his story around. His descriptions fed my imagination so that I was able to better “watch” the events as they unfolded in my mind’s eye. A setting is more than just a place; it can be the time period in which a book is set as well. In The Rosary Girls, Mr. Montanari made several references to current popular TV shows and media icons, which will most likely date the book in future years, but for now it was quite appealing.

I have read many mysteries and suspense novels over the years and it is not unusual for me to figure out the whodunit long before the end. I still love a good mystery, even if I am able to unravel the clues before the author gives it away, but it’s a real gem of a book when I find one that stumps me until the very end. Mr. Montanari demonstrated his ability to craft a story that left me guessing. Just when I thought I had it figured out, something new would come along to relieve me of my suspicions. He isn’t one of those authors that have the bad guy coming out from nowhere either, which some writers have been known to do.

Rating: * (Very Good)

An Aside: I am not sure what inspired me to go into the nuances of a story in the middle of my review, other than I really liked the novel at the time I read it. It was my first Montanari book, and I did go on to read a couple of others (The Skin Gods and Merciless), both of which I reviewed on my blog.

In April 2004 I read a novel which I
featured on my blog. It had a profound affect on me and the way I approach characterization today. And yet, reading my review of The Rosary Girls, I can see how the change in my thinking wasn't something that happened over night. Obviously, a year later, I was still stuck in the same place I had been. Or, at least, I wasn't consciously aware of the shift that had taken root. It explains why I didn't address the issue in my review of Stephen R. Donaldson's book, now that I think about it. I still believe that Lord's Foul Bane created a shift in my thinking, the idea that the main character did not necessarily have to be likable for me to enjoy a book. The idea just took time to ferment and would only become more solidified as time went on, perhaps the next time I came across another character I didn't especially like. In order for me to enjoy a book to its fullest, I do have to connect with the book on some level--but nowadays I feel it doesn't have to be with the main character necessarily. What hasn't changed is how much I value realism in the development of characters. I don't mean that they can't be werewolves or vampires or any sort of fantastical being;I just prefer that they be flawed and multi-layered.

In my review of
The Rosary Girls, I commented that setting plays an important role in my enjoyment of a book. I am not sure, however, I still can so confidently state that it generally will not "make or break a book for me." Characterization remains the most significant aspect of most of the books I read (it depends on the book, actually), but setting is not as far down on the totem pole as it once was. Settings, be it time or place, are drawing me in more than ever. Sometimes I select a book to read based on the setting, first and foremost. I've begun to think of the setting as a character in some instances. And it can make or break a book for me.

When I look back on this post five or ten years from now, I wonder how differently I will feel then, if at all.

You can learn more about Richard Montanari and his books at his official website.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. I agree that I do not now have to love the main character or find them likeable to enjoy the book, but it still helps. I think I read much slower when I don't care the main character or indeed when I don't care for many of the characters. I find myself putting the book down over and over again and finding something else to do. That being said, I do appreciate books where the setting is an additional character. That really seems to bring a book alive for me many times.

    I haven't read books by Richard Montanari, but I've seen them around. Good discussion post, Wendy.

  2. I loved this review! Very detailed, and let me know a little bit about you, as a reader. That being said, I think that character development is one of the most important aspects of the books I read. I may hate the character and wish I could squish them like a bug, but if they are fully fleshed out and complex, I don't mind reading about them. Also, it has been a really long time since I have heard anyone mention Lord Foul's Bane!! I am so glad that you posted about that!!

  3. I would agree that setting doesn't make or break a book, but boy does it take one from good to great, doesn't it? It's those books that you remember forever.

  4. There are several things that make a great book: characterisation, plot development and setting. Personally, I look for character development more than the other factors because I feel characters are the "soul" of the story. I hope that makes sense. :P

  5. I talk to, or rather yell at my books on occasion too.

  6. This one sounds appealing to me. I know it is the kind of book that I would enjoy.

  7. Kay - I agree. It does help to like the main character, but it's not necessary. And you're right about the setting. It really can bring a book alive.

    Heather - Thank you! And so true about characterization. I think it's easier to understand even the most unlikable character when he or she is more fully developed. And that goes a long way.

    Sandy - And make you wish you could step right into that time period or place!

    Melody - I would add writing to that list as well. I just finished a book that I might not have liked had it been written by anyone else. I give a lot of credit to the author for pulling that off!

    Jen - LOL We just can't help ourselves!

    Kathleen - It's a good series. I need to hunt down other books by this author. I know he's written a few more recently.

  8. Enjoying a book and thinking it is a good book are not always the same for me. I pretty much have to like the characters to enjoy the book (good or bad), but I've read books that still give me food for thought even if I don't like the characters.

    I'm not familiar with this author, so thank for giving me someone new to look for!

  9. Jenclair - Yes, it's possible for a book to be good and not enjoyable for me too. I don't think it's dependent on whether I like the characters though--at least not always.

  10. I do have a book by Richard Montanari, which was recommended by you sometime ago, but I haven't read it. :)

  11. Alice - With so many other books to read, I'm sure you'll get to it when you have a chance. :-)


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