I would rather judge a book by its author than its cover, which is a good thing with `Cassandra French's Finishing School for Boys' by Eric Garcia. Garcia is the writer behind the leftfield PI Rex series about a dinosaur detective! If I had not known this I would have been unlikely to have picked up this book with a title and cover similar to a lot of so called Chick Lit. `Cassandra' in many ways basks in the stereotypes of that genre, with its main characters all being intelligent, but neurotic, women. However, Garcia gives the book a far funnier and darker edge by making Cassandra the type of women who locks men up in her basement to teach them manners.
As a comedy novel `Cassandra' works because of Garcia's intelligent writing. The use of language is great and he creates a series of characters confident enough to be witty and intelligent. I did have some minor misgivings over Cassandra's personality as she does come across a little false. This is probably down to Eric Garcia being a man. Overall, he manages to create a series of rounded and compelling female characters, but they do still seem to be seen through a man's eye.
The story itself is more a series of mishaps and adventures than a full narrative, but it works really well. Like something from `Fawlty Towers' the book has Cassandra digging herself deeper and deeper into trouble as she tries to solves her various problems. With more intelligence and humour than your average book about a woman who locks men in her basement I would recommend this to anyone looking for a more quirky read.
I definitely understand the disappointment many of these reviewers felt. My thoughts? Lighten up!!! I found Garcia's book absolutely hilarious. Not at all like his Rex series (which I also loved), Finishing School is unlike most other novels.
I think the title and cover may have surprised the disappointed readers here. Finishing School is marketed with the Chick-Lit-type cover, yet it's nothing like Sophie Kinsella (who I adore). This is dark, but not American Psycho-dark (well, I shamefully appreciated that, too, for what it was at the time). Finishing School is black humor--but it's black humor laced with light humor.
The heroine of this book is missing her moral compass. Still, she's interesting, funny, and strange. She IS offensive, but the book is not. The book doesn't advocate doing the things Cassandra French does. It tells the story of someone who does do these things. In that sense, it's funny.
"The last fifteen years of failed dates, the boys with wandering hands, the boys whose hands didn't wander enough, the ones who left and the ones who wouldn't let me leave. They didn't deserve to walk into a room with Cassandra French on their arm." Thus, with that dysfunctional experience with male-female relationships in her past, 29-year old Cassandra French, employed in the business office of a Los Angeles movie studio, proactively sets out to mold three young men with promise - her "boys" - into the New Age men they could be, replete with polished manners, polite language, sensitivity to a woman's needs, chivalry, and good fashion sense. Cassie has kept Owen, Alan and Daniel chained to cots in the basement of her Westwood home for months, alternating behavioral modification "lessons" with doses of calming morphine. (I've lived in SoCal for five decades, and have never been in a home with a basement. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, my Dad built a bomb shelter under our garage - but that doesn't count.) CASSANDRA FRENCH'S FINISHING SCHOOL FOR BOYS is, believe it or not, a remarkably comedic novel. Author Eric Garcia pulls this off by making his heroine decidedly unhinged, but not cruel or even unkind. Indeed, she reads her charges bedtime stories, tucks them in at lights out, entertains them with games and a regular "movie night", keeps them properly fed, and fully intends to release them back into the world once they "graduate". But things begin to unravel when she "enrolls" in her school a famous actor who'd seduced and bedded her for uncommonly selfish and boorish reasons. Once under restraint and in her control, he subsequently dies in a freak accident involving chains, manacles, electric current, and yoga. I haven't come across such an engaging female lead since Rebecca Bloomwood of Sophie Kinsella's SHOPAHOLIC series. Even when faced with the immediate problem of body disposal, in which caper she involves her best friend Claire, Cassie still has the presence of mind to notice the quality of Claire's cashmere sweater and footwear, and discuss corpse removal options over Amaretto and low-fat Fig Newtons. I'm not awarding five stars because the ending seemed forced - perhaps not surprising considering the bizarre and implausible storyline that Garcia backed French into. But the plot is inventive and light, and would make the perfect vehicle for a Big Screen movie starring Sandra Bullock.