So, I have an Internet friend who is always touting how great of a writer Gene Wolfe is. One, day, I finally asked him: “What’s a good place to startSo, I have an Internet friend who is always touting how great of a writer Gene Wolfe is. One, day, I finally asked him: “What’s a good place to start with this guy?” He suggested the Book of the New Sun, a tetralogy that begins with The Shadow of the Torturer. So, I tracked it down at the library and started reading it.
That was about three months ago.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a large part of the reason why I’ve been slow-going with my reading, but dang if this guy isn’t a tough author to read. His prose is dense, filled with more narrative than dialog, and it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on in some places. Maybe it’s my attention span. Maybe the book is just too deep for me. All I know is that, after several months with the book, I realized that I wasn’t eager to finish it, so I quit about halfway through the second book and took it back to the library.
The thing is, the book is intriguing. The author obviously had a grand idea in mind when he started writing it, and as dense as the book is, it seems like everything there is necessary. It’s just one of those books that requires more than I can give it. The book is vivid and interesting, just not enough to keep me from giving up on it.
So, I gave up on the series, but that’s not to say that I’ll never return to it again. But I have a lot of other things I would prefer to be reading, instead....more
**spoiler alert** No, Jodi Picoult isn’t someone I would normally read, but I saw a comment by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly several months ago**spoiler alert** No, Jodi Picoult isn’t someone I would normally read, but I saw a comment by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly several months ago which read, in part:
Somebody who’s a terrific writer who’s been very, very successful is Jodi Picoult.
It caught my attention enough to make me remember her name, which is probably exactly what the comment was meant to do. So, when this one came through the library, I figured I would check it out.
The premise is certainly intriguing: Willow O’Keefe is a five year-old girl with osteogenesis imperfecta, or “Brittle Bone Disease,” which is the same condition that Samuel L. Jackson’s character had in Unbreakable. Her family has dealt with her condition for those five years, paying out lots of money that the insurance doesn’t cover. On the brink of financial ruin, the parents decide to file a wrongful birth suit against their obstetrician, saying that she didn’t diagnose the problem early enough for them to decide whether or not to abort the pregnancy. Of course, everyone in the family loves Willow, and to make matters even more complicated, the obstetrician in question is the mother’s best friend.
Of course, the melodrama doesn’t end there. The prosecuting attorney in the case is herself an adopted child, so there’s the issue of her being involved with a lawsuit which is stating, essentially, that the mother would have aborted her yongest daughter if she’s had more information about the pregnancy, and the attorney is someone who is glad her birth mother didn’t make that same decision. And to pile more drama onto the situation, one of the jurors on the case has to excuse herself because she turns out to be the attorney’s birth mother! DUN DUN DUUUU-UUUUN…
Do you get the feeling that I think the whole thing is a little overwrought? Good. Because I did. For the sake of fiction, and for the sake of the plot, it’s OK for some coincidences to take place, but there were so dang many of them in the book that I reached the point where I wanted to yell, “Enough already!” It strained believability, and as much as I was into the story, I felt like the author was overreaching to make her point.
Apparently, the author has a habit of taking a legal dilemma and making it “real” in her fiction, by showing the real world effects of said dilemma and making it more human. I think she did this very well, because the heart of this novel is a family falling apart. The proceedings set husband against wife, friend against friend, and sister against parents. Everyone’s motivations are clear, make sense, and are believable, but the entire setup seemed so contrived and strained to me. It was easy to understand the characters and the decisions they made, but despite that, the characterization wasn’t vivid. They just seemed there to move the plot along.
The book is compelling, interesting, and will make you think about the issues behind the story. So long as you can get past the contrivances that make the story move along, you should be fine. I wonder, though, if her other books are the better place to start....more
DC Comics has me pegged. Stick Neil Gaiman’s name on something and I’ll buy it. Shoot, there’s a good chance that I’ll buy it more than once, dependinDC Comics has me pegged. Stick Neil Gaiman’s name on something and I’ll buy it. Shoot, there’s a good chance that I’ll buy it more than once, depending on what you keep adding to the releases. Knowing this about myself, I’m always a little surprised when something he’s written just sort of shows up on the bookstore shelves that I didn’t already know about. Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is one of those somethings.
Now, I’m a pretty big fan of the Batman movies, especially the recent re-imaginings, but I’ve never been a big, big fan of the comics like a lot of folks are. I know who the major characters are in the series, including the Rogue’s Gallery, but I couldn’t tell you who the name of the robber was who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. And considering that I read this story last night, and it featured the guy, and I still can’t remember his name should tell you something.
Once I started reading the story, though, I realized that something was very, very off. Without giving away any of the story, understand that there are some very impossible things happening here, right from the get-go. Neil’s foreword let me know enough of the backstory here to get what was happening — this is essentially the last Batman story ever, much like Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was for Superman — so I wasn’t too shocked at the idea of Bruce Wayne being dead, but … well, by the time I got to the end of the title story, I realized: Batman is more than a character; he’s a mythology.
I doubt this is any ground-breaking revelation, except maybe to myself, because when you think about it, comic book characters are very much modern day mythologies. They’re more than just people in costumes used to illustrate stories; despite their supernatural abilities, they’re everymen who fight their troubles every day, over and over again, and they will never die. They represent all that’s good in us, and they fight and overcome all that’s bad. They take on a life greater than the stories they star in, and yes, I know how cheesy it all sounds. The fact is, it’s true, and if you’re going to hire a writer to drive home this point, then you need to get the master of modern mythology, Neil Gaiman. Suffice it to say, the match of author and subject is perfect. The title story is a perfect vehicle for illustrating the mythology of Batman. And there are so many cool, clever things that Neil does during the story that I want to gush and talk about them, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone….
Now, I bought the “deluxe edition” of the story, which collects three other Gaiman-penned Batman stories, none of which I had heard of before. None of them pack the same punch that the title story does, but they do have a very Gaiman-esque approach to the stories that deconstructs and de-idolizes the character of Batman. It’s an odd set of stories to set alongside the mythology story, but there you go. The best of the bunch is probably the reproduction of the Black and White story, which sets the Batman and the Joker as actors who are waiting their time to star in their comic. If nothing else, it serves as a gentle reminder that Neil’s understanding of mythology has served him very well in the world of comics.
Is this collection worth getting? I think so. I hesitated for a while after first seeing it on shelves (I hadn’t yet been able to forget the travesty that was Eternals), but the title story is really something, even if the rest of them aren’t. I can see myself re-reading this one to catch all the little details of the artwork and the story. Plus, it fits in well with the rest of my Neil Gaiman collection....more
I used to be a huge Stephen King fanboy, but I think he was replaced when I discovered Neil Gaiman. I don’t gush over King like I used to; in fact, I’I used to be a huge Stephen King fanboy, but I think he was replaced when I discovered Neil Gaiman. I don’t gush over King like I used to; in fact, I’ve stopped buying his books all together, and I used to be first in line at the bookstores when he had a new book out. I still enjoy his works, but the era of Misery and Pet Sematary and Eyes of the Dragon are gone. He’s older, wiser, and just as compelling. But he’s also a lot less interesting.
The book is about Lisey, who lives in Maine, and is the widow of one of the most popular writers ever. So, yes, this book is pretty autibiographical. I don’t know how much of it is truth, and how much is fiction, but consider this: King writes that Scott Landon, the deceased writer, never wrote from an outline, and he described writing a book as like finding a string in the forest and following it to its end — sometimes you could find treasure at the end, and other times the string would just break. I get a real sense that this is how King has written every book since Misery.
Lisey Landon has been mourning her husband for two years, and she’s finally come to the point where she feels she can start cleaning out his study. While opening the boxes and sorting through all of the materials there, she also opens up memories of her past with Scott, including some things that she had blocked from her memory. She’s sent on a “bool hunt,” orchestrated by Scott, and featuring her catatonic sister and a psychotic stalker.
In retrospect, everything in the novel is set up to come together properly, without too many loose ends. What bothers me, though, is that the entire story seems so insubstantial. There’s the plot of remembering her past with Scott, the plot of dealing with her catatonic sister, and the plot of her trying to outwit her stalker, but none of it really rings with the sort of presence that I expect out of a Stephen King novel. I’ve always admired his characterization skills, and while they’re still present, there’s simply not much to the story. The plots seem too thin, and too forced, to gel into something that feels interesting.
I really wanted to like this novel, but I feel like it’s lacking in all of the areas that I’ve always liked about King. It’s not compelling, it’s not suspenseful, and it’s just not interesting. There was a moment near the end of the book where King described something with a clarity that made it stand out in disturbing clarity, but that was the only point in the story where I felt he reached that point. Reviewers are saying that this is one of King’s best books, but I just don’t see it....more
The premise of this book is fascinating: A young boy who has a hard time finding his place in life goes to live with his aunt and uncle, and stays inThe premise of this book is fascinating: A young boy who has a hard time finding his place in life goes to live with his aunt and uncle, and stays in a room that has 100 cupboards on the wall. With the manipulation of a couple of dials, the cupboards will take him to a variety of different worlds, some dangerous, some friendly, all fanciful. This is a perfect juvenile book, because what kid hasn’t wanted to find something like that and take advantage of it? I went through that when I was a kid, and I think that’s part of the reason why The Phantom Tollbooth was such a favorite books of mine (still is, actually).
The thing is, the premise was probably too promising. I’m not sure when it became commonplace for juvenile and YA authors to write in a telling style over a showing style. I mean, I sort of understand it: Your audience isn’t as attuned to subtlety as an adult would be, so you sometimes have to make your point more directly. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids’ books that use subtlety to tell the story — any of the Harry Potter books and Sachar’s Holes are prime examples — so I’m not sure why some authors choose to tell instead of show. It just makes the book that much harder to read.
Aside from the narrative, the story was interesting enough to keep me reading, though it didn’t really resonate with me. I had a good idea how the book was going to end, based on the way that the author presented the main characters, so I was reading to see if I was right, if nothing else. I didn’t feel much of an emotional attachment to the characters, though I thought the relationship between the main character and his uncle was interesting. By the end, though, I was just reading to finish the book.
With 100 Cupboards, I think my expectations were too high for me to really judge the book objectively. I’m sure that kids would like it, but it’s not a juvenile book that translates well for the adult reader....more
Dan Brown gets a lot of flack for being a hack writer. I even read a collection of the 20 worst things he had ever written during his career as a writDan Brown gets a lot of flack for being a hack writer. I even read a collection of the 20 worst things he had ever written during his career as a writer, and I have to admit, it’s pretty bad. The thing is, the guy knows how to put together an intriguing thriller, so part of me wonders how much of those articles are meant to expose how bad of a writer he really is, and how much of them are motivated by jealousy. I’m a firm believer in the story as story, and nothing else, and I have to admit, Dan Brown tells a good story.
Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t have issues with Dan Brown as a writer. For one, I’m a little amazed that Robert Langdon is still the mighty skeptic who has to go through all these ridiculous hoops before he believes in something that tons of people are telling him is actually true. In Angels & Demons, he spent a lot of time telling people how the Illuminati was more symbolic than real, and then he found out that — GASP! — they’re real! In The Da Vinci Code, he told us that the Opus Dei was a legend, not fact, but after traipsing over Rome for three days, he came to find that — SHOCK! — they were real! So when he’s faced with a Masonic legend that lots of people are telling him is real, and not symbolic, don’t you think he might take a little less convincing? No, because apparently Robert Langdon has a mass of wet noodles for a brain.
My biggest issues with The Lost Symbol have to do with the characters, anyway. They’re wildly inconsistent. They’re all terribly smart, and know a little bit about everything, and are confident to a fault, but suddenly they become complete imbeciles, forget everything they know, and doubt themselves when it’s convenient to move the plot forward. Afterward, they go back to being their normal selves, like nothing happened to change who they are. I understand that characterization is often sacrificed for plot in thrillers, but I would at least ask that the characters remain consistent throughout the story, hey?
The story is entertaining, and about as deep and as relevant as anything else that Dan Brown has written. If you didn’t like his other books, then this one won’t win you over, but if you enjoy a thrilling story of conspiracies, mysteries, and adventure, then there are worse books to read than The Lost Symbol....more
With Farthing, Jo Walton looked at an alternate history where England fell into fascism as a way to stave off the war with Germany. With Ha’penny, sheWith Farthing, Jo Walton looked at an alternate history where England fell into fascism as a way to stave off the war with Germany. With Ha’penny, she looked at that same England, six years later, and how well the country had adopted that rule, with all their misgivings and concerns. Now, with Half a Crown, she concludes the story, bringing the story to a logical conclusion where the country has fallen deep, deep into the well of human tragedy, and the inevitable transition that the country takes.
I love the way Jo Walton writes. She’s very understated with her prose, but still manages to convey a lot of emotion for her characters. She writes her horrible scenes as well as she does her joyful ones, and it’s hard not to get attached to her characters along the way. I wasn’t thrilled with the way the trilogy concluded (the message was right, but the presentation wasn’t; it seemed very rushed), but I was glad to see that she didn’t sugarcoat the journey there.
There was a part of me that kept thinking that the characters from this novel were the same as the characters from Farthing, or Ha’Penny, but the only character consistent among all three books was Inspector Carmichael, though some other characters popped up in cameos among the last two books. At first, I figured that the author had just slipped the other characters in, like easter eggs waiting to be found, but it turned out that the recurring characters were clearly noted. I’m not sure if that was the case with Ha’Penny, but here, at least, there was no doubting it.
I recommend the book to anyone who started the trilogy, and if you haven’t read the first two books, then I recommend you start with Farthing. That volume is really the best of the bunch, if only because the concept is new and intriguing. The author manages to make each book different enough to keep readers from reading the same story over again, but the introduction is always the best....more
Do I need to go into Charlie Huston’s brutal, compelling, post-noir world of fiction again? Probably not. This is the seventh book of his I’ve read, aDo I need to go into Charlie Huston’s brutal, compelling, post-noir world of fiction again? Probably not. This is the seventh book of his I’ve read, and the seventh that I’ve reviewed here. Regardless, I shouldn’t gloss over the most important point whenever I talk about his novels: Don’t read them if you’re squeamish. The graphic violence is one thing, but the cruelty is another. I think a lot of people would be put off by the terrible, awful things that happen to people for (sometimes) no good reason.
That being said, though, if you’ve read his previous works, and can tolerate the content, then by all means, read this one, too. This is the third book in the Joe Pitt series, the vampire-slash-hitman-slash-boyfriend-slash-sociopath who’s the titular, sympathetic character of the series. It doesn’t break any new ground, either in the vampire or post-noir genres, but it’s a good, compelling story nonetheless.
My biggest complaint? That stupid cover. I’m not sure which graphic artist thought that some pudgy dude with fangs painted on his lips and holding his gun sideways screamed “ultra noir,” but he needs to be fired. It looks like something you might find on the Cracked Website....more
When I was in school, history was my most-dreaded subject. Now, I’ve found that there are a lot of fascinating facts to find in history, it’s just a mWhen I was in school, history was my most-dreaded subject. Now, I’ve found that there are a lot of fascinating facts to find in history, it’s just a matter of finding a way to get the information in a way that appeals to me. I think that historical fiction is one way to catch up on the history I missed, even though in cases like Leviathan, it’s a little … well, different from the way history actually told it.
In this book, the start of another trilogy by the author who brought us the Uglies series, we see the development of World War I, through the eyes of the Clankers and the Darwinists. In this history, there are two different approaches to technology: One creates mechanical beasties that can be used as weapons of warfare; the other mixes DNA from different creatures to fabricate living, breathing pieces of warfare that draw on different animals in nature. It’s definitely a steampunk novel, where it’s set in the past, yet populated with modern technologies, but it’s an appealing, interesting background against which to see a different outlook on history. Plus, making the main character one of the key players in the outbreak, even when he isn’t representative of any historical figure, makes the drama and intrigue come to life a lot more than reading something out of a history book. Of course, I don’t think novels like this one will ever replace nonfiction, but it’s nice to see a novel that draws enough on reality — and acknowledges it in the afterword — that it will encourage readers to learn more about the subject on their own.
The story itself was gripping, since it flip-flopped between two characters, one from the Darwinists’ side (England), and one from the Clankers’ side (Austria). It’s sort of a cheap tactic to build suspense by going back and forth between characters, leaving them at critical points to ensure that the reader will keep reading to see what happened, but I can’t deny that it works. It was also a little more readable than the Uglies series, for a reason I can’t identify. Maybe it was the setting, or the backdrop, or the lack of necessity in creating a new slang to identify the characters’ cultures. Deryn, the main Darwinist character, has some slang so that she can swear without actually swearing in the book (like saying “Blisters!” instead of something that the publishers may not approve of), but other than that, the narrative flowed naturally, and never pulled me out of the story. I adore the premise behind Uglies, but this novel had a better flow.
I was a little disappointed that this book turned out to be the start of a trilogy, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. I just hope I don’t forget too many of the details from one book to the next....more
Jasper Fforde won me over years ago with his introduction of Thursday Next in a series of novels that were equal parts fantasy, science fiction, mysteJasper Fforde won me over years ago with his introduction of Thursday Next in a series of novels that were equal parts fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and just all-around good storytelling. Even when it surfaced that he was writing a fifth book in the series, after he had pretty much wrapped up all of the loose ends of the series in the fourth one, but he still managed to pull off a story that worked (so long as you can tolerate self-referential bits).
The Road to High Saffron is the first in a new series titled Shades of Grey, which is set in a future world where people are now colorblind, and are assigned a particular class status based on which colors they can see, and how much of it they can see. This leads to the purples being the highest social class in the society (because they can see red and blue), and where the people who can see almost no color are designated “Greys,” and are reduced to the menial labor class. It’s an odd world, where color means everything, and the government pipes color into residential areas the way that we pump water into ours. The thing is, no one can see all colors, so the society here doesn’t work unless everyone is working together. The society has very rigid rules to work toward that end, and whatever means can help take the society to that end are justifiable. It leads to a very dystopian future, which has a lot in common with Huxley’s Brave New World.
In this book, the story revolves around Edward, the son of a swatchman (who is the society’s version of a doctor; certain colors in this world have a medicinal effect, but only certain people are allowed access to them) who has been sent to one of the towns outside the urban areas to replace a swatchman who recently died. The mood and character of the town is very different from the city Edward and his father are used to, and as they spend more time there, Edward realizes that the Utopian ideal that the society is selling isn’t all that it seems to be.
This is a typical Jasper Fforde novel. It’s very compelling, very interesting, with a cast of likeable characters fighting a battle against beauracracy and tradition. The mystery is satisfying, as is the conclusion, but I did have a couple of issues with some of the characters. One of the characters made a complete change near the end of the book, and while the change made sense, the progression to that point seemed rushed. In addition, there was a plot device that carried through about 4/5ths of the novel, which turned out to be little more than a teaser. It was slightly annoying, but not enough for me to not enjoy the story. Of course, this is the first novel in a projected series, so maybe some of these issues will be resolved and/or explained in future volumes.
One word of caution, though: It’s very difficult to get in to the novel. Fforde doesn’t waste any time with easing the reader in to the setting and its implications to society. He just starts in that world, and lets the explanations come through the progressing narrative. This is fine (to be honest, I prefer that sort of exposition), but for a world that’s so different, in a novel that is far outside the writer’s normal body of work, it was a bit of a struggle. After about 50 pages, everything became clear, but those first 50 pages were a little confusing. The payoff of the story overall, though, is worth the effort.
If this is your first Jasper Fforde novel, then stick with it and let the story engross you. If it isn’t, you won’t need much encouragement to stick with it, since you know the author knows how to spin a yarn. It’s definitely worth it....more
I bought this book years ago (over 10 at the very least), when I was seriously into horror. The premise was enough to interest me (a husband and wife,I bought this book years ago (over 10 at the very least), when I was seriously into horror. The premise was enough to interest me (a husband and wife, looking to preserve their traveling carnival, breed their own freaks by having the wife take a variety of poisons during her pregnancies), and I figured since it was a National Book Award nominee, I could show off how literate I was by reading something I would be reading anyway. Or something like that. I never did get around to reading it, but I’ve held on to the book for a long time. As mentioned several times before, I’m still a fan of horror, when it’s “done right,” and I thought, this book being a National Book Award nominee, this would be one of those horror novels. When it was selected for my wife’s book club, I figured it was time for me to find out.
One definition of perverse is “persistent or obstinate in what is wrong,” and I think that best describes Geek Love, or better yet, that of the main character, Arturo Binewski. He is the armless, legless wonder of the family, dubbed “Aqua Boy” for the carnival, and he slowly, methodically takes over the family during the course of the story. He is a willful character with no remorse, no regrets, and no affections save for himself. In short, he is a textbook sociopath. I have to give the author credit in the way that she draws the character; it’s like she had some psychology textbook right at hand as she developed him. Most of the other characters are just there as filler, and they aren’t nearly as developed as Arturo, but they all serve as some important way to show how deranged Arturo is. Elly and Iphy, the conjoined twins, are there as separate personalities to make them part of the Binewski family, but their real purpose is to highlight how far Arturo is willing to go for revenge and punishment. Thankfully, that doesn’t come to light until the end of the book; if it came any sooner, I imagine most people would put the book down in disgust.
The book is complex, with strange asides that seem to have nothing to do with the main plot, but every character and every event in the story is important. Ms. Dunn is very efficient that way, so be forewarned to pay attention to everything and try not to forget all the things that happen in the story. One might be tempted to skim over portions of the novel (most likely when the author gets into her “flowing prose” style), but you should resist that temptation. If a character sees any page time in this book, rest assured that you will see him or her again.
Geek Love is a twisted commentary on the nuclear family in the modern day, made much more prominent by the ways that the “nuclear” has affected the development of the characters. This point is made especially well by the second story, told in modern times and narrated by Oly, the albino hunchback dwarf of the family all grown up. This subplot revolves around Oly’s daughter wishing to have her vestigial tail removed, and Oly trying to convince her that it makes her unique and special. In fact, this is a theme that comes up throughout the novel. Oly is asked several times if she’s ever wanted to be normal, and she is always surprised by the question. To her, her deformities, and those of all her family members, are what makes her a part of the family. To change her state is to change who she is, and what her family means to her. It’s quite an achievement on the author’s part that she was able to capture that theme so well, and so timelessly. The novel was published in 1989, and it’s still relevant 20 years later.
So, the question remains: Was this book horror “done right”? Well, simply put, this was almost the first book that I ever put down, never to finish, simply because the content offended me. I had real issues with the character of Arturo, and the lengths to which he would go to satisfy his curiosity and his ego. It begs comparisons to the experiments that Nazi doctors performed on the interred at concentration camps, which I imagine was very intentional on the author’s part. It’s disturbing, foul, haunting, and profane, and it really sums up how a person should feel after reading a horror novel. On the other hand, I would have serious reservations recommending this book to anyone. It’s well written and raises some interesting points, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Charlie Huston’s stuff is brutal, true, but I would have fewer reservations recommending his work over this. Charlie Huston is visceral and intense, but Geek Love is offensive and emotionally draining in its portrayal of cruelty and misguided devotion. As much as I thought about the book and will continue to think about it, I will likely never read this book again. It’s simply too much for me to process more than once....more