Category Archives: Book Reviews

What I’m Reading: Shadows of War and Fingerposts

The title is a bit misleading. I haven’t read much this past week, after Tuesday. Wednesday morning, my fiancée and I went to Atlanta to spend two and a half days packing the rest of my things (books, bookshelves, bookshelf knick-knacks, writing paper for books, and a few t-shirts… also a bunch of heavy things I sit on whilst reading books) and then we turned around on Saturday and worked for two days in Augusta, including one incredibly busy  day of tearing down our family’s roasted nut booth and loading it into a cargo van. (If I haven’t mentioned yet how awesome my fiancée is, here’s a good place to rave about her. I might have been packing with her, but she kept me moving and led the operation, and especially kept me from wanting to reread Every Single Piece of Paper That Had Writing On It.) Plus, I had to complete an assignment for a creative writing course I’m taking through Coursera and Wesleyan University. Plus I’m trying to finish knitting a shawl in time for a wedding. Considering that it’s my wedding, and that I really don’t want my first act as a husband to be my confused explanations of why her wedding shawl still has needles hanging off of it, I’ve slipped that up in my priority list a little. But, I’m a reader and a writer, so unless I’m in the utter throes of depression, I’m going to read a little bit of something, no matter what.
12591698Tuesday morning, I got up early, flipped to I think the 65% mark of Caliban’s War, and decided to read a chapter or three with my mug of tea; always a good way to start any day. About three and a half hours later, I found myself outside on the lawnchair with the cat next to me (apparently, I had moved locations while reading, something I still only have fuzzy memories of) and looking at the extras at the end of the book. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed this one. Whether I liked it more than the first… I don’t know. The first half still felt like a retread, but the characters changed and progressed as the story went on, sometimes even in unexpected ways. Also, something bad I thought was going to happen, didn’t, and that was pleasantly surprising. I already have the third book in my library, but I’m going to have to wait until I get to that.

Rating: Also 4 stars. I’d probably rate it a quarter-star less than the first, but I don’t deal in fractions with my reviews. Also, I really like one of the new characters, an older woman, diplomat, who is very practical-minded and believes in looking out for her own in addition to saving the world. I hope she is in the future books in the series.

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Ah. I remember when this book came out, and I was reading Umberto Eco and other historical fantasy works, and put it on my list. Then, I promptly forgot it was on my list. When I found a copy at the campground’s free library (a place I’ve donated some eight books to myself… free libraries are one of the best concepts man has ever thought of, even if you consider the Internet Cat Video) I had to snag  it. Unfortunately, I started reading this Wednesday morning when I was on my way to Atlanta (no, I wasn’t driving; it may be a mostly straight drive to the city from here, and yes, it might have  crossed my mind) and since then, I’ve only gotten about five chapters in. What I read, though, is amazing. I’m not as familiar with the English Civil War and post-Civil War period as I am with the Wars of the Roses (I have a hunch that Richard III was framed by the Tudors and I require extensive proof before being convinced otherwise) but I know enough to pick up the strong sense of verisimilitude the author has worked into his book. Plus, the Venetian narrator is awesome and the foreshadowing (he’s writing this account years after the events) is painfully dramatic. I will hopefully have a full review next week.

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The other book I’m reading, I’m actually not reading. I found a 61-hour audiobook version of War and Peace on Audible, and I’m finally  getting to that book after years of rereading his novellas. Audiobooks and knitting, and traveling, were made to go together, and I dare anyone to say that listening to a book is inferior to reading. For one, I often find myself focusing more on the words and sentences when I’m listening to a book, since I can’t flick my eyes back up a paragraph if I let my attention wander. And for another, story time is awesome. Audiobooks are adult story time. There is no down side to that concept.

Coming soon:  posts for Wednesday and Friday, and maybe some more news on my writing. Stay sane-ish, everyone.

 

What I’m Reading: The Tortured Wraiths of Ganymede

Found on Imgur. If you know who created this, PLEASE LET ME KNOW, IT'S AMAZING!It’s been a long two weeks, but in addition to packing, working (including one road show in Alabama), and having Mr BiPolar show up unannounced a few days ago and raid my internal medicine cabinet for all of my Serotonin, I managed to plod ahead on my Midwest Gothic writing project. I also finished a book, abandoned one (probably for good, though I’m willing to listen to advice from people who’ve read it),  and started two more. I’ve been a busy little sushi roll.  But, today is Book Date Day, so here is my weekly list of what’s on my reading table. 

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First off, I finished one of the books I last blogged about and immediately charged into Book Two of The Expanse, Caliban’s War. Even with work this past weekend, I now find myself some 350 pages into it, and will probably be done soon. Current verdict:  Well, at first, I thought it was less “Vol. 2” and more “Ver. 2.0” but it’s since differentiated itself a little more. Plus, the characters I already knew are becoming a little deeper and the new characters fit in very nicely. I’ll have a full review soon. For now, based on the first book-and-a-half of this series, I’ll just say that if you haven’t read this yet, that’s a problem, and you should fix that.

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I’ve been doing a lot of writing and especially writing about my writing lately, as this book has completely taken over my Muse, and she will constantly chatter about nothing else. When I’m writing something, I’m always looking for parallels in my life or in other things I’ve read, and one of them jumped up and bit me while I was hanging out in a flea market this Saturday. Fortunately, I wasn’t actually dealing with a customer when it did; crazy vendors jumping up and down swatting at their thigh because an idea bit them in the bottom is a good way to lose sales.

I’ve already settled on an unreliable narrator, and I’ve been having a lot of fun trying to decide what “N” covers up or omits or implies or downright lies about. But there’s another level to the concept of the Unreliable Narrator, and that’s the one who doesn’t know he or she is unreliable. A lot of stories written from a child’s point of view (such as the creepy “Dress of White Silk,” found in this anthology by Richard Matheson, among other places) use this technique, and if it’s used well, it can have a profound effect on a reader, especially during a reread. And after I thought of that, my mind jumped over to Severian the Torturer, perhaps the king of unreliable narrators. He lives in The Book of the New Sun, a creepy, dramatic, surreal work of fantasy/ dying world science fiction, and between the stuff he omits, the stuff he lies about, and the stuff that he simply isn’t prepared to understand, a good careful reader can spend months or even years teasing apart the layers and treasures hidden within. I finally finished all four books last summer (it’s not a tetrology so much as it’s a book published in four short novel chunks) and nothing seems more enjoyable right now than reading it again, and seeing if I can add a little more color to my Midwest Gothic story. And if I can’t, well, it’s a great book anyway.

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So that brings me to The Curse of the Mistwraith. This book is one of the many proofs of my hypothesis that I should always try a book twice, a story I talked about two weeks ago. It’s been three days since I binge-read the last 300 pages, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. The first half (well, everything up to the chapter entitled “CONQUEST”) still felt overwritten, and even though I’d read a little more than 200 pages my first time through, it still felt like a slog in parts. Then I got to the  second half, and I realized that everything Ms Wurts was setting up in the first part needed to be there. In fact, it would have been really nice if there had been even more there. She has a great command of drama and tension, and uses the occasional “spoiler” as a way of making the reader even more concerned about whether what will happen at the end is what an unnamed narrator or untrustworthy character stated will happen. And that battle scene… well, not since Malazan have I had a flashback that intense. The Wikipedia page for the book says that she was inspired to write the book, or at least that battle, by the Battle of Culloden, and a desire to show pre-modern warfare without any of the heroic romantic trappings, and by the great Beard of Odin does she succeed.

Rating: Four Stars. I loved this book, but I’m also more than curious about where the series goes from here. There is a lot to process in the beginning, and a lot to put together in the end. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, you will be rewarded. Bonus: It’s nearly a stand-alone book, so if you don’t want to go on to the others, you don’t have to. I’m most definitely going to, though.

Next up:  I’m not sure. I’ll be reading The Book of the New Sun for a month, since my rereading habits have me just reading it at three chapters a day and taking notes. On my shelf I have Buddenbrooks, which will be my third Thomas Mann book (sixth if you count the four novels in Joseph and his Brothers) and an Enlightenment-era mystery that the free library had, An Instance of the Fingerpost. Plus, I have the next books in The Expanse and the Mistwraith series (properly, The Wars of Light and Shadow). And I have an audiobook of War and Peace, plus a lot of knitting to do while listening to the only major Tolstoy work I’ve not yet read. And, I’ve been craving novellas again, so I’ll have to work one or three in. Recommendations and/ or advice is more than more than welcome.

EDITED TO ADD:  I’m abandoning Of Human Bondage, unless someone can give me a damn good reason to proceed past the first half of the book. I consider Mr Maugham to be one of the masters of the English Short Story, and I think I would rather read the rest of the stories I haven’t gotten to. The first two hundred pages was gorgeous and reminded me a lot of my own childhood as a ‘too-clever boy’ who found himself surpassed by the boys who weren’t as smart but actually worked for what they learned, but from the hero’s trip to Heidelburg and thereafter, it descended into a fit of blahs. The writing itself is wonderful but the story is tedious.

“But That’s Not How it Was in the Movie!”

There are a billion and seven articles and posts on the InterWebs about the myriad ways that movies get the book wrong. And while I may be on record with my attestation that they never filmed a version of The Neverending Story, rather, they pissed all over the ending of the film and then turned, faced the screen, and said “This is Hollywood, kids,” I’m not going to add to the circle-jerk and back-slapping of readers complementing themselves on reading and laughing at the poor benighted losers who weren’t blessed with the story in its original form. Not right now, at least.Plus, while there are readers who can defend their argument, many people haven’t been able to tell me why they liked the movie better, without just saying “Well, the director imagined something differently; I totally pictured John Smith in a blue coat and in the movie, he’s wearing green.” Or they have little knowledge of the requirements of drama, and refuse to acknowledge that movies sometimes have to change things in order to be an effective dramatization of the story.

Which brings us to my brand-new mostly-regular feature where I talk about those instances where the movie either was better than the book, or at least got a few things very right. I welcome suggestions, of course, and even arguments. I’m more of a reader and writer than I am a movie junkie, but I have studied film on my own ever since the days when I’d watch Sneak Previews with my Dad in the late 70s, and even more so once I had the ability to stream movies.

Case in point today:  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone vs Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Yes, that’s the English title and not the American one; that’s what JK Rowling named the book, and that’s what I’m going to call it.) I’m a huge fan of the books, as entertainment and as literature, and I think I’m not alone in saying that the series really took off when the third book was released. (I also might be biased because that was when I started reading the series.) Really, though… the first two are fun romps in a magical world, but the third is when the dark themes that dominate the last few books first start to show up. So, when Alfonso Cuarón’s film of Azkaban came out, I was a little nervous, mostly because of what they’d done to the first one.

On the surface, the first movie is a perfect adaptation. Perhaps Hermione and Snape look a little different than how they’re described, but I’m a firm believer that a good actor can create any role, and both actors acted perfect for the parts they played.  But otherwise, the movie felt a little off to me. It wasn’t until I watched it a second time that I realized what it was. They’d included nearly everything that was in the book (well, everything except one of the puzzles at the end and a few bits of dialogue here and there), and as a result, the film felt rushed and overloaded. The book had a good story but it was also a fun school-year exploring a strange and different world. The movie felt like an hour-long tour of a college campus, with some person giving you twenty minutes of information in less than five and then pushing you along to the next stop.

Azkaban, though, was actually adapted to film, rather than just translated, and as a result, it works so much better. There is a long list of the things they left out or changed for the movie, but none of them (with one minor exception) goes against the spirit of the story. So he’s restricted to The Leaky Cauldron, or the class lessons are a little different. Everything that is changed still works with the story, and acts as shorthand for a lot of things they had to leave out. And even the minor bit of Harry practicing magic at the Dursley’s House makes sense, as it shows him longing so badly to go back to his magical world that he’s willing to actually study, something he’s not known for doing back at Hogwarts. (True, that should have brought a warning from the Ministry of Magic, but, well, I don’t know. Maybe they were busy looking for Sirius Black or something.)

Next week, I’ll bring up some horror films that are more frightening on the screen than they were on the page,  sometimes even for someone who had read the book.

* Though, if The Neverending Story ever comes up in conversation, I just might. Or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I can deal with movies changing things from the book for the sake of drama, and adapting to a different media. Neither of those movies were changed for those reasons.

Book Beginnings Friday: A Suitable Boy

Those who follow me on Goodreads know that I’ve just recently finished the 10-volume amazingly epic (and long… very very long) series The Malazan Book of the Fallen. My plans afterwards were to read a few short (like, exceedingly short) novellas and such, but after flying through two thrillers (The Girl With All the Gifts and the excellent, creepy folkloric horror novel The Black Tongue) I decided to plunge back into the world of large book mansions, worlds large enough to get lost in for weeks. Also, don’t tell my Muse this, but I wanted a break from fantasy fiction. So, I picked up a book I’d read briefly a few years before but never finished, or even got too far in, thanks to a freak New England rainstorm which claimed all 1475 pages as a sacrifice, and I’m already lost in wonderment and memories of my first experience with its amazing wordcraft:

‘You too will marry a boy I choose,’ said Mrs Rupa Mehra firmly to her younger daughter.

Lata avoided the maternal imperative by looking around the great lamp-lit garden of Prem Nivas. The wedding-guests were gathered on the lawn. ‘Hmm,’ she said. This annoyed her mother further.

‘I know what your hmms mean, young lady, and I can tell you I will not stand for hmms in this matter. I do know what is best. I am doing it all for you. Do you think it is easy for me, trying to arrange things for all four of my children without His help?’ Her nose began to redden at the thought of her husband, who would, she felt certain, be partaking of their present joy from somewhere benevolently above. Mrs Rupa Mehra believed, of course, in reincarnation, but at moments of exceptional sentiment, she imagined that the late Raghubir Mehra still inhabited the form in which she had known him when he was alive:  the robust, cheerful form of his early forties before overwork had brought about his heart attack at the heights of the Second World War. Eight years ago, eight years, thought Mrs Rupa Mehra miserably.

‘Now, now, Ma, you can’t cry on Savita’s wedding day,’ said Lata, putting her arm gently but not very concernedly around her mother’s shoulder.

A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

The book continues on for over 800,000 words of this marvelous, beautiful prose. After the first 50 pages or so, I found myself immersed, flying through the small print as fast as my eyes could crawl over the letters. The characters are rich, the culture both wonderfully strange and hauntingly familiar, and the plot weaves and wraps around the lives and thoughts of these wonderful four families. I will have a full review when I finish, but I have a feeling I will not want to leave this world when I turn the last page.

And as I often like to do, I’m sharing this at Rose City Reader as part of their Bookish Friday Celebration. I’m there right now, but later on, join me at Friday Night Writes on Twitter. (@bovisrex)

Slack-Off Saturday: My Week in Literature

Well, I can’t really call something a regular feature, or even a semi-regular feature, if this is the first time I do it. So for now, let’s call this an experiment. I like experiments. Being experimented on, not so much. But my confidentiaity agreement keeps me from talking about that, at least not before they offically make contact with our race and settle in North Dakota. And until that happens and life as we know it (and maybe even as we don’t quite know it) transforms utterly, I plan on spending every Saturday talking about what I’ve read, maybe what I’ve watched, and definitely about what’s next on my radar.

Finished:  Steven Erikson:  The Bonehunters (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Volume 6)

I started this series with Gardens of the Moon back in January of last year, and up until now, have been keeping a slow pace through it, even taking breaks between the ‘books’ that make up each volume. Not only do I not want to finally turn the last page and step away from this world, the series is amazingly complex (sometimes a little too much, but only rarely). The first book, in fact, is probably the most confusing introduction to a fantasy world, since Steven Erikson doesn’t believe in easing his reader in. From the start, you’re in the middle of a war of imperial expansion, with one campaign wrapping up before you even really know what’s going on, and then another one starting somewhere else. The magic system is nothing like anything else fantasy readers are familiar with. Amidst the talk of Ascendants, Decks of Dragons, and Warrens, the characters just go on talking like they know what’s going on and aren’t really concerned if someone listening in, like the reader, doesn’t quite follow. In retrospect, it lends the book a hint of verisimilitude; in real life, you don’t tell your friend “I’m going to drive north to Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, which is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region. Yes, I’ll drive my car, that motorised gas-burning vehicle that gets me around.” Likewise, fantasy and science fiction often threatens to lose me if there are long passages of exposition. If they’re discussing something that at least one of the characters doesn’t know, fine. But not when it is, or should be, common knowledge.

Another bright side of the series is that the cultures are different and unique, unlike just about every other fantasy series I’ve read, and there are many different divisions. There aren’t just elves and trolls and goblins. There are three different races that could be called ‘elvish’ and there are cultural divisions among them. Ditto the other races. And there is no ‘common’ language! Because the saga concerns, among other things, an expanding empire, the empire’s language is more common than others, but there are a lot of language and dialect differences that often affect the plot. As a teenager first exploring the world of languages, I  often thought that was a weird feature of modern fantasy; there would be a human language, an Elven one, and maybe, just maybe, an “Old Tongue” that was spoken in a bygone era yet has no relation whatsoever to the languages that are currently on everyone’s lips. Some of the credit is due to Steven Erikson being an anthropologist, but he also just happens to be a talented and thoughtful writer.

Alright, on to The Bonehunters. I’ve heard many former readers of this series talk about how the first five books (which are more or less self-contained, though there are threads that run through them) are the best, but if the series really is going downhill, I don’t see it from this book. I’ve described the way Mr Erikson writes about the military and campaigns (especially in the second book) as being so well executed as to give me mild flashbacks; but nothing in the Malazan books I’d read before prepared me for the battle that takes place about a third of the way in. At turns frightening, thrilling, and heartbreaking, it might be one of the best descriptions of any kind of fighting I’ve ever read. (Well, up alongside Bernard Cornwell.) I had to take a week-long break afterwards just to process everything, and when I got back into it, I was expecting that nothing else could quite hold up to the intensity of that chapter. I was mostly wrong. Strictly as an individual novel, I think it might be ‘tied’ with Midnight Tides, the fifth book, but as a continuation of the series, it’s a very worthwhile installment. I don’t recommend starting with this book (though I can almost recommend starting with book 2, utilizing the TOR Read-along, and then picking up the first a little later… almost…) but I can definitely recommend the series. I’m already looking forward to the next one… more on that in the next section.

The Völsung SagaI already talked about this one a little bit, but I can never recommend or review the old epics too much, and this is one of the best that I’ve read. If you’re familiar with the story of the Ring of the Niebelungs (which is unfortunately not much like the awesome “What’s Opera, Doc?” though really, it should be) you know the basics of the Völsung Saga, though there are enough differences between them to make this a novel read for me. I still stand by my assessment that reading the old epics is like peeking under the hood or reading the source code of the program that makes up our modern world of fiction.

If you’ve never read an epic before, this is a great one to start with. (Yes, better than Beowulf, I think, and for a lot of reasons.) Get an annotated version, sit down with a mug of wine, bookmark the glossary, and go for it. Don’t read straight through like you would a 150-page story written in modern English. Keep in mind that these stories were meant to be told around the fire or after a banquet, and read them slowly. The language is descriptive but not often very dramatic, so fill that in on your own. Take breaks after every few chapters. Try to think about what the characters are doing when they’re not on the page, since a lot is indeed left to the imagination. And the next time you read a fantasy novel with barbarians or trolls or fighter-princes, you’ll know exactly where they came from.

Jim Harrison:  The Land of Unlikeness (From The River Swimmer)

I plan on reading the second novella in this collection tonight or tomorrow but this first one was an amazing description of Michigan, which I still consider ‘my homeland’ even though I’ve now lived outside of Michigan much longer than I lived inside of it. (Aside:  Yes, Jen, maybe I’ll fix that someday soon.) I’ll review the entire book when I’m finished, but, like all of his short novels, it is full of rich language, though not pedantic and arrogant, and the characterization of its protagonist is painfully  relateable. Highly recommended.

On Deck: 

I can always use suggestions and recommendations for my reading list. Next week should see me finishing The River Swimmer, and possibly reading another Malazan book, Return of the Crimson Guard; I almost always take breaks between volumes in a series, but this one was written by Steven Erikson’s collaborator and world co-creator, so it’s kind of like reading a different series. Next month, the excellent Sword and Laser podcast/ Goodreads group is reading a book I’d never heard of, Alif the Unseen, so I had to pick that up as well. If you’re not a member  of their group, go check them out. Whenever I finally decide on a format for a podcast, it will probably be heavily influenced by them. They’re very good at what they do. It’s for that reason that I had no problem picking up a book they recommended without a second thought, and will probably keep doing that in the future.

So, that’s my week. What did you read this week, and what’s sitting next to your reading chair? What are you drinking alongside? And what does your favourite cat think about your reading habits?

Have a great weekend, everyone. L’shanah tovah!

Cross-posted on The Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Happy Birthday, Bilbo

Today is the 77th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. I was going to post a small review of this book, or a little bit about what it means to me, but everyone in Hobbiton is doing the same thing today. This is going to go in a slightly different direction.

I discovered The Hobbit entirely on my own when I was 8. I was in a pilot AIT program (Academically Interested and Talented), it was winter in Michigan (that curious season that lasts roughly from October to May I think that might have been the year I wore a snowsuit under my Hallowe’en costume…) and we were in the library waiting for a bus to take us… somewhere. Not sure if school had been canceled halfway through, or if we were spending recess inside because of the snowstorm (which should alone tell anyone from the midwest exactly how bad the storm was), but for whatever reason, it was an extra library period which meant I could not have been happier. Sometime during that half-hour wait, I found a brown library-bound book that featured wonderful glossy illustrations of Dwarves, and Dragons on Treasure Piles, and other magical things. I brought it home and read it along with my Dad; I read a chapter during the day, and he read one at night.

A little while later, one of my Mom’s friends, who was something of a pleasant hippie who loved opera and weird fantasy told me that there was even more to the story than that one book, and she gave me a very tattered and well-loved copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. Yes, I might have been a little young for it, and I confess to skipping over parts of it during that first reading, but the story absolutely enthralled and enchanted me. Everything in my life then was either Star Wars (which was NOT called “A New Hope,” though word-of-mouth among the kids of my time spread concepts like “The Journal of the Whills,” and “The Clone Wars” and Obi-Wan beating Darth Vader (who also was nobody’s father, not that we knew of) in a lightsaber duel) or Tolkien. I fell hard for it, and a lot of my childhood memories are still linked to which chapter I was reading. I’m not entirely sure of what my parents thought of me reading adult fantasy, but they never said anything to me, not that I can remember.

Someone who did say something to me was a man I still think of as my foster Uncle. My blood kin were all on the west coast at the time, so my parents adopted other families; Bob and Sue were my parents’ age, they had two boys my age, and I can barely remember a time when I didn’t know them. We saw each other at least weekly, if not more, we eventually went to the same church, and he and my Dad played guitar together. They were definitely family, so far as I was concerned.

One thing I didn’t know about Bob, though, was that he was a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan. Not until he saw me reading The Fellowship of the Ring and didn’t believe that an 8-year-old actually was reading and understanding that book. I don’t remember exactly what he asked me, but I do know he quizzed me on what had happened so far. From that moment on, he became my fantasy book buddy; the worlds of Pern and Prydain and The Land (of Thomas Covenant) I explored directly because of him. He also gave me a nicer boxed set of the four Lord of the Rings books, and this brings me to what I’m rather obliquely going to write about.

The books had prefaces and introductions, including one by Peter S Beagle (whom I’d later come to love as the author behind The Last Unicorn) that told me that “FRODO LIVES!” was common graffiti in NYC. But in the blurbs from various publishers in the front of The Two Towers (then and now my favourite of the trilogy, though the film version of The Return of the King is by far the best of that series) there was one that stuck with me all these years.

This… is not for children; nor is it for whimsy-lovers and Alice quoters. Neither is it a dead moral apparatus festooned with poesy… It is an extraordinary work-pure excitement, unencumbered narrative, moral warmth, barefaced rejoicing in beauty, but excitement most of all; yet a serious and scrupulous fiction, nothing cozy, no little visits to one’s childhood.

Boy, did that piss me off when I read it. I was a child, I was reading it. Who was this silly grown-up to tell me the book wasn’t for me? (I feel the same way now when I read an Internet article titled something like “Five Things You’re Wrong About” or “Six Ways You’re Stupid about History” or such.) If anything, I think that quote made me want to read it even more. And yes, there were parts where it was a long slog, especially for a kid who just wanted to read about dragons and Nazgûl and Gollum, but I finished it, absolutely amazed at the ending. And the second ending. And the third ending. I still feel a little cheated when a fantasy novel ends at the death of the Big Bad, and the heroes dont go back and perform their own version of The Scouring of the Shire. And another thing Bob did for me was tell me that I’d read the books multiple times, and he was definitely right about that. In fact, I’m gearing up for another reading, since it’s been about ten years since the last. My fantasy tastes have changed so much since that dark winter in snowy Michigan, but I’ll still always hold that series dear to my heart.

Still, that blurb stuck with me, and years later, thanks to the magic of Rivendell… err, I mean, of the Internet, I was able to find the entire review. It’s short, too short, perhaps. But in its few paragraphs we get a glimpse into what fantasy fiction was like before LOTR hit the shelves. Adult CJ understands (now) that the writer wasn’t trying to cut down precocious children (even the ones who thought they were way more literary than they really were) but rather to tell people that, not only were they not too old to read fairy stories, but they were old enough.

Here’s the essay. Also, if you don’t recognise the works he compares the book to, do yourself a favour and check them out. Some of them are greatly flawed, but it’s nice to see the influence they had on Professor Tolkien and his world.

And now I think I’m going to pull down one of Tolkien’s poems and let myself wander Middle-Earth once more.

Donald Barr:  Shadowy World of Men and Hobbits

 

 

 

All 64 Stephen King Books, Rated

Since Carrie turns 40 this week, Vulture decided to rerun their complete ranking of all 64 Stephen King books (counting his three non-fiction books). I’m glad they did this, since I missed it the first time around. Also, I pretty much agree with this list. Oh, I might shuffle around the books within each five-book slide, but for the most part, they do a good job of pointing out what works and what doesn’t, and even when they criticize him, you can tell they’re reverent about it.

Hat tip:  io9

All 64 Stephen King Books Ranked and Reviewed

Book Review: Witchfinder

I’ve linked to some of Sarah Hoyt’s posts before, both from According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club  blog. I’ve liked her writing since discovering it via Instapundit, but until now, I’d only read her essays (some of her blog posts, to me, seem involved and rich enough to call them that) and short stories. This is the first novel of hers I’ve read, and I have to say that I’d been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks, ever since I saw the teaser on her site.

The book might best be called “Historical Fantasy” though the version of Regency England that most of the story takes place in is a world or two removed from our own. Among other things, King Arthur was real, magic works, and it is illegal to travel between worlds, which of course means that the plot focuses on a few who do just that. The story takes a couple of chapters to get going. This is not a bad thing at all, of course… I am the person who went through 400 pages of Infinite Jest to figure out what the actual story was. But it does factor with the few things I didn’t like about this book.

Let me get them out of the way. Some of the dialogue, especially when we first meet a new character, is stuffed with unrealistic detail, detail a character living in the world wouldn’t use but included for a reader’s benefit. These go away after the early part of the book, though. There were some typos, especially involving the name of a character when we first hear about him, that threatened to pull me out of the book when I’d barely begun. I also found a few grammatical typos (including one sentence than stood out because it’s a kind of error… a labyrinthine sentence that doesn’t quite close itself at the end… that I always have to edit out of my own MSs) that bothered me. I’m not bothered to the degree that I was with the typos and eggcorns in Twilight because I expect a company like Scholastic to have layers of editors and fact-checkers and proofreaders, or at least, that was how the big publishing companies justified their price points and superiority over indies. But, I will say to Ms Hoyt that she should go over the book one more time or have an independent editor do so, and I’ll say to the readers after me that you should ignore them and plunge on with the story, because it is a hell of a story.

The plot, once it gets moving, does not stop for anything. Just when I thought I had a handle on what the characters had to do and what they could possibly do to get out of it, something twisted and sent me along a new path. While at the very beginning, the characters seem like hopeless stereotypes from Regency or Edwardian romance fiction (the dissolute duke, the bastard brother who loves him, the plucky female spy, the mother who knows most and suffers for it, etc) the characters do jump out in new directions. The description of the world(s) and the magic involved were at once charming, dramatic, and realistic. And there are a couple interesting folds that show that Ms Hoyt is definitely having fun with the world, such as when we learn that the denizens of this magical England have the same fairy tales, but they’re interpreted a little differently:

“although mostly what one learned [from Cinderella] was not to perform love-spells involving one’s own father and a nice-seeming neighbor lady, when one was a very young and inexperienced witch. And as for Little Riding Hood, that charming cautionary tale had prevented many a young girl from giving her pet dog characteristics of her human playmates in order to have him better play house.”

All told, this was a worthwhile read, and I’m glad I bought it. It also gives me hope for the independent publishing world that an already-established author like Sarah Hoyt is willing to take the plunge and publish on her own, and that such work obviously wasn’t something her ‘real’ publisher rejected but a quality, well written piece of entertainment. Consider it recommended.

Rating: 4/5 stars. Five, of course, I will only give to books that threaten to rewrite the very fabric of humanity. 2/5 is a competent book… one that I at least felt like finishing. 3/5 is good… say, a C+ or a B- maybe. It’s not one I could imagine rereading, but it’s also not a book that would make me call up the publisher and ask for a refund of my time. 4/5… I’m going to be rereading this. And if there are more books forthcoming, I’ll read those as well, and most likely push them on the blog.

 

Halvesies

Today is a day of halves:

  • I’m halfway through my final draft of the ‘Agata’ novella, and I think I might have made it through the hardest part. Even if I haven’t, well, I’m halfway. It’s taking longer than my (originally quite naïve) schedule said it would take, but I’m moving forward and coming ever closer to finishing it.
  • I’m halfway through the story for Thursday, though in this case, I know I’m through the hardest part. The story’s finished; I’m just adding flair to it, now.
  • The storm that’s been pummeling the southeast is about halfway finished. Or at least it is according to Accuweather. No serious flooding where I live, though the cat keeps reminding me that she never signed up for this thunder crap.
  • And I’m halfway through Infinite Jest. I’ve read a lot of meta-novels (a good chunk of Pynchon, Ulysses, Remembrance of Things past (it might not be the most accurate translation of the title, but it’s the most poetic English version, I think), and the ever-awesome Tristram Shandy, which the movie version described as “a post-modern classic before there was a modernism to be post about.” Oh, and House of Leaves. This is, so far, my favourite of them, and it keeps getting better. Yes, it’s a slog and a third in spots (Tennis, anyone?) but I’m starting to see how everything is coming together, and if DFW does pull off the ending the way I think he might, it will be worth it. It’s definitely not a book for everyone, and no, I don’t subtly mean ‘A lot of people can’t handle the way the book’s written because they’re just not advanced enough.’ There is that matter of taste, and in that, I really do mean that it’s not for everyone. As far as meta-novels or post-modern novels go, it’s no Finnegans Wake, though as much as I like James Joyce, I’m happy about that. But it does have quite a few quirks. For example, I’m actually right around page 490 of 1080… but if you count the fifty-odd pages of footnotes (some lasting 18 pages of 8 point type, some with footnotes of their own) I’ve definitely made it halfway. The references are sometimes obscure, and while there is a good Wiki to help you keep everything straight (such as the corporate sponsored names of years) there were some days when I would read 30 or 40 pages in an hour or so, and some when I was happy to have made it through 5. Still, the story’s entertaining, the characters are definitely one of a kind, and I don’t think the book could be written in any other way. In between, of course, I’ve also read a couple of Moorcock books (taking a break for the nonce), two YA books, and most of a collection of Flannery O’Connor stories. But I’m getting there.

So that’s where I am today. Well, that, and digging into the guts of this website. I really don’t like the way it looks, and now that I have a little more content on it, I feel it’s time to fix that. Suggestions are demanded requested at gunpoint politely entertained.