Dec 26, 2012

The Damned Busters, by Matthew Hughes

I've said many a time before that I highly value originality. This little gem of a fantasy book really fits that bill, and I'm delighted by Hughes' unique ideas. The unlikely protagonist of this novel is Chesney, an actuary who probably suffers from Aspergur's syndrome and an incredibly overbearing, Christian mother. He accidentally summons a demon whilst building a pool table, and his refusal to sell his soul to the Devil causes the denizens of Hell to go on strike. Throw in a couple of pretty, snarky women, some old white men who want to rule the world, and a demon who talks like Al Capone, and you get a genuinely fun, interesting, unique book. The editing is a little off; I noticed several instances of misplaced or missing quotation marks. But aside from that, I really enjoyed this little-known fantasy book, and would happily read more of Hughes' work.

Dec 24, 2012

Making Money, by Terry Pratchett

I know, I know, another Pratchett book...I can't help that I love reading his dry, British humor! This example is just as good as the others, though I noticed several printing and editing errors, which I hadn't in any of his previous books. This one is about a crook who goes clean and is made head of the Bank of Ankh-Morpork, charged with revitalizing the institution and helping the city. The characters are fantastic, the plot delicious, and Pratchett's writing as enjoyable as it always is.

Dec 19, 2012

The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht

Readers and booksellers everywhere have raved about this book from the moment it came out, and I can see why. Obreht has the kind of lyrical narrative voice that only comes along once in a great while, and the fact that she wrote this book in her early twenties makes it all the more impressive. She is incredibly talented and has a background rich with inspiration, having grown up before the age of twelve in former Yugoslavia. "The Tiger's Wife" is a tale of wrenching separation, that of a nation from itself and a granddaughter from her grandfather, and the story of coming back together again, a kind of repatriation despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers of war and death.

The novel alternates between the present, just after Natalia's grandfather dies far from home and from causes kept secret; the tales he told Natalia of his occasional meetings with the deathless man; and Natalia piecing together the story of her grandfather's early life with the tiger's wife in his home village. The jumps in chronology can be a little disorienting, since Natalia tells her own story in a different voice from the story of the tiger's wife, but other than that, the writing is superb. Obreht has the talent I believe marks out truly great writers: the ability to speak truths that seem obvious upon reading, but have never really occurred to you previously, or have never been so well described. Combined with her beautiful descriptive writing, this makes for a fantastic first novel, and I cannot wait to see Obreht's future work.

Dec 13, 2012

Vampires, Zombies, Werewolves, and Ghosts, ed. by Barbara H. Solomon and Eileen Panetta

Having now read twenty-five short stories and novel excerpts, I can safely conclude that horror stories just aren't my thing. There are some cool stories in here, and even a couple of funny ones by Woody Allen and Oscar Wilde, but in general the stories are melodramatic and overdone. These subject matters tend to elicit overwrought prose and far too heightened language, which instead of setting the reader on tenterhooks, only serves to take you out of the story and comment upon the slightly ridiculous narration. It's difficult, however, to think of how it could be otherwise. Supernaturally based movies are enjoyable because the visual is so strong and so clearly exemplifies The Other. Authors are faced with the challenge of trying to evoke a similarly strong response without any visual aids. I think that for myself, I will continue to rely on movies to get my horror fix, and stay away from the books.

Dec 3, 2012

Brokedown Palace, by Steven Brust

"Brokedown Palace" reads much more like a fable or fairy tale than a novel, which makes it an interesting curiosity, though I'm not sure it makes it any better of a book. Reading the novel, one gets a sense that the words are almost holding their breath; there is more they want to say, but Brust has left them to only scratch the surface of the story. The land of Fenario, its surrounding world and the mythology that supports i,t sounds really interesting, but we only get a hint of a taste of it, and skim across the top while great depths below are left undiscovered.

The writing is generally good, and its ephemeral quality is sustained throughout the book. There were two things that bothered me, though. First, the characters are almost caricatures of personality types. Each persone has a strictly defined personality with very little room for change and development. The people who fought hardest against the inevitable outcome end up killing themselves, rather than try to live with their new reality. People with ineffable sadness remain ineffably sad, even when they get what they want. This goes against the basic tenant of a fairy tale, wherein transformation is key. Second, the miniature fables in between each chapter of the book are quite amateurish. I like the idea of delving into the mythological history of the land, but the stories read (almost exactly) like stories I was writing when I was fifteen. Mythological fable is often simplistic, yes, but the forced, almost "countrified" voice they are written in is hokey and bizarre. So in the end, I appreciate what Brust was trying to create, and though he certainly achieved the right feeling, I'm not sure that accomplishment lead to a successful novel.