Jun 28, 2015

The Great & Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms, by Ian Thornton

This wonderful novel didn't quite make the cut for our Debut Authors panel, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A bit David Mitchell-esque, "The Great & Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms" follows our eponymous hero from his birth to his death in a small village in Yugoslavia, with much wandering in between. It takes until about halfway through the book to hit the crux of the novel: Johan Thoms is the driver of the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand fell victim to the shot heard round the world, thus launching World War I. Wracked by guilt which only increases as the horrors of WWI and then WWII grow, and convinced that he will be found and (rightfully, in his mind) blamed for causing millions upon millions of deaths, including that of his best friend, Thoms runs continually west, leaving behind his beloved Lorelei, who assiduously writes him a letter a day for decades.

The writing is fantastic, rich and nuanced and complex, hence the David Mitchell reference. The characters surrounding Thoms are delectable, with even the people who last only a few pages or less richly drawn without being overly described. This is a first novel, which Thornton says took seven years to write, and it shows in the extremely careful word selection. My only complaint is pacing. The first half mostly consists of a few months before the assassination, whereas the second half gallops through 1914 to the present day. I understand the decision, as it echoes Thoms' idyllic, slow-paced life before the unhappy day and then the madness into which he rather gleefully descends afterwards, but it's a little difficult for the reader to wrap her head around. Other than that, this is a truly fantastic first novel, and I very much look forward to Thornton's future work.

Jun 23, 2015

A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

It's hard to believe I haven't read this fantasy classic until now. I'm surprised so many young children read it, though, because the language and style is not simple nor quick to read. It reminds me of The Lord of the Rings; epic and sweeping, with much description and little action or dialogue. Despite losing interest a couple of times, I liked it. The writing style is rather similar to "The Left Hand of Darkness," which I enjoyed much more, perhaps because it's science fiction instead of fantasy. I just find it hard to get into fantasy novels anymore; Patrick Rothfuss' "The Name of the Wind" is the only one I've been able to get into in the last several years. Though I didn't love it, I'll read the rest of Le Guin's classic series, if only so people stop giving me weird looks when I say I haven't.

Snuff, by Terry Pratchett

Who does one take with one on a ten hour plane flight? Why, Sir Terry Pratchett, RIP, of course. As with all his wonderful Discworld novels, "Snuff" is all fun and games on the surface and cutting social commentary underneath. This novel's skewered topic is slavery, racism, and ethnic arrogance.

While on a strictly enforced holiday, Commander Sam Vimes stumbles upon a dark secret about the treatment of goblins - a sentient race though of as vermin. It's rollicking, it's funny, it's smart - thank you, Sir Terry.

Jun 4, 2015

Emma, by Jane Austen

To prepare for this review, I rewatched Clueless. Oh, you didn't know that Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd, was a modern retelling of "Emma?" Don't worry, very few people do. But having now read the book, it's an astoundingly faithful rendition, shone pretty brilliantly through a satire of 1990s culture. But enough about Clueless (which is on Netflix instant play, should this review inspire a Clueless craving).

"Emma" is the second Austen book I've read, and while I enjoyed it, it's awfully long. Four hundred pages is a lot of 18th century English to wade through, and the story is very slow to develop. I suppose that at the time it was written, people had much more reading time and the longer the book, the more hours of entertainment it could provide. Now it's a bit of a slog. The characters are exceedingly well fleshed out, to the point where I could have done with less of their monologues. But it's a cute story nonetheless: the precocious and beautiful Emma, determined to remain unmarried her whole life in devotion to her anxious father, instead tries to match others. She matches terribly, much awkwardness ensues, and the Highbury society is set all in a tizzy. She's a sweet character and it's a sweet book, I just would have been happier if Miss Austen had written a tad less of it.