Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Sunday, September 22, 2013
I've been thinking a lot about rankings lately. Which is odd, because other than my quarterly Trending Ten posts, I spend very little time "ranking" books. I don't use a star rating or 5 point scale on my reviews. I just don't like taking my love of words and turning it into anything more than the most elementary of math. I'll use Goodread's rating system but that's about the long and the short of it. But because of The Shining Girls I'm going to talk about the only criteria that I can come up with that explains what makes a five star book for me.
The Shining Girls is the latest from Lauren Beukes, whose Zoo City won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel in 2011. While her latest effort doesn't rely so heavily on genre trappings, reading much more like literary fiction, there are plenty of strange goings on in this dreadfully beautiful mash up of thriller, horror, and speculative tropes. Fans of Stephen King, James Patterson, and Audrey Niffenegger will not want to miss Beukes' nuanced and page turning tale of a time-travelling serial killer and the "shining girls" he is drawn to kill.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
A lot of people feel that Joe Abercrombie is the heir apparent, if not the king, of the fantasy genre. I suppose that depends on your world view, reading habits, personal tastes, and the phase of the moon. While I’ve enjoyed Abercrombie’s work, finding the genre subversion, over the top violence, and gallows humor to be an engaging change of pace from the staples of the genre, I don’t know that I could place his work at the top of the genre pyramid. In fact, I put off Red Country for a long time, not in the mood for the bleakness and the grit that I knew it would contain. I feel foolish for that decision now. Red Country showcases all of the things I love about Abercrombie’s work, his deft hand with character and dialogue and a blending of unexpected genre tropes that kept my knuckles tight on the pages for the considerable duration of his exploration of the Western viewed through the grime encrusted lens of his oeuvre.
It’s important to note that I cut my reading teeth on westerns. Though I abandoned the Wild West for Middle Earth and similar environs, I never lost my appreciation for stories of hard men and women prying a life out of a hostile world. Abercrombie shows an masterful understanding of the genre whose trappings he borrows and as expected promptly uses the best of those to turn in a rousing tale, that while not blazing new ground never disappoints.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
1. The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett: Even after almost a year no title has managed to budge The Troupe from its place on top of the growing heap of books I've read this year. Even now, more than six months later I consider the characters that became my friends and the nuance of the theme and Bennett’s prose. I haven’t recommended any book this highly since Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. And this one is even better, and I doubt there will be a sequel to tarnish its good name. Though I intend to read American Elsewhere before years end. Maybe Bennett can conquer himself.
2. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey: I don’t do sci fi often, but when I do I hope they are all as good as Leviathan Wakes. Full of complex and unexpected heroes and a heavy dose of commentary on politics and human nature told through a tense and action packed narrative. Even though it's full of battles with bullets and torpedoes alike, it's the internal struggles of the characters that elevate this above a paint by numbers space opera. This book is so good, it’s no wonder it took two guys to write it.
3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: I’m sure Gaiman will land on many “Best of” lists this year, and he deserves to. Gaiman has firmly cemented his mastery as the premier author of fables for adults and children alike. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is packed with Gaiman’s unparalleled talent for weaving modern day mythologies teeming with whimsy and insight. There is a strong sense that this is the reader’s story while also being Neil’s own, which makes this a tale with universal appeal.
No Return makes this list for some unusual reasons. Not to say it isn' an excellent novel, because it is. But it was a difficult read for me. The world, characters, and themes of Jernigan’s debut are dense, packed with layers of meaning and subtlety I didn't grasp fully in my initial reading of the novel. Later reflection shone a light on the work that only served to elevate my opinion of the novel and my critical thinking skills moving forward. Jernigan definitely has with important things to say, and he does it in a sweeping style not unlike some of the grandfathers of the genre.
5. The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig: This novel marked my first foray into the mad, profane and bombastic imagination of Chuck Wendig. If you read his excellent blog, you’ll see that the author seems much like his work. The Blue Blazes is blood spattered; noir flavored family drama in an intriguing take on urban fantasy. To sum it up, imagine the characters from Sin City battling the best of Dungeons and Dragon's Monster Manual. This book is like nothing I’d ever read and I found myself promptly reading two more of Wendig's novels in short order.
King is one of the few authors that rate a hardcover purchase with every new release. And Joyland is emblematic of all of the things that King does best. Fans of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Body shouldn't miss this story of nostalgia, growing up and growing old and the friends and lovers you make along the way.
7. The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu: Chu’s debut novel, a comical mix of spy thriller and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is a heart warming coming of age story that taps into the finding yourself living a life without joy and purpose and discovering the only way to change your life is to change yourself. Add in the protagonist’s running banter with his resident alien and action sequences that could only be written by an actual stuntman, and there’s no question that Chu has a stellar career ahead of him.
8. Three by Jay Posey: Jay Posey's atmospheric post-apocalyptic adventure hit my from left field. The story of the titular Three, making his way through a futuristic wasteland with a troubled mother and her enigmatic son is full of world building and imagery as sparse and desolately beautiful as it's setting. Posey's tale of humanity lost and finally found is sure to gather plenty of jaded genre readers in its wake. The ending shocked and puzzled me, and I can't wait to see how Posey constructs a sequel from it's ashes.
9. Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson: I majored in history in college and while it has been helpful in my own attempts at writing, D.B. Jackson has certainly put his PhD to good use. Thieftaker's blend of historical fiction and urban fantasy is a breathe of fresh air and his world weary protagonist, Ethan Kaille is just the hero needed to navigate the treachery of Pre-Revolutionary Boston. Thieftaker succeeds as an exemplary novel in both of the genres it straddles.
10. Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein: With twenty years as a martial artist, I've an affinity for Japanese culture, history, and most importantly swordsmanship. Bein's blending of police procedural, historical, and subtle urban fantasy struck all the right notes with me. Using the series naming, Fated Blades as characters in and of themselves was a stroke of genius and allows readers to experience Japanese history and cultural through a variety of time periods. I'm anxious to discover what direction the series takes next.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Prequel stories are a dangerous proposition; just ask George Lucas. The knowledge of what comes after, of the end game if you will, can taint the enjoyment of these stories from the very beginning. The stakes are even more daunting when the principle property is beloved by a legion of fans. Even after reading Michael J. Sullivan’s excellent first prequel novel to his uber-successful Riyria Revelations series, The Crown Tower, and loving it, I was a bit concerned that he might not be able to catch lightning in a bottle again.
While not as satisfying as the previous effort, The Rose and the Thorn is still packed with all of the things that made Sullivan such a powerhouse in the genre. There are banter and battle in equal measure, a touch of romance, sharply drawn characters, and the wonderful blend of nostalgic sword and sorcery that hearkens back to the books that led many thirty and forty-something readers to the genre in the first place.
Monday, September 9, 2013
After my review of M.L. Brennan's Generation V, I was fortunate to enough to be granted an interview. The result is a fascinating look at the process of writing a vampire novel that doesn't sparkle, but shines with originality in a sub-genre that is all too rife with cliche. I found Brennan's answers to be surprising forthright and often out and out surprising. Hopefully you'll find them as enlightening as I did.
52 Reviews: Tell us a little about the genesis of Generation V? Did the story idea come to you fully formed, or did it change significantly over time?
M.L. Brennan: This was definitely a story that developed. I began by thinking about vampires -- now, I really like vampires in fantasy, but when you look at them from the perspective of how they would fit into a real world ecosystem, they would be more devastating than rabbits in Australia. They live forever, they don't age, they can make more vampires with just a few drops of blood -- it's a population nightmare waiting to happen. So I was thinking about how I would adjust vampires to make them make sense -- how would they work? How would the population maintain a balance with their food supply (that is, humans)? I decided that my vampires would need to be born rather than turned, which meant that they needed to be a species, and that made me think about what a vampire family would be like.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
As I've stated before, I've always found Tad Williams’ body of work a mixed bag. I loved Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn but everything since has left me cold. Until I read The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Williams’ first foray into urban fantasy. The first of the Bobby Dollar series moved Tad back to my must read list. I was fortunate to get a review copy directly from the author, and spent most of my Labor Day weekend following the further adventures of Heaven’s most love struck angel. I won’t sugar coat it, fans of the rapid fire pacing of the stereotypical urban fantasy novel may find Happy Hour in Hell to be a step backward from the frenetic pace of its predecessor, but those who are accustomed to the door-stopper sized novels from Williams’ previous work, will find the richer world building comforting and familiar. Happy Hour in Hell may suffer a bit from middle-book syndrome, but it is still a worthy addition to the series and Tad’s oeuvre as well.