Book Reviews

I have a lot of stuff to blog about, like the family reunion I went to last week and the June Write Brain, and some book reviews. Uh, I think I’ll go with the easy stuff first.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories by Richard Matheson.

Okay, setting aside the squick factor for a moment, read this collection of Matheson stories (mostly published in the late 1950s) to give insight on how to use various tones to pull off various effects. Stephen King? You can pretty much read a Stephen King story and know who wrote it. These stories are the writerly equivalent of Gary Oldman. “Who was that?” “Gary Oldman.” “Wasn’t he in X, too?” “Yeah.” “Doesn’t even look like the same guy.”

Insanely creative. The only trend from story to story is for the ending to throw in just one more twist–horror movies try to pull this off, but it usually ends up being cheesy. This is the guy they’re trying to copy.

The Knight, by Gene Wolfe.

I’m not smart enough to read Gene Wolfe, which is too bad, because I really like his stuff. I mean, you’re reading along, and everything makes sense. Then, suddenly, you realize something else was going on at the subconscious level, and you start to wonder what it was. It’s like your brain is being reprogrammed as you read.

Am I a different person than I was before I read this book? I think. I’ll never know.

I mean, Book of the New Sun (Shadow & Claw, Sword & Citadel) is one of my favorite series, but I have no idea what it’s about. Starts off with a torturer’s apprentice on a fantasy world, some parts of which are so fantastic it’s like watching a screensaver on acid (or sinus medication). Ends with a spaceship, breaks off in the middle of things…

Anyway, The Knight is about a normal-Earth kid who gets sucked into a fantasy world. The book continues into The Wizard. The kid has lost a lot of his memories and may have lost years between leaving earth and arriving in this new world. He decides to make himself a knight, based on an enchantment from a fae enchantress. He’s followed by one of Odin’s hounds (maybe). His older brother is either Ben, from normal-Earth, or it’s…it’s complicated.

Nobody is who they seem. Nobody is who they seem even after you figure out who they really are. Reality is set up in planes, with lower planes treating upper ones like gods, except from the perspective of the denizens of the upper planes, who don’t feel like gods.

I plan to read The Wizard, but I don’t expect to understand that, either.

The Unnameables, by Ellen Booraem.

A YA utopian/distopian book.

I have to admit that at first I hated this book. I picked it up and read through the first five pages a dozen times and said, “Meh, ” because the book starts out with a few pages of “trying too hard.”* I don’t need the prologue. I don’t need the main character’s musing from the perspective of the end of the story. I didn’t need the introduction to the story’s terminology. Once I got past my snit about that stuff, I remembered that the random passages I’d read in the middle of the book were really good, and had fun with it.

I also wish the cover were different — what I needed an introduction to was the idea that the society resembles New England around the end of the 19th century, and I get a mysterious wooden thingy instead. I went to the author’s website, and there’s a snippet of picture they should have used instead, by her partner.

But once I got going, I finished the book in a day, staying up past my bedtime to do so. Good plot, if a little heavy-handed on the moralizing about how important creativity is, but that’s offset by the addition on the necessity of discipline in pulling off one’s great ideas. Complex characters who don’t always do what you expect (but do it often enough that you’re surprised when they don’t). Good writing–once I got past the beginning, the unusual word uses flowed easily and convincingly.

Enjoyably recommended for anybody who liked The City of Ember. In fact, I liked Unnameables better; Ember was good, but so melodramatic that I didn’t bother picking up the rest of the series. –It doesn’t look like there will be sequels to Unnameables; I’m just saying.


Fruits Basket #20. I read this whole series online in fansub. Reading professional translations is so much nicer, plus you get all the bonus art…whenever a new book comes out, I reread the whole series. It’s like a new season came out on your favorite TV show. What can I say? I’m a sucker. Fruits Basket manga is like romance novels for me…

XXXHolic #12. I haven’t read this series in fansub. I don’t know why. This series started out as a fairly straightforward ghost-story series, with underpinnings. It has now gotten seriously weird. This volume addresses the question, “Is the thought of a unicorn a real thought?” I teared up at the end.

One Piece! #1-3. I found these at Poor Richard’s, which makes the second bookstore I’ve found in town that carries used copies of manga. I read the first chapter to Ray last night, and she thought it was very cool. Major theme of series: perservere. There are worse things to read to your kids, eh?

I’ve also been catching up on Tsubasa: Resevoir Chronicle and reading a lot of Fullmetal Alchemist. Tsubasa is the kind of thing you’ll like, if you like that kind of thing (Clamp), but FMA is plain good writing and art, and I recommend it all ’round.

*As a writer, I should take note. I probably won’t.

4 thoughts on “Book Reviews”

  1. I haven’t read it yet. Books read more-or-less in order received, unless it’s manga.

    Shit. That means I’m about 2 months behind now.

  2. Great set of reviews. I see Bayard’s have got themselves a guest illustrator for one of their stories in the September edition of Storybox – award winning illustrator Helen Oxenbury, who also provided illustrations for Alice in Wonderland – StoryBoxBooks

  3. Matheson’s the fellow responsible for most of the best “Twilight Zone” episodes. Serling tended to be sentimental; Matheson was just freaking scary.

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