Book Reviews for May 2010

22 05 2010

Once again using my patented 6-pack rating system:

  • Ghost Story by Peter Straub — (4 out of 6 glasses of 2006 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay) I’m not sure why I never read this one before. If I had come across it when I was younger, I probably would have given it 5 or even 6 glasses of this inexpensive, but apparently delicious, wine (I wouldn’t know — I don’t really drink wine myself but feel it works better as an analogy for how Mr. Straub writes). As expected, the writing was good  and even outstanding in places. The setting and locales where well drawn and evocative. I really liked the references to classic cinema. Most of the characters worked well. However, I had a problem with one of the protagonists that didn’t sit well with me: in the first two-thirds of the book he’s a follower without any will of his own, and then suddenly he becomes a hero? This character kind of threw me off. I also had qualms with the length of some of the flashbacks because they took me out of the steadily building narrative tension of the present. Yet, overall, I really, really loved the book. I understand why it is a classic. Unfortunately, I think my high expectations made me more critical than I should have been coming into this book.It is an excellent paperback read. It really is an original ghost story, especially for its time. 
  • Innocents Abroad by Gene Wolfe —  (3 out of 6 Miller Light) I have to say I found this collection uneven and a little disapointing. There are a few really good stories in here, but many of them just didn’t really work for me. Highlights: “The Tree is my Hat” (a much shorter and better done version of An Evil Guest, set in the same island world as the latter half of the novel) and “Houston, 1943.”  The stories I liked least weren’t really obscure (you expect a measure of that when reading Mr. Wolfe), but they just didn’t really say anything to me or the narrative voice just didn’t gel. If you are looking for a good selection of Gene Wolfe stories, I would recommend a collection I read a couple years ago, Starwater Strains, which I would give 5 out of 6 Miller Lights.
  • An Evil Guest, by Gene Wolfe — (2 out of 6 Natural Light) *Sigh* This was a strange one and a hard one to review. In some ways it is Mr. Wolfe’s most accessible novel. It is a truly easy, breezy read. The entire thing is dialog. Unfortunately, the dialog is terrible. It is an homage to classic Hollywood, I know, but it just did not work for me. At all. It was like reading a bad gangster movie from the 1940’s. I did not like any of the characters. The narrative is uneven and never really took me anywhere special. The book seems to suffer an identity problem — it wasn’t sure if it was a noir mystery, a science ficition book, or a Lovecraft pastiche. I tend to like books that mix different elements and genres, but in this case it just didn’t work. At least not for me. 
  • Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery — (5 out of 6 Red Hook ESB) What a wild ride! To be honest, I normally shy away from books about New York City — I’ve seen enough Woody Allen movies, I’ve read too many books set around the city, and, being the country guy I am, I have a hard time relating — but this novel is a great novel about the city. In fact, the novel felt like a love letter to the city itself. The story is wild and manic and never sleeps. It is a riotous melting pot of insanity and celebration — whatever the heck that means. 😉 This book is what might have happened if Kerouac had decided to write science fiction. This is a great little book, one I could see myself reading again. It is short, but dense in a fun way — there are many diverging characters, plotlines, and threads. Not everything is really resolved, but that’s representative of life, isn’t it? 
  • The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford(5 out of 6 Pabst Blue Ribbon) I just finished this one last night. I have to say, while slow to begin, the tension in the last fourth of the book is fantastic. This book beautifully melds a realistic coming of age novel with an exploration of extrasensory perceptions, a strong measure of suspense, a creepy killer, and a ghost story added into the mix. And it works! These disparate elements complement one another within the narrative. The people in the family at the center of the novel are imperfect, yet still loving — just like a real family. At its heart, this is a story all about growing up. It is about realizing there are real evils in this world and serves as a meditation concerning the end of innocence. Thematically, it reminded me of Something Wicked This Way Comes. If only it had The Dust Witch and her crazy balloon… I’ve known of Mr. Ford through his short stories for a long time now (if you haven’t done so, read “The Empire of Ice Cream” right now! It’s much better written than my off-the-cuff and uneditd book reviews), but until reading The Shadow Year, I had never read any of his novels. Now I intend to browse his back catalog and add them to my reading list.  
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury — (6 out of 6 of the most awesomest beer imaginable, one tasting of wild honey and cream and bitter hops and all sorts of other random awesomeness) I’m just saying. It’s not that this book is new to me or anything, but I wanted to note that it is amazing and give something a full 6-pack! 🙂

Reviews To Expect Next Month: Dark Faith (a story by story review) Sarah Canary, and The Tel Aviv Dossier.

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