Archive for the ‘Recent Reads’ Category


flickerbook

I haven’t posted about my recent reads in a while. I’m stretching the definition of “recent” in this post but I will press on nonetheless.

It’s been so long that I have over twenty books I could write about. Below are just a few of the interesting ones:

Flicker – Theodore Roszak

Have you ever read a book that feels like it was written specifically for you? Flicker is that for me. Theodore Roszak must have wrote this book with me in mind. The story is about a young film student during the birth of grindhouse cinema who stumbles upon a forgotten horror director who may or may not be using his films to advance the sinister agenda of a centuries-old cult.

But there so is so much more going on! The whole thing is a sordid and dangerous journey into the underside of film history. Orson Welles shows up! The collecting and search for 35mm film prints is a huge part! There is so much for me to love in this book that I have to stop myself from giving any more away. I’ve already said to much.

It’s not just the subject matter, though. The book is written in dense but electrifying prose. Roszak is no slouch. His writing is very intelligent and full of the real knowledge of the type of story he is trying to tell.

Dare Me and The Fever – Megan Abbott

Speaking of electrifying prose, these two novels by Megan Abbott are full of it. Dare Me is the story of a group of high school cheerleaders whose world is turned upside down with the introduction of a new coach. The problem with the book is that the story for me went a little wayward two-thirds through and I lost interest in the characters. But the prose, my god, how great it was!

The Fever had writing that was just as good but the story remained interesting and had me hooked throughout. The young girls of a small town are stricken with strange seizures. The tension this causes starts to bring out everyone’s dark secrets. It’s a nuanced story but Abbott’s prose really sets the mood and had me shaking my head in amazement at times.

Doomed – Chuck Palahniuk

This sequel to Damned gave me the same feel as all of Palahniuk’s last few books: claustrophobia. It’s as if his prose keeps you distant from the story and the characters. The feeling I get while reading of his books only engages me in certain ways. Gut reactions mostly. But my brain is never engaged besides enjoying his turns of phrase. And more importantly, my heart is never engaged.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Here is a case of a book with a story that is so much fun that I didn’t care about writing itself. It wasn’t poorly written or anything, but definitely a level or three below any of the above authors. Still, this one had an engaging story that pulled whole story components from the pop culture of my childhood.

It’s about a virtual reality world with a hidden easter egg that will give the one who finds it control of one of the most important companies in the world. The creator of this world is a huge fan of 80’s pop culture and video games, so all of the hints he leaves are steeping in that trivia. It was all lots of fun.

I’m Not Sam – Jack Ketchum, Lucky McKee

This one intrigued me from it’s plot summary: a woman wakes up and suddenly is someone else. She’s no longer the loving wife Samantha. She’s five years old and has never before seen this man that is supposed to be her husband. Ketchum and Mckee follow this story towards an interesting conclusion, but I don’t think it went far enough. I found it unfulfilling.

Black Hat Jack – Joe R. Lansdale

Landsdale is a pulpy, fast-paced and fun writer. His books read like great movies. His writing pops. This is a western tale about a black cowboy and his adventures with the titular legendary hero. There are tense gunfights, great characters and clever dialog. Lots of period flare and a very unique narrative voice.

The Tenants – Bernard Malamud

The lone tenant in a rundown Brooklyn apartment building in 1971 is trying to finish his novel. A black man (named Willie Spearmint!) starts squatting in a nearby room in the building to work on his own writing. The book examines issues of race, art, rivalry, love, sex, friendship.

Malamud is a good writer and he did something interesting in this book. He put different endings to the story at different points in the middle of the book. It’s an interesting experiment that is buoyed by the Willie Spearmint character, who is a joy to read about.

Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix

The book is presented like a weird piece of marketing material for an Ikea knockoff store. That part of the book is spot on. The story is about the strange goings on at the store once it closes down for the night. It’s a gimmicky book and a gimmicky story and Hendrix doesn’t quite have enough writing chops to pull it off. But is a well-produced!

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

Dry and British but full of real insight. The wedding night of a young couple has huge repercussions for the rest of their lives. It’s a rather sad story. The problem is that at less than 200 pages it felt a bit long. I think it would have worked better as a shorter piece. Still, I can see the draw of McEwan. I’m looking forward to reading some of his longer works.

From a Buick 8 and Under the Dome – Stephen King

Stephen King is a towering figure in the fiction world. And these two book show why. He is very readable, creates interesting characters and puts them in interesting situations. He is able to keep a lot of balls in the air at one time and have them come crashing down when the time is right.

From a Buick 8 is a more subtle and slow story but never boring. A country police station has a strange object in their tool shed. One that may or may not be from another world. Where did it come from? How do they handle it? It builds well to an ending that I quite liked.

Under The Dome is the story of a town inexplicably cut off from the rest of the world by a strange invisible dome. There are tons of characters and tons of stories. Reading it was like consuming a big hearty home-cooked meal of Stephen King nostalgia. Satisfying, if not ground-breaking.

 

I’m feeling grumpy while writing this post. I haven’t read a good book in awhile. And to top it off, these were some books that I had been really excited to get into. Unfortunately, each experience turned out to be anti-climactic.

Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold was the best of the bunch. It’s a simple setup that provides plenty of opportunity for Abercrombie to do what he does best: create cool characters and setup great action scenes. And to be honest, I had a huge amount of fun reading those for a the first 500 pages or so. But the story gets too big, too expansive, and goes on way too long. Afterwards, the last 400 pages left a sour taste in my mouth.

Burnt Tongues is a short story anthology comprised of stories chosen by Chuck Palahniuk from the LitReactor writer’s workshop. I was a member of that workshop for a short time, but felt like I wasn’t getting enough out of it.

Back in the day, Chuck Palahniuk published these essays where he gave his tips for writing well. You can find them here. They are excellent essays, and really useful. But I found that following them religiously made everyone sound like Chuck Palahniuk. And I saw that happening to too many people on LitReactor.

And now this anthology comes around and I still feel the same way. The stories felt like it could have been written by the same person. There is great writing in some of these, but I could see the rules being used instead of just feeling and enjoying the story.

There were some other disappointments I read after that, most of which revolve around Patrick Rothfuss. I picked up and read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland on a Ship of her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente due to his review here. Great review, really built up the book. The book was pleasant, but I found it a surreal for surreal’s sake, sweet but forgettable fairy tale.

I also was privy to read a rare copy of his not-for-children picture book, The Thing Under the Bed. The art for that was the only thing that saved a poor, thin story. Again, nothing special.

And that was all in the lead up to his release of The Slow Regard of Silent Things. This one’s tells the story of Auri from the Name of the Wind series. Those books are EXCELLENT. Loved them. And I loved the character of Auri. But I could not get into this latest book. Auri’s point of view, and the events that transpire during the book, were honestly more annoying than engaging. Rothfuss is a good writer, but his style here doesn’t help the material.

I had written a lot more about this book, but I just deleted it. I don’t want to be negative. I am a huge admirer of Rothfuss, and I really look forward to more of his work. This book just wasn’t for me.

As promised, here is a catch-up on what I’ve been reading recently in the graphic novel world.

The Hood – Brian K. Vaughan

I love Brian K. Vaughan. He wrote Y: The Last Man, Pride of Bagdad, Runaways, and many more. The Hood was one of his early OOP graphic novels that I finally got a copy of. It’s the story of a young man who gets super-powers, and how he becomes a super-villain instead of a hero.

It’s an interesting concept, but the story is too simple and lacking in anything that particularly grabbed me. Very generic feeling, unfortunately.

Pretty Deadly – Kelly Sue DeConnick

This one definitely looks pretty, but it was trying to hard to be like Sandman. The author tried to build her own mythology but the ideas never resonated and it ends up being hard to engage with.

Even worse, though, and one of the worst sins in comics, is that the way the panels were presented made the action very hard to follow. I have zero interest in continuing to read more volumes.

Infinity Gauntlet – Jim Starlin

I read this to get some detail on the upcoming storylines in the Marvel films. Pretty good. It was a bit old-fashioned, lacking the more modern gritty feel of comics of the last 10 years. Also, I felt out of my depth because there were so many characters I wasn’t familiar with. The ending was cool, though. We’ll have to see if the movies head in the same direction.

Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

This was a disappointing graphic novel from the author or Scott Pilgrim. It’s a bit of a mess. A chef finds a stash of magic mushrooms that allow her to correct any mistakes she might have made in her life. But using them causes her even more problems than she anticipated.

It’s full of surreal and dream-like ideas that never quite work out, and lacking in the humor of Pilgrim. The art is beautiful, though.

I haven’t posted about what I’ve been reading lately, and now seems as good a time as any to catch up. Below are some thoughts about some of the books I’ve read in the past few weeks (A graphic novel post is forthcoming).

Reading is fun.

Lexicon – Max Barry

What if language gave people the power to control someone? And what we thought of in the past as wizards, were just people who were able to wield words like a weapon? What if these people were still around, and recruiting others for something big? Something biblical?

Well, that’s the premise of Lexicon. And it’s a hoot. Barry uses the time-tested magic-school premise to launch into a crazy story that just gets bigger and bigger. I would characterize it as action-mystery, full of like-able characters and thought-provoking ideas. Barry’s prose is getting better, too. This is his best yet.

Leviathan Wakes – James Corey

Space Opera! And a good one! This epic space story takes places hundreds of years in the future when humans have spread all across the solar system. There is a tentative balance between the three major governments (Earth, Mars, and The Belt). But something sinister has arrived from another world and it’s starts threatening that balance in a big way.

It’s told from the point of view of a Belt cop investigating a missing person case (straight from a film noir), and a ice-trawler captain who both just happen to get sucked into the middle of this whole galactic mess. It’s written simply, but balances the science and the politics and the action quite nicely.

After awhile, small cracks in the narrative start to show. The authors aren’t quite up to the task of keeping everything perfectly cohesive. But, really, it doesn’t matter. The book is just too much fun to read.

Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson has a gift for making what I would call Hollywood style books. Good hollywood. The three-act structure is clear as day. The characters have just enough depth to them to keep things interesting. The pace keep moving, and the set-pieces are exciting. Combine that with really cool story concepts, which Sanderson has a great track-record with, and you get some great books.

Steelheart is one of those. I mean, just read the synopsis:

“Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.”

This delivers on it’s exciting premise. Not deep, but solid and engaging.

All You Need is Kill – Hiroshi Sakurazaka

I read this because I enjoyed the premise of the film (Edge of Tomorrow) quite a bit, and, frankly, I think the title is awesome.

A soldier relives the same doomed battle against an alien race over and over. Teaming up with another soldier who used to have that same power, they try to figure out a way to win the war.

The prose is pretty juvenile, but that could be a result of the translation. Otherwise, the premise was interesting but I found the film presented the idea in a much more engaging way. However, where the film flopped at the end, the book did not. The ending was much more interesting and more fulfilling than the generic Tom Cruise action set-piece we got on the screen.

Run! 26.2 Miles of Blisters and Bliss – Dean Karnazes

Don’t read this book unless you really like running. It’s poorly written, unsubstantiated, and faux-inspirational. Classic Dean. Still, it was about running so… that’s good I guess.

The Song is You – Megan Abbott

Damn, Megan Abbott can write. This early novel of hers takes place in 40’s Hollywood and just drips with the atmosphere of the time. An actress has gone missing. Could it have been an abortion gone wrong? A depraved sex-act and murder? Or something even more sinister? Enter our anti-hero, studio PR fix-it man Gil Hopkins, who gets sucked into the mystery that is more personal than he would like to admit.

Great dialog, great prose. Snappy, pretty and clever, but a bit too flowery at times. Story-wise, the twists and turns hit and miss. As do the characters and the arcs. The bottom line is that the book is carried by its style, which is substantial, especially if like the genre or just appreciate a good turn of phrase.

I’ve read some interesting books during the past few weeks. Here is a quick run down of just a few that I think were notable:

I Loved You More – Tom Spanbauer

Fucking Tom Spanbauer, man. My personal favorite author. His writing connects with me, heart to heart. His latest, a sort-of love triangle between two men and a woman, is probably his most personal book. Beautiful and touching as usual.

The Hoke Moseley Series – Charles Willeford

Charles Willeford wrote a series of novels starring detective Hoke Moseley. There are only four (not counting the unpublished Grimhaven). But they are unique and exciting and incredibly engaging. I can’t believe all of the pieces that Willeford keeps moving in these books. He must be a juggler.

Miami Blues (they made a cool film out of that one). New Hope For the Dead (I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that had as much going on in it as this one did), Sideswipe (After the previous book, I can understand Hoke’s mindset), and The Way We Die Now (A fitting final entry).

The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum writes brutal horror pretty well. Most of his books are entertaining throwaways (The Off-Season series), but this one stands above the rest. A girl is held captive in her foster mother’s basement under the watchful eyes of the neighborhood kids. What makes this different than Ketchum’s terrible Right To Life, is that the idea of authority and mob psychology are explored. You get a POV of one of the children and you can see how this incident developed from the ground up. I reviewed the film here.

The Wind Through the Keyhole – Stephen King

Stephen King gets a lot of flack for being a perceived hack but that is just not true. This Dark Tower entry is excellent. The novel focuses on a story that Roland tells while hiding out from a Starkblast (A cool idea by itself). It recounts one of Roland’s first missions as a Gunslinger. Nostalgic, fantastic, exciting. Great character’s too. A good example of what Stephen King can still do.

The Rithmatist  – Brandon Sanderson

This is the best book I’ve read by Brandon Sanderson. The cornball chalk-drawing magic system is much more interesting than it sounds. The book moves quickly, has an intriguing mystery, and builds to a cool ending. And it full of the charm that young kid in magic school books can have if done well.

Deadman’s Crossing – Joe R. Lansdale

A set of hilarious and action-packed weird west novellas by the master of the genre, Joe R. Lansdale. They all star Reverend Jebediah Mercer, and each one is better than the last. Very pulpy, in a good way.

The King in Yellow – Robert W. Chambers

More of an interesting oddity than an engaging read. It’s a set of short stories that all revolve around a made-up play called The King in Yellow. If you read the second act of that play, you will go insane. It’s a cool idea, but not all of the stories were engaging. The ideas in this book did influence Lovecraft, though.  So that should be good for something.


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