The Books of November

I’m posting this a couple of days early, since I seem to have burnt out on books this month – the latest one is sat on my bedside table and I have no inclination to pick it up. It’ll go back to the library unread.

Part of the reason for that is that I’ve read a lot of good books this month and a lot that I didn’t enjoy at all. Well, maybe not a lot of those, but enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Mrs Dim often pokes fun at me for not challenging myself more with my reading, but I’ve never seen it as something that was supposed to be a chore: Reading is entertainment, and one of the oldest entertainments at that. “Tell me a story!”. This month I’ve read stories that were well-told, certainly crafted, but were unsatisfactory, or even not worth the telling. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, of course. Some of them won awards, for Heaven’s sake! I’m sure they’re wonderful examples of the Great American Novel, or a superb tranche of the zeitgeist that permeates the literary underbelly of the modern pluralistic society. I just didn’t think they were much fun to read.

One of the issues that gets raised when people say that reviews and word of mouth are the ways to sell books these days, to tell which books are good, is the fact that every review is subjective. Some people are reviewing because they loved the book, because it touched something within them. That may not be true for the next person who reads the books. Some people review because they want to show other people how erudite and knowledgeable they are. Some people review because it’s a good way to get your name all over Amazon.

Just lately, I’ve found I’ve been leaving reviews on books I’ve read more to let the authors know I enjoyed their book, than to recommend them to others. Certainly the presence of a positive review is likely to help sales, but it’s mostly because I’ve experience the frisson of delight when a good review of my book is posted. Writers are a terribly insecure bunch of people, perpetually plagued by self-doubt. Having someone write positive things about your work on the internet is brilliantly reassuring.

Star Wars: Crucible – Troy Denning

I said last month I was going to have more fun reading this month. To start off the right way, I snagged the latest Star Wars offering as it crossed my desk at the library. With our heroes starting to show their age, this book feels a lot like a last hurrah for the original trio. After a chase across the galaxy and numerous fights, plus some deeply spiritual shenannigans at the end, there’s a speech that essentially says “Hey you kids, we’re going to take a back seat from now on, why don’t you guys go off and do the adventuring?” Since each book in the series features a timeline from the original movies and includes all the boooks along the way, you can calculate how old these characters are. If I was still flying a spaceship when I reached Han’s age in this book, I’d be well satisfied.

The 100 Year-Old man who climbed out of the window – Jonas Jonasson

There are some books with intriguing titles where the book doesn’t match the advertising. This one does. The story is brilliant, starting with the man in an Old Folks’ Home climbing out of his ground-floor window to avoid the dreadful 100th birthday party the place has organised for him. He encounters a young man at the bus stop who wants someone to mind a suitcase while he uses the toilet (which is too small to admit man and case) so the old man minds the case, but takes it with him when his bus arrives. The case is full of money.

That’s just the beginning of the fun, and that’s just the current day storyline. As the book continues, we learn about the old man’s past, and it’s as exciting and adventure filled as his modern day life dodging gangsters in pursuit of their money and police and elephants… Great fun.

Star Wars: Force Heretic 3 Reunion – Sean Williams and Shane Dix

I started reading this trilogy a while back and felt I ought to see it through to the end. The story is one of the building blocks of the end of the war with the Yuzhong Vong, as Executor Nom Anor builds a new power base against Shimra, and Luke and friends find the sentient planet Zonama Sekot. Best of all, Tahiri Veila manages to consolidate her divided mind, combining her Vong self and her human half into one personality. Which is nice.

WARP The Reluctant Assassin – Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer seems to be on something good. Having rounded off the Artemis Fowl series in fine style (finishing the last book with the opening lines from the first…) he churned out two adult adventures with blood, gore and mayhem in them, and now has introduced a new partnership who travel the timelines to foil villains. It’s a complex YA tale, with multiple betrayals and about turns, but features a cameo from the Battering Rams, originally mentioned in “Airman“. It’s got a great lead in teen FBI agent Chevron Savano and her new partner, Victorian thief and the Reluctant Assassin of the title, Riley.

No One noticed the cat – Anne McCaffrey

I’d never heard of this little book, despite being a fan of Anne MacCaffrey for twenty years. It’s a short tale about a Prince having to take the reins of his domain after the death of his wise and kindly Regent. The Prince is assisted by the cat his Regent left behind, a creature that doesn’t speak, or write messages, but nonetheless inspires the Prince to be better than he thinks he is, and to remember the lessons he was taught. It’s gentle but engaging.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy – Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown became famous for his “Vader and Son” books, but this wonderfully illustrated story is more than just a send-up. It tells the story of Roan, who desperately wants to go to the Starfighter Pilot Academy like his Dad and older brother, but he is rejected. Lucky for him, he’s invited to the Jedi Academy instead, but it’s not what he wants, he’s older than the other kids there, and he’s not sure he’s got what it takes to be a Jedi.

This is, in fact, a story about going to a new school, and it’s done with charm, humour and compassion. And excellent drawings.

Shift – Hugh Howey

I wrote recently about how much I had enjoyed listening to “Wool“, the first in the Silo Trilogy by Hugh Howey. Although that first volume comes to an end at an appropriate point, the story is far from over, and I had no doubt that I would get hold of the next in the series. “Shift” fills in some of the back story of the Silo, as well as moving on the current plot in a significant way. It answers a lot of questions about what Juliet finds in Silo 17 and the voices Bernard speaks to on the radio in the Server Room. Mrs Dim is currently working her way through the first book, and though she finds it compelling, the grim atmosphere is not helping to lighten her daily commute. I may have erred in recommending it to her…

Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi

I had heard that this book simply mirrored the events of “The Last Colony” by showing them from Zoe’s point of view (Zoe is a character in the other book, but she isn’t the narrator, as she is in this one). While I did find several events familiar, it was interesting to follow the course of the story from another angle, and Zoe’s adventure does depart significantly from the other characters’ at one point. Also, her first love being killed (Ooops! Spoilers, sorry!) has more impact in this book than in the other, as here we view it first hand, just like we watched their affection grow into love.

It still didn’t bring the overall story to the point talked about in “The Human Division”, which I found a little confusing. If any hardcore Scalzi fans out there who can tell me what I’m missing (When does John bring a Conclave fleet into Earth orbit? Which book?) it would be appreciated.

Dust – Hugh Howey

The trilogy continues and rounds off with Dust, but it’s not any happier or easier going than the other books. I remember reading these three books as you might remember swimming under water. There’s pressure and the terrible need to hold your breath and finally the relief as you break the surface. The last book is a flat out race to the finish and I was glad it ended satisfactorily. I’m not going to say more than that. It’s worth reading, just not pretty.

Gone Tomorrow – Lee Child

I wanted to give Jack Reacher another shot, since I found the last book gripping but alarming. He’s not much better in this one – a good detective, grim soldier and one man killing machine. In this book he ends up wading through gore to murder two people responsible for…well, other murders. So that’s all right then….

Many Bloody Return – Charlaine Harris et Al

A nice collection of short Urban Fantasy stories, all linked by a birthday theme. As ever, some worked better than others, and some struggled to qualify on the birthday theme or story theme. Some, I suspect, were simply adverts for longer series. I’m still not inspired to dive back into Urban Fantasy, though I did make an exception, as you’ll see in my next choice….

Bad Blood – Chuck Wendig

Bad Blood is the sequel to “Double Dead“, the first Chuck Wendig book I ever bought. Mixing up zombies and vampires still feels novel to me, and the fact that the vampire in the book is responsible for the zombie outbreak (or rather, some irresponsible humans who took his blood and experimented with it…) is even better. In this book our anti-hero is continuing his quest to find a lab with a cure, but instead encounters another vampire and some human children survivors. It’s a lot of blood, howling and fighting, but it’s Chuck Wendig, so it’s done with style.

The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

This is an award-winning novel. Many, many people liked it. I was not one of them. It’s like the film “Dead Man” without the crowd pleasing comedy. It’s a funeral without the laughs. It’s less enjoyable than stabbing yourself in the leg with a fork.

Well, maybe that’s not fair. Like I said, all reviews are subjective, but I was annoyed by this book. It shows the life of a gunfighter who’s basically been browbeaten into the job by his older brother. They’re on a job that will turn out to be their last. I think I was annoyed by the passive nature of the narrator, his inability to act in any portion of the book, and , ultimately, the downbeat nature of the whole thing. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Mrs Dim and I have been to Barcelona. It’s lovely, and well worth visiting. This book is set there, but ranges in time from the late fifties to the late thirties, and references politics in Spain during that time, something I’m not familiar with. However, the adventures are gripping, tense and ULTIMATELY REDEEMING. Did you hear that, deWitt? ULTIMATELY REDEEMING! I liked it.

Nothing O ‘Clock – Neil Gaiman

Can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman writing Doctor Who. I read this the same week I went to see the 50th anniversary show. Seemed appropriate that this one featured Amy when the Ponds naturally couldn’t appear in the 50th (Because they’re time-locked back in 1940’s Manhattan, duh….)

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend – Matthew Dicks

I was interested to see this book, having read “Imaginary Menot so long ago. This book, too, is written from the point of view of an imaginary friend, but this one is partner to a boy who is “on the spectrum”. Max has lots of difficulty with school, because of the noise, the physical contact and other things, but nothing prepares his friend Budo for the day when Max goes missing from school. Budo thinks he knows what happened to Max, but he can’t tell anyone, because no one but Max can hear him.

It’s a great story, carefully told, and turns out to be about more than just a kidnapping. It talks about life and death and sacrifice, as well as growing up and what that means. It was quite a book.

Finally, the other book I’ve been reading and editing isEddie and the Kingdom“. There’s no link to that yet, because it isn’t going to be published for another week or so. If you’d like a sneak peek, you can find the first draft of the first couple of chapters inTroubled Souls“, still on sale for the bargain price of $1.99. If you’ve already readTroubled Souls“, why not put up your own review on Amazon.com? If you do, ask me for an advance copy ofEddie and the Kingdomfor FREE!

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One response to “The Books of November

  1. Pingback: The Books of December and the year’s roundup | Damian Trasler's Secret Blog - Do Not Read!

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