Here it is nearly all the way through February and I haven’t managed to do the one thing I promised myself I would do with this blog in 2013, which is to keep a record of books read. For the past few years, I’ve been heavy on the re-reading of old favorites, so I’ve dubbed this year “The Year of New Books” (or new to me at least). So here’s a quick run down of the books that I’ve chewed through so far, and a few thoughts on each.
Title Withheld, by Author Withheld
I got off to a slow start this with the doorstop-worthy conclusion to a fantasy trilogy by a young but prominent author. I’m not going to tell you who, or the name of the book, because I really hated it that much, and I don’t like targeting anyone specifically with hate like that, especially on the Internet where it might live forever. (I’ll tell you in private if you ask, but I’m not publishing it.) The first book in the trilogy was all right, the second yawn-inspiring, but the third just made me want to chew pages from the book to make it end sooner. I know you’re wondering why I didn’t just stop reading, but I’m demented like that – it’s very hard for me to stop reading a book once I’ve started. And I admit I was curious (after having read the first two books) about what the ending would be. The writing, for the most part, was competent if not elegant.The story should have been interesting – it had a unique setting (esp. the magic system), well-developed characters, and a plot filled with action and mystery and just the right touch of romance and spirituality. In fact, conceptually speaking, the story could have been transcendent, but it ended up just feeling contrived. If I had to pin the failure down to one thing, I would have to say it was the Point of View. This author tends to write with an insanely up-close-and-personal third person POV, to the point that we are treated with excruciating detail to Every. Single. Thought. the characters have. And since for most of the book the primary POV characters are wrapped up in their inner turmoils of self-doubt and self-recrimination, it becomes increasingly difficult to care about anything that happens to them.
Lesson Learned: Leave a little mystery when it comes to characters’ thought processes – having to figure out characters keeps the reader more engaged, as they are forced to draw their own conclusions once in a while. They will like the characters based upon what they say and do, not based upon what they think. Plus, if you are striving for transcendence, you need to pull the literary camera back once in a while, to show the wider scope of things – especially if your characters are becoming gods.
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
This is what I’ve come to consider as casual fantasy – which is probably unfair to the author because I’m sure the execution of it was anything but casual. But what I mean by casual is my experience of it. It was an entertaining enough read, and I’d pick up a sequel if one appears, but it’s not moving and/or surprising enough to make it really stand out. It’s a good, magic-filled adventure, with a colorful setting, and characters who I like (for the most part). My only complaint was that the voice was a little too consciously “Arabian Nights” in tone, which I found distancing, and it didn’t add anything to the artistic value of the story. It just felt forced. I would recommend it to a friend who wanted something light to read, but I’m not going to trouble making room for it in my (very limited) book storage space.
Lesson Learned: I’m given to contrived voices myself when I write. The thing to consider is whether they enhance the story or distract from it.
The Human Division, by John Scalzi
So far, I’ve read 5 of the 6 chapters released in this serialized novel set in the Old Man’s War universe, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I don’t read a lot of SF (recently, only Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and Kage Baker’s Company books, which I’m not sure even counts as SF properly), so I don’t have a lot of room for comparison. Scalzi’s good at creating interesting characters and tossing them into dynamic situations, which is really the heart of storytelling. If you like things like Star Trek, there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy this.
Lesson Learned: I’m pretty certain this method of delivering one chapter a week is going to make a big impact on digital bookselling (especially if they combine it with subscriptions and push technology). It does require a different way of structuring a novel, however. I’m looking forward to seeing all the tricks Scalzi uses as the story continues, and seeing how I might apply them to my own episodic efforts (i.e. City of Bridges).
Among Others, by Jo Walton
This was the World Fantasy Award winner in 2012, which means I went into it with some high expectations. Not that an award necessarily means I’m going to enjoy a book, but it’s generally indicative that it will be at least interesting and/or worthwhile reading. And somehow, despite the fact that about three-quarters of this novel-by-diary is “all the books I’ve read”, this manages to still remain interesting.
Lesson Learned: First person narration automatically increases the reader’s association with the viewpoint character. (Even if I do think it’s a cheap trick that eliminates the need for real artistry.)
The Cupcake Queen, by Heather Helper
Look, I have a almost-12-year-old daughter who reads all the time. She leaves them lying around the house everywhere, and occasionally, when I’m headed into the bathroom, I grab one. Usually it’s just a few pages, you know? But since I was between books at the time, not having what next to read in this Year of New Books, I just kept reading. I make no apologies. It was pre-teen fluff, with cupcakes. Nuff said.
Lesson Learned: Have a bigger to-read stack.
That is not a fantastically long list for nearly two months, but I point to that first book on the list, which took weeeeeeeks to get through. However, the current book I’m reading, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, more than makes up for that trauma. Which is just, wow, fabulous. More about it in the next report, though, when I’ve finished it.
Picture is my tea service at Peet’s Coffee, featuring the new acanthus blossom black tea. Yummy!