Saturday, August 16, 2014

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I watched the 1978 cartoon adaptation of Watership Down when I was quite young, under 10 years old. I wasn't told beforehand that the film wasn't going to be your typical cartoon adventure about rabbits, so the mature themes and, particularly, the brutality and bloodshed left an indelible mark on my growing brain. There are frames from this film that I can still see clearly in my mind's eye decades after viewing it.

I've always been curious about the book and, for reasons unknowable to me, I just recently got around to picking it up. Based on my memories of the film version, I was expecting Game of Thrones with rabbits. I was expecting a relentless parade of death and despair. This isn't what I got. Yes, this is a mature book, and it is realistic and honest about the rabbit's place in the world, and it certainly doesn't shy away from the realities of their place in the food chain. But I was expecting crushing tragedy after crushing tragedy, and what I got was a much more balanced depiction of the rabbit's life.

I wasn't disappointed that my expectations didn't match this book's contents.

This was a slower read for me. But this, I have to admit can be, at least in part, attributed to the circumstances surrounding my reading of the book. I was extremely busy while reading this, and the only time I had to read was just before bed. The book didn't keep me up. I was out in under fifteen minutes almost every night (after the old Kindle slapped me in the face multiple times as I nodded off). But, structurally, it didn't feel like a novel. It felt like a collection of interconnected stories (or a fix-up) until about the halfway mark, when we're, at long last, introduced to the book's central conflict. Another aspect of the book that slowed it down for me was the stories within the story about rabbit folklore. These stories, in themselves, I found entertaining, but they did kill the momentum for me every time.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a great deal, and I think it will be one that will stick in my memory for years to come. It's a rich book with a layered narrative. There are beautiful passages sprinkled throughout. An obvious respect for nature and a passion for nature's beauty serves as a nice contrast to the harrowing events of the story. The narrative is at first biblical in tone, then dystopian. It veers suddenly into a heist story, returns again to dystopian mode, and finally settles into a tale of all-out resource war. Sprinkled between all of these shifts in narrative structure, there are stories within the main story, stories told between rabbits: their creation myths, tall tales of their legendary heroes, stories of what lies beyond death and the Black Rabbit who is waiting there to greet all rabbits when they stop running.

I'd certainly recommend this book. However, know that this is one to be sipped, not gulped.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

This Book Is Full of Spiders by David Wong

Compared to John Does at the End, the structural problems here are minor. This actually reads like a novel rather than the world's worst 'fix-up.' But, sadly, this wasn't as zany as the first and it didn't have nearly the number of crazy gags, mysterious world building elements, and good humor per page as the first book in this series. It had a promising start but resigned itself to be one extended zombie joke for much of its page count. Thankfully, the last 25% was a return to form and was satisfying enough for me to consider picking up the next in the series at some point after its release--but not on day one.

If you've read the first book and haven't picked this one up yet, think of this one as Dave and John getting dumped in the Resident Evil film universe. If that sounds great, pick it up. Or, if you like zombies and dick jokes, give it a go. You won't be disappointed.

Full Disclosure: I'm not big on zombies.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dead Sea by Tim Curran

If you love monsters, don't even bother reading the rest of this review, just pick up this book. If you love survival at sea stories, don't read further, just pick up this book.

Yes, I, too, like monsters and stories of survival at sea, but I don't like these tropes quite enough to overlook some of this book's shortcomings. I felt this had some pacing problems; the middle was particularly saggy, and the ending felt quite rushed. Key plot elements weren't introduced early enough not seem tacked on at the last minute. The overall effect was like watching one of Zack Snyder's trademark action sequences in the movie 300 when we see the Spartan soldier leap in glorious slow motion toward the enemy and then suddenly snap back into real time to deliver the fatal blow. Except here we'd be watching the Spartan hovering in the air over his enemy for a few minutes of screen time rather than a few drawn out seconds.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't dislike this book. There was a lot I really liked about it. It had a lot of great monsters, harrowing scenes, cool set pieces, and solid characters. (Saks was my favorite.) I just felt it was a bit bogged down with repetitious descriptions of fog and mist. I think some scenes and some characters could have been cut to give the work more focus.

If this book were 70 pages shorter, I'd say that instead of liking it quite a bit, I'd be loving it quite a lot.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Kumquat by Jeff Strand

I don't know that I've ever read a romantic comedy before.

Yet, that's what this is.

If someone had told me that I might one day like such a thing, I'd have said that it was possible but doubtful. I don't read romance. I don't much care for romcoms on film. I'm pretty picky about comedies, especially on the printed page.

So, why did I read this?

Because I saw that Jeff Strand was giving away ARCs on his website for a forthcoming book, and I've liked what I've read by him so far.

When I found out it wasn't horror, that it was a quirky road trip story, I still decided to give it a go because Strand had proven to me that we had compatible comic sensibilities in Dweller.

Was the romance in the book handled well? Was it successful in that way? I mean the guy writes horror for heaven's sake???

I guess so.

I don't know.


Sort of.

It didn't feel like a mushy love story. To me, that makes it good. But don't ask me. I don't really know anything about it.

Was it funny?

Yes. I thought it was funny.

You might not.

Funny is so subjective, especially on the page. And funny is so much harder to do in any medium. It really takes an innate talent, along with skill, to pull it off. And even then, you're only going to be successful with those humans with a compatible sense of humor. I think a comic writer or actor can be trained to pull off a successful drama. But I really don't believe it's possible the other way around. You can't teach the kind of broken required for someone to be funny. And, in my mind, Jeff Strand is broken in just such a way that he's able to produce books that I find funny.

The humor in Kumquat more often than not rises naturally from the situation. The characters aren't comedians in disguise throwing off one-liners at every turn. He doesn't use pop-culture references as a cheap humor substitute. Best of all, his writing doesn't come off as 'jokey.'

I hate 'jokey.'

There is an undercurrent of darkness, too, that I like. The horror of sudden, unexpected oblivion underscores the humor in this book and keeps it from seeming frivolous.

Is this a romantic comedy or is it a satire of the romantic tales of doomed lovers that have made Jonathan Sparks a wealthy man? I don't know. Maybe it's both.

What I do know is that I found the novel funny.

Oh, and it remains funny throughout, whereas many comedic tales tend to lose the funny when the plot kicks in.

Recommended to people who find the things I find funny funny.