Friday, March 24, 2006

[Book Reviews] March 2006 Book Reviews

Resurrection by Paul S. Kemp

Concluding the Forgotten Realms War of the Spider Queen series, every page is jam-packed with action and of course, betrayal. Mainly a book for those who followed the previous five books, the ending is satisfying for the nature of the party’s quest (resurrecting an evil goddess). Just when you think you know who’ll be the new incarnation of Lolth, Kemp throws a red herring, making readers doubt their decision. My only quibble is the characterization of one of the characters. But that aside, a good book and fitting conclusion for your standard fare fantasy.

Rating: 3/5.

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

Exciting from the get-go, Lullaby is one of those concept books where the author throws a lot of plot ideas and mixes them. Thankfully, Palahniuk does a good job of it, even if they all seem coincidental. The book revolves around a small cast, each with their own personal demons. The title is derived from the fact that the main character discovers a lullaby that can kill people. My only problem with the novel is the tone of the characters. Because Palahniuk changes perspective chapter to chapter, I didn’t notice that one of the protagonists was male, while another was female. The fact that the book has a gender-bending scene doesn’t help either. Still, it’s a quick and compelling read, and is one of the books that Palahniuk tries his hand at writing from multiple perspectives.

Rating 4/5.

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip

McKillip doesn’t lose her touch as she weaves words into a compelling story. The fact that this book is short makes the text tighter, and for McKillip’s case, better. In the Forests of Serre revolves around a small cast as well, as conflict revolves around them. Perhaps what’s admirable is that for most of the story, everything is centered on Serre instead of the typical hero-goes-to-point-A-then-to-point-B. In fact, the characters are literally going around in circles. There’s lots of character development here and McKillip works with the concept that stories become a reality in Serre, as several fairy tales (and variations thereof) show up in the story, each with a unique role to play. It’s quite meta-fictional in fact. A very enjoyable read, and appeals to a wide spectrum of audiences.

Rating 5/5.

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

Another installment in the Song of Ice and Fire, the book is as compelling as its predecessors, although I wouldn’t necessarily say better. The most noticeable thing is that the novel is shorter than the three books that preceded it, mainly due to the fact that Martin had to cut half the character perspectives he planned. That aside, Martin hasn’t lost his touch in characterization and making you love (or hate) the characters. My main quibble is that the “crow” theme gets repeated over and over again throughout the book, even a bit forcefully at times for me. The novel also is the weakest of all four books, although it’s not a case of Rowling’s bad writing/editing as was the case with the fifth book in the Harry Potter series. Still a great read though, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Rating 4/5.

Masterpieces in Miniature: Stories by Agatha Christie by Agatha Christie

What some people might not remember is that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous work gained life through the short story. Agatha Christie, perhaps most popular for her mystery novels, proves that she’s equally capable of mastering the art of the mystery short story. And indeed, she does a good job of it. This collection features four detectives: Parker Pyne, Harley Quin, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Jane Marple. The first two are a treasure as its evident their characters were developed from the short story, which is included in this collection. While the Poirot and Marple stories are enjoyable, we don’t really see much on Poirot’s “gray cells” gimmick, or develop that much empathy for Marple aside from the fact that she’s the most unlikeliest of detectives. It’s a good collection of detective short stories with enough variation to compel you to read the entire thing.

Rating 4/5.

Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer

Upon reading the first few pages, the impression you get is that the setting is set in the far future, with pseudo-scientific and fantastical contraptions at hand. In fact, it’s reminds me of Mieville’s Perdido Station minus all the large chunks of text. In fact, Vandermeer’s strength is his ability to tell a lot in just a few words or sentences. The pacing is actually quite quick and there’s no dull moment, even as he provides exposition for the story. What can I say, I like the book. I really prefer this than to Mieville’s work, even if there are a lot of similarities between the two. However, whereas Mieville deals with concepts, the heart of this Vandermeer novel is character. A moral quandary is also thrown in as there’s a big event that will change the setting of Veniss, but that’s an offstage event, giving more emphasis on the protagonists. The book also contains three short stories and a novelette, which not only fleshes out the world, but acts as an epilogue of sorts as to what eventually became of Veniss. Reading Veniss Underground is about as difficult as reading a Philip K. Dick book: that is, anyone can read it and enjoy.

Rating: 4.5/5.

The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford

The most evident detail about The Girl in the Glass is that Ford takes a different tone, at least compared to his previous novels. Whereas The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque had fanciful and entrancing words, and Physiognomy had this rhythmic tone, The Girl in the Glass is simply mundane. That’s because this is a historical fiction novel, and Ford’s magic-realist tone is left in the sidelines. That’s not to say the book isn’t good: it’s just a surprise. It’s compelling nonetheless, and if you’ve read some of his short stories, is more akin to his coming-of-age stories. The text is as compelling as his other books, and brevity is an art he practices for each chapter. The plot revolves around three con artists as they seek to solve the mystery of a girl who disappeared, and the journey takes them to a far darker discovery. It’s a good book and shows that Ford has a wide spectrum of skill, but if you’re expecting to be mesmerized by Ford’s fanciful play of words, this isn’t the book for you.

Rating 4/5.