Writing. Thinking. More Writing

Critique

Various Books & Such – Q1 2021

This is just a tracking list of books I’ve read or not read and related comments I’ve made or not made, and thus might or might not be of interest. It’s not. It’s really not.

Mar 9 / The Time Machine by HG Wells (****)

Re-read this due to working on WIP with consumption of meat as theme, and also just as a reminder. Like most of the classics, it seems good for what it was at the time it was, but clearly not a style that would be popular today. I sometimes forget the explicitly philosophical nature of old books, like the story was just a way to engage in a thought exercise, and I kind of miss that; nowadays, the plotting and drama of novels necessary to ensure sales gets in the way of thoughtful whimsy. That said, the Time Traveler in this book is a babbling idiot who blunders around time like a reckless child, so it’s hard to care that he vanishes in the end…spoiler?

Mar 7 / Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (***/*)

Read this for research on a WIP, largely for the handling of cannibalism, but was excited given the 5-star ratings and buzz. So…I don’t know. It felt like a fast and melancholy march toward an expected end. People suck. They do terrible things. It’s worse than you think. Sigh. As if there’s not enough darkness in the world.

Feb 28 / Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (***/*)

Fairly mixed feelings on this book. Loved the snarky tone because, well, that’s pretty much me as a teenager. The plotting and tone is also pretty cool. However, I never really felt like I could visualize what was going on (the description was almost mocking the concept of description?), there were a lot of characters I really didn’t care about, and the climactic fight scene went on, and on, and on…until I assume the they used up all the bones. So many bones. So, 3.5?

Feb 13 / Circe (2nd Time) by Madeline Miller (*****)

One of my favorite books of all time, re-read unintentionally while studying her prose style, which is light and flows like water. She writes like someone who loves writing and what she’s writing about, Greek mythology, and does both well. A bit envious of how easy it sounds, but maybe that’s just the result of hard work. I’d recommend this book to anyone even if you don’t care for mythology; it’s just a great and very personal story about one woman’s journey.

Feb 11 / The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky (***)

I keep hoping for something as original and enjoyable as Children of Time, but this was not it. It was like a freakin’ stew of science fiction creativity, diversity in overdrive (seriously, one of everything), and a weird political message about how we’re all better together and blah, blah, blah. I don’t mind political messages, but this was a sledgehammer disguised as novel. Also, just kinda boring. And hard to connect to the characters in changing POVs. Bleh.

Feb 10 / The Terror by Dan Simmons (***)

Finished all 700+ pages of this last night, but kind of a slog and I skipped a lot of the middle and end chapters. I enjoyed the exploration / horror aspects at the beginning, then got bored of all the detail, then skipped all the prayers, and then found myself in a different book about Inuit culture that seemed only vaguely related to the first book. Feels like the book could have been 350 pages with better overlay of explorer / Inuit themes and a lot less…well, just a lot of extra words and long scenes that didn’t move the book along. Feels a lot like Stephen King books that could have used an assertive editor. Haven’t seen the series yet, but might watch to see how they adapted the book for TV.

Also, and I hate saying this b/c I’m really tired of everyone being so sensitive about everything, the book has some odd homophobic and misogynist themes that were avoidable. The shittiest character in the book didn’t need to be gay, and the very few women didn’t have to be quite so sexualized. I realize this is grist for the white male explorer mill, but it was still overdone.

Feb 10 / Pet Sematary by Stephen King (****)

Finished re-reading this b/c working on some horror elements in a new WIP. Every time I read SK now, I just get…bored. I loved his writing when I was younger, and still like his prose, but if feels as if he just needs someone to say, “Whatever your wrote, cut it in half” and instead his books get longer and longer. Anyway, this had a pretty good pace and build of tension until about half-way, and then it goes from let’s establish the crazy backstory to let’s use that backstory to explain a series of increasingly improbable but scary events.  For some reason, just got bored at that point, but maybe b/c I knew what was coming. And I’m forever damaged by the movie…and the other movie.

In trying to learn how to write “good” horror and suspense, what I picked up from this book was that SK does a lot of telling and not showing; he tells the reader the MC is scared, and why, and how it feels, in ways that make utter nonsense sound spooky. But it was hard for me to get a feel for the scares b/c I just wasn’t that into it by the end. Skipped a lot of pages. Like, honestly, how much can you read about someone traveling from Chicago to Maine?

Feb 9 / Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (****)

Another horror read for comps / genre background. Not a big fan of vampire novels, but I was enjoying this until I realized I’d already watched the series. Both book and series are good, but it ruined the surprise for me. That said, I found it less horror than violent / thriller, with a lot of interesting family and bullying themes that were scarier than the vampire. Part of me always has trouble believing that people are as terrible as they probably are, so the monsters and humans seem reversed (as in a lot of things I read). People suck. Book does not. Still, a bit long.

Feb 8 / Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (*****)

Re-read quickly for understanding of children’s-book plot structure and spider treatment, related to WIP. Still a charming book. Obviously aging, but adorable, with some gender dynamics that will probably be problematic in the near future. Sigh. But some cool spider dynamics and homage I can use. Or maybe I should just write children’s books; they seem much happier.

 

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