Camille Alexa had this to say about M. T. Anderson's YA novel Feed: 'Here is a Young Adult novel which does not patronize, nor preach. Serious global, social, environmental and even interpersonal topics are tackled, but the author uses an appropriately light touch with these. The characters speak enough obscenities to feel genuine, but not enough to feel vulgar. And Anderson manufactures memorable teen vernacular with more skill than anyone since Burgess in A Clockwork Orange.' For more details, read her review in its entirety.
Camille dipped into the past for her second review, looking at the Years' Best Fantasy and Horror, Volume 4 edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. It had quite the impact, it would seem: 'If I have to choose one word with which to begin a description of this anthology, that word would be 'dense.' The cover claims to contain 'over 250,000 words of the finest fantasy and horror,' to which I would reply, 'Is that all?' So much material is packed into the volume -- not just in terms of words but in terms of meaning and content -- it takes intense concentration to read the whole work: not each story individually (though I will admit to having struggled through a few), but the entire volume. I found it best to pace myself, and read only one story at a time.' Get more details about the stories themselves in the review.
This outing, Donna Bird reviews another take on Dante's Inferno, this time by the Modern Library. Unlike last time, she seems pleased by this version, and has this to say: 'This is not light or entertaining reading. I expect it would be particularly challenging for people unfamiliar with Roman Catholicism. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile reading or at least exploring as one of the masterpieces of medieval European thought. If I were teaching a college-level course in Western Civilization, medieval history, philosophy or literature, I would certainly consider assigning readings from Dante's Divine Comedy, and these books would be the versions I would recommend.'
Donna then turned her attention to a fictional Dante in Giulio Leoni's The Mosaic Crimes, which has Dante solving a murder mystery. Did she like the fictionalized Dante as much as the real thing? Well . . . she had this to say about the book, 'By murder mystery standards, this one is on the long end of the continuum, clocking in at just over three hundred pages. Some of that length can be attributed to Leoni's occasional digressions, framed as conversations among members of the Third Heaven about such lofty subjects as love and loyalty. I recall similar digressions, albeit much longer and more tedious, in the novels of Umberto Eco. The novel contains numerous references to Dante's work and to the political and cultural milieu in which he lived. Some of these are explained in a short glossary in the back of the book. Some of them I recognized as references to The Divine Comedy, which he would write after this time. I am quite certain that many of them just went right over my head, since I am not well-versed in medieval Italian history. As it was, I found it necessary to turn to secondary sources to get a better grasp on Dante's biography so that I could make sense of his role as prior and place this period of his life in a larger context (This novel ends on June 22, 1300. In less than eighteen months, Dante found himself on the wrong side of an ideological power struggle about the role of the Pope, and was exiled from Florence). For more about the murder mystery, check out the review.
Donna also reviewed Frederick Highland's murder mystery Night Falls on Damascus, and enjoyed it immensely: 'You know, I've read and reviewed quite a lot of murder mysteries for Green Man in the last couple of years. I've developed a special attachment to those that are set sometime in the past and a particular preference for those that take place in some interesting, slightly exotic locale, say London or Paris or Cairo or Istanbul. . . . Well, I have to confess, Night Falls on Damascus exceeded my wildest expectations for a novel that fits into this niche!' For more juicy details (but no spoilers), read the review!
In her last review, Donna tackles two novels set around World War II, Mal Peet's Tamar and Michael Wallner's April in Paris. In her own words, 'I have an almost impossible time passing by any novel about the experiences of people living in Europe during World War II. These two happened to show up on my desk at Green Man at right about the same time. They have a number of similarities that prompted me to decide to review them together. Most of my earlier readings have been novels that focused primarily on the experiences of civilians. The main characters in both of these are people in military service, although in neither novel are the characters actively involved in combat. Both of these novels are also extremely suspenseful, real page-turners that grab your attention and hang onto it. Neither is particularly soft or pretty or happy, but then why would you expect that in World War II stories?' Read on for all the details.
Craig Clarke has high praise indeed for both Joe Hill and Heart-Shaped Box, not the least of which is: 'Heart-Shaped Box is undoubtedly the best ghost story to cross my desk in some time. Steeped in the old-fashioned, but thoroughly modern, I feel safe in saying that this book is a classic in the making.' To see why Craig's sold on this book, read his review!
Faith Cormier feels that Jackalyn Eddy's Bookwomen succeeds as a 'biography of Anne Carroll Moore, Alice Jordan, Louise Seaman Bechtel, May Massee, Bertha Mahony Miller and Elinor Whitney Field' because it 'is clear, interesting, lucid, and it makes you want to find out more about these six women.' For more details, check out her review here.
Faith thinks that Leigh Michaels' On Writing Romance: How to craft a novel that sells is full of advice that can be applied to writers of all genres: 'While Leigh Michaels' advice is targeted to the romance novel, all of it is applicable in one way or another to any other writing. Fiction or non-fiction, mainstream or genre, if you're a writer you're going to have to deal with research, characterization, conflict, point of view and everything else.' For the scoop, read her review.
Richard E. Dansky thinks that fans of John Scalzi's Old Man's War series might find his latest, The Sagan Diary, a bit different from what they're used to, 'Making one's approach to John Scalzi's Old Man's War universe through The Sagan Diary is a lot like approaching Jane Eyre for the first time by reading Wide Sargasso Sea, or maybe The Eyre Affair. It's a contrapuntal work, one that relies on and enriches previous knowledge of the underlying source material instead of staking out new territory for itself. And, when compared to the books from which it is derived, it comes across as something of an odd duck.' To find out why this is so, go read his analysis.
Having just read a recent Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) graphic novel, Cat Eldridge has decided to read the early collected issues. He definitely seems to have enjoyed the first one! 'B.P.R.D. -- Hollow Earth and Other Stories is a trade paperback which collects Hollow Earth #1-3, Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead, Abe Sapien versus Science and Lobster Johnson, and Killer Inside My Skull . . . All in all, a most entertaining collection of intelligent, superbly illustrated fiction collection which makes a more than adequate kick-off to the B.P.R.D. series. Having read the rest of the series as collected to date, rest assured you will want to read the entire series.' To see what comes between those two statements, check out the review.
Of Neil Hollands' Read On. . . Fantasy Fiction, Cat says 'So, you're looking for some great new fantasy reads beyond that of the Harry Potter books? Or perhaps you're a teacher looking for reading for your students that goes beyond the same tired lists which rarely stray from the Canon? Oh, does Libraries Unlimited have a great deal for you -- for a mere thirty dollars and just about two hundred pages in length, this trade paperback is every bit as impressive as some much similar, larger guides. . . .' Read the rest of his review to get the lowdown on just how handy this book is.
Cat's been busy -- taking on a 2,300 page Tolkien reference book! of Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull's The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide he says: 'Unlike some reference works, such as Brian Stableford's Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Literature and Historical Dictionary of Fantasy Literature, which make great intellectual snack food, this is not popcorn literature whose function is to entertain -- much of it is quite dry and more than a bit boring. But if you need to know damn near anything there is to know about Tolkien, his life, and his works, this is simply the best guide I've seen to date.' Read the review for the nitty gritty about what's in the two volume set!
Cat seems to be hooked on Charles Stross' novels these days, and The Halting State is no exception. In fact, he lavishes this praise upon Stross' latest novel, 'Sunshine, The Halting State is the best near future thriller I've read since first encountering John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider nearly thirty years ago.' And yet more, 'Is this the best novel he's written to date? I think so. I've read damn near everything Stross has written and until I read this novel, Iron Sunrise was my favorite work by him.' To find out how an independent Scotland and a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) fit into a police procedural, read the review.
And Cat's final contribution to this edition is a look back -- way back -- to The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Volume 3, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Of this early entry in this long-running anthology series, he asks, 'Will this book be worth seeking out? Though it's a matter of personal taste, I think so. There's something oddly pleasing about the continuity of this series over the now twenty years, that an early volume -- despite some minor changes (the front matter gets added to gradually over the years, i.e., the tenth edition adds a comics overview by Seth Johnson and volume fifteen added a slew of new summations including Joan D. Vinge's manga and anime coverage) and major (Terri Windling will depart the series with Kelly Link, and Gavin Grant taking over her role). There's something very comforting about a series like YBFH -- like the old tales, it just feels like it has been here for a very long time. And I for one appreciate all the hard work that Jim Frenkel, Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, Kelly Link, Edward Bryant, Gavin Grant, Charles de Lint, Tom Canty, and many, many others have put into making this so.' To find out more about the entries in this third volume of the series, read his review.
So what does our Book Editor, April Gutierrez, fancy for summer reading? Stephen King of course. The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII to be precise: 'I put off reading this, the final peg in King's epic fantasy series for quite some time (long enough, in fact, for it to come out in paperback -- the original hardback came out in '04), in part because I had been less than thrilled with its predecessors The Wolves of the Calla and Song of Susannah, but more because I didn't want it to all be over. And now that all is said and done, I am indeed sad that King has closed the book on Roland's tale. Or at least, our view into it...'
Lory Hess, like the narrator of Robin McKinley's latest novel Dragonhaven, feels she has a bit of writer's block, 'At the moment I feel a lot like Jake Mendoza, the narrator of Dragonhaven. Not because I live in a national park that happens to be one of the last refuges for draco australiensis, a.k.a. dragons (yes, the ones that are eighty feet long and breathe fire). Nor because I have found a baby dragon whose mother has just been killed by a poacher, and must figure out what to do next in a world in which helping dragons is perhaps even more illegal than killing them. No, I simply find myself, like Jake, sitting in front of a computer and saying 'I don't know how to write it!'' To find out what Jake does do, read on!
Jack Merry says that 'anthologies are often tricky creatures to review. Why so, you ask? Because they are akin to a well-stocked penny candy store in that one can easily get overstuffed piece by piece! Indeed Wizards: Magical Tales From the Masters of Modern Fantasy is one of the most tasty anthologies I've had the pleasure to read in quite some time, even if the title itself bears little connection to the actual tales therein.' Read his review to see what he found so delicious about this anthology!
Kestrell Rath has this burning question after finishing off Lucy A. Snyder's short story collection, Sparks and Shadows: Stories and Poetry: 'Is it wrong to love a writer for her zombies?' Not sure about that, myself, but I admit that now I'm curious. Kestrell also concludes that 'Lucy A. Snyder writes truly intelligent horror that is both witty and political but her stories and poems tap the feminist potential of horror to illuminate the shadowy extremes of both love and hate.' For more about the individual stories, check out the review.
Kestrell also recommends T.A. Pratt (that's Tim Pratt to you and I) Blood Engines, with its 'noir sensibility.' Going positively alliterative on us, she says, 'Pratt plunders a plethora of pantheons and perspectives on magic, ensuring that the magical San Francisco is just as diverse as the non-magical version, counting amongst its citizens silicon mages, biomancers, and metalworking artificers, not to mention shamanistic sex magicians, (who are well worth mentioning).' To see what else is worth mentioning about Blood Engines check out the review.
Robert Tilendis seems rather nonplussed by Phillip K. Dick's Voices From the Street: 'It can be difficult as a reviewer to be faced with a book that has earned adulation, or at least glowing advance press, seemingly across the board, that doesn't seem to have deserved any of the accolades. One hears of Dick as a 'major literary figure,' an 'important American writer,' a 'pulp-fiction Kafka,' and the like. When faced with a novel like Voices from the Street, one has to wonder what these people have been smoking.' Read the rest of his review here to see why he thinks this is so.
Robert's busy catching up on E. E. Knight's Vampire Earth series. This time around he brings us the sixth volume: Valentine Resolve. He says that 'Knight manages something that is not always a given in an extended series: he's kept it fresh and engaging, not only by providing a new story line for each episode, but by changing locales and supporting cast. Thus Valentine is presented with a new set of challenges, new impediments, and new allies.' For more details on the plot, read his review.
Robert also took a look at The Neil Gaiman Reader, edited by Darrell Schweitzer: 'There is an amazing amount of information and insight packed into less than 200 pages, plus a bibliography that, although exhaustive, can't hope to be complete, given Gaiman's level of activity. Best of all, there are two interviews with the man himself. Far from being a book for students, although I certainly won't count them out, I think anyone who is interested in Gaiman, the state of contemporary genre fiction, the relationship between myth and contemporary society, or any other aspect of life that Gaiman's work touches on (which seems to be most of the important ones), this one is a must.' More details available in the review.
Elizabeth Vail tackles a time-travel novel that's intriguing, but flawed: 'Time-travel has always been a rather tricky subject -- burdened as it is with infinite opportunities for plot holes, inconsistencies, and paradoxes. In Rebecca Ore's creative but erratic novel Time's Child, she places the narrative focus not on the action of time-travel itself, but rather the social and political ramifications of time-travel on the people involved.' She concludes that ultimately 'Time's Child raises some interesting questions, and provides more than few thought-provoking set-pieces, but a more coherent storyline and a tightened sense of pacing might have made it an interesting and thought-provoking book. For a book about time-travel, Time's Child reads like it could have used a little more time.' To find out where Ore went astray, read the rest of Elizabeth's review.
That's it for reviews for this edition. Come back in a fortnight for a look at dozens and dozens of music recordings which will most decidedly tempt you to loosen your purse strings!