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ALA: Part III

A week ago I finished A Song in Stone, which isn’t all that remarkable except that it means I managed to read all the books I got for free at ALA this year in just about three months. This is the shortest amount of time it has taken me; in actual point of fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever finished all the books I’ve picked up at one of ALA’s annual meetings. I mean, I suppose I have, but I can’t remember ever doing it. There’s always some book like Given Up for Dead or Orphans Preferred left on my reading list, like a hull stuck under one of your molars two days after you had that big tub of popcorn.

So, to wrap up:

Black God’s Kiss by C. L. Moore: Weird Tales fantasy with a female protagonist. (My review.)

Released October 27, 2007.

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard: The protagonist is Vidocq, a Parisian criminal turned detective who was based on an actual character of the same name. The narrator is Hector Carpentier, a sheltered doctoral student who serves as the brash Vidocq’s Watson as the two try to investigate the Dauphin — the rightful heir to the throne of France, supposedly killed by revolutionaries.

In many ways this is a typical historical mystery: a brilliant detective, a naïve Watson, futzing with real history without contradicting it. Two things are against that: Vidocq is an amazingly earthy, rude person while remaining brilliant, and Bayard does a pretty good job evoking the day and place. Recommended for the fan of historical mysteries, and it would probably be a good choice for someone who just likes mysteries.

Released August 26.

City of the Beast by Michael Moorcock: Moorcock writes this early novel in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs; the plot is a conscious imitation of Burroughs’ Mars tales. Remarkable mostly for how thoroughly Moorcock buries his own style in favor of another writer’s. Fans of Burroughs or Moorcock might be interested, but I don’t think I would go much beyond that.

Released September 29, 2007.

Crime by Irvine Welsh: Story of a Scottish policeman in Miami on vacation with his fiancée. The book is obsessed with drugs, violence, and pedophilia; knowing Welsh also wrote Trainspotting, I’m a little surprised it’s mostly obsessed with the pedophilia. There is, of course, the predictable sexual abuse angle involving the protagonist. More enjoyable than you would think for a book with a miserable bastard of a protagonist who is either wanting to get drunk or high or is coming down from a high. The book also contains the most predictable alligator-eating-a-small-dog scene I have ever read.

Released September 2.

Cross County by Tim Waggoner (and not Cross Country, as I assumed for a month after I picked it up): The description for this one was Silence of the Lambs crossed with Fargo and Stephen King. Which is true, except for the Silence of the Lambs and Fargo parts. And if Stephen King was severely edited.

Of course, the author isn’t to blame for the ad copy. But there is, as you would guess from the comparisons, entirely too much going on here: serial killers, mind control, noble sacrifices, possessions, weird supernatural stalking beasts, family / dynastic dramas, dark gods under burial mounds, abductions, a peeping Tom who feels he has to “witness” all the major happenings in Cross County, etc. A lot of it ties together, but it feels like a mass of spaghetti that has congealed together — loose ends everywhere, even if it’s stuck together — and it goes down about as well.

The best thing I can say about it is that it inspired me: I thought I could do this well. That’s cruel, which I don’t want to be; I saw Waggoner at GenCon, and he struck me as a nice, earnest guy. The prose does the job, and the overall quality is certainly higher than your average Dragonlance / Forgotten Realms / etc. spinoff.

But there’s just too much stuff in the book.

Released September 2.

Devil’s Cape by Rob Rogers: Superhero action in a New Orleans analogue. (My review.)

Released April 1.

How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster: I had an entry written about this one, but frankly, it was dull, and you don’t want to read it. This book isn’t dull — although as close as it gets to its advertised “jaunty” is dry humor — but you don’t want to read it either. Not really. I mean, Foster is occasionally funny, but there’s still an awful lot of stuff about James Joyce and Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, and there’s no way to make that palatable for the general public without constantly mocking it. Foster takes it seriously because that’s part of the book’s remit.

I guess what I’m trying to say is you don’t want to read novels like a professor because professors read an awful lot of boring novels and then tell you how great they are. Do you want to be like that? Didn’t think so.

Released July 1.

Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce: If you know a tween / teen girl who likes to read and is interested in science — particularly geology — run, do not walk, to your local bookstore and buy this book. (Especially if the girl in question is of Asian descent.) The protagonist is a female teenage stone mage born in an Asia-like culture, and her stone magic gives her a deep knowledge of geology.

As for the story itself, it’s unusual, managing to personify the man vs. nature conflict until it’s mostly man vs. demon. Mages have to help save an island from destruction before its dormant volcano explodes, so there’s no real evil here, except the anger and impetuousness the protagonist finds within herself. The book is evidently part of Pierce’s fantasy world, detailed previously in the Circle of Magic and Circle Opens quartets.

Stones was originally written as an audio book and was turned into a novel afterward; it doesn’t seem to have made a noticeable difference in quality or format.

Released October 1.

The Right Mistake by Walter Mosley: The philosophical parts of Mosley’s books, in which he explores what African-Americans need to do to establish themselves in American society while retaining their own culture and respect has always put my hackles up a little, and I have to assume the fault is mine. The Right Mistake is entirely philosophical, making it a bit difficult for me to read. Adding an extra layer of danger is the protagonist, Socrates Fortlow, a dangerous ex-con who has a current of violence just below the surface. You get the idea that even though he has all the answers now, even though he doesn’t resort to his fists or guns any more, he’s still like a recovering alcoholic, always in danger of falling off the wagon. And hitting someone, I guess.

This isn’t a novel as much as it is a series of short vignettes. It’s one of those books I think the author wants so much to lay out his / her idea of the right path for society they don’t bother with the usual fictional structures. Fortlow seems to be light on blocking figures, although because I’m not Black, I might not see the police as powerful as Fortlow and Mosley do. Fortlow’s Thinker’s Club does seem to rocket to prominence and influence, and he gets the girl he wants by being the man Mosley thinks he should be.

Maybe I don’t have the depth to appreciate all of what Mosley’s saying here. Or maybe I like my lessons with a spoonful of detective story to help them go down better.

Released October 6.

A Song in Stone by Walter H. Hunt: Scottish TV presenter sent to 14th century France by mysterious agency. Hunt, I think, strikes a good balance between disbelief of a modern character sent back to the past and boring the hell out of the reader; for someone who isn’t Scottish, I think he also did a good job of writing a Scottish protagonist. (On the other hand, I’m not Scottish either, so I may not know what the hell I’m talking about.) For a book not obviously religious, Hunt does a good writing about a religious conversion / experience of a non-believer. And there’s also a level of irony when Stone, a Freemason, writes a novel about the Templars.
Overall, I think this was the best of the books I received — although I probably enjoyed Zot! more — but it has flaws. The level of jeopardy doesn’t seem very high at most points, the monotony of the 14th century is understated (not that I really wanted to experience the monotony), and the ending is unsatisfying, both because of its circularity and because it doesn’t quite resolve the story (well, the protagonist’s story reaches a stopping point, I suppose, but there are still more than a few loose ends).

To be released November 4.

Zot! by Scott McCloud: Giant collection of superhero / coming of age comics. (My review.)

Released July 22.
Tags: ala, books, c.l. moore, fantasy, irvine welsh, louis bayard, michael moorcock, mysteries, reading list, rob rogers, science fiction, scott mccloud, tamora pierce, thomas c. foster, tim waggoner, walter h. hunt, walter mosley
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