Elf Reads Books: June, 2009

A few recent reads…

Patricia Briggs — Moon Called (Amazon Link)
As far as supernatural chick lit goes, Moon Called is better than everything else I’ve read: Twilight, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, etc. Unfortunately, that’s a backhanded compliment. This is just the first supernatural chick lit book that isn’t horrible. Mercy Thompson isn’t a loathsome protagonist, and Briggs knows how to write dialogue and construct a satisfying mystery.

But, at its core, it’s just the same old crap done more competently. There’s something special about our size-2-but-tough-as-hell heroine that makes her irresistible to every straight male who meets her, and oh my god how will she ever choose from amongst her countless suitors? The only major difference between Moon Called and other books of its ilk is that werewolves play a bigger part than vampires.

Speaking of which, the book would be so much better if there were no vampires in it at all. Enough with the fucking vampires — especially ones that aren’t even scary! Once upon a time, they used to kill people. Now, they just want to fuck us.

Warren Hammond — Ex-KOP
(Amazon Link)
I enjoyed Hammond’s second KOP book every bit as much as the first one. The pace is fast, the plot tight, and the characters solid. But the real star of the books is Lagarto, the world where the novels take place. Lagarto’s an oppressively hot, corrupt shithole that relies on a constant cash influx from rich outsiders just to stay afloat. For some reason, it reminds me a bit of Miami, as written by Charles Willeford. And just like I’d rather read about Miami than ever go there again, I’m happy to visit Lagarto only in books.

Stephen Bown — Scurvy
(Amazon Link)
From a modern person’s perspective, it seems silly that scurvy was ever a problem. Why didn’t someone just tell sailors to eat an orange, drink some lemonade, or pop a vitamin every few days? Yet, for hundreds of years, scurvy was the scariest, most misunderstood disease (really a deficiency) this side of the plague. It must have seemed like some sort of supernatural, karmic punishment for the mariners who had to watch their old wounds reopen and feel their mended bones split apart once more.

Bown’s book is not only an interesting history of scurvy. It’s an examination of how difficult it is for experts and influential groups to accept simple truths that contradict the current conventional wisdom. In this sense, Scurvy has much in common with another favorite of mine, Moneyball.

Carrie Ryan — The Forest of Hands and Teeth
(Amazon Link)
Probably my favorite book title, ever, and the book itself isn’t too shabby. It’s a zombie novel, and though I’m just about zombied out these days, I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth in a single sitting.

The book is so bleak and unrelenting, it read like a coming-of-age version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road — though I liked TFoHaT better. It’s a neat trick when bleak and unrelenting can still be fast-paced and entertaining. Author Carrie Ryan says her writing process consists of sitting down at the computer and asking herself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” It shows.

In a novel about adults, the melodramatic love story within TFoHaT may have seemed tacked on. But in a story about teens, it worked just fine. No matter how dire the circumstances, I believe a pair of attractive, melodramatic kids would find the time to become obsessed with one another. There’s a reason Romeo and Juliet weren’t in their mid-thirties. That said, I dare some modern-day Shakespeare to write a chick lit tragedy about two single parents who fall in love, only to kill themselves over incompatible eHarmony profiles.

Patrick O’Brien — Master and Commander
(Amazon Link)
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book. I loved the movie, and I’ve been on a maritime kick, of late. But it was hard to shake the prejudices I’d held against this series, ever since I used to work in a bookstore. I’d always thought of the O’Brien books as humorless, bloodless books written by one old guy for a bunch of other humorless, bloodless old guys.

I was so wrong. If I could go back and punch my 23-year-old self, I probably wouldn’t, but my time machine would make me a billionaire. Anyway, Master and Commander was both graphic and surprisingly funny. Like the movie (which is really based more upon one of the other books in the series), the book has plenty of action. But, at its heart, it’s really a buddy story about two very different, yet equally likable, protagonists. I’m excited that I’ve got about 20 more books to go, before finishing the series.

Frank Herbert — Whipping Star
(Amazon Link)
Most of this strange little novel comprises conversations between a human special agent and a powerful but imperiled alien, whose (likely) imminent death will cause a chain reaction that will kill off 99% of the sentient beings in the universe. Because one of the book’s main themes is how difficult it would be for us to converse with members of alien cultures, the book itself is a little difficult — at least for the first several chapters. But since the whole thing is under 200 pages, it’s still a pretty quick read.

Some of the sci-fi elements are weird, if not outright silly (e.g., chairs have been replaced by chair-shaped animals). But Herbert always mixed weirdness in with his big ideas. For me, it works. I still have a soft spot for Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune, which was about a psychic human-turned-giant-worm who ruled the universe for hundreds of years.


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