Between the Shade and the Shadow by Coleman Alexander: A disappointing fantasy

Between the Shade and the ShadowBetween the Shade and the Shadow

by Coleman Alexander

Kindle Edition, 487 pg.
The Realmless, LLC, 2017
Read: July 24 – 26, 2018
There is some really fine writing, and some decent storytelling in this novel — maybe some of the emotions are overwrought, and there’s some poorly written scenes and whatnot. But on the whole this is an impressive work. The problem is, the only way I know that is because I forced myself to finish the book because I told Alexander I would. If this were a library book, I’d have been done with it by the 10% mark — if I’d bought it? I probably would’ve made myself go on to 20%. But I literally had to force myself to finish this — which was a pain until the last 20% or so, but that’s just because momentum had kicked in and my Kindle was telling me there wasn’t a lot of time remaining to finish.

That might have been mean of me to say, but what else am I supposed to say? I really didn’t like this book — I guess I can see where some would — I was reassured on Goodreads what patience would pay off. And you could argue it did — but I shouldn’t have to be that patient.

Here’s the thing: a reader needs a way in. We shouldn’t have to take notes and flip back and forth to see how an author it using this term or that — especially when some terms are spelled so similarly that it’s difficult to differentiate between them at the beginning. This is truer when you’re using terms that in our world or in similar fantasy worlds can be used to mean something else. I don’t mean you have to hold our hands and spell everything out in the first few chapters, because that can be really dull. But you need to bring us into this world and give us enough tools to figure out what we’re talking about — it shouldn’t be the case where I’m a few hundred pages into something before I figure out that half of my problem is that these characters are mispronouncing things — like elf!

It’s not that I’m stupid. It’s not that I’m lazy. I’ve read plenty of fantasy novels that are stranger, more arcane, less like our world or traditional fantasy than this — the difference is, those authors were able to bring the reader into the world so that I could get oriented enough to follow the story and not have to wonder if what you think you’re reading is anywhere near the story. Maybe if I’d read the description of the book on Alexander’s website, or Goodreads (or the form he filled out on my blog) just before starting the book I’d have been better equipped — but it should be in the book, not on the back-of-the book (metaphorically speaking) where I get grounded in the world.

I’m not saying that people can’t enjoy this, or shouldn’t, either. But it absolutely didn’t work for me in every conceivable way.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author, it clearly didn’t bias me in his favor.

—–

2 Stars

Advertisements

Sixth Prime by Dan O’Brien: The beginning of a sweeping epic that came up snake eyes for me.

Sixth PrimeSixth Prime

by Dan O’Brien
Series: The Prime Saga, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 240 pg.
2016
Read: May 23 – 24, 2018
There’s a danger that most readers have familiarity with — a novelist oversharing the details of their worldbuilding so much so that it drags down the story and characters. The opposite danger isn’t seen as often — the writer withholding the details so much that you spend half your time figuring out what’s happening, rather than paying attention to characters and plot. It’s a tricky balance, no doubt — and sometimes a novel can overcome an author falling into either ditch. Sixth Prime was not one of those success stories — for whatever reason, to be careful, to be coy, because he didn’t notice — this book fell into the “not enough information” ditch, and couldn’t find its way out of it.

There are a few storylines, somewhat connected — it becomes somewhat clearer later how they are — there’s a murder investigation conducted by a corporation that supersedes the local authorities’ own investigation; a high-ranking military official on trial (and the strange aftermath of that); a jail-break leading to another jail-break on its way to an assassination; a scientific exploration goes awry; and a couple of competing treasure hunters hunt for an artifact. Somehow these all connect to an interstellar war and forces as old as creation itself.

The characters were lifeless, little more than names and job titles — with just a couple of exceptions. The characters in the murder investigation had promise — and if this book had just focused on that storyline, this’d be a much different post. At least one of the characters in the treasure hunting story have promise (but the more villainous one was so over-the top that literal mustache twirling wouldn’t have seemed out of place).

This entire novel seemed to be a set-up for the coming series — not a novel that’s part of a series. The various stories didn’t have endings, there wasn’t an overall arc to the novel that I could see — the stories stopped, or “resolved” by authorial fiat, nothing organic. This is a problem — I can accept not tying up everything in a tidy little bow, but there needs to be some sort of closure to a novel, some sort of point to that one thing. I’m not sure I’m being entirely fair here — 1 or two of the stories might actually have had a decent resolution, but by that point, I was out of patience with the entire endeavor. A dynamite ending, or compelling hook could’ve saved it (I think), but they were nowhere to be found.

Nothing about this really worked for me — one storyline came close — but being surrounded by the rest, it never stood much of a chance. A little more restraint, a little more discipline — maybe a longer book — I don’t know. There’s something missing, I’m not sure what it was, really.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion as reflected above. Sorry about that, Mr. O’Brien, but thanks anyway.

—–

2 Stars

My Man Jeeves (Audiobook) by P. G. Wodehouse, Simon Prebble: Tales of Rich Fools Fail to Amuse

My Man JeevesMy Man Jeeves

by P. G. Wodehouse, Simon Prebble (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 Hrs., 8 min.
Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2006
Read: April 24 – 25, 2018
This is a collection of eight short stories — half of them starring Jeeves and Wooster, the other half featuring Reggie Pepper (who is basically Wooster without Jeeves). Like the rest of the books featuring Jeeves and Wooster, this is frequently hailed as a comedic classic, a masterpiece, and has no dearth of fans — highbrow and lowbrow alike.

I am not one of them. Wooster and Pepper are vapid, privileged aristocrats — vain, insipid, too wealthy and seeming incapable of narrating — or conversing — in coherent sentences. Jeeves is a frequently (but not infallibly) conniving and tricky valet, who seemingly knows more than anyone else around him. I honestly don’t know if I’d want him working for me, he’s too nosy, too duplicitous for my taste. All the characters get into farcical situations that are complicated and entirely of their own devices. If they could just be upfront and honest with others (including each other), their lives would be far less complicated.

Prebble did a fine job, I think. Yeah, I had no patience for any of the narrators of the stories — but that’s not on him. That’s totally on the characters. I think he grabbed the personalities perfectly. I just don’t see why anyone would bother.

I’m primarily posting about this experience as a reminder to myself: Just give up, HC. You and Wodehouse are just not compatible. You may have friends (Internet-based and Real Life) that love him, but you just don’t understand the appeal.

Not funny. Not amusing. Not charming. Pretty much a waste of time. Just can’t recommend this to anyone.

—–

2 Stars

Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People by Walter Kerr

Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big PeopleSir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People

by William Kerr

Kindle Edition, 268 pg.
2017
Read: April 9 – 10, 2018

Where to start . . . where to start . . .

Let’s start with all the disclaimers and warnings on this book — just because something says it’s a fairy tale, that doesn’t mean it’s for kids. I don’t know why people don’t know this. See also: animation, comic books, and Not Your Father’s Root Beer. Throw in Hans Christian Andersen’s writing and the original Grimm’s Tales, while we’re at it. But, I’ve gotta say, on the whole, this novel doesn’t need all the warnings. Anyone old enough for Suzanne Collins is quite old enough for this.

So, you’ve got your basics: a couple cursed by evil magic, doomed to appear as other than they are until the curse is broken; an evil dragon; a kind and wise princess; stupid and evil royalty (okay, that’s more Shrek than Cinderella); a poor, orphan destined for greatness; noble warriors; corrupt churchmen; wicked/incredibly selfish stepmothers, and so on. Throw in a strange sense of humor, some probably satiric elements, an author who is clearly trying very hard to be whimsical and amusing — maybe trying too hard — and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an amusing read.

Kerr clearly wants to be S. Morgenstern (or maybe William Goldman), and doesn’t quite make it. But he’s not the first to try, nor the first to fail. But he’s good enough to justify reading this, and many people would have a good time doing so.

That’s what I was going to say for the first 60% of the book. But at that point, the curse is broken (minor spoiler…but c’mon, it had to happen), people are happy, the kingdoms are prosperous . . . and I figured we had just a couple of chapters of epilogue and resolution. But, no. From there Kerr goes on to fill this with some sort of pseudo-Christian nonsense (very strange morality, no redemption). I honestly have no clue what he was trying to do in the last chapters — it was a mess.

Remember that scene in Tommy Boy where Tommy tells the waitress, Helen, “why I suck as a salesperson”? He goes on to stroke and pet a roll like a pet and then gets excited and destroys the roll? That’s pretty much what Kerr did here — he has a nice little book and then kills it, reducing it to mangled crumbs.

Save yourself some time and avoid this one. Or, read the first 60% and stop, adding a mental “…and they lived happily ever after.”

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

2 Stars

Secular Jewish Culture by Yaakov Malkin, Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel

Secular Jewish CultureSecular Jewish Culture

by Yaakov Malkin (Editor), Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel (Translator)

Kindle Edition, 520 pg.
Library of Secular Judaism, 2017
Read: February 5 – March 30, 2018

I don’t know where the person who offered me this book found me, nor why they thought I’d like the book. Nor do I even remember what it was about this book that I thought sounded like it could be my cup of tea — but man, were we both wrong.

Which is not to say that this is a bad book, or an uninteresting book. But this is not the kind of thing I usually read or blog about — the typical secular Jewish writing around here is Jennifer Weiner or Hagit R. Oron. And the academically-oriented reading I usually do is definitely not the secular variety.

This is essentially a manifesto and apologetic for the study of Secular Jewish Culture as an academic discipline. The various authors definitively state what it is that Secular Jews believe, think, and cherish — which is far less diverse than say, CNN on-air talent, or members of my household. White largely set positively, on the whole much of this book defines Secular Jewish Culture by what it isn’t, and given that most people have a hard time separating the ethnicity from some form of the religion, that makes sense. But it doesn’t make for good reading.

Granted, it’s obvious from the outset that I’m not going to approach the Hebrew Scriptures from the same perspective as these authors, so it’s not surprising that I’d characterize almost all of their reactions to those scriptures as misreading the text — I can handle that, really. But some of the misreadings are so bad, and seemingly deliberately so, that I was frequently angered as I read them.

I had a long list of things I wanted to talk about, but I really can’t muster the interest — and I can’t imagine anyone reading this post will be able to, either — so I’ll just wrap things up.. It was generally a slog to read — but I can’t fault it for that, it’s not supposed to be a page-turner. It definitely set out to accomplish a few tasks, and on the whole, it succeeded. Except for making me want to read anything else from any of these authors. Did I like it? No. Is it a good book? Maybe? Probably? Are there many people that will think this book is a treasure? Yup, but I’m not one of them.

I honestly think this book deserves more stars than this, it’s a good book. But, I didn’t like it and this is my blog, so . . .

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, I appreciate the opportunity.

—–

2 Stars

The Meifod Claw by JW Bowe

The Meifod ClawThe Meifod Claw

by JW Bowe

Kindle Edition, 384 pg.
Serious Biscuits, 2017

Read: February 14 – 16, 2018


I’m going to keep the synopsis-y part of this vague because the blurbs for this book are pretty vague, and to a great extent, so is the book. This takes place in Wales, it involves a former sailor now confined to a wheelchair and a mostly abandoned farm-house (it fills up after a chapter or so), his niece, his nephew (who pretty much owns the house and funds everything in the book) and his nephew’s friend — who dropped out of a master’s level physics program to take part in the hi-jinks that occur. Oh, at some point a dog is introduced — he doesn’t seem to add much to anything, only serves to derail the progress of the plot for a bit, but he seems like a cool dog, and I’m a sucker for cool dogs.

The guys have assembled at this abandoned farm to work on a project and the niece/sister drops in every now and then to “tsk” at them and examine the books. When they’re not working on the project — and frequently as an aid to working on the project — the uncle, nephew and friend get high, drunk, stoned, and wasted, at the same time. There are probably a few other nearly synonymous terms I could throw in there, too.

I’m honestly not sure if the project is supernatural in nature (there’s a salt circle involved, but it doesn’t seem to do anything, and I’m not sure anyone believes it ought to), based in some sort of physics/”fringe” science (there’s a lot of talk that indicated that), or some sort of combination thereof. Frankly, I’m not convinced that the novel is all that certain of the nature of the project. I know a whole lot more of the drinking and drug habits of the characters than of the reason they’re together. The nephew is the Visionary, the friend is the brains behind things (although there’s very little time that I can tell you that he’s doing anything), and the uncle is the guy who lives in the house.

I do know that one of the side effects of this project is that it is some sort of miracle-grow product for plants — which means that the marijuana they use and sell to finance this project is larger, higher quality, etc. than one should expect. There is some contact with supernatural/spiritual entities, some with alien life (or they’re all three), a government agency and someone who’d done the same kind of work as these three earlier (and hints that they’re not alone).

I got frustrated with this novel quickly, but stuck with it hoping it’d change my mind (or that I’d at least figure it out), but the way that the story was told got in my way. Every time someone makes a decision, or gets a new piece of information, relaying that information/acting on the decision is put off for a day and a half (at least) for alcohol and recreation pharmaceutical use. During that day and a half any number of things can be said/happen that delays the relaying/acting. It is so infuriating. Maybe it’d have been better if the results of the binge-drinking, acid use, cocaine snorting, etc. were amusing or interesting, but I doubt it.

There was every reason in the world for me to get into this book, and I just couldn’t. Maybe it was my mood (I don’t think so, I wanted a book just like this at the time), maybe it was something else outside the book, so that I should recommend this to you all. But I’m pretty sure it was the book this time — if you’ve read this and disagree with me? I’d love to hear why. I wouldn’t mind changing my mind.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

2 Stars

Laughing Eyes by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem Peli

Laughing EyesLaughing Eyes

by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem-Peli (Illustrator)
Kindle Edition, 27 pg.
Tzameret Books Ltd, 2017

Read: January 8, 2018

I . . . I don’t know what to say here. This is a collection of poems for young children — they are clearly earnest, carefully composed, and intended to uplift the spirits of young readers.

And I just didn’t get it, at least most of it. Seriously, I don’t know why, but I didn’t understand most of these poems. As this is a book intended for 2-7 year olds, that bothers me. I’m hoping, hoping it’s a cultural thing and that readers from Israel get what she’s saying.

The illustrations, though? Leshem Peli’s artwork is warm, inviting and eye-catching. It’s exactly what these kind of books should be full of.

I feel pretty bad about this, but I just didn’t like the book. Hopefully most of Magner’s audience are smarter than me.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

2 Stars