["Read This, Not That" is an occasional column in which we unmask an overhyped book and recommend a similar, better book to read instead. You can follow it here, or browse all our ongoing features here.]
Do not read: The Fall, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
I like Del Toro’s movies, I think he’s a talented guy, but he simply has no business writing novels, let alone an overhyped, unreadable mess like The Strain Trilogy. The first book in the series, The Strain, was cliched and horribly written (see my review for more details). To simulate the experience of reading it, imagine you’re in a class you hate with a professor who loves the sound of his own voice. He plays a bad movie for the class—say, Repo Men—and then keeps pausing it in the middle of action sequences in order to explain what combat boots are, or how a carburetor works, or the history of forks. That’s a lot like The Strain: a bunch of boring details cluttering up the action of an uninspired story. The big selling point for this series is that the vampires in it are mean. So… just like all the other pre-Twilight vampire stories? Sorry, Del Toro, that’s just not enough.
Instead read this: The Passage, by Justin Cronin
The Passage also got more than its fair share of media hype this year, and it’s also about vampires, and those vampires are also mean. I haven’t been able to read it myself, but I also haven’t seen less than a glowing review. For instance, here’s Ron Charles raving about it, and Ron Charles doesn’t pass out the good candy to every kid who knocks on his door.
In that review, Charles acknowledges our skepticism about yet another vampire novel, but then he calls Cronin “a really talented novelist”—the last legitimately talented novelist who wrote a vampire novel was probably Bram Stoker. There are sure to be some cliches and hackneyed elements (vampires, after all, are a cliche), but if Cronin knows where they are, and he’s as funny as Charles says, this book could be pretty good. It’s a much better bet, certainly, than The Fall.
Trick-or-treat! Here’s some fun sized book reviews:
not what it looked like
it’s a novel of ideas
that’s not exciting
a book of smart stuff
neuroscience for laymen
not a mystery
the pacing is the best part
that’s not saying much
plotless genre book
didn’t need the wasteland stuff
never finds a spark
Bigwig’s a badass
best rabbit book ever done
read it old and young
lots of swords sheathed in women
Eric: slightly hooked
[At the end of each month, Aaron surveys the comics he read, celebrates the best, considers the rest, and takes stock of what it means to be a contemporary comic fan. Read the explanation of this column's name here. Follow "The State of My Pull List" here.]
from "Batman and Robin"
Superhero mysteries post-Watchmen (or maybe more specifically post-Long Halloween) tend to drag the central question of the plot over a dozen or so issues, doling out a clue or two every issue to string the reader along until the big reveal. These stories are fun, but the structure often feels artificial. By contrast, every issue in Grant Morrison’s five-year, multi-title Bat epic reveals scads of details about its central mystery without sacrificing tension. If anything, it’s the desire to put all of that information into context that propels the reader into each subsequent issue, and makes both Batman and Robin and Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne the best comics on the rack every month.
This month’s issues (#15 and #5 respectively) offer the penultimate moments of their stories, each contributing further details to the story of Bruce Wayne’s “death” and time-travel trek back to the present, Dick Grayson’s battle against Dr. Hurt, the Joker, and the Bat-god Barbatos.Ryan Sook’s pencils for RoBW are gorgeous, but Frazer Irving’s muted colors and shadows really capture the midnight-in-the-graveyard quality of Batman and Robin. And the two-page spread where Robin single-handedly takes on the 99 Fiends nearly surpasses Frank Quitely’s work on this title in sheer adrenaline and fluidity.
from "Batman: Hidden Treasures"
Elsewhere in the Bat-world, Batman: Hidden Treasures presents a stand-alone Batman story written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson in the late 90s, but never released. Why it was shelved is unclear – the story is slight but compelling, and Wrightson and inker Kevin Nowlan’s interiors are detailed but clear, and suitably gruesome. I imagine the market for an illustrated prose story about Batman investigating sewer murders is small, but I’d rather have this book available than mouldering in DC’s archives. Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton’s Knight and Squire #1 features the British Batman and Robin analogues in a done-in-one story that’s funny, but doesn’t do much beyond introduce an entire cosmology of British superheroes and villains. Clever as those characters are (including Jarvis Poker, the British Joker) I hope the story kicks in next issue. Knight and Squire have too much potential to sit in the background of their own mini-series. …
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[As a prelude to his monthly comic book column, "The State of My Pull List", Aaron explores his comic reading habits, and the pleasures of a pull list. Follow "The State of My Pull List" here.]
For a dedicated comics reader, the pull list is a kind of contract with your preferred retailer, who agrees to hold issues of the books you read each month if you agree to buy them. This ensures that you don’t miss a book you’re interested in or dedicated to, and it helps retailers streamline their ordering process by keeping track of how many customers read which books. It’s a cozy system, and generally keeps everyone pretty happy.
Personally, I haven’t kept a pull list in years. Not that I don’t read enough comics to warrant a list—I read about fifteen to eighteen books a month, which is roughly 4% of the industry’s monthly output (not accounting for all the underground and self-published material out there). I’m sure my local store (the excellent Comicopia in Boston, MA) would cheerfully accommodate my near constant dropping and adding of titles, and picking up a stack of comics at the end of every month would certainly keep me budget-conscious. There are plenty of reasons to recommend this relatively simple decision.
But I like scanning the new arrival shelves for my favorite books every Wednesday. I like balancing a light week with oddities or one-shots I might not otherwise have picked up. I even like discovering that one of my regular titles has sold out, and the subsequent searching other stores in the area to find it. I feel like a hunter-gatherer, facing a raw landscape every week, never entirely sure what I’ll bring home to my hungry family (who, in this metaphor, is… also me). I prefer to be active and engaged, like those proud people stalking the landscape, using their keen senses to track their prey. Unlike them, I experience very little risk of death involved in buying comics, but that doesn’t diminish the satisfaction I feel walking to the subway with that robust brown bag tucked under my arm.
For me, then, a pull list is less a prediction of what I hope to buy any given week, but rather a record of what I did end up buying. And so this column will be a monthly review of that record, coming to terms with what I read, what I liked and disliked, trends worth noting, and other ephemera. With any luck it will convince you to pick up a stellar book like Mark Waid’s Irredeemable or Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin, but if nothing else I hope it will give you 4% of insight into versatile, creative rich medium.
[Read the first full issue of "The State of My Pull List" here.]
[Eric had to read this book and review it because of reader votes in Junk Novel Roulette. Find more JNR here.]
Author: Bertrice Small
1997, Ivy Books
Note: [We're not scoring or filing JNR books as reviews--that's just too mean.]
When I received my Junk Novel Roulette assignment, I made it my mission to love Hellion. I promised the other C4 editors I would write a glowing review, and I would do it without my tongue in my cheek. No irony. No sarcasm. Just pure adoration.
It was an impossible promise, but during my MFA I heard a lot about genre fiction versus literary fiction. Usually, people made the distinction as an off-handed dis, like “It’s just chick-lit” or “Doesn’t this seem science-fictiony?” All I learned from these accusations was that I never wanted to be one of those readers who presumed to hold a monopoly on taste.
Whether I like it or not, though, I am one of those readers. I thought I could love a mass-market medieval adventure romance about a “brazen beauty” named Belle because I assumed, without ever having read a romance novel, that I knew what cheap thrills I would find there. Having finished Hellion, I can’t say I loved it, but I was surprised by it, by all the ways it did and did not fit the mold in my head.
I expected sex; I did not expect porn. I expected bad writing; I didn’t know the half of it. I expected plot; I never imagined I would find it, even if only in part, so gripping. …
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[This novel is a C4 Great Read.]
Author: Richard Adams
1972, Rex Collings
Filed Under: Young Adult, Fantasy, Literary
|C4 Ratings.....out of
Every so often we like to go back and do a quick mini-review/reminder of a great book. I’ve done it before with Frankenstein and Lolita, and I now I’m doing so with another of my all-time favorite books. I’ve read Watership Down close to as many times as Lolita, which is to say many. I know it backwards and forwards, and it holds up just as well as a book for adults as it does a story for children.
This book is about a bunny rabbits. Physically they and the world around them are realistic; in fact, all the locations of the books are real places in England. There is no sword-swinging or clothes-wearing, the rabbits are anthropomorphized only in that they are given language, reason, culture, and names. Fiver is the runt of the warren, bullied and ostracised. He often sees visions, but only his brother Hazel ever takes him seriously. When Fiver foresees the destruction of their colony (by real estate development), and the chief rabbit ignores the warning, Hazel organizes a ragtag group of exiles, made up of mostly weaker rabbits, but with a few tough guys, including the badass Bigwig. …
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["Read This, Not That" is an occasional column in which we unmask an overhyped book and recommend a similar, better book to read instead. You can follow it here, or follow all our ongoing features here.]
Do not read: The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown.
“Dan Brown is a hack” is codified somewhere in the Chamber Four constitution. In fact, we once had some stickers that said something to that effect. We say this for a reason. Because he is. He really sucks. I tried to read this book when it first came out. It’s terrible.
It’s pretty rare that I don’t finish a book, even a bad one. But this novel’s awfulness bested me. It sucks for the writing alone. The Da Vinci Code is known for its twisty plot, but that’s really the only selling point. Besides that, it has stilted language, is structured for readers with attention spans of less than 4 pages, and presents perhaps the flattest and most boring protagonist ever put to paper. This book seriously ought to insult the intelligence of a 4th grader. Here’s an example why:
Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest. His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow’s peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship. As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.
I’ll give a prize to whomever points out the most things wrong with that trio of sentences.
Read this instead: The Thousand, by Kevin Guilfoile.
The Thousand isn’t the best book I’ve ever read, in fact it’s sort of mediocre, but it’s infinitely more readable than The Da Vinci Code. Like Brown’s novel, this has secret societies guarding ancient mysteries, and a plot buried in puzzles. Frankly, though, the secret society stuff is the worst part of this book. Guilfoile writes well enough, and he renders some interesting characters. I really like Canada Gold, who has a implant in her brain that makes her brain act almost like a computer. It’s pretty gimmicky for sure, but also different enough to keep things feeling interesting.
So where the above novel is all plot and little else, this has a plot that flounders a bit, but substance that at least remains engaging. I’ll have my full review up next week. It’s a decent thriller/mystery, so if you’re into that (or The Da Vinci Code), it’s worth a pick-up.
Barnes & Noble unveiled the Nook Color yesterday. Here are some specs, thoughts, observations, and links.
Specs and overview: The Nook Color is a 7-inch color touchscreen Android-powered ereader, retailing at $250. It will ship Nov. 19, and it’ll be in stores soon after that. It has WiFi, but no 3G, and an LCD screen instead of Pixel Qi or Mirasol (which would give it better battery life) because of price considerations and performance.
It’s difficult to get good hard spec numbers right now, especially processor speed and memory capacity, but it has micro SD expandable storage, and it comes with an 8 Gb card (16 Gb cards run about $30). It supports Adobe ePub and “boasts” an 8-hour battery life with WiFi off (I’d say you shouldn’t hope for more than 3-4 hours with WiFi on). Battery life is its weak point, without a doubt.
That said, there’s a whole lot to like here. Despite tech blogs keying on the word “tablet,” this is not a tablet computer, it’s a (possibly excellent) color LCD ereader. Real tablet computers of decent production value are very expensive, like the iPad starting at $500, and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab starting at $600. Anything much cheaper than the Nook Color, like the Pandigital Novel at $180, is too crappy to use. So do not expect the best Android tablet out there, expect a great magazine/newspaper reader, with a few perks.
Weird/cool bonus features: You can now take your Nook to a Barnes & Noble store, and read any part of any ebook in their catalog, for up to one hour a day, at which point, you presumably have to get up and go find the paper copy. With the Nook Color, you can also share passages from books via Facebook or Twitter, and lend (or evidently request to borrow) ebooks from friends.
You can also still get library ebooks, and read your ebooks on your phone or desktop via Nook apps available on most platforms (the Nook apps are quite nice, much better than Kobo in my opinion). However, I have little hope for the dedicated, curated Nook Color app store. Nook apps will not challenge iPad apps anytime soon.
Thoughts on content: One of the things I learned this summer after publishing our fiction anthology is that Barnes & Noble does its content right. I’ve been very skeptical of their ereader endeavors in the past, but they are clearly committed to ebooks, and committed to providing content. The same simply cannot be said of Apple and its lackluster ebookstore. If the hardware holds up, the Nook Color will be outstanding for readers.
The bottom line: If you want a tablet to play games, watch movies, email, Twitter, etc., get an iPad. But if you want a tablet primarily to read—especially to read magazines, newspapers, kids’ books, etc.—then the Nook Color is your clear front-runner. I don’t hold out any hope for a competitive or even decent app store, but the content will be there, in a way it’s not on the iPad.
Feel free to wait until you can lay your hands on one in stores to test its interface; that and its battery are its obvious potential weak spots in the early running. Basically, for the right user, this device makes a whole lot of sense.
Things I’m unsure of: How well will its interactivity work? Will it be able to highlight and note-take in a useful manner, as no E-Ink reader currently can? Will my grandmother be able to use it? If so, the Nook Color could be even better. I initially assumed the Nook Color would have lots of comic books, but haven’t seen confirmation; if no, that seems like a big oversight.
Some more links: Here’s a hands-on video at Engadget. Engadget says it’s sluggish, but the video has me sold. TeleRead has a video of the release event here—I usually hate product launch events, but some crazy dancing pageantry makes the first 3 and a half minutes pretty watchable indeed. (Second half here and Paul Biba’s write-up of the event here.) Various other impressions by ZDNet, Salon, publishing Twittersphere reactions. And the Nook Color page at B&N.
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Driving on the Rim, by Thomas McGuane, reviewed by Maile Meloy (New York Times)
McGuane’s last book was a collection of short stories, none of which quite eclipsed its premise (here’s my review of it). Maile Meloy’s latest was likewise a story collection, which also showed more skill than substance (my review here); however, her earlier novel, Liars and Saints, was outstanding. I believe these two are novelists, ill-suited for the confines of the story, and so it’s good to see McGuane back at the long haul. Driving is about a funny doctor and his troubles with women, good subject matter for McGuane’s particular talents. Meloy likes it a lot.
The Weekend, by Bernhard Schlink, reviewed by Hugo Hamilton (The Guardian)
Bernhard Schlink is the author of The Reader, which was made into a Kate Winslet movie two years ago. In his latest, Schlink updates his themes for a post-9/11 world (that still centers around Germany, naturally). The Weekend concerns an ex-terrorist who tries to re-integrate into German society and his family after being imprisoned for more than two decades. Hamilton’s description of Schlink’s fiction (he calls it “a faithful reconstruction of the human predicament”) turns me off, but Hamilton also says that it’s a definite success, and that Schlink no less than examines and explains modern terrorism. If you liked The Reader, this review is a must-read (and potentially the book is, too).
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, by Mark Hodder, reviewed by Michael Dirda (Washington Post)
Once every couple of years I get the urge to try a steampunk novel. I think it stems from my fondness for the Fallout video game series and the novel Snow Crash, one of my all-time favorites (Snow Crash is actually cyberpunk, but that’s closer than non- “punk” genres, right?). Whatever the cause, the urge usually ends badly. Now I’ve got it again, thanks to Dirda’s review of Hodder’s steampunk novel. He says it blends “ghost stories, leisurely historical novels and swashbuckling tales of adventurous derring-do.” Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Exley, by Brock Clarke, reviewed by Alec Solomita (Boston Globe)
I’ve got Exley on my desk—it has to go back to the library on Wednesday, and I haven’t found the time to read it. I gave it a (very brief) chance and got hooked by other books instead, and I’ve been wracked by guilt because I haven’t seen less than a glowing review. Solomita to the rescue. This is a genuinely mixed review—you don’t see those much in newspapers anymore. Worth the read, especially if you’ve heard of Exley, but, like me, haven’t gotten around to it. Or, you know, if you want to feel less guilty about skipping it.
The Fall, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, reviewed by Gina McIntyre (L.A. Times)
And here’s our comic relief. Evidently the latest book in Del Toro’s Strain trilogy has been released. McIntyre gives it a bewilderingly positive review, her comments hinging on the same press release tidbit that Del Toro and Hogan used to sell the first book: these are mean vampires! Scary instead of glittery! But, of course, vampires have always been mean; being the anti-Twilight does not mean you’re being original. As much as it pains me to say it, those silly, glittery Twilight vampires are in fact more original than this garbage. (Here’s my review of the first Strain novel, a classic babytown frolic.) Make no mistake: The Fall will suck. (Sorry.)
Bonus comic relief review: The Washington Post eviscerates James Franco’s story collection in about 300 words.
[This is the last in our series of interviews with authors featured in our anthology of outstanding stories from the web, The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. You can find more information about the anthology and download it for free here, or you can read all the interviews and find new ones here.
Scott Cheshire earned his MFA in fiction at Hunter College, City University of New York. He is currently working on his first novel. "Watchers" was published on AGNI Online, And can be read here.
Marcos interviewed Scott by email]
A "sailing stone" of the Racetrack Playa, featured in Scott Cheshire's "Watchers"
Chamber Four: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you first about the story’s setting. The Racetrack is real, correct? And stones really do move by themselves across it? Do people really go out to watch?
Scott Cheshire: The Racetrack Playa is in Death Valley, a very flat and now dry lake surrounded by mountains. And the stones are sometimes referred to as “sailing stones,” they’ve been studied since the forties. There are still only theories as to how they move. No footage has been captured. But they do move, depending on size, some as much as ninety miles an hour and some only a few inches each year. To my knowledge, watchers, as I imagine them, don’t exist.
C4: So how did you come to know this place and what about it inspired your writing?
SC: I first heard about the playa on television, not sure how long ago. It was brief, the tail end of a nature show, but it stuck with me. Years later I read about it in National Geographic. I found the idea kind of chilling and beautiful. At some point, I read of viewing benches in the valley and wondered about who sits on these benches.
C4: What, if anything binds these “watchers” together? Do they have anything in common besides the time they spend together hoping to see a stone move?
SC: We live in a strange and special time, we seem to know more and more every day and at the same time we know so little. I’m not one for nostalgia, in fact I generally find it not very helpful and often destructive, but mystery does seem in short supply these days. Or maybe I mean an appreciation of it. …
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