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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 1/17/12

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

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Theft of Swords, by Michael J. SullivanReviewed by Liz Bourke (Strange Horizons).

Here’s an Irish student systematically savaging a terrible sounding fantasy book. She does a few things here I really like: 1. Offer the author a pass since it was originally a self-published title, but criticize the publisher and editors who picked it up for not doing anything to fix it. 2. Dissect Sullivan’s ignorance of Early Modern grammar. 3. Summarize the book in a lengthy write up that is undoubtedly more entertaining than the book itself. It might be a little mean, but sometimes it’s really fun to read someone just lay in to a bad book (or movie), and besides team Sullivan comes out looking like chumps more than anything. Good stuff.

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Blueprints of the Afterlife, by Ryan Boudinot. Reviewed by Paul Di Fillippo (Barnes and Noble Review).

This review is comprehensive to say the least. Read it if you want the skinny on Boudinot’s career and an overview on slipstream fiction in addition to a review of this book. It’s actually a pretty informative overview, so the review is worth the read just for that. Also, this book sounds pretty cool, and Di Filippo reviews it aptly. I like lines like this in reviews:

Boudinot takes this finely wrought but perhaps thematically underpowered mimetic-absurdist vehicle and drops in a rocket-powered speculative engine.

I’m pretty sure I saw Nico with this book not too long ago, so I’ll leave the C4 judgment to him. Look for his review sometime soon.

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Aim for the Head, by various authors. Reviewed by William Grimes (New York Times).

A collection of “work [from] more than 50 zombie poets” might be a fun read. Who knew there were any “zombie poets,” let alone fifty? I’m not very well-versed (sorry) in modern poets, so I’ve never heard of any of those Grimes mentions or quotes, but poetry readers sould give it a gander and see if there’s anyone they recognize. And for those who still like zombie books like I do, the review’s a short but interesting read in its own right.

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Quickly: Speaking of zombies, Cory Doctorow has a write up on the latest Walking Dead collection–which I just read and is very good. Helpful tips on how to write (in just 3 pudding cups). And, spending $50,000 on Das Kapital seems contradictory.

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Bonus Book Trailer: This one is done by fifth graders, and is far, far better than most of the trailers I share on these posts.

Some Spooky Halloween Reading

It’s been a while since I did one of these holiday recommendation posts. Back in 2009 I shared the likes of Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley, Stoker, and King, as well as the classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Here’s some more spooky reading  to keep you busy over the weekend.

(Where possible I’ve linked to free ebook downloads.)

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The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliff

My favorite Gothic novel. It’s perhaps the most atmospheric book I’ve ever read. Udolpho reads a bit like a Jane Austen novel, but with tons of eeriness. And it’s a good story to boot. Gloomy castles, dark forests, mysterious strangers, it’s all here.

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Speaking of Jane Austen and eeriness, this book inserts a whole bunch of zombies into Austen’s classic novel. I really enjoyed this book, and it saw a lot of ssuccess and praise. Unfortunately, due to this things got a little out of hand at Quirk.

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The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

James’s writing takes a little warming up to, so if you haven’t read any classic literature in a while, be prepared for a pretty slow burn. But this book is well worth your patience. It’s a subtle and creepy Gothic ghost story.

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House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewsky

This one tends to fly under the radar, in part because it’s just so weird. It’s about a family that moves into a house and discovers a seemingly endless closet. Danielewsky does a bunch of experimental stuff with the print setting (font flipped around and all shapes and sizes, lots of marginalia), so this would never work as an ebook. But if you can find a copy, get it; it’s one of the best haunted house (I use that pretty loosely) stories I’ve ever read.

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The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H.G. Wells

Probably the best mad scientists book there is (Frankenstein doesn’t count). A man shipwrecked on an island becomes the guest of a madman whose experiments on humans and animals result in freakish creatures. It is grotesque and horrifying.

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Also, I did a few horror reviews this week of two above-average supernatural books. Check out my thoughts on The Last Werewolf and I Don’t Know the Author or the Title but Its Red and has 3 Zombie Stories in It.

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REVIEW: I Don’t Know the Author or the Title But It’s Red and It Has 3 Zombie Stories In It

Author: Kelly Link

2011, Jelly Ink (self-published)

Filed Under: Horror, Short Stories, Short-Run.

Get the book.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 6

This is a short, little volume collecting, as you might have guessed, three zombie stories. Each of these stories, all by Kelly Link and originally published in different books, is good in its own way, but what really makes the collection worth notice is its consistent originality. There aren’t really any shambling corpses, no survivors banding together in a boarded-up house. One of the stories doesn’t even have actual zombies–or any sort of supernatural element–in it.
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REVIEW: Zombies vs Unicorns

Editors: Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

2010, Margaret K. McElderry

Filed Under: Short Stories, Fantasy, Young Adult

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 3

This collection isn’t quite what it sounds like: it’s not a bunch of stories about zombies and unicorns in battle. That would have been awesome. Instead it’s a collection of stories, some about zombies, some about unicorns. Each is preceded by a short dialogue between editors, each of which helms one of the two camps. The whole debate is pretty juvenile, even for a YA book, but that is, of course, to be expected to a degree considering the subjects at hand.

So does it work? Sort of. This collection is what it is. It boasts a number of recognizable  young adult authors, and a few stories (such as “Inoculata” by Scott Westerfeld) are fairly good. The rest, not really so much.
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The Book Was Better: The Walking Dead

[This is a new column in which we compare books with their A/V counterparts. Most of the time, but not always, the book is better than the movie or show. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be discussed. Follow this column here, and check out the rest of our ongoing features here.]

I’ve never really been into comics. Every so often I’ll read and enjoy a graphic novel, but that’s about it. The one exception is The Walking Dead, written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Charlie Adlard. Until Aaron’s first column a week ago, I had no idea what a “pull list” was and I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been in a comic shop. But I’ve long been fascinated with zombies. I’ve seen more zombie flicks than anyone I know. Some say they’re played out; I’m not sick of them yet, though. There’s still room for some interesting stuff to be created. The Walking Dead is a great example of this, and I buy the collected volumes they put out every few months. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I learned AMC was adapting it for television. But I had my doubts too.

Gore and campiness, the long-time staples of zombie movies, are fun enough, but the greatness of zombie plots lies in the universal pathos and the unique mythos that each develops. Unlike other monster stories and themes, the zombies aren’t the center of the show. They are a dark, looming presence, a threat that wrings the humanity and inhumanity out of the characters, a catalyst for dire, desperate action. These stories thrive in the murky grey areas of morality. Because of this, in a good zombie drama the zombie plague is the setting, not the conflict.
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REVIEW: Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse

Edited by John Joseph Adams

2008, Nightshade Books

Filed Under Sci-Fi, Short Stories

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 7

It’s tough to review an anthology, seeing as A.) there are myriad voices and styles in a single book B.) the selection are chosen because they are exempletive of something and presumably so because they are good or the best at whatever they were selected for C.) despite this, some entries are inevitably better than others, and it’s hard to score the whole thing without undercutting some and giving others too much credit. So, with that said, my score for this is an attempt to quantify my overall impression of this book, so take from it what you will.

I don’t read too much of this kind of sci-fi, or many sci-fi short stories at all for that matter, but when I saw the roster of authors contributing to this collection I had to pick it up. It’s got writers from all sorts of genres, from sci-fi (Paolo Bacigalupi) and fantasy (George R. R. Martin) to horror (Stephen King) to whatever genre you consider Jonathan Lethem implicated in.
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REVIEW: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

pride-and-prejudice-and-zombiesThis book has been chosen as a Great Read

Authors: Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith

2009, Quirk

Best ebook deal: Sony eBook Store

Filed under Literary, Horror, Humor

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 5
Sketchings/Art..... 8

From the discussion guide appended to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:

Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales. Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen’s plot and social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?

If you’re at all familiar with Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, you will immediately upon beginning Pride and Prejudice and Zombies notice that this is really that same book just…modified. It’s not a rewrite, just a reworking. What is really astounding about the Zombies edition is how well Grahame-Smith manages to implement the gory horror aspects, and indeed and entirely new setting, atmosphere, and fictional historical context while remaining true to the source material.
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REVIEW: Jailbait Zombie

jailbait-zombieAuthor: Mario Acevedo

2009, Eos

Best ebook deal: Diesel eBooks

Filed under Horror, Mystery

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 5

I honestly can’t remember why, or when, I bought this book. I think it must have been on a whim while killing time in a bookstore one day, although I’m not sure what it says about me that I go for something called Jailbait Zombie on a whim.

The premise is silly to say the least: a vampire private eye teams up with an underage psychic harlot to put an end to a rash of zombie attacks in a remote Colorado town. There are mobsters and even machinated zombie chimera cyborgs too. It’s written with a satisfyingly noir-ish, hardboiled flavor, and the book, it turns out, is surprisingly entertaining.
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