Friday, December 11, 2009

[Lisa's Take] Magic for Beginners (Kelly Link)

I don’t do short stories, as a rule. They always frustrate me because they just give me a taste of something, rather than bringing a story to fullness. I haven’t read any short stories in probably 10 years – I have no interest in short story compilations or anything of the kind.

Magic For Beginners made it into our stack when JD randomly bought a bunch of cheap books from a small publishing house, through some special. I didn’t know it was a short story collection when it was the only book I packed for a weekend away. I’m glad that it was the only book I packed, because I had brought anything else I would have dismissed it out of hand and never had the pleasure of reading it.

Kelly Link’s short stories are absolute gems. They are mostly rooted in real life with fantastic elements thrown in to shake up the worlds of the characters, but a few are straight fantasy. They all have great hooks, bizarre and intriguing storylines, and thought-provoking literary wanderings. Months later I still find myself pondering the implications of some of the stories, or what might have come next had the story been a whole book. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself thinking about “that weird dream I had” before I realized that I was actually thinking about one of the stories. Talk about impressive, to be able to grab you and hold you and integrate with your brainmeats so well.

I did have one gripe about the compilation as a whole. Ms. Link loves to end her stories with a sense of melancholy longing (or at least that’s the best set of words I can come up with to express the slightly sad, achy, wanting-more feeling her stories inspired). She does it incredibly well, especially considering the shortness of her stories. The problem is that almost every story ends that way… a fact that becomes glaringly apparent when you’re reading all of the stories back to back to back. An emotional tug starts to lose its effect when repeated that many times, so I started to get indifferent after 3 or 4 stories. Still, not her fault so much as mine for reading the whole book straight through, rather than breaking up the stories over a few month period.

So, consider my aversion to short stories somewhat assuaged. I’ll do my best not to be so horrifically biased in the future!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

[Mini Review] [Lisa's Take] Canticle - Ken Scholes

I have a problem with Ken Scholes. His books read too fast. Seriously, I suck them down like candy – ok, that’s a bad analogy since I don’t really like candy. I suck them down like coffee with Baily’s that has cooled to chugging temperature. I read both Lamentation and Canticle so quickly that I kind of almost don’t remember them. The story was great, the characters were great, the prose was great… but the pace was so fast and the text so consumable that reading and finishing it was like a dream – fleeting and already fading.

I honestly don’t have a whole lot more to say about Canticle other than “I enjoyed it,” but there are a couple of things Scholes did well that deserve highlighting. Thing One: characters that were complex but still believable. Sometimes when you have characters that are both good and bad, it’s contrived. Not so with Canticle – I always believed the turns and changes of heart that the characters had. Thing Two: Subtle character development. Scholes did a masterful job maturing and changing his characters from the start of Lamentation to the end of Canticle, and he did so subtly enough that you barely realized it had happened until you stopped and compared. Thing Three: introducing potential future plot developments without being glaringly obvious or saying “ha, ha, I know something you don’t know!”

Ok, stopping with the numbered Things before this mini-review becomes a Dr. Seuss book. Lamentation was good. Canticle was better. I’m very much looking forward to book three, and I’ll do my best to slow down and savor it.

[Lisa's Take] Wolfskin - Juliet Marillier

Warning: this isn’t really a review. I read the first 2/3 of Wolfskin, then lost interest and let other things distract me. This is a rarity – usually I either hate a book and suffer through 100 pages out of obligation before putting it down, or I enjoy it enough not to keep reading to the end, faults aside. The premise was kind of boring to me (young Viking boy wants to be a Big Strong Fighter! Follow him as he grows up, meets a grey/scheming counterpart, then sails across to Greenland and meets the people there). Nothing about the book hooked me, and I only kept reading as long as I did because I was trapped on a plane with it.

Now. I see Juliet Marillier’s name ALL OVER the place. She publishes like a mofo and has a bunch of books out there. I know for sure that I have a couple of other books in my stack that were written by her. So – can one of you other fantasy lovers tell me if any of her books are more worthwhile? Unless I get a vote of confidence, I’m probably going to prune her out of my stack and move on. It just seems a shame to dismiss a prolific author who has at least a little promise without getting a second opinion.