Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwall
I don’t know why I have so much trouble reviewing Bernard Cornwall’s books. He’s one of my favorite authors and I love just about everything I’ve read by him. Enemy of God is no exception. When it comes times to write a review, however, my thoughts can generally be summed up by saying “This book was awesome, just like everything else Cornwall has written.”
Enemy of God is the second book in Cornwall’s take on Arthurian legend. Like all of his books, (and unlike most other modern re-telling of the Arthur legend), it is full of period accurate historical detail. Also like all of his other books, it is full of intrigue and fantastic battle scenes.
The subject matter, in this case, is epic on a scale unlike anything else I’ve read by Cornwall. I’m looking forward to reading the third and final book in the series this Spring.
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Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard
Leonard’s laconic style is well suited to Westerns. The writing in this novel is as terse as the characters. It is those characters that make this novel what it is. While Leonard does not waste a lot of words, his characters are always well fleshed out, complex and, most importantly, believable. It goes without saying that people are complex and Leonard captures this complexity as well as any novelist writing today.
Last Stand at Saber River is, on some levels a deconstruction of the classic Western. Leonard sets up a classic confrontation and, while the novel does not shy away from violence, the morality of that violence does not go unexplored. War is war, self-defense is self-defense and murder is murder. When those lines start to blur, a moral man will weigh his actions carefully and that conflict is the heart of this book.
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Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski
Secret Dead Men is an interesting concept disastrously executed.
Del Farmer is a murdered reporter who has his soul absorbed by someone investigating his killers. He eventually takes over the investigation himself, absorbing souls along the way and housing them in a hotel within his brain. As concepts go it’s not without potential but, by the end, it devolves into a god awful mess. The characters are paper thin and jumbled, no one’s actions or words ring particularly true and the original interesting concept continues to evolve in ever more ridiculous directions.
I enjoyed the last two books I’ve read by Duane Swierczynski, (The Driver, a straight forward crime novel about a double-crossed get away driver and The Blonde, another high-concept crime novel that works well once you accept the somewhat far-fetched central conceit), so it pains me to give this book one star but, this was a real stinker. By the end I was muscling my way through simply because I was close to the end and it was a quick read.
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The Internet is a Playground by David Thorne
The Internet is a Playground is essentially a printed version of David Thorne’s hilarious website, 27bslash6. A printed version of a website feels somewhat archaic, like those old Internet Phonebooks they used to sell in the 90’s. That having been said, as Thorne’s site is essentially a collection of short essays, it lends itself to print format well. Additionally the book can be used to kill spiders and costs less than a smartphone should you accidentally drop it in the toliet.
As with the website, some of the essays are funnier than others. For some reason this is a little more irksome in book format but, at the end of the day, it’s good to support your favorite internet funny people.
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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are a hoot. Discworld is a light fantasy world with striking parallels to our own. These similarities create fertile ground for satire and satire is Pratchett’s forte. Indeed, Pratchett is hilarious, not unlike a more prolific version of Douglas Adams.
There are 39 books in the Discworld series to date and I try to read one or two a year. This means I can look forward to many more years of reading Terry Pratchett. (Unfortunately, Pratchett has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers and it is unclear how much longer he will be able to pursue his passion for writing.)
In Hogfather, malignant forces have ordered a hit on the book’s titular character. Concerned about the ramifications of this disturbance to the order of things, Death, (with a capitol D), steps in to fill The Hogfather’s shoes, traveling the world in his boar-driven sleigh, delivering gifts and spreading goodwill and confusion on Hogfather’s Eve.
As Discworld books go, Hogfather is slightly sub-par but even a below average Discworld book is an entertaining read full of amusing vignettes.
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I suppose one can’t un-recommend a book that one did not recommend in the first place but, whatever the opposite of a recommendation is, that’s what we have going on here today.
A Terrible Book
It’s never a good sign when, on page 67, you find yourself checking to see how many pages are left in the book. Somewhere around page 100 of Lance Carbuncle’s Grundish and Askew, a pair of newscasters break the fourth wall to brag about how shitty the book is. Setting aside several meta-contextual statements by the narrator, this was the second time in 100 pages that characters in the novel broke the fourth wall. This time the author himself put in an appearance, presumably to do something terrible to the characters in question but, I will never know because it was one indulgence too far and I put the book down at that point.
Lance Carbuncle must have quite the cult following to have so many positive reviews both at Goodreads and on Amazon. I don’t get it. My tastes run towards the dark (Jim Thompson) and the bizarre (Patrick deWitt) so don’t for a second believe that my objections to this book have anything to do with the “shocking” puerile content. Grotesque and disturbing is all well and good if it is done well or, if at very least, it is funny. The gross-out material in Grundish and Askew is neither handled well nor particularly funny and the result is a childish bit of self-indulgent nonsense.
It’s very rare that I don’t finish a book. I’m sure Lance Carbuncle celebrates every time someone puts down one of his books because he likes to imagine that he has succeeded in giving another square reader the vapors but, in the case of Grundish and Askew, my decision to stop reading had little to do with the gross-out content and everything to do with the fact that it’s just a terrible book. Anyone looking for similar content from an author with actual talent should check out James Boice’s The Good and The Ghastly. I was luke-warm on The Good and The Ghastly when I read it but Lance Carbuncle makes James Boice look like James-fucking-Joyce.
The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat
The Phantom Ship is Marryat’s re-telling of the Flying Dutchman legend and, while it was slow to get going, the payoff was really worth it.
The Phantom Ship, tells the story of Phillip Vanderdecken’s quest to free the soul of his father who has been damned to sail the seas for all eternity as captain of The Flying Dutchman. Being a gothic novel, the book lacks Marryat’s characteristic sense of humor and, while the scenes set at sea are as gripping as everything else I’ve read by Marryat, there is a subplot involving Phillip’s Muslim wife and her struggles with Catholicism that took a while to pick up speed. This subplot really went in an interesting direction, however, and the novel’s exploration of themes relating to religion, faith and morality is thought provoking and non-didactic.
While the first half of this novel was easily my least favorite thing I’ve read by Marryat, the second half is right up there with his better works. As a bonus, there is a fun, grisly werewolf story slipped in towards the end as well
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