Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Written Word Wednesday - The Reading Mood Has Struck Again

Recently, the knowledge that a new Stephen King book had been released prompted me to finally bite the bullet and pay my fines at the public library so I could place a hold on it. And, as long as I was there, I decided to grab a few other things to read as well. While I'm not feeling inspired to do any full-blown reviews right now, I will give you some brief thoughts on what I've been reading the past month or so.

Duma Key by Stephen King: The story of a man whose life is changed after a horrible accident leaves him partially aphasic, one armed, prone to violent outburst, and possessed of a new psychic sensitivity )shades of Dead Zone, eh?) which draws him to relocate to the mysterious house known to him as Big Pink on Duma Key, where he finds himself drawn to paint pictures the hold great power, and great danger as well. While I enjoyed Lisey's Story and Cell quite a bit, I have to say that this is probably my favorite stand-alone novel of King's since Bag of Bones back in '98. And I say "stand-alone" because The Dark Tower books are a special case unto themselves; of course, I have yet to read The Colorado Kid or Blaze yet, but I shall rectify that soon. But I digress; if you're a fan of King, reading this is a no-brainer.

Gardens of the Moon: The Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 1 by Steven Erikson: First installment in a sprawling fantasy series about the domineering Malazan Empire whose new empress has gone through painstaking measures to remove all the supporters of her predecessor from the playing field, in particular the Army unit known as The Bridgeburners, who have been sent on one suicide mission after another. But now they find themselves in real trouble as the mercurial god Shadowthrone has placed an avatar of the Patron of Assassins in their ranks, with the express purpose of killing the empress. There's a lot more to the plot than that, but that gives you the general idea; lots of plotting and backstabbing and murderous gods and wizards and demons and the like. Good times, good times! Picked this one up on the recommendation of Wrath teh Berzerker, and I was not disappointed.

Deadhouse Gates: The Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 2 by Steven Erikson: The second book in the series follows a couple of the Bridgeburners, now outlaws, as they try to return to the center of the empire and confront the empress, a task that is complicated by the rise of the prophesied rebellion on the subcontinent of the Seven Cities, a rebellion which coincides with the mystical alignment known as The Path of the Hands which finds an army of mystical shapeshifters migrating to the Seven Cities searching for the gate which leads to godhood. And yes, there's even more going on in the book than what's listed above; Erikson likes to keep things busy. But, at least he also keeps things moving along, which is more than I can say for some other writers. But again, I digress. Wrath had warned me that he hadn't enjoyed the second book as much as he had the first, and I tend to agree; while still a good book, it didn't grab me quite like the first one had, possibly because I didn't become as attached to the new characters in this as I had the ones in the first book -- I particularly had trouble liking the sullen, self-deluded Felisin, although by the end her character finally went from annoying to interesting. Still worth reading, though, and Wrath assures me that he has enjoyed the third and fourth books as much as the first, so as soon as Memories of Ice becomes comes in for me, I'll dive into it.

The Ruins by Scott Smith: Horror novel about a group of twenty-somethings on holiday in Mexico who elect to help another tourist search for his missing brother, a search that leads them to an archaeological dig near a small Mayan village whose inhabitants refuse to let them leave the dig-site for reasons which soon become clear to the hapless travelers: they are not alone, and their company isn't human. I picked this one up because I'd read a lot of good reviews of it, and I knew it was being made into a movie, and I still tend to follow a "read the book first" policy if at all possible. Smith makes his four main characters embody the horror film victim archetypes -- jokester, slut, preppie, final girl -- and even goes so far as to have the jokester character point this out at one point, but by having the narration live heavily inside the heads of the characters, we are given much more insight into their motivations, which helps subvert the tropes. In the end, while there are some pretty gruesome moments, this is ultimately a character-driven story which examines how people react to life-threatening situations. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Making Money: a Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I. Love. Discworld. The news that Discworld author Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's saddens me on several levels; not just the idea that this could spell the end of one of my favorite series of books, but the thought that the man responsible for some of the wittiest, funniest, most entertaining and captivating books I have ever read might soon have those gifts for wordplay and characterization and satire that illuminates without condescending or preaching stripped from him by the vagaries of this horrible disease . . . it makes the enjoyment of this latest Discworld book bittersweet, to say the least. But enjoy it I did, because it is chock full of the humor and energy that exemplifies the series, and it focuses on one of my two favorite characters in the books, Moist Von Lipwick, conman-turned-postmaster general who is this time coerced by the Machiavellian Lord Vetinari into taking his gift of gab and razzle dazzle and using it to reform the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork. . . which, of course, is staffed by colorful and quirky characters. As always, I laughed out loud frequently while reading the latest addition to the Discworld oeuvre; with luck, this won't be the last time.