These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bright's Passage

Bright's Passage
by Josh Ritter
(3/5 stars)
I own a couple of Josh Ritter's folk-pop (or whatever you call it) albums, so when I saw on the Vine newsletter that he had written a novel I thought I'd see how good it was.  My final verdict is that Ritter is a better songwriter.  In time he could become a decent novelist, but this is an amateur effort.  If not for the fact he's somewhat well known already, I doubt it would have been published, so it's up there with those books by the likes of celebrities like Snooki and Pam Anderson.

That's not to say the book is terrible either.  It's a serviceable book, but nothing that will make you forget about Cormac McCarthy either.

The basic premise is like "Cold Mountain" with a veteran taking a journey after a war.  Except it's World War I and the war's been over for a couple years.  Also, Henry Bright doesn't go nearly as far in his journey.

He also has along with him a newborn baby, his son, who is born at the start of the book.  The first moment you have to suspend disbelief is to accept the idea Henry can take a baby who was just born that day on an extended road trip by foot.  The second and bigger moment is that Henry talks to his horse and the horse talks back.

Henry believes the horse to be inhabited by an angel who protected him from harm in World War I.  The angel persuades Henry to abduct his cousin Rachel and "marry" her (though it's not a real wedding) and get her knocked up to breed the Future King of Heaven.  If Henry knew anything about the Bible he might be more skeptical about exactly what kind of an "angel" this really is.

But he doesn't, so he abducts Rachel and they're happy and have the baby.  She unfortunately dies in childbirth and Henry takes off to escape her vengeful father "the Colonel" and his two sons Corwin and Duncan.  The angel also tells Henry to burn down his cabin, which unfortunately leads to a wildfire that threatens to burn down a large chunk of West Virginia.

With his baby, the horse, and a goat, Henry tries to stay ahead of the fire and winds up in a coal-mining company town where he finds refuge at a hotel, but the the Colonel and sons are close on his trail!

Sprinkled in throughout are Henry's memories of World War I, which was pretty unpleasant with the trenches, mustard gas, and so forth.  This of course leads to Henry's first encounter with "the angel."

There's not much to fault in Ritter's writing style.  For a songwriter he does a pretty good job with the novel format, except for a bit of head-hopping here and there, something publishers frown on--unless you're a celebrity.  What brings the novel down are a couple of poor strategic decisions.

First is that Henry's journey isn't very long.  Equivalently it's like going from New York City to New Jersey.  Or at least it feels that way.  There's not the epicness of the soldier's odyssey in "Cold Mountain" or of course Odysseus in "The Odyssey."  Which is too bad because an epic journey lets you work in more interesting characters and situations.

The second problem are the villains.  The Colonel and his two bumbling idiot sons feel straight out of central casting.  It really brings the whole novel down a notch.  There was a good opportunity to write something thoughtful about faith, religion, and heroism and so forth but the stereotypical villains ruin all of that.

Those are the kind of mistakes I wouldn't expect a more experienced novelist to make, though they do from time to time.  Still, while it's not as bad as I'm sure Snooki and Pam Anderson's probably largely ghost-written novels are, Ritter still has a lot to learn about the book writing biz.

In the meantime I hope he gets back to songwriting.

That is all.

(PS:  I know it's an ARC, but this seems like it had far more errors than any of the previous ones I've read.  The editor has his/her work cut out for him/her.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Marbury Lens

The Marbury Lens
by Andrew Smith
(3/5 stars)

On the whole, I didn't find this a very satisfying read.  Of course I'm not into dystopian fiction, so I wasn't primed to like this in the first place, so feel free to take what I say with a grain of salt.  But for the most part I left this with far more questions than answers, which maybe was the point to set up sequels.  Though as I said in another book review, you have to hook me in the first book to make me read more and this did not succeed.

The plot involves 16-year-old Jack, who one night after a drunken party is abducted by a man named Freddie for a few days until he escapes.  With the help of his friend Conner, they kill Freddie but don't bother telling the police about any of it.  Instead they go off alone to England.  After another night drinking (because he didn't learn the first time) Jack receives some mysterious glasses.

These glasses transport him to the mysterious world of Marbury.  Though unlike Narnia, it's not a nice place with talking animals and centaurs and stuff.  Instead it's a dried-up husk populated by violent cannibals who at one time were maybe human.  Jack and two boys named Ben and Griffin seem to be the only normal humans around.  They struggle to survive and maybe find more people.

With the glasses and the help of a ghost, Jack keeps going back and forth from the "real" world to Marbury.  But what is real? 

It's too bad the story doesn't provide an answer to that or my other questions.  (My first question, why is it called Marbury? That sounds like the name for a brand of marmalade.)  Like I said, maybe Smith is hoping to answer the questions in a future sequel.  But also as I said, I wouldn't have much interest in reading it.  Unlike Narnia or Middle Earth or other fantasy worlds, I don't see Marbury as one worth revisiting.  Maybe if you like "The Road" or "Mad Max" or "The Postman" you'd find it worthwhile.

Also, as a backhanded compliment, Smith does a good job of making Jack a realistic teenage boy.  Unfortunately that means he's usually sullen and whiny.  I have no idea what the beautiful Nickie sees in him.  Well, hormones and all that maybe.

On a final note, if you're a parent, this isn't something you want younger children reading.  There's a lot of swearing, violence, and gore.  It's pretty R-rated for a YA novel.  I don't think I'd want my niece reading it until she's at least 17, if at all.  Though I have a long time to worry about that.

That is all.