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Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A marvelously written book, populated by unforgettable and interesting characters. It chronicles the story of the Buendia family over a period of a hundred or so years, with individual family members painted with a degree of detail that seems amazing to me. Their individual stories are interwoven into the larger narrative of the family, with an interesting twist at the end.

There were several characters that are stuck to me, despite their relatively brief appearances. One was Remedios the Beauty, the purportedly most beautiful woman in Macondo, but someone who pays no regard to her own physical upkeep and has a very nominal concept of modesty. She’s supposedly the ‘most lucid’ person in town, or the most bananas, the book doesn’t conclude this either way. I cannot imagine why I’d be fixated on a pretty girl. No sir. Another character that was memorable is not technically of the family (well, not officially), and that’s Pilar Ternera. She’s the local, I want to say temptress, but not exactly, who contributes to the Buendia progeny from two Buendia brothers.

I’m not sure it reached the giddy heights that I experienced with Love in the Time of Cholera, but from a technical level it was probably a more difficult book to write. Cholera was primarily a love story between two (or three, depending on how you see it) people, while this was a story that had many people spanning generations, and he had to tie it in at the end. It is a hugely impressive book.

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Review: Horrorstör

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was surprised at this book. I had thought it was pseudo horror, something about how crippling and chained modern corporate life makes us feel on a daily basis, about the human condition and how we’ve become enslaved to commercialism. It was that, and more too. Somehow I had it in my mind that it was like a pretend ghost story, something that would eventually reveal itself to contain anything but a ‘real’ ghost. The entire presentation of the novel seemed to collude to that façade – it was designed like an IKEA catalogue, complete with product listings armed with Scandinavian names. How’d something this clever be *horrific*? The author was surely going for a playful, cheeky feel with a generous sprinkling of gimmicky metaphors for life.

But as the story went deeper and deeper (heh), the story got darker and darker. Horrorstor reminded me about a short I once read: of Pooh violently knocking Tigger across the room, growling viciously as he warns the tiger never to help himself to Pooh’s honeypots ever again. It’s not the violence that’s scary, but the violation of the serene mental image we all associate with friendly Pooh. I was caught off guard with the picture of the first torture device given the IKEA product marketing treatment. My mind felt a disconnect when a character did something, uhm, interesting to his throat, against the backdrop of a fun, harmless-looking faux-catalogue I held in my hands.

Something to be experienced than described, clearly (at least not by me).

The writing was simple and punchy, and the story moves at a quick clip. I enjoyed how Hendrix dissects the IKEA-like company’s business model, and the programming that went behind the design, and the observations about the people who visit and buy from the stores. The prose never felt clumsy like the Cassandra Clare/Veronica Roth variety.

Taken as a whole, it’s a pretty uncomplicated horror story, wrapped in a pretty interesting package. Plenty fun, and an novel concept. Gave an extra star simply because it caught me off guard at how dark the book actually was.

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Review: NOS4A2

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not extremely terrifying, but a good adventure nonetheless. It almost feels like how Stephen King would write if he was marinated in popular geek culture growing up. There’s some anachronistic elements, namely the Wraith and to a lesser extent the Triumph, to anchor the story in some semblance, it seems to me, of maturity. To prevent it to from going all fantasy, spaceships and an overload of nerdiness.

I have to say Hill writes very well. This is my first real Hill novel, after all, and the excellent Locke and Key was not an indication of his ability at prose. I have always maintained that King’s writing was horrendously underrated – I felt he wrote better than a lot of ‘commercial’ writers. I need to look up if his son was held to the same standard or higher prose-wise, but I thought he wasn’t bad at all.

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Review: Clockwork

Clockwork by Philip Pullman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Liked this little piece by Pullman. Very elegant short story, very playful in tone, and fantastical, steampunkish (can something that has to do with clockwork minus steam machines considered steampunk?).

Quick read, and I’m noting down the way Pullman wrote this story. Taking mental notes on how this story was crafted – tools into my writer’s toolbox.

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Review: The Good House

The Good House
The Good House by Tananarive Due
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been on a horror reads run recently (well, spread over a year or so), roughly centered around two things: haunted houses and something to creep me out (not necessarily the same thing).

I approached this book with zero expectations, not knowing the author at all. Also, all the haunted house stories I’ve been reading failed to really ignite my thus far unscare-able reading appetite. I enjoyed them sure, but were they like really scary? Nope.

This one didn’t scare me either. However, the book was very well written, and I pretty much forgot about the horror and was drawn into the rich familial history and the pleasant small town community. The author jumped from present to flashback scenes as she tells the stories, and it’s pretty impressive how she manages this. I’m usually pretty unhappy with flashbacks, as I like a story to get on with it, but the flashbacks were punchy and almost action packed, and does a great job of conjuring a sense of foreboding. I especially liked how she describes an event in the past, then in the next chapter shows a character that has no business knowing the past repeating words said before. I’m of course just clumsily repeating a commonly used plot device, but seriously the book does a better job than me right now.

The magic involved here is Haitian in nature, very old America, and that was very interesting for me indeed. Refreshing, and I was strangely glad than I’m reading about something new, filled with enchanted symbols, spellcasting with water bowls and chicken bones and raven blood, scented altars, dream-visions and ancestral divination. Not your ‘standard’ biblical demons.

I’ve recently revisited Stephen King, and I’ve always loved his writing. But I think Due is as good as (if not better) a writer as King. Suspicious, since the blurb already has readers comparing Due to King as an ‘equal’. Maybe I was swayed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the prose. Also, I just came off Divergent, which means almost everything else I read at the same time will seem like masterpieces.

The ending was a bit of a cop out, in my opinion. Over the years I’ve reconciled with the fact that stories, like real life, don’t always end well, and there shouldn’t be an expectation that stories *should* end well. I’m totally ok with a horrific ending if the story logically concludes with that outcome. Almost everything I expected happened in the novel, but I didn’t expect that particular ending. Saying more would spoil it, so I’ll just say the ending probably weakened the book by about 10% (I say plunge the knife and live with it!), but not enough to change my mind about this wonderful book.

Great stuff. Recommended.

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