Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Book Bites

Well, I’ve finished reading a couple more books, so it’s time for another Book Bite. Fragile Things is Neil Gaiman's newest book of short stories and I think it quite possibly may be twice as good as his Smoke and Mirrors collection. Smoke and Mirrors, even though I loved it, it had a couple racy stories that I didn’t care for, as well as a couple that didn’t go anywhere or just didn’t seem to work. The short stories in Fragile Things all seemed to work well on their own, and were more consistent, except for one that was just ugly and antagonistic in a blatant and pointless way. There is also a short novella at the end of the collection, that I felt like I could have enjoyed or appreciated more if I’d read the book, American Gods, which it referenced or was meant to be a part of. Regardless, these stories and poems were so much fun to read and consisted of the same themes I enjoy, which Gaiman has such an interesting take on: horror, fantasy and sci-fi. One of my favorite stories was a humorous twist on an Edgar Allan Poe type Gothic story called, "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" and I couldn't stop smiling as I read it. I mean, just take a look at that title. What fun! I also enjoyed the story, "October in the Chair" (which celebrates storytelling around a campfire in a unique way), the poem "The Hidden Chamber" (a dark take on Bluebeard), "Bitter Grounds" (a man wanders through a voodoo filled New Orleans and slowly discovers himself), "Locks" (a punny and poetic take on the fairy tale of Goldilocks) and "Sunbird" (a club of gourmands quest for the most unusual meal). It's been a long time since I have enjoyed reading this much; I could hardly contain myself.

The other book I've read recently, Abarat by Clive Barker, was also pure reading joy.
This book is technically Young Adult fiction, but you'd never know it. A combination of Alice in Wonderland crossed with Narnia's wardrobe, this story starts with a little girl named Candy Quackenbush (officially one of the worst character names in literature, in my humble opinion). She hates her boring life in Minnesota and longs for something more. When she runs away from school, she finds an old lighthouse in the middle of a field and lights it. In response, a magical ocean rises up from the forest and she travels on that ocean to a surreal dream world filled with strange people who look like fish or have many heads, bizarre monsters and evil magicians. In the world of the Abarat, there are 25 islands, and each one is named for the hour of the day, including the mysterious 25th hour. Candy journeys through this world, making friends and enemies, and learning more about her destiny in this strange universe. Barker's imagination is boundless and a pure joy to dive into as a reader. His make-believe world is filled up to every crack and crevice with the most amazingly creative creatures and settings and details. He also conjures some of the spookiest and most nightmarish bad guys. Even though this is the first book of a four book series, my only complaint is that it doesn't really stand on its own. There wasn't a real build up to a climax with a satisfying denouement; it was just Candy journeying, and right in the middle of making a new friend and new revelation, the book abruptly ends. I don't mind a series (and I'm already hooked on this one) but it's more fulfilling when each book is satisfying on its own, so you can be sated until the next installment.

As an aside, I've read a couple of Clive Barker's adult horror novels, which are scary and good within their genre, but I think his real gift is in Young Adult fiction. And I can't write a review about one of his books without mentioning one of my all-time favorite stories by Barker - The Thief of Always. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

One more quick book bite...The Umbrella Academy will conclude with its sixth and final installment this month. Once I've received the final book in the mail and devour it, I will write a full review.

Until then, let's chat books! What have you read lately? Have you ever read any Clive Barker or Neil Gaiman? What's your favorite Young Adult fiction book? Drop me a comment and let me know.


Anonymous said...

Now I'll have to get the other gaiman book. That was an "on point" review of the Barker book by the way. - Chad

D.L. White said...

Thanks for sending Abarat my way! I really enjoyed it! :-) You'll have to let me know what you think of "Fragile Things" if you pick it up.

Kathleen said...

Is The Theif of Always an adult book or children's literature?

D.L. White said...

The Thief of Always is Young Adult fiction, but you'd never know it... I own a copy if you want to borrow it sometime. (Chad's the one that referred it to me, back in the day...)