Life: it’s weird, man. I’ve been reading and working and living my life and suddenly it’s December, and I have all these books I’ve read but haven’t reviewed, and at this point I don’t know that I have enough to say about each of them to merit their OWN reviews so here goes: my first ever flash review post.
Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Fifteen-year-old Oscar becomes obsessed with Marina, who lives with her reclusive father in a crumbling mansion in Barcelona. The two of them begin to investigate the mystery of a woman who, on the last Sunday of each month, leaves a single rose on an unmarked grave. Cue depravity, gross out medical experiments, crazy ass living puppets, people getting burned by acid, etc. etc. etc.
This is the second of Zafón’s books I’ve read, and I had almost the identical feeling upon finishing Marina as I did with The Shadow of the Wind. Zafón has a magical way with words; reading his work feels decadent, like drinking a really spicy, deep red. His ability to conjure Barcelona to the page, and therefore the reader to Barcelona, is nothing short of sorcery, and he comes up with wonderful, genre smashing concepts for his stories. Unfortuantely, in both books I’ve read by him, he decides to jump ship towards the end and resolve all of his dangling plot threads via massive info dumps. For a writer who is so undeniably talented and who spends hundreds of pages setting up almost insanely intricate plotlines, to me this reads as lazy writing. I enjoyed reading Marina, but this is probably the last book I’ll be reading by Zafón.
Vango: Between Sky and Earth by Timothee de Fombelle
Vango is on the verge of making his priestly vows at the foot of Notre Dame in Paris when the police arrive, which triggers his paranoid non-delusions (turns out, his paranoia is well-founded!) and sends him climbing up the face of the cathedral like a regular Spider Man while some dude fires at him. This happens in roughly the first five pages, and thus begins Vango’s journey across Europe as he flees his mysterious pursuers. There are pirates, there are monks in invisible monasteries, there are Nazis, there is ADVENTURE galore, and this book is perfect for your discerning adventure reader; someone who loves chase scenes, but also savors a delicious turn of phrase.
Vango reads a bit like a mash-up between Indiana Jones and Amelie; the adventure and fast-paced action chock full of historic references is all there (including Nazis in a zeppelin!), but there’s also an effervescent sense of whimsy to it all. This book has been praised to high heaven for its unusual writing, and it’s that writing that makes Vango such a joy to read.
That said, I never felt fully invested in the novel or its characters. Vango himself was a bit flat, though I think that may have been the point; the side characters whose lives he dashes in and out of are far more interesting than he is, and are the source of depth in the entire narrative.
Despite that, this is a recommended novel for when you seek nothing but the pleasure of reading a good, old-fashioned yarn.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Twelve children, all orphans after a mysterious tragedy, are rescued by “Father,” a god whose house, err, library, contains all sorts of crazy, mystical knowledge. He tasks all of his “children” to learn their own catalogues and then disappears, which is where the reader is thrust in, or something like that. I don’t really know, I didn’t finish the book because I fucking hated it so much.
Strong language, I know, but have you EVER known me to use such strong and/or negative language to describe a book? Perhaps, but that’s beside the point. I really hated it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m just not in the right mental space to be reading something so fucked up without any real redeeming qualities or what, but within the first ten or so pages I started thinking “do I really want to be reading this right now?” I read for a further 190 pages, so 200 in all, before I decided nope, I did not care about anything that was happening and I did not want to read any further. Just THINKING about reading it made me grumpy, so that was that.
People on the Internet have been singing this book’s praises in terms of it being so weird and imaginative and etc. etc. etc. but weird and imaginative do not a successful novel make. In case you couldn’t tell from the above synopsis, I still wasn’t totally sure what I was reading and I read 200 pages of it. I normally enjoy books that make little to no sense at the outset and then gradually coalesce into something awesome, but after 200 pages I was still too in the dark and ambivalent about being so for this technique to have actually been effective. The characters were all unsympathetic and uninteresting; it takes more than a traumatic back story, a lavender tutu, and a natural helmet made of dried blood to make an engaging character. The only characters I was even remotely invested in were the lions, and considering the ample cast Hawkins has provided the reader with that is pretty sad. On top of that the writing is serviceable at best, clumsy/stilted at worst, so I really do not know what the fuss is about.
Also, if you found Bambi at all traumatizing, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. LIKE SERIOUSLY, DO NOT.
Anyways, lots of people love this book and have been screaming its praises from the mountaintops so go ahead and read it if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.