Vicki here and I am also going to skip right over the question of the week and answer the question of last week. One of the advantages of being an alternate-week blogger is that one can choose one’s question.
Now, what was the question again? Oh right. Books that surprised us. That we read this year. Some people wandered off to discuss past reading, but I’ll try to stick to the question.
I was recently just blown away by The Ridge by Michael Koryta. The book is described as Horror. Which means I wouldn’t have touched it in normal circumstances. Fortunately it came my way before I actually read any of those attempts to stuff it into a sub-genre. It has a supernatural element, to be sure, but it’s not horror. It’s highly suspenseful, and it just so happens that the suspense is provided by the presence of an evil being. I guess I think of horror as something designed to frighten ME and this book did not attempt to do that. A great read, beautifully written, with a couple of surprising twists. Made me think about the use of subgenres. Can attempts to classify a book into a sub-genre backfire and end up turning off readers who might have liked the book? I’d say yes.
Another book badly classified is the Alchemist’s series by Dave Duncan. Duncan is primarily known as a high fantasy author. I don’t read (much) fantasy and wouldn’t have looked at these books had they not be recommended by my good friend the fantasy author Violette Malan (www.violettemalan.com). I read the Alchemists Apprentice at her recommendation, then immediately bought and read the Alchemist’s Code and have the Alchemist’s Pursuit ready to take on a forthcoming trip. These books are historical mystery, set in 15th century Venice. The catch is that the alchemist of the title is really an alchemist. He practices magic and fights demons. Magic happens and demons appear. They are very much in the style of the Nero Wolfe books. Our young hero rushes about doing the bidding of the intelligent yet stationary master. Light and funny and good mysteries.
I also recently read the Quest for Anna Klein by Thomas Cook and enjoyed it very much. What was surprising about this book is that I think he took a real no-no writing style and made it totally effective. Essentially it’s about an old man telling a young man his story. The scenes pop between the past and the present with head-spinning regularity. Often each time frame is only a page or two in length. There’s lots of telling, not showing as well, as the old man tells the young man how he felt. Just goes to show that in the hands of a master, any rule can be broken.