Book review roundup

1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell is sort of a Series of Unfortunate Events written for adults. Three kids grow up on a tiny island in Florida operating a family run tourist trap where the star attraction is their alligator-wrestling mom. After her sudden death, the family swiftly falls apart and each child goes on a dangerous quest. The characters are extremely vivid, and part of the fun is not knowing until very late in the book whether their world is magical. $10 at Amazon.

2. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. If you wish Neal Stephenson would (or could) just knock it off and write another book like Diamond Age or Snow Crash, then this is the book for you. It’s a thriller about a young man growing up, learning kung fu, and inadvertently participating in an apocalyptic war that pretty much explains the world of Adventure Time. I loved the book up until page 400 or so when there’s an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist that didn’t work for me. The twists in Sixth Sense and Unbreakable (and Life of Pi) were beautiful – – unexpected, but they made sense in retrospect and made me want to reexamine what I’d already seen. The twist in this book just felt like Harkaway had lied the whole book. (For those of you who have read the book, it might have worked better if the flashback to childhood started after Gonzo was sprayed, instead of when he first drives off to fight the fire.) Nevertheless, the end of the book is extremely satisfying and made this book a strong recommendation, too. $10 at Amazon.

3. The Magician King by Lev Grossman. The Magicians was possibly the best fantasy book I’ve ever read. If you’ve been so foolish as to not read it despite my best efforts, well go read it now – – imagine Harry Potter if Hogwarts started with college instead of junior high. The Magician King is even better – – imagine if David Fincher made a movie about an ARG where the prize was mastery of magic instead of a hot girlfriend. $10 at Amazon and you’re making a big mistake if you don’t buy it ASAP.