Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 RR - Johannes Cabal the Detective

Driven by guilt and a little bit of shame, I recently resolved to finish reading all the unfinished books in my home library.

The first book I can happily and with a great sense of completion strike off the list is Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard.

Back in the day, I happened across the prequel, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, in my local bookstore (which is great since I live in Spain and the English novel section of my nearest bookstore is usually packed with gaudy best-sellers I'm not inclined to read). I thoroughly enjoyed the read and fell in love with the antihero protagonist, his vampiric brother, and the magic involved in their adventures. There was a slight hiccup nearing the end of the novel, though: the author suddenly shifted full point of view to the so-called antagonist (a police officer), and my God was it dull!

Nevertheless, I finished the novel and was thrilled to hear a second part would soon come out. Johannes Cabal the Detective is the first and only novel I've ever--EVAAARRR!--pre-ordered on Amazon.

When the lucky book finally arrived, I jumped right into it, but unfortunately I abandoned all hope at around chapter eight. Well, it's 2015 now and it's time to give the novel a decent ending.

I finished reading Johannes Cabal the Detective last night. Final verdict: all right, but lacking much of the charm from the first novel (probably because the antihero's brother doesn't appear). What's more, as the title blatantly points out, this novel is a whodunit crime investigation--and that just ain't my cuppa tea.

Let me go through some highlights, and some hurdles. Hurdles first!

In my opinion, the entire novel suffers from a lack of focus. The author is just so utterly long-winded! The point of view jumps all over the place at all times, which doesn't help, either. I've had to reread several sentences more than once because I continually got lost in circuitous sentence structures. I believe a one-paragraph example is sufficient to give you a sense of the prose:

  "Well, Herr Harlman," said Cabal as he fitfully considered escape plans without any general enthusiasm. The whole concourse was surely dense with assorted secret policemen just itching for an excuse to kick his spleen into sausage meat. The fact that he was being treated to coffee rather than being bundled into the back of an unmarked van by several burly servants of the state armed with overactive thyroids and lengths of rubber hose implied that the covert machinations of Senza were handled with rather more civility than those of its neighbours, as well as subtlety. He could barely believe that he had so utterly failed to spot the trap. Therefore, he decided, he would wait for the scale of the operation he had wandered into to become apparent before giving and bright ideas for escape serious consideration. "What happens now?"

[Pages 292-293 of my 2011 paperback edition]

Yes, that is all presented as one giant paragraph, with a tiny bit of dialogue tacked onto either end.

See what I have to deal with here? Extreme cases of wordiness such as this, plus a whodunit theme which has never really interested me, are the two main reasons why I abandoned Johannes Cabal the Detective. Am I glad I reprised my read? Sure! The author and the protagonist deserve that much. To be honest, now that I've completed this novel I'm actually toying with the idea of tackling the third book, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute. At least the title sounds more up my alley.

Now for the novel's highlights!

Johannes Cabal continues to be a fascinating sick bastard of a man. He's the typical antisocial supercilious antihero, and that's what I simply adore about him. His eccentric and generally chill-inducing personality aside, he's fighting for a very personal cause--an excellent cause which I won't reveal here, but which just goes to show that even cold-hearted bastards can have a shred of humble humanity in them.

Jonathan L. Howard might be long-winded and at times frustrating (at least to me), but he is also an excellent author with a delicious range of vocabulary. Howard has a spellbinding way of explaining the inexplicable. Here's an excerpt that had me completely hooked:

  The room stank like a laboratory fire, and the thick chemical fug made Miss Barrow's eyes sting. Cabal ignored it all, his own eyes screwed shut as he chanted and chanted a seemingly endless litany of inhuman words from an inhuman religion. They were awful words, incomprehensible to her, but jagged, ugly things that he spat out like stones and razors. That he knew them by heart did not escape her, and she feared him for that, for it showed depths in him that opened into the abyss. Nor did he hesitate when Cacon's heels began to rattle on the floor, his legs spasming like the galvanised corpse of a frog on a school science bench. It was death, but it was in reverse, and the most obscene abrogation of the laws of nature she could ever imagine. Life did not return easily to the carcass, but was bullied and coerced, and what little dignity there is in death was torn and tattered by this sordid reversal. Cacon seemed to swell with something that was just close enough to life to serve, but equally, she sensed in her every fibre that it was a poor sort of stopgap and that it would leak away again soon enough. When Cacon started to shake and suck in ragged, dry breaths, she shuddered with revulsion, but she could not stop watching.

[Pages 250-251]

Yes, I'm aware this excerpt is another massive single paragraph, but this one held my attention through and through and wowwie, Batman! *Round of applause.*

Overall, I would give Johannes Cabal the Detective a 3.5. Not bad, but it could have been better if many things had been more to-the-point.

HarpyMax has some excellent Cabal fan art.
First book off my list! Yay! I think I'll go for something completely different next. How about... The Hounds of Hell, Stories of Canine Horror and Fantasy?

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Reading Resolution

Happy New Year! About three weeks late but oh, well... Better late than never, right?

Let's get straight to today's business: my 2015 Reading Resolution.

Here's a picture of my library:

As you can see, it's quite packed. I have well over two hundred books, and unfortunately some of them are still unread. So, for this year, I resolve to...

Here are the unlucky unread (for this selection I'm not counting my collection of antique books because I don't want them to fall apart):

Never started:

- Lightning by Dean Koontz
- Velocity by Dean Koontz (I'm not a big fan of this author...)
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Modern Classics of Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois
- The Hounds of Hell, Stories of Canine Horror and Fantasy, edited by Michel Parry
- Foundation and Chaos (The Second Foundation Trilogy) by Greg Bear (Sent to me by mistake by an Amazon seller.)

Abandoned before finishing:

- Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard (I absolutely loved the first book but couldn't get into this one.)
- The Vision by Dean Koontz (Ugggg... Why more Koontz?)
- Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card
- The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
- The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel
- The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Johansson (It was horrible.)
- The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (not in the photo)

Recent acquisitions:

- The Princess Bride by William Goldman
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I think I got my work cut out for me! Just this list contains sixteen titles, plus I recently began collecting the Fullmetal Alchemist Kanzenban Edition graphic novels (up to number five), so I think this year will be packed with reading. That's good because, to be honest, I barely read anything last year since I was so busy writing. This year isn't an exception (I have to publish Making Time!), but I promise to make an effort and step up to the challenge!

Which book should I strike off this list first? Have you read any of these? I think I'll begin with one I left halfway through... Hmmm... Maybe the Johannes Cabal one... What about you? Do you have any reading resolutions for 2015?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Weirdest Holiday Traditions: the Tió

Look at this little guy. Doesn't he look adorable and toasty warm wrapped up in his blanky?

Hello! I'm the tió!

Now let's set the holiday mood: Imagine it's Christmas and the tree is all set up and glowing. The children are in the living room taking care of their pet log, feeding it cookies and milk like any normal kid would. In walk Mom and Dad holding sticks. "Okay, kids," Mom says. "If you want your presents you have to beat the crap out of the log--literally."

And so begins the pooping of the tió, one of the most beloved holiday traditions in Catalonia.

Say what?

Let's get the basics:

The Tió de Nadal (Christmas log) is a very widespread Catalan tradition (also celebrated in neighboring regions just outside Catalonia). During the month of December, families set up the tió as part of their holiday decoration (I got a small one just under my tree). Children feed it a little bit each day so that, come Christmas, it'll be fat and ready to poop. Yup. Poop. That's the whole point of the tió: you gotta make it real fat so it'll poop out tons of presents. Some families buy various sized tiós, in order to "make it grow" as the days go by. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (depending on the home), it's time to get together as a family and beat the crap outta the tió.

Say what?

Okay, okay, I swear people actually do this! A lot of people! Many city halls even set up tiós in parks and plazas so kids can go whack it. There are even several songs to go along with the whacking process. Here are a couple, along with loose translations:
Different types of turró.

Caga tió,
caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó!
Caga tió! 

Poop tió,

Poop turró [nougat candy],
hazelnuts and mató [type of fresh cheese]
if you don't poop well
I'll hit you with a cane!
Poop tió! [And the beating continues.] 

And another one:

Caga tió,
Delicious mató cheese with honey.
tió de Nadal,
no caguis arengades,
que són massa salades!
Caga torrons
que són més bons!

Poop tió,
Christmas log,
don't poop herrings,
they're too salty!
Poop turrons, [nougat candy]
they're more delicious!

So what does the tió actually poop? Smaller presents, similar to what we would call stocking stuffers in the US. Some also poop nougat candies, chocolates, or even a dried herring to indicate it's done pooping. All this, of course is planted by the adults under the tió's convenient blanket while the kids are distracted and out of the room. There's usually something for everyone, though the kids understandably get the big poopie haul. "Look, honey! Your Tió pooped out Dora the Explorer!" (This sentence was actually spoken at my sister-in-law's home.)

So let's just leave that there, mmmkay?

Let the festivities commence!

Merry Christmas!

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