Monthly Archives: August 2013

Book Review: The Emerald Burrito of Oz

The Emerald Burrito of OzThe Emerald Burrito of Oz by John Skipp and Marc Levinthal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the Files of Sheldon Nylander:

I came across a publication the other day called The Emerald Burrito of Oz, put together by John Skipp and Marc Levinthal. It was an account of Gene Spielman of Los Angeles’ visit to his friend Aurora Jones, the proprietor of the Emerald Burrito which is the only Mexican restaurant in Oz, a magical world that seems to exist in parallel with our own and is the true world which L. Frank Baum based his books on. The gate exists in Salina, Kansas, but it requires special government permission to pass through. This would explain the recent influx of Munchkins working around Salina in recent years.

This world of Oz plays by its own rules, right down to the laws of science. Things don’t work the same as they do over here, especially when it comes to technology. In Oz, only the simplest of technologies work. When any man-made technology passes through the gate, the results are…unpredictable, which leads to some odd situations, especially when reading through Gene’s account written on the computer he took with him.

It becomes very easy to feel lost with this account, especially if you are only familiar with the Judy Garland movie (and to a lesser extent the much darker “Return to Oz” with Fairuza Balk; this book was originally published back in 2000, before “Oz, the Great and Powerful” was even a gleam in a studio executive’s eye). There are references to individuals and creatures that, to my knowledge, are only accounted for in the L. Frank Baum books, which I haven’t read.

The book has more violence than you might initially expect from something related to Baum’s children’s books, but then you remember that is the real life accounting of time in Oz during a civil war as they face off against someone known as the Hollow Man. When you get the real life counterparts of an axe-wielding Tin Man or the Lion, there’s going to be violence and blood.

While the book seemed interesting for what it is, I had a hard time getting into it. Admittedly, this may be because, as I mentioned above, I haven’t read Baum’s original books, so there was some sense of feeling lost in a world that I should have reviewed the map for before traveling there. The players are interesting, with Aurora being the traditional tough hero while Gene is more of a wimp, but I would have liked to learn more details about the real life counterparts of the Scarecrow or the Lion. Still, you get quite a bit of story, character, and world-building, and The Emerald Burrito of Oz is one of the longer books to fall into the bizarro genre with very little padding, so you’ll get more substance out of your reading.

The Emerald Burrito of Oz earns 3 flying monkeys out of 5.

Note: Just in case you can’t tell (and there some are some out there who might not), this review was written in character. Yes, I know it’s not real.

Book Review: Her Fingers

Her FingersHer Fingers by Tamara Romero

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ya broke my heart, Tamara.

I have to state something to start off. In reading Her Fingers by Tamara Romero, it’s quite possible that I simply didn’t get it. There’s a strong feeling that it’s the kind of book that requires more than one read through, and despite its short length I simple haven’t had the time to give it a second read. However, it is not at the point where I can simply turn a blind eye to this book’s issues, so this deserves a more detailed explanation.

Her Fingers is described on the back cover as a very lyrical book, which is accurate. Romero’s prose is without a doubt absolutely beautiful. What makes this even more striking is that she originally wrote this book in Spanish. She also translated it into English herself, which removes the debate over whether the translator should be considered as the writer. It makes me wish I could read Spanish just to see how it read in its original form.

This novella is about…well I’m not entirely sure how best to describe it. You don’t really know what it’s about at first other than the description on the back cover. In short, a witch woman washes up near an isolated cabin occupied by a researcher. A witch woman with metal fingers on one hand (hence the title). The story mostly gets told through flashbacks. Unfortunately, this style of storytelling is the book’s greatest strength but eventually turns into its biggest flaw.

The style of storytelling is unique and very interesting, but unfortunately Romero doesn’t follow through. While the style was well done while it lasts, it stops abruptly. There’s an axiom in the literary world that in most books we’re only seeing a small portion of the iceberg and the rest is hidden under the surface. Unfortunately, Her Fingers feels like barely any of the iceberg is being shown up until the end when the whole thing suddenly surfaces at once. The story ends completely depending on telling instead of showing. Literally, everything is explained by one character at the end without much build up.

I can’t begin to tell you how disappointing this is. The writing style is so gorgeous and the world is incredibly rich and detailed, with such a wonderful buildup in the story. It feels like this book should (not “could”) have easily been about three time as long as it is. But then it felt like Romero got tired of it or got backed into a corner with a deadline (I don’t know if this is what actually happened; it just feels like it) and decided to end the story then and there. I really hope that this story is not something that she leaves behind. There is clearly so much more to tell about this world that it would be a crime against literature to abandon it.

This novella is part of the New Bizarro Authors Series of 2012-2013. I give Romero a lot of credit for her absolutely gorgeous use of language and daring to try something different. But the storytelling becomes so frustrating and falls apart near the end in dramatic fashion that it’s difficult to give it a strong recommendation. I wanted to like it so much more, and I’m one of those people who loves artful writing, but the storytelling problems are so pronounced that I can’t recommend this book to a wider audience. If you like strong lyrical prose and a very unique and beautiful world, and can overlook major storytelling problems, give it a shot. Otherwise, you might want give it a pass.

Her Fingers by Tamara Romero gets some extra credit for the writing style and daring to try something different, but ultimately earns only 3 Amalis rings out of 5.