For most of When We Were Animals, Joshua Gaylord pulls off the trick of writing a hybrid werewolf and coming-of-age-novel that is clever, subtle and uFor most of When We Were Animals, Joshua Gaylord pulls off the trick of writing a hybrid werewolf and coming-of-age-novel that is clever, subtle and utterly compelling.
Not since Joss Whedon used a werewolf in Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the supernatural being used to comment on the transformation and confusing time of being a teenager been so well done.
When the children in her small town hit a certain age, they begin to undergo a type of transformation. Three nights a month, then become wild, savage -- shedding clothes and societal norms to run in the woods and do things that animals do. Lumen is a bit of a late bloomer, not undergoing the process until later in her teenage years, though there is one particular boy who is willing to try and help her along with the change.
There's also something that happened -- a twist that Gaylord hides right in plain sight for much of the novel. That is, until he smacks you squarely between the eyes in the novel's final chapters as if to say, "You should have been playing closer attention to what the left hand was going, but I had you completely distracted with the fireworks I had in my right hand." It's a nice twist that more than makes up for the fact that I felt the novel was starting to lose a bit of momentum once Lumen transforms and we see her life from that point forward.
When We Were Animals is a surprisingly fun, entertaining and thought provoking novel. It's also of one of those books that has passages that are so eloquent you can't help but go back to read them again, allowing them to wash back over you and marveling and Gaylord's technique and storytelling. ...more
In many ways Emily Maguire's Taming the Beast feels like a companion novel to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. But instead of getting inside the head of a cIn many ways Emily Maguire's Taming the Beast feels like a companion novel to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. But instead of getting inside the head of a charming liar like Humbert, Maguire examines how an illicit romance between a teacher and student can impact the lives of just about every one involved.
At the age of fourteen, Sarah Chalke is seduced by her English teacher. At first it's their love of words and literature that brings them together, but one afternoon things become heated and the two begin an illicit (and illegal) romance, including lots of after school encounters. Sarah keeps the affair a secret from everyone but her best friend, Jaime, who is secretly in love with Sarah. Things end with Mr. Carr's takes a new job at a different school and decides to try and work things out with his wife, who has become aware of the affair.
The emotional and psychological impact of the affair follows Sarah for her entire life, influencing every relationship and decision she has after that. Despite having an interest and drive to further her education, Sarah is estranged from her conservative family and forced to make it on her own in the world, taking on a string of short-term lovers, none of whom satisfy her needs in quite the same way Mr. Carr did. Sarah even strings Jaime along over the years, including during Jaime's engagement, marriage and becoming a father. In many ways, Jaime sees himself as the only thing keeping Sarah from going off the deep end and maybe he can save her if he simply loves her enough.
Then one day, Mr. Carr wanders back into Sarah's life and things go from bad to worse. Controlling and manipulative, Carr wants to dictate to Sarah all aspects of her life.
Taming the Beast is a book full of fascinating characters, none of them extremely likable. Each character is blinded by self-destructive tendencies and an ability to justify their behavior to themselves as "doing the right thing." In many ways, this is a novel about addictions and self-delusion. It makes for a fascinating read for the first half of the book, but once Mr. Carr shows back up things take a left turn and the novel never quite recovers. It makes a bunch of likably unlikable characters completely unlikeable and I found myself becoming frustrated with the bad choices everyone was making. Maybe that's what Maguire is going for in the novel. I'm not one who feels that every book should have a "happy ending." But it still feels like this one just misses the mark when it comes to sticking the landing. ...more
After sitting on my bookshelf for three years (and multiple attempts to make it past the first twenty or so pages), I finally decided it was time to gAfter sitting on my bookshelf for three years (and multiple attempts to make it past the first twenty or so pages), I finally decided it was time to give J.K. Rowling's first non-Potter book The Casual Vacancy my full attention. I'd read and enjoyed her two mystery novels and hoped that maybe having read those, I wouldn't be looking for bits of magic and fantasy in the novel. I will also admit I was motivated by curiosity about the mini-series and I'm enough of a bibliophile that I don't generally like to watch the adaptation without reading the book first.
And so, I was determined to read The Casual Vacancy. And I did.
And I didn't actually care for it all that much.
Now before all the Rowling fans get up in arms and start heading up the mountain with pitchforks and torches, let me say that I felt the novel had an interesting starting point and the first third of it actually held my attention and had my intrigued to see what would come next. When council member Barry Fairbrother passes away suddenly, he leaves an opening on the council and some gaps in the lives of his family and the people he touched. I'll admit that early on, I was intrigued by the lives of the various people that Barry's life touched and how his death had an impact on them. But somewhere around the middle third of the book, I started to lose track of characters, their relationships to each other and their general story arc. Part of this I blame on an excessive number of characters in the book and part of I blame on Rowling for not really having much for them to do in the middle third of the book but tread water. It all means that by the final third of the novel, I'd lost most of my interest in most of the characters and couldn't help but wonder if Rowling couldn't or shouldn't have wrapped things up sooner. Or perhaps had a better editor. I have a feeling if this one hadn't had the name J.K. Rowling on the manuscript it might have got a tighter editing and been a better book.
As it stands, Rowling's first post-Potter offering is a bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, she's shown off some skills in the mystery genre since this one hit the shelves. ...more
Have you ever heard the saying that if you meet a jerk in the morning, you just ran into a jerk. But if you keep encountering jerks all day, maybe it'Have you ever heard the saying that if you meet a jerk in the morning, you just ran into a jerk. But if you keep encountering jerks all day, maybe it's you who is the jerk.
Thomas Covenant is a jerk. Or at least as far as I can tell he is. Contracting leprosy, Covenant is sent to away for six months to for counselling and treatment. Upon returning home, he finds his wife has left him and taken their son with her. His community wants nothing to do with him, even to the point that complete strangers are paying his bills so he won't have to come into town to conduct his business. None of this sits well with Thomas, who decides that he'll walk into town and pay his phone bill, only to find that he gets hit by a car and sent into a fantasy world.
This fantasy world finds Thomas given the task of delivering a message. It also has Thomas encounter a young woman named Lena who shows him who the dirt of this world can help cure him of his leprosy. He repays this kindness and the kindness of her family's village by proving himself virile again and forcing himself upon Lena. Luckily for Thomas, the village has some kind of kindness pact that doesn't allow her family to seek out vengeance on him, but instead forces his mother to lead him to the people to whom he is supposed to deliver his message.
And so they set out on ye olde fantasy quest. Thankfully, Donelson decides not to describe every leaf on every tree, but there are still some long stretches in the middle third of this book where not much happens but Thomas and his guide go wandering around.
Fantasy novels with a less than noble and unlikeable protagonist aren't exactly a new thing. And yet somehow Thomas Covenant comes across as more unlikeable than the entire case of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire And Ice series. Donaldson seems to have little interest in creating any redeeming qualities in Covenant or at least allowing readers to understand why he's such a jerk to begin with. That makes it difficult to want to spend much time with him -- and all of this is before the infamous rape scene. Reading the book I can see why it's so polarizing among fans of the genre.
While not being the worst book I've ever read, it's certainly up there among the less enjoyable novels I've read in quite a while.
There are more entries in this series, but it's highly unlikely I am going to pick up any of them. ...more
Many of Richard Matheson's short stories and novels take a supernatural premise and make it relatable through the use of the characters and their reacMany of Richard Matheson's short stories and novels take a supernatural premise and make it relatable through the use of the characters and their reactions to it.
This isn't the case with Matheson's What Dreams May Come. The novel is Matheson's attempt to look at what happens to us after death and while it's interesting, I never felt like it necessarily connected with me in the same way that other Matheson novels and short stories have.
Driving home, Chris Nielsen is killed in a car accident. After his spirit lingers in our world for a bit, Chris transcends to the next level of being. While he's content there, he misses his wife Anne and longs for the day she'll join him on the other side. But when Ann can't take the pain of missing Chris, she commits suicide, condemning her to a purgatory of sorts from which her spirit can't or won't escape. Chris decides he needs to rescue Ann and undertakes a journey to the underworld to bring her back.
There are early passages in this novel that work very well, from Chris' initial frustration about not being able to interact with his family and friends while "stuck" on this plane of existence. And while Matheson attempts to set up the romance and deep love that Chris and Ann share, it never quite becomes as transcendent as the novel requires. Chris' grand gesture to potentially throw away his eternal existence to "save" Ann should feel more monumental than it does.
I found myself growing frustrated with the novel at points because, as I said before, Matheson has given us stories focusing on "love that transcends the bounds of time and space" before in Somewhere in Time. And yet as unbelievable as the premise is that a man could will himself back in time to be with the woman he loves, I found it far more easy to suspend my disbelief for that premise than I did for the premise here. Part of it is that I was a bit more invested in the characters in Somewhere in Time (aka Bid Time Return) than I was in What Dreams May Come.
But even "lesser" Matheson is still enjoyable Matheson. And while I didn't love this novel as much as some of his other works, there are still some good nuggets buried in here. ...more
In his introduction to Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, Issac Asimov tells us that he wasn't satisfied with his novelization of Fantastic VoyagIn his introduction to Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, Issac Asimov tells us that he wasn't satisfied with his novelization of Fantastic Voyage and that this novel is an attempt to correct some things he didn't like about the first novel.
The result is this book which is less a sequel to the original and more a re-telling of the original story and concept. Asimov tries his hardest to make the concept of miniaturization more scientifically plausible, but it's at the the cost of making the second installment far less interesting and page-turning. The first novel took about half its page length to get the crew miniaturized and inside the human being in question to try and save life. Unfortunately, so does Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain. At several points, I found myself muttering "Let's get on with the shrinking already" as our hero, Morrison expresses a sense of trepidation about the procedure he is about to undergo.
And it may be with Morrison that this book finds its biggest flaw. Asimov sets up our protagonist as a scientist whose fortunes and favor in the scientific community are on the decline. When approached by a Soviet agent about coming to the Soviet Union to help in an experiment, Morrison is quick to decline, despite the fact that he has no prospects on the horizon in the United States. Even when asked by his own government to go, Morrison declines and eventually has to be kidnapped and taken to the Soviet Union in order to become part of the team.
Morrison protests this treatment a lot over the course of the novel. It feels almost like Asimov wants to remind us every ten or so pages that Morrison has become part of this project against his will. This works to the detriment of the book. Part of the fun of the original was no matter who fantastic the situation, the participants were at least enthusiastic about the opportunity to travel inside a human being and possibly save his life. Here the motivation isn't so much saving a life but not allowing a scientist to die without passing on vital knowledge that could make the process of miniaturization easier and more cost effective.
Yes, you read that correctly. One of the motivating factors for this journey inside the body of a man and to his brain is to unlock his secrets is entirely budgetary. A good reason, sure. But not exactly one that compels you to turn pages and wonder what will happen next. At least the first novel had the specter of the Cold War hanging over it to drive some of the character and plot motivations.
I kept hoping that once our team of scientists got miniaturized and injected into the subject that things might pick up. Unfortunately, this isn't the case and the novel plods along at its leisurely pace even once we're injected and running against the clock. The only moments of tension come when the ship is diverted by a white blood cell and later when Morrison is forced to go to extreme measures to try and make the mission a success. (And even then, he has to be blackmailed into it by the Soviet team though threats of destroying what little is left of his academic reputation.)
The book also suffers from the same flaw that several later Asimov projects do -- his desire to tie all his universes together. Thankfully it's not quite as egregious as Robots and Empire, but there's a coda that makes Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain a stepping stone toward Asimov's Robots and Foundation novels. It's only a couple of pages and it's meant to serve as a coda, so it's a bit easier to overlook and forgive than some of the other examples from the Asimov library, but it's still there.
Had I not read the original novel first, I might have liked this one more. Of course, had I not read the original I might not have been willing to give Asimov the benefit of the doubt I needed to keep plowing through this one in the hopes things would get better.
This one just validates my theory that 80's Asimov output is no where nearly as entertaining and readable as those stories from his early career. I can see what he's trying to do here, but I still think the original novel, despite all of its scientific implausibilities, is a more entertaining and enjoyable reading experience. ...more
If I'd read Hugh Howey's Wool back when it was a self-published, little book that could, I think I might have enjoyed it more than I did. Or at leastIf I'd read Hugh Howey's Wool back when it was a self-published, little book that could, I think I might have enjoyed it more than I did. Or at least I wouldn't have entered into it expecting the "next great thing" in the publishing world.
As it is, I enjoyed much of what does in Wool even if I didn't necessarily love it. As far as world-building and character arcs go, this one stands out from the crowd of post-apocalyptic novels. The hook (which I won't give away here, though I will admit I figured it out a bit before our characters did) works extremely well, though I feel as if too much of the middle third of the novel is content to just tread water instead of getting to the answers we want or need. Perhaps this is setting up things for future installments and there will be a payoff or two there.
Wool has intrigued me enough that I'm curious to pick up the next installment in the series and visit this world again. But I'm not sure how quickly I'll be back for more....more
When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.
After reading Stephen Baxter'When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.
After reading Stephen Baxter's Second Doctor tie-in, I wasn't sure the melding of a big-name genre writer with the universe of Doctor Who could be very successful.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that within twenty pages of Reynolds' The Harvest of Time that not only had he captured the spirit of the Jon Pertwee era on the printed page, but that I was also enjoying the book immensely.
Set at the height of the Pertwee era, The Harvest of Time takes place before the on-screen events of "The Sea Devils" and finds the Doctor and UNIT trying to fend off an alien invasion brought about by the Master. But instead of the season eight cliche of the Master bringing a group of aliens to Earth and rapidly losing control of the situation, Reynolds makes this alien invasion one unintentionally triggered by the Master. Seems that our favorite Time Lord villain was sending out a signal to himself across the timelines to help his present self escape his Earthly prison. However, his signal is picked up by an alien race who has already destroyed one world and has now set its sights on Earth and gaining the Master as part of their nefarious plot.
Harvest of Time feels like a story that could have been made during third Doctor's tenure -- assuming they had the budget and special effects technology that help bring the new series to life on our screens. All of the UNIT-era regulars are on hand and it's clear from Reynolds use of them that he is not only a fan of classic Who but also a fan of the Pertwee era. And while this novel feels like it could easily take place during that era, it still has a scope and scale that simply couldn't or wouldn't work as well on our TV screens. Examining the nature of time and the implications of time travel, the story is one of the most entertaining novels -- tie-in or otherwise -- that I've read this year.
It even made me year to dust off some of my old third Doctor era DVDs and give them a viewing (again). It also made me want to run out and read more of Reynolds' non-Who offerings.
Easily the best of the big name genre author tie-in novels, The Harvest of Time gives me hope that the editors of this line would be willing to try this experiment again with some other more recognized authors. And hope that Reynolds might have another Doctor Who story in him because if he does, this is one fan who'd love a chance to read it. ...more
If you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title characIf you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title character and his sleeping disorder, you're going to be sorely disappointed by this book.
However, if you approach this book and view the title as a hook to get you interested in the story of the friendship to two young, geeky teenage boys and their trials, tribulations and first loves, then you're probably going to love this book. I know I did.
Darren Bennett is a bit of a loner, constantly doodling in his notebooks, textbooks and anything else he can find. One day, Eric Lederer notices the drawings and the two begin their friendship -- one that includes developing the outline for an epic franchise of space fantasy films. It also involves avoiding Darren's older brother and his bullying friends, falling for the same girl (though dating her at different times) and, oh yeah, the secret that Eric doesn't sleep and never has.
Despite having a sci-fi element to it, Pierson keeps his novels and characters ground, interesting and utterly relatable. This is one of those books that had me losing sleep just wanting to spend a few more minutes in the world of Darren and Eric. Of course, it's the girl who comes between our two heroes that leads Darren leaking Eric's secret and the inevitable complications that arise from it.
Pierson's writing is enveloping and this entertaining, charming story has earned a spot on my favorites shelf and it will likely remain there for a long time. I picked up this one in the hopes of scratching a book off my to-be-read pile and discovered a real gem. ...more
A good friend (and fellow Lynley and Havers fan) used to say that she looked forward to each new Elizabeth George novel because it offered her the chaA good friend (and fellow Lynley and Havers fan) used to say that she looked forward to each new Elizabeth George novel because it offered her the chance to catch up with some old friends. I have to admit that I agreed with her at the time and it still holds true today. George writes a compelling mystery, but it's the strength of her characters that keeps me coming back to her books time and again.
No where is that more the case than with the latest entry in the series Just One Evil Act.
Picking up where Believing the Lie left off, Evil Act gives center stage to Barbara Havers. Ath the conclusion of Lie, it was revealed that the former lover of Taymullah Azhar and mother to Hydiah had vanished without a trace with Hydiah. Becuase Azhar never married the mother nor was recognized as Hydiah's father, he has little or no legal recourse is determining where his daughter has gone or in getting her back. Instead, he is forced to turn to private detectives and less than above board means to try and reunite with his daughter and possibly see her return home to him.
Six months later, the mother shows up in London, accusing Azhar of kidnapping their daughter. It seems that someone has taken Hydiah from the Italian marketplace where she and her new lover (and father to her child) shopped each week. Havers is desperate to find a way to help Azhar and get Hydiah back, eventually trying to pressure Scotland Yard to jump into the case by leaking details to a tabloid journalist and forcing the hand of her superior, Isabelle Audrey. Audrey reluctantly goes along but instead of sending Havers to Italy, she sends Lynley.
As events continue to escalate, Havers is forced to go further and further to try and cover her tracks in her attempts to help Azhar. Interestingly, the novel examines issues of trust in the novel and continually asks you to question who you believe and why you believe them. In the case of Barbara, if you're a long time reader of the series, you can't help but begin to feel (as Lynley does) that at some point she's got to wake up and smell the coffee. Multiple clues point to Azhar's involvement and potentially ulterior motives in the case, but Barbara is so blinded by her attraction to Azhar and her love for Hydiah that she refuses to believe them or won't examine them until she gets a chance to talk to Azhar in person.
Meanwhile, it seems as though Barbara is more and more willing to throw her entire career out the window instead of coming clean to Lynley or trying to make things right.
The novel seems to adopt the world-view of one Gregory House in that "Everyone lies" because there are lots of lies going on here, all told with good (for the most part) intentions and intended to achieve what each character perceives as a positive outcome to things (or at least so they imagine).
It all makes for a fascinating, compelling novel, even if (as I've seen several other reviewers complain) a murder doesn't happen until close to halfway through the novel. I feel like many of these complaints are missing the forest for the trees. While George can craft a solid mystery, at this point the Lynley and Havers novels are more than about being a simple "whodunnit?" and intended to be more about the impact certain evil acts can have on the community and the characters.
If you approach the novel from that perspective (as I did), you are likely to love just about every minute of this novel. I will admit the ending left me a bit flummoxed, feeling a bit like George trying too hard to push a reset button of sorts instead of really following through on some of the potential consequences of choices and actions made by characters in this book. But I reserve too much judgment on that until the next novel in the series gets a chance to address these things and possibly offers us some more insight into the fallout. ...more
Most of the time when Stephen King cites a book as an influence or recommends it, I'll give it a whirl. Over the years, I'd say I've enjoyed at leastMost of the time when Stephen King cites a book as an influence or recommends it, I'll give it a whirl. Over the years, I'd say I've enjoyed at least 90% of what King recommends -- either on the pages of Entertainment Weekly or in the forwards or afterwards of his various novels.
One of those recommended reads is Earth Abides which King cites as an influence for one of my favorite works by him, The Stand. And so it was that I scoured a couple of used book stores to find a copy of George R. Stewart's influential, post-apocalyptic novel. And then, it sat on the to be read pile for a while, collecting dust. For a while I just wasn't in the mood for the end of the world as we know it and rebuilding humanity again. But finally, I got into a place where I wanted to read about the world ending and so I finally got around to reading the story of Isherwood Williams (Ish), who survives a mutated strain of the measles thanks to a rattlesnake bite. Isolated in a cabin in the woods (but not the one used in the Joss Whedon movie, mind you), Ish rides out the poison and the disease to find he's one of the last surviving human beings on the planet. He also finds a hammer, which will become pretty important in the days to come -- not only to break into various establishments to gain supplies, but also as a symbol to the community that Ish helps establish.
At first, Ish takes the news that he's one of the last men on Earth fairly well. In fact, I'd have to say that Ish takes it in stride. He takes a cross country tour of America to see the full impact of the disease and if anyone has survived, before returning to the Bay Area. Here he meets a woman named Em, they settle down, get married and start building a new community. Thanks to much of the technology of the time being powered by water falls, things like electricity and running water are around for a lot longer than you'd expect.
The story is told over the course of several years, with long sections focusing on the current situation and then short chapters that fill in what happened in between. It helps keep the novel moving and doesn't dwell too much on the ins and outs of daily life in the post-disease world. And that may be a good thing, though at times the sections that detail the between years end up feeling more like a genealogy than anything else. As the years go along, Ish realizes that his little group has to being to establish things like farming if humanity is going to survive. Ish is also driven to make sure humanity's knowledge and culture aren't forgotten, setting up a school for the younger generation and attempting to preserve the library so the great works of literature and much of humanity's history and knowledge won't be forgotten.
I suppose if I'd read this when it were first published or before I'd read a lot of other end of the world, doomsday novels, it might have had a greater impact on me. As it stands, Earth Abides is a good novel, but it didn't really stand out from the rest of the pack. Stewart creates some vivid, interesting and memorable moments over the course of the novel, but isolated moments don't make up for a lack of overall drive to the plot or any significantly interest characters beyond the central character of Ish. For surviving the end of the world, the characters here have it fairly easy for much of the novel since running water is still around and there is very little, if any, external threat from predators -- either human or animal.
And while Earth Abides was never adapted as a feature film, it was adapted for radio. Escape adapted the novel over two episodes in the 1950's and it's certainly worth a listen. The first part is fairly faithful to the source material, but part two diverges quite a bit. It's still worth a listen, though. You can find both halves of the adaptation HERE.. And if you're worried that by downloading it, the FBI might show up at your door, don't. A majority of OTR shows are public domain these days, so you're free to download, listen and share with family and friends. ...more