My relationship with Stephen King is limited. I've read the entire Dark Tower series, and enjoyed it very much. Back in high school I read The Green M...moreMy relationship with Stephen King is limited. I've read the entire Dark Tower series, and enjoyed it very much. Back in high school I read The Green Mile and a short story collection titled Everything's Eventual. I think that's about it. I've had The Stand on my TBR for a good while, but I've never managed to crack it open. So when I received Just After Sunset from my sister last year on a loan, I placed it on my shelf and figured I'd get to it whenever I did. As it turns out, it was sooner than later.
Just After Sunset is King's fifth collection of short stories. There are thirteen stories within, which seems appropriate given the subject matter. I figured the pieces would be horror, but most of them came across as suspenseful or eerie to me, and not a one crossed the line into horror. Okay, maybe one or two, depending on what gives you the willies.
As I did in my review of Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio's Stories, I've written a brief review/preview of each story. (Actually, these are my unedited notes I took after I finished a story.) At the end of each mini-review I've given a rating based on the GoodReads scale. I've boldfaced the stories that I would recommend.
"Willa" - This is a beautiful little piece is about a man named David and his fiance Willa. David and Willa are in a group of passengers waiting for an Amtrak train to come and pick them up from a layover in a sleepy little town in Wyoming. It's late, the train should be there soon, and David notices that Willa is missing. He sets out to find her, only to discover something else entirely. 3.5-stars
"The Gingerbread Girl" - After Emily and Henry's daughter dies in her crib, the couple begins to drift apart. Emily takes up running, to an obsessive degree. Eventually the two separate, and Emily heads to the Gulf of Mexico, to stay at her dad's tiny conch shack while she clears her head. She keeps up her running, more and more each day, until one day she notices what looks like a dead body in the trunk of a neighbors car. This is a pretty standard abduction/escape story that, while exciting, was rather dull and uninspired. It was difficult to read, too, considering I currently have a daughter that's sleeping in her own crib now. 2-stars
"Harvey's Dream" - Janet and Harvey have been married for many years. She's grown rather dissatisfied with life and her husband. As she's looking at his pasty white legs at the breakfast table one morning, Harvey tells her about his strange dream from last night. What follows is uninspired and mostly boring. 2-stars
"Rest Stop" - John Dikestre is a writer working on a new story. At a rest stop late one night, he encounters a man abusing his wife/girlfriend, and John muses whether or not he should interfere. 2.5-stars
"Stationary Bike" - Richard Sifkits, widower and artist, has just been told by Dr. Brady that his cholesterol needs to go down. Dr. Brady gives Richard "the speech" about aging and fats, and eventually Richard decides to buy a stationary bike. At first, riding fifteen minutes was a chore, but as time goes by, Richard has to set alarms to remind himself to get off. For when Richard Sifkit's is on the bike, his mind takes him places that may or may not really exist. 3-stars
"Graduation Afternoon" - Very forgettable and kind of boring. Seems to be written with 9/11 in mind, possibly? About a girl getting ready for a graduation party, planning her future and that of her dull but wealthy boyfriend. 1-star
"The Things They Left Behind" - Scott survived 9/11, but he has horrible secrets, horrible memories, horrible dreams, horrible visions. He skipped out on working that day, and everyone in his company died but two. Scott Steely is a man with survivors guilt and a box full of things that were left behind by the victims: a conch shell, a lucite cube, a mushroom, a whoopee cushion, and some sunglasses. Their arrival is a mystery, and he finds that he cannot get rid of them. This story was wonderfully written and reflective, even if slightly vulgar. 4-stars
"N." - Can a story get inside your head and change you? Can you believe the words of an OCD madman? Psychiatrist Dr. John Bonsaint recounts his testimony and experience with a delusional patient referred to as N. This story is a framed story, where Sheila, John's sister, writes to a childhood friend of John's about the doctor's recent suicide. After his death, John's patient notes were discovered marked with "BURN THIS." Sheila's curiosity got the better of her, and what follows is a strange story that is gloomy and haunting. Reminiscent of House of Leaves, this tale is a great descent into madness. 4.5-stars
"The New York Times At Special Discount Rates" - While getting herself together in her bedroom, grief stricken from the death of her husband, James, Annie gets a phone call. When her husband starts speaking on the other end, life takes an upside down turn. This was a short but enjoyable piece. 3.5-stars
"Mute" - Monette recounts a mysterious confession to a priest. This is another frame story, where Monette's wife's infidelity at age 54 has been found out. Not only has she been cheating, but she's also been embezzling. So when Monette picks up a mute and deaf hitchhiker, he finds the perfect companion to vent to. This was quite an intriguing story. Fun. 3.5-stars
"The Cat from Hell" - Halston is an independent hit man. When an aged and wealthy man offers him a hit for $12k, Halston takes it. When the man says that the target is a cat, Halston shrugs, unconcerned. He's killed plenty of men before, never caring about the reasons behind the hits. He figures the cat's just another target like any other. What he finds is something else entirely. This was a short and fun story, albeit bizarre. 3.5-stars
"Ayana" - A narrator tells his story of how he watched his father's miraculous recovery from pancreatic cancer after a small girl kissed him. From then on, the narrator found that he, too, had the gift of healing, and this story recounts some of what he's done over the years. I found this piece kind of odd and out of key with the others, not really seeming to fit. Plus, there was no action, just a very passive memoir like tone of things that had been done. An interesting idea that wasn't developed enough. 2-stars
"A Very Tight Place" - Curtis Johnson has plenty of hard feelings over his neighbor, named TMF for short. TMF had an electric fence, which killed Curtis' dog. Curtis wants recompense and revenge. This story was exceptionally colorful, filled with so much profanity that my eyes bled, and enough vulgarity that I nearly quit the story several times. I wish I had. This story is absolutely disgusting and gross, and I cannot imagine what Stephen King was thinking when he wrote this. I was compelled to keep going just to see how everything would resolve, even if I felt dirty and wanted to throw up. The premise is that Curtis is lured to an abandoned construction site and left to die in a tipped-over portajohn. 1.5-stars -----
As you can see, for the most part, I was around the 2-3.5 range. The arithmetic mean of these stories is 2.8, which is just below the "I Like It" 3-star rating. The three bolded stories are all very good, and I can easily recommend them. In particular, "N." was a delight to read, and "The Things They Left Behind" was one of the most powerful 9/11 stories I've read. I really loved King's take on that day.
If you're looking for some short fiction, Stephen King's Just After Sunset has some gems, but it has some unpolished stones, too. There was potential in a few, and some were just flat out boring. All in all, I liked the read well enough, but I could have liked it better.(less)
John Wayne Cleaver is a sixteen year old diagnosed sociopath. His obsession with serial killers and death make him a bit of an outcast, as does the fa...moreJohn Wayne Cleaver is a sixteen year old diagnosed sociopath. His obsession with serial killers and death make him a bit of an outcast, as does the fact that his mom owns the county mortuary, but John is okay being an outcast. John lacks empathy, after all. And a man without empathy is a dangerous man, especially one with a dark side like John.
I Don’t Want to Kill You, the final book of the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells, is a satisfying conclusion to the dark and twisted story Wells has created. Clayton County has experienced a fair deal of death recently, ever since the harrowing Clayton Killer left a string of bodies two years back. John Cleaver, now a junior in high school, is still struggling with his dark side. Even more of a struggle is dealing with the terrible secret he knows about the serial killers, a secret that some people want to keep hidden.
I can’t say much about this book without spoiling the previous two. The short of it is that Dan Wells has created a dark but remarkable protagonist. John is instantly accessible in that his thoughts and feelings are things all teenagers experience. Dialogue is poignant rather than cringeworthy. Action is tense rather than passive. John is a flawed character that the Reader cannot help but root for.
The structure of this novel is in the same vein as the other two, but slightly different, too. There are murders and John wants to try and get a step ahead of the killer, thus the teenager once again begins playing whodunit. I Don’t Want to Kill You continues to up the ante with John’s inner demons until a conclusion that was foreseeable-but-perfect. I say perfect because honestly I can’t think of a better, more appropriate ending for the series.
On a side note, I Don’t Want to Kill You was my least favorite of this series. In I Am Not A Serial Killer [my review here], the story was fresh, the plot intense, and the Great Reveal knocked my socks off (metaphorically). With Mr. Monster [my review here] the pacing was at full-throttle and just macabre enough to not utterly repulse me. I Don’t Want to Kill You is hard (nigh impossible) to put down, but at the same time the story is also winding down, too. Dénouement is in the air. The story is still great and very entertaining, but to me it is less fresh, less urgent than the previous books.
I very much enjoyed the story Dan Wells penned. It’s always a delight to form a connection with a character, even one as creepy-weird as John Cleaver. I can very much recommend the whole series to anyone with a stomach for the murders. Fans of Dexter or CSI should like the stuff, just be advised that the series is not for the faint of heart.
Overall, John Wayne Cleaver is a fascinating character and I’m glad to have read about his story. It’s a shame that the series is over, but I’m thankful, too, that Wells was capable of writing a satisfying conclusion. I boldly recommend the whole kit and caboodle. (less)
My first exposure to John Wayne Cleaver was in May of last year. On a whim I picked up I Am Not A Serial Killer [my review here] and had my breath sto...moreMy first exposure to John Wayne Cleaver was in May of last year. On a whim I picked up I Am Not A Serial Killer [my review here] and had my breath stolen away. I burned through the first book in just a few hours, unable to tear my eyes from the words. Wells’ book made it to the shortlist of my favorite books I read in 2011, and I knew that the sequel(s) would be savored at some later time. Now that RIP season is here, I decided to give Mr. Monster a go.
Mr. Monster is a direct sequel to I Am Not A Serial Killer, taking place just a few months after the events of the first book. John is now sixteen years old and still a sociopath. His control on his inner voice—Mr. Monster—is tenuous, and John’s worried that his grip on his strict rules my slip too far. His families mortuary business has slowed down now that the Clayton Killer has apparently stopped, and John’s been itching for excitement. Unfortunately for the townsfolk of Clayton, another killer soon arrives on the scene, and once again John’s attraction gets the better of him.
In Book One of this series there was an abrupt shift in the plot when the true identity of the killer was revealed. It was so shocking that I re-read the paragraph several times, making sure that I understood what Dan Wells was saying. In Book Two, there was another scene like this, and I really shouldn’t have been so ill-prepared for it, but I was. Suffice it to say that I stayed up long past my bedtime to finish the book. My pulse was racing away and I had a strange sense of dread within.
Mr. Monster starts out slower than the first book, but this pace is never really boring. Once the Great Reveal happens, the action explodes. It was sickening, honestly, and quite disturbing. We’re dealing with serial killers here, and Dan Wells writes as if he’s familiar. Needless to say, this book is not for the faint of heart or the weak of will. There are scenes that will haunt you, but in a good way. On some points I would market this book as YA, but on others I would urge caution. Teens can definitely relate to John (i.e., high school angst and parental issues), but so can we all.
I’ve kept this review intentionally vague because of the Great Reveal. If you’ve not read I Am Not A Serial Killer then you shouldn’t read Mr. Monster. If you have read the first book and enjoyed it, then you’ll love what comes in the sequel. The book is a bit darker than the first, but there’s plenty of lightheartedness, too. I’ve been very impressed with everything I’ve read from Dan Wells so far (see also A Night of Blacker Darkness [my review here] for a comical RIP book) and I very much look forward to finishing up this series.(less)
It's been a long time since I've literally not been able to put down a book. Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer is such a book, though. It's been on...moreIt's been a long time since I've literally not been able to put down a book. Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer is such a book, though. It's been on my radar for a while now, and, as I've been rather unsatisfied in my reading lot for a bit, I spontaneously decided to check the book out at the library.
Truth be told, I devoured this book in about five hours, taking in the bulk of it on a business trip commute, and then finishing it off once I arrived home. But enough about my reading habits.
John Wayne Cleaver is a fifteen year old kid that's struggling to fit in. His mom owns and runs a mortuary, where he helps out, in the small county of Clayton. Furthermore, he's just starting high school, and he's universally accepted as a weird kid. Part of this is because John is obsessed with serial killers, and he'll gladly discuss them with anyone who'll give him an ear.
John knows he's dysfunctional. He accepts it. He also knows that within, behind carefully constructed and guarded walls, a monster lurks. He recognizes how dangerous he is. And even though he loves serial killers, he doesn't want to become one.
When a mutilated body is found behind the local laundromat, John recognizes the signs. It's not a random act of violence, but the work of a real live serial killer. And what can one do when one has a dark obsession?
I was blown away by the book. Dan Wells (who helps run the "Writing Excuses" podcast, along with Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler) crafts beautiful prose and vivid stories. His characters are heartfelt and real (the first-person POV captures John's emotions beautifully and is the perfect perspective for this book). His pacing is that of a 100m-dash, quick and relentless. His comedic timing is literally laugh-out-loud. Below are two of my favorite (SPOILER-FREE) quotes.
Exposure to nature--cold, heat, water--is the most dehumanizing way to die. Violence is passionate and real--the final moments as you struggle for your life, firing a gun or wrestling a mugger or screaming for help, your heart pumps loudly and your body tingles with energy; you are alert and awake and, for that brief moment, more alive and human than you've ever been before. Not so with nature.
It was creepy at first--like sitting very still while a cockroach climbs onto your shoe, up your leg, and under your shirt, and not brushing it away. I imagine myself covered with roaches, spiders, leeches, and more, all wriggling, probing, and tasting, and I had to stay motionless, and let myself become completely accustomed to them.
Are those not wonderful? And this is the tip of the iceberg. His descriptions with fire are also brilliant.
In part, I expected I Am Not A Serial Killer to be a lot like Dexter. What I got was something similar, but altogether different. And this difference--something so completely unexpected--is part of the reason I really enjoyed the book. At first I was like... wait. What?! I re-read the paragraph, and then shrugged and continued on. It worked for me.
Unfortunately, this seems to be a hang up many people have, too. So, you may or may not appreciate the change, but I did, and it works perfectly within the setting of the story. It also opens up possibilities for other things, which is probably why Wells has written two other books featuring John Wayne Cleaver.
Overall, I unexpectedly enjoyed immensely I Am Not A Serial Killer. John was a perfect protagonist, one that I could relate to quite often, as I suspect we all could. For who among us is not intrigued by such dark and morbid creatures, killers that are slaves to their compulsions? I know my thoughts tend to turn dark quite often, and I appreciated Wells creating a flawed character that can (and likely does) exist smoothly in our world.
If you're looking for a book that'll sink its claws in you and drag you along through its bizarre twists and turns, rarely giving you a chance to breathe, then I highly recommend Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer.(less)
Little solace comes to those who grieve when thoughts keep drifting as walls keep shifting and this great blue world of ours seems a house of leaves
moments before the wind. (p.563)"
Defining Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves is like asking a five year old to describe the Riemann Hypothesis. House of Leaves is, on its fringes, a story about the Reader. In the Introduction by Johnny Truant, we're flat out told that what we're reading is a product from a manuscript he found in the room of a dead man named Zampanò. The manuscript, as it turns out, is a scholarly work based on a documentary Zampanò has become obsessed with: The Navidson Record. And if House of Leaves is about anything at all--its heart, its cornerstone, its foundation--then it's about The Navidson Record.
Will Navidson is a critically acclaimed photojournalist. Years of life spent away from his long-time partner Karen Green, a former cover model, and his two children, Chad and Daisy, has the Navidson family barreling towards non-existence. Will and Karen decide to purchase a quaint Virginia house and settle down and work on their family. Will seeks to finish his career with a simple documentary on their new lives in their new home. He installs video cameras throughout the house, motion sensors to pick up when activity is going on, and settles in for a calm retirement.
But everything does not go as planned. The house seems odd, and one day, for no apparent reason, Will and Karen discover a new closet situated outside their bedroom door. Baffled, Will gets the floor plans and begins going through measurements, confused. And when he discovers that the house measures larger on the inside than it does on the outside, the groundwork is laid for the rest of the "movie."
The Navidson Record is as tantalizing as it is terrifying. The house on Ash Tree Lane is creepy and dark. Navidson, an explorer at heart, sets out to understand the house and its unnerving black (and apparently unending) labyrinth of hallways that appears in its center.
Zampanò's manuscript exhaustively covers the film, from its subtle and serene beginnings to its haunting and stunning conclusion. His work is littered with footnotes, and as Truant tells us at the onset, many of these footnotes' references simply do not exist in real life. Keeping this in mind, the remainder of the manuscript makes for a fascinating exploration of the film, sometimes mind-numbingly so.
"As I discovered, there were reams and reams of it. Endless snarls of words, sometimes twisting into meaning, sometimes into nothing at all, frequently breaking apart, always branching off into other pieces I'd come across later--on old napkins, the tattered edges of an envelope, once even on the back of a postage stamp; everything and anything but empty; each fragment completely covered with the creep of years and years of ink pronouncements; layered, crossed out, amended; handwritten, typed; legible, illegible; impenetrable, lucid; torn, stained, scotch taped; some bits crisp and clean, others faded, burnt or folded and refolded so many times the creases have obliterated whole passages of god knows what--sense? truth? deceit? a legacy of prophecy or lunacy or nothing of the kind?, and in the end achieving, designating, describing, recreating--find your own words; I have no more; or plenty more but why? and all to tell--what?" (p.xvii)
But still yet, in an even further removed frame, the Reader understands (again, at the beginning of the novel, so as to keep SPOILER-FREE) that we're also reading Johnny Truant's annotations of Zampanò's manuscript. Truant's story begins in the Introduction, and as it unfolds throughout the footnotes, we discover how the manuscript affects him. Truant is a mesmerizing POV, as one of the first things he tells us is that he's unreliable. And as we read, both the manuscript and the footnotes, we're constantly left puzzling over what's been altered, if anything. This, as the Reader will undoubtedly understand, is disorienting and intentional. And as we come to understand Truant's background, especially concerning the Whalestoe Letters, what's real and what's not comes under even more scrutiny.
To me, the most interesting part of the book deals with the darkness inside the house. Danielewski a la Truant a la Zampanò paint a vivid picture of the blackness, the absence of light within the house.
"The walls are endlessly bare. Nothing hangs on them, nothing defines them. They are without texture. Even to the keenest eye or most sentient fingertip, they remain unreadable. You will never find a mark there. No trace survives. The walls obliterate everything. They are permanently absolved of all record. Oblique, forever obscure and unwritten. Behold the perfect pantheon of absence." (p.423)
I know what dark is. I live in the state with the largest cave system in the world. I've been to the depths of the earth and had the lights extinguished, propelled into absolute darkness, a blackness so thick that one can't help but despair. And yet, the darkness within the house seems darker. This has definitely played upon my mind at night as I've roamed the halls of my own house, and I confess to a quickened pulse a time or two.
Another part that must be addressed is the bizarre formats used. This was the primary reason I wanted to read the book, and after finishing, I enjoyed the way the book was presented. The Reader has to flip the book, turn it sideways, and go through mental hoops to read certain passages, but it definitely adds to the story. I read the full color edition, which is the author's preferred edition, as it includes over two-hundred pages of appendices, filled with more fascinating puzzle pieces (and if you read the book, I recommend following the instructions to see the Appendix before continuing on with the novel) and I can't imagine reading this book any other way.
So what is House of Leaves? It's a book containing four stories, one woven story, some spelled out more than others, some flat out ignored. It's meta. It's contained. It's puzzling. It's erudite, so keep a dictionary very close. It's compelling. It's tedious. It induces smiles and wicked grins, but groans and sighs. It's beautiful. It's art. It's a love story. It's disgusting and leaves one needing a bath. It's definitely not for the faint of heart or those offended by crude sex. It is a remarkable read, leaving the Reader satisfied and immediately ready to dive back in again to see what's missed, but at the same time worn down and betrayed. If Danielewski intended this, then he succeeded. I enjoyed House of Leaves immensely and would love to discuss it with someone (thankfully there are forums devoted to it). It's easy to recommend.(less)
Horror is a realm I rarely venture into. To me, horror is only spooky and eerie as long as it holds on to the mystery of what's going on. Why is there...moreHorror is a realm I rarely venture into. To me, horror is only spooky and eerie as long as it holds on to the mystery of what's going on. Why is there a ghost haunting me? What was that noise in the closet? Once the questions start to get answered (or once you realize that they will get answered, even) the potency of the story drops dramatically insomuch that the genre transforms from horror to thriller/suspense. Unfortunately, few novels can carry the plot long enough to maintain an overall sense of unease, and Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box falls victim to this very problem.
Judas Coyne is a fifty-something year old retired rock star. He's spent his whole life running away from his past, eager to leave his Louisiana roots behind and embrace the celebrity world of rock & roll. His songs are hard, angry anthems that sing of hate and sex and good times. His current bed-mate, a twenty-something that goes by the name Georgia, is just another girl in a long line of states.
Jude has long had an interest in the weird. He has a private collection of strange things from all around the world, from a hangman's noose to a snuff film. One day his personal assistant tells him that someone is selling a ghost online and Jude decides to buy it and add it to his collection. He promptly forgets about it until the heart-shaped box package arrives, bearing a dead man's suit. Things will never be the same.
The first hundred-and-fifty pages or so of this book had me hooked. I was reading late at night, and after I turned off the light I felt a little uneasy about some things. A shadow might have moved. A dog might have scratched the bed and startled me. A ghost might have been standing at the top of my stairs. Yes, the first half of Heart-Shaped Box was horror, evoking genuine spookiness.
Hill's descriptions of the ghost are haunting. I had a vivid image of the thing in my head, almost as if I could see it myself. The writing style is perfect for the genre, seamlessly jumping from the "norm" to the odd with a sentence, easily keeping the reader on-edge. The plot is fast-paced, and I admit I turned over pages fast to find out what was going to happen next.
Sadly, the book loses its ability to keep the reader spooked. That's not to say that the story goes downhill or gets stupid, because it doesn't, but it simply morphs into a suspense novel. It's like I accepted the ghost for what it was and now Jude is just trying to get rid of it. It relies on the "here's the problem, find a solution" formula. There's still otherworldly things happening, but it's no longer eerie, and most of the imagery doesn't seem as fresh any longer.
Still, Heart-Shaped Box was an enjoyable read. Jude Coyne is an interesting character, and watching him develop through the read is as enjoyable as the ghost story. Hill's writing is great and, coupled with the quick-paced plot, the book is a rather short read. Overall I enjoyed Heart-Shaped Box, but I ultimately feel that it lost its edge as it drew to a close. To me, horror is best suited to a short-story environment, but Hill's first half of the book certainly hit all the right notes for the genre, so I'm not complaining. That's better than many others can do.(less)
Oh my. You know that feeling you have when you're reading a good book, and as you're reading you try to put it out of your mind that the page count is...moreOh my. You know that feeling you have when you're reading a good book, and as you're reading you try to put it out of your mind that the page count is dwindling and the text is going to run out soon and you try to slow down and savor the last few pages but you can't, because you just gotta know what happens? And then you finish and you're slightly hollow and realize that two days have now passed and you can't stop thinking about the book and what exactly did happen. You give it to your spouse and force her to read it so you can discuss it with somebody, and then you pester and question her as she does. You find yourself speaking with an accent to mimic the protagonist, whether its appropriate or not. You are, in essence, haunted. You know that feeling?
Alden Bell's The Reapers Are the Angels had this affect on me. It generated quite a bit of buzz when it came out, back in 2010, and several of the genre bloggers I follow recommended it as a good read. I shelved it and moved along until just recently, where I decided (on a whim) to read it and knock another book off the 2012 Manifesto. Again: oh my. The Reapers Are the Angels is a post-apocalyptic zombie tale that's not really about the zombies or the state of the world. It's a story about a girl named Temple, fifteen and incredibly resilient, struggling to survive in the "now" and reconcile the choices she's made in the "past." The world changed twenty-five years ago, so Temple has little knowledge of how things were back then, and she gains most of that knowledge from fellow survivors or tossed-out magazines.
Temple's voice was what propelled this book for me. She's smart, flawed, sassy, and funny, but she's got a depth to her that stays hidden from anyone with a brain. She's made mistakes and regrets them every day, and yet she's not up-front about it, not even to herself, and thus not to the Reader, either. Temple spends her days traveling around the country, living mostly alone for much of the time. After she makes an enemy of a man named Moses Todd in a survivor's town, though, she spends the rest of the book on the run, waiting for their inevitable meeting.
"She leaves him sitting there, glancing back just once before she goes through the stairwell door and observing how the cloud of smoke from his cigar gets pulled in wisps out the dark gaping hole in the glass wall--as though it is his soul, too large for his massive frame and seeping out the pores of his skin and wandering circuitous back into the wilderness where it knows itself true among the violent and the dead."(p35)
Interestingly, The Reapers Are the Angels is toted as a Southern Gothic type tale, in the vein of Flannery O'Connor or Cormac McCarthy. Like McCarthy, Bell adopts a different method for presenting the story, eschewing quotation marks and atypical punctuation. This simplicity adds to the feel of a post-world (just like it did with The Road), though it can get confusing, as one may not know whether or not a character is speaking or if we're reading Temple's thoughts. Nevertheless, I didn't find it too much of a distraction to ever get lost. Similarly, Bell reveals much of the story by revealing little, that is, he's quite sparse with his prose. There are times when he waxes on the beauty of the stars or a river or something, but it always seems to fit the moment and what Temple would be thinking. Other times there's very little description and even less action/resolution, but again, it seems fitting.
Despite my glowing reaction to the story, there were a few problems evident. Most notably was Bell's odd word choices, as if he relied heavily on a thesaurus to put a little purple into the prose from time to time. I didn't notice this too much, but Keisha pointed it out as one of the big issues she had with the book. This is directly related to my biggest issue, that being that I thought Temple was a bit unbalanced as a character. The girl is incredibly skillful and incredibly dangerous, having the resilience to not only survive in the dead world, but to survive well. And yet, despite her obvious intelligence, she was illiterate. This really served no purpose to the book, and in fact extended too far out of my willingness to suspend disbelief. This wouldn't have been as noticeable if she didn't wax poetical whenever she was moved.
Alden Bell's book was an absolute pleasure to read. It's one part Western, with a vengeance story driving much of the plot, but it's also much more than that. The zombies are different than other zombies that I've read. Heck, the post-world is different than other imagined futures. Temple was a fascinating character to explore, and I loved her rhymes & reasons for life and God and the rest of the world. If you're looking for a short (225 pages) and addictive read, then let me suggest The Reapers Are the Angels. It never crossed the line into horror, but it camped close to the edge, proffering room for a vivid imagination to take the story and run. It's a book about a girl with questions and guilt, a girl that wonders about what it means to be human. It's a fast-paced book with some small hang-ups, but it's one that I strongly recommend.(less)
I was quite intrigued when I first heard about the STAR WARS: Death Troopers novel. Actually, I believe I was open mouthed and awe struck. The introdu...moreI was quite intrigued when I first heard about the STAR WARS: Death Troopers novel. Actually, I believe I was open mouthed and awe struck. The introduction of zombies into the STAR WARS universe was unusual, but I grew instantly keen on the idea as soon as I learned of it.
The book is only around 240 pages and the pages turn very quickly. Partially because the chapters are short and action-filled, but also partially because the plot has you reading quickly to see what happens.
It’s hard for me to decide my opinion on this book. I was entertained by the plotline. I cared somewhat about the characters. I was intrigued by the zombie thing (who isn’t?). I was repulsed by the zombie thing (who isn’t?). And if you want to think about something that can scare you, think about zombie Wookies.
One problem I had with the book was that it wrapped up too nicely, too succinct for my liking. So much so that I had to roll my eyes in disbelief a few times. Sure, I can suspend reality into believing the undead are alive and hungry in a far away, make believe galaxy, but pushing too much luck/coincidence into a character and that suspended belief turns into disbelief.
One thing I really enjoyed was the rushed pace the novel took. The action is really intense and the fear of the characters is palpable. I had no problems visualizing the mob of zombies shambling through the corridors of the spacecraft. The blood and gore was described well enough to bring home the point, too.
I had mixed feelings about the characters. The two teenage brothers have my pity and I like them, but some of their actions are a bit stupid. The “sadistic captain of the guards” is also pitiable, but loathsome. The “rogue smugglers” were a bit too trite, but they held my attention. And the “lone woman on board,” who happens to be the chief medical officer, was a tad cliché, too. However, the relationships between these characters were for the most part well done.
As I said, I had mixed feelings on this book. It definitely fits in the STAR WARS universe (and apparently it is canonized), but only by setting, really. With a few minor tweaks, the novel could work in almost any given setting. I guess I wanted more STAR WARS philosophy, but it was lacking. I can recommend this book to you because it’s a very quick and entertaining read, but don’t set your hopes too realistically. Besides the few eye rolling scenes, I enjoyed the book. (less)
I received an ARC of A Circle of Souls in the mail several weeks ago and immediately added it to my pile of books to be read. The author, Dr. Preetham...moreI received an ARC of A Circle of Souls in the mail several weeks ago and immediately added it to my pile of books to be read. The author, Dr. Preetham Grandhi, contacted me through a book review website and asked if I would be interested in reviewing his debut novel. Excited, I said yes. Eventually my TBR pile dwindled and I made my way to A Circle of Souls.
This novel is a psychological thriller and a murder mystery, mixing in with it elements of the paranormal. Any fan of shows like CSI, House MD, or Law & Order will easily be able to relate to the book. While I like these types of shows, I have only read a very few books in this genre, so I started the book in slight trepidation, slight intrigue.
The prologue was riveting and tragic, descriptive and vague, and bloody. It was one of those scenes that you can (morbidly) visualize. A young girl is found murdered in a small university town in Connecticut, and a FBI agent comes to investigate. Another young girl is enrolled into a child psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Her doctor, Peter, notices some peculiar attributes to the girl and a possible connection to the murder. From here, the story takes off until an impressive (albeit short) climax.
Some things I liked about A Circle of Souls. The book was fast paced and read quickly. It kept me up late one night flipping pages until I was too tired to continue. I really liked the care and compassion Peter had for his patients. The idea behind the slaaf was intriguing. The book was logical, succinct, and laid out cleanly.
Some things I did not like about A Circle of Souls. At times it felt like there were too many POV chapter switches in too close a time. I felt some of these chapters, especially early in the book, could be combined into making longer chapters. I felt that some of the backgrounds between characters were too similar. The book was logical, too succinct, and too clean.
Overall, I was impressed by Dr. Grandhi's debut. There were several simple editing mistakes (like not paragraphing between dialogue mainly), this was not too distracting, and the book was an ARC, too. It felt good to read a book in a genre I rarely venture into, and I enjoyed the read. You can find A Circle of Souls on Amazon .(less)
I checked out Dan Simmons' The Terror from the library as an audio book. I had my hopes set on a story of intrigue and courage, with more than a splas...moreI checked out Dan Simmons' The Terror from the library as an audio book. I had my hopes set on a story of intrigue and courage, with more than a splash of horror and the macabre. The cover to the book is beautiful and does so much for the imagination, and I confess that this was what initially attracted me to the book a few months ago.
The reader was British, which I thought was fitting for the setting of the novel. The Terror is based very loosely on Captain John Franklin's doomed expedition of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror into the Arctic. Technically, the book is classified as historical fiction with a tinge of fantasy/horror. The ships are searching for the Northwest Passage. While out at sea, their ships freeze up in the ice for an unusually long winter. No one is ever seen alive again. This ends the historicity of the book. Everything else is creative freedom. Soon superstitions are running wild on board the two ships. To add to their fear, some sort of monster always lurks out in the ice and snow.
Each chapter alternates between the present (1848) and the past, varying with different characters and giving some background to them. I suppose the reason for this is to build character, but I did not care much for this style.
It is the style that is the biggest problem with the book. Simmons dives in to a pit of historical research and bombards the reader with agonizing descriptions and details. Because of this, there doesn't seem to be much of anything happening, and the reader struggles to understand a time scheme. Thus, progress is painfully slow.
I was eager to hear about the struggles the crew faced, how they fought with scurvy and malnutrition. How they faced the brutal, freezing deathlands of the Arctic. Heck, I was even interested in the monster. Instead I felt that I was given brief samples of the struggles and an overwhelming amount of useless banter.
The Terror is the first book that I've put down in a long time. I made it over a third of the way through and didn't feel like there was any weight to it. Maybe the last two-thirds were great, but I just couldn't bring myself to go on anymore. I was minutely interested at the most, and so I decided to abandon the read. I'm not sure what became of the crew, but I'll wager that they sank into madness and turned on each other. Perhaps one day I'll grab an actual book and read it myself, but I wouldn't bet my life on it.(less)
From my blog on 7/30/09... -------------------------------------------------------------
My wife asked me to read Twilight last year, before the movie c...moreFrom my blog on 7/30/09... -------------------------------------------------------------
My wife asked me to read Twilight last year, before the movie came out. I obliged, and went on to state that I would read New Moon before the movie came out for it. I finished the book yesterday, and I will now share my thoughts about it.
New Moon picks up shortly after Twilight ends. Bella is still in love with Edward, the vampire, Cullen. Her birthday is coming up and the Cullen's decide to throw her a birthday party, even though she doesn't want them to. In fact, she doesn't want to celebrate birthdays anymore, and still is trying to get the Cullen's to turn her into a vampire. But something happens at the party, and it sends the Cullen's away from the dark and rainy city of Forks.
Bella is then grief stricken and unresponsive. To me, this was the worst part of the book, reading through several chapters of Bella's depression. I can understand that she misses Edward, that her life is practically over without him there. But there comes a point when too much has been said about it. Where Twilight spent too many adjectives describing Edward's wonderfully beautiful body, New Moon spent too many pages on the loss of love. I think Meyer was trying to show the emotion of despair, and she held it occasionally, but it could have been done better.
Once the grief begins to fade away and Bella starts to semi-live again, the novel gets better. I enjoyed the relationship between Bella and Jacob Black, the Native American teen that lives a few miles away from her home. They become fast friends, and I liked reading about the things they did together.
But everything is not peaceful and perfect in Forks. People are going missing and are reporting large wolves about the woods. Pools of blood have been found, and things forgotten are returning and looking for Bella. Will she remain safe?
I liked New Moon better than Twilight. The story was more fulfilling and exciting, plus the subtle philosophy concerning a vampire's soul provides some time for pondering. Are good vampires eternally damned, or is there a chance for retribution? This question is not answered, but I feel that it will become more prominent with the last two books.
The things I didn't like about New Moon were characterization and the aforementioned superfluous amount of sadness. I feel that Bella is a weak, irrational, selfish character, but perhaps that is what Meyer was hoping for. Maybe she thinks that teens in love are irrational. But the things Bella does throughout the novel really irked me. She says she's concerned with other people, but then she acts completely selfish, and that was a turn off. The way she treated her school friends was annoying; the way she treats Charlie and Jacob is like slapping them in the face and telling them she doesn't care what they think. Speaking of Jacob, he was a character I liked, disliked, and pitied. His love for Bella is strong and obvious, but he sometimes treats her badly. At the same time, he's care-free and fun, which is good for the recovering Bella, but can be negative on her fragile psyche.
Truly the best characters in the books are the Cullen's and the Volturi. They are well developed and intriguing. They are mystical and ancient. I think Meyer did a great job with the scenes involving the vampire families, especially in the latter chapters of the book.
Overall I did not struggle to make it through the book, and I actually was curious to see how the climax would work out, which happened to be satisfying and well written. I'll add Eclipse and Breaking Dawn to my reading list, as I'm now wondering what will happen in the complex life of Bella Swan.(less)