Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Succulent Prey - Wrath James White

Across the internet I've seen this book rated both 1 to 5 stars... people have loved it, people have loathed it, people have called it the next step in horror, people have called it literary torture porn... so of course with all of the varied reviews, I had to read it.

Short Summary: We follow Joseph Miles from his childhood, where he is abducted, tortured and then released, to his college years where he begins having terrible urges to gnaw on lovely co-eds. He belives that being a serial killer is a contagious disease that he caught as a child... and now he's hunting for a cure before he starts chomping on the woman he loves.

This is the first book by Mr. White that I have read, and he has a very interesting style. This book is VERY gory, and filled with sexual deviance and perversions, cannibalism, rape, sodomy, and just about any other type of sickening thing you can imagine reading about. I don't consider myself actually hardened from all the horror I have read, Ketchum and Masterton have made me squemish before... so I was confused at first as to why all of this gore didn't really affect me. And there is a LOT of gore, just about every page is smattered with it. I almost wonder if there wasn't too much gore, actually I'm almost sure there was too much gore, it hit a point where the reader just ends up numb to it and all of the shock value is gone.

I also didn't particularly care for any of the characters... we follow the serial killer as our main character... but we never really get to know him so we're not all that worried if he gets caught or killed... perhaps if this had been more first person, or if our character had shared more thoughts with us beyond his cannibalism. There were no dreams, hopes for a future, relationships or anything for the reader to root for. Our Heroine was almost likeable, but any hope she had of being memorable in the long term ended with the second to the last scene. Speaking of which... I would have probably given this book 4 stars had the last two scenes been cut from the book. They were both completely unnecessary and they blew much of the premise that the book appeared to be working toward. I would have rather not known where certain people ended up then to have their ending seem so oddly out of line with where it felt like it should have been.

I can't go into much more then that without mentioning any spoilers, so I apologize if it seems vague. I think there are a lot of people out there who will really enjoy this book, Laymon fans in particular may now have a new author to thrill over. I will probably read more by Mr. White, though I hope in his next book he tries harder to scare me rather than just gross me out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Black Cathedral - L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims

This is my first venture into the world of Maynard and Sims, so I don’t know if this is part of a series or not. The little blurb under the title of “A Department 18 Novel” implies to me that there are more novels (or intended novels) about the group from Department 18.

So who is Department 18? Why they are a government group of Psychics, telekinetics, and ghost busters… not that we get to see them bust any ghosts or anything. So what is Department 18 doing? Well when they aren’t bickering amongst themselves and puffing up their petty egos, they are investigating why a bunch of people have disappeared on a Scottish island with no traces left… not even the helicopter.

This book opens well; the first scene with Robert in the house is almost wonderful. The bugs, were a chilling touch… and the way it wrapped up… well it was disappointing but it was still a fun scene. Then we get into the real meat of the tale… disappearing people on an island! This book seemed like it was really going somewhere… then we have about half the book of them researching and monologue after monologue of back story, personal feelings, previous relationships, etc… it bogs down quickly. By the time we get to the island I was thrilled to see how these annoying folks were going to meet their end… and even that turned out to be a letdown.

This book suffers from what I like to think of as “Too much magic.” We have the psychics… and that has to be explained to us, as well as their powers, and how their powers affect them, etc. Then we have to learn about ley lines, and have that explained to us… then we have to look into the malevolent evil on the island and that takes pages and pages of exposition and explanation. By the time we are done everyone seems to have some sort of super power, the baddie is a superbaddie, and people disappearing isn’t all that scary to begin with… mainly because there is always the chance they could reappear.

I normally like this kind of tale, but the problem was that there was so much explaining going on, that I really didn’t care about what happened anymore. I was also a bit disappointed in the ending… rather over the top without the heart. The actual writing style was good enough… but they never managed to pull me into their story… rather it seemed like they kept pushing the reader out and reminding them “it’s just a story; don’t invest too much in to this.” I’m not quite sure why that wall was there, perhaps the characters, perhaps the exposition, or maybe the story just went too far for me to lock in on it. Still there are plenty of people out there who will like this novel… it just wasn’t for me.

Dirty Jobs - Christopher Moore

What are the guys that aren't Alpha Males? Why they are Beta Males of course! Charlie Asher is the quintessential Beta Male... amazed and terrified by women, passive aggressive, and perpetually panicking over his hyperactive imagination. Poor Charlie loses his wife during childbirth and is left a single dad to raise Sophie. Unfortunately for Charlie, he also acquired a new profession as his wife passed away. Charlie has become death, no not the death with the big D, more like the Santa's Elves of Death... he, along with a few other San Francisco residents collect soul vessels after people pass on and get them to their proper places. But poor Charlie doesn't get it... and to make matters worse he has quite the assortment of odd neighbors, employees, family, and random passersby to make his quest even more difficult. And if he doesn't succeed? Well then the Sewer Harpies will come out and plunge the world in Darkness.

Much like Moore's other books, the greatest amount of humor comes from the supporting cast. Lilly, the off-kilter goth girl who works for Charlie (you may recognize her from You Suck - She is Abby's best friend) Ray, who is Charlie's other employee at the antique shop, another Beta Male who is always looking for love on foreign bride sites. Then you have the foreign neighbors Ms. Korjev and Ms. Ling who help to raise Sophie while Charlie is trying to figure the Death thing out. And of course with this being in San Francisco you have the Emperor and his two sidekicks as well as a minor unidentified appearance from Jody (from Bloodsucking Fiends).

I found this book to be both hilarious and sweet. Charlie as a single dad is touching... panicking over everything that could happen to his new infant daughter, while having to deal with the loss of his wife and a new found concept of death. One can only assume (not only from the content of the book, but also from the acknowledgements) that this book was written after a painful loss on the part of the author. There is a little more soul searching than one is used to in a Moore book, but that doesn't keep the laughs from coming. I actually found the slightly more serious aspect to be refreshing and a great counterbalance to the humor that Moore is so famous for. By far my favorite characters are the two foreign neighbors, the scene with the dead hamsters is one of the funniest things I've read in a while, and the Hell Hounds were a wonderful addition... especially everyone's reactions to them.

True, many of the characters here are a bit stereotypical, but rather than detracting from the story, these stereotypes are molded into entirely new creations and made into characters that you can't help but to love. There is a plot here, and it is true that the ending is a bit weak, and not what the reader wants... but we don't read Moore for the plot, we read Moore for the wonderful people who inhabit his world. Because in the end, we all know someone just like them. I highly recommend this book, but would suggest reading it after "Bloodsucking Fiends" and "You Suck" because you will have a better appreciation for Rivera and the Emperor. That and since they all three take place in the same literary world, you might as well read them in order. Happy Reading!

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove - Christopher Moore

Madness... this novel is complete and total madness from beginning to end. Returning once again to Pine Cove we can only call this a sequel to "Practical Demonkeeping" in that it takes place in Pine Cove several years after Catch has been taken care of. The Demon is referenced once and several of the town's folk are back, specifically Mavis, owner of the "Head of the Slug" tavern, Jenny - Still working as a waitress, and HP, who is still recovering from Pine Cove's last battle with the bizarre.

Theo is the town constable of Pine Cove and boy does he have a rough week ahead of him. Starting with a suicide and ending with a random sea beast named Steve terrorizing and consuming the weaker minded people of Pine Cove, as Theo says - I didn't get training for this. The maddening series of events that drives this novel to its completely insane and fun filled ending includes the town shrink replacing everyone's meds with placebos, a mad biologist studying rats and chasing them all over town, A washed up and completely insane B-Movie queen tearing about town wielding a sword and wearing only her barbarian bikini, Theo's boss - The sheriff who has a few secrets of his own and Catfish - a blues singer who has seen Steve the Sea Beast before.

Moore manages to hit a level of comedic insanity in this book, without ever losing control of it, which is amazing in itself. As always his characters are strange, wacky, and entirely loveable. The plot, though insane, is always fun, and his dialogue is spot on. All Moore fans have their favorite book, this is rarely listed, the reason being that many of his others (Bloodsucking Fiends, Biff, and Dirty Jobs) have much stronger plotlines while retaining the completely mad characters that everyone falls in love with. This is stronger than his first novel "Practical Demonkeeping" but not as strong as some of his others. If you are an avid Moore fan, I would suggest reading this after Demonkeeping, if you have never read Moore before, I would suggest starting with either "Bloodsucking Fiends" or "The Gospel According to Biff." Still I highly recommend this to Moore fans, it's a fun ride and you will find yourself giggling throughout.

Parent note - Moore's books are NOT okay for kids. There is foul language, bizarre sex scenes, and often a few gross death scenes.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Reach - Nate Kenyon

Many have likened this novel to King’s “Firestarter” and it is very easy to see why. We have a little girl, with unimaginable power, an evil institution trying to bend and wield her power and an unlikely hero trying to save the child. Kenyon even named a secondary character “Charlie” as if to acknowledge the similarities and give homage to King. But “The Reach” although it shares so many similarities, reads as an entirely different story.

Short Synopsis: Jess Chambers is a star student in Psychiatry… she has come to the attention of her professor, Dr. Jean Shelley. Dr. Shelley decides to put Jess to the test on a very special patient… a little girl by the name of Sarah who has spent her entire life in an institution, the girl is diagnosed as schizophrenic and has not spoken in months. “Just try to befriend her, see if she will open up to you” Dr. Shelley tells Jess. What they didn’t count on was the door they opened by inviting Jess into Sarah’s life, and what it would lead to in the end. A series of twists and turns later… we come to an explosive ending that would make for great film.

From the opening scene I loved this book. It was fun, exciting, and elicited a concern from the reader for many of the characters. Who is good, who is bad, who is lying, who is truly in need, who can be trusted… the tables turn over and over as Jess tries to piece together the life of Sarah, and help her to come into her own. Men in dark suits with guns and scientists with nasty ambitions soon come into the picture and Jess finds that no one can be trusted. Is Sarah evil? Is she truly the antichrist as her family believes? Or is just a scared little girl with an unholy power?

The book moves quickly, you will find yourself whipping through the pages until you explode into the ending. The author has said that this is the first in a series of possibly 3 books, but don’t let that stop you. Kenyon DOES wrap this one up nicely – no cliff hangers to leave you angry or frustrated. To be honest, I did not find this book to be scary – I found it to be more entertaining than anything else. I highly recommend this book, Kenyon was good when he wrote “Bloodstone” and he is even better with “The Reach” I look forward to his next novel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Child of Darkness Child of Light - Dennis Dufour

I know there is another book with this same title, and no, I haven't read it. But I did read this one, cover to cover, in about 45 minutes.
"NO WAY" you say?
"Yes Way" I reply.
First of all, the book is only 171 pages, and it's not like they packed the text in there tightly. So is it good or bad that I read the whole book while waiting for a meatloaf to cook? I guess it depends on the reader... whoever they are, they will fly from beginning to end. The text flows well, the majority of the characters are stereotypes that we know (sure they are multifaceted stereotypes, but they are sterotypes none the less) so we don't have much trouble figuring out who is the good guy and why we like him.

Short Synopsis (but better than the back of the book): We have a nasty serial killer on the loose, and he has a very specific agenda... harming our hero - Simon Reynolds. Good thing Mr. Reynolds is a detective! We follow Simon through the investigation as the case gets personal, and he discovers that everyone he holds dear may be in jeopardy if he cannot catch the killer... a killer who knows him better than he should.

Ignore the back cover because it makes this book sound like a bad rehash of Law and Order. In a way this IS like most of the cop books/movies you've seen/read. You feel like you know all of the characters, you feel fairly comfortable that you know where this is headed, and right from the beginning you feel safe with how this book is going to turn out. For having a serial killer, the book is very low on the gore scale... though we see one of the murders, the truly disgusting aspects are kept from us. The focus of the book is instead on Simon and his search for the killer.

So is this a good book? I will say that this is a wonderful author capable of writing a very fast paced and fun novel. This book IS fun. Where is the problem? Well, from the second he walked across the page I knew who the killer was... but I thought - maybe he's a red herring... but... he wasn't. There WERE a few red herrings but none jumped out at me like the true killer... which kind of took a lot of the fun out of the ending for me. On the whole this book was very safe, it played it safe in every sense of the word, it never strayed out of it's genera, it never pushed the envelope, and it wrapped up just how the reader wanted it to. Sometimes you need a book like that. Lucky for me I was in the right mood for the book, on a different day I might have hated it. But as it stood, it was a very enjoyable 45 minutes spent reading.

If I could change anything about this book, I would cut out the paragraphs from the serial killer's point of view, and then smash this book toghther with another as a double feature having both run at about 120 pages or so. That would be in my ideal world. But even if that never happens, this is a fun bus read, or short plane trip read. I wouldn't mind checking out more from this author in the future.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Not a Good Time to Die – Ray Spengler

What is the worst thing about this book? The fact that the synopsis does no justice to the tale contained within. After reading the back of this book I thought to myself – “dear Lord I really don’t want to read this” but once I opened it up and started reading, the book was wonderful. Sure the idea is very similar to the Butterfly Effect, but the story is different enough that there is very little comparison.

A more accurate summary: Douglas has just lost his wife; Jane, to Cancer… in his grief he considers taking his own life, and suddenly discovers that time has stopped… only its two hours before his wife’s death. Now he has the ability to go back in time to different scenes in his life and relive them, can he find a way to save her? Or is there a deeper meaning to this sudden gift of time?

So as a reviewer I’m going to tell you, ignore the cover art which makes this look like a gothic horror – there’s no horror here. Ignore the title, which sounds like a James Bond film – there’s not much action here. And most of all, Ignore that little blurb on the back of the book that makes this sound like a bad sci-fi channel movie. What you do have here is a story of a man who is very much in love, trying to go back and right the wrongs of his past, to save life of the woman he loves. As we go back in time with him (he’s an old man now) there are 35 years of marriage, ups and downs, joy and pain. The readers relive all of this with him, hoping that this time he’ll say the right thing, or make the right choice to change the course… or if nothing else to be a better husband. He never doubted his love for her… but when traveling through your life in high speed… your negatives glare out at you. And maybe this time he can to it? His time is running out, and his options are running thin… why would God give him this gift to relive if it wasn’t to save her?

Douglas is a very human character… at times we love him, at times we want to slap the bejeezus out of him. Many times we’ll wonder why Jane stayed with him at all. The story is very human… something that perhaps we all wish we could do after the loss of a loved one. For a first time author, this is a very good book. As far as an age rating – this one is not for the kiddies, minor instances of foul language, infidelity, a couple of lives lost, some bad behavior, alcohol abuse, basically think of bad things in your life that you wish you could change, and determine if you want your child reading about it. This book is NOT graphic, but the subject material might offend some parents. Also there are religious themes in this book that may upset non-Christians.

Either way, I recommend reading this book.

Not a Good Time to Die

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Bridge Back - Patrick M Garry

Nate Morrissey has hidden from his life and his past in the millions of people in NYC. Now a high profile lawyer, Nate has been asked to take up a new case. This case will lead him back to his hometown of Mount Kelven, a sleepy town he has avoided for over 19 years. He has hidden from that town and everyone in it since the funeral, the accident that changed his life forever, and the event that he was never able to forgive himself for. Now Nate must go back, and dig into the accident that claimed his parent's lives, and destroyed his. But what will he find when he returns after a 19 year absence.

A Bridge Back is a very quick read, the prose flows smoothly allowing the reader to fly through page after page without even noticing it. The characters we encounter are fairly multidimensional, each of them with their little quirks and their own past. Garry (our author) spends much of this book focused on our characters and their inner selves, which I truly enjoy. I wish he had spent a little more time giving physical details about the people and places though that is only a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things.

In the end this is a very enjoyable book about dealing with the pains of our past, and getting through them. Forgiveness, love, charity, and trying to make a better future rather then running from previous hurts. Being an avid horror and thriller fan, I did not expect to truly enjoy this book, and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. I would consider it more of a Drama than anything else... I mean sure there is a bit of legal intrigue and some mystery in there, but the focus is on overcoming the past. And in the end who DOESN'T have pains from their past that they would rather just run away from. That is primarily why this book is so accessible.

As far as age ranges go I don't recall any undue profanity. Due to some of the themes involved I would probably hold off on the under 15 crew. This book is geared for adults but should be accessible to the 15 and up crew. If you are a fan of redemption tales, then pick yourself up a copy of this. It is an excellent book with very few flaws. And the flaws it has are so minor that you probably won't even know they are there (example - missing closing parentheses). Again I highly recommend this book, enjoy!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Conscience of Abe's Turn - J. Timothy King

Based off of the title of this book ending with “Volume 1, Season 1, episodes 1-4” I am led to believe that there are probably many more books to come in this series. To be honest I don’t know if I will read any of the follow up novels.

Short Summary: In a small fictional town, a sheriff holds the town under his thumb by abusing his power and smiting his enemies with brute political and police force. Our four main characters, Ted, Clydene, Mira, and Michael, fight the sheriff’s power through protests. They find themselves in a quagmire of trouble as one is falsely arrested. They encounter several individuals who need their help in fighting the Sheriff and his abuse of power.

The writing style in this book flows well and is very easy to read for the most part. At times the technical jargon and step by step wading through of the computer process that Clyde goes through becomes tedious and it becomes quite easy for the reader to tune out. However, on the whole this is a very simple book to get through, and I notice only one typo through the entire book. The cover and printing is attractive enough, and the writer is skilled. At the end of the book I did have trouble when we started leaping backward and forward in time, predominantly because the story had been linear up until the last 50 pages where we begin leaping backward and forward in time for no real discernable purpose. I didn’t feel that the “back in time” bit added anything at all to the rest of the story. Perhaps this will become more important in a follow up book; however as a stand alone, I felt that it should have been cut because it adds more confusion and important information.

I wish I could rate this book higher, because the writing style is very effective and the author has a wonderful flow of words. The tale itself however was a fairly overblown story that my mind could not completely wrap around. Perhaps it is supposed to be an allegory to other current world events, but for the life of me I can’t understand why a group of professionals who are supposed to be so brilliant are holding protests and playing hippy saboteurs rather than just contacting the Feds and getting their problems solved. While I was reading I just kept shaking my head at how overblown the plot seemed to be, and at the same time how self-important the characters were that they were willing to break the law, and endanger themselves rather then just going to the proper authorities and letting them take care of it all. I almost felt that rather then fixing the problems in their little town, they were dragging it out in the attempt to make themselves saviors. Others may not read it that way, but to be honest, it’s how it came across to me. As I said, this is a well written book, but in my opinion, it just was not a very interesting book.

The Conscience of Abe's Turn: The Birth of the Conscience, Volume 1 (Season 1, Episodes 1-4)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

Yes, Dickens was paid by the word when writing this.
Yes, this is a big book
Yes, if you were forced to read it in school, you probably hated
Yes, if you read it on your own at or after age 25… you probably loved it.

I for one, thought this book was great, sure it was wordy, but it was not wordy in that “what the heck is he trying to say” way that gets many other wordy books (Crime and Punishment – though I blame the translators for that one).

Short Summary: This is the story of Pip, starting from a young age after his parents and many younger siblings are deceased and he is being raised by his militant sister and her lovable but slightly dense husband, Joe. Pip has very little hope of a future other than an apprenticeship with Joe as a Blacksmith. Suddenly… doors start opening for Pip, and opportunities present themselves to him. He accepts but never knows who or why strings are being pulled in the background to open these doors for him. We follow Pip through his life as he accepts these opportunities, and they lead him down a strange but wonderful path of self discovery, maturity, and opening his eyes to the real world.

The reason this book is so effective is because Pip is so real. We follow him through his blunders and successes, we dread his putting his foot in his mouth, saying the wrong things to Biddy, or Ms. Haversham, and we rejoice when he commits selfless acts and hate him when he commits selfish ones. It is my personal opinion that this book will have more of an affect on the late twenty year olds and up because by then you have suffered a bit, and made some of the same mistakes as Pip, you have wandered through finding your way in the world, and the confusion of who you are, wishing you were something else, loving what or who you cannot have, and figuring out what path to put your life on.

The rest of the cast of characters is quite a collection of multifaceted, entertaining, and interesting people. Ms. Haversham is a favorite of many, so strange, so tortured, so heartless, and so intriguing… then we have Dear old Joe, so Simple, and mild, and encouraging. Joe’s love is unconditional and unwavering. Biddy, is so loyal, so kind, and so honest, then you have her polar opposite, Estella. There are so many other characters that are interesting, fun to read about and that you will have strong feelings for one way or another.

I highly recommend this book, even though it is over a century old, the language is not difficult to read (very little work required) and the plot and characters are stellar. True there are no explosions, but a book can be engaging with out them. Give it a try.

Great Expectations (Oxford World's Classics)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

A short summary for those of you who are unaware: In the late 60’s a psych ward takes on a new patient by the name of R.P. McMurphy, up until this point the ward has been run with an iron fist by Nurse Ratched aka “Big Nurse.” When McMurphy enters the ward he instantly befriends the patients and befuddles the staff while making it his personal mission to bring Big Nurse to her knees. What follows is a psychological game of chess between McMurphy and Nurse Ratchet with the stakes being the mental stability of the rest of the ward.

This movie has always had a special place in my heart, so it is only natural that eventually I would get around to reading the book. Even though it appears as though the movie was about as faithful to the book as I have ever seen… there are very subtle yet profound differences between the two. The predominant difference is the point of view. The movie, takes the viewpoint of McMurphy where as the book is from the viewpoint of Chief Bromden. Now either the Chief is more disturbed than we are first lead to believe or there is some CRAZY stuff going on in that hospital. I would have to say that a few of the scenes in the book had me puzzled until I realized that good old Chief wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck. What we see through his eyes is very disturbing, surreal, and at times the reader finds themselves mentally translating what he is relating into something that we can comprehend as physically possible.

There are many themes in this book, the one most people bring up is man vs. the corrupted establishment, but threaded through are also the themes of self reliance, the state of the mental health industry back then, society’s blaming anyone who goes against the establishment on mental illness, the power of society in bringing down the individual, then we also touch on the treatment of Native Americans, and a very interesting male vs. female battle. Though I’m not entirely sure what I was supposed to walk away with in regards to all of these themes, this was still a very well written book. The version I read was 278 pages but took me a full week to read. I’m not entirely sure why, but for being so short, it really does read very slowly. I recommend reading this book, it is truly a modern classic, if one still considers the 1970’s modern. Either way this is an excellent read and it is extremely engaging, particularly once McMurphy and Big Nurse begin their mental game of chess… each trying to out do the other while maintaining complete composure. It is such a violent and hate filled battle to be fought so subtly. Each play is genius, but the players are never to be out done by one another. Read the book, then watch the movie, both are stellar examples of their craft.

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bite - Richard Laymon

Boo to whoever wrote the synopsis on the back of this book, and Boo to Richard Laymon for what this book turned into. This book is sold as a vampire novel… it’s not, in fact the “vampire” has metal fangs and spends 90% of the book in the trunk of a car with a stake through him, looking very very dead. This book follows Cat and Sam through a series of bad luck and even worse choices. The choices they make are so dumb, that the reader will find themselves hoping that the vampire WOULD come back and do the two of them in before they have a chance to breed and create anyone else as dumb as the two of them.

Short Summary: Cat shows up out of nowhere on the front steps of her long forgotten ex-boyfriends house. She asks him (after not seeing him for 10 years) to slay a vampire for her… so without a single question he goes “Okay” and they slay the vampire. Then they pop the Vampire’s body into the trunk and head off to who knows where to try to bury the body. But they get a flat, and meet up with a serial killer, and some hostages, and some other nastiness… but they laugh and have sex through all of it.

It seems like this should have been at least an okay book. But it wasn’t… in reality this was a very boring book with little to no action, lots of whining and Cat yapping about the 57 or so times she has been raped, bitten by vampires, beaten by men, forced into abortions etc, and Sam just sort of nods at her and says something along the lines of “well that sucks” and she nods. These have to be two of the dumbest, and most boring characters ever put into a horror novel. And the sad thing is that if either of them had a lick of sense this book would have only been about 50 pages long… and better for it. The dialogue is terrible, the plot is full of more holes than a cheese grater, and the ending leaves the reader wondering – why did I just read that… I could have put it down and read something else… or picked my toes for 3 hours and had a better time.

Sorry, I can’t even recommend this to Laymon fans. The gore isn’t up to his standards… there is of course lots of sex and body descriptions… and I think it is a Laymon requirement to use the word “Rump” at least 30 times per book. I won’t say that it’s the worst book I’ve ever read… but it will be one that I quickly forget.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beware - Richard Laymon

This is Laymon's most recent re-release (as of Nov 08). This feature story is shorter than most standard Leisure books, coming in at about 266 pages. The rest of the book is a teaser for "Dark Mountain" which is being re-released in March of 2009. I am not sure if this original story was published while he was alive or if it was one of the many that was dug out of some mysterious safe and published after his death.

Short Summary: Lacey is a reporter for the local paper in a small town. When something strange begins happening at the market she, along with several other townsfolk go to investigate. What they first assume to be vandalism quickly escalates into murder and rape, with a trail of bodies piling up and no sign of a killer anywhere. When things get even worse for Lacey, she goes on the run...

Though the book started out okay, by the time I got to the end, I was ready to put it down. I quite enjoyed the opening, when I believed our problem to be a malevolent ghost. Then they brought in the voodoo and I sort of nodded and thought, okay a little voodoo can cause the ghosts, I can live with that. But then we crossed the line and just kept on going... when the reality of what was being sold to me came about... I was pretty well beyond my ability to suspend my disbelief. You can add too much fantastical crap into one novel and end up with garbage. I won't say this became utter trash, but I really wasn't happy with the outcome. I remember reading in a screenwriting group that you can only have 1 truly magical bit in a story and have people buy it... that you can have aliens, or you can have mermaids, but you cant have aliens AND mermaids or the audience won't remember what they've seen. That's pretty much where this novel failed to me. We had Voodoo cults/government groups? We have sacrifices, we have invisible people, we have random good guys who pop up out of nowhere and just happen to know a guy already working on the case, there is just too much for me to have to choke down to believe it...

I'm not sure where in the scheme of things Laymon wrote this novel, it's not his best and it's not his worst. There are plenty of rapes, and naked women... not so much gore as one might expect with a serial killer/rapist and a handful of Voodoo sacrifices. Mostly we just have a sadistic rapist and a bunch of naked women and a whole lot of running around. I think what disappointed me was that I was really excited about the beginning when I thought it was going to be a ghost story. Now I have read the original Jules Verne book that he took this idea from, and I have to say... that Laymon's treatment really didn't impress me at all.

His characters are still stiff and unbelievably one sided. The woman does a lot of running, screaming, trying to fight back, and getting raped anyway. The men are either complete dolts, or they are sadistic rapist murderers. And when Scott and his buddy come onto the scene, I couldn't help but roll my eyes and think "how convenient." In fact I found myself thinking that quite a bit through this book. Still, it's only 266 pages and if you are a Laymon fan, you won't be able to get your fix again until March of 09. For rabid Laymon fans, I would say go pick this up and get your fix. For first time Laymon readers, I would start somewhere else because this is nowhere near one of his best works.


One Foot In The Black - Kurt Kamm

I'll be honest; I wasn't exactly excited to read a book about Firefighting in the California wilderness... I'm not firefighter material, and I'm a strictly East Coast resident... though when I lived in FL it seemed liked I-95 burned from Jax to Orlando every year, and that every year it was the "Worst fire in Florida History."

Short Summary: At the tender age of 19 our young man, Kowalski travels from Saginaw, Michigan out to Auburn, California to learn to be a firefighter. Kowalski comes from a troubled home, and brings more mental baggage with him than physical baggage. Once he arrives in California he trains as a wildlands firefighter, learns what it is to become part of a brotherhood, and deals with the emotional pains of his past.

This book is set up in alternating chapters, one from the present where Kowalski is learning to be a firefighter, followed by one from his traumatic childhood. I'm not entirely sure that this was the most effective way to get the story across... and the biggest problem I had with this book is that I'm not sure what story the author was trying to tell. He did an excellent job with the technical aspect of training camp, firefighting, and the frat-like camaraderie of the firefighters. Kamm also did an excellent job with making the reader despise the boy's home life, particularly his father. There were other areas however, that felt very weak to me, and a chapter or two that were unnecessary in my mind.

For example, the character of TB is supposed to be a surrogate father figure to our lead, however as readers, this relationship is never fully shown or developed. I felt that for the effect of the relationship on the book, more time should have been spent on their relationship than some of the training they were going through. I also felt that the hotel scene, as well as much of the bus ride could have been cut and replaced with more relationship building chapters. Our lead character is a hothead, and it's easy to see why he would be... but as a reader, his choices in dealing with others make him difficult to connect with. We read dialogue, and we see them train to be firefighters, but there are no truly defined relationships in the book other than proximity.

This is by no means a bad book... where it is strong, it is very strong. If the weaker portions could be brought up to the rest of the book, then this could probably land on Oprah's book club. For Firefighters or those that love firefighting in general, this is a must read already, because that is the true strength of this book.

Parent Rating: Not for the kiddies - sex, domestic violence, some profanity, forest fire victims. Probably okay for 15 and up.

One Foot In The Black

Tale of Two Cities

It occurred to me that although I had been working my way through the classics, I had never read a “real version” of a Dickens novel. Oh sure, I had read the children’s version of “Oliver Twist” and have been to see the play of “A Christmas Carol” probably 15 times… but I had never actually sat down and tried to read any real Dickens. Now I don’t know if this is a good place to start or not… but this is where I started.

It took a while to really get into the book, the language was a bit overbearing at first, and the characters were a bit hard to keep sorted out in my mind. But then we get to the release of the good Doctor Mannette things pick up… I was trucking along, managing with the language and then in the middle I became bogged down with confusion… I struggled for a chapter or two and then hit the last quarter of the book… and let me tell you, all of the confusion was worth it if only for the last chapter.

Dickens main characters are actually rather flat and one-sided, however he makes up for it with the power and intrigue in his supporting cast. Some of the supporting characters in this novel are among the most interesting and either lovable or detestable that I have encountered. With the engrossing backdrop of the French Revolution, and heads being lopped of by Lady Guillotine every other moment… this book really focuses not on the revolution, but on the effects of the revolution on a select group of people. The Title implies that this will be a tale predominantly about London and Paris, but in reality the title is very misleading. The crux of the true story is about Paris, and our character’s attempts to remove themselves from it.

I hate to say more, I went into this book knowing nothing about it, and because of that I was able to be shocked and almost brought to tears by the beauty and power of the ending. I highly recommend it, even though many will struggle through the middle, know that the ending is well worth the struggle. There is a reason this is listed one of the “1001 books to read before you die” there is a power to this story that will resound with you long after you close the book.

A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Classics)

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Crown Conspiracy - Michael J Sullivan

I will admit, that over the last few years I have grown away from the fantasy genre, so this book sat in my "to be read" pile a bit longer than it should have. However once I opened it up, I was thrilled with the story. What we have here is a very well thought out tale of intrigue... regicide, battles over the throne, conspiracy, and two thieves thrown into the mix keep the story line moving at a rapid pace.
A short summary: To expert thieves are commissioned to steal something from the castle, little do they know that they are to take the fall for the murder of the king. When faced with the executioner's block, they are approached by an unlikely person to commit another crime which will possibly save their lives and possibly the kingdom.
I hate to tell you any more than that lest the story be spoiled. The author has gone to such great care to weave this tale with just the right amount of suspense as to keep the reader glued to the book. As far as the fantasy aspect of this novel, I was thrilled that true fantasy was very rarely employed. Sure there is a bit of magic, and an elf or two, but they are simply background to an excellent tale about a kingdom in trouble that seeks help from the unlikeliest of its subjects.
The characters are almost instantly loveable, they are all stereotypes but I wouldn't really hold that against the author. Sometimes a good stereotype is what a book needs. We have the benevolent thieves, the whore with the heart of gold, the reluctant prince, the evil nobleman... so much of this book will be very familiar to the reader, but for some reason this really didn't bother me. I did feel that there were are few areas which could have used a little more umph, or a bit more follow through, however I feel that this is probably the first of at least 3 novels following our new king and his thieving friends. If that is the case, then there is still plenty of time to wrap up these dangling ends. Would I read these follow up novels? It is highly likely. This is by far one of the most well written independent novels I have had the pleasure of reading. I highly recommend it to both lovers of fantasy, and also those who like stories along the lines of the King Arthur legends, and the tales of the Green Knight.
As far as age appropriateness, there is violence however it is not overly descriptive, there are prostitutes but their job is never detailed and then there are the questionable jobs of our heroes. I would say that this is probably readable by the 12 and up crew, however I would read it first to determine if it would be okay for your specific 12 year old. I would guess that by 15-16 they would be capable of fully enjoying the intrigue that is entailed. Again I highly recommend this book.

The Crown Conspiracy

Children of the Night - David Stuart Davies

The Vampire, more than any other creature of gothic folklore, has been defined by the fiction written about it. This book contains many of the short stories that were defining moments in Vampire lore. The first to mention staking a vampire, the first female vamp, talk of burying them at a crossroads minus their heads, the first where they shapeshift. For true vampire lovers, this book is a must read. There are a total of 12 tales in this book beginning with the "Vampire of Croglin Hall", and then moving on to such famous tales as "Varney the Vampyre," "The Curse of the Vourdalack," "Carmilla", and "The Horla." There is even an excerpt from Stoker's "Dracula" titled "Dracula and the Three Brides" which is in my oppinion, one of the most horrific scenes in that illustrious novel. Each of these tales is by a different author, and they range in time from the mid 1800's through Edith Wharton's Bewitched which was written in the 1900's. I am not counting the story of "The Welcome Visitor" which was written by the man who compiled these tales... it is not up to the quality of the other stories that inhabit this fine collection. My personal favorite is "The Curse of the Vourdalak" which I immediately recognized as the foundation for the beginning of almost every modern Vampire tale (you can see it is almost identical to the opening of McCammon's Vampire tale "They Thirst"). I also had a fondness for "Carmilla" which was odd because it was so clear to me what would happen. I could not even imagine the horror readers must have felt reading these stories for the first time back when they were written. In this day and age we have been bombarded by Vampire tales and movies... but the horror that readers must have felt back in the 1800's when they read these for the first time must have been amazing. Each of these stories is deserving of a read by itself, but to have them all compiled together in a single book makes this a must own for any fan of the Vampire legend. You will not find your debonair, suave vampires who woo women with their charms... instead you will find the horror of destroyed villages, children hiding in their beds as beasts lurk through their towns, women wasting away in terror from unknown assailants, men being stalked by invisible beings who drain their life as they sleep. If you are looking for a quick and easy read, this is not it... having been written in the late 1800's through early 1900's, the language will take a bit to sink in. Once it does you will regret that we have long ago lost the beauty of our language.

Children of the Night (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Last of the Mohicans - James Fenimore Cooper

Well, I'm glad I finished it, though I can't really say I enjoyed reading this book. I had such high hopes, and perhaps that was the problem. I remember when the movie came out and we watched it with my Grandpa (who is now 94!) he said that he had read the books when he was around 12 and that they were his favorite stories of all time. He was of course very angry that the movie didn't follow the book.

I am now 30 and finally getting around to reading it and for the life of me I cannot imagine a 12 year old both reading and enjoying this book. The story itself is fine, highly romanticized and inaccurate historical accounts of the Delaware and Hurons. And evil Huron kidnaps one of the English General's two daughters while the General, the fiancé of one of the daughters, and three men they come across - Uncas (the last of the Mohicans), his Father Chingachook and the white Scout who is called "Long Rifle." The story consists mainly of this group saving the girls, then the girls getting captured again, then they save them again, and they are re-captured... all the while we are lectured on the surroundings and the trees and the moss, and the leaves... it is very verbose and tedious, and interrupts what should have been the more interesting parts of the book.

The characters are very weak, with almost no definition and the dialogue is atrocious. In all what should have been a very exciting romp through the North American wilderness is hindered by the execution of the story. There is perhaps a lot of background that I missed by not reading the rest of the “Leather Stalking Tales,” but after reading this, I am not sure that I would be able to sit through much more of Cooper’s style. It was frustrating because I wanted so badly to love this book. Unfortunately I ended up rather ambivalent to it all and will be forced to mark it as simply “Okay.” Though I am glad that I read this, I really don’t think I would recommend it to anyone other than those like myself who are determined to read through most of the Classics.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Man in the Iron Mask - Alexander Dumas

This is the third and final book of the Musketeers Trilogy. Unfortunately I did not read the second book in the series so that may have tempered my comprehension of all of the events as they unfolded in this epic tale. Here is the first warning – this is NOT the movie… nowhere close, so if you are looking for that story, it’s not here. Second, the language in this can get a bit tedious, particularly the names, as everyone is called by different names though out the book (their musketeer name, their title, their real name, other names, etc) this makes it a bit hard to follow if you don’t catch on right from the beginning who is who and what all they may be called. Third warning – this is not a happy book, this is the final act of the musketeer saga, and when I say final, I mean it.

The story itself is very involving, especially if you already know and love our Musketeers. Aramis has a plan that involves swapping out the current king on the throne for his twin brother… his plans do not go well for him and the rest of the book involves the aftermath of this failed plot. As Aramis and Porthos run from the now very angry king, d’Artagnan struggles in his relationship with his friends and the king he now serves as the head of the Musketeers. Meanwhile Athos is suffering from his son – Raoul’s decision to run from the pain he feels over love lost, and join the army fighting in Africa.

Our four musketeers are getting on in the years, as are their servants. They are no longer the leap into battle, brash youths of the previous novels. They have grown and are now calculating, loyal, and honorable, their friendships are tested and their loyalty to the crown and country is put on the line. There is a tremendous amount of pain in this book, and death is around every corner. I won’t say that this was a favorite of mine, even though people love the ending and say that they cried when they read it. I sort of felt let down, that the musketeers should go out on such a huge failure (the man in the iron mask– only sits on the throne for an evening, then we never hear from him again, he is in no way a major character, he is only a catalyst for future events.) Though they fought bravely, I would really have liked for them to have truly won their last endeavor together.

In all I am glad I read this book, but was often frustrated by the episodic nature of the writing which at times made if very hard to follow. I also was a bit disappointed in the amount of time spent on characters that seemed to have little purpose to the forward progression of the story. In the end, I would have to say… I liked the movie better, it was just more fun and really felt like the musketeers that I knew and loved rather than the individuals who were in this book. Only Porthos truly retained his nature from the first several books. Still, I would advise any lover of literature to give this book a chance. Perhaps a different translation would be better advised than this one.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Stepford Wives - Ira Levin

I can handle watching or reading just about any level of horror... so what was it about this tiny little novella that I read in an hour that truly chilled me? First, I have never seen the movies... so I had no real preconceived notions other than having seen the commercials. Something about being a girl, who was raised in a society where everything tells you that you have to be beautiful, you have to be talented, and above all you have to be perfect or you are nothing... this book really taps into that mantra. The feeling that every little girl has that "I'm not good enough" most of us (hopefully) follow that up with "but at least I'm ME" and that is where the terror of this book lies.

What if the ultimate deceiver, the true villain is the one person who should love you the most, your protector, your partner, your husband. What if he would change you... take away your identity for his own pleasure... and what if everyone was on his side. How would you hold on, how could you escape?

As you can tell this book really hit a nerve with me... true I was born in 1978, so this was a little before my time, but it hasn't changed all that much even though we want to think so. The book is really about men's desires, or Levin's interpretation of them. That they would be willing to sacrifice their wife's very identity, her being, to make her a mindless barbie that did what they pleased. The men in this book are truly horrifying beings... but even more frightening is that this is a doubt shared by all women, across the globe. From a young age we are taught to doubt ourselves, our physical appearance, our mind, our talent, the love of others. I know women with genius IQ's who act like idiots because that is what men want from them. Though there is no magical overnight drug that can do this to a woman... there is the lifelong barrage of the media and society which does a pretty good job in and of itself.

Off my soapbox now. This book freaked me out... it was very well written, very tight and compact, and rediculously short for the price. I would advise getting it from a library, a used book store, or a friend rather than spending the cover amount on it. Mainly because it is so short. Still, I think this book has a lot of meaning, this book should be read and discussed with others... and to the ladies out there... odds are you will end up a bit unsettled and a bit angry at the end of it all.

Morbid Curiosity - Deborah LeBlanc

Leblanc has a knack for writing horror that is accessible to both the young and old. In Morbid Curiosity she once again creates real characters who the reader can really hold on to. The ride is a fun one, and as always her use of the language is interestingly simplistic yet beautiful.

Short Summary: A set of twins, Haley and Heather, have had a bad year... their father passed away and their mother mentally shut down after his death. They have been sent to live with their grandparents and now have to not only adjust to the death of their father and mother's new insanity, but also a new school, new friends, and an entirely new lifestyle with their Grandparents. When the popular girl in school asks them to hang out with her they gladly accept... when she starts talking about Chaos Magic and what it can do to change your life, they are interested. But soon Heather is afraid that they may be in over their head and Haley is not behaving the way she normally would.

If you (like me) hate snakes, be forewarned... they are in this book by the hundreds... creepy crawly things that send shivers up my spine. The simplistic writing style that Leblanc uses makes this an easy book to fly right through. The characters are fairly well defined, though I would have liked to have felt more from the twins on the recent loss of their parents, that aspect felt rather brushed over. Mark, their art teacher, who is the first to consider that something may be going on... reacts rather strangely to the whole affair. It was rather odd to me that he immediately believed in the power of Chaos magic, rather than just worrying that the girls were into some cultish behavior that might lead them down the wrong path. And I was a little surprised that he never "called home" to discuss his fear that the girls were "in a cult."

I also would have liked a little more info on our bad guy... his transition from the opening scene to the final scene would have been and interesting trek to follow. Unfortunately I can't place together how the one became the other. I have some guesses but nothing in the book supports them as either right or wrong.

Who is this book for? I would say for the 12 and up crew (maybe older depending on reading level) there is a bit of lust, but it isn't overt or overly graphic. There is no sex, and I don't recall any over the top profanity. As far as violence, there is some (it's a horror novel after all) but I didn't find it gory. Probable movie rating would be PG-13. Also this novel follows along with LeBlanc's "the good guys and bad guys all get what they deserve in the end" leading to slightly Hollywood-esque endings. Still this is a fun and light read, if you are looking for something that won't strain your mind, and will entertain without grossing you out, give this book a try.

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I actually read this for free online... it took me about 25 minutes to read the whole story so I'm glad I didn't spend any money on it. But I AM glad that I read it. This is a strange little short story from the viewpoint of a woman who has recently given birth and suffers from post-partum depression. The cure for this at the time was strict bed rest with little to no mental stimulation. Our poor protagonist is married to a physician who believes that she needs to spend as much time as possible resting.

Because women were considered weak and incapable of handling too much thinking, the diagnosis is to prevent them from thinking. This was used to cure anxiety and depression... but anyone who has ever been forced into bedrest knows that all you do when laying there is think... and your thoughts get a little screwy after you've stared at the ceiling counting the dots. So is our heroine loosing her mind or is that horrible wall paper actually changing, showing her things, is there a woman behind bars trying to escape? Or is she projecting her misery with her confinement, her husband, and her situation into the frayed and torn wallpaper.

This was really a fun read that I could envision people having hours and hours of discussion on. It's one of those little bits of writing that you can easily gloss over and not think of again... but if you pull back that first layer you'll discover that there is so much more to this tiny little tale. I highly recommend taking the 20 minutes it will take you to read this, specifically to women and people in the medical profession... the insanity of what the medical profession used to believe is unbelievable.

A Modest Proposal - Jonathan Swift

Swift truly is the father of modern satire, unfortunately true satire is a dying art form. "A Modest Proposal" is one of the most brilliant papers ever written. A biting idea proposed on handling the issues of poverty and overpopulation in Ireland.

The infamous proposal is the fattening, and eating of the children of the poor. Swift goes into great detail proving that his theory would work. Is he truly proposing that the English dine on "yearlings" as he calls them? Of course not... but he is showing that just because an option is available and COULD solve an issue, doesn't mean that people can stomach the ethics involved.

This should be MANDATORY reading in all schools... if nothing else perhaps the next generation will realize the importance and the power of satire.

The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

I have put off reading this book for years... mainly because of its size, and the fact that it was written in French, and I just didn't want to put that much work into anything. I finally convinced myself that I really needed to read this because I enjoy the movies so much.

In the beginning... I was worried. The language was easy enough to follow (concern number 1 gone) but the writing style seemed a bit loose and haphazard. Rather than my mind being boggled, I found myself getting irritated by the wandering I felt that the book was doing. For the first quarter of the book I had started to question my choice of reading this. At first D'Artagnan irritated me because he seemed so stupid, and ready to fight anyone and everyone over anything, then our introduction to the three musketeers Athos, Aramis and Porthos were also ready to "cross swords" with anyone at even the most minor offence. The first several sword fights were rather sparse as far as description and excitement so it didn't "thrill" me the way I had hoped.

Enter the Cardinal, he was interesting... devious and maniacal... I thought to myself that the book could be picking up. But sadly the first half of the book really was nothing but D'Artagnan pining over women, and the Musketeers drinking, eating or spending money on more equipment. I was a bit weirded out by their lackeys... each of them had a servant who was all but a slave. These servants were only mentioned when they were being scolded, or offered up to do their master's bidding.

The story began to get interesting with the introduction of Milady, one of the most intelligent and evil villainesses I have encountered in a book. Vile of nature and black of heart she is a truly evil being that really spices up the book. Once she was brought into the picture, the tedious story opened up into an interesting tale of intrigue, a battle of wits between her, the cardinal and the musketeers.

There is a fair amount of history in this book, however much of it has been altered with creative license so I wouldn't take the events as gospel. I guess I can see why this is a classic, however I would have to say I preferred "The Count of Monte Cristo" to this. Had the first half been more entertaining I would have really loved this book. I'm just glad I kept reading so that I could get to the interesting part.

An American Haunting: The Bell Witch - Brent Monahan

I am not all that familiar with the Jersey Devil legend... other legends have always taken the forefront in my research and reading. But I am aware of the Jersey Devil who haunts the Pine Barrens. Dunbar's novel "The Pines" takes the old tale and adds a new spin on it. The concept is interesting, engaging and filled with quite a few victims who end up all but inside out.

The Short Summary: We follow Athena, Steve, Doris, Matty, and just about everyone else who lives in a small town as people start dying in the woods. The main characters are the operators of the beat up ambulance and the police. Of course there are quite a few other locals... they bicker, fight, and eventually try to figure out what is killing all of these people in such violent ways.

So there is woods, a monster, inbred people, and lots of others for the monster to eat... why am I not raving about this book and demanding that you go buy it? The presentation. Much of this book is written in dialogue, which I never thought I would have an issue with... but we meet characters when they start speaking and they are very rarely described. Often many people will be talking for quite some time before they are named, then you have to go back and re-read the conversation to put it into context. Apart from what you pick up in the conversations and the characters' internal dialogue... very little of the story is explained. The characters all have very similar speech patterns, opinions, and attitudes which makes it even harder to pick out who is talking until they are named. Also they react in their speaking to things we aren't told are going on. It felt very much like I was back in theater class and reading a play with all of the blocking left out.

In the end, I really didn't find myself connecting with any of the characters, and with the frustration of always trying to figure out who was saying what and the constant switching back and forth from scene to scene as well as the large cast of people (though the total number wasn't all that high, the percentage of characters that added nothing to the forward progression of the story was very high), I had a difficult time convincing myself to read this one all the way to the end.

I know that the ending of this book was touted as brilliant, and it being "shocking" but to be honest... I wasn't all that shocked, I pretty much knew what was going on before the book was half way over. I know that there is a severe lack of horror material on the Jersey Devil... but I really didn't feel that as a horror book, this really stood up to some of the other options that are out there for readers to consume. I won't say that I hated it... but I just really didn't enjoy the style, which is sad because I thought the idea really had merit.

The Pines - Robert Dunbar

I am not all that familiar with the Jersey Devil legend... other legends have always taken the forefront in my research and reading. But I am aware of the Jersey Devil who haunts the Pine Barrens. Dunbar's novel "The Pines" takes the old tale and adds a new spin on it. The concept is interesting, engaging and filled with quite a few victims who end up all but inside out.

The Short Summary: We follow Athena, Steve, Doris, Matty, and just about everyone else who lives in a small town as people start dying in the woods. The main characters are the operators of the beat up ambulance and the police. Of course there are quite a few other locals... they bicker, fight, and eventually try to figure out what is killing all of these people in such violent ways.

So there is woods, a monster, inbred people, and lots of others for the monster to eat... why am I not raving about this book and demanding that you go buy it? The presentation. Much of this book is written in dialogue, which I never thought I would have an issue with... but we meet characters when they start speaking and they are very rarely described. Often many people will be talking for quite some time before they are named, then you have to go back and re-read the conversation to put it into context. Apart from what you pick up in the conversations and the characters' internal dialogue... very little of the story is explained. The characters all have very similar speech patterns, opinions, and attitudes which makes it even harder to pick out who is talking until they are named. Also they react in their speaking to things we aren't told are going on. It felt very much like I was back in theater class and reading a play with all of the blocking left out.

In the end, I really didn't find myself connecting with any of the characters, and with the frustration of always trying to figure out who was saying what and the constant switching back and forth from scene to scene as well as the large cast of people (though the total number wasn't all that high, the percentage of characters that added nothing to the forward progression of the story was very high), I had a difficult time convincing myself to read this one all the way to the end.

I know that the ending of this book was touted as brilliant, and it being "shocking" but to be honest... I wasn't all that shocked, I pretty much knew what was going on before the book was half way over. I know that there is a severe lack of horror material on the Jersey Devil... but I really didn't feel that as a horror book, this really stood up to some of the other options that are out there for readers to consume. I won't say that I hated it... but I just really didn't enjoy the style, which is sad because I thought the idea really had merit.

Lowlife Underdogs - Dustin LaValley

Lowlife Underdogs is a short story book in the strictest sense of the word. Many of these stories are one page, with some only being a paragraph long. There are a total of 32 stories the longest being the title story which is the last in the book coming in at 23 pages long. With there being no Author information in the book, I couldn't gauge the age of the author, though I would guess at between 18-23 based off of what I read. The stories in this book are short, and very familiar, it is easy to guess where they are going to end up almost from the first couple of sentences. The writing style and tone is reminiscent of something that a depressed emo would write while spending a month in the local inpatient "happy house." There are several stories about suicide, murder, and difficulty having children. If the writer is actually very young, then we have a lot to look forward to, because the actual writing is very good. My main complaint is that the execution in each of the stories actually undoes the terror that they should induce. Also most of these stories are tales we've heard before, either urban legends, or scenes we've all viewed in various "B" horror movies. I'm not sure if they were meant to be tributes, but if we all know what is going to happen, then they cease to have the ability to shock and horrify.

This book would be most highly entertaining for the 15-18 year old group, 12 and up would enjoy it, but the language and sexual matter is far to harsh for me to suggest handing it over to a 12 year old.
Contains: Murder, Suicide, Violence, Profanity, Sex, Low level Gore (predominantly aftermath).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Covenant - John Everson

So you are a reporter who has already committed career suicide once, now you find yourself working at the local paper in the sleepy little town of Terrel. Bored to tears from covering garden parties, you finally catch wind of something interesting… a teen leaps to his death from the cliffs overlooking the town. When you ask a few questions you get very strange responses from the townspeople so you do a little investigation… suddenly discovering a string of yearly suicides going back over 100 years. Convinced you have a story on your hands, you start to investigate, even though everyone in the town warns you against it… because sometimes secrets are kept for your own safety.

From what I understand this is Everson’s first novel, I personally have never read anything by Everson before but I like to try new things, so I dug right in. The book itself is just under 300 pages with a teaser of his next novel at the back. This book is a very quick read that I started about 8pm and finished before 11 that night. The story is an interesting one, as the reader you know something is going on, and you are able to figure it out more quickly than our dear reporter, Joe Keirnan… just in time that you’ll know when he’s about to make a serious error. But who can he trust when everyone is hiding something. This book has a very supernatural edge to it, and though the grand finale felt that it should have had a few more bodies racked up… it was a satisfying conclusion. This book is not as gory as most that I have read, though there are several supernaturally induced rape scenes which may be upsetting to more sensitive readers.

The setup for the ending is fairly clear to guess from early on in the book, which takes out any chance of a “shocker” ending, but it really didn’t bother me all that much. The book was well written and managed to keep my attention from beginning to end. Though I always felt that I knew what was about to happened, it never really irritated me as it does with some books. Some of the characters could have used a little more meat to them, had he thrown in another 30 pages or so I feel the book could have been even better. The tale unfolds similar to a haunted house story, with the haunted house being a cliff instead of a house. I would have liked for a higher creepiness level, I never really had the vibe that the characters were truly in that much danger because it just felt like they were going to make it from the moment you met them. “Covenant,” though highly entertaining, and well worth the read to a horror fan, does not really break any new ground. I would be happy to read a second book about the incidents 100 years before, I feel that he had a very interesting tale there and actually the little blurbs from the journal were probably my favorite part of the book.

Recommended to fans of the general horror genre (King and Koontz), I’m not sure that the extreme horror crew (Laymon, Ketchum, Lee) will find as much gore here as they would like. In all this is a very tightly written novel with excellent pacing, and fairly descent characters for a horror tale. I consider this to be a wonderful first novel and hope that the author has many more in store for us.

Dracula's Guest - Bram Stoker

I had never heard of this book before, but when I ran across it and saw who the author was, I snatched it up and started reading. What we have here is a series of short stories published by Mrs. Stoker after the passing of her husband. The stories range from the disturbing supernatural tale of “The Judge” to the vampiric title tale of “Dracula’s Guest” some versions of this book include the “Lair of the White Worm” which although it is not one of my favorite of Mr. Stoker’s Cannon, it is still a very creepy and disturbing novella.

This is a VERY short read, and can be completed in a day without trouble. As with all short story collections some will be more to your taste than others. None really packed the punch of “Dracula” but then few tales do. My personal favorites were “Dracula’s Guest” in which a British fellow fails to head the warning of the locals and ventures into a hellish evening of wolves and the supernatural… and we are left with the feeling that his next venture may prove even worse for him.

“The Judge” was also interesting… though I really would have liked for there to be more to this story. A learned man takes up residence in the local haunted mansion to get some peace and quite while studying. He gets more than he bargained for in the end. This was a very interesting and dark tale with “Twilight Zone” or “Tales from the Crypt” written all over it. It is very cinematic in tone and could have been much longer.

In all there are tales of vengeance, redemption, the supernatural, pacts with the Devil, angry black cats, beggars run amok, murderers, insanity… if you love the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, then you really need to pick up this collection. If you have read and re-read Dracula and can’t get enough, then pick up this book… it’s hard to find (my copy came from a used bookstore and it looked like a dog had gone to town on the cover) but it is well worth the hunt.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Charnel House – Graham Masterton

I just finished skimming the other reviews and I don’t know if I read a different version of the book or what, but I know that what I read wasn’t the same thing as what is mentioned in some of the other reviews out on the internet. First – there is no private investigator; and second - the baddie is not a shaman or witch doctor and it certainly isn’t out to “get back at the white people.” Granted I read the older printing of the book, with the really bad cover art… so maybe the newer version was highly edited.

Quick Summary – an elderly man comes to the city sanitation department because his house is breathing, he’s been everywhere else and no-one can or will help him. Out of curiosity more than the intention to fix anything John Hyatt (the city sanitation worker – NOT a P.I.) takes a co-worker to the house to see if maybe it is a rodent problem. The infestation turns out to be much more than rodents as Native American Mythology takes a for-runner in this story. People start getting injured in strange ways as the group of “believers” who hope to do something about it grows to a Sanitation worker, a book seller, a Doctor and a Shaman/Witch Doctor, can they combat the ancient Native American evil before it destroys mankind?

Now for the review, as with all of Masterton’s books that I have read so far, the opening is VERY good. Creepy, chilling, the haunted “breathing” house is fun and positively frightening. The problem is that the house isn’t where we spend most of our time. As characters are added it seems that they are too quick to believe in the far-fetched and too willing to do something about it. All but one character that the “explanation” of the goings on was explained to almost immediately said – “Okay, I’m coming to help.” I know that this was one of his earlier works, and that he really hadn’t hit his writing stride yet, but it was still fun. And it is short (under 250 pgs), so if you don’t like it… you can finish it quickly and move on to something else.

My biggest complaint is that the second half of the book (away from the house) became WAY to far fetched for my brain to buy into. If the baddie was what they explained it to be… we never saw the carnage, we never saw its capabilities, and it wasn’t nearly as bright as they let on. There was a lot of talk and build up to something that really didn’t do what they expected. As far as I can tell the body count was about 7-8 (I’m not sure if the one guy made it or not) which isn’t very high for the build up of – “It’ll destroy mankind.” All in all, this was one of Masterton’s weaker novels, but still worth the read if you are bored. I would suggest borrowing it though rather than paying for it.

Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett

The reviews here are quite varied on this book, they are all obviously written by Pratchett fans however one of the problems with being a Pratchett fan is that he has SO many novels that you are bound to find a few that aren’t your taste. I personally loved this book. My favorite of Pratchett’s creations include the Witches and the Guards series.

An attempt at a short summary:
The King of Lancre and his new wife the former Witch Margrat have their first child, and are holding the Christening ceremony. In The King’s usual attempt to be “Modern” he invites the Magpyrs, a family of Vampires from Uberwald. Vampires of course cannot go where not invited, so they capitalize on the invitation to take over the entire country of Lancre. The Vampire clan however, is obsessed with becoming “Modern” and is quite Yuppyish. They have made themselves immune to garlic, sunlight, religious symbols, and just about everything else that normally works against Vampires. Meanwhile Granny Weatherwax’s invitation to the Christening was stolen, so in a typical Granny fashion, she is off in a huff. The soppy priest of Om that comes to do the Christening becomes quite the major character, and the “Wee Free Men” make their first appearance. Add in Igor, the Vampire’s henchman who wishes things would go back to the way they are, and the Falconer who spends most of the tale hunting down a Phoenix and you’re in for a non-stop good time. Nanny Ogg and Agnes/Perditia Nitt are put into the position of attempting to rescue the kingdom from the Vampires without Granny.

The witches are all their standard unique selves, Granny stubborn as a mule but with a heart of gold, Nanny with her wild ways and lewd comments, Margrat with her new aged ideas but strong backbone when needed, and the newest of the coven – Agnes Nitt a very big girl with a thin girl trapped inside her. Agnes becomes a major character in this book and really develops her unique personalities. The Priest of Om also becomes quite an interesting character with his on again off again faith crisis. The Wee Free Men are entertaining, but hard to read, Igor is an absolute trip.

Some will say that this is a re-write of “Lords and Ladies” I personally didn’t find it so. Sure bad guys arrive and threaten Lancre, and the Witches step up to do battle in their round-about humorous ways. But then again what fantasy/sci-fi/action or horror doesn’t have bad guys showing up and good guys trying to stop them? Of Pratchett’s novels I found this one to be much darker than the others because the Vampires are quite sinister for one of his villains. Still I found this to be an amazingly humorous tale. The bickering between the witches, the family fights between the vampires, Igor’s wanting to make everything dusty and covered in spider webs and longing for the old-school days of his master, the Falconer’s obsession with trying to catch a bird he’s never seen, the Wee Free Men stealing anything they can get their hands on, and even Greebo.

The pace of the book is unbelievably quick, numerous characters come and go and you’ll find yourself wondering how all of this will tie in together. But you can’t put it down. I can attest to that first hand, I read way past my bedtime to finish the book because the action never stopped long enough for me to stick in a bookmark. The humor wasn’t as non-stop as in some of his other books, but the funny parts were hysterical. I found that this book had far more meaning to it than many of the others.

If you are first time Pratchett reader, I would not recommend this book as a starting place because some of the history of the witches is almost required to get full enjoyment out of this story. I can’t imagine that a first time reader would understand the concept of “Borrowing” from this book or get the humor of the “I ain’t dead” sign. This is one of my favorite of Pratchett’s novels so far.

Books of Blood Volume 1 – Clive Barker

This was my first venture into the world of Barker’s short stories, and although I was very excited to read the book, I found that it was as many short story books are, hit and miss.

The book opens with a story titled “The Book of Blood” which I suppose would be an intro, though it is almost a short story in itself. It is a good intro, drawing the reader in lots of ghosties, a haunted house, paranormal phenomenon and lots of blood. Excellent intro to amp up the reader and get them ready to dive right through the book. I’d give this short 4 of 5 stars.

The first story is “Midnight Meat Train.” I wasn’t overly impressed with the title but what the heck, it was a good story. A serial killed of the most disgusting kind, an unwitting accountant who finds his way into that serial killers world, and then bam, strangeness abounds as the supernatural makes its appearance. Excellent story again, 4 of 5 stars.

The second is “The Yattering and Jack.” I would in no way call this a horror story… it’s closer to something you would find in a Christopher Moore book, in fact I think he based the entire book “Practical Demonkeeping” off of reading this short. This story was a humorous tale of a lesser Demon sent to torment a man to insanity… the problem is that the man just doesn’t seem to care about anything the Demon does… including exploding a few household pets. I found myself giggling through this story. I don’t felt that it fit all that well with the rest of the book, but it was highly entertaining. 4 of 5 stars.

Third you have “Pig Blood Blues” if I recall the title correctly. This one was strange, but predictable. An ex-cop goes to work at a school for delinquent boys and finds himself mixed up in a strange sacrificial mess. The story seemed familiar, sort of like the Wickerman meets “Children of the Corn.” I can’t say that it was my favorite, but every short story book has at least one mediocre story in it. 3 of 5 stars.

Fourth is “Sex, Death, and Starshine” and interesting story about the life and death of Theater. Sex, murder and ghosts abound in this story. I think Dionysus would be pleased. Though this may have been the longest story in the book, I enjoyed it. I like ghosts and the theater, and I was very happy that it didn’t turn out to be another “Phantom of the Opera” which is what I was concerned with in the beginning. Though at times the story drug a bit, I think this was probably my favorite. 4 of 5 stars

The final story “In the Hills, The Cities” was completely bizarre. I can’t even begin to explain it because I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend it. I didn’t find it frightening, or even disgusting… just perplexing. Two gay guys go out into the middle of nowhere and find… um… two cities? I tried with all of my might to picture what was being described in my mind… but it just wouldn’t go together. I felt this story was by far the weakest in the book and a sadly pitiful note to end on. 2 of 5 stars.

All in all, I would say this is a 4 star book, the majority of which is very entertaining to read. I think the only scary stories in it were “The Book of Blood” and “Midnight Meat Train” but the others were good for what they were, except for the finale which was very disappointing.

Bloodstone – Nate Kenyon

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a horror story like this one. Most horror novelists are either very good at openings but then the rest of the tale doesn’t hold up, or they are excellent a mood but the characters are week, or sometimes you get the occasional author who struggles in the beginning but if you can make it 50 pages or so into the book, it really gets rocking and rolling. For a debut novel, I am unbelievably impressed by the even-ness of the entire book. We start out creepy, and the level of creepiness remains from beginning to end. We have multidimensional characters that we care about, and an intriguing plot that includes both present day and also letters from over a hundred years ago. Honestly I found the letters to be very intriguing and would like to read more on that particular tale.

Short Summary: We open with Bill Smith having kidnapped “Angel” a junkie and prostitute, he is being plagued by dreams of the undead coming after him and seems to be drawn to a place he has never been. Angel is also having the dreams and has been hiding behind her addiction to keep them at bay. The two finally end up in a small town in Maine (why is it always Maine?) where they feel that something dark and sinister is about to occur and somehow they have a part to play. Meanwhile, Jeb Taylor’s homicidal father has passed away in prison and Jeb collects his father’s belongings, among which include some very strange and ancient artifacts. Jeb’s behavior soon begins changing and horrific dreams begin to plague his mind as well.

I found this to be one of the most well thought out “first novels” I’ve read in a long time. I truly enjoyed the read. It is fairly fast paced and as I mentioned earlier, the level of “creepy” begins right off the bat and remains with you from beginning to end. True there are a lot of unexplained things in this book, but sometimes that just adds to the terror. Many people have compared him to an “Early Stephen King” and I can see the similarities, though I actually preferred this novel to the “More recent Stephen King novels.” On the whole this was a very fun read and I look forward to more books by Mr. Kenyon.

Basket Case – Carl Hiaasen

Other than “Team Rodent” I had never read a Hiaasen novel until this one. I had always heard good things and had listened to him compared to many of my favorite authors. Last night I read Basket Case (actually I finished it… I started it yesterday). Now that I have finally read a Hiaasen novel, I must say, I absolutely loved it.

First, it takes place in my home state of Florida, which I miss immensely so it was nice to be back there, if only in my mind. Second, Hiaasen is an extremely intelligent writer, I have read many “Humorous” books that border on insulting in the implausibility department when it comes to straining for a laugh. Hiaasen never crosses that line. The story is first and foremost and the writing style is smart, witty, and simple to read. You never have to go back and re-read a line to figure out what he was saying, and you are also never insulted by the childishness.

The characters are interesting, funny, charming, likeable, quirky and most of all, extremely human. I never doubted these people, heck I think I’ve met them before. The plot is interesting and plays out like a mystery… you find yourself really rooting for our leading man Jack Tagger. The book follows Jack, a once rising star in the newspaper world who shot off his mouth at the wrong time and was reassigned to the demeaning world of obituary writing. He now suffers from neurosis that come with the job… an obsession with death, mainly his own and how old he’ll be when it happens. Up until now it has destroyed relationships and forced his career to dwindle to almost negligible. Then he covers the death of Jimmy Stoma, ex rocker and musical bad boy. Very quickly he decides that there is something strange about the death and the old reporter in him stirs…. And begins stirring up trouble.

The rest of cast of characters includes:
Emma - Jack’s editor and possible love/hate interest
Juan the Cuban Sportswriter and Jack’s best friend
Cleo – the dead rocker’s wife and aspiring pop diva
Janet – the dead rocker’s sister and arch enemy of Cleo
Carla – Jack’s ex-girlfriend’s daughter and club scene master

The crew gets even larger and more interesting… Colonel Tom is by far my favorite scene in the book, but I won’t go into detail, you just have to read that one for yourself. In the end the book is darkly funny, engaging, and fairly high speed entertainment toward the end when everything starts hitting the fan. I know Tim Dorsey is often compared with Hiaasen, but in reality there is no comparison other than the setting of their books. Dorsey is extremely over the top while Hiaasen is firmly grounded in reality… albeit a strange and demented reality, but a believable one none-the-less. I would compare him more with Vonnegut (minus the sci-fi aspect) than Dorsey, Pratchett or Gaiman.

Baal – Robert McCammon

I read this book in an evening; it’s a fairly quick read if you don’t lose interest. I had no problem with it, but I can see where others had issues with it. This was McCammon’s first book, so it is by no means his best. The story of Baal (a daemon or demigod of evil) who is born from a raped woman and manages to gather together a frenzied following of believers. The “good guys” we follow include a theology professor, a half Eskimo hunter and the mysterious “Michael” in their quest to end Baal’s influence.

The book is well written, though from the beginning I feared I was reading an “Omen” rip off. Then we changed settings and drifted away from the “Omen” plot and moved on to other plots we have seen before. The problem with this story versus so many other of McCammon’s is that there really isn’t anything here that we haven’t seen before. Granted it’s brilliantly written, but it’s a rehash and remixing of all of the other antichrist movies and books.

As a McCammon fan, you will probably be a bit disappointed since, as I previously stated this was his first book and therefore not as polished or mind bogglingly genius as his following novels, however even his first book is far superior to many of the others on the shelves for purchase. I did enjoy reading this, the Eskimos were a nice touch… but he could have gone much farther than he did. Still I will give it 4 stars because even though it’s not his best, it’s better than most of the garbage that is published.

A Winter Haunting – Dan Simmons

This is my second Simmons novel, and I must say that he is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. I read this book without knowing that “Summer of Night” came before it… which is sad because I bought them both together an am now apparently reading them out of order. Never the less, I had no trouble following the story without having read the preceding novel. I think having read it would have filled me in a bit on some of the information that the sheriff seems to randomly blurt out toward the end of the novel, but it didn’t really bother me.

Dale is an interesting character; pitiful, deplorable at times, yet not so appalling as to make him hard to root for. After destroying his life and his relationships through bad choice after bad choice, a failed suicide attempt sends him back to his childhood to try to write a novel while sorting through his past. Dale drifts in and out of possible madness, as the reader you are never sure… is he being haunted by ghosts? His past? Or simply madness? Is he loosing his mind or are there hell hounds growing and growling in the night outside of his childhood friend’s house. The tragic death of his childhood friend has scarred him, though we are never sure how deeply. Is Dale writing notes to himself or communicating with his long dead childhood friend Duane?

Most of the complaints about the “slow pace” of the book come from the flashbacks Dale has of his life with Claire. Clair is not a very likeable person and we know that Dale has thrown his marriage away to be with her, and of course… it ended badly between them. Also we have chapters from the perspective of a spirit we assume to be Duane, watching Dale and telling us a bit of what he sees from the outside. The spirit chapters bothered me a bit; particularly at the end when I wondered why, if the spirit was so eloquent was it so cryptic in it’s warnings to him. Perhaps it knew that Dale must traverse this path whether it wanted him to or not.

Dale’s choice to live in his dead friend’s farmhouse is a strange one, and when it seems that the reader has figured out what is going on, the twists guide you into a new direction. I went through a range of guesses hoping always to be wrong. For the most part I was, and I am glad for it. I like to be surprised by a novel. Though I didn’t find the book to be “Hair Raising” or “Spine tingling” I did find it to be a wonderfully enjoyable read. Well written and perplexing without being confusing. You find yourself just as baffled by events as Dale and hoping that he finds a way to survive either the madness or the haunting. 4.5 out of 5 stars… excellent read!

Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne

There is something to be said about the writing of Jules Verne… he is direct, concise and minimalist which seems so opposite of the stories he is writing, which are always huge fantastic tales. Though many of his novels are more Science Fiction, this is simply an Adventure novel. The problem with reading this novel now, is that it is very difficult to go into it without having seen one of the many movies that were made from the book. I believe that by the time I read this, I had seen almost every movie ever made on it (include the newest “Jackie Chan” version which my kids love). That being said… even though the movies and the book are very different, the ending is still the same, which detracts a bit from the reading of the book. I would have loved to have read this back in the time when it was written, I am sure that the little boys and girls laying in their beds reading this were exhilarated by the ending, and then spent many an hour planning their own trip around the world. Something in Verne’s writing does that… it opens up your belief that somewhere out there is a grand adventure waiting for you.

This tale is told mainly from the perspective of Passepartout, the manservant of Phileas Fogg. Fogg is and has always been a punctual man whose life is run like clockwork. Each second of the day is structured, pre-planned and no great adventure ever befalls Mr. Fogg. Passapartout, a Frenchman looking for a new start on life is very excited to find such a calm, respectable, and orderly man to work for. Unfortunately on his very first day on the job, Fogg makes a strange bet. Fogg bets his friends that it is indeed possible to round the world in 80 days. After much arguing, they take the bet, half of Fogg’s fortune is at stake. When he returns home, Fogg informs Passepartout of their mission and they begin to pack. Meanwhile, the Bank has been robbed of 50k pounds (a huge amount back then) and Inspector Fix is on the case… hearing about Fogg’s plan to circle the globe, he assumes that he is the thief and is using the bet to run from the law.

Heading Eastward, Fogg and Passepartout travel by train, ship and elephant, with Fix always on their trail. The descriptions of the places they travel through are very minimalist, and the reader learns very little about the different cities and countries they cross. Since the travelers spend most of the time on trains or ships there is very little description, and much more on the planning and tracking of their trip. The most descriptive and interesting part of the story for me was the part where they were forced to take an elephant to continue the journey. Because they were then outside and traveling more slowly there was some additional detail and the action increased.

On the whole this is a brilliantly thought out book, though I don’t consider it one of Verne’s best. I only say that because I found that people riding on a boat or a train are not particularly exciting. There was never the sense of danger that “Journey to the Center of the Earth” or some of his others contained. Still it was a very fun and quick read. I highly recommend it to the 13 and up crew. Much younger than that and I believe they would enjoy having it read to them, because due to the differences in the world back then versus now, I feel that it would require some discussion for true appreciation. On the whole I think everyone should sit down at some point and read this book, along with many of his others.