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.

Practical Demonkeeping - Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore’s Practical Demonkeeping

This novel was a surprisingly quick read, it is short and although not action packed, it manages to keep your attention from beginning to end. The writing style is very casual and humorous, slightly vulgar but not so much as to gain an “R” rating or to turn off the casual reader. There are drugs, but they are not glorified, there is sex, but it is not explicit and there is profanity, but it is not overwhelming.

The story itself is simple enough, one man (Travis) is cursed with being the “Master” of a Demon by the name of Catch, who is not entirely under his control and tends to eat people when he so chooses. Augustus Brine, the small town owner of a bait, tackle, and fine wine shop is suddenly visited by the king of the Djinn who charges him with finding the Demonkeeper and sending Catch back to where ever it is that the Demon naturally inhabits. The story follows not only Travis and Augustus, but also most of the small town of Pine Cove. Although this is a short book, you will find yourself introduced to more characters than seems possible, and wonder how on Earth this litany of characters will intertwine and affect the story by the end of it all. In this Moore does a fantastic job of never spending too much time on the characters that go nowhere, and managing to include everyone in the ending.

As I stated before, this is a quick and easy read, my only complaint is that in order to get to the resolution, Moore does break down into a long and over involved exposition by one of the characters (Travis) that I felt could have been either broken up better through the story, or told a bit more naturally. In the end the resolution makes the story work and certainly doesn’t let the reader down. The journey is a fun one and you have the opportunity to meet several very real characters along the way. No one is perfect, and no one is truly evil. In all it is a very human experience told through a very supernatural tale.

The Hidden – Sarah Pinborough

So much going on, so few pages to lash it all together! We have a woman who wakes up with amnesia and a new lease on life, a string of gruesome homicides, and a Detective trying to piece it all together. How does it all fit? Some Demonic ritual? Possession? Or something even more horrifying?

From what I understand, this was Pinborough’s first novel, and it is a very good book, though not as polished as her later attempts. This story for some reason reminded me a lot of “Hellbound Heart” by Barker, though the pick at your brain social commentary isn’t included in Pinborough’s novel. There is a decent amount of gore in this book, however most of it is the aftermath of the actual occurrence so it is not as gory as it could have been. For those of you who read horror novels for the nakedness, there is a touch of that, though it is not explicit.

What makes this book weaker than her following novels is the use of what feel like “cheap” tactics to get the point across. First we have the Diary that pretty much tells the Detective all the background he needs, then we have the psychic/medium who can explain the rest, and we have the Detective’s dead wife speaking through the medium to fill us in on everything else that we might have missed. It’s like a perfect storm of information to make sure that our mystery solver doesn’t miss any details. A second weakness in this book is the lack of time passing, at times it seems that only days have passed, then it is implied that months have gone by. In the end you can’t be sure if Mike and Rachel have been dating for two weeks or five months… and you can’t be sure if the murders are happening only days apart or months apart. In this book, Pinborough really hasn’t come into her own with the multidimensional characters yet. Most of them feel paper thin with little to no motivation for their actions. Still, with these weaknesses, this is a strong first novel and reading this you can see why the publisher signed her on for a few more.

This is a fairly quick read that is entertaining though doesn’t push the envelope in any fashion. If you are just looking for a fun night of mindless entertainment this is a great time waster, if you are in the mood to be truly frightened or have your mind expanded, then look elsewhere. There isn’t anything new in this novel and there really isn’t any deeper meaning behind what is going on in the story. Actually the diary, though it feels like a cheap tactic for the writer to have used, is one of the more interesting parts of the book. Elizabeth comes across as the only multi-dimensional character in this novel through the diary, even though we never really encounter her in the book as her true self.

A note to those of you who have read Pinborough’s other novels: most of her books read as very Americanized British horror, often times you forget that they even take place in Great Britain other than the occasional British slang that creeps in. This book is much more British all around, though not to the point where you question what is being said or get lost. (for example: I have NEVER understood the British term “Pull the other one” and no one has been able to explain what it means to me). On the whole this is a decent book that is worth the read if you don’t have anything else lying around. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it or track it down, but if you come across it, give it a whirl.

The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

How does one even begin describing this book? Can you even sum up the plot and do it justice? Talk of Malachi and his adventures/mishaps or Beatrice… To we follow Roomford as he appears and disappears as the earth rotates? To we talk about the invasion from Mars? Or the years spent on Mercury? How to we discuss the plot when in reality the plot is only a vehicle to get the reader to the destination, the realization that Vonnegut is trying to make us come to. The best summary that I can come up with is that we follow Malachi/Unk through the end of his life… starting from his receiving a prediction that he would go to Mars, Mercury, back to Earth, and then to Titan… and ending at the end of his life and his journeys.

So what is this book even about? Well there’s religion, and the sense that God is not responsible for us, or our futures, rather we survive in a series of random accidents. Then there is the meaning of life, and the futility of the search for it. We have the satirical take on family, business, politics, and war. Then we have the long and involved satire of our purpose, and being used as humans toward a purpose that is both completely beyond our mental grasp, and not something that we would be happy to know about in the first place.

I personally cannot stand sci-fi so I put off reading this book for quite a while, even through I LOVE Vonnegut. In the end, the Sci-Fi aspect did not bother me because Vonnegut never spent all that much energy on that aspect. Sure they were on Mars, and Mercury, and Titan… and there was an alien life form or two and some spaceships… but as with the plot, the sci-fi aspect of this book is merely a vehicle to drive the reader to the proper conclusions. People are often upset that one cannot classify a Vonnegut book into any one genre; I find that this is because he is a philosopher who is wiling to take you to any extreme in order to open your eyes to what he views as reality. And what is Vonnegut’s reality? Simple – Life is a series of accidents, both good and bad. The Creator is off doing what he does best – Creating, not guiding our every movement and desire. And finally, that we shouldn’t put too much stock into our purpose, instead focus on just being nice, and being happy in the life that you have.

Even if you are not a fan of Sci-Fi I highly recommend this book. True it is not Vonnegut’s seminal work, nor is it his most humorous, but it has so many important themes running through it that it should be required reading in school. The number of discussions that can be had after reading and truly dissecting this book are amazing. The Simple line stated by Boaz on Mercury when he makes his decision, the true purpose of the Martian attack, the over all meaning of life. The ending of this book is a truly joyous, utterly ridiculous and yet so profoundly meaningful revelation that the reader cannot help but sit back and shake their head in both disbelief and astonishment, both appalled and amused, and most of all, completely unable to keep from wondering… is that what it really IS all about? Something so….. Now I don’t want to spoil it for you!

Though this book is only just over 300 pages, it took me longer than normal to read it, because you really don’t want to skim. The language is brilliant, and the satire is sometimes so deeply laced into what is being said that it can be easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. As I said before, I highly recommend this book.