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