1 Following
verkisto

Shelf Indulgence

Books. Reviews.

Currently reading

Aftermath
Chuck Wendig
Dhalgren
Samuel R. Delany
Jackals
Charles L. Grant

She Wakes

She Wakes - Jack Ketchum She Wakes is, apparently, an oddity in Ketchum's body of work. It's his only attempt at a supernatural novel, for starters. For all the violence and poignancy of his previous two works, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to join that voice with a different sort of subject matter. In the end, though, the novel failed in so many different ways. And the fact that it failed so spectacularly is another oddity of this book.

The story is about a writer, Dodgson, between projects, visiting Greece for an extended stay. He meets and makes friends there, and gets involved with a woman named Lelia. She turns out to be a highly disturbed individual, stalking and threatening Dodgson and his group of friends. That obsession is paired with the resurrection of one of the goddesses of the country, and that combination begins the story of one woman's revenge.

What set Hide and Seek and Cover above other thrillers was Ketchum's characterization skills. I've heard that the best way to structure a story is to start with your characters, and that's where Ketchum shined in those two books. Those skills seem to be lacking completely here. There's a lengthy prologue that meanders, and then once the story gets underway, we have shells of characters. Our main character has a bit of history to give him some semblance of complexity, but it's still not enough to define him. There are a ton of characters in this story, too, mostly introduced as was necessary for the story, and while it wasn't difficult to keep track of them all, it limited the amount of time Ketchum could develop any of them.

The supernatural aspect of the story didn't work, either. The key to writing about the supernatural is to use a firm set of rules, and make them clear to the reader, even if they don't know them all at the start. She Wakes didn't seem to have a sense of what those rules were, to the point that when the conclusion finally came, I couldn't understand why something like that would be what ended the terror. It felt anticlimactic, especially after all that the characters had been through over the course of the story.

I wanted to like this book, especially after finding out what Ketchum could do in his previous two books. I've since found out that Peter Straub once said that readers tend to go to Ketchum's books for the wrong reasons, but stay for the right ones, and I understand that sentiment. In the afterword, Ketchum tells us that he felt like he wrote this book because he wanted to write his own Stephen King story; I kind of wish he had just told another Jack Ketchum story.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle - Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell Gaiman, to me, is the king of taking an old fairy tale and putting a new spin on it. He's played around with that theme in subtle ways with Sandman, "Snow, Glass, Apples", and "Chivalry", and now he's done it again with The Sleeper and the Spindle. He brings a character who might be Snow White and drops her into another story starring a character who might be Sleeping Beauty. And what he does with it is nothing short of brilliant.

I'm tempted to say more, but experiencing those twists and turns on your own is what makes the story so engaging. If you want, you could find out more about the story if you choose -- it raised a kerfuffle of controversy when it was released, as I recall -- but for me the real joy of reading is discovery, and I'm certainly not going to spoil anything.

I'm not one to pay a lot of attention to artwork in a book, even in graphic novels. If it does what it needs to do to convey its part of the story, it blends into the background of the story. Here, though, the artwork is such a standout that it deserves the time for you to pore over it, examine it. Riddell puts a lot of detail in his work, and while there aren't any hidden items to be found, there is certainly a lot to see and admire.

Neil Gaiman is one of a very short list of authors where it's difficult for me to be objective about his work. I thought this story was fantastic, but I say that about a lot of his stories. Take that with however many grains of salt you need, but if you like a fractured fairy tale or two, this book might be just for you.

A Bone Dead Sadness

A Bone Dead Sadness - Joe R. Lansdale This popped up as a recommendation in my Kindle app, and given that (a) I dig Joe Lansdale's fiction, (b) I hadn't heard of this story before, and (c) it was only 99 cents, I bought it. I found out afterward that this is a story Lansdale wrote to include in a reprint of Act of Love, and features Marvin Hanson many years after the events in that novel. It's also set many years after Marvin befriended Hap & Leonard, though they don't make an appearance in the story.

A Bone Dead Sadness starts with Marvin receiving an email from a local woman who wants him to investigate the disappearance of her son from twenty-five years before. The story is just that investigation, though Lansdale throws in some of his usual style to give it a little something more. It doesn't have the snappy dialogue one comes to expect from a Lansdale story; there's a hint of it when Marvin has a meeting with the Chief of Police, but most of his conversation is with his wife, with the mother, and with her daughter-in-law. There's not much room for his trademark dialogue, though that's not saying there's anything wrong with what is there. It's just not what one would expect from a Lansdale story.

The story is fine, and serviceable, though it's nothing spectacular. All the events take place in the past, so the story is all about interviewing people and hoping to put all the pieces together. If you pay attention to how Lansdale sets up the story, you'll figure out how it will end, but I didn't catch it myself. I think Lansdale sets up his stories craftily enough so the clues aren't obvious, but if you go into the story looking for clues, I think you'll figure it out.

I'd recommend this story for Lansdale completists, but other readers, including Lansdale fans, might want to give it a pass. It's a brief read (it took me an hour, tops, to breeze through it), and it's cheap, but there's better Lansdale fiction out there. If you just can't find anything else to read, though, then sure, give it a go. I've read worse stories, after all.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho This isn't the kind of book I would normally read. I was at the bookstore, wanting to buy something (I know you've all been there before), and this jumped out at me. Plus, I knew of the book, knew it had a huge following, and figured maybe it was time to see what it was all about.

There's a slight fantastical element to it, but mostly it's a literary fable, complete with its own moral. It's a brief book, but as the author notes in his foreword, it's about searching for treasure and self, and the story and its message are universal.

The story is simply told. It's not that it's dumbed down, but that it's written in clear, concise language. Given that the book has been translated, I'm not sure if the style is more the author or the translator (or both), but it works well. The story is already a fairy tale, and the language of the story supports it. It's direct, without getting sidetracked into things like characterization or even plot, but it wasn't a problem. It wasn't intended to have either.

The story reminds me a lot of Norton Juster's Alberic the Wise. They're not identical: Alberic the Wise is summed up well with its concluding line "It is much better to look for what I may never find than to find what I do not really want"; and The Alchemist is about treasuring what you have instead of what you want. There's just something similar in the characters' journeys to self-discovery.

It also reminds me a little of The Secret, that horrible New Age claptrap from 2006 that basically told people that all they needed to do to get what they wanted was to think positively about it. Early in the book, Coelho tells us, "When you want something the whole universe will conspire together to help you get it", and it sounded just a little too close to the message of The Secret. On the bright side, Coelho doesn't present that message as some spiritual truth; on the dim side, Coelho feels the need to repeat this message quite a bit through the novel.

I wish I could say something more about the story, but it doesn't have any resonance with me. Even if it isn't as hokey as The Secret, it still has a New Age angle to it that didn't do anything for me. It just felt mediocre.

Among Others

Among Others - Jo Walton Among Others is a book about reading. It's also about a fifteen-year-old woman named Morwenna Phelps, a twin who lost her sister about a year ago, who has been taken in by her father and his sisters, and who is sent to a boarding school. A reader of fantasy and science fiction, she finds solace and friendship in the books she reads, and once she discovers her father is also into the genre, and that there's a science fiction book club that takes place at the public library near her school, her world begins to settle, to take shape.

Any avid reader will find a lot of themselves in Morwenna. Whether we read because we were outcasts, or whether our reading made us outcasts, one way or another, we experienced a time in our lives where reading was more important than anything else. As we grow older, the rest of our lives take on a similar importance, but that love of reading, that love of stories, never goes away. Morwenna's coming-of-age journey is strangely compelling, and relatable, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Among Others is also about magic. Kind of. Morwenna is our narrator, and it's clear that the death of her twin has had a tremendous effect on her. Is the magic real, or is it a coping mechanism? Walton has stated on her Website that the magic is real (and the fact that at least one other character can also see it certainly reinforces that conclusion), but we never see the events from anyone else's perspective, and we can't be certain that Morwenna is a reliable narrator. If her mother was mad, could she have picked up some of that madness? And if so, are the events she tells us real, or imagined?

Knowing that this book won the Hugo and the Nebula for the year it was eligible, I was expecting a lot out of it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the story didn't quite meet those expectations. I liked it, and I enjoyed Walton's style, but it didn't seem award-worthy to me. Maybe it was the name-dropping of all the authors and books that gave it some extra recognition? I don't know. It was certainly enjoyable, regardless.

Cover

Cover - Jack Ketchum Jack Ketchum was one of those authors I read back in the '90s, in my horror boom. He was considered to be one of the best, so I read a handful of his books. They didn't make a huge impression on me, but I enjoyed his lean style. I read Cover, and remembered some of the details of the book, but not the story itself. I'm really pleased that I'm re-reading his stuff (and didn't give up on him after Off Season), because I'm finding that he really is one of the best.

Like Hide and Seek, Ketchum takes about half of the novel to build up the characters before subjecting them to the horrors of the second half of the book. Also like Hide and Seek, there's nothing supernatural about this story; it's more a thriller than a horror novel, but Off Season tagged Ketchum as a horror writer, so that's how casual readers who know him would think of his work. But in actuality, Ketchum's fiction goes deeper than that.

This is the second novel of his that goes beyond the typical slasher story, making it more about the characters and their complexities than about the killings. It was pretty easy to determine from the start of the book who was going to survive the ordeal in the woods, namely because of the way Ketchum established his different characters, but that's okay. The story was really about Kelsey, Caroline, and Michelle and the unusual relationship they shared.

In addition, Ketchum takes the time to develop Lee, his antagonist, just as well. Ketchum doesn't take the easy way out, making him some random psycho; he gives him a fully-developed background, developing his character as much as he does his protagonists, going so far as to make him a sympathetic character. He takes the time to develop Lee as a battle-scarred veteran, one whose emotional stability is hostage to his memories of Vietnam. He's removed himself from society because he recognizes that he's a danger to others, and when this group enters his territory, it triggers those memories. Ketchum doesn't paint Lee to be a character who can be forgiven for his actions, but we can at least empathize with the events that led him there. It also makes for an unexpected ending that seems to break the rules of storytelling. Instead, it forces the reader to re-examine who the antagonist and protagonist of the story are, and realize that Cover follows those rules better than they realized.

Ketchum makes an effort to create a good reason for the group of campers to encounter the antagonist, but it felt a little forced, a little clumsy. I'm sure groups of famous people go camping, but there was something about how the trip was squeezed in among all of their busy schedules that made it feel out of place to me. The story isn't about how they got together, but what happened once they were, so it's a minor quibble, but it did stand out to me.

Cover has a lot of violence, but it doesn't strike me as gratuitous or splatterpunk-ish. It does have a good story of survival, and I'd recommend it to readers who like horror, thrillers, or survival stories. I would hesitantly recommend it to people who like character-driven stories; it definitely shines in its characterization, but it's probably more extreme than the usual character-driven fare.

Time and Chance

Time and Chance - Alan Brennert The first thing I ever read by Alan Brennert was "The Third Sex", from The Best of Pulphouse. It was about just that, a person who was neither male nor female. It was a story about love, identity, and relationships, and it lingered with me long after I finished the story. I had actually been exposed to Brennert before then through Weird Romance, which featured another of his stories, but this was the first fiction of his I read, and from that moment forward, I knew he was a writer to read.

Fast forward a few years, when I chance upon a historical novel he wrote about a leper colony on Hawaii called Moloka'i. I took a chance on it, since I knew Brennert could evoke complex emotion in a short story, even though it didn't sound like my kind of story. It's still one of only two books that made me cry (the other being The Book Thief), and if I hadn't already made a mental note to read everything this author writes, Moloka'i would have done it.

Time and Chance is an earlier novel of Brennert's, though it still has that emotional resonance I've associated with his previous works. It's about a man named Richard Cochrane who, thirteen years ago, made a decision to give up the woman he loved in order to go to New York to become an actor. It's also about a man named Richard Cochrane who, thirteen years ago, made a decision to give up on his dreams to become an actor in order to stay with the woman he loved to raise a family. Neither Richard is entirely happy with his decision and the life he's led since then, but time and chance have somehow conspired to allow them to swap places. The story is how they adapt to their new, alternate lives.

What I really liked about this novel is how Brennert took one character and made two characters out of him. Each have the same backstory, the same histories. Their divergence allowed him to examine their lives in different ways, and see how it affected them in their later years. He doesn't make it easy for either Richard to step into the other's life, which is as it should be. Thirteen years after making a difficult decision affects one's personality. The bitter, angry man who resents having given up a chance to become an actor isn't the same person as the melancholy, morose man who regrets having given up a chance at a family. Each character has a challenge stepping into the other's shoes, but Brennert does make it easier for one than the other.

Brennert's talent is in his people, and their relationships. I've noticed also that in many of his stories -- "The Third Sex", Her Pilgrim Soul (as much as I know about it from Weird Romance, at least), and Time and Chance, at least -- he features a troubled relationship, and the ways that those relationships can mend. They're very hopeful affairs, which is a nice antidote to the other kinds of fiction I often read.

Alan Brennert is a treat, and a gem. I haven't read anything of his that I wouldn't recommend without hesitation.

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek - Jack Ketchum There's a huge difference between Off Season and Hide and Seek. The former is a brutal, shocking, irredeemable affair; Hide and Seek is more a Southern Gothic story (despite being set in Maine), complete with the losers and the troublemakers, the grotesque and the damaged, the self-destruction, and the poignant observations on life and age. It's remarkable to see how Ketchum could tell two such divergent stories, especially when you consider how these were his first two published books.

The story is told as one character, Dan, reminiscing on a woman, Casey, he knew when he was in his early twenties. It's clear from the beginning that he has regrets over the relationship he had with her, and it gives him an opportunity to reflect on who he was then, who he is now, and take an honest look at himself at that time. There's nothing about the way he tells the story that makes him out to be an unreliable narrator; the honesty with which he tells the story tells us otherwise.

The story is about that relationship, and since the book is about people, its success hinges on how well Ketchum creates the characters. I found that to be what Off Season lacked the most, but in Hide and Seek, Ketchum gives Dan and Casey complexities to make them understandable, and interesting. The first half of the book tells us about them, and establishes what makes them tick, and the second half of the book is seeing the culmination of that relationship in a game of hide and seek gone awry. And Ketchum does an outstanding job of capturing how creepy that game is. It was one of those stories where if someone had tapped me on the shoulder as I was reading, I would have leapt out of my skin.

Ketchum also has a lean style, somewhat reminiscent of Joe Lansdale, and it keeps the story humming along. It's also descriptive, without a lot of telling. He describes behavior that reveals what a character is thinking, instead of just telling us what they think. Given that the story is written in the first person, it's a clever way for Ketchum to get into the other characters' heads without breaking the confines of his narrative.

I've read other reviews that note their disappointment in the novel, partly because of the "reckless, dangerous games" mentioned in the description of the book, and I guess I understand that. It's true that the games in the novel aren't nearly as bad as the description suggests, but I went into this novel only knowing that it was the next book in Ketchum's bibliography. After the disappointment of Off Season, I wasn't expecting much, and the story impressed me. Ketchum attempts to give the story a sense of horror, but to me it felt tacked on; I felt like the real story here was the one about Dan and Casey, and how it affected Dan.

As much as I disliked Off Season, I enjoyed Hide and Seek. And as much as people praise The Girl Next Door, I can't wait until I see how Ketchum tells that story.

Mirror Image (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #2)

Mirror Image (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #2) - Tom Clancy, Steve Pieczenik, Jeff Rovin So, the guy who writes The Walking Dead is writing a new series. This could be good news! I mean, I've enjoyed the series, even through its lulls, because Kirkman has proven that he has good ideas to support a lengthy drama like that. He looks at the zombie apocalypse and keeps thinking about what would happen in that situation, keeping the story fresh without repeating himself too often. With that kind of proven ability, it's easy to have high expectations for a new series, but at the same time, it's hard not to compare the two series.

Outcast, though, is a bit of a miss for me. I'm never content to read just the first story arc of a series, since most of that winds up being exposition for the rest of the series, so I made sure to read the first two collections. Even then, though, I still feel like the story has barely gotten started. The Walking Dead's first issue served as exposition before the rest of the action got underway, but Outcast has gone through twelve issues, and none of the questions have been answered. We realize early on that the main character, Kyle, has been subjected to demon possession for much of his life, and that the demons call him Outcast, but as for what that actually means? Well, that appears to be the whole point of the series. I guess. Because that's about all it has going for itself right now.

To Kirkman's credit, there's a bit of mystery behind what's behind the possessions. At first glance, it seems that they're demon possessions (the presence of a priest performing exorcisms pretty strongly cements that idea), but Kyle, despite having experience with those possessed, isn't convinced that it's all about God and the devil. That aspect of the story intrigues me, but it frustrates me that I'm this far into the series and still trying to figure out where the story is going. I feel like I'm going to have to go three collections into it before I make a decision on whether to keep following it.

I had a hard time getting into the story, partly because of the art style. Azaceta, the artist, has a more impressionistic style than Adlard, the artist for The Walking Dead, and I couldn't tell many of the main characters apart. It didn't help that the first issue went back and forth in time for the first few pages, showing two different children who were (apparently) different. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, but I had to re-read those first few pages a few times before I got a sense of what was actually happening, and to whom.

So, I'm cautious about Outcast. It could be going in a good direction, but it's difficult to tell at this point, and what has happened in the story so far just hasn't been all that interesting. If Kirkman picks the pace up a bit and starts to put something more definite in the next arc, I can see myself sticking with it, but if I had to judge it just based on these first to collections, I'd drop it. It's definitely no The Walking Dead.

Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him

Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him - Elizabeth Breitweiser, Paul Azaceta, Robert Kirkman So, the guy who writes The Walking Dead is writing a new series. This could be good news! I mean, I've enjoyed the series, even through its lulls, because Kirkman has proven that he has good ideas to support a lengthy drama like that. He looks at the zombie apocalypse and keeps thinking about what would happen in that situation, keeping the story fresh without repeating himself too often. With that kind of proven ability, it's easy to have high expectations for a new series, but at the same time, it's hard not to compare the two series.

Outcast, though, is a bit of a miss for me. I'm never content to read just the first story arc of a series, since most of that winds up being exposition for the rest of the series, so I made sure to read the first two collections. Even then, though, I still feel like the story has barely gotten started. The Walking Dead's first issue served as exposition before the rest of the action got underway, but Outcast has gone through twelve issues, and none of the questions have been answered. We realize early on that the main character, Kyle, has been subjected to demon possession for much of his life, and that the demons call him Outcast, but as for what that actually means? Well, that appears to be the whole point of the series. I guess. Because that's about all it has going for itself right now.

Outcast A Vast and Unending RuinTo Kirkman's credit, there's a bit of mystery behind what's behind the possessions. At first glance, it seems that they're demon possessions (the presence of a priest performing exorcisms pretty strongly cements that idea), but Kyle, despite having experience with those possessed, isn't convinced that it's all about God and the devil. That aspect of the story intrigues me, but it frustrates me that I'm this far into the series and still trying to figure out where the story is going. I feel like I'm going to have to go three collections into it before I make a decision on whether to keep following it.

I had a hard time getting into the story, partly because of the art style. Azaceta, the artist, has a more impressionistic style than Adlard, the artist for The Walking Dead, and I couldn't tell many of the main characters apart. It didn't help that the first issue went back and forth in time for the first few pages, showing two different children who were (apparently) different. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, but I had to re-read those first few pages a few times before I got a sense of what was actually happening, and to whom.

So, I'm cautious about Outcast. It could be going in a good direction, but it's difficult to tell at this point, and what has happened in the story so far just hasn't been all that interesting. If Kirkman picks the pace up a bit and starts to put something more definite in the next arc, I can see myself sticking with it, but if I had to judge it just based on these first to collections, I'd drop it. It's definitely no The Walking Dead.

Off Season

Off Season - Jack Ketchum I read some of Ketchum's fiction back in the '90s, and what I remember is that his stories were brutal, and psychological. He didn't tend to write much supernatural horror, instead focusing on things that could actually happen. They were also fairly graphic, which seemed at the time to be pretty cutting edge. Even then, though, I preferred the kinds of stories that affected you emotionally, instead of just being all about how much blood and guts an author could put into a story. It seemed like his fiction was effective, and somewhat memorable, and I figured I would include him on my list of authors to revisit.

I never read Off Season back then. It wasn't for lack of interest (I think I even owned it at the time), but I never got around to it. The story is the first in a series of books Ketchum wrote about a family of cannibals that live in the backwoods of Maine. There's really nothing more you need to know about the story other than that. The idea of cannibals is the entire premise behind the horror.

I'm starting to think that the problem with horror -- or at least with horror from the 1980s -- is its misogyny. I wrote about this at length in my review of The Ignored by Bentley Little, but after reading Off Season, I think it extends further than just that one author. Women in danger, especially women who are free-thinkers who enjoy themselves for who they are, seem to make up the heart of horror from that era. Some authors rise above this -- I've never seen Stephen King's fiction as misogynistic -- but when I look at the authors from that time who wrote paperback originals, I can't help but see that as a large component of the fiction.

In Off Season, both men and women are killed, but the men are just killed outright; the women are tortured, physically and emotionally, and in one case, that torture is prolonged just so the male character doing the torture can enjoy it. I'm not sure if the story is intending to show that this kind of misogyny is horrible, or if there's something deeper behind it. It doesn't seem to have much point beyond being shocking, and in that way, it reminds me of the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It wasn't even all that frightening to me.

I read the e-book version of Off Season, which was a frustrating experience. There were several OCR errors (Carla was Carta more often than not), run-on sentences, missing quotation marks, and the like. I understand that publishers want to save money, but having someone read through the text after running it through the OCR program goes a long way toward making the experience better for the reader.

Given that this was Ketchum's first novel, I intend to keep going (if nothing else, I need to read The Girl Next Door, which frequently pops up on lots of best-of lists), but I couldn't find anything redeeming in this book. Ketchum's lengthy afterword shares some of the history of the book, but it didn't make much difference in how I felt about it. Readers of splatterpunk might like it, but I can't think of a reason to recommend it to anyone else.

Alice

Alice - Christina Henry Alice in Wonderland retold with Alice as a patient in an asylum. It's an intriguing premise, and reminiscent of American McGee's Alice (one of the best platformer action games ever made, I should add), but completely different. In fact, a better comparison would be Alan Moore's retelling of Alice's story in Lost Girls, since the story is more about taking the elements of Alice in Wonderland and using them as elements in a Victorian-era urban fantasy story. It's tempting to write about how Henry creates those elements, but part of what makes the book work so well is discovering them for yourself.

Alice was the second-place winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for horror this year (losing out to Dean Koontz, which in my mind makes it the first-place winner), which is interesting, since I don't view the book as horror. It has some horrible moments, but the story is really more of an urban fantasy, using the story of Alice as a lattice from which to hang the story. As a horror novel, though, it still hearkens back to the same problem I'm beginning to see in horror in general -- its misogyny.

Alice was written by a woman, and has a female protagonist, so it's hard to say that the book comes across as misogynistic, but the protagonist has a male companion who helps her through some of the worst parts of the story, and the horrible things that take place in this novel are those that are done to women by men. Those women are just objects to be used to those men, and though Alice works to free those women, it still boils down to the horror being about women in peril. To Henry's credit, the book is of a much higher class than standard horror (and is nothing compared to how Bentley Little uses his female characters), but it's something I'm becoming more aware of as I read more and more horror that was a part of (or influenced by) the 1980s horror boom.

The book is dark, grim, and dismal, which is just perfect when it comes to telling a fairy tale. There are touches of hope and promise in the story, but a lot of what happens is heartless and cruel. Our main characters are above that, but their telling of their experiences seeing those cruelties makes them even more so, since they're seeing them through empathetic eyes. As the saying goes, one can't appreciate the light without experiencing the dark, and Henry takes that adage to heart with this story. It wound up being darker than I expected.

All that could lead you to believe that I didn't like this book, but you'd be wrong. The story works extremely well, and Henry's use of the original Alice story is both clever and brilliant. Her style is very simplified and streamlined, though it doesn't take away any of the effect of her words. The main characters were well-realized and convincing, and even if she didn't develop some of the antagonists to make them complex, their defining traits were memorable and enough to make the reader root against them.

The chapter breaks in this book are interesting. They're not bad, but they're unconventional; instead of Henry breaking the story at a stopping point, she concludes one chapter just as a major scene begins, and then picks it up in the next moment at the start of the next chapter. The lulls in the story tend to take place in the middle of her chapter, and it created an interesting sort of pace for the story, especially when you consider I'm the type of reader who likes to stop reading at the end of a chapter. Here, doing so meant I had to stop reading in the middle of the action.

Fans of urban fantasy and horror should find a lot to enjoy about this book. Fans of retellings of fairy tales will, too, though it takes a different approach than just swapping out the heroes and the villains of the original story. Just be forewarned that it's not a breezy trip from beginning to end; some of the imagery from this novel will linger long after you've finished it.

One Second After

One Second After - William R. Forstchen I usually like books like One Second After, where the book is all premise, and the story follows all the steps that follow from that premise. Seveneves was one -- what would happen if the moon blew up? -- and The Martian was another, and One Second After asks what would happen if an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) detonated over the US and wiped out all of our electronics. Forstchen's book doesn't start off as directly as Seveneves did -- he spends most of the first chapter building up the main character and his family, as well as going into excessive detail about Black Mountain, NC (which, having been there, I can confirm is correct, but Lordy, who needs to know exactly where the used bookstore is in a novel?) before having the event happen -- but once it does, the book follows the devolution of society as all of the luxuries and necessities are wiped out in an instant.

The premise of this book is great, but Forstchen really drops the ball when it comes to the execution of the story. It's still thoughtful in how he takes the time to show how it would affect so many aspects of our lives, but none of it is particularly original. Just about every post-apocalyptic novel or movie has addressed these same points; the only difference is in what causes the apocalypse. One point I'll give to the author is how he creates the isolation of the survivors, since most methods of communication are knocked out due to the EMP. It's impossible for the character to get confirmation of what happened without traveling to some place to talk to someone who knows.

In addition, the fall of society happened a lot faster than was believable, at least to me. Within five days of the detonation of the EMP, our main character straight-up executes a couple of thieves who stole drugs from a nursing home. I get that things would happen quickly, but it seems like a huge step in five days' time to go from "We're Americans, and we can get through this", to "You're guilty, and now I'm the judge, jury, and executioner". Even The Walking Dead handles that transition with more subtlety.

Newt Gingrich wrote the foreword to this novel, but even without that, the novel is a conservative's wet dream. Aside from the main character and all the other notable characters being trigger-happy ex-military, or the multiple passages on God, patriotism, and America, there's one passage where a character says about global warming, "sure, spend hundreds of billions on what might have been a threat, though a lot say it wasn't." I mean, sure, if you want to count all of the uninformed conspiracy theorists, I suppose there are "a lot" of them, but 97% of scientists ("a lot") disagree. As if that weren't enough, the main character finds abortion "anathema to him" (not that this is a plot point at all; it's just something the author threw in to get his point across), the residents go on and on about American values and build up a militia in no time flat, the story glorifies war and its victims, all the main characters call on God to help them, and to top it off, the super bad guy who they fight near the end of the novel is a Satanist. He's not an opportunist or someone on a power trip; he's in league with Satan. And the main character (our Catholic, ex-military, strong-jawed example of perfection) for real tells some people in that group they will have the mark of Cain on them for the rest of their lives.

This book is peppered with grammatical errors that kept grating on me (including one character telling another "You need to lay down"). There were run-on sentences that didn't appear to be there for stylistic purposes, adjectives used when adverbs should have been, and there were so many "must of" and "might of" and "could of"s in this book that I almost quit reading the book because of them. Outside of Facebook or Twitter, those phrases should never be used. Ever. Not even in dialogue, because they aren't even dialectical; they're just someone mishearing what someone else said. I started tracking how many times Forstchen used a variation of that phrase, but after twenty or so, I gave up. Why an editor didn't fix that is beyond me, because it's just embarrassing for everyone involved.

What else? Forstchen does more telling than showing. He doesn't show us anything outside of the small town of Black Mountain, even though all the big stuff is happening outside of it. We just hear about it from other people after the fact, or worse, through speculation. Most of the action takes place outside of the story, so much of the book is just a group of people talking about what happened, instead of Forstchen taking us through it directly. He repeats the same few sentences of detail about what an EMP would do to all of our electronics, long after we already got the point. Women are damsels in distress, inept, or just there to be ogled by the men. The main character is supposed to be likable, but he wheedles people into giving him the lion's share of supplies when they start to go scarce. Forty people in town need insulin, and you just have forty vials? Why, give me five, because my daughter needs them and my wife is dead! And no one ever calls him on it. Sure, he feels shame about it later, but not enough to return most of it.

I also had a big problem with how the residents of Black Mountain dealt with those of Asheville. Asheville was made out to be the enemy, refusing to help the smaller town as the situation grew more and more desperate. The main characters grew frustrated with the members of the larger town, namely because they refused to send food, people, supplies, etc. But none of the folks in Black Mountain offered any of those things to Asheville, either; in fact, they went so far as to threaten to turn off the water supply to the city if they weren't allowed to maintain their own town without interference. I don't understand how the reader is supposed to sympathize with a group of militants who treat outsiders the same way their enemy does.

This is the second book I read based on a recommendation from my stepfather-in-law because he knew the authors. I was apprehensive about starting Could You But Find It because it was self-published, but not One Second After because it was published by Tor. I suppose you can guess from this review which one turned out to be the better book. Sure, the book reads quickly, but there are so many other, better post-apocalyptic books that do a better job describing the end of society, there's no point in wasting time reading this one. The only reason I finished reading it was because I had already made it halfway through before realizing how awful it was, and didn't want to lose what time I had already put into it.

Could You But Find It

Could You But Find It - Robert Cilley This book came recommended to me through my stepfather-in-law, which he read because it was written by a friend of his. I was slightly apprehensive about it, since I have a bias against self-published novels (I've read some good ones, but I still feel like a published work has been vetted, verified somehow), but he loaned me the e-book and I decided to give it a try.

I'd give a summary of the book, but I'd be giving away a lot of it if I did, partly because the plot didn't really get going until past the halfway point of the book. Cilley spent a lot of time building up the character of Bart, and his great-uncle Wade, and while it was some interesting stuff, it felt like it went too far back in the chronology for a proper start. I've read that a good exercise for creating a character is to write a lengthy back-story of their life that doesn't appear in your book so you have a good understanding of your character before starting your story; it felt like Cilley did the same thing, but chose to include all that in the actual story. Regardless, the story has some fantastic elements to it (extraordinary, that is, not unicorns-and-dragons), but it was more a thriller than anything else.

The book felt a little disjointed because Cilley seemed to have a hard time deciding whether he wanted it to be fantasy or a thriller. There's a supernatural element that appears to be the heart of the story, but not a lot of time is spent on it. Instead, Cilley spends a lot of time on the factions who are interested in the supernatural element. It winds up being a maguffin for the action in the book, which is OK, but for whatever reason, the two elements didn't mesh that well. And the less said about the explanation behind the supernatural element, the better. It winds up being silly and stupid.

Some of the dialogue felt stilted and unnatural. Cilley had a habit of jumping from one character's perspective to another mid-chapter, and sometimes even in mid-paragraph. It was a little disorienting to have a section of the story begin with one character and then jump to someone else for the rest of that section. It felt amateurish, and for a self-published first effort, that's exactly what the book is.

The thing is, despite all that, the book is surprisingly readable. It had a sense of humor that didn't overpower the story, the action sequences were appropriate and easy to follow, and though Cilley didn't capture the romance of the story as well as he could have, he did capture the friendship of the main characters very well. He had some poignant moments in his narrative, and he had some sections that were quotable. I'll admit that I went into the story not expecting much because of my bias, but I was pleased to find something that's better than some professionally published books I've read.

Could You But Find It isn't a perfect book, and probably could have used a good editor to winnow it down to its core points, but it's engaging and interesting, which is enough to keep me reading. Like The Martian, I found the book to be somewhat poorly written, though it told a good story, but I'll take that over well-written with a poor story any day. If Cilley were to write another book, I'd give it a read based on how much I enjoyed this one.

The House

The House - Bentley Little I read this book while I was on vacation this past week. I'm surprised that I wasn't able to get more reading done, since I had nothing pressing to do during this week, but the story was slow-going and not very engaging. Usually, when I go on vacation, I can knock out at least a book a day, but not this time. Shoot, I got less reading done this week than I do when I'm working full-time hours.

The House is about five people who each grew up in a house where strange things happened, and where members of their family died. Each of these people also had a caretaker with a daughter who tried to seduce them when they were younger, both sexually and through violence. Now grown up, those five people have to return to the house where they grew up to deal with the evil of the daughter and learn the secret of the places where they lived.

I had a hard time getting any sense of where this story was going. It opened with a prologue that featured four different people, none of whom featured in the main story. Once the main story did get underway, Little introduced five more characters, and then jumped between each of them as the narrative took shape. It became clear that they were tied together by a house and its otherworldly inhabitants, but by the time they all finally connected, half of the book was over. Each of the five main characters experience the same sorts of things once they return to their homes, and Little jumps from one character to another, telling the whole story through different characters. It didn't feel very organic, and I couldn't help but feel like he could have structured the story differently and had it work better.

I'm going to take a break from Bentley Little after this book. He has his moments in each book, but the stories feel very thin and inconsequential when I reach the end. I'll still recommend The Mailman to anyone looking for a good, solid horror novel, but the rest of his stuff just feels disjointed, especially The House. I'm not sure I would rank this book as low as I did The Ignored, but I wouldn't rank it much higher, either. It was just all together disappointing.

The Color of Magic: A Novel of Discworld

The Color of Magic: A Novel of Discworld - Terry Pratchett Back when I was in high school, before I discovered Stephen King, I read a lot of humorous fantasy. Piers Anthony was an author I read frequently, and after I joined the Science Fiction Book Club, I discovered Skeeve and Aahz in Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures series. So when I stumbled across this book in the SFBC catalog about a witless wizard and his travelling luggage, I figured it sounded like my thing and ordered a copy.

To this day, I don't remember anything about reading The Colour of Magic, but I remember not liking it much at all. Having re-read it, I'm surprised I didn't remember more of it, especially the bit about the luggage. It seems like that would have stuck in my mind a bit more. Regardless, I had kind of committed myself to reading the entire Discworld series as I found the time for it, and where better to start than at the first volume?

In truth, the book still didn't really wow me, but I can't say I'm surprised. Even die-hard Pratchett fans admit that the author didn't really catch his groove until about the third book. This one isn't so much a novel as it is a collection of four novellas featuring the same characters. The stories each had a lot of neat ideas and a lot of potential, but it seemed like Pratchett was more interested in showing off Discworld through the eyes of a tourist than telling a cohesive story. There wasn't as much humor in the book as I was expecting based on the other books I've read in the series (there was only one footnote!), but parts of it did make me chuckle.

The book is a bit of an inauspicious start to an otherwise popular series, and given how much I liked the Moist von Lipwig books (mostly) and Monstrous Regiment, I'm certainly not giving up on the rest of the series. Having made my way through it, though, I look forward to getting to the heart of the series and discovering some of Pratchett's more beloved characters.