UT | Member Since 2009
Cronin's continuation of The Passage finally pulls us readers left gripping the edge of the cliff, up over the rim and into -- Year Zero: Twelve death row inmates, infected with a man-made virus [known as project Noah] which transformed them into malevolent vampire-like creatures with psychic powers, and an unquenchable thirst for blood, escape and sweep across the land, creating a new apocalyptic world of devastation and terror. Then, with a jump ahead 97 years (5 yrs. after the blow-out ending of The Passage) to finish what was started with Lacey's sacrifice in the first book -- hunting down and exterminating the Twelve (minus bombed-out Babcock - ?!). Yes, Cronin still jumps around in time and requires some rigorous tracking by the reader, but The Twelve stays largely in 97 a.v. and focuses on the hunt for the Twelve, and the new viral run settlement, The (horrific) Homeland -- all in all providing 26 hrs. of transportive, and eerily believable, entertainment.
Cronin's strength in The Passage was creating absolute terror in the struggle to survive, and the nail-biting moments of life or *death/life*; The Twelve continues with the well-thought out story, focusing more on the development and complexities of the characters as they deal with the forces that shape their personalities -- the trauma, and the unrelenting despair of fighting to keep their world from completely ending, and thus an unimaginably darker world from truly beginning. Even fellow humans can't be trusted, and Cronin leads us to look inside ourselves--what are we capable of doing to survive, what is our personal belief system, our level of tolerance before cracking? Cronin capably uses his prolific prose to meld this thriller with psychological drama.
Some major problems with The Twelve, once you've learned the art of break-neck time traveling within this millennium: keeping track of the dozens of characters and their connecting arc with all the plots going on. An index of characters, as well as a data-base, would be a small book itself -- and helpful. Can you remember that Lila, the new *Queen,* is the ex-wife of Wolgast? How about defining: the Twelve, Zero, Dracs, virals, spinners, jumps, smokes, dopeys, red-eyes...*I am Fanning-Morrison-Chavez-Baffles-Turrell-Winston-Sosa-Echolos-Lambright-Martinex-Reinhardt-Carter* -- it can get confusing. There are also several instances where things are just a little tooo convenient, or the facts don't substantiate the events (curtains that have held up perfectly over 100 yrs.?). And at 26 hours, 550 pages...there were times my interest either flagged or was just overwhelmed. Usually these issues would knock off a star for me, but in the shadow of such an epic they boil down to minor issues.
Cronin's world is similar to King's world of The Stand (very similar), del Toro & Hogan's The Strain (the suffocating creepy atmosphere), and McCammon's Swan Song (especially with the ever-budding religious allegory..the Twelve, the biblical verse as a prologue, the bright heaven-like vision, Guilder's pope-ish appearance)...and the length of each one of these tomes...but still is original and enjoyable--in a terrifying way. It will be a long wait for the concluding The City of Mirrors release in 2014, and it will be interesting to see what Ridley Scott does with the movie rights, but with Cronin's vivid literary creation, it might seem like a re-run. It's hard to do this genre right -- but Cronin nailed it. I struggled with the few issues I stated above, but overall was so engaged that I have to highly recommend.
I started at the beginning with Relic, moved onto Reliquary, became a fan of Pendergast, continued, even outside the series with Riptide, Thunderhead, and Ice Limit because I enjoy a clever, original thriller. Like most fans, a P&C release guaranteed an entertaining read to me, and I believe fans will again be entertained with The Lost Island.
Increasingly, I've found myself less intrigued by the prolific duo's stories, relying more and more on my devotion to the pair than the satisfaction I have been getting from their novels. White Fire, I didn't even review -- it tested my endurance and left me a little sickened. The sensationalism trumped the writing. The Lost Island not only tested my endurance, it asked me to venture way outside the limits of my reasoning until I felt like I was being dragged through nonsense for the sake of entertainment. I finished this, but without a sense of satisfaction. There isn't much depth (other than the deep blue sea), the story seems flat, contrived, and I hate to say it, but, silly. In fairness, I haven't read other books in the Gideon series...but I don't feel compelled to do so after reading this one.
It's Burke therefore it's great. He is one of those authors that has to be placed in a different league, one a few steps higher, like a handicap in golf -- he's just that professional and good with his craft. I've read almost everything he's written; even his books I didn't initially like I have looked back over. I appreciate them more the longer I read, and the more I read. I've not liked some stories, not cared about the subject matter, but I've never been disappointed with the quality of writing or the power of the story. Burke is a phenomenon; a class act, taking on stories of oppression, corruption, and integrity, with larger-than-life characters that seem charged with the iconic traits we all associate with heroes and scoundrels. In many ways, I enjoy him as much as I enjoy McCarthy (though I don't know if you can use *McCarthy* and *enjoy* in the same sentence). His style is identifiable within the first paragraph of any of his books, and always makes me feel like sitting down, once again, with an old very good friend.
Wayfaring Stranger seemed a bit of a departure from Burke's usual crime fiction format. Weldon Holland (who can trace his geneology back to the Hackberry Holland familiar to hard core Burke fans) is a more solitary introspect character than Robicheaux or Holland cousins Billy Bob and Hackberry. Weldon's early memories of a chance encounter with infamous crime partners Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow impacts his life and stays with him through his adulthood, an encounter that reaches into his future to come full circle.
The book covers the fascinating period of time in America after WWII, including the politics and anti-Semitism following the war. It was a time when simple investors became powerful tycoons, when mobsters like Bugsy Siegel rubbed elbows with powerful movie studio moguls, and when Hollywood had the power to make starlets out of girls they discovered at soda fountains -- or break them. And Burke wraps it into a neat circular story.
The story is rich and layered with themes and history, and Burke's writing is as polished and lush as ever, yet, I missed the sparring I've come to love so much from Burke's characters. I miss the white hat morality taking on a barrage of smart-ass comments from the black hats; that back and forth volley between two polar characters that were equally matched. These characters were dynamic, but dark, without much, if any, humor. It's a fine book in every sense, but my personal tastes (regarding Burke's books) have been spoiled by the usual dark story highlighted with a sprinkle of wisdom and copious amounts of witty repartee in his previous novels...thus my 3* for what is probably a 4* book.
If you have ever listened to Gaiman being interviewed, to his podcasts, or been lucky enough to attend one of his performance readings you'll understand the Gaiman experience. The experience goes far beyond reading one of his books. His voice is almost a magical instrument that lifts the words off the pages. I'm not an expert or even a follower of Gaiman's, but I've read a few of his novels, even a couple of his graphic novels. It was after listening to him read just a few paragraphs of The Truth Is a Cave on the radio that I went looking for the rest of the fable -- specifically, him reading the novelette himself. I wasn't looking for the end of the story, as captivating as it was, but rather being under Gaiman's spell during the journey.
He is a performance artist. His voice is like a ripple in time that harkens back to nights tucked safely under a cozy blanket, listening to a bedtime story...a huge, dark story more Grimm than Disney. I wasn't a child that closed my eyes and dreamed of princesses with golden hair or frogs that burst into handsome princes...I closed my eyes and shivered with delighted at the trolls, goblins, and witches that lived in gingerbread houses.
A trait I realized I passed onto my own grandchildren: one night I told my 3 little ones a story, embellishing as much as I could to compete with Spongebob Squarepants. With attention to their tender ages, and the fact that they each were expected to sleep in their own beds once the lights went out, I was careful to balance the scary tale with some sparkle. It was completely silent when I finished, and I waited to assess their emotional state...then the oldest child whispered, "tell us more about the bad wolves." They still ask me to tell them that story; they've heard it dozens of times, yet still want the experience. Gaiman reminds me that I still need an occasional *tuck in* experience, to feel swept away into far away lands where shivers can be delightful.
It's a short story I think best left to the interpretation of the listener. An award winning tale I found charming, brilliant in its sparseness and illusion, but I wouldn't say it is a work of staggering genius unless you can hear it told by the author. As noted by another reviewer, the music is part of the presentation. I enjoyed it because I expected it, but can understand that it might be distracting if you just want straight story: try out the sample. Trying to recreate Gaiman's lauded public performance of this piece didn't work entirely, so I recommend switching to the kindle version to see the collaboration with artist Eddie Campbell. His paintings, whatever you may think of his style, do add an additional dimension. At the price of a ticket to a performance, the book is worth paying for, keeping your credit for those $40 behemoth novels . *Also: You can find this complete novelette on line -- free to read. Audible won't appreciate that announcement, but you won't get Gaiman whisking you away -- and that is priceless.
Excuse the clichés, but it is what it is, and this is an easy, quick, mildly entertaining read, that is (IMO) harmlessly overrated. The starred reviews, and "best-of" tag lines had me going into this read anxiously waiting for the 5* fabulousness and humorous story.
Expect instead, a slow, but steady and engaging launch. Richard Haddon is a semi-successful British artist, living in Paris with his beautiful Parisian wife and daughter, in the home of their dreams. He narrates (in a voice perfectly dripping with ennui), complaining about life in general, the disillusionment of his marriage, his dissatisfaction with his career, and a sex life that had become dull. All justification for a 7 month affair with an American girl. With that foundation, Richard plummets into the depths of despair/mid-life crisis when his young lover announces she is leaving him. In an attempt to gain our sympathy for his painful state of affairs, he only becomes more detestable with every word. Maum creates layer upon layer of delicious debauchery and self-pity, with a keen eye on the realistic and uncensored thoughts of a character slowly coming to grips with his actions.
Maum skewers human behaviors with a charming British bluntness that adds an enjoyable jolt of reality (but not comedy). She turns the characters inside out and has them work their way right again. The candidly narrated journey of self discovery is what gives heart to this book...albeit a syrup-y, sentimental heart.
The clichés, predictability, pointless fillers, pretentious rote characters, by any formula, keep this from being a 5* book; the witty and smart writing, the personal evolution of the characters, and some smooth narration by Deveraux, make this an enjoyable middle grounder -- at least, in my book. Just in case: **Expect some hot sexy scenes as the narrator recalls episodes of his affair, and some explicit language peppered with F-bombs, but nothing gratuitous.
How many books have you lived in; walked the streets waving to old ladies on their front porches, smelled pound cakes cooling on window ledges, knew which houses to give a wide berth when passing by, and missed when you left? Like Twain's enduring fictional classic Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird is a story so well told, so perfect, that you stroll through it and dwell for a while, coming away from it different for having been there. For many of us we visited Harper Lee's Maycomb to get our HS diploma, and it seems a natural progression to go back. I wonder if we miss those characters, or the healing balm of hearing a precocious little girl's voice cry out, "Hey, Mr. Cunningham. I'm Jean Louise Finch...I go to school with Walter; he's your boy aint he?"
As she shows so many times in her one and only novel, Harper Lee is a born story teller. The back stories of the characters are immense, yet told with an economy of words that contain volumes. You experience this especially your second time through...Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, what have you suffered to become so mean; what has Mr. Dolphus Raymond learned about people that keeps him content to have townsfolk believe that's a bottle of whiskey, instead of a regular ol' Coca Cola, in that little brown sack; how has Link Deas kept his humanity; does every town spit out a Bob Ewell; and what is Miss Maudie's pound cake recipe? -- there's a not an insignificant character or event in this book. It is a treasure trove of stories and lessons. I'd love a couple hours of Calpurnia talking about the day old Tim Johnson, Judge Taylor's dog, came shuffling down the road, rabid and threatening, sending the neighborhood into their homes, barring their windows... But Lee left us with just this one brilliant book.
To Kill A Mockingbird was published July 11, 1960 and has never gone out of print. When contemplating whether to review this (what I think is THE perfect novel), I had to wonder "is there really anything that hasn't already been said?" In this case, *Sissy Spacek*; no matter how many times you have read this novel, or even listened, Spacek, with her sweet drawl, IS Scout, speaking back through the years, recounting her story. She is the perfect choice for a perfect novel.
Though it is cliché to say it, this beautiful novel feeds your spirit. The easy wisdom reminds us of the importance of having understanding and love for others, demonstrated without guile or pretense by the innocence of children. The moral integrity and gentle strength of Atticus brings tears to my eyes (and has inspired the line *What would Atticus do?*) just thinking that we as human beings have the capability of such grace. Quotes from this superb novel fill notebooks I keep, but it is always two words, repeated half a dozen time by Jem, when his father orders him to take Scout and flee the angry mob at the jail, that choke me up. They contain all that there is of love, courage, and strength...even a young boy's faith in mankind, "No, Sir." They get me every time.
*[Addressing the frequent use of the *N* word; quoted from Banned Books Awareness;
A worldwide literacy project to celebrate the freedom to read.: "The American Library Association reports that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most challenged classics of all time because of the racial slurs and discussion of rape and incest, and still ranks at number 21 of the 100 most frequently challenged books." "In 1968 the National Education Association placed the novel second on a list of titles receiving the most complaints from private organizations. The top spot belonged to Little Black Sambo."]
For me, one of the joys of a sequel, especially when it has been announced that there will be at least one other to follow, is the comfort I develop with the characters as they bloom. From their humble beginnings in Cuckoo's Calling, Cormoran Strike and his Watson-esque side-kick Robin Ellacot felt like people I wanted to spend more time with. Knowing Robert Galbraith's talent for character development (consistently captivating us through 7 volumes penned under Galbraith's nom de plume of J.K. Rowling), continuing on from Cuckoo was a given which paid off. The duo is back on the case looking for novelist Owen Quine who has gone missing since writing a scathing quasi-fictional manuscript that paints his associates in the publishing world in the darkest tones possible. When his body is found, elaborately murdered in a ritualistic play that mirrors Quine's manuscript, his colleagues are all suspect.
Here Galbraith shows her/his wonderfully inventive mind creating the eccentric characters and names as colorful as the residents that populated the Potter series. She also pokes some good-spirited fun at the publishing world that she reigned over in her rise to a billion dollar author. Even as *Galbraith* JK's talent is distinct, and a pleasure to read. It flows effortlessly, carrying the reader along through a world Rowling always seem to thoroughly inhabit in all of her writings and incarnations. This style is her strength. The plot of Silkworm is interesting and holds your attention, but it is theatrical more than plausible, with a bit of over achieving on the part of the murderer. Still, it makes for fun reading, as good as any in this genre.
I'd not heard of Smith Henderson. He has won both the Pushcart Prize and a PEN Emerging Writers Award in 2011; he also wrote the Emmy-nominated Super Bowl commercial “Halftime in America” which featured Clint Eastwood. The buzz in such circles that follow these kind of *accomplishments* has his name and the *Great American Novel* in the same orbit. Oblivious to Henderson prior to Audible's *Best of the Month* book list, I found myself, throughout this one, asking, "Can this truly be a debut novel?"
It is no coincidence that Henderson dips his toe into the book writing business with the aptly named Fourth of July Creek. His depiction of 1980's America is heartbreaking and beautiful -- the kind of story flowing with the flotsam and jetsam down-and-outters that would have inspired a Woody Guthrie song. Like watching the ripples radiate from a rock thrown into Henderson's creek, the story grows and encompasses different themes and struggles until it slams onto the landscape of 'this land made for you and me' of today.
The ghosts of Tom Joad inhabit the pages. Henderson's wretched refuse battle their own demons: poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, neglect, and mental illness, Hope driving them on as they struggle for different kinds of freedom. The people seem scraped from our underbelly. Even the DCFS case worker, Pete Snow, is a divorced alcoholic -- dispersing disposable diapers from the trunk of his car to homeless mothers, hiking into the mountains to aid the son of a Old Testament quoting survivalist. His own teen daughter has run away, disappearing into the seedy Seattle life of prostitution and drug addiction. He admits to his ex-wife, "I take kids away from people like us." (An insider's joke in psychology has always been: the odd treating the id.)
How is it that we go on reading when an author makes us ache to our bones? When we can see the projection of an inevitable disaster, the futility of any effort, the cruelty of hope? Because Henderson's language is like a healing balm. It is elegant and rings with bare truth. He glides effortlessly from despair and ugliness to the beautiful realism redolent of Woodrell's *hillbilly noir* novel Winter's Bone, and the zen-like beauty of Heller's Dog Stars. It is restorative, redemptive. How can this be a debut novel?
I'll admit 5 stars is generous. It takes a commitment to get going, and it is a gritty tough novel -- but it is worth it. Novels that still vibrate in you long after you finish them, or when you hear the title mentioned, are rare. This one is like a Steinbeck and McCarthy novel taped together, with a Guthrie and Springsteen soundtrack running through the pages.
**I will caution readers: the female characters here range from meth-head child abusers to full blown mental cases that murder their whole families, with nothing in between but prostitutes and hard-boiled backwoods ignoramuses. If you are looking for the positive female pillar of righteousness...wrong book.
Finally, I was curious about Guthrie's patriotic anthem "This Land Was Made For You and Me". Inspired to read the lyrics, I found the Dustbowl Balladeer's original verses -- which aren't contained in the song we learned back in elementary school:
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city,
In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry,
I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
After using every tactic in our arsenal to solve the problem of 6 piles of dog excrement that dotted our front lawn like landmines and greeted us each morning when we opened the front door, I purchased this book. When I say every tactic, I mean from calling the city, animal control, stuffing mailboxes with fliers quoting the city ordinances regarding responsible pet ownership, posting a sign in the middle of our yard (with attached plastic bags) imploring neighbors *PLEASE clean up after your dog!* (or horse?), and even doing night recon with our old lame bulldog, an airsoft gun and a spotlight. By the time I had to resort to a ludicrous, tacky, ridiculous, sign pleading with people to pick up their pet's poop from our manicured lawn, we had already had the F-bomb blitzkrieg behind closed doors, and were at the point of standing in our flower beds screaming like crazy people at any one that even walked by our house, including children on tricycles. Having to clean up after a pack of assorted sized dogs with assorted diets every effing morning, will do that to you -- even you gentle folk that think the F-bomb is the ultimate no-no spewed only from those with mouths like a sewer pipe. Did I get an answer? Yes and no; but I definitely laughed and lowered my blood pressure.
Alkon, who writes a syndicated advice column, actually offers some really good advice dealing with the tangles we get into living and working with those people that don't give a F*CK -- the ones that really need this book. The problems she tackles head-on include those not even on the horizon until the advent of electronics and social media, including how to re-act when you receive a text accompanied by a picture of an acquaintance's "zipperwurst". She is hilarious, clever, considerate, and grounded; but mostly she is blunt and fearless, empowering the reader to throw their shoulders back and take some power when dealing with any form of boorish, rude, impolite, inconsiderate, discourteous, insolent, people you still have to see every day. And sometimes she gives examples where the offender actually takes responsibility and ends up apologizing!
Like she says, you can be aggressive without being hostile. But it is a fine art facing an offender of civility if you don't have any desire to surround your property with an electrical razor wire fence, find a new job, or change churches after flipping the middle finger to a driver that cuts you off and realizing it was your Pastor. I don't want to stand out in my yard giving passer-by's the stink-eye, or hurling words my grandmother said, "only make you look unintelligent;" but neither do I want to keep a garbage can full of stinky dog poop in my garage until garbage day. I'm not holding my breath until I hear... "we're so sorry our Great Dane has been using your lawn as his toilet!" But, I do feel fortified with the might of right, the responsibility to live with civility and dignity, and the duty to enforce, with kindness, good manners. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Alkon tells you how to begin that quest...and does it with terrific style and humor.
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” Stephen King
The SK Phenomenon...I love to read the reviews of ardent fans that jump in there immediately for King, almost hear the excitement in their words -- so I always hold off and just enjoy the opinions a few days before I put in my 2 cents (?the cents key?!). You'll find a review here to fit your own feelings for Mr. Mercedes. With an author like King, doesn't it come down to we "like him dammit! we really like him!" Most people even enjoy the King books they didn't particularly like. He releases a book and there is a communal feeling amongst readers of all genres, almost holiday-like. Even my sister, the PhD librarian, gets excited and comes down from her snooty literary stratosphere to read (and enjoy) Stephen King.
Mr. Mercedes is a section of newly paved road on King's journey into the realm of crime thrillers. One that proves his belief that monsters are real, and goes on to tell how those seeds are planted and nurtured into monstrously tortured and demented souls. Brady Hartsfield is that monster in full bloom, manipulated by a mother that is akin to a demented bonsai artist, twisting and clipping a little boy until he grows into the dark expression of her own evilness, who reasons he has a license to kill.
King captures and animates our Americana culture into a horribly fun mise en scène: gated mansions, bustling neighborhoods packed with kids running after ice cream trucks; codger-esque neighbors that think aliens walk amongst us and bake nasty ingredients in cookies just for sh__s and giggles; rich eccentric ladies with perfectly observed mannerisms; and behind lowered blinds, a lonely divorcée and retired detective ("ret det"), Bill Hodges, mourning his days of purpose, with a pistol in one hand and pop tart in the other. You can picture it -- like a Norman Rockwell painting/nightmare from the rich imagery King lays down. But before you can imagine chirping birds and dogs barking (or at least one dog that narrowly escapes a dish of special Hamburger Helper), the ice cream turns to you-know-what. King pits the young killer against Det. Hodges and another young teen on-the-verge-of-manhood. The detective recruits his Harvard-bound lawn boy ("don't call him boy") to help track down L'enfant terrible Mercedes. It's younger generation against younger generation with a veteran at the wheel.
Some of the biggest squirm-inducing moments come not from the heinous acts themselves (from baby slaughter to incest), but from the ease with which King makes you a voyeur...that smiley face / "ew gross" look that this author extorts out of his readers; he makes us all mutineers to ourselves. Plot-shmot...this is just top tier fun.
"There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin' like a toad..."
A 3* novel that entertains like a 5*novel.
Bird Box captures Audrey Hepburn's helpless groping in Wait Until Dark, the gripping uncertainty of Algernon Blackwood's, The Willows, and the gruesome self-mutilation of M. Night Shyamalan's, The Happening; three stories with the shared conceit of the fear from what we can not see. Remember being blindfolded and led through a haunted house -- a bowl of peeled grapes becomes eyeballs, dried apricots are withered ears, and a tub of cold spaghetti in oil passes for guts? The limited senses, the power of suggestion, and Fear, itself at work.
Malerman uses the ancient fight-or-flight response as a tool as much as he does the language, creating a novel that might challenge those two instincts that are the embodiment of fear. With no visual accounts, other than a few before the you-don't-know-what hits the fans and a few seconds of blind folds off in the house, the book is lights-out experiential, dependent on the narrator, Malorie. She tell us what is happening without the What, Why, Where, or How details and processing -- kind of gut reaction narration .There is also little revealed about the characters Malorie lives with for 4 years, so we don't get much about the Who's either. But Malerman keeps the tension relentlessly taut and in the moment, necessitating the remaining senses that feed your *mind's eye* operate in hyper mode.
In 1938, Orson Welles gave one of the best demonstrations of this whole conceit when on the eve of Halloween he presented, via Mercury Theater on the Air, a radio drama, The War of the Worlds. The resulting mass hysteria sent hundreds of national guardsmen reporting for duty at local armories, and possibly as many as a million people fleeing into the night, believing that invaders from Mars had laid waste to New Jersey and were headed west. While this is a great pulse-raising gimmick for a short story, the sensory deprivation of this delivery become evident in the hours it takes for a novel to play out. We never know the origin of the entity, there are no witnesses, there is never a description of a malevolent creature; we can't even build an entity (it's a little like getting hit in the head in the dark). If an author is going to rely on me and my imagination to fill in the big blanks, he also has to work with me and my ruminations -- and mine were thinking increasingly outside Malerman's claustrophobic little box until it burst open. His story trickled down to -- it can't hurt you if you can't see it -- and that kind of squashed the drama. But, just in time, the story comes to an abrupt end, blindfolds off, pulse normalized, imaginations on cruise.
I have to give this a high recommendation. It's Twilight Zone, Outer Limits fun; if that's your genre, don't miss this. Whether you come away with praise or disappointment, you are almost certain to enjoy getting there. Bird Box is a "you just have to be there" kind of read, and it is especially effective listening to the story. (The narration is good, nothing stands out as annoying or noteworthy.) One of those that will keep you ear-bud bound from start to finish.
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