Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Everything's Eventual" review

Stephen King is great. Have I mentioned that yet, like in my last post? I haven't found a "miss" by him. I've read over a dozen of his novels, but they always satisfy. So I tried my hand the other day at his short stories. I bought an inexpensive copy of Everything's Eventual, one of his newer collections, with fourteen terrifying and wonderful gems from the mind that invents both nightmares and dreamscapes.

In "Autopsy Room Four", King's lighter side comes to the forefront, telling the story of a man who is not dead... although everyone thinks he is. "The Man in the Black Suit", the story that won King the O. Henry award, is timeless and amazing, an old man telling of his run-in with the devil as a young boy. "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away" is a story set inside a man's sad, depressed mind. "The Death of Jack Hamilton" is not a horror piece, but rather historical fiction, set in the last days of John Dillinger. "In the Deathroom" has more of a suspense vibe than horror, and the title says it all... sort of. "The Little Sisters of Eluria" is a prequel story to the Dark Tower series, almost a hundred pages long, and it doesn't fail to excite. "Everything's Eventual", the title story, is one that changes tone partway through, when the real, more terrifying story rears its head. Like the previous story, "L.T.'s Theory of Pets" changes tone as well, but without the horrifying implications... or does it? "The Road Virus Heads North" is classic King horror, a story of a painting with a mind of its own. "Lunch at the Gotham Cafe" is bizarre in every way, but in an endearing sense, at least to me, but I won't tell you anything about it... the cover says it all. Deja vu is explored in "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French". "1408", Stpehen King's take on the cliched "haunted hotel story", is a masterpiece of terror and one of the most frightening things I have ever read. "Riding the Bullet", the e-book sensation, tells of a college student's hitchhiking experience... with a dead man. And "Luckey Quarter" ends on a strange, but high note, leaving the reader to wonder what exactly is real and what isn't.

The book would be worth buying for "1408" alone. Or "Everything's Eventual". Or "The Man in the Black Suit". Or "The Little Sisters of Eluria". In other words, you'll want to buy it. It's proof that the art of the short story is far from being lost, and proof that Stephen King has some serious writing chops.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Kite Runner

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Running Man and The Long Walk

Stephen King is one of the greats of present-day literature. He's really, really good. So it seems odd that relatively few people remember his "Bachman Books"-- novels written under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. (For more info on Bachman, look here.) This is especially odd because these books are real gems. Today, we look at two more Bachman books: The Running Man and The Long Walk.

The Running Man: Each night all Americans, whether they live in the vast polluted slums or the fortress-like enclaves of the rich, tune in to the nation's favorite TV game show: The Running Man. Each night they see if the contestant has succeeded in evading death at the hands of the Hunters as he tries to survive for thirty days and win the one-billion-dollar jackpot. The record for survival is eight days. But now a new contestant, Ben Richards, has set out to beat the brutal odds, beat the rigged game, beat the entire savage system. He's betting his life that he can . . .

This one was supposedly written by King in about a week. And the frantic, unstoppable pace of this book goes to support that. There's just nowhere you can put it down. It's short, brutal, and leaves little time to breathe. All in all, classic King. Not horror, but very, very good.

My rating: 9.5/10

The Long Walk: The place: An ultra-conservative America of the not-too-distant future . The event: The country's #1 sports contest, a grueling 450-mile marathon walk, where a single misstep could be the last . The competitors: The cream of the nation's youth, 100 red-blooded American boys out to make it to the top no matter who they trample on to get there . The prize: A fortune in money, fame, and everything the heart desires for the one and only winner . But in a flawless society there are no losers--because the New American Government knows how to bury its failures . . .

This novel is a character study at heart. It shows what goes through the mind of people who try to befriend their competitors, knowing all the while only one of them will survive. This book, more than any other of the Bachman books I've read to date, gets inside the characters' heads, a trait King does better than just about any other writer out there. The characters' perspectives change about the Walk; about the enforcers along the Walk; and about the crowd, which sometimes becomes Crowd in the characters' heads, a horrible mindless beast that lusts for blood. It's a book that sticks with you long after you have finished it.

My rating: 10/10
P.S. I know I've already reviewed these, but in retrospect, the reviews didn't give the books justice, and the ratings I gave weren't as high as the books deserved. Sorry for the confusion, if there was any!

Coming Soon: Everything's Eventual

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Dreamhouse Kings: Timescape" review

Robert Liparulo has done it again. And again. And again. He has given us a serial novel to stand among the longest and greatest of its kind. I no longer will regard Dreamhouse Kings as a series for two reasons. One, the books are all being published within 6 months of each other. And two, the books don't even come close to standing alone. In fact, Liparulo actually has a note at the front of the book saying not to read Timescape unless you have read House of Dark Shadows, Watcher in the Woods, and Gatekeepers first. Preferably within a few months of reading Timescape. Otherwise, you won't have a clue of what's going on. In fact, my only quibble with book 4 of the Dreamhouse Kings series/serial is that there is no "story so far..." segment before Chapter 1.

But that's very minor. And that's the only downside to this book.

Wait, I wish it was longer, too.

When last we met David, Xander, Toria, Ed (their father), and Jesse (their great-great uncle) King, along with Keal (Jesse's caretaker), they were trapped inside a horrific dystopia of the new future. They realize it is what will happen if the villainous Taksidian wind the battle for the King house. But when they return from this future, they find other horrors in their own house-- namely, Taksidian, who severely injures (no, I'm not telling) one of the Kings before leaving. Their only hope is to turn the tables on Taksidian.

The Kings journey from the deck of the Titanic to a Viking raid to try to find their mom, and in the middle of it all, they must uncover the secrets behind the house. Gulp.

Timescape has what made all of the prior Dreamhouse Kings books so great, and it has it in spades. Because Robert Liparulo is working on the story across six books instead of one, he has time to explore the repercussions of the Kings' adventures across time. This is handled well, and it is a refreshing twist not often found in most series. The writing is also top notch, making the pages fly as if blown by a gust of wind. It's ironic that a book with "time" in the title can cause readers to lose track of it, but I wouldn't have it any other way. This only serves as an additional reminder to me why I need to get my hands on a copy of Comes a Horseman, Liparulo's debut.

I can't wait for Whirlwind, coming out in December 2009/January 2010. I hope it lives up to its title.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: The Running Man and The Long Walk (Bachman Books)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Bigger, Better Post Coming Soon)

I've finally got Timescape, and the review should be up shortly. There's been a problem with the distribution in my area (let's just say Thomas Nelson really dropped the ball on this one). But I'm 200 pages in, and it's great so far. There is, however, something that needs to be reviewed NOW.

I saw the most recent Harry Potter movie yesterday. I'm not going to say anything about the story, because if you don't know, then you should really read the books-- they're quite good. I'm not going to say anything about what was left from the book and what was omitted. That would be cheating. And, to be perfectly honest, you should find out yourself.

For this latest installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is a film you want to see. It's absolutely superb. The best yet. And, as a fan of the books, I'm going to say something that I haven't said about any of the other movies, but what every fan wants to hear so badly:

They got it right.

Now go watch it. It deserves every penny it gets.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Timescape (for real this time).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Into the Wild" review

Guess what? I don't only read fantasy! Isn't it amazing? So here we go. Expect there to be a couple more non-fantasy books reviewed before the summer ends.

In April 1992, a young man named Chris McCandless went without an identity, without proper maps, and without money, into the Alaskan Interior. He went there alone, and he went there after having traveled all across the country. He had been everywhere from Detrital Wash to Bullhead City to Carthage, and everyone he met would never forget him. He had assumed the identity of Alexander Supertramp and kept away from his parents for two years. But his true goal, his last great adventure, was saved for Alaska. And on the Stampede Trail, he lived it out.

Four months later, his body was found by a group of moose hunters.

Jon Krakauer tells a gripping narrative of Chris' exploits, giving perspectives from everyone he meets. Through Into the Wild Krakauer puts together the mystery of how Chris McCandless died, all the while injecting Chris' story with personal stories and insights. Into the Wild is a quick read, but not an insubstantial one, giving readers a glimpse into the mind of a stubborn, yet fiercely determined, young man who lived of the land for 112 days and almost lived to tell the tale.

All in all, a must-read.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Timescape (hopefully)

Monday, July 6, 2009

"The 13th Reality-- The Journal of Curious Letters" review

There were three things that convinced me to buy this book. First of all I've read the author, James Dashner's blog, and from it, I've been able to tell he's a pretty good writer. And I don't use the words "pretty good" lightly. Second, The 13th Reality-- The Journal of Curious Letters is published by Shadow Mountain, who does a fantastic job of picking good books to publish. They have also come out with the Leven Thumps series, which I adore. Third, on the back of the book, there is a glowing review from Brandon Sanderson. Now, with everything on his plate, I don't know how he has time to even read many books, much less review them. He's one of the busiest authors on the planet. And that was the last bit of convincing I needed.

I'm so very glad I was convinced.

Thirteen-year-old Atticus "Tick" Higginbottom (unfortunate name, I know) has a good family, does well at school, and yet is unhappy. He's tortured day in and day out by bullies, and he can't deal with much more. But one day, a letter is mailed to him from Alaska by a man who only goes by M.G., promising a series of twelve riddles to follow. There will be many innocent lives saved by Tick's help, M.G. says, but his life will become dangerous. Tick can burn the letter if he ever wants the danger to go away.

Tick does not burn the letter.

As the riddles are sent, Tick realizes they all point to one event. And as this mysterious event approaches, Tick scrambles to uncover the meaning of the riddles in time. Little does he know that the riddles are only the beginning, and M.G.'s plans for him extend across the world-- and into other Realities as well. But be careful. Mistress Jane is on the hunt.

James Dashner has a way of describing the absolute weird so that it sounds charming, and a way of writing that many times suggests his tongue is planted firmly inside his cheek. Dashner knows how to write, and he knows how to write well. Also, the level of creativity inside the book, especially reading it after Kingsley's Erec Rex, will probably cause me to become spoiled. Dashner's voice is different from that of other authors, sort of like a homely mix of Kaza Kingsley and Obert Skye, with the occasional dash of J.K. Rowling. Book 2 of the series, The Hunt for Dark Infinity, is out, and you can expect me to pick it up sooner, rather than later.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: Into the Wild