Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review – The Colorado Kid

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2005

Very much a lesser Stephen King book, The Colorado King is barely even a book at all, it’s a pulp fiction throwback to a paperback rack filler, and that’s all fine, but we still need substance, and King somehow forgot to add that in.  This is not only one of his shortest books, it’s also one of his most phoned in, without characters, plot, or reason to read.  I’ve read a ton of King, he’s the master, I rarely question him, but with this one I’ve gotta ask why, and then wonder why he never asked himself that.

Two old newsmen in a small Maine town discuss the history of the weird stories of their town with a young gal who’s just coming up in the business, but who might take over for them rather soon, she’s such a smart whip.  She wonders why they don’t share all their unexplained mysteries with the larger public, and they explain that not every story is pleasing to hear, some make so little sense as to be unappetizing.  Take the tale of the Colorado Kid for example, a murder that maybe isn’t and a man far from home.  His truth will never be known, and while that makes for good conversation, it’ll never satisfy.

This is just a really weird book, it should have just been a short story, then maybe we could have read it, said “huh”, and moved on with our lives.  As it is, we’re supposed to read this like dime store fiction, like pure creepy fun for the simple sake of it?  I guess, but it first needs to be fun, creepy, cool, freaky, something, not just slightly curious, that’s not enough.  The characters aren’t around long enough to get to know, the mystery just isn’t interesting, and King fails with this one, a mere blip in his bibliography, not something worth the time.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


Book Review – The Invisible Man

Category : Book Review

Author: H. G. Wells

Year: 1897

One of the most famous “horror” tales in the English language, The Invisible Man is a classic among classics, an over-100-year-old masterpiece that set the tone for what sci-fi scares would become today.  That doesn’t mean it’s a phenomenal read for modern audiences, but despite any personal opinion, the fact remains that it is still a bedrock for the genre, and without it nothing freaky would have been anywhere near what it is right now.  For that reason alone, we owe The Invisible Man a debt of gratitude.

In London, a talented scientist experiments with the bounds of nature, with successful yet catastrophic results.  Told in an account from the region and from the people who lived through the experience, this is a tale of a madman on the loose, an invisible man who will go to any length to continue his research, use any advantage to get what he wants, and who cares for no man’s life.  As the deranged fugitive runs rampant, the English countryside is in an uproar, and his capture his paramount, even while we all struggle to ask the simplest of questions; why?

For my money, The Time Machine is a much, much better story.  It’s shorter, sweeter, more entertaining, and creepier in a much more fascinating way.  The Invisible Man relies of violence being scary, and that just doesn’t work; maybe it did for audiences 125 years ago.  Perhaps the tale itself doesn’t hold up extremely well, like Frankenstein it feels old fashioned and doesn’t work exactly the same way now, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value here.  This story opened so many doors in frightening realms of horror and sci-fi and suspense and bloodshed, that we simply can’t forget it, even if it we can’t really love it.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


Book Review – Nothing to See Here

Category : Book Review

Author: Kevin Wilson

Year: 2019

I don’t read much modern fiction (except Stephen King), but my wife made* me read Nothing to See Here, and I guess I don’t hold it against her.  It is an interesting book with something to say, but, unfortunately, that takes up about two chapters and the rest is just filler.  Nothing new under the sun, right?  It’s all been done before, so even if you think of something slightly new, a point to make that hasn’t been brought up before or in a while, that’ll only take you so far before you run into well-trod paths and forget what it is you were trying to say.

A young girl, whose life has gotten completely off track, hears from an old school friend about a job opportunity and thinks, why the hell not.  The pair were roommates together at a prep school, but went their separate ways when one took the fall for the other in an expulsion incident, which tore them completely asunder.  Now, when help is needed, they are pulled back together, but for a very strange reason; someone discrete has to watch a future-President’s kids because they are very different and may cause problems.   Well, specifically, they catch on fire when they get upset, and that’s not good for anyone.

It’s a unique premise with a simple explanation, and the characters in the book treat it as moderately normal, which only helps solidify the metaphor of the unwanted, the troublesome, the different, the difficult, and the untimely.  The point is made early and the main character is extremely likeable because she is so flawed, and that’s where the book gets it right.  Where is gets it wrong is its lack of other ideas, especially for such a short novel; it should never feel inflated with the unnecessary.  Keep it simple, stupid, right?  A short story might have been better, a second path or point may have been needed, because Nothing to See Here is good, and it’s oft-read, but that doesn’t make it needed.

My rating:  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


Book Review – Timeline

Category : Book Review

Author: Michael Crichton

Year: 1999

I was at the beach once at a book store looking for a beach read, when I stumbled across Timeline by the famous Michael Crichton, and thought I’d give it a whirl.  Turned out to be one the best beach reads ever, a novel that I simply could not put down, at the expense of my own vacation, probably.  It might not be the best written novel, or the most cerebral, but man is it fun to fly through.  It’s medieval history, it’s modern science, it action-adventure; what else could you want?

A team of grad students majoring in all fields history dig out an ancient castle in France along a lovely river, pulling apart the facts one grain of sand at a time.  But what they find deep in a collapsed chamber shocks them; a note from their very own Professor, just hundreds of years old.  Somehow he’s back in time, kind of, as the company that oversees the dig soon explains, and they arrange for a team to go back and bring him forward.  But it’s not really time, it’s dimensions, and it’s not really safe, back in the medieval times amid war & disease & constant danger.

What a great read, as long as you’re expecting some Dan Brown awesome, but just way better.  It’s better because it’s based on Crichton’s research, which we know is expansive, and it’s also based on combining history with technology, which is really fun.  The castle age details are incredible, you’ll learn so much, and the quantum physics element is equally as impressive.  The characters maybe you won’t care so much about, it’s not that kind of story, it isn’t that deep, but you’ll enjoy the plot as it unfolds and I bet you’ll have a hard time not reading.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 


Book Review – Allies

Category : Book Review

Author: Alan Gratz

Year: 2019

For a young audience, Gratz does the leg work and summarizes the WWII D-Day experience in a way that is easy to understand and easy to feel a part of.  His hit book, Refuge, brought audiences into a real-life experience so that they could see it from the inside, and now he has done the same with perhaps the most important event in the history of our culture.  Allies is an opportunity to live through an incredibly dangerous and meaningful day, and for kids to be excited about history in a way text books just can’t duplicate.

D-Day has come, and the Allied forces have arrayed themselves to invade & retake France, pushing the Nazis back in what could be the beginning of the end of the most horrible war in human history.  Thousands of people from many different countries are brought together for a single purpose; to take the beaches of Normandy, to find a foothold for the Allies, and to begin the push through Europe into Berlin.  Every tale connected, every act important, event shot fired a shot at survival; this is a day that we will never forget.

Gratz takes fictional accounts from many different angles and aims them all at the beach, at the fight to turn the tide.  American infantry, Canadian paratroopers, British tankers, French resistance fighters; so many groups had so many roles to play, and although none of them went perfectly smoothly, the vast number of pieces that had to fall into place for D-Day to go right is staggering.  This is a great chance to relive history, and for kids to understand what was happening, to step into the shoes of those involved and march forward with them.  Not a propaganda piece, but definitely a show of Western fortitude, Allies is a look into something both awesome and very sad, and I’m happy (my son was as well) to have read something so simple and so helpful.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


Book Review – The Midnight Library

Category : Book Review

Author: Matt Haig

Year: 2020

I don’t read many modern novels, preferring classics to trends, old sci-fi to new releases, even re-reads to trying new things.  That’s often a negative, I’m sure, not giving recent authors a chance, it just feels to me that there is so much I missed, so much I need to go backwards to read, and perhaps that great art has been exhausted somehow; “no new idea under the sun”, as it were.  I did try Midnight Library though, why not, I did give it a fair chance; it’s just unfortunate that it’s only fairly good.

Nora Seed is preparing to kill herself, because she literally has nothing to live for.  Full of promise in her youth, it seems that every decision and step has led her down a path of loneliness and misery; she didn’t continue swimming, she didn’t follow music, she didn’t move away, she hasn’t kept in touch with friends, her life has now lost all of the hope her younger self had.  So, she dies, but that’s not the end; there’s a waiting room on the other side, taking the shape of a library for Nora, where she can test out the other lives she might have lived, be the people she might have been, to see if those lives are actually worth living.

Midnight Library is very short, very simple, and has one message to deliver, which is does just fine.  The problem is, Haig is talking to himself, giving himself some encouragement, with a moral that’s been sold a thousand times, and often much better.  It feels like he simply wrote, all in one night, poured his thoughts into a book, and failed to notice the hundred cliches and oft-used pieces, writing only to expunge, not to create.  This isn’t a strong novel, it’s an interesting talking point, and there are much better books begging to be read.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


Book Review – The Clan of the Cave Bear

Category : Book Review

Author: Jean M. Auel

Year: 1980

A classic novel of early people, Clan of the Cave Bear offers not only a stirring story with rich characters, but also a glimpse into the past in a way that we’ve never seen before, transporting readers into a forgotten world that looked so different from our own but held some of the very same challenges.  Made into a movie in the 80s, no visual depiction could rival the images we get from Auel’s writing, so vivid & introspective are they that we can picture every aspect, during a time when our minds conjure grunting cave men and little else.

A group of Neanderthals is forced to leave their home after an earthquake destroys it, hoping that the spirits will show them a new place to stay.  Along the journey, they stumble upon an injured girl, whose family unit was also destroyed in the disaster, yet she is a Cro-Magnon, or an “Other”.  Despite this, the group takes Ayla in, and the medicine woman Iza heals her, claiming her as her own daughter, to be joined with the Clan.  But Ayla’s idiosyncrasies are many, from physical appearance to speech, from independence to abstract thought.  Will she ever fit it, or is she doomed by her differences?

This is a very simple, subtle, soft spoken story, filled with moments of brutality amid a much calmer nature.  We learn not just how these characters live but how these people might have lived, and how these two branches might have come across one another, interacted, mated, formed the humans we are today.  The way it is written is very relaxing, very descriptive of the natural surrounding world, until a death or assault or attack or curse destroys the innocence that we had become comfortable with.  It’s this balance that drives the story, this constant struggle to survive and to find purpose, with the characters constantly battling within themselves to learn more and to do right.  It is rare to read a book so transportative and so rich, especially when it seems on the surface to be so basic and purposeless; I can say it is anything but.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


Book Review – From a Buick 8

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2002

Although From A Buick 8 might not be King’s very best work, it is definitely his most identifiable; if someone were to ask me what this dude’s writing style was, what his voice sounds like, I would point them to this bizarre novel.  It’s plot is strange, perhaps not very relatable, but the talent within the writing itself is undeniable, and all Stephen King.  It’s his version of storytelling on display in a grand way, like sitting down with the man himself and watching him spin some webs.  Again, maybe the plot isn’t the all-time best, but there are pieces of this book (mainly the format, the delivery, the pace, the life within it) that are.

Ned has recently lost his father, near the eve of his own growing up, in Pennsylvania as a typical, teenage guy; football now, college on the horizon, ain’t life grand.  But his father dies in a traffic accident while working as a State Trooper, and Ned latches of to the Troop like a group that represents his dad, instead of sprouting his own wings and flying toward his own life.  And because of this close tie to a tight-knit brotherhood, Ned is about to be let in on a little secret, the truth behind why there’s an old, immaculate, classic car just sitting in a shed beside the station, a secret that will suck him right in & swallow him right down.

This is a bit of a weird story, since it’s much more Mist & Christine than Cujo & Carrie; basically it’s not horror, and never tries to be, it’s more a part of Dark Tower lore and all that involves.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t creepy, it sure it, and that doesn’t mean it’s not exciting, it sure raises pulses.  But it’s more other-worldly & cross-universal, like some of King’s deeper dives, not like most of his popular stuff.  Still, Buick 8 has a tale to tell, and like I said before, that telling is masterful.  Never has King given more of his own style, relying on nothing else, than with this novel.  This is how he speaks, this is his voice, this is what you should expect every time, with the details changed to adapt to whatever nightmare he concocts next.  It’s almost like he was unburdened by, for example, a ghost story that his publishers wanted him to write, but rather set free to tell a weird story with details that kinda didn’t matter, focusing on the language and the feel more than the action and events.  Perhaps just for big King fans, Buick 8 is nonetheless a spectacular work.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 


Book Review – Black House

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King, Peter Straub

Year: 2001

Following Jack Sawyer’s adventures in The Talisman, which is a King/Straub production almost bent toward a teen audience, we get another dark dive into The Territories, this time with an adult Jack, and with a decidedly adult feel.  This is more serial killer/police work/thriller plot set in a Dark Tower universe, but with enough King base-set to make fans happy, while, I think, also reaching out to a new audiences.  Basically, this pairing works because we have two excellent worlds & works colliding to form one original construction, and that always benefits the audience.

Jack is now grown up, was a detective in Los Angeles, moves to the Midwest for some quiet, and has mostly purposefully forgotten his Territories past; his mother’s Twinner, the Talisman, his own encounters and adventures, that strange place where so much is familiar but at the same time so different.  But it’s not time to move on completely just yet; there’s one more job to do.  A killer is on the loose, targeting special children, and he won’t stop until he’s found the one who can help his twisted master in his evil plot to destroy the Dark Tower.  Jack will need to remember his past, as well as use his current skills, in order to save not just one world, but so many more than this.

Black House, like Talisman, definitely feels like two men writing one book, but it works here in a very specific way, because we are reading two stories at once; tracking down the killer and taking care of the town, but also flipping to another world and trying to understand how everything is connected.  So we can enjoy thrills, horror, and fantasy, all in one, which is never too shabby.  King & Straub create a multitude of bizarre and complicated characters, they weave their intentions together so seamlessly, and we are given a book full of so much intensity that we find ourselves needing to take breaks to breathe quite often.  It’s gruesome, it’s magical, it’s cool in the best ways; Black House is a solid bit of Dark Tower lore and a strong novel all on its own.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


Book Review – Dreamcatcher

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2001

Dreamcatcher is known as a very bad movie version of a King work, which is not uncommon, but it’s also known as a bad King work period, and that’s not typical at all.  Hell, even King knows that it’s no good; he told Rolling Stone that he didn’t like this book very much and that he was doped up on Oxy when he wrote it.  This was right after his accident, he was going through a rough time, so he can be forgiven, and he was hyper-focused on Dark Tower stuff as well, so that can be excused.  Doesn’t stop Dreamcatcher from kinda sucking though.

Four friends head to their yearly trip to hunt in the woods, though this year is a little different because the aging men are all dealing with their own life troubles, all falling apart just a little without each other and without the childhood companion who bonded them stronger than they ever thought was possible.  That odd connection to a special boy back home will perhaps be all that keeps the world from ending, as something disastrous happens near the cabin and threatens the entire Earth; alien bacteria with mind-control powers.  That’s right, and that’s not an easy thing to beat, so our heroes better think fast, remember the magic they all share, and work hard, because we’re all counting on them.

This is a bizarre book with an even stranger style and a cast of kooky characters; it’s pretty obvious that King wasn’t writing up to his potential.  He was also really working his Dark Tower magnum opus, including penning novels connected to it on the side; someone probably made him release this book just for the money.  It’s not that it’s all bad; the flashbacks are interesting, one character having his mind taken over but fighting that hostile action from the inside was fascinating.  But the alien plot points were a little silly, King is never at his best when he deals with aliens, it’s just maybe not quite his forte and doesn’t fit quite perfectly into his genre.  This is one that isn’t extremely necessary and won’t delight many; even King has troubles, and thankfully he ended up kicking the habit and getting himself healthy, which is what really matters.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


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