Wolves of the Calla

There is just no denying what a master storyteller Stephen King is. I admit he has his misses, and he doesn’t always have the best endings. But overall, he truly is one of the most gifted writers of our time. And the Dark Tower, along with The Stand, are easily his masterpieces. I have yet to be disappointed with a book in this series.

This story is a bit of a side track mixed with some important plot events. The side story involves Roland and his ka-tet helping a town protect their children. Their cause is noble, but one they don’t enter lightly. The town must prove they are willing to do things Roland’s way, and it doesn’t take long for them to realize how valuable the ka-tet is to their cause.

The main plot of traveling to the Dark Tower is woven seamlessly within the town’s struggle. We get to revisit the world we know, where Jake, Eddie, and Susannah come from. The most interesting plot is Susannah and “the chap” which I will not elaborate on. However, the story leads directly into the next book, and I believe, Stephen King himself makes an appearance in this next book. I can’t wait.

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Shriek and Finch

The first book in this series, City of Saints and Madmen, I reviewed here. City of Saints and Madmen. Hey look at that! I hope the link works. I’ve never done that before. Instead of writing two reviews over two less than stellar books, I thought I would combine them and maybe try to pull some good out of each.

Let me say that these books are not my thing, but still really well written and overall worth looking in to. City is a story collection, of sorts. Very funny, very creative, but I just couldn’t get into it. The second book, Shriek, isn’t a sequel of the first because, well, how do you have a sequel to a story collection? Shriek tells the story of Duncan Shriek, as told by his sister, Janice. Duncan (I won’t explain how) also helps narrate the story. There were some great parts in this book, but overall, I just wasn’t interested in what happened. I gave this one 2 stars.

Finch was definitely better. And you do need to read Shriek to fully understand Finch. The trilogy isn’t one of chronological succession, but rather spin offs and still conjoined in their madness. And I mean madness in a good way. Let’s start with the Gray Caps. These are mushroom-like people who live in Ambergris. Stories about them are woven through all three books, but they are prominently featured in Finch. About another person, Finch, who is a detective trying to solve a murder, goes through an evolution of mind, body, and soul in the process of solving it. I thought this book was much more gripping. I wanted to know what happened to Finch, who was murdered, and ultimately how everything was wrapped up. 3 stars for this one.

The author, Jeff VanderMeer, is still Aok in my book. I plan to reread the Southern Reach trilogy this year. And I NEVER reread books this quickly, but I really need to dig into them and see what Easter eggs I can found. I definitely see how Ambergris and Area X came from the same mind. I just think Area X is more polished of the two regions. And soon to be a movie starring Natalie Portman. Highly recommend Southern Reach and will review when I revisit them.

I Am the Messenger

Originally posted June 2010 on another site.

The Book Thief is simply one of the greatest books ever written. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. I was very nervous to read this one, though, by the same author. Nothing can compare to BF. And I was right. It’s nowhere near as good. However, assuming one hasn’t read BF, this book stands alone extremely well. I took it to training with me on Thursday morning and read while I was supposed to be working. I had to find out what happened!

Ed is a simple guy, nothing special, not smart, not motivated, just exists. He drives a cab, is in love with his friend Audrey, and happens to disrupt a bank robbery, getting the robber arrested. Soon after, Ed receives a playing card in the mail. Yes, that’s right. Just a regular card from a regular deck. However, there are addresses on this card. Addresses of homes of people Ed doesn’t know. After going to each address, he realizes he has to help these people. Sometimes the help is easy and obvious. Other times, it takes a long time for Ed to realize what it is he needs to do. However, helping these people brings such joy to Ed, that it’s impossible not to root for him.

Who is sending these cards? It’s quite the mystery. I never knew which direction this book was going. Are the cards being sent by some future version of himself, or a friend he knows, or is Ed dead and imagining the whole thing, or is his dog really not a dog, but a person who Ed converses with. All of these thoughts seemed plausible throughout the entire book. I just couldn’t figure out how it was all going to work out. It does all work out in the end, but you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

I really liked this book. Read the Book Thief for sure, but maybe after this one, so it’s not a disappointment.

Rise by Katherine L. Evans

So, a friend of mine told me a couple weeks ago, “Hey, I have a friend who is an author, and I gave her your name to be a beta reader for her newest book.” And I wholeheartedly agreed having absolutely no idea what kind of book I had just volunteered to read. It could have been a western, a fantasy or worse yet, a sappy romance book. Those types of books have a place in the world, just not in my world. But when I got the word document and started the book, I was immediately hooked.

The overarching theme, as well as the title, is to rise. Rise above. Rise above anything and everyone who drags you down. Not in the “I’m better than everyone” way, but more of the “I can persevere through the worst” way. Isn’t this how we should all lead our lives? And, thankfully, the main character realizes this as well.

This book isn’t an easy read. There are parts that will punch you in the gut. And you will get choked up numerous times (there are only four books that have made me tear up. This was one of them), and you will love every bit of this book. Emma is a journalist running from a terrible childhood. Running away, running to, it doesn’t really matter. Escape is all she craves. She has people who love her, but it isn’t enough. Like many young adults, she needs to find herself and give back to the world. So, she heads to Syria to do some investigative reporting. Let me repeat. Syria. This isn’t going to be pretty. And, like always, you will get zero spoilers from me, so I will just say that the best thing I loved about this book was that it was REAL.

Since this book is still in the prepublishing beta stages, I beg you to keep a lookout for this when it is on the shelves. And I will keep you posted. This one is absolutely worth reading. The main character is flawed and broken and authentic and beautifully written. I’m so thankful I was asked to read this.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

A friend has been hounding me to read this book for years. So, when the BBC series came out last year, I agreed to read the book before watching the series. I’ve been trying to pace myself with long books, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that 2016 will be the “year of the epic novel.” I have so many 500+ page books on my list that I’m starting to fall behind. And it doesn’t help with a book is so stinking boring.

Ultimately, I gave this one 3 stars. But the first 60% was just so awful. I felt like it was two books put together and the first one was pretty useless. Strange and Norrell are frenemy magicians in the early 1800s in England. This book tries to do a lot of things, and only a few of them are successful. I have no problem with books that juggle multiple characters and plotlines, but they must all be interesting, and I found Strange and Norrell to be pretty awful people. The minor characters were more interesting, but I have a hard time enjoying a book when the main characters are just assholes. Neither one has very little redeeming value.

I’m a little confused why this book was so popular. Maybe people reading it were just so impressed with the time period, setting, writing, etc. 1800s England definitely isn’t my thing to begin with. Everyone is too snobby and stuffy. The Stephen Black plotline was, by far, the best one, and I was sad his story ended, but pleased with the resolution. But overall, I think 3 stars is generous.

‘Salem’s Lot

Originally published in July 2010 on another site.

I’m a big Stephen King fan, but I don’t claim to have read the majority of his stuff. I go through phases of wanting to read his works. Oddly enough, I read three of his books this past year. ‘Salem’s Lot was good, but not terrifying like The Shining.

King’s second book focuses on vampires that move to a fictional town in Maine (of course) called Jerusalem’s Lot, or ‘Salem’s Lot. The story is told from a few characters’s perspectives, but don’t be fooled that those characters are safe from being bitten. The majority of the action revolves around Ben, who has returned to his childhood hometown to write a book about a haunted house in The Lot. However, the house has been sold and is inhabited by two mystery men. Literally half of the book happens with very little vampire action. I guess I kept reading to see when they would show up and how long it would take for them to be killed. It all starts with the main/head/boss vampire, who bites someone and then that person bites another, etc, etc. And the transformation isn’t immediate. You don’t die immediately; you just don’t feel like yourself for a few days, then you die, then you rise as a vampire. All the other traditional vampire myths exists, though…garlic, holy water, sunlight, so on.

I did enjoy this book, and I was impressed that his second novel would be so great, but if you want terror, definitely try The Shining. (Current day side note- Father Callahan’s story continues in Wolves of the Calla)

East of Eden

Originally published July 2010 on another site….

I’m going to say right now that this book is nowhere near as amazing as The Grapes of Wrath. I liked it, but it didn’t make me think in any way. I realize GoW is long, and oddly written, and a bit dull at times, and super depressing, but I could not stop reading waiting to see what happened to the Joad family. Couldn’t stop. And the ending….woah. East of Eden was just the opposite.

The story spans 60 some odd years and literally just tells the story of two families, more one than the other. A modernish story about Cain and Abel where one brother constantly battles and defeats the other, there are two sets of brothers in this book, always starting with the letters C and A. It was always interesting to read how the brothers would fare in their love/hate relationship, but I kept reading knowing one was going to win. How that win happened, was usually a mystery. The best part of the story was a C winning, but instead of a brother, it was a woman named Cathy, who was married to an A brother. She was simply an evil person. I liked her parts of the story best…what does that say about me?? It’s just so rare to have a woman of that caliber of evil in a book written in the 1950s. It’s hard to cheer for Cathy, but you want to keep reading to see what else she will do.

The lonely, whiny lost brother story just didn’t appeal to me. Cathy abandons her A husband and leaves him to raise twin boys….Cal and Aron. Again, the cycle starts over. Interesting characters, but really, over the course of time, not much happens. This book was all character and very little plot. I just thought it would have been more interesting. You want Steinbeck, read Grapes of Wrath. He won the Pulitzer for that book for a reason.