Category Archives: Book

Book review: Vessels by Kealan Patrick Burke

Vessels is the last Timmy Quinn book that I will read, and also likely will be the last book I read from Kealan Patrick Burke. In a way, this bothers me because the first in the series, The Turtle Boy, was such a good introduction to the main character and his ability to give power to spirits thirsting for revenge. But the second book The Hides took some massive missteps for me, and Vessels doubles down on these problems while also making me aware of what’s truly missing from the series as a whole.

There’s no emotional investment in the characters. There never has been, but at least in the first book it was easy to miss because of how quickly the story unfolds. But with the second and third books, it becomes clear that far more attention is given to the locations than to any of the characters, Tim included. The writing is always good, but there’s loving attention to the details of the locales and homes that people inhabit, while the people themselves are so flat as to seem two dimensional.

Maybe I’m being unfair because these stories are all in a short novelette/novella format, but I still feel like these could have added a few more chapters to flesh out the characters, which would help build the mood and create some sense of dread. But after the first book, the sequels both have the exact same too fast plot. Tim goes somewhere to “get a fresh start,” and then bam, here’s a ghost. The only difference is that in the second outing, Tim’s parents forced this decision on him, and in the third, he’s making this choice on his own. I think this third story says Tim arrived a couple weeks back, but it skips the little bit of quiet time that could have been used for character development and moves right into the same haunting routine.

Tim has now grown to be a middle-aged man who rather than coming to terms with his abilities is still looking in vain for a place where no one has ever been murdered. This is a lost cause, really. The only way finding such a sanctuary would be possible is to journey to a place where humans have never been before and to live alone forever. Instead, Tim has opted to go to a remote island, and the story leaves no breathing room to get to know the locals before Tim is once again encountering angry ghosts. Continue reading

Book review: Flawless by Sara Shepard

When I said I couldn’t wait to read Flawless after finishing Pretty Little Liars, that wasn’t empty words. I just finished posting my review before I got the next book and started on the first chapter. Now that I’m done, I’d very much like to buy the next and keep going. But I can’t, because I’ve spent my limit for the whole month already and have to wait until next month. And okay, I have lots of other books I can read in the meantime, but I really want to keep going with this series.

I can’t help but feel for all four of these main characters even when they’re behaving badly. Emily’s in denial about her sexuality and is making some bad choices that can only come back to burn her sometime soon. Hanna’s paying for her actions in the previous book, but set on a crash course that may lead back to bulimia. Spencer’s still trying to keep her affair with her sister’s ex a secret, even as this is having an impact on her schoolwork and life at home. And Aria is leaving a family secret festering until it can’t be hidden any longer. All of this is merely side dressing to the central plot of A and their merciless manipulations of the four former friends.

And they are still former friends, with each girl unwilling to share her secrets because of fear of rejection and abandonment. This is the part that rings most true for me, having dealt with blackmail at a very early age. The threat of exposure is so frightening that no one can be trusted, even those who seem closest. It doesn’t help that for each of these girls, there’s someone that they feel they can trust who ends up betraying them. Continue reading

Book review: Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

This review is taking place near 4 AM after several chants of “one more chapter,” so if it gets a little muddled, that’s sleep deprivation. I got Pretty Little Liars because it was supposed to be outside my comfort zone of fantasy and horror. Turns out it’s an older comfort zone, something I haven’t read since my early teens. It’s one part soap opera with one part mystery, and I really can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

The first chapter was a little slow as a start, but from then on, my only constant thought was “GOT-DAMN! WHERE WAS THIS KIND OF BOOK WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER?!” I mean, sure, I’ve read similar stories in my teens, but those were always about do-gooder teens who were trying to solve some mystery. Think Nancy Drew, but with some PG-13 snogging on the side. But this…these main characters are the bit characters that those old books always held up as the worst examples while the narrator suddenly aged twenty years to lecture, “Kids, don’t be like this or you’ll end up a useless nobody.”

There’s affairs with older guys, teen drinking, pot smoking, bulimia, shoplifting, and repressed lesbian desires. Oh my gosh, I’m fanning myself and trembling with barely contained excitement. It’s like someone heard all of my teenage complaints “where are the characters like me?” These young ladies are everything I ever wanted in my fiction, and then some. Continue reading

Book review: The Radleys by Matt Haig

Wow. Okay, yeah, it’s easy to please me with a vampire story, but The Radleys has been one of the best I’ve read since Let The Right One In, and like that book, I feel a strong need to gush excessively about how very good this story is. It’s an examination of extremes, and it finds both lifestyles lacking while advocating something closer to moderation.

I realize this next comparison may offend some vampire fans, but from the start, I thought of Twilight. If the Cullens are considered vegetarians for consuming only animal blood, then the Radleys are strict vegans who have abstained from all blood drinking. Indeed, their daughter Clara has gone off of meat entirely in a misguided bid to get closer to animals, most of whom are deathly afraid of her. At the start of this story, parents Peter and Helen have yet to inform their teenage children that they’re vampires. This ends about as well as you’d expect when Clara gets a taste of blood and goes into a frenzy. The body she leaves behind is so badly mangled that Peter desperately calls in his brother Will for help with damage control.

There’s another Twilight comparison, but one more indirect in that these vampires are a departure from the typical mythos. For one thing, they aren’t immortal, only living a few centuries with a steady supply of blood. Also, in this world, the Radleys aren’t considered as radical as the Cullens in their approach to life, as they’re following a set of guidelines from a self-help book, The Abstainer’s Handbook (Second Edition) a dreadful tome advising never doing anything. Even using one’s imagination is warned against, lest it lead to actually living. Anyone practicing this lifestyle isn’t living at this point, and with each passage from the guide doled out, I felt awful for any vampire trapped in such a dreadful state. It advises a much shortened existence filled with headaches, skin rashes, and lethargy, and at one point suggests that maybe suicide is preferable to being a vampire. It’s a charming little pill, really. Continue reading

Book review: Salvage by Duncan Ralston

When I bought Salvage, it was because the blurb made me think of Harbour, and I hoped it might carry some of the same elements of humor, charm, and dread. Unfortunately, this book never really appealed to me. It lacks any trace of charm, the dread found within has no sense of impact, and the humor is mocking derision of stereotypes. I stuck with it, but every few chapters, I’d put it down and look for something to distract me. I finally forced myself to finish it so I could move on to something else, but the ending was just as dissatisfying as the start.

I suppose my first and biggest problem is with Owen, the main character, who has no personality. He has a job, but that’s about all there is to him, making his introduction flat and dull. His connection to his sister is supposed to be really important, but this isn’t shown during the early chapters. In fact, the opposite is shown, that despite his sister’s zeal for life, Owen himself is just going through the motions, waiting for old age to take him. Even her death is no catalyst for change. Rather it’s the appearance of her ghost beckoning him to follow her to the scene of her death that incites him to action.

He’s also got no sense of empathy, and this is a trait that seems to be shared by the narrator. Everyone else in the story is cast in suspicious shades by Owen and the narrator’s shared scorn or derision, and while I admit it’s a personal issue, that sense of cynicism kept me from getting into the story.

But there’s other problems, like the narration being inconsistent. As an example, during one scene Owen is asked to close the blinds in a hospital room. But as he’s leaving, the other character “looks out the window at the darkening sky.” Right, through the closed blinds, huh? There’s quite a lot of this, as if something that happened only a few pages before was already forgotten. Continue reading

Book review: Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns got pushed up higher in my TBR pile for the simple reason that I got the movie on Blu-Ray and wanted to read the book first. (So that way I can complain bitterly about any changes I don’t like. It’s a tradition for me, like relatives drinking and fighting during the holidays.) This makes my third book by John Green, and something I like is how each story is unique. There’s familiar elements, certainly, like the trademark sarcasm and humor displayed by all the characters, but each book is something new and unexpected.

Paper Towns has the feel of a mystery, one Quentin Jacobsen has to unravel surrounding his next door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman. Although these two initially started life as infantile and childhood friends, Margo went on to achieve a legendary high school reputation while Quentin became a nobody who can only watch his idol from afar and admire her for the crazy things she’s done over the years. But one night, Margo comes to him with a crazy plan, and Quentin goes along with it, never suspecting that Margo will very soon disappear again.

Which brings in the mystery, as Quentin and his friends try to piece together clues Margo left behind and find out if she has merely checked out of town or out of life entirely. The mystery itself is pretty good, and even when it gets slow or repetitive, it’s still a fun read. I like how Quentin begins to understand that his perception of his idol is nothing at all like the real person, and how this evolving view is what actually leads him to solving the mystery. Continue reading

Book review: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

On the cover of my copy of The Farm is a blurb from Mark Billingham that reads “You will not read a better thriller this year.” I don’t know who Mark Billingham is, but I now know he’s a damned liar. This is the only so-called thriller I’ve read for the entire year, being my attempt to break out of my comfort zone, and I can tell you, there’s nothing remotely thrilling in this. It’s barely interesting and fails as a mystery as well. It’s dreadfully tedious, and the only reason I kept reading was because of morbid curiosity to see when, if ever, the book might pick up the pace and become an actual thriller. That never happened.

Fair warning: I’m going to spoil the ending for this book, so if you plan on reading it anyway, avert thine eyes and scroll or click away before it’s too late.

So, the blurb certainly made this book sound interesting, as did the first fifty pages, in which the main character Daniel is called first by his father, who says his mother is mentally ill and had to be hospitalized. His mother soon calls to say she is not insane and has been released from the hospital. She then flies from Sweden to Britain to lay out her story for her son and explain how she’s come to suspect that everyone in her town is part of a huge conspiracy. What conspiracy? She won’t say until after laying out all her evidence. Continue reading

Book review: Never Let Me Sleep by Jennifer Brozek

Never Let Me Sleep was a bit of a mixed bag for me, with quite a few things I enjoyed, but also quite a few others that rubbed me the wrong way. The blurb certainly sounded like a good YA horror, something I don’t have much experience with and wanted to get into. The main character Melissa is interesting because she’s both bipolar and schizophrenic, meaning that even as she’s fighting skittering horrors, she’s got to question whether any of this is really happening or not. It’s a good perspective for a horror story, and a nice change of pace from the almost constant stream of thirty-something alpha dude protagonists I typically read about in horror.

The premise itself is plenty scary. A girl on house arrest wakes up one morning to find everyone in her town is dead, and the company monitoring her advises her to check the news and discover that a much larger area has fallen victim to something insidious and lethal. Anyone attempting to enter the area quickly falls victim to the same malady, and so, being the only survivor in the quarantine zone, Melissa is tasked with finding the source of this attack and stopping it. Very quickly, she discovers she is being hunted by the monsters behind this plot, and she must fight for her life every few minutes. Sounds pretty intense, right? And it is, for the most part.

But, there is something that didn’t sit right with me early on, a throwaway comment about Mel liking transitional seasons. I have some mental issues myself which are aggravated during transitional seasons, and I’ve known both schizophrenics and bipolar folks who have the same issues. The rapid up and down shift in temperatures means that one can have problems even if medication is being used and is supposedly all balanced properly so these are often the most unpopular seasons for us. I’m willing to concede that this might not be a problem for others with similar issues, but both personal and anecdotal experience made this line rub me the wrong way.

I wish that was the only problem, but there is the matter of Melissa’s age versus her experience. The story says that she’s been a shut in for most of her life because of her mental condition, and yet, she’s also familiar with the layout of the local airport, a power substation, and the radio room of the local high school, a school I’m not sure she could have attended for more than a couple months based on her backstory. And I don’t mean she just knows what they look like. She knows enough to operate the substation, and she knows enough about the airport and radio station to recognize equipment that doesn’t belong. In an older character who was more outgoing and social, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at how she knows all this. But her expertise in a vast array of topics when she supposedly spends most of her time watching TV and is forbidden from using computers…it’s just not very believable to me.

I still enjoyed the book, and I’m sure I’ll be reading the next in the series, Never Let Me Leave. I give Never Let Me Sleep 3 stars, and recommend it to horror fans looking for something fast, tense, and only slightly gory.

Book review: After by Anna Todd

Yet again, I find a new read based off of hate for a series. If this keeps producing positive results, I might just start asking people “tell me about a book you really hated” to get more recommendations. In the case of After, I didn’t post updates on Goodreads because guessing from the reviews I thought something would set me off and send me away without finishing. Not only did that not happen, but I ended up buying book two around 80% in because I was that certain I would want to keep reading.

Before I get into the plot and characters, I feel like I need to address the criticisms on this book, which can be summed up in two sentiments, “this isn’t a healthy relationship,” and “these people are making bad choices.” I’m not in disagreement with either of these sentiments, but I feel like asking why we need all our stories to be based on good relationships where everyone is making the right choices. In real life, most of us have made a lot of bad relationship choices, and we needed years or even decades to learn who we are well enough to understand who we need as a life partner. But in fiction, it seems like people demand that everyone be smarter and more “healthy,” as if merely reading about a couple who fights might somehow damage us.

Add to this the always infuriating comment, “Reading this might teach women to want the same kind of terrible relationship.” Oh please. Boys can play violent video games like Grand Theft Auto and most people recognize that this isn’t going to lead them into lives of crime. Guys can read the goriest horror and most rational people know it won’t lead to serial killing or Satanism. But time and again, this line about women being too stupid to understand the line between fantasy and reality gets trotted out whenever a book contains even a whiff of bad behavior. “We’re just worried for the stupid little women who will chase after bad boyfriends if they read this. You know how dumb and impressionable they are.” Uh-huh, and the fact that so many people using this talking point are women is doubly offensive to me. How about we give the little ladies some credit and stop trying to demand that they only read “healthy” fiction? Continue reading

Book review: Revival by Stephen King

My other Halloween horror reads fell through, (I lost interest partway through in both cases) so I bought Revival as soon as I’d found it in pocket paperback, and I was pretty excited to read this because the blurb on the front said, “This is vintage King.” Considering how long it’s been since I’ve read and enjoyed a King novel, “vintage King” sounded pretty damn good to me.

But that blurb is a bold-faced lie. It’s possibly the mother of all whoppers. I want to stress, this is not a bad story and it kept me up for several nights using the old faithful “one more chapter” mantra. But this is not vintage King. Vintage King scared me so bad that I would spend weeks after each of his books afraid of the dark. Vintage King could give me nightmares based on the description of a single body. Vintage King is what made me hide my little brother’s paper mache clown in the bottom drawer of my dresser and never take it out again. Vintage King is what made me want to write my first book.

This is NOT vintage King. It’s not even fucking close. It is old fart King reminiscing about the good old days, and this is not the least bit scary. As a horror novel it’s an abject failure. As an Anne Rice history novel, it’s a huge success. It certainly has the same qualities as my favorite Anne Rice novels, which is to say 350 pages of history lesson with almost nothing in the present day story actually happening. But I like that kind of book, which is how I made it through 12 Anne Rice books without complaints. Had King gone on to some sci-fi mad scientist ending after his history class, I might have even given this book 4 stars. Continue reading