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A Face in the Crowd by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan

9 Oct

 

Dean Evers is lonely.

Having recently lost his wife, he has moved to a Florida condo and has been filling his time with meaningless tasks, cooking meals for himself, books and baseball. The baseball games on television help to fill his nights when he is missing his dead wife the most.

One night, while watching the Rays duke it out against the Mariners, the game takes on a whole new meaning for him when he sees someone who couldn’t possibly be at the game. Sitting in the third row, right above the umpire, is his old dentist Dr. Young.

Dean thinks this is impossible, absolutely impossible, but he can’t look away, even though Dr. Young must have passed away fifty years ago. However, there is no mistaking the coke bottle glasses, the pack of Lucky Strikes in the pocket of his shirt.

The next night, there is another game on. Dean tries to avoid watching by enjoying a Harlan Coben novel but his hand reaches for the remote anyway and turns the television to the game to see who else from his past might appear to him…

To say anything else would be to give away more of the plot and this is a novella that you have to experience rather than read. I thought I had the story pegged out plot wise, but King and O’Nan had me fooled. This is not your average day at the ballpark.

Whatever you think is going to happen doesn’t happen and the result will leave you breathless. I finished this novella in practically one sitting and it’s an amazing read. Not only is it incredibly well written, there are plot twists you won’t see coming a mile away.

King and O’Nan write seamlessly together, so it’s never clear who wrote what. That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is the story is good. It’s better than that; it’s flat out amazing and King and O’Nan have written a home run of a novella.

What surprised me most, for such a short read were two things:

First, the depth of character. We spend the entire novella with Dean Evers and, at the end of its fifty pages, we know him. We know what makes up his character, internal and otherwise and I found myself aching for him and the choices he made throughout his life. Pulling off that kind of depth in such a short span of pages is an incredible feat and King hasn’t always been so successful in his eBook originals (I’m thinking of the enjoyable but lackluster Mile 81 here).

However, King and O’Nan succeed incredibly well with A Face in the Crowd. You are drawn into Dean’s world and it is an eerie, haunting work that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

Which brings me to the second thing that surprised me most: how genuinely frightening the novella was. As I’ve said, the plot twists keep you on the edge of your seat and, by the novels end, you have absolutely no idea what is coming. And what comes is nothing short than one of the best endings I have ever read in a novella, mostly because it came right out of left field.

King and O’Nan could have gone over the top horror or gross out horror, but instead, they went with honest to goodness psychological terror; because they have written such a great character in Dean Evers, and we are drawn so well into his world, we feel his fear. It is our own.

By the novels dénouement, nothing about baseball will ever be the same for Dean Evers. In fact, nothing will ever be the same for him again.

I was absolutely thrilled with every aspect of this book. It’s well told with a compelling protagonist and brilliantly drawn secondary characters, a plot you won’t see coming a mile away and an ending that will leave you breathless with shock. Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan hit it out of the Park with A Face in the Crowd.

So take me out to the ball game, buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I ever come back…

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Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction by Patrick Carman

6 Jul

 

With Dark Eden, Patrick Carman introduced us to The Seven: Will, Marissa, Kate, Alex, Connor, Ben and Avery. Seven teenagers that each had a life crippling fear. They were brought by Dr. Stevens to Fort Eden where a cure for each of them awaited at the hands of Rainsford. Seven cures that used their own fears against them so that they could be freed of their fears.

But the cure took something from each of them and gave them something in return-for each of the cures gave each of the Seven an ailment that plagued them, almost as much as their fears had. They thought they would have to live the rest of their lives with their new, debilitating problems: narcolepsy, loss of hearing, loss of balance, headaches. However, what if there was another cure, this time a cure to their ailment’s instead of their fears?

When Will Besting receives a letter from Dr. Stevens, he is wary at first. The letter says that Ms. Goring, the caretaker of Fort Eden, is dying and her last wish is to see the Seven together once more. Despite what Fort Eden did to him, he wants to go back, needs to go back. For Fort Eden may hold more secrets ready to be spoken.

Gathering together, six of the teenagers return to Fort Eden where Ms. Goring informs them that there is a cure to what now plagues their bodies. There is a catch, however: they must venture underneath Fort Eden, into an abandoned missle silo, where they will find seven vials filled with what Rainsford took from them.

Desperate for an end to their disorders, they venture underground where a cure might await. Not everything is as it seems, however. When Ms. Goring locks them inside, they must venture further underground and face new dangers. Now, it is not the cure that could kill them, it is their surroundings and Ms. Goring herself. For she is bent on revenge and wants Rainsford dead.

And she doesn’t care how many people she will have to sacrafice in order to reach her goal. Now, in a race against time, Will Besting must protect the others, or all of them may perish underground…

Patrick Carman always tells an incredible story, no matter which of his books you happen to be reading, but Dark Eden has been my favourite out of his body of work. I wondered whether Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction would meet my high expectations. I had read the eBook, the hardcover and experience the multi-media app that literally changed the game for what eBooks can do. Would Eve of Destruction be as good?

The answer is: It’s better.

With very little build up, Carman pulls readers into a story that reads like a literary roller coaster where the stakes are even higher than they were in the first book. Now, they are not only fighting to find a cure for what ails them, the Seven are fighting to stay alive.

Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction is a thrill ride of a novel and, surprisingly, is far darker than its predessor. Most of the novel was reminiscent of horror movies and classic horror literature. The novel also played off of my own fears, rather than the Sevens, which made it a far more intimate reading experience. I am claustrophobic and terrified of dark, enclosed spaces. Parts of this book had me gripping my iPad with white knuclked fright, hoping that those trapped below ground would find their way out.

In the end, the entirety of Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction was an incredible mind trip-something that could indeed be seen inside one of Rainsford’s helmets that would deliver a cure by playing off of your fears, as it did mine. Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction went beyond my expectations in every way and genuinely frightened me through out. The writing was solid and peppered with literary references, the characters were engaging and the mystery under Fort Eden enthralling. In short, there are no mis-steps in this novel, only an incredible story that will pull you in and haunt you well after the last page is turned.

I started Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction early in the morning and finished it that same afternoon. You will not be able to put down Dark Eden: Eve of Destruction until you reach the cataclysmic and shocking ending.

Care for another cure?

The Painted Darkness By Brian James Freeman

14 Oct

Henry, like all of us, carries his past with him. But Henry’s past has teeth and have drawn blood already. It will draw blood again.

 

When Henry was a child, something happened in the words behind his home. Something so awful, so horrible, that he shut the event inside of himself, never to see the light of day again. The only way he lets the horrible memory out is to paint.

 

But Henry is not just painting. He is painting against the darkness.

 

Twenty years have passed since that horrible event and Henry still paints. He spends more and more time in front of his easel, letting the art of painting take him away to a place that only Henry knows.

 

But the darkness waits for no one. During a winter storm, Henry goes down to the cellar in his old stone farm house to fill the steam boiler. As he descends into the cellar, Henry has no idea that he is about to come face to face with the darkness he has been carrying with him for the past twenty years.

 

And the darkness is hungry…

 

There are not enough words to describe how truly good The Painted Darkness by Brian James Freeman is. Excellent, stupendous, enthralling? Not good enough. Amazing, incredible, thrilling? Not even close. Nothing can really describe The Painted Darkness, you have to read and experience it for yourself.

 

When I first got my advance readers copy of the novel, I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting very much. The book seemed so slim, too slim, really, to be called a novel. But I was wrong, so wonderfully wrong.

 

It was as I was reading the superb introduction by Brian Keene that I realized I might be in for a treat. Keene called Freeman an artist. And there is no truer word to describe Freeman. I would even go so far as to call him a master of his art.

 

Though The Painted Darkness is only 179 pages or so, the beauty of the words make the novel feel twice as thick. The power behind the words, their seemingly simple prose, pull the reader in to the ride of a lifetime and leave the reader wanting more.

 

Everything about this book is spectacular. The wonderful introduction by Brian Keene and the fabulously creepy illustrations by Jill Bauman really help to capture the tone of the novel, the gorgeous cover that pull you into the story.

 

But it is the novel itself, Henry’s story, that really packs a punch. Alternating between the present and the event that happened twenty years ago, Freeman has crafted a Lovecraftian tale of horror that is never what we think it will be and leaves us wanting so much more.

 

The Painted Darkness goes beyond being just a good book. It is a great book, a fantastic book, meant to be devoured and then read again so one can savour it and every well placed, beautiful word. Brian James Freeman has written what is most likely the best book of the year.

 

The Painted Darkness is a novel that captures first the mind, then the heart and taps into our worst fears with gusto. It’s an incredibly well written novel that anyone and everyone should read and experience.

 

And remember, don’t just paint. Paint against the darkness…

 

Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones Patrick Carman

13 Sep

 

 

I have just enjoyed a totally awesome weekend and this is due entirely in part to Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones by Patrick Carman. It’s the third novel in his Skeleton Creek series of books.

The first two novels in the series, Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine respectively, changed the way that a story could be told. Indeed, it was a story that went beyond the printed pages of a book.

With a story that encompassed both the written (you get to read Ryan’s journal) and the visual (you get to watch Sarah’s video’s online at www.sarahfincher.com) Carman has created a story and a world that does more than live in our imaginations.

It is the rare cross breed of a novel with multi-media elements that actually works. Both the novel and the multi-media content are top notch. You’ve got your thrilling, mysterious and truly, truly creepy storyline mixed with some incredibly produced videos that only add to the fright.

The same is true of the third novel in the series, Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones. I was a little worried and anxious to see how Carman would change it up a little bit.

The formula for the first two novels was pretty simple: twenty five pages of Ryan’s journal and then a password that would reveal a video at www.sarahfincher.com where you could watch videos that would reveal more of the story.

The same is true…and not so true here. But you know what? It still works. And it pays off in a big way.

For Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine, I was left wanting more video to watch, more to interact with. In terms of looking at the Skeleton Creek Series, as an ARG (or Alternate Reality Game) it was kind of lacking.

Unlike another series (such as the Cathy Series by by Sean Stewart, Jordan Weisman illustrated by Cathy Brigg-which, on a side note, totally rocked) the multi-media portion of Skeleton Creek was pretty lacking.

There is a fan site which is kind of fun, but I always found that I wanted more videos to flesh out the story. Thankfully Carman has heeded my call (and probably lots of others too. I can’t be the only 32 year old that’s reading this series right?) and now there is tons to feast the eyes on.

Inside Ryan’s journal, you get tons of illustrations that highlight the parts of the story and its clues that Ryan and Sarah are working on. And the videos are top notch. More often then not, you get three videos at a time, which is totally cool.

The videos are expertly done. Not only do the ones made to look older genuinely creep you out, the other story central video is very much like the beautifully done Blair Witch Project, which means it’s awesome. The documentary portions actually give you quite a bit of a history lesson, which is actually a very neat angle to the novel.

Thankfully, the real power of Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones is found in the words of the novel themselves. The story rocks along at an incredible pace and you’ll finish it in no time. I myself finished it less than two days.

Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones is expertly done and wonderfully executed in every way. It leaves me thirsting for more. Thankfully I won’t have to be thirsty for very long. The forth (and final?) book in the Skeleton Creek series, titled The Raven, comes out in the spring of 2011 according to Patrick Carman’s website (which has lots of other neat videos to watch too, that give you a look behind the series itself). You can find it at www.patrickcarman.com

You’ll notice that, if you read through this review, that I haven’t actually told you anything of the story of Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones. In fact, I haven’t revealed the plot points of the previous two books either. So what does that tell you?

You’ll have to go read the books and watch the videos to uncover the mystery.

Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland

15 Jul

 

There have been rumours surrounding Shakespeare for decades.

Most feel that he could not possibly have written all the works he penned. Some even go so far as to saying he stole works and put his name to them. Others say that William Shakespeare was more than one man.

Even more mysterious are Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The one hundred and fifty four poems, each composed of fourteen lines a piece, all written to a mysterious Dark Lady; a woman with dark hair and a husband. Who was the mysterious Dark Lady? How did Shakespeare write all that he wrote.

No one really knows the truth; until now.

Posing as a member of human society in the 1500’s, Shakespeare is hiding a secret that would be devastating should it get out: he is actually a vampire. A member of the undead, he is also capable of raising zombie armies.

William Shakespeare is a vampire necromancer.

Though he has not raised armies of the dead for some time (though he did raise undead armies for Caesar and for Cleopatra), a barrage of zombie attacks are threatening the safety of London and his carefully kept secrets.

All of his secrets are in danger of escaping him when he meets Katherine Dymond. Posing as a boy, Katherine stalks the streets of London as a Chasseur, a slayer or hunter of zombies. After accidentally killing William Shakespeare in the dark streets of London, Katherine flees, hoping not to be haunted by what she has done. Though she has killed zombies, she has never taken another human’s life.

But William Shakespeare isn’t human. Using her scent to track Katherine down, William pledges to love and protect Katherine with the rest of his life; considering he’s already dead, it’ll be a hard promise to keep.

Working together, the two lovers must find out who is raising the army of zombies, find out what they plan to do and protect the Queen of England. All in a days work for your typical necromancer vampire playwright and his lover…

I was a little sceptical of this book at first. I’m a huge fan of the literary mashups by Quirk Books. However, any other mashup I’ve read (with a couple of exceptions) has been lacklustre by comparison and is usually riding on the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, published by Quirk Books in 2009.

Thankfully, that is not the case with Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland.

The novel is a sheer delight from start to finish. And it is far from being a mashup. Sure, it takes William Shakespeare and pairs his story with vampires and zombies, but the mashup stops there. Thankfully, Handeland tells her own tale with laugh out loud results.

What I loved about this book, aside from the madcap storyline, was the characters. You really feel for Katherine and for William Shakespeare. He’s suffering from writers block and his words are freed by Katherine’s love for him. The comedy is sheer hilarity and the romance just sizzles off of the page.

Handeland has also done her homework. The novel reads like a farce of one of Shakespeare’s own plays. Women dressing as men, witches, vampires, ghosts, doomed love, a crazy nursemaid and more. Handeland has borrowed freely from Shakespeare’s work and made his story elements her own.

This novel is for anyone who hated reading Shakespeare in high school, or for anyone who hasn’t even read Shakespeare. Far from being a literary mashup, Shakespeare Undead is something altogether more.

An absolute madcap delight, this is one novel you won’t want to miss.

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

4 Jun

 

 

Blockade Billy is a slim little volume by horror master Stephen King. By now, everyone will have heard of the ruckus that the book caused when Cemetery Dance published the first edition amounting to only 10, 000 copies.

It was a surprise in the literary world; no one had heard a thing about Blockade Billy until it was announced, in early March, that it was going to be released. A baseball by Stephen King? Seriously?

Not as odd as you may think. Baseball had been one of the subjects of one of King’s most popular works: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordan. In that book, a little girl imagines her favourite baseball player is with her while she fights to stay alive while alone in a forest. In Blockade Billy, baseball would finally be taking centre stage.

But would it be any good?

King, who is most known for writing horror, is usually at his best when writing non-horror stories; he is able to give us characters that we love, storylines that drive the plot home. His non-horror stories are incredible stories about people, about love, about redemption. I had no doubts that Blockade Billy would succeed on every level.

However, after reading it for the first time on my Sony eReader, I didn’t think the story succeeded at all. In fact, I felt that it fell flat on its face with little pizzazz and little fanfare.

Blockade Billy is the story of the New Jersey Titans and their new catcher, William “Blockade Billy” Blakely.

When a run of bad luck finds the New Jersey Titans without a catcher before the season is about to start, hope arrives in the form of Billy Blakely. “Granny”, the Titan’s second base coach, thinks there’s something off about Billy, but pushes it aside.

Sure, the boy talks to himself in the third person, but the boy can sure play ball.

When a player gets bloodied after colliding with Billy, it only begins to hint at the darkness that is hiding within William “Blockade Billy” Blakely. Though Blockade Billy can sure play ball, he hides within himself a dark secret.

A secret so dark that it could change the face of baseball forever…

Now, when I first read Blockade Billy, I wasn’t impressed. I thought there would be more menace to this book, more darkness, more grit as hinted at in the books blurb. In the end, this is really a baseball story with a good twist ending.

And it really is a baseball story. As someone who doesn’t watch baseball, or sports at all for that matter, a lot of what I read didn’t really make sense. I was reading about how The New Jersey Titans were playing the game but I kept waiting for the darkness I wanted, needed in a Stephen King book.

After finishing the story I was actually quite disappointed. I really felt the whole thing was one huge let down.

Thankfully, I read the story again.

I was still waiting for my copy of the Cemetery Dance limited edition to arrive in the mail. However, since I’m something of a Stephen King fanatic, I picked up the mass market hardcover version of Blockade Billy put out by Scribner. I had no intention of reading it.

However, after finishing a fluffy romance, I was looking for something to cleanse my literary palate. I picked up the mass market version of Blockade Billy and began to read; and was transported.

The second time around, the story within the pages of Blockade Billy grabbed and held me. I realized that the story wasn’t about grit and blood and horror. It was about baseball and about the darkness of the human spirit.

The second time I read Blockade Billy, all the baseball jargon didn’t bother me. In fact, it pulled me into the story and transported me; I felt like I was watching the games they were playing, felt as if I was right there with the players.

Blockade Billy is a baseball story. So if you don’t follow baseball, you might be a little lost. But you know what? It doesn’t matter; the enthusiasm in Granny’s voice is infectious, the story thrilling in its own right, right up until it’s shattering conclusion.

So did I like Blockade Billy?

Not the first time around. But am I ever glad I gave it a second chance as I came away loving this little literary gem.

It may not be Stephen King’s best work, but its one heck of a story.

Horns by Joe Hill

26 Apr

 

Ig Perrish is having a rough go of it.

After a night of drinking, he wakes up hung over and not entirely sure what he got up to the night before. Added to that, he has two small horns growing out of his head.

He knows that they weren’t there before, that they are a new edition to his body. He also quickly finds out that they influence others around him. The horns force others around him to tell him what they’re thinking.

Exactly what they’re thinking.

Those close to him begin to share their innermost secrets. The “I can’t believe you just said that” kind of secrets. Secrets and thoughts about a past that haunts all of them.

Years ago, Ig was accused of the rape and murder of the one woman he loved, the one woman who was his heart. Though he maintains his innocence, he finds out what his family and friends really think.

Everyone believes that he did it. Everyone thinks he killed her.

With his newfound talent, Ig decides to take the only course of action left to him. He decides to find out who really killed the one woman he loved.

And then take out his revenge…

I love Joe Hill. Rather, I love his writing. His first novel, Heart Shaped Box, was one of the creepiest, scariest novels I have read in years. His collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, was one of the most amazing collections of short fiction I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

I wasn’t sure about Horns at first. Second novels have a tendency to be lacklustre and usually don’t live up to the sacred gem of the first novel, especially one as widely heralded as Heart Shaped Box.

Before opening the book, I wondered if Horns would be a one trick wonder. I mean, how can you make a novel out of someone who can force you to share your inner most thoughts? It would get boring and repetitive after a while, right?

What I didn’t take into account was that Horns is a book by Joe Hill, an author who isn’t afraid to take the story one way and then veer off in a completely different, and sometimes shocking, direction.

Though the main story of the novel is Ig trying to find his revenge, the rest of the novel is told in flashbacks that are beautifully, incredibly written. The flashbacks are very emotionally charged. When Ig first meets Merrin, when he learns about love. When he gets his hear broken. The emotion on these pages is tangible.

I was also surprised by how funny the novel was. And I mean laugh out loud funny. Hill has an incredible ear for dialogue and he’s in top form here, giving us shocks, thrills and chills along the way. By the time the first half of the book is over, the people in Horns have stopped being characters on paper; they are real people.

Though the novel dragged a little in the middle (like most good novels do) he picks everything up again and steers us towards what is surely one of the best showdowns in modern fiction history.

Not only has Hill given us an incredible horror story. He’s also written a parable on love, life and, ultimately, the pursuit of happiness.

An incredible read from start to finish, Horns is one literary treat you’ll want to sink your horns, er, teeth into.