Friday, November 26, 2010

2-in-1: A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons & Cabal by Clive Barker

1. A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons

A book synopsis from the publisher's website:

A Winter HauntingA once-respected college professor and novelist, Dale Stewart has sabotaged his career and his marriage -- and now darkness is closing in on him. In the last hours of Halloween he has returned to the dying town of Elm Haven, his boyhood home, where he hopes to find peace in isolation. But moving into a long-deserted farmhouse on the far outskirts of town -- the one-time residence of a strange and brilliant friend who lost his young life in a grisly "accident" back in the terrible summer of 1960 -- is only the latest in his long succession of recent mistakes. Because Dale is not alone here. He has been followed to this house of shadows by private demons who are now twisting his reality into horrifying new forms. And a thick, blanketing early snow is starting to fall ...

This was my first book by Dan Simmons and to sound as cliche as possible, it will not be the last. I was very surprised by the lyrical quality of A Winter Haunting, which really made this horror/ghost story a little more special. And also a little more frightening. It's a modern Gothic story in my opinion and even though there are a lot of descriptive passages and mostly the main character's ruminations, it reads smoothly and is not boring at all. One little fact you should know, A Winter Haunting is apparently a sequel to Summer of Night. I didn't know that previous to reading the book but it made no difference. A Winter Haunting can easily be read as a stand-alone. If you want a nice, spooky ghost story with Gothic in it, I think you should try this one. It's not long and windy and is probably a good introduction to Dan Simmons's style of writing.

2. Cabal by Clive Barker

The book's synopsis from GoodReads:

CabalIs he a madman or an innocent? A mass-murderer or a fugitive from injustice? Aaron Boone-wracked by unbearable guilt for crimes he cannot remember; loved by a woman who will stop at nothing to save him; and pursued by a twisted killer-is driven into a netherworld of the living dead, a world of creatures who thrive on darkness and flesh. 

I didn't like this story too much. It was very bizarre and granted, there were some gory scenes in there, but something just didn't click for me. Maybe the length of the novel is to blame (it really was a novella). I am thinking that Mr. Barker is not very good at writing short stories or I'm just not the type of person to like them. There simply was no time for me to develop any kind of feelings for the main character, let alone all the supporting cast. Everything felt rushed and I felt detached from the story. I also am growing a little bit bored with the general theme permeating the horror novels I read showing the reader how people are the real monsters capable of horrible evil and the imagined monsters or creatures that live underground are really not that bad in comparison. I thought it original the first time but Cabal had the misfortune of being the third or fourth one in a row. I know Mr. Barker has a strong following in the horror world but I will not belong to it, I'm afraid.

FTC: I bought both books.

Friday, November 19, 2010

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

'Salem's Lot, Illustrated EditionStephen King's second novel, the classic vampire bestseller 'SALEM'S LOT, tells the story of evil in small-town America.
'Salem's Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in 'salem's Lot was a summer of homecoming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to 'salem's Lot hoping to cast out his own devils and found instead a new, unspeakable horror.

A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.

All would be changed forever: Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of 'Salem's Lot.

This is a rare novel, almost hypnotic in its unyielding suspense, which builds to a climax of classic terror. You will not forget the town of 'salem's Lot nor any of the people who used to live here.
I liked 'Salem's Lot. That's it. I just liked it. I didn't love it and I didn't fall head over heels for it, which is what I expected my reaction to be. I think that all the positive things I had heard before I read it made my expectations impossibly high and that was one of the problems. I kept hearing how scary it was, what a piece of classic horror it was and then it wasn't scary for me at all, didn't have that atmosphere of reality that I always find in King's books. By that I mean, no matter how impossible a story Mr. King tells, he somehow always manages to make it seem very probable indeed. And that's what makes his books scary for me. With 'Salem's Lot, I just didn't get that vibe at all. I suppose that the book didn't scare the pants off of me was my main source of disappointment. Otherwise, it is still a fine, gritty vampire tale.

The characters in 'Salem's Lot are developed beautifully. We already (it's one of the author's earliest novels) encounter King's signature scene with multitude of personalities. The beautiful thing is, you never get confused as to who is who and who did what. Some of the people there were simply bad without any supernatural influence and I wished a little that some horrible end would meet them but that didn't happen. I suppose in real life justice rarely does arrive and Mr. King simply tried to imitate this nitty, gritty reality of ours as closely as possible to make the whole vampire story seem possible as well. The writing is of course superb. I write of course because I never expect anything less from this writer. He really knows his craft. Sentences are clean, sharp and to the point. You will find no beautifying or overly longish paragraphs with unnecessary descriptions of every minute thing in here. Which makes 'Salem's Lot a pleasurable, quick read despite its length (roughly 550 pages).

If you're looking for some nice, traditional vampire action, this read is a must. Just like Stoker's Dracula, even if 'Salem's Lot is not the best of King (and it's just my humble opinion anyway), it belongs to the vampire canon that needs to be on the shelves of any self-respecting horror and the Undead fan.

Disclosure: I bought 'Salem's Lot.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

2-in-1: The Right Hand of Evil by John Saul & Blood Games by Richard Laymon

1. The Right Hand of Evil by John Saul

The book's description from the author's website:

The Right Hand of EvilWhen the Conways move into their ancestral home in Louisiana after the death of an estranged aunt, it is with the promise of a new beginning. But the house has a life of its own. Abandoned for the last forty years, surrounded by thick trees and a stifling sense of melancholy, the sprawling Victorian house seems to swallow up the sunlight. Deep within the cold cellar and etched into the very walls is a long, dark history of the Conway name--a grim bloodline poisoned by suicide, strange disappearances, voodoo rituals and rumors of murder. But the family knows nothing of the soul-shattering secrets that snake through generations of their past.They do not know that terror awaits them. For with each generation of the Conways comes a hellish day of reckoning...
Simply put, if you're looking for a scary book, this is it. I have to say that I don't get spooked easily but The Right Hand of Evil came pretty close to doing just that. Granted, it's not an awesome, scariest book I've ever read but it was a nice read that sent some chills up my spine. And I think it will do the same for you, especially if you like stories with haunted houses in them, because there is a haunted house in this story. haunted by pure evil as a matter of fact.

2. Blood Games by Richard Laymon

The book's description from the publisher's website:

Blood GamesThey meet for one week every year, five young women, best friends since college, in search of fun and thrills. Each year they choose a different place for their reunion. This year it's Helen's choice, and she chooses the Totem Pole Lodge. Bad choice. The Totem Pole Lodge is a deserted resort hotel deep in the woods with a gory, shocking past. Helen has a macabre streak and she can't wait to tell her friends all about what happened at the lodge and why it's now abandoned. But Helen and the others are in for a nasty surprise. The resort isn't quite as deserted as they think. And not all the gruesome events at the Totem Pole Lodge are in its past. The worst are still to come....
It's my first Richard Laymon experience and I have to tell you, if you really want to get creep-ed out, this is the author for you and this is the book for you. Nothing supernatural here, just plain, pure human evil . Mix the movies Descent with Hills Have Eyes and you get the idea of what you'll be reading in Blood Games. I felt like I was reading the whole time on an inhale, thinking I won't come up for air again. It's definitely a fun book. The only thing that spoiled it for me were the sexual overtures between the girl friends. I think Mr. Laymon's imagination as to how a few girlfriends spend quality time together went really wild. But other than that (at least for me), it's a solid horror story and I'll definitely be reading more of his books.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Strangers by Dean Koontz


About the book from the author's website:

THEY WERE STRANGERS A handful of people. From different backgrounds, living in different towns and cities across America, they had nothing in common—except fear.
THEY WERE VICTIMS Cold and stark, an unknown terror gripped their dreams and turned their days into living nightmares.
THEY WERE CHOSEN And they could not escape. Deep in the heart of a sprawling desert, a dark memory called out to them, drawing them to the Tranquility Motel—where the terrifying truth was waiting…

I enjoy Dean Koontz's writing more and more with each book of his I read. Even if there is one or two that I might not appreciate very much, there is always that extra special quality to his writing that makes me come back for more. And so it was with Strangers. Before I even got anywhere near the ending, it got me wondering why I read Mr. Koontz so rarely.

What is it precisely that I like so much? It's the emotional value, there's just something intangible in Strangers (as in almost every other book of his) that puts me in a very thoughtful mood. There's a lot of philosophical and existential issues in there which you'd normally not expect from a writer of horror novels. But that's what's so great about Koontz. No matter how scary and how full of thrilling action his books get, you'll probably be brought to tears and definitely be asking yourself some important questions. While reading Strangers, I did cry and a few things did make me wonder. As far as the subject matter goes, did he make me a believer? Not quite yet but he came closest to convincing me among all the theories I've heard.

Strangers is certainly a big in scope novel that actually isn't really a horror book, so if you are not a fan of horrors but would like to read a Koontz book, Strangers may very well be the one to try. All you need is an open mind and some taste for suspense, thrill and a little bit of paranormal (that's not scary). The only scary part is the evil that some people (not out of this world beings) are capable of. But even that Koontz beats with his strong faith in the goodness of mankind and our capacity to ultimately know good from evil. Even for a cynic like myself, it's refreshing to experience this.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lonesome Dove Readalong - Chapters 51-60

This weeks questions are provided by Melissa from Gerbera Daisy Diaries and if you'd like to see her answers, as well as Amy's and Leah's, please visit My Friend Amy. You can also just head over directly to Melissa's and Leah's blogs.

1. Lorena’s situation is hell. How does she endure the suffering? (Or anyone who is put in a position of utter brutality). What are your overall feelings and thoughts about her, Blue Duck, Dog Face, Monkey John and the whole camp scene? Where does such evil come from?

I have no idea how she indeed managed to mentally survive this ordeal (although if she indeed survive it remains to be seen). I was obviously very shocked at the brutality and I honestly can't tell you where this evil comes from. I wonder about it daily when I hear about people committing awful crimes and I still have no clue. The worst for me is that I look at my infant son and realize that all there murderers and rapist were once such innocent babies. The question is, what went wrong? I know that Lonesome Dove is fiction but honestly, if it can be thought of, it has probably been done already.

2. The two story lines finally collide when Gus meets up with July and his gang – did you have any premonition it would end the way it did? Do you think July is reluctant to set out on his own to find Elmira?

This was the most shocking and unexpected part of the story so far. I had no idea that this was going to be the end of the road for Roscoe, Joe and Janey. Even after they were slaughtered, I found myself thinking, Did this just really happen?. I'm still digesting the events of that night. None of what happened have I even imagined would. As far as July goes, I really don't know what to think of him. he should just forget about Elmira and maybe join Gus and Lorena.

3. Call is obviously distraught that Gus hasn’t returned, do these emotions surprise you? Do they seem out of character for Call? Do you think he is more worried now that Po Campo has shed light on how bad Blue Duck is?

That's the one thing I'm not surprised about. I expected Call would be distraught. For a while there I thought call was the one showing up in time to rescue Gus not the July party. But like the girls said, Call and Gus still seem like an old marriage and Call does care about Gus more than he wants to admit, maybe even to himself.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

October Reads

I would say that I had a measly reading month in October, if it weren't for the fact that what I did manage to read were all great experiences worth the attention and time and also quite, quite long.

1. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (704 pages)

2. Strangers by Dean Koontz (681 pages)

3. The Right Hand of Evil by John Saul (427 pages)

I also am participating in the Lonesome Dove Readalong and have managed to read 300 pages of that novel. I'm really enjoying it with every week more and more.

Here Be DragonsHere Be Dragons was hands down the best book of the month and is definitely going to be in the top five books of the year. I have part two (it's a trilogy) and am looking forward to reading it as well as other books by Ms. Penman.

I have decided to make the next few months (maybe it will even continue until the end of next year) a themed reading experience. This means that each month I will read books that have a common theme, genre, same writer, etc.

For November, it's horror novels. I already started in October but since i only had a week and a half left, I decided to extend this theme for one whole month.

For December, it will be Christian fiction or at least inspirational. I already have a few titles lined up and am looking forward to the theme.

For January, since it's a new year, I will be reading books by new to me authors.

For February, I will be obvious and read romances/books with love stories in them.

For March, it will be books by one writer, I just haven't decided whom. I have a few on my mind (Michener, King, Paretsky).

The rest of the months will be shaky because my baby is due in April. For at least the months of April and May I won't be reading much, if at all.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

The book's synopsis from the author's website:

Here Be DragonsBastard-born but cherished daughter of King John, Joanna becomes a political pawn when her adored father arranges her marriage to Llewelyn Prince of Gwynedd, Wales, his bitter foe. The young bride is a stranger in a hostile land, married to a man she does not know. Until she comes to love her brilliant husband, leader of men, and passionate opponent to the English laws that chain his homeland. And as bloody wars break out once more between England and Wales, Joanna is caught in the crossfire of fatal enmity, her loyalties cruelly divided between her father and the man she loves.

The battle-torn land could not be more ravaged than her troubled, turbulent heart, and in a moment of confused, guilty passion that she will never forget, Joanna risks her peace of mind, her freedom ... even her life.

This sweeping saga of true events in the thirteenth century, beginning Sharon Penman's magnificent trilogy of England and Wales, is a tangled, tempestuous story of power and passion, loyalty and lies ...

Splendid! That's all I have to say...just kidding, but if I ever were forced to summarize this book in one word, 'splendid' would be the one. Here Be Dragons is the reason why exactly I read and love historical fiction. This is a kind of book that gives you a story you can truly lose yourself in, lock the world away and pretend for at least the hours you're reading that nothing else but what's happening on the pages of the book exists.

Here Be Dragons is the first book by Sharon Penman I've ever read but it's enough for me to know that this author truly is a master of her art. She painted such a vivid physical and emotional landscape of the 13th century England and Wales, and people ruling them, that it was sometimes very difficult for me to return to the present without regrets. please, don't take it as gushings of a drama queen here, because I'm certainly no drama queen and I rarely love a book this much. That's why when it happens, it is all the more memorable.

Now, mind you, Here Be Dragons is probably not the book for people who are just trying to get into historical fiction. It's a chunkster with tons of characters, a lot of history packed into it, a lot of intrigue and events to pay attention to, and while those are the reasons why I love it so and I'm sure most history buffs do too, some who are just starting may get turned of by the 'too-muchness' of it all. Nonetheless, in the end, I found I cared for almost all characters, even the most vile, because Ms. Penman did a superb job of showing two sides to every story, two sides to every person. Even the cruel king John of England awoke feelings of pity and compassion even sometimes. By the same token, I also got mad and turned off by some of the things done by Llewelyn (the good character) or his wife, Joanna (who by the way, really pissed me off a few times there).

Thank goodness this book is the first in the trilogy of the Welsh Princes and the first of the many books Sharon Kay Penman wrote. Even though I've waited a long time to discover this writer, I now have hours upon hours of more splendid reading ahead of me, because I have no doubt that her other books will be just as good.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lonesome Dove Readalong - Chapters 41 -50

This weeks questions are provided by Leah from Amused By Books and if you'd like to see her answers, as well as Amy's and Melissa's, please visit My Friend Amy.

1. We now have the full story of two huge female relationships in our main men's lives: Cal and Maggie; and Gus and Clara. They are very different. What do these relationships tell us about the men they've become, if anything?

I think that mostly these failed relationships show what kind of life Gus and Call did lead as Texas Rangers and the sacrifices that went along with it. We are just getting a glimpse of it and I think more will be revealed about Gus and Call as Rangers, as well as about their relationships with Maggie and Clara. I believe Call did love Maggie but his problem is a basic fear of commitment. He didn't want to be tied down to one woman and give up the life he had as the captain of the Texas Rangers.As far as Clara goes, I think she knew Gus more than he knew himself and didn't marry him precisely because he may have been unhappy down the road as a settled down husband and would always want to go back to the 'lonesome' life of a Ranger.

2. Our old pal Roscoe gets a female traveling companion! Do you think he should have rescued her? Do you think they make a good pair?

To be honest, I have so far not put too much importance to the girl appearing at Roscoe's side. She is a little bit of a mystery and if anything, she will not end up with Roscoe but with July instead. I think July will find Roscoe (not the other way around, I think that's pretty clear that Roscoe is not very capable by now) there will develop a relationship between July and the girl.

3. The cowboys finally meet a Native American while traveling, the famous Blue Duck, who Cal and Gus even know from their Ranger days (and we saw how bad ass Gus and Cal used to be when they Rangered when they wandered into San Antonio for a bit). What do you make of everything that has happened with Blue Duck and Lorena and what do you think will happen when Gus and Blue Duck meet again?

I'm not gonna lie, I was shocked by the rape of Lorena's. I didn't think it would actually come to that. I guess that shows my ignorance and/or lack of knowledge in the western department. I did know that Blue Duck would come back for her, so that wasn't a surprise. I was actually very mad at her for being so stupidly stubborn and really so naive as to believe that Jake would come back on time to save her. I mean, didn't she have enough bad experience with men to know better?! I just hope that Gus will come out alive of it because I did sense some foreboding there and I hope I'm wrong.

Final thoughts: This part of the book really showed me why so many people love Lonesome Dove and why Larry McMurtry is the successful writer he is. The swift change from the atmosphere of fun, humor and comedy of western manners to the scene in San Antonio that showed how dangerous Gus and Call really could be and then to the kidnapping of Lorena and her subsequent rape proves to me a work of a very talented writer. Not many people can achieve such 'an emotional roller coaster' (if I may) in a novel successfully without confusing the reader.  This part really caused me to switch my attitude from mild entertainment to serious consideration of a classic.