Doctor Sleep

Title: Doctor Sleep

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Following a childhood haunted by terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance has been drifting for decades.

Finally, he settles into a job at a nursing home where he draws on his remnant ‘shining’ power to help people pass on.

Then he meets Abra Stone, a young girl with the brightest ‘shining’ ever seen. But her gift is attracting a tribe of paranormals. They may look harmless, old and devoted to their Recreational Vehicles, but The True Knot live off the ‘steam’ that children like Abra produce.

Now Dan must confront his old demons as he battles for Abra’s soul and survival…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I re-read The Shining before i dived into this book, and I’m honestly not sure if that was a good thing to do or not. Immediately it’s obvious that King’s writing style has improved in the years between books. It’s just more natural and I was instantly drawn into the world, the familiar characters, and the aftermath of The Shining. My hopes were quickly set quite high.

The Shining is a tough act to follow, and obviously King knew that. Doctor Sleep felt quieter, to me… and I liked that. It’s not trying to out shine (pun intended!) its predecessor, but do something different while expanding on the supernatural lore of ‘the shining’, as well as the nature of addiction. And the first half of the book had me hooked. Seeing Danny Torrence as a boy, dealing with the trauma from The Overlook and the ghosts that followed him (figuratively and literally); growing up and dealing with the trauma less-well, turning to drink. The story really gets going when Dan finds himself in Frazier, knowing this is where he needs to be.

This book has a lot more characters than The Shining. The Shining was limited to the Torrances–a family of three–and a few supporting characters(/ghosts), but Doctor Sleep has Dan, Dan’s friends and colleagues, Abra and her family, as well as the numerous members of the True Knot. They are a lot to keep track of at first, but the main players soon stand out. Billy, the first person Dan meets in Frazier, was an instant favourite for me. He was just so pure and lovely, and i was immediately thinking, “he’d better survive this book!” Another favourite was Concetta, Abra’s grandmother. A poet, a strong and independent woman, and just so level headed and no-nonsense.

Less-great aspects to the characters were the fact that it was the men who see all the action. It’s Dan, his AA BFF, and Abra’s dad who road trip around and confront some bad guys. All the friends Dan makes in Frazier are blokes. We get Abra, who’s strong and sassy and takes no shit. I loved her. But we also have her mum, who’s shown as being very emotional and reactive, compared to her husband. Even Wendy, Dan’s mum and determined fighter from The Shining, is reduced to a woman who needs to be protected by her young son and who smokes herself to death… she deserved so much more. And there’s Rose the Hat and Snakebite Andi… the crazy evil ladies. And of course at least one of them needs a sexual abuse back story that’s passed off as character development. In fact there were several points were all the female characters (bar Concetta; she was too old, but yes including 14-year-old Abra) were unnecessarily sexualised. Might have just been a throw away line… no big deal, you might say… expect there’s no point to it! It’s a throw away line with no purpose but to frustrate the shit out of me and give a hard side-eye the author.

As much as it was interesting to learn more about ‘the shining’ and Abra’s abilities, what I really loved most about the book was the exploration of the human horrors. So, very much what i liked about The Shining, now i come to think about it. Dan’s alcoholism, the depths he finds himself in and his struggle to claw himself out, his AA journey and the friends he makes along the way, and most of all the secret he keeps for so, so long and how it ate at him. It was that story line and its conclusion that i was most invested in and most emotional about.

The True Knot were a fascinating new aspect to the book. An old group (in more ways than one) of people with certain abilities themselves, who travel around the country and feed off of the ‘steam’ that children with ‘the shine’ possess. Rose the Hat, their leader, was especially intriguing and equal parts wonderful and terrible. The group’s entire history and way of life was interesting, and I would love to have read more, perhaps got to know a few more characters. Where the True Knot fell down for me, is as the horrifying bad guys. Yes, they were the bad guys, and yes, they were horrifying… but at no point did i think they’d have a chance of winning. As the reader, i know we know the bad guys aren’t going to win, but the stakes have to be high enough that i worry for the good guys. I was never worried for the good guys. Splitting the group up, a botched kidnapping, along with Rose the Hat’s constant poor decisions and gradual decline into rage and irrationality… the stakes were never high enough.

When i re-read The Shining i had to put the book down and take breaks because it made me so anxious and only increased the tension with every page. In contrast, i found myself putting Doctor Sleep down and not picking it back up for several days at a time. I was enjoying it, sure, but the successful outcome for the good guys was so clearly inevitable that the ride to get there wasn’t that enticing.

The last niggling thing… Abra’s emotions. The rage and the strength were clear throughout the book, and that alone would be interesting to explore. That would make Dan’s advise to her at the end of the book perfect and fitting. No, the thing that niggles me is that smile, those cocky lines, and her enjoyment. She didn’t simply get angry and need to break something… she got angry and wanted to hurt someone. By about two thirds of the way through the book alarm bells were ringing for me. Abra was so, so powerful, but every time she grinned, got sassy, or expressed pleasure in her actions I recoiled a little bit. Honestly, Abra was the scariest thing about this book. I really thought that would have been addressed more than it was at the end of the book. If King isn’t planning another sequel that deals with a grow up Abra turned bad, then this book really dropped the ball on her character.

Overall I did enjoy this book, mostly Dan’s story and battle with alcoholism, and seeing him make a life for himself. I would be interested in another book with an adult Abra… to see how adulthood treats her, like we’ve now seen for Dan. For all the things i’ve moaned about, the things i loved about the book, i loved.

The Shining

Title: The Shining

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Danny is only five years old but in the words of old Mr Hollorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control.

As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?

Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel–and that too is being to shine…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I first read this book about 15 years ago. I loved it then and (spoiler:) i love it now. I decided to re-read it ahead of reading Doctor Sleep for the first time, and I’m really glad i did. I remembered part of the book really well, but other parts were a total blur. It was wonderful to re-visit the scenes i loved enough to remember, and the story was still suspenseful enough because I couldn’t recall all the details of what happened.

The main thing I remembered from when I first read the book was how genuinely scary it was. The particular moments that stayed with me had been the topiary animals and the fire hose. On this re-read those moments were still scary, but there were more scary moments. The tunnel in the snowy playground, the lift whirling into life in the middle of the night, the wasps. But more than that, I think this time I had more appreciation for the more human horrors. Jack’s alcoholism (and, underneath that, his deep insecurities), his father’s abusiveness, his mother’s passivity, and Wendy’s history with her mother and how she could see that playing out again in herself. As much as this book has horror and supernatural elements, it has human issues at its heart.

I loved all of the characters, to some extent. Danny was so smart and pure for his five years, with this psychic ability he didn’t understand. In the hands of an adult with more information this whole story could have ended much quicker… or have not taken place at all. Having all the knowledge and so little of the understanding in the hands of a child feels heavy and meaningful. Dick Hollorann was a clear favourite. He was so genuine and lovely, instantly connecting with Danny and having the drive to do everything he could for a kid he’d met for a hour several months ago. Wendy. Wendy i love, and i love her growth over the book from “Danny’s mum” and “Jack’s wife” to a strong, smart woman kicking as much arse as she needed to to keep herself and her son safe. From flashbacks and early stages of the book, she seemed too complacent and reluctant to rock the boat. But when shit gets real she steps up without question and does what she needs to.

And then, of course, there’s Jack. I love who Jack wants to me, who he has the potential to be, and who he almost is right at the start of the book. As the story developed, I slowly began to hate Jack… but in a way that I loved and was really well done. He begins in a good place–despite some poor choices ending him up in a difficult situation, he seems ready to move on and start again. He obviously loves his wife and kid and wants to do right by them. But as we slowly learn more, exactly, of Jack’s past and as the time spent isolated in the hotel increases, he becomes more and more of a horrible, self-centred, egotistical maniac.

Now, the thing i love most about this book is the possibilities. There are never, really, any definitive answers. I can see several possible reasons for what happens in this book… and i accept them all. One, the Overlook and the evilness contained within it completely manipulated Jack and forced him into the actions he took. Two, the Overlook was able to manipulate Jack and get him to do the things he did because Jack already had the potential to be that person; to some degree he thought and felt those horrible things and the hotel then amplified them and drove him to depths he might never had reached without its influence. Three, the Overlook has very little or no supernatural evil spirits and it was all simply cabin fever that drove Jack mad and induced a group hallucination. And really, anywhere along that scale. There are details and moments that could point in favour of one explanation or another, but I really don’t think there is anything to state definitively what happened. And i LOVE that. I could play devil’s advocate and argue any of the options and I would enjoy doing so.

Another thing that struck me was a line from Grady, a previous winter caretaker who murdered his family several years before:

“Your wife would object to that very strongly, Mr Torrence. And she appears to be… somewhat stronger than we imagined. Somewhat more resourceful. She certainly seems to have gotten the better of you.”
Grady tittered.
“Perhaps, Mr Torrence, we should have been dealing with her all along.”

This actually made me pause and think… “What if they had?” What if, for whatever reason, the Overlook had got into Wendy’s head instead of Jack’s. Manipulated Wendy into throwing away the snowmobile battery and murdering her family? And again, i can imagine multiple possibilities, all of which i could see happening. One, Wendy is less easy to manipulate because she doesn’t have as many underlying issues as Jack, and so she throws off the hotel’s influence more easily. Two, a similar situation as with Jack; she is manipulated into these malicious acts and causes some harm but is ultimately beaten by Jack’s determination to save his son, Hollorann’s rescue, and Danny’s love. Three, Wendy is stronger and more resourceful than Jack, simply poisoning their food or slitting their throats in their sleep. I would actually love to read a re-telling of this book with the Overlook manipulating Wendy instead.

Overall i really loved the pacing of the book. How much it managed to keep me on edge, even when i knew how it was all going to end–i couldn’t remember enough of the details to figure out exactly how they got there. At points the tension was so high i had to take a break, putting the book down while i did something else for 10 minutes. The suspense was also nicely broken up by chapters showing Hollorann’s journey across the country back to them at the Overlook. He was trying to get to them as fast as he could, but the anxiety of his travel did not match that of the events unfolding at the hotel. Slowly though, as Hollorann got closer and closer, his storyline also became more tense, until the last eight chapters of the book had me strung out on a knife edge. I loved it.

Lastly, the only real reason this book didn’t get five stars is because, let’s be honest, King is not the best writer. There are a few issues that I can’t ignore. Mild, but still utterly present… sexism, racism, unnecessary and awkward sexual interactions, and generally clumsy, cliched literary devices. All (mostly) forgiven with an eyeroll and acknowledgement that to me he is a good-but-not-great author.

I do have other thoughts on the book, but they are mostly tied into its relationship and comparison to the 1980 film adaptation. So many other thoughts, in fact, that before I start reading Doctor Sleep, I have decided to re-watch the film and spend some time writing a “book vs film” analysis. Just like reviews of the book and the film, comparisons have likely been done to death… but i just have so many opinions on this, that i need to get them down on page and share them. So, if you have any strong opinions about The Shining, stay tuned for that soon!

The Wheel of Osheim

Title: The Wheel of Osheim

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued.

For Jalan Kendeth, getting out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. The key can open any lock an possession of it may enable Jal to return to the three Ws that have been the core of his debauched life: wine, women and wagering.

But the Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: From my review of the previous book in this series, The Liar’s Key:

“[I’m] very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.”

Let me tell you… I was not disappointed.

Jalan is just… one of my favourite characters ever, actually. His self-deception is like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s convinced himself he’s a coward who’d give up his nearest and dearest to save his own skin, while continuing to never, ever do that, and he’s just so likeable for it. Seeing him really, truly come into his own and show people what he’s capable of (even if he’s not one of those people) was satisfying to see. And Snorri… the big, beautiful, bozo that is Snorri. Continuing to see and believe only the best in Jal, being so righteous and noble and good, and just having the biggest heart and the loudest roar.

The friendship between Jal and Snorri really shines in this book, after seeing them bond over so many adventures in the previous books. And the fact that they’re not together for a portion of the book only made me appreciate their interactions and how they work together all the more. It also was wonderful having some of Snorri’s story when he was alone, and getting to see what Snorri really thinks of Jal and no i did not tear up with happiness about it, shut up.

Unfortunately Kara and Hennan still feeling too much like tacked on extras and plot devices, rather than fully realised characters. Kara still comes across as very suspicious and not wholly likable, which disappointed me. Hennan is too quiet and not utilised in enough (or in any?) ways until he proves useful towards the climax of the book (see: plot device). It was nice getting to appreciate more characters that had been painted as worthless or horrible by Jal, most notably the genuine connection Jal finally recognises and acknowledges with his father and brothers. The Red Queen continues to be a kick arse and formidable woman, along with her twin siblings. I loved Jal letting his mouth run, standing up to her and instead of giving her the key, giving her what for! The sudden respect that earns him from her, and how that leads and affects the rest of the story is brilliant.

Talking of the story… it is non-stop. What Liar’s Key lacked in a plot to keep the book moving, this book improved on tenfold. There is never a dull moment… almost to the point of wanting a dull moment. Almost. It was unnerving at first, Jal reappearing from Hell without Snorri and no explanation. I was worried about Snorri until his magnificent reappearance that literally had me whooping. There was just no let up… Jal’s meeting with Jorg, his rescue of Lisa, how he conclusively dealt with Maeres Allus, how he earned everyone’s respect by being a freaking incredible general (after convincing himself he’d done a half-arsed job of it up until they were attacked)… just. So much. And that’s only in the first half.

There was a lot packed into this book, and even though I knew there would be confrontations for Jal with Edris Dean and his Unborn sister… when they came they surprised me. With so much going on I stopped thinking about what might happen and just needed to keep reading to actually find out. I was a bit ‘meh’ on the ending of Lawrence’s first series The Broken Empire, but this one was brilliant. It was satisfying with enough possibility to keep me guessing. It had relief without compromising on emotion and genuinely high stakes. It was pretty perfect.

Other than the witty, clever, and endlessly quotable writing, the genre of these book is my absolute favourite thing about them. It’s a perfect science fiction and fantasy meld. I love it. Set a thousand years after a nuclear war that happens in our conceivable future, it hints at a history and technology the characters don’t fully understand. I had so much fun trying to figure out what Jal was describing, because they don’t have a clue. A white cube with “ghosts” inside. The builder’s wheel that’s been turning all this time and bringing magic into the world. And my personal favourite… a freaking iron pineapple!! This is such a good, niche genre, and I want 100 more books written in this vein immediately.

I read this book in a week which, along with Prince of Thorns, is the quickest I’ve read any of the books in either series. I could barely stop reading it, and when I did I was only thinking about reading it. It’s incredible how everything ties up with The Broken Empire series and I really want to re-read both series with the insight I now have. Of course, who has time for that when I need to be getting on with the next series?

The Liar’s Key

Title: The Liar’s Key

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The Red Queen has set her players on the board…

Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave.

For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hel to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door.

As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I read and loved Prince of Fools last year, and I was determined to read this series quicker than I managed to read The Broken Empire series. Which is why The Liar’s Key was the first book i picked up this year. Lawrence’s writing is always clever and an effortless mix of humour and heart. This book was no different.

Our main character, Jalan, was just as much a delightful prick as he was in the first book. Self-declared squeamish coward, but with so much self-deceit he almost has no idea who he really is. He continues to do brave and noble things, while convincing himself he’s selfishly just trying to make his own life easier. I kind of adore him. Snorri is… still very much Snorri. Self-assured, headstrong, and… the regular kind of strong. Dragging his friends across Europe on a dangerous quest to open the door to Hel and find his dead family. Tuttugu i didn’t remember clearly from the first book, but i adored in this book. A kind, soft heart following his countryman and friend into dangerous situations because it’s the right thing to do.

We also get a couple of new characters. Kara, a witch who joins their journey and helps them along the way, but who clearly has something to hide. I loved having a main female character join the group, and i loved her immunity to Jal’s “charms” and advances. Her secrets and unclear motivations were intriguing, but also made me wary of her. Hennan, a young boy they pick up almost randomly and pointlessly along the way… for a long time he was a bit part, barely speaking and adding nothing to the plot. But he grew on me by the end.

Now, this book took me the entirety of January to read. That’s not usual. Most other of Lawrence’s books i’ve finished in 2-3 weeks. But this one… this one took a while to really get going for me. The first half… nothing really happens. Nothing of larger consequence, anyway. It’s a meander. A travel blog. They get into some hairy situations, meet a few folk along the way… but there is nothing significant driving the plot. Only Snorri’s desire to use the key to open the door to Hel and find his family… which isn’t shared by our main character… or any other character. This led to there not being much drive for me to pick up the book to keep reading. I still read regularly, but I didn’t read much each time–only one chapter or less.

I really enjoyed Jal’s dream-jaunts into his family’s past. Seeing his grandmother, the Red Queen, as a young girl so ruthless and ready for action. His great aunt and uncle by their sister’s side, the three of them an almost unstoppable force, even at such a young age. Those snippets gave Jal and the reader so much more information about the war being fought, the motivations, and actions, and just how long the game has been in play.

It wasn’t until about halfway through that things really seemed to pick up some. When their journey brought them to Red March, and Jal saw his home town as the end of his travels. Of course, as the reader, it was obviously anything but. But seeing him trying to slip back into his old life, while finding nothing quite the same as it was and not deriving the same pleasures from it… that was brilliant to watch unfold. The story culminates in Florence, and the last 200 pages were where this book really shone for me–I couldn’t read those last 10 chapters quick enough!

As much as a lot of this book seemed too slow and meandering, it ended on such a high, with a great final showdown of wits and smarts and conversation. It has me very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.

Prince of Fools

Title: Prince of Fools

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.

The Red Queen is dreaded by the kings of the Broken Empire as they dread no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendreth–womaniser, gambler and all-out cad–is tenth in line to the thrown. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures.

Until, that is, he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axeman, and dragged against his will to the icy north…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: After loving Lawrence’s first series set in The Broken Empire, of course i was going to read the second. I’m just surprised it took me so long.

I just really love this setting. This is a fantasy story, with necromancers, magic, and horse riding… but it’s set in a Europe that’s 1000 years post a nuclear war. There’s a trusty map at the start of the book, but the shapes and names are recognisable and familiar. I get so much more into the world of this book, knowing it’s this world–or at least, what this would could become. It has fantasy themes and tropes, but when they are set in a foundation of speculative science (pseudo as it is), it excites and interests me infinitely more that straight fantasy.

Almost immediately i was reminded just how brilliant Lawrence’s writing is. It reads as if it was effortlessly written (though was no doubt anything but), with quick wit and turns of phrase dropped is so smoothly it might slip past without you noticing. But i loved to notice. At least once in every page or two was a sentence or a paragraph that stood out as just damn good writing. I underlined and posted to tumblr so many quotes. Also had to stop and read several out to my partner, who didn’t really care but indulged me anyway.

So okay, the characters. There are two main characters: Jalan and Snorri. I adored them both. Snorri the affable and imposing Norseman, making friends just as easily as he breaks bones. He’s both the more serious and the more light-hearted of the two. And Jal, our anti-hero of sorts. I found him fascinating. A self-proclaimed coward and damn proud of it. He gets himself into the stickiest of situations but always finds a way to slip himself right out of them. He constantly tells himself he needs to find a way to get out of the mission he finds himself on, to get home to his creature comforts, but never seems to try very hard at all. He’s an excellent liar, and the most successful of his lies is convincing himself he’s a coward.

“I’m a good liar. A great one. And to be a great liar you have to live your lies, to believe them, to the point that when you tell them to yourself enough times even what’s right before your eyes will bend itself to the falsehood.”

The plot itself is simple enough. A journey across land and across sea, with a few highs, lows, and adventures along the way. The more important journeys are the personal ones, the ones that see the characters develop and bond and bloom. Considering the scope of this world and aspects of the plot, this is very much a character-driven story. And i’m totally on board with that.

There is are a couple of chapters that have a direct overlap with The Broken Empire series. These books are set at the same time, and here we meet Jorg and his brothers returning home to Ancrath. As much as i loved seeing these characters again–and from a completely new point of view–it seemed to drag a little. Jal and Snorri’s stop over in Ancrath felt a little too contrived, just so the crossover could happen. In the end it added little to either timeline, and i’d’ve much preferred a fleeting and memorable encounter with the Brothers on the road.

But yes, love. I loved it. I want to start the second book in the series immediately, but i’m going to hold off for a few books. Long enough to build some excitement and suspense, but not so long that i’ve forgotten all the details. I would really love more people to read these books, but i fear not enough people enjoy fantasy, or would enjoy this fantasy for the same reasons i do. Alas, i will love them all to myself.

The Boy on the Bridge

Title: The Boy on the Bridge

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I read The Girl with All the Gifts four years ago (where does the time go!?) and absolutely loved it. So when i heard Carey was releasing a prequel i was equal measures excited and apprehensive. Excited because yes, more! Apprehensive because, oh no, what if it’s shit?

As the five stars i’ve given it will indicate–it’s not shit.

I knew nothing going in, but had somehow assumed this book took place before the outbreak–that it would be about the outbreak. Instead, it’s several years after the outbreak, and several years before Gifts. It’s a nice spot, because we don’t know the details about what happened at the time of the outbreak, and we don’t know exactly how the discoveries made in this book lead to the things we see in Gifts. There are still plenty of gaps left in the story for speculation and interpretation, which is the kind of thing i love.

The book focuses on the crew of the Rosalind Franklin, an armoured military truck, on its research trek across the UK in search of a cure for Ophiocordyceps, which has infected the human race. The Rosalind Franklin is not unfamiliar–it is the armoured truck the characters of Gifts find in the latter part of the book. So i was very intrigued to find out more about how the truck had got there, what had happened before hand, and where all the crew had gone.

There are more characters in this book–12, compared to Gifts’ 4–though it’s fairly obvious who the red shirts are, as we don’t really ever get to know them. Our core characters are a group of seven. And it’s these characters that make the book, for me. I loved them. All of them–even the not so good ones. Which is good, because with this book being a prequel to an apocalyptic future–we know things don’t exactly work out perfectly for the plot. It has to be the characters that carry this story.

An eccentric genius, or just an ill-equipped explorer swaying on the rickety rope bridge between sanity and madness?

And the characters are all so well written and have such depth. None of them are stereotypes, and although a couple aren’t far off, they all have enough about them to make them more than the role they’re playing in the narrative. Stephen, the boy of the title, who at 15 is incredibly intelligent, on the autistic spectrum, and haunted by grief and trauma. He’s the linchpin of the whole book and logical to a fault, but not perfect and makes several errors in judgement that impact the plot. Samrina, a scientist and surrogate mother to Stephen–she has some personal cargo to worry about. Fournier, the lead scientist and closest stereotype of the book–he’s the obvious and easy bad guy. Carlisle, the military escort leader–his past and his internal struggles make him a wise but fallible leader. Foss, a female military sniper holding her own in a man’s world–she fights to make something of herself and earn the respect she deserves. Sixsmith, the driver and bright spark of this motley crew–she’s the heart and soul backing them all up.

And then there’s McQueen. He was the most surprising to me, because he quickly and inexplicably became my favourite character. Head strong, arrogant, and often going off-book in his military role of second in command–he has all the traits that should make me dislike him. But i didn’t. For me, all along, it was clear there was something else to him. His arrogance was a cover–a front he had to put on to fulfil the stereotype people expect of him. His issue with Carlisle was the most interesting thing to me. How they misunderstood and made assumptions of each other. I had all my hopes pinned on them working things through and working together. At times i think McQueen’s negative feelings towards Carlisle were a bit much, and definitely not resolved fully to my liking. But i’ve decided that it does all get properly concluded–it’s just not part of the book.

The plot is simple enough, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. Including glimpses of things we’re familiar with in Gifts and hints at how things come about between here and there. There is also a suitable climactic action scene which will look great if and when they make the film. And the ending, which is to say, the epilogue, was a little different and unexpected. I’ve seen some reviews claiming it completely undoes the ending of Gifts, and while i see where that’s coming from… i don’t wholly agree. I think it adds a layer–it adds to the possibilities of the future.

With how focused this book was, and how much scope there is in the world Carey has created here, I can see more books happening–prequels and sequels. And there are a few things, people, and places i’d like to see included in them. I’ll wait and see what Carey might have in store with eager anticipation.

Sealed

sealedTitle: Sealed

Author: Naomi Booth

Summary: Heavily pregnant Alice and her partner Pete are done with the city. Above all, Alice is haunted by the rumours of the skin sealing epidemic starting to infect the urban population. Surely their new remote mountain house will offer safety, a place to forget the nightmares and start their little family. But the mountains and their people hold a different kind of danger. With their relationship under intolerable pressure, violence erupts and Alice is faced with the unthinkable as she fights to protect her unborn child.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher via their twitter account, and i was quite intrigued by the sound of it. Described as an “eco horror” it instantly sounded interesting to me.

I loved the “eco” side of the story, with the mysterious new cutis disease, the smog of the cities, the wild fires of the mountains, and “protected” food. There was also some political aspects, with some cutis cover ups, displacement camps run like prisons, a lack of local resources. It had a lot of dystopian-vibes, but doesn’t quite delve deep enough; it’s more pre-dystopian.

Although it had these themes, they were only really lightly touched upon in the grand scheme of the story. The focus was on our main character, Alice, and her partner, Pete. I’ll be honest–i didn’t like them. I felt for Alice, with her cutis obsession and being cut off from information and updates, but she was also weak and pathetic in the face of Pete’s dominance and control. He tells her to stop thinking, asking, worrying, distracting… he just wants to fit in with his new friends and not have to give a shit about his girlfriend’s fears and emotions. He was a knobhead.

In almost every chapter there is more revealed about the past. The history of cutis, of Alice and Pete’s relationship and childhoods, of the death of Alice’s mother and how this has affected her. And while this was interesting stuff to learn, the segues seemed a little too forced to me. There was a scene with Alice suddenly taking an interest in flowers as a reason for her to rummage for her mum’s gardening books to then start remembering her mum’s garden to lead into the past. I wondered if the strange flower Alice had found was related to the cutis epidemic or the environmental changes, but no. Instead, flowers and gardening are never mentioned again.

The last chapter was where the horror aspect really stepped up, with things happening as i’d been expecting them to since chapter two. The unkempt house down the road, the crotchety old man with a gun, the heavily pregnant woman… I loved how cutis played its part here, i loved the unreality of Alice’s experience and how that came across in the writing, and, as a horror fan, i loved the gore.

Overall, the story was very character-driven and -focused. Too much so for my own personal taste. It was far more about Alice’s psychological state of mind and how she copes (or doesn’t cope) with the events unfolding around her, rather than those events themselves. The end of the book was great–on the cusp of the dystopian future i’d be fascinated to read more about.

The City Of Mirrors

Title: The City of Mirrors

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: All is quiet in the world. The Twelve have been destroyed, and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon civilization has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew–and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy–humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I went into this book with trepidation. I completely, utterly, five-out-of-five stars loved the previous two books in this series (The Passage and The Twelve), but i had heard of quite a few people really disliking the third and final book. So i cracked the spine with hope in my heart, but fully prepared for disappointment. Either way, i was half right.

This review is, in a word, long. It is also full of spoilers–i couldn’t express my roller coaster of emotions without talking about every damn turn in ride, i’m afraid. So read on at your own peril.

Things started out strong. Reuniting with these characters i have followed and loved over the first two books, discovering what becomes of them over the few years since the end of The Twelve, and finding the strings of where this book will take them. I loved it so far. I also really enjoyed the section of the book given over to Zero, Timothy Fanning, our antagonist’s tale of his back story. Told in the first person, he goes all the way back to his childhood, starting college, losing touch with his family and making a new one with his friends. I got lost in his story, and grew quickly fond of these new (and old…) characters. It was super interesting to discover how the virus had come about, and what people’s goals and motivations had been, even years before it happened. This was, however, also where the first crack appeared in my hope, allowing my disappointment to slip in. With Fanning’s history comes the slap in the face that everything–the entire apocalyptic mess–happened because of a love story. That just… annoys me, honestly. A man falls in love, it’s complicated, there’s a tragedy or two, and then he kills everyone. The moral of this story to me? Men are crazy dangerous and women should never fall in love with one.

The next section of the book skips ahead about 20-25 years, with our main protagonists now middle aged, and their children all grown up with children of their own. And honestly, this part… just… dragged. There was too much of the daily grind, people going about their every days, and too many characters i haven’t seen grow up and have nothing invested in. Action and excitement and development was severely lacking, and really i think the book as a whole would have benefited if we had jumped into the story at this part, with short forays back to see how they came to this point. Juxtapositioning the time lines as well as character- and plot-development that way would have kept the whole thing more interesting.

When things did kick off, with the virals finally making a reappearance and everything going to pot, my enthusiasm returned full force and i was ready for the rest of the book to be action-packed and making up for any lull in the narrative. And for a while, it did. The attacks on the city, the ambush, and the mad dash to the Bergensfjord. That was an example of this book’s story at its best, and i didn’t want to stop reading.

Despite loving the story at this point, there were other things i wasn’t enjoying so much. Plot is only a part of what makes a good book–the characters play a hefty part as well. Unfortunately, by this time, some were starting to wear on me. I’ve never been Peter’s biggest fan, but he was so blind to so much and making the wrong choices–i was left with very little sympathy or patience for him. The characters i did like were not in it enough–Greer, Michael, Lore, Amy. And even Amy sarted to frustrate me, when more and more of her love story with Peter is revealed. No matter how you spin it, she’s over 100 years old in the body of a young girl when Peter is a young man, and she’s still over 100 when she’s in the body of a young woman and Peter is a middle aged man. Despite the fact i get no ~romance~ vibes from their relationship at all and it feels entirely forced for the sake of having it–their massive, confusing, and altering age gaps just give me the creeps.

The single biggest disappointment i have with the entire book–the thing that not only failed to land for me, but actually make me rather angry and terribly, terribly sad–was Alicia. She is, hands down, my favourite character. But Cronin’s handling of her, her journey, and her conclusion is… misjudged at best, and just plain disgusting at worst. Her situation and condition is unique. The only person with any kind of understanding of it is Amy, and i loved the relationship Alicia and Amy share because of that (and honestly, i’d’ve bought a romance between them much more easily). Along with that, she went through some truly horrific events in The Twelve, coming out the other side a different person (again), but still with her heart and mind in the right place. In this book, she gets nothing but anger and violence from the people she once called friends, and the people she believed she was protecting for the last 25 years. At first i thought this anger was an initial reaction to people missing and worrying about her–that they would expunge it and welcome her back into the fold. Instead, it seethes and these people Alicia loves and is still trying to protect give no shits about her. She’s then severely wounded by friendly fire and reduced to a cripple for the rest of the book, kept around solely for information that barely gets used or considered. She gets no goodbyes, no validation for everything she has done, and only a single person caring enough about her to hold a conversation and help carry her trauma and her secrets. And it hurts me that she’s thrown away like that in this story.

By the end, and mostly by the time i became too disheartened by Alicia’s treatment, i just… didn’t care anymore. By the time they arrived in New York i was skipping ahead and see what happened. And not because i was so excited or engaged with the story that i had to know what happened and that everything turned out okay, but because i wanted to find a reason to want to keep reading–because i just wanted it over with. I was ready to give up on the last 150 pages, but the time and love i’d poured into the previous books gave me the determination to see it through, with the compromise of skim-reading the final chapters. By that time, though, i cared very little about anything i read.

Throughout the book, Cronin’s way with words shines through. His turns of phrase and imagery never failed, and i underlined with reckless abandon. I’m so happy this remained, even through parts of the book i didn’t enjoy, and even at parts of the book that made me numb with sadness and disappointment.

Some might have said she fell. Others, that she flew. Both were true. Alicia Donadio–Alicia of Blades, the New Thing, Captain of the Expeditionary–would die as she had lived.
Always soaring.

Honestly, in my heart this book gets two and a half stars out of five, but i rounded up based on my utter and undying love of the first two books. That love remains undamaged, and once i’ve posted this review i will try to wipe the memory of this book from my mind. For me, the series ends with humanity continuing on its journey to grow and rebuild itself, while Alicia heads off to New York to behead Zero and be the big damn hero she is.

Horrorstör

Book Review: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix 4/5 StarsTitle: Horrorstör

Author: Grady Hendrix, Michael Rogalski (Illustrator)

Summary: Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book caught my eye immediately when i first came across it. A novel idea, and the cover and design were brilliantly done. I knew I wanted to read it. But more than that, I wanted to buy a copy for my sister–she’s in Ikea as often as her credit card allows her to be. Buying a copy for her meant i could borrow it, so it was a win-win.

Although i’m a big fan of the horror genre, i really didn’t expect this book to be scary or creepy at all. I expected humour and a goofy, slapstick kind of horror. I was kind of right, but also so, so wrong.

Hendrix wastes no time in getting the story going, with the whole thing taking place over just 24 hours. The first third of the book is pretty light reading, with some odd things going on and the main characters seeming fairly two dimensional. It was good and kept my interest, but wasn’t outstanding.

The last two thirds of the book were brilliant. At a particular point the horror aspect stopped being just weird and quirky stuff in a furniture superstore and actually began getting scary. Genuinely scary. So much so that one night i had to stop reading early and scroll through instagram and pinterest for a while before i went to sleep. I loved it.

Although the creep factor got pretty high, the humour didn’t suffer for it. My favourite has to be the furniture names, and a chair called a arsle had me grinning for a while. The book walks a fine line between genuine horror and poking fun at horror clichés, and it walks it perfectly. It allows the fun poking to compliment the contemporary setting.

If you’re paying enough attention there’s a lot of commentary on consumerism, retail work, and the soul-sucking nature of it all. But never so much that it bogs down the book, nor make too much light of it.

The characters follow form. They are an interesting two-dimensional, never quite reaching three, but i think that fits with the overall vibe of the book. Our main character Amy was annoyingly likable, and i was rooting for her as soon as shit starts to get real. She becomes a worthy hero of the story… and the wardrobe scene, while predictable, was an excellent example of the horror/humour line and is definitely my favourite part of the entire book.

If you couldn’t tell already, i loved it. I can already see this being a strong contender for the book i most urge people to read this year. If i had the money i’d buy a load of copies and hide them amongst Ikea’s avalanche of catalogues!

The Twelve

Book Review: The Twelve. 5/5 Stars.Title: The Twelve

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Death row prisoners with nightmare pasts no future. Until they were selected for a secret experiment. To create something more than human. Now they are the future–unless a handful of survivors can destroy them.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I read The Passage, the first book in this trilogy, over the new year in 2016/17. I (somehow) saved The Twelve for the 2017/18 new year period. I’ve loved both books so much, i’m not sure i’ll be able to wait a year to read the third and final.

I hadn’t expected to love this book at much as the first, honestly. I’d heard from a lot of people who were disappointed with the sequels, and i’d prepared myself for the worst. I told myself i’d be happy if it was at least 3 out of 5 stars. I think not assuming it would be as good as the first helped me love this one for its own merits, and not compare it to the first. It also definitely helped that i had no thoughts or ideas on how the story would progress. Just like when reading the first book, I wasn’t wondering what was going to happen or letting myself assume anything–i just let myself get swept up in the story.

But okay, where to start? Where the first book had me sobbing at the very start, and then again at the very end… this book had me welling up and blinking back the tears at the end of every other chapter. For the first half of the book Cronin spends time in several new narratives, in varying time lines, introducing new sets of characters. They all have depth and history and they are very quick to warm to, to root for. We follow their journeys and their stories for a spell, we get invested. But a narrative in the past of an apocalyptic novel has can only end in one way. Even knowing what has to be coming, i was on the edge of my seat for these characters i’d quickly come to love, hoping–futilely–things would turn out okay for them.

Despite the sombre end to these narratives, they hold the key to a lot of the story. It is in their characters and their stories that the main plot’s details are focused. Nothing is superfluous in this book. No character, no action, no back story’s back story. It all means something, it all leads somewhere. The details that went into plotting and completing that must have been immense, and just like the writing of The Passage, Cronin makes it seem effortless.

Talking of the writing, have some of the quotes i made a note of:

And yet the world went on. The sun still shone. To the west, the mountains shrugged their indifferent rocky bulk at man’s departure.

The only thing worse than the burps were the farts that came after, room-clearing jets of oniony gas that even the farter himself could not enjoy.

It’s so sad. But beautiful, too. So many stories are like that.

There were more–plenty more–but it was so hard to stop reading in order to write them down.

The characters I think i liked even more in this book. Here they were each given their own room to develop and reflect, and after the events in The Passage, and the several years since, they are all scarred and changed in their own ways. It was the women i was drawn to most. The old characters–Amy and Sara–and the new–Lore and Lila. The one closest to my heart, though, is Alicia. She was awesome from the start in The Passage, and what she went through and became by the end of that book was incredible. Here she is only even more so. I’ve read some reviews abhorring what she went through in this book, and I wholeheartedly understand that. It didn’t sit right with me either for a time. But ultimately it didn’t define her, it didn’t weaken or cower her–it gave her more to fight for. And fuck, but do i love her when she’s fighting. In the end it’s all only made me love her more.

I can admit that the book is not perfect. There are a couple of wrinkles that give me pause. Mostly centred on an age difference between two sets of characters. One brief in its occurrence, and one i think could have been easily dealt with with a touch more build up and foreshadowing and/or a slight reduction in the age gap. The other is much more complex, in that Amy has the body of a young girl and the life experience of over one hundred years. For a man in his 20s to want either aspect of her is… troubling. I do fear how that will play out in the final book.

Despite the minor troubles, i don’t hesitate in giving this book 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a book in which i got lost, barely noticed time passing, and knew whatever was going to happen was going to be brilliant. I loved it, and i can only hope i at least enjoy the final book in the series half as much.