Wednesday, November 12, 2014

CBR6 #16: Dead Sea by Tim Curran

I really wanted to like this book. It seems like it should be right up my alley: maritime disaster? Check. Horror? Check. Survival on the high seas and the idea that the other survivors are the real danger? Check and check.

And yet...

The premise was great -- a ship taking a construction crew to South American travels into a thick, mysterious fog and emerges in a place that is very clearly not right. The fog seems almost alive -- and very unfriendly. Plus, it's full of creatures that shouldn't exist, and ships that aren't where they belong.

There were some great characters, too. The first mate, the cook, the undercover corporate spy -- all smart, interesting characters with solid voices. There was a good, love-to-hate human antagonist as well as the unknown fog monster. There was even a tough, capable female character. I liked the parts where characters discovered the history of some of the ships that had ended up in this place. All that was great.

The problem was that the story dragged significantly in the middle. Although I understood the desire to ratchet up the tension by leaving the characters adrift, I got awfully frustrated after a while watching the same situation play out repeatedly in each lifeboat. Something scary would happen, but then it would just go back to waiting and watching, and I would pray again that the separate groups would finally find one another so that something of interest could happen. Once they did combine, the ending rocketed on to a somewhat satisfying conclusion, but by then I was barely managing to keep interested.

I think this book might have benefitted from some solid editing. The story was rich and interesting, the characters had real potential, and there were some genuine scares that kept me up a night or two. There was just too MUCH of everything.

CBR6 #15: Joyland by Stephen King

Although I love his massive epics like IT and The Stand, I think where Stephen King shines the most is in his shorter fiction. At 283 pages, Joyland is comparatively short, but it allows the story to unfold in a more focused way, and avoids some of the bloated tangents that--though I love them--can make the longer works drag a little.

Devon Jones gets his heart broken, and on a whim decides to leave Maine spend the summer of his 21st year working at a small amusement park in the south called Joyland. As he learns the ways of the carnies--figuring how how to speak their lingo, keep the "rubes" in their places, "wear the fur," and "sell fun"--he also discovers the dark secret of the park--the unsolved murder of a young woman in the haunted house years before, who rumors say haunts the ride. Devon spends the summer saving lives and waiting for the predictions of the park's local psychic to come true. When fall comes, a chill will fall across Joyland, and Devon will be lucky if can survive it.

This was a first person story, and the character of Devon had a wonderful, clear voice. He was wry, self-deprecating, and interesting, and his narration moved the plot along. The side characters were interesting and fairly well fleshed-out, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen to them. The ending was also much better than I expected, it being a King book and all ;)

I'd recommend this to any King fan, and even those who may think they don't like his work should try it. It's more murder mystery/coming-of-age tale than a horror book, despite the occasional ghostly visit or psychic flash.

If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out www.cannonballread.com for more great book reviews.

CBR6 #14: The Drought by Patricia Fulton

Yes, I am in fact alive. Some things in my life went totally pear-shaped there for a while, but it has not stopped me from reading. (I can't say it's done anything for my motivation to write about what I'm reading, but that's sort of a lingering issue anyway.)

Jared Riley knows something is wrong in his hometown of Junction, Texas. His mother's headaches are getting worse, one of his good friends disappeared down a drainpipe, and the temperature seems to have taken on a mind of its own, bent on destroying the town and everyone in it. People are losing their minds, and strange things are happening. It's up to a small group of concerned citizens to figure out what's happening and try to stop it before it's too late.

I liked this book a lot. The characters all felt reasonably realistic, and I was interested in their stories and anxious to find out what would happen to them (though in some cases the answer would be "nothing good.") The plot moved along, though I felt there was a little drag in the middle while the characters were trying to put all the pieces together. I really wanted them to hurry up and combine forces.

On the whole, this was a good read that utilized atmosphere, description, and suspense really effectively, while letting the personalities of the characters shine through and do the heavy lifting of the story. I'll definitely check out any further works from this author!

Also, if you like book reviews, you should check out The Cannonball Read blog, which is full of much better reviews than my sad little output here.

Friday, June 6, 2014

CBR6 #13: Haunted House by John Kilborn

I made it! A quarter Cannonball done... halfway to my low-bar goal for the year!

I didn't realize that this was a sequel to several other books by Jack Kilborn until after I was well into it, but that didn't keep me from enjoying the story (it just made me want to go find those books now, too!)

A group of people who had survived horrors almost beyond imagining (in Kilborn's other books, I assume) receive an invitation to participate in a scientific experiment regarding the nature of fear. Some are hesitant, some are enthusiastic, but most are unable to resist the draw of the rewards--both of cash and the potential to rid themselves of their crippling fear. Unfortunately, the experiment begins to go awry, and the survivors find themselves fighting for their lives once again, this time against entities that don't even know the meaning of fear.

I really liked the characters in this book, particularly the tough detective and the foul-mouthed dominatrix. I found myself really rooting for them all, and the tension when their were in danger kept me on the edge of my seat. The plot moved along fairly quickly, though I felt like there was some drag between the invitations being sent and the survivors arriving at the house. However, there were some interesting plot twists that I didn't see coming, and I really enjoyed the whole thing. In fact, I was so invested in what happened that I broke my own rule and finished the book at home, rather than waiting for my daily commute!

I'd recommend this one to people who like well-written horror, and plan to find the books that come before (and after) this one soon!

CBR6 #12: Eerie by Blake Crouch

I wanted to like this book, and it definitely did have redeeming features, but on the whole I was disappointed.

The story is that of Grant Moreton, detective and alcoholic, and his sister Paige, the family's black sheep. Paige has gotten herself more in-over-her-head than usual, and it's up to Grant to help bail her out. Except there's something evil under Paige's bed, and...

Yeah, it all sounded good in set-up, and the story definitely did have some moments of creepiness. The characters of Grant and Paige were both likeable and believable. Unfortunately, the story itself--and the conclusion in particular--wasn't nearly as interesting as it could have been. In my opinion, the author wasted the tension and atmosphere he'd been building with a flimsy and borderline nonsensical explanation. There were plot threads that led off to nowhere, and I just found myself deeply unsatisfied.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

CBR6 #11: The Home by Scott Nicholson

Freeman Mills is a troubled kid. After bouncing around through a variety of foster homes and institutions, he finds himself at Wendover, yet another home. Unfortunately for Freeman, Wendover has a lot of secrets. Most of them are unpleasant. Some of them are dead. And for a kid with ESP, all of them are dangerous.

I liked this book a lot. It was part of a bundle I picked up via Kindle for $.99, and I didn't have a lot of expectations about what I'd be getting. The Home turned out to be a gripping little surprise. I enjoyed Freeman -- his voice and ways of thinking about things were great, and as a Clint Eastwood fan, I was particularly pleased by his attempts to live his life according to The Man With No Name's ethos. The characters of Vicky (Freeman's bulimic friend) and Starlene (a naive counselor at the home) were also empathetic and interesting. In general I found the protagonists relatable and intriguing. The antagonists were unfortuantely not as well fleshed out -- although the warden of the home was more detailed than the rest, I felt that some of the other "bad guys" were a bit two-dimensional.

The plot moved along at a reasonable clip, and I appreciated some of the narrative twists. I would have liked a little more background on the ghosts, but I think that's just a personal thing for me.

On the whole I found this to be a decent little horror book, and am interested to read more of the author's work.

Friday, April 4, 2014

CBR6 #10: The Colony by F. G. Cottam

In 1825, the colony of settlers on New Hope Island--a barren rock just off the coast of Scotland--disappeared. Not a trace was ever found of them or of their charismatic leader, a former British slaver who found God and moved to the island for a chance to freely practice his own form of religion.

In 1934, a crofter named David Shanks moved to the island and built a cabin. He wasn't there long before he took a film that showed something deeply unsettling--he left the island never to return.

Now, in modern day, newspaper mogul Alexander McIntyre is forming a group to investigate the island for a series of exclusive features for his newspaper. He's got a virologist, an anthropologist, a celebrity scientist, and a psychic, as well as reporters and his own pet detective. It's bound to be the story of decade--perhaps the century!--and he sends a small security force to protect the island and keep his scoop safe.

Unfortunately, things at that point start to go wrong. McIntyre doesn't realize what he's gotten himself into, nor does he know that he's about to find out what really happened on "No Hope" Island, and it will turn out that he will wish he'd never asked.

This was a great, atmospheric, spooky book. The characters were well drawn, and I found most of them quite sympathetic, particularly alcoholic detective Lassiter and feisty reporter Lucy Church. I enjoyed the plot for the most part--once again, Cottam has done a great job of pulling together the history of a haunting, forcing the characters to search for the source and reveal it a piece at a time throughout the story. However, there was a point in the middle where I felt it dragged quite a bit. There was a very long section about the team preparing to go to the island, but I felt like they should have arrived earlier and spent more time there.

For the most part, I liked this a lot, and thought it was a very well-done ghost story.

CBR6 #9: Paradise Denied by John L. French

I am going to admit up front that the only reason I decided to read this is that it was available on Kindle for free. I was on the train and out of reading material, and this didn't look entirely terrible. Also: FREE.

I got lucky this time.

Normally, I don't like short stories. Often the medium leaves me frustrated and unfulfilled. The stories end before I'm ready to leave them, or they simply don't capture my attention because they're working too hard to cram in too much. However, this collection of paranormal short stories by former Baltimore CSI John French was about fifty times better than I expected it to be. The stories were all well-written and interesting, and several were also very funny.

French's background in crime scene investigation was often evident in his stories of police or detectives faced with the supernatural, including one in which a confidential informant dies, is resurrected in order to give his testimony...and then manages to escape from the morgue to wander the streets. There's stories of vampires, faeries, and zombies mixed in with tales of detectives trying to solve their cases. When the world's dead rise, what are their legal rights, and who can they turn to to solve their murders? Who is peddling dangerous magical drugs on the streets, and what's their motive? How far should a detective go to unmask a local super-hero, when the motive is pure politics?

The characters in each story were distinctive and interesting, and while each story was satisfying in itself, I definitely would have been happy to follow any of the main characters along into other pieces.

On the whole, this was a fantastic book for a paranormal fan who also has a functional brain.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

CBR6 #8: Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

Nic Pizzolatto's Galveston is not an especially plot-driven book. It's more a character study focused on one man, and how his decisions during a specific period in his life echo across the years.

Roy Cady is not a good guy. He works as a heavy for an even worse guy, and one day he gets the sense that his usefulness has come to an end. Unfortunately for everyone else involved, Roy's just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has absolutely nothing left to lose. He manages to escape the situation, but finds himself burdened with a teenage prostitute and no plan for the future.

This book is dark, and it is also quite violent. It's also well-written, gripping, and surprisingly optimistic about the possibility for redemption and change. I liked it, but I'm not sure I'd ever want to read it again.

Friday, March 7, 2014

CBR6 #7: Rise Again by Ben Tripp

Sheriff Danny Adelman has enough problems upon waking on July 4. The Iraq vet has PTSD, a growing problem with alcohol, and a younger sister that has run off...in Danny's beloved Mustang. It seems like the worst that that will happen in the small town of Forest Peak that day is awkwardness over the mayor's terrible patriotic costume and dealing with the town drunk.

That's before the first screamer comes running out of the woods and drops dead in the town square.

Things just keep going downhill from there, and problems start piling up awfully quick when the dead start to rise off the sidewalks.

I liked this book a lot -- as far as the plot goes, it's in many ways a fairly standard zombie book. However, I really appreciated the characters, and was actively rooting for all of them. Danny is a fantastic character, with a lot of real human emotion, despite the bad-ass exterior. Stranded TV star Patrick, local veterinarian Amy, and alcoholic Vietnam veteran Wulf are also great.

The plot moved along briskly, and never did I find myself getting bored. There was action going on in several locations, which kept things interesting, and there were many reasonably well sketched out side characters to people the story. Also, I appreciated not being subjected to an ill-advised love story--the author didn't seem to feel the need to add that particular subplot, which is rare. Plus, the ending provided a surprise twist that I didn't see coming at all.

On the whole, this was a likable book in this genre, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel.