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Showing posts from 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 w…

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…

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 …

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 foun…

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.

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 …

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 doe…

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 f…

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.

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…

CBR6 #6: The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

If you are expecting this to be an Ann Rule-style book that simply details a bunch of cases, you will be disappointed. However, if you're looking for crime-fighting combined with an excellent, multi-year character study of three very different men who come together to solve murders, then this is your story.

The Murder Room details the forming of the Vidocq Society, a group that brings together the best minds from a variety of crime-fighting disciplines (medical examiners, forensic artists, dentists, and anthropologists, police detectives, customs agents, profilers, psychologists, district attorneys, and others) to network and to put their considerable brain-power toward solving cold cases. The three dynamic men behind this endeavor were William Fleisher (former FBI agent and mensch), Frank Bender (eccentric and flamboyant forensic artist), and Richard Walter (equally eccentric and slightly grim profiler)and this book is just as much a tale of their ongoing friendship …

CBR6 #5: The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens's story of his life, and of the widely varied experiences he has had is a pretty good read.

Greitens grew up fairly privileged, but always had a desire to help and serve others. He combined his love for humanitarian service with a fighter's desire to conquer and achieve, and managed to make them into a life of which he could be proud.

The book is a bit scattershot, focusing longer on some aspects of the author's life than others -- the main sections concerned his collegiate boxing training, his college and post-college humanitarian missions to a variety of countries, and his training as a Navy SEAL. There were some other areas that I would have liked more detailed description of, but at the same time, I can see how he was trying to fit everything into the theme of the heart (charity work) and fist (boxing/military) working together in order to try and improve the world.

This book reminded me of the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, except Eric Greitens came off a lot mo…

CBR6 #4: Poems New and Collected by Wisława Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska is one of my very favorite poets. Her work is often both abstract and specific, and she combines remarkably evocative imagery with a variety of emotions, ranging from frustration to detached interest to dry humor. She is one of the few things I got out of a college lit class that was worth remembering.

Poems New and Collected is a retrospective of her work, and spans forty years of poetry. My favorites were probably from the pieces published in her 1972 work Could Have, though I liked poems from her entire collection. She writes on a variety of themes, including love, death, and most often what it means to be a part of humanity, and the collective experience thereof. It's kind of interesting to see how the themes change and develop over the course of forty years of writing.

The piece below is an example of one of her shorter works, this time from 1957's Calling Out to Yeti.

FOUR A.M.

The hour between night and day.
The hour between toss and turn.
the hour of …

CBR6 #3: In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

Stefanie Pintoff's debut novel was both a fantastic historical fiction and a compelling detective story.

It's 1905, and Detective Simon Ziele has moved out to the New York City suburbs after his fiancee perishes in the General Slocum disaster (that detail being what hooked me on the book in the first place, since that wreck is one I was very interested during my maritime disaster phase). He expects the life of a small-town policeman to be fairly quiet, but it isn't long before a horrific murder drops into his lap. The victim seems to have had many enemies, but none with a hatred violent enough to result in bloody homicide. Ziele is at a loss until Professor Alistair Sinclair shows up--Sinclair has been pioneering a field of criminal psychology at Columbia, and he thinks one of his test subjects might be the man the police are looking for...the only problem is finding him.

Ziele and Sinclair wind their way through the neighborhoods of old New York, coming into contact with …

CBR6 #2: The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff

     The Harrowing would make a great movie. I'd cast Elizabeth Olsen as Robin, the depressed and lonely protagonist, spending her Thanksgiving break in a supposedly empty dorm. Brittany Snow as her nasty southern belle roommate Waverly, and Chris Hemsworth (or someone younger...I'm old and don't know who the current crop of stars in the "college student" age group are anymore) as Patrick, her jock boyfriend who also ends up staying behind. Rounding out the five "discarded" students who find themselves thrown together for three days in Baird College's Mendenhall dorm would be Eva Amurri as Lisa, the sexy bad girl, Kit Harrington as dark musician Cain, and Dane DeHaan as mousy nerd Martin. The five find themselves riding out a nasty storm together, and then of course they discover an old Ouija board...

This was actually a pretty gripping little horror story. The pace remained pretty consistent, and although the protagonist started out a little bit wh…

On Life: A Manifesto

Another new year.

Jesus, it seems like Thanksgiving was only last week and now suddenly we're halfway through January already. As I get older, it seems like time gets significantly more capricious each year. It's like "I can't wait for spring / where did spring go? / Why is it so hot? / Oh God, will it ever be warm again? / How can the holidays be here already I thought it was still summer?"

 At the end of last year, I was feeling kind of lost and directionless. A bit like a paper boat that had gotten stuck in an eddy--just swirling around and around in circles, not sure how to go forward...not even entirely certain which direction WAS forward. I was feeling trapped, with no idea what to do about it. Lucky for me, a good friend did me a solid and gently lifted my little boat out of the whirlpool, dispensing some good advice and depositing me back into the stream, ready to surge forward toward the horizon. (Thanks, friend. I hope to have the chance to return the f…

CBR6 #1: Combat Corpsman: A Navy SEAL Medic in Vietnam by Greg McPartlin

Another year, another Cannonball Read. Last year was something of an abject failure, as I didn't even manage to complete the quarter Cannonball (13 books read and reviewed -- I read plenty, but fell behind with the reviews and never caught up). However, it's a new year, which means a clean slate (at least as far as this little endeavor is concerned.) I've only signed up for the half-Cannonball, though I hope to manage the complete again this year.

Anyway, on to my first review of 2014! This book was a gift from the lovely llp (as part of the CBR gift exchange), to whom I am extremely grateful. I've been wanting this book for ages, but it refused to drop into my price range. 

Greg McPartlin's tale of his exploits as a corpsman attached to a SEAL team during the later years of the Vietnam conflict is pretty great. McPartlin's has a strong, likeable voice, and his tale is full of gripping combat adventures, the brotherhood of the military, and attempts to kee…