Archive for January, 2015

I watched the film of this book with my dad, and he gave up part way through and walked out. I saw why. While it still had a grip over me like most Stephen King does, it was WEIRD.

People poop out scary weasel-snake things with dozens of sharp little teeth. Weird. Also very gross. One of the main characters spends a lot of time hiding in his head from an alien, also in his head. The film was a muddled bunch of different storylines. You had our guy hiding in his head, another guy doing mostly unmemorable stuff, and flashbacks from when the men were kids and met another kid who seems to have some kind of gift.

The book still had all of these things, but it had a lot more room to wind them together into a cohesive and understandable storyline. So if you like Stephen King but couldn’t get your head around the film, try the book. It makes a lot more sense and I found it a lot more enjoyable. I’m even considering going back to the film now I’ve read the book to see if I understand it better.

Having said that, this isn’t one of his best books. I don’t think it’s terrible like some think. I found it enjoyable enough, but it was only a decent read, not a brilliant one. If you like most Stephen King like I do, then you might want to give this a go. If you’re relatively new to Stephen King and looking for a book to see if you like his work then DON’T choose this one. I’d recommend the book IT to a first time reader used to reading mammoth books, or if you’re looking for something shorter maybe take a look at ‘The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon,’ ‘Firestarter,’ ‘The Dead Zone’ or ‘Carrie.’ ‘Cujo’ is also one of my favorites of his, but not a lot of people agree with me about that one.

Back to this book. The characters were interesting, but didn’t seem as developed as other books of his. The plot was readable, but in no way mind blowing. All in all I’d call this a decent book if you love all things Stephen King, but don’t expect brilliance. It’s not one that I regret reading though. I enjoyed it, and there were moments that I really liked, such as the flashbacks. The boy’s friendship with Duddits was heart warming. The clash between the aliens and the military raised interesting questions as to what might actually happen in that situation.

Overall 3.5 stars. For more reviews on this book check out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11570.Dreamcatcher

 

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My review of Virals 1: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/book-review-wednesday-virals-4-stars/

I’m a fan of Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan series, which is how I got into these younger books. They’re a lot of fun, but they are definitely aimed at a younger age group, so be warned. They remind me a lot of the Famous Five series I used to love as a kid. Teenagers get involved in crazy adventures, and somehow make it out to save the day. Totally unrealistic, but fun!

While the book starts with a recap, you’re still going be pretty confused if you haven’t read the first book. Check out the above link if you want to read what I thought of that one. The characters are fun. The main character Tory is a bit of a Mary Sue at times. That can get a little annoying. But at least she has agency. Sure, she’s suspiciously good at a lot of stuff for a teenager, and seems too sure of herself at times, but she is definitely not a damsel in distress.

So I wouldn’t call her a total Mary Sure. Others will have different definitions, but to me a true Mary Sue is someone who everyone loves even when they don’t lift a finger or do anything worthwhile in the story. Of course if they had to diffuse a bomb they magically could because they’re perfect, but for most of the story they’re sitting around doing nothing and getting fawned over.

Tory just has a few minor traits of Mary Sue. Her skill set seems a bit too advanced, which wouldn’t bother me if she also had some weaknesses pointed out. She definitely isn’t fawned over by everyone, but has a couple boys besotted with her with little reason given.  Thankfully she does make occasional mistakes, and has earned the loyalty her friends show her. Overall she’s pretty badass, and I only point out this occasional annoyance I have with the character in case some of you coming from book one have noticed this and hoped she’d get better in book two. Nope, sorry. Not in book two. On the plus side, she keeps the cool parts of her personality as well as the annoying parts.

Book two can be summed up in five words: Totally awesome, and totally unrealistic.

We’re searching for pirate treasure in this book guys. Pirate treasure!!! There’s puzzles to work out. Some easy enough that I was shaking my head at the book going ‘seriously guys, use those genius brains,’ and some hard enough that I had to wait for the explanation like a good little reader.

Why pirate treasure, you ask? Well, if they don’t get serious money soon the logger institute is going to shut down, their parents will be out of jobs, and the virals will be strewn far and wide across america. Tory hears of a pirate treasure people have been searching for hundreds of years without any luck. She decides this is it. Instant pay day.

Oh Tory. If you came to live in the real world, you would be so disappointed.

Though, to be fair they do have their work cut out for them. Other people are after the treasure too, and those people have guns. It’s a fun ride if you don’t expect too much realism.

For more reviews on this book check out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8709640-seizure

 

Note: These are the favorite books I read during 2014, not books published in 2014.

I read 85 books in 2014, so narrowing it down to my very favs was difficult. I kept on going: oh what about this one! No, must be strong. Otherwise this would be a very very long post.

2014 was a good year for books for me. Unlike 2013 I didn’t come across any books I utterly hated. I had three books that were meh for me, forty-five books that I liked but had noticeable flaws or had sections that didn’t hit that book loving spot. That left thirty-seven books I love love loved.

Thirty-seven…

So in no particular order follows my top ten reads of 2014. They span across genres and lengths. Most of them I’ve already reviewed, so search my site if you want to read a more detailed review.

1) The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

This is a bit of a cheat as it’s a series, but I read all the way from book one to book twelve last year, and most of them ended up with five stars. For those not in the know, Dresden Files is a humorous urban fantasy about a wizard detective living in Chicago. Lots of funny, and loads of action. Seriously, these books are addictive. Go try them.

2) Cinder by Marissa Meyer

A futuristic steam punk version of classic fairy tales. This one stars Cinderella, only she’s a cyborg. She’s also pretty kick ass, which is neat since she’s got a lot of people against her. Cyborgs are second class citizens you see, and her step mother is not fond of her or her best android buddy Iko. And when things heat up, her step mother becomes the least of her problems.

I think this is the funniest book I read last year. Iko had so many lines that had me laughing out loud. There’s also a fair bit of action, and loads of tension with a war brewing and all. There are two other books out in the series: Scarlet (you can guess the main character in this one) and Cress. The fourth book: Winter is coming out this year.

3) The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

A post apocalyptic world filled with zombies and a few pockets of survivors. Need I say more? Zombies make for awesome stories, and this one is one of the better zombie books I’ve read. This and the rest of the books in the series sum up human nature. Fighting for your dreams, and sometimes just taking that step after dogged step when you’re tired and hurting because you’re going to do everything you can to survive. These books are beautiful, sad, and tinged with a small but strong thread of hope.

4) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

I know, more zombies, but this one is a good one. Promise. It’s very different to the film. It takes the form of a series of interviews with people from all over the world and their experiences in the zombie war. The interviewer wants to record a true picture of the impact of the recent zombie war, so that future generations don’t forget the lessons it taught and repeat it. What follows is poignant and scarily realistic.

I listened to the audio version of this book, which I think is the only way to get the full impact. The voice actors are brilliant. You really hear the characters come to life.

5) Hawkeye Vol 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido, and Alan Davis

Watched the avengers movie? Noticed that guy who spent most of the movie brainwashed, and wondered what he’s like when his brain isn’t all messed with? This graphic novel is the one for you. This one contains Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comic issues 1-5, and Young Avengers Presents 6. But really, you only need to buy it to see Matt Fraction’s version of the character. The other part is nice, but doesn’t hold a candle to the awesomeness that is Matt Fraction’s take on it. We meet pizza dog, Clint drinks his weight in coffee, and he gets hurt a lot – like a lot a lot. He’s this stubborn guy who acts dumb, takes on a mob to save the people in his apartment building from being evicted, and has a weirdly endearing habit of talking to inanimate objects. He’s officially my second favorite avenger after Bruce Banner. No matter what the movies do to him, this right here is the version of Clint I’ll say is the real one:

6) The Green Mile by Stephen King

There had to be at least one Stephen King in here somewhere because I’ve read like a bazillion of his books – and still have another bazillion to read. How does one guy write so many? It was hard choosing my favorite of his from last year. My answer will probably change given the day. For now though, it’s the Green Mile. Some of his books can seem a bit stretched out, but the green mile is not one of them. Apparently he originally wrote it as an episodic, and the result is a tight book for him with a lot going on. It’s set in the height of the depression, from the point of view of a prison guard on death row. Or rather, it’s from the point of view of an elderly ex prison guard writing his memories of that time. The characters are well fleshed out – even the death row inmates. Our guy’s life changes when he gets a new inmate different from all the ones before: John Coffey. There’s something very special about Coffey, and our main character Paul Edgecombe is about to find out exactly what.

So much emotion in this book. Stephen King spends enough time on the moral dilemmas raised by what they discover to really twist my heart. But it was a scene set years after all this near the end of the book that broke me. Edgecombe’s wife needed help, and the only thing that could save her was Coffey’s gift, but because of what Edgecombe and his fellow guards did years before that’s not possible. I think that’s the moment the full ramifications of what they did hit him. So many feelings.

7) Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This one was beautiful. It’s set in the depression. Our main character is a veterinary student who drops out of school when his parents die. He hitches a ride on a train, which just so happens to be a circus train. It’s a romance, which I tend to avoid, but this one won me over. For one the setting is fascinating, the animals are brilliant, and there’s a decent amount of action and tension. For another, while he instantly thinks she’s the most beautiful person on earth, he then learns she’s married and keeps it in his pants. Despite his attraction to her, there’s not even a hint of romance between them for most of the book. This is great as it lets them build an actual relationship with each other first. You know, if you think someone might be your soul-mate, you might want to find out if you can stand to be around each other first.

The point of view is split between elderly Jacob in a nursing home, and young Jacob at the circus. This worked well. All the human characters were interesting, but for me it was Rosie the elephant that stole the show.

 

8) How to Become a Straight A Student by Cal Newport

I love a good self help book. I read quite a few of them, it was hard choosing a favorite. I flittered for a while between this one and Kelly McGonigal’s ‘Maximum Willpower’ but in the end this one won out. While Maximum Willpower is brilliant, Newport’s tactics were way similar and quicker to put in practice. There are other self help books that opened my mind, like the aptly named ‘Mindset’ but Newport’s book is the one from 2014 that had the biggest impact on my productivity. I didn’t expect it to from the title. I put it off for a while, expecting some of the usual ‘buckle down’ advice and not much else.

I was wrong. Newport’s book holds the greatest and simplest organisation system I’ve ever seen. I could set it up within a few minutes of reading the relevant sections, and I think it’s made a big impact on how much I get done. In short: awesome, and a lovely surprise of a book.

9) The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

A heart wrenching memoir of a German foot soldier in world war 2, made even more so when you remember it’s true. I’ve read a few memoirs of that period (it’s an interest of mine – so if anyone has any recs of good ww2 books please tell me) but this is one of the best written. It really captures the hope, despair, chaos and madness of life at the front. There are so many moments that will stay with me. The moment the Russians sent men to trample over a field full of bombs. When Guy was sent on some much needed leave, and then immediately called back up. When they got new recruits, and half were elderly men, and the other half were little kids swapping candy with each other. When the planes machine gunned civilians they were trying to get to safety, or when they machine gunned the soldiers when they were trapped, wounded, and completely defeated. So many moments when even knowing he had to survive to write the book I thought he was done for. And when he and the few survivors of a horrible defeat finally made it back to safety, only to be reprimanded for losing or damaging pieces of their equipment. An exercise which made the exhausted men weep. If you have any interest at all in world war 2, then this is a must read book.

10) Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

I’ve read a lot of Dennis Lehane last year, including his Kenzie and Gennaro series. Good books, but I think this one tops them, just ahead of another of his books I read last year: Shutter Island. It’s not my all time favorite of his though. That title goes to ‘Gone Baby Gone’ which I read in 2013.

Mystic River is a standalone book revolving around three childhood friends, now adults. One is an ex criminal, another a detective, and the third just trying to keep his life and marriage together. Then Jimmy: our ex con’s daughter is killed. Sean: the detective is assigned to the case.  And Dave may know more about it than he lets on.

Dennis Lehane is an artist in weaving tales in a way that makes them mesmerizing to read. He leaves just enough clues on the way to give you an idea who the killer might be, so if you watch closely you might work it out before the reveal. Be warned though, Lehane’s books tend to be very dark, and this one is definitely no exception.

(spoiler warning:

 

One of the boys was abducted and sexually assaulted when they were young. This is treated as key to the book as he battles demons related to this, and his childhood friends battle their guilt. One small part of the book I didn’t like was how it was taken as given that all childhood victims of sexual assault grow up to have sexual urges toward children. Not true, and very dangerous thinking. I mentally skipped over that part, and re-framed it as possibly true in this case but not others – and maybe not even true in this case. I think he’s more scared about the idea that he could have the power to do that if he so wished. He’s been forced to acknowledge that happens, and the idea that he could do that to a child terrifies him. If you find any of these things too difficult to read, then skip this one.)

I read this 1100+ page beast about a man-made virus decimating the human race right in the height of the Ebola hysteria. That made things….interesting.

There’s something almost cathartic about books that show what happens after the human race gets brought to its knees and society falls. I mean, for the most part I’m happy with the way things are now. I live in a first world country. I get health care, have laws covering most of my human rights. I’m fed, housed, and have time and money for leisure. But society is far from perfect.

Society is like living in a house. It has four walls and the roof keeps the rain out, but there are giant holes that let the rats in, the electrical system keeps shorting out, and the walls must be cardboard for all the good they do keeping the cold out in winter. You like having a house, and wouldn’t want to be without one. But sometimes you think: I bet if I tore the whole thing down I could make something a lot better.

This book does a good job exploring that, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of starting again, and looking at what might happen if we had to. Sure there’s the peace and quiet, and freedom from the idea that we have to work ourselves to death to have worth, but this book brought home to me that I really don’t want to tear things down.

For one thing it took us a long time to build this society in the first place. There are good things I’d miss; like medicine, and the protection laws provide. For another, we may be starting again, but not from scratch. We’ll start with scared people clinging to their broken capitalist system, and they’ll build things up again from what they remember. I hadn’t considered that before, so this book gave me a lot to think about. Chances are in the couple hundred or so years it takes to build things up again, your house will look around the same as before.

This book has two main parts. In the first, our patient zero travels across america and infects a group of people, then things spread from there. There’s not a whole load of attention paid to the world outside america, but I assume everyone else got taken down too. The second takes place after most people are dead, and follows our select group of lucky survivors. The first part is horrible, but not supernatural. In the second part, supernatural comes into play.

People start getting dreams that lead them either to our big bad guy Randall Flagg, or mother Abigail who leads the good guys. Only, it goes deeper than that which I loved. It seems that most of the bad guys head toward Flagg, and most of the good toward mother Abigail, but there’s a lot of overlap. Most of it seems to come down to choice more than character, and a lot seems to be down to nothing more than luck.

There are a lot of themes and questions that Stephen King explored through his characters in this book. This deep thinking was one of my favorite parts of the story. My other favorite part was the characters.

There are quite a lot of characters. They are set at various positions on the line between good and evil, and most sit firmly in the gray area. Nick was my favorite, partly because he’s deaf and dumb and I love reading portrayals of characters with differences, but mostly because he’s one of those rock solid morally driven guys. He’ll make the right choice, even if doing so costs him. There were so many others as well. Stuart who started off so badly and made the choice to be a better man. Nadine who starts so brilliantly, then makes the choice to listen to darker thoughts.

This fell short of five stars for me partly because the two parts were so different to each other. I was enjoying the surviving the end of the world plot, then things started getting supernatural which was a bit of a shock (but not too much of one since this is Stephen King.) The second part of the story was good, but I enjoyed the realism of the first part so much that some of me spent the rest of the book mourning its loss.

There were also some twists and turns in the tale that seemed not quite to fit the rest of the story. They were just there, and felt clumsy when there seemed to be no reason for them.

Overall this was a good book. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other giant book I’ve read of his: It. When I reached the end of It I felt like I’d been on a fantastic journey, and everything slotted together at the end. I didn’t get that feeling with The Stand. I just felt like I’d read a good book, but didn’t feel personally connected to it like I had with It.

For more reviews of this book check out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/149267.The_Stand