Review: Innocence by Dean Koontz

Innocence by Dean KoontzTitle: Innocence
Author: Dean Koontz
Published: 2013
Author’s Website: www.deankoontz.com
Genre: Thriller, Suspense

Review:  Addison Goodheart is a recluse, living beneath the city streets in mostly unused old drains and access tunnels.  He ventures out only late at night and always under a hoodie.  It’s a life he chooses…in order to keep living.  Since his birth, the reaction of people to his face and eyes has almost always been a fleeting moment of horror, followed by an uncontrollable urge to kill him.

After a sharp inhalation of shock, the two men were frozen for a moment at the sight of him.  At first but only at first, their wrenched countenances were those of helpless children cornered by a thing that stalked them in their worst dreams, a thing that in the lands of sleep never quite possessed features but that now had a face more terrifying than their worst nightmares.

The only exception to this is the man he met in the city after leaving his home that he called Father, who elicited the same response from others.

Everything changes for Addison one night when he meets Gwyneth, a kindred soul he spies being pursued through the library by a man intent on killing her.  A tentative first meeting becomes a fast friendship.  Dressed in goth stylings with her face “painted” and pierced, Gwyneth also haunts the night avoiding people.

Addison’s need to be Gwyneth’s friend quickly finds him accompanying her on her quest to save people while figuring out how to ruin the evil Ryan Telford, who murdered her father.

By the end of the story, Addison and Gwyneth come to understand that their afflictions aren’t necessarily curses and that together they are meant to accomplish much more than just revenge on Telford.

Here’s one more excerpt I used for another Teaser Tuesday:

When the pyrotechnics concluded and the sky brought forth only rain, Father said, "When men in power decide that things need to be rebalanced at any cost, the violence is never brief and never really directed solely at the imbalance that supposedly inspired it.  The rule of law becomes the rule of violence."

Bottom line:  To me, Innocence comes off as a suspense story, eventually answering the questions niggling your thoughts throughout.  Why do people react to Addison like they do?  How do the seemingly random people in their lives connect?  And, how will they overcome an evil man with seemingly immeasurable resources?  Aside from a few descriptions of acts most of us will find abhorrent, this is a fairly tame, but well-written story.  Fans of Koontz will enjoy this one, though it’s not as horror-like as many of his stories.

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Review: Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin

Fevre Dream by George R. R. MartinTitle: Fevre Dream
Author: George R. R. Martin
Published: April 2012 in paperback (1982 originally)
Author’s Website: www.georgerrmartin.com
Genre: Horror, Science-Fiction

Review:  Abner Marsh has had a dream of owning the grandest steamboat on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, but has had to content himself with smaller, not-so-grands boats.  Until a run of misfortune leads Joshua York to seek him out as a partner.  York agrees to finance the building of the Fevre Dream, the soon-to-be grandest and fastest steamer on the rivers…under the condition that his “odd habits” and demands be accepted and followed without question.  Abner agrees and the Fever Dream is soon complete and steaming along the rivers, and, indeed, the Fevre Dream quickly begins to show it’s one of the fastest boats around.

She went flying right on out ahead of the Southerner, and when she was safely clear of her Kitch eased her right in front of the other steamer's bow, leaving them to ride her waves.  All those worthless berthless pilots were chuckling and passing around smokes and yapping about what a heller of a boat this Fevre Dream was, while the Southerner receded behind them and Abner Marsh grinned like a fool.

Initially, the odd habits aren’t overly difficult to deal with, but when the demands are frequent stops at non-standard ports of call, the passengers complain and Abner finds himself questioning his partner, who reveals little, but reminds Abner of the terms of their agreement.

Eventually, though, as it becomes more and more difficult to pickup and deliver cargo and passengers in a timely manner, Abner confronts Joshua, who reluctantly reveals his nature and story, as well as his true purpose for partnering with Abner and building the Fever Dream.  This better understanding of each other marks the beginning of a tenuous friendship that will, ultimately, be sorely tested.

For a long moment he did not know which it would be, whether Joshua would take the bottle or tear open the veins in his wrist. "We all got to make our [GD] choices, Joshua," he said softly, in the grip of Joshua's strong fingers.

Bottom Line: In typical G.R.R. Martin fashion, he does a fantastic job of developing the main character Abner Marsh.  Joshua York and the other characters, while not as fully fleshed out, are more than just names on a page.  The action is good, the mood superb, and, the story is very well done.  This doesn’t read like your typical vampire novel.  It’s worth checking out.

Review: IT

IT by Stephen KingTitle: IT
Author: Stephen King
Published: September 1986
Author’s Website: stephenking.com
Genre: Horror

Review:  There’s not a lot of build-up before disaster strikes for “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough in 1958.  While Derry is in the grips of a flood, and Bill is laid up in bed sick, his brother Georgie has an unfortunate meeting with Pennywise the Clown.  Tragedy, in Derry, seems to be a way of life, as Bill and The Losers’ Club soon learn.

The thing was to get through this one. To get the power back on, and then to forget it.  In Derry such forgetting of tragedy and disaster was almost an art, as Bill Denbrough would come to discover in the course of time.

The Losers’ Club, a group of kids who form a deep bond over one terrifying summer, are called back from their adult lives by the only one still living in Derry, the small town in Maine in which they all grew up, on the strength of a promise they barely remember making as kids.  It turns out that the promise is all most of them remember of the adventure that brought them all together as kids, pitting them against a malevolent entity that seems to have been preying on people in the town for a long, long time.

As they gather and talk and start to remember more of that summer, IT is also reaching out and bringing in help.  A pawn or two with easily swayed minds may be able to prevent The Losers’ Club from a repeat performance, maybe from even making the attempt.

Fighting through muddled memories, emotions, and fears, as well as the forces that IT is able to marshal in its defense, The Losers’ Club make their way to the final confrontation, hoping to summon enough of the magic they found as kids to overcome IT once and for all.

The quote above and the ones below are the “Teaser Tuesday” posts I made over the course of this story:

His face uttered a strange smile which said that, while he didn’t believe anything so silly, he believed it completely.

Richie understood.


Whatever it was, it came to me in the night, left its talisman…and then disappeared.

Tied to my reading lamp was a single balloon.


He was about to turn away when something caught his eye: a cement cylinder with a heavy steel cap on the top.  Morlock holes, Ben used to call them, laughing with his mouth but not quite laughing with his eyes.


They stood in the rain in a huddled group, hugging each other, listening to it hiss down on the bushes.  That was what she remembered best:   the sound of the rain and their own shared silence and a vague sorrow that Eddie was not there with them.

Bottom Line: Maybe it’s because this was my first Stephen King novel, but IT has always been one of my favorites.  Maybe it also has to do with being able to relate to The Losers’ Club –I was never hounded by bullies, but my circle of friends always seemed to be the nerds, the not-quite-outcasts, those who’d rather go build forts in the woods and use our imaginations than do what was “cool”.  This is truly a horror story, consisting of both human and supernatural monsters that prey upon children and adults, but it’s also a story of hope and magic, the kind that we find in ourselves and our friends.  I highly recommend IT.

Review: After the King: Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien

After the King edited by Martin H. GreenbergTitle: After the King: Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien
Editor: Martin H. Greenberg
Published: December 1992
Editor‘s Website: Wikipedia on Martin H. Greenberg
Genre: Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Short Stories

Review: A collection of 19 short stories written back in 1991 in honor of the 100th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birth.  The list of authors includes some of the biggest names in fantasy since Tolkien introduced the world to Bilbo and Gandalf, Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn, the Nazgûl, Sauron, Gollum, and The One Ring…and the many other characters and lands of Middle Earth, considered by many to be the real birth if high fantasy.

The authors were asked to write Tolkienesque stories and the genres and settings of these stories include fantasy, sci-fi, modern day, and the future.  As with most collections, my opinion of the stories ranges from liking very much to liking very little and some in-between.

This is my list of the ones I like quite a bit (not in any particular order):

I participate in a “Teaser Tuesday”, on the blog A Daily Rhythm, in which we take two sentences from the book we’re reading and submit them as a teaser.  The following are the teasers I submitted over the month or so it took me to read through this collection.

from Reave the Just by Stephen R. Donaldson
Well, Jillet had no need of anyone's forgiveness; but he felt a natural preference for men with amiable reputations.  From the honest alchemist, he went in search of an amiable usurer.
from In the Season of the Dressing of the Wells by John Brunner
It wasn't a question.  The tangled state of the bedclothes was evidence.
from The Halfling House by Dennis L. McKiernan
How the inn arrives, none that I had spoken to knew.  Rudd and Meech, a couple of barn Bwca--cousins of mine, you might say--tell that it materializes out of thin air...but then, they had been drinking when they claimed they had witnessed its appearance, and who can believe anything seen through the eyes of drunken Bwca?.
from Down the River Road by Gregory Benford
Never before had he done more than gaze in reverence and abject self-abasement at one of the induction ships as it parted the river with its razor-sharp prow.  Now Mr. Preston greeted him with a curt nod, quite circumspect compared to the sprawl of the man's conversation at breakfast.

Bottom Line:  While I’m not really sure what Tolkienesque means, maybe you can figure it out and decide if the stories in this collection meet that standard.  Other than that, I really liked 8 out of the 19 stories, another two or three almost made my list above, and only disliked about a handful, so I’ll say that makes a successful collection for me.

 

 

Review: CV by Damon Knight

CV by Damon KnightTitle: CV
Author: Damon Knight
Published: May 1985
Author’s Website: Wikipedia on Damon Knight
Genre: Horror, Science-Fiction

Review: Sea Venture, CV, for short, is a massive floating city that uses tug boats and ocean currents for movement. It can seal itself up so that it can submerge. It produces its own food and has a sizeable permanent staff, in addition to guests that use it for travel/vacation.

So, what happens when an alien presence is dredged up and released aboard?  One that’s only symptom is a short feeling of faintness when it enters a new host and a coma when it leaves?  How do you track it down and, more importantly, catch or eliminate it?  Will it take killing the host or destroying CV to prevent it from getting free into the world?.

Bottom Line: I think the concept of Sea Venture is cool – a huge self-sufficient city moving around the ocean by changing depth to catch different currents. Neat.  Add in an alien that’s more curious than malignant…it’s the side effects that cause the problems…and you’ve got an intetesting story. Unfortunately, Mr. Knight introduces too many characters and their stories into what could have been a much tighter (and shorter) story.   CV gets bogged down in multiple backstories and too many people, which often leads to disjointed transitions.  I don’t recommend this to any, but the most dedicated sci-fi lover, and then, only as a cool concept story.

Review: The Voice of the Night

Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsTitle: The Voice of the Night
Author: Dean Koontz
Published: March 2011 (first pub 1980)
Author’s Website: http://www.deankoontz.com/
Genre: Horror

Review:  Colin is a shy kid who idolizes his new friend, Roy, one of the most popular kids in school.  Along the path to becoming blood brothers, Roy talks a lot about killing animals and people, even asking Colin if he’d be willing to join in killing someone for no reason other than it being a real “popper”.  Colin doesn’t really believe Roy has or will kill anyone, but when he crosses Roy, he learns just how crazy Roy is.

Bottom Line:  This is a great horror/suspense story.  No monsters or ghosts.  Not a lot of blood and gore.  Just suspense.  Building and building…and then building a bit more.  When, finally, the suspense is broken, it’s a brief respite before more suspense leading to the final climax.  I highly recommend it to fans of the suspense/horror genre.

 

Review: Shards & Ashes

Shards & AshesTitle: Shards & Ashes
Author: by Melissa Marr & Kelley Armstrong
Published: February 2013
Authors’ Websites: http://www.melissamarrbooks.com/
and http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/
Genre: Science Fiction, YA, teen

Review:  This collection is the result of Marr and Armstrong proposing to this group of authors to each write a short story in which the future is dark and bleak.  To that extent, this collection is a success, some more bleak, some more dark.

“Hearken” by Veronica Roth– Kids with special musical talents are given implants that allow them to hear life or death songs, which are within all humans, so they can recreate the music on their instruments.  While interesting, I found this story boring.

 “Branded” by Kelley Armstrong – Pure-blooded humans have walled themselves in towns/fortresses to keep out supernaturals, hybrids, and outsiders.  Due to the limited food, populations are controlled, and if one of the townspeople is found to have supernatural blood, he are branded and cast out.  Such is the case with Braeden.  When he is found to have werewolf blood, he is branded and cast out, leaving behind his best friend, Rayne, even though he’s never turned and has been a valued member of the community.
"No, we will not," the guard said, his voice growing louder as the parents' footsteps trampled over the hard earth. "Come back and get the child or you are leaving her for the hybrids."

“Necklace of Raindrops” by Margaret Stohl – In this world, everyone has a necklace with life beads. Some use up their beads quickly by being risk takers, while others hide/covet theirs, called lifers.  But maybe there’s a life outside of this.  Could it be possible that life isn’t really tied to these necklaces of raindrops?  While interesting, I found this one boring, as well.

“Dogsbody” by Rachel Caine – A corporate-run government that makes decisions based strictly on numbers, for the betterment and survival of the people, but more for the betterment of their own elite lifestyle.  After surviving a “downsizing”, an orphans works his way up through the system, seeking revenge against those who orchestrated it.  A fairly compelling storyline with good action.  One of my favorites.

I wish I'd never looked into that window and met Pria's dark, panicked eyes.  Seen her press her small hands against the window and mouth my name.

“Pale Rider” by Nancy Holder – Another slow one here.  A mysterious stranger shows up and whisks the heroine away to Europe where a hole to the fey world has allowed their magic to seep into ours with devastating consequences.  Can our heroine help save the world?

“Corpse Eaters” by Melissa Marr – A god walks the Earth and his human worshippers consume human flesh from a corpse stew.  Two youngsters wage a nightly battle against the corpse eating minions, killing as many of them as they can.  The boy continually tries to get the girl to leave the city for somewhere safer, but she refuses, driven by vengeance for the death of her sister and the love of her father, who won’t leave the city.  It doesn’t have the fastest pace, but the creepy factor makes up for it.

“Burn” by Kami Garcia – In a world where the sun is hot enough to burn people in seconds, a girl finds her younger sister has been snatched and the police aren’t willing to help.  She begins to track her sister and gets help from a stranger as they race to save her sister from becoming skin grafts for the rich.  Interesting, fast-paced story that is far too believable.

“Love is a Choice” by Beth Revis – Aboard a city-sized transport ship, the former heir to the leader has quite the conundrum when his girlfriend becomes obsessed with stopping the drug-induced mind control the leader has placed pushed onto the citizens, regardless of the likelihood of violent-overthrow.

 “Miasma” by Carrie  Ryan – Disease runs rampant and once the corrupt doctors come calling, the choices are pay them off to ignore the infected or watch them drag your loved ones away, never to return.  When the handsome son of the wealthy family on whose estate she works catches her stealing flower petals, he life takes a much different turn than she’d expected.  An interesting story.

 

Bottom Line:  Overall, I enjoyed this collection of short stories.  Some are more exciting than others, some are more dark and bleak, some are fairly creepy, and some are quite believable as a potential future for our planet.  A few even have what could almost pass for happy endings.  My favorites are, not necessarily in order, “Dogsbody”, “Corpse Eaters”, and “Branded”, while “Necklace of Raindrops”, “Hearken”, and “Pale Rider” did nothing for me.

Review: Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and The Goblet of FireTitle: Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
Author: J.K. Rowling
Published: July 2000
Author’s Website: http://www.jkrowling.com/
Genre: Fantasy, YA, teen

Review:  The Quidditch World Cup comes to England during the summer before Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts and Mr. Weasley has managed to procure top tier seats.  After a great match, the celebration gets a bit out of hand with a rowdy bunch tumbling muggles before all chaos break loose and someone releases a Dark Mark.

And then, without warning, the silence was rent by a voice unlike any they had heard in the wood; and it uttered, not a panicked shout, but what sounded like a spell.

“MORSMORDRE!”

As if the events at the Quidditch World Cup weren’t enough excitement for Harry’s fourth year in the wizarding world, Hogwarts hosts the Triwizard Tournament:  a competition that brings contingents from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, the two other European wizarding schools.  Due to the dangerous nature of the tournament, students under age 17 were prevented from putting their names into the Goblet of Fire to try to become their school’s champion.  Somehow, though, after Cedric Diggory for Hogwarts, Viktor Krum for Durmstrang, and Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons, the goblet spews forth a fourth champion, Harry Potter.

Rita Skeeter, reporter for the Daily Prophet corners Harry while the judges debate whether he will be allowed/required to participate in the tournament.  It’s from this interview that I got my second Teaser Tuesday of this book:

Frowning, he avoided her gaze and looked down at words the quill had just written:  Tears fill those startlingly green eyes as our conversation turns to the parents he can barely remember.

“I have NOT got tears in my eyes!” said Harry loudly.

Between nearly getting thrashed by a Hungarian Horntail in the first challenge and having to figure out how to breathe underwater to pass the second, Harry has to learn to dance for the Yule Ball…and find a date.  With all of the champions still in the game, they enter the third and final challenge: a giant maze, at the center of which lies the Triwizard Cup.  It’s a race that ends with Harry watching Voldemort rise again in human form.

A swishing noise and a second voice, which screeched the words to the night: “Avada Kedavra!”

A blast of green light blazed through Harry’s eyelids, and he heard something heavy fall to the ground beside him; the pain in his scar reached such a pitch that he retched, and then it diminished; terrified of what he wad about to see, he opened his stinging eyes.

After he’s risen, Voldemort attempts to kill Harry, only to find himself thwarted as Harry escapes.  Harry brings news of Voldemort’s return to Dumbledore and the Minister of Magic, who take opposite stances on the veracity of Harry’s tale.  While the Minister of Magic refuses to acknowledge publicly that Voldemort has returned, Dumbledore informs the students about the Dark Lord before they leave the school for their summer break.

Bottom Line:
The fourth year of Hogwarts, while still filled with humor, adds a bit more mortal peril, even a bit of murder.  We are also introduced to a number of characters that remain through the end of the books, some more significant than others.  Another great story that I highly recommend.

Review: Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of AzkabanTitle: Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban
Author: J.K. Rowling
Published: July 1998 (June 1999 in USA)
Author’s Website: http://www.jkrowling.com/
Genre: Fantasy, YA, teen

Review:  Sirius Black has escaped from the wizard prison Azkaban and the Ministry of Magic is convinced he’s going to coming after Harry Potter –so worried that they forgive his (unintentional) use of magic, underage and in front of muggles, send the Knight Bus to pick him up, and put him up in the Leaky Cauldron for the end of the summer.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron meet the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Remus Lupin, on the Hogwarts Express and learn first hand what dementors, the guardians of Azkaban, look like when one decides to try to join them in their train compartment.  It turns out the dementors have been set to guarding the perimeter of Hogwarts in hope of recapturing Sirius Black.

Their third year at school comes with new courses, a lot of new courses for Hermione.  She’s taking so many that Ron and Harry can’t understand how she can possibly be doing it.  One new course they all share is Divination with Professor Sybill Trelawny, a kooky, crazy-looking woman who has a habit of predicting dire situations and death in just about every class.

Professor McGonnegal’s response to the trio’s reaction to  their first divination class was my only Teaser Tuesday from The Prisoner of Azkaban:

“There is no need to say any more, Miss Granger. Tell me, which of you will be dying this year?”

As the year progresses, the hunt for Sirius Black continues while the students enjoy their best Defense Against the Dark Arts classes so far with Professor Lupin, which includes the creepy, shape-changing Boggart.  While the students very much enjoy classes with Professor Lupin, when he experiences health issues, they aren’t as thrilled with the substitute, Professor Snape.

When Harry isn’t allowed to go to Hogsmeade, a little town near Hogwarts where students get weekend passes to visit, the Weasley twins, Ron’s older brothers, provide Harry a great tool to sneak around and find secret passages out of the castle:  the Marauder’s Map, which he puts to great use over the next few years.

As it turns out, Hermione’s trick for taking so many classes also comes in handy saving the day.

Bottom Line:
With this third story, Ms. Rowling has created a trend in this series of each book being slightly darker than the previous books.  Not only do we have Dementors attempting to suck the joy and life out of people, but we also have rumors of wizards blowing up crowds of muggles.  It appears sometimes during this book that there are too many sub-plots to follow, but they are all pulled together in the end.  Another great story that I highly recommend.

Review: Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and The Chamber of SecretsTitle: Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets
Author: J.K. Rowling
Published: July 1998 (June 1999 in USA)
Author’s Website: http://www.jkrowling.com/
Genre: Fantasy, YA, teen

Review:  When Harry ignores Dobby the house elf’s pleas to not return to Hogwarts for his second year, the comical elf creates a bit of mischief that gets Harry locked in his room at 4 Privet Drive.  Luckily, his best friend, Ron, and Ron’s brothers bust him out and it isn’t long after their second year starts that trouble begins.

No sooner have they returned to Hogwarts than Harry begins to hear whispery voices in the walls.  Shortly thereafter, the first student turns up petrified with a message scrawled on the wall proclaiming “The Chamber of Secrets” has been opened.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione again find themselves trying to solve another mystery at Hogwarts.  As Hagrid is arrested as the one who opened the Chamber of Secrets*, he gives Harry and Ron a clue, which leads them to follow a trail of spiders into the Forbidden Forest where they meet Aragog, the leader of a clan of giant spiders. As the plot thickens, one of the trio ends up petrified and Ginny Weasley goes missing.  Once again, with a little help from unexpected sources, Harry has to save the day.

One of the things that makes this series great is J.K. Rowling’s ability to have her core characters interact believably, right down to the insults they hurl at each other, while introducing one or two characters in each book that are only main for the one book.  In The Chamber of Secrets, this character is the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart.  His Colgate smile and pompously charming personality endear him to some, while others wonder how someone so self-absorbed could have possibly done all he claims to have done in his books.

While The Chamber of Secrets is longer than The Sorcerer’s Stone, I only had one Teaser Tuesday:

He rolled up his sleeves, brandished his wand, and bellowed, “Peskipiksi Pesternomi!

It had absolutely no effect; one of the pixies seized his wand and threw it out of the window, too.

*To find out if Hagrid’s guilty of what he was arrested for, you’ll have to read the book.

Bottom Line:
Another great story.  We begin to see a bit of how magic can be used for nefarious purposes, and we are introduced to a few nastier creatures.  As most of the characters have returned from The Sorcerer’s Stone, there isn’t as much time devoted to setting up the world and introducing characters, leaving more time for building a story with a few twists and distractions, which Ms. Rowling does wonderfully.  The slightly darker story is still mostly light-hearted and is, again, easily recommended to everyone.