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.

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: Nightmares & Dreamscapes

Nightmares & DreamscapesTitle: Nightmares & Dreamscapes
Author: Stephen King
Published: October 1993
Author’s Website: http://stephenking.com/
Genre: Horror-ish

Review: Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a collection of short stories.  There are a handful or more of the stories in here that certainly don’t fit the horror genre, and most that I’d say fit it, aren’t that particularly scary.  A few of the more horror-ish ones are “The Night Flier”, “Sneakers”, “You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band”, and “Rainy Season”. “Head Down” is a work of non-fiction that shows you can write true stories with a flair that makes them interesting.

Here are a few excerpts I used for Teaser Tuesday posts:

“On the mound, Matt Francke, who was twice within inches of winning his game, lowers his head, not wanting to look.  And as Ryan rounds second and starts back toward home, he seems to finally understand what he has done, and at that point he begins to weep.” – from ‘Head Down’

““Oh, I write like a boid,” Dees said, and offered a smile he hoped looked good-humored and warm.  This was an expression he had practiced almost constantly and continued to practice with fair regularity in the bedroom mirror of the New York apartment he called his home, and in the mirrors of the hotels and motels that were really his home.  It seemed to work–Selida McCammon answered it readily enough–but the truth was that Dees had never felt good-humored and warm in his life.” – from ‘The Night Flier’

“It wasn’t much, but Brad Pearson had learned that killing bats had at least one thing in common with cutting down on your cigarette intake:  you had to start somewhere.” – from ‘The Ten O’ Clock People’

“He loved to hear Grandpa talk.  The things Grandpa said continually amazed him because they almost always made sense.” – from ‘My Pretty Pony’

“At first his course of action had seemed clear-cut and simple: avoid that particular men’s room, and avoid all thoughts and questions about the sneakers.  Simply turn that subject off.” – from ‘Sneakers’

 

Bottom Line:
This wasn’t my favorite Stephen King book, or even my favorite collection of short stories that he’s released.  Not that the writing in the stories is sub-par, of course, but most of the stories just didn’t grab me.  A couple that did, though, have stuck with me for years, like “The Ten O’Clock People” and “The Night Flier”.  I would recommend this to real fans of Stephen King, but not for folks who’ve read one or two of his scarier books and are looking for more of the same.  For those who’ve not read Mr. King’s works and would like a good intro to his writing style without too much “spooky”, this would fit the bill.

Review: unholy (The Haunted Lands, Book III)

unholy (The Haunted Lands, Book III)
Author:  Richard Lee Byers
Published: February 2009
Genre:  Fantasy, Horror, Dungeons & Dragons
Review:  Ninety years have past since the Council of Zulkirs fled Szass Tam’s undead hordes to take up an exiled residence in a nearby land.  Szass Tam hasn’t attempted to pursue them, because he has been working on a plan to destroy the world and recreate it as he sees fit.  In preparation, he’s constructed numerous “Dread Rings” throughout Thay in precise locations to accomplish the Unmaking.
Having discovered Tam’s plan, Bareris and Mirror convince Aoth to join them in swaying the Council of Zulkirs to help thwart Tam’s plans.  The group marches their army to one of the Dread Rings, eventually winning that battle.  The expected destruction of Tam’s plans, though, is very short-lived as he manages to reconfigure the magical layout of the Unmaking to allow it to proceed.
Realizing the Unmaking can still take place, the plan changes to to destroying Szass Tam.  Eventually, a battle involving Tam, the Zulkirs, Bareris, Aoth, Mirror, Malark Springhill, and numerous demons and undead takes place at the heart of the Unmaking ceremony.  Who lives?  Who dies…permanently?  You’ll have to read it to find out.

Bottom Line:  The third and final book in The Haunted Lands sums up the loose ends of the series very well.  It has some compelling battle scenes and introduces characters to be found in a different series.  I enjoyed the series and recommend it to fans of the Forgotten Realms books, as well as general fantasy fans.

Review: undead (The Haunted Lands, Book II)

undead (The Haunted Lands, Book II)
Title:  undead (The Haunted Lands, Book II)
Author:  Richard Lee Byers
Published: March 2008
Genre:  Fantasy, Horror, Dungeons & Dragons
Review:  It’s ten years into the war that started in “unclean” and the lands of Thay are bleak and dying.  This isn’t really a problem for Szass Tam’s legions of undead, but for the Council, the rest of the Zulkirs opposing him, they see a country that will be barely habitable if they don’t finish the war soon.  Weary of the decade long war, the leader of the Griffon Legion, Aoth Fezim even contemplates abandoning the cause for greener pastures.  In a battle that should have gone the Council’s way, a bit of espionage turns the tide in favor of Szass Tam.  As he’s about to have his victory, though, Mystra, Goddess of Magic, is assassinated, unraveling the Weave, and causing the Spellplague, which renders all arcane magic nearly useless and allows the Council to survive the battle.
At their next battle, the Council’s forces are fairing well and look to have a chance of winning the day, before Szass Tam begins to unleash the powers he bargained from the evil god, Bane, and a long time ally turns his coat.  As Tam’s forces assault the port city in which the Council has taken refuge, the Council slips off across the water, burning the boats they don’t need, abandoning Thay to Tam.
In an attempt to finish the Council once and for all, Szass Tam conjures up boats for his minions, and draws on the waning powers Bane had given him to summon a few more undead sea creatures.  They chase down and join battle with the Council.  When the last trick he has up his sleeve is beaten, Tam is forced to concede defeat and pull back to Thay, and what remains of the Council has to try to find new lives in exile.

Bottom Line:  This installment of the series provides more new(ish) undead, plenty of face time for some of your favorite characters, like Aoth Fezim, Bareris Anskuld and Tannith, Mirror, and Malark Springhill.  It has betrayal, allegiance changes, a number of large battles, and the first look at the Spellplague…and what it did to casters, magic, and the land itself.  I’m not sure how well it would stand as a story by itself, but it’s a good series book.

Review: unclean (The Haunted Lands, Book I)

unclean (The Haunted Lands, Book I)
Title:  unclean (The Haunted Lands, Book I)
Author:  Richard Lee Byers
Published: April 2007
Genre:  Fantasy, Horror, Dungeons & Dragons
Review:  Szass Tam, Lich, Red Wizard, Zulkir of Necromancy, has decided he’s no longer content with sharing the rule of Thay.  His elaborate scheme to try to win the support of the other Zulkirs as the supreme ruler of Thay endangers the whole of the realm, including the lives of Bareris, a human bard, desperately trying to find and win back his lost love, Aoth, a gryphon rider, and Malark, a monk of the Long Death, …and the many Zulkirs and Tharcions on both sides.  Legions of the undead clash with armies of humans –red wizards, priests of Kossuth, gryphon riders, among them.  From where did the undead come, and whose side is Szass Tam really on?

Bottom Line:  Honestly, I found Byers’ writing style to be a bit difficult to read at first, but the story lines are interwoven well enough to make for a moderately compelling tale…or, at least, the first third of the tale.

Review: Dreamsongs (Volumes I & II)

Dreamsongs, Volume I

Dreamsongs, Volume I

Title:  Dreamsongs (Volumes I & II)
Author:  George R. R. Martin
Published: October 30, 2007 & November 27, 2007, respectively
Author’s Website:  http://georgerrmartin.com/
Genre:  Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, anthology
Review:  A two volume collection of George R. R. Martin’s short stories with a few novella (or near) length ones, as well.  Some of these were unpublished, but many were, and a few were awards winners, some almost-winners.  In a few cases, George has chosen to include original, unpublished versions of stories that were published.  In the mix, before each grouping of stories, George has provided a bit of what was going on in his life as he wrote some of the stories or was trying to get them published, which won awards, where the ideas for the stories came from, and other interesting bits of information about his life and writing.
Some of his award winning stories included in these anthologies:
  • “A Song for Lya” – 1975 Hugo Award
  • “Sandkings” – 1980 Hugo and Nebula Award
  • “The Way of Cross and Dragon” – 1980 Hugo Award
  • “Portraits of His Children” – 1986 Nebula Award
  • “The Pear-Shaped Man” – 1988 Bram Stoker Award
  • “The Skin Trade” – 1989 World Fantasy Award
The stories I liked most (not in any particular order):
  • “Sandkings” (I saw this on Outer Limits years ago)
  • “The Skin Trade”
  • “The Hedge Knight” (possibly because I so enjoy his realm of Westeros)
  • “A Beast for Norn”
  • “The Monkey Treatment”
  • “Nightflyers”
  • “Under Siege”
  • “Unsound Variations”
  • “Doorways”
  • “A Song for Lya”
  • “The Second Kind of Loneliness”
Before ever reading any of Martin’s philosophy on writing, I had said that what makes his A Song of Ice and Fire series different from most fantasy stories is that his stories are about the characters and how they interact with each other and alone rather than the plots.  His characters grow and change.  They have depth…almost every one of them.
In Volume II, as part of the introduction to the section titled The Heart in Conflict, Martin says this:
Stories of the human heart in conflict with itself transcend time, place, and setting.  So long as love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice are present, it matters not a whit whether the tall, lean stranger has a proton pistol or a six-shooter in his hand.  Or a sword–
This is why so many of us are enthralled by A Song of Ice and Fire…and why so many of the stories in these volumes, as short as some of them are, make the connection to the reader.
Bottom Line:  This collection of stories, some award winning, spanning decades, combined with intimate details of the author’s thoughts and life experiences, is well worth reading.  If for no other reason, reading through this collection proves the quote above…that regardless of trappings, a well-written story of hearts in conflict makes for an engaging tale.