Swan Song – Robert McCammon

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I love me a good post-apocalyptic story, but this one was a especially good. I think people who have read and loved The Stand by Stephen King would really like this novel. The book kept popping up in my suggestions on Goodreads, Twitter, my library. Finally I said, alright, alright I’ll read it! I am so glad I did. I can tell that it will be one that I will re-read.

In this story we follow a few people who have some how survived a nuclear attack where one country attacks, then another and before you know it all the countries are firing their weapons. They hit major cities, of course, followed by our military bases. What is left of America is a waste land where nothing grows, the air and water are poison, and food is scarce. You would think people would band together and try to find a way to survive together. But no. This is humanity. It is every man for themselves and unfortunately it isn’t too far of a stretch to read Robert’s view of what people are capable of doing when there is nothing left to live for.

We meet Sister who lived in New York City as a bag lady and survived by taking shelter in an subway tunnel. We meet John (a wrestler )and Swan (a 7 year old girl), who took cover in a bunker at a gas station. Roland (a teenage boy) and Colonel James Macklin who have survived because they had already been in a fallout shelter.

We read what happens to these people moments after the bombs hit, the fires, the flash burns, the blindness. We read what happens weeks and months after, the shock, the depression, the starvation, the sickness.

Sister finds a glass “crown” that allows her to ‘dream-walk’. In those dream-walk’s she sees a person of importance, the closer she is to them the more clear the image, but she is always just a little too far away. Meanwhile, John notices that Swan can make grass grow. He doesn’t think much of it at the time though, he just knows that he must protect Swan at all costs, with his life if it comes to that. Roland and Colonel Macklin have formed, The Army of Excellence. Hell bent on killing anyone that gets in their way of ‘rebuilding’ America.

Then Robert takes us 7 years into the future. Sister has been sweeping the country-side looking for the person in her glass ‘crown’.  Roland and Macklin have grown their army to thousands of solders and have laid waste to any settlement they come against. Swan is now a 17 year old girl and she rediscovers her ‘gift’ of making things grow. It is Swan that is the future of bringing back food, plants, and life to the barren planet. When Colonel Macklin and Roland hear about her, they know they must have her in their possession.

It is all out post-apocalyptic story that gives you everything: rich detail, engaging characters, battles of good and evil, hope, despair, love and hate. Who wins in the end? Is there ever a winner? Is there a lesson to be learned? Is humanity capable of learning that lesson?

This book might hit a bit too close in these troubled times.

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Outsider – Stephen King

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I feel like Stephen King just gets better and better. Which is a huge complement, because I already thought his books were amazing.

Outsider is Stephen King the latest novel in a long line of novels by the “Master of Horror”. I believe one of the reasons that Stephen King remains a master is because he writes about real fear. Yes, monsters are scary, but the scariest monsters are the ones that live next door to us. Our deepest fears are what he writes about it. I believe I have said this before, and it holds true for Outsider.

In this story we open with Detective Ralph Anderson arresting a popular teacher and coach, Terry Maitland at a little league game for the murder of a little boy. In the subsequent chapters, we get a look to why the cops arrested Terry and their compelling evidence of his guilt, and we see Terry’s counter evidence to his innocence. The cops, district attorney, lawyers and detectives are then forced to leave what is black and white and go into a shady gray area that none of them are ready to deal with.

This story is a gripping, page turning ride that leaves the reader, as always, wanting more.

I really enjoyed this book and encourage any Stephen King fan to read it.

The Ritual – Adam Nevill

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Do you ever read books that you enjoyed but at the end you can’t really say why? This is what this book was for me. I follow a few people on twitter that give out book recommendations which for me, are some of the best recommendations out there. Times might tell me about a great new author or book, but for some reason when someone I have never met on Twitter says, “This book the reason I don’t go camping”. I just have to read it.

This book is about four friends (Luke, Hutch, Phil and Dom), who go camping for a ‘guys weekend’ to reunite. Life got in the way, marriage, kids, jobs, etc. Two of the men are healthy, avid outdoors men and two of them have as they say, let themselves go. After trekking through the Scandinavian wilderness for a few days, Hutch and Luke realize that Phil and Dom just can’t make the hike they have planned. Dom’s knee is busted and Phil’s feet have painful blisters. They decide to take a shortcut through the woods but unfortunately, (despite Hutch’s knowledge of the forest), they get hopelessly lost. The discover a gruesome sight of a desecrated animal corpse strung out between two trees and that is where things go from bad to worse.

The reader is stumbling, falling, crashing and suffering right along with the men as they try to desperately get out of the forest. Unfortunately, they are not alone and the there are things in this world that cannot be explained and should never be seen.

Although the book (in my opinion) meandered a bit and felt a tad rushed at the end, it was still gripping and Adam’s detail both in character and scenery and scenery description was very rich and at times even too detailed.

I enjoyed this book and will look for others by Adam Neville.

Strange Weather – Joe Hill

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This is a collection of four shorts stories by Joe Hill and each story has some sort of “weather” attached to it. Except for Loaded – unless it was the heat.

Snapshot is a story about a boy who is taking care of his elderly neighbor who has what appears to be dementia or some kind of senility. He runs into a man with a strange camera and is unnerved when the lady warns him to not let the man take his picture! What follows is the boy leaving the realm of the known into the unknown as he tries to save what is left of his neighbors mind. Come to think of this one doesn’t have anything to do with weather either – unless it is the torrential down pours.

Loaded is just about everyone’s nightmare and one of the hardest ones to read – you will see why. A girl working in a jewelry story is driven to violence and decides to shoot her manger/lover. When a security officer who has a few screws loose comes to the ‘rescue’ and things escalate in a bad way. The fallout is told and the ending leaves the reader shocked and dismayed at the realization that this could happen…and maybe even has.

Aloft was kind of a fun story. Aubrey is terrified of heights but has agreed to go skydiving to impress the girl he is madly in love with. As he gets close to the jump he decides he can’t do it. Unfortunately, the plane has malfunctioned and he has no choice but to jump out to save his life. Him and his instructor jump but instead of making it to the ground they land on a cloud. The story tells of Aubrey discovery that he is on the cloud and his desperate attempt to get off it.

Rain is one of the sadder stories. I don’t think any character in this story doesn’t have either a tragic backstory, or a tragic plot line. One day in Boulder instead of raining normal rain it rains nails, spikes, needles. Tiny crystals that stab and kill people. Scientist are baffled, people die by the thousands and travel is near impossible because the spikes can flatten tires and go through shoes. Yet, Honeysuckle must travel to Denver to tell her girlfriends family that she was caught in the storm. On her travels she sees how quickly things fall apart, how quickly hope turns to despair, how some people try to help while others only look out for themselves. You realize that you never know the person you are with until the end, until it is almost too late.

I would say that out of all the stories I liked Rain the most. I could almost see it being a full length book, but also feel like it wrapped up nicely. In fact, all four stories wrapped up nicely which is one thing I find a problem with usually in short stories. These were perfect, I read them, I enjoyed them; when they were done I was done as well. Great collection for the Joe Hill fans.

 

 

The Fireman – Joe Hill

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In a word – enthralling.

This book grabbed me at page one and didn’t let go until page 768. I finished this book in breathtaking speed and didn’t want it to end.

In this story, a mold spore has been released and the infected people develop a disease come to be known as, Dragonscale or simply ‘scale. The infected get marks on their bodies that make it hard to hide that that have it. After some time, the infected burn to death (spontaneous combustion) and usually end up starting fires that spread thus taking over cities and forest and sometimes even states in ash clouds and fire. As the disease spreads, the healthy and the sick are pitted against each other. Governments have ‘camps’ for the sick, that end up being just places for people to burn without harming the healthy. Cremation Squads led by fanatics roam the streets and kill anyone who is infected before they can burn and cause more damage. Structure and government break down, and chaos ensues. The sick go into hiding and wait to die, but one man may have found a way to beat it. He can somehow control the fire and use it at will.

We meet the Fireman through Harper, who is a school nurse turned emergency room nurse who contracts the virus after leaning she is pregnant. She saves a boy the Fireman brings into her hospital and for that, he is in her debt. After she contracts the virus, her husband slowly unhinges and tries to kill her and her unborn baby. She flees and finds a a group of sick people living together in an abandon summer camp. There she officially meets the Fireman and learns that he has a way to keep from burning up; she wants to learn how so that she can deliver her baby.

Through out the whole book you see how sick people want to live, even knowing that that they have a death sentence one them. You see healthy people panic and do deplorable things. You see people control people with fear and ‘miracles’. You read about compassion, love, and humor in unlikely places.

One of the most real passages I have ever read I read in this book and it resonated because how true it is. “But you know…by dinnertime, I had mostly quit thinking about it. It didn’t take long to feel like just one more of the century’s possible but unlikely apocalypses, like an epidemic of bird flu wiping out billions or an asteroid cracking the planet in half. You can’t do anything about it, and it’s happening to poor people on the other side of the world, and the kids need help with homework, so you just stop thinking about it.” If that doesn’t speak about how desensitized we get from all the bad news we hear I don’t know what does.

Another passage that terrified me in this book: – we meet a woman (Renee) who is confined to the hospital but making the best of it. She starts a reading circle for the kids and a book club for adults and when Harper asks Renee about her choice in books, (Because of how short it is), Renee says: “There is something horribly unfair about dying in the middle of a good story, before you have a chance to see how it all comes out. “

How terrifying is that? That we might die and never know the end the current book we are on?

Innocence – Dean Koontz

 

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I don’t know how much I can write about this novel without giving too much away – but I shall try.

First off, this was a good one. This is one of those books that will stick with you long after you finish it. I read it in no time because the book kept you wanting and honestly, when the last page was turned, you still wanted.

This story is told by Addison Goodheart who was brought up for the first eight years of his life by a mother who couldn’t stand to be around him. Fueled by drugs and alcohol she could only stand to look at him for short amounts of time. She cast him out when he was eight knowing that he would probably die, but she just couldn’t stand it anymore. Riddled by grief, guilt or something more she killed herself while Addison watched from the bushes. It was hard to read of a mother casting her son out like a piece of garbage. However, Addison held great respect for his mother and didn’t blame her. He knew that when people saw him, especially into his eyes, they wanted to kill him. His mother had told him of the midwife who delivered who tried to smother him with a blanket. His own mother tried and failed to kill him as well. However, Addison didn’t blame them. He knew that he was a monster and loathed bringing this much hatred and pain to people.

When he got into the city he was attacked by everyone who saw him and was thankfully rescued by someone just like him. Someone that people couldn’t stand the sight of. He came to know him simple as Father and lived beneath the city of people who would harm them if they ever looked into their eyes. They would only come out at night or during bad weather, and would always cover their faces so that people wouldn’t see them.

So the whole book you are thinking – “What in the name of all that is reasonable could be so bad that people won’t even look at them?!” The whole time.

Addison meets Gwyneth who suffers from “Social Phobia” and cannot stand to be touched. He can’t be seen and she can’t be touched – already a match made in heaven. They a drawn together and soon hunted together. Something about them has made them targets and on a dark snowy evening the truth comes out.

This book, as I said, leaves you wanting more. The characters stay with you, the plot and the ending. It grips you from the first page and doesn’t let go.

I would recommend this book for anyone who likes Dean Koontz, Stephen King, mystery, fiction, or a book you spend the whole time saying “What the heck?!” and have to wait till the last pages to have it all make sense.

 

The Bad Games – Trilogy – Jeff Menapace

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I found out about these books through a Facebook ad. I guess my love of horror novels has flagged me as being someone who enjoys horror…they got one right! I was able to download them on my kindle for about $7.00 – which is a great deal for three books. The books are titled: Bad Games, Vengeful Games, and Hellbent. Each of the books follows on family as they are unwillingly thrown in a sick game of cat and mouse.

In Bad Games the reader meets Patrick, Amy and their kids Caleb and Carrie, who are setting off to enjoy a weekend at the lake. We also meet two brothers Artie and and Jim who are also heading to the lake; who also happen to think they will be enjoying their time there, especially now that they have found some new people to play with.

In Vengeful Games the reader is introduced to the aftermath of the weekend at the lake. There are survivors and there are causalities and each plays a huge part in this story. The family thinks the horror has ended only to find out that it can get a whole lot worse.

In Hellbent we see what terrible and dark things person can do to another person. Some of the things that have been thought up in this book are so unimaginable. In fact, I would go on to say that a lot of the things that go on in this book come from a very dark mind indeed.

Jeff has taken some very depraved ideas and turned them in games that leave this family tortured and broken. It leaves them changed for better or worse. It brings a side of them out that may have lied dormant forever. Perhaps we all have it in us to kill if the circumstances are right. Perhaps vengeance isn’t so far fetched when your family has been through hell and back. I hope I never find out.

That is why it is fun to read these. From the safety of your couch you can get lost in a book that is, at some points, super disturbing and then put it down and go back to your normal life.

This series had a Saw like feel to it, especially the last one. It was very fast paced, a lot of dialog which helped move the story along really well. The main characters were likable and relatable. I would recommend to anyone who likes horror, mystery, fiction, suspense or just a good ‘ol page turner.