Category Archives: Horror

Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

3 Stars

A deadly spore is on the loose in the world.  No one knows where it started or where it came from, but it’s spreading.  It’s known as Dragonscale by regular people like you and me.  Doctors and scientists have dubbed it Draco Incendia Trychophyton.  Highly contagious, though no one knows how it spreads.  It’s a deadly spore that marks the infected with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies.  Those infected with Dragonscale face a horrific death, they burst into flame and burn to death.  There is no antidote, there is no cure.  And it’s spreading more rapidly than anyone would have thought or expected.  Millions are infected and society begins to collapse.

Harper Grayson is a compassionate school nurse who begins working in the hospital after watching a man with Dragonscale combust right in her schoolyard.  Pragmatic and no nonsense, she embodies Mary Poppins, dispensing advise and treatment with a spoonful of sugar attitude.  She treats hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burns to the ground.  Now she’s discovered that she has the tell-tale markings of the spore.  Not only that, she’s also discovered that she’s pregnant.  She goes back on the agreement that she and her husband made when the outbreak started.  They had originally agreed on a suicide pact, but now with her unborn fetus at risk, she backs out on the plan.  She watched infected mothers give birth to healthy children, she believes that her child will be healthy too.

Her husband quickly becomes unhinged and abandons her as their community begins to fall apart.  In the chaos, the Cremation Squads begin to rise.  Armed posses that prowl through the streets, looking for those infected with Dragonscale.  These self-appointed mobs methodically destroy anyone infected with the spore.  They are also hunting down The Fireman, a man infected with Dragonscale who seems to have gained control over the spore and instead of immolating, seems to be able to send the fire outward.  He uses this ability to shield the infected from these mobs.  He helps lead Harper to the safety of a small group of infected people who have formed a community.  These people have learned how to live with the spore and not only keep themselves from burning to death, but they have seemingly thrived together.

The world is dying.  Harper just wants to stay alive, learn about this spore that has taken over her body, learn how to control and use the spore and somehow bring a healthy child into the world.

I was actually surprised by my reaction to this book.  I’d been impatiently waiting for this book to come out.  I’d been blown away by NOS4A2 and couldn’t wait for the next Joe Hill book.  I plowed through it pretty quickly, so the story definitely kept me interested and kept me coming back.  But the whole time I was reading, I kept coming back to one thought…eerie similarities to another book where a disease is wiping out the population.  Even the characters themselves were similar to the characters in this book.  If you’ve ever read The Stand you’ll see what I’m talking about.  This did not take away from The Fireman, but it was a little eerie.

The story is well-written and fluid, there are rarely any spots where the story drags.  The action is great and very few times are you asked to completely suspend belief, everything feels very real.  It feels like this could happen to you and your family and how would you react?  But having a woman, eight months pregnant, run around climbing roofs and ladders, jumping to and from was a bit of a stretch.

I think where this story suffers is with the characters.  Many of them are frustrating and infuriating.  Especially Harper and John, two of the main protagonists of the story.  Both have a lack of backbone and passivity that borders on the insane and annoying.  It takes them far too long to grow a pair.  Especially Harper.  I wanted to smack her and shake her more than once.

There are truly some points of humor and that really made the epic more enjoyable.  When Harper reads her husband’s unpublished novel, it was nearly laugh out loud funny.  She learns that he’s a total schmuck and she was a doormat.  But then doesn’t learn from that mistake.  Sigh.  And Martha Quinn Island is so “out there” that it never failed to instill a case of the giggles.

For all its faults, The Fireman is still a good novel, well-written with a very good plot device, Dragonscale.  And the human element is very believable.  What would you do to survive?  That question came up over and over while I was reading.  And I still don’t know the answer.  Would I go up in flames or would I have the courage to find a way to control the burning…

 

 

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Review: The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

4 Stars

Inside a mansion is a hidden garden.  In this hidden garden there is beauty all around, especially the butterflies.  But these aren’t ordinary butterflies.  The Gardener has specially picked each and every one of them for their youth and their beauty.  He gave each one of them their name and their wings.  These butterflies are the young women that he has kidnapped to build his collection.  Each woman was taken for her unique beauty and each one was tattooed with intricate butterfly wings on her back.  To add to this horror, each butterfly has an expiration date.  On the day the butterfly turns twenty one, she disappears only to reappear inside a display case, sealed in glass and resin.  She joins the Gardener’s permanent collection.

The garden is now destroyed and the police and FBI are trying to put together the pieces to this story.  They have one of the butterflies in their interrogation room and they aren’t sure if she was complicit with the Gardener or if she is truly one of his victims.  The woman known as Maya is a tough nut to crack.  The other girls won’t talk to the FBI or police unless they speak to Maya first.  Is she truly a victim or is she part of the Gardener’s sick collection?  The story of the garden unfolds during a series of interviews.  They learn that Maya isn’t her real name and the name that she gives them doesn’t truly exist either.  Just who is this woman?  Victim or accomplice?

The story that unwinds is beyond their imagination.  The lengths that the Gardener will go to keep his butterflies is incredible.  He believes he’s doing something useful, something beautiful.  And for all his brutality, he truly believes that he loves his butterflies and that they love him too.  He has gone to great lengths to keep his garden and his butterflies secret.  The scale and scope are almost unbelievable, but there is still that shiver that goes down your spine that tells you that this could happen.

This book surprised me.  I really didn’t know what I was going to be getting myself into after reading the description.  I knew that it sounded interesting, but I really wasn’t prepared for where this story went and how all the individual stories were bound together in this intricate web.  These women are more than their butterfly wings, more than just some sick man’s obsession.  Each woman has a story, an identity and a way that she deals with the horror that faces her everyday.  What would you do if you knew your expiration date?  What would you do if you were held in a gilded cage?

I’m always a little leery of anything in the horror genre.  I’m a wimp.  I’m prone to nightmares when things get too graphic or gory.  That wasn’t the case with this book.  While it is fairly graphic, there are still many things that are left to the readers imagination and the violence wasn’t’ overdone to the point where it became campy or a gore fest.  I would definitely recommend this to fans of the genre that want a little more realism and a little less gore and gratuitous nudity and sex.  Definitely led me to question what I would do in this situation?  Would I be someone like Maya?

 

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Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories by Stephen King

4 Stars

I wavered between 3 and 4 stars for this book and ultimately bumped it up just merely because the writing is really good and the little snippets between each of the stories is well worth the price of admission.  Getting a little insight into what went into the creation of these stories and a little peek inside Mr. King’s fascinating imagination is definitely worth an extra little star.  I will admit that it’s difficult to review this book as a whole because it is a collection of short stories.  They aren’t all show stoppers and some of them were groan worthy, but as a whole, I think they work well together.  I will pick out a few of my favorites.  But I would recommend this to any fan of Stephen King or anyone who is interested in a good collection of short stories.

In Batman and Robin Have an Altercation you meet Sanderson and his aging father.  He is the dutiful son, coming to take his father to dinner every week where he orders the same thing as though it’s the first time he’s ever been there.  But there will be times of absolute clarity where his Pop can see through that fog of dementia and have a lucid thought and a crystal clear memory of his past.  It was one of these memories that led to the altercation that they have one day at a traffic light.  The story was engrossing and the lead-in that Mr. King supplied was perfect.  This was one of my favorites.

In The Dune you meet the Judge, a nonagenarian who has a secret.  He has his own little island where he has been rowing himself as often as he can for the last 80 years.  This island has a special attraction.  On this little piece of rock there is a perfect sandy dune.  Even after hurricanes and erosion, the beach remains.  As pristine as it had been when he was first there as a child of 10.  Except from time to time, there are names inscribed on this beach.  And whenever there is a name inscribed on this beach, someone dies.  The Judge has never told this story to anyone but as he prepares his will, he brings in a lawyer and tells his story.  But why now?

In Morality a struggling couple is faced with an appealing offer.  It’s an offer that will get the creditors off their backs and allow them breathing room.  But is the cost of what they need to do worth the reward?  Can they live with their choice or will it destroy them in the process?  This one had me wondering what would I do in this situation?  Could I do it and would it change me?

I really enjoyed Afterlife and Herman Wouk is Still Alive.  I really couldn’t pick a real favorite out of the list, but I can pick out my least favorite.  And I think that it’s more because it’s been done before and done better, even by this very author.  Mile 81 has the undertones of Christine and Trucks.  It was still an okay story, but it wasn’t the strongest one in the bunch and since it was the story that led off the book, it very nearly turned me off from the whole thing.  But I am glad that I stuck with it.

Some of the stories really make you stop and think.  You are faced with questions of morality in several of the stories and you can easily slide yourself into the hot seat and try to answer the question of what would you do?  There is of course death in many of the stories, but not the gory, blood and guts variety.  In many of them, it’s the death that we’re all facing every day whether it’s by some crazy person with a nuclear weapon or the guy on the bus with a knife to your neck.  There are plenty of questions as to what happens after we’re done with this crazy life that we’re all living, what comes next?  You go from enjoying a nice little story to thinking about some really heavy subjects and you sit there going…wait…what?

This one won’t be for everyone, but for any Stephen King or lover of a good short story anthology, give it a try.

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Review: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

3 Stars

Finders Keepers is the second in a series featuring Bill Hodges, the retired detective who first appeared in Mr. Mercedes.  But this book can really be read on its own, the references back to Mr. Mercedes aren’t too many in nature and the ones that are there are so well explained that you can probably get by without reading the predecessor.  But if you’re a Stephen King fan, you’ve probably read it anyway.

The book starts in the 1970’s with Morris Bellamy and his pals breaking into reclusive author, John Rothstein’s house.  The old man dropped out of the public eye decades before but was known to keep large amounts of cash in his home.  They’re there for the money, but Morris is there for more.  He doesn’t think that the author ever stopped writing and what he’s looking for are those notebooks, those writings that would take his beloved character Jimmy Gold from the literary graveyard back into the spotlight.  Because he just couldn’t have sold out and gone on to live a normal life!!  Because shit don’t mean shit, to quote Jimmy Gold.  Of course things go sideways and even though he finds the notebooks, he decides to kill John Rothstein.  Soon enough, Morris ends up in jail on a completely unrelated crime and all he thinks about are those notebooks and the money that he stole, but mostly the notebooks.  His fanboy attitude reminds you of a certain number one fan from King’s earlier work, Misery.

Jump ahead to 2009 where teenager, Peter Saubers and his family moves into Morris Bellamy’s old home.  His family has fallen on hard times after his father loses his job in the economic downturn and then his father was run down by Brad Hartsfield (Mr. Mercedes) while he was waiting in line for a job fair.  His parents are fighting and he’s pretty sure that they are going to split up if something doesn’t happen.  He happens to wander down to the vacant lot near the house and finds the trunk that Morris Bellamy buried decades before.  He finds money and the notebooks and realizes that he can save his family.  He starts sending the money to his family and it’s just enough to keep them floating until his dad can recover.  There is no divorce and the family slowly begins to heal.  Until the money runs out.

By this time Peter is a junior in high school and he’s read everything in those notebooks from John Rothstein.  He knows enough to realize that he’s sitting on a treasure.  He’s become desperate again for money because his little sister really wants to be able to go to the private school in town along with her friend Brenda.  So he approaches a book dealer and tries to sell some of the notebooks.  The problem with this is the book dealer knows about these notebooks.  He was friends with Morris Bellamy way back in the day and knows that there are more than just the few notebooks that Peter has offered.  Of course he blackmails Peter and demands that he get all the notebooks.  Unbeknownst to both of them, Morris is no longer in prison and he’s come back to retrieve what he believes he is due.  After all, he found the notebooks first and he needs to know what else John Rothstein wrote about Jimmy Gold.

Bill Hodges doesn’t come into the story until almost halfway through and by then he’s almost an afterthought.  It was nice to see Holly and Jerome again and to see them work together as a unit trying to solve the mystery of the notebooks before poor Peter meets with an accident or worse.  But they seem out of place and I think it really threw off the timing of the story when they were introduced.  The threads did finally come together and were woven into a coherent and cohesive narrative, but the introduction of these characters was jarring at first.  I guess I didn’t care so much to know that Hodges is now a repo man who has Holly as his office assistant.  I think the introduction to Hodges could have been better done with simply having Brenda and Tina Saubers (Peter’s little sister) show up at his office…which they did later…to serve as the string that brings him back into the story.

I enjoyed the two main characters, Morris and Peter.  I felt that they were well thought out and fleshed out.  Morris definitely had some of that creepy “I’m your biggest fan!” vibe to him and he was just the right amount of crazy to make him believable and would definitely keep some writers up at night with nightmares.  Peter is sympathetic, believable and it’s easy to empathize with him and very easy to put yourself into his shoes.  But the other characters weren’t as well done, most of them were just cardboard cutouts to me.  None of them were memorable other than Peter’s little sister, Tina and maybe Bradley Hartsfield.  The rest were just okay.

I did enjoy the end of the main story and I did appreciate how things wrapped up for the main characters.  I was a little dismayed at the very end.  It’s clear that we haven’t seen the last of Bill Hodges nor have we seen the end for Bradley Hartsfield.  I don’t like cliffhanger endings or books make it very obvious that there is going to be a sequel.  But I think that’s more personal preference, so my review is not taking this into account.  I would not recommend this book to anyone who reads Stephen King’s books to have the bejesus scared out of them.  This is nothing like The Shining, Misery or any of his other horror novels.  This is more a mystery with the old, crusty detective that everyone comes to love.  I still don’t love Bill Hodges, but I do love Stephen King.  While this was not his strongest novel, it was still pretty good.

Until next time…

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