June 27, 2016

Winter Moon by Dean Koontz

Title:  Winter Moon
Author:  Dean Koontz
Pages:  472
Genre:  Horror / Thriller
Publisher:  Ballantine, 1994
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis: DEEPEST NIGHT, MONTANA. An eerie light proclaims the arrival of a mysterious watcher in the woods. And one solitary man begins a desperate battle against something unknown - and unknowable.

BROAD DAYLIGHT, LOS ANGELES. An ordinary morning erupts in cataclysmic violence. A young family is shattered in a heartbeat.

Fate will lead this family to an isolated Montana ranch, but their sanctuary will become their worst nightmare. For there they will face a chillingly ruthless enemy, from which no one - living or dead - is safe.

Review:  I read this book in just over 24 hours.  I could not stop reading!  It was so good and had such great characters.  I have so many books by this author that I've let just sit on my shelves and I really have no excuse.  He almost never disappoints.

My only complaint is the ending.  It didn't really give an ending.  The creature might still be out there.  Humanity might still be in danger.  Stephen King does the 'leaving you hanging' ending to a horror book far better than this!  The last book by this author that I read, The Taking, tied up too nicely and this one didn't feel like it ended in any real way (which I actually prefer to 'too neat' endings!).  But, that aside, this book is horrific and thrilling and I'm not taking off points for the last few pages of the book!

Rating:  8.5 / 10

June 24, 2016

Daughter of Regals and Other Tales by Stephen R. Donaldson

Title:  Daughter of Regals and Other Tales
Author:  Stephen R. Donaldson
Pages:  337
Genre:  Fantasy / Science Fiction / Horror
Publisher:  Del Rey, 1984
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  In his first collection of short fiction, the bestselling author of White Gold Wielder presents eight superb stories, including "Gilden-Fire," the famous "outtake" from Illearth War, and two brand new novellas written especially for this edition. Enter a world of mystics and unicorns, angels and kings -- all realized with the same dazzling style and imagination that has made Stephen R. Donaldson a modern master of the fantasy genre.

Review:  There are eight stories in this book, including 5 fantasies, 2 science fiction and 1 horror.  I liked them all, but I think Unworthy of the Angel was my favorite, closely followed by Lady in White, Daughter of Regals and Ser Visal's Tale.

I had already read Gilden-Fire several times as it is part of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series, but I read it again and still enjoyed it.

Mythological Beast and Animal Lover both were dystopian science fiction and horrific in their own ways.  The Conqueror Worm was a very short psychological horror story.

It's been quite a while since I read anything new by this author and I'm happy to say that he remains one of my all-time favorite authors.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

June 23, 2016

The Big Read

Just when I think I can't find another reason to read more books, I find out about The Big Read.  Come to find out, I've already read or tried 56 of the 200 books on the list, which leaves quite a few more that I really need to read.  I've already got a few on my TBR list, but I can see this list will keep me busy for a while to come!

June 19, 2016

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Title:  Gray Mountain
Author:  John Grisham
Pages:  461
Genre:  Legal Thriller
Publisher:  Dell, 2015
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track—until the recession hits and she is downsized, furloughed, and escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, all for a slim chance of getting rehired.

In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,200, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about. Samantha’s new job takes her into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack. But some of the locals aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town, and within weeks Samantha is engulfed in litigation that turns deadly. Because like most small towns, Brady harbors big secrets that some will kill to conceal.

Review:  At the beginning of this book, I wondered what possibly could be going on in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia that would cause John Grisham to write a legal thriller set there.  I grew up in Virginia.  I had no idea the kind of horror that was going on about 320 miles from my childhood home.

Once again, John Grisham has shown a group of people completely forgotten by most of society.  The coal miners in Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee live in fear of poverty and drink water poisoned by the coal mining companies.

Samantha has gone there just to keep busy until things turn around in the 'real world' of New York City.  She is dismayed and offended by the tragedies going on in these small towns and she's decided to do something about it.  The big mining corporations aren't too keen on anyone looking too closely at their business and it makes for a very exciting tale.  I couldn't put it down even though the stories of the people living in this area were sometimes awful to read.

I hope this book brings some kind of real investigation and legal changes to the region.  It's been ignored for far too long.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

June 16, 2016

Untamed by A. G. Howard

Title:  Untamed
Author:  A. G. Howard
Pages:  273
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Publisher:  Amulet, 2015
Series:  Splintered, Companion Book

Synopsis:  Alyssa Gardner went down the rabbit hole and took control of her destiny. She survived the battle for Wonderland and the battle for her heart. In this collection of three novellas, join Alyssa and her family as they look back at their memories of Wonderland.

Review:  There are three stories in this book.  The first one is The Boy in the Web which tells the story of how Alyssa's mother saved her father, back when they were young.  The Moth in the Mirror tells the story of Morpheus viewing Jeb's memories from when he was locked in the jabberlock box.  The last one, Six Impossible Things, tells the story of Alyssa's life as she grows old in the mortal world and eventually continues her life in Wonderland with Morpheus.

These stories give just a little more detail and just enough additional story, especially Six Impossible Things, to make them well worth the time of anyone who loved the original trilogy.  I'm not usually a big fan of short stories, but these left me feeling satisfied and I'm glad I read them.

Rating:  8 / 10

June 14, 2016

Ensnared by A. G. Howard

Title:  Ensnared
Author:  A. G. Howard
Pages:  407
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Publisher:  Amulet, 2015
Series:  Splintered, Book 3

Synopsis: After surviving a disastrous battle at prom, Alyssa has embraced her madness and gained perspective. She's determined to rescue her two worlds and the people and netherlings she loves, even if it means challenging Queen Red to a final battle of wills and wiles... and even if the only way to Wonderland, now that the rabbit hole is closed, is through the looking-glass world - a parallel dimension filled with mutated and violent netherling outcasts.

In the final installment of the wildly popular Splintered trilogy, Alyssa and her dad journey into the heart of magic and mayhem in search of her mom and to set right all that's gone wrong. Together with Jeb and Morpheus, they must salvage Wonderland from the decay and destruction that has ensnared it. But if they succeed and come out alive, can everyone truly have their happily ever after?

Review:  Well, this was a great ending to what turned out to be a pretty awesome trilogy.  I have the 'companion' book, Untamed, coming up next and I'm curious what new stories are told there.  This one wrapped up nicely and I'm satisfied with how it all turned out, but I find I'm not ready to let the characters go just yet.

Turns out these characters grow up and grew on me.  It's still got some of the parts that bothered me, but the stories seem to mature as the characters learn to become adults.  A good friend of mine sent me this series, saying she knew I'd love it.  After finishing book one, I was afraid I'd be disagreeing with her.  Now I can only say she was right.  I did end up loving it.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

June 12, 2016

Mid June 2016 Wrap-Up

This update runs May 15th through today.  My biggest news this month:  I'm only 6 books away from completing the Outdo Yourself Challenge!  I am still not where I was back in 2011.  Back in 2011, I had already read 71 books by this time, but I am up to 51 today and that is so much better than just a year ago!

I've completed two more challenges, Read My Own Damn Books and Women Challenge.

Once again, there were a few really good books and picking a favorite is hard!

It may not have gotten the highest rating of the three, but I'm going to choose Unhinged by A. G. Howard because I was completely unprepared for how much I'd love this book!  Plus the cover artwork is fantastic!

Three more states crossed off this time around - total 22!  I'm seriously loving keeping a map and keeping track of where my books take me.  I think the Around the World Challenge is one of my favorites!

Unhinged by A. G. Howard

Title:  Unhinged
Author:  A. G. Howard
Pages:  387
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Publisher:  Amulet, 2014
Series:  Splintered, Book 2

Synopsis: Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole. She was crowned Queen of the Red Court and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the boy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly appealing Morpheus. Now all she has to do is graduate high school.

That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn't show up at school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland - where she (partly) belongs.

Could she leave Jeb and her parents behind again, for the sake of a man she knows has manipulated her before? Will her mother and Jeb trust her to do what's right?  Readers will swoon over the satisfying return to Howard's bold, sensual reimagining of Carroll's classic.

Review:  This second novel is much better than the first one was.  The characters have grown up quite a bit after their experiences in Wonderland and that is a good thing.  Sure, there is still a bit of sappy love and teen angst and plenty of fashion description, but not enough to deter my enjoyment of the story.  I even found it possible to like Jeb and Morpheus a little better.  Plus, the story itself was a little darker and set in the human world which made it even more appealing.

There was still plenty of Wonderland fantasy to go around, but the story was far more exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat.  I finished it in just over 24 hours and couldn't put it down.

It's ended in a bit of a cliffhanger, so I've got book three ready to begin tomorrow.

Rating:  9 / 10

June 11, 2016

Big Driver - The Movie

I purchased the movie Big Driver on Itunes for $3.99.  You can also get it on Amazon for the same price.  This was originally a Lifetime movie and the price led me to believe I was about to be disappointed.

It stars Maria Bello as Tess.  It also has Olympia Dukakis and Joan Jett.  The new-to-me Will Harris starred as the bad guy.

Let me tell you, this movie is worth every penny of $4 and then some.  It wasn't exactly the same as the original story by Stephen King (from Full Dark, No Stars) but it was close enough.  In fact, it scared me even more in some places than the story did....and that's saying something.

No, it's not the very best movie based on a Stephen King story ever.  The Stand or Shawshank Redemption are better, but this one had me on the edge of my seat for the full 1.5 hours and I only hope I don't have nightmares tonight!!  I give this a full ten stars.

Splintered by A. G. Howard

Title:  Splintered
Author:  A. G. Howard
Pages:  371
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Publisher:  Amulet, 2013
Series:  Splintered, Book 1

Synopsis: This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl's pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers - precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother's mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice's tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice's mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Review:  Well, this story is certainly original.  Alyssa's great-great-great grandmother was Alice Liddell.  Her grandmother was supposedly insane.  Her mother is in an asylum.  And Alyssa hears bugs talking to her.

The dark Wonderland is like a nightmare.  It didn't sound very much like a place I'd want to visit, but it was a place I very much enjoyed reading about.

Jeb is over-protective and bossy.  Morpheus is lying and sneaky.  But, somehow, Alyssa loves them both.  The detailed descriptions of what everyone is wearing made me wonder if I'd stumbled into a fashion magazine without realizing it.  The teen angst and sappy love scenes left me feeling like I'd eaten too much sugar.  That being said, the story was pure fantasy and while I didn't much care for most of the characters, I am a sucker for original fantasy stories.

I'm going to give the second book a try.  Since I've been told Splintered is the best of the series, I'm a little afraid to.

Rating:  5.5 / 10

June 10, 2016

A Good Marriage - The Movie

I found the movie A Good Marriage on Netflix.  It stars Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia.  It's based on the story A Good Marriage from Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King.  It's not exactly the same as the book version, but it has all the same horrible believability as the written work.  I thought the book version was better, but the movie is worth watching.

I give it 4.5 stars.  If they'd stuck closer to the original story, I think they'd have been better off.

June 7, 2016

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

Title:  The Almost Moon
Author:  Alice Sebold
Pages:  304
Genre:  Fiction
Publisher:  Back Bay, 2007
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis: A woman steps over the line into the unthinkable in this brilliant, powerful, and unforgettable new novel by the author of The Lovely Bones and Lucky.

For years Helen Knightly has given her life to others: to her haunted mother, to her enigmatic father, to her husband and now grown children. When she finally crosses a terrible boundary, her life comes rushing in at her in a way she never could have imagined. Unfolding over the next twenty-four hours, this searing, fast-paced novel explores the complex ties between mothers and daughters, wives and lovers, the meaning of devotion, and the line between love and hate. It is a challenging, moving, gripping story, written with the fluidity and strength of voice that only Alice Sebold can bring to the page.

Review:  This book is dark.  It's darker than dark.  It opens with the main character, Helen, confessing that she's killed her mother.  It goes on to describe her life, both past and present, and it's not a pretty picture.  There are almost no characters in this story who are not broken.  And none of the characters are especially likable.  In fact, some of them I ended up disliking immensely.  The only really likable characters you meet are Mr. Forrest, a neighbor, and Helen's daughter, Sarah, who has been obviously hurt by the life she's led.

This is a look into mental illness and the long-term effects it has on the family.  It is stark and awful and completely believable.  It raises the question of genes versus environment and brought me to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter how mental illness is caused.  That it is passed on is all that really matters.

I cannot say I loved this book as much as I did The Lovely Bones.  I can say that it was incredibly intense and I'm very glad I read it.  There is hope, in the end, I thought.  Hope that maybe the next generation will be better than the one previous.

Rating:  8 / 10

June 5, 2016

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Title:  Full Dark, No Stars
Author:  Stephen King
Pages:  368
Genre:  Horror
Publisher:  Scribner, 2010
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four intense short stories with retribution as the central theme. Released in the fall of 2010 in hardcover and audiobook formats, Full Dark, No Stars is a powerful read featuring some of Stephen's most graphic and merciless content to date. ~ From StephenKing.com

Review:  Four stories, all of them unforgettable.  The stories included are:  1922, Big Driver, A Good Marriage, and Fair Extension.

I think I loved them all equally, but 1922 was the most gruesome, while A Good Marriage was the most completely believable, while Big Driver scared me the most.  I understand that Big Driver and A Good Marriage have been made into movies, which I'll probably see very soon.  For the most part, I can't watch a movie until I've read the book.  There are exceptions, but this is pretty much the rule.

Mr. King is at his best when writing about things that really are partially mundane and partially horrific.  In this group of stories, he does it again and I couldn't put the book down for just about the entire weekend.

Rating:  9 / 10  

June 3, 2016

Weaveworld by Clive Barker

Title:  Weaveworld
Author:  Clive Barker
Pages:  584
Genre:  Fantasy / Horror
Publisher:  Poseidon, 1987
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  Here is storytelling on a grand scale — the stuff of which a classic is made. Weaveworld begins with a rug — a wondrous, magnificent rug — into which a world has been woven. It is the world of the Seerkind, a people more ancient than man, who possesses raptures — the power to make magic. In the last century they were hunted down by an unspeakable horror known as the Scourge, and, threatened with annihilation, they worked their strongest raptures to weave themselves and their culture into a rug for safekeeping. Since then, the rug has been guarded by human caretakers.

The last of the caretakers has just died.

Vying for possession of the rug is a spectrum of unforgettable characters: Suzanna, granddaughter of the last caretaker, who feels the pull of the Weaveworld long before she knows the extent of her own powers; Calhoun Mooney, a pigeon-raising clerk who finds the world he's always dreamed of in a fleeting glimpse of the rug; Immacolata, an exiled Seerkind witch intent on destroying her race even if it means calling back the Scourge; and her sidekick, Shadwell, the Salesman, who will sell the Weaveworld to the highest bidder.

In the course of the novel the rug is unwoven, and we travel deep into the glorious raptures of the Weaveworld before we witness the final, cataclysmic struggle for its possession.

Review:  This is the third time I've read this novel.  I borrowed it from the library and read it sometime in the late 1980's and was captured by the dark fantasy and hope that is this story.  I read it again about 8 years ago when I got a very good hardback edition to add to my collection and I still loved it, although not quite as much as I remembered.  I finished it again today and, while it's still one of the best dark fantasy novels out there, I think I've read it for the last time.  Some books just don't work for multiple re-reads and this is one of them, at least for me.

The magic is still there and I still want Weaveworld to be a real place, but I'm going to find a new home for this book.  However, I'm giving it the rating I would have given it the first time around, if I'd been rating books back then.  This story is well worth finding and reading, especially the first time around.

Rating:  9.5 / 10
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