Friday, July 29, 2011

The long walk

Stephen King had an alter ego for awhile.  His name was Richard Bachman.  His view of the world was a little darker than King's.  The Long Walk is one of his novels.

Just like King, Bachman realizes that a scary story does not have to be big.  It does not have to deal with the supernatural.  It only has to include the most terrifying species on the planet: humans.  Nothing is scarier than the things we do to ourselves and each other.

This book is a simple story.  100 boys set out to see who can walk the furthest without stopping. 

Here's the catch.  We're in a slightly altered world where the US is run by the Major.  For a reason not explained in this novel (it reminds me of the blood tribute in Crete), he has started the tradition of a long walk every year.  100 boys walk until they can't anymore.  After three warnings for dropping below a designated walking speed, they get their ticket.  The last boy walking gets the prize.  Whatever he wants for the rest of his life. 

The prize is what gets the boys to start walking in the first place.  The fascinating part of this novel is what keeps them walking. 

Of course, there is no guarantee that the winner will be in any shape to enjoy his prize....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Pet

Ah, a boy and his dog.  I mean, horse. 

The Pet by Charles L Grant is a lovely story about a boy who wants to be a vet.  He has posters of animals on his walls, stuffed animals and other fake creatures in his room.  His parents don't approve. 

In the midst of his teenage angst (girls, school, bullies, and parents suck) he needs someone to talk to.  So he begins talking to a poster of a black stallion on his wall.  One day he notices that the stallion is fading from the picture and eventually disappears completely.  Later he realizes that his friendship has freed the horse. 

The horse has a mission.  Take care of all those people who are bothering his friend.  A serial killer, a football player, a science teacher, and almost girlfriend and parents are taken out.  Will he send the stallion back to the poster in time? 

At its heart, this is a "be careful what you wish for" tale.  More importantly, what do you do when you get what you want and you don't want it after all?  If you accidentally make a wish and want to immediately take it back? 

All in all, a good read.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The zombie curse

The Zombie Curse: A Doctor's 25-year Journey Into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti may be a slightly misnamed book, but that does not take away from the power of the story.  Arthur Fournier first stumbled across AIDS in Miami when it was still believed to be a disease of gay men.  Here's the trouble.  Fournier saw the disease striking men, women, and children.  The common denominator he saw in the group he worked with was that they were immigrants from Haiti. 
Eventually Fournier realized that the risk factor for AIDS in his patients was a lack of resources, not the fact that they were Haitian.  Thus began his crusade to bring healthcare to Haiti.  That's really what this book is about. 
For me, the most heart-wrenching part of the book was the sense of hope and accomplishment expressed by Fournier at the end.  He finishes this story with a sense that huge improvements have been made, that people's lives are better.  That was before the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.  I can only imagine the impact of that earthquake on the fragile healthcare system set up by Fournier and his colleagues.     

Friday, July 22, 2011

When Michael calls

When Michael Calls by John Farris reads like a 70s made for TV movie.  Oh, wait, that's exactly what it is.  The premise of the novel centers around a woman who starts getting phone calls from her nephew (who's been dead for 15 years).  Then people start dying.  A "twist" near the end of the novel (I saw it coming somewhere around page 15) turns the story from a paranormal thriller to a psychological study. 

The biggest issue I had with this novel is that it felt dated.  Yes, we're in the 70s.  That's okay.  Just give me something that is going to transcend time.  Do not give me a woman thanking a man for choosing her.  I think I just threw up a little. 

Oddly, Farris is also a screenwriter.  This explains the story reading more like a screenplay than a novel.  What is interesting is that when the story was made into a TV movie, Farris did not write the actual screenplay.  Someone else (James Bridges) did. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Jayne Ann Krentz writes under her own name, as well as two pseudonyms.  Amanda Quick is the name she uses for her novels about women slightly out of place in "polite society."  These novels are typically filled with scandal, duels, mistaken identities, compromised honor, and a large number of petticoats.  Mischief is no different.

In this story we have a woman whose reputation has been compromised by the man she believes killed the woman who she believed was her best friend.  Yes, there are a lot of misunderstandings in this story.  She teams up with a man who she believes suffers from weak nerves to set up the supposed murderer.  In the end the truth is revealed, the hero and heroine living happily ever after. 

Overall, a fun trip through the fringes of a world that no longer exists.  I find myself thinking that maybe the tradition of duels was not a bad idea.  Definitely a step up from the drunken bar fights that currently take place over women's "honor."

Monday, July 18, 2011

No one to trust

Iris Johansen is someone I can always count on for a good time.  No One to Trust was no exception.  This is the story of a woman who is trying to escape her past.  Both physically and mentally.  Enter her hero, who is smart enough to realize she has to save herself for it to count. 

Lots of action, a dash of romance (but not at all goopy, drippy).  It hit me about halfway through this novel that Johansen writes like a guy movie.  Ponder that for awhile.  I think you'll figure out what I mean. 

I also realized about halfway through this novel that I apparently have a new pet peeve.  Skipped scenes.  Johansen skips over lots of scenes.  Scenes that aren't vital to moving the story forward.  Scenes that any good critic of your writing would tell you your novel can do without.  For some reason, I am missing those scenes lately.  I want to see them.

Of course, if they were there, I'd probably say they should be cut.  I'll get over it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Howards end

I know, I know, it's been awhile since my last post.  I've been reading, I swear.  Just veeerrry slooooowly.

I had to force myself to crawl through E M Forster's Howards End.  I had a really hard time getting into this novel.  Part of the problem was that it was written in 1910 and set in England.  I really have no point of reference.  The story centered around a woman with enough money that she had the time to worry about other people and their money.  Again, no point of reference.

The story also moved very slowly.  A lot of conversations about things that may or may not happen.  Not a lot of action (despite two deaths in the course of the book).  Then again, this book is more about the issue (should the rich help the poor?) than a story.

This book was made into a movie (which I haven't seen).  I find myself very curious how they found enough story here to support a feature-length film.  I may have to check it out.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Two alone

I was on vacation for the last week and didn't read much (too busy blowing stuff up!).  But I did manage to get through the light reading I had taken with me.  Two Alone by Sandra Brown is one of her early novels, written under a pseudonym and re-released under her real name.  Again, I am absolutely amazed by how much her writing has changed.  Really, it's like reading two totally different authors.  Perhaps the only consistency is Brown's obsession with facial hair.  I refuse to say anything more about that.

This novel explores what would happen to two survivors (conveniently male and female) of a small plane crash in the middle of nowhere (Canada).  Here are my issues with the plot:  it's a plane crash.  I except it to be gross and graphic.  The crash described by Brown has to be the most sterile crash in history.  I was willing to overlook this issue, after all, it is a romance novel.  But then the end of the novel appeared.  In the next to last chapter, the hero walks out the door.  Distraught, the heroine realizes she must make a decision, and she does.  (We don't get to know what the decision is).  Turn the page to the next chapter.  It is some months later, they are married, and she is pregnant. 

This may be the only novel I have read in which the climax of the story is skipped.  What happened?  Did I get a faulty copy of the novel?  Was I missing a chapter?  Did Brown have such a hard time writing the climax scene that she decided to leave it out entirely?  Very odd.