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Thread: Book Reviews

  1. #1
    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    Book Reviews

    Considering the qualities of the readers gathered here it might be cool to track our thoughts on the various books in our field. There is a wealth of info hidden in the 1-3 sentence reviews we tend to politely leave in posts, but I encourage these reviews to be much longer if you would like. Or only a little longer - it doesn't matter as long as there's awareness that the space exists for you to take time to get your point across and let us all know what you think of these works, especially when they’re recent/upcoming releases from our favorite publishers.

    Differing opinions are welcome as well, but let's be polite in regards to each others' views.

    Please don't be shy. I'm going to post the first review of the last novel I finished that CD has in queue, and journalists could tear my sentence structure apart and send me back to grade school. But most of us aren’t pro writers. We’re the amateur athletes of readers in our field, enthusiast grade... simpatico. We see deeper truths in our fiction, and I've a suspicion we’d all benefit if we could share more of this insight with each other.
    Last edited by bugen; 03-10-2017 at 02:44 AM.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    The Ruins - Scott Smith

    A lot of people hate this book, and many others love it. There’s very little middle ground.

    We have social and personal deconstruction here, mirrored with literal deconstruction, and it works horrifyingly so. It’s visceral and mean but not grotesque, and the book plays out like a movie.

    A small group of young travelers is stranded on a hill in the Mayan jungle. The base of the hill ringed with death, the travelers seek to survive with minimal supplies while a vicious jungle attacks them. It is alive with no creatures or insects or birds, or anything but the vines.

    A lush, graphic death meets the group as dehydration and heat suffocate the visitors during the day as they’re trapped by the writhing greens while the injuries mount. During the night it further devolves as our characters occasionally have brief respite to consider their fates and their newest horrors. The next days get worse, and worse, as the visitors fall to the horrors of the vines and themselves, questioning each other, questioning inward, questioning our constructs, and there’s a Rorschach in here somewhere.

    At heart its heart the book may be meta-horror. It knows. You know. Eventually, the characters know as well. Clear pictures of the scenes are presented throughout, never wavering, and the author has us locked in place purposely. This was actually something special, and it’s one of the subtler areas of stories that aren’t often realized. Not like this. In recent memory Joe Hill did this a few times with NOS4A2, bringing some scenes into stark, frightening, crystal-clear reality. The Ruins finds this level early and maintains it throughout, and it’s most pleasurable to be locked in place by a story. Many of us are after exactly that experience.

    Having had the exceptional pleasure of reading A Simple Plan and The Ruins back to back over a few days, it’s possible to develop a rare view of Smith’s ability to visually cement a scene. For those who haven’t read either, please be encouraged to pick up both immediately, reading them back to back and fairly quickly. You won’t be able to help it–you’ll see the clarity of picture the author has drawn in each.

    The Ruins is not a tale for the faint, but this is not an audience where that applies. If you haven’t read it, read it. It’s neither a short nor long book, but it’s over quickly. Dirty and mean, it’s unnerving and cynical and rendered in 4k.

    5 stars

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    Last edited by bugen; 08-05-2016 at 07:03 AM.
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  3. #3
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    Fantastic review, bugen. And I'm not just saying that because I happen to agree with you. :-) There was one part in The Ruins where I think I actually started talking out loud to the book as if the characters could hear me. I believe that maybe some of the criticism leveled at The Ruins might be that it lacks the moral complexity that A Simple Plan had. I plan on revisiting both when CD reissues them.

    I think the idea of more in depth reviews and/or discussion to be very interesting. I'm in the midst of two books at this time and will post a review of at least one when I'm done.

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    Most of my reviews are somewhat short, though I never run into the issue of needing to add more words to meet a minimum count on Amazon. If I only have a few words to say, then I won't bother with a review as it wouldn't be helpful. I also won't really bother reviewing books that already have a ton of reviews since my review would be lost in the shuffle and not saying anything new. I also won't review a book I read many years ago since the book wouldn't be fresh enough in my mind. For example, I LOVED The Kite Runner and highly recommend reading it, but since I read it a few years ago I won't review it (not to mention it has a ton of reviews anyway, lol). That book is still the only book I was prepared to throw across the room and not finish if the scene I was at went a certain way. Luckily it didn't go that way, lol. That one will forever be in the top 5 (probably more like the top 2 or 3) of books I have read. I made the mistake of reading his other book out at the time, A Thousand Splendid Suns, right after that one. I was so drained emotionally from Kite Runner that while I enjoyed Splendid Suns, I couldn't get into it emotionally.

    I will post a couple a reviews here right now though (along with a link to their Amazon pages if you want to vote them as being helpful). Feel free to peruse my other reviews too if you'd like. First up will be the longest I have on Amazon, and one of my favorite books I read last year. On this one I actually did mention what the plot was, somewhat at least (1 short paragraph).


    I'm Not Sam by Jack Ketchum

    I wasn't sure what to expect of this book before reading it as far as what it would be like. I do know I was not expecting it to be like it turned out to be. Having read Ketchum before one thing I did expect was at least bit of violence, but there is not really any violence to speak of, with the exception of throwing things around.

    While this lacked the usual violence and death of previous Ketchum books I have read, it did not need it for the horror to show itself. The basic plot is that Patrick and his wife, Sam have been married 8 years and have a good life together. That all changes one night when Patrick awakens to discover Sam has somehow changed. Sam is not who she was. Sam is no longer Sam. What results is Patrick trying to figure out exactly what has happened to his wife and tries to figure out how fix whatever is wrong with her.

    This short novella packs quite a punch in its pages. To add even more of punch to the gut, there is a short story included after the end of the novella. After taking a few minutes to think of and absorb the impact of this story, as requested in the introduction, I continued on to the short story. The short story packs another punch to the gut, despite its short length.

    The first part is very powerful and definitely qualifies as a horror story in my mind, despite the lack of what is usually thought of in a typical horror story. Adding the 2nd story just added to the impact this book had with me. I rarely sit and absorb the end result of a story when I am finished, especially with horror ones. This is because there usually isn't something deep to think of and ponder just what could happen. Even though it was late and I was tired I couldn't wait until I was more rested before reading the short story, and after I finished that story at close to 2am I had to sit there and absorb this book as whole and think about it for a little while.

    I look at my wife of under 2 years and think of this book, wondering what if? What if it happened to her? How would I handle it? What would I do? What could I do? I honestly don't know how to answer those questions, and I very much hope I never need to answer them. I am sure that being married only added to the impact of this story as I don't think there would be as much to think about if I were single. I am quite sure I would love this if that were the case, but it wouldn't have quite the same impact. Imaging waking up to my wife changed in the way Sam was changed would definitely qualify as horrific in my mind.

    5/5

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R9KVYJQ...cm_cr_rdp_perm
    Last edited by RJK1981; 06-16-2014 at 06:46 AM.
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    The 2nd review will be of one of the most disappointing reads of last year. When looking at books page I was surprised to see it was the most helpful critical review. This book wasn't a bad story, but it could have been SO much better for me. I think if it was expanded to novel size it could have been better.


    Down by Nate Southard

    The first thing I noticed with this book was the immediate typo in the book in either the description of the story or on the first page that gives the date of the story. The back of the book says it takes place in 1992 while the start of the book makes it June, 1993. This was the first of a few typos in the story, along with a font size that should have been a little larger given the short length of the story. While those two issue were a little annoying (and confusing when it came to when it was supposed to be taking place), they will not factor into my rating as I don't blame the author for them and only mention them here to inform others in case that would impact their desire to read this.

    I had never read anything by Nate Southard before this, but had heard good things, so I was excited to read this and check out his work. In the end I finished this feeling let down and disappointed. What started out as a strong psychological thriller with an unknown creature terrorizing a band that was involved in a plane crash turned into supernatural horror story with no purpose. This story started very strong for me, but ended up finishing very weak.

    While I don't mind having supernatural elements in my horror stories I want there to be a purpose. What I got when I read this felt like it was just thrown in for no good reason. There was no story of exactly what the supernatural element was, why it was there, how it got there, what it wanted, or pretty much anything else about it.

    The first part of this was easily a 5 star story, but the last part of this was only about a 1.5 star story. In the end I give it 3.25 stars. I think if this story had been expanded into a larger novel with a proper explanation given of the supernatural force involved it could have been at least a 4 star story. Even better, if the supernatural force was never involved it would have definitely been a 5 star story. I'm sure that I'll read something from this author again in the future, but hopefully it will be a stronger story throughout than this one was.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R1YTGZ7...cm_cr_rdp_perm
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  6. #6
    Senior Member Ok, I really can't come up with anymore of these stupid things... srboone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RJK1981 View Post
    I'm Not Sam by Jack Ketchum

    .........

    5/5
    Great review! Completely agree with it. This was the most surprising thing I've read from Ketchum, but it's one of my favorites of his.

    Of course, I'm coming from the perspective of a single guy...
    Last edited by srboone; 06-16-2014 at 07:40 AM.
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    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    Thank you guys for your comments and reviews. It's sacrilegious, and I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with Ketchum besides a short story or two. You've got a great review of I'm Not Sam here - would you recommend this as a good Ketchum starting point for newbies? Or just start with his popular The Girl Next Door? I'll have to check but I think I might have an unread ebook of Peaceable Kingdom available as well.

    Thank you also for addressing the aimlessness you found in Down. I agree, while supernatural is cool, there needs to be a reason for it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bugen View Post
    Thank you guys for your comments and reviews. It's sacrilegious, and I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with Ketchum besides a short story or two. You've got a great review of I'm Not Sam here - would you recommend this as a good Ketchum starting point for newbies? Or just start with his popular The Girl Next Door? I'll have to check but I think I might have an unread ebook of Peaceable Kingdom available as well.

    Thank you also for addressing the aimlessness you found in Down. I agree, while supernatural is cool, there needs to be a reason for it.
    I'd say that I'm Not Sam isn't a bad starting point, as long you don't expect his other books to be tame in comparison in the violence department, lol. I actually haven't read Girl Next Door, but I did see the movie, which was powerful. First thing of his I read was the Cemetery Dance edition of Joyride, which was an enjoyable read.

    And yeah, Down was definitely a let-down in the way the author finished it. Needed to either be a full novel explaining the supernatural elements a little or reduced to being a novelette, taking out the supernatural altogether. Enjoyed it very much until that part of the story was introduced out of the blue and no explanation was given for it. I don't mind there being things not answered about things, but to introduce a supernatural element halfway through a novella and give absolutely no info on it just smacked of laziness on the author's end to me in a way. Like perhaps just throwing that in to add to the word count or something. This wasn't the worst book I read last year, but definitely the one that disappointed me the most based on the strong start. Luckily a large majority of books I read I end up enjoying a lot. Same goes for movies. I tend to know what I will like and am not usually wrong.
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    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    Toybox - Al Sarrantonio

    Many folks first actual exposure to Al Sarrantonio’s work may be the amazing anthology 999, and that’s a very serious collection. If so, your expectations for Toybox should be high. Over the course of this read, and comparing back to that anthology, you may see a unique quality emerging. It’s assembly, not merely the merits of the stories themselves, that help this collection be so effective.

    Toybox doesn’t start very strongly, despite the solid opening of “Pumpkinhead.” It’s a good one, ostensibly about fitting in, but more importantly it establishes the kind of text and style we’re about to see from the author. These horror stories about children can seem quite uncompromising as we are generally focused on them in supernatural situations, often learning life lessons they’re not ready for.

    The first story smacks us a couple of times, says “wake up, you’re not safe, I want to show you something.” He goes on to spin a few more, each maintaining the authors voice but losing the momentum established with “Pumpkinhead,” until you’re about 1 quarter of the way through and beginning to seriously question the work. Then “Bogy” hits, and you realize the slaps you’ve absorbed so far have really served as appetizers and you are now ravenous for Al’s particular brand of horror. Then the real feast, as some of the sedative from the first few stories is called upon to deal with the trauma of the next, and so on as the stories build upon each other not in a literal sense, but in the reader’s sense of curiosity and foreboding. You get serious, but still somehow rip-roaring horror, gaining momentum nearly right up until the end, but all in Sarrantonio’s distinctive voice with which he took the time to acclimate you in the beginning. Assembly.

    “Children of Cain” was a favorite, very closely followed by “Bogy”, “Garden of Eden” and “Father Dear.” “The Corn Dolly”, “Snow”, “Red Eve” and “Richard’s Head” to be exemplary as well. Most of the rest is just pretty damned-good.

    As a whole the book would not have been as effective in any other order of story presentation. Like 999, he has brilliantly laid out the terrain for you to follow, and it works similar to a roller coaster except for the whole ‘1st hill has to be the biggest’ thing–well planned and executed pathing. Like a fine piece of music, the right notes are firing at exactly the right times.

    Loving the book considering the whole, this masterful skill with putting together the story list has one wondering if he’s not only an impressive author but truly a master-level editor, and uses that editorial skill to elevate his stories further in Toybox. Overall this was an excellent, disturbing read, and while it does spend a large majority of its time with young children for characters, is that really a problem? It certainly doesn’t make things any less scary.

    Well done, Mr. Sarrantonio.

    4 stars

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    Last edited by bugen; 08-05-2016 at 06:57 AM.
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    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    Ghost Road Blues - Jonathan Maberry
    “Still, it had held enough magic to kill the devil, and what more can you ask of a guitar than that?”

    Modern horror has a slightly different flavor than traditional, and especially classic, horror. When we look back on horror of the past we find ourselves saying things like, “this worked really well in its time” or “this opened the door.” The movie Psycho springs to mind. In situations where statements like this apply we still have vast appreciation for the work because we can view it in its context. With successful, modern horror, there is no need to do this. Ghost Road Blues is successful, modern horror. It’s not really the date of release that accomplishes this but the attitude and pacing, and Ghost Road has very little of that slow building dread that we often find in traditional horror.

    A small town in the woods is turned upside down as the most sadistic killer known to police flees to it while responding to a demonic call to evil, creating an unstoppable combination the locals can’t possibly deal with. Neither can anyone else called in to help.

    Most of us are somewhat desensitized to horror as we read so much of it, and many authors respond to this numbness by amping up the gratuitous violence, often in the form of torture, to keep us on edge. There’s a lot of violence here, a lot of horror, and yes, some torture, with none of it gratuitous. It’s a decently long book that moves along quickly with frantic, devil-may-care action.

    “If he died…well then, he’d just go rushing into that great big blackness with a hard-on and a curse on his laughing lips and see if the darkness could hold him.”

    Ghost Road Blues is a highly recommended read, but you may want to have access to the other books in the trilogy if you’re traveling or secluded–it’s a satisfying book but does end in cliffhanger territory.

    4 stars

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    Last edited by bugen; 08-05-2016 at 07:03 AM.
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    Good idea. I've got a review coming out for Abercrombie's "Half a King", but I'll wait until it's published.

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    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    Thanks Marduk. I'm not familiar with Abercrombie and am looking forward to your take.

    *edit
    And now I'm familiar with Abercrombie. Heir to the throne, perhaps?

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    Last edited by bugen; 08-16-2014 at 03:03 AM.
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    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    Chiliad: A MeditationClive Barker

    Originally published in ’97 as part of Douglas Winter’s Millennium, the stories ‘Men and Sin’ and ‘A Moment at the River’s Heart’ make up this release.

    Two men, 1,000 years apart, attempt to locate and exact revenge upon their spouses’ murderers.

    That is the plot in its oversimplified form, but laid over this structure are the morality questions causing the struggle in the end. The author has not led us to some kind of inevitable conclusion but rather finished his tale and left us to figure out the answers as to what it means. The stories are compact enough it’s difficult to discuss much without spoilers, but suffice to say it’s undoubtedly Barker and it has a good helping of his distinctive style, pulling no punches with his violence in its grittiness. There’s no bow tie around the story, though, and the reader is respected enough to draw his or her own conclusions.

    A thought provoking read of chicken and eggs, grief and blame, darkness and death, but one where ultimately the reader provides the final answers.

    4+ stars

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    Last edited by bugen; 08-05-2016 at 06:58 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bugen View Post
    Thanks Marduk. I'm not familiar with Abercrombie and am looking forward to your take.
    It should be this Sunday the 29th , so then I'll post it here. My first "biggie" (well, for me) so I hope it turns out well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bugen View Post
    Toybox - Al Sarrantonio
    I read this a long time ago, but your review makes me want to revisit it with fresh eyes.

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    The Land of Laughs - Jonathan Carroll
    “The Land of Laughs was lit by eyes that saw the lights that no one’s seen.”

    Carroll’s first novel sets the stage for what becomes a kind of trademark later in his career, and his style is tough to explain. The words ‘magic’ and ‘surreal’ come to mind, but generally in Carroll’s stories the operative word would just be ‘real’. These are real characters, with real emotions, in real situations, and then some kind of craziness skews the reality. A uniting thread of weirdness exists throughout Mr. Carrol’s works, and The Land of Laughs marks ground zero.

    An English teacher and his girlfriend travel to a small town to track down information on their deceased favorite author with hopes of obtaining permission from the author’s surviving daughter to write a definitive biography–one writing and the other researching.

    Most of this novel plays out as a mystery. Closed-lipped townsfolk alternate between acceptance and rejection of the couple, with the author’s daughter providing the lion’s share of early information and misinformation while the two main characters pry into the author’s life. It’s a quick read, as Carroll seems to have an ability to keep any scene interesting enough to keep the reader motivated. Somewhere around 2/3 of the way through the mystery elements take a back seat as the weird fiction part of Carroll’s expertise takes over. By novel’s end you’ve witnessed the birth of a master fantasist.

    A book like this isn’t for everyone, but everyone owes it to themselves to give this author a chance. If you’re a short story reader, a strong suggestion is to dip your toes into his world with his retrospective collection, The Woman Who Married A Cloud. No one writes like him, and his style is undoubtedly effective. The Land of Laughs is part mystery, part romance, part fantasy, and just a little part horror. It’s addictive enough you won’t really want to stop unless you have to.

    4 stars
    Last edited by bugen; 08-05-2016 at 07:04 AM.
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    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    Thanks Marduk. I wholeheartedly enjoyed reading Toybox. The collection felt complex and writing it down helped sort it out. Received my hard copy today!
    Last edited by bugen; 07-02-2014 at 01:41 AM. Reason: moving picture to review
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    Senior Member 1st Electroshock Session TerryE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bugen View Post
    "The Land of Laughs was lit by eyes that saw the lights that no one's seen."

    The Land of Laughs - Jonathan Carroll

    Carroll's first novel sets the stage for what becomes a kind of trademark later in his career, and his style is tough to explain. The words 'magic' and 'surreal' come to mind, but generally in Carroll's stories the operative word would just be 'real'. These are real characters, with real emotions, in real situations, and then some kind of craziness skews the reality. I've now read 3 of his books, 2 being of them novels - his first novel, reviewed here, and From the Teeth of Angels, considered by many to be his finest work, along with the magnificent collection, The Woman Who Married a Cloud. There is a uniting thread of weirdness throughout each, and The Land of Laughs marks ground zero.

    An English teacher and his girlfriend travel to a small town to track down information on their favorite, deceased, author, with hopes of obtaining permission from the author's surviving daughter to write a definitive biography. One writing and the other researching.

    Most of this novel plays out as a mystery, as closed-lipped townsfolk alternate between acceptance and rejection, with the daughter providing the lion's share of early information and misinformation while the two main characters pry into the author's life. It's a quick read, as Carroll seems to have an ability to keep any scene interesting enough to keep the reader motivated. Somewhere around 2/3 of the way through the mystery elements take a back seat as the weird-fiction part of Carroll's expertise takes over. By novel's end you've witnessed the birth of a master fantasist.

    I don't believe a book like this is for everyone, but I do think everyone owes it to themselves to give this author a chance. If you're a short story reader, my suggestion would be to dip your toes into his world with the collection, The Woman Who Married A Cloud. I haven't yet seen anyone write like him, and his style is undoubtedly effective. The Land of Laughs is part mystery, part romance, part fantasy, and just a little part horror. It's addictive enough you won't really want to stop unless you have to.

    4 stars
    Great review! The only thing I would have added is that bull terriers now seem even creepier to me. And Carroll loves them, posting pictures all the time on his Facebook page.
    "Dance until your feet hurt. Sing until your lungs hurt. Act until you're William Hurt." - Phil Dunphy ("Modern Family"), from Phil's-osophy.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Hearing Voices bugen's Avatar
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    Thanks Terry. I must admit I want a bull terrier after reading this. Affable, loveable creatures... perhaps a little dim. Until, of course, everything changes.
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    Strange HighwaysDean Koontz
    “You don’t have to make the world peaceful,” she said. “It is to begin with. You just have to learn not to disturb things.”

    Mr. Koontz has an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable, worth every penny and then some, but not often eye-opening. If you’re a reader of his novels but haven’t seen this collection, you’re about to see an entirely different strength to his writing.

    Opening with the novel, also titled Strange Highways, the book starts off strong with a kind of accidental time travel and remains strong after the novel finishes and the shorter works begin. In fact, this book has very little to hinder its momentum besides the 2 novels, and that’s not because they’re somehow at fault, it’s just the nature of novel vs. short story. The other novel contained in the collection, Chase (sometimes referred to as a novella), ends the book. In between the two novels are fast paced stories that nearly anyone who loves horror should enjoy. While Koontz is mostly known today for his thrillers, this book plays up the strange more than anything. It really is mostly horror while he takes a break from thrillers. Strangely enough, this was a good thing in regards to this book.

    The story “Twilight of the Dawn,” may be the crowning achievement. If the novels weren’t book-ending the collection, this would be the final story.

    “Twilight of the Dawn” is one of the least horror-themed stories contained here, but the author grips you by the throat in this heart-rending story and won’t let you go. There’s a good chance you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. The story focuses on the relationship between a young boy and his father, the latter whom grew up under such oppressive circumstances caused by his fanatically religious parents that he adamantly denies all religion and champions atheism. Tragedy strikes, and the father’s beliefs eventually become at odds with emerging beliefs of his son as the young boy is drawn to some of the answers provided by the vague religious doctrine he’s picked up over time despite his father’s best efforts. As the father grapples with this divide between the two, tragedy deepens, and as the tale approaches its close you will be moved, regardless of your personal system. A relentless, heart-breaking study of the father/son relationship, the nature of faith and the beauty and tragedy of life.

    For traditional Koontz fans and horror lovers, this collection is where it’s at.

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    Last edited by bugen; 08-05-2016 at 07:04 AM.
    “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
    -John Barth

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