Gone South - Robert R. McCammon

I have a new favorite Robert McCammon novel. I didn’t know if anything could ever usurp Mystery Walk or Mine, but here we are. Gone South is a glorious, countrified character study; on display is one of McCammon’s most enthralling plots set against the swamps of Louisiana.


If I may humble brag for a moment, I am going to a McCammon reading/signing on Tuesday and will certainly take my first edition of this book for him to autograph. And I suspect I will be rereading it often — how could I not? A Vietnam vet’s life has crumbled to pieces, and he’s lost almost everything . . . except his will. After killing a banker in defense, he’s on the run from a couple of bounty hunters (a man with three arms and an Elvis Presley impersonator . . . trust me, it works) and in tow is a girl desperately searching for a miracle in the heart of the Bayou. McCammon’s characters are always well rounded and developed, but these folks are special. I feel McCammon created the characters first and worked from there. The result is a thrilling ride filled to the brim with people the reader can care deeply about.


Every Robert McCammon novel is an underrated masterpiece. This one especially. McCammon doesn’t get the attention he deserves, never has. Though this isn’t the horror or historical fiction he is known for, certainly check this out if you’re up for a boat ride through the swamps in search of redemption. But be careful of alligators.

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The Chalk Man - C.J. Tudor

I finished this book, but it was a mighty effort. The story and characters in and of themselves aren’t bad, in a vacuum — the plot is serviceable and the lead protagonists are fine. The writing is boring, without flair, pedestrian . . . but this is a debut novel. I didn’t expect this to be perfect.


The shameless ripping off of one Stephen King, though, I cannot abide. The story’s conceit is, to be charitable, familiar: the narrative switches between 2016 and 1986, and features a guy (named Eddie, wouldn’t ya know) dealing with dark events that happened in his childhood, events that shaped him and his friends into the people they are today. The gang is a nice hodgepodge of cliches ripped out of everything from <i>It</i> to <i>Stranger Things</i> to <i>The Goonies</i>. Add in an important character named Mr. Hallorann, a few references to something called “the deadlights”, a funeral scene featuring a casket falling to the floor, only for the casket’s latch to come undone and reveal the corpse’s hand, and you’ve got lukewarm reminders of everything the Master of Horror was doing better three decades ago. It’s not often I accuse authors of plagiarism, and I’m not calling into question this author’s character or intent — but damn, this story is anything but original.


It’s unfortunate, too. For a while I was mildly intrigued and wanted to like these characters. But I quickly found myself growing bored and frustrated. I was able to predict everything these jokers were going to say and do before they said and did it. That’s never good. Avoid this at all costs.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free review copy.

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The Nightrunners (Mass Market) - Dean Koontz, Joe R. Lansdale

Originally published in 1987, this is one of Joe R. Lansdale’s earlier works and it shows. Filled with cheesy dialogue and cardboard cutout characters and scares that fall flat, this is a dated and torturous read that is perhaps best left in the past.


This is a chase novel. Taking place over the span of three days, main characters Monty and Becky are staying at some friends’ cabin in an attempt at relaxing and getting over a recent rough patch in their marriage: Becky was raped and almost murdered by a gang of teenage boys, and they are coming after her again. The fight is on.


Luckily this novel is short and pretty compulsively readable — it isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also not challenging and easy enough to finish. As I loved Lansdale’s story collection, By Bizarre Hands (which features a chapter from this book), I was unpleasantly surprised to find I didn’t much care for The Nightrunners. It didn’t scare me; it only annoyed and disappointed.


This book is readable and maybe recommendable if you’re looking for something quick, and perhaps a bit of cheesy fun. But certainly buy it used and do not start reading Lansdale here.

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The Power - Naomi Alderman

Naomi Alderman’s latest bestseller is an intriguing and highly inventive piece of speculative fiction that dares to ask the question: What would happen if women were suddenly granted strength through their genes, thus flipping the societal power structure?


Seen through four points of view — a Mayor, a a Nigerian boy with aspirations to be a reporter, a British girl borne of crime, and a mixed girl from an adopted family that isn’t what she expects — this narrative unfolds at a brisk clip, and Alderman expertly gives the reader a sense of the sheer magnitude of this power, these changes. Revolutions begin. Wars are fought. Regimes fall, only to be replaced with new ones. All the once seemingly permanent rules of society are rewritten. And it’s breathtaking to bear witness to.


A fitting read for the current global political climate, this is an enthralling and important read. I couldn’t put it down, and I suspect you won’t be able to, either.

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Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

The year is 2044, and everyone is hooked up to an all-encompassing virtual reality program called the OASIS. The world itself has become broken and desolate beyond repair, thus pushing humans to full involvement in virtual living. Everything is available on the program. And the original creator, upon his death, left his entire fortune to the one lucky player who can beat all his challenges and find the egg at the end of the hunt. The prize? $280 billion. And an all-powerful, eternal avatar on the OASIS.


I really wasn’t sure if I would like this book, but seeing the movie trailer recently piqued my interest. I am glad I gave it a shot, as it was a delightful and enthralling departure from my usual reading. This one reveals in geek culture. I don’t game at all, nor do I hold any sort of nostalgia for the 1980s, but I still had buckets of fun. The main character, Wade, is a cool cat, as are his online friends. I was with them from the start.


I did have a few minor problems, though. I could have done with perhaps a bit more character development — I’m thinking all the characters not named Wade. His friends are fleshed out a bit, but not enough for my liking. Still, this is primarily an action/adventure/techno thriller, which means in-depth character development isn’t the first priority. That’s fine.


There’s also a bit of instalove here, and that grates my nerves. In fact, said instalove almost wrecked the ending for me, but whatever. These characters are teenagers and teenagers are prone to cheesy displays of affection and emotion. It’s fine. I sort of expected it from this, a YA novel in adult fiction clothing.


I enjoyed this one a lot. Cline’s sheer imagination is a power to behold, and the futuristic universe he has created is awe-inspiring and a lot of fun, even to someone who doesn’t like sci-fi — like me. If you’re feeling a rollicking geeky ride filled with 1980s references, try this out.

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The Deal of a Lifetime: A Novella - Fredrik BackmanI don’t think Fredrik Backman and his translators can do wrong. I’ve read all but one of his published works and at least liked all of them . . . and most of them I loved. Published just in time for Christmas, The Deal of a Lifetime is a short story (though it is being marketed as a novella, with an $18 price tag to boot) about a successful father and his estranged son. The story is a letter written on Christmas Eve from the father to his son, in which he reveals all about himself: his triumphs and failures, both as a businessman and a parent.

Like most other Backman stories, this is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, and honest look at humanity and relationships. Written in sterling prose, this whole damn book is quotable. I found myself gasping in shock at least once a page at just how spot-on Backman’s writing is, and how real his characters feel. Though this story clocks in at a scant 66 pages, it has the depth and pay-off of a long novella, at least.

I am usually skeptical of purchasing such little books for hefty prices, but I feel I got my ten bucks’ worth and then some out of this. Backman never disappoints, and this has moved me to read Britt-Marie Was Here before the end of the year. A delightful and melancholy Christmas fairy tale, I suspect I will be reading The Deal of a Lifetime annually. My highest recommendation.

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The Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris

As I said in my review of Red Dragon, I’m one of the only people on Goodreads who, until now, hadn’t read Thomas Harris’s novels about that infamous cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. I’ve never seen the movie adaptations, either. Seriously.


So I don’t think it’s prudent I rehash this book’s plot; you know it. I will say I’ve been totally blindsided by how much I’ve fallen in love with Hannibal as a character. I’m obsessed. This dude oozes swagger. He sends ice through my veins. This novel featured him more than Red Dragon, and for that I am thankful. The other characters found here are good, too (who couldn’t love Clarice?), but I found myself always a little anxious for Hannibal Lecter to come back onscreen.


Part police procedural, part thriller, part horror, Silence of the Lambs is a more than worthy followup to its predecessor. While the murder case in these pages didn’t grab me quite as much as the one found in Harris’s precious release, that was made up for with more Hannibal. So, to me, the two books are equal. As I said on Twitter the other night, I am kicking myself for not reading this series sooner.


And now I must check out the movie…

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