a blank slate

a blank slate

Tag: thriller

Sleeping Beauties by Owen King and Stephen King

Summary: In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, and the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place. The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied, or is she a demon who must be slain?

My thoughts: I’m so conflicted about this book. I was hooked, there is no denying that – seeing as I left all work aside for a week to finish reading this mountain of a book. It was thoroughly engaging. If you’ve watched IT Chapter 2, you must remember the very self aware running gag on McAvoy’s character, Bill, being called out for writing the worst endings. Many people criticise King for writing anticlimactic endings to his long stories. I don’t agree with most people, but somehow having watched the movie so recently, I’d braced myself for a disappointment at the end of this book. Which is perhaps why it didn’t hurt as much when the predicted disappointment hit. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

First, the goods, or the positives: The greatest triumph of SK’s writing for me has always been the uncannily real characters. He can effortlessly hop into the heads of hardened criminals, sociopaths, recovering alcoholics, bullies, angsty teenagers bursting at the seams, mothers, children, you name it. He can write the damnedest realistic characters and he has surely managed that in this book. Not only that, he makes you care for his characters, and choose sides between those you love. Throughout Sleeping Beauties, there are moments of triumph when the characters hit right home. Just right. 
The story is a mix of Under the Dome, The Stand, 11/22/63 and perhaps even Mr. Mercedes (specific references aside.) SK has proved before, more than once, that he can do small town mass hysteria and do it well. The authors have pulled it off here too, no surprises there. 
And I mean there’s the obvious, the more recent Stephen King charm you get: that brisk no-nonsense dialogue, casual meta references and nods to authors and movies and songs and his own characters, style – just a lot of cocky style. And all this makes it a thoroughly entertaining book, even at its worst moments. I don’t know how much of this is Owen King, but there’s too much Stephen King to miss. Things I was surprised by and like included the element of dark fantasy. I like the allusions and the tricks. I loved Evie and everything she stood for. And above all else, I love the fox’s perspective on the world; animal perspectives are always so difficult to write without sounding too human. 
Now to the negatives, the bads: Maybe the book came a little too late. I like the idea of a retelling of a fairy tale in this manner and on this scale, but it just seems strange to have this repeated overwrought discussion on the duality of gender, men and women, men against women, two genders and the very specific dual gender roles.. seems odd to centre the book entirely around this duality in today’s world. It was quite the elephant in the room. 
I think at the end of the day, it’s Clint Norcross, the main character (not sure if I should call him a protagonist) who disappointed me the most. When you create a character who has more shades of grey than of white, you better give me a good reason for that. I expected… more. Or I did not understand what I got.

And lastly, I think the scope of the book was too narrow and for no solid reason. In Under the Dome, there is still an explanation for the seemingly arbitrary choice of that particular small town for that particular story. What makes this town so special? Why is the rest of the world so oblivious to this random town in Appalachia where everything of import seems to be happening? Even Under the Dome had more of the external world playing its part. Here, you need to accept it without justification. Too big a story in too small a package. 
Final Thoughts: I’m glad I read it. My biggest takeaway is the character of Jeannette – that’s one woman I will not forget easily, one character I’ll keep coming back to. I would recommend it to you if you have the time for it. But there are far greater Stephen King novels to choose over this – when in doubt, when it comes to Stephen King, always go for the classics.

“Sometimes you get what you want, but mostly you get what you get.” 


This isn’t exactly a fairytale retelling (hint: kissing the sleeping beauties may not have the predicted reaction) to be part of the Retellings Challenge, but they’ve referenced Sleeping Beauty often enough for me to say it counts. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is one of the creepiest stories I have read in a long time. This is my first read for the R.I.P. XII event. I’m alone in the house writing this review, and writing this review is scaring me. Yes, it’s that kind of book. 

The book begins with a creepy mansion at the edge of town. It’s the Blackwood House and it is inhabited by two sisters and their deranged uncle. The Blackwood sisters, Merricat and Connie, have a secret. Six years before the events of the story, the Blackwood family sat down for dinner one night and died of arsenic poisoning. Not only did Connie survive the incident, but waited till everyone was dead, cleaned the utensils, called the police and confessed to the crime. Her younger sister Merricat, who had been punished and sent to her room, also survived, as did Uncle Julian, who lost his mind.

Six years later, Connie has been acquitted of the crime, but refuses to leave the Blackwood House for fear of the townsfolk. The town always hated the Blackwoods for their wealth before, and now wish the sisters would just vacate. Merricat goes to the town to buy groceries every week and gets teased all the way back. They shout at her, point and laugh, even as she thinks of all the ways she would make them shut up, if she could.
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the deathcup mushroom… Everyone else in my family is dead.
This is how the book begins. It seems as though the loss of their family has affected both the sisters quite differently. While in Connie’s case, the result is complete forced seclusion from people, Merricat, who seems otherwise normal, has a stunted growth. Extreme superstitions keep her from doing the most basic things, like cooking and gardening. She is fiercely protective of her sister Connie and still thinks like the twelve-year-old she was when her family died. The story takes an unexpected turn when a cousin arrives, Charles Blackwood, who promises to show Connie the outside world, and threatens to interrupt Merricat’s neatly arranged life. Little by little, she reveals the mystery surrounding the deaths.
The writing is richly atmospheric, very true to the gothic style. There is a lot going on in the story, it is strewn with details which demand attention, analysis, interpretation; the language then is a distraction, but what a beautiful one. It plays with your senses and the imagery alone can send shivers down your spine. I had to read sections of the book again to fully grasp what was going on, sections which seemed like intriguing descriptions until a reread revealed them to hold so much more. What adds to the gothic aura of the novella is the recurring theme of loneliness, fear of being outcast, the exclusion from the normal, the small-minded Salem-trial-like persecution of those who are “different.” The story makes you wonder, what came first – the fear or the monster?
The book is about a madness that stems out of shared trauma. There is a very feminine, possessive, almost motherly quality to the sisters’ insanity. The two “get” each other, it’s almost as if they are two faces of the same person. The bond shared by Merricat and Connie is unnatural for their age, but very sisterly and impossible to break. Charles Blackwood almost manages to get between the sisters, but even he can never take Merricat’s place in Connie’s heart. Together they make a deadly pair, each supporting and aggravating the others’ faults; until you can’t tell apart victim from perpetrator. 
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is like a ghost story turned inside out. Think of a conventional haunted house. Two kids venture into the grounds, a test of their wits, and encounter unspeakable horrors. We learn the history of the house in flashback. This book does the exact opposite. It completely dismantles your standard introduction-action-climax-resolution structure. The book ends on its climax, that highest most intense point in the story, whereas the resolution has already happened somewhere in the beginning… the “who” done it is one of the first things you discover. It’s hard to explain, but amazing to experience. The ending is quite satisfactory, with neither twist nor cliffhanger, yet you read the last line and realize, the story has just begun.

Buy this book on Amazon! 

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

This review is part of the R.I.P X  Challenge. Visit The Estella Society to learn more.

Bill Hodges was once a detective, one of the finest of the city. Now retired, he is a fat lonely TV-addict going over his mistakes and contemplating suicide. That is, until, Bill receives a goading letter from the perpetrator in his greatest unsolved mystery – the Mercedes Killer. Brady Hartsfield, also known as Mr Mercedes, was responsible for spree killing eight innocent people when he drove into a queue outside a job fair in a massive stolen Mercedes. Today, he is not happy that his glory days are over. Taken by another urge to kill, Brady plans to taunt the ex-cop into killing himself. But what the letter really does is jump start a dead investigation. This time, Brady may not get away so easily.

“Every religion lies. Every moral precept is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That’s all history is, after all: scar tissue.”

Mr Mercedes is a very basic mystery. The killer’s perspective is introduced early into the book, the crime is long over, the clues are in place, it is up to Bill to figure out what we know. Mr Mercedes will guarantee you a swift exciting afternoon. And I love this grown up Stephen King who has so many master works under his belt, he can  go back to the basic. And nail it. I am reminded of something King said about Rowling’s pseudonym, “What a pleasure, what a blessed relief, to write in anonymity, just for the joy of it.” 


He may not be anonymous, rather the opposite, but perhaps it is the comfort of knowing he will be read and criticized either way, same old, that gives his writing an honesty. Every line in the book tells you he is enjoying himself. Maybe his books just don’t fall prey to editing as frequently now that he is so established. So the book is full of classic Stephen King tricks. Name-dropping taken to a whole new level. He hurls jabs and praises at every crime show you have ever seen, from Dexter and The Wire to NCIS and Bones; I cannot imagine how many legal department people must run around to get Stephen King permissions. At one point, someone mentions the scary ass clown living in the sewer from that TV movie – that’s right, one of King’s myriad pop culture references is to himself.

Stereotypes abound the novel. The serial killer is an ice-cream man, because “everybody loves the ice-cream man.” The fat ex-cop sits on his La-Z-Boy every day, and every day puts a gun in his mouth wanting to off himself. As he gets his life back together, he loses weight, and as he becomes slimmer and more attractive, he starts to believe more in himself. I don’t think Stephen King has a problem with fat people. He simply knows how the world thinks, and this sort of stuff resonates, if reluctantly, even with our “ever-ready to prickle in offended indignation” sensibilities. Peter Straub once said that he has a ‘connoisseur’s appreciation of fear.’ Well, Stephen King similarly understands stereotypes, he appreciates their existence so to say, and manipulates them delightfully.

[Edit: adding important afterthoughts] Stephen King usually writes about alcoholics, murderers and crazy fans. The woman who owns the Mercedes the killer used is one of the best characters in this book. This harmless ‘good citizen’ has to deal with her unwitting involvement in a crime of such great proportions. She is an example of the lengths normal people could go to convince themselves that “such things don’t happen to them,” that the thing they hit on the road that rainy night was just a dog, nothing else, of course. One of the coolest things in this book is the cop describing how desperately people all want to cling on to the comfort of normalcy.

Another thing that King hits the nail on the head with here is humour – dark sly humour. He makes you chuckle with one-liner-musings, sure, but also with these misplaced comedic situations, like someone accidentally poisoning the wrong victim. Jokes that make you wish you hadn’t laughed.

“Hodges has read there are wells in Iceland so deep you can drop a stone down them and never hear the splash. He thinks some human souls are like that. Things like bum fighting are only halfway down such wells.”

A trillion pop culture references, dramatised clichés and forced resolutions make up this story – but what an enjoyable ride it is! Some may call it lazy, cocky even. But some sixty books and a dozen awards into his career, this man has earned his cocky. I realize this review may across as a defence, but it is more than that. I have consistently found it impossible not to fall in love with everything Stephen King writes, and here is why. Even in his smuggest writing, you see a simple yet rare dedication to the craft. Some of his books work and some just don’t – this rests somewhere on a fence. But you can see he loves to write and that, to me, makes even his basic cosy mystery far different from a formulaic success on a best seller list.

In a word, Mr Mercedes is cool. I cannot wait to see what its sequel has to offer.

Shadow on the Sun by Richard Matheson

My next read for R.I.P. IX. Thanks, Delia, for the recommendation. I loved the book.

He started as a fire brand seemed to burst forth from nowhere. He saw it moving in the darkness like a flaming insect. 
Then the bonfire was ignited and its stacked wood flamed up with a crackling roar.
Now he could see the Apaches gathered in a giant circle around the mounting fire, all of them seated  cross- legged, their faces reflecting the flames like burnished oak, their dark eyes glowing as they stared at the fire. Who were they? he wondered. What were they thinking? Once again, he felt completely foreign to the moment, trapped in some unearthly vision.

Summary: Southwest Arizona, a century ago. An uneasy true exists
between the remote frontier community of Picture City and the neighboring
Apaches. That delicate peace is shredded when the bodies of two white men are
found hideously mutilated. The angry townspeople are certain the “savages” have
broken the treaty, but Billjohn Finley, the local Indian agent, fears that
darker, more unholy forces may be at work. There’s a tall, dark stranger in
town, who rode in wearing the dead men’s clothes. A stranger, who is incredibly strong, looks neither white nor Injun, who has a scar around his neck, a stranger who may not be
entirely human.

My thoughts: I’ve always felt that all horror works on suspense, not
knowing what comes next, not being able to understand what happens; that causes fear. Shadow on the Sun by Richard Matheson shows the
difference between suspense and intrigue.
The plot of this western, as you can see, is fairly
straightforward. About six pages in, and with one glance at that first cover, you can guess what should have been the
biggest mystery of all – what mauled the two young men and how is it related to
that strange man with the scar around his neck? But that’s the thing about this
book. Knowing who is behind the killings, knowing how a man is able to brutally
mangle his victims, the knowledge that the crux of the mystery lies in
Native American mythology doesn’t make the story any less scary. Suspense – uncertainty of fact – is one quality of horror. If wielded
effectively, intrigue is a much better tool. You have all the answers you could
ask for and yet, every time the stranger steps onto the page with his scornful smile you find yourself shuddering. 
Shadow on the Sun is about a clash of cultures. About the suspicion with which we view every new thing, the evil inhuman intentions, the capacity to swiftly lay blame, the misplaced high mindedness that lies at the heart of every colonization. That the young Harvard graduate officer Boutelle, or the vengeful brother of the two victims believe the murders are the work of the savage Indians shows a terrible conviction that humans are capable of every bit as much horror as a supernatural demon. It makes you wonder how we think so little of ourselves.

(Spoiler!) Billjohn Finley is the bridge between the two cultures and you can see him struggling to make sense of the savagery to the sceptical Boutelle – the fact that Little Owl died of fear, that his remains would be burnt inside his house, that Braided Feather and his tribe would perform a cleansing ceremony to dispel the work of evil forces. The dreamlike scene when Boutelle witnesses the ceremony and learns the story of the son of Vandaih, the man-eagle, is important because that’s when a part of his mind opens up to the possibility of some truth in the myth, because all the details start falling neatly in place, the man and his scar, the shaman, the Night Doctor, the mutilated bodies, the Indians’ obvious uncontrollable fear of the stranger, the inhuman shrieks in the forest. (end of Spoiler!) 

The stranger, the tall large man with the scar around his neck, from his physical description and his alienated behaviour, his desperation, his unthinking ruthlessness, is reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster. The fact that he’s looking for a Night Doctor only strengthens the impression. Whether he carries the blame for what he was turned into is not a question to address in this story, but the likeness could not be unintentional.

The thing that makes this book special, like the other two I’ve read by Matheson, is the clean-cut precision of the story. It begins mid-action and ends on just the right note, leaving us to conjure up a suitable tying up of loose ends. The plot is crisp, the mood evocative, and every word seems deliberately chosen to make you shiver. A nice, short read by a great writer – recommended by Stephen King as the author who influenced him the most as a writer – what more could you want?

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The cover of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is just as elusive and curious as the plot. The book explores loss, identity, psychology and manipulation. It’s a story about a pair of twins, two people who are at once the very same and poles apart. It is an analysis of death and tragedy irreversibly altering the lives of those left behind. It’s a meta-literary approach to storytelling. Basically, it is one hell of a book.

Summary: Our narrator, Margaret Lea, is commissioned to write a biography of ageing writer Miss Vida Winter, possibly the most famous author alive, whose whole identity and life story are a mystery to her readers.
Vida Winter shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden, from her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Today, Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once the imposing home of the March family – fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, Charlie her brutal and dangerous brother, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline.
 Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself deeply immersed in the troubling story, even as Vida Winter’s revelations about her fears bring Margaret dangerously close to the ghosts of her own past.
My thoughts: Diane Setterfield has masterfully breathed life into her characters. Sad, tired Margaret, curiously cheerful Aurelius, cynical secretive Miss Winter and the Rebecca-esque characters we never really meet – from Isabelle to Margaret’s sister: these are people I’ll never forget. Setterfield’s writing captures the pain and almost uncontrollable attachment in blood relationships, the unbreakable ties between siblings and the inevitable disappointments that go hand in hand with family. 
In her 2006 debut novel, Diane Setterfield has effortlessly recreated a Victorian gothic mood and the book reads like a homage to favourite classics, which it references – Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Wuthering Heights. In its wit, the writing resembles that of Austen and the bleakness is reminiscent of Dickens. All her insight and quips about writing and story, through the exotic voice of Vida Winter, make you question Setterfield’s first-timer status.
My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. 
When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.

The book is about the ghosts of memory; about prisons that you build around yourself with lies and half truths, fear, diffidence and secrecy; about the illusion of safety you cling on to, when freedom appears to be too big a loss of control. It’s about overcoming these and setting yourself free, and in many ways, despite all the horrors of the lives of Margaret and Vida Winter, the book gives hope.
But of course, it’s the meticulous detail and the gripping suspense that make this book worth your time. I read it in a day today: after a month of struggling through one supposed thriller, this book grabbed my attention on the first page and didn’t let go till the last. It had the very same effect on me as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, but the tension here is even more icy, the resolution more surprising. If you like a good bit of guesswork and uncanny twists of plot, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield will be a fairly satisfying read.
It has put me in the perfect mood, if a little late, for the R.I.P. Challenge. If there’s one thing I enjoy about these book blogger challenges it’s not knowing which book I’ll stumble into next. Any horror, mystery recommendations?

Inferno by Dan Brown

I finally completed this book that I’ve been reading, off and on, since the very beginning of this month. I’d decided to read this as part of the R.I.P. challenge. I do hope I manage to read more books for the challenge, God knows I want to.
Summary: Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Italy with no idea how he got there, his memory a blank. All he remembers are nightmarish visions of a silver-haired woman, beak nosed plague masks, people dying in bloody pools of red and a message, Seek and ye shall find. Stitched into his jacket is sealed canister with a label that warns against a ‘bio-hazard.’ When the hospital is attacked by an unknown assassin, Langdon escapes, assisted by the mysterious young doctor, Sienna Brooks. The mystery only deepens when she informs Robert that he arrived disoriented and repeating the words “very sorry.”

Meanwhile, on a ship in the middle of nowhere, a powerful secret agent watches a tape that his client, now dead, asked to be broadcast worldwide, the next day. The tape shows an underground cavern and recording of the client quoting Dante’s Inferno, warning the viewer of an oncoming plague that would cleanse the world.
These are the new Dark Ages.
Centuries ago, Europe was in the depths of its own misery—the population huddled, starving, mired in sin and hopelessness. They were as a congested forest, suffocated by deadwood, awaiting God’s lightning strike—the spark that would finally ignite the fire that would rage across the land and clear the deadwood, once again bringing sunshine to the healthy roots.
Culling is God’s Natural Order.
Ask yourself, What followed the Black Death?
We all know the answer.
The Renaissance.
Rebirth.
It has always been this way. Death is followed by birth.
To reach Paradise, man must pass through Inferno.

Langdon fails to rid himself of his amnesia, steadily growing more confused as he is chased not only by the assassin but also a team of soldiers. With the help of Sienna, desperate to find some answers, he retraces his steps in Italy to find the secret cavern and stop the promised inferno.
What I didn’t like: My problem with Dan Brown now is this: four books later, Robert Langdon is painfully unchanged. Down to the silly Mickey Mouse watch. The good thing about writing a thriller series is you get to work on character development without having to worry about the lag in pace that it may cause. But Brown doesn’t use his past three books to any advantage. Langdon is still uncannily dumbfounded every time something out of the ordinary happens to him. He is far too trusting for someone who has consistently been caught off guard with secrets and betrayals.
What I liked: Other than that, the book was surprisingly non-formulaic. Perhaps it was all the literary intrigue or the lush descriptions of architecture and culture that made this book especially attractive to me, or maybe it was simply the conspicuous lack of religious conspiracies and secret societies. The premise, of course, was unfailingly ridiculous and quintessentially Dan Brown – but the book avoided many of his usual tropes and cop outs. The story started out detailed and slow and gained speed as it progressed, delivering towards the end some genius twists of plot that arranged themselves into a neat resolution. This was an altogether entertaining thriller.
I loved Angels and Demons. I don’t remember if I finished The Last Symbol, which isn’t a very promising sign. Inferno was a few days well spent. But I’ve had more than enough of Robert Langdon now. I don’t see myself reading another Dan Brown, whenever he writes the next.

What are your expectations from a mystery series? Any favourites? My favourite is still the Cooper & Fry series by Stephen Booth. But recommendations are always welcome. And what do you make of Dan Brown’s writing?

A Good Marriage (from Full Dark, No Stars) by Stephen King – Wrapping up King’s March

A Good Marriage is the final story in this amazing short story collection, Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. It’s a 100 page novella and makes a greatly disturbing read. If I think about it, this story has less gore as compared to Big Driver, hardly any violent graphic detail unlike 1922 and it has much fewer glimpses into crazy minds than Fair Extension. Honestly, it ought to be the least upsetting story of the entire collection; if only it weren’t so true to life. 
I saved the last story of the collection for a classic Stephen King-ey experience. Reading it alone in the middle of the night (it was around 2 a.m. by the time I finished), with a reading light and shuddering every so often, resisting the impulse to just abandon the book and go to sleep instead. That’s how Stephen King should be read, isn’t it? Without the eerie atmosphere, the building tension, The Shining wouldn’t quite have been The Shining. 
A Good Marriage is very different from the other stories in Full Dark, No Stars. It isn’t about a lunatic murderer, or a raging victim driven to murder, it is the story of a murderer’s wife. What would a woman do if she were to find out one day, out of nowhere, that her husband of some twenty seven years was a notorious serial killer? If she were to realize the man she loved, the man who surely loved her back, the father of her two children had lived a secret life as a murderer? How far would Darcy go to save her marriage?
It’s not a unique setting, you have to admit. In fact, based as it is on a true story, it’s not meant to be one of its kind. It almost reminded me of Alice Munro’s Dimension in the way it focuses on the one who is the closest to an offender, the one who suffers the most after the victims, the one who gets the least sympathy: the murderer’s family. That it is convincingly, worryingly realistic is what makes A Good Marriage the best and the worst story at once. King has done here what he does best. In his words, he’s put “ordinary people in extraordinary situations” to provoke a reaction. He’s played out this situation in invigorating, unnerving, undistorted, tear-jerking detail. 
King has toyed with the realization that someone you love, someone you thought you knew completely, can turn out to be a altogether different creature. King has described vividly how it dawns upon Darcy that you can never really know a person, not even one you’ve built your life with. Once the truth hits home, it takes only one caressing touch, from her husband for Darcy to be terrified of him. Seeing him for what he really is, his once-endearing toothy smile and soundless laugh make her nauseous. And she loves him.
It’s a good story, and what makes it good, is how difficult it is to put yourself in Darcy’s shoes. To wonder how you’d react in that situation; a situation that when not looked at personally makes so much sense. A Good Marriage is a nice story about marriage and oddly, it’s a happy story, in that it leaves you with a grudging sense of relief and the realization that there’s a little hope for humanity, after all.
It turns out A Good Marriage is being made into a movie. Or is it already out? I don’t think I’ll watch it, but I’m curious to see how it’s received. I suppose it will fair well like all his movies do, I only hope it’s for the right reasons.
The Afterword is brilliant. Only Stephen King can do justice to describing what he does in his stories. And it really got me thinking. 
“I have tried my best in Full Dark, No Stars to record
what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire
circumstances. The people in these stories are not without hope, but they
acknowledge that even our fondest hopes (and our fondest wishes for our
fellowmen and the society in which we live) may sometimes be vain. Often, even.
But I think they also say that nobility most fully resides not in success but in
trying to do the right thing… and that when we fail to do that, or willfully
turn away from the challenge, hell follows.”

As much as I love having the ‘visceral’ reactions that King intends to invoke in his readers, I am happy to be out of the dark and in the light, glad, of course, that he brought me out here (even if with a cheeky wink), impressed that the collection ends on a fairly optimistic note. I loved this collection, and I know overuse that word but I do mean it in its fullest sense here: I loved it. It’s a must read. But I don’t think I’ll be revisiting Stephen King anytime soon.
My copy of Full Dark, No Stars has an extra ‘bonus’ story at the end. I don’t want to read it. Nor do I want to read Different Seasons, which I’d picked up for King’s March as well. I’m going to return those two to the library and take a temporary hiatus from Stephen King, and perhaps all things horror. I know that contradicts what I wrote in my previous post about reading everything he’s ever written, but hey, I have a whole lifetime for that.) 
King’s March has been quite an experience. I loved reading people’s reviews of books I’ve already read, their opinions and recommendations of books I hope to read somewhere down the line and how almost everyone complained about that thing that always irritates the hell out of me: He doesn’t just write horror! Sharing bookish love is what blogging’s all about anyway. But now I’m all geared up for the Once Upon a Time Challenge – for a bit of fantasy after this. I think magic and a little gooey happy fun would do me some good right about now.
Tell me this, fellow Stephen King fans, are you ever just a bit too overwhelmed by the dark? Or did you just roll your eyes and call me a chicken? I wouldn’t be offended if you did!

Blood On The Tongue by Stephen Booth

After I read and reviewed Black Dog, the first in the Ben Cooper & Diane Fry crime series, I just couldn’t resist buying Dancing with the Virgins, the sequel. Then, I found two more at the library (and not caring much for reading in order, I read them.) Blood on the Tongue by Stephen Booth is the third book. Now, having already read two books out of order, I can say with certainty that the books provide enough background information to work as standalones. Then again, I can’t think of a reason for not wanting to read the whole series! 

Summary: The weather is cold and the clues no warmer as Peak District
detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry tackle a medley of mysteries – each one
knottier than the last – in English author Stephen Booth’s haunting third novel,
Blood on the Tongue. The unidentified body of a dead man has turned up on a
frosty roadside. An abused woman is found curled in the snow on nearby
Irontongue Hill, an apparent suicide. And there’s the lingering puzzle of a
Royal Air Force bomber that crashed into Irontongue back in 1945, killing
everyone on board except for the pilot, who reportedly walked away from the
wreckage… and was never heard from again. With leave and sickness decimating
the ranks of the Edendale police force, all hands are needed to solve the
modern deaths. But constable Cooper finds himself distracted by the World War
II tragedy, in large part because of a beguiling young Canadian, the
granddaughter of that missing pilot, who’s come to Edendale determined to clear
her ancestor’s name.

My thoughts: The characters, the wonderfully fleshed out characters, were the highlights of the book for me. I could once again instantly picture the nice, perceptive (albeit slightly awkward and generally confused, around Diane Fry, anyway) Cooper and the (still) sort of cold outsider Fry. But they are the main characters of the book, you’d expect them to stand out. But – I loved the many officers in the police department, the Polish community of Edendale, the survivors of the war and the avid collectors of war memorabilia and those others who found their way into the story and got stuck there without ever meaning to nor really deserving to; every single character felt so real and alive. The intermingling lives made all the concepts of flat characters and round characters and foils just vanish right out of my head – they were real people for the time it took me to finish the book and then some. Cooper is the kind of guy anyone would like and Fry the kind of woman you’re bound not to, but together they just make the perfect, if a little odd, team. Diane was a little less annoying in this book than usual, or maybe I am just warming up to her. Either way, I particularly liked the typical Cooper and Fry moments in Blood On The Tongue. A lot depends on protagonists in any book, and this series revolves around the perfect pair!

Another specialty of this book was all the work that went into creating the right atmosphere. For every scene. What I loved was it was not just about detailed descriptions: the ice and the chill were amazingly described. But then there was that part about Cooper’s squelching wet shoe that brought the feeling to life. The setting is obviously partly fictional and partly real and to someone who has never been there (to the real places) the attraction was that it was hard to figure out just what was made up. And it was all so vivid that I actually wished it weren’t not-real!  Then there were those little well placed snippets of insight (which I just had to highlight – so by the end there were yellow boxes glaring at me from every three pages).

It was one of the worst sounds you could ever hear – the ticking of a clock in an empty house after its owner had died. It was a reminder that the world would carry on just the same after you had gone, that the second hand wouldn’t even hesitate in its movement as you passed from living to dying. Tick, you were there. Tick, you were gone. As if you had never mattered. It was a sound that struck straight to some primal fear in the guts – the knowledge that time was steadily counting you down to your own death.

If I had to point out a problem I had with the book, and I don’t want to, it could be that the book was a little slow, a little confusing at the beginning, and it took me a little while to get completely drawn in. But once I was engrossed, making time to read it had priority over all my daily plans. Fact is, this is definitely one of those reads that I’d recommend to anyone who’d care to listen, and that means, you should read it too. Get it right here!

Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell has to be the most engrossing, thrilling, fast paced book I have read this year. It is action packed and so, so interesting. The book is the second part in a series titled The Order of the Sanguines, but offers enough background info, detailing on the events of Book #1 (The Blood Gospel), to work as a standalone. It is like a paranormal version of a Dan Brown novel, with vampires, angels and prophecies. 

Summary: A modern scientist, a highly secret eternal spiritual order, and a terrifying power must join forces to bring down a ruthless and cunning enemy and prevent the Apocalypse. 

While exploring a tomb hidden for centuries in the depths of Masada, Israel, brilliant archaeologist Erin Granger began an incredible journey to recover a miraculous ancient artifact tied to Christ himself. The quest introduced her to a diabolical enemy determined to discover the book and use its powers for his own dark ends. It also led her to an ancient and highly secret Vatican order-known simply as the Saguines. Though she survived, the danger has only just begun…

An attack outside Stanford University thrusts Erin back into the fold of the Sanguines. As the threat of Armageddon looms, she must unite with an ancient evil to halt the plans of a man determined to see the world end, a man known only as Iscariot.

My thoughts: People judge vampire fiction far too quickly these days. This book is neither young adult, nor paranormal romance nor anything that would make you roll your eyes and go all skeptic. In a word, Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell is awesome, so don’t dismiss it as just-another-vampire-related-book.
What I liked: The standouts were: the uniquely sinister take on vampires; the characters picked out of history and mythology, I specially liked the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory; the character development despite the swift pace; the adventure spanning over the world and the ages; the attention to detail. The story was horrific, thrilling, tragic and (here’s a rarity in this genre) quite insightful. And the touch of science fiction, with those ingenious mechanical insects capable of fatally poisoning vampires: wow. The book has left me in complete awe. That it is part of a series and there’s more to come is the icing on the cake.
What I didn’t like: Nothing. The book was as close to perfect as can be! I give it a four star rating, because, not having read the first book, it took me a while to get into context. Some terms were unfamiliar; like the strigoi – the vampires, the Sanguines – the reformed (sort of) vampires priests or the blasphemare – these animals turned into nightmarishly strong monsters after being infected by the blood of the strigoi. I also had to read up on a lot of the Christian elements and the Biblical references, though they were pretty basic and the extra reading was just for me. I don’t know if the themes could be construed as offensive by religious readers, but they were very intriguing and as far as I’m concerned, amazingly unique…  What I’m trying to say is, READ IT.

Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer (Nightmares, #1) by Demelza Carlton

This review is a part of a reviews only book tour hosted by Irresistible Reads Book Tours. Visit the Tour Page for more reviews!

This is not my usual kind of read: but it was a good getaway from the routine. Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer is an odd story, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s very unique. I would probably have liked it a lot more at thirteen, but I’m glad I read the book anyway.

About the book:  There are real monsters out there. The worst part is that
they’re human.
“Name?”
“Nathan Miller.”
“What happened?
“I was shot.”
“Her name?”
“Caitlin Lockyer.”
“What happened to her?”
“Looks like someone tried to kill her.”
Nathan found a girl lying on a beach covered in blood.
Saving her life was just the start. Now he’s the prime suspect and he has to
find out who’s really responsible. Both of their lives depend on it.
Who hurt her?
Why was he shot?
 What did he promise?
Why doesn’t his story add up?
 Who was the dead man
on the beach?
What will she remember when she wakes up?

My thoughts: The first page throws you right into the very middle of the action. A man wakes up in a hospital asking after a girl, Caitlin. The story unravels slowly and you learn in the first fifth of the book that Nathan Miller has rescued the girl, after she had been repeatedly raped and dumped on a beach, where he happened to be. Even as you discover this, you know there are things Nathan isn’t telling. There are references to conversations about protecting Caitlin and finding the bad guys. For the longest while, it is difficult to judge Nathan, to guess if he actually is a good guy. Meanwhile, Caitlin Lockyer has been through too much, has dropped into unconsciousness and is riddled by vivid nightmares; which we get glimpses of in alternating chapters.

I don’t want to say how the story progresses after Caitlin wakes, far be it from me to spoil the book for you. But there’s one thing that I really love: the story keeps you guessing and it turns out that your guesses are invariably wrong. It’s intriguing and the suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat. The characters are fully fleshed out, hardly black and white; though the dialogue sometimes lacks ease. One thing which wholly lacks credibility is the slack hospital they’re in, but you just have to go with it. While not the perfect book, it is a lovely, emotional, even romantic break from reality. It certainly makes you appreciate your reality a lot more than you usually tend to. Mostly, Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer deals with a not-so-delicate, kind-of-disturbing topic with surprising subtlety.

The book does leave you with questions, which I have to admit is an annoying tactic to get people to read the sequel: The Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller. However, in spite of myself, I do want to read it! I am very curious to know the story from Caitlin’s point of view and I have a feeling I will enjoy it. Why don’t you to see for yourself? You can buy Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer by Demelza Carlon here on Amazon.

Rating: 3/5

About the author: Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first
snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.

She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers
and stood on spray drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre
cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? Hardly. She takes a camera with her to
photograph such things to share later. She asserts that sharks are camera shy.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark
attack capital of the world.
The Ocean’s Gift series was her first foray into fiction,
followed by her Nightmares trilogy.