Book Review: “Dreamcatcher” by Stephen King

For book ten of 2023, I took on Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher.

I’d heard in circles—and from King himself—that Dreamcatcher wasn’t anything special. Some considered it poor, as far as King’s standards go.

The story revolves around a group of boys/men (it bounces forward and backwards in time). This group once did something heroic as children, and that action now affects them as adults. In the present, they are on their yearly hunting trip when a bewildered man stumbles out of the forest. In the snowy stillness, the man rants and raves about lights in the sky and clutches his bloated gut.

Having demolished it in a few days, all I can say in response to the criticisms of this book is: “Huh?” I adored Dreamcatcher. It had everything that made me fall in love with King’s writing in the first place. Excellent horror, gross-out scenes, unpredictable twists and turns? Check. Fantastic characters, unpulled gut punches, and incredible tension? Check. Sure, the middle slows down the action, but it’s so King can weave the threads together for the finale.

The ending hit me like a ten-tonne truck, and I dare anyone to read the last 20 pages or so and not have goosebumps.

Undeserving of its less-than-stellar reputation, I can give Dreamcatcher two thumbs up.

Book Review: “The Passenger” by Cormac McCarthy

It took me a while—as everything McCarthy has written has—but The Passenger was my ninth read of the year.

And what can I say about this piece? I almost don’t know what I’ve read. It doesn’t make sense, and there’s no neat ending, and I can’t help but feel that that’s the point.

It opens with Bobby, a salvage diver, coming across a crashed plane with a missing passenger. Yet, the novel doesn’t occupy itself with solving this mystery. Instead, it delights itself by creating more.

The story spirals outwards.

An unnamed agency is after Bobby because of what he saw on the ocean floor. Bobby’s sister is dead by suicide a decade before the novel begins. She hallucinates a cast of characters, the chief of which is the Thalidomide Kid, a caustic enigma. Bobby’s father helped make the atomic bomb. Countless debates on God, life, death, physics, morality, and sin clutter the pages. Time seems to move forward and backwards at the exact moment.

Does any of this make sense to you?

It didn’t make sense to me.

And it was beautiful.

Please read it.

Understand it—or don’t.

Isn’t that life?

Confusing and beautiful?

Book Review: “Backlash” by S. A. Hoag

S. A. Hoag’s Backlash is my eighth read of the year.

I wanted to review the works of other indie authors, and Hoag is the first. Backlash follows three characters after a great war has devastated the land. They volunteer to protect the last vestiges of humanity from the new world’s dangers. These three share eerie psychic abilities because they are genetically enhanced.

The setting is fascinating. As a horror and sci-fi nerd, apocalyptic tales always pique my interest. (After all, Fallout is one of my favourite video games.) Yet, Hoag wastes no time or energy on long-winded expositions and infodumps. Instead, she places the reader in the middle of the characters and trusts you are smart enough to figure it out.

The story moves at a breakneck pace, and Hoag keeps descriptions bare bones. This approach lets the story race past, uncluttered and streamlined. I’ve read short stories a tenth of Backlash‘s length that took me longer—I devoured it in two days.

Give Hoag’s work a shot; it won’t disappoint.

Book Review: “Grave Predictions”

Grave Predictions was my seventh read of 2023.

I picked up Grave Predictions because it contained Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” I’d always wanted to check out this short story but could never find it anywhere—and I didn’t want to pirate it. Then, after a chat with friends about disturbing ideas—such as Roko’s basilisk—Ellison came up. Thus, I decided I needed to read it and find a copy.

The collection as a whole stands as a bit hit-and-miss. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”—the reason I got it in the first place—was excellent, as expected. As were several other stories, such as King’s “The End of the Whole Mess”. I also enjoyed the early pieces from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The progression through the decades was a nice touch. But a few parts did not work for me.

It’s worth the price of admission for some of the more standout stories. Of course, some are weaker than others. But the high moments make it all worthwhile. And that closing story is breathtaking.

Please give it a go, but don’t be afraid to pass on the stories that aren’t working for you.

Book Review: “The Drift” by C.J. Tudor

I picked up C.J. Tudor’s The Drift for my sixth read of the year.

I’d heard of Tudor before and had seen The Chalk Man getting positive reviews. So when I saw The Drift’s stunning cover in my local Tyrolia, I had to pick it up. Whoever said don’t judge a book by its cover?

Three thriller stories twist around each other, happening at the same time. Oh, and there’s a zombie-ish apocalypse going on, as well. A coachload of students crashes, leaving the survivors trapped inside. A cable car breaks down, stranding the strangers onboard with a dead body. Friends, locked in a snowed-in chalet, are soon at each other’s throats.

The Drift is a mix of murder mystery, suspense thriller, and apocalyptic horror. So it’s hard to pinpoint what genre The Drift is, but there’s one thing for sure: it’s bloody brilliant.

If any—or all—those listed genres appeal to you, then I urge you to pick up a copy of The Drift. It had so many twists I could not predict where it headed.

I’d say it’s damn near flawless, and I look forward to delving into Tudor’s back catalogue.

Book Review: “A Prayer for the Crown-Shy” by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers’s A Prayer for the Crown-Shy was my fifth read of the year.

The first Monk and Robot book—A Psalm for the Wild-Built—was excellent. But A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is perfect. The post–semi-apocalypse and post–robot uprising story follows two loveable characters. Sibling Dex, a tea monk, and Mosscap, a robot who wishes to know what people need, go on a road trip.

This book has it all. A hilarious moment between two post-coital humans and a curious but innocent robot. A heartwrenching funeral for a fish from a robot that avoids violence. A magical moment where the robot first meets a human child, and said human child first meets a robot.

Reading this book felt like a cuddle from my wife for the mind.

Book Review: “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon marks my fourth read of the year.

And my god did this book ruin me. I underestimated how much Charlie and Algernon’s tale would touch my soul.

Charlie, a man with severe learning difficulties, volunteers for groundbreaking surgery. Surgery that the researchers have only—thus far—performed on mice. But as the most successful mouse test subject begins to fade, all eyes turn to Charlie.

Beautiful, heartbreaking, through-provoking, profound. What can I say about Keyes’s novel that others haven’t already? If you still need to read it, I assure you it’s worth your time.

Flowers for Algernon is a classic for a reason.

Book Review: “All Systems Red” by Martha Wells

Martha Wells’s All Systems Red—gifted to me by my good friend, Leander, for Christmas—is my third read of the year.

At 150 pages long, All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries #1) is a lean book. And boy, Wells makes use of those pages.

The series’ titular Murderbot is hilarious, enigmatic, and loveable. We learn on page one that this bot has hacked its governor module, gone rogue, and dubbed itself Murderbot. Yet, Murderbot is trying to pass under the radar, so it continues working for its assigned humans. But, of course, that’s only the setup.

Wells crams so much world-building and character development in this little book. She does more than some authors achieve in three times as many pages. Thus, I can give it an emphatic recommendation.

I will check out the next instalments of the Murderbot Diaries soon.

Book Review: “Gerald’s Game” by Stephen King

For my second read of the year, I took on Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game.

I read this couplet’s other half (or should that be its other dark half?), Dolores Claiborne, about a decade ago. I adored that book, and—surprise, surprise—I also loved Gerald’s Game.

The setup is fascinating. King sets the novel in a single room with a woman chained to a bed. As a writer, I’d never dare such a novel out of fear of boring the reader. After all, how much can one write about a woman lying in bed? But King is no ordinary writer, and Gerald’s Game grips the reader like anything else to which the man puts his mind.

I am a hardened horror fan, having loved the genre since I was a young boy. Yet, there are moments in Gerald’s Game that made me squirm. Fair warning, it’s not for the weak of stomach!

As I’ve always said since I picked up The Shining at the age of 13—in an almost religious mantra:

King is king.

Book Review: “A Psalm for the Wild-Built” by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers’s A Psalm for the Wild-Built has the honour of being my first read of 2023.

And what it read it was.

It had all the beauty and warmth I’ve come to expect of Chambers, with so many quotable moments. I’m sure I drove my wife nuts with the number of times I interrupted her to read something cute aloud. But she knew what she was letting herself in for when she gifted me this for Christmas.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built differs from the type of book where a lot happens. Instead, it’s the type of book that fills your heart with the warmth of a good cup of tea. It’s also the type of book that makes you ponder deep, philosophical questions.

As with everything I’ve read from Chambers, I cannot recommend it enough.

I look forward to checking out A Prayer for the Crown-Shy soon.