Reads of 2018 part 1

At long last I managed to read a greater number of books last year, approximately 60 so I was back up to my at least one book a week average. As there are a larger number to mention, part 2 will appear next week.

I read a number of zombie novels in 2018, including Patient Zero, by Jonathan Maberry, a riveting fast and perfect paced blend of zombie apocalypse and contemporary military thriller. I’ll be reading more in the series.

Next came The New Hunger, by Isaac Marion. Having loved the author’s first published book, I had to see what else the author had done. This is a short and unnecessary read but it’s well written and enjoyable and gives us a glimpse into the background of the characters in Warm Bodies.

Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion, is a book I first read about 4 years ago. With my hands on the novella prequel and the novel sequel, I dipped in again. First, a word on the film of the book. It’s not a bad film, but it uses the more humourous parts to convey the author’s much more visceral idea too lightly. When I first saw trailers I imagined the book to be a Young Adult ‘popcorn’ story, a jokey hoot. Do yourself a favour; if you’ve seen the film, regardless of whether you liked it, DO read the book. It’s a decidedly different experience.

With the characters of Julie and ‘R’ the setting is a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet set in a dystopian future where zombies outnumber the living. Even many of the survivors seem dead inside, imprisoned as they are behind their safety barriers. Like many zombie books this is a story that questions and reflects society, but particularly skilfully. An unexpected read the first time around, and no less pleasurable the second. The book contains threads of something dark and disturbing, yet enlightening. This book will speak to some people though not all; I hope it speaks to many. This is not a gory horror novel, not a teen Rom-com spoof. Hidden within its pages is a celebration of life in all its messiness. The story is a metaphor for so many things, the state of the world, life’s meaning, civilisation out of control. It imparts the essence of almost every zombie story and life itself. It’s a book about living.

The Burning World, Isaac Marion. Where Warm Bodies stopped this book continues and seems to speak on a wider basis reflecting society, the way we view authority and vice versa, the way countries are run. Maybe because Warm Bodies felt like a complete read I didn’t enjoy this as much, not that I disliked it. It’s a worthwhile read. It doesn’t wind up the story, though, and I’ll be interested to see where the author is going with this series as Warm Bodies felt like a complete read that needed nothing more.

The Society of Blood, Mark Morris, was a difficult book to review. The middle of a trilogy so I couldn’t tell whether it did its job. I found the first book so intriguing I had to read the rest. The second was as interesting though maybe not as compelling, but it didn’t have to be, its purpose was to set up situations that will reach a satisfying completion in book three. That’s a question I couldn’t answer until I picked up the next book. What felt disjointed served a purpose. It also gave the reader a sense of the Alex’s disorientation. There’s only one way to describe the book, and that’s as a time-travelling Steampunk horror. With time-travel, horrific mechanical creatures, mad scientist experiments, shape-shifters and a strange artifact at the heart (excuse the pun) of the story, it was difficult to tell whether the story was overdone or perfectly executed at this stage; but, as a reader who likes to see a wild imagination at work, this was still a good read and, as the trilogy concluded satisfactorily, it is now a welcome addition to my bookshelves.

A Separate Peace, John Knowles, called a masterpiece and I can see why. Set in a boy’s school where an incident involving a dive from a tree explores what is in our own hearts and minds. The themes explored are interesting, and the book is well-written, very much a classic of its time.

Chase, Dean Koontz, was a re-read for me. My copy is old and purchased when I first read Dean Koontz around the time his book, Strangers, came out. I’m trying to get rid of a few books so revisiting titles from authors I’ve collected in the hope I can give a few away. This isn’t a bad thriller, but it’s very much a product of its time. The reason behind the killings, the killer’s motivation, the stereotyped persona of both the killer and the women, all well-written in their day but give the book a nostalgic feel when read now. The forensics and phone tracing possible now would probably mean the outcome would have be unlikely without more care taken. It’s a decent read of its time and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I can understand why many will have problems with this; it’s a problem every writer faces when science and technology move on. If you want classic Koontz there are still many good things here, especially in the first half of the book, but he’s written many that are better.

In March I picked up The Wraiths of War, by Mark Morris, to conclude Alex Locke’s adventures through time. I spent a good amount of time travelling with ‘Alex’ wondering if the trilogy would reach a satisfying conclusion. I’m delighted to say it does, or at least did so for me. Despite one or two loose ends — much of which could be explained by the possibilities of time travel and not knowing what might be possible in the future — I put the book down with a smile wanting to revisit Alex Locke’s world again and re-read this at some point now knowing all that I guessed and all I learned.

Any series, whether a trilogy or longer, can require patience, can require reading the whole before it’s possible to give any true critique. Time travel stories often tie me up in knots, make me frustrated and the reading (or viewing) experience almost painful, all of which keeps me on tenterhooks more than any other story type — the dreadful need to correct a timeline and the possible disastrous consequences of failure. There were moments like that in this book though I never felt a need to hurry when reading this. I was as happy to enjoy Alex’s quieter periods in his life and the more exhausting ones. Perhaps the most suspenseful moments in the 3rd book are when Alex has to face trench warfare (as stated in the blurb, so this is not a spoiler). What Mark Morris has written…well, I’m sure almost any accounting of war falls short of reality, but he’s tried to express the horrors.

I’ve read several of Mark Morris’s books but the Obsidian Heart trilogy feels like something he was destined to write, I applaud the work that must have involved tying all the timelines together, and the three books will be among my book collection for a good long time.

Snowblind, Christopher Golden is an enjoyable ‘chiller’ that takes place during two horrendous snowstorms (sorry for the pun; couldn’t help myself). I would have liked to get to know the characters and cared for them a little more but the development and depth is what one expects of the genre. This somewhat different ghost story contained enough of a twist and creepiness to keep me entertained and I like the reveal of the truth behind the cause of the disappearances. It’s possible to imagine some scenes done well made into a film.

Humans, Matt Haig, is one of those books about much more than it first appears to be. What constitutes the puzzle that is a human being and told with a simplistic plot. Amazing.

The Ritual, Adam Nevill, is a book of two halves. I so wanted to give it 5 stars, but I preferred the first half of the book to the second, and, although I’m unsure what would have been a better conclusion, the end felt a little abrupt. What I love about this book is the atmosphere the author creates capturing my interest in a way many books of this type have failed and making him an author I want to read again. I imagine some may say they’d like to have got to know the characters a little more, at least it occurred on some level, but in a horror story it’s not always necessary to know these men are little more than regular guys doing their best to get by in their average lives and who don’t deserve the situation thrust upon them. A wonderfully atmospheric lost in the woods horror story.