Cody's Bookshelf

So many books, so little time


Memnoch the Devil - Anne Rice

When Anne Rice fans are asked which of her books they feel most passionate about — whether positively or negatively — the answer is almost invariable: Memnoch the Devil. Acting as a bit of a precursor to Rice’s Christian fiction novels of the mid-00s, this book is tonally out of step with the previous Vampire Chronicles (save for, perhaps, Interview With the Vampire, as this too has the ‘feel’ of an interview in spots) And seems to be cause for great joy, and disgust, in many readers.


Lestat wants to know the will of God, and the Devil: what are their purposes for him? Which does he serve? What is Heaven, what is Hell, what is the true story of creation, where and why is purgatory? These questions and more Memnoch, Lestat’s guide of the spiritual regions, are answered. This one is steeped in biblical and evolutionary history; I found it fascinating but can understand those who can’t get on with this book.


Perhaps more than anything, this novel is remembered for the infamous scene in which Lestat feeds on the bleeding crucified Christ. That moment, I think, sums up this book well. This certainly isn’t for all readers, but I had a great time. This book offered up questions I often find myself pondering and will continue pondering for time to come. The idea of an imperfect, foolish God and a tricky, boastful, but generally well-natured Devil (or Memnoch) is intriguing . . . not to mention the concept of what Hell really is. But I won’t spoil that!


I’m totally addicted to this series now and am blowing through the books. I don’t want it to end.


The Tale of the Body Thief  - Anne Rice

It is official: this is the book that made me an unwavering fan of Lestat. While the previous Vampire Chronicle, Queen of the Damned<m features an array of characters and scenarios, there wasn’t as much a focus on the Brat Prince. In this, the fourth book in the series, Anne Rice has almost inverted that: Lestat de Lioncourt is front and center through all of it; the reader gets to, finally, see him fall, and seek redemption.


The concept is pretty simple: Lestat, after over two centuries of being a vampire, has grown weary of it all. He’s tired of the purgatory, the repetition; he longs to feel human pleasures again. He comes across a mysterious spirit — a body thief — that allows him to trade places with a human man.


By combining her trademark erotic and horrific tendencies with a hilarious and enthralling fish-out-of-water scenario (Lestat was human in the 1700s, mind you, and is attempting human life once more in the early 1990s), Anne Rice created a truly addictive read — perhaps the closest she’s come to a true crime thriller . . . sort of. This book is jam-packed with cool ideas and a lot of intriguing theology talk. I know the next novel in the series goes deep in that direction, and I can’t wait to jump on it.


An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

This book has a rocky start. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, this is about a young, upwardly mobile married couple in Atlanta faced with unforeseen circumstances that threaten to rip their marriage apart. As seen in the book’s synopsis, the husband — Roy — is wrongfully arrested and sentenced for twelve years. Celestial, his wife, is left alone to work at her business and visit hubby when possible.


I didn’t much care for these characters, especially Roy. At least not at first. For the first 150 pages or so, this novel seems to be a portrait of the toxicity of masculinity. Celestial’s life is ripped to and fro by the men around her, and I just wanted to shake her shoulders and scream “Wake up!” Ugh.


Things did pick up in the latter half, and the writing got less choppy. There were fewer exposition dumps and the characters became more sympathetic. My internal rating slowly rose to what it is now: four stars. The author stuck the landing; she didn’t go for what was easy, but what was appropriate for the story. I respect that.


I am glad I read this, but I doubt I’ll revisit it. At times too flimsy, at other times downright frustrating, this is an uneven story with a killer second act.


The Queen of the Damned - Anne Rice

The Vampire Chronicles — Anne Rice’s seminal work — keeps getting better. While I was lukewarm on Interview With the Vampire (though my reading of its sequels has deepened my appreciation of that dark little novel), I quite enjoyed The Vampire Lestat and was blown away by The Queen of the Damned. This novel shows Rice getting a firm grip on her vampires; she juggles action and exposition (and angst — oh, the angst!) expertly here, never allowing the story’s pace to flag. Not once was I bored or wanted to skim, as has been the case at times in the previous two Vampire books.


At the end of book two, Lestat awakened Akasha, the Queen of the Undead, from a six thousand-year slumber, and upon wakening she yearns to rule with an iron fist. The worlds of the mortal and immortal alike are in peril; some Vampires are spared from certain death . . . why? What is she saving them for? Read and find out.


This book features, on top of many exquisitely horrific moments, some superb character development. Marius, Armand, Pandora, Jesse, Daniel, the Twins . . . I loved these characters, one and all, and can’t wait to read about them in future volumes. Lestat and Louis’s relationship is also brought full circle in a heartbreaking callback scene to Interview With the Vampire. I was choking back the tears when reading that.


What can I say, I had a blast with this book. I will soon be starting volume four!


Baby Teeth - Zoje Stage

DNF @ 39%.


I wanted to like this book. Really. It’s getting so much hype and sounded like it could be creepy. It isn’t. I found myself bored and annoyed. None of these characters are likable. The mom is a wilted flower, a crying dishrag; the dad is an oblivious fool; the daughter — she who is supposedly so evil — just does strange things that aren’t particularly scary. Just strange kid things, like talking in a strange voice sometimes. Spooky!


This book is a lot of Hanna, the daughter, doing something bad and Suzette, the Mom, saying “Wait until your father hears about this!” but half the time she never tells her husband, and the other half of the time hubby takes the daughter’s side. It feels repetitive and lame. This isn’t the suspenseful thriller it is made out to be.


Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.


The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin

“... they break through the surface in astounding numbers. They climb the nearest vertical object; the husks of their nymphal skins drop crisply to the ground. Their bodies are pale and not yet hardened. In the darkness, they sing.”


Despite my low rating, I do think it is possible for people to enjoy this novel. In fact, I’ve seen almost nothing but positive reviews for this, and I understand why: it is a character-driven literary thriller filled with gorgeous prose. As well, the idea (four young siblings visit a psychic who tells each of them the date of his or her death, and their lives unspool from there) is pretty clever. That’s why I bought this book new and paid almost full price for it; I thought there was no way I wouldn’t like it.


I was wrong.


My biggest problem is with the narrative’s structure. These siblings, after visiting the psychic, soon depart from one another and go on to live their lives. The youngest, Simon, goes to San Francisco with one of his sisters, Klara. I enjoyed these two, especially Simon. The focus is on these two for a while, and the reader is left in the dark about their older siblings. Each ‘part’ of this novel focuses on a different sibling, and typically he or she doesn’t interact much with his or her family . . . despite this being, in part, a novel about the ties that bind us to familial relationships. So it doesn’t work, for me. The end result is not a cohesive novel, but instead a series of vignettes spread out over four decades. Told in only 330 pages, the story feels excessively rushed and I never got the chance to feel for these characters. Klara was the closest to likable; I didn’t much care for the other siblings at all. They are selfish and brooding.


This is a unique story, and I give kudos to Chloe Benjamin for trying it. While it is not something I personally enjoyed, I could see it being appreciated by other readers. It just didn’t get off the ground, and I hate that. Perhaps if the story had been fleshed out a good deal more and the siblings had more things to do with one another, it would’ve been a better read.


Providence: A Novel - Caroline Kepnes

Caroline Kepnes has one of the most unique voices in modern fiction, and by this point I will buy anything of hers on day one. No questions asked. She’s that good, folks. When the opportunity arose for me to read and review her new novel, Providence, some four months before release date, I jumped at the chance. And here we are.


The first fifty or so pages of this book is some of Kepnes’s finest writing to date. The reader is introduced to Jon and Chloe, best friends in junior high, and they immediately jumped off the page. Kepnes’s first two novels didn’t really feature kids, so it’s here she shows she can write them just as well as adults.


And then . . . we go forward in time, after some crazy circumstances tear these friends apart. The reader is introduced to Egg and Lo, a married couple; we also get to see other characters as they develop through the years. It’s all still very good — Kepnes really can’t write badly — but I must admit I felt a little deflated after the excellent opening chapters. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed this read through and through. It is a crime thriller of the highest order: likable characters and copious Lovecraft references make this a highly enjoyable read. I just felt there was a bit too much pining on the part of a couple of the leads. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory here, but at times I just felt this novel wasn’t living up to its potential. Kepnes has created a neat concept and doesn’t really utilize it much, and when she does it feels rushed.


Don’t get me wrong: I loved this book. It is beautifully written and shows this author is able to stretch her wings and try new things. Fans of her previous releases will find much to love about this.


Broken Shells: A Subterranean Horror Novella - Michael Patrick Hicks

Release Date: 02.06.18


This story’s ending is what earned it the fifth star. What can I say, I’m a bleak guy, and this is a bleak story. Without diving into spoilers, I think this story could have gone one of two ways . . . And Michael Hicks chose the courageous way. He went where the story commanded. And I applaud him! That final chapter - shivers.


Broken Shells, the upcoming horror novella from Hicks, is a creature feature of the best sort. All kinds of gooshy, nasty bugs are present and accounted for; to make a pun, Hicks preys on the fear of insects. Me, I don’t mind bugs so much . . . But I am very claustrophobic. This story did get me there. A large portion of this story involves the main character being trapped and having to escape; I was on the brink of an anxiety attack while reading. That’s how I know this author did his job.


This is a fun, scary read, and it is easily conquerable in a sit or two. Highly recommended! Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.


Tales from Greystone Bay - Robert McCammon

I suspect this little collection of stories will fly under the radar (the fact that it has no reviews on Goodreads as of now is a good indicator), which is a shame, as these three short tales set in the small town of Greystone Bay show McCammon working at his usual standard of excellence.


The first story, “The Red House,” is the longest and serves as the inspiration for the cover art. It reminded me of this author’s seminal work, Boy’s Life, because it is about a man looking back on his childhood and strange incidents that occurred therein. The metaphors in this one might be a little too heavy-handed for some readers, but I didn’t mind. The second story, “Doom City,” is my favorite. An apocalypse . . . or the Rapture . . . has happened. McCammon is never clear on it because the survivors don’t know. I like that — the reader’s imagination is allowed to go wild. The final story, “Beauty,” is one best left unspoiled, but I will say it is perhaps the saddest piece I’ve read by this author.


I was pleasantly surprised by this collection. It was an impulse buy, for sure, and I wasn’t expecting to finish it feeling so rewarded. In addition to the three stories, this book features a few beautiful illustrations. If you’re feeling impatient waiting for The Listener, give this a go. Out now from Cemetery Dance!


The Terror - Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons’s 2007 epic horror novel, The Terror, is the finest work of his I’ve read yet. A historical fiction, this long story documents the failed 1845 Franklin Expedition.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a horror novel of this stature. I’ve read a lot of short, grisly stuff lately, so it was nice to kick back with something by Simmons: he who is known for painstakingly detailed, complex narratives. This one challenged me — especially some bits toward the end — and I liked that.


Told in alternating perspectives from several crew members on the two icebound ships, the pace never really relents and Simmons is able to keep the story interesting. I always wanted to know what happened next. And, without my realizing, a large and complex world had been created, one filled with men I truly cared about and wanted to see live . . . but we all know how the Franklin Expedition went. Part of the horror in this novel comes from the inevitable: we know these men will die; it’s a matter of timing and circumstance. Simmons handles his large cast of characters with a deft, skilled hand, and he makes each death meaningful, heartbreaking.


I was afraid I wouldn’t like The Terror; I thought I might get bogged down or bored. But I didn’t. I really enjoyed myself! And now I can’t wait for the television adaptation.


The Listener - Robert R. McCammon

“What’re you planning on doin’ with your share?”
“‘Raisin’ hell,’ said Donnie . . . ‘What else is there?’”


After decades in the writing business, Robert McCammon proves he still has tricks up his sleeve and isn’t content to stick with any one genre. In The Listener, McCammon’s first crime thriller, a mastery of the language is on display that can come from only a seasoned veteran. Set in 1934 New Orleans, this gritty, high-octane tale of a kidnapping — with healthy doses of the supernatural — and murder is among this writer’s strongest; not a word is wasted. As always, McCammon is firing on all cylinders, not content with resting on his laurels.


In addition to the cinematic and enthralling plotline is some of this author’s finest character work: one can root wholeheartedly for the protagonists and empathize with the villains. As is commonplace in McCammon’s many works, these characters are fully-fleshed creations, original and memorable people drawn in full color. It is through these characters McCammon touches on themes such as poverty, wealth inequality, racism, belonging . . . universal themes as relevant today as they were in the Great Depression. It is against this backdrop of desperation and anxiety these folks shine bright.


It has been some time since a new release has excited me this much. Get ready: the first must-read novel of 2018 will arrive next month. I couldn’t put it down, nor did I want to. Recommended to all readers.


Thanks to Richard Chizmar at Cemetary Dance for the ARC. You rock! 


Savaging the Dark - Christopher Conlon

It’s been a while since I finished a book feeling this drained, broken. Maybe the last time was Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. At the center of both is the relentless mental and physical abuse of a child at the hands of an adult. In Ketchum’s infamous novel, the abuse is born of hate. In Conlon’s work it is of love . . . twisted love, anyway. A junior high English teacher has fallen for one of her students — and it quickly spirals out of control.


Consensual sex in my reading does not bother me. Rape, however, does. Especially child rape. This book has child rape in spades. I’m petty tough to horrify, and this one had me almost seething with anger. But that’s a sign of a successful horror novel: the reader is left uncomfortable.


Christopher Conlon is now on my radar and I will check out his other books. While this book’s subject matter is very sensitive, a horror story that gets under my skin in this way is a rare find. I feel like I need a bath.


Our Souls at Night: A novel - Kent Haruf

This book is not for me. I am in my early twenties and have never been married — nor do I plan to take that leap. I have never been in an long-term, committed relationship. I have never felt that sort of romantic love, that connection, nor have I felt the loss that often accompanies it.


Kent Haruf’s final published work, a novella (despite the cover’s insistence that this is a novel) is about two elderly neighbors, Louis and Addie, who develop a friendship after losing both of their spouses. Their tales unfold; they have been neighbors for decades but have never been too close. This is a rumination on ageism, death, love, family . . . all that good stuff. But it’s just not for me. I’m not ‘there’ yet. I can admit that. Speaking objectively, this is probably fine (though the overly simplistic writing style did wear on me after a while), but I couldn’t connect to these characters in any way.


If you are looking for a quick, poetic, and occasionally beautiful read, you could do much worse. I know this received rave reviews from critics and several of my friends loved it, too. But said friends are all older and, for the most part, married. As for me, Our Souls At Night felt rather anemic.


Breathless - Dean Koontz

This book begins in the woods. An ex-Army guy is out for a stroll when he sees something strange, life-changing: two creatures that look like dogs, but with human hands. They seemed to have escaped from a lab, or something. From there unfolds a tale of massive government conspiracy and permanent changes in the natural order of things.


Oh, sorry. If you thought I was describing Dean Koontz’s 1987 blockbuster hit, Watchers, you’d be wrong. It is in fact the setup of his 2009 non-hit, Breathless. Because apparently two decades is long enough before devolving into this level of self-imitation.


The title of this book is fitting. The sheer stupidity of the plot and characters did indeed leave me breathless . . . from laughing so hard. First off, this book has like six subplots going on, and it’s only 330 pages. The font is massive, the chapters are James Patterson-level short . . . and most of these characters don’t even meet each other. Seriously. There are two plot lines in this that have nothing to do with each other or the unfolding ‘main’ story, but they’re given almost as much attention. The hell, Koontz? And almost every thread is left dangling because the narrative ends more abruptly and with more force than the time I slammed my Honda Civic into a ditch and flipped it through a wood-log fence. On the whole, I preferred the experience of that car wreck to reading this steaming pile of dog crap.


Speaking of dogs . . . what is with the fetishization of dogs? It’s common knowledge Koontz has a weird thing for furry friends, but this book takes it to another level. Not only are the two dogs-slash-people-slash-monkey (Alex Jones, is that you?) prevalent here — their origins never being explained, by the way — but the main character also has a dog. Yay. By the story’s end there’s a half-baked love interest between the ex-Army, muscle man (oh he’s so tough and dreamy and emotional while not emotional at all!!! Squeeee!!!!!) and the local veterinarian, but I’m pretty sure the dude would rather be slipping it to Fido. That would’ve made for a better read than whatever the hell this is.


I can’t. I just can’t. What did I just read? I feel like I’m having an aneurism. And that isn’t even touching Koontz’s explanation for why the theory of evolution is completely and totally bunk. But I won’t go there. I can’t. I’d prefer not to put a bullet in my head, tyvm.


Great and Secret Show - Clive Barker

”Mind was in matter, always. That was the revelation of Quiddity. The sea was the crossroads, and from it all possibilities sprang. Before everything, Quiddity. Before life, the dream of life. Before the thing solid, the solid thing dreamt. And mind, dreaming or awake, knew justice, which was therefore as natural as matter, its absence in any exchange deserving of more than a fatalistic shrug.”


Behind everything — all of life and non-life — is Quiddity: a metaphysical dream-sea, a sort of collective consciousness that is accessible only thrice in life. Those moments are just after birth, while lying after sex for the first time with one’s true love, and, finally, after death. To access it is nearly impossible, divine; it is the Art. If that sounds heady and über philosophical, especially a dark fantasy/horror novel, it is. And in a lesser author’s hands it would fall apart; this is Clive Barker, however, so 1989’s The Great and Secret Show is a masterwork.


At the heart of this novel is a war between two former acquaintances-turned-enemies: one wants to access the Quiddity, to swim that water and know its secrets; the other wants to protect it at all costs. From there spins out a tale of demonic possession and romance; incest and the apocalypse; the shallow face of West Hollywood cracking while a hole is ripped in the universe, exposing what lies beyond the only thing the human mind can comprehend: the carefully balanced façade of modern living.


This is a weird novel, and I loved every moment. I picked it up last night and couldn’t put it down. That’s almost seven-hundred pages read in forty-eight hours. Barker is an author whose prose I love to nibble on, suckle at, mull over. But I couldn’t put this book down. By combining the grotesque and fantastical, this novel is a titillating mashup of genres and ideas, all tied together with the confidence of a legendary myth maker.


Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin

Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin’s controversial second novel, is a clenched fist, a bucket of sour grapes, a weeping work of art. A compact little tale of societal alienation and forbidden love (and lust), time has not dimmed its lights or smoothed its edges. Not one iota.


Baldwin’s most well-known work is sensual and thrilling and tragic; I closed my paperback edition with tears in my eyes. The tale of Giovanni and Butch is universal, yet special, shimmering; it is the Romeo and Juliet for gays. What should be humdrum — pining for one’s love, an affair, adventures in a new city — is rendered fresh in this author’s hands.


Oft considered one of the finest LGBTQ novels, this is a groundbreaking, rambunctious work that was far ahead of its time. Its lessons should be considered and remembered in the current year, as a matter of fact. I have left that room, but I am grateful for the short visit.


Currently reading

Nightmares & Dreamscapes by Stephen King