Cody's Bookshelf

So many books, so little time


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.



Jack Holmes and His Friend - Edmund White

I was not aware of this book or author until a few weeks ago. I, by chance, came across a John Irving interview in which he recommended a few novels — Jack Holmes and His Friend among them. I decided to take a chance.


White’s narrative of unrequited love and coming of age in the Big Apple is as poignant and elegant as any I’ve read; Jack and Will’s friendship is one of real density and weight, and is sure to break the reader’s heart before putting it back together again.


White seems to have a talent for writing the electricity that exists in human contact — contact between males, especially. These characters, perilously perched on the precipice of chaos, are real and whole and angst-ridden and filled with real desires for real love, real safety. This one hurt, as it spoke to where I’m at now.


I already have several of White’s earlier novels coming in the mail and will read them soon.


Off Season - Jack Ketchum

I didn’t go into this novel for something of emotional depth; I was not looking for a story with well-done subtext or fully fleshed characters. Having read a string of literary novels, I wanted something grisly and fast and raunchy. Jack Ketchum is that guy. And I got what I was looking for.


Having read and been horrified by The Girl Next Door last October, this book had been on my radar for some time. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to TGND. That one hooked me from page one and my heart ached for the characters — I loved and was horrified by them. This book seemed to be filled with cardboard characters: a trademark of the slasher genre, sure, but I didn’t care much for any of these people. But Ketchum sure is good at letting the blood fly.


This isn’t much of a review, but I don’t have much to say. I feel so indifferent about this little novel. If you’re looking for a quick, grisly read of cannibalism and the macabre, this is the book for you. Be warned: herein is some heavy stuff.


The Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving

I feel a little bad for finishing this book so quickly, as John Irving spends years writing his books — in longhand, no less! — and a lot of work goes into constructing his stories, but I could not put this down. Never before I have been that enamored so soon when reading an Irving novel; typically, it takes a chapter or two until I warm up to the world he is building. Not so with The Hotel New Hampshire. I was charmed from the start.


One’s enjoyment of this novel will likely hinge on his or her threshold for ‘triggering’ subjects. Incest is arguably the heart of this book; Irving handles the topic with love and care, but I know the subject is an unpleasant one for many readers — and the author does not shy away from it; Irving handles it with his typical deftness. He wants to throttle his reader, to push him or her out of the comfort zone . . . and he accomplishes that.


On display is the typical Irving-isms: bears, New England private schools, Vienna, prostitution, sexual awakenings, sexual experimentation, shocking deaths, wacky situations. It’s John Irving; he certainly is not for everyone, but for his fans, in this hotel can be found familiar pleasures.



Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is a woman who lives by rigorous schedule: work, frozen pizza and vodka on the weekends, and calls from Mummy on Wednesdays. She is deeply lonely, though she does not realize it — she is a person of solitude, introversion to an extreme degree.


This is the kind of novel I needed right now. After the heaviness of Salvage the Bones, I was looking for something a bit lighter and fluffier. Gail Honeyman’s debut novel is just that. While not particularly compelling or memorable, this is an efficient story that tackles mental illness in some interesting, unpredictable ways. Eleanor herself is a fine first-person protagonist; Honeyman mixes this character’s humor and self-loathing well, not allowing either one to overtake the narrative.


This is a likable enough read—especially for those who struggle with loneliness and fitting in. A tale of tenderness and self-discovery, Eleanor Oliphant’s journey is one worth taking.


Salvage the Bones - Jesmyn Ward

”I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”


I remember Hurricane Katrina. Having lived in the south all my life, I’ve borne witness to many a tornado, tropical storm, and hurricane. Nothing quite compares to Katrina—its depth, its width. I live in northern Alabama and my people were still hit hard by her. My family spent a few days and nights in the basement of our church, with friends, sleeping on cots and passing the time playing ping-pong. For me, being a child of nine at the time, it was an experience of pure, unadulterated fear mixed with excitement stemming from the strangeness of staying away from home for that length of time. We survived the storm with our homes and lives intact, though our neighbors in Mississippi and Louisiana and Texas were not so lucky.


If Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is a tropical storm, Salvage the Bones is a category five hurricane. It is a force to be reckoned with; it is awesome in the purest sense of the word. Though it is a deeply southern work, Ward’s honed storytelling abilities allow this brutal, gritty examination of a family in Mississippi preparing for the storm of their lives to maintain a sense of accessibility, and home-spun charm.


A deeply poetic, painful, and crystal-clear story of motherhood and loss set in the sweltering heat of an oncoming southern storm, I could not put this book down and feel I’ll have reader’s hangover for some time to come. Is it too early to have a book of the year?


The Witching Hour  - Anne Rice

The whole time I was reading this 1,000+ page epic, a thought continuously ran through my head: “This is Anne Rice’s IT.” The subjects of The Witching Hour and Stephen King’s horror novel couldn’t be more different, but the writing style is quite similar. In this, surely the New Orleans author’s magnum opus, a time span of three centuries is covered; this is the quintessential generational saga.


The Mayfair family has a sordid, macabre past, and the center of it all is the large plantation home in New Orleans that has been passed down in the witch clan through the years. The largest chunk — and the most intriguing section — of this novel is concerned with the Mayfair history, which Rice details in lush, evocative detail. Against this is a forward-moving narrative set in the present day about Rowan Mayfair, the most powerful witch yet, coming home to New Orleans. I absolutely loved Rowan. Michael—the man she comes to have an interesting relationship with—too. Their arc is an erotic and enlightening journey into the mysterious.


The first book in the Mayfair Witches trilogy, this is my favorite Anne Rice novel as of now, and I expect to read the sequel soon. Highly recommended!


Desperation - Stephen King

Here we have it, folks: the biggest shock yet in the Stephen King reread.


Before today, I considered Desperation bottom-of-the-barrel King. Desperate King. I felt the religiosity was blatant, tasteless; the story derivative of things King had done better before. Funny how our tastes evolve and change as we get older, isn’t it? My sole reading of this novel was in my sophomore year of high school — about six years’ worth of stuff has happened to me since then. What can I say, I was able to appreciate this epic, apocalyptic tale—King’s take on the book of Revelation, so to speak.


What I didn’t pick up on before is just how visceral and gruesome Desperation is: King gleefully rips and mangles his characters in ways not seen since his early years. What this makes for is a novel that, while sometimes overly pretentious in its theological posturing, is packed to the brim with scene after scene of gleeful, demonic, sexual terror. This is perhaps the one and only time a King novel reads like Clive Barker, albeit with more doses of Jesus and Americana than Barker has ever gone for.


I have to say it, though . . . I don’t like David. Nope. Kid suffers from Mother Abagail Syndrome: a supposed prophet of God, he comes off as pompous and grating in his assuredness. Even after what happens to him during the course of the story, I can’t muster up any sympathy for him. From him comes this novel’s most frustrating religious elements (the sardines and crackers scene— *rolls eyes into the back of my head*) and I’m just not here for it.


Like The Dark Half and Firestarter before it, rereading this novel made me appreciate the work and see what it is others see. While certainly not perfect, this is one of Stephen King’s most unsettling and provocative works. If one is looking for scares, he or she could do much worse.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré

My Harry Potter reread continues (though I started it last year . . . oops) with The Chamber of Secrets, one of my personal favorites in the series. I think the general opinion is this is one of the lesser Potter novels, but I think it’s a lot of fun.


Strange happenings are going on in Harry, Ron, and Hermoine’s second year at Hogwarts. Students are being turned to stone, and something called the Chamber of Secrets — a myth, so it is thought — has been opened. Who is causing it, and why?


This entry in the series hints at the dark turns the story would take in the latter novels while retaining the ‘feel’ of childhood wonder and fantasy, as seen in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Gilderoy Lockhart is one of my very favorite Potter characters, and it’s a shame he isn’t seen much after this. And who could forget Harry and Ron’s run-in with the Whomping Willow? One of Rowling’s most cinematic and rewarding scenes, for sure.


An entrancing and fun mystery, this entry into the Harry Potter series does an excellent job of illustrating more of Harry and Voldemort’s pasts, all while remaining a wild ride that never lets up!

Currently reading

Koko by Peter Straub
Nightmares & Dreamscapes by Stephen King