Revisiting Book Reviews Again

I couldn’t help but enjoy the noir-like tone. Stacks Fischer can really entertain with his raw-boned and gritty point of view.

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Optional Retirement Plan

Stacks Fischer takes you on a ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Staying alive for three days is no easy thing. Enforcers, bounty hunters and even the police want to take him down. He’ll have to rely on old-school cunning, maintain a level head and, occasionally, hope that Lady Luck favors him. It’s only too bad that he won’t outpace dementia.

I couldn’t help but enjoy the noir-like tone. Fischer can really entertain with his raw-boned and gritty point of view. It’s his voice that kept me most interested. And he keeps this up throughout as he tells his story to another character. Who? You’ll have to read until the end to find out.

Don’t hesitate to pick this one up.

Imaginary Friend

Overall, a good story. The primary character, Christopher Reese, pulls you in and keeps you reading along into his mysterious disappearance. But when he returns six days later, his real problems begin. And that also goes for the entire town of Mill Grove. And now you’re hooked!

This book labels itself as literary horror. I’m not quite sure I agree with this. Don’t get me wrong, you will spend a lot of time inside a character’s head. There are many events that happen that are important only to that character. But there are also public stakes that affect the town and, possibly, the world itself. The troubles will eventually reach farther than just Christopher.

What you may find interesting are the many biblical and moral themes woven throughout–questions of what is right and wrong, elements of the Book of Job, references to Mary and Jesus and so on. I feel that the author does a good job of applying them. I’m not a religious person but I do think the themes are appropriate considering who the main antagonist is. It makes for an interesting approach to age-old stories and lessons. And I had no problem completing the Imaginary Friend as it wasn’t preachy.

There are a few reasons why a reader may not want to pick this book up:

1. It’s really long. I feel that it could have been shortened but the author writes well enough to keep you interested. (Well, except towards the end when several characters keep shouting out, “Noooo!”)
2. There are a lots of character names to keep track of. And the author moves in and out of their point-of-views frequently. If you prefer stories with only three or four characters to follow, stay away from this book.
3. At about 2/3 of the way in, there is a story twist that may jar you out of the story. The author spends time explaining it afterward but I don’t feel like it was setup that well to be convincing. The twist is a biggie so you may find yourself critiquing the rest of the story. Or frustrated with the time spent reading so far. I chose to overlook, accept and move on.

Still, I can think of many shorter books that didn’t warrant my time as much as Imaginary Friend. If you’re curious, you should give this one a try.

Doctor Sleep

An interesting primary character. The world builds nicely through the story’s actors. And as always, King brings a voice to this tale that no other author can.

Unfortunately, Doctor Sleep doesn’t deliver something satisfying.

** spoiler alert ** 

The villain is boring and weak. Rose the Hat and the other members of the True Knot complain, scream and threaten frequently. But little comes of it as they’re easily defeated. A lot of buildup for no payoff.

And top all of this off with a driving inconvenience for the bad guys—they’re dying from measles. Hundreds of years of existence without vaccines and I’m expected to believe this sudden shortcoming no matter the explanation. A sickness should have happened to the good guys but then it would read more like The Stand without a grand apocalyptic scope.

There are better novels by King to read.

Burnt Offerings (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) by [Marasco, Robert, Jones, Stephen Graham]

Burnt Offerings

This story is what I prefer in horror: a focus on the characters and, if even slight, an underlying philosophy of something. Burnt Offerings is not a blood-and-guts machine. The book slowly unfolds and the family gradually breaks down.

I believe that Stephen King’s The Shining was greatly influenced by Robert Marasco’s work. It shows. But while King’s story is more event driven and gives ongoing small tastes of sometimes unmemorable actions, this book must be savored. The tension and suspense build to an ending that lingers in the reader’s mind.


Both a thriller and a horror story. This book is a fun read!

Yeah, that’s all I’ll say for this book review.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by [Ligotti, Thomas]

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Ligotti’s work might be how a modern Lovecraft and Poe would write. This book is not for the timid: expect complex prose, dense story ideas, and dark, supernatural worlds lurking within the mind and other dimensions. Ligotti takes advantage of a written story’s strengths, progressing the reader further into the conflicts of a character’s thoughts.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle Book 1) by [Rothfuss, Patrick]

The Name of the Wind

This is a journey of a man forced to leave “home” due to violent circumstances. And on his travels and in his struggles to survive and succeed within a world of taboo science-like magic, gods that are living legends, and fae creatures that may hide in the open, Kvothe also struggles with something deeper within himself.

Rothfuss has created an interesting way to frame a story that hits the fantasy genre beats and draws in the reader with an empathetic character.

Dreamsongs: Volume I by [Martin, George R. R.]

Dreamsongs Volume 1

A good collection of sci-fi, fantasy, and some horror. Some stories are much better than others, but I enjoyed reading all of them. And it was nice to read the work in chronological order, observing how Martin’s work progressed and grew over time.

Bird Box: A Novel by [Malerman, Josh]

Bird Box

This story starts off fast and only continues to build tension and, finally, horror. The book is really two stories–a backstory and current events. But everything comes together for the main character, Malorie, at the end for a satisfying conclusion.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories by [King, Stephen]

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Another Stephen King book review. King’s writing has always interested me. The author is imaginative, always combining interesting events with a large assortment of characters. (King refers to this as his ‘cup and handle.’) And he adds a philosophical undertone to many of these stories.

Not every story resonated with me, but I had no problem enjoying the anthology all the way through. There are pros and cons that could be said for everything in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, like driving a classic car. For any reader considering this book, resist the temptation to deconstruct King’s work and just let him take you for a ride.

The Stars My Destination by [Bester, Alfred]

The Stars My Destination

Alfred Bester’s novel, The Stars My Destination, is multilayered. On the surface, it’s a sci-fi and myth. Gulliver–or Gully–Foyle (Perhaps named after Swift’s Gulliver?) is an unfortunate adventurer motivated by a burning revenge. What he believes will quench this fire is the destruction of a spaceship.

Stranded on another merchant spaceship Nomad in space and surviving on his animal and human cunning to survive within a large locker, Gully plots his revenge: Get off the wrecked ship, find Vorga (a ship that did not rescue him), and blow it up.

Gully’s burning desire for destruction and revenge is all-consuming. Gully is nothing more than a beast. And this beast-like quality is reflected in a poem that he repeats to himself while stranded on the destroyed spaceship Nomad:

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
And death's my destination.

The deck is stacked against Gully, yet he succeeds reaching his goals, again and again. Fighting the dangers of open space, cults, entrenched corporation clans, and colluding governments, he succeeds through drive, cunning, innate skills, and an underlying intelligence that develops over the story. And as Gully’s intelligence begins to shine, as his understanding of himself and the world grows, Gully becomes more human.

It is Gully’s humanity and final wisdom that are his true destination. His desire to commit an act of revenge evolves from the simple act of blowing up a ship to the desire to murder the ship’s captain, to absolution, to introspection, and to a cosmic insight of where and who Gully is within the universe. When Gully finally returns “home” to the Nomad’s space locker, he recites this poem to himself:

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination.

By today’s reading expectations, there are a few problems with the book. Bester wrote it in the 1950s, so a number of corporate players are no longer recognizable to younger readers. And the dialogue and slang is a bit dated.

My book review philosophy

I don’t believe in using a numbering system when it comes to art of any kind–visual, audio, text and so on. (And that goes for numbered stars or any other type of symbol.) When it comes to a critique of fiction, what I’m really doing is expressing my interest in the story and attempting to explain why I did (or did not) enjoy the read. This is my expression and you may or may not agree with my opinion. How can a ‘3.5 stars’ quantify this with any real meaning?

Numbers are used to describe a physical phenomenon quantitatively, called a physical quantity. Your height is a physical quantity. Humans use units of quantity to measure and we both can agree–more or less–to the result. But can we both agree to a work of fiction’s personal impact and for the same reasons? Not likely. And don’t even try to convert a book review score to SI units.

So how do I write a book review? This is how I sum up a book:

  • Couldn’t Finish It–Something about this book annoyed or bored me and I eventually put it down. Maybe I made it through a chapter. Maybe I got about halfway through it or more. But the story couldn’t compel me to finish to the last page.
  • It’s Okay–Well, I did finish the story. It was difficult to do so, I was eventually disappointed or I don’t remember much of what happened. Whatever the reason, this is not a book that made a lasting impression.
  • Good Read!–Loved the book from page 1 to completion. Couldn’t put it down and I enthusiastically recommend it.

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