I Am Legend

This is a book that I’ve seen several times before, most notably I’ve heard about this from the recent movie that came out starring Will Smith.  I haven’t seen the movie, but I know that they made some major changes to the overall story when translating the book to the film, which happens all the time.

Another interesting thing about the version of the book that I purchased is that it also has several short stories by Matheson as well as the main story that’s included.  The main part of my review will be for I Am Legend, but I’m also going to discuss some of the short stories in the book as well.

Book Stats

312 Pages

Horror

Characters

The main character of I Am Legend is Robert Neville, seemingly the only man to survive a strange disease that turns everyone into vampires.  He obviously lives a very solitary life with a lot of introspection.  But Neville is a very active character, even though you’d think that he wouldn’t have a lot to do.  Along with constantly building up the defense of his house, he also spends his days venturing out and killing all of the vampires he can find during the day, when they’re in a coma like state.

Setting

A small town in America in the 1970’s, I don’t believe that it ever actually mentions the name of the town, but it really doesn’t matter overall.

Plot

The plot is fairly simplistic; Neville is still alive and trying to find a reason to keep living.  He spends a lot of his time trying to find out more about what created the vampires, and from there trying to find a way to cure those who have become vampires.

Enjoyment

One of the hardest things to do in storytelling is to tell a story where the protagonist doesn’t have a lot to do.  When it’s done well it leads to a brilliant story, there are few examples I can think of where it’s done well, and there really aren’t all that many examples I can think of where it’s done at all since it’s such a difficult thing to do.  Neville is an interesting character, and it’s wonderful to watch him go through his journey.  The ending of the book was also really well done, and it’s always interesting to see a good twist ending that doesn’t simply feel tacked on at the end of the story.

Short Stories

I really enjoyed the short stories by Matheson included in my copy of the book (there were a total of 10 of them).  In many ways they reminded me of the writing of Hubert Selby Jr. (one of my favorite writers who I’ve talked about a couple of times on the blog, although I don’t have any of his reviews on here) in the way they dealt with the darker side of humanity and our cultures.  The main difference between these stories and Selby’s is that these included supernatural elements that were brought in to increase the tension.  While I don’t typically read a lot of short stories, these were all a lot of fun to go through.

Overall Grade

A very well written horror story that does an excellent job of dealing with a solitary character, well worth a read.

7/10

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The Hollow City

The Hollow City is a standalone book by Dan Wells, author of the I Am Not A Serial Killer.  I really enjoyed his Serial Killer trilogy as well as the first book in his YA series (Partials) so I was really looking forward to this book when it came out.  On with the review.

Book Stats

333 pages

Horror, Thriller (which a heavy emphasis on the Psychology of the main character)

Characters

The main character of the book is Michael Shipman, a young man with paranoid schizophrenia.  The book is told entirely through his viewpoint, and because he has schizophrenia, you go through the entire book not knowing what is real and what is a figment of his imagination.  I loved the way his character was written.  All of the other characters in the book were also interesting, but you don’t really want to get too attached to them because you don’t know who is real and who is a hallucination.

Setting

Present day Chicago.

Plot

Michael lives his life in constant fear of everything around him.  He is obsessed by the thought that he is being followed, and he believes that every electronic device is capable of tracking his whereabouts.  Along with this, he sees some very strange creatures following him all the time.  But what happens when you realize that some of the monsters following you are real?  Who can you trust when you can’t trust your own mind?  The book is the story of Michael trying to figure out what’s really going on in his life.

Enjoyment

This is something that I rail about every time I read a book where the psychology of a character is a central plot point.  But in this case, I get to praise the book, because Wells gets the psychology right.  He accurately describes schizophrenia in the book, and even has a scene where he calls out most of modern society’s view of schizophrenia.  It is not multiple personalities, it is your brain responding to stimuli that don’t exist.  I will readily recommend this book on that item alone, because he took the time to get the psychology right in the book.  He even researched some of the medication used and the side effects that occur as a result of the medication.  The psychology was very well done.

And now to discuss the actual story, I loved it.  It’s very dark, mysterious, and you never know what is real.  A common topic when talking about books is the concept of the unreliable narrator.  I don’t normally use the term because I think that the narrator cannot truly be unreliable.  They may not be describing the world as it actually is, but they’re describing it how they experience it, which makes their description real because they are affected by what they experience.  This book is the best example of a truly unreliable narrator that I’ve ever seen.  When the narrator’s mind isn’t sure of what’s real, how can you be sure as the reader?  My one complaint about the story is that the ending isn’t as good as the rest of the book.  It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the beginning of the book is so well written that I don’t know if any ending could have been as effective.

Overall Grade

A very unique, very dark story that gets the psychology right.  I loved this book.

9/10

I Don’t Want to Kill You (take 2)

This is something different for the blog.  I just finished re-reading the book I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells.  The fact that this wasn’t my first reading of the book really isn’t new – I had read the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series as well as the first four Harry Potter books before posting reviews here – but it is different.  The difference is that for the first time on my blog I re-read a book that I already had a review up for.

I’m glad I re-read the John Cleaver series, if for no other reason than I would rather have reviews for all three books up rather than just the first one, but also because I really like the books.  But re-reading the third one brings up a question: should I do another full review, or just link to the one that I did last time?

Reading a book for the second time is a very different experience than the first read.  Especially for a book like this where there is a pretty big twist at the end.  It’s kind of like a mystery novel in that way.  If you know the twist ahead of time (or figure it out very early in the book) is it still worth reading?  For this book, the answer was yes, it was still well worth reading.  In this case, knowing the twist actually made the book a little better because it allowed me to see the foreshadowing that Wells did early on in the book more clearly than you can see it in the first reading.

So back to the question, am I going to do another full review?  No, I’m just going to post a link back to the original review for the book.  After finishing the book a little while ago, I went through my review of the book, and I still agree with everything I said.  The book still gets a 10/10 rating, and it’s still a wonderful read.  There’s actually only one thing I have to change in the review, and it’s that in this book he finally says what state Clayton County is in – North Dakota.  It’s a pretty good choice of a state to put a book in, I mean, I’ve never met anyone from North Dakota, have you?  For all I know, North Dakota doesn’t even really exist.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s ever been to North Dakota, I’ve never heard of anything happening there, and I’ve never heard anyone say that they have any intention of ever going there.  So when you look at it that way, there probably isn’t a North Dakota at all, just a big whole in the center of the continent.

Overall Grade

A second reading helped show exactly how well everything in the book was foreshadowed, the ending was perfect because it was perfectly set up by everything in it.  A great book.

10/10

I apologize to anyone who actually does live in North Dakota, I’m sure it’s a wonderful place to live.  Imaginary places usually are.

Mr. Monster

Mr. Monster is the second book in the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells.  I really liked this book when I first read it and I liked it just as much the second time through.  On with the review.

Book Stats

287 pages

Horror/Thriller

Second book in the series (sequel to I Am Not A Serial Killer)

Characters

John Cleaver is still the main character in this book, and that’s a good thing because I think he is one of the best characters that I’ve read in fiction for quite some time.  I also love the very natural progression that his character takes in this book.  The first book dealt with John choosing to break his personal rules in order to catch a killer.  This book deals with what happens after he broke all of his rules, and how hard it is to try and be a good person again.  This book also involves other characters much more than the first one did.  The character who has probably the biggest impact on the book other than John is his neighbor Brooke, who starts to help get John into more social situations, where he is of course completely lost.  Even though the book is told entirely through John’s POV, all of the other characters felt very real to me, and I enjoyed reading their sections.

Setting

Clayton County once again, and once again we’re not told what state it’s in.

Plot

Several months after John stopped the Clayton Killer, things in Clayton have finally started to settle down again and return to normal.  The only difference between the beginning of the first book and the beginning of this book is that the police and FBI are still looking for the Clayton Killer, and interviewing John on a regular basis to see what he knows.  Everything seems calm, until another body turns up.  At first everyone assumes that the Clayton Killer is back (except for John of course), but this body has nothing in common with those from the Clayton Killer.  John is of course intrigued by the body and quickly gets wrapped up in the investigation and ultimately in the fight for his life against another demon.

Enjoyment

This book is a lot darker than the first novel.  I wasn’t as disturbed this time because I’d read it once before and largely knew what to expect, but the first time I read the book there were definitely some parts that creeped me out.  Watching John try to go back to living by his rules is brilliantly written in this book, and the struggle that he is going through is very believable.  His character growth is never forced in the book, which is really one of the strongest parts of the book.  After undergoing a full character arc in the first book, Wells doesn’t try to force a new growth arc on John.  He looked at what happened in the first book and said “where would this lead?” and went from there.

Overall Grade

If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll like this one just as much.  It’s less bloody but far more disturbing.

9/10

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Really, I swear, I’m not!  Ok, along with being a very odd thing to start a post with, I Am Not A Serial Killer is also the first book in Dan Wells’ John Cleaver series of books.  I have a review for the third book (I Don’t Want to Kill You) on my blog already, but since I read the first two books before I started my blog, they don’t have reviews up yet.  After reading through Deadline over the past week I decided that I wanted to read a book that was shorter and faster paced, and I decided to read these again.  Anyway, enough rambling for now, on with the review.

Book Stats

271 pages

Thriller/Horror

First book in the trilogy

Characters

The main character of the book is John Wayne Cleaver, a 15 year old boy who is obsessed with serial killers and is afraid that he is turning into one.  John is a fantastic character who is really interesting to read about in each of the books.  In this book he starts out as a creepy kid who works in a mortuary with his mother and aunt.  Throughout the course of the book he starts to break all of his rules so that he can catch a true serial killer, and it’s interesting to watch the struggle between what he needs to do and how that conflicts with the person he is trying so hard to be.

Setting

Clayton County, a made up area in no definitive state.  In my review of the third book I said that it’s in Utah, but I don’t recall if it’s actually in Utah or if I just said that because I know that the author lives in Utah.  This book never names a specific state.

Plot

John is starting his freshman year of high school, working at a mortuary with his mom, and generally being one of the weird and creepy kids at school.  When a man from the town is viciously murdered, John thinks that he sees serial killer behavior in the actions of the killer.  After several other bodies are found, John starts working to create a profile of the killer to try and stop him from killing again.  After a short time John figures out who the killer is and realizes that he is in way over his head as the killer is not a normal person, but some kind of demon.

Enjoyment

I love this book.  It’s fun to read a book about a creepy main character who is chasing even creepier villains trying to stop them from committing horrific crimes.  Even though this was a second read-through and I already knew what was going to happen, the character was still strong enough to drive the story.  The book is kind of graphic at times, especially during some embalming scenes that occur early on, but it’s never graphic just to be graphic, everything works into the story and has a reason for being there beyond trying to gross people out.

Overall Grade

A very solid book and the start of a great series.

9/10

Haunted

Haunted is another ‘novel’ by Chuck Palahniuk.  I put ‘novel’ in quotations because it really isn’t a novel, it’s a collection of short stories with a bridge story between each short story.  Because the form of this book doesn’t really fall into the form of a normal novel, I’m not going to review it like a normal novel, in fact, because of the subject matter of the book, I’m not even going to mention anything specifically from the book, I’m just going to talk about the book in general.

Book Stats

404 pages

Satire, Drama, Horror

Collection of short stories.

Review

The first thing that I have to say about this book is that if you are offended by any kind of risque subject matter, do not read this book.  In fact, if you are even thinking about reading this book, go into a bookstore and read the first short story (titled “Guts”) and then think long and hard about whether you really want to read more stories like that.  If you can get past the subject matter of the stories, this book does an excellent job of satirizing a lot about pop culture today.

What this book is doing is making fun of mass media.  From the excesses strange things people will try to improve their sex-lives, to the sometimes horrible stories behind the inside jokes our relatives tell, to the people with money who are always trying to be one step ahead of the next new trend, to the strange fascination people have with “reality TV” and how everything involved in those shows has to be more extreme or else it just isn’t marketable.

This book pulls no punches, and there will be sections of this book that you find disturbing or offensive.  I truly think that the best thing I took from this book was the realization that no matter how strange some of the thoughts in my head have seemed, I’m normal compared to some people.

Although the book deals with very strange subject matter, it is very well written and even though the stories all have extremely exaggerated behavior, Palahniuk does a very good job of building up the characters to the point that their behavior seems, if not logical, then at least understandable in the progression of events that they’ve gone through in their lives.

Overall Grade

Coming up with a score for this book is very difficult.  On one hand, it’s a collection of well-written short stories that do a good job of looking at the excesses that exist in our modern culture.  On the other hand, it’s probably the single most offensive book that I’ve ever read in my life.  So while I’m going to give this book a fairly high score, it’s also going to come with a huge warning.

I said this earlier in the post and I’m going to repeat it now.  This book deals with a lot of risque subject matter.  Before you buy this book, go into a bookstore and read the first story (Guts).  If you made it through that story without wanting to puke, think long and hard about whether or not you want to read another 22 stories dealing with similarly disturbing topics before you buy this book.

7/10

I Don’t Want to Kill You

I Don’t Want to Kill You is the third book in Dan Well’s debut trilogy that follows John Cleaver, a 15 year old sociopath.  I started this book yesterday, and finished it today.  I probably would have finished it yesterday but I bowl on Thursday evenings and I went there last night.  Anyway, here we go.

Book Stats

320 Pages (paperback)

3rd book in its series after I Am Not a Serial Killer and Mr. Monster

Thriller/Horror

Characters

This is why the book shines, John Wayne Cleaver is probably the most interesting character I’ve read in any book for a long time.  Even though he has undergone two complete growth arcs in the first two books, Dan Wells finds another way to force him to grow that never contradicts what he has done in the first two books.  The plot was interesting, but without John being the character that he is the book wouldn’t work quite as well as it does.

Setting

The book is centered in Clayton County North Dakota as the first two books are.  In this book John is a little more active in the overall community as he is able to drive and even gets a girlfriend who causes him to be much more active in the community as a whole.

When I first published this review, I mistakenly listed the book as occurring in Clayton County Utah.  I wasn’t exactly sure where it took place, so I assumed that it took place in Utah, where the author lives.  When I reread the book I noticed that he actually does say the book takes place in North Dakota.

Plot

The plot continues where the second book left off, after John called the third demon at the end of book two, he continues to look for the demon even though in the beginning of the book he has no idea what he’s looking for.  The plot works very well and does enough to keep you guessing as to who exactly John is looking for, but you never get bored while he’s looking.

Enjoyment

The book maintains an excellent level of tension, but never goes too far without giving you time to breathe, and the balance between John trying to track a demon and trying to live his personal life is perfect.  The first book caused you to watch as John broke all of his personal rules, the second showed the results of breaking those rules, and the third shows the paranoia from being the hunter instead of the hunted.  This book is fantastic and I couldn’t read it fast enough.  If you’ve read the first two books go buy this one NOW, if you haven’t, go read them so that you can read this one, you won’t be disappointed.

Overall Grade

I loved this book, and I think everyone should read it, go buy it now.

10/10