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

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The Book of Air and Shadows

This book is a perfect example of why I’ve taken to purchasing most of my books from Barnes & Noble as opposed to using Amazon.  Because when I walk into B&N, I usually have a list of books that I’m looking for, but I also spend some time browsing through the various sections of the bookstore looking for anything that sounds interesting.  So a while ago I came across The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber, and something about the title caught my eye, so I went on to read the blurb on the back of the book.  From the description it sounded very similar to The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (which is a wonderful book).  There were some interesting things in this book, but there were also some problems, anyway, on with the review.

Book Stats

466 pages

Thriller; Drama

Characters

This book revolves around two main characters, Jake Mishkin and Albert Crosetti.  Jake is an older man who works as an Intellectual Property lawyer in NYC.  In the beginning of the book, I absolutely hated reading the chapters from Jake’s viewpoint, because he spends about half of his time in the first several chapters talking about the orgasmic tendencies of all the women that he’s slept with.  I’m not a prudish person by any stretch of the imagination, but it had very little to do with the story and was just annoying to read.  Thankfully this fell off later in the book, but it was replaced by an annoyance from Crosetti.  Crosetti is a younger man who is an aspiring screenwriter.  His sections early in the book were quite interesting, but at the end of the book he was breaking everything down into how it would play out in a movie.  So basically the two characters flipped, one was interesting in the beginning and annoying at the end, and vice versa.

Setting

Present day NYC as well as several different cities in Europe.

Plot

While Crosetti is working at a small rare book store in NYC, there is a fire in the restaurant next door.  This ends up damaging several of the very old books in the store.  As Crosetti helps Carolyn Rolly (another employee at the bookstore) try and restore the books, they discover an old manuscript in the binding of some of the books.  It turns out that the manuscript is a letter from a man who knew William Shakespeare and hints at the location of an unknown play by Shakespeare.  Crosetti sells part of the manuscript to a local English professor, who then goes to Mishkin for advice as to who owns the rights to this letter and the possible Shakespeare play.  The book then follows their adventures trying to decipher the encrypted manuscript pages so that they can find the play which they imagine would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Enjoyment

The prose in this book was very well written, but as I was reading it I wanted to tell Gruber to quit trying to be cute with the prose and just tell the story.  For example, Mishkin’s chapters actually start out with him in a cabin where he ends the book, and it talks about how he is writing down the story as he remembers it.  This is kind of neat as it allows him to include some random thoughts about the events having had time to look back on them, but it’s kind of sloppily done.  As we move into the middle sections of the book, there are less of these asides and it starts to read like a normal book where the author is describing what happened to the character.  All of the sections early on where he was describing how different women show their orgasms was simply annoying.  I don’t see how they affected the story at all, and I think it was just Gruber trying to see what he could get away with in writing the book.  (It reminded me of Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer, which I also think was an example of the author trying to see what he could get away with.)

Crosetti’s sections towards the end were equally annoying, with him narrating about what is going to happen next in the “movie” that they’re living in.  This is really annoying in the last couple of chapters where the story in the book is unravelling exactly as he is narrating it.

The story of trying to find the lost manuscript and working to solve the cipher and unlocking the hidden message could have been really interesting, but Gruber essentially ruined his story by playing with the prose and the idea of what makes a story rather than simply telling the story.

Overall Grade

There’s some interesting author’s message kind of stuff in this book, but it’s overdone and the story suffers because of it.

4/10

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

Fight Club

First off, I’m breaking two rules by writing this review.  Secondly, It was a good book, I don’t know if it was quite as good as the movie, but it was still a good read.

Book Stats

208 Pages

Stand alone

I’m calling it a Thriller for the Genre because I don’t know what else to put it as.

Characters

The book focuses on two characters, the Narrator (whose name is never given) and Tyler Durden.  The book is told from the first-person view of the Narrator who hates his life and ultimately starts an underground club where two men fight “as long as they have to.”  Knowing the twist of the book from having seen the movie before didn’t make it any less fun, but it was neat knowing what to watch for and focusing on the character.  The character is very believable even as things get completely out of hand later in the novel.

Setting

I don’t think the exact city is ever mentioned, but it’s a larger city somewhere in America.

Plot

The Narrator hates his job, hates his life, and suffers from insomnia.  He remedies this by going to meetings for those who suffer from various incurable diseases, which lets him sleep.  Eventually, he meets Tyler Durden and the two start Fight Club, which remedies the Narrators problem and gives him a sense of control over his life even though in reality it is falling apart around him.  The book ultimately expands this theme to Durden fighting against the established community trying to destroy the current society to create anarchy.

Enjoyment

I watched the movie a couple years ago, so I knew what the main plot twist was going to be.  Even knowing it, the book was still enjoyable.  My only complaint about the book is that it was very much a “stream of conscientiousness” type of read.  What I mean by this is that the book is best read in one sitting.  I started reading it yesterday and had to stop about halfway through the book, and it was difficult to get back into the book.  This is a slight weakness of the book, but it’s not that much of a problem as the book is short enough to be realistically read in one sitting, which is what I’d suggest doing.

Overall Grade

Well written, but it should be read in one sitting, it falls apart a little if you have to read it in smaller chunks.

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