Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Seventh Book Review: “Intensity” by Dean Koontz

“Intensity” by Dean Koontz was a moderately entertaining read. Perhaps my standards have been raised a lot, but it didn’t seem like Koontz’s best work. It did hold my attention and towards the end I could not put the book down.

The book opens with someone watching the Templeton House. On the next page, we meet Laura Templeton who is driving home to spend a long weekend with her parents. Her best friend, Chyna (pronounced China) has tagged along and we learn through a terrible story that she tells about driving in a car as a child, that Chyna has had a tremendously traumatic childhood. Oddly enough, it is this trauma that inspires Chyna to pull strength from within to help others when her stay at the Templeton House turns into a nightmare with the arrival of Edgler Foreman Vess. “But personal safety at the expense of others was cowardice, and cowardice was a right only of small children who lacked the strengths and experience to defend themselves.” (Intensity, pg 31).

I thought that Chyna was an interesting character. Everyone reacts differently to traumatic, unstable childhoods but too often they fall victim to the same vices that their parents were absorbed in. Chyna was the exception – instead of allowing the world that swallowed her mother to take her, she fought to live a better life. “She’d always chosen not be to victimized, to resist and fight back, to hold on to hope and dignity and faith in the future. But victimhood was seductive, a release from responsibility and caring: Fear would be transmuted into weary resignation; failure would no longer generate guilt but, instead, would spawn a comforting self-pity.” (Intensity, pg 80/81). I liked this quote because it made Chyna more relatable. Even though you like to think the best of yourself when trying to place yourself in someone else’s shoes, the idea that you could truly play the hero to a stranger is a hard one to grasp. Having a few moments of doubt makes Chyna more human. Vess is another story altogether. It is his complete reptilian nature that makes him more believable. He wears a human disguise when he needs to, but at his core he is no more human than an alligator. This allows for him to kill without remorse in a way that makes sense to the reader.

The biggest problem I had with this book was that it felt almost like Koontz thought “Intensity” would make a good title for a book and so he built the entire novel around that one word. Our bad guy Vess uses the word excessively to the point where it almost loses meaning. It felt so forced and that is what made me think that the title was the very first part of the book that Koontz wrote.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but not to all readers. It was a thriller with a certain amount of vulgarity and violence to it, so this isn’t a book for everyone. Those that enjoy thrillers would likely enjoy reading “Intensity” but it was by no means Koontz’s best work.

 

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Sixth Book Review: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

“World War Z” by Max Brooks was a really entertaining read. It isn’t written as a novel, rather the book is a series of interviews taken in a post-apocalyptic world. The content and style of this book is explained from the start: “Zombie remains a devastating word, unrivaled in its power to conjure up so many memories or emotions, and it is these memories, and emotions, that are the subject of this book.” (World War Z, pg 1). This made for a very interesting and dynamic read. I couldn’t put the book down.

Zombies are very popular nowadays, so it is challenging to write something that will stand out. Despite the fact that this book has been on shelf for a long while, I delayed reading it after seeing the preview for the movie by the same name. It looked like pretty much every other zombie movie. It wasn’t until I saw a review about the movie stating that it was nothing like the book that my interest was renewed and so I finally picked up the book.

I was impressed with Brooks’s ability to write from so many different perspectives. He has his own voice throughout the book as the interviewer, and then the people that account for their stories during the Zombie War range from all different ages, sexes, ethnicities, classes, locations, occupations, and so on. I thought this was an intriguing way to read a book. It is rare to jump from so many different perspectives, but it definitely kept the book interesting and made it stand out. I liked that there were those in denial during the beginning of the outbreak and just somehow managed to survive. There was one kid that was so wrapped up in the news about the outbreaks and communicating this over the web with others that his entire building including his parents either disappeared in hopes of refuge somewhere else or became a zombie. Then there were those that in a panic head north for the cold, packing their computers and chargers and not bringing enough warm clothes or food. These stories are what kept this book on a semi-realistic level. If there was an outbreak, this is the kind of thing that you would see happen. I liked that Brooks thoroughly explored different viewpoints.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – I think it is one of those books that would appeal to a range of different kinds of readers. It is a history of the Zombie War, but it is much more interesting than any history book that I’ve ever picked up. It isn’t overly gruesome or violent, and therefore would appeal to those that normally steer clear of zombie books because of the gore. It was a very straight-forward and logical take on what the world would go through – and how people would be affected afterwards – in the event of a Zombie War. I would be interested to read more of Max Brooks’s writing, I would be curious to see if this is the only style he writes in or if this was just how he wrote “World War Z”, either way, I’m game.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Fifth Book Review: “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger was quite the mind-fuck. It is a love story between Henry and Clare. Henry can time travel, and he visits Clare throughout her childhood. When current day Clare meets current day Henry, she has all these memories of him and he has no idea who she is, so yeah – the book is kind of a mind-fuck. Nevertheless, I found it very entertaining.

The book goes back and forth between Henry and Clare as the narrator. I enjoyed getting the perspective of each half of a couple. And the thing is, Henry isn’t really a good person, and I spent a lot of the book wondering why Clare was with him. Everyone has flaws, of course, but the lack of remorse that Henry displays for all of the things that he does, it’s a little much to accept. It seemed like Niffenegger makes excuses for Henry’s questionable and often time illegal behavior. I had trouble accepting his reasoning and the way that Clare falls for Henry is a little weird.

At the same time, you have to understand how abnormal Henry’s life is. Time travel is not something that he can control, he just finds himself pulled away sometimes. He doesn’t think of a time and place and boom, he just suddenly is gone. When he time travels, he arrives in an unknown place and time with nothing with him. Imagine having to cope with that, the not knowing, the continuous shock to your system, and all while you’re completely nude. When you think about it that way, Henry’s behavior is more forgivable. “There’s something wrong with me. I get dislocated in time, for no reason. I can’t control it, I never know when it’s going to happen, or where and when I’ll end up. So in order to cope, I pick locks, shoplift, pick pockets, mug people, panhandle, break and enter, steal cars, lie, fold, spindle, and mutilate. You name it, I’ve done it.” (The Time Traveler’s Wife, pg 143). His behavior is slightly more acceptable when you think about it that way. Or at least understandable.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no, it was a really entertaining read and I’m very glad that the way the book is broken up is labeled so you know how old Clare and Henry are at any given moment. I had trouble putting down the book, it was really well written and there is no doubt that I was entertained. But I did have trouble liking Henry as a person. I almost think that if I were to read it again I would more easily be able to identify how I feel about the book. I would definitely pick up another work by Audrey Niffenegger. I have no indecision about how I feel about her writing, for that alone I think most people would enjoy the crazy ride that this book was.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Fourth Book Review: “Burning Bright” by Tracy Chevalier

“Burning Bright” by Tracy Chevalier was not her best work. I enjoyed the story, but not the characters and it seemed to end on kind of a flat note. It was an okay book, but way below my standards for Tracy Chevalier. If you’ve never read her before then you would probably enjoy “Burning Bright”. As someone that relishes her novels, I was disappointed.

In “Burning Bright” we follow a family that moves from a quiet country town to London after an off-hand job offer by a man that runs the circus. One of their neighbors is William Blake. The family, looking for a distraction after the death of one of their sons, finds themselves swept away in the thrill of city life. The mother becomes fascinated by the circus, the daughter becomes infatuated with one of the performers, the father finds enjoyment in his work, and the son strikes up a friendship with a girl named Maggie. She was the only character that I liked and cared about. Jem and Maggie’s friendship gets a bit complicated since they are both at an age where they’re starting to feel attraction to the opposite sex and are confused and excited by this unconscious flirtation. Their interactions were entertaining, especially when William Blake would subtly tease the not-quite lovers.

I think where I struggled with this book was with the characters. They just weren’t very likable and I find it hard to care about what happens in a book when I don’t care about the characters. There wasn’t anything wrong with the writing, and with another author I would probably have found few faults. But I hold Chevalier up to a higher standard at this point and I was let down.

Would I recommend this book? Eh, it was okay. If you’re just looking for an interesting read to glimpse what life was like when William Blake was around, this should do the trick. If you don’t know Tracy Chevalier’s work then you would quite possibly enjoy this. If you are an avid reader and fan of Tracy Chevalier – then you might be disappointed. This isn’t going to turn me off from reading her works, but the likelihood that I will revisit this particular novel is low. I’d rather be reading “The Virgin Blue.”

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Third Book Review: “NOS4A2” by Joe Hill

“NOS4A2” was a really weird book – not that I would expect anything less from Joe Hill. He has a distinctive way of looking at the world. He creates characters that provoke pity and disgust more than anything else and then turns them into the good guys. His ability to completely envelope your senses with his words made NOS4A2 a real page-turner. It was hard to pull myself out of that world. Even though I finished the book several months ago I still find my mind wandering to Vic and wondering “what if”. NOS4A2 was an intense read.

When we first meet Vic, she is introduced as “The Brat” and this is right before Vic discovers her ability to travel in a non-traditional manner. She uses the Shorter Way Bridge almost as a portal to find things. After several trips across, she wants to find someone to explain this ability to her, someone to confirm that she isn’t losing her mind. That is when Vic meets Maggie. “There’s the real world, with all its annoying facts and rules. In the real world, there are things that are true and things that aren’t. Mostly the real world s-s-s-suh-sucks. But everyone also lives in the world inside their own head. An inscape, a world of thought. In a world made of thought – in an inscape – every idea is a fact. Emotions are as real as gravity. Dreams are as powerful as history. Creative people, like writers, and Henry Rollins, spend a lot of their time hanging out in their thoughtworld. S-s-strong creative, though, can use a knife to cut the stitches between the two worlds, can bring them together. Your bike. My tiles. Those are our knives.” (NOS4A2, pg 100). I really liked this quote for several reasons. One, it paints a clearer picture of how Vic is able to do what she does with the Shorter Way Bridge. Secondly, I can totally relate. No, I don’t have a knife to cut stiches between the words, but as a creative individual I experience my own version of a powerful inscape. Joe Hill eloquently describes this other level of consciousness that many people experience – he puts a name on it, he makes it make sense.

While Vic is the protagonist of our story, the antagonist and the nicknamed NOS4A2 is Charles Manx. He is vampire-esc in his behavior and his knife is a car. He uses his car to “save” children, or at least that is how he explains it. He makes for a very creepy bad guy and his ability to recruit Bing just confirms how powerful and influential Manx is. Bing didn’t question, he just followed, worshipped, adored, and obeyed. Bing was his own kind of creepy and together Manx and Bing are a whole new kind of evil.

What I really enjoyed about NOS4A2 was how much of an anti-hero Vic is. We meet her as a kid and it is clear that she comes from a dysfunctional family. She uses her ability to spend time traveling through her inscape to get away from her reality. In doing so, she convinces herself that what she is doing is not real. As she becomes a damaged adult, she blames it on her parents and her own mind. “She had crossed the bridge almost a dozen times in five years, and always it was less like an experience, more like a sensation. It was not a thing she did, it was a thing she felt: a dreamy awareness of gliding, a distant sense of static roaring. It was not unlike the feel of sinking into a doze, easing herself into the envelope of sleep.” (NOS4A2, pg 79). I think the way that Vic felt about the whole experience helped her bury the memories. I like the way that she describes the experience. And one of the most challenging things for Vic is facing this reality and accepting it as fact.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – but only to a certain kind of reader. NOS4A2 is an intensely weird book, and at times it was on the border of ick. Even I got a little squeamish. This is not a book for everybody. But if you like weird, and you like Stephen King, then you’ll love Joe Hill. Like father, like son. I’m looking forward to reading more of Joe Hill’s works and I happen to have another in my personal library as we speak. This was a very enjoyable and intense read – not for the faint of heart.