A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Mile 81 — Stephen King

Next up on my ‘to be reviewed’ list is Mile 81 by Stephen King. The audio book also included a bonus track of The Dune by King so I’ll touch on it as well…

mile81At Mile 81 on the Maine Turnpike is a boarded-up rest stop, a place where high school kids drink and get into the kind of trouble high school kids have always gotten into. It’s the place where Pete Simmons, armed only with the magnifying glass he got for his tenth birthday, finds a discarded bottle of vodka in the boarded up burger shack and drinks enough to pass out. Not much later, a mud-covered station wagon (which is strange because there hadn’t been any rain in New England for over a week) veers into the Mile 81 rest area, ignoring the sign that says “closed, no services.” The driver’s door opens but nobody gets out.

By the time Pete Simmons wakes up from his vodka nap, there are half a dozen cars at the Mile 81 rest stop. But two kids and a horse are the only living things left… unless you maybe count the wagon. With the heart of Stand By Me and the genius horror of Christine, Mile 81 is Stephen King unleashing his imagination as he drives past one of those road signs.

In the bonus story The Dune, retired Florida Supreme Court Judge Harvey Beecher tells his lawyer about a mysterious sand dune on an unnamed island a short distance off the Gulf coastline of his family’s property. Harvey first visited the island at the age of ten in 1932, after his grandfather, a scoundrel and land speculator who’d created the family fortune, told him Blackbeard’s treasure might be buried there. Travelling to the island became a daily addiction for Harvey… and now his lawyer is about to discover the shocking reason why.

Mile 81 was a terrific little short – I was entranced with each moment of the unfolding story, so much so that I admit to driving around the block until it was over! The characters were vividly depicted and their demises just as gruesomely vivid. A great story to read if you’re looking for a little punch of classic King horror.

The Dune was a great tale as well though I admit to seeing the twist in the ending before the story was done. That didn’t take away from the story however, only made it more creepy as it came to its conclusion.

Both shorts are well worth the listen, or read if that’s more your style!

Rating: 4 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Elizabeth is Missing — Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey is one of the longer works of fiction I have finished listening to in the past few months. I will say that I picked it up based on the cover, thinking it might be a cosy mystery, but I was surprised to find out it was something altogether different…

ElizabethIn this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also an heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

I did enjoy this book but I found myself a little bit lost at times. I’m not sure if it was due to listening to the words as opposed to reading them or a stylistic choice by the author used to put you directly into the shoes of Maud, the main character, who is losing her memory to dementia. Confusion aside, it was worth the listen as the story was engaging and well told.

Rating: 4 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: The Second Opinion — Michael Palmer | #Medical #Thriller

The Second Opinion is the second book I’ve enjoyed from author Michael Palmer. Akin to Robin Cook, he writes medical thrillers that keep you on the edge of your seat. Let’s take a look at the synopsis before I delve into what I thought of it…

9780099489788Dr. Thea Sperelakis has always been an outsider. She has a brilliant medical mind and a remarkable ability to recall details, but her difficulty in dealing with hidden agendas and interpersonal conflicts has led her to leave the complex, money-driven dynamics of a hospital and to embrace working with the poor. Her father, Petros, is one of the most celebrated internal medicine specialists in the world and the founder of the cutting-edge Sperelakis Center for Diagnostic Medicine at Boston’s sprawling, powerful Beaumont Clinic.

When Petros is severely injured by a hit-and-run driver, no one thinks he will survive. Two of Petros’s other children, both physicians, battle Thea and their eccentric brother, Dimitri, by demanding that treatment for their father be withheld. Meanwhile, Petros lingers in the Beaumont Clinic’s intensive care unit, where Thea is his only advocate.

As Thea uncovers the facts surrounding the disaster, it seems more and more to be no accident. Petros himself is the only witness. Who would want him dead? The answers are trapped in his brain…until he looks at Thea and begins to slowly blink a terrifying message.

In The Second Opinion, Michael Palmer has created a cat-and-mouse game where one woman must confront a conspiracy of doctors to uncover an evil practice that touches every single person who ever has a medical test. With unforgettable characters and twists and betrayals that come from the most unlikely places, The Second Opinion will keep you guessing…and looking over your shoulder.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Most of that is likely down to the main character Thea, who was so beautifully crafted by the author. While she has a developmental disorder, it’s not stopped her from achieving much of what she desired. In fact, thinking back on it for a second, Resistant, the first book I read by Palmer also contained a character who was brilliant but challenged in some way—I wonder if that’s an element that exists in most, if not all, of his work?

The Second Opinion was a riveting story that began fast paced and never let up. A definite page turner even though I technically listened to it as I drove. I love the blending of medical fiction with mystery and thriller elements and this is not likely to be the last book I pick up from Michael Palmer.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Scavenger — David Morrell | #Thriller #Mystery

When I read Creepers by David Morrell, I knew I wanted to read more from him. When I saw Scavenger on the shelf, I immediately grabbed it and was pleased to learn it carried on the stories of some of the characters from Creepers. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like life was getting any better for them…

ScavengerFrank Balenger, the resolute but damaged hero of David Morrell’s acclaimed Creepers, now finds himself trapped in a nightmarish game of fear and death. To save himself and the woman he loves, he must play by the rules of a god-like Game Master with an obsession for unearthing the past. But sometimes the past is buried for a reason. Scavenger is a brilliant, frightening hunter-hunted tale that layers modern technology over the dusty artifacts of earlier times. The result is a surreal palimpsest, one that contains the secret of survival for Balenger and a handful of unwilling players who race against the game’s clock to solve the puzzle of the time capsule, only to discover that time is the true scavenger.

Scavenger was a thrilling book filled with intrigue, puzzles, death, mystery — you name it! It was well written, easy to follow, and had such an inherent creepiness to it that at times, I felt I was being watched by the Game Master. If you’re into stories that leave you guessing, I recommend picking this one up.

Rating: 5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: The Returned — Jason Mott | #Mystery #SocialCommentary

Sometimes when I pick up a book, I’m struck by the title, or the blurb. Other times, it’s the cover or a favourite author. With The Returned, it was a little different. The idea intrigued me and as my own imagination whirred, I wanted to know where Jason Mott had taken the idea of this singular but life-changing event…

thereturned.jpg“Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That’s what all the Returned were.”

Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time…. Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep ― flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human. With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

So what did I think of The Returned? It engaged me from the first moment to the last one and felt as if I truly knew the characters and their stories. It really was a superb book full of heartbreak, joy, and everything else you’d expect in a classic. Pick it up — you likely won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Rant: The Oral History of Buster Casey – Chuck Palahniuk | #OralHistory #PartyCrashing

Before I share my thoughts, take a look at this synopsis…

RantRant is the oral history of one Buster ‘Rant’ Casey, in which an assortment of friends, enemies, detractors, lovers and relations have their say on the man who may or may not be the most efficient serial killer of our time. Rant is a darkly glittering anti-hero whose recreational drug of choice is rabies, and whose own personal Viagra is the venom of a black widow spider. He soon leaves his half-feral hometown for the big city, where he becomes the leader of an urban demolition derby called Party Crashing. On designated nights, the Party Crashers chase each other in cars in the hope of a collision, and all the while Rant, the ‘superspreader’, transmits his lethal disease…

Palahniuk has done it again. Another one of his novels has enthralled me with what seems like a random grouping of completely coinciding factors. I loved Rant, from start to finish — even in those moments where I was slightly confused, thinking I’d missed some major point that hadn’t actually been revealed yet. My love for strange epidemiologically twisted stories has been satisfied.

The story itself is told through the many voices of those who either knew Rant Casey or had the distinct (dis)pleasure to share breathing space with him. It was a brave undertaking but in this instance it works so very well. A highly recommended listen and read.

Rating: 5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

And so it goes…

Today’s review from my commute is Kurt Vonnegut’s bizarre masterpiece Slaughterhouse Five

slaughterhouse

Unstuck in time, Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut’s shattered survivor of the Dresden bombing, relives his life over and over again under the gaze of aliens; he comes at last to some understanding of the human comedy. The basis of George Roy’s great 1972 film and perhaps the signature student’s novel in the 1960’s embracing protest and the absurdity of war.

I read Slaughterhouse Five for the first time in high school (many more moons ago than I care to admit…) and was struck by the subtle nuances of protest under the umbrella of time travel and science fiction. The story at times seems hard to follow but the over-arcing themes and plot line always work themselves out to create a picture of bizarre fantasticness.

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the story of Billy Pilgrim in audiobook format and would recommend that everyone take a chance on Slaughterhouse Five if they haven’t already.

My Rating: 5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders – Neil Gaiman

So what do I have for you today?

It’s Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things: Short Stories and Wonders published in 2006.

Let’s take a look at the synopsis before I delve into things…

200px-fragilethingsA mysterious circus terrifies an audience for one extraordinary performance before disappearing into the night, taking one of the spectators along with it . . . In a novella set two years after the events of American Gods, Shadow pays a visit to an ancient Scottish mansion, and finds himself trapped in a game of murder and monsters . . . In a Hugo Award-winning short story set in a strangely altered Victorian England, the great detective Sherlock Holmes must solve a most unsettling royal murder . . . Two teenage boys crash a party and meet the girls of their dreams—and nightmares . . . In a Locus Award-winning tale, the members of an exclusive epicurean club lament that they’ve eaten everything that can be eaten, with the exception of a legendary, rare, and exceedingly dangerous Egyptian bird . . . Such marvelous creations and more—including a short story set in the world of The Matrix, and others set in the worlds of gothic fiction and children’s fiction—can be found in this extraordinary collection, which showcases Gaiman’s storytelling brilliance as well as his terrifyingly entertaining dark sense of humor. By turns delightful, disturbing, and diverting, Fragile Things is a gift of literary enchantment from one of the most unique writers of our time.

So what are my thoughts?

I loved it. I love the ever-present but ever-changing voice that Gaiman has achieved in his writing. You know it’s a Neil Gaiman story but that doesn’t make it a carbon copy of the others you already love. Each of the stories had been published previously but they are collected together for the first time to give you a brief but heady glimpse into the writing of Neil Gaiman. Most of the stories have a serious, if not dark, tone but there are moments of humour, levity, and fantasy thrown in for good measure. And the collection is read by Gaiman himself so you are treated to the inflection and emphasis the author himself intended – something we don’t often get in other audiobooks.

Of the collection, all stories and poems were good but a few stuck with me so I figured I’d mention them. October in the Chair reminded me a little of nights gathered around the campfire, each of us telling stories in an attempt to outdo the ones who had gone before us. I loved the idea of gargoyles guarding the heart in How Do You Think It Feels?. The poem Instructions was enjoyable as I’ve always wondered what I should do if I ever got stuck in a fairy-tale and now I know. The professional epidemiological structure of Diseasemaker’s Croup was so different and appealing that I’ll likely seek out the anthology it was written for (The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, edited by Drs. Jeff VanDerMeer Mark Roberts) and pick it up.

If you like Neil Gaiman and haven’t picked this one up, I’d highly recommend it. If you haven’t read anything by Gaiman, this is a great place to start.

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Think of a Numb3r – John Verdon

Okay so what happens to the audiobooks I can’t finish?

I return them to the library and think of how to best portray what I actually did listen to. This is going to be one of those reviews and admittedly there are a few that are going to end up like this. The reason could be something as simple as the voice of the reader just didn’t gel with me or I didn’t find the story itself particularly interesting. 

One of those books is Think of a Numb3r by John Verdon. Based on the reviews, it seems to have been a great read for many. Here’s the synopsis so you can see why I was first interested in reading it…

ThinkofaNumberAn extraordinary fiction debut, Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates, forcing its deeply troubled characters to moments of startling self-revelation.
 
Arriving in the mail over a period of weeks are taunting letters that end with a simple declaration, “Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.”  Amazingly, those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choice exactly.  For Dave Gurney, just retired as the NYPD’s top homicide investigator and forging a new life with his wife, Madeleine, in upstate New York, the letters are oddities that begin as a diverting puzzle but quickly ignite a massive serial murder investigation.
 
What police are confronted with is a completely baffling killer, one who is fond of rhymes filled with threats and warnings, whose attention to detail is unprecedented, and who has an uncanny knack for disappearing into thin air.  Even more disturbing, the scale of his ambition seems to widen as events unfold.
 
Brought in as an investigative consultant, Dave Gurney soon accomplishes deductive breakthroughs that leave local police in awe.  Yet, even as he matches wits with his seemingly clairvoyant opponent, Gurney’s tragedy-marred past rises up to haunt him, his marriage approaches a dangerous precipice, and finally, a dark, cold fear builds that he’s met an adversary who can’t be stopped.
 
In the end, fighting to keep his bearings amid a whirlwind of menace and destruction, Gurney sees the truth of what he’s become – what we all become when guilty memories fester – and how his wife Madeleine’s clear-eyed advice may be the only answer that makes sense.
 
A work that defies easy labels — at once a propulsive masterpiece of suspense and an absorbing immersion in the lives of characters so real we seem to hear their heartbeats – Think of a Number is a novel you’ll not soon forget.

I really wanted to give this audiobook a chance. The synopsis sounded interesting as you can tell from this post but when I got into it, the word choices of the author seemed strained to me, almost as if he searched a thesaurus to suss out the $100 dollar words when a $5 word would have worked just as well. In the audiobook treatment this doesn’t translate well — trust me, you don’t really want to have to think about what each word means as you listen. You just want to sit back and enjoy the story as it unfolds. This will be a book I will likely read instead of listen to, but I had to give up when I found myself concentrating more on the story to be sure I didn’t miss an important word than the road around me.

Rating: DNF (yet)

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: The Dead Hour – Denise Mina #Crime #Mystery #Scotland

So what book will I be reviewing for you today?

The Dead Hour

Denise Mina

TheDeadHourPaddy Meehan returns in Denise Mina’s most powerful mystery yet, nominated for a 2007 Edgar Award.

When journalist Paddy Meehan investigates a domestic dispute, the well-dressed man who answers the door assures her the blonde in the shadows behind him is fine, and slips her money before he closes the door. In fact, the woman was tortured and left to die later that night, and Paddy has only days to uncover the truth before the newspaper learns of her bribe and the police close the case for reasons of their own. Only Paddy cares enough to pursue a dark and brutal story that could make her career-or kill her, in a novel that proves why Denise Mina is “some kind of magnificent” (Wall Street Journal).

So what are my thoughts on The Dead Hour?

I picked this one up after listening to Field of Blood and enjoying it so much. I was not disappointed. It’s the second in a trilogy and I plan on picking up the last installment on audiobook once I can find it. Read by the same actress who has become the voice of Paddy ‘Patricia’ Meehan in my mind, it’s just as fantastic as the first book.

The story took off after the conclusion of Field of Blood and Paddy’s got a new position at the paper that allows her to follow and report on the crimes that occur overnight. The Dead Hour was filled with alternate moments of terror and dark humour that made it an easy listen and an engaging tale. I definitely recommend this one as well.

Rating: 5 out of 5