First, the good things:

There is NO Bella in this book. No misty eyed teenage romance. There is no soul-searching Lestat who laments his life in overlong paragraphs filled with purple prose. There is no erudite Count with a cape. No Victorian damsels in flimsy nightgowns and heaving bosoms. In Justin Cronin’s The Passage, the “vampires” are the result of a military genetic experiment gone horribly wrong and ultimately, out of control. They are vicious, nasty, virtually unstoppable and very very hungry. The first 250 pages of The Passage are the best fiction I have read this year.

Now the bad:

passageUnfortunately, the book is 766 pages long. With two sequels on the way. The novel covers over 1000 years. The first section follows modern day events. A military/ scientific expedition in South America captures a jungle virus and takes the secret to a lab for study. They discover the virus increases strength in test monkeys and prolongs their lifespan. The government hatches plans to create a Super Soldier. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is put on special assignment with the military to bring “volunteer test subjects” from death row prisons across America to be infected with the virus. But when Wolgast is ordered by his military superiors to capture a 10 year old girl, Amy, and deliver her to the lab, he rebels. The army hunts them down and Amy is taken to the lab to be tested. Then, the world goes to hell.

Twelve of the infected creatures escape the lab and overnight destroy the entire military installation. Wolgast and Amy barely escape and spend the next several years living in isolation. Then … one day there is a brilliant explosion to the west. Amy is blinded by the nuclear blast, and Wolgast slowly dies of radiation poisoning.

The book then jumps 1000 years in the future. The creatures (called Virals or Jumps) have wiped out most of the human population. Ninety per cent of infected humans die – ten per cent become Virals themselves.

What follows is an alternately entertaining, horrific, tedious and ultimately, frustrating apocalyptic story of the human survivors and their civilization. This is where author Justin Cronin falls woefully short of his goals. Having published two short modern and very literary novels, Cronin branches into territory usually reserved for such “inferior” writers as Stephen King, Robert McCammon and Richard Matheson. When “serious” writers stoop to write horror or science fiction – genre fiction! – the result is usually well-written crap.

Several years ago we got the novel Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrel, an old fashioned English novel about magic and evil. The literary world loved it … heaped praise upon it and claimed that it “redefined the horror novel.” It sure did – it redefined the horror novel as tedious and stodgy. The Historian was also forced upon us as a “brilliant re-working of the vampire legend.” The only brilliant thing about the book was its ad campaign. The book was literary sawdust. Remember when Norman Mailer (a literary giant, just ask him) claimed he could write a great mystery novel, and we got Tough Guys Don’t Dance? If you actually finished that book, your place in heaven is assured. Those of us going to hell will probably have to reread it for eternity.

There are sections of The Passage, and I mean dozens of pages, that beg to be skipped. Cronin often forgets he is NOT writing a mainstream novel where nothing is supposed to happen. He has chosen to write a genre novel for money … and of course, he can make it better than those popular writers because, after all … he is a serious novelist.

If you really want to read this kind of story, I recommend 2009’s The Strain, with a similar story and sweep (now a TV event on FX) or how about two all-time apocalyptic classics: The Stand by Stephen King and Swan Song by Robert MacCammon. Those two pulp writers managed to write a couple of horrific novels that are everything The Passage isn’t … great. 

For all its posturing (and intellectual promotion among the literary elites) The Passage is not a bad novel, just not a good one. I’m betting the Hollywood movie will be better than the book.

3 palmettos

I Travel By Night: A Review

Welcome back, Mr. MacCammon!

I know MacCammon never really went away, but he’s back to more familiar territory. As entertaining as the Matthew Corbett histortravelb y nightical mysteries are, MacCammon is always at his best when brushing up against the fictional dark side.
I Travel By Night is a slight novel, but it hints at a larger world and narrative which I hope MacCammon is going to explore over a series of several more novels.

Trevor Lawson, a man of adventure who lives in the Hotel Sanctuaire in New Orleans, is a recognizable character … a bit of Travis McGee, Repairman Jack and Cullen Bohannon (from AMC’s “Hell On Wheels”) except that Lawson was turned into a member of the “Dark Society” during the battle of Shiloh. He has spent the next 30 years fighting the other members of the Dark Society, and killing more than his share. When Lawson is hired to deliver a gold ransom for the return of the daughter of a rich plantation owner, all it not as it seems. The woman was taken by members of the Dark Society in an effort to lure Lawson into their nest in the middle of the bayou. Their goal is to either force Lawson to join, or kill him.

Along the way the kidnapped woman’s sister joins Lawson and … you’ll have to read the rest. Enjoy!

4 palmettos

FADE: A Review

Why is Robert Cormier marketed to Young Adult audiences? His books explore disturbing subjects, dark themes, and create a generally bleak tone. Thomas Hardy has nothing on Cormier for tragic conclusions. And, not withstanding the constant presence of The Chocolate War, on must-read lists for Young Adults, Fade may be Cormier’s best book.

Fade_Robert_Cormier_novel_coverSUMMARY: At the age of thirteen, Paul Moreaux discovers that he can turn invisible. Paul, a sensitive and thoughtful working-class boy, doesn’t even realize it when he first gets The Fade. On a dare, he spies on a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. (This is the 1930s, and anti-Catholic/anti-immigrant sentiments are running high against Paul and the other citizens of Frenchtown.) When the meeting is ambushed, a crazed Klansman discovers Paul and tries to kill him– but inexplicably, he somehow loses sight of his intended victim.

What Paul doesn’t realize is that he has inherited the ability to turn invisible. Sometimes it’s useful, as when escaping from Klansmen and bullies; more often it’s horrible, as when spying upon people who reveal secrets Paul never wanted to know. One male in his family has inherited this “gift” for several generations. Paul at least has guidance from an uncle, also a Fader. 
The invisible teenaged Paul slowly discovers that his “gift” only helps him learn quickly the tragedy of human existence; he is doomed to lead a life marked by violence, madness, and despair, with relief coming only when health complications from the invisibility cause him to die, lonely and young and unmourned.

A generation later, Paul’s own nephew Ozzie has no such counseling, because Paul doesn’t know he exists; the child had been secretly given up for adoption. Unfortunately Ozzie was raised by a physically abusive father, and when Ozzie discovers his Fading powers, after years of beatings and neglect, the results are terrible, with “terrible” meaning “like Stephen King’s Carrie on prom night.”

Thoughtful, horrific and suspenseful. Highly recommended!

Companion Read: Jumper by Steven Gould. (Note: do not let the bad movie based on Jumper keep you from reading it.)

 4 palmettos


one secnd afterElectromagnetic pulses can result from natural phenomena and, in much greater strength, from nuclear blasts. The result of an EMPs is the destruction of unprotected electronic circuitry, about 95% of it in the United States. A nuclear bomb set off at a high altitude would cause electronics over a large swathe of the planet to fail and almost nothing has been done to protect the US from this threat.

This frightening novel depicts what life might be like in the case of an EMP attack. With no electronics -vehicles won’t run; no phones, computers, radios, or televisions; no electricity. America descends into the Middle Ages. In One Second After, a lack of food and medicine leads to mass death. Society crumbles quickly. Cities turn against the countryside; friends and neighbors turn against each other in a desperate struggle to survive. Criminals take advantage.

Forstchen humanizes it by giving a detailed look at how events unfold around the idyllic small town of Montreat College in North Carolina.The weeks pass, and society deteriorates quickly – food runs out, people die due to lack of treatment and medicine, tyrants try to take advantage of the weak and confused, and criminals run rampant.

One Second After is a masterpiece of dystopian literature that ranks with 1984 and Brave New World, but is even more horrific. IT IS A PAGETURNER! You will have restless nights while you are reading this, and several nights after. Particularly when you realize that our government has done nothing to prepare this country for this serious threat.  

5 palmettos

BOOKS TO AVOID – Even Under Penalty of Death

NOTE: I did not list any James Patterson books since it should be obvious you need to avoid Patterson. If you enjoy Patteron’s books I order to stop reading my blog IMMEDIATELY.

AmericanPsychoBookAMERICAN PSYCHO by Brett Easton Ellis

Sick and badly written. A cruel and vicious book. Anyone who is in a relationship with Mr. Ellis needs to re-think their decision. There are not words strong enough to describe how bad this book is.

Cold_mountain_novel_coverCOLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Fraizer

Quite simply, one of the worst books of the past decade. It is a great example of the group think among today’s university-driven literary community and publishing industry. The book is sophomoric in style, using purple phrases with awkward flourishes that most English 101 instructors will give you a failing grade for using. It is also a great example of a major problem in today’s publishing industry – an author has a wild success with a bad book, so he is given a huge amount of money to produce an even worse book, Thirteen Moons.

finnegan's wakeFINNEGAN’S WAKE by James Joyce.

It’s a classic, right? Yes, classic shit. The last section of the novel consists of 24,212 words and two sentences. Yes, you read that correctly, two sentences and 24,000 words! Enough said.

Gravitys_rainbow_coverGRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon

The 11 members of the Pulitzer Prize committee were on the right track when they described the book as “unreadable, turgid, overwritten and obscene.”

They were actually being nice.

magus_coverTHE MAGUS by John Fowles

Self-important and full of 1960ish mysticism and oblique literary games. AWFUL!

The great actor Peter Sellers was once asked, “If you had a chance to live your life over again, what would you do differently?” Sellers answered, ” I would not read “The Magus.”

Amen, Peter.  


Granted, this was a no-win idea from the get-go. Hell, even the title is ridiculous. But the book turned out to be boring, boring, boring.

And the other “approved” book, Rhett Butler’s People fares no better.

StateOfFearSTATE OF FEAR by Michael Crichton

First of all, forget all the political yammering around this novel (by the same folks that think Tom Clancy is a good writer) and the claims for “scientific authenticity.” IT’S BAD AND BORING!

Crichton has never been on anyone’s list of good writers; his prose is clumsy and his characterizations are TV depth (hence all the successful movies and TV shows made from his writings).

ShannaraTHE SHANNARA BOOKS (almost all of them!) by Terry Brooks

Second rate recycled Tolkien. Brooks’ prose is often as unwieldy as a 200 lb sword. . What is frightening is how many have been published. As of this moment there are 20+ Shannara novels. Mr. Brooks … have mercy! Take a vacation!!!!

How bad are these books? Pauly Shore bad! Michael Bolton awful!

tough guysTOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE by Norman Mailer

A boring mess. The book is the result of a self-important (and often good) writer thinking that because he is an “important artist” he could write a better hard-boiled mystery than those two-bit hacks like Hammet, Chandler and MacDonald.

Hey Norman, you lose … by a long shot!


(Listed in Alphabetical order)

1984 by George Orwell (1949)
1984 by George Orwell

This is scary because many aspects of this novel are no longer fiction.

Read the news … NOT the American media, who rarely tells you the true stories of what is happening in the world. Information insulation is another form of control. 

 CARRION COMFORT by Dan Simmons (1989) 

carrion comfort
A great vampire novel, with a twist. The vampirism featured here is psychic, not blood-letting . A small group of people have an Ability, where they can possess someone mentally and use them to do their bidding. They also use their Ability to Feed, prolonging their lives by mentally drawing sustenance from people.

The battle among the Users with the Ability for power leads for a gargantuan plot and a cast of more than two dozen characters, from Nazis to southern sheriffs, to Holocaust survivors to Hollywood moguls to CEOs of the world’s largest corporations. Riveting and compelling.

Come on HBO … how about a mini-series?????

GHOST STORY by Peter Straub (1979)

Ghost Story by Peter StraubAn old-fashioned, c-r-e-e-p-y ghost story. Four elderly New England men are haunted an event in their past … they got away with murder … or did they?

As they ask in the novel: “What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?””I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me… the most dreadful thing…”

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum (1989)

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
Not for the faint-hearted! The Girl Next Door is a dark and twisted story told through the eyes of a preteen boy. Set in the 1950s, it is a fictionalized account of one of America’s grizzliest true crime stories. D-i-s-t-u-r-b-i-n-g.

 I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson (1954)

The novel that got me hooked on dark fiction and dystopian novels back when I was fifteen years old.
RobeI Am Legend by Richard Mathesonrt Neville is the apparent sole survivor of a pandemic whose symptoms resemble vampirism. It is implied that the pandemic was caused by a war, and that it was spread by dust storms in the cities and an explosion in the mosquito population.

The book follows Neville’s daily life in Los Angeles as he attempts to comprehend, research, and possibly cure the disease, to which he is immune. His past is revealed through flashbacks: the disease claimed his wife and daughter, and he was forced to kill his wife after she seemingly rose from the dead as a vampire and attacked him.

Forget the most recent Hollywood version of this novel starring Will Smith … READ THE BOOK!!

THE HOT ZONE by Richard Preston (1994)

This non-fiction bio-thriller is about the origins and incidents involving viral hemorrhagic fevers, partThe Hot Zone by Richard Prestonicularly ebola-viruses and marburg-viruses. You may begin to compulsively wash your hands and stay away from EVERYONE with a cough. Stephen King called the book, “one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read.”

And the U.S. govt. is bringing two ebola victims to America as I write this.

HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)

House of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiA young family moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane and discovers something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside!

One of the oddest, most challenging books you will read in a looong time. Bewildering and claustrophobic.

IT by Stephen King (1986)

It by Stephen KingI debated about putting The Shining in this place, but I opted for It.

King’s most epic horror story that pushes ALL the right buttons … misfit kids, bullies, disappearing children and a malevolent clown!

THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson (1952)

The Killer Inside Me by Jim ThompsonLou Ford, a 29-year-old deputy sheriff in a small Texas town appears to be a regular, small-town cop leading an unremarkable existence; beneath this facade, however, he is a cunning, depraved sociopath with sadistic sexual tastes. Horrific and darkly humorous.

ONE SECOND AFTER by William Fortschen (2009)
One Second After by William R. Forstchen

The scariest book I have ever read. Period.

Electromagnetic pulses can result from natural phenomena and, in much greater strength, from nuclear blasts. The result of an EMP is the destruction of unprotected electronic circuitry. With no electronics -vehicles won’t run; no phones, computers, radios, or televisions; no electricity. America descends into the Middle Ages.

In One Second After, we follow a small North Carolina mountain town quickly crumble. The lack of food and medicine leads to mass death. Cities turn against the countryside; friends and neighbors turn against each other in a desperate struggle to survive.

Read it and began your stockpiling.

SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson (1962)

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
This book single-handedly helped ban DDT across the world, resulting in the death of millions of people due to malaria which resurfaced. This was the book that started the environmental movement and it’s scary that people still defend this.


An mess of epic Lovecraftian proportions. This will be the last time I will read this author.

american elsewhereI read Bennett’s “Mr. Shivers” due to all the rave reviews it got, and found that book flat and very mediocre. However, due to consistent rave reviews of his other books I decided to give him another shot. Never again.

First thing: There need to be warning labels on Kindle novels that announce: WARNING, THIS BOOK IS WRITTEN IN PRESENT TENSE IN AN ATTEMPT TO BE EDGY AND COOL. I guarantee, 90% of people who read a book in the present tense translate all the passages into past tense as they read, so … what is the purpose?

Second: This novel is waaaaaaay too long, with characters that chaotically bounce in and out of the story. The story ended but my Kindle kept telling my I was only 90% finished. Lots of wasted prose at the end.

Third: Plot is convoluted (I am being kind), silly and ultimately dumb. Obviously Bennett was going for a Lovecraftian tale here, so he could check that particular genre of horror off his resume. I have no idea where he will go next, but it doesn’t matter, since I will not be reading it.

2 palmettos