Monday, April 16, 2012

CBR IV: Read Free or Cannonball Hard, Entry 2: "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green

Every time I read something John Green has written, I marvel at his ability to make me feel like the characters involved are not only real, but that they are actually falling in love.  There's just something about his prose that makes you feel like you're even falling in love yourself.  In "An Abundance of Katherines", the love story angle comes in late in the game but still manages to click with the reader as if it had been introduced on Page 1.  In "A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle", the romance was a slow burn to an obvious, yet still fantastically lovely reveal.  "The Fault In Our Stars" shows John Green making us fall in love yet again, but setting us up for an even greater heartache than that of a lover leaving us by choice...a lover who leaves through death.

Hazel and Augustus meet in a support group for teenage cancer patients.  Like some great love stories before this one, it all started with a memory...Hazel reminds Augustus of his late ex-girlfriend, who much like himself had a terminal illness.  Through their mutual friend, Issac, the two meet-cute and begin a fast developing romance that culminates in a trip to Amsterdam to stalk a famous American author into divulging secrets of the unwritten history to his own major novel's protagonists.  Through their time together and the adventures they share their love only grows, even though there's a silent clock ticking down the unknown minutes and seconds left in their lives.  Indeed one of our lovers will pass before the end of the book, taking the lightly comedic and romantic plot (only tinged with sadness) into a full blown tragedy.

Green works his magic yet again, taking something that sounds like Nicholas Sparks for the Tween/Teen reader set and turning it into something with more depth and weight.  We know from the start that our leads are sick and that time is running out.  Our leads even know it.  The story isn't focused on "who dies and how", it focuses on how they live in each other's company.  How they choose to carry on in the face of impending death is the feat that is focused on, because knowing the odds and the scenario all to well these characters know that there's slim to no hope of survival.  By the third act, I was absolutely in tears; the last thirty pages or so being a culmination of so much symbolism and ground work built in the first two acts.  Yet again, John Green manages to make the reader fall in love and then manages to gut punch them with the sadness of reality.  When you build your characters and scenario well enough, such as Mr. Green has in this novel, an ending such as this is not a cheap grab at's telling the emotional truth of the moment.  I look forward to finishing his existing canon, at which point I shall eagerly await his next work of fiction.

Next Up: "The Hunger Games Trilogy" (The Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay) by Suzanne Collins

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CBR IV: Read Free or Cannonball Hard, Entry 1: “The Night Eternal” by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

(Many thanks to the fine people at Harper Collins, specifically Shawn Nicholls, for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy of the book I’m about to review. It’s because of people like this that I am a literary addict of the highest regard.)

A warning before we proceed, there are obvious spoilers to "The Strain" and "The Fall" in this review, so read those two beforehand or proceed with caution.  That said, it’s time to resurrect the phrase, “It’s gonna be Biblical”. It used to mean something so epic and awesome that only the Good Book itself could have dreamed it, but over time its basically become the new "Epic".  That is, until Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan wrote the concluding chapter to their Strain Trilogy, "The Night Eternal".  After reading this book, the term retains its full relevance, and dares modern horror writers to follow in their footsteps.

When we last left Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather and his band of vampire slayers, the world was nuked to shit.  Sunlight is precious and scarce, and thanks to The Stoneheart Group's sleeper infrastructure taking power, humans are now a harvested quantity.  Blood farms, required donations, enforced curfews, re-runs, and B-Positive breeding programs are the way of the world.  And all that stand in the way of the complete domination of humanity is Goodweather and his team.  It's not going to be easy though as Eph's leadership is called into question (thanks to a newly formed dependency on drugs and alcohol) and the rise of one Vasilly Fet.  Yes, Setrakian's favored exterminator is now not only the wiser looking man in the room, he's shacking up with Nora (whom Eph was still rather sweet on, but began to become distant towards).  Meanwhile, The Master is grooming Eph's beloved son, Zachery (who, as we know, was abducted by Eph's vamped out ex-wife at the end of The Fall), into his new vessel.  This grooming process is carried out through blood bonding to treat the young boy's asthma; as well as a new life of spoiled privilege that changes Zach's outlook on humanity and life itself.   As father and son move towards a possibly fateful reconciliation, Fet uses his new found academic drive to make the moves necessary to bring the game between Vampires and humans to a most explosive endgame.

The key piece in the game, the one thing that everyone is making a move towards is The Occido Lumen, the book that details the Biblical origins of vampirism, and the story of Mr. Quinlan...the second vampire to be created after The Master himself.  Within the book lie secrets to the fabled "black site" that created The Master, and will end him if taken out with a nuclear pulse.

The Night Eternal brings the trilogy started with The Strain to a satisfying conclusion.  As with the previous two entries in the series, the back and forth between the Occido Lumen's story of vampirism's origins and the main story of Goodweather and Company trying to defeat the vampire menace works like a charm.  If anything, I would be thrilled if Mr. Quinlan's story could be further explored, and more tales of the Occido Lumen could be told.  This series has a high potential for spin offs that wouldn't feel cheap.  The ending overall is especially impressive, by pulling off what I knew they'd have to do in order to end the series and pulling no punches.  It ends the way it should, it doesn't cop out, and it gives a hopeful yet bittersweet close to what I've been obsessing and begging William Morrow for advanced copies for over the past two years.

I want Del Toro and Hogan to write more books together, hell I wouldn't mind Del Toro going solo from this point on either.  The storytelling that has gone into this series has been an exact match for the scale that the cover blurb from Nelson DeMille promises: "Bram Stoker meets Stephen King meets Michael Crichton".  I know I've drawn attention to this fact before, but honestly it's the best way to describe the blend of styles in the plot.  So really, you're getting five authors for the price of two.  (This is a bargain already.)

So William Morrow/Harper Collins, I just want to say THANK YOU for letting me cover this journey with you.  And thank you Shawn Nicholls for dealing with my constant nagging/inquiring about when the next book would be out, and when Review Copies would be issued.  It's been worth the time, the effort, and all the time plugging my nose into the books.

Next Up: "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green