Mar 292012

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells  

My son recommended this book. I believe he heard about it while listening to the Writing Excuses podcast done by Dan Wells and other popular authors. I knew Dan Wells wrote horror novels, which I don’t like, but this was a teen book. How bad could it be?

What a ride! What a horror ride. I should have been better prepared. The premise immediately caught me with a death grip. The main character, John Wayne Cleaver, is convinced he is destined to become serial killer. Believing he was named for the serial killer John Wayne Gacy and not the actor as his mother tells him, even his research topics for school reports show his fascination with serial killers. He isn’t shy about it, either. He tells his therapist everything. He feels he completely understands the mind of a serial killer. I know teens like this, completely convinced they are something they are not once the smallest suggestion is placed. As an adult, it is hard not to scoff at them. Dan Wells captures this from the adult point of view very well through the eyes of the therapist and John’s divorced mother, who happens to be a mortician. It’s all beginning to add up for this kid.

The book begins by showing the inner struggle of John, trying to figure out who he is in the world, frustrated that no one believing he is who he thinks he is. He is completely convinced he is a killer. He builds a set of rules for himself to keep the monster locked within. Of course, everyone, especially adults, think he is just a teenager. And then the killings begin.

It seems there is a serial killer on the loose in their small town. John is the first to recognize it, given his fascination with the serial killer mentality. Of course, he wants to investigate and the rest of the book is off to the races. How can John expose the killer without releasing his inner drive to become a serial killer himself?

Very well written and extremely engaging, this book grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go until the very line on the last page. Dan Wells knows how to write horror and he knows teens. I originally thought my wife would enjoy this book for the psychology of a teenager, but as the descriptions of the murdered bodies started piling up, I knew she would not enjoy the graphic nature. I’m torn between recommending it and being repulsed. I guess that makes it a really good horror novel. I won’t suggest any teen read it because I wouldn’t want those thoughts and descriptions running around in their impressionable minds. But they will. It is just the kind of book they are looking for in their search to identify themselves. I just hope they manage to keep reality and fiction in their proper places.

My son asked we get the next book in the series, Mr. Monster . I may be nuts for this, but it arrives tomorrow.

Mar 092012

Speed of Light by Lee Baker 

A couple weeks ago I was wandering through Costco. I and not usually allowed to be by myself with the debit card. As I was wandering through the books, I came upon a table manned by an author. Since I was alone without a family to embarrass, I took the opportunity to stop and talk. He was eager to talk and I am always interested in talking with people who like to write. I ended up buying his book, of course.

Speed of Light is the first full-length book by Lee Baker. He has written a couple children’s books and screenplays prior. I sat down to start reading Speed of Light on Sunday afternoon. I finished it five hours later. I couldn’t put it down. The concept intrigued me. The plot was tight. The action was well paced. There were surprises and twists that kept the pages turning.

Pierce Black is a test pilot, scheduled to make the first attempt in a craft that travels at the speed of light. Okay, I admit, that part almost lost me right there in Costco. I’ve had too much physics to believe an airplane can travel at the speed of light. But, I decided to suspend my belief for a moment and go with it. Glad I did. Baker doesn’t attempt a complex explanation of how it is possible, but concerns himself with the result. Black survives (barely) only to discover he has an ability to see things in the past, almost like a dream, except that he is able to move around and consciously interact. Interesting side effect.

Problems compound when he discovers more about the death of his wife (killed in a car crash) through this new power. It wasn’t an accident after all, but a targeted hit by the very corporations that employs him. Instantly, he is off on the chase for the truth and to bring justice to her killers. The twists and turns are interesting and logical. And entrancing.

There are a few things Baker will improve on in future books, I’m sure. There are a couple things I had a real hard time swallowing, such as why the company would go ahead with a future test flight after Black’s physical troubles become evident. In fact, why go forward with human flight when the test with a monkey didn’t go so well? What was the burning need for a human pilot at all, when the plane was able to be flown remotely? The benefit of moving cargo at the speed of light alone would be enough for any enterprise. Why risk human tests until after they understood it more? That baffled me.

Baker’s corporation behind the tests didn’t act like a real corporation would and that confused me. Still the drama that unfolded was interesting and engaging. The interaction with his son and sister-in-law was mind twisting and I loved it. I can’t give it away, but this is the part that I enjoyed most of all. Baker leveraged an concept with the mentally handicapped I have often thought of myself. Brilliant. I loved it.

Speed of Light is worth reading. Baker is a good author who knows how to write a page-turner. I look forward to new works from him in the future. I’ll have to hang out at Costco more often.

Jan 172012

The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel by Brandon Sanderson  

After years of listening to the kids talk about the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, I finally got them from Audible and listened to them. I was amazed by the richness and depth of the world Sanderson created. In a medieval world where people gain special powers by “burning” metals inside them, he tells the story of overthrowing a centuries-old ruler with god-like powers. He doesn’t just leave the characters victorious, but tells the often overlooked story of what happens after the revolution. In fact, that part is the more interesting story.

In The Alloy of Law, Sanderson returns to the world of the Mistborn, but several hundred years later, at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Taking the special powers of the Mistborn and colliding them with the modern world of machines, guns and electricity is nothing short of brave for a writer. Fantasy and magic rarely hold up in a more modern world. However, Sanderson pulls it off and the two mesh believably.

The Alloy of Law, while set in the world of Mistborn, doesn’t deal with the large, sweeping issues of the previous books. In fact, those characters are hardly mentioned at all. Instead, this book is a mystery, complete with murder, kidnappings and unexplainable disappearances. The story is well put together, the clues well hidden and the characters engaging. The action scenes are well written and exhilarating. The investigation is thought provoking and moves the story along quickly.

My son, who is a budding writer himself, told me about a podcast, Writing Excuses, that is co-hosted by Sanderson. I listened to a few this week out of curiosity. Sanderson is definitely a teacher (obviously, as he teaches at Brigham Young University). One of the discussions they had was on how to write a successful mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his advice while seeing how he incorporated it into his novel. It made the book more interesting on more levels as I paid attention to how he revealed the story. He is a master. All of his books are highly recommended.