Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer – A Book Review

Like you, I thought the movie trailer for Annihilation looked very cool, so I thought I’d check out the source material.

When the novel of the same name arrived at my local library, the volume’s slimness surprised me.  At only 195 pages, I knew it would prove a quick read.

Of course, it may be helpful to know this is only the first of a three-book series.  All three collected volumes are known as Southern Reach Trilogy.  The three installments appear to have been published within months of one another, so that could explain the page count.

Whatever the case may be, I have to admit that Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer immediately felt like a bad fit for me.  The prose in this book is … dense.  It’s full of description largely pertaining to foliage and biology.  Also, a first-person narrator delivers the story to us.  I don’t know if it’s Vandermeer’s style or the style of his narrator, but I found the prose clunky and difficult to follow.  To me, the sentences did not flow very smoothly which forced me to read and reread in a way that frustrated.

When Vandermeer’s characters spoke, this issue largely disappeared.  The dialogue flowed freely and felt natural.

The plot itself interested me enough, but things moved rather slowly.  In my opinion, there is no real “revelation” that makes the book a worthwhile, satisfying experience.  Perhaps the other two books provide this experience.  I’m not sure I’m inclined to read them, though.

The good news is that, as I said, this is a very slim book and so you can easily read it in a day or two and prove me wrong.  I have been wrong about books before.  I’ve even reread a few books to find that my opinion of them changed completely.

I still plan to see the movie, but, if I’m being honest, not much that I’ve seen in the trailers evokes much from what I read in the book.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)




Strange Weather by Joe Hill – A Book Review

Joe Hill first won me over with his graphic novel series entitled Locke & Key.  Since then, I’ve particularly enjoyed his books Horns and Heart-Shaped Box.  Without a doubt, though, the short story collection called 20th Century Ghosts is my absolute favorite work by the author.

Because he does shorts so well, I knew I had to read Strange Weather.  This book is a compilation of four brief novels–also called novellas.

I’ll briefly review each installment …

The first is titled Snapshot.  It’s about a man using a Polaroid camera that essentially steals memories.  The main character first encounters this man as a child, and he is horrified to learn the villain has been terrorizing his elderly neighbor.  He is eventually forced to confront the evil stranger.  This story is a simple yet brilliantly imaginative concept.  It takes such a universal idea but makes it feel fresh, inventive, and unique.  Hill provided very likable, identifiable characters in this tale, and he kept me turning the pages until the very end.  My only complaint is the “epilogue” of sorts.  I think Hill let this story linger a bit too long as he updated us on the main character’s adulthood and connected his experience as a child to modern day technology.  This connected felt forced to me.

The second story is called Loaded.  There’s nothing supernatural about this installment, and that makes it the most horrifying of all.  It’s about our nation’s sick fetish with guns, and how lives are routinely ruined due to the rampant misuse of them.  Loaded is consistently either discomforting or flat-out terrifying.  Hill does not let up and go easy on the reader in this story.  I think it’s perhaps his best work … ever.

Aloft is the next novella in this book.  There have been a few moments in my life when I blatantly got jealous of an author because he or she came up with an idea that I wish could have been mine.  I don’t want to give too much away with this one because it genuinely surprised me and I want you to have a similar experience.  I’ll tell you this much–a skydiver lands on a UFO before opening his parachute.  … I know!  Great idea, right?

Hill finally delivers Rain as his last offering.  A freak thunderstorm breaks out in Boulder, Colorado, but this is no ordinary rainstorm.  This storm rains nails.  Honeysuckle must watch her girlfriend die in a flurry of crystalline spikes during this storm, and she then takes it upon herself to walk to Denver in order to inform her girlfriend’s father.  She encounters awful, post-apocalyptic scenes as a result, but also witnesses humanity’s will to continue.  Honeysuckle is challenged by awful scenarios throughout the story, but nothing is more revolting than her own neighbors.  Like Snapshot, I think Hill took this one just a bit too far.  I feel he should have left a mystique regarding the spiked rainfall that eventually plagues the planet, but he instead reveals the cause.  The perpetrator of the vile deed struck me as too contrived, too coincidental, and too, well, manufactured.

Overall, Strange Weather proved an incredibly enjoyable experience.  Hill has a talent at creating imaginative plots and filling them with rounded, charismatic characters.  If you’ve ever wanted to try Joe Hill, I believe this book encapsulates the best of what he has to offer.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe – A Book Review

This particular book has been on my “to read” list for quite a while after I saw that Neil Gaiman recommended it.

The plot revolves around a man named Bax — a scholar many times over, a cheat, a sometimes fraud, and a recently released convict.  He has no money and so, after drifting a bit, takes up residence in what he presumes to be an abandoned house.  He soon discovers that the house has claimed him as its own, and so he must deal with all the sorcery, monsters, mystery, and family lineage that accompanies it.  The only question is to whom the title refers.  Is it the previous owner of the home … or Bax himself?

This book is unusual in that is is comprised of a series of letters written mostly by Bax himself.  Due to this method, we get to know Bax very well, or at least the persona he wishes to display to the recipients of his letters.  These letters make for a very fast, entertaining read.

However, because Bax is essentially a first-person narrator, I sometimes found myself distracted by his near omnipotence.  It’s a tricky thing to write a book in this manner, and, at times, Bax seemed to know too much which resulted in the letters feeling less like correspondence and more like actual chapters.

Even with that being said, I did enjoy the story’s trajectory.  It felt different in that it did not conform to the typical third act showdown.  Characters came and went without much fuss, which is how I would describe this book as a whole — it doesn’t make too much of a fuss.  It handles some rather epic concepts humbly and without much of a to-do.  I found that restraint rather charming, actually.

I’m glad Neil Gaiman, a literary hero of mine, thinks so highly of The Sorcerer’s House.  I apparently did not enjoy it as much as he, but if you think highly of Gaiman, I urge you to give it a try for yourself.

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 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Locke & Key: Heaven and Earth by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez – A Book Review

You may remember that I did not care for the price of Locke & Key: Small World in relation to the amount of pages.  (Click HERE if you’d like to revisit my angst.)  Heaven and Earth, like Small World, is a collection of three very short stories involving the Locke & Key mythology.  Short stories may be an overstatement.  One of them is short.  The other two are downright minuscule.

The first short involves the family introduced in Small World.  It is an excellently executed short story that will have you tearing up before you know it.

The second short, which is far shorter, focuses upon the children in the first after they’ve reached early adulthood.  Some gangsters come their way with rape and murder on their minds.  Let’s just say the gangsters receive poetic justice.

The third will be over before you blink, but it will bring a smile to your face, guaranteed.

The book also contains photographs of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez exploring the island they used as a model for the book.  They are candid, interesting shots with the guys joking around.  There are a few alternate covers that use actual crafted keys to replicate those found in the stories, which are actually very cool.

Now that I’ve accepted the price point of these little additions to the Locke & Key story line, I’m not quite so upset.  As a Locke & Key fan, I would say that both Small World and Heaven and Earth are required reading.  I appreciate that they tried to fill in some space to better justify the price, but I personally would have much preferred one more story instead.

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 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Star Wars: From a Certain Point Of View – A Book Review

This collection of short stories will satisfy every Star Wars fan alive.  The premise is genius.  It takes small, seemingly unimportant moments from A New Hope and zeroes in on them.  It provides names and backstories, tragedies and victories, motivations and inclinations.  It satisfyingly adds to a universe already well developed.

One of these stories in particular proved among my favorites.  Do you remember the guy standing lookout in the crow’s nest of a pole?  You saw him as the X-Wings took off to intercept the Death Star?  His story is written by Will Wheaton, entitled “Laina,” and it is absolutely heartbreaking.  There is another called “Time of Death” which features Obi-Wan Kenobi’s final moments and thoughts as he faced certain death at the hands of his former apprentice.  Speaking of such, Claudia Gray wrote “Master and Apprentice” which explores Qui-Gon Jinn’s spirit visiting Obi-Wan on Tatooine.  Still another is called “There Is Another,” and it’s about Yoda living on Dagobah and wishing he could train one last Jedi–someone he believes has great potential.

Of course, as you can see, not all stories are directly related to a moment in A New Hope.  Such as with the Yoda story, some of the stories check in on characters technically not introduced in the original 1977 classic.  Boba Fett, for example, offers a first-person account during a bounty hunt.  We have a story starring Lando trying to swindle someone.  We have another with Doctor Aphra, a relatively new character, in the lead.  Yet another stars the Emperor himself.

However, these are all pretty big names in the Star Wars mythology.  Most of the short stories actually utilize characters that are essentially unknown.  Remember the red R2 unit that Luke and Uncle Owen almost bought?  He’s got a story.  Do you recall the Tusken Raiders who knocked out Luke?  Yep, they have a story, too.  That bartender who told Luke to get the droids out of his tavern?  You guessed it.  Even one of those little mouse droids in the Death Star has a story.

Are all forty of these short stories great?  Not in my opinion, no.  However, those that didn’t speak to me personally may very well be your favorite.  I will say this, though, the vast majority of them were exceptional.  The writers’ ability to take seemingly irrelevant characters and develop them into engaging, charismatic figures proved uncanny.

I highly recommend this book for any Star Wars fan.

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 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)




Manifest Destiny: Mnemophobia & Chronophobia by Dingess and Roberts – A Book Review

Manifest Destiny is one of my favorite comic books running at the moment.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Lewis and Clark are still exploring the American wilderness west of St. Louis, but in this alternate history, they are not merely mapping out the landscape and marking rivers, they are also analyzing any potential preternatural threats to the American pioneer.  Guess what?  There are many, many strange plants and animals ready to kill them at every opportunity.

There is also a larger plot at play from one volume to the next.  They keeping coming across arches, much like the famed St. Louis Arch.  However, these arches are made of natural materials and developed organically … or did they?  Whatever the case may be, they tend to serve as the epicenter of unusual, and deadly, occurrences.

In this fifth volume, Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and their band of soldiers and felons have founded a fort in order to survive the winter.  Soon, though, a strange fog rolls in, and this fog brings some of their past–and most horrific–threats with it.

This is a high-concept book, but such industrious titles tend to burn out by the time they reach their twenty-fifth issue.  I’m happy to tell you that Manifest Destiny shows no signs of slowing down.  Dingess has found the perfect balance of horror, adventure, and characterization to keep this title engaging and interesting.  Honestly, I thought this particular volume would end up boring me.  After all, a fog doesn’t sound terribly exciting, does it?  It became readily apparent that the fog wasn’t the real threat–the men’s fear, bias, and paranoia is the real threat, and those things burst free during their encounter with the fog.

Matthew Roberts also keeps this title driving forward.  His art appears historically accurate in terms of clothing, tools, weapons, boats, forts, and things like that.  He is also a master of anatomy and perspective.  There appears to be no animal, plant, or combination thereof that he cannot render perfectly.  But, even with that all being said, his most important quality is that he knows how to keep one panel moving into the next, and then into the next, and then into the next.  He realizes the importance of “sequence” in sequential art.

There are only a few titles currently being published that I consider “must-read.”  Manifest Destiny is one of them.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Are You Excited For These Movies? Read the Books First!

Do you love to read the books that movies are based upon before those movies come out?  Check out this activity I had for my students today.  In order to get excited to read the source material, I had them watch the correlating trailers for upcoming films.  I’m happy to say they were very enthusiastic for several of the books (and movies)!  My primary goal as an educator is to help people want to read.  Take a look below and let me know which book you would most like to read, and also which movie looks the best to you.

Black Panther (Trailer)

Black Panther (Book)


Forever My Girl (Trailer)

Forever My Girl (Book)


12 Strong [Horse Soldiers] (Trailer)

Horse Soldiers (Book)


Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Trailer)

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Book)


Annihilation (Trailer)

Annihilation (Book)


Avengers: Infinity War (Trailer)

Avengers: Infinity War (Book)


Every Day (Trailer)

Every Day (Book)


Ready Player One (Trailer)

Ready Player One (Book)


Red Sparrow (Trailer)

Red Sparrow (Book)


A Wrinkle In Time (Trailer)

A Wrinkle In Time (Book)


Love, Simon [Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda] (Trailer)

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Book)


(Last year’s movie trailers and books can be found HERE.)


(Did you enjoy this post?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)