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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What I'm Reading: City of Mirrors and The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror

Today I have my draft versions of two reviews that appear in newest issue of Booklist

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

First published May 1, 2016 (Booklist)
Four years after The Twelve ended with a cliffhanger, fans will rejoice as Cronin returns with the final installment in his bestselling, post-apocalyptic trilogy. The action picks up 98 years after the destruction of society, soon after the showdown in Iowa where the original twelve virals and their spawned armies were destroyed. Humanity has settled into a calm normalcy that no one alive has ever experienced. We catch up with old characters and observe a new generation coming into adulthood without the constant fear of attack. But while the walls are coming down and people are beginning to populate new settlements, Patient Zero, is secretly readying for a final attack to destroy humanity once and for all. The bleak and menacing atmosphere, nerve wracking tension, twisting plot, and intense battle scenes keep the pages turning as in the first two books, but this final novel also adds a saga-like quality to the entire trilogy, one that may resonate with fan’s of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. Readers of the series will be satisfied with the conclusion, appreciating not only the resolution of the conflict, but also the explanation of how humanity rose from the ashes to prosper again, of which readers had previously only seen fleeting glimpses.

More From Becky: Readers of this blog know that I loved The Passage. The Twelve though, was only okay. Now to be fair, I am not a fan of 2nd books in trilogies in general, so that did not surprise me.

This concluding novel though, was very good. It is satisfying both in how it wraps up the epic story, but also in how it spends time going back to explain where it all began. No spoilers, but there is a large section in the first third of the novel which goes back to explain the entire life of "Patient Zero" up to the point at the beginning of The Passage. This section is written in a different tone and style than the rest of the book, but to me, it fit perfectly because it is set in what was a different world from the world of the series. It also serves to answer many questions, which left unanswered, would have made this trilogy's conclusion less satisfying.

Another question I am getting is with the long time span between books 2 and 3, do you have to go back and re-read book 2 before beginning The City of Mirrors? My answer: no. Honestly, if you read the Wikipedia recap of The Twelve and combine that with the excellent job Cronin does incorporating some refresher information into the story, you will be fine.

And for those of you who have waited to even begin this award winning series until it was complete, you are in for one heck of a fun ride.

Three Words That Describe This Book: menacing atmosphere, returning series characters, satisfying conclusion

Readalikes: My suggestion of Seveneves in my draft above, did not make the final cut review, but I definitely thought of the Stephenson novel when I finished The City of Mirrors

Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy or Parasitology series are also great options for fans of scientific thriller/horror hybrid storytelling with strong characters, intense tension, and a menacing atmosphere.

You can also go back to my original review of The Passage for many more readalikes-- including the most obvious one, The Stand by Stephen King.

The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates
First published May 1, 2016 (Booklist)

In this collection of six previously published stories, Oates has created a book of intense tales filled with unreliable narrators. Using an economy of words to produce an overflow of feelings, in particular extreme unease and tension, Oates ropes you in, seduces you, takes you on a dark and twisted ride and then pulls the rug out from under you, over and over again. Often you start to see the twist coming, but that is not her purpose, obscuring the denouement. Rather these stories are all about the anxiety, tension, mood and the extremely damaged, unlikable characters who keep your eyes glued to the page. When the story ends, you are both gasping for air and rushing to turn the page to begin the next story. The first, “The Doll-Master” may be the most predictable of the bunch, but the creepy feeling it produces lingers, casting an anxious shadow over the entire collection. Stories four and five, “Equatorial” and “Big Mama” build the collection to an intense climax, with “Big Mamma” in particular proving that Oates can be the best macabre writer in the world when she want to be. The final story, “Mystery Inc.,” a love letter to crime fiction and bookselling that could be The Storied Life of AJ Fikry’s evil twin, makes for a fun and unsettling conclusion. This is a collection with wide appeal especially for your fans of compelling and intense psychological suspense as found in the stories of Shirley Jackson, last year’s Slade House, or Gillian Flynn.
More From Becky: If you haven't read Oates ever or in a while and you prefer her more macabre stuff, this collection is worth your time. It is VERY good. [FYI I still am holding out for both her and Haruki Murakami to win the Nobel Prize, but genre bias is real.]

Three Words That Describe This Book: extreme unease, twisted, damaged and unlikeable characters.

Readalikes: I mention 3 above and you can use the links I provided to posts and reviews I have written to find many more.

For those of you who specifically want more short stories of the dark, creepy and twisted variety, check out any collection edited by Ellen Datlow.

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