Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Fireman by Joe Hill

The Fireman is set in a dystopian world where a fungus commonly known as Dragonscale that can cause people to literally go up in flames has infected a large portion of the population and caused out-of-control wildfires, disruption of services like electricity, and a divided society in which some of the healthy are determined to exterminate the infected to prevent further spread of the disease.

Harper is a nurse who volunteers to work at a hospital, helping with the outbreak. When she becomes infected, her husband Jakob presumes he's infected, too, and says he wants to go through with "our plan" (really, his plan) to commit suicide. Harper escapes with the help of John, also known as "The Fireman". John has figured out a way to not only live with the infection but use it to his advantage. He takes her to a campsite where a community of the infected — who have learned to live with Dragonscale and keep it from consuming them — are hiding from the Cremation Crews killing their kind. Jakob becomes one of the killers and he is determined to kill his pregnant wife. Harper is equally determined to survive long enough to give her child a chance.

OK, the good and the bad. I liked Harper and John, although John spends most of his time alone on a small nearby island, so the titles seems a wee bit off. Eventually, he becomes more prominent but the story is really Harper's. However, the story is about a disease that sets people on fire, so that falls into the "eh, whatever" category.

As usual, Hill goes all-out with popular culture references, using favorite music, a Dr. Who reference ("Allons-y!"), quotes from various books and allusions to them, etc. I'm not all that familiar with Stephen King's work but apparently there are some parallels to his father's work, as well. I felt like he went way overboard on the pop culture references; it got a little too cutesy and I found it annoying, particularly the music and Harper's bizarre love of Mary Poppins. That was a negative.

The characterization was very good but not quite as deep as it has been in previous books. In NOS4A2, there was no question who was evil and who you were rooting for. I found that a little harder to pinpoint in The Fireman, possibly because there are so many characters. Some just didn't stick; there were hints about at least one having darker motives; one or two became surprise baddies.

And, the violence . . .  this nearly did me in. I am pretty much convinced that I'm not going to read future books by Joe Hill. Much of the book is palatable and even a bit plodding as it focuses on camp life with just a few dangerous missions. But, once it became violent, it was relentless and vicious. I prefer to avoid images that lead to nightmares and this was nightmare-inducing stuff. Also, there was a cat-murder scene. I'm a cat lover; I can do without that kind of horror.

The best thing about the book is the pacing. It took a while for me to get into the book, possibly because I was suffering from jetlag, but even when I couldn't keep my eyes open I was aware that it was well-paced. The pages really flew, once I got past the fatigue. High marks for excellent packing.

The storyline itself is also one that deserves acclaim for its uniqueness. In a book world saturated with dystopian tales, Hill really came up with something totally his own.

Overall, The Fireman is not my favorite by Hill (the short stories in 20th Century Ghosts still are his most impressive work, in my humble opinion) and yet I liked it better than NOS4A2 because there are breaks between the intense scenes; I appreciated the early focus on characterization and the fact that there was less violence. Once it became violent, though, it was just a bit too much for this reader.

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, July 01, 2016

June Reads in Review, 2016

I'll bet you weren't so sure I'd really return to do those end of month wrap-ups, right? Well, I'm still here, just not on Facebook or blogging regularly. I'm enjoying my time off but sometimes realize that I do, in fact, really miss blogging. There are moments that I think, "I want to write about this!" and have to stop myself. If I hadn't made myself a promise to stay away and force a reevaluation of how I spend my time, I'd be happily plugging away. But, I do think the break has been a good thing, so far, and still plan to eventually return. I hope you're all having a wonderful summer!

June reads (Links to reviews written during my blog break lead to Goodreads):

47. The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler - When an elderly woman meets a teenager who expresses interest in her life story, she begins to reveal the secrets of her past and discovers new hope for her remaining years. Absolutely loved this book.

48. Lonely Planet Australian Language and Culture - A fun guide to all things Australian, a little heavy on the information about indigenous people but otherwise fascinating and entertaining.

49. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu - A very strange book that takes place in a science fictional universe but is really about a young man's yearning for his father. Bizarre but ultimately satisfying.

50. My Brother Jack by George Johnston - The story of two Australian brothers who support each other through the ups and downs of life. WWII serves as the point at which they become aware of their lost hopes and truly learn how much they mean to each other. Dense but excellent reading. I was expecting a WWII story, not a fictionalized life story but it didn't matter.

51. Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: The Little Sister - Illus. by Michael Lark - A graphic novel version of Raymond Chandler's novel, told using Chandler's words and nicely illustrated. Confirmation that Chandler is not for me but I appreciated the clarity of the artwork.

52. Ah-Choo by L.W. Koehler, G. G. Adams, and K. Min - A young boy wants a pet but every time he brings a new animal home his sister sneezes, until he brings home a bearded dragon. Loads of fun for read-aloud.

53. All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher - When Augusta Rockwell, her three daughters, and granddaughter all gather together after Hurricane Sandy washes away everything in the bottom of their ancestral home, they learn to work out their differences while exposing long-held secrets and let-downs by the men in their lives, opening up new hope and forming unexpected bonds. By far one of my favorite recent reads entirely peopled by female protagonists.

54. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley - When a private jet crashes 18 minutes into a flight from Martha's Vineyard with only 2 survivors, painter Scott Burroughs becomes an unexpected hero. What happened to lead up to the crash of the plane and what will happen to Scott when every aspect of his life comes into question? A gripping read. I goofed off and read all day; didn't want to put the book down.

55. The Secret River by Kate Grenville - (full review at Goodreads is hidden due to spoilers) Beginning with William Thornhill's childhood, the story of Will and wife Sal as they work hard, fall on hard times, are transported to Australia, and eventually become land owners. A raw, sad work of historical fiction, gorgeously written but brutal.

This was really a great month. Although I'm still reading slowly, there were a lot of gems in this lot. Favorites were The Secrets of Flight, My Brother Jack, All of Us and Everything, Before the Fall, and The Secret River -- a nice hodge-podge of historical and contemporary. I loved the only children's book I read, Ah-Choo, and enjoyed learning about Australian culture in the Lonely Planet book. I liked How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe for its uniqueness, although it lost me at times. The only book I didn't like or love was The Little Sister. Although the artwork was great, I'm not sure how I ended up with it. At some point in the past I discovered that I adore Dashiell Hammett but I can't bear Raymond Chandler and, sure enough, I just didn't like it. But, I finished it, anyway. It was short.

This month, I'm continuing to take time off from the computer because my physical therapist says I'm messing up my neck by looking down at my laptop. So, I'm going to avoid pretty much everything but Goodreads and Twitter (also will just be dropping in occasionally at Twitter). I'm planning to participate in #FiremanAlong, a read-along of Joe Hill's latest novel, The Fireman. Otherwise, I have no specific reading plans. Hope you're enjoying your summer!

©2016 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.