Review: Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

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Title: Black Moon

Author: Kenneth Calhoun

Publisher: Random House

Genre: General Fiction; Science Fiction

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I had really high hopes for this novel.  I love apocalyptic fiction.  The idea of everyone starting to go crazy from a severe case of insomnia was both intriguing and frightening to me. Unfortunately, Black Moon just did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  My disappointment with this novel lays mostly with the end, so I’ll say some might consider this review to have spoilers, even though I have tried to discuss my issues with the end in general terms.

Black Moon follows the stories of four characters who have somehow survived the first wave of insomnia that is gripping the world and turning people into exhausted, crazy, sometimes violent hordes.  Biggs has lost his wife,Carolyn, one night and now must venture from the safety of their apartment in order to find her.  Chase and his friend, Jordan, loot the local drug store in the early stages of the epidemic and make off toward the mountains, hatching a plan to live off the drugs they can sell.  Felicia, Chase’s ex-girlfriend, is an intern at a sleep study clinic looking for a cure.  Lila is a high school student forced from her home when her insomniac parents start to turn on her.

Black Moon is a more literary take on the classic epidemic-apocalyptic novel, a favorite subgenre of mine.  I’ve read a lot of these types of novels. I used to read The Stand every summer and have read more zombie novels than I can count.  One thing these books all have in common is that when the epidemic turns apocalyptic everyone gets on the move.  That is true of Black Moon. Most of these books take these different story lines and converge them to have the characters work together towards an end that is satisfactory to the reader. This is where Black Moon disappointed me.  I got about 100 pages to the end and wondered out loud, “When are these characters going to get together and figure out where to go from here?” Calhoun just leaves everyone wandering into oblivion.

Most of the middle of this novel seems to focus on Chase, a college student who is desparate to get back with Felicia and motivated by wanting to get laid.  There’s really no other way to describe it.  Chase take erectile dysfunction pills in the middle of the novel and his story line becomes him dealing with an erection while succumbing slowly to insomnia.  It’s ridiculous and goes on far too long, to the point where I no longer cared what happened to Chase. All that space in the plot could have been used for Felicia and Lila who have much more interesting stories but feel very underutilized.  Biggs is the only character that was both interesting and well served, except at the end where the plot feels rushed in order to give him some sort of fate.

The best part of the novel is the language. It feels truly unique when we’re engrossed in a character’s interaction with one of the insomniacs. One chapter completely concerns itself with a couple named Jori and Adam.  I think they are related to Biggs but I can’t remember.  Jori and Adam are succumbing to insomnia while taking care of their newborn baby.  This chapter feels like its own separate short story.  The way Jori and Adam speak to one another is an awesome use of language to show two people slowly declining into madness. It’s the most disturbing chapter in the book.

I wish Calhoun had shortened all the erection stuff with Chase and focused a bit more on concluding his story.  While the way he uses language to show who is suffering from various stages of insomnia is interesting and not as gimmicky as it could have been, it just cannot sustain a story that seems to end with a whimper rather than a bang.

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I Just Can’t Quit You, Book

Hello Everybody! Long time, no see! Nope, I didn’t forget I have a blog. Believe me, this blog has been on my mind a lot lately.  I never realized how guilty I could feel for not writing enough until I started this blog.  Yeah, I’m too hard on myself.

I hit a serious reading slump about mid-February.  That’s the problem with having a book reviewing blog. It’s like when you want to finish something for work but finishing it is contigent on a co-worker doing their part and passing the next step on to you.  In this case, I’m both the co-worker and the employee waiting impatiently. I just could not find a book that I wanted to finish so that I could review it.  My brain didn’t want to focus on reading at all.  I racked up many hours in various video games during this period. But I kept feeling really anxious that I wasn’t keeping up with this blog.

So I’ve decided to check in and give my thoughts on why I’m struggling with four books in my TBR pile right now. At least maybe I’ll feel less stress about not writing.

Other Worlds Than These-Edited by John Joseph Adams

Started: 1/23/2013

I started this anthology of short stories way back in January of 2013. I remember that I started it because I was between books and didn’t know what to read next.  I like to insert short stories into those breaks between books because you can always read one story and put the anthology down when you pick up a novel. I guess I just don’t pick this collection up enough to finish it. I’m stalled out on page 114 out of 564 pages. I think what frustrates me the most is that I’ve really enjoyed most of the other anthologies edited by Adams.  I’m currently (actively, so I’m not counting it in this list) reading another anthology edited by him and Hugh Howey and I’m getting through it quickly. Most of the stories in Other Worlds Than These are slow paced and push the page limit of a short story too much for my liking.  Overall, I also think the collection is too long. Also, the stories, which are centered around an alternate worlds theme, all seem to have the same quiet tone.  The good thing is, it’s an anthology of short stories so there isn’t that pressure on myself to finish the whole thing before picking up something else. I do want to finish this book in the next year though.

The Hounds Of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Started: 2/2/2014

I started this thinking it was a short story, not a short novel and would be easy to read quickly.  It was the first book I picked up from The Coaster Book Challenge and I did make the Adventures of Sherbet Holmes drink. That turned out to be very sweet and the color of Pepto-Bismol.  My biggest issue with finishing this book is that I already have an idea as to how it ends. The Hounds of The Baskervilles is one of the most commonly referenced Holmes stories and I have seen the BBC Sherlock episode.  That’s the problem with mysteries, once you know the twist, you start asking yourself what the point is with finishing.  The likelyhood of me completing this story is pretty contingent on my desire to complete my Coaster Book Challenge Quiz so I probably will. Or I’ll get to that 50 page mark and give up but I don’t want to give up quite yet.

 The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History by Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter

Started: 2/18/2014

I think this book had the misfortune of coming to my attention at the tail end of a long non-fiction binge.  I picked it up because my boyfriend and I saw the the movie starring George Clooney and Matt Damon and thought the story was interesting while the tone of the movie was all over the place.  I had trouble sticking with this book because it jumps from place to place so much and doesn’t seem to be telling the story in chronological order.  I also found my attempts to match up actors from the movie with the people mentioned in this book distracting.  I’d  probably do better now that I have some distance from the movie but it would probably take me starting this book over from the beginning.  This is not likely to happen soon since I’ve been reading more fiction lately. Maybe I’ll pick it up the next time I want to read non-fiction.

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell

Started: 3/2/2014

This novel caught my eye while I was running around at work one day after deciding I was done with non-fiction for the time being.  I saw this movie when I was in high school and it is creepy and campy.  I can’t believe it was up for Oscar consideration. The novel itself is just as creepy and fun as the movie, but the pacing is slower.  I’m a bit of a stickler for pacing, I like books that read fast especially if they’re rooted firmly in genre fiction.  So I lost my patience with this one.  I may skip ahead and read Whatever Happened To Cousin Charlotte? and the other two short stories included in the edition I’m reading, then come back to Baby Jane.

So there you have it,  the 3 books in limbo on my TBR pile. The books I had to rescue this weekend when my boyfriend put them away because I’d finished another book and laid it on top of the pile.  The good news is I am out of my reading slump. I have 6 books I need to get off my lazy butt and renew.  So I’m calling that the light at the end of my reading slump tunnel.  Now to stop dwelling on what is unfinished and focus on what is.  Those reviews will be forthcoming. That’s a promise I’m making more to myself than to anyone else.