Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese - Christine, an end-times reporter for a religious news publication, has nearly had enough of doomsday cults and their always-wrong predictions about Armageddon. But while on a legitimate assignment in the Middle East, she is given a locked briefcase and told to "take it to Mercury." Mercury happens to be a sassy angel, happily practicing his ping-pong serve in California and trying not to take anything too seriously. Both Heaven and Hell are moving their players into position for the Apocalypse - it's actually going to happen this time - and Christine and Mercury have to kidnap the Antichrist (a total dickweed named Karl who lives in his mother's attic) to keep the world from ending.
I liked Mercury Falling but didn't love it. I wasn't able to make much of a connection with any of the characters and, as such, didn't really care about any of them. There is a definite Douglas Adams/Tim Robbins/Terry Pratchett tone to the novel as the ridiculous situations keep piling up and Christine keeps trying to deal with them as a rational human being. If you like your apocalypses on the lighter side, this one's for you. (And as a bonus, it is just the first in a series of Mercury novels.)
The Fireman by Joe Hill - A plague has swept the country (and possibly the world), brought about by a highly contagious spore - apparently released as the polar ice has melted - that marks its victims' skin with gorgeous gold and black tattoos ... and then causes them to spontaneously combust and burn alive. There is no cure. Harper Grayson is a nurse who at first tries to care for those sickened by Dragonscale and then she catches a dose of it herself. Her horrible husband has a nervous breakdown and abandons her, just as she learns that she is pregnant with their first child. An enigmatic stranger that she meets in the hospital - the Fireman - helps her find her way to a community of infected who support one another while they try to learn to live with their infection. But around them civilization has fallen apart: no power, no government, no medicine and roving bands of Cremation Squads who put down any infected they can find. Harper discovers that the Fireman has learned how to control the Dragonscale - and that is her only hope for her unborn child, and perhaps the human race.
Look, I really like Joe Hill. But The Fireman was as uninteresting and unoriginal as a novel about people bursting into flame can be. At the start of the book, Hill's dedication includes those who inspired him with this book: including, "Ray Bradbury, from whom I stole my title, [and] my father, from whom I stole all the rest." Everyone now knows that Hill's father is Stephen King and The Fireman sure felt like a SK ripoff: including bits from The Stand (the plague, pregnant heroine, collapse of civilization) and Firestarter (um, the fire) and Cell (another collapse of civilization, moving through Maine to a rumored safe haven), to name just a couple. The characters felt a little thin and the build-up to the confrontation between Harper and her crazed ex-husband just fizzled out like pfftttt. I would like to see Joe Hill get back to form - this one was just too derivative for me.
20 hours ago