Posts Tagged ‘Peter Straub

11
Oct
17

Life lesson from Uncle Stevie: You always — always, always, always — fall from the topmost grid of the ceiling that you’re using for a ladder in the hall of the maximum security prison that has gone sliding down the unstable remains of a former coal mountain. CBR9 Review 55.

UnknownSleeping Beauties is a gigantic, door-stopping tome that tells the story of a world without women. What would happen if suddenly all of the world’s women were suddenly asleep, and the men were left to their own devices, without supervision and guidance from the fairer sex? How long until guns are used to make every single decision?

As it turns out, less than a week.

Uncle Stevie and his son Owen are trying something interesting here, but it mostly didn’t work for me. Here’s what I loved:

  • As usual, the first third of the book is just an introduction to the characters and the town where this bizarre story takes place — a small Appalachian town in West Virginia called Dooling. We see the handsome pool guy cleaning out pools and giving garden advice. We sit with some high school kids arguing about whether or not they should go to the Arcade Fire show. We are introduced to some strung out folks doing meth in a trailer (with their very own meth lab in the shed outside!). We peek in on the lives of the women who are incarcerated at the women’s prison just outside of town. And we meet Sheriff Lila Norcross and her husband, Dr. Clint Norcross (who just happens to be the psychiatrist up at the prison). There’s nobody out there that does this kind of writing better than King. He doesn’t just introduce names and characteristics — by the end of the first section of the story, you really feel like you know these people and the town that they live in.
  • I also enjoyed the general mystery of the story: a sleeping sickness called Aurora suddenly sweeps across the globe. As women fall asleep, they immediately become wrapped in cocoons of unknown origin. Some women fight it for as long as they can, using drugs and exercise to keep from falling asleep, but some women gladly welcome this mysterious slumber as a way to escape their day-to-day lives. If anyone attempts to cut the cocoon off of a sleeping woman, they are met with immediate and gruesome violence. These “sleeping beauties” just want to go back to sleep. DO NOT DISTURB. But what happens to them when they fall asleep? Will they ever wake up?
  • I liked seeing some of the characters redeem themselves. A meth addled plastic surgeon becomes one of the story’s most trusted voices of reason. A crazy (really. much too crazy.) prison inmate becomes a brave defender of womenkind. A woman so addicted to drugs that she prostitutes herself turns into a wise, horse loving, leader of women.
  • I loved that he wrote this with his son. I read Owen King’s book Double Feature a few years ago, and I didn’t love it. But like the books that King wrote with Peter Straub, the story was told smoothly and seamlessly. It was impossible to tell who wrote what.

Sadly, I think there was more that I didn’t really like.

  • Most of the male characters were horrible and unredeemable. They had issues with women in positions of power. They had anger problems. They beat their partners. They sexually abused the inmates. They drank too much. They solved all of their problems with weapons.
  • I don’t really want to get into a feminist rant here, but the whole basic plot is somewhat problematic (WOMEN ARE ALL THAT IS GOOD. MEN ARE BAD AND LIKE GUNS.) in that it was written by two men. Yes, these two men in particular have some wonderful, strong women in their lives. But come on.
  • There was a young girl named Nana. I cannot accept this as a name. I apologize if you or a loved one is named Nana. Unless its your grandmother. That’s fine.
  • I know that King LOVES to kill off your favorite characters Joss Whedon-style, but I hated when and how SPOILER Garth Flickinger died. He was quickly becoming one of my favorite King characters of all time.
  • While I sort of liked the fact that the women of Dooling (I GUESS THIS IS A SPOILER?) had been transported to a mystical Dooling of another world to re-start society, I really, really, really didn’t like the character of Eve Black, who apparently brought Aurora with her when she came to our world. She was too magical, too quirky, too beautiful. Ugh. (But I did like that she was supposedly the inspiration for Shakespeare to write the Queen Mab speech in Romeo & Juliet. Anything that gives me the opportunity to post this:
  • Lastly, I get that Uncle Stevie has a lot of power in the publishing world. But this book could easily have been 200 pages shorter. Cut the entire plot about the moronic drug dealers with the rocket launcher and the arm wrestling guard, don’t describe every single inmate in the prison, and we would be good to go.

And yes, in case you were wondering, this book suffers from Stephen King ending syndrome.

 

 

16
Jun
16

Guess who’s back? It’s Travelin’ Jack. CBR8 Review 31.

Unknown-5Another check mark for me as I make my way back through all of the Dark Tower related content that dear Uncle Stevie has produced over the years. I’m happy to report that this one was a bit of a pleasant surprise.

After being slightly disappointed by my re-read of The Talisman earlier this year, I wasn’t exactly excited about starting its sequel, Black House. I have a vague memory of reading it when it was first published, and pretty much thinking it was a mess. All I remember was that the book featured good old Travelin’ Jack Sawyer, his new blind friend that he’s reading Bleak House to at night, and a bunch of tough, bearded biker guys who were somehow more than meets the eye. Other than that, I honestly drew a big blank when trying to remember the plot of this one.

Good old Travelin’ Jack is now a retired police detective from California who is living in rural Wisconsin. He loves his country home, because it reminds him of someplace, but he’s not sure where. Jack has taken great pains over the past 20 years to forget about his summer in The Territories, and has almost no recollection about his adventures at all.

In the sleepy little country town where Jack has now made his home, something terrible is happening. There’s a monster out there (dubbed the Fisherman) murdering (and eating. ew.) children, and the local police are at their collective wits end. Jack is lured back into investigative work by his friends on the force, and finds that there is far more to this case than anyone might have guessed.

I think its safe to say that I’m not really spoiling anything by telling you that there are forces from other worlds at work here, many of whom are connected to our pal Roland Deschain and his quest to find the Tower. The Crimson King is the real bad guy, having his lackeys (including the Fisherman) find children from all over the world (and worlds) to become “breakers” and assist in his ongoing obsession of destroying the tower. When the Fisherman snatches young Tyler Marshall — perhaps one of strongest breakers of all time, second only to Ted Brautigan — something inside of Jack Sawyer wakes up, and he knows that he’s the only one who’s going to be able to stop the Fisherman and get Tyler back. And that he’s going to have to go back to the Territories to get to the bottom of all of this.

There’s actually a lot to like here. The first 100 or so pages are great — a simple overview of a small town in Wisconsin on a lovely summer day. Some people are nice, and some people aren’t. Some homes are happy, and some are definitely not. The narrative weaves in and out of various locations, introducing characters and getting to know the town. Its quite well done.

I also love trying to figure out which author was responsible for different parts. I’m assuming that we can thank King for the well educated, beer brewing biker gang. I’m fascinated by their working relationship and would love to know how they go about writing these books. Word on the street is that they are talking about a third…

But.

Would I recommend this book to someone who isn’t familiar with the whole Tower quest? Nope. There’s too much going on that might just come off as nonsense. Too much about Ka and talking monorails and mad red kings. But what about as a solitary sequel to the Talisman? Yes, there are some of the same characters, and yes, there are scenes in the Territories, but really, this only works if you’ve read all 7 Tower books AND The Talisman.

 

 

 

 

15
Jan
16

My journey to the Dark Tower might never end. These are some seriously long books. CBR8 Reviews 5 & 6.

Unknown
Last year, I told myself that I was going to try and re-read as many of Stephen King’s Dark Tower-related books as possible. I pretty much only got through It. I forgot how incredibly long (LONG. SOOOO VERY LONG.) some of these books are. And because of the way I read*, it takes me forever to get through some of these.

Last week, I finished listening to Insomnia. I had only read this one once before, way back when it came out. I remember being totally confused by it, and only picking up on the Dark Tower references when Patrick Danville shows up in book VII.

Insomnia takes place in Derry, about 10 years after the events of It. Ralph Roberts is an aging widow, missing his wife, and suffering from insomnia. As his sleeplessness gets more severe, Ralph starts seeing things. He notices colors that nobody else can see. He can see a person’s aura (a color around the person, with a balloon string going up into the sky) and tell if they are happy or sad, excited or angry, healthy or sick.

And then he starts to see the doctors. Two little bald men with giant scissors who appear outside the home of a sick (soon to be dead) neighbor late one night. And while the two little doctors seem to be “good”, they have a third counterpart who is most definitely bad. And Ralph can see him, too.

With the help of his friend Lois (who has also been suffering from insomnia), Ralph works with the good doctors to stop a terrorist attack at a pro-choice rally.

Yes, really.

This book is still mostly a mess.

But.

There’s also kind of a great story underneath all of the mess. The story of what it means to get older and what it means to be alone. This time around, these are the parts of the story that really got me. Ralph Roberts is a very fine hero for the King universe, and I was sorry that the majority of his bravery was muddled down with all of the nonsense with the little bald doctors.

How does it relate to the Dark Tower?

*The doctors take him to different “levels” of his world, explaining that all worlds are simply different levels of a very tall tower.
*The Crimson King is here, too, urging on our villain, Ed Deepneau, to blow up the Derry Civic Center.
*I’m guessing Ed Deepneau is probably somehow related to Aaron, one of the founding members of the Tet Corporation.
*Ralph’s job is to save young Patrick Danville, valued above all others.
*Patrick draws a picture of Roland Deschain and the tower.
*There’s lots of Dark Tower lingo here: Ka, Ka-tet, death bags…

And then, I finished The Talisman, which was co-written by King and Peter Straub. I fondly remember this as one of my favorite books when I was younger, and probably read it two or three times over the years. But it had definitely been a while since I visited it.

The Talisman is about Jack Sawyer, a 12 year old boy who finds himself at a weird hotel in New Hampshire with his dying mother. His father is dead, and his father’s business partner Morgan wants Jack and his mother to come home. But Jack stumbles into an adventure and finds himself on a journey to save his mother.

Jack finds that there is another world called The Territories, very similar to our world, that he can “flip” to, and that the Queen of the Territories, who happens to look exactly like his mother, is also dying. And Jack is sent (by a gunslinger, no less) to find something called The Talisman, which will not only save his mother and the Queen, but will right all wrongs in all worlds.

And Jack sets off on his way, across both our world and the territories, to California. Along the way, he meets some horrible people and some great ones. He sees the best and the worst that all worlds have to offer.

I loved this book back in 1984. 1984 me loved Jack, loved Wolf, and wanted to drive around in a limousine blasting Run Through The Jungle.

2016 me? I liked it. But I didn’t love it as hard as I used to. Yeah, I still got choked up when Wolf gets sent out to the shed at the Sunlight home, and yeah, lots of the stuff about Jack’s trip and the general awfulness of people was still spot-on. But all of the stuff at the black hotel was a garbled mess. And I just couldn’t deal with that big of a mess after such a long story.

And how does this mess tie to the Dark Tower?

*The territories are an alternate world on another level of the tower. When Jack gets his hands on the Talisman, he flips through level after level of the tower, worlds that he’s never seen and will never see again.
*There’s a theme introduced here that most everyone on our level of the tower has a “twinner” in the alternate level. Jack’s mom and the Queen are twinners. Jake Chambers and Bobby Garfield (from Hearts in Atlantis) are twinners, too.
*In the story, The Little Sisters of Eluria, Roland finds himself back at the pavilion where Jack first sees the Queen.

Long story short, these two books aren’t my favorites. But I’m glad I revisited them. I’ll still continue with Black House (the sequel to The Talisman), and see if that one has improved at all since my one and only time reading it. If I remember correctly, that one has some direct ties to the Crimson King.

*Here’s a brief view of what I’m reading right now:

from the library: Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson
for the gym: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
on my iPad: Sand by Hugh Howey
on my phone: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushness
on my nightstand: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
audible in my car: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
audible out of my car: Black House by Stephen King
on my kindle: The Regulators by Stephen King

 

16
Sep
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 35: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Unknown-2A few weeks ago, I read and enjoyed The Vacationers by Emma Straub. And upon finishing my review, promised myself two things. One, that I would seek out more of Emma’s work, and two, that I would solve the mystery of whether or not Emma was related to Peter Straub, one of my favorites. (Have you read Lost Boy, Lost Girl? No? Stop reading this right now and go read that, I’ll wait. It was awesome, right?)

And now, here we are, two weeks later. I’ve read another of Emma’s books, and I’ve solved the mystery. Yes, Peter Straub is Emma’s father. How do I know? Because, the proud dad that he is, he commented on my blog post. SERIOUSLY. The greatest moment in my short blogging life so far.

Anyway, back to Earth. Back to Laura Lamont.

When I was a little kid, I loved to watch old movies with my dad. We loved watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dance, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell talk incredibly fast, and Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis do crazy things. But our favorite was always Singing in the Rain, the lavish musical about the struggle in Hollywood to turn from making silent films to “talkies.” I loved the inside look at movie making and celebrity. And that’s what my mind kept going back to while I was reading about Laura Lamont. (Hey, the antagonist in Signing in the Rain is even named Lena Lamont. Just realized that!)

Laura Lamont, born Elsa Emerson in rural Wisconsin, moves to Hollywood as a teenager, hoping to act. She quickly becomes a star — she wins an Oscar, she marries one of the top guys at the studio, she’s a huge success. And then she takes some time away from the spotlight to raise her family, and struggles to regain her spot on the celebrity ladder. This is the story of how movie stars were made and ruined, and how the movie studios made the decisions that would make or break you for the rest of your career.

I loved the details in this book. I could almost picture the bustling studio lots, the enormous sound stages, the costumes, the hair, the night clubs, the cars, and the houses. ≈

And I really enjoyed reading about Laura/Elsa’s journey. But by no means is this an uplifting story. Laura’s life is filled with heartbreak: suicide, parental difficulties, divorce, death, drug addiction, depression, bi-polar disorder, and alcoholism. But her life is also built around the love that she has for her children and her husband, and her life-long friendship with TV star Ginger (a Lucille Ball type).

The ending of this book definitely surprised me, and I enjoyed the last few chapters, seeing Laura change course, and finally seem happy again.

I’ve read some criticism that this book is somewhat boring, that it isn’t an action-packed, and didn’t have a ton of plot. But it was the story of a life, and of a time. And to me, the Hollywood of the 1930s and 40s could never be boring.

I still have one more novel by Emma Straub to find. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

 

28
Aug
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 32: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Unknown-1I had no idea who Emma Straub was until I picked this off of the new release table at the library last week. I assumed that maybe she was Peter Straub’s daughter, and thought I was getting myself a fun horror story for the end of the summer.

Well. I don’t know if she is actually related to Peter. Maybe?

And this was actually a pretty fun book. I’d compare her writing to Jonathan Tropper — telling a difficult story with humor and wit. And while I think Tropper might be funnier, Straub is a better writer, and her characters are much more realistic.

The Vacationers is the story of two families and their problems. Franny and Jim; their son Bobby and his cougar girlfriend, Carmen; teenage daughter Sylvia; and Fran’s best friend, Charles, and his husband, Lawrence. They all decide to rent a house is Mallorca for two weeks, putting aside their domestic and personal problems, and hoping for a vacation that can save their relationships.

Fran and Jim have big problems. Jim has recently been fired for sleeping with an intern at work, just before their 35th wedding anniversary. Franny, shockingly, isn’t handling this very well. Jim wants to be forgiven, but Fran isn’t sure what she wants. Jim is jumping through hoops for Franny, and Franny is more or less just ignoring Jim.

Bobby, a real estate broker in Miami, has his own problems. He and Carmen (his older girlfriend, that nobody seems to like), are in a rut, and Bobby has some major financial debts piling up. His goal is to spend the vacation buttering up his parents in order to ask them for a huge loan.

Sylvia is off to college in the fall, and glad to be rid of her high school friends and away from New York City for a few weeks. And she has a “bucket list” for her last summer at home, and the number one item on the list is to lose her virginity. Enter Joan, Sylivia’s super hot Mallorcan spanish tutor…

And lastly, Charles and Lawrence, a married couple trying to adopt a baby. Charles and Franny have been best friends for ages, and Lawrence and Jim have never been able to compete for their affections. Theirs was the story I enjoyed the most, and found to be the most realistic and intriguing.

The story is filled with upsetting, yet familiar, situations. And for the most part, Straub makes it work. To be honest, not all of it worked for me. I totally could have done without the quirky bits where Jim follows Franny around Mallorca on the back of a motorcycle owned by a British pediatrician. Ugh. But the rest was fun and real. We all know the mom who makes too much food, as if feeding people will make their problems go away. We’ve all gotten drunk and done something stupid that we wish we could take back. And every family has the relative who is dating someone that makes everyone scratch their heads and go “huh?”

I’ll look for more work by Straub in the future (I guess she has one other book, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures). She has a lot of talent, and this was pretty impressive for such a young novelist.

 




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