Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King

08
Jun
17

He walked like no man on earth, I swear he had no name. CBR9 Review 40.

UnknownAs you know by now, I’m a sucker for Uncle Stevie. Anything he writes, I’ll read. Novel, short story, op-ed, tweets, collaborations…I’m there. That’s why I’m a Constant Reader.

This isn’t the first collaboration with another author that I’ve read by King. He wrote a few short stories with his son, Joe Hill that were pretty good (In the Tall Grass was legitimately terrifying). His book with Stewart O’Nan, Faithful, is probably my favorite non-fiction book of all time.

So, even though I had never heard of co-author Richard Chizmar, it didn’t really matter. I was going to read this sooner or later.

Set in the always-horrible town of Castle Rock, Maine, Gwendy’s Button Box is classic King. Gwendy Peterson is about to start 6th grade at the start of the story. Overweight and the butt of jokes among her classmates, Gwendy is taking matters into her own hands. She runs every day up a huge flight of stairs, called the Suicide Stairs, and little by little she can see the weight slowly dropping.

One day, when she reaches the top of the stairs, she is greeted by a strange man in a black suit and hat, who calls himself Richard Farris (hmmm…). Farris tells her he has something for her, and produces a beautiful mahogany box with 8 colored buttons on top, and two small levers on the side. Farris vaguely explains what the buttons do, and shows her how to use the levers…one produces a tiny (and delicious) chocolate animal that will supposedly curb Gwendy’s appetite, and one produces a mint-condition rare coin, each worth hundreds of dollars.

Gwendy is immediately drawn to the box, feeling that she and the box were destined for each other. Every day, she eats a chocolate. Gwendy’s whole life changes slowly…she’s skinny, beautiful, and popular. She has all As in school and is the fastest girl on the track team. Gwendy knows that the changes in her life are somehow related to the box, but as the years go by, she tries not to obsess about it too much.

But of course, this is Stephen King. Not everything about the box is great. Some truly awful things happen to Gwendy, and she knows the box is responsible for these events, too.

This is a super-quick read, and I enjoyed it. The co-writing was seamless — I’m not actually sure how they managed to collaborate, and it was hard to tell who wrote what. At times, I was genuinely scared for Gwendy and her family, because as any Constant Reader knows, when you introduce a character with the initials RF, he isn’t exactly going to be a good influence on the story.

 

 

01
Jun
17

Don’t ask me silly questions, I won’t play silly games. I’m just a simple choo-choo train, and I’ll always be the same. CBR9 Review 38.

FullSizeRenderThis is a “children’s” book that I would never, ever recommend to any child.

Written as a companion piece to Uncle Stevie’s The Waste Lands, this is an illustrated version of the story that Jake Chambers buys at The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind from Calvin Tower. He had it when he was a boy. So did Susannah Dean. And so did Eddie Dean. And none of them liked it.

They all wondered if the illustrations of Charlie and Engineer Bob showed a happy train and driver pulling kids screaming with joy, or an insane duo, forcing children who were scared to death to ride along with them. LOOK AT THEM.

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The story of Charlie and Engineer Bob is weird from the start. Engineer Bob knows that Charlie is no ordinary steam engine, but that Charlie is “really, really alive.” Charlie sings little songs to Engineer Bob, who doesn’t seem to think any of this is weird at all.

Don’t ask me silly questions, I won’t play silly games.
I’m just a simple choo-choo train, and I’ll always be the same.
I only want to race along, beneath the bright blue sky,
and be a happy choo-choo train, until the day I die.

Ok then.

Eventually, diesel engines come to the station to replace Charlie. Both he and Engineer Bob (who is demoted to become Wiper Bob) are put out to pasture. Charlie cries “dark, oily tears” and his headlight goes dark while he sits, depressed and alone. The last two lines of his song change to:

Now that I can’t race along, beneath the bright blue sky,
I guess that I’ll just sit right here, until I finally die.

Right.

Of course, eventually Charlie and Engineer Bob are needed to save the day. They have to get Susannah (the railway president’s daughter) to her piano recital, which is HUNDREDS OF MILES AWAY. The president of the railway is so impressed by Charlie and Bob.

This is some locomotive, Bob! I don’t know why we ever retired it! How do you keep the coal conveyer loaded at this speed?

Engineer Bob only smiled, because he knew Charlie was feeding himself.

This is the stuff of nightmares.

01
Jun
17

My first thought was, he lied in every word.* CBR9 Review 37.

imagesYeah, I’m obsessed with these books. I just can’t stop reading (or listening to) them. I’m stuck in my own self-imposed wheel of Ka, destined to follow the adventures of Eddie and Jake and Roland and Oy (and ok, Susannah) for the rest of my days. (Note: This is my second time reviewing this book for the Cannonball Read…my first attempt was way way back in CBR3.)

It’s funny how each time I read these Dark Tower books (and stories and graphic novels), I come away with something different. For instance, I used to love (LOVE!) Eddie Dean. He was up on the Mount Rushmore of my favorite fictional male characters, along with Han Solo and Captain Wentworth. But this time, he’s bugging me beyond belief. I used to think Oy was just a cute and cuddly companion. And now I wonder if any of this could have ever happened without Oy, and just how integral he was to the Ka-Tet.

I think part of this is due to the fact that I’m listening to the books this time around. And the narrator thus far (the late, great Frank Muller) chose a heavy New York accent for Eddie, one that makes him sound like a bit of an idiot, to be honest. And I get why he chose that, and I don’t disagree with it. It just makes Eddie’s shortcomings stand out to me, and make him slightly (or more than slightly) annoying. Muller also makes Susannah a bit more appealing as a character, doing the best that he can with Uncle Stevie’s weakest link in the Ka-Tet.

A brief overview of what actually happens in this book:

After killing an enormous robotic bear, Eddie, Susannah, and Roland find “the path of the beam” which will lead them to the Dark Tower as long as they follow it. The path that they follow is known as the beam of the bear/path of the turtle.

Roland finds that he is slowly losing his grip on reality. Ever since he spared Jake’s life at the end of The Drawing of the Three, he lives in a mental paradigm — part of his mind is positive that he once knew a boy named Jake Chambers, and that he let him die under the mountains while he followed Walter…and part of his mind says that there was no boy. If Jake never died in New York, then he never appeared at the way station.

In New York of 1977, Jake Chambers is also slowly going insane. He spends his days in a dream state, constantly looking behind doors, positive that opening one will surely bring him back to Roland and his world. Before leaving New York behind forever, Jake does several important things:

  • He writes his final english paper (although he doesn’t remember doing so) about a train named Blaine, who is a pain.
  • He meets two men in a bookstore named Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, and he picks up two books there: a children’s book called Charlie the Choo Choo, and a book of riddles with the answers torn out.
  • He finds himself in a vacant lot, where he sees the most beautiful rose to ever grace the earth. Next to the rose he finds a key that actually helps him open the door between the worlds.

Eventually, Jake finds his way over to Roland, Eddie, and Susannah (but not until after one of my LEAST FAVORITE plots in the series, that of the sex demon vs. Susannah Dean), and they are soon joined by Oy the billy-bumbler. Roland and Jake find that their minds have healed now that they are back together.

They make their way toward the once-great city of Lud, where there once was a train called Blaine, but nobody has seen or heard from Blaine in many years. Jake is taken prisoner by a disgusting old pirate named Gasher, and brought to someone called The Tick-Tock Man, who rules one faction of the warring city. Oy and Roland rescue him. Eddie and Susannah find Blaine, who is pretty much insane, and convince him to take them all out of the city on their quest for the tower.

Yeah, Blaine is a real pain.

Oh. And did I mention that Randall Flagg shows up?

I remember the first time I read this, I couldn’t believe how Uncle Stevie decided to end things…just leaving us Constant Readers hanging by a thread, not knowing what would happen to our friends. And then HAVING TO WAIT for the next book to be written. It was the worst. This time, I started the next book just seconds after finishing this one, which was nice.

* This is the opening link of Robert Browning’s epic poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. This could easily refer to Blaine. Or to Randall Flagg. Or even to Roland, if you think about it.

 

19
Apr
17

I miss you, Secretariat. CBR9 Review 25.

51B4hACt8TL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Two or three years ago, while we were on vacation in The Berkshires, we spent a day at the Norman Rockwell museum. It was great. We learned a ton about Rockwell and his life and walked around the gorgeous property where he painted. As an added bonus, there was a special exhibit on display, featuring all (or at least a lot) of Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod paintings. This was particularly eye-opening, as I really didn’t know much about Hopper other than that he painted Nighthawks.

So, when I saw badkittyuno’s review of this collection of stories based on some of Hopper’s works, I made a mental note to check it out if I saw it at the library.

This collection includes 17 short stories, all based on a specific painting by Hopper. I don’t know if the writers got to choose their painting or not (although Uncle Stevie did mention that he had a particular preference if possible), but it was interesting to see how these writers combined a specific image on a canvas with an idea for a story.

First off, this is a gorgeous book. I loved seeing the beautiful color insert before each story, showing the painting that inspired the author. I don’t know if this is available on the e-book version or not, but it was really lovely and in many cases, really helped to set the scene. I hadn’t heard of all of the writers included here, and many of the ones I had heard of, I hadn’t read. (Hello, Joyce Carol Oates. Nice to finally get acquainted.)

In particular, I’d recommend the creepy Stephen King story, The Music Room, and the bizarre and otherworldly Rooms by the Sea by Nicholas Christopher.

I also found Gail Levin’s entry fascinating. It was a fictional account of a non-fictional event in her career as a Hopper “expert,” describing the actions that a neighbor of Hopper’s took to ensure that the bulk of a hidden treasure trove of early drawings and letters would never be found and could be sold to his personal advantage. Granted, Hopper came off like a total d-bag in this story, but the real villain of the story is Reverend Arthayer R. Sanborn, a so-called man of God who took what he wanted from the elderly Hopper family and made quite a bit of money.

But my favorite story, hands-down, was Taking Care of Business by Craig Ferguson.

Yes. I love Craig Ferguson. I loved his show. I have read and loved his books, both fiction and non-fiction. And I loved this story.

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I mean, what’s not to like?

Using Hopper’s painting titled South Truro Church, 1930, Ferguson tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two men in their twilight years.

Unknown

I felt that Ferguson, more than any of the other authors, really brought the landscape, and Hopper’s vision of it, to life. His story starts with this:

The Reverend Jefferson T. Adams, beloved and respected minister of this parish for over fifty years, pulled deeply on the long fragile Jamaican style reefer and held the smoke deep in his lungs. There was no sensation of getting high anymore, or indeed panic or paranoia or any of the other unpleasantness. No sensation at all really but he enjoyed the ritual.

He listened to the music from outside the church. It was too nice a day to go inside. Cold and still with a high milky cataract of cloud diffusing the sunlight enough to flatter the landscape, softening the edges and blanching out the imperfections like an old actor’s headshot.

The sea was guilty and quiet, like it had just eaten.

He juggles topics like faith, aging, loneliness, and death with grace and humor. And it made me hope that Craig writes more for us sometime soon.

 

 

 

09
Mar
17

WTF, UNCLE STEVIE? CBR9 Review 18.

UnknownNo matter how many times I read this book (which, as we all know, has been many, many times), I can’t help but get worked up by what happens in the very first chapter.

Seriously, I can’t think of another book in a series that starts out with such a HUGE event.

And every time I read it, I’m all, “WTF, UNCLE STEVIE?!??!!!?!?!” But, in a good way.

I guess I’ll mark this section as SPOILERS, even though this book was written in 1986. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I’ll try and be as vague as possible.

When those lobstrosities come out of the water, and start asking their questions, I’m tense. I know EXACTLY what’s going to happen, and how it will affect everything else that happens in the book, which will then affect everything that happens in the series. And still, I’m nervous and upset.

This time, I listened to the late, great Frank Muller narrate the story, and it was even more terrifying. His reading of nonsense words like, “Did-a-chick? Dum-a-chum? Dad-a-cham? Ded-a-chek?,” was honestly scarier than anything in The Shining.

This is the second time I’ve reviewed this book for a cannonball (the first being way back in CBR3!), and much of what I said then still holds. I think this one is still my favorite (although I do now have a greater appreciation for both Wizard & Glass and The Dark Tower). I love getting to know Eddie and Odetta/Susannah (note, I still do not love Detta Walker in any way, shape, or form). I love seeing Roland struggle with our world (or, at least, something similar to our world), and being amazed by little things like tuna fish, pepsi, and airplanes, but disappointed in other things like pharmacies, hot dogs, and fat policemen.

Because I love this series so much, I tend to ignore the major issues that I have with this book. For instance, all of Detta’s dialogue. I get that she was written to sound like a made-up cartoon character, but still. She is awful. I also never quite buy how quickly my beloved Eddie and Odetta fall in love. Yes, I understand that they are pretty much alone in another world, but they certainly go all in pretty quickly.

Listening to Frank Muller, I do have a new complaint. Muller is an amazing narrator. He’s easy to follow and makes it simple for the listener to understand which character is speaking at any given moment. He makes you feel bad when you’re supposed to and makes you smile when something funny happens. But I hated the voice he gave Eddie. The Brooklyn accent was simply too much for me. I adore Eddie, and hope that as he spends more time in the gunslinger’s world, his co-op city accent will fade away. I’m not sure I can handle it for 5 1/2 more books.

 

 

 

09
Jan
17

“There’s something horribly unfair about dying in the middle of a good story, before you have a chance to see how it all comes out.” CBR9 Review 3.

unknownI have to wonder how long it would have taken the general public to figure out that Joe Hill was, in fact, Joe King, if the news hadn’t come out on its own. I feel like — and this is not necessarily a bad thing — Joe Hill exists as the world’s greatest Stephen King impersonator.

Hill shares many literary strengths with his old man. They are both great at creating a community of real characters, and bringing small, New England towns to life. They both thrive when putting the mundane, everyday details of life down on the page. They give you real people to root for in a dire situation, and they break your heart when sometimes these real people don’t survive until the end of the story. They both love Bruce Springsteen. Especially Jungleland.

Unfortunately, junior King also shares some of his dad’s weaknesses. Sex scenes are not comfortable to read. Dialogue is often clunky. And for some reason, both of these guys have trouble sticking the landing. Their endings are often clumsy and confusing.

But the positives clearly outweigh the negatives. I’m not going to stop reading Hill — and there’s no way in hell I’m going to stop reading his dad. The stories are just too good.

The Fireman tells the epic tale of the end of humanity as we know it. A plague has come to end life on earth — a spore of unknown origin is causing people to break out in a dragon scale pattern on their skin, which eventually causes them to smoke, catch fire, and combust, taking down everything around it: other people, buildings, trees, everything.

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a young school nurse named Harper Grayson sees a man burn to death on the playground outside her window, and her world changes forever. Schools close, society breaks down, and the world quickly divides itself into the healthy and the sick. Harper volunteers at the local hospital, where hundreds of dragon scale victims are quarantined, with no hope of ever being released back into the world.

Harper and her (HORRIBLE) husband, Jakob, talk about ending their lives before letting the plague take them. But when Harper realizes that she’s pregnant and infected, she changes her mind, and is willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive.

Meanwhile, things between Harper and Jakob go from bad to worse. The morals of the town are quickly deteriorating. Ordinary people are killing their infected former friends and neighbors. And a strange entity known as The Fireman is going out of his way to help the infected, including Harper, find safety.

Eventually, Harper discovers a secret group of infected folks, hiding out at the local summer camp. And these folks just may have found out how to manage — but not cure — this disease. So far, so good. Exciting, dystopian story with engaging characters.

And suddenly, the book switches gears. And I’m not sure I liked this part as well. Now its a story about life in a cult…how leaders and followers are made and how group thinking is never a great idea. I didn’t dislike any of this part, and realize that it was necessary to the plot, but it went on for hundreds of pages, and was definitely the weak link for me.

Here’s what I did love about this book. I loved that Harper was a strong woman who was willing to do whatever it took to bring her child into the world, even if that meant she couldn’t be the child’s caretaker because she had the dragon scale.

I loved the supporting cast of characters. Renee, Nick, Allie, Don, and Gil were folks you wanted to root for, and were nervous that something might happen to them. Because this is a Joe Hill book, you pretty much assume that not all of your favorites are going to make it to the last page, and you grieve them when they’re gone.

I really liked the disease. This was the second book I’ve read in the past few months in which the end of civilization is brought about by a spore (the other book is The Girl with All the Gifts), and its evolution was fascinating.

And I liked the random use of Martha Quinn as the ultimate savior of humanity, playing fun 80s music while she saves us all.

Here’s what I didn’t love.

I didn’t love The Fireman. I wanted to like John Rookwood, but he simply fell flat as a character to me. I never bought that he and Harper were in love, or even really liked each other. He was really just kind of an obnoxious ass who could do some cool things.

I didn’t really get Harper’s obsession with Mary Poppins. It was honestly just kind of weird.

I hated Jakob and his band of murdering brothers. I hated Jakob the minute we first met him, on the phone and saying crap about the disease, and couldn’t wait for him to die. I know that’s horrible to say, but HE WAS THE WORST. And The Marlboro Man? Awful. I know we needed some bad guys, especially some who represent the new Trump America, but I hated every single second that these guys were on the page.

And here’s what I’m on the fence about: the constant references Joe puts in his books to the universe of books created by his dad.

In this book alone, we had quotes from Jungleland (just like The Stand). That’s fine.

We had a deaf character named Nick. OK. Fine.

We had a horribly fat, awful, sexist creep named HAROLD CROSS. This is almost too much for me to deal with.

But Harper and her friends found a case of Nozz-a-la cola, and that worked for me just fine. Because that meant that this story took place far away, on another level of the Tower.

I’ll leave you with Springsteen’s Jungleland. Because if one song can be partially responsible for both The Fireman and The Stand, it must be pretty good.

 

 

 

 

06
Jan
17

They were close to the end of the beginning…CBR9 Review 2.

unknownI know, I should shut up already about how many times I’ve read this Stephen King book or that Stephen King book. But really, I’ve read this book a lot. I think even more than The Stand.

I read it when it was a standalone book (and I had to brave crossing the floor of the Newton Highlands public library — from the children’s section to the adult section), and this was before Uncle Stevie tinkered with it to make it fit better into the world of the Dark Tower. (NB: If I can remember correctly, that first book was a crazy, weird mess. This book is much better.)

I read it again when The Drawing of the Three came out. And then when The Wastelands came out, I read the first two again.

And so on. And so on.

And then I started a re-read of the whole damn Dark Tower universe (including It, The Eyes of the Dragon, Insomnia, The Talisman/Black House, and all of the weird comics). I’ve even reviewed this exact book before for an early (my first ever!) cannonball…**

**OK, this cracks me up. I was looking for a link of my old review and came across my review on a book review site, similar to Rotten Tomatoes, that provides “Book reviews from the world’s greatest critics!”. So there’s that.

Which brings me back to the beginning, with The Gunslinger. Again. I guess Ka really is like a wheel.

This time, I listened to it. And I found it was a completely different experience. Especially if you know where the story is going.

One of the first things I noticed this time around was that the name Roland is never even uttered or mentioned until about halfway through the story. He’s just the gunslinger. This fascinates me. In the later books, he’s pretty much only Roland, which I suppose means that his Ka-Tet (#teameddie) really does humanize him.

The other thing that really got me this time was Roland’s treatment of Jake, and how quickly he morphed from Roland, the father figure, back to the gunslinger when he knew he needed to choose between the boy and the quest. That pissed me off, and made me a little mad about how quickly these two reconcile in later books.

The narrator did a great job bringing this crazy world to life. I could imagine Roland and the weird farmer dude named Brown sitting around and talking while the weird bird Zoltan  hovers about. I could see the desolation in the town of Tull and the beauty in the kingdom of Gilead-that-was.

And the narrator really holds your hand to help you notice important clues to the rest of the story.

SPOILERS FOR A BOOK THAT WAS FIRST WRITTEN IN 1978.

Here are a few things that the narrator helps to make abundantly clear when listening, that I might have missed while reading.

Roland has definitely met that piano player before. And that he is not forgiven for simply letting “the girl” burn.

Cuthbert died in battle on Jericho Hill while blowing that damned Horn of Eld that Roland forgot to pick up.

Walter is Marten is Flagg is Farson.

Ka is a wheel. Ka is a wheel. Ka is a wheel.

END OF 40 YEAR OLD SPOILERS.

I love these books and this Constant Reader will probably continue on this journey for the tower for a long time to come. And yes, even if the movie is a complete and total clusterfuck with little or nothing to do with the books, I’ll see it. I mean, look at this:

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That’s worth my $12 right there.

 




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