Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King

05
Oct
18

“When the mind’s filter disappeared, the big picture disappeared with it. There was no forest, only trees. At its worst, there were no trees, either. Just bark.” CBR10 Review 36.

Unknown-1The reviews on Uncle Stevie’s latest tome have been mostly similar: a great, suspenseful first half, telling a story about a police investigation into the brutal murder of a child by a seemingly innocent man…and a less successful second half, filled with supernatural elements and a character from earlier novels. Most reviews have pointed out that the story presented in the first half were quite enough for a full novel: local good citizen arrested for horrific crime, town turns against him and his family, regardless of what his alibi may be.

I’m talking about spoilers now, so be careful if you plan to read this.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

A few hundred pages from King about the nature of small towns and how a crime like that which was committed against the Peterson family, might have been a great mystery. OR…a story about a supernatural face-swapping “vampire” that travels around the country and commits murders in order to feed off of the emotions of the victims…that might have been a great standalone book.

Do these two plots fit together and create a successful whole? I think so. I get why others don’t think it worked. But I enjoyed it. Uncle Stevie does what he likes.

I think a lot of it boils down to how you feel about the Bill Hodges book trilogy, and the character of Holly in particular. I liked her, so it made me like this book more than some, I suppose. Honestly, once I saw that King was somehow going to connect this story to the Hodges books, I was just grateful that fracking Brady Hartsfield wasn’t involved in any way here. He was the worst part of those books.

There were sections of this book that were flat-out amazing. Nobody can write about a small town better than Uncle Stevie. The mob scene outside the courthouse was a masterful thing. The feelings of grief and sorrow that can overwhelm a family after a tragedy were beautifully described. And the struggle for these every day regular people had in trying to accept that something supernatural could be wreaking havoc on their lives? I completely bought into their doubt and the difficulty most of them had in opening their minds to other possibilities.

Yes, sometimes King can predictable. But that doesn’t always negate my enjoyment of reading his stuff. When a group of five heroes marches off to face the monster, we all know that at least two aren’t coming back. When he introduces a real asshole character, we know that this character will somehow end up choosing the wrong side of the battle (often not even making that choice consciously), and that they will most probably die horrifically. And we know that ka is a wheel, and all roads lead to the Tower.

(I found at least three connections to the Dark Tower in here…At one point the word “ka” was actually used…the star of the Mexican horror films was named Rosita Munoz, and in Calla Bryn Sturgis, Roland had an affair with Rosalita Munoz…and lastly, I’m pretty sure that El Coco was a monster similar to DANDELO (a distant cousin of Pennywise?), but he fed on sorrow instead of laughter.)

Despite the incredibly dark subject matter, I enjoyed reading this one. It kept me interested and questioning until the very end (and that Stranger Things-inspired shaving scene at the very end almost got me!).

#cbr10bingo #listicles — Pop Sugar’s 13 Most Chilling Horror Books of 2018

 

 

 

 

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19
Aug
18

When Uncle Stevie tells us that a book is scary, we should most definitely listen. CBR10 Review 31.

UnknownI’ve been away on vacation (or a series of vacations) for a little over a month, and have a large stack of books to review. But this one had to be first. The quiet horror of it will last with me for a long time.

I first heard about The Hunger from Stephen King, who tweeted about it in March:

THE HUNGER, by Alma Katsu: Deeply, deeply disturbing, hard to put down, not recommended reading after dark.

Of course, that shot it up to the top of my TBR list. I bought it immediately. But didn’t sit down to read it until I left for the beach in July…and then had trouble putting it down.

The Hunger is a fictional (and yes, supernaturally horrifying) take on the story of the ill-fated Donner Party, and their journey from Illinois to California back in 1846. We all know how well that ended for some of the members of that party. But what if the Donner Party wasn’t famous (or infamous, I guess) for cannibalism…but for their interactions with a terrible, flesh eating, shape-shifting creature out in the mountains on the California border?

Katsu creates a story that is factually similar to that of the Donner Party. Most of the names and characters are the same…albeit with slightly different personal characteristics. For instance, yes, in real life, Tamsen Donner was the wife of George Donner, the original leader of the group that left their homes in Springfield, Illinois for the chance at a better life out west. But was she suspected by the rest of the travelers as being a witch? Was James Reed a closeted homosexual who was traveling west to escape his past? I doubt it. But it made for much more interesting reading.

The writing is slow and descriptive. The group slowly makes their way west, meeting hardship after hardship — bad weather, not enough supplies, drought — and its leaders (including George Donner) argue and make one bad decision after another.

To be honest, this book would have been exciting enough for me if it had just told the story of the disintegration of the group as it made its way west — how bickering and stubbornness caused the group to splinter and was the true cause of their demise.

But Katsu ratcheted things up a notch by introducing a monster in the background. Something that craves human flesh and cannot be sated. Ever. The Native Americans in the mountains fear this monster and leave human sacrifices to it in order to be left alone, but the travelers ignore any and all advice to turn back or to take a different route, driving them straight into the path of this curious and mysterious monster.

Yes, this book is scary. The monster is hideous and awful. But the people are almost as bad. They say and do terrible things to each other out of pure selfishness. Their behavior reminded me a lot of King’s novella, The Mist, and what happened to the seemingly normal friends and neighbors after being holed up in the supermarket for a few days, and how quickly they turned on each other.

I really enjoyed this book (even though it scared the crap out of me at some points), and had very few complaints about it. The end was a bit abrupt for my liking, but that’s really all I can find fault with. I’ll happily seek out Katsu’s previous books.

FYI, this is my first entry into #CBR10Bingo, and I’ll file it under #birthday. Alma Katsu was born on November 30, 1959. She has quite a fascinating bio…born in Alaska and raised in Massachusetts, Katsu studied under John Irving and Margaret Rey, and then somehow ended up working as a foreign policy analyst for 30 years. Wow. I’m glad she made her way back to writing fiction.

04
Jun
18

This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. CBR10 Review 23.

UnknownI am ashamed to admit, that although I have read pretty much every single word ever published by Stephen King, and most of Joe Hill, and even some of Owen King, I had honestly never even considered reading Tabitha King.

It wasn’t until PattyKates wrote a review of One on One back in 2015 that I ever really even thought about reading Tabitha King. That review convinced me to order a used paperback copy, which then sat on my TBR shelf until last weekend. I needed something to read at the pool, so I grabbed it. I had no idea what it was about.

I settled in to my chaise and opened it up.

Cut to: six hours later. I haven’t put the book down yet.

Long story short, my apologies to Tabitha King. The woman can write. Like her husband, she excels in portraying small-town life (yes, its in Maine) and its particular inhabitants. She understands what goes on in kitchens and coffee shops and high school hallways. She really gets how people actually talk to each other, which is a skill that many writers can’t grasp.

This is a story about a basketball team at a tiny high school in rural western Maine. The boys are the reigning State champs, and they have star Sam Styles leading them. The girls are good, but not quite as good as they could be. Their star is Deanie Gaultier, aka The Mutant. Deanie has a shaved head, piercings all over her face, and tattoos. And she plays basketball like a woman possessed.

Deanie and Sam butt heads a bunch of times, and eventually fall in love. (NOT A SPOILER, its right on the cover of the book!). But the path to their happy ending isn’t a clear one — there are tons of obstacles in the way. Sam’s family is struggling financially. His brother is fighting in the Gulf War and his sister is a deadbeat druggie. Deanie lives with her drunk mother and her horrifically abusive stepfather. Deanie gives her body away in exchange for drugs. Getting high helps her to make the rest of her life a little easier. When they first start spending time together, neither of them really knows why it feels right, but it just does. Soon, Sam realizes that Deanie is much more than the facade she presents to the world, and Deanie finds that Sam isn’t just a big, dumb jock.

I’ll admit, this book didn’t need to be over 500 pages long. But it was never boring and it kept surprising me. It was not your average teenagers-in-love story.

Lastly, because you can’t not mention her husband, I definitely appreciated Tabby’s little winks to Uncle Stevie’s writing. Greenspark Academy plays basketball against rival teams from Derry and Castle Rock in Maine, and it takes place just months before Mr. Leland Gault opens up his new shop called “Needful Things.”

 

25
Apr
18

How can you give us the gift of a crazy character named Rando Thoughtful and then just as suddenly take that gift away? We need to talk, Uncle Stevie. CBR10 Review 19.

imagesDear Uncle Stevie,

Having just finished the entire Dark Tower saga for the third time, I have a few things I’d like to discuss with you. I know you say you’re done writing these books, but I’d like for you to reconsider. Here are some suggestions for further entries into the Dark Tower series:

**A novella about Rando Thoughtful, and his journey from managing a mall in upstate New York to guarding the castle of the Crimson King. And how he went from being called Austin Cornwell to becoming RANDO THOUGHTFUL. This is an all-time great crazy Stephen King name. I’m going to need more information.

**A short volume (similar to The Wind through the Keyhole) detailing everything that happened between Deepneau, Cullen, and Carver, and exactly how The Tet Corporation works. I’d love to know more about what’s going on at that strange ranch out in New Mexico where all of the telepaths are working on gathering information pertinent to Roland’s quest for the Tower.

**A huge, enormous series of books dedicated to Irene Tassenbaum and the asses she continues to kick as she lives her life in New York and Maine. I absolutely adored her and was so sad to see her sent off back to Maine with her stinking copy of Insomnia (seriously, WHY INSOMNIA? WHY NOT THE STAND? OR IT? OR THE TALISMAN? I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS.)

Honestly, I get why Patrick Danville was included in the story, and that perhaps all of the gratuitous mentions of Insomnia got some constant readers to go back and re-read this mess, but of all of the Tower-related books, why did it have to be this one? Couldn’t Dandelo have held Stu Redman or Jack Sawyer or Mike Hanlon?

I would 100% read about Irene getting into her little Mercedes and driving around the Northeast, doing gunslinger things, while also shopping for deli meats and planting roses.

**A series of graphic novels about Oy. Make this happen.

**A short story about what happens to Dinky, Ted, Dani, and the banker guy when they get to the Callas. I can’t imagine that the kind folks of Calla Bryn Sturgis would send a young girl like Dani away, but it would be fascinating to see how the new folks assimilate into their rural lifestyle.

**A written apology from you for driving me crazy by constantly writing about Susannah dreaming about “Hot chocolate, the good kind, mit schlag”. I hated this description. Just stop it.

I think those should be ample ideas for you in order to get started. As long as you keep writing about this world, I’ll keep reading about it. And I hope that someday, you get the tv series about Roland and his ka-tet that they deserve. I love Idris, but that was a complete hot mess.

Your Constant Reader,
Scootsa1000

 

11
Mar
18

I wish I had a sköldpadda of my very own. CBR10 Review 17.

Unknown-4For a long time I’ve stood by my assertion that Song of Susannah was my least favorite Dark Tower book, hands down. The last time I reviewed it (back in 2012), I even went out on a limb and said this:

Song of Susannah, however, was my least favorite Dark Tower book when I first read it. And I can safely say that it will always be my least favorite.

Well, I guess I can’t trust myself.

Now that I’m almost another full loop through the saga, I’m not sure if my opinion is still the same. Is SoS still my least favorite? Or is there enough good stuff in there (the stuff that isn’t about Susannah and the wretched Mia) to change my mind? Is Wizard & Glass my least favorite? It hurts me to think that because I loved it so much the first time I read it…but like it less and less with each subsequent reading.

I’ll be honest. I do hate the stuff with Mia. Their long long long talks in the deserted town of Fedic make me crazy. Every time the POV switches back to those two, I would audibly groan. At least, until the sköldpadda makes an appearance. Because the sköldpadda makes everything better. Who wouldn’t want a little magic turtle?

I didn’t like the parts when Susannah has to travel to her “dogan” to control Mia and the baby. And while I appreciate that Odetta Holmes was a great woman who stood up for what she believed in, I didn’t need to read pages and pages of folk song lyrics right when things were getting interesting. Yes, Man of Constant Sorrow is a lovely song…but after a while, this was all I could think of:

But I don’t really want to talk too much about Mia. Or at all, really. There are a lot of other things I’d rather spend time on.

I’d rather talk about John Cullum. He’s one of my favorite minor characters in The Dark Tower. I love his Yankee sensibility and his immediate acceptance of the situation he suddenly finds himself in when Roland and Eddie literally appear in front of him in the general store. I had an uncle who was a pilot in WWII, and he was from New England. That’s who I imagine here. A guy who gets stuff done and gets it done well, and still makes time to ask about the Red Sox no matter how busy he might be.

Or how about Trudy Damascus? I’d like to know what eventually happens to her after her mental unraveling from witnessing Susannah/Mia appear out of thin air and then steal her shoes. I want to know if she’s still working at her accounting firm, and if she likes to sit in the park and listen to the voices at 2 Hammarskjold Plaza. I hope she’s ok, whatever she’s doing.

Same with Mathiessen Van Wyck. I hope he and his wife have worked out their differences. And I hope his stomach problems work themselves out, too. He deserves to be happy after telling us that the little turtle was called a sköldpadda.

But mostly, I’d like to talk about the badass trio of Jake, Oy, and Pere Callahan, tracking Susannah around New York City. These three weren’t even supposed to end up in Manhattan — they were supposed to go to Maine to talk to the wretched Calvin Tower — but they assimilate to 1999 pretty quickly. They find the hotel where Susannah/Mia are staying, they figure out the plan to get to the Dixie Pig, and they permanently hide Black Thirteen, all within a few hours.

I really love how Pere finds his lost faith at the end of this book. Without it, they never would have been driven insane by Black Thirteen in Susannah’s hotel room. But Pere Callahan gathers all of the faith he has left, and prays to God to save them from Black Thirteen.

“God, if you still hear me, this is Callahan. Please still this thing. Please send it back to sleep.”

And so, God does.

I was glad that Pere had that faith with him as they got in the cab and drove uptown to the Dixie Pig. We all know he was going to need it. But more on that in a few weeks, when I’ve finally finished the series and have more to say about Callahan’s last stand.

 

20
Feb
18

“A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.” CBR10 Reviews 13 & 14.

Unknown-4I think it would be fair to say that Uncle Stevie and I have an understanding. He writes, I’m a constant reader, and that’s that. And I’ve been known to reread some of the things that he’s written many times. Even when the stories are upsetting or dark or scary, there’s something comforting about them for me. Maybe because I started reading them at a really early age (seriously, way too early….what exactly was going on in the 1980s?), his writing is sort of a nostalgic part of my childhood. I can picture myself wandering around the adult horror section of the Newton Highlands Public Library, and then finding a cozy corner in front of a window where I could sit down and read. Because I didn’t want to read these stories in the dark, that was for sure.

Night Shift and Skeleton Crew are two of his earliest short story collections — and sometimes (especially in Night Shift) you can tell. The stories have a few more rough edges than what you might read in later books like Everything’s Eventual, or Just After Sunset. But some of them can still scare the crap out of me.

Night Shift, which includes stories from the 1960s and 70s, has a few of his all-time creepiest tales. Jerusalem’s Lot, The Boogeyman, and One for the Road are some of his best.

And so many — The Lawnmower Man, Quitters Inc, The Ledge, Children of the Corn, Sometimes They Come Back, Trucks, Battleground, The Mangler, Graveyard Shift — have inspired movies (whether they deserved to or not…I’m looking at you, Graveyard Shift). Its really amazing how influential some of these stories from so early in his career have become. Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road inspired him to write Salem’s Lot. Night Surf told the earliest version of The Stand. Its pretty amazing to be able to look back and see where some of his greatest ideas came from.

Night Shift is pretty damn good.

But Skeleton Crew is great.

Skeleton Crew includes some of my favorite short stories. The Mist. The Raft. Gramma. These stories ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED ME when I was in middle school. And they still scare me today. Gramma is a slow-paced, dread-filled bit of horror perfection, with an ending that never fails to surprise me.

My two all-time, absolutely favorite short stories are in here: Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut and The Jaunt.

Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut tells about a wealthy woman who summers in Maine, and loves finding ways to cut a few minutes off of whatever trip she’s about to take. She obsesses over maps and farm roads, and eventually she discovers new ways to get there from here, some of which may not be of this world. I loved reading about her little Mercedes convertible zipping along the country roads of Maine and the roads that just might be on other levels of the Tower.

The Jaunt is about a family about to travel to Mars to resettle on a new colony there. As they prepare to be put to sleep in order to teleport, the father of the family tells his children the history of the procedure known as The Jaunt — and one of his kids decides to test the rules of teleportation, with shocking results. Right now I’m listening to the last Dark Tower book, and its easy to see some of The Jaunt in there — the Doors, the Todash Darkness, teleportation at the Algul Siento — all of those plot lines have their seeds here.

I just pulled Everything’s Eventual and Nightmares & Dreamscapes off of the bookshelf, which I haven’t reread since they first came out. I look forward to seeing how his stories have evolved over the decades. And I hope I can find a sunny corner to read them in.

 

 

 

 

15
Feb
18

“I wanted to say goodbye to someone, and have someone say goodbye to me. The goodbyes we speak and the goodbyes we hear are the goodbyes that tell us we’re still alive.” CBR10 Review 12.

UnknownI think its safe to say that I’m addicted to my Audible account. Driving around all day and meeting with demanding clients is hard, so the best thing I can do is lose myself in a great story and a great narrator. And I think that’s why I keep coming back to these Dark Tower books…the narration is great, the story always delivers something new for me, and it really doesn’t matter if I hear every single detail or not, because I’m stuck on Ka’s wheel and I know I’ll be returning to this story before long.

Wolves of the Calla is still my favorite of these books. I think. I like that it takes place in a certain amount of time, with a specific objective, instead of some of the more sprawling volumes of this story, which require a bit more brain power. This one is easier: good guys come to a good town to help defeat the bad guys and save the children. The end.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. We also have an alternate personality pregnancy…An obsession with the number 19…A fascinating new/old character who warns us of the dangers of vampires and low men…and the idea that maybe this story only exists as a fictional story within a fictional story so that Stephen King can save the world. Like I said, easy.

The more that I read (or, honestly, listen to) this volume of the Dark Tower, the more I appreciate the addition of Pere Donald Callahan. His addition to Roland’s group of questing gunslingers comes at exactly the right time. His heartbreaking story of his cowardly flight from Jerusalem’s Lot, his years of drinking on the road, his work at the shelter, and his eventual death and re-appearance in Mid-World (along with a mysterious black ball) are fascinating and gorgeously presented. This is a man of faith who is questioning his path in life, and who finds exactly what he is looking for when Roland and friends appear in the Calla.

My favorite Callahan bit:

“Your man Jesus seems to me a bit of a son of a bitch when it comes to women,´Roland said. ´Was He ever married?´
The corners of Callahan’s mouth quirked. ´No´ he said, ´but His girlfriend was a whore.´
´Well,´ Roland said, ´that’s a start.´”

But this book isn’t perfect. I love it, but there are a few details that bug me to no end:

  • Suddenly everyone is obsessed with the number 19, which we only know because we are constantly told about it. I wish this had been presented a bit more organically. I fell like Uncle Stevie just decided it was important and then hit us over the head with it until we succumbed.
  • Roland is always making a “familiar” finger twirling motion, that HE ALWAYS MAKES AND HAS ALWAYS MADE AND MAKES ALL THE TIME. But he never made it before. And the constant references to the fact that he has always done this bug me.
  • The pregnancy stuff is really just gross. I don’t need to know about Susannah frolicking in a pond and eating live frogs. I know that’s really nit picking, but I couldn’t get past it.

But there’s so much more that I love in this book. I love the idea of saving the twins, no matter what. And I love the regular people that are willing to stand up to evil, even if it might cost them their lives, to save their town and its children. The action and excitement in this volume are exactly what the series needed after the talky Wizard and Glass.

 




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