Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King

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.

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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.

 

21
Jun
16

Damn you, Uncle Stevie. I’m not ready for these books to end. CBR8 Review 32.

Unknown-4The adventures of Retired Detective Bill Hodges and his friends have come to an end, and I’m sad.

I didn’t expect a whole lot when Uncle Stevie announced that he was working on a trilogy of mystery novels a few years ago. But I adored Mr. Mercedes, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. And I really liked 99% of Finders Keepers…it was only that 1% about stupid Brady Hartsfield moving things around with his mind that bugged me. So, I was kind of irked when I found out that End of Watch was about Brady. I just wanted Bill, Holly, and Jerome to keep kicking ass all over town, taking down bad guys, and not worrying about stupid Brady Hartsfield over in the traumatic brain injury ward of the local hospital. I thought I was all set with him.

But folks, this Constant Reader has been proven wrong.

End of Watch is almost COMPLETELY about Brady Hartsfield, and the obsessive evil that lives inside of him. And I couldn’t stop reading it. I NEEDED to know what was going to happen on the next page.

A brief, hopefully spoiler-free synopsis:

Brady Hartsfield isn’t as brain dead as you might think. He’s on some experimental drugs that just might have turned him into a telekinetic powerhouse. And he’s hell-bent on taking revenge on Bill Hodges for ruining his plans to blow up that concert a few years back. He wants to take Bill and Jerome down for the way they hurt him — and if he can get a slew of teenagers to commit suicide while he’s taking down Hodges, that would be just great, thanks.

Using some old video games that have the power to hypnotize their users, Brady sets a plan in motion that could not only ruin the lives of Bill, Jerome, and Holly, but of every single young girl that was supposed to die at the concert.

And of course, the local police aren’t buying that a “gorked out vegetable” like Brady is responsible for anything other than sitting in his chair and drooling. But Bill and Holly know better. And they start putting all of the pieces together from the various crime scenes that they are invited to by Bill’s old partner, and are willing to believe the unbelievable in order to stop Brady.

It wasn’t my favorite of the trilogy, because there was a little too much Carrie-esque, telekinetic, supernatural, magical brain stuff going on for a detective novel. But it still worked.

And it hit me in the feels, folks. We’ve gotten to know these characters so well over the past three books, that saying goodbye to them was not something I wanted to do. I want to know what’s going to happen to Barbara and her handsome new boyfriend. I need to know what Jerome is going to do when he’s finished volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. And Holly? What in the world is going to happen to someone like Holly if she isn’t out in the world solving crimes all day long? And I’m going to miss Bill Hodges. I’m going to miss the way he solves crimes with old-school methods, how he completely doesn’t understand technology, and how his unlikely friendships with Jerome and Holly made him a better man in the last chapters of his life.

These are things I stay up thinking about at night, Uncle Stevie. Thanks for creating these characters and telling their stories. I can’t wait to find out what you’re working on for us next.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

17
Feb
16

A lesson in separating the wheat from the chaff. CBR8 Review 11.

UnknownConstant Reader, there’s nothing I like more than a new book of Stephen King short stories. Ever since I was a little Scoots, I can remember paging through dog-eared copies of Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, and the Bachman Books have been tried and true favorites. Classics like The Mist, The Running Man, The Raft, Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut, and The Jaunt have been read over and over through the years. And more recently, we’ve seen great collections, like Just After Sunset and Everything’s Eventual, both filled with some excellent short stories that were scary, thrilling, and thought-provoking.

And here we have The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, the most recent collection of short work. And the first of these books that I don’t think I’ll buy a copy of my own so I can reread it someday.

Never fear, Constant Reader. There are some really good bits in here. If you are a fan of King and his short stories, this is still a must. But it was the first time when reading one of King’s collections that I kept putting it aside, and some of the stories I really struggled to get through.

But let’s talk about the good stuff. Because there’s lots of it here.

First of all, I loved how King wrote a brief introduction to each story, explaining what influenced him and how and when he wrote the story. And each story was dedicated to someone from a different part of his life, which I thought was lovely.

Some of the stories — Premium Harmony, Morality, Bad Little Kid — were a bit rough to get through. You knew at the start of the story that it wasn’t going to end well for these characters, and it wasn’t necessarily pleasant to read about how they ended up.

But there were some gems here, and I’d rather focus on those.

The Bone Church is a poem of sorts, King calls it a “dramatic monologue”, and it was scary and suspenseful. About a search for a mystical elephant burial ground in some un-named country gone wrong, with a drunk (and possible demonic) narrator, this is a quick, tense read.

Herman Wouk is Still Alive was classic King — everyday people going about their lives in Maine, unaware that a tragedy is about to occur. A van filled with women and children crashes and explodes on the Maine roadside, just where two aging poets are sharing a picnic and thinking about the passage of time. This one really stuck with me, particularly the part when Brenda — an out-of-work single mom — wonders about what kind of future her illegitimate children will have.

The seven kids will beget seventeen, and the seventeen will beget seventy, and the seventy will beget two hundred. She can see a ragged fool’s parade marching into the future…

Obits was much more fun, but in a ghastly way. Young Michael Anderson is a writer for a TMZ/Perez Hilton type website, and he writes nasty celebrity Obituaries. And one day he discovers that maybe he might have the ability to do more than just write obituaries AFTER the fact…and that maybe his writing could potentially CAUSE a death to occur. What does a normal guy do with a power like that, and how does it not drive him mad?

My favorite story was the heartbreaking Under the Weather. Brad is an advertising executive, known for his creativity and business acumen. Brad’s wife is sick, and he suddenly finds that he can no longer see the difference between reality and the better, more creative version that he’s created for himself.

The rest of the stories are a mixed bag. Some are quite strong — UR, Summer Thunder, Batman and Robin Have an Altercation — and worth a read. Some are more fluff and filler, and I’ll forget about them as soon as I bring the book back to the library. But I always appreciate Uncle Stevie’s efforts and will continue, as always, to be a Constant Reader.

 




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