Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King

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.

 

 

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05
Sep
17

Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish. CBR9 Review 51.

imagesOnce upon a time, I read Wizard and Glass for the very first time, and thought that there could never be a greater book in the world. I was swept up in the world of Mejis and horses and Roland and Susan and the Big Coffin Hunters. I didn’t mind being apart from Eddie and Jake and Susannah (and Oy!) for such a long time, because this story was EPIC!  It was romantic and tragic and IMPORTANT to the plot of the overall series. I wanted more and hated leaving young Roland and his friends when the story was over.

I just finished listening to Wizard and Glass, and I think this was my fourth time though this book (I reviewed it for CBR4 and see that my sentiments are eerily similar). And I mostly find myself wishing it were different. I was annoyed that we were yanked away from Eddie, Oy, et al, for so many hundreds of pages. I just wanted to get back on the path of the beam and get moving to the Callas in the next book. Yes, we get a look at how the events of Roland’s youth shape the man that he becomes, and that’s of great value to us constant readers. And I’m glad we get some insight into his friendships with Alain and Cuthbert, his OG Ka-Tet. But I really just needed to move on.

Don’t get me wrong, its still a great book. In between descriptions of counting nets and dead snakes, there were plenty of amazing scenes, like Roland’s trip into the world of the pink ball* (which reminded me an awful lot of Stuttering Bill’s meeting with the Turtle in IT) and the events leading up to the big finale in Eyebolt Canyon.

And the writing is gorgeous. Who would have thunk that Uncle Stevie could slip something like this into a book about glorified cowboys on an epic quest?

So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely if ever crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.

It just isn’t my favorite anymore. Maybe because I know what’s coming in the next installments and I just need to get there? I don’t know.

But as much as I complain about what we do get in this book, there’s plenty in this one that I almost wish we knew more about.

Instead of pages and pages about Susan’s lovely hair or the places where they met to have sex, how about more about:

*Maerlyn’s Rainbow. We know what the pink ball does, and SPOILER we find out more about the black one from Pere Callhahan, but I’d love to know about the other 11 balls. What powers did they have and what happened to them?

*Eldred’s origin. While we spend pages and pages in the past, why not tell us how Jonas got from being a boy sent West to becoming a hired gun for John Farson’s people?

*Sheemie. SPOILER I know we find out what happened to him eventually, and that the comics tell about his journey to Gilead, but what about everything else?  He’s a fascinating character, and I’d like to know more about how things go for him in Gilead.

I’ve already started listening to The Wind Through the Keyhole, so it won’t be long until I get back on the path, slowly heading toward Thunderclap and the Tower.

*SPOILER Let’s talk about that vision in the grapefruit for a minute. I literally gasped out loud when I heard the part about the bumbler impaled on the tree. That was almost too much for me to take.

 

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.

FullSizeRender

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.

Unknown-1

 

200

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.

 

 

 




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