Cody's Bookshelf

So many books, so little time

SPOILER ALERT!

IT Review

It - Stephen King

Despite rating this book five stars, I do not think it is perfect. While I do not often agree with the common notion that Stephen King overwrites, his penchant for logorrhea is on full-display in this 1200 page-long novel, released in 1986. There are multiple scenes that could have been cut out (including most of the Derry interludes) without negatively impacting the book at all. I know, I know — King is in world-building mode here, and having a sense of Derry's history is important and vital. I get that. I just feel some of the tangential tales (looking at you, Black Spot and Bradley Gang) could have been whittled down or cut out altogether. Preferably whittled down. Don't get me wrong — reading these stories are a pure joy, for this novel was written when King was arguably at the height of his writing powers . . . But one can't help but wonder where his editor was.

 

Excess aside, this is an novel that works. It's classic King, with ghoulish scares and sublime character development on display. I've yet to come across a character in fiction I relate to more than Ben Hanscom — as a kid and an adult. It's almost eerie, how similar my thought process is to Ben's.

 

And let us not forget this book features one of King's most iconic villains: Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Master of Many Guises). Who can forget the blood spurting out of Beverly's drain, or the Paul Bunyan statue coming to life? The bird that attacks Mike? Or one of the most infamous scenes from this book (and its movie adaptation) — the clown in the sewer, offering candy and rides to Little Georgie in chapter one.

Something that really stuck out to me on this reread was King's commentary on growing up and getting older. I was fourteen the last time I read this novel; I am now almost twenty-one. Sure, I'm still pretty friggin' young . . . But I've begun to hear the ticking of the clock. I've begun to sense that the sand in the hourglass is starting to pour down faster than it used to. I now have small gray hairs in my stubble, and I think I'm starting to get a bald spot. I'm almost done with college, and soon enough I'll be out on my own, in my career, and worrying about things like insurance and running regularly to prevent heart attacks. Yeah, I'm still young — but I'm getting older all the time. What I'm getting at is I identified more with the seven main characters in their adult years, instead of their kid years. That was a sobering revelation.

 

Stephen King pulled off quite a feat with It. This is his most complex accomplishment — he manages to create a town and bring it to life, juggles seven main characters (as well as a slew of supporters) and two timelines, all while keeping it organized and forward-looking — for the most part. Despite a few extraneous scenes and the book feeling too episodic for its own good at times, I couldn't rate it anything less than five stars. It will never be in the upper echelon of King works, for me (I don't dig on the supernatural as much — I prefer reading about real life horrors), but it's an incredibly important work to the man's oeuvre at large. Recommended reading for any King or horror fan.

 

King connections:

 

Page 39 - Shawshank Prison is mentioned.

 

Page 72 - We first meet adult Ben Hanscom in Hemingford Home, Nebraska — home of Mother Abagail from The Stand.

 

Page 83 - Ben Hanscom tells a friend "You pay for what you get, you own what you pay for . . . and sooner or later whatever you own comes back home to you." Shades of Pet Sematary, perhaps?

 

Page 296 - A summer day is described as being "perfect and on the beam."

 

Page 325 - An Orinco truck (as seen in Pet Sematary) is seen roaring by in Derry.

 

Lots of references to Haven are made throughout chapters seven and eight, and in the book's final chapters.

 

Page 465 - Dick Hallorrann makes an appearance!

 

Page 508 - Beverly mentions the "crazy cop" who killed "all those women" in Castle Rock, Maine, referring to Frank Dodd from The Dead Zone.

 

Page 966 - Henry Bowers gets a ride from a mysterious 1958 Plymouth Fury, which is driven by ghosts. It's Christine, the rock n roll lady who never dies.

 

Page 1066 - Bill is described as looking like a crazed malnourished gunslinger.

 

Page 1090 - 'Becka Paulson from The Tommyknockers gets a mention.

 

The Turtle obviously connects this to the Dark Tower series in a big way.

 

Favorite quote:

 

"The energy you drew on so extravagantly when you were a kid, the energy you thought would never exhaust itself - that slipped away somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four, to be replaced by something much duller, something as bogus as a coke high: purpose, maybe, or goals, or whatever rah-rah Junior Chamber of Commerce word you wanted to use. It was no big deal; it didn't go all at once, with a bang. And maybe, Richie thought, that's the scary part. How you didn't stop being a kid all at once, with a big explosive bang, like one of that clown's trick balloons. The kid in you just leaked out, like the air of a tire."

THE PERFECT STRANGER Review

The Perfect Stranger: A Novel - Megan Miranda

Megan Miranda's debut novel, All the Missing Girls, was a smash hit last year and put her name on the map. Seriously, is there anyone who book blogs and isn't aware of this woman? I'd think not.

 

I somehow never got around to reading that book, though I do have it on my shelf. Instead, my first Miranda novel is her second outing, The Perfect Stranger. This one focuses on former reporter-turned-teacher Leah, who has recently moved in with an old college roommate and taken a teaching job in western Pennsylvania. One day, her roommate (Emmy Grey is her name) disappears . . . and it's almost as if she never existed at all. While that is going on, there is another mystery unfolding: a couple of people are found murdered in a nearby lake, and Leah seems to be the nucleus of all these strange happenings.

 

Truth be told, this novel's synopsis in any form is more exciting than the story itself. This one just plods, never finding its legs. The narrative has as much energy as I do after sixty minutes on the elliptical at the gym. Leah is a decent character, though, and I like that Miranda made her a teacher. I just like reading about that occupation; it's fun, for me. It doesn't particular serve or hurt the story in any way.

 

The Perfect Stranger just feels too safe. You can sense the author wanting to say more, do more; this story wants to be more, but it falls woefully short. It says nothing of import and leaves the reader sorely disappointed. I guessed the 'twist' (if it can be called that) at approximately the 5% mark. Oops. I haven't felt this let down by a novel since reading Ruth Ware's latest. Ugh.

 

I plan to read this author's debut novel at some point, simply because I always give writers two chances to impress (or disappoint) me. But that won't happen any time soon.

 

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC (which I am just now getting around to reading and reviewing - sorry!), which was given in exchange for an honest review.

BOY'S LIFE Review

Boy's Life - Robert R. McCammon

Why did I put this one off for so long? Why, why, why?

 

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Certainly one of the finest novels about the magic of childhood that I've ever read — and probably the most realistic, at least based on my childhood experiences. Maybe it's because I, like the protagonist of this novel (and Robert McCammon himself), grew up in Alabama. Boy's Life is spot-on, and I felt like a child once more while untangling the mystery of the strange murder in Zephyr.

 

Not much I can say about this one, except it's just friggin' wonderful. I only wish it were longer. Thank you, Mr. McCammon, for reminding me that magic does exist.

 

“You know, I do believe in magic. I was born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town, among magicians. Oh, most everybody else didn’t realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present and into the future. You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves."

Reading progress update: I've read 62%.

The Perfect Stranger: A Novel - Megan Miranda

Still not sure if I like this one or not... 

A TIME TO KILL Review

A Time to Kill - John Grisham

My first John Grisham novel was his latest release, The Whistler: a capable, if not entirely thrilling, read. Because I give every author two chances to 'wow' me, I decided to take a stab at Grisham's debut, A Time to Kill.

 

Wow. Wow wow wow. Was I impressed!

 

Set in northeastern Mississippi (an area I've ridden through many times, and have a certain affection for), a young black girl is kidnapped and brutally raped by two white rednecks, both career criminals despite only being in their twenties. The two are caught and arrested, but that does not make the girl's pain go away, of course — so her father takes matters into his own hands, and murders the two rapists in cold blood. Jake Brigance, a young lawyer who is desperate for the big time, takes the case despite its daunting nature. What unravels is something that thoroughly impacts the entire fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi, and the reader as well. There is no black or white here, only a world of gray; while most readers can sympathize with the girl's father, was it right of him to murder the men? What is morally justifiable? What role does the court system play in our lives, and even when juries make the 'right' decision, is it still wrong? These are questions Grisham leads the reader to, never fully answering them but instead inspiring thought and meditation. I know I certainly look at the American justice system in a new light after reading this fabulous novel.

 

This was a journey that had me glued to the pages, and I would have read it much faster had life not intervened. I was shocked by how fleshed out the town of Clanton and its inhabitants really are, in the pages of this weighty story; Grisham is one who can tell a tale, and had that talent from the very beginning . . . as is evident here, in his debut novel. I was not sure what I wanted the final decision to be — guilty, not guilty, mistrial — because of all the twists and turns and new revelations that come to light during this volume's 480-ish pages. That's a good thing. The person who begins reading this novel and the person who finishes this novel aren't the same, not completely; this is one with true potential to impact, all these years later. It really stands up.

 

John Grisham is one of America's most popular authors, and I can now see why. I cannot wait to work my way through the rest of his releases, but I don't know if any of them can top this one.

I'm going to be posting a lot of the reviews I've written over the last few months, so sorry for the potential spam. ;) 

THE RUINS Review

The Ruins - Scott Smith

It'd been a while since I read a book that horrified, sickened, and amazed me in equal measure; The Ruins did all those things with ease. I was shocked at just how much I loved this novel. I did not expect it to totally blow me away. The characters are mostly unlikable and infuriating, and I must admit I had trouble reading about them at first, but that's the point — being trapped in the jungle and fighting for one's life brings out the very worst in a person.

 

This is a brutal, agonizing read. There are no chapter breaks, and because of that it feels like a knife slice to the jugular. Scott Smith is unwavering in his quest to horrify the reader; you can almost imagine the maniacal grin he wore as he doled out pain and suffering to his unsuspecting creations.

 

I'm going to keep this one short and sweet: I really loved The Ruins. In fact, it's probably in my top five horror novels — it's that damn good. It pushes every button, as good horror should. I can't wait to check out this author's debut novel, A Simple Plan.

 

This was a buddy read with my friend Sadie. I had the time of my life. :)

I miss posting in a space that isn't Goodreads (don't get me wrong, I love that site, but I miss BL too). Think I'll work on updating my profile here in the coming days. :) 

Is BL actually working again? Wow. 

Movin' On

I'm leaving Booklikes. Nothing personal, I just like Goodreads more — it's convenient and doesn't suffer from glitches. You can find my GR profile at Goodreads.com/codylovesbooks.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD Review

The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

Synopsis: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.


     In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.


     Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

 

*****

 

This is a book about hope, redemption, and darkness in the real world. It's a brutal read, and it made me cringe more than once. Not because of bad writing or unbelievable characters or forced dialogue — no, Colton Whitehead has created an almost perfect novel in The Underground Railroad, a work I am sure will soon enough be deemed a modern classic. Hell, it's even an Oprah's Book Club book. That's, like, everything.

 

This is the story of Cora, a teenage slave who runs away from the plantation in Georgia she's been sold to. She embarks on a journey of highs and lows, of wonder and terror. Whitehead does an astounding job of conveying her confusion and awe once getting off the Railroad (which, in the book, is an actual train — a nice touch, I thought) the first time. The reader knows that once Cora has a taste of freedom, she will never go back.

 

I'm going to keep this review extremely short, because I can't even begin to put into words the profound impact The Underground Railroad had on me. The author carved out a gem with this one. He handles a touchy, horrific subject such as slavery (and, with that, rape and murder) with great care and skill. Young Cora's journey to the north is one I will not soon forget. I really can't recommend this one highly enough. Check it out if you're into historical fiction or just a really good story populated with well-drawn characters. I will be checking out more from this author!

 

This book is my 'diverse author' selection for Halloween Bingo. (I slacked off on Halloween Bingo during September. I will remedy that in October.) 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 320 pages.

The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

Finally continuing on with my Halloween Bingo reading! While this book isn't 'horror' or 'suspense' I am including it as my Diverse Author selection. 

Reading progress update: I've read 340 out of 340 pages.

The Woman in Cabin 10 - Helen Ruth Elizabeth Ware

I'm finally finished with this atrocity. I won't be reviewing it; I don't even want to remember reading it. Kudos to Scout Press for shinin' up this turd enough to trick me into buying. Every character in it is awful, there is almost no real 'mystery' and the reveal is lame. But it's over. It's done. And I will never read another book by this author. 

 

This fulfilled my 'mystery' square in Halloween Bingo. 

Reading progress update: I've read 250 out of 340 pages.

The Woman in Cabin 10 - Helen Ruth Elizabeth Ware

Ruth Ware should be ashamed that she wrote this steaming pile of book.

 

90 pages left. I can handle 90 pages.... right? Right?

Welcome to Taylor Ridge....

As some of you have probably noticed, I've been largely absent as of late. I've been writing fiction like a madman. I'm in a writing phase, not a reading phase. 

 

I've been working on a series of twelve short stories about a small town in Alabama — a town not unlike where I live. I've been doing extensive research into the history of my town, which has helped shape some of the strongest fiction I've created. I've never been more excited about a project than I am about this one. 

 

The stories will span decades in this small town. The earliest year represented is 1941; the latest is 2023. Some of the stories are about major ideas, like the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Some are about friendship, sexuality, nature, et cetera. I am working diligently on the fifth story, which is quickly turning into a novella. Not that I mind! 

 

Anywho, I thought I'd post a small snippet from one of the stories. It's an excerpt from a rough draft, so grammar issues might be present. I'm putting it in spoiler tags so those who don't care to read it don't have to. Feedback is welcome and appreciated! I'm only twenty, and despite writing for fun all my life I am new to writing 'professionally' (which means I'm working hard and hoping against hope that I'll find a publishing platform someday). 

 

Here goes:

 

 

"

"Peaches" (1941)

 

For my hometown

 

--


Anthony 'Digger Ant' Merchant hung his shovel and pickax in the maintenance barn just behind the Sawyer family plots and spat on the ground. He stomped his boots. He removed his gloves and pulled out a cigarette from the front pocket of his overalls. After exiting Plainview Cemetary's gates, he made his way up the street with a limp in his step. It was dog days, and he was getting on up in years. He couldn't remember if he was turning 64 or 65 come September, but he knew it wasn't s almost retiring time. He'd been digging graves for a lot of years. The arthritis was getting quite bad.


For lack of a car Digger Ant made his way down 42nd avenue on foot, aware of the swelling crowd. He passed the First Baptist Church and the First National Bank. He passed the high school and Mo's General Store. He made it to the town square and rested on a bench in the shade of the Confederate Memorial. Farmhands and bankers and teachers and coal miners lined the streets that crossed downtown. They crowded on the courthouse steps, buzzed in front of L.J. Vickery's, and leaned against the front windows of Woolworth's. Some waved American flags and others held banners. The doors of the dry cleaners stood open. Men in hats and ladies in dresses embraced one another, the smiles on their faces radiant with a fullness of life that only comes in the depth of summer, when the grass is lush and the sky is blue and daily living has taken on a leisurely pace. Their young'uns ran in high spirit, playing the games children play. Digger Ant knew them all. He had lived in Taylor Ridge, Alabama since birth.

 

He smelled the aroma of cotton candy. He smelled hot dogs. What wasn't in the air was the disagreeable smell that emanated from the lumber mill. That stench usually hung over the town like a cloud. Tarker Kane must have shut down the plant for the day. Good on him. That skinflint old man usually didn't even shut down for Christmas. From nearby was the sound of kettle popping. From a few blocks away he could hear the high school's band warming up for the procession. A dog barked. Car horns honked. A clown juggled pins for the little ones. Adults laughed and talked, standing in clumps and nodding their heads. It was a hot day, but no one seemed to mind. The crowd continued to swell.


"Digger Ant, is that you?" a man's strained, aged voice cried out. Digger turned and took in old Herman Curt. The man was nearing ninety, and was now completely bald. He was much shorter than Digger remembered (for it had been many a-year since the two had seen each other — Digger lived in the townhouse and Herman lived out in the county), and walked with a limp and cane. He was wearing a wrinkled, discolored blue suit — it probably the best outfit he owned. Like Digger, Herman had spent his life since childhood tilling the ground and relying on his own sweat and determination to make ends meet. Neither of them had ever needed to dress nice (except for church, o'course) before today. Today was special.


"Yeah, yeah, that's me ya old bag! How've you been?" he responded, jumping up from the bench and patting the old man on the shoulder. "Sit a spell. I've got smokes," Digger said," patting the chest pocket of his dirty overalls.


Herman held his hand out for a smoke, and Digger lit it. He then lit one for himself.
"Cain't stay," Herman said, leaning on his cane. "Wanna get a little closer to the street'n all. I ain't never seen a president 'fore. Even if he ain't worth a hoss kick in the winter, I wanna see'm!" The two men threw their heads back and laughed at this. Digger Ant could feel the warmth of the sun on his neck. It was quite a day to be alive!


"Well, you here with anyone?" Digger Ant asked the old farmer.

"Yuh, my mess of young'uns 'round here somewhere," Herman responded, looking around. "I'll find 'em. I ain't afraid to move anyone outta the way with this cane." He laughed again, showing off his tobacco-stained teeth. "Gonna go up to the college?"

"I might," Digger answered. "Though everybody's gonna go, reckon? Might not can get through."

"Mayhap not, but this is a special day. Can't believe that shit senator of ours got Roosevelt to come."

"Well, it's a favor for an old friend, I reckon," Digger Ant. "It bein' the openin' of the college and all. I heard the senator and the president go back a ways."

"Hmmmph," Herman responded. "Hmmph."


The excitement in the air was palpable.


Well, how's Mary?" Digger Ant asked.
"Oh, Ant. She passed away — oh, must've been six or more months ago now. Pneumonia."
"I hate to hear that," Ant said, unsure of what to say. He had never married. "Holdin' up okay?"
"I do my best. I got my gardenin' and the farm animals to look after, y'know."
"Still. That's a tit."
"Yuh. 'Tis."
"Yuh."


Herman started. "Well, I'm gonna go try'n find Jackie if I can, that kid —"
"Jackie's older'n me!" Digger Ant said. "He ain't a kid no more, old man."
Herman wagged his wrinkled finger and offered a fake scowl, and the two laughed again.
"Come by sometimes, and get some peaches," Herman offered. "If you ever get out my way, 'course. They're mighty sweet. Picked 'em just yest'day."
"Mmm!" Digger Ant responded. Peaches sounded nice on a day like today.
Herman looked at Digger for a moment and said, "Must get lonely at that old townhouse."
"Oh, I make do. I make do. I stay so busy with work'n all. Peaches sound mighty fine, though. Might take ya up on that!"
"Sounds fine." Herman then began to shoulder his way into the crowd, and townsfolk cleared a narrow path. "See yuns around!" He was swallowed by the mass of people. Digger Ant crossed the street, and stood on the corner in front of Rexall Drug. He wanted to have a nice view of the president, too.

(show spoiler)

 

Reading progress update: I've read 195 out of 340 pages.

The Woman in Cabin 10 - Helen Ruth Elizabeth Ware

Not making much progress on this book because: a.) it's horrible, and b.) I have been working on a major writing project. I hope to update here more throughout the week.