Cody's Bookshelf

So many books, so little time

THE MAILMAN review

The Mailman - Bentley Little

This is my first Bentley Little novel, but it certainly won't be my last! A quick, smart, and surprisingly bleak horror tale about a small town under siege, The Mailman is one of the finer horror stories I've read lately.

 

The premise is a simple one: our main characters are Doug, a schoolteacher on summer vacation; his wife, Tritia; and their son, Billy. Peripheral characters are their friends and neighbors, but the focus is on this family — especially Doug . . . and, of course, the titular mailman, a newcomer to town.

 

This one was published in 1991, and certainly shows its age: characters actually receive letters from relatives (*gasp*!) and totally rely on landlines. Yeah, this one is dated, but that adds to the charm. And despite feeling very early '90s, this story still has relevance today. Being a habitual online shopper, I check the mail religiously and have struck up a sort of friendship with my mail-woman. The mail is a big part of my life, so this novel's magic really worked on me. Little makes something so mundane as mail delivery terrifying!

 

I enjoyed this one to pieces, and I cannot wait to read Little's other novels. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a fun and exceptionally scary summer read.

BEARTOWN Review

Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

What can I say? Fredrik Backman, you've done it again. I am speechless and shocked and in awe etc etc.

 

I had the time of my life reading Beartown: a chilly, honest examination of a small, poor town whose future rests on the shoulders of the local teenage hockey team.

 

Unlike Backman's previous works, which focus on one (sometimes two, but usually) one character, Beartown features a large cast. I was very thrown off by this at first, as I'd become used to Backman's style; he really changes it up here. It took fifty or so pages for me to get a handle on all the characters, but once I did I really enjoyed the ride. All these people are endlessly fascinating to read about--they harbor grudges and secrets and hopes; Backman writes about the powerful, underdogs, and everyone in between with precision and raw skill. Topics such as homosexuality, the alluring power of groupthink, small town politics, rape culture, and parenthood are handled with surprising ease and dignity. Backman is a master of misdirection: he leads his readers in one direction, only to reveal it's all a fake out and, instead, takes them to a much more fulfilling place. Sorry, fanboying here. I just really love this author, okay?

 

Beartown is a fabulous novel. I couldn't find anything to complain about if I tried. I don't even like hockey, but the author made it not only interesting — he actually had me on the edge of my seat during the game scenes. That's a feat in itself!

 

Highly recommended to any and all readers. This is slightly different from his previous work, and I welcome the change. An author has to grow to survive. I cannot wait to see what Backman publishes next!

 

(I'd also like to show my appreciation for Neil Smith, who translated this fine novel from the original Swedish to English. Great job!)

DOLORES CLAIBORNE Review

Dolores Claiborne - Stephen King

Five stars for one of my very favorite Stephen King stories: the enthralling and legendary 1993 novel, Dolores Claiborne.

 

As old as this book is, and considering it was made into a big budget film starring Kathy Bates (my favorite King adaption, by the way), almost everyone knows the plot — so I won't rehash too much. But I will say this is the story of a woman — easily the strongest woman King has ever created, and simply one of the best damn female main characters I've ever come across in fiction. This is her story — her confessional — all told in first-person, in Maine dialect. The writing style is unique, something most authors wouldn't have been able to pull off . . . but King isn't most authors. Novels like this one are why he is my favorite writer, full stop.

 

There is so much I want to say about this book and I find I can't really say much at all. A complex, taut, fast-paced domestic thriller/drama/mystery, this ranks among King's most un-put-downable and intriguing. defy any reader to finish the story and not think of Dolores from time to time.

 

A classic. A must-read. Etc.

 

Favorite Quote

 

"In the fifties... when they had their summer parties - there were always different colored lanterns on the lawn... and I get the funniest chill. In the end the bright colors always go out of life, have you noticed that? In the end, things always look gray, like a dress that's been washed too many times.”

 

King Connections

 

Several references to Shawshank prison are mentioned.

 

On page 226, Dolores is driving home on the day of the eclipse and takes note of the deserted roads — she comments on how hey reminded her of "that small town downstate" where it is rumored "no one lives there anymore." A reference to 'Salem's Lot? I'll say maybe.

 

This is the 'sister' novel of Gerald's Game. Both books' most crucial moments take place on the day of the eclipse.

 

Up Next

 

It's a world of color, a world of darkness . . . It's Insomnia.

Reading progress update: I've read 112 out of 418 pages.

Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

Wow. So far, this is Backman's best work. 

THE WATCHER Review

The Watcher - Emery Armstrong Ross

Release Date: 04.25.17

 

Ross Armstrong's forthcoming debut novel, The Watcher, is a stylish and experimental challenge — one that will surely leave many a reader scratching his or her head when the story is done, but not without a faint sense of satisfaction . . . an inkling that something unique was just experienced.

 

Lily, the protagonist, lives in a new apartment building with her husband, Aiden. An avid bird watcher, she has taken to watching the people in the apartment building next to hers. Though she does not know these people, she is fascinated by them — going so far as to make names and backstories up for them. Soon she witnesses a murder and becomes entirely obsessed with catching the culprit, for she suspects he lives in the apartment she has spent so much time studying. Things get dangerous, out of control, and confusing . . . needless to say, Lily is the definition of an unreliable narrator (and I don't consider that a spoiler, as it is very much hinted at in the synopsis and apparent from page one). This is an in-depth look at a spiraling character in duress. The reader is totally inside her mind, helpless to do anything except hang on tight.

 

Like most reviewers have said, this novel confused me — but that's the point. It's intentional, though the reason for that does not become apparent until the story's final quarter. I must admit, I spent the first 50% of this one annoyed, lost . . . intrigued, too. This one just broods, right from the start. Lily is an interesting character, for sure. The author keeps the reader at a distance from her, yet by the end one feels as if he or she fully knows this character. I can't explain it, for this book is up to tricks I've ever experienced in modern fiction. I'll say this: The Watcher contains reveals that will knock you on your ass. So buckle up.

 

I finished this one feeling relieved that I made it through, relieved that it was over . . . and so happy I requested an ARC. While I can't award it a full five stars (the experimental style isn't a full success; I don't feel as though I fully grasped everything, either . . . maybe that's the point?), I can give it a solid four. Recommended. The Watcher hits shelves on Tuesday; check it out if you're looking for something off-beat and a little weird.

 

DARK SCREAMS: VOLUME SIX Review

Dark Screams: Volume Six - Stephen King, Norman Prentiss, Richard Chizmar, Brian James Freeman, Joyce Carol Oates

Release Date: 04.25.17

 

This was my first Dark Screams collection, but it certainly won't be my last. Color me impressed!

 

While I wasn't particularly scared by any of these stories, most of them do deal with dark themes and toe the line between natural and unnatural. They range in voice and style, obviously, as the six stories were written by different authors.

 

I think my personal favorite is 'The Manicure,' by Nell Quinn-Gibney, a brief and haunting story about childhood traumas and phobias that come back in adulthood. Another standout is Norman Prentiss' 'The Comforting Voice,' which might have made me tear up a little.

 

The stories here are sublime, for the most part. I felt my attention wandering during 'The Corpse King' and I wasn't impressed with Stephen King's 'The Old Dude's Ticker' — an old Poe pastiche that should have stayed in the drawer. My favorite author contributed my least favorite story in Dark Screams. Bummer.

 

I am very impressed with this collection, and will certainly check out past editions of this series.

 

Thanks to Netgalley and Hydra for the ARC, which was given in exchange for an honest review.

Okay. All my King reviews are posted here, but I am nowhere near finished copying over my Goodreads reviews from the last six months. I've added a link to my GR account in my profile, and will be working on transferring those reviews a little at a time. :) And my BL/GR accounts are now synced. 

GERALD'S GAME Review

Gerald's Game - Stephen King

Gerald's Gameis a brutal, exhausting read. With this 1992 novel Stephen King did the impossible: he wrote a harrowing, haunting novel about one woman trapped in a room . . . and he managed to make it so damn interesting! Not only that, I feel this is King's scariest work. That's subjective, of course, but it's the opinion of this humble reviewer.

 

Jessie and Gerald Burlingame have gone up to their summer cabin on Dark Score Lake in the middle of October for a weekend getaway. The community is almost empty — the summer people have long gone home — and the couple plan to spend a lot of time in bed. Gerald is a fan of bondage and Jessie is not. He forces her into handcuffs and she kicks him, her overweight, middle-aged husband, in the stomach and testicles. Hubby drops dead, and Jessie is alone, chained to the bed . . . with no means of escape. And that's chapter one!

 

This is the mother of character studies. Over 400 pages or so, by way of flashbacks and inner voices, King deeply explores Jessie's psyche and what it means to be a strong woman in this macho, male-oriented world. When I think of Gerald's Game, the word I immediately associate with it is 'brave'. Stephen King could have rested on his laurels: he had become known for creating small towns only to burn them down by novel's end; he was known for traditional horror tropes like ghosts and vampires and aliens. Don't get me wrong — in King's hands, all those things became new and invigorated once more, but this novel shows the horror master turning a corner in his writing. What would follow is a string of novels unafraid to poke and prod at highly sensitive, current social issues, all featuring some of the damn best character work of the man's career.

 

All that said, this novel is not without its faults. On the whole it is very good, but it is too wordy at times; repetitive, too. And the ending overstays its welcome, I fear. I feel the novel would have been stronger had it ended with Jessie in the Mercedes, and perhaps a brief epilogue added on a'la Pet Sematary. What the reader is instead given is sixty or seventy pages of largely unnecessary wrap-up.

 

This will never be top King, for me, but it's a fine novel all the same.

 

Favorite Quote

 

"“If anyone ever asks you what panic is, now you can tell them: an emotional blank spot that leaves you feeling as if you've been sucking on a mouthful of pennies."

 

King Connections

 

The Burlingames' cabin is on Dark Score Lake, which would loom large over King's '90s output, especially Bag of Bones.

 

The towns of Chamberlain (Carrie) and Castle Rock (several short stories and novels) are mentioned in the novel's final chapters. Jessie muses on the fire that happened in Castle Rock "about a year ago," which is a direct reference to the events of Needful Things's climax.

 

This novel is, of course, the fraternal twin of Dolores Claiborne, but I will discuss that connection in depth when reviewing that novel.

 

NEEDFUL THINGS Review

Needful Things - Stephen King

Needful Things is my favorite Stephen King novel. Hell, it's probably my favorite novel, period. I felt that way going into this reread, and those feelings did not change upon reading it for the...fourth time, I think it is now. King nails everything here: exceptional character work, horror and comedy in equal measure, and one of his most memorable endings to date.

 

I know this novel has its detractors, and that's cool. Different strokes for different folks, brother. This novel is long (but not extraneous, he emphasized) and stars one of King's largest casts. I dig that, and some readers don't. Personally, I love every character here: Buster Keeton, Nettie Cobb, Hugh Priest, Willie Rose — that old Catholic-hating reverend. This novel is King at his most Dickensian: these small town people are folks all readers can relate to; the way these characters' lives intertwine with one another are an absolute joy to read about. And like the best of Dickens's work, this book is hilarious at times. I laugh until I cry every time I read Needful Things; typically I find King's humor to be a little hit or miss. In this 1991 satire, he hits the nail on the head every. single. time. I would wager SK had a ton of fun writing this novel because it's a blast to read. That's not to say this book is lighthearted or breezy; it's anything but. While it has it's hilarious moments, those are contrasted sharply with some of the darkest, most despairing scenes King has ever penned. Why is this book not mentioned in the same breath as Pet Sematary or Cujo when this author's bleakest works are discussed? Some of the text is almost too downtrodden to bare (I'm thinking, for instance, of Cora Rusk's distraction — her longing to go back to her Elvis fantasy — and inability to understand what has just happened to her son. No spoilers!)

 

As well, it is as relevant today as it was in 1991 — if not more so. For the last eighteen months or thereabouts, I have watched roughly 40% of my country's citizens fall victim to an aging con man, someone who preyed and still preys on the weak, scared, angry and greedy to win the presidential election and further his agenda (or sow chaos; whatever you want to call it). In a sense, this novel feels just as chilling and timely in the Trump era as 1984 or It Can't Happen Here.

 

Needless to say, this is King's masterwork — at least, for me it is. Some folks would say that title falls to the Dark Tower series or It or The Stand. That's fine. Literature is so damn subjective and every Constant Reader is different. But for me, Needful Things is the tome that shows the impossible heights King is capable of climbing to. He's come close since — and he had come close before this novel released — but this is in a class all its own. My highest recommendation, and then some.

 

Favorite Quote

 

"The goods which had so attracted the residents of Castle Rock — the black pearls, the holy relics, the carnival glass, the pipes, the old comic books, the baseball cards, the antique kaleidoscopes — were all gone. Mr. Gaunt had gotten down to his real business, and at the end of things, the business was always the same. The ultimate item had changed with the years, just like everything else, but such changes were surface things, frosting of different flavors on the same dark and bitter cake.
At the end, Mr. Gaunt always sold them weapons . . . and they always bought."

 

King Connections

 

Confession: I did not take notes while reading this. I know, I know; bad Cody! I just wanted to enjoy the ride.

 

This is subtitled "The Last Castle Rock Story", so of course it's the punctuation mark on the Castle Rock saga. Connections big and small to The Dead Zone, The Body, Cujo, The Dark Half, and The Sun Dog pop up.

The book's epilogue is set in Junction City, Iowa, which was the setting for 1990's novella The Library Policeman.

 

The car Ace Merrill picks up for Mr. Gaunt is a Tucker Talisman — a type of car that does not exist, and I am almost tempted to say its name is a reference to The Talisman. As well, when Ace sits in the Talisman for the first time he thinks about how fine a new car smells. "Nothing smells better," he remarks, "except maybe pussy." This line is almost certainly a throwback to Christine, as that same thought is expressed by a character in that novel. Pretty cool.

 

I am sure there are many more connections to be found here (there are references to Derry and some scenes are set in Cumberland Hospital, which is close to Jerusalem's Lot), but I didn't feel like chasing them. Say sorry.

THE DARK TOWER Review

The Dark Tower - Stephen King

I began this reread of the Dark Tower series exactly two years ago. Before that, I had always sped through the series and finished feeling sad for not having taken my time. So, I did precisely that this go-around. I feel as though I actually took the journey to the Tower myself.

 

And now, the journey is over. Damn, it hurts.

 

It goes without saying that this novel deserves all the stars. It's the capstone to Stephen King's magnum opus: it wraps up one of the finest book series ever written, and it does the job splendidly. Yeah, it has issues (the meta stuff can be jarring as hell, but I love it anyway . . . and one word: Oy. Never forgiving you for that, Steve), but no work of fiction is objectively perfect. This book does what it's supposed to: it's the kiss-off for the ballsiest, most involving set of novels I've ever come across.

 

I feel at a loss for words, to be honest. I just finished this a few moments ago, and . . . well, this one always gets to me. That is especially true this time. I will miss the ka-tet, and I'm sure I will take this journey again in a year or two. There are always new things to discover and explore in King's Dark Tower universe.

 

This isn't the review this book deserves, but it will have to do. Say thankya, Sai King, for creating this series and characters (literally-- wink wink). I can't recommend the DT novels enough.

FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT Review

Four Past Midnight - Stephen King

There is an old Family Guy cutaway which depicts Stephen King meeting with his publisher to pitch his next novel. Obviously desperate for an idea, King quickly looks around the office and grabs the publisher's desk lamp. "So this family gets attacked by . . . a lamp monster! Ooooh!" he waves his hands, trying to convey the scariness and shock of his laughably bad offering. Of course the skit is satirizing King's prolificacy. The publisher sighs, defeated, and asks when he can have the manuscript.

 

Four Past Midnight feels a little like that. None of these stories quite plummet to the lows of an evil, murderous lamp come to life . . . but this is not King on his A-game. These stories were written in the late '80s, when SK was getting off alcohol and drugs; that can have a huge impact on a person's life — especially a person who has to live up to the expectations of millions. King once said of this time period that everything he wrote "fell apart like wet tissue paper," and that self-consciousness and unease is very evident here. The writing is clunky and oft-uninspired; few of the characters come alive. The excellent characterization is why I pay the price of admission. Even if the story gets bloated and the ending disappoints, King's characters are typically reliable. Not so here.

 

In essence, it feels like King studied what worked best earlier in his career and incorporated those elements into the novellas, with diminished results. We have the small band of survivors fighting for life against an apocalyptic setting a'la The Stand and The Mist (The Langoliers), a psychic child (again, The Langoliers), the tortured writer (Secret Window, Secret Garden), repressed childhood memories/using the innocence of childhood to fight a shape-shifting monster (The Library Policeman) and a boring-as-shit Castle Rock tale about a murderous dog (The Sun Dog). All of these stories feel like they're stuck in tired, been-there-done-that territory; I almost never accuse King of repeating himself, but this collection is nothing but reheated leftovers of plot points from earlier, better novels and novellas.

 

My ratings for each story are as follows:

The Langoliers: 3
Secret Window, Secret Garden: 4
The Library Policeman: 3
The Sun Dog: 1


That puts the average at 2.75, which rounds up to 3. This is a totally average book. <i>Secret Window, Secret Garden</i> is easily the best of the lot; I don't care to ever reread the others.

 

King Connections

 

The Langoliers features a shout-out to The Shop.

Secret Window, Secret Garden partially takes place in Derry; The Sun Dog takes place in Castle Rock. Both towns are, of course, very important to the King universe.

 

Favorite Quote

 

“'I'm not taking that,' Mort said, and part of him was marvelling at what a really accommodating beast a man was: when someone held something out to you, your first instinct was to take it. No matter if it was a check for a thousand dollars or a stick of dynamite with a lit and fizzing fuse, your first instinct was to take it.”

THE DARK HALF Review

The Dark Half - Stephen King

Here it is, at last: I've reached the end of the '80s in my Stephen King reread project. It took me longer than expected, but I made it. Overall, I had a damn good time.

The 1980s was, arguably, King's most successful decade — at least as far as commercial appeal goes. He was a literary Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, et cetera. He was at the top of the bestselling lists and hit movie after hit movie adapted from his works was being released in theaters. He was, officially, a household name. During those years his kids got older; he became addicted to drugs and got clean (a process that casts a hue on almost every release from this period); he collaborated with Peter Straub on a fantasy novel and kicked the Dark Tower series into gear. It was a very productive time for King.

 

As I said, I had a good time rereading the releases from this decade. The point of my doing this is to see how my opinions change over time. That happens a lot, at least for me. I tend to read quickly and skim over things, so rereading novels is almost always beneficial. Firestarter was much better than I had previously thought; my opinion on Christine soured tremendously upon rereading. Stephen King's works are more subtle than they appear; multiple takes are almost always fruitful.

 

So, The Dark Half. Released in 1989, this novel was SK's farewell to the '80s. It encapsulates so many motifs that had popped up in previous King works (a writer/family man as the protagonist, the theme of addiction and outrunning your desires, et cetera) that it, at first, seems borderline repetitive. It even partially takes place in Ludlow (town of Pet Sematary). The rest is set in Castle Rock. Talk about returning to familiar stamping grounds! (Not that I'm complaining; I love both of those towns.)

 

Hell, this book was in my bottom 5 for years and years. I thought it was a bit of a bore, I thought King's writing was clunky, and . . . of course, I could never quite figure out what, exactly, George Stark is.

 

King doesn't spell it out; he leaves some of the heavy lifting to the reader, which is . . . odd for him. He usually revels in explaining the how's and why's of his creations; here it is left up to interpretation. I believe Thad Beaumont has a "wild talent," thanks to the absorption of his twin in utero (which developed in his brain as Thad himself developed). The impact this had on his neurotic development puts him amongst characters such as Carrie White, Danny Torrance, Charlie McGee, Johnny Smith, et cetera. Thad's power is, of course, his wild imagination, his tendencies to imaginatively create, and the uncontrollable-when-triggered ability to extract and transform ideas into matter that physically impacts the world around him. By the story's end, as George is falling apart and desperate to live and succeed on his own, it is apparent that Thad's talent is not perfect and can be wildly unpredictable. There is much, much more I would like to say about this (for I feel I've done a piss poor job of explaining my theory), but Goodreads does have a review word limit. Boo!

 

Once I got more of a handle on what George Stark is (or possibly is, anyway), I was able to enjoy the ride much more. This is one of King's leanest and meanest novels; it's a nasty, bloody, thrilling affair with copious amounts of horror and crime investigation — more than enough to keep any reader turning the pages. However, gentler readers be warned: this one is not for the faint of heart. It's a gloriously gory book, and King doesn't shy away from every nasty detail. This was quite a welcome change after biggies like <i>It</i> and The Tommyknockers. I don't quite know yet if this is now in my top 10, but it just might be. King's exploration of art and addiction (two themes he goes back to again and again) is most compelling; he is not afraid to be bleak and 'go there'; this novel's ending struck me hard — the bad guy loses, but the good guys lose too. In this novel, there is no winning. Only the grim hope of possibly recovering from the carnage.

 

King Connections

As I said before, a lot of The Dark Halftakes place partially in Castle Rock, placing this firmly in the same universe as The Dead Zone, Cujo, et cetera. References to those novels abound.

 

The Beaumont's winter home is in Ludlow, Maine, which is where the Creed family lives in Pet Sematary.

 

Pg. 72 - Juniper Hill, a mental asylum first referenced in IT gets a mention.

At one point, Deputy Norris Ridgewick refers to himself as a lunkhead. Is that a wink and a nod to Creepshow? I'll say yes.

 

Favorite Quote 

"No, you don't,  Alan thought. You don't understand what you are, and I doubt that you ever will. Your wife might . . . Although I wonder if things will ever be right between the two of you after this, if she'll ever want to understand, or dare to lose you again. Your kids, maybe, someday . . . But not you, Thad. Standing next to you is like standing next to a cave some nightmarish creature came out of. The monster is gone now, but you still don't like to be too close to where it came from. Because there might be another. Probably not; your mind knows that, but your emotions — they play a different tune, don't they? Oh boy. And even if the cave is empty forever, there are the dreams. And the memories. There's Homer Gamache, for instance, beaten to death with his own prosthetic arm. Because of you, Thad. All because of you."

THE TOMMYKNOCKERS Review

The Tommyknockers - Stephen King

I should not like The Tommyknockers as much as I do. It's a guilty pleasure of mine; I can admit it. And perhaps a rating of four stars is a mite generous . . . But, despite rationale, I number this novel among my favorites by King. Why? Because reasons. I'll explain in a moment.

 

The Tommyknockers is about Pandora's box, and what happens once it's open — and it's also about failed (missed? unrequited?) love. Our two main characters are Bobbi Anderson, a moderately successful writer of western novels, and Jim Gardener, a published poet and struggling alcoholic. The two are friends, and in the past have been lovers, enemies . . . and everything in between. Their relationship is endlessly intriguing, and it's what makes this flawed novel work — for me. While walking in the woods behind her home, Bobbi literally stumbles over what turns out to be part of an alien spaceship that has been buried for millennia, and is immediately intrigued. Her dig begins, and soon Jim comes to her after sensing something is wrong with her — wrong with her situation, and perhaps the town of Haven, Maine in general. The story expands out from there.

 

This is very much a "big" King novel. It feels big. The focus is only on Bobbi and Gardener for the first two hundred pages or so; the perspective is then expanded to include the goings-on of the townsfolk in part two, "Tales of Haven". It is this section most readers have problems with, I have noticed — and I can't disagree. While a few of the chapters (specifically the ones that focus on 'Becka Paulson, Hilly Brown, and Ruth McCausland) do a good job of painting a searing picture of foreboding, others — such as the pages-long chapter about the history of the town's name that has almost nothing to do with the story — act as speed bumps, and that's unfortunate; King is at his most inventive here, but he often gets in his own way.

 

I certainly held this novel in higher esteem before this reread. While some aspects of the story (Jim and Bobbi's relationship and the many guises it takes, Ev Hillman's character, the ending) actually improved for me, large chunks of the prose were slogs to get through. I don't usually accuse King of overwriting, but overwrite he did here. Maybe I am only realizing it now because I've been rereading his works in order. After taut, entrancing stories like Misery and Cujo, The Tommyknockers just feels bloated. It's like comparing 1968 and 1977 Elvis — the talent and goods are still there, but boy... a little weight could stand to be lost.

 

At its core, this is a white hot story written by a man who seems very, very tired. It's well-documented that SK was at the height of his drug addiction during the writing of this novel, and it certainly shows. He was a gargantuan success by then, though, and I guess no editor could stand up to the King. He would come back a couple of years later with The Dark Half, a novel that lacks the fat of this one . . . as well as the inventive spark. This one is a hot mess, but it's a whole lotta fun (and pretty creepy, too!). 3.5 stars rounded up.

 

King connections (buckle in for a long ride!):

 

Bobbi Anderson lived in Cleaves Mills (a town that has popped up in several Stephen King novels, most noticeably The Dead Zone) before moving to Haven.

 

P. 92 - Derry is mentioned. In fact, Derry pops up a lot in this one.

 

P. 97 - Jim Gardener, when doing a poetry reading, is facing stage fright and fears the audience sucking out his soul, his ka.

 

Pg. 144 - Jim uses the phrase 'lighting out for the territories,' a throwback to The Talisman.

 

Pg. 150 - Jim wakes up on a beach after a jag, only to run into a teenage boy. He has a conversation with the kid, and is it turns out it's Jack Sawyer, of The Talisman.

 

Pg. 159 - Jim hitches a ride in a van with a few druggie teens. One of said teens is named Beaver. Could it be the Beaver who appears in 2001's Dreamcatcher? I'd say it's likely. Like that novel, a good chunk of this one is set in Derry. And the timeline seems right. As well, it's not like the name (or nickname, rather) 'Beaver' is very common.

 

Pg. 265 - The Shop gets a mention, and will become important near the novel's end. Charlie McGee from Firestarter is referenced in connection to The Shop.

 

Pg. 476 - David Bright (from the Dead Zone and several short stories) enters the scene.

 

Pg. 479 - Ev Hillman, Hilly's grandfather, hears chuckles in the drains of his hotel room in Derry.

 

Pg. 479 - While in Derry, Ev goes to a local bar and hears the story of The Dead Zone's Johnny Smith.

 

Pg. 492 - Starting here, some history of the woods surrounding Bobbi Anderson's home is given. It is confirmed that the area — once called Big Injun Woods — was populated by the Micmacs, giving this book a firm connection to Pet Sematary.

 

Pg. 498 - King breaks the fourth wall and has a character hold this opinion: "Bobbi Anderson wrote good old western stories you could really sink your teeth into, not all full of make-believe monsters and a bunch of dirty words, like that fellow who lived up in Bangor wrote."

 

Pg. 735 - When contemplating how to break into Bobbi's shed, he makes a mental reference to Jack Nicholson's performance in The Shining — particularly, the infamous "Here's Johnny!" scene.

 

Okay . . . Let's talk about something, shall we? Let's discuss what universe this novel takes place in, because I'm very sure on a different level of the Tower than most of King's other stories.

 

In the Tommyknockers universe, King is an established author, and characters make references to him — and, by association, Peter Straub. At one point, Bobbi asks Jim if he's ever read Straub's 1983 novel Floating Dragon. Therefore, it would do to assume that The Talisman, the novel co-written by King and Straub, also exists in this world.

But! Jim runs into Jack Sawyer, the main character from The Talisman, on a beach. They even converse! Very similarly to Father Callahan's entry into the Dark Tower series despite existing as a book character in that very same world, it looks like Jack (and Stephen King and Peter Straub, I'd assume) exists both as a fictional and real character. Trippy, huh?

 

It doesn't stop there. There are references to Derry and Pennywise the Clown all over the place, and any King reader knows how intertwined IT is in the Dark Tower series. Is it safe to say The Tommyknockers is, therefore, Dark Tower-related? Not just in a tangential way, either? I'd say yes, though King has never said so.

 

And what about The Dead Zone? That novel is referenced here more than any other. Bobbi once lived in Cleaves Mill. David Bright, a reporter from that story, shows up here in a pretty significant way. If one will recall, in a climatic scene in that earlier book a character makes a reference to Brian DePalma's film Carrie — "This is just like that movie Carrie!" she says, thus, King is breaking the fourth wall and firmly establishing that work of fiction outside the realm of the rest of his stories . . . The Tommyknockers does the same thing. A character actually makes a reference to King as a living being and a writer, and Jim thinks about Stanley Kubrick's cinematic adaptation of The Shining.

 

But that's pretty messy, isn't it? Especially when one considers the fact that The Dead Zone is a Castle Rock story, thus making references made in and to that novel inherently contradictory. Same here; in fact, the references King makes in The Tommyknockers are contradictory in and of themselves, and often work against each other. Is it on purpose? Was he just throwing out random Easter eggs to please the crowd and inflate himself? Maybe it's a little of both. I don't know, nor do I pretend to. And I'm sure there are many, many references in this one that I missed, for I took only the briefest of notes.

 

Alright, now to pull myself out of the rabbit hole and finish this thing . . .

 

Favorite quote:

 

“The trouble with living alone, she had discovered-and the reason why most people she knew didn't like to be alone even for a little while-was that the longer you lived alone, the louder the voices on the right side of your brain got.”

MISERY Review

Misery - Stephen King

What could I possibly add to what has already been said about this astounding novel in the last thirty years? It is a bonafide King classic, an excellent entry in the man's oeuvre by virtually any standard of judgement. Kick-ass villain? Check. Tightly-wound plotting? Check. Believable situation? Check. Avoidance of cliché? Check. Likable protagonist? Check. Appropriate ending? Check. In Misery, King does what is so rare for authors to do (especially authors who are fifteen or so years into their career, as King was in 1987) — he gets everything right.

 

I have a very special relationship with this book. It was the very first thing I ever read by Stephen King, years ago. At the time, I had a friend who was a big fan of the guy and raved about his works whenever he got a chance. I loved to read when I was growing up, but I lost interest around the age of 13 or so. I had begun to outgrow the stories I loved as a (younger) kid and hadn't yet found anything I liked as a young teen. Finally, at the insistence of said King-loving friend, I checked the 'K' section at my local library. Lo and behold, I found a mess of his novels and didn't know where to start. Under the Dome was King's latest release then, and while it seemed interesting, I suspected I would never make it through its 1,000+ pages. Maybe one day, I told myself. After sweaty, anxious scanning of all the King titles on my town library's shelves, I texted my friend and asked for suggestions. He immediately responded with something I'll never forget: "They're all good. Just don't get Dreamcatcher. It sucks ass."

 

Alright! Feeling moderately liberated, I felt relief in the knowledge that I could check out any of the titles before me without worry of it being a time-waste (besides Dreamcatcher, mind you). Finally, I noticed a slimmer volume, its one-worded title in a font that looked like blood: MISERY, it said. The hardcover's art immediately gripped me, as did the goofy-ass author photo on the back — that photo still cracks me up, by the way. Say sorry, Sai King!


To the checkout counter I went, with Misery (and The Stand, if memory serves — though I did not even attempt that one before its due date) in hand. A few days later I went on vacation with my family to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We camped out.... in tents.... in an RV park. Oi. It rained almost everyday, and when it wasn't raining it was almost a hundred degrees. But that trip wasn't so bad — after all, I had Misery. I remember sitting in the tent I shared with my sister, holding the book in my clutches, eagerly drinking in the story by flashlight as the rain pelted down. Ah, good times. Funnily enough, it was not until a few months after that trip that I read another novel by SK.

 

 

That one — Christine — is what turned me into the fanboy I am today. But Misery laid the groundwork, and pushed me to expand my literary interests in the first place.

So what was it? What was it that I loved (and love) so much about Misery? Why, it's King's commentary on the writing process, of course. I'm a pre-published (he said optimistically) writer, which made this story more appealing now than it ever was before. While I don't write in the same genre as King — horror and suspense are not comfortable to me — his words of advice on the craft are endlessly fascinating, and so helpful. The stories and novels in which King deals with the arts and the impact it has on everyday life are my favorites, just because those are the titles I relate to most.

 

And let us not forget the vividly drawn characters — Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes. I love to write, therefore I dig Paul and can feel for him. Of course. However, I also have more than a little bit of Annie in me. I'm obsessive, lonely, paranoid, depressive, manic. Just being honest. I feel for her. I feel her pain, her turmoil, her ideology — even when she's wielding an ax or chopping up coppers with a lawnmower. What kind of person does that make me?

 

The reader can sympathize with all of King's characters, even the most despicable ones. That's the mark of a truly great writer, and it's a lesson I've tried to apply to my own stories. In fact, Annie is so well-realized that I'm always heartbroken over her death. I know she deserved it. I know that. But . . . still. It's a hard one, at least for me. I love Annie Wilkes.

 

So, yeah. This has been a shit review. Apologies! Didn't know what to say that hasn't already been said, so I decided to go with whatever came out. Hope you stuck around, and thanks for reading!

 

King connections:

 

Pg. 103 - Paul imagines the voice of his typewriter as being that of a 'teenage gun-slinger'.

Pg. 192 - The phrase 'off the beam' is thought of by Paul. Is that a Dark Tower reference? Almost certainly. The Drawing of the Three was released in 1987 too, so it was definitely on King's mind.

Pg. 194 - Events from The Shining, namely the Overlook Hotel burning down, are mentioned by Annie. And there's the fact that this novel takes place in Colorado, which puts this one firmly in the same universe as that which is occupied by the Torrances.

 

Favorite quote:

 

“As always, the blessed relief of starting, a feeling that was like falling into a hole filled with bright light.
As always, the glum knowledge that he would not write as well as he wanted to write.
As always the terror of not being able to finish, of accelerating into a brick wall.
As always, the marvelous joyful nervy feeling of journey begun.”

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.

Currently reading

I Sing the Body Electric! & Other Stories by Ray Bradbury
Progress: 181/336pages