Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Hello one and all, and my apologies for my absence of late.
 Backing up a bit, I read 'Doctor Sleep' as soon as it was released, as I am sure most of you did. I do not really want to review it - there are plenty of reviews around, and your best option is just to read it. I will say, though, that I am glad S.K. gave us some closure regarding 'The Shining', letting us know what happened after the book ended, and how all of the characters got on.
 I enjoyed 'Doctor Sleep', and thought that Danny had pathos, despite being a terribly flawed person (mind you, we know what happened in 'The Shining' and are fairly likely to forgive him his adult quirks...). S.K. got past the issue of Danny effectively being a representation of an angel in the first book, to a full, troubled, human in this one.
 The 'baddies' were fun and creepy too - next time you are holidaying in the States (or, if you live there, just driving about), you will take a lot more notice of all the R.V.s on the road...
 Rumour has it this will be made into a movie, there's lots of scope for special effects AND good acting, I think it will translate well.

Looking forwards, then, Mr. King has two more books coming out this year. On 3rd June 2014 (these are UK release dates, sorry if they differ where you are!) we have 'Mr. Mercedes', which is described as a 'suspense thriller'. I will be interested to see Stephen tackle this genre, and no doubt he will manage to put his signature touches in there somewhere.
 You can pre-order or read more here

On 11th November , 'Revival' is released. This is going to be a classic King horror, and, given that is features a preacher and a rock musician, sounds like it will be true King Americana too - two for the price of one! You can pre-order it here but you will need to google it to get the blurb.

So, we have much to look forward to this year, and I will try to post regularly once more...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My worst 5...

In the interest of balance, having posted my top five King books, below are my worst five. There are not many authors with a sufficient enough back catalogue that you could dislike five books, and still have so many left that they remain your favourite author...and even after taking my top five out of the equation, there was still a huge body of work to review. I should note that these are not necessarily bad books – below-par King is still better than many other authors – but, for me, they fail to hit the mark, falling below the quality of S.K.’s other books, or are just not to my taste. I am more interested in exploring why some work speaks to me yet some does not, especially when the books that I am less fond of are other’s favourites...this is not just an exercise in being rude or mean!  So, in no particular order, my least favourite King books are;

Cell
To me, this already felt dated when it first came out. No doubt entranced by the zeitgeist at the time of writing, it was inevitable that King would latch on to the idea of cell ‘phones (that’s mobile ‘phones to us in the UK) as a product for evil, but it felt a bit overdone and unoriginal by the point of publication. It was an entertaining enough read, but I don’t suppose I’ll be compelled to reread it any time soon. (To be honest, I even got bored writing this little section, and took a break to search for a custard tart recipe...) My hope for this book it that in twenty or so years it will become charmingly vintage, a tale of a simpler time with simpler technologies and worries.

Lisey’s Story

Oh Stephen, I really wanted to like this one. I loved the premise, a story about the secret language that builds up within relationships and marriages, how this is a private means of communication and how this can be used to save one another, and how it can even transcend death. But you really lost me with the giant telepathic worm. Sorry.
From a Buick 8

Not a bad book if taken alone, good and creepy, and if you are new to King a fair starting point. But I felt that it was too much of a rehashing of the better novel ‘Christine’. Clearly King had more to say about supernatural cars (one wonders if there is a phobia being worked through here...) but for me it was a postscript to a much more evocative earlier work. Too same-y, I suppose, for me. I will, though, be interested in the movie (if rumours about one happening are true), as good special effects could turn this into something special.

The Eyes of the Dragon

When I perused my Stephen King bookcase in preparing this piece, I became convinced that I had not actually read this, that some disastrous oversight had happened and that it had been sitting, unloved and unread, for many years. On closer inspection, I had read it but had forgotten, not an auspicious start for this poor book when I can to pick my worst five. Doubtless, others will love this as it ties in with the ‘Dark Tower’ series (previous posts will tell you I am not a lover of the series, though I’m prepared to try again at some point). It does work as a standalone, but was very un-Kinglike in style and just not very memorable. This is a fantasy book, rather than horror or sci-fi, and so was never destined to be my favourite, but I can see that others will appreciate it more than I do, those who enjoy the genre as their favourite. I will say, though, the writing is good, it’s just not for me.

Dreamcatcher

Part of me loved this book, it was so lurid and grossly descriptive, and I did get caught up in the story. I was torn between this and ‘Firestarter’ for the last one, but in the end I felt that Firestarter offered more to the reader (and, frankly, had far less graphic descriptions of poo). The awful film version went a long way towards souring this book for me (much as I love Morgan Freeman, those dreadful overacting eyebrows will haunt me forever – and not in a good, spooky, way).
King wrote this when recovering from his car crash; perhaps this prompted the intense physicality of many of the scenes? It is popularly known that he wanted to call the book ‘Cancer’ but his wife talked him out of it, this more brutal title would, I think, have captured its essence better, but possible have resulted in poorer sales.
 It does contain snippets of classic King, it’s a true buddy story, it’s gross, it’s horrific, but you’ll remember the worst bits and not the best after reading.
 Do try it, make up your own mind, it is worth a read – as I’ve said before, bad King is often still good reading – but don’t settle down with it right after eating.
Do you agree? Are you incensed that your favourite is among those listed above? Let me know!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

A doctor at my door!

I've been working on a list of my worst five King books, to balance out the last post of my top five, but it felt too mean to post it last week, with it being Stephen King's birthday! Rest assured it will follow in the next few days, but in the meantime I've been waylaid by the arrival of 'Doctor Sleep' today!
 So all normal activity will be paused until I've read it, as I really don't want to see any spoilers before I've finished, and I am now impatient to get started!
 This should mean, however, two posts in close succession as I will no doubt be prompted to write a review (with spoiler alerts in place!).
I've also been watching the TV version of 'Under the Dome' (shown on 5 USA here in the UK), and so far, so good. A series was clearly a good way to go with this, as it means that many of the sub-plots have been included with a good level of attention on each. I enjoyed the book, but haven't yet reread it, however I am encouraged to by watching the programme. Doubtless many of you internationally are further ahead with the series - are you enjoying it? Do you think it is doing the book justice?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

My top 5...


The great thing about writing about an author with a prolific output is that everyone has a different top five books, and no end of debate will often ensue. I’ve been reading King’s books for 20 years so, inevitably, my own top five has shifted as new books have come out, so do expect future amendments!

 Unlike so many King fans, none of the Dark Tower series are on my list, and neither is The Stand. Not because they are bad, but they are not, for me, his best work. Stephen has so many oeuvres within his back catalogue  that they are many different takes on what ‘classic’ King actually is – is it the gory horror (Carrie), the nostalgic works (It, The Body) the ones with the Sci-Fi element  (The Tommyknockers), the post-apocalyptic tales (The Stand), or the books dripping in pathos (Rose Madder)?

 Now, I enjoy all of these, but, for me, the best King books are primarily character-driven, it just happens that those characters wear overcoats of gore. So the pathos/nostalgia/gory horror books are my preference.

 I’ll look more at his short stories and novellas later (although a novella collection is included here, I couldn’t resist); these really deserve their own analysis.

So, my top 5 King books are (in no particular order);



11/22/63
 This fairly recent offering is, in my opinion, one of King’s best books for years. It is being made into a film, so let’s hope the casting and script can do it justice. Despite the repetition regarding the issues of time travel and return visits to the same places and times, this does not become confusing, dull or tedious. The cyclic nature of the story works well, in fact, and establishes the characters. I enjoy the correlation between ‘real’ history, and King’s invented world and people. I think too, given the recognition of the date and the facts around the Kennedy assassination, this could have gone very wrong, so was a bold move. Fans of ‘The Dead Zone’ should enjoy this one too. A great read.

 
Duma Key

This one infrequently appears on this type of list, but is in my opinion an overlooked gem. Released in 2008, this book did not seem to get the usual level of publicity, and as such is one many have not heard of. I feel this is the first book that saw King return to his usual level of excellence following his cessation of drinking and drugging.

 Unusually, it is set away from Maine and the usual King geography, and is instead based in Minnesota and Florida. This in itself was fascinating, as it moved King successfully outside of his comfort zone. Art is a big feature, and the lavish description of the paintings really draws you into the story. I would recommend this to fans of ‘Rose Madder’, ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘Bag of Bones’. Speaking of which... 


Bag of Bones
As I mentioned in an earlier post, every Stephen King fan has their own preferred King style – for me it is the quirky combination of horror, nostalgia and pathos so evident in books like Duma Key and Bag of Bones. Recently adapted into a TV movie with Pierce Brosnan that really didn’t do it justice, this is a tale of grief and love, of righting old wrongs, connections to the past, and, almost incidentally, great horror that springs from hurt and denial. I went to a book signing with King (more in another post!) when this was released, and that only added to the hype, but this really lived up to all expectations, and is a book I can read again and again. Like many of King’s books, the central character is an author, and this really does make the book seem more personal, and Mike Noonan more lifelike.

 
The Bachman Books
 (strictly speaking, the first two of the four novellas contained within)
Before the world knew that Richard Bachman was Stephen King, he published four separate novellas under the Bachman name (as well as the novel ‘Thinner’). In 1985, they were published together as the Bachman Books, featuring an intro by King discussing why he took on a pseudonym – an interesting read. Comprising ‘Rage’, ‘The Long Walk’, ‘Roadwork’ and ‘The Running Man’, this collection brought together works that fell between short story and novel lengths.

 ‘Rage’ has now been withdrawn from publication by King, so newer versions do not contain it.

For me, ‘Rage’ and ‘The Long Walk’ really are prime King – long enough to be great stories, not as overtly long as some of his later works. Both focused on teenagers; this is nostalgic, angsty King at his peak. Both are also controversial works in terms of their themes, but have central characters that are likeable (which is a bit disturbing in terms of ‘Rage’ if you think about it too much!).

 If you can get hold of a copy containing ‘Rage’ then it’s worth the read, if not, still do check out the newer edition and read ‘The Long Walk’.

 ‘Roadwork’ and ‘The Running Man’ are good too, you get your money’s worth with this collection, but it is the first two that I find memorable and re-readable.


The Green Mile

I suppose that when you are as prolific as King, the incentive to try something new, a different format, must be huge, simply to shake up your routine. With ‘The Green Mile’, King looked back to prolific authors of old, particularly Charles Dickens, and initially issued it as a serial novel in six volumes which were available monthly, akin to older publications that were serialised in newspapers, or sold piecemeal as penny dreadfuls. Later, ‘The Green Mile’ was issued as a single volume.

 This is one of SK’s best known books, largely because of the popularity of the film which stayed very true to the written story.

 Taking team building and workplace bonding to the extreme, this is a very relatable narrative, in spite of its unusual setting. The boundaries between the good and bad guys are blurred at best; it’s a talented author who makes you root for many of the death row inmates we get to know here. It’s evocative of a gentler time, which is in dramatic juxtaposition to the action, and as a real bonus, it features a very talented mouse. If you’ve not read this one, do so, it’s worth it, and if you can get hold of the serialised volumes, you can take it bit by bit too.



 
 

I could go on of course, I also considered Dolores Claiborne, Rose Madder, Insomnia, The Shining, Carrie, It, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Misery, and Hearts in Atlantis, and on another day these might have made the cut. Isn’t it great to have such choice?

I’m sure you will all disagree with me, or have your own top 5, this is why King’s work works, it speaks to people on an individual level, and we each form our own relationships with it. So, which ones are in your top 5?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Unfeasibly excited about a visit from the doctor...


Are you as excited as I am about the next King release, ‘Doctor Sleep?

Released next month (September 2013), the sequel to the classic 1977 novel ‘The Shining’ (which was only Stephen’s third novel, but already showed so much of what we have come to perceive as ‘classic King’), is long-awaited and so eagerly anticipated that the first chapter has already been released on the Stephen King Books super fan area of their Facebook page (see here).



I have wondered, over the years, what happened to Danny Torrance; has he grown up, led a ‘normal’ life, and lost his ‘shining’ ability? Or did he become his father, a low-achieving alcoholic?

 Whenever I reread this book (or watch the controversial-in-King-circles movie – sorry but I love it), I feel oddly dissatisfied that I didn’t find out more about him, and where he ended up.  I can’t wait to find out, but I am oddly worried that I will end up hating the man he becomes. Worse than this, though, I worry that I will feel indifferent about him. I hope not, the Danny of ‘The Shining’ is a great character, so I hope this new offering pulls off the extreme and allows a surge of emotion, even if just pity, towards the character, and most of all I hope that little Danny Torrance is recognisable somewhere within Dan, his grown-up self. There is something extra thrilling about waiting for a sequel, that return to familiar settings and characters that you feel are a part of your own history if you have read the previous book enough, so the risk of let down is far greater in this instance.

 What do you think? Can King resurrect and improve on his own masterpiece? Or can ‘Doctor Sleep’ never live up to the brilliance of ‘The Shining’?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Roll up, roll up, take your places for a fair offering from King...

Given that ‘Joyland’ has recently been released, looking at this newest tale from Stephen King seems like a good place to begin.

 Each time a new King book is released I end up lurking around the postman like a rabid Cujo waiting to bite his hand off if he doesn’t release my parcel quickly enough. Unwrapping that cardboard sleeve to see the treasure within is, for me, an unparalleled pleasure, that new book smell and still-shiny unsullied cover adding to the excitement that comes with starting not only a new book, not just an unread King book, but a JUST RELEASED THAT DAY Stephen King unknown book...

‘Joyland’ was great in this respect, the bright colours and retro cover caught my eye like sweeties in a glass jar, the glossy paper finish catching the light and just begging to be read there and then.

So I did.

 This is King’s second publication in the ‘Hard Case Crime’ series, which was founded in 2004 to focus on publishing hard-boiled crime fiction, both genuine noir, and modern interpretations of the genre. From Donald E. Westlake, Mickey Spillane, and Ed McBain, through to authors including Michael Crichton (writing as John Lange), Robert B. Parker, and Christa Faust, this series enjoys the best of many great authors, whether or not this is their typical style.

 King initially collaborated with them for his 2005 novel ‘The Colorado Kid’ and this new release has been hotly anticipated. If you like crime fiction and King’s work, you’ll be in crossover heaven.


 

 Firstly, this is much shorter than the majority of King’s work (though longer than ‘The Colorado Kid’). In keeping with hard-boiled detective fiction, the language is pared-down and sparer than his typical lengthy prose, but really this is the only similarity I can draw without fishing for painful commonalities. I enjoyed this book, but it’s not your typical crime, not your typical detective (there is a lead character filling the role of ‘crime solver’ but detective he is not), and not your typical setting. I love the fairground as the location, as close to clich├ęd as it is for a horror author, it gives a great atmosphere that flies around your imagination in glorious Technicolor. King revels in creating an idiomatic language used between the fairground carnies, and, as ever, treats us to fabulous dialogue and graphic description. And that, I suppose, is the true reason this still reads as a hard crime novel – the stark and craven pictures King can draw from just a handful of words, the banal mixed with the ridiculous, a sparsity of words leaving room for the imagination to take over.

Personally, I saw a lot of similarities between this story and King’s 1998 work ‘Bag of Bones’, and felt he was drawing from a similar emotional well when writing both.

I won’t spoil this for you if you’ve not read it, as it’s such a recent release  - you too deserve to come to it fresh and eager, with few expectations except for the pre-released blurb and cover, and to form your own take and your own opinion. I do feel though, this is a better foray into this field than ‘The Colorado Kid’, which I enjoyed at the time but now struggle to recall in much depth. ‘Joyland’ paints bright and gaudy mental pictures that will linger after the words themselves fade, the crime element will hook you, but the fairground tawdriness will pull you back in for a second go-round.