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Book Review: The Shining by Stephen King (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Campbell Scott)

November 6, 2013 1 comment

View of an old wooden door from a low perspective. Summary:
Jack Torrance, a writer and schoolteacher, almost let his temper and alcoholism destroy himself and his family.  But he’s joined AA and is determined to get his life, family, and career back on track.  When he hears through a friend about a hotel in rural Colorado need of a winter caretaker, it seems like the perfect solution.  Spend time in seclusion working on his new play and provide for his family simultaneously.  But what Jack doesn’t know is that The Overlook Hotel has a sinister past, and his son, Danny, has a shine.  Psychic abilities that make him very attractive to the sinister forces of the hotel.

Review:
The new release of Doctor Sleep, the surprise sequel to The Shining, at the end of this September made me realize that while I had seen the movie (review), I had never gotten around to reading to the book.  October seemed like the ideal time to immerse myself into an audiobook version of a Stephen King story, and since I knew I loved the movie, I figured I was bound to enjoy the book.  Surprisingly, this is a rare instance where I enjoyed the movie version better than the book.  While the book version is definitely an enjoyable thrill-ride, it never quite reaches the highest heights of terror.

The characterization is the strongest here that I’ve seen in the King books I’ve read so far.  All the characters are three-dimensional, but the Torrance family in particular are well-explored.  Jack and Wendy (his wife) read so much like real people, because while both make some horrible mistakes, neither are truly bad.  Neither had a good childhood or much help to overcome it, and both want so badly to have a good family and a good life but no clear idea on how to do so.  Danny, a five-year-old, is handled well as well.  He speaks appropriately for his age, not too advanced or childish.  The use of a third person narrator helps the reader get to know Danny and his psychic abilities at a deeper level than his five-year-old vocabulary would otherwise allow for.  This level of character development is true to a certain extent for the rest of the characters as well and is handled with true finesse.

The plot starts out strong and frightening on a true-to-life visceral level.  The Torrance home life is not good, and that’s putting it lightly.  Wendy feels she has nowhere to be but with her husband, due to her only relative being her abusive mother.  Jack is terrified of turning into his father, who abused his wife and children, and yet he has broken Danny’s arm while drunk.  And in the midst of this is Danny, a child with special needs.  This was where I was the most engrossed in the story.  Before the hotel is even a real factor.

The Overlook is the supernatural element of the story that is supposed to kick it up a notch into horror territory.  It is never made entirely clear exactly what is up with the hotel but we do know: 1) there is a sinister force at work here 2) that sinister force is out to have people kill others or commit suicide and join their haunting party 3) for some reason, people with a shine are more attractive to this sinister force as someone to have on board 4) the sinister force extorts whatever weaknesses are present in the people in the hotel to get what it wants.  So the sinister force very much wants Danny to be dead, as well as his father and mother, although they are sort of more like side dishes to the whole thing.  The sinister force figures out the family dynamics and extorts them by kicking Jack’s anger and Wendy’s mistrust up a notch.  It also gets Danny to wander off where he’s not supposed to go.  But things don’t really get going until the sinister force possesses Jack.  I get why this might freak some people out.  The sinister force gets the people to do something they normally would never do.  However, personally I found the parts where Jack’s own real shortcomings cause him to do something sinister, like breaking Danny’s arm, to be so much more frightening.  Jack’s regret over his actions and fear of himself are much more frightening because what if you did something like that? Whereas a sinister force is easier to distance oneself from mentally.  It’s gory and thrilling but it’s not terror-inducing evil.  Perhaps if the things Jack does at the hotel were just things inside himself that the hotel allows to come out, it would still be truly terrorizing.  But it is clearly established in the book that the sinister things Jack does in the hotel are due to his being possessed by the hotel.  They are not him.  This removes a certain amount of the terror from the book.

The audiobook narrator, Campbell Scott, did a good job bringing a unique voice to each character.  His pacing and reading of the book was spot-on.  However, the production quality of the reading didn’t match his acting.  The entire recording was too quiet.  I had to crank my headphones up all the way, and I still had trouble hearing the book when walking around the city, which is not normally a problem for me.  In contrast, whenever Jack yells, it blew out my eardrums.  Some better sound balance was definitely needed.

Overall, this is a thrilling read that begins with a terrifying focus on overcoming flaws and bad dynamics from the family you were raised in then switches to a less frightening focus on a sinister force within a hotel.  It thus ends up being a thrilling read but not a terror-inducing one.  Those seeking a thrilling tale with well-rounded main characters being threatened by the supernatural in the form of ghosts and/or possession will certainly enjoy it.  Those who are less frightened by the supernatural might enjoy it less.  I recommend picking up the print or ebook over the audiobook, due to sound quality.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: The Walking Dead Volume 15 by Robert Kirkman (Series, #8) (Graphic Novel)

Blueish snowy walking dead cover with zombies.Summary:
Everyone’s world was rocked when the zombies got through the community’s fence.  Will they respond by banding together or falling apart?

Review:
Ok, before I review, the numberings need a bit of explanation.  Comic books are issued very similarly to academic journals. So there are skinny issues that come out every few weeks (generally). A few of these bound together make a volume. A bunch of these bound together make a book (what we call in academia a “bound journal.”)  I *was* reading the books of The Walking Dead but then I caught up to the author.  I decided I didn’t want to buy issues, because they’re flimsy and you read through them very quickly, so I’m now reading the volumes.  I hope that makes some semblance of sense.  This will probably be the case throughout the rest of the series, because you have to wait a long time for the books, and I just am too impatient for that.  My reviews will then be much shorter, because a book contains a few volumes, and I am now reviewing one volume at a time.  Moving right along to the review!

This volume is basically cleaning up the mess from the action of the previous one and prepping for the action of the next one.  Classic in-between chapter.  What this volume really reminded me of is the infamous “Live together or die alone” speech by Jack in Lost.  In fact, this volume sees Rick basically trying to turn into Jack and failing miserably.  Long-time readers know I’ve never liked the guy, so personally I got a lot of schadenfreude out of seeing him be so pathetic in this volume.

That said, the survivors are definitely going for a new strategy, which will lend itself well to future fresh storylines, which any long-running series needs.

Fans of the sex will be quite happy with the developments in that area. Drama! Intrigue! Changes of partners!

Overall, it’s an enjoyable entry, if not mind-blowing, that perfectly sets things up for the next volume. Fans won’t be disappointed!

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Newbury Comics

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Previous Books in Series:
The Walking Dead, Book One (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Two (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Three (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Four (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Five (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Six (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Seven (review)

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

November 1, 2010 9 comments

Multiple colored letters spelling out the word Room.Summary:
Most of the time it’s just Jack and Ma in Room.  Jack likes watching shows on the planets on the television, but Ma only lets him watch two a day.  She says his brain will turn to mush if he watches it too much.  So instead they have phys ed where they run track in a smile around the bed or Jack plays trampoline while Ma calls out his moves.  Sometimes Ma reads to Jack or they lay in the sun that comes in through the skylight.  All day things are good in Room.  But every night Old Nick comes, and Jack has to stay in Wardrobe while Old Nick spends time with Ma.  Ma doesn’t like it when Old Nick comes.  Neither does Jack.  Jack’s whole life Ma has told him only they are real, and everything on television and in books is just stories.  But one day she tells him those were lies.  And now she’s unlying.  Because they have to escape soon to Outside. Outside Room.

Review:
This is a mind-blowingly powerful book.  I totally devoured it.  It was impossible to put it down.  Told entirely from the perspective of 5 year old Jack who was born in Room, it puts an incredibly heart-wrenching and revealing look into what has unfortunately been all over the news in recent years.  Cases of women kidnapped and then locked up to be used by their kidnappers as, essentially, sex slaves.  These cases often result in the births of children, and although stories have been told from the woman’s point of view, I am unaware of any others that tell them from the child’s point of view.

I have no idea how Donoghue was able to sound so completely like an actual 5 year old, but not just a 5 year old.  A 5 year old going through such a unique and painful situation.  From the very first page, I entirely believed that I was listening to what was going on inside Jack’s head.  That means sometimes there are a few paragraphs about playing, and how Jeep and Remote Control play and fight with each other.  But it also reveals what incredible insight children can have into life.  That children are in fact little people and should be respected as such.  For example, at one point Jack says:

I have to remember they’re real, they’re actually happening in Outside all together.  It makes my head tired.  And people too, firefighters teachers burglars babies saints soccer players and all sorts, they’re all really in Outside.  I’m not there, though, me and Ma, we’re the only ones not there.  Are we still real? (Location 1257-1261)

Jack is simultaneously childlike and insightful, and that lends a powerfully unique touch to a tale of evil inflicted on others.  I honestly cannot think of anyone I would not recommend this book to, except perhaps someone for whom the events in it might be triggering.  Beyond that, everyone should have the experience of reading it.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Friday Fun! (Biking, Lost, Holiday)

Hello my lovely readers!  This week was the first step in hopefully, eventually biking all the way to work every day.  However, an attempt on the weekend showed me that I’m not capable yet of making it the 6 miles (one way, so 12 miles round-trip).  So, to work my way up to it, I’m biking to my bus connection, which is just about half-way there.  It was a bit nerve-wracking being on the road with cars, let me tell you, but today I found myself having a bit more confidence on the road.  Plus, I was able to move up a gear on the bike already!

Sunday was the Lost finale (and if you have yet to see it, you are not a true fan and deserve the spoilers), and of course I watched it, including the two hour re-cap.  I appreciated the action on The Island, but I was disappointed with the spiritual direction the writers went.  I’d been hoping the whole way through the series that we would discover that the mythology being yakked about by the older generation of protectors/evils was just a way to deal with science they had yet to understand.  Instead we get handed a glowy light with no scientific explanation and a happy-go-lucky, feel-good after-life.  Also, I never got to see Kate die, what the fuck is up with that?!   However, I didn’t hate the episode, and I actually found myself almost crying when Vincent came and licked Jack.  So the verdict on my end was meh.  I didn’t hate it, but it also didn’t ruin the rest of the series for me.  I’ll definitely be re-watching the seasons.

This weekend is a 3 day weekend here in the US for Memorial Day, which means I have Monday off.  I’m so excited!  I hope at least one day is beautiful out so I can go for a bike ride or a row on the Charles and have a picnic.  Happy weekends everyone!

Book Review: Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Blue face on modern art background.Summary:
Jack Barron was a baby Bolshevik hippie in his Berkeley days.  He even set up the Social Justice League, which is now the third party competing against the Democrats and Republicans.  All those high ideals got set aside with age and the offer of a weekly, vidphone-in program: Bug Jack Barron.  He’s happy with the money and the calm embracing of reality, but Benedict Howards of the Freezer Foundation is about to shake it all up.

Benedict Howards is in mad pursuit of one thing–human immortality.  He’s cryogenically freezing those who hope that some day the key to immortality may be found.  Of course, they have to pay a high price for it, but there’s more to Bennie than meets the eye, and the money for those freezes might not be going to the research they claim to be.  Best of all, he has the best bargaining ticket out there–free freezes, and he wants Jack Barron to be his own publicity machine.

Barron doesn’t think he’d ever cave to the likes of Benedict Howards, but when his long lost, baby Bolshevik love, Sara returns to his life, everything changes.

Summary:
Bug Jack Barron has a complex plot that is difficult to summarize and attempts to be a tour de force but that ultimately fell flat for me.  It’s the perfect example of a scifi concept that didn’t age well.  Published in 1969, the thoughts and ideas of the 1960s are rampant throughout.  A large part of the plot revolves around a future where blacks and whites are still segregated by virtue of wealth in America.  In fact, an entire piece of the plot revolves around the fact that a black man could never be president of the US.  That kind of falls flat when you’re reading the book and your current president is a black man.  Spinrad completely mispredicted where race relations would be at in the US in the future, and that soured the rest of the book to me.

Then there’s Sara, Jack’s love.  She is the quintessential great woman behind a great man.  Without Sara, Jack wouldn’t be great at all.  He’d never meet his potential.  Yet the relationship is hardly reciprocal.  In fact, Sara seems much worse off for being involved with Jack at all.  She doesn’t seem to improve or embrace her greater self as a result.  I expected much more of Spinrad who wrote A World Between in which he pointed out how much good the two genders can do for each other.  It’s not like Spinrad is critical of this woman behind the man set-up either.  There’s an entire section where Sara regrets her misunderstanding of Jack’s macho nature as bad and instead embraces his man-nature greed for power as something she could never have.  Excuse me, Spinrad, I would like to introduce you to Queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, Madonna, etc…  It’s bad enough that some modern cultures are still telling us women that we can only be our greatest when inspiring a great man.  I don’t need it in my scifi.

Then there’s the whole immortality issue, which is largely what the book revolves around.  I know some readers would find this idea very intriguing and would enjoy seeing how society would deal with it.  The thing is, I’ve never been someone who wants to live forever.  It all seems very natural that there’s life and death and why on earth would I want to live forever?  It seems rather selfish, adolescent, and silly to me.  I can understand not wanting to age.  Wanting to have a young body throughout your 80 or so years on earth, but never dying?  That wouldn’t be a trump card Benedict Howards could use on me, so I have a hard time sympathizing with Jack and Sara.

That said, Spinrad’s writing style is quite enjoyable as before.  He writes in semi-run-on sentences that read as the characters’ trains of thought.  It’s a great way of showing, not telling.  Additionally, I could see other people being able to put aside the completely miscalculated race relations and enjoying the immortality part.  It’s not badly written, ignoring the misogynistic Sara story arc, it’s just not my cup of tea.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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