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Book Review: Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

June 27, 2015 4 comments

Book Review: Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen KingSummary:
Something evil is haunting the small town of Tarker Mills, Maine. Every month another person is found dead, brutally ripped apart.  Can they solve what is haunting their town before the terror consumes them all?

Review:
I picked this up in a used book basement because I’m generally trying to read most everything Stephen King has written, and this particular print book was beautifully illustrated.  Each chapter (or month…or murder) had at least one full-color illustration, and that just spoke to me.  The story itself wound up being rather ho-hum to me, but part of that may be due to the fact that I’m rather hard to shock these days.

My favorite part of the book is that it opens with a note from King stating that astute readers will notice that the full moon couldn’t possibly have fallen on all of the big holidays he has it fall on, but that he’s taken artistic license to make it do so.  The passage reads like it has a wink at the end, and I like that King assertively addresses what could bother some readers or be a controversy and acknowledges that his facts are wrong, but he did it for artistic reasons.  Personally, I’m not a fan of books that take artistic licenses, but if you’re going to, this is the way to do it.  Acknowledge it (don’t hide from it) and move on.

This feels like an early Stephen King book.  The usual small town New England stock characters are there, but they’re not fully fleshed-out.  There’s even a spunky kid in a wheelchair who reminds me of an earlier version of Susannah from The Dark Tower series (the book about Susannah was first published in 2004).  The stock, rather two-dimensional characters work in this book, since the storytelling approach is basically one of folklore.  We don’t need to know much more about these characters than we see on the surface, and that’s fine.

Each chapter is a different month in the year, and they sort of feel like connected short stories.  By the last half of the year, the reader starts to know what’s going on, and the “short stories” become even more connected.

Fans of an underdog hero will enjoy who ends up battling the werewolf plaguing the town, as will those who enjoy seeing the trope of a trusted citizen being someone who should not be trusted.  (That’s as much as I can say without being too spoilery).

This all sounds rather positive, so why did I feel ho-hum about it?  The tension building didn’t work for me.  Nothing that happened really scared me.  The character in the wheelchair feels like a less bad-ass version of Susannah, and what I would want would be Susannah.  This is perhaps unfair of me to say, since Susannah came about further down the line, but I do think it points to how King’s writing improved with time (as does everyone’s).  I also just found the villain to be rather expected and cliche, although I’m sure it wasn’t when the book first came out.  In general, this book just doesn’t feel like it aged particularly well, especially when compared to other older King books.

Overall, if a reader is looking for a quick, beautifully illustrated folklore style retelling of a werewolf story, they will enjoy this book.  Those looking for high levels of tension or gore or in-depth character development will want to give it a pass.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Brookline Booksmith, used books basement

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Book Review: From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 9, 2014 3 comments

cover_buick8Summary:
When Pennsylvania state troopers are called in for an abandoned car, they expect it to be a simple report and transfer to impound. But instead they find a car that is slightly off.  It looks like a Buick 8 but isn’t quite one.  Plus its engine by all laws of mechanics should not work.  The troopers agree to make the Buick their responsibility, putting it in a shed and keeping an eye on it.  Because it’s not just a car. It might not be a car at all.

Review:
I was told before I read this by other Stephen King fans that it’s not one of King’s better books, but I would like to read everything he has written, so I picked it up anyway.  This is a book that builds thrills slowly and gently to a conclusion that may not seem satisfying to many readers.

The biggest thing that I think took the thrills out of the book for me is that I am not a car person.  When the narrator was describing the Buick 8, I had no idea any of it was off at all, so it didn’t give me the creeps.  When they first describe the engine, for instance, I was surprised they were freaked out by it because it just seemed like a mysterious engine to me….like all engines.  I definitely think there are more thrills to be found here if the reader is a car person.  A car person will get caught up in what’s awry with the Buick, and see it as the mystery that the state troopers recognize it to be immediately.

What this book excels at is what King always excels at.  The book establishes the place and feeling of rural Pennsylvania beautifully.  The characters all speak in accurate and easily readable dialogue.  There is a large assortment of characters, and they are easy to tell apart.  The timeline of the book is carefully selected for just the right tempo for the book.  These are all wonderful things that kept me reading and made me engaged with characters I might not normally identify with.

Some readers might find that the plot and thrills move too slowly for them.  The Buick has issues gradually over time, and the conclusion they build to might not feel like a satisfying conclusion for all readers.  Personally, I enjoy slower moving thrillers, so this worked for me, but it might not work for all.  Similarly, I believe the ending will be more satisfying to those who have read the entire Dark Tower series than to those who have not.  What is going on with the Buick is more understandable and a bigger deal if the reader is aware of all of the context provided by the Dark Tower.

Overall, if you are a car person who will appreciate a car that is slightly off and also enjoys slowly moving thrillers enhanced by a strong sense of place, this will be a great read for you.  Similarly, those who have read the Dark Tower may be interested in this book due to some possible connections to that series.  If neither of those descriptions fit you, you may want to pick up a different Stephen King book for your thrills.  He certainly has plenty to choose from.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Book Review: Horns by Joe Hill

October 17, 2011 7 comments

Pitchfork against red background.Summary:
Ig Perrish and Merrin Williams were the perfect couple.  Their love was the love that everyone wants but very few people get.  But one horrible night Merrin is raped and murdered, and Ig is the prime suspect. They’d just had a lover’s quarrel.  Ig was never found guilty, but he was never cleared either.  Now a year later Ig wakes up to discover horns coming out of the top of his head.  Horns that make everyone who sees them tell him their deepest and darkest desires and secrets.

Review:
For those who don’t know, Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son (writing under a pen name, but everyone knows who he is at this point, so I’m not sure what’s up with the pen name still).  It is clear Hill wants his work to be considered on its own merit with no connections to his father, but as a King fan, I couldn’t help but compare a wee bit as I read.  I will say this, Hill’s writing is strong.  This is not the case of a celebrity’s kid with mediocre talent making it.  Hill is definitely talented, and I am interested to see how his writing continues to grow and change.  That said; this book didn’t quite work for me.

Hill’s writing on the sentence level is gorgeous.  He evokes true New Hampshire small town life in exquisite detail and sensuousness.  Every page was a pleasure to read.  The story overall, though, started out strong and ended weak.  It went from a suspense with delicious twists and turns and a supernatural element to a mushy love story and love lasting and staying together after death yadda yadda.  I can take mushiness periodically, but it felt jarring within the context of this book.  This was originally a book about revenge and righting a wrong.  Then the ending came along and felt like….well, like something Nicholas Sparks would write if he was high on crack.

The characterization of Ig, Terry (his brother), and Lee (his best friend) is strong.  These men are three-dimensional and flawed.  They are real.  Merrin is another story.  She seems like an enigma that is impossible to understand.  Is she sweet and innocent or a bit cruel?  It feels impossible to get a read on her.  I’m sure that was part of the point.  Every man in the story had their own vision of who Merrin is, but Merrin is never granted her own agency and personality by these same men.  Although it seems that this was the point, as a woman, I felt a bit let-down by the lack of insight into Merrin. I kept hoping for something, but nothing came along.  Interestingly, I found the minor female character of Glenna to be much more well-rounded and real than Merrin.  Again, maybe that was the point, but it didn’t really work for me.

It’s hard to categorize this book.  It’s definitely not the horror book I was imagining. I’d call it literary paranormal suspense.  It’s a classic tragedy wrapped in mystery and the paranormal.  It didn’t work for me, because, well, classic love tragedies tend not to.  However, I could see some people loving it.  Perhaps people who loved The Notebook and paranormal romance equally well.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (Series, #5)

March 22, 2010 6 comments

Railroad tracks and church steeple against a golden sky.Summary:
The gunslinger’s katet have a lot more on their plate than just continuing along the path of the beam.  Susannah is pregnant and has developed another personality, Mia, to deal with the pregnancy as it is most likely demonic.  The Rose is in danger in then when of 1977 New York City.  The man who owns the empty lot it grows in is under pressure from the mob to sell it to an unseen man.  So the last thing the katet needs is to run into a town desperately in need of the help of gunslingers.

The Calla, a town made up of rice growers and ranchers who mostly give birth to twins, has been facing a plague once every generation.  Creatures referred to as Wolves come and take one child out of every set of twins between the ages of about 4 and puberty.  The child is later returned mentally retarded.  Their local robot messenger, Andy, has warned them that the Wolves are coming in about a month, and their holy man believes gunslingers are on their way.

Unable to turn down their duty as gunslingers or give up on their quest for the Dark Tower, can the gunslingers pull it all off or is it just more than any katet, even one as strong as theirs, can handle?

Review:
Toward the beginning of the book, Roland says something like, “Being a gunslinger means weeks of planning, preparation, and hard work for 5 minutes of battle.”  That’s really a good description of this book.  It’s a lot of exposition, albeit very interesting exposition, followed by a rather anticlimactic battle that is really the exposition for the next leg of the katet’s journey.  This could have gone really badly, but thankfully there’s a lot of information King needs to tell us, and most of it is interesting and relevant to the gunslingers’ world, so it works.

King is good at creating a culture.  The Calla and its people possess a very distinctive speech pattern and colloquialisms that are simultaneously easy enough for the reader to learn and to follow.  He hints that he just took the Maine accent and exaggerated it.  Maybe that’s why a New England gal like myself found it so easy to follow.  In any case, the town of twins, ranchers, and rice is rich with local legends, folklore, and traditions.  It is enjoyable to read about, and the town also manages to provide information about the katet’s greater quest for the Dark Tower.

It is well-known that King’s Dark Tower series brings in elements and characters from his other works, as he sees all of his stories happening in the same world and being connected.  To that end, the holy man of the Calla is the priest from Salem’s Lot, and a part of Wolves of the Calla is him relating his backstory to the katet.  Something that irritated me about all of the tales told in the “Telling of Tales” section of Wolves of the Calla is that it would switch from the character speaking to an italicized third person narrative.  I don’t know if all of the italicized portions were previously written for other books or if King felt that he needed to be an omnipotent narrator in order to properly tell everything that had happened, but I found it disjointing and jarring.  It was only my unanswered questions about the Wolves and the Dark Tower that kept me reading through that section.

I enjoyed the growth in the relationship between Roland and Jake.  Roland is gradually growing into a father figure/adviser, while Jake is gradually becoming a man and an equal with the other gunslingers.  King handles this transition well, and it is believable.  Meanwhile, Eddie and Susannah’s relationship doesn’t change per se, but Eddie does realize that he will always love Susannah more than she loves him.  It is evident that both of them are uncomfortable with her multiple personalities.  This is an issue that clearly has not yet been resolved.

I do have three gripes with King.  The first is that he persists in calling Susannah’s multiple personalities schizophrenia, which is just wrong.  Schizophrenics hear voices, at worst, they do not have multiple personalities.  What Susannah has is Dissociative Identity Disorder, and it is just inexcusable that he would get this wrong.

Second, although previously in the series the reader isn’t allowed to know or see something Roland knows, the reader always gets to know what the other gunslingers know.  Here, information is pointedly held back from the reader.  I can only assume this was an attempt to maintain suspense about the Wolves, which I found to be a cop-out.  Either come up with an idea creative enough that we’ll be surprised anyway or have the characters be surprised as well as us.  Also, I already had the wolves figured out long before they are revealed anyway.  The suspense came in wondering how the final battle would play out, not in wondering who the Wolves were.

Third, I don’t like the fact that Susannah’s main storyline is a pregnancy.  I don’t like that one of her key roles so far as a gunslinger was to fuck the shit out of a demon so that Jake could be pulled through (The Wastelands).  I also really don’t like that something as simple as her being pregnant causes her to abandon her husband and her katet in the form of another personality, Mia.  It almost seems that King uses the multiple personalities just so that he can have a sweet woman around when he needs one but then can instantaneously turn her back into all of the negative images of women out there.  I need to see where Susannah’s storyline winds up before I can offer a final analysis of the character and its implications, but at the moment, it reads as a very negative view of women.

The overarching storyline of the quest for the Dark Tower, however, is still going strong in this book.  We learn a bunch of new, important information about the Tower, the beams, and the worlds, and new questions pop up.  With each book it becomes more evident that saving the Tower is important to the well-being of all worlds.  I am pleased to report that this was a marked improvement over the previous book, although not quite up to the intensity of The Waste Lands or pure readability of The Gunslinger.  It still manages to suck you in and gets the story back on the path of the beam.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

Previous Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review
The Drawing of the Three, review
The Waste Lands, review
Wizard and Glass, review

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Book Review: The Gunslinger By Stephen King

November 3, 2009 15 comments

coverthegunslingerSummary:
The first in King’s epic, Tolkien-like Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger introduces Roland who lives in a world similar to, yet different from our own.  He is the last gunslinger, a kind of wild west type warrior.  As he pursues the Man in Black across a desert in the first of many steps toward his goal of the Dark Tower, some elements of his dark past are revealed, as are some secrets of the many parallel, yet somehow linked, universes.

Review:
I admit it.  I’m not normally a Stephen King fan, but after two people I know started devouring this series, I decided I had to know just what was so exciting.

I’m shocked to discover, I like a Stephen King book.  I’m not so shocked to discover that this is an incredibly male book.  Roland’s life centers around violence, guns, a quest, the women he beds, and taking care of a boy.  It isn’t just the plot line that’s masculine though.  The writing style is decidedly male.  Roland is abrupt and to the point.  Instead of talking about his heart fluttering, he gets hard-ons.  Instead of his palms sweating with nerves, his balls retract up tightly against him.  It’s gritty, dark, and male. And I liked it.

It reminds me a lot of watching old westerns with my father.  This shouldn’t be surprising, since in the introduction King essentially says that he set out to write the American version of an epic in the style of Tolkien. What’s more American and epic than the wild west? Oh, I know, a parallel universe version of the wild west. With mutants.

It is a bit slow-moving at first.  That’s not surprising, though, given that it’s the first in a series of seven.  Think of it as the introduction chapter, only prolonged through two-thirds of the book.  It’s not a boring introduction by any means; it just takes a while to get attached to the characters and thoroughly engrossed in the over-arching story.  That’s ok though, because King provides plenty of nightmarish scenes in the mean-time to keep you reading.

I’ve always had a bit of a tendency to thoroughly enjoy more masculine stories just as much, if not more than more feminine stories.  (I was the little girl who was excited to watch the war movie marathon on Veteran’s Day.)  If you know that you enjoy this type of gritty story, definitely give The Gunslinger a shot.  You won’t be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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