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11/22/63 by Stephen King

8 Jul

 

 

 

 

I was truly surprised by King’s new novel. And I didn’t have high hopes for it.

After finishing (and greatly disliking) Under the Dome, I debated whether I was done with King. After reading the disappointing Mile 81, I was sure I was done with King. But decided to give him one more change.

Boy am I ever glad I did!

Jake Epping, an English teacher from 2011, is given the chance to go back in time. His friend Al Templeton has a supply closet in his diner that also happens to be a rabbit hole to September of 1958. Al is dying and leaves Jake with an important task: go back in time and stop the assassination of JFK.

This is easy feat. Because the past is obdurate; it moves against Jake and doesn’t want to be changed. But there are also other distractions.

One is: Did Oswald do the deed alone? Jake must determine this before he acts. The second? A woman named Sadie who Jake falls in love with. Will he risk everything, even the love of his past life, to save another?

At 850 pages, my meagre summary of the plot doesn’t come close to covering everything that happens in 11/22/63. But that’s okay. No plot summary would come close because there is so much life in this novel. The parts where Jake is living through the fifties and sixties really come to life in King’s writing and the stories contained within are ones that are at once timeless and essential.

It’s a novel that you want to live in. Rarely have I been so affected by a novel. It really wasn’t about the assassination, but about the characters and that is where King really shines. He made an 850 page novel seem like it was 300 pages; that is how good the writing is.

There are no supernatural elements to the novel, but that isn’t a downside. King has tried something different by writing what could be loosely described as historical romantic fiction. The good thing is that he succeeds on every level.

I loved this book so much that I didn’t want it to end. When I did finish it, I was left breathless, teary eyed and wanting more. That is the mark of a great book and this is Stephen King’s best work to date, hands down.

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Wetware: On the Digital Front With Stephen King by Kevin Quigley

1 Aug

 

Everyone knows I love Stephen King.

 

He has a way of writing that reaches into my subconscious that triggers so many different reactions. He is the only author I can think of that will have me gripping the book with fright on one page and laughing out loud another and all within the same book.

 

Stephen King is known for telling a good scary tale; but there’s a side of King that a lot of fans don’t think about. Unlike a lot of authors, King constantly embraces new and digital media to either reach out to fans or enhance our reading experience.

 

Knowing quite a bit about King and his interest in new media and the digital world, I had high hopes (and even higher expectations) for Wetware: On the Digital Front with Stephen King.

 

It’s a chapbook that has been beautifully produced by the lovely people at Cemetery Dance. You can get your copy here: http://www.cemeterydance.com/sh/quigley01.html

 

Even more than that, it was written by the uber talented Kevin Quigley, web master of Charnel House, my favourite Stephen King info site. You can find Charnel House here: http://charnelhouse.tripod.com/

 

Being that Wetware: On the Digital Front with Stephen King was published by Cemetery Dance and written by Quigley, my expectations for this chapbook were quite high indeed. Thankfully, they were all blown away.

 

Giving us a brief, but incredibly thorough, romp through King’s digital exploits. With incredible research and superb writing, Quigley takes a look at a side of Stephen King that no one has really looked at before.  I mean, we all remember the sensational eBook Riding the Bullet and the equally cool (but ultimate failure of) The Plant.

 

But does anyone remember The Mist Text Adventure Game? Or Stephen King’s F13? Nope, didn’t think so. That was all before my time and learning about them, and many other King web exploits, was a sheer delight and an absolute pleasure.

 

Quigley writes with a graceful pen; though non-fiction, Wetware reads well and swiftly. The only downside to the book is actually a plus: it’s just too darn short. Yes, I know it’s a chapbook, but Quigley writes so well, and looks at an area of King that no one else has really touched, that I would gladly have read a book twice or even three times as long.

 

Kevin Quigley left me wanting more. And that, they say, is the mark of a true writer.

 

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

4 Jun

 

 

Blockade Billy is a slim little volume by horror master Stephen King. By now, everyone will have heard of the ruckus that the book caused when Cemetery Dance published the first edition amounting to only 10, 000 copies.

It was a surprise in the literary world; no one had heard a thing about Blockade Billy until it was announced, in early March, that it was going to be released. A baseball by Stephen King? Seriously?

Not as odd as you may think. Baseball had been one of the subjects of one of King’s most popular works: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordan. In that book, a little girl imagines her favourite baseball player is with her while she fights to stay alive while alone in a forest. In Blockade Billy, baseball would finally be taking centre stage.

But would it be any good?

King, who is most known for writing horror, is usually at his best when writing non-horror stories; he is able to give us characters that we love, storylines that drive the plot home. His non-horror stories are incredible stories about people, about love, about redemption. I had no doubts that Blockade Billy would succeed on every level.

However, after reading it for the first time on my Sony eReader, I didn’t think the story succeeded at all. In fact, I felt that it fell flat on its face with little pizzazz and little fanfare.

Blockade Billy is the story of the New Jersey Titans and their new catcher, William “Blockade Billy” Blakely.

When a run of bad luck finds the New Jersey Titans without a catcher before the season is about to start, hope arrives in the form of Billy Blakely. “Granny”, the Titan’s second base coach, thinks there’s something off about Billy, but pushes it aside.

Sure, the boy talks to himself in the third person, but the boy can sure play ball.

When a player gets bloodied after colliding with Billy, it only begins to hint at the darkness that is hiding within William “Blockade Billy” Blakely. Though Blockade Billy can sure play ball, he hides within himself a dark secret.

A secret so dark that it could change the face of baseball forever…

Now, when I first read Blockade Billy, I wasn’t impressed. I thought there would be more menace to this book, more darkness, more grit as hinted at in the books blurb. In the end, this is really a baseball story with a good twist ending.

And it really is a baseball story. As someone who doesn’t watch baseball, or sports at all for that matter, a lot of what I read didn’t really make sense. I was reading about how The New Jersey Titans were playing the game but I kept waiting for the darkness I wanted, needed in a Stephen King book.

After finishing the story I was actually quite disappointed. I really felt the whole thing was one huge let down.

Thankfully, I read the story again.

I was still waiting for my copy of the Cemetery Dance limited edition to arrive in the mail. However, since I’m something of a Stephen King fanatic, I picked up the mass market hardcover version of Blockade Billy put out by Scribner. I had no intention of reading it.

However, after finishing a fluffy romance, I was looking for something to cleanse my literary palate. I picked up the mass market version of Blockade Billy and began to read; and was transported.

The second time around, the story within the pages of Blockade Billy grabbed and held me. I realized that the story wasn’t about grit and blood and horror. It was about baseball and about the darkness of the human spirit.

The second time I read Blockade Billy, all the baseball jargon didn’t bother me. In fact, it pulled me into the story and transported me; I felt like I was watching the games they were playing, felt as if I was right there with the players.

Blockade Billy is a baseball story. So if you don’t follow baseball, you might be a little lost. But you know what? It doesn’t matter; the enthusiasm in Granny’s voice is infectious, the story thrilling in its own right, right up until it’s shattering conclusion.

So did I like Blockade Billy?

Not the first time around. But am I ever glad I gave it a second chance as I came away loving this little literary gem.

It may not be Stephen King’s best work, but its one heck of a story.

Stephen King Goes to the Movies by Stephen King

15 Feb

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I am a huge fan of Stephen King.

I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to his books and I have been one of his Constant Readers for quite some time. I still remember the first Stephen King book I read: Skeleton Crew. I remember the monkey on the front cover of the book filled me with delicious fright. I opened the cover and have never been the same since.

After reading his other non-fiction offerings (Danse Macabre and On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft) I was super excited to hear about Stephen King Goes to the Movies. It promised to be a treat. The book description described it thusly:

Now available, the #1 bestselling author reflects on the filming of five of his most popular short stories.  Those movies are The Shawshank Redemption, 1408, Children of the Corn, The Mangler, and Hearts in Atlantis.

Includes an introduction, his personal commentary, and behind-the-scenes insights by Stephen.

On reading those words, my first thought was: HOLY CRAP! My second thought was: AWESOME!

I thought it would be really amazing to get a behind the scenes look, as it were, at the stories behind the movies. We would get the stories themselves plus personal commentary and behind the scenes insights? Oh, it was every Constant Readers dream!

Except, it was a dream that was never realized.

I should have flipped through the book when I was in the bookstore, but I was in to big of a hurry to get home and delve into the mind of Stephen King. Imagine my surprise when I got home and opened the book to find the five stories and not much else.

Stephen King Goes to the Movies consists of the five stories behind the films 1408, The Mangler, Hearts in Atlantis, The Shawshank Redemption and Children of the Corn. As for new content, Stephen King has written a brief (and I mean brief: one to two pages) introduction for each story. He’s also provided us with his top ten list of the favourite adaptations of his work.

At first, I was rather pissed off. I mean, the advertising made it sound as if the book was non-fiction, a real behind the scenes look at the stories behind the movies and behind the scenes insights behind the making of the movies.

And all we get is a book of five short stories and some short (very short) introductions?

I was not pleased to say the least. But I decided, after spending my hard earned money on the book, to read the stories anyway. I figured it would fill the gap between Just After Sunset (which came out in November of 2008 ) and Stephen Kings new novel Under the Dome (which won’t come out until the fall of 2009). So I decided to give the book a chance.

And, you know what? I’m glad I did.

It had been some time since I had read the stories contained within Stephen King Goes to the Movies. I remembered reading 1408 and Hearts in Atlantis, but The Mangler, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and Children of the Corn might as well have been new to me. I’ve read them, but it’s been years and I didn’t remember them clearly at all.

And you know what? They were good.

I mean really good. It felt wonderful to be surrounded by stories that held so many memories for me. Stephen King’s stories kept me company during many a dark hour during my turbulent upbringing; thus it’s little wonder that he inspires me so much. 

The stories were so good, so scary, so moving. The most interesting thing about the stories contained in Stephen King Goes to the Movies, however, was that after a few pages into the story, I stopped picturing the movie. All I could see were the images that the story itself called to mind.

Though the new content in Stephen King Goes to the Movies is almost nil (really about ten pages worth of new material) that doesn’t matter. Before you put the book back on the bookshelf, give Stephen King Goes to the Movies a chance.

Read the stories and let Stephen King scare you once again.

Crosscut by Meg Gardiner

1 Mar

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Thanks to Stephen King, I have just started what promises to be one of the best mystery novels I have read, ever. I am a long time lover of mystery novels and have devoured anything from Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton to Minette Walters and Janet Evanovich.

The other day, I picked up a copy of Entertainment Weekly. I always buy the magazine when Stephen King’s colum is in the back. I just love his observations on pop culture. In the recent article he talked about the author Meg Gardiner.

Gardiner writes the Even Delaney mystery series. She’s published in the UK and not in the states, even though she sets her books in California. Stephen King said that she was the next big superstar, even though no one has ever heard of her.

WOW! I thought. That’s quite the endorsement. So I went looking for a Gardiner novel and I found one, the newest out in paperback called Crosscut. Am I ever glad I did. I was lucky enough to find it for $2.99 plus taxes, but I would have paid full price for it. 

 Crosscut starts with a bang and keeps going. I’m only forty pages into it and started it last night but can’t wait to find out what happens. In Crosscut, Evan Delany goes to her high school reunion at China Lake, only to find out that thirteen of her classmates have dies in seemingly natural causes.  

But then others start dying one by one and it’s up to Evan to find out who’s doing what before she becomes the next victim.  This is fantastic stuff and thus far a wonderful read.

If you haven’t read a Gardiner book, what are you waiting for? Pick up Crossucts or one of the other four novels. You won’t regret it.

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

28 Feb

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I am a new fan of the Hard Case Crime series. I stumbled upon the book “Branded Woman” by Wade Miller one day and was astonished. Hard Case Crime is bringing back all the old pulp novels of yesteryear and publishing new pulp novels by some of today’s most amazing writers. I thought, what a great idea! I had never had a chance to read an old pulp novel but now I was being given my chance!

So I was equally amazed when I head that one of my favorite authors was going to be writing a novel for the series: Stephen King! Yes, that’s right, the master of horror would be writing a hard-boiled pulp crime novel. I was excited to see what King would write for the series; in fact I was excited to read what he would write at all.

King had hinted that, with the end of the Dark Tower series now published, he might be retiring from writing. King wasn’t sure that there were any more stories in him with the series finished. What with the Dark Tower flowing in and out of his different works through out his career, with the ending finished he wasn’t sure there would be anymore stories.

Thankfully, he was wrong. I waited with bated breath for close to a year to get my hands on “The Colorado Kid” and, needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. Though I had never read a mystery by King, I was taken on a roller coaster ride through the world of mystery.

Our story starts with Stephanie McCann. Working for The Weekly Islander before she starts out into the big world of newspaper reporting, Stephanie is astounded to learn that Vince Teague and Dave Bowie, the two old cronies who run The Weekly Islander, are hiding a real unsolved mystery inside their gray haired heads. The two old men decide to let Stephanie in on the unsolved mystery, hoping that it will make her one of them, an Islander.

The mystery revolves around The Colorado Kid, a man who was found on the beach one morning by two teenagers. He had been found with grease on his hand, a piece of steak lodged in his throat and a pack of cigarettes with one cigarette missing. No one knew who he was or how he had come to be on the island. He was wearing clothes unsuitable for cold island weather: A white shirt with no jacket, slacks and loafers with no socks.

Who was the Colorado Kid? How did he come to be on the island? Did he meet with fowl play? As Dave Bowie and Vince Teague take Stephanie through all the mysteries surrounding the Colorado Kid, Stephanie will learn that not everything is what it seems at first and that answers can be a long time in coming. Will she find the answers she is seeking or will she remain shrouded in the shadows of mystery? Only the Colorado Kid knows for sure…

Having never read a pulp novel by Stephen King, I wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Colorado Kid.” Reviews of the novel were split right down the middle; King even says in his afterward to the novel that you will either love “The Colorado Kid” or hate it. There will be no ground in between. Thankfully, I am one of the people who love it.

Not simply because the story is written by King, however. There have been many times that King has let me down and one of his books has either fallen short of my expectations or the story just didn’t grab me. Nope, “The Colorado Kid” wowed me because of what King was trying to say with the pulpy little novel.

While some would complain that “The Colorado Kid” isn’t a hard crime pulp novel, like it should be, I would have to agree. This is what makes “The Colorado Kid” such a treat. Instead of another potboiler like it’s predecessors, King presents a novel about the mystery of mystery. You will understand what I mean when you read the novel and it will be well worth the read.

King has done something beyond average here. It left me breathless. The novel reads like the hardest of crime novels but is something more: a commentary on the mystery that runs in our lives. “The Colorado Kid” was one hell of a read and I, for one, am glad that I went along for the ride.

Pick up “The Colorado Kid.” It’ll take you an afternoon to read it and your life will be much the richer for it.