Riding With The King: Mr. Mercedes

mr mercedes 1After listening to Joyland and Revival, it seemed appropriate to make a Stephen King book my next reading experience. I have a lot of his works in my to-read pile, but after liking those more recent titles, I figured I’d give Mr. Mercedes a shot because I’d seen that it kicked off a trilogy of stories featuring the main character, retired police detective Bill Hodges.

This one, from 2014, follows Hodges as his lackluster retired life gets interrupted and rejuvenated when a letter from a never-caught killer makes its way to his mailbox. Bill and his partner were lead on a case where a guy stole a Mercedes and drove it into a crowd of people waiting for a job fair, but they never figured out who he was (and probably wouldn’t had he not gotten cocky/bored and sent the letter in the first place). Continue reading Riding With The King: Mr. Mercedes

Riding With The King: Revival By Stephen King, Read By David Morse

revival stephen kingAs I mentioned when writing about Stephen King’s Joyland audiobook, I got it as well as Revival for a pair of car trips that wracked up about 20 hours of drive time. The former turned out to be a somewhat horror-light mystery with a lot of engrossing characters and a fun setting. Revival has all of that, but also turned out to be a much more horrific and darker experience. Continue reading Riding With The King: Revival By Stephen King, Read By David Morse

Riding With The King: Joyland By Stephen King, Read By Michael Kelly

joyland audio book stephen kingA few weekends back, I went on a 10-ish hour trip to hang out with some of my grade and high school buddies near Hocking Hills, Ohio. I knew I’d need some fast paced, engrossing audiobooks to listen to while I made the solo trip. When perusing that section at the library, I immediately headed to the Ks and found myself a pair of Stephen King books: Joyland and Revival. I grabbed the former because I have a hard copy in my to-read box and the latter because, well, it looked like it would get me through the rest of my trip there and all the way back. Continue reading Riding With The King: Joyland By Stephen King, Read By Michael Kelly

Ambitious Reading List: ‘Salem’s Lot By Stephen King (1975)

salem's lot my copyI’m not doing very well with this summer’s Ambitious Reading List. I thought I’d finish The Loo Sanction, but it never quite grabbed me. I tried to start a few other books from the pile, but decided to put Stephen King’s The Dark Tower aside for another of his works: ‘Salem’s Lot.

I knew nothing about this book going in. I didn’t realize it was just his second novel after Carrie and I certainly didn’t know it was about vampires. I kind of wish I hadn’t read that bit of information, but it’s hardly a spoiler, though I was enjoying going into a book that’s been around for so long basically blind. Continue reading Ambitious Reading List: ‘Salem’s Lot By Stephen King (1975)

Riding Wth The King: The Dead Zone By Stephen King (1979)

The Dead Zone book In the past few years, I’ve developed a new respect for Stephen King and his body of work. When I was a kid I read The Shining and part of It, but soon moved on to other authors. Lately, though, I’ve found myself on the hunt for King’s books wherever I can find them which has resulted in a pretty substantial number of them hiding out under my side of the bed in unkempt to-read piles. Even though I’m partway through about four books at the moment, I decided to start something new when our boy Jack was born 7 weeks early. After looking under the bed for a while, I came out with The Dead Zone and just dove right in without knowing much about the story.

King’s fifth novel, Dead Zone follows the misadventures of Johnny Smith, a young man in a budding relationship with a woman named Sarah who gets in a car accident that puts him in a coma for four and a half years. Once he wakes up, Johnny finds that he has a strange power that allows him to experience a person’s past, present or future with a single touch. While much of the book is spent with Johnny dealing with these new abilities and trying to help out when and where he can (even if that results in media scrutiny and more public attention than he’d like) the actual thrust of the book comes in the last quarter when Johnny touches the book’s other main character Greg Stillson and discovers that he will be responsible for some kind of terrible, potentially apocalyptic disaster after getting elected president in the not too distant future. How Johnny deals with that eventually seals his fate.

The great trick of this book that I only realized towards the end is that King took an assassin who claims to have some kind of extra-sensory skills and put the reader on his side. King puts you so much in Johnny’s corner that you come to think of him as the hero of the book, which he is, but to many people on the outside, he was a looney tune nut case who tried to kill a low level politician in a very public place. We just happen to know that his powers were real and we’re involved in all the scenes of him doing good works for people that of course we’re on his side. It reminded me of that great line about villains where they never think they’re doing anything bad because they have good intentions.

Since we’re already on Johnny’s side, that leaves Stillson in the villain role and, let’s be honest, he doesn’t really fit in the above description. You get the impression that he knows he’s bad and just doesn’t care. He wants to grab for power and will do whatever it takes — from enlisting bikers for protection to threatening the press — to hold on to it. He’s a ruthless snake that reminded me a lot of “Big Jim” Rennie, the bad guy from Under The Dome. These are the kind of villains that actually scare me because they can and do exist in the real world. People who crave power often shouldn’t have it, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to get it and wield it however they can, usually in a weapon-like manner. Stillson’s as ruthless as they come and steamrolls over just about everyone while putting on whatever exterior he needs to to keep on rolling.

My only real problem with the book is that Johnny’s powers aren’t very well defined. This is part of my longtime superhero fandom, but it seems like King plays a bit fast and loose with exactly what Johnny can do. I get that this adds to the mystery of what’s going on with him, but it seemed a little too loose. He touches a photo of someone from WWII and knows her entire history leading up to the present. He touches a woman and knows her house is on fire. He touches a kid and knows that the restaurant he and his friends want to go to will catch on fire. That’s a whole lot of power that doesn’t seem very consistent, especially the first one. Still, this isn’t a story about powers, it’s about a person with powers and how they respond to them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I even felt some chills during the last time we see Sarah even though I don’t believe in such things. I think I reacted that way because of the tragic romance between Johnny and Sarah. Had one thing in life changed, they would have probably been together, gotten married and lived a love-filled life. Sure, they would have had their problems, like everyone, but the accident separated the two and eventually pushed Sarah into the arms of another man who she married and had kids with. The scene where Sarah and her son come and visit Johnny and his dad really hit me because, as King points out, this was basically a day where they all got to experience what could have been. Still, it wasn’t built to last and they all went on with their own lives and that’s how the world works.

If you’re curious to read my reviews of other King books (aside from The Shining and Under The Dome, linked above) check out my thoughts on  Misery and  The Running Man.

Ambitious Halloween Reading List: The Shining (1977)

the shining 1

Books were my first entry into the world of horror. At some point in grade school I started reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and then graduated to his more mature Fear Street series as well as Christopher Pike’s myriad of young adult offerings. At around 16 or 17, I moved from those into the seemingly more grown up world of horror movies, but somewhere in the transition phase, I read Stephen King’s The Shining. I can’t remember the exact timing, but sometime in high school I gave this book a read, saw parts of Stanley Kubrick’s film and viewed all or most of the 1997 TV adaptation starring Steven Weber from Wings.

So, when I decided to give the book another read as part of my Ambitious Halloween Reading List, I thought I’d have a pretty good idea of what was going on in the book. But, as I read I realized that my brain had a jumble of previously seen and read elements thanks to the above experiences — and the “Treehouse Of Horror” spoof from The Simpsons — and couldn’t remember what source the elements I remembered came from (as many of you probably know, Kubrick’s film took several departures from King’s original story). As it turned out, I actually remembered very little (possibly nothing) from my previous reading, which made the experience a lot more intense.

The story itself finds disgraced prep school teacher, former alcoholic and struggling writer Jack Torrance taking a winter caretaker job at a big hotel in Colorado called The Overlook. He’s had a rough go of things lately — partially because he beat the crap out of a student named George who slashed his tires — and feels like this is a last resort career-wise. He brings his wife Wendy and their 5-year-old son Danny along for the experience.

As it turns out, the hotel has a mysterious and dark past the includes a good deal of murder, death and other nefarious dealings. None of that would be so bad if Danny didn’t have the shining, an ability that allows him to read others’ minds, see parts of the future and communicate wordlessly with other people possessing the same ability like the hotel’s outgoing cook Dick Hallorann who explains some of the abilities and hotel-based creepiness to the young boy. The longer they stay in the place, the more it gets to Jack in an effort to absorb Danny’s powers. Danny sees gruesome phantoms of past violence, some of which start attacking him physically. But none of that compares to the fear that comes from his father Jack as he struggles to keep his sanity.ambitious halloween reading list 2013

I’ve mentioned this on the past two episodes of my parenting podcast The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, but reading this book as a father really added to the sense of dread that builds up. Anyone can relate to the idea of being penned in by an impending blizzard that will strand you on a mountain and how potentially scary that could be. But, I felt like I was able to tap into this story more for a few reasons now that I’m a dad. First, much as I hate to admit it, I can relate in some small way to some of the anger that comes from being a parent. Jack takes that to a whole different, awful level, but the best horror stories are the ones you can understand the basis of in your heart. Second, my love for my own kid makes it all the worse when Jack does start losing his cool, lets the hotel get into his brain and start going nuts. Seeing him devolve from a man on the mend to a beast-thing is a tough thing because I think many of us have the potential to fall from grace like that. And third, having a young child who is just starting to fear things, I can only image what it would be like for a person her or Danny’s age to try and process all of this insanity and the damage that might cause.

King did a great job of drawing a complicated, sympathetic and awful character in Jack Torrance. He’s a creative guy who came from a bad home and eventually created a solid life for himself. But, be it genetic, predestination or whatever, he gave in to the temptation of booze and his fiery temper which lead to several different problems for him. You want to simply write the character off, but it soon becomes clear that he could have had a fair shot if he hadn’t taken a job in a place filled with demons just waiting to wake his own up. He’s a beautifully composed tragic figure who you root for, but don’t let yourself believe he’ll fully overcome the Overlook.

I did have one question for fellow Shining readers. Are we to assume that Jack and Al, while on their last drunken joyride, hit George Hatfield’s bike? The night’s events are recounted to us, but then when Jack remembers coming upon George slashing his tires, the young man mentions something about a bike before Jack wails on him. Am I grasping at straws here or is this something that people have talked about before?

the shiningAnyway, I thought this was a great work of suspense and horror, though I don’t think I’m blowing any minds with that statement. I really enjoyed the book and feel pretty primed to check out the sequel Doctor Sleep. Also, I wanted to note that this is the first book that I’ve read completely on my Kindle. I’ve got to say, I’m a big fan of the method because it’s pretty light, easy to read (and customize) and you can simply tap a word if you’re not familiar with it. My only complaint is that I don’t know how deep into the book I am. The percentage given is cool, but it doesn’t let know how much you have left and I’m still not sure what the numbers at the bottom of the display mean, so I can’t accurately use that to gauge how much of a book I have left. Ah well, I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

Ambitious Summer Reading List: Misery By Stephen King (1988)

Reading something like Stephen King’s Misery has been an interesting reading experience for this year’s Ambitious Summer Reading List. I have not seen the movie based on the novel, but I am a horror fan, so I knew the basic story and had seen clips of the hobbling scene. So, going in, I knew that author Paul Sheldon wound up the unwilling captive of super fan Annie Wilkes who forces him to write a new novel for her. I was surprised, though, at how quickly the book starts off. You’re right in there from page one. Paul’s already being held captive by Annie and we learn what’s going on as he remembers through the fog of pain (his legs were mangled in a car accident).

From there it’s a completely intense psychological thriller as the increasingly unbalanced (read: batshit crazy) Annie finds new and horrendous ways to torture Paul and bend him to her will. It seemed like a really real and honest depiction of the kind of mental torture that someone in that kind of spot would go through as Paul splits into a few different people: the one who wants to survive at all costs and the one who wants to destroy his captor.

I’ll be honest, when I realize how quickly the book got into the action, I wondered how the 338 pages would get filled. Next thing I know, it’s a few days later and I’m already done with the dang thing. This book propelled me through it, much like the last King book I read Under The Dome. I was driven not only by the fascinating character sketches being composed of Paul and Annie, but also by what Paul in the film calls “the gotta.” I hadta find out how or if Paul would get out of this one alive.

In addition to the psychological, thriller and horror aspects of the book (can’t tell you how many times I cringed reading scenes), I was also really interested in the fiction writing aspects of the book. Who better to create a character based on a wildly popular author than King? With that in mind, I really read closely the aspects of the process he talked about like falling through the hole in the paper to capture the story. I also thought the few parts where he wrote about super-fandom were really interesting, how people have, since the beginning of serialized fiction, become obsessed with the characters they love. He even throws in references to things like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killing off Sherlock Holmes and the backlash that caused. The same thing can be said today about Harry Potter or Twilight. Maybe it’s because, for some people, the experience of reading or watching the adventures of a person don’t really seem all that different from listening or viewing the experiences of real people. I mean, think about it, you can never really get into the head of another person and understand them, but you can with a character in a book. Maybe that’s enough for some people.

For me, it’s enough to just read and move on to the next one, though some scenes like the mop water one or the rat one will definitely live on with me for a bit. With King currently working on a book that will follow up with The Shining‘s Danny Torrance, I’d actually be interested to see if he’d ever return to Paul’s life, even if for just a short story. Did he ever get over his boogey man-like fear of Annie? Did he ever write another book? What’s he up to now? But, it’s better to be left with questions than be unsatisfied with all the answers, so I’m cool if he doesn’t go back. Oh, also, I thought it was cool that he made a reference to The Shining in the novel. Looks like King was trying to keep people away from Colorado just as much as Maine.

Up next for the ASRL will be Petal Pusher, a memoir by Laurie Lindeen a woman who I’m not familiar with who had some success with a band in the 90s. You had me at band.

Riding With The King: Under The Dome (2009)

I’ll be honest, I’m shocked to be writing this review so soon after purchasing Stephen King’s Under The Dome just over three weeks ago. This book is a monster at 1072 pages and I am at best a slow reader, but I guess that’s a testament to how taut and compelling I found the story.

If you haven’t read, don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything without giving off the warning. The basic plot of the book revolves around a small town called Chester’s Mill in Maine, that, one day, out of nowhere, finds itself completely surrounded by a clear, impenetrable dome. But, Chester’s Mill isn’t exactly what it seems and you probably couldn’t have picked a worse town to cover in a dome. There’s a lot going on there, most of which I will not get into, but all of it is the result of Big Jim Rennie, a local politician who says he’s thinking of the town and God, but is really only thinking of himself.

It’s kind of like every movie you’ve ever seen where a jerk owns a town. He’s got his own goon squad and does what he wants until the dashing hero comes in and mixes things up. It’s Patrick Swayze in the awesome Road House and either Joe Don Boxer, The Rock or Kevin Sorbo depending on which Walking Tall your watching. In this case, the hero of sorts is Dale “Barbie” Barbara an traveler who was leaving town on the day the dome appeared after running into some trouble with Rennie’s son and his friends. He also happens to have served in the military, which should prove helpful right?

Much of the tension and dread I felt while reading this book came because I was worried about bad things happening to Barbie or one of his compatriots. Being under the dome is bad enough, but having a calculating, cunning and cruel man like Rennie moving townspeople around like chess pieces does not make the situation any better. I have a thing about being helpless and always find stories where a person is made to be that way highly effective and disturbing. That happens on several different levels throughout the book, which is yet another reason why it grabbed me and didn’t let go.

Let’s label this SPOILER TERRITORY. I didn’t and still haven’t read any of the criticisms of the book. My main one is that some of the dialog–especially anything said by the teenager members of the town–sounded not just weird but jarringly bad. But, hey, maybe kids in small town Maine talk like a slightly toned down version of Scooby Doo’s pal Shaggy. Anyway, I did hear that a lot of people didn’t like the ending and I think I understand why on two possible counts. First, I’m sure the way everything was resolved didn’t sit well with some people. I thought it was a well crafted, well seeded and well executed method that I did not see coming, so for those reasons, I liked it. The other element that I would imagine rubbed people the wrong way was how they might have felt cheated because our big bad Rennie and dashing Dale Barbara never got to really face off. Well, them’s the breaks, I guess. Again, the explosion was telegraphed and hinted at all along, so it’s not like it came out of left field or anything. I kind of liked it because it’s how reality works: all kinds of plans are in motion and sometimes they collide in spectacularly explosive ways.

STILL SPOILERS I do wonder if all the build-up to the ending was actually earned by the actual ending. As I said, I was glued to this book, but I finished the last 100 or so pages in sporadic, stolen moments over the Thanksgiving holiday, so my intake of the information was choppy. I thought the final attempt on the box at the end was pretty intense itself but nowhere near as much so as when I felt like Rennie’s guys were going to get Barbie. It kind of ends before it ends with there only being so many options. With the town destroyed, the air polluted and the bad guys dead, they either live or they die, they either get out or they don’t. With all the other dangers, options and people removed, the focus might not please everyone. I’m glad he ended it the way he did, a downer ending would have been rough after all that.

Okay, we’re out of the spoiler zone. When I first picked this book up for a few bucks at Barnes & Noble (check next time you’re there, I recommend giving it a read) I was worried that it would be overly stuffed with nonsense. I had a similar fear in the beginning when King was seemingly cataloging various people and animals effected by the dome appearing. What I didn’t realize then was that the author was setting me up for the rest of the story which, while mostly about a few key people, was really about an entire small town trying to deal with a very large threat. Yes, the story could have completely followed Barbie and Rennie, but it would not be nearly as rich or as engrossing of a read. I haven’t read a ton of Stephen King books and usually never close together (though I did just read Running Man back in April and have a copy of his short story book Skeleton Crew sitting around near a copy of Misery), so I’m not an expert, but I don’t remember being this engrossed by any of his books with the exception of The Shining, which I REALLY wish I had gotten back from my co-worker at the bagel shop before he got fired. I did attempt to read the equally huge It, but never got close to finishing. I think this is a great effort by a great talent that’s worth reading, especially if you can get it on the super-cheap at B&N like I did!

Let me know what you thought of the book. I’m curious what the complaints about the ending were. If you’re going to comment directly and spoilers, though, please note that for readers. Thanks!