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Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Will Patton)

February 13, 2014 2 comments

Red-tinged image of a face with the author's name and title in smoke-like white letters over the top.Summary:
Danny Torrance didn’t die in the Overlook Hotel but what happened there haunts him to this day.  Not as much as the shining does though.  His special mental powers that allow him to see the supernatural and read thoughts lead to him seeing some pretty nasty things, even after escaping the Overlook.  He soon turns to drinking to escape the terror.  But drinking solves nothing and just makes things worse.  When he sees his childhood imaginary friend, Tony, in a small New Hampshire town, he turns to AA to try to turn his life around and learn to live with the shining.

Abra is a middle school girl nearby in New Hampshire with a powerful shine.  She sees the murder of a little boy by a band of folks calling themselves the True Knot.  They travel in campers and mobile homes, seeking out those who have the shine to kill them for it and inhale it.  They call it steam.  They’re not human. And they’re coming after Abra.  Abra calls out to the only person she knows with a shine too, the man she’s talked to before by writing on his blackboard.  Dan.

Review:
A sequel that takes the original entry’s theme on overcoming your family origin and ramps it up a notch, Doctor Sleep eloquently explores how our family origin, genetics, and past make us who we are today.  All set against a gradually ramping up race against the clock to save a little girl from a band of murdering travelers.

The book begins with a brief visit to Danny as a kid who learns that the supernatural creatures exist in places other than the Overlook, and they are attracted to the shine.  This lets the reader first get reacquainted with Danny as a child and also establishes that the supernatural are a potential problem everywhere.  The book then jumps aggressively forward to Danny as a 20-something with a bad drinking problem.  It’s an incredibly gritty series of scenes, and it works perfectly to make Dan a well-rounded character, instead of a perfect hero of the shine.  It also reestablishes the theme from The Shining that someone isn’t a bad person just because they have flaws–whether nature or nurture-based.  That theme would have been undone if Dan had turned out to be an ideal adult.  It would be much easier to demonize his father and grandfather in that case, but with the way King has written Dan, it’s impossible to do that.

The way Dan overcomes both his drinking and his temper, as well as how he learns to deal with his shine, is he joins Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  In contrast to his father who tried to quit drinking on his own, Dan attempts it in a group with accountability.  This then shows how much easier it is to overcome a mental illness with community support.  I appreciated seeing this.  I will say, however, that some of the AA talk in the book can get a bit heavy-handed.  Some chapter beginnings include quotes from the book of AA, and Dan can sometimes seem a bit obsessed with it when he relates almost everything to something he learned or heard there.  AA definitely plays a vital role in many people’s recovery from addiction, and it’s wonderful to see that in a work of fiction.  However, it would have been better for the reader to see the role of AA more than to hear quotes from AA so often.

The big bad in this book is a band of supernatural creatures who were once human and still look human.  But they change somehow by taking steam and go on to live almost indefinitely.  They can die from stupid accidents and sometimes randomly drop dead.  The steam is acquired by torturing children who have the shine.  The shine comes out of their bodies as steam when they are in pain.  They call themselves The True Knot.  This troop is a cartoonish group of evil people who try to look like a troop of retirees and some of their family traveling in a camper caravan.  The leader of this group is Rose the Hat–a redheaded woman who wears a top hat at an impossibly jaunty angle.  I was pleased to see Rose written quite clearly as a bisexual.  Her sexuality is just an aspect of who she is, just like her red hair.  Seeing a bi person as the big bad was a delight.  Her bisexuality isn’t demonized. Her actions as a child killer and eater of steam are.  She is a monster because of her choices, not because of who she is.   I alternated between finding The True Knot frightening and too ridiculously cartoonish to be scary.  I do think that was partially the point, though.  You can’t discredit people who seem ridiculous as being harmless.

How Abra is found by The True Knot, and how she in turn finds Dan, makes sense within the world King has created.  It doesn’t come until later in the book, though.  There is quite a bit of backstory and build-up to get through first.  The buildup is honestly so entertaining that it really didn’t hit me until after I finished the book how long it actually took to get to the main conflict.  So it definitely works.  Abra is a well-written middle school girl.  King clearly did his research into what it’s like to be a middle schooler in today’s world.  Additionally, the fact that Abra is so much older than Danny was in The Shining means it’s much easier for the reader to understand how the shine works and see a child, who understands at least a bit what it is, grapple with it.  This made Abra, although she is a child with a shine, a different experience for the reader who already met one child with a shine in the previous book.  Abra is also a well-rounded character with just the right amount of flaws and talent.

There is one reveal later in the book in relation to Abra that made me cringe a bit, since it felt a bit cliche.  It takes a bit of a leap of faith to believe, and I must admit it made me roll my eyes a bit.  However, it is minor enough in the context of the overall story that it didn’t ruin my experience with the book.  I just wish a less cliche choice had been made.

The audiobook narrator, Will Patton, does a phenomenal job.  It was truly the best audiobook narration I’ve heard yet.  Every single character in a very large cast has a completely different voice and style.  I never once got lost in who was speaking or what was going on.  More importantly to me, as a New England girl born and raised, is that he perfectly executes the wide range of New England accents present in the book.  Particularly when he narrates the character, Billy, I thought I was hearing one of my older neighbors speak.  I could listen to Will Patton read a grocery list and be entertained.  Absolutely get the audiobook if you can.

Overall, this sequel to The Shining successfully explores both what happened to Danny Torrance when he grew up and a different set of frightening supernatural circumstances for a new child with the shine.  This time a girl.  The themes of nature, nurture, your past, and overcoming them are all eloquently explored.  There is a surprising amount of content about AA in the book.  It could either inspire or annoy the reader, depending on their mind-set.  Any GLBTQ readers looking for a bi big bad should definitely pick it up, as Rose the Hat is all that and more.  Recommended to fans of Stephen King and those that enjoy a fantastical thriller drenched in Americana.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
The Shining, review

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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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2012′s 5 Star Reads!

January 4, 2013 2 comments

Last year I decided to dedicate a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year.  I not only thoroughly enjoyed assembling that post, but I also still go back to it for reference.  It’s just useful and fun simultaneously!  Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.

Please note that if the 5 star went to a book in a graphic novel series, I am just listing the whole series.  If it’s a non-graphic series, then the individual book is listed with a note about what series it is in.  With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2012!

Acacia tree against a sunset.
Acacia: The War with the Mein
(Acacia, #1)
By: David Anthony Durham
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Fantasy
Themes: the complexities of good and evil
Summary:
The Akarans have ruled the Known World for twenty-two generations, but the wrongfully exiled Meins have a bit of a problem with that.  They enact a take-over plot whose first action is assassinating the king.  Suddenly his four children are flung to different parts of the Known World in exile where they will need to come to terms with who they are, who the Mein are, and the wrongs past generations of Akarans committed in order to help the Known World make a change for the better.
Current Thoughts:
I have to catch myself whenever I start to say I don’t like high fantasy now, because I do like it. I like it when done right. When it questions patriarchy and race and tradition in the context of a fantastical world.  I definitely feel like this book has cross-over potential, so I recommend it to anyone with an interest in multi-generational epics.

Glowing jellyfish against blue background.
Dark Life
(Dark Life, #1)
By: Kat Falls
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: YA, Post-Apocalyptic, Scifi
Themes: ocean exploration, pioneering
Summary:
Ty was the first person born subsea.  His family are settlers on the bottom of the ocean, a new venture after global warming caused the Rising of the seas.  Ty loves his life subsea and hates Topside.  One day while adventuring around in the dark level of subsea, he stumbles upon a submarine and a Topside girl looking for her long-lost older brother.  Helping her challenges everything Ty believes in.
Current Thoughts:
I still sometimes think back to the delightfully creative underwater world that Falls presents in this book.  This is a YA book that manages to avoid the painful tropes that a lot of them fall into, plus it has a great setting.  I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

Book title against American flag background.
Diet for a New America

By: John Robbins
Publication Date: 1987
Publisher: Stillpoint Publishing
Genre: Nonfiction–Diet, Nonfiction–Environmentalism, Nonfiction–Science
Themes: health, responsible choices
Summary:
John Robbins was born into one of the most powerful corporations in America–Baskin-Robbins.  A company based entirely on selling animal products.  Yet he took it upon himself to investigate the reality of animals products and their impact on Americans, American land, and the world overall.  This book summarizes his extensive research, including personal visits to factory farms.
Current Thoughts:
Although I already knew a lot of this information before reading this book, I believe that Robbins does an excellent job both of writing it out clearly and backing it up with respected, academic citations.  It’s my go-to book to hand to people who want to know why I’m so against factory farming and what the scientific arguments in favor of vegetarianism are.

Face of golden retriever.
A Dog Named Slugger

By: Leigh Brill
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Genre: Nonfiction–Memoir
Themes: animal/human relationships, disability studies
Summary:
Leigh Brill recounts in her memoir her life before, during, and after her first service dog, Slugger, a golden retriever with a heart just as golden.  Leigh had no idea her cerebral palsy could even possibly qualify her for a service dog until a similarly disabled fellow graduate student gave her some information.  Her touching memoir tracks her journey, as well as the life of Slugger.
Current Thoughts:
My love for animals means that any book about relationships with them tends to top my list.  This one stands out for its focus on issues for the disabled, and I believe that Brill’s love for her dog, both for his personality and how he helps her, really shine through.  I’d recommend this to any animal lover or to those curious about life with a service animal.

Kenyan woman standing in a field.
The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change

By: Roger Thurow
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Genre: Nonfiction–Social Justice
Themes: hunger, farming, global warming, putting a face onto the issues
Summary:
Smallholder farmers make up the majority of Kenya’s food production and yet they face multiple challenges from inefficient planting techniques to bad seed markets that lead to an annual wanjala–hunger season.  One Acre Fund, an ngo, saw the gap and came in with a vision.  Sell farmers high quality seeds and fertilizers on credit, delivered to their villages, on the condition they attend local farming classes.  Roger Thurow follows four families as they try out becoming One Acre farmers.
Current Thoughts:
I credit this book with giving me perspective in the worldwide hunger and GMO debate, and of course with giving me that ever-useful reminder that in some ways I have been very lucky.  What I tell people in order to get them to read this book is one of two things.  Either read this book because it will show you the true face of hunger or read this book to understand why some GMOs are necessary.  Most of all, I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the worldwide food debate.

Women running on a beach.
Sisterhood Everlasting
(Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, #5)
By: Ann Brashares
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Themes: the pain of growing up and maturing, changing relationships
Summary:
The Septembers are all 29 years old now and spread out all over the globe.  Bee is expending her energy biking up and down the hills of San Francisco while Eric works as a lawyer.  Carmen has a recurring role on a tv show filming in NYC and is engaged to Jones, an ABC producer.  Lena teaches art at RISD and lives a quiet life in her studio apartment, except for the one day a week she practices Greek with an elderly woman.  Tibby took off to Australia with Brian months ago, and everyone else is in limbo waiting for her to get back.  They all feel a bit disconnected until Tibby sends Bee, Carmen, and Lena tickets to come to Greece for a reunion.  What they find when they arrive is not what anyone expected.
Current Thoughts:
It’s unfortunately rare that a series grows up with the characters, but Sisterhood has.  Although a lot of women’s fiction with similar themes frustrates me, this series works because I started reading it as a teenager when the women were teenagers. I understand where they’re coming from and am more willing to give them a chance.  If you ever read any of the Sisterhood books but neglected to finish the series, definitely pick them back up. It’s worth it.

Women ironing.
To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War

By: Tera W. Hunter
Publication Date: 1997
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Genre: Nonfiction–History
Themes: race, class, gender, Atlanta, domestic workers
Summary:
Hunter examines the lives of southern black women, particularly southern domestic workers, by narrowing her focus in on the development of the city of Atlanta after the Civil War.  Since many ex-slaves moved to Atlanta and then migrated again north during the Great Migration decades later, this makes for an excellent focal point for the topic.  By examining black women’s lives in Atlanta both in and out of their employer’s homes, she is able to dissect the roles of race, class, and gender in the elite’s attempts to maintain dominance in America.
Current Thoughts:
This book not only gave me the thought-provoking examination of the intersection of race, class, and gender, but it also gave me an awesome historical introduction to the city of Atlanta.  I always think of this book whenever Atlanta comes up.  It’s also a great example of readable, accessible nonfiction history writing.

Image of a country kitchen.
Vegan Vittles: Recipes Inspired by the Critters of Farm Sanctuary

By: Joanne Stepaniak
Publication Date: 1996
Publisher: Book Publishing Company (TN)
Genre: Nonfiction–Cookbook–Vegan
Themes: down-home cruelty-free cooking
Summary:
A farm sanctuary is a farm whose sole purpose is to save animals from farm factories and slaughter.  The Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York was started in 1986.  In this cookbook, one of the proprietors has gathered vegan recipes inspired by farm life.  Think down-home cooking that is cruelty-free.
Current Thoughts:
The recipes I selected out of this cookbook have solidly entered my repertoire and are repeated hits with omnis and veg*ns alike!  They are simple, easy, and adaptable.  They also fill that comfort food niche I had honestly been missing.  Highly recommended to anyone who loves comfort food.

People and zombies in snow.
The Walking Dead

By: Robert Kirkman
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novel–Horror
Themes: creation of a new society, living in fear, unjust wars, truthiness, self-protection, zombies, Georgia, survival
Summary:
When cop Rick wakes up from a coma brought on by a gun shot wound, he discovers a post-apocalyptic mess and zombies everywhere.  He sets off for Atlanta in search of his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, and soon teams up with a rag-tag group of survivors camped just outside of Atlanta.
Current Thoughts:
I’m still working my way through this series, but it just progressively gets better and better.  Although the beginning is cliche, it does not take Kirkman long to become unique, surprising, and thought-provoking.  This now also features a spin-off, non-graphic, prequel series about the villain, The Governor.  I consider these to all be the same series, in spite of different formats, and I’m finding that spin-off just as enjoyable.

Living hand in dead one.
Warm Bodies
(Warm Bodies, #1)
By: Isaac Marion
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic
Themes: hope, love
Summary:
R is a zombie, and he remembers nothing about his life before he was one–except that his name starts with the letter R.  He and his group of the other living dead inhabit an old abandoned airport and are ruled by the bonies.  They hunt the living not just for the food, but also for the memories that come from ingesting their brains.  It’s like a drug.  One day when he’s out on a hunt, R eats the brain of a young man who loves a young woman who is there, and R steps in to save her.  It is there that an unlikely love story begins.
Current Thoughts:
This book reminds me that even a post-apocalyptic story can be hopeful.  I also still look back on R’s unlikely love story with a warm heart and smile.  I recommend it to those looking for an off-beat love story or a different take on zombies.

Tiger in a cage overlooking a gorge.
The Wind Through the Keyhole
(The Dark Tower, #4.5)
By: Stephen King
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Themes: growing up, leaving aside childish things
Summary:
There’s a tale we have yet to hear about the ka-tet in the time between facing the man in the green castle and the wolves of the Calla.  A time when the ka-tet hunkered down and learned a special billy-bumbler talent, an old tale of Gilead, and the first task Roland faced as a young gunslinger after the events at Mejis.
Current Thoughts:
The Dark Tower is just a series that is flat-out worth getting into a fan girling over.  I could never ever perceive of reading and re-reading it as being a waste of time.  I’ve also noticed that growing up is a recurring theme in King’s books, and apparently is one that I enjoy.

Hand pressed against glass.
Y: The Last Man

By: Brian K. Vaughan
Publication Date: 2003
Publisher: Vertigo
Genre: Graphic Novel–Scifi–Post-apocalyptic
Themes: gender, gender norms, organization of society, Boston, United States, Israel, coming of age
Summary:
The world is changed overnight when all the men and boys in the world mysteriously drop dead.  Factions quickly develop among the women between those who want the world to remain all female and those who would like to restore the former gender balance.  One man is mysteriously left alive though–Yorick.  A 20-something, underachieving magician with a girlfriend in Australia.  He desperately wants to find her, but the US government and the man-hating Amazons have other ideas.
Current Thoughts:

Another series that I am currently in the middle of.  It is also steadily improving from the first volume.  It is colorfully illustrated, consistently funny, and thought-provoking.

Dollar bills on a white background.
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century

By: Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Nonfiction–Lifestyle
Themes: getting what you want out of life, debt slavery, finances
Summary:
Dominguez achieved Financial Independence at the ripe old age of 30 and proceeded to provide his method to friends who encouraged him to offer it as a class.  He finally wrote a book, and this edition is revised and updated for modern times by his friend and fellow achiever of Financial Independence, Vicki Robin.  Offering steps and mind-set changes, not magic formulas, they promise that if you follow the steps, you can be Financially Independent in 5 to 10 years, no matter how much debt you are currently in or how much money you make.
Current Thoughts:
This is definitely not a quick-fix book. It’s a realistic look at your finances and debt and ways to come out on top financially independent.  Following the steps is time-consuming and, admittedly, difficult to do on a month-to-month basis, but even just reading the book and following the steps for a bit gave me more of a solid structure for my finances. I paid down a significant amount of my debt in 2012 and am hopeful to pay down even more in 2013. I’m not sure I’d have been so successful with that without this book.  Plus it gives hope when you’re feeling buried in debt.

Book Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (Series, #4.5)

July 26, 2012 4 comments

Tiger in a cage overlooking a gorge.Summary:
There’s a tale we have yet to hear about the ka-tet in the time between facing the man in the green castle and the wolves of the Calla.  A time when the ka-tet hunkered down and learned a special billy-bumbler talent, an old tale of Gilead, and the first task Roland faced as a young gunslinger after the events at Mejis.

Review:
When I heard there was going to be a new Dark Tower book, I had basically three reactions. 1) Yay! 2) Shit he better not ruin them. 3) Guess I didn’t actually finish that series after all, did I? May have written the series review a bit too soon…..

But mainly my reaction was a skeptical excitement.  I love the world of the Dark Tower and was ecstatic to be able to get more of it (yes, I know there are the young gunslinger comic books, but they feel slightly less the same to me since they are in a different format).  However, I was also terrified because well we’ve all been in an instance where we mess with something that was good to the point where it’s not good anymore, right?  I was worried King was going to do that to the Dark Tower.  I am so so so happy to be able to say that worry was unfounded.

This book goes to show just how clearly the entire world of the Dark Tower series exists in King’s mind.  The format is a story within a story within a story.  The ka-tet have to hunker down to wait out a storm, so Roland starts to tell them a story from when he was a young gunslinger.  Within that story, the young Roland tells someone else an old story of Gilead.  The Gilead story wraps up, then the young gunslinger, then the ka-tet.  A writer must know his world very well to be able to handle such a structure smoothly without confusing his reader, and King does just that.  There was no confusion and each story felt fully told. Or as fully told as anything is in the world of the Dark Tower.

I’ve said before that every book in the series basically is a different genre, which is part of what makes it so fun.  So what genre is this one?  I’d say it’s fairy tales. Once upon a times.  And fairy tales generally have a lesson to be learned within them, so what is it in these three?  Well, they vary, but I would say overall it’s about leaving aside childish things and childish ways to become an adult.  (And, I might add, that happens much much earlier in the Dark Tower than it does in our particular world).

I will say, although I certainly had the impression that this book was going to be about Jake and Oy, it really isn’t.  It isn’t much about the ka-tet at all.  It’s about Roland and the role of billy-bumblers in the world.  Although, personally I wanted more billy-bumblers, but I *always* want more billy-bumblers, because they are definitely my favorite fantastical creature.  I’m still holding out hope that King will write something sometime entirely about Oy or billy-bumblers.  But this book is not it.

That said, I was oddly not disappointed to see far less of the ka-tet than I was expecting, because the two stories within the frame of the ka-tet are so strongly told.  They are just….wow. Terrifying, horrifying, unpredictable, and hilarious simultaneously.

That’s the thing that makes any Dark Tower book fun.  It contains all of those things.

Lines can go from laugh out loud humor (with a touch of truth):

Turn yer ears from their promises and yer eyes from their titties. (page 43)

To the starkly sad truth:

Those were good years, but as we know—from stories and from life—the good years never last long. (page 110)

To the simply universal:

“What if I fail?” Tim cried.
Maerlyn laughed. “Sooner or later, we all do.” (page 255)

*shrugs* I admit I’m a bit of a fan girl of the series, but even a fan girl can be sorely disappointed, and I was really and truly not disappointed at all.  I laughed, I nodded, I wondered, I quaked, I wished for an illustration sometime somewhere of billy-bumblers dancing in a clearing in the moonlight.  Although, speaking of illustrations, how gorgeous is the US kindle cover?! So fucking gorgeous, that’s how.

Back to the point, I was not disappointed at all. I was ultimately elated and wishing for more. And other fans will be too.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Books in Series:
I’m listing all of the books so you can easily see where The Wind Through the Keyhole falls.
The Gunslinger (review)
The Drawing of the Three (review)
The Waste Lands (review)
Wizard and Glass (review)
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Wolves of the Calla (review)
Song of Susannah (review)
The Dark Tower (review)
Series Review (written before we knew there would be more)

2011′s 5 Star Reads!

December 31, 2011 14 comments

My one regret last year when summing up my year in reading was that the 5 star reads didn’t get enough attention. So! They are getting their own post this time.  Please note that if the 5 star went to a book in a graphic novel series, I am just listing the whole series.  If it’s a non-graphic series, then the individual book is listed with a note about what series it is in.  With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2011!

Black woman wrapped in a white piece of cloth.The Book of Night Women
By: Marlon James
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Riverhead
Genre: Historical Fiction
Themes: slavery, Jamaica, resistance, evil of capitalism
Summary:
This is the story of Lilith. A mulatto with green eyes born on a plantation in Jamaica to a mama who was raped at 14 by the overseer as punishment to her brother.  Raised by a whore and a crazy man, all Lilith has ever wanted was to improve her status on the plantation. And maybe to understand why her green eyes seem to freak out slave and master alike.  Assigned to be a house slave, Lilith finds herself in direct contact with the most powerful slave on the plantation–Homer, who is in charge of the household.  Homer brings her into a secret meeting of the night women in a cave on the grounds and attempts to bring Lilith into a rebellion plot, insisting upon the darkness innate in Lilith’s soul.  But Lilith isn’t really sure what exactly will get her what she truly wants–to feel safe and be with the man she cares for.
Current Thoughts:
If someone asked me for a book that truly makes the reader feel the desperation of being trapped in an evil system with no escape, this is the book I would hand them.

Wolf howling at moon.The Call of the Wild
By: Jack London
Publication Date: 1903
Publisher: CreateSpace
Genre: Historical Fiction, Animal Perspective
Themes: animal rights, human/animal relationships, the nature of nature, Alaska, Canada, evil of capitalism
Summary:
Buck is a spoiled southern dog enjoying a posh life when one of the family’s servants steals him and sells him away to be a sled dog for the Alaska gold rush.  Buck soon goes from an easy life to one of trials and tribulations as the result of humans fawning over a golden metal, but it might not be all bad for him in the wild Alaskan north.
Current Thoughts:
I listened to this on audiobook.  I generally do this while cooking or cleaning my apartment. I distinctly remember being in the middle of washing my dishes, stopping, and going to lay down on my bed and cry.  No one could read this book and doubt that animals have their own inner lives and emotions.  It so powerfully depicts both that and the possible bond between animals and people.  Everything I have always felt between myself and the animals I love is so perfectly depicted here.

Black and white photo of a group of womenThe Group
By: Mary McCarthy
Publication Date: 1954
Publisher: Harvest Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Themes: women’s rights, GLBTQ, women’s colleges, relationships, NYC
Summary:
A collection of women graduate from Vassar in the 1930s.  Their friendship is known collectively as “The Group,” and their distinctive Vassar education has given them a distinctly liberal view on the world.  How this changes with time as they repeatedly encounter societal expectations and relationship problems are told through a series of vignettes that focus in on moments in their lives over the seven years after graduation.
Current Thoughts:
This book addresses women’s issues in the 1930s and 1940s that are, honestly, too frequently too often issues today as well, through a series of vignettes that pop into the various women’s lives at different points in time.  This unique way of telling their stories is what makes this book such a powerful read.

Germany and Italy (manga versions)Hetalia: Axis Powers
By: Hidekaz Himaruya
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: TokyoPop
Genre: Graphic Novel–Historical Fiction
Themes: international relations, world history
Summary:
The nations involved in WWII and the events leading up to it are personified as over-the-top manga characters and through manga-style scenarios the historic events leading up to WWII are explored.  The future of the nations after WWII is also explored.  For example: Russia’s dilemmas with his sisters the Ukraine and Belarus, Canada’s persistent ability to somehow be invisible to most of the rest of the G8 nations (and also to be mistaken for America), and Japan-kun and America-kun visiting each other’s homes and attempting to reach a cultural understanding.
Current Thoughts:
I actually squee when I see the manga version of America online.  I heart him so much. I heart the whole series so much. This series is the reason I got distraught when TokyoPop went out of business.  Read it.  Even if you aren’t a history person. It is hilarious!

Scales.Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse, #1)
By: Jackie Morse Kessler
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Harcourt Graphia
Genre: YA–Fantasy
Themes: anorexia, bulimia, mental illness, winning inner battles, suicide
Summary:
Lisabeth Lewis thought it was just a nightmare.  Death coming to her when she tried to commit suicide with her mom’s antidepressants and offering to make her Famine–one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse–instead of letting her die.  It’s just all way too ironic, her as Famine.  After all, she’s fat.  She has to watch what she eats very carefully.  The Thin voice tells her all the time exactly how many calories each bit of food is and how much exercise it’ll take to burn it off.  Yes.  Lisabeth Lewis is fat.  So why would Death assign Famine to her anyway?
Current Thoughts:
I still love how Kessler depicts the inner battles that go on in mental illness via the fantastical appearance of Death and the Riders of the Apocalypse.  It makes it more relatable and understandable for teens struggling with those issues.

Woman in a kerchief in a fieldI Am Hutterite
By: Mary-Ann Kirkby
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Polka Dot Press
Genre: Nonfiction–Memoir
Themes: role of religion in family life, understanding your past, communal living, Canada
Summary:
Mary Ann Kirkby recounts her unique childhood in her memoir.  She was born into a Hutterite family.  The Hutterites are a religious sect similar to the Amish only they believe that living communally is a mandate for Christians.  Mary Ann recounts her childhood both in the religious sect (her particular group was located in western Canada), as well as the journey and culture shock she went through when her parents left the Hutterites when she was nine years old.
Current Thoughts:
This is the most unique memoir I read all year, and I read a lot of them.  Not only is the Hutterite lifestyle and community fascinating, but Kirkby also pulled off the rare feat of speaking about her childhood and difficult times in her life without ever once coming across as bitter.

Super creepy clownIt
By: Stephen King
Publication Date: 1986
Publisher: Signet
Genre: Horror
Themes: growing up, growing old, phases of life, Maine
Summary:
In the late 1950s in the small town of Derry, Maine, children are being mysteriously murdered.  Seven misfit and outcast kids band together to face It, and they think they’ve beaten it, but 27 years later, the murders return.  Vaguely remembering a promise they all made, the now adults return to their hometown of Derry to face It again.
Current Thoughts:
If someone asked me why I love pulp, what makes a horror writer like King so popular, I’d talk about this book.  King eloquently addresses something everyone goes through–being a kid, growing up, growing old–without the reader even really realizing it until the book is done and wraps it up in spine-chilling horror.  You relate and learn and your true fears are acquiesced all while being entertained.

Smoke coming out of a smoke stackThe Jungle
By: Upton Sinclair
Publication Date: 1906
Publisher: Simon & Brown
Genre: American Classic
Themes: socialism, worker’s rights, animal rights, evil of capitalism, Chicago, social justice, vegetarianism, debt slavery
Summary:
In the early 1900s Jurgis and his soon-to-be family by marriage decide to immigrate to the US from Lithuania.  Having heard from an old friend that Chicago’s Packingtown is where a working man can easily make his way in the world, this is where they head.  Soon the family find themselves deep in the horror that is the regulated in name only meat packing plants.  Dominated by a society that circulates entirely around greed and wealth for the few at the expense of the many, the family and individuals within it slowly fall apart.  But is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Current Thoughts:
It still baffles me that when this book came out all anyone could talk about was food safety.  I believe Sinclair did a great job demonstrating the plight of the blue collar worker, as well as the horrors of animal slaughter.  This is a classic that deserves that label.

Bird on a cross against the moon.The Monstrumologist (The Monstrumologist, #1)
By: Rick Yancey
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Horror
Themes: New England, the nature of evil, relationships
Summary:
A New England town’s oldest resident dies leaving no known surviving family.  His journals end up at the university where a professor loans them to a writer friend.  In the first three folios, we learn of young Will Henry whose father and mother died in a terrible house fire leaving him to the care of his father’s employer–Warthrop.  Warthrop is a monstrumologist.  He studies monsters, and people arrive in the middle of the night for his help.  One night a grave robber arrives with the body of a young girl wrapped in the horrifying embrace of an anthropophagus–a creature with no head and a mouth full of shark-like teeth in the middle of his chest.  Will Henry, as the assistant apprentice monstrumologist, soon finds himself sucked into the secret horror found in his hometown.
Current Thoughts:
I still can’t get the damn image of the anthropophagus out of my head.  Also the characters of Will and Warthrop will forever live on in my head.  New England horror done exquisitely.

Red sword.Rage (Riders of the Apocalypse, #2)
By: Jackie Morse Kessler
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Harcourt Graphia
Genre: YA–Fantasy
Themes: mental illness, self-injury, bullying
Summary:
Melissa Miller is your typical 16 year old–mom, dad, annoying sister, a jerk of an ex-boyfriend–with one small difference.  She deals with her emotions by cutting herself.  She keeps a razor in a locked box in her closet and pulls it out when she gets overwhelmed.  One night she accidentally cuts too deep, and Death shows up with an option.  Either die now or become one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse–War.  Missy chooses the latter option, and as she gets to know the other Horsemen and her job as War, she starts to realize she needs to face the rage inside her.
Current Thoughts:
I periodically find myself thinking back on the climactic scene of this book, which in a fantastical manner depicts a self-injurer facing the anger inside herself.  If someone needs to understanding self-injury and doesn’t want to read the academic work on the topic, this is the book I would hand them.

Woman kissing man while surrounded by fire.Touched by an Alien (Katherine “Kitty” Katt, #1)
By: Gini Koch
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Daw Books
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Themes: aliens, FBI, intrigue, Arizona, action, sex
Summary:
Katherine “Kitty” Katt manages to get released early from a dull day of jury duty only to find herself confronted with an angry man who sprouts wings and starts flinging knives from their tips toward everyone in the vicinity.  Kitty attacks and stops him and quickly finds herself sucked into a world she was unaware existed.  A world of alien refugees defending Earth and themselves from a bunch of fugly alien parasites.  She soon discovers her ordinary parents are more involved in this secret world than she would ever have dreamed.  On top of that, she’s increasingly finding herself falling for one of the alien hunks who announced his intentions to marry her almost immediately upon meeting her.
Current Thoughts:
Aliens in suits? Check. Some lines and scenes pop into my head at odd times and make me laugh? Check. Favorite paranormal romance series to date? Triple-check.

Silhouette of a person standing in a white hall.The Unit
By: Ninni Holmqvist
Publication Date: 2006
Publisher: Other Press
Genre: Scifi–Dystopian
Themes: old age, socialism, Sweden, medical research
Summary:
In the Sweden of the near future women who reach the age of 50 and men who reach the age of 60 without having successfully acquired a partner or had children are deemed “dispensable” and sent to live in “a unit.”  These units appear at first glance to be like a high-class retirement home, and indeed they have all the amenities.  The residents, however, are required both to participate in medical experiments and to donate various organs and body parts up until their “final donation” of their heart anywhere from a year or a few years after their arrival in the unit.  Dorrit arrives at the unit depressed, but accepting of her fate as the result of her independent nature, but when she falls in love, she starts to question everything.
Current Thoughts:
This is a book that I literally cannot stop thinking about.  It left me with no clear answers, but tons of questions.  I also think of Dorrit and her friends every time I have a steam after working out, just like them.

Red cover with white and cold lettering.The Vampire Lestat (The Vampire Chronicles, #2)
By: Anne Rice
Publication Date: 1985
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Fantasy–Vampires
Themes: resiliency, searching for love, European history, Egypt, rock stars, New Orleans
Summary:
Lestat, the maker of Louis and Claudia, takes center stage here to tell his own origin story, as well as explain why he has chosen to come out as a vampire rock star in the 1980s.  Starting with his beginnings as a rural member of the ruling class prior to the French Revolution, we discover the origins of the Vampire Theater, as well as the origins of vampires themselves.
Current Thoughts:
I just really love Lestat. You can vamp me and carry me around forever with you, dude.

Person in red surrounded by zombies.The Walking Dead
By: Robert Kirkman
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novel–Horror
Themes: creation of a new society, living in fear, unjust wars, truthiness, self-protection, zombies, Georgia, survival
Summary:
When cop Rick wakes up from a coma brought on by a gun shot wound, he discovers a post-apocalyptic mess and zombies everywhere.  He sets off for Atlanta in search of his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, and soon teams up with a rag-tag group of survivors camped just outside of Atlanta.
Current Thoughts:
I’m still working my way through this series, but it just progressively gets better and better.  Although the beginning is cliche, it does not take Kirkman long to become unique, surprising, and thought-provoking.

Angry cow.Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow’s Milk and Your Health
By: Joseph Keon
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: New Society Publishers
Genre: Nonfiction–Science and Health
Themes: health, Standard American Diet, animal rights, veganism, cancer, heart disease
Summary:
Joseph Keon seeks to combat the cultural myth of dairy being a necessary part of a healthy diet perpetuated by the milk moustache ads with his book citing multiple scientific studies that have been swept under the rug by those being paid by the dairy lobbyists.  Although Keon cares about animal welfare as well (and there is a chapter on the suffering of dairy cows), the book predominantly focuses on debunking multiple myths surrounding human consumption of dairy:  the overly-hyped “need” for calcium, that dairy is good for children, and the idea that dairy prevents disease.  Keon additionally alarmingly shows the various chemical, virus, and bacteria contaminants commonly found in dairy.  Citing multiple scientific studies, he unequivocally demonstrates that contrary to what the dairy industry and government want you to think, dairy is actually bad for your health.
Current Thoughts:
Oh god, how am I still eating dairy after reading all of these facts?  I am going to get cancer…..gah! Damn you, cheese. Damn you.

Portraits of three Chinese women on gold and blue background.Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
By: Jung Chang
Publication Date: 1991
Publisher: Touchstone
Genre: Nonfiction–Memoir
Themes: Chinese history, women’s rights, China, communism, revolutions, concubines, foot-binding
Summary:
In this memoir, Jung Chang recounts the lives of herself, her mother, and her grandmother growing up in pre-communist, revolutionary, and communist China.  Mixing extensive historical facts with intensely personal remembrances, Jung Chang presents a vivid portrait of real life in China.
Current Thoughts:
This is the book that jump-started my interest in China and learning Chinese history.  It is a stunning memoir that covers three generations during the time period that made modern China.

Man with a monkey on his back.Y: The Last Man
By: Brian K. Vaughan
Publication Date: 2003
Publisher: Vertigo
Genre: Graphic Novel–Scifi–Post-apocalyptic
Themes: gender, gender norms, organization of society, Boston, United States, Israel, coming of age
Summary:
The world is changed overnight when all the men and boys in the world mysteriously drop dead.  Factions quickly develop among the women between those who want the world to remain all female and those who would like to restore the former gender balance.  One man is mysteriously left alive though–Yorick.  A 20-something, underachieving magician with a girlfriend in Australia.  He desperately wants to find her, but the US government and the man-hating Amazons have other ideas.
Current Thoughts:

Another series that I am currently in the middle of.  It is also steadily improving from the first volume.  It is colorfully illustrated, consistently funny, and thought-provoking.




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: Thinner by Stephen King

May 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Skeletal man gripping own face.Summary:
Billy Halleck is an overweight, high-powered lawyer in a wealthy Connecticut town.  He’s getting a bit irritated at his wife and a bit frustrated with his weight, but he loves his teenage daughter.  One day, a band of gypsies come to town, and Billy accidentally runs one of them down with his car, killing her.  His law firm and the cops, naturally, get him out of the manslaughter charge, but nobody can protect him from the lead gypsy’s curse, uttered while stroking one finger down his cheek, “Thinner.”  Now he’s dropping weight no matter how much he eats, and he must race against the clock in an attempt to save himself.

Review:
A book about gypsy curses could easily slide into racist territory, but in fact Thinner actually criticizes the treatment the gypsies have received in the United States over the years, in spite of them not always being the most sympathetic characters in the book.  They may be a bit non-mainstream and overly quick to exact their own vengeance, but Billy Halleck and his cronies are a much more frightening type of bad.  They’re the bad that comes from too much money and power.  The bad that comes from being so self-centered and over-indulgent that you’ve stopped noticing the rest of the world exists.

So, the social commentary is good and not offensive, what about the horror and thrills?  That is, after all, what one reads a King novel for.  The grotesqueness definitely builds gradually over time, making this much more of a thriller than a horror.  At first Billy’s weight loss is welcomed.  He was, after all, overweight before.  Gradually, though he starts to freak out about how much weight he’s consistently losing in spite of eating as much as he possibly can.  He starts to investigate and discovers two others with their own unique and, frankly, much more frightening curses.  Although the beginning may feel a bit slow, that is exactly as it should be.  Billy goes from normal life to life under a curse to racing against  the clock to save his own life.  The horror builds perfectly.

That said, this still doesn’t quite read as sophisticated as some of King’s later work.  It does almost seem like a bit too obvious an allegory.  A bit too obvious a statement being made.  In spite of the story providing chills, it’s not quite terrifying or mind-blowing.  It’s a fun read, but it’s no Dark Tower.

Overall this thriller provides chills, horror, and a good social commentary.  I recommend it to fans of horror and thrillers alike, although slightly more to fans of thrillers.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Harvard Book Store

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Book Review: It by Stephen King

February 3, 2011 2 comments

Creepy looking clown.

Summary:
In the late 1950s in the small town of Derry, Maine, children are being mysteriously murdered.  Seven misfit and outcast kids band together to face It, and they think they’ve beaten it, but 27 years later, the murders return.  Vaguely remembering a promise they all made, the now adults return to their hometown of Derry to face It again.

Review:
This tale is largely known in the States as “that scary clown story,” so for years I avoided it.  I’ve been terrified of clowns for as long as I can remember.  My parents tell me that the first time I ever saw one, I screamed uncontrollably.  My only encounter with Stephen King’s It (as it’s known in the States) was with a diorama of the clown from the movie in a haunted house I went through in Salem, MA.  It scared the crap out of me, so I was a bit nervous to read this book.  However, having read the Dark Tower series, I wanted to read all of the other stories that King lists as taking place in the same general universe, and It was one of them.  So I manned up and read it, and boy am I ever glad I did.

This is not a cheesy scary clown story.  What it is is first a character study and second a commentary on growing up.  The dual horror of being a kid and being excited and afraid to grow up and being an adult and being excited and concerned that you are grown up and may have lost a part of yourself in childhood.  King very clearly demonstrates that being a kid isn’t all fun and games–most of the kids in the group of 7 have bad home lives–but there is an essential hope that children have that is hard to reclaim as an adult.  A child is able to have a horrible experience with a shape-shifting werewolf or a bunch of bullies and then walk a couple of blocks and forget about it and be excited to see American Bandstand that night.  Children are incredibly resilient, and King demonstrates that.

What makes the story though is the return to Derry 27 years later.  King puts a hope in adults that although they may not remember exactly what it is to be a resilient child, they can still repossess that power in later life.  Although the first inclination of kids to survive is to forget the bad, an adult can remember and still survive.  For at the beginning, the characters don’t want to remember what happened to them as kids.

Did he remember?  Just enough not to want to remember any more. (Location 1416)

Yet the characters are brave and face their childhoods.  Yes, King personifies both the childhood evils and the remembering of them as an adult with It, but that’s part of what makes the story powerful.  There’s a reason people refer to memories as personal demons.  That’s how they feel.  In the end, the way the characters grow and change and overcome is to find

A way to be people that had nothing to do with their parents’ fears, hopes, constant demands.  (Location5631)

Beyond the excellent symbolism and allegory for the experience of surviving bad things in your childhood and facing them again as an adult, the horror itself is wonderful.  It comes at just the right frequency so that the reader settles into a sense of security only to be blind-sided by a terrifically horrifying experience.  There were sections that literally had me jumping at the sound of my own phone ringing in the silence.  These are some of the better passages of creepy horror that I’ve read written by King.

Of course, the allusions to the universe of the Gunslinger are there.  It gave me chills to recognize them as I read.  Among just a few were the turtle, spiders, and other worlds than these.  One particular line that gave me chills of recognition that other fans of the Dark Tower series will be sure to appreciate is

Eddie had drawn his aspirator.  He looked like a crazed malnourished gunslinger with some weird pistol.  (Location 20760)

Combining everything from the horror to the allegory of facing childhood demons to the allusions to the Dark Tower series make Stephen King’s It a remarkable read.  I recommend it to fans of Stephen King, as well as anyone interested in the idea of childhood demons who feels they can handle passages of horror.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Series Review: The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King (spoiler warning)

October 25, 2010 5 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Crow in front of silhouette of man.Summary:
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”  This famous opening line begins the distinctly American fantasy epic tale of Roland the gunslinger’s quest for the Dark Tower.  In this fantasy, there are multiple parallel universes, referred to as whens and wheres.  The one Roland inhabits that is home to the Dark Tower and beams that keep all the worlds together and operating functionally just so happens to distinctly resemble the old American wild west.  Gunslingers in this world are like the knights of the round table in old England, and Roland is the last of his kind.  He’s on a quest both to reach the Dark Tower and save it and the beams, as Three doors.they seem to be breaking.  Through the course of his quest, Roland draws three new gunslingers and a billy-bumbler to become his ka-tet–his family bound by ka (fate) not blood.  These new gunslingers all come from America, but from different whens and versions of America.  Eddie is a heroin addict.  Susannah is an African-American woman from the 1960s who is missing both of her legs from the knees down and has Dissociative Identity Disorder (more commonly known as multiple personality disorder).  Jake is a boy from a wealthy family in NYC that hardly pays attention to him.  Oy is a billy-bumbler; a creature from Roland’s world that looks a bit like a dog with a long snout and a curly tail but is able to talk.  After training and bonding together, they continue on their quest for the Dark Tower.  A quest that leads them through old ruined cities in Roland’s world, gangster territory Spooky train.and rural Maine in America, a countryside farming community where almost all births are twins, and much much more.  The ultimate questions of ka, how the worlds are bound together, and just what role this gunslinger has to play in all of it loom at the center of this epic tale.

Review:
The interesting thing about the Dark Tower series is that each book has its own unique vibe, feel, and style to it, yet they together work to make up a complete whole that has its own unique feel to it too.  Because of this, certain entries Purple glass ball.in the series may appeal less to some people than others.  For instance, I did not enjoy Wizard and Glass, because it was essentially a slow-paced wild west romance story, yet I know some readers enjoy that entry immensely.  Similarly, I love Song of Susannah for both its horror and the way King structured it using song stanzas to correlate with the sections of the book, yet I know some people who found it too dense for one entry in the series.  The thing is though, to me, the Dark Tower is more about the experience of reading the series as a whole than the individual books.  I’m perfectly willing to work through a book or a few chapters that aren’t quite the genre I prefer, because I know that will change up later on and whatever is being discussed is important to the story as Building in a field.a whole.  It frankly is interesting to read a series that explores so many different genres within itself.  It makes the whole concept of parallel worlds more believable as each area they go through feels different.

The characterization at first seems simplistic.  There’s Roland the gunslinger.  He’s got a one-track mind in pursuit of the tower.  He’ll do anything to reach it, even if it’s questionable.  Is he justified in his vehemence?  It’s hard to tell at first.  Similarly, the man in black who he is originally pursuing is extraordinarily one-dimensional.  He is just an evil magician, and that is all.  Similarly, when Eddie, Susannah, and Jake are first drawn into Roland’s world, they are also one-dimensional.  Eddie is just the junky.  Susannah is the crazy woman with multiple Park bench in blue fog.personalities.  Jake is a lonely, frightened little boy.  Yet as the series progresses, King gradually develops the characters to be rich and multi-dimensional.  Their characters are so intensely vivid, including even Oy, that I actually found myself crying as bad things happened to various members of the ka-tet.  Eddie overcomes his addiction, as well as the emotional wounds inflicted on him by his older brother to grow up and become a true man.  Susannah does not lose her multiple personalities, but she learns to work with them.  They are a part of her, and she grows to accept that.  She stops being bitter about her accident and her lot in life and comes to be self-sufficient and caring of those around her.  Jake quickly grows to become a confident young man who cares for his ka-tet, but especially Oy and Roland.  Finally, Roland gradually learns to open himself up to relationships.  Although Rose in the foreground. Tower in the background.the tower still calls to him, he finds himself questioning if maybe the ka-tet is better than the tower.

The horror elements in the series definitely live up to what one would expect from King.  There are disgusting moments, such as a man sick from the weed drug in Roland’s world that makes users go insane.  There are also truly terrifying moments such as when a baby boy turns into a spider and eats his own mother via her breast.  Then there are mentally disturbing themes such as the children who get stolen by the wolves and are returned with their brains completely ruined.  It is later discovered that their brain power was fed to telepaths in service of the Crimson King who is seeking to destroy all the worlds.  Whatever flavor of horror suits you best, you will find it in the series.

The themes of love and building your own family and being at the hands of fate are what truly carry the series, though.  These themes are what make the reader care about the horrors that are happening to Roland and his ka-tet.  They’re what makes it possible to suspend disbelief about multiple worlds being held together by a tower, a rose, and beams.  The ideas of self-sacrifice, serving your purpose, and caring for others who ka has brought into your life are powerful and subtly expressed.  To me the whole concept of making your own family is the most endearing part of the series, and I loved seeing it portrayed in such a subtle, tender manner.

Of course what really brought the series to a whole new level for me is the ending.  It blew me away.  It was completely unexpected.  Roland reaches the tower after having lost his ka-tet.  He goes in and climbs with each floor displaying items and smells to represent each year of his life.  He reaches the top door and pulls it open only to realize, horrified at the last moment, that he is being pulled through back to the desert where the series began.  The voice of the tower speaks to him about his journey.  That he’s done it before.  That he’s learning a little each time.  It points out that Roland realized his mistake in not taking a few moments to pick up the horn of Eld, so this time, it is strapped to Roland’s side, where it wasn’t originally.  For a moment Roland remembers what has just occurred, but soon he just feels it was all a mirage.  A heat-induced daydream of finally reaching the dark tower.  He continues on, ending the series with the same sentence it began with.

Personally, I feel that this puts the series in a whole new light.  Who exactly is this Roland that he is so important that he has to redo this quest until, presumably, he gets it right?  Why did King choose to tell us about one of the times he didn’t get it right?  What did he get wrong?  What lessons is Roland supposed to be learning?  Will Roland ever escape the cycle or is it some sort of hell punishment he’s doomed to repeat forever?  Of course, it all reads a bit like the belief in reincarnation and learning something each life cycle.  In any case, it made me personally want to immediately start rereading the series, searching for clues about the repetition of the journey.  It brings the series to a whole new philosophical level that truly elevated it in my mind from a fun fantasy to an epic.

Overall, there are parts of the series I didn’t enjoy, and due to the vast variety of genres represented in the series, most people will probably dislike or struggle with at least bits of it.  However, when the series is put together and all the pieces click together in your mind, it becomes an unforgettable, completely American epic.  A wild west fantasy is unique, and the themes and philosophical questions explored underneath the entertaining prose make for something even deeper than that.  I am incredibly glad I took the time to read this series, and I would recommend it to anyone.  It is well worth the time invested.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: borrowed, Harvard Book Store

Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review, buy it
The Drawing of the Three
, review, buy it
The Waste Lands, review, buy it
Wizard and Glass, review, buy it
Wolves of the Calla, review, buy it
Song of Susannah, review, buy it
The Dark Tower, review , buy it

Book Review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King, (Series, #7)

October 19, 2010 13 comments

Tower in the background of a field of roses.Summary:
Roland and his ka-tet face their greatest challenges yet.  First they must successfully save the rose in NYC.  Then they must find each other, and Susannah and Jake need to escape the low men who would harm them.  Also on their list before continuing to pursue the Dark Tower is to stop the breakers who mean to destroy the beam, thereby leading the worlds to ruin.  Can they save the beam?  Will Roland reach his beloved Dark Tower with his ka-tet whole or shattered?  Will he reach it at all?  The Dark Tower looms with a far greater presence than ever before, calling to both Roland and reader commala-come-come.

Review:
Now I understand why people who’ve read the entire Dark Tower series rant with showers of praise about it.  This final entry in the series totally blew my mind.  The settings were perfectly drawn and easy to visualize.  The multiple plot lines were all complex and yet simultaneously easy to follow.  I cried multiple times reading this book, including in public, and those who know me know that I generally don’t cry at stories.  All of the characters of the ka-tet are treated with full-formed character development.  They are richly drawn, but it is also easy to see how they have grown and changed throughout the series.  The multiple, inter-locking worlds of Roland and his ka-tet suddenly snap into place in the reader’s mind, and suddenly everything is nearly as clear as it probably is for King.

This book is quite long, but it didn’t feel like it.  I wanted to read it nearly constantly, yet I had to put it down periodically due to the emotional wringer King was bringing me through.  It’s been so long since I read a series that wasn’t either a trilogy or a serial romance that I’d forgotten how emotional it can get to have a long, fully realized tale told with characters you’ve grown to know and care for.  These people read as real people, and the world feels real.  It makes me want to go look for my own unfound door to journey to a parallel reality.  Even though at first I kind of laughed at the idea of a rose and a tower and beams somehow controlling and seeing over multiple worlds, at some point I bought into it.  I suspended my disbelief, and that’s exactly what a spinner of tales is supposed to be able to help his readers do.

What made me truly fall in love with the story and make me want to instantly start re-reading the series over again from the beginning is the ending.  I wouldn’t give it away and ruin the experience of discovering it yourself for anybody, so just let me say, it totally blew my mind.  I did not see it coming.  It made my perspective on the whole tale change, which explains why I want to re-read it so much.  (Maybe next year).  I can also say that the ending makes reading the rest of the long series entirely worth it.  Definitely don’t give up on the series part-way through.  Continue all the way to the end.

If you’ve been reading the Dark Tower series and are uncertain about continuing, absolutely do.  I don’t hesitate to say that the last entry in the series is tied for the best and will totally blow your mind.  I highly recommend the whole series, but I especially encourage anyone who has started it to finish it.  It’s well worth your time.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Book Store

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

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