Category Archives: Book Review

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Book Review – The Giver

Category : Book Review

Author: Lois Lowry

Year: 1993

I can’t believe I’ve reviewed The Giver movie but not The Giver book; a shame.  But it’s never too late, and as many times as I’ve read this book, it changes with every read, so there’s no bad time to write down a take on this ever-changing novel.  Lois Lowry is best known for The Giver and Number the Stars, both really important reads for young minds, but they are no less impactful to me now as an adult, since the meanings change each time, based on your own experiences.

A boy named Jonas lives in a perfect society; no hunger, no pain, no want, no worry, everything is in perfect balance, and that’s the way it’s always been.  As his 12th year approaches, and with it a selection of the job he will have as an adult, he becomes apprehensive, but he’s sure that the committee & the elders know what’s best.  When Jonas is skipped over at the selection ceremony, he’s positive he did something wrong, but it’s the opposite; he’s been selected as the next Receiver of Memory, a highly-respected role he knows almost nothing about, and will be trained for by the former Receiver, an old, sad, wise man who will from now on be known as the Giver.

What a book, and what a story, one that morphs over time, as you age and look at the world differently.  This dystopian future is a curiosity, a mix of excellent and terrible, with rules & order that keep everyone safe, but without the vibrancies that make life worth living.  Jonas is learning to adapt to the changes he experiences as the Receiver, when he learns that Earth wasn’t always the way he knows it, with climate control and Sameness.  It’s a wonderful thing to talk about aloud, to ponder over the possibilities, and to change your opinion of as your own experience change you.  This time, I read it out loud to my daughter, and what an incredible time we had, delving deep and pulling apart the metaphors like they were made for us to dissect.  A wonderful, exciting, fascinated book; one of the very best.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 


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Book Review – To Kill a Mockingbird

Category : Book Review

Author: Harper Lee

Year: 1960

This summer, as a companion to walking our puppy, my daughter & I decided to read a book while we trotted around the neighborhood.  She’s older than my son, so I wanted it to be something a little more mature, something she would like but perhaps he wasn’t ready for, something I could explain when it got heavy, and To Kill A Mockingbird was the perfect choice.  It’s a timeless story than not only transports the reader to a geographic area & a historic period, but also pushes us to answer some awful questions & face some ugly truths.  As relevant today as it was in the 60s when it was published or in the 30s when it was set, it’s a tale of community & of color, of one girl’s growing up, and of an entire nation’s radioactive racism.

Scout & Jem Finch live with their father in Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression.  He is a lawyer, they are school children, they love their tiny town, and they age among its simple folks, its old traditions, and its hidden hates.  The Finch children, along with a new friend named Dill, dream of spotting a reclusive neighbor called Boo Radley, and attempt to get him to come out of his house, all while the real world revolves around them.  Their father, Atticus, takes on a very important case, defending a black man accused by a white man of raping his daughter.  The case becomes a microcosm of the racial injustices of the South, and the inherent evil that lies under the mild- & well-mannered country folk who either know not what they do or simply do not care.

What a great read and a great opportunity to talk about these themes with my daughter, to read aloud to her a wonderful piece of fiction but one that also has so much real to say.  Growing up with Scout is a one-of-a-kind experience, but seeing the South through her eyes is special too, and hearing her father’s words is a blessing, learning that to kill a mockingbird is the greatest sin, because destroying something weaker than yourself, something that only wants to be loved, is a terrible crime.  That idea ties in with Boo Radley perfectly, and is rounded out by Atticus’ case, all the story arcs coming together to form one beautiful mosaic.  My daughter absolutely loved the book, I adored it all over again, and can’t wait to revisit it when my son gets a little older.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 


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Book Review – The Regulators

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1996

Stephen King wrote Desperation under his own name and The Regulators under a pseudonym, releasing them at the same time as a sort of experiment; which would do better, the former because King’s name had become a household word, or the latter because readers simply choose the novel they think best?  Both are based on the same idea, both use the same characters, but they are set in parallel universes, so it’s up to us to pick our favorite.  For me, there was no contest; Desperation is among the best King has ever written, while Regulators is among the very worst.

In a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, terror comes to an otherwise quiet street, as a group of space-age vans drive up and start peppering the neighborhood with gunfire, killing indiscriminately and often.  But there’s a deeper reason than just simple violence, and a darker force at work behind the mayhem.  A local woman has recently taken in her nephew, whose family was killed in a freak accident after driving through Nevada.  The young boy picked up an invisible hitchhiker there, a force older than the Earth, an evil that needs to feed and has picked this small town as his buffet.

Where Desperation tells a wonderfully complex but compact tale, Regulators fails to tell a story at all, relying instead on our foreknowledge of Tak, the evil spirit, and our desire for blood, of which there is much.  Too often, the tale isn’t even unfolded, it’s interrupted by articles, letters, journals, scripts, content that is supposed to flesh out the plot but really only delays the crappy action.  The novel is short, relatively pointless, and not well thought out, presenting death and not much else.  It’s a weak attempt and a poor experiment; King “killed off” Richard Bachman after this novel (although one more would come later, found in the attic, so to speak), and it’s a good thing he did, if this was all Rich could give us.

My rating: ★ ★ ⭐︎ ⭐︎ ⭐︎

 


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Book Review – Narnia Series Part 2

Category : Book Review

Author: C.S. Lewis

Year: 1953, 54, 55, & 56

There are two sides to the argument over how to read Lewis’ iconic collection of books: in release or chronological order.  He wrote the seven books, one per year, from 1950 to 1956, starting with Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe and ending with The Last Battle.  But in the middle are several stories displaced in time, a prequel, a side quest, until the Narnian chronology becomes mixed up.  So, do you read his books in the order in which he wrote them or do you read them in the order in which they take place in this magical world?  I think the answer is quite simple; it doesn’t matter.  As I read these marvelous books to my children, I will read them in the order Lewis created them, but if I ever read them aloud again I’d probably go for chronological order.  These are great stories no matter in what manner they are enjoyed, books that demand a reread right after you finish, classics that will be a part of your shelves forever.

I consider the last four that Lewis wrote to be Part 2 of the entire set: Silver Chair, Horse and His Boy, Magician’s Nephew, and Last Battle.  These four all include secondary characters, not the Pevensie children alone, and their adventures in Narnia.  In Silver Chair, Eustace and a girl named Jill must save Caspian’s son from deadly peril.  In Horse and His Boy, we live a tale told often in Narnia, the adventures of Shasta and the brave horse Bree.  In Magician’s Nephew, we learn of the birth of Narnia, how it came to be and how it might someday end.  And in Last Battle, the final days of Narnia dawn, because nothing gold can stay.  These four books further broaden a world we have learned to love dearly.

I can recall reading these stories when I was young, over & over again until I knew them by heart.  They are quick & easy, fun to blast through, and always entertaining to both children & adults.  But they are also laden with meaning, both Christian and pagan, based on ancient lore, and full of the myths our world is based upon.  Read from a Christian perspective, since Lewis was that, obvious parallels emerge, but the stories can be enjoyed by those who are non-religious as well.  It’s a beautiful world that he created, with colorful characters and adventures that will never grow old.  The first three books are the strongest, I believe, setting the stage for the rest, never being outdone by those to come, but the next four are marvelous as well, enriching a land we have come to hold so dear.  Read these classics to yourself or to your children, and then go back years later to revisit old friends; this series is special in that way, allowing us to travel to Narnia whenever we want and as often as we can.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Book Review – Desperation

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1996

Being called a poor-man’s Stand shouldn’t be a compliment, but somehow it applies perfectly to Desperation.  It’s both smaller and just as large as The Stand, a condensed version of the cross-country battle between good and evil, yet somehow telling the same epic tale and taking a ton of pages to do so.  It’s a long book and about something broad, but it’s boiled down to a day or two and set in one little town, like a microcosm of danger and fear that lost none of its potency in the shrinkage.  I don’t know, maybe that doesn’t make sense; basically Desperation is also amazing, in a similar way, but holds its own with a unique telling, which are all wins in my book.

Seemingly at random, travelers across the great state of Nevada are stopped as they approach the mining town of Desperation and are taken to the local jail.  The cop in charge is Collie Entragian, who seems to be loosing his mind but also breaking down physically as well.  As he captures drivers with lies and traps, they begin to realize that this might not be a simple case of lunacy; the town itself seems cursed, and the wild animals seem to have joined forces with Entragian’s strange presence.  A boy named David, whose whole family was taken and who has recently “found God”, has a direct connection to a power of good which looks to be on the side of the prisoners.  Their trust in God (or whoever might be guiding David) will see them through many deadly situations on their way creeping out of town, but not all will make it out, and not all will keep their humanity.

I feel like this is a novel that few have heard on, not like The Stand, which is obviously one of King’s greatest and most widely-known works.  But Desperation in almost as good, and holds a ton of similarities.  It’s a larger-than-life struggle against a general evil, with God on the outside looking in and with frequent advice through unlikely sources.  It’s violent, it’s terrifying, most won’t make it through, but it’s the journey that’s fun to watch, even if this one is small in comparison to some others.  That’s the point; it’s smaller but it’s not, which is hard to describe, I guess you’ll just have to read the story.  King knows how to introduce us to a dozen characters but make them all count, and then kill them off right when we were getting to like and know them.  His style is brutal and personal, but that’s where you find the magic, and there’s magic through every chapter of this shocking book, more so because you never really saw it coming.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 


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Book Review – Thinner

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1984

Thinner was published 10 years after King’s first novel Carrie, and it was the fifth novel he’d released under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.  Actually, the first four were novellas and would later be collected in one book, which would make Thinner the second Bachman, although it too could be considered a novella, and perhaps should.  In a way, it’s too short to be a novel, to bloated to be a novella, so it lands somewhere in between, which is a very awkward place to be.  It either needed fleshed out (no pun intended) or trimmed down (again, my apologies), because it doesn’t work perfectly in the space it was edited to fit.  That’s my two cents, but King is the master, and I enjoyed this story no matter the mistakes.

Billy Halleck is an overweight lawyer whose life has become as comfy and careless as his eating habits.  He’s a pretty big deal now, commands some local respect, lives on a nice street, has a pretty wife, no real problems to deal with, and it’s starting to make him a little lazy.  But one tragic event wakes him completely up, and will set the tone for a deadly downward spiral.  Distracted while driving, Billy accidentally hits and kills an old Gypsy woman who was part of a group of vagabonds who recently rolled through town.  It was a mistake, Billy gets off without even a slap on the wrist, but the Gypsy pater familias isn’t so forgiving; he not only puts a curse on Halleck but on all involved in what he sees as a coverup.  Now Billy is losing weight at a tremendous pace, which seems OK at first, but soon turns dangerous, and leads him far away from the white picket fence life he had grown so accustomed to.

That’s really the only big problem with Thinner, it’s too blown up, it’s not that complicated of a story, yet it goes on in detail much farther than it needs to, and with a secondary character who we simply didn’t need to hear from and/or focus on.  The book would have been a better short story, with only Billy mattering, with only Billy narrating, with a quick resolution that creeped us completely out; that tale was there, it was just covered up with fluff part of the time.  Again, that’s my main critique, the rest was really cool.  Great detail in the setup, a nice mood, a very unusual story, not really scary in the least, just weird and concerning.  And, unlike some other King books, this one ended very well I thought, dark and concise and meaningful.  Read for a quick escape and a fun freak out, but know that this isn’t upper echelon.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Book Review – The Talisman

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King, Peter Straub

Year: 1984

The Talisman in 1984 and its sequel Black House in 2001 were King’s two novels co-written with Peter Straub, and if you have read enough King you can hear another voice that isn’t exactly Stephen’s when you read this epic work.  Another point that makes this book different from so many other King nevels is the age of the hero; Jack’s just a boy, and although the content is still adult, there’s a younger feel to the story, like it could be an introduction to The Stand or the Dark Tower series, a stepping stone into that wild world.  For those reasons and others, The Talisman isn’t my favorite King novel, nor is it his best, but it’s still an awesome and sweeping tale worth picking up and diving into, because the talent behind the words is real.

Jack Sawyer is on the run with his mom, who’s dying of something (cancer?) but is more scared of a man named Morgan Sloat, who used to be her husband’s business partner.  Jack’s father died, as did many other men around him, and something strange is going on behind the scenes, a power struggle that is larger than our world alone.  Boy and mother reach the east coast, hole up in a mostly-closed hotel next to a mostly-boarded up amusement park, and try to decide what to do next, but she’s burying her head in the sand, and it’s up to Jack to save the day.  He soon discovers, or has always known, that there are other worlds than ours, and that some people live in both, their destinies too strong for one dimension.  Jack must go on a quest in both this world and the nearby Territories, to save his other mother and the Queen of that land, before Morgan Sloat/Morgan of Orris wrests control of the entire universe and turns its potential to his own dark purpose.

Of course, there are ties here to Dark Tower, there’s a broad fantasy history that we barely scratch the surface of, and there’s a lot to love in general, because, hey, King’s a genius.  You do lose his voice often though, you can simply tell that someone else is speaking, and that throws off the magic a bit; there’s only one King.  But still, The Talisman is a fascinating adventure story that spans so much space and two worlds, the back and forth is brilliant, and it leaves you wanting so much more; enter Black House, I guess.  Jack is an awesome character, Wolf is wondrous, and there are moments of pure brilliance sprinkled throughout like presents, if you may have to be patient to receive them.  This isn’t my favorite of King’s bibliography, it’s a bit of a side track, I’d much rather re-read Dark Tower, but it adds to the greater legend and that’s something.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Book Review – Cycle of the Werewolf

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1983

Cycle of the Werewolf is more a novella than a novel, more a *graphic* novel than a novel, and not exactly novel in its originality; so maybe we don’t call this one a novel any more.  That doesn’t mean it’s not readable (or look-able?), I just think it’s important to clarify what kind of work it really is, so that you don’t go to read it expecting The Stand.  King was busy in 1983 anyway, with Christine and Pet Sematary, so he didn’t really have enough time for another full book, but Cycle of the Werewolf isn’t half bad, for a consolation prize.

Over the course of one year, a werewolf stalks the small town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine, taking one victim a month, leaving behind a mystery each time for the townsfolk to ponder over for another 30 days.  At first they believe that a serial killer has chosen their home for his monthly ritual.  Then, the tall tales start to grow, and people begin to believe that the moon murderer may really be a dangerous animal, who is a peaceful man on all other calendar days.  When a boy named Marty, who is bound to a wheelchair, experiences the werewolf first hand, he survives to tell a story no one believes, though he may be the only one who can discover the truth.

The story is very short, and it seems like half of it is illustrations, either introductions to each month or a drawing of the werewolf’s latest attack.  The artwork is very cool, very scary, but the rest of the book goes by so fast it’s hard to really get a lock on it before it’s gone.  I don’t read particularly quickly, but I finished the whole thing in maybe an hour; you may even feel afterward that you didn’t get your money’s worth.  Still, the tale is gruesome, gory, entertaining, enjoyable enough, for a fleeting moment anyway.  Don’t expect typical King magic; this isn’t he strongest work, it’s almost a side project, mainly for those fans who already love him and simply want to get their hands on more.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Book Review – Pet Sematary

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1983

As I make my way through King’s bibliography, I come to one that’s definitely a blind spot; Pet Sematary (and of course there are movies) is among King’s most widely-known works, for some reason I just missed it.  Maybe it’s subconscious, because I didn’t want to read a book about a good pet that came back bad, since I love animals so much.  And that’s ignoring that the same thing is gonna happen to a kid; I like pets better than people, let’s just put that out there.  But I’m catching up on this King staple now, and I’m so elated that I did; not only is it one of his best early books, it’s one of his best overall novels, a stunning achievement of supernatural and introspective that will keep you up at night not in fear but in reflection.

Dr. Louis Creed and his family move from Chicago to rural Maine, after he gets a new job as the head of a nearby university’s student health department.  Louis loves his family (his wife Rachel, his little girl Ellie, his toddler boy Gage) and would do anything to keep them happy.  When Ellie’s beloved cat Church is hit by a car on the busy road in front of their house, the Creed’s neighbor, a wonderful old local named Jud, gives Louis a chance to put that theory to the test.  Beyond a quaint pet cemetery in the hills lies a darker burial ground, where what you put into the earth comes back, but at a cost.  When real tragedy strikes the family months later, Louis will turn to the graveyard again, this time risking his own damnation.

Stephen King calls this book the one that truly scares him the most, and I completely understand why.  It’s mildly frightening, in the horror genre way we’re used to from King, it has some supernatural elements, I could see how someone would be creeped out by it in many chapters.  But that’s not what he means, and that’s not exactly where you’ll feel the darkness.  Pet Sematary is one of King’s most shockingly depressing stories, a real look into death that will leave you pondering your own life and the lives of those around you.  He examines what dying means; the death of a pet, the death of the old, the death of the young.  It’s an exercise in self-torture, and that’s what’s really scary, what you’ll remember after to put the book down for the final time.  As a father of two kids myself, an elder girl and a younger boy, as a husband, as an animal-lover even, I felt this book very strongly in many different places of my heart, and it definitely affected me for days.  The way King describes Louis, with the best and worst ways a man can be exhibited throughout, with sex and career and family and friends and freedom and death on his mind, is so realistic and honest that it’s frightening; this is some of King’s absolute best writing.  Pet Sematary has been made into a movie two times, but they can’t capture what the novel can, the down-in-the-bones madness that can come from loss, and the difficulty in simply being alive, knowing that some day you won’t.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Book Review – Christine

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1983

As I continue my quarantine quest to read through the entire King bibliography, I come to one of his sillier ideas; a killer car that’s cursed to have a murderous life all its own.  It’s not the coolest plot, much like the aliens in Tommyknockers or the grim reapers in Insomnia, but, you know, maybe he just runs out of ideas sometimes, and, to his credit, he usually finds a way to make them work anyway.  That’s the way it is with Christine; it really shouldn’t work, it kinda doesn’t for a while, but King saves his own bacon by wrapping it up quite nicely.  This book slides into the category of ‘quite good’ without making a very large splash, and probably without my remembering it too fondly a few years hence.

Four main characters are central to this story: Dennis, Arnie, Leigh, and Christine.  Dennis and Arnie are best friends, have been for years, and even the politics of high school won’t keep them apart.  Dennis has always stood up for Arnie, who is nerdy, pimply, a little odd, but a good friend, and Dennis has never wanted to be “popular”, although his looks and his place on the football team could take him there.  Leigh is the girl Arnie falls hard for when his confidence starts coming in and his acne starts clearing, a process of growing up that comes on quickly, mysteriously, right after Arnie buys his first car.  Which brings us to Christine, a she not an it, a car with a life of her own.  She has the ability to fix herself and to fix her owner, but at what cost, and who will be run over along the way?

King imbues this tale with teenage angst, car talk, rock music, awkward juvenility; some of the things some of us experienced, but perhaps not widely enough to warrant an entire story about growing up in way that can seem universal but at times comes across as too specific and too fictional.  The horror part aside, this is simply a hard plot to get into, it’s broken up strangely between characters, and then the “scary” element does start feeling a little forced when you meet the darker pieces.  It’s the end that gets you and makes you enjoy the entire package, but even a good wrap up can’t save the day completely.  Arnie is a hard role to really appreciate, Dennis is not around enough, Leigh is obviously a fantasy, and Christine just isn’t that terrifying.  That sounds like a lot of problems for a 4/5 star rating, but the end really did tip the scales, the end third maybe, and when you look back you think to yourself “OK that was kinda neat.”  Christine won’t go down as a King classic in my book, but that’s OK, they can’t all be home runs, sometimes you just get a base hit and call it a day.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆