Category Archives: Book Review

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Book Review – From a Buick 8

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2002

Although From A Buick 8 might not be King’s very best work, it is definitely his most identifiable; if someone were to ask me what this dude’s writing style was, what his voice sounds like, I would point them to this bizarre novel.  It’s plot is strange, perhaps not very relatable, but the talent within the writing itself is undeniable, and all Stephen King.  It’s his version of storytelling on display in a grand way, like sitting down with the man himself and watching him spin some webs.  Again, maybe the plot isn’t the all-time best, but there are pieces of this book (mainly the format, the delivery, the pace, the life within it) that are.

Ned has recently lost his father, near the eve of his own growing up, in Pennsylvania as a typical, teenage guy; football now, college on the horizon, ain’t life grand.  But his father dies in a traffic accident while working as a State Trooper, and Ned latches of to the Troop like a group that represents his dad, instead of sprouting his own wings and flying toward his own life.  And because of this close tie to a tight-knit brotherhood, Ned is about to be let in on a little secret, the truth behind why there’s an old, immaculate, classic car just sitting in a shed beside the station, a secret that will suck him right in & swallow him right down.

This is a bit of a weird story, since it’s much more Mist & Christine than Cujo & Carrie; basically it’s not horror, and never tries to be, it’s more a part of Dark Tower lore and all that involves.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t creepy, it sure it, and that doesn’t mean it’s not exciting, it sure raises pulses.  But it’s more other-worldly & cross-universal, like some of King’s deeper dives, not like most of his popular stuff.  Still, Buick 8 has a tale to tell, and like I said before, that telling is masterful.  Never has King given more of his own style, relying on nothing else, than with this novel.  This is how he speaks, this is his voice, this is what you should expect every time, with the details changed to adapt to whatever nightmare he concocts next.  It’s almost like he was unburdened by, for example, a ghost story that his publishers wanted him to write, but rather set free to tell a weird story with details that kinda didn’t matter, focusing on the language and the feel more than the action and events.  Perhaps just for big King fans, Buick 8 is nonetheless a spectacular work.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 


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Book Review – Black House

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King, Peter Straub

Year: 2001

Following Jack Sawyer’s adventures in The Talisman, which is a King/Straub production almost bent toward a teen audience, we get another dark dive into The Territories, this time with an adult Jack, and with a decidedly adult feel.  This is more serial killer/police work/thriller plot set in a Dark Tower universe, but with enough King base-set to make fans happy, while, I think, also reaching out to a new audiences.  Basically, this pairing works because we have two excellent worlds & works colliding to form one original construction, and that always benefits the audience.

Jack is now grown up, was a detective in Los Angeles, moves to the Midwest for some quiet, and has mostly purposefully forgotten his Territories past; his mother’s Twinner, the Talisman, his own encounters and adventures, that strange place where so much is familiar but at the same time so different.  But it’s not time to move on completely just yet; there’s one more job to do.  A killer is on the loose, targeting special children, and he won’t stop until he’s found the one who can help his twisted master in his evil plot to destroy the Dark Tower.  Jack will need to remember his past, as well as use his current skills, in order to save not just one world, but so many more than this.

Black House, like Talisman, definitely feels like two men writing one book, but it works here in a very specific way, because we are reading two stories at once; tracking down the killer and taking care of the town, but also flipping to another world and trying to understand how everything is connected.  So we can enjoy thrills, horror, and fantasy, all in one, which is never too shabby.  King & Straub create a multitude of bizarre and complicated characters, they weave their intentions together so seamlessly, and we are given a book full of so much intensity that we find ourselves needing to take breaks to breathe quite often.  It’s gruesome, it’s magical, it’s cool in the best ways; Black House is a solid bit of Dark Tower lore and a strong novel all on its own.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Book Review – Dreamcatcher

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2001

Dreamcatcher is known as a very bad movie version of a King work, which is not uncommon, but it’s also known as a bad King work period, and that’s not typical at all.  Hell, even King knows that it’s no good; he told Rolling Stone that he didn’t like this book very much and that he was doped up on Oxy when he wrote it.  This was right after his accident, he was going through a rough time, so he can be forgiven, and he was hyper-focused on Dark Tower stuff as well, so that can be excused.  Doesn’t stop Dreamcatcher from kinda sucking though.

Four friends head to their yearly trip to hunt in the woods, though this year is a little different because the aging men are all dealing with their own life troubles, all falling apart just a little without each other and without the childhood companion who bonded them stronger than they ever thought was possible.  That odd connection to a special boy back home will perhaps be all that keeps the world from ending, as something disastrous happens near the cabin and threatens the entire Earth; alien bacteria with mind-control powers.  That’s right, and that’s not an easy thing to beat, so our heroes better think fast, remember the magic they all share, and work hard, because we’re all counting on them.

This is a bizarre book with an even stranger style and a cast of kooky characters; it’s pretty obvious that King wasn’t writing up to his potential.  He was also really working his Dark Tower magnum opus, including penning novels connected to it on the side; someone probably made him release this book just for the money.  It’s not that it’s all bad; the flashbacks are interesting, one character having his mind taken over but fighting that hostile action from the inside was fascinating.  But the alien plot points were a little silly, King is never at his best when he deals with aliens, it’s just maybe not quite his forte and doesn’t fit quite perfectly into his genre.  This is one that isn’t extremely necessary and won’t delight many; even King has troubles, and thankfully he ended up kicking the habit and getting himself healthy, which is what really matters.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


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Book Review – The Eye of the World

Category : Book Review

Author: Robert Jordan

Year: 1990

The Wheel of Time series is the strongest fantasy franchise ever written, with The Eye of the World being both its beginning and its best.  High praise for high fantasy, I know, and obviously all fantasy feeds off of Lord of the Rings, but Jordan’s world is the best you will find, the best up to Game of Thrones, and has the best characters you will ever meet in written word.  I love this series so much I named my son after one of the leads, and I don’t regret it for a second; unique names are awesome, I should know.  Welcome to something amazing, if this is your first time reading, and welcome back into the fold, if this is your thousandth.

The Wheel turns, the the Ages pass, the Great Serpent eats its own tail and it reborn; however you say it, time repeats itself, and heroes come again because they must.  In a long forgotten backwater in a realm that has moved on from its glory days, a hero is reborn, but who he is hasn’t been discovered quite yet.  All Moraine Sedai knows is that the Dark One seeks young men from a small village, three specific best friends born around the same time and innocent to their importance: Rand, Mat, Perrin.  When the forces of evil find them, Moraine and a small party head east toward Tar Valon, the city where the ancient Aes Sedai still wield the One Power and pull the strings of nations.  Along the way, the boys discover their destinies and the path of the world is defined, with the Last Battle looming in the mysterious distance.

Any summary simply can’t do this story justice, since this is only the beginning, only a way to set the pace & the path, our introduction to something wonderful.  And yet, Eye of the World is still a phenomenal opening act, and probably the best, simplest, cleanest action Jordan has to offer.  It’s both a way to become accustomed to the world and a way to meet its inhabitants: Rand, Mat, Perrin, Moraine, Lan, Egwene, Nynaeve, Thom, Loial, Min, Elayne, Gawyn.  Every piece, every person, every landmark has something to do with the greater picture, and that Jordan could introduce all these ingredients we don’t need yet and still produce a stunning plot is nothing short of genius.  Adventure around every corner, death stalking down the path, greatness waiting at the end; this is fantasy done fabulous.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 


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Book Review – Gathering Blue

Category : Book Review

Author: Lois Lowry

Year: 2000

Set in the same universe as The Giver, Gathering Blue is Lowry’s second book in the quartet, though The Giver is by far her most popular (and probably her best) in the series.  They are only loosely tied together, both taking place in a war-torn post-apocalypse that has moved on to new society, though in different ways.  It’s a cool story, one that takes its time developing, and rewards its readers with both appeasing answers and continuing mystery.  Gathering Blue might not be The Giver, but it has power all its own, as well as something to say.

Kira is an orphan with a talent, but her life is in jeopardy.  Her father died before she was yet born, her mother recently died of an illness, and now Kira is on her own, which could mean that the village will discard her as unneeded.  She doesn’t contribute much to the community on accord of a deformed leg, a defect that almost had her cast aside as a newborn.  But now, strangely enough, the opposite happens; she is given housing and a special task by the village council, because her mother taught her to weave at a young age.  It’s more than that though, Kira is a natural artist, and her threads seem to come to life under her fingers, creating beauty where once there were only random colors.  But her artistry, and that belonging to other young people, is being drained from her as she begins more mundane tasks for the village; is this part of a sinister plan or is this simply the price for survival?

Gathering Blue starts out intriguingly, slows way down, and then ends by tying up a lot of loose ends, most of which you could have seen coming if you were paying attention.  Or, since this book and its companions are aimed at younger audiences, if you’re an older reader; try to read with a mind toward your more impressionable days.  But even if the twists don’t surprise, there is still a ton to enjoy from this curious novel.  It’s part of The Giver very slightly, asks some similar questions, but takes s different angle; what if art wasn’t respected, what if it was used, what if artists only used their talents for specific purposes, not for their own enjoyment or our enlightenment?  It’s a fascinating read, introduces great characters (the third book actually focuses on one in particular), and is worth your time.  I read it to my daughter and we talked a lot about it along the way; I think that’s the way to do it, because I’m not sure how it would come across to an adult reading it on their own.  Either way, there is strength here, and Lowry knows her stuff.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Book Review – Bag of Bones

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1998

As I continue my foray into the remaining King books I have not yet read, I come to Bag of Bones, which is the definition of a King book for thriller fans, not a thrilling book for King fans.  It’s paperback, beach day, cheap rack fodder, a ghost story with chills for the masses, not a spectacular underlying commentary hidden within the folds of horror like so many of his (better) others.  Bag of Bones is an entertaining read, a book anyone can pick up, which makes me feel snobby and elitist because I see through that and I judge it (semi)harshly accordingly.

Mike Noonan is a moderately famous author, a perennial best seller, but not a world-changing author.  He lives comfortably with his wife, he has a summer home on the lake, his life is easy, and he doesn’t ask for more; pretty perfect.  Until, that is, the day his wife dies and his well of inspiration immediately dries up.  Now he can’t create, gets sick if he tries, and is suspiciously pulled to his lake house, where he can mysteriously form words again, but almost at the insistence of a ghost in the home who he feels is his late wife.  At the same time, a young woman & her daughter are in trouble, and their fate is somehow connected to his; to his writing, to his marriage, and to the spirits who haunt him & demand justice.

It’s a ghost story, and that’s just not my thing.  It’s King at his most cheap, his easiest to read, his placation to the public, and that’s just not something that I’m on board with.  I’m a super fan, I know better, and I know what he can do better; this ain’t it.  It’s still fun, it’s still entertaining, I liked pieces because, hey, the man’s a genius.  But I can’t say that Bag of Bones is one of his stronger novels, because it’s far from it.  What it does do well is paint an author from an author’s prospective, and that’s cool, and it summarizes middle age rather well too, the loneliness & the heartache.  But this simply isn’t an amazing book, if what you want from King is horror on the outside, metaphor within; Bag of Bones is more for the public than for the discerning.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


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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: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆