Becky’s One Hundred and Thirty-Seventh Book Review: “Joyland” by Stephen King

I am always excited when I pick up a new Stephen King novel. I believe he is very talented and while there are occasional novels that flop, I keep going back for more. “Joyland” is definitely one of his shorter novels. That is part of the reason that I picked it up, I just wanted something I could get through quickly and enjoy. I’ve been reading a lot of heavier things lately and wanted something easy to digest. That being said, I was a little disappointed when it was over. Then again, isn’t that the mark of a good book? It leaves you wanting more?

“Joyland” focuses around Devin Jones, known to his friends as Dev or Jonesy, a college student who takes a summer job at a theme park called Joyland. He comes into the amusement park and starts to learn the ropes and the Talk. Once there, he learns about the rumor that a girl haunts one of the rides – a girl who went on the ride one day with her boyfriend and never came out. He slit her throat, dumped her body over the side, and walked away. Dev develops an obsession with the idea of seeing the girl. Throughout the novel he is trying to get over his first love, which may be part of the reason that he forms such an attachment to the girl haunting the ride.

Although this is a Stephen King novel where the premise seems to revolve around murder and revenge, the truth is that this novel is more so about a boy growing up. “When you’re twenty-one, life is a roadmap. It’s only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure. By the time you’re sixty, take it from me, you’re fucking lost.” (Joyland, pg 26). Dev learns more than how to repair games and keep a park clean and functioning when working at Joyland. He learns a whole new outlook on life. He learns the pride of wearing the fur – a reference to the mascot of Joyland (a dog) that different employees dress up as on a rotating basis. Dev also learns that sometimes life works in mysterious ways. He has a few people come into his life who make a big difference. It goes both ways. He helps out a few people in his time at Joyland and it works out for the best. Dev is a good guy with a broken heart and a fascination with a dead girl.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think anyone who has a taste for a mystery would enjoy this book. Although Stephen King wrote it, it doesn’t have as much of the gore and horror that one comes to expect from him. His addictive writing style is still there and you can clearly hear his voice through the character of Devin Jones, which just reiterates the fact that Stephen King was the author here. I believe that this book, as I believe was the fact with “11/22/63” would be a good book to hand to someone who isn’t a huge fan of Stephen King. It’s like diet King. The book was quite enjoyable and I wish it were lengthier because I would love to have stayed in the Joyland world just a little while longer. Either way, “Joyland” was enjoyable and I believe it would appeal to a wide audience.



Becky’s Ninety-Fifth Book Review: “Under the Dome” by Stephen King

Any Stephen King fan will tell you that some of his works are better than others. This is true of any author and especially true of an author with more than fifty worldwide bestsellers. I never read Stephen King when I was younger, I didn’t think I would enjoy his writing. On the one hand, I’m frustrated with myself for taking so long to discover how amazing Stephen King’s writing can be and on the other hand — because I waited so long, I never have to wait for a new novel to come out. There are still so many of his books that I haven’t read. At the moment, it is a blessing. There are various reason that I will decide to read one book over another, the reason that “Under the Dome” got moved to the top of the ‘to-read’ pile is because of it becoming a miniseries.

It took me less than a week to read “Under the Dome”. It was lucky for me that I started the book towards the end of the week. It may have been 1074 pgs, but I could not put the book down. One of the quotes on the back cover of the book states, “Stephen King ‘Returns to his Glory Days of The Stand’ (New York Daily News) with his new #1 bestselling epic”. This is an extremely accurate assessment in my opinion. I read “The Stand” for the first time not all that long ago, but I could tell while reading it that it was definitely one of Stephen King’s better works. I had the same feeling while reading “Under the Dome”.

One of the things that Stephen King does well is write about small towns. In “Under the Dome” the story focuses on Chester’s Mill, Maine where one fall day the entire town is sealed off from the rest of the world. It happens so suddenly that a groundhog is severed, birds crash into the invisible wall along with cars, people lose appendages, a plane crashes…no one knows what is going on but people understand enough to start panicking. And panic they do. A very short period of time passes — just a few days — and people start killing themselves. The milk hasn’t even gone bad yet and there are those who have already given up hope. Those living under the dome fall very quickly into a completely different world. Some people step up as heroes. Some as villains.

At the beginning of “Under the Dome” there is a map and a list of some of (but not all) the people trapped inside on what would become known as ‘dome day’. Many become key, but those worth mentioning now are Jim Rennie or “Big Jim”, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, Rose Twitchell, Junior Rennie, Reverend Lester Coggins, Reverend Piper Libby, Rusty Everett, Joe McClatchey, Brenda Perkins, Julia Shumway and there are three ‘dogs of note’ Horace, Clover, and Audrey. I mention the dogs because I love dogs and they do play important roles in the book. The two main characters would be Big Jim Rennie and Dale “Barbie” Barbara. Big Jim is the town’s second selectman and the one pulling the strings in the background on all sorts of shady things going on in this small town. Barbie is new to the town and was on his way out when the dome closed  and trapped him inside it. Part of the reason that Barbie was leaving town was because Big Jim had it out for him. Once the dome closes, Big Jim sees this as the perfect opportunity to take the small town he already mostly runs and turn it into a police state where all the cops are kids that he approved and the rules are whatever he decides to make them. The electric might be out because of the sudden appearance of the dome, but there is plenty propane in the town to tide them over. The only trouble is that almost all the propane has been ‘borrowed’ (after all, meth doesn’t cook itself) and so places that really need the power, like the hospital, are forced to work without. In just a few short days the small town transforms from one where you could leave your door unlocked to one where you no longer had constitutional rights and orders that came directly from the oval office weren’t obeyed. There were those inside the dome and those outside the dome.

Part of what made reading “Under the Dome” so addictive is the fact that what Stephen King writes holds an element of truth to it. I doubt very much that a ‘dome’ situation would arise in the near future, but the fact of the matter is that there are those who see a tragedy as an opportunity. There always have been and always will be. Just think about those who saw WWII and the holocaust as an opportunity to get rich quick. So “Under the Dome” has that element of truth to it that just makes a person stop and think and wonder. What would I be like if I was trapped in a situation like that? Would I be the hero? Would I be the villain? Would I be the girl standing around and screaming for help that wouldn’t come? It makes a person think. That is one of the things that I really like about Stephen King’s novels. Yes, they are fiction, but they hold a certain amount of truth to them that just makes reading them all the more addictive.

Would I recommend “Under the Dome”? Most definitely–especially to those die-hard Stephen King fans. I don’t think that those who stay away from reading Stephen King most of the time would like this book as much as I think they would like “11/22/63”. But his novel does bring up some interesting questions. Excellent read. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me hold my breath in anticipation. “Under the Dome” is a must-read for Stephen King fans everywhere. I cannot wait for my little brother to read it so we can talk about it!!

Becky’s Ninety-Second Book Review: “11/22/63” by Stephen King

If you could go back in time, would you? The even bigger question is, if you could change the past, would you? This is a question that Jake Epping is asked by a friend, Al Templeton when Al summons Jake to his diner after school lets out for the summer. Jake the English teacher soon realizes that Al is serious, he believes that there is a ‘rabbit hole’ in the back of his diner that will take Jake into the past–to September 9th, 1958 to be exact. Al is dying and therefore eager to convince Jake that the rabbit hole exists. Jake makes a skeptical journey, buys a root beer, and comes back still not quite believing that he traveled back to 1958. No matter how long a person is in the rabbit hole, when they return to the present only two minutes has passed.

Al charges Jake with a mission–go back to 1958 and prevent the assassination of JFK. Al goes on to sell the idea to Jake explaining how if JFK never died, then so many other events wouldn’t have happened. “Oh, I’m talking about a lot more than that, because this ain’t some butterfly in China, buddy. I’m also talking about saving RFK’s life, because if John lives in Dallas, Robert probably does run for president in 1968. The country wouldn’t have been ready to replace one Kennedy with another.” “You don’t know that for sure.” “No, but listen. Do you think that if you save John Kennedy’s life, his brother Robert is still at the Ambassador Hotel at twelve-fifteen in the morning on June fifth, 1968? And even if he is, is Sirhan Sirhan still working in the kitchen?…Or what about Martin Luther King? Is he still in Memphis in April of ’68? even if he is, is he still standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel at exactly the right time for James Earl Ray to shoot him?…And if MLK lives, the race riots that followed his death don’t happen. Maybe Fred Hampton does get shot in Chicago…For that matter, maybe there’s no Symbionese Liberation Army. No SLA, no Patty Hearst kidnapping. No Patty Hearst kidnapping, a small but maybe significant reduction in black fear among middle-class whites.” (11/22/63, pg 61-62). Al doesn’t see a downside and is able to talk Jake into going back to 1958 once again.

I have always enjoyed reading Stephen King’s novels and I typically read them very quickly. “11/22/63” was no different, I devoured the book, all 849 pages. I was hooked from the very beginning. I have wanted to read this book for awhile and went through two Christmases without being given it as a gift. So I decided to buy it. It was an awesome decision. “11/22/63” was quite a page turner.

Jake was provided several key items from Al including a drivers’ license from 1958 with a new identity. Jake went down the rabbit hole and became George Amberson. He then went on quite a journey. Jake/George was interested in whether or not he really could make the changes that Al thought were worthwhile so he went on a mini-mission to discover if he could save a whole family from being murdered. This is an event that occurred in Derry, Maine which any Stephen King fan would recognize as the setting for the book “It”. Two main characters from “It” make an appearance in “11/22/63”, Beverly and Richie. I love when Stephen King intertwines the different fictional worlds that he writes about. He does it quite a lot but it is usually rather subtle. Only the most devoted Stephen King fans are likely to notice all the similarities.

I really enjoyed reading a book written in this perspective. You had a character who was alive in 2011 and then got to go back in time to 1958. He recognizes all the differences between the two worlds and they are seemingly different worlds. The food is less artificial, the air is different, people talk differently…for the first part of the book Jake/George is talking about all the wonderful experiences he is having in 1958. He paints it as an ideal world and it isn’t until he stops and asks to use the bathroom that he notices a sign and realizes not all was well and good in 1958. There is a bathroom for ‘whites only’ and then a sign that says ‘colors’. Jake/George followed the sign to see where it led and there was a board across a creek. So if a guy needed to use the bathroom and didn’t fall into the ‘white only’ category, he had the option of peeing into a creek or if he had to do more than that, he could sit on a board and take care of business. Growing up in my generation, I never really saw anything like that. I was born in 1987 and it truly was a different world from that that Jake/George describes when he is in 1958. It’s not all sunshine and roses.

Jake/George paints a very interesting picture of 1958. Since the mission that Al has sent him on will not happen until 1963, he has to wait. In order to fill the time, Jake/George decides to get another teaching job after obtaining a bootleg degree. It is when Jake/George is teaching that he really starts to make a difference in so many lives. At this point, Jake/George is no longer worried about the butterfly effect since he is planning on making such a major change by saving JFK. While he is teaching in Jodie (a small town that feels so much like home to Jake/George), he meets a woman–Sadie. Soon his story is not so much focused on saving JFK and changing the world, but on being with Sadie.

I found the entire book to be very entertaining. When Jake/George was trying to decide what changes he could make without upsetting the overall balance of the world and when Jake/George is focused more on the small things in life, like his life in Jodie and his relationship with Sadie. “11/22/63” is very well written. I would highly recommend it to most people. Even those who don’t usually gravitate towards Stephen King would probably enjoy this book. There is not nearly as much horror as in his other books and it makes it more accessible and a great read.