Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-First Book Review: “Horns” by Joe Hill

What would you do if one day you woke up and discovered you had grown horns? Not only that, but your horns had a strange psychic kind of power and influence over other people. You suddenly have the ability to hear the worst things people think. And you can push people with your horns to do the terrible things they want to do in the darkest parts of their minds, but normally would never actually go through with. That is the strange situation in “Horns” by Joe Hill.

Ig, our main character, wakes up the morning after drinking very heavily and pissing all over the memorial to his dead girlfriend with such horns. The girlfriend that everyone thinks he murdered. At first he is resistant to the idea of interacting with anyone and then he realizes that this newly discovered power could be the key to solving Merrin’s murder. Is it a gift? A curse? Or a bit of both? “It did no good to tell himself that it was all in his head if it went on happening anyway. His belief was not required; his disbelief was of no consequence. The horns were always there when he reached up to touch them. Even when he didn’t touch them, he was aware of the sore, sensitive tips sticking out into the cool riverside breeze. They had the convincing and literal solidity of bone.” (Horns, pg 24). I like the way that Ig starts to roll with the punches in this book.

Ig is an interesting character. He’s not exactly a good guy and it’s a little difficult to tell if that is who he always was or if Merrin’s murder is what really led to him becoming this bitter person. The addition of horns is more understandable the more we learn about what Ig has been through and how he views the world. I do enjoy the way Joe Hill writes. He is talented and his mind goes places that are intriguing to say the least. I enjoyed the way that we learn bits and pieces about the other people in Ig’s life. Mainly we get a peek at what Merrin was like and we learn about his unlikely friendship with Lee. Everyone it seems has a secret to hide. Hill certainly has a talent for developing disturbing characters with multiple layers. Just when you think you know what a character is about, they do something to surprise you.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, but yes. For those that can appreciate the dark humor that is prevalent in Joe Hill’s book would certainly enjoy “Horns”. It was a real page turner; I could not put it down. I look forward to reading whatever Hill comes up with next.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Thirty-Third Book Review: “Hearts in Atlantis” by Stephen King

“Hearts in Atlantis” by Stephen King was a weird book. Not that you would really expect anything less from Stephen King. The book was divided up into three parts. Each section was its own separate book with its own setting and a different main character. There were a few crossover characters, which was the only link between the different sections.

The first section of “Hearts in Atlantis” was my favorite. The main character Bobby makes friends with an older guy, Ted that takes him under his wing and also recruits him to keep an eye out for the “low men”. I loved their interactions with regards to reading and books. “There are also books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story, Bobby. Don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words – the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers that won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.” (Hearts in Atlantis, pg 28). I loved this advice personally; there is nothing more fun than branching out to read different types of books.

Bobby soaked up everything that Ted was willing to teach him and embraced him as a good friend, and although he did treasure their friendship he became selfish in his desire to keep Ted in his life. The “low men” were an interesting blend in my mind of the bad guys in “Insomnia” and “Tommyknockers” and Bobby ignored the signs as long as possible in an effort to keep Ted – his grownup friend – in his life. “What if there were no grownups? Suppose the whole idea of grownups was an illusion? What if their money was really just playground marbles, their business deals no more than baseball-card trades, their wars only games of guns in the park? What if they were all still snotty-nosed kids inside their suits and dresses? Christ, that couldn’t be, could it? It was too horrible to think about.” (Hearts in Atlantis, pg 153). I really liked this quote. I think it illustrates well Bobby growing up a little, and the frightening reality that comes with adulthood.

Would I recommend this book? To those that enjoy Stephen King yes, but this isn’t something I would recommend to first-time Stephen King readers. It was an entertaining book, but there were some rather graphic parts that may turn off other readers. I do think that the book starts off very strong and might have peaked a little early, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

 

Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Book Review: “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill was a creepy fucking book. I felt it was fitting to post this review on Halloween. It was creepy, but it was also really good. I am looking forward to reading more of Joe Hill’s work.

In “Heart-Shaped Box” the main character, Jude, has an unusual hobby of collecting the strange, and eerie. In his collection are pieces of art by a serial killer, a skull damaged by medieval brain surgery, various disturbing trinkets, and even a snuff film. As a semi-retired rock star, he even has a collection of girls that could easily be mistaken for vampires. “Jude collected them in almost exactly the same way the Pied Piper had collected rats, and children. He made melodies out of hate and perversion and pain, and they came to him, skipping to the music, hoping he would let them sing along.” (Heart-Shaped Box, pg 41). Jude finds his world turned upside down after he adds a dead man’s suit to his collection. The dead man came along with the suit – as advertised – and suddenly Jude is confronted with a very real horror in his home.

Jude was an interesting character. He was a dick and you kind of wanted to hate him, but at the same time, you want him to triumph over the terror that has come down on him and the girl of the season. His peculiarities, we learn, go way back to his childhood. “He liked the gloosh of it when he bit into it, the faintly corrupt, sticky-sweet sap, the rotten-soft texture of the cherry itself. He imagined he was helping himself to a chocolate-covered eyeball. Even in those days, Jude took pleasure in dreaming up the worst, reveled in gruesome possibilities.” (Heart-Shaped Box, pg 46). I loved this passage; the visualization that Joe Hill was able to create was impressive. I was reminded of a different author that tends to write horror novels as well – Stephen King. Who just so happens to be Joe Hill’s father. So it makes sense that he would have the ability to tell a story that makes you hold your breath while you’re reading. A book that you have to read with the lights on, yes I was impressed with Joe Hill’s writing.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, that’s for sure. But if you like to read scary stories, this is something you should definitely add to your list. I really enjoyed it and am already trying to get my hands on more of Joe Hill’s work. Just don’t read “Heart-Shaped Box” without some space in your freezer to hide the book.

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 One Hundred and Fourteenth Book Review: “Thinner” by Stephen King

It had to happen. I mean, it was inevitable. I’ve read a number of Stephen King novels, especially over the past year and I have enjoyed every one of them. Some of these were different degrees of enjoyment, but there was always an overall positive experience. It was bound to happen – I did not enjoy this book. Originally, “Thinner” was not published under Stephen King’s name. It was published under his pseudonym ‘Richard Bachman’ back in 1984. I wonder if he did this because he knew that it was not up to par with his other works. Maybe he didn’t feel that “Thinner” was good enjoy to be considered a Stephen King Novel. Or maybe it was just so that he could make a joke in the book about how ‘all this sounds like a Stephen King novel’. Really?

At this point, I am going to say if you have any desire to read the book, stop reading my review. It is going to contain a lot of spoilers.

What is “Thinner” about you ask? Well, let me tell you. In “Thinner” there is a man named Billy Halleck that is a morbidly obese lawyer. At the beginning of the book, he has just fought and won a case where he was charged with vehicular manslaughter. A woman walked out in the middle of the road while he was driving and he didn’t have time to stop. He hit and killed her. What actually happened was his wife, Heidi, was in the car with him and chose that moment to give him a handjob. He was distracted, and while he could have stopped, he didn’t react quickly enough. The woman who was killed was part of a band of traveling gypseys. As Billy exits the courthouse after getting off with a slap on the wrist, the father of the woman killed leans in close to Billy, strokes his cheek and whispers ‘thinner’. After that, Billy begins losing weight. It falls off rapidly and although he goes to the doctor with the thought that it might be cancer, the doctor cannot find the cause. Billy soon concludes that it is a gypsy curse that has caused this dramatic weight loss. This is further supported in Billy’s mind when the judge who let him off has his entire body covered in scales and the cop who let the charges against Billy be minimal came down with a horrific case of acne. Billy vows to find the gypsy who cursed him and make him take it off. His wife wants Billy to see some more doctors and eventually tries to commit him against his will. This not only causes Billy to turn against her, but his only child – Linda turns against her mom. He blames her in full for being the cause of the accident that got him in this mess in the first place. As she worries about him and his weight loss, he builds up a mountain of hate for her. When Billy finally catches up with the gypsy who cursed him and (with some help from a mob friend) is able to get him to ‘take it off’ Billy finds out it is the kind of thing that cannot be gotten rid of, but only transferred. So the gypsy makes a pie, uses some of Billy’s blood to ‘take it off’ and tells Billy he has to get someone else to eat the pie within a few days or the curse will revert back to him. Billy heads home with the pie with the intention of having Heidi eat it. He even takes the precaution of calling his daughter and telling her to not come home for a bit so that she isn’t around when this happens to her mom. The pie is brought into the house and Heidi is very excited by it – Strawberry pie is her favorite and she feels that the pie is a peace offering from Billy. He goes to bed and she stays up to have some pie. In the morning, Billy goes downstairs to discover two plates and two forks in the sink and discovers that his precious daughter, Linda, came home early to make up with her mom. They ate the pie together. So Billy decides to eat it as well to join his family in death.

I’m not sure where I hoped the story would end up, but I really did not enjoy it. Maybe it was the fact that Billy was able to so quickly turn against his wife. Turn against her to the point where he was willing to transfer his curse to her. Maybe it was the fact that he went through so much just to die from the curse anyway. Either way, I will not be recommending this book to anyone. It was rather disappointing.

Becky’s One Hundred and Twelfth Book Review: “No Reflection” by John Caliburn

“No Reflection” is a collection of short horror stories. The book is John Caliburn’s debut and I have to say, for a first book, it was pretty entertaining. The biggest downside I would say is that most of the stories left me wanting to read more and since they were short stories, there was no more. I liked the majority of the stories though and would definitely pick up something else Caliburn puts out. I’m going to do a short review on each story since there were only seven individual stories and a poem.

The first story is ‘No Reflection’ and I think was the story I liked the least. The main character works in a museum storage room and comes across a mysterious, ancient mirror called ‘The Mirror of Divination’. He is not a very likable character to begin with, he seems like a bum with no regard for anyone else. I am not sure if Caliburn made the character a jerk on purpose, but the whole time I was reading the story, I was hoping it would end the way that it did. So at least that worked out for me. I wouldn’t have led with this story in my collection personally.

The second story I found much more entertaining. It was called, ‘A Child’s Imagination’ and is nice and disturbing, which is how I like my horror stories. (Why do you think I read so much Stephen King?) This short story I could have read a lot more of if Caliburn had expanded it to a full novel. Owen, the main character, is the son of two individuals who own a restaurant that is failing. The really interesting thing about this story was how we were able to understand just how upsetting Owen’s parents troubles were to him. They upset him so much that he became rather twisted. Whenever he fell asleep, he would dream of a magical world where he was surrounded by various animals who were all his friend. Then Owen realized that his friends could all be ingredients for his parent’s restaurant. Pretty entertaining, although disturbing.

The third story was ‘Delusional’ and it is about a mental patient trying to explain to his doctor what had happened to his wife. Her death was the reason that he was institutionalized. The patient explained that he couldn’t go to sleep or the world would end. I found this whole concept to be rather interesting. It was also a different sort of take on a guy in a mental institue. I would have loved for this story to be expanded.

The next story was called ‘Rustling Sheets’ and I didn’t love it. A family moves into a home and the little boy is so excited to finally have his own room with bunk beds. That is until he realizes that he has something else in the room with him. It didn’t get much more exciting than that.

The next story was ‘The Magician’s Assistant’ and I really enjoyed it. The premise of the story is this woman is dating a magician and she is his assistant. Then she finds out that he has been unfaithful and decides to take revenge in the sickest way possible. I don’t think this story could really be expanded upon, although I would have loved to read more about it. One of the best stories in this collection by far.

The next story was ‘Fear of the Shadows’ which was very intriguing. It was a different sort of take on a child being afraid of his stepfather. In this story, the child is forced to chose between his fear of his stepfather and his fear of the dark. He knows that the dark hides theses frightening creatures that can hurt him, but then there is his stepfather who can hurt him as well. It was interesting to read and there was a fair amount of language that really engrossed my attention.

The last story was ‘Watery Grave’. The main character, Alan, just had a huge estate left to him by the aunt whom he killed. Shockingly, she came back to haunt him. Not a great story. I wouldn’t have ended with this personally.

The collection of short stories is concluded with ‘Closet’, a poem. It is short and sweet. I wouldn’t have minded reading some more poetry by Caliburn.

Overall, I think that the collection was very well done. I think that Caliburn has some real potential as an author and I look forward to seeing what he does next. Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, but I think most individuals who enjoy the occasional horror story would enjoy several of the short stories featured in “No Relfection”. There were definitely some disturbing parts of the stories, so they wouldn’t be for everyone.

Becky’s One Hundred and Thirteenth Book Review: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King

The long anticipated review of Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep” is here. I have to say, although I usually expect great things from Stephen King, I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing “Doctor Sleep” turned out to be. “The Shining” really is a classic, so there was all that extra pressure on King to produce something as amazing if not better in the sequel. In my humble opinion, he exceeded expectations.

If you haven’t read “The Shining”, there will be some spoilers so beware!

“Doctor Sleep” picks up shortly after “The Shining” left off. Danny is still a boy and he has found that despite the fact that the Overlook Hotel has been destroyed, some of its inhabitants have followed Danny down to Florida. He discovers this early one morning when he walks into his bathroom, “She was smiling the way you do when you see an old friend. Or, perhaps, something good to eat.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 5). Dick is contacted and he teaches Danny just how to ward off these unwanted visitors. The story then flashes forward.

Danny is now an adult and has followed in his father’s footsteps when it comes to drinking. It was a little upsetting seeing Danny – a sweet little boy who everyone cheered for in “The Shining” to be reduced to an alcoholic drinking away the pain. He goes by Dan now and his alcoholic mind is an interesting one to say the least. “Dan eyed it with morbid fascination, reflecting (not for the first time) that the hungover eye had a weird ability to find the ugliest things in any given landscape.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 41). I liked this quote because it was so true, and I really liked the way that Stephen King wrote this sentence. As an adult, Dan finds himself reflecting on his father and what was the reason that he drank. Dan drank because it made the shining a lot duller. “It was strange to feel sympathy for a man who had almost killed you, but the sympathy was there.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 68).

Dan finds himself wandering from town to town, working wherever he can find the work and moving on as he gets the urge. He really has struck rock bottom and although Dan seems to know that, he just doesn’t care. For the first part of the book, Dan goes from place to place just waiting to die it seems. His go-to place for work? Hospice care. That certainly says something. I’ve never been an alcoholic or an addict of any sort really, but there have been times when I felt I was at my lowest and I felt myself identifying a lot with Dan. There was this one quote that I really liked because it was insightful and true. “Drinking was undoubtedly a part of it, but when you were down, some guys just seemed to feel an urge to walk up your back and plant a foot on your neck instead of helping you to stand. It was lousy, but so much of human nature was. Of course when you were running with the bottom dogs, what you mostly saw were paws, claws, and assholes.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 68-69). I love this kind of raw humor and it can frequently be found in King’s works.

Around this point in the book, Dan gets to a new town and meets some people who are the complete opposites of the awful humans described above. He makes some friends and is dragged to his first AA meeting. This dramatically changes his life. As he is getting sober, Dan makes a friend in the oddest way. A girl, Abra Stone, is born with the shining and they communicate via a blackboard in his bedroom. This unexpected friendship is another thing that will dramatically change Dan’s life.

While all of this is going on, the reader is also learning about the bad guys in the book. There is a group of individuals who are similar in a lot of ways with vampires, they call themselves The True Knot. They are nearly immortal and they survive by sucking the life out of children with the shining. We read about the terrible things that this group does and soon they come to the attention of Abra and Dan. They soon realize that if they don’t stop The True Knot, then Abra will become their next target. The book only gets better from there. One last quote that I just thought amusing and wanted to include, “Perhaps kids really did come into the world trailing clouds of glory, as Wordsworth had so confidently proclaimed, but they also shit in their pants until they learned better.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 123)

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely! I think that any Stephen King fan would enjoy reading “Doctor Sleep”. I also think that even if horror isn’t your favorite genre to read, you might enjoy reading “Doctor Sleep”. It was very well done and I am glad that Stephen King took the risk to write a sequel. It would be amazing if he continued the series following Abra next. I’m already dying to read it again.