Becky’s One Hundred and Sixth Book Review: “The Shining” by Stephen King

“The Shining” is a classic and it deserves all the credit that it gets. Stephen King himself believes that he was able to take Jack Torrance to a whole new level of frightening because he was so real. The alcoholic who was raised by an alcoholic – a loving father and husband one minute and an abusive bastard the next. This was not the first time that I have read “The Shining” but with the sequel coming out (September 27) I wanted to recapture and relive the horror.

It’s hard to say what it is that makes “The Shining” so frightening. There are many aspects of the book that help build up suspense. You have the flashbacks to Jack’s drinking days, both from his perspective and Wendy’s. Then Wendy frequently turns her mind to the Donner party when she thinks of them snowed in at the hotel. In addition to both adults having paranoid moments, Danny has Tony warning him before they even get to the hotel.

Danny’s dis-trustfulness about the Overlook hotel is obvious to any adult willing to look at him long enough. Dick Halloran tries to get Danny to go to Florida with him in a joking manner, but at the same time he is serious. Dick is the one who explains to Danny what ‘the shining’ is and he also gives him some warnings about the hotel. Dick tells Danny to stay away from room 217. He also gives Danny the advice to close his eyes when he sees something scary and it should go away. Wendy also at one point asks Danny if he wants to go stay someplace else for the winter. There are so many warnings in the beginning, but the Torrance family is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jack needs the job at the Overlook and the only other option Wendy has for a place to live would be with her mother. Something that leaves an awful taste in her mouth. Not to mention Danny expressing his extreme unhappiness at the thought.

Their stay starts out uneventful enough and Wendy thinks that this is just what the family needed. A fresh start away from everyone else. A place for Jack to work on his play. Danny is learning how to read and is desperate to do so. Wendy thinks this is because he wants to win his father’s approval and while that is part of it, he also is desperate to know what some of the signs are that Tony shows him sometimes. Most of all, Danny wants to know what Redrum is, even though he is very afraid of it.

Stephen King is a masterful storyteller. He is able to take truth and fiction and weave it all together to make a terrifying story. “The Shining” is a wonderful book and a must-read for any fan of the thriller/horror genre. 

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Becky’s One Hundred and Third Book Review: “Insomnia” by Stephen King

“Insomnia” by Stephen King was like an acid trip. Ok, to be fair, I’ve never actually done acid or any hallucinogenic drugs…but I do believe that what he wrote about in “Insomnia” can most closely be described as that. Pretty crazy.

Stephen King’s “Insomnia” is set in a small town in Maine where a man named Ralph lives. In the beginning of the book, Ralph is in the process of saying goodbye to his wife. She is dying from brain cancer and rather quickly, forgetting who he is and who she is. It was very sad to read about him losing the woman he had been with for most of his life. Soon after Carolyn’s death, Ralph begins losing sleep. It starts out small enough, he begins getting up just a little earlier every day. Then he is missing hours of sleep. Soon he is lucky if he gets three or four hours a night. Not long after, Ralph starts to see things. Everyone and their mothers are offering Ralph advice as to how to solve his insomnia. He tries all sorts of things including drinking a shot or two of whiskey before bed as well as eating honeycomb. (Which I now really want to try). Nothing works and Ralph is still not getting any rest.

The way that Stephen King describes what Ralph begins to see is what really made me think to compare “Insomnia” to hallucinogenic drugs. Ralph is seeing what most people would call an aura. But it isn’t just people who have auras. Buildings, plants, furniture, food…everything has an aura. One that stood out for me was when he saw the aura of some flowers in a vase. The color coming off of them was a misty green and Ralph could feel the flowers dying. That was what it was like for him with pretty much everything. He would see the colors and feel the emotions. I really liked this aspect of the book. Stephen King was able to stretch his writing, at least in my opinion, to include the different ‘colors’ that different emotions would be linked to. It was quite different from what you would normally expect from him.

As I say that, I feel compelled to mention that yes, there is horror in this story as well. It really wouldn’t be a Stephen King novel if it wasn’t at least a little. One of the things that Ralph is seeing once he is sleeping less and less are these black clouds or ‘death bags’ as he comes to call them. The presence of one means something bad is coming, the larger the death bag, the greater the trauma will be. (The death bags really reminded me of the creatures that Odd Thomas sees when something evil is coming. Some of Dean Koontz’s best works in my opinion).

Some of these things are explained to him by ‘the doctors’. There are three all together, and they cannot be seen by ordinary people but only by Ralph. The three ‘doctors’ are compared to the three sisters in Greek mythology — the ones who cut the thread of life. Essentially, that is what these guys do. It was really interesting to read King’s interpretation on a Greek myth. Two of the doctors could be categorized as ‘good’ and then the third can be described as a messenger of chaos.

Would I recommend “Insomnia” by Stephen King? Yes – but it isn’t for everyone. I think most die-hard Stephen King fans would enjoy it but it certainly isn’t something that I would go raving about to those who do not read his books most of the time. It was a very entertaining read, but not his best work ever.                                   

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.     

Becky’s Eighty-Second Book Review: “Firestarter” by Stephen King

Over the weekend I finished reading “Firestarter” by Stephen King and I have to say, I think this may possibly be the most frightening book of his that I have read. Let me explain.

“Firestarter” is about a little girl named Charlie who can start fires with her mind. It is an ability that she was born with because both of her parents participated in a science experiment in college. Each parent unlocked their own psychic abilities after the experiment. This science experiment was all done under the supervision of a division of the government called ‘the shop’. When they realized what they had with Charlie and her parents they wanted to pick it apart and study it. This is what I really found frightening, the lengths that these government characters go to in order to obtain this family. Because you just know that the way that Stephen King portrays the government is not only his opinion, but a fairly accurate representation of just how out of control things can get. There are too many government officials who wave their badges and believe that gives them absolute authority.

While the shop is pursuing Charlie and her family they realize that they have something more powerful than they can handle. Part of the problem is that different characters react to this differently. An example of this is, “…an old man who had once opened Pandora’s box and now wanted to shoot all of the things that had flown out instead of putting them to work.” (Firestarter, pg 81). Some characters recognized the danger while others chose to see things differently. Another good quote that represents this is, “It is your great failing. You look, you see a monster. Only in the girl’s case, you see a useful monster. Perhaps that is because you are a white man. White men see monsters everywhere.” (Firestarter, pg 196). Very true.

While Charlie was the main goal of the shop, her father also seemed promising to them. He is the one telling the story for most of the beginning. He is a very solidly built character and I like what Stephen King does with him. He makes this guy very easy to relate to and often he says (or thinks) very insightful things. “It was all in the past; none of it could be changed; it was time to stop thinking about it. A neat trick if you could do it.” (Firestarter, pg 171). This particular statement jumped out at me because it is something I have been struggling with personally—letting go of the past. Much more easily said than done.

One thing that Stephen King often does in his novels is that he has several people tell the story. This is a great technique in my opinion because it gives the reader a chance to know the minds of all the characters, not just the protagonist. This also allows for King to slip in some foreshadowing in the book. “A third part was remembering a Chinese curse, a curse that sounded deceptively pleasant until you sat down and really though about it. May you live in interesting times. For the last year and a half he had lived in extremely interesting times. He felt that just one more interesting thing would drive him totally insane.” (Firestarter, pg 195). I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that the character was not far off base.

Would I recommend this book? Yes—to a certain crowd. I don’t think those who dislike horror books would find anything that King has written to be very appealing. But for those die hard Stephen King fans, this is a must-read. It would even be a good introduction to Stephen King book for someone who hasn’t picked up his work before. 

Becky’s Seventy-Sixth Book Review: “Carrie” by Stephen King

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE CARRIE MOVIE AND/OR READ CARRIE AND ARE PLANNING ON IT (and don’t want everything spoiled…)

I can’t believe it has taken me so long to make a new post! Already twelve days into the month and I’ve only finished one book! As I finished spooning my New England Clam Chowder into my mouth I also finished reading “Carrie” by Stephen King.

This is actually not the first time that I’ve read this book, but since I didn’t write a review last time I thought, why not? Plus with the new movie coming out soonish I thought it might be of interest to other people too.

There is a reason that Carrie is a classic. That so many of the lines from the novel and/or movie are well known to those who haven’t even read or watched Carrie. At the very basic level, Carrie is about a girl who is picked on her whole life until she finally snaps. The difference being that she has the useful and deadly ability to move things with her mind. If you want to go deeper into the novel, I think on some level people can connect with Carrie as a character. She is this friendless outcast that is always the butt of jokes. I believe that at one time or another, everyone has felt like an outcast. I guess I don’t really know what it is like for those in the popular crowd since I never fell into that category…but I was by no means friendless as a child and still felt that way sometimes.

In a strange way, I found myself cheering for Carrie. I knew how everything would turn out, having seen the movie multiple times and having read the book once before. Nevertheless I saw Carrie grow stronger the further I progressed into the book and looking forward to the inevitable carnage. Maybe it was partly because I connected so much with her and the pain that she was surrounded with. Maybe it was because I can just be morbid. Either way, I devoured Stephen King’s “Carrie” quickly.

Part of the delay in writing a review before this is because I have been reading several books this month. One I’m struggling with, so I think I may take a break and pick it up in a little while. The other two are my two favorite books “Jane Eyre” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” which I’ve never read at the same time before. I didn’t even do so intentionally now, but I am finding many parallels between the two main characters which is making me realize more and more why these are my favorite books. More reviews to come.

Would I recommend “Carrie” by Stephen King? Yes, the book is excellent. It is also on the shorter side, so it is a great book for those of you that cannot commit to extremely long novels, such as “The Stand” which was around 1500 pages. “Carrie” is only 290 pages, which to me is short.

I want to make a quick mention about the movie as well. The original movie that is the most well known came out in 1976 and did a pretty good job for the time. I did not like the fact that the total destruction of the town was altered to only include the fire at the high school, the car accident that killed Chris and Billy (the couple responsible for the buckets of blood), and the death of Carrie’s mother. She died differently in the book, but I think the movie did well with what they included.

When checking the dates of the movies I found out that there was a TV movie that came out in 2002. In 1999 a sequel of sorts came out, The Rage: Carrie 2. In it the main character has the same father as the original Carrie did but instead of destroying a high school, it’s a house where there is a party in full swing. I thought it was entertaining and have seen it a few times personally.

I am very excited to see the new movie which is scheduled to come out in October 2013. So I have to be patient for a few months, but from the small preview that I’ve been able to find on youtube, it looks like they may have adapted the movie to follow the book almost to a t. I think that is great and can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Becky’s Seventy-First Book Review: “Dreamcatcher” by Stephen King

Yesterday I finished reading “Dreamcatcher” by Stephen King. This is one of the few times where I’ve seen the movie before reading the book. I haven’t seen the movie for awhile and it is definitely on my list of movies to watch in the near future.

“Dreamcatcher” is yet another example of Stephen King’s exceptional writing abilities. This novel is about a group of friends who one day stand up against a couple of bullies and change their lives. The group consists of Henry, ‘Jonesy’, Beaver, and Pete. These boys walk in on a boy from the ‘retard academy’ being tortured by three popular boys and they stand up to the bullies even though the other boys are bigger and stronger. In this simple act of compassion, they end up befriending a boy who will change their lives forever—Duddits. The story is told in a combination of past events of the boys’ interactions with Duddits and present events where aliens are invading the town where the boys go hunting together every year. I refer to them as boys, but in the present tense when aliens are attacking they are grown men with families of their own.

When the boys saved Duddits from being tortured by bullies they never realized just how much they would be changed. But it is because of Duddits that Henry, Jonesy, Beaver, and Pete are equipped with the ability to fight the aliens better than anyone else. Throughout the novel the reader learns just how special this group of boys became when they met Duddits and he became part of their lives.

The movie is one of my boyfriend’s favorites and so he was eager to hear my review of the book. He was especially curious as to whether or not there was more detail about the reason behind the title of the book/movie. As mentioned before, it has been a long while since I have seen the movie, so I cannot remember everything that was in it. But “Dreamcatcher” was not the original title for the book. It wasn’t until Stephen King’s wife stepped in and pointed out the downsides to naming the book ‘Cancer’ that he came up with an alternative. While there are physical dreamcatchers in the book/movie, the overall symbolism of a dreamcatcher connecting this group of friends is really why the title is what it is. Furthermore, Duddits is the dreamcatcher in the group—it is through him that all the boys are connected.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I found “Dreamcatcher” to be an exciting read and even though I sort of knew the ending because I had seen the movie before I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. Once again, Stephen King wound together a story full of strange events and special people to put together a real page-turner.