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The Dark Half

I read 11 Stephen King books this year, and only one The Shining was a reread. His newest, If It Bleeds, was on the list, of course. But I also made it through The Regulators, The Talisman, Joyland, Black House, Doctor Sleep, Night Shift, Cycle of the Werewolf, and Blockade Billy. My goal is to read them all, and I’m certainly getting close. The Dark Half is one that I’ve never really heard much about one way or the other. I went into it knowing nothing about the plot.

At the beginning of the book, young Thad Beaumont gets headaches. His doctors soon determine he has a brain tumor, but when they open him up, they discover that it is actually part of another human- an eye, some teeth, etc. Apparently, when Thad was in utero, he had a twin that he absorbed. This occurrence is common and nothing ever comes of it. But in Thad’s case, some of the twin’s cells attached to Thad’s developing brain, which later had to be removed.

Fun fact: When I was pregnant with my first, we discovered the same thing. He was a twin, but the other sac was empty, so he ultimately absorbed it. We thought this idea was so funny that we bought him a onesie to celebrate. Let’s hope he doesn’t follow Thad’s path!

Thad grows up to be a writer under his own name and as the pseudonym of George Stark. My guess is that King got this idea as he abandoned his Richard Bachman alter ego. Like Bachman, Stark’s books are violent, graphic, and disturbing. In a silly photo shoot for a magazine, Thad and his wife “kill off” Stark with a mock grave, coming clean about the pseudonym.

Let the games begin. Someone is killing off people who are close to Thad’s career. He claims to be Stark, but how is that possible? When Thad’s fingerprints turn up at a crime scene, the plot goes into overdrive. I can’t say this is King’s greatest book, but I did like it, and the ending was satisfying and well thought out.

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The Regulators

Ages ago, I read Desperation by Stephen King. I remember it was about the desert and didn’t much like it. I have memories of reading it over the summer while floating around the pool, which might have been better than the book itself. I have also been listening to the Kingcast podcast, where “each episode would focus on a different Stephen King short story or novel and its resulting adaptation. Each episode’s special guest would get to decide which Stephen King adaptation we talked about.” This podcast is hosted by two King junkies who clearly know their stuff.

And in a recent episode, one of them mentioned that The Regulators was the same-ish story of Desperation, but written by Richard Bachman instead of SK. Bachman is SK’s pseudonym he created to publish more books. Back in the day, authors couldn’t publish more than one, maybe two books a year. So King created Bachman to get more books on the market. It was also a test to see if Bachman’s books would be received well without having the King name attached. Bachman’s books are notoriously more violent than King’s books, also.

From Goodreads: There’s a place in Wentworth, Ohio, where summer is in full swing. It’s called Poplar Street. Up until now it’s been a nice place to live. The idling red van around the corner is about to change all that. Let the battle against evil begin. Here come…The Regulators

The entire book, flashbacks aside, takes place in just a couple of hours. Poplar Street is under attack. As the story unfolds, you learn about the neighbors and why this attack is happening. In true King fashion, nothing about the attack is normal. Supernatural events are at play.

I’ve only read a couple of Bachman books, The Long Walk (which I loved) and Rage. My goal to read all of King’s works will include all the Bachman books, of course. I can attest to the fact that this one was really graphic, and the ending, man, Bachman did not mess around. This book was a great one.

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Black House

As I’m making my way through SK’s back catalog, I learned that this one was a sequel to The Talisman, so I had to make sure and read them both this year. King doesn’t write many sequels, so revisiting old friends is fun. He has some series like The Dark Tower and Mr. Mercedes. And, of course, Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining. However, any student of his work knows that his books exist in a multiverse. Books crossover in seemingly odd ways. For example, there’s a tiny reference to The Stand in one of the Dark Tower books. Characters appear in other books, references to one book will be in another book. It’s like his own version of Easter eggs. This book is another example of that, although it’s not hidden at all. The connection is overt, and I loved it.

From Goodreads: Twenty years ago, a boy named Jack Sawyer travelled to a parallel universe called The Territories to save his mother and her Territories “twinner” from a premature and agonizing death that would have brought cataclysm to the other world. Now Jack is a retired Los Angeles homicide detective living in the nearly nonexistent hamlet of Tamarack, WI. He has no recollection of his adventures in the Territories and was compelled to leave the police force when an odd, happenstance event threatened to awaken those memories.

When a series of gruesome murders occur in western Wisconsin that are reminiscent of those committed several decades earlier by a real-life madman named Albert Fish, the killer is dubbed “The Fisherman” and Jack’s buddy, the local chief of police, begs Jack to help his inexperienced force find him. But is this merely the work of a disturbed individual, or has a mysterious and malignant force been unleashed in this quiet town? What causes Jack’s inexplicable waking dreams, if that is what they are, of robins’ eggs and red feathers? It’s almost as if someone is trying to tell him something. As that message becomes increasingly impossible to ignore, Jack is drawn back to the Territories and to his own hidden past, where he may find the soul-strength to enter a terrifying house at the end of a deserted track of forest, there to encounter the obscene and ferocious evils sheltered within it.

I liked The Talisman, but I didn’t love it. Jack was a great character, but the secondary characters annoyed me. This book, however, was fantastic. The secondary characters were even better than Jack (who was still great). The plot moved quickly, and I didn’t have to force myself to pick the book up, like I did with The Talisman. This book is set in the Dark Tower world. Jack’s regular world is ours, but when he travels to The Territories, it’s really mid-world. Roland and his ka-tet, The Crimson King, and the tower and beams are all mentioned. I looked at the publication of this book and it was after Wizard and Glass (book 4) but before the rest of the series. I imagine when it came out, Dark Tower fans were beside themselves with joy at seeing the references, showing them that SK hadn’t forgotten the series and would be returning to it. You really do need to read The Talisman first, but it’s worth it to get to this gem.

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The Talisman

For anyone new to my reviews, I’m a huge Stephen King. I own all his books in hardback and am currently working my way through his catalog. This year, I’ve read Joyland, If It Bleeds, The Shining, Doctor Sleep, Night Shift, Cycle of the Werewolf, and Blockade Billy. I still have a few on the list to read in the next few months, as well.

From Goodreads:

On a brisk autumn day, a twelve-year-old boy stands on the shores of the gray Atlantic, near a silent amusement park and a fading ocean resort called the Alhambra. The past has driven Jack Sawyer here: his father is gone, his mother is dying, and the world no longer makes sense. But for Jack everything is about to change. For he has been chosen to make a journey back across America–and into another realm.

One of the most influential and heralded works of fantasy ever written, The Talisman is an extraordinary novel of loyalty, awakening, terror, and mystery. Jack Sawyer, on a desperate quest to save his mother’s life, must search for a prize across an epic landscape of innocents and monsters, of incredible dangers and even more incredible truths. The prize is essential, but the journey means even more. Let the quest begin. . . .

The Talisman is one of the few books King co-wrote, this one with the amazing Peter Straub, who also writes horror books. (Ghost Story is a great one of his). The main character, Jack, is excellent. Even though he’s only twelve, he’s brave and hard-working and smart. That said, the secondary characters annoyed me to no end. They were such a distraction to the main story. The villain wasn’t really all that scary. There were other minor villains that were much worse, and Jack finds himself in some difficult situations that seem to last forever while reading.

I always wonder if I love SK’s books because they are legitimately good or because he wrote them. Can I be objective or do I just think all his books are amazing. Well, we have an answer. This one was just okay for me. I didn’t LOVE it like I have most of his other books. I know there are plenty in the past that I read and just found mediocre, but as of late, most everything has been excellent. And even though I enjoyed this one, I didn’t give it five stars because it seemed to drag for me in a lot of ways.

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Night Shift

The cover of this book haunted my childhood. My dad had this paperback on his bookshelf. And when I was just an early reader, I would love to look at the covers of his books. I don’t remember any of them, except this. I hated it because it was so creepy. As vivid as the cover is, I had entirely forgotten which book it was until I actually started reading this one. And when I read the short story about a man with eyeballs on his hand, the memory came rushing back. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that this cover no longer haunts me. I can look at it with no ill effects.

I love individual short stories, but short story collections just aren’t my thing. I much prefer a novel. But I’ve been working my way through all SK’s books and picked this one up. It’s his first collection, published in 1978, and reading it was a blast to the past. These stories are very similar to his early novels in writing style. You also get a glimpse into the SK multi-verse.

“Night Surf” is tangentially related to The Stand. “Jerusalem’s Lot” and “One for the Road” revisit ‘Salem’s Lot. The famous “Children of the Corn” is introduced here, as is “The Lawnmower Man” (which is 99% different than the movie). Every one of these stories was excellent, which is rare for me to acknowledge. Usually there’s a hit or a miss in there somewhere, but I enjoyed them all. If you’re looking to get into SK but aren’t ready to tackle a novel yet, I highly recommend this collection.

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Joyland

I’ve been working my way through Stephen King’s back catalog. At this point, I’ve read 43 of his 50 novels, counting this one. I’m trying to read at least 4 more this year, as well. I’m way behind on his short story collections, though. Maybe next year that will be my goal. This short book was one that I’ve never heard much buzz about. His long books, ones turned into movies, and his old classics are ones that frequently are read and reviewed. But this one is highly underrated. I absolutely loved it.

Set in the summer of 1973 at a small amusement park named Joyland, Devin is spending his summer break from college trying to earn a few bucks. He’s a hard worker, great with kids, and is enjoying his time near the beach. A fortune teller warns him of some events in his future, but of course, he dismisses her, because, well, fortune telling. There’s also park legend about a woman who haunts the ride where she was murdered. The murder is true, but the haunting, well, chalk that up to the fortune telling. Devin just doesn’t believe. So, given this is Stephen King, you can probably guess that Devin’s skepticism is unfounded. Craziness ensues.

The ending of this book was perfect. Obviously, I won’t say why, but I really loved it. This book definitely needs more love. I can’t believe more people don’t read this one. It’s also a great entry point into his works. It’s short, not too graphic, and you get sucked in quickly. Cannot recommend this one enough.

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If It Bleeds

My love of Stephen King books is well-documented. Oddly enough, I only read his novels. I’m not one for short stories. However, I’m trying to get through his entire collection, so I’ll read them all at some point. This one is a collection of four novellas, which strike me a bit better than short stories. I like a good development in the plot. And one of them is almost 200 pages, so it might as well be a novel; some books I read are near that anyway.

The four stories aren’t really all that gross or horrifying. Nothing that will keep you up at night. They are definitely mysterious and a bit creepy, but they are tame considering their author. My favorite was If It Bleeds because we get to revisit a character that I especially love. It was the longest story, also. But overall, these are great stories for anyone who enjoys a good, creepy read. And I recommend them as a good way to enter the world of Stephen King.

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Doctor Sleep

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I first read The Shining 20 odd years ago. One of King’s earliest, this book is one of his most well-known, partly because of its ability to scare but also because of Kubrik’s movie version. The book was published 40 years ago, creating a new generation of fans. Thanks so an episode of Friends, The Shining is also known as the book that’s so scary that Joey has to put it in the freezer, spawning a horror book podcast called “Books in the Freezer.” After hearing Doctor Sleep was going to be a movie, I knew I had to reread The Shining because it had been so long. And although SK does a good job of letting you know what happens in The Shining through the plot of Doctor Sleep, it is still helpful to have read The Shining first.

The past few years have been good for SK, but he still has some letdowns. Under the Dome and Revival were both great, but the endings were awful. The Mr. Mercedes trilogy is really great, but the last book gets pretty far-fetched. The Outsider and The Institute were mostly good, but Doctor Sleep tops them all. I devoured this book in just a few days. I absolutely loved it. Not just because I loved seeing Danny again, but the entire plot was well-constructed, and the ending was superb.

We find Danny struggling, to put it mildly. Following in his father’s footsteps, Dan is an alcoholic and has hit rock bottom. Thankfully, this part of the story doesn’t last long because it’s really heartbreaking. Of course, Dan drinks to stop the shining, but he’s a really great person underneath it all. Once he gets clean, he “meets” a young girl named Abra who has the same shining but is much more powerful than Dan ever was. Abra is very aware of a group of vampires who prey on children with the shining. These vampires don’t drink blood but rather feast on the essence of the children. Once their leader, Rose the Hat, becomes aware of Abra, the chase begins. Dan and Abra must stop these vampires before they harm any more children.

This story is so tightly woven that no event is unnecessary. I feel like a lot of SK’s books could use a good edit, but this one is only 650 pages, so maybe this one did get a red pen taken to it. Doctor Sleep has absolutely entered my top 10 of SK’s books. I loved this one a lot.

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The Shining

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This book is the first Stephen King book I read, over 20 years ago. I sure did start out with a bang! Since I have yet to read Doctor Sleep, I wanted to revisit The Shining to refresh my memory of the Torrance family. This book is one where you can’t compare it to the movie at all. They are vastly different. It’s pretty well-known that King isn’t a fan of The Shining movie, calling it “a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it.” Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the movie just never really captures the terror presented in the book.

We first meet the Torrance family, Jack, Wendy, and five-year-old Danny, after Jack has stopped drinking and is applying for a job as the winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. High up in the mountains, the Overlook closes from Sept-May. Jack’s drinking troubles have ceased, but the memory of him breaking Danny’s arm lingers. Wendy loves her husband but is wary. And Danny is a great kid but an unusual one. Danny can see things before they happen. Once they get to the Overlook, Danny meets the head chef, Dick, who can also see things before they happen. This skill, Dick says, is called “the shine.” Dick knows the hotel isn’t harmless and is nervous for the family. He tells Danny to call him, mentally, if he needs him.

Slowly, the hotel begins to take possession of the family. Jack is the easiest to turn because he’s mentally troubled with his alcoholism. Even though the place is dry, the instability he has previously suffered makes him an ideal candidate for going crazy. The hotel also tries to get Danny into its grips by showing him horrifying things that have happened there. Wendy is the strongest, but she is at the mercy of her husband and son.

The ending of this book is nothing like in the movie, and giant chunks of the plot were altered, which was unnecessary. The book really is great as is, no adjustments needed. Aside from the end, the book is only graphic in a few spots but is really more of a psychological horror than anything else. I’ve read dozens of his books, and this one really does stand out as one of his best.

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The Dead Zone

Every year, I make a point to read old SK books that I have never read before. This year, I read Rage and Firestarter, as well as his newest, The Institute. Once the 2020 PopSugar Challenge comes out, I will see which of his books fit into more categories. It’s been a lot of fun going back and reading the old stuff. And although, I read The Shining decades ago, I think I’m going to reread and then read Doctor Sleep after, which is one I haven’t read.

The Dead Zone follows a young man, Johnny Smith, through an accident. He is in a coma for four years and wakes up with psychic powers. He touches someone and gets flashes of information about their past, but he can also see the future. For example, he sees that someone’s house is on fire and alerts her to call the fire department, which saves her life.

Johnny struggles with his “fame.” He’s a humble, kind man who just wants to be a teacher and fall in love. However, he also feels an obligation to do the right thing. He catches a murderer, tries to tell people about terrible events (most don’t believe him, because, well, he’s a psychic, which is hooey), but he knows his most important job is to stop a dangerous man.

This book was one of the slower ones. I fully expected to love this one and to think Firestarter was going to be a bit dull, but it was the opposite. Although I didn’t review Firestarter, I loved it and was really surprised at how well he captured the psyche of a young girl. But, of course, his books are great. I’m sure there are some that aren’t as great as others, but I have yet to find one that I didn’t enjoy.