Heart-Shaped Box

I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve had one spooky incident, though, but it’s not enough to convince me. The aunt of a friend of mine had recently passed away, and he was given her cd collection. I was flipping through them when the stereo turned on by itself. He was convinced his aunt was saying hello, but I just chalked it up to electronics doing weird stuff.  There are people who believe, which is totally fine, but I’m just not one of them, so ghost stories don’t really scare me much. I’m much more terrified by religious demon possession terror, even though I don’t believe in that either, than ghosts. But I do enjoy a good, creepy story.

Heart-Shaped Box is Joe Hill’s first novel, published over 10 years ago. And although, he publishes under the name Joe Hill, his name is really Joseph Hillstrom King. Yes, son of the famous Stephen King. He chose to publish this way in an efforrt to make his way into publishing without being associated with his father. His identity has since been revealed, and I don’t think anyone cares much who his father is, simply because Joe Hill’s work is truly outstanding. I’ve read Horns and The Fireman and NOS4A2 (before I started reviewing books) and really liked them all. However, Heart-Shaped Box might be my favorite. NOS4A2 was the most disturbing, by far, but Heart-Shaped Box has a sufficiently creepy story and interesting characters.

Judas Coyne is a washed-up mid-50s rocker. He has tons of money, no career, and likes his girls young. Not that young, but a good 30 years younger than him. He treats them well until he gets bored, then sends them on their way. One of them ends up killing herself after being kicked to the curb, and her family isn’t happy. This girl’s stepfather recently passed away and is now haunting Jude and his current girlfriend. Haunting is putting it mildly. He is able to inflict harm upon them and guarantees they will both die. Jude and his girl spend the rest of the book trying to escape and destroy this ghost.

If you are a fan of horror novels, or even of Stephen King, you absolutely must read Joe Hill’s work. His works are definitely reminiscent of his father’s, but there’s no coat-tail riding here. Hill has carved his own path in the genre, and I look forward to reading more of his books.

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Needful Things

*originally posted 2010 on another site

I’d say I’m a pretty solid Stephen King fan. I’ve read a good chunk of his books, and find The Stand his best by far. Only a few in there that were quite wretched (From a Buick 8, anyone??). But when I went to my well-organized library, I was simply looking for a good story. And Needful Things seemed like a pretty good one at 700 pages long. Granted, it took me a couple months to get through, but I did enjoy it quite a bit.

The poor town of Castle Rock has been the setting of many King stories, and this was an excellent finale for the town. A new store, Needful Things, opens up downtown. It doesn’t seem to have much in stock, but it does seem to have the one thing that your heart desires. For example, young Brian Rusk wants a Sandy Koufax card more than anything in the world. Needful Things happens to have it. And what do you know, the card is even autographed! Mr. Gaunt, the owner of Needful Things, asks for a nominal price, and the card becomes Brian’s. Just one more thing. Brian must play a prank on another person in town. Someone he doesn’t know and probably has never met. Brian is asked to throw mud on a lady’s sheets. Innocent enough, but that’s where it all begins. Mr. Gaunt somehow knows how to pit enemies against each other. When the mud lady sees her ruined sheets, she automatically assumes it was done by her mortal enemy. And of course the enemy has a prank played on her, and she assumes it was done by the mud lady. Craziness ensues.

The characters literally go insane with jealousy, revenge, envy, wrath, and a few of the other deadly sins. Seems like Mr. Gaunt isn’t just a regular guy.

The resolution is quite explosive in a variety of ways, and the reader isn’t disappointed with the insane amount of horrifying acts in this book. It’s a pretty solid effort by King. Good story, good violence, good creativity.

Insomnia

As I’ve said a dozen times, I love Stephen King. He’s my all-time favorite author (ugh, that’s really hard to say considering how much I love Harry Potter) but it’s true. I’ve reviewed several of his books like The Outsider,  The Stand (my favorite of his),  Sleeping BeautiesPet Sematary, Lisey’s Story, Under the Dome, The Dark Tower, Song of SusannahEnd of WatchWolves of the Calla‘Salem’s Lot, and Wizard and Glass. Whew. I am a firm believer that there’s a King book out there for everyone, even if you don’t like horror. His Mr. Mercedes trilogy is a police detective story. The Eyes of the Dragon is a King Arthur story. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a survival story. The Dark Tower series is a quest. The Stand is dystopian. On and on. Insomnia, at its core, is just a story of a man who loves a woman and their task of helping others. Of course, there is a horror/supernatural element to it.

I had no idea what this book was about, other than it was a huge tie to The Dark Tower series. There’s a character in DT that is really important at the end. And this character is a minor character in Insomnia, but it’s critical that he survives this book because he is needed in DT. Cryptic, I know. But I’m trying to avoid giving too much away. I loved The Dark Tower series and don’t feel like I missed a lot by reading this one after I finished the series, but it would have been great to have the background info from this one first.

This story follows elderly Ralph who loses his wife, Carolyn, to cancer. After that, he begins not sleeping. Every night it gets worse, shaving off a few minutes of when he wakes up. He falls asleep no problem but wakes up at 5:30. 5:22, 5:15, until he is sleeping maybe 2 hours a night. And he starts seeing things. Weird things like people who aren’t there and colorful auras around people. He tries everything to sleep but is at a loss. He eventually realizes he isn’t alone in this insomnia. His equally elderly neighbor, Lois, is suffering as well. Together they must defeat the men of death. Basically, the grim reapers who visit you at that moment. Two of them are kind and do their jobs well, but one is sadistic and takes pleasure in torment. There’s quite the political anti-abortion plot that I rarely see in SK’s books, but it’s an important one to the overall events.

Many people find this book (pun intended) quite the snooze. I loved it, though. With all the DT references (hi there Crimson King) and the bond between Ralph and Lois, I thought it was a fantastic story. I listened to it over 25 hours!!! and didn’t mind a minute of it. This one is a must read for any SK fan.

The Outsider

Is it just me or is Stephen King knocking them out of the park as of late? A few sketchy endings aside, some of King’s best work has been in the 2000s.  I loved the Bill Hodges trilogy, 11/22/63, and Sleeping Beauties. He finished the Dark Tower series and gave us a sequel to The Shining. And he puts out a book every 6 months. It’s insane! I’m to the point where I just preorder all his hardback books on Amazon. I own them all, though only a handful of them are first editions, but I don’t care. I’m going to keep buying as long as he keeps writing.

The Outsider starts out as a regular murder mystery with a young boy as the victim. Eyewitnesses identify the local baseball coach and teacher as the murderer. The setting is a small Oklahoma town (albeit fictional, but realistic…trust me) where everyone knows everyone else, so these eyewitnesses are pretty reliable. The problem is that the accused, Terry, has an air-tight alibi. He wasn’t in the area at the time of the murder, corroborated by other teachers and video evidence. However, Terry’s DNA is all over the crime scene. DNA doesn’t lie.

Thankfully, there are some detectives in this town that are determined to make sense of this mess. Terry is a good guy, but something isn’t adding up, so they call in some out-of-town reinforcements to help. This is a good place to say that reading the Bill Hodges trilogy is *strongly* recommended before reading this book. It’s not required; you will still understand what is happening, but you won’t have the full picture unless you’ve read the entire trilogy.

This book takes some crazy twists and turns, but I never felt like the ending was just tacked on randomly like I did with Revival or Under the Dome. The entire plot was headed towards this ending, and as crazy as it was, it made sense to me. Yet again, King has written another hit.

The Stand

Over a decade has passed since I first read The Stand. I have been meaning to reread it for year, so when the book challenge required me to read a book I meant to read in 2016, but didn’t get to, my selection was easy. When I first read The Stand, it immediately went into my top 10 of all time. There are certain books that I’m too scared to read again, for fear that I won’t love them as much. I’m happy to say The Stand is as good the second time as it was the first.

The Stand is Stephen King’s masterpiece. Originally published in 1978, one of King’s first few books. Due to being an unknown author with only a handful of previous published books, The Stand received a major edit before coming out. But by the late 80s, King was considered a master writer and was able to published the uncut version of his book, which is the one I read both times. At over 1100 pages, you will be spending plenty of time with the characters, and although there are dozens of them, their stories don’t converge immediately, so it’s easy to keep them separate.

The basic premise is that a government engineered superflu is accidentally released. 99.4% of the population is dead within a week or so. The rest are immune for unknown reasons, and those left have extremely vivid dreams, mostly of a man in black who calls himself Randall Flagg. Basically he’s the devil incarnate, and they are afraid of him. Those who aren’t afraid (and we don’t meet many of them…this is a tale of good vs evil, heavily emphasizing the good) end up in Las Vegas, doing RF’s bidding. Most of our characters end up in Colorado, under the leadership of a very old woman named Mother Abigail. The good guys are trying to set up a city, government, electricity, etc where the bad guys are doing the same, but also much much worse.

There is no good way to summarize this book, since it is so long, but I will just say that King is a master storyteller. He just gets it right. I made it a goal to read 50 pages a day, and that was easy to do because I was sucked into the story from the beginning. Where I think IT might be his most popular book, and I loved it, but The Stand will always be his best work.

Carrion Comfort

When you read an 800 page book, sometimes it truly feels like an 800 page book. On and on and on, plodding and dull. I’m happy to report this was most definitely not one of those books. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to fly through this one. For the 2017 book challenge, I had to read an 800 pager, and this one had been on my list for awhile after Stephen King said this is one of the greatest horror novels of the 20th century. If that doesn’t convince you to read it, maybe I can just sway you a bit.

When I first read the blurb and saw the word vampire, I just sighed to myself and thought “ugh” because I am SO over vampires. And even though I just read The Historian (review The Historian) which is about tracking a vampire, it’s really not a vampire book. Same with The Passage series. Vampires play a role, but they don’t dominate the plot. Well, vampires are the entire plot of this one. Hear me out, though. These aren’t your traditional blood sucking creatures of the night. These vampires can control your mind. I know it sounds cheesy, but I promise it is terrifying.

The story follows a handful of these vampires and the people who are trying to track and kill them. The vampires can simply enter your mind and control your body. Your will is gone. You have no ability to resist. They use you as a toy. After some innocent people are killed in a suspicious way, a small group of everyday people uncover the truth of these vampires and vow to take them down. As the chase progresses, they gain a few more helpers and lose some along the way. But the vampires and their soulless acts are what really make this story horrifying. They have no problem using and destroying people for their fun and games.

I have read much more graphic books like The Troop (also recommended by SK), but this one was wholly terrifying. Yes, it could be descriptive in parts, but overall it was just so creepy what some people are capable of. Of course, these mind control people don’t exist, but their ability to kill with no conscience isn’t unique to fiction.

IT

I read this book over a decade ago and didn’t remember much, aside from the vivid memories I have of the miniseries, all hail Tim Curry. So with the upcoming movie, I wanted to revisit the book this year. And for the 2017 book challenge update, I needed a book set in two different time periods, so this book fit perfectly.

The story takes place in Derry, Maine (of course) and follows 7 kids, AKA The Losers’ Club, and one summer in their lives. Kids keep disappearing, including Georgie Denbrough, brother of one of the Losers, Bill. Slowly, the kids discover they have all been seeing a terrifying entity, a clown, werewolf, leper, etc and that something strange is happening in Derry. One of them, Mike, does some research into Derry’s history and realizes random disappearances and murders happen every 27 years, and have been happening for over a hundred years. They take it upon themselves to kill IT, as it comes to be known.

Interspersed with the childhood stories, we also see these Losers as adults. Because they vow to return to Derry if ever IT returns (no spoilers…this happens in the first few pages), they will get back together to rid the world of IT once and for all. However, since they have left Derry, they don’t remember their childhoods there or each other, even. Mike has stayed behind and does remember, so he has the job of gathering the Losers again. Once the Losers return to Derry, their memories begin to unlock.

This is such a basic synopsis for an 1100+ page book. King really does lead you down some terrifying paths of childhood trauma, horrifying events, and the power of friendship. There’s no way to capture all of these in one review. I’ve read more than half of his books, and this one is easily one of his best. He definitely has some duds in the bunch, but IT is worth reading.

I also saw the movie. It’s not like the book, understandably. There are some big changes between them, and I really was disappointed in them. But, overall, I’m glad the book was translated to the big screen. Maybe more people will read the book now.