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Later

Title: Later

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Paranormal Suspense

Stephen King now has three Hard Case Crime books. The first was Joyland, which was excellent. Next was The Colorado Kid, which was excellent. And now Later, which, you guessed it, is excellent. Later is a bit more like Joyland in the supernatural aspect, but it’s set in the modern day, which was a lot of fun for pop culture references.

From Goodreads: The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

Later is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. Later is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.

Jamie is such a fun character. He’s telling the story from the present but about his childhood, so you know his fate is fine, but along the way, some awful things happen. He warns us several times that this is a horror story. His secret is revealed pretty quickly in the book, but I won’t spoil it here. It’s such a bummer that King is penned into just being a “horror” writer, because he’s one of the best storytellers. Sure, his books are pretty terrifying, but his character and plot development is top notch. I can’t recommend him enough.

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The Colorado Kid

Title: The Colorado Kid

Author: Stephen King

Genre: murder mystery

I read King’s other Hard Case Crime book Joyland last year and absolutely loved it. It was one of the best of his I’ve read in awhile. And now that his newest Hard Case book, Later, is out, I wanted to read The Colorado Kid. Hard Case Crime books are written by various authors you’re probably familiar with, and they all have pulpy, fun covers. I’ve only read King’s, but scrolling through the list, there are tons of others that I bet are great.

From Goodreads: On an island off the coast of Maine, a man is found dead. There’s no identification on the body. Only the dogged work of a pair of local newspapermen and a graduate student in forensics turns up any clues.

But that’s just the beginning of the mystery. Because the more they learn about the man and the baffling circumstances of his death, the less they understand. Was it an impossible crime? Or something stranger still…?

No one but Stephen King could tell this story about the darkness at the heart of the unknown and our compulsion to investigate the unexplained. With echoes of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and the work of Graham Greene, one of the world’s great storytellers presents a surprising tale that explores the nature of mystery itself…

Unlike most King’s books, this one isn’t scary at all. It’s just two old guys, who are adorable in their old man dynamics, telling a story. That’s it. A guy ended up dead on a beach, and, as reporters, these guys try to solve the mystery. He has no wallet, so they try to solve who he is and how he ended up on the beach. It’s a very simple story, but the dialogue between these two guys, who have been friends/co-workers for 40+ years, is like an old married couple. I listened to this one, and the narrator was spot on with the Maine accents. I loved this book and think it would easily appeal to non-King readers. Not scary. Not gross. Not even remotely horrifying. But still compelling.

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Different Seasons

Title: Different Seasons

Author: Stephen King

Genre: story collection, horror, psychological thriller

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book that has the same title as a song

You can’t beat old school Stephen King. I’ve been digging through his old works that I’ve yet to read and just find the early stuff to be so rewarding. Last year I read Night Shift and was blown away by the story collection. Not a bad story in the entire book. The same goes for Different Seasons and its four novellas. You’re probably familiar with two or three of them.

From Goodreads:

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption–the most satisfying tale of unjust imprisonment and offbeat escape since The Count of Monte Cristo. Apt Pupil–a golden California schoolboy and an old man whose hideous past he uncovers enter into a fateful and chilling mutual parasitism. The Body–four rambunctious young boys venture into the Maine woods and in sunlight and thunder find life, death, and intimations of their own mortality. The Breathing Method–a tale told in a strange club about a woman determined to give birth no matter what.

Three of these have been turned into movies, two of those are classics. Shawshank Redemption is one of the best all-time movies, and the story itself was fantastic. The movie features some entire passages of dialogue from the novella. Red, the narrator, is actually an Irishman in the book, but I couldn’t help but hear Morgan Freeman’s voice. The movie fleshes out the plot, but overall the similarities are fantastic. I loved it.

Also, The Body is the movie Stand By Me, which is a movie I’m not as familiar with, but I believe is still a great adaptation. I remember a lot of similarities between the two. And it’s just a beautifully written story. The friendships and heartbreaks of childhood. This novella was, in my mind, a precursor for IT.

Apt Pupil is the most horrifying thing I’ve read of King’s. Scary clowns, vampires, haunted hotels, just don’t scare me. They aren’t real. And most of his books have enough of a supernatural element that they are unrealistic enough not to terrify me. But Apt Pupil, written in the early 80s is about a teenager obsessed with Nazis. I read Rage, which is about a school shooting, and it was pretty terrible subject matter. But Apt Pupil takes the terror to a completely different level.

The last story isn’t enough to be a movie (I say that now, but Lawnmower Man certainly wasn’t movie caliber and that happened…) but I still enjoyed it. Unlike the others, this had a touch of supernatural or mystery to it, but it was also just a bit of a ghost story, so who knows what really happened.

I’m loving going to King’s older works and digging through them. I’ve read so much of his new stuff, which is great, but it’s like listening to The Beatles. There’s the early stuff, the middle starting to get weird stuff, and there’s the super crazy late stuff (my favorite). With King there’s the super crazy early stuff, the middle cocaine fueled stuff, and then the lighter newest stuff. I’m pretty sure the super crazy early books are my favorite. They just never disappoint.

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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.