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Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 4.47.12 PMWhat did I say I was going to do?

As I said in my sign up post, I am aiming to be a Brave Reader, which means reading 6-10 books during the course of the year.

How am I doing?

Really well actually! I have read and reviewed the following (assisted by signing up for the King’s March challenge so this is a bit heavy on Mr K’s work):

Short stories (individual and collections)

Novels

  • The Death House by Sarah Pinborough – some might not call this horror but I thought it dealt with some very dark issues and it had huge impact on me
  • Revival by Stephen King – King meets Lovecraft
  • Carrie by Stephen King – where it all began, an important re-read for me
  • Cell by Stephen King – King meets (sort-of) zombies

Series

I have been reading the Laundry Files novels by Charles Stross for several years and have now (almost) caught up. Many people consider these sci-fi but all the Lovecraftian stuff puts them firmly in horror for me.

So not bad at all. I really didn’t expect to do so well so early but that King challenge came along at the right time 🙂

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1041565What’s it all about?

The event became known as The Pulse. The virus was carried by every cellular phone operating in the world. Within hours, those receiving calls would become insane – or die.

Indeed, that is the basic premise of Cell. But let’s not beat about the bush – this is basically a zombie novel 🙂

Why did I want to read it?

Well, have been taking part in the King’s March challenge and had done quite well (two short stories, one new novel and one re-read) and hadn’t really thought to pick up any others even though there was a chunk of the month still to go. But when looking for something else I came across this 2006 novel which I had completely forgotten about, and as I was looking for something light (if insane phone-call triggered zombies can be called light) to read, here we are.

What did I think of it?

While far from being his best novel I thought Cell was a cool idea that was pretty well executed. Like a lot of King’s novels it stands or falls on what you think of the main protagonist and Clay Riddell, the comic book artist whose world is turned upside down in seconds, is a likeable character driven to do some very brave things through a desire to get back to the family from whom he has been separated. So as well as being about zombies it is also a classic quest – Clay is joined by a small band of people with whom he has been thrown together by circumstances outside of his control and they head out of burning Boston so he can try to find his son.

The development of the zombies is very interesting and unusual (to me at least) and without giving anything away they become much more than the standard mindless brain-eating hordes that you might have expected. I like the fact that we never know what caused The Pulse, and I also like the way the novel ends. But it’s the characters that make this successful – human and flawed and trying their best in a terrible situation but not always getting it right.

I liked it.

155652About Carrie

Carrie White was no ordinary girl. Carrie White had a gift – the gift of telekinesis. And when, one horrifying and endless night, she exercised that terrible gift on the town that mocked and loathed her, the result was stunning and macabre.

When did I first read this? Late 1975, in one sitting; I remember it vividly 🙂

What age was I? An impressionable 13 

How many times since then? Apparently this is only the third time that I have read Carrie, which seems astonishing to me as I feel I know the story so well, but there you go, stats don’t lie. Probably.

Thoughts about the book:

This was the first Stephen King book that I read and I was totally blown away by it in the way that is only possible when you are a young teenager. Unlike people coming to King for the first time today there was of course no back catalogue of work to dive into to feed the obsession, and although I read ‘Salem’s Lot later that year (and you can find out what I thought about re-reading that in this post) from then on it was all about having to wait for his new books to be published.

But why did Carrie resonate so much? It seems obvious to say that a teenage girl would find a lot to empathise with in the story of another teenage girl but I think that’s too easy; after all we had very little in common – Us vs UK, fundamentalist religion vs (relatively) free thinking, unpopular and downtrodden vs ordinary middle-of-the-roadness. And of course the small matter of my not having any telekinetic abilities whatsoever. Or at least none that have manifested themselves so far and at the age of 53 (and unless the menopause unleashes that sort of thing in the same way puberty does) it isn’t likely to happen now!

I think looking back it was the idea of raw power and what might be possible if you had an untapped ability and what could be done if you learned to control it. Of course the whole point of Carrie (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here as it’s made pretty clear from the start of the book) is that although she learns to control it in part, the Unfortunate Incident at the Prom tips her over the edge and she lets it all out. Of course, there are Consequences of a devastating nature.

I also think this may very well have been the first novel I read that had this kind of structure, a mix of traditional third person story telling with newspaper reports and eye-witness testimony and book and letter extracts from after the fact. And I’m still a sucker for that sort of thing (I’m currently reading Vanessa and her Sister which is constructed from diary entries interspersed with letters and postcards and which I am thoroughly enjoying, although it is obviously a very different sort of thing).

It was an interesting experience reading Carrie again. For a start I had forgotten how short it is, less than 250 pages so really more like a novella. It’s much clearer to me now that the real villain is Billy, and that Chris may not have gone through with it in the end if he hadn’t forced her. And I feel sorry for Carrie herself but more so for Sue, who has to deal with surviving the whole thing.

So, although it’s clearly an early work and his later stuff became much more polished I still find this a very effective and affecting story and was pleased that it hadn’t lost its punch

Though really, what is it with King and the name Christine for baddies? First Chris Hargerson here, then the eponymous killer car, it’s just not right….

Additional thoughts about the film versions:

I also remember going to the cinema with my then boyfriend to see Brian de Palma’s version of Carrie, nice and bloody and with a couple of great performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, and of course that unexpected ending which made me jump and scream out loud. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the recent re-make yet.

If you want to read more about the films then I really recommend Anne Billson’s thoughts on the matter on her blog, an excellent assessment I think.

I re-read Carrie because I’ve been looking for an excuse to do so and that came in the form of the King’s March challenge.

A couple of short stories by Stephen King read for the King’s March challenge

Mile 81

IMG_0239Abandoned service station on major stretch of highway (I have never entirely understood what a turnpike is so forgive me US friends if I’ve got that wrong), boarded up, magnet for youngsters up to no good. Small boy mildly misbehaving through boredom. Particularly suspicious looking abandoned car. Tiny (but smart) children in peril. Very clever use of magnifying glass. Moral of the story – don’t approach strange cars, keep on driving, it will only end in tears. One of King’s specialities is this type of story where extreme weirdness happens in a very ordinary setting with no rhyme or reason. Liked it.

In the Tall Grass (written with Joe Hill)

IMG_0240

Abandoned (sort-of) church along a relatively lonely stretch of highway. Brother and (pregnant) sister on road trip before she has baby. Pull off the road after hearing cries from the tall grass that seems to stretch for miles. Small child in peril. Getting lost. Disorientation. Ancient evil (probably). Moral of the story – don’t stop for strange cries, keep on driving, it will only end in tears (sound familiar?). An accidental companion piece to Mile 81, totally unplanned in that I didn’t really investigate the plot of either story before I started to read them. Very very dark and ultimately depressing.

Interesting to compare standalone King to a story written in collaboration with his son, whose work I have also read but have found problematic in the past (see N0S4R2 for a start). King can be very nasty on occasion but I find him to have greater humanity in his stories than Hill. Without giving anything away, In the Tall Grass seems to offer no hope at all, whereas Mile 81 gives us the possibilities of human ingenuity in fighting off the bad stuff.

19196719What’s it all about?

Well, according to King’s own official website, Revival is

a dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism and what might exist on the other side

Jamie Morton is a small boy in New England when he meets the Rev Charles Jacobs who, with his wife Patsy and little boy Morrie, becomes an influence for good in the town. Well, at least until the dreadful accident that robs him of his family and possibly his faith. After the day of the Terrible Sermon he is driven out of town and when he and Jamie meet again the former is using his deep interest on electricity to earn a living on the carny circuit and the latter is a musician and heroin addict. Jacobs uses his knowledge to cure Jamie and from that point on the two are intertwined, right to the very end when Jacobs’ obsession takes it’s final form.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve been reading and enjoying King’s works for *gulp* nearly 40 years. I haven’t read everything he’s written (not yet at least) but I always look forward to anything he publishes and he has never really let me down (not even with The Tommyknockers or Dreamcatcher, both flawed but still interesting). And the hints before publication and in early reviews that there was a Lovecraftian element to this book was just an added bonus. Two of my earliest horror influences coming together sounded just the ticket.

What did I think of it?

This was exactly what I needed to read during a stressful week where I was working flat-out, running an almost constant headache and not sleeping terribly well. For a couple of days as soon as work was over I was able to lose myself in the life of Jamie Morton, a flawed but basically decent person who has gone through some tough times and his interest in the man whom he has admired since he was a small boy and who was instrumental in helping him both kick his addiction and find a career. But Jamie always knew things weren’t quite right (‘Something Happened’) and over time he realises that he will have to confront Jacobs. And of course that’s when the nature of the older man’s obsession becomes clear and things get very weird indeed.

I thought this was great. I really liked Jamie which is essential if you are going to enjoy this book as it is told entirely in the first person. And it really doesn’t read like a horror novel until the last section, though there is a growing sense of foreboding and not-rightness (which isn’t a word but the best way to describe it I think). The Lovecraftian elements are pretty subtle until the end, and of course there are Repercussions; one of the things I’ve always liked about King is that there are always consequences and sometimes (most times) the good guys don’t get away unscathed.

King himself mentions that The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen (which I haven’t read for years) was a major influence on Revival.

It’s not King’s scariest novel by any means but it’s a strong story with disturbing elements. I really liked it and definitely recommend it.

KingsMarch_zps31f8f79eSo as if there wasn’t enough going on at the moment, I’ve decided to take part in the challenge/event, hosted by Wensend and Fourth Street Review, with the aim of reading as much Stephen King related stuff as possible during the month of March.

As the hosts say:

All you have to do to participate in this event is to post about at least one thing King-related. You are free to read as many King books or watch as many King movies as you want, but you can also stick with just one book (some of the books are real chunksters).

I am a huge King fan, and have been since I read Carrie when I was 15 (just as it came in paperback over here in the mid 1970s). So, given everything else on my horizon I’m going to commit to reading as many of the following as I can before the end of the month:

  • a Carrie re-read – this is long overdue
  • one of his most recent novels, Revival, which I gather has more than a little Lovecraft about it
  • Mile 81 – an original eBook
  • In the Tall Grass, another eBook, written with his son Joe Hill

That should be doable, I think 🙂

Scan 32What’s the book about?

Mr Mercedes is a proper crime thriller from the pen of the great master of horror Stephen King. It starts with a retired police detective, Bill Hodges, who is in a bit of a state, without any purpose in life now that he is no longer serving. He gets a letter from the perpetrator of one of the cases he never solved, that of a number of people killed when a Mercedes was driven into a queue of unemployed people outside a job fair. The letter is taunting Bill with his failure, but instead o driving him to suicide it gives him a new lease of life and he is determined to track the killer down.

Why did I want to read it?

King is one of my favourite authors, I’ve reviewed a number of his book on this blog and have been reading him since I was 15 (but I’m not going to labour the point – I just think he’s great). He’s often underrated as a writer because his preferred genre is seen as horror although I’ve always been clear in my own mind that he has drifted into other genres at various points in his career. I will admit that I pre-ordered the automatically before I knew what it was actually about but was excited about trying something a little bit different.

What did I think?

This was really I had a great time reading this. I’ve always been quickly drawn in by King’s prose style which is deceptively easy to read but has real pace and verve. I liked the structure of the book; we find out extremely early on who Mr Mercedes actually is and the book alternates between him and Bill as the former’s plans careen out of control and the latter works with some unlikely helpers to track the killer down. There are a couple of points where King tries to lead us a little bit astray which I found great fun. I liked Bill very much; I was sorry that one of the plot strands didn’t work out for him at the same time that I could see why it obviously couldn’t (speaking us someone still bearing the scars of ‘Salem’s Lot many years afterwards) but it’s a crime thriller so there is peril and racing against time and a satisfactory resolution. Spent time between reading sessions trying to cast the movie. Brilliant stuff.

Scan 40What’s it all about?

Doctor Sleep is the long-awaited sequel to Stephen King’s The Shining that I didn’t expect and didn’t know I needed until it was published when I of course decided that I absolutely had to have it. Danny Torrance is now an adult with a troubled past including the problems with alcohol which bedevilled his father. He also has a taken for helping people to pass over (for want of a better way of putting it). He finds out that a young girl with a similar but more powerful ability to shine is the target of a gang of (again for want if a better word) soul-stealing vampires and determines to save her no matter the cost to himself.

Why did I want to read it?

I’m not a total King completist but I have been a fan for over 35 years (I first read Carrie when I was 15 or so) and I always look out for his novels though I don’t always read them right away (Under the Dome, I’m looking at you). And a follow-up  to one of his most famous stories was irresistible.

What did I think of it?

I liked it a lot. It has a lot to live up and I don’t think it was ever going to reach those heights for a lot of people. But I liked Danny as an adult, warts and all, and although the story was in many ways more gentle than his earlier work (‘Salem’s Lot still gives me the creeps, which is probably why it’s my all time favourite) and there were a couple of curveballs towards the end in relation to Danny’s personal history, it worked as a narrative. The bad guys were sufficiently bad and the outcome wasn’t (for me at least) a foregone conclusion and the subsidiary characters were well-rounded and believable.

Conclusion

Has all the elements I look for in a Stephen King novel so OK by me.

This was my final read for RIP VIII.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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