Billy Summers, by Stephen King

Seven stars

Stephen King is one of the most versatile writers I have discovered in my many years of reading. While many know him for his horror and supernatural work, King has some great reads that flirt with other genres, and do so well. This is a branching out yet again, more of a noir thriller where the protagonist reveals himself slowly throughout the piece, tasked with a goal and finding other important events along the way. King does a stellar job pulling the reader in from the opening pages, as they learn a little more about Billy Summers throughout. A winner for those with great patience!

Billy Summers is a hired killer who presents himself as being overly simple. While he is the best in the business, many wonder about his intelligence, which he has been able to mask well over the years. Billy’s only caveat is that anyone he is hired to kill must be a truly bad person. All that being said, Billy is tired of the life and wants out, once and for all.

When he is approached by a Vegas mob boss, he contemplates making this kill his last. A swan song of sorts to allow him to tip his hat and say goodbye to the life. He’s told this is a man whose evil is like to other, making Billy take notice and agree to the kill. Blending into the local community, Billy prepares to do the shooting and hopes nothing gets messy. Of course, ‘the last kill’ could not go off without a hitch and as soon as the bullet kills the man on the courthouse steps, there are witnesses and he is a wanted man.

Now on the lam, Billy tries to stay one step ahead of it all and seems to be doing well. Then, one night, he sees a woman attacked and left for dead, which spurs him on to help her and seek justice. While her is hiding from the authorities, Billy does all he can to help Alice find her way and exact some revenge on the attackers. This creates a connection between them, one that cannot be simply erased with the nod of a head. Billy’s committed and must act accordingly, if for no other reason than he wants to bring justice into the world. A complicated and well-plotted piece by Stephen King, which reminds me why I enjoy the author so much.

Stephen King seems never to run out of ideas, no matter then length of his pieces. This book, much different than anything else I have read by him over the years, touches on so many themes and branches off at times, making me stop to take a moment so I know what I have been reading. King provides the reader with something exciting, intriguing, and altogether entertaining throughout this literary journey, which appears to include many twists and turns.

Billy Summers serves as a useful protagonist, though there is something about him that is not entirely captivating. He has done a lot, seem a great deal in his life, but he prefers to hide in the shadows. As King guides the story along, the reader learns much about Billy, from his time as a war vet to his backstory as a child, all through the guise of his being an author, part of blending into a small community before he commits his final hit. There is much to learn from him throughout this piece, which the reader can devour at their own pace, which remains highly entertained throughout the experience.

The versatility that Stephen King presents in this piece is sure to impress many readers. Those who know him solely as the master of horror will be impressed with how he can recount a tale that does not delve into too much blood and gore, while fans of his mystery work will likely enjoy this game of cat and mouse. King uses a strong narrative to push the story along, complete with typical tangential commentary throughout. A vast array of characters help entertain the reader throughout the experience, as King is a fan of offering much detail up about all those who grace the pages of his book. A plot that is only partially scattered will keep the reader entertained and guessing, as a simple plot line explodes as the story progresses. While not my favourite of his novels, I can see what others might laud about herein. I am eager to get back to some of his grittier work, something King used to pull me in from the start of my exploration of his work.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another great piece your fans will enjoy and discuss for years to come. I hope to see more of your mystery work soon.

Gwendy’s Final Task (The Button Box #3), by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Eight stars

Completing their collaborative trilogy, Stephen King and Richard Chizmar bring Gwendy and her mysterious button box back for another adventure, complete with a new challenge that could prove more daunting than meets the eye. After years living with her button box as a memory, Gwendy Peterson is visited once again by the elusive Richard Farris. After much secrecy, Farris mentions that he has one final task for Gwendy that involves the button box, which must be completed post haste. Peterson has made a name for herself, now a member of the US Congress and is headed on a space mission. With the button box in hand., Gwendy takes her task seriously and hopes that she can fulfil the final wish Richard Farris asked of her, saving the world one final time. King and Chizmar end the series with this great story that works well alongside the previous two.

At the age of twelve Gwendy Peterson was visited by a man in a black bowler hat. Richard Farris offered her a small box with many buttons, but warned that with this gift came a great deal of responsibility. Gwendy accepted this, as series readers know well from the previous two pieces, as she explored the powers of this box and what it meant for her.

Decades later, Gwendy has taken on many other responsibilities in life including as a sitting US senator, as well as being prominent around her home state of Maine. When she is asked to join a space mission, she is eager to see what that will mean and how she might be able to influence those around her.

Richard Farris appears to her with a task, to take the button box once again for a final mission. It would seem that the past seven holders of the box have met horrible demises and he is worried about the future of the button box. He asks Gwendy to take possession of it and take it along with her into space, where it can be disposed of properly.

After a few catastrophic events prove to Gwendy that the box still has negative powers, she prepares to take it up with her into space. Gwendy learns that there are others who want to get their hands on it, hoping to use the box’s powers to advance themselves in ways they could not accomplish on their own. Gwendy will have to make some serious choices, as she orbits Earth, hoping to make Richard Farris proud and ensure the world is a safer place. A great end to the trilogy, in which King and Chizmar left the reader thinking a great deal about the power of suggestion and how control can sometimes be too much for a single person to handle.

I remember picking up the novella that began this series, thinking that it was an ingenious idea by two established authors. The collaborative efforts of Stephen King and Richard Chizmar brought about this unique story that has many interesting twists to keep the reader engaged. Chizmar worked well on bridging the novella with a full-length novel and now both authors are back to tie everything off nicely. With a great story and some effective plot twists to keep the story moving along, King and Chizmar solidify their collaborative efforts with this series finale.

Gwendy Peterson has come a long way since her appearance at age twelve, when she was first handed the button box. She’s matured and developed a life of her own, which is paralleled by the added responsibilities put upon her by repeated time with the box. Her backstory and character development work hand in hand throughout this final story in the series, which pushes the reader to really come to understand Gwendy on many levels. Complementing her are some strong characters who pave the way for a climactic ending, just what the authors had in store for series fans.

When authors are able to work well together, the fruits of their labour are usually beneficial for the reader. Such is the case here, with Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. Both have established themselves before and bring this renewed connection to craft a strong story for all to enjoy. A great narrative pushes things forward, never sure where things will go, and the characters are usually quite unique. King and Chizmar keep the reader guessing with twists in the narrative, such that there is little time to rest and ponder, as something is always happening. Short chapters serve as teasers, while longer ones develop the storyline effectively. While there was a great deal of jumping around to provide context for Gwendy Peterson’s life, it is done properly and proves easy for the reader to follow throughout. It is sad to see the series end, but I wonder if this is the last we have seen of the King-Chizmar team!

Kudos, Messrs. King and Chizmar, for bringing a wonderful conclusion to the series. I like what I have seen and can only hope that there is something else brewing soon.

Later, by Stephen King

Seven stars

When it comes to Stephen King, few expect to find something straightforward and easy to digest. Such is the life of a man with a million ideas, racing from one side of the page to the other. While King certainly stands alone in the genre, he can sometimes come up with some gems that stick with the reader for years to come. Other times, it seems as though he simply needs to open up his head and get the idea out, a sort of mental spring cleaning. This piece appeared to be somewhere in the middle for me; entertaining with a slice of ‘well then’.

Jamie Conklin wants to grow up as normally as he can, though that is is not in the cards. His mother is raising him alone and struggling each step of the way, though provides the best she can for Jamie, even with the secret the young boy possesses. While it’s to remain a secret, Jamie can communicate and visualize those who have passed on.

This proves to be quite troubling for Jamie, as he cannot turn it off and on, but rather must live with the consequences on a daily basis. As Jamie inches into adolescence, the skill gets even more intense and he’s pulled into a scenario where his abilities could help others, while ruining himself at the same time. Jamie’s got to master the art of developing the skills without letting it subsume him.

After someone on the NYPD learns of Jamie’s ability, it could be a major benefit, particularly with a killer on the loose. Could Jamie lead the authorities right to the doorstep, using the ability to speak with victims in order to ascertain who’s behind the killings? Anything’s possible when Stephen King’s at the helm!

I have usually enjoyed reading Stephen King’s work, more because it is varied and one never knows what is waiting around the corner. His vast array of ideas and characters makes any read something unique and highly unpredictable. However, I cannot connect with every story or plot, making some pieces less alluring to me than others. I find myself in a grey area here, not sure what I thought or how to react to the experience.

As with many of the characters King develops, Jamie Conklin was an interesting individual with his own backstory and quite the active life. He’s seen a lot for a kid and does not hold back when speaking to the reader. The maturity he possesses is great, though it is matched with some bombastic and outlandish choices, some of which leave him in a great deal of trouble.

Those who have read a fair bit of the Stephen King collection will know that he rarely enjoys being succinct. Adding tangents upon tangents, King can spin a tale into a massive tome or take the reader down what appears to be a rabbit hole, only to turn it into the main theme of the novel. Doing so can create odd narratives that appear out of nowhere, as happened at times in this book. I sought something a little more straightforward, but got this. While there was strong narrative progress, it just did not go in the direction that I wanted and left me hoping for more. What that ‘more’ is, I cannot be entirely sure, but it is an itch that has not been scratched. King’s prose is strong and creates vivid images in the reader’s mind. Those who are new to King will have to learn that patience is the greatest tool in order to find answers within his stories.

Kudos, Mr. King, for an interesting take on the ‘child with powers’ theme. Not one of my favourites, but I applaud the effort.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Firestarter, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Needing a little King horror in my life, I turned to this classic piece by the author who never seems to run out of ideas. While he was ‘banned’ in my house growing up, I have come to find out just how masterful King can be and his varied ideas keep me coming back for more. Andy McGee and his daughter are on the run from a ruthless group of government agents, call The Shop. The McGees crept under the radar not long after Andy’s wife was killed and young Charlie was sought by The Shop for their own greedy reasons. With flashbacks to years ago, the reader learns that Andy and his eventual wife, Vicky, were part of an experiment in college, where a government group injected them with a drug. This drug was said to aid in the creation of telekinetic powers, though for many it was useless, as the ‘high’ counteracted any usefulness. The Lot 6 experiments were shelved, but the patients were closely monitors, perhaps to keep them silent. However Andy and Vicky were not only successful, but also fell in love, married, and had a child of their own. Now, Charlie presents with new and even more interesting powers, pyro-kinesis, which allows her to set fires at will. This is sure to be something that the government can utilise to their advantage, though they will have to capture young Charlie and keep her powers at bay. While Andy and Charlie remain on the run, the little girl wants nothing than to be ‘normal’ and keep those powers hidden away. However, the need to explore how her fiery abilities could benefit America seems too strong and Charlie is eventually taken captive by The Shop. As Andy tries to use his own telekinesis to communicate with his daughter, there is a definite intensity to how Charlie will handle herself around her captors. One little girl could be the start to a new and chilling weapons program, if all goes well. But how to keep a little girl’s temper from getting the better of her, while also tapping into the depth of her powers? King takes readers on quite the ride in this one, sure to pique the interest of those who want some old school writing. Recommended to those who love a good King horror piece, as well as the reader who seeks a tingling thriller sure not to fizzle out.

I never tire of looking into the older Stephen King novels to see what I missed growing up. While some of his newer stuff is great, I miss those massive tomes that were so popular and led the genre for a long while. King does really well with this piece, upping the ante in the creepy factor without the need for excessive gore. Young Charlie McGee has powers and can use them to create havoc, which she does, but there is a desire to dampen them, not use them in some maniacal manner. She wants to be a little girl she is and forget that which makes her so vert different. King’s creation of a plot that has Charlie and Andy constantly on the run allows for some third party interactions, some of which reveals what Charlie can do, while others are based on the odd idea that a man and his daughter are constantly running from something. Hints at kidnapping come up, which makes for some interesting sub-plots throughout the piece. Charlie and Andy may be joint protagonists, but King offers enough backstory on the Lot 6 program and those tasked with finding the McGees that a number of characters receive great development throughout this piece. The story is somewhat meandering, but always in a way that King has perfected, with nuances and tangents to keep things interesting. Those not familiar with older King writing may want to begin here, as the gore and gratuitous bloodshed is minimal and the mental experiments are more the central focus. Not as intense as some of the King pieces I have read, but I still enjoyed it enough and can check this one off, waiting to see if the movie lives up to expectations. Yes, I know movies and books are always moody cousins, but that’s for another review.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winner on your ‘old school’ novels list. I will have to find some more to pique my interest soon, though I do quite enjoy the newer stuff as well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Children of the Corn, by Stephen King

Eight stars

I chose to end the month with a final Stephen King short story, picking one that mixes a bucolic setting with a spine-tingling plot. When Burt and Vicky run over a boy in rural Nebraska, they are panicked. However, once they examine the boy, they discover that the car accident was not the primary cause of the boy’s injuries and death, as his neck has been slit. Driving into Gatlin, they try to alert someone as to what has happened, only finding remnants of a corn-based religious group, strong on biblical retribution with a ‘husk’ spin. Burt and Vicky discover that they have drifted into a place that no tourist brochures were likely to document and for good reason. Fire and brimstone await them, but they will have to handle things on their own. Returning to the fields, they try to poke around, only to have handful of children emerge and pass judgment upon them. Vicky’s taken into their custody and Burt flees to save his life, but soon comes to his senses. When he pushes through the stalks and finds these children again, it is far worse than he imagined, as they take no prisoners in the name of God. Chilling in its depiction and yet short enough to be read in a single sitting, King shows that he is the master of the genre and full of ideas. Recommended to those who love Stephen King and all his varied ideas, as well as the reader who likes a little horror as they much on a snack, perhaps popcorn?

I love finding myself in the middle of a Stephen King piece, be it a short story, novella, or one of his major works. King is able to pull ideas from all over and works them out in one of a few ways. This piece pushes towards a horror genre (and yes, I have to see the movie soon) and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, especially the unique corn-based religion approach that weaves its way into the narrative. King works through a number of issues, including social commentaries of the day, reaching out to the reader and forcing them to think as they flip pages. The attentive reader will find hints to other King works, even in passing, which adds a new level of entertainment. While this was only a short piece, I found myself able to connect with the characters and follow the narrative, which never let-up until the final sentence. Chilling to the core, I won’t be stopping among the stalks of corn anytime soon.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winner. I do need to see the movie, as my imagination is going wild!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Riding the Bullet, by Stephen King

Eight stars

A short story by Stephen King is a treat like no other, particularly one that pulls the reader into the middle of an exciting tale. As I needed to fill some time before my next major reading adventure, I turned to one of these short pieces. Alan Parker is a student at the University of Maine. He receives a troubling call that his mother is in the hospital after having a stroke. Without a vehicle of his own and worried about his only living parent, Alan makes the decision to hitchhike down to see her. His first driver is an older man with some obvious health issues, so much so that Alan begs off early into their journey. As he awaits the next vehicle to pass by, Alan comes across a small graveyard with markers. When headlights illuminate the road, Alan gets in and strikes up a conversation with the young man behind the wheel, which veers towards a death-defying rollercoaster called The Bullet. Alan has eerie memories about it, but listens as his driver tells of riding it multiple times. What follows is a scary tale about riding the Bullet and a bargain made on the way to central Maine. Another interesting piece with twists that only King can create effectively. Perfect for a short trip or to pass the time.

I have long been a fan of Stephen King’s work, both the longer stories and shorter pieces like this. He has a wonderful ability to create characters and offer them much backstory in short order. His ideas seem plentiful and he uses the simplest event as a major plot twist. With themes woven into the fabric of his pieces, the reader learn a great deal about themselves as they read. The tangential nature of a well-crafted King piece is sometimes lost in the shorter works, but there is no lack of depth or intrigue. No matter what choice Alan Parker makes in this story, the possibilities are endless and King always lays them out for the reader to ponder, even late into the night.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winner. I love how my mind races whenever you are writing and cannot wait to see what you have in store for your fans next!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Road Virus Heads North, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Always a fan of the odd short story, I have been filling some time with a few by Stephen King, who always seems to have something to say that holds my attention. In this short piece, an inanimate object seems to have a mind of its own, wreaking havoc in a small New England community. Richard Kinnell had a feeling he should not have stopped at the yard sale on his way back from a book forum, but he did. The regional author allowed a painting to catch his eye before he decided to buy it, thinking of the perfect spot it could hang. Not deterred when he learned that the artist committed suicide soon after painting it, Kinnell loads up his new artwork and heads home. However, he stops in to see his aunt on the trip back. When he pulls it out, the painting, titled ‘The Road Virus Heads North’, appears to have changed slightly, but Kinnell wonders if it might be that he is so tired. After his short visit, Kinnell finish’s the drive to Derry, where he plans to relax. However, the painting again seems to have shifted, leaving Kinnell with a very off-putting feeling. Soon, thoughts of the author’s suicide enter Kinnell’s mind, leaving him sure that the ‘road virus’ must surely be heading north and he wants nothing to do with it! An eerie story that only King could pull off, this short piece is a perfect filler for those who need to bridge between fun-length reading commitments.

I have long been a fan of Stephen King and his work, both the longer pieces and short ones like this. King is able to turn almost anything into something gripping, if not spine-tingling, using his vast array of ideas. The reader can never quite tell what awaits them as they read, but can be guaranteed that it will leave an impact, at least for a while. These short pieces are wonderful teasers for the reader who awaits a major novel by the author, though I miss the tangential writing that King has made his own over the years. Still, I won’t be buying any yard sale art anytime soon, that’s for sure!

Kudos, Mr. King, for a great piece to fill the time while I had a refreshment. Always keeping me on my toes as I wait for a book I want to arrive on my iPod.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Apt Pupil, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Turning to another of my Stephen King novellas, I wanted to see about the hype this story has received over the years, as I fit it into my reading experience. Todd Bowden is a great student, who has mastered many of his classes at school. He is also quite intuitive, something he likes to show those who pay him some mind. While delivering a newspaper to one of his customers, Todd confronts the elderly Mr. Kurt Dussander. Todd explains that he knows Dussander is not who he purports to be, but rather a Nazi war criminal hiding in plain sight. After some deflection, Dussander admits to it, allowing himself to be extorted as Todd asks many questions about the time running one of the concentration camps. Dussander thinks that he might be beholden to the boy, until Todd begins having horrible nightmares about what he is being told and his grades take a nose dive. Todd and Dussander enter into an agreement with one another to keep both their secrets safe, growing closer as they do. From there, the story moves into a set of odd occurrences, whereby both Todd and Dussander target those who are less fortunate for their own sick joys, still extorting one another in a way. Dussander’s ultimate secret remains under wraps, though time might push the truth along faster than anyone could have expected it. A chilling tale that King tells so well. Recommended to those who love a good dose of Stephen King, as well as those who enjoy novellas filled with masterful narratives.

The versatility of Stephen King’s work is on display here with something that is less horrific in its true sense, yet still spine tingling. King portrays the interaction between two characters with little in common yet almost a match made in heaven, where they must rely on one another. Todd Bowden is a sharp student who has everything going for him. His curiosity gets the best of him and he soon finds himself caught up in a web of lies and horrible tales that he could not likely fathom on his own. This spiral out of control leads to many an issue and Todd is soon trapped inside a game of blackmail tug-of-war with an old war criminal. On the flip side, Kurt Dussander finds that the life he has tried to keep hidden from everyone is one telephone call from being revealed. Though elderly, Dussander knows that he would not be handled gently and wishes to take his horrible past to the grave. Both characters engage in some highly suspicious behaviour, as though feeding their secrets with the pain of others. The handful of secondary characters work well in this piece to serve as backdrops to keep the story moving, though none make too much of a lasting impact. The story works well and King is able to develop it in such a way that the reader cannot know what to expect, while knowing the end result at the same time. These secrets have a way of getting out, even if Dussander and Todd try to keep them hidden. Even an apt pupil will sometimes speak of the lessons his instructor inculcates through daily interactions!

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winning novella. I cannot get enough of your work and will keep devouring the stories whenever I can.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Mist, by Stephen King

Eight stars

I have always found that Stephen King can pull a reader in with his writing, no matter the length. I needed something to fill my time and turned to this novella, which showcases some of the greatness I have come to expect from the author. David Drayton and his family live in rural Maine, watching as a storm rolls across the sky, closer to them. The fork lightning excites young Billy, who wants to stay up as things seem to be falling apart around him. In the morning, the storm’s destruction is apparent, with felled power lines and trees having smashed into houses and vehicles alike. David is tasked with getting some things at the store, an activity that he and Billy will do together. However, before they depart, both notice an odd mist hovering over the water, something David can only surmise must be an odd meteorological aberration. As they make their way to town, Billy and David review the list given to them, noticing that the mist seems to be here as well. Once inside, it would seem others had the same idea about grabbing a few things, as David and Billy queue up with other townsfolk. The mist thickens, almost enveloping the store, as many ask about it and what it could mean. Some venture outside, not seen again, but their piercing screams fill the air. Worried now, David and some others try to determine what this mist could be, witnessing a grotesque tentacle emerge and pull someone into its centre. This is no longer a low cloud, but something with a mind of its own. How anyone will get out is left to be seen in this King classic novella. Sharp, with a mix of spine-chilling actions, Stephen King keeps the reader on edge throughout. Recommended to those who enjoy the work of Stephen King, as well as those readers who find pleasure in stories about the weather.

I find that Stephen King is able to come up with some many varied ideas in his writing, pulling from his vast experiences. This piece, which begins as a simple nighttime storm, soon becomes a horrifying story about a seemingly innocuous weather system. David Drayton plays the wonderful protagonist in this piece, mixing a laidback nature with a passion to get to the root of the issue. He leads his family in being as safe as possible, but tries to downplay some of the worries his wife exhibits throughout the story. When it comes down to it, David exerts a leadership role that the reader will discover throughout, particularly when things get especially problematic within the store. Other characters offer interesting flavouring to an already hyped-up story, giving King much to work with as he spins this tale effectively. The piece itself is full of wonderful imagery, from the powerful storm to this sinister ‘thing’ floating over the water, which will eventually eject its slimy arms to pull unsuspecting people inside it, as though feeding off the fear that the townspeople have of what’s going on. King never shies away from this detail, which is balanced out by some of the climactic writing that divides the chapters. Anyone looking for some suspenseful work with not too much in the way of gory description need look no further. At a time when some feel they are ‘living in a Stephen King’ novel, I am left to wonder if I would prefer isolation from COVID-19, or from this mist!

Kudos, Mr. King, for a wonderful short piece that kept my heart pumping throughout. I will keep finding and devouring these great stories of yours.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

If It Bleeds, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Any reader familiar with Stephen King will understand how versatile he can be. King’s ideas seem endless and he is able to spin them into pieces of varying lengths. In this collection of four short stories (I’d almost call them novellas), King shows not only how he can chill the reader to the core, but that his ideas are vast and yet usually tied to current social trends.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (four stars)

Craig has been working for his elderly neighbour for a few years, reading to Mr. Harrigan and learning a little more about life. When Craig comes into some money, he decides to take a leap and purchases Mr. Harrigan an iPhone, as they are the new ‘thing’ on the market. While Mr. Harrigan is not sure he’d use it, Craig converts the Luddite and soon the elderly man is hooked. After the old man’s passing, Craig honours his friend with a final act. What follows leaves Craig wondering just how strong the tie was that connected him to Mr. Harrigan, as well as what role smart phones have in our ever-changing and impacted world!

The Life of Chuck (three ‘weak’ stars)

The piece is told in three parts, though this is perhaps the most straightforward aspect of the entire reading experience. Each part is in reverse chronological order, beginning with an apocalyptic event where many of the people lose everything, but billboards and online advertisements hail Charles ‘Chuck’ Krantz as having served well over the last 39 years. As the story progresses (regresses?), the reader learns a little more about the earlier Chuck and the life he lived, but adds an ending that will likely leave the reader scratching their heads. Not the stellar King of which I am used to praising!

If It Bleeds (four and a half ‘strong’ stars)

The story that holds the collection’s name is also, in my mind, the best of them all. Tied into King’s recent full-length novel, the reader revisits Holly Gibney and the Finders Keepers Investigation Agency, both of which are doing quite well. When Holly sees a news report about a bombing at a middle school, she becomes fixated, not only with the story, but those who are recounting it. Might there be another Outsider who is responsible for the carnage? Holly goes to look into things, soon pulled into a long-developing theory by an elderly gentleman who has much to share. Where this story will go might baffle the reader!

Rat (four stars)

In King’s final tale, the reader meets Drew Larson, a college English teacher who is hoping to write his ‘great novel’ during a sabbatical. Unable to do so at home, Larson decides to travel up to the family cabin, much to his wife’s chagrin. When Larson arrives, hoping to get the writing bug, he discovers that he’s just beaten a major storm. While the winds gust, Larson tries to put something onto paper. Still struggling and finding himself falling ill, Larson finds himself visited by a rat who seems to be trying to escape the weather. They come to an agreement about how to ensure this new book will prove to be successful, though the sacrifice might be more than Drew Larson can handle to find fame.

Anytime a reader chooses something by Stephen King, they can expect something exciting and unique. King did not disappoint in that regard, though some of his ideas could leave the reader less than impressed. The fact that King leaves that unsettled feeling proves his abilities, as his ideas appear all over the spectrum. These four stories could not be more different from one another, which gives more readers a chance to find something they will enjoy. While King always makes some social commentary, it is up the the reader to decide what they wish to take from the pieces. With his usual random references to past novels and locales, King keeps his fans on their toes as they push through these pieces, forcing those who are keen on details to see how the pieces all fit together. Not to be missed for those who love a little chill alongside their reading experience. I cannot wait to see what else the King of Horror has in store in the years to come!

Kudos, Mr. King, for another wonderful collection. I’ll not soon tire of your variety of writing ideas and the means by which you deliver them.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Throttle, by Joe Hill and Stephen King

Eight stars

Trying to fill a day-long gap before tackling a major reading project, I discovered two short stories about the issues of road rage. Having read the first—Richard Matheson’s Duel—I turned to this piece by father and son duo, Stephen King and Joe Hill. This piece is supposedly influenced by Matheson’s earlier work, packing just as much punch in a story about modern road rage. The spin makes it just as enjoyable, but equally unique. As an outlaw biker gang talks about a missed opportunity to score a pile of money when their meth lab explodes, they fail to notice a trucker sitting in his rig. By the time the trucker’s presence is noticed by the apparent leader of the rag-tag group, it’s time for the truck to hit the road. In a sort of panic, the bikers take it upon themselves to ensure their criminal ways are not discussed or reported to anyone. They take after the rig, in hopes of offering a lesson in permanent silence. However, this faceless driver is anything but docile, playing his own game with those on two wheels in a piece that pushes road rage to a new and bloody level. As the race is on, both sides seek to exert their own dominance, but there can only be one winner, as the Nevada highway stretches out before them. A great spin on the Matheson piece by these two stalwarts in the horror genre. Recommended to those who need a quick dose of King/Hill magic, as well as the reader who enjoyed Matheson’s piece (as I did) and wanted to see a modern reinterpretation.

I always love a good King story and his collaboration with his own son makes for an even better piece. I almost feel as though Richard Matheson deserves a shout out here, as though his initial creation of this road rage idea should not go unmentioned. King and Hill portray a modern version of the battle of the roads, where motorcycles have come to prove their own form of dominance. Offering the ‘War vet gone bad’ as the biker, the authors spin an interesting backstory of drugs and murder, as they seek to evade the law. When their past is overheard, they spring into action, trying to scrub out any witness (auditory in this case) to their crimes before seeking a new way to make some illegitimate cash. The race on the road becomes the central theme, though the reader will be just as surprised as the bikers about what awaits them. This is no Sunday afternoon drive! The authors pull Matheson’s clash off the page and inject more blood and horror, seeking to push the limits of the horror genre, while keeping things realistic. Strong character development and a well-paced narrative keep the reader on the edge of their seat as they flip pages, if only to see who will become the victor. I am pleased to have stumbled upon both the Matheson and King/Hill short stories, as they complement one another so well.

Kudos, Messrs. King and Hill, who built on a short story from long ago and made it their own. I enjoy your collaborative efforts and hope to stumble upon more when I need a fix!

The Institute: A Novel, by Stephen King

Nine stars

Long a fan of Stephen King’s work, I was eager to get my hands on this piece and take the journey. King seems to find so many ways to keep the reader enthralled with his plots and characters, as this book did not veer too far from those foundational building blocks. Luke Ellis is violently kidnapped from his Minneapolis home, his parents left murdered in their beds. When Luke awakes, he can vaguely recollect something having happened to him, but the specifics are entirely fuzzy. An exceptionally bright twelve year-old, Luke is unable to decipher what is going on around him, until he is introduced as the newest member of The Institute, a super-secret facility in Maine. Its residents are children, not necessarily blessed with great intelligence, but with the powers of telekinesis or telepathy. As Luke becomes a little more acquainted with his surroundings, he comes to understand that these powers are being used for some unknown mission, during which time the children are drained of their abilities, then have their memories zapped of any recollection surrounding The Institute. This highly-regimented place leaves little room for straying from the path, though Luke and his fellow residents can use their powers to discus options. Luke takes it upon himself to make a break, with the help of someone else, and get help for the larger group. While he is able to slide under a fence, it is only the start, as Luke must flee swiftly and get someone to believe his far-fetched tale. When Luke arrives in DuPray, South Carolina, he rests his hopes on a local police officer. Tim Jamieson may be new to the area, but he has a great deal of policing experience, which includes a gut for trouble. With members of The Institute using their connections around the country, Luke Ellis might be in more danger than he thinks, and Jamieson his only hope. But what of those left back in Maine? Well, that’s where the story gets even more interesting… Another stellar King novel that will leave the reader wondering how they got from A to Z and loving the adventure along the way. Recommended to those who have a passion for King’s energetic writing style, as well as readers who are not scared off by a book’s length and tangential narrative.

Stephen King is one of those writers that you will either love or hate, both sets of readers having made themselves known on my Goodreads feed of late. King never shies away from controversy, but he is happy to do so by layering his novels with themes and countless tangents, seeking to prove a point without always being blunt. I grew up not being permitted to read King and have since made a point of trying to devour much of his newer writing, as well as dabbling in some of his older work. This piece shows signs of being more like his newer work, where the gore and the crazy facets are less prevalent, leaving a story that needs telling to come to the surface. Luke Ellis finds himself in the middle of this piece and seems to be the ideal protagonist. While he is young—twelve being that formative age when everything is new or awkward—Luke does well throughout this novel, navigating much of what is placed before him. He must not only digest the death of his family, but the incarceration in this sinister ‘tele-prison’ of sorts, while trying to be both a leader and a child seeking guidance. King created the ideal young character here and the attentive reader will enjoy all the backstory and character development that comes along with it. Others who find their way into the story help shape the narratives, particularly Tim Jamieson, whose emergence in the opening portion of the book led me to wonder if this were another of those ‘down the rabbit hole’ moments when we would not see a character again after attaching ourselves to him. Jamieson serves as a protector and quasi-father figure to Luke as they try to wrestle The Institute and all it stands for before more children are harmed. The story itself serves as a wonderfully entertaining piece, though it is long. As with most King novels, the reader needs patience, which pays off in the long-run. There are many references to past King pieces, which is part of the adventure, as the reader tries to link the references to the different books. There is never a shortage of King works to pull upon or become excited about and they always leave the reader thinking, while also wanting more. I can say I am yearning for more and will keep my eyes open for more in the coming months!

Kudos, Mr. King, for always pushing the envelop a little more and keeping me on my toes. Brilliant work deserves much praise and I hope others see some of what I did in this novel.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Colorado Kid, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Turning to another short piece by Stephen King, I found this piece calling out to me. As King can vary greatly in his writing, I was not entirely sure what to expect, but found this mystery pulled me in while remaining as laid-back as a Maine summer’s day. Stephanie McCann is a journalism intern in a small Maine community, working alongside the town’s two newspaper reporters, Vince Teague and Dave Bowie. While Stephanie is looking to learn the nuances of small-town reporting, she is also looking for a story to call her own. Teague and Bowie cannot offer much, though there is that incident down at the church picnic that left some dead. Teague and Bowie seek to teach their muse something about reporting that includes building a story on a truth and then filling the cracks with supposition. However, there is one unsolved case that seeks a story, even if there is no concrete truth to serve as foundation. Back in 1980 or so, two high school kids found a body on the beach, a hunk of meat lodged in the throat. Further investigation showed that this was no local—as if the lack of anyone knowing him was not enough—and James Cogan was eventually identified as the victim. However, no one could tell how or why he ended up on the East Coast, hailing from Colorado. Cogan’s wife could not explain it, though she knew something odd was going on a while back. As Stephanie seeks to posit her own theory, she is kept on track by the two old journalists, who fill in the cracks she finds in the story, to a degree. Who was James Cogan and what was this Colorado businessman doing in Maine, especially dead. King leaves the reader wondering as they seek to piece things together in this novella. Brilliant in its delivery and perfect for those who want a few hours to get the brain juices flowing. Recommended to novella fans, especially those who enjoy reading King’s less violent pieces.

Stephen King knows how to write a captivating story, inserting twists few would likely predict. This novella had all the impact of a well-crafted piece, mixing mystery and narrative backstory in equal measure. King uses three loose protagonists in the piece—the journalists—who push the narrative along, with James Cogan acting as a decent, but distant, central figure. His presence in Maine remains a mystery, though the clues that come up during the discussion leave everyone trying to find an answer to this mystery. King develops some decent characters, with little known about this, though that might have been the point. The story was grounded and kept me wanting to learn a little more, though there were numerous threats left dangling. With short chapters and decent momentum, King fans may enjoy this one, full of tangential commentary on the smallest of details. While this was only a filler piece, I have always loved the full-length King novels, one of which awaits me in the near future. A great short piece without the gore or intense chills that some might find in King’s cornerstone pieces.

Kudos, Mr. King, for a nice novella that helped pass the time as my busy weekend progresses.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Seeking a filler before tackling more of my TBR pile, I turned to Stephen King for one of his shorter novels. I chose well, taken into the backwoods of the Appalachian Trail and a harrowing tale of a young girl. While out on a ‘forced hike’ with her mom and brother, Trisha McFarland strays from the path and finds herself lost. What starts out as an adventure of sorts soon turns nerve-racking and eventually into a terrible ordeal. Armed with only the lunch she packed for the hike and a few supplies, Trisha is left alone in the woods. Thankfully, she has her Walkman, allowing her to tune in and listen to the reports of her disappearance, as well as catch a few innings of her beloved Boston Red Sox, with dreamy relief pitcher, Tom Gordon. As the story progresses, King offers up views not only from Trisha’s perspective, but also her panicked family, pushing the narrative into moments of intensity. With only the sound of the game to ground her, Trisha cheers on her team and dreams of encounters with Tom Gordon to keep her relaxed. With help surely on the way, Trisha will have to navigate through the woods in hopes of hearing someone calling out for her, or die with Tom Gordon and his pitching heroics on her mind. A wonderful stroll through the less graphic side of King’s mind, this story is both engaging and highly entertaining. Recommended to those who love King’s creativity, as well as the reader who wants something to bide their time.

I have always said that Stephen King knows how to write a wonderful tale, while inserting twists I would not predict along the way. This story was no different, though offered some uniqueness that I have come to expect. The story moved along well, divided into ‘innings’ as the reader progresses through this larger game. Trisha McFarland proves to be a wonderfully entertaining protagonist, taking the reader into her young mind and all that passes through it while she tries not to panic. Much is revealed about her, particularly the struggles she has with her parents’ divorce and how she is trying to come to terms with it. The reader learns much of her backstory and some development here and there, which is essential to tie into the larger narrative. King is able to use others to help advance the plot as well, with vignettes focussed on the other family members as they worry, or flashbacks to events that define them. The plot was sound, as many are in a King story, though not always what I might have expected. King is always able to extrapolate on an easy idea and proves a master of his craft, helping to shape an already strong narrative. While only a filler for me, I did not feel the need to rush, as the story clipped along at a wonderful pace. I love a good King story and there are so many, I won’t ever run out!

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winner. I have your latest book to tackle soon, but this was a wonderful appetizer to tide me over until then.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Pet Sematary, by Stephen King

Eight stars

It is always an exciting adventure to read some of Stephen King’s horror-themed works, as they tap into some of his darker side and fill the narrative with wonderfully tangential material. Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job in a Maine town, uprooting his family from their Chicago home. As the Creeds arrive in town, they soon realise that there is more to the house than meets the eye. After meeting the neighbour, Judson ‘Jud’ Crandall, the family agrees to allow him to give them a lay of the land. Jud has lived in his house all his life, upwards of eighty years, so he is well-versed about all the local lore. While warning the family of the dangers of the local highway at the end of their property, he speaks of the local cemetery that many of the children have been using for their pets, hidden up amongst the forested area. Dubbed the ‘Pet Sematary’, this burial ground has many a non-human member of families as far back as can be imagined, with grave markers etched by innocent hands. However, there is something about the area that cannot be properly explained. When Louis heads off to work at the university infirmary, he encounters a young man who has devastating injuries and blames the ‘sematary’, though Louis is sure there is more to the story he is not being told. When the Creeds, sans Louis, head back to Illinois for Thanksgiving, the patriarch holds down the fort with the family cat. Over the holiday, devastating news comes of the cat’s demise, having been hit by a truck. This forces Louis and Jud to make their way to the sematary to lay the feline to rest. When the cat reappears, inexplicably, a few days later, Louis is sure it has something to do with the sematary. Jud admits that there is something to the mystery, as pets seem to resurrect themselves and return to their masters with no logical explanation. Refusing to share anything about the cat’s death, particularly since it has returned, Louis and the family continue living their peaceful life. When an accident sees the young boy die on the aforementioned road, the Creeds are paralysed by grief. Louis cannot wrap his head around it and turns to his wife, who is completely out of commission. Knowing the powers of the pet sematary, Louis must decide if he can risk moving his son’s body from its final resting place to the sematary, knowing that this could rejuvenate the clouds of depression that have started rolling in. Still, there is the x-factor of the unknown, which could trump any goodness that might return. Louis stands at a crossroads, wondering what to do, while keeping the secret of the pet sematary. Bone-chilling in its plot development, Stephen King shows that he is the master of his genre and can pull readers in with his well-paced narrative. Recommended to those who love a good story of thrills and dark plots.

With the recent movie re-release of this classic Stephen King novel, I thought it would be best to try this book before deciding about the big screen. While I was never one who read King in my youth, I have discovered just how addictive his novels can be, given the time to enjoy them. King has a way with developing complex storylines and intricate characters in parallel, enriching the reading experience for those with the patience to wade through his longer novels. Louis Creed is a wonderful protagonist, who has seen a great deal in his life. When he meets Jud Crandall, Louis finally understands what it means to have a great father figure as well as a loyal friend. While Louis is unease about the move to Maine from the early days, he discovers the nuances of the community and the dark secrets about this pet sematary. Offering the reader some insight into the struggles of his family politics, Louis serves as a wonderful guide on this monumental journey. Jud Crandall is one of many great supporting characters, serving as the community’s backbone and lore teller, which serves Louis well, while also leaving him worries about what he might have done by accepting work in Maine. King’s use of a large number of characters serves to enrich the story and offers complex development at every turn. Characters develop throughout and their lives mix effectively, serving to entertain the reader, as King is prone to do. As with many of King’s novels, the story twists and turns, meandering from one topic to the next. While this may be a criticism when lobbed at some authors, King is able to entertain the reader along the way, keeping them transfixed along the journey. I find that the plot develops on its own, inching forward at a pace the reader might not notice at first glance. It is, however, this journey that makes the reading experience all the better for the attentive reader. With regular mention of small things from past (and future) novels, King masterfully weaves his tale while offering nuggets of a deeper social commentary, this time about death and the loss of a loved one. Those who have the patience for such a novel will surely find much in these pages. As with most novel/movie-tv series adaptations, I would recommend reading the book before turning to either version of the cinematic experience.

Kudos, Mr. King, for reminding me just how much I like reading your work. Enthralling until the very end.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Flight or Fright, edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent

Nine stars

There is a certain majestic nature to being far above the clouds, crossing the country or an ocean while receiving small bags of snacks and watered-down drinks. Air travel has long been the go-to means of getting from one place to another, especially with the ongoing technological advancements for the general public. However, Stephen King and Bev Vincent seek to dispel this bucolic myth with their collection of short stories about flying, all of which explore levels of fear or evil when it comes to being in the air. The collection of seventeen pieces keeps the reader enthralled, with stories from many authors who penned their works at different times during the progress of flight over the past century. From stories about cargo trips back from Jonestown, to ever-elusive gremlins on the wing, through to pieces about a nuclear war commencing during the middle of a continental flight and even the joys of having an airplane before a crime scene during an in-flight murder, King and Vincent seek to spook the reader just a little as they learn about the many ways in which flight could be anything but safe. With wonderfully gripping pieces, some as short as a single paragraph, the editors offer a jam-packed adventure that would put any security scanning line to shame when it comes to horrific experiences. A great anthology that will keep many a reader wanting to plant their feet on terra firms for the foreseeable future. Highly recommended for those who enjoy short stories that differ greatly from one another and those who are not put off by some of the predictable disasters that could await any airline passenger.

Having long been a fan of Stephen King—and an avid flier—I was eager to get my hands on this piece to see the sorts of authors and stories that were gathered to create this nightmarish collection. Not only are the pieces entirely unique from one another, but they span the entirety of the flight experience. Some authors penned their stories not long after the Wright Brothers made their brief sojourn into the air while others tackle topics of a Cold War era or even when travel was as sleek as could be imagined. This great cross-section of writing enriches the collection even more, though there is a theme of fear within each piece. As the editors offer a brief synopsis of the piece to come, the reader is able to place it into context and can—should they wish—notice the chronological and technological progresses made in air travel. As the reader is introduced to scores of characters in a variety of settings, they can relate to as many as they like while endeavouring not to scare themselves with vivid imaginings of what could go wrong. The choice of stories was wonderful, as was the varied lengths of the pieces on offer. However, perhaps I should not have read this days before I would board a plane. Now then, which button was actually used to bring down the plane and not summon assistance for additional pretzels?

Kudos, Messrs. King and Vincent, for this captivating collection. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope you’ll continue to collaborate again soon.

This book fulfils Topic #1:Collecting Words in the Equinox #6 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Body, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Stephen King’s wonderful 1982 novella, which was transformed into the classic 1986 film, Stand By Me, four young boys to come of age over a weekend together. Set in 1960, the story takes place in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine, where twelve-year-old Gordie Lachance and his three friends are ready to set out to substantiate the rumours that the body of a missing boy has turned up near the next town. As the boys to begin their summer trek, they must come together to face winding train tracks, a brief dip in an interesting water hole, and a great deal of self-discovery. In a story that seeks to explore the innermost thoughts and feelings of these four, the reader can see that emotions run deep and that the ‘tough guy’ exteriors are only a pre-teen facade. King pulls the reader in from the outset in this well-paced piece, which shows just how amazing youth can be, when tempered with a little sobering maturity. Recommended for those who like King and his various writing styles. No need to be wary, for there is little gore, but enough language that some readers may want to look elsewhere.

I always enjoy Stephen King pieces, as they keep me wondering where things will go in his circuitous writing style. There was a strict ban on my reading his novels when I was younger, for reasons I am not entirely sure I remember. My adult years have been spent catching up and I have come to see that King can be a little intense, but he has a great deal I thoroughly enjoy. King offers up a lighter novella here, allowing his characters to develop nicely without the excessive gore. Gordie Lachance is both the presumptive protagonist and the ‘author’ of this story, a flashback piece penned when he was much older. Lachance explores some of the sentiments of his own childhood, as well as honing his skills as a writer. Gordie offers up much development as it relates to his friends, giving the reader a more comprehensive approach to those who populate the story. Through a series of events that weave together into the larger story, King allows his characters to mature through their learning experiences. Keeping the reader engaged throughout this quick read, King shows just how strong his writing can be, close to four decades later.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another wonderful piece of writing. I am happy to have stumbled upon this one and will admit that I have not seen Stand By Me in its entirety, which will soon change.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Laurie: A Short Story, by Stephen King

Eight stars

An unexpected added short story to a recently released novella by Stephen King. Quite an interesting tale that mixes some unique character development with King’s trademark gory depictions at some points. A recent widower, Lloyd welcomes his sister’s visit to Florida. However, it would seem that this is more than a simple visit, but a family attempt to help a depressed older man. Lloyd is introduced to a puppy that is being left for him, something that might help distract from his recently departed wife. Lloyd hesitates and struggles to housetrain the little ball of fur, but Laurie soon creates a canine bond with her master. They find their niche and undertake a basic routine, including walks around the neighbourhood. When their walk takes them by a body of water, things go sour, forcing Lloyd and Laurie to take matters into their own hands. What might have started out as an awkward relationship soon develops into something that warms the heart. A nice filler that fans of Stephen King will likely find just up their alley.

While not everyone can admit to liking Stephen King or his work, I have come to find much of his work quite entertaining for its unique approach to the every day. In this short piece, King has little time to develop his characters, though does well with painting Lloyd as a man who pines for his departed wife but who does not want help with his sorrow. He has been losing weight and surely could use some companionship, but refuses to admit it to a doting sister. When introduced to Laurie, Lloyd pushes back, but soon has little choice but to act as master, sucking up all his resentments. From there, it’s all about the slow and ongoing connection between man and his dog. They come together with ease, even if it is somewhat jagged at the start. Lloyd comes to accept his fate and seems to embrace it, given time and his set of rules. The story was well written and kept my interest for the brief time it took to complete. King never ceases to amaze me, as he can grip my attention with long, drawn-out novels just as much as short stories that take only a cup of coffee to complete.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another great story that held my attention throughout. Even with a little gore, I can see many readers finding it to their liking.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Elevation, by Stephen King

Seven stars

It is always nice to turn one’s attention to a piece by Stephen King, where reality can sometimes take a backseat to entertainment. Some bemoan this, though is fiction not supposed to be a chance to suspend beliefs, if only for a short time? Scott Carey appears to be a robust man. When he calls upon an old friend whose medical practice closed a number of years before, Scott admits that he has quite the problem. While his appetite is voracious, he keeps losing weight. An additional concern is that he weighs the same fully dressed as he does in his skivvies. Astonished, this friend seeks to do some research and asks Scott to keep an eye on things. Going about his business, Scott learn that his neighbours, Deirdre and Missy, are being ostracised by the townsfolk of Castle Rock. A married, lesbian couple, Deirdre and Missy have faced ridicule and their local restaurant is on its last legs. When Scott seeks to speak out against the bigotry, he is silenced not only by those who toss epithets, but also by Deirdre herself, who wants to handle her own battles. While he continues to lose weight for some unknown reason, Scott enters the Castle Rock Turkey Trot, in hopes of staying in shape, for what it’s worth. Deirdre, a competitive runner in her younger days, is right there beside him. When something goes awry during the race, Scott and Deirdre are forced to come together, working as a team. This connection could serve to help others see a different side to them both. All the while, the scale is a slow reminder that Scott’s days are numbered, as his weight dwindles. Fairly soon, there will be nothing left but the indelible mark of his friendship on a few souls. An interesting piece, better labelled a novella, by King. One never knows what to expect when the King of Horror (pun intended) releases a new bit of writing.

Some see ‘Stephen King’ and run the other way, either because of his macabre offerings from decades past or that he is simply too ‘off the wall’. I tend to turn towards him for these reasons, as the reader can never be entirely sure what to expect. King shapes the Scott Carey plight in such a way that it is less horrific and more a medical anomaly. It is a hurdle that Scott must overcome or at least face to the best of his abilities. While there is little backstory offered here, the reader learns some of the lead-up to Scott’s visit to a medical professional before exploring the character development throughout this ‘illness’. I can only guess some of the inner turmoil such a confusion prognosis would create, though King does a nice job of exploring this throughout the piece. As time progresses, Scott must come to terms with whatever is going on, forcing those around him to swallow the same pill. There is little that can be done, though no one is as accepting of it as Scott himself. The other characters in the piece, particularly Missy and Deirdre, offer some interesting insight into 21st century tolerance, particularly in small towns, when it comes to bigotry. While King does not bemoan the point, there will be some who cannot see anything wrong with ostracising others for their personal choices, which speaks of a larger issue best left dormant here. The story was decent and the narrative flowed well, though I would not call this a stellar piece. King certainly offers up some inspiration where it is due, though I am not going to pound my drum and recommend that every reader rush to purchase the piece. It’s a nice bridge between two books for those who want something a little different.

Kudos, Mr. King, for a unique story that keeps the reader involved throughout. Well done and I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your fans in the coming year!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Outsider, by Stephen King

Nine stars

Stephen King has done it again with a powerful story that pulls the reader into the middle and will not let them go. Mixing his ability to write mysteries with a long-established foundation for the supernatural, this novel will impress the dedicated reader ready for an adventure like no other. When a boy’s body is discovered, murdered and sexually assaulted, many of the witnesses and evidence point to Terry Maitland. The town’s baseball coach, Maitland was described by many to be the salt of the earth, though Detective Ralph Anderson cannot discount all the information that he has at his disposal. Wanting to make a show of Maitland’s arrest, Anderson seeks to have Maitland taken into custody during a high-profile baseball game, in front of much of the town. While Maitland professes his innocence, Anderson turns a deaf ear, sure that the forensics are irrefutable. A solid alibi exists for Maitland being a fair distance away, with equally persuasive alibi witnesses and physical evidence, though Anderson chooses not to give this much merit. How can a man be in two places at once and does DNA lie? Anderson and others around him seek to explain this, but things go horribly wrong during the arraignment and Maitland’s innocence is now a footnote to a larger issue. When the evidence is extrapolated by a guilty Anderson, who cannot rest until he knows the truth, all eyes turn to Dayton, Ohio, where Maitland spent some of his time with family. A call is placed to the Finders Keepers Detective Agency, where one Holly Gibney is now running the show. Gibney, eccentric as ever, is curious and agrees to take the case, poking around and asking the right questions. She soon discovers that there is more to Terry Maitland than meets the eye and the case is blown wide open. What follows is a series of events that turns the small town of Flint City into the centre of a larger and more disturbing mystery, with ties to a piece of Mexican folklore. Is there a way to be in two places at once? Who is the mysterious man that appears in the dreams of many around town, making threats of violence? King offers up answers to these and many others in his latest piece of stunning fiction. Those who can stomach Stephen King will surely love this book, though his trademark meandering might turn the less than prepared off reading this stellar novel!

I will be the first to admit that it takes a certain kind of reader to enjoy Stephen King. His masterful ability to tell a story is surrounded by layers of tangential writing and minor characters seeking their time in the spotlight. However, if one can handle this sort of storytelling, there is a core tale that is almost addictive and one cannot walk away without being impacted. King does a masterful job here, focussing his attention on many people throughout the piece. Terry Maitland receives strong character development throughout the early portion of the novel, his life dragged through the mud as the accusations against him pile high. He seeks to clear his name, though the evidence appears to make this close to impossible. Ralph Anderson and Holly Gibney, though not the only others who share a significant amount of the spotlight, are two that will not soon be forgotten by readers. Anderson is the police official seeking justice over all else and not wanting to let his gaffes hang too long around him. Those who have read some of King’s recent material will know Gibney to be a central character in his Mr. Mercedes trilogy, where her unique style seems to have made its mark. Gibney divorces herself from the socially acceptable world and tells things as she sees them, no matter the consequences. Scores of other characters dot the narrative and push it forward, keeping the reader enthralled and wanting more, their characteristics sometimes a flash in the pan, but always appreciated. The story itself is complex and entertaining, full of King’s strong research and curious tangential commentary on life. What appears to be the thread the narrative will follow is soon abandoned for a different pathway, but one the reader can enjoy without too many mental gymnastics. I understand how many may not have liked this piece or found it too… odd for their liking. I know all too well that King can be difficult to digest and it takes a certain type of reader to understand him. That being said, I cannot praise this recent piece enough and await the next novel to see what else he has in store.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winner. While I have been critical of some work you produce, you always keep me guessing and wondering what you have in mind when I crack open another of your pieces of writing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen King and Owen King

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Stephen King, I was curious to tackle this novel, which pairs the King of Horror with his Prince of Thrills (?), Owen. Working together on this massive piece, the reader is able to see the Kings’ respective writing styles and notice how well they mesh together. In the town of Dooling, the discovery of two meth cooks are found murdered seems to be a day like any other, though a stranger may be behind this bloody mess. Normalcy ends in this community when women around the world are going to sleep and not waking up. While in these comatose states, they are discovered with an odd growth on their faces, spindly white thread that soon becomes a cocoon that surrounds their bodies. Panic ensues and those who seek to remove this cocoon from family and friends are met with a rabid response, sated only by the violent murder of anyone who dare disturb the woman’s slumber. This odd occurrence is tied to sleep—but only of women—and is soon labelled Aurora Sickness. As the folks of Dooling do all they can to understand this phenom, the women are taking matters into their own hands to stay awake. Chaos reigns as caffeine and other stimulants—both legal and illegal—are sought by anyone possessing the XX chromosome, in an effort to remain awake. When rumours hit the internet about a scheme to ‘torch’ the cocoon-bearers, this only adds a new layer of concern in Dooling, where riots and vandalism have changed things for the worse. Tucked away in the prison is that aforementioned stranger, Eve Black, who appears to be immune to the cocooning and enjoys restful sleep without consequence. Does Eve have something to share with those left awake in Dooling that might bring an end to the madness? What happens to those who remain asleep in their cocoons? These answers and more await the reader as they flit through this massive novel—like moths on a summer night—and are enveloped in a story that has all the markings of a King classic. This joint effort should leave fans of the elder King quite pleased and raise interest in Owen’s own writing.

Having never read Owen King before, I must use my knowledge of his father’s writing to provide comparative analysis for this review. I will be the first to admit that reading Stephen King is not for everyone, though his novels as not as horror-based as they might once have been. Their uniqueness lies not only in the number of pages used to transmit a story, but also the numerous tangents taken to get from A to B. While that might annoy me with some authors, I find solace in the detail provided on the journey when King is at the helm. As King is wont to do, he supersaturates the story with scores of characters, all of whom play their own part in the larger narrative. While this may annoy some readers, I find it—bafflingly—exciting as I keep track of all the mini-stories that develop throughout. That being said, a few characters rise to the forefront in this piece and help bridge the story together. Lila Norcross proves to be a pivotal character, both in her role as sheriff and a level-headed player in town when chaos begins to rear its head. Lila has much going on and her character must face many struggles throughout the story, but she never backs down from what stands before her. Clint Norcross, Lila’s husband and prison psychiatrist at the women’s facility in town also plays an interesting role, in that he seeks to explore the lives and thoughts of those incarcerated, as well as serving as an important liaison for Eve Black, currently being detained in the ‘soft room’. Eve Black remains that character that King uses in most of his novels, the unknown individuals who brings chaos to the forefront while remaining calm and even endearing. No one knows anything of Eve, though her character becomes significant as the story progresses. Turning to the story at hand, it is both complex and simplistic, allowing the reader to pull something from it that might appeal to them. The curiosity surrounding the cocoon remains at the forefront of the plot throughout and why women are the only one’s being saddled with this remains a mystery. Both Kings seek to have the characters explore this anomaly throughout the novel, while also facing some of the concerns of a town disintegrating at the hands of its female population falling by the wayside, particularly when Eve’s immunity becomes common knowledge. There are many wonderful plots to follow within the story, which develop throughout the detailed chapters. The reader will likely have to use the character list at the beginning of the piece to keep everyone clear, though the detail offered allows a quick refresher for the attentive reader. The writing style is clearly elder King, with its meandering way and a narrative peppered with commentaries. It is for the reader to sift through it all and find the gems that will help them better appreciate the story. Chapters are broken up into numbered breaks, assisting with the literary digestion process, which allows the reader to better appreciate the magnitude of the story before them. I enjoy this style of writing, though am not entirely clear what flavour the younger King added to the story, as I am ignorant to any of his past published works. That being said, the collaborative King experience was one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Kudos, Messrs. King, for this excellent collaborative effort. I found myself enthralled until the very end and hope you’ll consider working together again.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Gwendy’s Button Box & The Music Room, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Seven stars

Gwendy’s Button Box:

A wonderful collaboration between ‘King of Horror’ Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, who have been long-time friends but meshed their literary ideas into a single piece. This story is peppered with the New England flavour for which King is so well known and an innocent story that turns on a single item, something Chizmar surely influenced after being handed control of the story. Gwendy Peterson is an energetic girl who seeks to change herself before heading into middle school, where the teasing she has undergone will only get worse. When a mysterious man, Richard Farris, engages her in conversation, Gwendy soon realises that this is not a man who seeks to do her any harm. Rather, he has a special gift for her, a mahogany box affixed with eight buttons, their convex surfaces and varied colours quite alluring. Farris explains the importance of each button, warning her away from pressing the red, unless she is sure of what she wants, as it packs quite the punch. With that, Farris is gone and Gwendy is left to fend for herself. She hides the box from everyone else, pulling it out only to feed off the delectable sweets that are compartmentalised along one side. As the story progresses and Gwendy ages, she becomes tempted by the buttons, or at least the red one, and seeks to experiment. The result is anything but peaceful, but Gwendy knew that was a distinct possibility. With events around her playing out, Gwendy is left to wonder, could she be solely responsible? An interesting novella that pulls the reader in from the start and posits some interesting theories. A wonderfully entertaining read for any who enjoy some of the less macabre King work with this new spin that Chizmar brings to the writing process.

I have long been a King fan and can only hope that there will be more stories like this. King and Chizmar took on a seemingly innocent plot and allowed it to evolve and take shape, to the point that the reader is left to wonder just who Gwendy Peterson might be. She has moments of teenage naïveté that are contrasted nicely with some darker thoughts, especially when she knowingly uses the ‘red button’. However, there is little attempt by the authors to turn her into anything sinister. The same goes for Richard Farris, who balances precariously on the fence from being that creepy ‘man in the shadows’ to an innocent stranger who seeks to offer up something interesting, akin to the magic beans that Jack received for his cow. King and Chizmar take the story from there and allow Gwendy to apparently control her destiny, while also placing much burden at her feet. Did her pressing the button lead to various newsworthy calamities? Without going too far off the beaten path, King and Chizmar force the reader to wrestle with destiny and the influence of choices on the larger scale. Call it The Butterfly Effect through the eyes of a teenage girl. A wonderful story that packs a punch and offers up much entertainment, one can only hope that King has more of these ideas rumbling around and that Chizmar is on hand to help spin them, in the years to come.

Kudos, Messrs. King and Chizmar for this wonderful novella. I am impressed and the early hype is right; you two are a wonderful team!

The Music Room (written solely by Stephen King):

Pulled from a collection of short pieces that seek to flesh out what is going on in a popular painting, Stephen King offers up this for his readers. It is the low point of the Great Depression, with people starving and suffering just to make enough to eat. However, the Enderbys have found a way both to survive and entertain themselves at the expense of others. Various ‘guests’, picked up by Mr. Enderby, are placed in a sound-proof closet, left to fend for themselves, How will they make it? No one is quite sure. While the Enderbys consider themselves only thieves, picking the pockets of those who enter the room, the reader might have other ideas, as what goes in does not come out in the same form. An interesting tale, though not long enough to expound some of King’s true abilities.