Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Stephen King’

Later by Stephen King

Later is the most recent book by one of my favourite novelists, Stephen King.

First of all, the cover. I love it. The book is a Hard Case Crime novel, with deliciously low-brow, pulp-fiction artwork featuring an impossibly long-legged beauty, a muscle car and a teenage boy in the background who you just know is going to tell the story.

Jamie Conklin tells the story as a young adult, but the events started when he was very young and on the very first page, he warns the reader that his story was a horror story. He was right. I got so scared reading this story in the middle of the night that I had to put the book down and crochet for a while so I could calm down enough to get to sleep. I finished reading the story the next morning when the sun was shining.

Jamie saw dead people although as he explained, he wasn’t like the little boy in The Sixth Sense because the dead people he saw went away after a few days.

His story began with the death of a neighbour in his apartment building. Jamie had several conversations with the dead woman, during one of which he asked her where she had left something that her husband couldn’t find. A few days after Jamie told his mother and the neighbour where to find the missing items the dead woman disappeared forever.

When Jamie’s mother used her young son several years later to talk to a client of her who had died for her and Jamie’s financial gain, I was more horrified by her using Jamie in this way than I was of many of the supernatural events which terrified me further into the story.

Unfortunately for Jamie, his mother’s actions began an unfortunate chain of events which stretched into his teenage years, causing Jamie to become involved in a case where a mass-murderer retained the ability to do harm to others after his death.

Later was a fast read and I struggled to put the book down, apart from the really scary bits in the middle of the night and the twist at the end gave me as big a shock as anything else in the story. Stephen King’s Constant Readers will enjoy this book.

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Gwendy’s Button Box is a novella jointly written by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar.

The story is set in the fictitious town of Castle Rock which is a very familiar place for Stephen King’s regular readers. It begins with twelve-year old Gwendy Peterson running up the Suicide Stairs to Castle View after a boy from school started calling her ‘Goodyear.’ Gwendy was keen to lose weight before the nickname caught on amongst her peers.

When she reached the top of the stairs Gwendy entered into a conversation with a mysterious stranger, who before he left Castle View gave Gwendy a button box with coloured buttons and levers. The stranger explained to Gwendy that each of the coloured buttons related to a continent of the world. One of the levers delivered Gwendy miniature chocolates that were so satisfying they removed her will to snack between meals while another lever delivered valuable coins.

Out of curiousity, Gwendy pushed one of the coloured buttons and was horrified by a corresponding disaster occurring in the part of the world that button represented. During the remainder of her guardianship of the button box, Gwendy did her utmost to protect and hide the box from anyone who might inadvertently push a button and cause another disaster.

The tense is unusual, third person, past tense. For example, In June of 1975, Gwendy stops wearing her glasses. I didn’t notice that there were two separate authors, but I did find the writing style to be familiar and I recognised Stephen King’s Castle Rock community.

I found this story to be more like a fairy tale than a horror story. Gwendy was a likeable heroine and the story was enjoyable, although it lacked depth. Gwendy’s Button Box is probably best for Stephen King’s ‘Constant Readers.’

Just After Sunset by Stephen King

I’m one of Stephen King’s constant readers, so Just After Sunset, a collection of short stories was a re-read for me. I enjoyed these enormously.

Something weird happened when I read the first story in this collection though.

For years I’ve been day-dreaming about a story which I thought I had invented. My plot was based on a sudden event that occurred which killed two people in a building at the exact same time. The dead man and woman emerged unhurt from the debris of the building but when help didn’t come they walked to a nearby restaurant which should have been crowded with people but found it deserted too, along with everywhere else they went. The couple went to each other’s homes hoping to see their loved ones, but when they got there found their homes were deserted too. Eventually they realised they were dead. After a respectable amount of time they became romantically involved, which was lovely at first but after a while the couple realised that forever was going to be a really, really long time. I think the reason why I never had a crack at writing this story was because of the forever thing. It’s just too long and I couldn’t figure out how to end it.

The weird thing was that when I read Willa, I realised where I got my plot idea from. There are differences in the stories (for one, Stephen King doesn’t write romances) but the idea is close enough that I knew without doubt that ‘my’ plot must have come to me after reading this the first time around (probably in 2008 when Just After Sunset was first published). Now I think about it some more I think my plot probably also owes something to the movie Ghost as well as the television series Lost.

I remembered most of the other stories in this collection as I read them, too. Knowing what was going to happen didn’t make me any less anxious for the characters in some of the scarier stories. Stephen King has an extraordinary knack of making a character feel real to the reader very quickly and very often, to care about them.

My favourite stories in the collection were The Gingerbread Girl where the main character, a recently separated woman, was captured by a madman who planned to kill her, along with Graduation Afternoon, where a teenage girl could see both her future as a successful journalist and her present, as she saw a nuclear bomb detonate in the distance with a wave of destruction come towards her. I also enjoyed Mute, the story of a man unburdening himself to a Catholic priest in a confessional booth.

I was unable to read large sections of A Very Tight Place because they were so yucky, but I enjoyed being horrified by the story all the same. It is surprisingly enjoyable to finish reading a story that has grossed you out so much that you’ve squeezed your mouth shut and clenched your shoulders up near your ears. My sigh of relief at the end of this story brought me a physical and mental release.

Some of the stories in this collection have a supernatural element while others had more of your everyday-type of horror. I like both.

I also liked the notes at the end of the book where the author said what prompted him to write each of these stories and a little about where he was living or doing at the time. His notes offer a fascinating look into his personal life as a writer and I always appreciate and enjoy these.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on If it Bleeds, Stephen King’s latest short story collection sometime soon.

Elevation by Stephen King


Elevation by Stephen King is such a short novella that I packed a just-in-case book for my commute to work that day. Lucky, because I finished Elevation about half-way home (my all-up reading time was about an hour).

The story starts with Scott Carey, a divorced, middle-aged all-round good bloke visiting a friend who is a retired doctor. Scott is worried because he is losing weight on the scales, several pounds each day, without losing any bulk. Mysteriously, Scott weighs the same amount regardless of whether he is naked and empty-handed, or fully dressed and laden with coins, dumb-bells or other heavier items.

Scott is reluctant to formally visit a doctor for fear of being roped into a series of tests which will use up what is left of his life, as Scott believes he will either die or float away once his weight becomes lighter than air. As his weight loss continues though, Scott feels wonderful physically because he is the size of a tank and has retained the muscles to support his old weight.

At the same time, Scott is also having problems with his new neighbours and their dogs. The two women recently moved to Castle Rock (the fictional setting of loads of Stephen King’s stories) and opened a restaurant. The locals won’t support the restaurant because the women are married lesbians and understandably the women are becoming fearful, sad and embittered. Scott tries to be a good neighbour but Deirdre, a former top athlete, has too big a chip on her shoulder to recognise a friendly gesture when she sees one.

Castle Rock’s annual fund-raiser, a 12 kilometre fun run (huh?) is coming up, and Deirdre is expected to win it. Scott bets Deirdre that he will win the race and if he does, she and her wife have to come to dinner with him and be friendly. She reluctantly takes the bet, although she wants nothing to do with him.

Although the story is lightweight (get it? lightweight?) and the characters are stereotypical, I enjoyed this story up until nearly the end, when it seemed to me that the author didn’t know how to finish and just decided, ‘oh, this will do.’ I did enjoy the in-joke of Pennywise from Stephen King’s It making an appearance in the story though.

I’m always happy to revisit Castle Rock with Stephen King but in this case, I wanted a bit more from Elevation. No complaints about the writing quality though, and as always, Stephen King can continue to consider me amongst his ‘constant readers.’

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King


Sleeping Beauties was co-written by Stephen King and his son, Owen King.

The story is set in the present in a small American town where most of the townspeople work in a nearby women’s prison. An epidemic which becomes known as the Aurora Virus sweeps the world, causing all women who go to sleep to become wrapped in a cocoon. If woken, the sleeping women are so violent they kill the person who woke them before going back to sleep (huh? Isn’t that normal behaviour?)

Most women fall asleep eventually, despite their attempts to resist. A handful of women stay awake right through the story because they are insomniacs, or because they have access to drugs.

I fell asleep.

Sleeping Beauties was too long, had too many boring bits and went down too many rabbit holes.

I struggled to stay interested, even though the sleeping women went to another world with no men, no wars and with none of the drama that men have historically created. The real world, with men now running the show, wasn’t anywhere I would want to live, as with no women left, no one ironed, cooked or cleaned, while other men took the opportunity to burn sleeping women to death. A supernatural element in the story didn’t improve things.

I was disappointed such a long book by Stephen King could have told so much more of a story. I skipped the last 200 pages to read the last few pages and wasn’t at all surprised by how things worked out. Yawn.

End of Watch by Stephen King


I don’t know.

I just wasn’t feeling it with Stephen King’s End of Watch, the last story in the trilogy which started with Mr Mercedes. 

Mr Mercedes was an excellent read, with great characters and a story that kept me turning the pages when I should have been doing other things, such as sleeping, doing housework or going to work. The second book in the set was Finders Keepers, which could have been read as a stand alone novel. Despite being unnecessary to the trilogy, I enjoyed Finders Keepers too.

End of Watch went on another adventure as well as adding onto and tidying up all of the loose ends from Mr Mercedes, but the story just didn’t grab me. I was finding it hard to work out why, because I always enjoy the feeling of familiarity of being in Stephen King’s world for a few days and I’ve become quite fond of the characters in this trilogy. Then I realised that the previous two stories were straight crime novels, but End of Watch had some supernatural elements which one of the characters developed as the story went on.

This seems to me to be a cheat. A crime novel should be a crime novel. Same for a supernatural novel. If you’re reading this, Stephen King, don’t add a different element at the end of a three-book story and expect me to like it. This is comparable to reading about a fantastic adventure which ends with the line, “and then I woke up,” which everyone knows is not playing fair.

However, despite my disappointment with the twist in End of Watch, Stephen King is still one of my favourite authors and I’ll be lining up for his next creation, along with his other Constant Readers.



Finders Keepers by Stephen King


Finders Keepers by Stephen King is more of the same. More getting so caught up in the story that I read until way past my bedtime. More being tired and cross all the next day at work. More racing through my jobs when I get home so that I can get back to reading the story. More anxiety over a bunch of characters who I come to care about after just a few pages. I know I say this every time I read a Stephen King novel, but I don’t know how he manages this.

Finders Keepers should be read after Mr Mercedes, as many of the characters have already appeared in, or are in some way connected with characters who first appeared in Mr Mercedes. The stories are quite separate though and would stand alone if you really can’t wait to read them in order.

Finders Keepers starts with a young man, Morris Bellamy, breaking into the home of a reclusive author. This author wrote a trilogy of books which became American classics, and while the Morris’s friends intend to steal cash from the author, Morris is looking for the author’s manuscripts, in particular, unpublished works, in order to feed his obsession about the main character in the books. The author and Morris have a literary argument about the plot, which Morris thinks was a cop-out, and in a fit of rage he kills the author.

Morris finds the manuscripts he was hoping for and cash, then kills his accomplices too. He hides the manuscripts and cash in a safe place, then is caught for an unrelated crime and goes to jail for 35 years before he can read the unpublished stories.

Years later, a boy finds the manuscripts and cash. He uses the cash to help his family, who have been down on their luck since being caught up in a horrific incident which was at the centre of the plot for Mr Mercedes, and goes on to read the unpublished manuscripts.

Things get scary when Morris gets out of jail and comes looking for the manuscripts after having waited 35 years to find out what happens next.

I love that Stephen King gets how much writers and readers love stories.

Finders Keepers is mostly a straight story, with very few of this author’s usual supernatural-type elements. I have to admit that a huge shiver ran down my back sometime during the last chapter, and I can’t wait for more with the novel that I hope is to follow this. If Stephen King doesn’t publish the third story in what has been promoted as a trilogy, I hope a crazed fan breaks into his house, steals the relevant manuscripts and then publishes them so we all find out what happens next. Just so long as the crazed fan lets Stephen King live…


Joyland by Stephen King


For me, a visit to any place created by Stephen King is a visit to Joyland. So, how good a title is Joyland then?

Joyland is set in the late 1960s or early 70s and is told by Devin Jones, as an older man looking back at the summer he had his heart broken by his college sweetheart Wendy. (In my opinion, she was no good anyway. Devin is a sweetie, and did much better eventually than the horrible Wendy).

Working his way through college, just as people used to do, (sorry, couldn’t resist!), Devin had a summer job at Joyland, which as the name suggests, was a fun park, with hot dogs, ferris wheels, roller coasters, fortune telling and Howie the Happy Hound, Joyland’s doggie mascot. Working at Joyland, Devin learned carny language, (like ‘carny’), made friends for life with his fellow college-student co-workers and saved a few lives. Intriguingly, Devin also learned about the murder of a young woman, whose throat was cut inside the Horror House, several years before Devin’s summer at Joyland.

While this book is a crime story, it wouldn’t be a Stephen King story without a few touches of the supernatural. Several characters have the gift of ‘the sight’ and a surprising amount of characters were able to see the ghost of the woman who was murdered in the Horror House. (What I want to know is, how come nobody ever writes ghost stories set in hospitals? Surely there must be more ghosts hanging around hospitals than anywhere else. Nurses, doctors, cleaners, kitchen staff, visitors, not to even mention patients; they should all be terrified. But for some reason, nobody ever talks about seeing ghosts in hospital).

Anyway, despite his broken heart, Devin became interested in the mystery of the murdered woman and started investigating her death. He very cleverly figured it all out, before the book raced to an exciting conclusion.

As the narrator, Devin is quite a nostalgic type. His insights, which came at the end of each chapter or section, eventually became irritating. For example, after reflecting on the end of his relationship with that no-good Wendy, he tells the reader, “When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction,” and “Love leaves scars,” and “You have to remember, I was only twenty-one.” Etc. nd so on. And again. His insights were smart enough, but I got sick of them. Just like most heart-broken teenagers, Devin became boring and self-absorbed, although I’m sure he grew out of it. (All right, all right. I can remember crying over someone whose name I can’t remember. I was fourteen. He was ‘The One.’ Or the one after was, I forget now).

However, as a crime story, I actually forgot about trying to solve the mystery of the woman’s murder as I was more interested in the stories about the amusement park. (An evening visit to the beach carnival was the highlight of my summer growing up, a few hours of giggling with my friends, being slammed around on the Thunder-Bolt and riding the Dodgem Cars, checking out the cute boys who ran the rides and stuffing ourselves with fairy floss. Pure joy. That’s probably where I fell in love with ‘The One.’ I know I went on the Cha-Cha with him).

As a mystery, I figured out who-did-it without too much trouble. Stephen King gives you a few clues, but he also leads you astray here and there, and of course throws in enough of the paranormal to make the reader uneasy.

Just don’t go in the Horror House.


Revival by Stephen King


I feel as if I am about to betray one of my favourite authors in this post.

Here goes. I didn’t love Revival by Stephen King.

The main character in Revival is Jamie, who was a child at the beginning of the story. Jamie is one of a large, mostly happy family living in a small community. He and his family are members of a church ministered to by the Reverend Charles Jacobs.

The minister is a charismatic man whose passion is electricity. When his wife and son were killed in a tragic accident, Reverend Jacobs lost his faith and in his misery, preached what became known as the ‘Terrible Sermon’, using horrific examples of unlucky coincidences to ask why God allowed the deaths of innocent people. Listening to the Terrible Sermon, Jamie lost his faith too.

As always, Stephen King created a fast connection between me and his characters. I felt as if I knew Jamie, Charles Jacobs and the other key characters, their passions and their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know how he does it, but I like it.

Not surprisingly, Charles Jacobs left town after the Terrible Sermon. The next chapters were a happy contrast to the previous part of the story, filled with Jamie’s nostalgic memories of growing up, his teenage sweetheart and his joy at discovering music.

Years pass and Jamie becomes a heroin-addicted, rhythm guitarist. When he goes to a carnival to buy drugs, he sees Charles Jacobs working a crowd, using electronic tricks to sell magical photos to ‘rubes.’

Charles’s electricity turned out to be more than the usual stuff you get when you flick a switch though, and the buyers of the photos were unwitting guinea pigs for Charles’ research into ‘secret electricity’. Charles uses his secret electricity for healing purposes as well as for tricks and using it, he cures Jamie of his heroin addiction. As the story continues Charles gains a large following as a healer and he rakes in cash, which he uses to further his research. The secret electricity idea is intriguing, but it wasn’t apparent to me until almost the big moment at the very end where Stephen King was going with this plot, which became terribly dark and bleak.

Over the years, Stephen King has stolen a lot of sleep from me. I’ve hashed over the wickedness of Apt Pupil for years. Nearly thirty years after reading It, I’m still frightened when I use the toilet at night in case that bloody clown who lives in the drains gets me. Pennywise. I can’t even say the name without feeling uneasy. Thinking about The Sun Dog sends shivers down my back and as for Misery, there were quite a few pages which I could only read by peeking through my fingers at the pages.

The promise of Revival felt unfulfilled though. The story built up and up and up, but the big moment, when it finally arrived, wasn’t big enough to satisfy me. I wanted more gory details, more horror, more scary imaginings to keep me awake at night, but I didn’t get it. Unfortunately, (?) tonight I will sleep just fine.

Revival had the potential to scare me every time I flicked on a light switch for the next twenty years, but Stephen King didn’t take his opportunity with this story.



Mr Mercedes by Stephen King


Yay!! Another book by Stephen King!! Mr Mercedes by Stephen King is a ripper of a book, an absolute ripper. In my humble opinion, all Stephen King books are good. Some are great. Some are excellent. As I already said, this one is an absolute ripper. Hurry up and read it so you too can have a headache all of the next day from staying up too late reading because you can’t wait to find out what happens.

Mr Mercedes is, unusually for Stephen King, a straight story. No magic, no fantasy, no unworldly creatures. The story is set in the present time in an ordinary American city and the characters are all normal (including the psychopaths, if psychopaths can be considered normal). This book could be described as a detective novel.

There are several heroes in this story, but the main good guy character is a retired police detective, Bill Hodges. When the story begins Bill is divorced, lonely, bored with retirement and, is almost casually considering suicide. Apparently a large number of men in Bill’s position do commit suicide.

When he retired, Bill handed over a few unresolved cases to his former partner. One case was the search for a mass murderer, a killer who ploughed through a crowd of job seekers in a stolen Mercedes, who became known as Mr Mercedes. Bill retains a high level of interest in these unresolved cases.

The bad guy, or Mr Mercedes, contacts Bill via email, using carefully crafted words to try to lure Bill into conversation, with the intention of goading him into suiciding. In Mr Mercedes’ email to Bill, he says he has no intention of carrying out another mass murder, but as it turns out he does.

Bill should have turned his email from Mr Mercedes over to the police in the very beginning of the story, but had he done that, there wouldn’t have been a story. Or if he had, the story would have been different, in that Bill couldn’t have been the good guy. Stephen King would have needed another character, still in the job, to have tried to stop Mr Mercedes from striking again.

Bill’s fellow heroes are a very clever boy who mows his lawns, a woman named Janey who Bill almost falls in love with and Janey’s cousin Holly, who has serious mental health issues. As a team, they have to try and work out who Mr Mercedes is and what he is planning to do. I won’t say if the good guys succeed in stopping Mr Mercedes or if Mr Mercedes lives to fight another day.

My only issue was the romance between Janey and Bill. Had she been another ten years older I would have believed it, but from a 44 year old woman’s point of view, overweight, 62 year old men are not that attractive. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Bill as a character, but I did not see him physically as a romantic lead.

The scariest part of this book is how ordinary Mr Mercedes presents himself as. He is a working, functioning human being who, as another character says, walks among us. Bad guys don’t have to be aliens or demons to be truly evil.

This book contains references to other Stephen King books, which I love. Recognising the references gives me a feeling of belonging, of knowing that I am a valued Constant Reader.

For those who have read this book, I Googled ‘Under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella’, and of course, it exists. Such is the power of Stephen King. I shouldn’t have logged on as Bill though, the fright I got served me right. Read the book and then do this yourself. I got chills all down my back.

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