Tag Archives: Stephen King

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part I

You may (or may not!) have noticed that things went a little quiet on Jo’s Book Blog recently.  This is partly because I had a week on Boa Vista, one of the islands in the Cape Verde.  However, I also took a bit more time away from blogging than expected, as I found that I needed a break – I found myself in a bit of a reading slump, and I wasn’t enjoying blogging as much, which in turn affected my reviews which I felt weren’t up to scratch.

But now I’m back, thoroughly refreshed, slightly less pale than usual, and maybe a little heavier than I was before 😀

I managed to fit in quite a bit of reading during my break, and being able to read my own books without the (entirely self-imposed) guilt of not reading review copies was thoroughly refreshing.  I’ve split my mini reviews into two posts, and the second will follow later this week.


Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

sleeping beauties

All around the world, something is happening to women when they fall asleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed, the women become feral and spectacularly violent…

In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, the virus is spreading through a women’s prison, affecting all the inmates except one. Soon, word spreads about the mysterious Evie, who seems able to sleep – and wake. Is she a medical anomaly or a demon to be slain?

The abandoned men, left to their increasingly primal devices, are fighting each other, while Dooling’s Sheriff, Lila Norcross, is just fighting to stay awake.

And the sleeping women are about to open their eyes to a new world altogether…

I enjoyed this novel which looks at what might happen if women were to disappear from the world, leaving the men to their own devices.  Whilst it’s co-written by Stephen and Owen King, Sleeping Beauties had many of the hallmarks of a Stephen King novel, and if you like his work then I think you’ll enjoy this.

Stephen King likes a small town setting, and it allows him to go into detail about the place and its inhabitants, which really do bring the books to life.  However, I did find it a little difficult to keep track of all of the characters in this novel, although there is a character guide at the beginning to help with this.

Sleeping Beauties is an interesting and original story and I liked the ending, but it did feel a little too long at times.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


The Hunger by Alma Katsu

the hunger

After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

I absolutely loved The Hunger in which Katsu put a supernatural spin on the tale of the ill-fated Donner party.  Whilst I vaguely remember learning about them in school, I couldn’t tell you much beyond the outcome of their journey, but no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy this novel.

The Hunger is rich in historical detail and interesting, if not entirely likeable, characters, and Katsu builds up the tension and imparts a sense of dread from the very beginning of the novel, even when things don’t look too bad for the party.  Recommended if you’re looking for a creepy, literary horror.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


The Girls by Emma Cline

the girls

Evie Boyd is fourteen and desperate to be noticed.

It’s the summer of 1969 and restless, empty days stretch ahead of her. Until she sees them. The girls. Hair long and uncombed, jewelry catching the sun. And at their centre, Suzanne, black-haired and beautiful.

If not for Suzanne, she might not have gone. But, intoxicated by her and the life she promises, Evie follows the girls back to the decaying ranch where they live.

Was there a warning? A sign of what was coming? Or did Evie know already that there was no way back?

The Girls is a novel that I wanted to read when it was first published in 2016, but didn’t actually purchase until late last year after being given a nudge by a friend of mine.  I’m so glad I listened to her!

It is fiction, but The Girls explores the pull of charismatic cult-leaders, and what inspires such devotion in the followers of individuals such as Charles Manson as Evie become ever more involved in a small commune made up of several young girls and their leader, Russell Hadrick.

The characters aren’t particularly likeable, but I did still want to shield Evie from what she was getting into, and I enjoyed the way in which Cline portrayed her conflict between her upbringing and doing what’s right versus the desire to “prove” herself to these girls and their leader.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

thirteen

THE SERIAL KILLER ISN’T ON TRIAL.

HE’S ON THE JURY…

‘To your knowledge, is there anything that would preclude you from serving on this jury?’

Murder wasn’t the hard part. It was just the start of the game.

Joshua Kane has been preparing for this moment his whole life. He’s done it before. But this is the big one.

This is the murder trial of the century. And Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house.

But there’s someone on his tail. Someone who suspects that the killer isn’t the man on trial.

Kane knows time is running out – he just needs to get to the conviction without being discovered.

Thirteen is absolutely brilliant!  I haven’t read Cavanagh’s other novels featuring Eddie Flynn, but I didn’t feel that I was missing out on any essential background to the plot or characters by diving straight into this one.

I don’t want to say too much about this – the premise of a serial killer sitting on the jury is a fantastic one, and whilst I wasn’t sure how he’d make it work, he did.  Wonderful, twisty, and clever, I highly recommend Thirteen.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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The Running Man by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)

the-running-man

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I grew up watching (somewhat age inappropriate) Arnold Schwarzenegger films – films such as Commando, Predator and The Running Man.  As such, I was keen to see how the film of The Running Man compared to the novel by Richard Bachman, a pseudonym used by Stephen King.

Set at some point in the near future, Ben Richards is out of work and down on his luck.  He and his wife struggle to scrape by, their circumstances made worse by their baby girl, who is ill and desperately needs medicine and a doctor.

Television broadcasting is dominated by Network Games, who produce a variety of game / reality TV shows which offer contestants (most of whom are desperate for cash) the opportunity to win money in strange and dangerous ways, if they can survive the ordeal.

Seeing no other option, Richards puts himself forward as a contestant.  Following a series of rigorous physical and mental testing, he is assigned to the gameshow The Running Man – the network’s biggest show which commands the prime time spot.  Contestants on The Running Man have to evade capture by the Hunters for as long as possible.  The longer they survive, the more money they earn.  If they die, the money goes to their family.  Given a twelve-hour head start, they have to run for 30 days, at which point, they win.  If captured, they are killed.  The record survival time is 8 days.  Can Richards survive this seemingly impossible feat?

I found the novel to be very different to the film.  Some character names are the same, and both feature dysfunctional societies, but that’s where the similarities end.  Whilst the film saw Arnie and friends running through a space that seemed specifically designed for the show, the novel has no such playground.  Here, contestants can run anywhere – the whole country and beyond (if they can escape without being spotted) is their oyster.  Not only does Richards have to avoid the Hunters, he also has to avoid citizens, who are rewarded for any sighting of Richards that will let the Hunters know where he is.  This is a true cat and mouse game, and the odds are stacked very much in favour of the cat in this scenario.

The society that Bachman has created is probably my favourite aspect of the novel.  In this near future dystopia, pollution has built up to such levels that the lower classes, who can’t afford air filters and similar devices, are often made ill by the very air they breathe.  Society is becoming increasingly violent, something that the game shows seem to be actively encouraging.  I found it to be an all too plausible totalitarian state, where the economy is a shambles and the government has no qualms about covering up their mistakes and lying to the general population.

First published in 1982, this novel precedes the current vogue for reality TV by a good few years.  Whilst we don’t have anything so brutal, nor are we quite so addicted to such shows, the novel is eerily prescient in showing how popular such shows might be.  Let’s hope that’s all it predicted correctly.

The Running Man in a quick, entertaining read, and can be read whether you seen the film or not (and irrespective of whether you enjoyed it or not), given how different it is.

Holiday Reads – Fuerteventura 2016

I haven’t added anything new to my blog for the last week, as I’ve been on a (much needed) holiday in Fuerteventura.  It’s amazing how much better a bit of sunshine makes you feel!  And it gave me plenty of time to read and to make a bit of a dint in my TBR pile.

My holiday reading is almost solely done from my Kindle – I love the convenience of having multiple books at my fingertips without having to sacrifice luggage space.  And I find that I always deviate from my planned reading list once I’m out there – something that’s not an option with physical books.

So, here’s what I read over the last week:

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick

The first book in the Erebus Sequence introduces us to the darkly gothic Kingdom of Landfall, and its corrupt capital Demesne.  Lucien de Fontein is one of the mysterious “orfano” – strangely disfigured individuals whose origins are unknown, but are, by the King’s orders, taken into the castle and one of the four main families to be educated and trained, although they never fully accepted into the society.  This is a compelling story, with wonderfully complex and original characters and an exciting storyline.

The Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore

Dr Caleb Maddox is a toxicologist who is studying pain and the body’s chemical reaction to it.  He has recently fallen out with his girlfriend, and seeks solace in the bars of San Francisco, where he comes across the beautiful, enigmatic Emmeline.  The police are investigating a series of disappearances, and Maddox becomes tangled up in the investigation as he helps the medical examiner on the case (an old friend) with the post mortems, but also as he was in the bar where one of the men was last seen.  This is a dark, twisting novel that has a hint of 1940s noir about it.  A suspenseful, intriguing read.

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

Recently retired Detective Bill Hodges is still haunted by the cases that went unsolved – particularly the notorious “Mercedes Killer” who ran down a number of people queuing at a job fair.  So when Mr Mercedes contacts him, he jumps at the second chance to hunt down the killer.  I find King’s novels to be a bit hit and miss – some I’ve really enjoyed, others less so.  This was an easy read, but I struggled with the one-dimensional characters and found this to be a fairly basic and predictable police procedural.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

1850s America, and the infamous Charlie and Eli Sisters (guns for hire) are tracking their elusive target through Oregon and into California.  Along the way, Eli – the younger of the two – gives into his conscience, and begins to question their chosen lifestyle, wondering at the possibility of a less violent way of life.  Short listed for the 2011 Booker Prize, this is a wonderful, darkly amusing tale told from the perspective of a unique character.

The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick

The second book in the Erebus Sequence returns the reader to Landfall some 10 years or so after the events in The Boy with the Porcelain Blade.  I enjoyed the shift of perspective in this novel, as Dino – Lucien’s protégé – steps to the fore as our main protagonist.  I think that this novel is a little better than the first – the world building has largely been taken care of, and so there is more focus on plot and character.  Dark and complex, this is another excellent tale, and I can’t wait to see how this trilogy ends!

The White Voyage by John Christopher

A simple sea voyage from Ireland to Amsterdam carrying an assorted cast of passengers should be straightforward, until they hit a storm which damages the ship and drags them off course.  Eventually, they hit the Arctic circle, and must travel overland or starve.  I found this novel to be a huge disappointment.  I loved Christopher’s The Death of Grass, but couldn’t get into this at all.  I didn’t care about the fate of the characters, and found it to be quite a slog, despite it being a short novel.

SS-GB by Len Deighton

November 1941, 9 months after Britain has surrendered to Germany.  Churchill has been executed, and the King is being held prisoner in the Tower of London.  Against the backdrop of a land in turmoil as it struggles with its new masters, Detective Inspector Douglas Archer is sent to investigate a murder.  But this turns out to be more than a routine investigation, and Archer finds himself in the middle of something much bigger.  A well thought out “what if” scenario and a thrilling tale of espionage centred on a man who’s just trying to do his job.

Flight from Deathrow by Harry Hill

This book isn’t actually mine.  My other half (who isn’t much of a reader) has been wanting me to read this for ages because it’s hilariously funny.  And it is funny – it’s been a while since I’ve laughed so much at a book.  But, there’s not really much of a plot, and I couldn’t really tell you what happens in it – it’s more a collection of amusing anecdotes, some of which are loosely connected and get a little out of hand.  But it is funny.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I had high expectations for this novel, having seen it on many “top x novels of 2015” type lists.  This turned out to be a HUGE mistake.  A neurotic 40-something woman who wants nothing so much as a child (however reluctant she is to admit that to herself) finds her life turned upside down when she agrees to let the daughter of her bosses stay with her.  This is an unusual novel with (intentionally) disagreeable characters that I just couldn’t get into.