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July 16, 2017

Book: The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:52 pm

imageWritten later than when the whole series was finished as an e book, the story is supposed to come between Volumes 4 & 5. This happens after Wizard And Glass in the story sequence. That book and some earlier books have been reviewed here before. 

Let me tell you right upfront. This is actually a collection of stories masquerading as a story in the series. Let me also tell you something else. This is one of the best if not the best books in the series!

Jake, Oye, Susannah, Eddie and Roland, following the path of the Beam and meet Bix, who agrees to take them on his raft along the river partway. They find that there is a starkburst (storm) brewing and take shelter. How to pass time? They tell stories to each other. So this is, rather like a couple of stories set in the Tower World. In addition, these are told as stories within stories, so that you come back to the outer story when the inner story is complete.

The first one is about Roland himself, after his mother’s death. He cares for Cort who is an invalid and is berated by Roland’s father for that.

He sends him to Debaria, where a supposed skin-man, who is a shape changer, is terrorizing the city. He gives as Roland’s companion Jamie DeCurrie. Both he and the coach attendant on his way warn them of Serenity, where young women pretty and deadly as the Sirens of  Homer’s Iliad reside. But he finds the Everxxx very cordial and she even knows his mom, Roland discovers.

 

He then travels to Debaria and meets the sheriff there, an old colleague of his dad, Steven Deschain. He learns that the skin changer, who, in the form of a massive bear, massacres a whole family has a tattoo on his leg in his human form, by a boy who survived by hiding in the stable.

 

The gunslinger, on the request of the surviving boy Bill, starts a story. This is a story (Roland and co) telling a story of himself, telling an imaginary story…

 

The new story called Wind through the Keyhole is about Tim, his mother Nell and father Big Ross (Jack Ross, really). Big Ross is killed by a dragon in the Ironwood forest, leaving Nell and Tim destitute, unable to pay taxes. Nell’s childhood friend Bern Kells who loved her and lost her to Ross without rancour, offers to take her in and marry her.

 

Kells turns out to be abusive, evil. He makes Tim work in the saw mill factory.  When Kell vacates his own home to move in with Nell and Tim, he brings a trunk that is always kept locked.

 

When the Covenant man comes for taxes, he quakes and gives away Nell’s money as taxes. They lost everything and Kells continually abuses both Tim and Nell and leaves. The Covenant man, before going away, gives Tim a magic key and asks Tim to meet him in the Ironwood Forest if he dares. After a particularly brutal beating by Kell of Nell and when he is gone on his drinking binges (which makes him even more violent), Tim opens the trunk and discovers his father’s chain and the lucky coin. The dragon fire should have singed it. Why has it not?

 

He decides to find out and goes to the Covenant Man, who shows Tim that Kell had murdered his father and even shows him the body under a stream. (With nice twists like flesh eating bugs in another part of the water and a very scary pooky – which is a large snake – waiting to sink its fangs into anyone who dares come that way). And to add to the intrigue, Nell tells Tim (earlier) that the Covenant Man has never aged in all the time she saw him.

 

When Tim discovers that Kell has come back, discovered the trunk open (Tim cannot lock it as the magic dies when the key is used once), he flows into a rage and brutalizes Nell who, in a trauma to her head, has lost the sight and is near death. He flies to her assistance but not before receiving his father’s special Axe from the Covenant Man. Tim’s teacher Widow Smack, who is always veiled due to disfigurement and is a close friend of Nell, warns Tim against Covenant Man and begs Tim not to believe in that man’s lies.  When he refuses to turn back from what he set out to do, she gives him a gun for his own protection.

 

There is a Tinkerbell like glowing sighe (“fairy”) who is in the employ of the Covenant Man. She leads him into the Ironwood Forest this time. She is evil and lands him on the head of a sleeping dragon. Tim manages to jump off but only to a small island and the dragon faces him, preparing to fry him. He also realizes that he was always in danger of being eaten by flesh eating fish which always followed him.

 

When he recognizes the treachery and is faced with certain death by carrion eating strange fish, he uses the gun and gains the admiration of the swamp people. What follows is fabulous. He is looking for Maerlyn and greatest wizard, who was in the court of Arthur Eld (sound familiar?) and instead meets a life threatening situation again – a castle whose doors are locked and the key and a keycard tied to the neck of a tiger, pacing in a cage and looking very hungry. In addition, the starkblast (a freezing storm that suddenly comes and kills everything in sight) approaches.

 

How he manages from there is a pure delightful narration until the very end of the story. Then the story focuses back to the skin changer. How they identify him and how they kill him is told wonderfully as well. All in all, a very satisfying book.

 

9/10

– – Krishna

 

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January 22, 2017

Book: Revival by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:29 pm

imageStephen’s ability to surprise with a totally different storyline never stops to impress. This book is unlike many others I have read from him and has its unique moments.

 

Of course, I may be biased because I have liked many of his books and reviewed many here. For a sample, see the reviews on Duma Key and Lisey’s Story in earlier entries.

 

A family of five kids, dad Richard and “Mom”. Jimmy Morton, Con(“rad”), Terry, Andy and the only sister, Claire.  Jimmy enjoys the toy army his sister gave him. He meets Charles Jacob, whose visit changes everything. Charles is the new young pastor who comes to the town to take over the duties when the older one died.

 

He shows the model town he has built with a motorized light sensor that can turn on the town’s miniature lights on and off. His wife is a bombshell and most boys in town have a crush on her and most girls on Charles, who is also good looking! His interest in science – especially electricity – and his unorthodox ways of preaching annoy the older people but young kids flock to his sermons.

 

His brother gets his voice impacted by a skiing accident and this causes a huge row between their dad and mom. Charles puts him in a contraption that passes (mild) electricity around his throat. It seems to cure him and bring his voice back!

 

A horrific accident where he loses both his wife and his little boy – involving a tractor with a vicious agricultural attachment and a driver who suffered a stroke at just the wrong time – seems to turn things for Charles. His next sermon is almost blasphemous and is forever called the Terrible Sermon and he is dismissed from his post.

 

Jamie goes to the Church basement to find out what present Charles left him and finds the mechanical Jesus. His faith shattered by then, he throws it on the wall and walks out.

 

He subsequently becomes interested in music and is chosen for a boy band. Astrid becomes his girlfriend. He drifts away from both and goes rapidly downhill, becoming a junkie fully and then meets Jacobs, who calls himself Dan Jacobs now and is a carnival artist. He offers to cure Jamie of his drug habit. When he passes electricity through Jamie (a special type) Jamie gets cured but has strange episodes of uncontrollable acts and nightmares. One of the people who participated in the act robs a jewellery shop in plain view of everyone in a state of fugue as well. There is something (“Something is happening!”) wrong with the treatment. Jacobs says goodbye and goes away and Jamie grows older by staying straight and working in a recording studio. The work was provided by introduction from Charles to a guy called Hugh and then Jamie discovers that Hugh was also one of those helped by Charles through the miracle of electricity.

 

When Jamie learns that Hugh was also one of Charlie’s clients with a side effect, they decide to go see Charles, who is now a ‘preacher man’ a televangelist. Jamie’s research with Bree, the daughter of Georgia, a coworker of theirs, turns up very disturbing rssults of Charlie’s miracle healing. He realizes that Dan Jacobs is not in it for benevolence or money but is in it for its own sake, not caring about what he does to whom.

 

He decides to stop him and travels to his hometown, where he now lives in a fabulous mansion, having made his money as a famous healer.

 

The story is interesting, but not one of the best of Stephen King’s. You wait for something serious to happen and it sort of happens now and then but the story drags a bit at times.

 

He learns that he has retired but asks Jamie to be his assistant. He refuses, goes back for a nostalgic trip to Maine and returns to Colorado, only to be emotionally blackmailed by Charles Jacobs into helping him.

 

When he returns for one last time, he learns that Jenny, a friend and lover of his Astrid, has been also roped in to help. The end is exhileratingly told, as only Stephen King can. Nice read, good book. But….

 

Yes. there is a but. I cannot but be disappointed. Stephen builds up Danny Jacobs and his lifelong obsession about secret electricity so much that when you finally find out what he is so obsessed about, you go ‘Wait… what?’. Not that it is not logical but it almost seems to be a let down compared to the build up. I don’t want to tell more in order not to spoil the story, but you tell me, after you read it, whether you agree with it or not.

 

Then there is Mother, who is like many of the Stephen King stories, is an elusive but horror inducing presence (Remember the Big Boy of Lisey’s Story?)  He is usually very good at the hinting of the horror – things left untold are scarier than clear descriptions, but here even the Mother’s description is kind of not up to his usual standards – at least in my mind. Still good story and the long epilog of what happens to Jamie Morton and all the characters we know in the book is interesting, for sure.

 

Let us give this a 6/10

 

  • – Krishna

 

August 6, 2016

Book: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:41 pm

imageThis is the fourth  book in the Dark Tower series.

 

This continues the story of the Black Tower or the Gunslinger series. The earlier books are The Gulslinger and  The Drawing of the Three, which have been reviewed here earlier and The Wastelands.

 

The story continues where the previous book left off, and starts with a riddling contest between Blaine the evil train and the quartet of travellers (Roland, Eddie, Susanne and Jake) plus Oy. They seem to be losing badly as Blaine’s memory banks seem invincible. In between they are treated to a desolate view outside (Blaine can make the carriage they are sitting in transparent) with the weird animals and even weirder natural wonders – a huge waterfall. Blaine recharges himself on the Beam’s force fields. When everything almost seems lost, Eddie comes into his own and flummoxes Blaine in a spectacular fashion.

 

They move on and find USA destroyed by a contagious superflu that has wiped out the entire population. Walk on in a lonely path and hear “thinnies”, which contain a warble that can drive your mind insane unless you stuff the old Roland world’s bullets in your ears.

 

Roland tells his past story which starts with Susan Delgado being betrothed to an old rich man who will lift her family out of poverty and she is checked out for ‘purity’ by an old evil witch. On the way back she meets Roland, who is young and introduces himself with a false name of Will Dearborn.

 

She falls hopelessly in love with him and the witch sees it in a crystal ball.

 

In the meanwhile Roland, Cuthbert and Alain stop the town bullies with coffins tattooed on their arms and win the enmity and suspicion of the whole town. An underdog finds that one of them is really the son of a gunslinger.

 

Susan has been promised to Mayor Thorin as his gilly in return for money, land, and riches for her family. Falling in love with Roland was not supposed to be part of the plan. She helps him discover massive hoard of oil to be given to the enemies of his land.

 

They succumb to temptation and do the beast with two backs and they cannot seem to stop. In the meanwhile, the thugs with the coffin tattoo get very suspicious about them and are surprised at their facility with weaponry.

 

The witch tries to spoil their plot and send a note through Seemus to Cordelia but Cuthbert intercepts him. He and Roland come to blows before Roland realizes his error.

 

They plan to blow up the oil tanks and lead the entire village into the thinny and they learn of the Wizard’s pink crystal ball with the witch, buried under her bed.

 

But Jonas catches the boys unawares, and Susan and Seemie, a dull witted but loyal friend of the boys, plan to rescue them, realizing that they may die in the attempt. They get the boys out killing Dave the deputy and the fat Sheriff Avery who were guiding them and then blow up the oil rigs as planned.

 

The boys ambush the party of Jonas and get them all, and unhurt too. But Susan is captured, with Jonas warned by the witch Rhea through the Pink Ball (which is one of the Wizard’s rainbow crystals) as to where she is. Sheemie was out relieving himself but doggedly follows Reynolds and Susan to the Mayor’s house and seems to find help in Olive Thorin, the Mayor’s long suffering wife. But they are captured. While Roland kills Jonas, recovers the ball and destroys all the party by leading them into the thinny, Rhea gets Susan and kills her.

 

When an unconscious Roland is taken back to Gilead, Rhea uses her magic to have Roland kill his own mother. This stuff is better than the previous story of the four people so far.

At the end they revert back to their world where Roland tells the story and there is a piece where he goes back and finishes the ending. All in all, a very good read.

 

7/10

– – Krishna

 

July 3, 2016

Book: Duma Key by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:21 pm

imageStephen King is one of the heavily reviewed author in this forum. For a sample of reviews of his other books here, see the review of Full Dark No Stars  or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, to name just two.

 

This story has all the King elements: a gripping story, escalating tension, a very effective, if amorphous environment of terror in the background. Let us see the story.

 

Edgar Freemantle, a self made businessman, has an accident that cracks his skull and he loses a hand in the process too.  He plans to commit suicide to benefit his wife and daughters and is talked out of it by Dr Kamen in a rather unorthodox way. He releases Goldstein’s dog, horribly crushed in an accident from the agony of living with disability.  Pam, his wife, leaves him and he is encouraged by Dr Kamen to consider a change of scenery. When he goes to mitigate the sadness of a girl when her dog got into an accident and died, did he briefly have two hands? He is not sure. Has to be his imagination. He reaches the pink, isolated house in Duma Key and strange things start happening to him. The house seems to speak to him.

 

When his daughter Ilse comes to visit him, he knows that she is engaged to a man in a T shirt and sneakers and the number on the T shirt and the group called Hummingbirds, even before Ilse reaches him and tells him. Interesting.

 

An old lady advises him to send the daughter away because Duma Key “is not good for young girls”.  He meets Wireman after a long walk and makes friends. He also knows by touching an oven mitt from his wife that she is cheating on him with his business partner Tom and another associate.

 

When he sees Tom’s vision dead appear on his portico he gets alarmed and asks Wireman what he should do. Wireman asks him to warn his wife. He does. He discovers that Wireman has weird powers too. He can read minds.

 

Edgar discovers that he has a talent for painting, which he himself did not know he possessed. Or is it the house that is giving him that power? His paintings, in the meanwhile, are considered the work of a genius.

 

When he confronts Pam with the news of Tom about to die, she thinks Ilse has confided in Edgar.

 

He looks after the lady of the house when Wireman has gone on one of his errands.

When a child abductor and killer is imprisoned, one of his paintings make things happen that surprise Edgar too. Wireman’s past comes tumbling out – how he lost his wife and kids in succession and how even his suicide did not pan out – miraculously.

 

The suggestion – lightly done – that everything was engineered to get the three (Wireman, Edgar and Miss Eastlake) there together is chilling nevertheless.

 

The way he ‘takes care’ of a child molester is chilling and escalates the story to the next level, one little idea at a time, as only Stephen King knows how to do. Then he tries the trick for a good cause, this time with Wireman. First with the bullet lodged in his head and next with his entire face and eyes.

 

Wireman is cured ‘ by the painting’.

Edgar gives a presentation at his own art exhibition. When Eastlake appears and points out the horrors of the paintings, he realizes the problem and, before he could confirm with her,  Elizabeth Eastlake dies.

 

He realizes that Perse is the death ship and the “girl has awakened” through his paintings.

He paints to learn her past and is almost taken into the ‘death ship’ by a dead man.

He realizes with horror that all the paintings he had sold are death threats to those who bought them. Perse is furious with him and tries to take revenge by making Tom kill Pam but Tom, in a rare moment of lucidity on the way to Pam’s house, takes his own life, foiling Perse’s plans.

 

Perse is not to be thwarted.

 

Edgar belatedly remembers that he has gifted a picture to Ilse his favourite child and manages to get her to destroy it. But he did not account for all other possibilities, which makes Perse create disastrous results. His close family is impacted and Edgar goes with Jack and Wireman to confront Perse in her own redoubt on the Eastern part of the island overgrown with weeds and in a ruined first home of Libbit. They meet many challenges and the description is great; in fact,  vintage King: the tension escalates slowly. When you think it cannot get any more tense, it does. Nice!  (I know I have been deliberately vague above but it is only to ensure that I do not give too much away in this review, so that all the fun is not spoilt if you decide to read it after reading this review.)

 

Noveen, the talking doll, LAO  features well in the story. Then the heron scene adds to the sense of tension. The slow progress to find and kill Perse before the darkness falls and her power increases to an exponential level are all very well described. The tension literally crackles.

 

Fascinating  explanation of how Nan Melda died, trying to save the kids, and how Emery, the faithful but devious servant, died lured by Perse. The final confrontation with Perse in the disused well is beautifully told. You see the real Stephen King style come through at the end.

 

Definitely worth a read. It is a good ride down the terror lane with Stephen King as the tour guide.

 

8/10

 

  • – Krishna

August 10, 2015

Book: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:39 pm

imageThis is the second book in the  Dark Tower Series. The first one, The Gunslinger, was a disaster of a book. This book cannot be any more different. Stephen King wrote it a few years later and seems to have pulled himself up by the bootstraps to do a credible job.

The story continues where the first one left off.

Roland Deschain – the gunslinger -faces a lobster like creature that seems to be eating him body part by body part. He manages to kill it but not before losing two of his fingers and being infected. Moves on. He then meets a door while exhausted and near death. Turns out to be a portal to the Prisoner, the first of the Three that he will “draw”. He steps in and becomes Eddie Dean. Eddie, brother of Harry, is a junkie trying to quit the cocaine habit.

This book feels more like the King we know, the descriptions pithy, absorbing and the whole thing makes sense from an experience point of view for the reader. The description of the door, the fact that it seems to be two dimensional and yet show the entire earth from a distance initially before zooming in for a view from the eyes of the Prisoner, is absorbing and good writing. It is almost as if King remembered why he was writing this, and got involved.

He gets into the Prisoner, but can take over whenever he likes but the eye colour changes from the original brown to deep blue. A stewardess Jane Dorning is suspicious. He knows that he can take a sandwich back to the dying Roland! He seems to be not able to take things from his other world into the world on the plane.

The already good story now gets better. He ropes in Eddie, the prisoner to the world with the drugs just before he was to disembark and get arrested (from a bathroom). Thus Eddie is saved. Meets Balthazar who is quite a character. They check out (Eddie is “drawn” for good into the other world, literally in a blaze of gunfire and with Henry dead in the process). Then Eddie recovers from his addiction the hard way and the gunslinger is saved by the miracle antibiotics from our world brought by Eddie. Aspirin among them, which Roland always pronounces as Astin.

They then enter the body of Odetta, a rich, black kelptomaniac. She is a cripple, having  lost her legs in an accident – someone pushed her into the path of an oncoming train. The time is the sixties, when racial discrimination was high in the US. She also turns out to be a person with dual personality disorder. She joins them, Detta and Odetta in one body, Detta the screaming, vulgur, uneducated, barely controllable thing and Odetta, refined, polished, pretty and endearing – both in one body, alternately taking over the crippled body.

When Eddie gives her unwittingly a loaded gun against Roland’s advice and when Roland has to go and get The Pusher, he seems to have doomed both of the men to die at the hands of the deranged Detta. In a nice twist, the Pusher is the guy who threw a brick at Odetta that almost killed her and, many years later, pushed her in the path of an oncoming train that crippled her.

He gets into the mind of Mort, the Pusher, and steals a lot of Winchester bullets. He goes to a drugstore and gets the drugs he needs. There is a brilliant shoot out scene and he suddenly understands that he is not drawing Mort but will go back alone. What did he draw as the third person? Read the book to find out. Very beautifully told story.

A world different from the first book. This one gets a 7/10

– – Krishna

April 3, 2015

Book: Everything is Eventual by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:18 pm

imageWe have, of course, reviewed many Stephen King books before. See here for details of those.

This book is a collection of short stories. There is an introduction written by Stephen King. Usually he is good at grabbing your interest in the intro but the introduction for this book is a bit disappointing. .

The first story is Autopsy Room Four – This is probably one of the best stories in the book. A ‘corpse’ tells the story. Lovely, how they are about to do an autopsy for him without realizing that he is alive! Since he is paralyzed, but can see everything, the tension is sky high, and you can’t wait to see what happens.

The next story is The Man in A Black Suit – A typical Stephen King brand Devil story where a man in a black suit meets a nine year old boy who has gone fishing alone, and his eyes are burning fire and he smells of sulfur. Cool story, where the devil is not suave or seductive but just wants to devour you straight away!

Next one is All that you love Will Be Carried Away – A salesman checks into a hotel with the intent of killing himself. He is fond of graffitis and collects them. The story is mildly interesting but disappointing, after you finish reading it.

The Death of Jack Hamilton – A gangster story involving Johnie and Jack and a few sidekicks. Except for the fly roping part, everything else sucks about this story. Can Stephen King do boring? Yes, here is the proof.

In the Death Room – Fletcher the journalist is brought to the interrogation room (‘the death room’) after being beaten bloody. Escobar is the chief interrogator and ‘the Bride of Frankenstein’ is his boss. There are thugs kept there and how Fletcher turns the tables on a completely hopeless situation is exhilarating to read. Nice story to read.

The Little Sisters of Eluria – A Dark Tower related story just like the first one in his other collection, Hearts in Atlantis. Here Roland Deschain of Gilead himself appears. He goes to a deserted town – Eluria – exploring. He is captured by green men and wakes up in a white room, tended by sisters in white. Jenna, the beautiful one, shows him who has been curing him. Bugs. What they do to fully cured men is really terrible. They are not humans, Roland realizes. He and his “brother” John are saved by a medallion. His belonged to a dead man he found before he was ambushed.  What they do to healed men is stunning. Story unfolds slowly with us gaining increased understanding and the story gathering momentum and tension, as only King can create when he has got a good story to stick his teeth into. He tries to escape but gets stopped by Sister Mary. In the meanwhile they have killed the other boy by having one of the zombies remove the pendant from the boy. Jenna rescues him and a dog with the mark of ‘Jesus-Man’ on it (a cross) saves both.It is amazing how Jenna disappears when he wakes up and how he sees what happened to her. Pure King material!

Everything is Eventual – This is of course, the title story. Richard (Dink) Earshaw is a college dropout and resigned to a life of Pizza Delivery Boy or equivalent when a mysterious stranger called Sharpton offers him a job in a house where he earns his salary and unbelievable perks – with the proviso that each week, he should fully spend his weekly salary and start next week as a pauper again. But Dink has an interesting secret, he has paranormal powers to kill by writing signs targeted to whomever he wishes to kill! We begin to understand the nature of “work” Dink was offered. His realization and resolution are interesting.

LT’s Theory of Pets – LT Dewitte’s wife Lullubelle (nee Simon) leaves him one day. Takes Frank the dog with her but leaves Lucy (Screwlucy) the cat with him. Then she suddenly disappears on the way to her mother. The dog is found dismembered and there are no traces of her. Interesting. But what really was the point of the story?

The Road Virus Heads North – The Story about the picture that keeps changing. An author picks up a painting in a garage sale and it depicts a driver of a convertible with pointed teeth and evil grin. The picture changes slowly as if the person is traveling northwards in the US.  His hand moves to show a tattoo, his grin widens, his eyes narrow… So he decided to get rid of it by throwing it away and even smashing the frame. But of course it would not go away; it beats him to his own house and hangs on the wall, whole again. And by now, the car has reached the junkyard sale where he bought the picture. The progress is creepy and the end is interesting but expected.

Lunch at the Gotham Cafe – Steve is blindsided by wife Diane who leaves him one day when he is out on work, leaving a note for him to find when he gets home. He goes to Gotham Cafe to meet her and her lawyer against the wishes of his own lawyer who could not attend. There the world goes kaput as the maitre d’ goes mad and goes into a murderous rage, killing everyone in his way but trying to specifically kill Steve.

The Feeling You Can Only Say When It is in French – Carol and Mike are travelling. Carol is prone to premonitions generally. The story is one confusing jumble of back and forth writing (an example is in Hearts in Atlantis) that makes no sense and is boring.

1408 – Hotel room that is supposed to be haunted. Olin, a paranormal debunking writer, rents it for the night.  Wow, what a description! Everything goes wrong and is very creepy to read, where the experience only lasted for about eight minutes. It is very scary, vintage King. Very nice story.

Riding the Bullet – Starts out nice. When he goes out to meet his mother who had a stroke but is recovering, a young student decides to hitchhike. After refusing an offer from an old man who brought him half way to take the rest of the way, next to a cemetary, he hitches a ride with what appears to be a dead man in a Mustang. Well written story and is scary as hell.  The choice offered to him is to choose who should die – he or his mother.  But what follows is confusing and disappointing. What was the point of this story? Yes, it does not end as you would expect but it should have some meaning, right?

Luckey Quarter – The misspelling is deliberate by the author. In these days of inflation, the lucky penny is an anachronism I guess. Otherwise a typical and interesting story of a chambermaid who is poor and struggling, who finds a quarter left as a tip by a hotel guest with the note that it is a “luckey quarter”. What happens to her is interesting. You think it is the old good-luck story and are surprised to find a double twist in the story.

7/10 due to some duds, even though there are some rollicking good stories in this collection.

– – Krishna

January 25, 2015

Book: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:18 pm

imagesMany people have sworn off the Dark Towers series written by Stephen King. For the most part, it is due to the first book in the series The Gunslinger.

Written when Stephen King was just 19, in part inspired by the Lord of the Rings trilogy by his own admission, this book is one of the most boring books written by the author. Stephen King is a phenomenal writer and many of his books have been reviewed here before.  Most of his work is top class but then he has sometimes slipped, and the story does not appeal. Tommyknockers  is a prime example that comes to mind and even though most people may find this close to Stephen-King-blasphemy, I did not enjoy The Stand either. But mostly he writes very well, even when there is not much of a story to tell. (Read the review of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon for a great example).

This book is worse than even some of his worst examples from before. At the end of it, I almost decided, like many people I know, not to bother with the series. But if you, like me, try the second book in the series, you will find that it gets a lot better right away, from the start of the second book itself. (More of this in a later entry).

.This book is about the Gunslinger called Roland, a young man in a futuristic world which has turned Wild West where a man lives and dies by his gun and hunts evil. He goes chasing “the man in black”, guided only by the ashes of the campfires left for him. Instinct guides him. He meets strange people along the way.

This book feels like a voyage written as a story. The man in black comes into a bar and wakes up a dead man.

Weird narration and a very  boring story start.

Roland  stays in the inn because of The Lady, who fancies him. Then he watches a priestess in a church. Pointless so far. Seems disjointed without even a common thread between events. Unusual for Stephen King, really.

He goes and meets a boy Jake, who seems to be alive in modern New York, which nobody knows, and seems to have died in the old New York. Then he overcomes a demon and goes on with Jake. Confusing flashbacks ensue.

He takes Jake along, saves him from a demon lurking in a kind of pentagon in a clearing. Faces the demon alone.  Then meets the man in black briefly. The story wanders too much.

The story is excruciatingly boring. The nineteen year old King is not impressive in this book for sure. His coming of age where he confronts his mentor Cort or Cuthbert is also boring.  They seem to go on an interminable, rotting railway line over a great big chasm and for no reason the boy is lost.

Apparently he had to be sacrificed. OK, whatever. Then the story gets even more bizarre. The man in black casually waits for him, they light a fire together and the evil guy reads the future of gunslinger on tarot cards. Wait, I thought that the gunslinger wanted to kill the man in black on sight? Maybe after a little food and some harmless entertainment with tarot cards? Stephen King goes way off the line here.

Then there is a little blather about universe being large, the scientific discoveries of man landing them into trouble and destroying the world, and a juvenile speculation about this universe being a part of the atom on a blade of grass of some other universe.

All in polite conversation between the man in black and Roland. Also the man in black reads the gunslinger’s future with Tarot cards. This is not the weirdest it gets, it gets worse from here on.

Then Roland discovers that the man in black is his childhood friend Marten who he believed had run away and then discovers that there are layers of evil lords above the man in black. Height of ridiculousness? After voluntarily appearing before the gunslinger (remember the tarot and the stories?) the man in black says “You caught me. I did not think you would, but you did.”

Was this really written by King? (Even a nineteen year old King?).  Even it is lame for crap like ‘you sacrificed the boy and that power pulled me helplessly to you’, though mercifully the author does not say it.

Then the man in black, after all this bonhomie, conveniently dies, all by himself. Oh well, gunslinger slept nonstop for ten years and aged, but well, it is a small price to pay to kill the man in black, right? On to the next adventure, gunslinger! If all your adventures are this easy, you are very lucky!

There are flashes of interest, like when the whole village comes after gunslinger as he tries to leave. But alas, they are few and rare.

Overall, a very boring, puzzling book, and a bad start to a series that is famous.

1/10

  • – Krishna

April 5, 2014

Book: Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:53 pm

coverThis is actually a strange book. It is not a single story, at least not in my books (pun intended). It has the same characters but is a collection. It is not even a collection of short stories because the first one, and the best one, is like a novella and is much bigger than all the others. And the results are very mixed, I am afraid. Most of them do not work, and do not really do anything to move you. Especially after a good story, if you get to one that is really bad but has a character that you have emotionally invested in because of the previous good story, the disappointment is double. Each story is tied to a year in which the story happened.

 

The first story called ‘1960 – Low Men in Yellow Coats’ and it is simply brilliant! The story is about Bobby Garfield, who is a brilliant boy,, reads above his age – already into Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. He is just eight. Then a stranger who lives in his house as a paying guest,, Ted Brautigan gives Bobby Lord of the Flies to expand his mind further. Bobby adores the book. When Ted asks him to keep an eye on strangers in ‘Yellow Coats’ and gaudy cars. He also warns Bobby that if he sees any posters of Pet Missing or sees strange signs on a hopscotch grid on the street, to alert him immediately. He seems to be afraid of all of these.

Bobby’s best friend is SJ or Sully-John and Carol Gerber. Carol seems to really like Bobby (“Not pretty but sharp – does not miss much” according to a crisp summary from  Bobby’s mom). Bobby wants a bicycle badly and is saving the tip money from Mom and does odd jobs to augment it. Ted gives him a job for a dollar a week. (To read him the paper – officially to satisfy Bobby’s mom’s curiosity – but to keep an eye out for yellow coated “low men” in secret) Then one day, in the middle of their conversation Ted goes completely blank and his eyes are wide and circles move there.

 

Bobby discovers that since he touched him in that state, he now can read minds. His mom, in the meanwhile, seems to be under the spell of her office boss called Don Biderman.

 

Bobby  finds that he is absorbing the mystic powers of Ted and is good at the poker game in carnival. That scene where he predicts with uncanny ability where the card should be is very impressive.

 

Slowly, Bobby, and with him we the readers discover that when Low Men advertise for pets and have symbols near Hopscotch squares, they communicate to each other that they are hot on the scent of their quarry, which is Ted.  We learn that they cannot avoid gaudy cars and clothes. We learn that their cars are not cars at all, but are alive and sentient.

 

Finally, we learn that they are the Dark Lord’s people and Ted is a Breaker who escaped. A very nice tie in with the Dark Towers series. In fact made me want to start reading that series!

 

Once, Ted gets cornered by men of yellow coats, despite Ted’s and Bobby’s careful watch.  Ted sacrifices himself to prevent Bobby from being captured by Low Men.

 

Also there is a scene when Carol, beaten up, is healed by Ted and his mom mistakes it for rape and condemns him too.

 

 

When Bobby realizes that his own mother had betrayed Ted, leading to his capture, something breaks in him. Bobby takes revenge violently on the people who beat up Carol.

 

Bobby goes downhill from there. He loses his girlfriend Carol and the friendship of SJ, his close buddy due to his radical change, leaves town and goes to pieces until Ted’s note arrives with a flower. Very nice.
The second story is the one that lent title to this collection and is called ‘1966- Hearts in Atlantis’.  This is about a college student Pete Riley who wastes his life playing hearts for money in the campus. He meets the Carol (yes, from the previous story but a young woman now, six years later)  in an assembly line (working part time) and falls in love. He is obsessed with Hearts and plays nonstop, ruining his life, until the Vietnam War protests take over the college campus. Populated with other characters like Nathan Happenstand, a studious person determined to become a dentist; David “Dearie” Deerborn, the proctor who gets pranked with shaving cream on his door and is pro Lyndon Johnson and his Vietnam War;  Stokely Jones a man in crutches. They come and go. Skip Kirk is a best friend of Pete who is equally hopelessly lost in Hearts to the point where both Skip and Pete are about to fail, let alone keep their scholarship eligibility. Ronnie Malenfant is the pimply superstar of Hearts who is the leader of the pack (Is he a mal – infant?) . The anti Vietnam War fever that sweeps over the campus. Stoke writing graffitti and falling in ice water ‘trying to drown’. Boring except for the last scene maybe and that is a very long time to wait before you find something interesting. Contrast between the first and second is shattering. Carol becomes a radical, very opposed to Vietnam War
Next comes ‘1983 – Blind Willie’ – William Shearman or Baseball Willie or Bill – One of the boys who held Carol as she was beat up by thuggish boys who were his friends. He becomes Bill and then Blind Willie. He pretends to be blind to get extra panhandling money and has elaborate dress changes to become this alter ego.  A policeman is onto his scam and threatens him.. Then? abruptly ends. You learn Carol becomes a terrorist, planting bombs and presumed dead. You also know that Ronnie, friend in the first story, was in ‘Nam with William Shearman. Except for the tenuous connections with the first story, pretty boring.
Next : ‘1999 – Why we’re in Vietnam’ – It is about Sully how he was in Vietnam, Malefant by his side and William Shearman also there. When Sully’s guts hang out, it is Willie who saves him. He remembers everything years later on his way to another colleague Pag’s funeral, Pag having died of cancer. Pretty boring stuff.  Old mamasan, who was killed by Malenfant in Vietnam always appears in front of him at random. Carnage in the street, while Sully finds an old glove from his youth. Very surreal and there is a hint that the carnage is all within Sully’s head. Boring and weird.
Next : ‘1999 – Heavenly Shades of Night are falling’ – Return of Bobby to Harford to the stories. This is slightly more interesting as it gives closure about what happened to Carol, ties in with the death of Sully and everything and the ending has a satisfying closure. While not as good as the first one, it is interesting that the only two readable stories are where Bobby features in the main!

 

I would give it an overall 4/10. It is ironic that if only the first story was published as a book, it would have gotten a much higher rating!

 

–        – Krishna

 

December 3, 2012

Book: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:15 am

imagesMy God, what a collection! This is a collection of stories by that master storyteller, Stephen King. When you have read enough books of any author, you think you get a sense of the author’s style and even plot lines but this one keeps serving surprises all the time, in a way. Yes the storytelling is all there, as is the suspense that he ratchets up slowly until breaking point, but the angles are new and some stories have a power of unexpected surprise ending even after all this time (as in Fair Extensions in this collection. We will discuss this shortly.)

We have already reviewed many other novels of Stephen King already (see for example, the review of Leisey’s Story or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon ).

On to this book: This is a collection of four stories. I hesitate to call them short stories because the first one takes up almost half the book and is a novella rather than a short story. The others are smaller. But without exception, all of them are exceptionally good, which makes this book a totally fun read from end to end, in my view.

Take the first story, 1922, for instance. As I have said, this is the longest. This deals with Wilfred Leland James and his wife Arlette. They live in the country with the land bequeathed to the wife with their son Henry. It is anything but a quiet life. Arlette hates the form, and wants to move to the city, selling the land but for Wilfred, who is the narrator, it is like cutting off his hand. Henry is sweet on Shannon Cotterie. Harlan, the father of Shannon, allows that as a harmless puppy love until Shannon finds a man more suited to her stature in life.
Arlette makes life miserable to both her husband and her son, by nagging, making lewd remarks to her son about Shannon and when she is drunk, which is often, she is very near intolerable.
When she gives an ultimatum to Wilfred and Henry, Wilfred realizes that the only way out of this impasse is to kill her; he hatches a brilliant plan to kill her and to hide the body – and claim that she just ran away – she has done so before. The plan goes horribly wrong, and the story is pretty gruesome and horrifying to read. The murder first does not go according to plan and a reluctant Henry is pulled into it. Then the corpse is thrown into an old well and the body does not hide well – there are some hideous descriptions of how it shows up inside the well. Then there are the sinister events with the rats…
In the meanwhile the relationship with Henry sours and Henry starts to go bad from the good, pure hearted, soft, son that he was. When Wilfred finds out that Shannon has been made pregnant by Henry, all hell breaks loose.
The story goes from tension to tension, with Arlette, that foul mouthed, rude, uncouth woman in life, pursues her husband from beyond the grave. (No, this is not a ghost story). A great read.

The second story, The Big Driver, is about Tessa, a moderately famous author, who is called to be the guest speaker in the Books and Brown Baggers Club’s knitting society. Ramona Norville, the organizer suggests a shortcut back on the way home and there, she is forced to stop by obstacles in her path and a large man comes in rapes her and stangles her. She is left for dead, and wakes up near other corpses stuffed in a pipe. She manages to escape and is traumatized. Slowly, she realizes that she has to do something because the killer has killed before, as evidenced by the other bodies, and will do so again unless stopped. She decides to call the police and immediately changes her mind and decides to stop him in her own way.
She researches and finds that the Big Driver is Al Stretchlke of Hawkline Trucking Company.
The story is not just a simple one of revenge, but also one of some twists and turns that will make you gasp. Very good story.

The third story, Fair Extensions, is a very different story from him. It tells the life of David Streeter, who is friends with Tom Goodhugh. Their lives can be hardly more different. Tom is a man in rude health, a sportsman in university and now married to Norma Witten. They have two kids and seemingly everything in life. Tom is an executive, his two children are destined for greatness and are doing well in school.
David was dating Norma when she was swept off her feet by Tom, and ends up marrying her. David is bitter but then meets Janet and is very happy. He also has a son, Justin, doing OK in college and a daughter. David is toiling in a cubicle all day long and then discovers he has cancer and is in chemo. One day, when he is driving through a deserted road, he meets a salesman, George Elvid, (yes, the anagram is obvious) and makes a deal with him. He will have good things happen in his life, just for the asking, but on two conditions. He should choose someone who must have the bad stuff happen to them and also, like the ancient tithe, 10% of his earnings, no matter how high, must be given to charity. He agrees and his life is transferred. Until he is asked in the same meeting, he does not even know that he is going to name his buddy Tom as the person who should bear the brunt of the bad things to happen.
The story is told very well, and ends in a surprising way (at least for me).
A Good Marriage is the last story in the collection. It is about a wife, Darcy Anderson, who is in love with Bob Anderson, a salesman who is funny, gentle and lovable. Her two grown kids have moved out and are living a happy life. One day, when cleaning the house, she stumbles into a box, and realizes that her fun loving, gentle husband is Beadie, the serial killer that the police are trying to catch! Her world comes crashing down. Can she live with the fact? Can she expose him? What will happen to her kids when this is known? Her struggle and the escalating tension when her husband discovers that she knows his secret are extremely well told. The end is satisfying, and the elderly detective who comes to investigate is also very endearing.

All in all, one of the best collection of short stories from the author. Deserves a 9/10

— Krishna

September 26, 2012

Book: Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:15 pm

It is not for nothing that Stephen King is known for his books and is one of the most popular fiction writers. This is another of those books that are wonderful to read. King has written many excellent books (Insomnia for example) and very few really bad books as well (Tommyknockers comes to mind). But when he gets it ‘right’, like in this one, he can be incomparable.

But unlike The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (Reviewed here earlier) which takes off in the very second page, this one starts a bit slow and even – dare I say it? – boring. But it really takes off when the hero, Scot Landon, a writer, gets shot, around page 40 or so. Then it just keeps its pace, never letting up. (One different thought: Have you noticed how many  of King’s books are written around writers or aspiring writers?)

The story is told brilliantly, except for the first few pages. The character is developed slowly. Lisey is widowed and is living alone, with painful memories of her husband Scot, right from the first page, but Scot appears a lot in her flashbacks. The story also slowly takes on a supernatural flavour, in the very Stephen King way of allegories. The allegories are brilliant: The pool where everyone goes to drink, for instance. The background story of Scot Landon gets more and more fascinating and scary, and takes you deeper and deeper into his painful and strange childhood, with a brother and father both getting progressively maniacal in turns. Scot’s amazing ability to heal faster from wounds (“We Landons are fast healers”) is explained in a charming and fascinating way.

Lisey herself has issues on her family’s side; her sister Amanda, who cuts herself regularly after a total failure of her relationship; Amanda’s increasingly catatonic state of mind, where she had to be admitted into a sanitarium; her miraculous recovery once Lisey understood where she had really gone in her mind, all told beautifully.

Add to it the semi-lunatic Jim Dooley shows up and does unspeakable things to her to force her to give up her husband’s manuscripts to a library of his choice, the story turns even more intense, if that is possible.

The first time Lisey has any inkling that her husband is not an ordinary man is when she suddenly finds herself into a forest, with no memory of how she got there. She was talking to her husband in a hotel room and suddenly she was in the outside, with absolutely no explanation. From there, she learns of the Boo-Ya Moon, the creatures there – good, evil and so unspeakably evil that the mere mention of it creates revulsion.

The fact that Scot had even planned events after his death is amazing, and well told.

You possibly wonder why the story is proceeding further when the main event is over (the main bad guy is dead or worse) but the ending justifies the continuing of the story and is beautifully told. You fully understand why the story continues, and in fact, agree that it completes the narration!
I think it is a wonderfully written book, if you get past the initial drag, and if you remember the kind of books King writes. Not too deep, not too intellectual, but – heck – really entertaining!

I would not hesitate to give it a 7/10. It does not get an even higher score only because of the initial 40 pages or so.

— Krishna

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