Category: Books

Book Review: Elevation — Stephen King

One cannot accuse Stephen King of getting sentimental in his old age, because he has always had a soft heart, and it’s not always very deeply buried beneath the evil clowns, cars, and hotels. Elevation, essentially a novella, takes ideas that King has tackled before — Thinner springs readily to mind — but twists them, and makes them optimistic. Elevation is a short work that eschews complex explanation of its contents in favour of a quick burst of emotion and a punch of an ending.

Book Review: The Kremlin’s Candidate — Jason Matthews

The Kremlin’s Candidate, the least sloggy entry in the Red Sparrow series, brings things to a head in a way that could either end the series or leave it open for more. It’s taken a lot of deaths, a lot of breasts, and a lot of recipes to get this far. It’s unlikely that you’re going to see this story in movie form anytime soon, so soak in The Kremlin’s Candidate in prose form if you want to find out how Jennifer Lawrence’s overtly sexy spy winds up.

Book Review: Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

If you sell enough books, or enough movie tickets, or designer scents, you get at least one free pass. With Nine Perfect Strangers, on the back of the dual number one New York Times bestsellers Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty and the HBO adaptation of the former, Liane Moriarty has published her free pass. Because really, what is Nine Perfect Strangers? You can read it from cover to cover without being entirely sure. There is something here, but it becomes buried under the extraneous compost that Moriarty tosses about with abandon.

Constant Reader Chronicle: Rage

More can be said about Richard Bachman than can be said about Rage, his secret and forbidden debut novel, pulled from the shelves during the early days of school shooting contagion. Written well before school shootings became so common that it is difficult to tell them apart, Rage is a Stephen King piece so early that he was in high school himself when he wrote it.

Richard Bachman is a pseudonym created by Stephen King for a variety of reasons depending on what King feels like telling the reader at the time: Bachman was a way for King to put out more books per year, separate from the King brand; he was a way to get rejected earlier works published after some retooling; he was a chance to see if, eventually, Bachman’s books were able to be read, sold, and appreciated separately to the King name; and, to quote 1996’s “The Importance of Being Bachman”, an imprint for books written “in a Bachman state of mind: low rage, sexual frustration, crazy good humor, and simmering despair.” 

Rage is not a cry for help, but rather a bitter study of the powerlessness that teenagers can feel, and the most artificial power they can conjure to battle that: a warm gun.

Book Review: We Sold Our Souls – Grady Hendrix

Grady Hendrix knows a little something about Satan, as both his non-fiction Paperbacks from Hell and his fictional canon would attest. As concerned hand wringers have long known, those who know much of the Dark Lord and Master are also quite familiar with Metal in all its forms – Heavy, Dark, Speed, Thrash, and, Beelzebub help us, Nu – and in We Sold Our Souls, Hendrix literally marries the two. The names have changed a bit, but the facts remain: listen to the “wrong” music and be damned. Hendrix’s satire of dark materialism is sleek and compact, about as subtle as some of music it pays homage to, and is best read while wearing a lead foil hat (tinfoil is for amateurs).

Book Review: A Simple Favour – Darcey Bell

The success of Gone Girl lead to a series of imitators. Some of them are full blooded and can stand on their own, but a lot of them are pale. Gillian Flynn’s book was not thrown together, but was carefully constructed and plotted – and she and other authors alike are probably sick of the endless comparisons. When you have a book like Darcey Bell’s A Simple Favour, which is a blatant facsimile of Gone Girl with all the good parts taken out and a thousand idiotic kitchen sinks thrown in, you have to make the comparison. A Simple Favour literally could not exist without the intervention of Gillian Flynn, and humanity is collectively stupider for it.

Book Review: Things We Didn’t See Coming – Steven Amsterdam

Things We Didn’t See Coming is a trap. In at least one paperback form, it does not have a blurb, just pull quotes. It is not until you open it and get a few stories in that you realise that they are all connected – and only then, if you’re me, because three consecutive stories featured a character called Margo. One can’t be blamed for not coming to this realisation sooner: Things We Didn’t See Coming has the appearance of a collection of short stories, and the majority of them, while post-apocalyptic, appear to deal with apocalypses of different varieties and root causes. The narrator is never named. Each apocalypse is presented without much in the way of context, and it does not need it. But, if you really are allergic to short stories, you may feel free to treat Things We Didn’t See Coming as a novel with large time gaps between chapters.

Constant Reader Chronicle: The Shining

The famous "Warren Beatty" first edition.

Spoilometer: this write up goes into a fair amount of detail about The Shining. It is not safe if you want to discover the secrets of The Overlook for yourself, because The Shining is one of the more pure delights available on this mortal plane.

The third book in Stephen King’s catalogue is The Shining, which is famous for inspiring one of the most iconic films of all time. However, Kubrick’s The Shining is the first of many adaptations that King has been disappointed in, to the point that he eventually had to sign an agreement saying that he would stop publicly expressing his distaste for the film.

While The Shining (1980) rightfully has a place in the cinematic canon, The Shining is a novel that we can not (doctor) sleep on. While both Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot had much to recommend them, The Shining is arguably his first masterpiece. Drawing on what we would come to recognise as parts of King’s personal, professional, and family life, there are many demons exercised and exorcised between these pages. The Shining is a completely realised work in a way that few novels of any genre are.

Book Review: Whiskey When We’re Dry – John Larison

The Old West holds an intoxicating allure to the modern mind. Between both versions of Westworld, Back to the Future Part III, City Slickers and The Legend of Curly’s Gold alike, as a society we can’t help going back there. Whiskey When We’re Dry, John Larison’s debut novel, is a return to a well that we can visit any number of times without ever exhausting the supply. The West was boundless in the imagination, and can fit many stories; Whiskey When We’re Dry is one of the more meditative examples.

Constant Reader Chronicle: Carrie

Constant Reader Chronicle is a new feature that aims to cover a single Stephen King novel, in chronological order, each month. It will skip novels undertaken as part of the Dark Tower cycle and the Mr. Mercedes novels but will otherwise cover every major work that Stephen King and that pesky Richard Bachman has committed to the page. Given that Carrie is such an iconic place to begin a career, this entry will contain fairly comprehensive spoilers. The remaining entries will be spoiler rated on an individual basis.

Stephen King’s first published novel is the prototypical King. The seeds of so many future books are present here, often in the most embryonic form, and Carrie predicts a bright future for its author that came true in perhaps the most lucrative way imaginable. You have a girl with a Shine (although it is not, of course, called that yet), a small town filled with people both decent and awful, and a cavalcade of carnage concentrated in the climax. Though parts of Carrie flirt with a form that wouldn’t ultimately come to be associated with King, this is an exquisitely realised first release.