Thursday, 21 September 2017

Happy Birthday, Mr King

Today is Stephen King's 70th Birthday. It's also my weirdly self imposed deadline for finishing ALL THE STEPHEN KING, and I made it, 5 days early. I don't even know how to feel about having read all the Stephen King there is (pretty fine, since there's a new one out in 5 days), or about being able to read his books as they are released now, or about finally finishing the epic (and terrifying) journey I started 6 and a half years ago.

I started reading all the Stephen King for two wildly different reasons- firstly because I kept buying his books at charity shops where they are extremely prevalent, but basically just kept re-reading It and Bag of Bones, and because I was struggling with being depressed and really, really needed a project to occupy myself with. So, I did it. I started with Carrie, made my way through some books I'd read and some books I hadn't, through three jobs and a Masters, through a certain number of boys, and from my parent's house, to my London house, to my first home with my boyfriend. It's not that I put any of this down to Stephen King, but it's sort of amazing to me that his books have quite literally been the backdrop to my twenties- sometimes it felt like the one thing that had any sort of clear and sane progression in my whole life.

Although I didn't have a time limit for reading all the King, I think it's safe to say that I didn't think that it would take 6 and a half years to read, what was then 58 books. Whilst I never intended it to be all I read, I still didn't think it would take too long, especially when, after about 2 and a half years, I was about 2/3 of the way though. WHAT HAPPENED, I hear you cry! Well. Well. Life would be the thing that happened. Life in the form of, firstly, some grief, and then a whole shit-ton of Shakespeare, and then also like a weirdly active (weirdly for me) social life that meant I read less but lived a whole lot more. I guess it's really this year that I've recommitted to this Stephen King thing, and I've gotten to read all of the books that I've sadly watched coming out over the years that I couldn't read because of my commitment to reading all of the Stephen Kings in order.

So now I know. I know whether the sequel to The Shining is any good (it is). I know whether anyone should read The Tommyknockers, ever (no). I know now, for sure, that It is still my favourite King (there may be better ones, and other people may totally have other favourites, but It is mine for always). I do know that, although there are a few stinkers and a few duds mixed in there, Stephen King has quite an extraordinary body of work that is so, so worth discovering. I don't know how he manages to write so much, or (mostly) so well, but I sure wish I could steal just a little of that magic. Juuuust a teensy bit... Please.

And so. Happy Birthday, Mr King. I've enjoyed adventuring with you so much, even the (very very many) times you scared me. Please live for about another 70 more years and write as many books as you already have so that I can stay entertained forever (or at least for another 6 1/2 years). You've been the backdrop to my reading life for a really long time now, and I will continue to be excited every time you release a new book, but until then, rereads will have to sustain me.

p.s. I love you. Don't ever change.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King (and Richard Chizmar): Gwendy's Button Box

This is Stephen King's latest book, and latest collaboration, and it is a tiny gem of a book. I say tiny because, although it has 170 pages, I whipped through them in probably about an hour, an hour and a half at the most. I enjoyed myself intensely in that time though, and for me, this was basically a perfect little novella.

Let's discuss.

Gwendy is a good kid who is spending her summer trying to lose weight before middle school, keen to avoid being 'the fat girl' once again. At the top of the suicide steps in Castle Rock (sound familiar?)  she finds a mysterious man dressed in black with the initials RF (this seems to me to be a mash up of two King villains, but this guy is in an ambiguous moral sphere if you ask me). The man tells Gwendy that she's special, and because she's special he gives her a button box to look after- This box dispenses magical chocolates (seriously magical chocolates) and valuable old coins, but also has a number of buttons- one for each continent, a scary black one, and a red one that isn't explained but is the only one which can be pressed more than once.

The man disappears and Gwendy goes on her merry way and gets on with her life. I don't know how much I can tell you about her life without revealing too much about the story (it's really really short), but her life becomes excellent, but with terrible terrible moments. The box is related to all of these things, but, I think the book wants to say, it also kind of isn't. We make our own luck and our own lives, and just because someone has a magical, terrible box, doesn't mean that they are any different.

Except that Gwendy is, but she was different to start with, anyway.

really can't say much more without giving away vital events of the story, but I really can't praise this book enough. It's short and simple, but that's pretty much what makes it so excellent. There are no extraneous storylines to distract us, so Gwendy and her tale really shine through, and the point/s this book wants to make manage to get themselves across so beautifully. IT IS JUST SO GOOD, and I'm so glad I sneaked it in before my (mostly imaginary) Stephen King deadline.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: End of Watch

I had quite a lot of feels reading this book, because for me it really sort of is the end of watch. My Stephen King journey ends here*, and whilst the great prolific writer is obviously still going, I still am having major Feelings about this being over (which I shall awe and amaze you with on the 21st, get excited). And so, the end of my watch was with End of Watch, and what a book it was.

So this is the third book in a trilogy and basically everything I have to say about it will be a spoiler. I think that in order to say anything at all, I think I'm going to have to tell you to turn away now if you haven't read these books, although I'm not going to say anything too outrageously revealing, I will essentially be giving away the end of Mr Mercedes, so. Yes.

End of Watch starts with Bill Hodges skipping out on a Doctor's appointment to get to the site of an apparent murder-suicide where everything looks a bit fishy. Of course, this being the trilogy that it is, the victims of the murder suicide are a woman who was left quadriplegic in the mercedes massacre of the first book, and her mother and carer. Everything about this seems fairly straightforward (I can't even begin to imagine the life of a quadriplegic, and especially the life of caring for someone who needs assistance with basically everything) except for the fact that their housekeeper says they were pretty happy with life, and Hodges and Holly find an outdated computer game device thing (yep, all of those words), also seen in the now vegetable-like Brady Hartsfield's hospital room.

As they begin to investigate, they notice a spate of suicides that all have links to Hartsfield, all of which seems impossible because, y'know, dude's been in hospital for YEARS, without proper brain function and all of those useful things. What's so great about this book is that all the little details you didn't really notice in the previous book when Hodges kept visiting Brady, all become super relevant and parts of the main story in this book. It not only follows the main action of the investigations, but also goes into the innermost workings of Brady's mind, and all that it's been through since we last had access to it in Mr Mercedes. It's still no pleasure to be in, but so many things are revealed and tied up, just like a good trilogy should do.

And this really is such a good trilogy. It's not something King has done a lot (and I would know!) and I like the fact that it has a lot of realism and just thriller-y elements that many of his other books lack. There are some supernatural elements of this last book, but even those are explained away by the characters using pseudo-science, and aren't really treated as unexplained. This leaves the way clear for good old fashioned thriller/detective work- chasing leads, working out what's going on, chasing down the criminal... It's all good, old fashioned fun, and I love it.

And I have loved this. I have loved reading these books, and not just this trilogy. I feel so weird knowing that I don't have this giant backlog of Stephen King books anymore, and knowing that I'm actually going to have to wait to read a new one, but it also feels pretty nice to have such an achievement under my belt. This trilogy though- I really can't recommend it enough, or really, you know, any Stephen King book apart from the bad ones (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). Go forth, my pretties, and read read read.



*I'm ignoring his co-authored book released this year because I can, unless I can sneak it in before 21st September (aka King's 70th Birthday) which I would be pretty proud of but I'm not sure it's going to happen and thus I shall read it as a regular citizen rather than one who is challenging herself

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers is the second in King's three part detective trilogy, starring the lovable retired cop Bill Hodges and his team of intrepid detectives. I say this BUT possibly the thing I loved best about this book was that it kind of wasn't about Hodges and his team, who pretty much took a backseat in the story, and let other events have their say. And SUCH events they are!

But let me back up a few hundred yards. So. At the end of Mr Mercedes, the first book in the trilogy, we leave everything where it is (vagaries so that we avoid spoilers... Although I don't know how I'm going to do that for End of Watch...) and Finders Keepers starts with a whole new story, and a whole new crime. A well respected author gets robbed, and in the process, his smart mouth ends up getting him murdered. The murderer ends up hiding the money and notebooks stolen from the author (his favourite, as it turns out) and in a series of unfortunate events ends up in jail and unable to retrieve them. Abouuuut 30 years later, a teenage boy finds them, who just happens to be the son of one of the people injured in the Mr Mercedes massacre of the first book. He uses the money to help his floundering family, and falls in love with the notebooks which contain two unpublished novels by the aforementioned murdered author.

It's probably clear that this doesn't go so well for the boy when the thief (and, lest we forget, murderer) is released from jail and everything gets very tense and thrilling, just like in Mr Mercedes. So, from the tenuous link of son-of-victim-of-massacre, we actually get a really great story- it's not just that it's tense and thrilling, it's also that it is very much its own story- it doesn't need the previous book to exist, but the fact that the connections are there make it that much more compelling. Hodges and his team don't come into it until about a third of the way through the book, and even when they do, it very much takes a backseat to the events of the main plot, and I really love that about the book. I also enjoy the little things- that Finders Keepers refers not only to the detective agency set up by Hodges and Holly since the end of the last book, but also that it refers to the attitude of the boy to finding all of these riches in a wood.

I think maybe what I loved best about the book is the way it signals to the love of books. For both the boy and the thief (is it clear by now that I can't remember their names..?), the main thing that motivates them isn't the money (although it's handy) it's the notebooks- not because they're technically worth more than money, but because they have a deep love for this writer and his works. Just imagining finding a couple of new Steinbeck novels, for example, sets my heart aflutter, so I get it. I totally get it. And also UGH it's just so good.

Finders Keepers DOES have some connections to the previous book, and having read End of Watch before writing this review, I can confirm that it also has connections to the final book in the trilogy, too. It is, in fact, the perfect bridging book, in that it doesn't let you forget the overriding story and main driving force of the trilogy,  but it also tells its own story without being overshadowed. Having read all three, I can't at all decide on my favourite, but this one may well be it.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Devouring Stephen King: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

It should come as a surprise to literally nobody that, having read this book 2 months ago, I have absolutely no recollection of anything inside it. Nothing. I got nothing. Whilst this may be considered a reflection of its quality, it is in fact NOT because the one thing I DO remember about it is that it was excellent, and also that I felt like all the stories are good which basically never happens in a short story collection. (EDIT- I just looked at the Wikipedia page and there's this one story about baseball that I found SO BORING. But that's just me)

Because I have no memory (in my defence, a lot of Big Life Things have been happening since July) but I do have an internet connection, and, you know, wikipedia, Imma just go through the stories extremely briefly and rapidly and then you'll be convinced you need to read this, right? Right.

Mile 81: Violent car eats people at a deserted rest stop. I'm into it, I like when King does scary cars and there's a whole undertone of boy-learning-to-be-a-man that was also pretty good.

Premium Harmony: This is a nasty little story where a man's wife dies suddenly and unexpectedly in a shop whilst he's waiting in the car, and he just... doesn't... seem to care too much. One of my favourite King things is the everyday nastiness of regular people, and this story is basically that. Good stuff.

Batman and Robin have an Altercation: Essentially this is a story about road rage, but it's actually about watching one's parents age and all the sadness that goes along with that. The end is AWESOME.

The Dune: You know those stories that explain about a spooky thing, and you think for sure you know what the spooky thing has done this time but then it turns out you were wrong because you were supposed to be? (You probably don't because I've explained that horribly) BUT ANYWAY that is what this story is. So sue me, I like the cheap thrill of a twist ending.

Bad Little Kid: This story was HORRIBLE, but in a good way- the way in which you are as frustrated as the main character when a small child is doing evil deeds, because you know there's nothing you can do to stop this evil. I was so gripped, as well as so horrified. Also there's a good twist ending so you know you want to stick around for that.

A Death: This story was fun in the sense that it was a completely different style to King's usual work. It's essentially a Western, set in 1889, and involves the arrest, trial and execution (spoilers I guess, but it's fairly clearly going that way the whole story) of a man who constantly proclaims his innocence. There are tiny glimmers of The Green Mile in that sense, but mainly its just its own excellent thing.

The Bone Church: Poem. Utter crap. Next.

Morality: Now THIS was good. A couple struggling with financial difficulties have to consider whether the wife should take her very wealthy employer's offer of a lot of money to do a very bad thing. As readers, we don't know what the bad thing is (it's pretty bad) (but maybe not as bad as you think) but it asks a lot of questions about people's limits and the lines they will cross to get what they want. It's been said that everyone has their price, and this story definitely takes that idea and runs with it.

Afterlife: Remember when I read Sum and loved it? (Probably not but let's go with this) This story is basically like King's contribution to that book. It's another among many versions of the afterlife, and it's also a reflection on the stubbornness of people even when they're being told the exact opposite of what they want to do.

Ur: I had very *side eye* feelings about Ur when I first heard about it because, you know, it's basically an advert for kindles, right? Well. Sort of. The word Kindle (which is, of course, a brand name) IS used an obnoxious number of times in this story, but it's still so substantial that I didn't really care? It has a kindle that can see into the future! And many heroics! And Dark Tower references! And yeah, basically I want to get me one of these Ur Kindles so that I can read everything Stephen King has written in all possible universes, is that ok?

Herman Wouk is Still Alive: The Wikipedia article for this story is annoyingly vague so I don't remember it too well... I just remember the vaguely depressing Thelma and Louise undertones (but like, waaaay more depressing than Thelma and Louise) and I can't even remember if it ends the way I think it does. Yay, I'm a good blogger!

Under the Weather: This story is the bessssssst. It's perfect and simple and perfect in its simplicity. I would say that you don't know what's going on until at least 3/4 of the way through (or maybe that's just me) but as soon as you do it's such an OH MY GOD moment and everything makes sense and it's horrible. I LOVE it.

Blockade Billy: Boring boring baseball, boring boring someone did something IDK let's just move on with our lives now.

Mister Yummy: Mister Yummy isn't super substantial, but it mainly left me with the idea that Death takes the form of the thing that most sexually aroused you in life. I'm weirdly kind of into this idea, and when I'm super super super old, I'm sure I'll see a Biscoff Krispy Kreme stalking me and waiting for the big moment.

Tommy: Another poem. God, please make it STOP.

The Little Green God of Agony: An unpleasant man has many pain, his physio doesn't believe it can hurt THAT much, is proved wrong. This story made me feel very uncomfortable in places, and believe me, you don't want to come across a little green god of agony. Just... No.

That Bus Is Another World: A teeny weeny story about the things we tell ourselves to go on with our lives. Pretty good.

Obits: Imagine you write mean obituaries and one day you write one for a real person and they die. TERRIFYING POWER that basically nobody wants- and you especially don't want anyone to find out about it lest they make you harness it for their own uses. Sounds intriguing? So was this story. I liked it a lot.

Drunken Fireworks: This story was interesting in the sense that it's literally about a fireworks arms race (ooh! Aah!) but (BUT) it's also mainly descriptions of various fireworks which are reallllly more of a visual thing. It was fine though, and all good, clean, upsetting fun.

Summer Thunder: The perfect story to end the collection with (yes, it's nearly the end, I'm sorry), Summer Thunder is maybe the only end of the world short story I've ever read, and it's so damn wholesome. A man and his dog and his one remaining friend. It's ordinary life, but without anyone else to live it with. It's sad and moving and also just really good short story telling.

Thus concludeth this review. I am so sorry it was the longest thing ever, I'd forgotten how many stories there actually were in the thing (along with everything else about it, obviously!) I've said it before,  and I'll say it again- I really love King as a short story writer. He can get so bloated and losing the plot-ish with some of his longer works, but his short stories really just sustain an idea for a short amount of time and they're so TIGHT. As of now, I have no new King short stories to read, and doesn't it break your heart for me? It should!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

RIP RIP RIP RIP RIP (Which One Are We On Now... OK, yes XII)

As I think we should all be aware by now, RIP is my very most favourite reading event of the year. It's about the only one I participate in any more too, so that's a thing, but seriously, I can't even imagine an autumn now without reading books that make my heart race and make me want to hide under the covers. It's being hosted by Andi and Heather this year and I belieeeeeve you can sign up on either blog.

I will be going for Peril The First (as always) which is reading 4 books that are thriller/mystery/crime/horror-y. FULL DISCLOSURE: As it is the 9th day of RIP already (I am so late, I realise, but hey I only just got internet, leave me alone) I have already read two books that fulfil the requirements for this challenge, so who knows, I may have read 44 by the end of October (loljk I can't read that many books cause I have a job).

I am so into this challenge that I made a pile of books, carefully selected from the crates of books still sitting in my new flat (bookcases are arriving imminently) and took a photo even though I knew I wouldn't have internet for daysssss. This is the face of true dedication to feeling a bit scared. Look, books!

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Other than The Sandman and Coraline, I still haven't managed to finish a Gaiman book, and I haven't even picked up a Pratchett one (I know, I know, I must be stoned to death). Maybe a combination of the two will kickstart me into reading their entire back catalogues. Maybe.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
I started this a looooong time ago and never finished it. It might be time to restart it and actually finish the bloody thing this time. Honestly, me.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I have already read this (9 days!) and it is amaaaaazing. I loved it so much and the only reason I didn't read it in like a day was because I physically couldn't stay awake for that long (old age). I shall review most soonest. (ALSO: I have had this book on my pile almost every year since I started the RIP challenge 6 years ago [!] It feels goooood to have finally read it)

Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
I always need more Yoshimoto in my life and whilst I know basically nothing about this book, it says something about mystery in the blurb so there you go.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury! Shakespeare! Many exclamations to cover for the fact I don't know much about this book but it's gotta be good!

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
Apart from Stephen King, Shirley is my GIRL for bringing the shocks and deep deep feelings of uneasiness. All over this.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
I also have no idea what this is about but there's bound to be lesbians. I thought it was the ghost one but Wikipedia tells me no, so... let us see!

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
I have had this book for SO LONG that I really just have to read it to get it the hell away from me. Or... In less harsh words, let's see if it's any good and go from there! It's so big thoughhhh...

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Murder! Jane Eyre! Some other stuff probably! What could possibly go wrong?

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
It's that horror story set in Ikea and in the style of an Ikea catalogue that I think everyone's already read. My turn!

That's my pile! I also, in an attempt to treat digital books like real books, need to finish The Fireman by Joe Hill and American Gods (also Gaiman) which are trapped, sadly ignored, in my iPad, and I have the strongest urge to reread It but don't really want to do it while I'm living alone for many evenings (it's complex, I'll tell you about it some time). I also haven't really been through ALL my books, so there are probably many more candidates hidden away that I'll find when I unpack them properly. It's all really quite exciting, to be honest.

Onwards! To fear!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Things I Read In August

Well heydilly ho, little bloggerinos! Another month, another... certain number of books. Plus some added extra whatnots. I haven't had all that much time to read this month because I AM MOVING, and yes that requires all caps because it has been monumentally stressful and I am only just about prepared for it. It's happening TODAY did I mention that OH MY FRICKING FRACKING GOD. 

But anyway. All of the packing and sorting and getting more and more annoyed with endless emails from my current landlord has not left me the most time for reading, but hey, I've done my best. I have also, for the majority of the month, had most of my books packed away in crates and boxes *tear* and that actually won't change for a while because I won't have bookcases delivered for another week, I KNOW WHAT EVEN IS MY LIFE. I also don't even have a nice stack of books to show you this week because once read, immediately packed, is not at all a motto but has been my way of life this month. You'll just have to imagine the covers this month, I know you can do it.

BOOKS. I READ THEM. THEY ARE THESE ONES:

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
I wanted something to take the bad Atwood taste out of my mouth after Surfacing and Moral Disorder really did that. I don't want to admit that I had forgotten all about this book until I looked up my readings for this month, BUT I do now remember that this was excellent- sort of heartwarming and interesting and very human, sort of short stories and sort of all part of one bigger thing. I enjoyed it a lot and it's one of the first Atwood books I've read for a while that I actually want to keep and read again another day. Very fine work.

Relish by Lucy Knisley
This was a re-read to try and keep me sane throughout the month (spoiler! It didn't really work) but I also wanted to read it again because it's about the only one of her books that I've only read once. It's still great- so much food and so many recipes that I actually want to try. I really and truly wish that all comic books could be like Knisley's, and also that she had some kind of superhuman capacity to write about 12 a year.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King
Yay, Stephen King! This is the penultimate book of his I have to read, and I'm only holding back on the last one so that I can have read Stephen King books in all the houses of my twenties (apart from the University years, but to be honest I probably read Stephen King in those houses too). This was pretty great, although remember that I will have to review it more fully cause Stephen King, but it was a good example of how a book can be part of a series without the series itself intruding too fully. It is also SUCH a quick read and so thrillery OMG I can't even. But you'll see. You will.

A Dance With Dragons II: After the Feast by George RR Martin
A Game of Thrones! So I've not only finished the TV series (for now), I've also finished the books (for now). This has more of the same as the last book- more characters who don't really exist, more pointless tangental storylines, more THINGS THAT AREN'T THE TV SHOW (sorry, book purists). I felt quite a lot of the time that I was just reading it for the sake of it, but it also passed through my brain pretty quickly so I guess there's that. It also fell out of my brain pretty quickly so that's also a consideration. Overall book verdict: Meh.

My Struggle I: A Death in the Family by Karl One Knaussgard
I've had this on my shelf for a while and I'm pretty sure I just bought it because it was described as a modern Proust (which... I have not read). This is probably more accessible than Proust and I enjoyed it quite a lot- essentially an autobiography told in the style of fiction (totally learnt a new term whilst wikipedia-ing this book- 'autofiction', so that's a thing apparently) and Knausgaard really goes for it. No holds are barred while he talks about his dad's alcoholism, his grandmother's dementia, his childhood follies and fears, and so many other things. I was really into it, because his struggles are really all of our struggles, no matter what form they take- they can be the tiny things or the bigger things, and at the end of it, they're not really struggles so much as our lives. Yeah, I liked it a lot, and hey! There are 5 more to read so I. Am. On it.

So yeah, August. I actually read more than I thought I had, so go me! Now I must face the trauma of having no internet for the next 6 days (!) (ok 5, it arrives on the 6th) which I guess will give me time to finish my last Stephen King IN TIME FOR HIS BIRTHDAY which was my goal and wish. ALSO is RIP happening this year what do we know, because I find my damn scary books for the best reading event of the year, don't think that I won't!!! I hope you have all had excellent Augusts, and are ready for spooky af Septembers (aw yeahhh)