Tag Archives: Stephen King

Firestarter – Stephen King

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Andy and his daughter Charlene, Charlie for short, are on the run. A government agency known as The Shop are after them. Years ago, The Shop was responsible for administering a secret experiemental drug into the veins of Charlie’s parents when they were broke and naive college kids. The drug, called Lot Number Six, went helter-skelter through most of it’s test subjects causing carnage which required a massive government effort to coverup the mess. For Charlie’s parents, something in the drug altered their body chemistry. Her mother possessed a mild form of ESP where she could occasionally move things with her mind. Her father, Andy, could now “push” people into believing and doing what he wanted. Falling in love after being brought together by this strange experiment, they had Charlie and if you thought her parents had special abilities, wait until you get a load of what Charlie can do! The girl is a human flame thrower. She can create fires simply by using her mind to push it out and, as she got older, her powers became stronger. Now the government wants to control her ability and will stop at nothing to capture it.

Firestarter seems to be an under appreciated tale, if such a thing were ever possible, from Stephen King. It never seems to be on any list touting his greatest works. It is, however, a very worthy story with strong characters mixed with a story that feels like it’s smack dab out of the late 1970’s TV show, In Search Of. ESP and government conspiracy cover ups were huge back then and, with how little people trust the government currently, it doesn’t seem to be out of the possibility now. While its way too easy to say that this is simply a watered-down derivative of Carrie, Firestarter is much more and definitely worth checking out.

4 1/2 Hot Potatoes out of 5
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The Dead Zone – Stephen King

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The Dead Zone was a re-read for me, as many will be as I go through The Stephen King Challenge, and I forgot how powerful this book was. King was really in fine form during this period in the late 1970s.

Johnny Smith is a young teacher that has started to date Sarah, another young teacher that works for another school. They’ve started to fall in love and Johnny takes her out on a date to the county fair. They’re both excited about the night. Love is in the air and Sarah has hinted that she’d like him to spend the night at her place for the first time. They have a great time at the fair riding the rides and eating all the fair food. As they’re walking out, a carnival barker at the Wheel of Fortune lures them over to try their luck. Suddenly, Johnny gets a strange feeling that he knows what number the ball is going to land on and begins to go in a trance-like state. Sure enough, he hits…and hits…and hits, until he has over $500 in his pocket and Sarah mysteriously turns ill. Driving his sick girlfriend to her house, they decide that they’ll have to postpone their special evening for when she feels better. Johnny hails a cab and heads for his house. He never makes it home. Two kids were drag racing and hit the cab head on. Johnny is the only survivor…well, kind of. Johnny, battered and broken, is in a coma for 4 and 1/2 years. The doctors had given up on him and eventually Sarah did too. While Johnny was withering away in a hospital bed, Sarah marries and has a little boy. Then, one day, she gets word that Johnny Smith has miraculously come out of his coma. What she was led to believe as impossible has happened. For Johnny, it’s as if he’s only been asleep for a few days. Instead, his whole life, as he knows it, has been ripped away from him and all he has to look forward to is multiple surgeries and an excruciating recovery. During one of his physical therapy sessions, he touches a nurse and a wave of visions flood through Johnny’s mind. He goes into another trance-like state and tells the nurse that she has to hurry. Her house is on fire. She checks and sure enough, Johnny was right and the wary nursing staff look as if Johnny has leprosy and none of them want to get close enough to touch him. For Johnny, this newfound ability is a curse. Newspapers, tabloids, desperate people wanting to know what happened to their missing loved ones all come out of the woodwork and hound Johnny. Then one day, Johnny shakes the hand of Greg Stillson. Stillson is a local politician with big ambitions and Johnny sees what would happen to the world if Stillson is in charge. What would you do if you could go back in time and prevent Hitler from coming to power? This is the burden that Johnny faces.

The Dead Zone hit me like a ton of bricks. Johnny is a very likable character and you want him and Sarah to be a couple. You want his life to be wonderful. You want to see a silver lining. With one kick in the gut after another, it’s painful to watch Johnny be forced to travel down the roads that he has to. The characters, storytelling, setting, it’s all wonderfully laid out by King. This is King firing on all cylinders. It transports you inside Johnny Smith and makes you ask yourself, “What if this happened to me?” An excellent tale that should be a felony for all that haven’t read it.

5 burning tires out of 5

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Desolation – Kristopher Rufty

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Grant Marlowe changed Dennis’s life forever that fateful night when he drunkenly got behind the wheel and killed his pregnant wife and child. Grant’s big-shot lawyer friends got him off easy. Too easy for Dennis and he can’t get over the pain and suffering of losing his family. In fact, while Grant is getting out of prison less than a year later, Dennis has been slowly losing his mind from the grief. Grant needs to be made to suffer all of the torment that Dennis has had to endure and when Grant decides to take his family up to the family cabin in the mountains for Christmas, Dennis decides it’s time for Grant to pay for his sins.

Desolation doesn’t break any new ground. It’s a classic get-them-alone-and-enact-your-revenge slasher story. There really aren’t many surprises along the way, but that doesn’t make this an entertaining read. Rufty handles the material with skill and crafts out a nice story. A few of the scenes are a little too convenient for my taste. Some key characters are spared due to happenings that would defy Vegas-type odds and made my eyes roll. The other thing that kept popping up was all of the grammatical errors. It was so many that it made you wondered if the book was ever edited at all. I hope that the fact that my copy was an Advanced Review Copy means that they did one more final edit before they sent it to the printers. All in all, a decent slasher story worth the read.

3 1/2 disemboweled family members out of 5
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The Long Walk – Stephen King

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The Long Walk is a re-read for me that I picked back up for Book #7 of the Stephen King Challenge. It is also one of the original stories that King wrote as Richard Bachman. I found it funny in the prologue section entitled The Importance of Being Bachman, King writes that he used his secret alias for when he felt that he had a really dark story that needed to come out. Let me get this straight. King has stories inside him that are too dark and horrible to put his name on them? Wow! This I’ve got to read again.

The story reads like a combination of the inspiration of the Hunger Games and Survivor meets the Bataan Death March and a parody of the draft for the Vietnam War. It is also the first novel that King ever wrote, predating Carrie by eight years.

Ray Garrity and 98 other late-teens entrants, in the Long Walk, begin the contest in the northern tip of Presque Isle, Maine. The purpose of the The Long Walk or why anyone would want to do it is not clearly explained. As the story unfolds, we learn that the Walkers have to maintain 4 mph, stay on the road, and cannot interfere with the other Walkers progress. If any of these rules are violated, the Walker gets a warning. After 3 warnings, they are shot and killed by one of the soldiers that are shadowing them on the side of the road in a half-track. As the hours and miles pass into days and nights of hundreds of miles, we learn about the Walkers and their stories. Meanwhile, Walkers are dropping as the miles on the road unwind. How far can they push their bodies through fatigue, weather, injury, and the unraveling of the mind?

While it may not sound like much of a premise, King tells an absolutely terrific tale. The characters are fantastically described and fleshed out. We feel their pain, their anxiety, their fears. The dread and fatigue ratchet up to dizzying levels and I feel that the ending is near perfect, as is the story. Highly recommended.

5 Blistered and Swollen Feet out of 5
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Submerged – Thomas Monteleone

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Monteleone’s Submerged looked amazingly promising on the surface. A sunken Nazi U-boat that isn’t listed on any documents from the war, a secret German mission, and a hidden Nazi base under the ice of Greenland. I’m happy to report that Submerged was all that I hoped it would be and much more.

Dex, an ex-Navy diver, leads a group that descend on an unknown sunken wreck at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. What they discover in the murky water is a German U-boat that is twice the normal length, isn’t listed on any known documents, and has an unusual substructure that gives the sub and unusual humpback look. In an attempt to keep their find secret until they can discover information about this unknown U-boat, an accident on the wreck blows the whole mission wide open. The U-boat captain, Erich Bruckner, is unveiled to us in a backstory that describes the secret mission him and his crew are sent on. His U-boat is a new Nazi weapon that is designed to deliver a lethal blow that will bring the US to its knees. After they are deployed, they are to stop at a hidden Nazi base underneath the ice of Greenland. What they discover there is the ruins of an ancient civilization that comes straight out of H.P. Lovecraft and delivers secrets that the world has never seen.

Submerged was a fun, page-turner that I couldn’t put down. The characters were lifelike and realistic, the dialogue was spot on, and Monteleone tied it all together wonderfully. Submerged had the feel of an underwater Indiana Jones tale without being hokey or cartoonish. I absolutely loved it and can’t recommend it high enough. Great stuff.

5 secret Nazi U-boats out of 5
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The Stand – Stephen King

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For many, The Stand needs no introduction. If you’re a King fan, chances are you’ve already tackled this behemoth. Others seem to be intimidated by the sheer size of this monster and move on to his other stories that don’t weigh as much a Buick. For those of you who may be trying to decide on whether to jump into this tome, here’s some more info to help you make your decision:

A strain of superflu created by the military/government gets loose and wipes out 99% of the earth’s population in a matter of a few days leaving dead bodies to litter the world and everything shuts down. The roads are clogged with the dead in their cars. The hospitals, government buildings, police and fire stations, prisons, hotels, office buildings, houses, everything – full of dead people and no one alive to keep things running. A few survivors who find themselves immune to this superflu begin wandering around trying to find someone, anyone who might still be alive. As they band into small groups, they begin having dreams of an old black woman in Nebraska named Mother Abigail and are drawn to her like a homing device. They also begin to feel an evil presence that calls himself Randall Flagg, among many other things, and hurry to meet up with Mother Abigail. They all congregate in Boulder, Colorado and begin to try to restore civiliazation as Flagg builds up his army to wage war on “The Free Zone” and its people.

The version of The Stand that I read was the unedited version. This may have been a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know. King delivers some powerful characters and scenes that you won’t forget for years to come. The character development is impeccable for a novel of this size. You don’t get lost or confused among the sea of characters in the book. They all stand apart from one another quite well. With that being said, I didn’t like all of the characters. Some in a good way – I thought Harold was an absolute ass and I found that I wanted to thunder-punch him in the throat many times during the book, just the way King wanted you to. Others, like Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg, I really didn’t care one way or another for. I found Mother Abigail to be too preachy and not fleshed out enough and Flagg wasn’t that scary for me. He seemed to be the devil’s imp, but little explained why he was doing what he was doing or how much he was responsible for the end of the world. I also found myself surrounded by amazingly powerful scenes (The opening one where the soldier, Campion, is weaving towards the gas station in Arnett, is amazingly good) with a filling of “lets get on with it already” type of fluff. I don’t know if its a good thing or not that I found myself seeing how many pages I had left. I’m guessing thats a negative thing. So where do I stand on The Stand? It was a good book with great characters and some powerful scenes, but too long-winded to be a great book. For you King purists, you may want to stop reading now, but for myself, I liked Robert McCammon’s Swan Song much better. I know, I know. Blasphemy, right? Now, one other thing, this was also a re-read for me. I first read The Stand a decade ago and what I found this time while reading it, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about AMC’s The Walking Dead. Not for zombies or anything like that, but for the end of the world setting and I think it actually made this book less enjoyable this time around for me. Maybe I’m reaching my limit for dystopian story lines. I don’t know. But if you haven’t read The Stand yet, I encourage you to and keep in mind that this was written in the 1970s and was considered ground breaking for its time.

4 snotty noses out of 5

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Night Shift – Stephen King

imageBook 5 of the Stephen King Challenge is Night Shift. Night Shift is the first short story collection from Stephen King and it is quite simply the finest group of short stories that I’ve ever read. While not all of them are 5 star reads, as a whole the entire compilation is amazing. This is King at his utmost finest.

Here is my breakdown of each story –
Jerusalem’s Lot – A short story that pre-dates the happenings in ‘Salem’s Lot. The story takes place in 1850 and is written in epistolary form where the main character, Charles Boone inherits an old mansion near Preacher’s Corners. The town folk are leery of Mr. Boone and his manservant, Calvin McCann, and feel that the mansion is cursed. Upon inspecting the house, they find an old map that leads them to a deserted town nearby called Jerusalem’s Lot. They find out that the town is deserted for a reason. The story wears its Lovecraft influences well.

4 out of 5 stars
Graveyard Shift – A fun romp in an old mill on the river that is filled with rats. The asshole of a foreman leads a team of workers to come in while the mill is shut down for the holiday to clean out the basement. The creepy atmosphere drips off the pages as you are led into the dark corners of the basement and beyond where there are rats, rats, and more rats.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Night Surf – The story that led into the idea of The Stand. While that sounds like a great read, it’s not. Unfocused and very little point.

2 out of 5 stars
I Am The Doorway – Now this one is a fun marriage of Ray Bradbury meets The Twilight Zone. What did an astronaut bring back from his space exploration of Venus? Yeesh!

5 out of 5 stars
The Mangler – Can a huge commercial laundry machine have a demon inside? It sure can if it’s located in Maine. While the idea seems silly, King does a good job keeping everything tongue in cheek.

4 out of 5 stars
The Boogeyman – Three dead kids and the closet door is always open, just a crack. Was it an accident, murder by an abusive father, or was it the Boogeyman? Great story that has shades of EC Comics Tales From The Crypt-type of feel.

5 out of 5 stars
Grey Matter – Another EC Comic inspired story about what can happen if you drink skunky beer. Loved it!

5 out of 5 stars
Battleground – What every kid whose played with those little green army men has daydreamed about. A direct hit!

5 out of 5 stars
Trucks – a bleak existence as automobiles and owners trade places as masters and slaves.

4 out of 5 stars
Sometimes They Come Back – The new students in Jim’s class look and act a lot like the greasers who killed his brother all those years ago. How is that possible? What do they want? How will Jim ever get rid of them? Great story!

4.5 out of 5 stars
Strawberry Spring – A killer is on the loose during a Strawberry Spring. Not a bad story, but not quite as good as the others.

3.5 out of 5 stars
The Ledge – What would you do to win your freedom and the woman you love? Would you walk around a 5″ ledge of a building 43 stories in the air? This story made my ankles hurt and my balls retract up into my stomach. Good stuff!

5 out of 5 stars
The Lawnmower Man – WTF was that? I don’t think Loony Toons could come up with something this silly.

2 out of 5 stars
Quitters Inc – Now if only we had watchdog organizations like this. We’d all live to be a hundred. Really enjoyed this one.

5 out of 5 stars
I Know What You Need – Ed comes into Beth’s life and always seems to know just what she needs. Good story, but I would’ve preferred a nastier/scarier ending.

4 out of 5 stars
Children Of The Corn – Burt and Vicky find out that Gatlin, Nebraska is no tourist destination. Starts out with good scares but then ends flat. I have to admit, it was too hard to not think of the movie while reading this and it probably ruined it for me. I wanted more.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars
The Last Rung On The Ladder – Larry and his sister Kitty weren’t supposed to climb the rickety ladder that led to the haymow when they were kids. But sometimes temptation is too much and the thrill of plunging down into the loose hay below disguises the danger. King’s descriptive abilities inserts the reader into the story. You can smell the dusty hay, feel the wobbly ladder, and feel the fall pull your stomach into your throat. Great story!

5 out of 5 stars
The Man Who Loved Flowers – Twisted tale of what could be going on when you see a man carrying flowers down the street.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars
One For The Road – A tie-in story that takes place 2 years after the happenings in Salem’s Lot. Great storytelling where you can feel the frosty air in your lungs and the terror in your chest.

5 out of 5 stars
The Woman In The Room – A sad tale about the struggle to euthanize a loved one to ease their suffering. More depressing than anything.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars
Again, the whole thing was such a blast to read. I savored every morsel. If you haven’t read Night Shift yet, plunk your hard earned cash down now.
5 out of 5 stars!
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