Review: CARRIE, SALEM’S LOT & THE SHINING by Stephen King

Book Reviews

Ok so a while ago I mentioned I was embarking on a project to read Stephen King’s entire back catalogue in order. I’m making very slow progress to be honest, other shiny books keep capturing my attention and keeping me from moving forward. I have read his first few though, and instead of writing full reviews for every King book I read (cos that guy has wrote a lot of books) I’m gonna do mini reviews three at a time. Here’s what I thought of the first three King books.

King’s debut novel revolves around Carrie White, an unpopular friendless misfit and bullied high-school girl from an abusive religious household, who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. I started this with little idea of what to expect writing wise. I’d seen the film before, so I knew the story, but this was my first foray into King’s fiction, and from the reputation the guy has I assumed this was going to be a great read. In the end, it was fine. A decent enough read at the time but hardly memorable, with some bits I thought just didn’t work. It’s a very raw book and is unrelenting in examining how cruel people can be and in the end is a sad tale of the tragic consequences of torment and revenge. Special mention to Carrie’s mother Margaret, who is a genuinely great character. A religious fanatic with a very difficult history, a woman full of bitterness and self-loathing that she projects onto her daughter in the most appallingly abusive ways. She’s a detestable woman, but someone with a wretched past that manifests itself in ways that you can abhor, but definitely understand. I didn’t get why this was an epistolary novel though? It added nothing to the story and distracted me quite a lot from what was going on. Also, having read King’s book On Writing before this, where he laments that ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’, I’m just saying there sure are a lot of adverbs in this book…

Salem’s Lot on the other hand is a much better story. It centre’s on main character Ben Mears, a writer who returns to his hometown to discover that many of the town’s residents are becoming vampires. Aside from having two deeply sinister villainous characters in Kurt Barlow and his ‘business partner’ Richard Straker, Salem’s Lot excels at pulling back the curtain on the dark, depraved lives people lead behind closed doors. The vampire story is good, but it’s the examination of this dark side of the people who live in Salem’s Lot that really made this story work for me. My main criticism is that King had a tendency to ramble on at times, a tendency I would soon discover was not, unfortunately, a one-off.

The Shining centres on the life of Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic who accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His family accompanies him on the job, including his young son Danny Torrance, who possesses ‘the shining’, a psychic ability that allows him to see the hotel’s horrific past. Before long a winter storm leaves the family isolated and the supernatural forces inhabiting the hotel start affecting Jack’s sanity, putting his wife and son in terrible danger. While I found Carrie a bit meh, and Salem’s Lot good-but-rambly, The Shining was the first time I was truly impressed by King. Watching Jack’s slow descent into menacing insanity, haunted by his past and the consequences of his alcoholism, was a distressing and unnerving experience and there were points in this book where I was genuinely fearful.

Since finishing these books I’ve also read The Stand (and have actually already read and reviewed Pet Sematary, way out of order) and hope to move on to The Dead Zone soon. I’m in two minds about whether to include his novels written under his pseudonym ‘Richard Bachman’, but at the moment I’m leaning towards ‘yes’, so there’s a decent chance I’ll also read Rage and The Long Walk before that. Anyway, I’ve been saying I’d start on this project proper for a while now, so I’m glad I’ve finally begun!

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Reading Update 28/07/2020


Hey bookwyrms. You might have noticed I’ve been taking a more lax approach to these reading updates lately; I used to do them every Wednesday but found I’d sometimes end up forcing myself to read when I didn’t want to just to avoid retreading familiar ground each week. Soooo I’m just gonna do them whenever I have new stuff to talk about. I’m not one who deals well with routine anyway. I’m not reading any new books lately, in fact they’re all canny old, so if what you’re really interested in is the shiny new releases you’re not gonna find anything to excite you here. But! If, like me, you think old books deserve appreciation too, then let’s wipe the dust of aeons off those old book covers and dive into some retro fiction.

Recently Finished: THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler
Some of my favourite books have been influenced by the pulp noir genre. Neuromancer by William Gibson for example, one of my all time favourite books, is saturated with the atmosphere and character tropes of noir detective fiction. Classic cyberpunk characters are the marginalised, alienated loners who live on the edges of society and eschew its rules, much like the anti-hero of Raymond Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP. Private dick Philip Marlowe is the archetypal rough-around-the-edges, booze-guzzling maverick private investigator we’re all familiar with now and is pulled into the shady underbelly of 1930s Los Angeles when he’s hired by an old general to investigate the blackmailer of his daughter. This was a really good book. Didn’t quite make it to being great, but Chandler’s famous no-nonsense prose was very compelling and, given how much I love William Gibson, I was intrigued by the stylistic prose that clearly influenced what came to be a classic of the cyberpunk genre in Neuromancer.

Currently Reading: THE STAND by Stephen King
I’ve mentioned before in passing how I have a goal to read all of Stephen King’s books in order. I’ve been making slow progress with that but, let’s be real, it’s gonna be a lifelong commitment cos that guy has written a lot of books. You may also be questioning my sanity in reading a book about a killer virus that wipes out 99% of humanity while in the middle of an irl pandemic and I really have no answer for you there, maybe I just didn’t think the real world was dark enough. I’m about ten chapters in and enjoying it well enough so far. I have an odd relationship with Stephen King; he has a weird writing style and his books feel like deep character studies more than books with an actual plot and I think he really needs an editor to tell him to shut the fuck up sometimes, but his books are enjoyable, sort of like chewing gum for the brain.

Next Read: THE MURDER ON THE LINKS by Agatha Christie
This section is almost always entirely nonsense cos I love a good mood read, so will change my mind a hundred times about what to read next, but I finished the first Hercule Poirot book a few weeks ago and loved it. I’m a massive Agatha Christie fan boy now and I’m really digging old crime fiction at the mo. THE MURDER ON THE LINKS sees our old Belgian detective summoned to France after receiving a distressing letter with a urgent cry for help. Upon his arrival Poirot finds the letter writer, the South American millionaire Monsieur Renauld, stabbed to death and his body flung into a freshly dug open grave on the golf course adjoining the property. Renauld’s wife is found bound and gagged in her room. Apparently, it seems that Renauld and his wife were victims of a failed break-in, resulting in Renauld’s kidnapping and death. There’s no lack of suspects: his wife, whose dagger served as the weapon; his embittered son, who would have killed for independence; and his mistress, who refused to be ignored – and each felt deserving of the dead man’s fortune. The police think they’ve found the culprit, but Poirot has his doubts. Why is the dead man wearing an overcoat that is too big for him? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse… Love it love it love it.

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Review: PET SEMATARY by Stephen King

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A disturbing, slow burn horror that sinks it’s claws in and drags you to a blood-curdling conclusion. Reading this book I felt like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, slowly being boiled to death, except I knew what was happening and was powerless to do anything about it.

This is the second Stephen King book I’ve read. The first one was his debut novel Carrie, which I thought was an interesting story even if it wasn’t particularly well executed. I was much more impressed with PET SEMATARY. It tells the story of the Creed family (Louis and Rachel, along with their young kids Ellie and Gage – and Ellie’s cat Church) who move to a big house in Maine when Louis lands a job at the university campus health centre. They meet their elderly neighbour Jud, who warns them to be careful of the busy road that runs by their house, as the heavy trucks have claimed the lives of many a pet dog or cat. He even shows the family the pet cemetery (misspelled ‘sematary’) behind their house, where the local kids bury their deceased pets.

I’m not going to overtly spoil anything in this review, but King makes no secret of the dark direction this story takes right from the outset, and if you read between the lines you can probably guess where this is going. Even as it became increasingly apparent what he was doing with it I found myself thinking “He’s not going to take it there is he? That’s dark”.

Oh how naive I was.

As more of a science fiction and fantasy reader it was interesting to see how differently this book read to my usual fare. In SFF a lot of the tension comes from uncertainty, from not knowing how things are going to turn out or if the protagonist you’ve came to love so much will make it through unscathed. In this book the opposite was true. It was obvious for most of the book what was going to happen and it was the dread of helplessly watching it unfold that caused the tension. I don’t read much horror so I don’t know if this is representative of the genre as a whole or if Stephen King is just particularly good at it, but PET SEMATARY is saturated with a pervasive sense of dread that hangs over the story from start to finish. And this is done with very little in the way of gore or gross-out horror which, while definitely having its place, is often a cheap and easy way to deliver scares to an audience.

The story is built on a supernatural premise, but fear, loss and grief are the true horrors of this book. Again, nothing I’m going to talk about is really a ‘spoiler’ because it’s all signposted throughout the book, but you might want to skip ahead if you like to discover everything in the reading. The most interesting part of the story for me was Rachel’s fear of death and the lasting psychological impact it had on her since she was a child. The story delves into our relationship with death and with the human psyche on an individual level through Rachel’s relationship with her sister Zelda, who suffered with spinal meningitis and died a slow and lingering death when they were both children. Rachel resented her dying sister and, far from being the ‘perfect victim’, Zelda was a hateful and spiteful person on her deathbed and Rachel is burdened with the guilt she feels at being relieved that her sister finally died. This contrasts with how, as a society, we tend to idolise the dead – ‘don’t speak ill of the dead’, so the saying goes – and it pulls the curtain back on the idealised facade that is our treatment of death.

The novel as a whole tackles some disturbing aspects of human emotion, subjects that rightly made me feel deeply uncomfortable as a reader. What makes King such a good writer is that none of it is done in a pretentious or grandiose way. Instead we see an ordinary family dealing with loss and grief in a very relatable way, even if as readers we want to shake them at times and tell them to get their shit together, if for no other reason than to stop the inevitable juggernaut of horror we can foresee but they evidently cannot.

PET SEMATARY is a good book. It’s definitely convinced me to read more Stephen King and heightened my interest in horror as a genre, both for entertainment and to familiarise myself with the conventions of horror writing, which are evidently much different from the SFF style I’m familiar with. If you’re looking for some pretty dark and emotionally heavy horror this Halloween definitely give this book a read, though if you want something a little more conventionally ‘spooky’ and lighthearted, you might want to put it off for a while.

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Hey! Watcha Readin’: 16/10/19


Hey everyone and thanks for stopping by for another weekly catch up 🙂 I’ll be using WWW Wednesday hosted by Taking on a World of Words. And hey, get involved! Answer the three questions below and let me know what you’re reading this week.

What did you recently finish reading?
What are you currently reading?
What will you read next?

Recently Finished: PET SEMATARY by Stephen King and SWORD OF DESTINY by Andrzej Sapkowski
PET SEMATARY was my October horror read and my second Stephen King book. I’m still a newb to horror literature though so it was interesting to see how differently it’s written compared to other speculative fiction. A lot of the dramatic tension in sci-fi and fantasy comes from not knowing how things are going to turn out but here King practically signposts the ending of the story the whole way through and the tension builds from the experience of being drawn into that inevitable conclusion. I enjoyed PET SEMATARY, even if it didn’t particularly blow my mind. SWORD OF DESTINY, on the other hand, was a difficult read. I slogged through it but my god, Sapkowski has women issues. The man is obsessed with tits. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen me posting some of the more cringey excerpts from this book. I am going to continue with this series, simply because although this was the second instalment chronologically it was the first to be released and I thought the second book he wrote was a bit better. I’m giving Sapkowski the benefit of the doubt here and hoping the next one is a decent read.

Currently Reading: FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
This is one of those ‘classic’ books that’s been on my TBR for years and I picked it up in a Kindle sale a few months ago. From what I know about FAHRENHEIT 451 it’s a classic dystopia in the vein of Brave New World and 1984 that tells the story of a future society where books have been made illegal and firemen are employed to burn literature and the houses of those who dare to still read them. Unfortunately for me I started a new job this week and haven’t got much reading done yet. I literally read about ten pages last night before I got too sleepy to continue so not much to report yet.

Next Read: THE ROSEWATER REDEMPTION by Tade Thompson
I’ve been excited for this release ever since reading the first two books in the Wormwood series! This is some seriously good effing sci-fi everybody. Aliens. Pseudo-zombies. Biopunk noir spy thrills. It’s got everything and Tade weaves it all together masterfully. Just go read my reviews of ROSEWATER and THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION and see for yourself how much it’s possible for one man to gush about a book.

That’s what I’ve got planned this week.
What are you folks reading?

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned?
Get involved with WWW Wednesday either on your own blog or in the comments!

Hey! Watcha Readin’: 09/10/19


Another week, another batch of books to talk about! Thanks for stopping by for this week’s Hey! Watcha Readin’ and as ever I’ll be using WWW Wednesday hosted by Taking on a World of Words. If you want to take part answer the questions below and get chatting about the books we’re all reading.

What did you recently finish reading?
What are you currently reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Recently Finished: THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION by Tade Thompson
I hadn’t realised quite how much time had passed since this was released and was horrified (but excited) to see that the final instalment of the Wormwood series was set for release on October 15th and I hadn’t got round to THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION yet! These books are a ground-breakingly imaginative take on the alien invasion genre with so much going on, from scientifically plausible telepathy, biopunk noir spy thrills and reanimated pseudo-zombies it’s hard not to go off about everything I love about them right now. Keep an eye out for full reviews of both ROSEWATER and THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION during Wormwood Weekend, this Saturday and Sunday!

Currently Reading: PET SEMATARY by Stephen King
This was my girlfriend’s book club book this month and I’ve used that as an opportunity to dip my toes further into the horror genre at this, the spookiest time of year. If you’ve read any of my previous updates you’ll know I was raised on a steady diet of inappropriately terrifying horror films from a young age, but that never really crossed over into reading horror books and I’ve been making some effort to put that to rights lately. I recently read the first issue of the graphic novel LOCKE AND KEY, which was fantastic and had me clamouring for more horror literature. I’m enjoying PET SEMATARY, zooming through it at an alarming rate. I read CARRIE earlier this year and thought it was an interesting story, if not very well executed, but with PET SEMATARY you can tell King had improved as a writer, even if I’d still liken it to literary candy floss. I can definitely see why he’s such a commercially successful writer.

Fun fact: Joe Hill is actually Stephen King’s son

Next Read: SWORD OF DESTINY by Andrzej Sapkowski
This is a late bonus addition to my reading plan this month because I have the ambitious goal of reading all The Witcher books before the upcoming Netflix series is released in December. Including SWORD OF DESTINY, I have five more to read before then, so good luck to me. This book is a second run of short stories about the adventures of the monster hunter Geralt of Rivia and follows on from the first collection called THE LAST WISH (read the review here), which I had a few issues with, but definitely enjoyed enough to keep me reading.

That’s all for now. I’m still looking for great horror reads so hit me up with your best Halloween horror recommendations!

That’s what I’ve got planned this week.
What are you folks reading?

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned?
Get involved with WWW Wednesday either on your own blog or in the comments!

Look ahead to October


What I’m reading this month

I should have done this last week and I’ve read two books already this month, but in an attempt to organise my TBR I’m posting this with a better late than never mentality. So here’s my plan for the the rest of October. Let me know what you’re reading this month in the comments and, as always, if you have any book recommendations (especially horror right now) please please don’t be shy in letting me know 🙂

I’m so excited for the TV series at the start of November that I’ll be reading NORTHERN LIGHTS, THE SUBTLE KNIFE and THE AMBER SPYGLASS this month for what I think will be the fourth time now. I used to think of The Hobbit as the book that got me into fantasy until I realised that fantasy didn’t just mean elves, goblins and wizards. It was actually this wonderful series that was my gateway to the genre and it will always have a special place in my heart. The film adaptation released as The Golden Compass in 2007 was a major disappointment for me, but the new TV series looks genuinely amazing! I got chills watching this trailer.

Whoever was in charge of casting, take a bow.

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
I’ve added this in here because it’s a short read that has been on my TBR for years; I’m trying to work my way through some of the backlog of books I already own in an attempt to rein in my depraved urges to continue buying books I won’t get round to reading for months*.

The final instalment of the Wormwood trilogy is set for release on Monday the 15th! If you haven’t read the first two books yet I highly recommend them. Tade Thompson is breaking new ground with the alien invasion genre and this is the most genre-shattering series since The Three Body Problem. I’m running a ‘Wormwood Weekend’ this Saturday and Sunday where I’ll be dropping reviews of ROSEWATER and THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION, so keep your eye out for that if you’re still on the fence about whether to pick these books up.

PET SEMATARY by Stephen King
It’s officially Spooky Season so it would feel wrong not to read some horror this month! I have an auntie who raised me on a steady diet of horror films as a child and I remember watching Pet Sematary when I was about ten years old and being delightfully terrified. My girlfriend also just read the book and was aggrieved to find that the used copy she bought online had the final page ripped out! Someone out there just wants to watch the world burn.

Anyway that’s what I’m planning on reading in October. There really aren’t that many new releases on the list this month, but there are so many old books I haven’t got round to yet or just want to re-read. I have a feeling November will largely be the same as I’m taking part in a readalong of DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT (hosted by Jason from Off the TBR – please join us), I want to read the final two books of THE FIRST LAW trilogy and start on THE BROKEN EARTH series.

Wish me luck 😀

Hey! Watcha Readin’: 02/10/19


Happy Spooky Season one and all! Thanks for stopping by for another weekly check in. WWW Wednesday is hosted by Taking on a World of Words and if you want to take part just answer these three questions and get chatting about the books you’re reading!

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading: THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION by Tade Thompson:
I haven’t technically opened this book up yet as I’ve just finished re-reading the first book in the Wormwood series while I eagerly await the final instalment being released this month. If ROSEWATER is any indication of quality though, then I’m absolutely certain I’m going to love this book. I honestly think Tade Thompson is breaking new ground in modern science fiction, basically reinventing and reinvigorating the alien invasion genre.

Recently Finished: ROSEWATER by Tade Thompson
ROSEWATER is a near future biopunk sci-fi novel set in Nigeria. It tells the story of Kaaro, a ‘sensitive’ who is recruited by a secretive government agency because of his ability to access the xenosphere, allowing him to read and manipulate people’s thoughts to find hidden and lost objects. There’s so much going on in this book that this little snippet doesn’t do it justice but I’ll be putting out full reviews for both ROSEWATER and THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION in the next couple of weeks where I fully expect to gush praise for them both.

Next Read: PET SEMATARY by Stephen King
I don’t read enough horror full stop and I’ve always wanted to read more Stephen King. Luckily the spookfest that is the entirety of October gives me the perfect excuse to dive in. I’d love to hear your horror recommendations this Halloween cos it’s a genre I don’t know enough about, despite growing up on a steady diet of horror films, thanks to my beloved yet twisted auntie who sat me down in front of The Exorcist when I was nine haha.

That’s what I’ve got planned this week.
What are you folks reading?

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned?
Get involved with WWW Wednesday either on your own blog or in the comments!