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review 2017-07-18 14:10
Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories
Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories - Gary Gianni,Gary Gianni

Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories was a real treat! I knew nothing about what to expect from this volume, (knowing nothing about the Hellboy series, in which these comics were originally released), so I went in with no preconceptions. I was seriously impressed. Here's why:

 

First, I LOVED the stories! The first 2/3 of this are different comics featuring a movie director named St. Lawrence, (who looks a lot like Vincent Price, BTW, and who you would think belonged in the 30's expect for the occasional glimpse of technology), and his friend Benedict a member of the Corpus Monstrum guild. Benedict is an immortal knight and always wears his knight helmet and a tuxedo. (I need to learn more about the background of this character because he was a blast to read about.) Together they fend off plagues of falling skulls, and other monstrous creatures.

 

 

 

 

Second, the last third of the book contains illustrated classic stories by the likes of Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and William Hope Hodgson. I LOVED these! When reading these short stories, I couldn't help but notice how the first 2/3 of the book carried the exact same pulpy, adventure feel that these classic stories originally created. I think Gianni did a beautiful job of carrying on that feel in his comics and in his illustrations of these pulp shorts. In a way, I feel like these were his way of paying tribute to what came before, while also making them his own.

 

Again, I went into this with no preconceptions. I came away with much admiration and respect. I'm going to eventually read the Hellboy comics and I'm definitely going to search out Mr. Gianni and see what else he has on offer, because whatever it is, I'm in!

 

Highly recommended, especially to fans of the classic pulp short stories and to fans of incredible artwork.

 

You can get your copy here: Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories

 

*Thank you to Edelweiss and to Dark Horse Comics for the e-ARC of this volume in exchange for my honest review. This is it!*

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review 2017-04-21 22:55
FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT Review
Four Past Midnight - Stephen King

There is an old Family Guy cutaway which depicts Stephen King meeting with his publisher to pitch his next novel. Obviously desperate for an idea, King quickly looks around the office and grabs the publisher's desk lamp. "So this family gets attacked by . . . a lamp monster! Ooooh!" he waves his hands, trying to convey the scariness and shock of his laughably bad offering. Of course the skit is satirizing King's prolificacy. The publisher sighs, defeated, and asks when he can have the manuscript.

 

Four Past Midnight feels a little like that. None of these stories quite plummet to the lows of an evil, murderous lamp come to life . . . but this is not King on his A-game. These stories were written in the late '80s, when SK was getting off alcohol and drugs; that can have a huge impact on a person's life — especially a person who has to live up to the expectations of millions. King once said of this time period that everything he wrote "fell apart like wet tissue paper," and that self-consciousness and unease is very evident here. The writing is clunky and oft-uninspired; few of the characters come alive. The excellent characterization is why I pay the price of admission. Even if the story gets bloated and the ending disappoints, King's characters are typically reliable. Not so here.

 

In essence, it feels like King studied what worked best earlier in his career and incorporated those elements into the novellas, with diminished results. We have the small band of survivors fighting for life against an apocalyptic setting a'la The Stand and The Mist (The Langoliers), a psychic child (again, The Langoliers), the tortured writer (Secret Window, Secret Garden), repressed childhood memories/using the innocence of childhood to fight a shape-shifting monster (The Library Policeman) and a boring-as-shit Castle Rock tale about a murderous dog (The Sun Dog). All of these stories feel like they're stuck in tired, been-there-done-that territory; I almost never accuse King of repeating himself, but this collection is nothing but reheated leftovers of plot points from earlier, better novels and novellas.

 

My ratings for each story are as follows:

The Langoliers: 3
Secret Window, Secret Garden: 4
The Library Policeman: 3
The Sun Dog: 1


That puts the average at 2.75, which rounds up to 3. This is a totally average book. <i>Secret Window, Secret Garden</i> is easily the best of the lot; I don't care to ever reread the others.

 

King Connections

 

The Langoliers features a shout-out to The Shop.

Secret Window, Secret Garden partially takes place in Derry; The Sun Dog takes place in Castle Rock. Both towns are, of course, very important to the King universe.

 

Favorite Quote

 

“'I'm not taking that,' Mort said, and part of him was marvelling at what a really accommodating beast a man was: when someone held something out to you, your first instinct was to take it. No matter if it was a check for a thousand dollars or a stick of dynamite with a lit and fizzing fuse, your first instinct was to take it.”

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review 2017-04-21 22:47
THE DARK HALF Review
The Dark Half - Stephen King

Here it is, at last: I've reached the end of the '80s in my Stephen King reread project. It took me longer than expected, but I made it. Overall, I had a damn good time.

The 1980s was, arguably, King's most successful decade — at least as far as commercial appeal goes. He was a literary Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, et cetera. He was at the top of the bestselling lists and hit movie after hit movie adapted from his works was being released in theaters. He was, officially, a household name. During those years his kids got older; he became addicted to drugs and got clean (a process that casts a hue on almost every release from this period); he collaborated with Peter Straub on a fantasy novel and kicked the Dark Tower series into gear. It was a very productive time for King.

 

As I said, I had a good time rereading the releases from this decade. The point of my doing this is to see how my opinions change over time. That happens a lot, at least for me. I tend to read quickly and skim over things, so rereading novels is almost always beneficial. Firestarter was much better than I had previously thought; my opinion on Christine soured tremendously upon rereading. Stephen King's works are more subtle than they appear; multiple takes are almost always fruitful.

 

So, The Dark Half. Released in 1989, this novel was SK's farewell to the '80s. It encapsulates so many motifs that had popped up in previous King works (a writer/family man as the protagonist, the theme of addiction and outrunning your desires, et cetera) that it, at first, seems borderline repetitive. It even partially takes place in Ludlow (town of Pet Sematary). The rest is set in Castle Rock. Talk about returning to familiar stamping grounds! (Not that I'm complaining; I love both of those towns.)

 

Hell, this book was in my bottom 5 for years and years. I thought it was a bit of a bore, I thought King's writing was clunky, and . . . of course, I could never quite figure out what, exactly, George Stark is.

 

King doesn't spell it out; he leaves some of the heavy lifting to the reader, which is . . . odd for him. He usually revels in explaining the how's and why's of his creations; here it is left up to interpretation. I believe Thad Beaumont has a "wild talent," thanks to the absorption of his twin in utero (which developed in his brain as Thad himself developed). The impact this had on his neurotic development puts him amongst characters such as Carrie White, Danny Torrance, Charlie McGee, Johnny Smith, et cetera. Thad's power is, of course, his wild imagination, his tendencies to imaginatively create, and the uncontrollable-when-triggered ability to extract and transform ideas into matter that physically impacts the world around him. By the story's end, as George is falling apart and desperate to live and succeed on his own, it is apparent that Thad's talent is not perfect and can be wildly unpredictable. There is much, much more I would like to say about this (for I feel I've done a piss poor job of explaining my theory), but Goodreads does have a review word limit. Boo!

 

Once I got more of a handle on what George Stark is (or possibly is, anyway), I was able to enjoy the ride much more. This is one of King's leanest and meanest novels; it's a nasty, bloody, thrilling affair with copious amounts of horror and crime investigation — more than enough to keep any reader turning the pages. However, gentler readers be warned: this one is not for the faint of heart. It's a gloriously gory book, and King doesn't shy away from every nasty detail. This was quite a welcome change after biggies like <i>It</i> and The Tommyknockers. I don't quite know yet if this is now in my top 10, but it just might be. King's exploration of art and addiction (two themes he goes back to again and again) is most compelling; he is not afraid to be bleak and 'go there'; this novel's ending struck me hard — the bad guy loses, but the good guys lose too. In this novel, there is no winning. Only the grim hope of possibly recovering from the carnage.

 

King Connections

As I said before, a lot of The Dark Halftakes place partially in Castle Rock, placing this firmly in the same universe as The Dead Zone, Cujo, et cetera. References to those novels abound.

 

The Beaumont's winter home is in Ludlow, Maine, which is where the Creed family lives in Pet Sematary.

 

Pg. 72 - Juniper Hill, a mental asylum first referenced in IT gets a mention.

At one point, Deputy Norris Ridgewick refers to himself as a lunkhead. Is that a wink and a nod to Creepshow? I'll say yes.

 

Favorite Quote 

"No, you don't,  Alan thought. You don't understand what you are, and I doubt that you ever will. Your wife might . . . Although I wonder if things will ever be right between the two of you after this, if she'll ever want to understand, or dare to lose you again. Your kids, maybe, someday . . . But not you, Thad. Standing next to you is like standing next to a cave some nightmarish creature came out of. The monster is gone now, but you still don't like to be too close to where it came from. Because there might be another. Probably not; your mind knows that, but your emotions — they play a different tune, don't they? Oh boy. And even if the cave is empty forever, there are the dreams. And the memories. There's Homer Gamache, for instance, beaten to death with his own prosthetic arm. Because of you, Thad. All because of you."

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review 2017-04-21 22:41
THE TOMMYKNOCKERS Review
The Tommyknockers - Stephen King

I should not like The Tommyknockers as much as I do. It's a guilty pleasure of mine; I can admit it. And perhaps a rating of four stars is a mite generous . . . But, despite rationale, I number this novel among my favorites by King. Why? Because reasons. I'll explain in a moment.

 

The Tommyknockers is about Pandora's box, and what happens once it's open — and it's also about failed (missed? unrequited?) love. Our two main characters are Bobbi Anderson, a moderately successful writer of western novels, and Jim Gardener, a published poet and struggling alcoholic. The two are friends, and in the past have been lovers, enemies . . . and everything in between. Their relationship is endlessly intriguing, and it's what makes this flawed novel work — for me. While walking in the woods behind her home, Bobbi literally stumbles over what turns out to be part of an alien spaceship that has been buried for millennia, and is immediately intrigued. Her dig begins, and soon Jim comes to her after sensing something is wrong with her — wrong with her situation, and perhaps the town of Haven, Maine in general. The story expands out from there.

 

This is very much a "big" King novel. It feels big. The focus is only on Bobbi and Gardener for the first two hundred pages or so; the perspective is then expanded to include the goings-on of the townsfolk in part two, "Tales of Haven". It is this section most readers have problems with, I have noticed — and I can't disagree. While a few of the chapters (specifically the ones that focus on 'Becka Paulson, Hilly Brown, and Ruth McCausland) do a good job of painting a searing picture of foreboding, others — such as the pages-long chapter about the history of the town's name that has almost nothing to do with the story — act as speed bumps, and that's unfortunate; King is at his most inventive here, but he often gets in his own way.

 

I certainly held this novel in higher esteem before this reread. While some aspects of the story (Jim and Bobbi's relationship and the many guises it takes, Ev Hillman's character, the ending) actually improved for me, large chunks of the prose were slogs to get through. I don't usually accuse King of overwriting, but overwrite he did here. Maybe I am only realizing it now because I've been rereading his works in order. After taut, entrancing stories like Misery and Cujo, The Tommyknockers just feels bloated. It's like comparing 1968 and 1977 Elvis — the talent and goods are still there, but boy... a little weight could stand to be lost.

 

At its core, this is a white hot story written by a man who seems very, very tired. It's well-documented that SK was at the height of his drug addiction during the writing of this novel, and it certainly shows. He was a gargantuan success by then, though, and I guess no editor could stand up to the King. He would come back a couple of years later with The Dark Half, a novel that lacks the fat of this one . . . as well as the inventive spark. This one is a hot mess, but it's a whole lotta fun (and pretty creepy, too!). 3.5 stars rounded up.

 

King connections (buckle in for a long ride!):

 

Bobbi Anderson lived in Cleaves Mills (a town that has popped up in several Stephen King novels, most noticeably The Dead Zone) before moving to Haven.

 

P. 92 - Derry is mentioned. In fact, Derry pops up a lot in this one.

 

P. 97 - Jim Gardener, when doing a poetry reading, is facing stage fright and fears the audience sucking out his soul, his ka.

 

Pg. 144 - Jim uses the phrase 'lighting out for the territories,' a throwback to The Talisman.

 

Pg. 150 - Jim wakes up on a beach after a jag, only to run into a teenage boy. He has a conversation with the kid, and is it turns out it's Jack Sawyer, of The Talisman.

 

Pg. 159 - Jim hitches a ride in a van with a few druggie teens. One of said teens is named Beaver. Could it be the Beaver who appears in 2001's Dreamcatcher? I'd say it's likely. Like that novel, a good chunk of this one is set in Derry. And the timeline seems right. As well, it's not like the name (or nickname, rather) 'Beaver' is very common.

 

Pg. 265 - The Shop gets a mention, and will become important near the novel's end. Charlie McGee from Firestarter is referenced in connection to The Shop.

 

Pg. 476 - David Bright (from the Dead Zone and several short stories) enters the scene.

 

Pg. 479 - Ev Hillman, Hilly's grandfather, hears chuckles in the drains of his hotel room in Derry.

 

Pg. 479 - While in Derry, Ev goes to a local bar and hears the story of The Dead Zone's Johnny Smith.

 

Pg. 492 - Starting here, some history of the woods surrounding Bobbi Anderson's home is given. It is confirmed that the area — once called Big Injun Woods — was populated by the Micmacs, giving this book a firm connection to Pet Sematary.

 

Pg. 498 - King breaks the fourth wall and has a character hold this opinion: "Bobbi Anderson wrote good old western stories you could really sink your teeth into, not all full of make-believe monsters and a bunch of dirty words, like that fellow who lived up in Bangor wrote."

 

Pg. 735 - When contemplating how to break into Bobbi's shed, he makes a mental reference to Jack Nicholson's performance in The Shining — particularly, the infamous "Here's Johnny!" scene.

 

Okay . . . Let's talk about something, shall we? Let's discuss what universe this novel takes place in, because I'm very sure on a different level of the Tower than most of King's other stories.

 

In the Tommyknockers universe, King is an established author, and characters make references to him — and, by association, Peter Straub. At one point, Bobbi asks Jim if he's ever read Straub's 1983 novel Floating Dragon. Therefore, it would do to assume that The Talisman, the novel co-written by King and Straub, also exists in this world.

But! Jim runs into Jack Sawyer, the main character from The Talisman, on a beach. They even converse! Very similarly to Father Callahan's entry into the Dark Tower series despite existing as a book character in that very same world, it looks like Jack (and Stephen King and Peter Straub, I'd assume) exists both as a fictional and real character. Trippy, huh?

 

It doesn't stop there. There are references to Derry and Pennywise the Clown all over the place, and any King reader knows how intertwined IT is in the Dark Tower series. Is it safe to say The Tommyknockers is, therefore, Dark Tower-related? Not just in a tangential way, either? I'd say yes, though King has never said so.

 

And what about The Dead Zone? That novel is referenced here more than any other. Bobbi once lived in Cleaves Mill. David Bright, a reporter from that story, shows up here in a pretty significant way. If one will recall, in a climatic scene in that earlier book a character makes a reference to Brian DePalma's film Carrie — "This is just like that movie Carrie!" she says, thus, King is breaking the fourth wall and firmly establishing that work of fiction outside the realm of the rest of his stories . . . The Tommyknockers does the same thing. A character actually makes a reference to King as a living being and a writer, and Jim thinks about Stanley Kubrick's cinematic adaptation of The Shining.

 

But that's pretty messy, isn't it? Especially when one considers the fact that The Dead Zone is a Castle Rock story, thus making references made in and to that novel inherently contradictory. Same here; in fact, the references King makes in The Tommyknockers are contradictory in and of themselves, and often work against each other. Is it on purpose? Was he just throwing out random Easter eggs to please the crowd and inflate himself? Maybe it's a little of both. I don't know, nor do I pretend to. And I'm sure there are many, many references in this one that I missed, for I took only the briefest of notes.

 

Alright, now to pull myself out of the rabbit hole and finish this thing . . .

 

Favorite quote:

 

“The trouble with living alone, she had discovered-and the reason why most people she knew didn't like to be alone even for a little while-was that the longer you lived alone, the louder the voices on the right side of your brain got.”

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review 2017-04-21 22:36
MISERY Review
Misery - Stephen King

What could I possibly add to what has already been said about this astounding novel in the last thirty years? It is a bonafide King classic, an excellent entry in the man's oeuvre by virtually any standard of judgement. Kick-ass villain? Check. Tightly-wound plotting? Check. Believable situation? Check. Avoidance of cliché? Check. Likable protagonist? Check. Appropriate ending? Check. In Misery, King does what is so rare for authors to do (especially authors who are fifteen or so years into their career, as King was in 1987) — he gets everything right.

 

I have a very special relationship with this book. It was the very first thing I ever read by Stephen King, years ago. At the time, I had a friend who was a big fan of the guy and raved about his works whenever he got a chance. I loved to read when I was growing up, but I lost interest around the age of 13 or so. I had begun to outgrow the stories I loved as a (younger) kid and hadn't yet found anything I liked as a young teen. Finally, at the insistence of said King-loving friend, I checked the 'K' section at my local library. Lo and behold, I found a mess of his novels and didn't know where to start. Under the Dome was King's latest release then, and while it seemed interesting, I suspected I would never make it through its 1,000+ pages. Maybe one day, I told myself. After sweaty, anxious scanning of all the King titles on my town library's shelves, I texted my friend and asked for suggestions. He immediately responded with something I'll never forget: "They're all good. Just don't get Dreamcatcher. It sucks ass."

 

Alright! Feeling moderately liberated, I felt relief in the knowledge that I could check out any of the titles before me without worry of it being a time-waste (besides Dreamcatcher, mind you). Finally, I noticed a slimmer volume, its one-worded title in a font that looked like blood: MISERY, it said. The hardcover's art immediately gripped me, as did the goofy-ass author photo on the back — that photo still cracks me up, by the way. Say sorry, Sai King!


To the checkout counter I went, with Misery (and The Stand, if memory serves — though I did not even attempt that one before its due date) in hand. A few days later I went on vacation with my family to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We camped out.... in tents.... in an RV park. Oi. It rained almost everyday, and when it wasn't raining it was almost a hundred degrees. But that trip wasn't so bad — after all, I had Misery. I remember sitting in the tent I shared with my sister, holding the book in my clutches, eagerly drinking in the story by flashlight as the rain pelted down. Ah, good times. Funnily enough, it was not until a few months after that trip that I read another novel by SK.

 

 

That one — Christine — is what turned me into the fanboy I am today. But Misery laid the groundwork, and pushed me to expand my literary interests in the first place.

So what was it? What was it that I loved (and love) so much about Misery? Why, it's King's commentary on the writing process, of course. I'm a pre-published (he said optimistically) writer, which made this story more appealing now than it ever was before. While I don't write in the same genre as King — horror and suspense are not comfortable to me — his words of advice on the craft are endlessly fascinating, and so helpful. The stories and novels in which King deals with the arts and the impact it has on everyday life are my favorites, just because those are the titles I relate to most.

 

And let us not forget the vividly drawn characters — Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes. I love to write, therefore I dig Paul and can feel for him. Of course. However, I also have more than a little bit of Annie in me. I'm obsessive, lonely, paranoid, depressive, manic. Just being honest. I feel for her. I feel her pain, her turmoil, her ideology — even when she's wielding an ax or chopping up coppers with a lawnmower. What kind of person does that make me?

 

The reader can sympathize with all of King's characters, even the most despicable ones. That's the mark of a truly great writer, and it's a lesson I've tried to apply to my own stories. In fact, Annie is so well-realized that I'm always heartbroken over her death. I know she deserved it. I know that. But . . . still. It's a hard one, at least for me. I love Annie Wilkes.

 

So, yeah. This has been a shit review. Apologies! Didn't know what to say that hasn't already been said, so I decided to go with whatever came out. Hope you stuck around, and thanks for reading!

 

King connections:

 

Pg. 103 - Paul imagines the voice of his typewriter as being that of a 'teenage gun-slinger'.

Pg. 192 - The phrase 'off the beam' is thought of by Paul. Is that a Dark Tower reference? Almost certainly. The Drawing of the Three was released in 1987 too, so it was definitely on King's mind.

Pg. 194 - Events from The Shining, namely the Overlook Hotel burning down, are mentioned by Annie. And there's the fact that this novel takes place in Colorado, which puts this one firmly in the same universe as that which is occupied by the Torrances.

 

Favorite quote:

 

“As always, the blessed relief of starting, a feeling that was like falling into a hole filled with bright light.
As always, the glum knowledge that he would not write as well as he wanted to write.
As always the terror of not being able to finish, of accelerating into a brick wall.
As always, the marvelous joyful nervy feeling of journey begun.”

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