Tag: Reading Slump

Stephen King and Peter Straub – Black House | Review

Title: Black House

Author: Stephen King and Peter Straub

Type: Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 822

Rating: 3/5

 

Stephen King and Peter Straub - Black House

Stephen King and Peter Straub – Black House

 

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I’ve not been looking forward to writing this review, especially because of the bizarre rules I set for myself where each review has to have a word count that matches the page count of the book. At 822 pages, this one’s a bit of a chunker, and in fact it took me two weeks to read the damn thing because I was on holiday in Spain and mostly getting drunk and packing rubble into construction sacks as opposed to reading. It was too hot.

Still, I made a decent dent on the plane there and back and so I did at least mostly read the book in chunks. The problem was that I didn’t particularly love The Talisman, and this book was basically that but watered down. It had potential to begin with, especially because of the Albert Fish style serial killer aspect to it, but what might have been okay as a 400 page novel just felt long and drawn out.

As if that wasn’t enough, I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters, either. Even Jack Sawyer, old TravellinJack himself, was far more boring as an adult than he was as a child. The most interesting thing about him was his job, but seeing as I was expecting more fantasy than police procedural, I found even that difficult to get excited about.

 

Stephen King and Peter Straub - The Talisman

Stephen King and Peter Straub – The Talisman

 

Another problem was that the authors kept on breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the reader with lengthy entries along the lines of, “Let’s leave Jack where he is and go over here to see this guy instead.” It felt gimmicky and pulled me out of the story every time that it happened, and it happened a lot. There was no need to write it that way, either. They could have just continued to write in third person and it would have worked perfectly.

There were some redeeming factors, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have given it a rating as high as a 3/5. We have some great characterisation and some pretty interesting scenes when Sawyer and his merry band of bikers start to approach the Black House and things start to go a bit pear-shaped. I also thought that the ending was pretty good, which is almost unusual for a Stephen King book, but I would have liked to have seen more time spent in the Territories with the established characters and world-building from the first book.

And I think that’s where the problem lies with this one. After all of the hard work that King and Straub put in the first time round, instead of building on it they pretty much just started out from scratch, to the point at which this might as well have been written as a standalone instead of as a sequel. It’s the closest thing to a damp squib that I’ve read of King’s, and I’m about 80% of the way through his back catalogue. After some of the other awesome books that I’ve read of his, I can’t help but feel as though he shouldn’t have been wasting his time on this one.

 

Stephen King

Stephen King

 

It’s still worth reading if you’re a completionist though, and I will admit that the last couple of hundred pages got a little bit better. I’m just not sure whether it’s worth reading 622 pages of substandard work just for 200 more pages that are just okay. I’m kind of surprised that their editor didn’t have a word with the authors to tell them that big swathes of it needed to be cut out or entirely rewritten, not because there was anything technically wrong with them but because they were dull to read and not really necessary.

But perhaps I’m just grumpy because Black House put me into something of a reading slump. I’ve never really understood what people meant when they talked about reading slumps, but it took me two weeks to finish this one and it’s had a knock on effect on the next books that I read. It’s not that I’m not reading, it’s just that I’m not as excited about books as I usually am, and I think it’s because Black House broke my reading streak and messed with my mojo.

All in all then, this definitely isn’t worth going out of your way to read, but for Stephen King and Peter Straub fans then it’s a book that you’ll inevitably get to. Don’t read this without reading The Talisman first though, because The Talisman is both a better book and the perfect introduction to what’s actually going on in King and Straub’s fictitious universe. Try to save it until you’re running out of books by either of the two authors and definitely don’t read this as an introduction to King. It feels like a waste of time.

 

Stephen King Quote

Stephen King Quote

 

Click here to buy Black House.

 


Stephen King – The Stand | Review

Title: The Stand

Author: Stephen King

Type: Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 1,328

Rating: 5*/5

 

Stephen King - The Stand

Stephen King – The Stand

 

Okay. Wow. Where to start. I guess the first thing to mention is the length of this review. If you’re familiar with my site at all then you’ll already know that each of my reviews has the same number of words as the book has pages, which means this is going to be a 1,328 word whopper. Explaining this took up less than 10% of my word count.

The Stand is Stephen King’s most epic book, at least in terms of its overall word count. At almost half a million words, it’s 50,000 words longer than It, its closest competitor. I haven’t read It yet, and the only time I’ve come close to this length was with Under the Dome, which I also gave five stars to. But if anything, I liked this book better.

It’s almost like a play, with the action occurring across three acts. I can’t go into too much detail about the later acts, because that will give too much away, but I can at least touch on various elements of the story line. Essentially, it’s a great American plague story, following the events that unfold after a super flu wipes out 99.8% of the world’s population. The initial third of the book – the first act – deals with the initial aftermath, and it’s almost like a novel version of a disaster movie. Quite simply, it’s fricken awesome.

 

Stephen King

Stephen King

 

This also helps to set up the back stories of the primary characters, and while it might seem a little confusing from time to time to begin with, it’s worth sticking to. That’s because we get to see to them what happens after the initial onslaught of the flu, and that largely forms the basis of Acts II and III. That’s joined by a classic story of good versus evil, with iconic, deity-like figures on both the sides of good and evil, whether we’re talking about Mother Abigail or the Walkin Dude.

As always, King’s characterisation is top notch, and despite the fact that there are a couple of dozen key players that you’ll want to keep your eye on, it’s not difficult to understand who’s who and what’s happening. Even the minor characters are well thought out, with their own little back stories that help to explain their actions, especially once they start to get erratic once the pull is felt between the sides of good and evil.

Honestly, I find it hard to fault The Stand. Oh, sure, it’s a long old read, but I enjoyed it so much that I powered through the whole thing in a week or so. It can be difficult to hold, unwieldy and a pain in the ass to carry around. But it’s also hugely rewarding, and one of my favourite reads in the last eighteen months or so. It’s got that Stephen King magic to it, and it’s hard not to get absorbed in his realistic depiction of the end of the world.

 

Stephen King Quote

Stephen King Quote

 

Even the little things have been thought about. For example, after the initial wave of deaths, there’s a smaller wave in which a reasonably sized percentage of the remaining population manages to kill itself. Junkies taking too many drugs. People having heart attacks with no emergency services to treat them. One woman accidentally locks herself in a refrigeration unit that only opens from the outside. And another interesting aspect was the odds of survival for the human race into the future – what about unborn babies? If immunity to the super flu isn’t genetic, then will newborn babies die when they leave the room? And will they even last that long?

Those are questions that plague Fran, one of the book’s good guys (gals?). Other characters include minor celebrity Larry Underwood, who’s just had his first hit record, a ‘retard boy‘ called Tom Cullen who’s almost an idiot savant, and a deaf mute called Nick, who was my favourite. Nick can lip read and communicate by writing little notes down, and it was great to see that represented – especially because he was awesome.

Now, I’ve read perhaps half of King’s bibliography by now, and I’m planning on working my way through the rest of it. I can’t quite decide whether this is my favourite book so far – I think it might be, but I don’t know if I want to commit myself. There are just so many other books by the same author. What I will say, though, is that I’d recommend this ahead of the Dark Tower series, even though I highly recommend that too. It’ll take you less time overall, and it’s arguably faster paced and a little more gripping.

 

Stephen King - Cell

Stephen King – Cell

 

Slightly over five hundred words to go. You see how it can start to feel a little bit like running a marathon? Just looking at the length of the review should give you a good idea of what you’re getting into. Don’t even attempt it unless you know that you can stick with a long book without getting bored and trying to read something else. The last thing you want is to sink into a reading slump, especially when you’ve got a book this good in your hands, ready for you to crack on with it.

It’s also interesting to note how long it took King to write it – thirteen years, according to the dates that he included at the end, as is his custom. The funny thing about that is that the book itself, though epic, takes place during just a fraction of that. I also found it interesting that King created a disease that he himself would almost certainly have died of, if it had actually happened. It has some similarities with the zombie novel, except that at least you can defend yourself against a zombie. But if you’re not immune to the superflu, there’s nothing you can do. You might as well just lie in bed and wait to die.

And there’s something else. Now, this might seem like a minor detail, but those minor details start to add up when you commit to a book as long as this. One of the strengths of this book is the way that King not only captures the initial panic as the virus spreads but also nails the aftermath, when vehicles are abandoned, corpses start to rot in the cities and anyone can have any damn thing they want, just by smashing a shop’s windows.

 

Stephen King - Duma Key

Stephen King – Duma Key

 

Overall then, The Stand is just one of those books that makes literature itself all the richer simply by the fact of its existence. It’s a long old read, all right, but it’s totally worth reading all the same. I’ve never read a book that’s quite like this, and while it gave me even more respect for Stephen King, it’s even more notable for just blowing my mind and making me realise that my idea of what a book is was incomplete. You don’t realise that something like this exists until you’re forced to confront it.

I’d been putting off starting The Stand for a while, but now that I’ve finished it, I’m not sure what the fuss was about. In fact, I found myself wishing that it would continue, and feeling as though I could have read a little more of it. It’s rare for that to happen to begin with, and for it to happen like this is not just surprising – it’s almost unbelievable.

So if you think you can handle the kind of read that might just change your life, but that will take up a chunk of your time to get through it, you can’t do much better than this. And better still, I can’t see something like this ever being repeated – as an author myself, I have no choice but to look at it, hold my hands up and say, “I have no idea how he did it.”

 

Stephen King - The Tommyknockers

Stephen King – The Tommyknockers

 

Click here to buy The Stand.

 


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