Summer Reading So Far

I apologize in advance for the misnomer. I haven’t actually read all three of the books I plan to discuss here since the official start of the summer. I had already started one, but I finished it after the 21st, so I am going to count that one too. To be honest, I am counting the time that The Mrs and I spent on vacation (see previous post) as the start of my summer, so there you go.

by Joe Hill

This one was a no brainer. I know it is a little early in Hill’s career to be saying this, but up to this point, I have not read anything by him that I have not liked. There were some short stories that I didn’t absolutely love, but for the most part he is thoroughly in the positive zone. I am very comfortable picking up anything by him and not worrying about whether or not I will like it.

His most recent novel is no exception. It is a creepy tale with some truly disturbing characters. Charlie Manx is a vamphiric creature who abducts children and takes them away to Christmasland where they never grow old, where every night is Christmas Eve, every morning is Christmas Day, and they turn into soulless monsters. He is assisted (at this point in time) by Bing Partridge, a disturbed individual who is definitely a few lights short of a decorated tree. He thinks that he is helping the children by removing them from unfit parents. He is tasked with disposing of the parents, a task he does exceedingly well.

Tossed into this mix is Vic McQueen who has the ability to travel through a shortcut in space when in search of something. At the beginning of the book she is a girl just discovering this power. She tumbles on to Manx, who uses his classic Rolls Royce to travel similar sinister shortcuts. As the novel progresses, we see the adult Vic whose life was altered by her earlier encounter with Manx.

I thought Hill did an amazing job with all three characters (as well as a number of others we encounter), but I thought his treatment of Vic was astounding. Her post-addiction self, haunted by the time with Manx and by the therapy with which she was able to convince herself that the traveling she did as a child never happened, was spot on. There are also numerous scenes which will have readers on the edges of their seats. Highly Recommended.

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

The moment I heard about this book on Scott Siglar’s “Monstrosity” vlog
1 I knew I had to read it. It sounded like the kind of urban fantasy one doesn’t find that often; one where the world is gritty and full of supernatural beasts who no one is lusting after. I was glad that I picked this one up.

Mookie Pearl is sort of like a button man for the mob. He works for an organized crime family. He is a mountain of a man who busts heads for his bosses. He also runs a crew that produces and distributes a drug known by many names, one of which is the titular Blue Blazes. Before you start to think that this sounds like any number of crime novels you have read in the past, allow me to tell you that not only does the drug give users incredible strength and a euphoric high, it also allows them the ability to see the supernatural creatures which are hiding among us. Half-breeds, goblins, golems, Snakeheads. Most users write these off as hallucinations, but some people know the truth.

Years ago, while opening a new water main for New York City, workers stumbled upon the entrance to the underground world of these supernatural creatures. Now some of them are trying to establish more than a foothold in the world above. Mookie must deal with this, the fact that the Boss is dying and the impending power struggle which is sure to occur after his death, the assassination of the Boss’ grandson, the person tapped to take over the Organization, and his daughter Nora who is vying for the top dog position of a new organization.

The world that these characters inhabit is wonderful. It is essentially our world, but with enough of a skew that exploring it is endlessly fun for the readers. It is also consistent. I love the fact that once a rule is established, it stays that way throughout the novel. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about some urban fantasy series.

The best part of the book for me, was the characters themselves. Mookie Pearl is a deeply flawed character. He is a man who has dedicated his life to criminal enterprise, who is capable of acting mercilessly in almost every situation. The exception to this is his daughter. He essentially abandoned his family for the Organization, telling himself that he was doing it for their own good. The reader can tell that he has regretted this decision, never really lived a full life since making it. It is this abandonment that drives most of Nora’s actions. Despite her hard shell and the seemingly ruthless nature she may have inherited from her father, what she wants more than anything is to be the most important thing to him. The only way she sees to be noticed by him is to destroy everything he has worked so hard for his whole life.

My only complaint about the novel is the level of violence. I will almost never say that something is too violent, but Mookie gets the crap kicked out of him a lot. While an argument can be made that this is to be expected when a man is single handedly taking on the supernatural underworld and that the descriptions of the beatings he receives are realistic in these terms, I do wish that there was a little less of it. That being said, I did enjoy this book and look forward to reading more of the author’s works (I’ve already downloaded a few). Recommended.

Joyland by Stephen King

I am going to admit, I was a little worried about this one. In order to understand why, I need to go into a little backstory.

Hard Case Crime is a publishing company that specializes in the kind of hard-boiled detective and adventure stories that were popular back in the days of the pulps. I love this publishing company. Simply put, I love this kind of mystery novel. Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Micky Spillane, these were the people I read while I was growing up. I have fond memories of searching through used book stores for new (by which I mean stuff I didn’t already own) titles. When I worked in the bookstore I made sure that these classic detective stories were always in stock.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of other mystery sub-genres that I enjoy. Obviously I’m a big fan of the forensic science focused books. I went through a streak where I read nothing but psychological thrillers. I did the whole legal thriller thing. I read police procedurals until I felt like I knew the ins and outs of various police departments all over the country. Hell, I even have shelves of books where the cases are solved by animals. I never was one for the tea and crumpet cozies. However, the hard boiled detective was always my favorite. I even had a whole section devoted to them, organized by decade (one detective for each decade).

I’ll have to post that list some time.

Naturally, I would love any publishing company that was dedicating itself to publishing this type of mystery fiction. Another way in which they emulate the pulp era is that their books are only released as mass market paperbacks (the ones you can jam in your back pocket and take anywhere).

They also support an organization
The Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, a group of women and some men in the New York City area who work to enlighten the masses regarding New York law which states that it is legal for a woman to be topless anywhere that it is legal for a man to be topless. They meet in public parks for picnics and read-ins (weather permitting). They often bring books published by Hard Case Crime, among others.

The most important and rewarding thing about Hard Case Crime is that they have acquired the rights to books by amazing authors like James M. Cain, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, and Richard Stark, all of whom had space on my mystery shelves. So you have great authors writing for a great publishing company in a genre I love. What could possibly be better?

What if they got one of my all time favorite authors? You can only imagine how besides myself I was when I heard that Stephen King would be writing a novel for Hard Case Crime. I bought a copy of that book,
The Colorado Kid, the day it hit the bookstore shelves.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for it.

I have purchased a lot of books that I didn’t care for. It is only recently that I have allowed myself the luxury of not finishing books that I am not enjoying. For a long time I felt that I had to finish any book that I started to read, even if it took years.
2 I would like to say that I came to the realization that life is too short to spend it doing things that are not enjoyable, especially when those things are things that you are supposed to be doing for enjoyment’s sake.

I would like to say that, but it is not the case. The real reason is that my obsessive purchasing of books has lead to such a surplus of books that I can no longer afford to waste time with a book that I am not enjoying.

Now none of this is to say that
The Colorado Kid was a book that I disliked so much that I did not finish it. I just did not care for it. Perhaps a part of this was because I had hyped it so much in my head that it didn’t stand up to my expectations. In my opinion the way the story was presented, someone retelling it years later, caused it to lack some of the suspensefulness that I was looking for. That may just be me.

So I was a little leery about
Joyland. Granted, I bought it right away. Hell, I had the thing on pre-order. It was on my doorstep on the day it was released.

My reservations? Totally unnecessary. I loved it.

The Joyland in the title is a carnival, smaller than Six Flags, but bigger than a county fair. It has all of the usual rides, attractions, games, and a Tunnel of Terror type ride which just might be haunted by the victim of a serial killer.

All right, this has potential. Serial killer, haunting, Stephen King. Yeah, this has potential.

The story is told by Devin Jones, a college student working his way through the summer while working through the wreckage of his first real love. The story takes place in 1973 but is being told from much later, first person. This worried me a little, as it reminded me of what I didn’t like about the previous book.

It worked really well this time. In fact, one of the best parts of the novel is that the emotional material which the main character brings to the tale. Devin is an old man recounting what happened to him during one year when he worked at the titular Joyland. At the time of the story, he is deeply involved in his first love which, like all first loves, is destined to end in tragedy.

Over the course of the tale, Devin deals with the loss of this girl, makes new friends, and questions some of his earlier assumptions about the direction his life will take. He learns early on about the ghost which haunts one of the rides. His quest to discover the killer will involve some of his new friends and takes him to places he would not have expected.

While there is a good deal of suspense throughout
Joyland, the area where the book really shines is in the relationships between the characters. Without giving anything away, I can say that King has once again done a brilliant job of illustrating the connections between people, the fragility of some and the strength of others. Recommended.

1 If you are not watching this weekly video blog, you need to be. Siglar covers the worlds of horror, sci fi, fantasy, movies, television, books, comics...if you are visiting my website you will find something in this mix to intrigue you.

2 Stupid CDO

3 In case you missed it before, CDO is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder -- OCD -- but with the letters arranged alphabetically as they should be.