Four Star Fridays: “11/22/63” by Stephen King

It seems appropriate to begin my Four Star Fridays series with a historical fiction, because I will read anything related to history. It seems extra appropriate to being my Four Star Fridays series with a novel related to the JFK assassination because that particular part of history is one of the first things I really fell down the proverbial rabbit hole into, quickly soaking up all the information I could find – probably long before I really should have understood someone having a portion of their skull blown off by a gunman the sixth floor of a nearby building.

So, having grown up in a house where Stephen King was a bit revered (and I did see some of his movies before I was probably quite old enough), when he wrote a novel based on the events of that day, I was on board.

I had read other King books, but I was most into this one.

And it didn’t disappoint.

Having absorbed so much related to the actual historical event, I went into the book with some nerves about a novel staying true to history. But it did, even including Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald in ways that I understand them to have spoken, acted, and lived. That was absolutely worthy of a full star.

Worthy of another full star is the setting. A time travel novel, which this is (not a spoiler as it’s in the blurb on the dust jacket), had me a little worried too as they can be fantastic or, more often, not so great. 11/22/63 trended far more toward fantastic. The time jumps were seamless, the logic behind them sound, and the reason for them made sense.

More stars are easily wrapped up in those two things, and things I don’t remember because (as Goodreads tells me), I read this book in 2012.

It seems so weird that it’s been so long but…

This is an 849 page brick of book. But it is worth it. If you like time travel, weird stuff, historical fiction… and have some time to devote to big book like this, I can’t recommend it enough.

My Goodreads review from 2012 tells me that, at the time, I docked the book a star because the last 150 pages were no good. Is this true? I couldn’t say. I don’t remember. I might feel different if I read it again, which I will probably do.


My TBR list is a mile long and 849 pages is a lot of book to re-read…

Turn off Siri & Alexa… then read “The Mansion” by Ezekiel Boone

If you feel like you can’t live without Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google… you probably don’t want to read this book. I’ve used Alexa a few times, but I can live without. 

Which I will absolutely do after reading this book, live without a virtual ‘assistant’ who can answer any question I have and remind me of obscure, easily forgettable things.

*brb going to make sure Alexa is disabled on my Kindle Fire*

I hope Ezekiel Boone won’t mind me describing The Mansion as something that gives me strong vibes of Stephen King’s The Shining, because it does. It’s not the same book, not by any means. The similarities lie deep in Boone’s Eagle Mansion and King’s The Overlook Hotel, both hotels from bygone eras that carry a lot of baggage and have a personality, a soul of their own. It’s winter in Boone’s book too, and the caretakers are Billy and Emily Stafford.

But they aren’t there to make sure the pipes don’t freeze and the roof doesn’t cave in under the weight of an upstate New York snow.

This is a twenty-first century book, and they are there because, a dozen years ago, Billy and his friend Shawn Eagle stayed on the Eagle family estate to code. It’s originally a bit hazy why their partnership, one seemingly destined to create something like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined, ends up shattered but, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s over a girl. Emily, to be precise.

Shawn has become richer than basically anyone ever, running a tech empire that seems to make Mark Zuckerberg jealous. But there’s one thing he doesn’t have… something he and Billy (and another friend named Takata but you have to read the book if you want to know what happened to him!) created as recent grads, something he can’t work into the phones that bear his name. 


She is why you might be wary of Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and… does the Google one have a name?

*brb going to turn off the Google one on my laptop, and the predictive search for good measure*

Billy becomes caretaker of Eagle Mansion that winter because there are ghosts and bugs and viruses in Nellie, and Shawn is running Nellie in the mansion, with the aim of creating what I imagine would be the ultimate ‘smart’ house to be scattered across America. But Billy had a drinking problem and slightly less alarming cocaine problem, and this creates just the right level of uncertainty as he prepares to tackle a problem that could make him him a multi-millionaire and Shawn a multi-multi-billionaire (because Shawn is kind of an awful person, not entirely without cause).

Nellie will freak you out. Shawn will make you… feel things. Billy will make you root for him. Ruth and Rose (twins and of one soul) will make you curious. And Emily will make you understand.

Horror and thrillers aren’t usually my go-to genres (and to be fair, I’ve seen The Shining but I have not read it) but this is as good as it gets. It’s a book that you will not be able to put down once you start it. and when that ever more irritating Real Life creeps in and makes you put it down? You’ll be thinking about this book.

The Mansion is on sale December 4, 2018 wherever books are sold. Probably. Go buy it!

(I received a copy of The Mansion from NetGalley and Atria Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenI don’t know why I hesitate before I start YA series. I’m not a YA, as much as it pains me to admit that, but I haven’t really met a YA series I didn’t at least like. I’ve even ended up in the “fandom” of a series or two. Some I just read, appreciate, and read again. There are so many series, though, that seem like they’re all cut from the same cloth. It makes me nervous about buying them.

I am proud to say that I bought Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on a complete impulse and am even more proud to say how much I liked it. The cover, with the flapper style girl, caught my eye right away and the fact there were a lot of the old school and, literally, old photos in the book hooked me immediately. It was nice to see something YA that wasn’t a dystopian love triangle. It was nicer still to see the historical, World War II twist to the story. The history lover in me will always appreciate that.

I feel sort of like Riggs’ creation is Stephen King-like in nature, only written for younger and/or less ambitious readers who don’t want to tackle 1000+ pages to get the supernatural story fix they need. And I wonder if King has read about Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.

That isn’t to say, of course, that Riggs’ world isn’t unique and stand-alone. It is.

I was as fascinated by the real photos as I was by the characters that Riggs wrote for the photos. I wanted to know more about each of the children. I wanted to know where Jacob fits in to the world, what his purpose in it all is. I care about these people.

That’s what’s most important in a book, if you ask me.

And I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series.

Reviewed: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King

Doctor SleepIf not for the first twenty pages of this book and the last twenty pages, I would give this story five stars. I almost quit when I struggled to get through the first twenty and I don’t really like what happened in the last twenty. Everything in between? Awesome story.

Maybe the first twenty, and even the last twenty, wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d read The Shining but I haven’t. Once I got settled into knowing about the random appearances from the first book, the story went just fine.

I now have a deep, running suspicion of RVs and women with big hair and funny hats (especially top hats, but those are rare)… but this is Stephen King so that’s probably what’s supposed to happen.

The book is very heavy on Alcoholics Anonymous because the kid from the first book is, as one might expect even from just watching the Jack Nicholson movie, an alcoholic. It’s a little too heavy for my taste, and the references to AA pop up at the strangest times as the story goes on but I suppose I can see where it’s important.

The book isn’t overly long as Stephen King books go and it is very hard to put down once you get going. I like it.

(This is the review I posted on Goodreads. The cover photo is also taken from the Goodreads page for the book.)

Reviewed: “Joyland” by Stephen King

JoylandI can now officially say that I’ve finished my fourth Stephen King, although Joyland is hardly standard King fare. It’s short, it’s “light”, and it’s easy.

But it’s just as good, if not better, maybe obviously, than some of the other King books I’ve tried and failed to read.

Joyland is set in an early 1970s carnival in North Carolina, i.e. not in Maine like most King books although the main character is from Maine, and it’s the story of Devin Jones getting his heart broken by the girl he loves more than she loves him. He flees south to a carnival because that’s the last thing anyone would expect him to do and tries to fit in with the wacky cast of characters there. The owner resembles a vampire, the man who runs the haunted horror house is creepy, a lady from Brooklyn puts on a fake accent and pretends to tell futures, and the carnival hires a bevy of twenty-somethings to dress up in skimpy dresses and take photos, the girls, and run rides and dress up as the hound dog mascot, the boys.

Devin takes a room at a boarding house and quickly hears the story of the girl murdered at the park who still haunts the house of horrors, and I use lower case there because I think there was a catchier name for it in the book and I can’t remember it.

Intrigued but not obsessed, he sets out to just try and enjoy his summer while he gets over the one that got away.

Only people aren’t who they seem. Not his co-workers and not the sick little bore and his single mother he meets and befriends on the boardwalk.

The book has love stories, hauntings, murders, “sightings”, friendships, and humanity.

I read it in a week and a I loved every bit of it.

Reviewed: “Mortal Fear” by Greg Iles

Mortal FearI have found four different books by Greg Iles tucked in different corners of my mother’s bookshelves and boxes of books. She apparently bought them because she bought things that Stephen King endorsed. I’m not sure if she liked the Iles books but I do. Very much.

Spandau Phoenix, Black Cross, and now Mortal Fear have all kept me from doing other productive things while I didn’t want to do anything but read them. I still have one more to read, in case you thought the count was off, then I’ll probably buy some more of his books.

But this is a book review about Mortal Fear so let’s get on with that, shall we?

Harper Cole is some sort of investment trader (I don’t know anything about trading and investments, so I’m vague there.) by day and, pretty much, an internet sex… something or another by night. Harper, in case you’re confused by the unisex name, is a man who is married to an obstetrician named Drewe. This whole internet sex thing seems very primitive and quirky, reading it in 2013, because the book was written in 1997.  Once you get used to that, however, the story gets very interesting.

You see, it costs a lot of money to be part of EROS, the company Harper works for (as a manager and chatter, for lack of a better word) so when some of the rich women signed up to get… aroused and satisfied by chat conversations on the site starting turning up dead, Harper gets dragged into the FBI and local police investigations of the murders. You’d think it’d be as simple as that.

But it’s not.

Harper’s got skeletons in the closet that you both have to see to believe and you will really want to see to believe. He ends up far more involved in a web of murder in the name of science than he could ever have imagined because of said skeletons.

What should have been a simple, if there is such a thing, investigation into crimes that today’s television dramas can only dream of spinning into good stories ends up involving every aspect of Harper’s life. He is, at the same time, both despicable and heroic.

He’s real.

And you want to read his story.

The sex stuff? Yeah, that’s pretty creepy and yet fascinating too.

P.S. Aside from the four books I mentioned, what other Greg Iles books should I read?

Book Tagging #1

I’ve done book tags here on this blog before. You know, the ones where you ask X number of blogs you follow to do the same tags? Well, my lovely friend Alix emailed me a themed book tag that she worked up and filled out so I’m posting my answers to her tag here.

Read it, if you like, and leave comments about what I answered and what I should have answered and what I should read to answer better. Better yet, please do copy this onto your own blog and answer the tags yourself. (Leave a link in the comments so I can see how you compare to me!).

It’s fun, I promise!

Playing With Your Emotions

Book that makes you happy: The Agnes Browne Trilogy by Brendan O’Carroll

I’m interpreting ‘happy’ to mean laughing, smiling happy… not just satisfying. And these three books made me happy. Even though they deal with serious issues of death and illness, Agnes Browne still makes me laugh. She’s a traditional Irish lady with an often accidentally dirty sense of humor. The books make me happy even more because my grandparents borrowed them from me and loved them and my grandmother even told her cancer doctor about the scene where Agnes and her friend Marion debate whether or not they’ve ever had “organisms” while in bed with their husbands!

Book that makes you sad: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

You know those books that make you cry so hard you can’t see the pages? This is that book and so much more. It’s more sad because it’s so real, even though it’s fiction. You just know that thousands upon thousands of people went through what Stephen and all the other soldiers in the story actually went through in the trenches of World War I.

Book that makes you angry: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I wanted to love this book and for 900 pages I did. Then there were another 40 or so pages and I hated it. Lisbeth deserved so much more than the crap-tacular ending she got in the first book in the series. Blomkvist was pretty much a pompous idiot but he treated her alright. But after building Lisbeth to be a dark, tortured soul who relies on no own but herself, having her skip happily into the sunset was just wrong.

Book that makes you nostalgic: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

My fifth grade teacher read this to us and I can officially call it the second series I was addicted too. I made my sister and my cousin read the book and watch the movie, after my teacher showed us the movie. They didn’t like it as much as me but… I still reread the books.

Book that makes you scared: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Yes, these books are futuristic, post-apocalyptic fiction but… it could be real! Think about it. Monster storms washing away coastlines. Check. Famines and droughts across wide swatches of the earth. Check. Super rich people trying desperately to consolidate power and keep anyone in the 99% from getting any power. Check. Warring hotspots all over the world. Check. Threats of nuclear war. Check! Long story short… so scary.

Book that makes you surprised: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

I entered a Goodreads giveaway for this book having only seen anything about it in passing. I just wanted to win a free book. And I did. I am still surprised by how much I love a book about an old man in the Pacific Northwest who wants nothing more than to do right by the people he cares about.

Book that makes you disappointed: Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

This book spends 500 pages building up to a battle of pure good vs. pure evil. The battle never happens. Why? Because Stephenie Meyer couldn’t kill someone she might want to use in a story later. She should have left the battle out entirely. Because a long, drawn out conversation and everyone happily running off to have sex does not a happy, satisfying end make.

Book that makes you distressed: A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

Not a lot of happy, uplifting stuff happened during World War II. Facts are facts. It isn’t that stuff that we hear about. But Russell’s book is about that. It’s about a group of people fighting with everything they have to do know more than simply survive. And they should get to. But it’s real because they don’t all get to. The deaths in the book are poetic and beautiful as much as they are heartbreaking and distressing… even the fifth time through the book.

Book that makes you confused: most books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz

My mind just does not work like their minds do. It’s a shame because if I could write like them I’d be rolling money. I’ve finished two King books… Under the Dome and 11/22/63… and am still confused by 11/22/63. The other King books I’ve started… I quit them all because I got too confused.

Book that makes you grateful: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Little House on the Prairie: I love to read because of Little House. I remember being little and sitting on the couch with my mom while she read the Little House books to me. Those books made me want to learn to read. So I did. Haven’t looked back since.

Twilight: Make fun of Twilight all you will but there are awesome people who love those books, people who I would not know if I wasn’t entirely and hopelessly addicted to Twilight and the fandom it’s created.

Reviewed: “Under the Dome” by Stephen King

Under the DomeI have tried to read many Stephen King books. I have finished three; one was a collection of short stories, one was 11/22/63 and the most recent is Under the Dome. I decided to read the most recent one because CBS is airing a 13 week miniseries based on the book this summer and I do like to read books before I watch them on one type of screen or another.

Someone had explained the idea of Under the Dome to me before and I was a little hesitant to read the book. 1072 pages about a small town in Maine trapped under a transparent dome? Seemed a little sketchy and, shall we say, long-winded.

Boy, was I wrong.

The dome encompasses Chester’s Mills and the surrounding suburbs. Chester’s Mills is home to the most interesting cast of characters you could want in a book. One thing that makes them interesting is how everyday they are. Sleazy used car salesmen, slightly crooked cops, drunken troublemakers, pillars of faith who probably aren’t so infallible, young people who would really rather be anywhere else, slightly more than crooked politicians, doctors just trying to get by… Chester’s Mills is Everytown.

But the Dome let’s the reader do as the force behind the Dome does and examine these would-be ordinary creatures in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Then you end up wondering how extraordinary the circumstances are. Food and fuel rationing would be the norm, would they not? We take that for granted. But looking into the Dome, we see how we might react to those things. And it isn’t always pretty.

The cast of characters in Under the Dome is, in a word, huge. I almost flounced the book when I saw the three page list of who is who in Chester’s Mills.

I am so glad I didn’t.

Some of the characters are absolutely detestable, and yet I understood their motivations. None of the characters are absolutely faultless, and that made the story better. All of the characters made me want to keep reading to find out what happens to them next, and that is key to the story.

Even the dogs, especially Horace the Corgi, add something to the overall arc of the story.

In the end, Under the Dome is too good because it’s too real, too much of a possible reality. A reality I very much do not want to be a part of.

Except on pages and on screen…

11/22/63 by Stephen King

There are a two big reasons I decided to read 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

First, as someone with a history degree who counts the Kennedy years as her favorite period of American history, it was all but a must-read on the JFK assassination factor alone.

Second, I grew up surrounded by Stephen King books and movies because my mother read and saw everything that he was associated with. I haven’t read that many of his books, I’ve seen more of the movies or miniseries, because they really aren’t my thing on the whole. But the history factor pulled me in.

There were also two main things I was wary of before I started reading.

First, time travel. I’m not really a science fiction person so I’ve never really got the appeal of time travel. In a sense, it’s much too complicated for me. Butterfly effects, the past being obdurate … all that sort of thing, I just don’t get. I think sometimes I don’t like to have to think quite that much when I’m reading a novel because I read for enjoyment and, well, that’s not usually all that enjoyable for me.

Second, history and the non-fiction nature of the fiction story. There seems to be a lot of that going around lately – Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, for example – and I can’t quite pinpoint how I feel about it. Maybe I’m too rigid in my thinking, but changing history, even for pretend, always has an air of awkwardness to it.

With all that in mind, and armed with good reviews from people online and my mother’s vague “it’s good, not his best, but good,” I decided to read 11/22/63.

Nearly nine hundred pages later, and this is in paper and ink form – no ereaders for me, I gave the book four stars out of five.

There are a lot of good, if not great, things about the book.

The research King did into life in the late 1950s and early 1960s is incredible in its detail. To find out how much a root beer, or a hat, or a telephone bug costs back then is such a tiny detail that I don’t doubt that many authors would have made up, passed over vaguely, or left out entirely. Not King. It’s easy to picture yourself living from 1958 to 1963 and, as someone who was born in 1981, that’s important to making the story even better and more intriguing.

Another plus is that the characters are easily understood. You know their motivations, their reasonings, their hopes, their dreams, and even their faults. It’s important characters have faults and they do.

The historical facts about Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald are also there and true to what they are. I don’t pretend to be an expert on it, but I can say that I recognized names, dates, places, descriptions, and stories from books and articles I’ve read on the subject.

As all books do, 11/22/63 also had some faults.

Some parts were incredibly dry. I suppose I was wondering why, if Jake was going back in time to change the events of November 22, 1963, he had to start in 1958 and not some year a little closer to 1963. It seemed like certain points about time travel and the past being obdurate were made over and over again.

On a possibly more personal and possibly selfish level, remember I said I may be too rigid in my thinking, I found myself disagreeing with the speculations King made about what life would have been like in the world had Kennedy not been assassinated. I’m sure there are many, many people who would disagree with me about my speculations on the same topic, so I can’t hold that against him too much.

All in all, it was a very good book. I’m happy I got over my wariness and read it.

Will I read it again? Probably not, or at least not for a long time. Do I recommend it to people who like Stephen King, time travel, and history? Yes, I do.

Writing Entry #1: What I’m Writing

I’ve recently taken the plunge and, after much needless delay, started writing a book.

This is big. Very big.

I’ve thought about it before, but something always stopped me. Mostly, I think I tried to define what I’d write before I started writing. I was over-thinking things. I wanted to pick the perfect character names, the ideal location, and a faultless plot all before I typed the first word.

I had preconceived ideas about what it was acceptable for me to write and what I shouldn’t write. I wanted to write something on the level of Mark Twain or Jane Austen. Chick lit and Hallmark movie type stories just didn’t seem the same to me, not quite as worthy.

After much thought, I’ve scrapped those stereotypes. I’m never going to be Twain, Austen, or someone like that. Well, maybe not never. I wouldn’t protest if someone compared me to them, of course. Authors like Danielle Steel, Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Stephenie Meyer have made millions of dollars writing what’s in their minds, even if it isn’t critically acclaimed.

I can do that.

I have a story in my mind and I’m going to write it. Nothing will stop me.