Book Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

bazaar of bad dreams.jpgTitle: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Hardcover: 495 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.

Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Even though Stephen King is known for being prolific and creating monstrosities of books, I was surprised to find that his short stories are really, quite good. Some of them are ridiculously sad and terrible, but for the most part, I loved the eerie atmosphere he provides in these stories that are usually more spooky and unsettling in this collection rather than outright “scary.”

I like short stories, as I’ve said before. They’re nice for the satisfaction and closure they can give in such a short amount of time. Instead of only being able to get through a portion of a novel during my 20 minute lunch break, I’m able to read a full short story or two, which is a nice change of pace. This collection is wonderfully cohesive and intriguing, but I did find myself needing a break from reading it. I can’t deal with reading too many terrible things at once, so it was nice to be able to set it aside for a bit without worrying about losing track of characters or plots, and then picking it right back up again.

The stories that shone for me in this collection were “Afterlife” and “Ur.” King is a master at mixing fantastical elements with horror and tragedy, and these stories were perfect examples of this. “Ur” is the story King wrote to promote the Kindle, so I feel almost bad liking a promotional story (even though I love the Kindle!), but it was probably my favorite story in this collection. It just proves what a wonderful imagination King has and his ability to not flinch when his mind takes a darker turn with a “what-if.”

Overall, I enjoyed this. I didn’t hate any story, though the first one really got to me emotionally and made me have to take a break right away. But, even after taking breaks from the difficult stuff, I went right back to this book to see what else King’s mind could come up with. If you’re at all a King fan or like darker sort of stories, I recommend you check this one out.

Book Review: Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Real Murders by Charlaine HarrisTitle: Real Murders
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Aurora Teagarden, Book 1
Publisher: Berkeley
Paperback: 290 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Lawrenceton, Georgia, may be a growing suburb of Atlanta, but it’s still a small town at heart. Librarian Aurora “Roe” Teagarden grew up there and knows more than enough about her fellow townsfolk, including which ones share her interest in the darker side of human nature.

With those fellow crime buffs, Roe belongs to a club called Real Murders, which meets once a month to analyze famous cases. It’s a harmless pastime – until the night she finds a member dead, killed in a manner that eerily resembles the crime the club was about to discuss. And as other brutal “copycat” killings follow, Roe will have to uncover the person behind the terrifying game, one that casts all the members of Real Murders, herself included, as prime suspects – potential victims…

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’ve been trying to branch out of the Sookie Stackhouse series to see what else Charlaine Harris has to offer — after all, she started out as a mystery writer before she started the paranormal romance stuff, and I loved early Sookie for its wonderful mysteries and plot developments. So far, I have not been disappointed.

The main character, Aurora Teagarden is a librarian who is part of a group that meets occasionally to learn about famous historical murders and discuss them, so when she finds a dead body mimicking a famous murder, the whole group is put under suspicion. Overall, the premise is amazing. I loved how it just keep getting more complicated and dangerous for all the members of the murder club as more people were killed.

Aurora wasn’t my favorite character, however. I just didn’t know what to do with her. She was kind of boring and I hated the love triangle thing between her and the writer and cop. Like, how does such a boring person end up in a love triangle? She wasn’t even properly distressed about it. I felt like a lot of things about her personality didn’t match up. Since she is the main character, it affected my whole reading of the story. The plot itself is quite good and really just a solid mystery, but Aurora annoyed me quite a lot.

With that said, I still enjoyed myself. This is a quick read — the writing is light and easy, and the plot moves along at a steady pace. I’m definitely planning to read the sequels, if only to see if Aurora ever stabilizes as a character, and of course I’m interested to see what problematic situations Harris puts her in next.

I’d recommend this for mystery lovers and/or Harris fans. This is something quick to keep you interested, but definitely not “you must read this before you die!” material.

Book Review: The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

the woman who died a lotTitle: The Woman Who Died A Lot
Author: Jasper Fforde
Series: Thursday Next, Book 7
Publisher: Viking
Hardcover: 366 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The Bookworld’s leading enforcement officer, Thursday Next, has been forced into a semiretirement following an assassination attempt, returning home to Swindon and her family to recuperate.

But Thursday’s children have problems that demand she become a mother of invention: Friday’s career struggles in the Chronoguard, where he is relegated to a might-have-been; Tuesday’s trouble perfecting the Anti-Smote shield, needed in time to thwart an angry Deity’s promise to wipe Swindon off the face of the earth; and the issue of Thursday’s third child, Jenny, who doesn’t exist except as a confusing and disturbing memory.

With Goliath attempting to replace Thursday at every opportunity with synthetic Thursdays, and a call from the Bookworld to hunt down Pagerunners who have jumped into the Realworld, Thursday’s convalescence is going to be anything but restful as the week ahead promises to be one of the Next family’s oddest.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I am a proud Fforde fanatic, and I’ve sadly been a little lax in catching up with the Thursday Next series, but I’ve finally made it to this one! It’s really exciting when I get to read a book I’ve been meaning to read forever, so I was thrilled when I was able to request this from the library. I think it took me only a few days to get through it, because I was so happy to be back in this strange universe Fforde has created.

One of the things I’m most impressed about this series is how Fforde allows it to expand and grow. Seven books is a lot for one set of characters, but their stories don’t stagnate — it’s not seven books of a young Thursday Next fighting crime in the BookWorld; instead, she’s getting older now, and while she’s still focused on fighting crime, she has injuries and children and a husband, which means that each novel evolves to become a full-fledged story in its own right. I really love that and it’s sad how many series don’t allow their characters to develop and mature to another stage of life. Of course, with this particular universe, there’s a lot of flexibility for what Fforde can do, but I appreciate that he’s using it to its fullest extent.

I enjoyed the way this book developed all of the conflicts going on. I expected a lot of different things to happen, but I was always surprised by how things were resolved. As always, I appreciate Fforde’s humor; even when very serious, dramatic things are happening in the story, there is something to laugh about — a little embarrassing when you’re reading at work, but overall a good thing for the novel in general.

The new characters that are introduced in this book are amazing. I thought I was going to hate Phoebe Smalls for taking over what should have been Thursday’s position, but like Thursday, I grew to enjoy her enthusiasm and willingness to put herself in danger for the greater good. Without spoiling too many details, I also really appreciated reading about Tuesday’s attempts to be a normal high school student and the people she meets at high school.

This is a great addition to the Thursday Next series, and I’m so excited to continue the series when a new book comes out. If you’ve read the series, know that this one won’t be a disappointment. If you haven’t — it’s 7 books in, and I’m still loving it. If it sounds like your thing, give it a try. 🙂

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon CameronTitle: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Series: The Dark Unwinding, Book 1
Publisher: Scholastic
Hardcover: 318 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I found out about this series when browsing through books from BEA 2013 — where the sequel was being offered as an ARC. For the most part, I just can’t read series out of order (knowingly, at least), so I left it alone and put this book on the to-read list. And yes, 3 years later, I’m just now reading it. Us bibliophiles have a problem with overly long to-read lists, yes?

I have to say that this one gets off to an incredibly slow start. It tries to be too creepy too fast, to the point where I really just didn’t understand what was going on in the first few chapters. Is it trying to be paranormal? Is it trying to be just average-run-of-the-mill creepy? No idea. I think that was the point, but I personally wasn’t into it. By the first 30 pages, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get through it, but I powered on, and it turned out to get better. Yay! It also doesn’t help that there seems to be a wide variety of genres used for this book, but by my judgment, it’s more alternate history/gothic than anything. (Especially steampunk — um, what?!) There are so many creep factors to it that it just feels dark the way only gothic books do. Anyway, once the book figures out what its story is supposed to be, it gets pretty good.

One of my favorite things is how the main character, Katharine grows. It happens a little too suddenly, I think, but it is nice to see. Her uncle seems to be on the spectrum of autism in a time when that wasn’t something that was diagnosed, and she recognizes that while he has some difficulties, he’s a really nice person who cares a lot about his friends and family. I think this is a good thing for a middle grade book to bring up, and it’s done beautifully — incredibly subtle, which I appreciated.

The book skims over some of the issues of factories and poverty during the era it’s supposed to take place — I don’t think it goes in depth enough to be used as a companion to any of those topics in the classroom, but it certainly can’t hurt as an outside reading-for-fun suggestion if students seem interested in the ideas.

Overall, this was a fine read. It interested me enough that I want to see if the sequel gets any better, but it’s not something I’d highly recommend people to read. If you happen by it and have some free time, it’s not terrible and it’s kind of quick. I think middle grade readers would kind of enjoy it, but it’s not super amazing. The sequel is now on my to-read list, so I’ll get back to you on how it develops! (Hopefully sooner than 3 years.)

Book Review: Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

grave sight by charlaine harrisTitle: Grave Sight
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Harper Connelly, Book 1
Publisher: Berkeley
Paperback: 293 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Harper Connelly has what you might call a strange job: she finds dead people. She can sense the final location of a person who’s passed, and share their very last moment. The way Harper sees it, she’s providing a service to the dead while bringing some closure to the living – but she’s used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. Traveling with her step-brother Tolliver as manager and sometime-bodyguard, she’s become an expert at getting in, getting paid, and getting out fast. Because for the living it’s always urgent – even if the dead can wait forever.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This is so different from the Sookie series — I love it! I’m hoping that future books keep the tone and don’t turn into straight-up romance novels like the Sookie series kind of did. A sex scene or two is fine, but I don’t want to feel dirty reading what I thought would be a nice thriller/mystery story. Anyway, back to the topic.

It’s refreshing to have a female character as complex as Harper — she has cool powers, a pretty twisted background, can take care of herself, and is yet still fragile and quite dependent. She’s not one of those kick-ass female characters who’s constantly beating people up — she actually has some fragility and problems with insecurities, and it’s beautiful. I really like her relationship with her brother, but I wish that his characterization were a bit more developed; I hope to see that in future books.

In terms of story, this one is quite good. Investigating crimes in small towns is an inherently creepy concept, considering that there are only a few suspects and how knows who could be in on the crime. This is no different, especially since the crime was left to be unsolved for such a long time before they called Harper in. This was a fairly fast read — nothing felt too dragged out, and I mostly enjoyed myself the whole time.

There is a sort of weird teenage-crush thing that goes on in this book where a teen falls in love with Harper’s brother. Nothing inappropriate happens, but it felt like a contrived way to get Harper and her brother to be involved in this character’s life, and I think it could have been done in a way that was far less creepy. It took me out of the story and just made me feel gross and uncomfortable whenever she came up.

Aside from that, this is an entertaining story with interesting characters and Charlaine Harris isn’t a best-selling author for nothing — the woman can write! If you like mysteries, definitely check this one out.

Review: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Dead in the Family.jpgTitle: Dead in the Family
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Sookie Stackhouse, Book 10
Publisher: Ace
Hardcover: 311 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

After enduring torture and the loss of loved ones during the brief but deadly Faery War, Sookie Stackhouse is hurt and she’s angry. Just about the only bright spot in her life is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman. But he’s under scrutiny by the new Vampire King because of their relationship. And as the political implications of the Shifters coming out are beginning to be felt, Sookie’s connection to the Shreveport pack draws her into the debate. Worst of all, though the door to Faery has been closed, there are still some Fae on the human side-and one of them is angry at Sookie. Very, very angry..

My Review:

Dead in the Family starts off a bit darker than the other novels in the series, but considering what happened in the previous novel, I would have been upset if it didn’t. Sookie has lost a lot of her innocence and naivete, and I think this is a good change from the beginning books of the series. After hanging around the vampires and the weres, something had to happen to make her less soft.

From when I first started reading it until it ended, I couldn’t put this book down. What I love about Harris’s books is that they are so well-constructed and developed. There are a lot of things going on, what with the political business concerning the weres, Alcide’s pack adjusting to the new rules, her relationship with Eric, Eric’s maker coming to visit, and the aftermath of the Faery War. Needless to say, it was packed with conflict and problems. The characters are awesome, as always — Claude was particularly hilarious in this novel, and I’m glad we got to see more of Sookie’s telepathic cousin, Hunter.

This book was a lot calmer than the rest — less tension, less conflict. I didn’t mind it at all, because I feel like this is just the calm before the storm. Victor seems to have it out for Sookie and Eric, something different is happening with Bill’s character (not going to say what due to spoilers!), and the fairy situation is finally starting to wrap up — or so it seems. I think the next few books are going to be very interesting and exciting.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Book Review: The Green Mile by Stephen King

The Green Mile.jpgTitle: The Green Mile
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books
Hardcover: 400 pages
Summary: (From Goodreads)

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers are depraved as the psychopathic “Billy the Kid” Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in “Old Sparky.” Here guards as decent as Paul Edgecombe and as sadistic as Percy Wetmore watch over them. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, none have ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?

Overall Rating: 4/5

Stephen King should stick to writing these sorts of books. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of his horror stuff, but it’s this sort of subtle supernatural genre that I think really shows his talents as a writer and story-teller since the horror element isn’t overshadowing everything else within the novel.

The Green Mile is a little long, being comprised of 6 novellas and it is definitely slow-paced. That doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting, though! The slowness of the story really allowed me to delve into the characters and the story King has created. I felt like I got to know all the characters, especially Paul, whose first-person narrative it is. This made the action parts even better, since I had a connection with the characters and cared about them.

I liked how the narrative jumped from Paul as an old man living in a nursing home to Paul as a middle-aged man meeting John Coffey. I think it added a lot to the intrigue, as there were multiple mysteries you were trying to solve at once. The Green Mile has a great message and is a compelling story that will leave you in tears by the end.

I saw the movie before reading the book and honestly, if you’ve seen the movie, the novel won’t add all that much for you. The movie is very true to the book and captures the most important events. Naturally, the book has other elements that added to my appreciation of the story. The parallelism between the prison and Paul’s nursing home, for example, and a deeper understanding of the characters.

There were some things I didn’t like — like I said, the pace was too slow at times. But then again, King’s books always seem to drag just a little bit for me. I also didn’t like how at times the characters all laughed at something as if it were hilarious, and I didn’t think it was funny at all. Besides that, though, it was a good story and I enjoyed the read. I definitely recommend this.


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Random Ramblings