Humble Book Review: The Colorado Kid

“It was that kind of story. The kind that’s like a sneeze which threatens but never quite arrives.”

That quote there, from The Colorado Kid itself, basically sums up my feelings for the book – slowly gaining momentum, but never reaching any kind of payoff.

The story revolves around two very old Maine men in the newspaper business – the founder and a long-time editor. They recall their most elusive mystery in their careers to a new but eager woman on the team. Slowly, we learn the circumstances leading up to the discovery of a lonely dead body on the beach of their small island decades ago – and how the evidence had lead to nothing but apparent impossibilities.

This is King’s first foray into using Hard Case Crime as a publisher, which is fairly different from his normal style. It’s more the ‘damsel in distress’ detective noir label which, to me at least, King was fumbling around in the dark with. When he did find his footing, it was on the steady ground of ‘human connections’, which he is much better at writing on.

However, I think dear King has been listening to the collective online grumbles regarding the opinion that he can write amazing books, but can’t write an ending to save himself.

Well, I imagine he said, halfway though writing this book, if people don’t think I can write endings at all, then I won’t even try!

And so that’s what he did. You’ll find no resolution, no happiness or sadness; just a case of literary blue balls as you realise the book has suddenly ran out of pages.

So I would have given it a lower rating (3/5), but you know what? I did read it all in a day – it had held my attention pretty well, so that must count for something.

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Humble Book Review: From a Buick 8

On the outside, King’s From a Buick 8 might seem like a sequel or spiritual successor to Christine. But once you navigate through the chapters, you find that really there isn’t much in common at all, other than the picture of a car on the cover.

This novel follows the history of a collective secret kept by the troopers of Barracks D in Pennsylvania. Back in 1979, a man shrouded in mystery parked his Buick Roadmaster at a gas station, and was never seen again. The troopers impounded the car, but from the first moment they laid eyes on it, there was a deep sense of unfamiliarity – like this “thing” was a very poor imitation of a car at all, and not of this world. No sense of symmetry, made of materials never encountered, and with dashboard gauges that served no function.

Things only got more strange after it was left in a shed at the barracks, warranting the troopers to keep a watch over it, and to keep it hidden from the public. It had a tendency to produce inexplicable events, such as blinding light shows coming from inside the car, as well as spitting out otherworldly objects from it’s boot – and if things could come out, could others be drawn in to this other place?

It is told through a series of stories by the now older and wiser barracks, informing the son of one of the main troopers why his father was so invested in this secret. The boy can appear impatient and only wants answers, but often the troopers don’t have answers, only a weaving and mysterious narrative that brings them to the present day.

I did enjoy this novel, even though it’s one of his books that are so easily forgotten. The mystery of the Buick Roadmaster is grounded in reality – in the sense that the troopers could only react in fear and poor attempts at logic when these events took place. As it is written in a style of remembering the past, the action is few and far between, and perhaps doesn’t reach the heights like many of King’s other paranormal novels. But what it mainly does – recounting a collective secret of the unknown – it does well.

Humble Book Review: Hearts In Atlantis

Hearts in Atlantis is quite a unique Stephen King book. It’s not really a standard novel, and not really a collection of novellas or short stories. It’s his first take on something akin to an anthology – four stories of varying length, all loosely linked to the same group of people as they grew up and experienced an important historic moment in American history; Vietnam.

In the first tale called “Low Men in Yellow Coats”, we meet Bobby Garfield, an 11 year old boy growing up in 1960, living with his widowed and “tightwad” mother, and hanging out with his friends Carol and Sully-John. But an elderly newcomer, Ted Brautigan (if you’ve experienced the Dark Tower, that name may seem familiar) moves into the upstairs apartment. The scholarly gentleman is a bit odd – he seems to know more than he should, and he confesses to be in hiding from the titular Low Men. Just who these low men are, and what their purpose is, is something critical to the main Dark Tower narrative.

Hearts are broken, as they often are in King coming of age stories. This then gives a good segue into the next tale called “Hearts in Atlantis”. Set in 1966, tensions are building in Vietnam and at home, where college kids are afraid if they drop out they’ll be shipped overseas to contribute to the war. Peter Riley knows this, yet still lets his grades slip after becoming addicted to playing Hearts for money. During this time, one of his withdrawn classmates discovers a powerful symbol to aid protesting the war.

In the next two tales, “Blind Willie” and “Why We’re in Vietnam”, it follows two characters we met in 1960, and their troubles with life after their experiences in Vietnam, each with different methods of coping.

Finally, we revisit Bobby Garfield again in 1999 with “Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling” in a brief epilogue.

I loved this book for two major reasons. Firstly, showing the inextricable fates of all those characters we met in 1960 and 1966 is an incredible storytelling method. The first tale could exist as it’s own novel, it’s that long. But to continue on with other tales years after these events is great in having this emotional investment – you truly want to know the fates of these people as you follow them. Really, the central character that ties each of these tales is Carol Gerber – the girl with the heart of a lion. To see how she had affected so many people from their own points of view was amazing.

Secondly, it’s hard to look past the very strong tie-in with The Dark Tower in “Low Men in Yellow Coats”. The vivid detail of these low men, the disgust and pure terror they induce in Bobby is something not as well detailed in the Dark Tower series itself, so it is a shame I hadn’t read this first. But knowing the history of a pivotal Dark Tower character made me only more eager to re-read the series.

I believe this book is greatly underrated – there is some terrifying horror aspects at the beginning, but mellows out into dealing with the human condition with respect to traumatic experiences. Also, there is a beautiful scene towards the end of “Why We’re in Vietnam” that I wont forget easily, with vivid imagery of a man coming to terms with his guilt.

A must-read for DT fans, and Stephen King fans in general. There is also a 2001 movie of the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins and a young Anton Yelchin, focused on stories related to Bobby Garfield. Well worth the watch.

Humble Book Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Had you ever been separated from family or familiarity as a child? Couldn’t locate your parents in a busy mall, or walked a few blocks in the wrong direction and lost your bearings? At a young age, this can be a very scary thought – you’re mostly dependant on the care of others. When that link is severed, even momentarily, panic soon sets in.

That’s the basic idea behind The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, where nine-year-old Trisha becomes separated from her mother and brother while on a hike in the wilderness. With each failed attempt at reasoning for the best course of action, she finds herself deeper and deeper into the woods, all alone.

That sense of loneliness slowly begins to dissipate, however, when she discovers she packed her portable radio and can tune in to baseball matches featuring her hero, Tom Gordon. As her mind starts to slip, she imagines him by her side, comforting her.

At the same time, a malevolent presence stalks her, feeding off her fear, waiting for the right time to show itself…

I loved this book exactly for what it was – a focused, self-contained popcorn novel. No external factors to complicate things, just the story beginning with a girl going on a hike. We get shown some of the family dynamic, but after the point of separation, it is just a story of a young girl fighting for survival in unfamiliar territory.

Trisha is a well-sculpted character, everything she does is believable for her age. The addition of imaginary dialogue between her and her hero also means the book doesn’t resort to strange self-narration, due to being the only character around.

It felt a bit like a departure from King’s norm, in that the main character stumbled onto the home of this malevolent spirit, not the other way around. It took a very passive role overall, unlike the majority of King’s antagonists. Arguably, the main antagonist wasn’t the spirit, but more the natural elements themselves.

Still, a great read and like the story itself, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was disconnected from the larger Stephen King Multiverse – but in a comforting way.

Humble Book Review: Bag of Bones

Recently, I counted all the Stephen King novels, short story collections, and non-fiction books. It comes to a grand total of 71. If there’s anyone who can claim they can write like the Devil, it’s King.

With completing Bag of Bones, I’ve now reached 41 books read. I’m on the home stretch! Now, to hope that I can keep up my reading speed with his writing speed…


Stephen King always seems to combine two distinct themes in each of his works; one natural, and one supernatural. In The Stand, it was about rebuilding society after it’s collapse (natural), and the war between omnipotent good vs evil (supernatural). In It, the central characters had to acknowledge their childhood and overcome their fears (natural), facing a powerful entity not from their world (supernatural).

This is no different for Bag of Bones which vaguely divides into two distinct themes: haunting, and conspiracy.

Mike Noonan, a novelist, finds himself unable to continue with his profession with the passing of his wife, Jo. After several years of sickening writer’s block, and nightmares relating to their summer house on Dark Score Lake, he decides to return to this home away from home to alleviate both of these issues.

He stumbles across a young widowed mother, Mattie, fighting a hopeless custody battle over her daughter, Kyra, against her withered yet relentless millionaire step-father, Max Devore. As Mike steps in, he begins to unravel a much larger conspiracy that seems to be connected to his restless summer home.

King needs to be congratulated for being able to tie all of the many mysterious threads together towards the end, because my initial gripe with the book, halfway through, was that I had no idea how everything fit together. He threw a jigsaw puzzle to the ground, and while I assumed the completed picture would be incredible, I resigned myself to the fact that some pieces would have scattered under the couch, or down a few cracks. However, there is an unusually satisfying conclusion in Bag of Bones which answers more questions than you can shake a plastic owl at.

There is a little weird vibe of creepiness, though, with Mike’s pseudo-relationship with the young Mattie even though he is pretty much old enough to be her father. He is aware of this, but sometimes the way it is written, it comes off as creepy uncle-type stuff. The town talks greatly of this, which I suppose mirrors the gossip of real life small towns.

This is a great take on a Gothic style novel, showing a town full of secrets that you really want to unravel. Just don’t expect everything to make sense until towards the very end.

Humble Book Review: Rose Madder

From the late 80’s to early 90’s, King ventured away from his modern twists on classic supernatural tales and claustrophobic encounters with psychotic individuals, to explore the dark and hidden horrors lurking within the walls of the unassuming home. Rose Madder marks the end of this informal “domestic horror” era which included Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and arguably also Needful Things.

With this final entry, King really drives home the message in a very blatant way, within the realm of an engaging cat-and-mouse story.

At the beginning, we see Rosie Daniels suffering from a horrifying case of domestic abuse, brought upon by her psychotic police detective husband, Norman. Flash forward another nine years, and Rose is still married to this beast, while turning more submissive from his continuous abuse. However, one day she discovers one small drop of blood which causes her to mentally snap. She then leaves the house with nothing but her husband’s ATM card.

What follows is a dangerous escape into an unknown world, one she has felt disconnected from for 14 long years. As Rose loses herself in a new city and is taken in by the kindness of strangers, Norman slowly loses his sanity while trying to locate his lost “possession” in utter disbelief that he didn’t see it coming.

Initially, I regarded this as a standard thriller, with the usual high stakes of death if Rose was caught. And there are some very close calls to keep you hooked. However, there was a certain point which brought a fresh twist, marked by Rose’s discovery of a particularly alluring painting, aptly namedRose Madder. The other-worldly properties of it created a very interesting sub-plot, which I found myself far more interested in.

Then came a moment that all Stephen King followers love; the allusion to one of the other books in his multiverse. This wasn’t just any reference, but a direct reference to the ideology of the centrepoint of all universes – Midworld. Ka is a wheel.

Through strange means, you get to know the main figure in this strange painting, and she alludes to herself as being even more mysterious and dangerous as any other King character I’ve met. I believe there are strong connections between Rose Madder and the Crimson King, but I haven’t been able to find anyone else’s thoughts on the matter. She seems like too big of a player to only appear in this one novel.

Once Rose is established in her new city, and Norman reaches it to look for her, you can quite easily draw upon the metaphor of the Minotaur in the maze, blindly hunting down the victim. Well, King doesn’t mistake upon this, as towards the end of the novel, the metaphor slowly but surely becomes so blatant that it almost mimics the ancient Greek mythological story to the point of absurdity.

Perhaps the only drawback, and it is a quite major one, is that the psychotic husband Norman has absolutely no redeemable traits at all. As a character, he was very one-dimensional, trying to get back what is his. Although he does slowly slip into insanity, and you can gradually follow it, I did not care for him at all. Rosie, on the other hand, does transform quite well into an independent woman. You can’t help but also feel excited when she’s happy to do the things we disregard as routine or mundane.

I’d call this one of King’s hidden gems, depending on whether you care for those King cross-references to the larger multiverse or not.

Humble Book Review: Dolores Claiborne

What would you do if you were stuck in a loveless and violent relationship? Would you sit idly by, paralyzed by fear, or would you make a stand and reach a level ground? And after a long time together, with a growing family, if you found out a dark and sinister secret, would things change?

Dolores Claiborne, in the novel of her namesake, reminisces about her past and her struggle to remain on top, not to be fooled by her abusive husband. She opens up about her history only days after her employer, Vera Donovan, passes away in suspicious circumstances. Suspicious because Dolores, at 65 years old, was Vera’s head housekeeper, and also because on the small island they lived on, Dolores had developed a reputation warranting wariness.

Throughout the novel we only delve into Dolores’s memories, which is told in the way of a casual interview between the accused, an officer and a stenographer. There are several key moments in Dolores’s life which are worth knowing for Vera’s death, and for the protagonists’s character in general; her relationship to her husband, and to her children, particularly her eldest daughter.

There are a few great moments of suspense peppered throughout, and its all told from her very casual style of storytelling. It works quite well, since King normally gives us that corner-of-the-diner type casual vibe with his novels. This is at it’s best a character novel, and you do want to know what had happened to made her so hardened in spirit and sharp of tongue.

But, this is one of King’s lesser known works for a reason. There is some writing style experimentation going on here, with the pure singular retelling of a life, and also no chapter breaks at all can make it seem like a tiring stream of consciousness. After finishing the book, I found it wasn’t overly bad, but it didn’t really captivate me either. It’s as if this was really meant to be a novella, but it was padded out just a bit, so it could be a standalone novel.

In fact, due to the somewhat significant connection it has with Gerald’s Game, I’d have thought they’d go well together in some sort of collection.

Either way, not a bad read, but there are many King novels that rank higher. But if you’re mad on King novel cross-references like me, at least you’ll get that excited feeling of recognition.