Guest Post: Top Five Novels That Make Great Holiday Gifts This Year

A book can make a heartfelt present – it is not only a thoughtful extension of your likes and interests, but also an invitation for the gift’s recipient to join in on the adventure of the book you love.

So, for this holiday season, no matter what genre you are looking for or who you are shopping for, one of these five best-selling books will be sure to impress that special someone.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (4 stars)

Genre: Horror and Paranormal

In September, Stephen King finally released his much-anticipated sequel to the 1977 The Shining and boy, is it good. We are brought back to the terror and madness introduced in the original and meet a much older, middle-aged Dan Torrance (the son, and “redrum” Danny in The Shining).

Years after the events that occurred in The Shining, Dan has followed in his dad’s footsteps of alcoholism and cynicism. Eventually, he settles down and takes a job in a nursing home, comforting the elderly and becoming known as “Doctor Sleep”. There is a traveling group of psychic vampires called the “True Knot,” who feed on children with “the shining.” Dan meets a 12-year old girl named Abra Stone, who possesses similar powers, and the demons he once repressed come back to haunt him as he tries to protect Abra from the True Knot.

This book is sure to impress friends and family who are fans of Stephen King’s past work, and other horror-genre lovers who aren’t already King aficionados. For those who want to enjoy the film adaptation of King’s story, The Shining is now streaming on DirecTV, and there are talks of a Shining prequel film in the works called The Overlook Hotel.

The Cider House Rules by John Irving (5 stars)

Genre: Coming-of-age

An oldie but a (classic) goodie, the 1985 novel The Cider House Rules by John Irving is a great gift to give this season. Featuring well-developed characters and covering heavy topics, this novel is perfect for the teenager you just can’t figure out what to get.

It is a classic and beloved coming-of-age novel that follows the life of Homer Wells, an orphan who never was adopted, and Dr. Wilbur Larch, a saint and obstetrician at the orphanage. We watch Homer grow up and learn under Wilbur, as Wilbur learns to love Homer as a son. When Homer finds out a dark secret about Wilbur, he leaves the orphanage and starts a new life on an apple orchard. In the end, we watch Homer fill the shoes of Wilbur and handle the issues of abortion, relationships and love.

This is a case of “read before you watch,” as the 1999 film adaptation starring a young Tobey Maguire does not live up to Irving’s writing.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (4 stars)

Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller

One of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers, also responsible for What is the What, just released this new thriller, which reads like the prequel to George Orwell’s 1984. The Circle is perfect for the Sci-Fi fans, tech buffs, and Dave Egger enthusiasts like myself.

We are introduced to Mae Holland who has just been hired to work for the Circle, a tech company that’s eerily reminiscent of Google which creates one online identity and a new form of transparency for web users. The Circle believes that “Secrets Are Lies and Privacy is Theft”. However, the Circle has its own secrets and Mae is forced to confront the challenging issues of privacy and the ever-increasing power of technology over our society. The novel encapsulates a modern technology and social media centered dystopia and reflects the fears of today’s society over technology.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (3.5 stars)

Genre: Crime, Mystery

Gone Girl is a surprising and fresh tale for the person on your list who loves to solves a good old fashioned mystery. The novel follows a married couple, Amy and Nick, as Amy disappears and Nick becomes the main suspect. Flynn alternates between Nick and Amy’s points of view, and we are strung along by lies and twists by both parties. It is not your conventional thriller; we have untrustworthy protagonists and are led away from the average love stories that are commonly mingled into crime novels.

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (5 stars)

Genre: Action, Adventure

For Lost enthusiasts, and fans of J.J. Abrams other works, S. is a fantastic addition to any book collection. It is not only a good read, but also quite the adventure. When you take the book out of the slipcase, you will find a book inside titled Ship of Theseus, filled with pages that are highlighted and notes in the margins, postcards, letters and news clipping, similar to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. S. forces the readers to become a part of the mysteries inside and chronicles two readers, one author and lots of numbers and codes.

So, for the bookworms you still have on your holiday shopping list, get them one of these five best-selling novels for the holidays and you can’t lose.

Kate Voss
@kateevoss

“Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King (Scribner, 2013)

Doctor Sleep
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On December 1st, 2009, Stephen King posted a poll on his website asking his fans what book they’d like him to write next: a Dark Tower stand alone novel, or a sequel to The Shining. Voting ended on December 31st, with The Shining sequel coming out ahead, and yet King ended up writing and publishing the Dark Tower book first, called The Wind Through the Keyhole. And now, four years later, the fans finally get their Shining sequel, ominously called Doctor Sleep.

Our formerly young hero, Danny Torrance, is now fast approaching middle age, and has been spending the decades trying to forget and get away from his nightmare past at the Overlook Hotel through the medium of alcohol. Working at hospitals and nursing homes, he rarely keeps the jobs for long once they find out his daily unstoppable vice.

Danny eventually ends up in a small New Hampshire town where he finds a place to stay through a new friend, and is forced into AA for his own good. He settles down in this small town, working at the nursing home, helping the elderly, and working alongside a prescient cat who somehow knows to enter the room of those who will die that day. Danny then soon follows and aids the old-aged resident into a comfortable death with his shining ability.

Soon the years begin to fly by, but it’s a life for Danny and he’s happy and settled. And then he receives a psychic email from a young girl, Abra Stone, who he has been receiving mental snippets about through her years. She also possesses the shining ability, and it’s much stronger than Danny’s. Danny knows she’s important, just not how important.

When the two finally meet and communicate vocally in person as well as telepathically, Danny learns of the strange creatures that are after Abra and why. These beings are not human and are known as the True Knot; they have been around for a very long time and are semi-immortal. While they possess similar shining abilities, they are psychic vampires who hunt down children with the shining ability and then slowly torture them to death, absorbing their life essence that slowly dissipates from the dying child they call steam, keeping them young and healthy.

Only now the True Knot is very, very hungry. They are weakening and becoming sick and need a strong dose of steam, which will be provided by the slow death of Abra Stone. There will be a great showdown between the True Knot and Danny and ka-tet and it will take place at the only possible location it ever could and it will be a bloody and merciless one.

As with some King novels, Doctor Sleep takes a little while to get going, as the reader trundles through Danny’s alcoholic years, and the first third of the book could’ve used some editing, but once the story gets into its plot, things speed up and the reader becomes locked in until the last sentence. Doctor Sleep doesn’t come near to the original horror and fear of The Shining, but it’s a different story and has its own terrifying darkness and fear all of its own that will leave the reader looking over his or her shoulder for a while.

Originally written on November 13, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Doctor Sleep from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Blockade Billy Joyland Wind Through the Keyhole Full Dark, No Stars

“Joyland” by Stephen King (Titan Books, 2013)

Joyland
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Stephen King, who needs no introduction, returns with a short novel in Joyland, published by Titan books as part of the Hard Case Crime series. But even though the book is under three hundred pages, King easily tells a full and fascinating story that fans and non-King readers will easily enjoy.

Devin Jones is spending the summer at Joyland, an amusement park on the sunny coast of South Carolina. Jones isn’t doing so well; not sure whether he wants to stay in college, plus it’s the early seventies and everything seems uncertain. And the other thing is the love of his live has just broken his heart and he kind of wants his world to end.

But then he starts working at Joyland, where they don’t just sell cotton candy and prizes and rides, but most importantly, they sell fun! He begins to learn the carny life, the carny talk, and the general running of the amusement park, doing a great job as well as being the best guy at “wearing the fur.” Joyland has its mighty Ferris wheel, reaching to the stars, the various carnies who have been working there for years and have their own interesting eccentricities, and the Horror House.

Every amusement park needs its one horror ride, and Horror House is it for Joyland, and this is the ride that has the dark story about it, because some years ago a girl was murdered on the ride, her throat slashed by her supposed boyfriend, her body dumped to the side of the track. She wasn’t found until the early hours of the morning by the cleanup crew; her murderer has never been found. It is said that Horror House is now haunted and sometimes when you’re on the ride, you might see the ghost of her body floating beside you in the car, that red slit throat looking like a wide smile.

Joyland shows how much of a better writer Stephen King has become over the last decade or so, as you have a thrilling horror tale at the heart of the story, but you also have a wonderful character in the teenager, Devin Jones, who has his whole life ahead of him, but feels it is over with his broken heart. Perhaps King was pulling on his own past experience to give this story life and reality that will move the reader, making Joyland stick with them long after they’ve finished the book.

Originally written on June 12, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Joyland from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

11/22/63  Full Dark, No Stars  Under the Dome

Bookbanter Column: The Long Read (June 22, 2012)

Books come in all shapes and sizes and most importantly, in various lengths.

A variety of authors write and publish a variety books with a variety of page numbers. Some are small and seemingly pathetic 200-page novellas, some are your average 300-400 page-turners, and then there are those special authors that like to write those 800-1000 page behemoths.

Now, mind you, books will vary in length depending on genre: children’s books will usually be within that 200-page mark, young adult pushes it to 300 (unless you’re Harry Potter!), mysteries tend to be in the 300-400 page range, and a number of fantasy authors like to write those really long ones.

This column is about those special heavy tomes.

In the last couple of years there have been a number of these long books published by a variety of authors in various genres, and I’ve read a fair number of them and they’ve all been pretty good.

So if you’re looking for that long 800-1000 pager to get sucked into, check out the titles below.

11/22/63 by Stephen King (849 pages)

Jake Epping is a thirty-five year old high school teacher living in Lisbon Falls, Maine. He enjoys his simple life, conveying to kids not just the beauty of the English language, but discussing and enlightening the teenagers with some of the great works of literature.

In the opening of 11/22/63, the reader learns about Harry Dunning’s past life. Dunning is an adult student who got his high school diploma a while ago; Jake still has that very special essay Dunning wrote. It wasn’t grammatically correct, and was filled with spelling errors; but it was also the story of the day Dunning’s father came home drunk, when he was a child, and brutally murdered his mother, sister and brother with a hammer, while Dunning barely made it out alive with his life, suffering a smashed leg.

It was a moving story that Jake has never forgotten.

He enjoys his days after school going to see his friend Al, who owns a local diner, where he enjoys one of the most delicious burgers on the planet, and the amazing thing about it is he hasn’t raised his prices in decades. A customer can still enjoy a burger with fries for the ridiculously cheap price of under $3. It seems like something Jake should be suspicious about, but the burgers taste too damn good. The following day Jake meets up with Al again and finds him to be a changed man, incredibly aged overnight and he looks like he’s dying; that’s when Al tells him his story.

In the back of his diner is a portal to 1958.

Al himself has been back a number of times, and each time he comes back through it to the present, everything resets. He’s narrowed everything down to one important event he believes will change everything: the assassination of JFK. He tried once, spending five years back then, but it didn’t work. Now it’s up to Jake. And just to prove that anything is possible, Jake’s first mission is going to be to go back and stop Dunning’s father from killing his family.

Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (1008 pages)

Readers are returned first to Kote at the Waystone Inn with his friend and apprentice, Bast. A new day begins, after the stories and surprising events of the one before. Chronicler sits ready to record the story, while Kote has already been up many hours, preparing fresh cider and newly baked bread. And so Kote continues the story of his life, the story of Kvothe the arcanist.

The sixteen year-old continues his studies at the University, struggling to get by. He has spent his recently acquired monies on a new lute and now has little to show for it, but the instrument is an investment. Now raised to the next level of arcanist, Re’lar, his tuition is considerably higher, and his must borrow money to pay for it. Fortunately, he has his incredible talent as a musician and singer, and is able to make some money this way through a clever scheme at the inns.

Then there is the Fishery, where all manner of arcana are made. Kvothe has spent previous terms learning and inventing simple items such as sympathy lamps that bring in a decent amount of money, but this term he is challenged to create something truly unique; it will take him many months, but the result will fetch a high price.

Kvothe is also finally granted access to the priceless Archives once more, and after learning how to travel its complex, labyrinthine halls, corridors and stacks; begins his incessant research on the unknown Chandrian, for they are the ones who murdered his family and friends.

Meanwhile, Kvothe’s relationship with Deanna continues to go nowhere fast, as he does all he can to make her happy and feel special . . . everything that is except confess his love for her. He even breaks into the rooms of his mortal enemy to steal back Deanna’s ring and proceeds to get himself into a whole mess of trouble.

At the end of the term, Kvothe seems to have everything in order, but has a couple of options: he can continue with his studies the following the semester, and risk having the gossip of his involvement jeopardize his studies; or he can leave town and try something different for a while. Fortunately at that moment, there is a rich noble from Vintas looking to woo a certain lady and needs one skilled with words. So begins the second half of the book, as Kvothe is soon on his way and finds himself involved in the noble courts, as a different world is revealed to the reader of manners and ways and courtly intrigue. Kvothe is also employed into a gang to stop a band of bandits terrorizing the tax collectors. In this gang he befriends a unique man and seeks to learn his ways and culture.

The question is whether he can understand and learn this man’s language, as well as stop these bandits once and for all. Meanwhile, in the back of his mind, Kvothe wonders and hopes if the rich noble who has employed him may wish to take him on permanently as his patron.

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin (1040 pages)

In the North, around the Wall, King Stannis Baratheon seems to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to do with no real power or army to use, while listening to Lady Melisandre, who continues to spout enigmatic prophecies that make little sense; yet readers do get to enjoy a chapter from her viewpoint for the first time.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow is elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, as he must deal with not just enemies beyond the Wall, but also amongst the very men he leads and is in charge of. He works with the wildlings, bringing them south of the wall to bolster his forces in preparation for a possible attack from the Others; it seems to be an interesting act of diplomacy, but goes on for far too many pages, with little action or continuing story taking place.

Much of the rest of the book takes place to the far East.

Martin has provided a couple of new maps, but nothing so clearly defined and comprehensible as the great continent of Westeros. Tyrion flees to Pentos, drowning himself in wine. He is forced to join with a group traveling to Meereen, along with the apparently not so dead prince Aegon Targaryen. Tyrion – as he always does – manages to get involved in a whole variety of adventures, including the meeting of another dwarf, and a female no less!

Daenerys is the character that seems most put through the ringer in this book; much like Cercei was in A Feast for Crows.

She is no longer the tough, proud, defiant woman that everyone feared, and not just because she has three growing dragons. Having conquered Meereen, she should be the unstoppable, unquestionable queen that she is, and yet insurrection is afoot and Daenerys cannot seem to decide what to do; perhaps it is because she has become obsessed and besotted with one of her soldiers and seems to be able to think of little else when he is nearby, and yet he is of lower class and cannot possibly be her husband.

The black dragon, Drogon, meanwhile is running rampant through the countryside as growing “teenage” dragons do, and Daenerys has no idea how to control him.

Finally there is Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, whose story comes from nowhere as we follow his trek across the lands to Meereen, where he hopes to woo Daenerys by enslaving one of her dragons. It does not end well for him. Interspersed throughout the lengthy book are other POV chapters from the likes of Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Reek (who is in fact the very not dead Theon Greyjoy), Arya Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, as well as some surprise cameos from Jaime and Cercei Lannister.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson (1056 pages)

Richard Forthrast is our approaching-middle-age hero who is one of the big brains behind the multi-billion dollar MMO, T’Rain, which is known throughout the world, whether you’re a rich white kid who likes to pretend he’s an elf, or a gold farmer somewhere in Asia looking to make some good money.

T’Rain was in fact created with that in mind – Richard’s past is not a completely clean one by any means – to be open and available and possibly profitable to just about anyone on the planet with a good Internet connection. And then a very specific virus attacks T’Rain, known as Reamde, which immediately begins making a lot of money for its creators and screwing over a lot of the regular players. Richard and his team of brainiacs are now working round the clock trying to bring a stop to this.

Meanwhile, one of Richard’s family members – Zula – originally from East Africa and adopted into the family as a young girl, was hired by Richard to work for T’Rain, and becomes involved in a really big problem when her boyfriend Peter – who happens to be a renowned hacker – is looking to make good money selling credit card numbers to a shady, unknown character. Things take a turn for the worse, when the Reamde virus hits and screws everything up for him. Before they know it, the Russian mafia is breaking down their door, kidnapping them, and taking them to Asia by private jet to find the perpetrators of the Reamde virus and get their revenge.

Reamde begins like an expected Stephenson book with computers and an MMO, but then makes a change to a Tom Clancy-style thriller, as the characters travel around the world, getting involved in elaborate shootouts in distant countries.

Eventually Islamic terrorist even get involve, as well as a member of MI6 who seems to appear from nowhere and gets a twenty page introduction. The crux of the book takes place towards the end of the first third of the book, in what Cory Doctorow calls “. . .an epic, 100+ page climactic mini-war.”

The ongoing saga eventually leads back to Seattle and the northwest, passing into Canada, where the novel began, pulling Richard Forthrast into the mix.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1008 pages)

Our story focuses on two characters.

One is Kaladin, a young man in his twenties who has seen much of life already. Raised by his surgeon father to become a brilliant doctor, he instead turns to the life of a warrior, with hopes of getting his hands on a Shardblade, and soon sees his fair share of death and bloodshed.

Now he is a slave, for reasons unknown, with little to hope for in life. He soon becomes a member of the bridge crew, a group of slaves whose job it is to carry a giant, heavy bridge across great distances and to lay it across the chasms to allow the soldiers to cross and attack the enemy. Kaladin becomes part of bridge team four, which is renowned for losing the most lives each time it races into battle. Kaladin finds a unique luck on his side, as he manages to continue to survive, and then chooses to work for his team, train them, create survival tactics for them, and he discovers something he thought he’d lost for good: hope and his will to live.

Then there is Shallan, a young woman whose family has fallen on hard times after the death of their father. The family is in possession of a Soulcaster, a unique magical device that can essentially create just about anything out of nothing, only now it is broken. However, Shallan has a plan: to become the ward and student for Jasnah Kolin, sister of King Elhokar of Althekar, with plans to replace Jasnah’s Soulcaster with her own; her only problem is she has no idea how to use it.

A number of interludes throughout the book help to introduce some minor characters to explore some more of this overwhelming world, such as Szeth-son-son-Vallano, who is an assassin from the land of Shinovar, possessing a unique magic to flip gravity around. And then there are the spren, which are spirits that seem to be caused by or drawn to specific happenstances and emotions, such as fear, pain, music, rot, and glory to name a few.

Little is known or understood of the spren, other than they exist, while Kaladin finds himself befriending a specific spren that seems to be evolving.

Under the Dome by Stephen King (1074 pages)

Imagine the quintessential American town – Chester Mills, Maine – where life has rolled along at its own sedate pace since the beginning of time; it is a simple life that many envy and yearn for, while others disregard and ridicule.

Now imagine that an invisible dome forms around the boundaries of the town, trapping everyone and everything inside, as well as preventing anyone and anything from entering; all that is able to pass through is air since it’s composed of tiny molecules. From now on the humble citizens of Chester Mills must live off of whatever supplies and reserves they have.

Then add some classic, unique and outright bizarre Stephen King characters; you’ve got yourself a very special story, weighing in at over a thousand pages.

There’s Dale Barbara, an ex-military man who came to Chester Mills to get away from everything, working as a cook at Sweetbriar Rose. After getting into a serious fight with the town bullies – who include the sheriff’s son – he’s all set to quit town, but the dome comes down before he’s able to make his escape. Now he’s trapped inside with a whole mess of people who hate his guts and would sooner see him dead.

Jim Rennie – known as “Big Jim – is the town’s Second Selectman, a member of the three-member team that makes up the governing body for Chester Mills. Only Big Jim has everyone in his pocket, owning him favors, and he’s also been running an underground scheme that’s making him a very rich man. He thrives on power and being in charge, and when the dome comes down he thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world; his calling from God to take charge once and for all.

Julia Shumway is the editor, publisher, and devout writer for her very own Chester Mill’s Democrat, continuing the family business, and always looking for a great story and a way to reveal the true, seedy underbelly of Chester Mills that she knows exists. After Dome Day, she knows Jim Rennie is up to something and will stop at nothing to expose him for the fraud he is.

And 13-year-old Joe McClatchey, a good-looking nerd with all the answers, but he also has some important ideas about what exactly the dome is and what might’ve made it happen. While the town slowly devolves into pandemonium, he spends his time trying to find out the cause of it all.

Stephen King conceived this book, originally titled Cannibals, early on in his career, but was never satisfied with the story.

Now he has delivered the weighty tome of Under the Dome, where lines will be drawn, sides declared, alliances forged, and enemies and allies made.

Many people will die – which is no surprise for a King novel – but the wild thrill ride will keep you addictively reading, aching to find out how it all ends.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

Bookbanter Column: The Authors of Stephen King (March 16, 2012)

If you’re kind of a Stephen King nut like me — and I know there are many of you out there — then you’ve read pretty much everything this great author has ever written.

To date the man has published around seventy books covering just about everything (as well as repeating himself a couple of times with similar storylines).

I can still remember the first book of his I read, Four Past Midnight, and that first story, “The Langoliers,” which was just fantastic and scary and great in so many ways.

 

 

I can remember my thirteen or fourteen year-old self actually feeling nauseous with the graphic detail of the little girl having the hatchet removed from her chest, and the quick surgery that had to be performed.  Every time he has a new book come out, I’m there, dropping everything, gobbling it up and loving it.

He’s my happy place, where I can easily forget about the rest of the world and get lost in one of his.

 

 

Stephen King has also been incredibly instrumental (even though he has no clue) in shaping me as a writer, making me first want to create scary, evocative stories like his own, and then to just keep on writing and telling tales for now over fifteen years.

A strange thing also happens when I read one of his books featuring an author as a character, for in addition to enjoying the book, it also makes me want to put the book down and write myself.

I’m not sure why, but it just does; it’s quite the conundrum.

Recently, I started thinking about the many Stephen King books I’ve read, and I began wondering how many of those had authors as the main characters, and then contemplated the number that had some secondary character who was a writer, and added them all up in my head, which resulted with a pretty high number.

So I started researching, and while King has had many characters who are English teachers (because King himself was once), as well as artists of some kind; authors are the predominant character type in his books.  One immediately thinks of the writing adage, “write what you know,” but I also think King just feels very comfortable writing these characters, but then if you look at some of his longer novels, like The Stand, Under the Dome, or his most recent, 11/22/63, there are no author characters there.

So it’s not so much that this character type has become a crutch for him to fall on in any way, but that he apparently just likes writing about them and using them.

 

 

Here is my pretty comprehensive list of Stephen King’s novels featuring authors as main or secondary characters.  I didn’t include short stories in this, because that would’ve taken a lot longer, but I’m sure many of those are sprinkled with characters who are writers too, however, I have included the novellas in this listing.

They are arranged chronologically.

‘Salem’s Lot (1975): Ben Mears, writer.

The Shining (1977): Jack Torrance, aspiring writer, alcoholic (which King knew plenty about); also insane.

The Stand (1978): Harold Lauder, possibly a bit of a stretch, since he’s a high school student, but still a poet published in a local publication.

It (1986): William Denbrough, a kid who likes telling great and scary stories who becomes a bestselling author.

Misery (1987): Paul Sheldon, a successful romance novelist.

The Tommyknockers (1987): Roberta Anderson, a writer of Wild West-based fiction; James Eric Gardener, poet and alcoholic.

The Dark Half (1989): Thad Beaumont, pretty successful novelist and recovering alcoholic; “George Stark,” while a pseudonym of Beaumont, he becomes a distinct character in the book.

Four Past Midnight (1990): “The Langoliers,” Bob Jenkins, mystery writer; “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” Mort Rainey, successful novelist.

Desperation (1996): Johnny Edward Marinville, formerly successful novelist.

Regulators (1996): John Marinville, children’s author.

Bag of Bones (1998): Mike Noonan, bestselling author.

Lisey’s Story (2006): Scott Landon, successful novelist.

Full Dark, No Stars (2010): “Big Driver,” Tessa Jean, successful mystery novelist.

 

 

And there you have it: fourteen appearances by fourteen writers, which is a pretty hefty number; almost 10% of his books.

Now, I don’t mean this as any sort of insult or critique, but more of a matter of fact; an “I wonder if . . .” experiment, which has been an interesting one.

If I were to be able to ask Stephen King about this, I’m pretty sure his answer would be something to the effect of:

I’ve written about 70 books, which is a lot of words, a lot of stories, and a lot of characters.  

I’m a successful writer, so of course there are going to be author characters in my books.  Do I think consciously about it when I do it: no.  Do I do it because it’s the easy cop out: no.



Stephen King is famous for saying he’s one of those writers who doesn’t work with a detailed outline, but just goes with it, a form often known as discovery writing.

He begins with an idea that he keeps in his head for any length of time that grows and develops and then begins writing the book when it’s ready to be written.  If there is a writer as a main character, he doesn’t think much about it, but just writes the book as it wants to be written.

Or maybe he just likes the thought of torturing writers in his stories?

 

 

Who knows?

But the next time someone sees him, be sure to ask him.

(Originally published on Forces of Geek)

Bookbanter Column: “Zombie is the New Undead” (April 11, 2011)

You sit in your favorite chair, in your favorite room of the house: the library. Your legs are comfort- ably crossed, the temperature is just right: warm and cozy. You’re reading your favorite book on your Ipad, swiping your finger rapidly across the screen to turn the page and continue with the gripping story. You’ve tuned out the world, focused on the captivating story with the unstoppable heroine who is fighting to save the day; you know she will triumph, but you still read for the inevitable surprise. As you begin a new chapter, you finally here a scratching at the door. But you have no pets; who could it be? The scratching continues, as if whatever is on the other side is trying to claw their way through the door. It is then that you hear the deep, inhuman groaning. You put down your Ipad, fear crawling its way up your spine, as you hesitantly walk towards the door. Building up your courage – kidding yourself that it’s just your little brother playing around, but you secretly know better – you fling open the door and scream as the zombie reaches out for you . . .

Zombie. Dictionary.com defines it as “the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.” Wikipedia says, “A fictional undead monster or a person in an entranced state believed to be controlled by a bokor or wizard.” But if I was to refer to Night of the Living Dead, you would have a concrete image in your mind of a weak, slow-moving undead human with its arms stretched out, groaning and moaning, hungrily in search of brains. While the concept of zombies has been around for a long time, George A Romero’s cult classic brought the idea of the walking dead human back to life in a whole new way, spawning countless successive zombie movies.

28 Days Later  Shaun of the Dead

Zombies have appeared numerous times in literature, but it wasn’t until the publication of The Book of the Dead in 1989 that we first saw a collection of zombie stories, based on the premise from Night of the Living Dead. The image of the archetypal zombie described above had fully solidified in our society’s conscious. But during the first decade of the twenty-first century there was a drastic change in the familiar paradigm of the zombie, thanks to the likes of 28 Days Later (2002) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) in film, and Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide published in 2003, followed by his New York Times bestseller World War Z (2006).

  World War Z  Breathers

All of a sudden the zombie wasn’t a scary, slow-moving creature, but one that was an incredibly fast, terrifying nightmare, or could be funny and entertaining; a pet to be kept in your shed. It was a creature we fought a war with and barely survived. It was, jokingly, something we might one day have to face, and here were some detailed ways to protect yourself. S. G. Browne, author of the bestselling Breathers – a book about how zombies would be treated as members of society – has this to say about our contemporary zombies:

“In addition to running like Olympic sprinters and making us laugh, modern zombies are domesticated as pets (Fido), write poetry (Zombie Haiku), and have invaded classic literature (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). They can also be found on the Internet going to marriage counseling, falling in love, and singing to their former co-workers (Jonathan Coulton’s “Re: Your Brains.”) In short, they’ve expanded their range, become more versatile. More well-rounded. And who doesn’t enjoy a more well-rounded zombie? Plus, zombies are tragically comical. Shuffling along, losing their hair and teeth and nails and the occasional appendage. Add the fact that they used to be us and we can’t help but relate to them.”

And what is it about these undead that fascinates us so? Browne’s last sentence does point out an interesting fact that zombies were once people, and when we recognize the person, that is when we have issues in “putting them to rest.” But what is resonating with humanity on a psychological level to want to read and watch and experience the thrill of a living corpse coming for you? Browne continues:

“The prevailing argument I often hear describes the current popularity of zombies as a direct reflection of global fears regarding the economy and terrorism. Horror as catharsis for the fears and anxiety of a society making commentary on itself. I disagree. I believe the current fascination with zombies has less to do with economic angst and more to do with the fact that zombies have been taken out of their proverbial archetypal box. No longer are they just the shambling, mindless, flesh-eating ghouls we’ve known and loved for most of the past four decades. Today’s zombies are faster. Funnier. Sentient.”

This is but one opinion on why we enjoy watching and reading about zombies. Mira Grant, author of the bestselling Feed – set in a techie near future where a virus can turn anyone into a zombie – presents another viewpoint:

“Zombies are, in many ways, a blank slate for our fears — they let us fear illness, fear sublimation, fear the terror of the familiar becoming the alien – without admitting that those fears cannot always be fought in a physical form. And in a time when so many of the classic monsters are being sexualized and humanized, zombies are one of the only things it’s still acceptable to hate and fear on sight.”

Grant brings up an important point. The world of vampires over the last two decades has certainly been revamped (pun intended!) with the likes of Louis (Brad Pitt) and Lestat (Tom Cruise) in the 1994 adaptation of Interview with a Vampire, Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and – of course – Edward (Robert Pattison) from The Twilight Saga. While there have been a number of stories and books about “likeable” zombie characters, no true hero has been raised from the grave.

And yet zombies continue to pervade every sphere of entertainment, as well as every genre of writing, whether it’s bestselling anthologies like John Joseph Adams’ Living Dead, or Christopher Golden’s New Dead; to original novels like Brian Keene’s The Rising, Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, or Stephen King’s Cell; to the popular graphic novel series (and now successful TV series) The Walking Dead; to international levels with Swedish author of Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead. To say I am barely scratching the tip of the iceberg does not do the list of zombie literature justice. Readers may want to check out the Wikipedia page on a “List of Zombie Novels” for further details.

Living Dead  Cell  Handling the Undead

Jonathan Maberry has even brought the subject of zombies to the popular world of young adult fiction with his first book in the series, Rot & Ruin. Maberry came up with the idea when asked to do a story for the New Dead anthology: “I decided to explore the experience of a teenager dealing with something vastly beyond his control. During the writing of the novella I fell in love with the characters and the world of the Rot & Ruin (which is what everything is called that’s beyond the fence line of the small town in which the characters live).” With the success of the first book, Maberry has three sequels planned, with Dust & Decay coming out in August. Even he has been surprised with the success of the “young adult zombie” novel: “It’s won a number of awards already including the Cybils and Dead Letter Award, and has been nominated for a Stoker, the YASLA and others.”

But will the zombie fascination ever come to an end? As a bookstore employee for the last seven years, I have seen the rise of zombie fiction, and while it does seem to have slowed a little, an end appears nowhere in sight. On this topic, Grant says,

“I don’t think the zombie fascination will die down or cool off until we stop being afraid of going to the doctor, of the man on the subway, of the woman with the pamphlet telling us to repent. They’re the monsters for this modern age. The vampire had a pretty good run as the biggest bad in existence — about five hundred years, give or take. I doubt the zombie will break that record, but it’s going to try.”

While John Joseph Adams, editor of the successful Living Dead anthologies, has this to say:

“I think it’s safe to say that zombies will continue to be popular for the foreseeable future. In literature, everything zombie-related has so much competition right now, however, it’s become really hard to stand out. But I think there’s a core fan-base for zombie fiction that will buy up every zombie book they get their hands on, so it’s a safe bet from a publishing point of view–i.e., put zombies in it, and it’ll sell. (The art director corollary is “Put an airship on it, and it’ll sell.) It’ll be interesting to see how things develop; if the zombie genre is going to continue to thrive, its practitioners will have to figure out ways to innovate while keeping things traditional enough so as not to alienate the existing and loyal core fan-base. Fortunately for the genre, zombies work well as a blank canvas and can be easily made to do the writer’s bidding.”

The Age of the Zombie is still alive, undead, and well, because the archetype of the zombie has been so drastically altered. Zombies are like superheroes now, in that there is little limitation to what they may be capable of. Writers are constantly coming up with new and different ways to present the living dead, whether it’s decaying family members we feel the need to aid in Handling the Undead, or the concept of a zombie prostitute in S. G. Browne’s short story “Zombie Gigolo” from Living Dead 2, or even zombie Stormtroopers in Joe Schreiber’s Star Wars: Death Troopers. Anthologies, on the other hand, help to reveal zombie stories known authors have written, but also pose a challenge of writing a zombie story by a writer not know for this genre. In fact, in five years time it is far more likely that the remaining bookstores will have an individual zombie section, separate from their horror section. It really boils down to a relatively simple concept, which Adams pointed out above: as long as there are people buying and reading zombie stories, publishers will continue to publish it, and writers will therefore continue to write it, as well as parody it. Think of it as a never ending cycle, if you will, or perhaps an undead cycle that cannot be put to rest.

Living Dead 2  Death Troopers

Author’s note: The zombie works mentioned above are just a smattering of the whole body of zombie work, covering all mediums. As a reader and movie watcher, I know I have only been exposed to a small amount. I invite readers to post comments on their favorite zombie stories, or perhaps rare ones that not many are familiar, as well as anything else they might want to mention about the living dead.

“A Book of Horrors” Edited by Stephen Jones (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012)

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When British author Stephen Jones set out to bring the anthology that would become A Book of Horrors together, his goal was to make the world realize that the concept of the horror story and the ability to frighten and terrify readers in a number of ways is still alive and well, contrary to what the likes of sparkling vampires, hunky werewolves, and all the other former denizens of the world of terror that have now been romanticized have shown.  Jones does just this in A Book of Horrors.

The collection opens with a new story from Stephen King, “The Little Green God of Agony,” about a man who has suffered much and continues to be in constant agony from a debilitating accident he had some time ago and is still recovering from.  His physical therapist believes he just isn’t working hard enough to recover fully.  But another man believes otherwise, and he plans to bring this little green god of agony out of him.  “The Man in the Ditch” from Lisa Tuttle begins with a woman in a car sighting a dead man by the side of the road and goes from there.  The book also features a new and original tale from John Ajvide Lindqvist , bestselling Swedish horror author of Let the Right One In.  “The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer” has the same feel of many of his other works, with the hard, cold landscape of Sweden, the importance of family and how it deals with loss, and what it means to live in the house where a murderer killed himself.

A Book of Horrors will be enjoyed by any horror fan, and by anyone looking to give the genre a try, as the stories range from monster to ghost to psychological; all kinds of horror are available for the reader in this collection.

Originally written on September 27, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of A Book of Horrors from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

Halloween Recommended Reads

We’re coming up on Halloween once again when everything goes spooky and dark, and we like to get scared by things.. Well, here’s a Halloween story I wrote and a list of recommended reads for kids and adults of books that will really give you some shivers . . .

Click on the image below to read the free Halloween Story

A Halloween Story

 

And now some recommended Halloween reads to chill your bones and make your blood freeze . . .

FOR KIDS (OR ADULTS) –

Among the Ghosts Coraline The Graveyard Book

Halloween Tree Rot and Ruin

FOR ADULTS –

Neverland I am Not a Serial Killer Feed Horns
Death Troopers
The Strain The Terror The Living Dead
Living Dead 2
World War Z Full Dark No Stars Handling the Undead
Illustrated Man Handling the Undead Handling the Undead Handling the Undead

“The Wind Through the Keyhole” by Stephen King (Scribner, 2012)

The Wind Through the Keyhole
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To the delight of many fans across the globe, Stephen King returns to his familiar Mid-World in this new Dark Tower tale with The Wind Through the Keyhole.  King has fun here, with the book set between the fourth volume, Wizard and Glass and the fifth, Wolves of the Calla, as he tells a story within a story within a story.

Roland and his ka-tet are on their way once again, getting ever closer to the Dark Tower.  He has told his story of his first love, Susanna, and how he lost her.  Now they are crossing into new terrain when they see Oy, Jake’s billy bumbler, acting very strange, spinning in circles.  Fortunately, Roland knows what this portents: the coming of a devastating storm known as a starkblast, which will ravage and instantly kill anyone exposed to its wrath.  The group travels quickly to an abandoned town and manages to get safe inside the one stone building just in time, with a big roaring fire as the mighty storm hits.  Knowing they will be stuck inside for a while, Roland begins to tell the first of two tales.

He tells the story of the “Skin-Man,” he who can change into any animal shape he chooses, who has been devastating a town, killing its people in horrific numbers.  Young gunslingers, he and Jamie DeCurry are charged to go to Debaria and stop this evil thing.  The two find themselves in deeper, deadlier waters than they expected, as they put the pieces of the mystery together and narrow down who this skin-man might be.  Roland befriends a young lad named Bill Streeter, who has lost his parents to this monster.  As the two find themselves hanging out in a jail cell for a while, waiting for others to return, Roland begins his second tale, telling it to young Bill, in the story of “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”

It is a story Roland was told by his mother when he was a child, of Tim Stoutheart, and how he lost his wonderful father and despaired as his mother married a man he didn’t trust.  Soon the man takes to drinking and beating on his mother.  Using a piece of magic delivered by the taxman who bears more than a striking resemblance to a well-known black magic wizard, he learns what this supposed best friend of his late father truly is and plans his revenge.  It is a tale to inspire and give courage to those who need it most.

Whether you’re well-versed with the Dark Tower series or not, King openly admits at the beginning that you don’t need to be to enjoy The Wind Through the Keyhole.  He gives a brief page of summary to catch a new reader up and then sets them free on his stories.  And for those who love this series, while you won’t necessarily get the same enjoyment out of it as you might a lengthy Dark Tower volume, this book is certainly entertaining and enchanting in its way, and deserves to be added to the shelf with the other volumes of the epic series.

Originally written on May 18, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Wind Through the Keyhole from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

From the Generic Box #1

At the moment my job involves going through the many boxes categorized as “Generic.”  This term encapsulates essentially everything that wasn’t recognized by the scanner when the book was bought back, whether it was an out of print book, a book from another country, a strange barcode that wasn’t recognized, or just something the machine couldn’t understand, in which case it automatically got categorized asGeneric.  As you may have guessed, this can include just about any and every type of book that has ever been printed, and then some.  Naturally, it’s been a lot of fun, and frankly, quite exciting, to open up a new box and see just what I’m going to come across.

The point of this exercise is that, since all these book are priced a 99 cents, to see if there’s anything that might be worth some money that can get correctly priced.  I’ve come across some interesting things so far, such as popular books that are simply worth more, an old James Joyce hardcover, I nice and very old Thucydides hardcover, but today was different.  Today, I came across some most unusual books that made me stop and think: 1) someone write this book, 2) someone published and printed this book, and 3) someone bought this book.  Naturally, I had to take photos of what I came across, and I hope this can turn into a sort of regular segment here in BookBanter.  Only time and the strangeness of the printed word will tell!

Busy Girl's Cookbook

Just enough time for a quick cigarette.

A Manual of Things That Might Kill You

To satisfy the inner paranoid voice.

Science of Personal Magnetism

It’s scientific, so it must be true.

1980s Countdown to Armageddon

Still counting down, three decades later.

Alice in Wonderland

A neat old edition.

Shining

Also a neat old edition.

Stephen King

Was always creepy looking.

Stephen King

Especially with a cigarette.

This Above All

Found this old looking book . . .

Personal Note

. . . With this old and strange note in it.

Ocelot

And this is just in case . . .