Book Review: Later by Stephen King

I’ve written before about how I stopped reading new books by Stephen King for a number of years, and how recently with The Outsider, The Institute and Doctor Sleep my enjoyment has returned. I’m glad that I have as Later is another absolute cracker of a read. My other recent Stephen King book reviews can be read here.

The book is all about young Jamie growing up in New York with his mother. Jamie has a secret which his mother insists, for good reasons, that he keep quiet about. He can see dead people, and talk to them, but only for a few days until they fade away. He uses his gift a couple of times to do good, but his mother and a policewoman use his gift for their own ends, with very differing results. Without giving away too many spoilers that is about as much as I can say.

There isn’t too much original with the story, and The Sixth Sense does get a mention, but it is all very well written with a great set of characters. Additionally the book isn’t too long and keeps a good pace going the whole way through.

Anyway, a short review for a short book which I gave 5 stars to on Goodreads.

Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

This book was one of the presents that my lovely wife gave me for my recent 51st birthday, and I plowed through it in no time.

The first forty or so pages tell the tale of a former small town policeman who is hitching from Florida to New York, but gets waylaid at an even smaller town in South Carolina. He finds himself a job as a nightwatchman and slowly becomes a part of the small community. He’s likable, hard working and friendly; a ‘good’ man. We don’t meet him again in the book until the last quarter.

Luke is no ordinary 12-year-old. Insanely intelligent and looking at applying to colleges, his life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped and taken to ‘The Institute’. All of the children are told that they will have their memories wiped later on and then released unharmed back to their parents. This is obviously a lie, and the children know it. Luke is just one of many children housed there who are subjected to numerous tests, many of which are deeply unpleasant. After a few weeks most of the inmates are taken away to the mysterious ‘back half’ of the institute, never to be seen again. What nefarious activities are occuring there?

As with many Stephen King books it could has lost a few pages, especially when we first read about the institute, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this, giving it 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. Towards the very end of the book an idea is touched upon, which formed much larger themes in 11/22/63 and The Dead Zone. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but if you can guess what the theme is from those two books, you are probably a huge Stephen King fan who has already devoured The Institute.

Anyway, another great book, and a big thank you to Helen for buying it for me.

Top Three Books – Stephen King

Whenever I read a book that I really like I search out others books by the same author. I doubt if I’m alone in that respect. Obviously over the years some authors have built up a huge body of work. I’m hoping that this blog – Top Three Books – will become an ongoing feature where I list and concisely describe my top three picks from selected authors that I enjoy.

For my first pick I’ve chosen a big hitter. Stephen King is one of the biggest selling authors in the world, having sold over 350 million books. His wife and two of his children are also best selling authors, although I haven’t read any of their books. A quick Google search for the best books by Stephen King listed hundreds of entries. I don’t care; this is my top three, and I would be very surprised if you didn’t disagree with my choice, which is absolutely fine. I’m sure if I look back at this blog in a few years I will disagree with my choices.

First up, and not in any particular order, is The Stand.

the stand

A pandemic rips through the world, but unlike Covid-19, the mortality rate is over 99%. Society falls apart and chaos reigns. Behind all this the survivors start having dreams where they are drawn towards two opposing factions; good and evil for want of a better terminology. The walking dude, who epitomizes evil, draws his follows to Las Vegas, while an old lady represents the good in all of us.

The story is huge, and unlike my oft criticism of King where some of his books go on a bit too long, The Stand needs to be of this length. A few years after the original was released, an extended version was released, a directors cut, if you like. Soon I will go back and re-read the extended version. In short, a long epic end of the world story.

My second choice is The Long Walk, although technically this was written by Richard Bachman, a pseudonym used by Stephen King in his early career. I’ve written about this book before when I blogged about my favourite books about running (read the review here).

the long walk

As the title suggests it’s all about a walk, and a very long walk it is. The premise is that every year 100 boys between 15 and 17 years old walk until they can walk no more. If you drop below a certain pace three times in one hour, you are shot and killed. The ultimate last man standing competition. Each chapter has a quote from a different TV quiz show presenter, and some of them are quite dark. In fact the whole book is quite dark. A dystopian future if ever there was one. I’ve also recently found out that a film version of the book is in production and apparently Stephen King likes the screenplay, which is encouraging, knowing just how many really bad adaptations of his work there are.

Finally, and a more recent book, I have picked Dr Sleep, the sequel to The Shining. This might be slightly contentious considering how iconic both the book and the film of The Shining are. My original review of Dr Sleep can be found here.

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Dan Torrance, the young boy from The Shining, has grown up, he’s a drunk and a druggie, and hits rock bottom. In a small town he meets a man who has faith in him and turns him from around. He also starts communicating via writing on a blackboard with a young girl, Abra, who also has ‘the shining’.

In the midst of all this is Rose the Hat and her followers called the True Knot, an unusual bunch who all have different shining abilities. They are not a good bunch as they feed off people who have the shining, known to them as ‘steam’. Children have the best shining, and the more pain inflicted as they are murdered the better the ‘steam’ is. They discover Abra and it’s up to Dan to save her, and hopefully himself in the process.

It has been many years since I read The Shining and I’m always wary of sequels, but this follows on nicely and has just the right amount of intrigue and suspense, while the new characters fit in well.

Now onto the films. I wasn’t a big fan of film version of The Shining, mainly because Dan’s mentor, the chef from the Overlook Hotel, died in the film, but lived in the book. This creates a problem for the film of Doctor Sleep, which they nicely overcome. I won’t give too much away as you might want to watch the film or read the book. Another problem for the film is that Shelley Duvall is such an iconic actress, that whoever has to play her character is never going to look or feel like her. Ewan McGregor however, is absolutely fantastic as a grown up Dan. In the ending of the film Doctor Sleep they bring back Jack Torrance, and again no one can look or act like Jack Nicholson, and it actually feels wrong, as if the director is trying too hard to link back to the original film. In the end, the film did work well, although my beautiful wife left early as there was a particularly nasty scene where the True Knot killed a young boy. The film had a 15 rating, which I’m not sure about. The reviews have also been very mixed.

Here ends my first attempt at a top three books, and moments after I clicked publish I realised that I forgotten about The Dead Zone. Should I have included it instead of The Stand? The film starring Christopher Walken is also very good, although the TV series is worth avoiding. I can see that my top three books is going to be challenging. I would be interested to know what your favourite Stephen King books are.

 

Book Review: Just After Sunset by Stephen King

I seem to have recently had a Stephen King revival, with the third book of his in the last few months (review of Doctor Sleep can be found here and The Outsider can be found here).

Just After Sunset is a collection of 13 short stories and the main reason that I purchased it was because of the recommended story ‘The Gingerbread Girl’ which was included in my review of the best running books (read my review here).

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I remember reading many years ago, Night Shift and Skeleton Crew, two of Stephen King’s earlier collections of short stories, and loving the mix, from the macabre to the gory, the funny to the sad, but always interesting. Just After Sunset only has 13 stories, far fewer than in earlier collections. Sometimes this can be a good thing, more meat to the story, however sometimes it feels like a story drags a bit. One of my criticisms of Mr King is that many of his later books became over long, almost as if because of his success he can dictate to an editor how a book should be. I always assume that there has to be a good relationship between an author and their editor, so that the best results are published. But, if you’ve sold as many books as Stephen King has, maybe he does know what he’s doing. If he published his shopping list it would probably still top the best seller lists.

Anyway, back to the book in question, and there is a good mix of stories contained within it’s pages, new and old, scary and one that it particularly foul. Another good thing about a collection of short stories is that if one isn’t up your street, the next one might be the best ever, much like listening to John Peel.

There isn’t too much to say about the book really. You will all know who Stephen King is, and if you’re a fan then you’ll like this collection. If you’ve never read any of his books then this one probably isn’t the best place to start.

However, that is a really good question. Which Stephen King book would you recommend for someone who has never read his work, to begin with. My pick would be The Dead Zone.

 

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Many years ago I would avidly read every book that Stephen King wrote, but after a few overlong books in need of a good editing, I stopped. It was a tad harsh on my part, because he is a great writer. Recently I blogged about The Outsider (read about it here) and how I had also picked up Doctor Sleep.

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I finished Doctor Sleep a few weeks ago, but I was waiting to blog about it until we’d been to see the film version at the cinema. Dan Torrance, the young boy from The Shining, has grown up, he’s a drunk and a druggie, and hits rock bottom. In a small town he meets a man who has faith in him and turns him from around. He also starts communicating via writing on a blackboard with a young girl, Abra, who also has ‘the shining’.

In the midst of all this is Rose the Hat and her followers called the True Knot, an unusual bunch who all have different shining abilities. They are not a good bunch of people as they feed off people who have the shining, known to then as ‘steam’. Children have the best shining, and the more pain inflicted as they are murdered the better the ‘steam’ is. They discover Abra and it’s up to Dan to save her, and hopefully himself in the process.

It has been many years since I read The Shining and I’m always wary of sequels, but this follows on nicely and has just the right amount of intrigue and suspense, while the new characters fit in nicely.

Now onto the films. I wasn’t a big fan of film version of The Shining, mainly because Dan’s mentor, the chef from the Overlook Hotel, died in the film, but lived in the book. This creates a problem for the film of Doctor Sleep, which they nicely overcome. I won’t give too much away as you might want to watch the film or read the book. Another problem for the film is that Shelley Duvall is such an iconic actress, that whoever has to play her character is never going to look or feel like her. Ewan McGregor however, is absolutely fantastic as a grown up Dan. In the ending of the film Doctor Sleep they bring back Jack Torrance, and again no one can look or act like Jack Nicholson, and it actually feels wrong, as if the director is trying too hard to link back to the original film. In the end, the film did work well, although my beautiful wife left early as there was a particularly nasty scene where the True Knot killed a young boy. The film had a 15 rating, which I’m not sure about. The reviews have also been very mixed.

To recap, I really enjoyed the book, and the film was definitely better than expected.

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

It’s been a while since I’ve read anything by Stephen King. Up to about ten years ago I used to read everything that he published, but I think I lost interest with the last couple of books in the Gunslinger series and stopped reading his stuff entirely. Apropos of nothing, I actually really enjoyed the film of The Gunslinger, even with one of the major characters completely missing. I could write so much about Stephen King film adaptations, the good, the bad and the downright terrible. Some other time perhaps.

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I was given a couple of books tokens for my 50th birthday last month, and this was one of the books that I bought. The plot outline is quite simple, a well known and liked teacher from a small town is arrested for the hideous murder of a child. All of the evidence points to his guilt, eye witness accounts, DNA, etc. However, and here is the twist, he was also seen by numerous people in another town miles away from the murder. He couldn’t possibly be in two places at once, so what is going on.

Obviously this being Stephen King the supernatural is involved, but I won’t give anymore away. The beginning of the book is gripping, hooking me in so much that I couldn’t wait to pick it up again. It did lose pace a bit in the second half, but the final few chapters are a thrill. There was one character who joined the cast in the latter stages, and I got the feeling that she was a returning character from another book, maybe Mr Mercedes, which is another one of Mr King’s books that I haven’t read.

The Outsider is definitely one of his better books. Reading it made me realise what a good author Stephen King is, and even when not at his best, he is still pretty damn good. I will be picking up a few more of his books that I’ve missed, starting soon with Dr Sleep, as my beautiful wife wants to see the film, so I will have to have read the book by then.