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The Stand

Author: Stephen King

Format: Audible audio book

Narrator: Grover Gardner

Publisher: Random House

Audio Release Date: 2/14/12 (Original Doubleday release 1/1/79; Complete & Uncut release, 1/1/90)

Length: 47 hours 56 minutes (Complete & Uncut HC, 1152 pages)

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Website synopsis:

One man escapes from a biological weapon facility after an accident, carrying with him the deadly virus known as Captain Tripps, a rapidly mutating flu that – in the ensuing weeks – wipes out most of the world’s population.

In the aftermath, survivors choose between following an elderly black woman to Boulder or the dark man, Randall Flagg, who has set up his command post in Las Vegas. The two factions prepare for a confrontation between the forces of good and evil.

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Publisher’s summary:

This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides-or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail-and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.

In 1978 Stephen King published The Stand, the novel that is now considered one of his finest works. But as it was first published, The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript. Now Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety.

The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition includes more than 500 pages of material deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral complexity of a true epic.

For the hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King’s gift. And those who are reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

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My thoughts, which I hope are mostly free of major spoilers:

Those who know me well know that I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s writing. I’ll buy anything printed with his name on it and will greatly enjoy most of it because even bad Stephen King is enjoyable for me. Part of my enjoyment of King’s writing stems from the fact that his characters are so well-written and so believable that as a reader (or listener), I’m sucked right into the story and as I get to know them, their triumphs and terrors, their worries and their struggles become my own.

I’ve read and heard many opinions on King’s work and not all of them favorable. But one common opinion, generally of fans of the work, is that King doesn’t write about extraordinary people, he writes about regular people who encounter extraordinary (and sometimes supernatural) situations and occurrences. Sometimes those ordinary people in King’s stories become more than what they were because of what happens to them or around them, and sometimes they become less. The Stand is full of characters that do both.

This is a story that begins with a large and varied cast of characters who are spread far and wide across the United States, and who eventually come together for one reason or another. As the synopsis above declares, a man-made flu has wiped out 99% of the population and the people who survived, through a series of dreams, are drawn by one of two people: Mother Abigail or Randall Flagg, to one of two places: Boulder, Colorado or Las Vegas, Nevada. During the course of their journeys, people join up with others that they find along the way and friendships are forged, or enemies are made.

Some characters find a stronger version of themselves as they cope with the disaster and its aftermath, and then struggle to find a new life and build a new future for themselves and their new friends and loved ones. Other characters make the decision to abandon what they had been, or could have been, to pursue power and revenge. One thing King does so well in writing these characters is to make them so complex that you find yourself almost understanding the motivations of, and maybe on the verge of sympathizing with, someone who is in the process of turning to the ‘Dark Side’. Almost.

The Stand is, at its root, a story of good versus evil. Literally. Followers of God-fearing, God-praising Mother Abigail converge on Boulder in the ‘good guy’ camp and followers of creepy/evil/scary Randall Flagg gather in Vegas in, for lack of a better descriptor, the ‘bad guy’ camp. The bad guys are planning a military-style assault on the good guys, for no other reason than that Flagg wants them to. Hey, scary-ass dude that talked to them in their dreams wants them to do something, they do it regardless of how reluctant they might be, by God. Or by the other guy, rather.

Some of the people who have migrated to Vegas are criminals of one flavor or another but many of them seem to be reg’lar type folks, as several residents of the newly dubbed “Free Zone” in Boulder come to realize when they have cause to go to Vegas. Members of the Free Zone have no beef with the new residents of Las Vegas, they just don’t want to be attacked while trying to build a new life, a new family, a new community… a new society. So they look to Mother Abigail, one of the most colorful and likeable characters in this story in my not so humble opinion, and to a few chosen–or self-chosen, rather–leaders to decide how to best handle the threat from the West.

One thing that strikes me about this story is how King outlines each new society. Mother Abigail’s flock, for that is indeed what they are, are brought together and held together, by love. By the need for love, by the need to not be alone. To not be lonely. There’s an inherent need in man to be with others of his kind. To feel companionship and to have shared experiences and King hits this nail on the head so profoundly that you actually ache with loneliness when certain characters experience the same sad and horrible state. The longing to not feel that way anymore is what holds the people together in what becomes the Free Zone in The Stand. The survivors want things as simple as community and friendship. Loyalty and love.

Las Vegas, on the other hand, is full of fear. Dripping with fear. Seething with fear. People go there thinking they’ll have freedom to do whatever they please. No more rules, no more laws, no more oppression! Only they find themselves well and caught under the worn-down boot heels of a blue-jean wearing tyrant. One who can drive a man insane just by looking at him. They’re pretty well stuck there and they quickly come to realize that it’s dangerous to even toe the line, much less cross it. It’s dangerous to say anything untoward about their new leader… maybe even to think it. So best not. Best not.

Many of King’s works have some kind of religious, social or political commentary, but thinking back through his many books that I’ve read, I don’t know that any were quite as blatant as The Stand. The underlying theme is as I mentioned before, literal good versus literal evil and as simple as it may sound, it’s a powerful message. So many of those people that went to Vegas weren’t inherently evil. They were also lost and alone and looking for companionship in a world turned upside down. They just wanted to belong to something again.

Yet rather than choosing Mother Abigail, they chose The Dark Man who admittedly, appeared to many of them as a priest of some sort, or as a hero. He was cool. He was sexy. He promised them things. Promised them a place. Perhaps, promised them power. And before they were aware of what was happening, they were ensnared. They were trapped. They just plain didn’t know, or didn’t want to know, what they were walking into.

But they learned. Oh, yes. They learned. And they got to the point where they were afraid to so much as utter his name. A fact that was thrust into the faces of a handful of them by a member of the Free Zone that had been a professor of sociology before. Glen Bateman, upon encountering some of Flagg’s men commented as follows when he realizes that the men won’t say the name of their chosen master:

“Are you afraid? Are you so afraid of him you don’t dare speak his name? Very well, I’ll say it for you. His name is Randall Flagg, also known as the Dark Man, also known as the Tall Man, also known as the Walkin’ Dude. Don’t some of you call him that? Call him Beelzebub because that’s his name, too. Call him Nyarlathotep and Ahaz and Astaroth. Call him R’yelah and Seti and Anubis. His name is Legion and he’s an apostate of Hell and you men kiss his ass. Just thought we ought to have that up front.”

Glen Bateman is one of my favorite characters in this story if for no other reason than that he had the guts and gumption to make this pronouncement. Sure, when I met Glen Bateman alongside Stu Redman on a lonely New Hampshire highway, he may have seemed a bit pompous and overblown… but that was before I knew him. That was before Mr. King showed me who he really was… what he was really made of. This is what I mean when I speak of the way King’s characters are written. Some of The Stand’s characters have stayed fast and firm in my mind over the many years since I last read this book, even though many of the details of the story had faded.

Don’t read The Stand just for the great post-apocalyptic story that it is. Don’t just read it for the epic struggle between good and evil, though it’s worth it for that. Read it to get to know the amazing characters that Stephen King created to act out his end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. Read it for Stu Redman and Frannie Goldsmith, for Nick Andros and Mother Abigail. Yes, even for Randall Flagg (who you may see in other works by Stephen King, do you ken?), for Lloyd Henreid and the Trashcan Man. Read it for Larry Underwood, who ain’t no nice guy. Read it for Kojak and for Harold Lauder and for Tom Cullen. Who could ever forget Tom Cullen? “M-O-O-N, that spells Tom Cullen, laws yes!”

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Afterthoughts:

If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, you’ll know that this story is one of many stand-alone SK works that is connected in some way to that series (hint: the previous link leads to a page which outlines said connections, but ‘ware spoilers). If you haven’t read The Dark Tower series, what’s the matter with you?

Grover Gardner did a fantastic job on the narration of this audio book. Those 48 hours just flew by! But seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed his reading and recommend his other works on Audible which are linked to above. But, so that you don’t have to scroll back UP through this entire post, I’ve included it here for your convenience. You’re welcome.

For the first annual World Book Night event in the United States, I signed up to be a book giver of this very book. I was accepted and received 20 specially printed paperback copies of The Stand, which was my first of three choices out of this year’s selection of books, to gift to members of my community. To see my thoughts on World Book Night and my experience as a book giver, check out the previous post in this blog. Or just clickity-click right here.

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Fave quotes:

“Baby, can you dig your man?” -Larry Underwood

‘The unreality was trying to creep back in again and she found herself wondering just how much the human brain could be expected to stand before snapping like an overtaxed rubber band.’ ~lonely thoughts of Frannie Goldsmith

“I spent most of my life feeling like the only Cro Magnon in a herd of thundering Neanderthals.” -Harold Lauder

‘No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of change. You just… come out the other side. Or don’t.’

“All of the old soldiers have faded away and left their playthings behind.” Glen Bateman

‘What kind of world was it where God would trap a person like a bug in a puddle of gasoline? A world that deserved to burn, that was what.’ ~wayward thoughts of the Trashcan Man

“That wasn’t any act of God. That was an act of pure human fuckery.” -Larry Underwood

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want for nothing. He makes me lie down in the green pastures. He greases up my head with oil. He gives me kung-fu in the face of my enemies. Amen.” -Tom Cullen

“Goodbye East Texas. It’s been pretty goddamn good to know you.” -Glen Bateman to Stu Redman

“Oh pardon me… it’s just that we were all so frightened… we made such a business out of you. I’m laughing as much at our own foolishness as at your regrettable lack of substance.” – Glen Bateman to Randall Flagg

‘And the righteous and unrighteous alike were consumed in that holy fire.’

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The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Format: Audible audio book

Narrator: Jim Dale

Publisher: Random House Audio

Release Date: 9/13/2011

Length: 13 hours 39 minutes (Doubleday HC is 400 pages)

Acquired: Audible.com

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The blurb from the website:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

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My  thoughts:

The synopsis I included above pretty much sums it up all one needs to know about this story and was more than enough to pique my interest. From childhood, cCelia and Marco are pawns in a contest that’s been repeated again and again for longer than they might believe, and one that they’ve essentially been tricked into participating. Neither of these talented young magicians –real magicians not sleight-of-hand type magicians– knows that the unfortunate loser will not only lose the contest, but will lose their life.

The stage of their contest is a circus… but it’s not your ordinary circus. Oh, no. It’s a wondrous thing, full of incredible performers and truly magical attractions. It’s known as Le Cirque des Rêves, The Circus of Dreams. And it truly is a circus of dreams, for it is truly magic, though the patrons don’t quite realize it.

Some patrons are so profoundly changed by their visit that they begin to follow the circus from place to place so that they can visit again and again. Eventually, these patrons begin to call themselves rêveurs, or dreamers.

‘Word spreads quickly in such select circles, and so begins a tradition of rêveurs attending Le Cirque des Rêves decked in black or white or grey with a single shock of red: a scarf or hat, or, if the weather is warm, a red rose tucked into a lapel or behind an ear. It is also quite helpful for spotting other rêveurs, a simple signal for those who know.’

The story follows not only the dueling magicians but their respective masters and the circus performers, as well as certain patrons and rêveurs, as the circus travels the world over a period of decades. When, as adults, Celia and Marco learn about the true nature of the competition in which they are involved, they decide that they want no part of it. Unfortunately, they’re both magically bound to continue and so attempt to break the rules and outsmart their masters.

One aspect of the story that threw me off a bit was the jumping back and forth in the story’s timeline. I imagine that it would have been easier to follow had I been reading a print book, but when listening to an audio book, one can’t always ‘flip back’ to the start of a chapter to refresh their memory on when they are in the story. So that would be one definite advantage to actually reading the book, rather than listening. Another advantage, of course, is the beautiful cover art. Although.. I have to also heartily recommend the audio if only for the masterful narration of Jim Dale.

Okay, so I suppose I’m suggesting that you go buy this beautiful book in print, read it, and then download the audio book and listen to it. I’m certain that you’ll enjoy the story all the more by following my instructions and once you’ve both read and listened, you may return here and thank me for my sound advice in the comments section below.

Happy reading. And listening. .

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Fave quotes:

“It is important, someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find the treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice up of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it…” ~The man in the grey suit

‘Old stories have a habit of being told and retold and changed. Each subsequent storyteller puts his or her marks upon it. Whatever truth the story once has is buried in bias and embellishment. The reasons do not matter as much as the story itself.’

‘Poppet: “Have you tried the cinnamon things? They’re rather new. What are they called, Widge?”
Widge: “Fantastically delicious cinnamon things?”’

“Love is fickle and fleeting. It is rarely a solid foundation for decisions to be made upon, in any game.” ~Tsukiko

‘And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead.’

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Department 19

Author: Will Hill

Format: author-signed paperback

Publisher: HarperCollins

Original Release Date: 3/29/2011

Length: 496 pages

Acquired: won in a publisher giveaway

Department 19 Website, Facebook & Twitter

This was first posted as a guest review at Waiting For Fairies

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The blurb from the website:

Jamie Carpenter’s life will never be the same. His father is dead, his mother is missing, and he was just rescued by an enormous man named Frankenstein.

Jamie is brought to Department 19, where he is pulled into a secret organization responsible for policing the supernatural, founded more than a century ago by Abraham Van Helsing and the other survivors of Dracula.

Aided by Frankenstein’s monster, a beautiful vampire girl with her own agenda, and the members of the agency, Jamie must attempt to save his mother from a terrifyingly powerful vampire.

Department 19 takes us through history, across Europe, and beyond – from the cobbled streets of Victorian London to prohibition-era New York, from the icy wastes of Arctic Russia to the treacherous mountains of Transylvania.

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My moderately spoilery thoughts:

Considering the fact that this is a YA book, I rather enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against YA, but at times the genre can be frustrating to read, as though YA writers assume that their readers aren’t mature or intelligent enough to handle content that’s a bit more complex. Some of the writing in Department 19 definitely seemed more appropriate for a younger crowd but all in all, it was fast-paced enough to keep the pages turning and intriguing enough to keep me thinking about it when I wasn’t reading. I also found myself anxious to get back to it as soon as possible whenever I had to put it down to eat or shower or sleep or work… pesky, pesky work.

Some of my favorite sections of this book dealt with the short glimpses back in history at the protagonist’s ancestors. Jamie Carpenter’s great-grandfather worked with the fabled Abraham Van Helsing and joined his circle of Dracula-staking buddies when Department 19, aka Blacklight, was formed in 1892, 100+ years before Jamie’s story begins. His grandfather met and befriended Frankenstein’s monster, who seemed quite civilized and took on his creator’s name after he passed. Finally we learn more about his father Julian, who was also a member of Department 19 and who apparently betrayed it, and so is much hated by the time Jamie is tossed headfirst into insanity.

Before the events in this story, neither Jamie or his mother had any knowledge of the classified, vampire-killing, militant branch of the government which his father had been an honored member. He was honored before that whole betrayal thing, anyway, after which his colleagues tracked him down and summarily executed him in his driveway in front of his family. I had a hard time swallowing such fly-off-the-handle type of behavior from a highly-trained, professional organization, but I didn’t let it detract (much) from the rest of the story.

I enjoyed the fact that the author touted Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a chronicle of true events, rather than a work of fiction. As one Department 19 Operator explains to a civilian after she admits that she has read Stoker’s book, “It’s not a story; it’s a history lesson.” Though that reminded me of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, in which Dracula is essentially a How-to guide for killing vampires of the Black Court, the concept fit well and the premise opened the door for the inclusion of Frankenstein’s character, which added some spice to the story.

Jamie is torn from his life as an awkward teen when his mother is kidnapped by one of the oldest vamps in the world, after which he is rescued from the same vamp by yet another monster straight out of a horror story. A monster who happened to be pals with his dad, once upon a time (no pun intended). Of course, neither Jamie or his mother had any knowledge of the vampire-killing militant branch of the government before this story takes place so we get a lot of info-dumping to catch Jamie (us) up on the history of the organization and his family’s part in it. I feel that Hill did a great job of fleshing out Jamie’s character, from the vehement anger at his father for his betrayal and for his lies about his job to Jamie and his mother, to his stubborn insistence in ignoring what he’s told by senior members of Blacklight. I often found his behavior exceedingly annoying but it was probably pretty accurate for a teenaged boy.

Aside from a bit of choppy jumping back and forth action toward the end of the book, the only issue I had with the story was the excessive gore. Yes, I do realize that this is a Stoker-esque portrayal of vamps as blood-sucking monsters and that much blood and murder and mayhem is likely to take place, but the book is aimed at a 12+ audience and I just felt that it was a little too bloody for the pre-teen set. I got the feeling while reading the many fight scenes that the author was writing something as anti-Twilight as possible and while I approve, multiple mentions of characters being soaked in blood and then the image of a vampire covered in gore from head to toe, flinging drops of blood from her hair in the midst of battle, was just a wee bit much.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this read to anyone who wants a good ole vamp-staking story. There are cool weapons, a lot of action, and an impressively in-depth history of the Blacklight organization, as well as a dun-dun-dun-DUNNNN ending that will, hopefully, make you look forward to the next book, Department 19: The Rising, as much as I do. (teaser chapters here)

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