A Good Marriage (from Full Dark, No Stars) by Stephen King – Wrapping up King’s March

A Good Marriage is the final story in this amazing short story collection, Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. It’s a 100 page novella and makes a greatly disturbing read. If I think about it, this story has less gore as compared to Big Driver, hardly any violent graphic detail unlike 1922 and it has much fewer glimpses into crazy minds than Fair Extension. Honestly, it ought to be the least upsetting story of the entire collection; if only it weren’t so true to life. 
I saved the last story of the collection for a classic Stephen King-ey experience. Reading it alone in the middle of the night (it was around 2 a.m. by the time I finished), with a reading light and shuddering every so often, resisting the impulse to just abandon the book and go to sleep instead. That’s how Stephen King should be read, isn’t it? Without the eerie atmosphere, the building tension, The Shining wouldn’t quite have been The Shining. 
A Good Marriage is very different from the other stories in Full Dark, No Stars. It isn’t about a lunatic murderer, or a raging victim driven to murder, it is the story of a murderer’s wife. What would a woman do if she were to find out one day, out of nowhere, that her husband of some twenty seven years was a notorious serial killer? If she were to realize the man she loved, the man who surely loved her back, the father of her two children had lived a secret life as a murderer? How far would Darcy go to save her marriage?
It’s not a unique setting, you have to admit. In fact, based as it is on a true story, it’s not meant to be one of its kind. It almost reminded me of Alice Munro’s Dimension in the way it focuses on the one who is the closest to an offender, the one who suffers the most after the victims, the one who gets the least sympathy: the murderer’s family. That it is convincingly, worryingly realistic is what makes A Good Marriage the best and the worst story at once. King has done here what he does best. In his words, he’s put “ordinary people in extraordinary situations” to provoke a reaction. He’s played out this situation in invigorating, unnerving, undistorted, tear-jerking detail. 
King has toyed with the realization that someone you love, someone you thought you knew completely, can turn out to be a altogether different creature. King has described vividly how it dawns upon Darcy that you can never really know a person, not even one you’ve built your life with. Once the truth hits home, it takes only one caressing touch, from her husband for Darcy to be terrified of him. Seeing him for what he really is, his once-endearing toothy smile and soundless laugh make her nauseous. And she loves him.
It’s a good story, and what makes it good, is how difficult it is to put yourself in Darcy’s shoes. To wonder how you’d react in that situation; a situation that when not looked at personally makes so much sense. A Good Marriage is a nice story about marriage and oddly, it’s a happy story, in that it leaves you with a grudging sense of relief and the realization that there’s a little hope for humanity, after all.
It turns out A Good Marriage is being made into a movie. Or is it already out? I don’t think I’ll watch it, but I’m curious to see how it’s received. I suppose it will fair well like all his movies do, I only hope it’s for the right reasons.
The Afterword is brilliant. Only Stephen King can do justice to describing what he does in his stories. And it really got me thinking. 
“I have tried my best in Full Dark, No Stars to record
what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire
circumstances. The people in these stories are not without hope, but they
acknowledge that even our fondest hopes (and our fondest wishes for our
fellowmen and the society in which we live) may sometimes be vain. Often, even.
But I think they also say that nobility most fully resides not in success but in
trying to do the right thing… and that when we fail to do that, or willfully
turn away from the challenge, hell follows.”

As much as I love having the ‘visceral’ reactions that King intends to invoke in his readers, I am happy to be out of the dark and in the light, glad, of course, that he brought me out here (even if with a cheeky wink), impressed that the collection ends on a fairly optimistic note. I loved this collection, and I know overuse that word but I do mean it in its fullest sense here: I loved it. It’s a must read. But I don’t think I’ll be revisiting Stephen King anytime soon.
My copy of Full Dark, No Stars has an extra ‘bonus’ story at the end. I don’t want to read it. Nor do I want to read Different Seasons, which I’d picked up for King’s March as well. I’m going to return those two to the library and take a temporary hiatus from Stephen King, and perhaps all things horror. I know that contradicts what I wrote in my previous post about reading everything he’s ever written, but hey, I have a whole lifetime for that.) 
King’s March has been quite an experience. I loved reading people’s reviews of books I’ve already read, their opinions and recommendations of books I hope to read somewhere down the line and how almost everyone complained about that thing that always irritates the hell out of me: He doesn’t just write horror! Sharing bookish love is what blogging’s all about anyway. But now I’m all geared up for the Once Upon a Time Challenge – for a bit of fantasy after this. I think magic and a little gooey happy fun would do me some good right about now.
Tell me this, fellow Stephen King fans, are you ever just a bit too overwhelmed by the dark? Or did you just roll your eyes and call me a chicken? I wouldn’t be offended if you did!

1922 (from Full Dark No Stars) by Stephen King

(I love this book already, and my new Stephen King bookmark, which I’m going to take with me everywhere I go. This review is for King’s March.)

The back cover of the book asks us a question, hinting towards the nature of the whole collection of stories: What tips someone over the edge to commit a crime? For a Nebraska farmer, the turning point comes when his wife threatens to sell off the family homestead.

That is 1922: An old man’s confession to murdering his wife with the help of his fourteen year old son, and then dumping her body in their own well. Don’t worry, these aren’t spoilers. It’s never so straightforward with Stephen King. 1922 is about what comes after the crime. As King succinctly puts it: 

“I discovered something that night that most people never have to learn: murder is sin, murder is damnation (surely of one’s own mind and spirit, even if the atheists are right and there is no afterlife), but murder is also work.”

The worst is never over, he goes on to say, the dead are never truly gone. Once Farmer Wilfred James convinced his son Henry “Hank” into becoming a willing participant in Arlette’s murder, he changed the boy’s life. The plan that sounded simple enough ended up more difficult than the pair could have imagined. A black spot in their lives that neither was able to fully wash off in the following years. As James narrates, eight years later, what happened in 1922, you see the extent of evil in people. Underneath all his guilt for what he did to himself and his son, past the fear of his wife’s vengeful ghost, you still see that he blames his wife for what happened, that he believes his crime was justified, under the circumstances. He feels no real repentance. And the freakiest thing is, he knows it – he knows himself.

1922 shows you how thin the line between fantasy and reality is. It won’t take long for your worst nightmare to come to life, for you to bring it to life and once that’s done, it will take an eternity to put it back to sleep, if ever. On that ill fated night, Wilfred James raised something, the demon inside him perhaps, that tore at him and then ate away Hank’s little boy innocence. “The Conniving Man” James calls him in his confession; the stranger inside every man. Even the pale little boy had evil lurking in him, which his father unleashed: clearly, when it took just a slap from Mama to make him want to help Poppa finish her off. 

But the truth came back to haunt the both of them. It hit Hank in the form of guilt, regret, overwhelming fear and perhaps confusion over his own actions and he dealt with it by blaming his father, rightly so. His escape with his girlfriend, from his father’s farm, led to the bitter end that had already been written for him on that night in 1922. And the truth haunted Wilfred in a more literal sense: his dead wife’s broken corpse accompanied him throughout his life, along with the army of rats nesting in her rotting body. Driven crazy by the ghosts of his past, now holed up in a hotel in Nebraska, Wilfred James writes a confession to his sins, documenting the whole truth as he sees it. 

“This is a ghost story, but the ghost was there even before the woman it belonged to died.
‘All right, Poppa. We’ll… we’ll send her to Heaven.’ Henry’s face brightened at the thought. How hideous that seems to be now, especially when I think of how he finished up.
‘It will be quick,’ I said. Man and boy I’ve slit nine-score hogs’ throats, and I thought it would be. But I was wrong.”
Like in every small town story he’s written, King describes the setting in detail. The small town people and their small town talk and small town minds. A murder committed just because the farmer didn’t want to move to the city. And then you realize it’s not because of the setting. Take a twisted ego and put it anywhere and the story would play out in the same way. 1922 makes you sick and there is no redeeming glow of hope at the end. It is not a romanticized version of a killing. You end wishing you hadn’t read the story and knowing you couldn’t not have. There’s little good in this novella but it’s the ruthless honesty that we all need to take once in a while, chew on and swallow. The disintegration of Wilfred’s mind, his gradual loss of sanity and his self inflicted justice form a lesson in morality like no other. 

Top Ten All Time Favourite Horror Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and The Bookish. I can’t believe it’s been a little more than a year since I participated in one of these.
It’s been a while since I revisited horror. The last book I read was Doctor Sleep (it has made it to the list.) I don’t like the stigma associated with the genre; the “Stephen-King-is-my-favourite-author” gets a whole range of judgmental reactions from “Really?-So-you-don’t-like-classic-literature.”, or a simple “But-he-has-no-‘literary-value’.” or “I-don’t-read-genre-fiction.” or the classic, “Oh-you-don’t-seem-like-that-type-of-person.” Well, I am, just deal with it. Plus, whoever says Stephen King is just a horror writer hasn’t read the right books.
This is a list of my Top Five All Time Favourite Horror Books, though I have a vague feeling I have already made this list on the blog. Anyway, a few of the titles link to reviews.

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker – as my favourite gaslamp fantasy

2. The Shining and Doctor Sleep by Stephen King – as the first and latest Stephen King I read, both more emotional than they appear

3. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft – as my introduction to Lovecraft, macabre and weird fiction

4. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – for the musings over coming-of-age and the lessons of life and death

5. The Terror by Dan Simmons – for being wonderfully evocative and steeped in history and mythology
That being said, these aren’t the scariest, most horrifying horror books I’ve ever read. So here’s another list; my Top Five All Time Scariest Books

6. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – All the spidery-crawli… no, no, I can’t relive it.

7. IT by Stephen King – One word, clowns.

8. Ghost Story by Peter Straub – How could anything be scarier than fear taking a physical form?

9. The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker – My first Barker, I wasn’t prepared for the gore.

10. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – The strange knocking on doors, the holding a hand in the dark only to find out…*shudders*
The two books that get a special mention in the second list are The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – neither needed horror of the supernatural kind to be mind-numbingly scary.

*Edit: Also add all of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, though I don’t exactly like them for being horror, but didn’t you hear? The Brat Prince is back! That calls for a lengthy re-read.

So which are your favourite horror books? Or your scariest?

Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2) by Stephen King

Honestly, I don’t know how to write a review for this book. I could just say last night was the most awesome reading experience of my life. The last time I stayed up the whole night reading horror was when I read The Shining, which was my (mind-blowing) introduction to Stephen King and all things horror. The thing is, no one is probably going to read this anyway, because all my Stephen King reviews ending up sounding almost exactly the same. But this book was different and in a way, I think King scrapped all his usual tricks. 
Summary: The Overlook wasn’t done with him. That could be the theme of Danny’s life up to the events of this book. Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate
to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he
settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job
at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final
comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.” 
Meanwhile, on highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. The True Knot, who look harmless, are in fact quasi-immortals, who torture and kill children with ‘the shining’ to feed on their ‘steam’. When Dan meets the little Abra Stone, through her gift, the brightest shining ever seen, he finds a student, much in the way Dick Halloran had found him. The danger she faces from the True reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival.
Of course, that is not all. But it never is, with Stephen King, is it?
My thoughts: Despite being the biggest King fan you’d find, I don’t think I ever used the word ‘unique’ to describe any of his books; but Doctor Sleep was – wholly unique in its concepts, themes, even characters, and so so unique in the way it scared the hell out of me. Stephen King’s books have always been more than just “boo! i scared you!” for me, and I’ve hardly ever had to go searching for meaning. Even The Shining was not just about those scary special effects and Doctor Sleep is quite the same in that respect. It would be disappointing to people who read horror for the gore, the adrenaline rush and nothing more; who distinguish good horror from bad simply as scarier from not-so-scary. Well, you can’t impress everybody; except that, after reading 11.22.63, Misery, Under the Dome, Joyland, it should be plenty clear that King can be amazingly genre-defying.
Doctor Sleep is a much more grown-up book. Whereas The Shining could be interpreted as a straightforward haunting, Doctor Sleep is anything but. For one, in The Shining, Jack Torrance is manipulated by the presences in The Overlook, Danny is scared by them. In Doctor Sleep, our characters have already been through so much; they’re a lot more resilient, not quite as vulnerable. Basically, they don’t lose control, they fight back. So while the focus in most Stephen King books is the psychological breakdown of the characters, the demons in them and the ‘getting inside their heads and screwing things up’, which affects the reader too; Doctor Sleep is more about concepts – scary, freaky concepts of life and death, the after and the in between, souls, ‘ghosties’ and most importantly, the shining. The idea of the True Knot, our undead villains, their strange tongue, is incredibly imaginative. That Danny uses his ability to help people die is both disturbing and nice. The big and little ideas strewn over the book, of protecting family, of locking ghosts away inside your mind, the death flies that swarm on people who are about to die and using the ‘wheel’ to swap minds are well crafted. And if you ever wondered just what the shining was, other than a convenient goosebump-inducing plot device, this book will make things much clearer. 
Abra Stone is a wonderful character; with much more personality than the little Danny of The Shining. I like her family too and the way it adds a human element to a book that is otherwise full of characters with special abilities or outright monsters. And I like grown-up Dan a lot more than little Danny, too. While he closely mirrors his father’s life, more than you’d want a protagonist to, there is a key difference between him and Jack. While Jack Torrance was the victim of The Overlook (and himself), while I felt less hatred and more pity towards him, while we can say he tried desperately to stop himself (he did one redeeming thing at the end), he was never the hero Dan turns into. Dan Torrance is a good guy, when all I can say for Jack was that he tried to be good. But I like that Dan can admit he loved his father, with all his goods and bads (and there were many bads) and I like how easily Dan takes on the role of uncle/teacher/protector for Abra. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he looks like Jax Teller. (Which reminds me, all the pop culture references are so entertaining! There were allusions to Harry Potter, The Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Hamlet, Moby Dick, Dickens, Oscar Wilde, The Beatles, hell, even Twilight.)
Basically, Doctor Sleep isn’t just one story like The Shining was. It isn’t an ‘epic’, either, as the Goodreads summary calls it, because it might just be a bit simple to be one. It is definitely a combination of many stories; of the recovering alcoholic, the little girl with more abilities than a little girl should have to handle, a doctor who helps people die (assisted by a cat with the eerie ability to predict people’s death.) On their own, these can seem to be borrowed from many of King’s own books; but that doesn’t mean they don’t fit perfectly together and create something intriguing, complex. And finally, the book is the true ending to what started all those years ago in The Shining. Having read Doctor Sleep, I can’t imagine how I found The Shining complete.

I am so glad I could finish this book just in time to close the R.I.P. Challenge. Happy Halloween! Now let me leave you with this little quote: “Life was a wheel, its only job was to turn, and it always came back to where it started.”

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

The Small Hand by Susan Hill is a long short story written as a short novel. It’s a ghost story. Our narrator is a rare book collector and dealer, who is returning home to London after having visited an elite client near the coast. He loses his way and in the dark, stumbles upon an old house called The White House. There is a little sign next to is that says, “Garden Closed.” The narrator walks towards the gate, hoping to get directions from the owners, but through the undergrowth, he realizes that the house is deserted and quite possibly, derelict. What had once been, it seems, a grand garden is now just wild brambles and bushes. But something keeps the narrator there, wanting to find out more about the place, and as he waits in the moonlight, something strange happens. A small hand, a child’s, slips into his and holds him. It is comforting; only, invisible. And though he leaves then, our ever-so-curious narrator is drawn to the The White House, digging into its past and the fate of its owners, as the invisible force haunts his mind.
The writing meanders along and keeps going off at tangents: of course, if you enjoy history, travel and the world of libraries and rare books as much as I do, you won’t mind them. It’s an A. S. Byatt meets Sarah Waters story with vivid imagery and an unmistakably gothic setting. The story moves at a slow pace and the end is quite abrupt. It is not a very well plotted book, in that nothing much really happens.

The Small Hand is not a ghost story, really, even if the cover claims it is. It doesn’t star pale-slimy-skinned-creatures. This is a psychological haunting, which may seem bland to some readers. But, I don’t see why. For me, a terrible inexplicable fear, a frightening urge to end your own life, insanity and voices in your head, when written so well, are almost as scary as rotting bodies in bathtubs and freaky apparitions. In fact, they are a lot more tangible; while I could simply dismiss a monster as ‘fiction’, while reading The Small Hand, I was able to put myself in the narrator’s place and it was creepy.

While on the whole, this story was little more than okay, it had its moments. If not anything else, the beautiful artsy narration makes me want to read the other ghost stories by Susan Hill (The Woman in Black, The Mist in the Mirror, The Man in the Picture and Dolly.)
I read this for the R.I.P. Challenge.

The Thing in the Forest by A.S. Byatt

Little Black Book of Stories tells five tales, which blend the ordinary with the absurd. The collection opens with a perfectly intriguing story, about the blurred edges of reality, called The Thing in the Forest.

It is the story of two girls, Penny and Primrose. It is set during the WWII, when children are evacuated from London to the country. The girls, who have nothing in common, other than this shared exclusion from the world, meet on the train and deciding to stick together, become friends.

At the estate, when the children are free to do as they please, Penny and Primrose decide to explore the forest. In it, they see, or think they see, a thing. A huge slimy worm-like creature right out of a nightmare. It doesn’t harm them and they never speak of it again. But this sudden exposure to the uncanny, the evil changes the girls forever. Each finds her own way to deal with the loss of childhood innocence till their paths cross again, and the women meet in the very forest years later.

“They remembered the thing they had seen in the forest in the way you remember those very few dreams – almost all nightmares – which have the quality of life itself, not of fantasm, or shifting provisional scene-set. (Though what are dreams if not life itself?) In the memory, as in such a dream, they felt, I cannot get out, this is a real thing in a real place.”

“I think, I think there are things that are real – more real than we are – but mostly we don’t cross their paths, or they don’t cross ours. Maybe at very bad times we get into their world, or notice what they are doing in ours.”

Ever since I read Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice, I’ve been in awe of A.S. Byatt’s wordsmithery. Even in this story, she paints vivid pictures with her prose. Her writing prods each of our senses. She has a way with colours, describing darkness as nothing but the colour of ink and elephant; contrasting the golden and darkly shadowed light in the woods with the light in city terraces, and naming toadstools, some scarlet, some ghostly-pale and some a dead-flesh purple. With a delightfully rich imagination, Byatt describes feelings that run over our skin, pricking and twitching; primroses that smell of thin, clear, spring honey without the buzz of summer; and Penny, in the woods, hearing a tremulous shiver in the darkness, and her own heartbeat in the thickening brown air. But the vivid detailing is, appropriately, only part of the charm.

Like in Ragnarok, in this story, Byatt portrays children just as they are: naughty and innocent, with more understanding than any adult could fathom, imaginative, curious and daring and having their own personal reality. The story weaves together themes of war, innocence, dreams, faith, dealing with loss, grief and finding our place in the world. It’s a coming-of-age story; slightly too abstract, perhaps, to appeal to all; but worth reading.

Byatt’s works are categorized as fantasy, but seem to me to be a genre-defying combination of magic realism, naturalism and gothic horror. The Thing in the Forest and two other stories from the collection, The Stone Woman and The Pink Ribbon, have a blatantly mythic, supernatural element. The Stone Woman is a bit too vague for my taste, but will be adored by geology and Icelandic mythology enthusiasts. The Pink Ribbon is about a man who is haunted by a sort of memory of his wife, who now has Alzheimer’s. The other two stories, Body Art and Raw Material, not fantasy nor horror, portray the tragic mundane of our lives with overwhelming honestly. Together, the five stories form another great read by (and, possibly, a nice introduction to) my favourite short story writer.

Reviewed for Peril of the Short Story – the R.I.P. Challenge.

Joyland by Stephen King

Summary: Saying Joyland by Stephen King is a mix of a horror story and a crime novel wouldn’t be quite right: it’s the kind of book that you couldn’t squeeze into one genre. It is about twenty-one year old, mopey, just-broken-up-with-his-first-love Devin Jones who does a summer job at an amusement park, Joyland (where they sell fun.) On his first day, two mysterious things happen. One: Madame Fortuna, the resident fortune teller and an apparent psychic, predicts that Devin would meet two important children during his work at Joyland, one of them with the Sight. Two: Devin hears of the ghost that haunts the park’s only dark ride, Horror House. A little sleuthing leads him to the tragic murder of Linda Gray, by a man who slit her throat and dumped her in the darkest part of the amusement ride; the murderer was never caught. Intrigued by the stories, slightly suicidal after his break-up, Devin finds himself turning his summer stint at Joyland into a full time job. And that is when he meets Annie Ross and her ten-year-old, Mike, who knows he is going to die, just the way he somehow knows so many other things.
My thoughts: This book was so sweet. It reminded me of how 11.22.63 made me feel at the end and if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean. It was deeply moving. Joyland was another one of those reads that show that Stephen King writes more than ‘scary stories’. This was not another book of gory monsters written for those with the emotional range of a teaspoon (know who said that? give yourself a pat on the back!) Nor just another whodunit where the story ends fair and happy when the smart detective figures out who the killer is.

The book was written in a nostalgic tone, as Devin, now old described the most memorable times of his youth. It was almost ruefully funny at times and sad and scary, at others. I adored Mike, the little crippled boy so full of hope. In a way, he might have reminded me of Danny Torrance (so many other Goodreads reviewers say the same thing) for his ability, but somehow he left a much greater impression on me. I liked the people of Joyland, all strange, hilarious and thoroughly lovable; from Fortuna to the owner, the cute old man Bradley Easterbrook. Not to mention, Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook; the young promises and friendships were wonderfully dealt with. Throughout, I could visualize Joyland and its carny lingo, its employees taking turns at ‘wearing the fur’ and being Happy Howie, the German shepherd mascot, the spooky lore and the large Ferris wheel, Carolina Spin, which made you feel like you were flying. The mystery itself was noirish and played out roughly: the ‘answer’ which ought to satisfy you, just left me drained.

Mostly, Joyland by Stephen King was a gritty, brutally honest coming-of-age novel. Read it as a book about growing up and tackling life as it comes, and you might love it.

I read this because I finally found it, yay. But also maybe for the R.I.P. Challenge. I’m just biding time now till my copy of Dr. Sleep arrives.

The Dark by James Herbert

Honestly, I didn’t know James Herbert was renowned for horror, when I bought The Dark at this book sale at a ridiculously small price. I’ve read quite a few horror books, but only a few by each author; except, of course, Stephen King: but I couldn’t help that, he’s written too many books. I’ve begun, overtime, to associate horror with Stephen King. But I’ve gotten used to his style of writing. This was a good change; a little more raw, absurd, wild; a less focused on individual characters. It wasn’t like the books or movies that you’d consider to be stereotypes of the genre. It did not have the usual formulaic plot characteristic of the horror-chiller genre: strange huge house; new residents, initially skeptics; a child, woman from the family becomes a sort of medium, seances and exorcism reveal that someone had died there in some sort of excruciatingly brutal and unjust manner.  The book reminded me of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story for having a similar villain, it had the cult-ish vibe of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Lovecraft) and it was much like a 28 Days Later, society-breaks-down adventure!
Summary: The book opens with Chris Bishop, a ghost-hunter hired by the estate agents, entering an old house, Beechwood, to find thirty one mangled corpses. In the house and especially in the cellar, the black darkness seems like a force of its own. Terrified of the increasingly cold, uneasy atmosphere, Bishop runs away from the house. A while later, he is found on the street, unconscious and with no memory of what he witnessed and how he got out. Almost a year (I think?) after the Beechwood mass suicide incident, Bishop is approached by Jessica Kuleck and father, parapsychic Jacob Kulek to investigate three seemingly unrelated murders in one night that happened on the same road, Willow Road, as Beechwood house. Along with Edith Metlock, who is a medium and the father and daughter, with the reluctant permission of the house owner, Bishop, our cynical ghost-chaser, sets off to Beechwood to conduct an investigation. Following a perverse, gory vision Bishop has and an attack by a crazed woman, Beechwood is set to be torn down. But when it is demolished, the dark that was once contained in the house is released, as a powerful and seductive evil energy possesses the world, manipulating its victims to insanity.
The Dark is your classic fight between good and evil, light and dark offered with a twist. It brings up the question of what evil really is and whether it is a part of our minds or a stage in our lives. It also goes beyond a usual good trumps evil ending and concludes in a most amazing, though not entirely unexpected, fashion. The explanation behind the malevolent force that enters people’s minds at night, that they call the Dark, was intriguing and unique. The science meets parapsychology aspect of the book was fascinating and well constructed. A recurring theme in The Dark is that the paranormal is quite normal; we just haven’t understood it yet: it continues, predictably, with a wink and a, “but some of us might have already understood it”, but that’s getting into details that I don’t want to spoil for you.
I loved the book for the ideas and the theme. What I do feel is, the book could have been condensed. There was too much mayhem for the sake of describing mayhem. Some of it I got, but most of it was written with a disturbing relish, making me wonder, which side the author really was on. Limbs being torn off, throats being sliced open, people being raped, throttled to death, poured gasoline on and set to fire: there was too much crude and unnecessarily detailed violence for my taste. You know how King starts Under the Dome introducing us to a woman who dies within a couple of minutes, anyway and plays no part in the rest of the book? Just to shock us? This happens more times that you could count in The Dark. I suppose I got to know the people and understand the terrific evil inside them, even when it was just a spark of darkness; but mostly, it just disgusted me. The book could have been a hundred pages shorter (mine is four hundred and fifty pages long.) and would have still been a harrowing but fascinating journey. Also, though Bishop is shown to grow as a character, becoming considerably more open-minded over the course of the book, I found it a bit annoying that he (the writer) still referred to Edith as ‘the medium’ till the very end. 
The writing is by no means literary or verbose, it is almost a little dated, but it’s immensely engaging. I read the book in one day and I do see myself reading more books by James Herbert. You should give this a try, if you aren’t weak minded or easily bothered by gore.
The Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge is back, I think this is my third year participating. The Dark is my first book for R.I.P. VIII and there are many more to come!

The First Bird: Episode 3 by Greig Beck

Read the reviews of Episode 1 and Episode 2. Trust me when I tell you, this is one series you don’t want to miss.
Following the events of Episode 2, the team is now back in LA, where all hell has broken loose, with the infection now being air-borne. On their way to safety, they have some close calls with the mob of people driven mad by the disease, and learn, the hard way, that there’s nothing they can do to help them. Will they find a cure, one they can use not just throughout the country, but worldwide?
The author is no amateur when it comes to shocking the readers. Episode 3 takes the combination of science fiction and horror to a whole new level. Bear in mind, this is not a book for the squeamish, faint-at-the-sight-of-blood type of people. It’s horrifying, vividly gory, ruthless. That means, of course, that the book is full of action and is rather amazing. This book focuses less on the characters, whom we know quite well by now and more on the plot, the final fight against the infection that has turned almost the whole population into savages. The author has taken a stereotype of the genre and turned it into a spectacularly original tale. The research involved is impressive and is ensures that the book stands out among the numerous science fiction stories written today.

Episode 3 is available here. The Omnibus edition is also out. Buy the books, they’re worth it.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

I never actually believed I’d finish reading Under the Dome in the time decided for the read-a-long, but it seemed like a good idea to try. I’ve discovered, though, that I don’t really like read-a-longs. Recording my opinions about the book every few hundred pages in a little blue diary, I realized that they fluctuated a lot. They went something like: 

1. this book is so exciting, what a great start. 
2. okay, things are going way slow, too much dialogue, don’t you think?
3. BAM, that was awesome and so unexpected. 
4. this may not be as cool as The Stand or IT. 
5. No, no, it’s better…! 
The last one, had I kept on keeping notes, would have said: Now, that was a great book.

Goodreads has this summary:

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill,
Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the
world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky
in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes
down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from
their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier
is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds
himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens — town newspaper owner Julia
Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three
brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at
nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is
keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the
Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.
I just realized that anything I say about this book is going to sound like every other Stephen King book review on the blog. I could paste paragraphs directly out of my review of 11.22.63 and Cujo and be done with this. Really, all the things I loved about Under the Dome were basically the same: the characters, King’s uncanny ability to show just how people would react in any situation, the mystery and the build up to the craziest climax, the emotions involved and how the final scenes touched me and scared me at the same time. The truly bad guys were extremely horrible and the book was violent, with mass hysteria, rape, drugs, murder and the whole propane smuggling thing. The good guys were, as it turns out, capable of things that weren’t quite good, either. The Dome brought out the worst in everybody. The secrets and lies did tend to be predictable, but I found the familiarity of the situation troubling, which I suppose is how it was intended to make me feel. It was disturbing how I could relate to the characters at their worst. The idea of the Dome and what follows in the little town is ridiculous and amazing at the same time: which, again, are two words that would fit any Stephen King story.
The thing is, though, this is a book for people who are already fans. If you aren’t, you’ll be bored, you’ll want to give up on Page 300, because the plot just isn’t moving fast enough. If you haven’t read The Stand or IT, you wouldn’t realize how the size of the book becomes worth it, in the end. If you’re looking for hardcore science fiction, this is not it. This isn’t the genre the writer’s famous for, so if it’s your first shot, try reading Salem’s Lot or The Shining (which was my first Stephen King novel!) Misery, I suppose, would also keep a first-timer completely engaged throughout, which I can’t guarantee in case of Under the Dome. But if you are a fan and have time on your hands, this is certainly a pretty great read.
I’m glad I finished the book while the new CBS miniseries based on it is still, in fact, new.