Sunday, June 29

"Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales" - Stephen King

"In his introduction to Everything's Eventual, horror author extraordinaire Stephen King describes how he used a deck of playing cards to select the order in which these 14 tales of the macabre would appear. Judging by the impact of these stories, from the first words of the darkly fascinating "Autopsy Room Four" to the haunting final pages of "Luckey Quarter," one can almost believe King truly is guided by forces from beyond.
His first collection of short stories since the release of Nightmares & Dreamscapes in 1993, Everything's Eventual represents King at his most undiluted. The short story format showcases King's ability to spook readers using the most mundane settings (a yard sale) and comfortable memories (a boyhood fishing excursion). The dark tales collected here are some of King's finest, including an O. Henry Prize winner and "Riding the Bullet," published originally as an e-book and at one time expected by some to be the death knell of the physical publishing world. True to form, each of these stories draws the reader into King's slightly off-center world from the first page, developing characters and atmosphere more fully in the span of 50 pages than many authors can in a full novel.
For most rabid King fans, chief among the tales in this volume will be "The Little Sisters of Eluria," a novella that first appeared in the fantasy collection Legends, set in King's ever-expanding Dark Tower universe. In this story, set prior to the first Dark Tower volume, the reader finds Gunslinger Roland of Gilead wounded and under the care of nurses with very dubious intentions. Also included in this collection are "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French," the story of a woman's personal hell; "1408," in which a writer of haunted tour guides finally encounters the real thing; "Everything's Eventual," the title story, about a boy with a dream job that turns out to be more of a nightmare; and "L.T.'s Theory of Pets," a story of divorce with a bloody surprise ending.
King also includes an introductory essay on the lost art of short fiction and brief explanatory notes that give the reader background on his intentions and inspirations for each story. As with any occasion when King directly addresses his dear Constant Readers, his tone is that of a camp counselor who's almost apologetic for the scare his fireside tales are about to throw into his charges, yet unwilling to soften the blow. And any campers gathered around this author's fire would be wise to heed his warnings, for when King goes bump in the night, it's never just a branch on the window. --Benjamin Reese"
I know I reviewed one of the short stories from this book previously, but now that I've finished all of them, I can give an 'overall' review for the entire volume.
I like collections of short stories. When you finish reading them, you get the feeling of satisfaction that comes whenever you finish reading a book, but without the sense of depression and wistfulness that also usually comes with it (because the book's over, there's no more left, goodbye). Also, you can easily digest one short story, and then shelve the book for weeks at a time and not have to remember the plot! A good deal, all in all.
This particular collection, however, wasn't as satisfying as others I've read (I can recall a volume of short stories by Roald Dahl that I read once which were excellent, also a book I found lying randomly on a misplaced shelf in the library containing short stories about cats which was also very entertaining...I'll have to track these down again.) This book was inconsistent: three of the stories were fantastic tales that I thoroughly enjoyed; most others were boring or ended with too many questions still up in the air; still others were just crap. It was also very depressing to read, since almost every story that involved a couple or a marriage involved the breakdown or breakup of the relationship. It's as though King thinks that in the real world no marriage can ever last. Cynical.
My favourite story was definitely "The Road Virus Heads North," a suspenseful read about a painting that keeps changing. I also enjoyed the title story, "Everything's Eventual", despite disliking the narrator. "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away" was quite intriguing and interesting in it's own right as well, however, most of the other stories offered much less than those three standouts. My thought upon finishing the book was "For all the hype that goes on about Stephen King, he's good, but nowhere near that good."
If I was rating the individual stories, the ratings would vary. However, for the book as a whole, those three stories I've mentioned in the review manage to save it from being a mundane two stars, lifting my rating to 3 STARS.

Friday, June 27

Receipt from Amazon

1. Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Vivaldi, Antonio --- Audio CD
1. Inside Out
Rossum, Emmy --- Audio CD."

I was so happy to finally receive this today. I've had problems with Amazon before (somewhere the world's postal service screwed up big time and delayed my order for two months. Infuriating! Especially since it contained items that were gifts for other people!). This time, they arrived before the estimated delivery date. Fantastic!
As for the actual receipt, it's fairly ordinary and printed on pale-blue paper, with a list of what I ordered, how much it cost, suggestions about using my Account, a barcode, and addresses.

The plot's a bit thin and the characters are very underdeveloped, but the two included CDs are fantastic. 4 STARS.

Thursday, June 26

"The Man in the Black Suit" (short story) - Stephen King

The Man in the Black Suit comes from the book 'Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales' by Stephen King. It is about a nine-year-old boy who goes fishing one afternoon in 1914 and encounters...well, a 'man' in a black suit who he believes is the devil.
I ordered this book from BookMooch, since I haven't read King before and my friend seemed to like his books, plus I like short stories and particularly liked the movie '1408' (the short story of which was included in this book). So far I've read a couple of the stories - one was excellent, one was quite interesting, one was fairly standard 'burried alive' material, and two stories were kind of crap, IMHO. This was one of them.
The man in the black suit has a head like a skull, and eyes that were "completely orange" because "he was on fire inside". (Cliche, anyone?) This 'devil' man proceeds to taunt the "fisherboy" by telling him that his mother was dead. As you can imagine, this works Gary (our fisherboy) into quite a state of distress. However, the devil goes one step further and claims he's very hungry. He eats the fish that the boy has caught and then goes to eat him too. The boy runs away, the devil chases him...obviously it would be stupid to give away the ending, even though I've already given away most of the short story's plot. Which isn't much.
The ending, however, delivered absolutely nothing. I was hoping for some kind of message - any kind of message: moral, inspiring, whatever - but there was none. I thought right from the outset that the description of the devil was laughable, like a monster story told to a little child rather than a story intended for an adult audience. Furthermore, the devil just sounded like a big old pedophile to me ("You need to hear this, Gary; you need to hear this, my little fisherboy...") There was no point to this story at all and I can't believe it won an award (O Henry Best Short Story 1996). This is an author who's supposed to write horror stories so...well, horrifying...that some were banned! What happened to the disturbing imagery and haunting qualities of '1408'? They're completely absent in this particular story. A devil in a black suit taunts and chases a boy who went fishing. THE END.
It was rubbish. I expected more from such a popular, bestselling author. I hope the other stories make up for it. 1 STAR

Wednesday, June 25

"The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook" - Joshua Piven

"The worst of the worst, all in one place! This deluxe desk reference includes a hardbound volume of the most popular scenarios from all 11 Worst-Case Scenario handbooks, plus the entire contents of all the books on a fully searchable CD. Avoid the perils of mountain lions and blind dates, avalanches and teenage driving lessons, runaway golf carts and Christmas turkeys on fire a remedy for every crisis the worst-case experts have anticipated is now only a click away. The CD also contains newly created extra features: screensavers, e-cards, wallpaper, and more. Boasting more than 500 pages, this sturdy addition to the Worst-Case Scenario library could stop a bullet - just one more way to be prepared for the worst."
This is a fabulous read that appeals to my love of things that are quirky and told with dry humour. The humour isn't necessarily due to the contents of the book as such, but more in how escaping the most bizarre situations are written about in clear, plainly told, logical text (sometimes with diagrams to help). My favourite was the page entitled "How to Repurpose a Fruitcake", with helpful suggestions ranging from "Use it as art by bolting to a pedestal and placing in a prominent place" to "Use as a door-stopper" and many in between. You will also learn such things as to how to escape from a swarm of killer bees, how to survive on a desert island, and how to escape dating disasters. All of the information is practical and helpful, so all jokes aside, this is a nifty reference book for the paranoid and their friends.
I love it. It cost a bit, since it's a very sturdy volume and came with a CD, but it's well worth the money. 5 STARS

"The Host" - Stephenie Meyer

"Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed.
Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.
Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of the man Melanie loves-Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she's never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.
Featuring what may be the first love triangle involving only two bodies, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel that will bring a vast new readership to one of the most compelling writers of our time."
On the Internet, there seem to be two main reactions to this book: people either loved it, or hated it. I began reading and, about three chapters in, had a sinking feeling I was going to shuffle on over and join the 'I-hated-it!' group, and was planning to offer to sell the book to one of my friends at a discounted price (it wasn't a cheap one to buy!). The story was taking a very long time to get going, and I had to keep really pushing forward with reading it.
However, once the book really got going, it became intriguingly interesting. Soon I was flicking through the chapters at a much faster pace, and by the middle of the book, I was well and truly engrossed with the story. Time I should have spent doing homework and study was soon being spent sitting on my bed ploughing through the book - every time I reached the end of a chapter, I felt utterly compelled to keep reading on (and not just because school crap was the other alternative).
Since I'm a piano player, I think reading this book is sort of like playing a piece rubato. For the musically illiterate, 'rubato' playing involves speeding up slightly in the middle of each bar, and slowing down at the beginning and end of each bar, so that the music seems to have a 'push-and-pull' rhythm/feel to it. This book was similar: the beginning was slow (and, I confess, slightly dull), the middle sped up considerably, but by the end it slowed down a little once more. Admittedly, the ending was a little anticlimactic.
However, despite all its flaws (including the characteristic Meyer-esque highly emotional characters - you don't have to cringe and gasp at every little thing, Wanderer, take a chill pill!), I found this to be a very satisfying read. I hate books that are over too quickly, and I hate books that are so long you almost forget what happened in the beginning by the time you reach the end. 'The Host', despite the slow beginning and end, seemed to be an excellent length for me.
Often touted as "sci-fi for people who don't like sci-fi" (which I agree with), this book cleverly combines romance, science fiction, suspense and action, while providing an interesting look at the human condition. It was a great read, but it did have it's flaws, so I give it 4 STARS.