Archive for June 2015
The past always comes back to haunt you. For most of us, this phrase merely expresses the tendency of our actions to have consequences. For Daniel Torrance, however, the haunting is very real. Since the events of Stephen King’s landmark novel The Shining, Danny has grown up. Still, no matter how far he goes or how much time passes, the events of that novel seem to follow. Scarred by the horrors of his past and his constant psychic contact with the living and dead (the shining) around him, Dan has turned to booze to dull his gift.
Following a brief introduction that gives us Danny’s history, we discover him— now going by Dan— at the place where all alcoholics finally find themselves . . .the bottom. Hung-over and broke, Dan makes a decision that will plague him for decades.
After a visit from his childhood imaginary friend Tony, Dan throws away his last bottle of booze and eventually decides to settle in the small town of Frazier, New Hampshire. Assisted by new friends, Dan joins A.A. and gets a job at the local hospice. There, Dan comes to accept his talents and puts them to good use by shepherding the dying across to the afterlife. Word of his late night visits to terminal patients quickly spreads, and he gains the moniker Dr. Sleep.
As the Overlook’s chef Dick Hallorann explained in The Shinning, Dan isn’t the only one with these gifts. Many people possess a spark, and a special few shine like the sun. A few towns over, Abra Stone comes into the world with a light inside of her that makes Dan’s own powers seem like a sputtering candle. This immense power causes her to make a connection with the closest person with a significant amount of Shine, Dan Torrance. While the two slowly foster a relationship based on their shared talents, Abra becomes the subject of someone else’s attention.
The True Knot, an evil group, have existed for centuries, roaming the country’s highways while seeking nourishment and youth in the pain and destruction of those who possess the Shining. When Abra witnesses the True consuming the essence of a young boy, she is not the only one watching. The leader of the True Knot, Rose the Hat notices the unwanted guest. Consumed by desire for the massive power contained within Abra, Rose begins to obsess over the girl and plan her demise.
With nothing but his abilities and a few friends, Dan must protect the young Abra from becoming the prey of the True and try to rid the country and himself of the demons hiding just below the surface.
Let me preface everything I am about to say with this: I enjoyed this book, and thought it was great. Still, I have a few qualms to raise about the book itself and the way it was marketed.
The first and largest problem I have with the book is that I didn’t find it scary. Dr. Sleep was marketed by King and his publisher as, “…a return to balls-to-the-walls, keep-the-lights-on horror…” that the author built his reputation upon. I didn’t find this to be true. Certainly it has scary moments, especially in the beginning, but as I moved to the middle and end of the book, I didn’t feel fear for the characters or myself. At the beginning of the book, I got the sense that Dan is haunted. He constantly sees apparitions that nearly drive him insane. This, combined with the foreshadowing associated with Rose the Hat and her future role to play, made me truly worried for Dan and his wellbeing. As the book moved forward and the “ghostie people” became less common, I began to accept that Dan had things under control. Dan’s control of his Shine was an important point of the novel, but I wish that Abra could have faced a similar kind of struggle with her own Shining a bit more.
My next complaint is one that I feel plagues many sequels. There was no buildup and ultimate payoff. I felt as if Dan’s abilities were treated merely as a given fact. One of my favorite parts of The Shining was slowly discovering the extent of Danny’s powers and the descent into chaos. I feel that as that story progressed, more and more supernatural things occurred. For example, the Overlook slowly populated itself more and more with spirits over the course of the novel. This buildup is what made The Shining so engrossing. This element combined with a persistent doubt that I had that there were any actual supernatural occurrences. In the original novel, the animal topiaries were never described as moving. Rather, they were simply described as being closer every time you looked back, becoming more and more imposing, closing in on Danny, and blocking him in the playground. This made it all the more terrifying! The entire novel I questioned whether it was ghosts or insanity that drove the story forward. In Dr. Sleep, there is no slow buildup or reveal of supernatural elements, causing what could have been mystery and magic to become predictable and ordinary.
These nitpicking issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing is magnificent. The pacing, dialogue, and imagery are all on the level that I’ve come to expect from Stephen King. Further, the vast majority of the characters are genuine and fascinating. The evolution of Dan from haunted drunk to recovering alcoholic was extremely well done, and his coming to grips with his life and gifts were expertly portrayed. This combined with his constant internal struggles made Dan my favorite part of the book.
I also enjoyed the supporting characters. Chief among these are the amazed Dr. John, the fatherly Billy and the witty Concetta. I also thought that Rose the Hat was a great villain. King allowed Rose to express a full spectrum of emotions that elevated her from thing-going-bump-in-the-night to a well rounded, yet despicable monster. Accompanied by a crew of less abominable yet useful attendants, Rose made the True Knot a truly abhorrent band of villains.
Abra is an interesting case for me. I loved that she was allowed to vary in her internal fortitude throughout the book through a juxtaposition of emotion. She was kind, yet cruel, old-at-heart and childish. These fluctuations in character made her one of the most dynamic characters in the novel. I also appreciated how King wrote her with a common sense of invulnerability that most teens and pre-teens experience. Abra very rarely thinks that anyone else can harm her, and I felt that this added a level of realism to her character. Despite this, I feel that she accepted her own shining too easily. Certainly it would be familiar to her as she grew up with it, but she very rarely questioned the origins of her abilities or the fact that no one else seemed to be able to do what she does. If this had been added, I feel as though Abra would have been a slightly deeper character.
Overall, I found that the plot and its many twists and turns made for a thrilling drama. Some aspects of the ending are a tad overly sentimental, but the basic story is solid. There are many exceptional moments of character discovery and internal conflict. While I have expressed some complaints about Dr. Sleep, I still enjoyed reading it. It is a wonderful piece of fiction, if not a masterpiece of terror. I think it portrays not only the progression of time in the characters, but also provides a glimpse of how Stephen King has evolved over the past 35 years. I miss the elements of the old school King novels, but appreciate the growth this story shows and the legacy it continues. I was surprised to realize that Dr. Sleep does a large amount of world building, which is extremely important considering King’s large multiverse. This refers to characters from other novels (Dr. Sleep and The Shining take place in the same world as King’s son’s book NOS4A2). Altogether, I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of King’s work, or has read The Shining and wants to continue with that story. I also think that anyone who read NOS4A2 should read both The Shining and Dr. Sleep, as they are related—The Shining more so in tone and Dr. Sleep in plot. While this is not the classic Stephen King novel I hoped for, it serves as a reminder that King is one of the most celebrated and reliable authors of our time.
Review by Brett Schneider
The Help by Kathryn Stockett was a huge phenomenon in the literary world. It was one of those rare stories that captured the attention of readers across the board, and garnered critical and commercial success. It was no surprise, then, when the novel was optioned for a film adaptation.
As the film begins, we meet Aiblileen (Viola Davis), a black maid maid working for a young, white family in Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. She carries a sense of wisdom, as she raises the young daughter of the family, her seventeenth white baby. Despite the loss of her son, he couldn't get the proper care in the "colored" hospital, Aibileen finds a kind of solace through her job, her faith, and her best friend Minny (Octavia Spencer). Minny is also a maid. While she is praised for her cooking skills, her sassy mouth has gotten her in trouble with previous employers, and finds her with no job and a husband who beats her regularly.
Eugenia Phealan, Skeeter (Emma Stone), is a fresh out of college, 22 year old white woman, who has returned home, to her mother's dismay, without a husband. We learn that Skeeter has always had trouble fitting in with what society, and her mother, expect of her. Upon her return home, she is shocked to learn that the maid who raised her, Constantine, has left the family home, and no one seems to want to tell Skeeter what happened to her. Saddened by the loss of her childhood companion and eager to get a job at a big publishing company, Skeeter decides to write something important. After a chance encounter with Aibileen, Skeeter enlists her and her friends to tell their stories of being, "The Help" to white families.
The movie is extremely faithful to the novel, becoming one of those rare films that truly seems to bring the story to life. The cast, from top to bottom, is splendid. Each actor brings sincerity and conviction to their role. The movie is extremely deserving of all of the hype and recognition that it received. Fans of the novel are sure to enjoy this great adaptation.
Margo Roth Spiegelman is the it girl on campus. She only socializes with the popular kids and has a jock boyfriend. She has a unique charm about her that makes even her closest friends long to know her better. Margo and Q have lived next to each other their whole lives. When they were very young, the two discovered the body of a man who committed suicide. After that dramatic incident, they began to interact less and less. All these years later, Q still finds himself enamoured with Margo, but she has done nothing to reciprocate.
All of that changes one night when Q is awakened by a knock on his bedroom window. He is surprised to find Margo standing outside. After years of silence, Margo is there to see Q and she needs his help. Margo explains that her boyfriend is cheating on her and she has planned an evening of revenge. With Q's help, the two embark on an evening that sees her get the ultimate payback on all of those who did her wrong and culminates with the duo breaking into SeaWorld. As the evening draws to a close, Margo begins to speak to Q about her hopes and dreams and her desire to one day leave the "paper town" that is Orlando.
The next morning, a groggy Q heads to school excited to relay his adventures of the previous evening to Ben and Radar. More importantly, he is eager to continue his new found connection with Margo. But Margo isn't there. He comes home to find the police at Margo's house. Margo is gone, and Q can't stop thinking about her. Her parents inform him that Margo has run away in the past and left clues for them. This time she has left clues for Q. As he begins to investigate the missing Margo, Q gains insight into the mystery that is Margo Roth Spiegelman, and ultimately discovers more about himself in the process.
Once again John Green has crafted a novel that captures the fun, mystery, and emotional complexity of growing up. The characters ring with an authenticity that makes them extremely relatable and engaging. The plot is driven by a mystery that keeps the pages turning while still allowing for the the characters to evolve. Many readers have lamented at the anti-climatic ending, but I have to disagree with this assertion. While I did feel a bit let down as I read the last pages, reflection on the themes of the novel have forced me to accept that this was the only way for the story to conclude. Ultimately Green creates a unique study of the fictional and even wishful projections that individuals place on each other. While Paper Towns does not end as I wanted or expected it to, it is still a rich journey that challenges the reader while still entertaining.
The Hunger Games was destined to be a blockbuster, from the moment the film began production. The novel, on which the film is based, was the kind of phenomenon of the level of Harry Potter and Twilight that would bring in a built in audience. But with the kind of fan devotion that the novel has, the movie also was tasked with meeting the high expectations of those who enjoyed the book.
I'll admit, I was a bit hesitant to explore the whole Hunger Games craze. While I usually enjoy thrillers and adult literature, the novel had enough buzz to warrant my attention. I devoured the book in a day, and was convinced that there was definitely something to the story that I wouldn't mind seeing on film.
The movie itself does an efficient, if not inspired, job of translating the novel to the screen. Jennifer Lawrence is the undeniable star as the strong willed Katniss. In the film, Katniss takes the place of her younger sister in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death between male and female tributes from each of the 12 districts of the dystopian world. Because of the limitations of the medium, we aren't given as much character development as the novel provided, but the actors do a fine job at trying to make each character fit into the world.
In the novel, there was a subtle hint of political restlessness that gets mostly hidden by the big spectacle of the film. To be fair, there are a few moments where the filmmakers excel at providing deeper emotional insight, particularly during the death of one of the tributes. Unfortunately, the constraints of the film force the plot to move so quickly that most of these subtle moments get blown over.
Overall, this a a perfectly fine adaptation of an above average novel. There were no egregious departures from the source material, so fans of the novels should be satisfied. Like the book, the ending is conclusive while still setting the foundation for the continuation of the story. If you haven't read the books or seen the movies, they are definitely worth the few hours they will take for you to experience them. Having experienced the novels and this first movie, I can understand the hype that surrounds the series and look forward to seeing the rest of the novels play out on the big screen.
But now Dexter's privacy has come under attack. A Hollywood studio has invaded Miami to shoot the pilot for a new police procedural series. In an effort to cooperate with the studio and hopefully draw future business, the city has tasked the Miami police department with assisting the production in any way possible. Unfortunately for Dexter, this means working under the watchful eye of Robert Chase, an actor who will portray a forensic analyst in the show. Chase shadows Dexter's every move, seeking to learn what makes the seemingly average man tick. Of course, Dexter is anything but average. The presence of Chase hinders his ability to focus on his extracurricular activities and gets in the way of his work. With one of the most horrific crimes the department has ever seen, Dexter must overcome the distraction of Hollywood to solve the local mystery.
The Dexter novels have never lived up to the acclaim and stature of the television series that they inspired. The books have always been quick, easy, and enjoyable reads, but they've never captured the kind of groundbreaking character study or edge of your seat mystery that the show was able to achieve. Still, I've been fascinated with the story of this unlikely protagonist. Despite his shortcomings, he is a serial killer after all, Dexter Morgan is one of the most entertaining and affable characters I've ever read. Author Jeff Lindsay writes the character with a sarcastic wit that is devilishly delightful. Despite my better judgement, I can't help but root for the guy.
Unfortunately Dexter's Final Cut, the seventh and penultimate novel in the series, falls short of an already low bar. The usual elements are all there. The mystery is as solid as any of the previous ones have been. The crimes themselves are described with horrifying detail that leaves a knot in your stomach. The supporting cast are all up to their usual antics, leaving an open playing field for the star character's actions and development. But it is the development of Dexter that is ultimately the downfall of this story. For the first time in the series, I found myself unable to root for Dexter. The success of this series has been built upon readers getting behind a killer, but his actions are so abhorrent that this is impossible. Dexter has gone from relatable and supportable killer to simply a bad guy. Add to this a cliffhanger ending that is clearly a ploy to get readers to invest in the next novel, and you've got a total dud. At this point, it is apparent that the author is simply going through the motions, milking the series for everything its worth. With this novel, the Dexter series has hit a new low and become an empty shell of its former self.
By now, I think it is safe to say that almost everyone has seen Jurassic Park, or is at least familiar with the premise of the film. Like the novel, the film follows the story of an amusement park that is designed to display the fruits of a landmark scientific discovery. Through a painstaking process of collecting dinosaur DNA from petrified mosquitoes, scientists at InGen, led by John Hammond, are able to bring the extinct animals to life. Hammond's lawyers see enormous profitability, but urge him to have experts attest to the safety of the park. Hammond brings in Dr. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, paleontologists, and mathematician and chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm to tour the park and provide their expert recommendations.
When the group of scientists first set eyes on the dinosaurs of the park, they experience awe and wonder at seeing the incredible creatures. In 1993, and I'd argue still to this day, the audience shares in these feelings. The buildup is perfectly timed to the fantastic payoff of finally seeing the animals on screen. Add to this the fact that Jurassic Park marks the first time CGI was ever used to create animals on film, and you can understand the power and historical significance of this moment. But this moment is not meant to last. As the film continues, all of the failsafe, man-made systems begin to malfunction and the animals begin to overtake the island.
In the hands of director Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park is elevated from B-movie horror to a thoughtful commentary on morality in science. To be fair, the movie is pure escapist entertainment at its finest. The large set pieces are expertly crafted and the film plays as everything audiences have come to expect from a big-budget summer blockbuster. Still, on a larger level, the film questions the power of science and dares to show both the magnificent and terrifying effects it can have. In the end, it is a lack of respect for the science that leads to the human's demise. This disregard for consequence in favor of profit and entertainment, also brings forth an interesting point. After 20 years, Jurassic Park remains the pinnacle of an effects driven movie. Spielberg manages to strike the perfect balance in the film, employing effects that truly serve the story. As we find ourselves now with every blockbuster film saturated in CGI effects, it is interesting to note that this film, which had far less access to the technology that filmmakers currently enjoy, remains far superior to many of the films that have followed it (even two sequels). It is the respect of the filmmakers for the science at their disposal that makes the story and film one of the most enjoyable blockbusters of all time.
Melanie Kingston is a fixture of Washington politics. Fifteen years ago, she lied about being a student to gain an internship at the White House. Ever since then, she has worked her way up the ladder, serving as campaign manager and press secretary for the previous administration. Now, as the White House chief of staff, she is one of Charlotte Kramer's most trusted advisors. Every aspect of Charlotte's administration, from policy decisions and speeches to wardrobe, runs through Melanie. But this loyalty has taken a toll on her personal life. She is the most respected woman in Washington, besides the President of course, but with one failed marriage and no children, she has little personal fulfillment. When a local reporter contacts Melanie about a story of infidelity in the President's marriage, she kicks it into high gear. A story like this doesn't stay out of the spotlight for long. If news of a Presidential affair surfaces, it threatens to not only derail the President's reelection campaign, but to completely tarnish Melanie's lifetime of work.
Dale Smith is the new kid on the block. Young, smart, beautiful, in love, she seems to have it all. Dale is the White House correspondent, weekend anchor, and a shoe in for future nightly anchor at one of the national networks. Despite her clear success, Dale is still finding her way in the town where seniority reigns supreme. To prove herself and cement her place among the best journalists in the nation, she must gain access to the hard hitting interviews and breaking news stories that garner ratings and prestige. Lucky for her, she has a secret weapon. During her short time in Washington, Dale has gained the trust and heart of one of the people closest to President Charlotte Kramer. . . her husband.
Eighteen Acres is a stellar novel that mixes political and personal drama into a page turning, edge of your seat read. Author Nicolle Wallace uses her firsthand political knowledge to bring the behind the scenes aspects of the political game front and center. Her experience at the White House allows for each page to ring with authenticity. Political aptitude aside, this is a fascinating character study that stands on its own merits. It is great to read a book about three smart and beautiful women that focusses on their struggle to maintain their personal lives amidst the demands of their high profile careers. Wallace dives headfirst into questions about the double standards of women in the workplace while never becoming preachy. The political intrigue combines with the equally well developed characters to form the perfect mix in this smart, timely, and entertaining novel.
For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.
A review of a book to film adaptation.
The film opens with Odd seeing the walking corpse of a young woman. Rather than ignore the dead, Odd follows their lead and acts to bring justice to the people who killed them. In this case, the young woman leads Odd to the man who raped and killed her. Odd confronts the man, chases him through a stranger's house, and finally knocks him out. The police chief (Willem Dafoe) knows about Odd's gift and the two often work together to bring wrongdoers to justice, In return, the chief does everything in his power to keep Odd's gift a secret.
One day Odd has a vision that is worse than anything he has ever seen before. He sees the faceless bodies of people in bowling shirts calling out to be saved from a gunman who kills them all. When he sees a strange customer at the diner surrounded by bodachs, invisible creatures that feed on evil and the suffering of others, his worst fears are confirmed. A terrible tragedy is about to take place in Pico Mundo and Odd is the only one who knows about it. Working off his own psychic visions, he must piece together the fragments that he has seen to form a clear picture of what is going to happen. The safety of the entire town depends on it!
Directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra), Odd Thomas is a fairly faithful adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel on which it is based. The quirky, sometimes hodgepodge tone of the book is a great match for Sommer's aesthetic. Yelchin is the perfect choice to play Odd, and the supporting cast of characters do a nice job in bringing life to this difficult story. Like the book, the narrative can often seem disjointed leading to a lack of focus to the main plot. The end of the book contains an emotional punch that does not translate as well to film. Some things just work better on the page. Still, Odd is a unique character, and it is fun to see him race against the clock to save the town that he loves. This film was mired in controversy as a dispute arose between some of the financers. Unfortunately, this delayed the theatrical release and severely hindered any promotional efforts. It was released on Netflix earlier this year to little fanfare. I would encourage any fan of mysteries, thrillers, supernatural fiction, and genre defying stories to check out this gem of a film.
One disgruntled fan, who identifies as "The Vindicator" in baseball chat rooms, decides to take matters into his own hands. The world is shocked to learn of the mysterious death of on of baseball's biggest stars in his San Antonio hotel room. When the death is revealed to be in direct response to the unrest that currently plagues the sport, league officials and various law enforcement agencies vow to put a quick end to this vigilante violence. But the San Antonio murder is only the beginning for The Vindicator. As the strike continues, he continues to take the lives of the superstars of baseball, leading to mass panic and terror.
With terror reigning and no end in sight, league officials seek the help of an unlikely source. Roseanne, Randy and Graham are relatively new to the crime fighting game. When Roseanne's husband was murdered a year ago, the trio hunted down the killer and uncovered a string of corruption in the professional basketball league. With that success, the three have decided to try their hands at more investigations. Under the guidance of seasoned detective Pete, and at the unwavering persistence of the feisty Roseanne, the amateur sleuths convince the league to hire them as private investigators on the baseball case. But they face an adversary more dangerous than a man driven by greed or corruption. . . a fan who has turned from loyal observer to obsessed psychopath.
Michael A. Draper takes a premise ripped directly from the headlines and weaves it into a satisfying thriller. Draper is an avid reader whose admiration and knowledge of the mystery/thriller genre shines through in his own writing. He wastes no time setting up the intriguing plot and writes with a sharp and direct prose that allows for the quick pace that this thriller needs. While the action and pace are great, it is the characters that truly engage the imagination of the reader. It is impossible to not root for the trio of underdog detectives as they face the truly terrifying adversary "The Vindicator". Roseanne, in particular, is the kind of strong willed, smart, and sensitive female character that is usually absent in novels of this genre. The strong characters, dialogue, and overall quality in writing do enough to make up for the somewhat disappointing ending. After a fantastic buildup that perfectly paces the twists and turns, the novel wraps up all of the loose ends just a bit too quick and neatly for my taste. Still, Three Strikes and You're Dead is a fun thriller that is definitely worth a read.
For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.
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