CONSTANT READER REVIEW – Rose Madder by Stephen King

“It’s best to be ruthless with the past. It ain’t the blows we’re dealt that matter, but the ones we survive.”

Let’s get this out of the way – this book is…odd. Bad? No. Up to King’s high standards? Also no. However, there are some great things about this book and some chilling things about this book.

The suspense in this book is palpable. When Rose initially escapes from Norman, my heart was pounding. This impending sense of terror lessened as the story progressed, which is likely why this isn’t a favorite among Constant Readers. If King could have sustained that feeling of doom, this could easily be one of his scariest books.

“Come over here – I want to talk to you up close.”

Norman might be one of the most terrifying villains in King’s writing (well, until a certain point…then he just becomes a bit too exaggerated and a bit too…crazy). Norman is scary because he’s REAL. At least for the first half-ish of the book, he’s just an angry, abusive, power-hungry, psychotic cop with a huge ego and an even bigger temper. He’s an absolute wild card – you never know what’s going to set Norman off, or how far his anger will carry him. The parts inside Norman’s head are horrific.

“The world could be good. She supposed she had known that as a child, but she had forgotten.”

The ladies! Oh, the ladies of Daughters & Sisters. They take a backseat to the larger story, but they are fun and amazing and badass. They are resilient despite their own hardships, and the way they rally around Rose (and each other) is heartwarming. And Gert! Oh, Gert. What an absolute delight!

“Some things call to us, that’s all. It’s as if the people who made them were speaking inside our heads.”

Now…the painting. Of course, the painting is kinda-sorta a huge part of the story, but the scenes involving the painting (especially the initial one) are a little drawn out and a little repetitive. Actually, the book, in general, is a bit repetitive and could have easily been 200 pages shorter (or even a short story).

“And sometimes men had to learn what it was to be afraid of a woman, didn’t they?”

I think overall the idea here is good. It suffers from “too much-itis” – the story is a bit too much. Norman as a villain is a bit too much. Either way, i’m glad I read it and I would still recommend that any King fan give this one a go. It wasn’t an unenjoyable reading experience, it just doesn’t match up to some of his other works.

CONSTANT READER REVIEW – Salem`s Lot by Stephen King

“…small towns have long memories and pass their horrors down ceremoniously from generation to generation.”

Ah, the sleepy, charming town of Jerusalem’s Lot. Some say it might be dying (oh boy) because the population hasn’t grown much over the years. The residents seem normal enough, some are friendly. But the air is thick with the fog of secrets and tragedy. We learn a little bit about a lot of characters, quickly realizing that there are some terrible people in ‘salem’s Lot.

“A house was a house – board and hinges and nails and sills. There was no reason, really no reason, to feel that each splintered crack was exhaling it’s own chalky aroma of evil.”

The Marsten House is terrifying. Half Shirley Jackson’s Hill House, half precursor to The Overlook Hotel, every bit of it is sinister. Left vacant after a horrific murder-suicide some years ago, the Marsten House still looms over the town.

“Understand death? Sure. That was when the monsters got you.”

There are some CREEPY sections in this book (sometimes just a line or two is enough to give you the chills). King has perfected the literary jump scare – he settles you in to the story, and then delivers a horrifying slap to the face when you least expect it.

“…it all seems more real after dark, doesn’t it?”

If you strip the book down to it’s basic story, it’s a really effective, bleak retelling of Dracula. It takes the best parts of the classic and throws in the quintessential dread and grittiness that comes so naturally to King. I would recommend reading both – pick up Dracula first, and don’t wait too long to read Salem’s Lot.

The ending surprised me – I was not expecting it to go the way it did, and oh man is it HAUNTING.

“The town kept its secrets, and the Marsten House brooded over it like a ruined king.”

CONSTANT READER REVIEW – Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

“There came a time when you realized that moving on was pointless. That you took yourself with you wherever you went.”

In a word, Doctor Sleep is great. It’s FUN (I mean, a lot of the subject matter and imagery is pretty horrific, but the reading experience is a thrill).

“The world wasn’t a Hospice with fresh air, the world was the Overlook Hotel, where the party never ended.”

If you’re looking to compare this to The Shining, I would say that Doctor Sleep has a faster pace with a less…explosive ending.

“We are the True Knot. What is tied may never be untied.”

Rose the Hat is a compelling villain who, somewhat unfortunately in my opinion, becomes more human as we progress through the book.

“Because the past is gone, even though it defines the present.”

The references to The Shining were frequent (but not so much that they dominated the story) and subtle at times – if you’ve read The Shining recently, don’t wait too long to pick up Doctor Sleep.

“Once a little boy lived here… A little boy waiting for his daddy to come home from his job interview at the Overlook Hotel.”

CONSTANT READER REVIEW – The Shining by Stephen King

“This inhuman place makes human monsters.”

Somehow The Shining is simultaneously a slow burning horror novel and a fast-paced thriller that spooks you from the beginning. There’s an overwhelming sense of dread that rapidly increases the closer you get to the book’s finale.

King is a master (but you already know that). The writing in this book is some of his most beautiful and vivid that I’ve read so far, while also making the reader feel isolated and claustrophobic.

I’ve spent some time in hotels that have been closed for the season, which likely made this that much more familiar – and that much more terrifying – for me to read.

“Your daddy…sometimes he does things he’s sorry for later. Sometimes he doesn’t think the way he should.”

Warning: Jack is an unlikable character. His descent into madness was easy to believe, simply because he seemed close to the edge to begin with. I felt a bit of sympathy for him during one brief moment towards the end, but overall it wasn’t a stretch to imagine him being so easily influenced by The Overlook.

I’ve only read a handful of King’s books, but this one has creeped me out the most!

CONSTANT READER REVIEW – IT by Stephen King

“What’s feeding in Derry? What’s feeding on Derry?”

IT is King’s ultimate masterpiece. Is it perfect? No. But this book is memorable, and it’s jarring. At first, I didn’t think that it was scaring me much. Yes, there are some creepy, or disturbing, scenes. Yes, there’s always an underlying horror, even (especially?) in the mundane.

But then I found myself looking suspiciously at the drains in my bathroom. And found myself scanning the shadows in my bedroom at night.

IT does so many things well. At it’s essence, it’s a book about friendship and childhood and growing up.

Sure, the ancient entity that terrorizes Derry every 27(ish) years causes bad things to happen. And sure, the residents seem to be poisoned by IT. But many of the terrible things that happen in Derry (homophobia, racism, abuse, assault) happen in other towns, too. Is IT really the one to blame for everything? Or are people monsters too?

[spoilers start here!]

“The kid in you just leaked out, like the air out of a tire. And one day you looked in the mirror and there was a grownup looking back at you.”

I loved the friendship between the seven Losers. I was kind of disappointed that Stan really was just used as a plot device; his presence in the 1958 chapters just didn’t carry much weight.

I was also sad that after finally, officially, defeating IT, they started to lose their memories again. Maybe that just shows us that they ultimately only needed each other for that one purpose. It also makes me wonder what will ultimately happen with Beverly and Ben.

I do think that this book starts to unravel a bit towards the end. I saw the TV movie when I was a kid, and was never impressed by the giant spider. IT’s death was INSANE, but the end sequence is more “action movie” than “horror.”

CONSTANT READER REVIEW – Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I need to preface this by saying I do not read books if I’ve already seen the movie. It’s difficult for me to go in to a book when I already know what happens. That being said, I do make it a point to attempt to read a book first before watching the movie adaptation.

This was not the case with Pet Sematary. I saw the 1990 movie (probably on USA) sometime when I was a kid. I don’t really remember NOT knowing this story. And yet, I still felt compelled to read the book.

This was probably the best decision I could have made.

I was worried that this book would terrify me. I was worried it would keep me up at night. That hasn’t been the case (maybe because I went in to it already knowing what happens) but that doesn’t make it any less effective.

Pet Sematary is the definition of a slow burn. The first “reveal” hits you at around 150 pages. The heart-racing, horrific parts don’t really start until page 495 (or maybe 200 pages earlier, if you’re a parent). But this is quintessential King. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as an introduction to King’s writing, but it’s a must-read for any fan of his works, or any fan of horror.

[spoilery comments ahead, proceed with caution!]

I did feel a little bit of sadness for stinky, clumsy, undead Church. No one wanted to hold him. No one wanted to pet him. Louis kicked him a few times. That’s another way to see that “sometimes…dead is better.”

At it’s core, Pet Sematary is a novel about grief. Of course a parent would do anything – ANYTHING – to bring their toddler back from the dead. It’s profoundly sad. The true horror isn’t the Wendigo, or the shell of a person (or pet) that comes back from the dead – it’s loss. It’s the gruesome deaths of Church and Gage that will keep you up at night.

Is it grief that drives Louis insane? Or something supernatural? I’d like to think it’s a bit of both.