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32. Finders Keepers by Stephen King

This book is a sequel to his recent thriller, Mr Mercedes.

It starts with the robbery and murder of a great American author in the 1970s, a man who wrote three acclaimed novels and retired, by an obsessed fan, who really wanted not his money but his safe full of notebooks. He kills his accomplices and stashes the lot for later consumption in a local waste ground. He goes out to celebrate and promptly lands himself in jail for 35 years.

Fast forward to the current recession. A boy whose family is in dire straits because his father was injured by the villain in Mr Mercedes finds the "treasure". He uses the cash to help out his family (the issues that cash from the 70s is unlikely to still be accepted is never commented upon), but he is also a big fan of the author whose work he uncovers. Eventually the money runs out and he needs to sell the notebooks.

At the same time as the original thief gets out of prison...

Up to here the story is well told but not that exciting. However, when the boy gets himself into trouble and, through a circuitous route, the detective and his friends from Mr Mercedes get involved, and it becomes a race to see who gets to the notebooks first, the pages just turn themselves. It help that I really liked those characters.

So it's a decent thriller, but I'm not convinced he successfully does whatever he was trying to do about fandom and the nature of obsession.
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26. Revival by Stephen King

Billed as King's return to straight-up horror.

It is, but it's kind of not. It's about a boy who grows up in the 60s in Maine, a mostly idyllic childhood that encompasses one traumatic event. He befriends the pastor of his local church, who is generally considered to be a Great Guy, until tragedy strikes. In that time, the pastor "heals" the narrator's brother of a psychosomatic illness.

Fast forward 30 years, and Jamie is grown up, and would be a reasonably successful jobbing guitarist if it weren't for his heroin addiction. He comes across his old friend the pastor, who is now running a sideshow at the Tulsa fairground doing interesting things with photography and electricity. He cures Jamie of his heroin addiction with "secret electricity" (and it works, with only some odd side effects) and Jamie goes to work for him.

Fast forward again to nearly the present day, and Jamie is a reasonably successful studio manager, working for another man who Pastor Danny "cured" back in the day (a musician who went deaf). They discover that the pastor has a new name, and a big revival tent show business curing people of everything from arthritis to cancer. They do some digging, and find that there are - side effects.

It all leads up to a climax on a mountain in a thunderstorm. I'd figured out where it was going, but the ending is still creepy as all hell and packs a punch.

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36. Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

This book is described as a hard-boiled detective number, but it's more a psychological thriller where the (retired) detective plays a cat and mouse game with a mass murderer.

By far the best thing about it are the retired detective's two sidekicks, the over-achieving teenager who mows his lawn and fixes his computer, and the deeply damaged woman who is a relative of one of the victims. There are bits where I couldn't put it down, interspersed with bits that dragged. The last quarter was pretty not-put-downable, at least, as is fitting with any crime novel that isn't absolutely hopeless.

It's OK. But I'm waiting for his return to straight-up horror, due out in October.
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64. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

This is the sequel to The Shining.

Some years ago on a signing tour, King was asked "whatever happened to the kid from The Shining?" and he got thinking.

It's nowhere near as scary as The Shining (which scared the crap out of me when I was about 14), but it's probably a better book (see the bit about being 14 - I would need to re-read the original to make a fair comparison).

Dan Torrance has grown up to become an alcoholic drifter, because being drunk takes the edge off his psychic abilities. But eventually he has enough and settles down and gets clean. He gets a job in a hospice where, in addition to his contractual duties, he is known as "Doctor Sleep" because he sits with people in their last moments and helps them on their way (in a good way, not in a killing them off way). The one really frustrating thing about this book is that King never goes into detail about this - which I kind of get, but I found it frustrating.

Meanwile, there are a group of monsters who are most analagous to vampires but aren't, who feed off the energy of children with "the shining" (the powers wear off as they grow up). There is a girl with such powers living near Dan, who has attracted their attention...

I say it's not as scary as The Shining, but will never see tops hats or retired people in RVs in the same way again.
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57. Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King

A collection of five linked short stories (technically two novellas and three very short stories) touching, directly or indirectly on the Vietnam War.

The first two stories, the long ones, are amazing. The first, Low Men in Yellow Coats, is set in 1960 and is about a young boy who lives with his miserable, controlling single mother in a small town in Connecticut. An older man comes to live in their apartment building, and swiftly becomes friends with the boy, eve though the child is aware that the older man is crazy.

Or is he?...

It starts out a innocent childhood adventure, and turns into a tragedy in many ways, one of which may or may not be supernatural and documents how a very promising young man loses all hope in life and stops trying, before his life has even got started.

This one really stuck with me.

I didn't know this part has been made into a film - it's on later this week, and probably sucks, but as I've just read the book I'm going to record it anyway.

The second story, the title piece, is a coming-of-age story set at the University of Maine, Orono in 1966, where a bunch of young men learn to live on their own and become politically aware. Not a lot happens, but really emotional stuff.

I didn't get much out of the last three stories - they show how messed-up the Vietnam experience made people, and tie up some loose ends, but that's it.

These don't take up much room, so I do recommend this book.

58. Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason

Went into the library to collect something else and this was sitting there - it's one of the detective series set in Reykjavik, and as we'd only just got back from there I couldn't resist.

The main character isn't the usual detective, Erlendur - who in this book is off on holiday. It follows his parter Sigurdur Oli. While Erlendur is the glummest detective in all of fiction, he's basically a likeable chap. Sigurdur is just a dick. He is, however, a really good detective.

59. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

Bought this one because the author was on The Daily Show and made it sound really interesting. It's about the women who worked at Oak Ridge in Tennessee enriching uranium as part of the Manhattan Project. In some places I would have liked more depth - it's largely an exercise in collecting the oral history of the women who were there before they die.

It was a completely surreal environment - tens of thousands of people shipped off to a city that grew up from nothing and didn't officially exist. Nobody could talk about their work, and nobody knew what it was that they were really doing, which made for an interesting way to try to build a society. In that way the somewhat jumping-around and episodic structure of the book mirrors life at Oak Ridge.

What is mainly interesting though, is how many women occupied quite senior roles within the Manhattan Project (not all at Oak Ridge, but Kiernan mentions some of the others) who have largely been written out of history. Because it was in Tennessee, Oak Ridge was segregated, and Kiernan doesn't pull her punches about how awful that was.

I'm completely failing to be coherent - it's not as excellent as I was hoping, but is an entertaining and informative read and definitely worth while.
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42. Common Sense and Agrarian Justice by Thomas Paine

Tom Paine on how we don't need kings, and why the American Revolution should succeed. The first of these is still relevant, and Paine's arguments still stand up. Agrarian Justice is an early plan for a universal old age pension.

Slightly less excellent than The Age of Reason, but a short, easy read on important subjects.

Part of the reason I love Paine so much is that, while I do care passionately about the history of ideas, for the most part I'm too stupid to read the primary texts and have to rely on later analysis. With Paine I can easily read the original.

43. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

This month's Bibliogoths book. I've only read one Carter book before (The Passion of New Eve), which I really disliked. So I was pleasantly surprised that I did quite enjoy this one. I don't claim to have caught even 25% of what is going on in there, but it's a very entertaining and thought provoking story even if some of the symbolism and subtext passes you by.

I've always thought I have issues with magical realism, but I might have to reconsider that too.

44. Joyland by Stephen King

I haven't read a Stephen King book since Needful Things, but Neil Gaiman wrote positively about him recently (ish), so I thought I'd give him another try.

I *loved* this book. It's a coming-of-age story about a 21 year old college student who takes a summer job at an amusement park in North Carolina. A few years previously a woman had been murdered at the park, and is said to haunt it. The mystery and supernatural stuff is secondary to what is going on in the main character's life for the first 3/4 of the book.

Couldn't put it down. The writing is incredible. King made me cry on the bus. Some years ago he wrote a memoir on writing, and I need to check it out. Come to think of it, I can't remember what I did last week, yet I can remember his description of the pain of arthritis suffered by a character in Needful Things.

I said some time ago that half of King's stuff that I read bored me to tears. I'm beginning to think that I just came to it way too young (I was 12 when I started reading his work), because the only books that I really rated were the ones that I read when I had got to university (It, The Tommyknockers, Needful Things).

45. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Another really good read. A sort of sequel to Oryx and Crake. The third book in the trilogy is out soon. I need to re-read Oryx and Crake (Not that I remember anything that long ago anyway, but I read in on the plane back from Argentine - not ideal conditions).

Although it's set in a dystopian near future and then humanity is mostly wiped out, it's not so much science fiction as a study of what people would do in those situations. Really well developed characters.
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FX: shakes fist

I haven't read a Stephen King book in decades - while I've always appreciated that there's more to his books than most people think, I found that every second one or so just bored me.  
However, I just read Neil Gaiman's interview with Stephen King (it's behind the Times' paywall so Gaiman put his unedited first draft on his blog).  

As always when Neil enthuses about something, especially something I know is a Good Thing, I feel the need to read King's back catalogue.  And the man is nothing if not prolific.  As if there aren't enough things that I feel the desperate need to read already.  

I may be some time.


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