What Are You Reading?

If you’re like me, you probably have a shelf (or a Kindle, or a Nook) piled to the brim with books waiting to be read. The whole point is, of course, to actually read them. In the spirit of furthering that goal, here are three titles I’m currently reading in a frantic (though ultimately futile) effort to complete my own ever-expanding to-read list.

Snowblind, by Christopher Golden

SnowblindSynopsis from Goodreads:

The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards…but never one like this. Icy figures danced in the wind and gazed through children’s windows with soul-chilling eyes. People wandered into the whiteout and were never seen again. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.

Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as—tonight—another little boy is missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning’s life has been forever scarred by the mysterious death of his wife, Cherie, and now he’s starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy . . . and the boy’s father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call . . . from a man who died twelve years ago.

As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last.

My thoughts so far:

I’ve been making a concerted effort to experience new authors. I stumbled on this one in another blog (sorry, I forgot to keep track of where) and decided to give it a spin. I’m about a third of the way through, and so far it’s gorgeously written. Christopher Golden has a fine-tuned mastery of the English language. The characters are well developed; in fact, I would say that the plot is, in large part, driven by them. The story is pretty intense, and so far has kept me engaged and wanting to know more.

Certain scenes are infused with more sexually explicit detail than I would think necessary to further the character development or the plot. But on the positive side, I have to say that Golden seems to understand human sexuality well. It’s more than just the mindless gratuitous sex that sells books; it’s underscored with depth and meaning. In the case of two individuals in particular, the connection between physical and emotional intimacy is well established, as well as the powerful bond that cements the relationship between man and wife in an otherwise tumultuous relationship.

I’ve seen other reviews criticize the pace of this book right around where I’ve left off, asserting that it’s too slow. We’ll see what I think when I’m finished. But as it stands now, I love this one and can’t wait to get to the end!

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre — his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman’s noose, Aleister Crowley’s childhood chessboard, etc. — so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it.

The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker’s sanity.

My thoughts so far:

I wrote about this in a blog detailing five new books I planned to read in the new year.

It’s a little rough around the edges, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a literary masterpiece. But my overall impression is that it’s a solidly constructed book, and there are moments where Joe Hill (actually Stephen King’s son, Joseph Hillstrom King) really shines as an author.

In particular, Hill’s description of Craddock’s ghost is both terrifying and original. The scribbled out eyes, the stop-motion movement and the way in which he bends Jude toward his will make for an engaging read. Jude is a complex man. He’s done some pretty terrible things, but he’s conflicted about them. He’s used women in the past, and to a certain extent is using his current girlfriend Georgia (nicknamed after the state from which she came), but he also cares for her and strives to protect her.

At the half-way point, I’m going to say the investment has been worth it. Each new chapter refreshes and deepens the faith I have that this story will end well (“well”, of course, does not imply “happy”…) When I’m finished, I’ll write a review to let you know if that faith was warranted.

The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Inspired by the W.B. Yeats poem that tempts a child from home to the waters and the wild, The Stolen Child is a modern fairy tale narrated by the child Henry Day and his double.

On a summer night, Henry Day runs away from home and hides in a hollow tree. There he is taken by the changelings—an unaging tribe of wild children who live in darkness and in secret. They spirit him away, name him Aniday, and make him one of their own. Stuck forever as a child, Aniday grows in spirit, struggling to remember the life and family he left behind. He also seeks to understand and fit in this shadow land, as modern life encroaches upon both myth and nature.

In his place, the changelings leave a double, a boy who steals Henry’s life in the world. This new Henry Day must adjust to a modern culture while hiding his true identity from the Day family. But he can’t hide his extraordinary talent for the piano (a skill the true Henry never displayed), and his dazzling performances prompt his father to suspect that the son he has raised is an imposter. As he ages the new Henry Day becomes haunted by vague but persistent memories of life in another time and place, of a German piano teacher and his prodigy. Of a time when he, too, had been a stolen child. Both Henry and Aniday obsessively search for who they once were before they changed places in the world.

The Stolen Child is a classic tale of leaving childhood and the search for identity. With just the right mix of fantasy and realism, Keith Donohue has created a bedtime story for adults and a literary fable of remarkable depth and strange delights.

My thoughts so far:

Like Snowblind, I discovered this one in a blog. Again, I forget where (I’ll try to be better about recording these things for future reference.) I don’t have many thoughts yet, as I’ve only completed part of the first chapter.

As of now, I’m intrigued by the premise. The notion of a fey plot to replace a human child is something I’ve encountered before in  Tithe, by Holly Black. The chapter I’m reading at the moment is written in the first person, from the point of view of the changeling who took Henry Day’s place. The language is in the flowing flowery style of a fairy tale, a deviation from many of the other books I’ve read. Though I enjoy the gritty realism of authors like Stephen King, a well-written storybook fantasy is an enjoyable and welcome change of pace.

What about you?

What’s on your to-read list? And what are you reading right now? I’d love to hear more about your current literary exploits in the comments below.

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Book Review: The Dream Runner

Synopsis from Goodreads:

What if you could order a custom dream? Any kind. Dark and twisted, sweet, sensual, or redemptive. For the right price, a dream runner will deliver one to your doorstep.

Jesse Davison skipped town the week she turned sixteen, with nothing but the clothes on her back and her father’s vintage Indian Scout motorbike. She swore never to return to the town where in one night of tragedy she lost everything she ever loved.

When news of her estranged mother’s death calls her home, she hopes for some time to sort out ten years of tangled emotions. But Jesse’s job doesn’t exactly allow personal days. She’s been forced into service as a runner by the Dream Merchant to pay back a debt for her own dream of revenge, and there are always orders to fill.

Struggling to figure out her mysterious inheritance is more than enough to get a girl down, and things get even worse when the man Jesse loathes—ex-boyfriend Will Alderson—shows up. But she soon discovers the person she’s been running from might just be the one she should be running towards. Too bad she’s been dreaming of killing him for the past ten years.

This is the first installment of a series called The Dream Wars. It’s pretty short, weighing in at only 81 pages ( or 1036 Kindle locations.) It’s not a bad book. It’s a little rough around the edges, and could have benefited from more thorough editing. But on the whole, it was decently presented, and the technical problems I encountered were insignificant enough that they didn’t hamper my ability to enjoy the story.

The existence of a merchant who constructs custom dreams in exchange for an unnamed price is a fun topic to explore. As is the case with many modern fantasies, The Dream Runner is an intersection between magic and technology, between the natural and the supernatural. The Dream Merchant (described by the main character Jessie as female, though whether or not she actually is, or even if she has sex, is anyone’s guess) is an otherwordly entity, yet she relies on a young woman who rides a motorcycle for delivery of her product, and uses an ordinary cell phone to communicate.

A few times, Schafer really outdoes herself with vibrant descriptive detail. In particular, her account of Jessie’s interaction with the Dream Merchant is mysterious and beautiful.

Early on, we encounter a young woman named Mia, a recent widow and single mother. A victim of abuse, we assume when Jessie delivers a dream to her that its purpose is clear. But halfway through the book, there’s a startling twist, and we discover just how wrong we were.

The Dream Runner ultimately concludes with a satisfying cliffhanger, rooted in an unexpected surprise. It’s a great way to engage the audience and to encourage them to continue with the series.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your tastes), the entire book is dripping from head to toe with cheap supermarket romance. Implausible encounters with Marsh, the sexually charged real estate agent who handles Jessie’s property when she returns to her home town, and with Will, her former lover, made me think at times that the author might secretly be a horny teenager in disguise.

The characters were also a little under developed, and at times cliche. I did gain some valuable insight into who Jessie was and why I should care, but it just wasn’t enough. The people in the story were like colored in two-dimensional figures. They might’ve been better for having been colored in, but they were still only two-dimensional.

In the end, while I don’t regret having read the book and wouldn’t say that it was bad, I probably won’t continue with the series. As a short standalone book, I feel I got my money’s worth. But I just don’t see this one as a long term investment. If I were forced to transform my subjective feelings into an arbitrary quantitative value, I would probably give this one three out of five stars.

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Book Review: Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Doll Bones CoverSynopsis from Goodreads:

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing…and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity…

I picked this one up after reading this review. I promised the blogger who wrote it that I would eventually get around to writing my own. This is the result.

As I always do when I review a book, I like to point out both the positives and the negatives, because I believe that even a good book isn’t perfect, and because I like to present a balanced and thorough analysis.

Let’s start with what this book does right.

For one thing, it’s gorgeously written. Black has a gift for turning a phrase. The words she uses and the way she uses them frequently take my breath away. Occasionally, Black peppers her language with words that are a little complex for a middle grader, words like kleptomaniacal. I think this is a good thing. It’s not heavy handed, but comes up in the text organically, and it forces kids to do some research and to build their vocabulary.

Black does a remarkable job of describing the roleplaying of Zach, Alice and Poppy from their perspective, and of elevating mere child’s play to an elaborate ongoing act of talented and inspired storytelling. Just as in reality, the two in Doll Bones are one in the same.

True to Black’s other work, Doll Bones deals with dark themes like death and supernatural angst. But it does so in a way that remains accessible and palatable for children. This is important, because while we must allow children to face and learn how to cope with the consequences of life in a broken world, we must also tread lightly and be very careful not to unduly frighten and depress them.

Dysfunctional family life is a central theme, and serves as a backbone in the development of the book’s main characters. Poppy’s parents have thrown their arms up and decided to let their kids do whatever they want. Zach’s dad selfishly left him and his mother to make a living for himself, only to barge back in on them when it didn’t work out, just as they were adjusting to life without him. Alice is being raised by an overly strict grandmother, who won’t allow her to do most of the things an ordinary child in junior high should be allowed to do. The various dysfunctional dynamics of these three families are all too common in today’s world, and are undoubtedly relatable to many of this book’s readers.

Black captures beautifully the inevitable and often painful realities of growing up. Zach’s ever-growing discomfort over his playing with action figures at an age where such things are frowned upon by his peers is something that both children and adults can identify with, as well as his father’s misguided attempt to help him “grow up” by throwing his action figures away. There’s also a very tangible (and sometimes painfully awkward) tension that arises between Zach and the girls now that they’ve grown to an age where they begin to notice each other in new and different ways. This tension comes to a head about two thirds or three quarters of the way through the book, and adds a nice sub-plot to the story.

The “epic quest” that the children undertake is as much a product of their ongoing fantasies as it is about laying the doll to rest. In fact, more than once, Poppy’s veracity concerning the spirit of the doll is called into question, yet they choose to press on even in the face of extreme difficulty. The lure of an adventure, however risky and terrifying, simply proves to be irresistible.

Now, what about Doll Bones don’t I like?

For one, the plot suffers from too many implausible scenarios. At the beginning of their quest, Zach, Alice and Poppy board a late night bus. I would, at the very least, expect the driver to ask them how old they are. But he says nothing, and the children are allowed to go on their merry way. Later, desperate to cross a river so they can complete their quest and give the doll a proper burial, they steal a dinghy. Miraculously, Zach is able to sail it, despite the fact that he’s had no prior training, and that his only knowledge of sail boats comes from books. When it eventually capsizes in the presence of a barge, nobody on the other boat stops to ask if they need help, despite the fact that they can clearly see there are children on board.

I’m also put off by how abruptly the story ends. As a reader, I feel a little cheated. Some lingering mystery can be a powerful thing, but there are too many loose threads that should have been tied up. To be fair, it’s a difficult tale to conclude properly. Without giving away the ending, it’s clear as we reach the final pages that the kids have gotten themselves in pretty deep; some extremely skillful cleanup would be required to pull it off successfully. I think ultimately, the task proved too difficult, and that Black chose to end the story a little early instead.

Overall, this book is well worth the investment. It’s beautifully written, mysterious and true to life. It successfully handles a dark theme with the delicate care required for children’s literature. Though it isn’t perfect, I would definitely say that the good outweighs the bad, and would, without question, recommend it for both children and adults.

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What Can Fantasy Teach Me About Reality?

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Who doesn’t love a good story?

Fiction is an indispensable part of the human experience. Without it, the world would be a dreary place. Imagination is essential for one’s sanity and happiness. But we always go into fiction with the understanding that what we’re experiencing isn’t real. Though we choose to suspend disbelief, there’s always that part of our brain that maintains the distinction between reality and fantasy. A vast unbridgeable chasm exists between the two: one is real, the other is not.

You might reasonably ask yourself, “what can fantasy teach me about reality?”

Fantasy teaches us about real people.

Though fictional characters are spun from the thread of dreams, their underlying natures are based on real people. Authors must always draw from a massive catalog of real-life experience; if what they want to write about can’t be found within its pages, it must be labeled as unbelievable and cast aside.

Fantasy is, in fact, an exhaustive study of humanity. It offers lessons from three unique angles:

  1. We learn about the characters. We’re privy to their thoughts, we observe their actions and we witness the ways in which they relate to others.
  2. We learn about the author. The way a storyteller’s characters think and act is a reflection of the storyteller himself. They can teach us about his cultural heritage, his upbringing, his prejudices, his interests, even how he might have gotten along with others. An artist’s creation is as much an expression of the artist as it is of the art itself.
  3. We learn about ourselves. Given that a realistic fictional character is based on authentic human nature, and that we are in fact real people, it stands to reason that we would find ourselves at least partially reflected in their image. We experience bits and pieces of ourselves in the characters we encounter, and we have the benefit of an outsider’s perspective. As a result, we discover more of who we are.

Fantasy teaches us to appreciate the extraordinary within the ordinary.

All good fiction no matter how whimsical is rooted in reality, because we can only relate to something that aligns with our understanding of the universe and how it works. There might be magic, but that magic is always governed by rules, and the basic laws of nature, though extended, always remain backward-compatible with our own. People don’t walk through walls or breathe under water unless they possess special powers, and in such cases they are the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, we take reality for granted. Because it’s something we interact with every day, because it’s no longer new as it once was when we were children, we disregard it. Thankfully, fantasy reorients our perspective.

Free from that thin veneer of mundanity that ordinarily coats the surface of reality, we’re involuntarily struck by the raw beauty we encounter in the world of our dreams. We take these experiences with us and assimilate them into who we are. Gradually, we become accustomed to seeing things through the lens of childlike awe. Eventually, without ever realizing what’s happened, we rediscover the extraordinary that lies hidden just beneath the surface of the ordinary.

We become sensitive to the great emotional epics that play out within the confines of real relationships. Our hearts are smitten by the jaw-dropping beauty that manifests itself in real landscapes. We become aware of the magic that’s existed all along, operating under the name of Science. We become sensitive to a hidden splendor that’s always been accessible to us, but was until recently outside our once narrowed field of vision. Imagination is like a mirror: the mystery and wonder we encounter in fantasy is reflected back onto our perception of the world, flooding it with new light so that we can see the world anew.

Fantasy teaches us to accept difficult truths.

There are uncomfortable realities we prefer not to think about. We’re faced daily with poverty, hunger, war, mental illness, even the evil within ourselves. Life is much easier when we allow ourselves to forget that the world is a dark place. As a result, we erect mental walls when sensitive topics are broached. Our eyes glaze over and we assume the mental stance of a three year old, covering his ears and singing “la, la, la…”

Reading fiction is one way to become more receptive. Because stories aren’t real (at least on the surface), we have a much greater tolerance for controversial ideas. We open the gates and we allow the author’s beliefs to make a home inside our hearts.

Because good fiction is grounded in reality, it’s inevitable that we begin to apply these beliefs alongside our own. Like Inception, the ideas communicated through stories bubble up into our conscious minds as if they were our own. In this regard, artists wield a very real and profound power over the rest world, and therefore have a grave moral obligation to always tell the truth.

Fantasy teaches us how to approach and solve real problems.

Simply put, fantasy makes us better problem solvers. We observe how different kinds of characters respond to adversity, learn from them and apply what we learned to our own problems. Fantasy teaches us to be creative, to think “outside the box,” to be more adaptable.

Neil Gaiman cites an interesting example. In an article for The Guardian called Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming, he writes:

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Conclusion: Fantasy is reality remixed.

Fantasy is only fictional on the surface. Humans may be capable of imagining things outside their immediate scope of experience, but they can only do so by forging new connections between existing ideas. Like so many songs on the market today, stories are nothing more than reality remixed.

If it’s not real, it won’t make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, we won’t connect with what we’re reading. And if we don’t connect with what we’re reading, we’re going to get frustrated and put the book aside.

In order to concoct convincing tales, authors must resort to unabashedly plagiarizing reality, and in the end all they can do in their never-ending quest for originality is to hope and pray that they were clever enough not to get caught.

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5 New Books for 2014

One of my goals for 2014 is to experience as many new authors and books as possible. To kick off the new year, here’s a list of five books, queued up on my Kindle and ready to go. Have recommendations for more? Please, let me know in the comments below!

1. Tithe, by Holly Black

From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Kaye is a modern nomad. Fierce and independent, she travels from city to city with her mother’s rock band until an ominous attack forces Kaye back to her childhood home. There, amid the industrial, blue-collar New Jersey backdrop, Kaye soon finds herself an unwilling pawn in an ancient power struggle between two rival faerie kingdoms – a struggle that could very well mean her death.

Why I Chose It:

I was convinced to read Doll Bones, a middle grade fantasy written by Holly Black, after reading this review. While plot-wise, I felt there were some problems (I’ll be writing my own review in the coming weeks), the language was so beautifully crafted that I decided I wanted to read more of Black’s work.

Tithe, written for adults rather than children, was mentioned in the same review, so I decided to go for it.

2. Un Lun Dun, by China Mieville

From Goodreads:

What is Un Lun Dun?

It is London through the looking glass, an urban Wonderland of strange delights where all the lost and broken things of London end up … and some of its lost and broken people, too – including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas; Obaday Fing, a tailor whose head is an enormous pin-cushion, and an empty milk carton called Curdle. Un Lun Dun is a place where words are alive, a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets, and a dark cloud dreams of burning the world. It is a city awaiting its hero, whose coming was prophesied long ago, set down for all time in the pages of a talking book.

When twelve-year-old Zanna and her friend Deeba find a secret entrance leading out of London and into this strange city, it seems that the ancient prophecy is coming true at last. But then things begin to go shockingly wrong.

Why I Chose It:

I actually don’t recall precisely where I encountered this book, only that I stumbled on it while searching for blogs related to children’s fantasies like Coraline and The Graveyard Book. I have a weakness for stories that are distorted reflections of real-world places, and I also have a weakness for children’s fantasies. Seemed like a no-brainer to me.

3. Heart Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

From Goodreads:

Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre — his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman’s noose, Aleister Crowley’s childhood chessboard, etc.  so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it.

The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker’s sanity.

Why I Chose It:

I bought this on whim while browsing through the Amazon Kindle store. I enjoy supernatural thrillers, and the plot sounded interesting. It’s been sitting in my queue for a while, so I decided it was time to go back and read it.

Recently, I discovered that Joe Hill is a pen name for one of Stephen King’s sons, Joseph Hillstrom King. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. I’m now curious to see how Hill’s style differs from his father’s.

4. Slayers, by C.J. Hill

From Goodreads:

Dragons exist. They’re ferocious. And, in this novel from C. J. Hill, they’re smart: before they were killed off by slayer-knights, they rendered a select group of eggs dormant so their offspring would survive. Only a handful of people know about this, let alone believe it—these “Slayers” are descended from the original knights and are now a diverse group of teens that includes Tori, a smart but spoiled senator’s daughter who didn’t sign up to save the world.

The dragon eggs have fallen into the wrong hands. The Slayers must work together to stop the eggs from hatching. They will fight; they will fall in love. But will they survive?

Why I Chose It:

This is another book I found through a blog (once again, I forget where; apologies to the author!) I like fantasies that take place in a modern setting, especially when they relate back to something that got its start in the distant past. I have no previous experience with this author, so it was a shot in the dark.

5. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

From Goodreads:

In the sleepy English countryside of decades past, there is a town that has stood on a jut of granite for six hundred years. And immediately to the east stands a high stone wall, for which the village is named. Here in the town of Wall, Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester. One crisp October night, as they watch, a star falls from the sky, and Victoria promises to marry Tristran if he’ll retrieve that star and bring it back for her. It is this promise that sends Tristran through the only gap in the wall, across the meadow, and into the most unforgettable adventure of his life.

Why I Chose It:

Neil Gaiman is one of my all-time favorite authors. I’ve read quite a few of his books. But for some reason, Stardust was always at the back of my list. Now, in 2014, it’s time to change that.

 

Are there any books you’re planning to read in the new year? Then leave a comment and tell me about them 🙂

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Book Review: Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep”

Doctor Sleep BookcoverSynopsis

Doctor Sleep begins when eight year old Danny Torrance is visited by Mrs. Massey, who hails from the haunted Overlook hotel, which burned to the ground in a boiler accident. Frightened (though not entirely surprised) to discover that the Overlook’s ghosts have followed him to his new home, Danny becomes withdrawn and refuses to speak until his mother Wendy calls Dick Halloran, Danny’s friend and rescuer from The Shining, a man who shares Danny’s psychic abilities.

Halloran teaches the boy how to lock these spirits away in the back of his mind, so that they can never bother him again.

Fast forward. Danny is now Dan, a man who’s made some bad decisions. Like his father, Dan is an alcoholic with a raging temper. It isn’t until he hits rock bottom, lands in Frazier, New Hampshire, and scores a much needed job at the Teenytown Railway that he begins to piece his life back together. He admits to his boss Kingsley that he has a problem, begins attending AA meetings and vows to give up drinking.

One day, Dan’s old childhood friend Tony appears and leads him to a hospice, where he’s able to use his abilities to provide comfort to the dying. It’s here that he earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

The years following are good to Dan. Though he’s haunted by past sins, he now has a roof over his head and a purpose for his life. It’s during this time that Dan begins to receive telepathic messages on a blackboard in his room from a little girl named Abra Stone, who, unbeknownst to him, has befriended Tony. Like Dan, she has the shining. For a while, the messages are light-hearted in nature, and Dan contents himself by making the occasional reply.

One day, a thirteen year old Abra suddenly has a vision in which a boy with a baseball glove is tortured and murdered. She sends a frantic message to Dan, saying, “they’re killing the baseball boy!” A while later, a flyer for missing children comes in the mail with his picture. She places her hand on the image, closes her eyes and casts her mind out to where the murder took place, hoping that perhaps she can somehow send information to the boy’s family to help them find closure.

While looking, Abra inadvertently enters the mind of Rose the Hat, leader of the “True Knot.” The True feed on “steam,” the psychic energy possessed by children like Abra. Trading places, Rose finds herself abruptly shunted into the girl’s body. Shocked by her power, Rose decides that she must be hunted down soon, both for her steam and because she knows too much. Realizing the trouble she’s in, a frantic Abra reaches out to Dan for help.

After meeting with her in secret and talking about the shining as well as the murder, Dan enlists the aid of Billy, an old friend and ex co-worker of the Teenytown Railway, and John, Abra’s pediatrician as well as a fellow member of AA. Together, they concoct a plan to deal with the True before they can deal with Abra.

Plot

Doctor Sleep picks up where The Shining leaves off, creating a seamless transition from the latter to the former. Doctor Sleep stands on its own and doesn’t rely on The Shining to tell a complete story, but the two share a profound connection such that both books find their fulfillment in each other.

For a while, it seems as if the details about Danny’s childhood following his experience at the Overlook are disjoint from the rest of the story, and that they serve solely as a bridge into his adult years as Dan Torrance. But these early events, most notably the creation of mental lock boxes into which Danny traps the ghosts from his past, come back to play a major role in the novel’s conclusion, making it an integral part of the whole.

Doctor Sleep unfolds in a world that is far more advanced than the 1970’s in which The Shining takes place. When Abra and Dan begin communicating, they not only use the shining, but ordinary email, making for a perfect blend of technology and magic, a theme that King has explored before.

In the final chapters, we come full circle, to the land where the Overlook once stood. It’s now owned by the True, and it’s here that Dan and Abra fight for their lives. The conclusion is unexpected, and is (not unpleasantly) atypical of many of King’s books.

There are three surprises, each more shocking than the last. The first comes about three quarters of the way through the book, and concerns both Dan and Lucy, Abra’s mother. The second is a ghost from the past, and is related to the lock boxes we encountered in the first few chapters. The third and final revelation comes at the very end. It’s another ghost from the past, one that ultimately plays a critical and unexpected role in Dan’s and Abra’s final showdown with the True.

There were a couple of problems.

First, the True’s infection with the measles, which came from the baseball boy’s steam, was a little far-fetched. Measles is a physical ailment transmitted by an airborne virus; I fail to see how such a disease could be transmitted through a spiritual medium.

Second, there were a few anachronisms in King’s description of the internet that, as a technical person, I found a little annoying. In particular, he used the terms “IMing” and “screen names,” both of which are relics of the nineties and early two thousands and are rarely used today.

Characters

In the first few chapters, Danny, though he’s only eight, seems much older, in both the language he uses and the way he thinks. I suppose this is understandable, given his ability to read minds from a very early age as well as his traumatic experience at the Overlook, both of which forced him to grow up very quickly.

Unfortunately, like Jack, Danny inherits a propensity for drinking as well as a temper, and wastes most of his young adult life in a drunken stupor. When interviewing for his job at the Teenytown Railway, Dan wonders if his experience is like his father’s, when he interviewed at the hotel after losing his teaching job due to out-of-control anger. He even uses the words “officious prick” during his initial encounter with Kingsley. Like father, like son.

Yet, we have hope for a good ending, because unlike Jack Torrance, Dan has not only the will to overcome, but also additional help from his AA meetings. Despite Dan’s initial impression of Kingsley, he goes on to befriend the man, who is himself an alcoholic and who becomes Dan’s AA sponsor. Dan’s care for his patients, and later his love for Abra and his desire to protect her, both give us hope that his own story will turn out better than Jack’s.

The revelation that Halloran was forced to endure sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his uncle was heartbreaking, paling in comparison only to the childhood experiences of Andrea Steiner (nicknamed Andi Snakebite), a member of the True Knot who, before her Turning, was repeatedly raped by her own father.

What’s fascinating about both cases are the different ways in which Halloran and Andi reacted to a similar upbringing.  While Halloran purged the demons from his life and went on to do good, Andi allowed herself to be consumed by hatred for her father, and by extension hatred for all men. Though tragic, it’s no surprise that Andi would eventually be inducted into the True Knot and become one of the bad guys.

Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is the transformation of Abra from a sweet innocent girl to a teenager who has witnessed torture and death, who has seen what no child should ever have to see. She is forever tainted by a desire for revenge. It’s one of many scars, both physical and psychological, inflicted by Rose the Hat.

Style

The writing in Doctor Sleep is just as lucid and dreamlike as that in The Shining, yet more structured and tightly controlled, especially in flashbacks and dream sequences. You can see that King’s writing, like Danny himself, has grown and evolved over the past thirty six years.

King writes from an omniscient point of view. It’s difficult for a narrator to wield so much power without crushing the unique points of view of each character, resulting in a read that falls flat and dry. But King is a master of the craft and pulls it off remarkably well. He manages to delve into the thoughts and perceptions of each character, despite the mostly detached nature of the narrator’s voice. An omniscient narrator also has the power to jump backward and forward through time, yet King only ever steps beyond the strict bounds of the present to foreshadow or add depth to the story, which only adds suspense.

While King has mastered the omniscient point of view, I will level against him one small criticism. The narrator necessarily keeps his opinions mostly to himself, and serves primarily as our eyes and ears, our window into the thoughts and actions of the characters. But on occasion, this transparent voice rises up to express its own unique political opinions in the same detached style, as if they were well established and objective facts. We read sarcastic comments about Bush’s “spectacular war in Iraq” and Ronald Reagan’s “distrustful smile.” These would be fine if they were the thoughts and feelings of the characters themselves, but are inappropriate when expressed as the opinions of an otherwise objective omniscient narrator. With the power of omniscience comes the responsibility to remain a neutral observer.

Other Thoughts

Like many of his books, King makes connections to other stories. While driving out to retrieve the baseball glove that belonged to the boy who’s murder Abra telepathically witnessed, Dan begins to explain the shining to John:

“[…]If you think the shining begins and ends with paltry shit like telepathy, you’re way short.” He paused. “There are other worlds than these.” (Page 300)

Of course, “there are other worlds than these” are the famous last words uttered by Jake Chambers in the first book of the Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, shortly before plunging to his death in an abandoned mine.

The consumption of steam by the True is reminiscent of the demon Tak from The Regulators, who feeds on the life essence of those he kills.

There’s a scene where Dan helps a dying patient named Charlie cross over. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m not sure if it was just the beauty of King’s words, the fact that I also share some of Charlie’s fears about death or both.

Conclusion

Stephen King is a remarkable writer. The lucidity of his vision and the prosaic nature of his writing has me head over heels every time I read one of his books. I was ecstatic when I discovered that King had written a sequel to The Shining after thirty six years, though I was also trepidatious, fearing that the second book would be incapable of doing justice to the first. I am pleased to report that Doctor Sleep is a worthy successor.

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What’s In It For Me?

I strive first and foremost to be honest and straightforward with my readers. I’ve found that in the great adventure of life, beating around the bush and pretending to be something you’re not is not only wrong, but a recipe for failure. I could pretend that my blog serves no other purpose than to entertain and share ideas, but that wouldn’t be the truth. These things are all an integral part of why I’m here, of course — I wouldn’t waste your time if I didn’t think I had something of value to share — but this blog also serves another purpose.

I’m an author. I’m trying to build an audience for my work so that I can get my stories out into the world.

It’s hard when you’re first starting out, because you’re completely unknown. You’re just another nobody in a sea of nobodies. The market is currently oversaturated, so that there are more books than there are readers. And to make matters worse, many of the books released today are hastily written and poorly edited, which means trust in a new author is automatically very low. I not only have to demonstrate that I have good ideas, I also have to find a way to prove that I can write well before people read my writing. This is not an easy thing to do.

I want to make it clear before I continue that marketing will play a very small role in my blog. I believe that the best way to prove myself is not to climb the nearest rooftop and shout at the top of my lungs, but to engage my readers with meaningful thought-provoking posts, and to let my writing speak for itself.

With that understanding, I want to ask you for a favor. Despite all of the many innovations in social media, the best way to keep in touch with readers and to let them know about your work remains good ol’ fashioned email. Consequently, a mailing list is vital for success. I’m going to provide a link that allows you to add yourself to my mailing list. If you’re interested in my work, I’m asking you to sign up for it.

What's In It For Me?
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I know what you’re thinking. “What’s in it for me?”

First, here’s a promise of what I WILL NOT do with your information:

I WILL NOT share your email address. As someone with his own personal information to protect, I can assure you, I take your right to privacy seriously. I’m looking for a meaningful connection with an interested audience, not a block of random email addresses to be sold to the highest bidder.

I WILL NOT send you spam. Your time is valuable; you shouldn’t have to sift through junk. You’ll only receive an update from me once a month, and if later you change your mind, you can easily remove yourself from the list.

Second, in return for entrusting me with your email address, here’s what I WILL do with your information:

I WILL give you a steep pre-release discount on all of my new books. My success hinges on your willingness to read my work, and I want to thank you for your support by saving you as much money as possible. I might require financial support to be successful, but that doesn’t mean I need to take you for all you’re worth. Your support is truly appreciated, and I want to return the favor.

I WILL offer you exclusive content that can only be received through the mailing list. I haven’t yet decided what this will be, but it’ll probably include supplemental chapters that add depth and insight into the characters and scenarios you encounter in my books, as well as original short stories.

The SignIf you sign up, I’ll also send you a free copy of my short story on Amazon, The Sign.

Whatever you decide, thank you for reading!

You can click here to join my mailing list.

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