Monday, October 17, 2016

doctor sleep and the lure of the sequel

While I was reading Doctor Sleep I was bouncing back and forth between my memories of the novel, written by Stephen King in 1977, and the movie adaptation by director Stanley Kubrick, from 1980. I suspect King may have had both in his mind as well. Although it is well-documented that King didn't love the film version, Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Jack Torrance was indelible, as were Shelley Duvall as his wife Wendy and the Overlook Hotel itself. The sins of the father will play out in his gifted son.

The grown-up Dan Torrance, a recovering alcoholic, just like dear old dad, now uses his ability to "shine" to help the dying cross over peacefully. He is contrasted with a young girl named Abra, who may shine even more strongly than young Dan ever did. Complicating matters are a bunch of creepy supernatural folks who seem to thrive on the energy of young shiners. Uh oh.

All of the literary links and in-jokes  relating to The Shining aside, the central compelling story of Dan's link to Abra, and their desire to use and understand their abilities while staying human is what really works in Doctor Sleep. King has always got people, and how they talk and interact. The spooky stuff is actually the least interesting aspect of this novel.

hogwarts ... you can't go home again?

The kid and I recently read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Hmmm ... I don't know what to say. I guess I can say that my daughter liked it better than I did. Initially it was wonderful to see favorite characters again — Harry, Ron, Hermione especially. There are even appearances by some folks you might not expect. I won't spoil it. But ... I just didn't buy it. This was not who I imagined Harry, Ron, Hermione to be as adults. There are so many problems.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child read more like fan fiction than Rowling. And it isn't exactly a "new Rowling," as advertised. It is the script of the play written by Jack Thorne, based on an original new story by Thorne, J.K. Rowling, and John Tiffany. The project has Rowling's blessing, so I guess I will have to go with that. But I never thought I'd read something more disappointing about Harry than Rowling's own lame epilogue in The Deathly Hallows. Oh well. She did actually she did write the screenplay for the upcoming film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. So, Potter fans, not all hope is lost.

along came another patterson book ...

My cousin is on a James Patterson rampage, and has been dragging me along, mostly willingly. I have had so many things going on my life recently, that a lightning fast mystery read is about all that I can handle. in fact, I think it is proving a bit therapeutic.

I can't blame my multiple Pattersons completely on my cousin, however. His books are not just a quick read, but also mostly fun, whether written on his lonesome or with one of his many collaborators. I just finished two, The Beach House, from 2003, which he wrote with Peter de Jonge, and his first Alex Cross novel, Along Came a Spider, which he wrote in 1992. They are different in structure. The more recent collabo-Pattersons that I have read have a definite format: super-short, concise chapters, heavy on dialog, and usually with a page-turning thrill or cliffhanger. The Beach House follows this structure to the letter. While I didn't always buy the convoluted action, particularly at the end of the book, I have to admit that the characters were compelling. The most interesting of the lot was actually the victim, Peter Mullen, who was sadly quickly introduced and then as quickly dispatched in the first few pages of the book. His brother Jack Mullen spends the rest of the book trying to unravel his brother's life and death among the rich and kinky of Montauk. Peter's life sounded fairly interesting, if a bit sordid, but The Beach House never really gives its readers enough information to care about its primary victim.

I never saw the film adaptation of Along Came A Spider, but I couldn't help but picture a young Morgan Freeman in the role of Alex Cross, the tough-talking but tender-hearted D.C. detective and psychologist. The book, the first in his Alex Cross series,  is a high-speed chase for a serial killer. Serial killers have become almost pass√© in books and film, but I will say that Patterson's glimpses into the mind of his antagonist, Gary Soneji, are unsettling. And the fact that his preferred victims are children helps bring the creep meter up even more. It was interesting racing around '90s D.C. with Cross and his partner Sampson, too. Some things have changed, and many haven't. There's also a romance for Cross thrown in, with a Secret Service agent named Jezzie Flannagan. Some of those scenes were less convincing, espcially for this ex-D.C.-er - I don't care what time of night or day it is, being able to speed around the Beltway at 100mph, on a super-fast motorcycle or not, seems frankly out of the realm of possibility. That quibble aside, I enjoyed the read and will no doubt check out Alex Cross and Patterson in future.

After reading a few of these co-authored books I had to look up how he runs his writing factory. It's pretty interesting.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

plumbing the future and the past for thrills

I read these two books in close succession to one another.

James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge - Zoo

Zoo cover art
Patterson and friends' book are always a quick, fast, beach read, and Zoo was pretty entertaining in parts. Taking what humans have done to the world - pollution, deforestation, cell phone towers, etc. - and taking to the nth degree how all of that technology might affect the world's animal populations is a clever concept. But ... the overall book was a bit clunky. I felt like the some of the chapters might be out of order, and the main protagonist, Jackson Oz, and his ability to save the world (or not) didn't seem very plausible to me. Plus, he hooks up with a gorgeous and brilliant French scientist, Chloe, who in the latter part of the book is relegated to his baby mama while he runs off to high-level meetings with the heads of state. Really? The television series based on the book, which I just started to catch up with on Netflix, has done a much better job with Chloe all of its characters. There is supposed to be a Zoo sequel coming. Maybe if Patterson takes a cue from TV's Zoo I'll check it out.

Stephen King - 11.23.63

Stephen King, center, with 11.23.63 actor James Franco (L), and producer J.J. Abrams (R)
Stephen King's 11.23.63 was also a quick read, but a much more satisfying one. His characters and concept stayed with me days after I finished the behemoth of a book. King pulls out all the stops - time travel, political intrigue, and even romance. His protagonist, Jake Epping, is asked very early in the book, "What if you could go back in time and prevent President John F. Kennedy from being assassinated?" For many people who can remember that day, that world event still has sad echoes. King presents a time portal without too much complicated explanation -it's a way into a great story. Jake decides to do just that - and maybe right some other wrongs of the past along the way. He visits some familiar King territory - the town of Derry, Maine, in particular, the setting of his horror novel It. Some folks, like myself, may not be thrilled to find themselves back in the home town of Pennywise the clown. But Jake's main focus, and ultimate target is Lee Harvey Oswald. Will he be able to determine if Oswald acted alone, debunking future conspiracy theorists everywhere? It's a tense, gripping read, with a truly touching romance thrown in to boot. It's also a miniseries on Hulu, starring James Franco, so my viewing queue just got a little bit bigger.