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Review: Elevation by Stephen King

ElevationScott Carey is mysteriously dropping weight. Despite no changes to his diet or lifestyle, the number on the scale is slowly decreasing. And what at first seemed like a good thing, despite the fact that his outward appearance isn’t changing to coincide with his weight loss, Scott is slowly becoming worried about what might happen if he continues to waste away.

But before he does, Scott has decided he’s going to accomplish a few things in the small town of Castle Rock. One of those is befriending and helping the lesbian couple that moved in a few doors down from his house and who recently opened a Mexican restaurant.

Stephen King’s novella Elevation doesn’t have King pulling any punches or hiding his feelings on the current day political climate in our country. Several digs at the current administration are present, making this reader wonder if and how well this story will age. Odds are it not age as well, which is a shame because when King isn’t scoring a few political points, Elevation is a taunt story that unfolds nicely over its 200 or so pages. It’s not vintage King and it’s not the best thing he’s published this year (that goes to The Outsider), but it’s still a story that explores one of King’s favorite themes — how do ordinary people act and react when extraordinary things happen to them.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death: 3rd Doctor NovelisationThe final televised Third Doctor story to reach the printed page was something of a disappointment when I read it initially thirty plus years ago. However, thanks to the audiobook line from BBC Audio, I was given the opportunity to visit the story once again.

In the years since I first read the novel, “The Ambassadors of Death” has grown a bit in my estimation. Yes, it’s still the weakest story of season seven, but that’s damning a bit with faint praise.

Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the John Whitacker/Malcolm Hulke script does a serviceable job of trying to condense seven episodes into the mandated page count. Dicks is able to streamline some of the action sequences (Liz Shaw’s car chase, for example, takes about a paragraph or so) and give a bit more time and space to early developments. However, after listened to some of Dicks’ earlier works when he was given more time to develop the characters and add in some background details to the situation, I can’t help but wish he’d had don that here. Imagine the Dicks who wrote “Day of the Daleks” being allowed to fill in the history of the Mars Probe missions or even time to make General Carrington a bit more of a sympathetic villain (or at least give us a better understanding of his motives).

I can’t help walking away from this one feeling like it’s a missed opportunity more than anything.

And yet, for all of that, the audio version was still a pleasure to listen to. Part of that is narrator Geoffrey Beavers, who could probably read Malcolm Hulke’s grocery list and it would be utterly scintillating to the listening ear. Once again, Beavers shows he’s one of the jewels in the audio book line.

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Review: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

The Cabin at the End of the WorldOn a warm summer afternoon, Wen is capturing grasshoppers in a jar near the cabin rented by her fathers. Fully intending to return the grasshoppers to their native habitat after she’s done naming and studying them, Wen finds her peaceful afternoon interrupted by the arrival of four strangers.

Taking her fathers and Wen prisoner at the isolated cabin (cell service is non-existent), the four strangers say they’ve come to ask an extraordinary favor of Wen and her fathers. One of them must willingly sacrifice themselves in the next few hours or else there will be serious consequences to their captors and the planet as a whole.

A slow-burn of ever-increasing horror, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World slowly draws you in and then dares you to look away as things slowly spiral out of control. Tremblay spends the first third of the book developing Wen, her fathers, and their captors so that, even while you don’t agree with this decisions and choices, you understand their motivation and what’s brought them to this brutal crossroads. Exposing old fears, long-held resentments, and areas of their relationships that probably would be better staying hidden, each character is stripped down during the course of the standoff.

The first chapters are almost hypnotic, but once the revelations come, they’re well paced and well earned by Tremblay. The master of modern horror, Stephen King, called this Tremblay’s best offering to date. And while I’m not sure I necessarily agree (A Head Full of Ghosts haunted me in ways this one didn’t. But that’s probably just a matter of personal preference), this is still one of the more haunting page-turners I’ve read this year.

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Review: “Flight or Fright,” edited by Stephen King & Bev Vincent

Flight or FrightCultivated by Stephen King and Bev Vincent, this collection of seventeen stories about the horrors of flying is hit or miss.

The main selling point for the collection are new offerings from King and his son, Joe Hill. Reading the stories, the Hill story about a plane in the air when nuclear war erupts is chilling and utterly effective. It also sent shivers down my spine at how well it tied into my reading of Robert McCammon’s “Swan Song” around the same time. King’s offering is enjoyable enough but wasn’t one of my favorite stories from this collection. It’s a forgettable piece about the people on planes who are there to deal with turbulence. It’s an interesting little idea and a hook for the story, but it still doesn’t quite sent shivers up the spine like Hill’s does.

As for the rest of the collection, it’s also hit or miss. Of course, it’s really kind of unfair to the collection that it includes what many (including King) consider one of the definitive scary flying stories in Richard Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Once you’ve read that one, it’s all downhill from there, but that could be my Matheson bias showing through. (He’s one of the best short story writers in this reviewer’s estimation).

But as with all good short story collections, the good news is if the story you’re reading or just read isn’t quite your style, there’s another one or two coming to try. And King’s introductions to each story are nicely done. I did find a couple of new authors that I may want to read more of in the near future. So, that can’t really be all that bad a thing, right?

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Review: Oh My Stars by Sally Kilpatrick

Oh My StarsNeither Ivy Long nor Gabe Ledbetter could have predicted the chain of events that led them to serve as Mary and Joseph at the drive-through nativity in the small town of Ellery, Tennessee.

A published romance author, Ivy has suffered writer’s block since her husband passed away and plans fell through with their foster child. Gabe has returned home from Memphis, with a failing marriage and a looming malpractice suit.

So, when a baby is left in the drive-through Nativity, neither Ivy nor Gabe expected they would become her care givers. Nor could they predict the impact this little girl would have on their hearts. Could this be a Christmas present or miracle to help them both move on from their past and maybe find a new love — not just for the little girl, but for each other. Continue reading

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Review: Awakened by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

AwakenedThe inaugural run of New York City’s latest subway line should have been cause for champagne and celebration. Instead, the car returns empty with the interior drenched in blood. And that’s only the beginning of the horror in the debut thriller from Impractical Jokers star James S. Murray, Awakened.

In the afterword, Murray tells us that he hatched the idea for his horror thriller during his teenage years. It’s clear reading the story Murray has honed the story over the years, crafting a horror novel that feels like vintage Stephen King. Like the best King, Awakened features every day people reacting to supernatural challenges in authentic, human ways. Some react as heroes, others are scared, and still others have secrets they desperately want to hide.

An early scene in the novel with the subway creatures luring toward some unsuspecting victims had me riveted to the page and sent a cold shiver down my spine. And the (earned) scares continue to come at a regular pace throughout the novel.

Murray and co-writer Darren Waremouth have crafted a scary, entertaining, fun summer thrill ride of a novel. It’s also the first in a new trilogy of stories that will continue for the tow summers. Consider me signed up to see just where this story goes next.

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Review: The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George

The Punishment She Deserves (Inspector Lynley #20)With her twentieth installment in the Lynley and Havers series (sorry, I refuse to think of it as anything else), Elizabeth George returns to form with one of the best installments in the series to date.

The last two novels found Barbara Havers getting herself into hot water and on the wrong side of her superiors at New Scotland Yard. As The Punishment She Deserves begins, Havers future at the Met is hanging by a thread and a case in the small town of Ludlow may be just the one that finally snaps it. Assigned to work with DS Ardery and look into the death of a local deacon under mysterious circumstances and damning accusations, Havers finds herself walking a fine line between toeing the straight and narrow and following her instincts that there is more to the case than meets the eyes.

Ardery wants to simply close the book on the case as quickly as possible, for both professional and personal reasons. She’s desperate to get back to London in order to fight her ex-husband’s desire to move her two children to New Zealand and she’s determined to ensure that Havers finished committing professional suicide. The fact that Ardery can’t go long without a drink is slowly beginning to unravel her life on all sides. Ignoring Havers’ pleas that the investigations is overlooking something, the duo returns to London and Ardery orders Havers to leave certain details out of her report. Continue reading

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