A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: The Road Virus Heads North — Stephen King

So what do I have for you today from my commute? One of the short stories from Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual: 5 Dark Tales

roadvirus.jpgThe story concerns horror author Richard Kinnell, who stops at a yardsale on the way home from a writers conference and buys a disturbing painting titled the Road Virus Heads North. As he heads north himself, he discovers that the painting itself is changing, and something else is headed north in his wake.

This story was fairly freaky… There are times when I notice what I believe are subtle changes in artwork and other things around me. Listening to The Road Virus Heads North made me start to think that maybe the world is not as it seems. Definitely worth the listen.

Rating: 5 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Everything’s Eventual — Stephen King

So what do I have for you today from my commute? One of the short stories from Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual: 5 Dark Tales

everything19-year-old high-school dropout Dinky Earnshaw explains that he’s got a good job now. He used to be a clerk at the Supr Savr, where he worked with morons and was relentlessly bullied by an aggressive dimwit named Skipper. But now Skipper’s dead and Dinky’s got a new job, where the main perks are that he gets his own house and his own car and virtually anything he asks for, including CDs that have not been released yet. He also gets a small wad of cash each week, provided he doesn’t look for the people who drop it through his mail slot, and that he remembers to destroy or throw away any money left over at the end of the week. He gets rid of his excess change by dropping it down the gutter by his house, and he puts his bills in the garbage disposal, each week.

As it turns out, Dinky has a certain gift. He has the ability to mentally influence people by drawing complicated designs or pictures, in a way that he does not completely understand. This is illustrated when he recalls that, as a child, he (semi-unknowingly) used this ability to drive to suicide a dog that tormented him on his way home from school. After Skipper humiliated him every day for years, Dinky makes the decision to use this power to kill Skipper, or more accurately to make Skipper kill himself.

Dinky is discovered by a man named Mr. Sharpton, who claims to work for Trans Corporation, an organization that searches across the world for people with such talents. Dinky is recruited to kill very specific targets by e-mailing them these designs that he creates on an Apple computer. He is, in return, given a life that seems ideal, complete with a house and other benefits. Mr. Sharpton tells Dinky that the people he is ordered to kill are wicked, horrible criminals that the world is better off without.

For a time, Dinky is happy with his new position, living life in a semi-mindless bliss; however, when Dinky finds an article in the newspaper about one of the individuals whom he has killed (a seemingly innocent old newspaper columnist) he begins to feel guilty for what he has done. After researching more into his other victims, Dinky realizes that the Trans Corporation has been using him to assassinate political dissidents and alternative thinkers. As the story ends, he is planning his escape from the Trans Corporation, but not before sending one final email to Mr. Sharpton, his recruiter.

While listening to this story, I was captivated. In part, it could have been the story itself but it also may have been due to the fact it was read by Justin Long. I recommend this one if you’re looking for something with a little supernatural element.

Rating: 5 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Lucky Quarter — Stephen King

So what have I been listening to on my commute? One of the short stories from Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual: 5 Dark Tales

luckyquarterDarlene Pullen, who is a struggling single mother with two children (a rebellious teenage daughter and a sickly young son) and a lousy job as a maid, is left a tip of a single quarter with a note saying that it is a “lucky quarter”. She takes a quick gamble on it and finds that it brings her some small luck. Moving on to a real casino, she keeps trying her luck, and soon she’s winning thousands of dollars. All seems to be going exceedingly well until she suddenly reappears back in the hotel room, left with nothing but her lucky quarter. All of her success was a fantasy. As her two children come to visit her at work, she lets her son have the quarter, and as he uses it in a gamble, it starts to pay off just as it did when Darlene was fantasizing.

I did like this story but it wasn’t the favourite of mine in the collection. Still worth the listen!

Rating: 3.5 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Autopsy Room Four — Stephen King

So what do I have for you today from my commute? One of the short stories from Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual: 5 Dark Tales

Autopsyroom4.jpgHoward Cottrell awakes from some form of unconsciousness to find himself laid out in an autopsy room. As the doctors prepare to begin, Howard struggles to come to grips with what is happening.

After realizing that he is not dead, he deduces that he is in a paralysed state, and struggles to somehow inform the doctors of this fact before they cut into him.

While prepping Cottrell’s body, the doctor in charge, Katie Arlen, finds shrapnel wounds around his nether regions. While she is absent-mindedly examining these, another doctor rushes into the room to inform them that Howard is still alive. Katie looks down – to find herself holding Howard’s erect penis.

In a humorous afternote, Howard explains that he was possibly bitten by a very rare snake, causing the deathlike paralysis. Another one of the doctors discovered that same snake in his golf bag and was promptly bitten. It is presumed that he will recover. Howard adds that he and Katie dated for a while, but parted due to an embarrassing issue in the boudoir: he was impotent unless she was wearing rubber gloves.

I really enjoyed this short tale. I think my enjoyment stems from my own fear of waking up paralyzed on an autopsy table and they say that pleasure and fear can run parallel through your body. It was well told and the visuals I got while listening were enough to make me shiver. Highly recommended.

Rating: 5 stars

 

 

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Mile 81 — Stephen King

Next up on my ‘to be reviewed’ list is Mile 81 by Stephen King. The audio book also included a bonus track of The Dune by King so I’ll touch on it as well…

mile81At Mile 81 on the Maine Turnpike is a boarded-up rest stop, a place where high school kids drink and get into the kind of trouble high school kids have always gotten into. It’s the place where Pete Simmons, armed only with the magnifying glass he got for his tenth birthday, finds a discarded bottle of vodka in the boarded up burger shack and drinks enough to pass out. Not much later, a mud-covered station wagon (which is strange because there hadn’t been any rain in New England for over a week) veers into the Mile 81 rest area, ignoring the sign that says “closed, no services.” The driver’s door opens but nobody gets out.

By the time Pete Simmons wakes up from his vodka nap, there are half a dozen cars at the Mile 81 rest stop. But two kids and a horse are the only living things left… unless you maybe count the wagon. With the heart of Stand By Me and the genius horror of Christine, Mile 81 is Stephen King unleashing his imagination as he drives past one of those road signs.

In the bonus story The Dune, retired Florida Supreme Court Judge Harvey Beecher tells his lawyer about a mysterious sand dune on an unnamed island a short distance off the Gulf coastline of his family’s property. Harvey first visited the island at the age of ten in 1932, after his grandfather, a scoundrel and land speculator who’d created the family fortune, told him Blackbeard’s treasure might be buried there. Travelling to the island became a daily addiction for Harvey… and now his lawyer is about to discover the shocking reason why.

Mile 81 was a terrific little short – I was entranced with each moment of the unfolding story, so much so that I admit to driving around the block until it was over! The characters were vividly depicted and their demises just as gruesomely vivid. A great story to read if you’re looking for a little punch of classic King horror.

The Dune was a great tale as well though I admit to seeing the twist in the ending before the story was done. That didn’t take away from the story however, only made it more creepy as it came to its conclusion.

Both shorts are well worth the listen, or read if that’s more your style!

Rating: 4 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Elizabeth is Missing — Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey is one of the longer works of fiction I have finished listening to in the past few months. I will say that I picked it up based on the cover, thinking it might be a cosy mystery, but I was surprised to find out it was something altogether different…

ElizabethIn this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also an heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

I did enjoy this book but I found myself a little bit lost at times. I’m not sure if it was due to listening to the words as opposed to reading them or a stylistic choice by the author used to put you directly into the shoes of Maud, the main character, who is losing her memory to dementia. Confusion aside, it was worth the listen as the story was engaging and well told.

Rating: 4 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Stationary Bike — Stephen King

So what have I been listening to lately? A whole heck of a lot of short stories interspersed with some longer works. There are times when I’m driving when I just want a quick tale to encompass my drive somewhere and the short story is the perfect length. While they’re hard to find in audio format, they do exist! The first of these I’m going to review is Stationary Bike by Stephen King.

StationaryWhen commercial artist Richard Sifkitz finally gets around to having that physical he’d been putting off for years, and his cholesterol comes back dangerously high, he does what so many thirty-something, junk food-eating couch potatoes have done before him: He buys a stationary bike, and vows to ride it regularly.

Unlike many a mid-life exercise convert, however, Richard actually starts to ride his new stationary bike. A lot. Soon he’s spending so much time on his bike that he decides to put his artistic talents to use and paint a mural on the wall opposite his stationary bike. But it turns out that Richard’s mural is no ordinary picture, and soon his stationary bike is taking him places he doesn’t want to go, and can’t stay away from.

A riveting take on artistic frustration, mid-life mortality, and hard-won redemption, Stationary Bike is a thrill ride that could come only from the mind of Stephen King.

I have to admit that I’ve not always been the biggest fan of King’s long fiction, but I do really enjoy his short fiction. Each tale is cleverly told and as such, very easy to listen to. I enjoyed the tale of Richard Sifkitz and his stationary bike, and found the way in which King wove his need for the bike into the story as both a character and the setting. Not typically horrific in any way, there was definitely a supernatural and horrifying element to it. Well worth the read or the listen.

Rating: 4 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: The Second Opinion — Michael Palmer | #Medical #Thriller

The Second Opinion is the second book I’ve enjoyed from author Michael Palmer. Akin to Robin Cook, he writes medical thrillers that keep you on the edge of your seat. Let’s take a look at the synopsis before I delve into what I thought of it…

9780099489788Dr. Thea Sperelakis has always been an outsider. She has a brilliant medical mind and a remarkable ability to recall details, but her difficulty in dealing with hidden agendas and interpersonal conflicts has led her to leave the complex, money-driven dynamics of a hospital and to embrace working with the poor. Her father, Petros, is one of the most celebrated internal medicine specialists in the world and the founder of the cutting-edge Sperelakis Center for Diagnostic Medicine at Boston’s sprawling, powerful Beaumont Clinic.

When Petros is severely injured by a hit-and-run driver, no one thinks he will survive. Two of Petros’s other children, both physicians, battle Thea and their eccentric brother, Dimitri, by demanding that treatment for their father be withheld. Meanwhile, Petros lingers in the Beaumont Clinic’s intensive care unit, where Thea is his only advocate.

As Thea uncovers the facts surrounding the disaster, it seems more and more to be no accident. Petros himself is the only witness. Who would want him dead? The answers are trapped in his brain…until he looks at Thea and begins to slowly blink a terrifying message.

In The Second Opinion, Michael Palmer has created a cat-and-mouse game where one woman must confront a conspiracy of doctors to uncover an evil practice that touches every single person who ever has a medical test. With unforgettable characters and twists and betrayals that come from the most unlikely places, The Second Opinion will keep you guessing…and looking over your shoulder.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Most of that is likely down to the main character Thea, who was so beautifully crafted by the author. While she has a developmental disorder, it’s not stopped her from achieving much of what she desired. In fact, thinking back on it for a second, Resistant, the first book I read by Palmer also contained a character who was brilliant but challenged in some way—I wonder if that’s an element that exists in most, if not all, of his work?

The Second Opinion was a riveting story that began fast paced and never let up. A definite page turner even though I technically listened to it as I drove. I love the blending of medical fiction with mystery and thriller elements and this is not likely to be the last book I pick up from Michael Palmer.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Scavenger — David Morrell | #Thriller #Mystery

When I read Creepers by David Morrell, I knew I wanted to read more from him. When I saw Scavenger on the shelf, I immediately grabbed it and was pleased to learn it carried on the stories of some of the characters from Creepers. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like life was getting any better for them…

ScavengerFrank Balenger, the resolute but damaged hero of David Morrell’s acclaimed Creepers, now finds himself trapped in a nightmarish game of fear and death. To save himself and the woman he loves, he must play by the rules of a god-like Game Master with an obsession for unearthing the past. But sometimes the past is buried for a reason. Scavenger is a brilliant, frightening hunter-hunted tale that layers modern technology over the dusty artifacts of earlier times. The result is a surreal palimpsest, one that contains the secret of survival for Balenger and a handful of unwilling players who race against the game’s clock to solve the puzzle of the time capsule, only to discover that time is the true scavenger.

Scavenger was a thrilling book filled with intrigue, puzzles, death, mystery — you name it! It was well written, easy to follow, and had such an inherent creepiness to it that at times, I felt I was being watched by the Game Master. If you’re into stories that leave you guessing, I recommend picking this one up.

Rating: 5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: The Returned — Jason Mott | #Mystery #SocialCommentary

Sometimes when I pick up a book, I’m struck by the title, or the blurb. Other times, it’s the cover or a favourite author. With The Returned, it was a little different. The idea intrigued me and as my own imagination whirred, I wanted to know where Jason Mott had taken the idea of this singular but life-changing event…

thereturned.jpg“Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That’s what all the Returned were.”

Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time…. Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep ― flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human. With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

So what did I think of The Returned? It engaged me from the first moment to the last one and felt as if I truly knew the characters and their stories. It really was a superb book full of heartbreak, joy, and everything else you’d expect in a classic. Pick it up — you likely won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 5 out of 5