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Hayley & Shaun Take on the Masters

Wow, what an insanely busy year this one has been! Shaun quit his job and went back to Uni full time to finish his creative writing degree and I had another baby so writing has unfortunately taken a backseat while I wrangle with this new little guy and a toddler (waaaaaah). In short, for the next few posts Shaun and I have decided to do something a bit different and easier (as we tend to discuss this with each other pretty frequently) and review our top 5 Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels. We'll also be reviewing our bottom 5 Koontz and King novels (blasphemy I know!). We've loved both these authors since high school. Over the years, they've kept us both up into the wee hours of the morning for, 'just one more more...oops the sun's coming up.' They're the authors who inspired us both to become writers and, more importantly, they're what brought Shaun and I together on one fateful day when an unsuspecting English Teacher enforced a 'seating plan'...

Enough blather, here's the list!

In no particular order...

My top 5 Stephen King books (The hardest decision ever!!!!!!)

1) It

The story follows the experiences of seven children as they are terrorised by an entity that exploits the fears and phobias of its victims to disguise itself while hunting its prey. "It" primarily appears in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown to attract its preferred prey of young children.

The novel is told through narratives alternating between two periods, and is largely told in the third-person omniscient mode. It deals with themes that eventually became King staples: the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood, the ugliness lurking behind a façade of small-town quaintness, and overcoming evil through mutual trust and sacrifice.

*hides* I have the biggest fear of clowns. Ever since my brother said “Hayley come and watch this cool clown movie with me.” I was six at the time…didn’t stop me from reading the book though! Haha. Funnily enough, It was the first Stephen King book I ever read.

Beep beep Richie.

This is the kind of book that lurks within you waaaaaay after you’ve finished reading it. It is basically two novels entwined together, one set in 1958 with seven children taking on the demon and one with the same children in 1985, as adults, returning to Derry to destroy the creature once and for all. It is basically the most tender and terrifying “coming of age” novel to date.

The opening scenes set the tone for the book with Bill’s little brother Georgie chasing his boat along the gutter before getting ripped apart by a clown lurking in the sewer. Only Stephen King can begin a story with such a ghastly murder and keep you glued to the pages. Yes, all 1,138 of them…

It is EPIC to say the least. Thankfully, King is the master of description, plotting, characterisation and all things writerly so, although your hands are cramping and your arms ache, you feel he’s completely justified in keeping every single word. The plot, the characters, everything is just so richly detailed that you become totally immersed within this frightful tale as you read, whether you want to be or not.

King is a genius when it comes to creating everlasting bonds between his characters, especially between school age friends. And I believe It is one of his best books for this reason. He manages to take on seven kids and mould them into seven distinct personalities. Bill, Bev, Ben, Mike, Richie, Eddie and Stan = The Loser’s Club. A club every outcast wishes they could be a part of, minus having to deal with the child eating clown-demon of course. I love how they each share their experiences and the others just accept it as fact, even though they all know they sound crazy. Friendship goals!

As adults, glimmers of each kid’s soul remain, setting them apart from the others and further cementing their character. Like I said, he’s the master.

The clown-demon presents throughout the story as each of the Loser’s Clubs worst fear. The adults in the town are immune and cannot see what’s happening, perhaps to ensure It’s victims are completely isolated and easier to pick off. Alone, It can easily defeat them, however the kids unite, bonding together and devising a plan to take It down, which they do. (This is battery acid you freak!) Or at least they think they do. Just in case, they make a pact that if It ever does come back, they’ll return to defeat It once and for all.

Look, I wont spoil it for you. I’ll just say, if you can withstand the aching, trembly arms, the cramping fingers - perfectly positioned so as not to touch the image of the creepy sewer on the front cover because, let’s face it, they may get bitten off - and the edge of your seat, heart attack inducing terror of a rip roaring plot fuelled by freaking awesome characters…then I guarantee, this epic tale will be well worth the effort.

“We all float down here!” Muahahaha.

2) The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone is a story about John (Johnny) Smith, just a regular average Joe until a horrific car accident puts him in a coma for five years. When he wakes up, he finds his life has been turned upside down. His fiancé has had a child and married someone else and Johnny finds himself cursed with the power to perceive things about people. Dark things. Terrible things.

While Johnny has always experienced ‘hunches’ since an ice-skating accident when he was six, he now finds he has the ability to see into the future. An ability which brings him into a terrifying confrontation with a charismatic, power-hungry and dangerous man.

The Dead Zone is an amazing read. It’s full of heart, and characters that stick with you long after you’ve turned the final page. Through his lost sweetheart Sarah, King makes you love Johnny in the opening scenes, presenting an honourable, funny, thoughtful man. With Sarah’s unhappy past and self esteem issues, you ship their romance straight away and want everything to work out for the best. Of course, this is Stephen King, so you know darkness is just around the corner.

Enter the foreboding atmosphere of a carnival, a spinning wheel of fortune, an unbelievable stroke of luck that just keeps on giving. However, what goes up, must eventually come crashing down. And come crashing down it does…

Even after reading this book many times, I still find myself glued to each page, sticking with Johnny as he struggles with his abilities and travels the twisted road of fate that leads to his inevitable clash with the sadistic villain. A cracking pace, unbelievable tension, supported by rich, loveable characters, what more could you want? This book is a 10/10 for me.

3) Dreamcatcher

Where the most important thing in the world turns out to be the moment when four small boys saved a fifth from a beating…

In his first complete novel since his near-fatal accident, King once again presents us with the nightmarish premise of the “Other” (vampire, demon, creature from outer space) and the effect it has on the human race. SSDD right? Wrong!

Four childhood friends, united by secrets, find themselves caught in a quarantine zone after something crashes into the remote forests of Maine. Then, they’re thrown into the most horrific alien invasion story imaginable, where the only question is whether they will be eaten from the inside out by a weird ferret-slug creature? Or become a mind suppressed puppet, forced to do the alien’s bidding?

Now, I usually loathe alien invasion stories. Sci Fi really isn’t my thing unless it involves time travel, BUT oh, how I love this book! Again, King is the master of interweaving past and present to make you really feel invested in his characters before putting them in the worst possible situation and having you grinding your teeth with the fear of who will survive. No spoilers! (Choked sob).

Sure, in the middle, there were a few scenes that dragged a bit, but honestly, the rest is just so good that I can forgive Mr King completely.

The heart in this book. Oh my. The camaraderie between the four boys. Every single thing about Duddits!!! (awww Duddits…) I laughed, I cried (oh boy, did I ever.) I picked up some cool sayings that I still use 17 years later…these are only a few reasons why I believe this story is a goodun and why it makes my top 5.

“Time slowed and reality bent; on and on the egg man went.”

4) Regulators/Desperation (as Richard Bachman) - see Shaun

5) 11.22.63

On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed forever. What if you had the chance to change it back? Would you?

What a question! Enter Jake Epping, an English teacher who discovers an extraordinary secret: the storeroom in his local diner is a portal to 1958. Leaving behind a world of iPods and mobile phones for a world of Elvis, big American cars and the most delicious root beer imaginable, Jake sets out on an insane - and insanely possible - mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

Whilst deep within the haunting world of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald, Jake makes a life for himself on the side, inadvertently meeting the love of his life; a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill. The years tick by and, as that fateful day grows ever nearer, Jake realises his mission is not quite as straightforward as he thought.

Wow. What a read! I’ve always loved the idea of time travel and as soon as I opened this book I fell for it as hard as Jake fell for Sadie Dunhill. I could not and did not put it down until I’d read every last word (the first time I read it anyway!). Like every Stephen King book, his extensive cast of characters did not disappoint, with each addition adding a rich reality to the world he’s re-created.

However, with such a multitude of characters, Jake decides to use his powers to save, not just the president, but to save others from peril and misery, with drastic consequences. And rightly so. You don’t mess with time and get away with it Scott free. Especially when Mr King is the master of your fate.

The thing about this book is you totally believe it could happen! In the beginning, Jake is a complete skeptic and, when reading, you find yourself learning and growing to accept the ‘new’ world right alongside him. This story has sub-plots galore, each as intense and intricate as the overarching plot of stopping the assassination. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say; Stephen King is an absolute plotting genius.

I was completely invested in Jake’s quest, both to save the president and his quest for love, even when things went horribly wrong (Oh boy, did they ever…) and he had to time hop multiple times to get it right. Throughout the story there was the sense that anything could and would happen. Nobody was safe. Nothing was set in stone. Every single action had a reaction. Sure made for an intense read!

Shaun's Top 5 Stephen King Books

1) The Drawing of the Three (Book 2 Dark Tower)

Roland, the Gunslinger, wakes up on a beach, where he is suddenly attacked by a strange, lobster-like creature, losing the index and middle finger of his right hand - his gunslinging hand. His wounds soon become infected. Feverish and losing strength, Roland encounters three doors. Each door opens onto New York City at different periods in time (1987, 1964 and 1977, respectively) and, as Roland passes through these doors, he brings back the companions who will join him on his quest to the Dark Tower.

The first door (labeled "The Prisoner") brings Eddie Dean, a young heroin addict who is in the process of smuggling cocaine into New York for the drug lord Enrico Balazar. The second door (labeled "The Lady of Shadows") reveals Odetta Holmes, a black woman with dissociative identity disorder who is active in the civil rights movement. She is wealthy and missing her legs below the knees after being pushed in front of a subway train. The third door leads to Jake, before he was killed in the first novel and is saved by Roland.

They become the Gunslinger’s katet.

I must freely confess, I cared little for the first Dark Tower tale. It was a western, which I don’t ordinarily read and it was overly symbolic and vague for me when I first read it. So it was many years later, when I decided to give the second novel in the Dark Tower a chance. And boy howdy, thank goodness I did. I think the first novel is a stand alone novel and truly, this is the the true first novel of the series, where the gunslinger draws together his katet. I loved this story, it was a ripping fantasy novel with terrific, flawed and vulnerable characters and I devoured the series from this point forward. To me, it is the best story in the Dark Tower series and encapsulates Stephen King’s talent for character, storytelling and the sprinkling of magic readers like me yearn for!

It was the launch of nothing short of a truly epic series.

2) Hearts in Atlantis

A collection of two novellas and three short stories which are interconnected and range from the 1960’s to 1999. The book centres on two children in the first novella - Bobby and Carol and their interactions with Ted, an elderly gentleman who becomes a boarder at Bobby’s home. It comes to pass that Ted has psychic powers and is connected to the mysterious and apocalyptic Dark Tower. He is being hunted by “low men” of the Crimson King for his abilities and enlists the children’s aid in avoiding capture. Unfortunately, Ted is seized by the low men and is torn away from Bobby and Carol as a result of a series of betrayals. This event scars them both and affects their futures. This is revealed in the remaining stories as they grow in adulthood. The novel concludes forty years later, when Carol and Bobby return to their hometown and find closure together from that traumatic event all those years ago.

Although I love horror, the gothic and the fantastical, there is something I love even more in novels and in movies: heart. Not the overly dramatic sentimentality pretending to be heart but true, heartfelt emotion by characters you truly believe and a plot that tests those characters and yet makes them shine. This is the essence of Hearts in Atlantis and is why I love it. I appreciate its linkage to the Dark Tower series, the skill of interweaving characters in different stories and time periods, creating authentic journeys for all of the characters but its the beating heart in its pages which truly makes this one of my all-time favourites.

3) Salems Lot

Salem’s Lot is Stephen King’s second published novel and the first novel of his I ever read. It is a deeply gothic and apocalyptic novel which explores the lore of vampires who transform and terrorise the inhabitants of Jerusalem’s Lot, a small town in Maine. The story centres on Ben Mears, a writer returning to his hometown after twenty five years. He starts a relationship with Susan Norton while Kurt Barlow, an Austrian immigrant arrives at the same time and opens an antique store. Not long after this, a young boy disappears and his brother dies.

This sets the stage for an all out battle between those transformed and those few fighting to survive including a doctor and a priest.

It owes a great deal to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie.

In a fascinating twist of fate, this was the second novel featuring vampires on the New York Times Best Seller list in 1975 - the second being Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.

This was the first Stephen King novel I read. It was gifted to me from my grandmother so it has that sentimental shine to it, that moment of discovering a truly gifted author and the melding of horror in a ripper tale while creating genuine and believable characters. I love this story, I love how Stephen King forged his own contemporary tale whilst being inspired by previous monolithic stories and folkloric tales of horror and the supernatural. It is something I’ve hungered for in every novel I read and write ever since! And thus, this book was life-change and life-effecting.

4) Desperation/Regulators (as Richard Bachman)

Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolated Highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the fictional mining town of Desperation. Entragian uses various pretexts for the abductions, from an arrest for drug possession to "rescuing" a family from a nonexistent gunman. It becomes clear to the captives that Entragian has been possessed by an evil being named Tak, who has control over the surrounding desert wildlife and must change hosts to keep itself alive. They begin to fight for their freedom, sanity and lives before realizing that if they are ever to escape Desperation, they must trap Tak in the place from which he came.

Interestingly, David Carver, the twelve year old in a family of four, has a close relationship with God which reveals itself through the novel and plays with the concept of God and faith.

Stephen King simultaneously released the Regulators under his pseudonym Richard Bauchman with this novel. He intended each novel to the mirror image of the other, to represent parallel universes to one another and most of the characters in one novel exist in the other, albeit in altered circumstances.

This is not a lofty novel. This is not a literary novel. This is a psychological horror and had me on the seat of my pants for the entire time I read this novel. For me, this is the first time in a novel where the rulebook was thrown out the window. Main characters were killed off early and often and had me reeling. I am not proud to say, but I succumbed to the bloodlust, to the ruthless, nihilistic evil of the entity. The power of the story, in my opinion, is how Stephen King makes you think: what if this happened to me? What would I do? How would I react? And he plays on your fear of the desolate; the lonely highway in the desert, where monsters roam…

5) The Dead Zone - See Hayley.


Our vote for the best introduction to Stephen King (the launch of an obsession...) is...

The Dead Zone!

Hope you enjoyed our review! Next post - Our top 5 Dean Koontz books!

Happy reading, and Merry Christmas/ Happy Hanukkah/ Happy Holidays.

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