Synopsis: Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a gift. Carrie could make things move by concentrating on them. A candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her power and her sin. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offered Carrie a chance to be normal and go to her senior prom. But another act–of ferocious cruelty–turned her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that her classmates would never forget. (Via Amazon)
Brian: My relationship with Carrie goes back a long time. I have no memory how I got a hold of it, but the first Stephen King book I ever read was Carrie, back when I was in the fifth grade. We had to read a book and give a book report to the class, and I reported on Carrie, much to the dismay of my teacher. I remember her pulling me aside and asking me if I could read more ‘appropriate’ books for the class. So what did I read next? Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I fell in love with King’s work at an early age, and it’s been a life-long love affair. Just last night, I received his newest book, Doctor Sleep, as a birthday present. I’ve read almost all of his novels in the last eighteen years, but it all started with Carrie.
Shaunta: I fell in love with Stephen King early, too. I was a freshman in high school when I read Carrie. I identified with the misfit girl who felt powerless, so some how manifested her own terrible powers. The King book that had the biggest impact on me was The Stand, which I received as a 13th birthday gift from my dad and read cover-to-cover twice in a row–but Carrie has always held a special place in my heart. Maybe because I read it during a time when I felt the least understood, the least heard, and the most different from other girls my age.
Brian: I read the book again in high school, and of course adore the 70’s film starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, and directed by Brian De Palma, but I haven’t thought about Carrie very much in the last decade or so. Therefore, it was a thrill this month to read the book again, and see the new remake which updates the story into a modern day setting. What I re-discovered about King’s novel is just how unusually he tells the story. While there are elements of a young adult novel in his debut, the story is not told in first-person from Carrie’s perspective. Only fifty to sixty percent of the book tells Carrie’s story at the time her tragic tale takes place; the other part of the book is told through newspaper clippings, magazine articles, letters, interviews, and more. There are scenes of testimony, where characters who witnessed the prom scene massacre get grilled on what they saw. There are detailed articles about the aftermath. There’s even an eerie letter that ends the novel that I had completely forgotten about. There’s a calmness and quiet intensity to the way King spins this tale that really resonates with the reader, and I think I love it more now than I did back when I was younger.
Shaunta: I love the 1970s Carrie film so much, that I went into this ‘reimagining’ with very low expectations. Chloe Grace Moretz is just too pretty to be Carrie. I didn’t think I’d be able to believe her as being totally disenfranchised. And I was right. I wasn’t. Moretz did a good job with parts of being Carrie. Her super-shyness was palpable. And I was drawn to the way she both despised and needed her mother. But overall–she didn’t work in the character for me. The one character who I thought did a great job was Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell. Sue was portrayed here as more sympathetic than she was in the original movie, and that worked for me. It highlighted the out-of-control aspect of the final scenes of the movie.
Brian: While I love Chloe Graze Moretz and Julianne Moore, I was definitely more excited to read the book again, than to see the new remake. Most of the horror remakes of the last decade have been poor at best, and offensively awful at worst. The remakes of Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street were so terrible, for example, that I needed a drink afterward just to calm me down. The new Carrie remake is not one of the worst horror remakes of late, but it’s not particularly good, either. The 70’s original is so iconic that for this new one to work, director Kimberly Peirce needed to give the material a wholly new take. Surprisingly, she deviates from the original only rarely. There are scenes in this remake that are almost word for word of the dialogue of the original movie, which was not a good choice. Moretz is fine in the lead role, but she’s way too pretty to pull off this character. One of the biggest weaknesses of the movie, shockingly enough, is Moore, who tries her best to make Margaret White her own, but she’s not offered enough screen time to create anything that’s anything more than a carbon copy of Laurie’s brilliant take on the character. It’s not all a waste, though. The one sequence of the film that works well is the prom night massacre, which is more subtle and effective than the split-screen madness in DePalma’s original. I also liked some of the actors, particularly Ansel Elgort as Tommy Ross (yum!), and Gabriella Wilde, as Sue Snell. But overall, this is a major missed opportunity, especially for a director like Peirce who I thought would do better with this rich material.
Shaunta: I actually really liked Julianne Moore as Carrie’s crazy mother. She was scary and did a good job playing deranged. She didn’t disappear into the role for me–so it was kind of like Carrie White’s mother was a deranged Julianne Moore–but it still worked for me. There’s a scene where she’s giving Sue Snell’s mother Sue’s prom dress at the dry cleaner shop where she works that was so intense for me. She wasn’t Piper Laurie though, and maybe no one else will do in that role. I think this is a movie that was so good in the original that there is no chance for a redo to ever stand up to it. The 1970s version of Carrie is still relevant, still amazing–there’s just no need for it to be reimagined.
Brian: In the end, I’m thrilled to have read Carrie again. It’s one of my childhood favorites—sorry, Mrs. Frodahl—and it still holds up after all these years. As for the movie adaptations (I didn’t even go into the wretched 2002 TV remake), stick with DePalma’s original, which is still by and far the best. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Written by: Michael Grant
Series: Gone, Book 1
Publish Date: June 24, 2008
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Buy the Book: Gone
Synopsis: In the blink of an eye. Everyone disappears. GONE.
Except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not one single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what’s happened.
Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day.
It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else… (Via Amazon)
Brian: Gone is one of those rare books I bought in the last year that I didn’t know anything about when I plunked my hard earned cash for a copy. I was at Powell’s Books in Portland, picking up lots of young adult titles, and I thought I was all done. But then I looked in the YA section one more time, and one book struck my eye. The blah cover didn’t really do it for me, but I liked the simple title: GONE. So I read the back. And as soon as I learned the main concept of the book, I knew I had to have it. And now having finally read it a few months later, I’m happy to say I’m glad I went with my gut. Gone is about 150 pages too long at 576, but I was immediately taken with the likable characters, the simple prose, and the fascinating story.
Shaunta: I’m always interested in YA dystopia, not only because I just love it, but because I write it. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad timing that I started reading Gone just as I started paying attention to Stephen King’s Under the Dome. On the one hand, it gave the book a familiar, comfortable feeling to me. It’s been called a Stephen King-like take on Lord of the Flies, and I could see where that came from, although I think very few books compare favorably to King. There were holes that annoyed me a little–holes that I am intimately familiar with trying to fill myself. How do you write a huge cast and give everyone the attention they deserve. I would have read a whole book about the boy who gets the Mickey D’s up and running again. The bad guys kind of blended for me, and a week later I’m having a hard time remembering who was who. The main character’s best friend left me cold. But I loved the chemistry between the main character and the girl he liked. The author did a good job of showing how kids can grow up fast in times of trauma. There is a secret twin story line that left my head spinning. Brian and I have the same birthday and even if we were born in the same year, I don’t think that we would have immediately decided that meant we were TWINS, and then bought into that idea lock, stock, and barrel.
Brian: This was a very entertaining read that reminded me absolutely of the blurb on the back: Stephen King meets Lord of the Flies. There are elements of The Stand throughout the book, as well as Under the Dome, King’s 2009 novel that is getting a second life right now as a TV show on CBS. But what made this book the perfect choice as Shaunta and my July book of the month is that the storyline reminded me of both our newly released books. Shaunta’s Viral Nation and my Over the Rainbow are very different, but one element they share is the idea of teenagers coming into their own and defying the odds they’ve been dealt with. This theme is a major component of Gone, and it gave an added joy to the reading experience. I loved the main trio in this book, as well as the side characters and stories, especially the boy who runs the local McDonalds. Grant’s prose are very readable, never with any added fluff, despite the length. I enjoyed this one a great deal, although I’m not compelled to read the sequels. Reading this book actually makes me want to read some old-school Stephen King, more than anything else.
Shaunta: I think I’m daunted by the fact that I read the first book when there are five sequels. FIVE. And the first book is close to 600 pages long. That’s a massive commitment. I’d read the next book. I want to find out more about what happens to the main character and the girl he likes. I was intrigued by the idea of Sam, the protagonist. He’s a reluctant hero. He has the ability to do heroic things, and he has, but then he runs away instead of taking credit. I’m drawn to a natural leader, and he’s that for sure. I think anyone who likes dystopia will enjoy Gone.
Shaunta: By the time I was in high school, there was maybe a double handful of books that had had a huge impact on me. I kept them in two plastic milk cartons in my closet. When I think about the stories that have impacted me the most, these are the books I think about. I can still remember where and when I came in contact with each one. I took Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come from the take-one-leave-one shelf at the library when I was in the eleventh grade and it lived in my milk cartons where it reminded me that the world was bigger than my teenage angst and the real traumas of my life in the late 1980s.
Richard Matheson died yesterday. He was 87 years old. I’ve enjoyed lots of his work, but What Dreams May Come will always hold a special place in my heart. He was one of those incredible mid-20th-century writers whose stories manage to still be relevant 50-plus years later. I am Legend is such a good read that it kind of blows the movie out of the water. He wrote iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone, he adapted Poe, he wrote stories that inspired the authors who inspire me. And he wrote What Dreams May Come, for which I will be grateful for the rest of my life.
Matheson once said, “I think What Dreams May Come is the most important (read effective) book I’ve written. It has caused a number of readers to lose their fear of death – the finest tribute any writer could receive.” What Dreams May Come made it easier for me to process my mother’s death in the mid-1990s. I hope he’s enjoying his own version of heaven now, and if he’s got more stories to tell, that he decides to come back and tell them.
Brian: “Without Richard Matheson, I wouldn’t be around,” Stephen King once said, and I’m sure many authors of horror would say the same thing. Matheson was a genius writer, both in his novels, and in his screenplays and teleplays. One of my favorite shows growing up was The Twilight Zone, which my dad introduced me to when I was eight or nine. Matheson wrote sixteen episodes, including the innovative The Invaders, and the iconic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. His episodes are always as frightening as they are thought-provoking.
When I was in my early teens I finally discovered the movie that put Steven Spielberg on the map. Not Jaws, mind you, but Duel, his amazing 1971 TV movie that Matheson wrote the script for, based on his short story. A young Spielberg was mostly directing TV episodes at the time, and Duel gave him his first big break. Forty-two years later, the movie still holds up as one of the most suspenseful ever made.
While I have been a lover of books my whole life, there was a period of about six years, age eighteen to twenty-four, that I didn’t read as much as I did as a kid, and as much as I do now. One of the few books I remember getting lost in during this time, however, was I Am Legend. I remember buying it at full price in a Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles, and spending most of my weekend scaring myself silly. I’ve already reserved his haunted house novel Hell House at the library, which I’ve heard is even more terrifying than I Am Legend, and I can’t wait over the next months and years to discover much more of his work. Rest in peace, Mr. Matheson, and thanks for the stories. And nightmares!
Written by: Albert Brooks
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publish Date: May 10, 2011
Genre: Adult Literary
Source: Bought at Indie Bookstore
Buy the Book: 2030
Synopsis: Is this what the future holds?
June 12, 2030 started out like any other day in memory—and by then, memories were long. Since cancer had been cured fifteen years earlier, America’s population was aging rapidly. That sounds like good news, but consider this: millions of baby boomers, with a big natural predator picked off, were sucking dry benefits and resources that were never meant to hold them into their eighties and beyond. Young people around the country simmered with resentment toward “the olds” and anger at the treadmill they could never get off of just to maintain their parents’ entitlement programs.
But on that June 12th, everything changed: a massive earthquake devastated Los Angeles, and the government, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, was unable to respond.
The fallout from the earthquake sets in motion a sweeping novel of ideas that pits national hope for the future against assurances from the past and is peopled by a memorable cast of refugees and billionaires, presidents and revolutionaries, all struggling to find their way. (Via Amazon)
Brian’s Review: Defending Your Life, the 1991 film written and directed by, and starring, Albert Brooks, is my favorite comedy of all time. Co-starring Meryl Streep, the film tells of a man who dies in a tragic bus accident, then wakes up in a new afterlife where for four days his life on Earth is examined and it’s decided whether he’ll continue on to “the next stage” or go back to Earth to try again. It’s a very funny movie, and a sweet romance, but it’s also the only glimpse into what happens after we die that actually makes sense. It’s a film I’ve watched over and over and over again, and it’s one that’s made me seek out every known Albert Brooks project ever made. It’s not that hard, actually, since his output is disappointingly limited. He’s only made a handful of films, most of which are great, including Modern Romance, Lost in America, Mother, and The Muse. And in 2011, much to my surprise and joy, his first work of fiction was published. I’ve just finished 2030, and let me tell you, this is an eye-opening, fascinating glimpse into a scarily real future, one that reminded me of a slightly less gruesome version of Stephen King’s The Stand.
2030 weaves together at least half a dozen major storylines, and dozens of characters, as they come to grips with hardships in the year 2030. While Defending Your Life is funny in its depiction of the afterlife, there’s surprisingly few laughs in this book, mostly because, as a young person, I’m mortified by the idea of the older generation living longer and longer and we in our twenties and thirties having to pay for them. I’m mortified by interest rates skyrocketing, and climate change becoming a worldwide detonator. The event that sets off the rest of the novel is a 9.1 earthquake in Los Angeles that kills thousands and leaves the city in utter ruins, and even the President is unsure where he’s going to get the money to pay for all the rescue efforts. Brooks does include some more clever, less traumatizing futuristic predictions, like a cure for cancer finally being discovered, and all movies being projected in 3D. But at the heart of the story is total chaos, and not the kind of comedy we’ve come to expect from Brooks.
If I had a criticism of the book, it’s that there’s not the kind of thrust to the narrative that can be found in, say, the apocalyptic works of Stephen King. At 384 pages, 2030 felt a tad long, while 1,100+ pages of The Stand fly by in a breeze. The characters are all interesting, especially The President, who has unimaginable burdens in this near future, and Kathy, a young 20-something, who’s suddenly faced with hundreds of thousand of dollars in debt after her father gets treated at the hospital (and then dies soon after). And I loved all the tiny details Brooks scatters throughout. Ultimately, this book is worth reading sooner rather than later (published in 2012, the book already has predictions of things to come for 2013!). While it doesn’t reach the powers of his film masterpiece, one I’m already thinking of revisiting again, Defending Your Life, it’s an honest, fascinating look at where we might be in seventeen years. I hope it’s the first of many (or at least two or three!) literary endeavors from one of my favorite writers in the universe, Mr. Albert Brooks.
Written by: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publish Date: September 13, 2010
Genre: Adult Literary
Source: Borrowed from Library
Buy the Book: Room
Synopsis: To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another. (Via Amazon)
Brian’s Review: At the beginning of the year I started a fun new experiment at the library. Each time I go in, I go to the Fiction section and pick out an author I’ve never read. In my first visit in January, I picked an author whose last named starts with A. The next, B. Then C. And so on. It doesn’t have to be an author I’ve never heard of; my rule is that it’s an author whose work I’ve never read before. In late March, it was time for the D author. I had a few choices, but Room looked too good to pass up. I read the jacket and just shook my head. How could author Donoghue possibly pull off a 300-plus-page literary novel told through the eyes of a five-year-old? Just a few pages in, I knew this was going to be a special book. Room is an astounding achievement.
The book is broken up into five sections. The first two sections basically consist of the main characters Jack and his Ma living—surviving, really—in a small jail cell of a room, where Ma’s been locked up for seven years, and little Jack has lived his entire life. We follow them over the course of many days and weeks, as they eat, sleep, read books, fight illness. Imagine, a 5-year-old child who has never seen daylight, has never met someone his age. The TV is his only glimpse at the outside world. Not a whole lot happens in these two sections, but they’re fascinating nonetheless, and they allow for Jack’s voice to develop for the reader. It’s jarring at first, reading something that’s not a children’s book that’s told from the voice of a five-year-old. But somehow, Donoghue makes it work. And it makes us fall in love with this boy way more than a distant third person perspective ever could have.
The third section of the book—the escape—was my favorite. These pages were as riveting and suspenseful as anything I’ve ever read in the book, and reminded me of the joy I had reading Stephen King’s Misery, and Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan. The Count of Monte Cristo is referenced, then utilized, to great effect, and it’s so uniquely effective because they’re told from Jack’s point of view. He’s never even stepped on grass before; never interacted with another human being outside of his mother, and the bad man, Old Nick, who keeps them locked up in the little room. We’ve all read escape scenes in literature, and seen them countless times in movies, but never has there been an escape scene quite like the one in Room.
The fourth and fifth sections detail Jack’s life in the aftermath of his escape. For a while I was thinking the whole book was going to lead up to the escape attempt, but author Donoghue wants to dig deeper, wants to explore what would actually happen to a kid like Jack if he was able to regain normalcy after five years in his closed-off world. It’s absolutely fascinating material. Some of it is dark, and some of it is beautiful, and a lot of it is unexpected. Room took me on a ride that few adult literary novels have in recent years, and it gets my highest recommendation.
I used to read a lot as a kid, but by high school I typically found myself reading no more than five books a year for pleasure, and by college, even less. It wasn’t necessarily that I lost interest, but more that I just didn’t give myself time during my busy days to kick back with a good book.
That all changed in 2012. In 2011 I started writing young adult fiction, but I wasn’t reading much of it, and therefore I was ecstatic to start a YA book blog with Shaunta last June to start forcing myself to read as many books as possible. Now, at the start of 2013, I’m that voracious ten-year-old reader again, gobbling up everything in sight. I enjoyed a mix of YA, middle grade, and adult literary fiction in 2012, and had trouble narrowing it down to ten favorites.
Two notes about the list below. Unlike my upcoming Top Ten Films list, which is strictly films released in 2012, my Top Ten Books List is of books I read in 2012, not necessarily books that were released that year. Also, I’ve elected not to include books I read in 2012 that I read before. For example, I re-read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but it wouldn’t seem fair to include those on the list. How could I compare something like The Wizard of Oz with The Fault in Our Stars, anyway?
Now, without further ado, here are my ten favorite books of 2012…
1. Looking for Alaska
I discovered two new favorite authors in 2012, and the most influential to me was John Green. A fellow writing friend told me about his work back in January, and I decided to start with his debut novel. I had no idea it would end up being not only my favorite novel of the year, but one of my favorite books ever. This book is amazing. It made me laugh, cry, cheer. The big twist of the second half was totally unexpected, and made for a truly rich reading experience. It has everything you could possibly want in a novel, YA or otherwise. One of the best debut novels I’ve ever read.
2. Boy Meets Boy
I wish I could’ve found this book when it came out in 2003, when I was living in Los Angeles, in the closet, scared and alone. This would’ve been the greatest gift back then, but at least I finally found it in 2012. All I knew when I started reading it was that it was a love story between two teenage boys, but it’s so much more than that. You know what really stood out about this story? It’s not depressing, it’s not cynical, it’s not tragic. Boy Meets Boy was the first truly uplifting gay love story I’d ever read, and it changed the way I looked at what a young adult novel can be and do. Like Looking for Alaska, this book should be shared with every teenager on this planet.
3. The Fault in Our Stars
So the next author I fell in love with in 2012 was… oh… wait, it’s John Green again. Everyone’s favorite YA novel of 2012 was certainly one of mine as well, a book I devoured in just two days last July. One of the successes of this novel is that it could have been so maudlin, so sentimental, a downer of a book that tries too hard. But Green can even find the humor in cancer, and he gives his two main characters the kind of voices all we writers hope to find in our work. The journey the characters take is a memorable one, and the ending left me breathless. A masterpiece worth all the acclaim it’s been given.
4. Every Day
Seeing a pattern yet? Yes, I know I’m being predictable but now, but Green and Levithan wrote my four favorite books of the year. The top two books were these authors’ debut novels, and the next two books were the authors’ newest novels, so I’m happy to report none of their talent and skill has diminished! Shaunta had an issue with a chapter toward the end, and while I agree with her on this one overlooked issue, I still found Every Day to be a glorious, imaginative book, with the most intriguing premise of anything I read all year. I just read Six Earlier Days, a short prequel companion to this, and loved it, too. Green and Levithan are the best, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll do next.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
So I’m cheating here a little bit because I did read this book once back in college, on a recommendation from a friend. I didn’t remember it very well though, so when I read it again last August I was surprised to find how much more of an impact it had on me on the second read. How did the book not mean anything to me back nearly a decade ago? What a treat this was, spending time with these characters, following their joys and their pains, and then getting to see the film, which is a beautiful companion to the book. I guess I needed to be more well-read, or more willing to get in touch with my emotional side, but this second read of The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of the great joys of the year.
My last read of 2012 was easily one of the best and most engrossing, Stephen King’s newest behemoth of a doorstopper. One of my favorite reads in 2010 was his 1000-plus page Under the Dome, and going into 11/22/63 a couple weeks ago, I sincerely hoped I was in for a good time. When a book is 849 pages, it has to be great to keep you going, and never did this one fail to keep me completely absorbed. Time travel novels can go so wrong in so many ways, but King keeps this imaginative book stayed away from too much of the fantasy aspect and instead centered on a moving, realistic relationship between two complex teachers, to great effect. I blocked out two weeks to read this one, but it only took me half that time. I loved this book. Stephen King is still, after all these years, my writing hero!
7. Where Things Come Back
The other great young adult discovery in 2012 was this unusually effective debut novel by John Corey Whaley, which won the Michael L. Printz award for 2011. This one reminded me of a modern day To Kill a Mockingbird, with its setting and tone and small town of memorable characters. Even better, Whaley takes your expectations and flips them upside down, giving you a final act of harrowing suspense that constantly keeps you on edge. A former English teacher, Whaley is now focusing solely on his fiction, and great for all of us: this young author is a huge talent worth getting excited about.
8. You Came Back
Christopher Coake’s beautifully written, compulsively readable literary novel You Came Back is another terrific debut novel I read in 2012. The central idea is a great one: what if you had a son who tragically died, who returned as a ghost and who is now haunting a family living in the house he died in? At the heart of You Came Back is the complex relationships between the protagonist Mark Fife and the two women in his life, as well as Mark’s attempt to come to terms with his son’s potential reappearance. But while the book is more literary than all out horror, there are plenty of creepy moments that got under my skin. With this book, and his dark, fantastic short story collection We’re In Trouble, Coake has proven himself to be an author to keep an eye on.
9. The Borrower
I read this marvelous book earlier in 2012, and it hasn’t left my mind since. For a creative writing class I read a short story by Rebecca Makkai, the only gay-themed one in the Best American Short Stories 2011 collection, and decided to check out her debut novel (yep, another debut!). It’s a book about books, and about libraries, and about people who love books and libraries. So obviously this was up my alley. The Borrower is a lighter read than some of these others, and it’s super fun. The relationship between the librarian and the little boy who loves to read will make you grin throughout the three hundred pages. I can’t wait to read more from this author.
10. The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell
Chris Colfer continues to amaze me. Ever since his Single Ladies rendition on Glee back in 2009, I’ve been following this handsome guy with great interest. Who would’ve thought back then he would’ve released both a novel and a movie in 2012? The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is the only middle grade book on my list, but it’s no slim read by any means; at 400-plus pages, there’s a whole lot of imagination at work here. I’ve always loved the Grimms Fairy Tales, and all those classic animated Disney movies based on them, so I found a lot to love in this superbly entertaining debut novel. Colfer writes with a lot of heart and wit and brings his fantastical world to life in a way only he could. This book is a blast. I love Chris Colfer, and I can’t wait to see what he does next!
Author: Stephen King
Publish Date: 11/8/11
Genre: Adult Literary
Source: Christmas Gift
Buy the Book: 11/22/63
Brian: What a way to go out on a fantastic year of reading, certainly my best ever. I read more books in 2012 than I have since I was probably in elementary school, and while not every book was a joy, I sure found some treasures, whether they be YA (Looking for Alaska), non-fiction (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark), middle grade (Wonder), and adult literary (The Borrower). I saved one of my favorite genres for last: Stephen King. (The man’s pretty much a genre all his own, don’t you say?) My favorite author for nearly twenty years, Stephen King has entertained me more than any other author. I’ve read almost all of his novels, most of his short stories, his Bachman books, and On Writing at least a dozen times. I’ve heard some say he’s lost his touch over the years, that his books are poor imitations of his 70’s and 80’s work. I couldn’t disagree more. While he probably won’t ever reach the heights of The Shining and The Stand, his two milestones, I’ve loved his last two doorstoppers, Under the Dome, and this, his newest non-Dark Tower novel, 11/22/63. I started reading 11/22/63 on Monday, December 24, thinking I would need all 2 weeks of the Christmas break to read this nearly 1000-page whopper of a book, I plowed through it in half that time. While Under the Dome concentrated on over 100 characters, 11/22/63 focuses on just one: Jake Epping, a man who goes back in time from 2011 to 1958 with one goal… to stop the JFK assassination. This isn’t just one of the best books I read in all of 2012; it’s one of my favorite books of Stephen King’s entire canon. I LOVED this book!
Shaunta: It’s almost cliche for a writers of a certain age to say that Stephen King made them want to write. So, I’m cliche. That’s okay. I was given a copy of The Stand for my thirteenth birthday, and that was it. I was hooked not only on Stephen King, but on storytelling. I wanted to be a storyteller, like he is. More than a writer. My husband gave me 11/22/63 for Christmas last year, and I devoured it. I absolutely loved it. I’m a history junkie, and King did a magnificent job of bringing the early 60s to life here. He has a real way of making an unbelievable situation (a time portal inside a restaurant pantry?) believable. I think it’s just that he makes you want to believe, so that you can spend some time in his world. That’s the genius of his storytelling, and this book is no exception. It isn’t as purely incredible as some of his very early work, but it’s solid and super entertaining.
Brian: The joys of 11/22/63 are endless. As a writer and a teacher, I found Jake instantly relatable. The idea of telling an 850-page novel in the first person of one character is a daunting one, to say the least, but King pulls it off with Jake, who is flawed, passionate, charming, and brave. I would’ve happily spent another 500 pages with this guy. I’ve always been a fan of time travel stories (particularly when they’re done well), and King really nails it on giving us just enough information and imagination to make us buy the time travel scenario and paradoxes. The premise itself is a dynamite one, and what really makes the book exciting is that while we’re reading about Jake’s journey over the course of 1958 to 1963, the assassination attempt is always in the back of our minds, giving the book added suspense at almost every turn. But you know what really struck me? The spying on Lee Harvey Oswald, and the chunk of pages actually dedicated to the saving of JFK, is not the most interesting part of this behemoth: it’s the beautifully captured relationship between Jake, and a young teacher he meets named Sadie. Hundreds of pages are dedicated to the building of this relationship, and it’s totally absorbing.
Shaunta: It’s true. The relationship between Jake and Sadie is incredible. It was almost ruined for me by King’s attempt (for the first time that I’ve ever read) to write sex. Whoo boy. It was kind of like walking in on your parents. Wrong. Awkward. Some authors can do it. Some shouldn’t, ever. My own book is a time travel book, and I was totally inspired by this book (which I read as I was revising mine last year.) It’s harder than you might think, to keep two time lines in order. Plus, he managed to keep the pacing for almost 1000 pages, which is incredible by itself.
Brian: Of course I was intrigued at how King was going to end this book. There were probably twenty endings King could have come up with, probably seventeen or eighteen the wrong one. What Jake learns in the end, and what he ends up doing ultimately, is not what I expected, and it works beautifully. The whole time I thought I knew what was going to happen (and I had a good idea what I would do if I was writing it), but King subverted my expectations, gave me horrific twists I didn’t see coming, and a final scene that literally brought tears to my eyes. Even at his best, King doesn’t usually make me FEEL this much, bring forth these many emotions, and in that regard, 11/22/63 is a home run. Besides Under the Dome, I haven’t read much King in the last few years, but reading this made me want to return to his world more frequently. He was my favorite in 1994, and he’s still my favorite today. Stephen King is my hero.