Book Talk: do you re-read books?

I once read an opinion somewhere on the internet concerning the act of re-visiting media that you have already experienced. Watching movies that you have already seen, for example. Re-playing a videogame that you’ve previously beaten, to name another. This person stated that doing such a thing is one of the biggest wastes of a human being’s time.

I can see where they were coming from with that. For starters, shocking plot twists and masterfully crafted mystery are the sorts of things that can ONLY be experienced once and once only with the full impact. That’s not to say that re-living these things would be unenjoyable, but the prior knowledge of what’s coming absolutely guarantees that the second time around won’t leave you so breathless.

To tie that into books, I reviewed two fantastic Peter Swanson thrillers here on this blog – The Girl With a Clock for a Heart and The Kind Worth Killing – but as much as I couldn’t get enough of either, I don’t believe I could/would read them again. Those two books in particular were built entirely around mystery, suspense and momentous twists that changed everything. I don’t doubt that I would still enjoy reading either of those books but, until a device is invented that can wipe selective portions of our memory, there is no way that I could be sucker-punched by the same shocks.

Aside from being familiar with entertainment that you have already consumed, you also have to remember just how much there is still to discover – especially when it comes to books. There is certainly an argument for not spending time with stuff you’ve already read when there are thousands upon thousands (maybe even millions) of books out there, waiting for you to try them. Why limit your horizons and stay with what you know?

All of that said, I can’t completely agree with this viewpoint. While I am making it one of my missions to expand my scope and read new things by a wider pool of authors, I also see the value in revisiting an old favourite. It’s about striking a balance, isn’t it?

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A well-read copy of Stephen King’s IT. I could be reading something totally new to me but, right now, I’d much rather invest myself in this.

Last night, for example, I suddenly decided that I fancied reading Stephen King’s IT again. Nothing to do with all the fuss about the recent movies; it was simply one of my absolute favourite Stephen King books and I hadn’t read it for many years. I dug the book out from where it was buried and you know what? I couldn’t wait to start it again. I was genuinely excited and I don’t feel that way about many new books, let alone books that I have already read before. Why deny that feeling?

I got through the first seventy pages last night and enjoyed every one of them. Obviously, I do remember how IT unfolds, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the writing, the world-building and the characters. Even now, as I’m typing this post, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the next seventy pages and beyond. That feeling is utterly priceless as far as I’m concerned.

Do YOU go back to the books you have already finished? Or are you exclusively interested in brand-new experiences?

Book Talk: that old book smell

Books are an oddity in the arena of entertainment media. When it comes to music, DVDs/Blu Rays, videogames or most other things, we’d all prefer fresh, brand-new copies for our shelves. When it comes to books, however, there’s something appealing about a used, well-read edition.

There’s no need to worry about breaking it in, for instance. New books are always appreciated but I tend to bother myself with treating a hardback book like a priceless artifact. There’s that dustcover to keep from getting frayed around the edges for starters. And I have to ensure that my hands are squeaky clean to avoid dirtying the edges of the pages.

Don’t even get me started on keeping the spines of paperbacks from creasing. Before I forcibly stopped myself from being so exhaustingly anal about such trivial matters, I would feel my heart sink when I got given a paperback – that I’d borrowed out – back, only to find that the other person had clearly folded the book open at severely obtuse angles and cracked the spine in multiple places. Have some damn respect!

Away from all that though, a used book has history. In fact, it isn’t “used”, rather “loved”.

It’s a history that you can smell. There’s something deeply satisfying (and probably weird to those watching us…) about opening up an old book and inhaling deeply. Aged paper is one of those scents that has the ability to transport your mind back in time and make you feel warm and nostalgic inside.

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An old book with yellowed pages. I’d take it over a new copy any day of the week though.

For me, the smell of old books sends my mind back to when I was a kid. It reminds me of visiting the library every Saturday morning and browsing the shelves. The books in the library were already old and well-read, you see, so the smell of an old book now reminds me of those old books and that time in my life. It reminds me of the thrill of finding new books that I hadn’t yet checked out.

(yes, I was a big nerd as a child – certainly not a cool kid)

It was a simpler, care-free time of life. The tribulations of adulthood aside, it’s infinitely less satisfying to be able to outright buy as many new books as you desire, or order them from Amazon with a few clicks. Obviously, it’s the content of books that really matters, but regardless, a brand-new book has much less soul compared to a passed-around copy with crispy, yellowed pages.

Where does the smell of an old book take YOU?

Book Review: Night Shift (Stephen King, 1978)

NightShift-1Year: 1978
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder (2012 UK Paperback)
Format: Paperback (Reviewed)
Pages: 488
ISBN: 9781444723199

A collection of tales to invade and paralyse the mind as the safe light of day is infiltrated by the shadows of the night.

As you read, the clutching fingers of terror brush lightly across the nape of the neck, reach round from behind to clutch and lock themselves, white-knuckled, around the throat.

This is the horror of ordinary people and everyday objects that become strangely altered; a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems, where the familiar and the friendly lure and deceive. A world where madness and blind panic become the only reality.

I will always aim to pick up any new Stephen King release as soon as possible but I can’t avoid the fact that I still prefer his older works. Before anybody cries, “rose-tinted glasses!” or accuses me of being stuck in the past, I do have a reason for my preference. Simply put, I feel that King has drifted away from the raw, old-school horror that he used to pump out. Books such as Salem’s Lot, Christine and The Shining for example. His modern novels are still fantastic but they are missing the sinister personality of his back catalogue.

The short story collection, Night Shift, is packed with such examples of the kind of Stephen King writing that I miss. Inanimate objects gaining sentience and killing people just because they can, for instance. Their evil needs no deep, meaningful explanation. It just is. There are also stories that play out like bizarre, horrifying nightmares that defy all sense and sanity. These sorts of stories are so effective because they deal with ordinary people and everyday objects and while you – the reader – know full well that this is all the realm of fantasy, you still can’t help but wonder, “what if…?”

It’s the sort of irrational, child-like fear where imagination runs amok and a person can see an evil, hungry grin rather than a car’s grille. Take The Mangler for instance. This is probably my favourite story from Night Shift. At a laundry, the Hadley-Watson Model-6 Speed Ironer and Folder – known to the employees as ‘The mangler’ – has just killed an employee. It should be impossible. After all, there are safety measures built into the machine, and it has passed its safety inspections. What makes this story is the gruesome, utterly unapologetic descriptions of the mangler’s work.

And Mrs Frawley, somehow, had been caught and dragged in. The steel, asbestos-jacketed pressing cylinders had been as red as barn paint, and the rising steam from the machine had carried a sickening stench of hot blood. Bits of her white blouse and blue slacks, even ripped segments of her bra and panties, had been torn free and ejected from the machine’s far end thirty feet down, the bigger sections of cloth folded with grotesque and blood-stained neatness by the automatic folder. But not even that was the worst.
“It tried to fold everything,” he said to Jackson, tasting bile in his throat. “But a person isn’t a sheet, Mark. What I saw…what was left of her…” Like Stanner, the hapless foreman, he could not finish. “They took her out in a basket,” he said softly.

The theme of machinery run amok of its newfound free will continues further into the collection with Trucks. Here, big rigs everywhere are suddenly thinking for themselves and set on murdering as as many people as possible, either by ramming their cars off the roads or running them down. The story focuses on a gas station diner and a small group of people taking shelter there as the trucks circle the building and pounce on anybody brave enough to make a run for it. It’s a silly concept on paper but again, it works so well because there is no sane explanation for what is happening. The only shame is that Trucks was adapted and expanded for the so-bad-it’s-entertaining 1986 movie, Maximum Overdrive, though whether the movie’s ‘explanation’ is actually superior to having none at all is up for debate.

Speaking of big-screen adaptations, there are several other stories in Night Shift that you may recognise from the movies. Quitters Inc. and The Ledge were both part of the 1985 horror anthology, Cat’s Eye, and Children of the Corn is possibly better known for its cinematic version. Then, there is The Lawnmower Man – a short story that is nothing at all like the famous movie which was only very loosely based on King’s story. In fact, it was so unlike the source material that King successfully won a lawsuit to have his name removed from all of The Lawnmower Man‘s publicity material.

I really like Quitters Inc. because it taps into the problem of addiction and that uncomfortable exploration of what it would actually take for a person to give up their vice.

“If the rabbit gets a jolt often enough while he’s eating,” Donatti said, “he makes the association very quickly. Eating causes pain. Therefore, he won’t eat. A few more shocks, and the rabbit will starve to death in front of his food. It’s called aversion training.”

“For the first month of the treatment, our operatives will have you under constant supervision,” Donatti said. “You’ll be able to spot some of them. Not all. But they’ll always be with you. Always. If they see you smoke a cigarette, I get a call.”
“And suppose you  bring me here and do the old rabbit trick,” Morrison said. He tried to sound cold and sarcastic, but he suddenly felt horribly frightened. This was a nightmare.
“Oh, no,” Donatti said. “Your wife gets the rabbit trick, not you.”
Morrison looked at him dumbly.
Donatti smiled. “You,” he said, “get to watch.”

Another of my favourites is The Boogeyman. A father visits a psychologist to tell his unbelievable tale of how all three of his children were killed by a horrendous creature that came out of the closet at night and literally scared them to death. It’s a great little story that taps into the childish fear of monsters hiding under the bed or in closets, and there is an amusing – if unnecessary – twist right at the end.

For the King faithful, there are also two Salem’s Lot tie-ins that will be of interest. The first is told through a series of letters and journal entries dating back to the mid-1800’s, and serves as a prequel of sorts. The second takes place after the events of Salem’s Lot and sees two men from a neighbouring town set out to rescue an out-of-towner’s wife and child from the ‘Lot.

Overall, Night Shift is a really enjoyable Stephen King short story collection. It’s dark, disturbing and classic King. While I did have my favourites, I don’t really consider any of the stories in Night Shift to be weak links (as with some of his other collections). So if you are looking for something that is more Stephen King than the author’s own modern output then you should consider taking a trip back to the past and giving Night Shift a shot.

Book Review: The Institute (Stephen King, 2019)

DSC_0476Year: 2019
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 485
ISBN: 9781529355390

Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a dark state facility where kids, abducted from across the United States, are incarcerated. In the Institute they are subjected to a series of tests and procedures meant to combine their exceptional gifts – telepathy, telekinesis – for concentrated effect.

Luke Ellis is the latest recruit. He’s just a regular twelve-year-old, except he’s not just smart, he’s super-smart. And he has another gift which the Institute wants to use…

Far away in a small town in South Carolina, former cop Tim Jamieson has taken a job working for the local sheriff. He’s basically just walking the beat. But he’s about to take on the biggest case of his career.

Back in the Institute’s downtrodden playground of corridors where posters advertise ‘just another day in paradise’, Luke, his friend Kalisha and the other kids are in no doubt that they are prisoners, not guests. And there is no hope of escape.

But great events can turn on small hinges and Luke is about to team up with a new, even younger recruit, Avery Dixon, whose ability to read minds is off the scale. While the Institute may want to harness their powers for covert ends, the combined intelligence of Luke and Avery is beyond anything that even those who run the experiments – even the infamous Mrs. Sigsby – suspect.

It’s fair to say that I was a little cautious going into The Institute because, as much as I love Stephen King’s work, I wasn’t as enthralled by his latest output as I have been by the classics from his back catalogue.  Sleeping Beauties, for instance, was a great read until the anticlimactic finale and implication that men are the cause of most of the world’s problems. Then there was Gwendy’s Button Box and Elevation – two enjoyable page-turners that were just too short and not wholly satisfying as a result.

But Amazon were offering the The Institute at half-price (£10 instead of £20) if the book was pre-ordered so I threw caution to the wind and did just that. I’m glad that I did too because The Institute is a fantastic read and a real return to form that left me with very little to dislike.

One of the things I liked the most about this book was that it had the classic King formula of multiple plot strands converging for the endgame. On one hand, there is Tim Jamieson, an ex-cop turned drifter. Jamieson is hitch-hiking his way to New York, taking on temporary jobs along the way, until fate brings him to the tiny South Carolina town of Dupray. Tim takes on an old-school night knocker job, only intending to stay in town for a while, but finds himself unexpectedly warming to small-town life and the people in Dupray. And they warm to him too. Tim quickly goes up in the estimations of Sheriff Ashworth and also manages to impress the frosty Deputy Wendy Gullickson, earning himself a dinner date with the attractive officer.

But if life is on the up and up for Tim, the same can’t be said for Luke Ellis. Luke is a child genius – a real one-in-a-million find – who is about to be enrolled into two colleges simultaneously…at the age of just twelve. Bright, popular and seemingly destined for greatness, Luke’s life should be about to take off but other people have different ideas. Luke is abducted from his home in the dead of night – and his parents murdered – by a special ops team who deliver him to the titular Institute, a top-secret off-the-books state facility that gathers together gifted children and subjects them to experiments.

It isn’t Luke’s incredible intelligence that the Institute are after however; it’s his latent telekinetic (TK) abilities. The Institute acquires children with TK or TP (telepathy) and uses their collected power to eliminate targets deemed dangerous for the world’s stability; terrorist leaders for example, or prominent figures that are seemingly on-course to start undesirable chains of events. The kids don’t know this to begin with though. What they do know is that they live in eerie replicas of their real bedrooms and have the freedom to roam the corridors of the Institute, use the vending machines and even access the (censored) internet…provided that they have earnt tokens from the Institute’s staff of course. They can even buy cigarettes and alcohol from the vending machines!

But this soft, open-prison style of incarceration comes with a nasty side. Scientists at the Institute subject the kids to all kinds of experiments that initially make little to no sense to Luke and his new group of friends. Failure to co-operate results in beatings, electric shocks from stun guns and even waterboarding. And this all before they have even graduated to the dreaded ‘Back Half’ of the Institute where their TK/TP abilities will be harnessed for the “greater good”.

So you have these two seemingly disconnected plots running parallel to one another before they finally meet up. It works very well in my opinion because I grew to really enjoy each of the lead characters and the supporting casts surrounding them. Whether it’s the town folk in Tim’s story or the kids that Luke befriends inside the Institute, both sides of the book are nicely fleshed-out and even the most minor of the supporting characters are brought to life believably in that special way that Stephen King has always been so adept at doing. Admittedly, there is more intrigue in Luke’s story but I wouldn’t say that either half is weak.

And you will love to hate those Institute people. From the cold and ruthless Mrs. Sigsby to the caretakers who seem to enjoy beating on kids and torturing them – they are all pretty nasty pieces of work and the cruelty that takes place within the walls of the Institute is described vividly by King with no punches pulled, even if it is just scared children who are the victims.

The book is apparently inspired by the thousands of children who go missing all across America each year and never seen again. The themes of government conspiracy and black site operations are also so relevant in this post-Wikileaks age where countless Youtubers and internet sites are eager to show you the proof that operations like the Institute are, perhaps, not so fictional at all.

I think that Stephen King has really done it again with The Institute. I would have liked the book to be just a little bit thicker and have the same level of detailed characterisation that the likes of IT and The Stand boasted but that’s pretty much the only criticism I have. The plot is full of intrigue and leads up to a fast-moving, action-packed finale that I found myself unwilling to pause with a bookmark. And the characters – as I have already said – are just so likable (or detestable in the case of the Institute’s staff). I would say that this is the best Stephen King book in this style since the fantastic Doctor Sleep (which seems like such a long time ago now!).

Highly recommended.

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #10: The Ghost Next Door (R.L. Stine, 1993)

ghostnextdoor-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

I’ve slacked off on these reviews just recently but never fear because I am back on track and, at last, breaking into double digits with book number ten in the Goosebumps series. I have to admit that I might possibly have stalled on re-reading these books purely because The Ghost Next Door was never really a highlight for me and so I suppose I wasn’t that enthusiastic about getting through it. I can’t say that I’ve changed my mind now that I HAVE got it done but The Ghost Next Door was definitely an interesting read because it simply doesn’t feel like a proper Goosebumps book.

The Blurb

Hannah’s really fed up with the summer so far – all her friends are away and she’s stuck with her little twin brothers for company. Great.

But now that Danny has moved in next door maybe she will have some fun, after all. Danny’s pretty weird, though, he’s so pale – ghostly pale – and he keeps disappearing…

Hannah wants some answers. Somehow, she’s going to find out for sure. Could Danny be…the ghost next door?

Hannah Fairchild is a twelve year-old girl living in the small, quiet town of Greenwood Falls. She’s home for the summer and bored (as so many kids in these books are…) but perhaps things will look up now that Danny – also twelve – has just moved in next door. That basic intro aside, this girl be crazy! The book starts with Hannah waking up from a horrible nightmare about being trapped in her bedroom as her house burns down around her. Her unrealistically joyful reaction to realising that this was just a dream is priceless…

Boring.
But today, Hannah climbed out of bed with a smile on her face.
She was alive!
Her house hadn’t burned down.

Er…okay? Anyway, Hannah quickly becomes convinced that something isn’t right about Danny. He vanishes without warning for instance. Also, he apparently attends the same school as Hannah but she hasn’t seen him around nor has she heard of his friends. Between these items and a few other small pieces of “evidence”, Hannah arrives at the only possible conclusion: Danny MUST be a ghost.

I’m going to cut straight to it here and drop some spoilers so don’t read on if you don’t want this children’s horror book from 1993 spoiled…

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The book essentially attempts to lead you along with Hannah and her conclusion that Danny is a ghost. You even wait for false scares to give way to the truth sooner or later. However, the actual plot twist arrives around three-quarters of the way in: it’s Hannah that’s a ghost, not Danny. You see, she and her family were killed in a house fire five years ago hence the dream that she has at the beginning of the book. It also explains why some of the townspeople seem to not hear her when she calls out to them and also why she isn’t familiar with Danny’s friends. She’s existing in the present as a ghost but also sort-of in the past.

Unfortunately, I found that it was a fairly easy to twist to predict. I genuinely didn’t remember anything about The Ghost Next Door prior to this revisit but even so, I worked the truth out long before Hannah did.

I also mentioned in this review’s opening that this book doesn’t really feel like a Goosebumps book. It isn’t scary at all and I didn’t feel the horror vibes. In fact, it almost feels like a mystery book for young readers where a group of pre-pubescent kids try to solve a local mystery. In this case, Hannah is attempting to solve the mystery of Danny. The end-of-chapter suspense doesn’t come in the form of false scares but rather the drama of the town as Hannah tries to stop Danny and his friends from getting in serious trouble.

There is a supernatural boogeyman in the form of a mysterious black shadow with glowing red eyes that chases Hannah several times. This is ultimately revealed to be Danny’s ghost who is waiting for him to die so it can take his place (wrap your head around that).

The finale is also not really a Goosebumps conclusion. It’s more like a sad farewell as Hannah appears to leave the mortal realm behind.

“Come back, Hannah,” her mother whispered. “Come back to us now.”
Hannah could feel herself floating now. And as she flated, she gazed down – her last look at earth.
“I can see him, Mum,” she said excitedly, brushing the tears off her cheeks. “I can see Danny. In his room. But the light is getting faint. So faint.”
“Hannah, come back. Come back to us,” her mother whispered, calling her home.
“Danny – remember me!” Hannah cried as Danny’s face appeared clearly in the misty grey.
Could he hear her?
Could he hear her calling to him?
She hoped so.

So no creepy twist or anything like that. Just this decidedly out-of-place ascension to the afterlife. These last two pages really summarise the strange tone of this book and mark it out as a black sheep in the Goosebumps series. I wouldn’t say that this shift made for an enjoyable read because it isn’t what a reader of horror fiction would want from a Goosebumps book. That said, it was definitely unique and totally unexpected.

The Cover

I never understood this cover as a kid because it looked like an angel with some sort of holy light behind them. Not especially horror-themed! But now I see that this was the artist’s interpretation of Hannah with the flames from the house fire in the background. I think said artist may have taken the “short hair” description a little too far because she looks like a boy with a punk ‘do’.

The incredibly dated bit

Not much but Hannah communicates with her friend Janey (who is at summer camp) by writing letters and wondering why there aren’t any replies. Spoilers: you’re five years too late Hannah. That aside, it would all be text messages, Whatsapp or even Skype in 2019. Bring back the art of letter writing!

The nostalgia rating

Does not really wanting to read it because I recalled the book being a bit ‘meh’ count?

Up Next: The Haunted Mask

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare (R.L. Stine, 1993)

Camp-Nightmare-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

It’s taken nine books but we’ve finally reached the debut of another of Goosebumps‘ recurring staples: a creepy summer camp. Being a Brit, I’ve never really been able to relate to the whole summer camp thing but I’m guessing that it’s a pretty big thing in America given how there are four (if I remember rightly) books in the original Goosebumps series that take place at camps. Welcome to Camp Nightmare is the OG ‘camp’ story though…

The Blurb

Life at Camp Nightmoon is not exactly what Billy imagined. Okay, he can handle the bad food and the weird counsellors, but the crazy Camp Director, Uncle Al, takes a lot of getting used to. And that’s not the half of it…

When his fellow campers start disappearing, and his parents don’t answer his letters, Billy starts feeling just a little scared…What is going on?

Camp Nightmoon…Camp Nightmare, more like!

Things get off to a weird start straight away for twelve year-old Billy. The bus taking him and the other kids to Camp Nightmoon drives out through a desert and into the middle of nowhere. Then – without warning or any explanation – the driver drops them all off on a concrete platform (still in the middle of nowhere), dumps their luggage and roars off. Then the kids are attacked by strange, wild beasts before being rescued at the last minute by Camp Director, Uncle Al.

“Hi, kids! I’m Uncle Al. I’m your friendly camp director. I hope you enjoyed that welcome to Camp Nightmoon!” he boomed in a deep voice.
I heard muttered replies.
He leaned the rifle against the bus and took a few steps towards us, studying our faces. He was wearing white shorts and a bright green camp T-shirt that stretched over his big belly. Two young men, also in green and white, stepped out of the bus, serious expressions on their faces.
“Let’s load up,” Uncle Al instructed them in his deep voice.
He didn’t apologise for being late.
He didn’t explain about the weird animals.
And he didn’t ask if we were okay after that scare.

“What were those awful animals?” Dori called to Uncle Al.
He didn’t seem to hear her.

Then, they are all herded onto another bus and taken to the camp. Talk about inefficient and badly co-ordinated. Unfortunately for Billy though, poor organisation soon becomes the least of his concerns.

Billy shares a cabin with his new friends – Mike, Jay and Colin – and it isn’t long before the strangeness at Camp Nightmoon ramps up. Mike is bitten by a snake hiding in his bed and is told that the camp has no nurse. Translation: just deal with it yourself, kid.

Later, around the campfire, Uncle Al demonstrates how not to tame the curiosity of kids by explicitly ordering them not to go near the “Forbidden Cabin”. Gee, that’s not going to make them want to check it out even more, is it?

“I want you to make sure you see that cabin,” Uncle Al warned, his voice thundering out above the crackling of the purple fire. “That is known as the Forbidden Cabin. We don’t talk about that cabin – and we don’t go near it.”

I guess the first rule of the Forbidden Cabin is that you don’t talk about the Forbidden Cabin.

The unsettling developments arrive thick and fast from there on. Mike disappears with no explanation. The payphone on the main cabin turns out to be a dummy, made from plastic. Jay’s new friend, Roger, is apparently torn to shreds by a creature while they are going against Uncle Al’s warnings and exploring the Forbidden Cabin. According to the counsellors however, there never was a Roger on the camp’s register. Billy sees Larry intentionally throw a softball at the back of Colin’s head and knock him out during an organised game but the counsellor claims that the ball simply “slipped” from his grip.

Worse still, Jay and Colin are taken on a mysterious hiking exercise by a counsellor called Frank and all three never return. Billy also discovers that all of their letters home are being stored up at the main cabin and not actually delivered to their parents.

Any attempt to extract answers from either Uncle Al or the counsellors is met by stone-walling or a complete lack of concern as if people disappearing or being attacked by beasts in the dead of night is nothing to bat an eyelid over. These counsellors are complete assholes!

Larry turned his back on us and continued eating his breakfast. “Don’t you care?” Jay screamed at him. “Don’t you care what happens to us?”

I have to say that this is one of the better Goosebumps books so far. You really do wonder just what on earth is going on at this fucked-up, weird camp and the book keeps you guessing right until the end. You might assume that the camp is killing kids off for some nefarious reason or that the Forbidden Cabin could come into play again. You’d be wrong on both counts however. There is a good twist at the end – two in fact – and I genuinely didn’t see either coming the first time I read Welcome to Camp Nightmare as a kid. If you backtrack however, there are a few tiny hints earlier on in the book that all isn’t as it seems.

The idea of a summer camp that is more than it seems certainly gets overused further along in the Goosebumps series but Welcome to Camp Nightmare will always get a free pass for being the original. It’s also a suspenseful, creepy little story in its own right that doesn’t end in the way you might expect it to.

The Cover

Yet another extremely well-drawn cover but it isn’t one of my favourites. First of all, I can’t tell whether the two boys are screaming for help and drowning or if they are simply having a blast at camp. Also, why does the kid on the left have Colin’s headband when the other kid – with the long hair and shades – is clearly meant to be Colin?

The incredibly dated bit

Nothing that stands out too much this time but writing letters to be sent home in the mail is probably a redundant concept in the age of smartphones and email.

The nostalgia rating

Incredibly high for me with this book. This was one of the first Goosebumps books that I ever read and good memories are attached to it. I won a free book (for a reason I don’t actually remember) when I was at primary school and I got to pick something from a travelling library which was at school for a few days, selling books and trying to promote reading. I remember my dad taking me there after school and I chose one of the Goosebumps TV Special collections that contained Welcome to Camp Nightmare.

Up Next: The Ghost Next Door

Book Review: The Colorado Kid (Stephen King, 2005)

DSC_0438Year: 2005 (2019 Illustrated Edition reviewed)
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hard Case Crime/Titan Books
Format: Paperback
Pages: 208
ISBN: 978-1-78909-155-7

On an island off the coast of Maine, a man is found dead. There’s no identification on the body. Only the dogged work of a pair of local newspapermen and a graduate student in forensics turns up any clues, and it’s more than a year before the man is identified.

And that’s just the beginning of the mystery. Because the more they learn about the man and the baffling circumstances of his death, the less they understand. Was it an impossible crime? Or something stranger still…?

I missed The Colorado Kid the first time around and according to the introduction by Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai, it’s no wonder. The book was apparently out of print for a decade or more prior to this fresh 2019 Illustrated Edition. Out of interest, I took a look on ebay for one of the original editions and for a used paperback, they’re pretty expensive. And listed as “RARE”…of course.

Anyway, this is going to have to be a short review because The Colorado Kid is one of those stories that is difficult to talk about without spoiling but I will do my best. It’s a mystery story centred on the strange, unexplained death of a man in 1980. His body is found slumped against a bin on Hammock Beach, on the small island of Moose-Lookit, just off the Maine coast. There are no witnesses and nobody knows who he is. A probable cause of death IS established but beyond that, a lot of unanswered questions remained. Who was he? Why did he come to Moose-Lookit?

Fast-forward to the present day and twenty-two year-old Stephanie McCann is working a newspaper internship at The Weekly Islander, Moose-Lookit’s tiny paper company. The company is ran by just two men: Vince Teague, 90, and Dave Bowie, 65. As well as running the island’s sole newspaper, the men were also involved in investigating the msyterious death of the “Colorado Kid” back in ’80. You see, once a likely cause of death had been estblished, the authorities weren’t very interested in digging any deeper so Vince and Dave took it upon themselves to try and solve the confounding mystery.

This story is recounted to Stephanie by Vince and Dave and that’s essentially what The Colorado Kid is – these three main characters sitting in The Weekly Islander’s office and talking. If that sounds dull then just remember which author’s name is emblazoned on the book’s cover. Despite the fact that there is no action, danger or shift of location, I still found myself enjoying the company of Vince, Dave and Steffie. It’s one of those books that immediately feels warming and homely and I think it’s impossible not to feel like you’re sitting in with friends as Vince and Dave share the puzzling story with their young intern.

The mystery itself is also fascinating and the book was a real page-turner that I couldn’t help but tear through, partly due to that aforementioned cosiness and partly because of the twists and turns in the Vince and Dave’s story that kept me guessing right until the end. The Colorado Kid is just so easy to read but, despite its rapid pace, there is still ample depth and characterisation – enough for you to build up a picture of small-town life on an island community, even when the story has one foot in the past and one in the present. That’s just classic King and – as has been proved over and over – a shorter story isn’t immune to his vivid world-building.

The only downside is the book’s ending because after devouring a mystery story, the reader naturally expects a satisfying conclusion. You might not get that here and from what I have read, The Colorado Kid does have a reputation for being a bit of a marmite book. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it but you won’t reach that decision until the very last page.

Personally, I didn’t love the book’s conclusion but I also didn’t hate it. It was just something different that didn’t play by the established rules of how a story “should” wrap up in the traditional sense. It was well worth a read though, purely for the likable characters and the way in which the story was told. There was also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Stephen King’s other Hard Case Crime book, Joyland, which got a smile out of me.

It’s also worth looking at the new cover versus the original because they are both deliciously pulpy but also quite different:

Colorado Kid Covers

Both are painted throw-backs to the classic pulp covers of old, featuring gorgeous dames in a state of unashamed sexiness. I actually prefer the new version on the left however since the cover is actually relevant to the story. The original (right) is brilliant but has nothing to do with the plot. Nor does the quote of “Would she learn the dead man’s secret?” on the cover…not strictly anyway. It implies that Stephanie herself is investigating the death.

But I won’t get too pedantic over cover art because I really appreciate both. I love old-fashioned pulp-style art so these sorts of ‘tribute’ cover paintings are right up my street.

The new 2019 Illustrated Edition on the left has an additional small edge in the form of the interior illustrations which – again – are very evocative of the hand-drawn, sometimes rough style that books like these used to have in the 50’s.

In closing, The Colorado Kid might not be for everybody solely because of the way it concludes but that shouldn’t take away from how enthralling the journey to that conclusion is. This really is one of those books that you could lose track of time with and finish in one sitting. Plus, now that it has been reprinted and is easy (and much cheaper!) to acquire, there really is no excuse not to give it a shot.