R.I.P. Challenge 2019: Mr. Mercedes and The Halloween Tree

91RNQ-dZlhLMr. Mercedes by Stephen King (2014)

Hodges has read there are wells in Iceland so deep you can drop a stone down them and never hear the splash. He thinks some human souls are like that.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. Having only read King’s On Writing and part of The Dark Tower series, I was anxious that this might be too much for me to handle. And it came right up to the very edge of my comfort zone in terms of darkness. The villain here is 100% depravity. Even though King relays the circumstances of his childhood (rough) and his mother being a total psycho, it wasn’t enough to make me feel any sympathy towards him. But what kept me turning pages was the superb pacing and the protagonist, retired police detective Bill Hodges. He’s not adjusting well at all to retirement. He’s depressed and isolated , possibly suicidal. But when the perpetrator of the grisly case that went unsolved before his retirement taunts him in a letter, he finds new purpose in life, teaming with new friends to hunt him down before he strikes again. I liked Hodges – he reminded me a bit of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, maybe a little less hot-shot-y. There are two more in the series and I’ll try the second one. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

81AWUvql-CLThe Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury (1972)

They banged doors, they shouted Trick or Treat and their brown paper bags began to fill with incredible sweets. They galloped with their teeth glued shut with pink gum. They ran with red wax lips bedazzling their faces. But all the people who met them at doors looked like candy factory duplicates of their own mothers and fathers. It was like never leaving home. Too much kindness flashed from every window and every portal. What they wanted was to hear dragons belch in basements and banged castle doors.

And so, still looking for Pipkin, they reached the edge of town and the place where civilization fell away in darkness.

The Ravine.

I don’t remember where I heard about this one but it’s the perfect read for October! It’s a book for kids but it’s just as enjoyable for adults – lyrical and imaginative. A group of boys excited for Halloween set out for adventure only to find that one of their group, Joe Pipkin, is sick. He tells them to go on ahead and he’ll catch up, only to find that Death has “borrowed” him and his holding him for ransom. The creepy Mr. Moundshroud, resident of the haunted house in The Ravine, cajoles the boys into looking for Pipkin and “solving” Halloween simultaneously. It’s a race through time and space, discovering the origins of Halloween through the ages. I thoroughly enjoyed it. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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Have you read these? Are you reading anything creepy for Halloween?

Thoughts on The Waste Lands (Dark Tower Book 3) by Stephen King

I continue to be entertained and ensnared by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  A somewhat slow start snowballed into a tension-filled, exciting conclusion with a heck of a cliffhanger.  (Sidenote:  I have absolutely NO idea how one would adapt this series into a movie.  It will be very interesting to see what the filmmakers do with this.)  In the third installment, our three gunslingers from The Drawing of the Three, Roland, Eddie, and Susannah, are joined by a familiar face and a billy-bumbler, an adorable dog-like raccoonish creature named Oy, who is smart and sweet and loyal AND IF OY DIES IN LATER INSTALLMENTS I WILL LOSE IT.  (But don’t tell me, please, if you’ve read this series.)

34084Man, this series is hard to write about without revealing major plot points.  The Waste Lands opens with the three slowly making their way in the direction of The Dark Tower. Roland is not feeling so hot, and Eddie and Susannah (who’ve fallen in love) are worried about his mental state.  Enter a giant sentient bear (!) named Mir who is going insane and suffering from some sort of gross disease.  He rampages through their camp and (mild spoiler, but not really because it happens pretty early on) unsuccessfully tries to kill one of the three.  When Mir is killed they find out that he’s got some kind of machine attached to his head, and it’s gone haywire.  Roland tells Eddie and Susannah about the legends of the Twelve Guardians who stand guard at twelve different portals in and out of the world. At the center is the Dark Tower.  Mir was apparently one of the guardians. So they just have to find the door it was guarding, and they’ll be that much closer to the Dark Tower. This all happens in the first 70 pages or so, and my edition was 590 pages, so there’s a lot of stuff I’m not writing about!  There’s some shifting back-and-forth in the narrative between Mid-World and our world (late 1970’s era.)  The gunslingers (plus the familiar face and the billy-bumbler) eventually end up in a seriously scary dystopian nightmare of a city for the thrilling conclusion of the book.

What I like about this series so far, aside from the inventiveness of Mid-World and the compelling overarching mythology, is the camaraderie of our gang.  Eddie and Susannah’s relationship is sweet and feels natural.  Roland is assessing his companions in a new light given their growth since being pulled into Mid-World.  They are now fully capable and on equal footing; Roland has learned to trust them.  I am becoming attached to these characters, which I have a feeling is a dangerous thing to do and I quite possibly will be shedding some tears in future installments.  I am really intrigued as to how King will resolve this series, so I definitely plan to keep reading.

I’ve read that the fourth book in the series, Wizard and Glass, goes back and fills in more of Roland’s backstory, and doesn’t pick up immediately where this one ends.  If I’d been reading this as they were being published I would have been like What the heck, Stephen King?  Six years later and you didn’t even tell me what happened to our gang?!? But I have the privilege of being late to the party on this one.  So I’m not in a super hurry to read the next one. I’m taking a little break, at least until #20BooksofSummer is over in September.  I’m kind of surprised by how much I like this series.  As I’ve mentioned before, fantasy is not a genre I’ve read a lot in, and I had previously pegged Stephen King as a writer of “scary stuff” that I was too much of a wimp to read.  But I guess it’s just another example of how, in life, we are only limited by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.  I like being surprised by reading.

(This is book #6 of my 20 Books of Summer.  I’m wavering on sticking to the rest of my list.  In fact, I’m fairly confident that I’ll be substituting a whole lot of my original list with picks based on my mood for the rest of the summer.)

So what was the last “pleasant surprise” read for you, or a book or series outside of your reading comfort zone that you ended up really enjoying?

The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower Series #2) by Stephen King (#20BooksofSummer book #1)

Confession:  before last month, I’d never read a novel by Stephen King.  I’d read his book On Writing some years ago (very good,) and I’d enjoyed his regular columns about pop culture in Entertainment Weekly when he was doing that.  But the farthest I’d ever gotten with one of his novels was my attempt to read The Stand when I was about 14 years old.  I’d seen the TV miniseries with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald and was totally taken by it (scared witless by it too – pandemic stuff always totally freaks me out.) But it was just too terrifying and gory for me to stomach.

418T3GHQAQLLeave it to another movie adaptation to get me interested in reading King again.  When I heard that Idris Elba and Matthew McConoughey were going to star in the upcoming Dark Tower movie, I knew I wanted to see it – but I wanted to read it first.  I’ve always had a thing for Matthew McConoughey ever since I saw him in A Time To Kill back when I was in college.  I now think he might not be that awesome IRL, but on screen he is magnetic and fascinating.

So last month I read the first book in the series, The Gunslinger.  I didn’t review it because I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL I READ.  Honestly, I was as confused as I was entertained.  If you’ve not read it, all I can tell you is that there’s this Gunslinger named Roland, and he’s SUPER talented with guns, and he’s on a quest to find The Man in Black. Finding The Man in Black is the first step towards getting to The Dark Tower, which is Roland’s obsession.  He’s traveling through a desert area that resembles the American Old West, but it’s not our universe – it’s like a parallel universe with some echoes of things we’d recognize.  His language is a weird mix of archaic English and modern-day English.  He meets up with a boy named Jake, who is from our world and time, and we find out that in his world Jake was pushed into oncoming traffic and died crushed by a car.  They go through these ridiculous mountains pursuing The Man in Black, and then bad stuff happens, and then Roland and The Man in Black have this weird, trippy talk where TMIB takes Roland on this tour of the universe and reads his tarot cards…  yeah, it’s bizarre.  But I had read and heard that the first book in the series is the weakest, and that the second book is much better and more compelling.

I liked The Gunslinger enough to continue with the second book, The Drawing of the Three.  And people were right – the second book really delivers.  It’s just as hard to describe as the first book, but not as confusing. Roland wakes up on a beach, and he immediately encounters these terrifying lobster-like creatures that are as big as dogs that he calls “lobstrosities.”  One of them gets his hand and chops off two of his fingers.  Infection ensues. Short plot summary:  He sees these doors on the beach, totally unsupported by anything, which are portals into our universe at different times.  Three doors.  Each one leads him to a person who is vital to his quest for reaching The Dark Tower.  We have Eddie, a young heroin addict in modern time; Odetta, an African American woman in a wheelchair in the 1950s; and Jack Mort, a psychopath sadist with a connection to Odetta. Roland can go through these doors and into the minds of the three while his physical body is left behind on the beach in his universe.  It’s weird, I know.

But I couldn’t stop turning the pages.  King has this way of leaving you wanting more with every chapter’s end.  I was totally immersed in this strange tale – would Roland make it before the infection killed him? Would the three people he inhabited help him, or would they turn on him? Why does Odetta seem to be schizophrenic?  Would they ever get off the damn beach??  If you couldn’t tell, I’m hooked.  I have to continue with the next book, The Waste Lands.  I’m really regretting not putting the rest of these on my #20BooksofSummer list.  I may have to switch out one or two of the books for the third and fourth in the series!  We’ll see.  (Oh, and I just remembered that I have my book group books for June and July to consider and fit in as well. Ugh, I STINK at planning my reading!)

So have you read this series?  Are you interested in the movie?  Have you read any Stephen King before?  What’s your favorite Matthew McConoughey role?  I’d love to know your thoughts.