Audiobook Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

13 04 2012

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (The Dark Tower, Book 4.5)

Read by Stephen King

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 49 Min

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Wind Through the Keyhole is storytelling at its best.It taps into the wonder and thrill of everything The Dark Tower series did right, while stripping away much of the unnecessary baggage of the final books of the series. As opposed the feelings of emotional fatigue I felt when finally completing this saga, I felt rejuvenated in my love for Mid-World and our Ka-Tet when completing this tale.

Grade: A

When I finally turned the last page and closed the book on the saga of The Dark Tower, I told myself I would never enter Mid-World again. Now, this was a big statement for me, because I had read each of the previous six books of the Dark Tower series multiple times, as well as all the other works even tangentially related to King’s Magnus Opus. Yet, when I finished the last book of the series, The Dark Tower, I knew I would not reread that novel. It left me emotionally drained, completing this tale that had followed me for most of my reading life. I had been reading it at work, going on an emotionally rollercoaster from sobbing tears, to anger, to an almost stilted acceptance. I had longed suspected how the series would end, yet that didn’t lesson the impact when my fears/expectations came true. I am not one of those who despise the ending, nor did I really love it. I just accepted it because I feel it was the way it had to be. Yet, I wasn’t going to put myself through the trauma of lost members of the ka-tet and the sadness I felt over Roland Deschain’s fate. At that time I truly believed the grand master when he said he was going to retire, that The Dark Tower would be the final moment of his illustrious career. Even when he started writing new novels, I never expected him to return to any level of the Tower. Heck, I even stayed away from the Graphic Novel series, not wanting to get sucked in again. The tale was told, the circle had been closed. So, I was floored when I learned that there would be a new Dark Tower novel, and that Roland, Susan, Eddie, Jake and even Oy would appear in it. The King had another tale to tell in this world. I was excited and scared, and I knew that I would be ripping off the scabs and entering that world, at least one more time.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is a standalone novel in the Dark Tower World that fits between book 4 Wizard and Glass, and Book 5 Wolves of the Calla, so it is rightly touted as The Dark Tower, Book 4.5. We find our Ka-Tet having recently escaped their conflict with old RF in the Emerald City that was not Oz but before they arrived in Calla Bryn Sturgis. Roland and his companions are following The Beam, when the Billy Bumbler Oy begins acting weirdly. Eventually Roland, with the help of a ferryman, remembers that the Bill Bumblers weird dance was predictive of a strange devastating storm. While holed up in an abandoned town, Roland passes the time by telling the travelers a tale from his past. The Wind Through the Keyhole’s story is structured like a Russian nesting doll, one story, book-ending another, book-ending another. One story tells of Roland as a youth, investigating a series of grisly deaths blamed on a skin changer. While there, he meets a boy who is the only witness to the horrors, and in an effort to take his mind off the tragedy, tells him one of his favorite tales told to him by his mother, called The Wind Through the Keyhole. This story is the highlight of this tale, and reminded me why I love this series. It is told as a classic Fairy Tale, yet it blends the fantasy with science fiction. It is touching, poignant and often horrific and gives us new glimpses of Martin Broadcoat, The Beam and North Central Positronics. It is the sort of blending of The Wastelands and Wizard and Glass that rekindles some of the magic and wonder that the last two books in the series seemed to neglect as they rocketed towards the final showdown. It was nice to return to Mid-World without having to worry about The Quest, the Dark Tower and The Crimson King. You already know the fates of those involved and you can sit back and luxuriate in the storytelling. The Wind Through the Keyhole is storytelling at its best. It taps into the wonder and thrill of everything The Dark Tower series did right, while stripping away much of the unnecessary baggage of the final books of the series. As opposed the feelings of emotional fatigue I felt when finally completing this saga, I felt rejuvenated in my love for Mid-World and our Ka-Tet when completing this tale.

When I heard that Stephen King would be reading this novel, I groaned on the inside. This was going to be a new Dark Tower tale, and I wanted it to be perfect. Was it perfect? No. Stephen is no voice actor, and with the Mid-Worlders penchant for speaking a mix of low and high speech, some of the uses of terms such as "Thee" lost some of the rhythmic beauty they achieve during a reading, and came off a bit clunky. Yet, in the end, the reading worked for me. I think it helped that this was the first of the series I listened to in audio (which was a decision I went back and forth on many times) and the tale was always in King’s voice. His voice is gruff and unpolished, but the passion for his world and love for its characters is evident in the reading. Since the majority of the characters were rough, salty men, he did a decent job with the characterizations and he even pulled off younger characters like Bill Streeter and Tim. So, while a professional narrator may have added something to this tale, in my opinion, King’s reading rarely detracts, and some moments truly resonates with emotional impact. After experiencing this tale, I find myself no longer wanting to cut off Mid-World and the many levels of the Tower for good, but relishing any new chance I may have to reenter the world King has created.

 

Note: A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. The Wind Through the Keyhole will be released on April 24th.





Audiobook Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

29 11 2011

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Read by Craig Wasson

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 30 Hrs 44 Mins

Genre: Time Travel Thriller

Quick Thoughts: People who think they know King from his labels as a horror novelist and pop icon will say that 11/22/63 is a departure from his other work. They are wrong. 11/22/63 is classic Stephen King full of the subtle horror themes that permeate his best works as well as an amazing cast of fascinating characters, all of whom, for good or ill adds something to the overall story.

Grade: A-

The first Stephen King novel I ever read was Christine, and since then, I have always had a bit of a love/"meh" relationship with his work. Unlike many people my age, my first forays into the horror/suspense genre wasn’t through King, but Dean Koontz. I had read The Bad Place, then Watchers and loved them, and often heard the two authors compared, so I began to read King as well. But unlike Koontz, King’s writing truly transformed me as a reader. I can trace the point where I moved from mildly interested in Post Apocalyptic tales to utterly obsessed when I turned my first page of The Stand. The first novel I remember truly scaring me and actually entering my nightmares was It (they all float down here…). The Dark Tower Series became my gateway to epic fantasy, and even what many consider a clunker, Needful Things, fed my love of Dark Comedy. Yet, not all of Stephen King’s novels were a hit with me, sure, I love Alien Invasion novels, but The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher very well could have set that love back years. In fact, Dreamcatcher was my very first audiobook, and I found it quite a useful cure for Insomnia. (Pun?)  After attempting to listen to Dreamcatcher I wouldn’t try another audiobook for over 10 years. So, when I discovered that Stephen King was putting out a time travel novel, I was cautiously excited. This either could be one of his rambling tales full of unnecessary side trips or it could again show me why King is the most influential author of my generation.

I love time travel novels of all sorts, but especially the kind where people travel into the past and change things, yet despite 11/22/63 being exactly that type of novel, I had concerns. I understand that the JFK assassination is a pivotal point in history, especially for people in King’s Generation, I never looked on it as the all encompassing game changing historical moment that some do.  If I found out there was a portal back to the late 1950’s, my first thought wouldn’t be that I just had to save Kennedy. So sure, I was a bit skeptical, but I needn’t have been. 11/22/63 is definitely a novel with peaks and valleys, yet, luckily for the reader the valleys are nice, and the peaks awesome.  For science fiction time travel fans, I think there could be a level of frustration. The main character, Jake Epping jumps ass first into the machinations of time travel without all the obsessive preparations that sci-fi geeks would have made.  In fact, he relies solely of the research of another for the histories he was about to interact with which is something us geeks who grew up on Star Trek and Asimov novels never would have done. Add to that the fact that King practically proselytizes about how much better things are without that annoying internet, or them there cell phones, that I really should have hated this novel. Yet, King won me over with wonderful characters, touching slice of life moments, and a harrowing battle between Jake and the obdurate past which in a very real way is the antagonist of this story. People who think they know King from his labels as a horror novelist and pop icon will say that 11/22/63 is a departure from his other work. They are wrong. 11/22/63 is classic Stephen King full of the subtle horror themes that permeate his best works as well as an amazing cast of fascinating characters, all of whom, for good or ill adds something to the overall story. 

I think it very important for audiobook narrators to not just read novels but perform them. For 11/22/63 narrator Craig Wasson doesn’t just heed that advice, but tackles it, throwing in a few kicks to the balls for good measure. I was so ready to lambaste the narrator for over performing the novel, with his oddly timed laughs and screaming the ends of his sentences, but at some point Wasson’s narration went from annoying to endearing. I would never site this as an example of excellent technical narration, but Wasson created the Jake Epping character with his voice, and never let up. There were a few moments in the novel, where it seemed like a line was picked up in the recording, and it didn’t match the energy of the reading, and that was a bit distracting, but overall the production was well done. Wasson’s reading reminded me of the loud annoying guy at a party who has had one too many drinks, yet eventually you realize that his drunken tales are actually quite fascinating.  Overall, I had a lot of fun with the novel and having an over the top narrator helped to keep some of the lulls in the story interesting, and really, what more can you want?

 

Note: A Special thanks to the good people at Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: The Infernals by John Connolly

24 10 2011

The Infernals by John Connolly (Samuel Johnson vs. The Devil, Book 2)

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Middle Grade Adventure/Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: This sequel to Connolly’s The Gates is another wonderful, clever and laugh out loud hilarious adventure. The style of the book with its humorous asides and clever footnotes is perfect for translation to audiobook, and Tim Gerard Reynold’s narration only makes it better.

Grade: A

One thing I really wanted to do when planning out my books for Murder, Monsters and Mayhem was find a book that was suitable for children, but also enjoyable for adults. Halloween, despite its origins, and its relationship with the horror genre, is really a light hearted Holiday. Yes, there is a place for body shredding monsters, blood sucking vampires, and brain eating zombies, but, well, that doesn’t need to be the focus. Halloween is a chance for our children to make fun of their fears, to stick their tongues out at the monster in their closet, and of course, score some candy. Growing up in a relatively poor family, we couldn’t afford fancy, custom made Halloween costumes, which was cool because we got to make our own. My go to costume as a kid was a hobo, which probably wasn’t the most politically correct choice, but I got to rip up some old flannels, color some patches on some old jeans, and tie a sack to a stick. Of course, there was one time I went as a thief which was the same basic costume, but I drew a dollar sign on my sack. Yet, I always enjoyed it, because I got to use the favorite tool given to children no matter what their economic status, their imagination. In the end, choosing my fun, child oriented Halloween tale was pretty simple. The Infernals is the sequel to John Connolly’s delightfully quirky novel, The Gates, about a young British boy named Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell, who must save the world when the demon Ba’al creates a portal from hell into our world and possesses a local woman named Mrs. Abernathy.

In The Infernals, Mrs. Abernathy, aka Ba’al, looking to get back into the good graces of The Great Malevolence, again creates a portal, this time with the goal of sucking her greatest foes, 13 year old Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell, into hell. Her plan works, but with a bit of a twist, along with Samuel and Boswell, the portal also sucks in two police officers, an ice cream salesman, and four troublesome dwarfs. Thus begins another wonderful, clever and laugh out loud hilarious adventure. Imagine The Wizard of Oz meets Dante’s Inferno, and you get only a brief idea at the feel of this novel. The Infernals should delight everyone from children, to young teenagers and adults, although surly older teenagers may find it a bit too clever to be cool, which would be their loss.  While Samuel Johnson and Mrs. Abernathy are great characters, it is the huge cast of peripheral characters that make this novel so delightful. There is of course, Nurd, the former scourge of five Kingdoms, Shan and Gath, the beer brewing Warthog Demons, Dan, Dan the Ice Cream Man, and a multitude of other demons, wraiths, imps, demonic bureaucrats, and careless scientists that it was hard to choose a favorite. One of the things I loved about this novel was that Connolly never speaks down to the children reading it, he talks about complex scientific theories in a way that is both funny and educational, and even taught me the meaning of the word “lant” which is something I think I would have been OK with never learning. For parents looking for a read to share with their older children, I highly recommend the Infernals. Heck, for adults looking for a hilarious, heartfelt and a bit scary tale perfect for those chilly October nights, check out both novels in the Samuel Johnson series.

Connolly’s style of quick funny asides, informative and clever footnotes, and stunningly visual descriptions of the sceneries and residents of hell translates perfectly to the audiobook format. Tim Gerard Reynolds beautiful Irish accented voice brings the magic and wonder of this novel alive, while nailing the humor of the novel as well. I have to say, Reynolds’s reading of this novel was one of my favorite narrator performances of the year. With the huge cast of characters, you think that he would have run out of voices, but every character from a mumbling dwarf to The Great Malevolence itself was voiced with vivid authenticity. Reynolds’s wasn’t afraid to take chances in his reading, adding wild affectations and crazy laughter at just the right moment, never coming off forced or out of place. I loved how he captured the footnotes, taking on the rhythm of a teacher, yet peppered with a wry wit. You could just tell how much fun he was having narrating this tale and that fun bled into every turn of phrase in his reading. The Infernals was a joy to listen to, filled with everything you look for in a Halloween novel, and reminding you what it felt like to have your childlike imagination tickled just right.