Suspense/Thriller

Review: Salem’s Lot

Cover of "Salem's Lot," showing the head and neck of a feminine person whose skin is nearly white; their head is tilted back and there are two bleeding puncture wounds in their neck.
Image from Stephen King

Title: Salem’s Lot

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, gore, child abuse, spousal abuse, rape mention

Back Cover:

Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, Is the story of a mundane town under siege from the forces of darkness. Considered one of the most terrifying vampire novels ever written, it cunningly probes the shadows of the human heart–and the insular evils of small-town America.

Review:

Now, before you go, “horror? Jalyn doesn’t read horror” – I know. This isn’t the kind of thing I would normally pick up. But my fiance is a HUGE Stephen King fan and he’s been pestering me for ages to read something by him. Eventually, I ran out of library books and agreed to give it a try.

(This was back in late November, mind you – my fiance’s mass market paperback copy is 631 pages and I just now finished it.)

This book has the biggest ensemble cast I think I’ve ever read, so I’m not going to talk about every character. It spends some time with pretty much everyone in Salem’s Lot. But the character who gets the most page time is Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer who grew up in Salem’s Lot and returned to work on his newest book. He also hopes to be able to process his feelings about the decidedly creepy Marsten House and the trauma of, as a child, being the one to find the body of Hubert Marsten in the house.

The rest of the characters mostly rely on stereotypes for you to get to “know” them – like the town gossip or that one guy who everyone thinks is weird but he doesn’t mind doing that job no one wants so they put up with him. But somehow King manages to make that stereotyping feel artful, so I didn’t mind it at all.

The first half of the book goes really slowly. It spends a lot of time building atmosphere – it’s a small town, with all its small town positives and negatives (which will be quickly recognized by anyone who’s lived in a small town), but there’s also something eerie and possibly a little evil living there, and it’s centered on the Marsten House. It also spends a lot of time on characters, especially Ben and how everyone in the town reacts to him. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like in-depth character studies or would rather sacrifice atmosphere for action, you will hate this. And honestly, I liked it and it still took me two months to get through it.

I feel like anything I say about the second half will be a spoiler, because the book spends so much time setting up the mysteries and vague uneasiness that gets revealed in the second half. That’s where the vague uneasiness grows and becomes the full-blown horror. I also think it dragged a little towards the end – the last hundred pages were a slog for me. They weren’t bad, I just wanted to find out the ending and wanted King to dispense with the lengthy descriptions and get on with the story.

To be honest, I didn’t find it that horror-y. But I think a large part of it was that I was reading it in bright light, sitting on the couch next to my fiance while he played video games, and kept getting distracted by the game and interrupted by my fiance’s occasional comments. I’m sure if I’d read it alone at night (or even in an environment where I wasn’t interrupted frequently), it would have been much scarier.

I will say one thing – Stephen King can write. Not that I was surprised, since he’s such a hugely bestselling author, but it was good. Lengthy and lyrical, but he has a remarkable knack for descriptions and I didn’t even mind how lengthy they were. It just added atmosphere. Whether or not you like his subject matter, he’s certainly a master of writing. (And this is only his second novel, I’m sure his later ones are even better.)

Okay, this is already pretty long, so I’m going to finish up with this: Salem’s Lot really wasn’t my kind of book, and I highly doubt I’ll read another Stephen King. But King is an excellent writer, and even though I wasn’t particularly invested in the story, he made me need to know how it ended. It’s not good in the sense that I liked it (I’m still not sure if I did or not), but it’s definitely good in the sense that it is a solid, well-written book.

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Science Fiction, Suspense/Thriller

Review: Jurassic Park

Cover of Jurassic Park, featuring the silhouette of a t-rex skeleton on a white background
Image from Michael Crichton

Title: Jurassic Park

Author: Michael Crichton

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Back Cover:

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Creatures once extinct now roam Jurassic Park, soon-to-be opened as a theme park. Until something goes wrong…and science proves a dangerous toy….

Review:

I lost interest in dinosaurs in second grade, I’m not a big fan of adult books, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the Jurassic Park movie. So until it was a book club book, I had no intention of ever reading this book.

So, I want to mention characters, but I’m not sure which ones to mention. There’s Grant and Ellie the archeologists, Ian Malcom the mathematician (and my favorite character for reasons I’m not sure of), John Hammond who created the island, Hammond’s grandkids Tim and Lex, and various employees. All of them played an important part at some point or another, and I liked (or in some cases, hated) them all in varying levels. But none of them stood out as “I really liked him” or “she’s the main character.”

I was surprised that I enjoyed the plot. The movie missed a lot of details, which was sometimes a good thing but most of the time managed to keep me interested. And the rampaging dinos managed to keep my attention. Sometimes it wasn’t as thriller-y as I think it was supposed to be, probably because I didn’t care about the characters as much as I should have, but I still occasionally found myself hoping certain characters would survive (and sometimes that others would get eaten). There was a lot of gore at times, sure, but I’m not sure a book about carnivorous dinosaurs could have got away without it. Overall, I was happily interested.

My biggest problem with the book was that it got bogged down in scientific details every once in a while. I don’t care which isotopes they extracted to piece together the dinosaurs’ DNA. All I need to know is that it can be done. And as not a huge fan of chemistry or biology, I found most of the sciency stuff boring.

I didn’t exactly enjoy Jurassic Park, but I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t hate it. Do I plan on reading any more of Crichton’s books? No. But I don’t regret this read.

The Jurassic Park series:

  1. Jurassic Park
  2. The Lost World
Did Not Finish, Suspense/Thriller

Review: House

House book cover
Image from The Random Reads of a Brown Girl

Title: House

Author: Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti

Genre: Thriller

Back Cover:

When a strange accident leaves Jack and Stephanie stranded on a back road in Alabama, they seek shelter in the eerie Wayside Inn.  Also at the Wayside Inn are Stewart and Betty and their son, Pete, who run the place, and Randy and Leslie, victims of a similar accident and also stranded.  The four of them are victims of some backwoods pranksters, but they’re safe.  Or so they think.  They are in the middle of a killer’s game, and it becomes dreadfully clear when a tin can is tossed in with rules scratched on it.  Rule number two: He will kill everyone who comes to his house.  Rule number three: One dead body might persuade him to let rule number two slide.  One house, seven players, three rules.  Game ends at dawn.

Review:

This is one of those books I had the intention of picking up … sometime.  I’d enjoyed Frank Peretti’s Veritas Project books, and also Ted Dekker’s Skin, so I figured a book by them together would be good.  I finally ended up reading it when my mom wanted to know if she would like it.

And I didn’t even end up finishing House.

My absolute one and only problem was with the characters.  I hated them all.  Randy was a reckless hothead.  Leslie was a wimp.  Stephanie was a selfish brat.  Jack couldn’t take responsibility for his actions.  And the other three were certifiably insane.  Jack was the only character I even mildly didn’t mind, but I didn’t like him enough to finish the book.

House‘s main bad guy, I guess you would call him, was a very Dekker-esque psycho with delusions that he killed God, and he can kill anyone else who comes to this house.  The house itself was disturbing and had a mind of its own, and would rearrange itself to prevent escape.  The whole story had a creepy atmosphere – in my opinion, it’s more horror than anything.  Which automatically makes it something that I’m not going to be a huge fan of.

Honestly, even though I’m not a huge fan of horror and psychos aren’t really up my alley, but the house itself would have been enough to keep me reading – if I had liked any of the characters.  But, like I mentioned before, there wasn’t a one of them I wanted to spend a whole book with, let alone a book whose plot isn’t exactly the kind of thing I go for.

My main problem with House was me, not the book.  It strikes me as something that people who like horror/thriller books would enjoy.  It just wasn’t my thing.