The Shining by Stephen King

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“What you got, son, I call it shinin on, the Bible calls it having visions, and there’s scientists that call it precognition. I’ve read up on it, son. I’ve studied on it. They all mean seeing the future.”

It’s an oldie, but boy is it a goodie. I have always known the reputation of Stephen King as a mastermind of horror. While I’ve seen the movie version, I have to admit this is my first encounter with the horror genius that is Stephen King. Maybe it’s because my mother imbued in me a true sense and respect for King’s ability in his genre that it was only recently that I decided I was enough of an adult to make a leap into the dark swimming pool of his work. And after that decision was made, what better novel to start with than The Shining? I was certainly not disappointed.

Jack Torrence, a struggling writer, has found the perfect creative get-away and way to provide for his struggling family as the caretaker of the infamous Overlook hotel nestled away in the mountains of Colorado. For the entire winter he, his wife Wendy and their young son Danny will be the only inhabitants of a hotel that is known for grand parties and famous guests. But this hotel has a darker side as well, infested by the memories of gangsters, murder and death, and all of these forces will be drawn to Danny. Dick Hallorann, the Overlook’s head chef, recognizes that Danny possesses a unique ability, much like his own talent, and it is Dick who warns Danny that there are places within the Overlook that will take a dangerous liking to his “shining”. The Overlook ultimately does so by praying on Jack’s weaknesses and, combined with regrets and memories from the past, turn a loving father into a horrendous face that is unrecognizable.

King can certainly weave an intricate tale of horror. It’s a different kind of horror however, not the kind that is bathed in the gore that is so common in modern day movies and entertainment, but one that is based on suspense and psychological fright. The fact that  a child is at the center of the story creates a sense of vulnerability that is compounded by the other assortment of emotions the Overlook causes within this small family.

The history of the Overlook was intriguing and King takes advantage of that curiosity that many people likely have when climbing into a bed in a hotel and wonder how many (and what kind of) people have slept in the very same bed before they have. However, he takes it beyond that common query and questions what can be left beyond in locations by the passing of time and the events that have taken place there. It’s always been an interesting concept that tragic events may leave behind some manner of energy that imprints a place with those negative occurrences. It seems to be a core theory of the paranormal field and in the case of the Overlook, it is a hotel with such an extensive history, most of which is negative, that the presence of a sensitive individual breathes life back into shocking memories.

The book, to me, at its core was about demons; personal, past, present, real. Having been originally published in 1977, this modern day edition came with a foreword written by King in which he acknowledges that the novel was that much scarier in his mind because the evil that shines through in the story is due to the hotel, but also because of the experiences and person that Jack is. In some ways, The Shining forces us to acknowledge that not all evil can be squarely blamed on the paranormal and that much of it is of a human making. There’s no doubt that Danny’s presence strengthens the activity within the Overlook and that these paranormal experiences are real. However, the reader is forced to wonder if things would have been different if Jack had not been so flawed to begin with, had not been abused himself as a child, had not become an alcoholic as an adult. Just as Danny’s precognition feeds the ghosts of the Overlook, the Overlook fed off of Jack’s character flaws.

Though The Shining is over 30 years old, it still held a considerable amount of literary sway and left a lingering impression. When discussing it with a few friends they all agreed that it was a book that they can remember exactly where they were when they read it. King has that level of skill and can certainly weave a tale of horror that stays with you by stressing the human elements and flaws of his characters. I will certainly be picking up its successor, Doctor Sleep, soon with hopes of the same results.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Stephen King: Stephen King has written extensively in the Horror genre but some of his more recent releases include 11/22/63 (2011) and Doctor Sleep (2013)

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The Wolves of St. Peter’s by Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk

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“It didn’t help that he could hear what sounded like wolves in the distance, yipping and howling that seemed to come from the hills beyond the Trastevere. Could they even be inside the walls? He had never known a wolf to carry anything off other than a sheep, but he was sure the local wolves, like everything here, would be bigger and meaner. He imagined them with ribs protruding under matted coats, blood and saliva dripping from gleaming white fangs as they slunk along in the rain. It was, as Raphael had said, a cursed city.”

Italian history has always fascinated me, Italian Renaissance history even more so. Throw in a few key artistic characters of the time (that would eventually become infamous for their creative genius) and I’m hooked. The Wolves of St. Peter’s was not a book that was on my radar before I read it, but after finishing it I have to say it was a great read with a mystery twist that keeps you hanging on right to the very end.

Francesco Angeli has been outcast from his beloved Florence. A passionate affair with the Duke’s wife had sent him fleeing for his very life, a social pariah, forced to do penance by becoming the servant of the ill-tempered and disgruntled Michelangelo. It is an arrangement forged by his father to provide a living for his son while in Rome but mainly enacted to punish Francesco’s foolishness. While Rome in 1508 offers numerous corporal diversions, including the intellectual company and finesse of a competing artist named Raphael and the subsequent visits to the elegant Imperia brothel, Fransceco still yearns for the comforts and prestige of his home and the woman he unwisely loved. Life becomes even grimmer as the city begins to flood, starving wolves roam the city walls and one morning Francesco witnesses a stunning, blond-haired woman being pulled from the Tiber River, a woman he knows. His search for the truth behind the beauty’s murder will plunge him into the midst of a scheme of treachery and deviousness performed by some of the most colorful characters in Rome.

There is so much richness in this novel, the characters and settings are an endless feast. I have yet to walk the streets of Rome (someday, someday) but I have strolled down the corridors of Venice and it was like being back there again. Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk have an artful skill which draws you back into 16th century Rome, with its hobbled homes and thriving docks. However, while many authors tend to focus on the glorious warmth of Rome, Buonaguro and Kirk reveal Rome in its darkness and most damp grandeur, reflecting the very nature of the story being told. Flooded, dreary and plagued by wild animals, the Rome in The Wolves of St. Peter’s is a city of mystery, one where people scheme and unleash intentions not suitable for the light of day.

Within this setting are characters that are rich and endowed with a wide range of attributes; the arrogance, yet wistful hope, of Calendula, the bat-man Dante’s perceptible insanity, the clever bravery of Susanna, the colorful pomp of the Turk. One of my favorite elements was the depictions of the artists Michelangelo and Raphael, two names that would become synonymous with the beauty of art and architecture in Italy. Only a few names would surpass theirs in artistic recognition. Michelangelo is the intolerable and cantankerous artist chosen to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a job he detests while still being consumed with its perfection. He is paranoid of other artists, specifically Raphael who is everything Michelangelo is not; polished, well-respected and active in the highest echelons of Roman society. They play perfectly against one another, highlighting the contrasting elements the other possesses. I’m always interested in how artists are portrayed, as most of them lived extraordinary lives themselves, and whether these two depictions are completely accurate was never a concern, mainly because they were just so enjoyable to read.

Apart from the book being wonderful all on its own I love to be able to support, and recognize, local authors. Buonaguro, from Toronto, and Kirk, from my hometown of Kingston, take the age-old tale of a man who cannot have the woman he loves and spin it anew with thrilling suspense and a full parade of imaginative characters. They take a place and historical period which is ripe with creative possibilities (in my mind at least) and write a story that is gripping, saturated with remarkable characters in a city that has a life of its own. It makes me wish, and search, for more books like this to feed my literary hunger for Italy, artists and secrecy.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk: The Sidewalk Artist (2005) and Ciao Bella (2009)

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

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“Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage.

But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.”

Veronica Roth’s Allegiant is, without a doubt, one of the most anticipated releases of 2013 for many teen and adult readers. It is also the conclusion to a series that has become exceedingly popular, birthing its own base of fans that will soon be treated to a movie rendition. Along with that comes a great deal of pressure, certainly for the author but for readers as well. Will the book conclude the series satisfactorily? How will the stories end for these much-beloved characters? The questions are endless and no matter what an author does, there will be readers who love it and others who don’t. After concluding Allegiant I feel that Roth ended the Divergent series with loyalty to her vision and its characters, as well as incorporating some ground-shaking surprises that kept the book exciting right to the very end.

Tris and Four, along with their former-Dauntless companions, are facing a new world. When a video reveals they are not alone in the world, they must decide if they will seek out unknown possibilities or stay in the only place they have ever known but which is dissolving into rebellion between the factionless and the Allegiant, those who wish to see the factions returned to their previous place of importance. When they do decide to leave they are welcomed into an organization that reveals that their city has been an experiment, an attempt to repair damaged genes and DNA. This ideal of damaged and pure genes will come to consume them and will eventually cause Four, always the sturdiest of the group, to question his self worth. When the survival of their former city becomes endangered Tris and Four, along with old and new alliances, will make a final stand against enemies inside and outside of the city, one that will only come to fruition through forgiveness and sacrifice.

I was one of those readers who was unsure how it would end, but I will say that after finishing Allegiant I believe Roth has done an admirable job of bringing such a popular series to its end. I had some issues with Insurgent (specifically that I had a hard time keeping track of the characters and what their purpose was in the story line, along with finding the story somewhat fractured) but none of those were present in Allegiant. All of the characters played crucial roles in the progression of the story. Four’s struggle was one of the more interesting evolutions to read. In Insurgent we watched Tris suffer from the aftermath of her actions, but the uncertainty Four experiences is of a completely different nature. Roth has turned the former dynamic on its head; Tris is the individual who is certain and unswayable, while this time around it is Four who questions his purpose. The tension between them is different than the previous novel, but it too stems from the changes in the environment around them.

One of the discussions I had with a friend was the change in narrative. Unlike the previous two books, parts of this story are told from Four’s point of view. At first it seems a little disjointed but by the end of the novel you can understand why Roth decided to take this route. It is also interesting to take into account that Roth published a short online novella about Four during the summer of 2013 and more will be coming in the near future. This might also explain why Roth made Four’s a voice a much more central aspect for this final installment.

Of the series, Divergent is still my favorite. I loved the factions, the way in which they structured society and placed characters in defined categories according to their strengths and values. I found the characters did the most developing in that book as well. However, I do admire how Roth ended her series, taking a route that I didn’t think she would and possibly risking upsetting a few readers in doing so. For that fact alone, I will say that Allegiant is a fitting finish to the Divergent series.

The Divergent series is often compared to or recommended to those who enjoyed the Hunger Games and while they are different, they do contain some of the same themes, emotions and challenges that have made both so popular with readers of all ages. Both are social commentaries in their own right and both declare that people, however willing or unwilling they may be, can make a difference. It’s a message worth relaying to teens and even adults. Allegiant concludes a thrilling series with a memorable ending and a lingering respect for the choices Roth has her characters make.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Veronica Roth: Divergent (2011) and Insurgent (2013)

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The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

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“A secret is a strange thing.

There are three kinds of secrets. One is the sort everyone knows about, the sort you need to at least two people for. One to keep it. One to never know. The second is a harder kind of secret: one you keep from yourself. Every day, thousands of confessions are kept from their would-be confessors, none of these people knowing that their never-admitted secrets all boil down to the same three words: I am afraid.

And then there is the third kind of secret, the most hidden kind. A secret no one knows about. Perhaps it was known once, but was taken to the grave. Or maybe it is a useless mystery, arcane and lonely, unfound because no one ever looked for it.”

Maggie Stiefvater has quickly become one of my favorite authors, both within the Teen genre but also amongst authors in general. While she predominantly writes for the young adult audience, her writing is mature, elaborate and entrancing and the story lines she creates are addictive and so complex you can easily lose yourself in them. Her The Raven Boys was a truly enjoyable read and the most recent addition to the series, The Dream Thieves, made me love Stiefvater even more.

The ley line has been awoken and nothing is the same. The dynamic between Gansey’s group of friends has changed dramatically; Adam has become angry and withdrawn, Noah flutters in and out of existence, Blue’s role is becoming something much more personal and perhaps most importantly, Ronan’s secret is finally coming to light. Ronan has always been different, the self-proclaimed bad boy of the group, but even he is unaware of how powerful his mind is and how horrific the results of his dreams can be, especially when they cross the line of sleep and surge into reality. This skill is also gaining attention from strangers; a classmate will teach him the full extent of what he can create with his mind and a traveling murder man named Mr. Grey will begin a hunt to kill him and the power his mind possesses. Meanwhile, Cabeswater and the ley line is flickering, drained by some unknown force and Adam, being the closest with its mythical strength, will seek to heal it with the help of unlikely friend. When all of these elements surge together, Gansey will come one step closer to finding his lost King and Blue will lose the most important person to the very same forces that hide Gansey’s treasure.

There were numerous developments in The Dream Thieves that I loved, most of which centered on character development. It’s a point I have made before; so often in the teen genre the characters suffer for the sake of a fast-paced story line. However, Stiefvater walks that shaky line perfectly and the constant progression of her characters is hands down one of the greatest joys of this read. The first novel was very much about Gansey and Noah. The Dream Thieves focuses on Ronan and, to a lesser degree, Adam. I loved Adam in the first book and was unsure about Ronan. After finishing The Dream Thieves that opinion switched; now that I understand Ronan better he has become my favorite while Adam has slipped slightly in the hierarchy. I came to love everything about Ronan, especially when you are given glimpses through the rebel exterior (anyone who had read the chapter with the baby mouse will understand). Another highlight was how the physic women of the Sargent house play more influential and involved roles in this book. They all have their unique quirks and, especially in this book, seem to have specific roles to play in the search for the sleeping Welsh King.

Lastly (but certainly not least), the myth and history of the story remain just as strong as they were in the first novel. If the characters weren’t enough to keep you hooked, then the search for a magical woodland that is losing its power and the effort to gain control of the amazing (and horrific) creations birthed from dreams will certainly do the trick. Stiefvater knows how to tell a story that leaves you hanging at the end of every chapter, clinging to the possibilities she may weave in the next.

The second installment of a series can sometimes conclude with a certain sense of indecision, whether due to the change in the story’s direction or a sudden shift in character temperament, but neither of these are a concern with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves. As each book appears to focus on certain characters, hopefully the remaining two books (yes, it’s a cycle not a series) will give us a better understanding of Gansey, Blue and the vision that involves them both.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver (2010), Linger (2011), The Scorpio Races (2011), Forever (2012) and The Raven Boys (2012)

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A thank you for the colorful bubble people!

I would like to give a huge shout out and endless thank yous to my friend Terry Ibele for the creation of a1000booklife’s new header and VP! It is teeming with fun and I notice something new every time I look at it. I can’t thank you enough Gentle Giant and you will be rewarded with ample amounts of pie!

Please take a second to check out his blog about stop animation: http://terrymation.blogspot.ca/. And for even more visual fun, check out his profile on Youtube to watch some of his amazing clay animation videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/terrymation.

Thank you, thank you, thank you GG!

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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“More than anything, the journal wanted. It wanted more then it could hold, more than words could describe, more than diagrams could illustrate. Longing burst from the pages, in every frantic line and every hectic sketch and every dark-printed definition. There was something pained and melancholy about it.”

There are rare finds in the Teen genre where the writing, story line and characters are so breath-taking and fascinating that you forget what genre the novel actually belongs to. My list of those authors is quite short but Maggie Stiefvater holds one of those coveted (coveted in my mind, at least) spots. Her novel The Scorpio Races blew my mind and I read it within two days. The Raven Boys had much the same affect and, thankfully, it’s only the first in a trilogy so there will be plenty more Stiefvater goodness to be enjoyed.

Blue lives anything but a normal life. As the daughter of a physic, and living in a house full of other family and female friends who are also psychics, she has never doubted that the world is more complex then it seems. Oddly enough her power is not one of clairvoyance, but an ability to enhance and strengthen the magical powers of those around her. Gansey is a Raven Boy, one of many elite and socially privileged boys who attend nearby Aglionby Academy. Gansey too believes in the supernatural and along with his closest friends (Adam, the least privileged of the group, Ronan who is the rebel bad-boy and lastly Noah, a boy with secrets of his own) has been searching for a long lost Welsh King whom he believes is hidden in the countryside. Gansey is determined to follow the ley line (an invisible line of magical power) that runs through Henrietta to this sleeping King and Blue soon joins the hunt after the Raven Boys see her mother for a reading. However, Blue has her own reasons for befriending these boys. She knows a horrible secret; that one of those boys will be dead within the year and coupled with the premonition that she will cause the death of the first boy she falls in love with, she is determined to change fate.

This book has so many elements that I absolutely fell in love with. You put anything paranormal into a story and I am automatically intrigued. Combine that with some good old fashion Welsh history and I will hand over my first born (sorry first born). Stiefvater provides plenty of both and she wraps it nicely in her unique ability to weave a story with finesse.  The nature of the boys’ friendships is also a highlight of the novel. In many ways Stiefvater paints such a vivid picture of friendship that you can only smile and remember those unbreakable friendships you had as a teenager. Adult life tends to step in at some point but Stiefvater invokes that sense of loyalty between friends that we can all admire. They are each such immensely unique characters and yet that only makes their group dynamic even more intriguing, especially when Blue enters into the mix.

Another wonderful thing about Stiefvater is how complex, yet realistic, her characters are. You will find every notch on the scale in them; they’re flawed, hopeful, haunted, intelligent, aggressive, obsessive, caring. Each character has their own dreams and fears, stemming from individual backgrounds and experiences that create a truly extensive world of character development. Their stories are constantly being advanced and just when you feel you have a hold on a particular individual, you learn something new about them or Stiefvater throws in a sudden twist that completely demands you reset your understanding of that individual.

I know it’s safe to say for me that reading Stiefvater’s work is a truly encompassing experience as a reader. She is a truly talented writer and all of her literary tools and skills are put on display in The Raven Boys. Mystery, history and the unknown are complimented by elaborate characters and encased in a truly pleasant writing style. Of the books written by her, none have disappointed. The second installment, The Dream Thieves, was released on the 17th and I have already immersed myself in it. Resurfacing will no doubt come with the same sadness that it was over and the resulting eagerness for the next novel that I felt after completing The Raven Boys.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver (2010), Linger (2011), The Scorpio Races (2011) and Forever (2012)

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The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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“For a long time she was truly afraid of going mad. Afraid of the day when all control slipped out of her hands. She made up images of the world and the light and the life outside. She took refuge in all the nooks and crannies of her brain- those areas that usually become silted up with the ambitions and trivialities of life. And memories of the past slowly surfaced. Tiny moments with hands that held her. Words that caressed and comforted. But also memories of loneliness and yearning and tireless striving.”

Sometimes you find small treasures on the subway. One night as I trudged home with the masses after a long day of work I noticed a poster across from where I was sitting that declared those who loved Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would find a similar fill in a new series by Jussi Adler-Olsen beginning with The Keeper of Lost Causes. That claim on a subway poster did not fall far from its mark.

Carl Mørck is a brilliant detective, but one that is now marred by a tragic event that cost him a partner. His return to the force comes with an endless source of bitterness and very little motivation for anything. Unable to dismiss him but unwilling to put up with his the remnants of his trauma his superior promotes him to the head of Department Q; a one man team whose purpose is to review cold case files that have long been forgotten. He is soon joined by Assad, a rather cheerful man who has hidden secrets and qualities of his own. The first cold case file that gains their attention is the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard. A politically prominent individual, Merete led an unblemished life with no known public enemies and with even fewer personal relationships, due to her life revolving around the care of her brother Uffe who is mentally damaged from a horrific car accident during their youth. Merete’s sudden disappearance a few years ago left very few leads but Mørck’s intuition will breathe life back into the search for Merete with startling results.

Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is by far one of my favorite books and I have reread it at least three times. Though The Keeper of Lost Causes may not have a Lisbeth Salander Adler-Olsen’s characters are just as multi-layered and complex, and the mystery contains the same addictive sense of suspense. The back and forth narrative between Mørck and Merete keeps the reader engaged, watching both threads of the story developing and gradually merging together. There’s no denying that Mørck is a mess. Living with his ex’s son and a renter who also acts as the housekeeper, an unstoppable desire for the police department’s psychologist and the guilt that plagues him about the partner he failed to save and the other who now lies paralyzed in a hospital bed, Mørck is as multifarious a character any reader could hope for. And there are many more characters that are just as multifaceted.

The Nordic crime writers have certainly carved out a niche for themselves in the mystery genre and Adler-Olsen can easily claim one of the top spots. The detective work that takes place within the novel is fascinating and Adler-Olsen’s writing adds an additional level of finesse to a story that already holds its weight on its own. As much as you can see where the story is going Alder-Olsen keeps you guessing right to the very end on the finer details. There are several stories going on but in the end they all combine to give the reader a thrilling read that keeps you flipping the pages eagerly until the final page.

I’ll agree with the subway poster: if you’re suffering from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo withdrawal get your hands on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes. You won’t be able to put it down, the writing and story will grip you the same way Larsson’s did. Thankfully when you do finish it there are two more in the series waiting for you, The Absent One and A Conspiracy of Faith, along with the release of The Purity of Vengeance in December, 2013. Enjoy!

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Jussi Adler-Olsen: The Absent One (2013) and A Conspiracy of Faith (2013)

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