Posts Tagged ‘thriller


Goodreads Review: Joyland

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joyland’s premise is simple; drop an unsuspecting college kid on the edge of a nervous breakdown into a (potentially haunted) amusement park, toss in a damsel in distress, an unsolved murder (or four…) and maybe a ghost or two, let the mess sort itself out.

Fairly standard King, in other words. And it’s not all that inaccurate; Joyland is indeed like much of King’s backlog. Take one depressed post-teenager, a semi-mundane (but slightly surreal) setting, add spooks, and stir. But like most King novels, there’s a lot more under the hood if you stop to look.

Dev Jones comes to Joyland one summer to put some cash in his pocket and get a little perspective on life. When he joins the rest of Team Beagle at the dog-themed amusement park, we’re given a vivid description of carnival terminology and a slice of a life beyond what most of us will ever be used to. Unlike most of his fellow “greenies,” Dev takes to it with a will, even requesting that he stay on for the off season, taking a semester off from college (and away from his cheating ex-girlfriend). The local fortune-teller’s cryptic warnings, and the friendship Dev forms with Mike, Annie and Milo Ross along with the whispers of a ghost haunting the Horror House certainly help make that decision as well.

To say much more would likely give the game away, but the point of it is this: The on-top story (about friendship with Annie, Milo and Mike and digging into the murder in the park) is just paint. Joyland is really about living, growing up, the scabs and scars that get inflicted on us in our youth and what we do with them as adults. And those moments that, as King puts it, “are treasure. They’re precious. They shine.” Hidden underneath all the carny-talk and whodunit questions, you see Dev trying to rebuild himself, to be a better man… and from the occasional interjections of his older self (who’s telling us this story) you see the places where he succeeded… and where he failed. Joyland will rest happily alongside IT and ‘Salem’s Lot as a testament to those ideals, to childhood and learning to grow up – or thinking you had, only to see that it’s all still there, from that first kiss with the girl next door to the fear of the boogeyman under the bed or in the closet – and the bittersweet taste of your childhood’s departure. It’s about feeling something, and that always has been what King does best… even without a parade of beasts.

I recommend this one to anybody, but especially to people who like a good whodunit or ghost story, and those looking to be punched right in the feels, as the internet is fond of saying these days. Joyland makes you care about Mike Ross, Laura Gray and Dev Jones, and the epilogue is more touching and somehow right than any thousand romances or “heartwarming stories” that clog the shelves these days. Check it out.

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Goodreads Review: The Priest’s Graveyard

The Priest's GraveyardThe Priest’s Graveyard by Ted Dekker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Priest’s Graveyard is fairly standard Dekker; take one part ritual abuse recovery, one part religious overtones, season with self-doubt and hints of romance, incorporate slight twist towards the end and bake until ready.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you; it’s quite competent and interesting and kept me turning the pages until I reached the end. Once I reached that end, I did not feel any revulsion or any qualms about why I had bothered to read it at all. I was satisfied, but that was all it was.

On the technical level, the book does its job; there are no detectable grammatical, spelling or typesetting errors. The language is clear and concise, though thoroughly sanitized as Dekker is prone to doing. The characters are reasonably well formed, with distinct identities, arcs and mannerisms, with most of them providing enough information for you to get inside their heads and understand them without drowning you in exposition; only one stands out as lacking full treatment, our assumed antagonist, but since we never get a POV chapter from him and he’s meant to be at least a little ambiguous, I can live with that. Overall, nothing spectacular, but nothing that ruins the reading experience.

There are a pair of quibbles that I have with the book, however. Were it not for those, it would have bumped the book up to a solid four-star rating, rather than the 3 (and maybe a quarter) I would give it at this point. First is Renee’s backstory. Her interactions with Lamont are painted with rose-colored glasses – which given the circumstances is understandable and expected – but when you reach the end and discover certain things, it feels incomplete, as though there are things that should have been brought up – if not directly, at least hinted at – earlier. It could have been done without spoiling the twist, and given his performance in other novels (Three comes to mind), Dekker is more than up to the task.

The second is the last two pages. The apparent epilogue and the dialogue between our abuse victim and fallen priest is decent if a little saccharine, and could have closed the book out nicely. Then we’re treated to a post-epilogue scene that just feels out of place and, honestly, stupid. Chop those last two pages out, I think you’d have a better book.

Overall, though, a satisfying thriller, and would certainly recommend it to fans of Dekker’s other works, assuming they haven’t gotten sick of his basic formula.

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