Great Stories’ regular book review feature will discuss both new and older releases from mainstream and independent authors alike. The selections are made of the bloggers own personal reading preferences and not solicited in any way. We would enjoy your feedback and discussion!
A friend asked what was on my summer reading list, and I replied that I had been reading three books simultaneously over the past few months. Heck, I have a busy schedule and A.D.D. man (see my earlier blog post from 4/14/13 for those terrible reading habits of mine)! So, my summer reading list was looking more like picking up where I left off for the past six months. . I often find myself contemplating early retirement, just so I can get to that ever-expanding stack of unread treasures that have moved from my room to non-descript cardboard boxes thanks to two separate moves in the last three months. Still, I took a lunch break at my local Barnes & Noble sometime in late June and browsed around to find all of the books I knew I would not have the time to read. It was with great surprise that I spied a new release from Stephen King in the “New in Paperback” section. King could not have released a new book without it going to a hardcover edition first, could he? But yes. Hard Case Crime is an imprint that specializes in original works in the paperback format under the topic of…yes, you guessed it…crime fiction. Joyland’s appealing painted cover stared back at me featuring an attractive redhead in a green dress holding a camera in her left hand, and a look of shock and terror on her face as the lights and scenes of an amusement park set vibrantly in the background.
Being the ravenous consumer of all things King, I was obliged to purchase without delay and proceed to forget I had a longstanding list of unfinished materials waiting for me at home. King’s shorter form novellas and short stories are the stuff of legend. As much as he is a great novelist, it is important to note that King began his writing career selling short stories to magazines to pay the bills, before his first novel Carrie was ever released beginning his hugely successful run as one of the best selling and widely recognized authors in modern history. King’s novellas, one could argue, have spawned certainly his most critically successful movie adaptations (i.e. “The Body” which became Stand By Me, “Rita Hayworth & the Shawshank Redemption” which became simply The Shawshank Redemption, & “The Green Mile” whose cinematic counterpart bears the same name).
From the moment I opened it at home, I fell in love with reading once again.
King’s yarn places an inexperienced Devin, a UNH student who is navigating through a superficial relationship with the girl he thinks he loves. She ditches him for friends and work in Boston in that fateful summer of 1973 leaving Devin to decide a major change of scenery would be for the best. Off he heads for South Carolina to interview for a carnie job at the Joyland Amusement Park. It is the move that would change his life.
A prophecy shared with him by the Joyland fortune teller, who may or may not be a fraud, warns of two transforming encounters with children he has not yet met. Furthermore, the back drop of the book is the unsolved murder of a young lady years before.
King masterfully creates a lead character with whom we can relate in many ways. Devin is likeable and sincere, and is the prototypical “nice guy”. Not so much the immediate beneficiary of successful romance or uber-popularity, but the type you have a feeling should win in the long run. With a heart and mind for his role as a caretaker in this world, he finds himself thrust into a set of circumstances he simply does not have the choice to walk away from. And all the more do we, the readers, care about his fate.
It is tough to classify this book into any one category. It is truly one part love story, one part ghost story, and one part crime story. It never strays too far into one realm until the finale, which really means it is a book that should share a broad appeal amongst men and women, young and old. Many readers who are not fans of the horror genre have cheated themselves of some great material from Stephen King. The critically acclaimed Master of Horror is actually much more diverse than he sometimes gets credit for. And most of his latest works seem not to necessarily tread on the truly most gruesome and dark territories, as with Pet Semetary and Cujo. The faint of heart should be encouraged to give a chance to one of America’s true literary giants.
King’s decision to publish Joyland through Hard Case Crime is not a first for the author. He previously published The Colorado Kid through this imprint, which spawned the hit Sci Fy network show Haven (now in its fourth season). There some distinct advantages and disadvantages to this book for readers. On the positive side, the book retails for $12.95 in the paperback format, which is about half the cost of a brand new hardcover book. On the negative side, there is no e-reader edition available for those people who decided to only pack their kindle’s, nooks, and iPads for their summer vacations. I am going to say on balance, the reader benefits from spending less for an awesome new story above all.
If you are looking for summer reading suggestions, you could certainly do far worse, And even better, the story clocks out at just over 280 pages is the perfect length for that busy summer schedule as you make time for the kids, outdoor fun by the pool and beach, yard work, and swatting the mosquitos away. It’s all tough work, yet very rewarding! So delight your reading palette with the addition of this gem. And be sure to let us know what you thought of it!
Chris (for the Great Stories team)