The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King
Publisher/Year: Plume, 1988
Format: Paperback
Pages: 224
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


Since the publication of The Gunslinger in an exclusive limited edition, this extraordinary novel has gained near-legendary renown. Now finally, this Plume edition, complete with the Michael Whelan illustrations, brings the work to the author’s millions of fan.

This heroic fantasy is set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace that is a dark mirror of our own. A spellbinding tale of good versus evil, it features one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations–The Gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages from ancient myth to frontier western legend. His pursuit of The Man in Black, his liaison with the sexually ravenous Alice, his friendship with the kid from Earth called Jake, are part of a drama that is both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, an alchemy of storytelling sorcery.

Complete in itself, The Gunslinger is the first novel in an epic series, The Dark Tower, that promises to be Stephen King’s crowning achievement.

What I thought

If you would have told me the first time I read this book that someday, I’d be giving it a 5-star rating, I’d have told you that you were crazy. The Gunslinger is not an easy book–to read or to comprehend, especially on your first go.

Let me tell you about my first trip to The Tower. I read this book, and at the end of it, I was entirely confused. I was determined to read through the series, though, so I continued on to book #2 and book #3…and I was hooked. But also perplexed. Surely, I had missed something with The Gunslinger, so I began the series over again. And just like that, I saw the brilliance that is this book.

And now, this is the first time I’ve read this book since finishing my first trip to The Tower. And, oh my god, the only way I can think to describe how I felt on this go is to say I felt like exclamation points were going off in my mind the entire time.


When the man in black says, “‘You are the world’s last adventurer. The last crusader. How that must please you, Roland! Yet you have no idea how close you stand to The Tower now, how close in time. Worlds turn about in your head,'” I literally yelled out loud.


Anyway, all this is to say that I urge you not to give up on this one. That makes this book sound bad, but it isn’t–I promise, it’s brilliant. It’s just that, as readers, we want everything clear-cut and spelled-out. The Gunslinger is anything BUT that. It’s ambiguous and confusing and weird, but it’s meant to be. Go into it knowing that, relax, let the story unfold, and try to absorb as much as you can. It will all make sense. The way King drops you into this world will all make sense.

This is one of those books that I love so much that I just want to hug it to my chest every time I pick it up. I love how with every re-read, I notice something new. My heart will forever pine for Roland, and this book itself brings us so many pivotal moments to understand what makes Roland who he is.

One final note–that opening line has yet to fail to bring me goosebumps when I read it.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory
Publisher/Year: Atria Books, 2019
Format: E-galley
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


The #1 New York Times bestselling author and “one of the great storytellers of our time” (San Francisco Book Review) turns from the glamour of the royal courts to tell the story of an ordinary woman, Alinor, who cannot bear to conform to the life that lies before her.

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, England is in the grip of a civil war between renegade king and rebellious parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even the remote tidelands–the marshy landscape of the south coast.

Alinor, a descendant of wisewomen, trapped in poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbors. This is the time of witch mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

It is dangerous for a woman to be different.

What I thought

Thank you to NetGalley & Atria Books for the free e-galley of this book! This does not affect my opinion presented here in this review.

Philippa Gregory is the QUEEN of historical fiction, hands down. I truly loved the change of direction she took with this one–from writing about royalty to writing about ordinary folk. She just has a way of bringing a historical time and place to life. I absolutely fell in love with Alinor and her story. I was absorbed by this book from the get go, and after that ending, I am clamoring for the next installment already.

As always, you can tell that impeccable research was done by Gregory. I did not previously know much about this time period, so I did what I usually do, which was to do a bit of Wikipedia research, before reading this. And the thing I love about Gregory is that she brings that history to life by showing you to the people of the time–their daily habits, their worries, their joys, their living conditions, their socioeconomic classes, their relationships, etc. She really shows what it was like to have lived back then.

The novel itself ebbs and flows–there were times I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough and there were others where the story slowed down. To me, even that reflected what life would have been like. Plus, I got the feeling that Gregory was taking the time to truly establish the setting, as this is the first installment of a series.

And with Alinor–I so appreciated that she was a strong, independent woman who knew and stood behind what her beliefs and values were. However, this did not make her invincible. She very much had her own thoughts about things, but she realistically her own position would have been at the time.

As far as the other characters go, I can’t wait to see how their stories will play out–they’ve become so dear to me. Obviously, I grew pretty attached to Alinor, but her children, Rob and Alys also became favorites of mine–Rob, because I love watching his character grow from a child into a young man and Alys, because she took after her mother but with an added dash of ferocity. Some characters were a little more one-dimensional, like Ned or Mrs. Miller, but I also enjoyed (and am looking forward to) seeing the change in England’s politics played out in Ned’s character. And let’s be honest, it was just plain easy to dislike Mrs. Miller, and I can’t wait to see what (hopefully) despicable things happen to her. James was a character who was a little less black and white for me. I loved James and Alinor’s romance–I swooned! But when his true colors showed him to be a man of his times, I couldn’t help but feel betrayed and disappointed (in him, certainly not Gregory).

And can we talk about that ending?! The lingering sense of foreboding I had for Alinor finally came to fruition, and everything went from 0-60, and now I’m here dying for the next book. My husband thinks I’m crazy because my reactions to the ending went something like this: “What? What?! Alys, wtf! No! Now you, too?! Oh, you jerk! I liked you! Noooo! Omg. Omg. ALYS! YES! Fistpump!” And now I’m here wondering what I’m even going to do while I wait for book #2.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Publisher/Year: Doubleday, 2019
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 211
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is a high school senior about to start classes at a local college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual, and moral training” so that the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks that Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision with repercussions that will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.

What I thought

I really have no idea how I’m going to put my thoughts about this book into words…but here goes nothing. There are some books that make a lasting impression on us because they speak to a part of us that already exists. And then there are those books that make a lasting impression because they change us–alter us in some perceptible way so that there will always be a “before I read this” and an “after I read this.” If you haven’t guessed already, for me, The Nickel Boys, was one of those latter types of books.

This book might be short, but don’t let that fool you–it packs a serious punch. I mean, my copy looks ridiculous, it is so underlined and annotated. This book was not an easy read, nor should it be, but I’ve simply never felt so raw and hollowed-out as I did when I read this. I ached as I read–for those little boys and for the state of the world yesterday and today. This is a book that everyone needs to read and a story that needs to be told again and again. And that’s why Whitehead’s writing is so brilliant here. The point is not his writing (which is fantastic, nonetheless), nor is it plot devices or flowery description. His style is direct and to the point, which is that of the story of these poor boys.

This book has absolutely embedded itself in me, and I know I’ll be ruminating on this for the rest of my life. The more I think on it, the more that strikes me. One of the things I haven’t been able to stop thinking about is this idea of “action versus de facto complicity.” Or the though of the boys’ potential, snatched away before they even had a chance to try it on for size. Or the thought of some little progress made on the final page, but at what infuriating, heartbreaking cost for such a small step forward?

See what I mean? The Nickel Boys is just so good. This one will win awards, there’s no doubt. Easily one of 2019’s best. There’s no better words for this than “harrowing.” I’ll forever be absorbing this story.

Salvage by Duncan Ralston

Salvage by Duncan Ralston
Publisher/Year: Shadow Work Publishing, 2014
Format: E-book (Nook)
Pages: 281
Rating: ⭐⭐


Something is lurking under the lake…

When his sister drowns, Owen Saddler follows in her footsteps, determined to uncover the circumstances surrounding her death by diving into the murky waters of Chapel Lake.

30 years ago, the town of Peace Falls was flooded for a hydroelectric dam, and its ruins remain below. The disappearance of the church’s Pastor and parishioners still haunts the citizens of Chapel Lake, but does the church haunt the lake itself? Is Owen really seeing ghosts, or has he succumbed to the depths of madness?

Salvage is the debut novel of author Duncan Ralston, a darkly disturbing story of depression, religious fanaticism, and the afterlife, illuminating the darkness lurking within us all.

What I thought

Unfortunately, this book was just an okay read for me. It looks like plenty of others loved it, though. I think Duncan Ralston is a talented writer, don’t get me wrong. This story is completely original. I’ve never read anything even remotely similar, which speaks for this book in a way. I also really enjoyed Ralston’s use of description. He definitely had a way of writing that brought Chapel Lake to life, and as a reader, I love when an author creates a vivid world in which I can escape for a little while. I think where I struggled with this one was that I never reached that moment where it just clicked for me, where I was hooked. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I just never connected with this book. But that’s only me–you might really enjoy it, plenty of readers do. For a debut novel, it was pretty good, I just think it could use a little trimming and polishing, that’s all.

The Whisper Man by Alex North

The Whisper Man by Alex North
Publisher/Year: Celadon Books, August 2019
Format: E-galley
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


In this dark, suspenseful thriller, Alex North weaves a multi-generational tale of a father and son caught in the crosshairs of an investigation to catch a serial killer preying on a small town.

After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.

But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed “The Whisper Man,” for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.

Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter’s crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.

And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window…

What I thought

Thank you to NetGalley & Celadon Books for the free e-galley of this book! This does not affect my opinion presented here in this review.

I read my first Stephen King novel at the ripe old age of 13. Since then, I’ve read through a majority of his works. All of this is simply to say–unless it’s written by Uncle Steve, I’m generally not phased or spooked by much. That’s why it absolutely blows my mind that this novel gave me the serious creeps, so much so that I had to only read it in the morning in order to avoid the nightmares it was giving me. I mean, come on:

If you leave a door half open,
Soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken.
If you play outside alone,
Soon you won’t be going home.
If your window’s left unlatched,
You’ll hear him tapping at the glass.
If you’re lonely, sad, and blue,
The Whisper Man will come for you.

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? I refuse to go into more detail because it’s truly better if you go into this book blind. Just know that the hair on the back of my neck stood up frequently while reading this one. Children are creepy, serial killers are spine-chilling, that nursery rhyme above is nightmare-inducing, and imaginary friends are horrifying.

Besides all of the “scary stuff,” this book was just SO GOOD. As a psychological thriller, the twists and turns and multiple POVs really kept the pace moving so quickly that I could barely stand to put this down. And North’s character development was just impeccable. The characters here absolutely came to life, which added to the horror. Where this book goes above and beyond, and in my opinion is reminiscent of King himself, is that The Whisper Man is not “just” a scary book. North examines grief and father-son relationships in such a poignant way that it will evoke emotion out of just about any reader.

Like I mentioned earlier, it is absolutely unfathomable to me that this book isn’t even out yet (it debuts on August 20th), and I already can’t wait to read his next one! This book has landed squarely on my favorites of 2019 list–you’ll not want to miss this one. It was just announced as one of the August picks for BOTM, too. Whatever you have to do–get your hands on a copy of this book!