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Tonight is the premiere of Stephen King's Under the Dome on CBS. What better time to finish what I started a few weeks ago and look at two more Stephen King novels? And since we still have a couple of hours until the show starts, what better way to spend it?

Before we get to the books though, it is worth the time to note that UTD may change the way broadcast television is done. Or at least financed. The producers originally approached Showtime who took a pass on the series and suggested it to CBS. CBS was interested, and did some innovative financing of its own in order to produce the series.

According to the financing consists of four different revenue sources:

  • First CBS brought Amazon on board in an agreement that would pay CBS $750,000 for each episode which Amazon would then be allowed to stream four days after it airs. The program will be offered to Amazon Prime members at no additional cost and to non-members on a fee per episode basis.
  • Filming in North Carolina generated tax credits and subsidies of about $400,000 an episode.
  • One point nine million dollars in license fees are expected to be generated by international sales.
  • And the network expects to earn $500,000 per show in commercials.

Bottom line is that CBS will make money on each episode which is only expected to cost $3 million to produce. (I had to go back and look at the adjective "only" that I used in connection with 3 million dollars.)

What it means for the viewer is that there will be alternate ways to watch the series, and for those of us that are Amazon Prime members, we will have free access to each episode four days after it airs, sans broadcast commercials. If successful, it may be the way big production series are brought to broadcast television in the future.

I guess it is safe to say that with the advent of Smart TVs, the internet has arrived in the entertainment arena, all set to compete with cable and broadcast television.

By Stephen King
Publishers: Scribner/Gallery Books
Hardcover: $35.00, Paperback: $20.00, Kindle edition: $9.99,
Hardcover release, November 2011; Paperback release, July, 2012
849 pages

I was fourteen on the day that John Kennedy was assassinated. And like anyone else who lived through that day, I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news. I can still see the green blackboard of my freshman English class and the tear-rimmed eyes of the young teacher Mrs. Anderson, as we listened to the scratchy voice over the school public address system.

It was a day that traumatized a nation. And there was only one man who caused the trauma. Which made it that much harder to bear. One man, acting alone, caused so much pain to so many people. Is it no wonder that conspiracy theories still flourish?

It was a day for which there was no do-over. Or so we thought.

Until Stephen King finds a way to offer one:

It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning's father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry's, like America's in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake's new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there's Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

Each time Jake goes through the rabbit hole into the past, a new future is created. That leads to intriguing thoughts of how the past echoes down the years. The storytelling voice of Stephen King, through Jake Epping, is the same one that has drawn us on a hundred other voyages with this author. And the sensation of actually being in 1963 was uncanny. The ending is one that I liked, which is unusual since most endings that Stephen King writes leave me cold. This one was perfect.

By Stephen King
Publishers: Hard Case Crime/Simon & Schuster Audio
Paperback: $13.00
Paperback release: June 2013, Audiobook release: June 2013
288 pages

There really is a Joyland Amusement Park, not the one in King's latest novel, but one in Lubbock, Texas that bears some resemblance to King's Joyland. In my childhood, the amusement park in the Chicago area was Kiddieland, which closed just a few years ago. They are dying parks, these places that used to provide so much fun in the era before Disneyland theme parks and destination cities like Orlando. In the old days, the family would rise early, eat an excited breakfast before piling into the family car or the bus for the trip to Kiddieland, Riverview or Joyland. There the rides and clowns would be waiting to entertain.

King takes us back to the past once again in Joyland. The park is only a memory now, and his experiences of 40 years earlier are told by a sixty-something Devin Jones as he looks back on the summer he spent as a carney.

"When you're twenty-one," Devin observes, "life is a road map. It's only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you've been looking at the map upside down, and not until you're forty are you entirely sure. By the time you're sixty, take it from me, you're … lost."

At 21, Devin Jones took a job in a North Carolina amusement park as a complete change from his life in small town Maine, while his best girl was drifting away, breaking his heart.

I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw’s Beachside Accommodations in the town of Heaven’s Bay. It seemed like the right thing to do. The only thing, actually. By early September, Heaven Beach was almost completely deserted, which suited my mood. That fall was the most beautiful of my life. Even forty years later I can say that. And I was never so unhappy, I can say that, too. People think first love is sweet, and never sweeter than when that first bond snaps. You’ve heard a thousand pop and country songs that prove the point; some fool got his heart broke. Yet that first broken heart is always the most painful, the slowest to mend, and leaves the most visible scar. What’s so sweet about that?
He makes new friends among the carneys and the other summer hires of the park that played home to a murder in its house of horrors some years earlier. To this day the house of horrors remains haunted by her ghost. As the days of that fall progress, Devin meets and befriends a young man of amazing psychic powers and his mother who possesses a different type of power. It is the same type of power that an older women have often exercised over young men for generations; the power to heal a broken heart and mend a fragile ego.

Devin gets drawn into the mystery of the older murder, tracing movements of the woman who was killed (via an actual library - no internet!). We are drawn along with him as he looks for the killer that he believes is still around the amusement park.

This is as much a coming of age novel as it is a mystery, and the mystery wasn't quite the noir-type, with a hard boiled detective in the lead role. It is a Stephen King mystery which is more and less than the average member of the genre. With just a touch of the supernatural and no monsters. But it stays with you long after you put the book down because King manages to write about eternal themes, coming of age, love, life and death, memory and change and loss. And he does it, remarkably, in under 300 pages.

An extended audio sample is here.

And an excerpt can be found here.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
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Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
Thu (third each month - on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
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SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid
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