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Joyland by Stephen King

Stephen King is arguably America’s best storyteller.  His new ghost story/mystery, “Joyland” proves the point.

Joyland” is the perfect read for that summer vacation at the beach.  It’s a fast page-turner that almost anyone can enjoy because it has likeable characters, a plot that almost everyone can relate to from their own past, and the story is spun out in King’s best “round the campfire” style.

The story is told in the first person by a young man, Devin Jones, during his first  job away from home on his summer break from the University of New Hampshire.  He works as a carney at an old-fashioned amusement park right on the border between North and South Carolina.  The park saw a murder 5 years before that was never solved.  A young woman’s throat was slit while she was on the Horror House ride with a guy who was seen accompanying her throughout the park.  There were pictures, but the man’s disguise could have made him almost any young to middle-aged man.  Now the ghost of the dead girl is said to haunt the park.

During that summer, Devin saves two lives, loses his girl friend back home, makes a friend in an 11 year old boy with muscular dystrophy, loses his virginity to the mother of the sick boy, and, with one of his friends from the summer work at the park, he tries to solve the mystery of who killed the girl, Linda Gray.  Devin also receives help along the way from a couple of psychics.

Joyland” will appeal to readers of many genres and period pieces as it has elements of the romance, ghost story/paranormal, mystery, horror story, sick kid tear-jerker, and 70’s nostalgic story.  Anyone who has ever visited an old-time amusement park or the midway at a state fair; anyone who loved and lost during the college years; anyone who ever had a summer job during college; anyone who lived through the 70’s– will appreciate “Joyland.”  Devin is super-likable, as is Mike, the kid with MDA, his mom, and several of the characters Devin meets during his summer at the park.  Even the bad guy and the “carney from carney” curmudgeons that are introduced in this book are likeable (or at least entertaining)  in their own way.

A definite summer read.

Reviewed with a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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The Sandburg Connection by Mark de Castrique

Mark de Castrique, a native of North Carolina, is a film-maker and novelist specializing in stories from the Appalachian mountains.  “The Sandburg Connection” is the third in his Sam Blackman Mystery series.  It became available to the public on October 4.

De Castrique weaves a mystery around the historical home of Carl Sandburg, Connemara, where he produced many of his later works. Many of the details, including some of the characters who appear in the book, are real.  The premise of the book, that Sandburg found a song written by the original owner of Connemara pointing to a Confederate treasure, De Castrique notes is his own invention– and a clever one at that!

Ashville PI, Sam Blackman and his partner, Nakayla Richardson, are following up on a routine insurance fraud case when they discover the woman they have been observing, Janice Wainwright, has fallen (or was pushed) from a mountain top overlooking Connemara. Sam is briefly suspected of foul play as the one who finds the victim, and as someone who has been tailing the woman.

Blackman and Richardson soon change sides from working for the insurance consortium and begin to work for Wainwright’s daughter to gather evidence for a wrongful death claim against the doctor who botched Wainwright’s back surgery, or the drug manufacturer of the pain medication that may have caused Wainwright to fall.  When someone else is killed it begins to look as if perhaps Wainwright was also murdered.  Such a finding would hurt the chances of Wainwright’s daughter, Wendy, from collecting on the wrongful death case from the deepest pockets.

This is a unique story with interesting, somewhat eccentric characters who catch the flavor of living in this unique part of the South.  I particularly found the way Wendy, Sam and Nakayla relate to Wendy’s pregnant Nubian goat, Ida Mae, from the Connemara herd amusing and endearing.

This is a well written tale that will please readers well beyond the borders of Appalachia.

A review copy was received in order to review “The Sandburg Connection.”

Liz Nichols

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