The Institute – Stephen King

‘Did you see the dots?’


‘You will.’

I love the King-dom! I felt the same way after finishing this book as I did the first time I read Carrie; I need to read every book Stephen King ever writes.

After being kidnapped in the middle of the night, Luke awakens in a bedroom that’s almost identical to his own. He’s in the Front Half of the Institute and that’s where his nightmare really begins.

‘I know as long as they’re testing you, you stay in Front Half. I don’t know what goes on in Back Half, and I don’t want to know. All I do know is that Back Half’s like the Roach Motel – kids check in, but they don’t check out. Not back to here, anyway.’

I was always going to adore Luke. He’s beyond genius level smart but he’s also a wonderful friend and someone I’d enjoy talking with. He’s an avid reader, so even if he had nothing else going for him, I’d be wanting to hang out with him for that reason alone. I related to him when his reading habits were described:

He read the way free-range cows graze, moving to wherever the grass is greenest.

but it was this passage that confirmed I would read any book ever written that followed any part of this kid’s life:

Luke Ellis was the guy who went out of his way to be social so people wouldn’t think he was a weirdo as well as a brainiac. He checked all the correct interaction boxes and then went back to his books. Because there was an abyss, and books contained magical incantations to raise what was hidden there: all the great mysteries.

Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it), Luke’s not alone in Front Half. There are a revolving door of kids and the core group of these become somewhat of a found family (I love found family stories!), supporting one another as they attempt to navigate their bizarre new reality. My favourite kid was 10 year old Avery, but I also wanted to adopt Kalisha, George, the class clown and Nicky, the rebel. Okay, so maybe I wanted to adopt them all.

Great events turn on small hinges.

I’m always ready to cheer on a group of people who are railing against injustice. The fact that this group were kids with telekinetic or telepathic abilities who had been kidnapped and experimented on only served to add more oomph to my armchair cheerleading.

I loved to hate most of the Institute’s staff, with the exception of Maureen who, despite the fact that she’s older than me, I also wanted to adopt. It’s easy to despise anyone even tangentially involved in harming children. However, it always amazes me that Stephen King can add greys to what I know to only exist in black and white.

While I was appalled at their treatment of the children under the “care”, I was intrigued by the psychology that had to play out within the individual staff members; what was it about them that made them behave the way they did? What unknown overarching purpose of the Institute could possibly warrant them believing the methods they used were anything close to approximating okay?

No one who fully grasped the Institute’s work could regard it as monstrous.

I could almost see Mulder and Scully in the periphery of this book. This investigation would be right up their alley. Naturally Mulder would lose his gun at some point and Scully would blink at the exact moment the truth was laid bare.

I can’t wait for my next King fix! I’m all in for an author who can make sentences that on the surface appear like harmless fun make me want to cringe when I know their true meaning.

“We’re having a movie this evening, you know. And fireworks tomorrow.”

Content warnings include death by suicide, mention of depression and suicidal ideation, kidnapping, PTSD, slavery and torture.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents – telekinesis and telepathy – who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

Elevation – Stephen King

Illustrations – Mark Edward Geyer

The awesomeness? Scott is living every metabolism challenged person’s dream; he’s consistently losing a steady amount of weight while eating whatever the heck he wants to. He can eat breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner/supper and round it all off with a double helping of dessert, and the scales still smile on him. What a dream!

The downside? No matter how much weight the scales say he’s lost Scott still looks exactly the same, protruding belly and all. All of that weight loss and you don’t even get to see the difference? No fair!

The downright weird?

‘No one weighs the same naked as they do dressed. It’s as much a given as gravity.’

This is a Stephen King novella; nothing is a given.

Set in Castle Rock, Elevation was a compulsive read for me. I loved the people I met. I loved the friendships. I loved that the homophobia expressed by some of the townsfolk was challenged. I loved the reminder that one person can make a difference in other peoples’ lives and their community as a whole, even in the current political climate and even a town where a fairly considerable amount of bigots reside.

‘Sometimes I think this is the world’s greatest weight-loss program.’

‘Yes,’ Ellis said, ‘but where does it end?’

I’ll tell you where it ends. In tears! I enjoyed Gwendy’s Button Box but I loved Elevation. I didn’t expect to feel so much for characters that I only knew for just over 130 pages but I smiled, I laughed and I wanted to have dinner with these people. Then I smiled some more while I ugly cried for the final 10% of the book. I’d tell you how many tissues I used but I didn’t; I was too busy reading through the waterfalls cascading down my face to reach over to grab a Kleenex.

There’s something about Stephen King in my mind that makes him exempt from the eye rolling and accompanying groan when I find references to an author’s other books in the one I’m reading. With anyone else I’d be rambling to myself about ‘blatant self promotion’ but in the King-dom I find the Easter eggs charming and amusing, and I think I’m so smart each time I find one. My knowing smiles in this book included a reference to the Suicide Stairs and a garage band that temporarily rename themselves ‘Pennywise and the Clowns’.

I’m one of those irritating there/they’re/their fanatics and another one of my reading quirks is picking up on inconsistencies between what the author has written and what the illustrator has drawn. It’s not a deliberate thing; it just seems to happen and once I see it I can’t unsee it. In chapter 3 of Elevation we’re told that two characters put their numbers for the Turkey Trot race on the front of their shirts. In chapter 4’s illustration both characters are shown from behind; their numbers are on their backs.

Does this matter in the scheme of things at all? Not one iota. Why do I mention it? Because my brain’s stupid and won’t shut up about it. That said, I really did love Mark Edward Geyer’s illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. They were gorgeous; naturally my favourite was the creepy Halloween pumpkin.

I need an entire series of novellas set in Castle Rock. I need to meet more of these weird and wonderful people.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.

In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade – but escalating – battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face – including his own – he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.

The Outsider – Stephen King

… there were monsters in the world, and their greatest advantage was the unwillingness of rational people to believe.

Whenever I start a Stephen King novel I tend to flip through the first couple of pages searching for a list of characters. If I find one I panic a little, wondering how I’ll ever figure out who’s who in the King Zoo if he had to write a list of its inhabitants. If there’s no list I panic a little, wondering how I’ll remember who lives in the Zoo without a guide. There’s no list of characters at the beginning of The Outsider and it’s a testament to Mr King’s ongoing awesomeness that even though I totally sucked at reading this book (it took me over five weeks to finish it!) I was able to pick it up and get drawn back into his world immediately each time. And I knew who everyone was!

People are blind to explanations that lie outside their perception of reality.

You don’t need me to tell you the synopsis for this book. There are so many wonderful reviews already written by people who seem to have read every King book in existence. What I can tell you about is my very drawn out reading experience. When I started this book I had no idea that I would be meeting anyone from Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch or that at some point between starting to read and passing the point of no return parentheses would appear after the book’s name on Goodreads to inform me I was reading the fourth book of the Finders Keepers series. I own some of the responsibility for this ignorance as I have been a disgrace to the Kingdom by not having already read the first three books. Boo! Hiss! I suck! I know!

Strange, the things you noticed when your day – your life – suddenly went over a cliff you hadn’t even known was there.

Had I realised though I still would have read this book but after I’d read the first three. If you’re not planning on ever reading the first three books (no judgement here but I am quietly wondering what is wrong with you 😜) you can get away with reading this book as a standalone. If you venture into The Outsider without having already read the others then I need to warn you that you will prematurely learn how previous cases wrapped up, who died and most likely other bits and pieces that I don’t even know are spoilers yet.

‘How weird can this get?’ ‘Weirder,’ she said. Another thing of which she had no doubt.

Despite my own already stated failures in reading this book I would recommend it, but with a content warning for fairly graphic descriptions of the sexual assault and murder of a child. I had trouble stomaching a particular component of the description but once I made it through that section I had no further problems. Like many others before me I really enjoyed hanging out with Ralph and Holly. I also had quite a soft spot for Ralph’s wife, Jeannie, and would enjoy catching up with her over a coffee.

The more you find, the wronger it gets.

I’ve previously avoided the other books in the Finders Keepers series as my favourite King books have involved such fun as telekinesis, diners that belong in Back to the Future, super fans who understandably need their next read yesterday and the infamous dome surrounding Springfield. I usually get my crime fix through authors like Tess Gerritsen and haven’t wanted to really go there with Mr King before. Having read The Outsider now I do plan on reading Mr. Mercedes, etc, and will most likely reread this one once I’ve finished the first three, but I think I want to remedy some of my glaring omissions in early King lore first.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When an eleven-year-old boy is found murdered in a town park, reliable eyewitnesses undeniably point to the town’s popular Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the culprit. DNA evidence and fingerprints confirm the crime was committed by this well-loved family man.

Horrified by the brutal killing, Detective Ralph Anderson, whose own son was once coached by Maitland, orders the suspect to be arrested in a public spectacle. But Maitland has an alibi. And further research confirms he was indeed out of town that day.

As Anderson and the District Attorney trace the clues, the investigation expands from Ohio to Texas. And as horrifying answers begin to emerge, so King’s propulsive story of almost unbearable suspense kicks into high gear.

Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy but there is one rock-hard fact, as unassailable as gravity: a man cannot be in two places at the same time. Can he?