By Stephen King
(Hard Case Crime, $12.95, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Do I really have to tell you? OK, let’s assume you all know who Stephen King is. But did you know that as a child, he once lived in Stratford? And that Stratford and Bangor, Me., were the models for King’s fictional city of Derry, Me., which figures in several of his novels, such as “It”? King, who is the king indeed of contemporary horror fiction, is having quite a year: He is publishing two books – “Joyland”  is just out  and “Doctor Sleep,” a long-awaited sequel to his classic “The Shining,” in the fall. His novel “Under the Dome” is now a CBS-TV series, and in October, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” a musical for which King wrote the book and John Mellencamp wrote the music, will go on tour. It’s already out in a CD box set, mini-documentary and e-book format.

You can learn more about King in my interview piece about him that ran Sunday, July 14, in The Courant and is online now. And you may be one of the lucky ones who snagged a ticket to his appearance, with WPNR radio personality and Courant columnist Colin McEnroe on Thursday, July 18, at the Bushnell. Tickets are $25 to $75.  Information: 

What is this book about?

“Joyland,” as you can tell from its pulp-fiction-y cover art and its publisher, Hard Case Crime, is more a mystery blended with a coming of age story than a work of supernatural fiction, although it does have a ghost. She is the spirit of a murdered girl who haunts a North Carolina amusement park where a college student lands a summer job in 1973 and learns the ways of the carny world and the real world, becoming attached to a dying young boy with a mysterious gift and falling for the boy’s mother. Reviewers are comparing its tone to that of King’s short story, “The Body,” which became the warm and nostalgic film about growing up, “Stand By Me.”

Why you’ll like it:

Here’s what King himself says about this book: “I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts. That combo made Hard Case Crime the perfect venue for this book, which is one of my favorites.”

King, as we all know, is quite capable of conjuring up supernatural stories that can scare readers to the point of being afraid to turn the page for fear of what is coming next, but this book is has a touching and poignant air about it and a mystery to solve. This is kinder, gentler King at his storytelling best. So you do not need to be a connoisseur of chills to find plenty to enjoy in “Joyland.” I’m betting it will be seen on beach blankets everywhere this summer.

What others are saying:

Neal Thompson, writing for  Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013, says : “What a smart, sweet, spooky, sexy gem of a story. In this one-off for the Hard Case Crime publishing imprint, King has found yet another outlet and format (print only, a zippy 280 pages) to suit his considerable talents. All are on full display here in the story of Devon Jones–”a twenty-one-year-old virgin with literary aspirations … and a broken heart”–who spends the summer of 1973 at Joyland amusement park in North Carolina. Devon makes new pals, proves himself to the hard-core carny workers, saves a girl’s life, befriends a dying boy (who has a secret gift), and falls for the boy’s protective, beautiful mother. The first half of the story is sweet and nostalgic, with modest hints of menace to come. (Think: “The Body,” King’s novella that became the film Stand By Me.) Devon learns to “sell fun” and “wear the fur” (carny-speak for dressing as Howie the Happy Hound, the park mascot), but he also learns about the woman who had been killed in the Funhouse, whose ghost still haunts Joyland. King has fun with the carny lingo–most of it researched and real, some of it invented. (The Ferris wheel, for example, is the chump-hoister.) The second half gets spookier, spinning into a full-on murder mystery–but also a love story, and a coming-of-age-story, with some supernatural fun woven in. More than a trifecta, this is King at his narrative and nostalgic best. A single-session tale to savor some summer afternoon. And then try not to keep thinking back on it.”

Library Journal says: “Along with hair-raising plots and believable characters (whether innocent or demonic or somewhere in between), a strong sense of place is an essential quality of King’s writing. In his second book for Hard Case Crime (after “The Colorado Kid”) the setting—an old-time amusement park on the North Carolina shore—easily earns its title billing. On a whim, Devon Jones, soon to be a University of New Hampshire senior, takes a summer job at the park and is quickly seduced by the carny atmosphere and the “we sell fun” motto. Soon he’s speaking the lingo, operating the rides, and entertaining crowds of kids, troubled only by the waning interest of his college sweetheart, who’s stayed behind in Boston. But as the weeks pass, Devon is pulled toward Joyland’s darker side, finding more evidence that an unsolved murder victim’s ghost still haunts the shadowy tunnels of the Horror House. VERDICT This one’s a must for King fans and may also attract YA readers.”

The Washington Post  says: “…a moving, immensely appealing coming-of-age tale that encompasses restless ghosts, serial murder, psychic phenomena and sexual initiation…The melodramatic aspects of the story are great fun, but the real strength of “Joyland” stems from King’s ability to connect with his characters directly and viscerally. It’s that emotional bond that marks the difference between books that merely entertain and books that matter in a fundamental way. With deceptive ease and astonishing regularity, King has been writing stories that matter for nearly 40 years. In “Joyland,” he has done it once again.”

Says Publishers Weekly: “A haunted carnival funhouse gives a supernatural spin to events in Thriller Award–winner King’s period murder mystery with a heart. In the summer of 1973, 21-year-old college student Devin Jones takes a job at Joyland, a North Carolina amusement park. Almost immediately, a boardwalk fortune-teller warns that Devin has “a shadow” over him, and that his destiny is intertwined with that of terminally ill Mike Ross, a 10-year-old boy who has “the sight.” Shortly after Devin meets Mike, Mike makes a cryptic comment: “It’s not white.” This proves a vital clue when Devin begins investigating an unsolved murder committed four years before at the carnival’s Horror House, and quickly stumbles into more than he bargained for. King brings his usual finesse to this tale’s mystery elements, and makes Dev’s handling of them crucial to the novel’s bigger coming-of-age story, in which Dev adapts to the carny life and finds true romance.”

“Undeniable…charm [and] aching nostalgia…[JOYLAND] reads like a heartfelt memoir and might be King’s gentlest book, a canny channeling of the inner peace one can find within outer tumult,” says Booklist.

When is it available?

Oh joy! There are copies of “Joyland’ at the Albany, Blue Hills, Campfield, Dwight, Goodwin and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Libraries now.

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