Four Books I Liked By Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey & Roger Moore

Like any hopeful reader, I have boxes of books just waiting to be read in my garage and even a fair number waiting in the digital realm. There’s not much rhyme or reason to which ones I choose or why they take me so long to read, but I figured I’d put a few thoughts down about these four books I’ve finished in the relatively recent past including books by Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey and Roger Moore. Continue reading Four Books I Liked By Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey & Roger Moore

Riding With The King: The Stand (1978)

the-stand-stephen-king-2 You’ve seen my write a million times that I’m a slow reader. Sometimes a book will grab me, though, and I roll right through it, no matter the length. That’s the experience I had reading Stephen King’s Under The Dome and even the much shorter Dolores Claiborne, but nowhere near what happened with The Stand.

Looking back, it took me a while to get through Gerald’s Game and then I started reading this one BACK IN MAY. Sure, it’s an exceptionally long book — up there with Dome as the longest I’ve ever read — but I kept finding myself distracted by comics, TV, movies and a few other books like Clive Barker’s Inhuman Condition and Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value. Continue reading Riding With The King: The Stand (1978)

Riding With The King: Revival By Stephen King, Read By David Morse

revival stephen kingAs I mentioned when writing about Stephen King’s Joyland audiobook, I got it as well as Revival for a pair of car trips that wracked up about 20 hours of drive time. The former turned out to be a somewhat horror-light mystery with a lot of engrossing characters and a fun setting. Revival has all of that, but also turned out to be a much more horrific and darker experience. Continue reading Riding With The King: Revival By Stephen King, Read By David Morse

Riding With The King: Joyland By Stephen King, Read By Michael Kelly

joyland audio book stephen kingA few weekends back, I went on a 10-ish hour trip to hang out with some of my grade and high school buddies near Hocking Hills, Ohio. I knew I’d need some fast paced, engrossing audiobooks to listen to while I made the solo trip. When perusing that section at the library, I immediately headed to the Ks and found myself a pair of Stephen King books: Joyland and Revival. I grabbed the former because I have a hard copy in my to-read box and the latter because, well, it looked like it would get me through the rest of my trip there and all the way back. Continue reading Riding With The King: Joyland By Stephen King, Read By Michael Kelly

Audiobook Double Feature: The Broker & The Bone Bed

the broker john grisham audiobookMy wife and I primarily listen to audiobooks while driving to and from our parents’ houses. Hers live about four hours away while mine are 10. In the past few months we’ve driven out to both and also took a trip down to Philadelphia so we’ve been listening to a variety of different books at different times (partially because I lost my iPod temporarily while on the way home from Thanksgiving).

Anyway, while the iPod — which had the next book on it — was missing, we listened to The Broker a book by John Grisham as read by Dennis Boutsikaris which my inlaws passed to us. Clocking in at just about five hours, this book was a wonderful listen that stayed on point and kept us involved the entire time we listened.

The plot revolves around Joel Backman, a D.C. lobbyist who went to jail after getting mixed up with some international spy satellite tech. He’s given a surprise pardon by an outgoing president at the behest of the CIA who place him in Italy. While there, they secretly control his entire life in an effort to learn his secrets before letting the international spy community know where he is so they can kill him. Of course, Backman doesn’t know about these plans, so he does his best to learn Italian and blend in to his new surroundings, eventually catching wind that something is up before going on the run and grabbing a little insurance.

Like I said above, this book is a nice, taut thriller with a surprisingly likable character. You really start to feel for him as he tries to figure out his new life. At the same time, the spy and political worlds are dealing with the situation in various ways. Even though the scope of this book is fairly broad, it still stays focused without driving off course too much. I also enjoyed the ending which showed Backman mixing his old skills with some of the new ones he learned while on the run. All in all, I give this one a big thumbs up. For what it’s worth, this is the first Grisham book I’ve ever read or listened to which seems pretty crazy, especially considering how insanely popular he was back when I was at the peak of my voracious reading appetite.

the bone bed patricia cornwell audiobook Patricia Cornwell’s The Bone Bed, another Kay Scarpetta novel read by Kate Reading, was a lot more of a time commitment and not quite as focused as The Broker. We listened to this one on the way to and from Philly, to New Hampshire, part of the way to Michigan (after finishing The Broker) and then finished it early on our way back home after Christmas.

This time around, super duper medical examiner Kay Scarpetta is investigating or involved in a series of murders or disappearances. As the story continues, they seem to be connected and Kay eventually stumbles into the truth about what’s really going on and who is behind it all. Meanwhile, she’s also dealing with some potential problems with Marino, the advances of a young doctor she works with and her husband’s FBI partner who has eyes for him.

Bone Bed came after Port Mortuary and Red Mist. One of the big problems we had with Mortuary was that Kay wound up not doing too much in the story and was basically playing catch-up in her office while everyone else was doing things out in the field. Red Mist went a different direction as did Bone Bed, but BB did have a bit of a problem. A few actually.

First and foremost, Cornwell seems to really enjoy telling her readers about traffic patterns in and around Boston. As a reader, I could care less about these descriptions. When you’re in a story and have just read/heard something really interesting and want to get to the next stage of figuring it out, the last thing you want to learn about is a traffic jam. We listened to the unabridged version, which might have been a mistake, but I think these scenes would have been pretty boring had I read it the traditional way.

The other problem involves the end of the book. After so much detail was put into the scientific side of the investigation, SPOILER Kay winds up getting kidnapped by the killer while she’s talking to a different person altogether. Why an ME is out interviewing people is beyond me, but I can live with that. It just felt kind of quick and unearned for me. At the end of the story, she really doesn’t have any agency and doesn’t even free herself, but relies on her team to do that (though she was ready to defend herself). I get that the killer was worried because things were starting to heat up thanks to Scarpetta’s investigation, but I would have rather Scarpetta’s investigation more directly lead to the killer’s capture.

And speaking of the killer, while his motivations were really interesting, I didn’t feel like his immense skill at what he was doing was well explained. This person set a really elaborate trap with the first body discovered in the book. We understand why a person would do that, but not why this person did it, especially if their  main motivation seems to revolve around killing stand-ins for a hated person. How did he even think of that crazy plan?!

At this point, we’re still pretty solid Scarpetta fans, but I’m not sure if the last few listens have been all that great. If these were books by other people would I like them as much? Probably not, but since I’m already a fan of these characters, I’m more forgiving.

Audiobook Review: Jaws by Peter Benchley, Read by Erik Steele (1974)

jawes audiobookAlfred Hitchcock once said that you shouldn’t make a movie out of a good book. That’s what he supposedly did with The Birds and that worked out pretty well, right? Well, apparently Steven Spielberg did the same thing with Peter Benchley’s Jaws. The book, much like the movie, finds a resort town terrorized by a great white shark. Sheriff Brody, shark scientist Matt Hooper and grizzled fisherman Quint are the only three people willing to go out and put a stop to all this.

I spent most of the day listening to this book while doing work and watching our daughter and have to say, I was pretty bored. Things start off interesting, with Brody trying to figure out how to handle this unusual problem. While, in general, I think the movie is all around better than the book, I will say that the complexities of keeping the beaches open are more deeply explored in the book and make more sense than “the mayor’s a jerk.”

Speaking of the mayor, he’s a far more detailed character in the book, but I’m not sure if that’s such a great thing. The overall problem with the book is that it spends far too much time away from the shark. As you may or may not know, there’s an entire subplot the finds Brody’s wife having an affair with Hooper, whose older brother she dated in high school. There’s a whole dinner party scene and then one where they go to dinner. All of this took about an hour in audiobook form. AN HOUR! Even worse? It didn’t really have much to do with the story other than to make us feel a little better when SPOILER Hooper dies in his shark cage (something Spielberg was supposedly going to keep in the film version, but changed for a bit of a happier ending). At the end of the day, when you’re writing a book about sharks, write about sharks.

I know I shouldn’t be comparing the book to the film as much as I am, but it’s nearly impossible because I’m so familiar with the movie and it’s one of the best films ever made. Still, there are some interesting meta elements that I noticed while listening to the book. First and foremost, the movie kicked off huge interest in sharks that we’re still experiencing today. In a roundabout way, that makes the shark action in the book much easier to picture. In fact, with the ending, I was basically watching a slightly edited version of the film in my head while it was going on.

I don’t think Jaws is necessarily a bad book — it sold like gangbusters when it came out in 1974 — but I do think it’s a less focused version of this story than Spielberg’s. In fact, had the affair subplot been excised or shortened, I would have liked it a lot more. I even enjoyed some of the characters who aren’t in the movie like Hendricks and Meadows, though completely understand why the nicer version of Hooper in the film was able to carry a lot of their weight. At the end of the day, if you’re interested in both the book and the movie, I’d read the book first and then watch the movie, which is the exact opposite thing I would suggest if you’re interested in The Shining.

Finally, I absolutely loved Brody’s line, “I’ll never be as old as I feel today.” I feel like that at least three times a week.

Audiobook Review: Port Mortuary By Patricia Cornwell, Read By Kate Burton

port mortuary audiobook One of the reasons I like UnitedMonkee.com is that it gives me a good reference point for the things I’ve read, watched and to a lesser extent listened to over the past few years. It’s far from complete — sometimes I like to keep things to myself while other times too much time has lapsed between experiencing the thing and writing about it for it to be authentic — but for the most part it’s a pretty good pop culture external hard drive for my brain.

It’s also fun to look and see how long I’ve been absorbing certain entertainment. Take audiobooks for example, I first wrote about them back in January of 2011 after we got back from a road trip and had listened to Robert B. Parker’s The Widow’s Walk. On that same trip we listened to our first Kay Scarpetta book The Scarpetta Factor and have continued to use this unique format to make our long car trips more entertaining, making our way through a chunk of the Scarpetta books in the process. For what it’s worth — and for completionists sake — we’ve listened to All That Remains, Cruel And Unusual, Predator, The Book Of The Dead, Scarpetta, Scarpetta Factor, Port Mortuary and the first third or so of Red Mist.

We get our audiobooks from three main sources: my wife’s parents who introduced us to the idea, sales at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and the library. Last time we took a trip, we grabbed Red Mist, but didn’t finish it. Before heading to Michigan last week, we tried using our library’s digital borrowing system which worked great, but Red Mist wasn’t available so we went with the only one that was that we hadn’t already heard, Port Mortuary, which happens to preceed Mist. This wound up being something of a blunder because I remembered enough details of Mist to know where Mortuary was ultimately going.

So, there was a certain amount of tension and mystery removed for me while listening to this book, but I’m a strong believer that you can know where something is going to end and still enjoy the journey getting there. I still enjoyed the journey this time around as some huge story elements were still unknown to me, but there was something off about this book. My wife was super bored by the whole thing and she didn’t remember nearly as much about Mist as I did.

The plot finds medical examiner extraordinaire Kay Scarpetta leaving a the titular Port Mortuary — a military medical examining station for troops, basically — and returning to the organization she’s supposed to be running only to find a mysterious dead man in her cooler and the place a mess thanks to leaving it in charge of one-time protege Jack Fielding. The whole thing unravels in the span of something like two days and finds Kay mostly playing catch-up as her FBI agent husband Benton, tech wiz niece Lucy and  detective Marino are out in the real world figuring things out and she’s in the lab, basically under house arrest thanks to a strong FBI presence.

If you look at the reviews on Amazon for this book, they’re pretty unfavorable. Most of the complaints revolve around this book being fairly slow, boring and jam-packed with information that doesn’t seem all that necessary  Many of those reviews are written by longtime Scarpetta fans, so I can’t really comment on the validity of the idea that the books have gone downhill as we’ve only listened to a pair of very abridged books from the early days. But, I think I can address the other complaints.

The book feels slow and boring because it’s first person and Kay is basically in one place, discovering pieces of information that are new to her and us, but not to anyone else. It’s not much fun watching someone basically play catch-up, even if you’re not in the know yet either. One of the keys to reading a mystery is feeling in on the action, but not smarter than the main character. It made me think less of her because, while some elements would be impossible for her to know, others are definitely her fault, specifically hiring Fielding and all the problems that come from that. Kay also brings a lot of her own paranoia and history into the story, making us believe things are going a certain way when, really, they’re not. When you’re steered in a dead end direction like this, it can be frustrating. There’s an entire part of Kay’s early days in the field that seems super important to the story, but really isn’t, it’s just something that a more recent event reminded her of and yet, it’s kept a secret like it’s a key element. These elements were kind of annoying when listening to the book, but would have probably made actually sitting down and reading this thing a slog for me personally.

I get all that and can see where those complaints are coming from, but I think Cornwell was trying to do something a little different with this story. You’re completely in Kay’s POV throughout this whole story. It’s told in the first person, so you’re never not in the room with her. We’re basically supposed to feel as confused, paranoid and angry as she is. It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure if this was the best way to go. The way this book is set up the isolation understandably breeds negative feelings, but the other downside is that we don’t get to spend as much time with the supporting characters we’ve come to know and love. I’ve got no problem with Ann, but I’d rather hang out with Lucy.

At the end of the day, I understand why this book disappointed so many readers. I also think I might understand what Cornwell was trying to do and even got sucked into it at times — I was particularly nervous during the period where she was accidentally drugged — and enjoyed it overall. For me, knowing what going to happen in the parts of Red Mist that we listened to was worse than the presentation of this book, but that’s what happens when you listen to these things in a haphazard way. Now we’ve got to get Mist back from the library or download it and finally figure out what the heck is going on there!