Riding With The King: Mr. Mercedes

mr mercedes 1After listening to Joyland and Revival, it seemed appropriate to make a Stephen King book my next reading experience. I have a lot of his works in my to-read pile, but after liking those more recent titles, I figured I’d give Mr. Mercedes a shot because I’d seen that it kicked off a trilogy of stories featuring the main character, retired police detective Bill Hodges.

This one, from 2014, follows Hodges as his lackluster retired life gets interrupted and rejuvenated when a letter from a never-caught killer makes its way to his mailbox. Bill and his partner were lead on a case where a guy stole a Mercedes and drove it into a crowd of people waiting for a job fair, but they never figured out who he was (and probably wouldn’t had he not gotten cocky/bored and sent the letter in the first place). Continue reading Riding With The King: Mr. Mercedes

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

Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children: The Ghost Next Door by R.L. Stine

goosebumps the ghost next doorAs I mentioned when I reviewed Christopher Pike’s Weekend, I was way into the world of young adult horror in my earlier years. Long before I dove into the mega scare franchises that had taken on legendary status to a kid growing up in the late 80s and 90s, I read a metric ton of books by Pike and R.L. Stine.

So, when I saw a free copy of The Ghost Next Door from Stine’s epic and beloved Goosebumps series, I had to grab it. I don’t think I read this one as a kid, I’d probably moved on to Fear Street by that point, but it was a fun look back at the kinds of stories I remember from childhood.

In the cast of The Ghost Next Door, Hannah’s all alone in her small town during the summer. Her friends have all gone off to camp or are on extended vacations, so she’s pretty surprised to see Danny appear and say he’s been living next door for a while. Hannah and her family have no recollection of him actually moving in and weird, wild things start happening that make her think that he’s the titular specter.

Not to toot my own horn too much, but I called the big twist pretty early on this 1993 book for children. I take more pride in that than I probably should as a 33 year old man. But, I think this would have made my 10 year old brain SPIN had I read it in 1993 when it first came out. I’ve often said that it doesn’t really matter how good the movies are you see as a kid because they become important for a variety of reasons. In other words, the very idea of playing with narrative structure like Tarantino did is mind-blowing even if you saw it for the first time by one of the many 90s imitators (or if your first exposure to the Citizen Kane story was through an episode of Tiny Toons or Alvin And The Chipmiunks or whathaveyou).

Let’s call this paragraph SPOILER TERRITORY if you’re so inclined to avoid such things. The big reveal here is that Hannah is actually the ghost, which explains why her friends aren’t writing her back and only a few people actually seem to interact with her. I caught on to this when she was writing the letter to her best friend complaining about how nothing was happening (I think she actually says “Everything is dead around here,” or something to that extent) and she wants to hear back. It seemed unlikely that her bestie would totally abandon her like that (or maybe I’m just a hopeful romantic when it comes to besties). I wonder if kids who read this book were more or less likely to catch the Sixth Sense twist coming because they’d been exposed to something similar.

Okay, back out of spoiler country now. I had a great time reading this story, not just because it was a nice trip down memory lane, but also an easy read that I could pick up and put down while I was taking care of the kids for a few days. It also makes me want to get a Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children podcast because it’s super interesting finding out what kinds of stories we gravitated to as kids and how they changed the way we understand how these things work. Maybe in a few months…

Book Review: The Death Freak by Clifford Irving & Herbert Burkholz (1976)

the-death-freak-by-clifford-irving-and-herbert-burkholzI seem to be inadvertently drawn to action books from the 1970s with a fair amount of kink these days.First there were Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction in physical form, and now The Death Freak by Clifford Irving and Herbert Burkholz. While those were about an art historian-turned-secret agent, this one’s about U.S. and Russian murder masters who pull a Strangers On A Train and start taking out each others’ targets.

Both Eddie Mancuso and Vasily Borgneff work for their respective governments as architects of death, not actual assassins, but the people who figure out how to kill the targets when a simple sniper rifle won’t work. They both want out, but know that the very small group of agents they work for will never have it. Luckily, since the number of people who officially know about them is relatively small, it’s a number that can be easily terminated. Of course, none of it’s actually easy as both sides use computers to figure out the probability of each man’s next move.

So, once they make contact with one another thanks to the help of a woman who’s sleeping with them both, the two men come to an agreement and get to work figuring out how to take out their targets. The first few go quite well, but eventually the agents catch on and bring in a contingent of soldiers to put their scheme to an end.

As an action and intrigue story, Death Freak is on point. The authors bounce back and forth between each target making sure you never quite lose interest in their dirty deeds. Speaking of which, boy do some of these assassinations get kinky. The book actually starts off with a woman and her husband — one of Eddie’s superiors — getting violent before making love so there’s precedence right off the bat, but I was not expecting the graphic BDSM scenes. I don’t consider myself overly squeamish, but I definitely grimaced through those chapters.

Much like with Eiger and Loo, I feel like Death Freak would make a fantastic action thriller on the big screen. You’d only have to take out a few scenes and update a few others (actually, that whole Soviet Russia thing might be tricky, let’s do it as a period piece!). Still, there’s plenty of solid material here to bring to the big screen. Maybe if I keep reading these largely forgotten thrillers, I’ll hit on one that I can adapt into the next big blockbuster!

Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children: Weekend By Christopher Pike

weekend 90s coverOver the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my real entrance into horror. For years I said it came around the age of 14 or 15 and our Family Video membership, but that was when I got into horror movies. Years before that I found myself seduced by the mind-numbingly spooky drawings and tales in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark which eventually lead to novels by the likes of Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. I don’t remember exactly how that transition was made or who facilitated it, but I do distinctly remember talking to my friend John’s older sister Sharon about Pike books.

Curious to see how some of those formative books held up, I figured out a way to get paid to read the Scary Stories books (link to come when it goes live), but also wanted to dive back in to the world of Pike’s books, starting with Weekend from 1986 (I had no idea it was that “old” when I read it probably 10 years later). My memories from early adolescence are far from clear, but it seems like this might have been one of my early entrants into his oeuvre.

From what I remember, Weekend is a pretty representative offering from the author. There’s a deadly mystery revolving around a bunch of high school students with hints at supernatural elements in the works and nods to other horror genres with an ultimately happy ending. In this case, a group of friends heads to the Mexican mansion of two adoptive sisters Robin and Lena. They expect to be joined by their fellow classmates for a big party later in the weekend, but no one else shows up, which is just as well because they’re plagued by snakes, explosions, weird ravens, snakes and at least one traitor in their midst. Why would anyone go to all that trouble for this particular group of kids? Well, someone made Robin drink poison at a party and someone else wants to figure out who!

Much to my surprise I actually remembered the big twist at the end of this book, but I kind of think it would have been obvious to me even if I hadn’t. It’s not that it’s dumb or obvious, just that you go into a young adult book like this with a certain set of expectations and those get met pretty consistently.

weekend coverStill, I enjoyed taking this little trip back in time, though I didn’t find it that dated. The relationships feel true and honest and if you changed a few pop culture references and added in a line about them not getting any cell phone reception, this could easily translate into a modern young adult thriller. Or, better yet, a kind of anthology series based on Pike’s books on a channel like The CW or MTV.

I was also surprised to discover that this was Pike’s second novel after Slumber Party which I also remember reading. Sure there’s plenty of teen melodrama and an extended metaphor that can come off as a little clunky, but this is a strong second effort for an author working in this particular genre.

While these early books remained more grounded in reality, he eventually dove headfirst into supernatural elements and even sci-fi later on down the line, all of which I ate up with a spoon. Actually, I enjoyed going back and checking out this scary story from my past that I’m seriously thinking of turning the whole idea into a podcast where a guest and I read or watch something that spooked one of us when we were kids and revisiting them now. I’m short on time these days, but hope to get the ball rolling on that pretty soon!

 

Book Review: The Sun Also Rises By Ernest Hemingway (1926)

The Sun Also Rises My name is TJ Dietsch and I have a confession to make: I just finished my first Ernest Hemingway novel at the age of 31. Yes, I majored in English and yes, I consider myself a good reader even though I stick to a smaller group of beloved modern authors when I decide to focus on a book. However, when I was looking at the Amazon Kindle ebook deals sometime last year, I jumped at the chance to add Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to my library. It took a while to get to and through this book, partly because I was reading it while lying next to my kid’s bed as she tried to fall asleep and partly because I didn’t like it very much.

Told from the first person POV of Jake, an American living in Paris and working for a newspaper, Sun follows him as he goes to bars, travels around Spain and pines for a woman who can’t/won’t/doesn’t love him. After half the book, Jake and a group of his friends decide to go see the bullfights which exacerbates the problems in their group dynamic. From what I’ve read, Hemingway was going to write an article about bullfighting, but instead decided to write a story featuring analogs for his pals. And to that I say, Hemingway’s friends must have been insufferable.

I’m torn between loving the things these people do and hating the people doing them. There’s something so romantic about being an expatriate who gets to take long, extravagant vacations in Europe, but there’s not a likable character in this novel aside from Montoya, the guy who runs the hotel in Spain.

Jake’s okay but when you think about it he’s just a facilitator for these other people to get together. He doesn’t stand up for himself or go after what he wants so what good is he? Brett (Jakes love interest, sorta) doesn’t care about who she hurts, Mike’s a drunken jerk, Bill’s a smarmy intellectual and Cohn’s a lovesick, obsessive doofus. I get why this lifestyle would have fascinated to people in the 20s/30s, especially because it seems so far outside the norm of going to work, coming home, being with your family and that’s about it, but to a modern reader it feels like a Bravo reality series. Think about it, a bunch of people who don’t really like each other go on a vacation which intrinsically leads to fights, betrayal and a showcase of their lack of perspective. Real Expatriates Of Paris, anyone?

This will sound lazy, but I found myself wishing that this was a movie instead of a book. Like I said, the ideas are fascinating and set in lush locales, but I’d rather see them than read Hemingway’s sparse descriptions. In this book he has a tendency to go into more lush detail at times when I just wanted things to move along story-wise, especially after they all leave Spain. At that point, I just wanted it to be over, I was done with these people and didn’t want to hear about the amazing places they got to drive through. Plus, were this a film, I only would have spent 90 to 120 minutes with these characters I dislike instead of the weeks it took me to read the book.

Even with these complaints though, I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t respect Hemingway as a writer. I understand how influential and important he is/was to the world of writing and get the mystique surrounding him. The Sun Also Rises feels true and honest. It’s real and raw, but it reflects that reality by engaging characters I’m not particularly interested in. I’ve also read a bit about Hemingway’s minimalist nature when it came to writing and appreciate the style even if it makes following the parties in a conversation a bit more difficult.

I realized about 2/3 of the way through this novel that it reminded me of another famous author’s first book: Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary. Both are about newspaper men who travel to exotic locales, throw themselves into local events, lose women they’re attached to in some way and drink a bunch. I much prefer Rum Diary though because while it might have been influenced by Sun, it features far more interesting characters, especially in the lead.

I wish it went without saying, but this is the internet and I know full well it doesn’t, but it’s important to note that my liking or disliking of something does not always relate to the thing’s quality, which is a distinction not enough people make. The Sun Also Rises is a well-crafted novel filled with realistic people. They’re just the kind of people I wouldn’t want to share a bus ride with let alone an international vacation, that’s all. This also doesn’t put me off all Hemingway. I just need to find something he wrote that’s not filled with vapid jerks. Any suggestions?