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: 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

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!

E-Book Triple Feature: The Devil In The Kitchen, Red Rain & Off My Rocker

the devil in the kitchen I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason is that I’m a slow reader, part is that I love reading comics and part is that, thanks to having a pair of kiddos, I don’t have the time or attention span to devote to the hobby as I once did. However, I have discovered that my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime is a good time to get some reading done. After I read her books, I lay next to her bed in the dark until she doses off. So, as long as I have a solid book on my phone, I’m pretty good to go.

The first of the bunch in recent memory was Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about White going into this book, but it looked like a British version of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, so I bit for a couple bucks (like most of my e-books, I got it on the cheap) and really enjoyed the experience.

White’s story begins as a child (as most do) and ventures on up through his development as a chef, to the leader of his own kitchen and ultimately a world-renowned figure in the world of food. He gave jobs to people like Gordon Ramsey and Curtis Stone  while creating award-winning, lavish restaurants in the 80s and beyond. While their stories are different in many ways, if you like Bourdain’s books, you’ll like this one.

Book Review Red RainRed Rain by R.L. Stine is one of the few fiction novels I’ve read all the way through on my phone. This was another discounted book that I grabbed. From the title and the cover, I assumed this was a vampire story, but was way off base. This one follows a woman who goes to a small island for her travel blog but after a devastating hurricane, seems changed to the point where she adopts a pair of creepy twin boys and brings them to live with her husband, daughter and son in New York.

This was an interesting story that never quite grabbed me. For some reason I was never able to zero in on what these kids look like which was a major barrier given plot points I don’t want to spoil. I also had a really hard time sympathizing with the mother character. The father becomes the punching bag, but while he’s getting dumped on, it felt like I was supposed to wonder more about the wife, but instead, I found her far too easy to write off and ignore. Because of that, I also found her to be a wildly annoying character to the point where I almost stopped reading.

But, I did wind up enjoying the end of the book which finally revealed what the kids were up to. I liked how all that played out, so while I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of this book, it ended in a way that I appreciated which is nice because I used to read Fear Street and Goosebumps books constantly as a kid. I don’t say this often, but after I was done, I felt like Red Rain would have made a better movie than a book.

off my rockerOff My Rocker: One Man’s Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissberg was another random purchase for a few bucks (the equivalent of the going through the Barnes & Noble discount table). I knew nothing about Weissberg or his deal, but when I read that he was a DJ, music writer and concert promoter, I was easily sold.

Right off the bat, this book reminded me of three others I’ve read since starting this blog. It’s got a little of The Real Animal House mixed with Sonic Boom and some of George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do in that it’s one man’s (mostly) fond remembrance of an important time in music, told from the inside. Like Hamilton, he used his confidence and skills to move from one part of life to another, often taking chances and risks that paid off.

To get into a bit more detail, Weissberg grew up a huge music fan on the East Coast and eventually wound up becoming one of the biggest freeform DJs in Colorado. Talking about music lead to interviewing musicians on the air and a career in concert and record reviews in print. When that work dried up, he fronted a band before moving to California to promote concerts, a gig that lasted him 20-something years. Along the way he met a variety of music professionals who he doesn’t mind writing about. Weissberg tells his stories with a good nature that brings you into the tales instead of feeling like you’re on the outside and also lets you in on previously unknown details without ever getting mean.

In addition to enjoying stories about people who make their own way in life, no matter how improbably, I also appreciated how Weissberg took this thing he loved and turned it into a series of careers that lasted several decades. That’s something I hope I can say down the line, though I just realized I’ve been doing what I do for about 10, so I guess I’m doing alright.

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?

Book Review: The Dummy Line By Bobby Cole (2011)

the dummy line by bobby cole When it comes to books, I’m not the most adventurous consumer. Over the years I’ve discovered enough authors I like who have solid outputs that I’m pretty well set when it comes to the book department. I’ve also got a huge backlog of books in my to-read piles and bins thanks to sales at various stores, most of which are out of business. But, one of the interesting things about moving into the world of e-books is the Amazon system put in place that either suggests other offerings you might like or gives you a great deal on semi-related novels. That’s how I came to own a digital copy of Bobby Cole’s The Dummy Line. While in Michigan over Christmas, I decided to travel light, take the Kindle and decided to give this book a shot. I’ve been casually reading it since, but finished it over the weekend.

The story focuses on Jake Crosby, a turkey hunter heading to a hunting property with his daughter for a weekend of shooting. Once they get there they run afoul of some ruthless local hoodlums and things quickly get dangerous. They’re not the only ones in the area though as a pair of local teenagers also get wrapped up in the conflict. Before long the police start investigating and scramble to figure out exactly what’s going on as an increasingly confusing series of events make themselves known to the authorities.

I was pretty much on board with this thriller from the get go because it features a normal guy trying to get away for the weekend with his little girl who realizes he needs to make some tough decisions to keep them both safe. That’s an easy in for me as a dad, even if the idea of going to a remote cabin to shoot birds is not something I feel the need to do.

I also enjoyed the way Cole bounces from player to player in this drama. You’re not just with Jake — which would have been exhausting — but also his pursuers, the teenagers, the cops and various other characters. This not only mixes things up to alleviate tension, but also shows how various events can be correctly and erroneously misinterpreted by various parties. Too often I see stories where everyone can figure out exactly what’s going on and that seems too unrealistic. For me it was as interesting seeing the cops try to figure out what’s happening as actually experiencing those moments firsthand with Jake.

But it’s not a perfect book, not that I would expect as much from a first novel. My biggest problem with this book was the proliferation of clunky prose. One of the tricks I learned early on as a writer is to read your work out loud to see if it sounds natural to your ear and not just your brain. It seems to me like this step might have been skipped in the process because there are some overly complicated ways of saying simple things in this book. I didn’t feel like this on every single page, but it happened enough from beginning to end that it stuck out to me.

I also wasn’t a fan of the early chapters in the book when the villains were introduced. As a dad, I felt easily manipulated by these grown men who had no problem harming a child in any manner of awful ways. But, I also realized that they were presented as very one-note characters right off the bat. These are bad, bad dudes with no conscious who faithfully follow the most cunning of their ilk. And, for the most part, that stuck throughout the book, though I was happy to see one of them go to great lengths to stop some pretty bad stuff from happening.

In the process of reading The Dummy Line, I was listening to an episode of the horror podcast Killer POV and I had an interesting thought. On the episode, one of the hosts was talking about seeing an early movie by a filmmaker, noting some parts where they didn’t do so hot, but also looked forward to seeing what their next project would display as far as growth. This got me thinking about Dummy Line because it’s also by a relatively new creative person. It’s not a perfect offering, but it sure is good and got me interested enough to eventually read his next book Moon Underfoot, which I also got on the cheap from Amazon. While I still enjoy reading all the authors I’ve come to know and love over the years, it’s also kind of exciting to get in on the ground floor with someone developing their craft and trying out this whole author thing, which I myself am trying for as well.