I have it pretty good here in ol’ 2016. I work nine to five, Monday to Friday. I have a decent health plan and my job consists of sitting on my ass inI have it pretty good here in ol’ 2016. I work nine to five, Monday to Friday. I have a decent health plan and my job consists of sitting on my ass in front of a computer all day. I get regular raises and if I get sick, I can rest up for a few days until I kick whatever ails me out of my system. The men of the Boston Police Department in the early 20th century didn’t have any of this. They’d be lucky if they were even given time off to sleep let alone enough money to feed their families.
For Dennis Lehane, it started with the Boston Police strike of 1919. The simple thought of an entire police force walking off the job had fascinated him, but as he began digging, The Given Day grew both in size and scope. Lehane included the infamous Spanish Flu outbreak, The Great Molasses Flood of early 1919, and Babe Ruth’s rise to the top of baseball - all of this occurring within a city already struggling to find its identity. As Boston formed into a melting pot of immigrants - both the Irish and Italians leading the forefront - to say that they were all at odds with one another would be a gross understatement. Considering the Irish were often connected to the police department and the Italians closely associated with communism and terrorism, events would occur that would poison the minds of Boston's residents resulting in widespread racism that would fuel many of the city's more memorable events.
The Given Day follows three main characters. Danny Coughlin, a young Boston police officer tasked with infiltrating and investigating the Boston Social Club - an unofficial union formed by his fellow officers looking to fight for workers rights; Luther Laurence, a black man who arrives in Boston fleeing from Oklahoma following a botched robbery attempt; and Babe Ruth (do I really need to explain who this is?).
As the plot progresses, all three become linked by the corruption and fear that gripped Beantown. Lehane’s clean, flowing prose is front and center making The Given Day a breezy, but brutal read. Character development is top-notch and I found myself digging in for long reading sessions, desperate to know what horrible thing would hit the city next. That said, the Babe Ruth stuff didn’t do a whole lot for me. Although he wasn’t featured as prominently as the other two characters, I found his story a little jarring and out of place by comparison. Both Danny and Luther’s stories were so gritty, unpredictable and at times unapologetically bleak that Ruth’s story felt like literary padding.
Like Lehane’s signature Kenzie & Gennaro series, The Given Day is about as readable as you can get. Aside from the bits about Ruth, you have a classic crime/historical fiction book that plays like a James Ellroy novel on Ritalin....more
I originally rated this four stars, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it the last few days. I think if a book can do that to me, it at leI originally rated this four stars, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it the last few days. I think if a book can do that to me, it at least deserves 5.
Just like The Shining and Salem’s Lot, my first exposure to Pet Sematary prior to reading the novel had been from a Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror episode. You know, the one where Bart reads this incantation from a book of black magic in hopes to raise their beloved cat Snowball I from the dead but instead unleashes a hoard of zombies upon Springfield? Good times. Man, those were some great episodes. You can’t go wrong with Treehouse of Horror.
Anyway, the parody isn’t exactly the same (it never is) but the meat and potatoes of it are present. There’s still a dead cat, although this one is named Church (short for Winston Churchill). Following its death, its owner Louis Creed, is approached by his neighbor who has a suggestion that may help alleviate his family’s impending grief - take the kitty up to an old Mic Mac burial ground behind Louis’ property and put the cat six feet under before his wife, daughter and toddler son return home from their Thanksgiving vacation in Chicago. And why not? Louis could just lie and say that Church ran away - no one needs to know the details. However, what Jud doesn’t tell Louis is that this spot will not be Church’s final resting place...
As much as I love my cat Gertie, ain’t no way I’m bringing her back from the dead if I’m to expect something like this. Church returns void of personality and lingers like a shell of his former self. When Lou’s family return, they can tell something is off about the family cat but aside from an ever present noxious odor, they can’t quite put their finger on it. While the novel is often considered King’s most terrifying work (he admits as much in the introduction), it’s more about how we deal with grief and what lengths we will go to help the ones we love, and I think that’s what struck me the hardest. As another tragedy strikes the family and as the story moves along and the characters make increasingly poor decisions, you want to grab their shoulders and shake them, tell them to take a second and look before you leap. It’s like when you watch the lead in a horror movie go down into a dark basement or cellar and you can’t help yelling at the screen. Then you remember that Louis is dealing with a level of guilt that you just cannot imagine and you’re not sure if you would do anything differently.
In my experience reading King, I often find he struggles with endings. He can write a hell of a journey but I’m not quite sure if he ends up in the right destination. Pet Sematary is one of those exceptions as I can’t think of a better ending. Remember that episode of Friends where Joey put The Shining in the freezer because it was too scary to have lying around? He’ll likely need to put Pet Sematary in liquid nitrogen....more
Following the death of his wife, author Ben Mears returns to Jerusalem’s Lot, the town in which he spent his childhood, to continue work on a novel. HFollowing the death of his wife, author Ben Mears returns to Jerusalem’s Lot, the town in which he spent his childhood, to continue work on a novel. However, it wouldn’t be a Stephen King story if there wasn’t something sinister lurking in a small town. Did I mention this takes place in Maine?
King has noted that the idea for Salem’s Lot came from a thought he had while teaching Dracula to his high school class – what if the famous vampire landed in America and terrorized New York City? Luckily, Uncle Stevie’s wife Tabitha had a better idea – put the bloodsucker in a small town. Although the novel’s antagonist isn’t the contemptuous Count himself, King imagines a foe on the same grand scale – a centuries-old undead monster with an ego the size of Manhattan. He even monologues like a Bond villain!
Surprisingly, I didn’t find Salem’s Lot as scary as I expected. This might have something to do with the fact that I’ve seen the two-part mini-series from 1979 and seemed to remember most of the more frightening parts from the show, albeit that was at the very least a dozen years ago (that window scene really stuck with me). That being said, I managed to forget enough of the core plot that it ended up feeling pretty fresh overall. After the first vampire rears his ugly head, the facade of happy life in ‘The Lot’ comes tumbling down like a flimsy house of cards. From that point on, the book becomes extremely difficult to put down, firmly establishing itself as one of those page turners that you have to refrain from reading ahead – something I struggled with during many of the action scenes.
In the end I had a few small gripes, and although they didn’t keep me from enjoying the book as a whole, it left me feeling like some elements of the novel could have been cut out entirely along with a few of the characters’ actions looking suspect and oddly motivated. With this being only King’s second effort, it’s proof that he did not suffer from the fabled sophomoric slump that plagues a lot of successful authors. Salem’s Lot is a recommended read for those with limited exposure to vampires, mainly of the sparkly persuasion....more
Retired wrestler Dan “The Minotaur” Knossos receives a call from an ex-boyfriend in trouble. Flying back to the US from Japan, Dan soon learns that TeRetired wrestler Dan “The Minotaur” Knossos receives a call from an ex-boyfriend in trouble. Flying back to the US from Japan, Dan soon learns that Teddy is in deeper than expected and Knossos may have to sacrifice everything just to pull him out.
Ringside combines two of my favorite things: professional wrestling and crime fiction/noir. How could I not love this? Truth be told, while I feel like this series has a lot of potential going forward, I felt like the first volume could have been a lot better. I enjoyed the bits with the newcomer riding the road with the old-timer as the grizzled veteran dishes out wisdom to the rookie. Writer Joe Keatinge gets a lot right and nails how past-their-prime-performers deal with the fading spotlight but it came across a little like fluff when compared to the seriousness of the main story.
I’m hoping the series can find its legs by the time the second volume is released now that I have good sense of who these characters are. The art is a bit lacking - it looks like a sloppier version of David Aja’s work on Hawkeye - although some of the splash pages are pretty cool (watch for Dan’s first exposure to pro-wrestling in a flashback).
Kudos to Keatinge for putting out a comic book about professional wrestling - an industry that is dominated by macho men (pardon the pun) - and showcasing gay characters at its core. I believe this series has a lot to offer and although I was a little underwhelmed by “Kayfabe”, I’m interested to see what’s coming next....more
After being abducted and drugged, Jason Dessen wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar world with some familiar faces..
That’s about as much informatAfter being abducted and drugged, Jason Dessen wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar world with some familiar faces..
That’s about as much information as I’m comfortable telling any prospective reader as I don’t think you can really say a whole lot about the story without inadvertently spoiling something about it - or maybe I’m just unwilling to navigate the spoiler-minefield. DARK MATTER read like a Twilight Zone episode that completely captured my imagination from start to finish by putting my brain in a spin cycle. I honestly can’t recommend this enough and I would say it’s my favorite book I’ve read so far this year.
Drop everything you’re reading and grab this now....more
Resident information sponge Bill Bryson goes through his home, room-by-room, to present the history of private life and how many of the items we see aResident information sponge Bill Bryson goes through his home, room-by-room, to present the history of private life and how many of the items we see and interact with on a daily basis came to find their way into our everyday lives.
At Home feels like a handbook for making small talk at social gatherings. Let’s look at a few talking points:
Next time your friend tells you about her trip to Paris, you could mention that when the city had opened submissions for a monument that would eventually become the Eiffel Tower, a proposal was also given to erect a giant 900 foot guillotine. Not quite as romantic, right?
Is your friend remodeling their home? You could mention that early designs had a home consisting of one giant room dubbed “the hall”. Additional rooms and floors only became viable when the chimney was invented to funnel out smoke from the open hearth. Who wants to walk around in a haze of smoke? Well, smoke from a wood stove, I suppose.
This one took me a while to read. I found that as with most Bryson books, I can only take so much in a single sitting considering the wave of information his books unleash. While most of it is interesting, some of it was a bit of a slog to get through. Luckily, what I found to be boring was on the short end of the stick. After laying down this big ol’ book, I’ve now got three Bryson novels under my belt. Unfortunately, this is probably my least favorite. That isn’t to say it’s poorly written, I just found the subject matter of the other two (One Summer and A Walk in the Woods) more interesting as the book went on....more
Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines imagines a modern world where the U.S. Civil War never happened and without that war, slavery remained legal in SoutBen Winters’ Underground Airlines imagines a modern world where the U.S. Civil War never happened and without that war, slavery remained legal in South. The story follows a young black man named Victor (one of many aliases he uses), a former slave himself who had been given freedom in exchange for a position with the US Marshals capturing and returning escaped slaves to their owners. Victor’s latest case feels off; his handler is acting strange and the information contained in the file doesn’t add up. Is Victor being set up? Who can he trust?
I thought the world building in Underground Airlines was top-notch. Outside of mystery and crime novels, some of my favorite books to read have stories that deal with alternate timelines. Seeing as Winters throws the Civil War out the window, a lot of modern history ends up a bit skewed. As mentioned above, US states Alabama, Carolina (North/South do not exist), Mississippi and Louisiana permit slavery (commonly known as “The Hard Four”) enjoying record profits in many labor intensive industries. Historical figures’ origins become altered as well. For example, Jesse Owens still attended the 1936 Olympics, but shortly after became a vocal detractor of America’s tolerance of slavery and defected to Russia. Also, James Brown - a runaway slave - escaped into Canada and became a huge international recording star north of the border.
Ben Winters is a hell of a writer as evidenced by his Last Policeman trilogy - another high-concept story (a detective trying to solve a murder before an asteroid kills everything on Earth) - and while he continues to showcase his talents, I felt this one didn’t connect with me as much as his earlier work. It’s a dynamite idea but I felt the plot was a little lacking. I had a hard time really investing in Victor’s troubles, despite some well-placed flashbacks that help to flesh out his beginnings. Although he hit me with a hell of a twist at the end that I did not see coming, the journey to get there didn’t really blow me away.
Winters’ remains one of my favorite authors and I look forward to whatever he’s got coming down the pipe. If this is your first experience, you owe it to yourself to check out his Last Policeman trilogy....more
In 1997, three organizations battled for sports entertainment supremacy. You had the juggernaut WWF (World Wrestling Federation), who despite a massivIn 1997, three organizations battled for sports entertainment supremacy. You had the juggernaut WWF (World Wrestling Federation), who despite a massively successful 1980s, had entered a cooling off period as it struggled to find its footing amid a steady stream of superstar exits. You had Ted Turner’s WCW (World Championship Wrestling), a company filled with those same stars who helped the WWF rise to prominence as they left for fat, guaranteed paychecks and a lighter work schedule. Finally, you had Paul Heyman’s revolutionary ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling), a promotion built on not only original talent, but “misfits” from the WWF and WCW who came together to present a violent, reality-based style that thrived amongst an underground community of rabid fans.
Amid all the chaos on screen, backstage antics were just as compelling. There was the very real drama between Bret “The Hitman” Hart and his rival Shawn Michaels as they fought to be considered Vince McMahon’s “number one”, hoping to secure the spot at the top of the food chain. In WCW, there was Hulk Hogan’s dreaded “creative control” card built into his contract allowing him to nullify anything that was asked of him to perform on-screen. This effectively gave Hogan as secure a spot on top as possible leading to inner turmoil and contempt among “the boys”. In ECW, there was Heyman’s struggle to get onto pay-per-view, desperate to show his company was on equal footing with the “big boys”.
Given the wealth of information within, I would say where the book really shines is in detailing Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels’ journey to the 1997 Survivor Series – I would even go so far as to call it the definitive account of the “Montreal Screwjob”. While I’ve heard of the events that occurred that night over and over again, I still found myself riveted to the story, wondering if they really were going to “screw” Bret over, that’s how well paced it was. Learning more about Bret Hart’s contract negotiation with WCW, his refusal to drop the title to Michaels prior to leaving and reading about each person’s part in the double-cross led to me uncovering things I previously did not know.
Through documentaries, books, podcasts, Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer and original interviews with Jim Cornette, Vince Russo, Ken Shamrock, Tom Pritchard and several others, co-authors Justin Henry and James Dixon paint a vivid picture of all that occurred during that volatile year. Not only is it impeccably researched, the writing is also strong and easily digestible. I would find myself consuming large chunks of the book in a single sitting. Like many of my favorite wrestling podcasts that focus on a specific timeline (The New Generation Project Podcast, The Attitude Era Podcast), I didn’t want it to end. I could easily have read another hundred pages. In speaking with co-author Justin Henry, he alluded to me that additional books are being considered for the series, so I can only hope they show up sooner than later....more
“The world was on fire and no one could save me but you..”
A deadly plague dubbed “dragonscale” – a disease that causes its carriers to burst into flam“The world was on fire and no one could save me but you..”
A deadly plague dubbed “dragonscale” – a disease that causes its carriers to burst into flames shortly following the appearance of black and gold scale-like patterns on their skin – is sweeping the nation. Small town nurse Harper Grayson becomes infected following a long stint working in a Massachusetts area hospital. When she and her husband discover she’s pregnant, the decision whether to keep the baby leads to a pretty nasty split. With nowhere to go, and looking for a safe haven to bring her child to term, Harper hooks up with a group of similarly infected individuals hiding out in a backwoods summer camp named Camp Wynward. The residents there seem to have found a way to control the infection and Harper is hoping she can survive long enough to see her child arrive safe and sound.
After turning the final page last week, I noticed it took me nearly a month to read this sucker. Sure, it’s nearly 800 pages, but I’ve flown through any one of James S.A. Corey’s Expanse novels in nearly half the time – so why did it take me a few weeks to reach the end of Joe Hill’s barnburner of a novel?
Likely because it suffered from what I thought was a slow start. Although the tension does pick up about a quarter of the way into the story, those first hundred or so pages felt like a real slog to get through. Granted, while there was a lot of groundwork to be laid concerning the breakdown of society and the spread of dragonscale, I found that Hill lingered a little too long on Harper’s life before joining up with the Wynward crew.
Once Harper arrives at camp and we’re introduced to a whole slew of new characters, the novel seems to shift to a “Lord of the Flies” style story complete with backstabbing and power-struggles. A lot of the more integral characters strongly develop and evolve reasonably to suit the changing atmosphere of the camp. Those in power seem to be willing to do anything to maintain control and keep the camp off the radar of the “cremation crews”, groups of self-governed militarized killers who hunt down and burn those afflicted with the mysterious malady.
The mark of a good central conflict is when an author can make both pros and cons for those occupying either side of a fundamental disagreement. While I thought that Harper was correct to defy authority, the actions of those at the head of the camp – while extreme – were done for the right reasons. Harper was reckless on a few occasions and her actions did put the camp at risk. On the other side, Carol Story, the daughter of camp patriarch Tom, went a little nuts on the paranoia scale and while she could have done things a lot differently, she wasn’t exactly power hungry. I thought the dynamic between both the perceived “good” and “evil” sides went a long way in keeping things interesting and the tension at a ridiculously high level.
Joe Hill had me a little worried at the beginning of the story but I stuck with it and it paid off in a big, big way. The Fireman is a high-octane thriller that will leave you severely singed....more