With the start of the new year and my blog still being pretty new I wanted to have a special feature every now and then that either highlights a book discussion topic or showcases someone interesting in the book world! When I think of an interesting person in the book world I need look no further than my good friend and fellow book reviewer Joe Hartlaub. I met Joe almost 3 years ago when I reviewed for Bookreporter.com for a short time. I had read his reviews every week and thoroughly enjoyed his reviewing style and recommendations. I wrote to him asking for advice on reviewing and he graciously took the time to help out a newbie and a friendship was born. I always like discussing all things books and authors with Joe as we have very similar interests in genres and he has THE BEST stories about happenings in the world of books, authors and publishing!! So, welcome to my blog Joe and thanks so much for taking the time to answer some reviewing questions and share some of your advice, recommendations, and stories with us!! Oh and you won’t want to miss Joe’s Top Reads of 2016, so let’s get started…
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m 65. I am married and have 3.75 adult children, as well as a granddaughter who is 10 going on 22. I currently live in the Columbus, Ohio area. I’ve been a practicing attorney for forty years and specialize in intellectual property law. To date I’ve had several short stories published, one of which — “Starlets and Spaceboys” — has been optioned for film. And speaking of film, I have a feature role in the film LA-308. Oh, and I review books for Bookreporter.com, too!
How many years have you been with Bookreporter.com and what led you to book reviewing?
I have been with Bookreporter.com for almost 20 years. Way back in 1997 The Book Report (as Book Reporter was known at that time) was the “Books” section for AOL. Life was different then. You dialed up on a dedicated phone line to access the internet — cell phones were only for talking — and AOL was the portal. I sent an email to one of TBR’s reviewers and started a correspondence. She asked me at one point if I was interested in reviewing. I said yes and we went from there.
Have you been a reader all your life? What are your current favorite genres? How, if at all, has your reading preferences or genre favorites changed over the years?
I have been reading since I was three years old My mom read me Rudy Kazootie books before I could read myself. I really learned to read myself when I discovered comic strips in newspapers. I LOVED Dick Tracy, The Phantom, and Prince Valiant. I went from there to comic books — which I still look at, occasionally — and then to detective fiction — everything from The Hardy Boys to Shell Scott — and science fiction. Isaac Asimov wrote a children’s science fiction series — Lucky Starr — under the name “Paul French” and that got me going into that genre. I don’t read much science fiction anymore but still read primarily mystery and detective fiction.
You’ve reviewed thousands of books, how do you keep your reviews fresh?
I try to keep in mind that every single author spent months trying to produce something new and original that would interest people enough to read it. I figure that the least I can do in acknowledgement of that is spend a few minutes finding a new way to discuss it.
What’s the best part of being a book reviewer? The worst or most challenging?
The best part is having access to so many new books. The worst part is not having the time to read and review everything I would like to. It seems like so much gets past me.
Do you have a reviewing format as far as things you always make sure you discuss in reviews?
What has kind of evolved over time is a three paragraph review. The first paragraph tells something about the author and the series. The second discusses the book itself. The third tries to sum up the literary elements that I particularly enjoyed. I don’t hold to this as a hard and fast rule but more often than not it’s what happens.
How do you tackle a review for a book that you didn’t particularly enjoy?
Ahhh…excellent question. At Bookreporter.com we try to steer readers toward books they might look, as opposed to away from books. When I read a book that I don’t particularly like I try to focus on two things: 1) just because I didn’t like a book doesn’t mean that it’s a bad book. There are authors who are enormously popular who I don’t read for whatever reason. I accordingly try to evaluate the plot and characters and focus upon how well they hold the book together. 2) I made this statement on a panel several years ago — before ebooks and kindles and widespread self-publishing — and another reviewer took exception with it, but it’s true….every book that is traditionally published has some worth to it. It went through an agent, to an editor, and onward and upward. Those folks all saw something in it. That’s what I look for.
What are some of your favorite book events you’ve attended and can you share any memorable author stories with us?
Bouchercon is always a good time. I haven’t been to a Thrillerfest for a while but they were fun as well and I imagine they still are. Killer Nashville is terrific. The folks who run it are first rate and Nashville is a wonderful city.
Memorable author stories? Oh yeah! I have a bunch of them. The most memorable one is driving to the first official Thrillerfest in Phoenix with the incomparable Marcus Wynne. We gave a few weapons instruction panels so we had a trunkload of shotguns, weapons, knives, and hand grenades, driving across he desert. My transmission went out in Phoenix so I was delayed a week, stuck in a seedy hotel room alone — Marcus had to get back to Illinois — with a roomful of weapons. And then things got worse. I met the wrong guy while my car was being fixed and got in the middle of some things and had to go a little over the top to get out of town. I’ll never forget that.
What are your favorite titles that stand out for you over the last year or two?
THE EEL by David McKinnon immediately comes to mind, particularly because my reaction was a) how did he even conceive of this? and b) this is so beautifully written. Right now I’m reading DESPERATION ROAD by Michael Farris Smith which is so good that I’m deliberately pacing myself while I read it because I don’t want it to end. Your readers might especially like SECURITY by Gina Wohlsdorf, a very literate thriller which has contains multiple twists and has a very subtle dose of traditional romance thrown into the mix.
What authors do you think everyone should be reading?
Oh, wow…James Lee Burke, James Sallis, Peter Farris, Cormac McCarthy, the late Larry Brown, Donald Ray Pollack, James O. Born, Robin Yocum, John Connolly, the late Elmore Leonard, David McKinnon…I could go on and on. I’ll think of several more by the time you post this and kick myself for not mentioning them.
You also write for Kill Zone Blog.com, how do you come up with your topics for those posts?
With great difficulty. It’s primarily an instructional writing site and I do not consider myself a good teacher. I usually fall back on an experience I’ve had and try to compare that to the writing life. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of that and hope to continue.
What advice can you give reviewers/bloggers when it comes to writing reviews, creating interesting discussion posts, and just trying to keep it all fresh and creative?
Try to have fun with it. If you can’t get an idea or what you are writing seems boring to you go do something else, like listening to music or watching fifteen minutes of a series that is new to you before resuming your writing.
Any projects in the works you’d like to share with us?
I’m working on a few things, but primarily a straight fiction, non-genre novel based on the experiences of a friend of mine from when he was in his mid-twenties. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing but it’s coming along nicely.
Thanks so much Joe and best of luck to you on your writing project , I for one will be first in line to read it…I’m sure I’ll get a coveted advanced copy (hint hint:)
Be sure to stop by Bookreporter.com for all of Joe’s reviews as well as many others. They also run fun contests and sneak peaks!!
Now to finish off this fantastic interview I give you Joe’s Top Reads of 2016.…hopefully you find many new books to add to your already towering TBR’s:)
JOE’S TOP READS OF 2016
Security by Gina Wohlsdorf
The employees of a new resort hotel are systematically being murdered on the eve of the property’s opening in this wonderfully literate and claustrophobic thriller by a debut author who along the way redefines heroism and romance. A must-read.
A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum
This gem of a book offers a mystery, a coming-of-age story, and a character study set in a place and time that is all but gone. Most of all, however, it is a wonderfully told story that deserves to be read over and over.
Willnot by James Sallis
One of fiction’s most reliable authors, well into his fifth decade of work, returns and yet once again rewrites the rules of constructing the mystery novel in this tale of a small town physician (and occasional veterinarian) who finds himself acting as a somewhat reluctant private investigator. It hopefully will be the first of a series.
The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke
This 1950s period piece and coming-of-age tale contains a mystery at its heart. If The Hardy Boys series of the 1950s had been a series for adults and written by our finest contemporary author, it would have looked something like this.
Friday on My Mind A Frieda Klein Mystery by Nicci French
This husband and wife writing team deserves far greater recognition than it has received for this superlative series involving Frieda Klein, a damaged and difficult psychotherapist, and this latest installment is the best of the lot so far.
Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman
Read the first paragraph of this wonderfully dark, noir caper novel with five interlocking sections, and you will not stop reading until story’s end. Then pick up last year’s THE WHITE VAN.
IQ by Joe Ide
Just when you think you’ve read every permutation of protagonist there is, a debut author presents a quiet, realistic private investigator with genius level functioning and pragmatic compassion. I hope that this series runs until the end of time.
Bronx Requiem by John Clarkson
Veteran author John Clarkson surpasses the significant expectations that he created last year with AMONG THIEVES in this sophomore installment of a series concerning a group of hardened ex-cons who attempt to assist newly released offenders and often find themselves on the wrong end of both sides of the law. Gritty and memorable.
A Time of Torment A Charlie Parker Thriller by John Connolly
My bucket list includes re-reading all of the Charlie Parker books from alpha to present, and A TIME OF TORMENT is the latest reason why, as Parker, recovering from serious injuries, leaves his familiar Maine environs to confront an ancient evil in West Virginia.
The EEl by David MacKinnon
David MacKinnon is one of the best and smartest authors out there, and THE EEL, which defies classification and a short summary, is an instant old school and new school classic dealing with a failed author obsessed with the life, work and death of Blaise Cendrars, among many other things. It informs, challenges and entertains from first page to last.