Monday, July 16, 2018

#31: Sting of the Zygons by Stephen Cole

In the 1900s, the Doctor and his companion Martha stave off an alien invasion of shape-shifters, rampaging giant monsters, and a conspiracy against the British government in Stephen Cole's Sting of the Zygons.

This Doctor Who novel features the character as played by David Tennant, but in the usual mind-bending Doctor Who logic, is a prequel to a storyline first introduced in the Tom Baker era, Terror of the Zygons.

The plot is very action-driven, and not much character-driven, so relies on the television show's fanbase for success.

I listened to a good audiobook reading by Reggie Yates, on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

#30: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

In the near future, a group of people decide to walk away from an oppressive society and come up with an alternative; but when they figure out the secret to immortality, the ruling government can't leave them alone in Cory Doctorow's Walkaway.

Doctorow is a fascinating person and an interesting writer, and this novel is filled with ideas, ideas, ideas.  Unfortunately it seems as if the characters talk about their ideas for very long stretches, punctuated by raw sex and drone strikes.

But it is a big, expansive story, covering several decades and offered up from multiple points of view.  Lots of food for thought, and I was constantly interested in what would happen next.

This novel is helped tremendously by a really good audiobook version by several narrators, including Amber Benson and Wil Wheaton.  Worthwhile to those willing to watch it spool out.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

#29: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

A cold-hearted husband is served up poison, but the prime suspect--his wife--is several hundred miles away when it happens, confounding the Tokyo police in Keigo Higashino's Salvation of a Saint.

This is Higashino's second "Detective Galileo" novel (after The Devotion of Suspect X) and follows a similar formula where the killer is actually revealed at the outset, and the main action is watching the police trying to figure out how exactly it was done (with the help of an eccentric professor).  This entry especially has kind of that old-fashioned "locked room" puzzle feel.

Interesting characters and situations add value, as does a really good audiobook read by David Pittu.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

#28: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

A young, newly-married couple move to Italy to open a Ford dealership; but the husband is actually a spy, and that's not the biggest secret in their relationship. 

The Italian Party, Christina Lynch's debut novel, starts as if it is going to be a fizzy romp through 1950s Europe, but has much darker undertones in both personal and professional relationships.

I have visited Italy a half-dozen times over the years and felt like Lynch got the pitch exactly right.  The storytelling is compelling throughout and has a good balance of light and dark. 

Enjoyable overall and I look forward to more from Lynch.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

#27: Watcher in the Shadows by Geoffery Household

After World War II, a former deep-cover British spy comes into a killer's crosshairs in Geoffery Household's Watcher in the Shadows.

In this case, our troubled hero can't reveal that he was working for the Allies when he posed as a guard at Buchenwald; so when a mysterious figure begins to hunt other war criminals, he ends up in a reluctant cat-and-mouse game.

Household wrote a lot of popular British thrillers, and this one is full of those hallmarks with dry wit, a focus on manners and station, and old-fashioned British resolve.  But the core story is very sobering, as the former spy copes with his inadvertent role in the Nazi prison camp.

This was a very solid thriller and my first from Household.  I would look for more from him.

I bought this at a used bookstore in Rome that I always enjoy visiting, and found it in the cool Orange Penguin cover.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

#26: Stop at Nothing by John Welcome

An aging race car driver gets involved with a hot-headed jockey, his beguiling sister, and a stolen formula in John Welcome's Stop at Nothing.

Stop at Nothing is a British novel of the early 60s, and reads like one; plenty of boozing and pill-popping and high-speed chases around the British and French countrysides, all with dry humor and a can-do attitude.

Speaking of high speed, this novel takes off on the first page and never lifts its foot until the end, when our hero takes Bentley and gun and chases the bad guys to a deadly finale.

I had never heard of Welcome, but he writes a bright, breezy adventure.

I found this at my favorite used bookstore in the Trastevere area of Rome, in the cool Orange cover version from Penguin, and read it quickly.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

#25: Queenpin by Megan Abbott

A young woman ends up under the wing of a tough female gangster; but when the young woman falls for a hard-luck gambler with big debts, it creates deadly cracks in all of the relationships in Megan Abbott's Queenpin.

Queenpin is a contemporary novel, but could have fallen right off of a spinner rack full of Gold Medal paperbacks.  Abbott has written as hard-boiled and satisfying a noir as was ever banged out on the feverish typewriters of the 40s and 50s.  Abbott writes in the proper terse style, never lets up on the accelerator, and ends with the usual dose of nihilism; a potent brew, indeed.

I have read two books by Abbott recently, and they are both very different, but written in a style that ratchets up the suspense right to the end.  Recommended.

I got this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

#24: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

A detective who accused her boss of sexual harassment ends up on the graveyard shift, but her determination to solve crimes--and work outside the rules--stays strong in Michael Connelly's The Late Show.

Ballard quickly finds herself with two cases she can't let go of; one is that of a transgender prostitute beaten with a pair of signature brass knuckles, and the other a club shoot-out that leaves a waitress and several others dead.

This is Connelly's first book in a new series with a different character, after a long and successful run with Harry Bosch and his half-brother "The Lincoln Lawyer"; I wouldn't say Ballard rings as resonantly yet, yet is interesting.

But the two cases move at a steady clip, so those looking for fast-paced police procedurals will enjoy it, and I would be interested in reading another novel featuring Renee Ballard.

I listened to this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

#23: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

In the 1950s, two college roommates fall out after a tragedy; sometime later, they are reunited in Tangiers, with equally troubling results in Chrstine Mangan's debut thriller Tangerine.

This novel features not one but two unreliable narrators, alternating chapters, and their complicated personal lives and relationships spool out throughout, keeping the reader guessing to everyone's motivations almost to the very end.

This novel reminded me a lot of a gender-bent version of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley but there is not doubt that Mangan is familiar with Sebastien Japrisot's novels A Trap for Cinderella and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a GunTangerine compares favorably to these novels and definitely lives in the same world.

This was a great start to Mangan's career and I look forward to her next novel.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library and read it quickly.

Monday, April 23, 2018

#22: The Resurrection Casket by Justin Richards

The Doctor and his companion Rose end up stranded in a section of space where technology doesn't work, and suddenly find themselves at odds with steam-driven robot buccaneers in search of a cosmic pirate treasure in Justin Richards' The Resurrection Casket, featuring characters from the long-running Doctor Who show.

If the idea of David Tennant's version of The Doctor battling robot pirates is very appealing to you, not much more needs to be said.  All other readers will find an amiable enough science fiction story with obvious allusions to Treasure Island.

I pick up a Doctor Who novel from time to time and find them by and large agreeable, even more so to fans.  I listened to this one on audiobook, with value added by David Tennant as the narrator.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library and listened to the whole thing on a drive to Chicago.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

#21: The Man Who Shot "The Kid" by Merle Constiner

A lawman is mistaken for an outlaw by a crooked sheriff, and decides to go along with it to see what might happen next in Merle Constiner's The Man Who Shot "The Kid."

An odd western title if there ever was one, but Constiner is a steady western scribe who I have read when I find him over the years.

What happens next is our protagonist gets mixed up in a range war, and in a tempestuous near-romance with a fiery woman whose cattle spread is at the center of it.

A nicely-done western, helped a lot with heavy doses of laconic humor, as the undercover sheriff (whose motivations to uphold the ruse seem agreeably murky throughout) meets all kinds of colorful characters in his journey to find out the truth.

An enjoyable, quick read, and on the other side of an Ace Double called The Skull Riders which also features a range war.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

#20: You WIll Know Me by Megan Abbott

A teen gymnast is on the verge of going to the next level when a coach's boyfriend is killed in a mysterious hit-and-run, throwing a wrench into everyone's plans, in Megan Abbott's You Will Know Me.

This suspense novel is narrated by the mother of the young gymnast, who begins to think both her husband and her daughter know a little too much about what happened. 

I think readers will see the ending coming, but the tension ratchets, ratchets, and ratchets throughout.

Good characterizations, and understanding of family dynamics, add value to a nail-biting story.  I will look for more from Megan Abbott.

I listened to this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library, and the storytelling benefits from a good reading by Lauren Fortgang.  Worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

#19: The Skull Riders by Dean Owen

A ranch baron dies, and suddenly a range war brews up, casting a reluctant gun-hand into the center of it in Dean Owen's The Skull Riders.

Owen was Dudley Dean McGaughy, who appears to have written a lot across multiple genres using multiple names (most a variation of his real name).  

This is a pretty standard oater without many surprises, but it is fast-moving and has plenty of action as well as a splash of frontier romance.

I got this in a big lot of Ace Doubles, with the oddly-named The Man Who Shot "The Kid" on the reverse side.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

#18: A Girl in Exile by Ismail Kadare

A playwright in Communist Albania falls under scrutiny when his autograph ends up at the center of a mysterious case in Ismail Kadare's A Girl in Exile.

A young woman who recently died, and whose family was out of favor politically, had the signed book.  Her friend reaches out to the playwright, with far-reaching consequences.

This recent work is the first novel I have read by Kadare, who remains a towering figure in the history of Albanian literature.  It is both a stark portrayal of life in an oppressive state as well as a sometimes dreamlike story with fantasy elements.

Solid, literate novel of interest to those who wonder about life in a communist regime; complicated relationships add value.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

#17: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Long-time, hard-nosed LA detective Harry Bosch was forced into retirement, and now splits his time as a volunteer in a small-town police force as well as P.I. work; when both suddenly heat up with explosive cases, he has his hands full in Michael Connelly's The Wrong Side of Goodbye.

Connelly has written one of the great contemporary police procedural series, and it continues to grow and change with time for readers who have stuck with it. 

In this one, he helps a beleaguered police squad catch a serial rapist called The Screencutter; at the same time, a rich, elderly man decides to see if he has any living heirs, but dies abruptly after.  Both of these cases start to cut very close to home as the story rockets to its double finale.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye is a pretty straightforward entry, and is accessible for new readers.  Longtime fans will still find plenty to enjoy.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library on audiobook, with a good read from Titus Welliver.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

#16: The Tunnel by Carl-Johan Vallgren

An ex-junkie who has pieced a life back together as a tech consultant and translator starts down a dark path when his former dealer is murdered in Carl-Johan Vallgren's The Tunnel.

Even by the high standards of gloomy Scandinavian noir this one is inky-black and uncompromising, as our protagonist Katz finds himself opening the lid on a world of crooked cops, sex slavery, underground porn films, and torture-killings.  A nihilistic ending, where evil isn't exactly stopped but maybe slowed down a little, isn't for all tastes.

Vallgren writes with tremendous energy and has created a cast of fully-realized characters.  Recommended for those readers who don't mind a particularly dark read.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library and read it quickly.

Monday, March 19, 2018

#15: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Actress Mindy Kaling's second autobiographical outing, Why Not Me?, is another breezy entry featuring essays on her life in Hollywood; if you liked her in The Office or The Mindy Project, you will find this just as agreeable.

Overall I liked her first book--which dealt more about her childhood and her peanut-butter days as a young writer--better than this one, which has her meeting President Obama as well as brushing against other famous people (including a disastrously funny incident with playwright Edward Albee).

But there is plenty to enjoy, including an essay on the fictitious life she might have had as a Latin teacher if she hadn't taken the L.A. plunge, and the real commencement speech she gave at Harvard Law.

Kaling reading her own audiobook, which I borrowed from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana, adds value.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

#14: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

An easygoing young guy living in a futuristic utopia jumps into an ill-advised time-travel experiment, and one spilled cup of coffee later ends up in a terrible dystopia--that happens to look exactly like 2017 America--in Elan Mastai's All Our Wrong Todays.

Our protagonist, whose science knowledge is admittedly cursory at best, works desperately to restore his timeline--but begins to realize that his personal life is actually a lot better in the dystopia, with family relationships and love life improved.

Pretty cool story about relationships cloaked in a time travel story, Mastai's debut novel is charming and entertaining throughout.

I listened to a good audiobook reading by the author on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

#13: Long Blows the North Wind By Owen G. Irons

A young trapper sees his friend and mentor murdered, but on the revenge trail stumbles across two orphans and finds his path diverted in Long Blows the North Wind by Owen G. Irons.

Irons was Paul Lederer, who burned up a lot of typewriters writing westerns under multiple names.

This is an entertaining oater that hits good beats as the trapper befriends the kids against nefarious distant relatives and guns-for-hire.  Value added with a memorable cattle drive in a snow storm and a drunken but still deadly railroad detective.

I will definitely dip my toe into Irons' deep pool of writing again.  This one I got in a big lot of vintage westerns from eBay and read quickly.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

#12: The Border Guidon by Gordon D. Shirreffs

A remote Arizona fort is racked by disease and surrounded by hostile Apache, with the Confederate Army approaching and a religious zealot on the loose; so it is up to one lone soldier to carry off an impossible mission in Gordon D. Shirreff's The Border Guidon.

This was a surprisingly tough, unusually spare western with a pretty interesting plot (and a high body count).  An exciting third act, with a frontier cult hunkered down in an abandoned series of caves (and hiding a couple of field howitzers), adds value.

I have heard about Shirreff's writing but had never come across one of his paperbacks in the wild until I saw this for under a dollar at a used bookstore.  I will keep my eyes peeled for more by him.

Recommended for western fans.

Monday, February 12, 2018

#11: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Karl is coasting along with a Chicago bar he owns, and dwells on his past success in a moderately successful 90s rock band; but when a wormhole opens up in his closet, his life dramatically changes in Mo Daviau's Every Anxious Wave.

Karl and his slacker friend Wayne, naturally, decide to use the wormhole to visit concerts in the past they really want to see, name-checking tons of 80s and 90s bands. 

But when Wayne gets stranded in the distant past, and Karl recruits an astrophysicist named Lena to help rescue him, the plot boomerangs in all kinds of new and surprising directions.

Every Anxious Wave feels like what might happen if Nick Hornby took over showrunning Doctor Who.  Not for fans of hard science--being in love can trigger time travel, and an inconvenient double somehow evaporates--but enjoyable on every other level.  A pretty cool and thought-provoking novel.  Recommended.

I listened to a good audiobook version of this novel on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

#10: Ride of Fury by Tim Kelly

A veteran tracker follows the rumor of a young woman who may have survived as an Indian captive in Tim Kelly's Ride of Fury.

This was Tim Kelly's first novel, and the flip side of an Ace Double with Reese Sullivan's The Blind Trail that I got at a goodbye price in an eBay lot.  For such an inauspicious start, this was a nicely surprising western, grim and mature with some pretty bleak passages that I think even Cormac McCarthy would approve of.

I believe this is the same Tim Kelly who was mostly a playwright and didn't write too many pulp paperbacks; which is a shame, because this was a really solid western that I truly enjoyed.

A welcome find to western fans who might come across it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

#9: The Indian Incident by Matt Chisholm

The unlikely-named Joe Blade is a manhunter for hire, but decides to hunt for free when he stumbles over a gang of outlaws who slaughter a band of Indians in Matt Chisholm's The Indian Incident.

Chisholm was an incredibly busy western writer with multiple series characters; I have read several of his McAllister books and enjoyed them. 

Where McAllister is leavened with some humor, Blade is all action, action, action, culminating in a big shoot-out in a cave where Blade and an eclectic group have holed up.

This was a fast-paced read I enjoyed from Piccadilly Publishing, who is bringing a lot of Matt Chisholm back to the digital realm.  A good read for western fans.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

#8: The Blind Trail by Reese Sullivan

A stalwart deputy learns the town sheriff is crooked, and suddenly is accused of murder and on the run in Reese Sullivan's The Blind Trail.

Sullivan was actually western wordslinger Giles Lutz, who kept the paperback market busy with a number of pseudonyms.

This one pretty much lays all its cards on the table early, but hits all the right beats, including an irascible old coot and a late-arriving frontier romance.

 This is half of an Ace Double with Tim Kelly's Ride of Fury on the flip side.  I got this in a bunch of old westerns from eBay and read it quickly.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

#7: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

In a fractured, near-future Europe, a cook becomes a reluctant spy in Dave Hutchinson's Europe in Autumn.

Europe in Autumn is the first in a science fiction trilogy that reads a bit like a mash-up of John le Carré and Bruce Sterling, a pretty sober espionage tale cloaked in advanced tech and an altered political landscape (with a bit of alternate universe theory thrown in).

I enjoyed the spycraft elements, but the world-building was pretty unique as well; certainly of interest to anyone who reads either genre or both.  For my own tastes, I could have used a shade less of the latter and a shade more of the former.

Hutchinson's work was refreshing enough that I am sure to look for the other novels in the series, especially since this one, as a warning, ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

I got this book for Christmas and read it steadily.