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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

#6: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch, forced into retirement from the LAPD after conflicts with the top brass, finds he can't let his detective skills go; so when his half-brother, a defense lawyer, brings him a client who he believes is innocent Bosch reluctantly gets involved in Michael Connelly's The Crossing.

"The Crossing" of the title refers to Bosch, a longtime homicide cop, crossing over to help an accused murderer, something he swore he would never do; but very quickly Bosch learns some crooked cops might be in the mix.

This novel also features Connelly's other series character "The Lincoln Lawyer" who has appeared in several novels and a film version (which is often humorously referenced in the novels).

Connelly has written a long series of very solid police procedurals and courtroom dramas; this one has a nice mix of both, as well as updates on other characters for long-time fans.

I listened to a good audiobook version, read by Titus Welliver, on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

#5: A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Copenhagen cop Carl Morck has been assigned to the Cold Case squad, and is content to coast out his career; but his able assistant Assad, and insouciant secretary Rose, won't let a mysterious message in a bottle go in Jussi Adler-Olsen's A Conspiracy of Faith.

This is the third in the popular Department Q series, and follows the curious pattern of its predecessors with pretty gruesome crimes counterbalanced with office hijinks. 

In this one, a dedicated and previously undiscovered serial killer has spent decades preying on closed-off religious sects throughout Denmark.  A reluctant Morck begins to realize that the killer is still very active, and very close to the detective.

This outing has two really nice set pieces--a car/train chase, and a stand-off in a bowling alley--that shows a more cinematic flair.  As it happens, A Conspiracy of Faith was made into a popular movie in Denmark, which I am eager to see.

An interesting series, although not for all tastes.  I listened to a good audiobook version on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

#4: The Grabhorn Bounty by Clifton Adams

A railroad detective hunting a train robber follows the trail to a town gripped with a nameless fear in Clifton Adams' The Grabhorn Bounty.

Adams wrote pulp mysteries and paperback westerns, and this one is, interestingly, about 75 percent noir and 25 percent oater.

At the center is a poor farmer's daughter more scheming than any femme fatale Jim Thompson or David Goodis could dream up.  With a jaded detective as the central character, and a downbeat ending, horses and sixguns are all that keep it from being a straight trip down the mean streets.

Really a good read, with colorful characters and a sense of history.  Recommended for genre fans.

I got this in a lot of westerns from eBay and read it quickly.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

#3: The Last of the Breed by Don Rico

A lawman retires after a promise to a dying friend to raise his son; when that son grows up and turns bad, it puts the lawman between justice and his promise in Don Rico's The Last of the Breed.

I had not heard of author Don Rico, and wasn't sure it wasn't a pseudonym; but Rico had an interesting career, being a writer/artist in the early days of comics, as well as writing paperback novels and screenplays.   

This is a very fine western, well-written with a pretty hard-nosed storyline. It feels very much like a late Randolph Scott/Budd  Boetticher western, for those familiar with that series of films. 

I really enjoyed this one, and read it quickly.  Recommended for fans.

I got this in a box of paperbacks from a friend and read it quickly on a snowy few days.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

#2: Badge for a Gunfighter by Clair Huffaker

An easygoing hired gun falls into a scheme to impersonate a sheriff, and then finds he likes being the good guy after all in Clair Huffaker's Badge for a Gunfighter.

Huffaker is a well-regarded paperback writer and screenwriter, but I had never run across one of his novels until I received this one in a box of books from a friend. 

I understand now why his name is bandied about in genre circles; Badge for a Gunfighter is a cut above the typical western, with lean, solid writing and a funny, likeable protagonist.

But overall Huffaker hits all the comfortable beats; gunfighters who are badder than bad, a noble frontier widow and the son who needs somebody to look up to, and the like.  A brutal finale is satisfying.

Recommended for fans of pulp westerns.

Monday, January 1, 2018

#1: Hackett's Feud by John Callahan

A cowhand is bushwhacked for his cattle money, and kills a man in self-defense; but an ill-advised attempt to save his innocent widow's feelings ends up sparking a murderous war in John Callahan's Hackett's Feud.

I've read several Callahan novels, sturdy westerns all; apparently Callahan was actually Paul Chadwick, who wrote across numerous genres under various names. 

This is a nicely-done entry that hits all of the expected beats.

This was the other side of a nice Ace Double with The Demanding Land by Reese Sullivan.  I got it at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago at a goodbye price.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favorite Reads of 2017

I read an astounding number of books this year, more than I ever have since keeping this blog, close to ten years ago.  But in a lot of ways it was a year like no other, on the national scene, local scene, and in my own extended family, and like a lot of people I burrowed down and read a lot.

Since I read a bit more, I turned this Top Ten list to 11.  Here are my favorite reads of 2017.  Enjoy!

Glaxo by Hernan Ronsino

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel

The Girls by Emma Cline

Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach

Saturday, December 30, 2017

#81: A Perfect Crime by A Yi

An alienated youth in China kills a classmate to stave off boredom, then plays cat-and-mouse with the police, in A Yi's A Perfect Crime.

Yi's book reminded me of Camus' The Stranger, but with the social and political undertones of modern China.  How media and society tries to understand the teenager, and then how corruption influences that view, makes up a big part of the novel.

A Yi writes in a very straightforward style that, with the protagonist's banal descriptions and lack of emotion, actually makes the storytelling harder to take rather than easier.

An interesting character study, with unpleasant passages, and an insider's sketch of contemporary China.  Recommended for those interested in international crime stories.

I got this for Christmas from my daughter and read it quickly.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

#80: I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb

A film scholar looks back at the women in his life, aided by the ghost of a silent film director, in Wally Lamb's I'll Take You There.

Wally Lamb is everywhere these days, after breaking onto the scene with She's Come Undone and several bestsellers since, although I had not read him.

This story has our protagonist looking back at the lives of his sister, her birth mother, and his own mother, through adult eyes, framed in the real-life Miss Rheingold contest that peaked in the 1950s.  A current story includes his daughter and ex-wife, and their struggles.

The storytelling is interesting, but to me the framing device--the ghosts of film stars transporting him into movies of his life, playing in an old movie theater--clanks pretty badly.  Some passages are more nuanced, but much is painted in too-broad strokes of pathos or comedy.

I got this for Christmas and read it pretty quickly over a few lazy days.

Monday, December 25, 2017

#79: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Jack is a drug pirate, driving her invisible submarine around dispensing black market pharmaceuticals for medical and recreational reasons; when one of her batches goes fatally wrong, she is pursued by a spy and his military-grade robot in Annalee Newitz's Autonomous.

This is Newitz's first novel, but she comes from a long background writing and editing for io9, Gizmodo, Ars Technica, Wired, and more. 

This work obviously gave her the chops for some really good near-future world-building, putting her right there with the likes of William Gibson's Neuromancer, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and Pat Cadigan's Tea from an Empty Cup

There's some heavy thinking to go along with all of the action, as we meet an indentured human slave, an indentured robot with a human brain, and a free robot as supporting characters, all providing different views on, as the title suggests, what it means to be autonomous.

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

#78: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

Oslo's most famous homicide detective is retired and teaching at a police college when a notorious serial killer who once escaped his grasp--and is now armed with a set of iron teeth--is on the loose again, drawing him back into action in Jo Nesbo's The Thirst.

I think Nesbo's Harry Hole series is one of the best contemporary police procedurals, in any language; and his alcoholic, hard-headed cop (who has survived death and dismemberment countless times) is one of the great "tarnished angel" detectives.

This is an action-packed entry that had me shouting "No!" at the audiobook playing in the car three times as the story unfolded.  Not really a jumping-on point for new readers--understanding all of the physical and emotional scars all of the supporting players carry around makes the storytelling more resonant--but rewarding for long-time fans.

I listened to a good read of this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana during a drive back and forth from Chicago.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

#77: The Demanding Land by Reese Sullivan

Finally cleared of a killing he didn't commit, a young rancher comes home--but finds the dead man's family doesn't forgive so easily in Reese Sullivan's The Demanding Land.

Sullivan was actually Giles Lutz, a prolific western writer, and he shows a sure hand in this outing.  Besides all the standard beats, Lutz includes scenes of interest, including a wolf hunt and the capture and taming of a band of wild horses.

I have seen Lutz's name everywhere but never picked one up.  I ended up with this one on the flip of an Ace Double that I got at a goodbye price at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago.

Enjoyable.  I intend to flip it over and read John Callahan's Hackett's Feud on the other side.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

#76: Undercover Gun by Brett Waring

Clay Nash is forced off his humble homestead by an unscrupulous land baron, and takes a roundabout revenge through becoming a Wells Fargo agent in Brett Waring's Undercover Gun, the first in a long series returning to ebook via Piccadilly Publishing.

Waring was in reality Australian author Keith Hetherington, who was also Hank J. Kirby and Kirk Hamilton, an incredibly prolific western writer.

Waring puts enough plot in this one to cover a couple of stories, as Nash is chased through the desert, rides shotgun on some stages, has fist fights and gun fights and is nursed back to health a few times, before finally exacting revenge, and setting the stage--so to speak--for future adventures with Wells Fargo.

I enjoyed the first of Hamilton's Bannerman series, which I also read through Piccadilly Publishing, and liked this one as well.  Good for fast-action western fans.

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

#75: The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz

Lisbeth Salander is in prison--for, basically, everything that happened in the last four books--and ends up in the sights of a murderous prison boss; while on the outside, her old friend, journalist Mikael Blomqvist, starts to uncover the details of an unethical experiment Salander was a part of as a child.

How these stories slowly, and then quickly, intertwine is at the crux of David Lagercrantz's The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.

This is the second novel Lagercrantz has written as an extension of the story began as a trilogy by Stieg Larsson, who died before writing more but is generally credited with launching the boom in Scandinavian noir in the U.S. (of which I have been a grateful recipient).

There has been a fair amount of controversy from many quarters about this series being continued, but on their own merits I think Lagercrantz has done a nice job with his two contributions.

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

#74: The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason

During World War II, in an Iceland awash in Allied troops, a young woman known to date soldiers is found murdered; many years later, an elderly man is killed in his bed, with threads tying back to that long-ago unsolved case in Arnaldur Indridason's The Shadow District.

The Shadow District is the first in a new series from Indridason.  His novels about morose Reykjavik cop Erlendur are noteworthy (start with Jar City and keep reading), but these have a totally different vibe, with a military police investigation in the 40s and a contemporary storyline following a recently retired police detective who gets an itch to solve this cold case.

The parallel timelines are interesting, especially if you aren't aware of Iceland's role in World War II (which I wasn't).

This is a very solid police procedural from one of my favorite Scandinavian authors.  I will look for the next in this series.

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

#73: Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

An upper-class New York marriage has seen better days, but is being held together by the shared love of a daughter; when outside forces threaten the young woman, the whole family is changed in Matthew Weiner's slender study Heather, the Totality.

Weiner is best known as the creator of the television show Mad Men as well as a turn as a writer on The Sopranos.  This has a splash of both, but I would wager that Weiner has made a close read of Philip Roth and John Updike at some point in his life. 

Much as Mad Men mirrored a time and place, Heather, the Totality reminds me of the styling of both Roth and Updike.  Fans of those writers will enjoy this piece, whether they have heard of Weiner's other work or not (somehow).

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