Tuesday, August 30, 2011

#38: Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill

An aging screenwriter, not exactly washed up because he was always an also-ran, tries to restart his foundering career by going to a remote English farmhouse; but instead almost instantly fall into a dangerous infatuation with a farmer's wife in Russell Hill's Robbie's Wife.

Robbie's Wife is a mature noir with a classic unreliable narrator.  It is part of the very notable Hard Case Crime series, which releases lost classics alongside contemporary counterparts.  This is a great addition to the series, a very strong modern entry that stands alongside some of my favorites, including Scott Smith's A Simple Plan and Robert Ward's Four Kinds of Rain, books that would bring a smile to Jim Thompson's face.

Hill's book also reads as a solid literary piece, with a lot of sharp writing and an interesting subplot about the Mad Cow Disease issue in England.  Recommended for any readers.

I nabbed this off of www.paperbackswap.com and read it steadily.

Friday, August 26, 2011

#37: Nobody's Angel by Jack Clark

A Chicago cab driver ends up in the middle of two horrible crimes, the maiming of a teen prostitute and the murder of a fellow cabbie; cruising the streets in the shadows of the city's worst housing projects, he almost subconsciously moves towards solving both in Jack Clark's superior contemporary noir Nobody's Angel.

This book came out as part of Hard Case Crime, a top-flight collection of lost noirs and modern authors writing in the same vein.  This novel has a very unusual history, as Clark is an actual Chicago cab driver who self-published the book originally and sold it out of the front seat of his cab. 

It is an astounding story when one finds out how good the writing is.  It is obvious that Clark knows the mean streets of the Windy City intimately, and the characters are well-rounded.

If Cornell Woolrich drove a cab, and Jim Thompson was a passenger in the back seat, they might put their heads together and come up with something like Nobody's Angel.  Recommended.

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

Saturday, August 13, 2011

#36: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt

I was only tangentially aware of comedian Patton Oswalt (mostly from the movie Big Fan, which I learned about at the Traverse City Film Festival) but by the end of this collection of personal essays and humorous stories felt as if we were brothers under the skin.   

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is largely about a misspent youth of Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, b-movies, and the like, written in a darkly humorous vein.  I especially liked an essay about working in a movie theater in the 80s, one about working at the bottom of the comedian food chain, and an epic poem written to his last D&D character.  The title comes from an essay about how every young dude will write a story that either involves zombies, spaceships, or wastelands; I had all three in me as a teen.

I would recommend this book by and large to a narrow audience of nerds about the same age as me and Patton Oswalt, but I think it would have some general appeal.  I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library after the title caught my eye and read the slender tome at a good clip.

Friday, August 12, 2011

#35: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Pointedly funny autobiography from Tina Fey starts with her Pennsylvania childhood and runs helter skelter up to her tenure on 30 Rock in Bossypants.

I was a big fan of Fey on SNL and like her own oddball show and thus was predisposed to like this book (and I think it also helped that I listened to the audiobook version, where I could hear her own voice).  She glosses over a lot of things (and is much easier on Saturday Night Live then Jay Mohr or Sarah Silverman were in the books they wrote) but her funny stories, and messages of empowerment, are worthwhile.

I found it was incredibly dangerous to listen to the audiobook version of this as I was laughing so hard a few times I was almost crying, bad when driving.  Recommended.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

#34: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The final chapter in the Hunger Games trilogy finds our protagonist, Katniss, helping overthrow the government (personified by her enemy President Snow) while realizing that the rebellion isn't all it's cracked up to be in Suzanne Collins Mockingjay.

The first two books in this trilogy mainly center around Katniss participating in the Hunger Games, where the totalitarian central government keeps the districts in check by holding gladiator-style battles once a year in which only one living victor is allowed.  Astute readers will see pieces and parts borrowed from all sorts of places, including The Giver and Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale.  I have sometimes wondered if I enjoyed this series primarily because it reminded me of other things I liked.

This entry happens after the Hunger Games has ended, and to me seemed to show up the fact that the backstory of the world had been sketched in a bit slenderly in the first two volumes.  There were scenes here that seemed reminiscent of stories from Logan's Run to Beneath the Planet of the Apes which left me to wonder if Collins would leave any pop culture stone unturned.

Interesting for those who have read the first two and who would like to see the story to completion.  I got this for Christmas and finished it over time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

#33: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

A young mural artist takes up with a fragile man with a dark past in Banana Yoshimoto's The Lake.

I had never heard of Yoshimoto and picked this up on a whim from the Farmland Public Library.  She has apparently been big in Japan for some time. 

The Lake is a slight, and slightly creepy, novel that read a bit like Haruki Murakami lite.  The story ambles along as a blossoming romance between two troubled people until the pair visit a nearby lake cabin and two odd siblings who live there, one of who is an apparent psychic, where ties to a frightening past are revealed.

Without revealing too much of the backstory, I believe the novel would be pretty resonant to Japanese readers, and I enjoyed it well enough to look for more translations of Yoshimoto's work.

Friday, August 5, 2011

#32: The Ill Wind Contract by Philip Atlee

Joe Gall, the Nullifier, goes on a smuggling operation for the U.S. government but ends up in the middle of the Indonesian civil war with nothing but his quick wit and a swingin' Swedish stewardess in Philip Atlee's The Ill Wind Contract.

I generally enjoy this long-running, politically incorrect spy series, largely written in the 60s and 70s, although the entries are sometimes uneven.  This was one of my favorites, partially because it shows what seems to be a very accurate portrayal of the real-world civil war and has several real-life people.  Atlee's sardonic style is especially sharp here as well.

Atlee has to be recommended only for the discriminating modern eye; for instance, liberals, communists, and "women's libbers" are all considered equally evil in this story, and subtle portrayals of other races is never a strong suit.

I got this from a used bookstore in Muncie, Indiana for less than a single U.S. dollar.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#31: The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

A lawyer working the foreclosure angle finds himself in the middle of a murder case when his client is accused of killing a banker in Michael Connelly's The Fifth Witness.

Michael Connelly is one of my favorite recent-era mystery writers and his series about police detective Harry Bosch is, despite a few low spots, a significant achievement in contemporary crime writing.  He has dabbled in a few other characters but seems to be really finding some traction with Mickey Haller, first introduced in The Lincoln Lawyer.

Like Bosch, Haller has a lot of baggage, including two ex-wives, and feels most comfortable working out of the back seat of his car.  He is also a fairly tarnished but ultimately likable character.

Connelly seems to have hit his stride with this entry, which has a neat story and compelling courtroom action.  It has been interesting to see how the characters have evolved over the last few novels as well.  I am beginning to look forward to the next Haller story almost as much as the next Bosch.

I checked this out from the Farmland Public Library in Farmland, Indiana and read it quickly.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#30: The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg

Murders and suicides rock a small town in Sweden, sending ripples through various families and back a generation, in Camilla Lackberg's debut mystery The Ice Princess.

Lackberg has arrived on a big wave of Scandinavian novels that made it to our shores in recent years post-Stieg Larsson, and I have enjoyed them as a change of pace from their American counterparts; typically more morose and thoughtful and tangled with family dysfunction.

But Lackberg takes something back in return from here; a glimmer of romance, as the main character--writing a book about her childhood friend's death--takes up with a handsome police detective, a departure from the usual gloomy ruminations of her Scandinavian counterparts.

The darker novels of some of her colleagues (authors I enjoy like Arnaldur Indridason and Asa Larsson among them) might not be to everyone's taste, so Lackberg's relatively lighter fare might be more palatable to the general reader.  I will still look for her next book even though I would not rate her as highly as some others (including current fave Jo Nesbo).

I picked this up in paperback and carried it around for a long while nibbling at it, from Europe to Chicago and finally home again.