Tuesday, December 29, 2015

#54: The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell

In a broken, pandemic-ridden near-future New York, a hard-luck young woman volunteers for a cloning experiment, then ends up raising the results in Carola Dibbell's The Only Ones.

Dibbell's debut novel is a knockout chunk of sci-fi, what might happen if Brave New World had been narrated by an uneducated single mother.  And Dibbell's Inez is a vivid character with a unique voice, carrying the first-person narrative through an epic narrative that includes both world-breaking events as well as nuanced family relationships.

I found this to be a very rewarding read and was glad to finish my year of reading women with this novel.  Recommended for fans of both science fiction and literary fiction.

I purchased this at the Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago.  It is published by Ohio-based Two Dollar Radio, whose output I have enjoyed.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

#53:The Unfinished Crime by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

An uptight young man, upon learning that a woman he is courting is separated and not divorced, reacts in a surprising fit of violence; then has an increasingly difficult time covering up his actions as well as controlling his new-found desires in Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's The Unfinished Crime.

A classic unreliable narrator in a noir that ratchets tighter and tighter, The Unfinished Crime is a tidy little thriller from an author whose work has been out of print for a long while.

This novel was part of an old-fashioned style mystery double, the other half of which I also read very quickly (and is reviewed below).  I consumed this in two days over Christmas break.

I have enjoyed what I have seen from Stark House Press and will recommend Holding's work to others.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

#52: The Girl Who Had To Die by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

A fatalistic young woman brings a troubled young man to a weekend away visiting an affluent, debauched family with plenty of secrets in Elizabeth Sanxay Holding's The Girl Who Had To Die.

Holding writes with an especially feverish intensity and ratchets the suspense up almost from the first page. Although cloaked in the trappings of a family drama, this is a pretty tough noir featuring an unreliable narrator and an enigmatic ending.

This is my second novel by Holding after Lady Killer earlier this year and I feel she most reminds me of the great Cornell Woolrich, although Holding has, sadly, largely been out of print for a long time.  Stark House Press is trying to change that by bringing a lot of her work back, including this one I bought from them (a double with The Unfinished Crime).

Recommended for fans of classic noir.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

#51: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

An unconventional Jedi and a fallen Sith team up to try to end the Clone Wars in Christie Golden's Dark Disciple, a novel spun out of the Clone Wars animated series.

To me, as a person who saw the original Star Wars in theaters, there is something off-putting about the newer trilogy, which ends with evil triumphant at every turn, curiously downbeat storytelling that constantly leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.

But Golden does a nice job whipping up a rollicking adventure that includes appearances by popular characters, including Yoda and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett.  Fans of the Clone Wars series will probably find this most rewarding, as I am only somewhat familiar with this storyline.

I listened to this on audiobook, on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana, and consumed most of it on a long drive back and forth to Chicago.

I was pleasantly surprised that this was more than just a reading of the novel, but a fully-produced audio program that included sound effects and music.  Most importantly, an incredibly good narration by Marc Thompson, doing a lot of spot-on voice impressions, makes it recommended as an audiobook for Star Wars fans.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

#50: I Smile Back by Amy Koppelman

A young wife and mother struggles with her identity, masking her problems with drugs and risky sex, in Amy Koppelman's downbeat portrayal of suburban life I Smile Back.

Koppelman creates a fully-realized central character, and finely-tuned but bleak sketch of the American Dream, for an overall rewarding literary fiction outing.

I became interested in this novel when I learned that it would be made into a film with Sarah Silverman, who to me seems to be a good choice for the self-destructive Laney.  I Smile Back was published by Two Dollar Radio, a small publishing house in nearby Columbus, Ohio, whose output I have enjoyed.

I purchased this novel from Two Dollar Radio and read it quickly, passing it on to other like-minded readers afterwards.

This was a great novel to enjoy in reaching my goal of reading fifty books by women in 2015.  I wanted to seek out new voices and stories told from different perspectives, and Koppelman's work was a good example of that goal.

Monday, November 30, 2015

#49: Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A McKillip

Wonders of the Invisible World is an imaginative collection of science fiction and fantasy from Patricia A. McKillip, largely dealing with the roles of women in interesting ways.

McKillip is a well-established fantasy author, though I had never explored her work until a friend recommended this collection of short stories.  I purchased for my beloved Kindle and dipped a toe into over a long period of time this year. 

Though similarly themed, the stories are all very finely wrought and thought-provoking throughout, and I enjoyed savoring them over time.

I have enjoyed reading only women authors this year as I am not sure I would have taken a chance on McKillip before.  I have already salted away a few of her paperbacks I have found here and there for future enjoyment.

Recommended for fans of fantasy.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

#48: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

In the far-flung future, a vast empire--reminiscent of the Roman Empire--is in decline.  When a massive, thousand-year-old sentient ship learns why, her consciousness is downloaded into a single fragile human body, leading her on a methodical path of vengeance in Ann Leckie's sci-fi epic Ancillary Justice.

This novel garnered all the top sci-fi writing awards in one fell swoop, but came on my radar when a friend recommended it.  Despite what I think is a poor title--I've since recommended it to others, and they never remember what it's called--this is a fantastic bit of world-building as well as a cracking good adventure.

I have described this book as what might have happened if Samuel R. Delany wrote The Ship Who Sang or Anne McCaffrey wrote The Left Hand of Darkness.  If these name-checks strike a chord, Ancillary Justice is for you.

This is the first of a trilogy, and I am eager to read the rest.  I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#47: X by Sue Grafton

P.I. Kinsey Milhone reluctantly looks into the affairs of a murdered colleague, finding a coded list of women's names that leads to art thievery and murder in Sue Grafton's latest alphabet mystery X.

Grafton has written a long, admirable private eye series, and the latest is a very solid entry.

Longtime fans will see continued character growth (although I could have done without a lengthy subplot about Milhone's landlord's interest in water conservation) and several ties back to the last novel in the series.  New fans will find an interesting mystery that takes place in the pre-internet late 80s, when being a private eye meant typewriters, index cards, phone books, and a lot more old-fashioned legwork.

I listened to this on audiobook from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

#46: White Crocodile by K.T. Medina

A young woman finds out that her ex-husband was killed clearing mines in the killing fields of Cambodia, and feels compelled to travel there to learn the truth, in K.T. Medina's absolutely crackling debut thriller White Crocodile.

Medina comes from a military background, including a stint in the Royal Engineers, and it is obvious she knows what she's talking about in the hair-raising scenes in the minefields.  But she can also write a riveting thriller, as the "White Crocodile" of the title--a killer stalking local women, but also what the locals call the minefield, named after a mythic beast--makes himself known.

White Crocodile is one of the best page-turners I've read in a while, and I found myself consuming the last hundred pages or so in a single fell swoop.  Recommended for thriller fans.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#45: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Four Londons stand in the same place in parallel worlds; Red London, filled with good magic; White London, filled with dark magic; the everyday world of Gray London; and the lost world of Black London.  When an emissary from Red London crosses into White London on a royal errand, he inadvertently gets involved in an intricate plot in V.E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic.

I thought the title was kind of poor, but the storytelling rollicking and cinematic, as our protagonist teams up with an impish young thief against a variety of magical and non-magical foes. 

A really solid high fantasy, with lots of adventure, and apparently the start of a new series (which I was happy to learn).  I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond Indiana and read it quickly. 

Recommended for fans of fantasy and adventure stories.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

#44: The King's Dragon by Una McCormack

The Doctor and companions Amy and Rory decide to visit a medieval-era utopian town for a rest; instead, naturally, they find the town in the thrall of a despotic king and under threat by an alien armada in Una McCormack's The King's Dragon, a contemporary Doctor Who story.

Fans of the current series, especially the Matt Smith era, will find a lot to enjoy in this breezy, but action-packed adventure which adds to the Doctor Who lore.  It has the right pacing and tone for a current episode in the series, with social and political overtones, fun interplay between characters, and of course a large, robotic dragon.

I enjoyed McCormack's take on Doctor Who and would look for more of her writing.

I bought this at a goodbye price at the BBC America booth at GenCon this summer and read it over a weekend.



Thursday, October 29, 2015

#43: You Are Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Felicia Day writes about her rocky road from her chaotic, homeschooled upbringing to becoming an actress and "contextually famous" internet personality in You Are Never Weird On The Internet (Almost).

Day's book is bright and funny, but there are darker undertones to her writing, especially when she talks about her towering insecurities and crippling self-doubt.  But those struggling in trying to make it in the performing arts in any fashion will find a lot of takeaways in her story.

I listened to this on audiobook, and that might be the best way to hear her story, as her delivery really helps engage the reader.

I borrowed this from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

#42: Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovály

In 1950s Prague, the death of a young boy at a movie theater reveals a series of shocking truths about the women who work there, resulting in more death and destruction, in Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly.

As well as being a fascinatingly bleak mystery, the story of the novel--lost to Communist oppression for a long while--is equally interesting.  Kovaly was inspired after translating the work of Raymond Chandler into Czech, and it shows.  Innocence is a tough, unrelenting noir with a shockingly downbeat ending.

But it paints a portrait, in grays and blacks, of a world few of us have been made privy to, and thus is rewarding on many levels.

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

Saturday, October 10, 2015

#41: The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory by Stacy Wakefield

In the early 90s, a young woman comes to New York and finds drama and adventure in the squatting scene in Stacy Wakefield's The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory.

Wakefield was a squatter herself, previously writing a non-fiction account of that time period, and I would guess she based a lot of this novel on those experiences. 

At the foreground of this story is her relationship with two men, one who she gradually finds out is wrong for her and one she gradually finds out might be right for her, set against a background of zines, punk shows, and underground culture.

Although the storytelling is pretty straightforward, the setting is offbeat, so I would recommend this read to those of like-minded interests.

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

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#40: EarthWorld by Jacqueline Rayner

The Doctor and his companions Fitz and Anji visit a future colony which has built an amusement park called EarthWorld, a Disney-like attraction that has a humorously skewed version of Earth history;  but when a murderous trio take over behind the scenes it becomes anything but funny in Jacqueline Rayner's Doctor Who novel EarthWorld.

This adventure features the Eighth Doctor, an unusual figure in the lengthy history of the original television series as he appeared in just one television adventure at the end of the original Doctor Who series and bridged the long gap before the start of the contemporary series, the lead character in countless novels, comics, and audio plays during that time.  Even at that, the casual Doctor Who fan probably doesn't know a lot about him.

This novel, re-released as part of the 50th Anniversary of the program, is some thirty-odd novels (!) into his adventures, and sent me to the internet to learn more about his companions and some of the backstory talked about.  Enjoyable, but probably mostly for hardcore Doctor Who fans.

I bought this at GenCon in Indianapolis and enjoyed learning more about this character.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#39: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

A hip young New Yorker, on the verge of marrying into an affluent family, is drawn back to a terrible incident during high school by the appearance of a documentary film crew in Jessica Knoll's Luckiest Girl Alive.

Knoll seems to be another author taking a page from Gillian Flynn, penning a cold-blooded thriller whose protagonist seems to be pretty scheming and manipulative.  But as the story unpacks, the reader learns more about a horrific event that has never release its hold on the present.

A very solid read that perhaps wraps up a bit too neatly, but hits a lot of hard beats throughout.

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

#38: The Accidental by Ali Smith

A blended family, with cracks running through it, goes through tremendous changes when an uninvited houseguest appears during their summer holiday in British author Ali Smith's The Accidental.

Smith alternates several points of view in this interesting novel; the husband thinks the young woman who appears is his wife's friend, the wife thinks she is her husband's latest conquest, the son sees a potential girlfriend, and the daughter sees a dangerous confidant.  Who she really is remains enigmatic, but resonates through the family's summer and beyond.

I enjoyed Smith's voice and her shading of the different characters, overall finding this striking novel about tangled family lives interesting.  I think my enjoyment of this novel was magnified by listening to a very fine audiobook adaptation, read by multiple voices. 

I borrowed this from the Farmland Public Library in Farmland, Indiana and enjoyed it immensely.

Friday, September 11, 2015

#37: Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

A young British man on the autism spectrum decides to take a medical course in order to understand death, after his father's passing; instead, he stumbles onto a murder that everyone else believes was natural causes in Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer.

Rubbernecker is a crackling good thriller which owes a debt to both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as well as CSI.  Admittedly some of the plot's wheels creak a little bit as coincidences and happenstances fall into place, but as problems mount up for our flawed protagonist--including getting on the killer's radar--the book becomes a real page-turner towards the end.

I really enjoyed this thriller and will look for more of Bauer's books.

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

#36: The Hades Factor by Gayle Lynds and Robert Ludlum

Current scientist and former badass John Smith grows suspicious when his girlfriend dies suddenly of a mysterious ailment; and when he looks into it more closely, he (naturally) unearths a global conspiracy in The Hades Factor, the first in the Covert One series.

Robert Ludlum apparently sketched in this series of novels before his death, and the details were handed over to a handful of writers; this first one fell to Gayle Lynds, who has been a pretty solid thriller writer in her own right.

This is a fun but entirely undemanding read, one of those novels where the characters never stop at a Taco Bell to eat but have time to train a mountain lion as a pet.  Interestingly, it was written just before 9/11, in what seems to be a rosier time when a diabolical corporate businessman could be the villain in an international thriller.

The Covert One series has numbered quite a few adventures to date and has its appeal to the technothriller/medical thriller crowd, and would be recommended to those readers.

I listened to a solid audiobook version on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

#35: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

A private eye reluctantly goes looking for a missing pair of teenage pop stars in an alternate-future Johannesburg in Lauren Beukes' Zoo City.

Beukes' genre-bender is sort of a whacked-out Chinatown, with telepathy and arcane magic, what might happen if William Gibson wrote The Little Sister.  But it has a very hip, contemporary vibe (as I saw in Beukes' Broken Monsters, the first novel I read from her) and an admirable, believable bit of world-building.

I will be grateful that I spent a year reading only women authors if for no other reason than I discovered South African author Lauren Beukes.  I will continue to look for her work.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.  Recommended for fans of hard-boiled noir, near-future sci-fi, or some combination of both.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#34: Code 1013: Assassin by Leslie Trevor

A rising political star is assassinated at an airport, and then those around her begin dying one by one; thus it's up to policewoman Pepper Anderson to get to the bottom of it in Leslie Trevor's Code 1013: Assassin, a novel based on the Police Woman television show from the 1970s.

I saw this paperback for a shiny quarter at a flea market and was compelled to pick it up.  I spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out if gender neutral-sounding Leslie Trevor was a man or a woman, as I am only reading women authors this year, and was happy to learn Trevor is actually a pseudonym for a female author.  It turned out to be a rare find as only three of these were written.

No matter what the author's gender this book is still a product of a less politically correct time, where a "feminist" politician is made note of, as well as some other broadly portrayed characters.  Plenty of ironic nostalgia as well, depicting an era when a TV reporter could actually be politically powerful and cops didn't have to worry about pesky Miranda Rights.

Any reader who picks this up more or less knows what they are getting; definitely for fans.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#33: Girl at War by Sara Novic

A college student in New York begins to come to grips with her childhood in Croatia, eventually returning to confront a tragic moment in her past in Girl at War by Sara Novic.

The story runs in parallel lines; in the past, the young woman tries to understand the growing conflict in the context of her families' problems; and in the present, her older self finds she is struggling more and more to hide aspects of her childhood from her boyfriend and adopted family.

Novic grew up in Croatia during wartime and now lives in the United States, so I am sure she drew a lot on her own history for this striking, sometimes harrowing, debut novel.  It is an important story in that it reveals sides to this conflict that hasn't always been portrayed in American storytelling.

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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

#32: Disclaimer by Renee Knight

A British woman is shocked to find that a new novel, inexplicably, reveals what she thought was a deeply-held secret from her past in Renee Knight’s Disclaimer.

Despite what I think is a poor title, Knight’s novel is a pretty solid thriller (with dashes of domestic drama) that follows two protagonists; one, the woman whose personal life has been made fictional, and is being read by family and friends; and the second a troubled elderly man whose son died saving a child’s life.  How their lives intersect in the past and present, as they tell conflicting stories about the same events, creates interest.

Knight is deft at peeling back the onion to a rather shocking event that even an experienced thriller reader like myself did not see coming.  Nicely done overall.
I borrowed this from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

#31: A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard's blossoming relationship plays out in the foreground as the making of "Gone with the Wind" goes on in the background, all quietly observed by Carole's (fictitious) assistant in Kate Alcott's A Touch of Stardust.

Alcott is actually Patricia O'Brien and is married into the Mankiewicz family, whose members include Hollywood legends Herman and Joseph.  It seems reasonable to assume that she had some inside track in the writing of this rather light, charming read.  And if hearing those names excites you, this is definitely a recommended read.

But fans of Golden Age Hollywood stories in general, and all its players, will find plenty to like in this novel.

I listened to a very good audiobook version on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library.

Friday, July 24, 2015

#30: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

In bad old Detroit, an outsider artist turns to serial killing to improve his art in Lauren Beukes creepy, genre-bending thriller Broken Monsters.

Broken Monsters features a dedicated police detective who is also a single mom, her teen daughter (caught up in a dangerous online game with a child predator), a washed-up journalist trying to make a second career as a blogger, and a troubled homeless man, whose paths cross and re-cross with the killer.  Beukes almost makes Detroit into another character in the novel, which adds interest.

The chilling denouement slides--almost oozes--into a horror story in the last quarter of the novel, which caught me by surprise as I thought the book was more of a straight thriller.  But the storytelling had me turning pages quickly to the end, and Beukes' writing is hip and kinetic.

Unsettling but rewarding for readers who are interested in something more offbeat.

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

#29: When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

During World War II, Estonia is passed back and forth between Nazi and Soviet rule, leaving their citizens with constantly shifting allegiances in a bleak landscape; against this backdrop are two cousins, one a hardline Estonian patriot and the other a slippery sycophant, whose fates are tied together by the women they love in Sofi Oksanen's When the Doves Disappeared.

Oksanen's novel is a large-scale historical drama with insights into a part of the world and a culture I was unfamiliar with.  Oksanen writes that Estonia is "like a nameless corpse on the battlefield" in the greater world war and does a good job of making Estonia almost another character in the work.

Otherwise Oksanen hits a lot of genre beats as one cousin becomes a partisan, the other a sympathizer, and they both become involved with internment camps; alternating chapters set in the 60s in the midst of Cold War paranoia shows a less familiar slice of history.

Oksanen ties the threads up in a rather fatalistic ending, but features good storytelling throughout from a different voice.

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


Sunday, July 5, 2015

#28: Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell

Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell is a sweeping, literate western centered around the disparate group of lawmen and outlaws--and men who were both--that swirled around a battle that went down in history as the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Where Russell's novel gives a fresh perspective is through the thoughts and actions of the wives, lovers, and other women associated with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the others who loomed large in the tale of the gunfight.

But plenty of time is spent on the more well-known figures, including some tertiary ones, as the actual gunfight does not occur until several hundred pages into the telling.  A briefer, and more melancholy, section tells about the aftermath, and what happened to most of the main players.

A really good contemporary western not only for fans of the genre but for readers interested in history.  Recommended.

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


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

#27: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

During World War II, two French sisters take different paths during the Nazi occupation of France; one becomes a freedom fighter, and the other finds herself  gradually becoming a collaborator, in Kristin Hannah's epic historical novel The Nightingale.

One sister, more freewheeling and adventurous, becomes the Nightingale of the title, a partisan agent who joins the resistance as a messenger but eventually helps fallen Allied airmen escape occupied France.  The other sister, who has a more mild personality (that caused childhood conflicts between the siblings), tries to protect her shattered family by making one painful choice after the next.

Hannah's novel is a "homefront" style war novel, but standard elements of melodrama and action slowly give way to some pretty dramatic, disturbing scenes as the vestiges of humanity--personified in the Nazi Final Solution--are stripped away in the waning days of the war.

A solid read for those interested in a different take on a standard war story.  I checked this out on audiobook from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

#26: City of Blood by Frédérique Molay

Thirty years ago, an artist symbolically buried his work as part of a modern art installation in a Parisian park; when the work is unearthed, a skeleton is found, sending Chief Nico Sirsky and the cops of the Criminal Investigation Division to work in Frédérique Molay's French thriller City of Blood.

Tidy, but television-sized police procedural moves at a fast clip as a fresh wave of similar murders--attributed to "The Butcher of Paris"--spurs the team on.  Sirsky also copes with the sudden onset of illness in his aging mother, and makes a deal with the heavens that wise cops don't make.

Glimpses of the French police and legal systems, as well as daily life, add interest.

I checked this out from Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly, as I think it was meant to be consumed.

This novel comes from Le French Book, a publishing house bringing English translations of what seem to be French beach reads to new audiences--and I will definitely look for more of these.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

#25: The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

A mega-pop star disappears in Chicago, setting off a chain of other disappearances and strange events in Catie Disabato's The Ghost Network.

I'm already recommending Disabato's debut work to people without really being able to explain what it is.  It's a very meta novel, presented as a non-fiction account written about a Lady Gaga-esque figure who, as the story unfolds, had more than a passing interest in various underground movements.  A trio of quasi-investigators, sort of a pan-sexual Scooby Doo team, tries to find out what happens--until one of them also disappears in a boating accident, and another loses several fingers.

When the writer of this nonfiction account also goes missing, the manuscript is purportedly passed on to Catie Disabato herself, who footnotes and provides other commentary.

Almost a story within a story within a story, but as cleverly woven into reality as anything I've read since Marisha Pessl's Night Film, which was one of my favorite reads of the last few years.  Readers will definitely find themselves taking to Google to figure out what is (surprisingly) real and what Disabato made up (and what is a little bit of both).

An original novel that I read rather quickly, on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.  Recommended.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#24: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

A troubled young woman riding the London train glimpses something disturbing out of her window, sending her into a dramatic spiral in Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train.

This debut novel is frequently compared to Gone Girl, and in the way that they are both very cold-hearted thrillers I would agree; but I saw a lot more Rear Window.

Even more notable is the classic unreliable narrator, in this case an alcoholic protagonist with a failed marriage--but still stalking her ex-husband--who is prone to blackouts.

Two other point of views--flashbacks to a missing woman in the midst of a tumultuous affair, and the ex-husband's second wife--round out an interesting narrative.

A very tight thriller, frequently shocking.  I bought this in hardback and read it in a single day on a flight between Italy and the States--and saw several others on the plane doing the same.

Monday, May 18, 2015

#23: Uniform Justice by Donna Leon

A young man at a Venetian military academy appears to have hung himself; but veteran cop Guido Brunetti thinks differently, even as the boy's own family stands against him in Donna Leon's Uniform Justice.

Leon has written a very solid and well-acclaimed mystery series, set in Venice, a place which I had a chance to visit this summer for the first time (part of the reason I sought out a handful of these before I left).

Not only are the mysteries always compelling, but having spent part of the last several summers in Italy I find that her portrayal of Italian life and culture to be especially interesting.

Brunetti also has a very rich family life and cast of supporting characters, and the more of these I have read (this was my third) the more I have appreciated those elements.  Again this one has a slightly melancholy, but perhaps appropriate, conclusion.

I feel like I am the last mystery reader to have discovered Donna Leon, but nonetheless will continue to recommend the Brunetti series to friends, and will look for more.  I bought this one from a Goodwill and read while traveling in Italy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

#22: The Torso by Helene Tursten

When part of a corpse washes ashore, it's up to the dedicated cops of Goteborg, Sweden to hunt down the killer, a bloody trail that takes Irene Huss and her team to the seedy streets of Copenhagen in Helene Tursten's The Torso.

Strong, but grisly, police procedural for those looking for fresh names in the Scandinavian mystery market.  Tursten has created a complete, nuanced detective in Huss, and contrasts complex domestic scenes with vivid graphic violence.

Tursten truly pulls no punches as Huss crosses paths, and sometimes bullets, with organized crime lords, sex traffickers, and at least one serial killer; a killer who seems to be someone close to the investigation.

This is the second Tursten novel I have read recently and find her work to be right up there with some of my favorites in this genre, including Jo Nesbø, Arnaldur Indriðason, and Åsa Larsson.  Recommended for fans.

I read this in one sitting on a flight from Florence Italy to Indianapolis Indiana.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

#21: Thirteen White Tulips by Frances Crane

A young doctor's wife gets into a compromising situation (1950s-speak) with a handsome rogue and concludes the only way out is murder; but when she arrives at his San Francisco home she finds him already dead, just the beginning of a very tangled plot in Frances Crane's Thirteen White Tulips.

I really enjoyed this breezy--exceedingly breezy-- tale, as the young wife enlists the help of private eye Pat Abbott, his very handy wife Jean (the narrator, who also weighs in on fashion and society), and their preternaturally smart dog Pancho, in uncovering the cause of the murder.

Crane tries for a Nick and Nora Charles vibe, and succeeds, with a real sense of the time, place, and culture.

I bought this with no prior knowledge from a crate of Penguin paperbacks (with green covers) from in front of a little used bookstore in Rome, Italy.  Crane apparently wrote a number of mysteries featuring Jean Abbott, and I would definitely look for more.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

#20: Lady Killer by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

A young woman marries an older man for his money, and soon learns this was an unhappy mistake; but on a cruise, she is distracted by another unhappy couple who seem more murderously inclined in Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's Lady Killer.

I see Holding's name a lot, but had never sought out any of her books until I made a vow to read only women authors in 2015, and found myself hungry for a good noir.

The protagonist, Honey, finds herself wound tighter and tighter in a dark web leading to a tense, ultimately downbeat conclusion; but what I enjoyed about Holding's writing was not only the crackling noir elements but the artfully rendered take on marriages, relationships, and friendships between men and women. I will definitely look for more of her work.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

#19: The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

In a parallel world, a young man from a close family is accused of killing a noble beggar, and the entire family is exiled to a bleak, heartless place--our own world.

The Necessary Beggar is a fantasy/sci-fi novel with strong overtones of the immigrant experience in the United States, as this dramatically displaced family first appears in a refugee camp in a remote section of the United States, and tries to make their way from there.

Their trials and tribulations--compounded by the young man's suicide, and subsequent re-appearance as an unhappy ghost--are interesting throughout and certainly parallel contemporary experiences (minus the ghost).

Susan Palwick's novel is rewarding on many levels as a fantasy novel as well as a contemporary fable.

I found this book on a goodbye shelf at the local Hastings bookstore and read it in one day on my flight to Italy.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

#18: Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon

When an American soldier from a nearby base dies under unusual circumstances, Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti starts an investigation that crosses social, political, and international lines in Donna Leon's Death in a Strange Country.

This is the second Leon novel I have read in this popular, long-running series, and I enjoyed it as much for the slices of Italian life shown as the mystery itself.  After spending several weeks in Italy over the years--though never visiting Venice--I think the philosophical side of life in Italy rings true.

But it's still a good mystery, with Brunetti getting into several near-miss scrapes before wrapping the story up--not neatly, but perhaps as neatly as anything gets from such a tangled web.

I found this in a Goodwill store in Frankfurt, Indiana and read it quickly.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

#17: How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak

A young Polish woman living on the margins of Los Angeles dreams of entering a Russian club across the street from her apartment, but learns to be careful what she wishes for in Karolina Waclawiak's How to Get into the Twin Palms.

Waclawiak's novel is a well-done contemporary immigrant story, alternating between humorous and heartbreaking as we follow her journey, which mirrors a mythological descent as aggressive wildfires prick at the edges of her existence.

Vivid in portraying both the lives of expat Eastern Europeans and the fringes of California society, How to Get into the Twin Palms is a worthwhile read.

I bought this from the independent publishing house Two Dollar Radio and read it quickly.


Friday, April 24, 2015

#16: W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Private Eye Kinsey Milhone gets involved in two seemingly unrelated cases; in the first, a former private eye colleague is shot and killed, and in the second a homeless man turns up with her name in his pocket.  How both these cases gradually, and then suddenly, become intertwined is the story behind W is for Wasted, Sue Grafton's latest in her long line of alphabet mysteries.

My wife, an English instructor and avid literary reader, has always listed Grafton as a guilty pleasure; I think I stopped reading around D is for Deadbeat but decided, in my year of reading only women authors, to give it another go with her latest.

This is a solid private eye novel with a very complex protagonist whose personality has evolved slowly over time.  Interestingly, although many years have passed in real time, the novels still take place in the late 80s, a seemingly far away pre-internet and cell phone era where real sleuthing by phone book and 3x5 card was preeminent. 

I listened to this on audiobook from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and will definitely dig into more of these.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

#15: The Beige Man by Helene Tursten

The cops of Goteborg, Sweden, have their hands full when two joyriding kids, escaped from juvenile detention, run down a retired cop; near the crime scene, they find the corpse of a young girl.  How these cases become linked, much to the dismay of Irene Huss and her team, is the core of Helene Tursten's The Beige Man.

For those in a post-Dragon Tattoo funk, Tursten's novel is a welcome addition to the Scandinavian mystery canon.   

The Beige Man is a very tough, above average police procedural that focuses on organized crime and sex trafficking during a typically brutal Swedish winter.  There is an eclectic group of detectives much like Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels; in fact, the lead detective, Huss, is reading an 87th Precinct book at one point.

All in all quite satisfying, with the title not explained until the very last page.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, and will look for more of her writing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

#14: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

A man-made plague has torn through the world, leaving an eclectic group--including former eco-cultists, scientists and their lab creations, and psychic pig/human hybrids--to forge a new path in MaddAddam, the end of Margaret Atwood's post-apocalyptic trilogy (begun with Oryx and Crake).

Not really a stand-alone novel, but certainly satisfying for those who enjoyed the first two (as this one reveals the colorful history of Adam One and Zeb, as well as other choice nuggets). 

For general readers, how the characters try to explain what happened to a young boy called Blackbeard, inadvertently starting a new world history/religion, is particularly interesting.

I am a Margaret Atwood fan, and though this trilogy does not stand up to The Handmaid's Tale or some of her other works, it is still worthwhile as a whole for apocalypse fiction fans.

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

Friday, April 3, 2015

#13: The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

A Copenhagen cop moves to a Missing Persons unit, and almost immediately is assigned the confounding case of a recently-deceased mentally disabled woman who was actually reported dead thirty years prior.  Meanwhile, a serial rapist stalks the cop's hometown of Hvalso, and she slowly begins to realize the cases are tied together in Sara Blaedel's The Forgotten Girls.

Blaedel is apparently well established in Denmark, but this is her first novel translated into English.  A good thing, as this is a solid, albeit grim, police procedural livened somewhat by the interpersonal relationships between the cop, her new partner, and her longtime best friend, an investigative journalist on the brink of her wedding.

The tough subject matter--which discusses the often poor history of mental health care, and a series of rapes--isn't helped by a downbeat, enigmatic ending.  But it is a good read for the discerning, and it's nice to have a fresh voice (to English readers) from the Scandinavian crime scene.

I borrowed this from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

#12: Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

A young woman with a hard-knock life finds herself surprisingly immune to a devastating disease sweeping the nation, so she volunteers to be studied at an eerie hospital in a snow-swept Kansas landscape.  When all is not what it seems at the hospital, she escapes on a phantasmagorical journey across a transformed America.

Laura Van Den Berg's Find Me is an unsettling dystopian thriller with a literary bent.  The protagonist's often creepy episodic adventures--later accompanied by a foster brother who wears a rubber mask and seems to display telepathic abilities--point her towards Florida, and a woman she thinks is her birth mother (spotted on a televised nature program).  Interesting throughout.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

#11: Caught by Lisa Moore

A young guy, imprisoned on a pot bust, escapes and sets out across late-70s Canada in Lisa Moore's Caught.

This is a literate thriller, heavy on episodic encounters and colorful characterizations, but also ratchets up the tension as a dogged police detective (who is failing in his professional and personal lives) slowly tightens the noose on his pursuit.

I think this novel will appeal to readers who enjoy literary novels as well as those who enjoy more cerebral thrillers.  Moore's novel is well-written and compelling throughout.

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


Saturday, March 7, 2015

#10: A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

Venetian cop Brunetti investigates the death of two fishermen, and finds a community closed against him, in Donna Leon's A Sea of Troubles.

Leon has written a long series of novels featuring this Italian policeman, but this is the first one I have come across.  Having traveled in Italy several times, although never visiting Venice despite several near misses, I thought I would give it a try.

This is a very solid mystery, with interesting characterizations that I'm sure would be richer having read more of the series (this is her tenth Brunetti novel).  I will definitely look for more of these.

This one I found at a Goodwill in Frankfort, Indiana, and read it quickly on vacation in Florida.

Friday, March 6, 2015

#9: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

A young girl is the only survivor of a family massacre at a rural farmhouse, and her fractured recollections of the night convict her older brother; years down a troubled road later, she begins to rethink her memories in Gillian Flynn's Dark Places.

After the success of Gone Girl, Flynn's earlier novels are getting another look.  This might be my favorite thus far, an inky-black story with often unpleasant characters, but fascinating throughout.  The story flashes back and forth in time, from multiple points of view, and covers topics from heavy metal Satanism to farm failures to contemporary cults of morbid celebrity.

Flynn is a very solid writer whose dark imaginings aren't for all tastes, though I find the novels worthwhile.

I borrowed this from a lending library in Florida where my in-laws snowbird, and read it all that week.

Friday, February 27, 2015

#8: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

A cop killer is stalking the mean streets of 70s Atlanta, setting two damaged police officers--one, a young woman from a family of hard-living cops, the other a rookie who joined the force after her husband was killed in Viet Nam--loose on the streets to catch a killer in Karin Slaughter's Cop Town.

This is a tough, fast-moving procedural with an interesting setting--a racist, sexist southern city where the cops solve problems with nightsticks and fists and due process is for sissies.  How these two women cope with male counterparts on both sides of the law, and problems in their own family, add to the storytelling as the two protagonists learn that the killer has fingerprints on both of their lives.

This is the first novel I read from Slaughter and enjoyed it quite a bit.  I checked this out from the Farmland Public Library in Farmland, Indiana.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

#7: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

After a man-made virus sweeps across the planet, we follow the lives of two survivors--a young woman locked in a sex club, and an older woman hiding out in a spa--as they learn how to survive in a transformed world in Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood.

The Year of the Flood is the follow-up to Atwood's acclaimed Oryx and Crake, with the same setting and several of the same characters threaded throughout.  Of interest to readers of Oryx and Crake is the fact that the sequel solves the mystery shown in the closing pages of the first novel.

For general readers, however, I think it is still pretty interesting, with two new main characters, and how their paths have crossed over time, playing out in its story.  Overall not as emotionally resonant as Oryx and Crake, but worthwhile for fans.

If you read this book, I would suggest the audiobook version that I enjoyed (on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana) as it featured three strong voices, and some musical interludes, a good production overall.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

#6: Black Unicorn by Tanith Lee

A young girl lives with her sorceress mother in a fortified castle deep in a desert, and longs for excitement; but she finds more than she bargained for when she stumbles upon a unicorn skeleton in Tanith Lee's Black Unicorn.

I have always wanted to try Tanith Lee, and this year of reading only women authors seemed like a good time to start.  Thus I grabbed a lot of her various books from ebay at a goodbye price to try them out.

This is a funny, exciting high fantasy story mostly for young adults, with neat world-building and interesting twists and turns.  It hits all the right beats and is accessible to teen and adult readers.

This lot included the sequel, Gold Unicorn, which I can see myself tucking into before long.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

#5: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

A Hollywood actor on the wane dies of a heart attack on stage during a performance of King Lear in Toronto; that very night, patient zero of a devastating flu virus lands at the airport.  How these events intersect, and reverberate for decades to come, is the crux of Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven.

This is a tremendous read with toes dipped in both the pulp and literary pools.  On the one hand, we have the life of the fading Hollywood actor, surrounded by a constellation of ex-wives, estranged kids, and fallen friendships; meanwhile, twenty-five years distant, the ragged survivors of the deadly flu criss-cross a devastated landscape bringing culture to small outposts with performances of Shakespeare and music.  When this band of artists cross a sociopathic cult leader they have to rely on more than monologues, with tragic results.

It seems as if every year I find a book I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading, and so far for 2015 it is Station Eleven.  A very strong outing and recommended.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#4: Five by Ursula Archer

Salzburg police come across a murdered woman with GPS coordinates crudely tattooed on her feet, and quickly find themselves in a cat-and-mouse game with a serial killer in Ursula Archer's Five.

Archer's thriller is interesting in multiple ways.  First, it takes place in Austria, whose literature and geography I am not too familiar with;  secondly it involves Geocaching, where hobbyists search for caches based on GPS clues; and thirdly the main detective--going through a painful divorce, and hiding a previous trauma--is an interesting main character.

Five is a speedy read, with lots of interesting elements.  Its downsides--unusually grisly murders, and the whiff of an unlikely romance--do not detract much from the whole.

I borrowed this from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond Indiana and read it quickly.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

#3: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Comedian Amy Poehler offers a slice of life and a big chunk of comedy in Yes Please.

I bought this for my wife for Christmas at her request and was eager to read it next.  There are numerous family members who want to dibs also.

It was pretty interesting and funny, though Poehler didn't spend as much time on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation as I might have liked.  It is more a mix of coming of age story blended with outright comedy bits and insights.

Perhaps not as darkly funny as Sarah Silverman's The Bedwetter, as challenging as Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl, nor as insightful as Tina Fey's Bossypants, but enjoyable in its own right.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#2: Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham

Twenty-something writer/director Lena Dunham sums up her life thus far in a warts-and-all autobiography called Not That Kind Of Girl.

Dunham comes from New York, and a background of some privilege; as a middle-aged, middle-class midwestern guy, I am probably not the audience for this book.  That being said, I enjoyed Dunham's frank, often funny, stories about her life from childhood, through a progressive college experience, and later successes and failures (that led her to the creation of the popular HBO program Girls).

I was interested enough to rent Girls from Netflix, and enjoyed it; but like her book, I can see that it is not for all tastes and in fact could be very polarizing to some audiences.

But I would recommend the book to those interested in Dunham and her current TV series.  I listened to this on audiobook, read by the author, which I think enhanced the experience.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

#1: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Private eye Cormoran Strike goes looking for a wayward author, and stumbles onto gruesome murder, in The Silkworm, the second thriller penned by Robert Galbraith.

Despite appearances, I am keeping to my promise to read only women authors in 2015.  After the success of The Cuckoo's Calling J.K. Rowling was outed as the pseudonymous author, and she stays with the Galbraith name for the sequel; a good thing for the uninitiated, as the Strike stories are filled with sex, violence, profanity, and other adult situations.

In the first novel, Strike takes on the fashion world; in this one, Rowling turns her attention to publishing, with similarly interesting results.

Rowling is apparently hard at work at a third novel featuring this world-weary, one-legged protagonist, and I am eager to see it released.

I listened to a very good audiobook version of this on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2014 In Review

I sort of knew going into 2014 I probably would not make it to 50 books this year; with both my kids getting married, and my grandson born on the first day of 2014, it was going to be a busy year.  But I have read 348 books in seven years, and that is nothing to sneeze at.  But per usual I will list my top reads of the year:

Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo

The Son by Jo Nesbo

Mapuche by Caryl Ferey

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored by Phillipe Georget

 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolano

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino


I am changing it up this year, committing to reading only women writers in 2015 to see if I can become a better writer myself.  Check back in here to see how I'm doing.