Sunday, May 12, 2024

#23: Hard By A Great Forest by Leo Vardiashvili

A young man sees both his father and then his brother go back to the country of Georgia in search of family; when he loses track of both of them, he reluctantly follows in Leo Vardiashvili's Hard By A Great Forest.

Our protagonist ends up following a cryptic trail of clues left by his brother that includes poetic graffiti and scraps of their father's autobiographical play.  Loose in this troubled, depleted country, he deals with everything from escaped zoo animals to the talkative ghosts of lost family members.  

Vardiashvili and his family escaped from Georgia after the fall of the Soviet Union, so he is writing what he knows, and it is compelling throughout.  I thoroughly enjoyed this outing and would recommend it.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2024

#22: Cold Victory by Karl Marlantes

In post-war 1940s Finland, an idealistic American couple befriend a Russian couple, and inadvertently wreck the lives of everyone around them, in Karl Marlantes' Cold Victory.

The two husbands decide to have a friendly ski race, not realizing the physical, emotional, and political toll the race will take on their families.  Meanwhile, the two wives decide to try and help an orphanage full of Finnish children, another well-meaning act that goes sour.

I was unprepared for where this novel would go, thinking at the outset it would be more of an adventure story based around the ski race; but the story continues to take darker and darker turns.  Interesting storytelling throughout.  Recommended.

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

Saturday, April 20, 2024

#21: Rabbit Hole by Kate Brody

On the tenth anniversary of her sister's disappearance, a woman's father commits suicide; the subsequent fallout finds that her father had been involved in various internet conspiracy theories about the sister, in Kate Brody's Rabbit Hole.

The rabbit hole of the title is of course the internet, and it leads our already troubled protagonist into a co-dependent relationship with a young woman who has a deep attachment to the case.

Flawed characters and sometimes uncomfortable storytelling highlight this interesting take on social media culture.  A good first novel from Brody.

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

Monday, April 8, 2024

#20: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

A group of American Marines in Viet Nam set up a base, abandon it, then need to take it back, all at great cost, in Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn.

Marlantes is a Viet Nam vet himself and I can't imagine this searing war story isn't based on his own experiences.  It is full of harrowing detail, ranging from futility and boredom to chaotic firefights and heroism born of desperation.

This is as searing an account of any war that I've read, and valuable to anyone who is interested in stories of the Viet Nam war especially.  Recommended.

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

Sunday, March 31, 2024

#19: Under the Storm by Christoffer Carlsson

A burning house is found to have a murdered woman inside, and the boyfriend is promptly convicted; but twenty years later, an ex cop--and the boyfriend's nephew--begin to realize there is more to the story in Christoffer Carlsson's Under the Storm.

In Carlsson's Blaze Me a Sun we learn that a cop's son had also become a cop, and then quit; this story nestles right into the narrative of the previous novel, but doesn't have to be read before to enjoy.

But this one feels very much like its predecessor, more about the repercussions of a crime on family and community than the crime itself.  Really strong characterization and writing lifts Carlsson above the standard Scandinavian noir.

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

#18: Bodies are Dust by PJ Woolfson

A crooked cop navigates a bad old town in PJ Woolfson's jet-black noir, Bodies are Dust.

This tough slab of noir has been rediscovered and re-released by Stark House Press, and it's a real find.  Woolfson is the equal to any number of better-known compatriots, with a conclusion as bleak a shot of karma you'll find.

At some point this novel had been released under the alternate title Hell Cop and that title may give the reader a better idea of what they may be in for.  Recommended.

I bought this from Stark House Press and read it quickly.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

#17: Room Service by Alan Williams

An affluent but cuckolded husband decides to get revenge by picking up a prostitute, only for it to have deadly consequences, in Alan Williams' Room Service.

This lost noir from the 1930s, with its drunks, prostitutes, and back-alley abortionists, is as brutally frank as any contemporary novel.  

This previously out of print book and its forgotten novelist has been brought back by Stark House Press, and that's a good thing, as I would rank Room Service in the same category as the best of Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich.

Absolutely propulsive storytelling capped with an inky-black denouement means I almost consumed this in one setting on a camping trip.  Recommended for fans of dark noir.

Friday, March 22, 2024

#16: Hellgate by William Colt MacDonald

Railroad detective Gregory Quist hunts rail bandits who leave a string of corpses in their wake in William Colt MacDonald's Hellgate.

MacDonald wrote a handful of novels about Quist and a lot more about "The Three Mesquiteers," which were turned into a popular western series.

This is an above-average western that leans more into the mystery--why several cases of strawberry preserves are the only thing stolen from the train--and less on the frontier aspects.  Quist is also a somewhat unusual protagonist, liking warm beer and harboring a hot temper.

I enjoyed this book by MacDonald and would definitely add him to my list to look for.  This one I found for goodbye prices on my beloved Kindle.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

#15: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

A space port in Tel Aviv provides the backdrop to a myriad group of characters, including a seller of ancient pulp paperbacks, a robot who performs marriages and circumcisions, a data vampire, and a vat-grown boy with strange powers, in Lavie Tidhar's Central Station.

Tidhar has done a lot of cool world-building in this one, which seems to be stitched together from a number of rewritten short stories.  I would guess that would account for the large cast of characters and disparate storylines that weave in and out.  But I was hooked on the ideas from the jump and enjoyed following along.

This is the second novel I've read from Tidhar lately and find that his ideas fit right into my kind of reading.  Recommended for sci-fi fans.

Friday, March 8, 2024

#14: Meet Me in Moredo by Marshall Grover

Big Jim Rand is hunting his brother's killer, but gets distracted rescuing a woman from an arranged marriage, in Marshall Grover's Meet Me in Moredo.

Big Jim is a tough former Calvary officer, and the storytelling is pretty straightforward, with mild nods to comic relief from his sidekick and some lightly sketched romance.

Marshall Grover wrote the Big Jim series, the Larry and Streak series, and quite a few others under a handful of names.  But even though he was churning fast, I've always thought his stories are a notch above the usual fare.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

#13: Waste Tide by Chen Quifan

In a bleak near future, a giant e-waste recycling area called Silicon Isle edges towards destruction brought on by class warfare and an incoming typhoon in Chen Quifan's Waste Tide, translated from Chinese.

The catalyst is a "waste person" called Mimi who is inadvertently exposed to a virus from a discarded prosthetic.  The virus enhances her brain to the point she can control digital networks (as well as, alarmingly, a discarded 9-foot-tall mecha).  How this tips the balance between the island's bosses and the indentured waste people is at the crux of the story.

This was an interesting sci-fi story written from a perspective I'm not exposed to often.  Worthwhile for high tech science fiction fans.

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

Friday, March 1, 2024

#12: The Girl by the Bridge by Arnaldur Indridason

A retired police detective, at the behest of a family friend, looks into a troubled young woman's death in Arnaldur Indridason's The Girl by the Bridge.

This is the third in Indridason's newer series featuring Konrad, and it weaves in threads from his continued search to solve his father's murder as well as look into the fate of a little girl who supposedly drowned in a local pond.  Both cases involve the community of psychics and mediums in Iceland, an interesting twist.

Indridason is one of my favorite crime writers, Scandinavian or otherwise, so I always appreciate when a new novel of his appears in translation.  Although this novel isn't a good jumping off point for new readers I'll always recommend his new work.

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

#11: She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

A recent parolee finds himself on the wrong side of a prison gang with connections in the outside world, throwing the man's daughter in danger, in Jordan Harper's She Rides Shotgun.

As a contract is put out on both of their heads, the father and daughter go from being virtual strangers to forming an unusual bond.

Uncompromising in its storytelling, Harper's cinematic writing seems pre-built for a movie starring Channing Tatum.  It rockets through a number of brutal set pieces to a slam-bang finale in a meth-cooking empire called Slabtown, run by a crooked sheriff.

Tough in its depiction of violence, but compelling story-wise throughout.  Recommended for discerning readers.

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

Monday, February 19, 2024

#10: Syzygy by Michael G. Coney

On an alien planet, a group of colonists react unexpectedly to a sudden alignment of six moons in Michael G. Coney's Syzygy.  

The moons also impact the previously placid local wildlife, causing further complications including a burst of telepathy among the colonists.  As impulse control lessens and violence brews, the colonists fortunately find a "root" that when chewed causes mellowing effects for all who take it.

Definitely a product of its early 70s writing, but enjoyable for those who can look past some of the dated social perspectives.

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

Monday, February 12, 2024

#9:The Vanishing KInd by Lavie Tidhar

A b-movie screenwriter comes to a bombed-out London looking for an actress, only to find her wrapped up in a crime network, in Lavie Tidhar's The Vanishing Kind.

Tidhar's book is an alternate history where the Nazis won the war, a popular science fiction plot device, but the author's world-building here is still pretty good.  The slender novel does feature a kind of odd narrative framing device with a British Gestapo agent tailing the screenwriter.

A propulsive and readable story.

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

Saturday, February 10, 2024

#8: There Are No Happy Loves by Sergio Olguin

An investigative journalist and her ex, a lawyer, stumble upon a network of organ traffickers and adoption fraud in Sergio Olguin's There Are No Happy Loves.

This is the third in the series about Buenos Aires-based journalist Veronica Rosenthal and has many callbacks to the first two books in the series.  This one focuses a lot of attention on corruption of church and state in Argentina and is painted on a broad canvas with multiple story threads.

I think Olguin is a solid thriller writer and I have enjoyed this series.

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

Thursday, February 8, 2024

#7: The Border Jumpers by John Benteen

Soldier of Fortune Neal Fargo aims to stop cattle rustling from the Mexican side of the border, but ends up in a double cross, in John Benteen's The Border Jumpers.

Benteen was Ben Haas, who wrote a number of series including this one, more a men's adventure story than a western, taking place around the period of World War I.  

Benteen is known for his very burly storytelling, and this one is no exception, with plenty of gun battles for the cynical protagonist.  Using a bag of rattlesnakes as a weapon is one of the more memorable sequences.

Most Fargo novels are a cut above the typical men's adventure so he is always recommended for fans.

I read this on my beloved Kindle pretty quickly.

Friday, February 2, 2024

#6: Valley of the Lawless by Cole Shelton

Two gun-hands help a town defeat a corrupt sheriff and a cold-hearted cattleman in Cole Shelton's Valley of the Lawless.

Shelton is actually Roger Norris-Green, an Australian writer who penned a number of adventures for "Shane and Jonah," this novel's protagonists, as well as other books.  Shane is the typical steel-eyed black-clad gunman and Jonah his older saddle partner and slight comic relief.

This is a solid little western with steady gunplay and a dash of romance, hitting all the traditional beats.

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

#5: How's the Pain? by Pascal Garnier

A hitman decides to finish one last job, only to find his life complicated after meeting a happy-go-lucky passerby, in Pascal Garnier's How's the Pain?

Garnier wrote a lot of these short, sharp noir novels filled with inky-black humor.  This one starts with a fatalistic opening scene, and then backtracks to fill in how an aquarium, a campground, and a baby (among other obstacles) all come into play.

Garnier's nihilistic humor isn't for everyone, but I enjoy his writing.  

This one, part of Gallic Noir Volume 1, I read quickly on my beloved Kindle.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

#4: The Helsinki Affair by Anna Pitoniak

A U.S. senator is assassinated, and a young agent is on the trail of the killers; but when her own father's name comes up in her search, the professional becomes personal in Anna Pitoniak's The Helsinki Affair.  

Her father is also a spy, and his misadventures early in his career gives the title a double meaning.

Pitoniak's globe-trotting thriller is one of those breezy affairs where everyone moves in rarefied circles of power and nobody has to settle for drive-thru takeout.  When one is in the mood for a book like this, it's a treat, even though I would rate it a little lower than the average le Carre or Deighton spy novel.

Overall I enjoyed Pitoniak's work and would read more from her.

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

#3: Our Friends from Frolix-8 by Philip K. Dick

In a dystopian future run by telepaths and evolved humans, a lone dissenter reaches out to an alien force in Philip K. Dick's Our Friends from Frolix-8.

Dick is one of my favorite sci-fi writers, but I know his work is finite so I have been reading his novels slowly.  I would consider this a more minor of his works, although it's full of his usual themes of drug-fueled paranoia surrounding everyday joes and their dead-end jobs and marriages.  

Even a lesser Dick novel brims with ten times the ideas of somebody else's, so I enjoyed this one after finding it on goodbye prices for my Kindle.

Friday, January 12, 2024

#2: Blaze Me a Sun by Christoffer Carlsson

A rural cop struggles to solve a series of rapes and murders, passing the obsession onto his son when he follows in his father's footsteps, in Christoffer Carlsson's Blaze Me a Sun.

Carlsson's book covers several decades and multiple points of view as the unsolved crimes slowly, and in some cases rapidly, ruin lives.  An interesting framing device featuring a failed writer returning home and writing about the cases provides a literate slant.

Absorbing from first page to last, this was to me as good an English-language debut as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one of my favorite Scandinavian reads.  Recommended for those who like their crime novels chilly and gloomy.

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

Saturday, January 6, 2024

#1: The Last Songbird by Daniel Weizmann

A Lyft driver with songwriting dreams picks up a Stevie Nicks-like singer and strikes up a friendship; but when she is killed, he decides to find out what really happened in Daniel Weizmann's The Last Songbird.

This is a California-styled private eye novel with a rock music backbeat, an agreeable mystery which relies a bit heavily on coincidence (and a suspect I could pick out in the early going).

Still, I enjoyed it as a light read for the first of 2024; for fans of west coast crime novels.

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

Monday, January 1, 2024

Best of 2023

This is the lowest reading total I have recorded since starting my book blog 15 years ago, but I struggled with depression this year as well as having a busy personal and professional life.  But I still read some good books I can recommend as a Top Five.

1.  Same Bed Different Dreams by Ed Park

2.  The Sorcerer of Pyongyang by Marcel Theroux

3.  The Militia House by John Milas

4.  Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling

5.  Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

#26: Same Bed Different Dreams by Ed Park

Same Bed Different Dreams is a decades-spanning, multi-layered novel with a manuscript featuring real and imagined Korean history at its core, also called Same Bed Different Dreams, in Ed Park's genre-defying novel.

I originally picked it up because the cover makes it look like a space sci-fi epic, but it is much more of a literary novel suffused with humor.  Its multiple points of view--a 60s science fiction hack, a man who works for a Google-type empire, and an author penning the secret history of the Korean Provisional Government, make this one hard to explain.

It was a unique, fresh novel that read quickly, despite topping out over 400 pages, more than I would usually like to tackle. I would recommend this to anyone wanting atypical storytelling from a unique literary voice.  Probably my favorite book of the year, and a good place to end 2023.

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