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.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

#25: The Black Guy Dies First by Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris

The Black Guy Dies First is a caustic, but informative, study of the history of Black characters in horror films from the 1960s to today, from Night of the Living Dead to Get Out.

Robin Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris take a deep dive into characterizations, tropes, and trivia with a large dose of incisive humor.  This is a foundation read for anyone interested in Black culture, film history, or both.

Recommended for movie and history buffs.  

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

Monday, December 18, 2023

#24: A Badge for Brazos by E Jefferson Clay

Benedict and Brazos are a pair of ill-matched gun-hands hunting Confederate gold; but when they decide to make a little cash providing law in a small town they find out it's anything but sleepy there in E. Jefferson Clay's A Badge for Brazos.

Clay is actually Paul Wheelahan, an Australian writer who wrote a series of westerns featuring this Yankee cardsharp and Confederate bruiser, as well as lots of and lots of other pulp paperbacks and comics.  This one leans a little towards comedy with a fair amount of gunplay.

I got this in a stack of Cleveland Westerns I lucked into, hard to find in the wild.  A fun read.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

#23: The Rimrocker by Ray Hogan

Shawn Starbuck is hunting his missing brother, but instead finds a troubled rancher and his headstrong daughter, in Ray Hogan's The Rimrocker.  Before long Starbuck is mixed up in their affairs, which includes a secret held since the Civil War.

Hogan wrote a whole series about the lantern-jawed, law-abiding cowpoke, as well as plenty of other western fare.  Hogan is just a solid meat-and-potatoes western writer I've picked up wherever I find him.  

This one was on a goodbye rack at the public library in New Castle, Indiana.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

#22: Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In Mexico City, a struggling sound editor and a washed-up soap actor cross paths with a Golden Age movie director with a cursed film in Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Silver Nitrate.

Moreno-Garcia is willing to throw every idea in the blender from escaped Nazis to secret cabals to occult practices.  Bonus points for curmudgeonly, but ultimately likeable, main characters whose longtime friendship enters a new phase.

I have seen Moreno-Garcia's name on a lot of TBR lists and will definitely look for more from this author.

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

Thursday, November 9, 2023

#21: Gone to the Wolves by John Wray

Three teenaged metalheads from Florida, all with various troubled backgrounds, weave in and out of each other's lives in John Wray's Gone to the Wolves.

This novel was about two thirds slice of life and one third thriller, as one member of the trio gets in over her head and disappears into the Black Metal scene in Europe.  Her friends' attempt at a rescue provides a surprisingly cinematic coda.

Wray's genre-busting literary novel is eminently readable and enjoyable as a smart thriller or a literary story with genre beats.  

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

#20: South by Babak Lakghomi

A journalist in an unnamed, totalitarian state heads to an offshore oil rig to write about dissent there, only to be thwarted by his submergence into a different world, in Babak Lakghomi's South.

This is a spare, lyrical novel infused with longing, as our protagonist, known only as B, meditates on his lost father, his failing marriage, his floundering career.

Really worthwhile for fans of world literature.  I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Friday, October 20, 2023

#19: Counterweight by Djuna

Mystery and espionage surround the building of a space elevator in Djuna's trippy sci-fi novel Counterweight.

Djuna is the pen name of a novelist who has been incredibly popular in Korea, despite remaining completely anonymous; this is their first novel translated into English.  

The mysterious author riffs on everything from old-school private eye novels to cyberpunk to 60s psychedelic sci-fi in what turns out to be quite a romp through genres.

My daughter gave me this novel as a present, and I read it quickly (and have since gifted another copy to a friend).  Recommended for science fiction fans.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

#18: Titanium Noir by Nick Harkaway

In a near-future world "Titans" are very affluent people who have undergone gene therapy to lengthen their lives. becoming literal titans in the process.  When one of them is mysteriously killed, it's up to a P.I. to dig around their rarefied world in Nick Harkaway's Titanium Noir.

He has an inside track as an ex-girlfriend is a Titan, and is in the lineage of the most influential Titan family, which hinders as much as helps him at times.

Agreeable detective novel with science fiction overtones and a 70s P.I. vibe.  Good for genre fans.

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

Friday, September 8, 2023

#17: The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza

A detective and her translator search for a missing woman through a frozen, wooded landscape in Cristina Rivera Garza's The Taiga Syndrome.

Although the plot sounds pretty straightforward, it is rife with magic and allegory and allusion to fairy tales, specifically Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.

This slender novel packs a dreamlike punch.  Recommended for readers of literature in translation.

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

Monday, September 4, 2023

#16: The Militia House by John Milas

At a remote base in Afghanistan, where the soldiers are mostly fighting boredom, a visit to a spooky house just outside the base takes an eerie turn in John Milas' horror novel The Militia House.

I don't get scared by books or movies very easily, but this one chilled me to the bone.  Part of it may be how the protagonist calmly reports on increasingly bizarre occurrences that befall the small group that went to the house on a lark (but came to regret it).  Part of it may have been the "unreliable narrator" device that cranks up the tension to a frightening denouement.

No matter what the reason, this was a highly enjoyable read (with the author's own experiences in Afghanistan undoubtedly playing a part) and unconventional genre outing (a mash up of military fiction and horror).  Recommended.

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

Saturday, July 29, 2023

#15: Run for the Money by Robert Colby

A down on his luck guy comes across a small fortune in stolen money dropped after an armored car heist, but the crooks are hot on his trail, in Robert Colby's Run for the Money.

He gives up a dead-end job and flies out to LA to start all over with work and women, only to find out his new girlfriend could be used as leverage against him.  This one has crackling action all the way to its denouement.

Colby has been somewhat rediscovered recently for a brace of hard-nosed pulp novels entering reprint, and this is no exception, a tale that becomes more nihilistic as it rockets to its conclusion.

I got this one in a batch of assorted paperbacks and read it quickly on vacation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

#14: Submarine Killer by Aal Christiansen

In the heat of World War II, a damaged ship with an injured captain fights to stay afloat in Aal Christiansen's Submarine Killer.

I don't know who Christiansen is, but his writing has the realism to make me think he could have been a veteran himself (this was written in the 60s).  Whether he was or not, he knows how to write combat action, and plenty of it.

This was another Spitfire book I acquired, a pocket digest-sized edition--with illustrations--apparently for the young adult market.  

But I found this to be completely readable as an adult, and I consumed it quickly on a camping trip.