Saturday, November 26, 2022

#39: Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen

The four finalists from a dating show are wrapping up production on a remote island, not realizing the island's dark history, in Samantha Allen's Patricia Wants to Cuddle.

The Patricia of the title is not one of the contestants (from a Bachelor-type show), but a female sasquatch who has an intimate connection to the vacation town built there.

A pretty wild mash-up of reality television, sexual politics, and creeping horror, Allen has created a one-of-a-kind novel that transcends multiple genre boundaries.

Recommended to any reader who wants to read something fresh and original.  Interested to see more from Allen.

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


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

#38: Trail 3 South by Glenn Murrell

A young man from a poor background in a frontier town wants nothing more than to be a Wells Fargo driver; but when he gets a chance he is robbed the first time out, leading him on a danger-filled trail to recover the loot in Glenn Murrell's Trail 3 South.

This seeming country bumpkin has secretly been honing his formidable gunfighting skills, leading to several surprises along the way.  He matches wits with a deadly outlaw gang as well as stands against the prejudices of the town.

I was happy to find out this Cleveland Western was written by Leonard Meares, possibly best known as "Marshall Grover," the author of two top-flight western series, "Nevada Jim" and "Larry and Streak."

Nevada Jim is a hard-nosed gun-hand with his own code, and Larry and Streak are a pair of laconic cowpokes with lightning-fast gun skills but a very easy-going attitude.  The first is pretty sober and the second runs more to comedy, with this non-series entry landing somewhere in between.

I think Meares is one of the better writers in the prolific Cleveland stable, as this entry is more expansive in storytelling, and the characters more colorful, than in some of the offerings.

I got this in a big lot of Cleveland Westerns and read it quickly.

Friday, November 18, 2022

#37: Hello, Molly! by Molly Shannon

Saturday Night Live's Molly Shannon started from humble, frequently tragic roots in Cleveland, but remains sunny on her rise to stardom, in her autobiography Hello Molly!

Her father kills her mother and other family members in a car accident when Shannon is a child, which sets the stage for a difficult relationship from then on.  Even in good times, her father's oversized personality, alcohol consumption, and secretive private life wreak havoc on Shannon's ambitions.

I listened to the audiobook version, read by Shannon in rather cheery fashion, even as she described all of her childhood trauma as well as her youthful penchant for lying, stealing, and other petty crimes.

There's probably been a lot of therapy over the years to be able to portray it all so casually, but as a listener I was genuinely surprised by how revealing the portrayal of her family is.  Very interesting for those who have followed her career.

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

Sunday, November 13, 2022

#36: Jury Seven by Brett Iverson

 A man comes back to a frontier town to claim his bride, only to find she has married another man; more inconveniently still, an outlaw gang trying to find a doctor for their wounded leader blows in and kidnaps her and some other women.  Now it's up to a ragtag bunch of townsmen and lawmen to rescue them in Brett Iverson's Jury Seven.

This is another fast-moving Cleveland Western I plucked off a stack and read on a camping trip, and it came to my surprise that this one was also written by Desmond Dunn (author of the "Gunn Halliday" novel I just finished).  Dunn was one of those hard-working pulpsters who cranked and cranked Westerns and detective novels for the apparently hungry Australian reader.

The "Jury Seven" of the title are seven men who decide to risk their lives raiding a courthouse where the outlaw gang--currently feuding as their leader lies dying--is holed up with the town's wives and daughters.  There are a couple of tough lawmen--also feuding--a reluctant gun-hand, and, as in many westerns, a coward who becomes a man when he has to.

It's a lot of plotting for a pretty slender western, but Iverson keeps the plot gears all meshing and throws in vivid characters.

Really enjoying Desmond Dunn under his various names and will look for more of his work.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

#35: Danton's Day by Gunn Halliday

 An outlaw gang wants revenge on a small-town sheriff, but he skips town and leaves a hot-headed young deputy, and a burned-out former lawman, to take on the gang in Gunn Halliday's Danton's Day.

As one might suspect, "Gunn Halliday" is somebody else, in this case one of those many crazily prolific Australian writers Cleveland Publishing kept seeming to find; in this case Desmond Dunn, who wrote under a bushel of names and genres.

To me, this was an unusually robust Cleveland Western, as they are generally slender volumes with a single story arc sketched in.  Here we find a number of colorful characters and more intricate plot, still resolving about where you'd think, with the burned-out lawman finding the strength to coach the younger deputy into standing and fighting.

Halliday finds a way to make Danton's Day pop more than the average western, thus making me want to look for more from him.

I picked this out from a big stack of Cleveland Westerns I lucked into and read it quickly on a camping trip.

Friday, October 28, 2022

#34: Cold Caller by Jason Starr

A telemarketer in bad old 90s New York tries to climb the corporate ladder, while the pressure has his mind unraveling at the same time, in Jason Starr's Cold Caller.

Starr is a versatile thriller/noir writer who I have enjoyed over the years; I came across his initial novel for my beloved Kindle and scooped it up.

The protagonist is a classic unreliable narrator, who can't understand why a spontaneous murder is throwing a wrench in his plans.  His unplanned attack on a prostitute, and his live-in girlfriend's growing suspicions,  become increasingly inconvenient to him as well.

Cold Caller keeps spiraling into a darker and colder place until it hits bottom with a sobering, but necessary, denouement.

I read this one quickly.  Good for genre fans and fans of Starr.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

#33: The Employees by Olga Ravn

A deep-space ship on an expedition to a far-off planet, with a crew of humans and robots, gathers alien objects from the planet's surface and begin interacting with them, for good and for ill, in Olga Ravn's The Employees.

What could be a plot lifted from lantern-jawed 40s pulp is given a unique spin by Danish author Ravn, who presents the story in a elliptical way through memos, interviews, and other documents being transmitted among colleagues on the ship.  It's like a version of The Office as told by The Strugatsky Brothers.  If that resonates with you, this is your jam.

The Employees is a slender read, but really full of ideas for anyone who spends the time reading it carefully.  I've thought about it a lot since and have recommended it to several people who enjoy mind-bending science fiction.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

#32: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

The sound of a violin seems to be disrupting space and time, sending a time travel agent from the far future into various eras to understand how it has happened, in Emily St. John Mandel's Sea of Tranquility.

Mandel's Station Eleven is one of my favorite reads of the last few years, and her follow-up The Glass Hotel, was not its equal but worth reading as well; curiously, this volume kind of makes it a trilogy.

I was always curious why characters from Station Eleven showed up in The Glass Hotel, but in entirely different situations, including being alive when they were dead and so on.  In a strangely tangential way this novel tries to explain that, by again featuring some of the same characters, with their lives changed by this ripple in time.

That being said, Sea of Tranquility can be read without the other novels as more of a meditation on the impact of random encounters, small decisions, and passing friendships on the scope of someone's life.  

Again doesn't reach the heights of Station Eleven, but thoughtful and readable, and I continue to look forward to her new work.

I purchased this one and read it quickly, then passed it on to interested friends.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

#31: Bring Me His Scalp! by John Benteen

Jim Sundance, the product of a white father and a Cheyenne mother, spends his time trying to negotiate peace between those two worlds; but when a mysterious organization puts a high bounty on his head to stop him, all hell breaks loose in John Benteen's Bring Me His Scalp!

Benteen was really Ben Haas, who was fortunate to have two great series characters--Sundance and a soldier of fortune named Fargo--in addition to his other writing.  His stories are always very hard-nosed, fast-moving and generally a cut above the genre.

Bring Me His Scalp! starts off with a bang, as Sundance is being pursued by eight hired guns, all of which he dispatches before the end of the first chapter.

But there are plenty of killers in the Old West, and Sundance makes a sizable dent as he tries to figure out who ordered his murder.

A very action-packed outing for Benteen and a satisfying entry in the series.

I found this at a goodbye price and read it very quickly on a camping trip.

Friday, October 14, 2022

#30: Silver Pebbles by Hansjörg Schneider

A cynical Basel cop has his own reasons for trying to bring down a smuggling ring in Swiss writer Hansjörg Schneider's Silver Pebbles.

Although prolific in Switzerland, this is only Schneider's second novel translated into English.  I hope these keep coming, because I have enjoyed them both.

In this one, our tarnished hero seems to be more intent on helping a hapless immigrant sewer worker, who stumbles into the crime, than actually bringing the gang to justice.  Even by the high standards set by Scandinavian noir, our detective is extremely dour and sardonic and plays by his own set of rules (if he thinks about rules at all).

A wide cross-section of characters, with Basel as a vivid setting (at the crossroads of several countries and cultures) helps make Schneider's work a cut above.

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

Saturday, October 1, 2022

#29: Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

Upon the death of her mother, a teenager and her grieving dad move from Philadelphia to a small town in Missouri.  She is at school only a single day before she realizes a dark cloud hangs over the town, and it is all coming to a head during a celebration called Founder's Day.

Clown in a Cornfield from Adam Cesare goes pretty much where you expect from there, the clown of the title being the mascot of a local factory, recently shut down and burned, and the cornfield being where the teenagers plan to hold an all-night bonfire party.  

But crossbows, chainsaws, and machetes intervene on the fun, hitting all the expected beats.  

Cesare's novel is pre-built for cinema, a straight-faced homage to 80s and 90s teens in peril horror.  Highly agreeable for genre fans.

I listened to a very good audiobook reading by Jesse Vilinsky on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

#28: Layover in Dubai by Dan Fesperman

A buttoned-down numbers cruncher for an American company and a rumpled, eccentric Dubai cop must team up when they inadvertently reveal corruption coming from both quarters in Dan Fesperman's Layover in Dubai.

Fesperman, a former journalist, writes a sober, well-paced international thriller in an unusual setting; a Dubai steeped in tradition while trying to race into the future.  It's a potent stew where a sex-trafficking ring, as exposed by our ill-matched protagonists, could thrive.

They end up being helped by several other interesting characters, including the Dubai cop's Bedouin friend from childhood as well as the cop's daughter, caught in a cultural web she is secretly trying to break free from.

This is my first exposure to Fesperman's writing; apparently he has written thrillers in a number of unique settings, to steady acclaim.  I would definitely look for another of his novels.

I listened to this one on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

#27: The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora

Two childhood friends--one who is now a rising Hollywood star, the other who stayed in her hometown and draws illustrations based on her dreams--are brought back together at a class reunion, with troubling results, in Lauren Acampora's The Paper Wasp.

At first glance the storyline might seem familiar, but Acampora is able to chrome out the characters and situations with plenty of surprises, including both women's involvement with an enigmatic film director, which adds value.  

A protagonist who is an unreliable narrator, but also may or may not have psychic powers, adds a level of interest.

Acampora is a smart, literate writer even as she works through a number of thriller genre beats.  Recommended.

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


Thursday, August 18, 2022

#26: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

The country's greatest assassin is a teenaged girl, eventually captured and sent to a mine to serve her sentence; but a reprieve may be coming in the form of a contest to crown a new King's Champion in Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass.

Maas is a popular fantasy writer, and this is the first in a YA series she wrote (although I did not know it was for young adults when I picked up the audiobook).  This one is sort of a mix between Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games, in the setting of a modest D&D campaign.

Pretty much hits all the standard beats, but the protagonist is a curious one; she is a deadly assassin who actually never kills anyone in the novel, and immediately after toiling in the mines as a slave for a year begins flirting with a handsome Captain of the Guard and an even handsomer Prince.

Not a knockout for me, but Maas certainly has fans.  I listened to a good reading by Elizabeth Evans on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

#25 The Iron Noose by Michael Bonner

A Texas Ranger reluctantly begins to chase an outlaw, and when he arrives in a town full of the outlaw's murderous relatives finds himself really over his head, in Michael Bonner's The Iron Noose.

Ranger MacLane is an unusual western character; a failed rancher who becomes a Ranger as a job, and doesn't really want to work too hard at it.  But his pride, and thirst for revenge, begins to grow, until he becomes a formidable force by the denouement.

Bonner's storytelling is unusual in most every way; it's a shame that Bonner--actually Anne Bonner Glasscock--only wrote a handful of westerns.  Colorful characters, and a plot that doesn't follow a straight line, makes her an easy favorite.

This was a blind 50-cent buy from a goodbye shelf at a used bookstore, and I couldn't be happier with it.  Read it over a few quick days camping.  Recommended to any western fan.

Monday, August 1, 2022

#24: Ride the Lawless Land by Kirk Hamilton

Yancey Bannerman and Johnny Cato are private "enforcers" for the Governor of Texas, this time dispatched to hunt a murderous gang, with a pretty but bloodthirsty survivor in tow, in Kirk Hamilton's Ride the Lawless Land, part of the Bannerman the Enforcer series.

Hamilton, really Australian writer Keith Hetherington, wrote scores of novels, many of them part of this lengthy series.

This is a pretty standard oater with familiar pacing, as Bannerman and Cato pretend to be outlaws (and dress their companion up as a boy) in a loosely-assembled and quickly-resolved plot.

Agreeable enough western from Piccadilly Publishing that I read on my beloved Kindle quite quickly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

#23: Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon

A mercenary and his loyal dog travel a dystopian near-future (that is struggling to keep up with our real one), working for a crime syndicate.  But he finds his loyalties beginning to shift upon finding out he has a daughter in Dan Chaon's Sleepwalk.

Almost halfway through my goal of reading 50 books this year, Chaon's is already a frontrunner for favorite.  It's a masterful blend of genres, including crime, science fiction, and family drama, with a unique protagonist who has a big heart despite his casual way of killing.

The near-future setting is obliquely referenced, by and large, and mostly focuses on the relationships (and startling bursts of violence).

For readers of genre fiction of any stripe, it's an easy recommendation.  For casual readers, it's chaotic and sardonic and could be quite a surprise.

I read this at breakneck speed and really enjoyed it.  Recommended.

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

Sunday, July 3, 2022

#22: Mad for Kicks by Jack Lynn

Swingin' P.I. Tokey Wedge decides to infiltrate a beatnik gang of rich, disaffected youth out for criminal "kicks" in Jack Lynn's Mad for Kicks.

Jack Lynn was Max Van DerVeer, a mystery writer who also penned "spicy" mysteries under a pen name, though the spice is pretty mild by current standards.  But speaking of current standards, the political and sexual politics as seen in the early 60s really don't jibe with beliefs today, and should be noted before reading.

As far as the storytelling, I was surprised to find this outing markedly more sober and less jokey than the first, Nympho Lodge, reading like a straight-on b-level private eye novel, and very readable (despite a lot of editing mistakes).

This is the second in a new line of reprints of the hard-to-find Tokey Wedge books by Grizzly Pulp, who sent me this one for review.  Good for fans of the genre.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

#21: Gus Van Sant: The Art of Making Movies by Katya Tylevich

Besides writing this book review blog I also write screenplays, and when I need a little creative juice look for moviemaking books; in this case one about the highly interesting career of Gus Van Sant, by Katya Tylevich.

I have always been a fan of Van Sant, but learned a lot more about his style in this work, told largely in a series of interviews conducted by Tylevich.  I was intrigued to learn that he picked different projects because he wanted to experiment with various styles of filmmaking.  He also had more of an art background, that reflected heavily in his work (as seen in his photography throughout).

I really enjoyed reading about Van Sant's filmmaking thoughts and ideas and realized I have some catching up to do on his filmography.

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

#20: Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason

A Reykjavik cop has been haunted by the loss of his younger brother in a blizzard long ago, and in his spare time he has roamed the rural area where he grew up; but when he hears about a woman who went missing during a similar storm in the 40s, he decides to investigate on his own in Arnaludur Indridason's Strange Shores.

He gently pokes at a very cold case that nobody seems to care much about now, and talks to a lot of eccentric elderly people; but what seems like a rather mild outing, with the past far removed, comes into grisly focus.

Starting with Jar City, I think Indridason's Erlendur novels are one of the great Scandinavian noir series; but this one gets as inky-black as they come, with a very downbeat ending that seems to spell the end of his adventures.

But Indridason is not done writing, and has already penned a few historical novels and crime stories featuring some of Erlendur's supporting cast.

A great series, but start at the beginning and enjoy.

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

#19: The Ville Rat by Martin Limon

In 1970s Korea, in a nation still recovering from the wounds of the recent war, two American military cops team up with their Korean counterpart to figure out who killed a woman found outside an army base in Martin Limon's The Ville Rat.

Limon has written a respectable and long-running series about his two protagonists, one sardonic and rule-breaking and one more introspective and mindful of Korean culture, in a highly unique setting for a police procedural.

These cops remind me of Chester B. Himes' memorable pair Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones; they both pack .45s and tool around in a souped-up jeep and get done whatever needs to be done, within military structure or without.

Limon himself was in the military in Korea in the 70s, and it shows.  A cool, offbeat series for crime readers looking for something different.

I listened to this on audiobook from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

#18: Devil House by John Darnielle

A true crime writer decides to move into a house where a "Satanic Panic" killing happened years before, and explores his own past while unspooling the case in John Darnielle's Devil House.

I thought Darnielle's first book, Wolf in White Van, was really notable, and his second American Harvester readable but ultimately unsatisfying; unfortunately for me Devil House leaned towards the second.

Darnielle is a good writer, and a pair of killings is spookily set forth, but I felt the ending was a bit of a cheat; or to be more generous to Darnielle, he might have been going for something I didn't quite grasp.

Ultimately I would say well-drawn characters and unsettling situations, but a hairpin plot twist at the end left me flat.  

I still will look for his next novel, and always find him interesting.

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

Friday, June 10, 2022

#17: Duty or Desire by Brenda Jackson

 A Colorado sheriff takes in his niece upon the death of her parents, but a beautiful nanny throws an additional wrinkle into the mix, in Brenda Jackson's Duty or Desire.

Jackson is a popular African-American romance writer whose "Westmoreland Saga" features an extended family of lawmen, ranchers, cowboys, Navy SEALS, and sometimes a combination of one or more of these.  They are typically avowed bachelors who fall in love with a Harvard PhD, a prominent magazine editor, or a Hollywood star (just to mention some of the characters from other novels who appear here).

The romance aspect is never in doubt, but the setting is faintly sketched in (the nanny has a father who is a "business tycoon", but what his business is never gets mentioned) and the tension is mild (the top cop in Denver's most serious case is finding out who is trying to spook an old lady into selling her house).

But that's not what these novels are read for, and Jackson is a top writer in her field.  

I listened to this on audiobook from the Henry County-New Castle Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Monday, May 23, 2022

#16: The Berlin Exchange by Joseph Kanon

In the 1960s, an American who had spied for the Russians is traded in a prisoner swap to East Berlin, where he learns his wife and son have found new lives, in Joseph Kanon's The Berlin Exchange.

The man immediately sets about trying to get his family back, even though his wife is now married to a high-level government official and--perhaps more alarmingly--his son is starring in a television sitcom promoting government views.

Kanon writes a vivid, tense thriller of this Cold War period, where everyone is at least double-crossing or triple-crossing everyone else, with a particularly melancholy but fitting coda.

Kanon is a popular writer of spy fiction, but this is the first of his I have dipped into; I will definitely seek out more.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2022

#15: Lemon by Kwon Yeo-Sun

A beautiful teenager is killed, with the two primary suspects a rich kid with an attitude and a poor delivery boy; but the murder remains unsolved, and ripples through the lives of many of those involved, in Kwon Yeo-Sun's Lemon.

Lemon is a dense, baroque murder mystery in which a lot of the characters' motivations, and much of the critical action, is hidden from the reader.  Little bits float to the surface through chapters that jump from various narrators in different time periods, and the reader is relied on to piece it together themselves.

I honestly read a lot of reviews after to see if others had puzzled the mystery out, but I still remained unsure what exactly happened.  Still, an offbeat read and recommended for mystery fans looking for something different.

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