Monday, January 25, 2010

#4: Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Frank Minna is a former minor criminal trying to become a major private eye in Jonathan Lethem's detective novel Motherless Brooklyn. But Lethem always bends genres and upends expectations, so Minna is dispatched in the early going, leaving his sidekick, an orphan suffering from Tourette's Syndrome, to find Minna's killer.

Very fine, offbeat novel from Lethem, paying homage to Raymond Chandler the way some of his other novels are nods to greats like Philip Dick (Gun, with Occasional Music), Steve Gerber (Fortress of Solitude), and so on. I enjoy how Lethem always writes a fully-realized worldview featuring Brooklyn past and present, which adds a lot to his work.

I am a big fan of Lethem and liked this novel about as well as I thought I would. Recommended.

I borrowed this book from my brother a long while ago, and is my weakness, took a long time to read it and return it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#3: Assignment Treason by Edward S. Aarons

Spy Sam Durell goes undercover to root out a traitor, though through the machinations of a fiery redhead (is there any other kind?) is branded a traitor himself in Edward S. Aarons' Assignment Treason.

I have found that Aarons' work is far above the usual Gold Medal pulp fare and reads even better upon rediscovery. I would compare him favorably to Donald Hamilton (and his Matt Helm novels) of roughly the same period; hard-nosed writing and surprisingly politically nuanced plots.

This one, written in the late 50s, features a red-baiting Texas senator in the Joe McCarthy vein with a skewed plan to nuke away detente before the U.S. gets too soft. The paperback sports one of those memorable Gold Medal covers, with Sam Durell fishing a nude woman out of the surf (which to their credit actually happens in the novel as an angry, obese naked woman attacks them both--you just have to read it). But the content inside is quite solid throughout.

I bought this in a giant ebay lot of Gold Medal books featuring Aarons and Philip Atlee and others and have been working my way through the enjoyable stack.

Monday, January 18, 2010

#2: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins introduces the reader to a dystopian future where teen "tributes" are forced to act out a televised gladiatorial combat for the enjoyment of the debauched capitol's citizens; in the end, one tribute's act of defiance makes her the inadvertent winner, and sets the stage for Catching Fire.

In the sequel, our reluctant hero is sent on a "Victory Tour" through the formerly rebellious districts, only to find that she is becoming the rallying point for a new rebellion. Behind the scenes, the machinery begins moving to pitch her back into the arena, even as forces begin to mass against the capitol.

Collins borrows a little bit from a lot of places from The Giver to Lord of the Flies and a half-dozen more, but it all goes by at such a brisk pace that it remains interesting. This outing spends a little more time developing a love triangle between the protagonist, a cerebral tribute, and a smoldering woodsman back home, for those interested in a little Twilight flair.

Despite bringing to mind other novels, it has enjoyments of its own, and I devoured it rather quickly.

I checked this out from the Farmland Public Library in Farmland, Indiana.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

#1: House Dick by E. Howard Hunt

The house detective in a big Washington hotel helps a damsel in distress and ends up in the middle of robbery, extortion, and murder in E. Howard Hunt's muscular noir House Dick.

I am a fan of the Hard Case Crime line, which brings back forgotten pulps with lurid new covers, the perfect place for this story of the lost world of house detectives, hat-check girls, newsies, and lunch counter short-order cooks.

In the stranger than fiction category, this one comes from the pen of E. Howard Hunt, Watergate conspirator and very competent and prolific genre writer (under a number of pseudonyms). I have picked him up wherever I come across him and have always found his writing solid.

I bought this one for my beloved Kindle and read it at a good pace.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 In Review

This was the second year in a row that I vowed to read 50 books in a single calendar year. Somehow I was able to squeeze in 52. In retrospect, I had several snowbound days and a handful of beach days that helped up the numbers a bit. I could have used a few more beach days and less snow days but all's well that ends well.

After swearing off at the end of 2008, I think I will go for a hat trick and try to read 50 books again in 2010. I am one of those people that have four or five books going at once and I don't see that slacking off any. I ended 2009 reading Assignment Treason by Edward S. Aarons, The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick, House Dick by E. Howard Hunt, Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem and Tamar by Mal Peet (which hopefully will all give me a good head start on 2010).

In the meantime, here are my five favorite books that I read in 2009 and five honorable mentions. If I were to write this list again tomorrow, the top three would probably stay the same but everything else would undoubtedly be up for grabs.

Top Five Reads of 2009:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis.

The Murderer Vine by Shepard Rifkin.

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe.

Five more:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec.

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter.

Missing by Karen Alvtegen.

Real World by Natsuo Kirino.

As always, happy reading.