Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016

After reading only women authors for a year, I thought I would embark on reading only authors of color, and authors in translation, for a year.  I thought these back-to-back experiments would make me a better reader and writer, and I think it was true.  I definitely sought out new voices that I might not have tried otherwise.  And below are my favorites of all that I found.

1.  The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

2.  The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

3.  The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

4.   The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle

5.  Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

6.  The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

7.  Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

8.  The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

9.  Moonstone by Sjón

10.  The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria by Carlos Hernandez

Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

#56: Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra

Multiple Choice is a slender, playful work from Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra that takes the shape of a standardized test, with multiple choice questions and "Reader Comprehension" sections; but this gimmick is only the book's surface.

One could easily read this in one session, but for readers who take more time, Multiple Choice plumbs greater depths. Zambra reflects on everything from Chile's tormented history to the trials and tribulations of relationships and family life.

At first glance Multiple Choice looks pretty light, but Zambra is a sophisticated writer, gently steering from humor to pathos to other emotions.  Recommended for fans of offbeat literary fiction.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

#55: Desperado: A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos

A down-on-his-luck guy reluctantly helps an old high school friend who is getting blackmailed--but when the old friend turns up dead, things quickly go from bad to worse in Desperado:  A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos.

Ramos hits all of the right genre beats, including a can't-win-for-losing protagonist, but adds interest by setting the story in the center of Latino culture in a gentrifying Denver. 

I would recommend this novel to any noir fans, especially readers who want to hear from a different voice in the genre.

This was a surprise gift from the Seattle Mystery Bookshop on a recent visit to Seattle.  I bought The Tokyo Zodiac Murders there and was given a brown paper-wrapped package as a "Mystery Date" for my purchase.  It was a welcome surprise.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

#54: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Writer/Director/Actress Mindy Kaling dishes on pop culture, relationships, and her own sometimes funny/sometimes painful childhood in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

Kaling is probably best known from the television show The Office, and she talks quite a bit about that experience for fans, but her stories of the slings and arrows it took to get there are also interesting. 

Kaling also addresses body image issues and being a person of color in the entertainment field, among other topics, although generally with a light hand. 

She acknowledges her slender book is more or less in the same category as the ones written by people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Sarah Silverman (all three of which I also liked) and would be enjoyed by readers who are fans of any of these talents. 

I have listened to all of these, and others (such as Lena Durham's) read by the author on audiobook, which I think adds value. 

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

Saturday, December 3, 2016

#53: The Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri

Inspector Montalbano is in a squad car that swerves to miss a chicken, and smashes into a parked car; shortly thereafter a grisly murder is discovered, sending the policeman sifting through clues in The Voice of the Violin.

Andrea Camilleri has written a long and popular series of police procedurals featuring Montalbano, that have spun off into other media platforms in his native Italy and elsewhere.

I pick one up whenever I come across one, and enjoy them; the mysteries are solid and the characters quirky, bordering sometimes on comic. Montalbano's own personal code of honor, and his vast appetites--for food, and for attractive women whether they might be witnesses or suspects--always plays a role as well.

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

#52: The Bastards of Pizzofalcone by Maurizio de Giovanni

A group of unwanted cops are sent to staff a precinct on the verge of closing; but when an affluent woman is murdered, they have a chance to redeem themselves both personally and professionally in The Bastards of Pizzofalcone.

This is the first novel in a new Italian crime series from Maurizio de Giovanni, bringing the lead cop over from his solid thriller The Crocodile.  Lojacono, called "The Chinaman," teams up with a handful of tarnished heroes on this and several other cases that thread throughout, as they try to hold various aspects of their personal lives together.

de Giovanni acknowledges Ed McBain and his "87th Precinct" books in the writing of this novel, and his nods to the source material show throughout.  Fans of McBain will enjoy this outing, a story that would fit right into that series but seen through a different cultural lens.

I thought the mystery was somewhat slight, but the characters and situations highly interesting, making it a fast read.

I was sent a review copy by World Noir and read it quickly.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

#51: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Harry Hole is a hard-living cop whose reputation as the best investigator in Oslo is tested by the emergence of a serial killer in Jo Nesbo's The Snowman.

I first discovered Nesbo reading The Redbreast, one of my favorite books of that year, and found his dark, action-packed crime stories the greatest successor to the late Stieg Larsson that I know of.

The Snowman is probably the best I've read in the series since.  It rockets from one plot twist to the next, and from one false lead to the next, ending in a cinematic showdown that is wholly satisfying.

But what really holds the book together is the flawed, mesmerizing character of Hole.  It helps to have followed the character through the previous books (if nothing else, to understand the identities of the people, all deceased, in the photographs on his office wall) but is not prohibitive to the mystery side.

I continue to enjoy this series and recommend it to readers of dark mysteries and thrillers, especially of the Scandinavian kind.

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