Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2018, and List of the Decade

I read 58 books in my annual quest of reading 50 books a year.  Another good year, on the world landscape, to hunker down and read.  Might have helped if I hadn't read so many dystopian novels.

This year my Top Ten favorite reads were:

Severance by Ling Ma

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

November Road by Lou Berney

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

I first undertook this internet challenge with some friends way back in 2008, and since then I have read 598 books, or an average of 54 a year.  I didn't make it in 2013 and 2014, being a span of time when both my kids got married and a grandson was born, and I read an astounding 81 books last year, because obviously it was 2017.

I grabbed the top from every year, and some others I didn't rank as highly but have stayed with me over time; that initial list was 20, and here are the Top Ten.

I'm too close to this year's batch, but I think Severance might be there somewhere in the long haul.

The first two I have recommended to everyone, and in fact when I shot my debut feature film The Girl in the Crawlspace earlier this year, they were two of the books I gave to my lead actors as a thak you for their roles.  The next two were also a heavy influence on my movie, as a character reads them during the action.

I had to include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as it started my now ten-year love of Scandinavian crime fiction (as well, I suspect, as quite a few other people).

The others I would just say were mindblowers in some way that sent my thinking in different directions. 

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

 Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin 

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

 The City and The City by China Mieville

 Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Here are the next five that I had to think hard about before excluding:

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Embassytown by China Mieville

Maybe this list would be slightly different if I did it again tomorrow, but maybe not.

A couple of times I have picked goals for the year; once I read a year of all women writers and once I did a year of people of color or people in translation.  If I have a goal for this coming year, I think it will be read harder and smarter; we shall see.  I hope you see something here you'd like to read!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

#57: Fargo and the Texas Rangers by John Benteen

Gun-for-Hire Neal Fargo owes Pancho Villa a favor, and ends up in the middle of a land war between Mexican-Americans and a crooked Texas Ranger in John Benteen's Fargo and the Texas Rangers.

Benteen was really Ben Haas, and one of my favorites of the prolific paperback writers.  Fargo is a series character--and despite the book's cover--this actually isn't a true western but more of a Men's Adventure novel, an early 20th Century story set square during World War I on the Texas-Mexico border.

Benteen knows how to write hard-nosed action, and plenty of it, and this one doesn't stint, including a memorable knife fight on horseback and a street fight between two tripod-mounted machine guns.

I got this in a big stack of John Benteen novels from a friend trying to turn me into a fan (he was successful), and I read it quickly.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

#56: The Fugitive Gun by Jory Sherman

A cowboy goes on the vengeance trail when an owlhoot--who looks just like him--steals his name in Jory Sherman's The Fugitive Gun.

This western plot of a villainous double strains a bit--it also involves a bullet crease to the skull that causes amnesia, and a few other convenient elements--but the writing is really above average.

Sherman had a colorful writing career, a Beat poet in 50s San Francisco (and a friend of Charles Bukowski) who had a literary life outside of his prolific paperback output.

I got this in a big chunk of goodbye paperback westerns and was pleasantly surprised by the writing, and would like to stumble across more of Sherman's work. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

#55: The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg

A woman's husband is killed in a hit-and-run, and on a whim she goes ahead with his plan to attend a film festival in Havana, only to catch a glimpse of him there in Laura Van Den Berg's The Third Hotel.

Although this thumbnail description sounds more like a straightforward thriller, the novel is more a meditation on the mysteries of lives and marriages, with the unreliable narrator as elusive as the unexplained sightings of her husband.

Van Den Berg is a very literate writer, which sets some of the genre trappings--including an ongoing discourse on horror movies and how they relate to the main narrative--into the background. 

Interesting and rewarding throughout.

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

Sunday, December 16, 2018

#54: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

A security cyborg on a remote planet hacks his control system, though instead of going on a rampage decides to slack off and watch a lot of soap operas; but when his team comes under attack, he reluctantly goes on the offensive in Martha Wells' All Systems Red.

Wells' novel comes built for moviedom--it's hip, cinematic, and fast, with likeable characters under the thumb of one of those giant unnamed "corporations" featured in sci-fi movies like the Alien films.  The protagonist, who calls himself "Murderbot," is written in a fun and fresh style.

I don't think All Systems Red plows any fresh ground, but it is eminently enjoyable and readable.  Wells has already written several more featuring Murderbot, which I am interested in reading.

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

Saturday, December 15, 2018

#53: The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Greg Sestero is a struggling young actor in San Francisco when he meets the mysterious, larger-than-life figure Tommy Wiseau.  Their unlikely friendship spawns the cult movie The Room, and Sestero lives to tell about it in The Disaster Artist.

The making of the movie is interesting, but Wiseau looms over all the proceedings, a giant personality both generous and miserly, a great friend and a terrible enemy, an angel and an ogre, all with a fractured vocabulary and worldview.

But Sestero is ultimately kind to Wiseau--perhaps more so than the movie version of The Disaster Artist with James Franco--and acutely notes how his own loneliness, and eagerness for fame, played a role in all that transpired.

Even if you haven't seen The Room (I haven't) it is still a worthwhile read that shows truth is stranger than fiction, even when the fiction is strange.

I listened to a great audiobook reading by Sestero, on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.  Recommended for film fans.

Friday, December 14, 2018

#52: The Secret of Apache Canyon by Richard Telfair

An Easterner finds out he is getting swindled in a mining agreement, but has to throw in with his enemies when they realize they are under attack by hostile Indians, in The Secret of Apache Canyon.

Richard Telfair wrote across the genres, and it shows here, as this novel has western trappings with plenty of mystery elements thrown in--such as who orchestrated the mining scheme, who is hiding a secret identity, and who killed a pretty young woman's parents.

Full of unlikable characters, and not shaded for contemporary readers, but bangs right along and never lets up on action and suspense.

I got this in a big giveaway lot of western paperbacks and read it quickly.

Monday, December 10, 2018

#51: The Horse Trader by Wade Everett

A cowhand's kindness leads to a surprise inheritance of a large spread, putting him square in the gunsights of others who want the land, in Wade Everett's The Horse Trader.

Everett was originally Will Cook, and when he died young Giles Lutz took over the pseudonym.  Several times recently I have thought I had discovered a new author, only to find Lutz lurking behind the name.

Happily, I like Lutz's style quite a bit.  I think this one is especially unusual for its time (late 60s) as it features an African-American protagonist and a Native American deputy, both drawn in a well-rounded way.

I ended up being gifted a big stash of westerns that had this one in it, so I didn't seek it out particularly, but found it an enjoyable surprise.  A good read for western fans.

Friday, December 7, 2018

#50: The Forty-Two by Ed Kurtz

A young man who loves grindhouse movies, and is living in New York just at the bad old end of the 42nd Street era, finds b-movie life bleeding into real life when a young woman dies next to him in a theater in Ed Kurtz's The Forty-Two.

This leads him into an even seamier world full of gangsters, sex workers, adult filmmakers, and ultimately a deadly collection of films everyone is trying to either find or hide, culminating in an especially violent denouement.

Kurtz writes very sure-handedly about the grimy world he depicts, the dirty and dangerous landscape of early 80s New York City.  Bonus points for including a character clearly based on cult film director Andy Milligan, one of my faves.

Recommended for those interested in very gritty noir, or the grindhouse movie era in New York, or both.

I read this on my beloved Kindle by recommendation of another crime author.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

#49: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Comedian Amy Schumer talks straight about her volatile upbringing straight through to feature film success in The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.

I happened to catch Schumer's Inside Amy Schumer television show and became a fan.  I was eager to listen to the audiobook version of her autobiography, read by her and borrowed from the library.

Schumer has some breezy passages, like a lot of these essay collections from comedians often do (Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey) but is probably more unflinching in its portrayals of addiction and abuse than many readers may be ready for.

Schumer is always raw, frequently shockingly so, but the honesty in this collection sometimes caught me by surprise.  I would rate it as very rewarding for fans, but the casual reader might want to know what they are getting into.

For my part, I liked Amy Schumer more after listening to this audiobook, and will continue to look for her work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

#48: The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

A high-strung New Yorker--left adrift in the wake of the recent presidential election--decides to head to California and look for a friend's missing daughter, only to land in the middle of a war between desert tribes, in Jonathan Lethem's The Feral Detective.

Lethem is seen as more of a mainstream literary author, but his novels often have genre beats, from Amnesia Moon to Motherless Brooklyn to The Fortress of Solitude.  This one riffs on detective novels, as the "feral detective" of the title helps our narrator, as she slowly learns he has a hidden backstory that ties directly into what is happening in the desert. 

A grisly discovery about a third of the way into the book catapults the novel from romp to noir, and a nail-biting finale involving a rusty Ferris Wheel satisfies.

Lethem writes a cut above the genre and can be read across all interests.  I enjoyed this tremendously and would read another if he returned to this world.  Recommended.

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

#47: Death and the Saloon Girl by Frank Leslie

At the bequest of the sheriff's daughter, The Revenger goes looking for two missing lawmen and a delivery of gold in Frank Leslie's Death and the Saloon Girl.

Leslie is actually western author Peter Brandvold, a prolific writer with a stable of western series characters.  The Revenger throws back to the "Adult Western" genre, where our hero beds women as quickly and steadily as he guns down owlhoots.

Western readers will find pretty much everything they like here, and it moves at a quick pace.

Brandvold sent me this novel, which was part of a double with A Bullet for Sartain.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

#46: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

In this fourth outing, private eye Cormoran Strike and his loyal partner Robin juggle several cases, starting with a mental patient who thinks he saw a murder, in Robert Galbraith's Lethal White.

Galbraith was outed as J.K. Rowling a while ago, but continues to present these crime novels under the Galbraith name, and it's a good thing--these tough stories are not for young adult readers.

Lethal White is also not a good jumping off point for new readers, as it picks up about an hour after the end of Career of Evil, where Robin was on the brink of a disastrous marriage.  The aftershocks of this consume a big chunk of this novel, and your interest in this plotline will influence how you feel about the novel as a whole.

I found this to be a mild entry in the series, although a good audiobook read by Robert Glenister adds value.  I checked it out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

#45: November Road by Lou Berney

In 1963, a loyal crime family member leaves a car near the Texas Book Depository for his boss, and as national events unfold over the next few days finds himself on the run in Lou Berney's November Road.

Lou Berney's novel is striking in that it is a very hard-boiled noir--as the gangster picks up a runaway housewife and her kids, all while a ruthless hitman gets closer and closer--but also plays out every Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory straight-faced, sweeping up John, Bobby, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Ruby, and others.

Berney presents a genuinely offbeat but very readable thriller, which I enjoyed and consumed quickly.  Recommended.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

#44: Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

A man hiding from a drug cartel takes a job as a caretaker at a remote, mountainous wildlife preserve; but when bear poachers start creeping onto the land and challenging him and the balance of nature, he is gradually drawn back into a violent world in James A. McLaughlin's Bearskin.

Bearskin is a very tough crime novel in an unusual rustic setting, but the "tarnished angel" antihero is straight out of the mean streets of noir. 

Terse writing, and plenty of shades of gray, make this a compelling read throughout. Madness, revenge, redemption, all the hallmarks of hard-boiled classics, are on display.

I enjoyed McLaughlin's novel tremendously and will look for more from him.  Recommended.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

#43: Severance by Ling Ma

During a pandemic, a young woman at a publishing house is offered a bonus to keep the New York office open, and continues to do so even as people and infrastructure evaporate around her in Ling Ma's Severance.

Severance is a literate post-apocalyptic story, following three separate snapshots in time.  We see before the pandemic, as our protagonist navigates being young and hip and finding her soulmate in New York; during, as her office life becomes more surreal; and after, when she reluctantly joins a caravan heading for a perhaps mythical sanctuary as told by a maybe crazy former IT guy turned evangelical prophet.  There is also a dash of her arrival as a child from China, with immigrant parents.

This story engages on all levels and works across multiple genres.  Enjoyable throughout and recommended for general readers, but post-apocalyptic fans in particular.  Recommended.

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

#42: Parade by Shuichi Yoshida

Four twentysomethings watch the world swirl around their Tokyo apartment in Shuichi Yoshida's Parade.

First the roomies think something strange is going on in the next apartment, and then we learn women are getting attacked in the neighborhood.  These stories unfold slowly, from each roommates' point of view. 

Unfortunately the first mystery unravels rather unceremoniously, and the second takes a sharp left turn in the last pages of the book.  Both are pretty low-wattage and didn't do much for me.

However, as a portrait of largely disaffected young people and their various entanglements, I was interested throughout.  Billed more as a thriller, it is really a slice of life story.  If that is of interest, I would seek Yoshida out.

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

#41: The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette

A scheming man becomes the guardian of an orphaned nephew who just inherited a fortune; when he hires a nanny fresh from a mental institution, and then a hitman to take care of them both, things don't go quite as planned in Jean-Patrick Manchette's The Mad and the Bad.

Manchette is at the top of the list in French noir, with a notably bleak, yet darkly comic, style that was the template for many others.  This one is lighter on existentialism, and heavier on action, than some of his others, but is a completely enjoyable read front to back.

I enjoy reading Manchette whenever I come across one.  This is the New York  Review Books Classics edition, which I found at the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.  Recommended if you have never tried French noir.

Monday, September 10, 2018

#40: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

A struggling painter and a young boy are the sole survivors of a plane crash, and soon find themselves in the center of a media firestorm in Noah Hawley's Before the Fall.

The novel starts with the crash, but quickly spins back in time, over years and through multiple points of view, showing the lives of the people on the plane, and gives hints as to what might have contributed to the crash.  These people include a media mogul and his young wife, the mogul's security chief, a financier about to be arrested and his wife, and the flight crew, including a party-boy co-pilot and a stewardess at the end of a troubled relationship.

Hawley has written several novels but may be better known for his television work, including his current project Fargo. I was really looking forward to this book based on his other credits, but found this to be a pretty standard but not disagreeable thriller. Socio-political commentary, including a FOX News-style commentator with his own secrets, adds value.

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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

#39: Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

A floating Arctic city, overseen by AIs but really overrun with corruption and crime, feels its balance of power shift when a woman riding a killer whale and trailing a polar bear arrives at its docks in Sam J. Miller's Blackfish City.

Ensuing events unfold through the eyes of multiple narrators, including a low-level bureaucrat who used to be a street punk, a rich but slumming young man, a journeyman fighter with gaps in his memories, and a gender-fluid teen who works as a delivery person.

Miller has done a great job with world-building, and has a contemporary view of sexuality and politics.  The novel also features interesting characters and situations throughout.  It is a rare dystopian novel with a glimmer of hope at the end. 

Recommended for science fiction fans. 

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

Sunday, August 26, 2018

#38: Seeing People Off by Jana Beňová

Two young couples in post-Soviet Slovakia figure out life and love in Jana Beňová's Seeing People Off.

Beňová provides a little slice of life in this vignette-oriented novel, some parts whimsical and magical, some parts more grounded in emotional and mental health.  All in all a fresh voice from the Eastern European school.

Beňová may be new to these shores in this English translation, but has written steadily, on a variety of platforms, in her native Slovakia.  She lives in Bratislava, the central city featured in this work.

I bought Seeing People Off  from Two Dollar Radio, an interesting publishing house for independent writing, based in Ohio.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

#37: The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier

A man's wife is killed in a car accident with another man in the passenger seat, thus revealing an affair; so the widower begins to stalk the widow, with unintended consequences in Pascal Garnier's The Front Seat Passenger.

Garnier's novel reminded me of other French noir writers like Jean-Patrick Manchette and Seabastien Japrisot; inky-black comedy, existential crises, bleak storylines.

This one has about two-thirds of an unreliable narrator storyline and one third surprising mayhem, with a handful of murders. leading to a downbeat courtroom finale.

Garnier's novel is slim, and packs a punch.  I got it from Amazon in a collection called Gallic Noir Volume 2 and read it quickly.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

#36: His Secret Son by Brenda Jackson

A Navy SEAL and an art student meet in Paris over the holidays, and have a brief romance; a few years later they are reunited, and have a surprise son in the mix, in Brenda Jackson's His Secret Son.

Directly after their long weekend in Paris, the SEAL is captured in Libya and presumed dead; when he is rescued, he starts the hunt to find his previous love, now a famous New York artist.  How they eventually reunite, and rekindle their romance, is the center of pretty low-level tension in this story.

But the characters and situations are interesting throughout thanks to Jackson, who is notable in the romance world for being a writer of color and for writing stories featuring various racial backgrounds.

I listened to this on audiobook, on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Library in New Castle, Indiana, which was given a very good read by Pete Ohms.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

#35: Death Notice by Zhou Haohui

When a serial killer who sets elaborate traps resurfaces after many years, the Chengdu police form a special task force to catch him; but the police's own secrets might be their undoing in Zhou Haohui's Death Notice.

Death Notice was a big hit in China, and this first of a trilogy has been translated into English for the first time. 

A rocketing pace, twists and turns, and sometimes improbable plotting sets it comfortably in the western canon of summer blockbusters; but where I enjoyed it the most was insight into the lives of contemporary Chinese, and how our cultures are different.  Notable early on was the casual cover-up of a policeman's murder, as news of it was deemed too upsetting for the public to learn about.

I also enjoyed the motivations of the various task force members, some of which have surprising backstories that dovetail into a cliffhanger ending.

I am interested to read the next entry in this series.

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

Saturday, July 28, 2018

#34: Classified K-9 Unit Christmas by Lenora Worth and Terri Reed

The stalwart FBI agents at at K-9 training center in Billings, Montana take on various bad guys in this pair of novellas by Lenora Worth and Terri Reed, Classified K-9 Unit Christmas.

In the first, an agent and her dog stumble across a hired assassin targeting college girls.  She teams with a handsome U.S. marshal to figure out what is going on, which ends up reaching up into the highest levels of state government.  In the second, a K-9 and his handler, who specialize in arson, investigates a series of blazes, beginning with a homeless shelter at Christmas.  When the arsonist targets a pretty baker and her family, the agent and his dog have additional motivation.

This was a decent but undemanding pair of connected stories, with religious undertones and value added with character and setting.  This is part of a series Harlequin released about K-9 officers and features characters from other stories.

I got this one from a big lot of Harlequin romances on eBay and read it quickly.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

#33: Montana Royalty by B.J. Daniels

A woman tries to hang on to her failing ranch, even as a royal family from a hazy European nation tries to buy up all the land; but a passionate night in a line shack with a royal horseman ups the stakes for both in B.J. Daniels' Montana Royalty.

Daniels does a mash-up of  the ranch romance story and the royal romance story, and doesn't leave any stone unturned.  There is a hidden birth certificate, two surprise pregnancies, two murders, two attempted murders, a masquerade ball, and a climactic blizzard.

This one has a little something for everyone who enjoys romance novels and was helped by a good audiobook read by Abby Craden.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

#32: The Last Dodo by Jacqueline Rayner

The Doctor and his companion Martha visit a space zoo with a hidden agenda in Jacqueline Rayner's Tenth Doctor adventure The Last Dodo.

Fans of the David Tennant era will find a good characterization of him in this breezy entry that has the scope and feel of a television episode.  This zoo is full of extinct animals from Earth, so naturally a few hungry prehistoric creatures get loose.  Secret cloning and diabolical motivations make the story only slightly more complex.

Fans of the Doctor Who show will find enough to enjoy, and a good audiobook reading by Freema Agyeman--who played Martha in the show--adds value.

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

#31: Sting of the Zygons by Stephen Cole

In the 1900s, the Doctor and his companion Martha stave off an alien invasion of shape-shifters, rampaging giant monsters, and a conspiracy against the British government in Stephen Cole's Sting of the Zygons.

This Doctor Who novel features the character as played by David Tennant, but in the usual mind-bending Doctor Who logic, is a prequel to a storyline first introduced in the Tom Baker era, Terror of the Zygons.

The plot is very action-driven, and not much character-driven, so relies on the television show's fanbase for success.

I listened to a good audiobook reading by Reggie Yates, on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

#30: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

In the near future, a group of people decide to walk away from an oppressive society and come up with an alternative; but when they figure out the secret to immortality, the ruling government can't leave them alone in Cory Doctorow's Walkaway.

Doctorow is a fascinating person and an interesting writer, and this novel is filled with ideas, ideas, ideas.  Unfortunately it seems as if the characters talk about their ideas for very long stretches, punctuated by raw sex and drone strikes.

But it is a big, expansive story, covering several decades and offered up from multiple points of view.  Lots of food for thought, and I was constantly interested in what would happen next.

This novel is helped tremendously by a really good audiobook version by several narrators, including Amber Benson and Wil Wheaton.  Worthwhile to those willing to watch it spool out.

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

#29: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

A cold-hearted husband is served up poison, but the prime suspect--his wife--is several hundred miles away when it happens, confounding the Tokyo police in Keigo Higashino's Salvation of a Saint.

This is Higashino's second "Detective Galileo" novel (after The Devotion of Suspect X) and follows a similar formula where the killer is actually revealed at the outset, and the main action is watching the police trying to figure out how exactly it was done (with the help of an eccentric professor).  This entry especially has kind of that old-fashioned "locked room" puzzle feel.

Interesting characters and situations add value, as does a really good audiobook read by David Pittu.

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

#28: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

A young, newly-married couple move to Italy to open a Ford dealership; but the husband is actually a spy, and that's not the biggest secret in their relationship. 

The Italian Party, Christina Lynch's debut novel, starts as if it is going to be a fizzy romp through 1950s Europe, but has much darker undertones in both personal and professional relationships.

I have visited Italy a half-dozen times over the years and felt like Lynch got the pitch exactly right.  The storytelling is compelling throughout and has a good balance of light and dark. 

Enjoyable overall and I look forward to more from Lynch.

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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

#27: Watcher in the Shadows by Geoffery Household

After World War II, a former deep-cover British spy comes into a killer's crosshairs in Geoffery Household's Watcher in the Shadows.

In this case, our troubled hero can't reveal that he was working for the Allies when he posed as a guard at Buchenwald; so when a mysterious figure begins to hunt other war criminals, he ends up in a reluctant cat-and-mouse game.

Household wrote a lot of popular British thrillers, and this one is full of those hallmarks with dry wit, a focus on manners and station, and old-fashioned British resolve.  But the core story is very sobering, as the former spy copes with his inadvertent role in the Nazi prison camp.

This was a very solid thriller and my first from Household.  I would look for more from him.

I bought this at a used bookstore in Rome that I always enjoy visiting, and found it in the cool Orange Penguin cover.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

#26: Stop at Nothing by John Welcome

An aging race car driver gets involved with a hot-headed jockey, his beguiling sister, and a stolen formula in John Welcome's Stop at Nothing.

Stop at Nothing is a British novel of the early 60s, and reads like one; plenty of boozing and pill-popping and high-speed chases around the British and French countrysides, all with dry humor and a can-do attitude.

Speaking of high speed, this novel takes off on the first page and never lifts its foot until the end, when our hero takes Bentley and gun and chases the bad guys to a deadly finale.

I had never heard of Welcome, but he writes a bright, breezy adventure.

I found this at my favorite used bookstore in the Trastevere area of Rome, in the cool Orange cover version from Penguin, and read it quickly.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

#25: Queenpin by Megan Abbott

A young woman ends up under the wing of a tough female gangster; but when the young woman falls for a hard-luck gambler with big debts, it creates deadly cracks in all of the relationships in Megan Abbott's Queenpin.

Queenpin is a contemporary novel, but could have fallen right off of a spinner rack full of Gold Medal paperbacks.  Abbott has written as hard-boiled and satisfying a noir as was ever banged out on the feverish typewriters of the 40s and 50s.  Abbott writes in the proper terse style, never lets up on the accelerator, and ends with the usual dose of nihilism; a potent brew, indeed.

I have read two books by Abbott recently, and they are both very different, but written in a style that ratchets up the suspense right to the end.  Recommended.

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

#24: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

A detective who accused her boss of sexual harassment ends up on the graveyard shift, but her determination to solve crimes--and work outside the rules--stays strong in Michael Connelly's The Late Show.

Ballard quickly finds herself with two cases she can't let go of; one is that of a transgender prostitute beaten with a pair of signature brass knuckles, and the other a club shoot-out that leaves a waitress and several others dead.

This is Connelly's first book in a new series with a different character, after a long and successful run with Harry Bosch and his half-brother "The Lincoln Lawyer"; I wouldn't say Ballard rings as resonantly yet, yet is interesting.

But the two cases move at a steady clip, so those looking for fast-paced police procedurals will enjoy it, and I would be interested in reading another novel featuring Renee Ballard.

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

Thursday, April 26, 2018

#23: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

In the 1950s, two college roommates fall out after a tragedy; sometime later, they are reunited in Tangiers, with equally troubling results in Chrstine Mangan's debut thriller Tangerine.

This novel features not one but two unreliable narrators, alternating chapters, and their complicated personal lives and relationships spool out throughout, keeping the reader guessing to everyone's motivations almost to the very end.

This novel reminded me a lot of a gender-bent version of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley but there is not doubt that Mangan is familiar with Sebastien Japrisot's novels A Trap for Cinderella and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a GunTangerine compares favorably to these novels and definitely lives in the same world.

This was a great start to Mangan's career and I look forward to her next novel.

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

#22: The Resurrection Casket by Justin Richards

The Doctor and his companion Rose end up stranded in a section of space where technology doesn't work, and suddenly find themselves at odds with steam-driven robot buccaneers in search of a cosmic pirate treasure in Justin Richards' The Resurrection Casket, featuring characters from the long-running Doctor Who show.

If the idea of David Tennant's version of The Doctor battling robot pirates is very appealing to you, not much more needs to be said.  All other readers will find an amiable enough science fiction story with obvious allusions to Treasure Island.

I pick up a Doctor Who novel from time to time and find them by and large agreeable, even more so to fans.  I listened to this one on audiobook, with value added by David Tennant as the narrator.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library and listened to the whole thing on a drive to Chicago.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

#21: The Man Who Shot "The Kid" by Merle Constiner

A lawman is mistaken for an outlaw by a crooked sheriff, and decides to go along with it to see what might happen next in Merle Constiner's The Man Who Shot "The Kid."

An odd western title if there ever was one, but Constiner is a steady western scribe who I have read when I find him over the years.

What happens next is our protagonist gets mixed up in a range war, and in a tempestuous near-romance with a fiery woman whose cattle spread is at the center of it.

A nicely-done western, helped a lot with heavy doses of laconic humor, as the undercover sheriff (whose motivations to uphold the ruse seem agreeably murky throughout) meets all kinds of colorful characters in his journey to find out the truth.

An enjoyable, quick read, and on the other side of an Ace Double called The Skull Riders which also features a range war.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

#20: You WIll Know Me by Megan Abbott

A teen gymnast is on the verge of going to the next level when a coach's boyfriend is killed in a mysterious hit-and-run, throwing a wrench into everyone's plans, in Megan Abbott's You Will Know Me.

This suspense novel is narrated by the mother of the young gymnast, who begins to think both her husband and her daughter know a little too much about what happened. 

I think readers will see the ending coming, but the tension ratchets, ratchets, and ratchets throughout.

Good characterizations, and understanding of family dynamics, add value to a nail-biting story.  I will look for more from Megan Abbott.

I listened to this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library, and the storytelling benefits from a good reading by Lauren Fortgang.  Worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

#19: The Skull Riders by Dean Owen

A ranch baron dies, and suddenly a range war brews up, casting a reluctant gun-hand into the center of it in Dean Owen's The Skull Riders.

Owen was Dudley Dean McGaughy, who appears to have written a lot across multiple genres using multiple names (most a variation of his real name).  

This is a pretty standard oater without many surprises, but it is fast-moving and has plenty of action as well as a splash of frontier romance.

I got this in a big lot of Ace Doubles, with the oddly-named The Man Who Shot "The Kid" on the reverse side.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

#18: A Girl in Exile by Ismail Kadare

A playwright in Communist Albania falls under scrutiny when his autograph ends up at the center of a mysterious case in Ismail Kadare's A Girl in Exile.

A young woman who recently died, and whose family was out of favor politically, had the signed book.  Her friend reaches out to the playwright, with far-reaching consequences.

This recent work is the first novel I have read by Kadare, who remains a towering figure in the history of Albanian literature.  It is both a stark portrayal of life in an oppressive state as well as a sometimes dreamlike story with fantasy elements.

Solid, literate novel of interest to those who wonder about life in a communist regime; complicated relationships add value.

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

Saturday, April 7, 2018

#17: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Long-time, hard-nosed LA detective Harry Bosch was forced into retirement, and now splits his time as a volunteer in a small-town police force as well as P.I. work; when both suddenly heat up with explosive cases, he has his hands full in Michael Connelly's The Wrong Side of Goodbye.

Connelly has written one of the great contemporary police procedural series, and it continues to grow and change with time for readers who have stuck with it. 

In this one, he helps a beleaguered police squad catch a serial rapist called The Screencutter; at the same time, a rich, elderly man decides to see if he has any living heirs, but dies abruptly after.  Both of these cases start to cut very close to home as the story rockets to its double finale.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye is a pretty straightforward entry, and is accessible for new readers.  Longtime fans will still find plenty to enjoy.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library on audiobook, with a good read from Titus Welliver.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

#16: The Tunnel by Carl-Johan Vallgren

An ex-junkie who has pieced a life back together as a tech consultant and translator starts down a dark path when his former dealer is murdered in Carl-Johan Vallgren's The Tunnel.

Even by the high standards of gloomy Scandinavian noir this one is inky-black and uncompromising, as our protagonist Katz finds himself opening the lid on a world of crooked cops, sex slavery, underground porn films, and torture-killings.  A nihilistic ending, where evil isn't exactly stopped but maybe slowed down a little, isn't for all tastes.

Vallgren writes with tremendous energy and has created a cast of fully-realized characters.  Recommended for those readers who don't mind a particularly dark read.

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

#15: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Actress Mindy Kaling's second autobiographical outing, Why Not Me?, is another breezy entry featuring essays on her life in Hollywood; if you liked her in The Office or The Mindy Project, you will find this just as agreeable.

Overall I liked her first book--which dealt more about her childhood and her peanut-butter days as a young writer--better than this one, which has her meeting President Obama as well as brushing against other famous people (including a disastrously funny incident with playwright Edward Albee).

But there is plenty to enjoy, including an essay on the fictitious life she might have had as a Latin teacher if she hadn't taken the L.A. plunge, and the real commencement speech she gave at Harvard Law.

Kaling reading her own audiobook, which I borrowed from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana, adds value.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

#14: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

An easygoing young guy living in a futuristic utopia jumps into an ill-advised time-travel experiment, and one spilled cup of coffee later ends up in a terrible dystopia--that happens to look exactly like 2017 America--in Elan Mastai's All Our Wrong Todays.

Our protagonist, whose science knowledge is admittedly cursory at best, works desperately to restore his timeline--but begins to realize that his personal life is actually a lot better in the dystopia, with family relationships and love life improved.

Pretty cool story about relationships cloaked in a time travel story, Mastai's debut novel is charming and entertaining throughout.

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

#13: Long Blows the North Wind By Owen G. Irons

A young trapper sees his friend and mentor murdered, but on the revenge trail stumbles across two orphans and finds his path diverted in Long Blows the North Wind by Owen G. Irons.

Irons was Paul Lederer, who burned up a lot of typewriters writing westerns under multiple names.

This is an entertaining oater that hits good beats as the trapper befriends the kids against nefarious distant relatives and guns-for-hire.  Value added with a memorable cattle drive in a snow storm and a drunken but still deadly railroad detective.

I will definitely dip my toe into Irons' deep pool of writing again.  This one I got in a big lot of vintage westerns from eBay and read quickly.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

#12: The Border Guidon by Gordon D. Shirreffs

A remote Arizona fort is racked by disease and surrounded by hostile Apaches, with the Confederate Army approaching and a religious zealot on the loose; so it is up to one lone soldier to carry off an impossible mission in Gordon D. Shirreff's The Border Guidon.

This was a surprisingly tough, unusually spare western with a pretty interesting plot (and a high body count).  An exciting third act, with a frontier cult hunkered down in an abandoned series of caves (and hiding a couple of field howitzers), adds value.

I have heard about Shirreff's writing but had never come across one of his paperbacks in the wild until I saw this for under a dollar at a used bookstore.  I will keep my eyes peeled for more by him.

Recommended for western fans.

Monday, February 12, 2018

#11: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Karl is coasting along with a Chicago bar he owns, and dwells on his past success in a moderately successful 90s rock band; but when a wormhole opens up in his closet, his life dramatically changes in Mo Daviau's Every Anxious Wave.

Karl and his slacker friend Wayne, naturally, decide to use the wormhole to visit concerts in the past they really want to see, name-checking tons of 80s and 90s bands. 

But when Wayne gets stranded in the distant past, and Karl recruits an astrophysicist named Lena to help rescue him, the plot boomerangs in all kinds of new and surprising directions.

Every Anxious Wave feels like what might happen if Nick Hornby took over showrunning Doctor Who.  Not for fans of hard science--being in love can trigger time travel, and an inconvenient double somehow evaporates--but enjoyable on every other level.  A pretty cool and thought-provoking novel.  Recommended.

I listened to a good audiobook version of this novel on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

#10: Ride of Fury by Tim Kelly

A veteran tracker follows the rumor of a young woman who may have survived as an Indian captive in Tim Kelly's Ride of Fury.

This was Tim Kelly's first novel, and the flip side of an Ace Double with Reese Sullivan's The Blind Trail that I got at a goodbye price in an eBay lot.  For such an inauspicious start, this was a nicely surprising western, grim and mature with some pretty bleak passages that I think even Cormac McCarthy would approve of.

I believe this is the same Tim Kelly who was mostly a playwright and didn't write too many pulp paperbacks; which is a shame, because this was a really solid western that I truly enjoyed.

A welcome find to western fans who might come across it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

#9: The Indian Incident by Matt Chisholm

The unlikely-named Joe Blade is a manhunter for hire, but decides to hunt for free when he stumbles over a gang of outlaws who slaughter a band of Indians in Matt Chisholm's The Indian Incident.

Chisholm was an incredibly busy western writer with multiple series characters; I have read several of his McAllister books and enjoyed them. 

Where McAllister is leavened with some humor, Blade is all action, action, action, culminating in a big shoot-out in a cave where Blade and an eclectic group have holed up.

This was a fast-paced read I enjoyed from Piccadilly Publishing, who is bringing a lot of Matt Chisholm back to the digital realm.  A good read for western fans.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

#8: The Blind Trail by Reese Sullivan

A stalwart deputy learns the town sheriff is crooked, and suddenly is accused of murder and on the run in Reese Sullivan's The Blind Trail.

Sullivan was actually western wordslinger Giles Lutz, who kept the paperback market busy with a number of pseudonyms.

This one pretty much lays all its cards on the table early, but hits all the right beats, including an irascible old coot and a late-arriving frontier romance.

 This is half of an Ace Double with Tim Kelly's Ride of Fury on the flip side.  I got this in a bunch of old westerns from eBay and read it quickly.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

#7: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

In a fractured, near-future Europe, a cook becomes a reluctant spy in Dave Hutchinson's Europe in Autumn.

Europe in Autumn is the first in a science fiction trilogy that reads a bit like a mash-up of John le Carré and Bruce Sterling, a pretty sober espionage tale cloaked in advanced tech and an altered political landscape (with a bit of alternate universe theory thrown in).

I enjoyed the spycraft elements, but the world-building was pretty unique as well; certainly of interest to anyone who reads either genre or both.  For my own tastes, I could have used a shade less of the latter and a shade more of the former.

Hutchinson's work was refreshing enough that I am sure to look for the other novels in the series, especially since this one, as a warning, ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

I got this book for Christmas and read it steadily.

Monday, January 29, 2018

#6: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch, forced into retirement from the LAPD after conflicts with the top brass, finds he can't let his detective skills go; so when his half-brother, a defense lawyer, brings him a client who he believes is innocent Bosch reluctantly gets involved in Michael Connelly's The Crossing.

"The Crossing" of the title refers to Bosch, a longtime homicide cop, crossing over to help an accused murderer, something he swore he would never do; but very quickly Bosch learns some crooked cops might be in the mix.

This novel also features Connelly's other series character "The Lincoln Lawyer" who has appeared in several novels and a film version (which is often humorously referenced in the novels).

Connelly has written a long series of very solid police procedurals and courtroom dramas; this one has a nice mix of both, as well as updates on other characters for long-time fans.

I listened to a good audiobook version, read by Titus Welliver, on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

#5: A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Copenhagen cop Carl Morck has been assigned to the Cold Case squad, and is content to coast out his career; but his able assistant Assad, and insouciant secretary Rose, won't let a mysterious message in a bottle go in Jussi Adler-Olsen's A Conspiracy of Faith.

This is the third in the popular Department Q series, and follows the curious pattern of its predecessors with pretty gruesome crimes counterbalanced with office hijinks. 

In this one, a dedicated and previously undiscovered serial killer has spent decades preying on closed-off religious sects throughout Denmark.  A reluctant Morck begins to realize that the killer is still very active, and very close to the detective.

This outing has two really nice set pieces--a car/train chase, and a stand-off in a bowling alley--that shows a more cinematic flair.  As it happens, A Conspiracy of Faith was made into a popular movie in Denmark, which I am eager to see.

An interesting series, although not for all tastes.  I listened to a good audiobook version on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

#4: The Grabhorn Bounty by Clifton Adams

A railroad detective hunting a train robber follows the trail to a town gripped with a nameless fear in Clifton Adams' The Grabhorn Bounty.

Adams wrote pulp mysteries and paperback westerns, and this one is, interestingly, about 75 percent noir and 25 percent oater.

At the center is a poor farmer's daughter more scheming than any femme fatale Jim Thompson or David Goodis could dream up.  With a jaded detective as the central character, and a downbeat ending, horses and sixguns are all that keep it from being a straight trip down the mean streets.

Really a good read, with colorful characters and a sense of history.  Recommended for genre fans.

I got this in a lot of westerns from eBay and read it quickly.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

#3: The Last of the Breed by Don Rico

A lawman retires after a promise to a dying friend to raise his son; when that son grows up and turns bad, it puts the lawman between justice and his promise in Don Rico's The Last of the Breed.

I had not heard of author Don Rico, and wasn't sure it wasn't a pseudonym; but Rico had an interesting career, being a writer/artist in the early days of comics, as well as writing paperback novels and screenplays.   

This is a very fine western, well-written with a pretty hard-nosed storyline. It feels very much like a late Randolph Scott/Budd  Boetticher western, for those familiar with that series of films. 

I really enjoyed this one, and read it quickly.  Recommended for fans.

I got this in a box of paperbacks from a friend and read it quickly on a snowy few days.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

#2: Badge for a Gunfighter by Clair Huffaker

An easygoing hired gun falls into a scheme to impersonate a sheriff, and then finds he likes being the good guy after all in Clair Huffaker's Badge for a Gunfighter.

Huffaker is a well-regarded paperback writer and screenwriter, but I had never run across one of his novels until I received this one in a box of books from a friend. 

I understand now why his name is bandied about in genre circles; Badge for a Gunfighter is a cut above the typical western, with lean, solid writing and a funny, likeable protagonist.

But overall Huffaker hits all the comfortable beats; gunfighters who are badder than bad, a noble frontier widow and the son who needs somebody to look up to, and the like.  A brutal finale is satisfying.

Recommended for fans of pulp westerns.

Monday, January 1, 2018

#1: Hackett's Feud by John Callahan

A cowhand is bushwhacked for his cattle money, and kills a man in self-defense; but an ill-advised attempt to save his innocent widow's feelings ends up sparking a murderous war in John Callahan's Hackett's Feud.

I've read several Callahan novels, sturdy westerns all; apparently Callahan was actually Paul Chadwick, who wrote across numerous genres under various names. 

This is a nicely-done entry that hits all of the expected beats.

This was the other side of a nice Ace Double with The Demanding Land by Reese Sullivan.  I got it at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago at a goodbye price.