Friday, December 31, 2021

Top Ten of 2021

In another bad year, I had a good reading year, with a lot of great choices below.  Here are my Top Ten books, in a year where I passed by goal of 50 and hit 64.   Enjoy!


STILL LIVES by Maria Hummel

ZERO ZONE by Scott O'Connor



HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead


THE GUIDE by Peter Heller

THE BODY SCOUT by Lincoln Michel


Thursday, December 23, 2021

#64: Girl A by Abigail Dean

 A teenager breaks her chains and escapes from the family home, revealing a literal house of horrors to the world; several decades later, the surviving siblings cope with their lives in various ways in Abigail Dean's Girl A.

The Girl A of the title is now a lawyer, who reluctantly inherits the abandoned childhood home and desires to turn it into a community center; but she has to--even more reluctantly--gather up her brothers and sisters, among them a brother who is a headmaster at a school, a sister who has found religion, and another brother who has descended into drugs.

Although the flashbacks to what happened at the hands of their father, who seemed to be slowly and then quickly going mad, are short, they are very potent, and based on that alone the book cannot be recommended to anyone with even a modest history of childhood trauma.

But the novel is really about the complicated connections between siblings, and is a sharp, literate novel in that regard.  More of an examination of a shattered family than a thriller, but a few twists and turns in the latter third--one I saw coming and one I didn't--could land it in a couple of different categories on the bookstore shelves.

Recommended for those with a high tolerance for harrowing storytelling.

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

#63: Seducers in Ecuador by Vita Sackville-West

A man dons a pair of heavy, blue-tinged sunglasses in Egypt but decides not to take them off when he gets back to London, setting off a chain of disasters including a secret marriage, a murder, and an execution, in Vita Sackville-West's Seducers in Ecuador.

Sackville-West's slender novella from the 20s is heavy on plot, dark humor, and irony and is a brisk, prickly read.  The "seducers" of the title are men a lovelorn young woman is (supposedly) writing to when she agrees to the secret marriage.  Why she agrees to it is confounding right up to the end, and even then you aren't sure what is true or not.

I first learned of the author through a film about her romantic relationship with Virginia Woolf.  Over the years, Sackville-West's star has dimmed while Woolf's has only grown, though during their time together (and the time of the writing of the novella) Sackville-West was more popular as an author.

Her work is worth a look, if you are unfamiliar with her.  I will definitely seek out more.

I bought a lot of Vita Sackville-West novels from eBay for my wife, a Humanities professor, and picked this one up out of curiosity. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

#62: All's Hell on Peach Street by Brett McKinley

A young man, more or less raised by a frontier town when he was orphaned, inadvertently wins a shoot-out with a deadly outlaw; when the rest of the gang seeks revenge, the town rises up to protect him in Brett McKinley's All's Hell on Peach Street.

This oater from Cleveland Publishing, a long-time Australian company, was actually written by Paul Wheelahan, who wrote hundreds of westerns for Cleveland under a fistful of names (as well as writing comic books and TV shows).

I didn't know anything about the McKinley moniker and picked it up based on the offbeat title alone.  It's an above-average western with an interesting plot and characters and lightning-fast action.

I find it extremely difficult to find Cleveland westerns in the United States, but happily got this for my beloved Kindle and read it very quickly.  Interested in reading more from this writer, under whatever name.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

#61: Triple Cross by Nick Carter

KIllmaster Nick Carter hunts an elusive, suicidal group of assassins called Blood Eagle across the European continent in one of Dennis Lynds' entries in the long-running spy series, Triple Cross.

Triple Cross was part of my casual re-read of the Nick Carter series I was so devoted to as a teenager.

Dennis Lynds writes a more well-rounded Nick Carter than some of the other authors (all writing quickly, with little reference to what happened in previous editions) and imagines more epic, complicated stories (in my opinion).

However, Lynds doesn't mind falling back on the familiar "teaming up with the sexy Soviet spy" trope.  Carter and his sidekick have quite a few setbacks and surprises before they uncover Blood Eagle, and their curious motive that crosses national boundaries.

Along with the Nick Carter novels penned by Martin Cruz Smith, I find Dennis Lynds one of my favorites to date, with this being the second one I've come across by him.

I got this from a big lot of Nick Carter paperbacks somewhere and read it quickly.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

#60: Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

A furniture dealer kind of trying to go straight, and his cousin who is not trying as hard, get into a variety of scrapes in late 50s-early 60s Harlem in Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle.

The cousins first get involved in a hotel robbery, where they steal something from a crime lord by mistake; then, later, the furniture dealer gets an elaborate revenge after a snub; and then in a melancholy coda the cousin gets afoul of a powerful New York family.

Whitehead is a literary writer whose books can loosely slip into various genres, from crime to science fiction to fantasy.  This one is an good read, with interesting characters and sense of place and time, and would be enjoyable by fans of literary fiction or crime fiction.

Dion Graham is one of my favorite audiobook narrators, and he did another great job here.  I checked it out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and finished it quickly.