Tuesday, December 26, 2023

#26: Same Bed Different Dreams by Ed Park

Same Bed Different Dreams is a decades-spanning, multi-layered novel with a manuscript featuring real and imagined Korean history at its core, also called Same Bed Different Dreams, in Ed Park's genre-defying novel.

I originally picked it up because the cover makes it look like a space sci-fi epic, but it is much more of a literary novel suffused with humor.  Its multiple points of view--a 60s science fiction hack, a man who works for a Google-type empire, and an author penning the secret history of the Korean Provisional Government, make this one hard to explain.

It was a unique, fresh novel that read quickly, despite topping out over 400 pages, more than I would usually like to tackle. I would recommend this to anyone wanting atypical storytelling from a unique literary voice.  Probably my favorite book of the year, and a good place to end 2023.

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

Saturday, December 23, 2023

#25: The Black Guy Dies First by Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris

The Black Guy Dies First is a caustic, but informative, study of the history of Black characters in horror films from the 1960s to today, from Night of the Living Dead to Get Out.

Robin Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris take a deep dive into characterizations, tropes, and trivia with a large dose of incisive humor.  This is a foundation read for anyone interested in Black culture, film history, or both.

Recommended for movie and history buffs.  

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

Monday, December 18, 2023

#24: A Badge for Brazos by E Jefferson Clay

Benedict and Brazos are a pair of ill-matched gun-hands hunting Confederate gold; but when they decide to make a little cash providing law in a small town they find out it's anything but sleepy there in E. Jefferson Clay's A Badge for Brazos.

Clay is actually Paul Wheelahan, an Australian writer who wrote a series of westerns featuring this Yankee cardsharp and Confederate bruiser, as well as lots of and lots of other pulp paperbacks and comics.  This one leans a little towards comedy with a fair amount of gunplay.

I got this in a stack of Cleveland Westerns I lucked into, hard to find in the wild.  A fun read.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

#23: The Rimrocker by Ray Hogan

Shawn Starbuck is hunting his missing brother, but instead finds a troubled rancher and his headstrong daughter, in Ray Hogan's The Rimrocker.  Before long Starbuck is mixed up in their affairs, which includes a secret held since the Civil War.

Hogan wrote a whole series about the lantern-jawed, law-abiding cowpoke, as well as plenty of other western fare.  Hogan is just a solid meat-and-potatoes western writer I've picked up wherever I find him.  

This one was on a goodbye rack at the public library in New Castle, Indiana.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

#22: Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In Mexico City, a struggling sound editor and a washed-up soap actor cross paths with a Golden Age movie director with a cursed film in Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Silver Nitrate.

Moreno-Garcia is willing to throw every idea in the blender from escaped Nazis to secret cabals to occult practices.  Bonus points for curmudgeonly, but ultimately likeable, main characters whose longtime friendship enters a new phase.

I have seen Moreno-Garcia's name on a lot of TBR lists and will definitely look for more from this author.

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

Thursday, November 9, 2023

#21: Gone to the Wolves by John Wray

Three teenaged metalheads from Florida, all with various troubled backgrounds, weave in and out of each other's lives in John Wray's Gone to the Wolves.

This novel was about two thirds slice of life and one third thriller, as one member of the trio gets in over her head and disappears into the Black Metal scene in Europe.  Her friends' attempt at a rescue provides a surprisingly cinematic coda.

Wray's genre-busting literary novel is eminently readable and enjoyable as a smart thriller or a literary story with genre beats.  

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

#20: South by Babak Lakghomi

A journalist in an unnamed, totalitarian state heads to an offshore oil rig to write about dissent there, only to be thwarted by his submergence into a different world, in Babak Lakghomi's South.

This is a spare, lyrical novel infused with longing, as our protagonist, known only as B, meditates on his lost father, his failing marriage, his floundering career.

Really worthwhile for fans of world literature.  I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Friday, October 20, 2023

#19: Counterweight by Djuna

Mystery and espionage surround the building of a space elevator in Djuna's trippy sci-fi novel Counterweight.

Djuna is the pen name of a novelist who has been incredibly popular in Korea, despite remaining completely anonymous; this is their first novel translated into English.  

The mysterious author riffs on everything from old-school private eye novels to cyberpunk to 60s psychedelic sci-fi in what turns out to be quite a romp through genres.

My daughter gave me this novel as a present, and I read it quickly (and have since gifted another copy to a friend).  Recommended for science fiction fans.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

#18: Titanium Noir by Nick Harkaway

In a near-future world "Titans" are very affluent people who have undergone gene therapy to lengthen their lives. becoming literal titans in the process.  When one of them is mysteriously killed, it's up to a P.I. to dig around their rarefied world in Nick Harkaway's Titanium Noir.

He has an inside track as an ex-girlfriend is a Titan, and is in the lineage of the most influential Titan family, which hinders as much as helps him at times.

Agreeable detective novel with science fiction overtones and a 70s P.I. vibe.  Good for genre fans.

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

Friday, September 8, 2023

#17: The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza

A detective and her translator search for a missing woman through a frozen, wooded landscape in Cristina Rivera Garza's The Taiga Syndrome.

Although the plot sounds pretty straightforward, it is rife with magic and allegory and allusion to fairy tales, specifically Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.

This slender novel packs a dreamlike punch.  Recommended for readers of literature in translation.

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

Monday, September 4, 2023

#16: The Militia House by John Milas

At a remote base in Afghanistan, where the soldiers are mostly fighting boredom, a visit to a spooky house just outside the base takes an eerie turn in John Milas' horror novel The Militia House.

I don't get scared by books or movies very easily, but this one chilled me to the bone.  Part of it may be how the protagonist calmly reports on increasingly bizarre occurrences that befall the small group that went to the house on a lark (but came to regret it).  Part of it may have been the "unreliable narrator" device that cranks up the tension to a frightening denouement.

No matter what the reason, this was a highly enjoyable read (with the author's own experiences in Afghanistan undoubtedly playing a part) and unconventional genre outing (a mash up of military fiction and horror).  Recommended.

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

Saturday, July 29, 2023

#15: Run for the Money by Robert Colby

A down on his luck guy comes across a small fortune in stolen money dropped after an armored car heist, but the crooks are hot on his trail, in Robert Colby's Run for the Money.

He gives up a dead-end job and flies out to LA to start all over with work and women, only to find out his new girlfriend could be used as leverage against him.  This one has crackling action all the way to its denouement.

Colby has been somewhat rediscovered recently for a brace of hard-nosed pulp novels entering reprint, and this is no exception, a tale that becomes more nihilistic as it rockets to its conclusion.

I got this one in a batch of assorted paperbacks and read it quickly on vacation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

#14: Submarine Killer by Aal Christiansen

In the heat of World War II, a damaged ship with an injured captain fights to stay afloat in Aal Christiansen's Submarine Killer.

I don't know who Christiansen is, but his writing has the realism to make me think he could have been a veteran himself (this was written in the 60s).  Whether he was or not, he knows how to write combat action, and plenty of it.

This was another Spitfire book I acquired, a pocket digest-sized edition--with illustrations--apparently for the young adult market.  

But I found this to be completely readable as an adult, and I consumed it quickly on a camping trip.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

#14: Gun Trail to Sedalia by Ross Woods

A cowboy comes home to find his homestead sold in a suspicious deal with his brother, leading to a breakneck race to stop the sale, in Ross Woods' Gun Trail to Sedalia.

I got a handful of these Spitfire books in a lot from eBay, after reading about them online.  They are in a unique pocket digest format and were written for the young adult market.

I didn't find this one noticeably for young adults, with our protagonist using a judicious amount of dynamite to solve modest problems and steady gunplay throughout.  It leans heavily into the action and includes the old friend of 60s TV and movies, quicksand.  I've wondered why quicksand doesn't play as big a role in contemporary storytelling anymore.

I read this very quickly on a camping trip and enjoyed it as a solid western.  I'll be diving into more of these Spitfire books soon.

Friday, June 30, 2023

#13: The Inside Man by E Richard Johnson

Good cop Tony Lonto tries to clean up a lot of bad people in E. Richard Johnson's incredibly hard-boiled 60s crime novel The Inside Man.

Lonto has to go up against the criminal underworld and, reluctantly, bad eggs in his own department.

As tough-minded as any crime novel I've read, not surprising when I learned that Johnson had written primarily from behind bars, serving long sentences for robbery and murder.  Apparently his output from Stillwater Prison was short but explosive, so I will definitely be on the lookout for more of his work.

I got this surprisingly dark and tight outing from a mixed bundle of books and read it quickly on a camping trip.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

#12: The Garrard Heritage by Marshall Grover

A dying gunslinger convinces a pair of good-hearted cowpokes to help the family he left behind in Marshall Grover's The Garrard Heritage.

Grover was really Australian author Len Meares, who wrote "Larry and Streak" westerns, "Big Jim" westerns, and lots and lots of others in his prolific career.  

Larry and Streak are comedically laconic, but also with an almost supernatural ability to fight rooms full of owlhoots and shoot without a miss.  Some editions call them "Larry and Stretch" and appear under "Marshall McCoy," confounding everything further.

To me, these are very rare to find in the wild, so I was happy to luck into this at a goodbye price at a used book shop.  They are meant to read quickly and enjoy, as I did on a camping trip.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

#11: Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling

In a dystopian future where climate change has broiled large swaths of the U.S., a group of people in a far northern location try to build a Utopian society in Michelle Min Sterling's Camp Zero.

Sterling's story is told from multiple points of view--a group of female soldiers on a mission with shrouded motives, a prostitute with a secret, a teacher who finds his new job isn't exactly what he thought--with a lot of admirable world-building.  The plot rockets along and has a couple of third act surprises.

Nicely done near-future sci-fi with sharp critiques of society.  Recommended.

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

Sunday, April 16, 2023

#10: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Catherine finds reality veering from her favorite Gothic novels in Northanger Abbey, one of Jane Austen's posthumous works.

Northanger Abbey is widely perceived to be a parody of the Gothic novels of the time, as well as full of Austen's pointed observations about marriage, wealth, and society.  

Austen riffing so much on the tropes of Gothic fiction, from moody landowners to imprisoned wives to mysterious castles, sets this apart from some of her more serious works.  A fun read.

I chose this to read along with a class trip to London and Bath with my wife's collegiate field study.  I listened to it on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

#9: The Wheel of Doll by Jonathan Ames

Hard-luck P.I. Happy Doll is back, and looking for a lost love in a very personal case, in Jonathan Ames' The Wheel of Doll.

Doll's search for his drug-addicted former girlfriend, at the behest of the woman's mysterious daughter, takes a number of dark twists and turns.  

Ames is known for writing across genres but focusing on humor and crime; his first in this series, A Man Named Doll, leaned more towards comedy but the sequel veers into darker territory.  The novel definitely has a harder noir edge than its predecessor.

I hope Ames continues to write Happy Doll novels and I would look forward to reading more.

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

Saturday, March 25, 2023

#8: Operation Snake by Nick Carter

Red China tries to get its hands on Nepal, and it's up to Killmaster Nick Carter to stop them, in Operation Snake, one of Jon Messman's entries in the long-running spy series.

Carter needs (various kinds of ) help from two women, one a British journalist and the other the daughter of a local leader.  Less inviting is a pit of snakes and a Yeti-type creature, all in a day's work for Carter.

Messman's entries are often considered some of the better ones from a wide range of offerings, and he wrote steadily in "Men's Adventure" and westerns under a number of names (his Trailsman series preeminent among them).

60s Nick Carter doesn't offer much in the way of finely-shaded characterization but offers plenty of slam-bang action, of which this entry is one.  Good for fans.

I got this in a big stack of Nick Carters and read it quickly.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

#7: Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson

A young man saves an art dealer from drowning, only to become unnaturally interested in his subsequent life, in Antoine Wilson's chilly tale of obsession Mouth to Mouth.

Wilson writes one of my favorite styles of noir here, the unreliable narrator, but frames it at a curious remove; the narrator is talking to another character he comes across in an airport lounge, and tells the rather eye-opening story of how he became an art dealer in his own right.  To me it was an odd framing device that takes a little of the punch away.

But an enigmatic ending really sticks the landing, after several surprises along the way.

I bought this on a recommendation from a bookseller in England and read it on the plane back from a trip there.  Solid thriller.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

#6: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Anne is convinced to call off an engagement, but years later--still unmarried--gets a second chance with Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen's mature, final work Persuasion.

Austen seems like an unusual read in the midst of westerns and crime novels, but I am helping my wife with an English field study and wanted to read along with the college class.  This one takes place in Bath, one of the stops on the field study.

Austen is a smart, literate writer and her novels are considered peerless in terms of writing about British society and 19th-Century relationships.  Recommended for any reader.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2023

#5: The Sorcerer of Pyongyang by Marcel Theroux

A North Korean teen stumbles upon a Dungeons and Dragons book left behind by a visiting delegation; playing the game becomes both dangerous and liberating in Marcel Theroux's The Sorcerer of Pyongyang.

The novel follows the teenager on into college and then adulthood, with the book he calls "The House of Possibility" factoring heavily into his adventures along the way.

I am a longtime D&D player so was definitely predisposed to liking this novel, but it is a solid literary read for anyone and a deep dive into North Korean culture. Recommended.

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

Saturday, February 4, 2023

#4: One More for the Road by Larry Kent

New York P.I. Larry Kent swings into action knocking out a slavery ring in this entry in the long-running series by Australian author Desmond Dunn, One More for the Road.

This series came out as a response to the Carter Brown series, another Australian writing rat-a-tat style detective novels with hot .45s and cold dames, and spawned several hundred entries.

Dunn delivers about what you would expect, with hard-boiled beats and a lack of finely-shaded observations on gender, race, and the leading social issues of the day.  Most surprisingly, Kent is a Viet Nam vet, although the story reads with more of a 40s-50s vibe.

Fun for those who like this kind of pulp.  

I read this one quickly from my beloved Kindle.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

#3: An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy

The world of rare book collecting makes a surprising beat for a private investigator in early 2000s New York, in Dwyer Murphy's debut noir An Honest Living.

In true noir fashion, a mysterious woman (who isn't all she seems) sends our tarnished angel protagonist on the prowl for some possibly stolen works, only to stumble onto a much larger scheme.

Murphy hits all of the noir beats spot on, but also brings echoes of literary fiction to the proceedings in a remarkably sure-handed way.  

Clever and highly readable throughout and probably my first recommendation for 2023.


Thursday, January 19, 2023

#2: The It Girl by Ruth Ware

April and Hannah are Oxford roommates, one vivacious and fun and one more serious; when the former is murdered by a staff member in the dorm, the terrible case seems open and shut.  But ten years later, after the man's death in prison, evidence points in a different direction in Ruth Ware's The It Girl.

Hannah, the surviving roommate, has married her college sweetheart and is expecting a baby; but that doesn't deter her from teaming up with Hannah's younger sister and going back to find their old friend group a decade later.

Very solid mystery, told in alternating chapters set in the past and the present, with lots of twists and turns and puzzle pieces locking into place.  

Ware is one of my favorite contemporary writers because she doesn't ever write the same book twice and dabbles in a lot of mystery subgenres.  This one satisfies down to the last surprise.

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

Friday, January 6, 2023

#1: The Next Time I Die by Jason Starr

 A good-hearted but hard-luck lawyer with a spiraling personal life intervenes in a mugging, only to wake up in a better world where he has been a worse person in Jason Starr's The Next Time I Die.

Starr writes a classic unreliable narrator noir with a parallel worlds twist.  Much like a previous work, Cold Caller, things go from bad to worse to murderous as the lawyer tries to untangle himself from the mess another version of himself got him into.

Starr writes a breakneck genre-bender that doubles down on the nihilism towards the end, making it an offbeat work.  This novel came out through the Hard Case Crime line, a reliable source of reading materials for quite a few years.

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

Monday, January 2, 2023

Top Reads of 2022

 I didn't quite make my goal of reading 50 books in 2022, what with my beloved dog dying, a health scare, my son's wedding, shooting a new movie, and a new granddaughter (I think in that order), but a handful I did read that I can recommend to anybody.


 SLEEPWALK by Dan Chaon

THE HEAP by Sean Adams


Enjoy!  Hope you find something to like.