Wednesday, August 31, 2022

August Reading: Quantity Was There, Quality Not So Much


 

While I did manage to read 11 books during August, a good part of my reading seemed to go more sluggishly than usual. I'm not sure if I simply made some poor choices this month or if it's more a problem with my general attitude. Whichever it was, I'm really looking forward to a fresh start in September...although that's the peak of hurricane season in this part of the country, so it could turn out to be an extra-interesting month. Looking at the ones I finished in August, I'm a bit surprised to see that six are novels and five are nonfiction because I don't usually read nonfiction in that kind of ratio to fiction.

  1. The Good Daughters - Joyce Maynard - Two very different families share a huge secret for over 50 years
  2. We Came, We Saw, We Left - Charles Wheelan - man travels around the world for 9 months with wife & 3 teens - Nonfiction
  3. To Hell with Honor - Larry Sklenar - Brilliant explanation of what happened at The Little Big Horn and who was responsible
  4. Stupid Things I Won't Do When I Get Old - Steven Petrow - writer vows to practice what he learned from watching his parents age
  5. The Woman in the Library - Sulari Gentill - Disappointing mystery using novel-inside-a-novel structure that is stupefyingly formulaic 
  6. Real Tigers - Mick Herron - #4 in the terrific Slough House series 
  7. A String of Beads - Thomas Perry - Jane Whitefield #8 - Jane hides he childhood Seneca best friend from cops and killers 
  8. Bridge of Spies - Giles Whittell - Account of U-2 pilot Gary Powers, his capture by Russia and exchange for Russian spy
  9. Blood Safari - Deon Meyer - Second novel in Meyer's Lemmer series about a South African bodyguard
  10. In a Dry Season - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #10 - a case going back to World War II; Banks meets DS Annie Cabbot
  11. Packing My Library - Alberto Manguel - Argentinian author's 10 essays and 10 "digressions" on packing away his personal library
I think I'm a little disappointed with this lot because even some of my favorite crime writers didn't impress me all that much this month. I read four of my favorites this month: Mick Herron, Deon Meyer, Thomas Perry, and Peter Robinson. Of the four books of theirs, the only one that stands out to me as representative of their best work is Herron's Real Tigers, and based on that one's not-so-promising plot summary I was surprised by how much I liked it. I absolutely loved the first third of Meyer's Blood Safari, but it became a routine thriller after one of the book's two main characters was sent to hospital in a coma - where she stayed for almost the rest of the book. I "liked" Perry's A String of Beads right up until I realized that Jane Whitefield was going to be using the same evasion techniques that she uses in all of the novels featuring her and that she was simply teaching them to a new client. This is only the second Whitefield novel I've read, though, so maybe that criticism is premature. As for Robinson's 10th Inspector Banks novel, it is built around one of the things I like least in fiction: an author "telling" what happened rather than "showing it." In In a Dry Season, Robinson flashes back and forth via an unpublished manuscript that fills in most of the holes from the WWII portion of the novel. And that goes on for about ninety percent of the novel. It became tedious because the "manuscript author" wrote so passionlessly.

And then there were two 2-star books this month: the robotically written The Woman in the Library and the way-over-my-head Packing My Library. I had high hopes for the latter, even to purchasing an e-book copy of it, but it was a real slog for me, and I'm still not sure what I read...or why. The Woman in the Library is so formulaic that it could have been written by a software program. Before that one is over, just about every main character in the novel has been featured in the role of red herring. It just got silly sometimes.

My favorite book of the month turned out to be To Hell with Honor by Larry Sklenar, an in-depth study of exactly what must have happened at the Little Big Horn in 1876 when Custer and most of his 7th Calvary were destroyed. It is very well researched and explains how such a thing could have happened - along with whom was really responsible for the poor decisions made that day by the US Army leadership. It is a real eye-opener, and it's earned a permanent slot on my History bookshelf.

Now that I've come to the end of this month's reading recap, I realize just how "blah" a reading month I really had. Having had only one particularly outstanding book all month long means that September almost has to be better without even trying very hard. 

As August ends, I'm at various stages of reading: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, The Burgler (a 1954 noir novel by David Goodis, Isaac's Storm (Erik Larson's third book), The Three-Cornered War (a Civil War history by Megan Kate Nelson), and Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie. Already, these seem to be going better than almost everything I finished it August.

Bye for now.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

July 2022 Reading Highlights Include New and Old Favorites


I managed to get away for two weeks in mid-July, a road trip through parts of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Iowa that I explored for the first time. All in all, I drove just over 4,400 miles but, thanks largely in part to audiobooks, I still managed to read ten books during the month. I find that I more easily absorb audiobooks of the mystery/spy thriller type, so my July reading largely reflects that: 

  1. Devil's Peak - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel #1 - South African
  2. Blank Pages - Bernard MacLaverty - 12 memorable short stories from an excellent Irish author
  3. Thirteen Hours - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel #2 - Two American teens run for their lives in South Africa
  4. The Trawlerman - William Shaw - Alex Cupidi #5
  5. Back of Beyond - C.J. Box - Standalone set in Yellowstone
  6. The Ranger - Ace Atkins - Introduces the Quinn Colson series
  7. Seven Days - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel series #3
  8. Cobra - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel series #4
  9. The Splendid and the Vile - Erik Larson - WWII history (1942) focusing on Churchill, Hitler, Goring, and Roosevelt
  10. The Bomb Maker - Thomas Perry - crazy bomb-maker tries to wipe out entire LAPD bomb squad
My newest "favorite" writer is South Africa's Deon Meyer, whose books are translated into English from the original Afrikaans. I read the first four books in Meyer's Benny Griessel series, and I highly recommend them to fans of the police procedural genre. The books have a great feel for what life must have been like in South Africa soon after all the big political changes impacted that country - especially what happened inside the big police departments there. 

The old favorites I revisited this month were Ace Atkins (finally read the first Quinn Colson novel), William Shaw, and Erik Larson (finally read the remarkable The Splendid and the Vile). In addition, I read the relatively disappointing Back of Beyond by C.J. Box and the wonderful The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry, an author I'm appreciating more every time I read something of his. 

I'm not sure where my reading will lead me next month, but I find myself wanting to spend some time reading books on 19th century American history, along with revisiting some of the classics from the likes of Austen and the Brontes. I've purchased four books in the six-book set by Andrews McMeel Publishing that includes beautiful new editions of Jane Eyre, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Little Women. Each of the books is illustrated by Marjolein Bastin and include realistic facsimile inserts true to the period and story. Bottom line is that the books are all so beautiful that I consider them to be individual pieces of art. 

Let's see what happens.

Friday, July 01, 2022

June Reading Highlights and One Disappointment

June worked out pretty well for me as I continued to explore Mick Herron's work, read the latest from one of my all-time favorite authors, and read what I think is the definitive biography of my favorite singer, Merle Haggard. 

It's kind of hard for me to believe that I only so recently discovered Mick Herron's "Slough House" series of novels and short stories because I've now read three of the books. The series is a rather cynical look at international espionage and those who spy for a living, and I've enjoyed reading all three books - and I'm looking forward to reading the series all the way through. 

Merle Haggard is unfamiliar to lots of people who don't believe they have anything in common with real country music (not that watered down stuff called country today...that's not even close to being music, much less authentic country music). But if a person were forced to listen to only one singer for the rest of his life, Haggard would be a good choice. The man was a musical genius who combined his wonderful voice and songwriting skills with his life experience to create some of the most beautiful, and meaningful, music ever recorded. Haggard's life story is so unusual that Marc Eliot's Merle Haggard bio, The Hag, reads like a novel at times.

It was nice to catch up, too, with Anne Tyler again via her latest novel French Braid. This, like most of Tyler's work is an understated look at a Baltimore family over several generations. It's impact begins to hit the reader about three-quarters of the way through, and by the novel's end I found myself truly caring what would happen to these people.

So, these are the ten books I completed in June:

  1. Dolphin Junction - Mick Herron - collection of short stories & novellas featuring his series characters - uneven, but fun
  2. The Hag - Marc Eliot - maybe the definitive Merle Haggard bio
  3. Dead Lions - Mick Herron - "Slough House" #2 - excellent story about Soviet sleeper agents who "wake up" after two decades
  4. Trunk Music - Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch #5 in which Harry reconnects with ex-FBI agent Eleanor Wish and they marry
  5. Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther - memoir of a father who watched his son fight a brain tumor for 15 months (1947 death)
  6. Hidden Depths - Ann Cleeves - Vera Stanhope #3 (2007)
  7. The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery - Amanda Cox - heavy-handed Christian novel with boring final third
  8. The List - Mick Herron - Novella, "Slough House" #2.5 
  9. French Braid - Anne Tyler - Gradual changes in family-tightness over four generations of a Baltimore family 
  10. Nightfall - David Goodis - New York noir classic from 1946
I have to say that I was disappointed and bored by The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery but that was more my fault than the author's because I didn't do my homework before getting well into the novel. If I had, I wouldn't have begun it at all because it is part of a genre I try to avoid: "Christian novels." My distaste for these novels has nothing to do with personal faith; I simply find the vast majority of them to be very heavy-handed and predictable. And, as a result, boring.

Nightfall is a 1946 novel that could serve as the blueprint for the entire noir crime genre with its very dark, almost surreal, setting and the way that all of the main characters (cops and crooks, alike) seemed to be doomed in one way or the other. I've been a fan of David Goodis novels ever since reading Dark Passage a while back, and this one is even better than Dark Passage in my estimation.

I spent the last couple of days in June immersed in Deon Meyer's Devil's Peak but didn't finish it up until today, so it will go down as a July read. I only discovered Meyer a couple of weeks ago when I saw that he was featured on the cover of the current issue of Mystery Scene magazine. Meyer is a South African novelist who is translated into English from Afrikaans, and he is brutally honest about the culture in which he lives and writes. I'll try to add something more about him later as time allows.

I hope you are all doing well these days and that things, tough as they can be, are at least slowly returning to the life we so used to take for granted. Still busy here as always, but hoping to speak with you guys soon.

Sam

Thursday, June 02, 2022

May Reading: Highlights & Disappointments

It's been a while, guys, but I thought I'd post a really brief recap of my May reading today in hopes that I may hear from some of my old friends out there.

This is what May 2022 looked like for me:

  1. Savage Run - C.J. Box - Joe Picket #2 - modern range war
  2. Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain - slave-baby & master's-baby switched at birth - lots of social commentary of the times
  3. Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky - V.I. Warshawski #1 - good introduction to series main characters, but mediocre plot 
  4. 1979 - Val McDermid - OK 1st book of proposed 10-book series
  5. One Damn Thing After Another - William P. Barr - at almost 700 pages, it answered all the questions I had about truth in politics
  6. Last Stand at Saber River - Elmore Leonard - excellent character-driven post Civil War novel set in Arizona
  7. Old Man Country - Thomas R. Cole - Interviews of elderly men about living into the "4th Age" - somewhat disappointing
  8. Rediscovering Travel - Seth Kugel - travel stories and tips from a professional traveler 
  9. The Madness of Crowds - Louise Penny - Unnecessarily long, dark post-pandemic novel; Penny may have "jumped the shark"
  10. Tyrus: A Memoir - Tyrus - short  memoir that completely manages to ignore the author's marriages and children
  11. The Babes in the Wood - Ruth Rendell - excellent mystery until Rendell ruins it by having Wexford recount its climax second-hand: show me, don't tell me  
  12. Slow Horses - Mick Herron - excellent tale about group of MI5 castoffs with ideas of their own - Book #1 in Slough House series

Currently Reading:
  • The Splendid and the Vile - Erik Larson
  • Dolphin Junction - Mick Herron
  • The Hag - Marc Eliot

The book that knocked my sox off last month was Mick Herron's Slow Horses, and I only even became aware of Herron's "Slough House" series because Apple TV decided to make the first book into a six-part series. I was immediately fascinated  by the characters, the actors, and the premise that a bunch of MI5 failures were shunted off to a dump of a building to do nothing but paperwork for the rest of their careers. 

I'm really excited by the series and Herron's writing. Dolphin Junction is a new collection of some of his short stories and novellas, and for the most part, I'm loving those too. I'm also reading a brand new Merle Haggard biography and struggling a bit to get into The Splendid and the Vile by another of my favorite authors, Erik Larson.

I do have to say that I was disappointed by several of my old favorites, specifically by Val McDermid's 1979, Ruth Rendell's The Babes in the Wood, and Louise Penny's The Madness of Crowds. Oh, well, can't win 'em all, I guess. 

Here's hoping all of you had a wonderful reading month and that you are all doing well. I've not been able to check in on your blogs as often as I hoped, but I may surprise you with an appearance soon.

Stay well, guys.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

2022 Reading Log




(For personal reasons, I've been forced to put an unplanned end to 
Book Chase. I do intend, however, to use the site to keep a record of my reading and will do so via this list - and perhaps other variations. Please feel free to comment in the usual manner if so inclined; I miss book blogging a lot, but I miss our conversation the most...Sam.)

5-Star Books (Ranked within Fiction and Nonfiction):
The Searchers - Alan Le May
Slow Horses Mick Herron
Nightfall - David Goodis
French Braid - Anne Tyler
The Bomb Maker - Thomas Perry
Cobra - Deon Meyer
Spook Street - Mick Herron
Devil's Peak - Deon Meyer
The First Stone - Carsten Jensen
Trunk Music - Michael Connelly
Endangered - C.J. Box
Red Bones - Ann Cleeves
The King Is Dead - Ellery Queen
Raven Black - Ann Cleeves
The Junction Boys - Jim Dent - NF
To Hell with Honor - Larry Sklenar - NF
The Splendid and the Vile - Erik Larson - NF
One Damn Thing After Another - William P. Barr - NF
Stolen Focus - Johann Hari - NF

4-Star Books:
Black Ice - Michael Connelly
Crime Hits Home - Various Authors
Little Big Man - Thomas Berger
Wednesday's Child - Peter Robinson
Get Back - The Beatles
Cold Earth - Ann Cleeves
Harlem Shuffle - Colson Whitehead
Tennison - Lynda La Plante
Innocent Graves - Peter Robinson
White Nights - Ann Cleeves
Cry Macho - N. Richard Nash
Dead Water - Ann Cleeves
Red Handed - Peter Schweizer
The Anthropocene Reviewed - John Green
The Silence - Susan Allott
Murder in Mykonos - Jeffrey Siger
Open Season - C.J. Box
One Writer's Beginnings - Eudora Welty
Grave's End - William Shaw
Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers - Michael E. Newton
Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain
Last Stand at Saber River - Elmore Leonard
Rediscovering Travel - Seth Kugel
Dolphin Junction - Mick Herron
The Hag - Marc Eliot
Dead Lions - Mick Herron
Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther
Hidden Depths - Ann Cleeves
The List - Mick Herron
Blank Pages - Bernard MacLaverty
Thirteen Hours - Deon Meyer
The Trawlerman - William Shaw
The Ranger - Ace Atkins
Seven Days - Deon Meyer
We Came, We Saw, We Left - Charles Wheelan
Real Tigers - Mick Herron
A String of Beads - Thomas Perry
The Burglar - David Goodis
Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
Isaac's Storm - Erik Larson
Cold Is the Grave - Peter Robinson

3-Star Books:
Expats - Christopher Dickey
The Kings of London - William Shaw
The Illusion of Simple - Charles Forrest Jones
Final Account - Peter Robinson
The Mountain Lion - Jean Stafford
The Dutch Shoe Mystery - Ellery Queen
Black Money - Ross Macdonald
Blue Lightning - Ann Cleeves
Rizzio - Denise Mina
Thin Air - Ann Cleeves
Wild Fire - Ann Cleeves 
Maigret in New York - Georges Simenon
Blood at the Root - Peter Robinson
Savage Run - C.J. Box
Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky
1979 - Val McDermid
Old Man Country - Thomas R. Cole
The Madness of Crowds - Louise Penny
Back of Beyond - C.J. Box
The Good Daughters - Joyce Maynard
Stupid Things I Won't Do When I Get Old - Steven Petrow
Bridge of Spies - Giles Whittell
Blood Safari - Deon Meyer
In a Dry Season - Peter Robinson
Leave the Grave Green - Deborah Crombie
Vanishing Act - Thomas Perry
Wrong Place, Wrong Time - Gillian McAllister

2-Star Books:
The Words Between Us - Erin Bartels
The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections - Eva Jurczyk
Shadows of Pecan Hollow - Caroline Frost
Sea of Tranquility -  Emily St. John Mandel
Tyrus: A Memoir - Tyrus
The Babes in the Wood - Ruth Rendell
The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery - Amanda Cox
The Woman in the Library - Sulari Gentill
Packing My Library - Alberto Manguel


 January 2022

  1. Black Ice - Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch  #2
  2. Crime Hits Home - Various Authors - Short Stories
  3. Little Big Man - Thomas Berger - Classic Western Novel
  4. Wednesday's Child - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #6
  5. Get Back - The Beatles - Documentary Companion Book
  6. Cold Earth - Ann Cleeves -  Jimmy Perez #7
  7. The Illusion of Simple - Charles Forrest Jones - Crime Novel
  8. Expats - Christopher Dickey - Nonfiction 
  9. The Kings of London - William Shaw - Breen & Tozer #2
  10. Harlem Shuffle - Colson Whitehead - Crime Novel
  11. Raven Black - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #1
  12. The Words Between Us - Erin Bartels - Thriller Romance 
February 
  1. The King Is Dead - Ellery Queen - 1952 Classic Mystery
  2. The Searchers - Alan Le May - 1954 Classic Western
  3. Final Account - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #7
  4. Tennison - Lynda La Plante - Jane Tennison #4 - Prequel 
  5. The Mountain Lion - Jean Stafford - 1947 coming-of-age novel
  6. Innocent Graves - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #8
  7. White Nights - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #2
  8. Stolen Focus - Johann Hari - Big Tech impact on ADD
  9. The Dutch Shoe Mystery - Ellery Queen - 1931 Classic Mystery
  10. Black Money - Ross Macdonald - 1965 - Lew Archer #13
  11. Red Bones - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #3
March
  1. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections - Eva Jurczyk - Novel about thefts from a university library 
  2. Cry Macho -  N. Richard Nash - 1975 novel & 2021 coming-of-age movie starring Clint Eastwood (brilliant book/so-so movie)
  3. Blue Lightning - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #4
  4. Shadows of Pecan Hollow - Caroline Frost - Predictable crime/coming-of-age novel set in Southeast Texas
  5. Dead Water - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #5: Jimmy is back
  6. Red Handed - Peter Schweizer - How prominent Americans are bribed by the Chinese government and what they do in return
  7. The Anthropocene Reviewed - John Green - A revealing memoir disguised as 44 short, unrelated essays
  8. Rizzio - Denise Mina - novella, 16th century historical fiction
  9. Thin Air - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #6
  10. The Silence - Susan Allott - British mystery set in Australia 
April
  1. The First Stone - Carsten Jensen - Danish novel about Afghani war
  2. Wild Fire - Ann Cleeves - 8th & Final Jimmy Perez novel - flat 
  3. The Junction Boys  - Jim Dent - Coach Bear Bryant's infamous 1954 football camp at Texas A&M (favorite sports book ever)
  4. Sea of Tranquility - Emily St. John Mandel - time-travel novel in which I never felt a connection to any of the characters
  5. Maigret in New York - Georges Simenon - Maigret #27 (1947)
  6. Endangered - C. J. Box - Joe Pickett #15; excellently plotted
  7. Murder in Mykonos - Jeffrey Siger - CI Andreas Kaldis #1
  8. Open Season - C.J. Box - Joe Pickett #1 - Perfect introduction
  9. One Writer's Beginnings - Eudora Welty - memoir in three parts
  10. Grave's End -  William Shaw - Alex Cupidi # 4 - well written, character-driven crime novel
  11. Blood at the Root - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #9
  12. Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers - Michael E. Newton - a revealing look at the American Revolution
May
  1. Savage Run - C.J. Box - Joe Picket #2 - modern range war
  2. Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain - slave-baby & master's-baby switched at birth - lots of social commentary of the times
  3. Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky - V.I. Warshawski #1 - good introduction to series main characters, but mediocre plot 
  4. 1979 - Val McDermid - OK 1st book of proposed 10-book series
  5. One Damn Thing After Another - William P. Barr - at almost 700 pages, it answered all the questions I had about truth in politics
  6. Last Stand at Saber River - Elmore Leonard - excellent character-driven post Civil War novel set in Arizona
  7. Old Man Country - Thomas R. Cole - Interviews of elderly men about living into the "4th Age" - somewhat disappointing
  8. Rediscovering Travel - Seth Kugel - travel stories and tips from a professional traveler 
  9. The Madness of Crowds - Louise Penny - Unnecessarily long, dark post-pandemic novel; Penny may have "jumped the shark"
  10. Tyrus: A Memoir - Tyrus - short  memoir that completely manages to ignore the author's marriages and children
  11. The Babes in the Wood - Ruth Rendell - excellent mystery until Rendell ruins it by having Wexford recount its climax second-hand: show me, don't tell me  
  12. Slow Horses - Mick Herron - excellent tale about group of MI5 castoffs with ideas of their own - Book #1 in Slough House series
June
  1. Dolphin Junction - Mick Herron - collection of short stories & novellas featuring his series characters - uneven, but fun
  2. The Hag - Marc Eliot - maybe the definitive Merle Haggard bio
  3. Dead Lions - Mick Herron - "Slough House" #2 - excellent story about Soviet sleeper agents who "wake up" after two decades
  4. Trunk Music - Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch #5 in which Harry reconnects with ex-FBI agent Eleanor Wish and they marry
  5. Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther - memoir of a father who watched his son fight a brain tumor for 15 months (1947 death)
  6. Hidden Depths - Ann Cleeves - Vera Stanhope #3 (2007)
  7. The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery - Amanda Cox - heavy-handed Christian novel with boring final third
  8. The List - Mick Herron - Novella, "Slough House" #2.5 
  9. French Braid - Anne Tyler - Gradual changes in family-tightness over four generations of a Baltimore family 
  10. Nightfall - David Goodis - New York noir classic from 1946
July
  1. Devil's Peak - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel #1 - South African
  2. Blank Pages - Bernard MacLaverty - 12 memorable short stories from an excellent Irish author
  3. Thirteen Hours - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel #2 - Two American teens run for their lives in South Africa
  4. The Trawlerman - William Shaw - Alex Cupidi #5
  5. Back of Beyond - C.J. Box - Standalone set in Yellowstone
  6. The Ranger - Ace Atkins - Introduces the Quinn Colson series
  7. Seven Days - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel series #3
  8. Cobra - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel series #4
  9. The Splendid and the Vile - Erik Larson - WWII history (1942) focusing on Churchill, Hitler, Goring, and Roosevelt
  10. The Bomb Maker - Thomas Perry - crazy bomb-maker tries to wipe out entire LAPD bomb squad
August
  1. The Good Daughters - Joyce Maynard - Two very different families share a huge secret for over 50 years
  2. We Came, We Saw, We Left - Charles Wheelan - man travels around the world for 9 months with wife & 3 teens - Nonfiction
  3. To Hell with Honor - Larry Sklenar - Brilliant explanation of what happened at The Little Big Horn and who was responsible
  4. Stupid Things I Won't Do When I Get Old - Steven Petrow - writer vows to practice what he learned from watching his parents age
  5. The Woman in the Library - Sulari Gentill - Disappointing mystery using novel-inside-a-novel structure that is stupefyingly formulaic 
  6. Real Tigers - Mick Herron - #4 in the terrific Slough House series 
  7. A String of Beads - Thomas Perry - Jane Whitefield #8 - Jane hides he childhood Seneca best friend from cops and killers 
  8. Bridge of Spies - Giles Whittell - Account of U-2 pilot Gary Powers, his capture by Russia and exchange for Russian spy
  9. Blood Safari - Deon Meyer - Second novel in Meyer's Lemmer series about a South African bodyguard
  10. In a Dry Season - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #10 - a case going back to World War II; Banks meets DS Annie Cabbot
  11. Packing My Library - Alberto Manguel - Argentinian author's 10 essays and 10 "digressions" on packing away his personal library
September
  1. The Burglar - David Goodis - '50s noir at its best - really gets into the heads of the gang members and what motivates them
  2. Leave the Grave Green - Deborah Crombie - Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James #3 - in which the pair get "romantic"
  3. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë - the classic anti-Jane-Austen-novel; filled with dark, cruel, and egotistical characters
  4. Isaac's Storm - Erik Larson - nonfiction account of the September 8, 1900 hurricane that almost wiped out the city of Galveston
  5. Spook Street - Mick Herron - #5 in Slough House series - proves that this series really does need to be read in order; it's brilliant
  6. Vanishing Act - Thomas Perry - Jane Whitefield series #1; Jane fails a client - does not feel as formulaic as the more recent books
  7. Wrong Place, Wrong Time - Gillian McAllister - "Can you stop a murder after it happens?" One woman sure hopes so.
  8. Cold Is the Grave - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #11 - Banks's chief nemesis has his whole family destroyed

Currently Reading: 
  • Fight Night - Miriam Towes
  • Bookends - Zibby Owens

Categories:
  • E-books - 24
  • Audiobooks - 28
  • Abandoned - 7
  • Translations - 7
  • Library Books - 66
  • From My Shelves - 24
  • Review Copies - 3
  • Amazon Prime Loans - 3
  • Fiction - 75
  • Nonfiction - 21
  • Male Authors - 66
  • Female Authors - 29
  • By Both - 1
  • American - 50
  • British - 33
  • Canadian - 3
  • Danish - 1
  • French - 1
  • South African - 5
  • Irish - 1
  • Australian - 1
  • Argentinian - 1

  • 2022 - 13
  • 2021 - 13
  • 2020 - 3
  • 2010s- 26
  • 2000s - 13
  • 1990s - 13
  • 1980s - 1
  • 1970s - 1
  • 1960s - 2
  • 1950s - 4
  • 1940s - 4
  • 1930s - 1
  • 1920s - 0
  • 1910s - 0
  • 1900s - 0
  • 1800s - 2
Pages Read: 
  • Jan -    3,348
  • Feb -   3,559
  • Mar -  3,326
  • Apr -   3,466
  • May -  3,316
  • Jun -    3,229
  • Jul -     3,702
  • Aug -   3,265
  • Sep -    2,107
  • Total - 29,318

Sunday, January 16, 2022

International Television Crime Series - Part 2

More of my favorite television series from around the world:


Astrid (Called Astrid et Raphaëlle in France) 

French with subtitles

One Season (9 episodes in total) with more to come

Premise: Astrid Nielsen, who has Asperger's syndrome, maintains the evidence and case files in the judicial police library. She has an incredible memory and uses her own brand of logic to solve puzzles, so the police district commander decides to have her take a look at a number of cold cases. She is partnered with Raphaëlle, and their relationship is half the fun. Great characters. Good mysteries.

Starring: Sara Mortensen, Lola Dewaere, and Benoit Michel

My Rating: 5 Stars



Guilt

British (PBS/Masterpiece)

One Season (4 episodes in total)

Premise: Two very different brothers, one wealthy and successful, the other barely scraping by as a record shop owner, get themselves into big trouble one night when they accidentally run over a pedestrian on a quiet residential street. Their attempt to cover up their involvement in the old man's death takes numerous twists and turns. Quirky, fun, sometimes funny, this one will suck you right in.

Starring: Mark Bonnar (a personal favorite), Jamie Sives, and Ruth Bradley

My Rating: 4 stars



DCI Banks

British

5 Seasons plus the pilot (32 episodes in total)

Premise: Based on the long Inspector Banks series by author Peter Robinson, this is a character-driven series of police procedurals headed up by a man who fled London police work for a quieter career. Looks like he was wrong about that...of course.

Starring: Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe

My Rating: 3 Stars



Bloodlands

British

One Season (4 episodes in total)

Premise: A police detective is charged with investigating a series of disappearances that occurred almost 20 years earlier during Northern Irelands violent and bloody past. One of the people who disappeared was his own wife, and when people around the investigation begin to die, the detective knows he is getting close to finding those responsible. The main character is always interesting, but this one is very dark.

Starring: James Nesbitt, Lorcan Cranitch, and Charlene McKenna

My Rating: 3.5 Stars



Elizabeth Is Missing

British (PBS/Masterpiece)

One 87-minute movie

Premise: An old woman, who is moving deeper and deeper into dementia, worries that something bad has happened to her missing friend, Elizabeth. She begins looking for clues on her own but her old memories get confused with her present day investigation to the extent that she starts inadvertently recovering clues to her sister's disappearance of decades earlier. She needs to solve both mysteries before her own mind makes it too late for that to ever happen. It's a race against the clock and calendar. 

Starring: Glenda Jackson (a personal favorite), Helen Behan, and Sophie Rundle

My Rating: 5 Stars



Bäckström

Swedish with subtitles

One Season (6 episodes total)

Premise: By this point in his career, Bäckström is as much a national TV star in Sweden as he is a police investigator. He has become everyone's go-to guy for TV interviews that television commentators love to do when fresh crimes are being speculated about. This time he is investigating one of the strangest murders he's ever run across during his long career: the skull of a recent murder victim has been uncovered but the victim is known to have died years earlier. Great characters.

Starring: Kjell Bergqvist, Agnes Lindström Bolmgren, and Livia Millhagan 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Saturday, January 15, 2022

International Television Crime Series - Part 1

Like so many of you, I am almost as big a fan of international crime television series as I am of published crime fiction. The interesting thing to me is how much the television shows and the books overlap...although  when that happens, I always end up preferring the books to the television.

Here are some of the television series from around the world that I have either already enjoyed or am still in the process of enjoying:



Agathe Koltès
French with subtitles

One Season  (10 episodes total)

Premise: Big city cop comes to coastal village to join the local police force commanded by her daughter, who resents her. Their relationship is kept secret from everyone else...until it slips out. 

Starring: Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu and Hortense Gélinet 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Blood
Irish/British
Two Seasons (12 episodes total)
Premise: A young woman becomes convinced that her father had something to do with her mother's sudden death.
Starring: Adrian Dunbar and Carolina Main. 
My Rating: 5 stars Season 1, 4 stars Season 2

Bosch
American
Seven Seasons (68 episodes total)
Premise: LA cop Harry Bosch refuses to play by the rules but he is the best detective in the precinct. Based on the Michael Connelly Bosch series. 
Starring: Titus Welliver, Jamie Hector, Amy Aquino, Lance Reddick, and Madison Lintz.
My Rating: 5 Stars for all seasons

Tin Star
British
Three Seasons (25 episodes total)
Premise: Former London cop takes a job as chief of police in small town Canada. It all begins innocently enough before his past catches up with him and all hell breaks loose.
Starring: Tim Roth, Genevieve O'Reilly, Christina Hendricks, and Abigail Lawrie.
My Rating: 5 Stars for Seasons One and Two 

The Long Call
British
One Season (4 episodes total)
Premise: To be with his partner, a gay policeman returns to the town from which he was ostracized years earlier by a fundamentalist religious cult. His past haunts him daily. (Based on the Ann Cleeves novel)
Starring: Ben Aldridge, Declan Bennett, Sarah Gordy, Anita Dobson, and Siobhán Cullen.
My Rating: 3 Stars

The Blood Pact
Dutch series with subtitles
Three Seasons (30 total episodes)
Premise: A mobster recently released from prison coerces a Dutch tax official into helping him solve his money problems. Their eventual bonding surprises both of them.
Starring: Barry Atsma, Georgina Verbaan, and Jacob Derwig. 
My Rating:  A solid 5 all the way through

As much for my own record-keeping and memory-jogging as for anything else, I'm going to add to this original group of favorite television series as time allows. In the meantime, I hope some of you find something here that you might enjoy. Too, please feel free to recommend your own favorite TV series in any comments you post below. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Cold Earth - Ann Cleeves


Cold
Earth, published in 2016, is the seventh book in the eight-book Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. Prior to reading this one, my only experience with the series and its characters came via the very successful television series based on the books. Fans of both will already know that there are some significant differences between the books and the television shows, but it is worth mentioning a couple of them. 


First, the physical appearance of the main character, Jimmy Perez, is not at all the same. In the television series, people meeting Jimmy for the first time are a little startled by his surname because he bears no resemblance to their stereotypical idea of what a “Perez” should look like. In the shows, Jimmy sometimes explains the origin of the name in his bloodline. That is something he does not have to do much in the books because he is described in those as having dark hair and eyes — people meeting him for the first time are likely to be more surprised by his Shetland/Scottish accent than by his physical appearance.


Second, and must more significantly, Jimmy’s stepdaughter Cassie is about a decade younger in the books than she is in the television series. Even as near the end of the series as Cold Earth is, Jimmy is still having to look for babysitters for the little girl when he is unexpectedly called out on a case. At a similar stage of the television series, Cassie is already living on the mainland and only returns to the Shetlands for periodic visits to her two fathers. This age difference places the focus on two very different aspects of Jimmy’s personality in the books and shows. 


The opening of Cold Earth is one of my favorite parts of the novel: a small crowd has gathered in a hilltop cemetery to say goodbye to an old friend of Jimmy’s. It’s cold, windy, and rainy already, and everyone is plenty miserable even before a mudslide triggered by days of torrential rain comes roaring toward them. The slide is bad enough that all the cemetery’s headstones are smashed and carried further downhill, and the crowd can do nothing but watch helplessly as a nearby small house is totally destroyed by the mud that slams into it. The only good news is that no one lives in the house because its elderly owner has recently died.


So what’s to be made of the total stranger, a dark-haired woman dressed in a beautiful red silk dress, that Jimmy discovers in the wreckage? 


No one knows her name, where she’s from, or even how long she may have been living in the now-destroyed house. Soon enough, though, Jimmy discovers a little wooden box amid the rubble that contains pictures of two children and an unsigned letter addressed to someone called Alis. Beginning with what’s in the box, and with a lot of help from the mainland Scottish police, Jimmy starts pulling on one thread after the other until it all starts to make sense. But what he is about to learn has the power to destroy families, ruin countless reputations, and get others killed, including someone close to him. 


Bottom Line: Ann Cleeves has a well deserved reputation as one of the finest crime writers working today, having already enjoyed huge success with both her Shetland series and her Vera Stanhope series. Her new Two Rivers series featuring Detective Matthew Venn has also been well received and is off to an excellent start. Cold Earth (I wish I could reveal the origin of that title without having to use a spoiler to do it) is another example of her brilliance, and I am looking forward to reading more of the Jimmy Perez story very soon.


Ann Cleeves


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Get Back - The Beatles, Peter Jackson, Hanif Kureishi, and John Harris


Although Get Back includes a Foreword from Peter Jackson, an Introduction from Hanif Kureishi, and an Afterword from John Harris, the Beatles are rightfully credited as authors of the book. The bulk of Get Back is verbatim dialogue taken directly from the 120 hours of tape recorded in January 1969 while the Beatles were trying to figure out for themselves if they were working on a TV show, a documentary, a live appearance, or simply their next album (Let It Be). As such, the book makes for the near perfect companion piece to Jackson’s almost eight-hour documentary recently released on Disney+. 


Beatles fans know, of course, that what happened in January 1969 also marked the beginning of the end of The Beatles as a band. Rather than ever again performing live as a band or collaborating in any real sense, the Beatles were on the verge of embarking on solo careers, something that everyone but Ringo Starr seemed keen to do. Inevitable as the breakup was, it still marks a sad moment in the lives of contemporary fans of the band, a moment they still remember well. 


But, as Hanif Kureishi puts it:


“Don’t cry about it. The end of The Beatles was as necessary as it was inevitable, as important and liberating as the end of any relationship. The Sixties were done; the Seventies would be darker and The Beatles were only rarely a dark band. Something else, far harder and crueler would be required. After Abbey Road there would be Bowie’s Hunky Dory.”


Get Back is presented in three acts: “Act One: Twickenham Film Studios,” “Act Two: Apple Studios,” and “Act Three: The Rooftop.” The acts are further broken down into separate conversations for each day that The Beatles worked at the specified location, clarified in part by noting what songs were rehearsed, who else was present but silent, and what activities were happening in the background. 


Keep in mind that this is what is often referred to as a “coffee table” book, an oversized book using heavy, glossy paper that includes dozens of specially selected photos taken at the time by photographers Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney (wife of Paul McCartney). The thing weighs in at over four pounds, and feels even heavier than that for some reason; this is a quality product. Reading Get Back may not be the same as watching Peter Jackson’s stunning documentary, but it is definitely the next best thing. Even better, is doing both.


I’ll close with one final quote from Mr. Kureishi:


“They had to escape. And we had to let them go. We owed them that, after what they’d done for us. The four of them would go on working, playing and entertaining us. It was their living, their life and destiny. Our tribute is to play the records and hand them on to our kids, while thanking the band, and being grateful every time we hear those voices for some of the most beautiful pop songs ever created.”


Yes. 


Apple Studios, January 21-31, 1969


Sunday, January 09, 2022

Wednesday's Child - Peter Robinson


Wednesday’s Child
(1992) is the sixth of Peter Robinson’s twenty-seven Inspector Banks novels. Even though I have already read the latest three novels in the series, it was not until I decided to start reading the Banks series from the beginning, and got into book number five (Past Reason Hated), that I finally began to much warm up to Banks and his crew. Robinson, to that point, seemed content to write very good, straightforward police procedurals more than the kind of crime book that most appeals to me: those in which the main and supporting characters are so fully developed that I can begin predicting their reactions to whatever situation they confront in each new novel. Simply put, that’s when it all becomes real to me.


Wednesday’s Child picks up much from where the previous novel ended. Alan Banks, now forty years old, is still happy with his decision to have left London for the slower pace of life he and his family enjoy in northern England. His home life, however, is not what he wishes it were now that his son has begun university studies half way across the country and his daughter much prefers the company of her teenaged friends to that of her parents. And now, Banks’s wife seems to blame his impatience for much of the friction between them and their daughter. It doesn’t help, of course, that Banks often works the kind of hours that cause him and his wife to live almost separate lives for weeks at a time. 


But first and foremost, Alan Banks is a cop who tends to take crimes committed on his home turf personally — especially those crimes that victimize children. When seven-year-old Gemma Scupham is taken from her home by fake social care workers, Banks knows that if he doesn’t find the little girl quickly, he will almost certainly never find her alive. He also knows that Gemma is not being held for ransom because the girl’s mother, who depends on government payments for support, is incapable of paying any ransom at all to get her daughter back. So now, considering what is likely happening to the little girl, it is all hands on deck. Even Detective Superintendent Gristhorpe, more administrator than field investigator these days, is back in the field. 


After a body is discovered by sheer chance inside a remote, abandoned mine, Banks is removed from the kidnapping case so that he can handle the murder investigation. But then something strange happens. Some of the same names, and leads, begin to appear in both investigations — and if the little girl has any chance of survival, Banks and Gristhorpe know that it will take their combined efforts to save her. The race is on.


Bottom Line: The Inspector Banks series is not one I might still be reading if I had first begun reading the books in the order in which they were published. I am grateful that I started the series from the wrong end, after Banks had become more of a fleshed-out character than he is in the early books. Take this as the word of encouragement it is meant to be: the Alan Banks character should not be given up on too soon because like me, in the end, you just might start calling Alan Banks one of your favorite fictional detectives of them all. 


Peter Robinson


Friday, January 07, 2022

Edna Ferber, Detective (Ed Ifkovic Mystery Series)


That so many of my favorite book blogs are authored by fans of series crime fiction has resulted in me now following/reading something near two dozen such series. And because more than a few of those series were several years old by the time I finally became aware of them, the backlists involved are lengthy enough to provide me with years of fun reading to look forward to.

Even so, there's always room for one...or several...more, and that's why I want to ask if any of you are currently reading the "Edna Ferber, Detective" series featured in the latest Mystery Scene magazine (number 170). Ed Ifkovic began using author Edna Ferber as a fictional detective in 2009 and has averaged almost a novel per year since then:

  • Lone Star (2009)
  • Escape Artist (2011)
  • Make Believe (2012)
  • Downtown Strut (2013)
  • Final Curtain (2013)
  • Cafe Europa (2015)
  • Cold Morning (2016)
  • Old News (2017)
  • Mood Indigo (2018)
  • Run Cold (2019)
  • Indian Summer (2020)


Series Author Ed Ifkovic

According to the Mystery Scene article, the novels jump back and forth between the various decades of Ferber's life and career, so it doesn't sound as if there is any particular benefit to reading them in order. That said, I did decide to take a look at the series via its first book because that one is set during the filming of Ferber's novel Giant in 1955. Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and others involved in the movie are included as characters in Lone Star, but the primary focus is on actor James Dean because the murder victim in the story is a woman who has accused Dean of fathering her child. 

Edna Ferber in 1928

Edna Ferber (1885-1968) was the author of numerous novels, plays, novellas, and short stories. Among her most famous were the Pulitzer Prize winning So Big (1924), Showboat (1926), Cimarron (1930), and Giant (1952). I particularly admire the dedication in her 1938 autobiography: "To Adolph Hitler, who has made me a better Jew and a more understanding human being, as he has millions of other Jews, this book is dedicated in loathing and contempt." 1938, this was.

I have a vague recollection of seeing this series mentioned on another book blog, and I know that the books are not going to be new to all of you, so please do let me know what you think of them.