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Friday, October 16, 2020

New Book in November from David Sedaris Because We All Need a Laugh


A new book from humorist David Sedaris is coming out in November. The Best of Me is, as the title implies, a collection of previously released material. Because Sedaris is so very funny, and considering all that is going on in the world, this type of collection simply screams 'potential holiday gift', so check your shopping list, folks. We need more smart and funny in this world. Let's support it where we find it.

Last spring I read his 2019 book Calypso and really enjoyed it. Many of the essays in Calypso focus on the author's family and life with his partner. Because this is not a book by Emma Bombeck  (remember her?), some of these essays address the sorrows of life and the reader is shown a great deal about tough, personal topics. 

Yet these difficult personal essays are interesting to read because the events within are shown to us with the honesty mixed with wit, style, and singular voice that is the magic of Sedaris. There is also enjoyable silliness (his Fitbit obsession) and some juvenile matters concerning swearing and, ahem, the stomach flu. Quite the mix of stuff and great to read. Highly recommend checking out Calypso.

As always, links to Amazon are provided for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, I may receive a small commission if, after clicking a link, you subsequently make a purchase. Muchas gracias, amigos. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

New Book from Tana French


A new book from Tana French was released this month, The Searcher.  According to the book's page on Amazon, it is currently a #1 Best Seller in Witch and Wizard Thrillers. I have no idea why that is the case; and whether or not that is a recommendation is up to you, my friends.

I am a fan of the six books in French's Dublin murder squad series, crime novels featuring  a loosely connected set of Irish detectives. Her seventh book, The Witch Elm  (well-off young man's life in downward spiral) is not part of that series. 

I didn't really enjoy The Witch Elm, although everyone else apparently did as it was a New York Times Notable book in 2018 and an NPR Best Book of 2018. For me, the story was too creepy without being engaging; does that make sense?

Although The Witch Elm didn't tick my boxes for a good read, I plan to read The SearcherThe Searcher, according to the publisher's web site, is about a retired Chicago police officer who lives in Ireland. When a local boy goes missing, he gets drawn into investigating. What could possibly go wrong?

As always, links to Amazon are provided for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, I may receive a small commission if, after clicking a link, you subsequently make a purchase. Muchas gracias, amigos. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Currently Reading: Novels, Mysteries and Short Stories

So much has happened in the world since my last post. I don't know about you, but for me it has been tough to find time for reading when there is so much going on with respect to the future of our country. In fact, the fly on VP Mike Pence's head at this past week's debate had a greater attention span than I have had for books recently.

Nonetheless, in tough times a good book provides a welcome space for relaxation, escape, and entertainment, so I have been doing some reading. Below is a quick look at a few of the books I've read in the past few weeks and months. Let me know in the comments if there are any particular books you recommend.

Yee Haw! The Recently-Read Round-Up 

Deep Dive (Sam Acquillo Mysteries Book 9) by  Chris Knopf 
Snap Review: Love it.

I'm a huge fan of Chris Knopf and his series featuring Sam Acquillo is my favorite. In this episode, a suspicious death occurs at the home of Sam's wealthy friend Burton Lewis. When it looks like the police are looking to put Lewis in the frame for the death, Sam steps in to investigate. His investigation takes him to Puerto Rico and a stealth look at the maybe shady charity that employed the deceased. 

There are lots of twists in this entertaining read, accompanied by the dry humor author Chris Knopf always provides. Highly recommend all Knopf's books.

Pizza Girl  by Jean Kyoung Frazier 
Snap Review: It was okay.

After reading a write-up about this book in the New York Times, I thought I'd give it a whirl. Kyoung Frazier does a great job of putting down on paper a portrait of young woman. Let's tick off the some of the demographics: the protagonist is 18, pregnant, finished with school, has a wee bit of a drinking problem, and is working as a pizza delivery driver. She misses her dead dad and is living with her mom and her boyfriend, the expectant father. Boyfriend has given up dreams of college in order to support his new family. 

Our protagonist doesn't seem to have any plans beyond those which circumstances have thrust upon her. Then, Pizza Girl becomes obsessed with one of her customers, Jenny. And from there the tale develops. 

The book is successful in bringing forth fresh characters and a memorable plot. So why didn't I love it? Maybe there was just too much going on for this character; and maybe that was the point as this book is a loud shout about youth. If that interests you, give it a read and let me know what you think.

The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson
Snap Review: Scandinavian mystery. Strange stuff, but interesting.

This is book three in a series. I jumped in without reading the two earlier books and had no trouble with the plot. The story is set in Iceland. There is a double murder at a remote farmhouse. There is a snowstorm. And our investigating detective has shattering developments in her private life. 

All together, everything is a bit creepy, making this one of those undemanding, interesting mysteries that take your mind off the world. 

The Shooting at Chateau Rock  by Martin Walker
Snap Review: I love reading all things Martin Walker, including this book.

This is another entry in the series by Martin Walker featuring Bruno, the police chief of a small village in France. After there is a suspicious death in the village - suspicious because the deceased disinherited his children in favor of purchasing continuing care at a retirement home -- Bruno investigates as only he can do. In addition to shady insurance companies, there are Russians, rock stars, all of Bruno's friends and, of course, food. 

I love this series and being inside this world created by Martin Walker. 

Dear Life by Alice Munro
Snap Review: I loved it.

Dear Life won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013 and, not that the Nobel people need me to say it, rightly so! These stories about the relationships and brief encounters of ordinary folks are burning, quiet, and spare. I loved it. Check it out. 

As always, links to Amazon are provided for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, I may receive a small commission if, after clicking a link, you subsequently make a purchase. Muchas gracias, amigos. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

A New Challenge: Reading all the Edgar Nominees for Best Novel before April 30, 2020

The Edgar Awards will be presented this year on April 30. My favorite category is the award for Best Novel. Typically, all the books that are nominated for an Edgar in this category are enjoyable to mystery fans, but of course there can only be one winner. So, in the manner of the Academy Awards for movies, I'm going to read all five nominees before April 30 in an effort to anticipate who that winner might be.

Reading all five books within this timeline is a bit easier for me as I've already read two: Peter Heller's The River and Elly Griffiths's The Stranger Diaries. The remaining three are Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland, Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham, and Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee.

Smoke and Ashes is the third book in a series. Although I am a wee bit disappointed that I won't be reading these books in order, sometimes sacrifices must be made.

If you've read any of these books, or are up for joining me in reading all five by April 30, give a shout out in the comments.

Relaxing when you should be reading: A Dramatization.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Epidemics! Pandemics! Read all about it!

Looking for another topic of concern that can race through your brain at three in the morning, robbing you of sleep and roiling your stomach? Well, with the spread of coronavirus, the loud and angry voices of the anti-science crowd, a President and Republican Party that don't believe in government and public health, it seems like a pretty good time to get worried about a global pandemic.

And while worrying is a given in this day-and-age, there are also smart and interesting books that help us understand what is going on with respect to global health threats. Here are a few titles that have been recommended to me on the topic of viruses - where it goes and how it flows - and the biology and politics of it all.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen: Author David Quammen tackles the subject of the movement of viruses from wildlife to humans.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. Mr. Barry looks at how biology and politics combined to result in the 1918 Influenza.

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola, and Beyond by Sonia Shah. Sonia Shah examines the dangers of pathogens by examining the spread of cholera.

And on the fiction side of things:

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel: In this novel, a virus takes off, an apocalypse occurs, and the world as we know it falls apart.

The Earth Abides by George R. Stuart: Originally published in 1949, this classic novel is about a global pandemic that wipes out all most all of humankind. How will the few survivors fare?

And from the fiction that I have read and highly recommend:

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: A flu pandemic wipes out a man's family. With his dog by his side, he seeks to find what is left in the world. I love this novel. You might, too. If you've read The Dog Stars, share your thoughts about the book in the comment section. If you haven't read it, please try it out.

Global pandemic, illustrated.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Put the American West in Your TBR Pile: An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson and Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

I'm behind on reading Craig Johnson's mystery series featuring Walt Longmire. I recently finished An Obvious Fact featuring the Wyoming sheriff and his good friend Henry Standing Bear. It was an entertaining story with the wit and action we expect in this series. But still out there to be read are The Western Star (2017), Depth of Winter (2018), Land of Wolves (2019). Boy-howdy! Some good options ahead for books.

Another interesting series set in the west came to my attention recently when I read Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. This time the action is set during the California gold rush. I have no idea how this YA book ended up in my to-be-read pile, but I'm so glad it did; it was very engaging.

The protagonist in Walk on Earth a Stranger is a young woman, Leah, who can sense where gold is located - whether it is in someone's pocket or a nugget in a stream. This is a useful, and dangerous, talent. After a horrible disaster hits her family, she disguises herself as a young man and joins a wagon train traveling to California. There are lots of adventures - most of them dangerous - along the way. How Leah manages to survive is exciting to read. This is the first book in a series and I am looking forward to reading more of the Gold Seer Trilogy, including Like a River Glorious and Into the Bright Unknown.

There is a lot of reading pleasure in a good series of books. If you've taken a flyer on something off the latest bestseller list and find that it just isn't clicking, turning to an enjoyable series is a great option. And there is lots of entertainment in the Craig Johnson series, or with Rae Carson if you are interested in YA reads. Read on!

An Arizona sunset to inspire your reading.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Four (and more) for February 2020

On the road into 2020.

Sometime at the end of 2019, I saw an interview with NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers in which Rogers said that he was setting a resolution to read more books in 2020. 'Hell fire,' I thought, 'If a busy guy like the Green Bay Packers star is setting an intention to read more, than I can set an intention to read more - and blog about it.'

So, let's go!

Four books have caught my attention for February 2020. The first is The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. I'm a fan of Larson, starting with the first of his books that I read, The Devil in the White City (nonfiction account of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and a serial killer at large).

In his new book, Larson looks at Winston Churchill and London during the blitz, the bombing campaign waged against England by Hitler. Having just finished reading A Woman of No Importance, I'm in the mood for another nonfiction read about World War II. Stories of real people acting heroically are inspiring. (Actually, I may do this book as an audio book. Is that cutting corners? Nah.)

Second on my list for February is Weather by Jenny Offill. Based upon the summaries of the plot, I'm anticipating that this novel is one that is read more for the unique literary experience than for the hard-charging plot. The story is about a librarian named Lizzie. Lizzie's mentor, Sylvia, is a national expert on climate change. Sylvia is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. Lizzie does so. According to Kirkus Reviews, the ensuing "tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor."

On third base, as it were, is The Cactus League by Emily Nemens. Set in Arizona during spring training, this novel is about a baseball team and its star outfielder, handsome and talented Jason Goodyear - who is falling apart. I'm a baseball fan and since players will soon start reporting, this book sounds like it may be a good warm-up to the season.

Note also that if you want are interested in more books with a baseball hook, check out The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Also, author Steve Hamilton has a good mystery series featuring Alex McKnight, a former minor league baseball player and former Detroit cop, who moves to Michigan's Upper Peninsula where he occasionally works as a private eye and always finds trouble. This is a very entertaining series; I suggest reading the books in order, starting with A Cold Day in Paradise which won Hamilton both an Edgar and Shamus award.

Moving along from baseball, the last book in this list of four for February is The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes. This historical biography interests me a great deal because I'm a huge fan of the painter John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925). One of Sargent's most famous portraits is of Samuel-Jean Pozzi, entitled Dr. Pozzi at Home. The huge painting (about 80" by 40"), is a dramatic, full length portrait in which Pozzi appears standing in a red dressing gown. In The Man in the Red Coat, Barnes writes about Pozzi's life in Paris during the period at the end of the 1800s to before the beginning of World War I, know as the Belle Époque or beautiful era. John Singer Sargent fans may also enjoy reading Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis, which is another nonfiction read about Sargent and one of his most famous, and at the time scandalous, portraits.

To conclude, if Aaron Rodgers and I were chatting right now, here is what I'd recommend to him for February reading: 1) A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton (good entertainment), 2) The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (engaging nonfiction), and 3) The Cactus League by Emily Nemens (new fiction for 2020).

For me, I'm starting with The Man in the Red Coat.