Recommended Reading List: December, 2016
In early December, I finished editing the final Fiction River volume that I have to touch in 2016. I’ll be doing more in 2017, and we have the big anthology workshop coming up in a month. But for now, my reading time is my own.
Because the world has been so ugly, I’m hiding in fiction. Holiday stories, romances, and tales of murder seem to top my list right now. Let’s not discuss why.
I’ve found some wonderful holiday stories, and some not-so-wonderful holiday stories. I read an entire novella by a Big Name romance writer. She publishes holiday novellas every year. Sometimes I like them; sometimes I don’t. This year I hated the novella. Turns out when you’re good at characterization, like this writer is, an obnoxious character lives, just as if she were your next door neighbor. Whom I would punch. Hard. And not regret it at all. Jeez.
And then I had another strange reading experience. A wonderful group of interconnected holiday short stories had me really excited. I loved several, and planned to share them with you. Then I hit one of the stories in the middle, and it was so breathtakingly racist that I could scarcely believe what I was reading. The heroine had come home (to 1815 England) from India, and her comments were both wrong and wrongheaded. It wasn’t as if the author had written a historically accurate story, either. Because in that case the story’s racism didn’t go far enough. (Bleh. Our heroine was not a pleasant woman, by any stretch–modern or historical) As it was, it went too far, and I can’t believe that an anthology, edited out of a major New York publishing house, with some really big names in it, allowed this kind of bigotry through. Awful stuff, so bad that I won’t recommend the other stories in the volume because…as I said…all the stories are intertwined. You have to read this one to understand the action in the others. Ick.
It sure reminded me (again) how far America has to go on racial justice. Sigh.
In 2013, I started working my way through The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, and I’m still not done. But I encountered a few more wonderful Christmas mysteries from that volume along the way. Maybe I’ll finish the book in 2017…
By the way, a reminder: I’m writing these recommended readings on my website now, and they go live on a set date whether I’ve reviewed them or not. So if there’s an inactive link or a missing word, please do let me know. 🙂 Thanks.
Found lots of great reading. Here’s what I really loved.
Bowen, Sarina, Rookie Move, Berkeley 2016. The first in Bowen’s Brooklyn Bruisers series about hockey players on the professional level isn’t quite as good as the Ivy series, but I’m not sure how it could be. It did have the benefit of being in mass market format, however, which is my favorite (sorry, indies. Someday…) This is Bowen’s first traditionally published novel, and I had trouble getting into it, perhaps because there were unnecessary editorial fingers in the mix. Once I was in, though, I was in, and I couldn’t put this down.
This is a second-chance-at-love story between Georgia, who has been hired to do PR for the Brooklyn professional hockey team, and Leo, a rookie on the team who might get traded at any moment if he doesn’t behave just so. Add the complication that Georgia’s father happens to be the new coach, and there’s some awful history, and…well, you’ll just have to read it.
Also, Ivy Years fans, some of your favorites show up as professional players. Nicely done.
DuBois, Brendan, “Flowing Waters,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January/February, 2017. I love Brendan’s stories, so when a magazine shows up with something of his in it, I read that first. This story is excellent for Brendan, which means it’s above and beyond for every other writer.
A female combat vet, recently returned home, has issues and plans to settle some of those issues. She gets a dog with issues, and everything piles up into something unplanned.
The story reminds me–in a great way–of Robert Crais’s stories of Scott & Maggie. Beautifully done. Read it. It’ll make your month.
James, Eloisa, Paris in Love: A Memoir, Random House, 2012. I bought this book when it came out, and then realized it wasn’t a straight narrative, but a series of Facebook posts, with some essays interspersed throughout. I immediately decided I was going to hate it, so I set it aside to maybe read later.
Four years later, and I found myself unable to concentrate on pretty much anything. So I picked up this little confection of a book, and realized it was exactly what I needed.
Eloisa James, the daughter of poet Robert Bly and writer Carol Bly, writes historical romance. She’s also a professor, married to an Italian, and has two children. At the time of this memoir, her children were 11 and 15, and she had just moved them to Paris for a one-year sabbatical.
It sounds lovely and poetic and romantic, and from her writings, it was that. But it was also filled with culture clash and weird little discoveries and lots of visitors and obese dogs and broken elevators.
I adored the book. It was exactly what I needed when I couldn’t face anything convoluted–or even plotted, for that matter. James is a masterful writer, so her little snippets of daily life create a vivid picture of the family’s year. James has a wry, self-deprecating tone, perfect for this kind of book. If you’re feeling down, take a cheap trip to Paris as it was in 2009. Buy this little volume.
James, P.D., The Mistletoe Murder And Other Stories, Knopf, 2016. This tiny little book pleased me in a thousand ways, and made me sad. First, the pleasing part(s): the stories, the design, the way it felt in my hands. I loved the attention to detail here.
The part that made me sad? P.D. James died in 2014, and will not be writing any new books. I suspect the estate might approve more things like this, and I’ll read it all, but it won’t be the same. After I finished this, I thought that I might reread some of her books. Can’t decide if I will or not. I remember them so vividly…
My one complaint with the volume is that there is no copyright page that lists where the stories were first published. 🙁 I love that kind of information and am sad to see that Knopf left it out.
Anyway, this volume is wonderful and worth reading. I’m going to highlight a couple of the stories that I loved below. Surprisingly, to me anyway, the stories without her usual main character Adam Dalgliesh were the ones I preferred. Maybe because those were atypical cozies. I dunno.
James, P.D., “The Mistletoe Murder,” The Mistletoe Murder And Other Stories, Knopf, 2016. The title story of this collection is the title story for a reason. This is a very strong mystery, filled with honest misdirection (meaning it was all there in plain sight, but still hard to see) and great characters. A long-time mystery writer reflects on a strange family Christmas she attended in 1940. I love the discussion of mysteries versus real life murders, and all kinds of tiny details. If I say much more, I’ll ruin it.
James, P.D., “Preface,” The Mistletoe Murder And Other Stories, Knopf, 2016. A delightful, if short, essay on the art of the mystery short story. I learned something, and I suspect you writers will as well.
James, P.D., “A Very Commonplace Murder,” The Mistletoe Murder And Other Stories, Knopf, 2016. A very creepy story about a creepy man who watches an adulterous couple from a building across the way. The creepy man is in that room off-hours because he’s reading a pornography collection stored there, a collection only he knows about. Tons of misdirection, tons of great detail. This story is itself a masterclass of the mystery form. Read it!
McBain, Ed, “All Through The House,” The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler, Vintage Crime, 2013. This is an 87th Precinct story of McBain’s that I hadn’t read before. It’s Christmas Eve, and Carella is alone in the precinct. People continue to show up, seemingly re-enacting the Nativity. But it’s McBain, so emphasis on “seemingly.” I loved this story. You will too.
Morgan, Sarah, Miracle on 5th Avenue, HQN, 2016. Eva’s upbeat grandmother taught her to be the sunshine in every dark room. So when her grandmother dies, Eva doesn’t know how to grieve. She’s going to spend the holidays house-sitting (and decorating) a penthouse apartment on 5th Avenue.
Said apartment belongs to Lucas, a thriller writer, whose wife died suddenly. Lucas hasn’t told anyone that he failed to take the scheduled trip out of town, so when Eva shows up–in the middle of a blizzard, natch–she encounters the Big Bad Crime Writer.
Funny, wry, charming, with tons of insights about writing and the perils of falling for a writer. I read this one in the first week of December, and so far (I’m writing this on the 13th), it’s my pick of the month. Don’t know how I missed Sarah Morgan, but I have a lot of reading to catch up on.
Price, Jenny, “This Woman’s Work,” On Wisconsin, Fall, 2016. Imagine my surprise when I read the teaser for this article: “Kathryn Clarenbach built the foundation for the modern women’s movement. Meet the determined feminist you’ve never heard of.”
What?!? Never heard of?!? Kathryn Clarenbach was–is–has always been–one of my role models. She got lost and forgotten, apparently. Good God! The woman was amazing. I had an inkling that something was off when I read a history of the women’s movement in preparation for a novel I was writing, and Clarenbach was listed once, maybe, probably because she was the first chair of the board of the National Organization for Women. She organized the gathering that created the organization, for god’s sake, and according to Gerda Lerner (one of the first professors of women’s history), it was Clarenbach, not Friedan who actually ran NOW in its early years.
Having met Kathryn Clarenbach, back when I was young and impressionable, I can believe she was the one who ran the organization. She was strong and didn’t mince words. A true role model for me (and she spelled Kathryn right). This article doesn’t go nearly far enough in discussing what this wonderful woman did in her life, but it’s a start. Go, read. You’ll learn about one of the great women of the 20th century.