Because of an odd series of circumstances, I ended up registered as a reviewer on NetGalley. Mostly I don’t download anything that I wouldn’t be interested in anyway, because even though I do this list, I often don’t do current work.
I did download two Christmas books. One was an anthology that I probably would have purchased, the other a Christmas romance novel. And whoa, did that novel (from a major publisher) suck. I mean, a heroine so stupid that she didn’t even recognize the guy she had crush on in high school—and he’d only been gone from town for 4 years. When the author told me he looked no different, the book would have flown across the room—except I was on an airplane and throwing my Kindle at that point was a lousy idea.
Sadly, the anthology was no better. So, NetGalley police, I read those two books and will not name them because I don’t want people to buy then. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Fortunately, I read a lot of really good books this month, and stories, and articles.
On the good side of things, last February, a group of marvelous writers came up with the idea of the Uncollected Anthology. They write stories on the same topic and release those stories as e-books, with matching covers and a lot of cross promotion. They just aren’t in an actual anthology.
For that, you need to find Fiction River: Fantastic Detectives, which I edited mostly in June of 2013. Lots of amazing stories in it, but to be fair (as an editor) I won’t highlight any favorites. Just realize I love these stories and they were part of my reading last year—my recommended reading. Like the material below is.
Breen, Jon L. “The Case of the Missing End Notes,” Mystery Scene, Spring 2014. Jon L. Breen has either just noticed that many books no longer have end notes or he has just had enough. So many popular history nonfiction books no longer have end notes or any kind of footnotes in their volumes, which in my opinion—and in his—makes every word of that “nonfiction” book suspect. He wrote a cranky article about it, and I agree with each line. No end notes is one of my pet peeves too. And a bibliography ain’t enough to cover it. Sheer laziness on the part of the publishers—particularly when the author does the work and provides the end notes, and the aforementioned publishers just upload the end notes to a website. Grump, grump, grump.
Edsel, Robert M., Saving Italy: The Race To Rescue A Nation’s Treasures From The Nazis, Norton, 2013. I read this immediately after reading The Monuments Men. Some of the information is repeated, and quite a bit is expanded. In actuality, both books should be taken as a single volume. Some of the things mentioned in the first book are important in the second.
I remain amazed at the task these people had—saving culture—and at the way they managed to achieve much of it with little or no resources. The more I dig into the events of WWII, the more impressed I am. What an amazing period of time. If you’ve read The Monuments Men, read this one too.
Fairstein, Linda, Final Jeopardy, Pocket Books Kindle edition, (book first published in 1996). I have no idea how I managed to avoid Linda Fairstein for so long. I suspect the 1996 date is a clue: I wasn’t reading much of anything my last year at F&SF besides manuscripts. And, honestly, I was afraid that Fairstein’s work would be like that thriller writer’s was last month, brutal and cold and without humanity. (See last month’s Recommended Reading List.)
I’ve been craving legal thrillers lately, and while Fairstein doesn’t really write them (as far as I can tell), she writes something close to legal thrillers. (The books all seem to end in murder and weird mayhem worthy of an over-the-top film.)
I downloaded this one on my Kindle because of the legal thriller craving and because I was traveling. I needed something to read on the plane that I would read rather than be disappointed in. Even so, I didn’t start this book until midway through the flight. I read the romances mentioned above. Or tried to.
The Fairstein was a breath of cool air. I loved it. It’s amazing to me how different 1996 is from now, particularly in the world of criminal investigation. Since Fairstein herself was the chief of Manhattan’s Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, I expected more law and less “thriller/mystery” mumbo jumbo. The murder, the woman in jeopardy plot, revealed a debut novelist, but Fairstein’s characters are marvelous and her storytelling power is evident from the start.
So, I’ve been binging ever since. And unlike most writers I binge on, Fairstein’s getting better. You’ll see a few more reviews of my favorites of her books before the year is out.
Fairstein, Linda, Likely To Die, Pocket Books Kindle edition, (book first published in 1997). The second book in the Alexandra Cooper series improves on the first. A neurosurgeon gets raped and murdered in a major Manhattan hospital, and the suspect list is vast. I knew whodunit pretty early on, but that didn’t matter. In addition to the excellent characterization, Fairstein hits her stride with the City of New York. It’s real, it’s vivid, and it’s rather uncomfortable.
My only complaint, as I read through these novels, is that she name-drops friends (and her real-life husband), which occasionally blows me out of the book and makes me wonder how much of what she does is a roman a clef. That shouldn’t be a problem for most people.
It’s not often that I continue to recommend books in a series especially when I’m binging, but I will here. She’s good.
Goodman, Jo, “Nat Church and The Runaway Bride,” Boots Under Her Bed, Berkeley Books, 2014. Nat Church is the inspiration for the dime novels that everyone reads in Goodman’s other Westerns. I hadn’t read those western romances, so I only know that from the intro to the novella. Nat Church is an over-the-top hero with an over-the-top heroine to match. Yes, she’s a runaway bride, and she’s got a large personality. So large that this hard-drinking rich woman leads a temperance rally because she believes it will be fun (and helps the women involved get out of jail). Loads of fun. Read this one to relax and chuckle a bit.
King, Stephen, “That Bus is Another World,” Esquire, August, 2014. I’ve said this before; I think Stephen King is one of our best stylists. His craft is amazing, and the front part of this short story was so real, so familiar, that I could barely handle the frustration that the main character, Wilson, was feeling. He was taking a trip to New York for a meeting, and thought he had given himself enough time. Of course, the airline and traffic conspired against him. Those mundane details, something most of us have gone through, became fresh and real in King’s hands.
The story takes a turn, which you would expect from King, and which Esquire’s page design damn near spoils (so don’t look!), and while I see what he was doing and where he was going, I so loved that opening that I was almost sad to see the sideways turn. Still, powerful and unsettling. And memorable.
(And let me apologize for the link. Esquire.com is absolutely the worst website for finding anything. I loathe it.)
Mallory, Michael, “The Prince of Storytellers,” Mystery Scene, Spring 2014. This article, about writer E. Phillips Oppenheim, was an eye-opener for me. I’d never heard of Oppenheim—at least consciously, although I’m sure Dean has several of Oppenheim’s books in his collection. Oppenheim wrote from the late Victorian era to the mid-20th century, and was quite renown. Mallory claims that much of Oppenheim’s work holds up. I’m just fascinated with pieces about other writers, so found this one quite intriguing.
Murphy, Gareth, Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry, Thomas Dunne Books, 2014. I have been recommending this book to everyone I know in the publishing industry. Murphy begins with the invention of the phonograph, and traces the business of music (not the musicians) from that moment to this one. Of course he misses a lot, and the book has a definite British bias that shows in the final chapters in particular (he almost completely ignores hip-hop and rap in favor of punk. Hip-hop and rap are very influential in the States; punk never really was). But to cover something this vast in 400 pages is quite a feat.
Why I recommend this to writers and publishers and everyone else is that this book makes the impact of disruptive technology on an industry really clear. Not just the rise of the MP3, but the rise of the LP, the single, radio—the music industry has been disrupted dozens of times, and then has gone in other directions. In addition, the book shows the negative influence of corporations on an art form, particularly as the book moves in the latter half of the 20th century and focuses on the “new” trend in corporate accounting—showing a quarterly profit.
Read this, writers and publishers. See your future and your present. It’s illuminating, and just a bit terrifying.
Reed, Annie, “The Magic of Home,” The Uncollected Anthology: Magical Motorcycles, Kindle edition, June, 2014. The first Uncollected Anthology is titled Magical Motorcycles. I’ve downloaded all of the stories, but haven’t had time to read them all yet. I read Annie’s while I was in California and had only fifteen minutes for lunch.
Great story in Annie’s Moretown Bay universe. Twig returns to Moretown Bay to help a friend trapped inside the motorcycle she’s riding. Nice twist in the story, great villains and heroes, and honestly, I couldn’t figure out how Annie was going to finish the piece in the short form, but she did, and in a satisfying manner.
I can’t wait to read the other stories, and will do so soon!
Sedaris, David, “Stepping Out: Living The Fitbit Life,” The New Yorker, June 30, 2014. Full disclosure. I have a Fitbit. I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds because I’m obsessive and I don’t miss my 10,000 steps per day.
Sedaris is more obsessive than I am. Much more. Apparently, he kept upping his daily steps total, until he spent the entire day walking somewhere. I realize he’s a humorist, and I realize that he exaggerates, but I honestly wonder how much he’s exaggerating here. Because I can totally see someone doing what he describes. (Screw it: I can see me doing what he describes…)
Smith, Dean Wesley, “Avalanche Creek,” Smith’s Monthly, September, 2014. Another book in Dean’s time travel western sf series, Thunder Mountain. When he was writing this, he mentioned that it was more complex than the previous two, and he wasn’t kidding. It feels as you go along that he’s violating the rules of time travel that he set up, and then it becomes clear that he hasn’t. But the dilemma for the characters is heart-wrenching and difficult. I love this series, and this is the best book so far.
Smith, Kevin Burton, “Veronica Mars,” Mystery Scene, Spring, 2014. A fannish article about the film released earlier this year, the TV show, and the tie-in novel. Lots of fun stuff for Neptune Noir fans, of which I am one. Nice to know I share my fannish moments with others sometimes…
Thomas, Jodi, “Crazy Callie,” Boots Under Her Bed, Berkeley Books, 2014. I read anthologies in order, which was good for both me and Jodi Thomas. Because based on the blurb about this story, I should have hated it. A drunk man agrees to marriage with a woman he meets in an alley? I don’t care that it’s a Western. I don’t care that it’s romance, it sounds stupid. But it wasn’t. Callie is a near-prisoner of her stepfather, and she needs help escaping him and hanging onto her legacy. Our hero, Morgan, has lost everything, and needs a home. He’s willing to sham-marry her, because she’s going to pay him when it’s all over. You know how this will end, because the story is a romance, but the journey (which is what romances ultimately are) is great fun. There’s a lot here that I did not expect. This led me to more Jodi Thomas books—always a good thing!