Fortunately, December started better than November in regards to the reading. Good nonfiction and fiction, some of which is listed below. (Some is just too…I don’t know. It doesn’t inspire me to share.) I also line edited a Fiction River and started line editing another, since I’m workshop heavy in my reading in January and February.
Speaking of Fiction River, I failed to call attention to the past two volumes, Pulse Pounders: Countdown, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, and Hard Choices, edited by Dean Wesley Smith. Please note that we’ve had award nominations and year’s best inclusions from the previous Pulse Pounders, so you might want to pick up this one. And I adore Hard Choices, which aptly describes the entire volume. Check out information on both here.
I read some holiday short stories in a collection I’ve had for nearly six years. The opening story, by a writer whose work I used to love, reminded me why I loved her work and why I stopped reading it at the same time. It was a fascinating reading experience.
I managed to cram a lot of reading toward the end of the month, and an audio book as well! Less holiday reading than planned, but that was because I was out enjoying the holiday instead. And Dean and I watched a lot of holiday movies, so that hit the holiday storytelling craving for me.
And a note: I bitched about Runner’s World a few months back, and here I am recommending articles from it. I suspect two were commissioned by the female editor who was there for a nanosecond, so I’m not certain the quality will continue. But for the moment, I was happier with the issue than I had thought I would be.
Here’s what I loved in December. (Please note that I use Amazon links only because I’m lazy, not because I’m advocating anything.)
Balogh, Mary, Someone To Trust, Jove, 2018. To be honest, I wasn’t ready to read anything at all romantic. I wanted murder and mayhem. But my favorite mystery writers disappointed me last month, so I picked up Balogh, whose work I adore.
I was worried as I started this one. It is part of a series that I’m greatly enjoying, but this book seemed very peripheral at first. The opening is set at Christmas, with a wedding from the previous book. I wouldn’t call this a holiday novel, though, although it is appropriate to read at the holidays.
Then the book switched up. Balogh usually doesn’t have villains in her novels. If someone is truly dastardly, they’re dastardly and dead. In fact, the effects of one horrible man launched this entire series. But this novel has a true villain. She’s a narcissist who showed up in previous novels, but not in a starring role. She is as believable as Balogh’s other characters, which is to say, very believable. Chilling. By the middle of the novel, I could not see how our protagonists were going to deal with her while keeping this a romance novel. (If it had been a mystery, she would have been a corpse or the murderer by the middle of the novel.)
Needless to say, Balogh pulled it off. I devoured the last part of this book, worried for our characters, and reassured, as romance novels do. A nice read for a dark time of year.
Bayard, Louis, “Banana Triangle Six,” The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny, Mariner, 2018. There have been a lot of mystery stories set in nursing homes of late and I thought maybe this was another about a really smart but trapped elderly person solving a crime. Nope. Turns out this is much creepier than that. I’m not sure I believe it, but oh, my, it did have an impact.
Carpenter, Lea,“How To Write A 21st Century Spy Novel,” Esquire, October, 2018. A nice short essay on writing a spy novel. Of all the forms, I think spy novels are among the hardest, simply because you have to keep track of the current world while writing something that isn’t too impossible to understand 10 years from now. Worth the read.
Connolly, Michael, “Betting On Bosch,” Hollywood Vs. The Author, edited by Stephen Jay Schwartz, Rare Bird Books, 2018. Michael Connolly and I have a lot of friends in common. Once, while talking about a movie negotiation I was conducting, a bookseller friend warned me not to make the “Connelly mistake.” What’s that? I asked. Don’t let the money blind you, my friend said.
Finally, now, Connolly tells the story himself. It sounds like the money did not blind him. It sounds like he took a calculated risk. Even though he made some money, it cost him more. He had to buy his rights to his own character, Harry Bosch, back from a studio. It took 3 years of the Bosch TV series for him to earn back that money he paid to the studio. Think about that for a moment.
This is a do-not-miss essay in a book filled with them.
Gates, David Edgerly, “Cabin Fever,” The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny, Mariner, 2018. One heck of a thriller, boiled down into a short story. Weather issues, fire, criminals—this story has everything and a breathless pace besides. A master class in short fiction writing, all by itself.
Gerritsen, Tess, “Suing Hollywood,” Hollywood Vs. The Author, edited by Stephen Jay Schwartz, Rare Bird Books, 2018. Tess Gerritsen tweeted about this book and mentioned this essay. I immediately went out and bought a copy of the book. I knew she had a valid lawsuit against a studio. I also know that she lost, for reasons she outlines here. She could have settled—many writers have—but she chose to sue to try to change the culture. You see, when you settle with a studio, you have to sign a non-disclosure. She made the same choice I did when I decided not to sue one of the Embezzler Agents. I can talk about what he did, because I didn’t sign anything preventing me from doing so.
Read this. Gerritsen knew the industry and she did everything right. She wasn’t suing for money, she was suing for the credit she deserved from her original contract.
Realize that what happened to her is not unusual. This is worth the price of the book.
Hamilton, Michelle, “Saudi Women Will Run The Kingdom,” Runner’s World, September/October 2018. Because I read Runner’s World, I have known about the burgeoning running movement among Saudi women for a while. But Michelle Hamilton traveled to three cities in Saudi Arabia and talked to a lot of women, most of whom run in the heat in their abayas. Times have changed enough, though, that there’s actually a lightweight tech abaya that wicks sweat. Fascinating view into a very different culture, that makes me grateful for all the freedoms I have here.
Harris, Charlaine, “Small Signs,” The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny, Mariner, 2018. I thought for certain I recommended this story when I first read it in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, but I can’t for the life of me find it in the Recommended Reading. So let me bring the story to your attention here. Memorable, even though I first read it nearly two years ago now. Very well done.
Hendrickson, David H., “Death in the Serengeti,” The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny, Mariner, 2018. I never recommended Dave’s story when I first read it because it came from Fiction River: Pulse Pounders Adrenaline. I recommend all of our Fiction River stories, and do it as a bunch. But I’m pointing this story out here, since it got picked up for the year’s best. Congrats, Dave. (Read this, folks.)
Kissane, John A., “The Navajo Are Still Here And He Ran 330 Miles To Prove It,” Runner’s World, September/October, 2018. Let me quote the teaser for the article because it says what the article is about best: “In 1864, the U.S. Army forced 10,000 Navajo to leave their homes and march through the New Mexico desert to a four-year internment. Ultrarunner Edison Eskeets retraced the steps of his people to honor their survival.”
The amazing, wonderful, and fascinating things people do. Read this. It’s inspiring.
Orlean, Susan, The Library Book, Simon & Schuster, 2018. First of all, this is a beautiful book. Someone put a lot of attention into the design. The hardcover pleases me every single time I pick it up. I have a hunch I would have enjoyed the content just as much as an ebook, but I didn’t look at the ebook at all. I do love a tactile book experience for special books and this one is.
Ostensibly, this book is about the big library fire at the downtown library in Los Angeles in 1986. And that’s the excuse Orlean uses to write about libraries. But it’s just an excuse. She writes about librarians and history and crime and homelessness and reading and that love of books and so many other things in this volume. I think it’s one of my favorite books of the year.
It’s certainly the one I’ve chosen to share with most folks on my gift list this holiday season. I feel like every book lover should read this, whether in hardcover or in ebook. I bought hardcovers for my list (and one audio book). Every now and then you come across something special. This is that book for 2018.
Penny, Louise, editor, The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, Mariner, 2018. I read this series every year. Some years are better than others. This is a good year. Considering I’ve read a number of the anthologies she chose stories from and would have picked other tales, I’m surprised. I figured our tastes diverged more than they did.
I’ve pointed out my favorite stories elsewhere in this list. But all are worth reading. I didn’t skip one of the stories in the volume, and that’s unusual. In an anthology, I generally skip about a third after reading the opening. Wonderful, and a good example of what’s going on in mystery right now.
Renwick, Zandra, “The Dead Man’s Dog,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, January/February, 2019. I really shouldn’t like anyone in this story, but I do. Benchley cleans crime scenes—for criminals—and after one such cleaning, the dead man’s dog followed her home. The story goes from there, with some nice surprises. I loved everything from the tone to the tale. Well done.
Ryan, Erin Gloria“The Greatest Running Invention Ever! Is The Sports Bra, ,” Runner’s World, September/October, 2018. Some things change a sport. In running, two things changed it dramatically. The advent of Nike’s first shoe and the sports bra. I’d read a lot about shoes. This is the first time I’ve read about sports bras. Fascinating history, and important too.
Schwartz, Stephen Jay, editor, Hollywood Vs. The Author, Rare Bird Books, 2018. This is a must-have volume for writers. There are some fluff essays from people who were either too worried about not getting another deal or who didn’t quite get the concept of the book, but there were some stunning pieces in here as well. I’ve highlighted a few of them elsewhere. The moment I finished this, I went back and started highlighting some essays and making notes. Writers need to understand just how cutthroat and nasty this part of the industry is and how it can cost money rather than making them money. This book is a dream-killer, but in the best possible way. If you’re a writer, then you need this book.
Seabrook, John, Jingle Bell Pop, Narrated by Erin Moon, Audible Studios, 2018. I don’t recommend audiobooks often, because I spend half my listening time on podcasts. But a friend recommended this, and I do have an Audible membership, so I downloaded it.
Jingle Bell Pop was one of the free selections for December 2018. I assume it’ll still be available after that.
It’s a behind-the-scenes of the business of Christmas carols. I knew a lot of the stories, but the modern ones, I did not know. The author interviewed songwriters, and calls Christmas pop hits “an annuity.” Yep. If the contracts were good, the writers earned and earned and still earn. Writers should listen to this one, just to see how copyright can be your friend. The book is an hour and 14 minutes long. Well worth listening to.
Shalvis, Jill, Hot Winter Nights, Avon, 2018. I really have no idea how Shalvis makes her characters so winning, but she does. Molly Malone, the office manager for other characters in this series, wants to take an active part in investigations. Everyone else tries to thwart her. But she has two elderly elves who claim that something’s fishy at Santa’s Village, and she’s going to investigate. Lucas Knight doesn’t want her to, but knowing she won’t stop, he decides to help.
Some of the scenes in here are laugh-out-loud funny, especially as the elderly elves speak their minds. But there’s a lot of tension too, when it becomes clear that those elves were on to something. One of the most fun things I read all month.
Sokoloff, Alexandra, “A Woman Wouldn’t Do That,” Hollywood Vs. The Author, edited by Stephen Jay Schwartz, Rare Bird Books, 2018. I don’t know Alexandra Sokoloff personally, but I feel like I do. Because I have more than a dozen writer friends who went through the same cycle she outlined in this essay. She was a working screenwriter. She’s been in the rooms and done the work. She left to become a novelist because she was getting paid more. Think about that. Think about what she says here. Read this one too.
Wilson, David McKay, “LOL,” On Wisconsin, Fall, 2018. Fascinating article about Brian Stack who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1988, and went on to a career in comedy. For the past twenty years or so, he has written for late night TV shows.
The man sounds interested, but what caught my attention in this article is all of the mentions of writing, tenacity, hard work, and improvisation. If you want to read about a different kind of writer, take a look at this piece, which is helpfully free online.
Yi, Melissa, “Blue Christmas,” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January/February, 2019. Melissa Yi, a doctor, writes a good series about Hope Sze, also a doctor. In this story, Hope goes to Christmas party, and observes things the rest of us never would. Lots of misdirection here, very well done, and some marvelous character building, with a lot of tension. And the meaning of blue…well, you’ll see.