Recommended Reading List: May 2019

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May started much better than any other month in 2019. I carved out some time late in the day to get reading done, even if I hadn’t finished my email or any of the other work I had. I was really feeling the lack of leisure reading time and it was starting to have an impact on my writing.

Lots of good reading this month, and nary a dud in anything I picked up. Which was a wonderful relief after the beginning part of the year.

I read some good anthologies, a few strong novels, and some fun nonfiction. Here’s the best of what I read in May. (I use Amazon links because I’m lazy, not because I’m endorsing anything.)

May, 2019

Atkins, Ace, “From Four till Late: A Nick Travers Story,” Odd Partners: An Anthology, edited by Anne Perry, Ballantine Books, 2019. Twisty little tale in Atkins’ series (which I haven’t read). A young girl goes missing in New Orleans, and her parents think something is wrong, but it’s too soon for police involvement. Something is wrong—a lot of something is wrong—and things don’t quite go as I would have expected. Well done.

Brennan, Allison, “Bite Out of Crime,” Odd Partners: An Anthology, edited by Anne Perry, Ballantine Books, 2019. A young girl who has secrets of her own finds a stray dog near a Dumpster. The dog leads the girl to a crime scene, and the girl calls the police. Seems like a simple set-up, but it’s not. And I read this story so fast that I nearly broke a land-speed record. I was worried about the girl; I was worried about the dog; and I was terrified nothing would work out like I wanted it to. You can do that in short stories more than novels. The downer endings sometimes make a point. I’m not going to spoil it for you. Read this one.

Coben, Harlan, editor, Mystery Writers of America Presents Death Do Us Part , Back Bay Books, 2006. Somehow I had missed this book when it first appeared. I highlighted one story last month. I didn’t find a lot that stood out here (see below for the few standouts), but the anthology itself is solid and was a good night’s read. A few of the writers totally missed the mark. Most though provided really good entertainment. It’s a fun anthology.

Deaver, Jeffrey, The Never Game, Putnam, 2019. Deaver introduces a new series character here. I’m not all that fond of the guy—Coulter Shaw—but he does have an interesting backstory. The novel is mid-range Deaver. I almost didn’t recommend it until I remember that mid-range Deaver is better than most writers ever achieve.

This book features crimes based on a video game. Which isn’t really my trope. Still, Deaver held me all the way through. I would rather see Shaw deal with less high-tech crimes. He seems set up for those, rather than this sort of high-stakes thriller based on an elaborate system. We’ll see.

The book is worth reading. The twists and turns are good and the characters well drawn.

Devitt, Terry,“Lost in Space,” On Wisconsin, Spring 2019. Fascinating article about people dealing with all of the crap the world has put into orbit around Earth since we had the ability to do so. Filled with fascinating tidbits, such the fact that parts of Sputnik 4 landed in Wisconsin in 1962, the article is both historically interesting and filled with worry for the future.

Dixon, Kate Kail; Morfoot, Addie; and Price, Jenny,“The Golden Age of Television is Now,” On Wisconsin, Spring 2019. A fascinating series of interviews with some of the University of Wisconsin graduates who are working in television right now. I’ll probably be cherry-picking parts of these for future blog posts.

DuBois, Brendan, “The Last Flight,” Mystery Writers of America Presents Death Do Us Part, Harlan Coben, editor, Back Bay Books, 2006. Surprising and well told little story about an old man taking his wife’s ashes out to sea in a small plane. I will say no more, except that I loved this piece.

Du Maurier, Daphne, My Cousin Rachel, Dell mass market reprint edition, 1984. I debated about whether or not to recommend this book. After the mystery workshop, I realized I hadn’t read most of Du Maurier’s work. I love Rebecca and assign it occasionally. The techniques she uses in that novel are breathtaking, and it sucks me in every single time.

I decided to embark on a Du Maurier reading binge throughout 2019. I got My Cousin Rachel first because I’d heard it was as good as Rebecca. I have no idea if it is or not; I love Rebecca too much to give the title of “best” to My Cousin Rachel. Midway through, I mentally grumped that I knew the plot. I thought I did, because I’ve read 100,000 billion of these kinds of novels. But it turns out that I didn’t know the plot at all.

There is a bump in the middle—a rather breathtaking reminder that I was reading a book written in the late 1940s by a white upper class woman. Three paragraphs of casual and awful racism almost made me put the book down. I was raised in the world where comments like the one in the middle of this book were the norm. But they’re not the norm now, and show just how embedded those comments and those ideas were in white society at the time.

I almost didn’t recommend the book because of that. I’m still a tad on the fence about recommending it, to be honest. There’s a lot of strong material in the book—the incredible characters, the narrative tricks, the amazing setting. I truly did not see where the book was going, nor do I completely understand how she took what should have been a short story and managed to hold me tightly to the page for the length of an entire novel.

So, take this as a recommendation with reservations. This book is clearly a product of the mid-20th century. If you can keep that firmly in mind, then you’ll probably enjoy the read.

Fusilli, Jim, “Chellini’s Solution,” Mystery Writers of America Presents Death Do Us Part, Harlan Coben, editor, Back Bay Books, 2006. Period piece with a great voice. I’m not going to say much, because it will spoil the charm, but I loved how this entire story came together.

Hathaway, Wendy, “Free To Be Allee,” On Wisconsin, Spring 2019. This is how to live your life. Allee Willis not only has spent her life writing songs (and getting Grammys as well as selling 60 million records), she has also been the life of the party since she first showed up at the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1960s. This is a great short article on how artists can and should live life their way.

Kamps, Louisa, “Room For Debate,” On Wisconsin, Spring 2019. A lovely article on the way the University of Wisconsin is trying to teach people with different points of view how to listen to each other. The title is misleading. They’re not debating anything. They’re trying to learn how to understand someone else. Read this. I think it’s important for all of us.

Kleypas, Lisa, The Devil’s Daughter, Avon Books, 2019. I got stuck on Kleypas’s previous novel which came out just as I moved. I figured I couldn’t finish it because of the move. But turns out the novel isn’t to my taste. This one is. I devoured it in an entire night. She brings her Wallflowers series together with her Revenels series in a startlingly good novel.

She doesn’t pull any punches here either. Our hero was a bully as a kid, and he bullied our heroine’s beloved first husband. She’s primed to hate the hero—and for good reason. But we all grow up, and Kleypas shows very well how someone can turn over a new leaf without denying who he had been. One of her stronger novels.

Krueger, William Kent, “The Nature of the Beast,” Odd Partners: An Anthology, edited by Anne Perry, Ballantine Books, 2019. Fascinating and somewhat surprising story about a man, a wolf, and a developer. I felt each aspect of this story, from the love of the land to the discomfort around the wolf to…well, you’ll see. Nice piece.

Morton, Lisa, “Whatever Happened to Lorna Winters?”, Odd Partners: An Anthology, edited by Anne Perry, Ballantine Books, 2019. Creepy story about a person who takes old video and makes it digital stumbling on a decades-old secret. I don’t dare say much more, except that the story is beautifully written.

Ortalda, Claire, “Oglethorpe’s Camera,” Odd Partners: An Anthology, edited by Anne Perry, Ballantine Books, 2019. I must have a thing for cats and cameras. I wrote a story called “The Secret Lives of Cats” about cats and cameras. This one is similar in that the cat and the camera have a relationship, but this cat (Oglethorpe) is a social media star. Wonderful twisty little story. Enjoy.

Perry, Anne, editor, Odd Partners: An Anthology, Ballantine Books, 2019. Stellar mystery anthology. I had thought this would be pretty predictable, but it turns out that the stories were incredibly strong and hard to put down. I read the entire anthology in two nights, and found lots to love, all of which I pointed out separately. Even the stories that didn’t wow me held me. I think I skipped maybe one, and that’s remarkable, because I often skip quite a few in an anthology like this. Well done.

Perry, Anne, “Reconciliation,” Odd Partners: An Anthology, edited by Anne Perry, Ballantine Books, 2019. Set in World War I, Perry’s story captures the confusion, heartbreak, and difficulties of that conflict beautifully. Breathtaking in its descriptions, and compelling at its core, this story held me from the first word until the last.

Ross, Stephen, “Songbird Blues,” Odd Partners: An Anthology, edited by Anne Perry, Ballantine Books, 2019.  It took me a while to understand the conceit of this story. It’s being narrated by Mister Ridge’s left hand. And it has to be told that way for the full impact of the story to be clear. It’s an amazing bit of writing, and an amazing story. If it doesn’t get nominated for a boatload of awards, there’s no justice in the world.

Spitznagel, Eric, Old Records Never Die, Plume, 2016. I have no idea how this book got published. I don’t. But I’m happy it did.

A marvelous nonfiction piece on Spitznagel’s search for his old record collection. Not the records that were in the collection, which he could just download off iTunes or something. But the actual records. The physical objects. He searches all over Illinois and the rest of the Midwest, plus checks friends’ basements, and a bunch of the other places. In the midst of all this, he discusses the difficulties of freelancing, as well as growing older. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book.

His voice is strong and funny, but the insights are good too.

Oh, and how did I discover this? I read an excerpt (too short) in the Beloit College alumni magazine from this year. (I went to Beloit for one year, about eight years before Spitznagel did.) So when we talk about discoverability, we never take into account the fact that people don’t read on first release. They read when they find the book or someone tells them about it.

Witt, Amanda, “Hector’s Bees,” Odd Partners: An Anthology, edited by Anne Perry, Ballantine Books, 2019. Creepy story about a new widow, an isolated house, and bees. I will say no more for fear of ruining it for you.

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