Yes, I know it’s late August, but I’ve either had other writing projects I’ve been focused on or had other topics I wanted to get to first. In September, I expect to begin posting this list on a monthly basis and also be more punctual. That’s the plan, at least.
There are a few books I enjoyed but won’t be listing because they’re within my taboo topics of politics and religion. Onward, then, to the good stuff.
Burke, James Lee, Heaven’s Prisoners, Henry Holt, 1988. I’ve considered Burke a national treasure ever since reading him first a few years ago. He’s one of my favorite writers so I’ve gone back and started reading his Dave Robicheaux series from the beginning.
Heaven’s Prisoners, the second in the series, doesn’t disappoint. What I wouldn’t give to be able to write like this master. I don’t think there’s a better writer at capturing setting with expertly crafted descriptions involving all the senses. Everything else works too.
Another wonderful James Lee Burke novel. I loved it.
Buzbee, Lewis, Steinbeck’s Ghost, Feiwel and Friends, 2008. I read Young Adult books because it’s one of the categories I write in and also because I enjoy them. When both Kris Rusch and Shelly McArthur (prominent writer and mystery bookseller, respectively) recommended this novel, that was good enough for me.
However, I intended to go back and re-read some Steinbeck (and fill in a few gaps) first. Months went by. While this may make me sound like a Philistine, if I have a choice between a current book and a classic, the current book almost always wins.
Finally, I said to heck with the prerequisites and dove right in. Buzbee has written a fun book about libraries and reading and friendship and all that good stuff. You don’t need to be a teenager or have an extensive Steinbeck background to enjoy this book.
Card, Orson Scott, Shadow of the Giant, Tor Science Fiction, 2005. A fitting finale to the Shadow series, which followed and paralleled the bestselling Ender series. I will say, however, that I wish I didn’t know Card’s politics because I hear him arguing a point at times instead of his character. Perhaps that’s my failing, but it’s one more reason you won’t be reading my views on controversial topics.
Fink, Mark, The Summer I Got a Life, WestSide Books, 2009. This is a fun (and funny) YA novel. Fifteen-year-old Andy Crenshaw’s summer vacation to Hawaii turns into a trip to… Wisconsin. Making matters worse, eccentric Uncle Jim and Aunt Karen have lost their TV and Internet service (because their pig ate the cable).
I won’t divulge any more of this tale other than to say it can be both hilarious and moving. Highly recommended.
Larsson, Stieg, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Vintage Crime, 2009. I’ll admit that this book took off a bit slowly for me. (VERY MINOR SPOILER ALERT upcoming.) There are two storylines and the one far less compelling opens the book and closes it. It’s an odd structure, but I really liked this book anyway once I got into it. The Lisbeth character is compelling and memorable. I’m looking forward to reading the final two volumes of this series and am saddened that Larsson’s premature death means there’ll be no more.
Rhodes, Stephen, “At the Top of his Game,” Wall Street Noir, edited by Peter Spiegelman, Akashic Books, 2007. I’ve only read a couple stories so far in this anthology but this lead story impressed the heck out of me. It begins, On the day they conspire to put a bullet in my head, I experience an epiphany. The story then takes you into the cut-throat world of Wall Street and never lets go.
Rusch, Kristine Kathyrn, “Recovering Apollo 8,” Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories, 2010. I only got halfway through this short story collection by the end of July so the recommendation for the entire book will have to wait till next month but I’m singling out a couple stories now.
The first of them is the collection’s title story, winner of the Asimov’s Reader’s Choice Award. It’s based on a world in which Apollo 8 reemerged from behind the moon just a little off course and never achieved orbit. It’s everything I love in a Science Fiction story.
Rusch, Kristine Kathyrn, “Substitutions,” Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories, 2010. I loved, loved, loved this story. The mood, the characters, the plot. Everything.
Sawyer, Robert J., Calculating God, Tor, 2000. Okay, I did say at the top that I wouldn’t review books about politics or religion. So what am I doing recommending a book that looks extensively at the existence or non-existence of God?
This book doesn’t take sides. Instead, it spends considerable time having an alien paleontologist named Hollus argue the topic with its human counterpart. The alien is the one who believes there’s irrefutable proof that God exists.
In many ways, this book reminds me of Richard North Patterson’s novel Exile which similarly slows down the plot to discuss a Big Topic (in the case of Exile, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Both novels discuss ideas at the expense of action and get away with it, in part because of the importance of the ideas but also because of the author’s skill.