I discovered a new hilarious author this week – Rob Reid. It appears that Year Zero is his first novel, but not his first book. The SF novel pokes fun at our entertainment world, copyright system, and “Fame” when aliens arrive on Earth to try to settle a debt incurred by the whole universe copying our music. Delightfully original and funny!
Juliann Garey wrote a dark novel into the mind of a manic-depressive, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See. The title is what made me pick it up and take it home. I kept reading because of my fascination with bipolar disorder. The main character in my novel, The Janus Code, is bipolar but not nearly as tormented as Greyson Todd in this novel. The novel takes us down the deteriorating cycle of an anguished mind. Don’t read this book if you are looking for “happy endings.” This is a first novel for Ms. Garey. I hope she writes more.
I love a story with a good setting. One that pulls you in and makes you feel as if you are there. The three books I’ve read this week are in very diverse places, but all made me feel I was in the worlds the authors were describing.
Tamarack County by William Kent Krueger is set in Northern Minnesota in the winter. Even though I’m here in warm, sunny Florida I felt the cold and the snow. I was shivering in my warm bed while reading. Krueger also surrounds you with a local culture – a mixture of small town and the “Rez” as he calls it. Native American culture weaves in and out of the story.
The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home is set on the coast of Scotland. I could smell the salt air and feel the loneliness of a deserted village on a coastal island where fishing had failed and the families had relocated to the mainland.
Both of these books were good mysteries with complex plots and interesting characters. But what sticks with me is the setting and culture of each book.
The third book is entirely different – A True Novel (II) by Minae Mizumura. I picked this up by accident at the library, not realizing it was the second part of the story. (I’ll go back and find the first book.) The story is about a Japanese man who moves to New York and makes his fortune. Apparently the first book is set in New York, but the second book is all in Japan. I could picture it, feel it, (even though I’ve never been there) and sense the changes in the culture as time passes. This is not the type of novel I usually read. I think the setting is what kept me reading even more than the sad story.
Going back to some other books I’ve recently read and enjoyed, I believe setting is part of the attraction. Deborah Crombie’s The Sound of Broken Glass is apparently a book in a series. I haven’t read the previous books but had no problem jumping in at number fifteen. The setting is in South London’s Crystal Palace, a neighborhood of musicians, a village within the city. The Crystal Palace was a huge glass structure built for the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 in Hyde Park and rebuilt in an even larger version in an upscale neighborhood in South London in 1854. It burned to the ground in 1936, but the neighborhood still goes by that name. I was drawn into the neighborhood and the musical culture.
Lost by S. J. Bolton is more character driven, but the setting in the back streets of London captured me.
Colin Cotterill’s The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die is the latest of his stories set in Laos in the 1970’s. He brings you into this strange place on the other side of the world and he does it with humor.
Suspend your disbelief for the funniest of novels. I’ve seen reviews of these books that say these things could never happen. But some of them actually do happen. And to me that’s part of the humor. The authors can take a common event and turn it into an outrageous adventure. Even though many of these books base their stories on real events, the authors take you to a place where you can enjoy the humor of the situation. When I need a good laugh and a break from bleak reality, humorous books are the best prescription.
If you’ve read any of Tim Dorsey’s novels, you know that he writes sick, raucous humor. His protagonist, Serge Storms, is an insane killer who thinks up the weirdest ways to do away with anyone he thinks doesn’t deserve to live. He even killed a guy for littering in one of his books. Serge’s sidekick, Coleman, is always under the influence – alcohol and all kinds of drugs. Serge doesn’t indulge except occasionally when he decides to take his medication for his psychosis.
They drive around Florida, never staying long in one place. Something I find very interesting about these books is that they are loaded with Florida history. Serge loves Florida. He stops at any and every historical marker and museum. He finds places where no one else would bother. He loves the wildlife, the swamps, the amusement parks, the old buildings. He describes them all and the history behind them. And he does this without boring you. Lots of insane humor. If you check out any of the places they visit, well known or obscure, you will find they are real. Dorsey has to be a real Florida history buff.
Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite authors. He’s another one who writes his stories in Florida. He throws together groups of wild characters and weird events that could happen (and sometimes do happen) in Florida. He mocks Florida politics, land development, and environmental policies. One character who makes an appearance from time-to-time is an ex-governor eco-terrorist. Other characters show up in more than one book, but mostly we are meeting new and outlandish people in each novel.
Sadly, Elmore Leonard is no longer with us. He wrote in many diverse styles, including mystery, detective, westerns…even nonfiction. He also wrote some great crime humor, many set in Florida. He will be missed.
Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels made me fall out of my chair laughing when I started reading them. But after 19 or 20 books, Stephanie is getting a little old these days. (I don’t mean old in years because she never ages.) She doesn’t change or grow or make up her mind about her life and her two boyfriends. Some of the other characters in the Plum novels have changed and grown and are more interesting. I prefer reading some of Evanovich’s other novels, based on other characters, now that I’ve grown a bit tired of Stephanie. These books are set in New Jersey. You probably thought I thought all humor sprang from Florida.
I love a good story. I love to read – I love to write. This blog is about what I like to read and why. Sometimes I’ll write a review of a particular book, but most often I’ll talk about a group of books and what it is that makes them work for me. I’ll also post about writing.
There are many good authors out there. A short list of some of my favorites, without getting into details are: Dennis Lehane (dark), Tim Dorsey (outrageously funny), Ed McBain, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin, and Shakespeare. I threw Shakespeare in to get your attention. He writes good characters and humor. Then there are the SF writers – Isaac Asimov, Connie Willis, Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert, Ursala Le Guin, David Brin, Arthur C. Clark, Larry Niven (my favorite) and many more.
I’m always looking for new authors. I go the library every couple of weeks and pick up six to eight books. Most of them are by first-time authors or authors I’ve never read. There is nothing like a good story with interesting characters to keep you entertained.
I just read Slash and Burn by Colin Cotterill (along with a couple of other books.) A great read. He is an author I haven’t previously read, but the book is not a first novel for him. This is the eighth book in his Dr. Siri series.
The series is set in Laos in the late seventies. Dr. Siri is the official coroner for Laos. A job he never wanted. He’s pushing eighty and keeps trying to retire. I’ve never been to Laos, never wanted to go, and have no clue about the culture or the environment. Yet, I felt right at home there through Cotterill’s writing. He writes great descriptions of the place and of his crazy characters.
The interactions between the locals and a group of Americans on an MIA mission are thoroughly entertaining. The story has a wild plot and lots of good humor.
I always enjoy discovering a good author. Please forgive me if I don’t talk about books I don’t like. I couldn’t do any of them justice since I usually don’t read past the first few chapters. I do almost all of my reading at night for an hour or two or three when I go to bed. I finished Slash and Burn in two late nights.
I just finished a very strange novel – The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. The first thing about it that is strange is the name, since in his book he says he hates the word lover. To quote Levithan, lover has “…the tint and taint of illicit, illegitimate affections.”
The format of the book is like a dictionary. It’s difficult at first to think of it as a novel, but it tells a story. He takes words from A to Z, most are not words we would normally associate with love, and tells what they mean to him in vignettes – one line, a few words, two or three paragraphs, or even some very short stories. These are not in the order that they happen, but plucked from within the relationship at various points. Yet the reader (at least this one) can see a distinct picture of the teller’s life with the woman he loves.
The author has a delightful way with words. You can feel the love – the connections, the disconnections, the joys, the frustrations, the uncertainties, and the certainties of love. The book is very difficult to describe, but very easy to read. Thumbs up!