Nita DeWeese covers a range of subjects with humor and with heart. She captures your imagination in her very short pieces and tells a full story in the longer ones. Many of her stories end with a twist. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of the “Stories Through Stained Glass.”
Anonymous Sources is Mary Louise Kelly’s first novel. Kelly is an insider of the news media and her protagonist, Alexander James, is a reporter who becomes obsessed with the death of a young man at Harvard University. James is convinced it is murder. She follows a strange tale that takes her from Massachusetts to Cambridge, England, and back to Washington, DC. She tangles with British and US spies and stumbles onto a terrorist scheme.
The book is fast-paced and fun. Kelly’s plot keeps you reading. You will find intrigue, humor, interesting characters, and insight into news reporting and the intelligence world. It’s one of those books I read in a couple of nights.
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 have a friend who decided to change careers in her forties from computers to teaching children and went back to school to accomplish this goal. She has been teaching fourth and fifth grade and from what I read and hear, she is an awesome teacher. She has completed her Bachelor’s degree and her Masters and is working on a Specialist degree. Along the way, I have edited all of her papers. (I should be earning some sort of degree by osmosis.)
Her latest paper is about brain-based learning. Different people learn in different ways according to their learning preferences. We learn best when all our senses are engaged. If a teacher only stands in front of a classroom and lectures, most of her students won’t get it. If you add visual, movement, music, poetry, games, etc., you will engage more of the brain and more of the students.
This paper talks about right brain/left brain leanings, so of course I went off track and took one of those tests. The test said I was moderately right brained. Apparently, reading and writing are left brain activities, so it doesn’t really fit. On the other hand (or side of the brain) the right brain is supposed be creative. But who’s to say we fit into slots and how accurate are such tests.
Wouldn’t you think that reading and writing come from the same part of the brain? Apparently they don’t. I know a woman who had a stroke, which took away her ability to read. Strangely enough, she could still write and type with no trouble. With time, she is regaining her reading ability, but she had to go back to reading “Dick and Jane” type books to get started. I haven’t asked her, but I wonder if she could read what she wrote.
The paper I was editing for my schoolteacher friend also said we need to engage both sides of the brain to retain what we learn. So, here’s to using your head, your whole head.
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 see blogs where the writers just list their favorite books or authors but they don’t say why. I’m a fan of good fiction; love to lose myself in a story. Most of my favorite writers are good character writers. I want to get into the protagonist’s head.
I just finished one of Barry Eisler’s books about John Rain, the assassin. Who would think you would want to get into an assassin’s head? But John Rain is a fascinating, complex character. He is a misfit, a killer-for-hire, a tortured soul. Yet he has such strong morals that when he thinks he has been led or tricked into breaking his own rules, it stays with him – disturbing his ongoing thoughts, his dreams, his physical being. He usually ends up eliminating the problems that he caused when stepping over his own boundaries, plus the person who led him down the wrong path.
Norman Green gets into the heads of multiple characters with each book. Sometimes he works with a single protagonist and sometimes with a group, but he uses multiple points of view. (His book, Dead Cat Bounce, features the same group of people as his first novel, Shooting Dr. Jack. His two latest novels (2010), The Last Gig and Sick Like That, both feature a tough female P.I., Allessanda ‘Al’ Martillo.) All of his characters, not just the protagonist(s) are many-layered. Each character is different. Green has extraordinary insight. My favorite of his characters is probably the thief in Way Past Legal who kidnapped his own son and took him to Maine to start a new life. He was cold and hardened by life and by prison, but he was tender and loving, too. He was even a bird watcher! So out of character! But Green made it fit.
Lee Child writes about Jack Reacher, who, unlike Eisler’s John Rain, appears to be quite comfortable in his own skin. He is a loner who wanders the country. He started life as an Army brat and became an officer in the Military Police, so he never stayed in one place for long. Now, out of the Army on his own, he wants no ties or permanence in his life. He has no possessions, carries nothing with him on the road. Of course, he finds trouble wherever he goes – terrible people, criminal activity. He always cleans up the problem, at times saving whole towns from evil. Jack Reacher is not a killer-for-hire, he’s a killer for John Reacher, a vigilante. He is also a complex character.
I don’t like just the dark novels; I also love good humor. Carl Hiaasen’s character’s antics are outrageously funny – laugh-out-loud funny. Janet Evanovich writes about Stephanie Plum, a New Jersey bounty hunter (and others) who can make me laugh so hard I almost fall out of my chair.
I also love a good plot. I don’t want to figure out “who done it” half way through the book. I’ve been known to put down many a book before finishing. But, even if the plot is a little sloppy, I’ll stick with it if I’m enjoying the characters. Attention to detail in the setting can also keep me hooked. Barry Eisler’s Tokyo in Rain Fall was so real I felt like I’d lived there.
Other novels fascinate me. The Room by Emma Donoghue would probably be classed as a literary novel. A very unusual story narrated by a five-year-old boy who escapes from a room where he has spent his entire life. Again, it’s character driven. I don’t know how the author did such a good job of getting into a child’s head. This is not a children’s book.