Unquestionably the worst month in the calendar.
It’s not the writer’s fault that I just finished Robert Kolker’s excellent Lost Girls in light of the apprehension of the man they think is the Gilgo Beach murderer. But my threshold for murdered sex workers was low going into this. I only finished it because it filled a specific square for my library summer reading game. It’s not bad; the mystery is done well but it doesn’t stand out as far as the rest of the genre. I loved the descriptions of snowy weather in NYC but beyond that, it’s mostly a forgettable read.
You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters****
Really good examination of the importance of listening and the holistic and scientific qualities it brings to us as individuals. Learned a few things and others I’ll still be thinking on.
Truthfully, I did not expect this to be as good as it was. I hadn’t liked Chuck Hogan’s last book and while I enjoyed the movie version of “The Town,” I’m assuming the book version is chock full of stereotyped Bostonians doing One More Job. Maybe that’s unfair and I’m more inclined to give it a shot because this historical crime book was so well done. Hogan made the characters—real and fictional—come alive in an authentic Chicago setting with a gangster tale that hummed with verve and verisimilitude. I was drawn into Nicky’s story in ways I didn’t expect (and ways you probably won’t expect either). Great book. One of my favorite crime reads of the year.
Death and the Good Life***
This started out fun with the empathetic cop, a writer with a keen eye for social dynamics and a beautiful Montanan setting. But when he goes to Portland, the mystery kicks into gear and it leaves a lot to be desired. Would’ve loved to have seen Hugo turn this into a series as he found his mystery writing voice. Alas.
You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington***
I understand and appreciate what Alexis Coe is trying to do here and it’s good to learn more about the slaves and women in Washington’s life whose stories are just as important but aren’t centered the way the Founders are. But in terms of a biography, this is sorely lacking, bouncing around from event to event with little pause and less detail. More of a polemic than a biography. Still tells an important aspect of Washington’s narrative.
Britt-Marie Was Here***
Had some sweet moments but Backman’s books are just too sappy for my tastes. Was hard to finish it, though I absolutely loved the ending.
This book is both brilliant and frustrating. Brilliant in its ideas, it’s concepts, many of its exchanges. Frustrating in its style, it’s choice of storytelling device. I loved it and I hated it and I probably won’t forget it. Can only give it 3 stars because it comes on the heels of the excellent Tokyo Year Zero.
It’s 2023. And while I do not begrudge my fellow cishet white men their need to write characters in their image, I really wish (naively did I think) that we were over the Chandler-esque “Write Who You Want to Be.” Because Nick Ryan is so obviously who Reed Farrell Coleman wants to be: handsome, good with the ladies, possessing an appropriate degree of tortured soul, liberal with minorities but Still A Cop. And as a character, there’s not much here that’s not derivative. And it’s a shame because the plot is So Much Fun and this had such potential of being more than another super cop novel. Alas. It’s still good, but probably something you’ve read many times.
Bad Summer People***
This book is frustrating in its competency. It’s soapy but can’t seem to go all the way. The prose and characterization are both great for this kind of genre but probably better served elsewhere. It has the desire to be a summer beach read but it should be more. I usually enjoy rich people behaving badly but I couldn’t muster the energy to care about anyone in this book. Maybe it’s me. This certainly ticks the boxes off of a Beach Read Checklist but…idk. Still feel like it should’ve been better and I can’t explain why.
See here’s the thing: you can write a derivative, familiar horror/movie story but as long as you give it pathos, characterization and atmosphere, it can still be really good! Catherine Ryan Howard proves it! You can write something that has been done before but turn it into quality fiction. I greatly enjoyed this one and will be seeking out more of her work.
Pillars of the Earth but set in 19th century Sicily about the birth of the mafia. Doesn’t reinvent the wheel but is fine for what it is.
None of This Is True****
This book was deeply unsettling and while large parts of it were predictable, the twists were seeded well. I really “enjoyed” it.
This one was tough to get through. I liked the premise and some of the execution but I didn’t care anything for the characters or their circumstance so I was basically running out the clock til it ended. Could’ve been so much better. Barely clears 3 stars.
Not in Bronxville
A fun enough first book, set in locales of which I am familiar from college. I read in the back that the author was working on a second, which appears to have never been published. Shame cuz I would’ve liked to have read it.