A chain of names leads to a chain of murders in Timothy Hallinan's latest hardboiled mystery, Herbie's Game. When a list of names linking back to a burglary goes missing, people on the list start popping up dead. Professional crook and sometimes detective Junior Bender takes up the case, and soon discovers that his recently murdered mentor and father-figure might not be all he claimed to be. Our reviewer says of the book: "With complex characters, spicy dialogue, clever plot devices and a liberal dose of humor—as is always the case with Hallinan—Herbie’s Game is a fine read." (Read the full review here.)
Murakami is my favorite living novelist, and he has a new book coming out in a month or two, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, so I went back to his most recent book to get ready for the new one–sort of like a wind sprint in preparation for a race. Murakami is a dazzler and a magician: his books are as much cascades of imagination as they are conventionally organized stories. A young Tokyo woman caught up in a traffic jam abandons her taxi and climbs down a ladder leading from the elevated roadway into a new world— an urban rabbit-hole that ends in a Tokyo with two moons. Here a love affair with God only knows how much karma behind it takes place and events follow a kind of dream logic; a jazz-like riffing on themes of love and disappointment. I hope that doesn't make it sound too forbidding. Like all great magic, it's fascinating even when you don't know how it works.
Jade Lady Burning
By Martin Limon
Limon owns the impoverished world of Vietnam War-era Korea the same way James Lee Burke owns the Louisiana bayous. His Eighth Army investigator heroes, the sensitive Sueno and the combative Bascom---who's never seen a wall he isn't willing to walk through-- are (in my mind) among the great pairs in detective fiction. This, the first book in the series, sees the team pulled into the murder of a Korean prostitute, a crime no one, Korean or American, is eager to investigate. Limon nails two conflicting worlds: the U. S. Army with its rigid codes and knuckleheaded, cover-your-butt officers and occupied, pre-miracle Cold War Korea, a place marked by the truculence of an ancient society knuckling under to a new one. The New York Times named this one of their Best Books of 1992, and they got it right.
This is the most recent book by one of the world's funniest and most level-eyed writers. In this, her third novel, Amy Gallup, a reclusive writer whose moments of (relative) fame are safely behind her, takes a fall one day and hits her head against a birdbath. In a concussed state, she gives an interview to a hilariously earnest young reporter who sees profundity in everything Amy says and—voila!—Amy's on NPR and on her way to becoming America's most reluctant celebrity. Like all writers, I sit alone over a keyboard for months on end in a dark room like Howard Hughes (minus the Kleenex-box shoes) and am then hauled out for the performing-seal part of the job called “promotion,” so Amy's adventures on panels, etc. literally made me laugh till I cried. And Willett is a tough, one-of-a-kind piece of work, as you might expect from someone whose Facebook page is anchored by a photo of an adorable baby behind a sign that says PLEASE DO NOT KISS ME.
Thanks, Timothy! Will you be checking out any of the books on his list?
Deborah Harkness is a busy woman. A professor of history at the University of Southern California, Harkness somehow managed to write a bestselling trilogy in between classes. The enormously popular All Souls fantasy series comes to a close with the final installment, The Book of Life. In our interview with Harkness, our interviewer remarks that the trilogy is an "addictive blend of history, science, romance and fantasy that chronicles the complicated relationship between a witch named Diana Bishop and a vampire named Matthew de Clairmont." (Read the full interview here, and a few extra tidbits we couldn't fit into the print issue here.)
We were curious about the books Harkness has enjoyed reading, so we asked her to recommend three favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve been so busy writing and teaching lately that I haven’t been able to do much reading for pleasure. So I’m going to have to fall back on three of my favorite books—books that I’ve read and re-read and can recommend with enthusiasm. They may not make a list of literary classics, but these are my desert island books. So long as I have these three books, I’d be perfectly occupied for years.
Gone With the Wind
By Margaret Mitchell
I first picked up Mitchell’s classic book because it was so thick I knew it would keep me busy for days. There was no library in town, and the Bookmobile only came once a week so you had to plan carefully. No matter how many times I read it, I still wonder how the book will end. It’s exactly the kind of character-driven storytelling that I most adore, with two unlikeable central characters and a huge supporting cast. If you’ve only seen the movie, read the book. It is a very different experience, I promise.
By Anya Seton
The true confessions continue. My mother recommended this book to me when I was a history-mad teenager. She had loved it and thought I would enjoy it, too. She was right. I absolutely adored the story of Katherine Swynford’s illicit relationship with one of the most powerful men in medieval England. Katherine is a smart, politically astute heroine who knows her limitations as well as her strengths. It’s a terrific read.
The Game of Kings
By Dorothy Dunnett
My undergraduate advisor suggested I read this—after I finished my honors thesis. She was right not to tell me about it before the thing was filed, or I wouldn’t have graduated. Dorothy Dunnett’s sprawling, epic Crawford of Lymond Chronicles (this if the first of six volumes) and its House of Niccolò prequels (eight volumes) kept me going through my first year of full-time employment and for many years after that. The Game of Kings is set in 16th century Scotland and is so well researched that I have been known to recommend parts of the trilogy to students who are confused about what happened at the Battle of Lepanto. Crawford of Lymond is another adoringly unlikeable main character, and the dialogue and plot move at a blistering pace. You will never keep all the twists and turns straight—don’t even try. Just settle in and enjoy the read.
Have you read any of Harkness' favorites?
(Author Photo by Scarlett Freund)
In Abroad, Katie Crouch's latest novel, things spiral out of control for a group of girls on their semester abroad. Freed from their parents' supervision and eager to redefine themselves amidst the beauty of Italy, the bad choices pile up and lead to horrible consequences. Our reviewer says that Abroad is "gorgeously written, with a steady drumbeat of dread infusing every page." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Crouch has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
I’m at the beach right now with my family. I rip through books when I’m here, mostly because every two minutes some child wants to bury me in sand, so I’ve got to move fast. I like a tasty plot, but the writing has to be excellent, or I pass it on to my mother. (No offense, Mom.) Also, the book can’t be too lengthy, because undoubtedly someone will drop my novel into a bucket if I have it for too long. Two-three days, that’s about how long I have with it. A short, furious affair.
The Painted Veil
By Somerset Maugham
This week I started with The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham. It’s so wonderful and nasty. It’s 1925, and Kitty Garstin has married a lowly doctor because she’s twenty-five and running out of time. He takes her to Hong Kong, where she embarks on an affair that her husband soon discovers. Kitty is so wonderfully self-absorbed and silly. As they travel through China, her husband attempting to contain a cholera epidemic, she looks “unseeingly” at the presumably stunning landscape. The game changes once they get to the interior; but what I love about Kitty is that she transforms—but not enough to be unbelievable. And the setting is so seductive.
You Are One of Them
By Elliott Holt
This novel has become a bit of a cult hit among my friends. One of the main characters, Jennifer Jones, is based loosely on Samantha Smith, the young peace activist who wrote a letter to Yuri Andopov. She paid an official visit to the Kremlin in 1982, only to die in a plane crash in 1985. In the novel, our protagonist, Sarah, is best friends with Jennifer, and as Jennifer’s good fortune rises, so does Sarah’s jealousy. But then, in the middle, the book takes a wonderfully unexpected twist into intrigue and espionage. An unsettling, extremely satisfying read.
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill
This is a creepy ghost story that is just beautifully written and not too over-the-top in terms of horror. It’s reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw, but creepier. At the beginning, a young lawyer has been charged with going through the papers of a dead client in an old, spooky house. Naturally, he unearths horrible, deadly secrets. The novel is written in a Gothic style that was enough to give me nightmares. A wonderful lesson for writers in taking your time when exploring what might be behind that doorway down the dark hall.
Thanks, Katie! Will you be reading Abroad or any of the books on this list?
Author photo by Piro Patton.
In her tense new mystery, The Stranger You Know, Jane Casey poses a chilling question: How well do you really know the people that wander into your life? That's the dilemma Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan is faced with when she begins hunting down the elusive and sadistic killer stalking the streets of London. This task would be disturbing enough, but soon, the evidence begins to point toward the one man she would never suspect: her partner. It's a thrilling read, and it just might inspire you to take a closer look at that new co-worker. Our reviewer writes: "Casey expertly dangles the solution just out of Kerrigan’s reach, putting readers in the roles of the pursuer and the pursued until the final pages." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Casey has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
By Donna Tartt
This is a book I’ve waited twenty years to read. The Secret History was like a door that opened on new possibilities in crime writing and novel-writing in general, and I still feel a thrill of excitement when I reread it. I loved The Little Friend but The Goldfinch is a true successor to Tartt’s debut. The book is about a missing masterpiece, and in some ways it’s a crime novel, with gangsters and art thieves and blackmailers all pursuing the painting. Really, however, it’s an 800-page meditation on art, trust, love, grief and friendship, and it’s still a page-turner. Her ability to capture an atmosphere is second-to-none; her descriptions are ravishing and her characterization is delicately shaded but unforgettable. She brings the same intense scrutiny to bear on down-at-heel suburban Las Vegas as the antique-filled elegance of New York or the narrow streets of a wintry Amsterdam. I lived in this book, and I wouldn’t have minded if it had been twice as long.
By Daphne du Maurier
After The Goldfinch I needed to read something dark and brooding, with beautiful settings for ugly deeds. Du Maurier’s classic novel was the perfect choice. The second Mrs. de Winter comes to Manderley, her husband’s enormous country house by the sea, and discovers that her dead predecessor is still a presence there, refusing to be forgotten. The descriptions are vivid and the atmosphere appropriately stifling as the new bride is threatened and overwhelmed by her new role. There is nowhere for her to hide – no privacy with the house full of servants and no guidance from a husband who seems to expect her to pick up where Rebecca left off. The dark figure of Mrs. Danvers is like a shadow across the page, and du Maurier never goes too far with her; she’s threatening but always believable. As the dream-like haze of the first half dissipates and the reality of what happened to Rebecca intrudes ever more forcefully, the book becomes as accomplished a thriller as you will find.
Never Look Back
By Clare Donoghue
I don’t read crime novels when I’m writing one – I find it hard enough to keep track of my own plots without puzzling through other people’s twists and turns! When I finish a book I always have a huge stack of novels waiting for me. I try to keep up with new crime writing, especially debut authors. There’s nothing more exciting than finding a fresh new voice. Never Look Back is a London-set police procedural about a stalker who is hunting young women. For me, its strengths lie in the characterization, particularly Detective Inspector Mike Lockyer and his second-in-command, Detective Sergeant Jane Bennett. Lockyer has a troubled past, an autistic brother, concerns about his adolescent daughter and a whole host of other issues, but they never weigh down the plot. Bennett is more self-contained and I can’t wait to find out more about her.
What have you been reading lately?
(Author photo by Annie Armitage)
In Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse, machines turn on humans and threaten to annihilate mankind. The battle appears to have been won by the humans, but in the sequel, Robogenesis, it soon becomes clear that the war is far from over. As the survivors of the robot uprising begin to regroup, a greater threat assembles and looms on the horizon. Our reviewer writes, "As the stage resets for even bigger problems, Wilson’s imagination gains new heights." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Wilson has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
By Kenneth Calhoun
This is Calhoun’s debut novel, and I read it to prepare for an interview with the author on a local Portland show called Late Night Debut (put on by Literary Arts). But I really wanted to get my greedy mitts on Black Moon because I love the premise: What happens if one day, for no reason, nobody can sleep anymore? You can guess that the novel pretty quickly spirals off into dystopia. The plot is great, but I love that Calhoun has the perfect excuse to indulge in literary writing. Characters are not sleeping and so they begin hallucinating and dreaming while they’re awake. As a result, the prose becomes fractured and surreal. Black Moon has some very pretty writing without sacrificing the plot.
Writing Movies for Fun and Profit
By Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant
I picked up this book for two reasons: 1) I am hired to write screenplays occasionally, and 2) a long, long time ago the authors Tom Lennon and Ben Garant were hired by Paramount to write a screenplay based on my first book, How to Survive a Robot Uprising. They were surprisingly nice guys and the screenplay they wrote was hilarious. Alas, the movie wasn’t meant to be, but Tom and Ben are real working writers and they know about making movies. The most important lesson in this book, which they reinforce again and again because it is hard to swallow, (and I hope they don’t mind me paraphrasing) is that your number one job as a screenwriter is to eat shit and grin. Unlike writing a novel, screenwriting is a “people job” that involves juggling a lot of personalities. That means a lot of patience, compromise and shit-eating. Not a fun lesson, but it is may be the most important one to being a successful screenwriter.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
By Lawrence Wright
I don’t often get drunk and buy books online, but when I have it has always worked out. So, I guess I’m saying that I can’t recommend against it. I didn’t remember buying this book until it was delivered. Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard are not that interesting to me on their own, so I’m pretty sure I grabbed this book because I’m a fan of Jack Parsons – the guy who founded NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the blue-collar Jack who pioneered solid rocket fuel. I like Jack because he wasn’t as smart as his peers, but he still did great stuff – mostly fueled by passion. (Judge my personality from that as you will.) For a few years, L. Ron Hubbard lived with Parsons in a mansion slash sex club slash house of occult worship. Then, Hubbard took Parson’s wife and his yacht and sailed away. The brass balls on this guy! Reading about Hubbard’s absurd life is a revelation – it makes you realize how close to the mean most of us stick.
Thanks Daniel! What do you think readers? Will you be picking up Robogenesis or any of Wilson's reccomendations?
Author photo by Anna Camille
Lisa See is a master of historical fiction and the complexities of friendships between women, and these facts are on display in China Dolls. In her latest novel, See follows the lives of three very different women of Asian descent as they navigate 1930s San Francisco. Vowing lifelong friendship, the women find fame as dancers in The Forbidden Garden, a glamorous and exclusive nightclub. However, after the attack at Pearl Harbor, the friends must face racism and a betrayal that threatens to tear them apart. Our reviewer writes that China Dolls is "backed by meticulous research into the Chinese-American nightclub era, making her portrayal of this little-known period in history all the more memorable." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about what books See reads in her spare time, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
When I’m writing, I try to read within the subject of the current novel I’m working on or the one that will be next. I’m kind of superstitious this way. I don’t want someone else’s voice to seep into my own work even inadvertently. As a result, I only read for pleasure when I’m on vacation or have just finished a novel. When I was in China on a research trip recently, I brought Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being with me. I’m such a huge fan of her work! The main character—also named Ruth—is walking along the shore in British Columbia when she comes across a lunchbox hidden among the driftwood and seashells. Inside are letters, a notebook and other ephemera collected by Nao, a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Japan—and possible victim of the tsunami. The novel moves back and forth between Ruth and Nao, who somehow both manage to be wickedly funny, heartbreakingly pathetic and courageous all at the same time. And the story is so wide-ranging! Kamikaze pilots, quantum physics, anime, Zen Buddhism, with a little Proust thrown in for good measure.
The Prairie Trilogy
By Willia Cather
For another trip, I decided to bring along a classic: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. I loved O Pioneers! so much that when I came home I looked up information on the life of Willa Cather and discovered that this book was the first in a series called The Prairie Trilogy. For my next trip, I read The Song of the Lark, the second book in the trilogy. These are devastatingly sad and sorrowful stories. They are also vividly American—with the beautiful yet cruel landscape, the precariousness of life on the untamed prairie, the unending heartache and heartbreak of love and the ways families fail us, save us, and push us into doing things far beyond our capacities. Summer vacation is coming, and I plan on finishing the trilogy by reading My Ántonia.
Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
By Pu Songling
But as I said, in my day-to-day life I’m reading for “work.” For the last year or so, I’ve had Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling on my nightstand. Back in the 17th century, Pu Songling, a scholar who failed China’s imperial examinations fourteen times, spent the rest of his life roaming the country and collecting 500 eerie stories of ghosts, shape shifters, demons and vampires. He was writing down these strange but supposedly “true” stories literally centuries before Stephen King, Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer. My favorites feature fox spirits—typically young women who take human form and then seduce and confuse young men. Sometimes entire households can succumb to “fox influence,” which usually means trouble but can also mean good fortune. Pu is a beautiful but spooky chronicler: “The wind sighs coldly outside and the chill on the table is like ice.” I read one or two of these stories a week when I go to bed, but I can’t say they’re much help in putting me to sleep!
What have you been reading recently, readers? Will you be picking up China Dolls or any of See's recommendations?
(Author photo by Patricia Williams)
In her new memoir, Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town, Sarah Payne Stuart reflects on a life enmeshed in WASP culture. Despite fleeing the white-picket-fenced neighborhoods of her childhood as soon as she got the chance, Stuart later returns to her hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, to raise her family. In the course of Perfectly Miserable, Stuart comes to terms with her conflicting emotions about her family and hometown, as well as delving into the historical and not-so-perfect lives of other literary Concordian women. From our reviewer: "Stuart writes honestly and lovingly about her aging parents, her childhood, money, the trials of parenthood and keeping her marriage afloat. In other words, everything." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Stuart has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
First Love and Other Sorrows: Stories
Stories by Harold Brodkey
Whenever I reach for First Love and Other Sorrows, I find I have given it away once again in a rush of emotion. Last week I bought the book (for under $3) on my new Kindle because it was, as it is from time to time, shamefully out of print. The next day, my husband landed in the hospital (short term, all’s well), and I rushed over with my kindle. The last thing he felt like doing was reading, my husband said grumpily, but ok, leave him the Kindle, if it made me happy, though he didn’t even know how to work the thing. I didn’t really know how to work the thing either, but before I left that night I had called up “State of Grace,” Brodkey’s story about a disgruntled 13-year-old boy babysitting a 7-year-old boy who has had every benefit saving the only one that matters—the devotion of a parent. “He was a precocious and delicate little boy, quivering with the malaise of being unloved. When we played, his child’s heart would come into its own…” My husband prefers nonfiction books about Al Qaeda or the CIA, but nothing ventured, etc. When I returned to the hospital the next morning, I glanced over at the kindle, wondering if I could steal it back, only to have my husband say, “I don’t know what it is about that story, but I’m on to the next.” I, too, am at a loss to explain the power of this story collection. But trust me, you will take this book to your heart, only to give it away.
I’m not a fan of graphic novels (or put another way, I’ve never given them a chance). But I am a fan of Roz Chast, whose hilarious New Yorker cartoons come, clearly, from a deep place. I had no idea how deep until I was swept away by her new graphic memoir about her parents. How does one survive being brought up by a mean mother, who then must be cared for until she reaches an unrelenting 97? And why do mean mothers always live on and on and on? After Chast’s mother finally goes into hospice, she rebounds miraculously, as if even God is chary of being in her presence. “Where in the five stages of death is EAT A TUNA SANDWICH?” Chast writes. Sitting by her dying mother’s bed, Chast asks if she should stay or go. “It doesn’t matter,” her mother replies. Roz was an only child with no siblings to blunt the pain of an angry mother and a gentle, but weak father, who, despite loving his daughter, put his adored if unadoring wife first in every instance. “I had no nostalgia for the Carefree Days of Youth, because I never had them. . .” Chast writes. There is no nostalgia in this book and yet, in the hilarity and richness of its yearning, it is sweet.
The Chronicles of Barsetshire and The Palliser Novels
By Anthony Trollope
When life gets complicated, I slather jam on toast and reach for Trollope. Trollope’s romping novels about love, class and politics in Victorian England always make me happy. Great, funny books that end happily? Not enough can be said about the strength of that. And unlike Dickens, Trollope really gets women. Though Trollope wrote 44 novels (before going to work!), the twelve interrelated novels in The Chronicles of Barsetshire and The Palliser series are by far his best. College survey courses often kill one’s appetite for Trollope by assigning The Warden, the first in the Barsetshire series and his driest book, assigned because, I suppose, it is one of his shortest. My suggestion is start with Barchester Towers, the second book, and go straight through the series. After that, read straight through the Palliser novels. Then re-read them all (this time, you’ll want to include The Warden) at your leisure––until the day you die. I always have a Trollope going on the side: on my kindle or under three books on my bedside or in the side pocket of my overnight bag protected (hopefully) from the toothpaste. Who can forget the termagant Mrs. Proudie ruling her Bishop husband by burning his toast whenever he dares to disagree? Or the beautiful, so earnestly in-the-wrong heroine of Can You Forgive Her? Has there ever been a better title than that?
What do you think, readers? Will you be reading Perfectly Miserable or checking out any of Stuart's recommended books?
(Author photo by Nina Subin)
Jason Good is both a family man and a funnyman, and that's made pretty clear in his new book, This is Ridiculous This is Amazing. Presented in list form, Good offers hilarious advice on how to navigate the waters of parenthood. Our reviewer shares some tidbits: There are some things "hard-pressed parents shouldn’t feel guilty about ('Pretending to be asleep. Pretending to be deaf.') Freshman fathers will find a kindred spirit in Good, who writes from the heart about the rearing of kids, aka the “tiny people who have no idea that they’re slowly killing us.” It might just be the perfect Father's Day gift. (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Good has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend some recent favorites, which he shared in a predictably hilarious fashion.
Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety
By Daniel Smith
I met Daniel at a birthing class in Brooklyn. Our wives were both pregnant—a fact I probably didn’t need to clarify. We struck up a friendship, and I’ve followed his career since. His latest book is brilliantly written and one of my favorite memoirs.
If you pick up Monkey Mind looking for a cure to anxiety, forget about it. If, however, you’re seeking someone who can graphically and comically describe exactly what it feels like to be anxious, this book delivers all the insight, schadenfreude and hilarity you could possibly handle. Dan is a sweaty, quivering mess of a man who constantly gets in his own way, and you can’t help but grow to love him for it. As he puts it, “. . . anxiety is an inherently comical disorder. It destroys lives, but it destroys them with absurdity. To witness a person in the throes of true anxiety is to witness a person actively tripping himself. Anxiety is the intellect gone feral.” From life’s most important junctures (losing his virginity) to its most mundane (choosing between two condiments), Dan focuses on himself (as those with anxiety are so prone to do), with the steady aim of a journalist. He loads the chamber with comedy, pulls the trigger, and never misses.
I recently discovered that not everyone has read this book. I’m on my second go around. The only other book I’ve read twice is The Phantom Tollbooth, but that hardly counts because I was 9 years old. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius lives up to its name, and I plowed through it, mouth hanging open like a scientist observing an alien aircraft. Dave Eggers' creativity, metaphors and playful use of language in this heartfelt, funny, angry book blew me away. The fact that it’s about the tragic loss of his parents when he was 19 and how he was forced to become its unwitting patriarch makes me want to quit writing and celebrate being a writer all at the same time.
Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude
By Neal Pollack
One of my best friends went to college with Neal and insisted that I read this book. Luckily, I trusted him, because Stretch made me laugh at least twenty times (I rarely laugh, so that’s a lot). It’s easy to make fun of yoga culture—it’s self-righteously crunchy, there’s copious farting. It’s not quite as easy to skewer it when you’ve unwittingly become one of its devout followers. That’s what Neal does in this book. After finding himself unable to let go of his anger when a reviewer refers to him as “fat” Neal decides to change his life—not an easy transition, because Neal’s a cynical ex-punk rocker. From his first class through to nailing a headstand and then publishing articles in yoga magazines, Neal writes hilariously about negotiating his old and new selves, and finding a calm place somewhere in between where he can practice mindfulness and still hate things.
This book sits next to mine on all the Barnes & Noble “Books Dads Will Love” tables. I would prefer that if people are buying only one book, they buy the one adjacent to Dave’s, but I have to admit that it is 99.99% as good as mine. Though his popularity was sparked by the imaginative, “how’d he do that?” photographs he took with his daughter, it’s the three or four paragraph captions that provide the fuel to turn this into a great read. It’s absurd, hilarious and at times, touching. Next to a picture of his daughter poised to drop a whole turkey into a vat of bubbling oil, Dave writes, "Alice Bee did a pretty good job getting the fryer set up while I was watching football on TV, but as usual, her attention to detail was a bit lacking—not only did she neglect to fill the fryer all the way to the top with peanut oil, I even caught her earlier in the day trying to defrost the turkey."
I think it’s a near perfect work of satire that people will love and return to often. I know I do. It’s sitting right next to me. . . taunting me.
What do you think, readers? Will you be reading This is Ridiculous This is Amazing or checking out any of Good's recommended books?
(Author photo by Ben Toht)
Sarah Lotz's unsettling horror novel, The Three, gave us some serious goosebumps. Three children are the sole survivors after four commercial airlines simultaneously drop from the sky. No one can find the cause of the plane crashes, and as the children's behavior becomes increasingly bizarre, an apocalyptic cult forms around the mystery of the three survivors. Our reviewer says, "The Three is the real deal: gripping, unpredictable and utterly satisfying." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Lotz has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
By Nnedi Okorafor
I read this is one greedy session. Lagoon has a terrific premise: What if the world’s first contact with aliens happened in Lagos, rather than, say, London, Tokyo or New York? But the novel is far more than this, as the alien invasion motif is effectively used as a mirror through which the city is reflected. Corruption, greed, manipulation and gender violence are all under the spotlight here, as various factions scramble to seize control of Ayodele, the alien ambassador who has risen from the sea. It’s focalised via multiple perspectives – the main protagonists include a marine biologist reeling from spousal abuse, a Ghanaian rapper and a soldier scarred by a failed attempt to prevent a sexual assault (incidentally, not all of the POVs are human. . .). These disparate viewpoints complement each other without jarring the reader. The prose is tight, the dialogue sharp and there’s a satirical streak weaving through it (Nnedi brilliantly lampoons governmental corruption and inertia, for example). A cracking and often surprising story, terrific social commentary and great fun to read.
By Lauren Beukes
Lauren read out the opening chapter of this wholly original speculative thriller at the Open Book literary festival in Cape Town last year, and I’ve never seen a crowd so entranced. The book is too rich and complex to sum up in a few words, so I’m lazily going to crib from the blurb: ‘Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?’ Bambi, this isn’t. It’s a gut-puncher of a novel, with some of the most evocative turns of phrase I’ve ever read, and thanks to her superb flair with characterisation and realism, there are several characters I still can’t get out of my head (and I read this months ago). (Publishing on September 16, 2014)
By Sarah Pinborough
I read and loved Mayhem last year, the first in this murder-mystery-but-so-much-more series set in a Victorian London that has a unique – and chilling – supernatural twist. In the first novel, police surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond was really put through the mill as a murderer savaged his way through London in the shadow of the Ripper (it’s based on the real-life "Torso Murders," but I’m forced to be vague here as I really urge you to read it). In Murder, Dr. Bond is back, and he’s forced to confront the fact that the events that took place in Mayhem might still be casting a pall over his life – and face the possibility that he could be losing his mind. The plot is full of ‘oh no she didn’t’ twists, and the atmosphere and sense of place is so compellingly executed, you’ll taste the fog and smell the foul breath of the river (and you’ll never look at the Thames the same way again). But what really got me was the extraordinary love triangle that runs through the novel. It’s devastating (in the best way). If you haven’t already, check out Sarah’s novella, The Language of Dying which is almost unbearably beautiful and powerful.
What do you think, readers? Will you be reading The Three or checking out any of Lotz's recommended books?
(Author photo by Christine Fourie)
Laline Paull's The Bees peeks into the hive of the honeybee, an extraordinary world that worker bee Flora 717 must navigate, defend and ultimately challenge in this fabulously imaginative debut novel. Our reviewer says that "The Bees is a tremendous work of literature, told with suspense and passion. You will never look at the activity in your flower garden the same way again." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Paull has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Horses of God
By Mahi Binebine, translated by Lulu Norman
I read this slim novel (182 pages) in just over an hour last week – and I haven’t stopped talking about it since. I was tired, but this book required nothing from me – except letting myself get dragged by the neck through its beautiful, brutal, elegant and honest story of an 18 year old Moroccan suicide bomber, and it brought tears to my eyes. It makes no excuses, but it does shine a most humane light on the atrocity of poverty, the root of so much suffering. Mahi Binebine writes with anger and compassion, and this book is a call to arms: to protect innocence, to stand up to corruption and greed and to prove that good writing can make a political difference.
Sweetness and Light: The Mysterious History of the Honey Bee
By Hattie Ellis
Here’s a wonderful non-fiction book that is so lightly and entertainingly erudite that you can open it anywhere and be delighted by the writing. It effortlessly informs the reader about the magic of a creature that I’ve spent a long time studying, writing and talking about, yet this book still entrances me. I love books that make me feel more intelligent for having read them, and this is one of them. Hattie Ellis writes in an accessible, vivid and unpatronizing way. I’m going to keep this book handy for when I need to remind myself just why honey bees really are amazing creatures, and that I’m just one in a very long line of writers who have become obsessed by them.
By James Lever
A satirical Hollywood memoir told through the jaded innocence of the chimp who ‘played’ Cheeta in the Tarzan films. What a brilliant conceit! I remember hearing about this when it was first released and thinking, “Ooh I must read that!” But I somehow got distracted and didn’t think of it again until I recently met the author. I remembered how intriguing it sounded, and then, what a relief to genuinely love this funny, bitchy, kind and original novel. Highly recommended.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Bees—or any of Paull's recommended books—to your TBR list?