Six Favorite Reads of 2016

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Here are a few of the books I enjoyed over the year.

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2016 was a surreal year (in more ways than one), so I dove right in at the source and refreshed my sensibility with THE SURREALISM READER: An Anthology of Ideas, edited by the goddess of surrealist studies, Dawn Ades (also  Michael Richardson and Krzysztof Fijalkowski). This seminal collection includes contributions by both critics and movement luminaries. Among the latter,  two not to be missed highlights: Marcel Mariën’s “Non-Scientific Treatise on the Fourth Dimension,” and Leonora Carrington’s “What Is a Woman?”
My kind of reference—and it sure beats Trump’s surreality TV.  Thank you, University of Chicago Press!

 

sphinx

 

While swimming in  experimental waters, I’m glad I found a sandbar and Anne Garréta’s novel SPHINX. It’s not surprising that one of the few female members of Oulipo penned  one of the most engaging Oulipian novels to date. It’s a remarkable genderless love story— complex and mesmerizing.

 

 

 

 

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I couldn’t wait to curl up with RAZOR GIRL and—sure enough—Hiaasen had my number again. As expected, the book had  enough black humor to float the boat and a finely drawn character— (how could he miss with a detective demoted to a food inspector in Key West)— Andrew Yancy . The guy  surely  deserves  a sequel (Ya listening Carl?) But I won’t call this novel  a “page-turner” because I refuse to resort to cliches.  (Oops, too late.)

 

 

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What? Another book with “girl” in the title, there must be some mistake. Well, instead of GIRL ON THE TRAIN which derailed midway through for me, I’m recommending THE CROW GIRL  If you’re hungry for a hefty helping—784 pages—of Swedish noir., it doesn’t get any better (or darker) than this. A superb translation, too.

 

 

 

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Got twists? This novel is a corkscrew,  and, yes, there are moments when you say “couldn’t happen,” but then you have those nagging second thoughts after watching the local news and it doesn’t matter anyway because THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is just plain creepy fun. A clever first novel by author Shari Lapena.

 

 

 

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French PI Aimée Leduc needs no introduction, of course, nor does her creator, Cara Black. I was a bit worried Cara. Black had run out of Paris neighborhoods, but then along came MURDER ON THE QUAI and I gladly donned my beret. The book is a “prequel” that will satisfy fans of the series—especially since Aimée’s backstory has often been alluded to and was begging to be told.

For those who’ve yet to meet Ms. Leduc, there’s no better place to start than at the beginning.

 

 

Enjoy these wintry reads and have a great 2017!

 

 

Chills

Here are a few cool  titles we’re looking forward to.

[click on covers for more info]

crow girl

cabin 10

You Will Know Me

Harrow

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loney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AND watch for our reviews of  Peter Lovesey’s new novel and a prequel to Cara Black’s popular series.

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Hot Summer Quick Picks

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Gallic Press guarantees a long hot summer with the latest translation of Pascal Garnier‘s TOO CLOSE CLOSE TO THE EDGE. We first discovered this novelist with the release of MOON IN A DEAD EYE which was one of our Favorite Books of  2014.  Then we read THE PANDA THEORY and became hopelessly addicted. This latest short novel is noir for the course.
CLICK TO BUY

dd

You can’t miss with Don DeLillo—his best novel since WHITE NOISE.
CLICK TO BUY

 

loney

If it’s too hot in the sun, this one will give you chills. THE LONEY is eerie, odd, and beautifully written. Andrew Michael Hurley is a poet of terror.
CLICK TO BUY

 

Simon & Schuster

Wrong is an understatement with Trump at the helm, but E.J, Dionne sets the record straight on how far  out the GOP has gone.
CLICK TO BUY

 

CHEDDAR

C’mon, who doesn’t love it. Here’s the scoop,  CHEDDAR: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese? Is it lunch time yet? Say cheese!
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Spring into Summer Reading

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I made it through the spring thanks to Overlook Press and their scrumptious The Collector’s Wodehouse series. That’s not to imply that I own or have read all the titles in the series—far from it!—but I have a sizable tower of mirth within reach.

Now I’ve raved about this vast collection before (see this LINK), but it bears repeating, since you’ll not only find the seminal titles (the Jeeves & Wooster series and Blandings Castle books) but lesser known gems and stand-alones such as THE MATING SEASON and THE GIRL ON THE BOAT.  All the books are beautifully crafted hardcovers, of uniform design, with wonderful cover art by Andrzej Klimowski. And these editions make grand gifts that will certainly whet one’s appetite to start collecting them. (I wonder if Overlook offers a discount for the entire series? I daresay it would cost a fortune to ship.)

Wodehouse novels and stories are a delight for all seasons. In winter,  they provide spring breezes. In summer, they put you in a gently swaying hammock.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some swaying to do.

Right ho!

 

 

Give & Keep (a holiday book guide)

We’re not doing a “Ten Best” list this year — it’s too frustrating having to leave out so many good titles. Instead, below, you’ll find cool new books that’ll make great holiday gifts.

Merry Reading!

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SONDHEIM

ON SONDHEIM: An Opinionated Guide
by Ethan Mordden
Oxford University Press

Here’s a smart (and, yes, highly opinionated) guide to the master’s works. Stephen Sondheim is, of course,  the brilliant lyricist-composer who has redefined American musical theatre. Mordden’s guide is an illuminating introduction to the man and his work.

CLICK TO ORDER

 

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A

A IS FOR ARSENIC: The Poisons of Agatha Christie
by Kathryn Harkup
Bloomsbury Sigma

OK, here’s a fun one for Christie fans. Clearly,  Christie’s cup of tea was tainted; that is to say, she preferred using poison to kill off her characters than other messier methods. This penchant for the deadly dose is, in part, explained by the author’s education  and knowledge of lethal chemicals. Kathryn Harkup explores the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen Christie mysteries, and illuminates  the science behind the author’s fiction.

Drink up!

CLICK TO ORDER

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THE TROLLEY PROBLEM MYSTERIES
(The Berkeley Tanner Lectures)
by F. M. Kamm
Edited by Eric Rakowski
Oxford University Press

For the budding philosopher on your list,  Kamm’s work poses the  classic “trolley problem” that asks the reader to confront a moral dilemma. “A train is ripping down the track at full speed, headed straight for five unsuspecting workers. If you could push the person walking next to you onto the track and save those men, would you do it?” Hmm. Those two sentences lead us to a variety of complex questions and scenarios. Indeed, a ride on this trolley won’t soon be forgotten.

CLICK TO ORDER

 

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fil

GRAPHIQUE de la RUE: The Signs of Paris
by Louise Fili
Princeton Architectural Press

If you love Paris (and who doesn’t?) then this love letter to French lettering is for you. Graphic designer Louise Fili has been photographing street signs in the city for over 40 years and her  book is filled with glorious color reproductions of distinctive typography. Includes  classic gold-leaf and dimensional Art Deco, Futurist, and Art Nouveau architectural lettering.

It’s a visual delight!

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brit

And speaking of France…

DEATH IN BRITTANY
A novel by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Minotaur Books

A new mystery series,  introducing Commissaire Georges Dupin, a slightly cranky detective who solves his cases via injections of coffee and fine  food. In fact, it’s his frequent pauses to partake during the murder investigation that make  this novel such a delight.

Bannalec’s  descriptions of this quaint coastal region will have you booking a flight there. DEATH IN BRITTANY was our favorite mystery of the year. A most promising debut and  we can’t wait for Dupin’s next case.

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calm

COLOR ME CALM: 100 COLORING TEMPLATES FOR MEDITATION AND RELAXATION
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y Lacy Mucklow
Race Point Publishing

Last but not least, when the stress-filled holidays come to a roaring end on New Year’s Eve, chances are you’ll be left feeling wiped out and jittery. If so, here’s a gift you can give yourself— an adult coloring book designed to erase the stress and, perhaps,  send you into a Zen-like trance. You’ll not only feel relaxed, but you’ll have a book filled with your own colored art. It’s soothing, fun to do, and lovely to look at.

Heck, coloring ain’t for kids anymore!

Color Me Calm

example by Carla M. Wilson

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Dark Drama

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That novel on the nightstand isn’t hers. Its main character, however, is too familiar. Catherine has no idea who left the book, but she soon recognizes the villain. Her own past. The pages are mirrors, reminders of the secret she has kept from her family all these years, even though they, too, are part of the story. She has gotten away with it. Or at least that’s how the mystery-book’s author, fixated on her unsavory role in a tragic death, sees it. They’re here to make sure her family reads it, too.

Disclaimer is a fast-paced read with dark drama at every turn. It weaves in two families whose lives are twisted by misunderstandings. Told in alternating characters, short addictive chapters, with surprises all the way.

 

DISCLAIMER: A NOVEL
Renée Knight
Harper

CLICK HERE TO BUY ON AMAZON

Get Lucky

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is awash with Gillian Flynns i.e., Gillian Flynn wannabes. Further down the food chain you’ll find the same phenomenon – writers who think they’ve found a different shade of grey but, sad to say, they haven’t. Sadder still, more than a few get reeled in by commercial publishers and are not thrown back.

luckBut there’s some good news, too. The success of GONE GIRL (which I read and enjoyed long before the hype) has also inspired a few writers with original voices to persevere and tell their tales.

A case in point is Jessica Knoll. Her edgy voice is a mix of cleverly demonic observation, acidic wit, and relentless intensity. Even if her novel, LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE (Simon & Schuster) had no plot, I’d stop reading only at gunpoint.

You can dip inside the book’s 300+ pages and find lines with a life of their own.

Here’s an example:

“I spotted her right away when I stepped off the elevator—slouchy leather pants (if fake, good ones) perfectly balanced with a crisp white button-down and sharp silver heels, a Chanel purse dangling from her forearm. If not for her round beer face, I might have turned right around and pretended I didn’t see her. I don’t do well with competition.”

Knoll didn’t need to open the novel with a hook like “I inspected the knife in my hand.” She could just as easily have begun with the next two sentences:

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wüsthof?”

So right from the git-go (notice I didn’t say “gone-go”) you know there’s wicked stuff ahead. And something wicked is what I reach for on muggy summer nights.

No plot summary here, I don’t want to spoil the fun. It is not a book of constant twists. There are definite shades of the film “Heathers” here, and Knoll nails  the voice and glib cruelty of teens. I urge you to avoid reading jacket flaps, descriptions on Amazon, online reviews, and all those blurbs that drop Gillian Flynn’s name.

This novel walks on its own.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER