musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Reading List: December 2011

Jo Nesbo – Nemesis

Another installment in Nesbo’s increasingly popular Harry Hole series of detective novels, all set in the author’s native Norway. Harry Hole reminds me a bit of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus character; a real maverick police office that delightfully annoys his colleagues. I’ve read three of Nesbo’s books now and plan to keep going. He has been compared to another popular Scandinavian mystery writer, Stieg Larsson, but Nesbo is a much better writer.

 

 

Robert Hicks – Widow of the South

Picked this up to read just because it looked interesting and had a nice blurb on the cover, comparing it to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, which was an excellent novel indeed. I’m not a big Civil War buff (unlike one guy I knew back in Florida, who sold most of his record collection to buy a musket for Civil War re-enactment events!), but I found this combination of historical fiction and a love story to be very gripping. I’ll be eager to read more by this author.

 

Laura Hillenbrand – Seabiscuit

I’ve never been a big horse racing fan, or even a fan of horses for that matter, but this novel is about much more than horses and racing. Hillenbrand is a skillful writer and she keeps the reader’s interest throughout this great book, merging 1930s history with a fascinating cast of real people that were devoted to an amazing horse. Hillenbrand’s research and writing skills help to make the reader feel like they really knew these people.

 

Martin Cruz Smith – Stalin’s Ghost

I hadn’t read a book by this author since Gorky Park many years ago, but after hearing many customers rave about his writing, I felt it was time to try another one. This recently written novel features the same protagonist, police investigator Arkady Renko, and is once again set in Russia. Smith is certainly a very gifted writer, but his storytelling style, use of too many characters (maybe it’s all the Russian names that trip me up!) and convoluted subplots often left me confused and not so eager to keep turning the pages. The story was far from boring, but after finishing this one I’m not compelled to read more books in the Renko series right away.

 

Eric Newby – What the Traveller Saw

This is a collection of essays by the famed travel writer, covering a variety of unusual destinations around the world over several decades. Newby’s writing is both informative and amusing; he truly has a special eye for people and details. The book is also illustrated with many striking Black & White photos taken by Newby.

 

 

K.C. Constantine – Always a Body to Trade

This is one of Constantine’s delightful Mario Balzic crime novels, featuring the cranky, profanity-spewing Rocksburg, Pennsylvania police chief. First published in 1983, this one is a delight, as are all of the Mario Balzic novels; little gems that need to be rediscovered.

 

Michael Connelly – The Drop

The latest Harry Bosch mystery, this one finds the hard-headed L.A. detective wresting with investigations — old and new — and trying to raise his increasingly independent teenage daughter. Biggest surprise; the kid like some of her father’s favorite jazz albums! Another strong novel by one of the best in the business.

 

Danny Goldberg – Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life in the Rock and Roll Business

Goldberg reflects on his many years in the music business, from starting as a young rock magazine writer, to being tour manager for Led Zeppelin in the early 70s, running a record label in the 90s, and working with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana during the Nevermind period. A fascinating memoir with plenty of good tales. I especially enjoyed the chapter about Warren Zevon, one of rock’s most underrated geniuses.

 

James McBride – The Color of Water

This famous, bestselling memoir is about a mixed race man whose mother was white. McBride tells his own tale, while interspersing his mother’s own reminiscences between chapters. His mother grew up in a very conservative Jewish family but later became a Christian. The author also seems to have deep religious beliefs, thus there’s a bit too much Jesus babbling in the book for my tastes. But overall this is an unusual and interesting read.

 

Ed McBain – Ghosts

I’ve loved reading McBain’s 87th Precinct series of police procedural mysteries — I read three or four of them each year and still have a dozen or so to go — and this one is another good one. It’s very short, at under 200 pages, but a very fun, and sometimes funny, read.

 

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