Dessen, Sarah. Just Listen.

NY: Viking, 2006.

I’ve become hooked recently on Dessen’s highly literate YA novels, and this one is one of her best so far. Even though I’m a grandparent, I’m also a lifelong librarian and recommender of books to all sorts of readers, and that includes teenagers, so the purported target readership doesn’t faze me. A book is either well-written or not.

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Published in: on 22 June 2017 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Card, Orson Scott (ed.). Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Century.

NY: Ace Books, 2001.

“Best of” anthologies by multiple authors are a good way to catch up on above-average stories you might have missed the first time around, or to revisit those you haven’t seen in some time. But while there’s some superior writing among the twenty-seven short pieces in this volume, “best of the century” considerably overstates the case.

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Published in: on 20 June 2017 at 4:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Swierczynski, Duane. Fun and Games.

NY: Mulholland Books, 2011.

This is the first volume in the author’s rather off-the-wall “Charlie Hardie” trilogy, and it’s a doozy. Charlie, now around forty, was never actually a cop but he used to work with the Philadelphia PD on legally questionable crime-fighting assignments. Then everything blew up (almost literally) and his partner (together with his wife and kids) was massacred by a drug gang and Charlie’s own wife and son are in Witness Protection while Charlie himself scratches out a living around the country as a house-sitter.

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Published in: on 18 June 2017 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dessen, Sarah. Along for the Ride.

NY: Viking, 2009.

I only recently discovered this author, whose books are marketed as Young Adult, but I’m very impressed with her work, period. She considers themes and issues of interest to teenagers, but they should also actually appeal to any reader who is interested in people and how they interact with each other. And Dessen never, ever writes down to her readers. She expects you to pay attention and think about what you’re reading regardless of your age.

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Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.

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Dessen, Sarah. The Moon and More.

NY: Viking, 2013.

Dessen has won a number of awards for her novels and frequently appears on “Best of the Year” lists — but always as a “Young Adult” author. That’s a form of ghettoization I try to avoid. I consider her simply a first-rate author of highly enjoyable fiction, period. Her eleventh book is about 18-year-old Emaline, plowing through her last summer at home, working in the family’s three-generation beach-rental business before heading off to a nearby state university. A perfectionist, highly organized (she was the only 5th Grader with her own filing cabinet), and a naturally helpful sort, she’s very well liked in the little coastal town of Colby (which feels like North Carolina), and she knows absolutely everyone.

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Feintuch, David. Challenger’s Hope.

NY: Warner Aspect, 1995.

This is the second volume of the “Seafort Saga,” featuring young Commander Nick Seafort of the UN Naval Service in the late 22nd century, and it’s natural to compare it with the first volume, in which an eighteen-year-old midshipmen suddenly finds himself in command of — and responsible for — a passenger-carrying warship. Nick triumphed over a long list of a wide variety of adversities on that first voyage, even while developing a pretty low opinion of his own abilities.

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Kearsley, Susanna. The Shadowy Horses.

NY: Bantam, 1997.

I read a great deal, in nearly every genre and flavor of fiction, and I strongly disagree with the elitists who insist that certain entire categories of books simply aren’t worth their time. That’s pure snobbery, and it’s generally based on prejudice, not experience. Because a book is either well-written or it isn’t, and while there are plenty of books that I haven’t bothered to finish, and certain authors whose repeated lame attempts I have learned (usually) to avoid, the occasional losers are spread across the whole of literature. There are almost always books in any niche that are worth your time. And this one, a romance novel with a strong psychic flavor, is one of them.

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Hammett, Dashiell. The Thin Man.

NY: Knopf, 1934.

Hammett, one of the fathers of the modern detective story, only wrote five novels, of which this was his last, about the wealthy and sophisticated Nick and Nora Charles. It’s difficult to read about Hammett’s other famous detective, Sam Spade, without imagining Bogie, who made the character his own but who also played the hardboiled Spade pretty much the way the author wrote him. When Nick and Nora came to the silver screen, though, William Powell and Myrna Loy mostly just played themselves, and they mostly played the Charleses for laughs. And that’s not at all fair to the book, which certainly wasn’t written as light comedy.

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Connelly, Michael. The Wrong Side of Goodbye.

NY: Little, Brown, 2016.

Even though he must be pushing seventy now, ex-homicide cop Harry Bosch has spent the last half-dozen episodes in this long-running series fighting hard against retirement. Solving murders and getting justice for the dead is what he does. More, it’s what he is. He spent several years doing cold cases with a gang of other no-longer-active cops, and that taught him a lot — it’s made him “proficient in time travel” — and now he has his private investigator’s ticket, though he doesn’t work at it very hard.

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