Wambaugh, Joseph. Hollywood Hills.

NY: Little, Brown, 2010.

The author’s method with the “Hollywood Station” series, of which this is the fourth installment, is to gradually develop one or two plotlines involving more serious crimes, whether white-collar or drug-addled, and to alternate the complex working-out of those with numerous anecdotes (which Wambaugh famously collects from cops everywhere), character sketches (both cops and bad guys), and mordantly funny episodes.

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Published in: on 30 April 2011 at 4:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Prose, Francine. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.

NY: HarperCollins, 2006.

In addition to having been a librarian for more than three decades, I also have been a freelance, self-employed developmental editor and copyeditor for nearly as long. I’ve earned a useful supplemental income reading manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction, and making well-considered suggestions not about plot and character development — that’s the job of the author’s agent and publisher — but about word choice, grammar, sentence structure, and chapter organization. (Stuff like “Using ‘anybody’ jars the flow here; try ‘anyone’, which has one less syllable. And consider making this a one-sentence paragraph to emphasize your point.”) It’s a knack. Of course, I’ve also been a heavy reader all my life, since even before I started school. After I began reading like an editor, though, I found myself unconsciously thinking about the words the author had chosen in whatever narrative I was currently engaged in.

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Published in: on 28 April 2011 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sayers, Dorothy L. & Jill Paton Walsh. Thrones, Dominations.

NY: St. Martin, 1998.

I originally had my doubts about this book. Continuations by other hands of the lives, adventures, and cases of well-known fictional detectives almost never work, from Sherlock Holmes on. But this is actually a pretty good effort, as shown by the fact that after the first chapter or two, you’ve forgotten that Sayers didn’t actually write it, that she left only an incomplete plot outline. It’s 1936, a few months after the events of Busman’s Honeymoon, and Lord Peter Wimsey and his new wife, novelist Harriet née Vane, have just returned to London from a brief sojourn in Paris.

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Published in: on 26 April 2011 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Cornwell, The Burning Land.

NY: HarperCollins, 2010.

In the first four volumes of this excellent series, Alfred of Wessex, largely with the assistance of his most important warlord, the Saxon Uhtred of Bebbanburg, has held the Danes at bay and established a certain amount of security for his kingdom. He has ambitions to be king of all of what we now call “England,” but he’s getting old (he’s in his 40s) so he’s passed that ambition on to his son, Edward (an efficient military leader who will be known to history as “Edward the Elder”). And Alfred tries to coerce Uhtred to give his oath to the Aetheling, too, but the warlord declines.

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Published in: on 23 April 2011 at 4:41 am  Comments (1)  
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Cornwell, Bernard. Sword Song: The Battle for London.

NY: HarperCollins, 2008.

It’s 885 and Uhtred of Bebbanburg — Saxon-born, Dane-raised — is twenty-eight, now, practically middle-aged for that time, and he has become the military leader, the warlord, that Alfred of Wessex needs to gain and keep his throne. By Cornwell’s telling, Uhtred killed Ubba, most formidable of the Lothbrok brothers and leader of the Danish invaders, and he was largely responsible for the victory over Guthred and the next great Danish army at Edington. And now, for the first time, Uhtred describes himself in that future from which he is narrating the story of his life — a truly ancient figure in his eighties, long after the existence of England is secured.

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Published in: on 21 April 2011 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hay, Sheridan. The Secret of Lost Things.

NY: Doubleday, 2006.

This is the author’s first novel and it got very good reviews, and I wanted to like it, I really, really did. I generally do like stories about bookstores, and the publishing trade, and lost manuscripts and all that.

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Published in: on 20 April 2011 at 3:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ellis, Bret Easton. American Psycho.

NY: Random House, 1991.

Patrick Bateman, age twenty-six, is the ultimate Wall Street consumerist yuppie. He comes from wealth, he has a place in the Hamptons, his family keeps a suite at the Carlyle, he works for a big-name investments firm (doing exactly what is never said), he went to Exeter and Harvard (and Harvard B-School, of course), and he has an obscene amount of money. Of course, he has various obsessions: Getting into the hardest-to-get-into clubs and restaurants (with $30 espressos and $90 pizzas; his Zagat is very well-thumbed), owning the very latest in top-of-the-line appliances and electronics, having the very latest pop tunes on his Walkman, making it with the most gorgeous “hardbodies” he can find, watching a particular talk show every morning, his platinum American Express card, regular facials, Diet Pepsi, the state of his pecs, his tan, and Donald Trump.

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Swanwick, Michael. The Best of Michael Swanwick.

Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2008.

I’ve read — or, at least, begun to read — a lot of Michael Swanwick. Some SF authors, I like everything they’ve done, like Tim Powers. Some, I can’t seem to get through anything they’ve produced, like Michael Moorcock. Swanwick is right in the middle. Some of his novels are really, really good, but some make no impression on me at all. Short stories, of course, are fundamentally different, and this fat volume brings together twenty-one of them published between 1980 and 2007 — and five of these won Hugos within a period of six years, which is an impressive record. They’re presented chronologically here, which allows the reader to observe his development as a writer.

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Published in: on 16 April 2011 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Cornwell, Bernard. Lords of the North.

NY: HarperCollins, 2007.

Originally, I thought Cornwell’s engaging, entertaining, and very well-written story of the struggles of King Alfred (“the Great”) to preserve England as an English land was going to be a trilogy, ending with the Battle of Edington, the treaty with Guthrum, and the establishment of the Danelaw. It appears, however, that he’s going for the full franchise. The series is up to five volumes now, and still growing. And that’s fine with me because he’s doing such a good job at it!

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Published in: on 13 April 2011 at 3:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Haddon, Mark. A Spot of Bother.

NY: Doubleday, 2006.

I was very impressed with Haddon’s first novel, the award-winning Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This one is about as different as it’s possible to be, and it’s also pretty impressive. George Hall is in his sixties, a retired builder of playground equipment, who has always been a little off-center in his method of dealing with life. Mostly, he tries to ignore things that make him uncomfortable — even more than your typical Englishman. Things like potential jetliner crashes and the possibility of dying of cancer.

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Published in: on 10 April 2011 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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