Tomine, Adrian. Killing and Dying.

NY: Drawn & Quarterly, 2015.

I’ve become quite a fan of Tomine, one of the best graphic novelists around, although what he produces are actually graphic short stories. Graphic fiction has to be successful both literarily and visually — otherwise there’s no point — and while Tomine’s art is first-rate, his storytelling skills are even better. His stories are entirely realistic, exploring the lives of the people next door. The quality of the writing is such that I don’t doubt he could leave out the drawing altogether and sell most of the six in this volume to New Yorker. What I especially like is that he doesn’t just tell you everything. You have to look and listen and fill in those often subtle gaps for yourself.

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Dessen, Sarah. That Summer.

NY: MacRae Books, 1996.

I discovered Dessen’s Young Adult novels awhile back and was taken with her abilities as a storyteller. She’s done about fifteen of them now, all of them very popular, and I had been reading them pretty much at random. I decided it was time to go back to her first published effort to see how her work had evolved.

Haven McPhail is fifteen, a high school sophomore somewhere in the southeast U.S., and she’s very tall. It’s now late summer and she’s grown four inches just since April, putting her a hair under six feet. This is one of the three main facts of her life.

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Published in: on 8 August 2017 at 5:11 pm  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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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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Gruen, Sara. At the Water’s Edge.

NY: Random House, 2015.

Gruen is best known for Water for Elephants, but this novel, her fifth, is rather different. It’s January 1945 and Maddie Hyde is a wild child in New York society. She’s been married to Ellis for a couple of years now, but she’s really more of a mascot for him and his best buddy, Hank, than she is a wife. Also, her in-laws hate her, her own father ignores her, and she feels guilty for her scandal-ridden mother’s suicide a decade before.

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Black, Benjamin. Christine Falls.

NY: Henry Holt, 2006.

For anyone who doesn’t already know, “Benjamin Black” is the nom de crime of Irish novelist John Banville, and this was his first mystery novel featuring Quirke, a decidedly quirky forensic pathologist in Dublin in the 1950s, when the Church ran absolutely everything. But even though this is a “detective story,” it’s nothing at all like what Michael Connelly or Lawrence Block might write.

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Addison, Katherine. The Goblin Emperor.

NY: Tor, 2014.

I’ve been an avid fan of all sorts of science fiction all my life but I’ve always been much pickier about fantasy. There’s a tendency to posit non-human semi-supernatural races of beings for their own sake, and to just wave a wand and say “Magic!” as a cop-out when you don’t want to have to explain something that would be counter to natural law. Tolkien has a lot to answer for in my book. I am a fan, though, of authors like Joe Abercrombie, whose fantasy worlds are more “real.” Addison (who is really Sarah Monette, and has published a number of horror and weird fantasy novels under that name) is closer to that style, and this politics-heavy yarn has a lot to recommend it.

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Rosoff, Meg. Picture Me Gone.

NY: Putnam, 2013.

Rossoff has become a noteworthy — and award-winning — author of Young Adult novels but this is the first of hers I’ve read. It definitely won’t be the last. Mila is a very bright and almost preternaturally observant twelve-year-old (“If there is something to notice, I will notice it first”) living in London with her translator father and concert-violinist mother. It’s a quietly loving family and she knows just how lucky she is, especially compared to her best friend, whose parents are splitting up. Her father, Gil, is planning to journey to America during the Easter holiday to visit Matthew, an old friend whom he hasn’t seen in eight years, and since he’s not very good at taking care of himself, Mila is going along to keep an eye on him.

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Ashford, Lindsay Jayne. The Woman on the Orient Express.

Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2016.

It’s a historical fact that in the fall of 1928, still recovering mentally from a very painful divorce and not wanting to be trapped by the press in England when her ex-husband married his mistress, Agatha Christie, already famous as the author of ten mystery novels (and also for her public bout of “amnesia”), anonymously crossed the Channel and boarded the Orient Express, headed for Baghdad.

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Steele, Allen. Arkwright.

NY: Tor, 2016.

I’ve read — or attempted to read — several of Steele’s SF novels in the past, but I’m afraid I haven’t been much impressed. This one got a lot of strong, enthusiastic reviews, though, so I felt obligated to give it a try. And it may be better than his earlier work, but it still seems awfully weak. In fact, it’s barely science fiction.

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