Tuesday, June 14, 2011
It's a funny sort of thing. The summer season of movies is here, and we all walk into it with expectations high only to be saddened by the reality. It's like that, too, with books. As we left 2010 behind us, I was super stoked for the 2011 book season. There was a lot to look forward to, but nearly half of my expectations have been shattered. Since we're halfway through the year (if you can believe it), I figure I'll offer up my best of list, thus. Beach season is upon us, so please order these, visit your library, and as always, click the links, which does offer a little back to the Authors Speak.
20. Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective by Garrett Cook. By far one of the weirdest mysteries that you'll take with you to the beach. Seriously, though, if you're a fan of Harry Bosch or Philip Marlowe and always wanted them to be skewed a bit, this is the book for you. Prostitute furries, corruption, and one foul-mouthed teddy dick, is all you need to know. But rest assured, if you're carrying this one to the beach, just the cover alone is sure to garner you a few interesting glances. It's a networking thing, kids.
19. The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly. I've been so pissed off with Connelly lately. His prose has been awful, dialogue dreaful, and everything feels rehashed. Fortunately, this is a return to style. It's a Mickey Haller novel, which is good. I think I needed a break from Harry Bosch for the time. Still, this is a fast-paced read. (For the vintage feel, though, revisit The Poet or The Narrows, or both).
18. The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern. Technically speaking, this book was last year's news. In my defense, the paperback came out yesterday, though. So count it. The Frozen Rabbi was a delightful little read. It tells two separate storylines with ease - one of Bernie Karp, the young lad who discovers a rabbi on ice in the freezer whilst looking for a piece of liver to "deflower"; and the other of the poor nineteenth century rabbi who found himself frozen. How the rabbi went from Poland to the middle of Tennessee is a welcomed tale that belongs on the shelf with the best of James Morrow.
17.Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel Wilson. Alls I'm sayin' is this is a must read. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and got a groovy World War Z vibe from it (though, Max Brooks' epic is much better). If you think technology is creeping in on us, you're totally right.
16. Hunting the Moon Tribe by David Agranoff. Vampires, kung-fu, Asian lore...this feels like a vintage horror novel. It's good. But more to the point, it's scary and poignant. Horror of late has lacked a real emotional chord - that thing that makes us scared for the characters. Agranoff not only creates weird, terrifying landscapes, but he makes us care for the outcomes. Solidly written, fun - read it.
15. Tales of Sin and Madness by Brett McBean. Loved this collection of horror short stories. Brett McBean has a creative mind, and has woven the readers a collection of tales that feel like classic Rod Serling...only weirder. We get the hopelessness of horror-past, the frenzied tension of a Tales from the Crypt episode, and never once does the collection disappoint.
14. Basketball Junkie: A Memoir by Chris Herron. Okay, this is a little heavy for the beach, but it is one of the best books of 2011 by far. Chris never once pretends, offers excuses, makes apologies for his addled behavior. What he does offer is an unscathing look at talent squandered by heroin and cocaine that will serve as a cautionary tale for years to come. I wished I'd seen the man play for the Celtics, 'cause I'd probably be more influenced by it.
13. The Morbidly Obese Ninja by Carlton Mellick III. Carlton Mellick is an acquired taste. I think if you want to toe the weird there are other writers out there, but if you want to jump right into the deep end, there's nobody better than Mellick (or CM3, as the kids are saying). The Morbidly Obese Ninja...well, if you want to imagine a fusion of manga, anime, and literary talent, there you have it. The anime style is solid, and vintage Mellick vibe runs strong with this one.
12. Bye Bye, Baby (Nate Heller) by Max Allan Collins. Expect me to discuss more on this one in the coming weeks. This book doesn't drop until August, but you should at least make plans to order the hell out of it. I adore Nate Heller. I do. I always have, and I've always grumbled that Collins doesn't get more respect. Bye Bye Baby may be my favorite to date, as Heller investigates the death of Marilyn Monroe - with a litany of suspects including Sinatra, Jimmy Hoffa, Bobby Kennedy, and plenty more. A solid read that captures the stylized sixties as only Collins can.
11. Electric Barracuda: A Novel by Tim Dorsey. A Serge A. Storms book rarely lets me down, but this is a return to the form of the early days. Toss in bonus points for inventive deaths (as always), including death by those little capsules that you plant in water and blow up to be a sponge. Yeah. Oh, and did I mention that Serge may be a father? Yup! Little bit is along for the ride. This one rocks hard and is perfect for the beach season.
10. Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe. Call me sentimental, but I loved this book. I adored the feel of it, the nonchalance vibe of it. I love the Charlie Sheen prattle. I love the no-apologies made about the sex video. I just liked it. It may be ego, but that should be enough for you.
9. Black Hole Blues by Patrick Wensink. Pop culture comes easy for Mr. Wensink, as evidenced in his collection Sex Dungeon for Sale. This amps the game. Oddly, what I lacked in Sex Dungeon, I more than was satisfied here. Kenny Rogers is a mutant-faced demon, and if you've ever harbored a hatred for him, this is the book for you. A look at the country music industry, in a very similar vein to Bill Fitzhugh's Fender Benders.
8. Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen. Okay, this is the best military history book in the creation of the military history book. I'm slightly creeped out by all that is or is not going on at Area 51, but Jacobsen's scathing look at it takes that paranoia and turns it up a notch. Whether you believe in Area 51 or not, aliens or not, this book is so informative...I challenge you to read it. It's a look at the base through the years - WW2, Vietnam, the modern day - that basically has thrived on a shroud of mystery and a "you don't need to know" basis. It's not the easiest read, but it is easily one of the most enjoyable nonfiction reads you'll find all summer.
7. Devil Red (Hap and Leonard) by Joe Lansdale. Always a fan of Hap and Leonard, always a proud to carry one of the mysteries with me, always anxious to bask in the Texas-fried gold that is Lansdale. I thought Vanilla Ride was groovy, but this is just brutal. While the shelves are populated with 8th grade prose, Lansdale's always getting stronger at the craft. Here, he inject true dread into the lives of scalawags Hap and Leonard. And, all bets are off. You will not want to read this unless you've kept up with the series. But, at the very least, read Vanilla Ride before you jump in. The water's good, but you need to know what the hell is going on.
6. A Discovery of Witches: A Novel by Deborah E. Harkness. Screw it, I liked it. It's a bit of drivel, sure, but isn't that what beach reading is all about?
5. The Brothers Crunk by William Pauley III. This is an enjoyable ride from Grindhouse Press. It's hard to describe, but just ask yourself, how many novels have featured brother burrito salesmen? Are you still here? Good. What Pauley excels at is peppering things with a pop culture vibe. It's not just references, it's the whole style. Here, we've got a world that belongs in the 8-bit graphic Nintendo world, complete with cover art to match. Another book that's going to garner interest at the beach.
4. Should Have Killed The Kid by R. Frederick Hamilton. A solid post-apocalyptic read that is hilarious at the core. Hilarious may sound like I'm a sicko, but it is true comedy. What I loved about the story is that it's so simple (simple on the level of Snakes on a Plane simple). You've got the trouble right with the title, and yet, this yarn doesn't let up. It grabs you and runs with you and makes you question if you could kill the kid or suffer the consequence.
3. Bossypants by Tina Fey. Not sure what I was expecting from this book, but I didn't get it. I did adore it and came out of it with new found respect for one of the leading ladies of comedy, but it still wasn't 100% what I was expecting from it. What I do like about it, is the candor, the true laughter (not forced) that is found here. Outstanding read that you'll see plenty of people with this summer.
2. Lydia: A Novel by Tim Sandlin. Tim Sandlin has written some outstanding books. The three that put him on the map, though - Skipped Parts, Sorrow Floats, and Social Blunders - are long past. I loved Rowdy in Paris, Honey Don't, and others, but I wanted to return to the town I fell in love with. If you, like me, felt the same, well, look no further than Lydia. Sandlin drifts right back into the style, the feel that made him popular in the first place. I absolutely adored this one, despite the so-so critical review. You can't make me change that.
1. Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell. Rarely does she leave me empty, but this is an impressive read. I adore every page, devoured every sentence, and learned more about the Earp/Holliday union than ever before. If you didn't hear the interview between the Authors Speak and Mary, please listen. I'm not sure how you'd not be excited about this one.
What did we miss? There are so many books, so little time, but these 20 are all winners and gems this 2011 year.