I always read/listen more when I travel, which is a little counter-intuitive, because I spend less time alone when I travel. I know I waste a lot of time when I'm home alone, but am not quite sure what I waste that time on. Maybe I need to install a nanny-cam on myself.
1. Karen E. Olson, PRETTY IN INK. Cheating, because I read this book in manuscript last summer; I never know when I should mention the books I read in manuscript, but today is PRETTY IN INK's official publication date, so it seemed appropriate. Las Vegas tattoo artist Brett Kavanaugh and her colleagues are having a great time at the opening night of the city's newest drag queen revue when one of show's stars — the fabulous Britney Brassieres — collapses. It's just a stray champagne cork, but Britney dies soon afterward, and Brett feels obligated to ask some inconvenient questions.
2. Louise Erdrich, THE PLAGUE OF DOVES. I listened to the audiobook on the drive south last week, and recommend the recording. It's a panoramic epic of life in and outside the North Dakota town of Pluto, where a family is massacred one summer day in 1911. Four Ojibwe men discover the slaughter and find the lone survivor, a baby girl; they feed her but leave the house, sure they'll be accused of the crime. Of course, they are, and only one survives a lynching. That man, Mooshum Milk, narrates much of the story, trading off with other members of the community including his granddaughter, the local Indian judge, and the snake-handling wife of a cult leader. The sins of the fathers not only have repercussions for their sons, but are rooted in mistakes and transgressions that go back even further than most of these characters know.
3. Craig Ferguson, AMERICAN ON PURPOSE. If anyone came out of the whole Late Show debacle a winner, it was Craig Ferguson; I'm not the only one who became a dedicated fan of "The Late Late Show" after Conan O'Brien moved to the earlier time slot. He's sharp, funny, kind, and brutally self-aware, with a marvelous sense of the absurd and an unapologetic yearning for self-improvement. (Right now, for example, Craig is learning Spanish, and we all learn a new word with him every night.) All those qualities are on display in this story of his childhood, early career, and path to American citizenship. It's an addiction memoir that doesn't wallow in stories of excess, but is fearless about recounting the damage he did to himself and others. I'd like to know him in person.
4. Declan Hughes, CITY OF LOST GIRLS. Hughes' fifth novel to feature Dublin PI Ed Loy is a tour-de-force, a major evolution in structure and tone. Loy confronts the deepest secrets of his own past when an old friend, charismatic film director Jack Donovan, returns to Dublin to shoot a movie. Ten years ago, Ed and Jack parted ways after an incident both want to forget. Now Jack needs Ed's help again, but his concerns are only a fraction of the real problem. Two young women go missing from the film's set in a disturbing echo of disappearances from other film sets, years before. The mystery, which is fairly straightforward, is only the framework for some dazzling literary pyrotechnics and fierce, fearless insights about film-making, the nature of artists, and the ways the Irish want to be seen by the rest of the world. Stunning. I read an advance copy; look for this book in stores on April 6.
5. Donna Ball, A YEAR ON LADYBUG FARM. A charming book that is so cheerful and sweet it might be classified as fantasy. After Bridget is widowed, she and her two best friends, Cici and Lindsay, leave their lives in Baltimore for a grand but ramshackle farm in the Shenandoah Valley. It's more work and more money than they'd planned, but good things happen to good people, and the ending is never really in doubt. Not much dramatic tension, but wonderful characters and descriptions that might make readers want to try country living for themselves. I've already got the sequel, AT HOME ON LADYBUG FARM.