Friday, December 17, 2010

"I'm not a good shopper, I say it with shame."

The Song: "Get Drunk & Make Out this Christmas," The Dan Band. Words & music by Dan Finnerty, Jeremy Ruzumna and David Wilder. Track 4 of Ho, 2007.
How/when acquired: Downloaded MP3, 2007.
Listen here.

I have some pretty random holiday music in my iTunes library. The Dan Band is hit-or-miss for me, but this is one of their better tunes, managing to be both funny and sincere. Years ago, I knew a member of The Dan Band in weird circumstances - John K, if you check in here, Merry Christmas.

Anyway, I'm not a good shopper, and as usual I've left my Christmas shopping to the last minute. This year, as in the past, I'm mostly giving books. Which reminds me that it's been a very long time since I posted a reading list here — so here are a few highlights of the past six weeks.

Good Books I've Read Lately

Suzanne Collins, THE HUNGER GAMES. Yeah, I was late to this book. At dinner the last night of Bouchercon, the conversation turned to things that were both popular and good, and my friend Karen Olson made a pitch for this book, which she'd just read. It had been in my to-be-read stack for much too long, so I picked it up when I got home, and read it in two sittings. In some future version of the United States, adolescent children represent their territories in a battle to the death. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen must fight for her life while figuring out a way to save what she loves most. Brilliant. I haven't read the next two in the trilogy yet because I'm too afraid of being let down.

Dennis Lehane, MOONLIGHT MILE. Detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro return in this long-anticipated sequel to GONE, BABY, GONE. My friend Sarah Weinman said this book was like catching up with classmates at a high school reunion, and I can't improve on that insight. Good to see them, glad they're doing well, don't really need to see them again for another five years.

Beth Hoffman, SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT. What a nice thing it sometimes is just to read a good novel about good people. After the death of her bipolar mother, 12-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt moves to Savannah in the care of her Great-Aunt Tootie, and a new world opens to her. A lovely book, and all the more impressive when you realize it's a first novel.

Rob Sheffield, TALKING TO GIRLS ABOUT DURAN DURAN. Possibly my favorite book of 2010; I've already given it as a gift, and will give it to more people in the weeks and months ahead. Rob Sheffield is my age, and this book is a musical memoir of his teenage years, which were mine as well. The book is a series of essays tied to individual songs; if I'd read it before starting this year's blog, I'd probably have chosen a different theme because he does it so much better.

Armistead Maupin, MICHAEL TOLLIVER LIVES. Another welcome return to a beloved series. Michael "Mouse" Tolliver is married to his partner and living happily ever after in San Francisco, decades after the HIV diagnosis that was supposed to be a death sentence. The years have taken their toll on the residents of Barbary Lane, but Anna Madrigal's still taking care of everybody, and the book made me eager to read the next installment, MARY ANN IN AUTUMN.

Vicki Lane, THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS. Another recommendation from Karen Olson, and another of my favorites of 2010. This remarkable book stands in the territory between Sharyn McCrumb and Daniel Woodrell, an epic that spans 80 years and two parallel worlds. The baby girl Least is born to a deranged mother, and against all odds survives to become a wise old woman — but the cost of her survival requires that she repay old debts, in the form of breaking some promises to save a boy in peril. This complex, thoughtful novel deserves far more attention than it's gotten.

Lawrence Block, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF. I'll tell anyone who asks that series should have lifespans, and that too many authors need to let their series characters go well before the time that both they and their readers are tired of them. Lawrence Block is the exception that proves the rule. This book, due out next year, stands with his finest work. Matt Scudder tells a story from earlier in his career, not long after he'd quit drinking. A childhood acquaintance trying to make amends for his own drinking days is killed with two shots to the face. His sponsor asks Matt for help, and Matt struggles with his sobriety as he learns that not all crimes are punished.

Mark Billingham, BLOODLINE. Another fine entry in a long-running series. London police detective Tom Thorne investigates a series of murders that, impossibly, seem linked to a serial killer who died in prison years earlier. Twist follows twist; a very dark ending spares almost no one, but leaves a ray of light for Tom and his partner Louise. It'll be good to have this series back in print in the U.S.; Mulholland will publish it here next July.


Vicki Lane said...

Hi, Ellen,

I'm honored to be in such company!

Vicki Lane

AnswerGirl said...

Vicki, it's a wonderful book! It was also one of my top 10 over at The Mystery Bookstore-Los Angeles —