Friday, December 16, 2022

You can sod off, 2022, but leave the books please

 Abir Mukherjee


So here we are, staggering weak-limbed and dry-mouthed towards the finish line of another ridiculous year: 2022 – another corker of calamity – with those horsemen of the apocalypse, war, pestilence and err inflation stalking us like the last single guys at a party.


On the bright side, we’ve managed to avoid nuclear Armageddon for now, which is a positive for our species but possibly a negative for the planet in the long run. 2022 also feels like the year we finally turned the corner on covid – unless you’re Chinese and locked into your apartment for the umpteenth time, in which case I say, **** **** ****** ****** THIS COMMENT HAS BEEN CENSORED BY THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CHINA.


2023, you bright, shining, beautiful baby of a year on the horizon, I would hope to welcome you with optimism and cheer, as I have done every new year so far, but after the last three dumpster fires, I’m slightly nervous that you’ll trick me, like a new friend that you invite into your home who ends up being an arse, staying for twelve months, sleeping on your couch and drinking all your booze (even the good stuff you keep hidden from your wife’s relatives).


Camus and Sartre, writers every bit as talented as me, believed that the efforts of humanity to find meaning or rational explanation in the universe ultimately fail because no such meaning exists, and that given that we all die in the end, that all human endeavour is ultimately absurd. Far be it from me to disagree with a bunch of dead Frenchies, but I’d say that while the universe is undoubtedly absurd, while we’re here, we might as well make the most of it. Each person of course is free to choose how she or he makes the most of it, whether it’s sitting in your mum’s basement having pointless arguments with strangers online or buying Twitter and trashing it cos you’re an idiot man-baby billionaire. If neither of these is appealing to you, and let’s be honest, why would they? then the best place to seek succour in this absurd universe is within the warm embrace of a good book.


So here are some of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most during 2022.


Crime & Thrillers


The Accomplice – Steve Cavanagh

When the wife of a fugitive serial killer is arrested on charges of complicity in his crimes, lawyer, Eddie Flynn, is forced to defend her. As complete and perfect a thriller as you will read. Every chapter is the literary equivalent of being hit in the face with a frying pan. Just brilliant.

The Seeker – SG Maclean

Shona MacLean is a writer from the Scottish Highlands, and I have to say, one of the finest historical crime fiction novelists in the UK today. Set in the paranoid world of Cromwellian England of 1654, Damian Seeker is an investigator for the Lord Protector. Think of him as a 17th century Jack Reacher. The first in the series, The Seeker is charged with investigating the murder of John Winter, a general in Cromwell’s army. It should be an open and shut case, but all isn’t as it seems. Intelligent, atmospheric and pacy – this book is the gold standard for historical crime fiction.



Razorblade Tears – SA Cosby

A Black father. A white father. Two murdered sons. A quest for vengeance.
Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

A wonderful take on middle American underclass - as good as I've read anywhere.


Bombay Monsoon – James Ziskin

Some guy called Ziskin wrote a book an American journalist, Danny Jacobs, who arrives in Bombay in 1975, just as Prime Minister India Gandhi plunges the world’s largest democracy into chaos by declaring a national state of emergency.


Amidst this crisis, Danny falls for Sushmita, the lover of the European in the apartment next door. His life is thrown into turmoil when a police inspector is murdered. Will he get out alive?


What can I say – this book is the real deal. Ziskin deftly manages the political upheavals and the chaos of India while giving up a wonderfully plotted and executed thriller. If you haven’t read him yet, now’s your chance. 



Non crime:

The Stasi Poetry Circle – Philip Oltermann

A great book on the real-life poetry group set up by members of the Stasi – East Germany’s feared secret police. Yes, I’m as shocked as you are.


How Civil Wars Start  (and How to Stop Them) Barbara F Walter 

An interesting book analysing the state of the US today in the context of other societies which have experienced civil wars. A rather sobering read. Maybe best read after a few drinks.


Money Men – Dan McCRum

The story of the Wirecard fraud. Wirecard was, until last year, the darling of the German FinTech industry, hailed as a European success story in a field dominated by US tech companies. It went from a small software house to one of the most valuable stocks on the German bourse. Except it was all a lie. Smoke and mirrors and shady accounting. One journalist, Dan McCrum of the Financial Times in London wasn’t convinced by the glitz and hype surrounding the company. When he started asking awkward questions, the company went after him, employing spies and co-opting the German financial regulator BaFin. Like the Elizabeth Holmes case in America, this is the byzantine true story of the power of big companies built on lies.


Ones coming soon


Strange Sally Diamond – Liz Nugent

One of the most original and spine-tingling books I’ve read in ages, Liz Nugent’s Strange Sally Diamond draws you in to the close, claustrophobic world of rural Ireland and the life of an emotionally withdrawn woman whose dark, hidden past is coming back to haunt her. Crackling with tension, this book with have you turning the pages late into the night. An absolute triumph.


The last dance – Mark Billingham

I’m reading this at the moment. The start of a brand new series from one of the all time legends of crime fiction, Mark Billingham. Murder and intrigue in Blackpool, the capital of the UK’s ballroom dance scene. Detective Declan Millar has a secret – when not investigating crimes, he’s cutting a rug on the dance floor. Still grieving the death of his partner, a double murder causes Millar to return to work. Can he find the answers where his colleagues have failed?


There’s a reason why Billingham has been a number one bestseller for more years that anyone can remember- it’s because he’s supremely talented. I am loving this so far. Full review to come soon.


Independence Square – Martin Cruz Smith

Haven’t read it yet, but I’ve just received a copy and Arkady Renko is one of my all-time favourite detective creations. This latest instalment will be my Christmas treat.

And that's it. Thanks for reading my posts this last year. May I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very very happy 2023.


Thursday, December 15, 2022

Some Really Good Books I Read in 2022 From James W. Ziskin

I’m not crazy about the Best Books of the Year lists. To be clear, I don’t object to the great books on those lists. They deserve accolades. I only wish the reviewers could use a better description for their annual lists. Kristopher Zgorski of BOLO Books does exactly that. He’s always careful to note that he’s not proclaiming his choices as “the best books of the year.” He calls them instead his “Top Reads” of the year.

For the past few years, I’ve been listing the books I particularly enjoyed over the previous twelve months.


(In no particular order)

We all know about the Lindbergh kidnapping, but Mariah Fredericks—one of my favorite writers—somehow made it all seem new. And so exquisitely personal and detailed.

This book hooked me and kept me thinking about it long after I’d finished it. Truly one of the most memorable books I’ve read in many years. I loved it! Superlative writing and research. The Lindbergh Nanny is a stunning achievement.

Naomi Hirahara’s Clark and Division is a must read. A compelling recount of the lives of interned Japanese Americans during World War II. This is an award-winning novel that taught me a lot that I didn’t know happened in our own country. A brave and beautiful book.

The Ride-Along, by Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway, will challenge your assumptions, prejudices, and biases. With unflinching honesty and remarkable balance, this important novel tackles the issues of policing, politics, institutional racism, Black Lives Matter, and more, all over the course of a dramatic graveyard shift ride-along. A third-generation cop and a police-reform activist engage in a marathon point-counterpoint that seems hopeless from the start. There are no easy answers here. Yet Zafiro and Conway manage to tiptoe through the partisan minefield without taking sides or providing pat, facile solutions. The Ride-Along is a brilliant, measured achievement. An informative and provocative must-read in these contentious times.

Jeffery Deaver is a master of plot and character. He leads the reader where he wants with his sleight of hand. Brilliant. I loved the detail on locks and keys in this book. It felt a little like Moby-Dick, if Moby-Dick had been about locks instead of 19th century whaling. A veritable encyclopedia. Another great addition the Lincoln Rhyme series.

Intriguing and riveting, Connie di Marco's latest Zodiac Mystery, Serpent's Doom, is a new year's firecracker of an adventure. Told with heart and conscience, Serpent's Doom features a superb cast and setting, with a plot right out of the headlines. The best yet in this highly original series.

Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister drew me in immediately and held on tight for the duration. Garrett paints a complete, compelling, and riveting portrait of two estranged sisters, one of whom—Desiree, the glamorous famous one—has been found dead from a drug overdose on a Bronx playground. Regret dogs her half-sister, Lena, and drives her—relentlessly—to find out exactly what happened to Desiree. Readers will be swept along in Lena’s churning wake, unable to resist turning just one more page. Just one more page. This book is killer good. Garrett is a star.

Vinnie Hansen’s One Gun unspools a long, exquisite crescendo of foreboding and dread as clouds gather for a chilling, unexpected climax. Top-notch writing, sensitive touch, and heart-wrenching choices. Hansen is an author to watch.

A ruthless and clever killer haunts the Metropolitan Opera and the hidden recesses of Lincoln Center. Violinist Julia Kogen, a rising star in the pit, must unmask the murderer or become a victim herself. Erica Miner’s richly satisfying Aria for Murder delivers a compelling mystery, replete with devious characters, glorious music, and plenty of behind-the-scenes dirty laundry. A musical and dramatic triumph. Bis! Encore!

I loved this book. Reminded me so much of my days working in Bangalore. Harini Nagendra has written an immersive historical novel that shows readers so much beauty and ugliness at the same time. Class and racial divides, rich and poor, educated and un-. It’s all there. A peek into South Indian society of the 1920s. This is a sensitive, well-rounded, fascinating novel with heart and a super protagonist. Highest recommendation.

Non-stop danger and action. The nature and science are compelling. Henderson puts the threat to polar bears on display while weaving a super yarn. Another great Dr. Alex Carter adventure!

Wanda M. Morris’s Anywhere You Run is a powerful, emotional, heartbreaking tale of love and survival and redemption. Much more than an entertaining thriller, this is an essential read that chronicles the injustices suffered every day by blacks in the Jim Crow South—and the supposedly progressive North—of 1964. Brilliant and deeply moving. Don’t miss this thrilling novel. One of the best I’ve read in a long time.

Our own Cathy Ace offers up yet another gem. Featuring incomparable criminal psychologist, Cait Morgan, her eidetic memory, and her solid-as-a-rock husband, Bud Anderson, The Corpse with the Granite Heart recalls the best of Golden Age country house mysteries. Its sharp characterizations—one of Ace’s many strengths—as well as the clever, intricate plot, pave the way to a most satisfying conclusion. The artistic and gastronomical treats, the touristic jags, Shakespeare, and Cait’s brilliant powers of deduction all conspire to make this the best yet in this ever-so-smart series. 

The Girl They All Forgot, Martin Edwards’s eighth Lake District Mystery, seethes with a foreboding of violence, even as it looks back at a long-buried cold case of murder. The Crooked Shore, accursed scene of the crime, looms ever-present with malicious intent. Magnificently creepy estate agents, stop-at-nothing gigolos, and lustful widows with bags of cash make this a tense and irresistibly gripping read. It will suck you in like the Crooked Shore’s murderous quicksand. No use struggling against it. You’ll lose. Brilliant.

Alex Segura’s feel for the 70s, his portrait of a decaying, bankrupt New York City, and the incestuous comic book industry is painted to perfection. Secret Identity is getting great attention and praise. It’s on so many best-of lists for 2022, and I can see why. My advice is to read this book. I’ll bet you’ll love it as I did. 

Last, but certainly not least, is Liz Nugent’s Lying in Wait (2018)

I found this novel to be remarkable in several ways. First, the voice. Or the voices. The three narrators tell the compelling story from different points of view with quite different voices. Second, the plot. Nugent weaves a tight, at times painful story, that does not flinch when it comes to taking dark turns. Third, the book draws the reader into the suspense, almost as a participant. We know what’s happened, what might happen at the end, and still we’re surprised by the twists. This is a dark, disturbing story. Lying in Wait is brilliantly creepy. So very good.

Happy holidays and happy reading!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Yule love these

This week we’ve been asked for our favorite reads from the past year.

by Dietrich

Here’s my list. They’re not all new releases, and not all fiction, but they’re all highly recommended. 

The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy; Knopf, 2022. It’s his first since The Road — and wow, what a book. It takes one twist after another while centering around a salvage diver who’s being chased by feds; all the while he’s haunted by thoughts of the schizophrenic sister who killed herself.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King; Scribner, 2022. King’s in fine form spinning his own fairy tale about good versus evil. It takes place in an alternate world that only a master like King could create.

City on Fire by Don Winslow; William Morrow, 2022. The first in his new Danny Ryan trilogy. I’m a longtime Winslow fan, and this is one’s right up there with his best.  

Like a Rolling Stone by Jann S. Wenner; Little, Brown and Co., 2022. The tell-all by the founder of Rolling Stone Magazine takes readers deep inside the music, culture, and politics of a generation.

Start Without Me by Gary Janetti; Henry Holt, 2022. Real life stories from a very funny writer. When I wasn’t laughing out loud, I was captured by Janetti’s wit throughout.

A Book of Days by Patti Smith, Random House, 2022. A visual book looking into the artist's life. Photos shot over a year, on and off the road, her travels around the world, her heroes, train stations, out of the way cafes, and a whole lot more. 

Deacon King Kong by James McBride; Riverhead Books, 2020. Another awesome crime novel set in NYC in the mid-sixties. A powerful voice along with some great dialogue.

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton; Harper Collins, 2017. Set in the days of the Wild West, a pair of palaeontologists go head to head, sabotaging each other in what becomes known as the Bone Wars. If you’re a Crichton fan, you’ll love this one.

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen; Knopf, 2010. The sixth book in the Skink series. Skink’s the somewhat disturbed former governor of Florida; in this one he becomes a deer in the headlights of the celebrity fast lane. It’s pure Hiaasen gold.

Irish Thunder: The Hard Life & Times of Micky Ward by Bob Halloran; Lyons Press, 2007. A brilliant account of an underdog on a hard road to becoming a champ.

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson; Penquin, 2006. The first in the Walt Longmire series, a tale of vengeance — one not to be missed by another great contemporary writer.

Down to the Dirt by Joel Thomas Hynes; Killick Press, 2004. One moment it shows a lot of heart, the next it hits as hard as a fist. A debut novel from a true Canadian talent.

Catch Me if You Can: The true story of a real fake by Frank W. Abignale; Mainstream, 2003. An unbelievable story that’s all true. Frank the con man poses as an Pan Am pilot, the supervising resident of a hospital, a college sociology professor, and he practices law without a license. Cashing over $2,5 million in forged cheques, he eluded the law of 26 foreign countries and all 50 states. What a ride.

The Man who Invented Florida by Randy Wayne White; St. Martin’s Press, 1993. It’s the third Doc Ford mystery, and this time around his crazy uncle discovers the Fountain of Youth, well, sort of. It’s a riot of fun in White’s twisted vision of southwest Florida.

To the writers and the readers here at Criminal Minds, I wish you all the very best over the holidays and for the coming year.

The Get

Lenny Ovitz has plenty of secrets. He works for a volatile crime boss, is drowning in debt to the wrong people, and he’s certain his soon-to-be ex is aiming to screw him over. Somebody is going to have to get whacked.

Coming June 6th, 2023 from ECW Press.

Check it out now and preorder your copy here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Few Good Titles


I admit that I don’t like writing end-of-year recommendations. Why? Because I read so many good books during the year, and it’s hard to list only the best of the best when there are some second-tier ones that had some special moments,. And it’s so subjective. More than once I’ve been excited to read a book that “everyone” is gaga over, only to find that it just doesn’t work for me. And also the opposite—books I’ve read that I never heard of, that seem should be at the top of best-seller lists. 

 Since we moved this year, I have to say I dropped the ball not so much in reading but in making notes. I can scarcely remember what I read. For example, I know I read and enjoyed an Ann Cleaves, but can’t begin to tell you which one. 

So, with that in mind, here are some of the best books I read that I either took notes on, or remember: 

 Non-mystery: (if there is such a thing. It seems to me that there is “life mystery” at the heart of every good novel) 

 Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. Is there anyone who hasn’t seen this at the top of most fiction lists? It’s captivating: beautifully written, funny, poignant, uplifting, and thought-provoking. It’s also whimsical. A story woven out of love, tragedy, intersecting with embryonic feminism. The feminism doesn’t come off as strident, but as a natural consequence of events. I can’t recommend this highly enough! 

 Ohio, by Stephen Markley. I haven’t read a book this full of incredible images in a long while. It isn’t an easy book to read. It’s about people who have lost their way in small-town America. The only people who have done well escaped for the wider world, while those who stayed fell victim to drugs, alcohol, and petty grievance. It’s made even more poignant because the author shows you the early promise that could have enriched their lives. Here’s how much I loved it. I read not just the book, but reviews, the book notes at the end, and the author interview. And when I was done, I went back to the beginning to read the first few chapters again. 

 The Cold Millions, Jess Walter. A historical novel set in the Northwest during union-bashing days. It’s violent and heartbreaking, and very informative, with fictional characters standing in for actual people who were active in the early union days. This author wrote Beautiful Ruins, which everyone raved about, and which I liked okay. I thought this one was much better. Much deeper. 


 What’s Done in Darkness, Laura McHugh Proving that being on conference panels can publicize your books, I read this because I was on a panel with Laura McHugh. I was captivated by her writing, her characters, and her plot. 

I enjoyed it so much that I immediately bought and read: 

 The Wolf Wants In, and found it every bit as good. Must be why it was named one of the top books of the year in 2019 by Library Journal. 

 Clark and Division, Naomi Hirahara. Excellent novel. Crisp writing, and the characters leap off the page. Immerses the reader in the sense of being Japanese in America during World War II. Hirahara is an Edgar Award winning author. 

 Jewish Noir II, edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimee Osman. Published August 2022, this book has “legs.” It keeps getting rave reviews, including a rare review in the Wall Street Journal and a terrific Publishers Weekly review. Wishnia and Osman did a fabulous job of selecting and editing the stories, some of which are dazzling. Note: I have a story in the collection, but would have named it anyway. It’s an important book, especially in the current political atmosphere. 

 All Her Little Secrets, Wanda Morris. Morris burst onto the scene with this debut novel about a Black woman with secrets trying to navigate the corporate world. The book won numerous awards. So deftly written that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut. I heard her talk about how she wrote it and love the image of her sneaking off to write, while no one suspected. 

 Slow Horses, Mick Herron. Oh boy, how did I miss this series? Herron is all the rage these days because of the TV series based on Slough House. It‘s a fantastic TV series, but no better than the books. The writing is exquisite. A spy novel at its finest, with aggravating and fascinating characters, and a convoluted plot right out of LeCarre. Highly recommended. 

 The last one is not so much mystery. It's more horror/humor:

  The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix. Okay, I admit this isn’t a book I would have bought. I got it as a gift, but when I started reading I couldn’t stop. It is horrifying and hilarious. There’s actually a bit of gothic mystery to it as well, but that hardly matters. It’s grisly and disgusting…and did I mention hilarious? If you’re looking for something quirky, this is for you.

And if you want to give someone a good mystery that got great reviews, including a starred review from Library Journal, I'll put in a plug for my own Murder at the Jubilee Rally. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Holiday Reading + Gift Ideas!

Happy Holidays, everyone! Brenda starting off this week's round of book recommendations.

As always, I'm in awe of the quantity of books my fellow Minds have read this past year and encourage you to look back to last week's posts and the ones following mine to get some great gift ideas --  or books for your own to-read pile. My list of suggestions is somewhat more modest in comparison :-) 

I started off the year with a file titled 'Books Read in 2022'. Alas, I only recorded two books and nothing else. Since I constantly have a book on the go and also belong to a book club, I admit that my record-keeping needs work, but happily I recall a couple of other novels from this past year that you might enjoy.

I know that you must be curious about what two books I dutifully recorded (and a good thing I did or I never would have remembered) so let's start there.

The first is Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz. I'd never read any of his books before and enjoyed the mystery although I wrote in my notes that while the writing is good, I found the two storylines confusing. Still, I would read another of his books without hesitation.

The second book to make my list (if two books equal a list) is The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly. Rene Ballard is the lead character with retired Harry Bosch pulled in as a consultant. Another good read in a series I consistently enjoy. If you haven't watched the Bosch series on Amazon Prime, it makes a great way to spend some holiday time as my husband and I did a few years back.

From there, I decided to read the entire Benny Griessel series by South Africa's Deon Meyer. I ordered the first four books and haven't gotten around to getting the last four, but have to say that the series is fabulous. I particularly liked book four, Cobra, and fully intend to read the last of the series in 2023. You'll have to wait an entire year to see how I do.

In the thriller category, I was fortunate enough to get a signed copy of The Island by Adrian McKinty when he was here as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. The first three-quarters of the book is non-stop tension ... well, maybe the entire book ... and not one to be read right before bed. If you like an original story that keeps you on the edge of your seat, this book is for you.

I also read State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hilary Clinton. The storyline gives many nods to Hilary's time as Secretary of State. If you have readers on your list who like political thrillers, this one has an interesting scenario with lots of tension. It's also created a lot of buzz with reviewers in both Canada and the U.S.

So, I'm currently immersed in the Tiger Woods biography called ... Tiger Woods ... by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. The mystery in this one is how Tiger came to be the man and athlete he became. The book is well researched with insights from many people involved in both Tiger's professional and private life over the years. This book is for the golfer or sportsperson on your shopping list.

Finally, I'd like to introduce you to my latest and the start to a new mystery/amateur sleuth/police procedural/thriller series -- Blind Date: A Hunter and Tate Mystery. I lived with this book the past year and am currently living with its sequel When Last Seen, which will be released April 1, 2023. Here is a review from fellow Criminal Mind Dietrich Kalteis:

When I settled back with Blind Date by acclaimed author Brenda Chapman, I only meant to read the opening chapters, but I ended up reading late into the night. It was that good. Blind Date’s the introduction to a promising new series. Get yourself invested in this well-paced and well-told mystery as true-crime podcaster Ella Tate gathers clues and attempts to solve a teacher’s murder.

Also available as an audiobook!

I'm delighted to say that Dietrich's book Under An Outlaw Moon won Crime Writers of Canada coveted Book of the Year for 2021 and is another great recommendation for under the tree. (Congratulations again, Dietrich.)

So, I'll be starting my file on 'Books Read in 2023' and hope to do a better job of it next journey around the sun. (I'm opening the file: 'List of New Year's Resolutions' as I type.)

Wishing you Peace and Joy.


Instagram & Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, December 9, 2022

Books I Read Because I Write, by Josh Stallings

I read for many reasons, for pleasure sure, and also for research. I started a new book this year and for inexplicable reasons I knew John Steinbeck was part of the key to the book’s tone. Along the way I read East of Eden two and a half times. It is a dark deeply rich generational novel. I discovered Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel — The East of Eden Letters, a journal he wrote every day before writing on the novel as a way of warming his writing muscles up for the chapter ahead. It encompasses lots of good writerly advice and a chance to see that Steinbeck stumbled just as often as any writer. 

Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, is a comic gem. The sequel to Cannery Row, it is charming and oddly romantic. 

Half of the novel I’m working on takes place in Southern California and a second story line takes place in Ecuador. Fifteen years ago my father, my son, and I went to Ecuador to visit a shaman in the Andes and the Shuar people in the rainforest. I knew a little,  but I find fiction helps me get to the truth of a place, so I looked for some Ecuadorian authors. 

Poso Wells by Gabriela Alemán. A Brazil-born Ecuadorian writer, Alemán delivers a truly original crime novel. People are disappearing from a town built on garbage. No one cares until a politician goes missing. I’ve seen it described as “a noir, feminist eco-thriller”. That’s accurate but any label may be reductive. It’s a thrilling trip into a world I need to know more about. Her short story collection Family Album is equally brilliant.

Along with research on setting and tone for my currant MS, I am always reading books to learn more about the craft of writing. I work intuitively. I don’t break down a book and look under its hood, the learning comes from reading a book I love that does something I don’t do, and letting it seep into my subconscious. I often learn more from books that reside far afield from my work. 

I wanted to discover how multi character and multi timeline stories work. David Mitchell and Emily St. John Mandel are two writers who continually create complicated tales that work seamlessly.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell, is about a rock band forming and climbing its way to semi stardom in the 1960s - 70s. It’s about very different musical artists before they came together and after. It adds to historical reality with cameos from David Bowie, Jerry Garcia, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Cass Elliot and more. It also has supernatural and Sci-Fi elements that are better read than explained.  

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, in a macro sense is about a Bernie Madoff style Ponzi scheme and the price paid by individual investors and living in the world of senseless wealth. It’s also about a young woman and her half brother stumbling through life and trying to discover themselves. It is more than anything I can say about it. And a perfect example of how a book can be not about what it’s about, and still be perfection.

Creative Quest by Questlove, is about writing without being about writing. I picked this up on audio book to listen to while driving to Mexico to see my dentist. I love the Roots, a band he co-founded, and was charmed by his documentary Summer of Soul. What I didn’t know was how much thought he’s given to the creative process. He talks about the creative process of chefs and film makers and I am reminded when we take out the details it’s all the same job.“[Creativity] is about finding your own unique way of fitting into the continually repeating human experience.” 

I have returned, or at least stumbled back into the poetry section of the library lately. As a young man my wife and I loved poets enough to name our first born after Dylan Thomas. Somehow as I grew older poetry felt less relevant, how wrong I was.  

Dead Burying the Dead Under a Quaking Aspen by David Cranmer. David Cranmer is an editor and publisher for BEAT to a PULP. He published Blow Jobs, one of my favorite short stories. So when I saw he had a book of poetry out I grabbed it. I’m glad I did. It is a mix of personal and political pieces. All strong in voice and tone. The last piece in it is Daughter, where he describes his work as a place for her to live when he is gone. 

Book of Gods & Grudges by Jessica L. Walsh. Hard as nails, as profound as punk rock. In short tight lines she speaks to how I feel. “When My Daughter Tells Me I Was Never A Punk” is the perfect Riot Grrrl scream explaining a life well lived can be the most punk answer to a world that wants you on your knees. Jessica L. Walsh delivers a novel worth of story in one page. I think this is because she, like most poets knows the best stories live beyond, before and after, the plot we are telling.