In what may be the last 'a book a week' of the year, I give you a smorgasbord of goodies. And keep your eyes peeled for a little Black Friday giveaway. (Pssst - if you want a head start on the giveaway, 'like' my author page and follow my blog by typing in your email in the box to the upper right of this post.)
Country Hardball by Steve Weddle
A novel-in-stories, COUNTRY HARDBALL explores the happenings and relationships in a rural small town. It's the story of Roy Alison, a young man with a checkered past who returns home to a community on the brink after the economic downturn.
What makes COUNTRY HARDBALL and Weddle's writing so strong is his ability to pull out and focus on such vivid details. A single father just barely holding things together with his young son, and their focus on a walking stick. Picking purple hulled peas in a field. Parents who deal with their own internal struggle while watching their son play baseball. The generational gap between a hardworking father and his entitled son. Weddle breathes life into these characters and makes you care deeply for their story, no matter how uneven or difficult a road they travel.
COUNTRY HARDBALL is one of my favorite reads of the year and has found a permanent spot on my shelf alongside the works of John Mantooth and Frank Bill.
Day One by Nate Kenyon
A thriller outside the books I usually read, DAY ONE sucked me right in with its contemporary and very present, almost in-the-news plot. It follows John Hawke, a hacker journalist formerly associated with the hacker group Anonymous, in pursuit of a story to save his career and family from financial ruin. A software giant is on the cusp of a breakthrough, and Hawke is determined to be the first to break the news.
Immediately the reader is thrust into total chaos in the heart of New York City. All technology has been taken over and Hawke is on his own, desperate to get back to his family. Great pacing, twists and turns drive the book, but the scary heart of the matter is how close we are (in real life) to having something like DAY ONE as a real potential crisis. A compelling book that pushed me to read non-fiction about the current state of artificial intelligence.
The Inner City by Karen Heuler
I love the cover of THE INNER CITY. Chizine used the image for their banner at this year's Readercon and when I saw it I was instantly pulled in. While I read a lot of crime, weird fiction is probably my second favorite genre/sub-genre. (I've got the Vandermeer's immense THE WEIRD sitting on my shelf, begging to be read.) Heuler's work in this collection is excellent. I'd recalled reading two of the stories ("Fish Wish" and "Landscape, with Fish") in Weird Tales (2011 and 2008 respectively) and it was of note that they had stuck with me for so long.
Heuler's characters, while sometimes cold and detached, immerse the reader in their worlds, often making the very odd normal and acceptable when it is dangerously not so. My favorite story is "Thick Water," whose sci-fi/horror twists gave me chills in the vein of ALIEN, D.O.G.S. OF MARS and DEAD SPACE. As it states on the back cover, "Everything is familiar; everything is different." If you are in search of unique weird fiction with a good mix of light and heavy stories, look no further than THE INNER CITY.
The Last Porno Theater by Nick Cato
New York City, 1989. Times Square is being sanitized and The Metro is the last theater to show adult films... wait a minute - what's that breast doing growing out of the wall!?
THE LAST PORNO THEATER (a bizarro work, I might add...) is a hell of a lot of fun. Cato lures you in with Herschell, a hardworking, if a bit naive protagonist, and the next thing you know, [spoiler alert!] you're knee deep in clones with a giant fifty-foot tall clown breathing down your neck. TLPT is my first venture into bizarro territory, and while I've heard a lot of the genre features over-the-top craziness with little connection to the story, Cato's left turn to crazy town fits right in line with his themes and his character's attempt to hold on to their ideal image of a Times Square that is quickly evaporating before their eyes.
The Thicket by Joe R Lansdale
I must confess that when it comes to Lansdale I am criminally under-read - especially since his short story, "Santa at the Cafe," moved me to write crime/noir. THE THICKET is brilliant, just brilliant. Truly, I could sit and read endless pages of banter between Shorty, Eustace, Jack and Jimmie Sue. (Oh, and hog, of course).
THE THICKET follows a party made up of the son of a slave, a dwarf, a former prostitute, a giant hog, a former bounty-hunter-turned-lawman, a janitor, and the narrator, Jack, whose sister was kidnapped by a group of foul men no better than monsters. Needless to say, the posse maintains some interesting personalities. Eustace, a giant of a man, with his 4-gauge shotgun and abilities to track (sometimes). Shorty, the well-spoken dwarf with a thirst for knowledge feels tailor-made for Peter Dinklage (fans of Game of Thrones, especially the television show, will fall in love with this book). Jimmie Sue, the former prostitute, is a hoot, always chiming in at the right moment. And Jack, the narrator who fills the boots of a young naive boy and grows throughout the novel.
You might say it is a 'western' but it is more than that; an adventure full of wit and humor, both light and dark, and doesn't shy away from the horrors of the time.
Well, that's all I've got. I hope you enjoyed my reviews over the past year and maybe even picked up a book or two. There is a lot of excellent fiction out there, and I count myself lucky to have stumbled upon (or in many cases, been recommended) some of the best.