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Monday, 30 December 2013

Books read – 2013

This year I read 46 books. Of that number, inevitably, a fair portion for the first half of the year were books published by Solstice Publishing which I read as editor or copy-editor.

I’m pleased to say that I haven’t read a bad book, though some shone more than others.  Those asterisked at the bottom can be viewed in my ‘top 12’ list. As with any list, it’s subjective, if not controversial. In no particular order…

Rachel Blackburn by Doreen McNicol
Victorian melodrama, the sequel to Rachel Weeks.  These two books have heart and capture the period. There are some moving scenes and the reader really wants to root for Rachel through all her struggles. Blurb: London, 1855. Rachel Wicks survived the workhouse and a terrible marriage to the vile and evil Emerson Blackburn. Her life should have been smooth thereafter, but she hadn’t reckoned on the interference of Mrs Worchester, a relative of Blackburn’s. For the sake of her daughter, Rachel throws in her lot with the Worchesters. But people and events from her past haunt her and threaten to forever darken her daughter’s future. And true love beckons – or is it yet another trick of fate, to be snatched away from her? She must be brave and true to her ideals, no matter how much rumours malign and pain her.

Hustle Henry and the Cue-ball Kid by Jack Strandburg
An hilarious western about pool hustlers, love and double-cross. Clarence Flannery changed his name to Hustle Henry, his pal Skinner became the Cue-Ball Kid, and the eleven men they recruited would go down in history as The Hole-in-the-Table-Bunch, known far and wide for hustling wannabe pool sharks out of their life savings.
Old Fashioned Detective Work by Devon Ellington
One of a supernatural detective series, written with a sure touch. Jain Lazarus is a hexbreaker. This is a sequel to Hexbreaker. Blurb: Detective Wyatt East finds himself the primary suspect when hex breaker Jain Lazarus disappears after their romantic weekend in Vermont.  In spite of these suspicions, Jain's boss, Maitland Stiles, hires Wyatt to track her down, forcing him to face aspects of his own painful past and revealing more about hers.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Classic, still works for me. Review can be found here

The Cauldron by Steve Carter
They don’t write men’s adventures any more. Well, so I thought. But I was wrong. Steve Carter has embarked on a series of adventures that bring to mind author H Rider Haggard, albeit with added expletives and sex; the style is old-fashioned, but highly readable, and laced with humour and poignancy. The first in the series, The Cauldron relates John Saxton’s coming of age. Sax is aided and abetted by his mentor, Marcus Brown – a Maasai warrior and friend of the family. This is the age of trade clippers and slavers, the early days of the Civil War, and it’s great to meet a young honourable man who fights for what is right and good against self-seeking and greedy men. Carter’s creation of Marcus Brown is a worthy successor to Umslopogaas.

Expatriate Bones by M. Howald
Murder mystery set in Montreal. Bounty hunter Leonard Marsland feeds on the hunt, the kill, and has been feeding his entire life.  When Christine Duma, a med student is murdered, Marsland steps closer to the last two names on his hit list, and Detective Austin Del Rio steps into the crossfire between Marsland’s revenge and a war crimes cover-up.

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
An epic tale. See my review here

The Maxwell Vendetta by Carl Brush
This historical thriller, the prequel to another gripping novel, The Second Vendetta, is set nearly one hundred years in the past, yet The Maxwell Vendetta embodies themes as contemporary as racism, political corruption, and sexual exploitation. In short, contemporary America mirrored in a novel of 1908 California. An excellent first person narrative. I seemed to live through the trials and tribulations - and there were many! - of Andy Maxwell. It was that believable. The book has it all - action, suspense, horror, drama and humour.

Combstock Lode by Louis L’Amour
The Comstock Lode was one of the richest finds in silver and L’Amour’s story is rich in characters and events, filled with drifters, schemers, dreamers, builders and thieves.

Shattered Prism by Rebeca L. Frencl
Fantasy. Robyn and Aerin have been down this road before as they hunt for the other seven Starbearers who will once more drive back the Darkness that wishes to unravel civilization and drive mankind back into howling barbarism… First in the Star Circle Trilogy.
Lenin’s Harem by William Burton McCormick
Mcormick has produced a book of vast scope yet deep intimacy. His feeling for the period, the country and the Latvians and Russians shines through on every page of this first person narrative… A book of betrayal, survival, brotherhood, identity and love that will linger in the mind after the last page has been turned.
Bond on Bond by Roger Moore
Lavishly illustrated reminiscences and coverage of the Bond movies, with Moore’s usual tongue-in-cheek delivery. Amusing and interesting!

Painting by Numbers by Tom Gillespie
This isn’t a thriller, but it is a psychological suspense page-turner. On the surface, I can see why some people might liken it to Dan Brown’s oeuvre – esoteric knowledge about artwork and mathematics, for example, and a quest to a foreign land. That’s as far as such comparisons should go, however. If any comparisons should be made, I’d refer to Christopher Priest – notably his The Affirmation. Priest, like Gillespie, is a wordsmith… bravura storytelling about dislocation, obsession, grief, guilt, fidelity and intrigue. The ending is perfect. 

The Filey Connection by David W Robinson
First in the Sanford Third Age Club (STAC) series of cosy crime novels, this was a pleasure to read. If you’ve enjoyed Simon Brett’s Mrs Pargeter novels, then you’ll like these too.  A whodunnit and a whydunnit, this is a quick read with plenty of chuckles along the way.

Cast-Iron Star and other stories by Robert J. Randisi
This is a good collection of western short stories by a master storyteller. If you’ve never read any Randisi, this is a fine place to start… ‘The Ghost with Blue Eyes’ is a moving tale about an aptly named gunman called Targett who accidentally kills a child and how he achieves redemption. It’s a tear-jerker and worth the cost of the collection alone. Never sentimental, the writing is spare but powerful.

Shaman’s Drum by Ailsa Abraham
This is a good fantasy tale of relationships set in the near future when our organised religions were banned, eventually replaced by paganism and magic. Civilisation is still as we know it, complete with Internet and mobile phones, cars and taxis, but without the angst of religious guilt or conflict. Needless to say, without conflict there is no story. And of course even in a supposedly ideal world there is still crime, jealousy, and a lust for power… A satisfying read and I’m already curious about the prequel!

Solo by William Boyd
Another ‘literary’ author tackles James Bond, following in the recent footsteps of Sebastian Faulks and Jefferey Deaver. To all intents and purposes Boyd continues where Fleming left off as far as the historical timeline goes, so we’re in 1969… The writing was accomplished in parts, and the narrative kept me turning the pages, but I wasn’t emotionally involved. And I felt the ending was rushed.

The Ladies’ Paradise by Emil Zola
The source book of the TV series, though there are many differences. In its own right, it’s a fascinating read and the strength of character of the heroine Denise shines through, Woman Victorious.

West of the Big River: The Lawman by James Reasoner
A fictional tale about a real lawman, Bill Tilghman. He’s sent to the Oklahoma territory settlement of Burnt Creek to sort out a spate of rustling and discovers that the town’s lawman and mayor are in cahoots with the rustlers. Finely drawn characters, fast paced and well written, as one would expect from such an accomplished author.

Rim Road 1 - The Lost and Found by Patricia A. Matrinelli
Fantasy. Rim Road starts out with the main character not too happy with her current life choices and decides to make changes. The first of her new choices lands the woman into a world where she will have to make the right choices just to stay alive.

Making of Pride and Prejudice by Sue Birtwistle – review here

The Boston Connection by Dick Moomey
Murder mystery. ‘a bubbling pot of passion and intrigue is The Boston Connection. Dick Moomey takes us to a small private school named Ramsdell somewhere in the Boston vicinity and lifts the lid on a stew of intrigue.’

The Expressmen – research for the Old West. Vital.
Roman Dalton by Paul Brazil
A collection of six short stories about a werewolf private detective in a nameless city, this is bound to appeal to a wide modern audience. It’s surreal, sleazy, dark, humorous, and a quick read, laced with music riffs. Brazil has a good ear for the amusing phrase, in the wisecracking private eye manner.

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
Review here

Chapters of Life by Tina K. Burton
The book fulfils its promise on the back cover: ‘This diverse group of people, brought together by their love of reading, forge lasting friendships and make some unexpected discoveries about themselves and each other.’ Overall, a worthwhile read, with some mystery, suspense and tragedy to affect the group’s equilibrium. Bound to be a popular read.

Against the Ropes by Jack Tunney (Terrence McCauley)
This short novel provides all of the atmosphere, the ambiance and the thrills of the 1920s. Combine that with the stupidity of Prohibition, the rackets and the fight game and this becomes a bout of heart-pounding excitement where the audience is rooting for the good guy Quinn, yet realising that the odds are severely stacked against him. The dialogue is as sharp as a toothpick, as foreboding as the next incoming storm of punches, and full of character. By the end, I was punch-drunk, the fight sequences were so gruelling and realistic.

Death comes in pairs by Loretta Jackson and Vickie Britton
The prolific writing sisters have written over 40 novels, in a number of genres. This is a traditional western with a strong mystery element… This is a potent mix for a whodunit western-style and the authors don’t disappoint. Well written with plenty of colourful description and characters, it’s an enjoyable read that keeps you turning the pages to the satisfying conclusion.

I Know You Know by Helen Howell
This is a slow-build suspense novella which is worthy of 3.5 stars, in my opinion. The two characters Janice and Kipp are delineated well.  The narrative style lends itself to being a quick read.

Dark Voices by Darren Sant
Fifteen mostly short tales, many with stings in their tails… If you’re brave enough, enter the dark world of Darren Sant with this wide-ranging collection. You won’t come away unaffected.

Look you on Beauty and Death by Livia J Washburn and James Reasoner
Husband and wife writing team pen a fantasy short story that cries out for a series. Swordsmith Ralna is an intriguing character and ripe for more development.  Good description, plenty of action, a few dashes of humour, and you have a recipe for a good read.

Tarzan – the epic adventures by R.A. Salvatore
It was great to read a 'new' Tarzan adventure and there were many elements from the original, thanks to the teleplay by Burt Armus, though I suspect blending aspects of The Return of Tarzan with Tarzan at the Earth's Core meant it would be a rushed job, too much, too soon. Point of View was all over the place and I'd have liked more of Tarzan's POV; the humour was a nice touch, but I thought the hand-to-hand combat scenes were over-elaborate. Still a worthy addition to the Tarzan books, even if it clearly didn't capture a reading public who wanted more of the same.

Holt County Law by Richard Prosch
Holt County has the potential to be a long-running series. As one dying man says, ‘Holt County’s a good place. There’s good people here. Don’t let a few bad apples (spoil it).’ The western will never die, because writers like Richard Prosch are able to enthral us with new stories about the Old West. Taggart by Louis L’Amour
Adam Stark’s found gold. But it’s in Apache country… On the run, Taggart stumbles upon Stark, his wife and sister and tensions mount between them all… with gold in the mix,

One book was ready to publish but the author pulled the plug, so I won’t mention it or him; a shame, it was a damned fine book, too.

* - the following already discussed in …

Jane by Robin Maxwell

September Wind by Kathleen Janz-Anderson

The Singing Mountain by Anne E Summers

World without End by Ken Follett

Tarzan Centennial by Scott Tracy Griffin

The Satanic Gospel by William Patrick Hackett

The Elephants of Shanghai by Stephen Jared

Breath of Africa by Jane Bwye

Game of Thrones by George R R Martin

A Limited Justice by Catriona King

Playing on Cotton Clouds by Michela O’Brien

Bad Moon Rising by Fraces di Plino



Paul D. Brazill said...

Thanks for the mention, Nik. Glad you enjoyed Dalton.

Steve M said...

A great mix of genres and styles there Nic. Reckon I might just have to hunt down Hustle Henry and the Cue-ball Kid as it sounds like great fun.

Nik said...

Thanks, Paul and Steve, for the feedback. I was told many decades ago that writers should read, and outside their favoured genre, so I do that. Maybe I've got too many favourite genres! Still, one can never have too many books... :)

Kathleen Janz-Anderson said...

What a list of interesting books. You have to be an example to many. Writers are supposed to read, read, read and that is my New Years resolution to do just that.

Nik said...

Thanks, Kathleen. There are so many books I want to read, finding the time is the problem!