- Stephen King, Different Seasons. While King is most associated with horror, three of the four novellas in this book are not really in that genre. The Winter piece is conventional horror, with both a ghost story and the spooky circumstances under which that story is told. The Spring piece has to do with a wrongfully convicted prisoner. Both of those were readable enough, but not as gripping as the Autumn story, which involved adolescent boys who set off on an adventure to find a dead body, the result of an accident. What is interesting is not so much the dead body but the circumstances of the boys’ lives and how those affect their interactions with one another. The strongest piece is the Summer one, which is a story of psychological terror about a teenage boy who is obsessed with a Nazi war criminal he has discovered in his neighborhood. I found this piece completely chilling, largely because it seemed perfectly plausible. Overall, this book was absorbing.
- Alexander Kent, Signal – Close Action! I have been reading the Richard Bolitho series off and on for a while now. I’m not particularly interested in British naval battles of the late 18th century per se, but Bolitho is an appealing character. The real point is his interactions with his crew – which is sometimes contentious – and with his superiors. I will continue reading this series, as the books are enjoyable.
- Katherine Boo, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. I’ve already written a little about this book, which has to do with an informal slum in Mumbai. It’s interesting, but depressing. The level of corruption and the general lack of caring about poor people (which extends to ignoring a dead body) left me feeling hopeless.
- Kerry Greenwood, Cocaine Blues. This is the first Phryne Fisher mystery and, frankly, it didn’t really leave me wanting to read more. There’s too much talk about clothes and Miss Fisher is too skillful to be believed. (For example, she’s an expert fast driver and can fly an airplane and can dance well enough to capture the attention of a Russian ballet star.) The plot is somewhat predictable. And the whole thing is horribly overwritten.
- Arvin Ahmadi, Down and Across. I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction, but this got a lot of buzz in the crossword community. The characters are interesting and I liked the Washington, D.C. setting. There’s a bit too much coincidence in some of the encounters, however. I had to suspend a fair amount of disbelief, but the psychology felt real even when the events didn’t. Overall, worth a read.
- Crabbe Evers, Murderer’s Row. Evers has a series of mysteries set at various baseball stadiums. This one involves a murder at Yankee’s Stadium (or, as I think of it, the Heart of Darkness). The plot is mediocre and the writing is so-so, but the baseball lore is interesting. Skippable.
- D. R. Meredith, Murder By Sacrilege. This is the sort of mystery that is based entirely on quirkiness. The premise of a preacher putting his wife’s naked body in a Nativity scene outside the church and then refusing to talk about it at all was an interesting one. But most of the characters behave in such unlikely ways that I was ready to throw this book into a river by the time I was a third of the way through.
- Gerald Nachman, Showstoppers!: The Surprising Backstage Stories of Broadway’s Most Remarkable Songs. This is focused primarily on individual songs, regardless of the actual quality of the shows they’re from. So it discusses some cases where there’s a single well-known song from an otherwise forgettable musical. There is, however, a lot of backstage chatter about some of the bigger shows, which is interesting – at least if you’re a musicals geek like I am. I think Nachman gives Jerry Herman more credit than he deserves. I think Herman was aiming for commercial success a lot of times, rather than merely being a happy person, which is why he wrote so many catchy songs with repetitive insipid lyrics. I also think he underestimates Frank Loesser. Yes, "Adelaide’s Lament" is a great song, but how could you ignore "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" or "Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat" when it comes to showstoppers? And to step away from Guys and Dolls, what about "I Believe in You," from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? And, really, could he not find a single worthy song from 1977 ("Tomorrow" from Annie) to 2001 ("Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers)? Hint: City of Angels (1989) had "You Can Always Count on Me," among other worthy candidates. And 1991’s The Secret Garden has songs like "Race You to the Top of the Morning," "Wick," and "Come to My Garden" – all three in a row. I also think his failure to include off-Broadway shows is a mistake, but at least he’s up front about his criteria. I enjoyed this book, but it could have been even better.
- Herman Raucher, Summer of ‘42. This was out of what I refer to as the Mom collection, i.e. the huge number of books from my mother’s house that I feel compelled to read before disposing of. The only thing I knew about this book before reading it is that it had been turned into a movie. Actually, it turns out that the screenplay came first and, while the book was released before the movie was, it was actually a novelization. The story involves adolescent boys, who spend their time fighting with each other and trying to get laid. There’s some humor, mostly as the boys try to figure out what sex really entails – but this is mostly standard coming of age fare. I suspect it worked better on film than on paper. I also suspect it works better for a different generation. It was okay, but too melodramatic for my tastes.
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