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Saturday, May 2, 2009

What I'm Reading: April 2009

I'm a few days behind this month, due to having to read final papers and enter grades in a 48 hour window. But grades are in and here is my report on three of the books I read this month. Interestingly, each book is part of a series.

Early in the month I finished listening to the third book in Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series, When Will There Be Good News? What I love about Atkinson is that she assumes the reader is smart. She weaves a story that has many layers and complications, but always bring together every loose end. The pay off is always there in all of her novels, series or standalone.

In this newest book, Atkinson again has Jackson Brodie in Scotland and crossing paths with Louise, a Chief Inspector. (Check the bottom of this post for a report on the second installment in the series, One Good Turn.) However, for the first time in the series, Jackson is not the main focus. The story still turns on girl in trouble, as it always seems to for Jackson. In this case a grown woman, Jo, whose entire family had been slaughtered when she was 6, and her 16 year-old plucky nanny, Reggie. Louise and Jackson get caught up in Reggie's search for Jo, who has vanished. As usual, Jackson ends up in a lot of trouble along the way-- he almost dies in a train crash and is twice mistaken for a serial killer.

As usual, Atkinson's writing captures the true nature of people. Her characters are fully rounded, flawed, and just plain real. Also, this is the third book in the series, and the best so far. That's not just my opinion either, check the reviews. Atkinson has set up more sexual tension (without even a kiss ever being shared) between Jackson and Louise, and has set up Reggie as a character who deserves an entire book of her own.

I have explored readalikes for Atkinson (at the bottom of this post) before. To that list I want to add the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear. Like Atkinson, Winspear is great at creating full realized characters and her British settings, although historical (between the World Wars) vividly capture the varied landscapes of Great Britain much like Atkinson does in her writing.

Like Atkinson, the genre bending, award-winning suspense series by Stieg Larsson beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, pairs a reluctant male investigator with a female investigator. Here there are also decades old crimes to solve and wonderfully drawn characters. The setting, Sweden, is even darker and more foreboding than Atkinson's Scotland.

I also read the third book in another series I enjoy, but here humor was the main appeal. Lisa Lutz's Revenge of the Spellmans continues the story of Izzy Spellman, her family of PIs in San Francisco, and her misadventures in life and love. (See this post from 10/07 for more background on the series). As in the 2 previous mysteries, Izzy is surrounded by her eccentric friends and family as she ends up in compromising situations, working on cases she should probably leave alone. The plot details are not too important here but there is court ordered therapy, parked cars moving themselves, PSAT cheating accusations, unwanted house guests, and switched identities just to name a few of the issues that pop-up here (use this link to read about it). Don't try to keep it straight, just pick up any of the books in this series and know that you are in for more humor than mystery, more character than plot, tons of wit and irony, and lots of laughs.

Previously I have said that Lutz is a readalike for Janet Evanovich, but now that she is coming into her own, you may see readers looking for readalikes for Lutz herself. I would suggest Donna Andrews' funny Meg Langslow Mysteries (The first is Murder with Peacocks). Meg is a young, amateur detective, not a PI, but her family is almost as crazy. Like Lutz' Spellman books, Andrews' series has also won many awards and fans.

Finally I read Jonathan Maberry's brand new thriller Patient Zero. I posted about it in detail here, and look to the end for Maberry's own comments on my post and the book. In Patient Zero, we are introduced to Joe Ledger who is, dare I say it, just a hero. I wrote about the plot specifics in the other post, but let me tell you, this is a fast paced, pure terrorism techno-thriller, with shifting points of view (hero and villains), and a happy, resolved ending. Joe Ledger will become a force to be reckoned with as the series continues.

Maberry is better known as a horror writer, but although Patient Zero has zombies, the novel is ultimately an adventure-thriller. The zombies all get killed, and there is no lingering virus to continue the zombie threat into another book. Ledger saved the day and will move on to a new crisis in his next book. I dare say it is farwell to Maberry in the horror world. Do check-out his award-winning Pine Deep horror trilogy though. (I wrote about the first book here).

If Joe Ledger and his exploits with the Department of Military Service are appealing to you, try the Shane Schofield series by Matthew Reilly or anything by James Rollins. Maberry also gives a shout-out to David Morrell in this novel (a charcater is reading a Morrell novel). Morrell is a great readalike option here since both authors sneak a bit of more traditional horror appeal into their thrillers. Fans of Patient Zero should start with Morrell's Creepers.


Jonathan Maberry said...

Nah...I'm not leaving the horror world. This fall will see the release of THE WOLFMAN, my adaptation of the Universal Pictures remake (with Benecio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt). Plus I have FAMILY BUSINESS, a horror novella, coming out in THE NEW DEAD, edited by Christopher Golden (early 2010), and my agent is currently field offers on a new series of young adult zombie novels.

I may ALSO write thrillers, but I'll still be writing horror.

Becky said...

Thank goodness. Let us know when the YA books will be coming out. My teen patron love zombies. Actually, these deays, who doesn't?