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NewMammothBookThere’s an image I get when people say pulp fiction (not the movie). It’s tough talking private dicks. It’s dark streets filled with potential danger. It’s tall, leggy blondes who pull gats out of their purses. There’s a tautness of language that allows you to picture exactly where the action takes places, down to the dry, desert wind or the dirty streets with danger in every doorway. As one website states, it’s “…the one-two punch of dialogue and the action…”

The two Otto Penzler Black Lizard Big Book anthologies BlackLizardof pulp mysteries take the best stories of the 1920s through 1950s and jam them into two 1,100 double columned paged books. These are the crème de la crème of pulp writing with top of the line authors such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Earle Stanley Gardner, Carroll John Daly and James M. Cain.

The New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, originally compiled in 1996 and recently revised and reissued contains 33 stories ranging from 1929 to 1987, with most of them written in the 1950s. Unfortunately it doesn’t contain stories from top of the line pulp authors. As a result, the stories, though most of them are interesting and fun reading, don’t have that certain something that defines it as pulp fiction. They don’t have that darkness, the grittiness of, what in my mind, is a true pulp story. Jakubowsky should really have just called the book a collection of mystery stories but that, ovbiously, doesn’t have the same impact as saying pulp mystery.

Other things lacking in the book: there are no author bios so that you can get a feeling for the lives of the authors. Many of them had quite interesting lives. (These are included in the Penzler anthologies.) Additionally, there seems to be no rational order to the stories. Not alphabetical by title or author. Not chronological by date of issue. It seems totally random which makes it difficult to see how pulp fiction might have changed over the decades.

Because I was under a review deadline, I put together an Excel spreadsheet and ordered the stories chronologically and then read one from the beginning, one from the middle and one from the end of my list, so that if I couldn’t finish reading before deadline, I’d have a sampling from each time period. To be quite honest, I’m not sure if that made a difference.

I guess, like Jakubowsky, you could make the claim that pulp mysteries never left. They’ve always been around and have changed with the times. And that may be so. If that is the case, though, based on the stories in the New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction they’ve softened over the years. There’s nothing in the language to distinguish them. It’s not hard-driving. It’s not period driven. It’s bland. There is no  “…one-two punch of dialogue and … action…”

So, if you’re looking for an anthology of good mystery stories, then I’d certainly give the New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction a try. If you’re looking for great pulp mysteries, check out Otto Penzler’s anthologies.

AfterImGoneIn 1959 Felix married Bambi. In 1976 he disappears, avoiding a jail sentence. In 1986, Julie, Felix’s girlfriend prior to his disappearance, disappears as well. In 2001 her body was found not far from Felix and Bambi’s home. The question is: Who killed her? The answer is supplied by Laura Lippman in After I’m Gone.

Inspired by an actual incident in which a Baltimore gambler disappeared leaving a wife, three children and a girlfriend, Lippman puts her own spin on this.

After I’m Gone is not so much a mystery as it is a character study. It probes into the life of Roberto ‘Sandy’ Sanchez, a retired cop and widower who, on a consulting basis, handles cold cases. It describes Bambi and her relationship with her three daughters, one of whom is too young to really remember her father before his disappearance. It studies the relationship between Bambi and Bert Gelman, Felix’s friend and attorney, and with Lorraine, Gelman’s wife. It explores a family’s take on Judaism.

There’s not a lot of action in After I’m Gone, nor police procedural, nor following clues. It is more a family history and a well written one at that. I don’t remember reading any Laura Lippman, known for her Tess Monaghan series, but I’d definitely add her to my reading list.

 

ProvidenceRagThis third installment in the Liam Mulligan series is just as good as the first two. All the old characters are back: Mulligan, Edward Anthony “Thanks-Dad” Mason, Gloria, Ed Lomax. Providence Rag is inspired by (not based on) two of Rhode Island’s most notorious murder cases, according to the author.

Two brutal serial killers have served their sentences and are up for parole. One is in his 70s and dying from heart disease. The chances of him committing another murder is minimal. The other is in his thirties and has shown no remorse. The probability is high that he will strike again. What do you do? Let him go free? Fabricate incidents in jail that would extend his stay?BruceDeSilva

What do you do if you find evidence that false incidents were reported that, indeed did extend his term? Publication of this evidence will accelerate parole. But you’re a reporter, held to a higher standand. You report the truth, despite the results. Right?

Mulligan and Mason go head to head on this subject. As with each book in the Mulligan series, you can’t put it down. You want to find out what happens, who wins? The main characters in this series are great. All different. All human. While the story wrapped up a little too neatly, a little to quick, the journey to get there couldn’t have been better.

I’m always looking for a new mystery series with not too many books so it won’t take me forever to catch up. This is the perfect series. Three great books. Fast reads. Cerebral instead of action packed. And hey, how many mysteries take place in Rhode Island? Rogue Island. Cliff Walk. Providence Rag.

 

 

Just like a well designed plate of food enhances the taste of a meal, so too a well designed book HistoryOfMysterycover enhances the reading experience. In the 1700 and 1800s and even into the early 1900s book covers were considered decorations to be viewed. The Golden Age of book covers lasted from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, ending with the advent of book jackets and paperbacks. However, from a mystery book standpoint, the pulp mysteries published in the 1930s to 1950s have some of the best artwork imaginable, in my mind anyway. It may be considered ‘campy’ now, but it added a flavor to the book that would be missing otherwise.

The History of Mystery by Max Allan Collins, a mystery writer in his own right, combines the history of the ‘non-policeman’ detective with plentiful photos of book covers, movie tie-ins, TV show ads, etc. Divided into 10 sections, Collins covers the people who made mystery what it is: A. Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett. He covers female detectives (Kinsey Millhone, VI Warshawski) and TV detectives, reminding me of some of my favorite shows such as Mannix, Spenser for Hire, Honey West, the Rockford Files.

There’s a lot of interesting trivia (I never new there was an Ed McBain detective magazine) and a lot name dropping of many people who might be unfamiliar to mystery readers but were influential in the field, such as Roy Huggins who created a number of wonderful TV shows including 77 Sunset Strip.

Collins must think like me–that the presentation is an important part of the package. The glossy pages, some with a colored background, the full color photos of book covers, the portraits of mystery greats all add up to a great reading experience. The History of Mystery is an easy to read, eye-catching history of one of the great genres.

As I said in the beginning, this book doesn’t cover policemen so don’t expect to see Harry Bosch or the 87th Precinct mentioned here. Maybe that’ll be Collins’ next book…hint, hint.

YA Books

I was lying awake thinking the other night (I don’t know why) that if I had to pick six books to show someone who grew up on Lois Duncan, the width and breadth of YA literature today, which books would I choose? Everyone has their favorites and there are obviously multiple combinations of six books to illustrate my point, but here are mine.

SmallDamagesLiterary YA FictionSmall Damages by Beth Kephart (or any Beth Kephart book). Beth takes pains to get the words right and the result are wonderful, sometimes ethereal prose narrating engrossing stories.

WintergirlsIssue Driven FictionWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (or any of her books). Speak, about rape, is obviously the most well known, with the movie starring a young Kristen Stewart, but all of Anderson’s books deal with real issues faced by teens.

KeepingYouASecretLGBTQKeeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters.  Keeping You a Secret is one of Peters’ earlier books portraying lesbian relationships and remains one of my favorites to this day. However she deals with all sorts of gender issues, from Luna (transgender) to gender neutral proms.

 

 

RevolutionHistorical FictionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Donnelly, whose earlier work, A Northern Light won the Carnegie Medal, goes back and forth between current day and the French Revolution.

EonScience Fiction/FantasyEon: Dragoneye Reborn and Eona: The Return of the Dragoneye by Alison Goodman. Goodman combines action with signs of the zodiac in a spine tingling fantasy.

FaultInOurStarsIllnessThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green discusses the relationship between two teens having debilitating and potentially fatal diseases.

 

 

 

 

As we who read YA literature know, it has come a long way from the Lois Duncan days. And while Lois Duncan’s books play a significant role in the reading lives of teens, even today, there is a whole big wide world of YA literature out there begging to be read. I know I’ve left out great YA authors such as Lauren Oliver, Jordan Sonnenblick, Jennifer Brown. The list is endless.

I’m sure your List of Six is different than mine, so feel free to send me yours. I’d be interested.

 

 

 

Faking Normal, a debut novel by Courtney C. Stevens, is about two FakingNormalbroken teens, one exhibiting all his hurt, one hiding hers. The interesting thing about this book is that the cause of one pain is evident from the start; the cause of the other is revealed slowly but surely.

In the same vein, one outcome of the book is predictable from the beginning and the other has a twist. This caused me to raise my eyebrows and say, “Oh my, I didn’t see that coming.” But, it follows the story, so cudos to the author.

Alexi Littrell and Bodee Lennox are the two main characters. One is strong; one is weak. But together they make quite the pair.

I really don’t want to say too much about this book. I know, I really haven’t told you much. But to my mind, it’s better to start without any knowledge and let Ms. Stevens unfold her tale to you. She has conjured up two characters you won’t easily forget.

So, it’s Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens.

I love poetry. I hate poetry. I love poetry. I hate poetry….I love poetry that I can understand, AndWeStaynot those deep poems with hidden meanings. And for some inexplicable reason, it is comforting to both write and read poetry.

In And We Stay, Jennifer Hubbard’s second novel after Paper Covers Rock, Emily Beam’s ex-boyfriend, Paul, shoots himself in the school library while standing in front of her. Did he mean to do it all along? Did the fact that she broke up with him two days before (on her birthday, December 10) spur him to do it, or was it inevitable? In the aftermath of this tragedy, Emily’s parents enroll her in Amherst School for Girls, hundreds of miles away from what appears to be their Midwest home (although the state is never mentioned).

There’s always a story surrounding a mid-year transfer, but Emily doesn’t want to share her secret(s). She stays aloof from her roommate, K.T. and other kids in school. However, when a teacher gives her a book of poems by Emily Dickinson, it reinvigorates Emily’s B.’s poetic desires. She becomes obsessed and inspired by Ms. Dickinson, who shares birthdays with our Emily.

In a marvelous fashion combining prose and poetry, Jennifer Hubbard fleshes out Emily Beam. In flashbacks, she recreates Emily and Paul’s relationship, how it started and what led to that fateful event. She describes Emily’s growth and her ultimate connection to her new schoolmates. Her poems are beautiful and add an aura to the story that would be sorely missed without them. Emily, K.T., Paul and all the supporting characters have real personalities. Emily’s transformation is evident.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like And We Stay, and despite all the positive reviews, I hesitantly began reading, at which point I was sold. And We Stay should be on everyone’s reading list.

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