An Embarrassment Of Riches

New books waiting to be read hereabouts usually are left on one particular endtable right next to my favorite reading chair. I pass it constantly, so any library books stare back at me as a reminder to return them on time. Normally there are a few books stacked there, and should I fall behind, a couple more might pile up.

But right now, there’s an embarrassment of riches piled high on the endtable. Whether that’s because I’ve really fallen behind in my reading or simply have acquired too many books the past couple weeks (much more likely), I couldn’t say for sure. And I’m not even counting the stack of half a dozen Adventure House trade pb pulp reprints of 1940’s Spicy Detective and Spicy Mystery magazines I got just last week. All I know for sure is that there’s a lot of reading to catch up on this summer.

I’m holding off on Phillip Kerr’s final Bernie Gunther novel, Metropolis and James Ellroy’s This Storm till I can really hunker down with them. Those two are books to be savored. Fingers crossed: Unless something intervenes, I’m on schedule for a four-day getaway next weekend. Sure, I could spend it swimming, canoeing and hiking. But an easy chair, a fireplace and either Kerr or Ellroy sounds good too. Maybe I’ll flip a coin.

Knowing that I have a couple more books reserved at a nearby bookstore and due in this or next week, and one or more backordered from the online behemoth, I can only hope that old endtable is sturdier than it looks.

  • Robert J. Randisi’s Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora – A Private Eye Writers Of America anthology
  • Jump Cut by Libby Fisher Hellman
  • Ka-Chow: Dan Turner In Pictures by Robert Leslie Bellem and Adolphe Barreiax
  • Hollywood Detective with Dan Turner, Queenie Starr, Betty Blake and more
  • Metropolis by Phillip Kerr, the final Bernie Gunther novel completed before the author’s untimely death.
  • The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, author of the great The Historian and The Swan Thieves
  • Speakeasy by Alisa Smith
  • This Storm by James Ellroy, the second entry in his new L.A. Quartet (Perfidia being the first)
  • Where Monsters Hide by M. William Phelps, a rare true-crime book (rare for me, that is)
  • The Moneypenny Diaries by Kate Westbrook
  • The Best Of Spicy Mystery – Volume 1
  • Westside by W. M. Akers

I’m nearly through Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora as I write this, but will surely be done with it by the time this appears, so more about the one shortly.

Renee Rosen’s Guilty Pleasures

Park Avenue Summer

I stumbled onto my first Renee Rosen novel a few years ago and have been hooked since. Just finished her latest, Park Avenue Summer, a few weeks ago.

Rosen’s Dollface from 2013 is where I started, her first novel, I think. No surprise that it caught my eye, being set in Prohibition era Chicago, and telling Vera Abramowitz’ story in which romance with a suave bootlegger goes bad once he’s in the clink and she has to take over. Writer Rosen’s from Ohio but relocated to Chicago, seems to have acquired a very genuine feel for the city, and obviously does her homework on each period she writes about. That first book set a tone for the subsequent novels: A young woman navigating her way through an overwhelmingly male dominated world in eras when things were evolving, but only a bit. A very little bit.

Dollface

I missed her second novel from 2014 but kept up with the next three: White Collar Girl  from 2015, about young Jordan Walsh struggling to make it as a reporter in the boys club newsroom of the Chicago Tribune back in 1955. Next came Windy City Blues in 2017, once again set in Chicago and merging 1950’s-60’s fact and fiction with a young Jewish girl in the vibrant R&B music scene and tumultuous race relations while at Chicago’s legendary Chess Records.

White Collar Girl

Rosen’s latest, Park Avenue Summer, left her adopted home town for mid-1960’s New York City, where aspiring photographer Alice Weiss takes a job as Helen Gurley Brown’s secretary just as the iconic editor and author of the then-scandalous Sex And The Single Girl was about to turn the publishing world on its ear with the relaunch of Cosmopolitan magazine. I saw one review calling this novel “Mad Men Meets The Devil Wears Prada”, and that’s not an entirely bad description, at least as far as describing the milieu goes.

I’m calling Rosen’s novels ‘guilty pleasures’, but not to suggest that they’re lighthearted fluff. Far from it. Her novels have been a treat, helped locales and era come vibrantly alive for me, and each has been a pleasant diversion from the mysteries and crime fiction I normally devour. Three in a row all situated in 1950’s-60’s settings? That’s just a bonus for me. I don’t know where Renee Rosen is headed next: Back to Chicago, and if so, in what decade? Wherever and whenever it is, I can guarantee I’ll be going along for the trip.

Windy City Blues

 

Independent Bookstore Day

Indie Bookstores Montage copy

We all have our favorite indie bookstores. I have (and have had) too many to count, much less depict here. Quimby’s, Barbara’s, 57th Street Books, Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, Centuries & Sleuths, Unabridged Books, Women & Children First, Chicago Comics…well, it’d just keep going.

Time was (and not so long ago) that everyone assumed the chains and superstores would bury all the indies. In fact, Barnes & Noble is the only remaining national chain, along with a small number of Books-A-Million stores. Crown, Hastings, Waldenbooks, Border’s, R. B. Dalton – all gone. But so too are Kroch’s & Brentano’s, Book World, Stuart Brent, The Stars Our Destination and so many single storefront or small regional chain booksellers. And that online behemoth does throw its weight around, perhaps more so than ever. Further, we should never ignore the muscle of Walmart, Target, Walgreens and some other general retail chains that carry a modest selection of books. Not many titles, but multiply them by thousands and thousands of stores, and that’s a lot of books being sold in those venues.

three fashion books montage

Mother Nature’s not cooperating in the Midwest today. On the way home Friday, it seemed that everyone was out mowing their lawns. The sun was still out and it was comfy in the sixties. Right now, lunchtime on Saturday the 27th, snow is falling, with a ‘Winter Storm Watch’ (though it’s Spring, and nearly May) and a forecast of 8” of thick wet stuff by 1:00 AM, depending on how the storm moves through the area. Based on how it’s been coming down, the forecast seems accurate. Not exactly a good day for bumming around, perhaps.  But I’ll be out in it shortly, and then inside at least one independent bookstore, where I’ll be sure to do my part…specifically, to buy a book!

ibd logo

Bookstores Above: Quimby’s – Wicker Park, Chicago, Chicago Comics – Boy’s Town, Chicago, Seminary Co-Op Bookstore – Hyde Park, Chicago, Main Street Newstand – Evanston, Centuries & Sleuths – Forest Park, 57th Street Books – Hyde Park, Chicago

Photos: Robert Lethery, Marie Claire France 2015; Deither Krehbiel; Carter Smith, 2006.

 

Save Me From Dangerous Men

Save Me From Dangerous Men

S.A. Lelchuk’s Nikki Griffin loves books.

She can quote classic writers to grad students, has a huge storage locker crammed so full of books that she needs straps to keep the shelves from tumbling over. She even owns a Bay Area used bookstore, the kind of place that only seems to exist in novels, where quirky patrons congregate for hours, hold literary meetings, sip complimentary coffee and (hopefully) buy something once in a while.

But it’s also a destination for abused women. Somehow word gets around about Nikki Griffin. Because she tracks dangerous men. Men who hurt the women they claim to love. And Nikki is particularly skilled at teaching them what it feels like to be hurt and helpless, and making sure that they never, ever hurt those women again.

Lelchuk’s Save Me From Dangerous Men hooked me mere sentences into the opening pages, with a tense scene that set the pace for the entire novel. That the book eventually took an unexpected turn and found Nikki Griffin embroiled in something much bigger than another threatened or abused wife or girlfriend could’ve been a disappointment in less capable hands, but the author skillfully interweaves Nikki’s day job, her poignant backstory, her ‘side business’ along with a more conventional private investigation job she accepts with misgivings, which not surprisingly, spirals into global thriller territory.

When I bought this book the week before last, one of four that I carried to the register, the cashier asked if it was for me or someone else. It seemed like an odd question. I told her it was for me, and her face immediately lit up as she told me she’d just finished it, assuring me I would like it. A lot. And she was right. I guess she just wanted to share.

There’s no setup to segue conveniently into a sequel, but I get the feeling S.A. Lelchuk’s got another Nikki Griffin novel in the works. I sure hope so. A couple online reviews I read actually griped about the author being a man writing a woman’s book and in first person POV no less. Oh, screw them. We all hear “this one’s a real page-turner” bandied about a lot, but Save Me From Dangerous Men truly is, and Lelchuk has created a very memorable, troubled, vulnerable yet lethal character who gives the notion of ‘stiletto gumshoes’ another rich layer: part bibliophile, part investigator, part vigilante, but very, very human throughout. Look for this one and check it out…I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed.

Do Not Disturb Unless Bleeding.

busy-writing

If you’re shopping a project around (like me, again), you probably are well aware of the Manuscript Wish List site.

MSWL Masthead

A week ago the MSWL email newslteer included a cute item from The Manuscript Academy (manuscriptadacemy.com) — a downloadable/printable “Busy Writing” file, perfect for your writing room door (if you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated writing room, of course) or wherever. As it says: “Busy Writing: Do not disturb unless bleeding and/or on fire”. Go to the Manuscript Academy’s site to download yours, and pin that darn thing up somewhere. Obviously if someone’s bleeding, you’ll want to help right away (after you hit save on your file). If they’re actually on fire, I say get some pictures first.

Manuscript Academy Masthead

The Big Blowdown

The Big Blowdown - Richie Fahey Cover art

There’s a long list of George Pelecanos’ projects that I adore: Novels, short stories, television scripts.

But my favorite remains The Big Blowdown, his 1999 tale of two Washington DC friends (including Nick Stefanos, the Pelecanos character who’s crossed-over into more than one project) set in a post-WWII world of realistically drawn blue-collar Greek neighborhoods filled with rich renderings of everyday people who live and work alongside the small-time mobsters who really run things. Some have compared Pelecanos’ early novels to James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, and I won’t argue. They share a spare yet darkly poetic writing style and focus on a specific time, place and cast of characters. How he continues to create excellent books while concurrently working as a writer/producer for high-visibility projects like The Wire, The Pacific and The Deuce among others is beyond me. A person can only do so much. Somehow, Pelecanos does still more.

For me, this particular novel has been a kind of tutorial on how a master wordsmith handles an ethnic milieu, something I’m working with (different ethnicity, but still) in my own projects. Obviously, Pelecanos does it better than many, and better than anything I could ever hope for.

The Big Blowdown will get a careful re-read someday. I’ll just need to give it some time so I can forget the specifics and discover it all anew. As an aside, the nifty Richie Fahey cover art on my well-worn trade pb edition shown above doesn’t hurt.

Devils In Blue Dresses

Devil In A Blue Dress 1st

Maybe one way to judge the importance of a book is by the number of editions. A continually popular book, an important book – and Walter Mosley’s first published novel and the first in the Easy Rawlins series, Devil In A Blue Dress from 1990, has never been out of print to my knowledge – is available in multiple countries (rightly so), print and audio, and has been re-issued in various editions. Up top is what I believe is the original first edition (which I don’t have, my copy only a lowly paperback re-issue). Below, a sampling of other editions. Mind you, these aren’t all, by any means, just the first few I screen-grabbed out of curiosity in a quick search. Mighty impressive.

Devil In A Blue Dress - Multiple

You Write.

you write copy

I’ve seen this image darn near everywhere: Tumblr’s, Pinterest boards, random sites and blogs. And I’ve held onto it myself, always liking the message, and doubly so when coupled with the striking photo of a harried looking writer who seems poised to press that very first keyboard key.

I think this may have originated at Jonathan Gunson’s BestsellerLabs site, which may no longer be active, directing you to anther blog/site that seems to be on hold. So I don’t have a clue if Mr. Gunson created this or simply re-posted it from some other source. I’ll risk posting it, though, just because I love it. The message rings true for any endeavor, and it’s a simple but meaningful one for writers.

The secret? You write.

Original Sins – Trade Secrets Of The Femme Fatale

original sins

Kim Krizan started out as an actor (Dazed And Confused and other films) but is surely better known as a writer, including the Oscar nominated screenplays for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and a surprising amount of work in the comics field. She garnered quite a bit of ink with her 2012 Kickstarter efforts to self-publish Original Sins – Trade Secrets Of The Femme Fatale, and I’d say that the contributors’ funding was well invested. It’s a handsome book in a sturdy library style binding, filled with photos and illustrations.

“We all feign roles so as to survive and achieve our desired ends,” she writes. “The Fatale takes control of her life by telling her own story and co-opting powerful symbols. She creates her own publicity, circumvents the lousy constricting roles she doesn’t wish to play, commands the attention she desires, and gets what she wants – or has fun trying. A femme fatale is a creature not born, but made. Key to the Fatale’s power is that she makes no apologies for being female.”

Skim the book and you’ll come away with a detailed (if tongue in cheek…I think) guide on what to wear when murdering your husband, for example. Really plunge in, though, and you’ll enjoy Krizan’s flippant tone and naughty sense of dark whimsy as she surveys femmes fatales throughout history, pop culture and, in particular, film noir. It’s all peppered with sidebars and bulleted insets providing a femme fatale wannabe with specific instructions on what to drink, what to drive, where to live and mostly, what to wear in order to commit mayhem in style. And in doing so, Krizan provides a nifty look at so many seminal crime melodramas and noir classics, focusing on the female characters instead of Mitchum, Garfield, Bogart and crew who’ve been covered before.

 

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