In lieu of any new summer television worth watching, I’ve filled the gaps with reading. My choices are all over the map — memoir, non-fiction, humor, sci-fi, thriller, mystery — which exemplifies that summer state of mind.
The Death Defying Doctor Mirage by Jen Van Meter
To start the summer off I went with this beautiful trade paperback illustrated by Robert De La Torre and written by Jen Van Meter.
Doctor Mirage is an existing storyline but I had no trouble picking this up and getting a great surreal and supernatural story.
Dr. Shan Fong, Doctor Mirage, can see and speak to ghosts and has some supernatural hocus pocus. She’s hired by a very wealthy occultist to release him for a demonic binding but, just because someone has the ability to enter the supernatural realms, doesn’t mean they want to.
90 Church: Inside America’s Notorious First Narcotics Squad by Dean Unkefer
This is a stunning memoir written by Agent Unkefer who was part of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the mid-1960s. A specialized unit dedicated to drug crimes was a new concept so the methods for this type of enforcement were still being figured out. The approach taken by the newly formed squad was to fight fire with fire and they became more feared than the mafia.
Forensics by Val McDermid
Still focusing on crime and the macabre I picked up this non-fiction book on the science of forensics. McDermid is a best-selling crime novelist and, in Forensics, she’s categorized her extensive research by specialty–from Entomology and Pathology to Digital Forensics and courtroom procedure.
The thigh muscle is the most stable tissue in the body, making it a good place to find traces of poison.
Dietland by Sarai Walker
Dietland was confusing, disconnected, and disturbing. The idea that this is considered some kind of feminist manifesto should have been summarily rejected the first time it was suggested. What started out as a beautiful story of a woman’s personal journey of self-acceptance turned into female terrorism against men. So much more can be said but, to parse through the wrongs in Dietland in order to write an informed article might mean I’d have to read the damn thing again and I don’t think I could bear it.
I placed my foot on his chest so he couldn’t move. My black boots. My colorful tights. I could do this.
“You need to learn some fucking manners!” I shouted.
What Remains by Tim Weaver
This is book six in the David Raker series by Tim Weaver. Raker gets mixed up with some pretty horrible people and situations. His job? Finding lost people. And if you’re so lost that you need Raker, the situation can’t be good.
This installment brings some resolutions to the self-destructive past of Raker’s worst-best friend, Colm Healy, who was been emotionally lost long before he physically disappeared.
The originality of the missing person thriller and the way that Weaver unwinds the tale is still quite successful but I’ve started seeing patterns in the mystery from book-to-book—the female characters, especially, are repurposed plot movers.
“Healy shrugged off his coat—letting it drop to the floor, its bulk gathering around his feet like a punctured inflatable…”
Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson
The plot scaffolding built in the first part of this social sci-fi story was too weak to hold the weight the author heaped on it in the remainder of the book.
Through some super-duper secret science, a method was developed to determine a person’s Affinity—a social parsing of humans to maximize cooperation.
The science is available like iPods in a retail store which means it’s like paying membership fees into a country club. But these groups acquire so much influence through the story that they become powerful lobbyists with a mafia clan mentality.
There also seemed to be a prejudice against biological family units and certain sexual orientations.
“I wasn’t especially proud of my heterosexuality…”
Superposition by David Walton
It’s always tricky when a storyteller deals with parallel universes—there’s so much that can go wrong with continuity. But Walton’s story is thorough but approachable and completely absorbing. It reminded me so much of my reading experience with The Martian by Andy Weir. What great sci-fi we’re getting these days.
“Quantum mechanics is the worst, though. It undermines our sense of purpose.”
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
To close out the summer, I picked up Hawkins’ best-selling crime thriller.
Told from the first-person point-of-view of three women, it shows how different what we perceive can be from the actual reality. I’ve only barely gotten started but I can already tell you can’t reveal very much about the story—it’s a mystery in every sense and experience for the reader.
My fall line-up is already in place. A friend sent me the fantasy trilogy, Fionavar, by Guy Gavirel Kay: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest Road. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that starts with a map and a genealogy tree.
I’LL GIVE YOU A TOPIC
What’s the best book you read this summer?
What was the worst?
What’s the last non-fiction book you read?