Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Reviews of Books Read In 2022

 My index of all interviews of the last ten years up until 2018 is here

My list of all 2018 reads is here

My list of 10ish favorite books read in 2018 is here

My list of 2019 reads is here 

My list of 2020 books is here

 My list of 2021 books is here



Book #1 - Backgammon: From basics to badass by Marc Olsen. I'm a fan of Olsen, who is with Backgammon Galaxy, so I decided to read this and, hopefully, learn a few  things. I am glad I did. The book starts out with basic concepts and gets more advanced from there. It manages to explain things most readers may already knows but does so in a non-patronizing way. While I had general ideas about the basic concepts described (the race, the prime, buried checkers, etc) and the basic game plans (running game, priming game, hitting game, etc) this explained it well and thus I learned a great deal. I am glad I acquired this and if you're looking for a good backgammon game that starts simple but also goes into subjects I don't understand as well, like math equity, this is the book for you.

Book #2 -
The second book of 2022 is Better Off Dead, the latest by Lee Child (and his brother, Andrew), about the fascinating protagonist, Jack Reacher.
As usual Reacher, while traveling, encounters trouble and we, the readers, find another entertaining adrenaline-filled story.
Specifically, Reacher encounters an army veteran turned FBI agent named Michaela Fenton. She is trying to find her twin brother, who she thinks has found himself trapped working with some dangerous people. Most of them, she says and Reacher confirms, prefer death to betraying their terrifying leader. The leader seems to have his hooks through the nearby border town, which has seen better days.
Reacher, along with the readers, want answers, not just to the status of the brother, but also to what this leader has going on and if his goals are as violent as some suggest.
As with any good Reacher story there's lots of fighting, plot twists and interesting characters.
I give this an 8.
Book #3 - The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly. I am a big fan of Connelly and especially the two characters working as a team here, Los Angeles Police Department Detective Renee Ballard and former detective Harry Bosch.
This book was written and published during the pandemic and it shows with both references to masks and precautions as well as the insurrection.
Connelly, a former crime reporter for the L.A. Times, really captures problems in police departments these days, from officers demoralized by debates about defunding police budgets and officers saying, essentially, if the public does not want to see us than we'll just stay inside and work things here. Ballard resents their attitude and thinks they are doing an inferior job by not working the streets.
As with many Connelly books it starts with one case and soon others are also being worked, the result being lots of plot twists, great dialogue and excitement and a nice resolution.
I like that the book works current events into the story, in a smooth, but not forced, way. I give it a 9 out of 10.
Book #4 - Smoke by Joe Ide. I'm a longtime fan of  Ide's series about a brilliant black man known as IQ, an amazing private detective famous for solving cases without charging large fees. In this new book, the fifth in the series,  IQ has decided to get away from the L.A -Long Beach area for a variety of reasons, including avoiding people who have threatened his life. But just because IQ tried to get away from the crazy criminal element doesn't mean it's going to happen. Instead he crosses paths with two people chasing two serial killers, decides to help them find these bad guys and then there are many plot twists and he/they run ino lots of trouble. I think this is the weakest book in the series but it's still quite entertaining.

Book #5 - Daughter of the Morning Star by Craig Johnson. I've long been encouraging folks to try Johnson's Longmire book series (more widely known for its TV adaptation but as is often the case, the books are better) This book is Johnson's latest in the series. This book is quite different from the rest of the series. For one thing, Sheriff Walt Longmire is outside his jurisdiction This means some of his regular characters are mostly missing but one of my favorite characters, Henry, is more prominent than usual. 
Tribal Police Chief Long calls on Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire along with Henry Standing Bear as backup. They are asked to help with Chief Long's niece, Java, a basketball star, who is receiving death threats. She is part of a troubled family - her sister disappeared a year before. Johnson reminds the reader of the horrendous statistics of Native Americans disappearing in the United States. By calling on Longmire for help the idea was it might draw publicity to the problem -unfortunately it also draws out a dangerous adversary. Good book - I give it an 8.

Book #6 - Stone's Throw by Mike Lupica. This is the latest book in the Jesse Stone series written by Robert Parker but, after his death, Parker's estate asked Lupica to continue them. These are not books of depth and there is some formula but I enjoy them. As this book opens the mayor is found dead. Chief Stone tries to sort out what really happened and deals with people, some quite unseedy, trying to benefit from the mayor's death.

While Lupica has done a good job extending Robert Parker's Jesse Stone series I think Ace Atkins has done an even better job extending Parker's Spenser series. I give this book a 7.

Book #7 - Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. Atkinson writes like a dream - she's that gem of an author where I enjoy every word choice - so I was  happy to realize I had neglected to read this book, the last of her series about Jackson Brodie, who is ex police, working as a private investigator.
In this book Brodie has moved to a quiet seaside village sometimes in the company of his teenage son and his ex-partner working a case where he's gathering proof of an unfaithful husband but gradually he meets certain people who are part of something dark and evil taking place under the area's notice.
I give the book a 9.
I should concede I'm biased: After we did an interview for her earlier book, Started  Early, Took My Dog, she included that interview in a paperback edition of the excellent novel. It's the closest I've
come to come to publishing a popular novel.
Book #8  Breaking Point by C.J. Box. This novel is part of Box's Joe Pickett series. I like this series
even though, or maybe because the book are, not deep and don't have the most fleshed out characters.
They do usually some good plot twists and it makes for a quick fun read.
In this one local business owner Butch Roberson is accused of murdering two EPA officials but the more Joe learns the more suspicious the actions of the EPA sound. Joe is recruited to help find and arrest Butch and he agrees partly to make sure Butch is treated fairly.
I give it a 7.
 Book #9 Undone by Karin Slaughter. I like Karin Slaughter's writing style and her stories often take my breath away. In this one she brings together characters from two of her series together as they deal with theeffect of a man kidnapping and hurting women of a certain type. As usual, there's great
dialogue, development of characters and plot twists. It's dark but it kind of needs to be for the subject matter. I give it a 8.

Book #10 - Robert B. Parker's Bye Bye Baby by Ace Atkins. I have enjoyed Atkins' Spenser books and this is no exception. I especially like that the book includes a subplot about the Minutemen, an extremist white supremacist organization. 
Spenser takes a job working for Carolina Garcia-Ramirez , a progressive politician on the national stage who is getting lots of death threats from hundreds of suspects. The FBI says unlike past threats some of these might be real danger.
Working with Hawk and Sixkill, Spenser gets to know the candidate, her staff and those seeking to harm her.
As with most Spenser stories there's fun dialogue, good plot twists and an excelent story. I give it a 7. 

Book #11 - The Bouncer by David Gordon - Several years ago I read a book called the Serialist by Gordon and I quite liked it. So when I learned Gordon was writing a series, of which The Bouncer is the first, I got it from the library and it's clever and well done. The protagonist, Joe Brody, is not your average bouncer: Rather, he loves reading Dostoevsky, studied at Harvard before being expelled, has a military history that is highly classified. There's a lot of directions to take a character like him and the author involves him in lots of adventures, some dangerous, many illegal, and the reader comes along needing no caffeine for this adrenaline ride.  I give it an 8.

Book #12 - Stone Cold by C.J. Box - This is the 14th book in Box's series about game warden Joe Pickett. Pickett is assigned, by the governor, to learn all he can about a rich man living in the
remote Black Hills of Wyoming including his the private airstrip and the sudden disappearances and, especially, rumors that his weath came from killing people. Joe is asked to look around but not get involved but us readers of this series know Joe is unable to be quiet and not get involved.
As with most good books in this series,there's lots of plot twists and fascinating characters. I give this a 8. 

Book #13 Force of Nature by Jane Harper. I was blown away by her first book, The Dry, and so was eager to read this, her second book. It starts off a bit slow but it gradually increases in speed to the point where it's hard to stop reading for a break during the second half of the book. 
Five women go on a hike together, one of those well intended corporate team building exercises. Only four women emerge, leaving many questions, mostly centering on "What happened to the other women?"  And "How did this corporate retreat in Australia bushland go so wrong?"
The reader watches along with Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk to learn what has happened to the missing woman, Alice Russell. Harper crafts a fascinating story in which seemingly everyone on that walk came back with secrets they only share when pressed. I give this an 8.

Book #14 Endangered by C.J.  Box. I like this series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett for the characters and the plots and am reading all the books in order. This book is one of the more intense ones in the series as, in separate plot lines, one of Joe's daughters is found in a ditch, injured. She ends up in a coma in a hospital while nearby Joe's best friend, Nate Romanowski, is also badly injured. Details on how both were hurt are initially vague.The daughter had run away with a rodeo champion and Joe doesn't believe he's innocent. I give this an 8.

Book #15 - Off the Grid by C.J. Box - While I like this series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett for its plots and characters, I was underwhelmed by this book. The book has Joe's best friend, Nate Romanowski, in it and he's alway fun and intriguing to read about. But some of the plot twists were predictable and cliched. I give this one a 7.

Book #16 -  The Heathens by Ace Atkins. I'm a big fan of Atkins' series about Sheriff Quinn Colson. There's always trouble happening in the county he covers and  that is also the case here. Juvenile delinquent T.J. Byrd becomes the prime suspect when her mom first goes missing, then is found dead. TJ says she's innocent but isn't going to stick around while they arrest her - She leaves for a road trip, taking her younger brother along with her, along with her boyfriend. This road trip goes to hell and things go badly for the bunch. While that is happening Colson is finding evidence that maybe TJ is innocent. I give this an 8. 

Book #17 - Vicious Circle by C. J. Box.  I'm going through and reading all of Box's books in his series about Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett. In this book someone is out to get not just Joe but his whole family. Joe is trying to stop and catch him but that adversary has help from unexpected places making things difficult.  Joe thinks the adversary is Dallas Cates, who he helped put away in an earlier book. Cates, after all, had  vowed revenge. The book has Joe's best friend, Nate Romanowski, in it and he's alway fun and intriguing to read about. This is much better than the last one I read, Off the Grid, and so it gets an 8.

Book #18 - The Hard Stuff by David Gordon. This is the second book in a series about Joe the bouncer, or as Goodreads puts it "Ex-black-ops-specialist-turned-strip-club-bouncer Joe Brody." I loved the creative  and engaging first book and so was excited to see the library had this next book. As with the first book it can be gritty at times, and funny at times, but mostly it's a wild thriller complete with car chases, major plot twists and that overall feeling like you're on a roller coaster but you are having so much fun you don't want to get off. I give it a 9.

Book #19 - Hell and Back by Craig Johnson. This is the latest book in his Walt Longmire series and the most unusual one by far. Instead of being in his county in Wyoming doing his sheriff duties Walt isn't sure where he is or what exactly is going on. The book jacket sets it up: "What if you wake up lying in the middle of the street in the infamous town of Fort Pratt, Montana, where thirty young Native boys perished in a tragic 1896 boarding school fire? What if every person you encountered in that endless night was dead?" Walt also doesn't remember his own name let along who he is and what he does. This book is more of a surreal trip than usual and it's definitely not predictable. Fascinating  and engrossing. It also has some good native history. I give it an 8.

Book #20 - Seasonal Work by Laura Lippman. This is a collection of Lippman's short stories and they are all quite good. I first became a fan of Lippman when she wrote a series about a Baltimore detective named Tess Monaghan and several of these stories do involve Tess. But Lippman really came in to her own when she started writing stand alone mysteries. This book is a treasure trove. I give it a 8.

Book #21  - Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Crosby. I have been hearing praise about this book and author for some time so I decided to check it out and I'm glad I did. The book contains advance praise from some of my favorite authors: Lee Child, Walter Mosley, Laura Lippman, Ace Atkins, Dennis Lehane and Craig Johnson, to name just a few.
The book is about Beauregard "Bug" Montage, who got into some legal trouble earlier in life but then went legit, a honest mechanic with wife and kids. But lately he's having financial troubles and he realizes the only way to pay all his bills is to get back into that  life long enough for just one job. I wont tell you how that plan goes.
In addition to good fleshed our characters, an excellent plot with some great plot twists, there's also amazing writing.
Here's a sample, where he's talking about the feeling when doing a job: "It felt better than right. It was like he had found a comfortable pair of old shoes that he had thought were lost forever. Intrinsically he knew that was a problem. It shouldn't feel good or right. The list of things that should bring him joy should begin with his wife and children and end with something benign like an upcoming fishing trip or going to see a legal drag race. But what should be and what was rarely aligned."
I recommend this book. I give it a 9. I plan to check out his other books.

Book #22 - The Disappeared by C.J. Box. I'm reading, in order, all of Box's Joe Pickett series. They revolve around the life of Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett. In this one Pickett is given an assignment by the new governor: Go solve a mystery. A prominent British businesswoman is missing and the international media, especially the British press, are going bananas. She never come home after spending a week at a high-end guest ranch.
As soon as Pickett arrives weird things start to happen, like he senses he's being watched, and his hotel room gets robbed. This is a good story with lots of potential suspects and theories about what happened and some great plot twists. Pickett's friend, Nate Romanowski, helps, unofficially, with the investigation. I give it an 8.

Book #23 - There There by Tommy Orange. I have been hearing praise for this book since it's 2018 release. I'm glad I finally picked it up - it definitely meets the hype. It is not easy reading at times but it's well worth it.

This book, the author's debut, is very ambitious in its scope but it pulls it off. Orange writes from multiple characters' perspectives, all of them different and well fleshed out. These multiple characters, almost all of them Native American or mixed race, are all going to the same pow wow in Oakland, Calif. and many are struggling with the question of what it means to be Native American. Some of them know each other, others know nobody else. When they finally get to the pow wow they all have life-altering events that I am not going to go into here.
The book's title comes from a line by Gertrude Stein about her childhood city of Oakland: "There is no there there." The book was
a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

This is the best book I have read this year so I give the book a rare 10, my only 10 this year. Orange is working on a sequel and I look forward to reading it. It will be partly about
the early history of Indian boarding schools.
Book #24 - The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz. I'm a big fan of Lutz's books, starting with her comical Spellman Files series then she moved on to writing darker novels.
This novel has a good concept and a good execution. It is about Owen and Luna, who are great friends but despite what many think nothing more. They also have  a bad habit of being around unexplained deaths. The book shifts from 2002-2005 when Owen's ex-girlfriend, Scarlett, is found dead, to 2019,  when someone else Owen and Luna know is found dead.
In addition to the shifting back the forth between those time periods the book has great plot twists and reveals and some good fleshed out characters. I give this an 8. 
Book #25 - Shots Fired by C.J. Box. I am a big fan of his series about Wyoming Game Warden
Joe Pickett. This book is a collection of short stories by Box. Four of them relate to Pickett or his best friend,  Nate Romanowski.
I really liked all ten of the stories - as with his Pickett novels each had fleshed out characters and good plot twists. It was also good to read traditionally structured stories after the untraditional ones in the recent books by Lisa Lutz and Tommy Orange. I give this a 8.  

Book #26 - Wolf Pack by C.J. Boz. I am a big fan of this series about Wyoming Game Warden
Joe Pickett and have been reading them in order. This is book #19. Strange things are happening to Joe: Someone is flying a drone near animals, killing some of them. When he looks into who the drone operator is he finds nothing in his system, by that name, and he's not on Google either. When he drives to the guy's address, he finds that his GPS takes him to someone else's house. The FBI and DOJ tell Joe not to pursue charges against the drone operator but won't explain why.  Also Pickett's daughter, Lucy, is dating the drone operator's son. 
What they don't know yet, but the reader does, is that a group of four organized criminals known as the Wolf Pack, have come to the region and have set targets but are killing others who get in their way. This book has more  excitement and bloodshed then usual. I give it a 8. 

Book #26 -  The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. I was a big fan of Egan's earlier book, A Visit From The Goon Squad, a brilliant collection of fascinating characters, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for it. 
So when I heard she had published what she is calling a "sibling novel" to Goon Squad, including some of the same characters. I was excited. 

I just finished reading it and the book - a collection of interconnected stories that include some
time jumps - is amazing. While you don't have to read Goon Squad first, it does help. The stories are
engrossing and engaging. This is an ambitious book and Egan pulls it off. I give it a 9.

Book #27 - Criminal by Karin Slaughter. Slaughter's books are consistently good but often gritty and 
with much violence. Such is the case with this book, part of her series about Will Trent, a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. This is my favorite book of the series because it resolves several question about the main characters, including who Will's parents are, how Will became an agent despite having a criminal record and what the first big case his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner, was all about. As usual there are other great supporting characters who are well fleshed out.

The book jumps from the present to Amanda's first big case in Atlanta in the mid-70s when women were treated especially awful by their male colleagues, when she and another friend, both police officers, were investigating the disappearances of local prostitutes living together. In the present Amanda is working on a case involving the disappearance of a college girl and she won't allow Will to work on the case, saying the case might involve Will's father, who he has never met and has been in jail for most of Will's life but was recently paroled. Gradually the reader realizes with satisfaction how all of these stories link up.

There's a Will Trent series coming on ABC in early January and I am looking  forward to it. I give this book a 9. 

Book #28 - Dream Girl by Laura Lippman. I first got into Lippman while she was writing her excellent series about Tess Monaghan, a Baltimore private investigator. After that Lippman began writing amazing stand alone novels, of which this is one. Lippman is calling it her first horror novel though I consider it more psychological-thriller.

Imagine this scenario: You have written a popular novel called Dream Girl and now, years later, stuck at home after a bad accident, you are getting phone calls and other communication from some lady claiming to be one of the main characters in the novel, saying you stole her story. Who is she? Is this really happening? Is he being gaslighted? His live-in nurses don't  hear the phone ringing and the calls doesn't show up on caller ID. 
The author, Gerry, tries to hire Tess to investigate but she refuses to take the case. Soon other events happen - I'm being vague to avoid spoilers - that he does not remember clearly and then things spiral more out of control. At times the book made me think of Stephen King's Misery and the #MeToo Movement.
It's a great plotline, a very intriguing story, and while we gradually get answers we also learn
about the rest of the life of the novelist, which is interesting. I give it an 8.

Book #29 - The Goodbye Coast by Joe Ide. I love Ide's series about IQ, a brilliant private eye working
in Southern California. His newest book, though, is an entirely different creature: Ide has taken Raymond Chandler's famous private eye, Philip Marlowe, and moved him to L.A. in the present time.
Marlowe remains a private eye but now he has a father who is with the police, which comes in handy 
sometimes. The two have a strained relationship.

Marlowe reluctantly takes on two separate missing persons cases. The first involves a Hollywood starlet missing her daughter. The second involves a British woman whose son was stolen by the child's
father. Both cases run into complications and trouble. The reader, or at least this reader, keeps waiting for the two cases to connect somehow. I won't say if they do because I'm a tease, not a spoiler.

As usual, Ide's book is well-written with fleshed our characters, good dialogue and many plot twists. I give it a 8.
Book #30 - The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I have been hearing raves about this book for at least a year and I put it on hold at my library behind 100 other people. The book has positive reviews from some of my favorite writers  including Kate Atkinson, Harlan Coben, A.J. Finn and Ian Rankin. Atkinson calls it "a little beacon of pleasure in the midst of the gloom... SUCH FUN!" She's right.

The concept for this entertaining book, the first of a series, is great: In a retirement village four unlikely but fascinating friends meet weekly to talk about unsolved crimes, their club is known as the Thursday Murder Club. When a local developer is murdered they have their first live case. They gather evidence sometimes in strange ways and talk members of the local police into sharing and exchanging some information. All the characters are well fleshed out and there are some great plot reveals.

The author is apparently well known in England as the host of a popular quiz show called Pointless. I give this book an 8 and have already checked the second book in the series out of the library.

Book #31 Long Range by CJ Box. This is the 20th book in the Box series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. I have worked my way through almost all of this series, which I love for its
fleshed out, fascinating characters and great plots.

This book has an even better plot than usual by having a violent tragedy happen to one of the recurring characters, the local judge. Someone has shot, from a long distance, the judge's wife, with the attack presumably targeting the judge. He demands law enforcement and Pickett try to think of who the suspect might be. It isn't long before Pickett's best friend, Nate Romanowski, falls under suspicion, giving Joe extra impetus to find the real shooter. This book has some excellent plot twists and reveals. I give it an 8.

Book #32 The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman. This is the second book in the Thursday Murder Club mystery series. The first book introduced readers to  four residents at a retirement village that make up the Thursday Murder Club, who normally discuss old murders but were able to help solve a current real life mystery. They are fascinating characters, especially Elizabeth.

In this second book an ex-husband of Elizabeth arrives in town in order to ask her to help him and she, in turn, gets the rest of the club involved. Seems Douglas is accused of stealing diamonds worth millions and he's afraid he will be killed as revenge The club agrees to help him and things go sideways and there are loads of plot twists and this book is just as fun and wild, clever and warm as the first book. I give it a 8.

Book #33 - You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar. I know Amber from her appearances on the Late Night With Seth Myers show, where she is a writer and cast member. She became the first black woman to ever write for a late-night talk show when she joined the staff in 2014. She also hosts the Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock. 
Lacey is Amber's sister. Both are hilarious and clever.

This book is a collection of, as the title suggests, wild stories about Lacey experiencing racism, often at work, and how she deals with it, along with some stories about Amber's experiences too. Amber's the kind of writer-comedian who can make anything funny and she does that here. Racism is obviously a hard, tough topic but here it's tackled in a way that both gives you something to ponder and something to laugh about.

I give it an 8. There's a sequel just out, called The World Record Book of Racist Stories, which I plan to read in a month or two.

Book 34 - Directed by James Burrows: Five Decades of Stories from the Legendary Director of Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, and More. The title says it all - Burrows has directed some episodes of each of those shows as well as helping with casting, staging, etc. Cheers is one of my favorite shows ever so I could not wait to get this book and read both his inside dish on that show and the others, as well as his analysis about why those shows were such hits. He delivers on every front. He also quotes from some of his favorite scenes. He has some fascinating analysis of the sitcom as well.

It's a delightful, absorbing read. If you like some of those shows too then you should get this book. It doesn't hurt that the book has blurbs from Jennifer Anniston, Norman Lear, Christopher Lloyd and Chuck Lorre. I give it an 8.

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