Further on my New Year's 2011 To-Do List -- I will periodically post a short review of books I read during the year. Aside from being bloody good reads, it's my hope that my recommendations will inspire readers to branch out and try authors they may not be familiar with. Also, all books should be learning tools, so I'm hoping my reading recommendations will encourage writers to look at how the pros do it.
So let's get started.
Being an American in Ireland, I find it challenging sometimes to find books in Irish bookstores. Strange as that may sound, as Ireland has a wonderful literary tradition, the fact is, unless I want to read chick lit or Mills & Boon, my only other choices fall to authors who are household names. I'm not saying they don't write a good story. I'm sure they do. But the choices just aren't on the shelves for me. So I use Amazon UK to satisfy my romance reading needs, unless of course, I find something really interesting on the digital market. I still love trolling traditional bookstores, the feel of an actual book in my hands, and the knowledge that if I fall asleep while reading that it won't break when it hits the floor (the main reason I haven't bought a digital reader . . . yet!). Also, there are some great authors who just aren't stocked on Irish shelves, and who really should be.
Let's take Mr. Marshall Karp for example. I was contacted a few years ago by Mr. Karps publicist when I was reviewing regularly. The first book is called The Rabbit Factory and was very loosly based on Warner Brothers Studios and Six Flags/Magic Mountain Amusement Park. The rabbit in this book could easily have been Bugs himself.
Mr. Karp is a well-known and well-respected writer, his career including writing for commercials, plays, movies, and TV sitcoms. If you read his bio, you'll understand what makes his new book series such a hit. His two heroes, Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs, are every bit as much of Karp as Karp is of Lomax and Biggs.
In The Rabbit Factory, Lomax and Biggs are called onto the scene of a gruesome murder at Familyland, an amusement park run by animation house, Lamaar Studios. A dead man was found murdered inside a rabbit costume and the boys, as I call them, must solve the crime. The story takes readers on a wild ride behind the scenes at the amusement park and around Southern CA in search of the murderer.
Bloodthirsty quickly came on the heels of The Rabbit Factory, Lomax and Biggs called in to solve another murder, that of the most hated man in Hollywood. Now, I wonder who that could really be!
I was hooked on Lomax and Biggs from the first few pages of The Rabbit Factory, and I quickly developed a great appreciation for Mr. Karp's sense of humor and writing style. Lomax and Biggs are instantly likeable and their relationship admirable. Karp's writing is fast-paced. There's always something happening on every page, even if it's just snappy dialog. For me, the pages seemed to turn themselves.
This Xmas just past, while purchasing some books for gifts, I treated myself to a few books too. The first on the list was Flipping Out by our esteemed Marshall Karp.
One thing I really appreciate when I find an author I like is their consistent writing. This book was every bit as enjoyable as the first two in the series, and probably more so because it didn't involve Hollywood. It's certainly understandable that Mr. Karp would write a story set in a familiar area, but it was great to see the boys outside of Mr. Karp's comfort zone.
Flipping Out is about a mystery writer called Nora Bannister who, with some friends, buys fixer houses to 'flip' . . . fix up and sell for a profit. Then Nora gets a bright idea to write a story set in the house they're selling. The selling prices of the houses suddenly shoot up. What a novelty to buy a house used as the setting in a murder mystery novel!
But what happens when real dead bodies start turning up, and they're the bodies of the partners? And what happens with one of the partners is married to Terry Biggs??
The story moves along at a fast clip as the boys track down clues, witnesses and more bodies. The writing is fast-paced and the one liners seem to shoot out as rapidly as machine gun fire. As author James Patterson said, "Marshall Karp is the only writer I know who can get big laughs our of murdering someone." And ain't it the truth. And just when you think the murder has been caught . . . tighten your seatbelt because the ride is only just starting.
I recommend this book as a writer's tool so aspiring authors, and author's looking to jizz up their style, can see that murder mysteries can be both serious and funny. Writing styles are so personalized, yet we can always learn from those who go before us. What I take away from Mr. Karp's books is that well-written narrative will keep the pages turning. Snappy dialog endears characters to readers. Intriguing and intricate plots will suck readers in. I want the same thing Mr. Karp has -- at the end of the story when the last page is turned, I want my readers to sit up with incredulity, shouting, "It can't be over already!"
Which leads me to my next recommendation. Mr. Grant McKenzie.
I don't know where Mr. Grant found me, but he asked me for a friendship on Facebook. Both of us being debut novelists, I accepted his friend link and have been following his career as it's been shifting into high gear. Reading his reviews encouraged me to pick up a copy of his first book, Switch.
Sam White is a failed actor who's now working as a security guard for a shopping mall. After his shift ends, he goes home only to discover his street is cordoned off and filled with fire crews and police. In the space of a paragraph, Sam learns his house blew up, and with it his wife and daughter. After a night of interrogation at the police department, a strange messenger hands Sam a packet containing a cell phone. When it rings, the man on the other end tells Sam his family is alive, and if he wants them back, he has to perform a few 'simple' tasks.
When it's discovered that the bodies in the house were not those of his family, Sam vows to do what it takes to rescue his family. He just didn't count on the kidnapper to be so sadistic.
Neurosurgeon Zack Parker has suffered at the hands of the same mad man. Together, Sam and Zack find a way to save their families.
Like Mr. Karp, Mr. McKenzie takes readers through a maze of complicated twists and turns to reach the end of the story. Just when you think you know who the bad guy is, it's not. Just when you think you know why the bad guy is doing what he's doing, think again. Where Mr. Karp's stories are filled with humor which offsets the serious nature of the crimes being investigated, Mr. McKenzie's story is hard hitting, gritting and all too believable. It's easy to see why such stars in the crime field are so impressed --
**Lee Child, #1 NY Times best-selling author says, "A terrific little-guy-in-big-trouble thriller moving at warp speed — with the emphasis on warp."
**Ken Bruen, best-selling author of the Jack Taylor series says, "Think Harlan Coben on speed with a heart breaking compassion that will literally have you biting your nails."
**Rick Mofina, international best-selling author says, "Switch crackles with suspense and is as tense as a switchblade opening in a dark alley."
I say, "An awesome debut novel for Mr. McKenzie." This was a real edge of your seat page-turner. I hate to use cliche's, but cliche or not, it's the truth. I normally only read at night before bed or on long car journeys if I'm not knitting. Sometimes a book can take me weeks to get through, especially if I'm tired. But once I opened the cover of this book and turned to chapter one, I was hooked. I finished it in three nights, staying up way past a decent hour, reading just one more chapter before lights out.
What kept me engrossed was that Switch was a well-rounded story with characters stretched to the brink of their endurance, then pushed a little more. The storyline is, sadly, very believable. Just watch TV shows like Criminal Minds, or your evening news, and you'll see how gruesome a human being can become. And it just takes one small, almost insignificant act or word to trigger instability that lasts a lifetime. Mr. McKenzie's telling of his story was articulate and engrossing, and it will have me ordering his newest title, No Cry For Help. While it's another story of a vanished family, the storyline itself is completely different. I can't wait to read it.
I hope if any of my readers here decide to pick up a copy, or both copies, of these books, you'll learn something about how to improve your own writing -- where to add conflict, how to keep the tension tight, what makes believable characters . . . even for the bad guy!
Are there any books you've read that you've learned from? If so, what are they and what lessons were learned? Drop me an email or post your comments here.