The author of this book was the guest on a recent episode of Marc Maron’s podcast, and I thought it was an odd choice. I still do, in fact. Maron generally interviews comedians, actors, and musicians. When he does have an author on as a guest, it’s usually a novelist. However, it turned out to be one of the best recent episodes of the show.

Sam Quinones is an investigative reporter, and Dreamland is the book he wrote about heroin, and how its use is now epidemic in America. He blames the pharmaceutical industry for aggressively peddling pain pills, the medical industry for choosing to treat symptoms instead of underlying problems (to save money, of course), and a group of people from a specific village in Mexico for marketing heroin in small cities “like pizza.”

It’s that last part that I found the most fascinating. Quinones claims that nearly everyone who lives in that Mexican village is involved, “including the mothers and daughters.” They move into a small U.S. city — like Huntington, WV, which is not far from where I grew up — and set up shop like Domino’s. They have a phone number you can call, and drivers who will deliver the drug straight to your door. It’s wild, and terrifying.

While I was listening to the interview, I went over to Amazon and added the book to my Wishlist. And today it’s $2.99. If you find the subject interesting, I don’t think you can go wrong with this one.

cuckoosThis is the latest addition to my Kindle. It’s a crime novel released a couple of years ago, by an unknown author. At first few people were paying attention, but the book quickly began generating a buzz. Here’s a perceptive reader review, posted shortly after the novel appeared:

This book is so well written that I suspect that some years down the road we will hear the author’s name is a pseudonym of some famous writer. Lots of description made one feel like another occupant in the scene. You could feel the weather, the tension, the pain, the atmosphere in the gatherings.

Nicely done, reader! As it turns out, “Robert Galbraith” is actually J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels. At this point she’s released two additional books featuring London private investigator Cormoran Strike under the Galbraith name, and they’re reportedly gritty and grimy and built for an adult audience.

I’ve been intrigued from the start, but don’t like paying full-price for my books. I mean, what am I, Ted Turner? Finally, my patience paid off (once again) and I downloaded The Cuckoo’s Calling for just $2.99. As I type this, it’s still at that low price in the Kindle Store. Check it out, if you’re so inclined. I’m looking forward to it!

boyslifeI read this book many years ago, probably when it first came out in paperback, around 1992. But I just downloaded it to my Kindle, and plan to read it again soon.

When it comes to books and movies, and that sort of thing, I don’t have a very good memory. I’m amazed when people can talk about specific scenes in films they’ve only seen once, a long time ago. With me the forgetting begins almost immediately. While the credits are rolling… the degradation is already underway.

What I do recall, however, is my emotional reaction to books and movies. Not so much the specifics, but how I felt about them, in general. And I remember being blown away by Boy’s Life, thinking it was surely one of the best books I’d ever read.

My vague recollections: it’s very Southern, it’s a well-crafted coming-of-age novel, and there’s a mystery element. And… it’s really, really good. I remember thinking it was almost To Kill A Mockingird-good. But I’m going to read it again, to confirm all this.

Today Boy’s Life is $1.99 in the Kindle store. My central nervous system is telling me it’s a good one. And I’ve learned to trust the system.

choirboysI read this book at least twice when I was in Junior High School. At the time I thought (knew!) it was the most subversive and audacious thing ever written. I simply couldn’t believe it existed.

It’s a novel about a bunch of disgruntled and frustrated cops in current-day (1970s) Los Angeles who get together after hours for hard-drinking bitching sessions, which they have dubbed “choir practice.”

I loved it when I was 14 because the characters were hilarious in a way I’d never experienced before. Nobody I’d known talked that way, Well, kids did… kinda-sorta. But this was taken to a whole new level. The cops’ opinions were outrageous, and expressed in ways that had me crying with laughter. And their creative use of profanity was nothing short of art.

And the cool thing about it? It was a bestselling novel, available for purchase right there at the Kroger checkout. So, I could carry around what must be the wildest, most amazing thing ever created, and nobody would even question it. It felt like I was pulling the world’s biggest scam. I’m not kidding, this book — along with MAD magazine and National Lampoon — helped warp me forever.

I haven’t read it in 35 years, but I downloaded it to my Kindle today, since it’s priced at $1.99. It’ll be interesting to see what I think of it now. My memory tells me it’s something that would NEVER be published in 2015; there’s something to offend every special interest group known to man inside this book. At least I hope I’m not disappointed, and find out I have it wrong.

faraway gone coverThis is the latest addition to my Kindle. I chose it for several reasons.

First, the description:  In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved.

Twenty-five years later, the reverberations of those unsolved cases quietly echo through survivors’ lives. A private investigator in Vegas, Wyatt’s latest inquiry takes him back to a past he’s tried to escape—and drags him deeper into the harrowing mystery of the movie house robbery that left six of his friends dead.

Also, the testimonials: “The Long and Faraway Gone is that rare literary gem — a dark, quintessentially cool noir novel that is both deeply poignant, and very funny . . . as hip, hilarious, and entertaining as it is wrenching, beautiful, and ultimately redemptive.” (Huffington Post)

Then, there’s the big-time publisher (HarperCollins), and the crazy low price: $1.99.

All those things add up to a pretty safe bet, I think. I’m happy to have this one stored away and ready to go, for some future “I get to choose a new book to read!” day. Check it out, if you’re so inclined.

One That Got Away coverI read a lot of these kinds of books. You know, crime and suspense and that sort of thing? I always check reviews and try to steer clear of the garbage. Oh, there’s no shortage of garbage out there… After I bought my first Kindle I was less-discerning, and read two or three chapters of many low-priced books by people who shouldn’t be writing books. Maybe not even emails or filthy poems over urinals.

Even though I’m now doing my due diligence, and maintaining a higher level of quality, the stories still sometimes run together in my memory. This one stands out more than most.

Zoe and her friend were abducted by a murderous weirdo during a night of heavy drinking. Zoe escaped, but her friend was killed. She feels profoundly guilty, believes she could have done more to help, and her life unravels. Then she sees something on the news that snaps her out of it. The freak is at it again.

It’s not a perfect book. I remember groaning once or twice, when things got a little preachy and melodramatic. But it’s well-plotted, moves quickly, and is a genuine page-turner. Today it’s $1.99 in the Kindle Store. You won’t be disappointed.

Dark Places coverFor years Gillian Flynn reviewed books, movies, and TV shows for Entertainment Weekly. Then she wrote a novel, Stephen King called it “an admirably nasty piece of work,” and everything changed.

She now has three books, the most recent being Gone Girl, which was a genuine phenomenon. That novel was turned into a pretty good movie that was at least thirty minutes too long.

Dark Places is the second book. It feels like it gets the least amount of attention, but is my favorite of the bunch. It concerns a woman who, along with her older brother, survived a night of horror when she was a child. Somebody came into their house and killed most of the family. The brother was convicted of the crime, and sent away for life.

The woman is flawed, and sometimes not even likable. She lives off the fame of being a formerly cute li’l victim of a terrible tragedy. And when she starts investigating that fateful night (she remembers very little), it’s because she’s getting paid to do it. Her motives are not pure. I love it! The protagonists in these kinds of books are usually driven by some righteous fire burning inside them. Not so this one.

As I type this, Dark Places is $2.99 for Kindle.