Riveting Reads

Smart Tucsonans recommend some sizzling summer books

When summer rolls around, my mind drifts to pulp fiction: tough-guy lit by Jim Thompson, the zany mystery satires of Carl Hiaasen and the tight crime thrillers of Elmore Leonard.

This year, I've got my eye on Leonard's new release, Road Dogs, which catches up with bank robber Jack Foley, last seen headed for a long stretch in the pen at the end of Out of Sight.

I reached out to a group of friends through the magic of Facebook and e-mail to find out what they're reading this summer. My buddy Leo W. Banks, who has been writing for this rag longer than I have, says his go-to thriller guy these days is Dennis Lehane, who grew up in Leo's old Boston neighborhood. Leo says Lehane's latest, The Given Day, "tackles all kinds of big themes, which is usually a writer's undoing, and to some extent, it slows the narrative, because he's thinking a damn lot. But the book reeks of history, which I love, and it's full of pale, half-soused Boston Irishmen—I'm somewhat familiar with the type—and Lehane writes like a demon."

Speaking of demons, Stacey Richter, author of My Date With Satan and Twin Study (and a onetime Weekly film critic), recommends Lowboy by John Wray. "It's a literary detective story that's pretty fun, especially if you like mentally ill characters—and who doesn't?" says Stacey, who has a short story in the upcoming Versus Anthology, which pits iconic characters against one another. Stacey's contribution features Stalin vs. Barbie.

She also tells me that You Must Be This Happy to Enter, a book of short stories by Elizabeth Crane, "has some really good zombies in it—probably the best literary zombies of the year."

But then again, Stacey hasn't yet read the recent zombie-lit hit Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

Loft Cinema program director Jeff Yanc has read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and calls the mash-up "a sassy combination of Regency romance and gut-crunching zombie mayhem, combining Jane Austen's original text with an expanded storyline in which feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet (coming on like Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is forced to wipe out a zombie plague in the quiet English village of Meryton while simultaneously dealing with her budding love for the manly Mr. Darcy. If you already enjoy Austen's classic comedy of manners, but secretly wished it had more rotting corpses and cannibalism, then this is the book for you. Kind of stupid and gimmicky, kind of clever and hilarious, it just might be a perfect summer read."

He also enjoyed Denis Johnson's Nobody Move: "One of our greatest contemporary fiction writers, Denis Johnson (author of Jesus' Son), takes a crack at hard-boiled literary noir, à la Raymond Chandler. This is a lean and mean story of a washed-up gambler and an alcoholic floozy who join forces to nab a big pile of cash, leading to an ever-expanding cycle of violence and bad times. Fun, fast and full of beautifully stark language, this is essential summer pulp."

Because Jeff did such a great job turning me on to terrific books when he was one of the co-owners of the much-missed Readers' Oasis, he gets one more pick: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach.

"This is a highly entertaining (and even educational) survey of sex research around the world," Jeff says. "Some of my favorite topics explored include Danish pig insemination, pornography for pandas, arousometers, vaginal upsuck and womb fury. A very fun, breezy read that's perfect for reading aloud to children sitting next to you on a long plane ride."

Speaking of inappropriate subject matter: Reed Karaim, a local freelance magazine writer, recommends Voices, an Icelandic thriller by Arnaldur Indridason. "If you need mental relief from the heat and endless sunshine, you can't do better than a book set in a world of snowfall and seemingly endless nights," Reed says. "It's set in a Reykjavik hotel around Christmas time and opens when the hotel Santa is found dead in a room with his pants down and a condom hanging from his deceased member."

Tom Zoellner, author of the recently released Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World (a rollicking good read that includes African warlords, Nazi scientists and a radioactive Marie Curie), recommends some nonfiction: The Nine, by Jeffrey Toobin. "This inside look at the most armor-plated of the federal branches is especially relevant now that the president is about to make his first appointment to the Supreme Court. Among the fascinating details in this book is what David Souter eats for lunch every day: an entire apple, including the core."

Tom also has a shout-out for local author Richard Shelton's Going Back to Bisbee, calling it "a remarkable memoir by one of Arizona's most distinguished writers. It also happens to be a big-hearted and information-packed portrait of the Sonoran Desert and its people. If you love Tucson and what surrounds it, you need to read this book."

Going Back to Bisbee is one of the biggest hits from the University of Arizona Press, which is now releasing Mary Ellen Barnes' The Road to Mount Lemmon: A Father, a Family and the Making of Summerhaven. UA Press publicity goddess Holly Schaffer says it is "a sensitive memoir about Tony Zimmerman through the eyes of his daughter. Filled with more than 50 family photos and great tales about hard-working mountain pioneers, Barnes' memoir is a wonderful tribute to those who came before us and literally paved the way to the summer retreat we all know and love."

Holly also recommends Richard Grant's God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre, which "brings to life the uncharted world of the rugged but beautiful Sierra Madre mountains. Filled with stories of folk healers, bizarre religious rituals, cocaine-snorting policemen and a hunt for buried treasure, Grant's adventures are not to be missed!"

Holly's big sister, Barb Dolan of 17th Street Communications, reaches into the wayback machine to recommend Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland, because the book "conjures up memories from the good old 1990s: Pavement was still a band; Clinton was our president; and my biggest concern was balancing classes and my job at a local coffee shop. Although times have changed, this book will always remind me of how it felt to be a young college student, unsure of where to go in life. Even if you are like me and past this stage in your life, this book is a great read to bring you back to your younger days."

If you like "a bit of local history with some romance and adventure thrown in," Barb suggests you check out local author Nancy Turner's These Is My Words: "I loved it, because it gave me a glimpse of Arizona back in the territorial days without feeling like I was reading a graduate thesis."