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One gorgeous opening…

As any of my journalism or creative writing students would assure you, I’m quite obsessed with strong leads. I’ve got a collection of favorite openings from novels, newspaper pieces, and non-fiction, and use them frequently when I teach. But it has been a long time since I encountered an opening I love as much as the first paragraph of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Angel’s Game.”

Granted, I’m partial to this because I’m a writer. If he were talking about the moment one decides to become an accountant or math teacher it might not have hit home in the same way, but I think that regardless of profession it’s tough to argue how incredibly strong this first paragraph is:

“A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.”

Ah, genius. I can’t wait to finish the book, loved “The Shadow of the Wind” and am looking forward to diving into this one.

An attempt at genuine updates!

Those of you who’ve followed the site over the past few years are probably used to the one or two changes I make per year. Not too exciting, I realize. In fact, I discovered the last update on my news page was two years and two books old. Oops. This new page will be an attempt to address that, though I make no promises. In theory, I’ll deliver actual publishing news about the books here and occasionally make reading recommendations or address a topic of personal interest or concern. Again, that’s the theory. If you check back in six months and discover this is the only post, well, what can I say but: sorry. But I do intend to improve, and thank my wonderful web maven, Madeira James, for setting this up for me.

First of, a bit of NEWS: I’m thrilled and humbled to say that Envy the Night won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for best Mystery/Thriller, and has since been nominated for a Barry Award for best novel. To everyone involved with these prizes, I say a most sincere thanks.

The next book, The Silent Hour, will be released in less than a month. I’ll have some more to say about that as Aug. 4 rolls around.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few reading picks from my 2009 list. I’ve enjoyed these titles immensely, and hope that you will, too.

1) Under the Skin, by James Carlos Blake. One of the best-kept secrets out there, Blake is a masterful writer and you can’t go wrong with anything he’s written. This is my most recent brush with his work, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It’s a classic gangster novel, but one written with grace and humor and insight.

2) Road Dogs, by Elmore Leonard. Jack Foley is back. `Nuff said.

3) Drood, by Dan Simmons. A long, dense novel about Charles Dickens’ final years and the mystery that surrounded them, narrated by Wilkie Collins. Simmons is a great writer, and this book is fascinating, creepy, and packed with great historical detail, just as The Terror was.

4) Serena, by Ron Rash. Technically this was from my 2008 reading, but it was my favorite novel of the year, so I had to include it. Rash’s prose is gorgeous, and this Macbeth-inspired tale of an Appalachian timber camp is far and away his best work.

5) The Lost City of Z, by David Grann. Fascinating non-fiction tale about an ill-fated exploration of the Amazon.

6) The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins. The best piece of field reporting I’ve read. Filkins takes you to the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and spends his time showing you the reality, not making a political or strategic argument. If that’s what you want, go elsewhere; there are plenty of fine books that qualify. If you want tremendous writing and an unvarnished view of the situation on the ground, this is the book for you.

7) The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly. The master returns to the protagonist of my sentimental favorite Connelly novel, The Poet.

8) Black Water Rising, by Attica Locke. A truly wonderful debut novel that reminded me of George Pelecanos, with the crime serving as a backdrop for social exploration. I’m excited about this writer.

9) The Way Home, by George Pelecanos. Speaking of George…yeah, he’s good.

10) Follow the Roar, by Bob Smiley. I’m no golfer, but I am a Tiger Woods fan. Smiley, an unemployed TV writer back in 2008, and himself not a Tiger fan (at least at the time) decided to follow the man for every hole of an entire season, from Dubai to Augusta to Torrey Pines. It’s funny and fascinating and Smiley seems to have a Midas touch, because there haven’t been many more dramatic sporting events than Tiger’s last match of the 2008 season, when he won the US Open in an 18-hole playoff, playing with torn knee ligaments and a fractured leg.