Thursday, March 23, 2017

#30: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

A theater director, drummed out of his summer stock company Shakespeare Festival, plots a long-range revenge in Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed.

Hag-Seed is part of a new series of re-imagined Shakespeare works from the Hogarth Shakespeare Project.  Atwood (probably best known for The Handmaid's Tale) takes on The Tempest, creating a world within a world as the director decides to put on The Tempest at a local prison.  Before too long, the play mirrors the actions in real life.

Very clever, with a lot of cool elements, but at some points feels more like an exercise than a fully realized work.  Nonetheless Hag-Seed is an enjoyable read and has lots of little nuggets to mine for Shakespeare fans (as well as Atwood's).

I listened to a nice audiobook version of this novel on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#29: Phantom by Jo Nesbo

Haunted Oslo cop Harry Hole is hunkered down in Hong Kong, chasing his demons; but when a young man he once befriended is accused of a drug addict's murder, he returns to the scene with a vengeance in Jo Nesbo's Phantom.

Nesbo's crime series featuring tarnished angel Harry Hole is, I think, one of the great contemporary detective series, Scandinavian or otherwise.

This one--which features a devastating drug called Violin catching hold in the city--is unrelentingly bleak, even by the high standards of gloominess set by Scandinavian noir.  A surprisingly downbeat finale, which features the fates of multiple characters up for speculation, and the general triumph of evil over good, makes it challenging for the unwary, but a good entry in the series.

I listened to a good audiobook version of this on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Friday, March 17, 2017

#28: McAllister on the Comanche Crossing by Matt Chisholm

Range-tough McAllister takes a band of colorful characters on a doomed cattle drive, dogged by stormy weather, hostile Indians, and general bad luck in Matt Chisholm's rambunctious cattle-drive epic McAllister on the Comanche Crossing.

McAllister featured in a number of oaters penned by Chisholm (actually British writer Peter Watts), and it is Chisholm himself who laconically narrates the action in the story, with amusing results.

There is also plenty of tough, wide-open action in what is a pleasing western from the Piccadilly Cowboys, a hearty band of Brits who wrote generally spaghetti-flavored westerns from the 60s onward.

I got this one from Piccadilly Publishing for my beloved Kindle and will definitely look for more of Matt Chisholm.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

#28: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won a Pulitzer for The Sympathizer (one of my favorite reads from last year), is back with The Refugees, a collection of stories featuring finely-drawn characters from all walks of life.

In this collection, we find a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia--and calling her a name she's never heard before--a man who befriends an organ donor with a shady past, a young man coming to grips with his sexuality, a young woman visited by her brother's ghost, a new teacher and her father trying to understand each other, and more. 

Rather than being a set of short stories about refugees, Nguyen has written a collection about people who happen to be refugees, or where a refugee is a supporting character.  The storytelling ranges across the United States and Vietnam.

Timely, rewarding, and recommended. 

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

#27: Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

After World War I, a misfit band of anarchists, poets, and malcontents (with names like The Art Witch and The Ace of Hearts) carve their own country out of pieces of Italy and Yugoslavia--a nutty story made even stranger by the fact that some of it is true--in Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia.

Pirate Utopia is part steampunk and part alternate history, filled with eye-popping modernist illustrations, but is based on real events and people, played out on a long, weird string. 

Unfortunately, I think it could have played out just a bit longer, as it ends just as American spies Harry Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard crash the party, and I could have read a lot more story featuring them.  Perhaps a sequel may one day be in the offing.

Slender and strange, with additional commentary packing both ends about where it all comes from, Pirate Utopia is recommended for those science fiction readers who like stories that don't easily fit into one box or another.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana, and read it quickly.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#26: Limbo Pass by Marshall Grover

A peaceful frontier town is the target of a ruthless gang's bank robbery and murder, and a ragtag posse--with an aging sheriff, a widow, a pacifist, a gambler, a drunken doctor, and others--set off in pursuit.  But the odds are in their favor as at the front rides Big Jim, with his own score to settle, in Marshall Grover's Limbo Pass.

Marshall Grover was actually Leonard Meares, who wrote hundreds of westerns about Big Jim and other series characters.  Piccadilly Publishing is bringing these back via Kindle, but this one is an American paperback that I got from ebay in a big lot of vintage westerns, where the lead is called "Nevada Jim" and the pseudonym is "Marshall McCoy" for whatever reason.

But despite this winding publishing history, Limbo Pass is plenty rip-roaring, as the posse struggles with each other as well as a seemingly unbeatable gang, whose reason for knowing their every move is revealed in the final chapters.  Slender but satisfying, for fans of spaghetti-style westerns.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

#25: 113 Minutes by James Patterson and Max DiLallo

A teenager dies of a drug overdose, and his grieving mother and her brothers plot an elaborate Texas revenge in James Patterson's 113 Minutes.

113 Minutes is an entry in Patterson's Bookshots line, a series of slender paperbacks written with a variety of co-authors and built for speed and quick consumption.  I am probably not the first one to wryly note that this one would probably take about 113 minutes to read.

Obviously the plot cracks along, with a couple of complex heists pulled off with a dogged agent in pursuit, the situations ranging from slightly unbelievable to wholly unbelievable.  But you know what you're getting when you turn the first page.

I listened to this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#24: The Man from Cheyenne by Jack Slade

Lassiter is a hired gun who goes after a runaway wife with a big bounty on her head, but double and triple crosses stand behind him and the reward in Jack Slade's The Man from Cheyenne.

Lassiter is a true western antihero, poured in the spaghetti western mold, and initially penned by the prolific mystery and western writer W.T. Ballard.  Ballard used the well-traveled Jack Slade pseudonym for this one (as did the subsequent writers of this series).

The storytelling is hard-bitten, and a conclusion lacking redemption surprises.  This early entry must have clicked with readers, as Lassiter rode the trail a long time.

I found this at a used bookstore in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.