Monday, May 31, 2010

#24: When Zachary Beaver Came To Town by Kimberly Willis Holt

An eventful summer for two pre-teen boys in an uneventful small Texas town begins when Zachary Beaver, billed as the World's Fattest Boy, trundles into town in a trailer as a one-person freak show.  After some initial reluctance on both sides, the boys all become friends as they face various trials and tribulations.

Kimberly Willis Holt's When Zachary Beaver Came To Town is a credible, nicely-done coming of age story, full of interesting characters and a good sense of its time and place (early 70s Texas). I thought the rich backstory added quite a bit of food for thought for young readers, especially the fates of the siblings and parents of various characters, and the inner lives of some of the small town's residents.

I really had no expectations for this novel, picking it up solely because I decided to read along with my college daughter's Young Adult Lit class this summer.  However, I quickly got drawn into the world depicted and enjoyed the novel quite a bit.

I nabbed this off of and read it at a good clip.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

#23: The White Wolverine Contract by Philip Atlee

Joe Gall, The Nullifier, goes after some hippies and other malcontents (secretly backed by Commies, natch) trying to overthrow the Canadian government in Philip Atlee's The White Wolverine Contract.

By pure coincidence I bought three Joe Gall books from the White Rabbit Bookstore in Muncie, Indiana that happened to fall right in sequence.  The previous one I read, The Canadian Bomber Contract, also took place in the Great White North.

The time is the early 70s, and spy Joe Gall's swingin' days are dimming somewhat.  In fact, long passages of this one read more like a travelogue, with a few fistfights and some skirt-chasing mixed in.  However, this throwback story is still enjoyable, and rather curiously was nominated for the prestigious Edgar Award in 1972.  More for fans of the Gold Medal books of this time period, but despite that I'm sure I'll start the next one, The Kiwi Contract, before long.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

#22: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

On the eve of The Great War, the heir to the Austria-Hungary Empire is on the run after his father is assassinated; meanwhile, a young woman disguised as a boy joins England's air corps and sets off for adventure.  How their paths cross is at the heart of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, a Young Adult alternate history novel.

This book more accurately would fit in the subgenre of Steampunk, where technological advances are set in historic times.  In this version, the Germans are the "Clankers," steering an army of walking and flying machines; and the British and their Allies are the Darwinists, making an army of genetically altered "Beasties" to serve the Crown.  Most notable is the Leviathan itself, basically a hydrogen-filled whale piloted like a Zeppelin.

I honestly had no knowledge of the author or his work upon picking this one up, instead selecting it solely on the basis that Alan Cumming was reading the audiobook version.  He did a great reading, but I ended up enjoying the storytelling as well (though not so much the cliffhanger ending).  Not having read a lot of Young Adult or Steampunk, much less the two mixed together, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit, and would recommend it to fans of either genre.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and consumed it at a good pace.

Monday, May 24, 2010

#21: Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker

Gunmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, two hard-bitten heroes with their own moral compass, return to Appaloosa to rout out a crooked sheriff in Robert B. Parker's Blue-Eyed Devil, published posthumously.

This is the fourth in this Western series, and features the same elements that made the others successful; interesting characters, no-nonsense plotting, and hyper-laconic dialogue.  I would rate this entry slightly above the previous entry as the series circles around to some of the original characters and locations that made the first novel, Appaloosa, so rewarding.

I was glad to see that Robert B. Parker had one more of these tucked away.  Enjoyable, for fans of the series.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read a lot of it in one fell swoop.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

#20: The Canadian Bomber Contract by Philip Atlee

Nullifier Joe Gall is back, in less exotic climes as he slips over to Canada to stop the bombing of Niagara Falls in Philip Atlee's The Canadian Bomber Contract.

I pick up and read Atlee's work wherever I happen to come across it, so I am not reading these in any particular order.  Somehow, this is the first one I have read set in the 70s. The others I have read have taken place in the 60s and feature a lot of content that would not be PC by today's standards. You kind of know what to expect from Atlee after a while, and this one is no exception as the cover features Joe Gall punching out a hippie while a couple of admiring women look on. 

But Gall seems to have a bit of a hangover from the swingin' 60s and is somewhat melancholy throughout.  He actually only beds about half the women he meets on first sight (although to be fair, one was talking about Women's Lib an awful lot) and at the end makes a surprisingly compassionate speech about accepting draft dodgers back into the fold. 

A more tired and philosophical Gall than I had read before, although the storytelling was only moderately interesting next to a lot of nice descriptives of daily experiences in Canada.  I suspect Atlee had spent a lot of time there at some point, and is more worth reading on those merits.

I found this for one dollar in the White Rabbit used bookstore in Muncie, Indiana.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

#19: Never Die Alone by Donald Goines

King David, arriving in New York after a long stay in California, is murdered on the street; a passerby who tries to help him is entrusted with his diary, which reveals what brought the drug dealer to a bloody end in Donald Goines' Never Die Alone.

I have been trying to find some of Goines' writing for a while, as he is often compared to one of my favorite authors, Chester B. Himes.  But honestly, besides that they were both African-American writers, I didn't see a lot of similarities.  Himes' Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones novels are philosophical, lyrical, sardonic mysteries; whereas Goines writes straight-up cold-blooded street prose.  King David rather casually cheats other dealers and secretly hooks women he wants to control on heroin, among other crimes big and small.

Goines writes in a tough-minded style, and the fact that his life (and death) often mirrored his novels has added interest in his work over the years.  I enjoyed Never Die Alone on its own merits, though it's not for the squeamish.

I snagged this rare treat from