Thursday, April 28, 2011

#17: Assignment Palermo by Edward S. Aarons

A secret Italian brotherhood gets into the espionage business, sending hard-nosed secret agent Sam Durrell to Italy and into danger with a motley crew of compatriots (including a circus performer and a crooked jockey) in Edward S. Aarons' Assignment Palermo.

I am becoming an avowed convert to Aarons' long running Sam Durrell spy series since rediscovering the books with adult eyes.  This is probably the latest one I have read to date, from 1966.  But except for one character calling  Durrell "dad" the storytelling is pretty much as square as ever as Durrell arrows his way towards a sinister Commie counterpart he finds lurking behind the scenes.

I found this to be a surprisingly rousing entry in the usually brooding series, heavier on action and gunplay than some others (in the last one I read, for instance, Durrell only polished off one enemy, and that was by pushing a heavy planter over on him).

I really haven't found an entry in this pulp-heavy spy series I didn't like, but I would rate this one near the top of the list to date.

I found this at a used bookstore and chose it to follow the last Assignment because I am making a trip to Italy this summer.  I am checking out another of Durrell's adventures in Italy next; apparently a favorite hotspot as I have at least one more that take place in this locale.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#16: Star Wars: Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber

Zombies get loose at a Sith Academy on an icy planet and need to be beaten back by a mixed bag of Jedi, mercenaries, and droids in Joe Schreiber's horror/sci-fi hybrid Star Wars: Red Harvest.

I had heard good things about Schreiber's first go-round, Star Wars: Death Troopers, and was excited to find this prequel at the public library.  This one is a broad, shallow entertainment for adult fans of the Star Wars universe.

On the plus side, it is a fun, energetic read that expands the Star Wars universe into darker corners for fans.  On the negative side, it is populated almost exclusively by unpleasant characters, and has many pop culture references that takes the reader out of a galaxy far, far away.  Bonus points for zombie tauntaun, minus points for Liam Neeson riff on, off all things, the movie Taken.

I admittedly have not read many of the newer Star Wars books, but in general I found this entry fast-paced and undemanding for fans of science fiction and horror.  I borrowed it from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library and knocked it out quickly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#15: Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

A documentary film crew get involved with Somalian pirates and, by association, an emerging terrorist plot in Elmore Leonard's Djibouti.

In the 50s and 60s Elmore Leonard solid but today underrated Westerns, then was best known for a very admirable string of crime novels up through the 90s, many with a strong Detroit Rock City flavor.  In the 21st Century he has sampled all over the place with various genres and time periods, with some pretty good novels (Tishomingo Blues, The Hot Kid) and some okay ones (Pagan Babies, Road Dogs). 

This one has an interesting premise, and Leonard also does some neat things with nonlinear storytelling to change it up a bit.  As usual, the novel is populated by Leonard's trademark quirky characters. 

But unfortunately it's all talk, talk, talk until a (literally) explosive conclusion.  And some of the dialogue clanks a bit (including the young lead character calling movies "pictures," which seems dated).

Although this one is a bit of a mixed bag, Elmore Leonard is still worth reading, well into his 80s.

I listened to a good audiobook version of this, read by Tim Cain, on loan from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, most of it on a drive back and forth from Chicago.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

#14: Up In The Air by Walter Kirn

A man who fires people for a living is trying to hang on to his unhappy job long enough to pass one million frequent flier miles in Walter Kirn's Up in the Air.

I have always claimed to be an early adopter of Walter Kirn--and find his early work She Needed Me to be especially strong--but I somehow missed this one, along with a lot of other people.  It came out around the time of 9/11 and because of its subject matter, centered around airlines and airports and planes, seems to have slipped through the cracks.

Thanks to George Clooney and a film version the novel seems to be returning to its rightful place.  But the novel is a totally different animal than the film; less warm-hearted, and with a surprisingly unreliable narrator.

Most of the novel takes place in what Kirn calls Air World, the insulated world of the frequent flier that has its own rules and regulations.  And our flawed protagonist is constantly derailed in his attempts to cross that million-mile plateau by family issues, complicated lovers, work problems and the shadow of head-hunting firm that seems to be dogging his steps.

I found Up in the Air to by a great read, enhanced by a solid audiobook presentation by. Sean Runnette.  The book and movie are quite different beasts, but both are rewarding in their own ways.  Recommended.

I checked this out from Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, and consumed it quickly.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

#13: Look At Me by Jennifer Egan

A supermodel has a life-altering car wreck that ends up with her face being rebuilt, though unrecognizable; the results impact not only her but a teenage girl from her hometown, the supermodel's childhood friend, a downtrodden private eye, a mysterious figure known as Z and others in Jennifer Egan's genre pretzel of a novel, Look At Me.

Egan's novel The Keep was one of my favorite reads of recent years.  I didn't like this one quite as much, but it is very interesting throughout, with plenty of surprises and no linear paths to follow.  There are also lots of unique characters and very complicated characterizations. As in the last one I read, I thought the ending sort of ran out of steam, but I genuinely could not guess what was coming next; and as I read a lot of books, that means something.

Despite some flaws, I am beginning to think that Jennifer Egan is becoming one of my favorite new writers, almost entirely based on her unique storytelling alone.

I bought this for my beloved Kindle and read it at a steady pace.