Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rawlins' return the highlight of recent reading

A few thrillers, a graphic novel and a couple of fantasies are among my recent reading.

Book 87: Little Green by Walter Mosley

Easy Rawlins is back from the dead.

His resurrection is a welcome one.  Not only to readers, but to Mosley, too. The author writes with verve in Little Green, with a vibrant muscularity that's been missing from his books since Easy's car plunged off that cliff at the end of Blonde Faith.

Easy -- largely recovered from his injuries and awakened from a months-long "semi-coma" -- grows stronger and more vital with each passing page.

He locates a missing man, quickly quashes a case of corporate blackmail and makes the scene with L.A. hippies. Impossible activities for most men with one foot in the grave, but not the indomitable Easy Rawlins.

Welcome back Mr. Rawlins. Mr. Mosley, too.

(And, in the event you were wondering, the novel has nothing to do with that marvelous song from Joni Mitchell's Blue album.)

Book 88: Donnybrook by Frank Bill

Reading Frank Bill's first novel leads me to think of Miranda Lambert's song, Time To Get A Gun.

Or perhaps a freakin' tank. That's what I've been thinking.

The characters in this fast-paced and violent yarn -- men and women, alike -- are as deadly as a cottonmouth and just as quick to strike.

As with his debut collection of short stories, Crimes in Southern Indiana, Donnybrook is set in southern Indiana, a patch of country along the Ohio River that I've sworn to avoid.

Book 81: Free Fire by C.J. Box

C.J. Box, a former newspaper writer and editor, excells at turning today's headlines into captivating myseries.

That's exactly what he's done with Free Fire, the 2007 entry in his stellar series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett.

Joe, fired in the previous book, is back on the Wyoming payroll. The state's bombastic governor has dispatched Joe to Yellowstone's "Zone of Death" where a shifty Wyoming attorney has escaped prosecution for the murder of four people due to a loophole in the law.

While probing into the motive behind the murders, Joe uncovers a scheme between park personnel and a shady corporation to steal Wyoming's natural resources. A scheme that could make billions and may lead to directly to the governor's office.

Book 77: Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman

On the strength of her superb debut thriller, Rage Against the Dying, author Becky Masterman is guaranteed a publishing contract for more novels featuring her protagonist Brigid Quinn.

A retired FBI agent, Quinn is a novelty in the genre -- she's an older woman.  And as much a gritty, determined rule breaker as any of her male counterparts.

Masterman's debut is masterly and Quinn is a welcome, and refreshing, addition to the ranks of fiction's hard-boiled heroes.

Book 78: King Rat by China Mieville

King Rat is China Mieville's debut novel. It's a spookhy, noirish mashup, equal parts fantasy and fable.

Every book that's emerged from Mieville's pen since King Rat is lurking in these pages in the shadowy recesses of London's sewers and slums.

Book 85: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft and adapted by I.N.J. Culbard.

The graphic artist I.N.J. Culbard has a genuine knack for capturing the eerie atmospherics of H.P. Lovecraft's stories.  This is another fine adaptation.

Book 84: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Let me just put this out there: I don't like Rowling's series. I don't like its characters or the premise itself.

My biggest beef is with Harry Potter himself. He's a prat (look that definiton up, please). Spoiled. Pouty. Quick to take offense. Short tempered. And, frankly, a bit dense.

The stories are a simplistic high school confidential with the thinnest veneer of fantasy and magic.

What disturbs me the most is that Rowling talks down to her young readers. The best YA (young adult) books -- those written by John Green, for example -- are edgy and honest and reflect a genuine respect for young readers.

What saddens me the most is the thought of the many fantasy novels and series vastly superior to Rowling's books that have gone unread in favor of books featuring this half-Muggle prat.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Inter-connected tales in Lemire's Collected Essex County are worthy of Alice Munro

Recent reading includes several graphic novels and three works of non-fiction.

Book 63: Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy

Religion and reality TV collide in this dark and provocative graphic novel written and illustrated by Sean Murphy.

DNA from the Shroud of Turin is used as a starter kit to clone a modern-day Jesus Christ.  Many doubt his divinity, others wants to use him for their own ends. Jesus -- who calls himself Chris -- has his own ideas about how he wants to live life, including a star turn as the lead singer for a punk rock band.

Punk Rock Jesus is a disturbing work with more questions than answers. It amply demonstrates the broad range of subject matter found among current graphic novels. It lends itself perfectly to Murphy's artistic vision.

Book 70: Collected Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Collected Essex County by Jeff Lemire features inter-connected stories worthy of fellow Canadian Alice Munro.

The stories of a lonely boy living on a remote farm with his uncle, two brothers whose dream of playing professional hockey are shattered when they fall in love with the same woman and a country nurses who tends to her patient's emotional needs each build on the other into a satisfying whole.

Lemire's seemingly rough-hewn art perfectly reflects the poignancy of these stark tales. This is a graphic collection that fits nicely on the shelf alongside the best literary fiction.

Book 79: The House of the Baskervilles adapted by Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard

This adaptation of Conan Doyle's classic tale of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson lacks the spooky atmosphere of Culbard's take on Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. Still it's loads of fun.

Other graphic novels worthy pursuing: The Killer (Vol. 1) by Jacamon and Matz, Cairo by Willow and Perker and Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. (These were books 80, 82 and 83 for me this year.)

Book 72: Mint Condition by Dave Jamieson

A lively account of the rise and fall of the baseball card industry. Remember -- it's only cardboard.

Book 73: With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

There's a formula for memoirs of a certain type: 1) self-centered parents (or better yet one parent) given to drink or violence; 2) failure to learn the lessons imparted by the parent's mistakes; and 3) the author repeats those mistakes as an adult only to reform and write a hit memoir.

Memoirs they do get weary.

Book 74: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey is a funny woman. A very funny woman.  Bossypants is funny book -- at times. At times, it's not. And sadly when a joke falls flat on the page, there's no where for it to go.

I'm told the audiobook of Bossypants is a hoot. I'll bet that's right.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Joyland is King at his finest

Recent reading: two novels from the Hard Case Crime series and a third book that belongs in the series.

Book 47: Joyland by Stephen King

As I read Stephen King's Joyland, I forgot that I was reading a book by Stephen King.

A back-handed compliment, perhaps, but a compliment nonetheless.

A little bit of a murder mystery with a touch of a ghost story, Joyland's deepest pleasures derive from its tender coming of age story.

This is King at his finest.

Book 62: Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

In the 1950s, Fredric Wertham, a German-born American psychiatrist, nearly destroyed the comic book industry with his charges that funny books led to juvenile delinquency.

Max Allan Collins uses those real-life events as the backdrop for his delicious murder mystery, Seduction of the Innocent.  (Wertham's book was also titled Seduction of the Innocent. A recent New York Times articles reports that a recent study suggests "Wertham misrepresented his research and falsified his results.")

I was unfamiliar with Collins until stumbling upon this Hard Case Crimes entry. Now, like the girl in the TV, commercial "more, I want more."

This is unadulterated fun.

Book 61: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen almost plays is straight in Bad Monkey, a new thriller that isn't as over the top as many of his previous books.

While fishing near Key West, a tourist reels in an arm that appears to have been separated from the rest of its body by sharks.  But Andrew Yancy thinks it was murder. And if Yancy can prove it, he's confident he can reclaim his job as a sheriff's deputy.

In typical Hiaasen fashion, there is a bizarre story behind how the arm came to be floating in the waters near Key West.  A story that Yancy uncovers through diligent police work.

But you'll have to read the book if you want to know whether he got his job back.