Jul 6, 2012

An octopod of reviews for your pleasure

Oh, woe is me, I am late again with reviews. So lax. So lazy. I humbly beseech thee, prithee, forgive me.

I have been rather busy, actually, what with the job, the second novel coming out, the book trailers I am working on, etc. But tonight, I am all yours, with one caveat; I have an abundance of novels already read this year, and simply cannot give the time I normally would to each title (worthy though many of them may be). So, here now, a whole slew of novels, each reviewed in three to four devastatingly incisive sentences.

  • I'm not a big fan of western novels (my knowledge of such limited to Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove quartet [yay!] and Chuck Norris' The Justice Riders [retching noise]). But I am a fan of Cliff Burns, here straying from his usual sci-fi/cyberpunk/fantasy-noir settings to attempt a serious old-fashioned horse opera. He doesn't reinvent the genre a la Patrick DeWitt (ah, I knew there was another western I've read), but The Last Hunt is a solid oater, with clean, spare prose, conflicted heroes, interesting characters and caricatures, and hefty dollops of gunplay. I'd say it's sure to please fans of Louis L'Amour, but I'm guessing at that.
  • Comeau has become a favourite of late (check out his brilliantly strange One Bloody Thing After Another), and Lockpick Pornography continues along the same lines, delivering a pair of weird, odd, funny, and very original takes on homosexuality, relationships, thefts, public sex, abuse, vigilantism, kidnappings, and more. I wouldn't call the two novellas burdened with plot; these are shaggy, rambling tales that charm the reader even as their wincing at some of the graphic descriptions (the title does contain the word pornography, so I don't know what else I was expecting). As Comeau's protagonists amble through a world they aren't really a part of, we grow to understand the effortless alienation that the LGBT community faces, and the strong sense of humour that can help people survive such bigotry. It's also remarkably sweet-natured and giving.
Bedtime Story - Robert J. Wiersema
  • Wiersema has always had a hint of the magical in his stories up until now, but Bedtime Story pushes him into epic new territory. A story about a boy trapped in a fantasy novel and the father seeking clues to free him, it treads a fine line between realism and the fantastic that would trip up lesser novelists. Weirsema keeps his story straight and his style clear, capturing the feel of Tolkien-like epics on one hand while delivering an affecting portrait of grief and loss on the other. Pair this one up with Lev Grossman's The Magicians.
  • You want weird? Katja is Elmore Leonard via William Gibson, a fast-paced cyberpunk thriller that commands attention with great dialogue, twisted characters, and a fine sense of place. Set on an unnamed urban island and following a woman delivering an unnamed vial of something, Logan traipses back and forth through time and POVs, keeping the reader off-balance and filling in the blanks later with a precision that would do Christopher Nolan proud. This is a grimy, gritty, terribly unpleasant world, and I'd go back in a second.
  • This unusual set of nonfiction stories is ostensibly drawn from the author's real life, yet Apostolides twists each tale to blur the lines, leaving the reader wondering what, if anything, is real. What is real is her gorgeous writing style, her command of detail, and her daring take on the flexibility of memory. Presenting stories of her father, her relationships, and a fascinating visit to a brothel, Apostolides is fearless in revealing herself and masterful in ability. If you want stories that leave you sated yet wanting more, Voluptuous Pleasure fits the bill.
  • In a collection of short stories, essays, and flash fiction, Rayner fits himself snugly into the eternally off-kilter worlds of Monty Python, The Goon Squad, and Douglas Adams. In Rayner's warped imagination, Jesus contends with dinosaurs, Batman reveals a bout of insecurity, an alien overlord mans an advice column, and Anne of Green Gables eventually destroys the world. If one story doesn't tickle your fancy, the next one will. As with Monty Python's television series, I advise reading only a few stories at a time, as the non-stop punnery can be overwhelming, and taking pauses to savour Rayner's sardonic wit is a pleasure.
In Plain Sight - Mike Knowles
  • Sometimes, with crime novels in particular, you can tell when an author is 'faking' it, i.e. the author really doesn't have a clue about the realities of crime. Knowles has no such problem, and his increasingly dark and violent tales of former mob enforcer Wilson reek of someone who knows the game; if Knowles is faking it, he's better than I realized. Almost unremittingly bleak, utterly nasty, yet compulsively readable, Knowles' Wilson series is a dive into the depths of humanity's own hell. In Plain Sight is as harsh as sandpaper (think Andrew Vachss before his Burke series descended into self-parody), and unless you're the sort that enjoys gruesome vengeance against irredeemable people (and I am), stay clear away.
Osama - Lavie Tidhar
  • Osama qualifies as one of the greatest mindjobs I've come across, a metaphysical detective story that loops in and around itself like a mobius strip. Set in an alternate reality where global terrorism does not exist, Osama follows a private detective hired to find an obscure pulp author who writes of a vigilante named Osama bin Laden. What follows, in one of the best meta-fiction narratives I've read since Paul Auster's City of Glass, is an atmospheric descent into multiple realities that fractures the sanity of the detective as he confronts the realities of war and chaos. I really enjoy Tidhar's Bookman series of steampunk novels, but I was truly unprepared for the genius of this.
And there you have it, eight reviews to sate your appetite. Get though all of them, and win a t-shirt!

    1 comment:

    cliffjburns said...

    Thanks for the nod re: THE LAST HUNT. Every author should venture outside their comfort zone and writing a western certainly took me far from my usual, odd environs.

    But it was important to me to remain true to the genre and touch on some of the themes and notions that made cowboy movies so important to my formative years.

    I'm a HUGE fan of Sam Peckinpah's and anyone who thinks western novels can't achieve real greatness has never read Alan LeMay's THE SEARCHERS. My intention was to do justice to the best work the field has produced and I'd like to think I achieved that modest end.

    Bless ya, lad, keep puttin' pen to paper. Looking forward to your next release.

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