Monday, June 30, 2014

LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry


 “Yesterday's gone on down the river and you can't get it back.”
I’ve been a big fan of Western movies for a while, but I’ve only recently started reading Western fiction. This Pulitzer prize-winning epic adventure is considered by many to be one of, if not the best novel in the genre.  Now that I’ve finished it, it would be hard to argue with that.

The book follows aging best friends Woodrow Call and Augustus “Gus” McCrae, who were once famous Texas Rangers that fought Indians on the frontier, but for the last 15 years, have retired and now operate a small livery in the sleepy Texas border town of Lonesome Dove. They’ve been living a simple life with their buddies and the other residents of the town, including the sad and emotionally distant Lorena, Lonesome Dove’s only whore. But when the duo’s friend, the gambling ladies’ man Jake Spoon, returns after many years, describing the beautiful, untouched grassland in the largely unsettled Montana territory, Call is inspired to go on one last adventure and, with Gus, be the first to settle in Montana and become successful cattlemen in their old age. Gus is initially not interested in the idea, content with them spending their old age hangin’ out in the sun along the Rio Grande, instead of risking their lives on the open range. But he agrees because of the prospect of reconnecting with his lost love Clara, who he knows has settled in Nebraska, which would be on the way. So after stealing 3,000 heads of cattle from a Mexican bandit and hiring a ragtag team of cowboys, they set off on an epic cattle drive across the country from Texas to Montana. On the way, they will make new friends, lose old ones, encounter great dangers and witness great beauty.

I’m always nervous when I begin reading long novels, hoping that I’m not wasting my time. It was no different when starting Lonesome Dove. At first, it felt like it was taking way too long for them to even get started on the cattle drive. Instead the first part of the book seems like it's mostly focused on the characters sitting around Lonesome Dove. But this novel is a sneaky little bugger. There came a moment (not even sure when it happened) when I realized that while it seemed like nothing was happening, the book was slowly sucking me in until I was completely engulfed in the tale. The characters are so detailed, so real, that I couldn't help but to be completely invested in their lives and what would happen next. And not just the main characters, but the minor roles (even the animals like the Hell Bitch, the two blue pigs, and the mean bull) were incredibly well-drawn. The length of the novel was imperative to this kind of character development. And not only did the length help with getting to know the characters, but it also made me feel like I was part of the cattle drive, living through not only the dangers, but through the slow tedium of it all. And because the trip is tedious, the joy I felt when the cowboys finally make it to certain landmarks in the trip was really something!

The tone and atmosphere is another thing that sucked me in. The story has a truly romantic mood, like a great adventure story should have, reading like a long love letter to the dying Old West. The theme of "longing" runs all throughout the novel, from Call wanting to develop a thriving, meaningful business before it's too late, to Lorena wanting a place to call home and someone to connect with, to Dish Bogget, who's undying love for Lorena is so large it's tragic, to Gus, stuck between his love for two women and his love for adventure, and to young Newt (the heart of the story), who not only wants to see more of the world outside of Lonesome Dove and be accepted as a man and cowboy, but longs for a father figure. 

Lonesome Dove is truly something special. It has something for everyone and is possibly the essential western story, a tale that encompasses everything that the genre stands for.
" 'It ain't dying I'm talking about, it's living,' Augustus said. 'I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you live.' "

Friday, June 20, 2014

JACK STRONG by Walter Mosley


Walter Mosley is one of the most prolific writers around. By the end of this year alone, he would have released a total of four books, including the e-book, Odyssey, earlier in the year, the well-written and erotic Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore, a new Easy Rawlins mystery coming later this year called Rose Gold, and this one, Jack Strong. Not only does Mosley obviously not sleep, he is constantly challenging himself, and is always intriguing!

This short sci-fi novella is no different. It follows a man with patchwork skin, multi-colored eyes, a middle finger of a black man, and the pinky of a white woman. Well, that's awkward. More importantly, his psyche is comprised of countless personalities (even one that just might be a wolf!) that are constantly rotating in dominance.

This fascinating concept makes way for interesting shifts in point-of-view as well as exciting surprises in Jack's abilities as different personalities come to the surface when needed with a variety of skills. The book is a bit disappointing though because it doesn't feel complete, instead it feels like a couple of chapters of an unfinished novel. Let's hope so, but this failed to make a lasting impression. I'm still a fan though!

*Advanced Copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley for review*

Monday, June 16, 2014

Favorite Novels by Stephen King

My Top 10 Favorite Novels by Stephen King

*excludes novellas, short stories, and collections*

1. The Stand
2. The Green Mile
3. The Long Walk
4. The Dead Zone
5. 11/22/63
6. Pet Sematary
7. Under The Dome
8. 'Salem's Lot
9. Misery
10. The Dark Tower Saga

Friday, June 13, 2014

THE FEVER by Megan Abbott


The small town of Dryden and it's high school start to freak out when, one after the other, teenage girls begin to have violent, seizure-like episodes, throwing everyone into panic. No one can figure out what's happening, and everyone is speculating on the cause, with guesses ranging from bad school building conditions to mutant STD's. 
"You spend a long time waiting for life to start–the past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new and terrifying and significant–and then it does start and you realize it isn't what you'd expected, or asked for."
Megan Abbott has been one of my favorite author discoveries this year and is once again brilliant here, paralleling the growing pains of teenage girls with a contagious outbreak! And the mystery of what is causing it all is genuinely intriguing, all the way up to the end. The build-up of the paranoia, fear, and suspicion among the residents of the town and the students and faculty at the school is handled very well.

My main gripe is that I felt that some of the characterization was a bit weak, especially amongst the main girls, like Deenie, Gabby, and Skye. I never really connected with the soft-spoken main character Deenie, who seems to be at the center of it all because the seizures are popping up amongst her circle of friends. And I couldn't really gather why her best friend Gabby was such a popular girl. I also could never really figure out why Skye (who seemed to be such a strong, independent girl that pushed to buck the high school social system) would follow the popular girl around all day, as her entourage, attached to her hip.

But there are some characters that are really well-drawn and interesting to read about, like Deenie's brother Eli, who is so handsome the girls fall all over him, but he seems oblivious to the attention, and still doubtful of his understanding of the female kind. This understanding diminishes even more as he witnesses the affliction that's making it's way amongst the girls.

Although not as great as some of Abbott's other work, there is still lots of awesome stuff here and is definitely a page-turning mystery. Recommended!

*Advanced Copy provided by publisher through NetGalley for review!*

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

THE RIVER OF SOULS by Robert McCammon


*Book 5 of the Matthew Corbett Series*

In this latest installment in the excellent series set in the early 1700's featuring the young problem-solver Matthew Corbett, Matthew is on edge after his dangerous adventure at the Caribbean stronghold of the mysterious Professor Fell (in the last book, The Providence Rider), an adventure that has put a rift between him and his main crush, Berry Grisby. So when he is offered a tempting 50 pounds for the easy-peasy job of escorting a young debutante to a high class ball in the Charles Town colony, he takes the opportunity to get out of New York for a while. But once there, the daughter of a powerful plantation owner is killed and the murder is pinned on a group of runaway slaves. Believing that there is more to this murder than meets the eye, Matthew decides to join the mob chasing the slaves up the infamous "River of Souls", a creepy, swampy bog that is known not only for it's dangerous animals and violent native tribes, but also for the rumours of a supernatural predator who's presence is signaled by the sound of a wailing infant.

The novel is the shortest of the Corbett novels so far and moves at an infectious pace. The book also stands out because the usual supporting cast is mostly absent as Matthew embarks on his new adventure solo! I also love the atmosphere the book has once the journey up  the river begins. You can practically smell the swamp and feel the almost never-ending darkness of the night. But the mystery is solved almost immediately, which causes the novel to lose some of its momentum. And the book does feel a bit rushed, especially in it's final third, as if trying to wrap up the adventure as quickly as possible in order to get us to the final events in the end. But those events (although hinged on a huge coincidence!) add up to a doozy of a cliffhanger, leaving me aching to read the next installment. Although not as consistently amazing as the last few books in the series, the book is a worthy follow-up to the Matthew Corbett adventures and a quick and entertaining summer-reading adventure!