Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Two outlaw brothers set off to gold-rush California in search of a man they're contracted to kill. But nothing's ever as easy as it seems.

Eli and Charlie Sisters are "brand-name" famous for their work; all they have to do is introduce themselves, and people blanch. But Eli has had enough, and is considering what his next life could look like: husband, shopkeep?

In the meantime, they're hunting down a man with a chemical formula that makes panning streams for gold child's play.

This is a dark comedy, that contrasts with flashes of shocking, stark violence. It's a remarkable, unforgettable novel and one of the best I've read in quite a while.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

There There by Tommy Orange

As the Big Oakland Powwow approaches, Native Americans of all kinds begin journeys to the event. Some travel only a few blocks, some come from across the country - and many have distances to cover that can't be measured in miles.

The multiple characters of this novel have their own stories (in separate chapters) but the closer we move toward the powwow's start, the more we see the lives are blended, woven, and interconnected: the local center's janitor, the event's emcee, a kid nervous for his first participation, an alcoholic on her way back home, local thugs with a plan.

From so many character's perspectives, the book gives an interesting look at what "being native" means in the 21st Century: some feel strongly about history and culture, and others are disconnected either purposely or through no fault of their own. There are rez Indians and urban Indians, some who immerse themselves in their ancestry, and some who can't identify with it at all. And while there are many familiar characters here, none feels cliched.

The story draws you right in, but it's not a light read; there's a melancholy and an impending doom to the whole thing. It's a fantastic, gripping read.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell

We're used to dark, sinister, slightly twisted fairy tales from Neil Gaiman. And the man never fails to delight.

This one's got a sleeping beauty sheltered by homicidal foliage, dwarves, crones, and a warrior queen along with amazing illustrations by Chris Riddell ... and a hell of a twist. It's short - at less than 75 pages - and wonderfully compact. Perfection.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

What if the fate of humankind rested on the skinny shoulders of a washed-up pop star?

When the rest of the galaxy discovers that Earth exists, we're forced to defend our sentience: Are we people, or are we meat? Based on a horrific past war and its time-tested truce agreement, the pre-ordained litmus test is, of course, an intergalactic singing-and-entertainment contest. Like Eurovision, but weirder.

This book a hilarious pop culture fest in the best kind of way.

It's also written in elaborate similes and Vegas-showgirl feathered headdress adjectives and expressively convoluted sentences that take lux vacations to exotic locales for up to half a page at a time and twist themselves inside out and backwards in a primitive mating ritual before they bleed out fuschia glitter and then expire. You'll either like that or hate it.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

In a return to modern Salem, Brunonia Barry's latest starts with a Halloween death, which sets afire rumors and speculation about witchcraft and occult. Callie, the daughter of a woman murdered 25 years earlier, returns to town amidst the media coverage connecting the tragedies.

Everybody's obsessed all over again with the "Goddess Murders" from 25 years ago: Three women died violently, a child was orphaned, and a respected local scholar required institutionalization for years due to mental upset. The crime was never solved, and it seems to be related to the current death.

Add in a love story or two, some strong personal demons to conquer, and a maybe-mystical-or-maybe-bunk storyline and this is a rich, complex story.

You don't have to have read Barry's other books to enjoy this one - although if you've read The Lace Reader or The Map of True Places you'll recognize the local citizenry.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

A gang of tough boys form their own kind of family in a world that doesn't accept them. Conflicts with the popular kids, avoidance of the law, and general poverty conspire to make life tough for a 14-year-old boy and his gang.

This is the book that's widely celebrated as introducing the genre of teen literature - before this, books were either for children or adults with nothing in between. I picked this one for the library's book discussion from The Great American Read's list because somehow I missed this as a teen. Stranger yet, I'd also never seen the movie. Got 'em both out of the way now!

I enjoyed the book, but it's dated. There's still plenty to talk about, and there are universal thoughts and discoveries to be found within ... but it's a piece of historical fiction since the kinds of discrimination and the conflicts in the book are downright quaint when compared with modern problems.

Friday, July 13, 2018

King Maybe by Timothy Hallinan

You don't double-cross a double-crosser, and nobody gets away with setting up thief Junior Bender. It's a good thing he's such a quick thinker, because this is a rare Bender book where he's not on his "A" game: he's targeted, burgles are bungled, and he's about to take a big fall. Plus, there are problems in paradise as his lady love, Ronnie, isn't speaking to Junior for much of the book.

I was prepared to say I didn't like this book, and then I actually really did love it. I thought maybe I was growing bored with Junior ... and then I loved the way this story twisted, turned and came around.

Hallinan does a great job with all the ancillary characters in his stories. I love the teenage wiz team of Anime and Lilli, and there's a whole high school drama substory to this book with Junior's daughter Rina. You'll love to hate the bad guys (or gals) in a story where some of the good guys are kind of bad guys.