Books: Donaldson’s novel recreates flavor of Justified

The More They DisappearIf there’s anyone out there still lamenting the absence of Elmore Leonard’s “Justified” on TV, you can get your fix of small-town Kentucky criminals in Jesse Donaldson’s debut thriller, The More They Disappear.

The novel starts with the shocking assassination of longtime Kentucky Sheriff Lew Mattock at his own re-election campaign barbecue and quickly escalates into a thrilling manhunt for his killer.

Chief Deputy Harlan Dupee steps up as acting sheriff to investigate the shooting, following a trail of dark secrets amid the townsfolk he only thought he knew. Along the way he discovers his former boss wasn’t as upstanding a lawman as he believed. At the root of everything is a prescription drug trade that has its hooks in everyone, from the town’s most innocent children to even its most prominent citizens.

Read the full review now at BookPage.

Review: The Passenger by Lisa Lutz a study in do-overs

The Passenger

Have you ever wanted to just run away and start over as someone else? The main character in Lisa Lutz’s new novel does just that — time and time again.

You can read my review now at BookPage.

Review: Buckle up for Philip Donlay’s latest, Pegasus Down

by G. Robert Frazier

Before you crack open Pegasus Down (Oceanview Publishing), the new novel byPhilip Donlay, you better buckle up: You’re in for a hell of a ride. This action-thriller soars from start to finish with page-a-minute suspense and thrills to keep you riveted to your seat, just like an on-screen summer blockbuster.

Pegasus DownDonlay drops readers, and one of his main characters, right into the fray in his opening chapter as a CIA-operated Learjet crashes behind enemy lines somewhere in Eastern Europe. On board are Special Agent Lauren McKenna, code name “Pegasus”, and a recently liberated American scientist who possesses technological plans for a new stealth jet capable of delivering a nuclear device.

McKenna manages to swim free of the wreckage, and must immediately go on the run from foreign forces and a terrorist group that will stop at nothing to obtain the technology.

Read my full review at Killer Nashvillle.

Review: So, Anyway . . . I’ve got this complaint about this John Cleese book

By G. Robert Frazier

So, Anyway . . . I read this autobiography by Monty Python alum John Cleese, and I laughed. But certainly not as much or as hard as I hoped I might.

So, Anyway ...To be honest, the book is a bit dull at times. It’s not that Cleese’s life isn’t interesting. It is. I mean, the guy is wildly entertaining in his numerous classic sketches and standup routines on Python, and he’s starred in a few modestly funny movies. He can tell a pretty darn funny story.

Translating that humor from the small screen to the written page – or pages in the case of his book, aptly titled So, Anyway . . . (Three Rivers Press, $16) – is another matter. Sure, there are funny anecdotes here and there. And there are references to the brilliantly hilarious Python sketches he is renowned for. But they are few and far between.

I suppose that’s to be expected in an autobiography, where a lifetime of experiences are recounted to provide insight into who this man becomes. It is always interesting to learn more about the people who entertain us, but sometimes all we really need are the juicy bits.

Cleese instead regales us with his life story in a somewhat dry chronological blow-by-blow account that never really gets to the good bits fast enough. In fact, by page 255 of the nearly 376-page tome he still had not joined Python’s Flying Circus or recounted those experiences.

This is one autobiography where, for the sake of the reader, a little nonlinear storytelling would have gone a long way to increasing the readability, and laughability, of the book. I expected more from the man whose comedic genius gave us not only the popular TV series but films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and the sitcom Fawlty Towers.

I guess I’ll just take my complaint over to the Complaints Department.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Review: A Better Goodbye takes look at gritty underside of L.A.

by G. Robert Frazier

A Better GoodbyeYou know how they always say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? In the case of A Better Goodbye (Tyrus Books), this is one instance in which you certainly could. The cover of John Schulian’s debut novel depicts a brilliant yellow and orange sunset over the dark and gritty cityscape of Los Angeles. It’s a perfectly fitting image, as it represents the murky lifestyle Schulian paints beneath the brilliant sparkle and glamour of the movie capital of the world.

It’s in this milieu, right on the fringes of tourist-friendly Hollywood, that we find Schulian’sunforgettable cast of down-and-out characters. They’re not the sort of characters you’d want to associate with, but you can sympathize with their plight. And like any good noir novel, the lives of Schulian’s characters are irrevocably intertwined and destined to come crashing down in a bloody finale.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: Dig Two Graves a thrilling, suspense-filled debut

By G. Robert Frazier

Ethan Holt’s greatest accomplishment, winning the decathlon at the Olympics in his 20s, also proves to be his greatest undoing in Kim Powers’ thrilling, suspense-filled debut novelDig Two Graves (Tyrus Books).

Dig Two GravesNicknamed “Hercules” for pulling off the heroic task of being an Olympian, Ethan’s success on the field translates into a coveted teaching position at his ivy-school alma mater, where he’d just as soon as forget about the Olympics and get on with his life. His biggest challenge is simply relating to his teenage daughter, Skip, whose rebellious attitude tests him in more ways than any pole vault or long-distance jump ever could.

When Skip is kidnapped, Ethan realizes she is the most important thing in his life and he will do anything to get her back. To do so, however, means Ethan will have to push himself to his athletic, and academic, limits as he must solve a series of increasingly cryptic riddles and tasks at the behest of the kidnapper.

Read the rest of this review at Killer Nashville.

REVIEW: Latest Star Wars movie excites, but aggravates too

NOTE TO READERS: If you have been living under a rock and haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, don’t read any farther!

The Force Awakens

by G. Robert Frazier

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally played itself out to hordes of fans and left many giddy with excitement and others equally as revolted. I loved the spectacle of the film and the nostalgia of it, but I happen to fall in the latter category overall. Star Wars was a mess and nothing more than a reboot of Episode IV.

For starters, if you have to explain away plot holes in follow-up news articles by the Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly, as has been the norm over the past couple of days, then the movie didn’t work. A movie should be able to establish time, place, characters, and situations without footnotes and PR flacks coming to the rescue.

I’ve recently read articles trying to explain how the Resistance came to be and how it relates to the new Galactic Senate, as well as an article in which JJ Abrams tries to explain R2’s arc. Whatever.

There are numerous unanswered questions, like who are the Knights of Ren, who are Rey’s parents, who is Lord Snope (Snoke? Snape? Snappy? Snoopy? Voldemort, whatever the hell his name is), how did Luke’s lightsaber wind up in a trunk in Maz Pinata’s cellar, etc., etc. All questions that will likely be answered in the sequels and which we can wait upon.

But aside from the many unanswered questions, the movie was filled with several unsatisfying scenes or lack of scenes altogether.

The biggest fail in the entire movie has to be the reaction to Han Solo’s death by General Leia. Instead of giving the “big walking carpet” Chewbacca a hug, Chewie walks right past Leia and Leia in turn hugs it out with Rey, whom she doesn’t even know and has apparently never met! I nudged my brother while watching that scene and said to him: “That’s just wrong.” Plenty of other folks have responded the same way. My Burbank brother also hated the scene, saying Abrams failed to note the historic significance of Han’s passing and a silent hug between Chewie and Leia would not have left a dry eye in the house.

Another major fail is that Luke, Han and Leia were never reunited on the screen together. That Luke couldn’t share one final adventure with Han, which is what everyone wanted, is a shame and a disgrace on the part of the writers. While the movie is obviously hellbent on introducing new characters for the next generation of movie-goers, it lost points with fans who have been longing for new adventures with old friends.

C-3P0 and R2-D2’s roles were absolutely wasteful. Neither did much of anything in the film and C-3P0 didn’t even sound like him. I don’t know what they did with his voice, but it just didn’t sound right. The stupidest thing he said was when he pointed out to Han that he had a red arm. It didn’t matter one iota to the movie’s plot and no one gave it a second thought. The audience isn’t color blind and I’m sure we all would have noticed without the “on the nose” dialogue from C-3P0. Observant fans will notice that he no longer has a silver leg below his right knee either, but I didn’t hear him telling Han he had replaced his leg with a gold one.

There were so many coincidences in this movie that it felt contrived and forced from the get-go. Rey just happens to rescue BB8; she pilots the Millennium Falcon towards a freighter that just happens to be piloted by Han Solo; they just happen to go to a planet where Luke’s lightsaber is hidden; etc., etc. If events don’t occur organically, that is naturally, then what you are left with is a script where things happen for the sake of plot convenience. It makes the whole thing less believable and, ultimately, less enjoyable.

In case you think I have entirely negative things to say about the movie, that’s not true. I found one gem to highlight: When Kylo Ren froze the blaster fire in midair! Not even Darth Vader froze laser bolts in midair! Now that was cool!

Review: The Gap of Time updates Shakespeare for a modern audience

by G. Robert Frazier

It takes a top-notch writer to be able to capture the essence of a classic William Shakespeare play and present it in an entertaining way for a modern audience. Jeanette Winterson pulls off that feat with her new book, The Gap of Time (Hogarth, $25), an update of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

The Gap of TimeWinterson is aptly able to spin a parallel tale of love, jealousy and forgiveness with a cast of characters stretching from London to the United States and back again. Her writing is at times lyrical while also whimsy, realizing the absurdity of the tale needs a bit of self-conscious ribbing in order to not be taken too seriously.

For the uninitiated, The Winter’s Tale presents the story of a king fueled by jealousy who believes his best friend and his wife have had an affair, leading to his daughter’s banishment and his wife’s death. By a series of coincidences, they are ultimately reunited. Winterson faithfully follows the script of Shakespeare’s play as she presents each act of her novel, beginning with the jealous rage of her main character Leo and following it up with his daughter Perdita’s discovery of her true identity in Act 2. She brings them together in the final act where they are able to forgive each other, as the gap of time since his initial outburst has given Leo time to reflect and Perdita a chance to grow on her own.

If that sounds a bit complicated and contrived, so be it. That’s Shakespeare. But, it works in an entertaining way.

Winterson weaves in enough humor, emotional angst, and unique characters to give the tale a fascinating life of its own. Nor are we confined to just one limited point of view, as Winterson gets into the heads of all the major characters to give us their perspective as the complicated plot unravels.

The story, as in the play, ends on a happy note as Leo is reunited with his daughter and she forgives him for abandoning her. As a modern day reader, however, I was longing for a more classic tragic outcome as Shakespeare popularized in his earlier plays. The happy ending in this story seemed almost as contrived as the coincidental nature of the plot.

Jeanette Winterson has written ten novels, children’s books, nonfiction works and screenplays. Perhaps it was fate that led her to craft The Gap o f Time.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

G. Robert Frazier is a writer living in La Vergne, TN. Follow him on Twitter @grfrazier23. 

Review: Steven James peels back twists in Every Crooked Path

by G. Robert Frazier

Every Crooked PathReading Every Crooked Path, the new novel by national bestselling author Steven James, is like peeling an onion: each layer of mystery pulled back reveals something more foul and evil than the last.

What starts as an investigation into a fatal stabbing takes a twisted turn when James’ recurring hero, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, uncovers a child exploitation ring on the Dark Web, a cyber world hidden away from the regular internet, where anonymous clients barter and trade in sexually explicit photographs of minors for their perverted pleasure and the profit of a mysterious cadre of webmasters.

James hooks readers right from the start, as within the first few pages Bowers is attacked at the crime scene in a Manhattan high-rise. Bowers manages to fend off his attacker, but before he can get anything out of him, the man jumps off the balcony to his death, leaving behind a key and a cryptic clue to an even larger conspiracy.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.