Friday, May 31, 2019

Texas Sicario by Harry Hunsicker

Once again, we welcome back Kevin Tipple with a review.  Catch up with more reviews, book news, and interesting links at his blog, Kevin's Corner.

As Texas Sicario by Harry Hunsicker begins, former Texas Ranger Arlo Baines is back in Dallas and now working as head of security for Aztec Bazaar. The bazaar is located in a predominately Hispanic area of the city where the narcotic business is hard at work in seen and unseen ways. The murder of Alejandro Sandoval behind the bar located next to the Bazaar draws the interest of many including Arlo Baines.

Still grief stricken over the loss of his family and now a surrogate parent to a young street kid by the name of Miguel, he doesn’t really want to be involved in the case. He wants to drink, makes a few bucks, and be left alone and in peace as much as his mind and grief will allow. But, he knew Alejandro a little bit from the neighborhood and is bothered by what happened. Then there is the fact that the murder might mean a problem for another friend who is not only his boss but a fellow sufferer as that man’s family was killed back home in Nuevo Laredo. Then there is the fact that stranger who appears to be some sort of high level cartel enforcer has been making sure that Arlo Baines knows he is around.

If that was not enough, everyone knows that the Dallas Police Department has been woefully understaffed for years. A homicide in the area will be written off as some sort drug deal gone wrong regardless of the truth of that. The fact that Texas Ranger Aloysius Throckmorton is on the case is a sign that there is something fairly big going on. Not only is he a public racist and does not care who he offends, he is also the Ranger who pretty much did everything he could to see Arlo quit even after he was cleared of murdering his family.

Arlo’s being involved, even on the edges, has gotten Throckmorton interested.  Throckmorton is acting as some sort of go between for the Department of Public Safety and the DEA and he wants Arlo’s help. The murder could be the first indication of a power play with the drug cartels for North Texas. That and the fact that Miguel could be involved in some way drags Arlo Baines into an often violent mess.

Texas Sicario by Harry Hunsicker is another fast paced and often violent read that rips along through the underbelly of Dallas again exposing the rot beneath the city’s fa├žade. Author Harry Hunsicker has a long history of exposing the less glamorous aspects of Dallas in his fiction starting with his very good Lee Henry Oswald Mysteries. While the chamber of commerce types may not appreciate his insights, we locals who have been around for decades certainly do.

While it is not necessary to read the previous book in the series, The Devil’s Country, before reading this one, you really should. You should read Texas Sicario as well. Both books are really good. 

Texas Sicario
Harry Hunsicker
Thomas & Mercer
January 2019
ISBN# 978-1503905412
Paperback (also available in audio and eBook formats)
264 Pages

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Nevermore: Sensitive Crimes, Travelling Cat, Kommandant's Girl, Book of Dreams, Closed Casket

Reported by Lauren
                This week’s Nevermore group was small but mighty. And really into books about life-or-death situations.

The first book we discussed was The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith. Our reviewer found it charming and hilarious, and even loved the author’s headshot on the back cover, saying it was obvious “this guy truly enjoys life, you can tell by his picture and the way he writes.” About a team of dedicated detectives who investigate random crimes that don’t really fall into any other broader categories, this novel tells the story of Detective Varg and his coworkers, Carl who loves paperwork, Erik who loves fly fishing, and Anna who loves Varg. What is a sensitive crime you ask? Some examples include a young woman who reports her imaginary boyfriend missing, and a gentleman who is stabbed in the back of the knee by a stranger in a crowd. Each chapter is connected, all contain equal parts humor, emotion, and action, and the book has a great conclusion that manages to tie up all the loose ends. Our reviewer highly recommends this first novel in McCall-Smith’s latest mystery series. 

Our next member shared The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. She called it one of the sweetest books she’d ever read, saying she cried happy and sad tears throughout the entire novel. This book tells the story of Satoru and the stray cat he adopts named Nana. The two travel the world together visiting old friends. The story is told from the point of view of Nana, and describes the life-long bond between him and his owner, with little nuggets of cat humor and human wisdom tucked inside their travelogue. Another member recommended If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura for a similar story with lots of heart.   

Next we discussed The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff. Our reviewer picked this up because she loved Jenoff’s other works, The Orphan’s Tale and The Lost Girls of Paris, all of which deal with WWII and the horrors of the Holocaust. This book is about a young Jewish girl named Emma who doesn’t look Jewish, so she is smuggled out of Poland safely to live with a Catholic aunt (who is actually part of the Resistance, though she pretends to be a Third Reich supporter). The aunt invites some esteemed Nazis to dinner to show support for the cause, and a Kommandant takes a special interest in Emma, hiring her to be his personal assistant. Emma can’t say no, and her aunt and others in the Resistance movement attempt to use her as a spy to relay inside information back to them from her new post behind enemy lines. Our reader said the book was romantic, emotional and suspenseful, and offers a different view of the era. 

Coming back to the present, our next reader shared Nina George’s brand new novel The Book of Dreams. Protagonist Henri is on the way to meet his long lost teenage son Sam when he is struck by a car and rushed to the hospital. He is in a coma for weeks; Sam visits him in the hospital every day. While there, Sam meets a woman named Eddie who has been in love with his father Henri for many years.  The two form an unlikely friendship, bonding over their shared tragedy. Our reader described the book as moving and absolutely worth reading. It offers insight into what coma patients are “seeing” and feeling while unconscious, and the relationships that form during Henri’s ordeal are interesting and inspiring. While in his coma, Henri relives some of the most important moments of his life, experiencing the heartaches and the triumphs over and over again, and pondering all his missed opportunities. It made our reviewer think about what was truly important in life, what living really means, and the legacy we all wish to leave behind when we die.

Our last Nevermore reader is a die-hard Agatha Christie fan, so she reviewed Closed Casket: A New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah. Hannah was granted permission to continue writing about Dame Agatha Christie’s most famous detective, but our reader feels that she has not been doing Poirot justice. Poirot has become a caricature of his former self. While still brilliant, he is now bumbling, too eccentric, and distant. Hannah’s narrator, Edward Catchpool, is a ridiculous excuse for a Scotland Yard detective, who doesn’t even really like Poirot.  The mystery itself is intriguing: wealthy author Lady Athelinda Playford invites her family, her lawyers, Catchpool, and Poirot to dinner to announce that she is disinheriting her children in favor of her personal assistant, who is terminally ill. Why would Lady Playford leave all she has to a man who will likely die before she does? The plot contains several twists, and of course Poirot provides a detailed and highly entertaining resolution by the end of the book. However the novel still falls short of Christie’s standards. Our reviewer hopes Hannah will redeem herself in the next installment. 

Other novels discussed included And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (plus all his other books), which our reader described as enlightening and life-affirming; and Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman, which is a book of short stories about what happens when we die. Our reader said it was interesting, but depressing and hard to read. For more light-hearted discussions about serious topics, join Nevermore every Tuesday at 11:00am!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid

Reviewed by Ambrea

Superman fights for truth and justice—but why?  What drives a farmboy from Kansas to become one of the mightiest superheroes in the world?  In Superman:  Birthright, Mark Waid and company attempt to answer that question by telling the origin story of the Man of Steel in an all new way, drawing together pieces of his fabled history and brand-new stories that shine a different light on Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang, and others.

When I see a comic book with Mark Waid listed as one of the writers, I automatically pick it up and check it out.  I instinctively know his work will be great—I mean, he wrote my favorite arc of DaredevilKingdom Come, the new Archie comics, Irredeemable and Incorruptible.  He has yet to disappoint me—and, truthfully, Superman:  Birthright lived up to my expectations.

Although I found it a bit surreal to dive into Superman’s past, as I’ve mostly read comics about his career as the world’s greatest superhero, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story.  In Birthright, Waid introduces the idea that Lex Luthor and Clark go way back—and I mean way back—and further tangles their lives, creating an incredibly complex relationship that goes beyond the good versus evil, hero versus villain dynamic.

Moreover, Waid touches upon the idea that Superman is not, in fact, perfect or infallible.  In so many comics, Superman is like the golden boy of superheroes—he can do no wrong, he always does the right thing, and he never messes up or loses.  In Birthright, Superman doesn’t just come onto the scene and gain immediate acceptance.  People don’t trust him; they have reservations and they ask questions, like “Who is this guy?  Why is he here?  What does he want?”  There’s a lot of distrust toward him, especially after Lex gets his hands on pieces of Kryptonian technology.

I loved that Waid and company added so many layers to Clark’s character.  Superman has been labeled a Boy Scout for much of his career, so I loved seeing different sides of his personality.  I liked seeing him as a person, not a caricature.  He can be hurt—not physically, of course, but emotionally.  He has been shaped by his experiences (not all of them good) and yet he still chooses to do good, he chooses to be good.

I really liked that about him.

I was also intrigued by how Waid fleshed out his powers.  Oh, he has all the same ones that everyone knows:  he can run faster than a speeding bullet, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, he can fly, and he can’t be harmed by any conventional weapon.  He’s exactly the same superhero everyone knows and loves, but he has the added benefit of being able to see life.  I don’t mean recognize it and/or treasure it; I mean, he can literally detect the life force within a person—and he can see it leak away when they die.

Superman’s vow to protect people takes on a whole new meaning when you realize he’s a witness to life and death in this way.  He can see the exact moment someone or something dies.  He sees a void where something bright and beautiful had once been, and he can’t bear the thought of seeing it happen when he knows he can do something about it.  It gives his promises a lot more meaning, in my opinion, and it makes more sense as to why he pushes himself to protect people even when they don’t believe in him—even when the easier course would be just to give up.

Overall, I loved Superman:  Birthright.  I can honestly say it is my favorite Superman comic of all time.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love Red Son by Mark Millar, which has held top spot in my heart when it comes to Superman comics, and I really enjoyed American Alien by Max Landis; however, Birthright feels special and it resonates in a different way.  It humanizes Superman, makes him a superhero that readers can really understand and enjoy.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Bull by David Elliott

Reviewed by Jeanne

As we all keep saying, we love book bingo! It encourages us to read a bit more widely.  This time around, I had a square for “Read a Book Based on Mythology”—in fact, I picked that sheet especially because I had been wanting to read Joanne Harris’ The Testament of Loki, which is the follow up to The Gospel of Loki, a book I thoroughly enjoyed.

Slight problem: Testament was checked out and not due until after bingo was over. 

This sent me to the card catalog in search of another book with a mythological theme, which is where I came across Bull by David Elliott.  It’s a retelling of the story of the Minotaur done in verse.  After regarding it dubiously for a minute or two, I decided to give it a try.

At first I was a little put off by the voice of Poseidon, the God of the Sea, whose first line is “Whaddup, bitches?” But I persevered, and was rewarded with what turned out to be a gem of a book.  While Poseidon speaks in modern slang, it only serves to highlight his contempt for mortals and his harsh judgments.  He doesn’t forgive and he certainly doesn’t forget. A god of mercy, he ain’t.

Each character in the story, from Daedalus to Ariadne and even Asterion the Minotaur speaks in a distinct voice.  In the afterword, Elliott explains how he chose different poetic forms in order to reflect character, modifying them as required. The result is unexpectedly moving in places, but Poseidon keeps the action moving along with his acerbic commentary.

Like Good Masters! Sweet Ladies, this is a memorable little book I would never have picked up on my own. It’s a quick read—less than an hour, certainly, and that was with me pausing to read some sections aloud, just to hear them—but it packs a punch. I’ll never think of the Minotaur in quite the same way from now on.

(And a new round of Book Bingo will be starting soon! Watch our Facebook Page for more information!)