Quick Review: NEON PREY by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Simon & Schuster)

SandfordJ-NeonPreyUSLucas Davenport’s 29th outing…

Clayton Deese looks like a small-time criminal, muscle for hire when his loan shark boss needs to teach someone a lesson. Now, seven months after a job that went south and landed him in jail, Deese has skipped out on bail, and the U.S. Marshals come looking for him. They don’t much care about a low-level guy–it’s his boss they want–but Deese might be their best chance to bring down the whole operation.

Then, they step onto a dirt trail behind Deese’s rural Louisiana cabin and find a jungle full of graves.

Now Lucas Davenport is on the trail of a serial killer who has been operating for years without notice. His quarry is ruthless, and — as Davenport will come to find — full of surprises…

This is the 29th novel in Sandford’s excellent Lucas Davenport/Prey series. I started reading them, I think, when Certain Prey, was first published in the UK. Since then, I’ve managed to read almost all of them (the first few weren’t available in Britain at the time, but are all getting published this year). With each new novel, I was impressed by Sandford’s ability to keep the series fresh and interesting. Neon Prey is no exception: I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: BEST. MOVIE. YEAR. EVER. by Brian Raftery (Simon & Schuster)

RafteryB-BestMovieYearEverUSAn excellent examination of “How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen”

In 1999, Hollywood as we know it exploded: Fight Club. The Matrix. Office Space. Election. The Blair Witch Project. The Sixth Sense. Being John Malkovich. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. American Beauty. The Virgin Suicides. Boys Don’t Cry. The Best Man. Three Kings. Magnolia. Those are just some of the landmark titles released in a dizzying movie year, one in which a group of daring filmmakers and performers pushed cinema to new limits—and took audiences along for the ride. Freed from the restraints of budget, technology (or even taste), they produced a slew of classics that took on every topic imaginable, from sex to violence to the end of the world. The result was a highly unruly, deeply influential set of films that would not only change filmmaking, but also give us our first glimpse of the coming twenty-first century. It was a watershed moment that also produced The Sopranos; Apple’s Airport; Wi-Fi; and Netflix’s unlimited DVD rentals.

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is the story of not just how these movies were made, but how they re-made our own vision of the world. It features more than 130 new and exclusive interviews with such directors and actors as Reese Witherspoon, Edward Norton, Steven Soderbergh, Sofia Coppola, David Fincher, Nia Long, Matthew Broderick, Taye Diggs, M. Night Shyamalan, David O. Russell, James Van Der Beek, Kirsten Dunst, the Blair Witch kids, the Office Space dudes, the guy who played Jar-Jar Binks, and dozens more. It’s the definitive account of a culture-conquering movie year none of us saw coming…and that we may never see again.

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is an excellent, illuminating discussion and examination of the movies that defined 1999: a year that produced an incredible number of excellent, ground-breaking movies. They broke the moulds of their respective genres, updated certain outmoded mores and tropes, or created something wholly new. A fascinating book that is a must-read for movie fans. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE LAST by Hanna Jameson (Penguin/Atria)

JamesonH-TheLastUK2An excellent post-apocalyptic mystery novel

BREAKING: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilisation, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia, and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

It’s been some time since I last read a post-apocalyptic novel, after what felt like a glut in the early 2010s (some of them excellent, but ultimately I think I read too many). Hanna Jameson’s The Last received a fair bit of pre-publication buzz, and I was happy to interview the author. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into The Last, but what I found was an excellent, thought-provoking and quite gripping mystery. I very much enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: TURBULENCE by David Szalay (Scribner/Jonathan Cape)

SzalayD-TurbulenceUSA novel of the intersection of twelve lives

A woman strikes up a conversation with the man sitting next to her on a plane after some turbulence. He returns home to tragic news that has also impacted another stranger, a shaken pilot on his way to another continent who seeks comfort from a journalist he meets that night. Her life shifts subtly as well, before she heads to the airport on an assignment that will shift more lives in turn.

In this wondrous, profoundly moving novel, Szalay’s diverse protagonists circumnavigate the planet in twelve flights, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers or estranged siblings, aging parents, baby grandchildren, or nobody at all. Along the way, they experience the full range of human emotions from loneliness to love and, knowingly or otherwise, change each other in one brief, electrifying interaction after the next.

This is the first of David Szalay’s novels that I have read, and it will not be the last: I was very impressed. A relatively short novel, it offers an interesting look at the lives of twelve different people and the events that connect them. Insightful and interesting, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review(ish): FARGO ROCK CITY by Chuck Klosterman and TWILIGHT OF THE GODS by Steven Hyden

KlostermanC-FargoRockCityUSChuck Klosterman and Steven Hyden are great guides to the worlds of rock and metal music, and their respective (and oft-overlapping) fandoms. In the two books covered in this feature, they examine the bands that meant the most to them, how their music fandom shaped their youths, and also the changes in the industry and soundscapes of the years that forged their tastes. Klosterman’s book is more connected to his own biography, while Hyden’s takes a more in-depth, long-view examination of what makes some rock music “classic”, and how the genre’s mythology has become ever more contentious and troubling. Both authors are passionate music fans and eloquently opinionated. As a result, they are also great guides to rock and metal music. If you have any interest in rock and metal music, then I would certainly recommend these two books. Continue reading

Quick Review: OHIO by Stephen Markley (Simon & Schuster)

MarkleyS-OhioUSA gripping debut novel about a town in decay, and the inhabitants swept up in the crises of modern America

The debut of a major talent; a lyrical and emotional novel set in an archetypal small town in northeastern Ohio — a region ravaged by the Great Recession, an opioid crisis, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — depicting one feverish, fateful summer night in 2013 when four former classmates converge on their hometown, each with a mission, all haunted by the ghosts of their shared histories.

Since the turn of the century, a generation has come of age knowing only war, recession, political gridlock, racial hostility, and a simmering fear of environmental calamity. In the country’s forgotten pockets, where industry long ago fled, where foreclosures, Walmarts, and opiates riddle the land, death rates for rural whites have skyrocketed, fueled by suicide, addiction and a rampant sense of marginalization and disillusionment. This is the world the characters in Stephen Markley’s brilliant debut novel, Ohio, inherit. This is New Canaan.

On one fateful summer night in 2013, four former classmates converge on the rust belt town where they grew up, each of them with a mission, all of them haunted by regrets, secrets, lost loves. There’s Bill Ashcraft, an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist, whose fruitless ambitions have taken him from Cambodia to Zuccotti Park to New Orleans, and now back to “The Cane” with a mysterious package strapped to the underside of his truck; Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate reluctantly confronting the mother of her former lover; Dan Eaton, a shy veteran of three tours in Iraq, home for a dinner date with the high school sweetheart he’s tried to forget; and the beautiful, fragile Tina Ross, whose rendezvous with the captain of the football team triggers the novel’s shocking climax.

At once a murder mystery and a social critique, Ohio ingeniously captures the fractured zeitgeist of a nation through the viewfinder of an embattled Midwestern town and offers a prescient vision for America at the dawn of a turbulent new age.

Before reading Ohio, I was familiar with some of Markley’s excellent non-fiction, which reminded me of some of Matt Taibbi’s earlier work (although, perhaps more polished). Slightly off-kilter, but sharp and amusing, his style was immediately attractive and interesting. I therefore came to Ohio with pretty high expectations. I’m happy to report that I was not at all disappointed: this is a fantastic novel, one that straddles Richard Russo-esque examination of struggling America and small town mystery/crime. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE BIRTH OF LOUD by Ian S. Port (Scribner)

PortIS-BirthOfLoudUSBruce Springsteen’s telecaster, Slash’s Les Paul, Kurt Cobain’s stratocaster, Angus Young’s SG… These were the guitars that exemplified rock music for me when I was younger. The story of rock goes hand-in-hand with these two guitar manufacturers, while there are other heavy-hitters in the industry, none have the same cache as these two. (Gibson is my personal favourite.) In January 2019, Scribner are due to publish The Birth of LoudIan S. Port‘s history of the two men who created these brands. I’m really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

A riveting saga in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: the decades-long rivalry between the two men who innovated the electric guitar’s amplified sound — Leo Fender and Les Paul — and their intense competition to convince rock stars like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton to play the instruments they built.

In the years after World War II, music was evolving from big-band jazz into the primordial elements of rock ’n’ roll — and these louder styles demanded revolutionary instruments. When Leo Fender’s tiny firm marketed the first solid-body electric guitar, the Esquire, musicians immediately saw its appeal. Not to be out-maneuvered, Gibson, the largest guitar manufacturer, raced to build a competitive product. The company designed an “axe” that would make Fender’s Esquire look cheap and convinced Les Paul — whose endorsement Leo Fender had sought — to put his name on it. Thus was born the guitar world’s most heated rivalry: Gibson versus Fender, Les versus Leo.

While Fender was a quiet, half-blind, self-taught radio repairman from rural Orange County, Paul was a brilliant but egomaniacal pop star and guitarist who spent years toying with new musical technologies. Their contest turned into an arms race as the most inventive musicians of the 1950s and 1960s — including bluesman Muddy Waters, rocker Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton — adopted one maker’s guitar or another. By the time Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969 on his Fender Stratocaster, it was clear that electric instruments — Fender or Gibson — had launched music into a radical new age, empowering artists with a vibrancy and volume never before attainable.

Back in June 2018, the Washington Post published a story about “The death of the electric guitar”, which I would also highly recommend.

The Birth of Loud will be published by Scribner in the US, Canada and in the UK.

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