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

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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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Upcoming: THE MANSION by Ezekiel Boone (Atria/Emily Bestler)

BooneE-MansionUSThis December, Atria/Emily Bestler Books is due to published Ezekiel Boone‘s latest novel, The Mansion. I’ve only read the first novel in Boone’s Hatching trilogy (which was very good — so I’m not sure why I haven’t moved quicker on reading the other two, which I also have).

A family moves into a home equipped with the world’s most intelligent, cutting-edge, and intuitive computer ever — but a buried secret leads to terrifying and catastrophic consequences…

After two years of living on cheap beer and little else in a bitterly cold tiny cabin outside an abandoned, crumbling mansion, young programmers Shawn Eagle and Billy Stafford have created something that could make them rich: a revolutionary computer they name Eagle Logic.

But the hard work and escalating tension have not been kind to their once solid friendship — Shawn’s girlfriend Emily has left him for Billy, and a third partner has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. While Billy walks away with Emily, Shawn takes Eagle Logic, which he uses to build a multi-billion-dollar company that eventually outshines Apple, Google, and Microsoft combined.

Years later, Billy is a failure, beset by poverty and addiction, and Shawn is the most famous man in the world. Unable to let the past be forgotten, Shawn decides to resurrect his and Billy’s biggest failure: a next-generation computer program named Nellie that can control a house’s every function. He decides to set it up in the abandoned mansion they worked near all those years ago. But something about Nellie isn’t right — and the reconstruction of the mansion is plagued by accidental deaths. Shawn is forced to bring Billy back, despite their longstanding mutual hatred, to discover and destroy the evil that lurks in the source code.

This sounds like it has the potential to be deliciously techno-creepy. I’m really looking forward to reading it. In the meantime, I’ll have to get caught up on the second and third books in the Hatching trilogy…

The Mansion is due to be published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on December 4th in the US. I could only find a listing for an imported edition for the UK, but a proper UK edition may still be in the works.

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Upcoming: LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)

GoodwinDK-LeadershipUSAs the author of Team of Rivals and other fantastic history books, Doris Kearns Goodwin needs little introduction. This year, Goodwin’s latest book will be published by Simon & Schuster: Leadership in Turbulent Times. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and the book draws from the presidencies of four men she is most familiar with: Abraham Lincoln (Team of Rivals), Theodore Roosevelt (The Bully Pulpit), Franklin D. Roosevelt (No Ordinary Time) and Lyndon B. Johnson (Lyndon Johnson & the American Dream). Here’s the official synopsis:

In this culmination of five decades of acclaimed studies in presidential history, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin offers an illuminating exploration into the early development, growth, and exercise of leadership.

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the man make the times or do the times make the man?

In Leadership in Turbulent Times, Goodwin draws upon four of the presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights) — to show how they first recognized leadership qualities within themselves, and were recognized by others as leaders.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon adversity. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Leadership in Turbulent Times is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in North America and Viking in the UK, in September 2018.

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Upcoming: THE THREE SECRET CITIES by Matthew Reilly (Gallery/Orion)

ReillyM-ThreeSecretCitiesUSThis November, Jack West Jr. returns! The Three Secret Cities is Matthew Reilly’s fifth novel featuring the soldier-turned-adventurer. I’ve enjoyed all of the novels in the series (as well as Reilly’s loosely-connected Scarecrow series), and so I am very much looking forward to this latest thriller. Here’s the synopsis:

A shadow world behind the real world

When Jack West, Jr. won the Great Games, he threw the four legendary kingdoms into turmoil.

A world with its own history, rules and prisons

Now these dark forces are coming after Jack… in ruthless fashion.

That is reaching into our world… explosively

With the end of all things rapidly approaching, Jack must find the Three Secret Cities, three incredible lost cities of legend.

It’s an impossible task by any reckoning, but Jack must do it while he is being hunted… by the greatest hunters in history.

The Three Secret Cities is published in November 2018 by Gallery in North America and Orion in the UK.

Also on CR: Guest Post on “Four Kingdoms and Twelve Labours: Turning Myths into Reality”; Reviews of Six Sacred Stones, Five Greatest Warriors and The Great Zoo of China (I thought I had reviewed The Four Legendary Kingdoms, but I can’t find the review — I’ll try to post one up soon.)

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Upcoming: LEAVE NO TRACE by Mindy Mejia (Atria/Quercus)

MejiaM-LeaveNoTrace

Mindy Mejia‘s debut novel, Everything You Want Me to Be (or, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman in the UK) was critically acclaimed. There is, therefore, a lot of interest in the author’s next book, Leave No Trace. Due to be published by Atria in September 2018, it also looks really interesting. (I think I’ve mentioned it before on CR, but I have an unusual fondness for fiction/thrillers set in Minnesota. I ‘blame’ John Sandford…) Here’s the synopsis:

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later… the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

Leave No Trace will be published in September by Atria in North America, and in September by Quercus in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter