“North Water” by Ian McGuire (Henry Holt & Co., 2016)


North Water is a nineteenth century whaling story by British author Ian McGuire. It is not for the faint of heart or a weak stomach, but it also smacks of a stereotypical “man’s novel” with over the top violence, graphic description and cruelty. While it is well written, it is ultimately about men wanting to hurt each other in despicable ways, and you have to really ask yourself: why would anyone want to read about that?

The book opens with Henry Drax, a harpooner, who is broke and down and out again, and proceeds to knock a black child unconscious and then rape him; it is done to show his depravity; all it did for me was make me hate this book. He joins the crew of the Volunteer and faces off against an ex-army surgeon named Patrick Sumner who has been through his own trials and tribulations. The two pit against each other on a seemingly doomed voyage.

For those who enjoy the over-description of this harsh world in this harsh time on an old whaling ship, as men are being men in extreme conditions and a harsh arctic winter, then this is the book for you. For those looking for something more engaging and actually worth reading, move along to the next title.

Originally written on July 12, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor” by Flannery O’Connor (FSG Classics, 1971)


There aren’t many authors whose entire oeuvre can be read in a relatively short amount of time. J. D. Salinger comes to mind, and Flannery O’Connor is another. Other than the couple books she published, her short stories are what she is best known for and this collection brings all thirty-one of them together for the first time, including twelve that didn’t appear in her two published short story collections.

In “The Crop,” we learn about a writer writing about a share cropper and as she’s writing, she becomes part of the story in a great example of meta fiction. “A Stroke of Good Fortune” is a moving story about a woman dealing with an ailment that she does not realize is in fact her blossoming pregnancy. One of her best known stories, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” features a family on a day trip who hear about an escaped killer on the loose and how their lives are irrevocably changed when they coincidentally meet up with said killer.

The stories cover Connor’s entire career in chronological order with something for everyone; whether you’re trying her for the first time or giving her another chance after some required college or high school reading.

Originally written on December 4th, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Kronos Rising: Kraken Volume 1: The Battle for Earth’s Oceans has Just Begun” by Max Hawthorne (Far From the Tree Press, 2016)


After thrilling fans with a new giant-sized menace on the high seas with a taste for human flesh in Kronos Rising, Max Hawthorne is back with a new species of sea monster in Kronos Rising: Kraken. If the first book was the “Jaws” event for readers, then its sequel takes it to the level of Pacific Rim.

It has been thirty years since the tragic events of Paradise Cove, and the world is now a changed place. Giant pliosaurs now ply the oceans in the multitudes wreaking havoc against sea vessels and wiping out crews. In retaliation, there are those crews with unique vessels looking to capture the high-priced bounty that is the pliosaur. There are specific rules on what can be killed and what can be captured. Our story focuses on brothers Garm Braddock running the Gryphon, an anti-biologic submarine with some unique weaponry and tactics specifically designed to take out the pliosaur or bag it. At the secret research facility known as TARTARUS is Garm’s brother Dirk, working on the primeval pathogen that is alive and well within the blood of the pliosaurs. Meanwhile, in the deep ocean depths there is a new menace on the rise, one that makes the pliosaurs look like puppies.

Hawthorne has once again done his research in marine life and what it’s like living on and off the sea, whether it be above or below the waves. While the characters are interesting and well-developed, Hawthorne takes it too far with men being men in a combat zone and wanting to outdo each other; at some points the reader is just waiting for them to undo their flies and whip it out. There are a number of graphic sex scenes in the book that just come out of nowhere and derail the reader from novel. Overall, Kronos Rising: Kraken goes on for too long and loses its momentum unlike its thrilling predecessor.

Originally written on July 13, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Kronos Rising: Kraken from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Mostly Void, Partially Stars” & “The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe” by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (Harper Perennial, 2016)

 

Go here to enter the Welcome to Night Vale giveaway

For perhaps the first time in history a couple of books have been created, written and brought together for every single conceivable type of fan, but you’ll have to read to the end of this review to find out exactly how. I am talking of Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe that collect all the episodes for season one (the former) and season two (the latter) of one of the most popular podcast shows in history. I am talking, of course, about Welcome to Night Vale, which features an astonishing number of followers and avid listeners, a bestselling novel (with the same title as the show), and a cast that seems to be continually on tour playing to sold-out shows across the globe, while still recording new episodes and releasing them every two weeks.

The last book I had that collected all the episodes for an entire season was for The X-Files, but as addictive as those books were each time they came out before the airing of the new season, the Welcome to Night Vale collections are just as addictive and perhaps more important, for they feature more material. In addition to the complete scripts for every episode of the season, there is bonus material, such as some awesome illustrations that sometimes relate to the current episode being read and sometimes not. The reader can choose to study the image and forget about the haunting soullessness of say the Glow Cloud (ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD!) and lose themselves in the detail of the shocking artwork, or perhaps be terrified by the graphic detail of the illustrations that they immediately go back to reading the script.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars features an introduction by bestselling author and awesome tech-nerd (Boing Boing) Cory Doctorow. A contents list for each episode, providing handy referencing. As well as the script for the live show “Condos.” The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe features an introduction by author and Night Vale contributor Maureen Johnson, as well as the bonus script to the live show “The Debate.” Both volumes feature a piece from the creator of all the awesome music for Welcome to Night Vale, Disparition, as well as all the artists featured on “the weather” segment of the podcast. The other really awesome thing about both books is that they feature intros to each episode. The majority are written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, while others are written by Cecil Baldwin (the voice of Night Vale) and many of the other cast members, guest stars and guest writers for the podcast. The intros provide a back story, a history and/or an insight into a specific episode, or just an entertaining anecdote.

Good you’ve made it this far. So if you’re reading this it means you are familiar in some way to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, and you may be wondering (though if you’ve read this review fully I don’t really see how) how these books will benefit you. Well, you will likely satisfy one of the categories listed below which each, in turn, explain why you need these crucial Night Vale volumes.

1) You’re a die hard fan of Welcome to Night Vale: You’ve listened to every episode multiple times, you’ve been to many live shows, and you know everything there is to know about the characters. But sometimes you don’t have the option of listening to a particular episode or remembering a particular phrase from the middle of an obscure episode. These books are the tools to accomplish this. You can find that episode and read that phrase in an instant!

2) You’re kind of a fan of the show but haven’t heard everything: So you missed a few episodes here and there, especially in the first couple of seasons. No problem. Just start with Mostly Void, Partially Stars and you can find those “lost episodes” and read them in less than five minutes and get all caught up.

3) This is the first time you’re hearing of Welcome to Night Vale: Firstly, welcome. You’ve made the right choice. Secondly, you now have the option of listening to many many hours of this awesome show, but that takes a lot of time you might not have, especially if you heard the Night Vale cast is coming to a city near you next week and your friend just bought you a ticket and you need to get caught up fast! Well, these two volumes can be digested in record time and then you’ll have a fruitful lexicon for seasons one and two of the show. However, I’d recommend listening to the first episode or two, no, not to boost their download numbers, Night Vale has already broken a lot of records in that regard, but to acclimate yourself to the show and to familiarize you with the deep, baritonally-comforting emanances of the shows narrator, one Cecil Palmer. After that you’ll be able to read each episode from the book with his wondrous voice solidly fixed in your head, equal to a narration by Morgan Freeman or Sir David Attenborough. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the wonder that is Welcome to Night Vale.

Originally written on September 5, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To help support BookBanter and purchase a copy of Mostly Void, Partially Stars click HERE; to purchase a copy of The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe click HERE.

“Wind/Pinball” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2015)


Haruki Murakami is the well known international bestselling Japanese author of such books as Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore. English-language readers discovered Murakami for the first time with his “debut” book A Wild Sheep Chase, but this was in fact his third book. In 1978, after an unusual experience, Murakami decided he wanted to write a novel. After some interesting forays, he eventually found his unique voice and wrote his first two (short) books which have been translated into English for the first time: Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973.

The first novella features an unnamed narrator recounting an unusual series of experiences in the classic Murakami style. He’s home from college for the summer and spends a lot of his time going to J’s bar, chatting with the barman and drinking beer with his wealthy friend “Rat.” He also shares stories about his relationship with a 9-fingered woman. In the second novella, we have the same narrator later in life, done with college, now working as a translator for a successful translation business. He’s involved with identical twins who are very unusual; they just showed up on his doorstep one day and moved in with him. And then he becomes obsessed with tracking down a spaceship pinball game he played in college.

Overall, the stories are a little rough and feel unfinished or perhaps more like early drafts. Nevertheless, Murakami’s voice and style is there right from the beginning, along with his unique unusualness that draws in and hooks so many readers. New readers may want to try one of his more popular novels, while fans will enjoy these stories and early examples of the writer they enjoy reading.

Originally written on October 29, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Wind/Pinball from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2002)


One of Murakami’s early novels, A Wild Sheep Chase, is a classic example of what this unique author has to offer. From weird title to the outlandish but fascinating storyline, this book is a great starting point for those wanting to start reading this well renowned author. The book is also referred to as the third book in the “Trilogy of the Rat,” as Murakami’s first two novellas, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 (which were recently published in English for the first time) features a couple of the characters from these original stories, but are not required reading to get the full enjoyment out of A Wild Sheep Chase.

An advertising executive in his twenties who works with a partner at an advertising firm that is doing relatively well for itself receives a postcard from an old friend and ends up using the interesting image as part of an advertising campaign. The image depicts a pastoral scene with sheep, but there is one particular sheep in the picture that is a unique species with a star on its back.

Then a man in black pays him a visit and puts the pressure on, giving him an ultimatum: he will have to locate this sheep, or face some severe consequences that could cause the end of the business and his livelihood. Thus begins the man’s unusual quest to find this special sheep, which will take him to the snow mountains of Northern Japan. He will meet plenty of strange people along the way – as is Murakami’s style – as well as an old friend who he asks for advice, but is told he must find his own truth.

Every Murakami novel has a silver living that can be taken away from it; A Wild Sheep Chase is no different from the rest. The important thing is that silver lining is specific to each individual reader.

Originally written on March 25, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of A Wild Sheep Chase from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“All the Birds in the Sky” by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor, 2016)


Charlie Jane Anders is someone who has been very much a mainstay of the science fiction and fantasy world, is a co-editor of the science fiction blog iO9, and Emcees a monthly reading series Writers with Drinks in San Francisco. So it’s not surprising that she should write an interesting novel the blends the worlds of fantasy and science fiction in a delicious way.

Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead are an unusual couple of kids who never really fit in with school and life and form a union because of this. But they are of different worlds: Patricia develops magical powers while Laurence has an incredible scientific mind and becomes one of the few people to develop a two-second time machine. Their worlds diverge and they go their separate ways.

Now they’re adults and living in the hipster mecca San Francisco and yet things are not going well with the rest of the planet, as the world brings itself to the brink of annihilation. Now an engineering wiz, Lawrence is working for a company that is trying help the world and those suffering through breakthrough inventions and technological intervention. Patricia is a graduate of the Eltisley Maze, a secret academy for those magically gifted, where she has learned much, but also made at least one terrible mistake that cost people their lives. She works with a group of magicians also looking to help those in need by using their magical talents. But there is a prophecy, spoken of years ago, that the two would come together in a final battle and cause the end of it all.

All the Birds in the Sky has a lot going for it, with its complex and interesting characters and whirlwind plot. Plus for anyone familiar with San Francisco, Anders has fun taking readers around the scenic city. But at times the book has too much going on that loses the reader. There is a lot of jumping back and forth and around, to different characters and times, which at first is interesting, but as it goes on, also loses the reader and is at times confusing. The novel feels like it could’ve used another round of editing to make the ideas and points more coherent and fluid. Nevertheless, All the Birds in the Sky does some things no book of either genre has before, and is its own unique tale that won’t be found anywhere else.

Originally written on March 25, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of All the Birds in the Sky from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.