Friday, June 28, 2013

Words Can Kill ... And So Can Bullets, Of Course: Some More Summer Book Reviews

I'm finally learning to read on my tablet.  Sigh.  Giving in to the modern world.  I bought one of the early Kindles -- and hated it.  I never finished a book on it.  Just could not stand it.

But that was then.  This is the 21st century -- and many pre-release review copies of books (both by people I know and those who don't) are only available as e-books.  So, since my suitcase was full when I headed to Bald Head Island recently, I loaded my Kindle on iPad with new books from NetGalley.

One was good.  Two were really good -- for completely different reasons.  And one (that shall go unmentioned) was dreadful.

First the good.  That was Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination by newsman Jim Lehrer.  Lehrer's premise is that the agent who ordered the top off the Kennedy limo (since it had quit raining) is haunted by that decision and is descending into a private mental health hell.  A newspaper man who covered the assassination and asked the agent if the top was going to stay up or down is enlisted by suffering agent's attractive and tenacious daughter to help her father.

As someone who was alive in 1963 and remembers -- as everyone of age back then does -- where he was when he heard the awful news out of Dallas that November day, I hoped to learn something new or at least get a different look on the events of that day.  What I got was a good summer time read -- this would be a fine beach book.  But, sad to say, it doesn't come out until October 2013 -- a little late for beach reading.  It's not a bad book.  It's a tale told well enough, but not well enough to make it a must read.

Next the two really good.  One is really good for, in part, taking me into a world I know nothing about really and making me want to stay there.  That world is the one of Maine state game wardens.  Now, in the interest of integrity, it's a world I visited before after meeting Kate Braestrup at a writing conference.  Her Here if You Need Me: A True Story tells of her life as a chaplain to the Maine state game wardens.  And it tells it very well -- so much so that when I saw Paul Doiron's Massacre Pond and read the description (The beauty and magnificence of the Maine woods is the setting for a story of suspense and violence when one powerful woman’s missionary zeal comes face to face with ruthless cruelty.) I thought I'd take a chance.

I'm glad I did.  Like Dick Francis did years ago with horse racing, I found myself drawn in by a master story teller.  Mike Bowditch, the game warden, is a likable protagonist caught in a web of intrigue ... oh how cliche-ish (but true) ... between Maine state game warden politics, moose-hugging rich environmentalists with seeming no regard for the local logging industry, local logging industry big-wigs who help out with Big Brothers but may have a seamy side, a very attractive young woman, the woman he really loves, and ...    Well, it's a pretty good size web ole Mike is caught in -- which makes for a good story -- beach or otherwise.  And the good news for beach readers, is that Massacre Pond will be out in July.   And it's origins are in a true tale.

The second really good book is about the power of words.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can lead us to homicide.  Lexicon, by Max Barry, features a street-wise hustler (Emily Ruff) who is trained to have a persuasive way with words.  Very persuasive.  This grrrl of the streets is not always trust-worthy -- or is she?  The novel is all about the power of words and their effect on us.  It's also a cautionary tale about all the data gathering that is going on all about us.  I'd say, given the recent NSA revelations and the hunt for Edward Snowden, the publisher scored a wonderful release date (June 18, 2013).

Lexicon is a bit dystopia in the vein of Margaret Atwood's novels and also similar (in the theme of the power of words) to Ben Marcus' The Flame Alphabet.  You can read my review of the latter here.  Its readability puts it closer to Atwood than Marcus' ponderous book and so I really enjoyed it.  Yes, you have to suspend disbelief.  But any of us who work in words -- fiction or non -- invite readers to do that somewhat every day.  And we who work in words know their power -- and hope to use them (benignly and beneficiently, in my case!) to persuade readers.  Emily Ruff is just a bit more casual -- at least at first -- about how she uses words.  Lexicon is thoughtful thriller.  It's no War and Peace, but it's a better than usual summer time read that entertains, makes you think and is available now. 

Stay tuned for more reviews ...

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