Book Review: The Year of the Storm by John Mantooth

I’m a pre-maturely middle-aged curmudgeon, who no longer enjoys reading coming-of-age stories.  There, I said it.

Now let me say something else: The Year of the Storm, a crime/horror/literary coming-of-age novel, is a fantastic book.  Told through two perspectives, one a fourteen year old boy named Danny, the other an old man named Walter, the story revolves around two missing people: Danny’s mother and sister, who are presumed by many to be dead.  When the novel begins, Danny is desperate to know what happened, and then Walter, a chain-smoking wreck-of-a-man, appears on Danny’s doorstep in the middle of the night. Turns out, Walter may know something about Danny’s mother and sister, but in order to find them, Danny will have to engage in “slipping,” which, essentially means using the power of imagination to slip from the real world to another one.  Entered into via a hidden storm shelter, this other world is guarded by a purely evil man who is holding Danny’s mother and sister as well as two other innocent young girls. In the end, Danny faces his fears and goes into this other world, so you could also call this a quest tale.  As for plot, I don’t want to say much more.

There is much to praise in this jewel of a book, but I’ll start with the prose. Reminiscent of Ron Rash, the writing is elegantly spare with a depth of insight and heart not often seen in novels, let alone debut efforts. Throughout the narrative, I felt as if I were sitting on a back porch somewhere, cold beer in hand listening to these two men tell me a very personal, very engaging story.  It is a testament to the strength of voice in this novel that early on in the story I no longer thought of Danny and Walter as characters, but as two men, flawed and conflicted, yes, but fundamentally decent human beings, ones I could relate to and root for. Great care was put into every sentence in this novel, and it is worth reading for the prose alone, but I also appreciate–on many levels–the use of the storm shelter and the storms themselves as literary devices. Granted, bad weather–tornadoes and lightning storms, in particular–are overused tropes in literature, and in the hands of a lesser author, they might have come across as passe or trite.  But in this book, they fit perfectly and add layer upon layer of meaning.  Danny is fourteen, which, as many of us know, means he is not a boy anymore, but he is not a man either, and the storms mirror that chaotic swirl of emotions that occur during that time in adolescence. Too, the storms make for a useful metaphor for fear, or, more specifically, facing down our deepest fears.  A final element I enjoyed: this book is thematically dense while being extremely enjoyable. Weaved near-flawlessly into the fabric of the narrative are half a dozen themes: good versus evil; belief in magic; human sympathy; conquering deeply-held fears; friendship; and many more besides. And what’s particularly impressive about this is the author manages to nail pretty much of all of them.  Readers of all ages could pick up this book and find something profound about human experience, something worth reflecting on.

In the end, The Year of the Storm manages to walk confidently on that tissue-thin line between a horror/crime novel and what is known as a literary book. It manages to make a reader turn pages AND think AND feel.  That, I think, is a feat in and of itself . . .and a fairly stunning one at that.  Read this book immediately.

The Year of the Storm

http://www.amazon.com/The-Year-Storm-John-Mantooth/dp/0425265749

Book Review: Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage by Steve Ulfelder

The fourth book in the Conway Sax series, Wolverine Bros. starts off with Sax going to L.A. to track down Kenny Spoon, the has-been TV star son of Eudora Spoon, a wealthy ex-alcoholic and close friend of Sax.  Dying of cancer, Eudora wants to reconnect with her youngest son, and Sax, a part-time mechanic and full-time problem-solver, agrees, no questions asked.  Only this time, he probably should have asked some questions.  Once in Los Angeles, Sax, with the help of an ex-cop friend named McCord, discovers that Kenny Spoon is being held hostage by a tough-as-nails Brazilian gang.  Resourceful as ever, Sax manages to extract Kenny from the situation and fly him back to Massachusetts to see Eudora.  .  .but then the very next day she is shot and killed.  Questions abound as to the motivation for the killing.  Was she murdered by the Brazilian gang as payback for taking Kenny Spoon? Or was it someone after her considerable land holdings, land where a casino could be built someday? Whoever is responsible, Sax makes a solemn vow:

“No gray. . .Not this time. Everybody pays.”

Like the other installments of this series, the plot in Wolverine Bros. is engaging, fast-paced, and action-packed.  I was particularly impressed with the monologue-type feel to Sax’s narration, the way you can actually hear the narrator’s distinct voice as you read, almost as if Conway was sitting in your living room, iced tea in hand, telling you a wild story. Another impressive aspect: the clipped prose and short paragraphs, both of which keep the story move, move, moving, and give the narration a sense of immediacy and urgency.  But what I really think is genius about these books is the well-rounded (and constantly-evolving) protagonist Conway Sax.  As a reader, I can easily identify with Sax, for he is practically everything good fathers attempt to teach their sons: he is tough, honest, reliable, capable, and persistent.  And those qualities are sorely missing in people in general and men in particular these days.  In my book, that makes Conway Sax a bonafide hero, a flawed yet honorable man who knows the difference between legal and moral, between right and wrong, AND has the guts to do more than just talk.  But if you require more evidence that this is a truly dynamic character, here’s a quick quote from page 77 of Wolverine Bros.

“It struck me once while watching the National Geographic Channel. . .that I was a certain kind of pilot fish. . .They’re parasites–they swim alongside sharks, waiting for a kill, surviving on fallen morsels. . .I don’t wait for a kill and snap up morsels.  I ease the need. . . I find need. I attach myself, swim alongside. . .It’s the attaching that bothers me. What would I be, I sometimes wonder, what would I do if I was purely on my own?”

This is but a small sample of what makes Conway Sax the most realistic and most compelling of PIs out there today, what makes him the natural successor to tough-but-moral private eyes like Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. Any serious fan of the PI/hard-boiled genre should be reading Ulfelder’s books. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

http://www.amazon.com/Wolverine-Bros-Freight-Storage-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00GEU763E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397489412&sr=8-1&keywords=wolverine+bros+freight+and+storage

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Books I’m Looking Forward To in 2014

I must confess I don’t read a wide variety of authors, but the ones I do read, I really obsess over. Fortunately, two of those authors have new books coming out this year, and I’m taking this opportunity to geek out.  I did, however, find one author whose forthcoming novel looks very good, and is currently calling me from my Kindle. If anyone out there has books to recommend, feel free to leave a comment. Cheers.

Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage, by Steve Ulfelder

This is the fourth book featuring Conway Sax, who is by far my favorite PI out there right now.  The crisp prose and plots draw you in right away, too, but it is Sax–a tough, capable mechanic and part-time PI–who I come back for time and time again. Cut from the same cloth as private eyes like Philip Marlowe and Elvis Cole, this protagonist has layers, is a fully-realized character in a mystery genre that, on occasion, offers up too many flat or stock characters. As always, I can’t wait to see what Sax is up to this time. Read more about Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage by clicking here: http://www.amazon.com/Wolverine-Bros-Freight-Storage-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00GEU763E/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396874835&sr=1-1&keywords=wolverine+bros+freight+and+storage+steve+ulfelder

Don’t Ever Look Back, by Daniel Friedman

Don’t Ever Get Old was the best mystery/PI novel that came out in 2012, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting a new novel featuring Buck Schatz, who is my hero. He’s really old, really grouchy, really tough, and really, really, really funny. Best of all? He carries a gun! I’m pre-ordering this one today, and you should, to.  Read more about Buck Schatz and his latest exploits here: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Ever-Look-Back-Mystery/dp/125002756X

Plaster City, by Johnny Shaw

As usual, I’ve come to a series late, but I’ve read a lot about this one over the past few days, and it looks great. Shaw’s editor wrote this about the book, and it drew me in like a tractor beam:

“Set against the rough landscape of the Mexican border and California desert, Plaster City overflows with beer, shotguns, and dusty outlaws. What elevates the story are the authenticity and black humor that remind me of Elmore Leonard.”

She had me at “beer, shotguns, and dusty outlaws.”  Best part is the book is available right now on Kindle First for only a $1.99.  Click here for more: http://www.amazon.com/Plaster-City-Jimmy-Veeder-Fiasco-ebook/dp/B00F2OSFNI/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

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10 Vital Novel Writing Tips from The Marshall Plan

I’m always looking for a way to simplify the process of writing novels, and again and again, I return to the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. These ten key tips, I’ve found, to be extremely helpful. Click on the link below to read the full article.

http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm

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our story’s lead must be a sympathetic character. To achieve this end, build in four key characteristics: courage, virtue, likability, competence – See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm#sthash.wmgwkzPO.d
our story’s lead must be a sympathetic character. To achieve this end, build in four key characteristics: courage, virtue, likability, competence – See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm#sthash.wmgwkzPO.dpuf
our story’s lead must be a sympathetic character. To achieve this end, build in four key characteristics: courage, virtue, likability, competence – See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm#sthash.wmgwkzPO.dpuf
our story’s lead must be a sympathetic character. To achieve this end, build in four key characteristics: courage, virtue, likability, competence – See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm#sthash.wmgwkzPO.dpuf