alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 60: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

“Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.”

I enjoyed this book a lot. It moves fairly quickly, and has a wry sense of humor assisted by a touch of charming old-timeyness. It’s also poignant and thoughtful without being maudlin, and, not for nothing, I think the cover art is pretty cool. The story takes place during the Gold Rush, and the titular Sisters Brothers — their last name is Sisters — are infamous contract killers. Narration comes through Eli, the “sensitive” brother, and though I put “sensitive” in scare quotes, he really does seem like a kind of cuddly bear when you get down to it: he could definitely kill you if he felt so inclined, but he’d honestly rather not.

As I read this awhile back then settled comfortably into laziness regarding ever writing a Cannonball review again, I’m forced to rely on somewhat stale impressions. One thing I remember really enjoying was the dialogue — both the conversations themselves and Eli’s mental reactions to said conversations. For instance, Eli is about 200% done here with a would-be Scary Guy who is all talk: “Returning his pen to its holder, he told us, ‘I will have him gutted with that scythe. I will hang him by his own intestines.’ At this piece of dramatic exposition, I could not hep but roll my eyes. A length of intestines would not carry the weight of a child, much less a full grown man.” Another great remark comes later, from a man who shares with Charlie Sisters a possible reason for people overpaying, exorbitantly, for everything in Gold Rush-era San Francisco: “…I am happy to welcome you to a town peopled in morons exclusively. Furthermore, I hope that your transformation to moron is not an unpleasant experience.”

All in all, thumbs up. I had this on my reading list for awhile and was putting it off because though I had heard good things, it’s a member of a genre I don’t regularly gravitate toward. If I’d known how much I would enjoy it, I’d have picked it up a lot sooner.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #22-23: The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, Volumes 1 and 2 by Tom Hutchison, Alisson Borges and Kate Finnegan

The Wicked WestTarget: Tom Hutchison’s The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West Volumes 1 and 2.  Art by Alisson Borges and Kate Finnegan.  Collecting the original miniseries and Issues #1-5

Profile: Comics, Fantasy, Western, Oz

The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West is a truly stunning graphic novel.  Pitched as a reimagining of the L. Frank Baum masterpiece in a ‘Wild West’ setting, The Wicked West manages the difficult task of remaining true to its roots while exploring new territory.  But what stands out is the strength of the characters.  Both fresh and familiar, these new iterations of the much beloved Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are the driving force behind a story that is incredibly dynamic and compelling.

The Wicked West SouthThe Wicket West opens with Dorothy, who goes by her last name in this adaptation, making her way towards the Emerald City.  It has been three years since a twister pulled her and her horse, Toto, from their Kansas home and dropped them on the Wicked Witch of the East.  The Munchkins gave Gale the witch’s ruby spurs and gem-encrusted pistols as a reward and she’s been on the yellow-brick road ever since.  But the road has been pulled up by bandits and Gale has been lost for years.  Being lost has kept her off the radar for a while, but when she stumbles into a saloon filled with flying monkeys, the hunt is on again.

Read the rest of the review…

loulamac’s #CBR5 review #11: True Grit by Charles Portis

true-grit-book-cover

I’m mad about Westerns. I grew up watching them on BBC2 (The River of No Return and High Noon were particular favourites), studied the films of John Ford as part of my degree (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Genius), am a giant fan of Tombstone and cried when Deadwood was cancelled (thank god for Justified). So I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only seen Jeff Bridges’ turn as the legendary Rooster Cogburn, especially as my mum tells me the John Wayne movie is far better. Anyway, I started this book prepared to fall in love, and fall in love I did.

The narrator is Mattie Ross, who, as a self-confessed ‘cranky old maid’, tells the tale of an adventure she had as a headstrong 14 year old in late 19th century Arkansas. When her father is murdered, local law enforcement show no interest in catching the criminal and Mattie has no alternative but to find a man for the job, a man with ‘true grit’. That man is Rooster Cogburn, a tough US Marshall. The unlikely pair, plus a Texas Ranger, set off into Indian territory on a quest to track down the killer.

The people living in this harsh, wintry world of mass hangings and train hold-ups are lightly but convincingly drawn – from Mattie and Rooster themselves to minor characters such as the Chinese shop owner (and closest thing Cogburn has to a friend) or Mattie’s family lawyer. By the time of the showdown between a gang of outlaws and our makeshift posse, you care so very deeply about whether Mattie will avenge her father, and indeed if she will survive at all.

While the headstrong Mattie addresses the reader in a dispassionate, matter of fact and often very funny manner, there is a world of unspoken emotion within the telling of her tale. Her love for her father and gratitude to Cogburn come across, despite her deliberate eschewing of sentimentality or weakness. She is quick to point out others’ failings (her exchange with the Texas Ranger on their first meeting is particularly charming), and expects people to be lazy, greedy, cowardly and selfish. Rooster is one of the few she misjudges, although it can be up to you to decide whether he is motivated by materialism or a sense of affection and responsibility for the impossible girl who has hired him.

The only failing of the book is that it’s just 215 pages long. I wanted more!

ABR’s #CBR5 Review #6: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

6lonesomeI believe the words ‘epic’ and ‘sweeping’ were invented for a book like Lonesome Dove. Written in 1985, Lonesome Dove was the first of a series of books by Larry McMurtry that tells the stories of several retired Texas Rangers as they drive a cattle herd from Texas to Montana.

The book opens in 1876 at the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium in the Texas border town of Lonesome Dove. Captain Augustus McCrae (Gus) and Captain Woodrow Call are retired Texas Rangers who now spend their days drinking, stealing horses and gambling. When Jake Spoon, a charming but lazy acquaintance returns to Lonesome Dove, he raves about the land and riches awaiting in Montana. Gus and Call are persuaded to round up a crew and a herd and head ‘Up North.’

What happens in the next 900 pages could be a stereotypical story of wizened cowboys, naive cowhands and lovelorn women, but McMurtry’s characters are developed so fully and richly. There is love and drama and tragedy but nothing is overwrought. Bad things happen, good things happen, and much like the massive cattle herd, the novel moves on.

I wouldn’t say Lonesome Dove is an easy read. It is long, and there are a lot of characters. Some have a large role in the novel, some you only learn their fates through the stories of the primary characters. But it is a rewarding read, especially if you savor the way the novel seems to perfectly capture the harshness of the era and the fortitude of the people who survived it.

Alexis’s #CBR5 Review #4, Red Country, Joe Abercrombie

red countryShy is a hard woman with a dark past. Lamb is a giant of a man and a bloody coward. But he’s the closest thing to a father Shy and her two young siblings is ever going to have. When Shy finds her farm burnt to the ground and her young brother and sister taken, Shy and Lamb take off cross country to find them. It is a journey that will cost them everything they are.

“What do we do if we catch them?” she muttered, keeping her voice down. “Chances are they’re going to be armed and willing. Better armed than us, that’s sure.”

“Recon we’ll have to be more willing then.”

There are many detailed characters in Red Country but none is as riveting as Lamb, a quiet man who kept his head bowed for years, farming, raising children that weren’t his own. Perhaps the story of Lamb draws from too many familiar tropes (the lone warrior, ronin, etc.) but Lamb’s journey, dialogue, and challenges haunt me weeks after finishing the book.

I didn’t want no trouble,” said Lamb. “It blew in anyway. Trouble’s got a habit that way.” He pushed his wet hair out of his face, and his eyes were wide open, bright, bright, mouth open too, breathing fast, and he was smiling. Not like a man working his way up to a hard task. Like a man enjoying getting to a pleasant one, taking his time about it like you might over a fine meal, and of a sudden Shy saw all those scars anew, and felt this coldness creeping up her arms and down her back and every hair on her standing.

Elsewhere Captain General Nicomo Cosca leads The Company of the Gracious Hand, a fierce bunch of mercenary murderers and thieves, accompanied by a feckless lawyer named Temple. The Company of the Gracious Hand has been hired by the inquisition to route hidden pockets of rebels, which they mean to do by burning and pillaging their way across the country. It’s a Red Country indeed.

This is a fantastic book that spans many characters, miles of travel, and battles. No one ends the journey unscathed, definitely not Lamb who turns out to have a much richer and darker past than Shy ever suspected. Abercrombie’s Law of the Blade trilogy is also fantastic but the characters are so dark that you almost stop caring about them. In Red Country, Shy, Temple, and definitely Lamb are dark, broken characters and yet you never stop rooting for them to succeed. They are forced into many hard choices, each with a hefty price to pay, and each conflict brings an uneasy resolution. Yet the dialogue has so much sly wit and humor that the book never seems TOO dark or bleak. There is a spark of hope and warmth that keeps the balance.

Joe Abercrombie is a modern master of the anti-hero and Red Country is his best work to date. I highly recommend.