Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Western”

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #41: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Target: Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law (Mistborn #4/ex)

Profile: Fantasy, Western, Steampunk

Waxillium is a stupid name.  Okay, so you wanted to call your protagonist Wax.  Fine.  There are better ways to get there.  Ways that don’t leave the guy sounding like a posh hair-removal process.  Uh… where was I?

I’m developing problems with Brandon Sanderson.  Yes, I really enjoyed The Way of Kings and the first two Mistborn books, but The Hero of Ages left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.  The biggest problem was that Sanderson had padded out the last book with reused scenes from the first two, and spent more time re-telling the history of the world he had built than he spent moving the story forward.  Now with his fourth Mistborn book, one separated from its predecessors by three hundred years and a canonical world reboot, Sanderson is STILL using the same damn ballroom scenes!

Read the rest of the review…

Read Fofo’s reviews of the Mistborn books

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #83: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

I fell into Lonesome Dove when my book club facilitator chose it as our next discussion choice. The size of the book didn’t faze me but the subject—an honest-to-God cowboys-and-Indians western—sure did! Hardly my idea of great literature. I somewhat reluctantly picked it up, mindful of the huge stack of other books waiting at my bedside. To my surprise and delight, the story was captivating, the characters complex, and the scenery descriptions awesome. McMurty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has it all—the lonesome cowboy, the whore with the heart of gold, the surly Mexican cook, the big bad Indian—and yet despite the clichés, McMurty manages to inject enough genuine humanity into his book to speak compellingly to readers of a different era.

Former Texas Ranger legends Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call are getting on in years, and the Texas bandits and Indians they fought for decades are pretty much a memory. They have set up a horse-trading operation in the tiny town of Lonesome Dove, where the only entertainment is the bar above which the pretty but infinitely sad Lorie plies her trade and dreams of escape to San Francisco. Newt is the 16-year-old son of Lorie’s predecessor Maggie, who died of a broken heart after Call briefly indulged his human side just long enough to get her pregnant and then decided he couldn’t handle the messiness of human relations and retreated back into his workaholic shell. After Maggie’s death, Newt was taken in and raised by Call and Gus, but he suspects that his father might be the carefree Jake Spoon, another Texas Ranger who had a fling with Maggie and then left town to follow his hard drinking and gambling heart. At the start of the novel, Jake returns to Lonesome Dove after being gone more than a decade, fleeing the law after having “accidentally” killed a guy in Arkansas. His lighthearted affair with Lorie melts her lonely heart and she cleaves to him as her chance to get away from her miserable existence, but as Gus puts it, Jake is looking for someone to take care of him, not the other way around.

Jake’s mention of the open grassy plains of Montana somehow triggers a thirst in Call for one last great adventure, and he convinces Gus to put together a herd they will drive some 3,000 miles to the north.  For Call, it is an unformed—and uninformed–urge for change, but for Gus, it’s a chance to see his old flame Clara, whose ranch is somewhere along the route.  The constant banter between Call and McCrae—total opposites in character and yet profoundly dependent on each other—makes up the core of the book, while the constant tragedy and hardscrabble existence of early American western life is the backdrop.

I found the book a great deal of fun, but also unexpectedly poignant. Not great literature, but a delightful read nonetheless.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 review #07 of Elmore Leonard’s The Law at Randado

My second stab at Mr. Leonard’s work is a Western from early in his career. Back when I was younger, way before the internet, I read everything available and frequently hit up family friends and the local library for books. Originally I preferred mysteries, but when I ran out of those, I disovered both science fiction and westerns. Mostly I was exposed to Zane Grey and Louis L’amour. Mr. Leonard would easily fit in with them, although (based on a single book and a couple of short stories) Mr. Leonard’s characters may be a bit different and his style is somewhat unique. The hero of The Law at Randado is a local boy who was “promoted” from cattle hand to deputy. The sheriff and judge are at the county seat some distance away. When the book starts, the deputy has arrested two Mexican men who were stealing cattle from the wealthiest ranch in the area. He is also trying to stop some Native American’s making illegal whiskey. He’s caught one and is searching for the others. The three prisoners are in his jail awaiting the sheriff coming and transporting them for trial. The wealthy rancher is old and dying and his son is pretty much the poster child for mean, spoiled, rich boy. He bullies, although in most cases is doesn’t take much, some of the more prominent townspeople into inciting the population into a lynch mob. They take the two cattle thieves out of the jail and lynch them. The deputy returns, gets beat up, goes to the sheriff, gets warrants, returns, gets beat up and hauled out of town again, then returns again. It’s pretty much a standard western, except it isn’t. The deputy is tough and stubborn, but he isn’t the fastest gun, nor the best brawler. He confronts his enemies head on, but uses his brains. There is a gun fight, but it isn’t the quick draw you would expect and the final confrontation is unusual and non-violent to say the least.


Leonard’s humor and style isn’t as polished as his more recent work, but it’s there. His philosophy seems to be to tell the story and not let unnecessary description get in the way. That may be why so many of his tales become movies or books. To read a Leonard story is to use your imagination, because he tells you what’s happening, but unless it’s very critical, not what anything looks like. If he wants you to know someone is a tall man, he doesn’t tell you, but a character in the story might mention it, or you might have to figure it out from the man’s actions. This book isn’t something I would go out of my way to find, but if you are into westerns, it’s not a bad one. It wouldn’t make it into my favorites anytime soon.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 review #06 of Elmore Leonard’s Raylan

I picked a horrible year to try a Cannonball read, even just a partial one.  I recently started a new, sort of, assignment at work, only due to the state’s weird hiring practices, I have spent the last 2 months, and will spend most of next month, working 2 caseloads.  I’ve done lots of reading, but I doubt many of you would appreciate my reviews of various policy manuals dealing with the supervision of high risk offenders.  Plus I doubt my agency would find my reviewing them very amusing.  I also received my first foster child in February and I am getting on the job parenting training.  Fortunately supervising felons and raising children require a very similar skill set and sense of humor.  Anyway, my pleasure reading has taken a beating but I am too stubborn to give up so here is a belated review.  I should have two others posted soon.

I have somehow avoided reading Mr. Leonard’s books despite having seen many movie and television shows based on them.  How I managed to avoid such a prolific writer for so long, I have no idea.  Recently while in the library, I managed a few seconds between hunting down Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z books to sneak into the adult section.  Based on the fact I like Justified, I felt it was time to give Mr. Leonard a good try so I grabbed 3 books, a western, a Raylan Givens book and another book with a recurring character.  I meant to get Pronto, but grabbed Raylan by accident.  I don’t know whether it is the same in the first two books about Raylan Givens, but this book felt less a novel and more three  short stories that happen to be tied together by sharing some common events and characters.  From researching a little after reading, I wasn’t the only one to feel this way, and other people more familiar with the author say this was not the best introduction to his work.   Despite this opinion, I read the book fairly quickly.  Leonard’s style is very easy to read. Despite the title, Raylan Givens seems almost an afterthought in most of this book.  The first chunk of the book deals with a couple of rather dim-witted drug dealers who branch out, with help, into a weird extortion scheme where they remove a victim’s kidneys, then try to sell them back to him.  From there it moves into a mining company that more or less bullies everyone that disagrees with them, which happens to be most of the community, resulting in a murder, and onto a group or strippers turned bank robbers and a rather sexy poker playing coed who skipped out on a warrant.  The stories are tied together mainly by a few characters appearing in two or more stories.  Raylan isn’t developed as a character at all, but does get to shoot some people.  I am fairly sure this book was probably put out to capitalize on the television series and as such Raylan is portrayed more like the series on television and less like the previous books.  I am glad i picked up a couple of other books though, as I want to see what Mr. Leonard can do.  I like the style,  dialogue and humor enough to want to see what it’s like when there aren’t any restraints on it.

Kemp Ridley’s #CBR4 Review #13: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The short review: Vince and Jules from Pulp Fiction in an episode of Deadwood written by the Coen Brothers. If any of that appeals to you, get this immediately.

The longer review: Eli and Charlie Sisters are a pair of badass killers on the Oregon Trail in 1851.  Their boss sends them to San Francisco to find one Herman Kermitt Warm and kill him.  What results is weirdly funny, at times nastily violent and sometimes shot through with a weird sadness; as Eli himself puts it, the brothers’ story is “a tangle of grotesqueness and failure.”

Eli – somewhat overweight, somewhat slow – is the narrator, and he tells the tale in the weirdly lyrical way of a classic Coen dimwit.  (Imagine, say, a portlier H.I. McDunnough waxing poetic about his one-eyed horse.)  Eli is a jangle of contradictions.  He is incongruously kind to women and animals; he is fascinated by the idea of brushing his teeth (a concept he is first exposed to en route to San Francisco); he has begun to seriously question his life choices; and yet he becomes terrifying at the drop of a hat: “My very center was beginning to expand, as it always did before violence, a toppled pot of black ink covering the frame of my mind, its contents ceaseless, unaccountably limitless.  My flesh and scalp started to ring and tingle and I became someone other than myself, or I became my second self, and this person was highly pleased to be stepping from the murk and into the living world where he might do just as he wished.”

The first two-thirds or so of the novel covers the brothers’ picaresque journey from Oregon City to San Francisco.  Along the way they meet whores, batshit crazy prospectors, hopelessly lost travelers and would-be outlaws.  They kill a whole bunch of folks.  The brothers frequently bicker, and Eli begins to realize that neither Charlie nor their employer take him very seriously, and this dawning awareness leads him, for the first time, to seriously consider a new line of work.  In the novel’s final third, the brothers reach San Francisco and find their quarry but become tempted to break their contract and spare the man’s life, a decision that works out about as well as you’d expect.

I was really surprised by how much I liked this novel.  I read it after Wil Wheaton gave it a glowing review as part of The Morning News Tournament of Books.  I’m kind of a reverse lit snob in that I studiously avoid reading anything that smacks of “literary fiction”, but Wheaton’s enthusiasm fascinated me and I had to give it a go.  I finished the book a day or so ago, and yet Eli has stuck with me in a way that narrators rarely do.  I like to think that he’s still out there.  I wish him well.

As a side note, I understand the John C. Reilly has bought the rights to the book and wants to play Eli.  Can’t wait.  (Although, given my druthers, I’d probably pick W. Earl Brown.  I can see a lot of Big Dan in Eli.)

llp’s #CBR IV Review 5: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers has won numerous literary awards in Canada, including the Governor General’s Award, but I must have been living under a rock, because I had not heard of it until it was recommended by another CBR participant at the end of CBR III. There were some mixed reviews on Pajiba, so I was curious about how I would like it. I enjoyed it, but it isn’t a book that I would ever read again.

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #8: Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke

Feast Day of Fools is my first introduction to James Lee Burke, and I was simultaneously fascinated and repelled by his novel. Take the elderly broken-down sheriff of a dusty old Texan town near the Mexican border who is fighting too many demons from his past to enumerate. Put him in an improbable on-again/off-again romantic relationship with his much younger female deputy. Now put him in an equally improbable would-be relationship with an ageless Asian woman who used to run dope as part of the Iran-Contra fiasco through an in famous CIA airline, and who is now doing penance for her sins by running an “underground railroad” for Mexican illegals. Now surround these three with not one or two or three, but four terrifyingly psychotic killers, throw in a repentant drunken Indian and a repentant FBI agent dying of cancer, and you’ve got a bloodsoaked Western soap opera.

Making it even more absurd are the killers. One is a machinegun-toting religious fanatic and mass murderer—with a conscience … sort of—who is also a literary genius. Another is a Mexican former mercenary for the CIA, who carries his mummified dead children around with him in a box and utters eloquent philosophical truths despite his peasant background. Then there is his mestizo “lieutenant” who maintains a private cemetery of his victims whom he buries alive and who also occasionally spouts gems of wisdom. Another is a soulless Russian mobster who “takes his enemies apart,” literally piece by piece and in very dramatic fashion. Oh, and let’s not forget to include our fifth “bad guy”: a former collaborator of the Russian mobster and the spoiled pedophile son of the now-dead and unlamented senator from Texas who had tried—but failed–to turn our hero sheriff into his private political pawn decades earlier.

The plot, in short, is centered around a former government weapons designer on a personal mission of redemption, an apparent innocent who is being hunted by all and sundry for the secrets he carries in his head. It falls to our “too good for his own good” sheriff to step into the bloodied waters and try to protect him from the sharks that have gathered for the kill. All together, one might be forgiven for passing on this book. And yet…and yet…. I have to confess that I was totally drawn into the author’s descriptions of the locale and his ruminations—through his very colorful characters–on everything from politics to religion to war. Redemption is the recurrent theme of the novel, although whether the book is itself redeemable is up for debate. Burke is a skillful writer and has a depth to his stories that can’t be ignored, the somewhat silly plot notwithstanding.

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