Themes: / hard-boiled / noir / crime / mystery /
Tal Howard, a disillusioned Korean War vet, breaks away from his old life, looking for answers and convinced he’s going to find them in the small town of Hillston. What’s in Hillston? Sixty grand in embezzled funds that Howard learned about from a dying friend in a POW camp. He just needs to find out where the money is hidden and contend with another former POW who has come looking for it, Earl Fitzmartin–a psychopath they were all terrified of in the camp. Howard soon learns that the secret to the money’s location lies in the dead man’s past, which must be discovered through the women he knew, such as the respectable Ruth Stamm and the sultry and dangerous Toni Rassele.
A reissue of John D. MacDonald’s 1955 standalone novel On The Make was among the first books to be released from independent publisher Gutter Books after evolving from a 7 issue run of the amazing Out of the Gutter short fiction journal which debuted in 2008. Gutter books released to date have included other classic crime reprints, new original crime novels from authors such as Joe McKinney, the anthology Atomic Noir edited by Duane Swierczynski with Lou Boxer, and even a reprint of Gold Medal’s 1950 UFO inquiry The Flying Saucers are Real by former Marine Corps naval aviator Donald Keyhoe. Now On The Make has launched as the first of what hopes to be many titles to be brought to the audiobook format by Gutter Books.
The reissue includes an introductory essay “The Two Sides of John D.” by Martin L. Kohler and a concluding essay by Gutter Book’s own Matthew Louis, both which I appreciate being included in the both the new print edition as well as the audiobook. I do have one slight issue with the introductory essay in that although On the Make was in fact the author’s intended title for the novel, the publishers went with a different title, one that in my opinion serves as a major plot spoiler consider a specific main character in the novel. Therefore my own recommendation would be to save both essays for enjoyment later after listening to the story first. That being said, my understanding is that the mention in the prologue was left intact so as not to mislead any readers who may have already be familiar with the book from the former title.
The hard-boiled 1st person narrative of On the Make is handled well by narrator Robert Armin, whose other audiobook credits include non-fiction, self-help, children’s, and crime titles as well as his own writing. The main character, Tal Howard, is a veteran of the Korean War brought to a small town seeking buried riches hinted to him from the last wishes of a fellow prisoner of war. Tal quickly finds many others snooping around and that other strangers have already outstayed their welcome in the town of Hillston. I’ve personally only read other standalone novels from the John D MacDonald bibliography and based on what I’ve read I feel this novel serves as a great introduction to this period. The essays give a good comparison and contrast from this era with his later and better known Travis McGee series of novels. Also of interest and mentioned in high regard is the science fiction works of the author which have included short stories and a handful of novels. I recalled enjoying On the Make first time around when I read the Gutter Books paperback, and enjoyed revisiting the story with the audiobook. I may have to check out some of the John D. MacDonald series or sci-fi novels.
Themes: / teleportation / coming-of-age /crime /
What if you could go anywhere in the world, in the blink of an eye? Where would you go? What would you do? Davy can teleport. To survive, Davy must learn to use and control his power in a world that is more violent and complex than he ever imagined. But mere survival is not enough for him. Davy wants to find others like himself, others who can Jump. And that’s a dangerous game.
It’s actually interesting to note the timing for my reading of this book. I’d just finished Larry Correia’s Hard Magic and jumped (pun intended) right into Jumper by Steven Gould, the new SFWA president.
I absolutely loved Hard Magic and Correia’s book dealt with a wide variety of different magics, from the Pale Horse who can make people die to the Heavies who can use magic to move objects (and much more as we find out) and even teleports who can disappear and appear anywhere they want. Jumper, on the other hand, only deals with one power, teleportation. How could this book even compete?
And yet as complicated and well-thought-out as Hard Magic is, even going so far as to explain what happens when you teleport into a bug (it melds with your skin and really hurts), Jumper was an excellent story in its simplicity. Jumper explains some of the nuances of the powers of teleportation, but not nearly as in-depth as Correia (I know, even with all the other powers it deals with).
Davy learns about his powers through some pretty brutal circumstances. His dad is an alcoholic who regularly beats him, but in the middle of one episode, he suddenly “jumps” away to his local library. From there, he decides not to go back, but that doesn’t mean he understands or even knows how to use his newfound skills. Davy gets into more trouble out on his own with scumbags who try to rape him and again he accidentally teleports out of the situation and back to the library.
And so begins Davy’s use of his powers and his fledgling understanding of what he is able to do. This, this right here, is the genius of this story. I can’t imagine finding myself with these powers, especially at a young age and with such brutal circumstances, but I’m sure it would be something very similar to this. Okay, with a few less problems because not everyone encounters one problem after the next, but overall it works so well. The performance by MacLeod Andrews is a good capture of being a teenager, crackly voice and all.
I’m also happy to report that the book is leaps and bounds better than the movie. With such a cool premise and such great previews, how did that movie suck so much? Oh yeah, they got the worst actor in the world to be the lead.
On the topic of the movie, if you are one of the poor souls who sat through it (it did have its moments of not being terrible I have to admit), the movie follows the book pretty well for the most part although there are some things that are added, but I’m wondering if those elements don’t appear in the sequels to this book which I’ll have to read and get back to you about.
To recap. Jumper is much better than the movie and works well because of its simplicity. It’s nothing that will change the world in terms of ideas or writing, but it’s great for what it’s meant for – action and exploration. It displays a power we all wish we could have and does so brilliantly and realistically.
4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)
Posted by Bryce L.
Themes: / crime / noir / amusement parks /
Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever. Joyland is a brand-new novel and has never previously been published.
I’d like to think of myself as an experienced Stephen King reader. I’ve read about 25 of his books, but that’s only about a 3rd of what he’s written.
At first I found myself wondering if I had the author right. I kept waiting for horrible things to happen: evil clowns, monsters, Randall Flagg. You know, a Stephen King book. There are carnies, but no evil clowns. That’s probably not fair on my part, he has written a variety of things over the years, and not all of it is horror. Still it’s what he’s best known for, and it can be a bit surprising when evil isn’t lurking around every corner.
That isn’t to say this book doesn’t have some spookiness and a sense of the fantastical going on. Joyland is about a 21 year old college student named Devin Jones, recently ditched by his girlfriend who takes a summer job working at an amusement park in North Carolina called Joyland in the 1970s. One of Joyland’s biggest attractions is the Horror House, said to be haunted by the ghost of a girl who was murdered during the ride a few years past. That sounds more like the Stephen King we all know, right?
During his job interview, he meets the resident “psychic” who gives him a prediction about his future. He’s skeptical, because surely, it’s all just an act for the show, right? What follows is a time that Devin will never forget, and a story I greatly enjoyed. It’s actually quite heart warming in places. It’s really a book about people more than anything.
It’s certainly not one of his scariest books, but it’s one of the best of his I’ve read. It’s certainly more The Shawshank Redemption than It. At only 283 pages/7.5 hours it’s much shorter than Mr. King’s usual fare as well, but I’d definitely recommend it as a quick read.
The book is narrated by Michael Kelly who is probably better known as an actor than as an audiobook reader. This is the first book I’ve listened to with him. Unsurprisingly he speaks in a clear manner, with good inflection. He does a few accents for some of the characters, but not all.
Review by Rob Zak.
Themes: / crime / dark fantasy /
When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious, bloody deaths out in the badlands, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible. But if she is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, Cora must first confront her own tragic past.
Drunk two-dimensional Buffy in the Ole West? Kind of but not as good, or as interesting.
The best part of this story comes at the opening with the deputy and sheriff investigating a murder scene in a wooded glen. This section is good writing and it’s unfortunate that Collins dropped the ball after this point. As soon as we make it into town, the narrative loses steam and barely manages a fizzle beyond this point. Lee Collins is prone to the overuse of clichéd metaphors, similes, adjectives, and verbs. Collins seems to handle nouns okay though. Here’s the thing, Collins has a blocky, predictable, dull-as-paint style of telling a story wrapped up with the failed promise of improvement. It never gets better than the beginning.
The elements of fantasy are embodied within one windigo and several nondescript vampires with one “big bad” thrown in for good measure. And before you think I’m attaching the label of “big bad,” I am not. Yes, Collins actually used that phrase to describe a vampire boss. Oh and did I mention there’s an English chap who’s rather bookish and knows a lot about the supernatural? Hmm, wonder where Collins came up with that… The fantasy in this book seems second rate at best and at worst, they come across as a generic knockoff of Buffy. Technically there is fantasy in this story. One might even call it “dark fantasy” if one wasn’t overly concerned with accuracy. As I’ve said, this is a great commuter candidate but it falls apart if you look at it too close. If I were going to sum up my feelings about this in two words, they’d be “disappointingly unoriginal.”
Kaleo Griffith as narrator does a good job. And while I would prefer it if he would back down the level of dramatization, he is a solid reader. But someone needs to inform him to stop injecting that level of base into his voice when he says the chapter number. Funny at first and then just creepy bizarre.
This would be a good audiobook for a long commute. You don’t have to pay much attention to it and if you don’t expect much, maybe it will float your boat… or not.
Posted by Casey Hampton.
The Other Typist
By Suzanne Rindell; Performed by Gretchen Mol
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 7 May 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours; 8 discs
Themes: / 1920s / thriller / crime / speakeasies / stenographers / obsession /
It is 1923. Rose Baker is a typist in the New York City Police Department on the lower east side. Confessions are her job. The criminals admit to their crimes, and like a high priestess, Rose records their every word. Often she is the only woman present. And while she may hear about shootings, knifings, and crimes of passion, as soon as she leaves that room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for making coffee.It is a new era for women, and New York City is a confusing time for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. Now women bob their hair short like men, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. But prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her childhood and clinging to the Victorian ideal of sisterhood.But when glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under Odalie’s spell. As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully into Odalie’s high stakes world and her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.
I can see why this book is on the “must-read” list for book clubs, because there would be a lot to discuss. Who is the “other typist” and what exactly happened in the end?
Posted by Jenny Colvin
Black Heart: The Curse Workers, Book 3
By Holly Black; Narrated By Jesse Eisenberg
6 hrs and 33 mins – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Themes: / Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / FBI / Crime / Curses / Magic /
Girls like her, my grandfather once warned me, girls like her turn into women with eyes like bullet holes and mouths made of knives. They are always restless. They are always hungry. They are bad news. They will drink you down like a shot of whisky. Falling in love with them is like falling down a flight of stairs. What no one told me, with all those warnings, is that even after you’ve fallen, even after you know how painful it is, you’d still get in line to do it again.
That’s Cassel Sharpe for you. He’s stuck on Lila Zacharov and stuck good. It’s a real shame that he’s under duress to work undercover for the FBI and she’s enthusiastically training to take a place in her father’s crime family. If only that were his only problem.
As in the previous two books of the Curse Workers trilogy, where certain individuals are born with the ability to curse others with the touch of a finger, we’re working up to a big con job that will save the day. Meanwhile Cassel is continually attempting to become a better person, a good person, while navigating a gritty maze of gray moral choices.
He’s given plenty of opportunities because his special curse working skill means that everyone wants to use him. Sorting through lures, threats, and blackmail from family, the mob, and the government becomes a way of life and gives author Holly Black plenty of room to weave plots.
Cassel’s mother is held hostage, a long-ago diamond heist must be solved, a fellow student needs help against a blackmailer, the government needs him for a special mission that could end bigotry against curse workers, and his roommate has girl friend problems. And let’s not forget the main attraction, Cassel’s tumultuous relationship with Lila, who now hates him. Yep. It’s all in a day’s work for Cassel Sharpe.
As always, it comes down to an elaborate con which pulls everything together and wraps things up, while managing to stay plausible. Black has the courage to bring her trilogy to a definite end and I applaud her for doing so. The ending is not tidy, but I liked it that way. It managed to be satisfying while simultaneously reflecting the uncertainty of Cassel’s life. And that is quite a feat.
Interestingly, this last book of the trilogy contained a spot where author Holly Black suddenly took a misstep in writing from a male perspective. In a love scene a guy would not be talking about his flat stomach and corded muscles … that’s a girl’s turn on. He’d be talking about her … ahem … various attributes. Black did such a good job the rest to of the time that this rang particularly false and it isn’t a big deal. Just … interesting.
Audio Notes: As with the preceding Curse Worker books, Jesse Eisenberg’s narration is perfect for conveying Cassel’s awkwardness. I particularly enjoy the moments when he portrays other characters through slight alterations which manage to communicate a surprising amount about the people he is voicing. His narration is a big part of my enjoyment of the series. Would I read other Curse Worker books instead of listening to the audio? Probably not. Eisenberg is Cassel and I like it that way.
Posted by Julie D.