David W. Schweid

This exciting historical novel is about mountain man and trapper Hugh Glass, who is working for the newly formed American Fur Company, founded in 1823 and owned by Jacob Astor when beaver pelts were worth serious cash. For men like Glass, there’s serious pressure to produce pelts and a profit for the young business—even it if means entering the land of the hostile Ariakra tribe.

The suspense is tight from the opening scene, when Hugh is attacked by a mama grizzly protecting her cubs. The wounds nearly kill him, but he lives, mostly thanks to his will and a strong desire to seek revenge on the two comrades who abandoned him and took his knife and rifle, leaving him defenseless. To survive, Glass has to battle hostile Indians, starvation and extreme weather. He even fights a ravenous wolf pack for a share of a buffalo.

The Revenant (which is soon to be a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio) gives us a vivid portrait of brutal men, living in a brutal time, in a brutal land. Some sweetness is provided in the character of a teenaged boy, a fictionalized Jim Bridger, one of the best known mountain explorers of that time. Michael Punke’s visceral prose feels authentic to the era and is full of compelling historical detail: This is Western writing at its best. Readers are immersed in a landscape that had only recently been explored by whites for the first time, thanks to the famed Lewis and Clark expedition. This thrilling book is easy to read, but hard to put down. 

 

 

This exciting historical novel is about mountain man and trapper Hugh Glass, who is working for the newly formed American Fur Company, founded in 1823 and owned by Jacob Astor when beaver pelts were worth serious cash. For men like Glass, there’s serious pressure to produce pelts and a profit for the young business—even it if means entering the land of the hostile Ariakra tribe.

This fast-paced and gripping novel is part thriller, part crime story, part mystery. It tells the story of Bobby Drake, a deputy sheriff in a small Pacific Northwest town trying to outlive the sins of his larger-than-life father, Patrick. He is doing a good job of it, until his father is let out of prison and the cycle of crime and violence begins again—threatening the peaceful existence Bobby has created.

The appearance of a wolf in the mountains, the first sighted in many decades, provides a metaphoric subplot to the main story. Bobby is tasked with tracking and protecting the wolf—one of the more benign of the many predators in the story, a category that includes Bobby’s father.

The story is told smoothly, blending sweet domestic scenes with fast action, violence, kidnapping and murder, all against the backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, which are lovingly described by author Urban Waite. The characters are realistically drawn— the good guys (especially the DEA agent and the sheriff) heavily flawed, and the bad guys very bad. But what makes Sometimes the Wolf tick is the strained but loving relationship between father and son. The plot is tight, and the action fast. It is easy to read, but hard to put down. You just might lose some sleep over this one.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

This fast-paced and gripping novel is part thriller, part crime story, part mystery. It tells the story of Bobby Drake, a deputy sheriff in a small Pacific Northwest town trying to outlive the sins of his larger-than-life father, Patrick. He is doing a good job of it, until his father is let out of prison and the cycle of crime and violence begins again—threatening the peaceful existence Bobby has created.

Southern writer Tony Earley’s excellently written and highly readable Mr. Tall consists of six stories and a short novella. The stories have all been published separately in prestigious publications such as The New Yorker, The Southern Review and the Washington Post Magazine, and most take place in a fictional locale in rural Tennessee. The characters are a mix of country folks and city people, except for the novella, which contains a mix of real people and mythical characters. Mostly, the stories are about how men and women meet and how they live out their lives together.

The first story, “Haunted Castles of the Barrier Islands,” follows a couple who met working together on a small-town newspaper that they eventually come to own. He was fresh out of journalism school and she had learned from years on the job. She started calling him “college boy,” first as a term of derision, but later as one of endearment. When first on the job, he mooned around her till one day she said, “ ‘College Boy, what the hell’ and reached up under her tank top and unhooked her bra.” This line is typical of the no-frills approach the story takes as it describes what happens to their lives, their love, and their sex life as they grow old and their daughter moves away.

In “Just Married,” Hardy and Evelyn have actually been married for 48 years. Evelyn is ill, and Hardy, who fought in WWII, is suffering from PTSD, though the term is not used. Hardy recalls the way he couldn’t hold down a job or sleep inside a house when he returned from the war, and Evelyn “loved him back into the shape of himself.” This beautiful line is typical of Earley’s prose, which is creatively wrought and perceptive—this is a collection not to be missed. 

 

 

Southern writer Tony Earley’s excellently written and highly readable Mr. Tall consists of six stories and a short novella. The characters are a mix of country folks and city people, except for the novella, which contains a mix of real people and mythical characters. Mostly, the stories are about how men and women meet and how they live out their lives together.

Worst. Person. Ever., Douglas Coupland’s new novel, is engaging, funny and a rocking good read. As the title implies, the main character, Raymond Gunt, is not a nice person. The book is written in the first person, in what is known as the “unreliable narrator” style. Ray Gunt is a highly unreliable narrator.

Ray’s ex-wife hires him as a cameraman to film a sequence of reality television in the South Pacific. On an odyssey that takes him from London to a small Pacific island nation, Ray manages to insult, denigrate and otherwise abuse absolutely everyone he encounters, beginning with airport security and ending with the grossly overweight man seated next to him on the plane, to whom he says, “by the looks of you, you’d best hope they have all of Noah’s Ark on the menu.” He keeps it up and so completely enrages the obese man that the poor guy has a heart attack and dies on board the plane. Ray expresses no remorse.

Not surprisingly, Ray often pays a price for his bad behavior, but the reader roots for him nonetheless, maybe partly because many of these encounters are laugh-out-loud funny. Equally enjoyable is the character of Neal, a homeless man whom Ray meets (read: insults) on the street in London and later recruits as his assistant/slave for the trip, and who provides an excellent foil for Ray’s stunts.

In addition to the humor, which is plentiful and uproarious (albeit colorfully expressed and, as in the example above, not always PC), the book is successful because of Ray’s me-first attitude and his willingness to express any nasty thought that comes to mind—things that the rest of us would like to say, were we a little less civilized. Readers will identify with Ray Gunt in spite of themselves, taking pleasure in his crazy antics.

Worst. Person. Ever., Douglas Coupland’s new novel, is engaging, funny and a rocking good read. As the title implies, the main character, Raymond Gunt, is not a nice person. The book is written in the first person, in what is known as the “unreliable narrator” style. Ray Gunt is a highly unreliable narrator.

Kim Church has created an unforgettable and gripping tale about a young woman’s passage to adulthood in a small town in North Carolina in her excellent debut novel, Byrd. There are books we like to read because they provide a window to a world wholly unfamiliar, but there are others like Byrd that give insight into our own lives: our hopes and dreams, what we’ve done right, opportunities missed. The simple fact is few of us live the lives we dreamed of when we were young, or as the young heroine Addie says, “I have learned it is possible to become satisfied with your life too soon.” She falls in love early, not realizing it will not last forever. Throughout the book Addie is looking to recapture the intensity of that first love, “the deep down panic of real love, the jolt she felt with Roland.” The intensity of first love compared to the pleasures of mature love is one of the abiding themes of the book. How do these forms of love compare? Which is real, which lasts—and can the earlier intensity ever be recaptured?

Years after their original love affair, Addie and Roland fumble their way back toward each other. One of their meetings results in a pregnancy that Addie will keep secret, something she regrets deeply. The book is interspersed with poignant unsent letters from Addie to the child she gave up, whom she calls Byrd. Will Roland, Addie and Byrd reunite?

The reader comes to know the characters in Byrd extraordinarily well. Through this knowledge, we come to care deeply about their successes and failures.

Kim Church has created an unforgettable and gripping tale about a young woman’s passage to adulthood in a small town in North Carolina in her excellent debut novel, Byrd. There are books we like to read because they provide a window to a world wholly unfamiliar, but there are others like Byrd that give insight into our own lives: our hopes and dreams, what we’ve done right, opportunities missed.

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