Tag Archives: western

The Brave

Family drama about love, loss and courage

Content warning: domestic violence, bullying, war, mental health 

“The Horse Whisperer” was, I think, the first book I read as a kid that was specifically geared for adults. I quite innocently read it because I was extremely into horses and thought it had something to do with this guy Monty Roberts, an actual horse whisperer, who I had read about. Although the book starts out with a girl not too much older than I was and her problems following a horse-riding accident, it quickly turned into another kind of story. While it hadn’t been the kind of book I was expecting, I enjoyed it a lot and even went to go see the Robert Redford and young Scarlet Johansson film adaptation with my best friend (also horse-mad). His debut novel, the author wrote two more that I really enjoyed and then a fourth that I wasn’t so crash hot on. I actually hadn’t even realised he had written a fifth until I came across it at the Lifeline Book Fair. This is another book that has gathered dust on my shelf for a long time, and during these times of isolation, I’m trying to do something about my ridiculous to-read piles. Yes, that plural is correct.

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“The Brave” by Nicholas Evans is a novel about an eight year old boy called Tommy whose parents send him to boarding school. A sensitive kid who still struggles with wetting the bed, Tommy is passionate about playing cowboys and Indians and watching his heroes in Westerns on TV. However, at the boarding school, he soon finds himself the target of merciless bullying and the few allies he makes are tenuous at best. After writing to his sister Diane about the horrible experience, the truth is revealed to Tommy about his identity, and soon he finds himself moving to Hollywood and meeting the actors who are his idols. Nearly fifty years later, Tom is a writer living in the USA struggling not to compare himself to his more successful peers. When his son, estranged after deciding to enlist in the armed forces, is charged with murder during an overseas deployment, Tom must try to repair their broken relationship by facing what happened in Hollywood.

Evans is an incredibly readable writer and with smooth prose that is engaging without being too challenging. He tackles a lot of different issues in this book including bullying, domestic violence, identity, war, state-sanctioned violence, mental health and family. I thought that the scenes early in the book where young Tommy is experiencing the brutality of British boarding school were particularly effective and reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s autobiographical book “Boy“. Although Evans is an English writer, the way he writes about America is always very compelling. This is true of this book especially, which at heart is about a man who comes to the USA as a young boy and makes it his home.

Although a relatively easy read, this isn’t my favourite of Evans’ books. Evans usually constructs his novels around an interesting job: horse whisperer, firefighter, even wolf biologist. He also has a keen interest in the physical environment and natural beauty of the USA. While I get that this book is comparing the fantasy of Western film and TV with the reality of Hollywood, particularly the dark underbelly of the entertainment industry, I just didn’t find the book as effective as his previous efforts. The twists I felt you could sense a mile away. The parallels between Tom’s experiences and his son’s experiences didn’t feel as strong as they could have been. Finally, the ending felt just a little too tidy.

An easy read that addresses some important social issues, but ultimately not as hard-hitting as some of his other novels.

Image of Castor the Sloth, looking through a telescope. #StartOnYourShelfathon The Quiet Pond.

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Filed under Book Reviews, General Fiction, Historical Fiction

Lonesome Dove

Epic western novel about an ambitious cattle drive from Texas to Montana

When my friend told me that this book was her best read of 2017, I admit, I dithered a bit and didn’t get around to buying a copy. Insistent that I read “the best book ever written”, my friend bought me the first copy she came across: this beaten up old book missing a front cover. I needed to choose a book for my 80th book of 2018, and even though I had to stay up all night on New Year’s Eve reading, I managed to finish it.

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“Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry is an epic Western novel set in Texas. Augustus McCrae and W. F. Call are two retired Texas Rangers who are making a living rustling cattle from across the border in Mexico. With lazy idyll interspersed with bouts of criminal activity and visits to the town’s sole sex worker, McCrae is searching for something to give his life meaning again. After a smooth-talking old colleague drops into town with stories of endless unclaimed land in Montana, McCrae decides to attempt to be the first outfit to drive cattle all the way from Texas through the Yellowstone. Encouraged by the idea of crossing paths again with a long-lost love, romantic McCrae agrees to make the journey. However with a collection of green cowboys and a sex worker who wanted to go to San Francisco in tow, the many challenges they come across may prove to be their undoing.

This is a monumental novel that has everything. Adventure, heroism, moral decisions, romance, betrayal and just about every natural disaster you can think of. I actually feel like the grandfather in the opening scenes of The Princess Bride describing this book. McMurty is a talented writer who has a real flair for dialogue. From cover to cover, the book is chock-a-block filled with action and I think if you know a reluctant reader who finds books ‘boring’, this would be a great place to get them started.

Now, as epic as this book is, do I think it is the best book ever written? Unfortunately, no. That place in my heart is already taken. In addition to that, there are some things that are a bit difficult about this book. First of all, while I appreciate that it was written in the 1980s about the 1800s, there were quite a few things that felt extra dated about this. I don’t know which was more obvious: that the women were either saints or whores (except the incredible Janey), or that the Native American characters were all barbarians. It is definitely a book centred on a very typical idea of masculinity with some very fluid ideas about the appropriateness and morality of violence (problematic when experienced by the main characters, but necessary when dealing with others). The challenges posed for the cowboys by the natural environment do also become a little relentless, but it admittedly does get to a point where it is just entertaining rather than repetitive.

An action-packed behemoth from a different era about a different era, despite some outdated tropes, this is nevertheless a great book to give to someone if they typically don’t enjoy reading.


Lonesome Dove

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Bodacious Creed

I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the author.

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“Bodacious Creed: A Steampunk Zombie Western” by Jonathan Fesmire is exactly that: a steampunk, zombie western. The story is about US Marshal James Creed who arrives in 1876 Santa Cruz, California, USA to assist with a murder investigation. One of the most successful entrepreneurs in town is Anna Lynn Boyd, a former sex worker and brothel madam who has a secret profession: inventor. When Anna hears that Creed is in town, she swiftly tries to arrange a meeting to reconnect over a lost past. However, with the town rife with bounty hunters, a criminal underground, sex work politics, business deals and automatons, Anna’s plans go very awry.

This is a fun, action-packed novel with an interesting premise. Fesmire draws heavily on his hometown for inspiration for the book’s setting which brings a real sense of authenticity to the story (despite the steampunk zombie setting). I really liked the character of Anna, and most of the novel hangs on her genius and her compassion. The book deals with some complicated moral questions and the story is kept alive by the unresolved relationship between Anna and Creed. I don’t want to give too much away, but I really loved the coyote later on in the story.

I think the only thing that I found a bit challenging about this book was that the second half seemed quite long. The plot is both action-packed and convoluted and I felt like maybe a couple of the story lines could have been condensed.

Nevertheless, if you’re interested in dipping your toe into the wild world of steampunk, this is a great place to start.

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