Friday, May 7, 2021

Book Review: The Wrench

The world's most infrequent blogger is back.

And hoping to be a little less infrequent. Or should I just say "hoping to be more frequent?" Hmm. We'll ponder that another time. Today, I have a book to review and I'm eager to talk about this one.

Every now and then, I get in the mood for a good hardboiled heist novel. It isn't my go-to genre, and I only read a handful every decade. But that might change upon discovering this new series from Wolfpack Publishing.

The Wrench by Jeremy Brown is the first entry in the Bruder series. It's an old school story and I mean that in the best way. Of course, every discussion of heist novels requires the obligatory reference to Parker, the immortal and amoral thief created by Donald Westlake. And there are certainly similarities between The Wrench's main character and Parker. But this tale is quite good taken on its own merits and isn't a simple clone, knock-off, or homage. And while Bruder isn't a good guy by any stretch of the imagination, I found he possessed a few subtle traits that make him a bit more human than Parker.

The story follows the traditional genre setup: the planning, the implementation, the titular wrench in the plan, and then the scramble to get back on track. (No spoilers here.)

Usually in heist novels, the planning is my least favorite part. Sometimes these portions can get boring, but thankfully Brown is a good enough writer where it remained interesting and I kept the pages turning. But it's the second half of the novel that really sizzles. Again, I'll keep this spoiler free but the tension continued to build until a very satisfying resolution. 

And while this isn't my favorite genre, this book left me wanting more. The second Bruder book is already out and I intend to read it sometime this year. I also intend to check out more of Jeremy Brown's work. He writes lean and efficient prose that I really enjoy.

As for the publisher, Wolfpack continues to put out some of the best books in genre fiction today. I'm just getting started with their catalog, but they'll keep me busy for a long time to come. As a bonus, most of their books (including The Wrench) appear to be part of Kindle Unlimited. As a subscriber, I love that!

If you enjoy well-written, taut, lean crime thrillers, I recommend The Wrench. It's terrific!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Book Review: The Other Madden by Brent Towns

The world’s most sporadic blogger is back.
My fiction writing has been keeping me busy, and I’m certainly not complaining. But I’ve decided to fire up the ol’ blog once more as I have a whole crop of reviews I’m excited to share.
And I’m proud to start with The Other Madden by Brent Towns.
The book centers on outlaw Trace Madden and his attempt to go straight. He’s in love with a good (and often hilarious) woman, and he wants to do right by her. Of course, there are complications starting with the murder of his brother. There’s also an evil land baron trying to claim the Madden Family ranch.
What we get is a straight-forward, old-fashioned western with plenty of grit and a dose of heart and humor. I particularly enjoyed the character of Trace’s mother. Ma has some hilarious lines and is a hoot throughout.
Brent Towns is my kind of writer. He doesn’t include a lot of filler. He offers gun-blazing tales with lots of action, and The Other Madden is no exception. There’s no filler here. This is a very lean story and it’s all the better for it.
Some of the story is told in first-person perspective through Trace's narration and some is told in the third. Brent handles the shifts pretty well and it didn’t take me long to get accustomed to the format.
Overall, the story is never dull, and it moves along at a very brisk clip. If you want lengthy exposition and reflective contemplation, look elsewhere. If you want a shoot ‘em up with likable characters and plenty of powder burned, give The Other Madden a shot. Solid 5 out of 5.

PS…Yes, the depiction of Trace on the cover is clearly modeled after John Wayne. Hey, if it’s good enough for the Duke then it’s good enough for me!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Review: Coyote Creek by Scott Harris

Several months ago, Scott Harris was kind enough to send me a copy of his second novel, Coyote Creek. This book tells the further adventures of Brock Clemons, picking up where Coyote Courage left off.
I’m happy to say, Scott’s sophomore effort is every bit as good as his debut was. I hate spoiler filled reviews, so I’ll purposely keep plot details to a minimum. I will tell you that Creek finds Clemons trying to make it home to his wife and adopted son, all while battling renegade Indians, gunslingers, and other perilis obstacles that crop up along his path.
The action starts hot and heavy (where’re into it by the third “chapter”) and never lets up. I use the word “chapter” loosely, because this novel is not actually numbered. The sections are broken up into easily readable, quick selections, but not exactly in the traditional sense. Another unique aspect is that the perspective shifts between characters. While Brock Clemons is certainly the main protagonist, his wife and others take center stage at times. I enjoyed this twist (it is somewhat akin to recent Robert Crais efforts where the main hero, Elvis Cole, narrates his sections in the first person, while other chapters jump to the third tense to show correlating and relevant perspectives).
Harris’ writing has gotten smoother, and the presentation is a bit more polished. This is not a knock against his first novel. Rather, Harris is growing as a novelist, and this time around it is evenident he’s done this all before.
The pacing is spot on, the action plentiful, and the story engaging. Clemons and his crew are extremely likable, and it is easy to root for them. Clemons is no anti-hero. He’s a man’s man cut in the mold of classic L’Amour characters, and is extremely capable to take on the hardships found in Colorado Territory.
I suspect Brock Clemons will saddle up again. I certainly hope he does! I’ve known Scott Harris “digitally” for over a year now, and he’s been nothing but kind and encouraging. I hope one day I can hear him spin some yarns as we traverse the backroads of his native California. Until then, I’ll happily read any story he releases as I want to ride further trails with ol’ Brock and the gang.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: Shadow Flats by Brent Towns

I picked up Shadow Flats on a whim, not knowing what to expected. It hasn't been on the market long, and I downloaded it to my Kindle only a few days after its release. I'd been in the mood to read a good western, and thankfully Brent Towns delivered. Not only was this a good western, but it was one of the best I've read in a while.
Several things make Shadow Flats unique. First of all, it is technically a movie tie-in novel. The screenplay was written by British author Ben Bridges--one of the famed Piccadilly Cowboys--and is currently (I believe) in the stages of production. Bridges is no stranger to the western genre and can more than hold his own when compared to his American counterparts.
The novel adaptation was written by Australian author Brent Towns. Brent is new to me, but has several westerns available. I'll be picking those up soon.
Shadow Flats has many familiar elements. It includes a bank robbery, a haunted Civil War veteran riding the vengeance trail, shoot-outs, and a harsh, unforgiving desert landscape. Yet all of this is done in a fresh way. The story is anything but stale. This is due in part to the supernatural elements. Yes, Shadow Flats falls within the "Weird Western" genre. The afore mentioned qualities are mixed together to produce a great deal of fun. It is exciting, fresh, and enjoyable from start to finish.
What struck me about Shadow Flats is the fact that it works as both a traditional western and a weird western. No matter which one of those you're craving, you won't be disappointed.
With smooth, seamless prose and lightning fast action, Shadow Flats is a quick, easy read. It takes the reader on an incredible journey, and I for one, want more. A solid 5 out of 5. This one is highly recommended.
On a side note, look at that cover! I'm not sure who did the art, but it is excellent! Y'all do yourselves a favor and grab this book. You'll thank me.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: Upon My Soul by Robert J. Randisi

Robert Randisi delivers another winner with Upon My Soul, the first in the Hitman With a Soul trilogy.
I have interviewed Mr. Randisi on this website, and I encourage you to read the entry if you have not already. Having experienced his work before, and having interviewed him for this blog, I was not surprised to find this tale to be a lean, well-written thriller. The pacing is as good as always. The plot moves along, never bogged down by filler many authors feel the need to include to pad the word count.
The plot involves a hitman, Sangster (or as he is currently known as), who wakes up one day to find he has a soul. His spiritual awakening leaves him with the inability to take lives, so he quits his employment and tries to settle in for a life of peace. Of course, being a thriller, his past comes back to haunt him. I won’t spoil anything else for you. Just know there are fresh twists and turns in this highly original tale. While you may think the plot has been done before, just know that Randisi keeps it fresh, and the book is never stale.
I also enjoyed the many references to other crime authors and their works. You’ll find Donald Westlake (and his alias Richard Stark) and Elmore Leonard, among others. These Easter eggs add to the fun, making this a sort of meta hitman story.
It is also nice to root for the main character. Some hard-hitting crime stories have “heroes” devoid of any likable attributes. But I found myself liking Sangster as he tries his hardest to do the right thing.
The bottom line is Upon My Soul is an easily consumable novel that will leave you wanting more, even though this story works as a standalone. Thankfully, there are two more books in the series, both of which I will be reading. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Collected Advice on Writing from Writers

One of the things I love about interviewing great authors is the advice they dispense. For wannabe writers like myself, it’s a thrill to hear how the pros do it. So, I’ve collected some tips and tricks that have appeared on this blog. I hope it helps some of y’all. It sure is beneficial to me!

Peter Brandvold:
“I really don’t have any advice other to write, read, write, read then write and read some more. Keep at it and, if it’s really what you want to do, don’t be deterred. If you’re deterred, then you really didn’t want it badly enough.”

John Hegenberger:
“Have fun! If it's not fun, it's not worth doing. If you're writing and it's not fun, maybe you shouldn't be writing.  Maybe you should be outlining.  But whatever the case, don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Robert Randisi:
“The advice I got early in my career was to slow down. That was very bad advice.  My advice is, once you discover what your natural speed is, stick to it. Don't try to slow down, or speed up. NATURAL makes it all flow.”

Ron Fortier:
“When you write anything, better make sure you are having fun while you are at it. Because if you aren't having fun writing it, how do you expect your readers to have fun reading it?  Simple advice and one I learned to take to heart over the years. Write what you love and what excites you and most likely you'll entertain lots of other people along the way.”

C. Courtney Joyner:
“My advice: take your time.  By that, I mean to take the time you need to work on your manuscript, and know your markets.  Publishing has changed so completely in the last ten years, as we know, and there are so many avenues and chances, with e-publishing, etc. that didn’t exist before.  But don’t just throw your work out there. If you’re going to self-publish, work with an editor, then take it out.  And, with submission marketing the way it is, at least be familiar with all of the types of writing that companies are looking for.  If you sell a novel, the question might come up if it’s good for a movie sale or gaming or graphic novel.  You don’t have to be a master of all these forms, but understand them, because writers have to wear more creative and business hats than ever before, and you’ll have to make decisions based on that knowledge.”

James Reasoner:
“I'd say the answer is persistence. Get the stuff written and out there, whether it's self-publishing or submitting to traditional and small press publishers. I once read that the definition of a writer is somebody who sits in a room and types for thirty years. That's pretty much the truth, although for some of us it's been considerably longer than thirty years. During my first stint as a full-time writer, though, I just didn't work hard enough at it. That's why I had to go into the bookstore business for a while. I didn't really know any better, didn't have the self-discipline to do the amount of work necessary. Everyone has their own natural pace, of course, but I think you have to push yourself in order to find it.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Interview with Peter Brandvold

He goes by the name Mean Pete, but I have a secret for y'all...
He's not all that mean. In fact, he's a pretty nice guy and he was kind enough to answer some questions here on Faded Trails. Let's get right to it. Here's my interview with acclaimed and prolific author Peter Brandvold.
RF: First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. What are you currently working on, writing wise?

PB: I’m working on a series of four westerns featuring my half-breed hero Yakima Henry. The series is called BLOODY ARIZONA as is the first book. The second book, which I am just now finishing, is called WILDCAT OF THE SIERRA ESTRADA. I’m writing them under my Frank Leslie pen name.

RF: How many books have you written as of now?

PB: I lost count somewhere around 100. That includes my Longarms and Trailsmans written under pen names. So...maybe around 120 by now.

RF: What does a typical work day look like for you? Do you keep certain hours when writing? Do you try to meet a page or word count each day?

PB: I try to write 2000 words every day, and I break my day up into four chunks of 500 words each. Sometimes I write over those 500 but rarely under. I usually write 500 before 8 am. Which is when I take my wild dog out for a run. Then I write the next 500 after I get back and have breakfast. Usually another 500 after lunch, then another 500 after a nap...

RF: How many days a week do you write?

PB: Eight.

RF: When did you know you wanted to be a novelist? Also, when did you know you wanted to write westerns specifically?

PB: I knew I wanted to be a novelist or some kind of writer early on, maybe when I heard my first story. I really saw the magic in words. I probably knew I wanted to write westerns when I was watching the great western TV series of the 70s, and reading Louis L’Amour, my first favorite western writer though I’ve gone on to appreciate many more since, because there are far better ones out there.

RF: What got you interested in the western genre, be it books, television, or comics?

PB: Books and television. The first western novel I ever read was LORD GRIZZLY by Frederick Manfred, then I went on and read biographies of folks like Davy Crockett and then pulp westerns by Frank Gruber, Gordon D. Shirreffs, etc. I really fell for the pulp-style tales because they were so over the top and exciting.

RF: I know you wrote a lot of Longarm entries. How many did you scribe when it was all said and done?

PB: I wrote 30.

RF: Did you write for any other series westerns? If you can tell which ones, please do!

PB: Four Trailsman books as by Jon Sharpe.

RF: I know you’ve self-published some of your recent works. Do you like self-publishing? What are some of the benefits? What are some of the challenges?

PB: I like it because I’m my own boss and I can put up the books as fast as I can write them. On the other hand, coming from traditional publishing, I miss the advances. But my ebooks do very well, so I’m not complaining.

RF: We often hear about the demise of the western. I know several big name publishing houses recently canceled long running series. Do you think the western will ever die? Are there enough up and coming authors and readers to keep it going?

PB: The western will never die. It’s an American original and there will always be some kind of market. But all markets wax and wane. I love the western enough to ride out the ups and downs. I think there are almost too many writers out there now, and they’re somewhat muddying the western water. Too often, ebook original writers just plain do not know how to write but think they do. Readers really have to learn to discriminate so they don’t waste their time and money on some of the crap that’s getting published on Amazon right now.

RF: I know about your work in the western genre, and am a big fan! I know you’ve done some weird westerns. Are there any other genres you’ve worked in or plan to work in?

PB: I wrote a contemporary thriller called PARADOX FALLS. I thought it was pretty good but it didn’t sell very well. I think readers have pegged me as a western writer so that’s really all they want to see from me. And that’s fine with me. There’s really no other genre except possibly horror that I’d like to dabble in. I wrote a western horror, or “weird” western novel DUST OF THE DAMNED, and it has vampires and werewolves and even a dragon. Also, CANYON OF A THOUSAND EYES and its sequel NIGHT OF THE GHOST CAT.

RF: What authors have inspired you?

PB: Too many to mention. I’m a voracious reader of all genres. Well, okay, I’ll mention two wonderful western writers who’ve meant a lot to me over the years by way of inspiring me by their brilliance—Kit Prate and James Reasoner.

RF: Along those lines, if you were trying to educate someone on western fiction, who are some of the authors and what are the books you’d recommend to them?

PB: Man, that’s a tough one. Anything by Prate and Reasoner and possibly THE LONG COLD WIND by Giles Lutz, which Kit Prate recommended to me and is one of the best westerns I’ve ever read. It would be a good influence on someone just starting out.

RF: What advice do you have for wannabe writers like myself? Is there anything you wish someone would have told you when you started out?

PB: I really don’t have any advice other to write, read, write, read then write and read some more. Keep at it and, if it’s really what you want to do, don’t be deterred. If you’re deterred, then you really didn’t want it badly enough.

RF: What can we expect from Mean Pete in the future?

PB: All kinds of stuff including this Yakima Henry Quartet by my alter ego, Frank Leslie.

RF: Thank you again for taking the time to answer these questions. You’re one of the best and your books seem to just get better and better. Thanks for all the entertainment!