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review 2018-05-27 14:38
A dark and twisted take on the original for readers interested in morally ambiguous characters.
Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Jo Nesbø

Thanks to NetGalley and to Vintage Digital for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This book is part of the Hogarth’s Shakespeare project, a project designed to create novels based on some of Shakespeare’s original plays and bring them up-to-date thanks to best-selling novelists. Although I have been intrigued since I’d heard about the project (because I am a fan of some of the authors, like Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler), this is the first of the novels to come out of the project that I’ve read. Evidently, the idea behind the series was to try and bring new readers to Shakespeare and perhaps combine people interested in the plays with followers of the novelists. My case is a bit peculiar. I love Shakespeare (I prefer his tragedies and his comedies to the rest of his work) but I can’t say I’m an authority on him, and although I’ve read some of his plays, I prefer to attend live performances or watch adaptations (I’ve watched quite a few versions of Hamlet, but not so many of the rest of his plays, by poor chance). I’ve only watched Macbeth a couple of times, so I’m not the best person to comment on how closely Nesbo’s book follows the original. On the other hand, I have not read any of the author’s novels. I’ve watched a recent movie adaptation of one of them (mea culpa, I had not checked the reviews beforehand) but, although I know of him, I cannot compare this novel to the rest of his oeuvre. So I’m poorly qualified to write this review from the perspective of the most likely audience. But, that’s never stopped me before, and this review might perhaps be more relevant to people who are not terribly familiar with either, Macbeth or Nesbo’s books.

From my vague memory of the play, the novel follows the plot fairly closely, although it is set in the 1970s, in a nightmarish and corrupt city (some of the reviewers say it’s a Northern city somewhere not specified. That is true, and although some of the names and settings seem to suggest Scotland, not all details match, for sure), where unemployment is a huge problem, as are drugs, where biker gangs murder at leisure and control the drug market (together with a mysterious and shady character called Hecate, that seems to pull the strings in the background. He’s not a witch here but there’s something otherworldly about him), where the train station has lost its original purpose and has become a den where homeless and people addicted to drugs hung together and try to survive. The police force takes the place of the royalty and the nobles in the original play, with murders, betrayals and everything in between going on in an attempt at climbing up the ladder and taking control of law-enforcement (with the interesting side-effect of blurring any distinction between law and crime), with the city a stand-in for the kingdom of Scotland in the original.

The story is told from many of the characters’ points of view (most of them) and there is a fair amount of head-hopping. Although as the novel advances we become familiar with the characters and their motivations, and it is not so difficult to work out who is thinking what, this is not so easy to begin with as there are many characters with very similar jobs and, at least in appearance, close motivations, so it’s necessary to pay close attention. The technique is useful to get readers inside the heads of the characters and to get insights into their motivations, even if in most cases it is not a comfortable or uplifting experience. The book is truly dark and it seems particularly apt to a moment in history when corruption, morality, and the evil use of power are as relevant as ever. (Of course, the fact that this is an adaptation of a play written centuries before our era brings home that although things might change in the surface, human nature does not change so much). The writing is at times lyrical and at others more down to earth, but it is a long book, so I’d advise readers to check a sample to see if it is something they’d enjoy for the long-haul. I’ll confess that when I started the book I wondered if it was for me, but once I got into the story and became immersed in the characters’ world, I was hooked.

The beauty of having access to the material in a novelised form is that we can get to explore the characters’ subjectivity and motivations, their psychology, in more detail than in a play. Shakespeare was great at creating characters that have had theatregoers thinking and guessing for hundreds of years, but much of it is down to the actors’ interpretation, and two or three hours are not space enough to explore the ins-and-outs and the complex relationships between the characters fully. I was particularly intrigued by Duff, who is not a particularly likeable character, to begin with, but comes into his own later. I liked Banquo, who is, with Duncan, one of the few characters readers will feel comfortable rooting for (Banquo’s son and Angus would fall into the same category, but play smaller parts), and I must warn you that there is no such as thing as feeling comfortable reading this book. I thought what Nesbo does with Lady is interesting and provides her with an easier to understand motivation and makes her more sympathetic than in the play (it is not all down to greed or ambition, although it remains a big part of it). No characters are whiter-than-white (some might be but we don’t get to know them well enough to make that call), and although the baddies might be truly bad, some remain mysterious and unknown, and they are portrayed as extreme examples of the corruption that runs rampant everywhere. Most of the rest of the characters are human, good and bad, and many come to question their lives and what moves them and take a stand that makes them more interesting than people who never deviate from the path of rightness. Macbeth is depicted as a man of contrasts, charitable and cruel, a survivor with a difficult past, perhaps easy to manipulate but driven, full of doubts but determined, addicted to drugs and ‘power’, charismatic and dependent, full of contradictions and memorable.

The ending of the novel is bittersweet. It is more hopeful than the rest of the novel would make us expect, but… (I am not sure I could talk about spoilers in this novel, but still, I’ll keep my peace). Let’s just say this couldn’t have a happy ending and be truthful to the original material.

Although I have highlighted several paragraphs, I don’t think they would provide a fair idea of the novel in isolation, and, as I said before, I recommend downloading or checking a sample to anybody considering the purchase of this novel.

Not knowing Nesbo’s other novels, I cannot address directly his fans. I’ve noticed that quite a number of reviewers who read his novels regularly were not too fond of this one. Personally, I think it works as an adaptation of the Shakespeare play and it is very dark, as dark as the plot of the original requires (and perhaps even more). It is long and it is not an easy-going read. There are no light moments, and it is demanding of the reader’s attention, challenging us to go beyond a few quotations, famous phrases and set scenes, to the moral heart of the play. If you are looking for an interesting, although perhaps a not fully successful version of Macbeth, that will make you think about power, corruption, good and evil, family, friendship, and politics, give it a try. I am curious to read more Nesbo’s novels and some of the other novels in the project.

 

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review 2018-05-14 18:52
BAD PENNIES by John Leonard
Bad Pennies - John F Leonard

 

Chris Carlisle's life is going to hell and he's taking us with him! It starts when Chris witnesses an accident wherein a gentleman dies. As good citizens do, he gets out of his car to see if the man is okay, but he's not. On a sudden impulse, Chris takes the dead man's wallet, gives his statement to the police when they arrive, and then goes on his way. He later discovers money inside and agonizes over it all day while working his stressful, low paying job. He decides he's going to go back and leave the wallet at the scene of the crime, but in the end it never happens. Instead, he decides to spend a little money on drinks and cocktails, and once he gets home, he discovers the money he spent has reappeared in the wallet. He still has the same amount he started with! How can this be? Will he do the right thing and return the wallet and/or report what he did? Or will he keep the wallet, (after all he is in dire need of money), and treat himself to a few things he really needs-like new clothes for work or a new car? You'll have to read this to find out.

 

This is a novel of supernatural horror and terrible things occurred on the pages of BAD PENNIES. Every time Chris decided on a course of action, I couldn't help but ask myself what I would have done in the same situation. When his actions lead to the deaths of innocents, animal attacks and doors opening where there previously were none, the situation escalates quickly, and I just hung on for the ride. I really felt for Chris and I could easily understand why he did what he did. Would I have made the same choices? Maybe so and I think that's the main reason I kept reading. That and my fascination with the Scaeth and what he/it might do next. I'm not going to say anything more about it, because that should be related to you by the author, not by me. I loved the imagination and creativity that went into several different scenes, and I truly felt afraid once or twice, which is a rarity.

 

The issues I had with this book were twofold and not too bothersome-the pacing was a bit off and it took a while for the story to really get going. (Once it did, though, it went quickly.) The second problem I had, (and this was probably just me being picky), was that there was too much foreshadowing going on. It seemed like every chapter ended on a sentence foreshadowing a future event. I don't mind a little of that here and there, but it was used a bit too often for my comfort.

 

BAD PENNIES had a lot of interesting and intriguing world-building going on that I need to know more about. Who was that Sammael guy? I want to know more about Brian MacGuire and his club. I want to know more about the Scaeth, what it wants, why it's here, and more about where it lives, (between the walls.) So now I'm left to waiting for Mr. Leonard to fill me in and I can't wait!

 

Strongly recommended for fans of supernatural horror!

 

*I received a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it!* You can get a copy, (with it's super-cool new cover) here: BAD PENNIES

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review 2018-04-11 18:45
IT'S A BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD WORLD by Curtis Lawson
It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World - Curtis M. Lawson

 

Rarely does a book leave me without words, yet here I am. IT'S A BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD WORLD is full of horrible people and terrible situations. It was funny as hell and I loved it!

 

Written in vivid style it was easy to picture this in my imagination as a movie. Combine some ancient relics with your favorite action film, add a bit of any Tarantino movie, sprinkle in a dry sense of humor and finish it off with the "franks and beans" scene from There's Something About Mary-and Voila! You have the recipe for this book. (I tried to fit the battle-nun into my recipe but I can't think of anything, anywhere to liken her to. That's right, there's a bad-ass battle nun, deal with it.)

 

 

 

As I said, this book left me speechless, so I had to borrow descriptions of films to write this review. A friend of mine used the movie Smoking Aces to help describe this book, and I find that to be an apt comparison as well. I just don't know what else to say. Fun, full of action and humor, IT'S A BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD WORLD is a great way to spend a few hours. Highly recommended!

 

 

You can buy a copy here: IT'S A BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD WORLD

 

*I was provided a free e-book copy in exchange for my honest review. This is it!*

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review 2018-03-05 18:45
I'll Bring You the Birds From Out of the Sky by Brian Hodge
I'll Bring You the Birds from Out of the Sky - Brian Hodge

Brian Hodge is an outstanding writer and as such, how could I'LL BRING YOU THE BIRDS FROM OUT OF THE SKY be anything less than outstanding? In fact, if there was a word-I would rate this book higher than outstanding. How about exceptional? Yeah, let's go with EXCEPTIONAL.

 

In this novella length tale, we meet Mr. Timothy Randolph, an art dealer and curator of folk art. When Nona brings him a sample painting of her grandfather's, Timothy is intrigued and immediately sets off with her to see more of her grandpa's work. In the Appalachian mountains, they find a LOT more than they bargained for, and they will both be changed forever.

 

I didn't expect this tale to go where it did. Even in this short length of a story, Brian Hodge delivers the creeps on a magnificent scale. Not going to lie: I totally shuddered at the description of one character's

eye.

(spoiler show)

 I even had to put the book down for a minute. Not for long though, because I had to see what happened next. (Even now, just thinking about it, I have goosebumps.)

 

That's it! That's all I'm going to say. If you've read Brian Hodge before, you already know what I'm talking about. If you haven't read Brian Hodge before, start here. At only $2.99 for the Kindle version, take a chance and you'll get to see what I'm talking about for yourself.

 

Simply, my HIGHEST recommendation!

 

*A HUGE thanks goes out to my friend Andi, who gifted me a beautiful signed copy which I'll treasure forever.* 

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review 2018-02-28 20:48
UnBound: Stories from the Unwind World (Unwind Dystology) - Neal Shusterman

Normally I wouldn't review a story collection all that highly, but this felt like such a natural supplement/extension of the series that I barely noticed the format. Shusterman juggles so many characters and perspectives with such excellent transitions in voice, that this prequel/sequel collection felt seamless. Cool world-building backstories seem like a behind-the-scenes peek, while the post-book-4 bits are fun and add a little more dimension. Must-read for fans of the series.

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