Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Review: Song of Susannah

Song of Susannah Song of Susannah by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of the battle with the Wolves, Susannah disappears with Black Thirteen to go have her baby. Can the rest of the ka-tet find Susannah and secure the vacant lot where The Rose grows before the Tower falls?

This is my third time reading Song of Susannah. It's still in my Dark Tower bottom three but I come at it from a different perspective since my wife and I will be greeting our chap in just under a month.

In my re-read of Wolves of the Callah, I said I thought that book could have been a hundred pages shorter. The same goes for Song of Susannah. There is so much extraneous crap in this! Talk, talk, talk. The Beams holding up the Dark Tower are in danger but let's waste a lot of time with chitchat. Susannah is my least favorite member of the ka-tet and this one is very Susannah-heavy.

That being said, I still enjoy it. While I logically know the Tower isn't going to fall, King has me frantically reading to make sure this is still the case. The man knows how to ratchet up the suspense when the characters aren't talking everything to death. Eddie and Jake seem like bonafide bad asses in this book, even more than the last. There were also quite a few references I didn't catch the first time through, like to blind bluesman Reverend Gary Davis and to The Quincunx.

I found it somewhat off-putting when Stephen King wrote himself into the series when I first read it but it seems like a normal part of the story now, like a scar that's faded so much it's almost invisible.

Not a whole lot else for me to say, I'm afraid. This was very much a transitional book. I think maybe Stephen King wanted the Dark Tower to go seven books and padded Wolves and this one to make it so. Trimming the fat and combining Wolves and Song into one would probably have made a better reading experience.

Okay, back on the Path of the Beam for me. Let's see if I can get to the Dark Tower before my wife gives birth to our chap.

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Review: Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story

Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Soulman is the biography of wrestler Rocky Johnson.

Rocky Johnson was on his way out when I first became a wrestling fan so I don't know a ton about him besides his tag team with Tony Atlas and that he's the father of the most electrifying man in sports entertainment, The Rock. ECW Press offered this up for review so I jumped on it pretty quickly.

The book starts with Rocky's humble beginnings as Wayde Bowles, a poor kid from Nova Scotia. The book takes a little longer than I'd like to get to the wrestling but fortunately Rocky's childhood was interesting. Imagine hitchhiking from Nova Scotia to Toronto with only two bucks in your pocket?

Rocky initially trains to be a boxer but gets wrapped up in the wrestling business. From there, Rocky bounces back and worth to every territory on the map for decades, reaching the WWF and gradually sliding into retirement as injuries piled up.

This book has a lot going for it. Rocky comes off as a humble guy. He doesn't make himself sound like the greatest wrestler of all time and is honest about all the mistakes he made along the way. Outside of the chapter devoted to him, he also doesn't spend a lot of time talking about The Rock.

I had no idea Rocky Johnson was as well-traveled as he was, nor how he tried to run a promotion in Hawaii with his father in law, Peter Maivia. Their relationship was touching at time. I also have to wonder what Rocky would have accomplished in the WWF if he hadn't been saddled with making sure Tony Atlas got where he needed to be. Hell, if Rocky wasn't so agreeable for a lot of his career, he might have been world champion at some point.

Speaking of Tony Atlas, the only time Rocky comes across as angry is when he refutes some things Tony Atlas said about him in his book. Rocky didn't care for Mike Graham either but I imagine a lot of wrestler did.

Soulman made me a bigger fan of Rocky Johnson than before I read the book. That's a sign of a great wrestling biography. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Yes!

Yes: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestlemaniaYes: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of Wrestlemania by Daniel Bryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes is the biography of WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan.

As I've mentioned in pretty much every wrestling book review I've ever written, I've been a wrestling fan off and on for most of my 40+ years. I was surprised when Bryan Danielson, now Daniel Bryan, was signed by the WWE and even more surprised when his popularity caught fire like it did. I found this on the bargain table at B&N yesterday and devoured it on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Yes is told in two threads: one detailing Bryan's life and career, the other focusing on the week before he won the WWE belt at Wrestlemania 30. Since this is a WWE-produced book, too much non-wrestling stuff was included at the beginning and it feels a little sanitized.

However, it's the best book the WWE has put out in years. Bryan Danielson makes the pilgrimage from Aberdeen, Washington to San Antonio, Texas to train. From there, he's all over the place, from the WWE developmental system to FMW to the ECWA Super 8 tournament to Ring of Honor. Ring of Honor is where I first noticed him. He wasn't big or charismatic but was impressive in the ring.

Anyway, Danielson goes to England, Japan, the West Coast, and back to Ring of Honor before finally getting signed by the WWE and then fired a few months later. After another stint on the independent circuit, he's back in the WWE and eventually becomes champion.

Even though he has a co-writer, it feels like Daniel Bryan played a big part in putting this together. The tone feels like his, a humble guy with blue collar roots. He never goes out of his way to make himself sound great. In fact, quite the opposite. Just like in his wrestling career, I felt myself wanting him to succeed, even though I know he already has.

The Ring of Honor stories in particular make me want to seek out some of his old matches. Unfortunately, a lot of the ROH stuff is out of print so I'll have to make due with what I already have down in my man cave.

Like every WWE book, I wish there were more road stories, particularly from the decade before he joined the company. Thankfully, he's not a kiss ass and doesn't paint the WWE as a great place to work like a lot of people. He's open about his frustration at some of the decisions and things of that nature. He even mentions Chris Benoit, whom the WWE has tried to erase from history for the past decade.

Yes is well-worth what I paid and a must for any Daniel Bryan fan. Four out of five knee strikes.

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Review: A Book of Rather Strange Animals: Highlighting the Wonders of Evolution and the Extraordinary Diversity of Life

A Book of Rather Strange Animals: Highlighting the Wonders of Evolution and the Extraordinary Diversity of Life A Book of Rather Strange Animals: Highlighting the Wonders of Evolution and the Extraordinary Diversity of Life by Caleb Compton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a follower of @StrangeAnimals on the Twitter. Unlike a lot of internet turned book projects, this one was really enjoyable and didn't feel like a waste of money.

The book is a collection of one-pagers about bizarre animals, be they insect, mammal, reptile, or any other motile life form. There are pieces on the hagfish, tuatara, and penis snake, among other things.

The articles read like much longer, more elaborate pieces than @StrangeAnimals posts on twitter so it's a worthwhile read, not just a collection of repackaged and recycled tweets. I highly recommend it for bathroom reading, bedtime reading, or lunchtime reading when you can avoid your co-workers long enough to get some reading done. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Review: The Elephant of Surprise

The Elephant of Surprise The Elephant of Surprise by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Hap and Leonard run across a mutilated albino girl on a dark and stormy night, they soon have some unsavory characters on their asses like a dog on a pile of cat shit. Can Hap and Leonard save the day, even as LaBorde becomes a flooded ghost town?

The baddest mother fuckers in east Texas are back and balls deep in trouble, like always. I was actually on the fence about reading this one. The last couple Hap and Leonard books haven't been up to snuff, in my opinion. However, I'm pleased to say this one had a little more substance to it.

In The Elephant of Surprise, Hap and Leonard go up against the Dixie Mafia, a hurricane, and old age to protect Nikki, an albino girl who knows too much. Helping them is Manny, the take no shit lady cop minding the LaBorde PD while Marvin Hanson is out of town.

There's a sense of desperation in The Elephant of Surprise that has been lacking in Hap and Leonard's adventures lately. There aren't as many quips and the guys aren't as confident as they once were. A martial artist gets the better of them and Hap even misses some shots. While Hap and Leonard never pull a Danny Glover and say "I'm too old for this shit," the subtext is flashing like a neon sign. Without spoiling too much, there are a couple siege-like scenes that drive home the fact that while Hap and Leonard are still capable, they aren't the super heroes they once were.

Joe Lansdale's writing is as great as it ever was with colorful similes and great dialogue. While I've found some of his recent works not quite up to snuff, I've never felt that way about his writing. I'd read a cookbook if Joe wrote it.

The Elephant of Surprise was a notch better than the previous two or three Hap and Leonard books. I hope for the sake of the characters and the reputation of the series, this is the last one. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review: The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts

The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts by Nintendo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My wife and I both dismiss Valentine's Day as a commercial holiday. When I got home from work yesterday, she surprised me with this. Luckily I'd gotten her a t-shirt with that caterpillar from the Labyrinth on it so I wasn't caught empty-handed.

The Legend of Zelda series is my favorite video game series of all time and I have fond memories of gazing at the art in the manuals and promotional materials. This book is treasure trove of Zelda art. It's a weighty tome at over 400 pages and I bet there are less than 4000 words in the entire thing, all occurring in an interview with artists on the series at the very end of the book.

Every page is packed with art. There are concept sketches, promotional art, box art, art from the manuals, even pixel art from the games themselves. Every game, from the original Legend of Zelda to the most recent game, Breath of the Wild, is well-represented. I don't have the Zelda II manual anymore but I think some of the art for it came from issues of the Nintendo Fun Club Magazine, the precursor to Nintendo Power. Is Nintendo Power still being published? Anyway, every character, every enemy, and even every magical item is depicted. I can't imagine a better source of Zelda art than this book. Four out of five Triforces.





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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Review: Recursion - SPOILERS

Recursion Recursion by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Your best bet is to go into this cold. I've marked it this entire reviews as having spoilers. If you read the review now, it's your own damn fault.

In a world where False Memory Syndrome is slowly becoming an outbreak, Detective Barry Sutton watches a woman kill herself, driven mad by her memories of another life. What horrible secrets will Barry uncover when he follows her back trail?

Blake Crouch has been a favorite of mine for a few years, first because of the Wayward Pines series, then Dark Matter. When I saw Recursion was up on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer.

One of my favorite late night topics when I was in college, still easily capable of staying up until the small hours on a daily basis, was whether or not time travel might be possible in an altered state of consciousness, going back to an earlier point in your own timeline. What would you do if you could go back in time and change a pivotal event in your life? We've all asked ourselves that question, sometimes multiple times a day. But how often do you ask yourself about the repercussions around you, the ripples spreading throughout the pond? That's the well Blake Crouch draws from in Recursion.

In the early goings, Detective Sutton lifts up rocks and sees the bugs scattering, revealing a vast enterprise built on accessing memories and shifting people back in time. Can the man himself be tempted by what time travel has to offer?

Duh, of course he is! While it seems great at first, the book quickly becomes race after race against time, trying to outrun and undo the consequences of unfettered time travel. I've given this an easy five but it's not quite a perfect sf thriller. My only gripe is that Helena and Barry fall in love too easily. Insta-love, as the kids used to call it. Also, it leans on an episode of The Outer Limits just a tad.

Anyway, apart from that, this one is balls to the wall. Once the memory chair plans are leaked, things quickly become a shit storm of ultimate proportions. Barry and Helena spend timeline after timeline trying to set things right, only to be disappointed, only to learn, finally, that the best way to save the world is to leave it alone.

Blake Crouch has made an art out of taking an interesting sci-fi hook and wrapping an engaging thriller around in. Recursion may be his best one yet. Five out of five stars.


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