Monday, December 31, 2012

Gone, Baby, Gone

Gone, Baby, Gone (Kenzie & Gennaro #4)Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a little girl goes missing and her mother's brother and sister-in-law hire them to find her, Patrick and Angela reluctantly accept. Their investigation drags them through a labyrinth of lies, one they will not emerge from unscathed...

Sweet zombie Jesus this is some good shit! I think Lehane might be the newest member of my crime fiction Holy Trinity with Lawrence Block and Richard Stark. Here's how it all went down.

After the events of Sacred, the previous book in the series, Patrick and Angela have more or less shacked up and have started bringing in big money. When Amanda McCready's family hires them, they take the case for the good of the child. I thought I had an idea where the case would go but it turned out I was way off. Gone, Baby, Gone was like walking down the sidewalk to get the mail and somehow ending up in Paraguay.

Gone, Baby, Gone is the most powerful Lehane book I've read yet. I thought I was desensitized to crimes against children from reading the Andrew Vachss Burke books but I was wrong. Like Mrs. Kemper's husband and I were discussing while I was reading, Angela and Patrick are much better people than Burke so the pieces of excrement they go up against while looking for a missing child seem that much more vile.

Lehane's strength is in his characters and he writes them very well. Patrick and Angela are the same people I've grown to know and love over the past few books. I felt like they dragged me to hell with them over the course of the investigation. Broussard and Poole drove the story forward and were likeable guys. I alternated feeling contempt and pity for Amanda's mother, Helene. Even Cheese was a well-realized character. Once things went pear-shaped, I couldn't believe Lehane had pulled the wool over my eyes so thoroughly, only to yank the rug out from under me so hard that I banged my head on the radiator.

I really can't say much more without giving away too much of the plot. Lehane made a believer out of me on this one. Five easy stars.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Sacred

Sacred (Kenzie & Gennaro #3)Sacred by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are strong-armed and then enticed by a billionaire to find his missing daughter, dead or alive, they have no idea of the web of lies they are about to be entangled in, a web that has already made Patrick's mentor vanish without a trace...

One of the reasons I've gravitated toward detective fiction in my old age is that I'm far more likely to be taken by surprise. This book surprised me more than looking into my rear-view mirror on a midnight drive and finding a homicidal circus clown in my back seat.

Sacred starts off simply enough. A billionaire has Kenzie and Gennaro kidnapped, throws a heaping helping of cash at them, and sends them looking for his missing daughter. The trail leads to a grief counseling center, a cult, and eventually to Florida. Complicating things are the fact that Patrick's mentor was the last guy to look for Desiree Stone and has seemingly dropped off the face of the earth.

Like a lot of good authors, Lehane had me by the nose a few times. I found myself second-guessing myself every time I was close to figuring something out. The true villain of the piece wound up being pretty memorable.

A hallmark of a good detective series is letting the characters evolve. Patrick and Angie moved forward quite a bit in this book, both as individuals and as a couple. Jay Becker and his relationship with Patrick fleshed out Patrick's character a bit more. Lehane has already moved them far beyond what they were in the first book and I still have three books to go. I have to say I missed the old supporting cast of Oscar, Devin, and Bubba. Poor Bubba, winding up in the clink.

The writing was good but it felt a little lighter than maybe it should have. Still, I enjoyed the hell out of it and couldn't wait for everyone involved to get what was coming to them. I don't think it was as good as Darkness, Take My Hand but it was as good as A Drink Before the War.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Mexican Tree Duck

The Mexican Tree DuckThe Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a biker buddy hires him to find his birth mother, Sughrue takes the case, only to find himself ensnared in a web of drugs, sex, drugs, likes, drugs, murder, and a baby named Lester. Sughrue puts together a band of his misfit war buddies and goes on the hunt. But every damn person he talks to is lying to him...

If Raymond Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson were able to mate successfully, their offspring would be a lot like James Crumley. His books read like Dr. Gonzo pretending to be Philip Marlowe, drug-filled road trips where nothing is as it seems.

Like a lot of PI novels, the case seemed simple at first. However, when a biker's mom happens to be the wife of an energy tycoon and Mexican drug runners are also after her, things get complicated in a hurry.

I found the characters in The Mexican Tree Duck to be much more likeable than the ones in The Last Good Kiss. Jimmy, the hotheaded former postal worker, and Frank, the black/Mexican/Samoan cop dying of cancer, and even Wynona, were much more likeable than the characters from the first book. The Dahlgren twins were a hoot and I hope they make further appearances. I also found myself getting attached to baby Lester, even though everyone connected to him was more full of shit than one of Lester's dirty diapers.

I find C.W. Sughrue to be a very compelling lead character, full of flaws but still with some redeeming qualities. If Philip Marlowe is a shop-soiled Galahad, Sughrue's like Lancelot after he fled Camelot and went wild trying to forget about his feelings for Guinevere with drink and violence (see, I read more than just detective books). It's a shame Crumley only wrote a few books starring him.

The plot was a lot more complex than I ever thought it would be, with Norman, Joe Don, Sarita, and Wynona being who they were. Much like Chandler's books, Sughrue spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell was going on. His writing also shows a Chandler influence in the similes.

The Mexican Tree Duck of the title barely makes an appearance but is pretty memorable when it does. I wish I had a replica to put on my bookcase.

After much deliberation, I'm giving this a high 4. I liked it more than the Last Good Kiss but not enough for five stars.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Darkness, Take My Hand

Darkness, Take My Hand (Kenzie & Gennaro, #2)Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just when things are going great for both of them, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired by a psychiatrist to find out who's stalking her son. Meanwhile, Patrick runs into a troubled girl from the neighborhood. But what do these two things have to do with an imprisioned psychopath who wants to speak with Patrick?

One of these days, I'm going to learn my lesson and have Kemper and Nancy pick out all my books for me. Kenzie and Gennaro are rapidly climbing my detective hierarchy.

Things have changed since the last outing. Angie is finally divorcing her alcoholic, wife-beating husband Phil and Patrick's in a relationship with a doctor named Grace and acting as a father for her two-year old, Mae. Then things start going pear-shaped when it appears a pair of serial killers is at work.

Much like Lawrence Block's marvelous Matthew Scudder series, the things that makes Kenzie and Gennaro stand out are the well-realized setting and the characters. The Boston of Lehane's tales is as rich a setting as Block's New York and I wouldn't be surprised if they existed in the same space-time continuum. Lehane's cast is really growing on me. Kenzie and Gennaro are both three-dimensional, multi-facetted characters that I have no trouble believing in. The supporting cast, namely cops Devin and Oscar and one Bubba Rogowski, are memorable in their own right. I even caught myself giving a shit about Phil, Angie's douche bag ex.

The characters have developed quite a bit since the first book. I'm almost afraid to see what wringer Lehane is going to run them through in subsequent books. Patrick and Angie are a lot more scratched and dented than they were when the series started and I'm only two books in.

The villains were suitably vile but not cartoonishly so, not even for serial killers. I had no idea who the mastermind was until Patrick did, though the mystery wasn't easily solveable. One of the killers reminded me a lot of James Motely from one of the Matthew Scudder books.

I guess that's about all I can say. As much as I liked the first book, A Drink Before the War, this one was even better. It's an easy five stars.


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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye (Philip Marlowe, #6)The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A down and out friend of Marlowe's flees to Mexico with Marlowe's help, his wife dead under suspicious circumstances. Marlowe's friend soon turns up dead, an apparent suicide. But what does his death, if anything, have to do with a drunk writer Marlowe finds himself watching?

I'm not really sure how I feel about the Long Goodbye. It's Chandler so the writing is great, with Chandler's trademark similes and hard-boiled atmosphere. On the other hand, it's written a little differently than his other Philip Marlowe books. It's more philosophical and less crime-oriented. The two victims in the story seem to be stand-ins for Chandler himself.

It's still crime oriented, though. It took me forever to figure out how the two seemingly unrelated cases were linked. I got there just before Marlowe did but it was a close shave.

What else is there to say without giving anything away? Chandler once again delivers the goods, just not in the same package as usual. Still, it was a very enjoyable read.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Demolition Angel

Demolition AngelDemolition Angel by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An LAPD bomb squad technician is blown up on the job and Detective Carol Starkey, former bomb squad tech, is on the case. Can Starkey overcome her past and bring the bomber to justice?

I first heard of Demoliton Angel last year at Bouchercon when Robert Crais mentioned working on it in secret after LA Requiem. It sounded okay but I wasn't in a hurry to read it. After Carol Starkey appeared in a couple Elvis Cole books, I knew I had to check out her story. I was not disappointed.

At the beginning of Demolition Angel, Starkey is a wreck. She's a chain-smoker with a drinking problem, trying to forget about a bombing that killed both her and her lover years before. Starkey was resusitated and has been dealing with the scars ever since. When a serial bomber rears his ugly head, Starkey has a chance at redemption. Awesomeness ensues. Starkey's a really good character and I hope Crais uses her as a lead again one of these days. Her relationships with the other characters made the book a joy to read even when things were slow.

The search for Mr. Red takes up most of the book. To be honest, I wasn't that thrilled with the book at first. Then Crais yanked the rug out from under me and crazy things started happening. The last 100 pages blew by at a feverish pace.

While being quite enjoyable, Demolition Angel isn't perfect. The relationship seemed tacked on. Also, Demolition Angel was first published in 2000 and since technology is featured quite a bit, I don't think it has aged as well as Crais' other books written around the same time. Other than that, I've got no complaints. It's right on the line between three and four stars.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and AmphibiansNational Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians by National Audubon Society
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I've noted on my profile, I take a ton of pictures, mostly of insects and wildlife. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians is my go-to resource when I feel the need to identify something of a creepy, crawly nature.

The book is jam-packed with photos of snakes, frogs, and other scaly critters. In fact, the shear amount of images can be a little overwhelming when you're trying to narrow down the possible species of that frog that just jumped into the watcher and nearly scared the crap out of you.

Another big plus is that the habitats and range of the particular species are mentioned. There have been a few times when I was trying to identify a snake and though "No, they don't come any farther north than Alabama. Better keep looking."

If I had to pick something to gripe about, it would be that I wish this book would fit in a normal-sized pants pocket. It's kind of fat. Other that that, it's a pretty sweet book.

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Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader

Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom ReaderUncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader by Bathroom Readers' Institute
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Uncle John's Bathroom reader is a fountain of interesting facts. This edition, the 24 Karat Gold Bathroom Reader, is more of the same.

Just a few of the interesting facts contained within:
- Hotdogs were once known as Depression sandwiches
- Banker slang for people who pay their credit cards off every month: deadbeats
- The amount of fat in the total Big Mac's America consumes every year: 35 million pounds
- Jon Stewart's brother is the COO of the New York Stock Exchange
- It is possible to get goosebumps on your face
- A mouse can fit through a hole the diameter of a ballpoint pen
- the average person in the UK drinks as much tea as 23 Italians

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Friday, December 7, 2012

A Drink Before the War

A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro, #1)A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a gang war looms on the horizon, private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennara are hired to find a missing woman who stole some documents from a senator. What they find could ignite a race war and burn Boston to the ground...

When I recently got caught up on Robert Crais's Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, I wondered if I'd find an acceptable crime series to fill the void. Consider the void filled to the point of overflowing.

A Drink Before the War stars PI team Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennara. Patrick's a PI with unresolved issues with his dead father and not at all secret romantic feelings for his partner. Angie's a tough but beautiful lady with an abusive husband. Their office is in the bell tower of a church. Sound good so far?

The story sees them visiting Boston's dark underbelly in their search for a missing cleaning woman who happens to have some damning documents about a senator and ties to the heads of two rival gangs. The plot is a pressure cooker waiting to whistle. Driving the story along are Patrick and Angela and their complicated relationship. Both characters go through the wringer as they discover the truth about what they're after.

Lehane's writing is a notch above most series detective books. I kept noticing lines I would have read out loud if anyone was around to hear them. I like that Lehane didn't make anything easy for Patrick and Angie. Like a lot of good series detective books, the Dorchester setting was almost a character on its own.

A Drink Before the War is damn near perfect for what it is. I hope I don't devour the entire series too fast.



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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Taken

Taken (Elvis Cole, #13 / Joe Pike, #4)Taken by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A woman hires Elvis Cole to find her kidnapped daughter. Elvis takes the case, only to find himself kidnapped. Can Joe Pike find Elvis before the kidnappers decide to silence him... permanently?

So now I'm finally completely caught up on the adventures of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. How did this effort stack up to the rest of them? It held its own, that's for certain.

With Taken, Robert Crais put to rest my fears that maybe Crais might start phoning it in. He took a fairy basic kidnapping plot and did great things with it. The thing that sets Taken apart from other kidnapping books is the structure. While I bemoaned Crais's shifting viewpoints in the past, he used it to marvelous effect in this book. The viewpoint shifted between the kidnapping victims, Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, and Jon Stone, not only shifting between characters but jumping around in time as well. It's structure reminded me of Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black at some points and the movie Boondock Saints at others.

Cole and Pike were their usual selves. Jon Stone, one of Pike's mercenary buddies, has been growing on me in his last few appearances. The kidnappers were a horrible bunch and it was great when they finally got what was coming to them.

That's about it for me. If you've followed Joe and Elvis this far, I can't imagine not reading this book. Four easy stars.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick - Double D Double Cross Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick - Double D Double Cross

Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick - Double D Double Cross Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick - Double D Double Cross by Christa Faust
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A woman hires Butch Fatale to find her missing girlfriend. When the girl turns up dead of an apparent drug overdose, Butch finds herself ensnared in a web of sex, blackmail, sex, drugs, sex, and murder...

Earlier in the year, I plunked down some of my cash for Christa Faust's Kickstarter campaign. This is one of the things I received in return.

Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick, is Christa Faust's love-letter to the cheesy detective pulps of the fifties and sixties, only with a lot more lesbian sex. She's like a female Mike Hammer, only with better writing and a hotter secretary.

The tale had so many twists and turns I had no idea where it was going, just like the stories Faust was paying homage to. Butch went from the frying pan to the fire so many times she probably had burn marks on her ass by the end of the story. A simple investigation into a missing girl wound up much more complicated than it originally appeared.

Faust's writing is as it always is; punchy and humorous while still conveying the necessary seriousness of the situation. Still, there is a scene depicting a naked lesbian detective trying to outrun her pursuers on a skateboard so it isn't all serious.

While it wasn't as dark as the other Faust books I've read, Hoodtown, Choke Hold, or Money Shot, it was still a very entertaining read. I'm anxious to read the next one once it's available.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hit Me

Hit MeHit Me by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When his finances get into trouble, Keller finds himself back in business with Dot and dispatching targets in the only way he knows how.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this ARC from Lawrence Block in exchange for reviewing it. Hell, when you're favorite living crime writer gives you an ARC, you drop what you're doing it and read it.

First off, I loved the way Hit and Run ended and thought maybe bringing Keller back was a mistake. However, the way Block did it, with Keller's business flipping houses tanking, made perfect sense, and Keller's new family dynamic added some extra twists. Block's writing is as it has been for the duration of the Keller series; breezy but still powerful. He even made me care about stamp collecting for a couple hours.

In this outing, Keller starts a business, brokers a deal on an amazing stamp collection, goes on a cruise, and kills some people. I phrase it like that because, for me, the Keller books are more about what Keller does when he isn't out on a job. His relationships with his wife Jule, his daughter Jenny, and the ever-present Dot, as well as his wrestling with ethical and philosophical issues, keep the stories fresh and show the man behind the murders.

The jobs are interesting too. Keller has to take out a man's wife before he divorces her, return to New York to take out an abbot, kill a young bride's much older husband, and tries to find out who made an attempt on a targets life before he had the chance, all the while busying himself with family and philately.

That's about all I have to say. If you're looking for a view behind the curtain of the murder for hire business, give Lawrence Block's Keller series a try. Hit Me may be the best one yet.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Last Good Kiss

The Last Good KissThe Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

C.W. Sughrue is hired to rack down an author before he drinks himself to death. Complications ensue and Sughrue takes on a second case while he's waiting for the writer to be healthy enough to travel, finding a girl that's been missing for ten years. Where will Sughrue's cases take him?

Ever read a book and wonder what rock you must have been hiding beneath to never hear of it sooner? The Last Good Kiss is one of those books. Numerous reviewers have described it as a cross between Raymond Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson and I saw why not very many pages from the beginning.

The story seemed simple until someone took a bullet in the ass and Sughrue had some time on his hands. The search for Betty Sue Flowers takes Sughrue and his companion on a drunken odyssey through the most depraved parts of the west.

I have to admit that a lot of the twists caught me by surprise, especially one near the end. By far, my favorite part of the book was the relationship between Sughrue and Trahearne. Sughrue himself is quite a character, part PI, part bartender, all drunk. He's like Phillip Marlowe with twenty consecutive years of bad luck behind him. Crumely's prose reminded me of Chandler's in places but bleaker.

That's about all I have to say. It's a crime Crumley isn't more well-known. Four easy stars.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The First Rule

The First Rule (Joe Pike, #2)The First Rule by Robert Crais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A retired mercenary Joe Pike used to work with is murdered along with his family, seemingly by a home invasion crew. Joe Pike springs into action. When signs start pointing to an arms deal involving Serbian organized crime, Pike starts wondering if his old friend was mixed up in something he shouldn't have been...

The First Rule was another exciting outing featuring Joe Pike and Elvis Cole with Pike taking center stage and kicking ass. I can't say too much about the plot without blowing too much. Pike gets caught between the ATF, and two rival Serbian crime lords. Chaos ensues. Pike comes out on top.

The second Joe Pike solo adventure was better than the first, The Watchman. While I still never felt Pike was in jeopardy, the story had more twists and showed that Joe Pike has a softer side. Pike taking care of a baby was surprisingly touching.

That's about all I have to say, I guess. It was a fun read and a nice way to spend a couple hours. Three easy stars.


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Monday, November 19, 2012

Chasing Darkness

Chasing Darkness (Elvis Cole, #11)Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man Elvis Cole cleared for murder years ago turns up dead with a photo album of seven female murder victims in his possession. Did Cole help clear a killer? Why is the task force still working if the case has been closed? And what is the glory-seeking police chief trying to hide? That's what Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are trying to find out...

I have to admit, I had my doubts about this one at first. I should have known Crais had pulled the wool over my eyes yet again when I thought I knew who the killer was about halfway through.

Chasing Darkness continues the saga of Elvis Cole. It's not as weighty as the last three books, more of a run of the mill case. Cole, with help from friends Joe Pike, John Chen, Carol Starkey, and some of the other regulars, works to figure out if he helped clear a serial killer, leaving him free to kill again.

Like I mentioned before, Crais had me off in the wrong direction for a good portion of the book. Still, when the cops are like Marx and Munson, it's easy to assume the worst.

For an Elvis Cole book, Chasing Darkness is surprisingly light on gun play and for the first time in a while, neither Cole nor Pike end up in the hospital. Hell, it doesn't even have the usual Cole and Pike ending of a shoot out with the bad guys. Still, it was quite an engaging read. There were some tense moments when Elvis did some illegal things during the course of the investigation.

Any complaints? Only that I wish Elvis would cut Lucy Chenier out of his life and set up house with either Carol Starkey or Joe Pike. Four stars.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the TimeThe Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Willard Russell prays over a prayer log for his cancer-ridden wife with his son, Arvin. A spider-eating preacher is convinced he can bring back the dead. A husband and wife pick up hitchhikers, photograph them, and kill them. How will all of their paths intersect?

Knockemstiff was one of my favorite books this year and I was anxious for Donald Ray Pollock to try his hand at a novel. Now I'm anxious for him to write a couple hundred more.

The Devil All the Time dips into the same well as Knockemstiff at first. I had to admit I wasn't sure about things in the early-goings, not until I saw where things are going. The stories don't appear related at all except for the backwoods Ohio setting. Not until Arvin and Leonora wound up in the same place.

The overlying theme of The Devil All The Time seems to be that you can't run forever, something Williard, Roy, Teagardin, and most of the other characters learn the hard way by the story's end. I loved trying to figure out where the various plot threads would knot and tangle together. Besides obviously reminding me of Knockemstiff, it also reminded me of No Country for Old Men at times.

By far my favorite pair of characters to follow was Carl and Sandy. Since I've been watching a lot of Dexter lately, I latched on to the duo pretty quickly. Lee Bodecker was a close second, since he was the closest thing to a common character appearing in all the various threads.

By the time the end rolled around, I wasn't sure who would live, right up until the last page. The Devil All the Time was a brutal thrill ride through the sad lives of a fistful of characters. Five stars, no complaints.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mockingjay

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After surviving two Hunger Games, Katniss finds herself as the face of a revolution. Can Katniss lead the rebels to victory against President Snow and the Capitol?

The Hunger Games trilogy comes to a conclusion in this volume, a conclusion that tends to polarize people. Without giving too much away, the ending was actually one of the parts of the book I liked the best.

The story coming out of the previous volume, Catching Fire, sees Katniss uniting the districts against the Capitol, primarily through propaganda films. Peeta, on the other hand, is used in counter-broadcasts by the Capitol in an attempt to undermine the rebellion. Issues are raised that leads Katniss to believe that Coin, the president of District 13, may not have her best interests at heart.

Sounds good, right? It was, for the most part. I liked that Collins didn't do all the expected things. Characters died left and right. Katniss assassinates someone. Katniss' choice in lovers is finally made for her.

My main gripe with Mockingjay is that Katniss has been on a downhill slide since the Hunger Games, going from being a capable fighter to someone that has meltdowns pretty consistently throughout. Even at the end, I still didn't care about either of her love interests. Cinna or Finnick would have made a better companion.

So that's it for me and the Hunger Games. Overall, I'd give the trilogy a high three. I think Collins may have been better served to condense it into two books, though. Or even leave the Hunger Games as a standalone.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Catching Fire

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the wake of The Hunger Games, insurrection brews, an insurrection Katniss has unknowingly become the symbol of. President Snow expresses his displeasure with Katniss in the only way he knows how. Can Katniss and the other victors of the Hunger Games survive the Quarter Quell?

Here we are, the middle book of the Hunger Games trilogy. In a lot of ways, it feels like a transitional book. In some others, it feels like a rehash of the first one.

I liked seeing how the Hunger Games changed the lives of Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of District 12. Katniss' relationships with Gale and Peeta both moved along. Seeing the other districts as the Victory Tour moved along was a nice bit of world building. I also liked that Haymitch's past was explored a bit. President Snow and his controlling of Katniss made my skin crawl. I can't wait until someone settles his hash in the third book.

Of the new characters introduced, I have to say Finnick is by far my favorite. The carnage level was ramped up significantly in the death match part of the story. The combatants were a lot more capable and the threats were much much worse. The nerve gas in particular is going to stick with me.

The growing unrest really makes this feel like a transitional book. It almost feels like the Empire Strikes Back at times. Instead of the whole "Ben, why didn't you tell me?" at the end, it's Haymitch.

Still, I didn't like it as much as I did the first book. It was a little been there, done that, especially in the end. Also, Katniss seems to have taken a step back. She seemed very strong in the first book but not so much in this one. Also, I know the whole Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle is supposed to be a big part of the story but Gale doesn't get developed enough for me to really care about him and Peeta's feelings for Katniss are a little on the unbelievable side given Katniss barely gives him the time of day most of the time.

Three stars, possibly 3.5. On to Mockingjay! Time to boat this bass.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a dystopian future, Katniss Everdeen takes her younger sister's place as District 12's representative in the Hunger Games, a 24 person free-for-all broadcast on live TV. Will she walk out of the Games alive?

So, I've been avoiding the Hunger Games for years. It has several strikes against it:
1. It's a young adult book
2. The enormous amount of hype
3. The fact that it appears on the surface to be a combination of two Stephen King books, The Long Walk and The Running Man

The other night, I was talking about the Robert Crais book I just finished and my lovely girlfriend asked when I was going to start reading the Hunger Games. Monday, I said. She was making country fried steak that night. What else could I do? Lucky for me, the country fried steak and the Hunger Games were both great.

Suzanne Collins crafted quite a tale in the Hunger Games. From the start, I was impressed with her lead characters. Katniss's personality reflected her background nicely. She wasn't cutesy or even particularly charismatic when the story started and was definitely rough around the edges. Peeta's questionable motivations kept the story moving for much of the book.

The Hunger Games themselves reminded me of the Stephen King books I mentioned earlier and also Lord of the Flies. I never had the safety net feeling that I had while reading other YA fare like Harry Potter. The way the story was told in the present tense gave it an urgent feel that kept me turning pages until my bedtime had come and gone.

Any gripes? Just the usual curmudgeonly ones about it being the first in the series with a lot of dangling threads left to be resolved in the two subsequent books. It was an easy four star read.



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Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Watchman

The Watchman (Joe Pike, #1)The Watchman by Robert Crais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While Elvis Cole is on the mend, an associate of Joe Pike's calls in a favor. Joe is tasked with protecting a young heiress from the people trying to kill her. Things go south when there is a leak at the Department of Justice and Pike finds that the only people he can trust are Elvis Cole and himself...

Joe Pike takes the lead in this Robert Crais offering and gets saddled protecting a Paris Hilton type heiress named Larkin Barkley. As with L.A. Requiem, Joe Pike's past is explored as the case unfolds. I loved the way the relationship between Pike and the spoiled heiress develops as they find they have things in common.

It's a nice change of pace to have Elvis Cole in the supporting role and have Pike take the lead. It's an exciting tale with a much higher body count than most Crais books so far. That should be expected, though, when the enemies are linked to South American drug cartels.

With Pike as the central character, Crais developed the normally silent Pike into a multidimensional character and kept The Watchman from devolving into a mindless action-fest. I don't really have much more to say on that front. It's Pike being Pike with Elvis Cole in tow.

While The Watchman was an enjoyable read and a nice change of pace, I'll be glad when Elvis Cole takes center stage again. 3.5 stars.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Forgotten Man

The Forgotten Man (Elvis Cole, #10)The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An old man is gunned down in an alley and his last words were that he was looking for his son, Elvis Cole. Was the old man really the father Elvis never knew? That's what Elvis is trying to find out. But will he be able to live with what he finds?

Much like The Last Detective, Robert Crais digs into Elvis Cole's past with the Forgotten Man. In the wake of the events of The Last Detective, the possible appearance of Elvis' unknown father drags him out of his depression and sets him into motion. It makes for a great story. Crais had me flip-flopping on whether or not Faustina was Cole's father for a good portion of the book.

Like The Last Detective before it, The Forgotten Man deviates from the old formula of Cole and Pike stirring things up until the shootout at the end and spends more time exploring Cole's past. Cole has come a long way from being a Spenser ripoff.

The friendship of Cole and Pike has been fleshed out quite a bit more in the last couple books and I had to fight back some man tears at the end. While they aren't as in love as Spenser and Hawk are, I find their relationship much more believable than Cole and Lucy's. Speaking of Lucy, she's beginning to annoy me as much as Susan Silverman. Not to spoil anything but I wish she'd stop vagina-blocking Starkey and let her and Cole get together.

That's about all I can say without giving away too much. Cole's a clever guy but not unbelievably so and I recommend his adventures, especially the later ones, to all crime and mystery fans.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Blood Riders

Blood RidersBlood Riders by Michael P. Spradlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Captain Jonas Hollister watched blood-drinkers slaughter his men and wound up with a ten year sentence to Leavenworth. When a senator's son witnesses similar killings, detective Allan Pinkerton springs Hollister and sends him after the creatures that slaughtered his men. But can Hollister trust the men the senator has sent to watch his back? And what about the mysterious woman following him?

Blood Riders was a fun read, no two ways about it. You've got stalwart natural leader Jonas Hollister, his mysterious multi-racial all-knowing kung fu sergeant Chee and his dog Dog, the lovely and mysterious Shaniah, and tons and tons of vampires in the old west. Historical personages, both real and fictitious, such as Oliver Winchester, Allan Pinkerton, and Abraham Van Helsing are also characters. Actually, the vampires are actually Archaics, a species similar to but not the same as vampires. The line isn't clearly drawn, something Hollister himself remarks upon.

The story is pretty straightforward. Hollister gets out of Leavenworth in exchange for doing some vampire hunting. Carnage and witty one-liners ensue. Hollister and Chee kill vampires by the wagonload using a variety of steampunk gadgets. It reminded me of the first volume of American Vampire a bit.

I liked that Spradlin used the Archaics instead of vampires so he was free to deviate from established vampire fiction as much as he pleased. He also hinted at werewolves and witches, giving further credence to my idea that this would be the first book in the series, something confirmed at the end.

While it was a lot of fun, I couldn't justify giving it higher than a three. For one thing, I found all the supposed twists fairly obvious, from Shaniah's hidden background to what transpired between her and Hollister. For another, I at no point felt like Hollister and Chee were in any real danger of failing in their mission despite being surrounded on several occasions.

That being said, I still enjoyed it and I'll give the next book in the series a shot. Three stars, mostly for the fun factor.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gravity: Big-City Super Hero

Gravity: Big-City Super HeroGravity: Big-City Super Hero by Sean McKeever
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Greg Willis comes to NYC from Wisconsin for two reasons: to go to NYU and o make it as a big city superhero, Gravity. Can Gravity stop the Black Death and finish the semester with his life and his girlfriend intact?

Gravity is a throwback to the superheroes of the silver age but with modern age art. Much like Spider-Man, Gravity struggles to keep his personal life together and be taken seriously as a superhero at the same time. In the process, he teams with the Greenwich Guardian and goes up against Rhino and the man who will be his arch-nemesis, the Black Death.

Really, that's all I have to say. It's not overly complex and seems to be written with a younger audience in mind than most comics these days. Gravity is an interesting character but I've already read this story when it was early issues of Spider-Man. Still, it's a fun book and I'd like to see more Gravity in the future.

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The Last Detective

The Last Detective (Elvis Cole, #9)The Last Detective by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When his girlfriend's son is kidnapped right out from under his nose, Elvis Cole goes into overdrive to find him. Ben's kidnappers seem to be tied to Elvis's past as a Ranger in Vietnam, forcing Elvis to relive his early days. Can Elvis and Joe find Ben before the kidnappers kill him?

Crais keeps the momentum going from L.A. Requiem and once again, Elvis and Joe wind up in the soup. Instead of Pike, The Last Detective focuses on Elvis' past, from never knowing his father to his "free spirited" mother to his days in Vietnam. His relationship with Lucy is further strained and he runs on fumes trying to get Ben back. I felt like LA Requiem was Joe Pike's defining book and The Last Detective does much the same for Elvis.

Crais did a good job with the supporting cast, as per usual. Lucy Chenier's husband Richard has been a douche since he was introduced and he takes it to new heights in The Last Detective. Carol Starkey, the main character of Demolition Angel, is in charge of the investigation, making me wish I'd read that book before this one. However, the villains of the piece were among the worst yet. When Joe Pike admits to being scared, you know things are pretty bad.

Speaking of Joe Pike, his aura of invincibility is gone after LA Requiem and he knows it. I'll be interested in seeing him recover in the next couple books.

That's about all I have to say. Elvis and Joe are outgunned but still manage to come through. Changes rock the supporting cast that will affect the series for books to come. I've got no complaints.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

L.A. Requiem

L.A. Requiem (Elvis Cole, #8)L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A woman Joe Pike used to be involved with is murdered and her father hires Elvis Cole and Joe Pike the find the killer. Things take a dark turn when it turns out the woman was murdered by a serial killer and that serial killer appears to be... Joe Pike?

As I've mentioned in pretty much ever review I've done for an Elvis Cole book so far, I thought he was a Spenser ripoff for the first book or two. This one leaves my initial impression in the dust like a drag racer trying to set a world land speed record on the salt flats. For me, this was the pinnacle of the series so far.

It started off ordinary enough but soon tore the doors off. The mysterious Joe Pike's past was explored, revealing much without killing all the mystery. Elvis's relationship with Lucy is strained near the breaking point so soon after she turned her life upside down to be with Elvis in LA. Elvis is forced to make some difficult decisions on his friend's behalf. Great stuff.

The new supporting characters were interesting. Krantz, with his ties to Joe Pike's past, made him one of the most interesting, even though he's a huge tool. I also really dug Samantha Dolan.

Crais had me going a couple times on this one. I had no idea who the killer was until he was revealed and even though I knew logically the killer wasn't Pike, I questioned myself a few times. For the first time in the series, I found Elvis and Lucy's relationship believable, maybe because it was coming apart. Joe and Elvis's relationship is still far more believable, as was Elvis' despair in the last thirty or so pages of the book, wondering if Pike was alive and if Lucy was still his.

That's about all I can say without revealing too much. L.A. Requiem is the best book yet in the Elvis Cole series. If you like the series up to this point, you'll love this one.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Wise up!

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Wise Up!: An Elevating Collection of Quick Facts and Incredible CuriositiesUncle John's Bathroom Reader Wise Up!: An Elevating Collection of Quick Facts and Incredible Curiosities by Bathroom Readers' Institute
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For years, Uncle John's Bathroom Reader has been a tome of seldom heard facts and trivia. While the articles range size from one to ten pages, the best parts are normally the one line facts in the footers of each page. Some wished the entire book was of said one-liners. Until now...

Wise Up! is a collection of those one line facts. For instance, did you know W.C. Fields was the first choic to play the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz? Or that the US divorce rate has dropped every year since 1979? Or that the last astronaut to walk on the moon was Eugene Cernan in 1972?

Ever needed some reading material on those days after long nights of drinking beer and eating diner food? This is just what you need for those days where you can't seem to stay out of the bathroom.

And the Bathroom Reader series isn't just for the bathroom. Its knowledge is so portable that it can be read not only in any room in the house, but by passengers on long car rides!

If obscure bits of knowledge entertain you, look no further than the various volumes of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader!

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Indigo Slam

Indigo Slam (Elvis Cole, #7)Indigo Slam by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a fifteen year old girl hires Elvis Cole to find her missing father, a printer named Clark Haines, Elvis soon finds himself snared in a web of drugs, counterfeit money, and the Russian mob. To top it off, Lucy's ex-husband is trying to sabotage her attempts to find a job and move to LA to be with Elvis. What's the World's Greatest Detective to do?

While I've been dabbling in sf and graphic novels quite a bit the last couple months, sometimes you just need a good mystery. Once again, Robert Crais delivers the goods.

Indigo Slam proved to be a lot more than I originally thought. The Haines family's status in the witness relocation program complicated Clark's missing, as did what originally seemed to be a drug habit. Crais is pretty good at misdirection and he had me going a few times during this.

My favorite part of this book was Elvis and Joe interacting with Clark's kids. I'm hoping Lucy's ex-husband makes further appearances. Actually, I'm hoping the Elvis-Lucy subplot gets resolved in the next book, one way or another. Long distance relationships never work.

As always, Elvis and Joe walk around, asking questions and stirring up trouble until things boil over. The action was great when the tidal wave finally hit the beach. The twists kept coming and though I suspected the final one, it still caught me off guard.

That's about all I can say without spoiling big plot points. Crais gave me the exciting read I was craving. Right on the edge of 3 and 4 out of five.


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Friday, October 19, 2012

Scarlet Spider - Life After Death

Scarlet Spider - Volume 1: Life After DeathScarlet Spider - Volume 1: Life After Death by Christopher Yost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the events of Spider-Man: Spider-Island, Kaine leaves New York to start a new life in Mexico. However, he only makes it as far as Houston before life throws complications in his way in the form of a shipping container full of dead illegal aliens, a fire-powered super villain, an assassin guild looking for revenge, a dirty nuke, and a living girl he found along with all the dead illegals who seems to have a psychic link with him. All in a day's work for your not-so-friendly neighborhood Scarlet Spider.

I'll bring everyone up to speed really fast: Kaine is a clone of Spider-Man who was a murderous super villain until the events of Spider-Island. He has most of the same powers plus a couple extras and a suit that lets him turn invisible. Everyone got that?

So I really liked this Scarlet Spider collection. It's both a tale of Kaine's second chance at life and a chance to tell Spider-Man tales that couldn't be told with Peter Parker. Kaine's got all of Spider-Man's powers but has been a criminal and killer in the past and he's struggling with the idea of being a hero but he's working on it. I like that his sense of humor is a lot more negative than Spider-Man's and he handles things with a heavier hand. Ever see Spider-Man crush a gunman's hands or use a pistol or katana on someone?

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much from the supporting cast but I'm already digging them. There's Wally and Donald, the cop and doctor gay couple, Annabelle, the punky bartenders, and Aracely, the girl Kaine has made it his responsibility to protect. The villains are nothing to write home about but seeds are planted for future stories involving Kraven and the Assassin's guild led by Belladona, Gambit's ex-wife.

Not really anything bad to say about this one. I'll be picking up the next volume and, if rumors are true about Kane being Spider-Man soon, I'll be reading that too.

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Spider-Man: Spider-Island

Spider-Man: Spider-IslandSpider-Man: Spider-Island by Dan Slott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When people all over New York starting waking up with Spider powers, including his girlfriend, Spider-Man swings into action. Soon, New York is infested with Spider-Men and the Avengers are called in. But what happens when everyone starts to mutate? And who is the source of the infection? And can Spider-Man stop the epidemic before it leaves Spider-Island?

After my experience with Spider-Man: Big Time Ultimate Collection, I decided to dip my toes into another Spider-Man collection and this one sounded great. Was it?

Eh. The main concept itself was a really cool idea. People are granted Spider-powers and chaos ensues. Spider-Man and company race against impossible odds and fix everything with all the thrills of a summer block buster. What could go wrong?

Well, my main gripe is that it was too long for what it was and hinged too much on too many ancillary Spider-characters, like Venom and Anti-Venom. Coupled with that, Humberto Ramos' art seemed rushed in about half of his pages. Also, it turns out I'm not a big fan of Rick Remender's writing. He's no Dan Slott, that's for sure.

Now that I got the gripes out of the way, here's a ton of stuff that I liked:
- Mary Jane with Spider-powers
- J. Jonah Jameson with Spider-Powers
- The Shocker with six arms
- Kaine and Spidey teaming up to take on the main villain
- Kaine's final fate
- Reed Richards' involvment
- Gravity and Firestar being referred to as Spider-Man's Amazing Friends
- Shang Chi teaching Spidey kung fu
- events from The Other storyline referenced, complete with organic web shooters
- The Parker luck kicking in

With rumors of Kaine stepping into Spider-Man's shoes after Amazing Spider-Man #700, I figured I should see where it all began. While it wasn't as good as Big Time, it was still fun. It's a high three.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Railsea - Here thar be spoilers!

RailseaRailsea by China MiƩville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Urged on by his guardian cousins, young Sham Yes ap Soorap gets apprenticed to a doctor on a moletrain, riding the Railsea in search of moldywarpe, giant moles hunted for food. Captain Naphi of the Medes, the train Sham sails aboard, is obsessed with Mocker Jack, the biggest moldywarpe of them all, & will do anything to find her prey...

Remember that game you used to play when you were a kid, when the living room floor was either molten lava or shark-infested waters, & you had to leap from chair to couch to coffee table & never touch the floor? That's what the world of Railsea reminds me of, covered in miles & miles of rail, most exposed earth harboring moldywarpes, mole rats, worms, & many other malevolent beasties.

In Railsea, China Mieville tells a tale inspired by Moby Dick, the tale of a young orphan named Sham, a captain obsessed with a mole the size of a small building, & the other denizens of the Railsea, a world of dangerous fauna, megatons of salvage, & untold parsecs of rail.

The sheer inventiveness of Mieville's world is staggering. As in Kraken, China shook the idea tree hard on this one. As outlandish as it is, the setting of Railsea isn't all that hard to imagine.

The story feels like Moby Dick at first, but with tastes of Treasure Island & Robinson Crusoe as well. It also reminds me of a more accessible version of China's Bas-Lag books. Captain Naphi's obsession with Mocker Jack echoes Captain Ahab's, although Ahab never had pirates, angles, & the edge of the world to contend with.

Sham's meeting with the Shroakes is what makes the book veer away from being a take off on Moby Dick and become its own animal. A colossal mole, perhaps. I had my doubts about Caldera and Dero Shroakes at first but things really came together at the end. And what an end it was! I love the final image of Sham, the Shroakes, and Captain Naphi sailing beyond the end of the world.

I don't have anything bad to say about this book. It's the most accessible of China Mieville's books & a damn fine book as well. Don't let the YA label fool you. It's a solid & satisfying read at any age.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

American Vampire, Vol. 4

American Vampire, Vol. 4American Vampire, Vol. 4 by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In order to fight the US soldiers encroaching on their territory, including Jim Book and Skinner Sweet, the Apaches awaken a legendary monster, the Mimteh. Greaser vampire hunter Travis Kidd is on the trail of a vampire that killed his family. Agent Poole is in the south and encounters both racism and another breed of vampire. All this and more in American Vampire Volume 4!

Here we are again, another entry in Scott Snyder's chronicles of vampires in America. At this point in the series, it's getting repetitive to say but Scott Snyder is my favorite active comic writer.

The three stories within this volume take place in different time periods but all serve the same purpose: to showcase the different species of vampires in America and expand the backstory of Skinner Sweet and the rest of the supporting cast.

I liked the pre-vampiric history of Skinner Sweet and Jim Book, and the Mimteh. She reminded me of the character Julie Newmar played in the Gregory Peck western, Mackenna's Gold, only with fangs. I'm hoping she makes further appearances in the series.

Travis Kidd, greaser vampire hunter, was another interesting addition to Snyder's vampire mythos. I love the idea of a kid being busted out of a nuthouse to be a vampire hunter, and he's one of the best. The wooden fangs he uses to bite vampires back was a nice touch, and he made a good point about Skinner Sweet near the end of his tale. I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of him.

Agent Poole's sojourn into the south met with expected results. The timeline sure jumped ahead quite a bit in this volume, all the way until the 1960's. How far is Snyder planning on taking us in the life of Skinner Sweet?

While Pearl and Henry made the tiniest of appearances, it was the most powerful scene in the book and planted even more seeds for the next volume.

If I had to complain about something in this volume, it would be that we didn't get all that much Skinner Sweet as a vampire. Still, Snyder continues to keep me entertained with one of the most overused monsters, the vampire. Now I have to wait a few months until the next volume comes out.

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Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams

Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas AdamsDoctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams by Gareth Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Doctor and Romana receive a mysterious distress signal, leading them to Cambridge University, home of The Doctor's old friend and fellow Time Lord, Professor Chronotis. Chronotis inadvertantly lets a Time Lord artifact, a book entitled The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, pass into the hands of a clueless young student. Unfortunately, an egomanic called Skagra also has designs on the book and will do anything to get it. Can The Doctor find the book, stop Skagra's nefarious scheme, and unearth the secrets of Shada?

I have a confession to make. Before getting hooked on the adventures of the eleventh Doctor and began backtracking, my only exposure to Doctor Who was on Sunday nights, waiting through Pertwee and Baker episodes for Red Dwarf to come on. I've since mended my ways.

I recently read Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles and was disappointed with it despite it having been written by Michael Moorcock. I'm happy to say that this one was loads better.

Crafted from mostly unfilmed Douglas Adams's scripts, Shada is the tale of three Time Lords against a man with a sphere capable of absorbing people's minds. Skagra, the villain, manages to be simultaneously menacing and somewhat ridiculous. From his first appearance at the Think Tank, Skagra presents a capable threat to the Doctor. The subplots involing the unspoken feeling between the grad students, Clare and Chris, as well as Professor Chronotis and his place in the secret history of the Time Lords, kept things from being The Doctor running from enemies on every other page.

The meaning of the title, Shada, is only revealed about 75% of the way through. I don't want to spoil anything but I would love to see Shada depicted in a future Doctor Who episode. I guess I'll have to settle for watching Tom Baker's run as the fourth Doctor.

The writing was very engaging. There were tastes of Adams' style throughout but without as much absurdity as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Guide was even mentioned once in the text. References to past and future Doctor Who episodes were littered throughout, even mentioning edible ballbearings. I loved when Roberts had the Doctor poke fun at his supposed reliance on the Sonic Screwdriver. "I'm about to not rely on it for everything again in a moment" or something to that effect.

In conclusion, Shada is everything Coming of the Terraphiles wasn't. There's plenty of the Doctor and the Sonic Screwdriver gets a fair amount of use. While there is a lot of the Doctor and companions running from enemies, there's a good amount of humor and dramatic tension as well. I wouldn't say it's a must read for Doctor Who fans but it's a lot of fun.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Redshirts

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The starship Intrepid seeks out new worlds and boldly goes where no man has gone before. However, as Ensign Andrew Dahl soon discovers, low-ranked crew members die more often aboard the Intrepid than brain cells at a Spring Break weekend while the senior officers, besides Lt. Kerensky, always survive without a scratch. As they dig deeper, what will Andy and his friends uncover?

Anyone who's watched more than two or three episodes of Star Trek knows that it's always the extra, or redshirt, that dies when the crew beams down to a planet or any other location that's not on the bridge of the ship. Why is that? That's the question Redshirts poses to the reader.

This is not my favorite book by John Scalzi. It's not even in the top three. I love the Scalz and his brand of wit. Too bad this one was all wit and very little shi... substance. Andy and his friends were an interesting bunch. I liked how they gradually pieced things together. Wait... no they didn't. It was pretty much all handed to them.

The writing actually seemed a little on the lazy side. It was mostly dialogue and very little description. I had no idea how any of the characters looked or even what the interior of the Intrepid was supposed to look like.

The story is meant to be a takeoff of Star Trek but it felt more like several episodes of Red Dwarf, most recently the Back to Earth movie where the crew arrived on earth and encountered the actors that played them. I wasn't a tremendous fan of that one either.

Still, Redshirts had its humorous moments and the absurd logic was consistent. It just wasn't very substantial and I thought it wore a little thin toward the end. I actually enjoyed Fuzzy Nation. It's a low three and I could have safely missed it. If you're wanting to read John Scalzi, skip this one and pick up Old Man's War.

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Judge Sn Goes Golfing

Judge Sn Goes GolfingJudge Sn Goes Golfing by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Judge Sn, alien jurist posted on Earth, is banned from every golf course around Washington DC except the worst one ever constructed, Dulles Woods. He's having a life-changing golf game when the shooting starts...

I received this novella I've never heard of as part of the 2012 Subterranean Press grab bag. It was good for a chuckle.

With art by Gahan Wilson, Judge Sn Goes Golfing is an odd little book. The judge recounts his life, mostly of how he's been banned from most golf courses east of the Mississippi, while playing a round of golf. That's pretty much it until the assassins show up. I can't really say more without transcribing the entire book since it's only 32 pages.

Scalzi's trademark humor is present and Gahan Wilson's art is as bizarre as always. It's my third favorite book about golf, the other two being P.G. Wodehouse's The Clicking of Cuthbert and The Heart of a Goof.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In Waders From Mars

In Waders From MarsIn Waders From Mars by Keith Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What's better than a picture book about an invasion from Mars by ducks wearing silly silver suits and hip waders? A picture book about an invasion from Mars by ducks wearing silly silver suits and hip waders written by champion mojo storyteller Joe Lansdale, that's what!

Apparently Lansdale's son Keith has quite an imagination himself. When he was five, Keith told Joe about invading Martian Ducks in his room. Joe was impressed by the kid's tale and wrote it down with wife Karen providing the finishing touches.

It's a cute story involving Martian ducks coming out of the ground and attempting to use a box of powdered ducks to conquer the Earth. I won't blow the ending but it's pretty good.

It's a cute story for what it is. If you're wondering about the next generation of Lansdales, I'd say they're a chip off the old block.

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Seven Wonders

Seven WondersSeven Wonders by Adam Christopher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

San Ventura is helpless against super villain The Cowl's reign of terror and even its resident superheroes, the Seven Wonders, are powerless to stop him. However, the Cowl's powers begin to wane as a retail wage slave named Tony Prosdocimi finds himself gaining more powers by the day. Will Tony take down the Cowl and join the Seven Wonders?

For months now, I've been looking for a good superhero novel. Now I've found it!

Seven Wonders is a lot deeper than my quick summary indicates. Nothing is black and white. The familiar Spider-Man quote "With great power comes great responsibility" would have made a great title for it.

The characters are an interesting bunch. Tony Prosdocmi is a slacker that sells electronics at a chain store and wakes up with super powers one day. The Cowl is an analogue of both Batman and Superman and is the villain of the piece but is much more than that. He's by far the most interesting character in the first half of the book. The Cowl's sidekick, The Blackbird, is also his lover and tech expert. The members of The Seven Wonders, Aurora's Light, Sand Cat, the Dragon Star, Linnear, Hephasteus, SMART, and Bluebell, are meant to be analogues of the Justice League or The Avengers. I would have liked to see them more developed. Aurora's Light and Linnear are clearly meant to be Superman and The Flash. The others are a little harder to identify. The linchpin characters, however, are Sam Millar and Joe Milano, members of San Ventura's SuperCrime unit.

The story covers a lot of comic book ground in it's 400-something pages. Tony's story initially reminds me of Spider-Man as he learns to use his powers. The Cowl's is the story of decline and redemption. Millar and Milano's story is a lot like Gotham Central at the beginning. As for the Seven Wonders, I can't help but think of works like Watchmen and Garth Ennis's The Boys. Somewhere around the halfway mark, the stakes raise dramatically and it becomes one of those huge mega-crossovers where the world is at stake.

The writing is as you would expect for fiction of this type but Adam Christopher delivers the goods with the tools he has. He has a lot of balls in the air and boggles them a couple times toward the end but all in all does a spectacular job. My favorite parts of the book are Tony's rise and fall and the Cowl's fall and redemption. Great stuff. I like this a lot more than his previous book, Empire State.

Seven Wonders should be a pleasing read for all super hero fans. Four easy stars. I'd like to see what Adam Christopher could do writing the Justice League or the Avengers.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Future Foundation - Volume 1: Tomorrow

Future Foundation - Volume 1: Tomorrow (FF, #1)Future Foundation - Volume 1: Tomorrow by Jonathan Hickman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the wake of the Human Torch's death, the remainder of the Fantastic Four, plus Spider-Man and some others, form the Future Foundation. Their first goals: restore Doctor Doom's mind and defeat the Council of Reeds...

Here we are again, Jonathan Hickman throwing around some big ideas and whetting my appetite. As I said before, I love the idea of the Council of Reeds. In this volume, the FF join forces with The Wizard, The Mad Thinker, Diablo, and others to try to outwit the Reeds and their plan to combat the Celestials.

It's a good story so far but this volume has no sense of being complete or self-contained. I have a feeling I'll need to read the next two volumes to achieve any sort of payoff or literary orgasm. Still, Hickman keeps me interesting and Steve Epting and Barry Kitson do a great job on the art. Hickman has all of the character's personalities down pretty well. I just wish he would have given me some kind of payoff to hold me over until the next volume.

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Spider-Man: Big Time Ultimate Collection

Spider-Man: Big Time Ultimate CollectionSpider-Man: Big Time Ultimate Collection by Dan Slott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spider-man leads the Avengers into battle against Dr. Octopus and gets a job. A new Hobgoblin rears his ugly head. The Spider-Slayers and the Scorpion return. There's a new Venom in town. Spider-Man's wardrobe expands to include three or four new costumes. Spider-Man joins the Future Foundation in the wake of the Human Torch's death. Spider-Man teaches a class at the Avengers Academy. A lot other stuff happens too...

Confession Time: I haven't read Spider-Man regularly since Mike Wieringo was the artist. In fact, most of my favorite Spider-Man tales are from the original run of Marvel Team-Up. I briefly took an interest in JMS's run on the book but didn't like taste. Plus, Civil War was coming and the revolting amount of hype put me off comics for five years.

However, once I heard Dan Slott was writing Spider-Man, I had to give it a shot. I was not disappointed in the least.

This book contains something like 24 issues of Spider-Man and tells a wide variety of stories featuring the Web-Slinger. The humor and fun level is way up from the last time I read Spider-Man and Slott and the rest of the creative crew did a fantastic job. I particularly liked Marcos Martin's retro-style art, though Humberto Ramos has come a long way since his days on Impulse. Slott really gets what makes Spider-Man work. I caught myself laughing out loud at Spidey's antics quite a few times.

If there's one thing I've learned from Spider-Man: Big Time Ultimate Collection, it's that sometimes making a deal with the devil to save your 150 year old aunt's life at the expense of your marriage sometimes isn't all that bad. This is the best Spider-Man has been in years.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Corpse-Rat King

The Corpse-Rat KingThe Corpse-Rat King by Lee Battersby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When battlefield scavenger Marius mistakenly winds up in the Kingdom of the Dead, he's given a chance to win his life back. All he has to do is find them a king...

After a series of disappointing books, The Corpse-Rat King is just what I needed. Marius is from the
Cugel the Clever/Drake Douay/Rincewind school of loveable cowards and his quest had me smiling a great percentage of the time.

On the surface, the plot doesn't seem all that complicated, and it isn't. What makes the Corpse-Rat King such an enjoyable read is that Lee Battersby is nearly as hilarious as a Monty Python marathon. He's like a mean-spirited Terry Pratchett. He's also Australian. I lost count of hilarious one-liners. "As mad as a ferret in a bucket of honey" was one of my favorites. I also love that one of the more colorful locales visited was The Dog Crap Archipelago.

Marius's semi-dead condition lends itself to a surprising amount of comedy. The bit with the old fortune teller was one of my favorites. The humor is a combination of Monty Python and Terry Pratchett with some of Sam Raimi's Hercules: The Legendary Journeys thrown in. Bruce Campbell could easily play Marius if this was made into a movie.

The supporting cast was an interesting bunch. Gerd, Marius's dead and dimwitted sidekick, Nandus, Scorbus, the pirates, all of them were fairly memorable. The story came to a satisfying conclusion but was open-ended enough to allow for a sequel. Please, let there be a sequel!

I don't really have anything bad to say about The Corpse-Rat King. The ending wasn't what I was expecting. I was thinking it would end in a cliche with Marius becoming King of the Dead but it didn't go down that way. I guess my only complaint is that I wish it would have been longer. Four easy stars.







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Monday, September 24, 2012

Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles

Doctor Who: The Coming of the TerraphilesDoctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the far future, The Doctor and Amy fall in with a group of historical reenacters, the Terraphiles, and join them in their competition to win the Arrow of Law, an artifact that may be the key to saving the multiverse. But what does the Arrow of Law have to do with the notorious space pirate Captain Cornelius or the theft of Mrs. Banning-Cannon's hideous new gargantuan hat?

On the surface, this looks like slam dunk for me. Michael Moorcock, author of The Dancers at the End of Time - Good. Doctor Who - Good. A strong P.G. Wodehouse feel remniscent of The Code of the Woosters - Good. Too bad it wasn't.

The ingredients are all there. At the core, this feels like a P.G. Wodehouse book set in space. Bingo Lockesley is a lot like Bertie Wooster and Mr. Banning Cannon could easily be someone that puts Bertie up to a hare-brained scheme. Moorcock even writes this more like a Wodehouse book than his normal style. It's very remniscent of Dancers at the End of Time in that respect.

The Arrow of Law is a lot like the maguffin in many of Moorcock's Eternal Champion books and the Cosmic Balance winds up playing a big part. Captain Cornelius is likely an aspect of the Eternal Champion and one of the more interesting characters in the book. I like what Moorcock's done with the 500th century and its denizens. However...

My main reason for 2-ing the hell out of this is the lack of The Doctor and Amy Pond. The Doctor and Amy are barely in it and don't do a whole lot. It reads like Moorcock had a novel set in the future already written and just crossed out two of the character's names and changed them to The Doctor and Amy Pond. As a Michael Moorcock book, I'd give this a high three. As Doctor Who book, it's barely a two. When I read a Doctor Who book, I want to see the TARDIS in action and the Doctor using his sonic screwdriver in every chapter, not playing some nutcracker game and looking for a missing hat.

To sum up, it's a case of the ingredients not coming together properly, like stirring the missing eggs and vanilla into the rest of the cake batter after it's already baked for ten minutes. I will think hard before I pick up another Doctor Who tie-in. Unless Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi should happen to write one.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Rock of Bral

Rock of Bral (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons/Spelljammer Accessory SJR5)Rock of Bral by L. Richard Baker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every adventuring group needs a place to fence plundered goods and heal grievous wounds sustained during adventures. For the Spelljammer setting, a setting where players sail wooden ships through the fantasy equivalent of outer space, the Rock of Bral is the best they can hope for.

I have to confess that back in the day, my fourteen year old brain only scratched the surface of what the Spelljammer setting had to offer. It quickly devolved into Space Dungeon at times, using the setting as a way to have dungeons in asteroids. However, the Rock of Bral was something I quickly wrapped my head around.

The Rock of Bral is one of the most detailed fantasy settings in all of Dungeons and Dragons geekdom. The setting is detailed from it's early days as a mind flayer outpost, to a pirate headquarters, to a thriving fantasy city catering to all the needs in wildspace.

Due to the fantasy physics of the setting, both the topside and underside of the city are detailed. While the underside is little more than a prison, the topside is fleshed out to a fantastic degree, detailing the noble houses, the neighborhoods, the underbarons, and much more, giving the Dungeon Master everything he needs to run a long campaign without the PCs ever leaving the confines of the city.

For running a Spelljammer campaign, two resources are essential: the Spelljammer: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Adventures in Space and this book.

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No Hero

No HeroNo Hero by Jonathan Wood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Homicide cop Arthur Wallace gets recruited by British intelligence agency MI37 and plunged into a secret war against alien horrors called the Progeny. But one member of his team is a mole and is actually working to bring the unspeakable cosmic horror known as the Feeders into our reality...

This book was almost good. Let's examine the good points first before I tear it a new orifice.
- The core concept was well thought out. I love the idea of neighboring realities and horrible maggot like things that live inside people's heads working to bring Cthulhu-like monsters into our reality.
- The electricity-based magic system was great. The phrase "Electricity is the universal lubricant" will stick with me for quite a while.
- The characters Clyde, Tabitha, and Kayla were quite memorable. You've got the nerdlinger wizard, the angry goth researcher, and the killing machine, all with quirks that make them more than stereotypes.
- Copious Kurt Russel references. Come on, the man played Snake Plissken AND Jack Burton!
- British humor. No explanation needed.

And here comes the rant:
Arthur is a veteran homicide cop but acts more like an insurance agent for most of the book. One of the supporting characters tells him to grow a pair at one point. Arthur apparently needed to grow an entire squadron. He spends most of the book bemoaning that he's not a hero. Like most urban fantasy heroes, he spends most of the book out of his depth and takes a tremendous shit-kicking.

Basically, if No Hero had a lead who wasn't so passive, it probably would have been a four star book. All the winning ingredients are there. It's magic system is very original and I love lot of the cast. It's not a bad book but the fact that it took me three attempts to get all the way through it should be an indicator of how many problems I had with it. I enjoyed the hell out of a few parts of it but not enough to read the next book in the series.

A phrase that is repeated quite a few times in the book is "What would Kurt Russell do?" Well, he probably would have quit reading this book after fifty pages.



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