Saturday, June 30, 2012

Batman: The Gates of Gotham

Batman: Gates of GothamBatman: Gates of Gotham by Scott Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Someone is blowing up Gotham City landmarks and it points to someone with links to Gotham's founding fathers. Can Batman, Red Robin, Robin, and Black Bat stop the menace of... the Architect?

After the awesomeness of The Black Mirror, this was a little bit of a letdown but still pretty good. Dick continues to adjust to his role as Batman as he pieces together the identity of the Architect with the help of his partners.

Hush and the Penguin play important roles but Gotham City itself is almost a character. While I didn't think the art was that great, Scott Snyder's writing was superb. He really makes me believe Gotham is a real place. The interplay between Damian and the other team members was probably my favorite part of the book. Man, that Damian is an arrogant little shit. Then if your dad was Batman...

Three stars. It's good but not in the same league as The Black Mirror.

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Batman: The Black Mirror

Batman: The Black MirrorBatman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gotham's Batman, Dick Grayson, takes on the Dealer, a man selling the weapons of supervillains stolen from the GCPD evidence room, gun runners harassing a mob bosses daughter, and possibly the greatest threat of all, Commissioner Gordon's son...

You know, when DC put Dick Grayson in the Bat-costume, we all knew it wouldn't last and while I liked the issues of Batman & Robin I read, I didn't find anything earth-shattering and thought Dick's tenure as the Caped Crusader would be pretty forgettable. I WAS WRONG!

There are epic tales of the Bruce Wayne Batman that everyone mentions: The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight, Year One, The Long Halloween, the list goes on and on. This is Dick Grayson's epic.

Scott Snyder and Jock take the reader on a dark journey, following Dick Grayson as he tries to fill Bruce Wayne's shoes. While Grant Morrison made Batman fun again when he put Dick in the costume, Scott Snyder made me believe.

Batman goes up against The Dealer, Roadrunner, Tiger Shark, and even the Joker, but the most chilling villain in the Black Mirror is James Gordon Jr, the Commissioner's son. I can't even think of another comic book villain that actually scared me but James was scary because he was so real, so plausible. And I had a batgasm when he finally got what was coming to him.

That's about all I can say without giving too much away. I know I clicked the spoilers box but I didn't spoil more than the dust jacket. If I could give this six stars, I would. Scott Snyder is the real deal and I'm going to continue buying everything of his I can find.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Broken Universe

Broken Universe (Universe, #2)Broken Universe by Paul Melko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Rayburn, his friends, and their doppelgangers from other universes build a transdimenional corporation. However, there old enemies the Alarians aren't finished with them and then there's the matter of John Prime visiting universes on his own, unbeknownst to the rest of the Pinball Wizards...

Sequels. You hate them, right? Yeah, me too. Rarely do they pack the same punch as the original. While Broken Universe doesn't make me forget about my general sequel hate, it does a pretty good job in showing what a sequel could be.

Broken Universe takes what Melko started in The Walls of the Universe and turns the knob up to eleven. Instead of two Johns and two Caseys, we get multiples dupes of John, Casey, Henry, and Grace. They go about building more transfer devices, deal in more than just pinball machines, and generally act like normal people probably would if they had an infinity of parallel universes to explore/exploit.

The Alarians were a decent foe for the first half of the book but I found the Vig to be much more interesting. They were merely hinted at in Walls of the Universe but step to the forefront in the second half of the book. I liked that Melko gave them more dimension than just being a transdimensional police force.

The characters of John Rayburn, John Prime, and Grace Home were the most developed. Prime continues to be my favorite character but Grace almost passed him in this one. The contrast between John Rayburn and John Prime drove the book along nicely. Grace really stepped up after what happened to her at the end of the first book.

It's not all peaches and gravy, though. I still don't get why all the Johns and all the Caseys wind up together. I'd much rather see John and Grace as a couple. My only other complaint is that I wanted more. There are still enough unanswered questions for at least one more book.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ride the Lightning

Ride The Lightning (Alo Nudger, #4)Ride The Lightning by John Lutz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A condemned man's fiance hires St. Louis PI Alo Nudger to prove his innocence. But is he really innocent? That's what Nudger aims to find out. Too bad the clock is ticking and he has less than a week...

Here we are, the fourth installment of John Lutz's Alo Nudger series. Nudger is not your average detective. He's not a hit with the ladies. He's terrified of damn near everything. He throws up at crime scenes and constantly chews antacids. I guess that's why he interests me so much.

In this case, like the others, Nudger takes a shit kicking but keeps on keeping on. I have to admit that Lutz really pulled the wool over my eyes in this one. I love a solveable mystery that I can't crack before the detective character does and Lutz gave it to me here.

As in all the Nudger books, the St. Louis locale is almost a character, much like the New York Lawrence Block crafts for the Matthew Scudder series. I always wind up comparing the two for some reason. I guess because neither detective is a super hero but both always manage to get the job done. Nudger's personal life hits some speed bumps in this one and I felt bad for the poor shlub, like I always do. I wonder how much of Alo Nudger is actually John Lutz.

The supporting cast, both the recurring ones like Claudia and Hammersmith, and the newbs like Candy Ann and the Colt family, really help drive the story along. Like I said, Lutz caught me napping on this one and I thank him for it. For what it is, I can't help but give it four stars.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012


KnockemstiffKnockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Knockemstiff is a collection of 18 short stories set in Knockemstiff, Ohio.

Reviewing a book of short stories is a tricky business, especially if you haven't been reviewing them as you go. Furthermore, I'm not a huge short story fan so I don't read collections unless one comes along that will knock my pants off and sell them to the highest bidder before I get a chance to put them back on. Knockemstiff is that short story collection.

Eighteen stories of redneckery most foul are contained in this book. Some are funny, some are sad, all are powerful. Even the funnier stories have a sad undercurrent to them, like the citizens of Knockemstiff know they don't have much of a chance.

The tales are connected by common characters and the setting. Donald Ray Pollock paints a bleak picture of life in a tiny redneck town, though it isn't totally devoid of happiness. As for the tales themselves, I can't even begin to narrow down which one is my favorite. It's not every day you read a short story collection that features washed up bodybuilders, drug dealers, and a kid that gets caught having sex with his sister's doll in the outhouse.

To be honest, I was picturing Knockemstiff to have a feel akin to Winter's Bone. Instead, it reminds of Joe Lansdale's Texas tales. Since Pollock named the bar owner Hap Collins, I doubt the resemblance is completely unintentional.

I can't recommend this book enough. This is one of the easiest five stars I've ever awarded.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

60 Hikes within 60 Miles: St. Louis

60 Hikes within 60 Miles: St. Louis, 2nd: Including St. Peters, Washington, and Sullivan (60 Hikes - Menasha Ridge)60 Hikes within 60 Miles: St. Louis, 2nd: Including St. Peters, Washington, and Sullivan by Steve Henry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is what the title indicates: 60 hikes within 60 miles of St. Louis.

I bought this a few years ago when the girl I had just started seeing said she was into hiking. Turns out she wasn't so I've only done 10-12 of them to date.

The Good: This book is packed with information, from maps to descriptions to locations. I never would have found out about such cool places as the Castor River Shut-ins or the Little Grand Canyon without it.

The Not So Good: Some of the information isn't all that accurate. For one thing, the difficulty ratings seem off. For another, some of the directions are a little skewed. For example, if the location for the Castor River Shut-Ins was a little clearer, I could have shaved twenty minutes off my drive time.

The Thrilling Conclusion: If you live in the St. Louis area, this guide is a pretty good choice. All of the parks are in fairly accessible, if out of the way, locations. I would have liked more pictures and better directions but it's a great value for the money.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bury Me Deep

Bury Me DeepBury Me Deep by Megan Abbott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marion Seeley is left in Phoenix by her doctor husband as he goes to Mexico to kick his smack habit. Marion gets a job at a hospital and falls in with two other nurses, Ginny and Louise, and soon falls under the spell of a friend of theirs, Joe Lanigan. But Joe's intentions are anything but honorable.

First of all, I love Megan Abbott's writing. She's like James Ellroy only not so exhausting, and her noir books could easily be made into 1930's era films. However...

... I've read three of her books and Bury Me Deep was easily the least enjoyable. It's only 225 pages but not a lot happens until the last 70-80. Sure, things really break loose after that but until then, the book moves about as quickly as a snail under the influence of Nyquil.

That being said, it's not a bad book. Megan Abbott's writing shines and the relationship between Lanigan and Mrs. Seeley was pretty well done. I was as taken in by Lanigan's sob story as Marion was. When things started coming unglued, I couldn't put it down. Too bad the rest of the book was so well-glued.

Seriously, if the rest of the book had been as good as the last 70-80 pages, this would be nearing five territory. Like I said before, the glacial pace really wrecked things for me. Marion wasn't all that interesting either, for that matter.

In conclusion, it's not a bad book but it's definitely not Abbott's best. It's a solid 3 though.

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