Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review of The Last Dragonslayer

Book #7. The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde. Unabridged audio.

I have read most of Jasper Fforde's novels, and have read most of those. The six novels in the Thursday Next series in particular are quite entertaining.

In this fantasy version of Britain,magic is weakening to such an extent that wizards have been reduced to performing basic household functions. Jennifer Strange is a 15-year-old, filling in for the missing manager of an employment agency for magicians, hired to rewire houses or unclog drains.

There is a truce that has lasted for years, that have kept the dragons in their own lands for generations. But there are prophecies that the last dragon will soon die, meaning that the dragon's territory is up for grabs. And Jennifer is tasked with the role of apprentice dragonslayer. And then many things go bad for Jennifer, who finds herself more inclined to protect the dragon rather than slay it.

Despite the age of the protagonist, this book is not strictly speaking a YA novel, although many libraries and bookstores have filed the book in that section. This novel includes Fforde's signature silliness and humor, but at the core it is a serious story, touching on fate and prophecy, consumerism, and greed. This mix of  serious story and funny wordplay work well in most cases.

This book was presented as a stand-alone novel when it was first released,but a follow-up novel (The Song of the Quark-Beast) will be released shortly, and the series is currently planned for either three or four books.

Source: local library

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review of Before Watchmen: Comedian & Rorschach

Book #6. Before Watchmen: Comedian * Rorschach, by Brian Azzarello, JG Jones, and Lee Bermejo. Graphic novel collection.

I was not all that interested in the idea of a Watchmen prequel series, when DC announced it a few years ago. My concern was that the original series was so self-contained, and was such a good example of a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, that these prequels could only undermine that original story.

But then Alan Moore got on his high horse about the series, I became more intrigued. Moore's arguments against the series did not resonate with me, especially given his own use of previously existing characters. And then when the creative teams were announced, I decided that I would read these when the collections came out.

This hardcover contains the 10 issues written by Brian Azzarello, one of my favorite comic writers of today. I have reviewed his New 52 Wonder Woman issues here and here. The Comedian series ran six issues, and the Rorschach series had four.

The Comedian's story takes place mostly in the 1960s, and deals with his relationship with the Kennedy boys, and where exactly he was or wasn't when they were each shot dead. He makes even more of a mess of Vietnam than President Johnson's policies did, and found his status as "hero" called into question. Toward the end, we see just a bit of how the political climate of the original Watchmen world came to be. The Comedian was the character in the original story that I felt the least connection to, and this story helped me get a bit more insight into his role on the team, and his part in the bigger story.

Lee Bermejo's art in the Rorschach series helps make the book as dark and moody as it should be. Much to Alan Morre's chagrin I'm sure, Rorschach was one of the characters in the original story that I did connect to -- please don't judge me. In showing Walter Kovacs' attempt to start a real human relationship, this story did what a good prequel should do. It does not change the backstory of Walter Kovacs, but adds to it and expands on it.

I was hesitant to pick these us, and didn't expect to like these stories as much as I did. I imagine that I will track down some more of these collections at some point in the future. And review them here.

source: public library

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review of Inferno Revealed

Book #5. Inferno Revealed, by Deborah Parker and Mark Parker. Hardcover.

As an academic, I appreciate any time academics write a book for a non-academic audience. And I have no issue with them "taking advantage" of Brown's latest novel (Inferno, reviewed here) to sell their book -- I say, strike while the iron is hot.

The Parkers are professors of Italian and English, and their joint expertise works well for purposes of this work. They analyze Dante's Divine Comedy (Inferno, in particular), distilling the essence of the epic in language understandable by laymen. In addition to Brow's novel, I have also read Dante's work.

Most of the book explores the literary and artistic works that have been influenced by Dante's great epic. They include both "high" and "low" literature that has been influenced by Inferno. In these early chapters, there are a few references to Dan Brown's latest novel, but the emphasis is on other works, including the movies Se7en and Beetlejuice.

The final chapter does consist of a detailed analysis of Brown's novel, in terms of both the structure and the specific references. For those unaware, the plot of Brown's novel involves clues and secrets that arise from the poem and Botticelli's artistic rendering of the Dante's version of Hell.

The authors do not make the claim that Brown's novel is high art, but they give him credit for including thematic and structural elements clearly drawn from the epic. He may not have understood all the nuances of the work, and taken a few liberties along the way, but he clearly read Dante's work closely, and did his best to replicate certain aspects of the original.

Source: From the publisher, as part of the LibraryThing early review program.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Comic Review: All-Star Western 13-16

All-Star Western, issues 13-16. Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Moritat. DC Comics, cover-dated October 2012 - January 2013.

One of the fun things about placing Jonah Hex (mostly) in Gotham City of the 1880s is that we meet many families who we later run across in modern-day Batman stories. We have Cobblepots and Waynes, and in issue #13, we meet Haly’s Circus, later famous for their trapeze act, The Flying Graysons We meet a homicidal clown, whose self-awareness and psychological insights seem much more 21st century than 19th, but that is the first time in this run I’ve noted such an anachronism.

This issue intersects with a Jeckyll-Hyde storyline, leading into “The Black Diamond Probability.” The search for Jeckyl’s formula takes us to Chinatown, where the Barbary Ghost is operating. Her origin story was one of the back-up features in earlier issues. I enjoy this type of continuity, and it was something I was hoping for in DC’s “New 52” initiative. The Barbary Ghosts’s backstory made for a great opportunity to (at least for the time being) write Talullah Black out of the series, restoring the book’s status quo of Jonah Hex and Dr. Amadeus Arkham in the lead roles. 

Arkham is infected by the Jekyll potion, which takes him out of the story for an issue and a half. It also allows him to be on the receiving end of “modern” psychology, which I will assume plays into future stories. This allows Hex to single-handedly (with the help of a cute redheaded nurse) solve the Jeckyll / Black Diamond mystery.

These issues also contain backups of Tomahawk, the four parts of which make up a complete story. These are written also by Gray & Palmiotti, with art chores performed by Phil Winslade.  This story takes place in the early days of American expansion, telling the story from the perspective of the heroic Indian. It has a much more colorful palate than the main stories do, making them stand out (in the positive way) from the rest of the book.

The covers on each of these four issues are eye-catching, and three of them retell present stylized versions of scenes from the book.  One of my pet peeves is comic book covers that don’t do this. All in all, this series continues to be my favorite current book.

Source: My daughter and I are purchasing these regularly from various local comic shops.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Guys updates!

At the Book Guys Show, we have put out a couple of very good  episodes so far this year, our first shows for 2014!

I was not around for the recording of episode  95, but Paul and Sir Jimmy chatted with Craig Damlo about the books they got for Christmas, and were reading over the holidays.

In episode 96, Paul & I chatted about books we've read recently, and amazingly enough, we were both reading memoirs by musicians. Paul talked about Nile Rogers' Le Freak, and I talked about Ashley Cleveland's Little Black Sheep. Then I interviewed podcast veteran Scott Gardner of the Two True Freaks network.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Page 2 of The Last Dragonslayer , byJasper Fforde.

"We had lots to talk about - -the jobs we were driving to the weather, experimental spells, King Snodd's sometimes eccentric ways. But we didn't. Price, Moobin, and Mawgon, despite being our best sorcerers, didn't really get along."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review of The Gearheart

Book #4. The Gearheart: Artifice, by AlexWhte. Unabridged audio.

Jonathan Andrews is an Initiate in the Seekers of the Arcane Unknown, having joined the secret society two years ago.The goal of Jonathan and the Seekers is to guard the secrets of magic from the greedy world beyond. After Jonathan finds himself totally outmatched by a coming darkness, his visions of the future speak of a coming apocalypse.

The world-building in the book is its strength, as the intersections of magic and prophecy and weaponry make a fun tapestry for the storytelling. The queensman, the seeress, and seeker council make for great background characters, and speak to a rich history that informs the action of the novel. The main characters are exciting,as well, including Cog, the possessor of the mystical Gearheart.

The story itself was not as riveting as I had hoped, and I found myself drifting at various points, especially in the early chapters, where actions and characters did not seem to be connected. But the action usually brought my attention back in short order. My other criticism is not the fault of anyone except my own expectations. Given the name and the design of the novel, I was expecting more of a steampunk story than this actually turned out to be. It was more of a magical action-adventure yarn than I thought it would be. I had no problem with that, but it was not my expectation going into the book.

Source: Podiobooks. The audio narration was performed excellently by writer Alex White (the male voices) and his wife Renee (the female voice. Both are solid readers, and White does an excellent job in the production of the episodes. The soundtrack is excellent, and adds to the overall mood.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

All Over The Podosphere

I have been honored to be asked to appear as a guest on a number of podcasts recently. You can find my rambling thoughts in these places:

The Fantasticast. I appeared as a guest on episodes 57 & 58 -- 58 is still a few days away from being relesaed, as of this writing. In this pair of episodes, I talked with Stephen & Andrew about the first 2 issues of a terrific 4-issue storyline featuring Doctor Doom, my favorite comic book character. He steals cosmic power from the Silver Surfer, and with that enhanced power, what can stand between him and global conquest? Certainly not the woeful Fantastic Four!  I had a blast recording these two episodes.

Trentus Magnus Punches Reality. I was part of a roundtable of podcasters (including Scott Gardner, Bill Robinson and Shawn Engel), who talked with Trentus about whether fanboys are too obsessed with the movie versions of their favorite characters. At least that's where we started. We talked all about the intersection of comic books and movies, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the past, the present, and the future. It is a long episode, but if you're interested in the topic, give it a listen.

And don't tell anyone, but I'm working on getting myself booked on the equally terrific show, Back to the Bins. I will definitely post when that happens, and when the episode becomes available.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Comic Review: All-Star Western 10-12

All-Star Western, issues 10-12. Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Moritat. DC Comics, cover-dated June-August, 2012.

After the actions in issue 9, Hex & Amadeus A are back in Gotham, where a former “associate” of Hex’s, Tallulah Black, lands at his feet, having been tossed out a second-story window of Wayne Casino. She has a grudge against a major landowner in Gotham, who is butting heads with the Wayne family. 

The secret society running Gotham, who appeared many issue before, have reappeared. As a matter of fact there are two: Arkham’s work leads him to clues as to the mysterious “Court of Owls” that stretches back to Gotham’s founding. They are in a secret society battle against the Lords of Crime, who have a nice “five families” concept to their organization of criminal enterprise.. Hex and Black have been unwittingly working for the “Owls,” as their targets have been Lords. 

The Crime Lords have the three arrested and taken to Slaughter Swamp, where they are threatened by a machine in a panel that includes the one of the best comic captions ever: “Steam-powered death machine.”
The strength of these issues is Amadeus’ narration, which gives us a “way in” to understanding these emotionally damamged characters. As one panel reads: “I could give an entire lecture on deviant psycholog based on those two alone.” But the star is Black, of whom Arkham once comments “Our only hope of survival lies in the hands of a deranged woman with one good eye. I only pray she’ll be back in time to save us.” 

There are backups of Batlash (in issue 10), and Dr. Terrence Thirteen (in isues 11 & 12). Art in these stories are by Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez (10), and Scott Kolins (11 & 12). I especially enjoyed the Dr. Thirteen story, which had a very Sherlock Holmes feel to it. 

Source: My daughter and I are purchasing these regularly from various local comic shops.