Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of The Cat Who Robbed A Bank

Book #29. The Cat Who Robbed a Bank, by Lilian Jackson Braun. Unabridged audio. 

This was a re-read, a book that my entire family could listen to and enjoy during our drive to and from vacation. These are a delightful series of novels, and I have read them all. The nice thing is that enough time has passed that the details of the plot had slipped my mind.

Jim Qwilleran is the richest man in the northern Midwestern United States, and enjoy life in the small town of Pickax. Except for the murders and mayhem that regularly happen in this series of novels. In this one, the victim is a visitor from out of town, who comes in every few years with his assistant to buy and sell high-end jewelry among the upscale Pickaxians. Pickaxites? Either way, Qwill and his mysterious cats solve the case, which does in fact involve a local.

The mystery aspect of the novel was strong, and the series’ sense of humor was also definitely on display. The relationships between Qwill and his neighbors serve as the backdrop for the entire series.

There is a nice moment near the end of introducing a new character, who I know plays a large role in upcoming novels. By re-reading this, I picked up on that nice bit of foreshadowing.

As always, narrator George Guidall does an excellent job bringing these stories to life.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Review of Fairest, volume 1

Book 28. Fairest, book one: Wide Awake, collecting issues 1-7. By Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, with art by Phil Jiminez, Andy Lanning, and others.

You have to feel sorry for Sleeping Beauty – you stick yourself with a needle, and then you fall asleep (and anyone within a radius of you) until you are awakened by the Kiss of True Love. The first arc of “Fairest” tells the backstory of Briar Rose, and how Ali Baba and his blue imp sidekick kissed her back to her life. 

And he kissed the Snow Queen back to life at the same time. 

What could go wrong with that plan?

Willingham and Stuges tell a compelling story, with rich and compelling characters. The dialog is terrific, such as when the Snow Queen feels she is being talked into something unwise by Ali Baba. “I know you’re a rogue and a thief and a rake. I can live with that. But please don’t turn out to be an a-hole.” 

Focusing on the female characters in the Fables-verse is an interesting new direction to take the franchise. There are some of the strongest characters in the story, and outside of the war story that dominated Fable for 75 issues, this title gives them an opportunity to shine on their own.

The collection also includes the one-off issue #7, told as a noir-ish detective story. As dark as the art style was, the story itself was darker. It was an emotional tale featuring Beauty, Beast, & the Bag Bad Wolf. It was the kind of single-issue stories that more comics need to use.

The Adam Hughes covers, both for the individual issues and the collection, are a real treat. He is one of the most skilled comics artists around, in terms of presenting beautiful women who could exist in the “real world.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review of Ghost Train to New Orleans

Book #27. Ghost Train to New Orleans, by Mur Lafferty. Paperback. 

I have been a fan of Mur Lafferty for many years now, following her progress from being “just” a podcaster to a self-published author and podiobook producer, and now as an award-winning novelist. This is the second entry in her “Shambling Guides” series, following up on “The Shambling Guide to New York City,” reviewed here. 

The premise of the series is that the main character, Zoe Norris, is a human who works for a publishing company that specializes in travel guides for monsters. So if you think that your co-workers want to wat you alive, many of Zoe's co-workers actually, literally, want to eat her alive. 

Picking up shortly after the event of the prior novel, Zoe heads with some of her co-workers (including a Norse deity, a death goddess, and a soon-to-be zombie) to New Orleans to research their upcoming travel guide to that city. But Zoe is starting to realize that she is not as human as she thought. Her powers as a city-talker confuse and scare her, and know that they make her even more of a target to the monsters around her than she was as just a human.

There is a secret history and secret society, giving us a glimpse that this is a much deeper and darker world than we got from the first novel. This is the way to write a series like this, giving us contained stories that tell part of a larger tale.

This is an exciting book with a very fun, action-packed ending. The last few pages give us a tantalizing sneak preview of where we are going for Book #3 in the series – both in terms of geography and plot. I am very much looking forward to reading the next one whenever it comes out.

Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble.

Info: On the Book Guys Show podcast, we talked to Mur on episode 082.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review of Hickory Dickory Dock

Book #26. Hickory Dickory Dock, by Agatha Christie. Unabridged audio. 

My mom was a huge fan of mysteries for as far back as I can remember. She must have read all of the Agatha Christie’s books when I was a kid, especially the Miss Marple books, of which I read a few, if they passed her inspection.

When I saw that a local library had   recently acquired a large collection of newly-produced Agatha Christie audiobooks, I thought it was a good time to reacquaint myself with the author, and the Hercule Poirot stories seemed a good place to start.

This adventure takes place in a boarding house in a college town, catering to international students. When a few small items begin disappearing, the proprietor of the house, calls on the expertise of a friend of a friend, the famous private detective Hercule Poirot.

The students try to help Poirot, offering suggestions based on their own areas of academic interest. But the areas of psychology and anthropology only take the investigation so far. When the specter of international smuggling crops up in the investigation, the stakes are raised and the events turn suspenseful.

I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. Christie does a good job leading us down the various paths that the investigation takes. The various suspects are well characterized, and the twists and turns that the story takes make sense. Overall, the mystery is very well-paced, building to a satisfying conclusion.

The only part of the book that I did not like was the "hickory dickory dock" motif, which seemed forced, as if the book ws named before it was written.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review of All-Star Western 19-21

All-Star Western, issues 19-21. Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Moritat. DC Comics, cover-dated June – August 2013. 

Booster Gold appears from the future in Jonah Hex’s time at the start of issue 19, and he doesn’t exactly know how or why. But he does convince himself that the big star on his superhero costume equips him for the role of Sheriff in the Western town that he’s shown up in. Jonah Hex is not a big fan of any type of law enforcement, and Booster’s carnival garb does not add to Jonah’s confidence in him.

They join forces to recover gold that the Clem Hootkins Gang stole. In issue 21, in the midst of old West chase scene, Booster and Jonah are separated, flung off a cliff, and they are sent through time. Hex lands in the current DC Universe.  But no matter what era he is in, this version of Jonah Hex just does not fit into Gotham City. And in a very reasonable plot point, Jonah ends up (ironically) in the modern-day version of Arkham Asylum.

Moritat’s art continues to be worthy of remark. His distinctive style works well for a story from another age. Along with Cliff Chaing’s work on Wonder Woman, Moritat has produced consistly top-notch work during his run on this title.

These issues  also contain backup tales of a Steampunk-inspired version of Stormwatch, drawn by Staz Johnson.  Continuing the story that began in the prior two issues, Gray and Palmiotti tell the origin story of 19th Century version of Stormwatch. In issue 19, The Master Gunfighter is recruited, and then in the next issues, the entire team, (including Jenny Freedom, Adam One and Doctor Thirteen) battles vampires in the lost city of gold. And it is exactly as fun and entertaining as that sounds.

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

Tuesday, July 15, 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 Chapter 1 of Hickory Dickory Dock, by Agatha Christie.

"Did he want to embroil himself in the troubles of Miss Lemon's sister and the passions and grievances of a polyglot hostel? He did not want to admit to himself that he had been rather bored of late and that the very triviality of the business attracted him.”

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review of Saints Behaving Badly

Book #25. Saints Behaving Badly, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Hardcover. 

The cover promises to tell the stories of “cutthroats, crooks, trollops, con men and devil worshippers who became saints.”

I knew the stories of many of these saints, including Augustine, Patrick, and Ignatius. But there were many more obscure saints and stories that I did not know. The story of St. Moses the Ethiopian, a violent gang leader in the 300s who later embraced the life of fasting and prayer after seeking shelter with a community of monks, was unknown to me. Also the biography of St. Alipius, a student of the Augustine (another infamous and notorious sinner turned saint), was "obsessed with blood sports" and all types of gambling. 

Balancing the humor inherent in some of these stories with the proper tone of reverence is not easy. But Craughwell does manage to accomplish this, with each of these small (4 to 10 pages) vignettes demonstrating his basic point that a saint is made and not born, and that nobody is beyond the reach of the grace of God.

Craughwell set out to present a readable, entertaining, and inspiring book of saint stories. And with those as his marching orders, I’d say he succeeded.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Podcast Marathon

Summer vacation + recovering from cataract surgery = lots of time to listen to podcasts. Here is what I listened to yesterday:

Strangers & Aliens #131 -- Discussion of Terminators: Age of Extinction. The general consensus was that it was not a good movie, but still may have been the best one so far of the series. Also an interesting discussion of whether toy-based movies whould be made for kids or if it is okay that they are made for adults.

Vault of Startling Monster Horror Tales of Terror #15 -- I am working my way through the back catalog of this horror movie podcast. This episode featured discussion of the John Carpenter movie "Ghosts of Mars."

Superman in the Bronze Age  #110 -- Charlie Neimeyer talked about Superman #333. 

DH Unplugged #231 -- I learned bunches listening to this "mail bag grab bag" episode.  

 The Babble On Project #054 -- A terrific re-watch podcast of the terrific TV show Babylon 5. This episode went in-depth on the two Season 5 episodes "The Corps is Mother, The Corps if Father," and "Meditations of the Abyss." I didn't quite finish up this 3.5+ hour long episode. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review of Justice League Dark, volumes 2 & 3

Book 24. Justice League Dark, volume 2 (The Books of Magic) and 3 (The Death of Magic), graphic novel containing issues 0, 7-21, and Annual 1. Written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Ray Fawkes, Mikek Janín, and others.

These issues begin with Zatanna and John Constantine tracking down the 4 mythical Books of Magic – this has been a lifelong quest for Constantine. Steve Trevor has tasked Constantine with the job, in exchange for time in The Black Room, the US’ secret stash of magical artifacts. Along with Deadman and the mysterious Black Orchid, and a little help from Madame Xanadu, the quest is undertaken.

We learn that the “big bad” of the arc is in fact someone from Constantine’s and Zatanna’s past, which is a story told as the Issue #0 origin story. This was an example of the episode #0 being both a good story in itself, while also tying into the story being told at the time.

Lemire includes the acrobat past of Deadman in intriguing ways, which was a nice take on a character I’ve always liked. One of my “blind spots” I comics is a lack of familiarity with the “old 52” version of John Constantine. So I admit that I am not burdened by expectations for the character – but I liked the character’s attitude. 

In the second arc, the existence of magic is threatened. This is a common trope in fantasy novels, but Lemire handles it well. There is a nice segment of issues, where the character’s fundamental aspects disappear. Deadman is alive, Xanadu is aging quickly, and Constantine can no longer lie. 

Over this long run of issues, appearances are made by Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Amethyst, and Andrew Bennett from I, Vampire. I appreciate Lemire pulling in characters from all over the DC magical landscape. He also puts to good use both the House of Mystery and the House of Secrets. 

In general, I have found the “Dark Line” to be among the most consistently enjoyable books in the New 52.