Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Reading List

In December:

55.A.D. 30 (ua), by Ted Dekker.
54. Doom's Day, Book #3: Wreckage (pb), by Pierce Askegren and Eric Fein
53. Carnal Curiosity (ua), by Stuart Woods
52. Identity Crisis (gn), by Brad Meltzer & Rags Morales
51. Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves (ua), by James S. A. Corey
50. Batman From the Thirties to the Seventies (gn), edited by E. Nelson Bridwell

Earlier in the year:
49. Deadly Heat (ua), by "Richard Castle"
48. The Best of Simon & Kirby, by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby. Hardcover collection.
47. Garment of Shadows (ua), by Laurie R. King
46. Stand-Up Guy (ua), by Stuart Woods

45. Christmas Mourning (ua), by Margaret Maron
44. The Equalizer (hc), by Michael Sloan
43. Severed Souls (ua), by Terry Goodkind
42. Doom's Day, Book #2: Sabotage (pb), by Pierce Askegren and Danny Fingeroth
40. & 41. Left Behind: The Kids, books 31 & 32, by Tim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins, and Chris Fabry.
39. The Divine Hours: Prayers for (pb), compiled by Phyllis Tickle
38. The Martian (ua), by Andy Weir
37. Batman Unmasked (hc), by Will Brooker
36. Star Wars: Kenobi (ua), by John Jackson Miller
35. Faith of the Fallen (ua), by Terry Goodkind
34. Unintended Consequences (ua), by Stuart Woods
33. The Valley of Fear (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
32. Blood of Tyrants (ua), by Naomi Novik
31. Both / And (pb), by Rich Nathan and Insoo Kim
30. The Forgotten (ua), by David Baldacci
29.The Cat Who Robbed a Bank (ua), by Lillian Jackson Braun
28. Fairest, book 1: Wide Awake (gn), by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, and many artists
27. Ghost Train to New Orleans (pb), by Mur Lafferty
26. Hickory Dickory Dock (ua), by Agatha Christie
25. Saints Behaving Badly (hc), by Thomas J Craughwell
24. Justice League Dark, volumes 2 and 3, graphic novel collection. Written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Ray Fawkes, Mikek Janín, and others.
23. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (ua), by Steig Larsson
22. Identical (ua), by  Scott Turow
21. The Athena Project (ua), by Brad Thor
20. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime (ua), edited by Phyllis Tickle
19. Billion Dollar Batman (ua), by Bruce Scivally
18. Wonder Woman: Iron (gn), by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and others
17. The Innocent (ua), by David Baldacci
16. Song of the Quarkbeast (ua), by Jasper Fforde
15. Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man (gn), by Carl Banks
14. Doom's Day, Book #1: Rampage (pb), by Danny Fingeroth and Eric Fein
13. The Guild of the Cowry Catchers: Book 5 (ua), by Abigail Hilton
12. Aquaman: The Others (gn), by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado
11. Doing Hard Time (ua), by Stuart Woods
10. Star Wars: Scoundrels (ua), by Timothy Zahn
  9. Shadow Ops: Control Point (ua), by Myke Cole
  8. Little Black Sheep (Nook), by Ashley Cleveland
  7. The Last Dragonslayer (ua), by Jasper Fforde
  6. Before Watchmen: Comedian & Rorschach, by Brian Azzarello, J.G. Jones, and Le Bermejo
  5. Inferno Revealed (hc), by Deborah Parker and Mark Parker
  4. The Gearheart (ua), by Alex White
  3. The Great Fables Crossover (gn), by Bill Willingham, et. al.
  2. Silent Partner (pb), by Terrence King
  1. His Last Bow (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Monday, December 29, 2014

Review of 30 A.D.

Book # 55. A.D. 30, by Ted Dekker. Unabridged audio.

I’ve read a half-dozen or so of Dekker’s prior novels, and liked a handful of them. He made his name in the Christian book business as a writer of fantasy and horror, but has spent the second portion of his career moving more into mainstream Christian fiction. This, for example, is a historical novel taking place in the book’s eponymous year.

Maviah is the outcast daughter of a powerful Bedouin sheikh. In the aftermath of an attack, she escapes with the help of her father’s two top warriors. In order to save her people, she must seek out an alliance with Herod, king of the Jews. And that journey brings her into contact with the enigmatic teacher Yeshua, who may be a different kind of King, preaching a different kind of Kingdom. We follow her as she struggles with physical danger, family drama, and a spiritual awakening.

This is my preferred way to read a novel about Jesus. He is impactful on the main character, but appears only infrequently. I believe that all of Jesus’ dialog is taken from his New Testament statements. The rest of the book also seemed well-researched. My only qualm with the historicity of the story was whether a single woman, even the daughter of a powerful sheikh, would have as much education and power as Maviah has in this tale. But that is a minor quibble, as her strength and ability make for a good reading experience.

Dekker has a second novel planned for this series, to be titled A.D. 33. I look forward to seeing how Maviah’s time with Yeshus has changed her, and how she reacts to the dramatic events of the end of his ministry.

Narrator Ellen Archer does a fine job bringing Maviah’s world to life in the audio version of this novel.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Review of All-Star Western 27-29

All-Star Western, issues 27-29. Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Moritat, Staz Johnson, and Fabrizio Forentino.

We pick up at the start of issue 27 exactly where 26 ends (reviewed here), and with a scene that many long-time DC Comics friends have dreamed about for years. The baddest man in the Old West comes face to face with the Man of Steel. And as overwhelmed as Hex should be by Superman and his abilities, it’s what the Man of Steel hasn’t done that confuses Hex. “There’s still people doin’ terrible things ta each other same as it wuz in muh time.” The fact that the presence of super-powered beings has not cleansed the world of evil is actually a quite insightful comment.

The presence of the Jonah Hex exhibit at the Metropolis Museum is a highlight of the arc, especially the timey-wimey nature of Hex coming face-to-face with what may very well be his own corpse. That day ends with a drunken Hex being run down by a truck, in another very good cliff-hanger. Hex falls into a coma and discovers after awakening, that the 21st century surgeons have reconstructed his famously damaged face. Before he can get into too much trouble in our time, Booster Gold arrives on the scene. “Ah never thought Ah’d be happy to see you," Hex admits, before being sent back to where he used to living. Unfortunately, his repaired face causes more trouble in the past than Hex could ever have expected.

This time that Jonah spent in his future is a nice homage to the Hex series from the mid 1980s. And the interaction with Superman was very well-done.

The artist change that occurred in issues 28 & 29 was jarring, but it helped that they picked a good time for the switch. Jonah’s repaired face was going to look odd, no matter whether Moritat drew it or not. We do get some more action with old-time Jonah in flashback scenes, and this distinctly different art style was more noticeable.

Sadly, this title was been canceled, and will end with issue 34. The last five issues will be reviewed here in the near future.

Source: my daughter and I have been purchasing these as new issues from a variety of local comic shops.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review of Doom's Day, Book #3

Book #54. Doom’s Day Book #3: Wreckage, by Eric Fein and Pierce Askegren. Paperback.

This is the final book of the Doom’s Day trilogy of Marvel Comics novels, the first two having been reviewed here and here. The team-up nature of the series allows for easy reading of the books as stand-alones, though they also tell a single, continuous story.

Spider-Man is again the main hero of the story, and in this novel he is joined by Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four. The story starts when Doctor Doom breaks Doctor Octopus out of prison and puts him to work to bring to fruition the plans he has been working on for the first two novels in the series. His plan to rule the world involves the Infinity Engine’s power, hooked up to the Negative Zone portal in the Fantastic Four’s headquarters.

For any comic book reader, the idea of Doctor Doom tapping into the mysterious Negative Zone for energy is an interesting proposition. Characters from prior novels in the series, especially Sean Morgan and his SAFE organization, join the efforts to stop Doom, along with Spidey and the FF, and all seems lost.

I have enjoyed the portrayal of Mary Jane’s relationship to Peter Parker in this series --- these books take place while they were a married couple. The portrayal of the young and struggling couple adds a nice “human touch” to this sweeping, epic story. There are big stakes for the world, but including the smaller personal stakes adds a more emotional “hook” for the reader into the story. 

The mix of authors changed with each book in the series, with Danny Fingeroth stepping back from this one. His absence may have hurt the overall story, as I thought the integration of the guest stars (the Fantastic Four, in this case) was the weakest of the novels. But the plot elements were strong, and the conclusion was dramatic and effective.

And like any good comic book story, the villain is defeated for the time being, but not ultimately vanquished. Doctor Doom (my favorite comic book character) escapes to thwart the heroes’ efforts in the future. And that is fine by me.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Review of Carnal Curiosity

Book # 53. Carnal Curiosity, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

I have noted in prior reviews that some of the last dozen or so of Woods’ novels have been clunkers, and the overall plotes have been a bit repetitive. Perhaps that’s the necessary side effect of producing two books a year. That said, this one was different enough from the prior books to be quite enjoyable.

This novel revolves around insurance fraud and art theft. And Stone Barrington is one of the victims. Twice victimized, as a matter of fact. The plot itself is well-constructed, and the new characters introduced in this book are interesting. Of course, almost all of the females in the novel sleep with Stone, except for the one that the gossip columns infer. That was a nice humorous touch. The revelation of the plot and the plotters, and the details of their capture are exciting and dramatic.

A subplot involving the First Lady running for her husband’s job is pushed forward, as is discussion of Dino’s future career plans. This is the strength of Woods’ novels, the idea that they all take place in a single, coherent world, where actions in prior novels have consequences in future novels. Other novelists would do well to copy this trait.

As always, narrator Tony Roberts turns in a great performance reading the book.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Exapnding Holmes: Sherlock Bones!

Sherlock Bones, volume 1, story by Yuma Ando & art by Yuki Sato. Graphic novel. 

I am a big fan of comic books, and have even posted about comic-book various adaptations of Holmes novels here and here and here. But this is the first Japanese manga that I’ve ever read. But I knew that if I was going to jump into that world, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche was the way to go.

Here is the premise – if this doesn’t work for you, then the rest of the story won’t work for you. Sixteen-year-old schoolboy Takeru adopts a dog, who can communicate with Takeru when he finds the father’s pipe. It turns out that the dog is the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, who believes that Takeru is Watson. Takeru names his new dog Sherdog (of course he does). The dog strongly dislikes the name of course he does).

Nobody in Takeru’s family thinks the dog is particularly smart, until he helps solve a hit-and-run case in the first chapter, “Encounter of the 100th year.” Takeru is excited with the prospect of having a crime-solving dog, as the entire rest of his family are current or former police officers.

The bulk of this volume is the second tale, “The 12:20 Mystery.” A student is killed, and Sherdog knows who did it. But can he and Takeru prove it? As the mystery unfolds, it is a surprisingly strong mystery involving a teacher’s secret son, bullying, camera angles, distances and times.

The story was strong in this volume, in terms of both the mystery story and the characterization of Takeru, Sherdog, and the family. The PE teacher was very strongly characterized, as well. I don’t know enough about manga to tell whether this is good or bad manga art. To my Western eyes, it appears to be standard manga art. That art style, and the black-and-white nature of the presentation, and the size of the book, all took me a little while to get used to. But once I did, I found myself reading a very fun homage to The Great Detective, and a pretty good story in its own right.

I can foresee myself picking up the next volume or two, to see if this quality of story remains as the series progresses.