Friday, October 31, 2014

Review of Christmas Mourning

Book#45. Christmas Mourning, by Margaret Maron. Unabridged audio. 

I am a few books behind in Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series of novels. The last one I read before this one was 2009’s Sand Sharks, which I read before I even started this blog. So I figured it was time to work on getting caught up.

Judge Deborah Knott and Deputy Sheriff Dwight Bryant are getting ready to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, while the rest of the folk in Colleton County, NC are getting ready to celebrate Christmas. But the death of a beautiful young cheerleader in a car crash devastates the community.

It quickly becomes clear that the girl’s death was more than a simple accident, and more lives may be at risk if Deborah and Dwight can’t discover why she died. Some combination of prescription drugs, alcohol, a cell phone call, and a strange bright light all contributed to the girl’s death. But who provided what parts of this dangerous mix to the girl needs to be discovered, in order to determine who is in fact responsible for her death.

The mystery’s solution is solid, and the scenes capturing the perpetrator were exciting and suspenseful. The continuing characterization of the main characters continues to be strong here. Deborah and Dwight’s relationship are the main focus of character development, but both Dwight’s son Cal and (surprisingly) his boss Sheriff Poole also receive attention.

As always, CJ Critt does an excellent job narrating the books in this series. Overall, I was very satisfied with this novel.

source: public library

Tuesday, October 28, 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 Pages 5 & 6 of Christmas Mourning, a Judge Deborah Knott mystery by Margaret Maron.

"A tattooed green viper circled his wrist and streched its triangular head across the back of his hand. Judging by his stubbly chin, he was probably closer to sixteen than the average freshman and had probably been left back a time or two. ”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review of The Equalizer

Book #44, The Equalizer, by Michael Sloan. Hardcover. 

The Equalizer is one of my all-time favorite television series, and my interest in it was rekindled by the news that Denzell Washington would be playing the lead character in a movie loosely based on the show. So when I saw this new novel, written by one of the show’s co-creators, I was intrigued.

The character described is the one portrayed by Edward Woodward in the show, but the man’s story is modernized. This book takes place in the current era, thirty years after the television show aired. This is the same era as the Denzell Washington movie, but they are different characters, in different situations. Similar (more about that shortly), but sifferent.

Most of the supporting cast from the television show is here, including Control, Mickey, Jimmy, and McCall’s son Scott. These characters generally behaved “in character,” and the New York setting was comfortably familiar. Not limited by a television budget, Sloan is able to take McCall to a range of exotic locations for various scenes.

Having read this and seen the movie, it is clear that they are related – similar crimes are investigated, women in similar situations are helped, and a few scenes were very similar. Not identical, just similar. And not on every major plot element, just many of them. My hypothesis is that Sloan wrote a treatment for the movie, that he then used as a basis for this novel. The treatment was then also used as a “jumping off point” by the scriptwriters for the movie. That would explain both the similarities and differences between these two “takes” on modernized versions of The Equalizer.

Sloan is a television writer, and this is his first novel. There are times when this shows, as he has little regard for consistent POV. Points of view are shifted regularly within a page, often within a paragraph, and at least once, within a sentence. But his lifelong training has not been as a novelist, so once I got used to this quirk, it became less distracting.

This is a long book, probably in the 160,000 word range. Another edit would have been helpful, and I can’t promise that it would appeal to people unfamiliar with the character, via either the TV show or film. But as a fan of the show, and the character, I found a lot to enjoy in this novel.

source: public library

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review of Afterlife with Archie, volume 1

Afterlife with Archie, Book One, graphic novel containing issues 1-5, cover-dated December 2013 – July 2014. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, art by Francesco Francavilla.

In the summer of 2013, Archie Comics announced that they would be releasing their first “Teen +” rated comics, a book only available through comic book stores and not on newsstands. This would be a zombie-themed story (yes, you read that right) and be called Afterlife with Archie.

One thing that differentiates this book from other zombie tales is that this one starts with an explanation for how the plague began. Jughead’s beloved dog Hot Dog is hit by a car (we later learn by who), and he takes the animal to Sabrina the Teenage Witch for help. Unfortunately, the dog is already dead, and beyond the powers of Sabrina and her aunts for healing. Jughead asks her if she could … you know … bring him back. And that is how the End of Days comes to Riverdale.

Issue #4 is one of the most emotional comic books I’ve read in a long time, as it features great moments from both human and canine POVs. Archie’s dog Vegas becomes a feature character, and the results are stunning. And heartbreaking.

On this blog, I have reviewed the first 96 issues of The Walking Dead (the review of issues 85-96 is here). I enjoy the series very much, but have to say that there are few things that Afterlife does better than Walking Dead does. Most important, we know these characters. Whether we’ve recently read the adventures of Archie and his buddies recently or not, we know Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie, Moose, Sabrina, and all of the others. And Aguirre-Sacasa does a terrific job keeping these characters “in character.” Yes, the scenario is worlds away from anything these characters have ever faced, but the relationships and basic personality traits are there. In particular, the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle seems to hold true from the traditional Archie stories.

There are moments of brilliance in the art, and especially in the coloring – the stark black-and-whites in TWD makes sense for that story, but what Francesco Francavilla does in these issues is arresting. Francavilla is responsible for all of the art in these stories, including the coloring. The color palette is limited, wtth oranges and blues and grays, and each color seems to bring with it, much symbolism.

For those who enjoy audio podcasts, Shawn Engel and Bill Robinson (from the excellent Walking Dead Wednesday) joined me for a 2+ hour discussion of these comics. Our discussion of the first 3 issues can be found as episode 2 of Relatively Geeky Presents. Our discussion of issues 4-6 can be found as episode 31 of Walking Dead Wednesday.

source: Westerville library

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review of Severed Souls

Book #43. Severed Souls, by Terry Goodkind. Unabridged audio. 

I am a big fan of Terry Goodkind’s epic “Sword of Truth” series. After the 11th and final book in that series, Goodkind wrote a mainstream thriller as a way to “break away” from his fantasy career. For whatever reason, he returned to epic fantasy a few years later, with a new “Richard and Kahlan” series, taking place after the event of “Sword of Truth,” but definitely a separate series from the former novels. 

Severed Souls is the third novel in this new series. I have reviewed the prior books, The Omen Machine and The Third Kingdom, in prior posts.

Picking up after the events of the prior novel, Richard and Kahlan find themselves just a few days away from death, victims of a deadly spell put upon them by Jit the Witch Woman. But standing between them and the only place that they can receive healing are the troublesome Bishop Hannis Arc and the ancient Emperor Sulachan. Recently brought back from the dead, Sulachan leads an army of the half-dead into the heart of D’Hara.

Our heroes hear of another nearby location where they may able to be healed, and begin a journey in that direction. Along the way, Kahlan meets a prophetess, but doesn't believe the prophecy and ignores the advice she is given. And consequences occur.

Over the course of the novel, all three of the major characters (including the Wizard Zedd) are killed. But since this is a fantasy novel, not all of them remain dead by the end of the book. I imagine that the next novel will involve the attempt at reviving any who may remain dead at the end of this book.

This second series of Goodkind began with a shorter novel, which I took as an intentional choice. As he continues on in this series, the books are more closely resembling (in length, in style, and in action) of his prior novels. And like all of Goodkind’s work, themes of self-sufficiency and individualism are clear. I am a fan of Godkind’s works, and a fan of these characters. I am finding the books in these second series entertaining and thoughtful.

source: public library

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Podcast - Superhero Prose

In a recent episode of Shortbox Showcase, Emily and I spoke for over an hour about superheroes in various types of fiction. We talked about novels, short stories, audio dramas, and even fan fiction. We had plenty of examples, and many recommendations.

Some of the books we talked about, I've reviewed here, but many were from before I started writing this blog. It was a fun episode to record, and generated more listener feedback than any episode we've done so far. We didn't realize quite how passionate many people were about this topic.

Check it out!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review of The Walking Dead 85-96

The Walking Dead, issues 85-96, by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard.

Carl has lost an eye, but it appears that he will survive. And with Kirkman writing, that was not the certainty it would be in other books. In these issues, he continues to assert his authority, and “speaks truth to power” more than once. Growing up in this post-apocalypse has perhaps prepared him for the new world better than anyone else in the group. He had fewer "old habits" to overcome.

Our crew’s current situation in the development is a definite upgrade over the prison and even over Woodbury. But as the time has gone by, the likelihood of continually finding canned food becomes less likely. And the cans that they do find are close to expiration. They need fresh food, land for farming and the skills to do it effectively. And then a long-haired fella nicknamed “Jesus” shows up and offers them just that. Of course, Rick is distrustful; he is Rick, and that's his move. But over the course of these issues, he begins to trust the man and his community.

The stars of these issues, from a place of characterization, are Andrea and Rick  -- they seem to be getting closer in a romantic manner, but it is always hard to tell. They are the ones that always seem to survive, and maybe that is the extent of their connection.

And in the last issue of this collection, we here the name of the latest enemy for out crew to face. Negan and his group “The Saviours.” The last six pages are an impassioned plea / speech from Rick about how this new community, The Hilltop, could be their future. That with this group, they could stop surviving and start living.

And as a veteran reader of the Walking Dead and of comics in general, knowing that issue 100 is approaching, I know what this means. This means that things are about to go awry, terribly awry.

This series appeared on a recent Buzzfeed list of “comics that everyone should read.” And rightly so. It is consistently solid. 

Note: the previous 12 issues were reviewed here.

Source: public library.

Tuesday, October 7, 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 8 of Severed Souls, by Terry Goodkind.

"Richard was but one wrong word or sudden move away from unleashing his restraint. In his mind, the deed was already done, every move calculated and decided. If they did anything wrong he would not hesitate to defend himself and those in the camp behind him.”

Friday, October 3, 2014

Review of Doom's Day Book #2

Book #42. Doom’s Day: Sabotage, by Pierce Askegren and Danny Fingeroth. Paperback.

 This is the second is a series of Spider-Man team-up novels that are loosely connected by the over-arching presence of Doctor Doom as the prime antagonist in the background. The first book, teaming Spidey and The Hulk, is reviewed here.
Stark Enterprises has just introduced the Infinity Engine, which Tony Stark promises will be a source of energy unlike anything ever seen before on Earth. But the evil scientists at AIM and Hydra have both set their sights on the machine, and on each other. And Dr. Doom has his eyes on it, as well. When the schematics for the Machine fall into Baron Strucker’s hands, Spider-Man and Iron Man head into outer space to retrieve the invention before it is turned into the most dangerous weapon in the world.

I am a fan of this iteration of Spider-Man. The book was published in 1997, and the book reflects the comic book status quo of that era. Peter is married to Mary Jane, while still pursuing a science degree at Empire State University. The young couple is struggling to make ends meet, between MJ’s occasional modeling jobs, and Peter’s freelance work for J. Jonah Jamieson at the Daily Bugle. Their characterization, both as individuals and as a couple, is very strong.

The other side characters are also presented well. Some of Tony Stark’s side characters appear, such as Happy Hogan and Bethany Cabe. Doctor Doom’s presence is mostly kept hidden from the heroes, but his role as the villain behind the events makes for fun reading for those like me who consider themselves loyal acolytes of the Latverian leader.

As a nod to the heritage of these characters, each chapter is headed by an illustration from Steven Butler that illustrate a scene from the chapter. These fifteen drawings add a sense of fun to the book, a give us a visual clue as to the looks of some of the characters.

Events from the first book are referenced in this novel, but are not necessary for understanding the events of this one. The last few pages of this book definitely set the scene for the third book in the series, Wreckage, which features Spidey and the Fantastic Four. I imagine that Doctor Doom will come out of the shadows in that novel, to face his longtime foes, and I will definitely be tracking down that book.

Source: Purchased via Amazon.