Monday, March 30, 2015

Review of Dreaming Spies

Book #11. Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King. Unabridged audio. 

I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, and the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King is easily my favorite expansions of the canon. From the very first book, 1994's The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I have been generally pleased with these novels. And the 14th in the series is another fine entry in the series. 

Mary Russell has been neglecting her family business in America, so she and her husband Sherlock Holmes so they decide to head to the American West Coast via Southern Japan. They board a steamer, not advertising their presence, so as to enjoy this respite from the mysteries and danger that dog them at every turn.

Of course, things do not go according to plan. For one thing, Holmes immediately recognizes a noted blackmailer, and begins a quiet investigation. Meanwhile, Russell befriends a small, lithe Japanese woman who may not be quite what she seems.  The couple never makes it to America.

The Japanese portion of their journey lasts longer than expected, as Holmes and Russell come under the employ of the future Japanese emperor, Hirohito. The issue is a document hidden in a book that he gave to the English as a gift. The blackmailer from the ship is involved, as is a world-class forger. And there's a family of ninja.

The twists and turns of the plot keep the story moving at a brisk pace, and describing the exotic locales is a strength of King’s writing. And by this point, King knows the characters of Holmes and Russell very well, and although this Holmes is clearly King’s creation, he is a realistic extrapolation of Doyle’s character.

I am also a fan of the other “world’s greatest detective,” Batman. I prefer stories where Batman is not invincible, where he can be tricked, where he can be (at least temporarily) defeated. This is a classic element of the Holmes canon, and King creates a new character for this novel who can hold their own against Holmes. And maybe even against Mary Russell herself.

Source: public library

Friday, March 27, 2015

This Week in Reading

Dreaming Spies (ua), by Laurie R. King, pages 37 - 252.
The Clockwork Twin (hc), by Walter R. Brooks, COMPLETED. Reviewed here.  
 24 Declassified: Death Angel (pb), by David Jacobs, pages 1 -25.

Incognegro graphic novel, pages 1- 78. 
Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown, hardcover collection, pages 72 - 138. 
Green Lantern 152, 153, & 160.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Teaser Tuesday

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

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 5 of  Dreaming Spies, a novel of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King:

"Cups of morning tea. Clean, clear Japanese. For me, a cool English murk. ”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review of The Clockwork Twin

Book #10. The Clockwork Twin, by Walter R. Brooks. Hardcover. 

When I was growing up, the book series that I read most often included Encyclopedia Brown, The Great Brain, Paddington Bear … and Freddy the Pig. I read all of the ones that were in my school libraries, and from what I can piece together from Freddy’s home on the Internet, I probably read more than half of the 25 novels growing up.

But I had never read this one. Perhaps my school library did not have it, or perhaps that fact that Freddy’s name is not in the title threw me off. Brooks (or his publisher) may have realized that this could be an issue, as this is the last book published without Freddy’s name in the title.

In the aftermath of a massive flood, some of the marvelous talking animals from the Bean farm run across an orphaned boy named Adoniram. They take him back to the Bean farm, and after some adventures, the Beans adopt him. Mr. Bean’s uncle, a clockworker and tinkerer, creates an amazingly lifelike robotic playmate for him, giving us the title of this novel. The animals hear word that Adoniram may have a long-lost brother nearby, and the animals seek him out.

Brooks has a way of putting his characters in humorous situations, and putting humorous language in their mouths. Many of his ongoing animal characters are here, and a few new ones are introduced, as well. And we meet a few more adult humans, as well.

Freddy is a terrific character, an “everypig” who can fit into any adventures on or off the farm. He is a detective, a poet, and a leader. His charm, wit and decency make him an entertaining character. My daughter read and listened to a few of these books growing up, and I may have been involved in that, but this is the first Freddy book I have read “on my own” for well over 3 decades. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. For good or ill, they just don’t make them like this anymore.

Source: a Christmas gift, purchased from Half-Price Books.

Friday, March 20, 2015

This Week in Reading

Dreaming Spies (ua), by Laurie R. King, pages 1 - 37. 
The Clockwork Prince (hc), by Walter R. Brooks, pages 142 - 204. 
King & Maxwell (ua), by David Baldacci, COMPLETED. Reviewed here.

Animal Man 0, 10, 11, Annual 1
JLA Annual #1 (Pulp Heroes, 1997)
The Joker & The Joker’s Wild (Tangent)
Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown, hardcover, pages 1-72.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review of King & Maxwell

Book #9. King & Maxwell, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio.

I passed over this book the first few times I saw it at a library, because I was certain that I had already read it. After all, I’ve read all of the prior books in the “King and Maxwell” series, so certainly I’ve read the one actually titled King & Maxwell. Except that this is in fact one of the later books in the series, and I assume it is titled to coincide with the TV show “King & Maxwell,” which hit the airwaves in the summer of 2013.

Teenager Tyler Wingo learns that his solder father has been killed in action. And then a few days later, he gets an email from his dead father. Tyler stumbles across former secret services agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, and he hires them as private investigators. Tyler, Sean, and Michelle find themselves in the middle of a military cover-up that has political consequences of the highest order. And with the stakes this high, the risks become very high, as well.

In addition to an exciting plot, the characterizations continue to be strong. By this point, Baldacci knows the characters of Sean and Michelle very well. The banter between the partners was flirty and friendly, and each of them has developed their own personality quirks and relationship roles. This pair of co-lead characters helps this series stand out among other thrillers.

There is a great scene in which a very heavy vehicle sinks in the Potomac River. Working together, the pair of former Secret Service agents do their old employers proud in rescuing a very high-value asset. It is a tense and exciting scene, and Baldacci draws out the drama to just the right amount. I like a lot of Baldacci’s series, but I’m starting to think that this may be the strongest one.

This series of novels continue to offer one of the best audio experiences available. Narrators Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy have great takes on the characters, and the occasional sound effects and musical stings add nicely to the experiences.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review of Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. volumes 1 & 2: War of the Monsters and Secrets of the Dead. Trade paperbacks, collecting issues 0-16, written by Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire, with art by Alberto Ponticelli.

This was one of my favorite titles from DC Comics’ New 52 initiative. In this version of the Creature Commandos, Frankenstein’s monster leads a black-ops team that includes the Werewolf, a Vampire, a Mummy, and an amphibian/human hybrid. All of their activities are overseen by S.H.A.D.E. (The Super Human Advanced Defense Executive), an entity run by Father Time, with help from the UN's Dr. Ray Palmer, who has shrunk their entire HQ into a 3-inch indestructible globe.

The idea of a Super-Agent Frankenstein is high-concept science fiction, and the stories told in these volumes were consistently entertaining. We start with a stream of monsters emerging in a small town, and Frank joins forces with his team (and his wife) to handle this scenario.

One of the great aspects about these issues was the love story that Lemire told about Frankenstein and his bride. But by issue 8, they had broken up after having to take on their own son (she chooses freedom, and he chooses S.H.A.D.E.). And many issues passed until she reappeared, and her absence wreaked emotional damage upon the monster. 

Towards the end of the series, Victor Frankenstein himself arrived, and his machine (the soul-grinder) was the only thing that could stop the advancement of the Rot. This storyline crossed over into both Swamp Thing and Animal Man, tying this story into the greater DC Universe.

This series started in the middle of the pack in terms of sales, but lost more than half of their 1st issue sales by the time they got to issue #7. Given that precipitous drop, the fact that this title was canceled after issue 16 was not surprising. I found the cancellation disappointing, but I can’t say I was surprised.

This was an action-packed science-fiction title that I enjoyed thoroughly. I hope the characters and the concept re-appear in a mini-series at some point in the future.

Friday, March 13, 2015

This Week in Reading

Paul & the Faithfulness of God (hc), by NT Wright, pages 219 - 246.
The Clockwork Prince (hc), by Walter R. Brooks, pages 54 - 142.
King & Maxwell (ua), by David Baldacci, pages 122 - 315.

Action Comics 703
Animal Man 7 - 9
Crisis on Infinite Earths 3
The Holy Knight 7
Micronauts 9
Shado: Song of the Dragon, Book 4

Monday, March 9, 2015

Podcasting Update!

What Kyle Benning and I talked about.
I have had the good fortune recently to have been asked to appear as a guest on a number of excellent podcasts.

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 44: Host Tom Panarese had me on to talk about the sometimes difficult problem of adapting a book into a movie. We talk about the movies that did it well, and the ones that did it poorly. The Hobbit, Tess, Farenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, and High Fidelity are among the many books/movies that we talked about.

King-Size Comics, Giant-Size Fun, Episode 15: Host Kyle Benning and I talked about DC Super-Stars of Space #2, a book I read probably 30 times when I was a kid. The lead story featured Adam Strange, one of my all-time favorite comic book characters.

Unofficial 75 Greatest Marvels Countdown, Episode 66: W. Blaine Dowler and I talked about Thor 362, an issue ending a long story arc from the long Walt Simonson run. This issue is most noted for being the one in which Skurge the Executionar sacrifices his life. It is a very good story.

I have also recently recorded episodes for Bailey's Batman Podcast and Trentus Magnus Punches Reality, both of which will be released later in the year.

Friday, March 6, 2015

This Week in Reading

The Black Prism (hc), by Brent Weeks, COMPLETED. Review to follow.
The Clockwork Prince (hc), by Walter R. Brooks, pages 1 - 54. 
King & Maxwell (ua), by David Baldacci, pages 1-122.

Adventures of Superman #516
Armageddon 2001 #1 & #2
DC Super-Stars (of Space) #2.
Justice League Europe Annual #2
Moebius’ Airtight Garage: The Elsewhere Prince #1 - 6

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

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  The Clockwork Twin, by Walter R. Brooks.

"One very bad thing about being rooster is that you have to get up at sunrise and crow to get the other chickens up. Most roosters don't realize that the other chickens would get up anyway, and they feel their job is a pretty important one.”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review of The Walking Dead 97-108

The Walking Dead, issues 97-108. Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard.

In these issues, Negan continues to stake his claim as a major antagonist to Rick and his crew. Our heroes haven’t faced a person this trouble-making since the Governor, and Negan may end up being worse. For one thing, he seems to actually be less mentally unbalanced than the Governor. Maybe even than Rick, shoes decision-making and general demeanor seem to be deteriorating before our eyes.

Negan shows his tough side (as does Robert Kirkman) in a scene of literally senseless brutality, in which Glenn is killed. It had been nearly four years of publication time since the last major cast death, and this one came out of nowhere – both to readers and to the characters.  Reading the series in trades, well after the fact, I knew it was going to happen soon, but it still surprised me that it happened here. And the violence that it happened with is shocking. If we ever forgot that the greatest threat to humans in this zombie-infested world is in fact other humans, we are reminded here.

Carl shows his courage, by stowing away with Negan’s crew, and spend some quality time with the enemy. Here, Kirkman does a good job balancing Carl’s maturity and capability with his youth and inexperience. Despite his being forced “to grow up quickly,” he is nonetheless quite young. And despite the fact that Negan returns Carl to his father safe and sound, Rick’s determination to take him out once and for all grows. We are clearly preparing for war.

The role played by Jesus expanded in these issues, and he takes Rick to meet “King” Ezekiel. Who has a tiger as a pet. An actual tiger. But he might also be an ally in the fight against Negan. As might one of Negan’s chief lieutenants, who also claims to want to see the man dead. But can they trust a man who has done such violence in Negan’s name?

These issues feel more like a suspense story than a horror story, as the dread of what will happen next continually hangs over the characters. Robert Kirman once characterized his goals for The Walking Dead as “what if the zombie movie never ended,” and this volume continues to tell that ongoing story very well.