Monday, April 27, 2015

Review of 24 Declassified: Death Angel

Book #15.24 Declassified: Death Angel , by David Jacobs. Paperback. 

This is a prequel series, set before the first season of the TV show – and have since been “declassified.” In the mythology of the 24-verse, the counter-terrorism agency CTU was established after the 1993 World Trade Center attack. My understanding is that some of the novels take place before 9/11, although references to the Patriot Act place this one after those attacks.

Jack Bauer is investigating a potential spy at an atomic research labs in New Mexico. An international assassin called Annihilax has been linked to previous deaths in the area. The assassin was supposedly killed years before, but Jack believes the man’s signature on a number of deaths means that he is alive and active again. Bauer’s CTU superiors, as well as the FBI agents he is working with in New Mexico, don’t want to hear of any of his crazy theories. SO he works his case the way he wants to, leaving him on his own most of the time, and working against his colleagues some of the time.

The story is exciting and well-paced. A few terrific set pieces include a gunfight in a laser laboratory, and an attack on Bauer by a hotel maid. The eventual revelation of the identity of Annihilax was surprising to me, and interestingly enough, it was also a surprise to the characters in the book. And that is always a nice touch.

Mirroring the episodic structure of the TV show, the novel is broken up into 24 chapters, which is easier to maintain than 24 hours of TV. Some of the chapters did not include Jack Bauer at all, which is something that an episode of the show would never do. Some of the chapters only had one scene, again something the show would never do. Reading this, realizing that NOT every minute of every hour was covered in the novel, I realized what a writing accomplishment the show was. Of course, shortcuts were taken on the TV show, but the multiple story arcs and POV characters gave the illusion that the show was taking place in real time. The book does not make the same claim.

There were nice “Easter eggs” for fans of the TV show, including mentions of Kim, Nina, George Mason, and Ryan, as well as an appearance by Tony Almeida. The inclusion of these characters and other aspects of the “world” of 24 made the book stand out as not just another action-adventure novel, which other than that, it really was.

Friday, April 24, 2015

This Week in Reading

Insatiable Appetites (ua), by Stuart Woods, COMPLETED. Reviewed here.
24 Declassified: Death Angel (pb), by David Jacobs, COMPLETED.
Paul & The Faithfulness of God (pb), by N.T. Wright, pages 272 - 298.

Avengers 200
Convergence Adventures of Superman 1
Convergence Justice League of America 1
Convergence New Teen Titans 1
Convergence Swamp Thing1
Convergence Wonder Woman 1
Image Firsts: Youngblood 1
Ms. Marvel 1 - 5
The New Deadwardians 1 – 8
New Mutants 31, 50
Solo Avengers 1
Unity 5
West Coast Avengers 14

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Expanding Holmes: Sherlock Bones, Vol 2

Sherlock Bones, volume 2, story by Yuma Ando and Art by Yuki Sato. Graphic novel.

As I wrote when I reviewed volume 1, there is a high level of “buy-in” required to enjoy this series. First, you have to be willing to read a book with the storytelling and art style common in manga. And second, you have to be willing to accept the premise that a sixteen-year-old schoolboy (Takeru) has adopted a dog who is the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, who can communicate with Takeru whenever he smokes the father’s pipe. 

The bulk of volume 2 is made up by the 6-part story “A Script for Death.” In it, Sherdog witnesses an actual murder on the set of a murder movie. He is able to lead his Watson (Takeru) through the string of clues, including paw prints and spilled cocoa, to the killer. It is a story that does what I want a Holmes story (of any variety) to do. It relies on observation, logic, and deduction to solve the crime and catch the culprit.

The volume actually begins with a fun one-part story about Sherdog making bad deductions, but still saving the day – well, after making a complete mess of the house, because … you know, he’s a dog. There are also two brief “coffee time” features that round out the volume. These features add a needed humorous touch to a volume involving murder mysteries.

Sherdog’s insistence that he is a Victorian gentleman is one of the funnier running jokes in the volume, as is his enduring love for Irene Adler, who in this volume is represented by Takeru’s sister Airin. In this version, Airin is a police detective, so their paths cross regularly.

I have found the first two volumes of this series delightful, and look forward to reading more.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review of Insatiable Appetites

Book 14: Insatiable Appetites, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

With this novel, I am almost finally caught up with my Stuart Woods reading. The problem is that he has become very prolific in the last few years, as he as at least two more novels coming out in 2015. I suspect that he has done what many popular novelists have done, and brought in a ghost-writer (or two), although a second name does not appear on the book covers.

Whatever the case, as the quantity of his books has increased dramatically over the last few years, the quality has become less consistent. When these books are good, they are still very good, but not every single one reaches those heights. This one falls somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards the “clunker” side of the scale.

After the election of Kate Lee to the presidency, Stone Barrington finds himself distributing the estate of a longtime supporting character. This brings an old flame back into his life, and even Stone has trouble keeping up with the combined pressure of these events.

He has written political books in this series before, and I have found some of them to be quite entertaining. But Woods just doesn’t know enough about the topic to write convincingly. I made that complaint about a recent book, and do so again here. The “scandalous” plot by one of the parties, which literally leads to the murder of a House member, is both small potatoes and common practice for both parties. Besides the bold-faced partisanship on display, this plotline represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how Washington works.

Fortunately, this is not the main plot of the novel. The main plot is mostly solid, the action exciting and the character growth reasonable. Of course, more unbelievably good luck happens to a supporting character, but as a reader I’ve become used to that over the last dozen novels or so.

Friday, April 17, 2015

This Week in Reading

24 Declassified: Death Angel (pb), by David Jacobs, pages 160 - 247.
Insatiable Appetites (ua), by Stuart Woods, pages 1 - 124.

Armor Hunters 1
Convergence Catwoman 1
Convergence Justice League International 1
Convergence Nightwing & Oracle 1
Convergence Superboy 1
Convergence Supergirl Matrix 1
Convergence Superman 1
Fables 108 - 113
Fairest 8 - 14
Legion Science Police 1
Marvel Fanfare 8
Masks 1
Mister Miracle 1
Open Space 4
The Outsiders 2

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. 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 1 of  24 Declassified: Death Angel, a prequel novel to the TV series, written by David Jacobs:

"In this lethal new environment, a handful of anmes stodd out in the wsubterranean milieu of the world-class elite of professionl killers for hire: Annihilax. Who or what was Annihilax? Was it a lone individual of a league of assassins?”

Friday, April 10, 2015

This Week in Reading

The Litter of the Law (ua), by Rita Mae Brown & Sneakie Pie Brown, COMPLETED. Review here. 
24 Declassified: Death Angel (pb), by David Jacobs, pages 91 - 160.
Paul & The Faithfulness of God (pb), by N.T. Wright, pages 246 – 272.

Amazing Spider-Man 235
Avengers 258
Convergence Batgirl 1
Convergence Speedforce 1
Convergence The Question 1
Convergence The Titans 1
Flash 28
Green Arrow 24
Green Lantern 163
Mask 2
The Unwritten 45 – 49

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review of A Christmas for Shacktown

Book #13: Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown, by Carl Banks, hardcover collection of comic book stories, from 1951 & 1952.

Fantagraphic Publishing is producing The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library, a series of books that will collectiall of the comic book Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories written and drawn by Carl Barks. These were originally published between 1942 and 1966. When the series is complete, it will comprise approximately 6000 pages and an estimated 30 volumes.

The books are not being produced chronologically. As of this writing, three volumes have been produced. A prior volume, “Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Man,” was reviewed here. My interest in Barks’ work was sparked by a podcast conversation with Luke Jaconetti, host of Earth Destruction Directive and proprietor of the Hawkman-themed blog Being Carter Hall.

The stories in this volume range from three epic 32-page stories, to a good number of 10-pagers, and well as a dozen or so single-page, single-joke stories. Barks’ ability to tell entertaining stories over these various lengths is a testament to the skill that he brought to the comics page. Scripting and drawing are two distinct skills, and Barks’ ability to do both gave him such control over the strip that he was able to really make these works his own.

The 32-page stories are the highlights of this volume. They include “A Christmas for Shacktown,” “The Golden Helmet,” and “The Gilded Man.” Each of these weaves together multiple storylines, characters, and scenes to create epic-feeling adventures.

These volumes include 20+ pages of story analysis and biographies at the end. These items, written by professors, authors, and historians, add a sense of artistic value to the funny proceedings.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Review of Litter of the Law

Book #12. The Litter of the Law, by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. Unabridged audio.

This series of mystery novels has a high “buy-in” factor. But once you understand that the animals can talk to each other (but not to the humans) and that they are pretty good crime scene investigators, the stories are generally enjoyable.

In this book, a series of deaths occur, with each victim hidden as a scarecrow on someone’s farmland. Investigating this series of deaths leads “Harry” Hairstein and her investigating pets to uncover a money-making conspiracy that puts all of their lives in danger. The story involves Native American land, the historical process of “paper genocide” of certain mid-Atlantic tribes. And someone seems to be messing with the quality of the soil in this agricultural community as part of this plan. And when money is at stake, terrible things can happen to people who stand in the way.

The way that the plot works itself out in this novel is very strong. Brown has either done a lot of research on the topic of Native American history, or has figured out to make it seem like she has. The details seem reasonable, the past history she presents us seems reasonable, and many of the reactions of past victims seem reasonable. The process of solving the mystery and uncovering the perpetrator is exciting and satisfying.

There is not a lot of character development in this novel. All of the characters (human and animal) act reasonably in character, as established in the prior novels in the series, but no major developments occur to push them forward. But that is a minor quibble. Overall, the novel was an interesting and enjoyable read.