Taking Catwoman out of dark, claustrophobic Gotham and transporting her to Italy gives the story a different tone than your regular Batman fare, which I thought was refreshing. There are cameos from a few other Batman regulars – including the Riddler – but this is very much Selina Kyle’s story, as Catwoman attempts to figure out who her real parents are while unraveling a murder-mystery in the process.
Loeb & Sale are one of my favorite duos in the business, and they did not disappoint here. The story is not as epic as Long Halloween (a personal favorite) and Dark Victory, but that’s to be expected. When in Rome is a good tale in its own right that gets more and more interesting as each issue unfolds (and for the record, readers do not have to be familiar with Dark Victory to enjoy this collection). And the artwork, always a strength when Loeb & Sale get together, is very strong and a real pleasure to look at.
Overall, I thought this was a fun story with great artwork. Not as gripping as Loeb & Sale’s more famous collaborations, but entertaining nonetheless. 3.5 stars, recommended!(less)
Like many readers, I was blown away by Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which won both the Hugo and the World Fantasy...moreLike many readers, I was blown away by Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which won both the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award upon its publication in 2005. I was a bit late to the party, not getting to Jonathan Strange until 2013, but within 24 hours of finishing it I was on my way to the library to pick up this short story collection, Clarke’s only other published work. The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of eight stories set in the same universe as Jonathan Strange, and all eight have something to offer:
The Ladies of Grace Adieu: Clarke's first published story (1996), this tale is set in the early 19th century and describes how three young women use magic to “flip the script” and exert some much-needed power in a patriarchal society. I don’t know how much editing (if any) Clarke did when she included the story in this 2006 collection, but I thought this was a pretty incredible debut and a very memorable short story.
On Lickerish Hill: Clarke does Rumplestiltskin. The 17th century Suffolk prose takes a bit of getting used to, but I thought it was a nice touch. A familiar story, but well told.
Mrs Mabb: Maybe my favorite story of the entire collection, featuring a 19th century woman trying to win her fiance back from a mysterious lover. Very strong.
The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse: Another excellent short, this one starring the Duke of Wellington who wanders into the realm of Faerie by mistake. Readers familiar with Jonathan Strange (which featured the Duke as a supporting character) will get a kick out of this one.
Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower: Mr. Simonelli must choose a wife while battling a strange Faerie aristocrat. Some very cool details surrounding Faerie magic, but this was not my favorite story of the bunch.
Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby: Clarke is praised so often for her razor-sharp prose, her inspired characterization, and her other merits that it’s easy to forget how funny she can be. That dry, understated humor is on full display in this short story, featuring a Jewish doctor and his flighty Faerie friend. I really enjoyed this one.
Antickes and Frets: A reimagined version of the detention of Mary, Queen of Scots. Some cool magical elements, but one of the less memorable stories in the collection for me.
John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner: Another story that will please Jonathan Strange fans. This short piece of pseudo-folklore tells the legend of how the great Raven King was outwitted by a humble charcoal burner. Another example of Clarke’s gift for humor and a very fun read.
Conclusion Clarke is one of the finest talents in fantasy today, and this collection shows why. Clarke modifies her writing style from story to story, depending on the voice she is trying to craft, but all eight are superbly written (especially if you have a taste for 19th century prose, which many of these stories mimic). If you’ve read and enjoyed Jonathan Strange, you should get your hands on this collection. 4.5 stars, highly recommended!(less)
The first entry in this series took Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass and converted it to the graphic novel format. That was a huge success, and The Lon...moreThe first entry in this series took Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass and converted it to the graphic novel format. That was a huge success, and The Long Road Home takes the next step by carrying the Dark Tower story into unknown territory. Writer Robin Furth fills in the white space following Roland’s adventures in Mejis, inventing a new story about Roland and his Ka-Tet as they fight their way back home to Gilead. The gunslingers deal with external dangers, while Roland battles the internal demons haunting him after the tragedy he experienced at Mejis.
The artwork in the first graphic novel was truly inspired, and the sequel is just as strong (especially the book’s depiction of the Crimson King). The Dark Tower universe is an illustrator’s dream, and Peter David really went all out and delivered some of the finest work I’ve seen in the medium. As for the story, Robin Furth had a lot to live up to in following Wizard and Glass, which is one of the best Stephen King tales I’ve read. I didn’t think the plot of The Long Road Home was quite as powerful as King’s Mejis arc. But I did think it was true to the source material – it definitely felt like a Dark Tower story – which is critical. And Furth’s plot had plenty of cool moments that kept me turning the page, particularly the sections focused on the Crimson King and his hellish realm.
Overall I really enjoyed this collection. The artwork is fantastic, and if the story feels like it’s setting up bigger and better things to come at times, that only whets my appetite for future installments. Dark Tower fans should definitely check out this graphic novel series, which through the first two story arcs feels like something special. 4 stars, recommended!(less)
Despite the fact that Jonathan Strange won a ton of awards after it came out in 2004, and was generally agreed to be the best thing to happen to fanta...moreDespite the fact that Jonathan Strange won a ton of awards after it came out in 2004, and was generally agreed to be the best thing to happen to fantasy since sliced (lembas) bread, I dragged my feet for the better part of a decade before sitting down to read it. Something about the title made me think it was a YA book, which is not usually my genre. Also, when I think of faeries, my mind instantly pictures something like this:
However, this book is not YA by any stretch, and the faeries that come creeping out of Ms. Clarke’s imagination look more like this:
Susanna Clarke’s debut novel is also not your typical fantasy romp, for better or worse. There are no knights, no dark lords bent on world domination, no elves and dwarves, etc. That cuts both ways: different can be good, but there are some readers who come into a fantasy story looking for certain familiar elements. Those readers may be disappointed – although if they keep an open mind, they’ll find that this story has a whole lot to offer, even if it’s not exactly what they might have expected.
I’ve spent long enough talking about what this book is not, so let me tell you what it is.
1. A thoroughly original tale unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in the fantasy genre. Clarke’s story is a historical fantasy set in 19th century England. Magic existed in the past and is a part of Europe’s history, but its practice has disappeared over the centuries. As the Napoleonic Wars rage on the continent, the reemergence of magic at home sets all of London abuzz.
Now, Ms. Clarke did not invent historical fantasy, as a spin around my friends’ bookshelves makes clear. But this was a new side of fantasy for me, and the whole thing felt so fresh and different that it was almost like experiencing fantasy for the first time. Clarke uses her historical setting to set up a sort of comedy-of-manners, particularly in the first half of the novel, that I’d never seen done before in fantasy and which I couldn’t get enough of.
2. A masterclass in A+ world-building. Given that this is a historical fantasy, taking place on dear old Mother Earth, you might not expect the book to stand out in this regard. But Clarke has created a rich, fascinating history for her version of our world, complete with ancient heroes, villains, and folklore. And she does a superb job of doling it out just right, using footnotes and backstory, to leave the reader wanting more and not feeling like they’ve just been on the business end of an information dump. I could have read 800 pages just on the history of Clarke’s England, or the Fairy Realms, and been a very happy camper.
3. Filled with some of the best, well-crafted, most lifelike characters the genre has to offer. Both of the main characters are standouts – at turns loveable and frustrating, but always consistent – and the supporting cast is equally stellar. There are compelling characters on both sides of the gender line (not always a given in fantasy), and Clarke’s portrayal of the wild, mischievous and…mercurial faeries that populate her universe is inspired.
4. Home to some of the finest prose that I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel. To me, this was the single best thing about the book. Clarke tells her story in a 19th century style (think Jane Austen) that fits her subject perfectly. She has this style, complete with the use of understatement and exaggeration that gives it such humor, down to a science, and the language was an absolute joy to read. This book was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2005 (the rough equivalent to the British Pulitzer) and it would have made a worthy winner in my opinion. I can think of very, very few fantasy books I’ve read with writing this strong; it goes beyond good “genre” prose and enters into the discussion of great contemporary literary fiction. This book is also incredibly clever and witty when it wants to be, which fortunately is often.
5. One of my 10 favorite books from the 2000’s, and one of the best fantasy books I have ever read. 5 stars, highly recommended! (less)
In Them, Jon Ronson’s second book, the author dives deep into the world of conspiracy theories and extremists. His subjects include Islamic fundamenta...moreIn Them, Jon Ronson’s second book, the author dives deep into the world of conspiracy theories and extremists. His subjects include Islamic fundamentalists, racist groups like the KKK and Aryan Nations, Bilderberg crusaders like Jim Tucker, paranoid talk radio personalities, and even a man convinced that the rulers of the world are truly giant lizards in disguise.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.
I thought Them was frequently clever and often ironic, but never laugh-out-loud funny. The book gets off to a rocky start with a profile of Omar Muhammad, a loathsome Islamic fundamentalist living in England. Omar’s only source of income appears to be government welfare, yet he spends his days preaching a message of hate and gathering money to build bombs with which to kill Israelis. After the 2005 London bombings he fled the country and he has been linked to Al-Queda. Suffice to say I did not find him to be “infuriatingly likeable” as the book’s blurb advertised, and if Them had spent the whole time attempting to humanize nutcases like Omar this would have been a long 300 pages.
Thankfully, things pick up when Ronson moves on to different subjects. He is careful to show both sides of the war between the “extremists” and the “mainstream,” which keeps the book interesting. Randy Weaver had ties to Aryan Nations, but the heavy-handed government response was out of all proportion to any of his crimes. Jim Tucker, labeled as a conspiracy theorist, was actually on to something with his Bilderberg crusade – but the extreme, even anti-Semitic viewpoints of the paper he published in undermined his credibility. David Icke, the man who believes the world is run by giant lizards, is unfairly branded as an anti-Semite – he really does believe in exactly what he preaches. And the KKK...well, it’s hard to put a positive spin on the KKK.
Virtually all of Ronson’s subject’s believe in some sort of small, ultra-powerful group that really runs the world, like the Bilderberg Group. This group is a real thing (the question is not whether it exists, rather what precisely it exists to do), and towards the end of the book Ronson actually infiltrates its operations to a degree. Overall, Them provides an entertaining (and occasionally humanizing) look at the people who live on the fringes of polite society. Some of them are crazy, while some of them are much more rational than you’d think, but all are treated fairly by the author. If this subject interests you, this book is a good, not-too-heavy read. 3 stars, recommended.(less)
Dark Victory is the sequel to Batman: The Long Halloween. The Long Halloween tells the tragic story of Harvey Dent (aka “Two Face”) and his fall from...moreDark Victory is the sequel to Batman: The Long Halloween. The Long Halloween tells the tragic story of Harvey Dent (aka “Two Face”) and his fall from grace. Dark Victory follows this up by continuing the stories of Harvey, the Falcone crime family, and the Bat himself in the aftermath of Harvey’s imprisonment.
The book follows the exact same format as its predecessor, and somewhat surprisingly uses the exact same theme to tie the episodes together. Each issue takes place on a different holiday, and each holiday a victim is murdered by an anonymous serial killer. Batman & Gordon struggle to crack the case, which has no lack of suspects since Arkham Asylum has suffered a major security breach and most of Batman’s famous foes are on the loose.
I thought The Long Halloween was a real classic, and its sequel does a number of things well. Dark Victory is most famous for telling how Batman & Robin got together, but it doesn’t beat this story into the ground. Instead, it manages to tie the Dark Knight’s acceptance of Robin as a partner into the events of The Long Halloween and Bruce’s own sense of loneliness. I am one of those readers who finds Robin mostly annoying, but I thought that his character fit nicely into this story and actually added to my enjoyment of the tale.
The story is interesting, and like The Long Halloween features the full panoply of Batman rogues. Loeb & Sale do a good job of making this more than standard beat-‘em-up fare (always dull) and creating a memorable story with recurring themes that fit nicely into the narrative. I have always really liked Tim Sale’s artwork, and this book is no different. With the exception of the way he draws the Joker (which is a little too “out there”), I love how he interprets everything in the Batman universe, and the art in this book is a dark joy to behold.
The one nitpick I have is the similarity to the plot of The Long Halloween. I love the recurring characters and the extension of some of The Long Halloween’s storylines. But building the story around another holiday killer made the story feel a bit too much like a re-hash of The Long Halloween, particularly in the first half before the plot begins to separate itself. But that’s a minor complaint, and overall I thought this was a very strong story with outstanding artwork that will satisfy the vast majority of Bat-fans out there. 4 stars, highly recommended!(less)
I am a pretty big fan of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and having read all eight novels I thought I’d give the comic book adaptation a try. The co...moreI am a pretty big fan of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and having read all eight novels I thought I’d give the comic book adaptation a try. The comics, which were overseen by King, are set further back in time than the novels (most of them, anyway), when Roland was a young man. The Gunslinger Born, the first volume in the series, is actually a retelling of the Mejis story from Wizard and Glass: Roland and two friends are sent to a remote town on what seems like a routine mission, but things escalate quickly when it turns out that the Big Coffin Hunters & other town leaders are in league with the evil John Farson.
The writing team did a great job of condensing a roughly 600 page story into 150 pages, and nailed the “feel” of a Dark Tower story. Even though I was familiar with the plot, and knew what was going to happen, I was fully hooked. But the real star of this collection is the artwork, which is truly superb. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more gorgeous graphic novel.
The little pictures I’m able to attach here really don’t do this volume justice – do an image search for ‘The Gunslinger Born’ to get a better idea of how eye-popping this artwork really is. But trust me when I say it is great, and lifts a very strong 4-star story to a 5 star grade for me.
If you are a fan of the Dark Tower books, check these out. Or if you’re just a fan of comics/graphic novels in general, this is definitely worth a read. Personally, I was very impressed and look forward to tackling more of these volumes in the near future. 5 stars, highly recommended!(less)
Paul Harding’s debut novel (which brought home the Pulitzer Prize) is the story of a dying man named George. As the final eight days of his life tick...morePaul Harding’s debut novel (which brought home the Pulitzer Prize) is the story of a dying man named George. As the final eight days of his life tick by, George contemplates his past and his relationship with his father, Howard. Howard was a ‘Tinker’ – a kind of wandering gypsy-like figure who made his living driving a cart through the Maine backwoods and selling odds and ends. George, who loves to repair clocks, is a tinker of another sort. George’s relationship with his father was complicated by Howard’s epilepsy, the elephant in the room throughout George’s childhood. The book occasionally leaps back a generation to examine Howard’s childhood; like George, Howard grew up under a well-meaning father battling serious health problems.
At just 191 pages, this is a lean, mean little novel. It tells the stories of George and his ancestors through fleeting snapshots and vignettes rather than long narratives. The book’s strength is its prose, which is by and large very impressive. Tinkers is capable of producing real emotional impact at times (more often than not, that impact ends up being a gut punch), but Harding’s carefully constructed writing is what won this book the Pulitzer. You can flip to almost any page and find some seriously impressive wordsmithing. For example:
”And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty, as your own father always said in his sermons and to you at home. And as the axe bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.”
This book isn’t necessarily a page turner, but readers interested in tight, top shelf prose will find a lot to love. I did think the writing got away from Harding every once in a while, and that he occasionally drifted over the line dividing sparkling prose from the sort of soliloquizing/belly-gazing you might expect from an MFA term paper:
”But what, scurrilous babbler? Shall your barren wind slake the flame burning within my own heart? By no means! For mine is the flame that does not consume, and the guff from your bellows shall only fan it, that it burns all the brighter, the hotter, and the more surely.”
I waffled a bit between giving this book 3.5 – 4 stars, in large part because of these sections, but the good bits outweighed the rough spots to the point that I’m comfortable giving this book a solid 4 star rating. Recommended!(less)
Michael Crichton won me over when, as a boy of 9, I realized he’d written a book about man-eating dinosaurs. I devoured Jurassic Park like a starving...moreMichael Crichton won me over when, as a boy of 9, I realized he’d written a book about man-eating dinosaurs. I devoured Jurassic Park like a starving velociraptor and inhaled the rest of his books by the time I was 12 or so (except for Rising Sun and Disclosure, which my mom wouldn’t let me read). But after The Lost World, Mike Crichton and I began to drift apart; my only Crichton experience since 1995 was the underwhelming Timeline. I never forgot the good times we had together though, and I experienced some warm and fuzzy feelings when my book club selected Pirate Latitudes for our January read.
First things first: Pirate Latitudes was published posthumously. Apparently a complete manuscript was found on Crichton’s computer, and that’s what HarperCollins printed. Happily, it seems that Crichton was pretty much done (other than some polishing up) and the book as we have it tells a whole story with a beginning, middle, and end. The book is a historical fiction/adventure story about Jamaican pirates in the 16th century. Our hero, Captain Charles Hunter, is a pirate extraordinaire who stumbles upon the treasure of a lifetime…if he can seize it. Hunter assembles a crack crew and takes to the high seas in what I am happy to report was a fun adventure tale. Along the way there are naval battles, sword fights, sea monsters, loose women, hostile natives, and yes, rum.
You can definitely tell that the book wasn’t quite a finished product, particularly if you’ve read much of Crichton’s other stuff. It would have been interesting to see what he would have done with it if he’d had a little more time to tinker. But what we’re left with is very enjoyable. Captain Hunter is a good protagonist, and some of the supporting characters are memorable. You can tell Crichton spent a lot of time doing research on the historical aspects of the book, and the little details he provides about 17th century life give the book a lot of flavor. Most importantly, Pirate Latitudes has the brisk pacing and sense of excitement found in Crichton’s best writing. This book isn’t on the same level as Jurassic Park or The Andromeda Strain. But apparently Steven Spielberg (who directed the two Jurassic Park films) is developing a movie based on the novel, and I could definitely see it transferring well to the silver screen.
If Crichton had the benefit of more time to polish it, would the book have been better? Yes.
Was it high art? No.
Did I have fun with it? Yes. 3 stars, recommended.(less)
’Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,' says Thomas More, 'and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a plush cushion eating lark...more’Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,' says Thomas More, 'and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks' tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.'
Wolf Hall, the first entry in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, covers the years 1527-1535 (with an introductory chapter describing Cromwell’s childhood). Over that span, Cromwell rises from Cardinal Wolsey’s trusted servant to Henry VIII’s chief minister and one of the most powerful men in England.
Now, a 600 page book focused on 16th century statecraft isn’t usually what you’d think of as a “page-turner.” But, Wolf Hall kinda is. The early English Reformation was a pretty exciting time. Europe was in the middle of a religious revolution, with Martin Luther advocating change in Germany and “heretics” risking their lives to produce a vernacular Bible in England. Henry VIII caused an international scandal when he sought to dump Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Thomas More was burning people in the streets of London in support of an increasingly corrupt papacy*. And class distinctions, while still oppressive, were easing up just enough to allow the son of a blacksmith to reach unparalleled heights. Mantel does a great job of bringing this history to life in this book, making Wolf Hall a real joy to read.
For a series that has had serious critical success (Wolf Hall won the Booker and the NBCC Award for Fiction, and the sequel already took home a Booker of its own), Wolf Hall has had its detractors. Some readers have found Mantel’s writing style to be off-putting. Mantel has a weird way of always describing Cromwell as “he” which can cause confusion at times, particularly in dialogue (where it is not always clear who is speaking, at least at first glance). But overall I enjoyed the writing in Wolf Hall. Cromwell (at least Mantel’s version of Cromwell) makes for a fascinating main character, and I thought all of the other main players were well portrayed, although I’m not an expert on the early Tudor period. Many readers probably know what’s going to happen, at least with major characters like Henry, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, etc. But somehow Mantel is able to make a pretty familiar story feel fresh and vibrant. The backroom politics that take of much of Mantel’s time, and could make for dry reading in the hands of a less effective writer, were really engaging and reminded me quite a bit of George R.R. Martin’s work in his Game of Thrones series, which was partly inspired by the War of the Roses that brought the Tudors to power. The dragons in Wolf Hall are wooden, and the direwolves replaced by terriers, but Mantel’s Anne Boleyn could give Cersei Lannister a real run for her money in the monster-queen department.
If you have any interest in 16th century history, you’ll probably really enjoy Wolf Hall. The prose is not quite as tight as other Booker Award winners I have read (although I thought it was still very strong). But the characters are memorable, and the book is surprisingly funny and even moving at times. I was very impressed by this book overall and will be tackling the sequel in short order. 4.5 stars, highly recommended!
*One of the best things of this book, at least in my opinion, was its handling of Thomas More. I grew up Catholic (where More is considered a saint), but I’ve always thought the fawning portrayal of More in works like A Man for All Seasons were off the mark. More stuck to his spiritual convictions when others were only too happy to fold, and for that he should be commended. But the man was practically begging to be martyred. More importantly, during his chancellorship six “heretics” were killed in horrific fashion (burned at the stake) and More was thought to engage in torture during interrogations. I thought Wolf Hall did a good job of presenting a complete Thomas More – not demonizing him necessarily, but certainly not lionizing him either.(less)
The Man Who Laughs actually contains two separate Batman stories. The first is a direct sequel to Batman: Year One. At the end of Year One, Gordon men...moreThe Man Who Laughs actually contains two separate Batman stories. The first is a direct sequel to Batman: Year One. At the end of Year One, Gordon mentions that an unknown character called the Joker has been making threats against the city.
This story picks up right where Year One left off, with Batman and Gordon confronting the Joker for the first time. Unlike the thugs Batman was taking on before, the Joker has no obvious motive for his crimes other than to spread terror and destruction. The Joker in Man Who Laughs isn’t quite as dark as the Joker portrayed in some other Batman tales, but he’s still a homicidal maniac. The book does a nice job of hinting at how Batman’s presence has changed the nature of crime in Gotham City, from conventional criminals to “pop crime” villains like the Joker.
But most of all, this was just a really entertaining story. It’s not as dark and brooding as Year One or the 2008 Dark Knight movie. This is not a story that dives deep into the Joker’s psychological profile. Instead it’s a fun, fast-paced adventure with a lot of action and some excellent art. Ed Brubaker did the Joker justice with this tale, which I’d rate 4.5 stars.
The second half of this volume contains a three issue Detective Comics arc from 2003, called ‘Made of Wood.’ The Joker does not feature in this story at all, making it kind of an odd companion piece for this volume. Made of Wood is set many years after The Man Who Laughs and involves a serial killer connected to the golden age Green Lantern, Alan Scott. It’s not a bad story (I’d give it 3 stars), but it’s not as good as the first half of the volume and is probably included to get the book up to a respectable page count.
All in all, this book is worth picking up for the Man Who Laughs story alone, which is one of the very best stories around involving Batman’s early years. Overall I’d give this book 4 stars and recommend it to any fans of the Bat. (less)
This (fairly insane) story takes place after Batman: The Man Who Laughs. The Joker is off to trial for the first time, and makes the most of it by som...moreThis (fairly insane) story takes place after Batman: The Man Who Laughs. The Joker is off to trial for the first time, and makes the most of it by somehow going on a killing spree despite being in police custody. Over the course of this book, the Joker manages to kill using:
- A Crank Call - A Banana Peel - A Peanut
The point of all this mayhem is to show that the Joker is deadly even from captivity, I guess. But it all came across as pretty ludicrous. There’s a side story about a cop who loses it after being victimized by the Joker, but it’s not much better than the main event. This story also poops all over Batman canonicity at times, for those who care about that sort of thing.
Through the first four issues, this collection was heading straight for 1-star status. But the last two issues, with the Joker mercifully locked up in Arkham, are a marked improvement. That, plus some impressive artwork, lifts this weird Batman tale to ‘OK.’ 2 stars.(less)
Imagine waking up from a coma to discover the world around you has totally changed: Charlie Sheen is no longer on TV, Peyton Manning doesn’t have a si...moreImagine waking up from a coma to discover the world around you has totally changed: Charlie Sheen is no longer on TV, Peyton Manning doesn’t have a single endorsement to hang his hat on, and (most importantly) brain-devouring zombies now stalk the earth.
That’s the basic premise of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. The first volume follows our hero, Rick, as he tries to find his people and figure out just what the hell went wrong when he was under. Rick is eventually able to link up with his family and his old partner, Shane. They form part of a group of survivors, determined to hold out until help arrives. But as the days drag on, rescue looks less and less likely and tension starts to build.
I picked this up because I liked the TV show (season one mostly mirrors this book, but with some significant changes). I can happily report that readers who’ve seen the show and know the basic story can still have a lot of fun with this volume. While there’s plenty of zombie smashing action, Kirkman is also clearly interested in how 21st century people, who’ve lived all their lives in relative comfort, would adapt to a post-apocalyptic environment. There’s much more focus on the details of survival and the group dynamic than I expected, which I found interesting. And the artwork, which is entirely in black and white, is impressive (if sometimes gruesome).
Anyway, I am not much of a zombiephile but I really enjoyed this collection. 4 stars, recommended! (less)
This book is set towards the beginning of Batman’s career, after Batman and the Monster Men. Bruce is still dating Julie Madison, but Julie’s father i...moreThis book is set towards the beginning of Batman’s career, after Batman and the Monster Men. Bruce is still dating Julie Madison, but Julie’s father is beginning to crack up mentally because of the things he witnessed in Monster Men. Julie is worried about her father, but soon has bigger problems when she gets mixed up with the ‘Mad Monk’ and his followers. Fortunately for Julie, her boyfriend doubles as the Dark Knight and Batman is quickly on the case. Batman has been investigating a series of very unusual murders, and it turns out that (view spoiler)[ the Mad Monk is an honest-to-God vampire who has been feeding off the citizens of Gotham. (hide spoiler)]
This story is set up as Batman’s first encounter with a supernatural foe. Personally, I think Batman is at his best when battling more conventional baddies (or as “conventional” as characters like the Joker and Two-Face can be) rather than taking on supernatural enemies, but Matt Wagner tells a pretty good tale here. The book re-imagines a 1939 story by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and some of the supernatural stuff felt a bit hokey. It’s not as good as Batman and the Monster Men, also by Wagner, which treated Julie more like an independent character and less like a damsel in distress. But the finale is pretty great, and overall this is an enjoyable Bat-Tale. 3 stars, recommended.["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This was a fun Batman story set during the Caped Crusader's first year on the job. Bruce is dating Julie Madison, and is optimistic that he may be abl...moreThis was a fun Batman story set during the Caped Crusader's first year on the job. Bruce is dating Julie Madison, and is optimistic that he may be able to win his war on crime and lead a more normal life. He's working on busting the leaders of the Gotham mob, but the situation is complicated by Julie's father (who has some mob connections of his own) and Dr. Hugo Strange. Dr. Strange relies on mob funding to keep his...unorthodox genetic experiments running, but before long these "monster men" are a bigger threat to Gotham's safety than any group of mobsters.
Batman stories that depend on superhuman/supernatural villains are always a dicey proposition, and scientific jibber-jabber aside, that is precisely what the monster men are. But Wagner makes this one work. The artwork is very good (but definitely a little gory...the cover with the cartoony lettering makes this look like a Scooby-Doo style Batman tale, but there is some real carnage going on inside), and the story is exciting and well-paced. The presence of a bat-girlfriend, and an interesting one at that, was a particularly nice touch that helped set this story apart from many other Batman volumes. Julie is not just a wet blanket, hanging around mostly to be a nuisance, but an interesting character in her own right. And Wagner does a fine job in tying two loosely connected plot-lines into a pretty thrilling finale.
This is not the most famous of Batman's formative year stories, but it's very good and well worth your time if you're a fan of the Dark Knight. 4 stars, recommended.
P.S.: This book also features the first appearance of the Batmobile! What more could you want!(less)
Despite the giant red TOM CLANCY plastered on this book’s cover, Endwar is not a book by Tom Clancy. It is a book by David Michaels, based on a video...moreDespite the giant red TOM CLANCY plastered on this book’s cover, Endwar is not a book by Tom Clancy. It is a book by David Michaels, based on a video game by Ubisoft, which was inspired by Tom Clancy. Set a few decades in the future, the U.S. and Russia are fighting World War III. The Russians have come up with a devious new plan to turn the war in their favor, and it’s up to Team USA to save the day. Some stuff happens, which I won’t spoil, but the plot doesn’t really matter too much. This is an action-packed military thriller: readers expecting an intricate tale of wartime strategy will be disappointed, but readers interested in some good old fashioned, special-forces style carnage might enjoy this book. Endwar is fast-moving, bouncing quickly from combat zone to combat zone with only the occasional reprieve.
Unfortunately, the writing was not great. It wasn’t a train wreck, but it could get pretty cheesy at times. A couple of my personal favorites:
”Here you go,” she whispered. “Eat this.” Dinner was, in fact, served, a late-night course of explosives delivered with blinding efficiency.
The cracks of thunder commenced. And for some of the Russians, God was a bullet.
I was a big Clancy fan when I was growing up, and this book is not quite up to his standards (I’d recommend Red Storm Rising to readers looking for a better World War III tale). I probably would not have read this if it hadn’t been our monthly book club selection. Overall this was an OK war story that kind of made me want to play Call of Duty. 2 stars.(less)
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt unsuccessfully sought a third term as President. It was a frustrating experience: not only was Roosevelt shot on the campa...moreIn 1912, Theodore Roosevelt unsuccessfully sought a third term as President. It was a frustrating experience: not only was Roosevelt shot on the campaign trail (and insisted on giving a 90 minute speech before finally going to the hospital), he gained the enmity of his former party by running as a Bull Moose and splitting the conservative vote. Finding himself at a low point, Roosevelt decided to do what any old politician with time on his hands would do: go on an incredibly dangerous journey through unmapped territory in one of the least hospitable environments on the planet.
Being the avid outdoorsman and general badass that he was, Roosevelt decided an expedition through the Amazon would be just the thing to lift his spirits. And not just any expedition – the route that Roosevelt and his team would ultimately choose went through undiscovered country (quite literally one of the “blank spots on the map”). Along with his son Kermit, the famous Brazilian explorer Cândido Rondon, American naturalist George Cherrie and a team of native Brazilian camaradas, the expedition set off to become the first westerners to travel down the River of Doubt (since renamed the Rio Roosevelt) in Western Brazil.
As it turned out, not everyone would survive the journey. Roosevelt had experienced his share of rough country before, but the Amazon Rainforest in the 1910s was another animal entirely. The hardships the expedition faced included the following:
- Along the River of Doubt were native peoples that, over 400 years after the arrival of the Portuguese, had never encountered outsiders before. The enterprising Rondon, who eventually had a state named after him for his pretty incredible contributions to his country, had experience with first contact before and it was not always peaceful. The 19 men were heavily outnumbered and were effectively at the mercy of natives they could not communicate with or even see unless the natives so chose.
- All of the horrible, debilitating diseases one associates with the tropics at the turn of the century, chief among them malaria. In 1912 the best malarial medication was quinine, which had its own set of adverse side effects. Basically, the expedition had to accept that they were probably going to have to deal with a spot of malaria along the way and just power through.
- A starvation diet. Due to some careless planning, the expedition ended up being woefully short of food. The men assumed that in a rainforest teeming with life, they would be able to survive by hunting and fishing if need be. This did not turn out to be true. Roosevelt lost so much weight (over 50 lbs.) he was almost unrecognizable upon his return. This diet did not help everybody’s malaria.
Candace Millard does an outstanding job bouncing between the tale of the expedition and side narratives focused on these threats, the history of Brazil, and scientific information about the rainforest. Unlike her second book, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, River of Doubt doesn’t double as a definitive biography of its subject. Destiny, among other things, tells a pretty complete story of James Garfield’s life. But River of Doubt wisely doesn’t try to cram Roosevelt’s entire career into these pages (which would be a very different book). While it touches on other events in the President’s life, the book is focused on this single dramatic episode. When Millard goes off on one of her many tangents, they are almost always focused directly on the expedition. Millard has a real gift for these tangents and side narratives, which are perfectly woven into the main narrative, add a bit of spice, and are almost always fascinating.
Roosevelt never completely recovered from this ordeal, which was to be his last big adventure: he battled health problems related to the expedition until he died five years later. The journey, over 1,000 km down an uncharted river in the Amazon, was so incredible that many Americans simply refused to believe Roosevelt had actually done it, forcing him to publicly defend his actions. It’s a heck of a subject for a first book, and Candace Millard does it full justice. Millard is two for two between this and Destiny and has reached the point where I will read her next book sight unseen. 4 stars, recommended.(less)
A short but well-informed book, where Costas suggests a number of changes that baseball should adopt. Costas is a conservative fan, and by 'changes' h...moreA short but well-informed book, where Costas suggests a number of changes that baseball should adopt. Costas is a conservative fan, and by 'changes' he mostly means return to the way things were decades ago: no DH, day games during the World Series, and the elimination of the wild card. The years have dated this book a bit, as the sport has actually drifted in the other direction, but Costas' arguments are still well developed and his passion for the game shines throughout. 3 stars.(less)
This covers 5,000 years of history in under 500 pages, so it's not exactly comprehensive. But if you're looking for a single-volume history covering p...moreThis covers 5,000 years of history in under 500 pages, so it's not exactly comprehensive. But if you're looking for a single-volume history covering pre-modern England, you could do a lot worse. Schama is a good storyteller and this is a very engaging and informative (if not exhaustive) summary of early English history. 4 stars, recommended. (less)