Hit List

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hit List
Laurell K. Hamilton, 2011

Note: this is the 20th paranormal thriller-romance featuring Anita Blake. Some unavoidable spoilers follow. 

Premise: Anita's out of town for a change, wearing her federal marshal hat. She, Edward and a bunch of endangered newbies are hunting a serial killer targeting weretigers. But is it all a plot by the Harlequin to expose Anita to The Mother of all Darkness?

Of course it is. Because at this point it would be silly to have a book in this series that was just a mystery, that wasn't linked to the nonsensical overarching plot. (/sarcasm)

That gripe stated, the plot of this one wasn't so bad, except that it was enough plot for a novella, or a long short story, not a novel. The rest was padded out with poor description and restating the same points over and over. Seriously, does anyone read these books before sending them to print? Anyone?

On the upside, there was only one sex scene! I'm shocked at the restraint!

If Hit List hadn't been so poorly written, I could talk about how interesting it is to be further defining Anita's powers, and finding more directed uses for them. The actual happenings of the plot climax were neat, but the writing failed to make them feel satisfying.

This series is either on its last narrative leg, or about to turn a drastic corner. That would be awesome, if after everything the story either starts focusing on a different character, or changes tack to be about global supernatural politics. I'm not really holding my breath for awesome, though.

I think the series may have missed its chance to really pull up out of the dive. This one was mindlessly fun, but only barely.

2 Stars - An Okay Book.

The Case for American Vampire

Friday, February 24, 2012

It came to my attention last year that many of my friends, despite being aware of my affection for American Vampire, have not yet tried out this series. They claim to not be comic readers themselves (LAME) and/or seem to be of the opinion that vampires are played out. While I will admit that the series is not for everyone, I wanted to take a moment to clarify just how awesome it is.

Caveat: Before we go any further, I should mention for anyone new, American Vampire is a currently-running comic book series which is “suggested for mature readers.” That means there is nudity, sex, and graphic violence. Just FYI.


I first heard about AmVamp in Spring 2010, when I was finishing up my series of reviews of vampire novels, both classic and modern. I found it somewhat randomly; I was researching something else related to the books I was reading and saw that Stephen King was involved with a new comic book about vampires. I had just re-read and loved Salem's Lot, so I decided to check it out.

If big name authors aren't your cup of tea, consider this: AmVamp is a creator-owned property; writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque are listed as co-creators on each issue. Snyder has done all of the writing since Issue #6, and Albuquerque is responsible for almost all of the art.

So I went to the store to flip through the first issue. I discovered that it had two storylines, one by King, set in the 1880's, and one by Snyder, set in the 1920's. And then I saw this panel:

and was so amused that I knew I had to read this book. Yes, that's a traditional European Nosferatu-looking fellow being quite unhappy that his business has brought him to the American West.

One of the best parts of the series is the different periods. Vampires are immortal, more or less, right? So why not explore them in different time periods? Why always write about vampires now? Why not have vampires in the Old West, in the Golden Age of Hollywood, in the New Deal Era, in WWII? (And that's just some of the storylines so far!)

Here's a bit more for you. In AmVamp, there are many breeds of vampires. The fellow above is a classic European variety, but in the course of the early story a new breed is created. A modern sort of vampire.

 This is Skinner Sweet, the first American Vampire. He was, shall we say, a bit ornery even beforehand.

So becoming a vampire wasn't too much of a change for him.

This is the other main protagonist, Pearl Jones. She moved to Hollywood to try to make it in the pictures and got a bit more than she bargained for. Of course, so did the people who tried to take advantage of her.

And yes, as you can see, the art is amazing.

Intrigued enough yet? The first three graphic novels are available now:

American Vampire Vol. 1 (Issues 1-5, double size issues)
American Vampire Vol. 2 (Issues 6-11)
American Vampire Vol. 3 (Issues 12-18, AND the Survival of the Fittest additional mini-series Issues 1-5)

Comics Briefly: American Vampire #24, Wolverine and the X-Men #6

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Favorite Book This Week: American Vampire #24
Books were new in stores on 2/22/12

American Vampire #24 (Death Race Part Three)
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Rafael Albuquerque, Colors: Dave McCaig

I have been loving this plot arc, but this issue especially has a nice rhythm to the writing, and absolutely amazing art. I can't see how the next (and last) issue of this arc could possibly go well for Travis, but I've really enjoyed the ride so far. All of the character work in this book is awesome, but I have become really fond of Travis the greaser-teenage-vampire-hunter in just three issues. I love his attitude, I love his look, and I love that every so often you get a moment that reminds you that he's still very young, and up against some real horrors.

Wolverine and the X-Men #6
Writer: Jason Aaron, Pencils: Nick Bradshaw, Inks: Walden Wong, Jay Leisten, Normal Lee & Cam Smith, Colorists: Justin Ponsor & Matthew Wilson

The action-packed and very zany escapades continue! I wish there had been a touch more plot in this issue, or picked one plot to follow more. That said, I really enjoyed both Wolverine and Kid Omega trying to win the school's budget at an interstellar casino and Kitty and company fighting off Brood (full and micro-sized!) back at the school. I probably liked the first plot a hair more: it was really fun. This was a solid continuation of the plot(s), and really fun, but it wasn't quite as impressive, or emotionally affecting, as American Vampire this week.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Katie W. Stewart, 2011

Premise: Jakan is the Treespeaker for the Fifth Tribe of Arrakesh. His people live deep in the sacred forest, and speak to their god through special great trees, one in each tribe. The Treespeaker names the proper Chief Elder for the Tribe, foretells the weather, and generally advises the people so that they can live in balance with the forest. But this year, all Jakan can foresee is danger and death. A danger is coming to the tribe from outside, even though that should not be possible. It is also impossible for a Treespeaker to leave the forest and live, but Jakan will have to try, if he wants to save his people.

I thought the writing in this book was quite strong, although I didn't love the last third or so.

The world of the Tribes is colorful and interesting. I liked the use of magic, the mystery surrounding the impending doom, the internal politics of the group and the families. There's some romanticizing of their pastoral way of life, but that's par for the course in this genre.

Reading about Jakan trying to survive in the world outside the forest, where no one knows the rules he's always lived by, is pretty great too. There's a nice dose of mysticism, and a good scattering of supporting characters. The style is addictive and easy to follow.

However, somewhere near the build up to the climax the plot takes a left turn. Suddenly their god seems a lot more powerful, Jakan's mission fairly pointless, and a lot of the earlier plot and theme seems undermined. The ending is fine, I just found it really unsatisfying compared to what had gone before.

Overall I'm going to have to call it a good book, but it could have been better.

3 Stars – A Good Book

Check out Treespeaker (it is nice and cheap) on Amazon.com

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Lies of Locke Lamora
Scott Lynch, 2006

Premise: Locke Lamora is an orphan and a sneak thief, but one with tremendous ingenuity and potential. He is brought into (and up by) the Gentlemen Bastards, possibly the most unusual gang of thieves in the complicated underworld of Camorr. When a newcomer threatens to overthrow the head of all the gangs, the Gentleman Bastards - and their current confidence scam - are caught in the middle.

I don't say this often, but I have a sneaking suspicion this would be a better movie than it is a book.

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I hoped to. I think it largely comes down to style, though. It's an action-intrigue caper plot, with plenty of double-dealing, late reveals, close calls, death and bloodshed. It does this perfectly well, but I never really connected with the protagonist. Locke is a skilled thief, con artist and actor, and very little ink is spilled on developing the man under all that. There are moments that seem to touch on his feelings for his friends or his profession or his city, but they never felt fully realized to me. He just wasn't anyone. He had no personality under his talents, beyond the broadest most obvious strokes.

The characters didn't seem to have examined their own lives very closely when we meet them, and while the developments of the plot challenge their health and their ingenuity, they never really challenge their morality or cause them to grow in any way.

Now that said, the world is interesting, the characters are colorful, and the plot is nicely twisty. Camorr as fantasy Venice is fantastic, and the constantly shifting plots and alliances are exciting. In a movie, when you can just trust the character to be in the eyes of your lead actor if he's cast well, this could be an awesome experience.

The present-day story is interwoven with flashbacks that show how the group came together and trained, and while these are all interesting, and many are important for later plot points, it did mean that the book took a lot of pages to ramp up the pace. Some characters who are hinted at being important early on never even show up in this volume.

There's a seriously dark turn at one point that really took me aback, and I had trouble enjoying the book afterward. I guess I'd rather if it had earned it with more character depth. You don't need character depth for a caper, you do if you are writing something you want to have dramatic weight.

Still, it was fun for most of the ride, and the ending was fairly satisfactory.

3 Stars – A Good Book

Comics Briefly: Batman #6, Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes #5, Wonder Woman #6

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In other comics news, I'm reading a fair number of graphic novels that I need to sit down and review, but here's a quick preview:

Batman: No Man's Land 1: ugly 90's art, good stories
Locke & Key 1: little too gory for me, but well structured
Blacksad: Flat-Out Brilliant

Okay, back to business.

Favorite Issue This Week: Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes #5
Issues new in stores on 2/15/12

Batman #6
Writer: Scott Snyder, Penciller: Greg Capullo, Inker: Jonathan Glapion, Colorist: FCO

Hmmm. There are a few pretty good moments here, and a win of sorts? It's not a bad issue, but I do feel like everything in the last three issues could have been dealt with in one and a half. The art is beginning to really grate on me with this series. It's unclear how much of what was happening early on in the issue was delusions, for one thing. (Frankly, I was pulling for the whole damn labyrinth being a delusion. I just can't buy the idea that something that size is under Gotham and no one has built in it/demolished it for subway stations/condos/mole people/etc.) Plus this is at least two issues without either pretty!Bruce or the really sleek 40's costume vibe, and those are the two things I liked the most in the first couple issues. Also, I fully agree with Bruce's sentiment: I am sick of owls. But there's a big owl-focused crossover coming up... It may be time to switch to waiting for the trades.

Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes #5
Writer: Chris Roberson, Pencils: Jeffery Moy, Inker: Philip Moy, Colors: Romulo Fajardo, Jr.

Very silly cover on this month's installment, but it reflects the interior in tone, if not content. This continues to be a trip through a cross-universe adventure that's only serious on the surface. The Enterprise crew and the Legionnaires are split into two teams in two times, hoping to defeat an immortal conqueror. Is it great storytelling? Nah. Are the jokes kind of in-jokes for fans? Yes. But the interactions are still cute, the plot twists amusing, and I'll definitely finish out this mini-series.

Wonder Woman #6
Writer: Brian Azzarello, Artist: Tony Atkins, Inks: Dan Green, Colorist: Matthew Wilson

Not a terrible issue, but nothing that changes my mind about this series. I don't remember enough of what was happening to make full sense of what was going on here. I guess it's the end of an arc? Sort of? There were a few panels I had to read a few times, and then I still wasn't sure what happened in them. This artist just isn't hitting the mark, and the story doesn't hold up without Cliff Chang's internal work (he did do the cover here). I know that on some objective level this is a fine comic, but I just don't personally enjoy it. Switching to Trades...Go!

A Morbid Taste for Bones

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Morbid Taste for Bones
Ellis Peters, 1977

Premise: Brother Cadfael has been many things in his long life, but now he is content to tend the garden in Shrewsbury Abbey. When the ambitous Prior Robert proposes a journey to acquire Saint Winifred's bones for the Abbey, Cadfael gets himself invited along as Welsh translator. What they find in the quiet village of Gwytherin involves a lot more scandal and murder than Prior Robert was anticipating, and Cadfael sets himself to discovering the truth.

I loved this book. The characters are colorful and entertaining, and Cafael in particular is wonderful to follow. I found his practical, grounded attitude - born of being an old campaigner - completely irresistible. The plot is twisty, with an appropriate number of red herrings and revelations, a good balance of adventure, romance and humor, and the ending feels both completely unexpected and absolutely appropriate.

Plus it's a medieval mystery about a crime-solving monk. There wasn't much chance that I was going to dislike this book.

I watched the television series adapted from this book as a teen, and I remember loving it, but I hadn't gotten around to the books until now.

A few other notable things:
In this case I liked how long it took the book to get to the mystery. The setting and characters were compelling enough even before the plot picked up.

I thought this book had a great balance between mysticism and realism. It never failed to amuse me when Cadfael would privately question the political motivations behind this holy vision or the reality of that superstition. Given that baseline, the few maybe-unexplained phenomena were just part and parcel of the medieval setting.

In short: Hooray! I have a new long series to track down!

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

A Morbid Taste for Bones is available on Amazon, or hopefully at your local library.

March to the Stars and We Few

Friday, February 10, 2012

March to the Stars (Empire of Man Book Three)
We Few (Empire of Man Book Four)
David Weber and John Ringo, 2003, 2005

Parts three and four of this series, one and two reviewed here.

Premise: Prince Roger, the rag-tag remnants of his Marines and their new Mardukan allies continue to fight their way around the planet, trying to get the prince home. There's only one more major political area between them and their goal, but they are ogranized and hostile. There's another new wrinkle too: it looks like he wasn't the only member of the Imperial Family who was attacked, Roger's being blamed in absentia, and now they have to capture the spaceport, get off planet, and get back home in time to save the Empire...while hiding their identities.

I have trouble with March to the Stars. It has some of the best character-based scenes, and some great action, but it also has excessive infodumps, weird tangents, and plain boring parts. Particularly the first third of the book is pretty dull, but the last half or so is necessary for the fourth book. It's just frustrating when a book varies wildly like that.

The fourth book I loved when I first read it, but it didn't impress as much on re-reading. There are quite a few odd complications, more annoying infodumping, and it starts to pile up short-lived secondary characters at an astonishing rate by the end. This really does a number on the plot momentum, which seems to meander far more than necessary. It's still decent military sci-fi, and if you followed the characters this far, I think it's pretty satisfying in the end. Just be prepared to skim a little when you get to the space battle.

March to the Stars – 2 Stars – An Okay Book
We Few – 3 Stars – A Good Book

March to the Stars and We Few are available on Amazon.com

Comics Briefly: Batgirl #6, Batwoman #6, Demon Knights #6, Huntress #5, Wolverine and the X-Men #5

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Favorite Issue This Week: Why do Wolverine and the X-Men and Demon Knights come out the same week? Either would win against almost anything else I collect...

All issues new in stores on 2/8/12

Batgirl #6
Writer: Gail Simone, Penciller: Adrian Syaf, Inker: Vicente Cifuentes, Colors: Ulises Arreola

Hmm. I liked this more than last month's, but it still had plenty of weak parts. I found the reveal of the villain's story clunky and boring, although she-got-hypnotic-power-over-men-from-being-shot-in-the-face is kind of a silly explanation anyhow. It's not a bad issue, and there are a few good Batman moments (and at least one over-the-top cloying one, your mileage may vary there). It's not good enough to prevent me from probably dropping this title from my pull list, though.

Batwoman #6
Writers: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, Artist: Amy Reeder, Inkers: Richard Friend & Rob Hunter Colors: Guy Major

This issue was incredibly odd. There were moments that were intriguing, but it literally just consists of disconnected bits of story. It will probably be enjoyable to read in a collected edition, but as a single issue, this is a failure for me. Amy Reeder's much-anticipated art is fine.

Demon Knights #6
Writer: Paul Cornell, Pencillers: Diogenes Neves& Robson Rocha, Inkers: Oclair Albert & Diogenes Neves, Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo

I'd have liked a bit more story progress in this issue, but with seven characters to follow, I can forgive a slower pace here. Exoristos, Xanadu and the Horsewoman all get to be pretty awesome here, as the attack begins and the fighting ramps up toward next issue's climax. I really liked Al Jabr's arrow-catapults, and we see more of the Horde's crazy barbarian-dinosaurs and metal dragons. I can't wait to see how it comes together next time.

Huntress #5
Writer: Paul Levitz, Pencils: Marcus To, Inks: John Dell & Richard Zajac, Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse

An action-heavy installment this month; frankly if this weren't a mini-series I might have dropped this book. However, DC has gone ahead and admitted that Huntress (of Earth 2! I knew it!) is moving on to World's Finest after this; I am excited by that book and I'll finish out this series in anticipation. The action is good action, but I wish there was more than that to this.

Wolverine and the X-Men #5
Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: Nick Bradshaw, Colorist: Justin Ponsor

This book continues to both make me laugh and make me care, and that's really what I'm looking for. Logan has a plan to solve the school's money troubles! No, wait, he has a new plan! Kitty's been invaded by Brood! Angel's loopy! The kids have issues! The dialogue is snappy, the pace is quick and twisty, the art is slick and expressive. Solid, enjoyable work throughout.

The Last Man on Earth Club

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Last Man on Earth Club
Paul R. Hardy, 2011

Premise: There are many Earths. Parallel worlds. The Interversal Union is an organization which travels between many of these worlds, and unfortunately one of their largest responsibilities is the relocation of refugees. With so many Earths, there are endless ways for humanity to be killed, or to destroy itself. Asha is a therapist who works for the Refugee Service, and her current assignment is unusual, even for her line of work. She is put in charge of a group therapy project for six individuals. Each one is the last survivor of their species. Each one's situation is unique, but she's hoping the little they have in common will allow her to help them. But can even the most well-intentioned therapist help the last person on Earth?

This was a fascinating book, completely original and totally intriguing. I liked the structure, in which the reader only really knows what Asha knows, and you have to draw your own further conclusions. Each patient has secrets, each has problems. The mysteries are fantastic, and form the core of the plot. Who is sneaking out of the facility and why? Who is actually suicidal and who actually wants help? Who isn't who they say they are? What really happened on each Earth?

I don't want to say much more about it, because discovering the array of worlds that the characters come from is a lot of the fun of this book. I hope it will suffice to say that many sci-fi and apocalyptic tropes are played with over the different Earths.

The characters have very individual voices, and each has a journey to make over the course of the book. Where each journey leads, whether it is to healing or not, is incredibly compelling. Each mystery revealed seems to pose further questions. Also, Asha has problems of her own that come out eventually.

The way the chapters are laid out is a little choppy at times, although it is always clear what is going on. The book is a good length, but doesn't drag at all.

Overall,  The Last Man on Earth Club is an engaging read, and I really enjoyed it.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Get The Last Man on Earth Club at Amazon.com

Red Hood's Revenge (Princess Series, Book 3)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Red Hood's Revenge (Princess Series, Book 3)
Jim C. Hines, 2010

Premise: The famed assassin, the Lady of the Red Hood (aka Red Riding Hood), comes to Whiteshore with a challenge. She plans to lure Talia back to her ancestral kingdom, where darker plans are afoot between the fairies who put her to sleep and the family who stole her throne.

Side Note: What is Talia doing
with her foot? That... isn't standing.
It might be modern dance.
I didn't like this one quite as much as its predecessors - The Stepsister Scheme and The Mermaid's Madness - but it was still an enjoyable read.

There was a lot of expansion of Talia's (Sleeping Beauty) backstory and her kingdom here, and it was interesting, but didn't completely come to life to me. The way the human and fairy societies intersected around tradition and religions almost worked, but I just didn't find it fully coherent, or all that compelling.

I did like the Temple of the Hedge, a monastic healing order that grew from the desire to ease the suffering of the princes who died (horribly) trying to reach Sleeping Beauty. I also really liked the character and story of Roudette (Red Riding Hood) and her interactions with Talia were fantastic.

There were plenty of bright spots, and it's still overall a good book, but this installment fell a bit flat for me.

3 Stars – A Good Book

Get Red Hood's Revenge on Amazon.com

Comics Briefly: Action Comics #6, Animal Man #6, Swamp Thing #6

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Favorite Book This Week: Action Comics #6
All issues were new in stores on 2/1/12

Action Comics #6
Writer: Grant Morrison, Penciller: Andy Kubert, Inker: John Dell, Colorist: Brad Anderson
Backup: Writer: Sholly Fisch, Artist: Chriscross, Colorist: Jose Villarrubia

An interesting, if weird, issue. This wraps up the story from last time, the one about the Legion helping to fight the anti-Superman army, who stole the Kryptonite engine from Kal's rocket. It's not boring, but I'm not sure that it's all that coherent either. The twists are quite zany, the end makes comic-book sense but ignores a bunch of plot holes and runs the risk of making the Legion origin more recursive than it already was. All of that said, at least there was a plot. That's more than I can say for a lot of DC issues these days. There's a back up story as well that fleshes out some of Clark's childhood, although I didn't find it anywhere near as interesting as the little flashbacks in the main story.

Animal Man #6
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artists: John Paul Lean, Travel Foreman, Inks: Jeff Huet

Most of this issue focuses on the low budget superhero movie that Buddy (Animal Man) starred in during a previous low point in his career. I though that sounded interesting, but in execution it fell rather flat. The whole movie section is sort of cliche and cuts off melodramatically so we can have a few pages of recap about what's going on with the characters. News flash: nothing happens to them in this issue.

Swamp Thing #6
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Marco Rudy, Colors: Val Staples and Lee Loughridge

I want to like this book. I like Swamp Thing, I like Scott Snyder, I like the ideas that they are playing with, but it's taking an awful lot of issues for very little to happen except people angsting. More angst in this issue, as Abby is lost. I don't feel that I've gotten much of her character yet in this series, so I don't feel any emotional reaction at her loss/transformation/turn to the Dark Side/whatever. So little happens here that I feel like I'm reading in real time, as if the 5 minutes it took to read the issue are the same as the 5 minutes that passed for the characters. The cliffhanger-ish ending (it's obvious what has to happen next and the action by the villains makes no sense) I found especially silly.