Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael, Book Three)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael Chronicles, Book Three)
Ellis Peters, 1980

See previous reviews in this series: Book One, Book Two

Premise: Cadfael finds himself drawn into a new mystery when a man is murdered on the grounds of the monastery. Gervase Bonel had been in the process of deeding his property to the abbey, after a row with his step-son. Many stand to gain at Bonel's death, and many stand to lose. It's up to Brother Cadfael to determine the truth, especially since the poison that killed the man was stolen from Cadfael's own medical supplies!

This is another solid entry in the Cadfael series. It is notable both for the quality of the red herrings in the story (I honestly only figured out the truth minutes before it was revealed) and for further details about Cadfael's life. For the widow Bonel turns out to be someone Cadfael once knew very well, and that relationship casts suspicion over his investigation.

I like the character of Cadfael so much; as a solver of mysteries he is both familiar and unique. The historical setting makes his stories more interesting to me than stories set in the modern day. His rock-solid sense of truth blends with his keen comprehension of complex situations and political realities. At the same time, he reminds me a little of Holmes, in that his sense of moral, human justice supersedes his allegiance to the letter of the law. He goes further than Holmes would, though, perhaps because the authorities in his time are much less to be trusted to truly seek the truth. His compassion also makes him a very warm and pleasant character to read. Of course, the slyly wicked sense of humor hidden under the practical exterior doesn't hurt one bit.

This volume touches again on the Welsh-British relations that factored heavily in A Morbid Taste for Bones, as well as the theme of love for the land. Everyone wants the mansion and bountiful estate belonging to the deceased, and the mystery eventually centers on not just who stands to inherit, but who cares the most about the place.

I keep enjoying these books. They're pleasant, quick reads, with enough action and intrigue to keep me turning pages, but there's a calm, sort of rooted feeling to the stories that I appreciate as well.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Comics Briefly: American Vampire #29, The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #5, Superman Family Adventures #3, Wolverine and the X-Men #14, X-Treme X-Men #1

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I'm trying out a new Marvel title this week, and it might be my favorite pick from this group.

All titles new in stores on 7/25/12
(One fewer title than planned this week: DC has pushed back the release of Batman Inc. #3 due to the tragedy in Aurora.)

American Vampire #29 (The Blacklist, Part Two)
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Rafael Albuqueque, Colors: Dave McCaig

Oh, having Pearl and Skinner on panel together again is so nice. They have so much history at this point, and whether they’re working together or fighting each other, sparks fly. I enjoyed this issue quite a bit, and this plotline promises to be very interesting. The Vassals continue to be sketchy, and Pearl keeps her own counsel.

The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #5
WriterL Tom Hutchison, Artist: Alison Borges, Color: Kate Finnegan

This title continues to be good enough, without really having anything amazing. It’s following the Wizard of Oz story a bit closer for this issue, which makes it less interesting than previous issues. The pictures are still mighty purty, though.

Superman Family Adventures #3
By Art Baltazar and Franco

Started a little slow, but I loved the last story. Plenty of giggles to be had when Clark tried to convince Lois he’s not Superman with a Superman robot, or two.

Wolverine and the X-Men #14
Wrier: Jason Aaron, Penciler: Jorge Molina, Inker: Norman Lee, Colorist: Morry Hollowell

There's a new art team on this issue, and they don’t do a bad job, except that Kitty looks too young. This is more or less a sub-chapter of the AvX crossover, in which a bunch of the minor X-Men decide the Phoenix X-Men are really scary. No duh, guys. It's not a bad issue, and some of the interplay between Kitty and Colossus is great. I’ll be glad when this event is over, though.

X-Treme X-Men #1
By: Greg Pak & Stephen Segovia, Inks: Dennis Christomo, Colors: Jessica Kholinne

This is an extraordinarily zany little book, which is exactly why I picked it up. It’s a multi-alternate-universe team up with a mission that has to be seen to be believed. It’s ction packed and just the kind of superheroic blend of plot insanity and winning characters that I love. The character from our familiar Marvel U? Dazzler. DAZZLER! :) Described in her intro panel as: “Pop Star, Mutant Transducer of Sound into Light, X-Man, Awesome.” I can get behind that.

Empire of Ivory (Temeraire, Book 4)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Empire of Ivory (Temeraire, Book 4)
Naomi Novik, 2007

Premise: (Follows Black Powder War) Lawrence and Temeraire return to Britain after a long and difficult journey, only to find that their troubles are still far from over. Sickness has struck the dragons of Britain, and Temeraire and Lawrence are eventually sent south with their squadron in search of a cure. While there, they run into more dragons, some feral, and some less so. A new potential world power is emerging, and their squadron is right in the middle of it!

Thematically, the events of Empire of Ivory continue the general trends of this series. This one explores the parallels between Temeraire's hopes for the future of British dragons with Lawrence's father's work with the abolitionist movement, and then deals with the realities of the aftermath (including possible world war) of the slave trade, as well as decisions made by government officials who aren't on board with the idea that dragons could have rights.

Although I was frankly a little surprised that there had been a slave trade, given the presence of dragons in Africa, the exploration of the coalescing nation there was fascinating.

The minor characters solidify their places a bit in this one, and there's some funny scenes where Lawrence struggles with the fact that he hasn't fully left his stuffy upper-class upbringing behind after all, at least not when it comes to relations between men and women.

This is a good entry in this series, but not fantastic, except that it has a really amazing ending. Heartrending, gorgeous, perfect cliffhanger of an ending. Time to look up Book Five.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Comics Briefly July: Action Comics #11, American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #2, Captain Marvel #1, Finding Gossamyr #1, Saga #5, Star Trek/Doctor Who: Assimilation #3, Wolverine and the X-Men #13

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another multi-week sum-up!

July 4: Action Comics #11
July 11: American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #2, Wolverine and the X-Men #13
July 18: Captain Marvel #1, Finding Gossamyr #1, Saga #5, Star Trek/Doctor Who: Assimilation #3

Action Comics #11
Writer: Grant Morrison, Art: Rags Morales, Rick Bryant, Brad Walker, Colorist: Brad Anderson

But Lindsay, you say, I thought you dropped Action Comics. And so I did, but I got sucked back in because there is a really great two page conversation between Batman and Superman in this one So for now I’m only officially collecting New 52 issues written by Grant Morrison, because his stuff seems the least polluted with the editorial stranglehold poisoning many of the other books. The backup in this one (written by Sholly Fisch) is pretty cute too.

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #2
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Dustin Nguyen, Colors: John Kalisz

I think I forgot to post about Issue #1 in this new miniseries, because I forgot to check when it was coming out and picked it up late. This issue is mostly background and set-up (issue one was more action in medias res), but it’s really good background and set-up. Dracula (no, really) might be on the loose again, and Agent Hobbes, having lost most of his London personnel, has come to Felicia for help. She’s trying to get out of the whole vampire-hunting business, but her past and her obligations aren’t ready to let her go. I love Felicia, I love her complicated back-story, and the art is gorgeous and creepy here. Just a great issue.

Captain Marvel #1
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Artist: Dexter Soy

Wow. WOW! I was underwhelmed by the art in the preview I saw the other day, and the art does have ups and downs. One of the notable downs being some of the early panels of Captain America. He looks like a humorless zombie. But the writing is good. DAMN good. And the art comes around mostly by the end. I’ve always wanted to like Carol Danvers, and now I do. Mission Accomplished, book.

Finding Gossamyr #1
Writer: David A. Rodriguez, Illustrations: Sarah Ellerton

Finding Gossamyr was one of the surprise highlights of Free Comic Book Day, and the first full issue is out now. Gorgeous art combines here with a surprisingly nuanced look at an unusual sibling relationship. Math-magic that threatens to break the walls between dimensions is the impetus for the plot, and the fantasy landscapes are lovely, but I’ll keep coming back for a sister struggling, trying to help her brilliant, fragile, different little brother.

Saga #5
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Art: Fiona Staples

Whew, these two certainly have a way with splash panels. Alana and Marco have a good day, but I’m more than a bit worried about both our bounty hunters, which isn’t something I thought I’d be saying a few issues back. A really strong issue this month: a lot happened, all plots followed up on, new sides to everyone, and continued compelling storytelling. If you can read comics for mature readers, you should be reading Saga. (If not, try Finding Gossamyr.)

Star Trek/Doctor Who: Assimilation #3
Written by: Scott & David Tipton, Tony Lee. Art by J. K. Woodward and The Sharp Brothers

Ha! Dimensions merging does odd things to one’s memory, if one is as old as a Time Lord. I’ll have to check with other fans to be sure how good the depiction of the Fourth Doctor is, but seeing Kirk try to fight Cybermen was pretty delightful. And the writers were even smart enough to give exactly the hook I wanted for the next issue. Fun stuff all around.

Wolverine and the X-Men #13
Writer: Jason Aaron, Penciler: Nick Bradshaw, Inkers: Walden Wong, Cam Smith & Nick Bradshaw, Colorist: Guru EFX

I wanted this issue to be better than it was. I liked getting more of Warbird’s back story, although I’m afraid that for me by the end it strayed too far into melodrama and felt more emotionally exploitative than emotional. It came close, and there were awesome moments, but it didn’t quite all hang together for me.

The Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Gods of Mars (Barsoom, Book 2)
Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1918

Warlord of Mars (Barsoom, Book 3)
Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1919

Premise: Sequels to A Princess of Mars. John Carter has at last returned to Mars, only to find he is still far from regaining his place and his love. He arrives in the Holy Valley of Dor, where the people of Barsoom take their final pilgrimage in the hopes of reaching Heaven. What he finds there is anything but peace and happiness, though. He'll be lucky to live through the day, and if he manages to fight through the ranks of the therns (the white Martians who inhabit the Valley) and reach the outer world again, his own people may condemn him to death for returning from the sacred lands!

If you like action and good comradeship and exotic locales, if you like evil monsters and valiant warriors and beautiful women, if you get shivers when the narrator says “Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!”then I think you owe it to yourself to check out this series.

The epic tale begun in A Princess of Mars reaches new heights in these two books. Hardly a page goes by without John Carter fighting a room full of foes or a giant killer beast or spying on the enemies who would dare keep him from Dejah Thoris. This is science fantasy, a sub-genre that we see very little of these days.

The second and third books in the Barsoom series really go together. The second ends in a cliffhanger, and both build upon the events of Princess of Mars to lead straight toward the climax of the third book. I did enjoy the second (The Gods of Mars) a bit more than the third, but by the end of Warlord, I was fully on board with that one too.

John Carter has fully embraced his life as a Prince of Helium, so when he discovers that the religion of Barsoom is an evil lie propagated by the therns for their own purposes, he is determined to return to the people of Mars to spread the word to everyone. This causes an uproar and a lot of problems, but I liked a lot of how the book dealt with characters trying to understand the news. (It eventually turns out that even the therns are being lied to and betrayed by their beliefs.)

The books have the same balance of humor and epic adventure that so charmed me in the first volume, although I think the prose is a bit smoother here. There is a particular running gag in the first half of The Gods of Mars that caused me to laugh aloud, although I would understand if some think it corny.

There's a wide cast of characters, new and returning, although only once did I get confused and have to flip back a few pages to check someone's identity. I especially liked John Carter's reunion with Tars Tarkas, his brother-in-arms and leader of the Thark tribes.

The female characters are still mostly there to be rescued and fought over, but they're interesting nonetheless, with many skills that are sometimes just as useful as prowess in battle. Although at least once, Dejah Thoris bashes someone with the manacles she's wearing, and I thought that was pretty awesome.

In these books we are not only introduced to the evil white therns, but also the remaining secret populations of black and yellow Martians. (Really coal-black and lemon-yellow, not Earthly skin tones, incidentally.) Both at least start out as deadly enemies to John Carter, and the black Martians, who call themselves the First Born, are described as some of the most callous and savage people in these books so far. It is a bit cringe-worthy, but I will add that the only race that does not have any representatives willing to befriend our hero and fight for the side of truth and freedom are the white therns, so take that how you will.

I thoroughly enjoyed these books, and I look forward to reading more of this series!

The Gods of Mars: 5 Stars – An Awesome Book
Warlord of Mars: 4 Stars – A Very Good Book

A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars are all available on Project Gutenberg.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Monday, July 9, 2012

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Writer: Jeph Loeb, Pencils: Ed McGuiness, Inks: Dexter Vines, Colors: Dave Stewart
Collection 2005, Issues originally released 2003

Premise: Collects Superman/Batman #1-6. It's business as usual for The Man of Steel and The Dark Knight, until Metallo's attack forces them together. They'll have to stay a team to deal with Metallo's mysterious plans, a Superman from the future and a giant Kryptonite meteor! And that's before President Luthor takes matters into his own hands, first putting a price on Superman's head, then sending a troop of other heroes to take Superman and Batman into custody!

This series is ridiculously fun. It plays up the relationship between Bruce and Clark using my very favorite version of their partnership: two heroes who are sometimes at odds, but fundamentally respect and trust each other. After all, 'best friends and comrades in arms' is one of my very favorite relationships to read about. And honestly, I'm just a huge sucker for the 'guys can't talk about their feelings but they really care about each other' vibe that permeates this book. The rhythm of how they work together is well established by the time of this story.

This is the beginning of the Superman/Batman title, and it establishes the convention of dual narration that runs through much of the series.

I do think the constant parallelism is fun to read, although I can see why some find it corny. Or more than corny...

I like the format of this trade paperback: each issue starts with a color page which highlights a quote from the issue. This breaks up the story into narrative chunks and adds a touch of foreshadowing.

The action is fast and furious, but the writing constantly layers in nice character moments and humor. The art is clean and sharp, with a fun style that lends itself well to the high-action pace. Other characters who get a moment or more to shine in this volume: Power Girl, Katana, Nightwing, Steel (Natasha Irons), Captain Atom, and more!

If you, like me, are a little discouraged by the grimdark tone of the New52, jump back into the zany world of Superman/Batman. It's a really fun ride.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies is available on

Hammerfall (Gene Wars, Book One)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hammerfall (Gene Wars, Book One)
C. J. Cherryh

Premise: Marak Trin is a madman. Like many, he tried to hide it - did successfully hide it for years. But finally the visions and the voices were too much, and when the Ila's men came rounding up the mad, his father the rebel leader surrendered him to the soldiers, and made a kind of peace with the Ila. All the mad are being brought across the desert to the holy city, for the Ila herself to judge. The Ila knows an opportunity when she sees one, and Marak will have a chance to solve the riddle of the visions. He has to try, if he wants to rescue his mother, himself, and possibly all the people living on the Lakht.

Like most of Cherryh's work that I've read, this started a little slow, but the story was so intriguing that I didn't mind.

It's an especially strong entry in the sub-genre of books which don't start out looking like science fiction, but get there in the end. For the first part of the book, it's simply an intriguing story of a group of oppressed people in a desert country who are just trying to make their way in the world. Eventually it becomes clear (no surprise, given the series' title) that the people of the Lahkt are about to be caught up in a war between races with incredible powers of bioengineering. Marak and his companions never fully understand what is going on, it's so far removed from their daily life. They can only guess as best they can at the motives of people who seem to them to be gods.

The portrait of the Ila's created society eventually explains many of its more illogical aspects. The balance between explanation and mystery is well done.

I really liked the character of Marak: divorced from everything he'd known or been taught, he finds within himself an ability to grasp the ineffable and a determination to protect others that he'd hardly suspected. Hati, a fierce tribeswoman among the mad, is also a fascinating character.

The descriptions of travel across the desert were full of delicate detail and seemed realistic. By the time the book switches gears into a race against time, I understood the magnitude of what the characters were up against.

Overall, a solid, engrossing read.

4 Stars - A Great Book

Way Station

Monday, July 2, 2012

Way Station (AKA Here Gather the Stars)
Clifford D. Simak, 1963

Hugo Winner - 1964

Premise: Enoch is a solitary man. He lives alone, deep in the countryside. His only visible errand is to meet the mailman every day. He is over 120 years old. When a federal investigation conflicts with Enoch's actual job, on his shoulders may fall the fate of the world.

This was a fairly lovely little book. Enoch runs a way station for interstellar travellers. Quite a bit of the book is recollections of different beings he's met and things he's learned from them.

He keeps records of everything he learns, even though he can't share any of it with the rest of humanity - not yet anyway.

The larger plot is a quick series of unintended intersections between forces on Earth and plotting factions in the Galactic Federation. The fallout endangers both the existence of the Way Station and Earth's future opportunity to join the wider galaxy.

It's fundamentally a pretty optimistic book, but it doesn't shy away from examining the human propensity toward violence and intolerance. There are some mystical elements that are handled well at first, but the plot does get a bit stuck on deus ex machina by the end.

Enoch's character is interesting: he's caught between his loyalty to humanity and his facsination with and belief in the wonders the Way Station brings him.

I enjoyed the read, although it's such a small quiet book, I'm not surprised it fell somewhat into obscurity.

3 Stars - A Good Book

List of Hugo Winners