Deck the Halls

Friday, November 30, 2012

Deck the Halls
Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, 2000

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

I found this book on a list of books tagged “Christmas” on goodreads. Apparently the Clarks, mother and daughter, have written a list of novels together all set at Christmas.

Premise: Two successful novelists decide to cram all their popular characters together in the space of 200 pages. For Christmas.

This book was an absolute mess. As I said above, it appears to be that both women took the protagonists of their successful suspense series and put them in a book together. This book is so short that you don’t get a sense of any of the characters, just told “this is person X and they are a Y” and the fact that you should care about them is assumed. The villains are petty and boring, the heroines sort of useless and bland. There are really useless, dull red herrings, and none of the sundry investigators do anything productive that actually leads to the resolution.

On a certain level, there was something a little creepy about this mother-daughter novelist team writing about a woman who was a novelist and her private investigator daughter dealing with the violent kidnapping, complete with ransom, of the woman’s husband. I mean, I understand write what you know, but that really gave me pause. There’s another amateur investigator, though, a Miss Marple type, and all her supporting characters.

At times it doesn’t completely suck, one woman’s worry about her children feels somewhat real, even if that’s her only character trait, but overall, there’s too much surface detail (purple prose alert!) and basically no character development. There’s some tremendously forced “romance” around the edges. Somehow the romantic plotlines manage to be present enough to be annoying and absent enough to also be completely annoying that it’s just assumed that these characters will get together, because that makes it a “happy” ending. Bleck.

The only good thing I can say about this is that it was short, and by and large not offensive.

I have to give special note, though, to a line that completely pulled me out of a scene, such that I reeled back, such that I lost any sympathy I might have scraped together for the guy whose kidnapping is the focus of the story. Rich dude actually verbally blames his fellow kidnappee, his female chauffeur, for not dating this skeezy guy she’d turned down who was now in on the kidnap plot. He takes it back almost immediately, and she doesn’t react strongly, makes a joke out of it, but it made me feel ill that I was supposed to give a shit what happened to this guy.

1 Star - Not a Good Book

Holiday Comics: The Tick

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I’m going through my collection of holiday-themed back issues, looking at two issues every week until Christmas!

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

The Tick’s Big Yule Log Special 1999
Concept: Ben Edlund, Writer: Marc Silvia, Penciller: Gabe Crate, Inker: Tak Toyoshima

In this holiday story, The Tick and Arthur head to New York for a Christmas party at the Superheroes-only Comet Club. Meanwhile, Barry (the wannabe Tick) hires a villain to crash the party so he can ‘save’ everyone and show up the Tick. This is a funny story, although I could have used maybe a couple more pages; it felt quite short. It was a great read though, with a downright heartwarming-ish speech from Tick, and ninjas hiding in the party decorations.

The Tick’s Big Yule Log Special 2000
Concept: Ben Edlund, Story: Clay and Susan Griffith, Pencils: Gabe Crate, Inks: Tak Toyoshima

The story in this one is called It Came From Outer Space to Ruin Yet Another Christmas. Tick brings Tunn-La (not of this Earth) home for the holidays, and Arthur tries to convince Tick that he can’t convince an “implacable enemy of humanity” to play nice. Another fun story complete with good jokes and great art.

Reading these two back-to-back was maybe not the best idea, because they are slightly similar in some respects. Both are solid, entertaining reads though.

The Battle for Christmas

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Battle for Christmas
Stephen Nissenbaum, 1996

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: Non-Fiction book tracing the origins of American Christmas traditions, with emphasis on the shift from a more public-focused carnival Christmas to a more child-focused domestic holiday.

I found this book really interesting, if a bit long. Nissenbaum is a little too enamored of his own narrative, and sometimes doesn’t completely back up his proposals with evidence That said, all of the stuff that is corroborated is really interesting.

I most enjoyed the accounts of how Puritans fought the celebration of Christmas and then later, in the early 1800’s, how gift-buying became fully central to the expectations of the season. It was fascinating reading about the creation of “Gift Books”, which became popular very quickly in the mid 1820’s. They may be one of the first products produced specifically to be purchased as a gift, and one of the first items sold to specific demographics created by marketing. What I mean is, you might buy a girl a doll or a young lady a dress or a boy a top, but for these products you wouldn’t buy a book, but rather specifically a “girl’s book” or a “lady’s book” or a “boy’s book”.

There’s also quite a bit of interesting biographical information on the authors of many seminal works which influenced Christmas in America.

The author is pushing the idea that over time, specific groups of people convinced the public to want to celebrate Christmas a) sober, b) with purchased presents, c) with family, and d) without rising above their station. And he’s probably at least partially right, although I don’t really buy every one of his leaps of logic as to why this happened.

I do like the thesis as stated in the epilogue: that “traditions are always changing and...the domestic Christmas idyll is surprisingly new...[also]...most of the problems we face at Christmas today - the greedy materialism, the jaded consumerism...are surprisingly old.” And the data backing this up is really interesting. Nissenbaum’s style loses me at times, though. He doesn’t seem quite able to separate himself from his subjects, which can work to convey the opinions and stances of people who thought quite differently than we do today. However, it can get rather awkward when it goes too long before a reality check when he’s talking about, say, the Antebellum South.

Still, for all that I don’t quite swallow every last argument put forward, and it focuses on American traditions with a singlemindedness that might put off those looking for a more holistic view, it was a really interesting book, and well worth a read for any students of the history of Christmas.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Christmas Basket

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Christmas Basket
Debbie Macomber, 2002

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: Girl met boy, lost boy, left hometown in a terrible snit, returns years later successful but lonely career woman to face boy, their feuding moms, and Christmas.

Wow. Romance is silly. I mean, anyone who says otherwise is just deluding themselves. It's not necessarily bad, but it is darn silly.

Particularly this light bit of fluff from noted romance author Debbie Macomber. Apparently Ms. Macomber writes a Christmas book every single year, so a friend suggested she'd be a good choice to spotlight for Mainlining. Why did I read this one? It was available at my local library and it won an award. Simple as that.

I flew through this book in a single evening, and most of the details have left my brain already, but for romantic fluff, it wasn't bad. Sure, every single character was a sitcom-level moron and they all deserved the stupid pits they’d dug themselves into, but it was still okay to read.

The main problems with the book are common to a lot of romance (I think, I do read romance on rare occasions, after all). There’s a crazy amount of telling rather than showing. This character says shes upset, then she says she’s conflicted, then she says she’s in love. I never really felt any of it. The romantic plotline overall was pretty by-the-numbers and dull. The main girl’s name is Nowell and her birthday is Christmas. Ugh.

What saves this book from the scrap heap is the fact that the mothers of the lovebirds are in the midst of a twenty-year feud which escalates into a sort of global-war-level of petty catfighting just for the holidays as they attempt to work together on a charity project. The mothers are both hopeless and hilarious. I was actually a little sad when they (completely unrealistically) made up by the end.

So, do I recommend you read it? Probably not, unless you’re trapped in a Barnes & Noble in a blizzard and other people took all the good sci-fi. Am I sorry I read it? Nah, it was short. Not the worst way to spend a couple hours.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Christmas times a'comin, so I know I'm gonna blog.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hear ye, Hear ye! The holiday season is upon us once more, which means that all the lovely books and comics and galleys languishing in my queue to be posted are going to have to wait for a while.

Because it’s time for Mainlining Christmas once again! (If you're just joining us now, Mainlining Christmas is the yearly event wherein my husband and I consume potentially lethal amounts of Christmas themed movies, specials and music, and blog about it.)

While I’ll be spending the majority of my blogging energy there, never fear! Holiday books and comics will be cross-posted here on the regular schedule.

I’ve got a weird bunch of books lined up this year, but if you’re eager, here are some links to holiday-themed reviews of Christmases past:

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas
A Christmas Carol
A Clockwork Christmas
Holiday Comics Special!

52 Volumes 1-4

Monday, November 19, 2012

 52 Volumes 1-4
Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucks, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, et. al., 2007
Collects 52: Issues 1-52

Premise: After the Infinite Crisis, the world is saved, but not without cost. A year passes in the DCU, a year that sees new and old heroes rise to the challenges of a more complex world.

52 was a bit of a grand experiment for DC. It was a weekly book that came out consistently for an entire year, written by a team of their top writers. At the same time that this was coming out, most other books were labeled “One Year Later”, and took place a year after the Infinite Crisis crossover event. 52 aspired to tell the story of the “missing year”, a year in which the big three (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) went a bit walkabout to find themselves, and meanwhile other heroes rose to prominence.

52 is a complicated book. Main plotlines include Steel struggling with Luthor’s project to turn teenagers into controllable superheroes, the JSA dealing with same, Elongated Man dealing with the death of his wife, Booster Gold trying to be the kind of big shot he’s never been, Black Adam ruling a country and maybe finding a soul, Renee Montoya coming out of depression to join forces with the Question, investigating Intergang’s incursion into Gotham, the introduction of Batwoman, Professor Magnus (of the Metal Men) checking into a mass disappearance of mad scientists, and I think I’m forgetting something. Oh, Adam Strange, Starfire and Animal Man trapped in deep space. It’s not for the faint-of-heart or anyone new to comics. There are minor characters even I’ve barely heard of coming out of the woodwork.

The 52 issues are collected in four volumes, and they include commentary and sketches in between the issues. Overall I really liked it... for about three of the volumes.

Maybe I heard too much about the plotlines. I knew most of the twists before they happened, just because I heard about them when the book was first coming out. I didn’t know exactly how they happened, but reading them wasn’t very satisfying. The twists I didn’t know, I didn’t enjoy either. Some of the plot resolutions felt rushed, some forced, some just like a cop-out. I don’t know. I wanted to like it, and I did like some of the plots throughout (heroes in deep space and Montoya mainly), although even there, the endings were kinda shoved in to make space for the next story beat.

Ugh. I’m still ambivalent on Kate Kane. This ends my completely backwards reading of her history. She starts here, then got her own backup (collected in trade), then her own series. I read them in reverse order, and I’ve never quite understood the appeal of the character. Her interactions with Nightwing were fun, but overall I’m just meh on her plotlines.

The early stuff is pretty interesting, but while you don’t have to know all the characters going in, if you didn’t at least recognize most of the names in my sum-up above I would steer clear of this one. I’d never read anything with Black Adam or Elongated Man or the Metal Men, but I had a vague idea of who they were, and most of the other characters I knew better.

Some more specifics: I really liked the way Starfire and Animal Man were written through most of this, and Booster Gold’s scenes were generally fun. I had wanted to read more with Natasha Irons, and her stuff, though full of teen angst, is decent. On the other hand, Elongated Man’s plot bored me more and more as it went along, and I thought the ending was dull as dirt. The very, very end to Black Adam’s plot was great, but the climatic issues before that I just found busy, upsetting and needlessly confusing.  Montoya’s plot was sort of working until, again, the climax. I just think the ‘Religion of Crime’ is a stupid idea for a villain, their plot is dumb and I don’t like reading about them.

The final ending has some neat ideas, but I didn’t really understand the heroes’ solution to the problem, and there seemed to be a bit too much hand-waving going on in the brief explanations. It was meant to bring it all together, but to me it just felt like they’d turned the entire year of issues into an excuse for a setting element that should have only taken up a few pages at most. Between that and the commentary at the end, which made a good try at making the whole thing feel inspirational, but just made me angry at the current state of the DCU, it risked souring me on the whole year-long arc. I have to keep reminding myself that I liked a lot of it, even a lot of the last Volume. There’s good stuff in the ending(s) that take up most of Volume Four, but overall I just found it fine, not great.  I know a lot of people loved the ending, but it really doesn’t work for me, and so it brings the whole enterprise down a notch.

The Trinity appear around the edges of the other plots. Wonder Woman’s late scene with Montoya is pretty great, although the rest of the stuff with her feels tacked on. Bruce... it’s kinda neat, but I do not know what was going on there. Clark, meanwhile, positively sparkles in the first few volumes. Temporarily powerless, he hangs in the background being awesome.

I enjoyed the read (until the endings started hitting), but I can only recommend 52 to the hard-core DC fans... who, honestly, have probably already read it.

52 Volumes 1-3: 4 Stars 
52 Volume 4: 3 Stars

The Element of Fire

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Element of Fire
Martha Wells, 1993, gently revised 2006

Premise: Set in the same world as The Wizard Hunters and its sequels, but takes place centuries prior. In the kingdom of Ile-Rien, the Captain of the Queen’s Guard goes to rescue an academic sorcerer from a dangerous foreign wizard. It seems simple enough, but with power-hungry sycophants circling the young king, who himself seems disinclined to care about the kingdom, everything is part of someone’s plot and everyone will be drawn into the battle for the future of the country.

I really enjoyed this book. Wells seems to have a knack for characters who I find likable because of their abrasive ways. In this book, it’s Kade Carrion, half-fay bastard sister to the king. She’s all sorts of awesome. She could be powerful, but chooses to mostly skate by on her luck and trickery. She’s snarky and sad and simply delightful.

The Dowager Queen Ravenna is pretty spectacular as well. Just because her weak-willed son has reached his majority doesn’t mean she’ll easily give up the power she’s wielded her entire life. She’s often cynical and angry, but also extremely clever and hard, as she’s needed to be to keep her land safe through violent war.

Captain Thomas Boniface is a bit more generic, but he’s a good-hearted sort, although he’s learned enough cynicism and deceit from Ravenna to have survived this long at her side.

The story is easy to follow and trips along at a good pace. I did see one twist coming, but just long enough to really feel the foreshadowing hit. The romantic subplot is well handled, and while it informs characters’ motivations, it never overwhelms the story.

The descriptions of the various fay creatures are great, and the differences between fay magic and human sorcery (only alluded to loosely in the other books in this world) are explored in depth.

Overall, while neither groundbreaking or perfect, I found this to be a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Download The Element of Fire for FREE from 

Master and Commander (Aubrey-Maturin, Book One)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Master and Commander (Aubrey-Maturin, Book One)
Patrick O’Brian, 1969

Premise: In 1800, two men meet at a concert by being terribly rude to each other. Jack Aubrey is a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, currently without a post. Stephen Maturin is a physician, currently without a patient. Their friendship will change both their lives, as well as the lives of everyone around them.

This is a re-read for me, because I recently bought the whole series for my Kindle. Huzzah! Now I can dip into the adventures of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin any time I want!

I had forgotten how utterly delightful I find these books. I love the style, the way it’s grounded in the time the story is set while still being accessible. I love the characters. I love Jack’s bluster and good humor, and Stephen’s wit and wisdom. I love them together, Jack stumbling upon the doctor’s curious blind spots or Stephen wincing at Jack’s overbearing humor.

There’s a good deal of humor in the writing, much of it subtle and witty, as well as a good deal of drama and action to be had. Soon enough Jack and Stephen are at sea in the Sophie, and much of this book revolves around forming the crew of the little sloop into a team and fulfilling missions to protect British shipping and harass the French along the coastline. If you are interested in naval history, you will enjoy the descriptions of life aboard ship. If you don’t think you’re interested in naval history, you might be by the end!

Mr. Dillion, Jack’s first lieutenant, has history with Stephen and trouble relating to Jack, and his presence clarifies both their characters. There are an assortment of other minor characters, including Mr. Marshall, whose crush on Jack goes unnoticed by him, but not by his shipmates, and Commander Harte, who is aware of Jack’s behavior with his wife, and threatens to bring all of them down for it.

The one caveat I would add for those unfamiliar with this series is that, while there are plenty of character arcs and plots to follow, the book isn’t structured with them in mind. The entire series (20 books plus half of one left unfinished by the death of the author) tells the story of the life of a friendship. Each piece is a small arc, but doesn’t have the same kind of resolution that most novels have. What I’m trying to say is that after a major plot is resolved, the book ends rather abruptly. Many of the books in this series do the same. I don’t mind this, but it might be rather jarring the first time.

For the beginning of one of the great friendships in literature, I’m definitely giving Master and Commander-

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Get Master and Commander for your Kindle too at

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Friday, November 9, 2012

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga)
Lois McMaster Bujold, 2012


Premise: Ivan Vorpatril’s settled into his life. He likes his job, he’s found a certain peace with most of his relations, his old girlfriends are all married, and he’s okay with that too. That is, until assignment on Komarr brings him into contact with one sly ImpSec informer, one angry blue-skinned dancer, and one lovely woman in danger. It’s Ivan to the rescue, although he has no idea how far his gallant impulses will bring them all!

Yay! A new Vorkosigan Saga book! (This is either book 16, 15, or 14, depending on how you count them.) I loved this; it was completely adorable. Getting to spend an entire book with Ivan is downright restful in some ways, and you can really get into his subtle strengths as a character. Tej is delightful as well, although in the middle of the book I sometimes had moments where it was harder to relate to her. That’s just the kind of person she is, though, because of where she grew up.

Byerly Vorrutyer is back as a major player, and where By shows up, trouble can’t be far behind. Lady Alys Vorpatril, Simon Illyan, Duv Galeni and Emperor Gregor all get moments to shine in the supporting cast, as well as Admiral Desplains,  Ivan’s boss at Ops. Count Falco Vorpatril even pops in with a memorable cameo.

As a late entry in the series, there are plenty of little callbacks to earlier adventures, but with maybe one or two exceptions, that never holds anything back, just adds a fun layer. It’s certainly better to have read the books up to this point, or at least the books Ivan is in, but I could see someone picking this up blind and enjoying it. It’s adventure-romantic science-fiction! What’s not to love?

I more or less knew where this story was headed from early on, but was definitely surprised by the route it took to get there. As usual, the pace was gripping, the characters compelling, the humor laugh-out-loud-in-public funny.

Not much more to say really. I’ll have to read it again before I know whether it’ll become an all-time favorite, but it’s a solid entry in an outstanding series, so:

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Get Captain Vorpatril's Alliance at

Peter Panzerfaust Volume 1: The Great Escape

Monday, November 5, 2012

Peter Panzerfaust Volume 1: The Great Escape
Story by Kurtis J Wiebe, Art by Tyler Jenkins, 2012

New Release! I received an electronic copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of review.

Premise: It’s a reimagining of Peter Pan set in France during WWII. Many years later, a man who had been an orphan stranded in Calais during the German invasion tells the story of how he and a group of other stranded boys were rescued by a strange American named Peter.

I expected to enjoy this book, but I had no idea how fascinating it was going to be. The blend of history and literary allusions is gripping, the art is dynamic and amazing. It’s grounded and bloody and definitely set in France, but still completely recognizable as Peter Pan.

There are moments when the art slips; it gets a little too stylized and some unnatural anatomy throws me out of the moment. But the moments when the writing and the art come together and just sing are breathtaking.

There’s some mystery yet to be revealed in the frame story, something about why the interviewer is looking for this story, and this volume is just the beginning of the characters’ adventures. Yet, while I’ll look forward to more, these pages stand on their own perfectly well.

The characters are drawn out in little moments, and while I sometimes had a hard time telling some of the boys apart, I was invested in all of them at least a little. But Peter is truly magnificent.

You get just enough to ground the character in a sense of reality, while he’s still bound up in adventure and youth and a kind of magic. I think the balance is just right, and the storytelling framework keeps you out of his thoughts, which is a very good thing.

I don’t want to reveal any of the plot points, or exactly how each character translates to the new setting, because it was so much fun to come upon those things unexpectedly. This is a tremendously unique and intriguing ride.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

You can pick up Peter Panzerfaust Volume 1: The Great Escape on

Maggie For Hire

Friday, November 2, 2012

Maggie For Hire
Kate Danley, 2011

Copy received from BookRooster for review.

Premise: Maggie is a tracker, but now someone’s tracking her. Her life of tracking undead and other nonhuman bail jumpers is upset when she’s caught between a group of strangely powerful vampires, an elf who wants her services on behalf of the elven queen, and a mysterious figure who wants Maggie’s power to walk between worlds.

This was a fun read that started really strong, but there’s not much supporting the fun.

The style of the writing is the most striking thing about this novel. Maggie’s voice is conversational and funny, with a decent turn on humorous phrases. The supporting cast is interesting and sometimes silly.

The plot is pretty thin, though. It doesn’t end up amounting to much, and while the climax works, it wasn’t as strong as it could have been. The friendship between Maggie and Killian works right up until it feels forced, and while the style starts adorable, it eventually got a smidge cloying. The Other Side was really interesting, but nothing about it was established beyond the existence of elves, vampires and other mythical beasties. Maggie is half Other Sider, but what that means and what her dad is was never addressed.

A lot of my problems with the book, though, didn’t come to mind until after I finished reading it, because the experience of reading it was pleasant. It’s a cotton candy sort of story: inoffensive, sweet, fun for a while, not filling.

Can I mention how happy I am that I never saw the cover before reading the book? I picked the least terrible of the various covers to put with this article, but the other ones don't fit the book at all, and this one's just odd.

I enjoyed the experience of reading Maggie for Hire, but I don’t think I’ll need to track down the next one.

2 Stars - An Okay Book