Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings – A Book Review

You may remember that my wife and I very much enjoyed Killing Eve, which aired on BBC America.  As is my habit, I had to go check out the source material, which turned out to be a novel entitled Codename Villanelle.

Written by Luke Jennings, this fast-paced, brisk thriller served as the basis for the television show.  However, as you read the book, you’ll notice the show greatly enriched virtually every character.

Villanelle is still present–obviously.  So is Eve.  Konstantin and Niko, too.  Several other characters were adapted into new characters for the show, or outright jettisoned.

The show also used the same general plot.  Villanelle is an international assassin who comes from less than nothing.  Konstantin is her handler.  Eve is a UK agent obsessed with apprehending Villanelle.  Niko is still her husband.  However, Jennings keeps them fairly bare-bones.  Yes, he introduces some of their little idiosyncrasies.  Eve is still something of a social train-wreck.  Villanelle is still a sociopath.  Niko is still incredibly patient and helpful.  But, we seem to just skim the surface of these interesting attributes.  None of them have the charm nor the depth of their televised counterparts.

The novel is very plot driven.  Jennings is incredibly specific with locations, weaponry, procedures, and technology.  There is ample action that moves at a whiplash pace, but, again, the characters are somewhat flat.

I have to wonder if I’m being unfair to the book.  Killing Eve is clearly such a special show, is it unfair to judge the source material too harshly in this case?  Could Killing Eve’s charming, odd, wonderful characters have existed without Jennings groundwork?

Honestly, I don’t think I’m being unfair.  The book was an entertaining read, but it didn’t strike me as monumental.  Without the show, I don’t think it would have made much of an impression on me.  Keep in mind, though, I don’t read much suspense or espionage spy stories.

Frankly, there were times when I thought the book was a little sexually gratuitous.  Jennings makes a point to depict Villanelle as a sexual predator.  He absolutely objectifies her and her prey.  It largely felt unnecessary to me, because it is–again–dealt with at a very shallow level that makes it seem like it’s there only to shock the reader.

If you like quick reads full of detail, action, violence, and suspense, this is the book for you.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

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The Beach by Alex Garland – A Book Review

Yes, it’s true, I’m reviewing a book that’s been on the market for over twenty years.  The truth is, I’ve grown to greatly appreciate Garland’s film directing and wanted to check out his written work.

The Beach, which you may remember was a film released back in 2000 which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, was based upon the book published just four years prior.

It features Richard, a young man who suffers from a seemingly permanent case of wanderlust.  He is constantly searching for the perfect destination–a place untouched by tourism, commercialism, or average people, really.  While in Bangkok, he happens across a man who gives him a map to just such a place.

The man cannot travel with Richard, and I won’t tell you why, but Richard does manage to befriend a French man and woman–a couple–to join him.  None are sure the map is real, but they chance it anyway.  After a courageous swim through the ocean itself … they find the beach.

The beach seems idyllic in the beginning.  There is a small group of people living in tandem with one another–all vested in the same interests.  Life is very good … until ill-timed tragedies strike.  The group could handle these adversities well, or they could … fall apart.  I’m sure can guess which occurs.

The Beach is a well-written book.  At almost 450 pages, it’s a long read, but it’s also a relatively fast one.  I would not describe it as a page-turner, but Richard’s psyche is particularly interesting and it’s fascinating to witness his development throughout the story.

The tale itself is rather complicated.  On one hand, the beach dwellers are in love with nature, independence, and a simple life.  They are perfectly happy to pull their weight, support one another, and waste the days away in paradise.  On the other hand, a certain selfishness resides in each of them, as does a touch of irresponsibility.  The beach is a total secret, one worth killing for, and everyone there has decided to turn their backs on their previous lives in order to enjoy their Eden.  It takes a bit of a misguided person to go to such an extreme, wouldn’t you say?

Garland executes perfect pacing in establishing Richard, logically delivering him to the beach, allowing us to see the beauty of the island, but then also in dissecting each character as catastrophe unfolds.

After all, when you think about it, if each one of these individuals was willing to turn their backs to their own flesh and blood, how much can they really depend upon one another when things go bad?

Some have compared it to Lord Of the Flies as well as Heart Of Darkness, and these are certainly appropriate comparisons.  I personally don’t feel it achieved that level of mastery, but it’s a solid read well worth your time.

As I said, Garland was a very good writer back then and has only gotten better.  His characters in The Beach are interesting from start to finish.  The story itself, while enjoyable, felt awfully derivative of the classics mentioned already.  I have to wonder if I’d feel differently had I read it back in 1996.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Green Lantern: Earth One by Hardman and Bechko – A Book Review

It made my day when I won this graphic novel by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko through Goodreads.  I’d been hearing good things about it, and even though I’m not a huge Green Lantern fan, I thought the idea of reworking him within the Earth One concept could be a wonderfully entertaining experience.

Even though Green Lantern has been rooted in science fiction for the last sixty years or so, word on the street said this book would strip away all of the fantasy elements the character carries and make it a true work of science fiction.

If you’re unfamiliar with the character, Hal Jordan is a test pilot who was chosen to replace a deceased member of the Green Lantern Corps, which is an intergalactic police force.  Each member wears a ring that will create hard light constructs of anything the wearer imagines.  However, Green Lanterns must recharge their ring every twenty-four hours with a battery that looks quite a bit like a … well, lantern.  That’s green.  This corps has hundreds if not thousands of members, and you can imagine all of the betrayals, deaths, love connections, uprisings, reshuffling of power, and so on that has occurred during the last several decades.

In this version, they broke with tradition and made Hal Jordan a rejected astronaut who currently works as a space prospector.  And … that’s about it.  Though the circumstances are slightly different, he still happens across the ring.  He eventually connects with other Green Lanterns.  He organizes and leads them.  This Jordan is more of an underdog, but I found the whole book very similar to what’s come before.  Even his costume is pretty much the same.

In my opinion, they did not take it nearly far enough.  They did not break away from his Silver Age roots in any meaningful way.  That’s generally been my issue with all of the Earth One books, though.  The idea is that these books would depict what these heroes would be like in today’s real world, and the answer is … pretty much the same.

I do want to commend Gabriel Hardman’s art, though.  He’s got an expert sense of anatomy and perspective, and his backgrounds are exquisite.  I also very much enjoyed Jordan Boyd’s colors.  His use of green light surrounded by the darkness of space felt fresh.  At times he seems to employ a dot matrix technique, which was also felt both nostalgic and original.

So while the book is well executed, I didn’t find it particularly inspired.  It wan’t the innovative science fiction extravaganza that I expected.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Pops by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

If you visit this site regularly, you probably know I’m a bit of a Michael Chabon fan.  (I met him once, you know.)  His latest book recently released, and I could not wait to read it.

Pops is a very slim collection of nonfiction essays.  I particularly enjoy Chabon’s nonfiction because he is unafraid.  He addresses topics that would scare most authors.  Specifically, he has no issues admitting that fatherhood, and manhood for that matter, is a bit of a work in progress for him.  Even though none of us have it figured out, he readily admits that fact.

Remember, Chabon is a world-renowned Pulitzer Prize winner.  He should have an ego the size of a mansion, but he doesn’t.  His humility is both refreshing and inspiring.

At just 127 pages, Pops succinctly delves into Chabon’s adventures in fatherhood.  If I’m not mistaken, each of his children serves as the focus of an essay.  The themes range from discovering the true nature of a child to seizing upon missed opportunities to trying to teach boys not to act like assholes.  There’s much more, of course, but the unifying factor throughout is Chabon admitting to his own mistakes and simply trying to do the best he can.

The book ends, interestingly enough, with Chabon writing an essay about his own father.  If you are a consistent reader of Chabon, you understand that this is well-covered ground.  He is not mean when it comes to his own father, yet he also isn’t sugarcoating anything.  It’s obvious that he loves his own dad, but it’s also apparent that he didn’t always like the man.

If find it fascinating that in a book about his own trials, tribulations, and triumphs as a father, he ends on a note that helps us to understand the events that forged the sort of father he would one day become.  Now, I trust Chabon completely.  I’ve been reading him since 2004, and I’ve never had reason to doubt his honor or sincerity.  However, it is worth noting that in all his recollections regarding his father, we’ve only had his unique perspective.  And now, in writing about himself as a father, we only have his point of view.  What would his own children say about these essays?  Will they find Chabon’s writing compatible with their own personal experiences?

Chabon is incredibly intelligent.  It would not surprise me at all if he were to have his children participate in a podcast or an interview or something to serve as a companion piece to this novel.  It simply struck me as an interesting thought.

As always, Chabon delivers beautiful prose describing his escapades in parenting.  If you love his writing, you’ll love this book.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – A Book Review

I took a chance on this very quick read after a friend recommended it.

Ella Minnow Pea is a unique concept.  The premise is that a small island exists off the coast of South Carolina.  This entire island’s culture is based upon Nevin Nollop, the man responsible for the blessed phrase: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Though a literate, incredibly well-spoken people, the island’s inhabitants are thrown into complete disarray as a statue of Nollop begins to lose letters from the sacred phrase.  They take these jettisoned letters as spiritual intervention, and so they remove each letter from usage as it falls.

Because the book is written as literal correspondence between characters, a dark farce ensues.  The messages begin missing those outlawed letters, and, by book’s end, the notes between characters are nearly incomprehensible.

To make matters worse, the town punishes anyone caught using the banned letters.  Beatings, exile, even death can result as a byproduct of usage.  Things get very bleak very quickly, yet the circumstances continuously remain hilarious.

While the story itself did not make a lasting impact upon me, Mark Dunn’s execution absolutely impressed.  To literally omit those letters banned by the town in the actual story — that’s no easy feat!  I enjoyed the structure, construction, and style of the book immensely, and I would recommend reading it for that experience alone.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis – A Book Review

You all know I struggle with Superman.  Many writers get the “super” right, but fail to truly capture the “man.”

Max Landis absolutely put the “man” before the “super” in this collection, and Superman is all the more “super” as a result.

The premise is short and sweet: Landis depicts key moments in Clark Kent’s life that define the hero he will one day become.  As a result, we get to see what is not often addressed: failure.  We see Clark as a child fearful of his own abilities.  We see Clark as a teenager reluctant to help out for fear of hurting someone.  We see Clark take a walk on the wild side with booze, boats, and women.  We see Clark get outsmarted and embarrassed by Lex Luthor.  We see Clark, for the first time in his life, have to truly fight to survive.

I love this collection because Clark is so normal.  He’s funny; he’s a jerk; he’s fearful; he’s clever; he’s heroic; he’s full of doubt.  In a word, he’s all of us at some point in our lives.

Landis also addresses some nagging issues about Clark’s childhood such as how in the world did he avoid doctors?  The answer may surprise you.  Also, with the way  kids talk, could he ever really keep his abilities a secret while in Smallville?  That answer may surprise you as well.

Furthermore, Landis does not shy away from the fact that Clark Kent lives in the DC Universe.  While this is not necessarily the mainstream Superman we enjoy from month to month, this world still offers us a glimpse at Oliver Queen, Batman, Dick Grayson, Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many others.   The brief appearance by Batman is especially relevant to this Superman’s mythology.

Each installment of this collection is a must-read in part because of the story line but also because Landis works with a different artist for each chapter.  I want to say that each artist perfectly embodies the tone of that specific issue, but each of these artists are so talented that they make everything look good.  You could assign any of them any of the installments and they would make it shine.

Next to All-Star Superman, this is my favorite Superman story ever.  I would love to read more of Landis’ take on the DC Universe.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Wild Storm: Volume I by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt – A Book Review

The Wild Storm is a title that appears to be taking classic WildStorm characters, especially those from WildC.A.Ts, and rebooting them in a modern day, sophisticated world.

WildStorm was under the umbrella of Image Comics back in the 1990s when Jim Lee and other industry luminaries decided to start their own publishing house.  Jim Lee’s characters were cool, but rather shallow and derivatives of DC and Marvel’s icons.  Clearly, though, they had great potential as famed writers like Alan Moore and James Robinson took a crack at them.

In The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis, one of the absolute BEST science fiction writers alive today, takes the most charismatic elements of characters like Void, Voodoo, Grifter, Deathblow, Zealot, and Engineer and strips away all of the excess.  All of these characters now exist within one book, one story line, and are under the control of one vision, who happens to be visionary.

I’m all in on this book.  It is remarkably familiar yet utterly fresh.  I know the characters, I know the names, but I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  Ellis is always completely unpredictable and it’s obvious he’s building a comprehensive world in this title, not a super team.

Jon Davis-Hunt creates cinematic, dynamic panels in this book.  Most of the characters are wearing regular clothes in normal environments, but he makes all of it look GREAT.  He adds all of these little touches that strike the reader subconsciously but may not be obvious at first glance.  Things like shells flying though the air, glass shattering, hair blowing in the wind, or debris falling — these minor things connote movement and lead the reader sequentially from one panel to the next.  The art is so smooth and fluid.  Perfect.

The Wild Storm is full of intrigue, action, violence, heroism, originality, and just enough nostalgia to charm.  It’s obvious there is a sprawling, epic tale unfolding, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

I haven’t been this excited about a title in quite some time.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)