Foe by Iain Reid – A Book Review

I found Foe at the Normal Public Library as I wondered the new books section. The title initially caught my attention, plus the fact that it’s pretty thin. I read the inside of the jacket and was sold.

This book absolutely riveted me. I read it in three days, which, for me, is very fast. I really don’t want to tell you too much about the book for fear of spoiling it. However, I will say that it is sparsely written, quickly paced, and a real page-turner.

I thought I had this book figured out about half way through it, but Reid introduces so many possibilities, I couldn’t be sure I was right until the very end. And even though I had it right, Reid managed to throw in an unexpected twist that I didn’t see coming.

If you’re looking for a fast, captivating read with a plot that will enthrall you, I recommend Foe by Iain Reid.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2JUqte2 or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone – A Book Review

I saw this book in the “new” section at my local library and fell in love with the cover. Quite honestly, that’s the main reason I picked it up. Well, that, and the fact that it’s very short. I figured it was worth the risk because the premise sounded interesting and it wouldn’t be much of a time investment.

Unfortunately, I did not follow the vast majority of this story. The concept is that two rivals from two different entities have fallen in love with each other after exchanging letters. One entity is cybernetic in nature, the other is organic. Both entities are attempting to win a war by altering time and space throughout history. Sounds captivating, right?

I’m afraid this is a case in which the narrative style did not complement the plot very well. The authors chose to largely convey the story through the actual letters of the two rivals. The letters are enigmatic and verbose. Consequently, it proved very difficult to piecemeal the actual story, which made reading it quite a labor.

I’m sure some will love this book because of its unconventional style. Others will appreciate the diction and structure. It simply wasn’t for me.

However, I do feel that it has one of the best covers that I’ve ever seen.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Elevation by Stephen King – A Book Review

I can honestly say that nothing written by Stephen King has ever brought me to tears … until now. Elevation is a mere 146 pages, but don’t let the brevity of the book fool you. King does everything so perfectly in this novella that even one more page would have been unnecessary.

Elevation is about a Castle Rock native named Scott Carey. Scott is 42 years old, divorced, paunchy, and losing weight. He doesn’t look like he’s losing weight, but he is, and at a fairly fast clip. Furthermore, anything he touches becomes weightless as well. Scott hasn’t any idea why this is happening, nor does he particularly care. He’s accepted it as his fate, and he decides to live and let live.

However, before he reaches zero, he’s decided to do a little good in his town. His neighbors are new to the area, two married women, and they have opened a restaurant. However, due to their lifestyle, the small town has agreed not to support them. Scott’s going to see if he can do something about that before his time is up.

Elevation is now one of my all-time favorite King books. He introduces a simple concept, but one that is also thought-provoking. He builds tension with the weight loss countdown. He creates very likable characters that happen to feel very real. Everything about this book is captivating.

King can write 1,000 page books, but he doesn’t need to. He can do everything that makes those lengthy reads wonderful in under 150 pages as  well, and Elevation proves it.

If you haven’t read King in a while, do yourself a favor and go check out Elevation. You’ll love it. But be ready: you’ll love it so much that the ending might just bring you to tears.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

The Parade by Dave Eggers – A Book Review

A friend recommended The Parade to me. I initially hesitated because Dave Eggers is always a little hit or miss, but when I saw the length of the book, which is very short, I decided it was worth a shot.

I flew through this book. Not only is it very short, it’s also written in a direct, straight-forward fashion. I believe Eggers wrote The Parade in such a way because it mirrors both the primary plot of the novella as well as the main character’s personality.

The Parade is about a nameless man hired by a nameless company in a nameless land razed by civil war to asphalt a road. The corporation has already dropped off the machine that will lay the asphalt. The nameless man, nicknamed the Clock, must simply pilot it and connect the two halves of the small country. The man wastes no time, does not interact with locals, and is concerned only about meeting his deadline. He’s completed over sixty such tasks without fail.

The same cannot be said for his partner. The Clock’s partner, who he simply calls Nine, is to drive an ATV ahead and make sure the road is clear of obstructions, people, or anything else that could cause the machine to stop. Nine’s job is to mitigate any potential issues.

Unfortunately, this is Nine’s first job with the company, and he is not at all interested in following policies or procedures. He is the opposite of the Clock–also known as Four–in every way.

Four is informed that the leader of the tiny country wants to execute a parade the moment the road is finished. It will begin in the capital city and head into the part of the nation that previously did not accept his authority. Four is told it will be a celebratory display of unity and peace.

As you can imagine, complications arise. Nine gets himself into all kinds of trouble, the kind of trouble Four cannot ignore. Does Four complete the road on time? Will the parade run as expected? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

The Parade seems interested in exploring three different ideas.

The first idea is about what happens when one is so focused on completing a task that no attention is paid to one’s surroundings? It is ethical to show up, do a job, and then leave without giving any consideration to the effect of one’s labor on people, government, or the land?

On the other hand, The Parade also delves into the repercussions of perhaps becoming too involved. Is it responsible to show up and immerse oneself into a situation without fully understanding the nuances? Even if trying to help, should one investigate the consequences of even the smallest kindness?

Finally, The Parade is gravely intent on analyzing bias. Four trusts no one in this novella. Nine trusts everyone. Four believes only in his work goals. Nine lives life without thinking of the future at all. Both come to regret their ideologies. However, by the end of the novel, we realize that we, the readers, are just as guilty as both Four and Nine. We understand that we too have made several errors in what we did and did not choose to trust throughout the book.

The Parade is a brief, potent read. I’ll admit that the ending is something of a shock to the system, but it’s also what forces our minds to detour and scout new territory. I’m certain the ending is not for everyone, but, because the book is so quick, so well written, and so thought-provoking, I definitely recommend you give it a try.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Exhalation by Ted Chiang – A Book Review

Ted Chiang has once again delivered a short story collection that is thought-provoking, prophetic, and–most importantly–fun to read.

If you’re unfamiliar with Chiang, his writing is deeply rooted in science. I actually consider him something of a futurist in that most of his fiction will probably be fact tomorrow. In some cases, it already is! It’s particularly interesting to look at the publication date of some of the stories in this collection. Most of them were published at a time that predates the technology we are currently enjoying.

Furthermore, I appreciate that Chiang is not afraid to tackle mythology and religion as well. This author is unafraid to explore difficult ideas. Chiang will demand quite a bit of intellectual engagement form you, so put on your thinking cap!

If you enjoy science fiction, I would consider Exhalation a must. I also recommend this book if you’re simply looking for something smart, daring, and well-written.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve read a lot of Batman stories in my day, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like Batman: White Knight.

Published under the DC: Black Label imprint aimed at more mature audiences, Batman: White Knight is a stand-alone collection that exists outside of regular Batman continuity.  Because of this, anything can happen.  Even so, for a book that is disconnected to the monthly Batman stories, it is oddly beholden to them as well as to the cartoons, video games, and movies.  More on that in a moment …

White Knight embraces a simple premise — What if Joker became good and Batman turned evil?  Now, the story is not quite that simple, but that’s the central concept.  Sean Murphy dives deeply into that idea while also exploring familial bonds, corrupt politics, abusive relationships, and mental health.  Like I said, this book distinctively examines content in a way that is unrivaled.

However, even though the story kept me guessing, certain aspects struck me as obviously recognizable.  For example, White Knight pays homage to the classic animated series, all of the Batman movies, the old live-action TV show, the comic books, and even the various Batman video games.  It’s as though parts of all of that happened in this Batman’s past, but in a way that we can’t fully understand.

Make no mistake, however, Murphy’s depiction of Batman and Joker, as well as their supporting cast, is what makes this book so enticing.  This is a Batman even more unhinged than in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  This is a Joker unusually sane.  This is a Harley Quinn gloriously empowered.  This is a Commissioner Gordon realistically compromised.  This is a Gotham City genuinely broken by its atypical combination of criminals and vigilantes.  And though the book is gritty, it’s also not afraid to be bombastic.  Murphy offers an ending that seems like something out of The Fast and the Furious — and I mean that as a compliment.

Finally, Murphy is the writer and artist on this title, so I wanted to address his line work.  His Batman is feral, intimidating, and a force of nature.  Murphy tweaked the costume just a bit, but it’s his use of shadows and shading that really makes his panels pop.  Speaking of costumes, I love the slight alterations Murphy made to everyone’s look in this book.  You’ll know who’s who, don’t worry about that.  The changes he made were simultaneously appropriate and dynamic.

If you’re a Batman fan but feel like you’ve seen it all, give White Knight a chance.  It will strike you as extraordinary.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice is a new book written by Claudia Gray.  It features Qui-Gon Jinn and his relatively recently appointed Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  As you’ve probably guessed, it takes place before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

I looked forward to reading this book for two reasons.  The first is that Qui-Gon Jinn is a fairly enigmatic figure in the Star Wars mythology.  I haven’t seen much of him in other books, graphic novels, cartoons, or movies.  I felt excited not only to learn more about him as a person, but to also examine his dynamic with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The second reason is that I enjoy Cladia Gray’s Star Wars voice.  Her novel, Star Wars: Lost Stars, remains one of my all-time favorite Star Wars stories due not only to its unique characters but also because it connects seamlessly to major Star Wars events.  True, I didn’t find her two Princess Leia books as engaging, but I hoped Master & Apprentice would recapture the magic of Lost Stars.

Unfortunately, Master & Apprentice suffered the same fate as those other two Star Wars books featuring Princess Leia in that it gets far too bogged down in political complexities without any actual character growth or revelations occurring.

It started off on a good note.  Several references were made to Count Dooku which led us to believe he could make an appearance in this novel, especially because Dooku trained both Qui-Gon and a newly revealed Jedi named Rael Averross.  Rael is older than Qui-Gon, so it’s initially interesting to see that new side of Master Jinn.  There are also ample teases that Darth Maul could be working from the shadows.  This would make perfect sense as he’s later revealed to be the Phantom Menace.

Furthermore, early on in the book, Qui-Gon is invited to join the Jedi Council, which would mean he would have to relinquish his role as teacher to Obi-Wan.  Obi-Wan feels betrayed by this possibility, which further damages their already-strained relationship.  In this book, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon rarely see eye-to-eye on much of anything and are typically not on the same page.  I found this refreshing, though, to be honest, it is not especially innovative compared to other Master/Padawan duos that we’ve encountered.

So, as you can see, there is a great deal of rich character conflict available for exploration in Master & Apprentice.  Sadly, most of it falls by the wayside in favor of a political story pertaining to a child about to be named Queen and her connection to an intergalactic corporation hoping to gain control of a hyperspace corridor.

Frankly, I found the first two hundred pages of the novel a little uneventful.  Things started heating up for the last one hundred and thirty pages, but, in the end, nothing substantial happens to our favorite characters.  They are primed and ready for The Phantom Menace, but, other than improved communication skills, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are basically unchanged.

More often than not, this seems to be a theme in the Star Wars novels that I’ve read.  They delve far too much into political intrigue without any serious ramifications to the characters we care about.  Lost Stars proved special in that it created two brand new characters, made them important to us, mixed them in with major beats from the Star Wars movies, and then sent them through some serious character development.

Master & Apprentice had wonderful potential.  Acknowledging Dooku was really cool, but it went nowhere.  We really didn’t get that much of a better feel for Qui-Gon than we do in The Phantom Menace.  Obi-Wan is also virtually the same as he’s depicted in The Phantom Menace.  Rael seemed like an important addition, but even he remained unchanged by story’s end.  And those hints at Darth Maul?  Nothing came of them.  I hope that’s not a spoiler, but I don’t want you to be disappointed.

I really get the feeling that the authors of these books are being hamstrung by a corporate influence.  While they create complicated conflict, in the end, none of it really matters to the overall Star Wars story that we know and love.  Perhaps it’s just me, but if these books don’t somehow improve upon the characters or events that draw us to them, then what is the point of their existence?

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – A Book Review

I picked up this thin book after enjoying the Netflix series. As I’m prone to do, I wanted to experience the source material.

For those of you craving a more detailed version of the show, prepare to be disappointed. However, if you’re willing to accept The Haunting Of Hill House on its own merits, I think you’ll have a nice read.

Shirley Jackson published The Haunting Of Hill House in 1959. This, of course, predates Stephen King and the brand of horror that we now come to expect. Interestingly, though, I think you’ll find that The Haunting Of Hill House has its own unsettling moments–they are simply just far more subtle, nuanced, and psychological.

To briefly summarize the book, Dr. Montague has gathered a few people together to study Hill House. One of them is Eleanor. She is a young woman isolated from society due to a sickly mother, but very much hoping to rejoin the world now that her mom has passed. Another woman Theodora, is something of a medium, and she bonds with Eleanor immediately. Luke Sanderson is in line to one day take ownership of the home, and he is there to make sure the doctor doesn’t take any liberties with the estate. The four of them immediately hit it off. They experience some disturbing sounds, and doors have a tendency to close without aid, but the real terror of the house emanates from the home itself. To the adventurers, the house simply feels evil. Much of the book establishes the characters and their interpersonal relationships, but then, finally, near the end of the book, the home’s influence rears its true power.

I have to admit that the first three-fourths of the book perplexed me. Not much occurred in regards to a haunting; in fact, Jackson seemed most interested in depicting her four main characters as quick-witted, jovial, and entertaining people with whom to study ghosts.

When the understated horror begins, though, it is all the more potent due to the characterization. We care about these characters, as well as their ultimate fates.

If you enjoyed the Netflix show, this read is worth your time. You’ll obviously recognize some names and scenes, but the show definitely deviated into something far more intricate. Even with that being said, I found this book’s brand of horror refreshing. It didn’t try too hard to scare me, which served the story very well. There’s an old saying that less is more–The Haunting of Hill House proved this to certainly be the case.

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Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer – A Book Review

I did it!  I finally finished this series!

Sorry.

That’s not very eloquent.

You’ll remember that I enjoyed the movie Annihilation, so I read the source material of the same name and found myself … less impressed.  I let a bit of time pass by and then gave the second book–Authority–a chance.  It also failed to win me over.

So you may be wondering why I bothered to read the third book called Acceptance.  I’d like to say I’m a completest, but, if I’m being honest, I just wanted some kind of answers regarding Area X and the Southern Reach.

I’ve got some good news–Acceptance proved more enjoyable than its predecessors.

Everything about Acceptance was superior to the first two installments.  I particularly found the narrative style effective.  VanderMeer elects to alternate chapters between Ghost Bird, the Director, the Lighthouse Keeper, and Control.  By doing this, we are given access to the thoughts of characters we, other than Control, haven’t really before experienced.  The fact that we were just as ignorant as the characters in the first two books regarding the events plaguing them frustrated me to no end.  With Acceptance, we finally experience revelation … sort of.  More on that in a moment.

Now, I’m the first to admit that the main reason I liked Acceptance is because it finally gave me some insight into Ghost Bird, Area X, Southern Reach, the Lighthouse Keeper, and the Director.  Trudging through the first two books should not be a prerequisite to liking the third, however, and I realize this position is a little contradictory.  By the way, the irony of the third book’s title did not escape me.

But, the truth is the truth.  If you read Annihilation and Authority, I guarantee you’ll find Acceptance worth your while.  Be prepared, though.  While it revealed enough to satisfy me, you won’t get much in the way of hard and fast answers.  VanderMeer sets the stage well enough to let your own imagination fill in the gaps, but there is no concrete conclusion to The Southern Reach Trilogy.

I fully accept that.

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Manifest Destiny: Fortis and Invisibilia by Dingess and Roberts – A Book Review

The Manifest Destiny series continues to be perfect for those who love the comic book genre but are not fans of super heroes.  Now on its sixth volume, Manifest Destiny details a fictionalized account of Lewis and Clark as they explore America’s new west.  Thomas Jefferson tasked them with this exploration, but the premise is that history has it wrong.  It wasn’t just to map the area and find a waterway to the Pacific, but also to record and eliminate any super natural creatures posing a threat to future American pioneers.

In this latest volume, Lewis and Clark, as well as their party, have built a fort in order to hunker down during the winter.  However, the men grow weary of the leadership, they grow lustful for the few women in the group, and they grow mutinous against the chain of command.  To make matters worse, the entity for whom we thought spoke only to Lewis?  It’s expanding its influence.

Manifest Destiny began as an adventure comic with touches of horror as it offered both accurate and fictionalized accounts of Lewis and Clark’s travels.  However, Chris Dingess has transitioned the book into a psychological thriller as the men are growing stir crazy in their fort, trapped by nature itself, as well as perhaps the supernatural.

Matthew Roberts continues to blend historically accurate scenery with terrifying creatures throughout.  The clothing he depicts particularly astounds me.  I’d love to know his research methods.  It all seems quite meticulous.  Furthermore, when violence occurs in this book, it is not for the squeamish.  I also appreciate that the colorist, Owen Gieni, has opted to use fairly muted colors to match the eerie tone of isolation and winter.  The book once sported vibrant greens and lush vegetation, but no longer.  It’s a subtle touch, but a deft one.

I have very much enjoyed this series so far.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction, horror, thrillers, and fantasy.  Not to worry if you’ve never read a comic book.  No one is perfect, and you’ll figure it out quickly.  I know you will become hooked on this title.

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