Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer – A Book Review

Like you, I thought the movie trailer for Annihilation looked very cool, so I thought I’d check out the source material.

When the novel of the same name arrived at my local library, the volume’s slimness surprised me.  At only 195 pages, I knew it would prove a quick read.

Of course, it may be helpful to know this is only the first of a three-book series.  All three collected volumes are known as Southern Reach Trilogy.  The three installments appear to have been published within months of one another, so that could explain the page count.

Whatever the case may be, I have to admit that Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer immediately felt like a bad fit for me.  The prose in this book is … dense.  It’s full of description largely pertaining to foliage and biology.  Also, a first-person narrator delivers the story to us.  I don’t know if it’s Vandermeer’s style or the style of his narrator, but I found the prose clunky and difficult to follow.  To me, the sentences did not flow very smoothly which forced me to read and reread in a way that frustrated.

When Vandermeer’s characters spoke, this issue largely disappeared.  The dialogue flowed freely and felt natural.

The plot itself interested me enough, but things moved rather slowly.  In my opinion, there is no real “revelation” that makes the book a worthwhile, satisfying experience.  Perhaps the other two books provide this experience.  I’m not sure I’m inclined to read them, though.

The good news is that, as I said, this is a very slim book and so you can easily read it in a day or two and prove me wrong.  I have been wrong about books before.  I’ve even reread a few books to find that my opinion of them changed completely.

I still plan to see the movie, but, if I’m being honest, not much that I’ve seen in the trailers evokes much from what I read in the book.

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




Strange Weather by Joe Hill – A Book Review

Joe Hill first won me over with his graphic novel series entitled Locke & Key.  Since then, I’ve particularly enjoyed his books Horns and Heart-Shaped Box.  Without a doubt, though, the short story collection called 20th Century Ghosts is my absolute favorite work by the author.

Because he does shorts so well, I knew I had to read Strange Weather.  This book is a compilation of four brief novels–also called novellas.

I’ll briefly review each installment …

The first is titled Snapshot.  It’s about a man using a Polaroid camera that essentially steals memories.  The main character first encounters this man as a child, and he is horrified to learn the villain has been terrorizing his elderly neighbor.  He is eventually forced to confront the evil stranger.  This story is a simple yet brilliantly imaginative concept.  It takes such a universal idea but makes it feel fresh, inventive, and unique.  Hill provided very likable, identifiable characters in this tale, and he kept me turning the pages until the very end.  My only complaint is the “epilogue” of sorts.  I think Hill let this story linger a bit too long as he updated us on the main character’s adulthood and connected his experience as a child to modern day technology.  This connected felt forced to me.

The second story is called Loaded.  There’s nothing supernatural about this installment, and that makes it the most horrifying of all.  It’s about our nation’s sick fetish with guns, and how lives are routinely ruined due to the rampant misuse of them.  Loaded is consistently either discomforting or flat-out terrifying.  Hill does not let up and go easy on the reader in this story.  I think it’s perhaps his best work … ever.

Aloft is the next novella in this book.  There have been a few moments in my life when I blatantly got jealous of an author because he or she came up with an idea that I wish could have been mine.  I don’t want to give too much away with this one because it genuinely surprised me and I want you to have a similar experience.  I’ll tell you this much–a skydiver lands on a UFO before opening his parachute.  … I know!  Great idea, right?

Hill finally delivers Rain as his last offering.  A freak thunderstorm breaks out in Boulder, Colorado, but this is no ordinary rainstorm.  This storm rains nails.  Honeysuckle must watch her girlfriend die in a flurry of crystalline spikes during this storm, and she then takes it upon herself to walk to Denver in order to inform her girlfriend’s father.  She encounters awful, post-apocalyptic scenes as a result, but also witnesses humanity’s will to continue.  Honeysuckle is challenged by awful scenarios throughout the story, but nothing is more revolting than her own neighbors.  Like Snapshot, I think Hill took this one just a bit too far.  I feel he should have left a mystique regarding the spiked rainfall that eventually plagues the planet, but he instead reveals the cause.  The perpetrator of the vile deed struck me as too contrived, too coincidental, and too, well, manufactured.

Overall, Strange Weather proved an incredibly enjoyable experience.  Hill has a talent at creating imaginative plots and filling them with rounded, charismatic characters.  If you’ve ever wanted to try Joe Hill, I believe this book encapsulates the best of what he has to offer.

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

Briggs Land by Brian Wood & Mack Chater – A Book Review

I’ve never been disappointed in a Brian Wood book, so when I ran across Briggs Land: State of Grace (Volume 1), I knew I had to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.

The premise is perhaps as relevant as ever in that Briggs Land is a self-proclaimed sovereign nation within the United States.  It has existed since the Civil War, and it’s been a place anyone can go who wants to live an unfettered life.  However, that simple life grew more complex as the years passed, and Briggs Land is now a magnet for extremism, white supremacy, corruption, and domestic abusers.

The current patriarch, Jim Briggs, has been incarcerated for years, but that hasn’t stopped him from ruling Briggs Land with an iron fist.  Yet, his wife, Grace, suspects he means to betray their people, and she can’t allow that.  Grace, who married Jim as a teenager, takes control of Briggs Land, and virtually no one is happy about it.  She must contend with her murderous husband, her conniving grown sons, her treacherous daughters-in-law, her unpredictable citizens, and even the federal government.  But trust me, if anyone can bend Briggs Land to her will, it’s this woman.

Of course, as a graphic novel, I would be remiss to ignore Mack Chater’s artwork.  Chater’s talent is uniquely suited to Briggs Land.  It’s a little rough, yet incredibly detailed and well rendered.  It fits the tone of this book perfectly, as well as the characters themselves.  I’m not sure I’d like this style in a Superman book, but this is nothing like a Superman comic.  Now that I’ve experienced the first volume, I can’t imagine anyone else drawing this title.  It’s a perfect match.

This is a deeply political book featuring violent, manipulative characters.  In fact, I can’t say anyone is particularly innocent, especially the protagonist, Grace Briggs.  However, Grace does have a sense of justice deep within her, but it’s still not apparent how universal that justice is.  She is incredibly helpful to some in need, but I’m not convinced her charity is available to all.

Though the book may not sound like a must-read, believe me when I say it is a captivating story delivered with excellent pacing.  Brian Wood is a master at using story to subtly explore contemporary political and societal issues.  I quickly found myself engaged with the characters and utterly drawn into the unfolding plot.  I completely recommend Briggs Land.

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

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters – A Book Review

If you’re looking for a book that will send your imagination into overdrive, this is the one.  The idea in Underground Airlines is that slavery did not end.  Four states — Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi — did not abolish slavery, namely because the Civil War never occurred.  The Underground Airlines is much like the Underground Railroad in that it is a network established to help slaves escape.  Just as no actual railroads were used to liberate slaves in reality, airplanes are not utilized in this book as a means of emancipation.

Set in our present day, Underground Airlines features a black man named Victor working as a bounty hunter for the government and specializing in tracking down escaped slaves.  I won’t reveal why he pursues this troubling work, but know that he has his reasons.

He soon becomes ensnared in a case that unsettles him.  Nothing about it seems normal compared to his past cases, and when he finds himself embedded with double-agent police officers, uncompromising priests, and government shadow operatives, he loses all sense of whatever self he’d managed to preserve since his horrific childhood.

Winters impressed me on several fronts with this novel, but particularly because he really thought through what the implications would be of a USA that did not do business with four major states in the South.  He created a world very recognizable, but also starkly different.  And though he didn’t go into great detail with the small deviations, it was apparent that he knew exactly the backstory behind every off-brand cigarette, every imported Middle-Eastern car, and every alternate Bill passed by Congress.  He developed a reality in which Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King met very different ends, a world terrifying to imagine.

Yet, at the same time, Winters introduced a world not quite different enough from our own.  Much of the racism and bigotry that is expressed by characters in this book are absolutely touted in our world as well.  If anything, I think this book forces us to hold a mirror up to our own society and ask ourselves if we’ve gone far enough with our Bill of Rights, our Constitution, and the long-term effects of the Emancipation Proclamation.

However, though Underground Airlines touches upon several important social issues, it does not preach, it does not lecture, it does not even necessarily seek to enlighten.  This book is a thriller, through and through.

In fact, it managed to surprise me from start to finish.  Victor proved unpredictable, the story line took several different turns which lead to places I did not anticipate, and it maintained a level of excitement throughout that is very difficult to do.

Of course, in the interest of remaining objective, I must point out a few areas that did not work well for me.  My main complaint is that there are many times when unlikely saves occur.  Just as it seemed Victor had no hope of survival or escape, something always managed to intercede on his behalf.  This is totally in keeping with the genre of the book, but for those looking to it to be something other than a thriller, these moments may be something of a jolt.

Along those lines, while Underground Airlines is quite bold in its premise and obviously intricately contemplated by the author, I would not put too much pressure on the book to be something it isn’t.  There are great societal implications for those looking to find them, but the book should not be labeled as a work aiming to progress social cause — it would not be appropriate for social justice classes, for example.  It’s not written to serve that sort of purpose.

However, if you’re looking for a smart, well-written, page-turner with a complex plot, I highly recommend Underground Airlines.


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

Black Magick (Volume One) by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott – A Book Review

Black Magick kept earning all sorts of praise so I finally got a copy of the first volume entitled Awakening.  The premise is that Rowan Black is a tough-as-nails detective by day and a witch by night.  Not the flying on the broom kind, but rather the sort who communes with nature and is able to tap into realities beyond normal human understanding.

Greg Rucka is an above average writer who particularly excels at crisp dialogue that often progresses a story line logically and engagingly.  He has created a cast of well-rounded characters that will surely become even more interesting as the series continues.

Nicola Scott is a phenomenal artist with a superb grip on anatomy and, like Rucka, knows how to pace her drawings to always move the story forward fluidly and fetchingly.  Her colors are also subtle yet they set the tone magnificently in more hues of grey than I thought possible.

But even with all that being said I can’t say Black Magick particularly captured my interest.  I’m not excited to read the next installment and really don’t find myself all that invested in Rowan Black’s ensuing tale.

That’s not to say you won’t like it, though.  If hard-nosed detective stories with a dash of the supernatural are your thing, you may very well enjoy it.  After all, Black Magick features the work of two of the best in the industry.

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The Caped Crusade by Glen Weldon – A Book Review

Though previously unfamiliar with Glen Weldon, a friend recognized my love of Batman and recommended I read this historical overview of the famed detective.

Of course, any item pertaining to Batman generally makes me happy, so I immediately checked The Caped Crusade out from my local library and set to work.

Weldon uses a highly entertaining writing style.  He is an articulate and expressive author with a fun, even humorous, voice.  While delving deep into the history of Batman beginning in 1939, he also offers analysis as to why the character survives – even thrives – year after year, decade after decade.  This blend of scholarly prose mixed with awfully funny asides makes for an engaging, informative, and amusing read.

Fans of all eras will devour this piece.  Of course, as it probably stands to reason, I became most interested once he hit the 1980s.  As a forty year old, it was thrilling to remember the comics I enjoyed as a child viewed through a historical prism.

Another aspect of the book riveted me.  The subtitle of The Caped Crusade is actually Batman and the Rise Of Nerd Culture.  Weldon correlates Batman with his most rabid fans from the early days all the way to present.  Of course, anyone with Internet access knows how ugly the comment sections and message boards can be, and Weldon offers insight into why and how “nerds” came to such a state.  Most interesting, though it’s easier than ever to spout off, “nerds” have been raving about The Dark Knight as far back as the 1950s, just through different means.

Weldon also embarks upon a fascinating angle dissecting those “nerds” who love to anonymously threaten others via the Web.  He only touches upon the topic, relatively speaking, but it’s clearly something we, as a society, need to reflect upon.  I think he would agree that this goes beyond just “nerds” venting in animosity.  Yes, there are those who take it way t0o far when they see a “Batman” they don’t like, but such vehemence is not contained to comic book characters alone.  Politics, sports, movies, celebrities … there is a culture taking these things far too seriously to the point of threatening bodily harm, even death, to those in disagreement.  I would love to see him devote an entire book to this culture in a broad sense and not regulate it only to the Batman “nerds” within the faction.

If you’re a Batman fan, I know you’ll enjoy this book. Much of it I knew already, but Weldon did introduce some new information I’d never before encountered.  And even though I already had most of the facts, the lens through which he delivered it made it all feel fresh, new, and, most importantly, fun.

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

Written by Claudia Gray, I hoped Bloodline would equal or even surpass her wonderfully engaging Star Wars book entitled Lost Stars.  I’m sorry to say that it didn’t.

Bloodline is good, but it’s not great.  It features a forty-something Senator Leia Organa.  She is nearing the end of her career as a senator, and happily so.  The New Republic has failed on many levels since its birth following the fall of the Empire, and the political gridlock has taken its toll on Organa.  She wishes nothing more than to join her husband in space while also touching base with her son, Ben, currently under Luke Skywalker’s care.  The senate is divided into two factions, which is often the cause of their chronic inaction.  Someone proposes a First Senator, a position that would ensure forward movement.  Leia fears such a title could lead to the next Emperor, and so she has no choice but to accept the nomination when her name is suggested.  Soon her bloodline is questioned, as well as her true motivations.

Up to this point, I very much enjoyed the book especially when it seemed as though I would witness the birth of the First Order, the terrible force plaguing the galaxy in The Force Awakens.   I won’t go into great detail, but the story then takes a turn as Leia goes on several adventures, none of which directly lead to anything significant.  By the end of the book, I’d lost interest because I did not get the enormous payoff I expected.

I think Bloodline differs from Lost Stars mostly because in Lost Stars Gray worked with original characters that encountered milestone events from the original trilogy.  Their story felt as though it could go anywhere and that made the characters all the more engaging.  In Bloodline, it very much seemed as though Gray had been given an edict and could not deviate far from it.  I sensed a certain constraint within the book, and once I realized it suffered from such parameters, I became disheartened.

Though Bloodline offers a glimpse at the beginnings of the First Order, it ultimately serves as nothing more than an adventure for Leia Organa.  I’ve enjoyed the YA Princess Leia book, as well as the Princess Leia graphic novel, but for a writer of Gray’s talent and stature, I expected Bloodline to be far more potent and ultimately meaningful to the Star Wars universe.