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Criminal (Vol. 5): The Sinners: Will have you feeling conflicted

Criminal (Vol. 5): The Sinners by Ed Brubaker

Tracy Lawless, whom we met in Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless, returns in The Sinners, volume five of Criminal. In this volume, he’s working for Sebastian Hyde, the man behind most of the organized crime in the city. He doesn’t want to work for Hyde, but he’s given his word (due to reasons explained in volume two), and Tracy always keeps his word — which keeps getting him into trouble. When other people involved in organized crime start getting killed for seemingly no reason, Hyde makes Tracy take on the role of detective: Find out who is doing the killings and dispose of them.

For the most part, Tracy is a hired killer. But what makes him an interesting character is his twisted sense of ethics: While he goes about killing many of those Hyde orders him to, he has certain rules he follows. First, he won’t... Read More

The Winter of the Witch: From golden firebird to Golden Horde, it’s all gold

Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Medieval Russia comes to life in Katherine Arden’s WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY, which began in Lesnaya Zemlya, a small village in northern Rus’ in The Bear and the Nightingale and continued in The Girl in the Tower. Vasilisa (Vasya) is a young woman with the rare ability to see and speak with the natural spirits or chyerti of the hearth, stables, and lands and waters of Rus’. Vasya has gained the attention and respect of the winter-king Read More

Paper Girls (Vol 5): Story gaining momentum and richness

Paper Girls (Vol 5) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) & Cliff Chiang (artist)

This is the fifth volume of  Brian K. Vaughan’s PAPER GIRLS, and the larger story is really starting to take shape. The early volumes were quite elliptical and disorienting, so it’s great to be able to understand the various storylines and the larger world-building that is revealed, and get to know and like the four main protagonists even more as they are thrown into a series of tense adventures across time.

[SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD - DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE READ VOLUMES ONE-FOUR]

Finally we get to delve into the far-future world inhabited by the old-timers, with the sleek and beautifully-colored futuristic cityscapes that were just hinted at in previous volumes. The girls find themselves in a far future city that is surp... Read More

The Consuming Fire: A pure delight

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

In The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi introduced us to an interstellar empire called The Interdependency, a collection of far-flung human habitats connected by a quantum event called the Flow. The Interdependency is ruled by an Emperox, and a new Emperox, one who never considered herself in the line of succession and never wanted the role, had just been crowned. At this time, Grayland II, as she named herself, discovered that the Flow was starting to collapse. There was powerful mathematical and empirical evidence that the collapses or shifts in the Flow would continue, cutting off planets from one another for millennia.

Book two of THE INTERDEPENDENCY, The Consuming Fire Read More

Wild Seed: Two African immortals battle for supremacy in early America

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Wild Seed (1980) was written last in Octavia Butler’s 5-book PATTERNIST series, but comes first in chronology. The next books, by internal chronology, are Mind of My Mind (1977), Clay’s Ark (1984), and Patternmaster (1976). Butler was later unsatisfied with Survivor (1978) and elected to not have it reprinted, so I will focus on the main four volumes. Wild Seed is an origin story set well before later books and can stand on its own. It’s one of those books whose basic plot could be described in just a few paragraphs, but the themes it explores are deep, challenging, and thought-provoki... Read More

Paper Girls (Vol 4): The most satisfying of the series so far

Paper Girls (Vol 4) by Brian K. Vaughan

This is the fourth volume of Brian K. Vaughan’s Paper Girls, and we are finally given enough glimpses of the larger plot to make sense of what’s happened until this point.

[SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD - DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE READ VOLUMES ONE-THREE]

After being thrown into the distant past and battling cavemen and befriending fierce natives, the girls once again in their future (and our past), namely during Y2K before the millenium. There are all kinds of strange things happening, not least of which are giant robots duking it out like Transformers in the streets of quiet Stony Stream, but for some reason only one of the girls can see them.

We also get far more details on who the old-timers and young ones are, and why they are fighting a war across multipl... Read More

Criminal (Vol. 4): Bad Night: The twists and turns in plot are some of Brubaker’s best

Criminal (Vol. 4): Bad Night by Ed Brubaker

Jacob Kurtz is the focus of Bad Night, the fourth volume of Ed Brubaker’s wonderfully disturbing noir series Criminal. His job is writing the newspaper comic strip that shows up in Criminal (vol. 1): Coward. The comic, based on Dick Tracy, is entitled Frank Kafka, Private Eye, and it’s as puzzling as the stories written by Franz Kafka, after whom he’s named. Frank is put on cases that go nowhere with leads that could never result in understandable clues. As the comic opens, our cartoonist goes wandering the streets at night, as is his custom because of his constant insomnia. He goes into a diner and has an uncomfortable verbal exchange, a near-violent one, with the boyfriend of a woman named Iris, a red-headed woman who is this comic’s femme fatale.

The story’s tension begins immediately, as Jacob’s... Read More

Criminal (Vol. 3): The Dead and The Dying: Does not disappoint

Criminal (Vol. 3): The Dead and The Dying by Ed Brubaker


The Dead and The Dying, the third volume in the Criminal series by Ed Brubaker, continues the noir tales that began in volume one. In this series, we get the background on a few characters we’ve already met in the previous two volumes, and we are reminded that in the world of noir, the meaner you are, the more likely you are to end up on top, at least in the criminal underworld. The Dead and The Dying gives us three stories: One about Gnarly Brown, a heavyweight turned bartender, and about Sebastian Hyde, Gnarly’s friend and heir to his father’s criminal empire; one about Teeg Lawless, a pretty criminal down-on-his luck and in debt to dangerous ... Read More

Never Home Alone: A fascinating look at the creatures who share our homes

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live by Rob Dunn

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live (2018) is a mouthful of a title. Which is only appropriate as abundance is one of the major themes Rob Dunn highlights in this utterly fascinating book. The rich, fecund abundance of life not of the world “out there” (though that, too) but the world “in here,” where we live — our homes. How rich and fecund? How about 80, 000 species of bacteria and archaea, tens of thousands of fungi species, and thousands of species of arthropods, along with a number of rodents. All found in a biological survey of a thousand Raleigh homes. And those are our uninvited guests. Dunn doesn’t ignore the ones we bring in willingly — our dogs and cats (who themselves bring in a host of hitchhikers). ... Read More

Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless: Should not be missed

Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless by Ed Brubaker

In Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless, Ed Brubaker tells a noir story of family loyalty. One brother — a criminal — dies and the other seeks justice, doing what he can to be an avenging angel on the wrong side of the law. When we meet Tracy Lawless, he’s been in the military, and for some unexplained reason, he’s been thrown in the hole for eighteen months (we do get the explanation later in the book). When he gets out, he is told that his brother, Ricky, died ten months earlier in February. Nobody bothered to tell him because when they put him in isolation, all communication between him and the outside world was cut off. But as soon as he finds out Ricky’s been murdered, he heads straight home seeking some kind of justice.

He is sucked into the Undertow, a bar where criminals hang out (it was originally called the Undertown but the “n” burned out back in t... Read More

Unholy Land: Going on my Best of 2018 list

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

I absolutely loved Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station (and was not alone in that), and while his newest, Unholy Land (2018), didn’t blow me away quite to the same extent, it kept me on the couch in “don’t talk to me I’m reading” and “uh-huh, uh-huh, ya don’t say, uh-huh” mode all afternoon while my family just rolled their eyes and gave up, as they know to do when all the signs of being engrossed in a great book are manifest (luckily, they live those moments as well, so it’s a fond eyeroll ... )

The novel is set in an alternate universe setting where the Jewish homeland of Palestina appears not in the Middle East but in East Africa, a homeland formed before the Final Solution... Read More

The Last Unicorn: Withstands the test of time

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle’s classic The Last Unicorn (1968) turns fifty years old this year, and it’s remained in the public eye and continues to capture hearts like very few fantasies of its age. Like a fine tapestry, this gorgeous fairy tale weaves together unicorns and harpies, wizards and witches, dark-hearted kings and brave heroes. Its lyrical language is embellished with whimsical humor and given heft by bittersweet life lessons.

A shy unicorn keeps to herself in her lilac wood, where time passes slowly, if at all, and leaves remain grain and never fall. But one day overhears passing hunters grumbling that they must be in the forest of a unicorn (“Creatures that live in a unicorn’s wood learn a little magic of their own in time, mainly concerned with disappearing”) and that this unicorn must be the last one in the world. Unable to find peace after hearing this, ... Read More

Criminal (Volume 1): Coward: Noir comics at their best

In Ed Brubaker’s Criminal (vol 1): Coward, we get noir comics at their best. Until I first read the Criminal series about ten years ago now, I was still not persuaded that comics could be a great form of art. But once I read this series, I was convinced I should read more: I thought, if comics can be this good, then there must be many more out there like this one. And so my passion for comics began with the story of Leo, a thief who always has a meticulous plan of escape laid out before he will consider taking on a heist, and in the case of Coward, the heist will get his team five million dollars worth of diamonds from a police van carrying contraband. Leo, unfortunately, is known as a coward because of his escape plans. He is known as someone who runs away.

At the time we meet our cowardly lion, Leo has tried to stop being a part armed robberies because the last one he was in on ended with d... Read More

Batman: Year One: Worth reading and rereading

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) completely reinvented Batman as an angry and bitter older man coming out of retirement to stem a rising tide of crime in Gotham City alongside Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. This was a dark vision of a complex and troubled soul driven to fight crime to avenge his parent’s senseless death, and it resonated with a new generation of readers and gained comics greater credibility among mainstream readers. Just one year later Miller produced a four-part story arc called Batman: Year On... Read More

Spinning Silver: We all love this

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Let’s get this out of the way early. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver (2018) is not perfect. It’s a little overlong, with a bit of a pacing issue about two-thirds of the way through. Beyond that, other problems include ... no, wait. I forgot. There are no other problems. And I lifted up each and every page to check under them. Zip. Nada. Nothing. So yeah, the biggest problem with Spinning Silver is kind of like the problem you have when the waiter brings out your chocolate cake dessert, and it’s a little bit bigger than you were planning on. Oh, the humanity.

My marketing info calls this a “retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale,” and sure, it’s that. But such a narrowly focused pitch does a real disservice to the richness that is Spinni... Read More

SAGA Volume 9: The most shattering volume to date

Saga (Vol. 9) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) & Fiona Staples (artist)

It’s been nine months since I read Vol 8 of Saga, which is something special. It’s the only comic series that I follow, and the characters are as vivid, complicated, lovable, despicable, cruel, and conflicted as any I know. This is a space opera that tackles the most difficult and relevant topics of our own society, doesn’t hesitate to shock readers, flip the script, and most frightening of all, doesn’t hold back from killing off major characters that we are deeply invested in. It’s a cruel message, that even the best people trying to just live their lives and maintain their ideals can be snuffed out by those with less scruples, and that those that have used violence in the past can rarely escape the consequences, even after having turned to a peaceful path. This volume will leave you stunned, gutted, and struggling to recover. Not only t... Read More

The Book Thief: A tale of a girl told by Death

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"Here is a small fact. You are going to die."

It is Death who speaks the novel’s opening lines. And Death himself, for the duration of Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel, will be our narrator. It is 1939 in Nazi Germany and whilst he takes away an increasing amount of souls, Death muses on the unravelling of humanity.

Upon taking the soul of a young boy on a train, Death notices a girl. Her name is Liesel Meminger and she has just watched her brother die. Her mother takes her to a town called Molching, specifically to a street named Himmel, which translates as heaven. Here she is taken into the care of Rosa and Hans Hubermann, a German couple whose son has been lost in the war. With the death of her brother and abandonment of her mother, Liesel must come to terms with her new life under the watchful eye of Rosa, who swears at anything that moves (if she is not al... Read More

Psycho: The modern horror era begins

Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock

It is not every filmmaker who can manage the difficult trick of coming up with four consecutive masterpieces, but that is just what British director Alfred Hitchcock was able to do as the late 1950s segued into the '60s. His 1958 offering, Vertigo, took time to find its audience but today is recognized by the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine as the single greatest motion picture ever made; 1959's North by Northwest is surely one of the all-time great entertainments; 1960's Psycho practically jump-started the modern-day horror industry all on its own, and remains the director's most well-known film; and 1963's The Birds is still a baby-boomer favorite to this day.

But of those four films, all of which reside on my personal Top 100 Favorite Films list, it is the third, Psycho, that remains my favorite after all these years, and indeed, I person... Read More

The Wizard Knight: A wonderful, deep, rewarding read

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe is one of the best fantasy novels to appear in the last decade or so. The novel is split into two separate books, The Knight and The Wizard, but like Gene Wolfe’s classic BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, it’s really one big story split into separate volumes and best read back-to-back.

The Wizard Knight tells the story of Sir Able of the High Heart, a knight who is really a young boy pulled from our own world to Mythgardr, one of seven connected worlds that are mirrored on a combination of Norse mythology, medieval history and Christian theology. One of those other worlds, Aelfrice, is home to Disiri, an Aelf queen who helps Able towards manhood — even though he is mentally still a young boy inside a grown man's body — and tells him to f... Read More

Clockwork Apple: From Tezuka’s most mature period

Clockwork Apple by Osamu Tezuka

Clockwork Apple by Osamu Tezuka is a collection of short stories from Tezuka’s most mature period of writing. The stories were published with dates ranging from 1968 to 1973. The collection itself was translated by Steven LeCroy and published in English by Digital Manga, Inc., a company that is making it possible for fans to read in English the great works of the “God of Manga.” There are eight stories in this collection:

“The Execution Ended at Three O’Clock” is about a Nazi officer who tortured and killed many people, in particular a doctor who is the focus of the story. The doctor has invented a special drug that slows down time, and the Nazi officer wants the formula. He eventually gets it and uses it, but it turns out to b... Read More

The Tiger’s Daughter: Give it a shot

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

When I picked up The Tiger’s Daughter (2017), I didn’t know what I was getting into. Written as a long, dramatic letter between two old friends, it is an epic tale of loss, faith, political intrigue, and forbidden love. The Tiger’s Daughter is the debut novel from K. Arsenault Rivera, and set to be the first book in the series titled THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDENCY. The Tiger’s Daughter wends its way from the first time our heroes meet, over their entire lives, and up to the present — where one friend, the empress O-Shizuka, is reading said letter (the letter itself being the bulk of the book) from the other, Barsalayaa Shefali. Both are heirs to very different thrones and handle that knowledge differently — as befit their starkly different upbringings and wider global status. They are ... Read More

Rock Manning Goes for Broke: A strange and original tale by a brilliant writer

Rock Manning Goes for Broke by Charlie Jane Anders

The thing I loved the most about Rock Manning Goes for Broke, the 2018 novella by Charlie Jane Anders, is the narrative voce of Rock himself. Here are the opening lines:

Earliest I remember, Daddy threw me off the roof of our split-level house. “Boy’s gotta learn to fall sometime,” he told my mom just before he slung my pants seat and let me go.

That’s the flavor of this brief, fast-paced, action-packed dystopian, heroic dark comedy and kinda-love story.

Dad is not a psycho, or maybe he is, but he is also a stuntman, teaching his sons the trade. Rock gets older and enters school, where his class-clown antics bring him to the attention of the school bully, and also to the new girl Sally, who wants to make films. W... Read More

Under the Air: This is the place to start if you have never read any Tezuka

Under the Air by Osamu Tezuka

Under the Air by Osamu Tezuka, a collection of fourteen manga stories, was published from 1968 to 1970 and translated in 2017 by Grady Martin and published by Digital Manga, Inc. This collection is the place to start if you have never read any Tezuka. That this is a five-star collection would not be debated by any who read it; even Tezuka thought highly of it, and he was very critical of his own work. The afterword to this collection is the first one I have read that did not include Tezuka’s humble apologies for a less-than-perfect work. The manga collection is fully mature in its themes, and for the new reader interested in Tezuka, it introduces most of the topics that preoccupied him throughout his long career.

“Joe’s Visitor” opens ... Read More

King Kong: Long live the king!

King Kong directed by Meriam C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack

Of all the titles that appear on my personal Top 10 Films list, this is the one that I have a feeling every single person who is reading this has already seen. For we baby boomers, this is a film that has always been with us. We've seen it over and over on television, and many of us, including myself, have seen it over and over on the big screen. It has been an acknowledged classic ever since it first premiered in NYC on March 2, 1933, and has been wowing successive generations of film viewers ever since. Not surprisingly, the film was a smash hit when initially released, garnering almost $10 million at the box office (huge money, back when) after being put together for around $670,000. It is a film that is so very ubiquitous that at this point it might be taken for granted. But this viewer has never taken this movie for granted, and indeed, to this day, and after more viewings than it is possible... Read More

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: A compelling murder mystery wrapped in an enigma

 

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Debut author Stuart Turton’s The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018), originally published earlier this year in Great Britain as The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is an intricately plotted murder mystery, set in an isolated early 20th century English mansion, with a highly imaginative speculative element that is only gradually revealed, as our main character tries to figure out who he really is, and how to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s pending death … or has her death already occurred?

The plot and setting are worthy of Agatha Christie: Lord and Lady Hardcastle have invited a number of guests to their British country mansion, Blackheath House, for a weekend party to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris. (The notable guests and household staff are conv... Read More