Wednesday, July 12, 2017

DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1 by James T Tynion IV and Scott Snyder - Book Review

From the publisher: The Joker's surprise attack threatens to lay waste to all of Batman's carefully laid plans. Will the Dark Knight be able to regain the trust of his closest allies, Green Lantern and Duke, and prevent the forces of darkness from consuming the DC Universe?! Will Hawkman's warning stop our heroes from peering into the abyss?

The great comics event of summer 2017 is on its way, courtesy of superstar writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV with art by a master class of comics artists: Andy Kubert, Jim Lee and John Romita Jr.! 

Dark Days: The Casting #1, by James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder, picks up where Dark Days: The Forge left off. There are several groups investigating a mysterious dark metal. Batman has met up with Wonder Woman. Duke and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) are confronting the Joker; and Hawkman is narrating his history and journey through a journal. As some of these heroes meet up, more is revealed behind the mystery of the dark metal. However, no clear answers are given; rather, this book is going to lead right into the Dark Days event series beginning in August.

The story was pretty good. It functions as sort of an extended prologue to the main series, so there are no major revelations. But, there are some interesting tidbits dropped in for readers. For instance, the dionesium that saved Batman's life in his battle with the Joker (and apparently saved his life, too) is related to the dark metal and there may be side effects. Another nugget of information is that Hawkman's origin goes back farther than ancient Egypt (which is the typical origin story for both Hawkman and Hawkgirl). I'm curious how these ideas will play out.

I'm also wondering just what the overall synopsis for Dark Days is, because for now, both Tynion and Snyder are keeping things close to the vest. They did a fine job with The Casting, but I think their hands were  tied in so far as revealing anything goes. I would recommend Dark Days: The Casting #1 to readers who are Batman fans and to those who are anticipating the Dark Days event. I don't think it will be required reading for the main series, but it does provide some context and background.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Here we go! Fall sports season is underway.

This week we are back at it. Griffin's youth football season gets underway this week with multiple practices. I'm excited because the number of players on the team is smaller this year than it has been the last two years, which mean more playing time for all of the kids. His jamboree to start the season is July 29 and the first official game is August 5.

Lexi starts her cheerleading practices this week, going from some optional practices to official ones. In addition to their regular cheering at games, the squad will also be competing several times during the fall.

Cami is looking forward to volleyball, which will get underway when school starts in August.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch - Book Review

From the publisher: There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

With this new novella, bestselling author Ben Aaronovitch has crafted yet another wickedly funny and surprisingly affecting chapter in his beloved Rivers of London series.

I've seen the Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London books and thought about picking one up many times, but just couldn't pull the trigger. When the opportunity to review The Furthest Station (a novella-length story in the same series) arose, I decided to give it a shot.

Peter Grant is a police officer who works in The Folly, the special unit that deals with the unexplainable or supernatural. His latest case has him looking for a ghost on the Tube. Grant undertakes the search with the help of his colleague Jaget Kumar from the British Transport Police. What they find is that there is a very real danger to someone's life, and the ghost on the Tube are just the beginning.

I enjoyed The Furthest Station. The characters are well developed and interesting. Peter Grant is a likable protagonist, with real flaws and an engaging personality. Kumar is an adequate companion, as well. It is easy to see that there is a history between the two. Other characters include Grant's teenage cousin Abigail and his boss Nightingale (who is a master practicer of magic). Abigail is somewhat of a prodigy who longs to learn magic and begin working with her cousin full time. She is very proficient with technology (as many teens are) and very intelligent. Abigail is a nice counterpoint to Grant. Nightingale fills the role of (somewhat) crusty mentor.

The mystery was engaging. It was nothing that seemed out of place in a book of this type, and didn't rely heavily on the use of magic. In fact, as far as police procedurals go, it was rather ordinary (this is not meant as a negative). I liked the fact that magic did not dominate the story but rather felt very natural and complimentary to it.

My only complaint was that I felt like I was missing out on some background or inside jokes, having not read any of the other books in the series. This is definitely not Aaronovitch's fault, but I found myself distracted by this from time to time. If The Furthest Station is meant as an easy entry point to the series (due to the length), then maybe those types of things should be explained or left out. However, I would guess readers who are already familiar with the series would enjoy those comments or events.

Overall, I thought The Furthest Station was entertaining. Ben Aaronovitch has created an interesting urban fantasy/mystery series with engaging characters. If as a reader, this fits in your sweet spot, it would be worth picking up and giving it a read. If you are already a fan, this is a must read.

I received a preview copy of this book from Subterranean Press and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine - Book Review

From the publisher: In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden. 

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service. 

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…

The concept for Rachel Caine's Ink and Bone (Book 1 in The Great Library series) is cool: The Great Library of Alexandria survived and is now the dominant force behind the structure of the world. Governments, etc. are all secondary to the Library, because the Library controls information. Everyone can access anything from the Library on their Codex (think tablet) but it is illegal to own any book. And the Library will do anything to hold on to it's power. At sixteen, students can apply to become an employee of the Library, but it is highly competitive. Meanwhile, Jess Brightwell, who comes from a family of smugglers (particularly rare books), is told by his father that he will be part of the next class trying to go into the service of the Library, where he can use his position to spy for his family. And then the fun starts.

First, there is a Harry Potter vibe when Jess begins his journey to Alexandria and his Library training. He takes a train to get there and meets a group of fellow students. There is Thomas, big, friendly, and intelligent; Kahlila, pretty, quiet, and brilliant; Glain (from Wales, and enemy of Jess's England), tall, strong, and fierce; and others. Once in Alexandria, they are taken to their home, Ptolemy House, where Jess meets his roommate Dario, rich, arrogant, and a rival to Jess. They also meet their instructor, Scholar Christopher Wolfe, who is strict, demanding, and distant. And that's where the Harry Potter similarities end. As the students begin their training, they are in competition for only six spots at the Library, so the tensions run high. They are also introduced to a late arrival to the class, Morgan, a pretty and mysterious girl who Jess is immediately drawn to. As the class is whittled down, the danger only grows, and not much is what it really seems to be, including the Library and those in charge of it.

Caine has done an excellent job with this first book in The Great Library series. The world building is terrific, as she has extrapolated what the world (particularly parts of Europe and Egypt) would be like if the Library of Alexandria hadn't been destroyed, but the rest of society had developed in much the same way as our world has (this is set in the near future). She has included several touches to deepen the world, such as a war between Wales and England, or a group known as the Burners who are in conflict and rebellion with the Library (particularly in America). There is also a form of magic, known as Alchemy in the book, that plays a rather important role.

Caine has also created some very engaging characters. Jess Brightwell is a great protagonist who finds himself in moral conflict and has to dig deep into himself to figure things out. Scholar Wolfe has layers that are revealed as the story progresses, and his motivations are slowly revealed. Jess's classmates grow in depth as they experience the Library training together and the high stakes of the story put the characters in very real peril. Very little is revealed about the leaders of the Library, like the Artifex Magnus, Obscurist Magnus, and the Archivist, but future volumes promise to add to them.

In addition to the main storyline, Caine has interspersed snippets known as Ephemera between each chapter. These short bits are based on communications between two characters and add details of a personal nature or focus on the Library's big picture ideas. For example, an early entry mentions Scholar Johann Gutenberg's new printing press invention, and how it needs to be hidden and he needs to be eliminated in order for the Library to keep its stranglehold on information. Each bit of Ephemera adds to the overall picture of what is going on.

I really enjoyed Ink and Bone, and upon finishing, I bought the second volume in the series. Rachel Caine's story and characters are engaging, the world of the Library is interesting, and the concept draws the reader in. I highly recommend this book. While the target audience is older teens, this can and should be enjoyed by adults as well. I'm looking forward to reading further installments in Rachel Caine's The Great Library series.

I received a review copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible - Book Review

From the publisher: The NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible, for ages 8–12, brings the Bible to life in four-color illustrated splendor. This study Bible includes a spectacular full-color interior featuring over 700 illustrations, photos, infographics, and maps on every page that visually represent key Bible information. Each page also features important facts located near the relevant verse. Intriguing facts; colorful, engaging maps; photographs; and illustrations make this a Bible they’ll want to explore.

     Over 700 four-color photographs, illustrations, infographics, and maps throughout
     Full-color design
     Book introductions, including important facts and an image to orient the reader
     One-column format with side bar study notes for ease of reading
     Presentation page
     The complete text of the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible
     Beautiful cover featuring gloss

The NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible is just that: Visual. In my opinion, the selling point of this edition of the Bible for kids is all the visual aids that are a part of it. This is not to say its a graphic novel-type book; it's not. It just has a lot of pictures, charts, graphs, etc. For example, there is a pie chart breakdown of the topics discussed in Proverbs. There is a bar graph showing the make up of David's Mighty Man army. These types of things are spread throughout the Bible. Additionally, each book of the Bible begins with a title/information page, which includes "Who wrote this book?", "Why was this book written?", "What do we learn about God in this book?", and several other topics which can be helpful in understanding the context of the book. In the margins of the pages, quite often there are summaries, explanations, or support for specific verses.

So, does this version work? Overall, I'd say yes. I have a daughter who is anxious to get her hands on this Bible, and she likes it. She feels like all of the visual parts will be helpful and good. I do as well, as the key is to help kids understand what they are reading, as opposed to just reading it or looking at pictures. Overall, I would recommend the NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible as a great Bible for kids in the 8-14 year range in particular, but it is a good Bible for kids of other ages as well.

I received a review copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

ASTRO CITY #45 by Kurt Busiek - Book Review

From the publisher: “WHAT BROKE THE BROKEN MAN?” part one of two! Astro City’s tangled history of superheroes, music, counterculture, serpents and darkness comes to a head. Heroes are destroyed, minds are shattered…and an unlikely savior rises. 

Well, Kurt Busiek did it again. Astro City #45, the first of two parts, tells the story of Glamorax, a hero from the 70's who seems to represent everything about the 70's glam rock movement. When Glamorax's friend, Tom O'Bedlam, throws a party, a rather eclectic group of people from past decades shows up. This causes Glamorax to do some serious soul-searching. As Tom and Glamorax progress, they discover that a serpent cult has played a role in society for a long time.

Busiek has a knack for telling interesting stories with unusual heroes and villains. Sometimes they are new takes on familiar archetypes, sometimes they are new ideas that often seem obvious in retrospect. This story, and Glamorax in particular, is one of the latter. As a character, there isn't a lot of depth to him/her, but as an idea, it is tremendous. A hero who represents the counter-culture of a society makes perfect sense. Additionally, the narrator, known as the Broken Man, is also interesting. Having shown up in several issues lately, the Broken Man (who reminds me a bit of Dream from the Sandman) continues to break the fourth wall and warn the readers of a deadly menace called Oubor. The Broken Man is a curious figure, and seems like he has much to offer the Astro City universe. How the stories of these two characters, Glamorax and the Broken Man, converge with that of Oubor seems to be the set-up for the second part of this story. I'm anxiously awaiting the next issue to read the conclusion to Busiek's mystery.

I highly recommend Astro City #45 by Kurt Busiek. Long-time readers will enjoy it for the bigger picture aspects and new readers should find it self contained enough to please them.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Day at the Beach by Jedd Hafer and Todd Hafer - Book Review

Cover: A Day at the Beach
From the publisher: Do you yearn for a day at the beach where your mind and soul can wander away from life’s troubles? Do you gaze up at the sun or the nighttime stars and wonder if God is really on your side? Do you long to hear his quiet voice in the roll of a gentle wave? In A Day at the Beach, brothers Todd and Jedd Hafer don’t have the answers to all of life’s troubles, but they’ll help you see that the God who built the universe also wants to help you build a great life. Let these encouraging words bring a ray of warm sunshine to your doorstep as Todd and Jedd offer their joy-filled perspectives on life and faith. So take a deep breath, unplug from life’s daily grind, and follow the call of your heart to Jesus, the ultimate source of life.

A Day at the Beach by Jedd and Todd Hafer is a nice little devotional book (it is gift book sized). Each daily devotional is between 2-4 pages and includes an anecdote (somewhat beach related), a tie-in to a Biblical prinicipal, and Scripture to tie it all together. Some of the topics/titles include Burning the Beach Burgers,A Shell of Yourself?, For the Love of a Penny, and Beach Butler Brigade.

The Hafer brothers have put together a fine book of devotions; there were probably about 60 or so. However, my one quibble with it is that the topics are only very loosely related to anything beachy. I chose to review this book hoping to both learn more about God and to be transported to the beach (much like another devotional called Life is Better at the Beach). The topics are nice and engaging but not what I expected.

Overall, I would recommend A Day at the Beach by Jedd and Todd Hafer to readers looking for a short, easy to read devotional book. Just beware that it isn't so much beach related as you may hope.

I received a preview copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.