Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Teddy by By Laurence Luckinbill; Adapted by Eryck Tait - Comic Book Review



From the publisher: July 1918. Preparing to speak to an eager audience, 61-year-old Teddy Roosevelt receives the telegram that all parents of children who serve in war fear most: His son Quentin’s plane has been shot down in a dogfight over France. His fate is unknown. Despite rising fear for his youngest son, Teddy takes the stage to speak to his beloved fellow citizens. It is, he says, “my simple duty.” But the speech evolves from politics and the war, into an examination of his life, the choices he’s made, and the costs of his “Warrior Philosophy.”

Overflowing with his love of nature, adventure, and justice, Teddy dramatically illustrates the life of one of America’s greatest presidents. His many accomplishments ranged from charging up San Juan Hill in Cuba as commander of the Rough Riders, to facing down U.S. corporate monopolies, to launching the Great White Fleet, building the Panama Canal, and the preservation of hundreds of millions of acres of natural American beauty.  And finally, to the vigorous life at Sagamore Hill and his immense pride in a beloved and rambunctious family. Teddy reveals how even the greatest of men is still just a man, and how even the most modest man can grow to be great.

I've always thought Theodore Roosevelt was a pretty good president, but I didn't really know a lot about him. Most of my view came from hearing or reading some of the legends surrounding the man. When I had the chance to read Teddy by Laurence Lukinbill (adapted by Eryck Tait), I seized the opportunity to find out more about the man. The fact that Teddy is a graphic novel just made it more appealing because I wouldn't need to push through a long biography, but could consume a lot of information in a shorter amount of time.

Teddy is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt but it's unique in its presentation. Roosevelt is preparing to give a speech in July 1918 when he receives a telegram regarding the whereabouts of his youngest son, a fighter pilot who he learned had been shot down. Roosevelt's speech proceeds to give a look at his legendary life while all the while reflecting on his service and the duty of all Americans. I found this fascinating. With Teddy himself narrating events, we get some insight into the situations that made Roosevelt so popular. There is a look at his first marriage; his time out West as a failed rancher; the story of the "Teddy" bear; his time in New York politics; and his second marriage. We read about his time as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy; the Rough Riders; and how Roosevelt eventually became President of the United States. There is a look at his family life; his life post-Presidency; and his feelings about World War I. 

I really enjoyed reading Teddy. The art was spare and simple, but matched the story perfectly. The details and stories that Lukinbill shared were informative without being so bogged down and boring. I learned several things about Roosevelt the man, particularly as regards his motivation(s) for getting involved in all the various interests he had. My takeway from Teddy is that at his heart, Roosevelt is a family man who dedicated his life to service and our country. And regardless of your politics, those are two pillars I can get behind and respect.

I highly recommend Teddy by Laurence Lukinbill, adapted by Eryck Tait. It is a fast moving and informative look at the life of Theodore Roosevelt. I would recommend it to anyone who likes Roosevelt or wants to learn more about the man.

I received a preview copy of this book from Dead Reckoning/Naval Institute Press and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson - Book Review


From the publisher: One of the most viewed paintings in American history, Custer's Last Fight, copied and distributed by Anheuser-Busch at a rate of over two million copies a year, was destroyed in a fire at the 7th Cavalry Headquarters in Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1946. Or was it? When Charley Lee Stillwater dies of an apparent heart attack at the Wyoming Home for Soldiers & Sailors, Walt Longmire is called in to try and make sense of a piece of a painting and a Florsheim shoebox containing a million dollars, sending the good sheriff on the trail of a dangerous art heist.

Next to Last Stand is the latest in Craig Johnson's terrific Walt Longmire series, and it's a nice change up from the past few stories, which all dealt with some really heavy topics and subject matter. I read somewhere that Johnson wanted to give Walt a reprieve of sorts and Next to Last Stand does that, without taking anything away from the challenges and risks that Walt and his crew face.

Next to Last Stand kicks off with the death of a Charley Lee Stillwater, a veteran who had been living at the Wyoming Soldiers' and Sailors' Home. In the process of going through his things, $1,000,000 and what looks to be an old painting are discovered. This intrigues Walt, who begins the process of trying to discover where the money came from and the authenticity of the painting. This leads Walt to the story of Custer's Last Fight, a famous painting that was destroyed in a fire but prints of which are in bars all across America. Things go from there, fairly quickly at times.

One of the highlights of the Longmire series, for me, is the characters. Next to Last Stand involves many of the usual group: Sheriff Walt Longmire, of course, a little older, a little more beat up, and still recovering from a near death experience; Vic Moretti, the undersheriff, foul-mouthed, sassy, and a take-no-prisoners attitude; Henry Standing Bear, a Cheyenne and Walt's best friend, a steady influence; and Ruby, Walt's dispatcher and de facto organizer. Throw in a "Count" who has a shady past but a lot of knowledge about art; his assistant; his ex-KGB bodyguard; and some colorful vets at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home, and you've got the makings of a classic Walt Longmire mystery.

Johnson's Longmire books always have an intriguing mystery, but part of the joy of reading these stories is the knowledge of Wyoming and the Big Horn Mountain area that comes in to play. This time, there is a focus on Gen. George Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn. Johnson, usually through Walt and Henry, loves to share his passion for his home state (and the bordering states) with his readers. I always pick up a little knowledge, and enjoy Walt's sort of non-stereotypical characterization as an educated (particularly literature and history) man, rather than just all action-oriented.

Overall, Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson is another enjoyable Longmire book. I always enjoy the opportunity to spend some time with Walt, Vic, Henry and the other denizens of Absaroka County Wyoming. I would recommend this both to longtime readers of the series and also to new readers, as it would be a fine read all on its own.

I received a preview copy of this book from Penguin Group publishers and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi - Book Review


From the publisher: The Last Emperox is the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling Interdependency series, an epic space opera adventure from Hugo Award-winning author John Scalzi.

The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction . . . and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known.

Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people form impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough.

Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization . . . or the last emperox to wear the crown?

The Last Emperox is the final book in John Scalzi's Interdependancy trilogy. It brings to a conclusion the storyline begun in The Collapsing Empire and continued in The Consuming Fire. So, is it successful at resolving the story? The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, too, but maybe a little more complicated than that.

When The Last Emperox begins, the empire of the Emperox Grayland II (also know as Cardenia) is in the midst of fragmenting due to the collapse of the Flow streams which provide a way to travel between star systems. As detailed in the first two books, this will isolate each system, eventually resulting in the deaths of the great majority of humanity as they know it. Grayland is continuing her attempts to discover a way to save everyone before all systems are cut off from each other. Assisting her in this task is her boyfriend/chief Flow expert Marce Claremont, the sentient starship Chenevert, and the foul-mouthed and sex-crazed but very calculating Kiva Lagos. In the meantime, she continues to have to deal with attempted coups and assassination attempts from various factions, including her own noble family (the Wu's) and her perpetual foil, Nadashe Nohamapetan. Political maneuverings, scientific discoveries, and an ending I did not see coming all come together to make this an exciting story and a satisfying conclusion to the series.

As in previous books, Scalzi has written some interesting and engaging characters. And by this time, the readers are very familiar with their quirks and personalities. They continue to grow and develop, particularly Kiva Lagos and Cardenia/Grayland II. Both characters have nice arcs that you can trace through the other two books, and the conclusion for each feels genuine, if a touch unexpected. I also enjoyed reading about Marce and seeing him take on a bit larger role. Scalzi's humorous writing style mixed with sarcasm is evident in the characters, which is something I enjoy when reading (I don't really like it when everything has to be Serious all the time).

My only complaints about The Last Emperox are the same I had for the previous two books. First, every few chapters, there seems to be a chapter that is a huge information dump, tons of exposition with little dialogue. For me, these chapters would bring my reading momentum to a screeching halt, as the speed and flow of the story would come to a near halt. Additionally, there is a lot of cursing, particularly the "F" word. While it is part of a character's personality to use this word so much, it seems a little excessive to me. Finally, the amount of sex in the book can be gratuitous, although not graphic. I will say that of the three books, this one had the least amount of sex in it.

Overall, I enjoyed The Last Emperox, and the Interdependancy series as a whole. It was relatively fast paced and engaging, with interesting characters and some newer takes on space travel and science concepts. John Scalzi did a terrific job of telling the story he intended to tell and resolving it well in The Last Emperox. He also left enough threads left untied that he could easily revisit characters, ideas, of the Interdependancy universe without messing with this trilogy or undoing the choices in this series. I would recommend The Last Emperox (and the series) to Scalzi fans, general science fiction fans, and readers who like a bit of humor and sarcasm in their stories.

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

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi - Book Review


From the publisher: New York Times Best Seller
USA Today Best Seller
io9's New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books You Need to Put On Your Radar This Fall
Kirkus' SF/F Books to Watch Out for in 2018
Popular Mechanics Best Books of 2018 (So Far)
Goodreads' Most Anticipated Fantasy and Science Fiction Books

The Consuming Fire—the New York Times and USA Today bestselling sequel to the 2018 Hugo Award Best Novel finalist and 2018 Locus Award-winning The Collapsing Empire—an epic space-opera novel in the bestselling Interdependency series, from the Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author John Scalzi

The Interdependency—humanity’s interstellar empire—is on the verge of collapse. The extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible is disappearing, leaving entire systems and human civilizations stranded.

Emperox Grayland II of the Interdependency is ready to take desperate measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least an opportunity to an ascension to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are prepare for a civil war. A war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will between spaceships and battlefields.

The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, as are her enemies. Nothing about this will be easy... and all of humanity will be caught in its consuming fire.

The Consuming Fire, book 2 in the Interdependency series by John Scalzi, picks up fairly close to where the first book, The Collapsing Empire, left off. And, it basically jumps right into the action, as Emperox Grayland II tries to shepherd all of humanity through the upcoming collapse of the Flow streams and the end of civilization as they've known it for the past one thousand years.

While The Consuming Fire is a space epic type of book, it really isn't concerned so much with battles and such; it's more focused on saving humanity and the political battles that Grayland II is dealing with. These schemes are interesting in and of themselves, as it's sometimes hard to know who to really trust, and Scalzi plays his cards very close to the vest, not revealing everything until the climax of the story. The other part of this book that I found really interesting was Marce Claremont's arc. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll say that it reminded me a bit of the Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath books by Jack McDevitt. The two threads (Grayland's and Marce's) dovetail nicely together.

Scalzi does a fine job with character development, as he mostly focuses on the same point of view characters we followed in the first book. Grayland II continues in her acclimation to being Emperox, becoming more formidable and confident. Marce Claremont sees his role expand and become extremely important. Nadashe Nohamapetan shows up again, and continues to act as a foil for Grayland, although in a different capacity. Kiva Lagos, and her foul mouth, are once again embroiled in conflict with the House of Nohamapetan. Additionally, Scalzi introduces or expands on some characters who were not really a part of The Collaspsing Empire: Countess Nohamapetan, Archbishop Korbijn, Lord Terran, and more members or employees of the Houses of Wu and Nohamapetan. All told, this is a varied and interesting group of characters whose interactions make for an enjoyable read.

The plot of The Consuming Fire is constantly moving forward, and Scalzi fits all the myriad pieces together very well. A little more than halfway through, there is a big reveal that propels the story forward at breakneck speed, and the conclusion, while a fine ending to this book itself, totally expands the scope of where the final book can take the story of Grayland II and the Interdependecy's quest to save themselves from disaster. It wasn't something I saw coming, but all the seeds are there. As far as negatives, I have a couple that are more along the lines of personal preferences: Scalzi's characters use the F-word a lot, enough where it is a little distracting to me when I'm reading; sex is also a driving force for some of these characters, and while not graphic by any means, it seems a bit superfluous at times; and finally, there are a few chapters were it is one paragraph of exposition after another, and while these are necessary, they slowed me down after chapters that pushed the plot forward with snappy dialogue and humor.

Overall, I would recommend The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi. It's both a terrific sequel and a fine book in its own right. Scalzi has written a quickly moving, engaging story with humor and well-rounded characters. I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion, The Last Emperox, in the near future.

I received a review copy of this book from Tor Books and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi - Book Review


From the publisher: *2018 LOCUS AWARD WINNER OF BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL*
*2018 HUGO AWARD FINALIST FOR BEST NOVEL*

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe by the Hugo Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of Redshirts and Old Man's War

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible—until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.

Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control.

The Flow is eternal—but it’s not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

I'm a fan of John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, so after a little indecision, I decided to give this new series a shot. And I'm glad I did. The Collapsing Empire was a fun and fairly quick read. There were interesting characters, political intrigue, multiple viewpoints, and enough of Scalzi's trademark humor and sarcasm to keep the mood from becoming too grim. Scalzi also does a fine job of keeping the plot moving along, so you never really feel like the story gets bogged down.

Quick summary: Humanity has spread throughout the stars thanks to something called "The Flow", which appears to be like a river (Scalzi's own description) that connects star systems. Without faster-than-light travel, the Flow is the only way for humans to settle other planets. All these communities are joined together as an Interdependency. The Interdependcy was created to keep humanity from fighting, making them all dependent on each other for survival (its somewhat more complicated than I want to describe here). Currently, the Interdependcy is ruled by an Emperox, who is a combination emperor-head of the church-businessman/woman (and maybe something else, I can't really remember). The Emperox has a council composed of military, church, and economic leaders to help them make decisions, but ultimately the Emperox rules over all. Then several things happen seemingly at once - the current Emperox dies; a rival trade house makes a bid for power; and the Flow begins collapsing. The biggest problem is the Flow, because without it humanity will be cut off from each other, resulting in the potential extinction of the human race.

The Collapsing Empire is the first of three books about the collapse of the Flow, the new Emperox, and humanity's struggle to avoid certain doom. With a little extra time to read, I found myself pretty engaged in this novel, and I'm looking forward to reading the next two and seeing where Scalzi takes the story.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

ROBIN 80TH ANNIVERSARY 100-PAGE SUPER SPECTACULAR #1 by Various Writers/Artists - Comic Book Review


From the publisher: DC Comics celebrates Robin the Boy Wonder’s 80th anniversary in style with an all-star creative team representing each iteration of the iconic character across eight decades of history! From the high-flying adventures of Dick Grayson to the tragedy of Jason Todd, the enthusiasm of Tim Drake and the arrogance of Damian Wayne, the persistence of Stephanie Brown and the rebelliousness of Carrie Kelley-the mantle of Robin has been worn by many, but always represents one thing: a hero.

Robin 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 (Robin henceforth) is a compilation of short stories by many authors, some who have a long history with the character(s). Dick Grayson is one of my favorite DC characters, so I was looking forward to reading this. It touches on all of the people to wear the costume, except for Carrie Kelly (in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns series, etc.). There are three stories starring Dick Grayson (2 as Robin, 1 as Nightwing), one with Jason Todd, two with Tim Drake, one with Stephanie Brown, and one (I think) with Damien Wayne, which actually sets the stage for some upcoming storylines with the Teen Titans and possibly Batman.

Robin was a fun read and I enjoyed all the various takes. There is such a rich and varied history to Robin; this book captures and celebrates that diversity very well. The authors (some of whom placed Robin in the era they actually wrote during) and artists took great care to capture the feel of the time period their stories were set in. For example, I believe Chuck Dixon wrote the Nightwing story, which took place during his run on the first volume of Nightwing, and felt very much like it might have been a missing story from that time. This creates a nice variety in Robin, rather than read and look at stories that are uniform one after another. Changing Robins and art styles added to the enjoyment of Robin and showed just how great a legacy the character has, which is great since this is the 80th anniversary of Robin.

I really enjoyed Robin 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 and recommend it to all fans of Batman and any of the various Robins.

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

THE DREAMING #19 by Simon Spurrier - Comic Book Review


From the publisher: A lost dream has returned to the Dreaming to rally the troops against the rule of Wan-but without Dream himself, do his subjects have the strength they need to prevail? Or has the unconsciousness of humankind already been changed forever?

Yes! Finally, Simon Spurrier, you begin to reveal your master plan. The Dreaming #19 is more than a year and a half in to Spurrier's story, and it seems we are nearing the climax. Arcs and characters that at times seemed unconnected to each other have finally been shown to all be part of one big tapestry. And while this issue isn't the end of the story, it does seem to be the beginning of the end of the story.

Here's the deal: Dream has disappeared due to a plot against him. Dora, Lucien, Matthew, Cain, Able, and the rest of the denizens of the Dreaming try to get along in his absence. A leadership void occurs. Wan, a sentient AI, fills it. Things in the Dreaming and the real world begin to go haywire. It seems Dream needs to be restored to his throne/realm, but he is unable to do it. Wan has a "Dark Twin" that is going to wipe out the Dreaming and creativity, thus killing the human race. Enter Lucien, who has returned from near death stronger than ever. Lucien has discovered the key to defeating Wan, restoring Dream, and saving everyone, and it has to do with Dream's talismans of power. And that sets up the next issue.

Now, I'm not sure how many issues Spurrier is going to need to bring this story to its conclusion (however, five more would bring us to 24 total issues, or two years). But at this point, we are in the homestretch, and I've enjoyed each new issue more and more. As the greater plan becomes more clear, I feel like I have a better grasp of just how detailed and nuanced this story that Spurrier is writing actually is. It is hitting on all cylinders, and while telling a new tale, it actually hearkens back to Gaiman's original Sandman stories when the first Dream was in the process of escaping captivity and reclaiming his helm, bag of sand, etc., and reclaiming his kingdom. I've always appreciated the intricate storytelling of Sandman and I'm really pleased with how Spurrier has carried on that particular tradition. This feels like more than just another story, and I like it.

I would highly recommend The Dreaming #19 by Simon Spurrier. For those readers who've been here since the beginning, this is what we've been waiting for. If you are a new reader, what are you doing? Go grab the first 18 issues and get caught up. As for me, I can't wait until next month!

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