Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan - Book Review

From the publisher: Tom Harding only wants the truth. But the truth is becoming more dangerous with every passing minute.

As a reporter for his high school newspaper, Tom Harding was tracking the best story of his life—when, suddenly, his life turned very, very weird. He woke up one morning to find his house empty . . . his street empty . . . his whole town empty . . . empty except for an eerie, creeping fog—and whatever creatures were slowly moving toward him through the fog.

Now Tom’s once-ordinary world has become something out of a horror movie. How did it happen? Is it real? Is he dreaming? Has there been a zombie apocalypse? Has he died and gone to hell?

Tom is a good reporter—he knows how to look for answers—but no one has ever covered a story like this before. With the fog closing in and the hungry creatures of the fog surrounding him, he has only a few hours to find out how he lost the world he knew. In this bizarre universe nothing is what it seems and everything—including Tom’s life—hangs in the balance.

Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan is a fast-paced, entertaining book. Tom Harding opens his eyes to what he thinks is heaven, and then is drawn back to his house only to find he is alone and a creepy fog is closing in. He hears voices that can't be real, and sees creatures in the fog.  He must figure out the mystery behind the fog, find out why the Lying Man is stalking him, and discover where everyone went before its too late.

Tom Harding is an interesting lead character: a high school reporter who broke a story about steriod use on the state championship football team.  His journey to discover what is happening to him is not only a physical journey, but a mental and emotional one as well.  Full of twists and turns, Nightmare City is engaging from the first page as the reader journeys with Tom as he attempts to solve this mystery. 

I think this is a great book for teens, particularly middle school boys.  It is also very friendly to reluctant readers, in that Klavan steps on the gas from the beginning and never lets up. This isn't high literature, but its a fun thrill ride that could easily translate to the big (or small) screen.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fairest in all the Land by Bill Willingham - Book Review

From the publisher: In the spirit of FABLES: 1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL and FABLES: WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND comes the first ever original graphic novel from the pages of #1 New York Times bestselling writer Bill Willingham's FAIREST.

FAIREST has explored the secret histories of the most stunning beauties in Fabletown: Cinderella, Snow White, Briar Rose, Rapunzel, and the list goes on and on. In FAIREST IN ALL THE LAND, the best names in comics take their turns fleshing out the pasts of the loveliest Fables in existence. For all those wanting to dive into FAIREST or FABLES, this original graphic novel is a fantastic entry point, as well as a great new chapter for those that have been following Bill Willingham's fairy tale epic for years.

Fairest by Bill Willingham is a spin-off from his extremely popular and award-winning comic Fables.  Fairest stars many of the "princess" types from fairy tales: Snow White, Rose Red, Beauty, Cinderella, etc.  This particular volume is a stand-alone story that loosely ties in to events in the main Fables book (I highly recommend reading Fables Vol. 19: Snow White first due to some spoilers in Fairest), as it resolves several dangling plot threads.

Cinderella (a super spy) is hired by the mayor of Fabletown to solve a double murder.  Along the way, she discovers a hit-list and several more murders. Using a magic car, and receiving some assistance from Bo Peep, Cinderella has less than a week to discover who is killing fables and stop them from finishing the list.  A framing story told by the Magic Mirror (mirror, mirror on the wall...) sets up the situation and acts as a transition from day-to-day, as he follows Cinderella's every move.  Because this is a mystery, I'll stop the summary there for fear of revealing any spoilers.  However, this is another excellent entry in the Fairest/Fables series.

Willingham is a fantastic writer, and his ability to blend multiple fairy tale stories into one seamless history is wonderful.  He also does a fantastic job of taking children's characters and giving them a more adult spin.  The characters have depth and continue to evolve and change.  Cinderella is fast becoming a favorite character of mine, right up there with Bigby Wolf.

The art, by a variety of artists, is beautiful as well.

I highly recommend Fairest, particularly to those who like a modern take on fairy tales, or are fans of the show Once Upon A Time.

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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Dance of Mirrors by David Dalglish - Book Review

From the publisher: One has conquered a city. The other covets an entire nation.

Haern is the King's Watcher, protector against thieves and nobles who would fill the night with blood. Yet hundreds of miles away, an assassin known as the Wraith has begun slaughtering those in power, leaving the symbol of the Watcher in mockery. When Haern travels south to confront this copycat, he finds a city ruled by the corrupt, the greedy and the dangerous. Rioters fill the streets, and the threat of war hangs over everything. To forge peace, Haern must confront the deadly Wraith, a killer who would shape the kingdom's future with the blade of his sword.

Man or God; what happens when the lines are blurred?
Fantasy author David Dalglish spins a tale of retribution and darkness, and an underworld reaching for ultimate power in the third novel of the Shadowdance series, previously released as A Dance of Death.

Dance of Mirrors, by David Dalglish, is the third book in the Shadowdance series.  Following on the heels of Dance of Blades, which I thought was fantastic (see my review here), Dance of Mirrors picks up two years later.  Haern the Watcher has established an uneasy peace in Veldaren.  Alyssa Gemcroft, a member of the Trifect, is informed of the brutal deaths of family members of Laurie Keenan, another member of the Trifect.  Left at the scene of the crime is a symbol: an eye drawn in blood, the symbol of the Watcher.  However, Haern is not responsible, so Alyssa recruits Haern and Zusa to travel with her to Angelport to avenge this crime and confront a new vigilante, the Wraith.

I found this novel a little uneven, much like Dance of Cloaks, the first book in the series. I can’t really put my finger on why I preferred the 2nd book so much more than the 1st and 3rd, so I’m going to list pros and cons in the hopes helping future readers.
Pros: Dalglish began to expand his world with this book, taking the characters out of Veldaren, into the southern seaport of Angelport.  It was a nice change, and I liked seeing more of the world.  The characters of Haern and Zusa continue to be strong focal points of the series.  They begin working together and the chemistry between them is intriguing.  Haern’s moral struggle continues, and I look forward to when he becomes more assured of himself.  Dalglish introduces the elves in Dance of Mirrors.  They are a little like Tolkien’s elves, but with more disdain toward men.  They were a nice addition to the overall world.  Alyssa Gemcroft is also becoming a deeper character; she has changed a lot from her initial introduction in Dance of Cloaks.  The Wraith is a pretty cool antagonist and serves as a nice mirror for Haern.
Cons: The plot is still driven by political intrigue and infighting among various groups, with the Merchant Lords of Angelport taking the place of the Thieves Guilds against the Trifect, and the elves thrown in for good measure.  I’d like to see something different, or at least a different climax structure. There is also some gratuitous sex thrown in that doesn’t really advance the plot; however, it is not graphic.  Torgar, Ulrich Blackwater, and Lord Ingram Murband don’t have much depth.  They are pretty much stock characters.

Overall, this was an entertaining book.  It was not Dalglish’s best work (I really liked Dance of Blades), but it was good.  It will hit the sweet spot for fans of Dark and Gritty Fantasy, in the vein of Brent Weeks Night Angel trilogy.  With more books to come in the Shadowdance series, I’m hopeful that Dalglish will continue to expand Haern’s world (maybe more of the Eschaton mercenaries?) and that the plots will evolve from the simple political maneuverings into something greater.  The potential is there.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Spell Bowl Update

Lexi's team finished tied for 10th in the state in their division, but officially placed 11th based on tie-breakers.  It was a great job for the Royals.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Spell Bowl Champ!

So Eastern Hancock Elementary were the high-scorers at their regional Spell Bowl competition. Right now, we aren't sure how that places them in the state, but we should hear sometime in the next 24 hrs.  Pretty cool!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Star Trek Volume 6: After Darkness by Mike Johnson - Book Review

From the publisher: After Darkness picks up right where this year's blockbuster sequel Star Trek: Into Darkness leaves off!

Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise face a dire new threat rising in the
wake of the movie's momentous events!
After watching Star Trek Into Darkness, I decided to read the newest volume of the Star Trek comic, After Darkness by Mike Johnson.  I was hopeful that it would pick up right where the movie left off.  For the most part, it did. 
The first of two stories finds Spock dealing with a medical condition that affects male Vulcans every seven years.  The condition, which causes the male to go almost feral, is called “Pon Farr” and the only cure is to return to Vulcan.  The problem is that Vulcan no longer exists.  The rest of the story concerns finding a solution to this problem. I didn’t really find this arc very compelling, and I’m not really sure why.  Maybe it was because Spock, as a main character, is never really in any permanent danger of suffering lasting harm.
The second story arc has the Enterprise looking into an attack on a mining outpost by the Gorn.  However, who is to blame for the attack is not clear, and the Gorn may not really be what they appear to be.  This story, while not having the same impact on the characters as the first one, was much more satisfying.  It reminded me more of the Original Series tv episodes in nature, without attempting any major character changes along the way.
Where After Darkness connects with the movie, though, is in small snippets throughout the volume.  Here and there we get glances at the Klingons, as they begin to formulate a plan to make the Federation pay for the havoc John Harrison, Kirk and crew wreaked on the Klingon homeworld.  A mysterious figure in shadows communicating with the Klingons adds to the intrigue.  It feels like the pieces are being put in place for a major storyline in future issues; one that sounds way more exciting than those contained in this volume.
After Darkness is for Star Trek fans.  I don’t feel like it is set up to draw in the casual fan of the movies.  However, if the Klingon confrontation happens soon, there may be a larger group of people scrambling to see how the conflict began.
I received a preview copy of this book from IDW Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dance of Blades by David Dalglish - Book Review

From the publisher: It's been five long years since the city learned to fear...

The war between the thief guilds and the powerful allegiance known as the Trifect has slowly dwindled. Now only the mysterious Haern is left to wage his private battle against the guilds in the guise of the Watcher - a vicious killer who knows no limits. But when the son of Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the three leaders of the Trifect, is believed murdered, the slaughter begins anew. Mercenaries flood the streets with one goal in mind: find and kill the Watcher.

Peace or destruction; every war must have its end.

Fantasy author David Dalglish spins a tale of retribution and darkness, and an underworld reaching for ultimate power.

I was hesitant to begin reading Dance of Blades, the second book in David Dalglish’s Shadowdance series.  The first book, Dance of Cloaks (my review is here), was okay, but there were parts I struggled getting through and I didn’t feel that it brought anything new or interesting to the genre.  However, what it did have going for it was the character of Haern the Watcher, and the scenes he was in were terrific.  Well, I’m here to say that Dance of Blades is a great improvement on the promise that began in book one. 

Rather than having to introduce everyone and provide motivation for them to come together (the war between the thieves guilds and the Trifect), Dalglish is now able to concentrate on filling out the characters and expanding the story.  It’s been five years, and Haern is still on his mission to eliminate the guilds.  Alyssa is sends for her son to be brought home, and an act of betrayal ignites a slaughter.  Veliana is trying to keep the Ash Guild afloat when she encounters Deathmask, a new and very intriguing character.  The threads of the story seem to pull together much more organically in this book, and I did not find the story dragging at all.  The resolution was satisfying, but also left enough open to send the characters in a new direction in the next book.

Many of the major characters from the first book return for the sequel.  In addition to Haern, we read further about Alyssa Gemcroft, Veliana, Zusa, Delysia, and Senke.  Their roles all flow together much more seamlessly than they did in Dance of Cloaks.  Alyssa becomes a stronger character and more of a focal point.  Zusa begins to play a pivotal role.  Veliana is instrumental in the new war between the guilds and the Trifect.  I particularly enjoy the development of Haern, who continues to struggle with who and what he is (an assassin forged by the father he hates) and who he’d like to become.  He is a great conflicted protagonist, and is the reason I decided to read Dance of Blades.

There are also several new and interesting characters introduced.  Deathmask is a mysterious “nameless” former wizard/thief, who stirs the pot between the guilds and the Trifect. He is definitely a character who’s backstory needs to be told.  Ghost is a giant of a mercenary, who’s background is also begging for a story.  Delysia’s brother Tarlack jumps on the scene with wit and magic. 

The city of Veldaren and the surrounding lands are also explored to a greater extent than they were in the first book, and Dance of Blades is better for it.  It will be interesting to see how the world continues to develop as Dalglish continues to write adventures contained therein.

While I really enjoyed this book, it’s hard for me to put my finger on just why it was better than the first.  I did find it interesting that in his Note from the Author, Dalglish mentioned that Dance of Blades was his favorite and needed the least amount of revision from its earlier, self-published form.  Something about it just rings truer, and I’m glad I took a chance on it.  If the books continue to improve like this, the series will definitely be one to follow and Dalglish will put his name on the same level as some of Fantasy Literature’s current big names.  I highly recommend Dance of Blades.

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Justice League of America Vol.1: World's Most Dangerous by Geoff Johns - Book Review

From the publisher: Following the events of Throne of Atlantis, it is deemed nessesary to create a new Justice League.  This new superhero team is under the command of Col. Steve Travor, of the United States Military's A.R.G.U.S. division(Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans).  Signing up for duty with this new incarnation of the JLA are Catwoman, Katanna, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Steve Trevor, Hawkman, Star Girl and the long-awaited return of 80s superhero, Vibe.

Collects issues #1-7.

Justice League of America Vol. 1 contains the origin of the Justice League of America (JLA), Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S.’s direct response to the more world-spanning Justice League (which includes Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, among others).  The JLA is designed to be America’s defense against the Justice League in case they ever go rogue.  With that in mind, Waller and Steve Trevor (a former Justice League liaison) put together a team of disparate personalities but specific skill sets.  Trevor’s job is to get them to work as a team but without any time for the members to get used to each other.  Waller’s job is to make them “America’s Team”, including booking the young, Taylor Swift-esque Stargirl on all the morning talk shows as the public face of the team. Other team members include Martian Manhunter, Vibe, Catwoman, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Katana, and the new Green Lantern.  It’s an interesting concept, and it’s executed fairly well.
My biggest complaint isn’t with Geoff Johns’s story, but the way this collection is put together.  The first several chapters form one coherent story, but from then on it’s a mess.  There is a tie-in with the Trinity War story running through all the Justice League titles in their various incarnations.  Several times the reader is dropped into the action with no explanation given and no background to what is going on. These are just a couple of chapters of a larger story going on, but the JLA portion can’t really be read by itself.  This part would have been much better served as part of a Trinity War collection, rather than a Justice League of America collection. The last portion of the book contains the Martian Manhunter back-up features, and they are pretty good.  They add a nice dimension to the character, and in one case actually show important information to understanding an event earlier in the book.
I liked this book and the team, and look forward to reading their further adventures.  However, I hope DC does a better job putting the stories together in future books.
I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.