Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman - Book Review

From the publisher: Multiple award winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman returns to dazzle, captivate, haunt, and entertain with this third collection of short fiction following Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Thingswhich includes a never-before published American Gods story, "Black Dog," written exclusively for this volume

In this all-new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction—stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013—as well as a tale written exclusively for this volume.

A writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and delights, Trigger Warning is a dazzling gift that will engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.

I just finished reading Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, and once again he has hit the ball out of the park.  This is another fantastic collection of short stories from one of the best story-tellers around.  There is no specific theme running through the stories; however, Gaiman mentions that a "trigger warning" suggests that readers should be aware that they may encounter characters or situations that may "trigger" fear or otherwise upset them. (I didn't really see this, although several of the stories are dark, bordering on downright creepy).  

While several of the stories were previously published, but they were all new to me.  Among my favorites are: A Lunar Labyrinth (very creepy); The Case of Death and Honey (a terrific Sherlock Holmes story which also explains how he seems to live longer than he should); Nothing O'Clock (a Doctor Who story with the Eleventh Doctor: It seemed to perfectly capture Matt Smith's portrayal of the Doctor, and was a terrific read); and Kether to Malkuth (a bittersweet story that seems to be even deeper than it appears, and is hard to explain); and The Sleeper and the Spindle (a cool and unique retelling of the Snow White and Sleeping Beauty stories).

Gaiman is a master at his craft, and like pretty much everything else he writes, Trigger Warning is wonderful.  It is immersive and sublime, hiding themes and bigger ideas in prose that is exquisite and easy to read (that should be a book blurb).  

One caution - The main reason I wanted to read this book was for the story Black Dog, which closes the collection (it is a sequel to Gaiman's terrific American Gods).  Unfortunately, my preview copy did not contain this story, which means I'm going to have to work to track it down. 

I highly recommend Trigger Warning. Gaiman fans will love it, and the short story format provides an easy and unintimidating way to sample his works for those looking to read him for the first time.

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

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Basketball Updates

Over the last two weekends, Cami played three basketball games.  Her team really struggles to score, but each game has gotten a little closer.  She has been able to take some shots, although none have fallen yet.  She continues to play good defense (always smiling and bouncing around) and enjoys bringing the ball up the court as well.  During one game, she picked up a loose ball at half-court and drove it all the way in.

Griffin's team is, as he puts it, undefeatable.  They won their games each of the last two weeks, by a margin of around ten points.  In the first game, Griffin made a nice steal, drove the lane, and missed his shot.  However, he always hustles around and plays stifling defense.  Yesterday, he went to help a teammate on offense, caught the ball, and made a shot from around the free throw line.  He was pretty fired up.  He also had a nice steal from one of his friends.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Spark: A Novel by John Twelve Hawks - Book Review

From the publisher: Jacob Underwood is not like other people.

He has Cotard’s Syndrome. He believes he is dead. Which makes his job as a hired assassin neutralising ‘problems’ for DBG, a massive multinational corporation, very simple. He carries out the task – and feels nothing.

Now DBG has such a problem. A key employee, Emily Buchanan, has disappeared, taking with her a fortune and priceless information which could destroy the company. Jacob must track her down. In previous assignments, he had worked with cold logical precision, but this time he has to confront a threat that he first must understand before it destroys him…

I decided to read Spark, by John Twelve Hawks, because the concept really intrigued me: A man (Jacob Underwood) who believed himself to be dead acts as an assassin.  Then he runs into a "client" who challenges his beliefs about the world and himself.  Throw in my prior knowledge of Twelve Hawks anti-establishment/government surveillance ideas and I was pretty sure that this would be a good read.

I was right.  Spark moves along at a fairly decent pace.  The reader is introduced to Jacob Underwood as he is carrying out an assignment.  Because the story is told in first-person, we get a wonderful glimpse into Underwood's mind.  I've got to say, this is what makes the story fascinating.  The plot, which involves Underwood tracking down a bank employee (Emily Buchanan) who has taken some very sensitive and incriminating information (think far-ranging conspiracy theories), is interesting and engaging.  However, it's the ability to see through Underwood's eyes and into his way of thinking that really drives the book.  The plot is pretty standard (maybe a little better than most), but the protagonist is outstanding.  The reader is constantly subjected to Underwood's thoughts about the world, society, existence, and how everything works.  In flashbacks, we come to see just how Underwood went through his "transformation" (Cotard's Syndrome, where people believe they are actually dead) and became the emotionless and efficient killing machine that he is.

I enjoyed reading Spark for the sheer creativeness of the character Jacob Underwood.  I would recommend this novel to people who enjoy conspiracy theory-type thrillers, but I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for one of the most interesting main characters in a long time.

I received a preview copy of this book from Random House and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gemini Cell by Myke Cole - Book Review

From the publisher: Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with an all-new epic adventure in his highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe—set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel…

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself—and his family—in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.

That should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty—as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realizes his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark—especially about the fates of his wife and son…

I have read Myke Cole's previous books in the Shadow Ops series and enjoyed them, so I was eager to read Gemini Cell.  First, Gemini Cell is not a continuation of the previous series.  It is a look at another part of that world, probably happening before the first series begins.  With that said, I like the idea of discovering how magic affects other characters, and how they deal with it, so this approach is welcome.

When Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer was attacked and killed, it appeared to be the end. However, he finds himself awake, and his body no longer occupied by him alone.  It seems he now shares his body with a Jinn, which brings with it incredible abilities but incredible danger as well.  With the constant inner struggle to battle and the quest for his family to sustain him, Schweitzer because a new kind of soldier, a weapon of magic, for the military.

I've got to say that I didn't enjoy Gemini Cell nearly as much as the previous Shadow Ops books.  It moved very slowly through the first 2/3 of the story, with much of it inner dialogue between Schweitzer and the jinn.  That in itself isn't bad, but many of the themes and ideas were repeated over and over.  Occasional perspective shifts helped me muddle through this early part, but I never found myself excited to read, it was more of a chore.  The last 1/3 helped somewhat, as events picked up speed, and the characters began evolving, rather than remaining static.  As the storylines converged, the book ended, setting the stage for at least a sequel.

The character of Jim Schweitzer was interesting.  He walks a fine line as a SEAL, willing to do bad things for the greater good and the service of his country.  He is also highly trained; combine that with magic and you've got a dangerous weapon, a magically enhanced killing machine who is desperate to find his wife and son.  This quest, once embarked upon, was interesting, and Schweitzer's character arc got better and better as the story moved along. 

As I mentioned, the story ends almost abruptly, with plenty of loose threads for a sequel.  As much of Gemini Cell seemed like set-up, I believe this is a good thing.  Schweitzer is an established character, confident in his new abilities, he seems to know who the "bad guys" are, and the world will soon be exploding with magic. And though it went mostly unexplored, I believe Eldredge, Schweitzer's superior at the Gemini Cell, has the potential to be a very interesting character. The exploration of different magical abilities also shows promise for future adventure.

All in all, I had higher expectations for Gemini Cell.  Myke Cole set the bar very high with his previous trilogy.  While I wasn't thrilled with this book, the slow pace may work well in service to other books in this series.  However, judged on its own, it is just average. I would recommend it Myke Cole fans, with the caveat to be open to a different type of story than you are used to.

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

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Season(s) Resume

Yesterday, the twins' basketball seasons resumed.  Cami's team didn't win, but Cami did a nice job playing defense.  She also was able to shoot twice, and even got to shoot two free throws, nearly making one.  She is fun to watch play because there's always a big smile on her face.

Griffin's team moved to 4-0, with a closer win than the last couple of games (it helps when the tallest kid is on your team).  Griffin was able to shoot a few times (though none fell) and continued hustling around after the ball.  He is usually pretty intense and focused when he plays, which is an interesting contrast with Cami.

In other news this week, we pack up our belongings and move in with the Dufeks for the next 5ish months while we sell our home and begin the process of building a new one.  It promises to be an eventful few months as we enter this new season of life, and the kids are excited to spend more time with Nana and Poppy.  They are also excited about having their own rooms in the new house.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Lone Ranger Volume 8 by Ande Parks and Esteve Polls - Book Review

From the publisher: The legend of the Lone Ranger and Tonto lives on, in two-fisted tales from the Old West!

Thrill to the famous masked man's adventures as he avenges the cold-blooded murder of Abilene marshal Tom "Bear River" Smith, rescues a stranded wagon and its precious cargo from a deadly Colorado blizzard, saves an elderly rainmaker from a lynch mob during a season of drought, pursues a high-strung outlaw after a botched bank heist, foils the train robbery by a war-obsessed Chiricahua renegade, and averts the starvation of an Arapaho tribe after pleasure-seekers hunt their only food source — the American buffalo — to near extinction.

Also, Tonto takes center stage in a origin story that proves that a rider is only as good as his horse, as his escape from Fort Garland leads to a fateful first encounter with his trusty stead, Scout.

Collects issues #19-25 of the comic book series, The Lone Ranger (Volume Two), complete with an art gallery by Eisner Award-winning artist Francesco Francavilla (Afterlife with Archie).

I have enjoyed the Lone Ranger comics, and the latest collection, Vol. 8, by Ande Parks is no exception.  However, rather than an overarching story that goes throughout the book, this book is made up of several shorter (single issue) stories.  The Lone Ranger, with help from his Indian friend Tonto, investigate the murder of a Texas marshall, Tom Smith.  This was an interesting story, as it appears that the marshall's murder might be based on real events.  Parks offers a change of pace with the story of a family, traveling across the land, who becomes caught in a terrible blizzard.  Tonto and the Lone Ranger venture into the weather to save what they can of the family.  In addition to these stories, there are several other adventures, including helping an Arapaho tribe on the brink of starvation, stopping a train robbery, and tracking a bank robber.

My favorite story in this collection details Tonto's origin. It is an interesting look at how he came to find the Lone Ranger.  It also shows how Tonto and his horse Scout came together.  There is a lot of emotion and background packed into this issue, and is an excellent example of storytelling by Ande Parks.

I would recommend The Lone Ranger Vol. 8 to fans of the character, or those readers looking for some fun western tales.

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