Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Not Even Past by Dave White - Book Review

From the publisher: Finally, Jackson Donne has it figured out. After giving up on the private investigation business, he's looking toward the future--one that involves getting married to Kate Ellison. Kate’s got him focused on living the good life: planning the wedding, finishing college, and anticipating a romantic Hawaiian honeymoon. Until an anonymous email with a link and an old picture of him on the police force shows up in his mailbox. And once Donne clicks the link, nothing else in his life matters.

Bill Martin has it easy. The police detective spends his time drinking coffee and chasing down people who don’t pay their parking tickets. The plan is to keep his head down until his pension kicks in and he can live the even-easier life. That all stops the day Jackson Donne shows up at his office.

When Jackson Donne clicked on the link, he saw a live-stream of the one thing he never expected to see. Six years ago, his fiancée, Jeanne Baker died in a car accident with a drunk driver. Or so Donne thought. Because when his web browser opens, he’s taken to a video of Jeanne bound to a chair, bruised and screaming, but very much alive.

He starts to investigate, but quickly finds out he’s lost most of his contacts over the years. The live-stream has stopped working. The police hold a grudge that stems back to the days when he turned in his corrupt police colleagues, and neither they nor the FBI are willing to believe a dead girl’s been kidnapped.

As his investigation goes down one blind alley after another, Donne’s obsession with finding Jeanne grows. He begins pushing everyone away. Kate, seeing all he’s worked slipping away, begs Donne to tell her what’s going on. And when he refuses, she’s left angry and with no choice but to leave him. Vulnerable and alone, but unable to stop looking, Donne turns to Bill Martin--the only man to love Jeanne as much as he did—for help.

And that decision could cost Donne everything.

Not Even Past, by Dave White, has been a long time coming.  The first two books in the Jackson Donne series came out 7 or 8 years ago.  They were both terrific mystery stories, and after reading the Donne short stories, I waited for the next novel.  Finally, White has given us the next installment.  And it's pretty good.

Jackson Donne is a former cop, former P.I. who is finally getting his life back together six years after the death of his fiancee, Jeanne Baker, and even more from when he turned in his fellow vice detectives for selling and using drugs (including himself).  He has gone back to school, fallen in love, and is a few shorts months from getting married.  Then he gets an email and discovers his ex is alive and being held captive.  Upon discovering this, Donne does the only thing he can think of; he calls his former partner - now bitter enemy and rival for Jeanne's love - Bill Martin.  What follows is a series of double-crosses and conspiracies that encompasses Hurricane Sandy recovery, the New Jersey university system, the mob, and a state senator.

White's prose is easy to digest, his character interactions are well done, and he does a great job of giving the reader a visual of the New Jersey neighborhoods that Jackson Donne inhabits.  Additionally, Donne is a very well-developed character and I was anxious to see what happened to him following the events of the previous book in the series.  White also brings the rivalry between Bill Martin and Donne to a head, with heated results.  Not Even Past saw him transitioning from his old life into a potentially new one, with room for continued growth if White sees fit.

While enjoyed this book, two things kept it below the level set by the two earlier stories. The middle of the book drags out; there is a lot of spinning of wheels without much seeming to happen. It felt like this section really put the brakes on the momentum that was developed in the early stages. Second, the pop culture references seemed a little forced. This is a small, picky thing, I know, but the first two books were so good that White set the bar extremely high.  These weren't big enough things to keep me from reading any further Donne novels, but they served to pull me out of the story at times.

I would recommend Not Even Past to readers who enjoy noirish mysteries. Donne is a great character, and the New Jersey setting is different from similar stories that are available.  However, I would start with the first two books. The short stories are also worth tracking down online.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Fade Out Volume 1 by Ed Brubaker - Book Review

From the publisher: Brubaker and Phillips' newest hit series, The Fade Out, is an epic noir set in the world of noir itself, the backlots and bars of Hollywood at the end of its Golden Era. A movie stuck in endless reshoots, a writer damaged from the war and lost in the bottle, a dead movie star and the lookalike hired to replace her. Nothing is what it seems in the place where only lies are true. The Fade Out is Brubaker and Phillips' most ambitious project yet!

The Fade Out is another fantastic book from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It continues their successful run of crime comics, and bears reading.

In 1948 Hollywood, Charlie is a screenwriter struggling with his memories of WWII. When he wakes up near a dead starlet, with no memory of how he got there, his world turns upside down.  As he attempts to figure out what is going on, he finds himself drawn in deeper and deeper to the glamorous yet seedy world of post-war Hollywood.  Along the way, the reader encounters black-listed communists, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, powerful studio heads, actors and actresses willing to do anything for a role, and a mystery that is only more mysterious by the end.

Sean Phillips' artwork is the perfect complement to Brubaker's script. The mood and setting is vivid, perfectly evoking classic noir stories by Chandler and Hammett.  Charlie is a likable, yet unreliable, narrator, and the supporting cast is perfect.  The pacing is great, and I found myself wanting the next book when I finished this one.

I highly recommend The Fade Out Vol. 1. It will thrill fans of Brubaker and Phillips, but will find a willing audience in anyone who likes noirish mysteries. It is different than other comics out there, and deserves to find a wide audience.

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

Justice League United Vol. 1: Justice League Canada by Jeff Lemire - Book Review

From the publisher: Top comics writer Jeff Lemire teams with superstar artist Mike McKone for the all-new monthly series JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED, starring the new team of powerful heroes Earth calls Justice League Canada!

In the aftermath of FOREVER EVIL, Adam Strange is caught up in an adventure across the far reaches of the cosmos that will unite an unexpected team of heroes including Supergirl, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Stargirl, Martian Manhunter and Animal Man - but if they're on the team, who exactly is Canadian? Plus: Don't miss the debut of a new Canadian hero who will have a huge effect on the group!

Collects Justice League United #0-5.

I have to admit, I was intrigued by the premise of Justice League United: Justice League Canada.  Jeff Lemire seems to write rather unique superhero comics, and Justice League Canada sounded like it fit the bill.  So I read it as an experiment: What would this team of very different heroes look like?

Animal Man and Stargirl were approached by anthropologist Adam Strange when his girlfriend, Alanna, disappeared in a beam of light.  Upon investigating the incident, they were joined by Martian Manhunter and Green Arrow.  As they encounter aliens, they find them transported to the planet Rann, where they discover that the shape-shifting alien Byth, along with the bounty hunter Lobo, have an evil plan in motion.  As Supergirl and Hawkman join them, the group engages in a fight to save the universe from the mega-powerful child Ultra.  Meanwhile, Midayo and Alanna (who was transported back to Earth), come face to face with the Witago, a beast from Cree legend.

Yes, it sounds crazy.  Yes, it is a little bit crazy.  The tone Lemire set for this book is very similar (at least in my recollection) to that of the Justice League International stories of Keith Giffin.  This book seems like it is going to be a little more offbeat and unusual than the typical Justice League-type stories, and that's a good thing.  Sometimes its good to be different than the pack.  My favorite part of the book is the interaction between Animal Man and Green Arrow, who seem to be filling the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold roles from the JLI.  They are constantly cracking on each other, and bring a light-hearted element to the story that offsets the seriousness of Martian Manhunter, Supergirl, and Hawkman.

I don't know what the future holds for Justice League United.  I can see this book finding its niche and developing its own loyal following.  And while I thought it was a good story, I'm not sure it's the right match for me.  That being said, I would recommend Justice League United to fans looking for a different kind of team book and/or fans of Jeff Lemire.

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

Exciting Week

So last week, Lexi tried out for the middle school cheerleading squad.  She found out on Wednesday that she made it, and was really excited.  We will soon be chasing her around to multiple games at multiple sites; no more youth league for her.

On Friday, Griffin had his baseball skills "evaluation" night.  It was fun to see him pick up a glove and a bat again.  Baseball, and softball for Cami, start in a couple of weeks.

Finally, on Sunday, Lexi had her birthday party. She and a handful of friends went roller skating. They had a great time, and Lexi enjoyed her special day.

Now, onward to spring break!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout - Book Review

From the publisher: I’m Sam. I’m just this guy.

Okay, yeah, I’m a golem created from the substance of his own magic by the late Hierarch of Southern California. With a lot of work, I might be able to wield magic myself. I kind of doubt it, though. Not like Daniel Blackland can.

Daniel’s the reason the Hierarch’s gone and I’m still alive. He’s also the reason I’ve lived my entire life on the run. Ten years of never, ever going back to Los Angeles. Daniel’s determined to protect me. To teach me.

But it gets old. I’ve got nobody but Daniel. I’ll never do anything normal. Like attend school. Or date a girl.

Now it’s worse. Because things are happening back in LA. Very bad people are building a Pacific firedrake, a kind of ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction.  Daniel seemed to think only he could stop them. Now Daniel’s been hurt. I managed to get us to the place run by the Emmas. (Many of them. All named Emma. It’s a long story.) They seem to be healing him, but he isn’t going anyplace soon.

Do I even have a reason for existing, if it isn’t to prevent this firedrake from happening? I’m good at escaping from things. Now I’ve escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and I’m on my way to LA.

This may be the worst idea I ever had.

Pacific Fire, Greg van Eekhout's sequel to the terrific California Bones is just as good and just as engaging as the first book.  Pacific Fire is a sequel, but it isn't necessary to have read California Bones in order to understand and enjoy it.  It is the second book in a projected trilogy, but contains its own complete story.

Pacific Fire picks up the story of Daniel Blackland ten years after the events in California Bones. Blackland is an osteomancer, a wizard of sorts who gains his power by ingesting the remains of other magical creatures/beings (it's gross, but a creative magic system).  The reader picks up the story with Daniel and Sam (the teenage golem of the Heirarch - former ruler of the Southern California kingdom) continuing to stay on the move, one step ahead of the many powerful people who would love to get their hands on Sam in order to gain his power.

While in once such hiding place, Daniel is contacted by Gabriel Argent, a powerful water mage. He informs Daniel that a group of wizards led by Otis Roth (who Daniel has a history with) is planning to recreate a Pacific Firedrake (dragon) to use as a weapon of mass destruction.   Argent tasks Daniel with destroying the creature, and what follows is another wonderful heist-type story, with an ending that I should have seen coming but didn't, due to van Eekhout's skill as a writer.

One of the pleasures of van Eekhout's books are the characters. Daniel is a fully realized character, and Pacific Fire deepens him, adding even more layers. During the journey to destroy the firedrake, Sam is also turned into a very well-written character.  Furthermore, the supporting cast is wonderful and unique: Moth, Em (of a group of golems all named Emma), Argent, Roth, and several others.

The landscape of Southern California is familiar enough to picture, but different enough to be vivid and new.  The reader is given a glimpse of a wider world in this book.  The idea of ingesting bones, etc. to obtain magic is also very creative and interesting.  It is unlike any other magic system I've read.

This is a really cool book, a worthy successor to the first book. Greg van Eekhout has created characters and a world that will keep me coming back for more.  During one particular scene, Sam says, "You just showed me that when people do stupid things for the right reasons, sometimes they can live with themselves. Well, millions of people need me to do a stupid thing, and I need to do it, too." This perfectly captures the tone and heroism of Pacific Fire, a book I highly recommend.

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