Friday, July 31, 2015

Armada by Ernest Cline - Book Review

Armada by From the publisher: (Hold tight, this is a long one) Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

I'm torn with how I feel about Ernest Cline's new novel, Armada. On one hand, I loved his previous book, Ready Player One. It was full of 80's pop culture goodness and was a fantastic story. Armada is also full of pop culture goodness, expanding its scope to include many things from the 60's to today. This is right in my sweet spot. On the other hand, I felt like Armada would drag as I was reading it, unlike Ready Player One. In my opinion, this has more to do with the writing style than the story itself. I'll try to explain.

I like a book that sucks me in and propels me through the story. Large/long paragraphs (especially when they come frequently) tend to slow me down, often grinding the flow of reading to a halt. I feel like this is the biggest issue with Armada. The story was interesting: Teenager discovers his knack for video games makes him perfectly suited to fight an upcoming war against aliens bent on destroying the earth. The most frequent comparison is to the movie The Last Starfighter, which I enjoyed. I liked the characters, for the most part. The ideas were pretty interesting; at the very least they were fun. There were a few twists as the story made its way to the end which kept it from being too standard. Even the frequent pop culture mentions, which many readers felt were forced in Armada, didn't really bother me. It was just the pages heavy with exposition, rather than dialogue, that kept forcing me away from the book. I never reached the point where I just couldn't put the book down. Maybe the biggest issue is that Armada isn't Ready Player One.

Overall, I liked Armada. Ernest Cline is a fine writer and I enjoy his particular use of 80's geek culture. I'll continue to read his books in the future, trusting him to provide entertainment and a quality story.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fables Vol. 22: Farewell by Bill Willingham - Book Review

From the publisher: The final volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling, Eisner Award-winning FABLES series is here!

Creator Bill Willingham delivers the end to his legendary series in FABLES VOL. 22: FAREWELL. The Eisner Award-winning series sees the conclusion of the beloved stories of Bigby Wolf, Rose Red, Boy Blue, Pinnochio and countless other timeless fables. The only question left to be answered is whether or not they will have a happy ending.

Fables Vol. 22: Farewell (actually just issue 150; it's that long!) marks the end of Bill Willingham's series. After a 13 year run, this terrific story has reached it's end. Willingham and artist Mark Buckingham provide a fitting conclusion to the book.

The majority of Farewell deals with the the conflict between Snow White and her sister, Rose Red. All the major characters (Bigby Wolf, Snow and Bigby's kids, Flycatcher, Cinderella, Totenkinder, Mayor Cole, etc) begin to move into place as this final battle arrives. Plot lines begin to resolve, with some Fables living, and some dying. There are also call-backs to various characters throughout the series, continuing to wrap up the stories that have been woven throughout the main series.

There isn't a lot I can say without spoiling the ending, so I'll finish with this: It's got to be hard wrapping up any series, particularly one as beloved and decorated as Fables. Willingham does as good a job as possible. I was thoroughly satisfied with how the story ended, and after reading each and every issue, I believe the series concludes in a very pleasing way.

This is definitely not for a Fables newbie, but for long-time readers, it is a must. If you haven't read any of the previous books, go find a copy of Fables Vol. 1 and settle in for a tremendous ride. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Pure Insanity by Sean Ryan - Book Review

From the publisher: Once a secret to even the highest government officials, the Suicide Squad has emerged from FOREVER EVIL as one of its most popular programs. Its mission: to send incarcerated super villains to carry out impossible missions on foreign soil in exchange for a commuted prison sentence. If they are caught or killed, no government could link these operatives back to the U.S. government. At least, that's the theory.

This new series begins with a mission in Russia that features two red-hot Batman villains: Harley Quinn and Joker's Daughter, plus Deadshot, Deathstroke the Terminator, Black Manta and more.

Collects NEW SUICIDE SQUAD #1-8.

Sean Ryan's New Suicide Squad is a big, over-the-top action movie, in comic book form. The latest volume includes Amanda Waller having to share control of the squad with Vic Sage, leading to typical Suicide Squad dysfunction. Additionally, the team has two new members, Deathstroke and Joker's Daughter, who aren't being controlled with the traditional bomb in the brain like the rest of the team.  Not to mention, Deathstroke and Joker's Daughter are so similar to Deadshot and Harley Quinn.  Throw in Black Manta for field ops leadership, and you have a giant melting pot of chaos. And this is just the first arc, a mission that takes place in Russia. The second mission inserts Reverse-Flash and Captain Boomerang into the mix, not to mention a lab growing Chinese super-heroes.

New Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Pure Insanity doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't. It's about action, crazy villains in impossible situations, and the resulting mix of chaos that occurs when these elements are mixed.  There is a chance for Ryan to add depth to these characters, but at this point it doesn't seem to be the focus, and that is just fine.

This is a fun book, and it reminds me of seeing a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, lots of excitement and fun, but not much philosophy or commentary on the human condition. Again, this is not a criticism; it's just a big, loud, fun book. I recommend it to readers looking for something easy to read, and different from the traditional super-hero comic.

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Justice League Vol. 6: Injustice League by Geoff Johns - Book Review

From the publisher: Heroes quit, villains join and the Justice League roster you've never seen before emerges, led by the world's greatest hero--LEX LUTHOR!

The violent consequences of FOREVER EVIL must be dealt with as a new and deadly force sets it's target on the Justice league. And with the appearance of the new Power Ring, who knows how her presence will affect the team.

Collects Justice League #30-39.

In Geoff Johns's latest Justice League book, Vol. 6: Injustice League, he is dealing with the aftermath of the Crime Syndicate's attack on Earth. Lex Luthor was responsible for saving everyone and is now adored, while the Justice League is seen as a cause of the attack. Luthor's idea? He should join the League to take advantage of his popularity and to help bring the League back in the good graces of the public.  This is an interesting idea, and gives Johns lots of room to do some new things with this book.

The collection has two major story arcs in it. The first deals with Luthor attempting to join the Justice League. It also has the heroes attempting to track down Power Ring's power ring. As they find the person (un)lucky enough to obtain it, they begin dealing with their mistrust of Luthor and his apparent change of heart. Additionally, we have our first encounter with the Doom Patrol of the New 52 universe.

The second arc is the story of the accidental release of the Amazo virus, a virus Luthor created to remove powers from meta-humans, both good and bad. Unfortunately, it gives powers to normal humans before causing them to die a short time later. As many of the heroes become infected along with the population of Metropolis, its up to Luthor, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman to find a cure. This is a zombie-type story with a twist.

I enjoyed Justice League Vol. 6: Injustice League. Johns is a master planner, and throughout this book he drops in little hints of a bigger story to come, while still telling self-contained adventures for the heroes of the Justice League. I would recommend this to fans of the Justice League. It could also be a good starting point for new readers, with only a little background knowledge necessary to know what is going on.

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Batman Eternal Vol. 2 by Scott Snyder - Book Review

From the publisher: The new weekly Batman series, written by the New York Times best-selling author Scott Snyder, continues here!

After Commissioner Gordon's arrest, Batman's world is turned upside down. New allies emerge, old allies fall and his rogues gallery of villains are not quite who they seem. With a new power structure being established in Gotham amidst rising tension and chaos, can Batman adapt to the changing status quo? Written by Snyder and a team of the industry's best young creators including James Tynion IV, Tim Seeley, Jason Fabok and Dustin Nguyen, BATMAN: ETERNAL VOL. 2 will shift the Batman mythos forever!

Collects issues #22-34.

Scott Snyder's Batman Eternal might be my new favorite Batman book. At this point, it seems to be relatively free from any entanglements with the various other Batman series, and with the DC universe at large. This makes for a tight and focused book. I found myself flying through this collection, and now looking forward to the next one to see how the story wraps up.

A quick synopsis: Things pick up where the previous collection left off, with Commissioner Gordon in jail, Jason Bard the new commissioner, Alfred Pennyworth abducted, Batman wanted, and general chaos all over Gotham. This would include Killer Croc roaming the sewers on a mission; Cluemaster after his daughter, Spoiler; Blackfire attempting to bring a literal Hell to Gotham; the Architect going after various buildings; a gang war; Joker's Daughter working with Blackfire; and Hush roaming around. Into this mix come a variety of heroes, new and old: Red Robin, Batgirl, Red Hood, Catwoman, and Spectre have been around, while Harper, Batwing, and Julia Pennyworth (Alfred's daughter) are fairly new.

Snyder takes all these ingredients and mixes up one heck of a story. What is becoming apparent is that Batman Eternal is not a series of small story arcs, but one long, continuous story. The bad guys are bad; the good guys are easy to root for. There are surprises throughout, and Snyder isn't finished yet. He is definitely playing the long con with the readers. There is another volume to come, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out.

I highly recommend Batman Eternal Vol. 2 by Scott Snyder. This is THE Batman book to be reading, and Snyder is at the top of his game.

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NIV Dad's Devotional Bible Notes by Robert Wolgemuth - Book Review

From the publisher: A trusted source of wisdom to help men learn how to be the type of fathers God wants them to be, this Bible provides a full year of weekday devotions along with other helpful study features.

Filled with challenging and helpful information, the NIV Dad's Devotional Bible helps dads become fathers who honor God, live faithfully, and love their families-men whose lives will build priceless family legacies for generations to come.

With 260 down-to-earth devotions, one for every day of the work week, as well as quick book introductions and seven insightful "Building Your Children" articles, author Robert Wolgemuth will lead readers through the blueprint of godly fatherhood. And with a helpful "Questions Kids Ask" index in the back, the hardcover NIV Dad's Devotional Bible will equip dads with the tools they need to be great fathers.

What makes this NIV Bible different from all the other specialized versions out there? This one, the NIV Dad's Devotional Bible contains notes from author Robert Wolgemuth, who has written multiple books about being a father and husband. It also includes a forward from Kirk Cameron.

This particular Bible includes Monday-Friday devotional readings Each of these "Daily Insights" contains references for the passage of the day and verse of the day. It also includes an anecdote that ties in with the reading and has a father-centric spin.

The Bible also includes a handful of sections called "Building Your Children", which are about twice as long as the devotional readings. According to Wolgemuth, these articles hit on the main points of his book She Calls Me Daddy (another pretty good read). They contain readings on the following topics: Protection, Conversation, Affection, Discipline, Laughter, Faith, and Conduct. They approach these topics from a Biblical perspective, with scripture tied to them.

I found several other sections to be particularly inventive and unique to this edition of the NIV Bible. The first is called "The Bible for Dads". This section contains very short summaries of every book in the Bible, with the intent to focus on the heart/main idea of each book. The idea is to help direct fathers (or others) to the book that may address their specific need at that time. The other part I found cool is called "Questions Kids Ask". This contains a number of questions that kids may ask that could be hard for dads to answer. Ex: Why do we have to forgive people who hurt us? Do I have to obey my teacher even if they're mean? Why do Christians still do bad things? Do I have a guardian angel? If I'm forgiven, why am I still grounded? Each of these questions is tied to scripture and has an answer explaining it. As the parent of a young children, I can see how this would be particularly helpful.

Finally, there is a "Fruit of the Spirit" index which ties each of the daily devotional readings to a corresponding fruit of the spirit.

The size of the Bible is fairly standard and the print is easy to read, although maybe a little on the small side. The text is uninterrupted by commentary (except the typical section headings), with the devotions and other readings contained on their own pages. Overall, the layout is pretty standard as far as Bibles go.

There are a lot of Bible options available for those who are looking. The NIV Dad's Devotional Bible with notes by Robert Wolgemuth is a unique addition. I would recommend it for fathers who are maybe in the market for a little Biblical wisdom, but don't want to read a bunch of parenting books. This takes you right to the source, God's word.

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