Friday, March 29, 2013

Batman: The City of Owls

Batman, Vol. 2: The City of OwlsBatman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Court of Owls is striking all over Gotham and their first target is Wayne Manor! Can an injured Bruce Wayne and Alfred fight them off and mobilize the rest of the Bat-Family? And what is Bruce Wayne's connection to the Court?

The Court of Owls storyline comes to a conclusion in this volume. Batman dons a suit of armor and kicks some undead ass as he figures out who is leading the Court of Owls in it's assault on Gotham.

I liked that Lincoln Marsh was revealed as the head of the Court and he may or may not be Batman's long lost brother, Thomas Wayne Jr, who appeared in one tale pre-Crisis, only he was an older bad seed brother in that depiction. Owlman's ambiguous end leaves the door open for more Court of Owls intrigue down the line.

That's about all there is to it. Snyder crafts a pretty creepy Batman tale and Capullo's art is up to the task. The only gripe I have is that it felt like a ton of stuff was missing, probably because I've only read the Scott Snyder Bat-title in the New 52 and not all the ancillary bat-stuff.

Four stars. Snyder is shaping up to be the best bat-writer in decades.

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Sarah's key

Sarah's KeySarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reporter Julia Jarmond is investigating the events of 1942, when French authorities rounded up the Jews of the cities and put them in concentration camps, an investigation that uncovers links to her husband's family. But how will her tale intersect with that of the title character, a 10 year old girl separated from her family during the 1942 roundup?

First off, this is not something I would pick for myself. However, in the aftermath of a dinner featuring the best biscuits and gravy I've ever had, my girlfriend mentioned it being really good and subsequently brought it home from the library. In order to keep the biscuits and gravy train rolling smoothly, here we are.

Sarah's Key features two parallel plotlines for a good portion of the book, that of Sarah Starzynski and that of Julia Jarmond, the reporter who stumbles upon her story. The portion of the tale set in the past was my favorite by far but the present day tale had it's moments. I wasn't overly attached to Julia or her husband Bertrand, though. Especially Bertrand. He in no way conveyed the charm that was repeatedly attributed to him. Without spoiling anything, I longed for something bad to happen to him.

I was pretty sure I knew how the two plotlines would intersect and wound up being right in some ways. I loved how Julia's obsession chewed up the other aspects of her life and spat them every which way. The ending was pretty satisfying, if a little predictable. I'd give it a three and a half if such a thing was possible.

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Special Report: Amazon buys Goodreads?

Goodreads has been a pretty big part of my spare time in the last few years.  You don't get to be the #6 reviewer of all time in America by just dabbling here and there.  Anyway, it was a pretty big jolt when it was announced yesterday that Amazon was buying Goodreads.

I'm not sure what to think at this time.  It could be good for Goodreads but how often does a corporation buy something and then not make sweeping changes?  I'm not jumping ship yet but it never hurts to have several escape plans in place.  I might start using Bookish as a backup.  It's run by Simon & Shuster, Penguin, and Hatchette so it might be a good way to get free stuff.

I'm trying to be optimistic but Amazon buying Goodreads is a lot like that Spider-Man story where Doctor Octopus got engaged to Aunt May. You knew something bad was on the horizon but at least Aunt May got to be happy for a little while.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


ThunderpussyThunderpussy by David W. Barbee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a sumo crime boss named Oberon Tubbs begins buying up a Jamaican powder called Z8, Agent 00X is assigned to uncover the reason why. Can he keep his giant sized manhood in check long enough to do it?

In A Town Called Suckhole, David Barbee satirized redneck culture. This time, James Bond is his target.
Oberon's nefarious scheme is something out of a James Bond movie if James Bond movies featured cyberpunky stuff and zombies. Agent 00X is like James Bond times ten, especially when it comes to the ladies, with the added bonus of having one of the word's greatest mustaches.

Just as in A Town Called Suckhole, the hilarious bits come at you straight out of the gate. Dr. Strangelove robots? Kung fu Rastas? Petite LaVulva? Psyche Delia? Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book:
00X had to follow, but he could only choose one—the
Z8 powder or the mystery woman.
He chose the one he could have sex with.

Tubb's scheme was both an homage to every Bond villain's scheme and a topper to all of them. Thunderpussy should appeal to fans of James Bond, Archer, Austin Powers, and people who are generally predisposed toward reading crazy hilarious books.

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A Town Called Suckhole

A Town Called SuckholeA Town Called Suckhole by David W. Barbee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a killer has the men of th epost-apocalyptic redneck town of Suckhole living in fear of being murdered and having their genitals severed, Sheriff Billy Jack Bledskoe and his son, Deputy Jesco, turn to mutant Dexter Spikes for help. Will Spikes find the killer or will the three men (or two men and one mutant) wind up penisless and past tense?

In this outing, David Barbee explores the idea of a nuclear apocalypse where only the rednecks survive and thrive in the aftermath. And it's hilarious! The redneck lever is pulled all the way down and duct-taped into place in this book.

Barbee lovingly skewers the redneck culture, taking it to an extreme but still logical level. Where else can you read about worshipers of St. Hank and Jeezus, people with three first names living in double decker trailers, and a monster constructed from deceased Daughters of the Confederacy called Sluttenstein? Not very many, unless you're from the godless arctic hellhole called Ohayo...

The story is a mystery that takes Jesco and Dexter all around Suckhole and the general vicinity. While I didn't find it to be much of a mystery, it was quite an entertaining, especially after a certain character was unexpectedly killed. If I cut and pasted all the funny bits I want to mention, I'd quickly run out of space. Klu Klux Commandos, a one gallon soda called the Thurst Fucker, collard-wrapped hog pecker deep fired in peanut oil, an artificially intelligent moonshine still, the list goes on and on.

The characters are an interesting bunch. Jesco, the deputy struggling to fill his father's shoes, Dexter Spike, the mutant who longs for acceptance, and Mayor Crockwallop, who reminds me of the mayor in Jaws.
A Town Called Suckhole will appeal to fans of redneckery in general, as well as fans of Joe Lansdale's brand of humor. It's a fun way to spend a few hours.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Before They Are Hanged

Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2)Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While Superior Glokta holds Dagoska against the Gurkish, Collum West endures untold hardship in the north in the companion of the Prince and Logen's six barbarian friends. Meanwhile, Bayaz, Logen, Luthar, and Nessa head toward the edge of the world for something that should best be left buried...

As Elizabeth said in her review of The Two Towers, middle books in a trilogy are tricky business. While you occasionally get one the literary equivalent of The Empire Strike Back, most of them are more like Temple of Doom. This one is way closer to Empire in terms of quality. It even has an ending as shocking as "Luke, I am your father."

Where do I start? How about Glokta? Glokta is the Tyrion Lannister of the First Law trilogy as far as I'm concerned. He's crass, crippled, and very complicated. His protectiveness toward Ardee and dedication to the hopeless task of defending Dagoska against overwhelming odds won me over. More Glokta in the next book, please!

As for the other characters, I love how Bayaz keeps trickling out details of the history of the Magi, all the while not being completely trusted. The friendship between Logen and Nessa seemed fairly natural and I love what's going on with Luthar. The events in Aulcus were gripping page-turners. It was really hard to put the book down at the end of my lunch break. Qwai and Longfoot could be fleshed out a bit more but you can't have everything. Where would you keep it all?

Colonel West and the barbarians enduring the hellish Northern winter made King Stannis' march toward Winterfell seem like a breeze. West pushing the Prince off the cliff was one of my favorite parts of the book.

The ending was better than my highest expectations. I wonder how Bayaz and company will rebound from that, as well as Glokta and the mess he's found himself ensnared in.

In closing, no sophomore jinx here! Before They are Hanged was even better than The Blade Itself. Five gore-spattered stars!

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Friday, March 22, 2013

The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the run from a king he once served, barbarian Logen Ninefingers finds himself in the Union's capital, aligned with Bayaz, a legendary wizard long thought dead. Meanwhile, nobleman Captain Jezal Luthar trains for The Contest, a fencing spectacle, while lusting after Ardee West, sister of one of his comrades. Inquistor Glokta, crippled former swordsman, skulks around in the darkness, torturing the answers he seeks while searching for treason at every turn. What is Bayaz planning? Will Jezal bed his best friend's sister? Will Glokta be able to outmaneuver the other inquistors?

After reading Red Country, I had to see how it all began. I was most pleased.

The Blade Itself reads like Terry Pratchett on the mother of all bad days. While there is a surprising amount of humor, there are also buckets of blood and gore. Abercrombie writes fantastic battle scenes and I suspect they will only get better as the series progresses.

Anyway, the strength of The Blade Itself is in the characters. While many of them fit standard fantasy archetypes, they also are far from typical. Logen Ninefingers is a barbarian that spends a lot of time thinking and being scared, guilty of a hundred atrocities. Bayaz is an ages-old wizard that looks like a blacksmith. Inquistor Glokta seems like a pretty reprehensible torturer and guardsman at first glance but there is a lot more to him than meets the eye. Jezal is a great swordsman but also a snobbish bastard. I'm also very interested in Yugei and Ferro and Logen's former band of not-so-merry men. I can't wait until they find out their old leader is still alive.

I'm going to sidestep going into too much of the plot. to avoid spoilage. Suffice to say, I'm intrigued of what I've seen so far, bringing me to my next point. The only gripe I have about this book is that it very much feels like the first book in a trilogy. Most of it feels like setup to me. Fortunately, I think Abercrombie is move than capable of delivering the goods in future volumes so it's barely a gripe.

Additional Thoughts:
- Logen Ninefingers is quickly climbing the ranks of my favorite characters in science fiction and fantasy.
- Also, Logen reminds me of a young version of Terry Pratchett's Cohen The Barbarian.
- I'm not sure if Abercrombie has ever read Hugh Cook's Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series but the writing and morally ambiguous characters make them spiritual brothers.
- I have a feeling Glokta will wind up being my second favorite character in the series.
- I love Abercrombie's magic system and the history of the Magi.

Four blood-dripping stars!

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Monday, March 18, 2013

False Allegations

False Allegations (Burke, #9)False Allegations by Andrew Vachss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Burke gets hired by an albino lawyer named Kite, he finds himself investigating a woman who claims to have been sexually abused as a child to see if her allegations are true, hopefully giving Kite's methods validation. Is the woman telling the truth? And will Burke tell Kite the truth when he learns it?

Andrew Vachss' books are as depressing as a room full of dead puppies and this one is no exception. Burke travels to places that make sewers seem like luxury hotels and meets people who make Charles Manson seem charming. Okay, that last bit might be a slight exaggeration but you get the point. These are some bleak books.

False Allegations is more of the same. It was nice seeing the supporting cast again, even though it was light on The Mole and Terry. Clarence doesn't do a lot for me but I'm always a fan of The Prof.

Other than a strong female that's inexplicably attracted to Burke, this doesn't feel much like the other Burke books. There's very little action and Burke actually does a fair amount of research and investigating. Kite was an interesting character and I have a feeling he'll be back.

Still, there isn't much that sets this above earlier Burke books. Like I said, not a lot happened. The writing is good. Vachss' similes read like something Raymond Chandler would write after an all night bender with Jim Thompson.

The Burke series is an engaging one but I don't know if I'm going to go the distance with it. I own one more and that might be the last one I read. Three stars but they aren't happy stars, that's for sure.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

King Suckerman

King SuckermanKing Suckerman by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's 1976 and everyone's talking about King Suckerman, the new blaxploitation flick that's in the theaters. When Marcus Clay and Dimitri Karras wind up with a pile of cash after a drug deal gone wrong, everyone's after their hides, including a thug named Wilton Cooper and his gang, and an Italian named Tony Spags, who wants his money and his girl, who's shacking up with Karras. Can Clay and Karras give the money back without getting killed?

Here we are, the second book in George Pelecanos' DC Quartet. Pelecanos weaves a tale worthy of Elmore Leonard, set around our nations capital around the time a film called King Suckerman has everyone's attention. Pelecanos continues to develop the Washington DC of the Pelecanosverse, as Kemper calls it.

It's a pretty straightforward crime tale about ill-gotten gains and murder. What makes it so good is Pelecanos' writing, specifically how well he develops his characters. You've got Cooper, Claggett, and the Thomas brothers, the killers of the piece, Spags and Tate, the lowlifes in over their heads, and Clay and Karras, the regular guys caught up in things. With the exception of the Thomas brothers, the characters are all well drawn and fairly realistic. Cooper was so slick I almost wanted him to live through everything. The action is pretty intense when it happens and the dialogue is almost as smooth as Elmore Leonard's in his prime.

Interesting side note, I bought Eldorado Red by Donald Goines at the same time I bought this. Imagine my surprise when Goines makes a cameo appearance in the tale.

Much like The Cut, I can't really find anything to complain about with King Suckerman. Pelecanos is quickly climbing the ranks of my favorite crime writers.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Maximum Bob

Maximum BobMaximum Bob by Elmore Leonard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When someone wants hardliner judge Bob Isom Gibbs, aka Maximum Bob, dead, how does he narrow down which of his enemies it is? Can probation officer Kathy Baker and cop Gary Hammond stop the would-be killer? And do they even want to? And what does Bob's flaky wife have to do with it?

After reading The Cut by George Pelecanos, with its obvious Elmore Leonard influence and multiple references to old Dutch, I decided to dust this one off and give it a shot. I was not disappointed.

Maximum Bob is a womanizing drunk who makes enemies at every turn. Who wouldn't want to kill him? I felt bad for Kathy Baker getting within pawing distance. The bad guys of the piece, the Crowe family and Dr. Tommy, are Leonard's typical cast of villains who aren't as smart as they think they are. Par for the course, Leonard's plot was suitably serpentine and came to a satisfying conclusion. There were some surprising moments along the way, always a plus, and the dialogue was vintage Leonard. The Florida setting was almost a character unto itself.

However, it's not all catfish and cornbread. I thought the whole thing with the judge's possibly psychic wife was unnecessary. Also, Hammond wasn't developed enough for me to care about what happened to him. Unlike Maximum Bob, who I wouldn't have minded seeing struck by a car.

Now that I've watched several seasons of Justified, its apparent that some of the source material comes from this book. The Crowe family is in it and a womanizing judge not unlike Maximum Bob was played by Stephen Root in one episode.

That's about all I have to say without giving away too much. It was a fun read but it's not among my favorite Elmore Leonard books.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Cut

The CutThe Cut by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an imprisoned drug dealer hires Spero Lucas to find out who's been stealing his product, Spero takes the case. Can Spero recover the stolen weed and collect his forty percent?

The Cut is a breezy crime tale that reads as smoothly as an Elmore Leonard. Pelecanos makes Washington DC as much of a character as Leonard does with Detroit and Miami. Spero Lucas is a compelling lead, an ex-marine who works as an investigator. The drug case he's taken quickly spirals out of control. However, the case wasn't as interesting to me as Spero himself.

Spero's a complicated man and no one understands him but his woman. Or maybe I'm thinking of someone else. At any rate, I liked the idea of an Iraq war veteran who's having trouble adjusting to normal life. His tastes in food and Jamaican music further endeared him to me. The guys he goes up against are pretty well drawn as well, particularly the Holley family. Pelecanos' bad guys have relatively reasonable motivations and come off as real people rather than caricatures.

One thing I really liked was that Spero's brother is an English teacher and has his students read crime books, like Richard Stark's The Hunter and Unknown Man #89 by Elmore Leonard. That's a class I would have loved taking back in the day. Spero listening to Ernest Ranglin and King Tubby also sweetened the deal the for me.

That's about all I have to say. If I had to complain about something, it would be that I wanted the book to be about twice as long. I'll be reading more Pelecanos in the near future.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Parasite Rex

Parasite Rex : Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous CreaturesParasite Rex : Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures by Carl Zimmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Parasite Rex is about parasites and the history of parasitology. Nature is pretty gross. That's about the only way I can think of o describe this book.

Let me tell you, there are some crazy creatures out there. I'm going to gloss over the hundreds of thousands of species of tapeworms and parasitic wasps and go to the really crazy ones. Like Cymothoa exigua, a crustacean that replaces a fish's tongue, or Sacculina, a barnacle-like parasite that uses a crab like a puppet. And that's just the tip of the disgusting iceberg.

Did you know parasites influence the behavior of their hosts in any number of ways? Like putting heir host in danger in order to perpetuate their life cycle? Crazy stuff.

It's not all great, though. It could have used more pictures and the writing stye could be a little more accessible. Still, it's an informative read and made me wonder why we aren't all riddled with parasites.

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Moonlight Mile

Moonlight Mile (Kenzie & Gennaro,#6)Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Amanda McCready goes missing over a decade after Patrick and Angela found her the first time, the couple set off to right a past wrong. But what does the Russian mob have to do with Amanda's disappearance? And has she really been kidnapped?

Moonlight Mile was Dennis Lehane's return to Kenzie and Gennaro, or are they Kenzie and Kenzie now, after a long absence. While Patrick and Angela may have lost a step or two after their domestication, I don't think Lehane has.

Moonlight Mile starts simply enough. Amanda McCready, now sixteen, has disappeared once again, and Patrick can't stay away, bent on redemption after Gone, Baby, Gone. I missed Devin and Oscar but it was good to see Parick, Angie, and Bubba again. Also, Gabby was a nice addition. The case had more than enough wrinkles to keep me occupied until the end. Some of the twists, like the switcheroo at the beginning, were predictable. Others not so much.

Lehane's writing continue to impress me. I suppose I'll be picking up some of his non-series books pretty soon.

I don't really have a lot more to say about this one. It was pretty typical for a Kenzie and Gennaro book, even with their young daughter Gabby involved. It seems like it will be the last one and I'd say it's a fitting swan song. I'd rather Patrick and Angela not wreck the domestic bliss they have going.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Red Country

Red CountryRed Country by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Shy South and her cowardly stepfather Lamb return home to find their farmhand dead and Shy's two siblings missing, they venture into the Far Country to find them. They join a fellowship and head to the mining town of Crease. During their travels, Shy is forced to confront her own checkered past and finds that her stepfather has a past of his own...

On the heels of finishing A Dance with Dragons, my jones for dark fantasy with morally ambiguous characters was not sated so I turned to Red Country. Red Country is my first Joe Abercrombie book and won't be the last.

Red Country promoted as being a fantasy western and I'd say that's fairly accurate. It's a story of revenge and redemption, two staples of the Western genre, and the trip across the Far Country to Crease has a very western feel to it. Crease has a setup not unlike the town from Fistful of Dollars (or Yojimbo, if you prefer). Lamb and Shy riding out into the unmapped country to find their missing loved ones is straight out of a lot of westerns. Without giving too much away, it also reminds me of Unforgiven quite a bit once Lamb mans up and shows his true colors. It's nice to see fantasy that strays from the rut of medieval pseudo-European quest stories.

The characters are an interesting bunch. Shy is a woman wondering why she managed to escape justice for her dark past. Lamb is a Northern barbarian trying to keep a promise he made to a dead woman. Temple is a lifelong screw up trying to turn things around. Cosca, one of the antagonists, is pretty lovable for a villain. They are far from the average fantasy cast and this is far from an average fantasy tale.

Joe Abercrombie's books are known for being dark and gritty. What people rarely mention is that they have a fair amount of dry humor and clever imagery in them as well. The quotable lines are surprisingly frequent. What I'm trying to say is that Abercrombie's writing was a lot more enjoyable to me than that of a lot of fantasy writers.

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