Sunday, January 31, 2016

Review: Miracleman, Book Three: Olympus

Miracleman, Book Three: Olympus Miracleman, Book Three: Olympus by Alan Moore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Aliens come looking for Miracleman. Winter, Miracleman's daughter, begins speaking before she's a month old. Miraclewoman makes her presence known. Kid Miracleman returns. A utopia is created.

The third Miracleman volume is kind of a disappointment. Firstly, it's a wordy son of a bitch, huge blocks of purple prose on every page. Secondly, apart from Kid Miracleman returning, it's pretty damn boring. Utopia is just as uninteresting as it sounds. Not only that, Miracleman went from being a revisionist Captain Marvel character that was bursting with potential to looking more like his ancestor, Superman.

All that being said, it's still an interesting piece of comic book history and asks the same question as the Squadron Supreme miniseries that came out shortly after this. What would happen if the superheroes took over the world? Too bad what Miracleman, Miraclewoman, and the Warpsmiths cook up is on the bland side. Two out of five stars.

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Review: The Drive-In 3: The Bus Tour

The Drive-In 3: The Bus Tour The Drive-In 3: The Bus Tour by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jack, Grace, and Steve leave the Drive-In behind for the open road in a bus. On their quest for answers, they encounter a catfish of enormous size and find things leading them to question the nature of their existence.

The third volume in the Drive-In series takes everything in a whole other direction. It keeps the lost world flavor of the second book but sends the gang on an odyssey to parts unknown. The first half is straight up Lansdale but the second half moves into Phillip Jose Farmer territory.

I didn't enjoy most of this book as much as the previous two, mostly because of the lengthy section inside Ed the giant catfish. Once they escaped the catfish, the book felt like a Twlight Zone episode written by Richard Matheson collaborating with the previously mentioned Phillip Jose Farmer. Either I read that Lansdale liked PJF in the past or just inferred it from some of his stranger writings.

The Lansdale flavor is in full effect here. I read a few lines out loud to my special lady, interrupting her Harry Potter read. Lansdale can wax philosophically with the best of them, in his trademark front porch style.

Anyway, the ending was fantastic, a stew of World of Tiers, Wizard of Oz, and The Dark Tower, in my opinion. While this is the final Drive-In volume, as far as I know, I'd eagerly read a fourth. 3.5 out of five stars.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review: Miracleman, Book Two: The Red King Syndrome

Miracleman, Book Two: The Red King Syndrome Miracleman, Book Two: The Red King Syndrome by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When his pregnant wife is kidnapped by Dr. Gargunza, Miracleman and Evelyn Cream go looking for her. But what is the sinister connection between Gargunza and Miracleman and what plans does Gargunza have for his wife?

The Red King Syndrome collections issues 5-10 of Miracleman, some of which I have vague recollections of reading at some point.

Book Two further deconstructs Miracleman's origins as Captain Marvel's bastard son of sorts. In this case, Doctor Sivana is a short Mexican scientist with thatch of black hair and much more practical plans. Miracleman's origin is further explored. Meanwhile, it seems that Johnny Bates might not be the vegetable we all thought he was.

Back in the day, I bought comics from Mile High Comics whenever I could scrape together enough money for an order. My twelve year old self was puzzled why I would need to be over eighteen to buy Miracleman #9. After reading it, I'm not so puzzled. That was one graphic childbirth scene!

The brutality in Miracleman surprises me. In the last decade or so, we've seen Black Adam and Superboy Prime punch the heads off of more Teen Titans members than I can count and Hyperion inflict mass destruction in the pages of Supreme Power. Pfft! Miracleman was doing that shit in the early days of the Reagan administration. Miracleman does a fantastic job of showing what would happen if Superman-level beings existed in the real world.

People like to point to Watchmen and The Dark Knight as the comics that made everyone go darker. After reading the first two volumes, I contend that Miracleman was that comic instead. Four out of five stars.

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Review: The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels

The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jack, Bob, and Crier leave the Orbit Drive-In behind for the open road, encountering dinosaurs, slithering strips of film, and a martial artist named Grace. Will they find the end of the road before Popalong Cassidy finds them?

As you might be able to tell from the synopsis, the second Drive-In book is stranger than a fever dream. While in recovery from their crucifixion, Bob and Jack, with Crier, venture out into the wasteland the Earth became while they were trapped in The Orbit. A woman named Grace shows up and suddenly Jack decides they're heroes. As a man who has gone titty-blind (as Lansdale calls it) on occasion, it wasn't hard to relate to the guys in this one.

As with the last book, I read this book shortly after the dawn of time so I remembered very little about it. Much like the first book, it's a fun book full of gore, cursing, cannibals, and funny dialogue. The Lansdale wit, while still in its adolescence, was present in droves.

It's a pretty slim tale but a lot of interesting and often times hilarious shit happens. I liked it a little less than the previous one, though. It didn't feel like a retread in any way, unlike most sequels. Popalong Cassidy had big shoes to fill after the Popcorn King and left the shoes empty enough to leave blisters. Still, the aftermath was quite bizarre and I'll be taking my third trip to the Drive-In shortly. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: The Drive-In

The Drive-In The Drive-In by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jack and his friends live for one thing: the Friday all night horror show at the Orbit Drive-In. When a comet with an eye visits, the drive-in is cut off from the rest of the world and things quickly degenerate to a no-man's land of cannibals...

Confession time: I read this way back in the Stone Age, pre-Goodreads and early in my Lansdale love affair. When I saw how cheap the trilogy was on the Kindle, I figured it was time for a reread.

The Drive-In is Bizarro fiction from back before such fiction had a name. Jack, Bob, Willard, and Randy are horror nuts who have the misfortune of being trapped at the Orbit when the shit goes down. Imagine being in eternal darkness with the only light coming from the drive-in screens and the only food coming from the concession stand. It's not hard to see how things degenerated, is it?

The Drive-In is a really fun book, full of gore, weirdness, and laughs. While it's an early Lansdale and not as slick as his later work, the beer and tailgate style is still there. Since it had been over a decade since I read it, it was pretty much a new book. Ah, the magic of getting older.

It's a pretty short tale, but like a good punk rock song, it's as long as it needs to be. When you have cannibals, motorcycle gangs, and crazy religious nuts, all trapped in the confines of a Drive-In parking lot, how long can you expect people to survive anyway? The Popcorn King was pretty damn creepy and I liked how Lansdale explained his origin, making it make logical sense, to a degree.

The Drive-In was a lot of gorey good fun packed into a pretty slim book. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: Silver Surfer, Vol. 2: Worlds Apart

Silver Surfer, Vol. 2: Worlds Apart Silver Surfer, Vol. 2: Worlds Apart by Dan Slott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Silver Surfer and Earth girl Dawn Greenwood soar the spaceways, encountering Planet Prime, space hillbillies, and the graveyard of worlds. What will the Surfer do when Dawn finds out about his past with Galactus, with a hungry Galactus on the prowl?

The Doctor Who-flavored adventures of The Silver Surfer and Dawn Greenwood continue. The Surfer takes Dawn out for the greatest ice cream in the universe, reminisces about instances when he had to save Dawn from peril, and accidentally leads Galactus to a planet full of the survivors of worlds he lead the planet devourer to during his centuries of servitude.

It's not as dire as it sounds, though. It's actually pretty funny at times and has some charming moments. Allred and Slott did a good job conveying the emotion when Dawn found out about the Surfer's past and his role in Galactus consuming trillions of innocent lives. The ending was pretty great and left me chomping at the bit for the next volume. I'm eager to see where Slott and Allred take the Surfer and Dawn from here.

Any gripes? Not a damn one unless a craving for more Silver Surfer the way Galactus craves planets is a gripe. Dan Slott and Michael Allred continue to make the Silver Surfer a character I'm dying to read more about. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: Floodgate: A Novel

Floodgate: A Novel Floodgate: A Novel by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Down and out ex-cop Andy Destra uncovers a decades old conspiracy that will shake Auction City to its core. Who really runs the city and how does it connect to how Andy was booted off the force?

I got this from Netgalley.

New Johnny Shaw books don't fall out of the sky every day and I jumped at this one the instant Shelby tipped me to it being on Netgalley and dropped what I was doing to read it.

However, things were off to a rocky start. I was discouraged for the first 10%. The plot moved slowly and gone was the trademark Johnny Shaw wit. My motivation flagged. My lady friend urged me to continue despite my misgivings, noting that I'm a crabby bastard when I don't get my reading time. As in most things, she was right. I stuck with it and things really took off.

Floodgate is the story of the people behind the curtain, the people that keep Auction City's various factions from killing one another and destroying the city. In a way, Auction City reminds me of a modern version of Deadwood and the people called Floodgate are Al Swearengen.

Andy Destra isn't too far from the usual Johnny Shaw leading man, a guy that many would consider a loser. However, he stands up for what he believes in despite being in way over his head. While I was bored by the book initially, Johnny Shaw really did a hefty amount of world building, with Rocco, The Flood, Kate, and the rest.

One of my favorite lines was "The last time he masturbated, he fantasized about a previous time he masturbated." Pure Shaw.

Anyway, the book was a slower build than Shaw's other work but had a bigger payoff in the form of the orgy of violence that was the last 30% of the book. While I wouldn't recommend this be anyone's first Johnny Shaw, it's a very solid book. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: Weird Shit: True Stories to Shock, Stun, Astound and Amaze

Weird Shit: True Stories to Shock, Stun, Astound and Amaze Weird Shit: True Stories to Shock, Stun, Astound and Amaze by Mark Leigh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Weird Shit is a book of interesting facts.

I got this from Netgalley.

Weird Shit is a short book of weird facts, organized into sections like Animales, Religion, Sex, Celebrities and Art. If you're into that sort of thing, it's pretty entertaining.

Did you know the barnacle has the largest penis to body ratio? Or that Winston Churchill started smoking cigars at 15? Or the average person poops 350 pounds worth over the course of his or her lifetime? Those are just a sampling of the facts within.

It isn't all poop and penises, though. I tipped to a bogus fact early on. Charles Manson didn't audition for the Monkees. He was too busy being a prison inmate at the time. That soured me on the collection a bit but not enough that I couldn't enjoy the rest of the book.

As someone who regularly seeks out interesting facts, I found this book to be average. For someone who isn't such a nerd, it would probably rate higher.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: Silver Surfer, Vol. 1: New Dawn

Silver Surfer, Vol. 1: New Dawn Silver Surfer, Vol. 1: New Dawn by Dan Slott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Silver Surfer, sentinel of the spaceways, finds the Impericon, the city where anything is possible. Why does the Never Queen want it destroyed? And what does an Earth girl named Dawn Greenwood have to do with anything?

Confession time: The Silver Surfer is one of those characters that I was always semi-interested in but never quite understood when I was a lad. When I saw Dan Slott, the man who made Spider-Man interesting again, was helming it with Mike Allred, creator of Madman doing the art, I just couldn't resist.

New Dawn is a very quirky take on the Silver Surfer. Slott is a big Doctor Who fan and his portrayal of The Silver Surfer and his companion, Dawn, feels very Who-esque. It's a humorous but still respectful take on the Silver Surfer and I found it way more enjoyable than the twelve or fifteen issues of the Surfer I tried reading in the late 1980's.

I liked the Impericon concept and the Never Queen but my favorite part is the relationship between Dawn and the Surfer. While the space stuff was awesome, I loved when the Silver Surfer visited Anchor Bay with Dawn to meet her family. Sure, Doctor Strange and the Hulk showed up but it was still really cool. I have to wonder if Mike Allred had some influence on the characterization of the Surfer because his quirky innocent nature reminded me of Madman a few times.

It's not perfect but I don't really have anything bad to say about New Dawn. I always thought of the Surfer as a stuffy character but Slott and Allredy breathe new life into him. Four out of five stars.

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Review: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the interest of finally reading something written by Harlan Ellison and also to teach myself to better write short stories, I decided to take this short story collection on.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The title story of the collection is the tale of a mad AI computer that has been torturing the last five humans alive for untold centuries for its own amusement. This was a pretty chilling tale of a hellish future. I loved the surprising ending.

Big Sam was My Friend: This is the story of a teleporting interplanetary circus performer looking for his lost love. After the first tale, I was surprised to find it a somewhat sweet tale.

Eyes of Dust: In a world where physical beauty is the norm, the two flawed people have a kid together who is doomed from the start. Horrifying and not that far-fetched.

World of the Myth: A ship crashes on a far-off world and the three crew members encounter a hivemind of ant-like creatures. Horror ensues. This one was another chilling tale in which the worst horror comes from within.

Lonely Ache: A lady's man think's there's a monster living in his apartment. This was a dark tale and yet another horror story where the worst horror comes from inside.

Delusion for a Dragon Slayer: A guy gets hit with a wrecking ball and a lot of weird shit I had trouble sorting out happens. Not a fan of this story.

Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes: A down and out gambler finds a slot machine that keeps hitting the jackpot for him. This one reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode, complete with twist ending.

My first Harlan Ellison experience was a good one. Some of the stories seem like products of the time they were written, though, in regard to the way women and minorities were portrayed. Ellison sure knew how to weave a short story. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review: Miracleman, Vol. 1: A Dream of Flying

Miracleman, Vol. 1: A Dream of Flying Miracleman, Vol. 1: A Dream of Flying by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After an almost 20 year absence, Miracleman reappears, throwing his alter ego Mike Moran's life into chaos...

Back in the day, before he was Alan Moore: Supreme Curmudgeon and Master of Beards, Alan Moore was simply a cutting edge comic book writer. Miracleman was his ticket to the big time, before Swamp Thing, before Watchmen, before whatever it is he's doing these days besides seemingly being pissed off all the time.

Miracleman started life as Marvelman, a 1950s British Captain Marvel homage/ripoff. Moore, Alan Davis, and some others brought him back in the pages of Warrior, a UK comic magazine. How does one revive a ripoff character from the 50s and make him relevant?

Spectacularly! That's how. Moore takes essentially a kid's comic, breaks it down, and shows what superheroes might be like in real life. I love how he deconstructs the Captain Marvel-like hero and actually makes it believable. Also, this volume nicely illustrates the carnage super heroes would create in the real world.

I do have a couple gripes, though. This volume is super thin for what it costs. Also, I'd much rather have a couple more issues included instead of the Warpsmith material and the sketches, especially considering I still have a couple issues of Warrior and Miracleman lying in some dark corner of the Dan Cave. The story itself is a little dated, more by the writing style than the cultural references. For a comic, it was pretty wordy.

All things considered, Miracleman is still pretty damn good and a cool piece of 1980s comic book history. Four out of five stars.

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Review: The Necromancer

The Necromancer The Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a bid to win back his soul, necromancer and scientist Johannes Cabal runs a demonic carnival in order to win the souls of a hundred people to exchange for his own. With the help of his vampire brother, can he find one hundred people willing to sell their souls?

This is one of those books that I'm having a hard time verbalizing my opinion on. I'll give it a shot, though.

The Necromancer is a funny tale about a man trying to win back his soul. I found the dark British humor right up my alley. Johannes Cabal is a delightful asshole and his relationship with his brother Horst was one of my favorite parts of the book. I like the idea of a demonic carnival. Who knows where carnies go after they leave your town? I'm surprised Stephen King hasn't written something about that with his recent carnie obsession.

The dialogue is great and, as I said before, I loved the humor and the brothers Cabal. The story itself was a little too linear for me. The carnival travels for a year and Johannes collects souls. That's pretty much it. There weren't really any twists until the last 20% of the book and those were a little telegraphed in my opinion.

So I guess this book is firmly in 3 territory. I liked the characters quite a bit but I was never compelled to take a day off work to read the book in one sitting and I'm not sure I'll read the rest of the series.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Swamp Thing, Vol. 2: Family Tree

Swamp Thing, Vol. 2: Family Tree Swamp Thing, Vol. 2: Family Tree by Scott Snyder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Swamp Thing takes on Anton Arcane and the Rot in this disjointed collection of somewhat unrelated issues...

Despite thinking Scott Snyder is the alligator's Adam's apple, I did not enjoy this collection. There were several contributing factors.

1. It's been years since I read Swamp Thing Volume 1.
2. Some crossover with Animal Man throws a wrench into the flow of the storyline. The Animal Man issues were not included.
3. Hasn't Old Swampy gone up against Anton Arcane enough over the years?
4. Swamp Thing has tree limb antlers.
5. Since when is rot not part of nature? Things decomposing are part of the ecosystem.

It wasn't without its moments but Family Tree wasn't a great collection. It feels slapped together, like filler in between two more coherent volumes. Okay, I'm guessing volume three is more coherent than this.

Two stars. It wasn't great but I needed something to read while I was doing laundry.

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Saga, Volume 1

Saga, Volume 1 Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marko and Alana, soldiers from opposite sides of an interplanetary war, have a child together and go on the run. Hilarity and awesomeness ensue.

Yeah, I'm really late to the party on this but Saga is pretty fucking great. It's part space opera, part relationship drama, with lots of laughs and inventive aliens thrown into the mix. Tired of the same old aliens? How about aliens with TVs for heads, aliens with horns, aliens with wings, and humanoid alien spiders? There's also magic and spacecraft made out of wood.

The characters are quite relateable despite their alien origins. Who doesn't get stressed out taking care of a newborn? Even the foes are three dimensional and somewhat likeable. The Stalk and The Will weren't just asshole bounty hunters and were quite well rounded.

If the later volumes are as good as the first, Saga is going to go down as one of my favorite comic series of all time. 4.5 out of five stars.

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The Sandman Omnibus, Vol. 1

The Sandman Omnibus, Vol. 1 The Sandman Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, a few years before the turn of the century, I decided I was too cool for super hero comics and read a lot of darker, mature readers only type of stuff. The Sandman was at the front of the pack for a long time. My mom unexpectedly bought me this big honkin' omnibus for Christmas so I've busted it into chunks for reviewing purposes.

Preludes and Nocturnes: After decades of imprisonment at the hands of a group of magicians, Dream escapes and sets about reclaiming what is his...

My nineteen year old self was originally drawn to The Sandman because Sam Kieth of The Maxx, Vol. 1 did the art on some of the early issues. Funny considering how my 38 year old self thinks his art is the weakest part of the collection.

I'd forgotten some of the wrinkles of this tale in the years since I last read it. In some ways, it was like coming home after a long time to find things haven't changed much. While this is far from the best Sandman volume, Gaiman hit the ground running and set the stage for future volumes, mining seldom-used corners of the DC universe and various mythologies to create what is essentially a revenge story.

The Doll's House: Morpheus discovers four major dreams are missing from The Dreaming and dispatches Matthew the Raven to investigate. But what do the missing dreams have to do with the vortex that threatens the Dreaming? And how does an earth girl named Rose Walker figure into things?

The second arc does a good job of fleshing out The Dreaming and what Morpheus actually does when he's not imprisoned. Rose Walker and Gilbert are great characters, and I love that Gaiman actually references the lame 1970's version of The Sandman.

The Corinthian and the Serial Killers convention are some of my favorite parts of the early days of the series and are just as interesting as when I first read about them back in the day. Since originally reading this, I've of course read the series in its entirety and The Sandman: Overture so a few things make even more sense.

Dream Country: Tales of a muse, cats, Shakespeare, and Element Girl.

These were fill-in tales between arcs. The Dream of a Thousand Cats was light years ahead of the rest.

Seasons of Mist: Dream goes to hell to retrieve Nada's soul but doesn't find what he's looking for...

While I loved The Doll's House, Seasons of Mist is where the Sandman really took off for me the first time around. This time, it's still one of my favorite comic book stories of all time. Lucifer dumps Hell on Dream and he's forced to deal with it? Awesome stuff.

Side Note: I really liked that there was a P.G. Wodehouse book in the Library. Psmith and Jeeves? We could only be so lucky.

Distant Mirrors: Distant Mirrors was a trio of stories featuring Johnna Constantine, Augustus Caesar, and Joshua Norton, Emperor of America.

The fill-in stories weren't my favorites but they all had their moments. It's funny that Christopher Moore has also used the Emperor in stories.

A Game of You: Barbie's dreams are taking over and the Children of the Cuckoo will soon be upon our world. The only thing standing between them and conquest are Barbie and her housemates: a book worm, a transvestite, and a lesbian couple.

For a tale that didn't feature much of The Sandman, I really dug A Game of You. Barbie from The Doll's House is back and her dream world is in chaos. There is some gruesome stuff in this one but I love all of the characters. Thessaly, Foxglove, Hazel, and Wanda were very well done. Morpheus was good too, I guess. The cuckoo was suitably creepy. For some reason, I got a really Doctor Who-ish vibe from the Cuckoo storyline.

Song of Orpheus: When Eurydice dies on her wedding day, her husband Orpheus, son of Morpheus and Calliope, goes to the underworld to bring her back.

This is a retelling of the classic myth, recast with some Sandman characters. While mostly a retread, it's an interesting little tale that fleshes out the past relationship between Calliope and Morpheus.

Conclusion: I'm pleased to say I don't have to secure a time machine and punch my twenty year old self in the junk. The Sandman is as good or better than I remembered and I understood more of the references this time around. I will say that this omnibus was a little awkward to read due to its immense size but I knew that going in. Practical matters aside, I can easily award this five out of five stars.

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The Hellsblood Bride

The Hellsblood Bride The Hellsblood Bride by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nora Pearl is stuck in Hell and the only way out is to marry a demon. Her father, Mookie, has other ideas...

The second Mookie Pearl book is just as bad ass as the first. When the book starts, Mookie has one foot in the grave and a daughter that's all the way there. From there, things just get worse.

The book shifts viewpoints between Mookie and Nora and both threads are full of awesomeness. Mookie is like a human battering ram and Nora is much more subtle, making their viewpoints very distinct. The powers tugging the strings behind the scenes give the book a touch more conflict and unpredictability.

Chuck Wendig's writing is even crisper than ever, full of unique similes perfect for the novel's noir flavor. Just as in The Blue Blazes, I really enjoyed the inventiveness of the setting and creatures Wendig has crafted, largely free of the usual urban fantasy staples.

The Hellsblood Bride has more twists than one of the god-worms of the Deep Downstairs. I lost count of the number of times I found myself grinning in amazement. The ending was the biggest surprise of them all. I'm definitely on board for the third book in the series, whenever that drops.

If you want urban fantasy that doesn't feature the tired tropes, the Mookie Pearl series might be up your alley.

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