Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Comic Review: Northlanders: Sven the Returned by Brian Wood

Northlanders Vol. 1: Sven The ReturnedNorthlanders Vol. 1: Sven The Returned by Brian Wood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As graphic novels go, NORTHLANDERS VOL. 1: SVEN THE RETURNED, was a bit of a letdown. The main thing is I never actually liked Sven "the Returned," so I really didn't care whether he lived, died, sailed off yonder, or got buggered sideways. He starts out as a miserable bastard and pretty much ends this arc as a miserable bastard, despite having achieved most of what he set out to do.

I reckon some of you who have been reading my reviews are starting to see a trend in my reviews, but if we don't identify (at least a little!) with the main character, doesn't it make it pretty darned difficult to enjoy what we're reading to the fullest? I feel like series author, Brian Wood, could have done more with a story that is ultimately anticlimactic, featuring characters who are ultimately irritating. I mean, he has this great setting and Vikings to write about and he just sorta gives a half-assed effort here.

Davide Gianfelice's art was good, albeit cartoony in places, especially the fight scenes, and some panels seemed rushed and too gritty; although, most of the grit was from the newsprint paper quality as it rubbed off on my hands. I understand DC cuts costs sometimes with lower selling books, but I have to wonder if Gianfelice's work would have been better served by a better paper stock--a roll of Cottonelle would have produced better quality color and ink retention!

I'm giving NORTHLANDERS VOL. 1 two stars, mainly because I like the general premise but I think Wood could have done more research and given a better effort. I understand the guy is a good writer in general (DMZ had a solid fan base), and he might have a plan to develop Sven more in the next story arc, who knows. I'll give NORTHLANDERS VOL. 2 a try, despite the second-rate quality in fairly every aspect of "Sven the Returned."

Two stars (out of five).
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #1)The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After closing THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, I sat there for a minute trying to decide whether or not I liked it. I know I didn't love it, but in the Goodreads realm, was it a one-star effort ("didn't like it") or a three-star effort ("liked it")? I settled for two stars.

Here's why:

I should warn you that this review contains some spoilers.

Like some other Goodreads reviewers, I was intrigued by the introduction and the first 30 pages or so, but then the book started trying to do too much while supplying the reader with too little. I would have enjoyed less of Mary's inner woe-is-me musings--Mary being the protagonist and first person narrator--and more history, explanation, and character development. Midway through the book, I didn't like Mary at all, and three-quarters into it, I was convinced she was insane and completely self-absorbed (in fact, she was). So, it's hard to get behind a character like that and feel much sympathy, as most of the time Mary was the manufacturer of her own tragedy, zombies aside.

Author Carrie Ryan has created a world that is intriguing and raises a lot of questions which I think will impel readers to continue to the end, as I did, but unfortunately she provides very few answers. I was left with more questions than ever as I finished the final page and felt kind of perturbed. I think I might have even murmured, "What the hell?" as I snapped it shut.

Unsatisfactory ending aside, there are some other odd flaws worth mentioning. Sometimes the writing is quite good, but at other times it's ambiguous and fails to describe the action adequately. She would have entire conversations happen while it seemed other characters nearby were frozen in time. Often I wondered if the Unconsecrated (zombies) were present at all, until a few tossed-in words would place them nearby. An awkward phrase stood out to me at one point: "My breath came in pants..." and I read this a few times over, willing it to say "I panted..." so I wouldn't keep conjuring images of someone's actual breath wearing a pair of pleated dockers.

The situational mechanics were also sometimes confusing. For example, is it possible to make a rope out of dresses and gowns and other similar garments that is light enough to be shot across a significant span with a crossbow bolt and tied off, but then sturdy enough to pulley a barrel across that contained a girl and a dog (which I imagine weighed a total of, say, 215 lbs.)?

Another gaff that bothered me: The Sisterhood vehemently preached faith in God to the residents of the village, and Mary was forced to become rather familiar with reading the Scripture. So why did no one understand the meaning of Roman numerals? "XIV" and such was a type of mysterious marker throughout the novel. I suppose over time this form of numeric citation may have been lost, but it smacked just a little weak to me. I think it may have been more fitting if Ryan had used Hebrew numerals, which are certainly more cryptic.

In retrospect, I feel frustrated that THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH had so much to offer with its intriguing premise, but just didn't live up to its potential. Meghan on Goodreads gave it one star, Amber Kizer gave it four stars, and both of them raise other questions I had, but rather than repeat them, I suggest you read their reviews by visiting the book's Goodreads page and scrolling down.

I understand that Ryan's sequel, THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES, answers some of these questions. Since I was "grabbed" enough by THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH'S setting (despite the unlikeable protagonist), I've decided I'll skim a copy and determine if it's worth giving this series one more shot to win me over.

We shall see.

For now: Two stars (out of five).

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Comic Review: Wolverine: Origins Vol. 5 by Daniel Way

Wolverine: Origins, Vol. 5: DeadpoolWolverine: Origins, Vol. 5: Deadpool by Daniel Way
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This run of WOLVERINE: ORIGINS is a fun romp. It's hard to go wrong with the wild and wacky lunacy of Deadpool unleashed. Writer Daniel Way obviously had a chortle or two while writing this portion of the series, and I've been a fan of Steve Dillon's art since PREACHER. I've read some criticisms that Dillon's art doesn't fit the dynamic needs of a Wolverine title, but I think it's great. Where it may lack in background detail, it more than makes up for in character expression.

Worth the 30 minutes it takes to read. Just "good clean fun."

Here's a quick snippet:

DEADPOOL (TO A WOMAN HE'S PAID OFF TO DISTRACT WOLVERINE WITH HER PANICKED SCREAMS): ...you really sold it! Even I believed you and I KNEW it was all fake!

WOMAN: Really?

DEADPOOL (COUNTING OUT MONEY): Oh, yeah! Here, I'm gonna give you a little extra--go get a headshot done, okay?

WOMAN (MONEY IN HAND): You mean, like, for auditions? Wow, you really think I could do that?

DEADPOOL: Absolutely! Listen, I've heard it all: people begging for their lives, death howls... and that scream of yours ranked right up there with them.

WOMAN: "Death howls?"

DEADPOOL (POINTING AT WOMAN WITH PINKY FINGER SINCE WOLVERINE HAS CUT OFF ALL HIS OTHER FINGERS): Yeah! It's this noise that happens when people scream in pain right before they die. It's really strong at first but then it just kind of trails off--because there's not another breath behind it, you know?

WOMAN GAPES.

DEADPOOL (WOLVERINE IN BACKGROUND, EMERGING FROM A WALL OF FLAMES): Hey! That's good, too! "Mortal terror," right? You nailed it!

WOMAN RUNS AWAY.

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Almost four stars, but the ending was a little contrived.  Also, I enjoyed the reprint of issues #21-25 (encompassing the Deadpool arc) much more than issues #26-27, which featured the art of Stephen Segovia and “The Son of X” rather than Deadpool.

My rating: 3.25 stars (out of 5).

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(Wolverine Origins #24 cover art)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review: London, 1850 (Vampire Plagues) by Sebastian Rook

London, 1850 (The Vampire Plagues I)London, 1850 by Sebastian Rook
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The cover (I dig sailing ships) and premise (I dig vampires) attracted me to LONDON, 1850, but once I was about 50 pages into it I realized that, well, this book was just sorta ho-hum. It dragged throughout, with just one scene that stayed with me well after I had turned the next page (which I won't reveal for spoiler reasons). The characters of Jack, Ben, and Emily are all lacking complexity and, Sir Donald, the antagonist is unimposing and predictable. In fact, the entire story is formulaic. It's as if the author, Sebastian Rook (a pen name), was following a strict outline handed down from the publisher and was nearly as bored writing this as I was reading it. There was no real sense of drama, no sense of danger, the prose was vapid, the dialog was meh, events just sort of fell neatly into place, and how three kids can fend off hordes of vampires by wielding roses and stabbing the vamps with the thorns is beyond me (the author doesn't bother explaining the details either).

Maybe I expect too much, as this series is intended for the 11-14 year old demographic, but I don't aim to read the other books in "The Vampire Plagues" series. Perhaps they get better, as I believe there are six issues in total and even a boxed set, but one's enough for me. I've got better things to read.

Two stars (out of five). Actually this was 1.5 stars, but I rounded up, as I can't say I hated it—it was just a very predictable, mediocre tale.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Getting Published is Not a Crap Shoot

Fantasy author Victoria Strauss blogged about a topic yesterday that crosses my mind often. She touched upon the competitive field of speculative fiction writing, specifically pertaining to how those hopefuls who have yet to get published groan about how landing an agent or publisher is pretty much a crap shoot. Strauss disagrees, and in her blog at Writer Beware she explains why.

Though I've been published, I've not crossed the threshold of querying an agent or submitting a full manuscript. I'm sure part of it is fear of rejection, even though I know my writing is good--and not just "good" but "publishable good."

If you're like me and have aspirations of getting a full length novel published, Strauss' blog is worth a few minutes of your time. Give it a quick read. And if you feel like leaving a comment here afterward, I'd love your input.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. Just one book. Just one fricking book and I can already label Patrick Rothfuss as a master wordweaver/worldbuilder. In THE NAME OF THE WIND, the narrator, Kvothe, is a simple barkeep at first glance, who tells his own story in the presence of the Chronicler and Bast, a fae servant to some obscure degree. His story starts nearly at the beginning of his life and he tells it fluidly, with perfect recollection, despite the occasional interruption, as you see, the book transports the reader back and forth between the tale Kvothe is telling and the events unfolding in the present, dire and foreboding events concerning the return of dark times.

One reviewer compared THE NAME OF THE WIND to Harry Potter, but Rothfuss is spinning a yarn deeper and more intricate than that of J.K. Rowling's Potterverse. I'm not sure what I was expecting, to be honest, but Rothfuss delivers something inventive, original, and rather unforeseen. This book is intelligently written. The overall voice is strong and certain. The main character, Kvothe, is clever, precocious, mysterious, likable one moment, feared the next--a deep protagonist who can certainly carry this trilogy.

My only complaint is it felt a bit redundant throughout, and got a little bogged down in the middle. I often felt like I was waiting for something to happen, and waiting. And waiting. I came away from THE NAME OF THE WIND feeling like I'd just read 700 pages of, basically, build-up to something much bigger; which, in fact, is the truth. I have a feeling that the proverbial sh*t is really going to hit the fan in book two of the Kingkiller Chronicle. And I plan to be there. Because for 700 pages of "build-up," it was STILL that damn good.

So, hurry up, Pat!

Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Book Review: Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by Peter B. Ellis

Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Oxford Paperback Reference)Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by Peter Berresford Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For such a small volume, the DICTIONARY OF CELTIC MYTHOLOGY by Peter Beresford Ellis is incredibly thorough and an excellent starting point for further research into topics of Celtic mythology, sagas, and tales.

Here's a random entry from a page I have bookmarked (so you can get a feel for the book):

Scenmed. [I] Sister of Forgall Manach. Following his death, when CĂșchulainn eloped with Forgall's daughter, Emer, Scenmed raised an army and followed the Ulster champion to exact vengeance. CĂșchulainn defeated and slew her.

Have you heard of Scenmed? No? Well then, the book has already proven valuable. Thank you, Mr. Ellis, for taking the time.

This is one of those research books I pick up time and again, either for research or for inspirado. As a writer, I can open up this volume and take a small entry such as the one above about poor Scenmed and begin to conceive a plot. Very helpful resource to have on my bookshelf. And I got this handy tome used for just five bones. It was five bones well spent.

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Four out of five stars. Conceivably 4.5 stars.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Fantasy Sports: “Are you ready for some fooootball?”

I’m in a 12-team fantasy football league that started back in 1995. I’d like to think I’m fairly competitive (my record since 2001, when CBS Sports began archiving the standings, is 83-64). Last season I made it to our Super Bowl, but this year I nearly forgot about the draft! Thankfully, Joe Pruett, a fellow leaguer, called me. I think his opening words were, “Hey, dumbass, you’re on the clock.”

So, here’s the result of my picks (I drafted seventh):

  1. Ray Rice (RB, Baltimore)
  2. DeAngelo Williams (RB, Carolina)
  3. Roddy White (WR, Atlanta)
  4. Chad Ochocinco (WR, Cincinnati)
  5. Brandon Jacobs (RB, New York Giants)
  6. Pierre Garcon (WR, Indianapolis)
  7. Brett Favre (QB, Minnesota)
  8. Tony Gonzalez (TE, Atlanta)
  9. Bernard Berrian (WR, Minnesota)
  10. Bengals Defense (DST, Cincinnati)
  11. Matt Cassel (QB, Kansas City)
  12. Sidney Rice (WR, Minnesota)
  13. Leon Washington (RB, Seattle)
  14. Jeremy Shockey (TE, New Orleans)
  15. Adam Vinatieri (PK, Indianapolis)

Like I said, I nearly missed my draft so, lacking research, I relied heavily on two things: the site’s 2010 projections, and feedback from Joe, who I kept on the phone with me the entire 90 minutes of our draft. In fact, I have to give him the credit (or the blame) for Brett Favre in round eight (thin picking there—I was debating between Alex Smith and Matt Cassel, to which Joe said something akin to, “I’m not a Smith fan. And why would you take an unproven guy over a veteran and future Hall of Famer?”) and for Leon Washington in round #13 as my back up and a sleeper pick. I’m hoping he becomes an integral part of the Seahawks’ offense. The guy has great hands, makes defenders look silly, and averages well over 4 yards per carry. Good potential as a #2 RB if he can tote the rock 15-20 times a game.

(I love to articulate in Sportspeak when I’m blabbing about football. ‘Tote the rock.’ Heh-heh.)

I’m happy with my backs. I’m not a Baltimore fan since they’re divisional rivals to my home team, but Ray Rice is a big time stud and averaging pick #4 overall in CBS drafts -- I got him at #7. DeAngelo Williams is going 12th overall and I got him at #18. I’m thinking that puts me ahead of the game. And Brandon Jacobs, my third RB, will grind out lots of 3rd down and goal line carries for some luscious touchdowns.

There was a run on quarterbacks early, so I waited on taking mine until later in the draft. I'm putting my faith in Favre, who’s been going around #74 and I managed to get him with the 90th pick. I’m really hoping Bernard Berrian becomes his go-to option. I took a late flyer on Sidney Rice (pick #138 for me, who would have been a Top 15 WR if healthy) and I can stick his butt (and the rest of him) in my free Injured Reserve slot until his return. I think Berrian will see lots of throws his way with Rice out (and with Percy Harvin susceptible to those sporadic migraines). Taking them at ninth and twelfth was worth the gamble. I think Rice will give me a great second half surge at WR, since he’s projected to return around Week 7.

It seems every year I go into the season with a so-so receiving corps. This year, I’m feeling a little more confident with Roddy White and Chad Ochocinco as my one-two tandem (last year my first two picks were Larry Fitzgerald and Eddie Royal—one of those worked out for me at least), as both are projected as WRs to get 1,000 yards-plus. Our league awards for yardage as well as TDs, so they *should* give me some explosive games. Pierre Garcon lines up as the #2 wideout to Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis, and with Garcon’s sure hands and good route running for Peyton Manning, I think he’ll see a lot of single coverage opportunities. Because of this I think the guy has a legit shot at 1,000 yards, as well. If I have three WRs who eclipse 1,000 yards and 7+ TDs each, this league is mine. Garcon’s a great value for a 3rd WR (yep, we start three).

I seem to end up with Tony Gonzalez at TE every season, and he rarely disappoints. The guy will be Matty Ryan’s go-to in Atlanta and I reckon I have the top two options for the Falcons tied up; when Atlanta scores, a lot of those will either be in White’s or Gonzalez’s big fricking hands.

Marvin Lewis and his defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer have the Bengals defense primed, and they were near the top of the NFL in positive turnovers last season. I can see that happening again, especially now that the corner duos of Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall have had another season together and injured DE Antwan Odom has returned to the team. Acquiring former Jaguars first-rounder Reggie Nelson at safety will help the team since Gibril Wilson’s injury, but who I’m hoping to see really step up in his second season is LOLB Rey Maualuga, who’s primed for a breakout season (as long as he can stay sober). Ninety-plus tackles and four or five sacks is not out of the question for this beast, especially if he moves to the MLB position in the 4-3 defensive sets, which Zimmer will use often to stuff the run. Zimmer has also reported he plans to blitz more in 2010, a lot more.

Then there’s Adam Vinatieri, my place kicker. Not a whole lot to say. He’s a former #1 PK. He’s in Indy. He’ll be kicking at least half of his games indoors. Gotta like that. And I do.

Jeremy Shockey is another sleeper pick. He’s not the player he once was, that’s for sure, but Drew Brees is a Pro Bowl caliber QB who likes to air it out, and if Shockey can stay healthy, he’ll put up respectable if not consistent numbers. Heck, I’m mainly thinking he’s a BYE week replacement anyway… or trade bait, as he does have a little name value still. Which reminds me, I need to review the other teams in our league and see who might be weak at TE.

Preseason trade anyone?

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What’s your analysis of my team? How did I draft? How will the Saskatoon Sea Wolves fare this season? Let me know. Leave a comment!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book Review: Shadow’s Son by Jon Sprunk

Shadow's SonShadow's Son by Jon Sprunk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SHADOW'S SON by new author Jon Sprunk is written in a fast-paced, take-no-prisoners style that, at least to me, evokes a feeling that reminds me of the popular video game, "Assassin's Creed." Not a bad thing! Like the game, SHADOW'S SON is a thrill ride from page one and doesn't let up.

The tale centers around Caim, an angst-ridden, dual knife-wielding contract killer, and Josephine, a pampered nobleman's daughter who shows more fire and mettle than expected. There's also Kit, a third protagonist of sorts, in the form of a mysterious fey spirit who only Caim can see and talk to. Sprunk does a dynamic job with developing the first two mentioned, while holding back in development of Kit; though I'm certain we'll find out more about her in the next book.

The villains in SHADOW'S SON are fairly typical bad guys who pretty much lack all scruples from the onset, and deliver no real surprises. Levictus is the most interesting of the villainous trio (Ral and Markus being the other two), as he's some sort of shadowmancer/assassin type and very creepy.

The storyline is fairly straightforward. This is a roving, romping adventure tale rather than a meandering, convoluted plot line. So, no huge surprises here, either. Sprunk's descriptors and dialogue are excellent, and he can definitely turn a phrase and give just the right amount of explanation to make the reader "see" just what he wants them to. In this way, I'd also compare SHADOW'S SON to a Jerry Bruckheimer/Disney type fantasy epic a la “Pirates of the Carribbean” and/or “Prince of Persia.”

Sprunk paints a vivid picture of his world in what I'd call a "primer" format, as the book clocks in at 278 pages, rather than in the epic novel format so popular these days of 500+ pages. And, unlike the immersive cosmographic efforts of talespinners like Brandon Sanderson, George R.R. Martin, or Patrick Rothfuss, Sprunk hands over to his readers a sample spoon of his worldbuilding to tantalize the appetite rather than whet it completely. SHADOW'S SON is more like the works of, say, David Gemmell or Joe Abercrombie. Not to say fans of the aforementioned authors wouldn't like this book, as all the authors I've mentioned are my favorites, so I'm giving Sprunk a big ol' compliment and an "atta boy!" I look forward to more, as Sprunk shows us a lot of promise in this debut novel of his. I'm hoping this is the beginning of a long and impressive career.

A high three stars (3.75) has me rounding up to FOUR. Definitely recommended.

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Book Review: Storm Thief by Chris Wooding

Storm ThiefStorm Thief by Chris Wooding
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel it necessary to preface my thoughts on STORM THIEF for some reason by saying I'm a fan of Chris Wooding's. I especially love his "Braided Path" trilogy*, which I feel can sit on the shelf right next to Sanderson's "Mistborn" trilogy (and on my shelf, it does) because as far as quality of writing and depth of character it's right there.

That said, however, STORM THIEF feels like it was "phoned in," if you get my meaning. It lacks depth. It lacks passion. The only thing it doesn't lack is Wooding's eloquent descriptions of people, places, and things. Otherwise, it feels like Wooding is sort of going through the motions. It's as if he got this cool idea for this isolated dystopian city, forgotten by the world, powered by something called a Chaos Engine, which unleashes random "probability storms" from a place called the Fulcrum, all of it created by long-dead mysterious ancestors called the Faded. Yeah, see? The premise is cool; yet, I could never feel anything for the characters. They were all, villains and heroes alike, self-absorbed, whiny, annoying bores, especially Rail (who graces the cover). Not to mention, everything is so bloody ambiguous. The whole story is ambiguous. It even ends ambiguously, with the phrase "Anything was possible," which I suppose ties into the ideas of probability, something Wooding promotes throughout the book. Instead, it just comes across to me as altogether noncommittal.

There's just not much else to say about STORM THIEF. I didn't hate it. It wasn't the worst thing I've read. But I was disappointed in Wooding's effort on this one, and I can't recommend it to anybody. However, I can and DO recommend the "Braided Path" trilogy, and even POISON, both of which are far more fun, fascinating, and fervent than STORM THIEF.

Sorry, Chris. Two out of five stars.

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As an afterthought, I want to add that I enjoyed the character of Vago, up until he was conditioned by the Protectorate. He was the only character I really cared about and I would have liked to go through his re-conditioning process with him to understand the depth of his dual nature better. It would have made his wavering allegiance so much more dramatic and powerful, especially during the book's climactic end scenes.

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* If you can get it, the collected "Braided Path" is available in a weighty Omnibus Edition.

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