"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
Eighteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music! More than 1500 reviews.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

FAITH and the FUTURE FORCE (graphic novel) by Jody Houser



Published in 2017 by Valiant Entertainment, LLC,
Art by Stephen Segovia, Barry Kitson, Diego Bernard and Cary Nord.

Faith Herbert is a superhero (Zephyr) in hiding. She has been accused of a murder she did not commit in another series (she's a member of some sort of Justice League/Avengers type of group). She no longer acts as a superhero and her secret identity now has a secret identity. She is working in an office and trying not to get noticed.

Now, a note about this graphic novel. Before this book, I had never heard of Faith Herbert or this series. But, I was attracted to the front cover because of Faith. Faith is a woman of generous proportions - something I have never seen in any comic book. In fact, I can't think of a single superhero comic that features an overweight superhero without it being a joke (Mr. Incredible's gut doesn't slow him down, but it has been a sight gag from the very first trailer of the first movie). This got my attention because I am a man of generous proportions.

Secondly, when I opened up the book and thumbed through it I found multiple Doctor Who references. On the third page, a superhero in a typical full curve-hugging superhero outfit appears in Faith's office and says, "Come with me if you want to save history." 


Faith answers, "I've been preparing my whole life for this moment."

The hero responds, "Oh God, you're a Doctor Who fan aren't you? Of course."

Well, that was it - I was sold. Guess what? It turns out that Faith is not only a Doctor Who fan - she is also a Star Trek fan. What's not to love?

Back to the story...

Faith has been recruited to help stop a robot from the future that is traveling through time and destroying human history. If I tell any more, I will make spoilers.

The story is a bit confusing for at least the first half of the book, with all of the time traveling and Faith having things explained to her a little bit at a time on the fly . If you are a Doctor Who fan, you are used to this. And, like a great Doctor Who episode, it all comes together and has a clever ending.

The art is top notch in this book. It was quite fun.

I rate this graphic novel 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: FAITH and the FUTURE FORCE.

THE TWO HENRYS: THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING COLLECTION (audiobook) by Kevin Allison



Published by Brilliance Audio in 2018.
Read by the author, Kevin Allison.

Duration: 1 hour, 22 minutes.
Unabridged.


The author, Kevin Allison
Kevin and Ben are best friends and have been since first grade. They are both a little different than the other guys. Both are more interested in singing and acting than in sports. Both have active imaginations, a wide-ranging knowledge of movie and Broadway soundtracks and both have quirky senses of humor.

As they go through school together, they have sleep-overs, they start a theater club and they even write a play together that they perform in front of their Catholic school in Cincinnati.

Ben even teaches Kevin all about the birds and the bees in a three day tutorial on the playground during recess (Surprisingly solid info considering that it was based on what the older neighbor boys told him).

But, on the weekend before the beginning of seventh grade, everything changes when Kevin tells Ben his biggest secret...

This audiobook was brilliantly read by the author. Kevin Allison has a real talent for narration. The big secret is that Kevin is gay and the last half hour of the audiobook deals with the aftermath of that revelation.

My only complaint about this audiobook is that we don't hear more about these two friends as they move on into high school and beyond. I wish there had been a short epilogue - even a paragraph. But, this was still an enjoyable listen.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE TWO HENRYS: THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING COLLECTION (audiobook) by Kevin Allison.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

SING, UNBURIED, SING: A NOVEL (audiobook) by Jesmyn Ward



Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.
Publishers Weekly Top 10 for 2017.

New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017.

Published in 2017 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Read by Kelvin Harrison, Jr. and Chris Chalk and Rutina Wesley
Duration: 8 hours, 22 minutes.
Unabridged.


Jojo lives in rural Mississippi on a small farm, but it is a complicated world. He is bi-racial. His white father (Michael) is in Parchman Farm, officially known as the Mississippi State Penitentiary. His African American mother is a frequent substance abuser and is in and out of his life so much that he and his toddler-aged sister just refer to her by her first name, Leonie. His little sister treats him much more as a parent than Leonie.

He lives with his African American grandparents (his grandmother is dying of cancer) and his white grandparents won't have anything to do with him because they are racists and cannot stand the idea that their son had mixed-race children. To make it all the more complicated, Michael's cousin murdered Leonie's brother and covered it up to be just a hunting accident.

Most of the book deals with the trip to Parchman Farm to pick up Michael on the day of his release. Jojo and his little sister Kayla are forced to go along with Leonie and her friend in addiction, Misty. Jojo's African American grandfather won't go because he served time there as a teenager for a crime he did not do. Plus, he is the only one that can take care of Jojo's grandmother.


The trip is a long one. It shouldn't have been but Leonie is in charge of things. Also, Jojo's little sister Kayla is sick and vomits often. Her "mother" mostly ignores her illness, conducts drug deals along the way and demonstrates her unworthiness as a parent. Once they pick up Michael, he shows that he is a marginally better parent (but that is not too hard).

While at Parchman, Jojo starts to see a ghost who seems to know a lot about grandfather...

This book should have been split into two books. The story of Jojo and his family was interesting, especially the relationship between Jojo and his grandfather. The mystic part of the story was not nearly as interesting as Jojo's life and his grandfather's history. That history could have been told without the introduction of ghosts. For me, it would have been much more effective without them.

What we really ended up here was a long story about Jojo's messy family situation, death and loss and a toddler that vomits all over everyone at one point or another. For me, this was a wasted opportunity.

There were three readers for this audiobook since the story is told from three different points of view: Jojo, Leonie and Richie (a ghost). The parts read for Jojo and Richie were excellently read. But, the parts read by Rutina Welsey for Leonie were excruciating. I will blame this entirely on the producer, not the voice actor. When she read, it sounded like she was pretending to be Eartha Kitt from the 1960's Batman series. Eartha Kitt played Catwoman with a sultry, purring voice. Now imagine a sultry, purring Eartha Kitt reading a text as a parody of Slam Poetry. It was tedious, making an already tedious character unbearable.

So, I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. This book won a ton of awards (some of them are listed above) and I cannot figure out why. For me, this was an uncomfortable mash-up of two different books forced to become one unwieldy mess that doesn't explore either idea to a satisfactory end.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

APRIL MORNING: A NOVEL by Howard Fast



Originally published in 1961.

Howard Fast (1914-2003) was a prolific writer (more than 60 novels, plus scores of short stories, plays, articles and histories). He is most famous Spartacus, the novel that inspired the iconic movie by Stanley Kubrick.

This is my second Howard Fast novel and if you throw in Spartacus you see a trend in Howard Fast's books - he likes to tell the story of the underdog who fights back.

In this novel, the underdogs are the colonists of Massachusetts. The April morning in the title is the day that the British army moved on the stores of gunpowder in Concord, Massachusetts. This is when Paul Revere makes his famous ride. This action is now known as The Battles of Lexington and Concord. The book takes place in and around Lexington.

Adam Cooper is a fifteen year old boy in 1775 and the troubles of Boston with the British Redcoats seems a world away. His father is deeply involved with the committees that try to workout a common response to the British government. When the British army marches towards Concord with nearly 1,000 trained regulars, the local militia forms up to confront them. The militia musters only 77 men, many with small hunting weapons.

15 year old Adam Cooper is in that militia...

This was a truly great novel. As I previously noted, this is only my second Howard Fast novel, but it won't be my last. He had a real knack for making the characters seem real and believable. His characterization of 15 year old Adam is perfect.

The book does not glorify war in any way. It can be graphic. The fighting has real-life consequences. Some of the passages were quite touching. 


Others passages were cleverly observant. I liked this line on page 88: "Blame the devil, Reverend, but I tell you that three-quarters of the misery of mankind is the result of plain damned foolishness."

I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: April Morning: A Novel.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL: 2 FUZZY, 2 FURIOUS (audiobook) (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl novelization #2) by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale



Published in 2018 by Listening Library.
Read by Abigail Revasch and Tara Sands.
Duration: 8 hours, 20 minutes.

Unabridged.

Middle school in a new town is tough enough - establishing new friendships, figuring out a new school and a new town and more.

Being a superhero in middle school has extra difficulties. How do you keep your secret identity a secret? How do you keep up with your homework when you are patrolling for bad guys at night? How do you balance your superhero and regular people friendships? And, if you are Squirrel Girl, you also have to balance your squirrel and human friendships. 


After successfully establishing herself as a genuine superhero in the first novel, Squirrel Girl is working on non-violent ways of dealing with bad guys, she has a tough new English teacher and she and her BHFF (Best Human Friend Forever), Ana Sofia are still sorting out what friendship is all about.

Squirrel Girl's new town (Shady Oaks, New Jersey) is getting a mall. But, everything seems a bit off to Ana Sofia. The promotions are weird, people are reacting strangely and the mall's logo looks an awful lot like the Hydra logo...

I really enjoyed the first Squirrel Girl novel. It was all about her origin story and it was a lot of fun. This novel was also fun, but not quite as good. There were laugh out loud moments (Squirrel Girl group texting the Avengers and their responses) and there were touching moments (Ana Sofia struggles with her hearing - she wears hearing aids but they don't fill in all of the gaps. My wife and my daughter also wear hearing aids and her struggles were accurate to their struggles).

But, there was a lot of repetition of things and the extended squirrel conversations were mostly annoying.

The last book was clearly meant to be set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This book had a bit of trouble because in the two years since the first novel was written, six movies have been released and some of the characters don't match up so well any longer. Don't sweat it. It's still a fun time. I'll keep an eye out for a third book.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars our of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL: 2 FUZZY, 2 FURIOUS.

Link to my review of the first novel in this series: 
http://dwdsreviews.blogspot.com/2017/07/the-unbeatable-squirrel-girl-squirrel.html

Monday, June 24, 2019

CHURCH REFUGEES: SOCIOLOGISTS REVEAL WHY PEOPLE ARE DONE with CHURCH but NOT THEIR FAITH by Josh Packard, PhD and Ashleigh Hope



Published in 2015.

Packard and Hope set out to investigate why formerly active members of Christian churches (all denominations) leave and don't come back to any church at all. These are not members that leave and go to a new church - these are members that completely walk away from any church. He calls them "dechurched" or "dones", as in they are completely done with church.

Every year, churches across the country lose active members. In this case, Packard and Hope are not talking about merely regularly attending members - they are talking about members who lead committees, music directors and even former clergy. These are part of the leadership of the church - the people that are committed enough to get things done.

Packard and Hope assumed that these folks were simply "burnout" cases - people that just were tired and dropped out alltogether. "Instead, the dechurched are walking away from church work, but not the work of the church. They're walking away because they're convinced that the structures and bureaucracy of the church are inhibiting their ability to serve God. They see church as oriented only to its own survival. Instead on empowering, they find the church to be stifling. Over time, they've become convinced that their efforts and energies could be better spent serving God outside of the church." (p 55)


Once again, this is not a certain style or denomination of church. He talks about churches with big bureaucracies, churches essentially led by a CEO-type pastor who makes all of the decisions and everything in between. In the end, churches tend to turn inwards (focused on things like presenting a great worship service and maintaining a building) while these "dechurched" people wanted to keep a much more outward focus. They propose any number of outreach activities that emphasize a sense of personal community and the idea of making their church a more integrated part of its surrounding community (Think comments like: "That's a great idea, Bob. But, we need that money you would use to start a food pantry to re-pave the parking lot.")

Many of the dechurched (he also calls them "church refugees" - they are like real-life refugees who reluctantly flee their homelands because they feel forced out) feel like they have to leave the church to do the things they need to do. They see the opportunities to do the things that Christians are commanded to do and paving the parking lot is not one of them (there are several pages that use just this example that is lifted from an interview). The surprising point here is that so many of these people - the overwhelming majority, do not just walk away and just quit doing anything like church. This is not because of doctrine - it is because they feel like the formal church structure is getting in the way.

Many of them join informal groups that act like house churches or in-depth Bible studies that emphasize discussion. Others work on those projects that they were denied as part of a formal church. Some move to groups like Habitat for Humanity. Almost all of them retain Christian beliefs and act on them. But, they are done with anything that is "organized" about organized religion. The formal rituals turn them off. Formal dogma does as well. Rather, they prefer a sense of community and the idea that the community is exploring what is meant to be a Christian - they are exploring it together and they are learning together, and they don't necessarily have to draw the same conclusions.

These people are not burned out. They throw themselves into new roles, unhampered by a bureaucracy that tells them no (or says "Yes, but only if you do this and this and this and fill out this form and make a presentation and...)

This was an interesting book. I know that in my own church, I have seen my share of fairly pointless disputes over turf issues as I have served as the head of a major board, so I get it.

But, Packard and Hope do note that a real strength of a traditional church is that it has real staying power. The energy of a small group of believers that meets from time to time fades. Church committees keep going and going and going - their structure can carry a church during times of low energy. They make several suggestions, but do not offer a prescription along the lines of "Do these three things to lure back the dechurched" because everyone's situation is different. Instead, they point out a few general guidelines that might keep the "almost" dechurched from leaving and becoming the next set of church refugees and might take advantage of the energy and training that these people desperately want to share.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: CHURCH REFUGEES: SOCIOLOGISTS REVEAL WHY PEOPLE ARE DONE with CHURCH but NOT THEIR FAITH.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

STEVE McQUEEN: THE SALVATION of an AMERICAN ICON (audiobook) by Greg Laurie and Marshall Terrill



Published by Christianaudio.com in 2017.
Read by John Pruden.
Duration: 7 hours, 2 minutes.
Unabridged. 


In the 1960's to the 1970's, Steve McQueen (1930-1980) was the epitome of "cool" in Hollywood. Movies like The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt and The Great Escape made him one of the most sought-after actors in the world.

But, there was a long back story to Steve McQueen and his tragic death due to cancer had a surprising twist for a man who seemed to be out to take as much out of life as possible.

Greg Laurie, a super-successful California pastor (who I had never heard of, but his Wikipedia page is something else) decided to investigate a rumor that Steve McQueen became a Christian before his death. He decided to be methodical and investigate McQueen's life from its beginning in Beech Grove, Indiana to its end at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

McQueen was born at St. Francis hospital in Beech Grove, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. His family struggled from the very beginning and he never knew his father. His mother struggled with substance abuse and often brought home "boyfriends" who abused both Steve and his mom. 


The author grew up with similar struggles (single mom who moved a lot, abused a lot of different substances and brought unsavory men into the household) and he uses this similar background as a starting point of the book. In reality, this book is both a biography of McQueen and an autobiography of Laurie. I found both of their lives to be interesting and Laurie's observations about his own experiences growing up shed light on Steve McQueen's life as well.

Laurie follows McQueen from his childhood (including a stint in a group home for young men that was similar to a low-intensity jail) to his stint in the Marines to his beginnings as an actor in New York City and then on to Hollywood.

The question that Laurie was investigating was whether McQueen became a Christian before he died. Yes, he did - several months before he was diagnosed with the aggressive cancer that killed him.

I am not a particularly great fan of Steve McQueen, but this biography was pretty interesting as a look at popular culture 50 years ago. This book could've have used a little less about Greg Laurie and a half hour of repetitive storytelling could have easily been edited out of this audiobook. Despite those caveats, this was still an enjoyable listen.

John Pruden read the audiobook and he did an excellent job. It truly sounded like he was reading his own story.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: STEVE McQUEEN: THE SALVATION of an AMERICAN ICON (audiobook) by Greg Laurie and Marshall Terrill.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton



Edith Wharton (1862-1937)
Originally published in 1911.

Way back in high school in the 1980's I had to read Ethan Frome. I didn't remember anything about it except that it is set in New England and it involved an accident in the snow (no spoilers - this is laid in the first four paragraphs).

I decided to revisit this book and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. Ethan Frome is a New England farmer who limps around town due to a 24 year old injury. He is sad man who almost never has visitors to his struggling farm. He makes up the difference by doing odd jobs, such as ferrying visitors around. The narrator of this book tells us the story of Ethan Frome, as it was told to him (or her?) by Ethan Frome himself when the narrator was forced to stay the night in the Frome house during a terrible snowstorm.

This is a story of regret, love, temptation and obligations. I have no idea why we read this book in high school because there is simply no way that a high school reader would be able to identify with the situations in the book - an older person who has experienced the ups and downs of life can empathize with Ethan Frome even if he or she wouldn't have made the same choices. 

I found the book to be very interesting. Actually it turned out to be a real page-turner for me, much to my surprise. I have had this book in my to-be-read pile for a long time and I picked it just to get it out of the pile only to find out that it was a great book.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

CIVIL WAR: THE CONFLICT THAT CREATED MODERN AMERICA by Peter Chrisp

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman
near Atlanta in 1864.


Originally published in 2013.

This book is aimed at 4th-8th graders. It tells an abbreviated history of the Civil War, featuring a lot of pictures and text boxes. It makes for a disjointed read, but it is really designed to be a kid version of a coffee table book.

I was not fond of its description of slavery vs. abolitionism argument on page 6. It takes a neutral stand, meaning that it makes an equal space for the argument for abolitionism and point of view of the slave owners. Really?

The description of the Springfield Rifle on page 18 makes it sound like it could be fired accurately up to 500 yards. In reality, it was a lot less than that for the average soldier. Sure, it could kill someone at 500 yards, but in the hands of the average soldier that would be the shot of a lifetime - or an accident.

On page 39, it pronounces that Sherman intentionally burned Atlanta. He may have, but if he did he kept it to himself. He did order the cotton in storage burned - and that spread to the rest of the city. Intentional? Maybe. Maybe not. To be sure, Sherman didn't spend a lot of time crying over Atlanta.

What does it do well? It gives biographies of the major commanders, includes both Confederate flags (not just the more famous "battle flag"). It also includes a section on "Lost Cause" revisionism, the KKK and sharecropping, rather than just ending with Lincoln's assassination as so many books do.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: CIVIL WAR: THE CONFLICT THAT CREATED MODERN AMERICA by Peter Chrisp.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

SIMON BOLIVAR: THE GREAT LIBERATOR (World Landmark Series) by Arnold Whitridge



Published in 1954 by Random House.

In the 1950's and 1960's Random House created an extraordinary history series for children called Landmark Books. There were 122 books in the American history series and 63 in the World Landmark series. A very solid description of the series can be found here: link. When I was a kid my little hometown library had what seemed like an endless shelf of these books (I even remember where it was in the library nearly 40 years later). Undoubtedly, these books are part of the reason I am a history teacher.
Simon Bolivar (1783-1830)

This book is part of a subset of the Landmark Books series. If the book took place outside of the United States the book belonged to the World Landmark Books series.

Simon Bolivar was born in the Spanish colony that is now Venezuela. He was educated in Spain but was keenly aware that the government of Spain considered the colonies to be inferior to Spain and incapable of self-government. He doubtless shared that belief until he began to spend time with the children of the Spanish ruling class (including the future King of Spain) and discovered that they weren't all that impressive. Once Napoleon conquered Spain and put his brother on the throne, Bolivar pushed for a revolt. Some, like Bolivar, were pushing for independence no matter who was on the throne, but others who joined him simply wanted to revolt as a part of a general resistance to Napoleonic rule.

Regardless of the initial motivations, Bolivar soon led a multi-colony revolt that went on for 11 years. Eventually, Bolivar helped to liberate the colonies that make up the modern countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.

Many have compared Bolivar to George Washington, including Arnold Whitridge, the author of this book. There are surface similarities, but Bolivar's fight was much longer and (I would say) much more of a geographical challenge. Bolivar crossed the Andes range multiple times with armies that suffered horrific losses simply from the geography. In fact, while doing a bit of research on Bolivar while writing this review, I found that the Wikipedia page for Bolivar does a much better job of stating the sheer monumental scope of his accomplishments than this book did. For example, he fought in 79 major battles, traveled 10 times the distance of Hannibal, 3 times the distance of Napoleon and twice the distance of Alexander the Great. If you can be can be compared favorably to that crowd, you are truly a military genius. In this respect, Washington certainly comes up short.

Sadly, Bolivar was not a political genius and he could never figure out a way to unite the former Spanish colonies into one large country that he wanted to call Gran Colombia. This is where Washington's strengths come into play. Not only was he able to win the military fight, he was able to help establish the concept that the colonies were going to become one country and the military would not lead that country.

This book is aimed at students from 3rd to 8th grade. It is a simple read with line drawings. It could use a few more maps. To be fair, it was merely an "okay" introduction to Simon Bolivar and his accomplishments (see above about the Wikipedia page).

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: 
SIMON BOLIVAR: THE GREAT LIBERATOR (World Landmark Series) by Arnold Whitridge.

Friday, June 14, 2019

THREE MILITARY SF NOVELLAS (audiobook) by Kevin J. Anderson



Published by WordFire Press LLC in April of 2019.
Read by Charles Kahlenberg.
Duration: 5 hours, 22 minutes.

Unabridged.

Kevin J. Anderson
The title of this audiobook says it all - this audiobook is actually a collection of three novellas. Nothing about any of these stories was particularly original, but I enjoyed two of the three immensely.

Story #1 is called Comrades in Arms. It is set in an asteroid belt that is actually the front line of a war between humans and a insect-like species. This story has a familiar vibe - think Robocop meets Enemy Mine. I rate this novella 5 stars. Very entertaining.

Story #2 is called Escape Hatch. It is set on a future earth in which a water-based alien species has invaded. They are sort of like eels and jellyfish. They combine together to create massive sea monsters and they are destroying Earth's combined navies. This story has a clever twist and has a very satisfying ending. I rate this novella 5 stars.

Story #3 is called Prisoner of War. This story is set in a world at war. No one really remembers why the war started and soldiers are literally being bred and raised just to fight the war. Several species of animals have also been adapted to fight. This story seemed like a missed opportunity. It hinted at being critical of our seemingly endless wars against "terror" and the toll they take on our soldiers - but it misses the mark and the story just fizzles. I rate this story 2 stars out of 5.

The stories were read by Charles Kahlenberg. He has an interesting voice - a change of pace from the typical voice stylings of most readers.

The average score is this collection is 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THREE MILITARY SF NOVELLAS (audiobook) by Kevin J. Anderson.

Monday, June 10, 2019

STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME II: MORE UNCELEBRATED NARRATIVES from BLACK HISTORY (graphic novel) by Joel Christian Gill



Published in 2018 by Fulcrum Publishing.

In a little more than 100 pages this graphic novel tells the story of eight little-known African Americans who lived trailblazing lives. I had heard of three of them, which made me feel a little more pretty good - a little more informed than the average reader might be.

As Gill tells these stories he confronts racial issues head on. However, he does have a clever way of dealing with the word n*****. Whenever that word is used, a stylized caricature of a man in "blackface" is inserted instead. It makes the point and it shows how out of bounds the word is when a picture is used instead of a word.

The art is simple and interesting and the stories move at a quick pace. This book would be a great addition to a classroom library.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME II: MORE UNCELEBRATED NARRATIVES from BLACK HISTORY.

THE LONG CON by Dylan Meconis, Ben Coleman, E.A. Denich, M. Victoria Robado, Aditya Bidikar



Published by Oni Press in February of 2019.

The phrase The Long Con has a double meaning this story. Traditionally, a "long con" is a long-term swindle that is being pulled on someone, like a long-term investment fraud.

Meaning #1: In this graphic novel, The Long Con is the biggest Pop Culture Convention in the world. It has been an annual event for 50 years and it lasts a long time. Five years ago, it was location of ground zero of a horrible (unspecified) "cataclysmic event" that destroyed everything in a 50 mile radius. Everyone assumed that the convention hall was destroyed.

Meaning #2: 
Reporter Victor Lai was sent to cover The Long Con before the disaster - a duty that he considered a punishment. Now, the outside world has noticed signs of life in the convention center and Victor Lai is sent back into the convention center to see what's going on. 

Surprise! The convention hall survived! The people inside it survived! And...the attendees are still having the convention - 5 years later! (thus making this a really long convention). They believe that the rest of the world was destroyed because if you head out for 50 miles in any direction it's all obliterated.

Well, to be fair, they are not really having a traditional convention any longer. They are living in a pop culture little world because they are, well, cosplayers, fanboys and supergeeks (I mean that as gently as possible).  Their world is broken up into fan bases - and they are literally fighting for control of what they think is the only bit of livable real estate on the planet - the convention center.

No real-life TV shows, movies or comics are actually mentioned but there are stand-ins that any comics or sci-fi fan would immediately recognize. There's a Star Trek-type show, gritty comics, cosplayers everywhere, commentary on pointless "boob window" outfits (like D.C. Comic's Power Girl), a guy with a t-shirt about how someone "shot first", creepy comic book guys and D-list celebrities.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel. The art was easy to follow, the characters were likable and the world of The Long Con was interesting to explore. This graphic novel would be an interesting basis for a video game or a board game. I am going to keep an eye out for more books in this series.

I rate this graphic novel 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Long Con

Sunday, June 9, 2019

DAREDEVIL: GUARDIAN DEVIL (audiobook) by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada














Published by GraphicAudio in 2015.
Written by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada.
Adaptation by Richard Rohan.
Duration: Approximately 3 hours.
Performed by multiple voice actors.

GraphicAudio specializes in multicast voice performances of audiobooks - they are like old-fashioned radio plays, but heavy on the action. In this story, there are 26 different voice actors and a lot of special effects.

Daredevil is a superhero by night and a lawyer named Matt Murdock by day. As a child, Murdock was blinded by an accident, but exposed to some sort of radiation in the same accident that radically enhanced his other four senses to the extreme. These enhancements allow him to fight crime, which he primarily does in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City.

Murdock is having a crisis of faith after a rough romantic breakup. Despite his devil personae, Murdock is a faithful Catholic of sorts. When he encounters a young woman with her baby on the run he immediately steps in to help her. Through a series of conversations and visits from mysterious strangers Murdock is told that the baby is either the return of the Messiah or the Anti-Christ.


Daredevil sets off to investigate and it only gets weirder...

***********

This is a very busy 3 hour audiobook adaptation. There are times when it moves a little too fast. In two separate scenes there is active dialogue going on in the foreground while a TV or radio news report is going on in the background - and both of the items are important to the story.

But, it was an interesting story - in many ways the action was secondary to the morality play and the psychological aspects. Also, fellow Marvel Comics characters Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Black Widow make appearances.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. 







Saturday, June 8, 2019

THE DEADER the BETTER (Leo Waterman #6) by G.M. Ford

G.M. Ford


Originally published in 2000.

Private Investigator Leo Waterman is a well-connected man in Seattle. His dad was a mover and shaker in the best and worst uses of the term. He knew all of the "beautiful people" at the top and he knew all of underworld people as well. Leo has not chosen to go into politics. But, he uses those family connections to help people who come to him, including a group of homeless drunks that Leo watches after because they all worked for his father in one capacity or another. Leo also hires them to do surveillance because no one really wants to notice the homeless guy shambling down the street.

This book starts out with a missing persons case - a thirteen year old girl has run away from a sexually abusive home and is now on the streets. Leo tracks her down to a certain pimp and swings into action.

After that case, Leo and his serious girlfriend head out of town to meet some friends - a couple and their children who are trying to start a fishing camp for high rollers. But, he is having trouble. He claims the local government officials are after him and are trying to force him out of business. Leo dismisses the whole idea. But, when they visit a few months later, they find the house has been shot up, is partially burned, the husband is dead and the wife and kids have disappeared.

So, Leo swings into action with a whole crew of from Seattle...

According to my blog, I haven't read a Leo Waterman book for 15 years. That really surprised me. But, it felt like I hadn't skipped a beat. These are not amazing mysteries, but they are certainly unique and entertaining.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Deader the Better (Leo Waterman #6) by G.M. Ford.

BESSIE STRINGFIELD: TALES of the TALENTED TENTH, no. 2 (graphic novel) by Joel Christian Gill



Published in 2016 by Fulcrum Publishing.

Artist and author Joel Christian Gill is writing and illustrating a series of graphic novels that look into the lives of lesser known, exceptional African Americans. His inspiration is this quote from W.E.B. DuBois: "The Talented Tenth rises and pulls all that are worth saving up to their vantage ground." In other words, some will rise up and inspire/lead the rest. This is Gill's way of providing inspiration.

Bessie Stringfield (1911 or 1912 to 1993) was a remarkable woman by anyone's standard. Throw in the tough Jim Crow laws of the day and she is more than worthy of the accolades she has received from various motorcycle-based organizations.

The motorcycle was her true passion. At the age of 19 she received a motorcycle as a gift and hit the road for the better part of twenty years. She traveled, she raced and she performed in carnivals. Sometimes, she spread out the map of the country, tossed a penny up in the air and then headed off to the location where the penny landed.

It was a tough time for African Americans so she hit the road with a copy of the "Green Book" - a guide to restaurants, hotels and gas stations that welcomed African Americans. The book addresses racial issues in a couple of clever ways. Whenever the word n***** is used, a stylized caricature of a man in "blackface" is inserted. Secondly, whenever Stringfield is confronted by racists, they are partially or completely illustrated as crows with angry red eyes. There are crows driving trucks, crows telling her to go other places, crows wearing KKK outfits.

Stringfield ends up using her motorcycle skills as a courier for the military during World War II.  After the war, she rides outside of the United States as well, but eventually settles down in Miami, Florida. She was called the Motorcycle Queen of Miami.

As a teacher, I love alternate ways to tell history. Breaking away from the little biographies with grainy black and white photos is a nice change of pace. This little "comic book" introduces a lot of heavy topics - gender stereotypes, adoption, racism and the responsibility of people in places of leadership to confront the big issues of the day (Stringfield sat on the sidelines during the civil rights struggles of the 1950's and 1960's). All of that in a comic book. You could trick students into talking about all sorts of big concepts without them even knowing what was going on...

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Bessie Stringfield: Tales of the Talented Tenth, no. 2


Friday, June 7, 2019

RADIO FREE VERMONT: A FABLE of RESISTANCE (audiobook) by Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben


Published by Penguin Audio in 2017.
Read by Danny  Campbell.
Duration: 5 hours, 53 minutes.
Unabridged.

The premise:

Vern Barclay feels that something about the modern global economy just isn't right. His beloved home state of Vermont is losing its unique character. Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Coors beer are moving in. Small farms are fading away and the local radio stations are now corporate radio stations with national programming taking a priority over local news.

This last bit was especially tough for Vern Barclay. For decades he was THE voice on a statewide radio station - the guy who did the local sports, interviewed everyone with someone to say and just talked about the events of the day.  He loved Vermont and Vermont loved him. Generations of listeners sat around the breakfast table drinking coffee and learning about their own state and the people that lived in it. Now, his station has cut back his time on the air, began playing out-of-state shock jocks from a satellite feed.

When the station sends him to cover the opening of the first Wal-Mart in Vermont, a store that was delayed by lawsuits and protests for years, Vern decides to act. He stages a series of fake interviews with "employees" of the store that point out that the goods come from China and local stores will likely go out of business and then arranges (with the help of a computer-savvy youngster named Perry) for the sewage to reverse its flow and flood the Wal-Mart.

Perry and Vern go on the run and start pushing for Vermont to secede from the union through a website and a podcast. Perry has to use all of his tricks to keep the site alive because the government of Vermont is starting to take this very seriously...

The review:

I get why Vern Barclay is irritated. My own local radio station, the one that won awards for news, covered all of the sports and made everyone feel part of a community that talked to one another has primarily become a giant angry political talk station - a station that is way more concerned about something silly that Bill Maher or Elizabeth Warren said than in interviewing the mayor. I hear more about former Congressman Beto O'Rourke than I do from any representative or Senator from my own state.

On the other hand, farms have been consolidating since the beginning of the country. What were plantations but giant corporate farms? The small stores in Vermont sell the same Chinese goods that Wal-Mart does. And, that corporate radio station knows what draws in the ratings - they wouldn't play the shock jocks unless they were a bigger ratings draw than Vern.

Vern is also really irritated about global warming (the author has written several books full of essays on the topic) and I don't really see how an independent Vermont would do anything about that. As noted in the book, there are less than 650,000 people in the whole state with almost no manufacturing base. They are not really a big factor in global warming anyway.

A great deal of the book is a series of speeches given by one character or the other. This makes sense because, as I noted above, the author is an essayist. Everyone speaks in long monologues (or short essays). This style gets the point across but it can get a little monotonous.

In the end, this is an entertaining but disjointed book. I like Vern Barclay and I found myself agreeing with a great deal of his sentiments, even if they don't quite make a coherent philosophy. It's a little bit political thought and a little bit of an old man yelling "get off of my lawn" at the modern world, but it's fun.

Danny Campbell's reading of the book was excellent. He sounded exactly like the old school radio personality when he voiced Vern.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

KINDRED by Octavia E. Butler



Originally Published in 1979.

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) was a science fiction author who won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, both for novelettes. Kindred, though, is not a novelette - it is a full length novel and one of the best novels that I have read in a long time. This book could easily end up being the best book I will read this year.


Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006)
Dana is a 26 year old African American woman. The year is 1976, she and her husband are celebrating her 26th birthday at their home. Suddenly, she feels faint. When her mind clears, she is in the woods by a river. She sees a young boy drowning in the water. She dives in, pulls him out, revives him with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and is rewarded by having a gun put to her face.

...and she disappears and ends up back in her house and soaking wet. Her husband tells her that she's only been gone a few seconds.

A few hours later, she disappears again. The same boy is in danger and she saves him again - but he is a few years older now. She determines that she is in the early 1800's in Maryland on a slave plantation. She has saved the white son of the plantation owner twice but, unlike the last time she doesn't return to 1976 right away and now has to accommodate her 1976 ways of thinking to the ways of a slave plantation.

1976 wasn't the most inclusive of times, but it certainly was a damn sight better than living on a slave plantation in the early 1800's.

Dana eventually returns to 1976 after she is nearly killed. However, she is only starting a cycle of ever-lengthening stays in the past...


It is interesting to me that this piece of science fiction has the most detailed description of the day-to-day dangers and hardships of American slavery - much more than anything that I have read in a history book. Really, the only thing that came close was a personal tour that my family took of a slave plantation that was owned by a university. The university was studying the financial, personal and genealogical records of that plantation and their neighboring plantations in an effort to understand how they worked day to day and how they worked over the generation.  This tour was completely "off of the books" and was not subject to the sanitizing process that most public tours undergo.

I think this novel is so effective because it is a modern woman with a modern way of looking at things that has to figure out the rules of a slave plantation. She can't let on that she can read, she can't speak her mind, she can't look white people in the face (in 1976 she is married to a white man and he ends up accidentally getting brought back in time with her at one point), she has to follow the "rules" that the slaves have among themselves.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

WALKING on the SEA of CLOUDS: A SAGA of the FIRST COLONY on the MOON (audiobook) by Gray Rinehart



Published in 2019 by WordFire Press LLC.
Read by Stephanie Minervino.
Duration: 13 hours, 33 minutes.

Unabridged.

In the year 2034 a private corporation is making an attempt to build a colony on the surface of the moon to act as a home base for asteroid miners. They make the long run from the moon to the asteroid belt and back so that the lunar base can refine the metals found in the asteroids. It's a solid plan, but it has to start with almost nothing and work it's way to the kind of lunar colony you see in the movies.

The world of 2034 is different in some ways. There are early references to some sort of traumatic biological problem, such as rampant infectious disease. A great deal of the early parts of the book is devoted to Stormie and Frank Pastorelli, two prospective lunar colonists that expose themselves to the risk of contracting a bloodborne pathogens when they help the victims of a car crash. The lengths they go to cleanse themselves of pathogens and the fear exhibited by other potential colonists tell me that this was not HIV or hepatitis. Sadly, it is never explained what the infection could have been even though the infection story line comes up again and again throughout the entire book.

NASA is rarely mentioned in this book because this colony is a private venture. Imagine if Elon Musk and Space-X decided to go the moon and you get the idea. But, it's not entirely a company operation - there are independent contractors that manage parts of the small-but-growing lunar colony and there are independent contractors that deliver goods. It all can be very complicated and decidedly not glamorous to hash out who has what responsibilities with the lawyers - just like most corporate gigs.

If you remember the literary devices you learned about in school (man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. nature) - this book is almost entirely man vs. nature - the nature is the harsh environment of the moon. It is the ultimate unforgiving environment - it is so cold that you will die almost instantly upon exposure, it has no atmosphere so you can't even take a breath and fluids burn away immediately when the sunlight hits them. The temperature extremes (more than a 500+ degree Fahrenheit difference) are tough on the machinery and the dust...well the dust gets everywhere and unlike Earth dust, it can be sharp and jagged (no weathering to take off the harsh edges) and it can tear up all sorts of stuff.

Building a colony in such conditions can be a tedious venture. You cannot just say "good enough for now" and then come back and fix the leaks later on once the colony starts to make some money. It all has to be perfect on the first try or people die.

The audiobook was read by Stephanie Minervino. She was given a hard task in this book - there are a lot of male voices and there are a variety of accents (the first lunar colonies will have to access talent from around the world). She did a strong job with this book.

This book gives the reader a taste of what our first lunar colonists (I do believe that we will be there eventually - NASA is making rumblings about it again) will be up against. It will be, as noted above, a tedious venture. Tedious things do not make the best topics for a book and there are times when this book drags. It is is not a horrible book by any means - but it suffers from peaks and valleys and some of the valleys are pretty big.

I am giving this book 3 stars out of 5. It is not the most riveting of books, but this is a must listen/must read book if you are interested in getting a glimpse of the difficulties in the eventual colonizing of the moon.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: WALKING on the SEA of CLOUDS: A SAGA of the FIRST COLONY on the MOON.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this audiobook from the author in exchange for an honest review.