Thursday, April 28, 2016

recent read; The Wolves of London

The Wolves of London by Mark Morris

With NECON fast approaching (and sold out,) I've started some reads for the occasion, works from both guests of honor and other attendees.

Mark Morris is one guest of honor, who will be coming all the way from the UK to attend. The Wolves of London popped up at HamiltonBook for a song, so I gave it a try.

Morris writes and edits horror, as I understand. This book is a bit more of a urban fantasy vein, I guess. It comes close to defying categorization - which is good.

This story starts off as a crime drama. A reformed convict, Alex Locke, finds himself drawn back into the criminal underworld - first to save his older daughter from hoodlums and then in a desperate race to find his kidnapped younger daughter. Coerced into stealing "the Obsidian heart," Alex soon encounters strange happenings that could be sorcery or science or supernatural. Things spiral further and further out of control and get stranger as the story unfolds. Is it all happenstance, or has Alex been getting setup by strange forces for a very long time?

This story had unpredictable twists, which I enjoyed. Once the plot enters the supernatural territory, Morris brings his horror chops to bear. If this is "urban fantasy" it is not of the "vampires, elves and werewolf races" sort. There are some real monsters here. Creepy and original.

In the old days, I'd just bop into a bookstore. I had no Internet pre-knowledge of upcoming releases or past releases I felt I needed to read. I'd buy what grabbed me from the shelf. I can safely say, The Wolves of London would have been such a book.

While I'm not rushing onto the next book (and the third in the trilogy is due out later this year,) I did find it interesting and enjoyable enough. I just have a really large list of things I want to read. I am curious about the third book which (minor spoiler) takes place in Word War I, thanks to time travel. I'll probably finish out the trilogy at some point in the future.

Monday, April 4, 2016

recent reads; Superman Triple Play

Superman: Brainiac

In this stand alone story, Superman finally goes up against his foe, Brainiac. He has dealt with various probes and forms of Brainiac in the past, but here Superman decides on a showdown with the real, original Brainiac. This features great art, has some wonderful moments with Kents and the story is a good examination of Brainiac and his motivations.

I love that the countenance of Superman in this comic is based on Christopher Reeve.

This book was adapted as a direct-to-disc animated movie, SUPERMAN UNBOUND. (Though, the animation didn't carryover the Reeve image.)

Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?

"Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?" was a swan song story written by Alan Moore. In 1985, the DC line was rebooting. This is their "last" story of Superman up to 1985.

After quiet years, Superman's remaining super-villains try one last all-out assault on the Man of Steel. After his identity is compromised, Superman flies his family and friends to the Fortress of Solitude where he makes his last stand.

This collection also includes a Superman & Swamp Thing story, which is surprisingly good.

The book is rounded out by "For The Man Who Has Everything," now considered a classic Superman tale that was adapted for both the animated JUSTICE LEAGUE television series, as well as recently being adapted for an episode of the new live action SUPERGIRL series. A parasitic alien plant gives Superman a comatose dream of life on Krypton. His friends struggle to free him from the parasite and save themselves from the alien warlord, Mongul.

Superman / Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle

What if John Clayton had not been orphaned in the African jungle? What if Superman's rocketship had delivered the baby Kryptonian to the great apes, instead?

I must admit that I am only halfway through this one. I am enjoying this story. But the cartoony style illustration leaves me cold. I'd prefered a more direct approach to the art.

Friday, March 25, 2016

recent read; Dark Melody of Madness

Dark Melody of Madness by Cornell Woolrich

Woolrich is known for his mystery, crime and noir stories. In this collection of four novellas, we see a side not often shown - Woolrich working in the supernatural & horror milieu.

"Graves for the Living" tells an updated (for the 1930s) tale of Poe-esque obsession with premature burial. After his father is buried alive, a boy becomes obsessed with protecting himself from premature burial. As an adult, the man stumbles on a graveyard cult where people are temporarily buried alive to overcome their fear.  He is left with a choice of joining the cult or being executed by the cult to protect their secret activities. He chooses membership. Of course, things go wrong when his girlfriend gets involved. Technically, there is nothing supernatural in this story, but the story fits better under a horror banner or a "tale of terror" banner than any other classification.

"Dark Melody of Madness" brings us a step closer to the the supernatural. The main plot element, from a high level, isn't that far removed from "Graves for the Living" - a musician gets caught in a cult and chooses to join rather than die. This time around, however, the cult is a voodoo cult. And the musician steals their ceremonial song. The song becomes his signature hit on the nightclub circuit of New Orleans. The voodoo priest, Papa Benjamin, puts a curse on the man. Or is it all in the protagonist's mind? This story was adapted for the television series THRILLER under the title "Papa Benjamin" and has sometimes been reprinted under that title.

"I'm Dangerous Tonight" is the most plot ambitious of this collection. And it has the most direct supernatural element. One night in Paris, a demonic entity visits a fashion designer and leaves its cape behind. The seamstress uses the cape's material in a new dress. But contact with the demonic material causes evil thoughts of murder and mayhem, some of which are acted upon by hapless wearers of the dress. The plot then follows the dress, and an American detective whose path keeps crossing the dress as he tries to take down an international narcotics smuggler. Murder, mayhem, demons, drug gangsters, trans-Atlantic ship voyage, night clubs. I also thought some of the violent imagery - imagined and acted on - were quite shocking for something from 1937.

This is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Anyone else trying to weave all these plot elements together probably would be left with a jumbled mess. Under Woolrich's pen, it all feels seamless. This was my favorite of these four novellas.

"Jane Brown's Body" was another surprise. This time, Woolrich tackled the "Weird Menace" genre. The tropes are all here - a mad scientist, an isolated lair in the deep woods, and beauty in distress, and our happy-go-lucky, rakish pilot of fortune, (Bad) Penny O'Shaughnessy.

This collection also starts off with a good introduction by crime writer and editor, Bill Pronzini.

I liked these stories a lot. Woolrich definitely puts his own stamp on this territory. He imparts frenetic, frantic desperation of panicked protagonists in a way that sweeps a reader along for the ride.

This physical book itself is published by Centipede Press and the paperback is solid quality - heavy paper, great cover. You can still find copies at Hamilton Book (follow the link) for a song, if you are interested.

Monday, March 21, 2016

recent reads: weekend superheroing

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

This collection serves as a prequel to the animated movie of the same name.

Each character - Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman - had their own prequel issue and then they joined forces in the 3-issue story arc.

The story involves a scientist who is creating super-humans. Do the Justice League see a potential threat to humanity, or are they merely jealous and want to keep their position of superiority?

For the most part, I enjoyed this book and I think it weaves nicely with the movie.

On the down side, the artwork sometimes confused me about action that was happening. The strong start of the story felt like it was going off the rails by the end. Personally, I wanted to know more about Luthor and how he ended up like he was in the movie, but this story wasn't about that. Maybe they can do another comic or movie.

The Hernan Guerra, son of Zod, Superman is growing on me. I liked him quite a bit after the movie and I like him, mostly, here. He is a character that has to grow on you. He has an abrasive side, for sure.

I even like the Kirk Langstrom vampiric Batman a bit more after reading this. In the movie his character didn't move me very much but he plays better in this story, I think.

Team-ups of the Brave and the Bold

A thin book but some interesting team-up choices. Straczynski can write stories, and these are all solid, fun and some have poignant moments. We get Batman and Dial-H for Hero, Flash and the Blackhawks in the Battle of the Bulge, Batman and a really obscure hero from the 1960s, Brother Power. The Atom doesn't exactly team-up with the Joker but their story heavily involves both both of them. Wonder Woman, Zatanna and Batgirl have a night on the town.

Perhaps the most fun of the bunch is Aquaman teaming up with the Demon to stop an underwater interdimensional invasion. Mutated fish, resurrected drowned men, and a ruined city with angles that are all wrong. Yeah, they went there. And it was cool.

Monday, March 7, 2016

recent reads; Lansdale binge

Coinciding with the premiere episode of HAP AND LEONARD, two Hap & Leonard ebooks were on sale last week. The first novel, SAVAGE SEASON and the story collection, HAP AND LEONARD RIDE AGAIN.

I bought them both.

I read them both.

I enjoyed the hell outta them. HAP AND LEONARD RIDE AGAIN also contains some great essays on the characters (including an 'interview' of Hap and Leonard by Joe Lansdale,) and about Joe Lansdale's writing.

Yes. I read two books within mere days of purchasing them. Will wonders never cease?

I also watched the premiere episode of the television show. It is a strong adaptation of the book. The characters are spot-on.

You can bet I'll be reading more Hap and Leonard. And Joe has some weird Westerns I want to read, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

recent read; The King's Gold (Captain Alatriste, #4)

Someone was just discussing shorter, series novels. You know - ones you could consume in a day and enjoy.

The Captain Alatriste novels - while not quite in the ballpark - are very close. They are historical action adventure and aren't too thick. They're enjoyable, and present enough characters and history without bogging you down. Arturo Perez-Reverte writes these with a deft pen.

This time around, in The King's Gold, Diego Alatriste and his faithful protege, Inigo Balboa have returned to Spain from combat in the Netherlands. Soon Alatriste is contracted to pull together a Dirty Dozen style of Spanish rogues to save the King's gold from embezzlement. Intrigue, sword fights, dark alleys soon follow. As one man says to Alatriste, he might have been in danger fighting in Flanders, but he is in far more danger in Seville.

Looking back over my review of The Sun Over Breda, I did note the many historical asides were padding and slowing that story. In The King's Gold, such interruptions were minimal. The only bit I found padded was a journey up a river. It could have been tighter, but word counts are word counts. This is still a shorter novel read.

This one really was a fun, quick read with a hint of foreshadowed tragedy. (We are told where Alatriste will make his last stand, as Inigo - as an old man -  is the narrator of these novels.) I missed these stories, I need to get to the next one sooner.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Of bald eagles and used books

This weekend we went to the Pioneer Valley area of western Massachusetts. My mother now lives with my sister. My sister and her husband needed to be away for the weekend. So, we packed up and went to stay with Gram and the dogs.

Man, I needed that.

We've visited, of course, many times, but it has been years since I stayed out there for a weekend. When I was single, I dog sat for them quite often. It was really nice to be out in the country - my sister's house is nicknamed "The Shire" for good reason.

Saturday morning started off just right. I was headed to the town market and a bald eagle came cruising along at treetop level - down the middle of the road in the center of town, and over the car.

Aside from reading, games, dogs, television, playing, and visiting, my brother-in-law also got to stop by for a few hours. I took advantage of that and took a short loop to explore used book stores.

First stop was the Montague Book Mill - a quaint spot. It's housed in an old saw mill converted into used book store, artist gallery, cd/DVD/vinyl store & restaurant.

What a spot for a book store.
Then, 15 minutes north to Greenfield for Federal Street Books, which has books coming out its pores. Lots of shelves to peruse. I ran out of time. I hadn't planned enough time and I didn't pump the street meter enough. I came out with books but I had to leave more on the shelves.

Other bird sightings included a pair of pileated woodpeckers and red-tailed hawks.

Drove through Deerfield enough that I should find a good book on the 1704 raid.

Waiting for someone to get home soon!
After the chaos and disorder in the workplace the past few weeks, the getaway was a welcome distraction.

My kids want to do it again, and so do I.

Banks of the Connecticut River