Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: Batman: Gothic by Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson

Synopsis: Collection of Batman: Legends of the Dark Night, #6-#10.

Review: A single story, this follows Batman as he confront a strange evil from his past, and his own darkness within. It has an 80s feel to it (being that is was published in 1990), with garish colors, big hair, roughly drawn art, and the occasional cheesy dialogue. This doesn't distract from the story or the art, and both are entertaining and engaging. Excellent for any Batman fan, and a classic comic book, worth reading.

Bookmarks: 3.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-4352-1000-4
Year Published: 1990 (Collected in 2007)
Date Finished: 4-24-2017
Pages; 98

Review: Serenity, Volumes 1-4 (Those Left Behind / Better Days and Other Stories / The Shepherd's Tale / Leaves on the Wind) by Joss Whedon et al.

Synopsis: A collection of stories, both before and after Serenity (movie), and bridging between the show and the movie.

Review: After the cruel and heart-wrecking cancelation of Firefly, many of us were left desperate to know about how our anti-heroes fared in the ‘verse. Thankfully, Whedon and Co. stepped in to tell us. These four volumes, spanning the time before Firefly to long after Serenity, are extensions of the bigger story. From the Shepherd’s background, to general mayhem, to what happened after Serenity, these stories carry us back to that world and those people whom we loved so much.
Most reviews are meant to either deter would-be readers or entice – but truthfully, I seek to do neither. If you are a Firefly fan, you’ll read these, because they are cannon. They are the stories we would have seen on TV and didn’t get to because FOX is an asshole. 

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 9789-1-59582-914-6 / 978-1-59582-739-5 / 978-1-59582-561-2 / 978-1-61655-489-7
Year Published: 2005-2014
Date Finished: 4-24-2017
Pages: 350 (Total)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: Hawkeye, Volume One: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction (Writer), David Aja, Javier Pulido (L)

Synopsis: The breakout star of this summer's blockbuster Avengers film, Clint Barton - aka the self-made hero Hawkeye - fights for justice! With ex-Young Avenger Kate Bishop by his side, he's out to prove himself as one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes! SHIELD recruits Clint to intercept a packet of incriminating evidence - before he becomes the most wanted man in the world. You won't believe what is on The Tape! What is the Vagabond Code? Matt Fraction pens a Hawkeye thriller that spans the globe...and the darkest parts of Hawkeye's mind. Barton and Bishop mean double the Hawkeye and double the trouble...and stealing from the rich never looked so good. (from the online description)

Review: After seeing several panels from this comic, I wanted to read the entire story. I was not disappointed. Hilarious, with simple, expressive art and coloring, and a action-based plot. It’s perfect – exactly how I imagine Hawkeye. Fraction brilliantly captured Clint Barton. With a story balanced between humor and suspense, action, romance, and a pizza dog – this is a perfect comic. I enjoyed it immensely and will definitely read the rest.

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-7851-6562-0
Year Published: 2014
Date Finished: 4-21-2017
Pages: 70

Review: Justice League, Volume One: Origin by Geoff Johns (Author), Jim Lee (Illustrator), Scott Williams (Illustrator) (L)

Synopsis: In a world where inexperienced superheroes operate under a cloud of suspicion from the public, loner vigilante Batman has stumbled upon a dark evil that threatens to destroy the earth as we know it. Now, faced with a threat far beyond anything he can handle on his own, the Dark Knight must trust an alien, a scarlet speedster, an accidental teenage hero, a space cop, an Amazon Princess and an undersea monarch. Will this combination of Superman, The Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Aquaman be able to put aside their differences and come together to save the world? Or will they destroy each other first?

Review:  Having seen the movie (Justice League: War), I wanted to read the source material. With bright colors and detailed action shots, this is a fantastic comic. I enjoyed the witty dialogue, the action, the plot, and the art. The authors and artists capture the personalities and responses of each superhero accurately and I enjoyed reading this. I will definitely read the next in the series.

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-4012-3461-4
Year Published: 2012
Date Finished: 4-20-2017
Pages: 192

Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: Pretty Deadly, Volume One: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos

Synopsis: Death's daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke and her face bears the skull marks of her father. Her origin story is a tale of retribution as beautifully lush as it is unflinchingly savage.

Review: I knew this was dark going in, but holy schmoly! With vivid reds, fire-burnt oranges, and smoky blacks, with a poet’s words and a vindictive hand, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos, give the reader a bloody, gut-wrenching tale about Death and the Mason and the Woman and the Daughter. Part western, part folktale, part gothic story, with the same creepy taste as Poe and Lovecraft, we follow the Mason as he travels the wide west, his companion a small girl wearing the Vulture Crown. Who she is and why she matters, and why the lady in white with the habit of dying wants her dead and the lady with the scull painted on her face wants her alive - well, read the tale to find out!
Perfect for anyone who enjoys Macabre or Gothic tales, the Grimdark or the Bloody, this is the book for you. 

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards:  Eisner Awards in 2014: DeConnick for Best Writer, Rios for Best Penciller/Inker and Best Cover Artist, and Jordie Bellaire for Best Coloring.

ISBN: 978-1607069621
Year Published: 2014
Date Finished: 4-21-2017
Pages: 120

Review: Bronze and Sunflower by Wenxuan Cao (Author), Meilo So (Illustrator), Helen Wang (Translator)

Synopsis: When Sunflower, a young city girl, moves to the countryside, she grows to love the reed marsh lands - the endlessly flowing river, the friendly buffalo with their strong backs and shiny round heads, the sky that stretches on and on in its vastness. However, the days are long, and the little girl is lonely. Then she meets Bronze, who, unable to speak, is ostracized by the other village boys. Soon the pair are inseparable, and when Bronze's family agree to take Sunflower in, it seems that fate has brought him the sister he has always longed for. But life in Damaidi is hard, and Bronze's family can barely afford to feed themselves. Will the city girl be able to stay in this place where she has finally found happiness? (from the back of the book)

Review: This is a sweet and lyrical tale, part folktale, part myth, part historical fiction, part children’s adventure. With simple prose, the author takes the reader through the history of Sunflower, as she follows her father to the Cadre School. During the Cultural Revolution in China, her father, an artist, is sent to the country to be “educated” in the ways of the simply farmer. His named his sweet and shy daughter for his favorite flower. When he dies, she is sent to live with a nearby country family, who’s only child, a boy named Bronze, is mute. There, through the seasons and cycles of the village, Sunflower and Bronze, brother and sister, face with courage, wisdom, and love the many trials that come upon them.
I would highly recommend this for children. It is an honest book. It doesn’t pretend that life on a farm wasn’t hard, that starvation and death aren’t real. But it does show that family and love are what helps us survive. In addition, the exposure, in a colorful, honest way, to the life in China during this time is perfect for young minds. Enough explanation is given to open up understanding but not overwhelm with useless facts. The story deftly weaves bits of Chinese culture into the narrative and it is excellently done, gibing a clear picture of the wonderful and fascinating world.
Worth reading. 

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: Hans Christian Andersen Award

ISBN: 978-1406348460
Year Published: Chinese (2015) / English (2017)
Date Finished: 4-18-2017
Pages: 400

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Synopsis: Twenty-five years have passed since humanity quarantined the mysterious aliens known as Moties within the confines of their own solar system. They have spent a quarter century analyzing and agonizing over the deadly threat posed by the only aliens mankind has ever encountered-- a race divided into distinct biological forms, each serving a different function. Master, Mediator, Engineer. Warrior. Each supremely adapted to its task, yet doomed by millions of years of evolution to an inescapable fate. For the Moties must breed-- or die. And now the fragile wall separating them and the galaxy beyond is beginning to crumble. (from the online description)

Review:  As the sequel to the Mote in God’s Eye, I was excited to return to this universe. Mote was a fine book, a little slow, but fantastic, easy to see what it won all those awards. This one – not as much. First, it starts very slow, a rounding up of all the previous characters. The main character this time isn’t Lord Blaine, but Bury, the merchant, magnet, and now, spy to the Empire. His PTSD from his time with the Moties leads to strong paranoia about them – and it serve the Empire well. The Moties are close to breaking the blockage and it is up to Bury to use all his power to convince the right people to prepare before it is too late.
We get to meet Lord and Lady Blaine’s children and a few other new characters, and revisit old ones too. However, the story moves slowly. So much time spent on the characters speaking yet very little development or action. The action takes place at the end, and will intriguing, by the time I got there, I just wanted the story over. There are some tense parts (being the very real dangers the Moties present) but those don’t make up for the tedious back and forth of nothing.
Sadly, this doesn’t live up to the first novel, although it is part of the series and worth reading if you enjoy hard science fiction with strong conflict and real moral dilemmas. 

Bookmarks: 3.5 of 5

Awards: None

Year Published: 1993
Date Finished: 4-17-2017
Pages: 413

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen (L)

Synopsis: Jae is a slave in a dying desert world. Once verdant with water from a magical Well, the land is drying up, and no one remembers the magic needed to keep the water flowing. If a new source isn’t found soon, the people will perish. Jae doesn’t mind, in a way. By law, she is bound by a curse to obey every order given her, no matter how vile. At least in death, she’ll be free. Elan’s family rules the fading realm. He comes to the estate where Jae works, searching for the hidden magic needed to replenish the Well, but it’s Jae who finds it, and she who must wield it. Desperate to save his realm, Elan begs her to use it to locate the Well. But why would a slave—abused, beaten, and treated as less than human—want to save the system that shackles her? Jae would rather see the world burn. Though revenge clouds her vision, she agrees to help if the realm’s slaves are freed. Then Elan’s father arrives. The ruler’s cruelty knows no limits. He is determined that the class system will not change—and that Jae will remain a slave forever. (from the online description)

Review: I picked this from the Library, after reading the first few pages as a sample. I was intriguing by the premise and expected it to be interesting, but your typical YA angst.
It was a bit more. Allen delves deeper into slavery and elitism, oppression and rebellion. She very much demonstrates the idea that Winners Write History, and what that means for the Losers of the conflict. The character developed is solid, and the romance isn’t obnoxious or overshadowing of conflict. And the Jae, she isn’t perfect or all-powerful. She isn’t always good. She is a hurt, abused, slave who finds herself in possession of unheard of power – and finds herself tempted to use it for revenge. The plot is fast-paced and well-done, despite relying on a few forced spots or coincidences to move things forward. The world building is complex enough to enjoy, but not so convoluted as to lose the reader.
It must be noted this is Allen’s first published book. It lacks the polish and finesse of more experience writers. However, her second book comes out in December, and I am certain as time goes and she gains experience, we will seem fantastic stories come from her mind. I look forward to reading them. 

Bookmarks: 3.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-101-93214-8
Year Published: 2016
Date Finished: 3-30-2017
Pages: 320

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Synopsis: To save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven in this “fast-paced narrative that is…part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract, and part out-and-out thriller” (The Washington Post). In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that were crumbling in the trunks of desert shepherds. His goal: to preserve this crucial part of the world’s patrimony in a gorgeous library. But then Al Qaeda showed up at the door. (from the online description)

Review: Abdel Kader Haidara spent a lifetime collecting and guarding the ancient scrolls and books of his culture – only to see them threatened by Islamic extremist. Calling upon the librarians of the collections, and their families, he organized a daring and clandestine operation to move the priceless relics to safety.
I expected this book to get more into the actual operation. Instead, Hammer starts with the life of Haidara and moves into the history of the region and the rise of the Islamic extremist. While the focus is on the libraries, the story encompasses more than just the fate of the scrolls. Hammer gets into political and social context of the event and why these people would feel threatened by the knowledge contained in these works of art.
Despite being more a history book, the prose is lively and fast-paced, uses easy to understand vocabulary, and reads more like an article in a general magazine than a history book. It is easily readable by someone with a middle school reading level and possibly for elementary age children. There is mention of violence and some of the atrocities committed by the Islamic extremist, but nothing gory.
 It wasn’t what I expected but I enjoyed it, and found it enlightening. 

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7740-5
Year Published: April 2016
Date Finished: 3-27-2017
Pages: 277

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II by Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee

Synopsis: A galvanizing narrative of the wartime role played by U.S. Army nurses—from the invasion of North Africa to the bloody Italian campaign to the decisive battles in France and the Rhineland. More than 59,000 nurses volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps alone: 217 lost their lives (16 by enemy action), and more than 1,600 were decorated for meritorious service and bravery under fire. But their stories have rarely been heard. Now, drawing on never-before-published eyewitness accounts—many heroic, some mundane and comic—Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee take us to the front lines, to the withering fire on the beaches of Anzio and Normandy, and to the field and evacuation hospitals, as well as bombed and burned hospital ships. We witness the nurses—and the doctors with whom they served—coping with the physical and psychological damage done to the soldiers in combat. We see them working—often with only meager supplies and overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties—to save the lives and limbs of thousands of wounded troops. With them we experience the almost constant packing up and moving on to keep up with advancing troops, foxholes dug under camp beds, endless mud, and treacherous minefields. The vividness and immediacy of their recollections provide us with a powerfully visceral, deeply affecting sense of their experiences—terrifying and triumphant, exhausting and exhilarating.
A reveling work that at last gives voice to the nurses who played such an essential role in World War II.

Review: After reading this, my foremost thought was why is this information not taught in elementary or middle school? Why is the contribution of these brave women not part of our basic history? I learned more about World War II reading this book than in any history course in my 16 years of formal education.
With clear and passionate prose, Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee take the reader through the history of American nurses in the North African and European theatre during World War II. It begins with D-Day in Northern Africa, when Allied troops (mostly British and American) landed in Algeria and French Morocco. It was the first and only time that nurses went ashore at the same time as the first wave of soldiers (with D-Day in Italy and France, the nurses were sent in two-three days behind the initial forces). The history ends with the surrender of Germany two years later, as the nurses emerged from the exhausted trek from the shores of Normandy to the dense forests of Germany.
It’s hard to explain what these nurses went through – cold that froze water in their cups in Africa, near constant shelling in Anzio, shifting battle lines in Germany, lack of food and sleep, working with low supplies, disrespectful colleges and commanders, and always, surrounded by suffering, pain, and death. Yet, they preserved. Even when they had ships sink under them, tents explode over then, beloved friends died from shrapnel, and had their husbands and boyfriends killed far from them, they preserved. Even when called upon to stay and face almost certain capture, they volunteered. Not one asked to go home, but always forward, always towards the danger, determined to support the men who fought.
Yet, they were not awarded Veteran status when they returned home, nor where they given Veteran benefits. They were often excluded, mocked, shunned, or treated as second-class despite their braver service. It wasn’t until the last twenty year that the US Government stepped up and recognized their sacrifice. Thankfully, Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee have preserved their story for future generations.
I highly recommend, particularly if you have young girls. It is a must for all women to know our heritage.

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-375-41514-9
Year Published: 2003
Date Finished: 3-26-17
Pages: 514

Review: Lumberjanes Vol. 2: Friendship To The Max and Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware The Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen

Synopsis: Five best friends spending the summer at Lumberjane scout camp...defeating yetis, three-eyed wolves, and giant falcons...what’s not to love?! Friendship to the max! Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together...and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way. These five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together...and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! But having stumbled onto a mysterious force wreaking havoc in the camp, it’s a race through the woods as the Lumberjanes work together to save not only their friends, but maybe even the whole world!

Review: What a fun story! I wasn't sure what to expect, but it far exceeded my expectations. Strong female leads, excellent female relationship, passes the Bechdel Test (in fact, boys aren't even mentioned) - plus, mysterious creatures, strange artifacts, an enigmatic camp director, mythological beings come to life, stressed-out-but-loving counselor, magic, adventure, danger, and humor. It’s everything I would want from a graphic novel. I can’t recommend this story enough.

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: Eisner Award, for Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens, 2015. Nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60886-687-8 / 978-1-60886-727-0
Year Published: April 2015 / October 2015
Date Finished: 3-21-2017
Pages: N/A

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Review: Two Plays by Shakespeare

As You Like It: Exiled from her home, Roselind takes to the forest, where she meets the aristocrate but abused Orlando. Dressing as a man, she woos Orlando, bringing about happiness for herself and several other couples.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: Hamlet comes home on the death of his Father to find his Mother has married his Uncle. A spectre of his Father warns him that his death was murder and charges the Prince to revenge his death, leading to tragic consequences for all.

As You Like It: Considered Shakespeare's weakest play, this is a frivolous, sprightly, and ridiculous play. It’s full of angst romance, innuendo, and word play. While no As You Like It or Much Ado About Nothing, it’s an enjoyable play. As for the dramatization, it was very well done. 
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: Hamlet is generally considered one of Shakespeare’s best work. It is clear why. With intensity and emotion, with passion and anger, Shakespeare’s prose explores the depths of the human existence, and the things that crush the heart of man. Grief, madness, revenge, love – how they interact, how the intertwine, how one can kill the other – the play weaves the reader through complex ethical and philosophical tangles.  Hamlet, in particular, faces the clash of love and revenge, duty and honor, what is right and what is expected. This dramatization was excellent. In particular, the actor who read for Hamlet and the actress who read Ophelia both had a fervor that made their reading enthralling. I found myself breathless at points, every word captivating. 

Note: These we both Fully Dramatized Editions by ArkAngel Shakespeare Series.


As You Like It: 3.5 of 5

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: 4.5 of 5

Awards: None

Year Published:  c.1599 / c1603 (Audiobooks 2005 / 2003)
Date Finished: 3-17-2017
Pages: N/A

Monday, April 3, 2017

Acquisition: March Book Haul

Hooray for Me! I only spent $1.90 on Books in March!

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Let's Explore with the Electron by Alfred Bender

MLP: Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell by G. M. Berrow

And the book on Electrons was for school so it doesn't really count. 

Review: From Pearl Harbor to Calvary by Mitsuo Fuchida

Synopsis: Mitsuo Fuchida was a Captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service who is perhaps best known for leading the first air wave attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Fuchida was responsible for the coordination of the entire aerial attack working under the overall fleet commander Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. After World War II ended, Fuchida became an evangelist, Christian preacher and frequently traveled to the United States to minister to the Japanese expatriate community. He became a United States citizen in 1966. His autobiography was originally released in 1953, and this edition will be published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 2011.

Review: Published in 1951, this is a simple book, with simple prose. Translated from the Japanese, this is told by Fuchida, from his days as a pilot for the Japanese Airforce leading the attack on Pearl Harbor to his days as a missionary and evangelist for Christ.
Fuchida explains in simple prose how strongly he believed in the Manual of War, the book of Japanese Military Protocol and Philosophy. He believed in superiority of the Japanese people and he believed in the cause of his nation. But after, with the devastating defeat, he was lost. A chance encounter with a street evangelist changed his life. He found a peace and a purpose to his life, unlike any he’d know.
The remainder of the book speaks about his life as an evangelist, working with the young men of Japan. Compelling and encourage, this is an excellent read for anyone interested in foreign missions and the mission work in Japan. 

Note: This review regards the Audiobook, read by Karl Choi

Bookmarks: 3 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1618430106
Year Published: 1951 (Audiobook 2011)
Date Finished: 3-15-2017
Pages: N/A