Friday, October 25, 2013

Booknote: The Crow: Curare

James O'Barr, The Crow: Curare. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2013. ISBN: 9781613777466.

This is the story of retired Detroit Police detective Joe Salk. He was always a good cop. However, after a young girl's grisly murder, he becomes obsessed with solving the case, a case with few clues or leads, a case that eventually goes cold. The obsession eventually drives his wife away and drives him to drinking. As the story begins, he is now retired and alone, and now the young victim returns to him as a ghost asking him not to give up on the case. Is it a ghost, or is Detective Salk so far gone he is now losing his sanity? I will leave that for readers to decide. And she is not alone for the Crow, spirit of vengeance, is with her.

Unlike other Crow stories, this one does have a bit of a heartwarming element to it. The young girl's character is innocent and even bright in her outlook, which is a sharp contrast to Detective Salk's dark worldview. In an interesting touch, the Crow can speak, which can add some small humor here and there. It is a nice story, but it felt a little rushed. It does read fairly quick. The gritty art, which has a bit of a surrealist element, does suit the tale well.

This graphic novel can stand alone on its own, so readers who have not read other The Crow graphic novels, or seen the films, can read this without feeling they need to catch up. Overall, this was a tale I liked, so I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars if you ask.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Booknote: Bump in the Night

Rachel Haimowitz, ed., Bump in the Night.  Riptide Publishing, 2013. ISBN: 9781626490635. (Link to publisher website).

Before we go on, this is a title that requires a warning:

WARNING: This is an LGBT adult title, and it is a horror title. It is a very explicit in some passages, including some themes of non-consent, explicit violence, and some tentacles.

For this review, I will also say upfront that there are some details that may be spoilers (which I tried to minimize, but I do need to mention some things to review) when I discuss the individual stories. If you wish, just read the top part of the review and skip the individual story discussion.

Bump in the night, edited by Rachel Haimowitz, is an erotic horror anthology that features six stories by various writers. If you like your horror with an element of edgy erotica, or you like your hard erotica with an element of terror and suspense, then this can be the anthology for you. I will say it comes out right on time for Halloween, and it may be just the thing to read late at night in bed with the lights down and the door locked.

The stories revolve around themes of ghosts, the dead coming back, monsters, and people who make deals with the devil. Sometimes you should beware what you wish for. I did enjoy reading and savoring it. This is not really a collection to rush through, although I am sure some readers could zip right through it. For me, these are stories to savor and be frightened, perhaps aroused as well. It's a thrilling feeling to experience horror and arousal, and this collection delivers in that front.

If you ask me, I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars. I really liked it, but I liked some stories better than others. The collection definitely makes a good Halloween season reader, but fans of horror who also enjoy heavy erotic elements in their fiction will like it no matter the time of the year.

As in many anthologies, the stories do vary in terms of quality, so I will take a moment to comment on each one. I liked some better than others, but as the old saying goes, "your mileage may vary."

  • Layla Hunter's "Resurrection Man" is a romantic story. A man, some mage or wizard it seems (some of the details on this are pretty minimal), wishes to resurrect his lover using a spell. After bribing the mortician, he brings the body home and gets to work. The spell works, but there is a price to pay. The story is more romance than horror, and it does have some sweet moments. 
  • Kari Gregg's "Mating Season" is the one for tentacle fetishists. In addition, if you like stories with mad scientists and camping by the lake where there may or not be a monster, this may be the tale for you. Our protagonist is a man out of luck and out of love (recently divorced). About the only good thing he may have going for himself is his pal, the veterinarian. They have been friends since childhood. When the good doctor suggests that his friend take a camping trip to the lake to clear his head, the man says sure and goes, even with the rumors of the lake monster that comes out during the late season. The sex in this one is very explicit and detailed. It combines horror and the erotic seamlessly, frightening and arousing at the same time. My only peeve was the ending, and I do not mean that negatively. I think the story could have ended a bit sooner, a case of leaving more to our imagination. However, the story does work as it stands. I think readers should read it and decide. It is a tale rich in detail with build up to the true horror. 
  • Ally Blue's "Flesh and Song" will leave us wondering what was the "god" that Noah encountered on that lost island? Whatever it was, it was the alluring male lover many find in dreams, and it waits in that lost island. Noah is a man trying to find himself, so he sets sail coming across an uncharted isle. On the island, he meets the man of his dreams, and time seems to slow down. The sex scenes are details, hot, sensual like a hot day on a tropical island; you might feel the sand in your toes at times. The author draws us in the mystery and stirs our sense of longing as well. I did feel the story had a bit of an abrupt ending, especially after Noah escapes, but maybe that was part of the author's plan to leave us wanting more. This is a haunting and sensuous story in the first part of it. Noah's time after the island seemed a bit lengthy, but the story overall is pretty good. 
  • Brien Michaels' "Out From Under" had an interesting touch of humor. Our protagonist has a deal with a demon, a deal that includes a lot of sex. At one point, the demon took the protagonist's lover, Jason, away. But if our man makes just one more deal, our demon will let him have Jason back. The deal? He has to seduce and kill a man of the demon's choosing. The interesting element is that the other man is a demon as well, and the two demons are quarreling lovers. I found that totally amusing. The story is a good romance, but it is still a horror tale. Overall, it is a good story with some good steamy sex, and a good Halloween season reading. 
  • Peter Hansen's "Sleeping with Ghosts" is not a terribly erotic piece, but it is a good solid suspense piece. A cleric of the Church of She Who Turns the Page is sent to kill a man. This is business as usual for him for this church kills those whose time has come, thus "turning the page" on them. This is so the souls can reincarnate in new children. He finds the target, does the job, but something is not right, and there start the suspense and the intrigue. I am not giving away anymore. For me, it was a nice story of suspense. 
  • The last story in the collection is "Blasphemer, Sinner, Saint" by Heidi Belleau and Sam Schooler. Tobias runs a home for boys in Dickensian London. David was his childhood friend, who is now a "fairy" afflicted by the "French disease" (what we call today syphilis). David returns after many years being away asking Tobias for help. Tobias, upstanding Christian philanthropist that he is refuses initially to help. There is that upstanding image to maintain. Yet Tobias still feels for David, and as he struggles with his conscience, he meets Mr. Ashmedai, who offers Tobias a deal too good to pass up: David will be cured, but there is a price that Tobias will not find out about until the deal is agreed upon. Let's just say the devil always gets his man. On a side note, and this was a small peeve in an otherwise excellent story: there is a Biblical reference to Paul denying Jesus three times. Actually, the apostle who did that was Peter, not Paul. It is a small detail I hope they fixed after the galley, and for readers who pay attention to detail, they may notice that. I liked the story because in it Tobias has to confront the fact that, for being a "pious" Christian, he was as bad an extortionist as the other thugs in Whitechapel.  In addition, it brings the setting to life well, and there is some very heavy, aggressive sex in this one.

Disclosure note: I received this volume as an electronic review copy via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, we have appeased The Man once more. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Booknote: Scott Snyder's First Two Volumes of Batman (The New 52)

Scott Snyder, Batman, Vol 1: The Court of Owls. New York: DC Comics, 2012.

Scott Snyder,, Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls. New York: DC Comics, 2013.

Warning: There are some minor spoilers in this review. If you prefer to skip the review now, just know that I do recommend this series.

I recently finished reading the first two volumes of Scott Snyder's run on Batman, part of DC's The New 52 series. In Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls and Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls, Snyder delivers a solid story that fans will appreciate, and a story that is accessible to new readers as well. In that sense it goes well with the New 52, which is basically DC's reboot of their major franchises to bring in new readers (and eliminate or counter those pesky continuity problems hardcore readers tend to dwell on). Snyder gives us a story that delves deep not only into the Batman legend but also into the history of Gotham City. I personally found fascinating the story of Gotham and the Wayne family in the 19th century and its connection to the current day city.

In the first volume, we begin to learn about the Court of Owls, a secret cabal that controls the city of Gotham from behind the scenes. Are they just a legend? The stuff of nursery rhymes? Batman Seems to think so, yet there is an assassin out there killing some of Gotham's VIPs, and the assassin bears the signs of the court. Dismissive initially, Batman does find that the court exists and that their assassin is a force to be reckoned with. The Dark Knight barely defeats the assassin and escapes, but the threat is not over.

In the second volume, the court sets its sights on Gotham. It turns out that the assassin Batman defeated is only one of many. Batman and his allies now have their hands full. Will they be able to defeat this army of Talons (as the assassins are called) and save Gotham? You will have to read to find out.

Snyder created a story with suspense and depth. This is the kind of story I would say should be made into a film, but I am afraid that Hollywood would mess it up. So enjoy reading it, and do enjoy the excellent artwork by Greg Capullo on pencils and Jonathan Glapion on ink. Their artwork, along with FCO's coloring, bring the suspenseful tale of Gotham's past and present, its secret history, to life. The Wayne family's secrets are also now in the open, but you'll have to read the book to find out what the secrets are. This is a set that I definitely recommend. I recently learned there is a third compilation, and I look forward to reading it soon.

Reading about the reading life, October 18, 2013

Here is this week's collection of stories about reading and the reading life for this week. Basically, these are items related to reading, maybe writing and literacy, that I find interesting and think my four readers might find interesting as well with a little commentary.

  • I am not sure that tossing in a few books a nice looking room can really be called a library. These seem to be more reading rooms. However, at least in one case, there is a lending program arranged with a publisher (Penguin) for some kind of book lending. Does that make it a library? Maybe. I will let readers decide on this story: "Hotels Add Libraries as Amenity to Keep Guests Inside." In the end, like much anything else, it is about making a little (or a lot more) extra money. Via The New York Times.
  • This article, "Ebooks v. Cigarettes," asks us an interesting question: how much do we spend on our books and reading? I will admit I have never really sat down to calculate how much I spend on books, though I can say I borrow a lot from libraries (my academic library where I work as well as my local public library). However, I also buy books, especially things I know libraries might not have, like certain graphic novels, erotica, and other more rare things. I think I may have to try to keep track for a while of what I spend on reading to see how I come out. On an additional note, this is the year I have gotten to use my iPad to read, although I pretty much read free items on it; I don't buy e-books. The e-books I do read I either get as review copies from NetGalley or Edelweiss, or I borrow from my local public library on Overdrive. I will probably write more on that later. I found the story on Salon.
  • Via Kaizen Reading, an article on "9 Reasons to Keep a Reading Journal." For folks who would like to keep better track of their reading, this may be a good idea. I think it may work for students and researchers as well. I have kept track of most of what I've read in my personal journal, and now I supplement that tracking online. But I have done it as part of my personal journal; I don't have separate reading notebooks, which is something I have considered. I am not sure I am ready to have more than one notebook. I like having my journal where I can write anything in it from notes to quotes to reading notes. For now, that works for me. 
  • Via Kaizen Journaling, here is "How to Keep an Effective Travel Journal." This is certainly something I would like to do better. I do often write in my personal journal when I travel, though I am not always consistent. I also usually include postcards, ticket stubs, and other small mementos of my journeys, which I attach to pages in the journal to go along with my writing; this is something the blogger suggests.
  • This item is a bit older. Via Fine Books and Collections blog, highlights of the 2012 report on most coveted out-of-print books. I did try to see if (link to their report), who does the list, had an update for this year, but apparently not (at least not as of this writing). What can I say? I always find trivia like that interesting, specially given that Madonna's Sex book has remained at the top of this list for a decade or so, not bad for a book many derided then and try to forget now. I guess sex always sells.

Photo credit: From Flickr user joanneteh_32. Used by terms of Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Booknote: Injustice: Gods Amongst Us, Vol. 1

Tom Taylor, Injustice: Gods Amongst Us, Vol. 1. New York: DC Comics, 2013. ISBN: 9781401245009. 

This is a prequel comic/tie-in to the video game Injustice: Gods Amongst Us. Regarding the comic, in a nutshell, Superman loses Lois Lane and their unborn child at the hands of The Joker. Grief stricken, he basically goes on a rampage to punish the crime. However, he does not stop there as he basically goes on a dictatorial crusade to rid the world of violence, crime, and war by any means necessary. Some of the other superheroes stand with Superman, and others do not thus setting up the big conflict.

The story starts well enough. Tragedy strikes, and naturally the reader feels for the Man of Steel. However, once he has gotten his justice, things get way out of hand as he basically goes on to become an out of control dictator and bully. This is the definitely not the usual virtuous image of Superman we  usually see. At that point, the story pretty much becomes who sides with who and how many people Superman can alienate. At that point, that was where I lost interest in this comic. So, in the end, a story with a good start that degenerates as it progresses.

A redeeming quality is the art. The cover art is slick, colorful, sharp. Art inside is good as well, and there are some good panel layouts. I liked it, but this could have been a lot better.

If you ask me, 3 out of 5 stars, barely.

Disclosure note: This is the obligatory part where I tell you, in order to keep The Man happy, that I read this as an e-galley provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Booknote: Amsterdam

Russell Shorto, Amsterdam: a History of the World's Most Liberal City. New York: Doubleday, 2013. ISBN: 9780385534574.

I wanted to like this book, but after a good start, the book went on to become a pretty dry history textbook. This is the story of a city that has embraced pragmatism and collaboration in order to make things work. What many Americans would find scandalous is pretty much ordinary here due to a tradition of liberalism and tolerance. It was not always that way; this has to grow over time out of conflict and compromises. The city grew as a trading city that attracted many different people, and when you have diversity, you have to collaborate and learn to respect differences in order to make things work.

All that sounds good and interesting, but the book itself at times was basically a drag to read. For instance, the third chapter on The Alteration just reminded me of one of those school textbooks full of dates and names, basically "such and such happened on such and such date and then so and so did this and that on that other date." It was not exactly engaging reading, which led me to skim large parts of the book seeking out some kind of interesting narrative. The parts of the author interviewing the old woman who was a Holocaust survivor and his descriptions of the city were about the only interesting parts of the book because they brought the city to life. The rest of the stuff where it was mostly textbook history made for some heavy reading. This was a pity because the city of Amsterdam seems to be such an interesting topic, but this book handled it in an average way. The book does include notes at the end as well as a bibliography for those interested in learning more.

Overall, if you need a textbook with a history of this city, this will probably do the job. If you want a pleasant read with a good narrative, this is not the book for you. Thing is I have read plenty of history books, and when done right, they can be a good reading experience. Good history writing can be done. Amsterdam was, unfortunately for me, pretty much an "OK" book.  Some examples of history books I would recommend, that I have read, include:

  • Arthur J. Magida, The Nazi Seance
  • Julia Flynn Siler, Lost Kingdom
  • Wayne Curtis, And a Bottle of Rum. 
  • Pretty much anything by Tom Standage. 
I am giving the book 2 stars out of 5. I did not dislike it, but it was no more than just "OK."

Disclosure note: This is the obligatory part where I tell you, in order to keep The Man happy, that I read this as an e-galley provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Booknote: Eat Drink Vote

Marion Nestle, Eat Drink Vote: an Illustrated Guide to Food Politics.  Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2013.

This book is a guide to food politics supplemented by editorial cartoons. To be honest, I wish the author would have used a few more cartoons and a little less text given that there were some parts of the book that felt a little repetitive after a while. For readers who are well-informed on topics of food politics, this book may seem a little basic. However, if those readers need a book to give others that need to learn more about food politics, this is the book they need. It is an accessible introduction to the major topics in food politics.

The book includes an introduction that is followed by ten chapters discussing a broad range of topics, such as: the American food system, food production, food safety, and the food movement. The author strives to explain why these issues and more are significant and why the average consumer needs to care. The cartoons do help in illustrating some of the complex ideas, plus at times they do add a bit of humor to serious topics. Food politics should interest everyone because, as the author tells us in her introduction, "everyone eats." Add to that the fact that corporations have an interest in making sure that people keep eating, regardless of the consequences, and it becomes clear why politics are so relevant and important.

The author works to present the various arguments, such as levels of regulation being needed or not in the food industry and legislation, with some balance. However, she does make her view clear. As she writes in her introduction, "from my public health standpoint, if a government intervention in dietary choices improves health, it is a good thing to do." That is not what Big Agro and big food conglomerates want to hear, but given how they undermine public health, it may well be what is needed. Overall, throughout the book the author makes a strong case for why we need to be more aware, why we need to change the food environment, and why we need to care and act.

I'd give this 4 out of 5 stars if you ask.

I would say this is a good title for public libraries to add to their collections. For academic libraries, this would be mostly a title for undergraduate students as it might help them get started on research related to food politics.

And here goes the disclosure note where I tell you, in order to keep The Man happy, that I was provided with an electronic galley of the book via NetGalley by the publisher so I could give you an honest review of the book.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Booknote: Jinnrise, Vol.1

Sohaib Awan, Jinnrise, Vol. 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2013.

I recently read this, and I have to say it was good from start to finish. This comic combines a bit of the Arabian Nights with a bit of adventure similar to Stargate (the film). The story starts in a small Middle Eastern village that suddenly experiences an alien invasion. The aliens, clearly accustomed to victory after victory, did not count on one small detail: a young boy who has a bottle with jinn in it.

The pace of the comic is fast and engaging. Once I started it, I zipped right through it. This is a volume mostly to set up a longer story, but it does reveal some depth already as we begin to learn more about the aliens and where they have been as well as about the jinn's people. The only fault in the book is that it was too short. I will certainly look for the next one in the series.

By the way, the art on this is excellent. Panels that depict the action generously and great use of color are good reasons to read this comic. Such elements enhance the story. This comic is a good example of the good works coming out of comics publishers other than the "Big Two." This is definitely why I enjoy discovering new titles from other publishers. IDW has put out something good here, and I think readers will enjoy it. I do hope the series gets better as it moves on.

I'd give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Link to Jinnrise website:

Link to IDW press release about the series:

The Disclosure Note: This is where I tell you, in order to keep The Man happy, that I read this via an e-book from NetGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest book review. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

Booknote: Hellboy: The Midnight Circus

Mike Mignola, Hellboy: the Midnight Circus. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2013. (link to publisher).

At a little over 50 pages, this was a charming and easy read. Children often dream of running away and joining the circus. As a young boy, Hellboy is in many ways the typical young boy, and he manages to run away from the BPRD compound. In his night adventure, he comes across a circus in the middle of the woods. What's a young boy to do? Well, he goes to explore it of course. But is this an earthly circus or one from the hellish regions below?

The story by Mike Mignola (who also does the cover art) offers a nice, simple narrative with an ethereal quality and a sense of suspense and wonder. The art by Duncan Fegredo enhances the story, giving it the touch of darkness it deserves. I loved the circus panels on this one, and I found myself wishing for more. Fans of the comic will enjoy this tale from Hellboy's childhood. I think for casual readers, or readers who may only know Hellboy from the recent films, this is a good entry point to the comic. This is definitely one to read, though it did feel a bit short. I did enjoy it.

Public libraries will want this one for their collections, especially if they have other Hellboy comics in their collections. Academic libraries with pop culture and/or recreational reading collections could add this as well. I am certainly ordering it for our library. The publisher describes it as a book for kids 8 and up, and I would tend to agree. I think most kids, if they like some of their fiction a bit "spooky" or they are already Hellboy fans, will like it. This is a good one for readers of all ages.

If you ask me, 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: Once again, I get to tell you I read this as an e-book via NetGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, that should keep The Man happy. Book is scheduled for release on Octobe 23, 2013.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Booknote: Alternative Movie Posters

Matthew Chojnacki, Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2013. (link to publisher)

For film buffs, this is a book they will enjoy. Also, if you enjoy good creative art, then this is a book for you.

With the decline of good movie poster art from the movie studios, alternative art took off. Film buffs and artists had been creating alternative fan art movie posters before this, but their art really took off once the studios slacked off and just stopped making good artistic movie posters, something around the 1990s. Now artists and art houses lead the way; movie houses often commission these artists to create unique movie posters for their theaters. Also, collectors now actively seek out these unique creations. This volume brings together a very good sampling of these works.

The pages have a nice layout with a poster, credits framing the art piece on the side. Under the poster, you get a "Behind the poster" section that provides history, background, and trivia about the poster and its artist. Some of my favorites include:

  • "Leon the Professional" by James Rheem Davis. 
  • "Coffee and Cigarettes" by Viktor Hertz. I thought this was minimal yet unique. It does catch the eye. 
  • "Pulp Fiction" by Michael Waite. The neon art made it unique, and the poster does catch an iconic scene in the film. 
There is art here to satisfy different tastes. The book is definitely a pleasure to look through and browse. Posters are presented in full color and with good details.

Libraries with art and pop culture collections will probably want to add this one to their collections. Movie buffs will likely want to purchase it for their personal collections. I think many readers may be encouraged to seek out some of the posters.

5 out of 5 stars if you ask me.

Disclosure note: Once again, I get to tell you I read this as an e-book via NetGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, that should keep The Man happy. This book is scheduled for publication on October 28, 2013.