Friday, October 30, 2015

Booknote: Castaways

Brian Keene, Castaways. Portland, OR: Deadite Press, 2011. ISBN: 9781936383931. 

Genre: Horror
Subgenre: subhuman cannibals, survival, reality shows.
Format: trade paperback
Source: My local public library

A big reason this book caught my eye was the premise: a bunch of folks in an island participating in a reality show in the style of Survivor. Only the island is inhabited by subhuman cannibal monsters. Horror ensues. For me, the book had pluses and minuses; it was a book I wanted to like more, but in the end, I liked it more than just OK.

One reason I picked it up, as I mentioned, is the premise. I hate reality shows like Survivor. So here I'll admit to a bit of gruesome pleasure at the idea of those smarmy contestants being horrified and having to do more than play silly games and vote each other off an island. In that sense, Keene delivers as he does put the contestants through horror and hell. Much of the thrill is to see who dies and who might survive. On the other hand, once Keene establishes the sympathetic characters, you the reader can sort of predict who survives. Once you figure it out, the novel does lose some of its suspense. All you end up doing is confirming who survives.

This is a horror book, and it is horror of the violent variety. Yet, and this may sound mean, I think the volume could have ramped up the horror violence some more. In the end, it feels like yet another story of inbred subhuman cannibals in the edges of civilization. Horrifying, yes, but if you have read books or seen films in the genre, such as The Hills Have Eyes or even Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you know then what to expect. This novel is right in line with that kind of tale, so for readers advisors in the genre, this is an appeal factor to note.

I also mention that the more horrific elements could have been ramped up more because I expected more. The author of the horror RA book I read mentioned Keene's novel, and she built it up quite a bit. So my expectations were high since I also picked up the novel based on that recommendation. In the end, I like it, but it was not a big deal.

The edition of the book I read also includes an author's note, which you can view as a sort of author's commentary. In the note, the author explains how the novel started as a short story in tribute to Richard Laymon's work. Laymon is a horror writer, particularly known in the splatterpunk subgenre of horror. Laymon is known for subhuman creature stories too, especially the "Beast House" series. Keene does make me curious, and I may seek out Laymon's work down the road. On a side note, even though the article I linked about splatterpunk states the movement mostly declined at the end of the 1990s, I wonder if newer horror works, like the Saw films, show a new interest in that style; films like Saw have been labeled as "torture porn" and seen as part of the splatter film genre.

In the end, I like Keene's book, and I will take a chance on other Keene novels down the road.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

In the back of the edition I read, Deadite Press, the book's publisher, advertises other titles by Keene and other writers. I jotted down some of the titles that sounded interesting to me and may seek out down the road.

  • Brian Keene, Urban Gothic
  • Brian Keene, A Gathering of Crows (this one features an ex-Amish magus. Just for that I  am curious). 
  • Brian Keene, Tequila's Sunrise (a dark fantasy. An Aztec boy enters a mythical labyrinth as the Spanish conquistadors are moving in). 
  • Wrath James White, Population Zero (environmentalism, drugs, and a tale of a guy obsessed with overpopulation). 
  • Carlton Mellick III, Apeshit (this is a parody of B-horror movies. This, by the way, is the author who wrote ClownFellas,which I recently read and enjoyed). 
  • Robert Deveraux, Baby's First Book of Seriously Fucked-Up Shit (I think the title says it all). 
  • Robert Deveraux, Slaughterhouse High
  • Edward Lee, The Haunter of the Threshold (Lovecraftian, and a bit more).
  • Edward Lee, Carnal Surgery (this is a short fiction collection).

In addition, the author does have his own website (
* * * 

The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Deadman Wonderland, Volume 2

Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou, Deadman Wonderland, Volume 2.  San Francisco, CA: VIZ Media, 2014. ISBN: 9781421564104.

Genre: manga
Subgenre: mystery and suspense, horror
Format: paperback
Source: My work library

This is a series that I continue to enjoy. In this volume, Ganta continues to learn the workings of the prison. Upon hearing that the Red Man, the creature that framed him for murdering his schoolmates, is in Ward G. Ganta tried to find the ward to get answers and revenge.

In this volume, Ganta gets a turn to fight in the arena versus a man that calls him "Woodpecker." There, he will discover more about a power he has and was previously unaware of. The mysteries deepen as we get to see more of the prison's depths. The volume has plenty of intrigue, suspense, and action. The powers element was a bit hard to understand, but things will gradually be revealed. Well, at least that is what the series promises.

Overall, I really liked this one.

4 out of 5 stars.

This qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Booknote: Death of Wolverine

Charles Soule,, Death of Wolverine. New York; Marvel, 2015. ISBN: 9780785193517. 

Genre: Comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: Trade paperback
Source: My public library

I will be honest and say that the only reason I read this is because my branch of the county public library had it, and I saw it on their new books shelf. I kept my expectations low since any time a comics book company decides to kill a popular character, it is often a ploy to sell more issues. Besides, the dead characters more often than not do not stay dead (or the death happens in some alternate time line, as a "what if" exercise, etc.). Given that this was Wolverine, I expected some serious fireworks. What I got was more of a fizzle that left me saying after reading it "that was it?"

Without his healing factor, Wolverine is vulnerable, and his enemies are determined to get him. When someone puts a giant bounty on his head, Wolverine does what he does best. He goes on the offensive determined to die standing and take a few of his enemies with him. That premise sounds great, but it is not quite what we get. This series felt more like a look back at his life, like a memory lane walk. It seems the authors needed to wrap ends, and to be honest, the ending was not much of a big deal.

In the end, it was OK. I did not hate it. I just felt this was no big deal. Do yourself a favor and go grab some classic Wolverine issues. This is one you can safely skip.

The volume contains material originally published in single magazine form as Death of Wolverine #1-4.

2 out of 5 stars.

Qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: October 16, 2015 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

Poverty, higher education, and first world problems seem to be the themes for this week. So, let's get on with it.

  • A lot of people love to gripe that asking for a $15 an hour minimum wage is too much. How dare people ask for at least something they can live on? A new report (link to PDF of the report) from Seattle-based Alliance for a Just Society actually shows that the number should be higher, at least $16.87. In addition, "according to the study, there are no states in the country where the living wage should be less than $14.26 an hour." Story via Common Dreams.
  • Meanwhile, a new report from ProPublica found that Blacks are being targeted and squeezed by debt collection lawsuits. In fact, they are finding that "when ProPublica attempted to measure, for the first time, the prevalence of judgments stemming from these suits, a clear pattern emerged: they were massed in black neighborhoods." It's basically debt collectors using courts to bully and exploit the poor.  Story found at Salon.
  • In higher education, the practice of cutting back on academics while lavishing money on athletics continues. It turns out that practice also has a role in the rise of student college debt, not that the colleges care as long as they can make it on ESPN or whatever sports network. Here is a small fact: ". . . a new video from Brave New Films that seeks to spotlight a little-appreciated facet of the student debt crisis—how universities spend nearly $92,000 per student athlete, compared to $13,600 on educating students." By the way, most of the funding for a lot of those athletics is not from rich alumni or other "outside funding" as the administrators love to brag. It comes from student fees and taxpayers. Students get shafted in their educations to pay for their schools' athletics. Story via AlterNet, which includes the video.
  • Meanwhile, older college professors are not retiring. Administrators love to whine they can't open new tenure lines or employ younger faculty because those dinosaurs do not retire already. There may be some truth in that (although that lament is also tainted with some ageism), but the fact is the economy is so bad they can't afford to retire. Heck, I probably have to stay a librarian until I keel over, so I can imagine the whining younger librarians will do (and they can be vocal about it) when I become a dinosaur that does not retire. As if I owed them a job. Story via NPR.
  • Now the economy may be bad, but Americans in the U.S. can always find ways to spend money on frivolous things. For instance, this year, they will spend about $350 million for Halloween costumes. . . for their pets. Story via The Christian Science Monitor.
  • Now, not everyone is doing lousy in the bad economy. The uber rich continue to spend and create jobs. Don't laugh. OK, so they don't really create many jobs, but they certainly create jobs that cater to them, like people who build luxury bomb shelters. I mean, if the apocalypse comes, and you are a one-percenter, you have to ride it out in style. Someone has to build you that underground nirvana that is bomb proof, and I am sure you will pay big bucks to ride it out in style. Story via VICE.
  • And finally, you can put this under "who gives a fuck" or first world problems. It seems the Walmart family heirs lost a few bucks in the stock market. Sure, it is more money than any Average Joe or Jane will ever see, but you know, boo hoo. Story via Esquire.

Booknote: Creature Cops

Rob Anderson, Creature Cops: Special Varmints Unit. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2015. ISBN: 9781631403330. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: science fiction, police procedural. crime drama
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This is about a special animal control unit. From the publisher description:

"In a world where a rhino can be gene-spliced with a dog, freakish animals are everywhere, and the Creature Cops have to deal with them." 

The hybrid animals have an impact ranging from pets to gambling to agriculture. In the precinct, just when they think they've seen it all, there's yet another surprise. It is a neat premise to set up a police procedural/crime drama. Initially, things seem ordinary, but soon a murder happens, evidence surfaces of an illegal fighting ring for hybrids, and if that was not enough, there is a dark underground cult.

Like many cop stories, we get our stereotypes: the alcoholic veteran cop, the rookies, the tough sergeant, so on. In that sense, the story feels familiar. Still, we do come to care for the characters, and we discover they do have some depth. In addition, the action is great, and the story moves at a steady pace as the plot deepens.The art on this one is very good as well, especially in depicting the hybrids. We see quite a bit of imagination on display.

In the end, I really liked this one, and I hope the series continues.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Booknote: The Divine

Boaz Lavie,, The Divine. New York: First Second, 2015. ISBN: 9781596436749. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: adventure, fantasy
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

Mark is retired from the military, and he now has a relatively safe job as an explosives consultant. He also has a new wife, and a baby on the way; money is getting tight. So, when an old army buddy, Jason, shows up with a very lucrative defense contract to do some secret work in Quanlom, a very obscure Southeast Asian country, the offer is too good to pass up, even if the country is in the middle of a civil war, and the U.S. is not supposed to be there. However, it gets worse, or weirder from there.

The war is led on one side by a pair of 10-year old twins, child soldiers. One of them is silent, but he has amazing powers that seem magical. Then, there is an army of large statues they control, and there is even a dragon.

The story starts out like any other story about ex-military somewhat shady operatives taking on one more mission. However, the story soon takes a fantastic turn into the mysterious and magical, drawing you in to make you wonder what is real or not.  You get the sense those twins are way more than they seem. The art brings the setting to life very well. The jungle lends itself well to the magic and mystery. Overall, this was a good read that I enjoyed.

4 out of 5 stars.

Book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 09, 2015

Booknote: Monster Motors

Bryan Lynch, Monster Motors. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2015. ISBN: 9781631403378. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: comic horror, cars
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This can be a nice selection for the Halloween season. The comic has a cute little premise: cars and trucks as monsters. Vic Frankenstein and his robot assistant Igor move to Transylvania, Kentucky. He has finished college, and he is looking to set himself up. He buys a plot of land, site unseen, on the Internet, which turns out to be a big junkyard. He figures that he can use it for his experiments, but there is more to be found than he bargained for. For one, he has to deal with vampire motor Cadillacula. Then a group of motor monsters led by a hunter show up, and they want to capture Vic's motor monster truck.

This is entertaining, although Vic's cockiness and Miss Van Helsing's arrogance can be a bit irritating at times. Otherwise, there is plenty of action and comic horror to enjoy. The art is good, colorful. This is certainly a volume for older kids and younger teens. There is not much depth here, but it is meant to be fun reading. For public libraries, this is a good title for Halloween displays too. For academic libraries that collect graphic novels, I'd say this is an optional title.

I liked it overall; it's a quick and easy read.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Uncle John's Beer-Topia

Bathroom Readers' Institute, Uncle John's Beer-Topia. Asland, OR: Portable Press, 2015. ISBN: 9781626863590.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: trivia, alcohol and spirits, food and epicurious, humor.
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

From the book's description:

"Pull up a stool and chug a pint of Beer-Topia, a rich, deep-bodied keg of beer knowledge, beer trivia, beer history, and beer fun. In recent years, beer has evolved from the swill your uncle drank at the bowling alley to the explosively-popular 'microbrew' culture. There’s a lot to explore about the beer phenomenon, and Beer-Topia will plumb the depths."

This is a light and entertaining book, and I think fans of beer trivia as well as fans of trivia in general will enjoy it. Now before you dismiss it as "one of those bathroom reading books," check this one out. The book features beer trivia, history, the science of beer, terminology, and a lot more. The book is arranged in short chapters or sections that cover various topics. These sections can be a page or a few pages long. This is so you can have just the right amount of reading for your bathroom trip or any other time you want to grab a quick read. You don't have to read it in the bathroom. It is an easy book to browse, and it is a book you can read anytime.

In the end, it is one I really liked. It could be a good selection for public libraries, especially if they already collect other trivia books and/or books on beer and brewing.

4 out of 5 stars.

Learn more about the Bathroom Readers' Institute and their other books.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Booknote: Mortal Kombat X, Volume 1

Shawn Kittelsen, Mortal Kombat X: Blood Ties.  New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401257088.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: video games
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This is one of those video game prequel comics. I have to say this was better than other video game prequels I have read. The author has a compelling and entertaining adventure story, and it also features plenty of fighting action for fans of the video game.

In this tale, there is a fragile peace between the realms. Years have passed, and champions have risen and fallen. Some of Earth's champions have children of their own rising up to be warriors. Thus we get to see old favorites in action along with new fighters. However, the peace is threatened as Raiden the Thunder God has visions of a rising evil threatening to enter Earth. The only hope is to use the Kamidogu daggers, six powerful relics imbued with blood magick. The problem is that the daggers are cursed, and they are spread out in various locations.

The story starts right away, and once it does, you are draw in as it moves from location to location. There is plenty of intrigue and betrayal as power shifts in the other realms. For fans of Mortal Kombat, there are plenty of gruesome fight scenes, including bone crunching close ups of fatalities. The artists do a great job drawing these violent, bloody scenes, which are a trademark of the game. Overall, the art in this one is very good. Fans of the game will probably enjoy this one. For casual readers, there may be a bit of a learning curve if they are not familiar with the game. However, the story gives just enough to figure out who is who and the story basics.

I'd say public libraries with graphic novels collections will want to get it. For readers' advisors, keep in mind that the Mortal Kombat game is bloody violent (that is what makes it popular), and that is present in this comic. Most readers who play the game already know this, but advisors (especially those who may not read too much in graphic novels and comics) need to be aware. This is a title for older teens to adults.

In the end, I did really like this one.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, October 05, 2015

Booknote: Harley Quinn, Volume 2: Power Outage

Jimmy Palmiotti,, Harley Quinn, Volume 2: Power Outage. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401254780. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes, humor
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

The humor from volume 1 continues here. The volume picks up issues 9-13 of the comic plus "Harley Quinn: Futures End #1", which is kind of a dream sequence/alternate story line, "Secret Origins #4", and the San Diego Comic Con comic issue. You do get a lot of material in this volume.

The main story is the story with Power Girl. Power Girl drops out of the sky with a bad case of amnesia. So what does Harley do? She gets herself a new costume and convinces Power Girl that they are both a crime fighting team. Various hijinks ensue, including some dimensional travel. The other stories are also entertaining; Harley is still the landlady of her building and making new friends among the neighbors and side show folks. Among the adventures here, Harley finds herself in a skating ring where there are no rules. The Comic Con issue was good, but it seemed more of a distraction in what is otherwise a great volume.

The comics are fast paced, and they have plenty of hijinks and humor. Harley is doing well on her own, and though there is still a bounty on her head, she keeps having fun. I would love to see what troubles she gets into next. The art in this one continues to be excellent and a pleasure to look at. It is certainly a great reason to pick up this volume.

Still give 5 out of 5 stars to the series.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 02, 2015

Booknote: Tales of Heresy

 Nick Kyme and Lindsey Priestley,eds., Tales of Heresy. Nottingham, UK: Black Library, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-84416-682-4.

Genre: Science fiction
Subgenre: military scifi, role playing game novels
Series: The Horus Heresy, Book 10.
Format: paperback
Source: I borrowed this one on Interlibrary Loan at my library (Hutchins Library). The loan came from Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Library System in Alaska. For me, this may be the furthest out ILL I have borrowed so far. 

This is the tenth book in the Horus Heresy series. As I have noted previously, this series has its ups and downs, but it is one I have enjoyed overall. This particular volume is a collection of seven stories, and like other anthologies, quality can vary. The stories' themes focus mostly on heresy and those who cast their lot with Horus. If you are interested in the early days of the Horus Heresy events, this book may be for you.

Some highlights of the stories featured (there may be a light spoiler or two):

  • "Blood Games" is a story of the Custodes, the warriors that guard the Imperial Palace and the Emperor. One way they do this is by running drills to test their defenses, using some of their members to see how far they can infiltrate or not. It took me a bit to realize that was what was happening; Abnett does a good job of immersing the reader into the story and setting. If you like some suspense, a little cat-and-mouse play, this is a good tale for you. 
  • "Wolf at the Door" is a story of the Wolves of Fenris, the VI Legion, as they fight to bring a world into Imperial compliance. The end twist is that some of the locals, who initially supported the legion as it helped them get rid of rivals, do not wish to comply. The ending, though I could see it coming, was still moving. 
  • "Scions of the Storm" has a similar ending, but here we deal with the Word Bearers legion, at a moment when Lorgar, their primarch, is on the verge of a new vision for his legion. 
  • James Swallow gives us a tale of the Battle Sisters. This particular group of combat sisters are the Sisters of Silence; they have vows of silence, so I find interesting the idea that they use different types of sign language to communicate. In "The Voice," the sisters find a derelict vessel of their order filled with psykers, and they need to find out what happened.
  • Gav Thorpe's "Call of the Lion" is a tale of the Dark Angels. As legions of Astartes grow, they begin to draw members from other worlds besides Terra. In this tale, a Terran and a Calibanite confront each other over command and perhaps the future vision of the legion. 
  • Graham McNeill's "The Last Church" is not much of an action tale. However, it looks at an interesting detail. As the Emperor unifies Terra and spreads the rule of reason and logic, religion is torn down; churches are closed down and destroyed. In this story, the day comes for the last church on Terra to be closed down, but its last priest will not go down without a fight, a debate with the Emperor's envoy who calls himself Revelation. The story does present some good lines in their debate. For regular readers of Warhammer 40,000, well let's just say they will appreciate a touch of irony given how the future unfolds. 
  • The final story, "After Desh'ea" by Matthew Farrer was for me the slowest read in the set. As the Imperium expands into the stars, the Astartes legions go looking for their primarchs, some of whom have been lost. The War Hounds Legion have finally found their primarch, and he has a whole new plan for the legion. For me, this was the weakest story in the set, but I still read it. I did like the ending of it even if it seemed to drag a bit to get there. 
Overall, I really liked this volume. I think it ties nicely into the series, and it highlights well early events of the Horus Heresy times. As I said, some stories are better than others, but it is a good collection overall.

 4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Batman: Earth One, Volume 2

Geoff Johns,, Batman: Earth One, Volume 2. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401241858. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: Superheroes
Format: e-book galley
Source: Edelweiss 

I am really enjoying this series where we see Batman stepping out and learning how to become a hero and detective. The author really does a good job of humanizing a hero that is often seen as flawless (though certainly not white knight squeaky clean as Superman is often portrayed). It is the experience of struggling to learn and do the right thing portrayed in the character of Batman that is a strength of this volume and the series overall. And struggle he does as Batman is torn between two influences: his hardcore bodyguard Alfred and the more idealistic detective James Gordon. These two men, father figures even, are shaping how Batman will turn out. It is an interesting dynamic.

Let us not forget the story, which is good and riveting. After the events in volume 1, Batman faces new rivals. A guy calling himself The Riddler is killing groups of people in an apparently random way if they fail to solve his riddles. Plus the city sewers are haunted by some monster. What is neat in the series, and this volume is no exception, is the character portrayal. We see familiar villains, but with new twists and turns. A big reason to keep reading this is just to see what the author does because everything you thought you knew will be turned.

Add to all this some very good art, and you got a solid comic. Fans of Batman should be reading this, and if you read the first volume, you need to pick this up. I am highly recommending it. It is a good selection for libraries with graphic novel and comics collections. I can tell you it is a series I will order for our library.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges: