BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

Apr
22

Kenneth Oppel The Boundless

As soon as I dug into The Boundless, I was immediately reminded of another book I’d read by Kenneth Oppel: Airborn. Both of the books feature young protagonists in worlds that are slightly a-kilter from our own. In the latter book, the world spun around large airships. In The Boundless, the world revolves around a five-mile long train, which the book is named after.

The opening chapter reminded me of a Jack London story, but maybe that was because of the character’s harsh circumstances. Young Will is the son of a man who is helping build Canada’s Transcontinental Railroad (with a story similar to the one in the United States) and seldom sees his father because he’s always gone.

I liked Will immediately because he’s an outcast and alone, struggling in a hardscrabble life but not jaded or jaundiced by it. And he’s got a skill that comes in handy throughout the novel: art.

Like a pulling engine on a train, the novel starts off kind of slow, then steadily gains steam. The action up in the mountains that results in a sasquatch attack (yes, they exist in this world!) and an avalanche is a set piece, in my opinion, but it sets up events that need to exist for the rest of the story to play out.

Then the book skips three years and plunges into Will’s new life. Things have gotten better for him in some respects, but now he finds himself at loggerheads with the father he so revered. The age-old struggle between fathers and sons plays out as one of the subplots, but that’s not where the action is focused.

Like the airships in Airborn, I love the feel of the world presented in The Boundless. The idea of a five-mile long train made up of hundreds of cars with thousands of people riding in them just boggles my mind, but Oppel makes it all come to vibrant life. Some details seem to get lost in the mix, though. I wasn’t sure where the colonists were going, or why exactly.

The circus background is really nice too and gave the train an extra exotic air that young readers will relish. The acts were interesting, but I wanted more background on the circus and the people. At that point of the story, though, The Boundless has gotten up a full head of steam and is plowing through the adventure while winding through snow-covered mountains. Embellishing those backgrounds would have broken the pacing, but it goes to show how real the author is able to make his characters and situations.

Young readers are going to have a blast plunging into Oppel’s and Will’s new world, and even seasoned armchair adventurers are going to get new facets to think about. The Ponce de Leon and “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” mythologies are nice additions and twisted in ways I hadn’t ever before considered.

Mar
23

Vin DeLoach Chekhov's Gun

Chekhov’s Gun by Vin DeLoach is a novella based in the new Kindle Worlds licensed franchise of Veronica Mars. I was a fan of the television show, and am currently aggravated that the movie has not shown up yet in my hometown. So when I heard that there would be new Veronica Mars stories I was excited.

I’ve never read anything by Vin DeLoach. The writing is incredibly smooth and the plotting is almost effortless. He should stay busy writing. I looked, and sadly, there are no other books written by this person.

I’m sure fans of the television show already had suspicions of how Veronica always knew when the drug dogs were going to be brought into the high school. Perhaps, some thought it was just because her father used to be the sheriff. In this novella, the “real” reason Veronica always gets tipped off about the drug searches is revealed.

Fans who pick up this novella will feel instantly at home. The Neptune in these digital pages feels like the town where we first met Veronica. Many of the characters stepped through these scenes as well. Characters like Jerry Sacks and Don Lamb resonate perfectly and haven’t changed a bit.

The plot is simple and straightforward, a very clean vehicle for getting Veronica on thin ice with Sheriff Lamb while her father, Keith, is out of town. Jerry Sacks’s gun has gone missing, and he’s not sure what he’s going to do. The last time he remembered having his weapon was prior to the drinking binge he went on with the sheriff.

Veronica’s investigation into the matter is very logical, very much like a detective, which is what we have come to expect from her. The twists and turns of the story are engaging and it’s way too easy to read this tale in a single sitting. It’s paced just like an episode of the television series, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it as such.

So far only a couple Veronica Mars stories have shown up as Kindle Worlds properties. There is also a Veronica Mars novel forthcoming from Rob Thomas, the show’s creator. If you miss the show, pick this one up.

Mar
08

Simon Kernick Wrong Place Wrong Time

I had not previously read Simon Kernick, though I was aware of him because I check the bestseller lists. So I figured I was in good hands when I booted up Wrong Time, Wrong Place. The story starts off full-on action and tension, and just gets more wound up from there because the killing comes on fast and plentiful from that point on.

The idea of four people (two couples) caught up in a nightmarish circumstance simply because they tried to help someone strikes too closely to home. I was hooked at once because I have sometimes found myself doing exactly that because I’m originally from a small town and we help each other. I currently live in Moore, which has been in the news a lot with the tornados, and that same sense of camaraderie exists.

Kernick doesn’t waste any time setting his killers onto the two couples, and the body count climbs as ruthlessness abounds. The author throws in a lot of curves, some emotionally resonant character studies done in the heat of the moment that don’t slow down the action, and weaves it all together with a thorny sense of desperation that will not abate.

I’m of mixed feelings about my overall experience with the novella, but I am convinced that Kernick is an author I’m adding to my current overwhelming stack of ebooks. He has another short piece, “The Debt,” for those that want to try him again before digging into a full novel.

Feb
14

Saundra Mitchell Mistwalker

Buy At Amazon Mistwalker

I got an advance copy of Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell. I fell in love with the evocative cover and couldn’t help guessing what the book was about even before I read the synopsis. Turns out I was both surprised and disappointed.

To encapsulate this book for a quite byte, I’d call it a mix between a coming of age tale and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, which was a novel, then a movie, then a television series. But I digress.

I was really torn by the directions in this book. The writing is immersive and pulls you in. Willa Dixon is a real, breathing, hurting person in these pages. I walked with her through her troubles, her world, and the shreds of her innocence. Willa’s life has been torn apart, and even though nothing she can do will ever put her life back together the way it was, she’s grimly aware that she’s barely hanging on to what she has left. The reader feels that terror too, and the fact that it’s all slipping away.

Mitchell portrays a compelling view of the Maine coastal lobster communities, not in too much detail, but in enough that the reader feels the crunch of sandy, rocky beaches underfoot and wriggling nightcrawlers Willa digs up for money to help the family. I was instantly absorbed by the loss of Willa’s brother and the court case that looms ahead of the family. I wanted to reach more about that, about Willa and her relationships, to the extent that the chapters with the Grey Man actually interrupted.

I’m not sure exactly how the Gray man and the legend of the lighthouse is supposed to play out in the novel. The pure supernatural aspect of that part of the story should have overwhelmed the other, swept it away by the love triangle that could have been between the Grey Man, Seth, and Willa. Yet that never really manifested.

In fact, the payoff on many of the questions Mitchell so skillfully raises aren’t answered by the end of the novel. I want to know how the case against her brother’s killers went (no spoiler, the fact that her younger brother was shot is revealed early on) and I want to know where the whole Grey Man/Lady legend and manifestation came about. I want to know what happened at the end, what happened to Charlie, etc.

I suppose maybe those things are supposed to be left up to the reader to decide, but I don’t want to decide those things. Mitchell does such a good job of establishing questions, tension, and place that not having those answers is incredibly jarring. Maybe there are sequel(s) in the works, but I would like to know that.

I hadn’t read anything by Mitchell before this book, but I’m definitely going to pick up a copy of Wild when it comes out under her Alex Mallory name in July. And if another Willa Dixon book comes about, I’ll read it too. Mitchell’s writing is simple and powerful and haunting, and the Maine she writes about is something I’ve never seen in a book before, so if you haven’t read her, you should.

Jan
23

Christopher Golden Snowblind

Buy At Amazon: Snowblind

I love the old ghost stories that manage to sweep you away to a menacing world where death may lie around any corner, where things wait to spring out on you, and where there’s a mystery central to the supernatural manifestations that take place. I think a lot of horrors readers like the same thing.

Christopher Golden delivers most of that in his new novel, Snowblind. Golden knows horror, and his familiarity with the genre reaches back a good long while to the Stephen King novels that first caught horror fandom’s attention.

Snowblind is a riff on those oldie but goodie horror novels that King used to do and sometimes still delivers. The book has a large cast of characters and multiple plots that all dovetail in the overall storyline, but those stories eclipse, to a degree, the horror that comes in during blizzards that hit Coventry, Massachusetts.

The characters are well delineated, and their problems are all easily understood. TJ and Ella fell in love during the first blizzard that strikes in these pages, but twelve years later, their marriage is on the rocks. Most of that appears to stem from the economy and external stressors, which everyone these days can understand, but I’m not certain that I totally bought the collapsing marriage because they seemed to get along well throughout.

Doug Manning was a curveball. When he first appears on the pages, he’s something of misfit, standing up for himself at what seems to be the wrong time and not wanting to face his wife after losing his job. During the first blizzard, he also loses his wife, Cherie. When he steps back onto the stage later, he’s on the verge of becoming a criminal.

Jake Schapiro lost his little brother Isaac in the first blizzard and has turned into a photographer, only able to achieve solace when peering through the lens of his camera. He also shoots crime scenes on the side.

Joe Keenan was a rookie patrolman when the first blizzard swept through Coventry. He was too late to save a group of missing boys and that has scarred him throughout his career.

Golden puts all of these characters through the emotional wringer as he advances his story and brings in the weirdness. Readers expecting a slam-bang fright fest aren’t going to get it. This is a spooky ride, one that gives the reader plenty of time to think and wonder, “What if…”

The book moves along and is easy to read, peopled with sympathetic character I felt I knew by story’s end, but I really wanted more explanation of the ice entities. There were really cool, so to speak. In the older traditions of horror, I know writers didn’t always reveal what the nature of the horror was, partially so readers could envision some of that for themselves and make those creatures even more frightening. However, I wanted a reveal here.

Of course, given the ending, Golden may have a sequel planned. On another note, I think I prefer the British cover over the American one. It seems genuinely more creepy, just not very urban.

Christopher Golden Snowblind 2

Jan
07

Charlotte Williams The House on the Cliff

With the positively creepy Gothic cover on the front of The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams, I was expecting a creepy, delightful read. Even reading the synopsis on the back of the book didn’t put me off of that expectation.

What I got, and what you will get if you pick up this book, is a well-plotted and twisty little psychological mystery novel. The cast of characters is small, but there’s a lot going on.

This is supposed to be the first book of a series about Jessica Mayhew, a psychologist juggling an unfaithful husband, two teen daughters, and a practice. The mystery in this book reaches out to Jessica and directly involves her, but I don’t know how the author is going to pull that off again and again to meet the needs of a series.

I really liked the writing style Williams employs here. The first person narration is good, the character is deep enough to draw me in, and her world feels real. She spends a lot of time describing things, but I was somewhat disappointed because the book is set in Wales and it feels too familiar to me. I didn’t get that Welsh feeling I was expecting. Part it that might have been because the scenes were set in Jessica’s office, home, and Stockholm where she visits for a bit. The most striking thing about the setting is the house, and that may have been because of the cover.

The problem she presents here is interesting. I’ve NEVER heard of anyone having button phobia, and I’m still not sure I’d believe someone really had it even if they told me. Buttons just don’t do anything. They sit there. I can understand a fear of snakes, dentists, etc., but a fear of buttons just put me off. I struggled with this part of the book, especially when – as Jessica points out – it could probably be handled by a conditioning exercise.

The unfaithful husband comes into play immediately, and I never did warm up to the character, although I think I was supposed to. Bob was kind of vapid and selfish, and I just never got around to trusting him.

The problem with Nella, the out-of-control teenage daughter, put me off completely. I can’t imagine any parent knuckling under to that girl’s arguments, especially a professional psychologist. That part of the story really draws you along to see what happens, and is in many ways more explosive than what is supposed to be the main problem. I got caught up in the fallout from that situation even though I had to check my disbelief several times. I just can’t imagine this situation would have gone on as long as it did, or get solved so quickly.

The mystery of the dead au pair and the situation Gwydion Morgan brings to Jessica’s door gets lost in the narrative too often to work as a true puzzle, and I had it figured out well before I got to the end.

Still, I sat down and breezed through this book in an evening, sucked in by the storytelling. Charlotte Williams is a deft writer in narrative, and I’m interested to see what she does for a follow-up. With the family issues pretty much settled in this novel, the next book will have to focus more on the mystery.

Jan
05

Animal Man vol 3 cover

Buy At Amazon: Animal Man Vol. 3: Rotworld: The Red Kingdom

Much of the forward moment set up in the first two volumes of what has turned out to be one very LONG story gets frittered away by endless action scenes. The battle in this volume seems to go on forever and involve a cast of thousands. Or at least a lot of horrific versions of the DC Universe. There are some cool things, but they get lost in the narrative.

The Rotworld saga also overlaps the Swamp Thing title, which is good in some respects because it gives readers a view of what Alec Holland and company are doing these days, but there’s just too much going on to get it all sorted. Then, when Lemire throws in Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and Black Orchid and John Constantine, things get tangled quickly regarding who’s doing what to whom and why.

Animal Man vol 3 01

Again, there are light points to enjoy, such as when Maxine starts manifesting animal powers like her dad, but even that bit of lighter fare gets eclipsed by the ever-increasing darkness. You can feel the oppressing BAD THINGS that are going to happen in this story. The tale is bleak and almost hopeless. It’s almost like watching a Rocky movie, watching Rocky get beaten up and knocked down again and again, knowing that at the end he will rise to his feet and become a champion. But man it’s a long time till we get there, and the ending just sucks all the relief away in one vanished heartbeat.

The imagery is sharp and intense, something I’ve come to expect from this series, but it almost reminds me of Marvel Zombies, a title I was aware of but never really got into. Superheroes like the Justice League are turned into monstrous creatures. Even Batgirl, who’s somehow working with Swamp Thing to offset the effects of Rotworld, has been changed into something macabre.

Animal Man vol 3 02

The Swamp Thing storyline almost invades the Animal Man arc to the point that Buddy Baker and his concerns all but vanish here and there. It was interesting, but I had to work too hard to figure out where Batgirl and the Batbot came from or how they got there. There was simply too much going on, and not all of those events took place in this graphic novel.

Animal Man vol 3 03

I assume reading the Swamp Thing graphic novel about Rotworld will fill in those gaps, but I don’t know that I’ll be all that interested in rehashing everything that goes on in this book. Once was enough. However, Scott Snyder is currently writing Swamp Thing and he’s a writer that I’ve recently found and am enjoying. So … we’ll see.

As to the Rotworld saga, it grinds to a close in this volume of Animal Man but it leaves emotional destitution in its wake. I didn’t see the ending coming, and I’m not really happy with it. I know writing is supposed to elicit an emotional reaction on part of the reader, but this one is just a total downer. Maybe there’s a reset button waiting in the future, but if Lemire doesn’t handle that well, I’m going to feel cheated.

Animal Man vol 3 04

The fourth volume won’t be out for a while, and at this point I’m really not ready to get into it anyway. This entry exhausted me on several levels.

Jan
05

animal man vol  2 cover

Buy At Amazon: Animal Man Vol. 2: Animal Vs. Man

Animal Man: Animal vs. Man takes the read on an even darker turn in this new imagining of the life of Buddy Baker. The road trip from/to Hell continues unabated. I’m glad I decided not to list the book for juveniles because I personally think young minds are simply not ready for all the violence and gore in this one.

Parental aside: Seeing a horror movie with your kids at a young age is different (to me) because you’re there with them to remind them that what they’re seeing isn’t real. A comic book, read by an individual, is a much stronger, more immersive experience. So if your child is consuming questionable material, read/watch it on your own if you have to in order to understand what’s going on. Just my two cents. Things aren’t as scary when you can discuss them with your parents.

Animal Man vol 2 01

The art in this graphic novel changes slightly as Travel Foreman is joined by Steve Pugh, but if anything, the weirdness – if anything – increases on a geometric level. This is just a harsh and edgy look at a new world unfolding in the pages of Animal man.

Despite the inherent darkness in the book, author Jeff Lemire manage to get some quality time in with the Baker family. I love how even though their lives may be hanging in the balance that Cliff manages to be obstinate and self-centered as any kid his age would be. I also loved the moment Buddy gets to be the super-dad and raises Cliff’s street cred in one fantastic swoop that leaves a couple girls’ mouths hanging open in awe.

Animal Man vol 2 02

Socks, Maxine’s cat/avatar/guardian, has turned out to be quite a nice addition to the family, and unveils some surprises of his own that I really enjoyed. I’m not so certain about the addition of Ellen’s mother. Her character seems to hit all the familiar tropes of a superhero mother-in-law (can there really be such a thing?) but I think her presence, if not wholly original, strikes a familiar tone readers will enjoy.

Animal Man vol 2 03

Ellen, Buddy’s wife, really shines in this story. While Buddy and Maxine are off in the Red figuring stuff out, Ellen gets accosted by John Constantine, Zatanna, and Madame Xanadu. In the end, I was kind of frustrated by their presence there, though. They don’t really do anything or add anything to the story, but Ellen’s confrontation with them (and Maxine’s threat) are just fun to watch.

Animal Man vol 2 04

Of course, off in the Red, things are much more serious. There’s a lot of dark in this book despite the bright colors, and that heavy presence really started to weigh on me and I went through the pages. I think the series is definitely horror at this point, with the Baker family on the run and Buddy’s body hijacked, but there’s a huge emphasis on fantasy as well. Buddy’s travels and battles through the Red with the Shepherd are fantastic and pure quest trope fantasy. The bone sailboat crossing the ocean of blood is just iconic.

Animal Man vol 2 05

At the end of this volume I was again disappointed in the fact that events still haven’t come to a head. There’s still no rest for the Baker family, and Buddy is in a bad way. In real-time (buying comics monthly) this story would have taken over a year and a half, which, I think, is a lot to expect from readers. It’s even a lot to ask of a guy who can buy the graphic novels and read them one after another.

Jan
05

Animal Man vol 1 cover

Buy At Amazon: Animal Man Vol. 1: The Hunt (The New 52)

Animal Man is one of those weird superheroes who was – seemingly – destined for obscurity. In the beginning he was picked up by aliens and exposed to a process that allowed him to temporarily take on the abilities and attributes of animals, although he didn’t change shape to do this like the Doom Patrol’s (and later Teen Titan) Beast Boy did. He was Buddy Baker, which sounds about as blue collar as you can get.

Then Grant Morrison picked him up and did strange things to him, turned Animal Man’s powers inside out and made them more mystical. That treatment also turned Animal Man into one of the hottest selling titles at the time. But even that wore off after a while and he just returned to obscurity.

Animal Man vol 1 01

With the New 52 relaunch, Jeff Lemire took over the scripting chores. Lemire has an affinity to and a penchant for mystical things. I’m not sure who created the ideas of the Red and the Green (maybe kinda modeled on Geoff Johns’s rainbow Green Lantern Corps?), but Lemire has owned them. I liked his work on the New 52 Justice League Dark and dipped into his Animal Man series out of nostalgia and curiosity.

Animal Man vol 1 02

I like Lemire’s take on Buddy Baker. Buddy is more family guy who happens to have superpowers than a superhero. Most of the first graphic novel spins around Buddy’s relationship with his wife, Ellen, his son, Cliff, and his daughter,Maxine, whom he affectionately calls Little Wing. The opening sequence of a family meal disrupted by self-indulgence and uncertainty (Buddy) and by the wants of the warring siblings is just so normal I slid right into the story.

Lemire obviously knows families and his love and understanding of them and how they work is fantastic for this book. If nothing else, Animal Man is the story of a family and how they adapt to Buddy’s superhero role. But that’s not the real problem, as Lemire so chillingly reveals. Maxine is also tied to the Red, which is where Buddy gets his “morphogenetic” powers.

Animal Man vol 1 03

When weird things started going on, I got really interested in where Lemire was taking Animal Man this time around. When Maxine raises animals from the dead, I got even more interested. But you see, even all of that is merely the tip of the iceberg that Lemire presents.

I loved the idea of the Red and the new “origin” story for Buddy Baker’s animal powers. The whole Red world is a fantasy trip through exotic locales I’d never imagined Buddy would go. Travel Foreman, the artist, does a good job of depicting this strange new realm, and I have to wonder where he was getting these images.

Animal Man vol 1 04

I have to admit that I was somewhat disheartened by the fact that the story doesn’t wrap up at the end of the graphic novel. I wouldn’t have wanted to wait month to month for the story to unravel, and thankfully I didn’t wait to pick up the next graphic novel because at the time of this writing the first three are already out.

Jan
03

Daredevil Vol 1 cover

Buy At Amazon: Daredevil, Vol. 1

For years now, Daredevil has been a dark character. I remember when Frank Miller took over the writing chores of the monthly book way back in the day. We’d never seen cinematic art like that, and we’d never seen Daredevil portrayed so … mean. I liked the change. Daredevil became a must-read book and he was hitting everyone’s radar (yep, that’s a joke!) almost overnight.

I enjoyed the run for a while. I enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’s time on the character, and Ed Brubaker’s run was a natural follow-up. Both Bendis and Brubaker went on to write other quality noir stuff, and Brubaker has pretty much made that flavor his standard.

Daredevil Vol 1 0`

But I was, quite frankly, ready for a change. I didn’t go through the Shadowlands premise, but I heard about it. I was kind of happy to hear Mark Waid picked up the title, but I just hadn’t gotten around to seeing what was going on till lately.

If the first graphic novel is any indication, and I’m certain that it is, Daredevil is about to go through a whole new renovation that will leave the character drastically changed, yet true to his roots.

Waid is one of those writers that I usually read and enjoy. I liked what he did on the Hulk and the Fantastic Four and Brave and the Bold, and there have been several other titles he’s written that I loved (Potter’s Field, Ruse, Unknown)! His run on Indestructible Hulk is a blast.

Daredevil Vol 1 02

One of the first things you notice immediately is the colorful brightness of the pages. Visually, the book is a lot different from what Alex Maleev did while working with Bendis. There’s a lot of WHITE on the pages, lots of open space that let the art breathe and allows the reader to relax and enjoy. I love the artwork and the visual feel of the pages. Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin do an outstanding job of moving the story along and giving dynamic perspectives to Daredevil’s action sequences. The battle with Captain America was delineated well.

I like the fresh take on the series, that Matt Murdock is so high profile that he can’t practice law and ends up counseling clients on how to handle their own court cases. However, that’s unbelievable, especially when these cases involve such high stakes. On the other hand, that’s probably more believable than a blind man flipping across rooftops and zip-lining high above the city. So – okay, I’m all in with it.

I wasn’t too happy with Klaw (or a facsimile thereof) being the first villain up in the roster. Likewise, I wasn’t overly fond of the confrontation between Daredevil and Captain America, but that was true to Marvel roots too. I remember when Daredevil took on Sub-Mariner way back in issue #7 or the original series (back when DD first broke out the red suit). That was how Marvel heroes got to know each other back in the day.

Daredevil Vol 1 03

I did like the way Daredevil took on the Spot at the opening of the first issue. The battle was pretty cool, filled with action and humor. The idea of Daredevil kissing the bride was a bit much, in my opinion. It was a great visual, but when you think about the act, you realize that Matt would know such a thing would be assault and actionable. Still, the art really makes that pop, so I excuse it.

The Klaw arc plays out and leads into a case closer to Matt’s heart: a young blind man is wrongfully fired from a company where he’s been working. Of course, that initial incident leads to many others, and a showdown that ends up being both physical and cerebral, showing that Waid understands Matt is both hero and lawyer.

I also quite enjoyed the Matt/Foggy sidebar story (see? Lawyer term! Bonus). The health food kick Matt is putting Foggy through is dynamite. I like it because it shows Matt cares about Foggy, and the two argue and fight like brothers. Or like two law school students who shared a residence back in the day.

There are other plot strings out there, like the assistant district attorney who’s interested in Matt/Daredevil, the fact that Captain America is keeping an eye on Matt, and the potential of all the world’s criminal organizations targeting Daredevil after the events in the graphic novel. I can’t wait to see what Waid does with them.

And I just started reading this series in time for the location to be switched from New York to San Francisco. That’s an interesting curveball, and like Matt Murdock, I didn’t see it coming!

Daredevil #7

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