Monthly Archives: November 2013

Mini-Review: “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore….'” I must admit that this is my first real encounter with the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I once read an abridged collection as a young lad, one of those Great Illustrated Classics with an illustration on every facing page. It didn’t really do much for me at the time, beyond leaving me slightly disturbed, but I recently found a free Kindle edition of Poe’s best-known work The Raven (*****) on Amazon complete with the original woodcut illustrations by Gustave Dore. I can’t say I completely understood the poem, but….wow. There’s a lyrical beauty to it, despite its hopelessness as the narrator descends into madness. It simply begs to be read aloud, preferably with as epic a voice as you can summon. Has anyone recorded Hugo Weaving reading this? I think I might pay money to hear that….

The poem is a narrative by a young student whose love has recently died. He is visited in the night by a raven that seems to speak, answering every question with the word “Nevermore” and eventually driving the young man to despair. There is a good deal of ambiguity here–is the raven real, or an early symptom of the narrator’s madness? If it is real, does it really speak? If it speaks, is it conscious of its meaning, or does it merely parrot back the only word in its repertoire? We don’t know, it’s up to your interpretation. If you’ve never read this, I urge you to. It’s free! If you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon allows you to read it on your computer. If you have a strange aversion to Amazon for some reason, here’s the same thing from WikiSource! So read it already!

If you are reading this on a basic Kindle, the e-ink version, the illustrations won’t have their full effect due to their small size. If you follow the link above you can see the full-size versions…..

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Review: “Deeply Odd” by Dean Koontz

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas novels. Why it has taken me this long after its release to get around to reading Deeply Odd (*****), I actually have no idea. I can only point lamely to the massive TO-BE-READ stack of books on my shelf and stammer incoherently. Nevertheless, I have now read all of the extant Odd Thomas books. Not all of them that there will be, God willing, as Koontz obviously has an endgame in mind for the character, but this brings me up to date with his publishing schedule. And the good news is, its a better spot to hang out than the ending of Odd Hours, which drove me nuts for years while we waited for Koontz to actually produce a new entry in Odd’s memoirs. Given that this is a series, this review may contain spoilers for previous Odd Thomas adventures.

Odd’s had an eventful three months. First he foiled the terrorist plot in Magic Beach, then the very next day found himself in the strangely sinister roadside outpost of Harmony Corner before moving on to Roseland and ending a madman’s plot to become immortal no matter the cost. For the past several months he and Annamaria have been living in a small California village that he barely bothers to name while he attempts to recuperate from having to take on this veritable $#!^storm of evil, but that period of rest is put to an end when a chance encounter with a demented rhinestone cowboy sets him on the trail of a trio of kidnapped children. Unless Odd can stop them, the cult to which the rhinestone maniac belongs will sacrifice them with a number of others in a dark and perverted ritual. New enemies, new allies, and a new understanding of the nature of the world all await Odd as he embarks on what could be his most harrowing adventure yet, one that will set him on his way towards the final leg of his journey….

What can I say about this book that I haven’t said about previous entries in the series? I think this was one of the better ones, although the first half was a little slow. Odd Thomas continues to be one of my favorite characters of all time, and I love the way Koontz is able to communicate that, for all the evil that exists in the world–and there is evil, have no doubt about that–there is good as well, and that the good is stronger in the end. He is also adept at bringing humor to every situation, usually through Odd’s internal dialogue. I very much look forward to reading the upcoming final chapter to Odd’s adventures, though I will be sad to see them end.

CONTENT: PG-13 language, with the implication that Odd is filtering out a good deal of R-rated language from the baddies. Brief sexual innuendos. Violence, occasionally somewhat disturbing. Occult content: Odd can see the dead, and interacts with (read: fights) a foul demonic entity intent on stealing his soul. The villains are cultists who plan to sacrifice a number of children to some dark demonic entity, so if the presence of such stuff offends you (or you object to Koontz vilifying Satanists) you may want to stay away. I would personally defend the book on the point of it being redemptive and on the point that all those intentionally interacting with these demons (as opposed to interacting with them while trying to thwart them) are unquestionably villains, but that’s just me.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

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Review: “American Vampire, Vol. III” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Sean Murphy

Title: American Vampire, Volume III
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco
Series: American Vampire (Volume III, Issues #12-18 + Survival Of The Fittest miniseries)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

And now we come to the third volume of Scott Snyder’s Vertigo comic series, American Vampire. Due to the nature of reviewing a series, this review will unavoidably contain spoilers for Volume I and Volume II, so be forewarned.

For the bulk of this book we are firmly set in the 1940s, exploring the vampiric undercurrent to the Second World War. But first, we spend an issue following Skinner Sweet in Strange Frontier as he takes the time to visit a traveling Wild West show a la Buffalo Bill. This particular show has his showdown with Jim Book as one of the moments it dramatizes, and after realizing that his old girl is part of the show Sweet decides to have some fun, even some old scores for himself and others…. In Ghost War we follow Henry Preston and Pearl Jones as they face  the Pacific theater, where there are worse things than Japanese soldiers to worry about. Preston joins a secret mission for the Vassals Of The Morningstar to combat a new breed of vampire on Taipan, soon to be overrun by American troops. Along for the ride is Skinner Sweet, out to settle old scores…. Lastly, Survival Of The Fittest follows Felicia Book and Cash McCogan on a mission behind Nazi lines in search of a supposed cure for vampirism. What they find instead could destroy us all…..

This is every bit as awesome as you would expect it to be after reading the previous two volumes of the series. Snyder continues to keep things fresh and exciting. Albuquerque’s art is a perfect fit for the series, rough and unrefined yet at the same time clearly communicating the action and proving to be surprisingly beautiful at times. Sean Murphy does a credible job of matching Albuquerque’s style, keeping a continuity to the artwork that can’t be easy to achieve. If you’ve been along for the ride since the beginning, by all means don’t stop now! I very much look forward to seeing where this goes in future volumes, as soon as I can find a way to get my hands on them. This is the last one my library has in it’s collection…..

Content: Same as before, R-rated language, violence that is occasionally gory and disturbing (what do you expect? It’s a vampire book!), and occasional sexual content/nudity. I keep telling you folks, Vertigo comics aren’t for kids…..

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Review: “Odd Apocalypse” by Dean Koontz

Weird….thought I had posted this already. Must have lost it when my computer went wonky a couple months ago. Anyway, I’m in the middle of the next Odd Thomas book (Deeply Odd) right now, so this one had better go up quick!

As we open Odd Apocalypse (*****), Odd and Annamaria have survived their detour in Harmony Corner (Odd Interlude), and we catch up with them on the next stop of their journey. This time they are staying in Roseland, the opulent and pristine home of a rich recluse. Ostensibly built by a Hollywood mogul from the early days of cinema, Roseland is built like a fortress with massive stone walls surrounding it and bars on all the windows. What was the estate built to guard against? Why are the occupants so secretive? Why does Odd keep seeing flashes of an apocalyptic future? And most importantly, who is the boy that Annamaria insists Odd is here to save?

Koontz delivers yet another Odd Thomas adventure that is spot-on. The thrills, chills and mystery never let up from page one as Odd evades weaponized mutants from the future while battling an evil that is all-too-human. This is at least a little better closing than was Odd Hours, which was almost a cliffhanger, but I suppose that doesn’t matter because Deeply Odd is out already, so….

Content: Koontz is making an effort to remove R-rated language from these books, so probably PG-13 on that count. There’s a fair amount of violence, and the outcome of some of this violence is disturbing. There is also some discussion of sexual content, but nothing too explicit.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

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Review: “This Book Is Full Of Spiders” by David Wong

Okay, so I recently read and reviewed David Wong/Jason Pargin’s first book, John Dies At The End. In that review, I basically took the position that the book was a definite “guilty pleasure,” incredibly fun but at the same time over-the-top offensive and not at all one I would recommend to the easily offendable. The same is true of the sequel, This Book Is Full Of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It.) **** If you’ve not read John Dies At The End and wish to avoid spoiling the ending, you might want to skip reading this review. It’s really hard to review sequels without spoiling their predecessors. Just saying.

When we left Dave and John, life had settled back down to what they consider “normal.” John was still bouncing from job to job. Dave and Amy got engaged, to no one’s surprise but Dave’s, and Amy started college classes a couple hours’ drive from Undisclosed.* Weird stuff still happens on a regular basis, but at least Korrok and his minions are no longer an issue. The Shadow Men, on the other hand….they’ve just begun their endgame for the fate of the human race, and surprise, surprise, it starts in Undisclosed. Specifically, in Dave’s bedroom, where he wakes up to find a nightmarish creature–body of a spider, legs everywhere, and a human-looking tongue–crawling up his leg. Needless to say, he freaks out. Long story short, these things are parasitic monstrosities that get inside you (without your noticing, nobody can see them but John and Dave. Sometimes Marconi. And Molly, of course….) and take over your mind, making you extremely violent. There’s an outbreak, and of course the internet labels those with the (invisible) spiders Zombies. The government throws up a full lockdown quarantine, all communication with the outside is cut off, and those still stuck in Undisclosed are….well, stuck in Undisclosed. What is the purpose of all of this? What do the Shadow Men hope to gain? Who is really running the show? And can John and Dave somehow manage to stave off the apocalypse again?

Whereas the first book kind of just rambled on (a side-effect of its genesis as an online serial, no doubt) this second volume is much better structured. Every so often you will jump back several hours to visit a different character and see how/why they happen to be in the situation they’re in, but on the whole the story is pretty straightforward. There are a few inconsistencies with the first book or even internally within this one, but this really isn’t the kind of book where that matters. If you care, however, I’ll point those out after the break. The writing continued to exhibit Wong/Pargin’s signature brand of humor, with the added element that near the end it is implied that this is a true story that he is simply writing up in the most ridiculous form possible (not so different from the first one where he admits to embellishing when he gets the impression people already don’t believe him). I’m honestly not sure how to take the author’s stance on Christianity (MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW, as generic as I can make them), since Dave and John are definitely not Christians and yet the story does seem to demonstrate the power of God at the climax. Dave talks about how his adopted family crammed his childhood with Christian videos (and I can’t disagree with him on the general quality of those things, across the board, though there were exceptions), and so when the chips are down and he has to think of the most powerful thing he can use to counter the Shadow Men, what he comes up with is Christ. And it works, implying that the author (and thus Dave,) despite not being a part of the fold, realizes the truth of the Lord’s power. On the other hand, it’s a horribly done painting of Christ, so there may be less respect there than I’m implying. Or the fact that a mere painting has that much power could be a sly nod to just how much power Christ has, that even simply his name or his image (however poorly executed) can dispel the Darkness. I don’t know. I would be interested to hear other people’s take on this, honestly.

At the end of John Dies At The End we meet a character who basically saves everyone involved, then hints that he may have been Molly the dog all along. In this book, Molly is back to being a dog–no ordinary dog, certainly, but still a dog with a dog’s priorities. Inconsistent? Not sure. Then we have Amy and her missing hand. Amy was in a car accident as a child, losing her left hand. The pain from this, along with the side-effects of the pain meds, are what places her in the special needs room at the high school where she and Dave meet for the first time. It is later revealed that her hand still exists in spirit-form, and she can manipulate spiritual and invisible objects such as latches and doorknobs. This was essential to John and Dave’s assault on Shit Narnia in the first book, as well as their ability to get into the case and retrieve the fur gun in this book. Where am I going with this? Well, one of the more horrifying aspects of the Shadow Men is the ability to remove people from existence. Not kill them–make them so they never existed. Rewrite history. And it’s implied that up until a particular moment near the climax of this second book Amy had both of her hands before her history was rewritten to include the loss thereof. If that’s the case, how did certain things happen in the first place? How are the characters not all dead, since it was Amy’s “ghost hand” that allowed them to survive and save the day? Not sure. There’s no good answer, so don’t think about it.

Content: Again, VERY R-rated. Profanity galore! Blood and gore! What, you didn’t expect that to all disappear did you? The sexual innuendo and content is a bit more explicit this time, if a bit more purposeful and relevant than John’s rampant penis jokes from the first volume. Those still show up every once in a while, but nowhere near as often. Some content that would be considered “occult” by some, notably the spectral “Shadow Men” who are basically spiritual beings. They are from another dimension, not divine or diabolical, but their nature remains spiritual.

*David refuses to name the town he lives in, claiming that the tourist traffic would only make the town more “****ed up.” Given the fate of Forks, the setting of Ms. Meyer’s monstrosity, I can’t disagree with him.

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