Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spencer Quinn's novel Dog On It is a treat.

There is an inherent problem with writing books about animals, especially if the story is from the animals point of view. It's not so much a problem if all the characters in the book are animals like Richard Adams' Watership Down or Brian Jacques' Redwall series. But when then animal is talking about events concerning us humans, well writers can tend to make the narrator, whatever the species, sound all too human. And at the end of the day the narrator might as well have been human.

Well I am happy to Spencer Quinn has no such problem with his new book Dog On It. The novel is the first(and I hope many) in the Chet and Bernie Mystery series.

The story revolves around Chet, who flunked out of K-9 Police school who works with Bernie, a down in luck private investigator(and aren't they best kind to read about). But as you figured out from the opening paragraph that Chet is our narrator for this tale.

Madison a bright teenager goes missing. As the case progresses Chet and Bernie will cross the dessert, deal with a reporter who may be just after a story or something else and a biker gang before they get to the bottom of the case.

You don't need to know much more about the case(after all you don't want me to spoil it for you) so I'll talk about are lovable narrator.

Now I don't know if Spencer Quinn can talk to dogs or can read there minds but he really capture the feeling of how I think a dog would talk and think. As I mentioned other writer with animals as narrators will have the animal talk as if they understand what the humans are talking about. But Chet freely admits he doesn't understand half of what Bernie or any one else says. But he thinks the world of Bernie. He thinks Bernie is the smartest one there is. It's like how you would think a dog thinks of his owner. For Chet his whole world revolves around Bernie.

Spencer also perfectly captures how Chet views the world. Through his sense of smell(Bernie has the perfect smell), sight(not so great with color) and hearing(there is an elusive she-bark out there somewhere). How he loves to ride with his head sticking out the window(no one rides shot gun to Bernie but Chet)

As for the mystery itself. It's an engaging one and Spencer keeps the suspense up through out the whole book. Bernie may be down on his luck but he knows his business and his good at what he does. But of course Chet is always a few steps ahead of him. But together this the there isn't a bad guy who stand up to Chet and Bernie.

This is a series I look forward to read. The characters and mystery are engaging and fun. Spencer knows how to roll out clues here and there while spiling the mystery. But it is really Chet's voice that makes this a truly fun book. Between the first and last page Dog On It it a great start to what I hope is long series.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Marvel Chronicles celebrate 70 years of Marvel Comics year by year.

As I mentioned in my first Blog I will be reviewing not just books but either books related to comics or comics themselves.

So for my first review of all things comic related it seems right to review Marvel Chronicles: A Year by Year History by Tom Brevoort, Tom DeFalco, Matthew Manning, Dorling Kindersley Publishing Staff, Joe Quesada (Afterword).

Originally known as Timely Comics(1939-1950) then Atlas Comics(1951-1961) and of course finally Marvel Comics(1962 to Present) Chronicles tells the story of how Publisher Martin Goodwin saw the how popular comics, in particular superheroes, were becoming especially with the with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938 by Detective Comics(who later be known simply as DC Comics).

Already known as a publisher of pulp magazines(pulp magazines were so named for the cheap paper they were printed on. The were pulps were monthly magazine that would serialize stories in several parts. Many of famous characters got there beginnings in the pulps such as The Shadow, Tarzan, Zorro and many more) Goodwin knew when he saw a good thing. So he started to publish his own superheroes stories. It was in 1939 that we saw Timely's introduce it's first two characters, The Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner(who was both hero and villain. He would often attack the surface world and during WWII would then defend it) and in 1940 the introduction of Captain America.

From there Marvel would produce comics of all kinds comics including westerns(there would be three versions of the Two-Gun Kid), romance, science fiction, horror and humor(do to Disney and Warner Brother funny animals were popular). If Goodman saw something catch at another publishers or in the movies and later TV it wouldn't be long before he would publish something similar.

Of course it wasn't until Stan Lee and Jack Kirby changed the comic industry in 1961 with the introduction of the Fantastic Four that Marvel Comics really became at the time to the forefront of the industry. With the FF Lee and Kirby changed the landscape of superhero comics forever by introducing heroes that were flawed. Up till then heroes were good looking, had a secret identity, never fought among themselves, always saved the day, were loved and trusted by the public and authorities and never had problems. But here were heroes that fought among themselves, had problems(not just money problems but with girlfriends and wives, how the public perceived them and more). Though there most famous of these flawed heroes was to come in 1962 with the introduction of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Chronicles does a year by year highlights major events in the 70 year history of the company(1939-2008). Along with showcasing art work from comics of the period. Some of which hasn't been seen in years. Along with each years events within the company there is a highlight of actual historical events of each year(for example did you know that in 1978 Charlie Chaplin's coffin containing his remains were stolen and was held for ransom only to found 11 weeks later in a field not far from his family home in Switzerland).

This 352 page book is a must for any fan of comics especially of Marvel Comics. Now I consider myself quite the knowledgeable person concerning the history of comics and in particular Marvel Comics but there facts upon fact in Chronicles that I did not know. For Example that before Marvel made it big with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk and others it lost it's distributor and for a few years DC Comics actual distributed their comics. It facts like these that fill this book that any comic fan will enjoy.

DK Publisher has out done themselves with the design of the book. The book's cover it self is "M" shaped with a black and white version of the color cover. The book nestles in a beautiful box that either would look great on a coffee table or on a book shelf. There is a red ribbon which lies under the book to use for easy removal. Also inside the box are two small lithos of the cover penciled and inked by Jim Cheung and colored by Jason Ponsor. One litho is in color and the other just the penciled and ink one. Both signed by artists.

This is has to be one of my favorite books about the history of Marvel. Between the first and last page this books showcases the history of one the most important contributors of the comic industry and American Pop Culture. Marvels impact in the industry can not be denied as much as DC's impact can not be denied. And with Chronicles that impact is clearly shown. Here is looking forward to a DC Chronicles some day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan gives us vampires as they should be.....Evil!

You can blame it on Joss Whedon. Ever since Buffy the Vampire Slayer fell in love with Angel, a vampire with a soul we were flooded with books with vampire slayers, mind readers, witches and demons falling in love with vampires. Now don't get me wrong. I love the series Buffy and Angel but with a few exceptions vampires were being written as the heroes(and again don't get me wrong here there are some well written books out). And don't get me started on the Twilight series.

These days most book stores don't even have a horror section. If a book has vampires in them it most likely winds up in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section or it's labeled "Paranormal Romance" and is shelved in the romance section.

It just that it's has been a long time since I have read a good horror novel with vampires were clearly evil(Brian Lumley's novels come to mind) and were out to either destroy humans or turn them into vampires as well.

Well now Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan has changed that with their novel The Strain.

This is the first of a trilogy(release date 6/2/2009) that begins at JFK Airport. As soon as a plane land it goes dark. No lights, no communication, no nothing. It doesn't take long to figure something is very wrong. As the plane is boarded things go from bad to worse very quickly as all the passengers and crew are found dead.

I don't have to tell you the cause of those death since the book is about vampires. But I will tell you this, from the time the plane lands Mr. Del Toro and Mr Hogan keep the pace of the book fast and the suspense coming, never slowing down.

The Strain has all the classic things about a great vampire novel that clearly we have to thank Bram Stoker for. You can make comparisons of some the books characters to characters from Dracula. There is Abraham Setrakians(Van Helsing) who knows of the vampires existence and who has planned for their coming. Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez(Dr.Seward and Quincy Morris or Arthur Holmwood) who work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and they don't know or believe in the existence of vampires but as the story progresses can't help to see the truth. Eldritch Palmer(Renfield) who has a unknown connection to the vampire.

As for the vampires. Del Toro and Hogan seem to borrow from all different versions of the vampire to make their own, maybe not totally unique version but one they can call their own. But what is so great about their vampires is that they aren't some shiny, take some one to the prom, fall in love with a slayer kind. Their vampire are as they should be, Evil and scary. These are the vampires I read about and loved as a kid, late a night when the house was quiet and every one else was asleep.

Everything about The Strain is what horror should be. Good vs Evil with the humanity's existence at stake(no pun intended). But with a out come that doesn't absolutely mean that Good will win.

The plot is well done and the writing team keeps it nice and tight and doesn't go astray(with some trilogies in the first book a writer can introduce to many plots and then when the third book comes will tend to rush to tie all loose ends or even forget some). The characters(both major and minor) are written well and believable. You are invested in their lives and as with any good book you are never sure if the heroes will survive.

Is The Strain the most original novel, maybe not but between the first and last page Mr. Del Toro and Mr. Hogan write a classic horror novel that surely makes me want to read the next installment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dan Simmon's Drood brings alive the last days of Charles Dickens.

I am going to tell you right from the beginning I am a huge fan of Dan Simmons( His Hyperion Cantos Series(Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and Rise of Endymion) has to be one of my favorite sci-fi series. At work(Barnes & Noble) they are the first books I suggest when asked what is good in sci-fi.

But what is so great about Dan(if that make it sounds like I know him I don't but I figure he wouldn't mind me using his first name) is as a writer is doesn't let himself get pigeon-holed in one genre. Not only has he written sci-fi but horror(Summer of Night, A Winter Haunting), mystery(The Crook Factory, Hardcase) and straight forward fiction with The Terror and his latest Drood.

There are some who may classify The Terror and Drood as horror but they really aren't. Though there is some horror in them they are a fictionalized story around actual events and people. The Terror is based on the ill fated 1845 Franklin Expedition to to find a path across the Artic Circle to China. Drood is about the last 5 years of Charles Dickens life and the mystery surrounding his unfinished book the Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The book is narrated by Wilkie Collins who was the author of Women in White and Moonstone and a frequent collabrator of Charles Dickens(though he was no where near as poplular as DIckens but this plays well into the book). It is important to know as well that Collins do to having gout was a opium addict and heavy user of laudanum and morphine.

The books begins with the well know train wreck that Dickens was in on June 9th 1865 on the train to Londan near Staplehurst. There Dickens meets a mysterious gentleman who as Dickens was on the train(though as we come to find out later he wasn't travelling First Class as Dickens and not excactly coach either)named Drood. It seems that each person Drrod comes in contact with at the wreck is dead when Dickens approaches to help. This leads Dickens on search for the mysterious Drood.

This search will take both Dickens and Collins to the worse part of London's slums and even beneath them and bring to end their friendship.

Dan Simmons just perfectly captures the man Charles Dickens(his genius and ego as well has his compassion for the poor. Dickens pushed for many reforms to help the poor) and the world he lives in. Through Collin's eyes we see the toll the train wreck(after the wreck he was terrified of traveling by train and it was worse as he got older and sick) and the 5 remaining years after(Dickens died on June 9th 1870). take on him with his search for Drood, his famous readings both in his home land and America. But this also takes it's toll on Collins. We see Collin's jealousy(the opium and other drugs most likely heightened this feeling) of Dickens for at that time Dickens was one of the most revered writes of his time.

Dickens also was, as many in his time, heavely into the art of memorizing. An art which he was fully caple of and used in his readings as no one as ever or since then has really done.

But as the search goes on for Drood Collins is at first convinced there is no such person. Even with a former Chief Inspector(now a private detective) claiming other wise. No has seen Drood except for Dickens. But as Collins get pulled deeper into the search for Drood with Dickens on one side and the fanatic private detective on the other his own addictions and other problems(Collins had an aversion to marriage even though one lover lived with him in which he claimed as a servent and his other would bear him 3 children) would take their toll on him.

Dan Simmons is on best form here. The pacing and characters and scenery of the London in the late 1800s come alive. And Dan writes a hearty novel. This book comes in at a hefty 771 pages. Books of this lenghth are few and far between these days(when I was a kid it was rare to find a good book under 400 pages now it all to common. It's has if writers or the publishers, or both don't think the reading public will sit down for a long good book anymore). In a hand of a lesser writer this book could have dragged on, But Dan being the superb writer he is keeps the suspense going right to end of finding out just who Drood was.

As for who was Drood I will tell you as I kept reading I didn't know what to expect. But Dan surprised me. Again in the hand of a lesser writer the ending could have been so cliched.

There are many good writers out there today. But really great writers are rare. And Dan Simmons is a great writer. With Drood he doesn't let the reader down. He keeps the action and suspense going between the first and last page.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

First Blog.

Hello fellow Bloggers my name is Stephen. This is my first time here so I would like to introduce myself to any one my read this and tell you a little about what my Blog is about.

I live here in Charleston SC and have since 1980. Originally I am from a town called Lenox Mass(yeah I am one of those damn Yankees). I work in retail and have for almost 30 years. 23 of those were in the grocery business. But now I have what I call a perfect job. I work for Barnes and Noble. It is perfect for me since I am a avid reader. I love to read sci-fi/Fantasy, mysteries, history and comics. I am a huge comic geek and have been for over 30 years.I even worked in a comic shop for 6 years. I love to go to comic convention when I can.

Some of my favorite writers are Neil Gaiman, Terry Brooks, Kristian Britain, Casey Daniels, Harlen Ellison, Dan Simmons and more.

Which brings me to what this Blog is about. I know that you don't want to read about my life and what is happening in it. And since one of the things I love doing B&N is suggesting books for customers it what I will be doing here. You one of the advantages of working in a book store is from time to time you get your hands on advance copies of books the publisher send out.

So with this Blog I will share with any one who is interested in what I may be reading at the time. Whether it be a book or comics. And also I will pass along some of my favorite author's books that I have read.

And I hope for those who read this will feel free to pass along some their favorite books, comments and more.

I know there are a billion other Blogs that are doing the samething. And by no means am I a professional writer or reviewer. This is just a way for me to pass along suggestion for books to read and recieve them as well.

So please let me know what you think.