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Book Review- “The Hunt for Vulkan” by David Annandale

September 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Hunt for VulkanIt’s been a while since I reached the halfway point of Games Workshop/Black Library’s epic 12 part “The Beast Arises” storyline. Not because I’m not a fan. It’s just life and and an ever expanding reading pile happened. So I was excited to finally get a chance to get back into the ork fighting action with “The Hunt for Vulkan” by David Annandale. It’s book 7 in the storyline. I worried though that my months away from the saga make it harder to get back into. Turns out all my worries were for nothing because “In the Hunt for Vulkan” Annandale welcomed me back into the “War of the Beast” with open arms. It was a fun tale bursting with action that made me eager to dig into the back half of the 12 part tale.

The Hunt for Vulkan” features a huge cast of characters, but it mainly follows a core cast of intriguing ones. At the center of the tale is Koorland, the last member of the Imperial Fists Space Marine chapter who we met back in the opening installment of this series. Part of the highlight of “The Beast Arises” has been Koorland’s journey as a character from survivor to Lord Commander of the Imperium. In “The Hunt for Vulkan” we get a chance to see him reflect on that journey and deal with some of the ghosts that still haunt him after the tragic loss he experienced in book one. We also get to see his growth as a political and military leader.

Annandale opens the book with a crisis on Mars that threatens to turn the Imperium and the Adeptus Mechanicus against each other. That’s where we get to see Koorland’s mettle as a political leader tested. I was riveted watching him face off against the Mechanicus’ Fabricator General in a game of chicken. In the latter half of the book you get to see Koorland back on the battlefield as he leads a vast Imperium strike force in the titular “Hunt for Vulkan.”

The other major character of “The Hunt for Vulkan” is Thane, the Chapter Master ofdavid_annandale the Space Marine Legion known as the Fists Exemplar. We primarily get to see Thane on the battlefield in this book, but he’s a fun character to watch in a fight, and this novel also continues his growth from the previous ones. Some other character moments I enjoyed included the ones we spent with the crew of an Imperial Navy ship as it tried to survive a void battle against an ork armada and an ork Attack Moon, and checking back in with a Loyalist Space Marine Legion that’s been forced into an alliance with the Traitorous Iron Warriors Legion.

The best character moments for me though were the few ones we got to spend with my favorite Primarch, Vulkan. Annandale does let us get inside in Vulkan’s head in several powerful and inspiring moments. and he nails the character’s voice. Vulkan’s thoughts and deeds in the novel illustrate why he and the Salamanders are my favorite Loyalist Space Marine Legion and Primarch.

The other thing I loved about “The Hunt for Vulkan” was of course the wall-to-wall action of the book. The novel opens with an intense and desperate battle between the forces of the Imperium and then the latter 2/3 are an epic war on a crumbling planet. Annandale is fantastic at these scenes too. The book’s battles were full of powerful, bone crunching descriptions, and twists and turns that chilled me and made me cheer.

So, with “The Hunt For Vulkan” I was plunged back into the excitement of “The Beast Arises.” It was also another fantastic 40K book from Annandale. I’ve read three Black Library books by him now and I’ve loved everyone.

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Book Review- “Sadie by Courtney Summers

September 20, 2018 Leave a comment

SadieI don’t know why I continue to underestimate YA fiction, especially of the crime genre. I mean one of my favorite shows of all time, “Veronica Mars”, is about a teenage P.I. and it’s pretty noir. I guess I just have this weird pre-conceived notion that Young Adult prose novel’s featuring younger protagonists don’t make for hard hitting crime stories. Kristi Belcamino proved me wrong with her fantastic YA debut, “City of Angels.” And Courtney Summers once again proves me wrong with her new YA novel “Sadie.” I just finished reading it. It’s a powerful, fantastically paced, poignant, original crime novel that reads like a mash up of Andrew Vachss, the Jonathan Lethem novel “Motherless Brooklyn” and 

 

the movie “Winter’s Bone.” Yes, it’s that good.

In “Sadie,” Summers is telling a mystery story on two fronts and two formats. The first is told via the transcripts of a podcast called “The Girls” and in it we follow the exploits of host, West McCray, who is reluctantly dragged into the hunt for a missing girl. Her name is Sadie Hunters. She’s 19 years old and she up and vanished one day several months after her younger sister Mattie was murdered. McCray is called in after Sadie’s abandoned car turns up.

The second mystery is told from Sadie’s point of view. We go with her on her cross-country journey away from home and on a mysterious and very personal quest that unfolds over the course of the story. That set up, and the contrast between the two narratives makes “Sadie” an exciting novel to read. Summers used the different view points to feed into the two narratives perfectly. We’d get a chapter that cliff hangered from Sadie’s point of view and then we’d go with West McCray as he investigated the aftermath and tried to make sense of things.

Sadie” also works because the title characters is fascinating. She’s haunted by theCourtney Summers death of the one person who meant the world to her, her younger sister. She’s also tragically someone who never got to be a kid because of her family situation and some other things we discover as the novel unfolds. Making Sadie even more fascinating is the fact that she has a stutter. Since her portions of the novel are told from her perspective we get to hear how she feels about that, and how she’s affected by the way people treat her because of it. It’s something that you don’t often see in a book and it made an already empathetic character even more relatable.

West McCray is also an interesting character. At the beginning I admired him because he served as the dogged detective, but in the second half of the book you learn more personal details about him that makes his quest to find Sadie even more emotionally resonant.

Summers also populates “Sadie” with a whole host of fascinating and very realistic characters that we meet in both McCray’s and Sadie’s journeys. My favorites included Javi, a kind teenage boy Sadie encounters; Cat, a hitchhiker she picks up; and May Beth, a sort of surrogate mother to Sadie who runs the trailer park she lived in. There are also some very sinister figures who hang over the story in “Sadie.” I don’t want to say much about them because they’re involved in some of the most powerful and poignant reveals in the story.

Those sinister figures and their actions infuse “Sadie” with a compelling tone of creeping dread. As the story unfolds you want to learn more about the mysteries of the novel, but there’s a sense that those truths will be haunting and unsettling.

The book is also very moving too. It’s kind of an epic look at the power of familial love; how it can fuel us, keep us on our feet after enduring physical and emotional punishment, and consume us.

So, with “Sadie” Courtney Summers proves to me once again that YA crime fiction can be just as moving, powerful and haunting as crime stories intended for an adult audience. It’s a hell of a read.

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Prospero Burns” by Dan Abnett

September 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Burning of ProsperoI love the world of Warhammer 40,000. It’s a rich and fascinating universe. I currently have two armies to play in the 8th edition of the game (I play Salamanders and Thousand Sons) I even bought Games Workshop’s newest skirmish version of 40K, “Kill Team” (Which is a great and fairly cheap way to get your feet wet in the world of 40K) The reason I’m such a huge fan though is the fabulous work done by the authors of the fiction arm of Games Workshop, the Black Library.

The work of one specific Black Library author though, Dan Abnett, brought me into the World of 40K. I was a huge fan of his comic work and I’ve been lucky enough to interview him as a journalist on several different occasions. He’s a super nice guy. So one day I picked up my library’s copy of “The Eisenhorn Omnibus” and I was hooked. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything 40K I’ve read by Abnett and I think his novel, “Legion,” is one of the best entries in the 40K prequel series, “The Horus Heresy,” that I’ve read so far. So I was especially excited to read his novel “Prospero Burns,” which is the 15th entry in the series.

Part of the reason I was excited is because the last Horus Heresy novel I read was Graham McNeill’s “Thousand Sons.” That book made me love the Thousand Sons and its a large part of the reason why I have a Thousand Sons army to play 40K. One of the most tragic and heartbreaking elements of that story was the burning of Prospero, the Thousand Sons’ homeworld, by the Space Marine legion known as The Space Wolves.

So, I was curious to see what that historical moment looked like from The Space Wolves perspective and in “Prospero Burns” Abnett gives us that, but he also gives us so much more. The result is a powerful, fun, exciting, and poignant read even if you’re a Thousand Sons fan and player (like me)

I feel the best 40K and Horus Heresy novels are the ones that take deep dives intoDan-cool the cultures that their protagonists hail from. And in “Prospero Burns” Abnett does that. You’re given a sense of the true, savage purpose of the Space Wolves. You’re allowed to appreciate their sense of loyalty to that purpose and their Emperor. You’re also allowed to feel sorry for what that loyalty does to them and angry at the tragic mistakes it causes them to make.

Best of all though is you’re allowed to see these superhuman warriors in a more human light. That’s because you learn the types of stories that entertain and enthrall the Space Wolves in quieter moments when they’re sitting around a campfire or when they’re trying to provide some final moments of comfort to a mortally injured comrade.

This exploration of Space Wolf culture is done primarily through the eyes of a scholar named Kasper Hawser. He’s a fascinating almost Indiana Jones style character and like the Remembrancer (scholarly types) characters in other “Horus Heresy” novels he’s a great character and his perspective on the actions and culture of the Space Wolves is fascinating.

Abnett also uses Kasper to provide some very cool insights into what Earth was like before and several years after The Emperor of Mankind unified it. Because throughout the book were given glimpses of Hawser’s past. Those flashback sequences are also tied into the larger plot in a way that I won’t spoil because it’s a cool reveal.

Prospero Burns” is also a fun adventure that brushes up against new and classic elements of 40K lore. Some of my favorite new characters and concepts include Longfang, the Space Wolves Rune Priest that Hawser spends some time with, and the Quietude; an interstellar empire that very much felt like a 40K version of the classic Star Trek villains, the Borg.

At first there might not seem like a lot for fans looking into insight at larger and classic 40K characters and lore. Patient readers will be rewarded though. Quite a few familiar faces, including Space Wolf Primarch Leman Russ, appear in the second half of the book. Plus Abnett adds some excitement and intrigue to big events like the Council of Nikaea and the titular Burning of Prospero.

So “Prospero Burns” is a fantastic book that is many things. It’s primarily a sci-fi adventure story and cultural study. As the book unfolds though Abnett organically adds layers to the narrative that make it even more enjoyable. So it’s also a spy/conspiracy story, a tale of supernatural horror, and tragedy in almost the classical sense of the word. All of those elements combine to make “Prospero Burns” a hell of a read.

Book Review- Blackout by Alex Segura

BlackoutThere’s a lot of reasons why we read a series of crime fiction novels. They give us exciting action sequences, nuanced characters we root for and against (often back and forth), and moments of powerful and gritty drama. All of that is sort of the frosting on the metaphorical cake though. The real reason we read a good crime fiction series is to go on a journey. We want an identifiable character we can root for, scream at and empathize with when they fall, and stand up and cheer when they get back up and keep fighting. Alex Segura understands that. It’s why his series of novels starring private detective Pete Fernandez have been so good, and it’s why the latest, Blackout (which I just finished) could be his best one yet.

In Blackout, Segura gives us a novel of epic scope and scale. You get cults, the mob, a murder investigation that Pete interacts with at three different points in his life, political intrigues, assassinations, and a climax that takes place in the eye of a hurricane. So going back to my earlier (and perhaps tired and cliched) metaphor, the frosting on Blackout is exciting and great. But what makes all that fun stuff especially resonant is the emotional journey that’s come before and continues in this novel.

To talk in too much detail would spoil a lot of things, but I can say this is a book that offers long term payout to readers of the other books. Over the course of the story it’s clear that Pete grows. He confronts somethings and makes some realizations that makes him an even more fascinating character and makes the end of the Blackout extremely powerful.

And it’s not just Pete that’s great in this book. Over the course of the novels I’ve Seguracome to care for his friends like former FBI Agent Robert Harras. I’m especially attached his pal with a criminal past, Dave Mendoza; and his partner Kathy Bentley. The first two have some great moments in Blackout. I especially love some of the revelations we get into Dave’s past which make him even more intriguing. For me, though the truly awesome supporting character in this story is Kathy.

We’ve got to see Kathy grow too over the course of the Peter Fernandez books and she’s become amazing. In Blackout she’s insightful, tough, compassionate, and the perfect person to play Pete off of. Their dynamic together is fun and heartfelt.

So, if you haven’t read any Pete Fernandez books do yourself a favor, go back and start at the beginning. By the time you get to Blackout you’ll see you’ve been part of a truly special journey. And best of all that journey is far from over! The final pages of Blackout will have you desperately longing to see where Segura takes Pete Fernandez next.

Categories: Book Review

Book Review-Forges of Mars Omnibus by Graham McNeill

Forges of MarsOne of the great things about the world of Warhammer 40,000 is all its fascinating factions. Its easy to think one is not for you, but like comics all it takes is the right writer to illustrate a group’s potential. For me that faction was the the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, but then I read Graham McNeill’s Horus Heresy novel, Mechanicum. In it McNeill showed me the Admech are a fascinating group of characters and there’s a bunch of interesting stories to be told with them. So I thought I’d see what he could do with a whole trilogy of Adeptus Mechanicus novels and picked up the Forges of Mars omnibus, which contains the novels Priests of Mars, Lords of Mars, and Gods of Mars, as well as the short story Zero Day Exploit.

I got what I wanted and then some. Because Forges of Mars is full of a whole host of fascinating characters not just members of the Admech. Plus each book in the series ups the scope and scale . So Gods of Mars is a story full of grand, epic action, and character payouts.

The Forges of Mars omnibus starts out as a tale of exploration. So essentially McNeill is taking a Star Trek style story and giving it a 40K spin.His story is about an Adeptus Mechanicus expedition for a missing ship that traveled outside the known galaxy thousands of years ago. The flagship of this new expedition is a massive and ancient vessel known as the Speranza. It’s almost like a planet and much of the action in the trilogy unfolds in its labyrinthine layout. It’s a pretty fascinating locale that’s almost a character unto itself.

Walking the halls of the Speranza are a diverse group of Adeptus Mechanicus tech-priests. First and foremost is of course the expedition leader, Lexell Kotov. He’s surrounded himself with a number cold and career focused tech-priests like Tarkis Blaylock. What’s great about those characters though is how nuanced they are. Over the course of the trilogy you get moments that show them at their worst, but they also get genuine moments of heroism and altruism. Plus there are some very noble, grounded, and easy to like tech-priests like the father and daughter team of Vitali and Linya Tychon. Their noble nature and genuine affection for each other made them some of my favorite characters in the trilogy.

The nature of the Kotov expedition allows McNeill to expand the cast of Forges of Graham McNeillMars beyond tech-priests and include diverse characters from all over the Imperium of Man. Accompanying the expedition are a band of Black Templar Space Marines, a detachment of valiant soldiers from Cadia, a Legion of Titan war machines and their pilots, a Rogue Trader and his crew, and several normal humans press ganged into being bondsmen aboard the Speranza. But that’s not all! There’s also a crew of Eldar pursuing the Speranza.

As the Forges of Mars trilogy unfolds were allowed to spend time with all of these characters and see things from their perspective. So I really came to care about almost all of them. It heightened all the action scenes and made the climax of the trilogy incredibly enjoyable. There was so much payoff. The character arcs I probably enjoyed the most were the ones of Linya Tychon; Rogue Trade Roboute Surcouf who hails from the Ultramar system which means he’s kind of like James T Kirk mixed with the nobility of Steve Rogers; and Black Templar sergeant Tanna, who really goes on a journey of growth over the course of the trilogy.

I also have to mention that McNeill may have opened my eyes to the appeal of the Eldar. They are another faction that have popped up throughout the  40K novels I’ve read that I really haven’t found all that appealing. In Forges of Mars, McNeill points out how the Eldar are a damned race thanks to their creation of the Chaos God Slaanesh, but they’ve decided to sort of go down swinging and fighting against their fate. That made me see them in an entirely new light. So I may have to seek out some Eldar novels.

I don’t want to say too much about the action of the Forges of Mars trilogy because a lot of of it is shrouded in mystery with some great reveals. What I will say is the story takes readers to pretty fantastic locales like alien planets, a seemingly deserted space station, and a mysterious Forge World. McNeill also has a lot of fun with the tone of the trilogy as well. You get moments of grand adventure, character drama, cosmic horror, and over the top action. The climax of the book is an epic struggle to save the entire universe and features a number of wildly imaginative and gloriously trippy sequences.

All of that makes Forges of Mars an incredible and epic read. For me, its one of those grand trilogies that reflects all the reasons why I love the 40K universe. It’s right up there with Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy and Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords trilogy. It’s that good! I was already a fan of McNeill before reading this Omnibus, but now he’s one of my favorite Black Library authors.

Thoughts About Metal and Visigoth’s “The Conqueror’s Oath.”

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

HornsRegular readers of this blog may have picked up that I’m a fan of Heavy Metal music. In fact the older I get the more I love metal and all it’s varied sub genres. Part of the reason I love it is because it’s a way to cope with the sometimes soul crushing mundanity of life. Metal turns things up to 11. It makes dull, routine things epic and operatic feats. So it’s a really fun genre.

It’s also a genre of extreme emotions. The world is a pretty dark place these days, especially here in the suburban badlands of America where I live. Our numbskull in chief and his cronies have created a climate of cruelty, corruption, and outright stupidity. So I’m angry very often. And when I am Metal is there for me. It lets me howl at the awfulness in the world.

Metal can also pick you up and dust you off when existential dread, ennui, and depression knocks you to the floor. Power Metal is especially uplifting genre. If you take it at face value with it’s lyrics about fighting monsters and dragons it’s of course silly. I would argue it’s sublimely ridiculous, but that’s kind of the point. And I refer you back to what I was talking about earlier; how metal makes life more epic. Plus what better way to slay and confront your metaphorical demons and monster than with stirring, epic, ballads about slaying mythic monsters.

If you want a great example of that I would urge you to check out “The Conqueror’s Visigoth-ConquerorsOathOath” by Salt Lake City based power metal band Visigoth. It was released today. I’ve listened to it several times already and it helped turn a grey, bleak, snowy day into one of epic possibilities. It even made me write about music for the first time.

Conqueror’s Oath is eight, epic tracks about facing adversity with steel, courage, and honor. It will get you pumped up to confront difficult tasks, face your fears, and enjoy life. My two favorite tracks are “Hammer Forged” and “Conqueror’s Oath.” Those tracks especially are a soundtrack for going out and being awesome. It’s like a love child of the music of Dio and Henry Rollins. They’re feel good, self help songs for D&D nerds like myself. The whole album is fantastic and a great example of what’s awesome about metal

If you’re curious check out the title track from Conqueror’s Oath here.

And if you’re just curious about Metal and it’s various subgenres check out this helpful video made by the awesome, Whitney Moore

Categories: Uncategorized

Book Review- “Bonfire” by Krysten Ritter

January 7, 2018 Leave a comment

BonfireKrysten Ritter has been involved with three of my favorite crime shows of all time: “Veronica Mars,” “Breaking Bad,” and Netflix’s adaptation of Marvel Comics “Jessica Jones.” As an actress she was part of the storytelling of those shows. She helped create a character, and she got to witness how the stories on those shows were brought to life. Now I wonder if she was taking notes because I just finished Ritter’s debut novel, “Bonfire,” and it’s a pretty great first crime novel.

In “Bonfire” Ritter takes readers to the fictional town of Barrens, Indiana. It’s a small company town full of unpleasant ghosts and personal demons for her protagonist, an environmental lawyer named Abby Williams. It’s a town Abby escaped from, but the experiences she endured as a teenager at the hands of her family and peers still haunt her. We immediately get the sense of that, but one of Ritter’s strengths as a writer is her ability to convey a sense of place.

She makes Barrens just as horrific for us readers as it is for Abby. She believably brings to life a town swimming in literal and metaphorical sickness. The former is from possible pollution and why Abby has been forced to return home, and the latter comes from the horrific corruption and secrets that took root when Abby was a teenager and have been festering for about a decade.

Abby is a very believable and damaged protagonist. She clearly has PTSD from some of the horrible things she endured as a teenager and often drinks and makesKrysten Ritter bad decisions. You understand why because Ritter allows you to experience Abby’s memories, but memory is fleeting and subjective. Ritter has fun with that as well.

We meet a number of interesting characters as Abby investigates the mysteries in Barrens like the fellow members of her legal team and some of grown up people who tormented her as a teen, but for me the most fascinating character in the book is someone Abby has returned home to find, her childhood friend turned biggest tormenter as a teen, Kaycee Mitchell. Kaycee is a mercurial and vile person, but too Ritter’s credit she’s not a cartoon. You’re given some scenes that give you insight into Kaycee’s action and even allow you to genuinely empathize with her.

Tone is another area Ritter excelled at. Abby’s investigation uncovers some truly sinister secrets about the town and some of it’s residents. So there’s also a very thrilling and palpable sense of paranoia and psychological horror.

 “Bonfire” is a great debut novel about both the damage teenagers can do to each other and the horrific secrets that can hide in small towns. The book is a kickoff to what I hope will be a second successful career for Ritter because I’m eager for both the second season of “Jessica Jones” and to see what she does next as a novelist.

Categories: Book Review