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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.

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Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “What Does This Button Do?” By Bruce Dickinson

December 24, 2017 1 comment

What Does This Button Do?Note: I don’t read a whole lot of non-fiction. So I don’t get a lot of chance to review it. In fact this will be my first non-fiction review for this blog. Let’s see what I can do.

The people at Dos Equis got it wrong. The most interesting man in the world was born on August 7th, 1959. His name is Paul Bruce Dickinson. He’s the lead singer of one of the most successful and greatest heavy metal bands of all time, Iron Maiden. He’s also a veteran fencer, an airplane pilot, a small business owner, a screenwriter, a novelist, a documentary film maker, a DJ, a brewer, a cancer survivor, and first hand witness to some major historical events. Being a fan of Iron Maiden since my early adolescent years I thought I knew just how fascinating Bruce was. Then I read his his autobiography, “What Does This Button Do?,” and discovered there’s so much cool and compelling stuff about him that I didn’t know.

In “What Does This Button Do?” Dickinson takes you on a journey through many of his pivotal life events from his early life, to his first bands, and beyond. And he does so with a great and entertaining voice. Iron Maiden fans know that Dickinson has a gift for lyrical storytelling because of the many songs he wrote for the band, but in his autobiography the legendary frontman shows his gifts extend to anecdotal and autobiographical storytelling as well.

The big draw of “What Does this Button Do?” is of course the behind the scenes stories about Iron Maiden’s classic albums and legendary tours. There’s lot of really cool stuff there, but Dickinson’s story isn’t just about that. He gives you a real sense of what it means to be both a singer and a fencer. His love for those pursuits and for flying comes through in the writing and is really infectious. His recounting of his recent battle with cancer is also inspiring and especially moving.

It’s not just personal moments that Dickinson recounts in his book either. As a successful entertainer he was in a position to bear witness to some of history’s harrowing and horrific events. He recounts his time in New York the day 9-11 happened. One of the most powerful and exciting chapters comes though when he takes readers inside a historical event that sadly many people don’t know much about or have forgotten, the Bosnian War of the 90s.

So if you’re a fan of Iron Maiden you absolutely need to read “What Does This Button Do?” But if you’re a fan of great stories and fascinating people you should read it as well. It’s a really fascinating book.

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Echoes of the Long War” by David Guymer

November 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Echoes Long War MP3For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Black Library/Game Workshop’s year long event story from last year, The Beast Arises, is that it’s consistently given me things I’ve never seen or don’t regularly see in Warhmamer 40,000 novels. Those things all feel organic too; so they come off as fun, mindblowing twists. So far, we’ve engaged in political intrigues with the High Lords of Terra, seen Space Marines think and act politically, and have even had Xenos species set foot on Terra . . . twice! And that was just in the first five chapters!

Having now read the sixth installment, David Guymer’s “Echoes of the Long War,” I’m happy to report that the trend of fun, different, and interesting things continues as we reach the halfway point of the series. Plus the book sets the stage for an explosive and exciting second half of the series.

The Beast Arises series is about all the institutions of the Imperium, but so far when it focuses on the Adeptus Astartes the spotlight has firmly been on the Imperial Fists and all their successor chapters. In “Echoes of the Long War” David Guymer takes us on a deep dive inside the culture of the Second Founding Space Marine chapter known as the Fists Exemplar. What’s especially interesting about these guys is they sort of come off as a combination of Rogal Dorn’s Imperial Fists and Roboute Gulliman’s Ultramarines. They have the tenacity and stubbornness of the Fists, but they have the scholarly way of thinking and devotion to code of conduct of the Ultramarines.


Seeing that way of thinking collide with the tsunami of an interstellar invasion of David Guymersuper orks and their attack moons (I will never grow tired of typing that phrase! So fun! So METAL! And so 40K!) Was a lot of fun. And Guymer gives us a great point of view character to follow for most of the action in the form of a by the books Exemplar captain named Zeberyn.

What really makes “Echoes of the Long War” fun though is the characters Zeberyn and the Fists Exemplars run up against in their fight with the orks, the arch enemies of the Imperial Fists, the Traitor Space Marine Legion known as the Iron Warriors. Best of all, it was the Iron Warriors warband that we’ve been following for a few books now, the company lead by Warsmith Kalkator. I’ve grown to like Kalkator over the last few novels in The Beasts Arises, but Guymer made me love him.

That’s because in the book Kalkator and Zeberyn’s forces have a common foe. So the question then becomes can they work together to defeat the orks? I’m not going to comment on that except to say the dialogue and dynamic between Kalkator and the Fists Exemplar is a lot of fun.

The other thing that Guymer does in “Echoes of the Long War” is provide a scenario that turns the Orks into truly frightening foes. For me that’s been sort of the weak link of the series. It’s hard for me to get excited about the Orks as ultimate bad guys because there’s a lot about them that comes off as comical or sort of force of nature like. In this book though there’s an especially savage revelation about the orks that borders on horrific and gives the novel some really great stakes. It also leads to some fantastic action scenes and an incredibly powerful climax that I did not see coming.

On top of that, Guymer also introduces readers to a fascinating group of Tempestus Scions (Think Imperial Guard Spec Ops), while also continuing the stories of the Imperium’s master of assasins Drakan Vangorich, Koorland, the last Imperial Fist, and Magos Biologos Eldon Urquidex. Plus we get a chilling, final scene that digs back into established 40K lore, sets the stage for the back half of The Beast Arises, and makes me eager to read the next book in the series “The Hunt for Vulkan.” So “Echoes of the Long War” was a heck of a lot of fun.

Book Review- “Two Kinds of Truth” by Michael Connelly

November 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Two Kinds of TruthCrime fiction may be full of grand mysteries and head scratching “who done its?”, but it’s just like any other genre in that the strength of its stories depend on the characters embroiled in them. That’s because character is where crime fiction really shines as a genre. You get to see how the best and worst people confront the horrors of modern day society. You get to see them beaten down by depravity and corruption, and you also get to see them rise again and try to make the world a better place.

So crime fiction with great characters is a truly special thing and in his latest novel Two Kinds of Truth veteran crime novelist Michael Connelly demonstrates that. The novel, starring detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch is the latest in a series that stretches back 25 years and is a showcase for why Bosch is one of the greatest police procedural protagonists ever. Best of all though is the fact that Connelly’s second most famous protagonist, Bosch’s half brother, defense attorney Michael “Mickey” Haller AKA the Lincoln Lawyer, is a major part of the supporting cast.

Two Kinds of Truth is a continuation of the new era for Bosch that Connelly kicked off in the last entry in the series, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, where Bosch gets embroiled in two cases. One case stems from his work as a volunteer detective for the small San Fernando Police Force. The other ties back into his long career with the LAPD. Of the two cases the latter appears the most interesting, at least at first.

The former is a murder at a pharmacy, the investigation of which brings Harry face connelly1222to face with a character we haven’t see in the Bosch series in quite some time, and I was genuinely surprised by how much I missed them. From there, the investigation leads Harry into a role I genuinely had never seen him take before, which was fun and fascinating, especially when you consider this is a series that’s been unfolding over the course of 25 years and 20 novels. So that portion of the novel is interesting, but ultimately the best part of that story comes near the end of the book. That’s because the aftermath of the investigation brings out a side of Harry that we don’t often see and it happened organically. It lead to some passages that were powerful, poignant and very timely.

The second case ultimately was more interesting in terms of plot because it involved some fun twists, turns, and revelations. What I loved about those sections of the book though is the role Mickey Haller and his investigator Cisco played in them. Haller truly is a flawed, fascinating, and fun character. So it’s always a delight to watch him work, especially when he has someone on the straight and narrow to play off of like his brother Bosch. I’m not really a fan of legal thrillers, but I have to say I’m a fan of Haller, especially after reading Two Kinds of Truth. He’s that great of a character. I didn’t realize how much I missed him, and I’d love to see Connelly do another novel with him as the protagonist.

It felt like Cisco really got a lot of moments to shine in Two Kinds of Truth as well. It was cool watching the motorcycle club member turned private investigator interact with both his boss and Bosch. He had an interesting rapport with both, and I honestly wouldn’t mind to see him taking a starring turn in a Connelly novel some day either.

So, Two Kinds of Truth is another great demonstration of Connelly’s skill at building and exploring characters. Best of all, it ends with a powerful, poignant, and very interesting climax that made me wonder about and excited for what’s going to happen next in Harry Bosch’s life. After 25 years and 20 novels thats a pretty extraordinary accomplishment.

Book Review- Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost

November 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Twin-Peaks-The-Final-Dossier-640x500A few months back I had a really great time reading Mark Frost’s novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks. It was a nice blend of real world mysteries and conspiracies with the lore and mythology of the titular TV show. It also really helped refresh my memory and gave me some added context for which to view, interpret, and enjoy Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return. So it was a really nice companion piece to the show.

Now about two months after the ending of The Return Frost has released another book, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier. The ending to Twin Peaks: The Return left me cold at first, but the more I thought about it, and the more I thought about the clues and context of the other episodes I grew to really like it. So I was especially excited to read The Final Dossier since it could be the last world on Twin Peaks for some time, and perhaps for good.

I’m happy to say Frost did not disappoint me with the book. It was like getting oneMark-Frost last thumbs up from Special Agent Dale Cooper. It was a quick and exciting read, especially the last half.

It’s going to be tough to talk about the book without spoiling anything, but let’s see what we can do. Essentially it’s a set of files from the P.OV. of Special Agent Tammy Preston, who’s perspective we got in The Secret History and who was played in The Return by Chrysta Bell. Basically, in the aftermath of The Return Tammy is providing her boss, Gordon Cole, with some detailed reports on the citizens and town of Twin Peaks.

Some of the info is stuff we know from watching The Return and a lot of it fleshes in details that Showtime series overlooked. So it was pretty fascinating and often heartbreaking read because many residents of Twin Peaks endured some pretty tough times in the time period since Gordon Cole last saw them.

There are also some clues about some of the series enduring mysteries and some of the new strange, twists and turns of The Return. If you’re looking for definite answers though you’re out of luck. Because most of the clues about the show’s weird and sinister phenomenon raise new questions about what’s going on. I personally love that, and I think most Twin Peaks fans do too. When Mark Frost, David Lynch and their collaborators showed you something weird or scary it was always mysterious which I think made things more creepy and cool. It’s more frightening if you have ideas what a monster might be then a definite explanation of what it is.

So Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier is a creepy and poignant read, but it’s also a lot of fun. There’s quite a bit of humor in there, and even though there are some dark parts the optimism and wonder of its signature and greatest character, Special Agent Dale Cooper, does shine through in parts too. If you’re a Twin Peaks fan I highly recommend reading this book. It’s a great way to say goodbye (at least for now) to one of television’s most unpredictable and enjoyable shows.

Categories: Book Review, Uncategorized

Book Review- Ahriman: The Omnibus by John French

November 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Ahriman OmnibusEverybody loves a “bad guy.” Even people like myself who generally read more about the more heroic defenders of Games Workshop/Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 universe. In fact I’m a big fan of the Imperium of Mankind and the Loyalist Space Marine legions that protect it, but some of Black Library’s best novels have been about the traitorous Space Marine Legions. Horus Heresy books like Legion by Dan Abnett, A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill, and 40K books like Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords Omnibus have been some of the most exciting, powerful, and even poignant 40K fiction I’ve ever read. And now having become fascinated by the Thousand Son’s thanks to McNeill’s Horus Heresy novel I can add another set of stories to that list; the ones featured in John French’s Ahriman: The Omnibus, which I just finished and was absolutely blown away by.

You don’t have to have read A Thousand Sons to appreciate or understand the stories in Ahriman: The Omnibus, but I’m glad I did. I feel like they heightened my appreciation of the book because I already knew the tragic story of the Thousand Sons Space Marine Legion and loved many of their members, especially Ahriman, their chief sorcerer. McNeill introduced me to Ahriman back when he was still a loyal servant of the Imperium. I got to know him and became fascinated by him there, but French made me love him.

In Ahriman: The Omnibus, which contains three novels and several short stories, John FrenchFrench picks up with Ahriman several hundreds of years later when his title character is firmly entrenched in the forces of chaos and wracked with guilt over the spell he cast to try and solve the mutation problems that plagued his Legion, but only made it worst by transforming many of his Space Marine brothers into zombie like Ruricae. Essentially they’re semi sentient dust trapped in power armor that can be commanded by other sorcerer/psychic members of the Thousand Sons. In the Omnibus, we go on a journey with Ahriman as he seeks to rectify that mistake.

As I traveled with Ahriman and the fascinating characters he drew into his orbit I couldn’t help but be reminded of something. I’m a life long fan of comics, particularly Marvel ones. Part of my living comes from writing feature interviews with the creators of their books. One of Marvel’s best villains is the character of Thanos, created by Jim Starlin, and after I finished Ahriman: The Omnibus I couldn’t help, but compare Ahriman to Thanos. He’s that fascinating of a character. I think the comparison is especially apt because both are driven by very human qualities in Thanos’ case a love for the physical embodiment death, and in Ahriman’s a need to atone for what his Rubric spell did to his brothers in the Thousand Sons.

Those needs push the characters forward against seemingly unstoppable odds. So Ahriman is a genetically altered human driven by an indomitable will. It allows him to challenge Empires and even cosmic forces like demons and gods. That makes him a fascinating and even, dare I say, kind of an inspiring protagonist.

Ahriman isn’t the only intriguing character in French’s stories. There’s a whole host of them especially Space Marines like Ahriman’s fellow Thousand Sons; the swordsman Sanakht, the mathematically minded Ignis who’s protected by a faithful robotic bodyguard, and Ctesias a sorcerer who specializes in summoning and trapping demons. French also includes some fascinating human characters as well. My favorite of those is the Inquisitor Iobel, who has dedicated herself to thwarting and destroying the legacy of the Thousand Sons.

I don’t want to say much about the plot of the three novels and short stories that make up Ahriman: The Omnibus because in a way the entire book is one long story, and each novel and short story builds upon what’s come before. So by the time I arrived at the the third and final novel in the trilogy Ahriman Unchanged I was utterly hooked.

The journey to that book and the journey in it was pretty fascinating and fun too. During it French takes readers to some legendary 40K locales and brings his characters face to face to with famous 40K faces, including one entity I had never seen brought to life in a novel before. French did a fantastic job with it too.

The stories are action packed and often have a fun horrific feel to them. Best of all though is there are plenty of organic twists and turns that unfold along the way. So, in a lot of ways, the Ahriman stories felt like great heist and caper tales. That may sound weird, but when you think about it it’s pretty fitting because the Thousand Sons are tied to Chaos God known as Tzeentch, which is the god of change, fate, and conspiracies.

So if you love Chaos or consider yourself a loyalist of the Imperium you really need to check out John French’s Ahriman: The Omnibus. It’s a fun, epic tale featuring one of the most fascinating characters in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Book Review- “A Thousand Sons” by Graham McNeill

Thousand SonsWhen you read a series of books that you enjoy a sense of complacency can start to set in. You can almost become accustomed to certain things and after you read an entry you’re left with a feeling of like, “Okay. That was fun. On to the next one.” Sometimes though an entry comes along in a series that is so good it’s like a refreshing blast of cold water or even slap in the face. It wakes you up and reminds you of why you fell in love with a particular series in the first place and shows you just how special, exciting, and powerful a book in that series can be. I just finished “A Thousand Sons” by Graham McNeill, which is book 12 in Games Workshop/Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” (a prequel storyline that sets the stage for their Warhammer 40,000 line of novels) series, and I’m happy to report it’s just such a book.

The titular characters of “A Thousand Sons” are a Space Marine Legion and McNeill was given a gift in these characters because they’re one of the most fascinating and unique Space Marine Legions in all of 40k. I’ve mentioned in other reviews that the great thing about Space Marines novels is they allow the author to take a deep dive into the diverse martial cultures of a particular Legion, and what makes the Thousand Sons so compelling is the fact they combine the transhuman bad-assery of your typical Space Marine, with the academic bent and powers of your archetypical sorcerer from fantasy stories, and add just a hint of Marvel Comics X-Men to make things extra tragic and poignant.

That’s because unlike most Space Marine Legions that feature a handful of members with psychic powers many of the Thousand Sons are capable of incredible mental feats. It’s part of the culture they hail from, and their godlike primarch/father, Magnus the Red, is one of the most powerful Psykers in existence. Unfortunately for them though, in the reality of 40K psychic powers are linked to the unstable reality known as the Warp, a tumultuous dimension of demons, psychic monstrosities and malevolent, power-hungry, gods. So. the Sons are feared and distrusted by many of their brother Legions who label them Warlocks.

Over the course of “A Thousand Sons” we meet an eclectic cast of the titularGraham McNeill characters and we get to bond with them and see them live, study, and of course fight. My favorite legionnaire was chief Librarian, Ahzek Ahriman, who I knew was one of the most beloved anti-heroes in 40K, but now I know why. In “A Thousand Sons” Ahriman is a charismatic and compelling character constantly questing for truth and plumbing the warp with his precognitive and astral projection powers to serve his Primarch, Legion, and the Imperium of Man.

Magnus the Red is of course is a fascinating character too, but I like that McNeill didn’t make the Primarch the focus of the story. It makes the scenes with him extra special. When Magnus makes an entrance the only way to describe it is to quote Sargent Nicholas Angel from “Hot Fuzz” and say, “Shit just got real.” That said, Magnus remains a very human character in “A Thousand Sons.” Despite his vast power and good intentions he makes mistakes, big, powerful heartbreaking ones. He’s a tragic figure in the classical sense.

My other favorite group of characters in “A Thousand Sons” were the three Human scholars/remembrancers that are traveling with the Thousand Sons when the book begins. Each of them have a psychic gift and a unique back story that draws them into the larger world of the Thousand Sons. It’s a lot of fun to see these characters bounce of the Space Marines and observe how the behavior of the human and posthuman characters impact each other. Another cool aspect is that one of the Remembrancers, Camille Shivani, is the first LGBTQ character I’ve encountered in the world of 40K. We even get to see her with a significant other at one point in the book.

Over the course of “A Thousand Sons” we travel with the titular Space Marines and human characters to a variety of worlds and watch as they take on a whole host of foes including one of their brother legions, the barbaric Space Wolves. The rivalry between the Wolves and the Sons is a believable and tragic one. I’m actually a pretty big fan of the Wolves so the fact that I was actively rooting against them in “A Thousand Sons” is a testament to the characters McNeill created and the narrative he weaved together.

The narrative is a fascinating one too. We get a handful of big battles, but we also get the equivalent of a court room sequence, which was fascinating and something I’ve never really seen before in a 40K book as McNeill chronicles one of the big events in the pre-history of 40K. The novel then follows a series of shocking revelations and tragic mistakes that climaxes with one of the most epic and poignant battles I’ve read about in a 40K or “Horus Heresy” book. Long time fans will know what I’m talking about, but I don’t want to say too much and spoil things.

Another fun aspect is that McNeill peppers the novel with little Easter Egg nods to other classic tales of fantastic fiction. I’m sure I missed all of them, but two that I caught were fitting and organic nods to the works of Mary Shelly and H.P. Lovecraft.

So, “A Thousand Sons” is one of my favorite entries in “The Horus Heresy” series For me it’s right up there with Dan Abnett’s “Legion” and Ben Counter’s “Galaxy in Flames.” It’s a big novel full of fun, fascinating and powerful stuff. Best of all it’s made me especially fired up to get to some other 40K and “Horus Heresy” novels that are sitting on my “to read” pile like John French’s Ahriman: The Omnibus,” and Dan Abnett’s “Horus Heresy” novel, “The Burning of Prospero,” which I understand is kind of companion novel to “A Thousand Sons.”