Friday, March 29, 2019

Review: Captain Marvel, Volume 3: Alis Volat Propriis

Captain Marvel, Volume 3: Alis Volat Propriis Captain Marvel, Volume 3: Alis Volat Propriis by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The adventures of Captain Marvel in SPAAAAACCCEEE continue… At least for a while.

After returning to her ship Carol finds that it's been trashed and that her friend Tic and beloved cat flerken have been taken by pirates. Getting them back requires a dangerous journey across a wonky patch of space. Then there’s some crap about that Black Vortex crossover that I could care less about. And then we get the big finale with Carol returning to Earth, but her homecoming is bittersweet.

The first part of this with Carol chasing the pirates was pretty good and had kind of a Star Trek feel to it. (In fact, there’s an idea in there that makes me wonder if some of the creators on Star Trek: Discovery hadn’t read this and *ahem* borrowed it.) The crossover storyline issue is pure trash. It makes no sense if you hadn’t read the rest of it. Hell, I read some of the Black Vortex stuff, and I still don’t know or care what was going on here with it. Finally, Carol’s return home had some good emotional heft and provides a fitting ending to this particular run of the title. (Seriously, Marvel, do we have to change the volumes every 15 minutes?)

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review: Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, by Brian Michael Bendis, Volume 3

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, by Brian Michael Bendis, Volume 3 Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, by Brian Michael Bendis, Volume 3 by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Marvel comic book is in the middle of an excellent run of stories only to be sidetracked by a huge crossover? Who could have seen that coming? Other than anyone who has read Marvel since the first Secret Wars, I mean…

The first part of this is excellent as young Miles is being blackmailed by his Uncle Aaron (a/k/a The Prowler) into helping him take out the Scorpion so that he can take control of New York’s super underworld. Peter Parker was certainly a lot luckier in the uncle department. Then the crossover kicks in, and the next thing you know Miles is going off to war with the Ultimates to try and save the United States from Hydra.

The crazy thing of it is that I didn’t entirely hate the big war storyline. The Miles character arc is so strong and well done that even when he’s dragged into some other huge happenings it still feels very much like a continuation of his on-going efforts to be Spider-Man. And he’s getting pretty good at it.

So 3 stars for an excellent first half and a second part that wasn’t nearly as awful as it could have been.

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Friday, March 8, 2019

Review: Neon Prey

Neon Prey Neon Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And if what happens is that you get eaten by a cannibal while there you'll definitely be staying in Vegas.

Clayton Deese was an enforcer/hired killer for a loan shark in New Orleans who gets arrested after one of his jobs go wrong. Since Deese has a lot of skeletons in his closet he jumps bail and disappears. Actually, the skeletons are in graves behind his house, and Deese had a habit of cutting prime cuts off his victims and throwing them on the grill. Once that grisly discovery has been made Deese is the country’s most notorious fugitive, and US Marshal Lucas Davenport is brought in to help track him down.

Deese has hooked up with his brother who is running a nasty home invasion crew that Lucas tracks from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as the trail keeps getting bloodier. There’s also a complication that Deese’s old boss is worried that he’ll flip on him if caught so he’s trying to either kill him or make sure he gets out of the country.

This is the 29th book of the Prey series, and it’s got all the usual stuff. The plotting is tight with multiple characters all working their own agendas, the tension builds nicely to some big moments, and we get to hang out with Davenport as he uses a mix of deduction, manipulation, and intimidation to find the bad guys. Sandford even throws a pretty wicked curve ball at the reader about a quarter of the way into the book that literally made me sit up and curse aloud in shock when it happened. Lucas’ new role as a marshal continues to be interesting, and the Vegas setting is used well as the kind of place where trying to follow a suspect through the maze of a casino is a challenge.

However, it doesn’t quite hit the peaks of the series at its best. There’s some great set-up of Deese as a people-eatin’ leg-breaker, but more time is actually spent with other members of the home invasion crew so that he doesn’t come across as the best of the Prey bad guys. It’s a little disappointing that more isn’t done with the cannibal angle. (What? If I read a book where I’m told the villain eats people then I expect somebody to get eaten. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not the only person who watched Hannibal.) In fact, it’s more used for shock factor and almost a running gag than anything. The twist that we get early on doesn’t really amount to much either at the end of the day and is kind of quickly forgotten.

Still, it’s John Sandford so it’s a pretty satisfying thriller that will keep you turning pages even if it isn’t Lucas’s most memorable case.

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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Review: A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself

A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.

A mob widow, her granddaughter, and a retired porn star go on the run with two bags of cash, and a hammer wielding psychopath hot on their trail.

If that sentence doesn’t sell you on this book then I don’t know what would.

Rena Ruggiero has been living a quiet, lonely life ever since her mobster husband was murdered in front of their house in Brooklyn. After an elderly neighbor gets too aggressive in making an advance on her, Rena clocks him with an ashtray and takes his car. In a panic, Rena goes to see her estranged daughter, Adrienne, thinking that she can finally reconnect with her and the granddaughter, Lucia, she hasn’t seen in years. When her hopes of a reconciliation are instantly crushed Rena meets Adrienne's neighbor, Lacey Wolfstein. Wolfstein starred in a lot of porn movies back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and then she moved on to hustling old men for cash. Now she has a sack of money stashed in the wall of her house as she spends her golden years drinking vodka and watching old movies.

Things go sideways after Adrienne's mobbed up boyfriend and an old victim of Wolfstein’s both show up at the same time with their own agendas, and Rena, Wolfstein, and Lucia have to flee with Wolfstein’s retirement fund. Their stolen Cadillac also has a briefcase full of stolen mob money and a machine gun in the trunk.

William Boyle’s two novels, Gravesend and The Lonely Witness, quickly made me a fan of his, and this one is an early contender for my favorite of 2019. While the other two are loosely connected and focus heavily on the their Brooklyn setting, this is more of a plot based crime novel with incredibly well developed and offbeat characters. It reminded me a lot of Elmore Leonard at his best, and that’s just about the highest praise I can give a book.

Boyle’s characters frequently act irrationally which makes sense because they do really seem like people instead of characters. However, since this one is more plot heavy that came across as a bit more frustrating because those actions continue to drive the plot. Lucia, in particular, was irritating as hell at times, but on the other hand, she’s a teenager. So it makes sense.

That’s a relatively minor nitpick in an otherwise great book. Wolfstein, in particular, was incredibly fun as this pragmatic woman with a wild history who is also incredibly compassionate and empathetic. I’d love to read an entire novel that was about her younger days as a porn star and grifter. His portrayal of Rene is also very well done as a woman whose whole world was her marriage, her kitchen, and her church, and who know finds herself struggling to figure out who she wants to be from now on. Their odd couple friendship is at the heart of this story, and it’s compelling reading.

A friend may be the gift you give yourself, but you could also give yourself the gift of reading this book.

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