Showing posts with label Action. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Action. Show all posts

Monday, October 23, 2017

Secret Weapons by Eric Heisserer, Raul Allen

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

From the guy who wrote the screenplay to the Amy Adams/Jeremy Renner movie Arrival, this was a story along the lines of Marvel's Inhumans or X-Men. People have intriguing super-abilities, but there are really amazing powers and rather oddball powers. The ones we get to meet are the ones with the oddball powers, who have been neglected, if not rejected, by those who might be interested in this kind of thing, because they're considered unimportant. One of them, for example, can talk with and understand birds; another can magically pull an object out of thin air, but he can't really control what it is he pulls; a third can turn to stone at will.

It's only as the story progresses that we can see that these powers might be of more utility than they initially appear to hold, and that they can be especially good when several such empowered people, known in this story as psiots, work together. The guy who can magically make things appear only learns later where they're coming from, and it's actually quite interesting, but not everyone is neglectful of these people. A government employee, Amanda McKee, is a technopath who can communicate with electronic systems even when she has no device in her hands.

Known by the inevitable code name of Livewire, she is investigating what's left of a facility run by Toyo Harada, who is the most powerful telepath there is. He's Amanda's former mentor and he's responsible for discovering and 'activating' these psiots. Many did not survive activation, but those who did were secreted in Harada's facility, and now they've been cast loose, abandoned to fend for themselves, which would have been fine except for the fact that a machine named Rex-O, which can absorb the powers of psiots, is hunting them down apparently intent upon wiping them out. If it absorbs Amanda's power, it can find all of them. And it's just captured her.

Although this is far from 'off-the-beaten-track' - in fact, it's on a track which has been pretty much beaten to death by now - the story was nevertheless engaging and intriguing. The characters were interesting and relatable, and they certainly made me want to follow them and see what they get up to. It helped that the artwork was good: well-drawn and nicely-colored. I liked this graphic novel, and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I can't honestly review this novel because all we were allowed was the first chapter! Due to a small oversight on my part I did not realize this, but based on that sole chapter, I was interested in reading more. The blurb was misleading though. The interaction between the shape-shifters: a bear (a guy of course) and a honey badger (a girl of course) bore only passing resemblance to what was described in that blurb.

I am not a fan of the vampire/werewolf stories so I normally would not have read this, but the fact that this was expressly not about wolves (which is a genre way-the-hell overdone these days), but about a bear and a badger made it more interesting to me. I'm a big advocate of authors taking that road less-traveled rather than trying to clone some other writer's work, and it pleased me that this author appears to be, too.

I have to say that the idea that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder or arm could propel them over a balcony is preposterous! If you understand a little physics you know that those absurd gunfights in the movies and on TV, featuring grown men flying backwards after being hit is nonsensical. A bullet is so small and so fast that it will tear right through you barely if at all affecting your stance or your motion. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even notice you've been hit at first.

To paraphrase Golden Earring in their song Twilight Zone, you are likely going to know if the bullet hits a bone. It may break it, and that will cause you problems, but it still won't throw you dramatically backwards or toss you over a balcony, unless you happen to be precariously balancing on the balcony in the first place, in which case you might drop off it.

If you've seen the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery shootout from February 1997, which is admittedly grisly, you can see from it that when shot, the suspects do not go flying anywhere, and when killed, they simply drop to the ground. If you do not want to see that, it's perfectly understandable, in which case, I'd recommend watching the twelfth episode of Ray Donovan in the third season, where Ray has a shoot-out and is hit more than once. His reaction seems far more realistic than ninety percent of actors in standard TV or movie gunfights.

One thing which was a little confusing to me was the time of day that this opening chapter took place. I'd got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it was very early morning - as in very late at night, but then we find there are school-children on the street, so I was confused, because we'd been told the streets were quiet, so I'd been thinking it was about three AM. Clearly it was not, but if it was late enough in the morning for school-kids to be out and about, how was it that the streets were so quiet, and how come a team of mercenaries could invade a hotel and not be seen and reported? And if the hit squad was specifically after Charlie (the honey-badger) then what were they doing at the grizzly's hotel room? he had no connection with her at that point. The author might want to rethink her setting and action a bit, or explain it better!

That and the irritating shortness of the sample aside, I have to admit the idea of three sisters in serious trouble and trying to figure out what's going on, sounds like a great idea for a story. As long as we don't get the grizzly bear always riding to the rescue of the poor helpless maidens in distress, like these girls can't handle themselves and need a man to validate them, which would simply ruin the story, I'd recommend it, based on the admittedly inadequate portion I had access to.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Rating: WORTHY!

In this closing volume of the trilogy, Katniss is prevailed upon to be the propaganda queen of the rebellion, which irks her. The by now rather bloodthirsty Katniss wants to fight, but she agrees to be a figurehead on condition that all the surviving Hunger Games victors are granted immunity and she herself is granted the sole right to kill President Snow.

She's relegated to the task of being a pretty face in films, but what she did not count on is Peeta appearing as the propaganda king for President Snow, even though it's obvious he has been brainwashed. He compatriots realize that this burden of what has happened to Peeta is hampering her effectiveness, so they organize a rescue upon which she is not allowed to go. The rescue is successful, but the brainwashing is deeper than anyone imagined. Peeta really does believe the propaganda he was spewing, and he tries to kill Katniss when they meet. This part was included as the finale to the second volume in the movie series.

They set Peeta on a long, slow, painful road to recovery, and in time, he becomes well enough to join them in the fight against the capital. Eventually, Katniss also takes up a weapon and begins to fight, becoming one of the important assault teams on the capital after a propaganda shoot in what was supposed to be a safe part of the capital goes completely south.

They set themselves the mission of hunting down and killing the president. Katniss's team is heavily mauled, losing soldier after soldier. Katniss becomes separated and finds herself on her own as she closes in on the president's residence, which is now housing children in the hope that it will prevent the rebels from bombing it. She espies a hover plane with capital markings dropping supplies to the children, but the parachutes explode, killing scores of them, including Katniss's young sister Prim.

This is more than Katniss's over-stressed and weakening psyche can take. The victorious President Coin, of the rebel army, orders a Hunger games using the capital's children. While waiting to take up her role of executioner in the public display of President Snow's capital punishment, Katniss encounters Snow by accident awaiting her killing him. He informs her that he did not order the parachute bombing of the children. He reminds her that he and she agreed some time ago never to lie to one another, and his explanation that if he'd had access to a hover plane he would have used it to escape (but we’re never told to where!), and that he had no reason to assassinate children and turn everyone against him rings true to Katniss. Snow indicates that the bombing was Coin's idea.

Katniss remembers that her longtime friend Gale had once arranged a trap which is disturbingly reminiscent of the attack on the children but when she confronts him, he denies responsibility. At the execution, Katniss spares Snow and shoots her arrow into Coin, instead, killing her. There is chaos after this, during which Snow himself is killed. Katniss is tried for the murder of president Coin but is acquitted by reason of insanity and is sent home to district 12 where she eventually takes up residence with Peeta, not too far away from Abernathy's home. The three of them write a book honoring the combatants in the Hunger games and the ensuing war.

As time passes and the raw edges ease, Katniss and Peeta have children and life assumes a vague semblance of normality, but Katniss dreads the day when she will have to tell her children the truth about what she did in the games and in the war.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Rating: WORTHY!

After their victory in the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are sent on a 'victory tour' which is nothing but propaganda. Before they depart, President Snow himself visits Katniss for a threatening heart-to-heart. Snow is concerned that her actions in the games have inspired the districts to rebel, and it is now all on her to quell that rebellion by her behavior on the tour. Unfortunately for Snow, the first stop on their tour is District 11, the same district from which young Rue hailed, and to which Katniss sent a signal of solidarity upon Rue's death, a fate which she both witnessed and avenged.

After Katniss's speech, the crowd responds, starting with someone whistling the mockingjay riff, and everyone salutes Katniss. After the tour, they visit the capital and are again featured on Caesar Flickerman's show, where Peeta publically proposes to Katniss on air in an attempt to placate President Snow. But none of this prevents unrest in the districts which become more and more agitated, bordering on open rebellion.

Back in District 12, glad to be home and out of the limelight, Katniss takes time to herself in the woods around her home and encounters two people who are fleeing the authorities from District 8. They tell her that they believe that District 13 was not wiped out, and that people still live there - indeed, that it’s a clandestine sanctuary from the influence of the capital.

The next bombshell to drop is that the 75th Hunger games is a Quarter Quell - where something special happens: on this occasion, the contestants will not be selected by lottery, but will be the winners from all of the previous Hunger games. This means, of course, that both Katniss and Peeta will be competing for the second successive year! Katniss determines that she will do whatever it takes to insure that Peeta wins. Peeta determines that he will do whatever it takes to insure that Katniss wins.

The competition is set in a jungle environment this time, not in a forest, and it has been much more manipulated than it was previous year, and much more dangerous. As the games begins, Katniss and Peeta find themselves in an uneasy alliance with another victor, Finnick, and with his aging mentor, Mags. Mags dies, but their party is bolstered with the addition of Johanna, one of those competitors who was especially trained for the games by her district. They also link up with an old couple from District 3 Beetee and Wiress. The latter soon informs them that the arena is a circular, like a clock, and it's divided into sectors, each of which is triggered in succession once every hour, to provide obstacles and dangerous events for them to overcome.

These events soon rob them of Wiress, and Beetee reveals that the electrical discharges they've been experiencing can be harnessed and employed to destroy the encompassing fence, allowing them to escape the arena. Beetee fails to accomplish this, but Katniss manages it, although she's knocked out by the discharge, and she wakes to find herself being flown to freedom in District 13 along with Finnick and Abernathy. Peeta and Johanna were captured, she learns. Later, her friend gale joins her to let her know that he got her family out, but district 12 was bombed into ruins by the capital in retaliation for Katniss's continued flouting of the capital's rules.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Rating: WORTHY!

I'm in process of moving titles from my 'Novel series' page, which will be retired eventually, to the regular blog page. Here's another trilogy. I'm not normally a fan of YA trilogies, but this one was one of the rare and delightful exceptions I've encountered.

This novel - indeed this entire phenomenon - really needs no introduction, since it's been so immensely successful. The only reason I have it here is that I wanted my own review where I can reference it and know it's here and know what it contains!

Thirteen colonies surround the nation's capital in the country of Panem (read: USA). At some point in the past there was a disaster of some sort, which remains unexplained and somehow these colonies (harking back to the original 13 US colonies) were the result of it. At a point after that, some three-quarters of a century ago, the colonies rebelled against the capital, and were brutally put down, one of them (District 13) being destroyed completely, so we're told.

As a punishment for this rebellion, every year since that war, each district has been required to send two young people between the ages of 12 and 18, as a 'tribute' to the capital, where they compete against each other in a vicious survival game, the last one remaining alive being declared victor and being showered with fame and honors, except of course the 'honor' of remaining in the capital where citizens are spoiled rotten, leading lives of frivolity, extravagance, and hedonism.

If you really look at it, none of this makes any real sense, but if you’re willing to put that behind you then the story gets better! The only thing you can really blame this for is that it lamentably spawned a shit-ton of clones, none of which have ever come close to the standing this one has, and some of which (Veronica Roth I'm looking at you) are closer to a joke than to an intelligent and thoughtful adventure.

Our interest in this story begins in District 12, a coal mining district, where Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who illegally hunts for food with a bow (why is it illegal?), and lives in squalor, poverty and endless hunger with her mother and younger sister Primrose. Her father died in a mining explosion. She often hunts with her close friend Gale, a slightly older guy. This year is the 74th Hunger Games, and each young person is required to put their name in either the boy box or the girl box, so that one of each gender will be selected. At least it’s an equal opportunity system, right? No glass ceilings here!

Candidates can put in extra copies of their name; this garners extra food for their family, but also a greater chance of being selected. A representative from the capital arrives to draw the names, and Katniss is horrified when Primrose's name is pulled out. Katniss, knowing that Prim wouldn’t survive the first five minutes of the contest quickly volunteers in place of her sister. She expects to die, and before she leaves, she begs Gale to take care of her mom and Prim. Given how close Gale and Katniss are supposed to be, and given that Gale has been putting his name into the draw extra times, you would think that he'd immediately volunteer to be her partner, but he does not. I found this rather revealing about what would happen later.

However, we also learn that Peeta Mellark, a baker's son, who tossed some bread to a starving Katniss some time before, is all but in love with her, yet he doesn't volunteer either; however, he does get picked as the male candidate, which is an amazing coincidence. Given the potential result of the games that year, it’s also amazing that there never has been a year when all candidates died!

After an all-too-brief goodbye, Katniss and Peeta are forced to board the express train to the capital. Before then, Katniss rails on her mother, who went into shock when her husband died, forcing mothering duties onto Katniss. Now her daughter gets in her face and yells at her, ordering her not to tune out if Katniss dies, because Prim needs her. On the train, the tributes meet Haymitch Abernathy, the victor of the 50th Hunger Games, who is now a professional layabout and a drunk, but he's supposed to be their coach! Katniss is still in a state of shock, but Peeta seems to be 'getting it' and playing the part of a candidate, trying to ingratiate himself with Abernathy and then with the capital populace.

They arrive in the city, overwhelmed by it all. They have a 'style' team assigned individually to each of them, and Katniss bonds quite closely with her team. Her style coach is Cinna who takes her under his wing and tries a very daring approach to their appearance at the opening night - a public exhibition of the twelve teams, viewed by a massive audience, not only in the capital, but also in the districts via public TV screens set up especially for the event.

On a show devoted to the games, each candidate is interviewed by popular TV personality Caesar Flickerman. This is their one big chance to win over the public in the hope of garnering sponsors who can help them during the games by sending in helpful gifts to aid their chosen tribute. These gifts can be food, medicine, or anything else the tribute might need to help them survive and win. The gifts are sent floating down to the tribute on a parachute. Katniss has a hard time adapting to this showmanship, but when Peeta is interviewed, last of all the tributes, he confesses his love for Katniss, and this immediately sets them apart and makes them memorable and popular, as "star-crossed" (and yes that is so overused in novels these days it's nauseating) tragic lovers, one of whom must die, although Katniss thinks he simply said it as a ploy to win sponsors.

Eventually, the games begin. The twelve candidates are arrayed around a giant cornucopia containing supplies and weapons to help the tributes in their respective killing sprees Abernathy has advised Katniss and Peeta to get away from the initial carnage - to not even try to grab anything, but to flee from it and hide. He advised Katniss to play to her strengths, living off the land, staying out of the way as the other tributes whittle each other down. The slaughter is horrific, with almost fifty percent of the tributes dying right there at the start.

Katniss follows Abernathy's advice, but she manages to snag a backpack with some useful things in it, and she gets away and hides out in trees. She uses her hunting skills, and desperately tries to find water to slake her terrible thirst in the hot and dry forest in those first few days. After a day or two, she runs into Rue, a diminutive tribute from District 11, who reminds Katniss of Prim. She takes Rue under her wing, forming an alliance, which would seem to be of benefit only to Rue, yet Katniss learns some useful things from her little partner.

She's disturbed to find that Peeta appears to have formed his own alliance, with a group of tributes from the richer districts, which can afford to specially train their best people for the games, and whose tributes frequently win. But Peeta is playing on Katniss's team, and he gives Katniss and desperately needed break when he actually does have a chance to kill her.

To Katniss's horror, despair, and anger, her little friend Rue is killed with a spear, a death for which Katniss immediately exacts revenge with a knee-jerk loosing of an arrow at Rue's attacker. Things really start to get out of hand as Katniss sings an old nursery rhyme to Rue as she dies, before collecting flowers, and placing them on her chest, laying Rue's hands gently over them. She raises her hand in a signal of respect to District 11, and this signal becomes a rallying call.

As Katniss is beginning to fall into despair over Rue's death, an announcement comes over the speakers which are all over the artificial games arena: there has been a change of rules which now permits any two tributes from the same district to win as a pair. This fires Katniss up to seek out Peeta, and she eventually discovers him badly wounded, and hiding beneath one of his amazingly-painted disguises.

Katniss nurses him back to health, playing the part a girl in love to curry favor with sponsors, and it works. Peeta recovers and they manage to kill the last tribute, remaining as the sole two game winners, but the organizers cruelly change the rule again, trying to force the two of them to battle it out to the bitter end. Katniss rebels against this and she and Peeta agree to swallow the poisonous berries, but the organizers chicken out at this, not daring to have a game with no winner. Katniss and Peeta are declared to be the first joint winners of the games.

Abernathy warns Katniss that she has now painted a target on her back by defying the game organizers in front of the entire Hunger Games audience. So the author achieved a satisfying ending to the first volume, without leaving an unnatural cliff-hanger, and without making the first volume nothing more than a prologue. YA authors could learn a lot from Suzanne_Collins, but she's also now in the unenviable 'Rowling' position of having reached her peak with her first real effort, and seemingly having nowhere to go, but downhill from here! You can't win in this game, can you?!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

This is the second of three graphic novels I'm reviewing this weekend, and I started out thinking I wasn't going to like this, but it won me over as I read on! It's not your movie James Bond. Luca Casalanguida's illustrations bear no relation to any Bond from the silver screen. This Bond harks back much more to the traditional Ian Fleming Bond (there's even a cover shown towards the back which pays homage to the paperback Bond novels of the fifties and early sixties). It's not exactly Ian Fleming's conception of the character (who Fleming believed should look like a cross between Hoagy Carmichael and himself!), but it admirably fits the bill. That said, it's a very modern story in a modern world, so while it felt like a clean break from the movies in some regards, Andy Diggle tells a story worthy of any screenplay.

There's everything here you've come to expect from Bond: a big plot, continual action, a terrorist on the loose with a cool code-name, subterfuge, assassination attempts, double-cross, daring Bond exploits, and the inevitable cool Bond girl. Bond begins the story in the doghouse. M, in this story not a woman but an Anglo-African, kicks him out to an arms convention in Dubai where he meets Lord Hunt - Britain's biggest arms dealer, and his sophisticated and charming daughter, Victoria, who knows her way around weapons of any calibre!

Unfortunately, Lord Hunt is assassinated, and Bond and the young Lady Hunt are thrown together in pursuit of the villains, so once again, Bond is back in business looking for super villain Kraken, who seems to be targeting the very thing the Hunt weapons manufacturing concern is charged with renewing: Britain's aging nuclear deterrent. Bond is of course led astray, but in the end gets back on track, and saves the day.

Note that this Bond is a violent one, and the artist shows no fear of illustrating that violence. This might have been rather shocking before Bond was rebooted with Daniel Craig stepping into the role and making it more gritty and brutal, but still, there's rather more gore and red ink here than you see in the movies, so be warned of that. Overall, I really liked it, and I recommend this as a worthy read.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lady Mechanika Vol. 2: The Tablet of Destinies by Joe Benítez, MM Chen, Martin Montiel, Mike Garcia

Rating: WARTY!

This combines volumes one through six of the original comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

In a beautifully wrought steam-punk world, the young daughter of a friend of Lady Mechanika's is in need of assistance, and the Lady responds. Her father has disappeared on a quest in Africa, and Mechanika sets out to find out what happened. Her quest is lent added urgency when the young girl is kidnapped. Mechanika meets a mysterious guy in London, who offers air transportation to Germany, where the kidnap victim is, and where lies another clue pointing to a specific site in Africa, so they set off there, only to crash in the desert and be taken prisoner by slavers!

Meanwhile in interleaved portions, we get the view from the other end of this quest, where the professor and his assistant are under pressure to decipher ancient scripts and uncover what the villains believe is an unprecedentedly powerful weapon.

The adventure was well-written, fast-moving, and full of action and feisty characters, including the distressed young girl at the start. The artwork was beautifully done and colored. That alone would have been sufficient for me to rate this graphic novel as a worthy read, but what bothered me too much here was what I let slip by in volume one, and it was the sexualization of all the female characters. When the blurb says, "Lady Mechanika immediately drops everything" it really means her clothes, and for me, this is what brought this particular volume down.

I found it disturbing, because Mechanika is fine regardless of her physical appeal or lack of same! She doesn't need to be rendered in endlessly sexual ways to be an impressive character. It's sad that graphic novel creators seem so completely ignorant of this fact. It's like they have this phobia that their female characters are going to be useless and entirely unappealing unless their sexuality is exploited. I'm not sure if this failing says more about the creators or about their readership, but either way it's obnoxious and I sincerely wish they had more faith in women than they evidently do. Do we really want to be writing comics which only appeal to people who see women as sex objects and very little else? Do we really want to be perpetuating a message as clueless as it is antiquated, and which offers only the sleazy equation that girls = sex = girls? I hope not.

This abuse was bordering on being abused in the first volume, but it was nowhere near as rife as it was here, so why they went full metal lack-it in this one is a mystery. Unlike in the first volume, it was all-pervasive here, with full-page in-your-face images of scantily clad adventurers bursting at what few seams they had, entirely impractically dressed for their quest.

I guess I should be grateful that the African woman who joined Lady Mechanika wasn't bare-breasted, but what I most noticed about Akina (other than the fact that she at least had a Congolese name) was that she looked like your typically white-washed model from Ebony magazine, not like the Congolese woman she supposedly was, whose skin would have been darker, and her face broader and less Nordic-nosed-white-westerner than this woman's was.

Why are comic book artists so afraid of showing the real world? Do they think real Congolese women are unappealing? Or is it that they feel they cannot sell the sexuality of a black woman (as opposed to a pale brown one)? If this medium is to grow-up and maintain relevance and meaning, then this kind of bias needs to be dispensed with urgently, because it's bone-headed at best, and racist at worst.

So, despite the appeal of the art in general, and the entertainment value of the story, I can't condone these practices, and I cannot rate positively a graphic novel which is so brazenly perpetrating abuses like this one did.

Lady Mechanika, Vol.1: the Mystery of Mechanical Corpse by Joe Benítez, Peter Steigerwald

Rating: WORTHY!

This gathers volumes 1 through five of the single comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I had a better experience with this one than I did with the second volume of the series, which I requested at the same time as this. The steam-punk world is rendered and colored beautifully, and the story was an intriguing and entertaining one, well told. Lady Mechanika is a cyborg - inasmuch as such things went in Edwardian times. I am by no means a fashion expert, not even in modern times, so I may have this wrong, but the styles didn't look Victorian to me, notwithstanding what the blurb says. That's not a problem, just an observation. I rather liked them as it happens. Joe Benítez and Peter Steigerwald could probably make a living as fashion designers if they ever tire of comic books!

Lady Mechanika is quite evidently someone's creation, but her memory is impaired, so her origins are as much of a mystery to her as they are to us. I am wondering if the guy she meets in volume two (reviewed separately) might have some knowledge of that, but it remains a mystery in that volume, too! Her mechanical parts are her limbs, and her 'title' was given to her by the tabloids. Her backstory isn't delivered here or in volume two, so we don't know how she came to be a private investigator and adventurer. I was interested in this story because of the upcoming (as of this writing) live-action remake of the Ghost in the Shell movie, which is a favorite of mine. I'm looking forward to the new one.

When the story opens, the Lady meets the 'Demon of Satan's Alley' which appears to be some sort of a human animal hybrid and which isn't a demon but which has been demonized by the public. Some crazy guys blunder in and kill it before Lady Mechanika can talk to it enough to maybe find out what it knows of its past - and maybe of hers, too. She's not best pleased by that. Soon she's off adventuring and trying to track down this creator of mechanical melanges. In this regard, the story has some resemblances to Ghost in the Shell, including the overt and unnecessary sexuality.

There were some technical issues with this as there are with all graphic novels which have not yet clued themselves in to the electronic age. In BlueFire Reader, which is what I use on the iPad, the pages are frequently enlarging themselves to fill the screen which means a portion of the page is curt off, since the iPad screen and the comic book page size are out of whack compared with each other, the comic book being a little too 'tall and slim' for the 'stouter' table format.

This is something I can work with, but whenever there's a double-page spread, it means turning the tablet from portrait view to landscape and back again for the next page. This isn't such a hassle except that the tablet is self-orienting, so the page is constantly swinging around like a loose yard-arm on a boat at sea.

One image was a portrait-oriented double-page spread, and it was so set-up that I could not orient this to view it since the image always swung to the wrong orientation no matter what i did! The only way to actually see it as intended by the creators was to orient it as a landscape, then carefully lay the pad flat and rotate it while it stayed flat; then the image was view-able in all its glory, but this only served to highlight one other problem - the minuscule text. It's far too small for comfortable reading. I know comics are all about imagery, but for me, unless there's also a decent story, all you really have, is a pretty coffee-table art book. It seems to me that artists and writers might consider collaborating a bit more closely on legibility!

This is going to become increasingly a problem as the old school comic fraternity struggles to repel all technology boarders. Personally, I prefer e-format to print format as a general rule, if only because it's kinder to trees, which are precious. The sentiment is especially poignant when we read horror stories to the effect that 80,000 copies of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom had to be pulped because of typos. At 3 kg of carbon emissions per book, that's not a charmed system. You would need to read a hundred books for every one print book to balance the manufacturing pollution of an e-reader against that of the print version, but then your ebook comes over the wire at very little cost to the environment, whereas the print book has to be transported to you, even if only home from the store in your car.

But you can also argue the other side, which is that reading devices employ petrochemical products, and precious and toxic metals, and probably contains 'conflict' minerals which were mined in the Congo (curious given the location for volume two in this series!); however, you can argue that a multi-use device, such as a tablet or a smart phone, can be employed as an ebook reader without contributing to even more environmental carnage than it might already have caused. On the other page, you can also argue that a book never needs upgrading (as countless young-adult Jane Austen rip-offs have conclusively proven), will last for years, and can be recycled when done with. So you pays your greenbacks and you hopes you get the green back.

For this volume, I think it worth reading in any format, and I recommend it if you can overlook the sexploitation which is relatively restrained in this volume.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Caribbean's Keeper by Brian Boland

Rating: WORTHY!

"began to peal the skin back" 'peal' should be 'peel' unless the skin is ringing like a bell!
"from where the helo had come from" - too many 'from's! The last one needs deleting.
"Cole treaded in place and watched it" The past tense of 'tread' is 'trod'. Don't you love English?!
"Cole bid his time and made idle chatter with Tony." The past tense of bide is bided, bit bid (and apparently even Google doesn't know this!).

I was invited by Open Road Media to read this advance review copy, and I was glad I got the chance!

The author was actually in the Coastguard, so he knows what he's talking about, which always helps! I have a brother-in-law who is in the Coastguard and have nothing but respect for the job he does - so yeah, call me biased! This novel felt real, and the descriptions were very evocative. The story unfolded naturally. It was credible. It felt like being there in many ways, which makes for a really nice read! Of course, the plot counts too, more-so than the descriptions for me, but that was also appealing and felt authentic. I haven't been to any of the places the author mentions: Curaçao, Martinique, Nicaragua, Panama, and so on, and my experience in Florida is very limited, but there was nothing here that struck me as implausible or dumb.

The story is of Cole (yeah, I know. Hardly my favorite character name, but at least it wasn't 'Jack', in which case I would have flatly refused to read the novel at all!). Cole is a Coastguard operative who gets kicked out for his rather unruly behavior and his disregard for the rules on occasion. Out of work, he drifts a little in Florida and eventually, to make ends meet, starts working on a tour boat. It's hardly his style, but it pays and he gets to room with one of the guys he works with, someone he likes and gets along with.

Over time he notices that this guy Kevin, has something going on on the side and as the two grow to trust each other, Cole finds himself involved in the smuggling of Cubans into Florida. So far so good, but Cole is not only a functional alcoholic (at least that's how he came off to me) he's also an Adrenalin junkie, and the kick he gets from outrunning and outfoxing his old colleagues in the Coastguard starts to be insufficient for him. Like every addict, Cole wants more. That's how he gets into drug-running, but there's no loyalty in that world. You upset the cartel kingpins and they're going to come gunning for you - literally. This is the story of how Cole survived and who he met along the way.

It was gripping and engaging, and just as importantly, it was realistic. It really felt like any and all of this could have happened. It was like reading a good James Bond thriller, and I kept wanting to turn the next page to find out what happens. The book is not too long, not too short, and makes for really easy reading. The ending felt a little bit abrupt, but it was right, and I'd rather have it come to a halt like that, than have the author just write on and on not knowing quite where to stop. Plus it's a single volume as far as I know, so not being a fan of series, this worked well for me. I recommend it for anyone who wants an adventure with a likable rogue (despite his faults) who is in it for the thrills, only to discover that underneath it all, he actually has a conscience. Great story.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Velvet Before the Secret Lives of Dead Men vol 2 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second collected volume of one of the best graphic novels I've read in a long time. Unfortunately it's the start of a series, so I have to pick up more volumes. Had it been a novel, it would have been self-contained in one volume. I'm not a fan of series, but this one was good enough that I am interested in reading more, despite it being a royal pain! Unfortunately, there are no more compendium volumes beyond the second one at this point, as far as I can tell, which is annoying, especially since this series began in 2013. If the author would finish one series before moving on to another, maybe he'd get the one finished in a reasonable amount of time?!

Note that I've read only the compendium issues. Volume two covers original issues six through ten. Since volume fourteen isn't due until January 2016, I'm guessing it's going to be a while before the third compendium is released. Meanwhile I'm going to be looking for individual issues!

The story is set in the past, and has flashbacks into the more distant past, which was slightly annoying, but not too bad (I'm not a fan of flashbacks). This is very much a spy thriller in the mode of James Bond. It's set in Britain, but whereas James Bond has ties, tenuous as they are, to real British intelligence services, this is a secret service with a code-name. Other than that it's very much James Bond.

There are two big differences, both of which I approve. The first of these is that the agent taking the spotlight here isn't a male, but a female, and secondly, this female isn't a 'pretty young thing', but a mature woman. It's like Moneypenny left Bond behind and went on the mission herself, except that this isn't a recent Moneypenny. This is the Lois Maxwell Moneypenny and the novel works the better for it because it focuses on her tenacity, dedication, intelligence, and skill, and not on sexuality. I really liked of all of this.

This story continues full throttle from the first one, with Velvet, retired secret agent, who was very much a Moneypenny before she was forced to take up the role of field agent after she discovered she had been set up by someone high up in her own agency. The story jets across Europe and out to the Bahamas and back (another nod to James Bond), with Velvet Templeton having to remember skills and contacts from her field days many years before, and having to tread lightly and seek to forge contacts and even alliances with people from the past - some of whom were not on the same side of the intelligence services as she was. It ends in a cliffhanger since there are more volumes to come after this open, of course. I liked this very much and recommend the series (at least this far!)

Velvet Before the Living End vol 1 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of the best graphic novels I've read in a long time. Unfortunately it's the start of a series, so I have to pick up more volumes. Had it been a novel, it would have been self-contained in one volume. I'm not a fan of series, but this one was good enough that I am interested in reading more, despite it being a royal pain! Unfortunately, there are no more volumes beyond two at this point, as far as I can tell, which is annoying, especially since this series began in 2013. If the author would finish one series before moving on to another, maybe he'd get the one finished in a reasonable amount of time?! Note that I read the compendium issues. This is volume one, which covers original issues one through five.

The story is set in the past, and has flashbacks into the more distant past, which was slightly annoying, but not too bad (I'm not a fan of flashbacks). This is very much a spy thriller in the mode of James Bond. It's set in Britain, but unlike with James Bond which has ties, tenuous as they are, to real British intelligence services, this is a secret service with a code-name. Other than that it's very much James Bond, including, at one point, the iconic Aston Martin of the Goldfinger movie fame.

There are two big differences, both of which I approve. The first of these is that the agent taking the spotlight here isn't a male, but a female, and secondly, this female isn't a 'pretty young thing', but a mature woman. It's like Moneypenny left Bond behind and went on the mission herself, except that this isn't a recent Moneypenny. This is the Lois Maxwell Moneypenny and the novel works the better for it because it focuses on her tenacity, dedication, intelligence, and skill, and not on sexuality. I really liked of all of this.

Obviously, since it's espionage of this nature, there is a secret and a betrayal. I have no idea what it is, since the story is unfinished at this point! I can say that I loved the dialog, the artwork, and the story overall. It was fun, made all the right moves, was believable and enjoyable, and I definitely recommend it.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dead Man's Party by Jeff Marsick

Rating: WORTHY!

With remarkable art work from Barnett Scott, and a great story from Jeff Marsick, this graphic novel, volume one of a series, tells an engaging tale which I enjoyed from start to finish (the finish of volume one, that is!). Yes, there is some gore and violence in it, but not over much, especially given the subject matter. I felt like I'd read this story before, but I can't actually recall one with this plot, so maybe it just reminded me of stories I've read or movies I've seen.

There are elements of the first of the Bourne movies here, but this is neither a Jason Bourne clone, nor is it a rip-off. It also has elements of the Dennis Quaid movie D.O.A.. The world's most successful assassin, known as Ghost, returns after his last successful hit, and gets his usual medical check up. He discovers he has cancer and maybe only two months to live. A second opinion confirms the diagnosis. Rather than be taken down by his own traitorous cells, he decides to throw a dead Man's Party, whereby five fellow assassins are to compete to take him down, the successful executioner to inherit all his worldly goods, and more importantly, his mantle.

The problem is, as Ghost discovers, that he's been had for a sucker. There's nothing wrong with him. Someone just wants him taken out. He can't renege on the contract now it's out there, so now he has to take down those five assassins before they take him down. How is he going to do that, when they seem to be able to find him no matter what he does? Is there anyone he can trust?

Tightly told, beautifully drawn, and excitingly laid out, I really enjoyed this novel and I recommend it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers

Rating: WARTY!

I've read some of the Dresden Files graphic novels before and couldn't get into them. Unlike with his Codex Alera series, which I loved, the Dresden files never got me interested. I tried watching the short-lived TV show and that was a bust, too. So why pick this one? Well, this story gave him an assistant, which I'd never encountered before in this series, so I thought that might be interesting - adding a dynamic that was never there before.

I was particularly intrigued, given what an impoverished situation he was in (your standard clichéd, struggling private dick kind of a deal), how he had even taken on an assistant, but this was adequately explained. The problem is that this is about all I remembered of this story when I came to write this review several days after reading it. That's not always a bad sign, but it's typically not a good one!

In this story, Harry Dresden, a Chicago-based wizard-for-hire, has taken on an apprentice, Molly Carpenter. The blurb describes her as a "new" apprentice", and this is actually the case, I'm informed, because he had another assistant prior to this one, so this is indeed his new assistant. He only took her on to spare her from being slaughtered by the white council. Dresden is apparently planning on bringing down a villain described as a mad sorcerer who wants to take over the city. My question is: why not just run for mayor? Or magic himself into that job?! It made no sense!

The sorcerer is in league with gangster Johnnie Marcone. Will Harry be able to hold his own or will Molly have to hold it for him? I don't know. I got to about 80% in and lost patience with this one. The story wasn't that great to begin with, and I was finding pages missing text - they had empty speech balloons throughout. This was on Bluefire reader on the iPad. Even one such page is bad for a review copy in this day and age, but many such pages? Not acceptable. I had no idea what the characters were saying or thinking, and pretty soon I realized that I really didn't care. It was time to move on to something more engaging - and wordy! I can't recommend this.

Drones by Chris Lewis

Rating: WARTY!

The test of whether a novel is a worthy read is what you recall of it afterwards. You don't need to recall it all in perfect detail, by any means, to know you liked it, but if you recall the overall plot and some fondly remembered details, it did its job. That's the problem I had with Drones - a few days after I read it and came to write this review, I discovered I couldn't remember a thing about it and I realized that I would have to leaf through it to refresh my memory. I do remember I didn't finish it because the story was nonsensical to me and uninteresting. Of course your mileage may differ. I hope it does, but this is my take on it.

This was supposed to be a satire on terrorism, but it fell flat for me. It was really hard to follow what was really going on, and since it mixed 'real life' (the main characters are drone pilots) with 'fiction' (they take a few days off in Vegas and stay at a "terrorism themed hotel"), it was also hard to grasp at first whether there was real terrorism was going on in Vegas, or whether it was just "play".

I know it was satirical, but after starting into this, I really began to find the theme abhorrent, and the action totally confusing. Half the time I had no idea what was going on or how we got to this page from the previous page, and it quickly became tedious to read, and not at all engaging to my mind. I quit reading at around the 75% mark because I had better things to do with my life than to sit through any more of this trying to figure out what was going on. I can't recommend it. If the art work had been brilliant, that might have made some difference, but it was merely workman-like, and while it wasn't bad, it had nothing special to recommend it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Echo: Collider by Terry Moore

Rating: WORTHY!

This is not the last in the series, but it is the last which my local library has for loan. Now I have to dig up the last two volumes or preferably find the entire series, which I believe is available in a single volume now.

I recommend this whole series - at least this far, and I have to add that it's hard to believe it will fizzle when it's been so strong so far. We learn that Ivy has a young, sick daughter - to add to her many other facets. We also learn something of a bombshell about her - or at least we see it hinted at - at the end. We also get a new and deadly assassin hired to take out Julie, and the return of a character who "died" in an earlier issue - Hong. Somehow, he is resurrected, and turns into something out of a fifties B horror movie - The Mummy meets The Creature From the Black Lagoon, or something! We also learn what HeNRI's end game is - they don't want Julie dead so much as want her armor so they can put it into a collider and smash the substance at itself in order to create a black hole.

Terry Moore's understanding of how dangerous black holes are has a huge black hole in it. A black hole does not have infinite gravity. It has only a fixed amount which is, as with all gravity, proportional to its mass, so if you create a black hole the same mass as a tennis ball, it's going to have no more gravitational pull than does a tennis ball. In order to destroy Earth, you'd have to have a truly massive black hole which you can't generate in a particle collider because the masses of those particles are minuscule. And you can only collide particles - not alloys, so I have no idea where he got this physics from - or worse, where HeNRI got it from. The fact is that if their understanding is so disgracefully flawed, then they're no threat at all!

But I was willing to let that slide for the fun of the story and the excellent way it's told. I can see this making a fine movie, if it's handled right, and if so, I would definitely pay to see it.

Echo: Desert Run by Terry Moore

Rating: WORTHY!

Volume Three of this six part (30 issue) series was another winner for me. It opens in the crater blown into the desert highway by Julie in defense against the vagrant dude. Thinking he is dead, Julie also thinks Dillon is dead - or near to it, and she hauls him off in the truck, but unaccountably stops short of finding as hospital and hugs him, thereby healing him. This, she did not expect thinking of herself solely as a weapon. Ivy meanwhile visits Julie's home and finds a box with something intriguing inside, but we do not learn what it is.

It's in this volume that we learn that Julie's new suit isn't just the Plutonium alloy, but also contains some of Annie, Dillon's supposedly dead girlfriend. Now Julie starts feeling what Annie felt, and thinking what she thought. Is this the start of a meld, or a takeover? Julie doesn't know. Ivy, now embarking on a phase of this relationship that is less chasing down Julie and more getting to know Julie and becoming highly suspicious of the secret agency HeNRI. When Ivy learns that Julie healed Dillon, she realizes that she has an off-label use for Julie for herself.

The story continues to thrill and intrigue, art work continues to please - what's not to recommend?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Echo Atomic Dreams by Terry Moore

Rating: WORTHY!

Volume two of this six volume series starts out right where volume one left off. Dillon the ranger and Julie the super-girl are hiding out in a desert motel, ostensibly protected by some of Dan Backer's motorcycle group. Dan is ex military and is highly suspicious of what's been going on in those desert military bases. What none of them know is that the vagrant who shared Julie's plutonium rain experience is a religious nut-job who thinks poor Julie is the harlot of Babylon. The Bible has a HELL of a lot to answer for.

When Vagrant Man shows up at the motel - how he tracked her there is a mystery, but I have an idea of my own - there is a showdown that leaves sand turned to glass, and Dan's biker boys dead. Julie and Dillon are once again on the run across the desert.

Meanwhile Ivy has tracked down Julie's sister Pam, who is in a psychiatric institution, and she calls Julie and tries to talk her into surrendering to Ivy - who promises protection. Doing this will implying, intentionally or not, a threat of something happening to Julie's sister isn't the best way to engage with Julie's benevolent side, but before this can be resolved, Vagrant Man arrives, and all that's left after that encounter is a crater in the desert, which is how volume three begins.

Once again we have interesting characters who change and grow, particularly Ivy who is slowly coming to a realization that this isn't your normal person-tracking job. The art work continues to be simple but not simplistic, and it was very much appreciated; it's clean, definitive, and illustrative - everything you would want in a graphic novel. I do not require color, indeed, it can sometimes ruin a story, so this wasn't an issue for me. I recommend this volume as part of this complete series!

Echo: Moon Lake by Terry Moore

Rating: WORTHY!

I found this in the library and liked the first volume so much that I went right back and got the next three, which is all the library had. Bless that library! I was hoping that this is the whole set because this was initially issued as a relatively short run of individual (and indie published) comics, and later collected into sets, but it turns out there are six of them, each containing five of the original issues: Moon Lake, Atomic Dreams, Desert Run, Collider, Black Hole, The Last Day. How he got it to be exactly 30- issues is a bit of as poser - that's like writing a novel and deciding it's going to be exactly three hundred pages long regardless of how you tell the story and whether it naturally ends on page three hundred! However, as I write this I'm half way through and I can't fault it for being too fast or too drawn-out.

The art work is excellent, but note that it's black and white line drawings, no coloring involved. Once in a while the text is too small, which is a pet peeve of mine, but other than that, I can't fault this at all, so it all came down to the usual test, for me: whether the story was any good, of course. For me the story is the most important thing, with art being secondary, and this story did not fail me.

The main character is Julie Martin, typically curvaceous as comic book females are, but not improbably so. I liked her sister better - she was drawn more realistically and looked pretty damned good, especially since her personality was adorable. And in the end that's what overcame the skin-deep appearance of these female characters - they were realistic, all three of the main ones.

Julie is a down-and-out photographer whose husband has ditched her for reasons which were not exactly clear to me. She's not happy with this, but she's just about dealing with it, and trying to work on her photography portfolio. Evidently her starboard-folio is already completed....

This is how she happens to be in the desert in the south-west (note that North America sports many Moon Lakes!) when a new flying suit is tested - one that bonds to the skin. It's being tested by a woman Named Annie, and the air-force considers the test to be a success and orders the destruction of the suit, with Annie still in it. This causes a literal rain of particles which come down rather like hailstones, but which are soft, like they're made from modeling clay. They cover Julie and stick to her skin, and to her truck.


She evacuates the area quickly, but soon discovers these hailstones are, in a way, alive. They begin to flatten out and stretch, and cover her skin, eventually forming a breast plate - literally. It covers her neck, upper chest, and breasts rather provocatively, like a prototype designer swimsuit top. It's not like a piece of metal armor - it's more like a thin coat of chrome. The doctor who Julie visits cannot remove it, and actually is injured by it. Julie is tossed out of the ER as a prankster.

The air force is now trying to recover all the pieces from the explosion, but can find less that 30% of them. They discover that two people were in the area - a vagrant, and Julie. They just don't know the identity of these two people two begin with. A woman with the cool name of Ivy Raven, who is an expert at tracking down people and reading crime scenes - this woman is observant and sharp - is called in to find Julie, but she isn't told the whole story.

There are several interested parties, including a park ranger named Dillon Murphy who is the boyfriend of Annie, the original test pilot. He eventually encounters Julie when the army try to arrest her, and end up all knocked out due to some explosive power of Julie's breastplate which evidently triggers when she's stressed. Now she and Dillon are on the run with Ivy in hot pursuit.

I wasn't thrilled that Julie had to end up with Ranger Rick (or Dill) - yet another woman in distress who evidently can't make it without a guy to validate her, but the characters were written realistically (they even have realistic names! LOL!), and behaved appropriately, and there was no ridiculous love at first sight, so I let that problem slide in this case. Plus, it's Julie who actually gets them out of various scrapes with her "super-power", so this balanced out. Overall, I rated this a worthy read and I was looking forward to volume two at the end of this one.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Going Through the Change by Samantha Bryant

Rating: WORTHY!

This novel is different! Four women who are going through menopause discover that they've developed super powers! Is it the menopause, or is it the alternative medication they've been taking - all of which comes from the same source? Or is it a combination of both? Or neither?!

This novel was original, gorgeous, and a true joy to read. It's the kind of novel which makes you comfortable with going through all the crappy novels that Amazon unloads cheaply, because you know that if you persevere, you'll find one like this once in a while - a diamond in the rough as they say - and it makes it worth reading the crap just to get to it.

Patricia O'Neill, who is a lifelong friend of the herbalist, Cindy Liu, seems to be growing scales on her skin. Jessica Roark discovers that she can fly - or at least float. Helen Braeburn learns, uncomfortably, that she can create fire - and survive it. Linda Alvarez changes, rather abruptly, into a man - although how that's considered a super-power is a mystery This man does have unusual strength, but what kind of message is this sending - you can only be strong if you're a man?

That's about the only negative thing I have to say about this novel. That should have been re-thought. Aside from that, and other than that it needed a final spell-checker run through before letting it loose on Amazon, I have no complaints at all. Waiting is not spelled "waitign" and every spell-checker knows that! And it should have been "while the early birds were still sleeping", not "before the early birds were still sleeping," but those are all I noticed and they're relatively minor quibbles.

Some might find the build-up a little slow, but for me, the story moved intelligently and at a fair clip - not too fast, not too slow. People behaved like people - not super-heroes(!) and not like dumb movie action "heroes". These girls grew into their powers as you might expect someone would and as we grew to know them. The whole story was smartly plotted and written. I'm fully behind it! If the author wants a beta reader for volume two, I'm right here and available! I recommend this story for originality, freshness, good writing, and realistic female characters (within the super hero context!), who live and breathe. I'm not a big fan of series, but once in a while one comes along and I can say, honestly, that it's great work, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ryder: Bird of Prey by Nick Pengelley

Title: Ryder: Bird of Prey
Author: Nick Pengelley
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WARTY!

One of the Russian phrases at the start of chapter 21 didn't render properly in Adobe Digital editions. In place of characters or spaces are two boxes with an 'X' in them (page 104 of ADE version)
Page 141 (end of chapter 30 "...when'd he'd" should be "when he'd"

The Ayesha Ryder series is a highly fanciful cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones, with some Dan Brown tossed in for good measure. It's evidently set in an alternate universe - an assessment with which the author may disagree, but I have to disagree with him on that score in return: this "world" is so fanciful that it's honestly not realistic. In it, the Israelis and Palestinians are living in a shared nation, and air travel is by Zeppelin, to name two of the unlikeliest differences between this and the real world.

Although there are three books in this series out now, this is only the second of these stories that I've read. The first one by-passed me somehow. You can read them as stand-alones as long as you remember that you may find yourself missing some of the references if you do. I was favorably impressed with volume two, Ryder: American Treasure, but this third outing simply failed to make the grade.

The first problem showed up early, and it's that Ayesha Ryder is really Mary Sue! She can do no wrong, although she's always inexplicably suspected of (or blamed for) wrong-doing by someone each outing. I was impressed by her in the first one I read because she was not the trope white American. She's Palestinian, which is a refreshing change, although she was also a terrorist, so how an ex terrorist came to be, in effect, working for the British government is a mystery to me (which may or may not be covered in volume one - I don't know).

In this edition, we meet Ayesha hanging out with the British Prime Minister, who in this world is female and gay (although that latter characteristic isn't widely known). With the two of them is the Prime minister's secretary, who is female and bisexual as well as being a BDSM devotee. Or addict, more accurately. All the villains in this series are far more oddball than ever they need to be, which to me makes them more of a joke than a threat.

Ryder and the other two take part in an archery 'contest' trying out a replica English longbow. The PM can't even pull the string. The secretary, Bebe Daniels, handles it expertly and hits the bull's eye roundly in the middle, but Ayesha of course, splits Bebe's arrow with one of her own. This was where this book and I began to part ways in terms of it retaining my favor. It's quite okay, you know, to have your main character screw up on occasion. In fact, it's preferable to having her be Mary Sue, Handmaiden of Perfection, as she's depicted here.

Very shortly after this, the Prime Minister is reported to be dying of polonium poisoning, and Ayesha is the main suspect, being sought by MI5, the police, and Special Branch, and if the deputy PM Noel Malcolm has his way, the British army, too. Ri-ight! Here's where we encounter another departure from the real world. The prime minister seems to have surrounded herself with traitors and scoundrels, which is simply not credible. Yes, there may be a mole or a turn-coat on a team, but here it's like every edition of this series turns up yet another traitor at the gate. I simply could not credit that the government would be shot through with such people in the highest positions, especially someone like Malcolm, who's completely delusional.

In the deputy prime minister's case, he wants to break-up the United Kingdom and shed England's ties to the WTO, NATO, and the European Union. He also wants to force upon Scotland the independence it turned down just a few months ago, and force upon Northern Ireland a subjugation to Eire, which NI has consistently - and oftentimes literally - fought against. It's simply not conceivable that the prime minister, who is against all this, would have as a deputy someone who is diametrically opposed to her core beliefs.

By this time I was about a quarter the way in and I was already losing interest in what had, by this point, become a classic British farce, populated with grotesque caricatures, but incredibly it was about to become yet more farcical! The next thing we learn is that the Maltese Falcon (of Dashiel Hammet Fame) is not only real, but contains a second-rate Dan Brownian clue-cascade leading to the lost sword of Harold Godwinson (King Harold of the Battle of Hastings fame. The deputy PM is of the opinion that if he can only find the sword, it will magically convince everyone that he's right and England will be freed of its shackles! Drool much Noel?

Thus, a pell-mell chase for the sword is on, with Ayesha and some dude from the library at the institute where Doctor Ryder (Doctor Jones much?) works, directed by a clue in the Maltese Falcon, and descending into London's catacombs to find clues in Æthelred the Unready's (aka Æthelred 2.0's) grave which supposedly directs them to king Harold's grave. The problem is that none of this really was very well done or very gripping. This novel was not as well put together as Dan Brown's efforts, and he's hardly a sterling example.

Another major issue was that of American influence in British governmental affairs. The depths to which it supposedly runs in this story is simply not credible. Rather than turn out to be an enjoyable and mature yarn about spying and intrigue, this turned out to be more like the Spy Kids movies, which were fun as far as they went, but hardly to be taken seriously.

The one thing that kept me reading for a while was that I have actually been to the site of the Battle of Hastings, and to the ruins of Battle Abbey which stand hard by it, but Pengelley's fantasy that Harold's body is discovered intact and as well-preserved as if he just died is nonsensical. This is in a porous sandstone cave close by the salty ocean, and we're expected to believe everything has been preserved for a millennium? That's reality leaving on the bus over there.

The truth is that there are the remains of a headless and largely legless man in Bosham church which is a likely candidate for Harold's actual skeleton. He was reported as being dismembered after dying in the company of his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine at which point, and having no leadership remaining, the English, who were on the verge of winning not long before, finally collapsed and William of Normandy became England's new ruler. It was the last time England was successfully invaded. And no, the story of the arrow in the eye is by no means verified, and may well be due to a misunderstanding of the graphic novel known as the Bayeux Tapestry!

One of the most annoying aspects of this novel was the random flashbacks. Most of these were Ayesha's (to her Gaza strip past), but there was also one for the CIA operative, Danforth. This took the novel to ever more ridiculous heights, whereby we have Zeppelins flying over the Taliban. how absurd is that? They have rockets. The author apparently didn't think for a second about what a monstrously tempting and easily assailable target a gigantic Zeppelin would be to someone with a surface-to-air missile at hand.

I began routinely skipping these flashback chapters because they really contributed nothing to the story and were, frankly, really annoying interruptions. They felt like nothing more than padding (without which the novel would have drifted perilously close to the sub 200 page arena, I might add). It's never a good thing when the author includes paragraphs and worse, entire chapters, which actively encourage readers to skim and skip.

At about 70% of the way in, at the start of chapter 38, this novel became far too ridiculous to continue reading, even by its own standards. Ayesha is at this point in an ancient underground hall where equally ancient tombs are preserved, yet she starts a gunfight whereby damage galore is inflicted upon the ancient artifacts - and this woman is supposed to have earned herself a doctorate? If she had any smarts at all, she would have fired on these people before they got down the stairs, not afterwards where they have all kinds of room to maneuver and places to hide. At any rate, it was too laughable to continue, and I quit reading right there. I can't recommend this cartoon.