Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Death of WCW

The Death of WCW by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez, 334 pages

To paraphrase Edward Gibbon, there are two great problems in wrestling history - how to account for the rise of World Championship Wrestling, and how to account for its fall.  In The Death of WCW, the creators of come as close as anyone can to answering both questions.

In the early '90s, WCW challenged Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (subsequently renamed World Wrestling Entertainment) for the spot at the top of the pro wrestling heap.  In what became known as the Monday Night Wars (because the most popular programs - WCW's Nitro and the WWF's Raw - aired opposite one another on Monday nights), the WCW scored early victories, setting new ratings records and driving the WWF to the brink of bankruptcy.  Owner Ted Turner's deep pockets lured in many of the biggest names in wrestling, leading to one of wrestling's most celebrated storylines when wrestlers poached from the WWF "invaded" WCW as the New World Order.  Nor was the WCW averse to innovation, providing many Anglo viewers with their first exposure to luchadores outside of watching El Santo movies with Joe Bob Briggs.  The peak of the WCW was astonishingly brief, however - within a couple of years it was losing millions of dollars per month, until it was sold in 2001 to none other than archrival Vince McMahon.

This is a book about the business of pro wrestling, not a tell-all - the authors aren't interested in backstage shenanigans except insofar as they impacted the actual product.  An informal style establishes a conversational tone - this is a work by fans for fans rather than an academic analysis.  The reader might doubt some of the authors' conclusions, but they are certainly entirely plausible and backed by actual data where possible.  An altogether fun, if ultimately tragic, tale of fame, greed, ego, and ambition, and how sometimes smart people make stupid choices.

Lowriders in Space

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third; 111 pages

Lupe Impala (an impala), El Chavo Flapjack (an octopus) and Elirio Malaria (a mosquito) all love fixing cars and work together at a garage. They each have a specialty: Lupe is the mechanic, Flapjack is a skilled detailer and Elirio airbrushes the most excellent paint jobs (pin striping being his forte). While they’re happy with their current lot, all three would much rather be working on lowriders. When a car competition rolls into town, our trio knows that the prize money would be the perfect chance to start their own garage. Will Lupe, Flapjack and Elirio be able to transform an old junker into the perfect lowrider? With a little help from an abandoned airplane factory and a galactic road trip, they can’t lose.

I adored this all-ages graphic novel. Lupe instantly calls to mind Maggie the Mechanic from Love and Rockets - which is a great thing in my book. Raul the Third’s illustrations are done almost exclusively in ballpoint pen, and the detail and style are perfectly on-point for the frenzied and spacey story. I’m eagerly looking forward to more adventures of Lupe, Flapjack and Elirio; as well as more books from Cathy Camper and Raul the Third.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Extinction Parade

Cover image for Extinction Parade by Max Brooks, 160 pages

This was a great graphic novel. It is about a hive of vampires that live in South America. Throughout their long lives they have watched small zombie apocalypse start and end with the humans surviving. It always ends the same way. The zombies start to appear the humans come and kill them. So when another zombie outbreak starts happening they don’t care. The humans will win eventually. Except this time the outcome is not as certain. Suddenly the vampires are faced with the hard truth of what do they eat if all of their food dies.

This is quite an unusual take on the standard vampire story, aided by the fact that there are also zombies. I look forward to seeing more of this series and if Brooks can keep this thriller of a graphic novel going.

Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

Cover image for John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits by Garth Ennis, 160 pages

Constantine is dying. He never thought that he would live long enough in this line of work that lung cancer from his constant smoking would have a chance to do him in. To make it work the demons of hell that he has thwarted are lining up to claim his soul. But all is not completely lost Constantine has a plan that is just crazy enough it might work.
There is a lot of reflecting upon past deeds and earlier parts of Constantine’s life throughout this volume.  I suppose that is the classic dying storyline but since I have read what was several years’ worth of Constantine comics in the past two months I didn’t really need the recap. What I did find interesting was despite Constantine’s badass persona we get glimpses that that is not who he always is. This is obvious in his concern and friendship with another person dying of cancer and in how he tells this friends goodbye. 
For those that have seen the Constantine movie. This book seems to have been its inspiration. From here though it is a whole new Constantine world and I have no idea what comes next, but I am sure I will enjoy reading about it.

Immortal Empires books 1 and 2

God Save the Queen and The Queen is Dead by Kate Locke, 351 and 337 pages

Cover image for These are the first two books in Locke’s Immortal Empire series. The series takes place in a semi modern day London with some key differences. The first being that Queen Victoria is a vampire with vampires as the ruling class. And secondly that there are werewolves and goblins.

Cover image for The story follows a woman named Xandra a member of the Royal Guard and sworn to protect the nobility. But when her sister disappears everything starts to come apart. What follows is a journey that forces her to reexamine her deepest principles and beliefs. There is also a supernatural love story.

 Despite this series being somewhat corny and at times predictable I still found myself enjoying it. With multiple layers of story intertwining together in explosive ways(literally in some cases) the story was never dull and seemed to end faster that I would expect for 300+ page novel. I think people that enjoy supernatural romance novels would also enjoy this series, even with the romance taking the back seat.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Past Master

Past Master by RA Lafferty, 191 pages

In the 26th century, the golden world of Astrobe is in crisis - but a strange sort of crisis which no one seems to understand.  Ever increasing numbers of citizens are abandoning well-regulated lives of luxury and ease in the glittering cities for brief, miserable lives of toil and tears in the slums of Cathead.  To save their utopia, the secret clique which imagines it really rules Astrobe turns to the man who wrote the book on utopia, sending a renegade pilot back in time to bring forward St Thomas More to be the next World President, the new King, the Past Master.

Lafferty writes with a New Wave style that throws off ideas liberally, but rarely stops to examine them or fit them into a consistent framework.  Here as elsewhere, this produces a certain sense of disorientation, a sort of fictional culture shock which, in this case, fits the plot, but may not be to the liking of all readers.  Despite being a short science fiction novel, Past Master is an epic story, and surprisingly deep.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest  167 of 435

"Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one . . . The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny. But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean's depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness. This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe."

I was disappointed with this book.  It had potential with a fascinating historical figure and Priest is a good writer but two things prevented me from enjoying the book.  Firstly, the narrative skips from person to person, almost as journal entries, so there isn't a consistent voice.  Secondly the nature of the evil threatening the town just seemed silly.  I gave up reading the book about in the middle of it.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue
273 Pages

"Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy's only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all."

Donohue continues to write with a hint of the mystical and the book while not as strong as his first book "The Stolen Child"  examines family life when a child is autistic. The book was reminiscent of a Stephen King book.

The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
566 Pages

"It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa-a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants-life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers. With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the "clerk class," the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances's life-or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be."

A good historical book with an examination of the lifestyles and choices available to women back in 1920's England.  Waters continues to write with fascinating characters and situations. 

Education of Henry Adams

Cover image for The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, 397 pages

In 1860, 23 year old Henry Adams accompanied his father, Charles Francis Adams, to England, where the latter was to serve as ambassador throughout the American Civil War.  Charles, at the age of two, had likewise sailed with his father, John Quincy Adams, to St Petersburg as ambassador during the Napoleonic Wars, and John Quincy was eleven when he and his father, John Adams, went to France to win support for the American Revolution.  Charles Francis was a Congressman, Vice Presidential candidate, and a founder of both the Free Soil and Republican parties, but was never be elected President, as his father and grandfather had been.  Henry would never be elected to any office, but then, to be Henry Adams was to be more than a mere President.

The Education of Henry Adams is the legendary autobiography of the man Gore Vidal called "America's great historian, wit, dispenser of gloom."  It is the story of the long nineteenth century, of the decay of the old order and the rise of the new disorder, of the rise of the US to challenge the UK for preeminence, of the replacement of the worship of the Virgin by the worship of the Dynamo, and of a man who, his own world being lost, felt himself lost in the world that replaced it.

The Centennial Version prides itself on synthesizing Adams' privately circulated edition of 1907 and the posthumously publicly published edition of 1918, bringing together the best of both versions.  It would have benefited from better notes - the brief descriptions of individuals mentioned in the text do nothing to illuminate the reader on the nature of the Alabama affair or the Erie Railway scandal.  The full history of such things is not necessary to understand the text, but Adams clearly expects that the reader knows what he is talking about, and it would be nice to gratify him.

Onyx Webb: Episode One: The Story Begins

Onyx Webb: Episode One: The Story Begins by Richard Penton & Andrea Waltz    130 pages

Sometimes I buy a book solely for its cover. If I had seen this short novel in my local indie bookstore, I would have been intrigued. The title would have made me leery, but on flipping through it, the antique photos of the main characters creeped me out enough to make me want to purchase it. Lucky for me, I didn’t have that conundrum. The authors sent me a copy.
At the beginning, it seems as if the book is told in vignettes without any rhyme or reason. But a few sections into it, the reader sees there is a pattern. The four main plot lines move between 1904 St. Louis (which is a favorite for me since I live in the Gateway City), Savannah 1979 and 2010, and Onyx’s 2012 journal. Each vignette is also divided by quotes from Onyx and other famous and not-so-famous personalities. While I cannot say I found the book spine-tingling, I was compelled to read…in fact, I read it in one evening.

The first story of Onyx and her daddy Catfish visiting the 1904 World’s Fair reminded me a lot of Erik Larsen’s Devil in the White City.  As I read, my spidey sense was getting that “this isn’t going to turnout well” sense.
The second story of Juniper and Quinn Cole also raised a few hairs. Child piano prodigy leaves all that behind as she grows up. We see her headed out to her high school prom, and again, my spidey sense starts getting nervous.

The third story is about a young man who manages to blow $20 million dollars in a short period of time. This one, well it didn’t give me the same anxious feeling the other two did.
The fourth plotline, Onyx’s journal, seemed out of place and just stuck in there. I’m sure it will start to gell in later episodes.

I have some issues with this structure: first, while there are resolutions, there is the overall sense that the whole story isn’t told.  I felt let down when I reached the end. The authors warned me: Episode One. I’m not sure that I would pick up Episode Two unless it was immediately available. Give me six months, and I won’t be interested. Second, the authors got some of their facts wrong (which drives me nuts): Tennessee Williams was wasn't born until 1911, and, therefore,  could not have been the “celebrated playwright” in attendance at the 1904 Louisiana Exposition. Arrggghhhhhh. Nor was there ever (that I could find), a St. Louis News Dispatch newspaper. Double arrggghhhhhhh. Third, there is the introduction of the Southern Gentleman near the end. I’m sure that’s to add spice and anticipation for Episode Two, but it annoyed me.

Overall, I’m not sure I would classify this as paranormal, but that could be confirmed I future volumes. The writers have talent, no doubt. I wish the story had been more linear with less creepy photos and quotes. Still I’m giving the story 4 stars…I liked it but I won’t be talking about it in six months.