What I Read in April ’12

April was not really a banner month in reading for me, but the arrival of my new Kindle at the end of the month should turn things around.  I only managed three books last month, once you exclude the one book that was a reread.  AS of writing this, though, I have already surpassed that number in May.

 

Arsene Lupin

Maurice LeBlanc and Edgar Jepson

I have found out that this is a novelization of a play written by Maurice LeBlanc and not actually part of his series of Lupin mysteries.  This makes perfect sense after I learned it, because this book doesn’t quite fit with the other Lupin I’ve read.  I had already realized something was up when Lupin gave up crime at the end; also nearly all the action, which would be shard to stage, takes place off the page.  Still, its not all bad, though it is rather obvious.  There is no mystery here.  The story goes through the motions with little life or charm, like a play that is expecting its performers to carry the show.

Fires of Heaven

Robert Jordan

 

The Well of Lost Plots

Jasper Fforde

The third Thursday Next novel takes place entirely in “bookworld,” as Thursday solves book crimes and Fforde plays with his metafictional world.  There is a plot to take over the bookworld, and someone is killing Jurisfiction agents and it is up to Thursday to get to the bottom of it.

It has all of Fforde’s trademark profound silliness.  There are stock characters learning to be more believable, a mind reader erasing Thursday’s memories and counseling for the cast ofWutheringHeights.  The plot is a still a standard detective story, but it wrapped in such a fun interesting world that that is hardly a concern.  The best part of this series has always been just how much Fforde’s love of literature comes across.  There is some gentle ribbing of popular classic novels and threads drawn from so many that it can be hard to unravel, but it is always worth it.  The Thursday Next books satisfy on at least two levels, and I defy any fan of literature to not have a near constant grin from all the in jokes.

Midwinter

Matthew Sturges

I knew Sturges from his comic book work, which I liked well enough to make a point of tracking down his novels.  Midwinter, as the back flap says (though since I read this on my Kindle there is no backflap) is a fantasy Dirty Dozen.  As long as it stick to that set up it was really enjoyable.  Unfortunately, as the book goes on it gets further away from that set-up and much less enjoyable.

Midwinter struggles with tone.  Sometimes it tries for deadly serious drama, others it skews toward jokey.  All of the element here could have gelled into a compelling world, but it falls just short.  Sturges does succeed in putting some genuinely compelling characters on the page.  Mauritane is the stereotypical stoic badass, but he is a well done rendition of that sort of character.  Raieve and Silverdun are also entertaining.  While the plot is nothing special, there are several great scenes as Mauritane and his crew try to complete their mission.  My biggest problem with Midwinter is some half baked subplots.  Outside of the mission itself there is little resolution. Worst of all is the storyline of Mauritane’s wife, which gets just enough time to be insulting but not enough time to seem at all real.  I found it hard to believe that anyone involved there even knew each other. 

I wish I could give Midwinter a glowing review, and when it is good its really good, but the book is very uneven.  Still, I have already purchased the sequel and will likely have it finished in the next month or two.

The Avengers Review

The Avengers is something of a unique phenomenon; a big budget, super-hyped blockbuster that is actually as good as the advertising campaign wants you to believe it is. It isn’t perfect, but it is amazing how close to perfection The Avengers came. Especially considering how many things could have and possibly should have gone wrong. For the most part, The Avengers is superb, the only flaws being a somewhat weak, impersonal 3rd act and some unresolved clashes between characters. Those flaws pale in comparison of how much the movie flat out gets right. Especially with the personalities of all the team members. The Avengers is definitely the best movie that Marvel Studios has put out and rivals the Dark Knight for best superhero film to grace the screen.

What really shines in the Avengers are the characters, from the glib Iron Man to the disaffected Black Widow. It helps that they are played by a host of stars or budding star. Best of all is Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, who steals nearly every scene he is in. He plays the on edge Banner with the perfect nerdy awkwardness. Joss Whedon does a great job balancing all the characters, giving each a chance to shine, though it does kind of become the Iron Man show near the end. For the first two thirds of the movie Loki does a great job as the villain, perfectly showy and Machiavellian. The fear that it might be trouble for all of these characters, many of which can and have carried a movie on their own, to share the screen was unfounded.

Another great part is the films use of humor. Viewers are expecting action and adventure, and The Avengers has those in spades, but it is also a genuinely funny movie. Whedon seems to have realized that the premise is inherently ridiculous, with super soldiers and extra-dimensional Gods and super powered robot suits, so he just has fun with it. Anytime it feels like the movie is getting too heavy, if things are too serious, there is a moment of levity or a jokey line. The Avengers invites viewers to have fun. I am not saying it is a movie that requires the viewer to “turn their brain off,” as some action movies seem to do (coughTransformerschough). It knows the premise is out there, so it uses humor to pull the viewer in, while not losing the humanity or reality of the characters themselves. The humor is what sets The Avengers above most action fare.

The big flaw with the movie is the final act. Until the (spoilers) aliens attack, the movie is great, but the aliens themselves lack personality. There is no reason to care about the aliens, any reason to want to see the Avengers defeat them. They are just a faceless horde. After a fight with Thor, Loki disappears as well. It is fun to see the team take out the aliens, but there is no dramatic weight to it. Then the ending happens just because the script calls for. As good as the few heroes are doing, you would think they would try to send in some soldiers to fight the invaders rather than jumping straight to the nuke, but no, nuke it is. As soon as the gate opens, the viewer knows that the good guys are going to have to close it, but going on the word of Loki that it can’t be closed they leave it alone until it is time for the movie to end. Also, why do the aliens all die when their ship is destroyed? For the first part of the movie there is plenty of heart beneath the spectacle, but at the end it is just spectacle.

Still, I really liked the movie. I continue to look forward to Marvel Studios offerings, especially Thor 2, because Thor is the best. But I hope that the next Avengers movie will fix the flaws with this one, slight as they might be. The teaser at the end of this one reveals a foe that could actually challenge the Avengers now that the team is formed. Even though this movie limps to the end, the first half is good enough to sustain good feelings past the end of the movie. The Avengers is really, really good.