What I Read August 2016

Only three books this month, though it was a rather busy month. I also finished up some comics reading, getting through some old newspaper strips and one of the collections I picked up a Planet Comic-con Kansas City earlier this summer. Even though I fell short of my monthly goal, I am more than satisfied with what I read this month. Also, I have enough half-finished books that I should more than make up for it in September.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Agatha Christie

This is a book that gets two reactions: one knowing the twist and one not knowing. I didn’t get to experience that first one. I’m not too upset, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is famous and famous for its twist, that I have been spoiled on it in the 90 years since the book was published is no surprise. However, that kept me from reading it with truly fresh eyes. I read it knowing the outcome, so I spent my time looking for the real clues and seeing if Christie played fair. As far as I can tell, she did. Still, the revelation lacks some of the impact it might have had if I came into it blind. The retired Hercule Poirot comes out of retirement to investigate a murder is a small village. He meets with the townsfolk and aided by the town doctor looks into the murder of one Roger Ackroyd. He does the usual things, checking the alibis and opinions of the possible suspects before the surprising revelation the murderer. Even being spoiled about the culprit I enjoyed this quite a bit. Christie earned her reputation.

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The Bishop’s Heir

Katherine Kurtz

I picked up a handful of Kurtz’s Deryni books a long time ago at a college library sale, but the first one I tried didn’t immediately grab me, so I sold them to a used book store when I was clearing out some space. Since then I have read more about the series, so when another opportunity to pick some of them up for cheap presented itself I took it. The first one I read, The Bishop’s Heir is the first part of her third trilogy of Deryni books. It has young king Kelson Haldane dealing with a rift in the church and a political uprising.

Kurtz’s prose can be workmanlike and the world of this book is very close to the real world with just a splash of magic. It feels very much like the precursor to stuff like A Song of Ice and Fire. It also does little to ease new readers in; which is only a problem because the cover says book one. Still, once you get in the groove, the book works. Kelson is young and still unsure at times, wanting to be a good king but not blind to the harsh realities that he faces. The plot seems surprisingly light considering how complete this one book is. It is not structured like the usual fantasy book, being much more political than action oriented. The big piece of the plot happens early, and the last two thirds or so are merely dealing with the fallout from that encounter. By the end, was fully drawn in. It isn’t really great work, but it is very readable historical fantasy.

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The Garden of Stones

Mark T Barnes

I listened to this book as an audiobook rather than read it, so I can’t guarantee my thoughts on it are the same that they would be had I read it normally. The Garden of Stones makes itself hard to like early on, has a solid middle portion before falling apart again at the end. It spends almost the whole first half introducing so many characters and concepts it is hard to keep them straight. Especially since they are all made up words. That is the part that I think the audiobook suffers in comparison to the real thing. Still, having all of these fake words showing up frequently, and then characters with unusual names that then have nicknames, sometimes multiple, makes it hard for a reader to find their footing. By the time the players and their relationships are clear, the book starts to be fun.

The Garden of Stones has three primary characters: the power mad Corajidin who wants to seize power in the Shrian Federation, the warrior-mage Indris opposed to him, and Mari, Corajidin’s daughter who is caught between family and what she believes is right. The three of them and their compatriots plot and scheme in a tense political situation the Corajidin has engineered to his own benefit. That’s all well and good for a while, but things go a bit off at the end. Mostly from a pacing point of view. The book alternates between those three POV characters, but they seem to get to the climactic moments out of order. Important events happen off page because none of those three characters are there, and the order that the chapters fall removes a lot of the possible tension. By the time it’s over you start to wonder about the timing of things, as events don’t quite fit together smoothly.

I’ve read a lot of people compare this book to Erikson’s Malazan books, which isn’t far off. But that comparison fits into me not really enjoying this book; I don’t much care for the Malazan series either. They are both dense with world building, but I find them both lacking in most other respects.

Comics

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The Complete Peanuts 1957-58

This is the forth volume of Fantagraphics complete Peanuts, and it is good. Peanuts is great. I don’t really know what else to say. It is almost always funny and is just often enough poignant. In this early volume Schulz is still fleshing out his cast, with Linus getting the bulk of the focus. Good, good stuff.

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Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Vol 2

As a showcase for Alex Raymond’s art this is wonderful. I really wish I could track down volume 1, but the story is so episodic that it hardly matters. Flash and Dale and Zarkov move from one adventure to next at breakneck speed. They visit the various realms of Mongo, fight with the royalty and Ming the Merciless and eventually conquer. It is worth reading if only for Raymond’s art, which is exquisite.

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Godland Celestial Edition Volume 1

Joe Casey & Tom Scioli

I was gifted Scioli’s American Barbarian and fell in love with it, so when I happened upon a couple of volumes of Godland, a series with his art, on sale at the KC Comic-con, I snatched them up. The first volume, unfortunately, was a huge disappointment. Like Scioli’s art, the story of Godland is very Kirby inspired, taking from his Fantastic Four collaborations with Stan Lee and his later 4th World stuff from DC. Not that Godland isn’t entirely original, it is, but is desperately tries to ape the tone of those works. In many ways it succeeds, but there is something about it that just end up feeling off.

Godland tells the story of Adam Archer, an astronaut that gained cosmic powers on an ill-fated expedition to Mars. He uses those powers to be a superhero back on Earth, fighting enemies like Friedrich Nickelhead, who looks like Destro from GI Joe, and Basil Cronus, a junkie who carries his own head around in a jar. The design of all the characters found in this first volume is nearly perfect and the plots themselves are exactly the sort of thing I was expecting, but the dialogue kills it for me. The whole thing feels slathered in a sort of glib irony – maybe an attempt to ape Stan Lee of the 60’s – that undercuts any true feelings the story could invoke. It constantly pushes the reader away, seemingly wanting them to laugh at the book and find the whole thing ridiculous. It is ridiculous, but if the book is so desperate to undercut itself why does it exist in the first place. American Barbarian was similar in many ways, but it presented itself more earnestly even when being ridiculous. Joe Casey seems desperate to make sure that readers know that he knows how ridiculous this whole thing is, and that knowing tinge is off putting.

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