TStarnes Book reviews

Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 1 Review

Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 - Jheremy Raapack, Tom    Taylor

This story starts with a flash of the future, a perfect world where there is no war, no conflict and yet Batman is still not happy because the price of that peace was too high. Back in the present we see Superman and Lois are so happy because she is pregnant and when Superman meets Batman later in the day his joy is overflowing.

While that happiness lasts a single night as Lois is kidnapped, rigged to a bomb and left for Superman to find. Calling in the whole JLA for help, Superman is directed towards a submarine where she is being held, but as he breaks in he is gassed by Scarecrow and all he can see is Doomsday. Grabbing is nemesis he flies them both out of the atmosphere only to get a message from Bruce telling him it was a trap from the Joker, and Superman’s entire world falls apart.

At the death of his city and his wife, Superman enlists the JLA as he seeks to prevent the deaths of any innocent anywhere in the world, be that Afghanistan or the USA, Dictators commands, or Presidents orders. However which of the JLA will join him, and will any actively oppose him?

One issue that becomes immediately apparent when reading this comic is the artwork. I know I have a preview review copy which helpfully states that it may contain uncorrected proofs, but I cannot see this as being markedly different to how it will go out. All the art in this comic looks out of focus; it is a very weird sensation when reading it. The text boxes and speech bubbles are neat and perfectly sharp, but all the art behind looks like a picture waiting to come into focus. It is real shame because the art at a quick glance looks fantastic, but the more you try to look at it the more you realise that it is not going to get any sharper. If this had been a reprint of a much older comic then I could understand it, but it is less than a year old so that offers no explanations.

This is not a perfect comic, it asks quite a few questions that it never answers. One question is; did it really just end that abruptly? Many comics end on a cliff-hanger I know, but this one simply ends mid action sequence with no indication it is coming. I am used to this sort of ending happening with a big splash page, something to let you know that this section is ending and to look out for the next, but this feels like someone simply turned the TV off in the middle of the film. It also asks some very silly questions such as; how does Superman shave? I personally always assumed that he simply did not grow a beard, but according to this comic he does, but it makes me question if he has some sort of high powered laser or a kryptonite Revlon because no steel blade is going to cut those invulnerable hairs.

What the comic does do well is show the likely outcome of giving a good person ultimate power. It is very similar to those points in Lord of the Rings where Frodo offers the One Ring to Gandalf and Galadriel and you get a moment, a brief echo, of what they would be like with that power to do good and no restraint. Well we have more than an echo here. Shorn of responsibility and compassion this is Superman unchained and unrestricted and I can only assume that in later volumes he simply falls further down this rabbit hole. But it is for me Wonder Woman who steals the comic. While Superman has fallen dramatically, he at least has a reason for his fall. She however has no such motivation other than what appears to be a lust for both power and Superman himself which I hope are more developed as this comic series progresses.

Source: http://cmro.travis-starnes.com/blog/2013/10/injustice-gods-among-us-volume-1-review

Wormhole Review

Wormholes - Dennis Meredith

Knowing that the author spent his previous career in the world of science explains why the science in this book is very solid and well detailed. Everything that happens in this novel comes off as completely believable and if I had not known some of the science covered beforehand, the parts of the book where he jumps from actual science into speculation would have all seemed like fact. He also does a good job with the thriller aspects of this book. The chase for answers and then solutions is interesting and at times pushed me to read faster in order to find out what was going to happen next. There are parts of this book that strongly reminded me of Carl Sagan’s Contact, both in the way the science is approached and in how Meredith dealt with the government and scientific community’s reactions to the main characters and their quest.


The author does an excellent job of showing how amazing acts of nature can destroy and wreck our structured environment. Meredith seemed to have a certain glee when writing the scenes of carnage and devastation.


That might be where the real big fault I have with this book comes from. The book takes a very long time to get going. The story didn’t feel like it really started until almost forty percent through reading it, which might be the longest set up I have ever read in a story. While I can understand the need to set up these wormholes and their destructive power Mr. Meredith seems to be a bit over enamored with this setup. We could have done with just 2 scenes showing us their power, say the opening scene and the destruction of the super-tanker. That would have been enough to get what was going on, give the main characters something to investigate, and set the stage. Unfortunately the author felt the need to write many other instances of wormholes causing havoc. I get that he wanted to show the difference aspects of the wormholes in order to set up later events, but those could of have been condensed into just a couple of examples and the result would have been the same. As it is the reader has to slog through the first half of the book waiting for something interesting to happen.


However, if you can make it through all of the setup, once the story gets going it really moves at a fast pace and is worth reading. Dennis Meredith is a good writer and has the ability to keep the reader engaged when he wants to. While not my favorite sci-fi book it was none the less an enjoyable read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes hard science fictions or books like Contact.


Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Source: http://homeofreading.com/wormholes

Comics and Language Review

Comics and Language: Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form - Hannah Miodrag

I recently got ahold of a copy of Comics and Language: Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form and was genuinely excited to read it. I do a lot of study on the medium thanks to a project I have been working on for several years and consider myself well versed on the subject. I am always looking for new ways to examine the art form, although to be fair I am not a long time comic reader as it has only been the last few years that I revisited comics since I was a child. That being said this book was marked that it would “appeal to the general comics reader” and that I most certainly am. This book seemed like a great way to start a new direction in conversations on comics.


Unfortunately neither the marketing nor the book lived up to even my least expectation. This book reads like someone published their English doctoral thesis, in fact I have a strong feeling that is exactly what this book is. The way this book is presented only someone who loves to study the structure of English and the syntax of language would enjoy it. This is a book for scholars, and that is it. The “general comics reader” would not make it through the first 5 pages. The language is purely academic and dry. Getting through this book was a study in determination for me and I don’t image anyone would read this book for fun. Hannah Miodrag is an excellent writer in a technical sense but in no way a writer in the entertainment sense.


If you like studies of the English language then this is a book for you, otherwise skip this unless you need a sleep aid.

Source: http://homeofreading.com/comics-and-language

The Boys' War Review

The Boys' War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil War - Jim Murphy

The Boys’ War by Jim Murphy is an interesting book. Its perspective of the Civil War is different from any other book about the conflict. In most books, you’ll probably find some historian with lots of facts and statistics giving you a bystander’s point of view. The Boys’ War however will put you in the action and still have factual information you expect from a history book. More importantly it shows you the war from the perspective of boys who were involved.

There are a few things that aren’t so great though. The cover could really use some work. It is very pain and doesn’t seem to fit the events in the book. Also, like one of my writing teachers once said, “I like how when he decided it would be crazy, he made it all the way crazy”, meaning there are points when he should have not done quite as much. For instance the book needs focus less on the small details, like how uniforms would get mixed up. Then again, nothing is perfect.

I personally like reading about the civil war and the assassination of Lincoln, so this book was a good choice for me. It’s a quick read that you could probably finish in a day if you wanted to. It can sometimes be a bit graphic and there is a fair bit of action, but mainly the book is about what daily life was like in the war. You might enjoy it if you like historical fiction and especially if you are a kid.

Source: http://homeofreading.com/the-boys-war

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era - James M. McPherson

James M. McPherson’s masterpiece justifiably won the Pulitzer in 1988.  It is volume six in the Oxford History of the United States.  McPherson is obviously a good scholar; he is also an excellent writer.  His narrative style is serious, but clear.  The book works in both conception and execution.


The observations McPherson brings to light on the effectiveness of different Presidents dealing with the divisions in the country were really interesting, especially given the atmosphere of ‘no compromise’ we are seeing out of Washington today.  Andrew Jackson and Zachery Taylor were effective while Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were awful.


While some of the history may be well known to many readers, there is certainly something new here for most of those who have not read this book. Reading Battle Cry of Freedom was fun.

Source: http://homeofreading.com/battle-cry-of-freedom-the-civil-war-era

Off Armageddon Reef Review

Off Armageddon Reef  - David Weber

In Off Armageddon Reef we have an advance human society pushed to the brink of extinction and forced to live without the benefits of modern technology in a last ditch effort to survive. Not only do they draw the line at pre-industrial revolution levels of technology but this idea of technological stagnation is culturally programmed to ever person on the planet. When a holdover from the past gets dropped into the equation the entire world is turned upside down. It is an amazing premise and really gives Weber a lot to work with. You have all the benefits of a solid sci-fi story mixed with a kind of historical fiction that just works.


While the writing of the book is as top notch as always the pacing is where some problems start to creep in. The pacing of this book is somewhat different then Weber’s other works. While there is a good deal of very exciting action, including an amazingly epic finale, the book at times grinds to a very long winded halt. The political landscape that Weber has built is extremely complex and he spends a lot of time on the politics. There are large sections of the book that it feels more like a political thriller then sci-fi novel. Not that it makes the book bad as it does add an interesting level to the conflict, but if you prefer action packed science fiction then this is not the book for you.


While I recognize the slower than normal pace of Off Armageddon Reef might off-put some people it didn’t bother me too much, but I also enjoy political thrillers. The other complaint however did get to me. Weber had some interesting ideas about language drift during the hundreds of years people were living prior to Nimue’s return. The problem is this doesn’t work well for the reader. Weber has Nimue and the reader compensate for the language throughout the book except for peoples name. So you get fully understandable and readable dialog told by people with names like Bryahan (Brian) and Nahrmahn (Norman). It is fairly distracting and I was never able to cope with it.


That being said, I loved this book. The age of sail navel battles, the political intrigue, the meshing of sci-fi and classical technology, it all worked for me. This is a series I cannot get enough of and I hope Weber keeps it going for some time.

Source: http://homeofreading.com/off-armageddon-off-armageddon-reef

Judge Dredd: Year One Review

Judge Dredd: Year One - Matt Smith

It is very interesting reading a new comic from a different publisher because you end up drawing parallels to it from your own reading experience. My only real points of reference to the Judge Dread universe are the films, of which the less said the better, and early 80’s issues of White Dwarf which produced a tabletop RPG set in the universe. The book starts with Judges being called to various locations as people start to exhibit all manner of special abilities; flight, telekinesis, telepathy. A rookie judge barely out of the academy, by the name of Dread, is at the last occurrence due to a fleeing criminal taking a hostage. The hostage’s son then manifests and rips the criminal apart limb from limb. At this point there is no mistaking.


This book is about as far as away from what I expect to see in a Judge Dread book as it would be to see the Punisher taking bribes from the mob. But strangely enough, it really works. It works because Dread also feels out of his depth, it is not something he can just shoot, or punch; he is lost because he is taking the proverbial knife into a gun fight. He tries to offload the case onto the ‘psi division’ but his superiors calmly tell him to get on with it and then proceed to show him that events can get even weirder. And weirder still for him it gets as the cases of young people with excessive powers grows and grows as Dread and his Psi-handler find the emanations coming from a rift between dimensions into which Dread strides through, to find himself in a decimated Mega-city, destroyed by the very events that are now starting back in his city.


The one thing that really strikes me quickly is the language. Having read nothing except American written comics for a long time, you can immediately hear a British voice in this, even through the ‘misspelt’ words. I would love to know if this is noticeable or even annoying to an American reader as there is a lot of slang used. Admittedly, some of it is ‘Dread speak’ with Drokkin’ standing in for the obvious swear words, but much of the rest of it would not seem out of place in the East end of London.


The art in this series is fantastic, it is exactly the right tone for a book like this and there has been no cheating or block coloring of the backgrounds here. You can see and feel the dirt on every panel with what appears more time spent on the surroundings than on the characters themselves. It is a masterclass in the use of light and shadows as the sources of light are often faint and very directional, constantly placing Dreads covered face in dark shadows. The color pallet chosen also fits the theme perfectly; there is no shying away from the fact that the Judge uniform is no different to a superhero costume being a riot of vibrant red, gold, green and blue, but you only see these colors when the characters are standing in a direct light source, otherwise, it is almost mono chromatic.

Source: http://cmro.travis-starnes.com/blog/2013/09/judge-dredd-year-one-review

On Basilisk Station

On Basilisk Station - David Weber

What if someone took Horatio Hornblower and put him in a sci-fi setting? What you would get is a one of the best military sci-fi books I have read. Weber has morphed the character into Honor Harrington and made her the captain of a Starship, but you still get a headstrong, duty bound, extremely competent naval officer that C.S. Foster would recognize.


The setting itself is a big strength of On Basilisk Station. Weber has done an excellent job of fleshing out his universe and you can feel the detail everywhere the characters go. The way the space travel and technology work feel well researched and plausible. While this isn’t hard sci-fi everything that happens does not break the realm of believability. While the filled out nature of the world is a benefit for me it also leads to one of the few complaints I hear about this book. Weber likes explaining things … often in great detail. If reading 5 pages about the political layout of one of the factions or a history and technical lesson covering the details of faster than light travel then there will be large sections of this book that become tough to read. However for those who do not revel in this level of detail these parts can be skimmed over fairly easily without hurting the enjoyment of the rest of the book.


Weber is an excellent, seasoned writer and you can feel it in On Basilisk Station. The action beats are superbly written and the final battle kept me on the edge of my seat. The dialog for the most part always feels genuine and not forced, and even comes off as funny at times.


These small issues however are not a deal breaker and don’t really detract from the story. If you like military fiction and sci-fi then this is a great book and the start to a stellar series.

Source: http://homeofreading.com/on-basilisk-station

Never Go Back Review

Never Go Back - Lee Child

In Never Go Back, Reacher heads to the special MP unit he used to lead to see the new commander, a woman, whose voice he liked when he spoke to her on the phone.  When he gets to the post, he becomes involved in a conspiracy she has inadvertently touched.


Like the other Reacher novels, this is a good read.  It isn’t a favorite, but it isn’t the least favorite either.  Middle of the pack.  The bad guys were a little more wooden than those in some of the other novels, and at times it seemed that Child had Reacher going through the motions.  Still, it is Reacher, an that is not bad.  He is the toughest protagonist this side of Bob Lee Swagger.


Reacher is a certifiable and quintessential American hero – the loner drifter.  Which is ironic since Lee Child is the pseudonym of British author Jim Grant.  Read the series.

Source: http://homeofreading.com/never-go-back

Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior

Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior - Dick Couch

This book takes that sub-genre and makes it even more focused, and is all the better because of that. Dick Couch’s choice, with the exception of the first chapter, of focusing solely on the training of Green Berets rather than on the whole history of the outfit as a whole really lets him go into details that broader texts miss.


As a former SEAL Couch defiantly knows about Special Forces and is able to translate that into really detailed and clear explanation of what these men go through. He gives enough background detail of the people he is interacting with to be interesting without giving us page after page of soldiers that come and go through the training, a trap some history books fall into. This focus on the training with a brief overview of the men involved is more important when discussing Special Forces as so many men fall out of the training. Couch gives a good amount of anecdotal details about the candidates to make you feel connected to them without having to go into great detail about each man.


The pace of the book is also noteworthy. A poorly written history book can be a little tough to read. Having to record so much information and so many facts can leave a book a little dry if the author does not have the ability to keep an interesting narrative going throughout. Couch has mastered this narrative version of history writing and Chosen Soldier has a very easy to read flow.


There are a few problems with Couch’s writing however. Because he has broken the specialist training into its own sections there are times when he goes into detail about the same event nearly verbatim in multiple chapters. This doesn’t happen to often but when it does it can be distracting. He also seems to have lost some objectivity when writing this book. He is himself a character in his own books and recounts his side of interactions with soldiers as much as their interactions among each other. Doing this a few times might have its charms but he pushes this a little too far and his imposing himself in the story happens a little too much for my liking.


None of this detracts from the book. Chosen Soldier is a well-paced, informative read that anyone with interest in the military should pick up.


Read Expanded Review

Source: http://homeofreading.com/chosen-soldier-the-making-of-a-special-forces-warrior

Sudden Prey Review

Sudden Prey  - John Sandford

In the 8th installment of the Prey series John Sandford has decided to kick things up a notch. Up till now Lucas Davenport has faced a cavalcade of psychopaths who have all had self-preservation at the top of their list. In this book however Davenport has to face off against criminals targeting cops for all out revenge and a do or die attitude.

So far the Prey series has really worked for me. The stories have all been connected enough that I can feel the thread between them but with plots and even a tone that is different from book to book. It’s not often a series manages to pull that off and Sandford has does it with flying colors. As usual this is not a “who done it” type of book, as we see the story from both the perspective of Davenport and the people he is after. Instead Sudden Prey falls into the crime/police detective sub-genre. Without a mystery for the reader to solve the plot really has to drive the story and in this case it succeeds. I particularly enjoyed the sub-plot with the dirty cop. He added another level that Davenport had to sift through and kept the plot just complicated enough to stay interesting.


What really made this a page turner was the pacing. Never a slow series, this installment really picks up the pace. It starts out with a straight up action beat that we normally don’t get from Sandford, who usually goes with more of the slow build. A big gunfight in chapter one is always a good place to start if you want a rip-roaring tale. While it dips for a few chapters after that as the villains and their supporting players are set up, this lull doesn’t last for long. The remaining two thirds of Sudden Prey seem to happen at full speed, never slowing down. Not usually a suspenseful writer, Sandford even managed to keep me on the edge of my seat several times.


For me this book fell somewhere between a mystery and an action thriller. That makes for a nice middle ground of two genres I like. If you are a fan of crime fiction and fast paced story telling then I would say this is a good book to check out. But if you haven’t read the earlier books in the series, start there first. Davenport has had an interesting journey up to this point and you don’t want to jump in half way.


Read Full Review

Source: http://homeofreading.com/sudden-prey

The Magician

The Magician  - Michael Scott

As young adult fiction goes The Magician is okay but needs some work. Even though it is fantasy the chances of a fifteen-year-old killing a millennia old giant lizard seems kind of slim. The weak plot is helped some by a subplot that is pretty good and characters that are interesting and funny. As a sequel it does not hold up to the first book in the series, The Alchemyst.


What makes this series work is the setting of Earth where magic is very much alive. The series also brings legends, gods, and goddesses out of fiction and puts them beside famous people from history, who are themselves often immortal.  For anyone interested in mythology this combination comes off as pretty clever.


While the main plot is fairly weak it does pick up the story where the first book left off and continues the plot through well.  The big issue I have with this book is it doesn’t feel like it was really needed.  It could have easily been condensed into just a few chapters.  The pacing also has some issues as the action doesn’t really get going until well into the story when we meet Nidhogg.  When the tale finally does get going it doesn’t hold up to the giant battle in Hecate’s Shadowrealm from the first book.  Scott would have been served better to combine this book with another installment in the series then have it stand alone.


Read Full Review

Source: http://homeofreading.com/the-magician

One for the Money Review

One for the Money (Movie Tie-in) (Stephanie Plum Novels) - Janet Evanovich

This is the first in the Stephanie Plum series about an ex-lingerie saleswoman turned bounty hunter. To be honest the premise did not give me have high hopes for this book.  Many mystery novels that I read tend to feel very similar and the “smart mouth, strong willed armature bounty hunter” did not hold a lot of promise for me. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this book.


For me the first and most important part of a mystery the quality of the mystery itself.  Is it a good chase with enough clues sprinkled in so you can figure out what is “really” happening but not so many clues that it is simple to guess the ending?  It really is a hard balancing act and in all honesty “One for the Money” does only an ok job at it.  The main reason for that is this book falls into one of the big mystery novel traps.  Evanovich just does not give you enough information to be able to figure out who the real bad guy is and what might happen.  Any conclusions you come up with before the end of the book would just be a guess.  That being said the mystery is interesting on its own and once you know all the reveals it is possible to look back over the story and see that the pieces do indeed fit together.


Rather than being a straight up mystery, which in my experience tends to be more procedural in nature, the story in “One for the Money” is more of a narrative about Stephanie’s life and adventures wrapped in a “who done it”.  What really makes this book work is what makes it unique among other mystery novels, the comedy. The story itself and the characters are legitimately funny.  There were sections of the book where I actually laughed out loud, which doesn’t happen often when I am reading most books and less so when it’s a mystery novel.


Read Full Review

Review of March Upcountry

March Upcountry - John Ringo, David Weber

What starts off as a military space fiction in the vein of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series quickly become a high tech meets low tech style of military fiction.  I wasn’t sure what to expect after the first chapter but I really enjoyed the journey this book took me on.  It is an excellent start to a series.


Let me start off by saying I felt more of Weber’s influence in this story that John Ringo’s, although I have been unable to find how much each writer contributed.  The overall story arc, character progression, and setting feel like pure Weber to me while the action beats have Ringo’s finger prints all over them.


While there are a few things that could be said negatively about this title there are so many more things to like about it. There was a book I read years ago from a Greek historian and mercenary known as Xenophon of Athens called Anabasis where he accompanied 10,000 soldiers stranded deep in Persia as they fought their way back home.  If you can get past the language it is a great adventure story and a March Up Country seems to be updating the Xenophon story for a science fiction setting.  You have a group of elite warriors fighting through hostile territory and barbarian hordes to find a way home.  If you read a lot of Weber you might recognize that he pulls a lot of the initial plots of his story lines from actual history and the choice to adapt what has come to be known as “The March of the 10,000”  was a stroke of genius.


Read Full Review

Source: http://homeofreading.com/march-upcountry

Death’s Head

Death's Head - David Gunn

It’s been a while since I hit a sci-fi series I wasn’t already reading, and this one seems like the beginning of a pretty good military sci-fi series.  The book focuses on the journey of the main character from a barely functioning legionary to one of the most the elite of the empires military.  While it is straight up military fiction and adventure fodder, it is interesting to have a book which is almost a study in character progression.  Very unusual for a military fiction book.


When it comes to the building of the world, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with the world of Starship Troopers, what with the futuristic fascist thing going on.  We have seen this kind of setting before, but Gunn does a good job not making it feel too much like a copy of previous books.


While following the Journey of Sven you can almost break the story into sections of his progression, which is both good and bad. While it does increase the feeling that you are taking a journey with the character, it is hard to get truly invested in one series of events. As you start getting invested in the world Sven inhabits in one part of the book you are done with a section and on to a new situation to read about.  By the final section of the book, an epic battle where the main character is thrust into leading the fate of whether a city falls, you just aren’t connected with the events.  Sure you are on board with Sven and the cast of characters he has arrayed around it but as a reader you have spent so little time in the city that its ultimate end just doesn’t seem that important.  While it’s good I have been able to connect to Sven the writer should also make it possible for me to connect to the world Sven lives in.


Read Full Review

Source: http://homeofreading.com/deaths-head

The Short Victorious War

The Short Victorious War  - David Weber

The third book in the Honor Harrington Series this book keeps up the tradition set by the first two. Although it does have some points where it drops off, it is an all-around good read for fans of serial science fiction.


We are back ship-side after having large portions of the last book with Honor planet bound. It truly is nice to see Harrington back in her element. We get almost as much intrigue and politics here as we did in the Honor of the Queen coupled with larger scale space combat.


Honor continues to be one of the strongest and most interesting female characters I have read in a long time. With the addition of a love interest (from a rather unexpected location), they have fleshed her out from more than just a futuristic warrior into something more human. One of my few complaints about her from earlier books was how detached she was, and in this we get to see another side of her. Weber usually makes it a point to bring back reoccurring characters in her series and this book is no different. Several supporting cast members from either the first or second book show up here, including one rather unfriendly acquaintance.


Read the Full Review

Source: http://homeofreading.com/the-short-victorious-war