Author Jake Elliot Just Keeps Getting Better
By Jake Elliot
Damnation Books, $21.99, 255 pages
Author Jake Elliot is proving to be incredibly talented. His first book, The Wrong Way Down introduced readers to Popalia, a priestess on a mission to recover her order’s prized relic. Her bodyguard, Wynkkur accompanies her on the quest, leading them across the lands to the capital city. There they catch up with the thief who stole the artifact so many days before; and the story ends leaving readers on a cliffhanger. Crossing Mother’s Grave picks up immediately after the first book ends, continuing the story of Popalia, Wynkkur, and their new partners Seth and Raenyl.
Pursuing the trading caravan with whom the thief escaped their grasp, the adventurers are attacked by a group of orcs. With officers bent on their arrest behind them, and all out attack in front, they choose to stop and fight. Instead of an isolated battle, the fight is a catalyst, leading them deep into the heart of the earth where many more join their ranks, and they struggle to regain their freedom.
The Wrong Way Down is a good book, putting forth an entertaining story. It is with Crossing Mother’s Grave though that Elliot shows his true gift for storytelling. One of the best aspects of stories is the ability for the reader to get inside the characters and feel like they are a part of the action. Adding to the qualities that made The Wrong Way Down great is the outstanding characterization the author achieves. In the first book, all the players were introduced. In this second installment their full character is revealed. Foul-mouthed highwaymen, pious and indignant priestesses, and culturally oblivious elves comprise a truly unique crew. The author has a way of sticking relatively close to genre-defined characteristics, then playing around inside them so none of the characters come across as stuffy or like have been read a thousand times before.
From start to finish, Crossing Mother’s Grave never slows down. The laborious descriptions and pointless conversations that plague so much writing on the market right now is no where to be found. Instead, what is left is a tight, well thought out story that is a pleasure to read. For those thinking they need to read Elliot’s first book before this one, don’t worry about it, Crossing Mother’s Grave stands just as strong on its own; though it wouldn’t hurt to discover all the great writing this author has to offer.
Reviewed by Andrew Keyser
A Lesson in Mentality
By Tanya J. Peterson
Inkwater Press, $17.95 paperback
$2.99 Kindle and ePub, 327 pages
Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson is a story of a troubled man named Oliver, struggling to cope with the unseemly deaths of his wife and son. Failing to commit suicide, he is immediately admitted to a local behavioral center called Airhaven. During the first few days, he spends his time alone, avoiding any sort of human connection offered to him, but by chance meets a young woman, who suffers schizophrenia, named Penelope. Throughout the course of the book, they nurture a growing connection that, in the end, leads to saving their lives.
The characters are beautifully portrayed in that you can understand and feel their pain. Peterson has a gift for bringing a seemingly complex thought to life and replicating it in a way that the general public may understand. To describe the inner workings of a person who deals with schizophrenia is no easy task, yet Peterson does it flawlessly. She creates a world that you would not expect and simplifies it elegantly. Those who watch from a distance become a vital part to the person’s being and struggles. In a sordid way, she puts us all in the place of the suffering so that we may better understand how to approach what we cannot relate.
Throughout the book, the characters who help to take care of the mentally unstable give off a feeling of being unrealistic. They seem to speak in a way that is unnatural. One thing the reader should know while reading the book, though, is that in an environment where one is caring for and in charge of the mentally unstable, the way we speak to them is almost like another language, which explains why the staff characters in the novel feel almost unrealistic. With this understanding, the reader is better able to understand the different characters and what is going on. ||The novel is a great way to peek inside the unknown. Peterson deals with the characteristics of each individual with perfection, all the while giving us a taste of true human suffering. If you enjoy novels that deepen your understanding and deal with the process of grieving, pick up Leave Absence today.
Reviewed by Taylor Pittman
They Were Ready for a War That Never Arrived
By Scott McArthur
Caxton Press, $18.95, 350 pages
Books on the Civil War tend to focus on events that took place in the East, and for good reason. Little happened out West, either in Oregon or California. Though there was some concern about the recent influx of migrants, the populations of these states were so small that it had little impact. Most settlers were more worried about Indian attacks than the major battles of the War. In this book, Scott McArthur explores the role that the Pacific Northwest played during the Civil War. Even though Oregon was a new state, people from the South and deserters from the Union settled there. At first, Oregon refused to pick a side or raise the requested troops. Instead, the state’s few volunteer regiments fought bands of Indians who refused to settle on the reservations, which were east of the Cascades.
This book had potential, but it also had a hard time fitting into itself. The first part starts off chronologically, then delves into thematic territory. If this book had stuck with one or the other, it would have been vastly improved. Also, the focus on certain people and their lives after the War was distracting and it was never explained why this was needed.
Reviewed by Kevin Winter
By Alex Raymond
Titan Books, $39.95, 176 pages
Flash Gordon and Dale Arden seriously need to seek couples counseling. In Flash Gordon: Tyrant of Mongo, we find Flash enjoying his hard-earned vacation. Events quickly conspire to throw him and Ming back at each other’s throats. Flash runs from Ming’s forces and ends up in the Northlands, where an ambitious count sets Dale against Flash. Although they get back together soon enough, Dale’s kidnapping forces Flash to deal with Ming. The last installment ends with Flash in the crosshairs of an assassin.
This book has aged fairly well. Although it’s still far more descriptive than a modern comic, and there is quite a bit of covert sexism (most of the problems are caused by Dale and another woman getting into some sort of jealous fight over Flash), the writing is still pretty incredible. The graphics are done with an eye toward detail, and Mongo looks more like a 1930s serial than the Roman pastiche. Surprisingly, each of the comic’s installments flow rather nicely into each other, making for an extended story. Combined with the gorgeous cover, this is a book any comic book fan would die to have on his shelf.
Reviewed by Jamais Jochim
Written by Archie Goodwin, Larry Ivie, Bill Pearson, and Al Williamson
Illustrated by Al Williamson, Gil Kane and various.
Dark Horse Books, $49.99, 310 pages
Who needs Angst? Flash Gordon is a revelation! Of course, I had heard of Flash Gordon, but I’d never seen the original newspaper comic strip, nor have I ever seen the serial film version. However, I was one of the half-dozen people who saw the 1980 release of Flash Gordon in the movie theater. Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives Volume 2 collects the 11 issue run, originally published in 1966 and 1967 of the King Comics material. Additionally, this collection exhibits another King Comics product, issues 18 through 20 of The Phantom.
Before peeling the shrink wrap off of this collection, I expected to see 3 panel comic strips, assembled Garfield-like into a book. I’m extremely happy to find I was wrong. Comic book legends Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson deliver KA-POW action with every panel. I especially loved Al Williamson’s extraordinary art. He keeps this collection alive with movement, and the classic hero poses seem fresh.
Flash is a two-fisted bada**. There’s lizard-men, swooping pterosaurs, Ming the Merciless, Crashing rocket ships, Lasers, and even a smokin’ hot Dale Arden in a one-piece swimming suit skiing down a Planet Mongo mountainside, (yeah, that’s what I thought too). The heroes of the Flash Gordon comic book don’t have time to mope about their lives as heroes, they’re too busy whipping bad guys, and outwitting FREAKING SPACE PIRATES! The Flash Gordon archive is fun and exciting. Pull out that old vinyl Queen soundtrack, channel your inner space-ace, and enjoy!
Reviewed by Bradley Wright
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Little Boy Lost
By Lynn Coady
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95, 285 pages
How would you feel if you found out one day that someone you had known as a kid, someone with whom you had shared some of your worst moments and deepest secrets, had written a novel featuring a character very clearly—and unflatteringly—based on you? This is the question that is answered—not addressed, but dealt with head-on—in Lynn Coady’s fabulous novel The Antagonist.
When Gordon Rankin discovers that his college friend Adam has used his difficult adolescence as the basis for his first novel, he sets about correcting the malicious half- and untruths he sees in the manuscript, and in the process strives to explain to his former housemate and comrade how wrong his assessment was—perhaps, also, explain it to himself, and forgive some of his behaviors and some of his past.
What is truly striking about The Antagonist is not just Coady’s compassion for and understanding of her characters, but also how genuinely real they feel. The casual, angry tone of Rank’s letters to his former friend ring completely true, and serve to tell this story—at turns banal, frightening, sad and beautiful—in a powerful, engrossing way. This novel should be read.
Reviewed by Ashley McCall
Exploring the Blossoms of Spring
By Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Leslie Evans
Charlesbridge Publishing, $16.95, 32 pages
Carole Gerber walks readers through a field of blossoming trees with her newest book Spring Blossoms. The rhyming book follows two girls as they explore the different kinds of blooms trees have—celebrating their colors, shapes, sizes and fragrance.
Gerber maintains consistency with the quality of her other 16 picture books which present elements of nature in an exciting way to children, such as Winter Trees and Leaf Jumpers. Children will enjoy learning about the world around them while taking in information through rhythmic short sentences.
The exploration of trees becomes real as the bright illustrations come to life on each new page, courtesy of illustrator Leslie Evans. Bright pink magnolia blooms pop off the pages as the girls dance in a windstorm. In springtime, children will enjoy taking a walk outside with the illustrated glossary in the back of Spring Blossoms to try to find each of the blossoms identified. This short book with brief lines of text on each page is best suited for children between three and six years of age.
Reviewed by Sophie Sestero
Stunning Eye-Opener Describing Young Internet Poker Players and Their Successes and Excesses
By Jonathan Grotenstein & Storms Reback
St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 320 pages
Have you ever watched a televised poker tournament and wondered how so many very young people have become so successful at the game, winning boatloads of money against established pros? This is their true story.
An incredible opportunity flashed for a brief period of time for a select, lucky few. A group of very smart teenagers who grew up with computers were savvy enough to recognize the enormous potential riches to be gained by playing poker online. They played thousands of games, gaining vast expertise in a short time, a process that would have taken up to 10 years of playing at actual poker tables. They established an online poker forum where they exchanged strategies and advice. They were too young to be admitted to casinos and instead dropped out of college and sat for hours in front of computer screens playing multiple games and winning piles of money. Being so young, they spent their winnings on partying like rock stars.
Former professional poker players themselves, authors Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback collaborated to document the fascinating history of a bunch of youthful poker players who brought shock and awe to the poker world, describing the journey of this crew of players who call themselves the “ship it holla ballas.” Grotenstein is also the author or co-author of eight other books. His first book, Poker: the Real Deal, written with Phil Gordon, remains one of the best selling poker books of all time. Reback is the co-author of two books on poker.
Upon finally reaching the legal age of 21, these young men sat down at the casino tables with the pros. It was electrifying to see these players in a televised tournament right after reading their personal stories. Entertaining and informative, this book describes how they achieved dazzling success.
Reviewed by Fran Byram
By Charles C. Mann
Vintage Books, $16.95, 690 pages
Rarely does a book so thoroughly air out and reprogram a reader’s mind with such confounding new ideas and worldviews. Yet readers of Charles C. Mann’s 1493 will practically hear those very mental explosions – boom! In his newest book, Mann neatly lays out how the modern world came to be, tracing its historical trajectory to what is called the Columbian Exchange, launched by the arrival of Christopher Columbus’s first exploratory voyage to the Americas. Through the subsequent globe-traversing of European, African and Asian peoples, species such as plants, animals and diseases, were swapped and shared, setting up the events of the next few hundred years.
Mann’s writing is lucid and convincing, resting as it does on a colossal amount of research (delineated at the end). Despite the breadth and scope of the subject, Mann delivers it all clearly, astutely and with brilliant logic, grace and wit. 1493 is a scholarly work for scholars and laymen alike as it is neither stuffy nor prudish. This book puts the past 500 years into fascinating perspective, and it’s a read not to be missed.
Reviewed by Andrea Klein
Wonderful Stories About American Tinkerers, Inventors
By Alec Foege
Basic Books, $26.99, 216 pages
If you enjoy scores of great true stories about American tinkerers and inventors, you will be fascinated by The Tinkerers. Author Alex Foege is an excellent and entertaining writer with a light, easy-to-read writing style not unlike a good short-story writer. In fact, reading this book is better than reading a novel. You can stop anywhere and pick the book up later without losing continuity. It is hard to believe that he could write example after example of tinkering and inventing for 200 pages and make each one absorbing reading. These are not only physical inventions (like Bell’s telephone) but span all aspects of life; there are examples of innovations in financial engineering, technological innovations (like the electronic ink project that produced Kindle), synthetic biology (that gave us the artemisinic acid to treat malaria), educational programming language, music, the development of digital music and more.
“This book has identified the processes and thought patterns intrinsic to a uniquely American style of tinkering.”
Some names are household ones (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak), many are little known (Karlheinz Brandenburg), but the results of their tinkering are very familiar. Foege also touches on the subject of corporate tinkering (often doomed to stagnancy and failure). Apart from well-known early inventors, most examples are from the 20th century. A brief bibliography by chapter and an index conclude this wonderful volume.
Reviewed by George Erdosh