Saturday, December 3, 2016

101. "Scarlet: Book 1" by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

Bendis, Brian Michael & Maleev, Alex. Scarlet: Book 1. New York: Marvel World Wide Inc, 2011.

176 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: Scarlet Rue is devastated when her boyfriend is murdered by a corrupt cop. Following his death, she begins a new life with the purpose of eliminating corruption from the criminal justice system.

WHAT I LOVED: I loved how uncomfortable this book made me. The story is so incredibly relevant. With tension between police and civilians in our country at an all time high, the murder of police officers hit home recently when two Des Moines officers were ambushed and killed. Scarlet is written in such a way that you feel you should be rooting for Scarlet--she's the hero of the comic, right? In reality, rooting for Scarlet will leave you with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. I honestly did not know who to root for, but I knew I couldn't back Scarlet or her tactics. Scarlet is an anti-hero but there is also no hero to be found in the story, at least not yet. The story offers peeks of hope but overall, it is dark, complicated, and a bit sickening. It's powerful, and good literature is supposed to be.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked how relevant it was. I feel a bit disturbed giving this story a high star rating. I thought to myself, "If I like this book, will people think I condone murdering cops? What if I end up on a list at homeland security?" The fact that I even have these thoughts means that there is important work being done here. It is a commentary much larger than a comic's usual "good versus evil" motif. It is messy and dirty. There is hope, but you aren't totally sure where that hope is coming from.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: The incredible amount of anxiety I felt while reading it--but this has less to do with the book and more to do with the state of our social system.

RECOMMEND FOR: People who can appreciate some great art. People who enjoy literature that cuts at the heart of certain social issues. People with thick skin who won't be broken by a very difficult story.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who has a sensitive stomach, anyone who is prone to paranoia, anyone who may be triggered by stories of police violence (both police as perpetrators and civilians perpetrating police).

5 darts out of 5

Friday, November 11, 2016

100. "Time and Chance: An Iowa Murder Mystery" edited by Barbara Lounsberry

Lounsberry, Barabara (ed.). Time and Change: An Iowa Murder Mystery. Cedar Falls, Iowa: Public Radio KUNI, 1998.

188 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: Charlie runs an inn in the small river town of Bella, Iowa. When three people end up dead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery that likes of which Bella has never seen before. This book is a "serial novel" meaning it was written by 17 different Iowa writers. The writers have a wide range of backgrounds and experience and each writer contributed one chapter to the novel.

WHAT I LOVED: I loved reading something written by Iowa writers who were so clearly having fun with the project. The delight of the writing process shown through in each chapter with tongue-in-cheek Iowa references and moments that made laugh out loud. The book is filled with Iowa references from cities, institutions, traditions, and history.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked that there was continuity in the book, despite being written by 17 different authors. I was more than willing to give this book some wiggle room when it came to consistency of character or style, and was pleasantly surprised that there were very few issues with this. The few I could find didn't really stand out of pull me away from the story.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: You know, I love a good murder mystery, but I couldn't take this book that seriously. I think this is because you could tell the writers weren't taking themselves too seriously. I can appreciate it this based on the goal of the book. They were writing it for fun, not to write a best seller, but it made my commitment to the story wane.

RECOMMEND FOR: Anyone who wants a fun, quick, read full of Iowa references.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Serious mystery readers who want something of substance.

2 darts out of 5

Saturday, September 17, 2016

99 "Reliquary" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Preston, Douglas and Child, Lincoln. Reliquary. New York, NY: Tom Doherty and Associates, 1997.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: Picking up where Relic left off, Reliquary follows Dr. Margo Green and office D'Agosta as they try to unravel the mystery of the "wrinklers," a group of underground New Yorkers committing horrific murders. Agent Pendergrast joins the efforts as does a cast of new and interesting characters. Together, they must map out underground New York which is full of homeless communities that are highly organized and dangerous. For me, it was a beautiful mashup of the styles of Night at the Museum, Jurassic Park, and your standard murder mystery.

WHAT I LOVED: This books is completely absorbing. I found myself totally lost in the story, forgetting time and space and knowing only what was happening with Margo, Smithback, Pendergast and D'Agosta. Pendergast continues to intrigue me and more than once I found myself holding my breath through the conclusion of a scene.

WHAT I LIKED: Preston and Child have once again nailed the science fiction element of the story. The science-fiction is creative and at the same time believable. I am astounded by the amount of research and planning that must have gone in to the writing of this novel, particularly when it comes to understanding the underground communities of New York City.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: The only thing I didn't like about this book was that it had to end.

RECOMMEND FOR: Anyone who likes action, adventure, and mysteries.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Someone looking for a romance story--there is virtually none in this one.

5 darts out of 5

Saturday, June 11, 2016

98. "A Fierce Brightness: Twenty-Five Years of Women's Poetry" edited by Margarita Donnelly, Beverly McFarland, and Micki Reaman

Donnelly, Margarita, McFarland, Beverly, and Reaman, Micki, eds. A Fierce brightness: Twenty-five Years of Women's Poetry. Corvallis, OR: Calyx Books, 2002.

SYNOPSIS: This collection covers 25 years of women's poetry and includes a diverse body of work.

WHAT I LOVED: This was a truly diverse collection both in terms of subject matter and in poets. Some poets are well known and some are new up-and-comers. I loved that this book exposed me to some new writers whose work I plan on reading. One name in particular is Francis Payne Adler. I found her poems intensely personal and I'm excited to read more of her work.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked that the poems chosen for this work engaged in some challenging and sensitive subject matter. It was bold and unapologetic

RECOMMENDED FOR: Readers who are interested in reading a wide variety of work from many talented poets. Readers who aren't sure where to begin in gaining more exposure to women's poetry would also appreciate this book.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Readers expecting a lot of form poetry might be turned off by the numerous free form poems.

4.5 darts out of 5

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

97. "Loving Day" by Mat Johnson

Johnson, Mat. Loving Day. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
287 pages.
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

DISCLAIMER: I was given this book in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPOSIS: Warren's father has just died and he has inherited an old, historical house in Germantown, Philadelphia. The house is in horrible disrepair and Warren is broke having just gone through a nasty divorce. When he meets his daughter for the first time, life starts to get even more complicated.

WHAT I LOVED: Johnson does an amazing job of exploring mixed race identity. His writing is eloquent and purposeful. He depicts the inner conflict of his characters as a result of their outward appearance and the impact of cultural marginalization on self concept and worldview. There is an honesty in his story telling that is cutting and blunt.

There is also some dark humor that tickled me to no end. From ghostly crackheads to clumsy use of a taser, the humor made me laugh out loud and it caused ILS--inappropriate laughing syndrome (not an actual diagnosis). You know when you're in public and then you reflect on something funny in your head and laugh and people look at you like you're crazy? Yeah, this book caused this to happen in my life.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked the way the story explored alternative lifestyles and non-normative relationships in a way that neither demonized nor exoticized them. I liked that even though the story is framed from a male perspective, the depiction of women was not misogynistic.

I also appreciated the historical references. Not only was this a wonderful work of fiction but the elements of nonfiction presented learning opportunities.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Everyone. This is the first work of fiction I've read that explores mixed race identity so clearly, artistically, and sensitively.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: I can't really think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book.

5 darts out of 5

Monday, May 2, 2016

96. "The Thornbirds" by Colleen McCullough

McCullough, Colleen. The Thornbirds. New York: Avon, 1977.
692 pages
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

The Thornbirds follows the family lineage of the Clearys--an Irish family transplanted first to New Zealand and then to the Australian outback. The novel begins in the year 1915 and ends in 1969 and follows three generations of Clearys as they engage in scandalous affairs, fight in wars, and survive terrible tragedies.

Justine. I absolutely loved Justine, ferocious, gusty, flippant, and sorrowful Justine. Justine is someone I would want in my life as she would offer endless entertainment and unwavering loyalty and friendship once you cracked her outer shell.

McCullough writes delicious prose with some of her phrasing and words causing me to pause and re-read and drink in the artistry. I enjoyed seeing history played out in the story of a single family. The book includes depictions of WWII and the tumultuous sixties--two historical eras that intrigue me.

There got to be a point in the novel where I skimmed over descriptions of the Australian environment. Descriptions of the land are frequent and detailed. This is wonderful up to a point but I feel a lot of this "scene setting" could have been cut out.

I also could not stomach the relationship between Meggie and Ralph. In no way could I feel anything but revolted by that story line.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction and time-spanning narratives (like Don Quixote or anything by James Mischner).

Readers who want something fast paced, or action packed. You must be a patient and involved reader to enjoy this one.

3 darts out of 5