Book Reviews

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The Beach Boys’ Smile (33 1/3)
Luis Sanchez
Bloomsbury
Street: 05.08
As the latest edition to the (unfortunately) obscure 33 1/3 series, Smile provides the cultural and historical background to one of rock’s most mythical records that almost never happened. Author Luis Sanchez begins with the unique nature of The Beach Boys: a teenage vocal group that streamlined their version of Southern California teen living directly into America’s consciousness. Sanchez details the popularity of surfing and surf rock as counterculture, how the Beach Boys were anything but counterculture and how they were able to convey such sincerity through their pop music in a way that anyone who listened could capture the carefree, suburban teen’s American dream. As their fame grew to an even level with counterculture rock stars like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys risked exploring new territory in the realm of pop music, which eventually led to the creation of Smile. The main character behind all of this is the unassuming musical savant Brian Wilson. Sanchez explores the inspirations behind Wilson’s genius— from maniacally studying the work of Phil Spector to embracing, rather than rebelling against, the suburban lifestyle. Smile is a deep glance into the formation of pop music and one of its greatest minds. –Justin Gallegos

Brian’s Search
Paul Duane Wagaman
InspiringVoices
Street: 01.28
The second published work from Utah author, Paul Duane Wagaman, tells the story of Brian Jamison, a young man traveling cross-country with his family during the late 1800s to stake a claim in California. The Jamison family’s plans change, however, when they are attacked by Native Americans midway through Arizona. Separated from the rest of his family, Brian spends the next few years searching the Southwest for his younger brother—with no shortage of adventures along the way. While Wagaman’s storytelling ability is lackluster, his knowledge of the culture and geography of the setting is impressive. That said, the near-300 page novel reads slowly. The prose is dull, and the dialogue drones listlessly. At times whilst reading I felt like I was viewing the imagery through an old television set to TV Land or the Hallmark Channel. I think I even heard the “Little House on the Prairie” music once. While the characters lack any great depth, the charming setting—meticulously characterized by Wagaman—is sneakily captivating. The novel flirts with notions of racism, and treads eerily close to Mormon literature, but at heart Brian’s Search is a true cowboy story. –Westin Porter

Darklight
Chad Kultgen
Archaia
Street: 04.30
Earth is no longer after being depleted by humans, and basically the whole universe is no longer and imploding upon itself. The last star has burned out, and the human race has no options but to bring together two warring races to prevent ultimate demise. The Duron, an organic warrior race, and the Luminid, a race that has embedded itself within technology to survive many cycles of the universe, put an end to their war in order to help rebuild the universe. It’s a story that highlights the human race as seemingly all-knowing and correct while the Luminid are basically electric Vulcans, heavily reliant on probability and stats. The Duron are brash, violent creatures. Hope is seemingly all lost as one member of each race helps to stop space-time from unraveling. It’s a cool concept that’s more grandiose than any sci-fi comic I’ve read recently. If you’re into shows like Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek, you’ll dig Darklight. –Rebecca Frost

Farscape Vol 7: The War for the Uncharted Territories
Rockne S. O’Bannon
BOOM! Studios
Street: 06.24
Like most sci-fi shows, cancelled doesn’t mean gone forever. Continuing in comic book format with one of the show’s original writers, Farscape: The War for the Uncharted Territories concludes the show’s run in book form. The issues were originally released in 2011, which means fans of the books have been waiting years for a collectable trade. I haven’t seen any of the original show or read any of this final book’s predecessors, but if you’re picking this one up for the first time, it’s easy to jump in. The story follows the crew of the ship Moya as they battle an alien race known as the Kkore. A lot of focus is given to lead characters John and Aeryn, and their conversations, at times, feel too talky. The art is very cartoonish, which I don’t happen to find very appealing and can make alien races look cute instead of wise and dangerous. If you enjoyed the original Farscape show, reading this story could provide a satisfactory ending to the overall story. –Rebecca Frost

33 1/3: Gang of Four’s Entertainment!
Kevin J.H. Dettmar
Bloomsbury Academic
Street: 03.27
Kevin Dettmar, having been an American college student in the ‘70s, is—in an odd way—the ideal author to write the 33 1/3 series volume #91 about British post-punk band Gang of Four’s album Entertainment! (1979). In addition to being well-versed to discuss the cultural and musical implications of such a band steeped in leftist and “Situationist” political theory, in the book’s introduction, he also proclaims the band to be his “favorite of all time.” This is the kind of mixture of knowledge and fervor that has made the series a great addition to the literature about pop music. Dettmar tends to beat us over the head with the Marxism and Situationism in the British band’s lyrics and approach, the way their lyrics make sharp social commentary in counterpoint to their equally jagged yet seductive dance rhythms. It’s a bit of a stretch, the case he makes for each of the songs as a “think piece,” but it may help the casual listener to give the band another spin to listen for what is hidden subversively in their sound. –Stakerized!

J Dilla’s Donuts (33 1/3)
Jordan Ferguson
Bloomsbury
Street: 04.24
“J Dilla would hate this book,” Ferguson writes, as he posits how he believes Dilla would react to people delving so adamantly into his work to extract deeper meanings, as Ferguson does in this portrait of an album. Donuts, released four days before Dilla’s death, was created during the last moments of the artist’s life, and thus carries a much more substantial weight in comparison to other Dilla productions—whether he would have it that way or not. Thus enters this book, included in the 33 1/3 series, which combines a historical perspective of the album and the context in which it was released, along with a prominent first-person narrative in which Ferguson theorizes on the influences used in the album and how they translated into the larger hip-hop community in which Dilla worked. It feels pretty meta to be criticizing the work of a critic, and while Ferguson spends what I felt was an unnecessarily long time coming to terms with the role of writing as a critic himself, he writes in a way that ultimately succeeds in expressing the significance of Donuts when contemplating Dilla’s life. –Brinley Froelich

Judge Dredd Classics Volume: The Apocalypse War
John Wagner, Alan Grant
IDW Publishing
Street: 05.27
The re-release of the classic Apocalypse War from Judge Dredd is a wonderful journey down memory lane, or a great introduction to the tone of the series, depending on your comic reading background. This awesome story based in a world with extreme class separation is a phenomenal romp through a sci-fi rendition of the 5 points war. Dredd has no compassion—the people are all crazed for an unknown reason, and their over-the-top methods of stopping the uprising make it intense as well as fun. This isn’t a comic for someone looking to find New Age excitement and a deep moral story—this is a comic to see a thrilling futuristic war with great classic art from the old strip. This hardcover will look great in any collection, and while the story takes itself too seriously, that is what makes it so great to read. –Thomas Winkley

Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (33 1/3)
Kirk Walker Graves
Bloomsbury
Street: 06.19
Kanye West is the millennial generation incarnate, or at least that’s what Kirk Walker Graves would have us all think. Throughout the 150 or so pages of this book, Graves unpacks the enigma that is Kanye West’s personality and art. This book isn’t so much about the musical qualities of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as it is about how Kanye’s ego and public persona can be used to explain modern 20-somethings. Graves finds meaning in West’s music that I never would have picked out on my own. His fandom is clear, but he never steps into hyperbole in his praise of the music. Though, at times, it feels like his discussion of this album can get a bit too academic, I appreciate the thought that he has put into his analysis of Kanye’s work. This book is some serious next-level music criticism—I never realized how much Kanye’s Gucci line meant to my life before this guy told me about it. –Alex Gilvarry

The Midnight Rose: A Novel
Lucinda Riley
Atria Books
Street: 03.18
In the beginning, I struggled with figuring out where the author was going with all of the different plots. It was rather confusing bouncing back and forth through various times and storylines, but when the plots started merging together and revealed all of their secrets, I struggled to put this book down. I felt fear, heartache, love, disgust and hatred for the characters in this book. I spent my time away from it daydreaming about how the lives of a renowned actress, an elderly woman named Anahita and a princess from India were going to play out. The author grabs your heartstrings and tugs on them while she takes you through the twisted world and dark family history of England’s Astbury Estate. This book truly has a dark side to it. There are stories of murder, a schizophrenic cross dresser and women who make Faye Dunaway’s role in Mommie Dearest appear angelic. There is also the soft touch of romance. If you like mystery, drama, history and a small fraction of healing magic and horror, this book is for you. –Mistress Nancy

Murder Me Dead
David Lapham
Image Comics
Street: 08.05
Murder Me Dead pays incredible homage to old noir films while keeping characters surprisingly evil and realistic. I often found myself while reading it saying aloud, “bitches be cray” and “AUGH STOP,” and that is what makes a comic awesome. If I am shouting at a book with the same intensity I yell at my television, that’s damn good writing. The artwork is reminiscent of comic stylings from the ‘40s through the ‘60s and needs no color to portray its gruesome murders. The story plays upon real actions real humans would take, which makes the story even more cruel. For a noir-style comic released in 2014, it’s a great introduction to readers who maybe aren’t familiar with films like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. If you have read books like FATALE and Velvet, you will undoubtedly enjoy Murder Me Dead. –Rebecca Frost

Revival: Volume 1
Tim Seeley
Image Comics
Street: 12.15.12
If the dead started rising in your town, you can imagine things would get a little strange. Revival: Volume 1 collects the first five issues of the incredible series from the imagination of Tim Seeley.  Learning how the people from the small town interact with each other over the very stylized world keeps the reader absolutely enthralled, while lending itself to suspend your disbelief. Some of the ideas are definitely things that have been used in other “raising the dead” stories, but it is presented in a way that is interesting enough to not be a deterrent to the story. Much like other series that involve the dead walking (wink), the story focuses on the political and religious implications of the strange happenings within this small Wisconsin town. If you’re into the creepy, this is a book for you. If you’re new to the Zombie world, you will actually enjoy this that much more. –Thomas Winkley

33 1/3: Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation
Pete Astor
Bloomsbury Academic
Street: 04.10
The 33 1/3 book series started in 2003, analyzing ‘seminal’ rock albums in the manner of great literature novels—but also adding the personal insights that only the true rock n’ roll fan can deliver. #92 looks at Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation (1977). On the heels of #91, on Gang of Four’s Entertainment (1979) the releases really are two of a pair—the arch “art punk” statements of the ‘70s—though Gang of Four is more political and Richard Hell thoroughly nihilistic. The analytical approach can have its pitfalls: Astor is so intent on the importance of listening on vinyl that he traces the history of recording technology back to Edison, to make the point that the album has to be heard on that medium. But Astor brilliantly places Blank Generation in the 70’s lower East Side New York art world, with all the squalor evoked by Richard Hell’s songs, as well as depicting Hell as a poet with a comprehensive artistic vision. In his own way, Hell was the voice of a generation. –Stakerized!

Seconds
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Ballantine BooksStreet: 07.15
If you’re a Scott Pilgrim or Lost At Sea fan, you’ve probably been salivating at the long-awaited release of Seconds, O’Malley’s first new novel in four years. The book takes a look at the life of Katie, a successful chef with a restaurant for which the book is named, working her way toward a new restaurant in development. After an accident in the kitchen, a mysterious force provides her the opportunity to correct previous mistakes. When she discovers the new-found gift, she quickly abuses the system and corrects many, many mistakes she feels that she’s made over the years, putting both her future and everything around her in jeopardy. The artwork moves from simplistic cartoons to beautiful illustrations, all completely appropriate at the right times. The story itself is compelling, with hints of sci-fi themes splashed throughout, and is sure to be a kick in the ass to anyone wishing they chose a different path rather than forging ahead on the one they picked. You could finish off the book in a day if you really wanted to, but the story has enough layers that it will make you come back for another helping. –Gavin Sheehan

Tanpopo Volume 2
Camilla d’Errico
BOOM! Studios
Street: 05.28
Tanpopo is…different. I’m not at all familiar with any kind of Japanese comic whoosey-whatsey, so Tanpopo is a unique experience. The comic centers around Tanpopo, a young girl who is introduced to humanity and sets on a journey to learn what it is to feel and have emotions. The use of classic literature from Shakespeare and Poe links Western culture to Eastern, and sets the tone while narrating the girl’s journey. Its base of emotional literature and colorful, simplistic artwork kept me reading. I am a literature fan, no aficionado of any kind, but I appreciate the work, and I loved the way Tanpopo’s journey of feeling weaved with already written words. The book would make a cool gift to avid readers who are willing to read classics that are illustrated with Japanese-style art or to a kid who is just getting into it. –Rebecca Frost

The Walking Dead Volume 21: All Out War Part 2
Robert Kirkman
Image Comics
Street: 07.29
In this enjoyable-yet-unsatisfying conclusion to the All Out War storyline, Kirkman breaks away from the established “introduce bad guy, wackiness ensues, Rick and/or group kill bad guy and walk off into the apocalyptic sunset” story arc. For you fans of the TV show who have never read the comics, all you need to know is that Rick and the group are now in D.C., they’ve found other groups of survivors, humans are more dangerous than zombies in a zombie apocalypse and no, Norman Reedus is not in the comic version of The Walking Dead. If you’ve been following the comics, you know the current storyline is all about Negan and his Saviors. Negan was easily the best villain the series has offered to date, but, the longer he stuck around, the more Kirkman tried to humanize the character—sending him on long monologue-tirades attempting to justify his actions. In the end, he lost his bite, lost his sting. Negan and the Saviors did some amazing things in terms of developing the main characters within The Walking Dead—especially Carl—but All Out War felt like it dragged on about half a volume too long. The best thing about this storyline is that, at the close, the characters have what they really need to survive in their destructive world: Hope. –John Ford

WonTon Soup
James Stokoe
Oni Press
Street: 07.02
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. James Stokoes’ WonTon Soup is a ridiculous rampage across space to find the most daring recipes imaginable, which can only be pulled from a slightly deranged imagination. Following Johnny Boyo and his trucking buddy Deacon through the galaxy is start to finish some of the most fun you will have reading a comic. The story might only have the fellas going through 1 drug induced trip, but the entire comic seems to be dripped with acid-infused hallucinations. This is a great pickup for those looking to stray away from your standard super-villain/world-almost-ending superhero comic, and looking to unwind with something light-hearted, zany, and imaginative. Find this book, buy it, share it—you won’t regret it. –Thomas Winkley

WWE 50
Kevin Sullivan
DK Publishing
Street: 03.31
The old saying goes “history is written by the victors,” and that’s especially poignant in the new WWE historical book that came out this spring. For what it’s worth, this book does a fantastic job cataloging the history of the company from the ’60s as Capitol Wrestling, all through the changes and transitions over five decades, and giving younger fans a perspective on how far they’ve come as a company. Here’s the downside: This book is a perfect example of selective memory and revisionist history. First and foremost, even though they’ve won back the right to use all the previous WWF logos from 1979 to 2002, they went through and Photoshopped every picture they could to to make it look like the WWE logo was there from the start. They even touched up photos where lower-card wrestlers were removed. They’ve also left out  some names of prominence like Jake Roberts, CM Punk and Eddie Gurrerro just to scratch the surface. DK Publishing did a fantastic job putting this book together as they always do, but WWE put so much spin and edits on their own history, it taints the hard work put into it. Go check out the WWE Encyclopedia by DK instead. –Gavin Sheehan

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