Book Reviews

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Amelia Cole and the Enemy Unleashed

Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride & Nick Brokenshire
IDW Publishing
Street: 11.18
With the first two volumes of Amelia Cole focused on building characters and helping readers navigate through Cole’s weird world of magic and technology, volume three wastes no time in ramping up the action. Though this fills the pages with Nick Brokenshire’s freakishly imaginative monsters, the narrative felt a bit jarring during the transitions between Amelia’s storyline and that of Omega Company. When the two groups of characters came together towards the end, however, the story became much more organic as an ensemble of unlikely allies did battle with magic-eating beasts. Though the action scenes were exciting—especially when Amelia kidnaps the Magistrate—this is a story that has been built upon the quirky, resourceful character of Amelia Cole, and having the focus fixed upon so many different characters and storylines detracts too much from the story’s heroine. Since so much conflict and destruction took place in this volume—not to mention it’s cliffhanger ending—it will be interesting to see what direction the next volume of Amelia Cole will take. –Alex Springer

Batman: A Visual History
DK Publishing
Street: 09.29
2014 marked Batman’s 75th anniversary, so it was really cool to see DK Publishing give the iconic hero his own visual history book to mark the occasion. Batman has had both an impressive and ridiculous history, from his initial start in Detective Comics, to his run of campy stories influenced by the ’60s television show, to turning him dark and broody as characters died around him, all the way to the monopoly on comics that Batman’s sidekicks and rogues gallery now hold in the DC lexicon. This book gives you a complete insight to the vision and influence the Dark Knight has had on generations of readers, and gives those who may be completely confused about the character and his history a glimpse into how everything came to be. The one downside is that this only reflects the comics and completely ignores everything from film and television to products and cultural influence. But that actually works to the book’s advantage, as you’re exploring only the canon on which all of that is based upon, rather than needlessly going over the same talking points and diluted history several times over. This is a must-own for any Batman fan. –Gavin Sheehan

Black Metal: Omnibvs
Rick Spears, Chuck BB
Oni Press
Street: 10.01
So many tributes to heavy metal have tried and failed to capture the essence of metal. The Black Metal series of comics, however, practically seethes with a true appreciation for the genre. Author Rick Spears writes the tale of 12-year-old twin brothers Shawn and Sam Stronghand, social pariahs who discover their dark destiny after listening to a black metal record played backwards. Chuck BB complements the story with a cool, cartoonish art style that feels like it was peeled off the notebook margins of a bored high school student. Together, they tell a tale that encompasses Heaven, Hell, Asgard and the nihilistic void. But, despite the subject matter, it never takes itself too seriously. Spears might not be up-to-date on the most kvlt underground bands, but he sure as hell did his homework when it came to the musical and mythological foundations of metal. Black Metal ventures deep into the dark heroism and grandiosity of the heavy metal mythos, serving as a reminder of what brings so many people together to bang their heads and seek out the truest of the true. You need not be a denim-clad metal veteran to appreciate this series, but it certainly helps. –Henry Glasheen

Chasing the Light: The Cloud Cult Story
Mark Allister
University of Minnesota Press
Street: 09.03
Chasing the Light: The Cloud Cult Story is a cleverly intimate reveal of the emotional struggle that birthed Cloud Cult’s rise into the indie-rock scene. Mark Allister provides a perspective of the band—not only as a music critic and deejay, but also as a friend and supporter. The result is a thorough collection of reviews of Cloud Cult’s 11 albums, as well as insight into the tragedy, ideology and philosophy of the band. Three sections of “Fans Write” break up the story with testimonials of the personal impact that Cloud Cult has made in the lives of their followers. These sections are perfectly placed, preventing the depth of Allistar’s knowledge and heavy appreciation for Craig Minowa’s passion from becoming overwhelming. The book provides fans with a deeper understanding and connection to Minowa’s journey. While the book neglects to fully divulge the dynamics of bandmates and too excessively reminds its reader of the resemblance between Cloud Cult and Arcade Fire, it does not lack the power of inspiration that Minowa’s music so often ignites. –Andrea Silva

Courage (The Lions of God Trilogy, Volume 1)
Lloyd D. Frazier
Street: 02.20
The wonderful world of fantasy has a brave new addition by first-time author Lloyd D. Frazier. I say brave because it pulls no punches and creates a very real story, told through violent times. As a reader, I felt as if I was watching the story the whole time while the narration guided me through the beginning of what seems to be a long, hard-fought tale. The balance between scene shaping and plot is perfectly crafted and moving, though the book feels neither repetitive nor boring. There are shocking scenes in the story, but the author has such love for the characters he’s created that the reader gets pulled further into the story as opposed to cringing and walking away. Few twists and turns are left in the world of fiction, but Frazier manages to sneak a few wrinkles into a well-trodden genre. Online, Frazier has been referred to as the best author you’ve never heard of, and those merits sit well with this book. The book even features the mandatory fantasy map in its first few pages as a nod to the classics, though I wouldn’t expect any further redundancies of former fictions. All in all, this is an excellent book regardless of what genre you prefer. I encourage anyone with a bit of whimsy, a moment to spare and the desire to be taken away to endorse this fine addition to the world of creative literature. –Benjamin Tilton

The Daughters Of Mars
Thomas Keneally
Atria Books
Street: 08.20.13
It takes a strong stomach to deal with the actions and reproductions of war, but even if you are there first hand, you can still close your eyes. With a book, that is never an option. Every line is read and every detail absorbed. In reality you only feel your pain, with a book you feel the pain of every character (even some of the ones you don’t like). The commitment to read about history and invest your valued time in the details of those who were involved (this book used actual nurses’ notes to capture the authenticity) is a noble task. Thomas Keneally has not only written an incredible book, he has given us a chance to honor those collected memories from the First World War by richly detailing this novel with intimacy and incredible circumstance. The story follows two sisters who have grown apart but still end up nurses in different parts of Australia. When World War 1 breaks out, there is a need for nurses to work off shore in giant ships that function as floating hospitals in Turkey. Both sisters volunteer and start to rekindle their relationship as this wonderfully tragic story moves along. Keneally, who also wrote Schindler’s List, strikes a similar heartbreaking chord with Daughters of Mars and pulls no punches with the harsh reality of war.  This is epic story telling at its best and I highly recommend it to anyone who can stomach the gory details of battle. –Benjamin Tilton

DC Comics: A Visual History – Updated Edition
DK Publishing
Street: 09.24
DC Comics, in all their glory, have some of the most convoluted histories behind their characters and their origins in the entire industry. So much so, they’ve had to do several crossover events and hit the reset button on their entire universe a couple of times just to get things on track. It was a pleasant surprise to see DK publish this visual history guide to the company’s books, complete with all the twists and turns worth mentioning since 1935. To be clear, this isn’t like the encyclopedia or guides DK normally produces, this is a year-by-year guide to prominent moments within the books and how they reflected both the time period and the impact they had. Like the introduction of Batgirl, the impact of the entire Crisis series, launch of the Silver Age, the death of Superman and more. The one addition it could do without are the pop-culture facts running on almost every page. This is one of the few guides where it doesn’t matter if you’re a DC fan or not, it will give you a perspective on how the company came into power over the decades as an industry giant. –Sean Poorman

John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Saved the Nation
Harlow Giles Unger
Da Capo Press
Street: 09.30
Having grown up with the idea that our nation’s founding fathers were unified champions of liberty, it was interesting to read Unger’s book. Apparently there was no small amount of sniping and mud-slinging among the framers of the Constitution after the conclusion of George Washington’s presidency. During the formative years of our country, the conflicting political interests of Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton threatened to plunge the country into civil war, and it was only John Marshall’s meticulous interpretation of and adherence to the Constitution that managed to keep these opposing political forces at bay. Whether you’re an avid consumer of American history or someone with a more casual opinion towards the stories that built our country, Unger’s book is surprisingly accessible. His treatment of Marshall’s exploits during the Revolutionary War was a perfect way to kick off this lengthy tale, and Unger’s inclusion of the correspondence between Marshall and his wife Polly injected the historical drama with the right amount of humanity. This is definitely a great read for those who like their historical nonfiction presented with all the warts, cuts and bruises that are sometimes overlooked. –Alex Springer

The Low Road
A.D. Scott
Atria Books
Street: 09.02
A.D. Scott was very creative when she used the Scottish dialect with her characters—at times it felt as if they were speaking directly to me. She defines their roles with such great detail they almost become humans. Her storylines keep you interested and allow you to become emotionally invested in them. Scott’s writing style kept my intrigue up with the trials of the team of middle-aged newspaper writer McAllister and his younger colleague Mary. McAllister was struggling with his personal life and had to set it aside to find Jimmy before his old razor carrying family friend got to him. I was turning the pages wondering when the boxer Jimmy McPhee would turn up and how he got himself into this mess. He had integrity, what could the poor man have needed so badly to get involved in gang-run bareknuckle rings. Someone clearly wanted him dead, and those who tried to help him. This book took me on a great adventure. I will be picking up the remaining four in this series. –Mistress Nancy

The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights
William P. Jones
W.W Norton and Company
Street: 07.29.13
In producing a sympathetic image for the civil rights cause, the 1963 march on Washington was a success. However most people would probably only remember its significance due to Marin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Though that iconic speech is no less important in eyes of history, it is only the tip of the iceberg for a struggle that sought to unite social and economic issues under one banner for over 40 years. Furthermore, while MLK is the most memorable speaker, there was another person on the stage that day, A. Philip Randolph. A person with remarkable character and drive, he carried much of the weight forward as the influential leader/founder behind the march. This book picks up this struggle in the 1910s, taking the reader through decades of overlooked issues surrounding political intrigue, labor disputes and the fight for black women’s participation in civil rights. A must read for anybody who wants to understand that the fight for jobs, freedom and civil rights did not come overnight. Rather, it came through hard work, radical thought/action and compromise. –Nick Kuzmack

Salsa! The Sauces of South America
(Kindle Edition)
Mick Huerta
Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Street: 03.20
The result of 20 years of travel and eating, Salsa! The Sauces of South America is a pleasure to read. This e-book is part travel diary and part cookbook, sharing simple recipes and the stories behind them. Improve your kitchen game with homemade salsas ranging from a bright and flavorful Chimichurri Sauce from Argentina to an intriguing Mint Chimi Sauce from Chile. Dress up your favorite meals and impress your friends with this compelling and tasty collection. –Amanda Rock

Tale of Sand: The Illustrated Screenplay
Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl & Ramon K. Perez
Boom! Studios
Street: 12.27.11
Most of us know Jim Henson as the creator of the Muppets, so it’s no secret that the man was insane—but in a good way. Diving into this time capsule-worthy screenplay of a film that was conceptualized by Henson and writing partner Jerry Juhl back in the early 1970’s, offers a completely different perspective on Henson’s creativity. The book itself is a patchwork of script pages and Perez’s storyboards—which capture the bizarre visuals nicely. The book’s surreal production adds a lot to the experience of reading the story of Mac, an everyman’s everyman who takes a walkabout into a mysterious desert only to be pursued by Nazis, horse-mounted Arabs, and the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers. The story itself feels like a heavy-handed exploration of masculinity from the perspective of a man who has perhaps not quite grown up—it’s hard to overlook the fact that Mac’s struggles stem from a combination of two familiar plagues of the male psyche: overly-aggressive opponents and being denied sex. Despite the somewhat clichéd storyline, it’s easy to imagine Henson’s visual artistry really taking center stage if this screenplay was to ever hit the big screen. –Alex Springer

Michael Farfel
Old News Records
Street: 09.2013
Any book that can make you think is a proper book. Whether you are agreeing, disagreeing, contemplating or just simply dumfounded, the book has engaged your brain in a way that can’t be ignored. Michael Farfel’s tulip does this in spades and creates a buzz in your brain on par with the toils of the book’s protagonist, Tulip. The book follows a brief period in the life of a young man, Tulip, who one day finds that his head doesn’t agree with the ordinary functions of everyday life. His brain becomes the battleground for two different ideologies and an inner buzz that grows into every part of his being. He struggles between vigilante and savior to the point that his own life is threatened by the impending circumstances of their situational repercussions. The book takes a strong intellectual stab at all things mundane and is easily one of the more quotable books I have read in a while. Farfel’s command of philosophical banter is almost punk-like, in that it produces aspirations of anarchy in the soul of the reader. Much like the voices in Tulip’s head, this book does an excellent job of snuffing out the world around it, making it a good distraction for any bad day.  –Benjamin Tilton

V-Wars Vol. 1: Crimson Queen
Jonathan Maberry & Alan Robinson
IDW Publishing
Street: 10.21
From the Hammer-esque vampire on the cover to the meticulous research behind vampire legends from all over the world, it’s evident that Maberry and Robinson really love their bloodsuckers. Coupled with some thought-provoking social commentary, it’s that love of the vampire mythos that sets this story apart. The plot revolves around a virus that, upon its release from the melting polar ice caps, triggers a genetic mutation that starts turning regular folks into different vampiric creatures. Some of them just want to be left alone, but others become vicious crusaders that are bent on asserting their own superiority. As a countermeasure, the government creates specialist squads that are tasked with protecting the peace. The main character, Luther Swann, is assigned to one of these squads because of his extensive knowledge of vampire folklore, and he represents the voice of reason throughout this bloody book. As the narrative quickly gets into the thick of the human/vampire conflict, there is plenty of room for Robinson to dig deep into the viscera of V-Wars’ chaotic world. Despite the fact that Maberry draws heavily on the themes and conflicts of Chris Claremont’s X-Men tales, the social commentary still feels relevant. –Alex Springer