“Shape’s Siege” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Sharpe's Siege

Sharpe’s Siege

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Published:  1987

Sharpe’s Siege picks up with the English army working their way into France, Sharpe happily married to Jane and Harper the proud father of a two month old. Sharpe’s soldierly duties always come first however, and here he is drafted into helping the Royal Navy on a mission to possibly assist in Bordeaux turning against the French Empire in a stroke that could end the Napoleonic War. Anyone who knows Sharpe (or European history) will know this doesn’t happen, and instead Sharpe will end up being caught in a trap left by the French intelligence officer Ducot, who is making yet another appearance, rivaling Obadiah Hakeswill’s run as a villain.

The title of the book gives away that there will be a siege, though Cornwell pulls out all the stops in making it more intense and creative than similar battles in earlier books. **Spoilers follow** For starters, Sharpe, Harper and Sweet William Frederickson are all on the inside the the structure under siege, and they are vastly outnumbered and outgunned. The limited bullets in particular is unusual in this series, and the tricks that Sharpe and friends pull to even the odds were more similar to those found in the various Sharpe short stories that I’ve reviewed on here.

While Sharpe is worrying about the enemy, he is equally distracted by the possibility of losing his wife Jane to fever, as she has come down with symptoms immediately before he was deployed. Also sick is Major Michael Hogan, who is (along with Harper) as long tenured as an ally to Sharpe as we’ve seen in the series. This installment also introduces the character of Cornelius Killick, an American naval officer or pirate, depending on the moment. Killick provides for many of the surprises in this novel, as both Sharpe and the French are at times forced to depend on him or go after him.

4-star

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“Nailbiter, Volume 2: Bloody Hands” by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson Review

Nailbiter 2

Nailbiter, Vol. 2: Bloody Hands

Written by: Joshua Williamson

Art by: Mike Henderson

Published:  2015

Volume 2 of Nailbiter was a bit of a letdown from the first volume. The main culprit was story decompression as 2 of the 5 issues included featured what read like stand alone issues (featuring stories about a Beekeeper and a pregnant girl who wants her baby to be a killer). The issues that tied back into the main plot didn’t advance the overarching storyline much, with some further interrogations being teased and the Nailbiter acting creepier but not much else going on besides s religious guy rising as an antagonist. There’s also a weird Brian Michael Bendis cameo shoehorned in and a bus incident that would certainly be national news.

The art continued to be OK, but probably a step below most of the books I read on a month to month basis. The backup story at the end was certainly gross and shocking, but it also felt like a reveal that would have been better earned in the main storyline instead.

3-star

“The Number of the Beast” by Robert A. Heinlein Review

Number of the Beast

The Number of the Beast

Author –  Robert A. Heinlein

Published – 1980

I read 80 books last year, and finished everyone of them. Ditto the year before. The year before that I gave up on an E.M. Forester book, and felt bad about it but I recognized about a hundred pages in that it just wasn’t a book I would end up enjoying. I made it 250 pages into this book before saying screw it, and that was just out of loyalty to this normally great author.

This book was awful (or at least through the halfway point). The book starts with two characters meeting each other and deciding to get married at a dance. Zeb and Deety are both brilliant, and they leave a party accompanied by Deety’s dad Jake and Aunt Hilda who also decide to get hitched. After an explosion meant for one of them, they all flee to A remote location in Zeb’s car and figure out that Jake has previously invented a method for travel across all dimensions of time and space. They hook it up to Zeb’s car and (after discovering it is a alien conspiracy trying to kill them) flee the planet to Mars, which may or may not be Barsoom from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels.

That sounds like a lot of action,but it probably took place over 10-15 pages, with the remainder of the first 250 going to such plots as Hilda and Deety both becoming pregnant after their first night on the run, Hilda and Zeb being encouraged to screw by Deety and her dad, Deety hinting that she’d get with her dad if he wanted her to, and Deety’s great breasts but terrible body odor if she doesn’t bathe twice a day.

The main conflict is who will captain their car on this trip, with none of the four wanting to and all of them taking way too seriously their chain of command. Nobody in this book read like a real person; instead they all seem like fantasies of gender roles made up by a 73 year old two generations ago. Apparently the group makes it to Oz and other fictional worlds later on, and frequent character Lazarus Long and Robert Heinlein himself make an appearance. No reward can be worth spending so long with these four bickering, unrealistic, characters in a stationary plot.

1-star

“Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier” by Mark Frost Review

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks:  The Final Dossier

Author:  Mark Frost

Published:  2017

Here’s a book that has to have one of the smallest possible audiences likely to find it entertaining. Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier is a collection of FBI files assembled by fictional character Tammy Preston on other characters from the Twin Peaks tv series. It is written by Mark Frost, who is one half of the creative team behind Twin Peaks, along with David Lynch. Instead of telling a complete story, it is a very quick read of fill in the blank details for one character’s theories of what exactly is going on in Twin Peaks (the town) and a few details on what the characters were doing when not on screen. So to rundown: if you haven’t seen all of Twin Peaks, this isn’t for you. If you prefer your Twin Peaks to be as mysterious as David Lynch left it, or if you are David Lynch, this isn’t for you. Also, if you are not a fan of spending a good deal of cash on a book you can read in about 90 minutes, this might not be for you.

I’m giving this five stars however, so obviously this book is for some people. A little about my thoughts on Twin Peaks. The first two seasons of Twin Peaks were some of the most original and engrossing television I’d ever watched. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was an initial disappointment that revealed itself as an amazing movie on rewatch. Finally, the new series Twin Peaks: The Return was the best television I’ve watched since Justified went off the air (and something I gladly would watch ahead of Game of Thrones this season) and then dig into articles and podcasts the next day to try and dissect what I had just watched.

The Return was the kind of series I needed to talk about with anybody I could find that watched it, which sadly was not enough people. The idea of getting more details on what’s been going on in the world of the show is very appealing, and my only complaints with this book are that I wish it was longer (and had more photos). Tammy Preston basically serves as a mechanism for Mark Frost to decode or theorize on all of the David Lynch oddities, from the Black Lodge to time travel and doppelgangers. The chapters on Major Briggs, Donna Hayward, Annie Blackburn and Audrey Horne all gave significant new information on the characters than what is revealed in The Return. Other characters like Wyndom Earle, Philip Jeffries and Laura Palmer provide less details but plenty of theorizing on what it all means.

Part of what makes Twin Peaks so fun is that the answers aren’t all provided on the show, so the viewer is constantly both challenged to come up with their own conclusions and also forced to experience the show without expectations as to what will happen next. Those same attributes make it a perfect candidate for analysis and expanded universe style writing. Although this is “Final” Dossier, I’d gladly come back for followups in this format in the future. Highly recommended for fans of the show.

5-star

My Five Favorite Books I Read During 2017

I read 80 books this year, with those split up into reading challenge books, audiobooks, extended series and stuff that just looked fun. I’m continuing to make my way through all of Stephen King’s books, as well as the Richard Sharpe, Pip & Flinx, and Repairman Jack series. I’m also still reading biographies on every president (I’ve made it up through Lincoln), all the Hugo and Nebula award winners, and six months of books selected by Brilliant Books in Traverse City Michigan. In addition, I always read about 6 to 15 comics a week all year and several graphic novels. Out of all the stuff that’s counted on Goodreads, here’s my top 5 of the year (along with excerpts from my reviews):

 

The Touch

5. The Touch by F. Paul Wilson

“As a stand alone book in F. Paul Wilson’s Adversary Cycle, The Touch barely ties into the events of the Repairman Jack world or even the rest of the Adversary Cycle stories, but was overall one of my favorite books I’ve read by the author. The book is the story of Dr. Alan Bulmer, a family physician who gains the ability of the Dat-tay-vao, a healing touch that works for about an hour a day. Patients who come in with hearing loss or broken bones leave Bulmer’s office completely healthy. The ability seems to know no limits, fixing life long birth defects or nearly fatal cancer. The ability draws Bulmer into the intrigue of an ambitious senator, as well as the attention of other local medical professionals, all of which believe Bulmer is either having a breakdown or is now a scam artist. The only man who seems to have any idea what is going in is the Vietnamese gardener for the local widow, a man with a set of skills reminiscent of Liam Neeson in Taken.”

risen

4. The Risen: A Novel of Spartacus by David Anthony Durham

“Whereas my initial interactions with some of the characters made them difficult to differentiate (Castus and Dolmos seemed particularly bland in the early going), Durham does a fantastic job of giving each character a distinct viewpoint, history and motivation for their actions going forward. Durham also does a great job of pacing his reveals within his chapters, generally by beginning each new chapter by jumping ahead in the action and then filling in the blanks in intervals throughout. When characters begin to betray each other, or fall during battle, the reader is often made to wait several pages to find out who is involved in the action. I’d find this to be a problem in a different book, but here the plot moves so quickly that it never felt like a trick.”

Invincible

3. Invincible Vol. 22: Reboot by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley

“I don’t know the last time I’ve read anything, be it a comic or book, where an author laid out two possible paths for a plot and I was so equally excited to read either one of them. This volume of invincible continues the existing storylines on both Earth (with Robot eliminating crime at any cost) and in space (where Mark and Eve are adjusting to alien life with their daughter and searching for Thragg).”

Sharpe's Enemy

2. Sharpe’s Enemy by Bernard Cornwell

“The Enemy in the title of the book refers to a certain evildoer from earlier novels, but what makes this installment of the series stand out even more is the presence of numerous individuals that could be called Sharpe’s enemy. Sharpe is tasked with rescuing hostages from a ragtag group of soldiers deserted from French, Spanish, English and Portugese armies. Along the way Sharpe is forced into confrontations of various levels against a superior officer (Lord Farthingdale), a French commander (Colonel Dubreton), a French intelligence officer (Ducos), and of course the evil individual from Sharpe’s past. Although most of the confrontation is with that last individual, my favorite parts of this book all involved Colonel Dubreton. Unlike most villains in the series, Dubreton is a respectable French officer who admires Sharpe and seeks to best him on a battlefield under the rules of conduct. I am hopeful he reappears in later installments.”

Clan of Cave Bear

1. Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

“First, I’m giving this book five stars. I give a lot of books I enjoy five stars, but they’re generally books I enjoyed and lived up to what I was hoping for, or took a series that was good and made it better. This was one of those rare books that made me wish I’d be a bit pickier with my five star ratings as I enjoyed this book a lot more than many other books I’ve given five stars to. I’d say it’s on par with Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub for the best book I’ve read in the past few years.”

“The Tommyknockers” by Stephen King Review

The Tommyknockers

The Tommyknockers

Author:  Stephen King

Published:  1987

There’s a portion in Stephen King’s The Stand where he talks about all the people that died after the devastating plague in circumstances unrelated to illness. Things like accidentally electrocuting themselves or getting injured with nobody to help them or call for help. Because it’s Stephen King, the passage in question is stretched out for many pages, with each character getting some background to get an idea of what sort of person they are, so each story can become a mini-tragedy or a setup to a punch line (the “no great loss” lady has always stuck with me). Reading The Tommyknockers felt a lot like reading that portion of The Stand but stretched out to nearly 800 pages. That’s not a compliment.

The premise of The Tommyknockers is that a local writer named Bobbi and her dog Peter stumble across a metal object sticking out of the ground on her property and decide to dig it up to see what it is. Bobbi soon becomes obsessed by the object, making it her sole objective to unearth what she believes to be a gigantic flying saucer. Bobbi also begins to exhibit strange behaviors in the form of inventing strange objects while her dog begins emitting green light from his eyes and acting years younger than he had before. When Bobbi is visited by her ex-boyfriend Jim Gardner, he finds a woman who has run herself to the point of starvation. Gardner ends up sticking around to find out what’s going on and stay with the woman he loves.

Beyond that, the rest of the plot deals with the strange behavior of Bobbi spreading to the rest of the town of Haven. Out of the 750 pages, it felt like about 500 pages dealt with side stories about characters like Bobbi’s sister, or a young boy’s magic show gone wrong, or a curious reporter getting his first big scoop, or a jealous poker player, or a Constable obsessed with dolls, or a dozen other characters. By the time a pyromaniac with a plate in his head showed up near the end I had lost all interest in how this story would end. Along with The Talisman, this is the only King book I’ve read so far that I just wanted to end multiple times throughout. Unlike outright bad books like Rage or Roadwork, there’s an interesting story at the core here but King squanders any interest in the resolution by padding the pages with uninteresting non-essential characters.

Beyond that, the book is also frustrating by having its hero character be a drunkard who spends 95% of the book going along with things before pulling a miracle out on one leg at the very end. The idea of having only those with metal in their body able to resist the Tommyknocker influence was fun, but I can’t help but think this would have been a much more compelling read with either the Constable or Ev Hillman as the protagonist instead of Jim Gardner. Gardner’s story arc isn’t so much about redemption as it is cleaning up a mess he helped enable to fruition. It also doesn’t take a genius to draw similarities between King and Gardner (a poet) in this book, which further added to my impression of the story as a meandering story being sprawled by an out of his mind writer.

For King junkies, there are some fun cameos in this book, including the government agency from Firestarter and Pennywise the clown from It. The book also references the events of The Dead Zone and seems to be pretty firmly in the Maine continuity of other Stephen King books (don’t let all the references to the Dallas police fool you). The first trip by Ev Hillman and a state trooper into the woods was pretty exciting, and could have been the basis for a much more exciting novel. The good parts overall were buried under too much fluff to get excited about. This feels like the type of book that King could have bottomed out writing, I can only hope he tightens up the storytelling from here on out.

2-star

“The Terranauts” by T.C. Boyle Review

Terranauts

The Terranauts

Author:  T.C. Boyle

Released:  2016

The Terranauts was the final book I received from by Brilliant Books Book of the Month Club membership. This was a story taking place in the early 1990’s where 8 people have volunteered to be confined in a biodome for two years as part of an experiment, four men and four women. The book follows three people: Dawn, a woman inside the dome, Ramsay, a man inside the dome, and Linda, a woman who missed the cut and must watch from outside in hopes of getting in two years later. The story starts out as the eight finalists are selected for entering the Ecosphere (E2 as the Terranauts call it), and primarily takes place during those two years, with a few pages dedicated to the transition after the two year period.

In addition to the three main characters, there are a few supporting characters that help populate the book. Inside the dome are characters likes Gyro (the nerdy guy obsessed with Dawn), Gretchen (the awkward woman attracted to Ramsay, Richard (the doctor who has to deal with the repercussions of other Terranauts situations), and Stevie (the attractive but shallow marine biologist). Outside the dome there’s Johnny (Dawn’s boyfriend at the time she enters the biodome), Jeremiah (aka God the Creator, the man who invented E2), Judy (or Judith a woman who is romantically involved with both Ramsay and G2).

The people inside the dome are celebrities in this book because of their groundbreaking experiment, and the repercussions of all of their decisions on the other Terranauts and the mission overall amplify the importance of all their actions. The 1990’s setting didn’t add a lot to the book except for some fun pop culture references throughout. I imagine it was set in a pre-internet/cell phone era in order to amp up the isolation of the Terranauts as well as how groundbreaking an experiment like this is.

I enjoyed the characters in this book, as Dawn and Ramsay reminded me of the actors Isla Fisher and Jake Johnson and I had fun picturing them as I read the story. Linda reminded me of Charlene Yi, and provided at times a jealous antagonist and at others a sympathetic protagonist. This felt like a book I should love, and although I really did enjoy it I also think the author foreshadowed a momentous and violent ending but ended up telling a much more grounded story. On it’s own that’d be fine, but with each point of view character telling the story from the future the ending felt out of line with what had been set up earlier. That complaint aside though this was an enjoyable book that I’m glad I read.

Overall I’d rate the 6 books I received from the Book of the month club (it was a bi-monthly membership) as follows:

1. The Risen by David Anthony Durham
2. The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle
3. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
4. The Fortress at the End of Time by J.M. McDermott
5. Age of Assasins by R.J. Barker
6. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

4-star