Book Reviews: Superheroes, Star Trek, Lady Detectives

As soon as she’d said it she knew she’d screwed up.
I eyed her speculatively. “Should I keep walking, or should I wait for the new girlfriend to arrive?”

How to Be a Superhero
In a nutshell, this book is about interviews with actors who’ve played superheroes, sidekicks, villains, antiheroes, and others. . . and it’s 588 pages long, so you can say it’s thorough.
After an intro where the author tries to prove the point that everyone loves superheroes, we go right into the interviews, but it isn’t just all the people who have played Superman and Batman and Spiderman; there’s Flashes and Captain Americas and Hulks, plenty of women. . . even Howard the Duck shows up. Not so much in Sidekicks and Supervillains, but for me the best part was Not All Heroes Are Super, which includes Spock, James Bond, even Agent Coulson. The book closes with questions for some of the creators: comic book artists, movie directors, screenwriters, TV series creators, even Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer. The interview with Stan Lee might be worth the price of admission alone.
Just like another book I recently reviewed on character actors, it’s the same questions over and over, though these are somewhat more pointed to the subject. Still, there are some unconventional questions that pop up every once in a while, and the best parts are when the interviewees appreciate them, especially if they’d never thought of it themselves. I’m not sure how much this would appeal to the causal movie fan, but if you enjoy superhero comic books, TV shows, or movies, this will probably be worth your while.

Star Trek: The Returned, Part I
For those familiar with the staggering amount of books written about the Star Trek Universe, this is the continuation of the series written by Peter David known as Star Trek: New Frontier. I remember reading the first collection of four stories a long time ago, and after a little research I’m quite surprised to see just how many there’s been since.
This starts with the aftermath of some big happenings in the previous story, which unhinge the main character; the first part is taken up with finding him and convincing him to come back to command his starship. Always fun when the Guardian of Forever is involved, even if only peripherally. Once he’s back the story goes into revenge for that thing that happened in the previous story, as well as a subplot involving his son and a couple of the main characters, who have changed dramatically since the last time I read about them. One of the reasons I originally read this series was the inclusion of the character of Robin Lefler, famously played by Ashley Judd in the Next Generation TV series. She doesn’t get much to do here, but since this story is going to continue past this book, it seems like a good setup for future involvement.
The best thing about the writing is the introductions of characters, which tells the newbie everything they need to know while not being too dull for those who know everything that’s going on. As someone in the middle of those two extremes, I found myself going from wondering who they were to instantly remembering them as soon as their main characteristics were described. But my point is this book can mostly likely be enjoyed by those who are coming in new to the series.

Rainy Day Women
This is another first person amateur PI story, the main difference from most being that it takes place in the late 60s, though it takes a while to realize that. Perhaps the author assumes you read the first in the series; it’s really not obvious until there’s a mention of the first moon landing. It takes place in Vancouver, which is one of my favorite cities in the world, mostly around the University of British Columbia and its chemistry lab, as well as the woman’s lib movement of the time, which is a huge part of the story.
It starts with a complete fakeout where you think the lead character’s trying to escape from an abusive boyfriend, only to find it’s something else completely. It made me laugh, so I forgive the author this joke.
While I enjoyed the setting and most of the banter, the plot—featuring more murders and attacks—and resolution. . . not as much. The author does a decent job of coming up with alternate suspects, but she stacks the deck too much for the reader to conceive it’s anyone but who it turns out to be (I know that’s vague, but I’m trying not to spoiler it).

Dead Man’s Legacy
A Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman—though she mostly works on boats—is sent to the Bahamas to do some undercover work, becoming friends with a rich and famous diva of the past to find out if she’s being abused. . . at least that’s what her boss tell her. Don’t know how she managed to get this job, but I assume it has something to do with the happenings in the previous novel, which I have not read.
The first part takes place in the Caribbean, but then she’s back in Canada and the tone drastically changes. Later on there’s a few chapters in Vegas, but except for the ending and a small jaunt further north everything takes place in the waterways between Ontario and the US, which involve a lot more than someone who hasn’t been there would imagine. Plenty of historical places, as well as the personal history of the not-so-diva’s family, keep the story going, so it’s safe t say the settings are what really work here. The main character deals with no less than four—and maybe more—guys who have crushes on her or just want to sleep with her; at times this was amusing, others cringe-worthy. The famous woman turns out to be the best-adjusted of her screwed-up rich family, and the Mountie is quickly on her side, which I think ruins her objectivity as she tries to solve a case where she’s not even sure what the crime is: fraud, human smuggling, drugs?
A solid 4/5, thought a bit uneven.


Book Reviews: Sherlock, Sci-Fi, FBI

I wish I could remember where I read this:
It had been said that the likes of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan had been good to their mothers. Tales of bad temper tend to grow with each occurrence of the tale told, just like a dropping of soda can on one corner became a dam bursting by the time it reached the other side of the street, or the casual meeting of eyes was a full-blown adulterous affair when it reached the husband.

Investigating Sherlock
Specifically the current BBC show, not Elementary, the movies, or anything else.
It starts, as one would expect, with a chapter on how the series came to be, with the long train rides during the filming of Dr Who giving the creators time to come up with this idea. There’s also a bit on the casting; it’s hard to remember Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t a gigantic star before this show started, whereas Martin Freeman could at least be called semi-famous. Also a big chapter on Conan Doyle, from his start as a doctor and how he based the character on one of his med school professors to him being fooled by fairies. Nothing new if you’re a huge fan, but concisely done for the newbies.
Finally we get to the episodes, with each of the nine given a chapter that includes a synopsis—forget about spoilers, if you haven’t seen them yet you shouldn’t be reading this—highlights, “Did you notice?”, references to the original books, interesting facts, nitpicks, and bloopers. Since I’m a huge fan of the books, I like how the author compares them to the filmed version; shamefully I admit I missed some. There’s also plenty of interviews to keep things fun.
All in all, there’s really nothing here that a fan wouldn’t like.

Trace Elements
A few weeks ago I reviewed the second book of a series about an actress who wants to become an FBI agent. It was so good I had to read the first one as soon as possible.
While I liked the character of Nikki—and her character of Annika—just as much, the plot wasn’t quite as good. For one thing the story was much slower, with less action until the end. Since it’s listed as more of a romance, the main characters don’t like each other until they give in to the sexual tension. The best part for me was the psychology when trying to get the little girl to talk, and the reasons she doesn’t. From a more personal nature, my favorite moment was Nikki wearing a UCLA cap.
So while I didn’t find it as good as the second book, it’s still a great character-driven story. You’ll fall in love with Nikki’s sense of humor and love of life.
Note: the last quarter of this book is the pilot episode of the series she’s filming, so the book’s a bit shorter than expected.

Girl From Above
Hard to say no to a book where the publicity blurb proudly compares it to Firefly AND Blade Runner.
There are two main characters, who alternate chapters in first person: we’ll call them the Captain and the Robot. . . no, not a simple robot, but a very sophisticated android called 1001, who is part River, part 7 of 9, and part Pris from Blade Runner. (Wow, who knew I was so genre-savvy?) There’s also a homage to The Empire Strikes Back when they hide in an asteroid field.
It’s all very cute, but it didn’t really grab me like I thought it would, especially considering its DNA. Perhaps I’m just tired of characters who are too stubborn for their own good, but there were too many moments where with a little smarts the Captain would not be in all these messes. So it’s fair to say I liked the android and the Inara/Zoe/Wash copilot a lot more.
Some time ago I read a book that to me seemed like a close copy of Firefly, with just a few names changed. The difference here is that I was told about it beforehand, and in the end it didn’t turn out to be all that much except for a couple of the characters. They also tell you this is the first in a series, so I wasn’t surprised by the lack of definitive ending, unlike others I’ve skewered for exactly that reason.

Star Trek: The More Things Change
This is a novella, and therefore a pretty fast read; don’t be angered when it finishes quickly.
In a nutshell, the Enterprise is taking delegates to a conference—yes, you’ve seen that plot before—when one of them gets sick and needs to be taken to a ship of her own kind for treatment. Piloting the shuttle is Spock, and trying to take care of the secretive delegate without much success is Christine Chapel.
It’s specified, more than once, that this story takes place a few months after the events of the first Star Trek movie, so Spock is still suffering the effects of his mindmeld with V’Ger. He seems to be even more emotional here than in Wrath of Khan, as though he’s trying to incorporate emotions into his life but isn’t sure how to do it yet. Chapel, for her part, is ambiguous about remaining on the Enterprise after McCoy comes back to take over the medical section again. The McGuffin here is a Trill named Dax, though of course not the more famous one; she’s not the one whom McCoy had some fun with in a previous story, but it is the reason he orders Chapel to go on this mission in his place.
There’s one mention of the uniforms they’re wearing, but it wasn’t enough for me to tell if it was referring to the pajamas of the first movie or the silly overdone red things from the second and on. There’s a little action as they’re attacked and followed, but mostly it’s a psychological study on the motivations of the two main characters for continuing their roles on the Enterprise.
It’s a bit difficult reading this while remembering the Starfleeters don’t know anything about Trills yet. There’s also callbacks to the Galileo episode of the original series, as expected considering the plot and Spock’s place in it. Most likely this novella would only be enjoyed by diehard fans, possibly casual fans, but definitely not the place for those who don’t know much about Star Trek.


Poetry Tuesday: To Fanny Brawne

John Keats. Not to be confused with “To Fanny” or any of the other similar-titled ones.

The living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That though would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And though be conscience-calmed–see here it is–
I hold it toward you.


Book Reviews: Body Guitars and Midwest Murders

Was reminded of this on my last trip to the Huntington; much as I love the place, there’s a reason why the British is my fave.

Washington Irving, ART OF BOOKMAKING
One summer’s day loitering through the great saloons of the British Museum, with that listlessness with which one is apt to saunter about a museum in warm weather; sometimes lolling over the glass cases of minerals, sometimes studying the hieroglyphics on an Egyptian mummy, and sometimes trying, with nearly equal success, to comprehend the allegorical paintings on the lofty ceilings.


Uprise: Back Pain Liberation by Tuning Your Body Guitar
Quite a subtitle.
As with the previous books I’ve read on the subject, a lot of time and pages go into convincing the reader to try it and why other methods don’t work, as well as referrals from previous happy patients, before it finally explains what’s the new thing he’s pushing. Apparently endurance muscles are the key. You can’t see them, they don’t get bigger with exercise, so it’s hard to gauge improvement, but you have to keep it at for at least six months. You have to trust him that it’s working.
The illustrations are more artsy than helpful, difficult to make out what it’s supposed to be showing. Felt like it could have been done in 20 pages if it wasn’t for all the hard-sell.

In case you don’t know, Millennium was a TV show that was kind of a sequel to X Files, and Mulder does appear in this graphic novel, with cameos from Scully and the Lone Gunmen. However, for those who don’t know it or don’t remember it well, the exposition here is very clunky, even in the flashback; really hate it when one character tells the other everything they already know for the sake of cluing the audience in and no other reason.
Frank is hearing voices, like a serial killer that was just let out of jail whom Mulder was trying to keep in. I got that much; the rest is pretty confusing. Eventually his daughter shows up.
It takes most of the book for Frank to be brought back into Millennium—by his daughter—but that can’t possibly be the whole story. So many pages are wasted on his saying he wants nothing to do with them while they ignore him repeating that all he wants is get his daughter away from them. He’s too stubborn to realize she is one of them now. So it’s the pacing that sucks the most here.
While Frank is drawn pretty faithfully, the renditions of Mulder look nothing like him. And the daughter is done unevenly; I can’t tell if she’s the same one who killed the rapist, though in the flow of the story I can’t imagine it was anyone else.
Definitely do not read this if you haven’t seen the series; I barely remember this stuff.
So I’ve read an X-Files graphic novel and now a Millennium. Maybe there’s a Lone Gunmen upcoming. . .

Not that long ago I blogged a review about a book—and character—I really liked, an action-packed story about an actress who wants to join the FBI. In this book we get a female detective/martial arts expert who not only turns out to be even more awesome, but is in a story that I’m calling one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
Mallory is a six-foot blonde blue-eyed woman whom even the ladies want; when I saw she had Sherlock Holmes and Sam Spade as her inspirations, I was officially just in love as everyone else. The story is told not only in first person but flashback, relating the murder of a past lover to her new lover. No doubt this has to do with another book in the series I haven’t read, but the story could have been fine without the framing device. . . just not as funny.
The writing is superb, quite enjoyable. I am really liking this character, especially her sense of humor, how she can be so hard-bitten yet still soft and sensitive, which is rare to see in even a real-life six foot gorgeous blonde (as a photographer who works with models, take my word for it). Her only downside is her ego, which forces her to do some stupid things, but that seems to be a prerequisite for going-it-alone detectives. The setting of Des Moines also works well, a bit of revelation; it seems to be a lot like any city on the coasts or anywhere in between, with a beautiful botanical garden and dangerous slums.
I liked this so much I immediately wanted to see the other book, but according to the author this is in publishing limbo right now.

Fatal Reaction
The murder of a cancer survivor in a cheap hotel is made to look like an OD. She’s the sister of the main protagonist, a female EMT who blunders into the scene before anyone can stop her, and continues to do so throughout the book.
The premise is intriguing; being no medical expert, I don’t know if uterine transplant is a reality, but it’s used here to show how arrogant and self-serving the main baddie is. The writing style is fine, the characters well-developed. But while the story is for the most part enjoyable, it has some serious flaws. Like the cops, we’re supposed to believe the big bad is the killer, but it’s obvious he’s being framed, and by the time the real murderer tries to add to the frame, thus revealing themselves, we’ve basically figured it out already. It also makes us think the cop would really have to be stupid to fall for that; that could have definitely been done better. Then the lead impetuously rushes off to confront the murderer, and of course is in way over her head and gets kidnapped. THEN her new lover does the same thing! Call the cops, people! Let the professionals handle it! Seriously, you never see people acting this dumb in real life, and real life is filled with idiots! It would have been much more believable to have the antagonist go after her; even though the baddie is rather batty, they’re a paragon of mental health compared to those blundering through this. The poorly executed plot toward the end downgrades it a point.