Book Reviews: Russia, Sweden, Mars, and Canada

“Tell me I’m the best.”
Her face went through a series of contortions until finally bawling, “If I lie my head will explode!”

Rasputin Volume 2
Considering I’ve read a graphic novel about a Japanese monk from hundreds of years ago, the story of the legendary Russian mystic doesn’t seem nearly as weird in comparison.
Someone kills a Hillary Clinton clone at a speech only to have Rasputin bring her back to life as he talks about watching his father die in the snow. A reporter saw him do it and wants to know how it happened, and the story switches between the present and his telling of how he became the way he is.
Which is incredibly confusing. I’ve done a bunch of research on Rasputin, and if this is how he managed to survive all those assassination attempts. . . hell, it’s as good as any other. But I still didn’t understand how it worked, and I doubt the reporter did either. There appears to be plenty of clues in the narrative, they just didn’t mesh. At one point it’s said he saved JFK after he was shot, making this an alternate universe, but I didn’t understand what that had to do with the story.
What really saves it is the humor; there’s one point where he actually says, “Be quiet, ghost.” Yeah, that’ll work.
I’m not a fan of the artwork; too angular. However, props to the depiction of Maria, who is the cutest little blonde girl I’ve ever seen drawn. The snow fairy—I doubt that’s what it was but can find no other way to describe it—is also beautifully done.
Bonus—script, complete with links and spelling mistakes; quotes, bios.
The final grade below is more for the story than the artwork, although it was damned confusing at times.

Closed Circles
Rich Swedish guy driving his yacht is shot at the same time as the starter’s pistol goes off for a boat race. I’m liking this already.
As expected, this book follows the murder investigation, but also delves into the private lives of the lead detective and includes several other plots that really have nothing to do with the main story, in fact could have been separate stories on their own. One in particular seems to come out of the previous book in the series, which I have not read, and is therefore not only confusing but irritating when I’m trying to solve the murder along with the detective.
There’s a ton of characters, far too many to keep straight in my mind. Oddly enough one of them had the same name as a girl I used to know, but that’s neither here nor there. A lot of them don’t have what you’d call typical Scandinavian names either; I don’t know if that gets confusing for native readers, but it sure made things difficult for me. There were plenty of times when I wanted a character sheet; too often a name was mentioned and I had no idea which one it was, yet I wasn’t invested enough to go back and check. Another problem was too many chapters; felt like there was a new one every time the point of view changes, which was definitely annoying. There’s a lot of padding, like the mistress who misses the dead guy and snuggles with her cat. So what?
The detective and his colleagues are good at their job, though they do miss some obvious possibilities (which is weird for me to say after complaining of padding, I know). Halfway through I made a note: “So far no one had mentioned the possibility of a paid assassin.” It eventually does come up, but by then the story had passed it by.
There were several motives offered, including a pretty good one having to do with medical research. With so many suspects that’s to be expected, and it’s well done. When I was finished and looked back on it. . . I suppose the clues were there, at least with the drugs, but with so much going on it was easy for them to get buried, so it felt like the killer’s motive was out of the blue, and that’s not a boat pun.
The ending at the boar hunt was a letdown, the author making it too obvious what was going to happen. I have mixed feelings about the epilogue as well, as I was hoping the cops would be there when she landed, yet found it unnecessary.
Even though this book is way bloated and has too many chapters, I liked it well enough. Hadn’t seen that part of Sweden—except for Solna—but could picture it easily.

Spaceport West
The Brits try to colonize Mars; it doesn’t go smoothly. There are androids and Russians and a reality show crew, so. . . fun.
I can see why people are comparing it—at least in format—to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, especially with the info inserts. But where Douglas Adams was truly hilarious, this is a little too cutesy and earnest; would have preferred a little restraint, and definitely more successful attempts at humor. Some of the characters, especially the lead, are well done, while others are mere caricatures used to move the plot, such as it was, along. There was quite a bit about life on Mars, some of it described exquisitely, with plenty of reasons for not wanting to go there. Most of all, do not undertake this sort of mission when politicians are being asses—in other words, their usual self—about it.
Wow, that ended out of the blue, especially considering it’s a short book, just a little over novella length. Probably a set-up for a sequel.

Alex vs. the Four-Headed Gargantuan
Kid gets newspaper route and must face challenges, from angry dogs and bullies to struggling with being honest. Though listed under graphic novels, this is mostly written, with occasional drawings showing how he views the encounters in his head as his alter-ego, Super Paperboy!
It’s all about learning lessons as he grows up, like helping people without expectation of reward; in his fantasy he’s bringing rain to a drought-stricken land. On a class field trip he wants to buy something at the museum store with his hard-earned money, but when he can’t settle on one thing he instead buys ice cream for all his classmates, and finds he enjoys the giving feeling. He tries to buy off the bullies with some cookies, and knows a secret of their leader, so impasse for the moment, although that turns into a life lesson as well when it he realizes things aren’t always as they seem.
Super Paperboy Gets His Super On—nice chapter title.
It’s never stated outright, but with the weather and the mention of “Loonie!” I figured out the story takes place in Canada.
So, lessons that masquerade as cute stories. The artwork is no big deal, but gets the job done.



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