Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ALL-NEW X-MEN VOL. 1: YESTERDAY'S X-MEN by Brian Michael Bendis

The X-Men comics were my favorites when I was younger, and I wanted to jump back into reading them with a more contemporary story. The X-Men have been around for a while, embedded in our zeitgeist with many different iterations, and sometimes it feels like they've told every story they could. Not only that but one big critique that many people have is that the universe has gotten too big, with too many characters, and it can get a bit overwhelming. That's why I think that this story arc in the debut volume of All-New X-Men is so cool. Bendis not only was able to find a fresh, clever idea, but with this idea, he was able to bring the focus back to the basics: a core, familiar group of mutants, the original five!

Because the X-Men can't figure out how to handle Cyclops, who recently broke bad and is now modeling himself as a mutant revolutionary with Magneto and the White Queen at his side, Beast has the dumbass genius idea to go back in time, gather up the original five teenage students of Xavier (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Angel, and Beast himself), and bring them back to the future to see if they can talk some sense into mean Cyclops and show him how far he's fallen. What could possibly go wrong?

So this first volume isn't exactly jam-packed with mutant action but focuses more on fleshing out the cool concept and it's ramifications. How would the act of bringing the past versions of the X-men to this time affect the time/space continuum? How would the younger versions feel with seeing what their future lives entail? How would today's Cyclops react after seeing a younger version of himself and Jean Grey, the wife he's lost? And speaking of the young Jean Grey, she's the real star of this show who provides the book's heart. She begins to develop her telepathic powers and it's not the easiest thing, especially under the circumstances. I'm excited to see what happens next, and I think it would be awesome if Bendis used this time travel incident and tied it into established X-canon. For example, it would be so interesting if, by going into the future and developing her abilities there, that's the way that the Phoenix Force was initially able to tap into Jean Grey, jump-starting the popular Phoenix Saga? So many possibilities...


DESPERATION ROAD by Michael Farris Smith

Michael Farris Smith's second novel is a graceful character piece that explores a steady collision course in the lives of a handful of damaged souls in rural Mississippi.

The book moves at a deliberate pace and takes it's time, but this is all in service of the real standout, which is Smith's command of character. With thoughtfulness and an elegant precision, he paints a canvas of characters who are individually beautiful in their flaws, but even more engaging as an ensemble.

There's Russell, who, released after spending eleven years in prison, has discovered that the world he knew has moved on without him, Maben, who was born under a bad sign and searching for some way out of her hard luck life, and Larry, who's desperately looking for someone to blame for all of his problems.

It's a powerfully written novel about repercussions, tragic coincidence and owning up to mistakes in order to move forward. I read an Advanced Copy of this provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and I definitely recommend it.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

KILL OR BE KILLED VOL. 1 by Ed Brubaker

Dylan is a depressed grad student and kind of a pussy, pining over his best friend Kira. He decides to end it all by jumping off a building and  then miraculously survives, with a whole new love for life. But then he realizes that in exchange for his life, he's sold his soul to a demon who demands that he kill one deserving person every month, as rent for living his own life.

The whole idea of the Faustian deal with the demon felt a little lazy and contrived, but what it leads to, a young man forced into reluctant vigilantism, is really engaging. How do you decide who is deserving of death? How do you handle dealing with a gun for the first time? How do you keep your secret life hidden from your friends? How do you handle it when your victims fight back? These are a few of the questions I found asking myself while taking this ride with Dylan.

This is the latest on my adventures delving into Brubaker's work with artists Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, and this, his most recent series, has lots of potential to grow in different ways as the series goes on, and I'm excited to be there to see it.


Monday, January 23, 2017


While it's a bit uneven, silly and confusing at times (where the hell did the Bat-Blimp come from?), and doesn't flow as well as I would have liked, there are some really good ideas in this sequel to Zero Year - Secret City, which is Scott Snyder's take on the introduction of Batman to Gotham City. There's a nifty little Dark Knight Rises-style idea of Batman struggling to save a slightly dystopian Gotham taken over by The Riddler, all while in a soiled t-shirt, army pants, and cowl, riding a beat-up dirtbike.

While James Gordon was barely in the previous book, he has much more of a presence here, and Snyder has a great new take on his character, that might feel controversial to some. Not only is there a hint that Gordon's past as a cop might not be as straight and narrow and idealistic as you might think, there's also the idea that he and Bruce Wayne have a history dating back to the deaths of Bruce's parents, with Bruce growing up blaming him along with the other bent cops in the city for the violence that lead to his parent's deaths. It not only provides a past that Gordon has to overcome, but also a grudge that Bruce has to overcome as well. In Zero Year, Bruce is a cocky, angry 25-year-old who, throughout the two books, has to learn to put aside the anger, learn that the only way to really save the city is with the help of others, and become a true symbol of hope that Gotham needs.


Saturday, January 21, 2017


I’m finding myself in the gutter more often than I’d like.
In this brooding mash-up of noir and science fiction (I guess sorta like Blade Runner in that sense), a nameless former hero of a failed revolution known as The Struggle is now trying to keep food on the table by working as a memory thief, stealing memories of the time before the Struggle, and selling them to memory junkies that want a little inkling of happiness. But then the thief finds something in those memories that might be the key to discovering the truth behind his dead wife and son. 

This is an atmospheric, moody novella that is richly written, with author Nik Korpon constantly conjuring great imagery (The sky is a dome of pitted steel). I found myself re-reading passages constantly, just to soak it all up. This is the way dystopia should be written. It's depth of emotion, it's gloom, it's creativity, and it's portrait of a tortured soul resonated with me more than many books that are quadruple it's 60-page length. A must read for noir lovers, sci-fi readers, and dark fiction lovers in general.
We tell ourselves things can change, we can change. A long time ago, someone said that in order to change the future, you have to look at the past. I’ve held hundreds of pasts in my hands, and I don’t see a fucking thing.


Friday, January 20, 2017

SHE RIDES SHOTGUN by Jordan Harper

She Rides Shotgun was one of my most anticipated releases for 2017, after reading author Jordan Harper's stellar collection of short stories in his debut, Love and Other Wounds, possibly one of the best collections I've read in a while, and becoming an instant fanboy. His first novel doesn't disappoint!

Through a series of unfortunate events, no-good ex-con Nate McClusky lands a death sentence from the white power gang Aryan Steel right before his release. Now a target is not only on his head but also on his ex-wife and his young daughter Polly. After Aryan Steel murders his ex and her new husband, Nate manages to grab Polly just in time, essentially kidnapping her and sparking a desperate trip through Southern California, trying to stay one step ahead of the Steel and the Law, as Nate tries to make up for his mistakes and save the last good thing in his life, all while Polly is forced to grow up faster than she could have ever expected.

This novel really solidified why I enjoy Harper's writing so much. He not only has an effortless way with words and prose, but he's also an accomplished television screenwriter, which probably helped him hone his skills in the way he economically and efficiently details character and themes, with almost no wasted time. And his character work here is great, with the star being young Polly. It's always a real tightrope walk when it comes to writing a child's POV, but I thought that Harper nails it and avoids making her feel too adult, allowing her to exist as a child, but doesn't treat the character with kid gloves. The way her relationship with her father grows and blossoms is another tricky maneuver that Harper scores. It could have easily felt forced and inappropriate, especially with all the violence and death, but he makes it all believable. It's all in the little details. The fact that he does all of this in under 300 pages is another success. And I'm not really sure how Harper was able to get me to care so much about a nameless teddy bear, but for that feat alone this book deserves a bunch of love.

Even aside from all of that, the novel moves at an action-packed pace, with scenes that'll have you gripping your copy tight. I believe that Harper is one of the brightest rising stars in the crime fiction world and here's hoping that this novel shows up in this year's best lists with heaps of award talk.


Friday, January 13, 2017


This year I wanted to jump back into reading about some of the superheroes that I loved when I was a kid, one of my favorites being Batman. Cause he's awesome. At first I was totally confused with where to jump in again, because there are so many damn comics. But after some research, I ultimately decided on reading the books from DC's New 52 relaunch as well as their recent relaunch, Rebirth. And the New 52 books had a well-received origin story arc so I decided to start there. Why not, right?

Most people with even a very pedestrian understanding of the Batman character from the comics, shows, or movies are familiar with the origin of Batman, and it's been revisited many times over. Frank Miller's great Batman: Year One is considered the definitive classic book on his origin. But, here, I like the fact that Scott Snyder decided play with it a bit, not rehash Bruce's family's murder, and start at the point when Bruce is back from his experiences learning overseas and is already awkwardly trying his hand at vigilantism in Gotham fighting the Red Hood Gang. He hasn't yet become Batman. And I like that, unlike Miller, Snyder barely focuses attention on Jim Gordon, which made Miller's Year One book less of a Batman origin to me.

I love Snyder's idea of showing Bruce using a variety of human costume masks while first trying to fight crime. I thought that was a cool visual idea and a believable disguise before Bruce decides that he needs something more effective. And while I do prefer my Batman stories dark and brooding, I appreciated that the book tried something else and went in a different route with the artwork, leaning towards a more colorful look that seemed closer to the animated shows and animated movies. And there are some really snazzy short extra tales at the end that provide some greater insight into what Bruce was doing in his world travels that led to his skills as Batman. I actually really wish that Snyder focused a bit more on that.

Snyder took his cue from a variety of other iterations of Batman stories like The Killing Joke in his depiction of the Red Hood Gang and the fact that the man that would become the Joker was under the mask at some point. But I loved the fact that he made it even more interesting by making it more ambiguous. Snyder combines standard ideas from early stories and puts his own stamp on Batman's first time in Gotham.


LIGHTWOOD by Steph Post

When I read the plot for this upcoming novel by Steph Post, I was a little disappointed as it seemed very similar to her last novel, A Tree Born Crooked, and I was worried that it would simply be a rehash of the same ideas. But although there are similarities, where we follow a man returning to his small-town Florida home after time away, kindling a romantic flame and reluctantly reuniting with family knowing that it will only bring trouble, ultimately this book felt like a totally different beast and was even better than the first book in every way.

After getting released from the slammer after three years, Judah Cannon returns home, consummates his love for childhood friend Ramey, and is set on starting over on his own. But he feels like he has no choice but to help his outlaw family on one last robbery, leading to a nasty web of violence between his father Sherwood, his brothers Levi and Benji, a two-bit biker gang, and an intimidating fire-and-brimstone preacher named Sister Tulah.

And while there are some similar themes,  A Tree Born Crooked is about a man accepting the fact that he can't escape family, and Lightwood is ultimately about Judah rejecting family. And while I enjoyed the first book, I felt like Post really stepped up the writing in this one, not only keeping a great pace, but also drawing vivid imagery and skillfully juggling multiple points of view. It was also pretty cool to see how she ratcheted up the tension as all of the players in the novel begin to converge. One of the most interesting things about the novel was also how each character underestimates everyone else, whether it's the Scorpions underestimating Sister Tulah, or Tulah underestimating the Cannons, or everyone underestimating Judah, it's a cool underlining theme and makes for some great drama.

If you're a fan of southern grit, check out Steph Post's work, especially this book.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017


I'm very excited about Ed Brubaker's Criminal series, so I was excited to quickly jump into the second installment, Lawless. Think of this series as a more grounded, realistic version of Sin City, where Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips tell a set of loosely interconnected noir tales that all center around the fictional Central City, the Undertow Bar, and the unfortunate losers that are stuck in this place. 

This new installment stars Tracy Lawless, a soldier who goes AWOL from his unit in the Middle East, after getting the news that his little brother has been murdered. He travels back home to Center City to find the person responsible and make it right.

This book was a great follow-up to the first volume and I began to see how the different stories would relate to one another. And this one had an even more morose atmosphere due to the constant snowing, and that mood provided an interesting contrast to the fact that it's Christmas in the story. Seems like Christmas is never merry in Center City. Although dead, Tracy's brother Ricky becomes an ever-present character because while Tracy is on the hunt for vengeance, he's also coming to terms with the regrets and missed opportunities that he feels with his relationship to his lost brother. The book has a slightly different feel than the first volume but it definitely exists not only in the same physical place, but also in the same thematic universe as well. And plus, any book that has a pistol packing nun should automatically earn it at least a B!


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

COCO BUTTERNUT by Joe R. Lansdale

Wow. When did Hap and Leonard books become cozy mysteries? In this new novella, Hap, Leonard, and Brett, are hired to deliver a ransom to the kidnappers of the prized mummified remains of a dead weenie dog named Coco Butternut.

I was hoping that this might be a quick, humorous but engaging story with our heroes but it was pretty forgettable and disheartening. It's sad that the quality of the Hap and Leonard books haven't really held up in the later ones. I loved the earlier books but I think it was a big mistake to make them private investigators. The decline happened sometime after the sixth book. Now the stories have a safe, comfortable feeling, which is the complete OPPOSITE of what I look for when reading. I don't want a cozy mystery.

I miss the danger, irreverent humor, hi-jinks, and heart of books like Savage Season and The Two-Bear Mambo, back when the characters acted in the gray area of the law, struggled for work and love, fighting rabid squirrels and getting themselves into other dangerous situations. But now that they work as boring-ass detectives and Hap has found love and a daughter, I'm just not interested anymore. Why should I care? They have everything they want so the story is over.

Hap and Leonard are obviously still lovable and I love Lansdale's work but right after reading this, I immediately forgot about what happened. And this is one of four or five Hap and Leonard books that Lansdale is coming out with this year, I'm sure to capitalize off the popularity of the Sundance show. I MIGHT read the Rusty Puppy novel because I'm intigued by the police brutality concept, but I fear that these books that are being churned out will just be more of the same mediocrity.

*Recieved an advance copy from Netgalley and Subterranean Press in exchange for an honest review*


Monday, January 2, 2017


Many talk about how bad 2016 was. Now I won't deny all the terrible crap that happened his year, but to me it was one of my best years professionally and because of that, I found myself busier this year. So my reading this year was a lot slower and I was more distracted. So it wasn't as exciting a year for me reading-wise. Many of the disappointing reads this year could've been the product of me just being distracted.

2017 is going to be great! I plan on reading more books that I REALLY want to read. I'm planning on continuing to discover new dark crime, noir, and horror writers. I wanted to also focus on more short fiction as well as more female authors. I also subscribed to Richard Thomas's new Gamut magazine to discover some new authors as well. And I've recently got back into reading graphic novels so I'll be reading more of those too! And Jordan Harper, the author of one of my favorite story collections from last year is coming out with a new novel in 2017!

So anyway, thanks to you all and can't wait to see what you read.

Check out my favorite reads from 2016 below:

Favorite Novels I read in 2016:

*The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow - an irresistably readable, meticulously researched 30-year crime epic about the War on Drugs and all it's players on both sides.

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli - this wonderful crime novel by an amazing writer and the book's great characters really left an impact

Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias- my biggest surprise of the year and one of the most audacious books I've read, a crime novel with elements of horror, and heavy doses of Spanish, Russian, Yoruba, and old-school Pagan religion

Sunblind by Michael McBride- one of the best horror novels I've read in a while; a terrifying trip into the world of illegal Sonoran border crossing and a trip into something much darker, with real monsters that are truly scary.

Sacrifices by Roger Smith - an epic family class tragedy that sports Smith's trademark impeccable plotting

 Honorable Mentions:
Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer, Death's Sweet Song by Clifton Adams

Favorite Books Published in 2016:

*Dark Matter by Blake Crouch- enjoyable, addictive, high concept entertainment; a great mix of heady sci-fi and an accessible hero

Freedom of the Mask by Robert McCammon - there are not many book series as consistent as the Matthew Corbett series, and this one is just as entertaining and impressive as the previous books, if not more so

Nowhere by Roger Smith - Smith takes all the elements of his previous novels and creates one of the most well-crafted and well-plotted crime novels this year

The Day I Wore Purple by Jake Vander Ark - the most epic and ambitious novel this year, filled with gigantic ideas and passionate emotion. Still thinking about it.

Favorite Novellas I Read in 2016:

*Fierce Bitches by Jedidiah Ayres- an impressive achievement in economy, structure, and prose; introduced me to a great new writer

Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke - a great horror story that drips with creepiness

Best Short Story Collection I Read in 2016:

*A Fuckload of Shorts by Jedidiah Ayres - the other great piece of work that I read this year from Jedidiah Ayres

The Black Widow Club by Hilary Davidson - every story here is gleefully and wickedly plotted; stories that Hitchcock would love

Best Short Stories Read in 2016
 "Son of So Many Tears" by Hilary Davidson (from The Black Widow Club)
"Hoosier Daddy" by Jedidiah Ayres (from A Fuckload of Shorts)
"The Night Cyclist" by Stephen Graham Jones (Tor Original)
"Blind Spot" by Christopher Irvin (from Safe Inside The Violence)
"The Johnny Cash Killer" by Chris Leek (from Smoke Em If You Got Em)

Favorite Horror Book:

*Sunblind by Michael McBride

Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke

Worst Book Read in 2016:

Dig My Grave Deep by Peter Rabe

Best Author Discovery in 2016:
*Jedidiah Ayres
Don Winslow
Eric Beetner

Favorite Protagonist in 2016:

*Mayra from Sunblind - the perfect point of view for this story, she's strong-willed and observant but we also feel her fatigue, hunger, and thrist, as well as her definite terror as the unthinkables happen

Matthew Corbett from Freedom of the Mask - consistently an amazing protagonist. You can't help but root for the guy in every book

Jason Dessen from Dark Matter - a romantic everyman that's a perfect vehicle on this complex sci-fi ride.

Favorite Villains in 2016:

*Jason Dessen from Dark Matter - in a clever concept, the hero of the book is intrinsically forever-linked to our villain and as the saying goes: "you are your own worst enemy."

Steve Bungu from Nowhere - on one hand, he's a terrifying, emotionless villain, but as the book moves along, his past is revealed as a tragic one, and his motivations are much more complex than you'd think