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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Deadpool: Institutionalized - Daniel Way

Institutionalized by Daniel Way.

After being knocked out by the Hulk, Deadpool wakes up to find himself "Institutionalized" at the Crossmore Prison for the Criminally Insane. Dr. Ella Whitby is determined to cure Deadpool Wade Wilson of his delusions, so he can lead a normal life. The closer she gets to cracking his shell the deeper he slips into himself. While Whitby worries about his extended sleep, the warden thinks his subdued attitude is an improvement, especially after the brawls the prisoner started early in his sentence.

After escaping from prison, Deadpool finds himself in an even more awkward, and possibly dangerous, situation. An obsessed fan claims "You Complete Me". Between dodging the bobbies and taking the queen hostage, Deadpool barely has enough time to figure out what's really going on with his stalker.

It's not just the usual Deadpool antics in this collection. The delve into Wade's disturbed mind will keep many fans intrigued.

Books in this series:
Space Oddity
Operation Annihilation

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Valkyrie Rising - Ingrid Paulson

Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson mixes mythology into modern life to create an exciting story in which the Elsa learns not only of her heritage but comes into her own being.

Elsa is sent off to Norway to spend the summer with her grandmother. During the first couple of weeks she is alone and she becomes friends with a local boy named Kjell, who instantly takes a liking to her; unfortunately, his friends don't seem as keen on her, especially since she is the granddaughter of Hilda. Of course, the disappearances of many young men recently, does not help her any. She is accused of being a witch and a valkyrie. While Elsa does not recognize this name, she knows there must be something to accusations.

Eventually, Elsa discovers that she herself is a Valkyrie. With the help of her grandmother and a number of other characters, Elsa must overcome her fear and dependency. She must claim her birthright as a Valkyrie in order to save Norway and even the world from total destruction by a crazed god, Odin.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. I almost put the book down multiple times because the narration had a lot of telling, rather than showing. For example, during the first half of the book, the reader is often told of how controlling her older brother is; however, there are no recollections of specific examples and it is not until about half-way through the novel that any events happen that show these particular features in her brother. Her relationship with many of the characters are often related in this same manner.

Throughout the first half of the book little hints are dropped about what will eventually materialize, but the first half of the novel focuses on her relationships. After that the self-discovery portion of the novel takes off at lightning speed.

I liked the way Paulson took Norse mythology and twisted it to fit her novel. Her characterization of Loki was especially amusing, as he was portrayed as the classic trickster with additional attitude. The use of Runes and Rune poems for protection and battle was well done. The portrayal of the community within the Valkyrie ranks was interesting. I especially appreciated how the British and Celtic folkore was worked in near the end. The various powers that Elsa gains as the story goes along are described in unique ways.

While this wasn't a particularly great read, I think it contains a strong message that many young adults can relate to their own life.

Recommended Reads:
Norse Code by Greg Van Eekout
The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L'Engle
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weird U.S. - Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman

Weird U.S. by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman first began exploring their quirky state of New Jersey. At some point it occurred to them that maybe other states have just as many odd stories as their own. With the help of people from all over the United States, they've compiled a book of amazing, wacky, and spooky places and stories.

What sets this book apart from many of the other "alligators in the sewers" books you may have read is the fact that you can actually visit many of the places mentioned in the book. Many of the entries start with descriptions from the authors and are followed up by personal stories of those who have visited these places.

People do crazy things for love. A man named Ed Leedskalnin built the amazing Coral Castle for his "Sweet Sixteen". Not only did he build it, he also moved it after residents started encroaching too close to his property for comfort. Another man, Count Carl van Cosel, attempted to preserve his love's body with the use of formaldehyde. And when that didn't work, he cast her body in plaster image.

Some people do amazing things to share their faith, too. Outside of San Diego, California, Leonard Knight has built Salvation Mountain. He built it from mud and straw and paints it with bright colors to share the word. Out in Maxton, North Carolina, Yvonne Leow created her Garden of Love, where she's even built her own "stairway to heaven".

If you're one of those people who's determined to go see Nessie in Great Britain, you may be surprised to find you don't have to travel that far. A number of sea monsters have been spotted in the United States. Lake Erie boasts is own sea monster named Bessie. If you live further west, you can visit Bear Lake between Utah and Idaho, which reports its own unnamed monster. In Lake Herrington located in Harrodsburg, Kentucky there are rumors of an enormous catfishlike creature named Herry. Even Alaska tells tale of a entire family of creatures known as Ilies.

There's plenty of haunted houses, train tracks, grave yards, caves, forests, and any number of places to visit. If you're looking for something other than the regular tourist traps on your next vacation, this is the book for you. If you're looking for stuff to do in your own state, be on the look out for "Weird [State]" books made for individual states that could help you explore your local area.

Recommended Reads:
Coral Castle: The story of Ed Leedskalnin and his American Stonehenge - George McClure
Weird Arizona - Wesley Treat

Friday, February 22, 2013

Quitters, Inc - Stephen King

Dick Morrison is an alcoholic, a workaholic, and a smoker. He's not happy with the way he's living his life, but he doesn't see a way out. While out at the bar one day, he runs into an old friend who tells him about Quitters, Inc. Not only did this company get him to kick the habit, it also got him to keep the weight off afterward.

The business card goes into Morrison's wallet, forgotten. Until one day he decides to give it a try. After signing some paperwork, Morrison goes through a brief interview process in order for his counselor to get to know him. He is then told to go home and enjoy his last cigarette because it will be the last one.

When he returns the next day he is told the actual plan to get him to stop smoking. He objects upon seeing a demonstration on a rabbit; unfortunately, having signed the paperwork, it is too late to back out. Can Morrison stay strong and resist his addiction? And will he survive enough to even get to the point where he's required to lose weight?

While I found the "catch" predictable, this short jaunt through the bizarre world of recovery was an enjoyable one.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is an incredible journey through the lives of multiple characters over several lifetimes, in which David Mitchell expertly weaves the past to the future.

I was immediately engaged as I started the first section, where the narration begins with the journal of a man named Adam Ewing, who is currently traveling by ship. When his ship has to stop for repairs, he is horrified upon witnessing the punishment of a slave, who gives him the oddest feeling of recognition. After setting back out to sea, the crew finds a stowaway, whom Ewing feels the inexplicable desire to save. This decision will prove to haunt him at the end, when he nears death.

I'm soon thrown into a completely different narrative, where I meet a man named Zedelghem through a series of letters to his friend Sixsmith. Zedelghem manages to gain the trust of a famous composer enough that he manages to obtain a live-in position, where he enjoys some uncommon benefits.

The story of Luisa Ray is told as if it is a fictional story of a news reporter, who is on a mission to discover the truth about a scientific experiment. After having a long discussion with Sixsmith, he invites her to speak candidly with her about the subject later. Unfortunately, he does not show up for their appointment, which leads her on a arduous adventure through a chain of corruption.

Timothy Cavendish writes in first person directly to his reader. Through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, he explains, he has come under fire from his lenders. His brother offers him a way out, which he hastily accepts in order to get out of his contract with the mob. Unfortunately, the place he checked into isn't what he thought it was.

The Orison of Sonmi is my favorite plot line in the story. Through interviews of an investigation, the tale of an artificially intelligent turning lucid is revealed. I had to return the copy I had borrowed from the library in the middle of this, and even though I read books in between, I could hardly wait to finish this one.

The following story is told by an old man, Zachry, who tells the wild story of his youth. While the narrator of the audiobook did a fantastic job, the dialect itself grated on my nerves. However, the strange tale of his travels with the Prescient kept me engaged. Little bits throughout the stories link them together, but this is the story where it all begins to come together.

After this, the author returns to the previous stories: Sonmi, Cavendish, Rey, Zedelghem, and finally Ewing. All of the plot lines come together revealing how one small act can effect the course of history. The individual stories were all exciting, as was the overarching plot. I also enjoyed the variety of characters, points of view, and writing styles throughout this novel.

Recommended Reads:
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation

Recommended Viewing:
The Fountain

Monday, February 18, 2013

Batwoman: Elegy - Greg Rucka

Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka collects Detective Comics #854-860 in one volume.

Katherine Kane has a promising career in the army. Even though she is only a cadet, she has already been assigned as brigade executive officer. Amidst scandal over her sexual orientation, Kate is forced out of the army and back into the civilian world. Although her father, a former Colonel, is supportive of her honesty and her return home, Kate still feels lost. After spending many aimless days at bars, Kate finds herself with an unlikely girlfriend: a cop. After getting into an argument with her girlfriend, Kate begins to rethink her life. A terrifying encounter with a mugger comes to an unusual conclusion after Batman intercedes. It's at that point that Kate decides what she is going to do.

After finding out Kate's been stealing weapons and has become a vigilante, Kate's father confronts her. She unexpectedly gets the support she needs. He sends her off for training, while he sets about creating a base of operations. When she returns she finds that her father has even put together an outfit to fit her needs. Using the already established hero myths of Gotham, her father adorns her black suit with the familiar bat symbol to show that she is one of the good guys.

The covens, a group of criminals, have been after Batwoman and she wants to know why. After interrogating several members she is no closer to the answer. It comes unexpectedly when the new leader, Alice, appears. While speaking in riddles, Alice begins her attack on Batwoman. If Kate can manage to hold her own against "Alice", perhaps a piece of her past will be revealed.

The illustration and coloring is excellent in this graphic novel. The layouts are what I really loved in this one, though. While they are dynamic and often creative, the order is still easy to identify while reading.

Other Batwoman books:
Batwoman: Hydrology
Batwoman: To Drown the World

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rise - Andrea Cremer

By joining a special unit of the kingdom's army, Ember Morrow managed to escape her unhappy life as a nobleman's daughter. Although she was one of the few women in the army, Ember had gained respect and was quite adapt at her new role as a soldier-in-training. Ember has even found herself a love interest. Just as she begins to get comfortable, an attack happens and she is forced to flee for her life with several comrades in Rift.

As they attempt to flee the enemy, the team ends up losing several people in their already small resistance force. The enemy is moving quickly, especially after teaming up with otherworldy dark forces. Now Ember and her allies must bring this battle to its conclusion in their Rise to rebellion, in order to take back the kingdom.

By using the affections of a friend to her advantage, Ember infiltrates the castle and provides valuable information. In order to gain his full trust, though, Ember reluctantly agrees to marry her childhood friend. Will Ember be strong enough to bring the ceremony to a close in order to provide her allies the opportunity to attack, or will she be overcome by the dark forces at work, just like her sister?

This prequel series stands well on its own, and only ties in at the end to tell the origin of the werewolves in the original Nightshade trilogy. The story moves at a steady pace with danger chasing the party the entire time. I was a bit disappointed, as I felt Cremer didn't provide enough character or relationship development between the characters in comparison to the first book. This was still a fun and imaginative read filled with adventure, magic, and bravery.

Books in the series:
Rift (Prequel)
Nightshade

Recommended Reads:
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhort

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Weird Encounters - Joanne M. Austin

Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman are fairly well-known in New Jersey as oddity hunters, and they became even better knwon as they collected more for their Weird U.S. series. They have many partners in their line of work. Weird Encounters is a collection of "True Tales of Haunted Place" compiled by Joanne M. Austin.

If you have a particular area of interest when it comes to haunting, you're sure to find it here. Haunted Houses, Historic Haunts, and Hostel Environments. Creepy Cemeteries, Workplace Wraiths, Educated Entities, and Institutional Apparitions. All can be found here. While many are available for visitors, some are restricted as private residences or even undisclosed locations to protect the residence.

A group of teenagers play with a Ouija board and are led to the misspelled name of 'Phebe' that they later find out may not be so strange as they originally believed. The staff at Monterey's Hotel are friendly and so is the resident repairman, who just happens to be an apparition. If you visit Hawaii be careful when picking up hitchhikers, as the Fire Goddess Pele is known to hitch a ride with friendly drivers. King's Island Amusement Park is a great place to spend a fun-filled day of rollercoasters and other fantastic rides. It's never had an accident, so why are there so many ghosts hanging around the park? In an undisclosed ranch in Nevada, you may be able to catch a glimpse of an unattached pair of legs climbing up the stairs.

There are plenty of other strange and spooky stories in this book. Whether you're just curious to read about hauntings or looking to seek an adventure of your own, this book will be good entertainment.

Recommended Reads:
Weird Hauntings compiled by Joanne M. Austin
Alligators in the Sewer and 222 Other Urban Legends by Thomas J. Craughwell

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien

In The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien expertly weaves together the journeys of multiple characters to bring a stunning conclusion to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In this final book the remaining members of the party each have an intricate part to play in the final battle against Sauron and his evil reign. Merry and Pippin accompany Gandalf to Minas Tirith, the capital and stronghold of Gondor. After revealing the end that befell Boromir, Pippin becomes a steward to repay his debt. Gandalf attempts to counsel the current leader of Gondor, who falls to madness. Meanwhile, Strider leads Legolas and Gimli into the dark region in an attempt to recruit the army of the dead to their cause.

Despite their vulnerability after the Battle of Hornburg, the Riders of Rohan come to the final battle in Minas Tirith. Because of his duty as steward, Pippin is forced to stay within the stronghold walls. Merry secretly goes to battle alongside the only soldier who doesn't scoff at his desire to defend the world due to his small stature. The soldier turns out to be an earlier acquaintance and together they take on one of the worst of the Black Riders. Strider and his group arrive in time to change the tide of battle, but not soon enough to prevent a sickness from befalling the land. Finally, the king takes his place and begins to heal the land.

The journey isn't over yet. Sam and Frodo are still on their way to Mount Doom to destroy the ring. After Frodo meets with an untimely demise, Sam takes it upon himself to complete the mission. After tangling with orcs and Gollum, the ring is successfully destroyed.

The party goes on one last journey, each departing upon reaching his homeland. Upon arriving to their homeland, the Hobbits find there is yet one more battle to take on. Industrial fiends have taken over the Shire and they must fight to take it back.

Tolkien creates an complete world filled with adventure, poetry, and memorable characters. Many readers may find themselves wanting to learn more about Middle Earth and its history, which can be found in books like The Silmarillion. His son, Christopher Tolkien, has also taken to editing his father's remaining work and notes to provide readers with even more material to enjoy, such as The Children of Húrin.

Books in the series:
The Hobbit
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Legends of the Plumed Serpent - Neil Baldwin

During his vacations, Neil Baldwin had spent a lot of time in Europe. For a change of pace, he decided to visit Mexico, where he was unexpectedly enchanted by the Legends of the Plumed Serpent, Quetzalcoatl.

The first portion of the book follows Baldwin's travels through temples, sacred places, and ruins of the Mexican people, as he peeks into the past. The later portions include the history of Mexico, its leaders, and its people. Accompanied by full color illustrations, including photographs of ruins, copies of parchments, and paintings Baldwin reveals the fantastic history of the redeemer god that once dominated the religion of the area. Quoted texts are in an orange typeface, which makes it easy to identify; however, the color may make it difficult for some readers to read the text. He taught personal insight, wisdom, and self-sacrifice. His teachings of sacrifice were practiced not only by his priests, but by the community at large. Ritual deaths were a part of special ceremonies throughout the year.

Before he left his people, he told them he would return to bring back the once glorious kingdom. Every 52 years, the people would be on watch for his inevitable return. Unfortunately, Cortes, an invader from Spain, took advantage of Montezuma's faith in the coming of Quetzalcoatl. Not soon after Christian missionaries began the arduous work of wiping out enough of the former religion as possible. By destroying monuments, building over sacred spots, and rewriting the legends of the people, the once glorious god had become nearly a memory. The situation became even worse as more invaders from Europe interfered with their daily lives.

Quetzalcoatl still lives on in his people, though. He is found in paintings, where he is shown creating the universe, watching over his people, and revealing revelation. He is found in poetry and writing where he is often used as an allusion to determination and longevity. While we may never know the full story behind this amazing and inspirational god, this book is a good starting point.

Recommended Reads:
The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown

Friday, February 8, 2013

Deadpool: Operation Annihilation - Daniel Way

Deadpool: Operation Annihilation by Daniel Way.

Poor Wade just can't seem to catch a break. After a very bizarre trip to outer space, Deadpool returns to Earth hoping for a happy reunion with all of his friends. Unfortunately, his "Homecoming" isn't what he expected, seeing as they all hate him and made a plan to kill him. Join Macho Gomez, Big Bertha, Weasel, Bob and more as they open a can of whoop ass on Deadpool.

Deadpool's met death a number of times, but his healing factor makes it impossible for him to escape the cruel reality of life. Cue "Operation Annihilation"! Armed with the brilliant plan to enrage Hulk, maybe Deadpool will finally get his wish. Mayhem ensues.

Flashback to issue #4 by Joe Kelly with "Why is it to save me I must kill you?". Deadpool's healing factor has been slowing recently, but that's not the only problem. If you doesn't find a cure soon, he'll die. Unfortunately, the only known remedy requires a vile of Hulk's blood, and he's definitely not going to do it willing.

This collection has action-packed issues with classic Deadpool humor, but with the added morose scenes of his encounters with death. Sheldon Vella and Bong Dazo do a stupendous job with artwork on this and the coloring team does a great job, as well. While not as dynamic in style, Ed McGuinness's art on the issue #4 is still fantastic.

Other books in this series:
Monkey Business
What Happened in Vegas
I Rule, You Suck

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Secrets of Alchemy - Lawrence M. Principe

Turning one thing into another has been a fascination of peoples for a very long time. In The Secrets of Alchemy, Lawrence M. Principe reveals what alchemy is, how it works, and how it's changed throughout history.

In Egypt a formula was perfected to make silver-toned substances look exactly like gold. Because they had no way of measuring the properties of the metal back then, the people believed that these metals had actually turned into gold. Archimedes, much later on, discovered that the weight and water displacement of an object could determine if an object was completely made of gold.

The formulas of "making gold" and many other processes were encrypted by their authors with puzzles containing both pictures and words. People have attempted to replicate these processes over the years, most without success.

Alchemy just wasn't the pursuit of endless gold, though. There was also a goal of finding everlasting life; in fact, the efforts of alchemists to find the elixir of life led to the founding of chemistry, which we now use today to create life-saving medicines.

Over lifetimes alchemy has been viewed in many different manners. While some look at it as a goal of attaining physical wealth or health, others have reinterpreted it to be a way to decrypt our very being. Others have seen it as a way to reach full human potential or even contact God.

Alchemy is a fascinating topic all in itself, and it's even more fascinating when its many offshoots are considered. Principe's amazing research will satiate the curious and entice the studious.

Recommended Reading:
Levity.com
A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery by Lyndy Abraham
The Secret Teachings of All of the Ages Manly P. Hall

Recommended Viewing:
The Real Sorceror's Stone History Channel

Monday, February 4, 2013

Celts and Germans - Professor Timothy B. Shutt

Professor Timothy B. Shutt presents Celts and Germans: The Enduring Heritage of the European Northlands in a four disc set, consisting of 8 lectures that focus mostly on the surviving literature to convey the cultures' continued influence on our own.

Shutt first introduces his listeners to the Celtic and Germanic cultures by explaining their history, their territories, and their religion.

After the introduction, Shutt jumps right into The Eddas by Saemund Sigfusson and Snorri Sturleson, which contains the religious stories of the Germanic and Nordic (Norse) people. The lecturer gives a wonderful and detailed description of the beginning of the world, along with his own commentary on other tales contained in the Eddas. The lectures on Volsunga Saga and Njal's Saga are excellent, as well.

The lectures then move to the Celtic region. The lecture on the English tale Beowulf is up next, followed by analysis of several interesting Irish tales.

He goes on to discuss the tradition of courtly love and finally to the symbolic tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Those who are already familiar with the material probably will not find anything new here. However, those who are interested in getting acquainted with these traditions will find this to be an informative and entertaining listen.

Recommended Reads:
Prose Edda - translated and annotated by Jesse L. Byock
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - retold by J.R.R. Tolkien

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz

There are certain books I like to read again because they speak to me personally. Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements is one of those books.

Be impeccable with your word
Don't take anything personally
Don't make assumptions
Always do your best

These concepts are simple enough, but they can be difficult to follow. Under each heading, Ruiz presents ideas in small bites that will help a person put these goals into practice.

Our actions are determined by our thoughts and ideas. We can change these by carefully considering how we think and feel and changing the internal dialogue. Saying "I'm so stupid" only makes us feel bad, while saying "I'll be careful next time" is useful. It's easy to think that what that person said or did to us was malicious, but many times they are just reflecting their own inner torments to the rest of us. Even if we can't keep these ideals every day, we can always do our best.

This short book may transform the lives of those who are willing to give it an honest try.

Recommended Reads:
The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman