Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review: Death Vigil: Volume I by Stjepan Sejic

Death Vigil: Volume 1Death Vigil: Volume 1 by Stjepan Šejić
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The battle of good and evil is front and center in Stjepan Sejic’s “Death Vigil: Volume I”. While there are certainly white hats, well hair, and black hats there are some important grey figures intermingling among them with amazing art by writer-artist Sejic keeping the reader engaged through the entire book.

The basics of the story is Death, aka Bernie, selects individuals who die valiantly to become Death Knights to defend the living from Necromancers who attempt to bring primordial beings to Earth. The lead character is Sam, a veteran of the Vigil, who explains the structure and way of life of the Vigil to the newcomer Clara whose induction into the group is hiding something from the primordial realm that pops up in important situations for her character throughout the book. On the other side, the Necromancers are “led” by numerous individuals however the prime mover throughout this book is Maria Benes bargains with ‘the King’ for the translation of a powerful Necromancer in exchange for her taking Bernie’s place. And added to the mix the necromancer characters Alistair and his daughter Mia who side with the Vigil though Alistair and Bernie do like one another

After the initial introduction to the concept of the Vigil, Sejic introduces new things throughout the book interesting ways and foreshadows many things that the reader obviously only recognizes when it comes up against in important points of the story. Throughout the book, the Vigil aligned characters are fond of puns, bad puns at that but all of them acknowledge that the puns are bad which adds a little comic flare. A constant throughout the entire book is the excellent art of Sejic who’s long list of credits gives one the idea about how much his talent is wanted and acknowledged by the comic industry.

Upon finishing “Death Vigil: Volume I” the reader will find like myself that they want more and the dangling story arcs continue and grow over time. But the only way for that to happen is for this book to sell good giving Sejic incentive to writing Volume II. Trust me, you’ll not be sorry about reading this book and will agree on wanting more.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world’s most revered and famous fictional detective first appeared from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle almost a 130 years ago, but the author did not finish with his greatest creation until almost 40 years later even after unsuccessfully killing him off. In this first volume of all the collected works that feature Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John Watson, the reader first meets the great detective and his friend through two short novellas, 23 short stories, and the best-known and greatest case the pair ever faced.

The two-volume collection of the original works of Conan Doyle in the American publication order, begins with the first two Holmes novelettes Study in Scarlett and The Sign of Four which are very well written stories that both introduce the main character Holmes, but also through the eyes of his friend Watson. The next 23 short stories then show the genius and resource of the London-based detective and throughout we are given references to cases we have yet to personally read. Of the those short stories I found six the best of the bunch: “A Scandal in Bohemia”, “The Five Orange Pips”, “The Man with the Twisted Lip”, “Silver Blaze”, “The Musgrave Ritual, and “The Naval Treaty”.

This volume ends with the most famous and definitely the best Sherlock Holmes story of them all, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Even though there have been numerous adaptations of this most famous novel, upon reading it one senses the place on edge, nature seeming on the verge of overpowering man, and the sounds and shadows of mysterious beings across the moor. It was no small fact that nine years after killing off Holmes, Conan Doyle wrote a novel that no only brought make his character but wrote it in such a way that made people engage with both of the main characters instantly.

There seem to be several missteps, namely “The Final Problem” which seems more to do about setting up the final struggle as is to learn more about Professor Moriarty and see the net Holmes had cast instead of just being told. There are just as many of the other short stories that are not the best than there are very good if not great. Sometimes the eye is in the beholder, but others it is not.

Upon finishing this first volume, I enjoyed reading these 26 stories. As a first time reader of Conan Doyle it was fascinating to see how more human Sherlock seems to slowly become over the course of the stories with him as their focus. In the end I can’t stress enough how you should get this book.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The most famous Sherlock Holmes story is easily the best in this volume of the collected works of the character. I do not know what to write, but basically a familial legend seemingly has come to life to claim a respected baronet and seemingly has it's sights set on the man's heir from across the Atlantic. As always Watson describes the action, but it evident that unlike all the shorter stories and the previous novellas this story has a better dramatic arc that keeps the reader engaged.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part III)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Greek Interpreter"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Watson meets Holmes older brother Mycroft, who is smarter but not as energetic as his younger sibling. A fellow club member of Mycroft's came to him with a problem, which lets Sherlock hear as well. Having heard the case and Mycroft's efforts, Sherlock working on events only for the client to get kidnapped. The resolution is both in and out of the protagonist's hands.

"The Naval Treaty"
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A case of many misdirections that has the reader guessing until Holmes lets everyone in on the resolution. An English-Italian naval treaty is to be made public and the Foreign Secretary wants a copy made by his nephew, but the treaty is stolen from his desk and after an exhaustive search the young man has a nervous breakdown. After nine weeks abed, he gets word to Watson and Holmes to discuss the case. One of the longer short stories, but never dull.

"The Final Problem"
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The attempt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to kill of Holmes to he could write other things, is unfortunately not a good story. Holmes' arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty debuts almost ensnared by a trap by Holmes to destroy his criminal empire. With Watson, Holmes goes to Europe as his trap is set in motion but Moriarty escapes it while his gang is captured. Moriarty chases down the duo, lures Watson away, and the two men fight before sending one another down into a watery grave supposedly. Without an eyewitness to the struggle and without knowing what Holmes did to destroy Moriarty's empire the read is left somewhat less than satisfied with Sherlock Holmes death.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part II)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The 'Gloria Scott'"
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Holmes relates to Watson is first ever case of deduction in which figured out some elements of a college acquaintance's father, who is later blackmailed by someone. After the death of his friend's father, Holmes figures out the riddling note that resulted in his death.

"The Musgrave Ritual"
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The second case that Holmes relates to Watson about his early career, as he helped a collegiate friend when mysterious things occur in relation to his long-time butler and one of his maids. Holmes deduces that what his friend believes is three mysteries are in fact one and using the titular ritual discovers the butler and realizes what his friend found when searching for the maid. One of my favorite stories so far.

"The Reigate Puzzle"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Watson convinces an exhausted Holmes to recuperate at a former patient's home, only to suddenly fall into a mysterious case almost next door. Holmes figures out the case and almost gets strangled in the process, but afterwards feels rejuvenated.

"The Crooked Man"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Holmes and Watson investigate the death of a man locked a room with his wife, but with no apparent injuries. The wife is suspected of foul play, but nothing is for certain. However the resolution is in the couple's past in India.

"The Resident Patient"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Holmes and Watson investigate the strange things happening at a doctor's office, but the man who resides at the doctor's office does not want to cooperate. The man is dead the next morning and Holmes lets both Watson and the doctor know what was going on.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part I)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Silver Blaze"
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

One of the best Holmes stories I've read so far starts of this collection of stories. A champion racehorse is missing, it's trainer dead, and an big race is within a week of occurring. Holmes is drawn to the case and goes to investigate when asked, bringing Watson along. We later learn that Holmes was thinking to find evidence to prove the guilt of the man arrested for trainer's death, we see his mind open to the evidence and following it to the real conclusion.

"The Yellow Face"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A mystery surrounding a wife, her past, and a neighboring house. Most of this story follows the description of events by client with Holmes coming to the wrong conclusion and telling Watson to remind him of the case whenever he becomes too sure of something in the future.

"The Stock-Broker's Clerk"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A young clerk comes to Holmes with an extraordinary tale, sure that what he has been doing deal with something nefarious. Holmes is glad the young man has come to him and goes with the young man to his place of work only to find out the conspiracy has already fallen apart.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part IV)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A rich American newlywed disappears from her wedding breakfast and her nobleman husband, the gentleman inquires of Holmes to solve the mystery. Holmes does just that and surprises the nobleman with not only his bride but her first husband who had not died as she previously thought.

"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A severely stressed banker arrives at 221B inquiring upon Holmes' services, telling about how a national treasure was placed in security of a loan and said treasure was damaged and partially stolen with his own son implicated. Holmes relieves the man's fears not only about the piece, but about his son as well though not with out exposing an unknown familial secret.

"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Violet Hunter, a governess, comes to Holmes asking for advice about a position she has been offered because the extraordinary details connected with it. Given the absurd amount of money offered, Holmes advises her to take the position but if anything amiss were to occur to contact him immediately. Watson notes that Holmes ponders the young woman's mystery for weeks until they get word from her that something is definitely amiss. Upon meeting her, they learn of the usual things she has been doing and conditions around the house. That night they endeavor to solve the mystery, but learn that the mystery has already been solved though the actions of others. Watson notes that Holmes never again thinks of Ms. Hunter after that night, even though he praised the thoroughness of her descriptions.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part III)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I remember seeing the Jeremy Brett adaptation of this story, so I knew the resolution already. However, actually reading the story for the first time makes me understand why I found the adaptation a great watch because the story it as based on was a very good one.

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sir Arthur's favorite Holmes story, after reading it I understand why he liked it. The mysteriousness of the first victims death as well as a host of potential killers that creates numerous the story can end that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. The resolution at the end of a night time stakeout is good, but it is a bit confusing which takes away the impact.

"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A patient that has lost his thumb has a story Watson knows will intrigue Holmes, he brings the man to his friend and listen as the man gives the tale about how he lost his thumb. While the man's story is engaging, the overall story just wasn't up to anything I've previously read. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part II)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Boscombe Valley Mystery"
My ratings: 4 out of 5 stars

Watson joins Holmes on an excursion in Herefordshire to investigate the death of Charles McCarthy, whose son is accused of his murder. The duo meet Lestrade, who is convinced of the young man guilt however he is there at the crime scene when Holmes figures out what happens. The resolution is new and gives insight into Holmes.

"The Five Orange Pips"
My ratings: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A young man comes to Holmes in the midst of a miserable storm with a confounding mystery and sudden family curse. Holmes gives the man instructions, but the next morning finds that the man died on his way to fulfill them. Holmes infuriated, vows to get justice however nature takes its own revenge before he can have his.

"The Man with the Twisted Lips"
My ratings: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Watson meets Holmes in an opium den when searching for one of his patience, after getting the man out and to his wife he inquires why Holmes is there. The latter is searching for a missing man himself because that was the building he was last seen in. Holmes gives Watson the entire story as they go to the man's house, after Watson retires Holmes broods. Early in the morning, Holmes figures the case out and with Watson confronts the suspect about the victim.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part I)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"A Scandal in Bohemia"
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The story that brought about numerous fanfiction stories in the Internet Age, Irene Adler gets the best of Sherlock Holmes but only after she figures out at the last minute whom he is during his investigation of her home.

"The Red-headed League"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Although I don't have proof to back this up, this seems to be the prototypical "basement to bank" tunnel mystery story. Given how cliche it has now become, I figured out what Holmes was going to discover early on in the story, but that doesn't mean it isn't bad it's just not as challenging for the reader.

"A Case of Identity"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Another seemingly prototypical story, a well-to-do (monetarily) young woman falls for a mysterious man that her stepfather--who is barely older than she is--disapproves of but on the way to her wedding her fiance mysteriously disappears. As the young woman tells her story, it is easy to figure out what Holmes' conclusion of the case it going to be.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The second investigation involving Holmes and Watson is at first just a consultation that evolves into a murder investigation with fabulous treasure at part of it all. However before mystery begins, Watson gives us a better understanding of Holmes through his personal quirks and foibles that humanizes the great detective giving the reader a better understanding of the main character.

The investigation begins when a young governess Mary Morstan comes to 221B to consult with Holmes a string of curious events that has culminated in a letter asking her to meet with the sender that night. Much intrigued, Holmes takes the case while Watson smitten with young woman. That night they met Thaddeus Sholto who tells Mary about her father's death and his part to play in the string of events that has led as well as her share of the fabulous treasure of Agra. The four go to meet Thaddeus' brother only to find the man dead, which not only changes the situation but puts Holmes in his element.

Unlike the previous Holmes story, Watson plays a bigger part as he retrieves Holmes' favorite hound to track the kills and interacting with Mary numerous times. The story has thrilling climax with a steamboat chase down the Thames, the death of one of the culprits and the capture of the other who has a story to tell.

Overall, I enjoyed this story more than the first but I'm giving it the same rating mainly because of Watson's interactions with Mary are well, so really bad.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was surprised that this is actually an "origin" story--to use a 21st century phrase--of the Holmes & Watson partnership that a "A Study in Pink" episode in the Sherlock BBC series shows. However, having never read a Sherlock Holmes story before everything is new and surprising to me. As to the novella itself...

Dr. John Watson introduces himself and how he met Sherlock Holmes, as well as his new friend/fellow boarder's interests. Then one day Watson makes a comment about an article that Holmes writes and then we learn of Holmes true interest and vocation. And then an unusual murder is committed. Watson goes with Holmes to the scene of the crime, watching what Holmes does there and afterwards. Detectives Gregson and Lestrade each have their own theories, but both are suddenly disappointed when Holmes apprehends the culprit right under their noses.

Then the novella suddenly switches settings halfway across the world following three individuals, two of which die, and the third is the apprehended murderer. This is the backstory of why the murder killed his victims and after returning to the "present" explains how he committed the crimes. Afterwards, Holmes lets Watson know how he came to the correct conclusion and got the culprit to show up to their boarding house.

Overall it was a good first story, though the sudden backstory taking up a quarter of the story at the beginning of Part 2 was a bit off putting.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Review: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

A Clash of Kings  (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War! The inevitable result of when five men start wearing gold on their brow is “A Clash of Kings” the second book in George R.R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire. After the conclusion of the first book, readers knew things were not going to go as previous fantasy books had gone and were right to expect the unexpected.

Not pulling any punches from the start, Martin once against kills off a character in the prologue but not without introducing three important characters to the overall story who are on the island of Dragonstone. With the Lannister’s backing Joffrey’s claim to the Iron Throne and Robb Stark uniting the North and Riverlands in an independence movement, King Robert’s brothers both declare themselves their brother’s heir. The Baratheon brothers involvement bring about the next bit of magic encountered in the series and pushes towards the book’s big climax in the Battle of the Blackwater which is set up by Tyrion Lannister’s time as Hand of the King for his nephew while battling the “establishment” unlike Ned Stark had been able to do.

However the events in the south aren’t the only game changing events, Theon turns against Robb and takes Winterfell in the name of his father only to ultimately fall leaving the North in chaos. Beyond the Wall, Jon ranges and learns about the Wildlings he is charged to fight against then switches sides. In Essos, Daenerys’ leads her small khalasar through harsh desert to the city of Qarth where she finds empty words and disturbing prophecies before deciding it time to take her growing dragons towards the West.

“A Clash of Kings” finds Westeros torn into pieces with fighting happening everywhere while no knowing the danger gathering beyond the Wall. The political intrigue, growing power of magic, and combat are in abundance as well as revelations of the past adding to the overall tapestry that George R.R. Martin created in the second book of his fantasy epic. After finishing, the reader will wonder what will happen the storm really hits the fan.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book Review: Oddly Normal (Book 2) by Otis Frampton

Oddly Normal Vol. 2Oddly Normal Vol. 2 by Otis Frampton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oddly Normal’s life in Fignation continues in Book 2 of Otis Framption’s young adult series, as the half-witch learns about her parent’s past while beginning friendships with some of her new classmates. With nice character development and wonderful artwork, this second installment is a wonderful continuation of the “Oddly Normal” series.

After surviving an attack by some of her more nefarious new classmates, Oddly wakes up and talks with her Great Aunt about her parents including looking through some of her mother’s possessions that she kept stored in Fignation and going through one of her mother’s memories. Then Oddly gets an invitation from Ragnar (along with his brother Reggie and friend Misty) to join them at his family “secret” lab, which she does only to return Ragnar’s delivery robot that lost its rockets. Soon Oddly not only finds herself friends but also a pet. But once the weekend is over, the school day seems to go just like her first though a little better with friends.

After establishing his title character in the first book, Frampton expanded Oddly personal history and gave the story some important secondary characters that young adult readers would find engaging that will no doubt help Oddly fit in better in Fignation while her Great Aunt searches for her parents. The wonderful artwork by Frampton is perfect for the age range of the intended audience, though pleasing to those older like myself, and adds to the story being told from panel to panel.

“Oddly Normal Book 2” is a fantastic continuation of Otis Frampton’s young adult series, not only through dialogue and story but most importantly with artwork. Even if you aren’t in the book’s target audience, take a look at Oddly Normal if only to see if your own children or niece/nephew might be interested in following the adventures of this half-witch in an imaginary world.

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