Bad back, need brain candy
Trust Me by Jeff Abbott (Grand Central Publishing, $6).
When you throw your back out, there’s nothing to do but wait for it to heal (well, there’s ice, heat and anti-inflammatories, but other than that, it just takes time). What’s really necessary is distraction: A fast-paced read so well-plotted and with high stakes so that the terrible achy back recedes to the margins of consciousness.
Jeff Abbott’s Trust Me had been sitting in the queue for a while—since last winter, in fact—but it fit the bill. 
Luke Dantry is a bright kid: Tech-savvy, creative and resourceful, but with the impulse control issues and and lack of experience you’d expect from a 24-year-old. He’s likeable, though, and that counts for a lot—and we also find it believable when he’s thrown in over his head.
And what he’s thrown into is pretty paranoia-fueling. He works with his stepfather for a shadowy government agency that is attempting to identify terrorists using social media. Makes sense, right? And it has the immediacy and high stakes we need from a thriller.
Then Luke is abducted at gunpoint, forced to drive to Houston, and watches as his kidnapper murders a guy. The video of murder makes it look like Luke was involved, so now the cops are after him, too.
And then he’s off, careening from one dangerous spot to another, always finding a way to get away and always stressed out by the question of who he can trust. (Get it? Trust Me? Yeah, obvious.)
On the plus side: Action galore. On the minus side: The threat from the terrorist group is never fully explained. In fact, it just seems like one extreme scenario after another, with no attempt to make it plausible or even make sense.
Good news: Back pain was forgotten. Bad news: It was forgotten because of ranting at the lack of development in what could have been a good thriller’s plot.

Bad back, need brain candy

Trust Me by Jeff Abbott (Grand Central Publishing, $6).

When you throw your back out, there’s nothing to do but wait for it to heal (well, there’s ice, heat and anti-inflammatories, but other than that, it just takes time). What’s really necessary is distraction: A fast-paced read so well-plotted and with high stakes so that the terrible achy back recedes to the margins of consciousness.

Jeff Abbott’s Trust Me had been sitting in the queue for a while—since last winter, in fact—but it fit the bill. 

Luke Dantry is a bright kid: Tech-savvy, creative and resourceful, but with the impulse control issues and and lack of experience you’d expect from a 24-year-old. He’s likeable, though, and that counts for a lot—and we also find it believable when he’s thrown in over his head.

And what he’s thrown into is pretty paranoia-fueling. He works with his stepfather for a shadowy government agency that is attempting to identify terrorists using social media. Makes sense, right? And it has the immediacy and high stakes we need from a thriller.

Then Luke is abducted at gunpoint, forced to drive to Houston, and watches as his kidnapper murders a guy. The video of murder makes it look like Luke was involved, so now the cops are after him, too.

And then he’s off, careening from one dangerous spot to another, always finding a way to get away and always stressed out by the question of who he can trust. (Get it? Trust Me? Yeah, obvious.)

On the plus side: Action galore. On the minus side: The threat from the terrorist group is never fully explained. In fact, it just seems like one extreme scenario after another, with no attempt to make it plausible or even make sense.

Good news: Back pain was forgotten. Bad news: It was forgotten because of ranting at the lack of development in what could have been a good thriller’s plot.

ESSAY: Rev. Rick Cole and his homeless publicity stunt

My short essay is up at the Sacramento News & Review:

There’s an insufferable privilege in the sort of humanitarian tourism that drives people to “live homeless,” whether for a night or a couple of weeks. (Exhibit A: Gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari’s attempt to make himself over as Tom Joad and establish his compassionate conservative bona fides.) It misses the point: Homelessness is such a despairing and desperate condition for people precisely because there’s no end in sight.

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Monday graphic novel round-up

Turok Dinosaur Hunter Volume 1: Conquest by Greg Pak and Mirko Colak (Dynamite Entertainment, $16.99).

Zaya HC by J.D. Morvan, Huang-jia Wei, and Mike Kennedy (Magnetic Press, $29.99).

Who doesn’t love to see a dinosaur running amok and chomping up the people who are either stupid enough or unlucky enough to get in its way?

And seriously, isn’t it about time that the colonizers had a rougher time with genocide than just spreading a little smallpox around?

The reboot of Turok, Dinosaur Hunter from Dynamite Entertainment has a good measure of action-adventure, a dash of sci-fi/alternate reality, and just a touch of the traditional “Western” comic book, which makes it an overall good read. 

In this version of the late 13th century, dinosaurs—and other prehistoric megafauna—still exist, and the British have learned to use them as weapons of war. That doesn’t mean they can control them. 

We are dropped into Turok’s origin story: His parents, accused of witchcraft, were killed by the local tribe; he grew up a man apart. That’s fine by him, but when the Europeans arrive with their “dragons” in tow, he can’t stop himself from bailing out his former tormenters.

Top-notch action art is one of the highlights, and once you’ve suspended disbelief, this Turok is great fun. And we can thank the video game for getting this title back in the game.

Magnetic Press’s Zaya, on the other hand, benefits more from incredible art than from a gripping story. Perhaps it’s Mike Kennedy’s translation, but it reads like it’s been dubbed, which is a little distracting—though it does offer plenty of opportunity to dive right into the fantastic art by Huang-jia Wei. It’s detailed, hypnotically subdued in color to give a restraint that the story lacks, and grotesque in the best sense of the word.

The story’s pretty basic: Zaya Oblidine—artist, mother of twin girls—is  a retired operative for Spiral, some sort of spy agency.

Someone—or something—is killing their operatives.

So she’s reactivated to help. The first thing she does is provide free will for her AI ship’s “brain,” so that what she does will be free from the prying eyes of the government, the Interstellar Human League. That gives us an idea of her character. Yep, she’s a cowboy. 

This title is worth purchasing because the art is fascinating. The story moves really slowly, and doesn’t have enough narrative nuance to make it worth the wait.

Big-picture lessons
My short review of The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein is in this week’s issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

Big-picture lessons

My short review of The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein is in this week’s issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

My short review of the latest novel from Ian McEwan in the Sacramento News & Review:

Ian McEwan’s latest novel, The Children Act(Nan A. Talese, $25), takes us inside the midlife crisis of a British judge to examine the profound effect that one conversation or one thoughtless gesture may have on the life of another person. Fiona is a family court judge with a notable history of sound opinions and rigorous application of the Children Act, which mandates that the judge stand for the best interests of minors in all cases. Then, her husband announces that he wants an “open marriage.” The fallout leads Fiona to re-examine her entire life in new light. Also weighing heavily on her is the case she’s trying, that of a bright, teenaged Jehovah’s Witness with leukemia who, along with his parents, is refusing blood transfusions on religious grounds. Fiona is, for the most part, restrained and very good at setting boundaries—but one momentary lapse has reverberating consequences.

My short review of the latest novel from Ian McEwan in the Sacramento News & Review:

Ian McEwan’s latest novel, The Children Act(Nan A. Talese, $25), takes us inside the midlife crisis of a British judge to examine the profound effect that one conversation or one thoughtless gesture may have on the life of another person. Fiona is a family court judge with a notable history of sound opinions and rigorous application of the Children Act, which mandates that the judge stand for the best interests of minors in all cases. Then, her husband announces that he wants an “open marriage.” The fallout leads Fiona to re-examine her entire life in new light. Also weighing heavily on her is the case she’s trying, that of a bright, teenaged Jehovah’s Witness with leukemia who, along with his parents, is refusing blood transfusions on religious grounds. Fiona is, for the most part, restrained and very good at setting boundaries—but one momentary lapse has reverberating consequences.

0 notes

More than one way to throw a wrench in the gears
The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple (First Second, $19.99).
The ground around Woodsinner Cave is littered with the bodies of crows. That should be a clue that it’s not a good place to visit.
Sherwood and his younger brother Orson go into it, anyway. More than once. At different times and in different realities.
This is probably one of the downright weirdest graphic novels ever. The Wrenchies are characters in a comic book created by Sherwood and, at the same time, a very real group of kids fighting demons, zombies and monsters on a post-apocalyptic Earth devoid of adults.
And Sherwood is both the deranged creator of the comic book, a ravaged victim of demonic assault, and the source of all power across several dimensions.
Yeah, it’s weird. And it’s engrossing. And Farel Dalrymple’s story and drawngs more than keep the thing moving, across time and space—which really don’t mean the same things in every place.
First Second has made this a fine book to hold in one’s hands, but the question will be: Can your mind do the same? It is perhaps one of the best examples of non-linear storytelling in the graphic novel tradition, and will please any reader who’s willing to read it more than once.

More than one way to throw a wrench in the gears

The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple (First Second, $19.99).

The ground around Woodsinner Cave is littered with the bodies of crows. That should be a clue that it’s not a good place to visit.

Sherwood and his younger brother Orson go into it, anyway. More than once. At different times and in different realities.

This is probably one of the downright weirdest graphic novels ever. The Wrenchies are characters in a comic book created by Sherwood and, at the same time, a very real group of kids fighting demons, zombies and monsters on a post-apocalyptic Earth devoid of adults.

And Sherwood is both the deranged creator of the comic book, a ravaged victim of demonic assault, and the source of all power across several dimensions.

Yeah, it’s weird. And it’s engrossing. And Farel Dalrymple’s story and drawngs more than keep the thing moving, across time and space—which really don’t mean the same things in every place.

First Second has made this a fine book to hold in one’s hands, but the question will be: Can your mind do the same? It is perhaps one of the best examples of non-linear storytelling in the graphic novel tradition, and will please any reader who’s willing to read it more than once.

0 notes

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95).
This lovely cross between a fable and an action-adventure tale falls into that category known as “chapter books,” the sort of book that kids aged nine to 13 are often expected to read—and just as often grouse about. 
Don’t expect much grousing about this one, though.
Ned and his identical twin, Tam, are playing in the Great River one day when something terrible happens. Tam drowns, and Ned almost dies as well; his mother, known as Sister Witch in their village for her way with herbs, healing, and the only magic left in the world, saves him by stitching his twin’s soul to his chest. 
But, as we all know, the thing about magic is that it’s dangerous and has consequences.
In another part of the world, Áine is a young girl living with her parents. When her mother dies, her father also nearly dies from grief. Finally jolted back into life, he takes Áine into the woods, where he takes up a life of banditry, eventually becoming the Bandit King. 
And eventually, he decides to go after Ned’s mother’s magic while she’s gone out of town, leaving Ned to protect it.
This is a very well-developed story in the classical style of fairy tales, but with a tone that includes younger readers as “in-the-know.” They will find much to like about Ned, who struggles to recover from the loss of his twin (and the sense that “the wrong boy” lived, which is shared by the townspeople and perhaps even his father), and in Áine, who is a smart and brave girl. 
All the characters are fully realized, with a strong narrative laid over the bones of traditional story-telling—which has, of course, become traditional story-telling because it works so well to hold our attention.
Keep this in mind for readers who are yet too young for Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series; it will be a good addition to the earlier Harry Potter books for the too-young-for-YA readers.

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95).

This lovely cross between a fable and an action-adventure tale falls into that category known as “chapter books,” the sort of book that kids aged nine to 13 are often expected to read—and just as often grouse about.

Don’t expect much grousing about this one, though.

Ned and his identical twin, Tam, are playing in the Great River one day when something terrible happens. Tam drowns, and Ned almost dies as well; his mother, known as Sister Witch in their village for her way with herbs, healing, and the only magic left in the world, saves him by stitching his twin’s soul to his chest.

But, as we all know, the thing about magic is that it’s dangerous and has consequences.

In another part of the world, Áine is a young girl living with her parents. When her mother dies, her father also nearly dies from grief. Finally jolted back into life, he takes Áine into the woods, where he takes up a life of banditry, eventually becoming the Bandit King. 

And eventually, he decides to go after Ned’s mother’s magic while she’s gone out of town, leaving Ned to protect it.

This is a very well-developed story in the classical style of fairy tales, but with a tone that includes younger readers as “in-the-know.” They will find much to like about Ned, who struggles to recover from the loss of his twin (and the sense that “the wrong boy” lived, which is shared by the townspeople and perhaps even his father), and in Áine, who is a smart and brave girl.

All the characters are fully realized, with a strong narrative laid over the bones of traditional story-telling—which has, of course, become traditional story-telling because it works so well to hold our attention.

Keep this in mind for readers who are yet too young for Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series; it will be a good addition to the earlier Harry Potter books for the too-young-for-YA readers.