After a slow June, I got back in the swing of things for July. I finished several audiobooks and a few graphic novels along with the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.
The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
Bob Howard, supernatural IT guy slash reluctant field agent, is a fun character to follow. Even still, I’ve been slow to read this series, which is now nine books long. In fact, I read book three in 2011 and originally started the series way back in 2007.
I think it helps to understand that the Laundry Files began as a parody of British spy novels, and then Stross either felt restricted by that premise or grew bored with it, so slowly but surely rejiggered it into something else, eventually turning it into a reliable yearly release.
This book felt a bit transitional, possibly because of that shift. From what I remember of the earlier books, Bob was generally at the forefront of the story, driving events and saving the day. In this volume, Stross introduces a few new viewpoint characters and Bob is in a more reactive role. He’s still the one narrating events or recording them for posterity, but he’s in over his head and oftentimes sidelined during action scenes.
From reading the summaries of the later books, it sounds like Bob isn’t always the primary viewpoint character, which makes sense if Stross wanted to open up the premise a bit. I’m still enjoying the series, but I’ll probably have to read another book or two to get an idea of where he’s taking it.
REALLY LIKED IT
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
It’s kind of amazing how out there this trilogy gets. I wish I’d known back in the day when I first started reading it, because I might have made the effort to finish what I’d started instead of stopping after book one. These books were easily some of the best I’ve read in a good long while, and each book in the trilogy only improved on the one before it.
This one includes a harrowing trip into the afterlife for Lyra and Will and ends with some hard choices for both characters. There is an epic battle scene between humans, angels, witches and just about everything under the sun.
I’m hugely excited about the HBO adaptation, which will hopefully do it justice, even though they are condensing the books into two seasons instead of doing a book per season. Still, the bizarre visuals in the second and third books should more than make up for anything condensed for television.
Bill Ward is a famous pin-up artist who drew the kinds of comics you might find in Playboy or its forgotten men’s magazine predecessors. The most interesting thing I learned from this collection is that he drew with a conté crayon and his originals were huge as a result.
He definitely had a knack for drawing glossy black leggings on absurdly exaggerated statuesque women. Less successful were the gag captions, which I only rarely found funny, probably because they’re from a different era but also because the jokes were clearly not the point.
This volume also makes it clear that Ward had a few go-to poses and settings, and most of his comics were variations on a handful of themes. His work probably stands up slightly better in an uncollected form, which essentially means that this collection only diminishes it.
I got bored with this book halfway through and almost didn’t finish reading. Instead, I listened to The Apocalypse Codex and then decided to give this another shot since it is relatively short.
My main problem with Act of God is that it isn’t nearly as interesting as the cover or the summary implies. It’s a story about four women catastrophically affected by fast-growing mutant mushrooms that infest their homes, which makes it sound like the book is going to be weirder than it is.
You could replace the mushrooms with any natural disaster and tell about the same story. Aside from that hook, the book isn’t all that compelling.
Cash Boy, Volume 1 by Mio Murao
Sometimes I read comics just because they are available on ComiXology Unlimited or Hoopla or Overdrive and the bar for entry is low. I’ve read more manga in the last year or so, mostly thanks to those resources, and sometimes I’ve found some pretty decent reads. This was not one of those times.
The basic premise is that a college boy and a high school girl become step-siblings when their parents marry, but then they are soon orphaned when their parents die on the way to their honeymoon. Lucky for them, their parents left them a huge amount of money that they then spend irresponsibly, oftentimes resulting in sexy hi-jinks. Oh, and there is a bit of sexual tension between them because they were strangers and now they’re only siblings in the legal sense.
The worst part of this book was the translation, which is clunky and rife with typos, but the views on women were also questionable. First, the boy obsesses over a materialistic woman who turns him down because he doesn’t spend enough money on her. Then, he starts going to a fashion hotel, (aka love hotel aka brothel), where he becomes infatuated with a sex worker. This does not end well for him.
Ice Cream Man, Volume 1: Rainbow Sprinkles by W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo
This book is sort of like what you might get if the Sandman comics were about some kind of demonic entity pretending to be a friendly neighborhood ice cream man who just so happens to cause mayhem wherever he goes.
Each issue is an episodic story about something terrible or weird (or both) that happens either adjacent to or because of the Ice Cream Man’s influence. I liked the art and I generally enjoyed the book, but the stories felt slight and kind of forgettable.
The series is clearly going for a classic horror anthology vibe, but none of the horror twists had the gut punch you get from a Twilight Zone episode. Instead, they were just a series of gross or horrible happenings.
Cryptofauna by Patrick Canning (Full Review)
This was an entertaining book that was almost too silly for its own good. I enjoyed it, but found myself wishing that there was a little bit more substance behind all the absurdity. Still, I would happily pick up another book by this author.
Die, Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans
Gillen describes Die as goth Jumanji, which is a pretty fair summary. The art, by Stephanie Hans, is painterly and gorgeous and is by far my favorite part of the book.
Imagine, if you will, a group of friends who shared a horrifying trauma many years ago. They’ve drifted apart in the intervening years, but something draws them back together and throws them into the mix of a new and developing trauma. Needless to say, they are cranky about it.
In the first volume of Die, we meet that group of former friends, now splintered apart and living emotionally damaged existences. Once, when they were young, they played an intense and dangerous game that pulled them into another universe with real and lasting consequences, including the disappearance and presumed death of one of their number.
Many years later, they reluctantly decide to get the gang back together after the delivery of a die belonging to their lost friend. This artifact transports them back into the game that changed their lives and forces them to reckon with the many ways this alternate universe has changed and moved on since they went home and tried to resume their former lives.
This first volume is bleak and cynical and sets up the horrifying consequences of something that should have been nothing more than a game. The characters are all flawed and searching for something they lost or never had. It’s a fascinating world, and I can’t wait to read more.
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