Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Review - Fiend by Peter Stenson

Peter Stenson
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: July 9th, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0770436315
304 pages


     Fiend by Peter Stenson is a zombie story I think you just might become addicted to. It’s a fast-paced, Zombie Apocalypse, crystal meth, quest-driven, drug-tweaking story of survival. You know the usual…

     Narrated by a pair of meth addicts who’ve discovered survival means scoring crystal meth, Fiend adds an interesting drug-addiction twist to the genre. The apocalypse is in full swing, hungry, giggling zombies roam the planet in search of human flesh, and oh, by the way, the only survivors are meth addicts. When the world goes to hell in a hand-basket how does a meth addict get his next fix? For Chase Daniels and his friend Typewriter a quest to locate meth or find a “non-zombified” cook becomes survival. Scoring crystal meth, evading zombies, and living and dying in the mad streets of the apocalypse is a challenge but what happens when the drugs run out?

     Aptly titled, Fiend could refer to almost every element of this story. The zombies are fiends. Or, the meth addicts (metaphorical zombies) are fiends. Survival in a violent world is a fiend. The pace of the story is a fiend. No matter how you read it though Fiend is a horror story, an apocalypse story, and perhaps a cautionary drug addiction tale as well. Raw and vulgar Fiend is another great addition to my zombie book/graphic novel/comic collection (which grows daily), as should yours.

     File with: Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, zombies, horror, apocalypse, meth addiction, and survival.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Peter Stenson Website

Fiend Amazon Page

Peter Stenson Fiend Interview

Fiend YouTube Video/Interview

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Book Reviews - The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite and The Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

The Umbrella Academy
Story by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Ba
Volume 01 Apocalypse Suite
Cover Art by James Jean
Trade Paperback
192 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse; 1st edition
Publication Date: June 24, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1593079789


     The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way (lead vocalist of My Chemical Romance) is a weirdly beautiful concept and story. A group of seven gifted orphans have been collected after their birth by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a.k.a. “The Monocle” to save the world from evil threats. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

     Spaceboy has enhanced physical strength and a human head grafted onto the body of a Martian gorilla; The Kraken, a Batman-like superhero can hold his breath indefinitely and is an expert knife thrower; The Rumor can alter reality by lying; The Séance can levitate, talk to the dead, and use telekinesis but only when barefoot; Number Five (The Boy), is considered to be “The perfect assassin” since he has the DNA of the best killers in history, he can time travel too; The Horror, possesses monsters from another dimension under his skin and is dead; and The White Violin who shows no visible powers but is believed to be the most powerful of all the members of the Umbrella Academy, she’s capable of releasing destructive waves of energy when she plays her violin.

     Together the seven adopted siblings of the Umbrella Academy defend Paris against the Zombie Robot attack of Gustave Eiffel, save the world from “The Conductor” of “The Orchestra Verdammten”, defeat Dr. Terminal’s Terminauts, stop the final apocalypse, and fight (like siblings do) each other. Like I said, weirdly beautiful…

     One note about the characters and their abilities; creatively speaking the names and abilities of most of the superheroes in the Umbrella Academy are mostly unique. We’ve all seen super strong and time travelling superheroes in the comics before, but this cast of characters is so flawed in so many ways that they go around the bend from weird and slingshot back to normal again. Gerard Way has an active and seriously warped and wonderful imagination and I hope he continues to create graphic novel stories for a long time to come.

5 out of 5 stars

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas
Story by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Ba
Volume 02 Dallas
Cover Art by Tony Ong
Trade Paperback
192 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics; First Edition
Publication Date: September 16, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1595823458


     The Umbrella Academy: Dallas is a follow-up to Apocalypse Suite and is every bit as good as the introductory story. The compelling evil-doers in Dallas are Hazel and Cha-Cha two psychotic, time-travelling serial killers in oversized cartoon masks who capture The Séance and kill him in an attempt to convince Number Five to return to 1963 to finish The Kennedy Assassination. The young and old Number Five (paradox be damned) meet in the Dallas Book Depository where everything ends (although convoluted) as it should.

     Plot devices include Viet Cong Vampires, a time machine disguised as an ambulance, death and resurrection, a quick thinking waitress, dismemberment, and God as the Marlboro Man. Oh, and the world ends in nuclear detonation… But that’s another story.

   As I mentioned, the Umbrella Academy is a strange and beautiful graphic novel so entertaining you’ll beg for more.

5 out of 5 stars

     File with: Graphic novels, unique powers and characters, My Chemical Romance, Grant Morrison, Doom Patrol, Pat McEwon, Zombieworld: Champion of the Worm, Edvin Biukovic, Grendel Tales, superheroes, aliens, science fiction, the apocalypse, time travel, and comics.

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Umbrella Academy Wiki Site

 The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite Wiki Site

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas Wiki Site

The Umbrella Academy Fan Site

The Umbrella Academy Motion Comic


Book Review - We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We are all completely beside ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler
Trade Paperback
Publisher: A Marian Wood Book/Putnam
Publication Date: May 30, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0399162091
320 pages
Uncorrected Proof - Advance Reader’s Copy


     Karen Joy Fowler writes some of the oddest fiction I’ve ever read. And when I say odd I mean brilliant in a slanted, quirky way. When she writes a nostalgic scene you will think of your childhood home, your grandparents, and those you loved, laughed, and played with when you were growing up. When she wants you to laugh at yourself or teases your sensibilities you will find the humor hidden in all the little crevices of humanity. When she holds up the mirror of sentiment and emotion you will see yourself in her story.

     We are all completely beside ourselves is a story of love, family, devotion, separation, and the dichotomy of life and the biased memories we make in our own minds concerning our pasts. But more than that it’s a story of social interaction and how we act, react, and interact through emotionally stressful and confusing times.

     One undeserved criticism Fowler sometimes receives is that her characters are unfinished, furtive, and difficult to connect to. Many of her characters are mysteriously, and I think, intentionally, incomplete and here’s why I think it’s the perfect approach to creating a superior character, especially in the emotionally-driven narratives Fowler creates. Humans are enigmatic and unknown even to themselves sometimes. We are flawed, we are duplicitous, and we are opinionated and often change our attitudes. We occasionally don’t know our own minds or the real reasons we say or act the way we do. We are hurtful yet full of kindness. We are truthful but lie to preserve our own slanted images of ourselves and we confuse emotions with obsessions. Karen Joy Fowler’s characters then, mirror the gaps and holes in us all. In essence she writes enormously realistic characters that remind us of our own strengths, failings, assets, and ambiguities. Simply put, she writes convincing characters as compassionate, flawed, emotional human beings.

     This is the second novel by Karen Joy Fowler I’ve reviewed. I gave the first, Sarah Canary, a high overall review rating for originality, style, and content. We are all completely beside ourselves is no less creative than Sarah Canary and is, in my opinion, a superior read well worth the time.

     File with: mysteries, animal rights, emotionally-driven narratives, the human condition, love, loneliness, and social interaction.

4 ½ out of 5 Stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

My Review of Sarah Canary

Official Author Site

Author Wikipedia Site

Author Page Internet Speculative Fiction Database

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review - Black Hole (Graphic Novel) by Charles Burns

Black Hole (Graphic Novel)
Charles Burns
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Pantheon
Publication Date: January 8, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0375714726
368 pages


     Black Hole by Charles Burns, a cautionary graphic tale about young adults, examines the moral complexities of teenage sex, violence, peer pressure, and drug and alcohol abuse. Set near Seattle in the 1970’s Burns criticizes, in stunning black and white artwork, premarital sex, teenage angst, bullying, sexually-transmitted disease, loneliness and alienation, casual drug and alcohol use, emotional distress, and gun violence. With the creation of this intelligent but odd (in a very good way) graphic novel I suspect that Charles Burns not only worked through some of his own high-school issues but is also prepping his children and millions of others by shining a grave, yet convincing, light on the possibilities they might one day face. Black Hole is not a book for teenagers but about them and I highly caution parents to read it cover to cover before allowing their children access to it. It is by nature graphic, lewd, obscene, violent, and strange and serves as a warning to the potential hazards that a majority of teenagers will face while growing up. What makes it a very good book is that it is lewd, graphic, obscene and violent. What I mean is that the harsh realities of the teenage battlefield are penned here in all their gory details as a warning to the likely hazards and peer pressures encountered while growing through puberty into adulthood. To be sure, Burns pulls no punches.

     There’s a mysterious (mutated?/interstellar?/alien?) sexually-transmitted disease on the loose and it’s causing both the most bizarre hallucinations Seattle’s teenagers have ever encountered and some very abnormal physical manifestations to occur including a series of random genetic mutations such as extra mouths, sloughing skin, Elephantiasis, vestigial tails, horn nubbins, Cystic Acne, and numerous other afflictions and physical ailments. The disease is affecting the outward appearances of the sexually active teens in the area. The noticeable physical indicators however, make it quite clear which teens are experimenting with sex and which are not. Many of the local parents are in a panic and the young adults affected now have to deal with a previously invisible class of teenager: the sexually active. Haircuts, clothes, casual drug use, language, and attitudes come straight out of the 70’s central casting but this story really could have been told any where in any time.

     Many of the drawings in Black Hole are grotesque, disturbing, twisted, and macabre but they are also sublime, thought-provoking, and beautiful in a strange, “never-before-seen-and-totally-creative” way. The black and white art in no way deters from this story. In fact, it enhances the plot with blunt, non-distracting depictions of the immoral wrong-doings taking place. And while the ending is a bit unresolved and somewhat ambiguous, considering the moral dilemmas presented, it made perfect sense to me. Many of the peer pressure teenaged issues Burns presents will remain long after we are gone and their resolutions will be as vague and unsolved as they are today.

     File with: Black and white art, the 70’s, alienation, body mutations, paranoia, bullying, sex, drugs, violence, freaks, geeks, nudity, and abuse (all kinds.)

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Black Hole Amazon Page

Black Hole Wiki Page

Black Hole Short Film by Rupert Sanders

Time Review of Black Hole

Charles Burns’ Fatagraphics Page

Charles Burns’ Tumblr Page

Charles Burns at the Adam Baumgold Gallery

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Works of Jack L. Chalker (Classic Book Series)

     One of the grossly overlooked Science Fiction writers of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s was Jack L. Chalker. Jack died in 2005 after a two-year illness. He was 60 years old and I can’t help feeling that his work was cut much too short. Chalker was a creative genius and there was/is no better writer of the physical transformation of characters. I have been a long-time fan and would like to take a moment to rate the works of his that I’ve read. What I really like about Jack’s body of work is that in most of his stories he had a long-term vision. Not a single 300 page narrative but a massive, expansive three or four or five book story always rich in character, full of creative world-building, and constructed along unique and never-before imagined story-lines. His novels are always entertaining and highly creative (even on the second and third reads) and you’ll see by my ratings below (not a single one of his books rates lower than four stars) how highly I value his work.

    If you’re in the mood for some wonderful Science Fiction stories of transformation and have somehow disregarded this author I suggest you search out any of the novels listed below. It wouldn’t surprise me to find many of his books out of print these days but it would be worth the effort to visit your favorite used book store to find them. They’ll be worth the quest. I promise. Jack Chalker is, hands down, the best author who never won a Hugo or Nebula award (but deserved to.)

The Saga of the Well World series


1. Midnight at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1977  5 stars (one of my all-time favorites)

2. Exiles at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1978  5 stars

3. Quest for the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1978  5 stars

4. The Return of Nathan Brazil, Del Rey, 1980  4 ½ stars

5. Twilight at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1980  4 ½ stars

6. The Sea is Full of Stars, December, 1999  4 ½ stars

7. Ghost of the Well of Souls, 2000  4 ½ stars


The Watchers at the Well series


1. Echoes of the Well of Souls, Del Rey, trade paperback, May, 1993  4 ½ stars

2. Shadow of the Well of Souls, Del Rey Feb. 1994  4 ½ stars

3. Gods of the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1994  4 ½ stars


The Four Lords of the Diamond series


1. Lilith: A Snake in the Grass, Del Rey, 1981  4 1/2 stars

2. Cerberus: A Wolf in the Fold, Del Rey, 1982  4 stars

3. Charon: A Dragon at the Gate, Del Rey, 1982  4 stars

4. Medusa: A Tiger by the Tail, Del Rey, 1983  4 stars

The Four Lords of the Diamond, The Science Fiction Book Club (omnibus edition), 1983 4 Stars

The Dancing Gods series


1. The River of Dancing Gods, Del Rey, 1984  4 stars

2. Demons of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, 1984  4 stars

3. Vengeance of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, July, 1985  4 stars

4. Songs of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, August, 1990  4 stars

5. Horrors of the Dancing Gods, 1994  4 stars

The Dancing Gods: Part One, Del Rey, November, 1995

The Dancing Gods II, Del Rey, September, 1996


The Soul Rider series


1. Spirits of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1984  4 1/2 stars

2. Empires of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1984  4 stars

3. Masters of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, January, 1985 4 stars

4. The Birth of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1985  4 stars

5. Children of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, September, 1986  4 stars

The Rings of the Master series


1. Lords of the Middle Dark Del Rey Books, May, 1986  4 stars

2. Pirates of the Thunder, Del Rey Books, March, 1987  4 stars

3. Warriors of the Storm, Del Rey Books, August, 1987 4 stars

4. Masks of the Martyrs, Del Rey, February, 1988  4 stars

G.O.D. Inc. series


1. The Labyrinth of Dreams. Tor Books, March, 1987  4 stars

2. The Shadow Dancers, Tor Books, July, 1987  4 stars

3. The Maze in the Mirror, Tor Books, January, 1989  4 stars

The Changewinds series


1. When the Changewinds Blow, Ace - Putnams, September, 1987 4 1/2 stars

2. Riders of the Winds, Ace Books, May, 1988 4 stars

3. War of the Maelstrom, Ace - Putnams, October, 1988  4 stars

The Quintara Marathon series


1. The Demons at Rainbow Bridge, Ace-Putnam's, hardcover, September, 1989  4 1/2 stars

2. The Run to Chaos Keep, Ace - Putnams, May, 1991  4 stars

3. The Ninety Trillion Fausts (a.k.a. 90 Trillion Fausts), Ace - Putnams, October 1991  4 stars

The Wonderland Gambit series


1. The Cybernetic Walrus, Del Rey, trade pb November, 1995 4 stars

2. The March Hare Network, 1996 4 stars

3. The Hot-Wired Dodo, Del Rey, Feb. 1997 4 stars

The Three Kings series


1. Balshazzar's Serpent, Baen Books 1999 4 1/2 stars

2. Melchior's Fire, Baen Books, 2001. 4 stars

3. Kaspar's Box, 2003 4 stars

Stand-alone novels

A Jungle of Stars, Ballantine, Del Rey, 1976 5 stars

The Web of the Chozen, Del Rey, 1978  5 stars (another favorite)

And the Devil Will Drag You Under, Del Rey, 1979  5 stars

A War of Shadows, Ace: An Analog Book, 1979 4 ½ stars

Dancers in the Afterglow, Del Rey, 1979, 1982  5 stars (another favorite)

The Devil's Voyage, Doubleday, 1980 4 stars

The Identity Matrix, Timescape: Pocket Books, 1982  4 stars

Downtiming the Night Side, Tor Books, May, 1985  4 ½ stars

The Messiah Choice, St. Martins - Blue Jay, May, 1985 4 stars

The Red Tape War (with Mike Resnick and George Alec Effinger). Tor hardcover, April, 1991 (not read)

Priam's Lens, Del Rey 1997  4 stars

The Moreau Factor, Del Rey Feb., 2000 4 stars

Chameleon (partially completed at time of death) (not read)


Collection and Anthology

Dance Band on the Titanic, Del Rey Books, July, 1988 (short stories) 4 stars

Hotel Andromeda [edited by], Ace, 1994 (not read)

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Jack L. Chalker Wiki Page

Jack L. Chalker ISFDB Page

Jack L. Chalker NNDB Page

Jack L. Chalker Baen eBooks Page

Jack L. Chalker Facebook Page

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Book Review - Donnybrook by Frank Bill

Frank Bill
Trade Paperback
Publisher: FSG Originals
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0374532895
256 pages


    don·ny·brook/ˈdɒniˌbrʊk/[don-ee-brook] an inordinately wild fight or contentious dispute; brawl; free-for-all. Also called Donnybrook Fair.
     - www.dictionary.reference.com

     The Orange County, Indiana Donnybrook Fair is a three day all-out no-holds barred fist-fight featuring pugilists, bare-knuckle fighters, self-defense experts, martial artists, and hand-to-hand combatants from all walks of life. It’s the rowdiest and most physically violent party you’ll find anywhere in America. One hundred brave men vie for $100K in cash prizes and thousands of spectators come to watch, bet on their favorite fighters, carouse, argue, ingest drugs, get drunk on moonshine and cheap beer, and get laid. It is, in fact, what Jarhead Earl, a bare-knuckle fighter, reasons is the only redemption he’s ever likely to find.

     Jarhead has seen better days. He has no job, no money, and no prospects for the future and with two young mouths to feed and a woman with an Oxycontin monkey on her back he sets off from Kentucky to the Donnybrook to stake his claim. But before he can enter the fight Jarhead needs the $1,000 entry fee and a man with nothing to lose will do just about anything to get back to square again, including robbing a gun shop, for exactly $1,000.

     One thing Donnybrook isn't is high literature and thank-goodness for that. This imaginative novel is filled with some of the most interesting “language” I've read in a very long time. It is coarse, dark, ribald, dirty, low, and so very crisp. It's colloquial, explicit and beautiful. It is Hunter S. Thompson meets Charles Bukowski meets outhouse scribbling. And that makes Donnybrook all kinds of a great read. The characters are the dregs, drug addicts, and lost souls of an unemployable, broken region of the mid-west. Flawed, American, and itching for a fight every character is as hard as nails and would just as soon throw a punch your way as smile at you. But Frank Bill takes us deep into the heart and soul of the protagonist and we identify with him and are moved by his desire to improve his situation and care for his family, no matter how messed up the methods. And that's what makes this book so entertaining. There's blood and sex and drugs and booze and addiction and cruelty and redemption and love and the complexities of the human condition connecting them all.

     Frank Bill has a magnificent gift for creating realistic, layered settings filled with striking language and vivid, poetic succinctness. He can carve an entire Kentucky County in two short sentences, explain the intricacies of bare-fisted fighting in fewer words than I’ve used in this paragraph, and can craft impactful and colloquial dialogue like a veteran writer. In fact, his dialogue reminded me very much of Cormac McCarthy’s homespun language. It’s simple storytelling but expresses the complex emotions and thoughts of desperate, lost characters. And that’s the brilliance of this story. Donnybrook is entertaining, fun, violent, coarse, dirty, addictive and just waiting for a Hollywood producer to turn it into a blockbuster movie. I personally hope a sequel is in the making…

     File with: Bare-knuckled fist fights, Raging Bull, pulp fiction, Every Which Way But Loose, The Quiet Man, colloquialism, Fight Club, Snatch, drug and alcohol abuse, The Iliad, Macbeth, Ivanhoe, guns and guts, The Song of Roland, torture, Beowulf, and Suttree, Child of God, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Author Website

Donnybrook Amazon Page

Donnybrook Review

Donnybrook MacMillan Page

Donnybrook Excerpt

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review - The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni
Helene Wecker
Trade Paper Back
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0062110831
496 pages

Advance Readers Copy


     Golem [goh-luhm, -lem] 1. Jewish Folklore. a figure artificially constructed in the form of a human being and endowed with life. 2. a stupid and clumsy person; blockhead. 3. an automaton.

     Jinni [ji-nee, jin-ee] Islamic Mythology. any of a class of spirits, lower than the angels, capable of appearing in human and animal forms and influencing humankind for either good or evil. (also, jinn, djinn, djinni)

     The Golem and the Jinni is a unique mixture of Hebrew and Arab mythology; a modern telling of stories older than the written word. A golem, a clay woman created to serve as a rich man’s companion, loses its master to a burst appendix on board a steamship headed to America. A jinni, released by an unsuspecting tinsmith from its prison after hundreds of years in captivity, tries to recall its hazy past. For both, finding their way and places in 1899 New York City is both a challenge and a curse. Disoriented and alone they set out to understand the world around them. How do two creatures, neither of them human, fit in to this strange new world?

     The golem begins her independent life as a baker and the Jinni as an apprentice tinsmith. Completely unknown to each other, the two creatures of ancient lore explore the unfamiliar and very human city. The golem, taken in by a kind, old rabbi, is tormented by the desires and wishes of others, which she can hear in her mind. Ahmad, named by the tinsmith who released him from his captivity, has no patience for the dreariness of humans. Both must work to create a place for themselves in America, and develop relationships with the humans who surround them.

     And then, one cold, wind-swept night, they unexpectedly cross paths.

     File with: One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, mythology, folk lore, Scheherazade, fantasy, and social outcasts.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Golem and the Jinni Amazon Page

The Golem and the Jinni Excerpt

Official Author Website

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review - The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

The Hangman’s Daughter
Oliver Pötzsch
Kindle Version
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Publication Date: December 7, 2010
Source ISBN: 054774501X
Print Length: 448 pages

     A murder mystery set in 17th Century Bavaria told from the perspective of an executioner? How creative is that? Yes, I understand that Oliver Pötzsch gleaned a lot of this story from his own genealogical background, but still… I love all the originality that came out of his family history research. Believe me when I tell you that most family history study is rather boring (dates and names and full of dull farmers and peasants and such) so a truly original idea stemming from that exploration is extremely interesting to me. Had he only written this one book I might have attributed it to a flash-in-the-pan but interesting. That Pötzsch was able to add to the story for an additional three more books is an amazing accomplishment.

     The Hangman’s Daughter is a dark and grisly tale told from the viewpoint of Jacob Kuisl, the local Hangman, who is not at all like what executioners have been portrayed in film and fiction over the years. Kuisl is not a cold, heartless killer hiding behind a mask. He’s a real, loving, caring person that understands his role as village executioner and sets out to complete his every duty to keep his family in beets and mutton. But Jacob is also a kind-hearted, compassionate, and logical-minded man that understands the harsh realities of the world he lives in even if he has to break a few noses to get to the truth. And the tortures and executions he must commit in the name of the village leaders are sometimes burdens he has difficulty shouldering, especially when he doesn’t agree with the judgments handed down by the town burghers. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it puts Kuisl in a precarious situation. Like when the midwife that delivered his children is accused of witchcraft.

     I think that the logical, caring, scientific man behind the mask is the main reason this story worked for me. Yes, you could argue that the language or phrases could not have come from the 17th Century (but really, what fun would that read be?) You could also argue that there’s too much implied violence here (especially the torture of a witch and the murder of children) but the sad reality is that the world was a very cruel place when this fictional account happened and Pötzsch does an excellent job of setting the tone for his historic scenes, which is another reason I rated this story high. But the main reason I enjoyed this story so much was that I valued the characters. The Hangman with a secret heart of gold and a fist of fury, his daughter, Magdalena, trapped by circumstance of birth to marry an executioner herself and filled with melancholy and stubbornness because of it, the town doctor’s son, Simon, a new physician himself, who despises the old medicinal practices of blood letting and purging, and the accused witch who is nothing more than an innocent midwife with a few herbal remedies made The Hangman’s Daughter a very enjoyable read. The character development was beautifully paced and the antagonist cleverly conceived and I began to care about the characters very quickly; a sure sign of a well-written story to me.

     The Hangman’s Daughter was a comparatively quick read for me and I enjoyed every moment of it very much. As a matter of fact, I appreciated The Hangman’s Daughter so much that I purchased the Kindle versions of the other two available books in the series, The Dark Monk and The Beggar King and pre-ordered the forth-coming fourth book in the series The Poisoned Pilgrim, due out later this year.

     File with: Historical fiction, murder mystery, Jesse Bullington, horror, history, executioners, Ellis Peters, hangmen, and witchcraft.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:
Hangman's Daughter Series
1. The Hangman's Daughter (2010)
2. The Dark Monk (2012)
3. The Beggar King (2012)
4. The Poisoned Pilgrim (2013)

The Hangman’s Daughter Amazon Page

The Hangman’s Daughter Wiki Page

The Hangman’s Daughter Video Trailer

HistoricalNovels.Info Review
(Includes other novels featuring executioners, non-fiction works about executioners, and additional online information. Very informative!)

Author’s Official Website
Interview with Oliver Pötzsch

Interesting WSJ Article about Oliver Pötzsch


[A Lesson Learned: So, I’ve come to realize recently that I tend to reward creativeness and originality with slightly higher ratings in the books that I’ve read. Should I let that affect my rating? Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so but I don’t really know. What I do know is that I recognize rather quickly what books I do like and if you’re anything at all like me then you’ll probably like many of my highest rated books. I hope that my reviews have helped you decide which books to read and that you’ve enjoyed them as much as I. If not, well, your voice can be heard in the comment section below every post. Let me know what you think! And, thank you for reading The Alternative!]

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review - The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The Best of All Possible Worlds
Karen Lord
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: February 12, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0345534057
320 pages
Advance Reader’s Copy


     The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord is, in my opinion, everything that’s right and good with Science Fiction today. It contains mind-powered space flight, reminiscent of Dune but without the religious/spice-drug aspects. Some of the main characters are humanoid “aliens” like every non-human race in Gene Rodenberry’s alternate Star Trek universe (i.e. Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans, etc.). There is one very dead planet destroyed by a hostile enemy similar to what happens in Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, among others. And, there is futurism but not in a dystopian Brave New World or Hunger Games way but more like Asimov’s Foundation series where science remains one of the more crucial element to the survival of the human race rather than its downfall. But, more importantly than all these other fascinating tropes is that The Best of All Possible Worlds contains social Science Fiction mingled expertly with human interaction, the bonds of friendship and love through difference, and a very modern feel for a style that used to be called classic. There is good reason why I mention some of the greatest contributions and novelists of Science Fiction in the descriptions above and that’s because The Best of All Possible Worlds belongs categorized with them. Now, more than ever, we need successors to the hard Science Fiction mentalities of the past fifty years that have disappeared with the passing of the great Science-Fiction writers of the Golden Age. Karen Lord is an obvious front-runner.

     A powerful, technologically-minded race of humanoid “aliens,” the Sadiri, suddenly find themselves homeless after their world has been completely destroyed by a planet-busting weapon. In an attempt to integrate themselves into a new society a small group of traveling male survivors seek refuge on the colony planet of Cygnus Beta and are challenged to rebuild their race by locating suitable DNA matches from the women that currently live there. Grace, a Cygnus Betan and a scientist trained in linguistics is assigned as liaison between the local politicians and the Sadiri to help aide them in their search for acceptable female counterparts and to build new settlements to ease their integration into society. Her Sadiri counterpart, Dllenahkh, together, with a small team of representatives from both cultures set off on an expedition across the newly colonized planet. Along the way their close friendship becomes something more than either expected. But with advanced humanoids from the stars what exactly does that mean? And where might it take them?

     The Best of All Possible Worlds is a fascinating science-fiction novel that I'd recommend to readers who enjoy character driven stories with a bit of technology, some biology, mystery, alien psychology, and light, non-conventional romantic elements. Lord’s style is both elegant and subtle, her world-building spectacular, and she spends very little time telling the reader the story but rather showing it by engaging our imaginations with her concise and often poetic prose. There is a new, powerful, and creative voice in the realm of Science Fiction. Her name is Karen Lord.

     File with: Jack McDevitt, mind-bending space travel, Dune, technology, Star Trek, alien culture, Gene Rodenberry, light Romance, Science Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut, Peter F. Hamilton, planet killers, and futurism.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Best of All Possible Worlds Amazon Page

The Best of All Possible Worlds Random House Page

The Best of All Possible Worlds Space Between Words Page

Official Karen Lord Website

The Best of All Possible Worlds Excerpt

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Book Review - Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson

Death Warmed Over
(Dan Shamble, Zombie PI Series #1)
Kevin J. Anderson
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0758277343
304 pages
Advance Reader’s Copy


     New Orleans has a tendency to spit out some odd and unsavory characters from time to time but when the undead, including zombies, vampires, werewolves, and a host of other distasteful characters infiltrate NOLA then it can only go from really bad to totally jacked. When the “Big Uneasy” occurred, a mysterious event ten years earlier that released every variety of nightmarish monsters into the real world, one P.I.’s investigative workload took an unusual turn for the bizarre. Dan Chambeaux, Zombie PI, and his ghostly, lounge-singing girlfriend, Sheyenne, take on some of the shadiest cases in the “Unnatural Quarter” including a resurrected mummy suing the museum that put him in their showroom for wrongful imprisonment, two hexed witches filing legal action against a publisher for not using “spell check” on its books of enchantments, and a skittish vampire with a stake phobia. Those cases pay the bills but of greater importance to Chambeaux is who turned him and why? And what’s with the bullet hole through the middle of his head? Twisted, hilarious, and completely entertaining Death Warmed Over is the perfect gift for that murder-mystery ghost-loving undead-zombie-detective-humorist fan in your life. You know who they are!

     Death Warmed Over, the first book in the Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series by Kevin J. Anderson is a rollicking, dark-humor, supernatural tale that I recommend for pulp, humor, detective, zombie, and murder mystery fans of all ages. (Mostly not for pre-teens, ‘cuz, you know, there’re zombies and mayhem and the unnaturally undead in here. Of course, just by saying this I know it’ll send them all flocking to the nearest library to check it out. If only that were true?) [If you are under 13 and reading this please forget that I wrote the last two sentences. K? BTW, there’s plenty of really excellent YA novels at the library.]

     File with: Zombies, the supernatural, zombie private investigator, murder mystery, even more zombies, undead, super-unnatural beings, flesh-eaters, pulp detective/true crime stories, Zombies vs. Vampires vs. Werewolves, a lot more zombies, New Orleans, witches, mummies, curses, and The Walking Dead.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Series:
1. Death Warmed over (2012)
2. Unnatural Acts (2012)
3. Hair Raising (2013)

Death Warmed Over Amazon Page

Death Warmed Over Kirkus Review

Death Warmed Over Tor Review

Kevin J. Anderson Blog

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Book Review – Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel by Lia Habel

Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel
Lia Habel
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0345523341
496 pages
Advance Reader’s Copy


     Their love knows no end… well, his doesn’t. Can a Steampunk lady from the crusty upper class find unconditional love with a handsome, urban-guerilla zombie?

     Dearly Beloved is the sequel to Lia Habel's novel Dearly, Departed which I did not know when I originally made the request for the Advance Reader’s Copy (Yes, I know, shame on me for not doing my homework but the premise sounded good. It was a zombie story! What of it?) At any rate, when I understood that it was the second book in a series it all began to make sense to me. It explains my feeling of being slightly lost, albeit momentarily, through the first chapter or so. This is not the first time I’ve accidently read a story out of series order (probably won’t be the last either) and I apologize to the author for not being able to connect Dearly, Departed (which I did not read) with Dearly, Beloved. It also explains why some of the characters felt, to me, so familiar to each other both in dialogue and action. This is a very good thing for a second book in a series, by the way. You want your characters to interact with familiarity and understand some of each other’s motives and emotions. All that said, this could have been, in my opinion, a stand-alone story on its own merits my confusion not withstanding. Dearly, Beloved is a very good story that contains intricate sub-plot twists, a world full of unusual (sometimes bizarre) characters, and multiple political and social points of view. Habel is a competent writer, has exactly the right voice needed to create inventive stories in the genre, and managed to integrate unique and creative ideas into her narrative. Always an advantage in a genre overflowing with overused tropes, memes, and cliché.

     The interesting idea here is that zombies can lead fairly normal lives if they reanimate early enough to prevent too much deterioration to the brain and are able to control their animalistic lust for consuming human flesh. And in this world zombies are considered second-rate citizens that many believe should not be afforded the same rights as the living. The socio-political climate is in a delicate balance that’s about to boil over. A dangerous standoff exists between “The Changed,” a radical group of sentient zombies fighting for their survival, and “The Murder,” a squad of paramilitary rebels determined to terminate the living dead and their living allies. Nora Dearly and her zombie boyfriend, Bram, fight together to keep both their worlds from erupting into social unrest and violence while attempting to understand the unique complications of their living/undead new love. Hell of a way to develop a budding relationship!

     Those of you familiar with my blog know that the Romance genre is one that I normally do not read or review. This particular book then presented me with a serious review dilemma. Should I read Dearly, Beloved with the pre-formed notion that I’d more than likely rate it low simply because it is a Romance or do I take the chance and hope that the Zombie elements outweigh the endearments? The answer? Dearly, Beloved is, in all actuality, an excellent Zombie novel with interesting and captivating elements of Romance, social reform, violence, and xenophobia deftly woven into the backstory. While not quite the type of story I normally showcase here Dearly, Beloved was a surprisingly intelligent, creative, and entertaining read.

     File with: Virus Apocalypse, Neo-Victorian Gothic Romance, Noir Steampunk, zombies, The Walking-Dead meets Romance, high-society, adventure, futuristic thriller, social unrest and reform, commando guerilla zombies, soft porn, and living corpses.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Dearly, Departed Series
1. Dearly Departed (2011)
2. Dearly, Beloved (2012)

Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel Amazon Page

Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel Excerpt

Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel Review and Interview

Official Author Website

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review - Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

Great North Road
Peter F. Hamilton
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0345526663
951 pages
Advance Reader’s Copy


     In Great North Road, Peter F. Hamilton’s epic space opera, clones are featured not as slaves or second class citizens, like in Blade-Runner, Gattaca, or The Island, but as the ruling class. The North family is a large corporation of elite and wealthy clones who have built the most powerful interstellar empire ever conceived. When Sid Hurst, a frazzled but competent homicide detective, is called to investigate the brutal murder of an unidentified North he knows he’s in for a sobering ride. Worse yet, two decades ago another North was slain in the exact same manner but the woman convicted and imprisoned for that murder, Angela Tramelo, has spent the past twenty years proclaiming her innocence and could not have committed the most recent crime.

     The murder investigation moves from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to an expedition into the wilderness of the planet St. Libra, light years away. But St. Libra, a sanctuary for one North clan, has never been fully surveyed and the flora and fauna are not only unusual but dangerous. Could an alien killer be hiding on St. Libra? Why would it kill one of the most powerful family members in the known universe? And just what did Angela Tramelo see on the night of the first North murder?

     Obvious successor to Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and Philip K. Dick, Peter F. Hamilton is hands down the absolute best world-builder and space-opera writer in the business. And, as in most of his other works, the cast of characters and storylines are legion. However, that is not a criticism. On the contrary, Hamilton integrates storylines and subplots with his characters as skillfully as any writer working today and there is little chance of the reader getting lost or losing the flow of the story. As always, Hamilton presents solid science and great speculative technology into this story. Interstellar space travel, a city covered with a virtual computer mesh that can be re-wound and reviewed for criminal activity, and a complex system of habitable planets are just a few of the Science Fiction themes Hamilton employs in this story.

     Great North Road weighs in at an impressive 951 pages so this is not for the quick read or instant gratification Science Fiction crowd. It is a stand alone novel (for the moment) and finishes without that cliff-hanging, sequel-in-the-wings ending that’s so common in today’s serial-minded world. It is typical well-crafted Peter F. Hamilton so if you are already a fan you’ll enjoy this. If you’re not then I suggest you read Great North Road anyway. When you’re done you will be a fan…

     File with: Space Opera, Arthur C. Clarke, epic Science Fiction, Robert A. Heinlein, speculative fiction, Jack Chalker, murder mystery, interstellar space travel, Jack McDevitt, speculative technology, planetary expeditions, and clones.

4 ½ out of 5 Stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Great North Road Amazon Page

Great North Road Wiki Page

Peter F. Hamilton Official Website

Peter F. Hamilton Wiki Page

Peter F. Hamilton Fan Site

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book Review - The Epiphanist by William Rosencrans

The Epiphanist
William Rosecrans
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Derby Books
Publication Date: May 11, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0615649962
360 pages
Advance Reader’s Copy


     The Epiphanist, the debut novel by William Rosencrans, centers around Vladimir, a teenage boy brought up on a prison plantation on Haven Island which is anything but a sanctuary. Because of the statistical likelihood he’ll commit an act of violence before coming of age Vladimir is sentence to a life of labor at Assuncao's Manor. In a world where everyone is genetically engineered the rejects are sentenced to Haven to spend their lives in physical servitude. The island is populated by an unsavory collection of genetic experiments gone wrong – aberrations, cripples, mutants, and lunatics. But Vladimir’s record is spotless and he has been nominated for parole by the authorities. A quick exam and a life of quiet comfort in the Holy City awaits him. When war breaks out and destroys his home his plans for independence are crushed and he must now fight his way to freedom through a nightmare world of feudal cruelty and nanotech marvels. With the help of his visions and a strange band of nanite allies; a fly, a satyr, and a female known as Viryx he must navigate the dangers of the jungle and a maze of political scheming to regain his rights.

     File with: China Mieville, Jack Chalker, fantasy, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and genetic engineering.

3 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Epiphanist Amazon Page

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review - Zomnibus Volume 1 (Graphic Novel)

Zomnibus Volume 1 (Graphic Novel)
Shane McCarthy (Author), El Torres (Author), Chris Ryall (Author), Chris Bolton (Illustrator), Enrique Lopez Lorenzana (Illustrator), Yair Herrera (Illustrator), and Ashley Wood (Illustrator)
Trade Paperback
Publisher: IDW Publishing;
Publication Date: First Edition September 15, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1600105272
380 pages


     A zombthology of more zombie goodness (and a lot of bbbrrraaaiiinnneeesss…)

Stories include:

     1. Zombies!:Feast – Written by Shane McCarthy, Illustrated by Chris Bolton and Enrique Lopez Lorenzana
4 out of 5 brains

     2. Zombies!:Eclipse of the Undead – Written by El Torres, Illustrated by Yair Herrera
4 out of 5 brains

     3. Complete Zombies vs. Robots – Written by Chris Ryall, Illustrated by Ashley Wood*
5 out of 5 brains

     I’ve often wondered why zombies are so vocal. What with all the “arrrggghhh’s” and “urrgghh’s” it’s almost as if their imminent approach came with a built-in early warning system for the non-ambling survivors. Wouldn’t zombies be infinitely scarier if they were absolutely silent and we couldn’t hear them coming? And I understand the whole putrefy thing. Hey look, Billy, I’ve got your nose… but wouldn’t rigor mortis set in eventually and turn them all into living pieces of non-shambling statuary? Or by 21st Century standards “works of art”? And really, who on earth would be frightened by half-a-zombie slowly crawling towards them? I can visualize gangs of post-apocalyptic teenage boys taunting two half-zombies to drag race. And zombies rising up out of the sewers (Dude, you smell like crap!) is so cliché. But I digress…

     Seriously though, how can anyone not love a good zombie story?! That goes double for a shambling-undead graphic novel. And, in the stories found in Zomnibus Volume 1 no one gets out alive. Oh, shoot! Should I have said SPOILER there? On second thought, I can’t remember a zombie story when everyone got out alive and the three stories included in this brilliant anthology are no exception. (Should zombies be called spoilers? Hmmm…. You heard it here first.)

     In Zombies!: Feast and Zombies!: Eclipse of the Undead we find familiar urban settings taken over by the flesh-eating undead. In the first story, a band of hardened convicts being relocated to a new prison by bus find out how tough it is in a new un-dead world and in the second story, a sword-wielding sensei cuts a path through a wall of zombies to save a few brave and honest souls. In both stories, the chance of survival is next to nil. Yet a flicker of hope keeps the narratives, and the characters, moving forward. Both accounts are beautifully drawn, darkly macabre, and tell very different, but entertaining, zombie infestation stories.

     Complete Zombies vs. Robots is a murky and foreboding collection of stories that turn into a triple-threat apocalypse rather quickly. A zombie apocalypse, a robot apocalypse, AND nuclear war combine to create a truly horrific zombie-winter cautionary tale. The art work here is breathtaking and each panel is a total work of creative genius. Minimalistic in some panels, though effective, the scenes are always pleasing to the eye, even the gory, brain-splattering (payoff!) ones.

     File with: The Walking Dead, Marvel Zombies, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, World War Robot, Zombies vs. Robots, post-apocalyptic fiction, World War Z, zombies, and “hello, cruel worlds.” (And any other zombie book I’ve reviewed in the past six years.)

4 ½ out of 5 brains

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Zomnibus Volume 1 Amazon Page

Zomnibus Volume 1 Preview

Zombies!:Eclipse of the Undead Preview

Artists Websites:

Chris Bolton

Enrique Lopez Lorenzana

Yair Herrera

Ashley Wood

Ashley Wood Blog

[* Note: If she hasn’t already, Ashley Wood should be awarded for her talents. She’s a gifted artist, has that “it” factor, that really needs to be noticed by the masses. I know that I’ll be purchasing anything she’s associated with from now on.]

Book Review - Zomnibus Volume 2 (Graphic Novel)

Zomnibus Volume 2 (Graphic Novel)
Brian Lynch (Author), Jimmy Palmiotti (Author), Justin Gray (Author), Brea and Zane Grant (Authors), Dave Crosland (Illustrator), Giancarlo Caracuzzo (Illustrator), Kyle Strahm (Illustrator)
Trade Paperback
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publication Date: October 18, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1613770566
320 pages


      Even more zombie stories (with teeth and frat boys and plane crashes and flappers - and even more bbbrrraaaiiinnneeesss)

Stories include: 
     1. Everybody’s Dead – Written by Brian Lynch, Illustrated by Dave Crosland
3 ½ out of 5 brains

     2. The Last Resort – Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray Illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo
5 out of 5 brains

     3. We Will Bury You – Written by Brea and Zane Grant, Illustrated by Kyle Strahm
3 out of 5 brains

     What I found truly interesting about Zomnibus Volume 2 is that each of the three stories starts before any zombification has begun and hardly a character notices that the undead are roaming (and moaning) the streets until somebody gets their face eaten off. I realize that this is a common zombie trope and fun (see Shaun of the Dead and The Walking Dead) but I found it curious that all three contained a similar premise. Still, they’re ZOMBIE stories and that makes them awesome goodness with bullets and arrows and axes and crow bars…

     “Everybody’s Dead”, the first story in the anthology is a Buffy-style pastiche about a small, low-budget college frat-house whose collection of weirdo’s survives a zombie invasion. The characters act as you’d expect from a bunch of buzzed/drunk college frat boys. Including taking risks for the favors of college women and not knowing when they’ve bitten off more than they can chew (yes, I realize this is a bad zombie pun, but give a guy a break). Even more interesting is that the rival frat-house is infected, and they’re coming to take their house back…. This is an amusing and fun undead story with excellent artwork.

      The second story, “The Last Resort” is, in my opinion, the very best of the stories in Zomnibus Volume 2. The government has been experimenting with a drug that’s supposed to make soldiers über-fearless and inhumanly tough. But a mutant virus cultivated in these experimental soldiers escapes from an off-shore research facility to a Caribbean island resort filled with hopeful vacationers. When a plane full of unaffected humans is forced to crash-land on the island things go from spooky to downright terrifying quickly. Not to mention the body bag full of primo ganja and the rabid monkey-zombies?

      “We Will Bury You” the final story in the anthology is set amongst the flappers and mobster of the 1920’s and while interesting (and creative) in concept the story is not as fleshed-out as the others here. (Yikes! Will the zombie puns never end?) The alternate universe concept is clever and unique and the setting is a world waiting to be explored but the story itself is a bit stiff and the characters needed to be developed a little more for my taste. While this could have come off as mobsters (“we’ve got Thompson machine guns”) versus zombies (“we’ll eat all your flesh off”) it devolved instead into an intricate chase scene leaving it less of a story than it potentially should have been.

     File with: Zomnibus Volume 1, The Walking Dead, Marvel Zombies, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, World War Robot, Zombies vs. Robots, post-apocalyptic fiction, zombies, Zombie vs. Robots: This Means War! (prose), World War Z, and “hello cruel worlds.”

(About) 4 out of 5 brains

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Zomnibus Volume 2 Amazon Page

Zomnibus Volume 2 Bookish Page

Brian Lynch Wiki Page

Jimmy Palmiotti Wiki Page

Brea Grant Wiki Page
(She played Daphne Millbrook on the NBC TV series Heroes!)

Artists Websites:

Dave Crosland

Giancarlo Caracuzzo

Kyle Strahm

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Book Review - Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho

Manuscript Found in Accra
Paulo Coelho
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0385349833
208 pages


     Paulo Coelho’s Manuscript Found in Accra overflows with platitudes, beatitudes, and parables seemingly written for the 20th Century but found in the 11th in the holiest city on the planet. It is the eve of the First Crusade, July 14th, 1099 and Jerusalem lies in siege awaiting the invasion of Christian forces under the command of Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert II of Flanders, and Raymond IV of Toulouse. Forces of thousands of white-mantled soldiers surround the city’s gates. There, inside that holy city’s walls, on the eve of destruction, men, women, and children of every age and faith gather at a cistern to listen to the wisdom of a mysterious teacher known only as the Copt. He has summoned the panicked townspeople so that he can address their fears with truth; truths that resonate through the ages, truths that transform the audience into better human beings just for having heard them.

     Coelho records the last days of a terrified people using platitudes and parables as a wise teacher instructs the crowd on how to live better lives, even in the midst of sure death for many of them. Using the voice of the mysterious Copt, Coelho addresses the human condition in adverse times and how harmony, joy, and peace bookended with discord, grief, and war define our lives. He speaks of daily life and difficulties overcome and how to live rather than the coming war and what is about to happen to the people of Jerusalem. He speaks of what matters – love, beauty, knowledge, art, poetry, sex, grace, and the future – and of finding your own way or “Personal Legend” even in the middle of war and of “being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.”

     In the end, what Paulo Coelho teaches us in all of his recent works is that there is a “correct” way to live our lives. Forget color, race, money, religion, or position – there is a right way to conduct your life. Be decent and respect each other, love one another, and be at peace. One would hope that we could honor that philosophy by one day becoming apt students of this school of thought…

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative One
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Paulo Coelho’s Official Website

Paulo Coelho’s Wiki Page

Paulo Coelho’s Blog

Manuscript Found in Accra FaceBook Page

Quotes from Manuscript Found in Accra

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Book Review - Habibi (Graphic Novel) by Craig Thompson

Habibi (Graphic Novel)
Black and white
Craig Thompson
Publisher: Pantheon
Publication Date: First Edition - September 20, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0375424144
672 pages


     Habibi (“my beloved” in Arabic) by Craig Thompson is an incredibly moving story of love, loss and redemption that blankets almost every emotion in the human grab bag. It’s also a beautifully detailed piece of graphic art with what I can only assume began with a great deal of research and countless hours of design. It is erotic, brutal, sad, joyous, dark, evil, sinister, mature, compassionate, and alive with real, sympathetic human beings. The layout, calligraphy, and complex artwork are, in my opinion, absolutely gorgeous; the work of genius. Every page reveals just how brilliant a graphic artist Craig Thompson is. Each panel is aesthetically pleasing to the eye (usually in more than one aspect – i.e. numerology, characters, religion, borders, language, etc.) and is filled with intricate, arabesque-like decorations that demand your full attention. Because of this, Habibi is not a page turning graphic novel that causes you to flip through quickly to see how it all ends (though you definitely want to.) Instead, the artwork is so engaging, detailed, and stunning that it forces you to take your time studying each page for the aesthetics and to capture all the vital pieces of the visual story. There is magic and craft between the covers of Habibi – both written and drawn. There is spirituality and faith and philosophy. There is cruelty, eroticism, butchery, and death but there’s also love, hope, and beauty and that’s where Mr. Thompson excels. While unconventional by anyone’s standards the love story in Habibi is, nevertheless, touching yet always comes with a price. And while comfort and warmth lie just out of reach emotional distress and heart-ache fill the lives of every character in the story (as it does in life.) Erotic, paternal, and platonic the love story grabs you from the shocking opening lines and than holds you at arms length throughout. It is elusive but not frustratingly so to the reader. Thompson certainly understands how to draw his readers in (and keep their attention) both visually and emotionally.

     Habibi is a pre-apocalyptic story depicting the slow demise of the planet earth and tells the tragic story of Dodola and Zam, child slaves bound to each other by chance, as they are caught up in the cruelties of a world on the brink of destruction. Pollution is at its all-time worst, water is a rare and expensive commodity, and the world seems to understand that its days are numbered. The characters too seem to act and react as if they are fully aware that the end is near. As the world decays we witness two souls searching to fit in and find love as they move slowly towards each other through the worst of circumstances, only to become separated, and then to find each other once again. Dodola and Zam’s transformation between separations, brought on by the circumstances of an increasingly cruel world, serves to enlighten the reader about the distress of emotional suffering, the chasm between the first and third worlds and their religions, and the redemption found in hope and love.

     File with: Love story, Eastern philosophy, religion, graphic design, art, Scheherazade, and the human condition.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Habibi Website

Habibi Amazon Page

Habibi Wikipedia Page

Habibi Review

Craig Thompson Website

Craig Thompson Wikipedia Page


Friday, April 05, 2013

Book Review - The Return Man by V. M. Zito

The Return Man
V. M. Zito
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: April 1, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0316218283
448 pages
    More zombie goodness…
    The Return Man by Z. M. Vito introduces two very unique and different premises to the “Zombie Problem.” As the name implies, not only does Henry Marcos, “The Return Man” return to zombie infected/infested areas to finish what the virus started but V. M. Zito gives a logical explanation why zombies seem to congregate in certain places. For my part, both of these ideas are unique additions to the genre and is, in part, the reason for my four star rating. Another reason is that it’s a damn fine story!
    For a fee The Return Man will trek deep into an affected, off-limits zone and put an end to your zombified relative. For some family members this mercy killing is a final step in their healing process. For others, the “final ending” of their loved one might just allow them the closure they’ve needed to form a new beginning. Henry Marcos understands that the slow, meandering walk of the zombies has purpose and that a deep engrained memory, a spark of thought, compels them to seek out specific and meaningful places. Learn those important, sentimental places, The Return Man posits, and you can find almost anyone. So, why can’t Henry find his estranged wife? She’s out there somewhere and that’s what keeps Henry Marcos motivated and living at the edge of the zombie zone.
     I like that V. M. Zito introduces not one, but two, very different and creative notions concerning zombies into his debut novel and, in the process, side-stepped a number of redundant, overused tropes. (It bodes well for his survival in the industry.) In a day when most zombie, werewolf, and vampire stories follow long-used memes Zito worked outside the normal story lines to create a new sub-genre; that of Zombie Hunter. The Return Man held my interest throughout, and more importantly, kept me entertained from cover to cover. I love post-apocalyptic fiction and zombies. It’s even better when a new author adds unique ideas to a favorite mix and brings them successfully together. That’s usually when we find something special. The Return Man “is” that something special!
     File with: Post apocalyptic literature, zombies, survival, adventure, and zombies. I know I said zombies twice. I like zombies.
4 out of 5 stars
The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:
The Return Man Amazon Page
The Return Man Website
The Return Man Preview (Chapter 1)
Border Crossing: A Return Man Short Story
V. M. Zito FaceBook page

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Book Reviews – The Alchemist (Graphic Novel) and The Alchemist (Novel) by Paulo Coelho

Book Review – The Alchemist (Graphic Novel) by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist
Paulo Coelho
Illustrations by Daniel Sampere
208 pages
Publisher: Harperone
Publication Date: November 15th, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0062024329


     The Alchemist (Graphic Novel) by Paulo Coelho and illustrated by Daniel Sampere is a visual study in life’s lessons expressed as a fable and tells the story of a boy named Santiago who has the imagination and resolution to follow his “Personal Legend.” While Coelho’s story is compelling and spiritual Dan Sampere’s art and design brings it to life. Each of Santiago’s guides are beautifully drawn (one in the likeness of Coelho himself)  and help enhance the lessons being taught. The Alchemist embraces a number of important messages, lessons that have been told and re-told in literature countless times. However, that does not make this particular story any less valid (or enjoyable) then those that have come before it. In fact, the art enhances every aspect of the story. As a matter of fact, the story depicted in graphic novel form tells the story better, I think, than the novel. Where a thousand words might suffice in fiction, ten words and an image need to deliver the same message graphically. That paring down helps highlight the many morals the protagonist encounters in his journey. Coelho points out the emotions encountered when something urgent is desired and how, for some, that need often manifests its way in a universal realignment to point us in the direction of that goal. Coelho explains how a true hunger and passion for something can, and often is, rewarded by success and that every one of us has a “Personal Legend” inside us waiting to blossom. The story reminds us that those who love us encourage and inspire us in so many ways to follow our dreams, to pursue our ambitions, and how simply reaching for our goals will take us to places we might never expect.

     File with: Parables, philosophy, life lessons, and spirituality.

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative One
Southeast Wisconsin


Book Review - The Alchemist (Novel) by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist
Paulo Coelho
Publisher: Harper SanFrancisco
Publication Date: 1st edition - April 16, 1993
ISBN-13: 978-0062502179
192 pages


     One fourth spiritual poetry, one fourth platitudes, one fourth desert myth, and one fourth the philosophy of decency The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a study of life expressed as a myth or fable. It’s the story of a young boy named Santiago who has the imagination and resolution to go out and search for his own “Personal Legend.” Santiago stumbles a time or two but finds a series of guides that serve as moral compasses throughout his adventures. In one way or another they push him toward his goals, help him to retain his courage, and assist him in correctly reading the life omens he encounters. His endeavors eventually lead him to understand his own heart and inner desires. In varying degrees The Alchemist reminded me of some of the great spiritual writings of the past. It is the ghost of Kahlil Gibran and Rumi speaking to us, and like its predecessors, The Alchemist embraces a number of incredibly important messages, lessons that have been told and re-told in literature countless times. However, that does not make this particular story any less valid (or enjoyable) then those that have come before it. While the graphic novel is, in my opinion, more impactful visually the novel left me filled with the desire to go out and fulfill my own “Personal Legend.” Where images were more visually enticing the novel became a more emotional experience. Both are, in my opinion, worth the time spent reading. Coelho successfully points out the emotional roller coaster encountered when something urgent is desired and how, for some, that desire often manifests its way in a universal realignment to point us in the direction of that goal. (Though many of us refuse to hear or follow that call.) Coelho explains how a true hunger and passion for something can, and often is, rewarded by success and that every one of us has a “Personal Legend” inside us waiting to “become” or to manifest itself in a way we can recognize. (Usually its not how we see it in our heads when we set our goals.) The story reminds us that those who love us encourage and inspire us in many ways to follow our dreams, to pursue our ambitions, and that how simply reaching for our goals will take us to places we could never have expected to go without taking that first step.

     File with: Poetry, Spirituality, Parable, and damn fine literature!

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative One
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Paulo Coelho’s Official Website

Paulo Coelho’s Wiki Page

Paulo Coelho’s Blog

The Alchemist Preview

The Alchemist YouTube Trailer