Spandex: Fast and Hard. A Spoiler-free Comic Book Review.

Last week I found an exciting email in my inbox from Titan Books asking if I would like to review a new graphic novel hitting shelves next month. After I read the synopsis, I readily agreed.

Spandex: Fast and Hard is an indie title created by Brit artist Martin Eden and set in famous Brighton Beach, “gay capitol of the UK,” apparently (I’m a Yank, what do I know?). The series follows a group of seven super heroes, but these guys aren’t exactly what you’re used to seeing in the world of Marvel or DC. These heroes are a little bit queer. As in gay. Or bisexual. Mr. Eden is all-inclusive.

Fast and Hard collects the first 3 issues of Spandex in a hardback edition hitting shelves June 19. I think for most Americans this will be our first introduction to the title (it certainly was for me) and I believe indie comic fans and gay geeks alike will be interested. Think of it as Justice League meets Ghost World.

So how does it stack up in Josh’s overly-picky scrutiny? Hit the break to find out.  Continue reading

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Review: Heart of Steel

Heart of Steel
Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So yes, it’s true. I have read another lady romance novel. Damn you, Felicia Day!

Heart of Steel is a follow-up to The Iron Duke, however it’s not an exact continuation. This time we get to follow the adventure of two characters from the first book who vastly out-shone our previous protagonists. Archemedes Fox, the famous adventurer, returns in pursuit of two things: the lost artifacts of Leonardo Da Vinci and Yasmeen, the bad ass captain of the airship Lady Corsair.

Though I really enjoyed the first book, the only reason I chose to continue the series was because I found out Mina and Rhys, the characters of focus in Iron Duke, weren’t featured in this story whatsoever. It’s not that I didn’t like them, I just didn’t find anything all too endearing about either of them. It was Yasmeen that I fell in love with, so I jumped at the chance to read more about her. (Still waiting for a whole book about Scarsdale.)

There’s plenty of adventure going on in Heart of Steel and it (fortunately) doesn’t get too ridiculous with the sex. In fact, physical elements take a backseat to actual character development. Shock!

The plot gets a bit muddy halfway through, and for a while I wasn’t sure who the hell the antagonist was or what their goal was. It was pretty circuitous, if you ask me. In fact, the whole murderous plot seems to wrap itself up neatly in the last two chapters. I’m noticing a trend in Meljean Brook’s writing when it comes to that. Though thankfully there are no blatant (near-literal) deus ex machina saving the day this time around.

If you’re a steampunk fan or new to the genre, this is shaping up to be a great series to get involved in. Especially since there are two novellas and a third entry on the way. It’s definitely a 3.5 for me, as I enjoyed it far more than Iron Duke.

HURRY UP WITH MORE SCARSDALE, MELJEAN!

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Review: The Iron Duke

The Iron Duke
The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’ve read any of my past reviews, then you know I have a genre that I like to stick to. Namely, homosexual teenage boy fiction. Wow, that makes me sound like a perv. Whatever, let’s just go with it.

The Iron Duke could not be farther from that genre.

After 3 months of watching Felicia Day and her lady cohorts discuss various books on the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club hangouts on Google+, I decided to read along. But trust me, those things are fun to watch in complete ignorance of the subject they’re talking about. Anyway, yes, if you couldn’t tell by the name of the book club, this is full-on sexy lady fic. Only, in steampunk Victorian England with pirates and zombies and kraken and shit. Oh, and nanobots. *yay*

Mina, our vaginal heroine, is a tough female inspector specializing in murder cases. One night, she’s sent on an urgent investigation over the depositing of a dead body (by airship. *double yay*) on the front lawn of none other than dread-pirate-turned-war-hero-and-now-nobleman, Rhys Trahaern, the Iron Duke in question. Rhys takes an immediate fancy to Mina and, through use of his wealth and notoriety, makes himself a part the investigation. What begins is a wild chase across Europe by boat and airship to solve, not just a murder, but a conspiracy that could destroy the entirety of England. With plenty of saucy pirate behavior.

So, I admit, I walked into this with low expectations. I mean, I’ve read 2 of the Sookie Stackhouse books and wanted to set them aflame, and I attempted an Anita Blake novel, but found the writing so bad that I gave up. Meljean Brook, however, may have just changed my mind about trashy summer romance novels with a twist.

You see, the world that she has crafted isn’t just a straight-forward steampunk novel. It actually has some great original concepts. The fact that nanobots play a significant role in shaping the physics of this world made a lot more sense than some other authors’ treatments I’ve read. Plus, zombies coming from something other than a mysterious plague is refreshing. Now sure, you could argue that the creation of nanobugs requires technology far more sophisticated than clockwork and coal, but suspend your disbelief for a little while. There are a few other universal laws that are made possible by this, but I don’t want to spoil them for you.

The story itself is pretty well-paced and there were very few moments, if any, where I was yelling “Get on with it!” at my nook. Brook manages to keep things moving at a good clip, maintaining the excitement and mystery throughout. Part of that is due to some fantastic characters. I found myself completely enamored with Yasmeen, female captain of the airship Lady Corsair. As well, Trahaern’s right-hand man, Scarsdale, is one of my new literary crushes. While both of them are side characters, they have fairly significant roles in the entire book and I would readily give the sequel a try just for them.

As for Mina, she’s one of the better female leads I’ve read, with equal parts badass and delicate flower. Not like that complete waste of X chromosomes, Sookie Stackhouse (“Well, gaawwww-ly. Ah can read peoples’ minds, which shore gits me beat up a lot, but fortunately Ah got some vam-pahrs tuh rescue me all the time.” grr).

It’s Rhys that I have issues with. For a kick-ass, swashbuckling, dreadful pirate, he sure can be an emotional pussy. I mean, he’s more a woman than Mina is. “I have money and power. Come, let me make you mine, for I have only just met you, but I loooooooove you!” Rhys has his shining moments, but compared with every other character in this book, he’s really the one I care least about. In fact, it seems his companions are braver and more heroic than he ever is. All I ever really got from him was that he wanted Mina as his woman, and damn the world for telling him otherwise. Not very piratey behavior.

Anyway, the book is very enjoyable and fun to read. However, the ending really just tosses what should have been an epic final battle aside in two sentences and leaves the climax for a lame rescue operation and an absolute BS close call on Mina’s life. I don’t want to give it away, but her mother must be some kind of fucking GOD with clockwork and rubber tubes, not to mention needing the speed of The Flash to accomplish the whole thing. Yes, even in a world of nanobots and kraken, I had trouble buying it.

Oh, yeah. And there is the matter of the sexy bits. Now look, I don’t read romance books. They’re just not my thing. So I don’t know how this compares to other sex scenes, but I had to speed through some of those moments to keep my stomach from turning. Of course, I’m also deathly terrified of vaginas and lady bits. There could be shark teeth in there, I don’t know!

That aside, I think this is a pretty damn good book and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone (so long as hetero sex doesn’t make the tapioca rise in their gullet). It may be confusing for someone who isn’t familiar with the mechanics of steampunk, but the author lays out the universe very well.

My final verdict: 3 to 3.5 out of 5. And my thanks to Miss Felicia Day for getting me to read something I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

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Review: Catching Fire

Catching Fire
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was long overdue, but I finally got around to reading Catching Fire, the second in the Hunger Games series. Truthfully, I was in no hurry because, though I really enjoyed the first book, I wasn’t bucking at the chance to move on to part two. Then, after some convincing on my part, my best friend bought the whole series. And read them in less than a week. Suddenly she was obsessed and a day didn’t go by where she wasn’t pushing me to read book 2. And I have to say, this is the one that has made me a fan.

Fair warning, THIS WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Catching Fire starts off about six months after the end of Hunger Games and our heroine and hero are busy parading around Panem, as is apparently tradition for victors between games. It’s during this time that Katniss realizes, after seeing the rest of the nation for the first time, how much unrest there is toward the Capitol and the Games. Unfortunately, it’s up to her to try and diffuse this possible revolution, but only because the lives of her loved ones are threatened by the powers that be. It’s only after the a “shocking revelation,” which I saw coming since the halfway point of book one, that Katniss and Peeta find themselves back inside the game arena, ready to ignite a war of change in Panem.

Now let’s cut to the chase. Did anyone NOT see their forced return to the arena coming a long way off? I mean, the moment the author reveals the concept of the Quarter Quell, an event that only happens every 25 years in the Games, my first thought was, “And THERE’S our deus ex machina.” I’m not saying this was a bad decision, I’m just saying it was completely predictable and at no point was I ever lulled into a false sense of security for the characters.

That being said, Catching Fire was so enthralling (once you get past the first 1/3 of the book) that I found myself staying up late to read it. The tone of the book is decidedly darker than the first, exposing the reader to more turmoil and violence, although it never comes off as gratuitous. Where the theme of The Hunger Games was survival, this is a book about sparking a revolution, and its timing couldn’t be more apt in this current world climate.

What I’m finding amazing about this series is how it stands to finally teach young readers (after so many years of drivel involving weak-willed girls and magical dudes with frat boy rapist mentalities) that they may possess a strength of will they never knew they had, much like Katniss, whether that strength comes in the form of taking up for one’s self against a school yard bully or finding the will to protest government corruption. It doesn’t matter, so long as they come to that realization.

Suzanne Collins does a great job of not pandering or playing down to her audience, even while keeping the language clean. And as I’m sure you all know, I love my swears, but with everything going on here I didn’t even miss them. The one thing I take issue with in Catching Fire is the age-old cliche of “Oh, I love this guy, but I may be falling for that guy. Bother, bother, bother. Whom do I choose?” I understand why it’s there, I just think this horse has been trotted around track to death. Sure, it serves as an identifying point for readers, but come on. We can do better than this, can’t we? Shoot the horse, Suzanne.

There was also something that caught my attention when we’re meeting the tributes from other districts. Finnick, the 24 year old hunky slice of sex from District 4, is mentioned as being a favorite of many “people” in the capitol. I say people, because Collins never at any point makes a reference to his many fans and lovers being strictly women. She seems very careful to use they’s and them’s when referring to him. Is this her sly way of possibly hinting that Finnick isn’t finicky about what side of the fence his bedfellows fall on? Intentional or not, I’m taking it that way. Gimme some Finnick!

Now there is one major-ish issue I have with the book, and that’s the ending; it’s too jarring. Here’s my representation of the last 2 pages: wake up, holy shit we’ve escaped, here’s how it happened, this is where we’re going. See you in book 3, bitches!

Read the thing and tell me I’m wrong.

That issue aside, I REALLY enjoyed Catching Fire and give it a higher rating (4 stars) than The Hunger Games (3). If you were like me and wasn’t convinced to immediately start book 2 after finishing 1, just do it. It is so worth the read. Now my only problem is having to wait until payday to get Mockingjay. 2 days left!

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Review: City of Bones

City of Bones
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A little over a year ago, this book caught my eye. I ended up reading the first chapter in the store and decided to come back to it later. My taste in books must have changed in that period of time because now I have no idea what made me want to read this in the first place.

The story centers around Clarissa, or Clary for short, as she finds herself thrown into the “other” world of vampires, fairies, werewolves and sundry other mythical creatures, but most important of all, Shadowhunters. Yes, it seems the descendants of angels are living in New York City and their sole purpose in life is to hunt down demons and slay them with their weapons of celestial steel. Oh, and they’re all teenagers.

Let’s start out with the good things about the book:
Um…well, there’s…*tsk*…The lead demon hunter sounds kinda hot?

Yep, that’s about all I can say here. Honestly, there are very few redeeming qualities to this story. I can’t even say that it’s very original. Angsty teen demon killers? Haven’t we rehashed this concept to death? Oh wait, I guess since they’re “descended from angels” that makes it more interesting.

I changed my mind, it doesn’t.

Now, on to the shit list:
First off, it’s so painfully obvious that this, like Stephanie Meyer’s literary abortion, is a story written by a fat nerdy girl who is so bored with her mundane existence that she writes herself into a “kick-ass” romantic fantasy. And makes her self the pretty teenager she never was. I mean, seriously. Cassandra Clare writes a novel about a girl named CLARY? Cellophane isn’t that transparent. Especially when Clary constantly reminds us that she’s a fiery redhead (guess who else is!).

Then there’s the constant references to classic literature, art and, of all things, anime. Yes, almost once every chapter we have to read something like “The church reminded me of this anime where the head vampire sits on a throne near the altar,” or “Wanna come over and watch some Trigun?” Yes, that happened. As if we needed any more confirmation that this is Cassandra Clare’s wet dream.

And let’s not forget the brilliant dialog. It seems Ms. Clare wants everyone to know how well she did in English classes because she loves to make her characters throw BIG words out at random. Dear god, everyone here talks exactly the same! Are we really to believe that a couple of kids from Brooklyn converse like Long Island WASPs? And the reader is constantly left wondering if some of these characters are supposed to be British or just plain douchey. Maybe in Cassandra’s version of NYC the public schools are AMAZING.

Though I don’t want to give anything away, there is this really awkward question of an incestuous relationship between two characters that is never properly addressed. Maybe that’s something for book 2, but I’m not interested in reading it to find out.

And, oh my god, this woman uses the word “tawny” like Meyer uses “beautiful.” It feels like every damn paragraph! “His tawny hair.” “His tawny eyes.” Blah blah blah, gag gag gag.

A lot of characters here seem to border on schizophrenia. Jace, the male lead of the piece, can’t seem to pick an emotion or decide how he feels about anything. That plus the constant arrogance reminds me of a real-life Jace I know and wish I didn’t. Must be a Jace thing.

Add all that together, plus the random bits of information (A.K.A. writer’s conveniences) and you have a completely mediocre foray into teen paranormal romance. Hurrah.

Honestly, feel free to skip this one in lieu of something with more substance and better writing. It just isn’t worth the time or effort of 6+ books.

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Reading Update

As is now tradition, I received a Barnes and Noble gift card for Christmas. The poor thing only survived for a day, but in its place I have three new ebooks. One of which I have already written a review for.

Currently, I’m reading City of Bones by Cassandra Claire. I came across this one while browsing ebook titles for free on my nook during one of my many visits to Barnes and Noble. The first chapter intrigued me and I immediately put it on my wish list, where it sat for months until I had the scratch to throw at it. But now that I have it, I’m wondering what about it I found so interesting to begin with. Maybe my reading preferences have changed since last year, but were I to pick this up now, I likely wouldn’t plunk down the cash.

See, the problem I’ve noticed is that everyone in this book speaks in the exact same manner: rigid and waspy. Am I really supposed to believe that these two Brooklyn teenagers talk like NPR hosts and have amazing vocabularies, probably provided by a New York public school? No, sorry, I’m not buying this story.

And what the hell is with the constant bombardment of classic literature, art and, of all things, anime references? Miss Claire seems to want to show off her geeky knowledge of pop culture and books. But the references get irritating, at least for me.

I’m about 40% through with the book, so I’m hoping this will come together and really compel me to read on, if not download the next one. As long as it turns out to be better than Cinda Williams Chima’s piece of tripe The Warrior Heir (which I didn’t even bother to finish), then I’ll be satisfied with the purchase.

Review: Don’t Let Me Go

Don't Let Me Go
Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly can’t remember where I heard the early buzz for this book. All I do remember is putting it on my wishlist and checking the release date every Tuesday for at least a month before I was finally able to download it to my nook. I gotta say, it was well worth the wait.

Don’t Let Me Go is told from the point of view of Nate, a gay high school senior recounting his relationship with Adam, his first and only boyfriend, and the many events that bind them together. When Adam leaves Texas to work off off-Broadway for a few months, things threaten to fall apart and their love is put through some heavy trials.

Let me just say, I had some worries early on, thinking that this could turn out to be some shallow romance story of young gay love (*cough* Boy Meets Boy *cough*), but the more I read, the more I was hooked. There were more than a few nights that I didn’t get in bed until 3AM because I didn’t want to stop reading. I was just that involved in the story, which is a rarity for me as most books have to fight for my attention. I don’t take the world of fiction very lightly, boys and girls.

What J.H. Trumble managed to do here was capture that teenage passion and emotion so accurately, it was almost unnerving. Multiple times in the book I would catch something all too similar to my own experiences 10 years ago (sometimes less, but let’s not go there), whether it be fights with boyfriends, that dramatically unyielding desire to be with someone or simple interactions between former friends. I could see pieces of myself in Nate, Adam and Luke (a closeted gay boy in Nate’s school) to the point where I actually felt embarrassed realizing my own past actions were mirrored on the page. I know so, so many readers, gay or straight, will see themselves there too and it’s one of the things that make this book such a valuable read regardless of age, gender or orientation.

These characters are so honest and real that their actions can make you sting or your heart melt. I liked these people and enjoyed learning their ins, outs, desires and motivations. Hell, I, the self-professed anti-romance cynic (newly appointed as of Summer 2011) even got misty eyed over moments between Nate and Adam. Granted it didn’t make me want to run out and start dating again, but it did remind me of what it felt like to throw yourself into someone heart and soul (read the book, you’ll get it), regardless of consequence.

If Goodreads allowed half stars, this would be a 4.5, missing the 5 star mark only because I’m stingy with the stars and I have some minor issues with the last 2 chapters. But hey, that’s only due to the fact that I’m a cynical bastard with just a few blocks’ walk to Thirtiesville.

But don’t let my curmudgeony attitude deter you. READ THIS! I absolutely loved it and will be pushing it on my friends startinnnnng…now.

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