Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Murder She Wrote : The Maine Mutiny by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

The people of Cabot Cove were busy planning the upcoming Lobersterfest. The main attraction would be lobsters and the heroes of the event would be the men who spend their lives catching the lobster and who in turn will provide the crustaceans for the festival. The broker who buys the catch from each lobster man is not being fair with the very low prices he pays. Therefore Mr. Pettie is a very unpopular man among many. Talk around the docks is that the lobster men could get more money forming a co-op or going elsewhere and not dealing with Mr. Pettie. Jessica has agreed to write an article for the festival edition of the Gazette and tell about lobstering so she has arranged to accompany one of the lobster men on his boat for a day. That was a helpful and memorable day for her. It was not as memorable as another day before the festival when she was almost killed and then left to die on the ocean. Though it appeared to be obvious to the sheriff who was responsible for murder, attempted murder and destruction of property, Jessica and the accused knew better. Somehow the truly guilty person or persons needed to be revealed without hurting more people and before the festival.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

X-men: Emperor Vulcan

By Christopher Yost

Art by Paco Diaz Luque

Picking up right after the events of Uncanny X-men: The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, this graphic novel follows the X-men left behind in another galaxy to deal with Vulcan, the third Summers brother, now ruthless Emperor of the Shi’ar Empire. He’s not the uncontested Emperor, however. Professor X’s old flame, the dethroned Lilandra, is still alive and leads those rebel Shi’ar loyal to her, the Starjammers, and the X-men, including Vulcan’s own brother Havok.

As if this weren’t conflict enough, an unknown race named the Scy’ar Tal enters the fray, and they want _all_ the Shi’ar dead. Needless to say, this prompts a realignment of alliances to deal with the Scy’ar Tal -- just the first of many. This book is chock full of double crosses, shifting alliances, and unexpected surprises on a grand scale. Like Star Wars, it’s a glorious and entertaining space opera and yet, it has the intimacy of a family drama, as siblings (Havok and Vulcan, Lilandra and Deathbird) square off against each other.

And most the characters, in a very large cast, are fully realized with their own understandable, if not entirely agreeable, motivations, adding yet another layer of depth. I’m still fascinated by the new character Korvus, even if we don’t get to see as much of him in this graphic novel. And I’m a little disappointed in the smaller role Polaris plays, as I’ve always thought she was interesting character, but there’s always the next book.

The art is suitably grand for the tale. Luque may not have the dynamism of Tan, or the clean lines of Henry, but he delivers a nicely polished panel and conveys the space battles in a cinematic manner. I haven’t seen his work before, but I’ll definitely watch for it now.

I won’t spoil it, but it turns out that the Scy’ar Tal aren’t entirely unknown, just forgotten. Nor does the fun end here, with one side triumphant, but we’ll have to wait for things to be resolved in the next big event at Marvel, War of Kings, later in the year.

To reserve Emperor Vulcan click here. To reserve Uncanny X-men: The Extremists, and read what happened to the X-men who returned home, click here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bliss to You Trixie's Guide to a Happy Life by Trixie and Dean Koontz

Trixie was a beautiful and fun loving Golden Retriever. She enriched the lives of Dean and his wife for many years. Now she is gone but has dictated this book to Dean's computer for him to share with us. Understand that the priorities that we have in life may be some different from those of Trixie but her purpose is to help us achieve bliss. Each chapter is Trixie giving short, pithy suggestions on finding another part of bliss. Two chapters are on dog wisdom. Throughout she wants us to do or experience whatever makes us happy and relax. Trixie finds ecstasy in dog biscuits, a good roll in the yard or a tummy scratch. Each page is short as is the entire book. It is a quick read but take your time and relax with it. Think of Trixie saying these things to you and just romping in the yard as you enjoy life with her. This is a good read to break the tension and hectic pace of our daily lives. Let Trixie help you discover a priority shift.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vamps by Nancy A. Collins

Lilith Todd is the "It" girl of the supernatural world. Her rich and powerful Old Blood father gives her whatever she wants, her promised, Jules, will make her a Countess when they are bound, and she already rules the world of fashion and popularity. One night while out slumming she runs into Cally, a New Blood who challenges Lilith in a fight over a potential victim. The Newbie turns out to be a Stormgatherer, but Lilith would still have beaten her if not for the sudden appearance of Van Helsings. The VH's stake Lilith's friend, but the rest of the vampires manage to get away. Lilith blames the Newbie and vows to kill her if she ever sees her again. It might be easier than she expected. When Monday rolls around Lilith finds that Cally has transferred to Lilith's prestigious school, Bathory Academy. Though the Academy is a vendetta-free zone, Lilith's won't let a little thing like the rules stand in her way.

This book started out as Gossip Girls meets vampires, with constant brand name dropping, underage partying and references to amorous adventures. But the tone quickly changed when Cally appeared, and the plot's pacing picked up. The story that unfolded was interesting and different from most of the vampire fiction on the shelves. I can't wait to see what happens in book two!

Uncanny X-men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire

By Ed Brubaker

Art by Billy Tan and Clayton Henry

Wow. Where to start? New characters with ties to old characters? Emotions running deep and rampant? The bonds and betrayal of family? Romantic entanglements? Political struggles on a galactic scale? Space pirates? Or how about a hero with really BIG sword? You’ll find all these things in this enjoyable graphic novel.

The book starts right after the events of X-men: Deadly Genesis, where we met Cyclops and Havok’s previously unknown brother, Vulcan. Unfortunately, for the X-men, Vulcan harbors a vicious grudge against the Shi’ar Empire, whose Emperor D’ken was responsible for the death of Vulcan’s mother and his own enslavement. Unfortunately, for Vulcan, the emperor he wants revenge upon is in a coma, and Vulcan becomes a pawn in the struggle between the two imperial daughters, Lilandra and Deathbird, for control of the Shi’ar Empire. Of course, things don’t end exactly how anyone planned, and the X-men are split up. Professor X, Nightcrawler, Warpath, and Darwin are prematurely sent back home with one of the StarJammers, while Rachel Summers, Havok, and Polaris are left behind to deal with the new political order. All of which leaves things open ended for the next adventures.

Ed Brubaker also introduces a new character named Korvus, who has ties to the Phoenix Force. He’s an intriguing addition to the X-men mythology, and I’d say look for him, but I don’t think you can miss his BIG sword.

They did an interesting thing with the art in this graphic novel. The parts dealing mainly with Vulcan and the Shi’ar Empire are drawn by Clayton Henry, who has a clean, straightforward, and static style. The parts dealing with the X-men and the outlaw Starjammers are drawn by Billy Tan, who has a looser, shadowy, dynamic style. Besides being particularly appropriate for their respective characters, the styles of both artists fit the mood of their respective storylines and settings. Yet, the individual work complements each other, making a harmonious and multilayered whole, instead of a discordant eyesore. I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing more such artistic collaborations on titles, as I’m sure it would help with production delays, if they were as good as this one.

If you like Star Wars, space opera, the X-men, or just a rousing adventure story, this book is for you. To reserve Uncanny X-men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire click here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Cedar Cove Christmas by Debbie Macomber

Mary Jo Wyse finally realized that the man she had fallen in love with and the father of her developing baby had lied to her repeatedly and had no intention of being responsible for her or the baby. Two weeks before her due date she went to Cedar Cove to meet his parents, Ben and Charlotte Rhodes ,because he said he would be there. When she arrived in town she was unsuccessful in her search for the grandparents of her baby. She became very light headed and weak so 911 was called. After checking her vitals the responding EMT suggested she rest that day. Grace Harding was very helpful even to the point of taking Mary Jo home with her on Christmas Eve. Her husband, Cliff, and her children and grandchildren were happy to share their holiday with her. All of this friendliness and acceptance was warming the heart of a needy young woman. Mack, the EMT, had connected with Mary Jo and checked on her later in the day. Judge Olivia Griffin, the sister of the baby's father, David, also showed warmth to Mary Jo and had nothing but contempt for the man she knew so well as an irresponsible liar. Debbie Macomber has written a Christmas story that even includes a camel that bites and a sweet donkey that kept time with the drumming and singing on Christmas Eve. If you are unfamiliar with the original Christmas story read Luke chapter two before reading Debbie Macomber's tale. You will recognize similarities in the two.

Monday, October 13, 2008

X-men: Deadly Genesis

By Ed Brubaker

Art by Trevor Harsine and Scott Hanna

This graphic novel draws from the origins of the 60s X-men team and the 70s new X-men team, and starts an arc that is still playing out today for those characters. When the X-men were first created, there was only Scott Summers, aka Cyclops. Later we learned that he had a brother, Alex Summers, aka as Havok. In this book we learn that there’s a third Summers brother, Gabriel, aka as Vulcan. Why has no one heard of him in all this time? Well, it’s a bit complicated.

But if you are an X-men fan, you will be amazed at the all the past events that Ed Brubaker seamlessly knits together to explain the presence of this third Summers brother. Of course, if you are reading Captain America or Iron Fist you already know that Brubaker is a master of incorporating the history of characters and giving them a fresh and unexpected twist. Giant Sized X-men #1 featured the first appearance of the New X-men like Storm, Nightcrawler and Colossus, and I bought it on the newsstands (yes, I know that’s dating me). It’s one of the issues I read a gazillion times as a kid. So I was stunned, and happily so, at seeing that issue not only revisited, but cast in a completely different light in this graphic novel. And that’s just one of many surprises awaiting you here.

As far as the art, Trevor Hairsine did the layouts, with Scott Hanna finishing the pencils, which made things look a little rough, and not in the usual style of Hairsine. There are also four different inkers, so the uniform look of book was a little off. But overall, nicely done, with no wasted splash pages. As a graphic novel extra there are pencil sketches of the new character designs by Hairsine. Speaking of, I liked most of the new X-men characters and what was done with them. I hope somehow we get to see more of them. But I wasn’t very happy with what happened to Banshee.

And finally, the book really does change the status quo of the X-men and sets up some great hooks for the future. In particular, Professor X and Cyclop’s father – son relationship, once the bedrock of the X-men, seems irrecoverably damaged. And then there’s Vulcan’s quest for revenge, which leads to several other arcs in the X-men books and will culminate in Marvel’s next big event: War of Kings. If you want to be on that from the ground floor, then reserve X-Men: Deadly Genesis by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Economy Headache???

Unless you've been hiding under a rock the past month, every media outlet you turn to is talking about what sad shape the American economy is in, and that's a good thing. It's a good thing because lots of people who don't normally have time to stomach American politics as usual are paying attention to what all the names on the ballots are actually up to. Before the vote on the $700 billion bailout, representatives were receiving record numbers of complaints and questions from constituents like never before.

If you're one of the many who don't talk about the mysterious "Fed", short-term securities, or toxic debt in daily conversation, this is a good opportunity to find some basic information to help you make sound financial decisions in the middle of all this doom and gloom. I recommend these three great resources:

www.federalreserveeducation.org/fed101 is a great resource to find out what the Fed is all about. This website covers in detail the history, organization, powers, and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve Bank, and even includes educational literature for children.

The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey, is the best book on personal finance I've ever read. Ramsey covers how to get out of debt, pay for an education, savings and investments, real estate, and retirement, strung together by a common theme, "debt is dumb and cash is king". Included in the book are plenty of forms to help you get your financial situation down on paper and how to organize and plan your way to living debt-free.

The First Book of Investing: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Building Wealth Safely by Samuel Case is an excellent resource for those who don't know a mutual fund from a market share and have never unfolded a Wall St. Journal. Case begins by helping the reader discover his/her attitudes toward money, how those attitudes have developed, and how to overcome any bad emotional connections with money and see it for what it is, a tool. Case then explores the world of investments, always taking time to explain complicated terminology, and stressing to the reader the levels of risk they may encounter. Also, at the end of each chapter Case provides a list of resources for further reading on each kind of investment.