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review 2019-01-19 22:13
The Avengers and the Thunderbolts (book) by Pierce Askegren, illustrations by Mark Bagley & Jeff Albrecht
Avengers and Thunderbolts - Pierce Askegren

Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and Baron Zemo forge a temporary alliance to...accomplish something. I didn't really follow along very well. Something about Hydra (Strucker's folks) gaining power and Zemo gaining access to research Strucker had acquired that's based on work originally carried out by Zemo's father.

The Avengers first become aware that something's up when the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man's date is interrupted by an apparently indestructible Dreadnought. Wonder Man is kidnapped. At approximately the same time (I think), the Vault, which used to be a maximum security prison intended for supervillains and is now being modified to house broken/inactive supervillain technology instead, is broken into by Hydra. The Thunderbolts just happen to be in the area, for reasons I can't recall.

Strucker, Zemo, and Techno manage to produce a mindless and obedient super-powered army of creepy golden people. The Avengers and the Thunderbolts have to work together and somehow figure out how to defeat them and foil whatever it is they're planning.

This was published back in 1999 and begins with an editor's note stating that it takes place shortly after the Marvel comic Avengers (Vol. 3) #12. I haven't read an Avengers or Thunderbolts comics in at least 10-15 years, so this information didn't really mean anything to me. What I can say is that it seemed to take place after the Thunderbolts comics I vaguely remembered reading. In the ones I read, the Thunderbolts were still villains under the direction of Baron Zemo, pretending to be superheroes. In this book, the Thunderbolts have been found out and are trying to figure out how to clean up their image, regain people's trust, and become true superheroes, with Hawkeye as their new leader. As far as the Avengers chronology went, the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man were dating, and there was a bit of tension between them and the Vision.

I've owned this book for ages. Every time I thought about getting rid of it, I felt a burst of vaguely remembered fond feelings for the Thunderbolts and just couldn't do it. Now I've finally read it and...meh.

There was so. Much. Exposition. So much. I don't know if Askegren thought it was a good idea or if Marvel required him to include it, but it bogged things down and still didn't provide me with quite enough information to get a good handle on all the characters, their relationships, and any other relevant background info. I spent a lot of time browsing Wikipedia pages.

There were hints of character relationship info that interested me a lot more than anything Strucker and Zemo were doing: MACH-1's worries about going to prison and leaving Songbird; Moonstone's shadowy motivations; Jolt and Atlas's sibling-like relationship; Hawkeye's empathy for the Thunderbolts; and the tension between Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, and the Vision. But the book wanted to focus on the Avengers and the Thunderbolts vs. Strucker, Zemo, and Techno, so that's what I got.

Even if the things that most interested me had gotten more page-time, I'm not sure how enjoyable they would have been, due to the limited page count and many, many characters. A few people got a little more page-time than others, but I don't think that anyone in particular stood out. Iron Man battled a Dreadnought. Thor stepped in and provided assistance multiple times. Techno and the Vision fought one-on-one. Askegren occasionally reminded readers that Firestar and Justice existed. Jolt worked undercover at a fast food place (it was the only place where they figured a teenager wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb). Captain America spent some time tied up, and Moonstone enjoyed it more than someone who wanted to be seen as a superhero probably should have. Wanda (Scarlet Witch) and Simon (Wonder Man) went on a date at a monster truck rally. As soon as I got my bearings with someone, the narrative switched to someone else.

All in all, this really wasn't for me, and I'm not sure it would have been that much more appealing if I had read it back when I was plowing through my uncle's boxes of comics.

Extras:

Each chapter begins with a black-and-white illustration. The book ends with a chronological list of Marvel novels and anthologies published by Byron Preiss Multimedia Company and Berkley Boulevard Books between October 1994 and May 1999.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-11-14 18:45
Childgrave by Ken Greenhall
Childgrave - Ken Greenhall

 

CHILDGRAVE is a beautifully written quiet horror story, with a sketchy small town lurking in the background. By the time the secrets of the town are revealed, it's too late for the reader to turn back.

 

As I get older, I find myself more and more drawn to quiet horror. I can do without gore and torture and all that if I have a tale that's well written and atmospheric. I also need compelling characters and CHILDGRAVE has that in spades. The main character, Jonathan, is a widowed photographer. He, his daughter Joanne, and his housekeeper Nanny Joy, are so well drawn I feel as if I know them personally.

 

When Jonathan's photos of his daughter seem to show specters in the background, while at the same time Joanne seems to have developed some new invisible friends, Jonathan is intrigued. Are the two events connected? Who is Conlee, the name of Joanne's new invisible friend? Lastly, what is Chilegray and how is connected to Conlee? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

I'll get it out of the way now-this is a slow moving story. What kept me interested was the quality of the writing and the characters. Jonathan is a quirky man. He has few friends and little interest in fashion or modern day trends. His housekeeper Nanny Joy loves jazz and Jonathan's daughter, but is concerned about the appearance of Conlee and the specters in the photographs. Jonathan's agent Harry is hilarious and his girlfriend, Lee, is interesting as well. NYC of the 70's is the main setting, and it was fascinating to read about the city during that time of social upheaval and change.

 

I was inexorably drawn to the conclusion which leads the reader to a small town hidden in a valley. "Evil in a small town" is one of my favorite tropes and Greenhall knew how to deliver it in a chilling and shocking- yet believable way. You find yourself wondering what you would do in such a situation and I continued to think about it all night long...hours after finishing the book. I can't say that I blame Jonathan for the choices that he made.

 

While CHILDGRAVE isn't the psychological, fast moving story that both ELIZABETH or HELL HOUND were, it was excellent in its own quiet and compelling way. Slowly drawing the reader down into the valley where secrets are kept for generation after generation, Greenhall deftly brings things to a head and left this reader wishing for more.

 

Highly recommended!

 

You can get your copy here: CHILDGRAVE

 

*Thanks to Valancourt Books for providing this e-book free, in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*

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review 2017-10-31 19:32
Halloween Carnival Volume 5, edited by Brian James Freeman
Halloween Carnival Volume 5 - Lisa Tuttle,Kevin Quigley,Norman Prentiss,Richard Chizmar,Brian James Freeman

In this, the last entry of the Halloween Carnival series, Hydra hands us a great group of stories that couldn't possibly be more different from each other. This is a good thing!

 

Richard Chizmar's DEVIL'S NIGHT, impressed the heck out of me. The only thing of his I've read is his collaboration with Stephen King. Now I'm going to have to read more of his work. 4*

 

THE LAST DARE by Lisa Tuttle was a neat little story with no explanation. The characters were very well drawn for such a short tale and I found myself thinking more about them after I finished the story. This one grew on me, but after the fact-if that makes any sense. ?Look, all I know is I'm not entering any houses with tower rooms, okay? 3.5*

 

THE HALLOWEEN BLEED by Norman Prentiss was a twisty little tale, with half told secrets taking place between a learned man and his eager to learn interviewer. Little does he know that he isn't as smart as he thinks. 4.5*

 

SWING by Kevin Quigley. This was a sad and poignant tale and I enjoyed it. I just didn't see what it had to do with Halloween? 3*

 

PORKPIE HAT by Peter Straub. Let me preface this by saying Straub's Ghost Story was my favorite novel for a few years-I just loved it so much. Shadowland and Floating Dragon followed and I liked those too, and don't even get me started on how much I loved The Talisman. But since then, not much of his work has appealed to me. Until now. I ADORED this story. It has jazz, musicians, a student/reporter/nobody, and a subtle back story packed with racism, double standards, adulterers fear and loathing. I loved how PORKPIE HAT unfolded like some kind of origami animal and I just had to have some peace and quiet to read it in its entirety. For me, this was the star of this collection. 5*

 

I didn't have time to read all of the Halloween Carnival entries, but of the ones I did read, this is my favorite. I like all kinds of dark fiction stories and I loved the variety here. I didn't think even one of them was a clunker, but of course your mileage may vary.

 

Highly recommended!

 

*Thanks to Hydra and NetGalley for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*

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review 2017-10-06 18:30
Halloween Carnival Volume 4, edited by Brian James Freeman
Halloween Carnival Volume 4 - Kealan Patrick Burke,C.A. Suleiman,Ray Garton,Brian James Freeman,Bev Vincent

 

It's that time of year again and my pile of books to read is towering! I had to choose which of the Halloween Carnival books I was going to request because I knew I wouldn't have time to read all 5. The reason I chose Volume 4 was because of 2 authors-Kealan Patrick Burke and Ray Garton. They didn't disappoint! These and another story stood way out for me, and here's a bit on each of them:

 

The Mannequin Challenge by Kealan Patrick Burke is the first story and it's killer. Maybe it's because I love the kind of tales that are just plain weird and offer NO explanation-they just ARE. A quiet and reclusive man decides to attend the Halloween party at work, just this one time. What will he find? You'll have to read it to find out! This one made me laugh out loud with delight.

 

Across the Tracks by Ray Garton was a blast. For whatever reason, to me this tale had a distinct Ray Bradbury feel to it, but I think the ending might've even blown Bradbury himself away. What fun!

 

The Halloween Tree I've seen Bev Vincent's name around and I am friends with him on various social media, but I believe this is the first time I've read one of his stories. I enjoyed it! Any kid with an imagination can make something scary from an inanimate object. In this tale, it's a tree. But what made this story different was how the kids dealt with the problem. I found this to be the most surprising story in the bunch and it made me smile.

 

I did enjoy the other two stories in this anthology, but these three stood tall and they alone are worth the price of this book. The other two are just the gravy on top!

 

Recommended!

 

You can pre-order your copy here: Halloween Carnival Volume 4

 

*Thanks to NetGalley and to Hydra for the e-ARC in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*

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review 2017-09-15 15:30
Dark Screams Volume Eight
Dark Screams: Volume Eight - Bentley Little,Kealan Patrick Burke,Richard Chizmar,Frank Darabont,Brian James Freeman

 

Another entry in the, (overall), excellent DARK SCREAMS series is here, this time with a few surprising authors. I've listed what I thought were the standout tales below.

 

My favorite story in this volume has to be WALPUSKI’S TYPEWRITER from Frank Darabont. Known for his work directing movies like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, I had no idea the man wrote stories. This one was dedicated to Stephen King and it even has that SK vibe to it-reminding me a lot of King's early story THE MANGLER . In this case, the machine gone-wild is a typewriter and Darabont doesn't hold back. I LOVED this tale!

 

Coming in a close second for me though, was Kealan Patrick Burke's THE PALAVER. Those of you who have read Kealan's work in the past may already be familiar with the town of Milestone and be as happy as I was to return. There is something about human hair that creeps me out and Kealan takes that creep factor and amps it up to eleven. Just thinking about it makes me shiver, (and a little bit ill)!

 

I enjoyed THE TUMOR by Benjamin Percy as well. I believe this is the first story I've read from this author and I'm going to have to track down some more.

 

DARK SCREAMS 8 delivers the goods once again. Not all the stories resonated with me, but that's not unusual. The ones that did resonated deeply and that's what keeps me coming back to this series again and again.

 

Recommended!

 

Available on Halloween! Pre-order yours here: Dark Screams Volume Eight

 

 *An e-ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*

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