Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Escape from Hell

Escape From Hell
Written By: Hal Duncan
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Monkey brain Books
Language: English
December 2008, $9.99
Genre: Fiction/Urban Fantasy

A hitman, a hooker, a homosexual kid, and a hobo suicide make the ultimate prison break... escape from Hell itself! It’s Escape from New York meets Jacob’s Ladder, by one of fantasy’s rising stars.

Four sinners die and go to Hell, a twisted version of New York City, each to their own torment. The four meet, and decide to make a break, guns blazing. Before they manage to escape, they discover Lucifer himself kept prisoner by the angel Gabriel, and in freeing him find themselves facing an angel’s wrath. But when news of their attempted escape gets out, the souls of the damned are transformed into a rioting mob, and all Hell truly does break loose.


Hell as a twisted city, it’s not a new idea. Edward Lee has done it with his City Infernal series which I like and so have other authors. And yet Duncan makes it his own. This is an infernal Manhattan where everyday suffering is televised for all to see and our four characters find themselves in their own personal level of Hell.

The book begins with each of their deaths, then their arrival in Hell, the comforts of such a place, and finally their escape. I found myself liking a couple of the characters and did not believe that some of them truly belonged in Hell, while the hitman was perfectly deserving of his damnation which is a credit to Duncan’s writing and not just my beliefs. You want them to escape and root for them. While yes, he is not always so subtle in his mini commentary/rants (Vox News = Fox News) or Hell being like an immigration line some references are meant to remind you, to make you think such as the similarities to Matthew Shepherd or the homeless becoming the forgotten.

The escape itself doesn’t come until the latter half of the novel and until then it is part action and part gritty satire. To say that it is like Escape from New York except New York is Hell works. Oh and Lucifer completely rocks. He reminds me of Gaiman’s Lucifer reminding our “heroes” that Hell is place where humans condemn themselves to spend eternity. He had nothing to do with it. You think you deserve Hell, bam there you go. As someone who isn’t religious, at least not in the Christian sense I cannot help but partly agree. Even if you don’t regard his Hell as a Christian Hell, but our current life here on Earth, we do make our own Hells and the way out is Hope. Not a mad little message there wrapped up in a great little action adventure romp.

I also enjoyed the w ay it was written especially when we get the second person narration in the latter half of the book so that we are ‘Lucifer’. It’s a quick read but an entertaining one and made me curious enough that I want to check out Duncan’s other novels.

3.5 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Psych: A Mind...

Psych: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read
Written By: William Rabkin
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Signet
Language: English
January 2009, $6.99
Genre: Fiction/TV Series

Based on the hit usa network TELEVISION series. A tie-in readers will be totally “psyched” about...

Shawn Spencer has convinced everyone he’s psychic. Now, HE HAS TO either clean up— or be found out…

After the PSYCH detective agency gets some top-notch publicity, Shawn’s high-school nemesis, Dallas Steele, hires him to help choose his investments. Naturally, their predictions turn out to be total busts. And the deceptive Dallas is thrilled that he has completely discredited and humiliated Shawn once and for all—until he’s found murdered.

But the police have a suspect—found at the scene with a smoking gun. And she says Shawn took control of her mind and forced her to do it. After all, he is a psychic…


I love the show ‘Psych’. It is funny, snarky, and has enough pop culture references to make a girly girl geek like me extremely happy. When it comes to novelizations based on tv shows or films they often are a bit hit or miss for me. It helps that the author has actually written a script for the series. So how did he do? Its not a perfect little story, but it has its moments.

After Shawn saves a wealthy widow in court, thereby making the district attorney look like an utter fool, Coules takes revenge by impounding Gus’s car. When our heroes go to get it back not only do they get shot at by the impound lot attendant, but Gus gets hit by a Mercedes driven by a woman named Tara who says she is Shawn’s psychic slave. Insert a subplot involving a former classmate of Shawn and Gus who hires them to make some investments, Shawn and Gus implicated in murders, and more wacky Psych types of fun. It reads like an imperfect episode complete with little Shawn and Gus flashback and possibly a pineapple somewhere in there though I think it was missing sadly. You also have plenty of snark battles between Shawn and Lassiter, Henry lecturing and the ever present banter from Shawn that is oh so quotable.

There are a few problems. The Dallas Steele subplot doesn’t quite work and I was a bit annoyed with Juliet’s characterization which made her read like a sullen and sulky teenager which is sad because I adore her. District Attorney Coules is also a bit of a one note and fairly two dimensional at best. But there are enough laughs and moments to make me laugh out loud and that doest happen often.

It’s a fun light read that makes me happy until Psych returns this summer. It’s not perfect, but it works and I would recommend it to any Psych fan.

3 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ex Machina: Volume 4

Ex Machina: Volume 4
(March to War)
Written By: Brian K Vaughan
Illustrated By: Tony Harris
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Wildstorm
Language: English
December 2006, $12.99
Genre: Comic/Graphic Novel

Mitchell Hundred has faced countless challenges in his time as mayor of New York City, from political scandals to supernatural killers, but nothing could have prepared him for America's coming war in Iraq. As a massive peace protest fills the streets of Manhattan, the mayor must choose between the liberty of his constituents and the safety of his city, but will a tragedy change that equation forever? Plus, in a never-before-told story from the mayor's super-heroic past, the Great Machine's horrific archenemy, a man known as Pherson, is finally revealed...


Yep, I am on a comic kick. Maybe it is the art, maybe the storytelling, but its making Smirking a very happy camper. Luckily I have been reading some good ones. This week I continued my Ex Machina kick with the fourth volume. I have mixed feelings about this volume. On one hand it seems a bit shallow compared to the other volumes I have read thus far and subplots seem little more than filler. And yet at the same time I was entertained. I enjoyed Pherson and his ability to talk to animals though with the rest of the trade it doesn’t quite fit. The dialogue continues to be realistic and Harris’s artwork still rocks.

While as annoying cliché as they made Journal’s reasons to defect and be part of the march, I like Journal. It is one thing to have knowledge that your choices will impact the masses, but knowing that it will impact those you know and care about makes it weigh even heavier on your mind. While subplots were a bit watered down and didn’t quite fit I think that the main storyline and the impact of those events will spear in later volumes. Or at least I hope so. Mitchell wants to be the hero, but what happens when things don’t go as planned? How do you balance the rights of protesters while trying to keep them safe from the very thing they are protesting about?

In all it might not be the best of the volumes thus far, but it is still an amazing series.

3 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful

Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful
Written By: Mike Carey
Illustrated By:
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Vertigo
Language: English
April 2007, $14.99
Genre: Comic/Graphic Novel

John Constantine is a father. By magic, coercion and deceit the she-demon Rosacarnis has borne three children of the Hellblazer’s seed, and now she has unleashed them on the world. But before they can realize their hellish destiny, the children must first of all confront and defeat their mortal father. They can’t just kill John; the necromancy that created them depends on his staying alive. But the unholy trinity hit upon an even sweeter plan––to kill everyone John’s ever cared for until he’s too badly hurt ever to mend; to take away his reasons for living, one by one. After all, shell-shocked and broken from Rosacarnis’s dark magics, John’s in no condition to fight back. But among the lambs chosen fro the slaughter there are two who aren’t keen to go––John’s niece, Gemma, and his sometime girlfriend Angie Spatchcock. And someone else is taking an interest in John’s situation: someone who hides in borrowed flesh and keeps his true name to himself. Its family affair––and blood will flow thicker than water…


I dig John Constantine. I also dig Mike Carey. A great combination right? Almost. I love the main story because John’s demonic children go after, not him, but those he loves because lets be honest those few people that John trusts and loves and who trust and love him back is a fairly small number. Constantine does have help though from a demonic presence who is currently hiding within his best friend, Chas’s, body. To say that John doesn’t handle it well is a bit of an understatement. In the 20 years that John Constantine has been around we have seen in some very low places. We’ve also seen that vulnerable side time and time again even though he tries to play the snarky who gives a frak mage with a chip on his shoulder most of the time. While I am not rooting for John to be at rock bottom, I can’t help it if I enjoy the drama a bit because for once I wonder if John can get out of this. Is he completely frakked for once?

Unfortunately I think the trade collected the wrong set of issues. While I like the opening tale about the cursed bracelet, it doesn’t work with the rest of the book. And not having the climax of the story is frustrating as all hell. That’s right you don’t get a full story arc and its conclusion until the next trade. While I am a fan of cliffhangers and understand the publisher’s perspective it is annoying. It was build up, build up and then…stay tuned for next week’s episode. Grrr Argh. Especially when I have to order the next one.

So minus some minor annoyances it was a good trade and one I recommend if you are a Hellblazer or a Mike Carey fan.

3.25 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Alice in Sunderland

Alice in Sunderland
Written and Illustrated By: Brian Talbot
Hardcover: 328 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse
Language: English
April 2007, $29.99
Genre: Comic/Graphic Novel, History

Sunderland! Once the greatest center of learning in christendom and the birthplace of English consciousness. In the time of Lewis Carroll it was the greatest shipbuilding port in the world and here are buried the roots Carroll's surreal masterpiece, Alice in Wonderland. Enter the famous Sunderland Empire, for a unique experience: an epic meditation on myth, history and storytelling and decide for yourself--does Sunderland really exist?


I don’t read a lot of historical non-fiction and essentially that is what Alice in Sunderland is. This is the history of Sunderland and the connections it has with Lewis Carroll and Alice herself. But if you’re looking for Caroll and Alice to be the center of the book, you will be disappointed because this is really all about Sunderland. This is a lecture in comic form. This is not say I did not enjoy it.

Talbot tackles the history of Sunderland and there is a lot of it changing his pacing and his art styles along the way. It is definitely one of those books that needs to be read a few times to truly appreciate all of the nuances and hard work that went into it. I will say it does make me want to visit Sunderland for all of the rich history and beauty there is. This is not a typical story, but a historical/arm chair travel guide graphic novel.

I enjoyed the first half of the book as there were enough clever references to Caroll and lines from Alice. Admittedly it gets a bit too lecture-y for my taste at times and overwhelming, but it is quite evident that this is something that Talbot is extremely passionate about. I just wish it was more about Carroll and Alice that they were the focus instead of the silver thread that ties it all together.

In the end it wasnt my cup of Mad Hatter tea, but it is something I might revisit again when I am in a mood for something like this.

2.75 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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