THE EMPEROR OF PARIS, by C.S. Richardson [2012]

Emperor of Paris

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 4/10

Just couldn’t get into this one. From the reviews I’d read, it sounded like The Emperor of Paris was a slow start for most, but if hung on to long enough would pay off. Not for me. Too many characters within a jumbled chronology made for a terribly hard read, one I found extremely hard to focus on long enough to really get into.
I get the feeling that a second read would really change my perspective on this novel, but for now there are far too many other books I need to get to!
I will say however that C.S. Richardson has a wonderful way with words; his work might benefit from a much more linear story.

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COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI and HIS YEARS of PILGRIMAGE, by Haruki Murakami [2014]

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 9/10

Some say Haruki Murakami is a one-trick pony, and I cannot completely disagree. Though with his latest novel – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – I can confidently say that his “trick” is getting better and better.
Colorless Tsukuru reads a lot like Norwegian Wood, which holds a special place in many readers’ hearts. Toru and Tsukuru are also very similar characters, but I found myself more interested in Tsukuru’s story. He’s a beautifully tortured character, alone and disconnected just enough from the world. But he also overcomes his solitude, and from a reader’s standpoint, it is an extremely positive and gratifying resolution.
There is just enough magical realism (Murakami’s bread and butter) in the story to keep readers wondering; you never know when one idea will tie into another idea later in the story. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they require thinking about for an extended period of time. Most importantly, and just like in any of his books, Murakami’s writing is outstanding here. The man has a very special way with words, so much so that I will continue to read and be inspired by his work.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan [2012]

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10
A blistering start, followed by an perplexing mystery and surrounded by gaggle of interesting characters, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a worthwhile novel that met a lot of my common criteria when finding a new book to read:
1) I’d not heard of the author before; nothing better than discovering a fresh new voice
2) The concept sounded great. As the dust jacket reads: “A gleeful, exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life – mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.” Okay, let’s do this.
3) A catchy title and simplistic, stylized cover; I don’t care what the old adage is, I ALWAYS judge a book by it’s cover. Especially if it’s a BAD cover.
Our main character, Clay Jannon, is an unemployed web designer who finds work at a creepy old bookstore. He’s got a great voice and a complicated enough personal life that he’s believable, in the realm of fictional characters. The trouble for me was in remembering who our main character actually was. What I mean is that aside from a great intro, Clay quickly fades into what feels more like a 3rd-person narrator. Or maybe more like the guy you control who’s holding the gun in a first-person shooter: we experience his journey but we don’t really get to know him.
The mystery that unfolds is captivating, though at times confusing in the actual details of it all, and we get to experience such fantastic locales as a secret underground library in New York, an archival warehouse in Nevada and even the Google headquarters in California.
Author Robin Sloan had me right away, with his slick writing and snappy humor. The biggest detractor for me in deciding whether to add this to my “favorites” shelf was that the humor wasn’t sustained. There were still sparks at times but not on the level of the first 75-80 pages.
There’s also a few too many “well, THAT’S convenient” moments in the novel, but not nearly enough to detract me from adding Penumbra to a recommended reading list. I’d be happy to hear more thoughts on this one.

TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR, by Joshua Ferris [2014]

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10

Joshua Ferris continues to impress me with his writing, though To Rise Again at a Decent Hour would be my least favorite of his first three novels. I fell in love with Paul O’Rourke, the regretful, misanthropic, sardonic New York dentist, but, although very funny, the novel slides a little too far into the religious realm. Yes, internet trolls, I know that this is what the book is really all about, but I certainly did not pick up the book expecting such religious density. It definitely lost me in parts but the parts where I marveled at Ferris’ prose more than made up for it. He is a very accessible author and any of his novels are worth a read!

MIRAGE, by David J. Eden [2013]

Mirage

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 4/10

First of all, MIRAGE definitely does not fit into my preferred genre of reading. Fantasy just never really grabs my attention. I will say that MIRAGE has an extremely interesting concept but falls short on many levels. The fact that it’s a work of fantasy cannot be counted against it since this is mostly my fault for not being a fan of magical worlds filled with powerful sorcerers, hordes of scary monsters, heroes who inevitably rise above them and characters and locations with names that have too many vowels in them. That’s just me.

No, MIRAGE has enough other things going for it that made it difficult to fully grasp. Like I said, the concept was very intriguing: an alternate world, Nascentia, made up entirely of characters from stories and legends. It’s a world inhabited by nosferatu, leprechauns and the tiger from The Jungle Book. Even Santa Claus is kicking around in Nascentia which is kind of cool. It’s a lengthy and admirable first work by a new author and there are plenty of moments where I stopped and thought about how wonderful a description within a particular sentence was.

But then there’s everything else about it. Our hero, Kellen, arrives in Nascentia and is (of course) sent on a perilous mission of dire consequence with the hottest girl in town. Now because Kellen is the proverbial fish out of water, our tour guide (Mirage, for whom the book is named after) explains the lay of the land to him. What follows is 400+ pages of serious info dump. Mirage explains everything to Kellen, and I mean everything. And she doesn’t skip on the detail either. I admire the author for having crafted such a richly detailed world, but the story stops from being a straightforward quest and it reads more like a Nascentia guidebook. At times I forgot what the characters were supposed to be doing, having been bogged down with so much explanatory dialogue after every corner they turn. MIRAGE includes an appendices at the end of the novel, so much of the information within the story can actually be found again at the end. As such, I feel as though I could have been reading more actual story along the way.

The editing in the book borders on appalling, with so much arbitrary capitalization of words as well as word duplication, typos, and ignorant document settings like paragraph indentation and extra spaces between sentences within paragraphs. I also prefer reading novels with a “justified” typeset, rather than the harder to read left-aligned one withing these pages.

Will I read Volume Two of The Book of Nascentia (it’s fantasy, so of course there’s more volumes to come!)? Probably not. But if you like richly detailed worlds of fantasy that don’t ever have to end then you should check out MIRAGE, and help support self-published works!

WHAT’S IMPORTANT IS FEELING, by Adam Wilson [2014]

What's Important Is Feeling

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10

Of the twelve short stories contained within these pages, I can say that I really only enjoyed five of them. And the five favorites fell within the first six stories, so as you can imagine it was a pretty slow go through the last half of the book. If I was only rating the first half, I’d be hard-pressed not to give What’s Important Is Feeling an 8/10. Things I Had and We Close Our Eyes were probably my two favorites.
The stories that I did enjoy contained so much raw heartbreak, angst and coming-of-age. I would not hesitate to read a full-length novel by Adam Wilson as his voice is unique in both its humor and tragedy.

DAREDEVIL by MARK WAID, Volume 5 [2013]

Daredevil by Mark Waid volume 5
R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

There’s nothing much better than getting a collected volume of any series and seeing the same writer and artist for EVERY issue. Even better when it’s Daredevil by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee. I know, I know…it’s true that I raved and bragged and basically wouldn’t shut up about the awesomeness that was Daredevil by Mark Waid & Marcos Martin, but it’s confession time: Chris Samnee wins. Every panel is so clear and crisp and clean and every other positive c-word you can muster. And it’s fun! Hoo-boy is it fun. The subject matter may get dark at times, but there’s no beating the refreshing artwork that accompanies it.

But let’s get to the meat of the book. There’s some great peripheral stuff here, with the team-up with the Superior Spider-Man, the return of Stilt-Man, the attempted re-creation of the toxic formula that granted Daredevil his powers, and the reveal of Foggy’s cancer. But this all comes to a head as the mastermind – the great puppet master pulling the strings for 25 issues – is revealed! And it’s none other than…Bullseye? What? The idea of the crazed (and let’s be honest, somewhat slow on the uptake) assassin Bullseye as an evil genius is a little too far-fetched and unbelievable for my liking. Just as Daredevil himself points out, it’s too out of character. And even though Waid admirably attempts to find some logical reason for the reveal, it’s still too dumb in my opinion. I’d rather have seen one of DD’s long-time second-tier baddies behind it all, like Mister Fear (who I thought it was going to be) or Death-Stalker. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t have believed Death-Stalker either.

We’re almost 30 issues in and this series hasn’t hit much of a bump yet. Cannot recommend Daredevil by Mark Waid enough!

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE [2013], by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

Gaiman writes this short novel from the point of view of a man recollecting his memories from when he was a young boy. I don’t know if the POV works for this story, as neither age really seemed to come to the forefront. As a result, the narrative is sort a blank slate, and may have worked just as well in 3rd-person. There’s not a lot of character development or motivation and things just sort of seem to happen to the main character.

There are elements of terror and magic, and the book reads much like a modern day fairy tale, which is not a terribly far stretch from the majority of Gaiman’s other works. But I get it: that’s his schtick. I wish the atmosphere was darker than it was though; I would have been fine if it was even creepier and more Gothic. It felt like it was a few details away from being that much better.

I’ve read that the book is based on Gaiman’s own childhood, from the discovery of the murdered boarder to the almost-drowning in the bathtub at the hands of the abusive father. Even the image on the back of the book is an actual photograph of a young Neil Gaiman scaling the outside wall of his childhood home.

There are definitely some unique ideas and scenes in here, but even for a short read I found myself slogging through to the end.

AVENGERS FOREVER [1999], by Kurt Busiek & Carlos Pacheco

Avengers Forever

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

I just read this for probably the fourth time and it still stands up as one of my favorite Avengers stories. Definitely NOT for the casual reader, AVENGERS FOREVER requires readers to have a good amount of Avengers history under their belts to be really enjoyed. Kurt Busiek is at his wordiest here, with many pages taking extra time to read. Sure, some of the peripheral dialogue can be skimmed, but there’s such a large chunk of story exposition that demands attention.

When I first read this in 1998-99, I was blown away. The love has dwindled a little (only just a little!), but it still stands up to be a solid tale. My favorite issue was always #8 (“The Secret History of The Avengers“) but I now find the long-winded retconning delivered by the Space Phantom a little forced; loose ends from the past are conveniently tied together a little too neatly for my liking. I think my favorite issue now would be #9 (“Reflections of the Conqueror“), which delves deep into the history of Kang the Conqueror. An interesting character study that doesn’t seem at all forced.

The team here is comprised of seven time-displaced Avengers and I think they are all smart choices, with the exception of maybe Songbird, who doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose and is mostly just posing in the background throughout the story. I really appreciate Busiek’s attention to detail in the dialogue, intentionally making Yellowjacket and Hawkeye seem like they are really pulled from Marvel’s Bronze Age: lots of campy, over-the-top repartee. It makes it that much more fun to read.

Carlos Pacheco’s artwork is at its absolute best here, and he does a masterful job whether drawing a single character in the frame or throwing in dozens (which happens often).

The final two issues are full (and I mean FULL) of Avengers battling one another all over the page, and although this is visually stunning, the book loses a point or two here for the fact that it’s primarily just eye-porn filler. Overall, Avengers Forever is maybe not quite a perfect 10/10 but it’s certainly worthy of at least an 8.

A must-have for any Avengers fan.

THE BIOLOGY OF LUCK [2013], by Jacob M. Appel

The Biology of Luck

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

The Biology of Luck has so much going for it, but the truth is that it has its detractors as well. The gimmick here is that our main character (Larry) is in love with a girl (Starshine) and he is finally getting his first date with her tonight. How exciting for him! Larry is also an unpublished author who has recently submitted his first novel to a literary agency and he’s waiting until after his date with Starshine to open the letter he’s just received from said agency. Will it be a yes, or will it be a rejection? I’m on the edge of my seat! Oh, but wait a minute! Just what is Larry’s novel about, you ask? The novel is about the very same girl he is in love with and it takes place on the very same day she is having her first date with him. That’s…interesting. In a confusing sort of way. Now the chapters flip flop from the real-world day of Larry to the fictional-world day of Starshine. It’s a smart and original concept, if done correctly.

Unfortunately I just don’t think the gimmick works. Readers could easily read the Starshine chapters as simply alternate POV chapters from Appel’s work of fiction. There simply seems to be no need for this “fictional” side of the story. Appel’s voice is identical to that of Larry’s and there’s far too many coincidental instances where readers will stop and think, “there’s just no way the Larry could have written these events months ago! These are the very same events that are actually happening!” But maybe it’s just lucky, as the title would have us believe.

Appel’s writing is beautiful and there were many sentences I got lost in (in a good way). However, his writing simultaneously suffers from “look-what-I-can-do-syndrome” and the over-flowery exposition had me lost many times (in a bad way). I had to re-read multiple sentences because I felt like I’d been thrown off-track from the story.

Still, there is a LOT to be excited about with The Biology of Luck. If you enjoy an off-beat love story with extremely memorable characters (the secondaries especially), a generous helping of humor, wonderful prose and a guided tour of New York City to boot, then this is the book for you.