Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Federal Bureau of Physics

Graphic novels are a fascinating medium when they go beyond superhero vs supervillan (though there are some excellent storylines of this type). In addition to all the usual literary elements of plot, character development and so on, you have the added difficulty of visual elements, line, color, perspective, etc. To me, FBP, written by Simon Oliver and inked by Robbi Rodriguez and Nathan Fox, does a wonderfully entertaining job blending these two mediums in such a way that each supports and emphasizes the other.

We are all used to hearing about disasters and even living through them, from smaller such as localized flooding to bigger such as hurricanes. We are even familiar with federal agencies that deal with such events. But what if the disasters took a completely different form, say of the quantum variety? Enter the Federal Bureau of Physics and one Adam Hardy. The FBP gets called in on localized gravity failures, time dilations, quantum tornadoes, and bubbleverses in a world where the rules of physics are bending and breaking before our very eyes.  Special Agent Hardy is in on the front lines of these localized breakdowns, but has considerably larger issues than welding shut a gravity rift. The FBP is being pressured with threats of privatization, an old partner with an alternative agenda, a new partner that is standoffish and mysterious, and a conspiracy that started with his father, one of the founders in the field and one of the first casualties to it.

The artwork is bold and excellent, making use of a wild array of colors and styles that emphasize the chaos in a world where physics can just cease to work. Small details of the characters seem to vary more than conditions allow and the perspective angles seem designed to upset any sense of up and down.  

In all, this was a brilliant story, starting off with a classic conspiracy and ending with a classic bank heist, each with done with the panache possible in a universe where the laws of nature can take breaks. Fans of Chew, Hinterkind, East of West, and Saga should definitely enjoy this story. Be warned, this is only the first in the series and the others have yet to be published, so you may have to wait to see what happens Agent Hardy and the FBP after vol 1.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Thrillers

I enjoy a good spine tingling thriller and this summer several excellent thrillers have been released.  If you enjoy mystery/thrillers give these wonderful books a try.

The Son by Jo Nesbo
Sonny Lofthus is a heroin addict who has been incarcerated for two murders he did not commit. When he learns his father was murdered...he plans his revenge. First he has to break out of a high security prison and then find the people who are responsible for murder and his father's death. His goal is to find them before they find him. A thriller with plenty of twists which will have you turning the pages to see what happens next.  

The Book of You by Claire Kendall
Clarissa is followed everywhere by Rafe.  She can't escape his presence. Most people are unhappy to get jury duty, but not Clarissa. When she learns the trial will take 7 weeks she rejoices.  Yet this chilling terror filled story of predator and prey does not allow her jury duty to stop Rafe's obsession. It only escalates his desire to have her for himself. Her only chance of escape is to document everything he does and pray it is enough to stop him before his obsession kills her.

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins
Thirty-six years ago, a nameless black man wandered into Jericho, Mississippi. Less than two days later, he was accused of rape and murder, hunted down by a self-appointed posse, and lynched. Now evidence has surfaced of his innocence, and county sheriff Quinn Colson, sets out to identify the stranger's remains and to charge those responsible for his lynching.

FaceOff edited by David Baldacci
Worlds collide as your favorite thriller characters go head-to-head with some worthy opponents! In an unprecedented collaboration, twenty-three of the world's bestselling and critically acclaimed thriller writers have paired their series characters-such as Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher, and Lincoln Rhyme-in an eleven-story anthology.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
Emily Shepard’s life was never easy. It only gets worse after her alcoholic father is suspected of causing a large nuclear meltdown. Scared and abandoned by the community the teen hides only to find a young boy who is also alone and needs help. This is a heartbreaking story of loss, adventure and the search for friendship.

Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown
This suspenseful and gripping debut novel is the story of Marley Willits, a runaway who leaves a note asking her parents not to find her. When Marley disappears she leaves behind her cell phone and ipad. She wipes the memory and hard drive of each device making it very difficult for her to be found. As the hunt for the missing teen continues the families secrets gradually come out in the open.  This is a well written, heartbreaking story that's full of intrigue and mystery.  

One Kick: A Novel by Chelsea Cain
A heart-stopping, entertaining thrill ride, One Kick announces the arrival of a blistering new series by a stunning talent in the thriller realm. After years of being held prisoner by a pedophile, Kick Lannigan is free. Now she spends her time researching cases of missing children and obsessively practices martial arts. When a locale child is kidnapped she is recruited to locate and rescue her. Her experience as a kidnap victim may be the only thing that can save the missing child.

Vertigo 42: A Richard Jury Mystery by Martha Grimes
Tom Williamson knows vertigo did not kill his wife. He asks Scotland Yard Superintendent to help him prove it when more suspicious deaths occur.

I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller by Terry Hayes
This astonishing debut espionage thriller depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist, in a breakneck story reminiscent of John le Carré and Robert Ludlum at their finest.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Women of the Wild Blue Yonder: Women Airforce Service Pilots

During WWII, the United States was facing a shortage of pilots. Military and government leaders decided to take an unprecedented step to train women to fly military aircraft. These women, all volunteers, were the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft. Over a thousand women made up the WASP program; they ferried and tested new planes, assisted with air gunner training, and became heroes to generations of women and girls. Though the women did not receive military status until the 1970s, they have served as a significant part of our nation’s military history, in addition to being pioneers for women’s rights. The stories generated by these women, both fictional and real, are worth delving into for a better understanding of United States Airforce history.
Flight to Destiny: a WASP story by Sarah Byrn Rickman
Flight from Fear by Sarah Byrn Rickman
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (Young Adult Fiction)
On Silver Wings: the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII, 1942-1944 by Marianne Verges; foreword by Senator Barry Goldwater
Yankee Doodle Gals: women pilots of World War II by Amy Nathan (Juvenile Nonfiction)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Women of the Wild Blue Yonder: Amelia Earhart and Company

Amelia Earhart

"Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, 
their failure should be a challenge to others."
                                                                                                         Amelia Earhart

In July of 1937, Amelia Earhart was last heard from somewhere over the Pacific.  She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, had completed all but about 7,000 miles of their around the world flight when they landed in New Guinea.  The weather was cloudy and rainy when they left but the U. S. Coast Guard had ships in place to help guide the pair to the next stop.  Earhart transmitted: "We must be on you, but we cannot see you.  Fuel is running low.  Been unable to reach you by radio.  We are flying at 1,000 feet."  
Her last transmission, about an hour later, was "We are running north and south."  Thus began one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in history--aviation or other.  Earhart, Noonan, and their plane have never been found.  Their fate and location is still debated today.

Amelia Earhart and Her Navigator, Fred Noonan
Amelia Earhart and others like her paved the way for generations of women in aviation, both military and non-military.  Enjoy some of the following  books and movies about Amelia Earhart's life and legacy:

Amelia Earhart

Letters from Amelia, 1901-1937 by Jean L. Backus

Finding Amelia: the True Story of the Earhart Disappearance by Ric Gillespie

Amelia Earhart: the Sky's No Limit by Lori Van Pelt

Amelia Earhart: the Thrill of It by Susan Wels

Amelia Earhart: the Turbulent Life of an American Icon by Kathleen C. Winters

Amelia Earhart (DVD)

Where's Amelia Earhart? (DVD)

British aviator and writer Beryl Markham
 was the first woman to fly solo
 westward across the Atlantic Ocean.
Other Pioneers

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Powder Puff Derby: Petticoat Pilots and Flying Flappers by Mike Walker

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: First Lady of the Air by Kathleen C. Winters

Breaking Through the Clouds: the First Women's National Air Derby (DVD)


Breaking the Ice by Kim Baldwin

The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone

Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven

The Art of Uncontrolled Flight: a Novel by Kim Ponders

Breathe the Sky: a Novel, Inspired by the Life of Amelia Earhart by Chandra Prasad

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Author and Aviatrix

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mr. Mercedes

His name is Brady Hartsfield, and he's a killer. Of course, you'd never know it if you were meeting him for the first time. He certainly seems like a nice young man. As a member of the Discount Electronix Cyber Patrol, he fixes computers (and makes house calls--maybe he's resuscitated your ailing PC?), and on his afternoons off he drives an ice-cream truck. Heck, your kids might have even bought a cone from the nice Mr. Tastey man just the other day. But behind the smile and the neighborly yes-sir-no-ma'am demeanor lies a bottomless pit of pure wrong, the sort of wrong that once compelled Brady Hartsfield to plow a stolen Mercedes SL500 into a crowd of innocents. Depravity like that doesn't just fade away, and Brady's about to scratch the itch again. . . .

Detective Bill Hodges, six months retired, is on his last legs, his best days seemingly behind him. He now marks his time parked in his La-Z-Boy, watching the idiot box and dying a long, slow death of boredom while contemplating an even quicker demise with his father's .38 Smith & Wesson M&P revolver. His job was his life, and without that, what else is there? But one afternoon, on a day no different than the one before it, Hodges receives a nice, "Hi ya, pal!" letter from the one scumbag he never caught: The Mercedes Killer. Brady. And far from having the intended effect of pushing Hodges completely over the edge and into the business end of that .38, it lights a fire under his can and puts him back on the case. Unofficially, of course.  

Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King's latest thriller (yes, thriller), is the story of the cat-and-mouse chase that ensues between one retired, overweight detective, and one cunning, murderous freak. Does Hodges finally get his man? Can he stop Brady from going out in a blaze of glory and taking even more lives with him? I'll leave that up to you, dear reader, to find out, and trust me: it's one heck of a ride.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

When I am not engaged in my usual reading fare of science-fiction and history, my literary tastes still edge on this side of odd. The Transcriptionist, by Amy Rowland, certainly fits the bill.

The Transcriptionist follows Lena, who works at the New York newspaper The Recorder as a transcriptionist. Her daily routine is one of strange isolation, working alone in a room, sequestered from the rest of the paper, transcribing articles called in by reporters. To help insulate her even further, Lena has the habit of spouting literary quotes, a remainder from her abortive lit major. This goes on for years until one day she is transcribing a story of a blind woman, Arlene, eaten by lions at the zoo. Remember that she had encountered the woman the previous day; Lena begins to investigate Arlene’s life, learning that she was a court transcriptionist, acting a conduit for sad and terrible stories. As Lena uncovers more about Arlene, she fights to tell her story above the din of a city and news agency that ignores a cyclist’s near death and gives chemical attack escape hoods. As she does, her own dissatisfactions with her life, the city, and the newspaper begin to surface, forcing her to stand for the truth

The pace definitely starts out slowly and seems to build up to the climatic scene surprisingly quickly. To me, this fits perfectly with Lena moving through her lonely world and report’s words move through her and progressing to someone that becomes more self aware and decries the uncaring noise of the world around her. Rowland’s tale might not deal with the “failure of language” as the book-jacket blurb intimates, but the language of the book is certainly engaging and peppered with quotes only a lit major would have on hand. In all, this is an odd little tale, well executed and decidedly engaging. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Disasters of the Earth: Famines, Dust Bowls, and Earthquakes

The Dust Bowl
Since August will be the anniversary of four major tragedies, I thought I'd highlight the books and authors that are part of a genre called disaster books.  The definition according to Wikipedia is:

"Disaster books are a literary genre involving detailed descriptions of major historical disasters, often based on the historical records or personal testimonies of survivors. Since reportage of both natural disasters and man-made disasters is commonplace, authors tend to be journalists who develop their news reports into books."

The past few weeks we've covered fire disasters (volcanoes, etc.) and water disasters (hurricanes, etc.)  This week we will be covering earth or land disasters--so earthquakes, dust bowls, and famines.  Look for other types of disaster books in the following weeks.  Give these books and authors a try--you won't be disappointed.

New Madrid Damage
New Madrid Earthquakes--Central Mississippi valley, U. S.--from December 16, 1811-March of 1812--in this three month period, there were over 2,000 quakes in the central Midwest and 6,000 to 10,000 in the boot-heel of Missouri.  No other earthquakes have lasted as long or produced so much damage.  Three during this time are on the list of the United State's top quakes: on December 16, 1811--8.1 magnitude, on January 23, 1812--7 or 8 magnitude, and February 7, 1812--was a 8.8 magnitude!  It was so powerful that the Mississippi River was actually witnessed running backwards in spots.  The number of fatalities is unknown because of the sparse population in the areas hardest hit.  The aftershocks were felt through the year 1817, six years later!

--When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes by Jay Feldman

The Famine Memorial in Dublin
Great Irish Potato Famine--Ireland--1845-1850--over one million died and over one million emigrated--$725 million in economic loss.  A parasitic fungus wiped out the potato crop which was the Irish farmers main food staple.  So most died of starvation and diseases.

--The Graves Are Walking: the Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People by John Kelly

--The Great Irish Potato Famine by James S. Donnelly Jr.

San Francisco After the 1906 Earthquake and Fire
1906 San Francisco Earthquake--San Francisco, California--April 18, 1906--8.3 magnitude--the quake burst natural gas and water lines and fires burned unabated for three straight days--over 3,000 people killed and 200,000-300,000 were left homeless.  Over 21,000 buildings collapsed and it did $500 million damage.  The tremors were felt as far away as Oregon and Nevada.

--Disaster!: the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 by Dan Kurzman

--A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester

--Aftershocks by Richard S. Wheeler (novel)

Kanto Quake and Fire Damage
The Great Kanto Earthquake--Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan--September 1, 1923--between a 7.9 or 8.3 magnitude--156,000 died and 200,000 injured.  After the quake there were huge firestorms and 80,000 homes were destroyed and 500,000 were left homeless.

--Yokohama Burning: the Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire That Helped Forge the Path to World War II by Joshua Hammer

Dust Bowl Damage
The Dust Bowl--Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota--1932-1937--Mismanagement of the soil, terrible droughts, and the Great Depression created a 25,000 square mile area of barren destitution in nine states.  2.5 million were left homeless or were forced to migrate.  Over 7,000 died from dust related illnesses such as dust pneumonia.  There were over $1 billion (1930s dollars) in losses which equals about $135 billion now.

--The Worst Hard Time: the Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

--The Dust Bowl: an Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan

Bengal Famine
1943 Bengal Famine--Bengal Province of India--1943-1944--Between 1.5 and 4 million people died of starvation, malnutrition, and disease.

Ethiopian Famine
1970s-1980s Ethiopian Famine--Ethiopia--in 1973 over 60,000 people died--from 1983-1985 over 1 million people died.

--Three Famines: Starvation and Politics by Thomas Keneally (also talks about the earlier Irish Potato Famine).

Great Chinese Famine
Great Chinese Famine--People's Republic of China--1958-1962--between 20 and 45 million people died--caused by social pressure, economic mismanagement, radical changes in agriculture, and droughts and floods.  The government tried to cover it up.

--Tombstone: the Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 by Yang Jisheng

--Mao's Great Famine: the History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 by Frank Dikotter

Northridge Quake Damage
1994 Northridge, California Earthquake--January 17, 1994--6.7 magnitude--57 dead and over 5,000 injured--$20 billion in damages--one of the costliest natural disasters in United States history.

--Killer Quake (DVD)

2010 Haiti Earthquake Aftermath
2010 Haiti Earthquake--Haiti--January 12, 2010--7.0 magnitude--100,000-160,000 dead and 895,000 people displaced.

2010 Chile Earthquake Damage
2010 Chile Earthquake--Chile--February 27, 2010--8.8 magnitude--525 dead and 25 missing--$15-$30 billion in damage--this was the 6th largest earthquake ever recorded by seismograph.

--Deadliest Earthquakes: Haiti and Chile (DVD)