Books Advance Reviews

Books Advance Reviews (9)

Sidewalk Stories by Jeremy Ritch available through Autumn + Colour 


Andrea here, your music editor, write a poetry collection review. (For those of you who didn’t know, I may or may not have 1 or 3 degrees in poetry.) Anyway, I was super excited to read a press release from Autumn + Colour Records that was for a poetry collection that they are releasing. (I have long been an advocate for the similarities between these two communities - which may or may not be what I wrote my thesis on.) Anyway, super excited to be reviewing a poetry book released by a record company.


Sidewalk Stories by Jeremy Ritch is a collection of poems that shed light on and bring depth to the parts of America that society tries its damnedest to turn away from. It thrusts the reader face to face with gritty realities of violence, poverty, and drugs - while hoping, no screaming, for change and assistance. With the voice of a skate punk street kid who can’t turn away from the injustices, Ritch treats his subject matter with the respect and understanding that one someone who lived through those events, in those communities, befriended those characters could. He takes us into the streets, the bus stations, and even into a free Mumia rally with a Black Panther contingent, all with sensitivity, awareness, and a bit of humor.


Sidewalk Story #1 (Urban Chaos) sets the stage for the reader, and contains my favorite line in the whole collection, “Children play where bodies fall”. The simplicity and nonchalance of that line, illuminates everything that Ritch is trying to say in these pages. From the “florescent insomnia” in Bus Station to the man “Dancing in stolen sneakers and a charity parka” in Sidewalk Story #7 (Paxton St) to “Street kids in search of meaning” with “40s full of angst” in Sidewalk Story #10 (Ratboy) we are transported into the lives of these characters. The Invisible Man is a poem full of quiet cries for help, they build and they resonate, they catalogue the injustices and the hopes of an over looked people, with the lines “The is an invisible man who looks…/For a job that not only pays, but restores dignity.” That line is a blow to the chest, that line extends off the page and into the air all around you. Sidewalk Story #3 (Harold) is one of the poems in this collection that stuck with me, it is true, honest, bare bones, character sketch with no fancy tricks or summation ending.


There were a few varied poem structures within the collection - the free verse poems dominated, but the ones that employed one rhyme scheme or another were clearly mean to be performed, with the hard rhyme sounding a bit heavy handed on the page, but I am sure kill it on a stage. My favorite poems though, were the prose poems. These seemed to be the poems that read in the most natural way to me. Yes, they are polished in the ways that all poems need to be, but there seemed to be no heavy trimming happening in order to make them fit into a structure or rhyme scheme. Mistaken on the Lake is a gritty jaded love poem for a hometown, Marching With The Panthers takes us immediately into the narrators experience with the new Black Panthers, and City O City (Ode To New York) is the strongest poem in the traditional sense of poetry.


Unfortunately, I need to say, the spelling errors, mechanics, and grammar of the collection held me back a bit and the inconsistencies in punctuation stuck out as only it can in poetry. There were a few instances when I was wondering if there was intent or just a typo, which are not the elements that you want your reader focusing on. There were also a few poems where I feel like the endings were false, maybe false is not the correct term, but poems where the ending was rushed to a tidy conclusion that didn’t match the power, intent, or voice of the preceding lines. I often felt frustrated, because I was able to see where the tiniest bit of editing would have allowed this collection to soar.


I honestly felt bad write these few critiques of this collection, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these aren’t necessarily critiques of the collection, but critiques of the publishing industry. Sidewalk Stories is a great collection poems, with interesting content, a voice that needs to be heard, but that has not had the opportunity of a quality line edit. And with the state of publishing and poetry in 2014, I understand how expensive that would have been.


So seriously, props to Autumn + Colour for taking a chance and publishing a poetry collection, props to Jeremy Ritch, for displaying his world to us. And let’s hope that this will inspire a new generation of poets and poetry readers, so much so that publishers again start paying fair wages and supporting authors as they deserve.

Nick Cardy army photoFanboy Comics' Barbra Dillon reviews Nick Cardy: The Artist at War, the latest from Titan Books.

DC Comics fans will easily know the name Nick Cardy.  The prolific illustrator, designer, and comic book artist has been drawing for his entire life, with contributions to Apocalypse Now, Batman, Superman, Aquaman, and the Teen Titans to name a few.  While fans best know Cardy for his decades-long association with DC Comics, readers will soon be able to enjoy his most profound, personal, and never-before-seen creations in Nick Cardy: The Artist at War.

Batman and Psychology - LangleyFanboy Comics' Sam Rhodes interviews author Dr. Travis Langley at Comic-Con 2012.

At San Diego Comic-Con 2012, Dr. Travis Langley talks with Fanboy Comics Creative Director Sam Rhodes about his book, Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. Dr. Langley also shares which other superheroes he wants to see on his couch, his predictions for the upcoming film, The Dark Knight Rises, and how Batman has his own unique super power.




Beyond the Wall coverFanboy Comics' Bryant Dillon reviews Beyond the Wall, the latest from Smart Pop Books.

For those in Geekdom who are not familiar with Smart Pop Books, I want you to know that you’ve been missing out - big time! Fortunately, I’m here to save your geek cred! Smart Pop Books is the pop culture imprint of independent publisher BenBella Books and offers a variety of engaging and thought-provoking, non-fiction titles focused on the discussion and exploration of the best of pop culture TV, books, and film. I was introduced to Smart Pop Books years ago when they stepped into the Whedon world with two must-read titles: Seven Seasons of Buffy and Five Seasons of Angel.

Amanda E. Alvarez’s Hunting Human proved to be a fun Saturday afternoon read.  It’s not the most original paranormal romance out there, but interesting twists on familiar elements (reluctant werewolf forcibly changed in a Most Dangerous Game-style hunt) and cool side characters ensure this one is thoroughly enjoyable.

When I started reading Stealing Time by Elisa Paige, I wondered: is there any life left in the undead?  After all, in today’s paranormal book world, vampires have become pretty clichéd.  It seems like nearly every paranormal series out there has its own version of the dreamy, sexy, and probably angsty, male vampire.  I get excited when I see a series without those dreamy, sexy vampires, simply because I know I’ll be reading something different than everything else out there.

That said, I wasn’t really looking for something original when I read Stealing Time.  It was a cold winter night, and I wanted something relaxing and easy, some literary comfort food.  If dreamy, sexy vampires work for you, and you don’t mind something that feels a bit derivative, Stealing Time won’t disappoint.


I remember reading the first book of Laura Anne Gilman’s Paranormal Scene Investigations series, Hard Magic, and having sort of a so-so reaction: I liked it, but not enough to classify it as one of my favorite series/books.  It had some interesting elements, but not enough to really distinguish it from the other urban fantasies I read.

By the time Pack of Lies, the second book, rolls around, the characters have settled down into their roles as crime investigators for the supernatural community, leaving more time to concentrate on their interpersonal interactions and the underlying story.  The personalities are more distinct this time around, and I didn’t mix up characters as I did in the first book (a risk inherent to a large ensemble cast).  Also, Gilman seems to have upped the ante this time around: the stakes are higher for both the characters and the world.  And there’s a lot more sexual tension—always a good thing, in my book.  Yet for some reason, I still wouldn’t classify this series among my favorites.  It’s growing on me, and I will read the first book, and yet I still feel like there’s something keeping it out of that “love it” category.

The series centers around Bonita (Bonnie) Torres, a recent college graduate who joins the unfortunately named “P.U.P.I.” (Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations), a team devoted to investigating crimes within the supernatural community.  They use magic much the same way CSI and similarly themed television shows use forensic science: as a (sometimes too convenient) tool to solve crimes.  A group of extremists within the magic community don’t believe that magic should be used for such ends, and set out to stop P.U.P.I. by whatever means possible.  In the first book, the newly formed P.U.P.I. must prove itself to the magic community by proving that the deaths of an elderly, influential couple was murder, not suicide.


And that pretty much brings us to the second book.  The description of Pack of Lies, courtesy of Amazon (since I couldn’t find it on the publisher’s webpage:

My name is Bonita Torres, and eight months ago I was an unemployed college graduate without a plan. Now I'm an investigator with the Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations team of New York. Pretty awesome, right?

The Cosa Nostradamus, the magical community, isn't quick to give up its secrets, though. Not even to fellow members. Not even when it's in their best interests. So we've been busting our tails, perfecting our forensic skills, working to gain acceptance. The team's tight… but we have our quirks, too. And our Big Dog, Benjamin Venec…well, he's a special case, all right.

But we can't give up. We're needed, especially when a case comes along that threatens to pit human against fatae. But one wrong move could cost us everything we've worked for…


The stakes in this book are definitely higher than the first.  A young woman is sexually assaulted and saved by a mysteriously, enigmatic fatae (a variation on fey/fairy), and at first it seems like an open-and-shut case—until one of her attackers claims to have been set up.  The conflicting stories threaten to put a rift in the already tenuous relationship between the human world and the fatae.  Whereas in Hard Magic, the price of P.U.P.I’s failure would only impact the group itself, this time, the stakes impact the entire magical world.  Higher stakes are always good.

The sexual tension—which was almost nonexistent in Hard Magic—practically sizzles off the page this time around.  There’s an intense attraction between Bonnie and Ben Venec, one of P.U.P.I.’s founders.    It’s palatable, and growing, and it’s awesome.  Of course, bedding the boss is rarely a good idea, so they share that sort of slow-burning attracting that could propel the series for several books to come.  As an added bonus, Gilman switches perspectives from time to time, so we get to see the attraction from Ben’s side as well.  Ben’s scenes, I’ve got to say, are my favorite parts of the book.

Other positives: the characters have also grown more unique and distinct this time around.  There are five people in P.U.P.I, plus its two leaders.   In the first go-around, I felt like a needed a cheat-sheet to tell them all apart.  (It doesn’t help that two of the guys are named Nick—though one is called Nifty.)  This time, now that I’ve been properly introduced to the characters, I didn’t have the same problem.  The transition between the first- and third-person perspectives seems less jarring this time.  In addition, P.U.P.I.’s case, this time around, exists in that kind of ambiguous moral space that works well on cop shows; this series, as a play on that very concept, is no exception.

The negatives: Honestly, I think a lot of my ambivalence about the series has to do with Bonnie herself.  As a character, she often lacks maturity and makes very stupid decisions.  There were a couple of times during the first book where I absolutely wanted to strangle her.  This time around, she seems to have grown up a bit, but there are still times when I felt like her flighty, impractical nature clashed with her job competence.  That said, it’s good that Bonnie has room to grow.  It’s clear that she’s matured since Hard Magic, and it will be interesting to see how she continues to evolve as a character throughout the series.  That said, I don’t think I was ever quite so impetuous, even as a 22-year-old recent college grad, so it’s much harder to relate now that I’m several years removed from that stage of my life.

Overall, I liked—but didn’t love—the book.  But one thing I’ve discovered about reading series fiction is that they tend to either improve over time…or deteriorate.  The Paranormal Scene Investigations series is on an upward trend, which means I’ve got something to look forward to in the third book.

Books in the Paranormal Scene Investigations Series

Hard Magic
Pack of Lies

Note: I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley.  Pack of Lies will be released from Luna Books on January 18.

ImageI've found that book series I like tend to go in one of two directions: either I like the first book, but subsequent books never quite live up to the first, or I like the first and each successive book just keeps getting better and better.  

Luckily for me, Tempest's Legacy--the third book in Nicole Peeler's Jane True series--definitely falls into the latter category.  I liked the series from the beginning, but as Jane's character has grown so has my love for the series.  Tempest's Legacy is funny, exciting, and fun, and I love how Jane's character has grown and matured since the first book.  This has become one of my favorite series, and--although it's still early--I suspect that Legacy will be among my favorite books of 2011.

ImageI'm still trying to figure out what, exactly, "steampunk" is.  As far as I can tell, it involves an alternative history wherein modern-like, steam-driven technology is incorporated into a Victorian-era setting (generally the late 19th or early 20th centuries).  Basically, imagine a science fiction novel as it might have been written in 1900.  

Bonnie Dee's new novella, Like Clockwork, is a good example of the genre.  I also know that it was a fun, diverting way to spend an afternoon; I only wish that it were longer, that the characters, the relationships, and the world could have been more complexly developed.  This was, in short, a novella that should have been a novel.