Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: Goosebumps #1 Welcome to Dead House

Greetings foolish mortal. Read this review at your own risk!

Goosebumps has been a very popular book series since the early 90s when R.L. Stine first started publishing them (about 92). They've been especially popular with the elementary school kids, who they're geared towards. When I was in school, they were always sold at the Scholastic Book Fairs the school held. But, alas, I never really read them. I read maybe 2, and those were the Give Yourself Goosebumps stories, pick-your-paths. I recently watched the episodes of Goosebumps that are on Netflix with my little sister and we decided it would be fun to read them. So here  I am, reading the Goosebumps books, after all these years. I want to read the whole series, which will definitely take some time, but I just gobbled down book 1, so hopefully the rest are just as enjoyable and delectable.


Goosebumps: Welcome To Dead House
Author: R. L. Stine
Rating: 4/5

Josh and Amanda are 11 and 12 (respectively). They live in a regular house...until their father receives word that his uncle, who he never knew existed, left him a house in his will when he passed away. Now the family is moving to Dark Falls. Right when they get there they meet a nice real estate man, but why is Petey barking so much? Why is Petey acting up when he's usually a nice, quiet, friendly doggy? Maybe it's just a fluke.

The Original Series from
the Master of Fright
At least until Amanda starts noticing strange things, like a boy's face in one of the windows and a curtain that flutters when the window is closed. Whispers and giggles that she's sure must just be the wind. Then they meet the neighborhood children, who are incredibly friendly...but...kinda creepy. What is going on in this town?

I read and found out. R. L. Stine has been called the master of fright and it's no wonder why.  He has spun a tale that could send chills down any kids' spine. This book even creeped me out a bit at points. There are some pretty obvious horror elements going on here like a random crow, the cemetary, nightmares, and of course the strange way the kids act and how dead the town seems. I was gripped and trying to figure out what was happening with the few clues at the beginning.

What I really enjoyed about this book was how R. L. Stine doesn't start right off the bat with the scaring. He keeps it simple and realistic until he has you wrapped, then he drops the hammer. The good scary treats don't come until about halfway. There are little hints here and there, but everytime it feels like something scary is going to happen, its a false alarm. That's how he gets you. He plays the first half off with false alarms and then in the second he starts pouring in the scare syrup until you've gotten stuck in it and are nearly drowning.

And the part I think is best? The fact that his main characters are just normal kids. Every kid reading can relate. There are moments when parents just don't seem to listen, except these parents really should have and pry regret not taking the signs into consideration until its too late. This makes the book relatable and cool, since it can be creepy and strange without crossing lines because its a kid oriented book.

Overall, this was lots of fun and it only took me a couple hours to get through. I'm very excited to begin this series and I'll hopefully be getting ahold of the next books soon. Thanks for tuning in to this installment from The Real World According to Sam, where we bring the books straight to your computer screen and even put in our own two cents on them. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: Thunder Time Quilt Series

Welcome to another book review here at The Real World According To Sam.

As I stated in a past post, I have been reading some books by James F. David.  My reviews for the past two books in the series have been on Goodreads. However, I don't think that they were all that great (my reviews, not the books). So in this review I will discuss the latest book in the series and briefly go over the last two while doing an overview of the series so far. I don't know that the series has an official title, since none of the books have been labeled with one, but since they all have "thunder" in their titles and based on what they're about, I will, for purposes of these reviews, refer to them as the Thunder Time Quilt series.


Footprints of Thunder (#1)
Author: James F. David 
Rating: 3/5


Footprints of ThunderFootprints of Thunder...what to say? This is where it all starts. A fabulous idea is presented and set up. However, most of this book ends up being just a set-up for the future. It is entertaining, but the real awesome stuff that grabs you doesn't come until Thunder of Time. Footprints of Thunder, in summary, is this: time gets messed up somehow and dinosaurs are brought into the mix with people. Jurassic Park without fences and with way more people available to munch on, plus the fact that these are the real dinosaurs from the past, not just ones made by curiosity driven humans. Whole cities have disappeared and been replaced by prehistoric environments. A lot of this book is survival of multiple characters but not necessarily very important ones at the moment. 2 of them aren't really important until book 2, while another only becomes relevant in book 3. Others don't even matter in the wide spectrum of things. If you want a simple thriller and don't wanna bother wondering what they found on the moon, then you can just read this one. Did I say simple thriller? That might be a false statement. A lot of the concepts in this book are physics related and may not be graspable to every reader. Time is quite the complicated matter. If you can get beyond the physics and theory, then you have a story full of dinosaurs chasing after humans, dinosaurs making snacks out of humans, a variety of characters, well written and developed characters you genuinely like, some annoying characters you wish would be eaten sooner rather than later and a crazy tale of survival.

I might as well say now that it is a pretty long book. Around 70-80 chapters, this book is definitely more than a morsel. It took me a few weeks to get through since I was attending college when I started it. I read it at breaks I had when my mind couldn't do schoolwork anymore. Also, the author uses a terribly catching tactic against his readers, that both gets on my nerves and makes complete sense to me. He alternates frequently between the centers of action. Chapter to chapter you jump between groups of characters, locations and action. So you get really caught up with what's happening and something else from before comes up and picks up where it left off. Eventually it gets back to continue the cliffhanger you just left. While ingenius and cunning, its also rather irritating, but I understand that it is necessary to have everything that needs to happen, happen before the climaxes hit and the story is wrapped up.

Overall, Footprints of Thunder is a good read, full of dinosaur mayhem and heart, but it really serves as a springboard to set up even better events in the books to come. It was published in 1995, the sequel took quite a while to arrive to readers. Luckily, I read it around when the latest novel came out, so I didn't have to wait as long.

Thunder of Time (#2)
Author: James F. David
Rating: 4/5

Thunder of Time
Thunder of Time occurs 10 years after the events of Footprints of Thunder. Lots of characters from Footprints come back, more knowledgable and grown up, ready to take on new challenges. Dinosaurs are still around. No one found a way to get rid of them for good and a lot have been moved to preserves. Trouble lays in store though, as new developments are unveiled. We finally realize what happened and how things have played out since the first attempts to understand and fix the "time quilt." Nick is back, as are John, Emmet, Carollee, Elizabeth, Ripman and some others. We finally hear about the whereabouts of Kenny Randell, but along with that come dark secrets. Elizabeth finds out she's bit off more than she was expecting. There are terrorists, Russians, more dinosaurs, nuclear weapons, space, pyramids...definitely lots of adventure in store.

It was really cool to see all the characters who made a comeback in this novel to play an even bigger role than in the last one. Lots of intense, suspenseful plots join together to make a big mesh of awesome world changing fun. The world is severely altered by the time quilts and the way things are going just makes it seem even more crazy. There's so much going on that it could be easy to get lost if you don't know who is who and who is doing what. There's a team in the Yucatan, one up in space and Elizabeth is over in Alaska on her own investigation. If you can keep them straight, this book is just wonderful. It has around 70-80 chapters again, just like the first book, but the continuous action makes this one faster to get through. Way better than the first one by miles.

Dinosaur Thunder (#3)
Author: James F. David 
Rating: 4/5

This book is the third in the Thunder Time Quilt series and I was so much more into this one than the first one. The second one did a great job in building up the character relationships in order to make this one incredible and even kind of personal. There are characters that we have been with since the very first book and seeing them grow has been an absolute joy for me. There's marriages and relationships that add to the crazy dinosaur fun. There was much less dinosaur munching and human snacks in this one, which surprised me quite a bit. However, that just goes to show that a bunch of humans don't always need to be eaten by a dinosaur to make a book like this work. At about 58 chapters, Dinosaur Thunder isn't as long as the first two books, but it definitely has enough substance to make each of those chapters count. It doesn't take as long as the first one due to the driving action and is just all around better.

Dinosaur ThunderDinosaur Thunder takes place 8 years after the second, for a total of 18 years between what happens now and where it all started in Footprints. The time quilt displacements have been much less frequent since certain events occurred in Thunder of Time. This all sounds great, but if something didn't go wrong then we wouldn't have this book now, would we?

There has been a shocking find on the moon and some material/energy made known in Thunder of Time makes a reappearance and seems to be causing even more trouble. Good news, we finally find out what happened to Portland! That sounds good. Although its not so good when you have the K-T event about to occur and wreak its havoc on humanity as we know it. Things just got heavy. I don't want to give things away, and I'm trying my absolute best not to. One character from every book goes missing while investigating a case involving a "Visitor." All the vicious carnivores in present day USA have been tagged and placed in preserves where they can be kept an eye one. Visitors are dinosaurs that are not can only guess where they came from...especially when said Visitor is a velociraptor.

There is a Community from Portland lost somewhere in time, a character from the past (first book) that makes an appearance, a missing character who drags others with them causing others to follow suit to retrieve them, a meteor about to strike, and some mysterious things going on in space. Throw some baby raptors, a relationship on the rocks, new enjoyable characters to meet, and an ending that will throw you for a loop and you've got just about everything that makes up Dinosaur Thunder.
Overwhelmed yet?

James F. David makes it all digestable. He has that same ridiculously annoying and ingenious technique going on where he entices you and hooks you in, then cliffhangers that bit of action so you are forced to read through more adventure to get back to the location you were in to begin with. It is an endless loop that drove me crazy. Yet it has its merits and all adds up in the end. When all the points meet up its epic. If I could only describe this book in one word it would be: EPIC. This adventure is so much grander than the ones before it, in my opinion. I had to go back and read through a couple chapters again because I couldn't believe how the book ended. It was too ridiculously clinching.

Crazy Kramer was my favorite character in this one. I don't usually end up picking favorites when I read books,  especially when there are so many good ones, but Crazy just had something extra. He made me laugh and he was a real blast to have along for the ride. There was also a character I hated and just wish would've been eaten by the time the book ended. At first he didn't bother me and then he jsut started to and never stopped. He's the character I would most like to just kick in the shin and punch in the face (we've all had one at least once). He's not even a villain...he's just kind of a tagalong. His girlfriend needs to breakup with him ASAP, because he's just....ahh! Punch him in the face, no proper justification needed. I usually don't have characters I wish bad on, but he is one in particular that the raptors and rexes should've had for dinner from the get go. Save me the trouble of having to put up with him.

I'm in complete shock and I really hope that Mr. David doesn't take as long with the next one as he has with the others...6-11 years is a long time to wait. I still want it to be just as awesome (hopefully moreso) but without the super long wait. I am hooked on the Thunder Time Quilt series and would like to see what happens next and if certain characters get through their present conflict. Of course there is the matter of HOW that would happen.



This series is really awesome. There are significant differences between all three books that make it fun to keep reading, but still the main core concept that drives the novels. It hasn't gotten on my nerves and I'm very excited to see what happens next. I would definitely recommend this series if you're into the physics of time, dinosaurs, prehistoric stuff, and adventure. It is a great blend of elements that pulls off a crazy idea very well. There are slow moments, but those will quickly be replaced by suspense and fast paced climaxes. Footprints of Thunder, Thunder in Time, and Dinosaur Thunder are all wild rides.

I also really love the covers of all 3 books. I want to give major props to whoever did the cover designs because they are just too cool.

Thanks for reading this review, I hope to have another one coming your way very soon!

Monday, July 15, 2013

WIld Reading: A Big Little Life

I've been wanting to read a lot more books that are non-fiction about animals and I finally got to. These books, when I review them, will be a new feature by the name of Wild Reading. This is something else I'm trying and I'm hoping it goes rather well and that y'all enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed reading all these books and watching all the movies.

This is the first animal memoir I have read. It is also the first non-fiction book about a dog I have read. I have never read a book by Dean Koontz until now and it wasn't one of his fictional bestsellers. Today's review is for a book Mr. Koontz wrote about his first dog and how she changed his life. 

A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog
Author: Dean Koontz
Rating: 5/5

It's been quite a while since I've given a book 5 whole.....whatever things it is I give out for these. I suppose in that case I would give it 5 joyful barks as a tribute to Trixie Koontz. Having never read a memoir about a dog (or any animal) before, I am incredibly happy to have this one be my first. I was kind of nervous at first, since I've never leaned too much into liking non-fiction, although I suppose it does depend on the subject matter.

A Big Little Life:  A Memoir of a Joyful Dog
The closest I've ever come to this was probably Death at Seaworld and it wasn't really about the animals as it was about people and opinions. It certainly didn't have the heart that these other animal books I've been wanting to read do. Not anywhere close. I love watching animal movies, but those are all fictitious works made up by imaginative and wonderfully creative people (Free Willy, Flipper, Dolphin Tale, Racing Stripes,...and many more similar to those). A Big Little Life is none of those things. It is full of heart and love and truth. That is what I've been seeking and I can say whole heartedly that this book has it all and some. I don't really even know where to begin this review at....there's too much wonderful about it.

I have never read a Dean Koontz novel. None of his bestselling works are in my collection and have never been checked out on my library card. I couldn't even name any besides the ones he briefly mentioned in A Big Little Life. However, I do know of him, his name and that he is a successful writer. That being said, I picked up this book because I hope to one day be a published author myself and I have always wanted a dog. My first thought at seeing this book was "I wonder how a dog would affect a writer's life.." as a way to kinda see how my own life might be affected and how a dog could add or subtract in that aspect. Then I realized I just really wanted to read about a real life dog who made some sort of impact on a human, to see what I could look forward to when I someday get my own. No two dogs are exactly alike, so I picked up 3 different memoirs to get a small taste of the dog personality spectrum. A Big Little Life was my first of those three and I'm very satisfied with it. 

In time, I just might read a book by Mr. Koontz, preferably the one he mentioned that had golden retrievers included in the cast. I would love to read one of his first ones and then one he wrote with the influence of Trixie, just to see if there really is a difference. However, A Big Little Life was a great place to start, because it tells you how he came to be a writer. If you'd like, a couple of chapters in there could even be subtitled "The Origin of Dean Koontz." It was interesting to see how his life was before he began writing, after he started, and when he and his wife adopted Trixie.

The writing style of this book is very personal, which could probably be expected, since it is a memoir after all. However, instead of just relaying memories, Koontz actually includes his thoughts on some of the memories he had with Trixie as well as his thoughts on various other aspects of life. When reading this book, I felt like he was sitting with me in a room and just telling little stories that made up one big chapter of his life, often referring back to previous chapters that led up to it. He doesn't put on the air of a writer, he just writes like a real person talking which I found especially enjoyable. You're not experiencing Dean Koontz the bestselling author, you're having tea with Dean Koontz the man, the mind, the soul, the father of Trixie. His quirks and reactions come alive in the pages. A piece of him exists in the pages and us readers get to experience it and appreciate it. There's humor abound and I couldn't help but chuckle to myself on several occasions. I was laughing and smiling...and of course tearing up when it came time for the book to end.

I simply must add in 3 things that tickled me and made me a really happy reader. They aren't major and I'm rather certain they wouldn't be considered spoilers. There were 3 instances where I wanted to give Koontz a million + points because they were things that I immensely enjoy. One was a Jurassic Park reference...and not just about anything in Jurassic Park, it had to be a mentioning of the velociraptors (which are, for those who don't know, my favorite). The second was a reference to Back to the Future in regards to bedhead. I was so tickled by it. And finally, there was a point where even a sea lion was mentioned (sea lions are some of my favorite animals). That part was simply delightful and made me get an even deeper appreciation for Trixie.

Trixie was a miracle dog. She was definitely beautiful and very loving. The book leads me to believe that she was also a very cheerful and friendly dog who had some very mysterious abilities. Throughout the book, I couldn't help but get attached to her, she was such an incredible dog. I can't say a whole lot, because there's just too much that I wouldn't be doing this book or Trixie justice. This book is a must-read for all dog lovers. I'm sure I would have an even deeper understanding and appreciation for this book if I had a dog myself. It is a beautiful masterpiece that I think animal lovers of all walks and occupations would enjoy greatly. There is so much love and heart in this book, it'll bring you immense joy and take you to tears.

Its been a long time since I have picked up a library book that I have wanted to read right over again. This book is one that would deserve that. I would buy this book (which is saying a lot considering there are very few books I've wanted to have for myself from the library after reading through them). A Big Little Life is......incredible, heartwarming, enchanting, amazing, and all around fun. There are definitely lessons to learn within it and a very wonderful animal to love. A true miracle. So if you know any animal lovers who are searching for a great book, or you need a gift for your fellow dog parents, this is the one to give them and recommend. Without a doubt, it is one that many will come to cherish.

The link above will take you to youtube and the book trailer, which has pics of Trixie so you can see how beautiful a dog she really was. Her beauty extended in and out, as well as one of the most innocent creatures you will ever read about.

Trixie was a retired assistance dog that Dean and Gerda Koontz adopted. Here's a link to CCI (Canine Companions for Independence). CCI helps people with disabilities through dogs. Visit their site to find out more about their services, opportunities to help, or just general information. Trixie was trained and worked there before having to retire due to elbow surgery.

Until the next review, farewell!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cinematic Words Review: Planet of the Apes

     Today's review is a combo of the original book Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, published in 1963 and its movie adaptation from 1968. Planet of the Apes has become a hit franchise over the past 40+ years.

     Planet of the Apes is considered one of the top 200 fiction books and has inspired no less than 8 movies. The first movies started in 1968 and consisted of 5 different titles: The Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
     In 2001, Tim Burton directed a remake. From what I've read, this movie was based on Pierre Boulle's novel and loosely on the 1968 movie. However, as I have not seen it, I cannot testify to this or how true to either it may be. Perhaps at a later time, if I can find the movie, I will be able to provide an up to date review and how that movie lives up to the novel and its movie predecessors.
     Ten years later, in 2011, a reboot of the Planet of the Apes series was made and released. This movie went by the title of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A new movie is scheduled for release in May of 2014 as a sequel. This is listed as being called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It is stated that the Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot and serves as an origin story for a new series. This meaning that it will not be a continuation of the series begun in 1968.

     All of this seems a bit strange to me though, seeing how the original movie series ended. It was very open and I was expecting another movie to pick up where those left off and finish up the story. I suppose this leaves the audience to decide what happens in the future, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although personally, I would've preferred for these rebooted films to pick up and carry the story where the past storyline ended. That would've been really amazing, but you can't expect Hollywood to cater to everyone's preferences.  Upon further reading, I feel the need to watch the newer movies, and soon. The plots outlined are very different from what the series has delivered so far....and my curiosity is getting the better of me.
     The book and adapted movies also inspired 2 TV series. The first was titled Planet of the Apes and began in 1974. It ran from September '74 to December '74, and was canceled due to lack of audience and a failure to compete adequately with other shows on at the time. Due to this, only 14 episodes were created. I found the complete series at my local library and will watch it in the future. If there's enough interest in it, I might review that as well. Leave a comment on this post, leave a post or message on my Facebook page (there is a link to it under the Contact Me tab at the top of the page), or e-mail me and let me know.

     After this first series came another. This one ran from September 1975 to December of 1975. It was different from all previous Planet of the Apes media in that it was an animated series. Consisting of only 13 episodes, it is said that it was never fully concluded, but suggested a possible ending. This isn't one I've heard of before. Although it does peak my curiosity quite a bit so I'll look into it some more and see if I can't possibly watch that too.

     I do believe it is time to start the actual review, now that I've given all the extra information regarding the series.

The Book:

Planet of the Apes
Author: Pierre Boulle
Rating: 3/5 

Planet of the ApesI had been wanting to read this, but I never picked it up from the library. Then while talking to a friend about the many movies, there was some surprise that I hadn't read the actual book. So I felt that I should read it now instead of later and add yet one more book to my arsenal of literary knowledge. I requested it from the library and started on it immediately. This one took no more than a week, if that.  It isn't short, but it keeps you wondering what's going to happen next and makes you remain out of this world.

This book starts off in deep space, with a couple just cruising around. They seem very well off and know how to navigate their ship. Suddenly, they spot a bottle which seems to contain something inside it, so they pick it up. Wouldn't you know it, its a message in a bottle. This message is several pages thick and starts off the main story about how a journalist and scientist come to end up on a planet where things are not as they seem. The humans they encounter there are not like the ones on present day Earth. They seem to lack intelligence and are absolutely primitive in behavior. The apes are the ones who are of high intelligence and standing. They dress in clothes and talk and inhabit the planet in a similar way to us.

Ulysse Merou and Professor Antelle need to find out where they fit in the grand scheme of things and decide if its in their best interest to stay or leave as soon as possible. Planet of the Apes is full of suspense and our main character (Merou) is tossed into all sorts of unbelievable scenarios. He meets apes of various occupations. The social organization of the apes is different from that of other social organizations. There are 3 main species of ape living in this unfamiliar world on the planet of Soror: Chimpanzees, Gorillas, and Orangutans. Each species is equal to the other, but they all have their own roles and each ape group has a general opinion about the other 2. Its really interesting to find out where everyone's opinions lie and how each group reacts to things done by the other. I really enjoyed reading about the ape planet and seeing how they're society is structured.

This is a great science fiction book that has a surprising ending that will leave you thinking for quite a bit when it finishes. The book is definitely worth a read.

The characters each had their own quirks and reactions even though most of them were apes, which was very nice. There were no cookiecutter characters. There is a great variety of personality between Zira, Cornelius, and Dr. Zaius. It isn't totally predictable and there are many twists that I didn't even see coming. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The Movie:
Planet of the Apes
Rating: 6/10
Release Year: 1968

Featuring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes is a movie that started off a whole series of sequels, a remake, and a reboot. One of the most commonly referenced movies to this day (mentioned in Madagascar and Big Bang Theory for example), it is not to be missed.  With great costuming, scenery, and an action sequence or two, this movie is very appealing. It pushes the boundaries of science fiction with its portrayal of Boulle's original novel.

If I had to describe this film in only two words, I would say raw and gritty. It is, at the core, survival in an unfamiliar, topsy-turvy world. Our protagonist, an astronaut by the name of Taylor, must come to realize that he isn't at home and that things are done very differently than he is used to. Every experience challenges his sanity and manhood. Everything that makes him a man will be questioned and challenged. The unbelievable occurs frequently and the technological developments made by the apes are rather staggering. Although, they are not quite so different from humans on present day Earth as we may think.

While you can definitely tell the age of the movie, it is nonetheless a timeless tale of adventure and the price that comes with scientific curiosity. With unexpected twists and a great cast, Planet of the Apes is a wonderful story to see on screen. It is also rated G and generally would be a good movie for the whole family, viewers of all ages. Everything about it cannot be gained from just one watch and the kids won't understand everything that's going on, but all will be enchanted by the apes and feel for the plight of Taylor.

The movie and the book are both worthwhile. I would highly recommend both. However, as far as book to movie transitions go, these don't line up completely.  The book presents an idea and the movie takes it and makes it its own. While most of the characters are the same, the protagonist is severely different being that Monsieur Merou in the book is a French journalist while Taylor is an American astronaut. Both males have their humanity questioned and threatened. Not to mention have similar reaactions to many situations. Many things from the book were left out of the movie, but the movies took the concept many steps further and developed more story for the audience to enjoy. Although I must add in that the apes in both media are portrayed rather differently. In the movie, the culture seems advanced, but is displayed overall as primitive in their overall society. They were not accurate to the book in this matter because they should've been much more humanlike. The buildings should have been more to human standard. The apes in the book were highly developed and just like humans. They have zoos, parks, theaters, parties and dress like humans, while in the movie, every facility looks like textured stone or dirt. Their manner of dress seems rather unusual too, although perhaps they were just going for a different type of stylization. It seems that the movie kept them more primitive than Boulle intended them to be. The movies have kept the idea alive and keep people curious about what has come before. So if you're into science fiction and love to read, pick up Boulle's novel. If you'd rather just see what all the talk is about, check out the movie. Bonus points to readers that decide they'd like to enjoy both!

Thanks for reading, I look forward to sharing my next review with you

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Hank the Cowdog #1-The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog


I have a little sister for those who don't know. She likes to give me books to read. This one came as a request from her. So yes, today's book is for a younger crowd, for the smaller readers in your family.

It is funny, it involves dogs, and it is totally's selection is Hank the Cowdog. I had read around 2 books in the series when I was younger, but for some reason I had never picked it up beyond that. The books I read weren't even the first 2 in the series. So now, I'm making up for it. I've decided to read through the entire Hank the Cowdog series. Presently there are 61 books, 61 being released just this year. So as y'all can imagine, this is quite the challenge. But as a Texan, how can I refuse?

Now let's get on with #1 shall we?

Hank The Cowdog #1: The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog
Author: John R. Erickson
Illustrator: Gerald L. Holmes
Rating: 4/5 

Alrighty, lets begin. The story opens with Hank. Hank is, as the title blatantly states, a cowdog. He's just been dubbed Head of Ranch Security and already he's got trouble a-brewin'. There's been a murder and the amount of suspects is too many to come to any conclusions. On top of that, Hank has a great scene at the beginning where he pounces on an unsuspecting visitor and ends up with more surprises himself.
The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog (Hank the Cowdog #1)

Hank the Cowdog is a great storyteller with lots of charm and quirks. Words are misspelled purposely, but who can blame a dog for trying? Lots of Texasisms fill the pages as we find out that it is a dog-eat-dog world. This book abounds with humor and adventure. Hank's struggles are obvious and he overcomes them with style.

Hank is full of surprises and I found myself laughing out loud quite a bit. It was also a quick read, having only 12 chapters. Drover is Hank's lovable, albeit a tad dimwitted, sidekick. He brings in a lot of the comedy relief necessary when solving a murder mystery. While not the sharpest tool in the shed, Drover is definitely full of heart.

If you're looking for a quick read to take a break from all the long, contemporary novels, Hank the Cowdog is certainly quick, breezy, and loads of fun. This is the perfect read for younger readers, say 4th grade and up. They'll have a blast reading about their new friend out West. Props to Mr. Erickson and Mr. Holmes for bringing this western comedy to the homes of children across the states.

Until the next review, adios pardner!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Review: Iron Man-Virus

As I stated in my first What's Up With Sam? post, I have been reading a book involving Iron Man. I finished it and have it ready to go back to the library. Before it can go back and reach the hands of its next reader, it must have its debut here.  Here comes the latest review.

Speaking of Iron Man, people surprise me. I had never heard of this before....until I was going through my usual morning chores with the local country station playing. Apparently there's something known as an Iron Man shot. I would not recommend this at all. It consists of  3 parts:
1) Snort a line of salt
2) Drink a shot of tequila
3) Squeeze a lime in your eye
Now I don't know about you all, but none of that seems the least bit appealing to me. This is what I would call stupidity at its finest. The lack of intelligence shown by this staggers me, much like Malcolm is staggered by the lack of humility amongst Jurassic Park characters. Except this is real life and not a scene in a movie. I must say, who came up with this and why? I don't think Tony Stark would do this and he is THE Iron Man....just saying. No idea why anyone would want to snort salt or have lime juice in their eye.....

 Iron Man: Virus
Author: Alex Irvine
Rating: 4/5

I picked this book up at the library on my main summer reading book gathering visit. I have read lots of things about superheroes: graphic novels, novels with Batman, Spider-Man comics circa 1990s...but never have I read one starring Iron Man. I had never seen any of the 3 movies with Robert Downey, Jr. until this past summer. I watched the first during our drive out of town for vacation and I started the second...which I have yet to finish. I'm rather behind on my movie watching. That said, I never got really into Iron Man before now. I knew nothing about him except that he was a guy in a crazy looking, super technological suit. Oh yeah, and he shoots out some beam things from his hands and his chest glows. I saw him maybe once in an Avengers GN and then in The Avengers movie (which I saw at the university I attend). He's not a generally super nice guy in The Avengers either. He's rather smug and arrogant. But upon further review, it works. That is Tony Stark as we know and love him. Here is what we know about Tony Stark:

1) Tony Stark is rich  
2) Tony Stark isn't a people person         
3) Tony Stark is one of the most ingenius people in the field of technology    
4) Tony Stark looks out for number one at all times          
5) Tony Stark owns the leading company for warfare tech, Stark Enterprises
6) A life changing experience opens new perspective on the world and Stark becomes Iron Man, while still keeping most of his general traits

That about sums him up. He doesn't have a great relationship with Nick Fury (second commander/exectutive director of S.H.I.E.L.D. [under 12 people who serve on a council and give Fury his orders]) on the surface. He likes to get really into his work and can stay for hours in his lab.

S.H.I.E.L.D, for those who don't know, has stood for 3 things:
1) Original- Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division
2) At present- Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate
3) In various films- Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division

Iron Man: Virus
Basically, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a U.S. government agency that protects people and that many superheroes have joined and worked with. Against S.H.I.E.L.D is HYDRA. HYDRA is a terrorist organization who has been known to have support from empires in Japan as well as Nazis. HYDRA doesn't stand for anything, it alludes to the mythological beast, which grows 2 heads for every 1 that is cut off. This is the organization's way of saying that their numbers will continue to grow along with their power, regardless of how many "heads" are cut off. These guys just keep coming back year after year.

In this book, we've got Tony Stark on the border of a new technology. Instant control. Tony can get a flood of information from all around the world and know basically everything that's going on anywhere. This is aided by satellites and he knows of a way to program it so only certain types of information are delivered to his latest suit. He had problems with how his original suit was cooperating with his body so he set on making a new one. Improved with new technology of course. We've also got Arnim Zola, who has taken control of HYDRA and is rather smart when it comes to developing technology. He isn't too far behind Tony, but his motives are very different. The main weapons he uses in this book are clones. He's managed to clone himself into at least 2 different forms, slightly altered so they aren't exactly like him and can serve their purposes. The 2 that are most prominent are Maheu and Lantier. They are not exact copies of Zola, but have basic elements of him in thought. Lantier, however, has a thing with trains and speaks in train-y jargon. Maheu serves as Zola's advisor and is less intelligent due to his lack of an ESP box with the same capabilities of Zola's ESP box, which he very much wants, but Zola refuses to give him.

Zola has ways to transfer himself into other bodies and continue living. This process is not the same as the one used by Agent Smith in the Matrix. Zola has many bodies stacked up for future use. He has an army of clones that have been created from the DNA of someone close to Tony. This adds some intensity and plays a great role in helping move the story's plot forward. What's the main goal? To get Tony to go to the dark side. Zola wants to find a way to get Tony as part of HYDRA because he thinks that with Tony on his side, they'd be completely unstoppable.

This book was really entertaining. At first I wasn't sure what to expect. I have ideas of what could happen with other superhero characters, because I'm so familiar with them. However, jumping into this book was just like moving into undiscovered territory, never knowing what is going to happen.

There was lots of action, plenty of unexpected twists, and memorable characters. I would definitely read another Iron Man book if I found one and I'll be sure to read any Iron Man GNs I find. Marvel has outdone themselves with these characters and I commend their performance. I like that they reuse things across their superhero universe. I recall HYDRA from my experience with Captain America and it was nice to see them rise as a threat to others as well.

Tony Stark is hate-able and lovable at the same time. We understand why he does what he does, even if we or the characters don't like it very much. Its easy to see his thought process and the reasoning behind his actions. There are explosions, which no good superhero installment would be without. The action scenes are gripping. All the characters are well-written and the schemes planned are definitely so despicable that they deserve ruining.

Another interesting thing about this book is that every chapter has some sort of intro passage to it. This could be a quick summary of something that Stark Industries is developing or an inspirational piece by Arnim Zola directed at his new members of HYDRA. The Stark Industries can sometimes get a little repetitive in the security area that left me wondering if I'd already read a particular one before several times over. The HYDRA ones are pretty interesting, as it shows the best form of brainwash, instilling pride and a feeling of being superior to everything and anyone else. Those really add to the story. At first I liked them because I used it as an indicator of which side I'd be reading about in the chapter to follow immediately after (the story is told from two sides: 1) Tony and his friends 2) Arnim Zola and his schemes). However, this method soon failed because it flipped and then I had no clue what was coming up next. At first that was a bit discouraging and confusing, but in the end it worked out ok I guess. Not a dealbreaker by any means.

Overall, this book is really good. Its entertaining and takes you to levels you thought only existed in the Matrix or some other crazy sci-fi movie involving clones and technology. The climactic confrontation In Here is pretty neat, since you can see how Tony has developed throughout the book by how his thought process is working. I really liked seeing the reactions of all the characters in different scenarios. It was way cool to see how everything unfolds based on the reactions to each event. I would definitely recommend this book to any Iron Man fans or those who are fond of superheroes. Its not very long, a decent morsel. Took me maybe 1-2 and a half days to read.

Thanks for reading my review, I hope to have another out for you all soon!