Star Wars: Most Wanted Review

If you’ve listened to the five or so most recent episodes of the main show, you have heard Fitz talk about reading this a few times.
You listened as my interest grew while he spoke about his downs and ups with it.
So the question is where do I stand?
Do I agree with ol Fitty or am I my own man?
Gather round and let’s find out, gang.

As always, this is your official ***SPOILER ALERT***

Just to start, this book is curious.
Obviously, if I’m reviewing it, I liked it well enough (more on this later, trust me!) to tell you about it.
But for the first two sevenths of it, shit was looking really damn gloomy on the “ooo, this is gonna rock!” front.
That first hundred pages or so is just bland and uninteresting, it’s just a hell of a slog that feels completely uninspired.
Right around page 100, that all changes and this quickly becomes one of the most enthralling, engaging, and entertaining Star Wars books I’ve read in my decade of reading them.

Set just before the opening segment of Solo, we meet Han and Qi’ra as two kids with hopes of getting to be the leader of the White Worms pack.
With a near contempt for each other, Lady Proxima sends them, unwittingly to each other, on separate sides of the same mission, a high dollar auction for a new piece of cutting edge tech.
When the deal goes sideways, Han & Qi’ra are forced to work together and trust each other with their deepest secrets to survive.

Coming hot on the heels of possibly the most controversial movie of the franchise (The Last Jedi) and battling against poor promotion and a very public firing and replacement of the original directors, Solo was an unfairly maligned movie that had the true heart and soul of George Lucas’s Original three movies infused in its DNA.
It’s definitely the most fun of the new movies, desperately in need of a sequel or follow up of some kind (#MakeSolo2Happen!).
To say I want more of this era, these characters, and their world is a MASSIVE understatement.

In this book, we get to travel to at least four different distinct areas/districts of Corellia: the sewers, the posh upper crusty area, an industrial nightmare, and a grave yard for star ships.
Once Rae Carson hits her stride, she doesn’t fuckin’ stop, man.
What’s truly astounding is that this novel dropped before the movie, because it feels like Carson studied this movie for months to get that feeling of fun, adventure, and wonder locked down.
She captured it all, particularly in the scene where Han breaks atmo for the first time and gets his very first taste of space and flying.
His sheer glee at finding the thing that he desperately wants most in life is awe inspiring and wonderful.
I’ve never read a damn thing Rae has written before, but I’ll be watching more closely for her name from now on.

One thing I liked and have to mention is an observation Qi’ra makes about Han.
While watching his interactions with other folks of all stripes, different species, robots, filthy rich, or dirt poor, she notices that Han treats them all with the same level of dignity.
While this sounds like it may come off heavy handed, obtrusive, and forced, I can assure you it most definitely is not.
It’s handled incredibly well and doesn’t at all feel like you’re being beaten over the head with “a message”, it’s almost off-handedly mentioned.
It’s a good message to subtly send in this day and age of constant division, especially given the target audience of this novel.

The bottomline is this, gang, it has a more than rocky start, but if you stick with it it is wonderfully satisfying.
Carson has an uncanny grasp on this world, and these characters in particular.
I know she’s gone on to bigger assignments in the Star Wars galaxy, but I’d definitely love to see her return to Han’s roots and show us what she can do with this set of toys now that we’ve all seen the movie.
If you can, hunt this book down and give it a shot.
Like Jason Fry and E.K. Johnston before her, Rae Carson proves that the Young Adult arm of that galaxy far far away is producing some of the best stories it has to offer.
And yes, it’s incredibly eerie how much Fitz and I have ended up agreeing about this one…SEND HELP!!!

Let us what you think of this review in the comments below or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her continued editorial assistance.

Iron Man: And Call My Killer…MODOK! Review

I’m just gonna put this right at the top: if you are picking this up expecting the cocky Robert Downey jr. version of Tony Stark from the MCU, you will be disappointed.
With that out of the way, one of the things that’s most interesting to examine in this, and most of these older novels, are the changes that have happened since these novels dropped and become fundamental pieces of the characters.
So let’s dive in deep and see what some of them are, gang.

As per usual, this is your official ***SPOILER ALERT***

With only 189 pages, it’s not a convoluted story, and that’s a good thing.
After an attempted kidnapping at a college speaking gig and a robbery that stole the Iron Man blue prints from Stark International headquarters, Tony decides to sell an unarmed, stripped down version of the red and gold armor to the highest bidder.
The behemoth man monster MODOK, running low on funds and credibility for his ner-do-well organization AIM, concocted the nefarious plots against Stark and his alter-ego to get the suit and carry out more villainous operations to take over the world.

One of the biggest changes that have come down the pike that may stun folks would have to be the marriage of Happy & Pepper.
That’s right, gang, 40 years ago they were happily hitched!
That’s something I knew and forgot, and when I read it I damn near unloaded a entire house worth of bricks in my undies.
Even in the comics, as far back as I have been reading the funny books, Tony & Pepper had been circling each other.
The other big difference MCU fans will immediately notice is that Tony is still in the super closet as he’s told the world Iron Man is just a bodyguard of his.
So kickin’ back into that mindset is fun and (as I touched on in my Incredible Hulk: Stalker From The Stars Review) that’s really key to this particular series of Marvel novels.

Are they in depth & revelatory character studies that get to the heart of the human condition?
Fuuuuck no, man!
Are they fun, full of thrilling comic booky adventure, excitement, characters, & hints at continuity?
100%, hell yes.
And you don’t need to have read 500 issues to understand either, Tony’s origin is given a refresher here for 2 probable reasons.
1. To make sure you understand where this specific version of the character is coming from.
2. To hook in people who may have never read a comic and make it easy to dive in and get a good feel for this world.
And it works perfectly.

As I sort of said in my Hulk review, this is what comic books and comic book based stories should be, gang.
You don’t need to always juggle 427 characters, tie-in issues, and story threads.
Sometimes, just a simple story of a hero and a villian covers all your bases and scratches the itch.
Simple and effective is what made these characters stand out, and that’s what I want to see again.
This series of novels are exactly what I want, and I can’t wait to find more of them.

Let us what you think of this review in the comments below or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Star Wars: The Weapon Of A Jedi Review

I’ve seen his name around on various guides and such, but this is really my first exposure to the fictional stylings of Jason Fry.
Also, this is the first prose story I’ve read from the Journey To The Force Awakens program from all those years ago.
But the question is, what did I think of both?
I say we figure that out together.

Consider this to be your usual ***SPOILER ALERT***, gang.
React accordingly.

Now, right up front I will tell you all that this is a young adult/kids book, and it’s the second Star Wars YA story I’ve reviewed (read my review of Ahsoka).
And some would adjust or soften their assessment based on that.
But I tend not to adjust, I feel like YA should stand up and face the same scrutiny as full fledged novels.
I say this not as a way to prepare you for some shots that will feel cheap, but to prepare you for the praise that’s about to follow.
No back handed compliments of “well, it’s really good…for a kids book…” here, gang.

The main portion of the story is set just after Episode IV, where we see Luke coming to terms with his new found force abilities and trying to figure out how to better tap into them.
While on a scout mission for the Rebellion, he starts to have force visions of training droids, dark forests, large creatures, and a ruined Jedi temple.
Despite that, he tries to continue with his main mission but after an imperial run in is forced back to Devaron for repairs.
Once there, he feels a stronger pull to search the nearby ruins for guidance on his path to Jedi Knighthood.

Let’s just get this out of the way now, the worst part of this story is that it feels slightly inconsequential.
What I mean by that is though it does show a big leap forward in Luke’s abilities, if you just watch the three Original Trilogy movies you won’t be left wondering what the hell is missing.
There’s enough on screen that this just feels sorta like something you assumed, but didn’t need to see.
Now, having said that, it is one hell of a fun ride!
Even in the slightly darker or mysterious moments, this feels like what it is, a fun story about a young character trying to find out where they go after they save the Galaxy.
R2 & 3P0 are along for the ride to help lighten those more serious moments too.

Fry handles these legacy characters with the respect of a long time fan.
He plays well with the toys, and puts them back in the toy box with no added damage that would upset or hinder future players/writers.
And when I say he’s a fan, it’s clear that he’s a REAL Star Wars fan, not one of these people that says they love Star Wars but shits all over the Prequels or anything post 83.
Because, while this was part of the Journey To The Force Awakens program, the connections to The Clone Wars and the entire Prequel Trilogy are stronger than any ties I could find to the Sequel Trilogy/ Episode VII.
He subtly drops little nuggets along that way that strengthen the ties between the first six movies and makes the entire universe feel more cohesive, which is what I think the real strength of this story is.

To wrap up, this is not a book that you’ll be heartbroken you missed, but you will be damn happy you read it in the end.
There’s enough set up of potential future storylines to get nerdy brains wondering, the writing is so solid that you’ll breeze through it, and it’s nice to see the PT integrated into the OT in a way that George himself wasn’t able to do simply due to the order he made the movies.
If you want a quick and easy Star Wars story, look no further.
I, myself, am left wondering if Fry’s novelization of The Last Jedi has the same level of fun oozing from it as this does.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Fantastic Four: Redemption Of The Silver Surfer Review

In my experience, Marvel’s First Family has, no pun intended, a rocky history outside of the four color realm.
I’ve read a few novels over the years that have been dull, to put it lightly, and, though I enjoyed the first two, the movies have been been generally derided by the vast majority of fans.
So going into this, I was a wee bit worried.
But were those worries unfounded?
Let’s find out, gang!

As per usual, consider this your official 22 year ***SPOILER ALERT***

Michael Jan Friedman is a dude whose work I have always dug.
I will admit I haven’t read all of his books and stories, but what I have read has never disappointed me.
The Marvel stuff he has written has always left me feeling like this is a guy that spent his time wallowing in comics and nerddom (a fact I also noticed while reading his X-Men/Star Trek The Next Generation novel, Planet X), this book does nothing to disabuse me of that notion.
To put it plainly, he fuckin’ gets it, man!

It’s beyond obvious from the jump that he knows these characters well. Specifically Silver Surfer, who he quickly and economically gets across the back story and guilt of.
For those who may not know, this is a dude that spent too many years condemning entire planets, races, and civilizations to death for the devourer of worlds, Galactus.
Silver Surfer has spent all the years since he broke away from Galactus trying to balance the scales in anyway he could, which gives us our title and a solid A-plot that’s deftly disguised as a potential B-plot.

Which leads me to my only real, and admittedly minor, issue with this novel.
The Surfer is the star of this book, he’s not a guest in any sense, but our titular heroes do feel almost like guest stars.
I don’t hate that Norrin Radd is in the spotlight at all, but it does feel a bit like the Fantastic Four title was used for the wider general name recognition.
And believe me, it works perfectly to hook you in!
But I did finish the story wishing that I had gotten at least 1 chapter that focused on the FF together before the trip to the Negative Zone and maybe one at the tail end just to beef up their presence a little.

The fact that the Negative Zone and it’s inhabitants haven’t been the focus of one of the movies is a damn shame, and this book is full of all the evidence you could need to support that.
Reed, Ben, and Johnny are prompted into the alternate universe when an old foe, Blastaar, sets hostages up for slaughter right near their outpost in the zone.
Blastaar lures them in, not for a fight this time but for their help, having felt their combined power first hand, to defeat a coming threat – a destroyer of worlds, much like Galactus, named Prodigion.
The trio decide to look on as Blastaar tries to destroy Prodigion’s ship and crew as something feels off.
Johnny is injured and taken aboard the vessel, Sue and the Surfer show up to help, and things get even more complicated than any of them were led to believe.
The turns in this are great.
Prodigion going from villian, to hero, and back and forth again until his final reveal leave you with a great sense of mystery and suspense until the end.

Bottom line: Surfer’s story is suitably heartbreaking and involves a chance at happiness, and the aforementioned redemption, he has so desperately craved for the 1st time in ages and it’s handled with the care and ease of somebody who has the writing and in universe experience to give it the weight it deserves without being laughable.
If you are a fan of the FF and their supporting characters, snap this up if you stumble across a copy.
Now I’m gonna go searching for more of Michael Jan Friedman’s TNG work.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Mr. Monk Is Cleaned Out Review

For those that may not know or remember, Monk was a USA Network TV series about a modern day Sherlock Holmes (with, somehow, more idiosyncratic quirks) and his assistant Natalie (for our purposes, Watson) who were consultants with the San Francisco Police Department to solve various murders and mysteries.
It ran for 8 seasons, and the series finale for this show even held the record for the highest rated single episode of television for a while.
In short, this was a major TV intellectual property, so of course there was a series of novels based upon it.

This particular book is the 10th original novel in the series, and it was written by a man that worked on the show and wrote all of the previous 9.
After working with a character for that long, one would imagine that not many could handle the world and its inhabitants better.
So let’s dive in and see just how good of a handle Mr. Goldberg has on Adrian Monk and his universe.

As per usual, this is your official ***SPOILER ALERT***

The short reply is that Lee Goldberg may need surgery to ease up his grip on Monk, because 10 books in it’s still vise like.
The dude knows the ins and outs of every nook and cranny of Monk, Natalie, Stottlemeyer, & Disher.
He knows every inch of their minds, quirks, assorted little ticks, and attitudes.

Here’s what happened: Monk gets fired as a consultant with the SFPD due to budget cuts again.
All the while one of the biggest trials in the history of the Bay Area is about to begin for a man, Bob Sebes, who stole billions in an insane ponzi scheme that fleeced thousands, one of that group being Adrian Monk.
Jobless and penniless, and with all of the witnesses that can put the palindromicly named Sebes in prison dropping like flies, Monk can’t help but solve the murders…no matter how much Natalie tries to stop him and save their jobs.

The genius of these books is that, again in Holmesian tradition, Natalie plays our narrator.
Now, in the series, there was no narration, so you might think it would be a bit jarring to suddenly go so intimately into a character’s mind and read their every thought.
But not at all!
Natalie, though often meek on the show, has the best position to tell you every detail of the mystery and then give you moments to cool down and mull over the progress and frustrations of the story when she’s away from Monk that an omniscient narrator would make feel cold and detached.
And you get to see more of her fiery side, which makes her a more fleshed out character and improves/shades Traylor Howard’s already great performance.
It was the perfect choice from the start of this series and it continues to serve it well 10 deep.

Much like his brother Tod (read my review of Tod’s novel Burn Notice: The Reformed HERE to see exactly what I mean), Lee has the ability to translate the characters from the screen to the page with impeccable precision.
Which makes me wonder what was in their water growing up, how the hell did it bring forth such skillful writing talent?
The dudes know how to tell an extended story (compared to the shows these books are based on) and not have it feel stretched too thin to meet a page count or not spin its wheels on any unnecessary down beats that bore.
Just out of curiosity, I have always wondered how many episode scripts these novels equate to?
It feels like 2-3, but I am interested to find a hard answer just for a better understanding of the content they provide.

So to wrap up, Monk has always been a tragic and tortured character, and while that is a bit more exaggerated in these books than it was in the show, these stories are a great way to understand and spend more quality time with a character that spent 8 years and more than 100 episodes showing us that it’s okay to be flawed or damaged.
It’s okay to be different or weird.
It’s okay to be…you.
You just have to find your path and your Natalie to help you keep your shit together, gang, cause it’s a jungle out there.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.