Four Letter Nerd

Author - Cam Clark

4LN Comic Review: X-O Manowar (2017) #1

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Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Tomás Giorello and Diego Rodriguez
Publisher: Valiant Comics

Summary from Comixology:

Born under the oppressive thumb of the Roman Empire, Aric of Dacia learned warfare at an early age. It was amid such violence that he was abducted by an alien race. Forced into slavery, he survived where others perished. His escape would come from bonding with a weapon of immeasurable power: the X-O Manowar armor. With it, he returned to Earth…only to find himself stranded in the modern day. But that was a lifetime ago.

Now, far from home on a strange and primitive new world, Aric has begun a new life. Liberated from his past, he tends to his crops. Free from war. Free from violence. Free from the armor.

But the machinery of death marches his way once again. Conscripted into an alien army and thrown into an unforgiving conflict, the fury inside him finds voice as he is forced to embrace the armor once more. With it, he will decimate armies, topple empires and incite interplanetary warfare as he rises from SOLDIER to GENERAL to EMPEROR to VISIGOTH. They wanted a weapon. He will give them war!

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Robert Venditti’s X-O MANOWAR (2012) was the title that helped Valiant Entertainment launch itself into the modern era.   His take on X-O Manowar was poignant, and over the course of its fifty issue run, he transformed the raucous, Visigoth warrior into a king and peacemaker.  It was a fun journey, with all sorts of twists and turns, memorable villains and memorable fights.  After Venditti stepped away, I was slightly worried about who would eventually step in and take the reins of Valiant’s flagship character.  Lucky for us, Valiant superstar Matt Kindt was announced as the heir to the throne.

If you put all of the Valiant titles up on a wall and threw a dart at them, the chances of your dart landing on an issue Kindt worked on is fairly high.  During his time at Valiant Comics, Kindt has written UNITY, which happened to feature X-O Manowar, RAI, NINJAK, THE VALIANT with Jeff Lemire, and DIVINITY.  What I am trying to say is Matt Kindt is Valiant’s cleanup hitter.

In X-O MANOWAR #1 we find a more stoic Aric.  Tired of war and death, Aric left Earth behind and found another habitable planet where he could live in peace.  After burying his X-O armor, he finds solace tending the land and growing a sweet beard.  Unfortunately, war finds him even here, and he is forced to serve as cannon fodder in a war he has no interest in.

To me, X-O MANOWAR #1 feels like a mixture of RAI and the fantastic western “The Quick and the Dead”, with Aric playing the role of retired gunslinger forced to fight.  Matt Kindt, like we’ve come to expect from his work on RAI, tells an epic science-fiction tale, with plenty of good dialogue and just enough backstory to get you headed in the right direction without bogging you down.

Another high point in this debut is the art.  I can’t think of another book off the top of my head that looks quite like what this art team pulls off.  It sort of reminds me of the kind of art that in on the cover of old pulp science-fiction novels, and I love it.  The line work and colors just mesh together in a really cool way that matches the epic nature of the story.

Ultimately, X-O MANOWAR #1 is one of the most action packed debuts I’ve seen.  After the first few pages, the action picks up and keeps on going till the last page.  Kindt’s epic story-telling ability is on point, and this art team is just killer.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve never read a single Valiant comic before, this book is spectacular – a definite 5 out of 5.

X-O MANOWAR #1 hits the stands March 22, 2017, and you need it in your life.  Now here are some preview pages:

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4LN Book Review – The Last of August (Charlotte Holmes #2) by Brittany Cavallaro

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Recently I was trying to keep both of my children in sight while I perused the best place in the history of ever—Target—when my eyes landed on A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes novel #1). It had a cover that drew me in (I judge books by their cover), and it was an obvious play on the classic Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet . . . how was I supposed to pass it by?

Short answer: I didn’t.

I quickly grabbed the book (signed by the author!) and set out after my kids, who were trying to put every LEGO Batman set in existence into our cart. Less than a week after I picked up A Study in Charlotte, I had read and purchased the second book in the series, The Last of August.

Quick note: since this is a sequel to a book we haven’t reviewed, I will do my best to not spoil the first book while talking about the second.

Summary from HarperCollins:

In the second brilliant, action-packed book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are in a chase across Europe to untangle a web of shocking truths about the Holmes and Moriarty families.

Jamie and Charlotte are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved Uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.

So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.

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The Charlotte Holmes series follows the great-great-grandchildren of the fabled Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. In this world, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was merely their publicist. While the Watson family lived relatively normal lives, the Holmes clan continued the legacy of Sherlock by training their children in the arts of deduction, baritsu, and a myriad of other Holmesian pursuits. The first book begins with the latest Watson (James) being sent to a boarding school in the United States, where he meets Charlotte Holmes. The tumultuous relationship gets tumultuous-ier (I know this is a made up word, but I am using it anyway) when the pair are framed for the murder of a fellow student. The Last of August begins shortly after the events of A Study in Charlotte and finds the pair in a European adventure that involves missing persons, art forgeries, and hipsters.

If you have been a patron of 4LN for a long, long time, you might know that I am a bit of an amateur “Sherlockian.” I’ve read a majority of the original stories, love both Elementary and Sherlock, and I’m currently working my way through the original short stories that I haven’t read using Audible (my wife is still mad I used this month’s credit).

What I am trying to say is this: I like Holmes/Watson stories regardless of the medium. I might be a little biased, but I really enjoyed the first two books in the Charlotte Holmes Novels series, and I am looking forward to the next book.

Brittany Cavallaro, the author of the series, manages to pay respect to Doyle’s work, while presenting a fresh take of the mythos. Instead of taking the original characters and placing them in present day (i.e. Sherlock and Elementary), Cavallaro presents two new characters that manage to be more than just stand-ins for the original characters. The stories are fast-paced, with just enough of the Holmesian “magic trick” revealed to the reader to string you along.

That being said, my favorite aspect of the series: the friendship between Charlotte and James. It’s endearing, if not a complete train wreck (it’s not their fault . . . they’re 16, somewhat famous, and she’s a genius with poor social skills and a vice or two). They genuinely care for each other, but there is a lot of stuff they have to work through in both books. The introduction of Holmes’ family (and the Moriarty’s) makes the second book even more of an emotional minefield for the the two to traverse.

Ultimately, the Charlotte Holmes series might not appeal to every Sherlock fan. It’s a young adult series with teenage protagonists and a smidge of sexual tension, which means it’s a bit different than the Holmes and Watson characters in other versions of the Sherlock stories. However, I think the younger half of Sherlockians will find it an entertaining read that pays homage to the source material. I give it 4 out of 5 “Three Pipe Problems.”

Wisdom from Tolkien’s Middle-earth

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There are only a few books that I’ve read that I read more than once, but Tolkien is an author who’s work I cannot help but return to.  There is a lot of wisdom packed into those pages that consistently brings me back, and continues to shape my worldview.  Below I’ve collected several of my favorite quotes from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. 

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“All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others.”  – The Silmarillion

“But do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.”  – The Lord of the Rings

Frodo: “… I wish none of this had happened.                                                       Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide.” – The Lord of the Rings

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“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.” – The Lord of the Rings

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.”  – The Lord of the Rings

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” – The Hobbit

“Where there’s life there’s hope.” – The Hobbit

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“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – The Hobbit

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – The Hobbit

“To him that is pitiless the deeds of pity are ever strange and beyond comprehension.” – The Silmarillion

“Who knows? Have patience. Go where you must go, and hope!” – The Lord of the Rings

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“Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.”  – The Lord of the Rings

“Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you.” – The Lord of the Rings

Frodo: “He deserves death.”
Gandalf: “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – The Lord of the Rings

Do you have a favorite Tolkien quote? Let us know in the comments below.

4LN Top 4 – Michael Crichton Novels

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You may or may not know who Michael Crichton is, but you are without a doubt familiar with his work.  Crichton dominated the early 90’s box office with films like Jurassic Park, Twister, and The Andromeda Strain, but he is also the man behind the original Westworld and ER.  In 1994, Crichton became the only person to land at the top spot on charts for television, film, and book sales.  Think about that for a second, the three most popular forms of entertainment all topped by the same guy at the same time.

Sidenote: I’m a pretty big fan of the Crichton novels I’ve read, but my wife is OBSESSED with the show ER. She is currently on her fifth or sixth viewing of the series, and there are fifteen seasons. Also, Twister is one of those movies that if it happens to be on TV, things get ignored – chores, kids, you name it.

Below you will find my Top 4 Michael Crichton novels along with a spoiler-free, mini synopsis.  Enjoy!

4. Timeline

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A tech firm led by a volatile, Bill Gatesian billionaire creates a time machine.  A professor in the employ of the firm is studying a 14th century French village with his team of grad students.  When he gets lost in 1357, it is up to his students to go back in time to rescue the beloved professor.  Oh, did I mention that 14th century France is violent?  This novel became a movie starring Paul Walker and Gerard Butler.

3. The Andromeda Strain

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The government launches satellites to collect organisms and dust for study.  One of the satellites crashes in a remote town, which leads to an outbreak of a deadly virus.  A team of scientists enter a secure, high tech bunker in order to contain the (1950’s announcer voice) VIRUS FROM OUTER SPACE.

This novel became a TV miniseries starring Benjamin Bratt.

2. Sphere

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A alien spaceship shaped like a (you guessed it) sphere appears at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  A team of scientists is dispatched to a secret, deep-sea research facility to study, and attempt to make contact with the spaceship.  Deadly shenanigans ensue.

This novel became the 1998 film starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel F. L. Jackson.

1. Jurassic Park

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Not only are dinosaurs no longer extinct, they are going to be on display in a brand new theme park named Jurassic Park.   A team of scientists  is invited to tour the park in order to make sure everything is on the up and up.  Chaos theory prevails.

This novel became the smash-hit blockbuster starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff erm Goldblum.

Honorable Mentions

Eaters of the Dead

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I am adding this to the list, not because I think it is in the upper echelon of Crichton’s novels, but because it’s fascinating.  Eaters of the Dead is a fictional retelling of actual journal entries written by an Arab traveling through Northern Europe in the tenth century.  During his journey, he meets a band of Viking warriors, and joins them as they suddenly return to Scandinavia and attempt to save the Viking clan from monsters in the mist.

This novel became the film The 13th Warrior starring Antonio Banderas.

There you have it, folks.  Have you read any of Crichton’s work?  What’s your favorite Crichtation (Crichton creation)? Let us know in the comments.

 

4LN Book Review – The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

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It has only been a matter of minutes since I finished reading John Scalzi’s latest novel The Collapsing Empire, and holy cereal balls is it fantastic! So much so that I couldn’t even think of a way to express it than “holy cereal balls.”  I just wanted to say that before we get down to the nitty-(spoiler-free)-gritty of this review.

Side note: look up the etymology of the phrase “nitty-gritty.”

Summary from Macmillian Publishers:

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster-than-light travel is impossible—until the discovery of the Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.

Riding the Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control.

The Flow is eternal—but it’s not static. Just as a river changes course, the Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

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John Scalzi is by far one of the most accessible writers in science-fiction today.  Old Man’s War and Redshirts are both really great sci-fi reads, so I have been looking forward to this book for a while now.  If you couldn’t tell from my outburst above, I genuinely enjoyed this book, and I am already pining for the sequel.  He manages to take political intrigue, civil war, astrophysics, and religion, cram them together into a baseball, and knock it out of the literary park.

The scientist, starship captain, and emperox of the Interdependency mentioned in the summary are all enjoyable characters that I found to be relatable and well thought out.  And as far as the dialogue goes,  I’ve read books from the humor section that didn’t come close to making me laugh as much as this title (looking at you, Kiva Lagos).  However, throughout the book he still manages to craft in intriguing story full of levity and consequence.  The potential collapsing of the Interdependency (not a spoiler, it’s in the summary) could be an extinction level event, since, you know, all of the systems are dependent upon one another.

I can’t get into much more detail without beginning to divulge spoilery bits, but suffice it to say, The Collapsing Empire is a breath of fresh air that is a perfect mix of hard sci-fi, humor, and drama. This book is the Pringles of books I’ve read so far this year, in that once I popped the cover, I couldn’t stop.  If you or someone you love is in need of a great new book, make sure to pick up The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi’s, out March 21, 2017.

 

4LN Book Review – Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

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Norse Mythology has been at the top of my “books-I-can’t-wait-to-read” list since it was first announced.  If you’ve been reading 4LN for a while, you are probably familiar with my love of The Lord of the Rings and Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, so a book that dives into the lore that inspired Tolkien and Stan Lee, plus the fact that it is written by the great Neil Gaiman is definitely a must read.

Here’s a summary of the book from the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company:

Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

 

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Norse Mythology is a fresh take on Norse myth pulled from various sources (mainly the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, which date back over 900 years), told using modern language.  Gaiman then takes these myths and forms a, more or less, cohesive journey from the beginning to end.  Throughout the different tales we learn what Odin sacrificed for wisdom, how Loki’s mischievousness led to the creation of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir by the Dwarves, and how the children of Loki play a major role in Ragnarok, which is both the end and the beginning of the gods.  Oh, and we also learn why Loki tied his genitals to the beard of an angry goat – a story that my fellow 4LN writer Bill is quite fond of, for whatever reason…

 

Since I am a fan of themes, I drank this wine while I read.

Since I am a fan of themes, I drank this wine while I read.

 

Overall, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a well written, accessible story the gives the reader some insight into the epic tales of the Norseman. Before reading this book I had at least partial knowledge of several of the tales, mainly from Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series (which is outstanding), but reading several of the main stories in what is mostly a single narrative is a great way to not only learn about Norse myth, but enjoy a great book at the same time.  It’s an easy and informative read that is well worth the price of admission.  I grant Norse Mythology 5 out of 5 Golden Apples of Idunn.  Make sure to head to your local bookstore to pick it up when it hits shelves on February 7, 2017.

Cubicle Survival Guide: Work-at-Home Edition

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With the rise of the interwebs, working from home – aka teleworking, aka pantsless-computing – is becoming an increasingly popular option for employers and employees alike.  Not only are employees generally happier because they don’t have to sit next to the microwave where Gary burns the popcorn EVERY DAMN TIME, but employees get to save on things like space and motivational posters:

I’ve been teleworking for about a year, and it’s fantastic. But, like most things in life, it has its ups and downs.  Productivity is important, and employment is even more important, so here are some tips and tricks to make your telework transition as smooth as possible.

First of all, you will need a work-space separate from the general living area.  Unless, of course, you live alone.  For me, I initially had to set up away from the everyday hubbub that comes with a two year old and a four year old waging war on one another and their toys.  Since I haven’t figured out how to make money off mediocrity yet, I had to set mine up in our bedroom where I could bar the door against the mini-horde of children plotting my doom.

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A reenactment of my kids outside my door.

Now that your desk is set up in a low traffic area, it’s time to get down to business.  The first few days at home might take a little getting used to, but eventually the lack of annoying chatter from your coworkers coupled with the morale boost that comes with not sitting in traffic for hours will coalesce into a beautiful tapestry of productivity.

Unless, of course, you decide to just watch Netflix the whole time (and by “watch” I mean “endlessly browse the queue of Netflix”).  One of the biggest downfalls of working from home is easy access to all of your in-home entertainment options. If you want to have the TV on in the background, that’s fine.  Just don’t make it a show that your are intensely interested in, because then you will spend a majority of your time staring at the wrong screen, which can also lead to a stiff neck if your TV is not directly beside your computer screen.  Now, if I have something on TV, it’s usually something that I don’t hate, but I’m also not particularly invested in like ESPN, or whatever the History Channel is peddling as educational nowadays.  Mainly though, I just jam Spotify most of the time.

This next one might sound like antithesis to my first point, but I just consider it farther up the skill tree so it requires a higher level to unlock.  More recently I have discovered how great it is to be mobile around the house.  We are issued a laptop, dock, and two monitors, but lately I’ve been unplugging from the dock and working on the kitchen table, standing at the kitchen counter, sitting on a rocking chair on the porch, and propping my feet up on the couch while getting the job done.  This is kind of a gray area when talking about productivity.  I had to see if I could still maintain my normal production levels, while exploring new places to work around the house.  After a week or two it’s become my new normal, and I love it.

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Now that we’ve looked at setup, sidebar entertainment, and level 2 skills, let’s finish by looking at some do’s and do nots for teleworking

• Do create a peaceful work environment. You’ll be spending a lot of time in this spot, so make sure you enjoy being there.

• Don’t make it so peaceful that you fall asleep.

• Do get up and move around from time to time. You’ll be walking even less now that you aren’t in the office. To avoid becoming one of the humans from WALL-E, try to get a moderate amount of movement in your day to day life.

My last point is probably the most important – don’t screw it up. Most telework contracts are conditional on you not being a terrible employee, so make sure your goals are met. If you manage that you can continue working in the nude like God intended.

 

Goodreads Best Books of 2016!

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Well, folks, we made it.  2016 is (finally) drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been.  Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, you either feel that the apocalypse is near, that the political establishment got what it deserved, or you are just completely disillusioned by the entire process.  Luckily, Goodreads just released it’s Best Books of 2016 list, and you know what will never betray you? Books, that’s what.  So let’s take a look at what Goodreads users voted the best books of this past year, and maybe you’ll find your next favorite book this upcoming year.

Best Fiction

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Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

Best Mystery & Thriller

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End of Watch by Stephen King

The spectacular finale to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes (winner of the Edgar Award) and Finders Keepers—In End of Watch, the diabolical “Mercedes Killer” drives his enemies to suicide, and if Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney don’t figure out a way to stop him, they’ll be victims themselves.

In Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, something has awakened. Something evil. Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of the Mercedes Massacre, where eight people were killed and many more were badly injured, has been in the clinic for five years, in a vegetative state. According to his doctors, anything approaching a complete recovery is unlikely. But behind the drool and stare, Brady is awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.

Retired police detective Bill Hodges, the unlikely hero of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, now runs an investigation agency with his partner, Holly Gibney—the woman who delivered the blow to Hartsfield’s head that put him on the brain injury ward. When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk, as well as those of Bill’s heroic young friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city.

In End of Watch, Stephen King brings the Hodges trilogy to a sublimely terrifying conclusion, combining the detective fiction of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers with the heart-pounding, supernatural suspense that has been his bestselling trademark. The result is an unnerving look at human vulnerability and chilling suspense. No one does it better than King.

Best Historical Fiction

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Best Fantasy

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Best Roman

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It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

With this bold and deeply personal novel, Colleen Hoover delivers a heart-wrenching story that breaks exciting new ground for her as a writer. Combining a captivating romance with a cast of all-too-human characters, It Ends With Us is an unforgettable tale of love that comes at the ultimate price.

Best Science Fiction

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Morning Star by Pierce Brown

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Red Rising thrilled readers and announced the presence of a talented new author. Golden Son changed the game and took the story of Darrow to the next level. Now comes the exhilarating conclusion to the Red Rising Trilogy: Morning Star.

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender.

Best Horror

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The Fireman by Joe Hill

From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.

The fireman is coming. Stay cool.

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Best Humor

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The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

The Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress, writer, and star of Inside Amy Schumer and the acclaimed film Trainwreck has taken the entertainment world by storm with her winning blend of smart, satirical humor. Now, Amy Schumer has written a refreshingly candid and uproariously funny collection of (extremely) personal and observational essays.

In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is – a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.

Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friends – an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she’s experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably – but only because it’s over.

Best Nonfiction

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Hamilton: the Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.

HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages–“since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda–traces its development from an improbable perfor­mance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer, Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sond­heim, leading political commentators, and more than 50 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by Presi­dent Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don’t throw away their shot.

Best Memoir & Autobiography

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

Best History & Biography

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Leonard: My Fifty-Yeah Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner, with David Fisher

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner first crossed paths as actors on the set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Little did they know that their next roles, in a new science-fiction television series, would shape their lives in ways no one could have anticipated. In seventy-nine television episodes and six feature films, they grew to know each other more than most friends could ever imagine.

Over the course of half a century, Shatner and Nimoy saw each other through personal and professional highs and lows. In this powerfully emotional book, Shatner tells the story of a man who was his friend for five decades, recounting anecdotes and untold stories of their lives on and off set, as well as gathering stories from others who knew Nimoy well, to present a full picture of a rich life.

As much a biography of Nimoy as a story of their friendship, Leonard is a uniquely heartfelt book written by one legendary actor in celebration of another.

Best Science & Technology

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Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal

What separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe you think it’s your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future—all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet’s preeminent species. But in recent decades, these claims have eroded, or even been disproven outright, by a revolution in the study of animal cognition. Take the way octopuses use coconut shells as tools; elephants that classify humans by age, gender, and language; or Ayumu, the young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University whose flash memory puts that of humans to shame. Based on research involving crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, whales, and of course chimpanzees and bonobos, Frans de Waal explores both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence. He offers a firsthand account of how science has stood traditional behaviorism on its head by revealing how smart animals really are, and how we’ve underestimated their abilities for too long.

People often assume a cognitive ladder, from lower to higher forms, with our own intelligence at the top. But what if it is more like a bush, with cognition taking different forms that are often incomparable to ours? Would you presume yourself dumber than a squirrel because you’re less adept at recalling the locations of hundreds of buried acorns? Or would you judge your perception of your surroundings as more sophisticated than that of a echolocating bat? De Waal reviews the rise and fall of the mechanistic view of animals and opens our minds to the idea that animal minds are far more intricate and complex than we have assumed. De Waal’s landmark work will convince you to rethink everything you thought you knew about animal—and human—intelligence.

Best Food & Cookbooks

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Cravings: Recipes for all the Food You Want to Eat by Chrissy Teigen

Maybe she’s on a photo shoot in Zanzibar. Maybe she’s making people laugh on TV. But all Chrissy Teigen really wants to do is talk about dinner. Or breakfast. Lunch gets some love, too.
For years, she’s been collecting, cooking, and Instagramming her favorite recipes, and here they are: from breakfast all day to John’s famous fried chicken with spicy honey butter to her mom’s Thai classics.
Salty, spicy, saucy, and fun as sin (that’s the food, but that’s Chrissy, too), these dishes are for family, for date night at home, for party time, and for a few life-sucks moments (salads). You’ll learn the importance of chili peppers, the secret to cheesy-cheeseless eggs, and life tips like how to use bacon as a home fragrance, the single best way to wake up in the morning, and how not to overthink men or Brussels sprouts. Because for Chrissy Teigen, cooking, eating, life, and love are one and the same.

Best Graphic Novels & Comics

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Adulthood is a Myth: A “Sarah Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Anderson

Are you a special snowflake?

Do you enjoy networking to advance your career?

Is adulthood an exciting new challenge for which you feel fully prepared?

Ugh. Please go away.

This book is for the rest of us. These comics document the wasting of entire beautiful weekends on the internet, the unbearable agony of holding hands on the street with a gorgeous guy, dreaming all day of getting home and back into pajamas, and wondering when, exactly, this adulthood thing begins. In other words, the horrors and awkwardnesses of young modern life.

Best Poetry

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The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace

“Ah, life- the thing that happens to us while we’re off somewhere else blowing on dandelions & wishing ourselves into the pages of our favorite fairy tales.”

A poetry collection divided into four different parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, & you. the princess, the damsel, & the queen piece together the life of the author in three stages, while you serves as a note to the reader & all of humankind. Explores life & all of its love, loss, grief, healing, empowerment, & inspirations.

Best Debut Goodreads Author

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Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.

Best Young Adult Fiction

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction

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A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world torn apart.

Best Middle Grade & Children’s

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The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favour.

But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go… an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

Picture Books

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The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.
Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.

Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

In The Thank You Book!, Piggie wants to thank EVERYONE. But Gerald is worried Piggie will forget someone . . . someone important.

LEGOs, Buddhism, and Fatherhood

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A large part of my son Charlie’s LEGO collection is made up of my Millennium Falcon set I used to keep up on my shelf of collectibles. One day, one of our cats (Luke or Leia) somehow managed to get up there and knock it six feet down to its demise. Not wanting to put it back together that early in the morning, I boxed it up and stashed it in my closet where, after a couple months, the cats managed to knock it off my closet shelf, shattering it again. This time my kids found it and wanted to play with it so bad. At this point, I could either withhold a toy I kept stashed next to my neckties in the dark recesses of my closet from my two favorite people, or I could decide to not be Lord Business from the LEGO Movie and let them use their imagination to build whatever they want (as long as the color scheme is mostly gray).

Nearly 14,000 pieces suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced

Nearly 14,000 pieces cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Fast forward a few weeks, my wife was talking to her dad about what to get Charlie for Christmas. She brought up how he’s recently become fascinated with LEGOs, particularly Star Wars LEGOs due to the incident described above, and how it’s really a present for both me and my son since I have to do the majority (all) of the labor. What she didn’t tell her dad was that Charlie’s favorite part of LEGO building was the post-build destruction. I mean, immediately after I finished building a Darth Vader LEGO set he looked at it, smiled, then unleashed the hounds of war. It makes sense, kids are inherently destructive, right? They aren’t malicious about it, but if you stack four boxes up and step back they are definitely going to pretend it’s a high rise and they are Godzilla.  Seriously, for my two year old’s birthday, we bought 20 moving boxes, painted them like bricks, and stacked them into a wall for all the kids to bust through like superheroes.  Those boxes stayed in our playroom for almost two whole months because it became the kids favorite thing to do.

This got me thinking about how I felt spending an hour and half on a LEGO build that was doomed from the start.

Was the time and effort worth it knowing that as soon as we finished, it would be set upon by a kid who LOVES the Hulk and wants to emulate his behavior?

It also brought a vague recollection of the Buddhist practice of creating sand paintings that I later learned are called mandalas (not the adult coloring books… not that there is anything wrong with that).

Sand mandalas are elaborate art pieces that are painstakingly created over several weeks by Buddhist monks. First they must lay out the geometric pattern for the mandala, and create the different color sands. Then the team of monks spend several weeks carefully creating each section of the mandala, and once completed they ceremoniously destroy it. The sand is swept up, some is given to the observers and the remainder is placed in a jar, wrapped in silk, then released in the nearest river. The point of this exercise is to show the temporary nature of life. It also encourages them to focus on the present moment instead of ruminating on the future.

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Now, I know that putting little plastic blocks together with my son pales in comparison to the ritual creation and destruction of the Buddhist mandalas. There is, I think, a lesson to be learned here anyway.  All of the time I spend with Charlie at the kitchen table searching through an ever-shifting pile of LEGOs is time well spent, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the LEGO creation.  Or, you know, I could just be overthinking things like I normally do…

4LN Comic Review – Harbinger Renegade #1

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Series – Harbinger Renegade
Writer – Rafer Roberts
Art – Darick Robertson, Juan José Ryp, and Raúl Allén
Color Artist –Diego Rodriguez, and and Frankie D’Armata
Publisher – Valiant Entertainment

Summary from Valiant Entertainment:

ANYONE YOU KNOW COULD BECOME A PSIONICALLY POWERED “HARBINGER” WITH THE POTENTIAL TO RESHAPE THE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY. YOUR NEIGHBOR. YOUR BOSS. YOUR BEST  FRIEND. YOUR KIDS. Six months ago, a secret team of renegade whistleblowers leaked the existence of these extraordinarily dangerous individuals to a stunned world. Today, all across the country, crude, DIY psiot activation attempts have left hundreds brain damaged…or worse. The emergence of a new psiot in a community often leads to riots and mass violence. Gun sales are through the roof. America is terrified of what could happen next. With this revolutionary upheaval now in motion, Kris Hathaway, John “Torque” Torkelson, Faith “Zephyr” Herbert, and Peter Stanchek are about to discover their calling. Together, the HARBINGER RENEGADES are moving from town to town, building their ranks, and subverting authority one mind at a time…and setting out to prove once and for all that behind their power, there has always been a purpose. This November, the most fearless superteam in comics is going underground for AN ALL-NEW ONGOING SERIES from Harvey Award nominated writer Rafer Roberts (Plastic Farm) and superstar artist Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan,The Boys)!

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Harbinger Renegade has to be one of my most anticipated books of the year. Ever since the book was teased, my internal clock has been ticking down the days until it hits the stands. The previous 25 issue run of Harbinger was a terrific story with great characters, and it appears the superteams reemergence is going to pick up the torch and run with it.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the book, let’s start off with the cons: there aren’t any. This is one of the strongest debut issues I’ve read in a while. I really like Rafer Roberts and his work on A&A has been really fun, but the tones of these two series are vastly different. I was curious to see how his writing style would adapt to the darker tone of the Renegades.

Well worry not Valianteers, this issue was awesome.

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Roberts gets each member of the Renegades right, and the cult leader, Enfuego (because he has fire powers), is sufficiently crazed. I really enjoyed seeing how the now-disbanded Renegades deal with the less-than-stellar consequences at the end of the first series. It certainly wasn’t a storybook ending, and each member is dealing with it differently. As we’ve seen in Jody Houser’s Faith on-going, Faith is one of the only Renegades still wearing the superhero mantle, while Torque and Kris are each handling it inline with the personalities of the characters (which shows that Rafer did his homework and is staying true to the characters).  Oh, and there is a new villain on the block, and I am interested to see how he challenges both the Renegades and Valiant’s original big bad Toyo Harada.

Now lets talk about the art. This issue has a several creative teams, and all of them are terrific.  The book opens with a cool minimalist looking introduction by Raúl Allen, who has been doing some great work on Valiant’s Wrath of the Eternal Warrior.  The introduction gives a quick recap of the original run to get the reader up to speed on the main players and terms of Harbinger.  Then Juan José Ryp gives us a brief look at Harada trying to take down his mysterious competition.  Like all of his work, Ryp’s art is strong and visceral.  Finally, the main story is illustrated by Darrick Robertson, who has a cool style vaguely reminiscent of 90’s art to my untrained, casual comic reader eye.  His panel breakdowns on each page are really interesting, and the last few panels in space are just beautiful.

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Like I said, I have been waiting on this book since it was first teased last year.  A lot of times, the anticipation can lead to a sense of being let-down since you kind of over-sell the idea of the book to yourself BUT Rafer Roberts and company deliver on every level.  Make sure you head down to your local comic store and pick up Harbinger Renegade today!

PS. make sure to save the coupons in this series to mail in and get a copy of Harbinger Wars 2 #0!.

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