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By Jessica Brister On 12 Nov, 2017 At 04:09 PM | Categorized As Books, Editorials, Featured, Opinion, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarWhen looking at epic fantasy series, many times a first book can be a little slow, typically concentrating on a lot of set-up for later books.  Initially, when I heard about The Way of Kings, the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, the most talked-about feature was the one-thousand plus page length.  When my husband brought home the hard-cover edition, I took one look at that thing and immediately put the title on the back-burner.  I went through Sanderson’s Mistborn series and liked it, but I thought that I was going to have a hard time getting into a first book that long.

I was totally wrong.

 The Way of Kings is one of the best fantasy books that I have ever read.  Actually, it is probably one of the best books I have ever read period, and I don’t say that lightly either.  As a former English teacher, I have many wonderful titles on my list of must-reads.  I have to say, though, The Way of Kings really is a fantastic read.  Here’s why:

Despite the epic length of The Way of Kings, the story is extremely fast-paced.  Sanderson is an expert at dangling little pieces of information at the right points to make the reader want to keep reading, despite the daunting size of the text.  The story revolves around a handful of characters living in the inhospitable land of Roshar, a land of storms and stone.  This book focuses on Kaladin, a former soldier turned slave, as he struggles with his purpose in life and the group of slaves he adopts as his own.  They truly are dealing with horrific conditions as the kingdoms of Roshar battle a mysterious enemy who killed their High King.  But as Kaladin tries to keep his men alive, he begins to realize that they are not much more than cannon fodder, and the righteous war that they were supposed to be fighting is beginning to turn into nothing more than a petty political scheme.

The nobility of the kingdoms in Roshar are obsessed with money, power, and Shardblades and Shardplates—extremely powerful weapons and armor from a different era, one which is lost in the echoes or Roshar’s distant history where the Knights Radiant protected the land from true horrors.  One book that recounts some of the former glory of these guardians is The Way of Kings, a text that Brightlord Dalinar Kholin is obsessed with.  The brother of the slain king, Dalinar believes that the book has some secret meaning that may affect the future of the kingdoms.  Not everyone around him is so sure, since many doubt Dalinar’s sanity.

Meanwhile, in a seemingly irrelevant but extremely important side story, a young woman named Shallan must figure out a way to steal an enormously valuable item from Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah, in order to restore her family’s position in society.  While getting close to Jasnah, Shallan soon discovers that Jasnah’s research may hold the key to the Knights Radiant and the real reason behind the war.

The Way of Kings covers everything from political intrigue to the horrors of war to racism and inherent bias.  There’s something for everyone.  Despite being such a lengthy novel, there’s not any filler.  Everything is important and as the story unfolds, the details masterfully build upon each other.  The story is also beautifully written.  Sanderson is an accomplished writer who creates prose that is truly an art form.  I do not say this about many contemporary authors.

One of the best aspects of The Way of Kings is the setting itself, which has a unique feel from most standard fantasy novels.  Roshar is a weather-beaten land where plants retract in and out of the rocks and most typical animals are crustacean-like beings with tough shells to withstand highstorms, which are fierce hurricane-like tempests that will destroy anyone and anything in their path.  Cities and towns are built specifically with these storms in mind, and travel can be a quite rough.  The lore and history as well as the cultures and people of Roshar are fascinating and add depth to the marvelous world Sanderson has created.

The main characters are memorable and relatable.  I happened to really connect with Kaladin, and I ended up learning a few things about myself through his eyes.  All of the main characters have multiple flaws but also many redeeming qualities, making them believable and realistic.  The reader is drawn in to their plights and is concerned for their well-being, wanting them to succeed.

There are multiple conflicts: some from other characters, some from the war, and some that are internal struggles, which creates a well-rounded story line.  Yes, it might be a hefty read, but everything pulls together so nicely that most readers probably won’t mind.  I certainly didn’t.  In fact, I felt a bit lost after finishing it.  I got that let-down feeling after I finish a book when it is so good that I never want it to end, and when it does end, I get depressed.  The Way of Kings did that to me.  Luckily, I was a little late to the game when I read it, so it didn’t take me very long to get my hands on the second book, Words of Radiance (review coming soon).

The Way of Kings did come out in 2010, so this review may appear to come out at an odd time, but don’t forget that the third book of the series, Oathbringer, will be out November 14, so this is a great time to play catch-up if you haven’t started on this series yet.  I cannot praise these books enough.  They really are the next great fantasy series of our time.

Oh, and those who enjoy listening to their books, the book tape version of The Way of Kings is amazing.  I did one read through and one listen through of the book and cannot say enough about the production of the audio book.

By Jonathan Balofsky On 27 Oct, 2017 At 10:36 AM | Categorized As Books, Featured, Otaku Music, Reviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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Chris Jericho is well known for his time in WWE and his band Fozzy. He has chronicled his life and experiences over three previous books and now has turned his attention to making his new book about life lessons mixed with autobiographical details. With his trademark wit, Jericho takes us through the journey of an entertainer and a person and lets us in on his lessons learned.

The book is not arranged in traditional chapters like his Jericho’s previous books, but instead each chapter is a different lesson and covers a different part of Jericho’s life and experience. He details in full abut meeting Paul Stanley and getting invited to exclusive Grammy parties, auditioning for America’s Funniest Home Videos and having drinks with Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash while on a flight. Each of these involves a different life lesson and Jericho plays the part of the teacher well.

I have to say that I truly enjoy Jericho’s writing, and the format chosen for this new book is a great idea. It allows Jericho to tell numerous stories and details and what to take away from them, and also leave people wanting more, thus setting up his next book if he should write one. While some parts are a bit much to read ( Jericho going on in detail about his drinking habits) there is much to like in the book and just get lost in his writing. Whether you are a WWE fan or a music fan, or just a fan of good writing, there is something for everyone. Jericho gives more detail about his early years in wrestling in Calgary and what he learned from other wrestlers for example. He also discusses how one should sell themselves when trying to get a job or make a pitch. When emphasizing not to take no for an answer, Jericho goes into detail about what you can accomplish if you stick to that idea. And music fans will appreciate his discussions of the industry, his interactions with stars like the late Lemmy Kilmister as well as what it took to get Fozzy ahead.

There is also plenty of humor included, whether it be jokes about things that had occurred, or just the interactions themselves. Jericho definitely knows how to tell a story and this is a good one. it may bill itself as a guide, but it is a guide based on experience and that experience is what we all need to know more of.

 

No Is A Four-Letter Word is available in stores now.

By Zoe Howard On 23 Sep, 2017 At 10:24 PM | Categorized As Books, Comics/Manga, Featured, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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Unit 44 is the story of two Area 51 agents who work out of the base in Nevada. The book follows Agents Hatch and Gibson as they discover Gibson has neglected to pay for Unit 44. The storage unit contains Area 51 secret technology and a few other items that they had no space to store on the base. The unit was sold at auction due to lack of payment to two men who run a second-hand shop. What was at stake? After a yelling from their superior, they embark on their mission to reclaim what they have lost. The truth behind Roswell, New Mexico infamous alien crash.

From the get-go, we discover that the agents are not your average serious agents. One could essentially call them the Rocksteady and Bebop of federal agents. Their intelligence is very low and they spend a lot of time bickering between each other. The whole book feels much as you would expect, a mismatched buddy comedy with a Sci-Fi twist. We never really learn a lot about either Hatch or Gibson other than a few home life jokes. They are serviceable as protagonists but they serve no main development arch of any kind. They are no different at the end than they are at the beginning.

I want to take a moment and talk about the beginning. Considering this book is only 106 pages (94 actual story pages) they shove a lot of story into it, so much that they never give any time to the characters. You are given no introduction other than that these two are the people at the beginning of the book. They just show up and within a few panels of dialog, we are off on our kooky adventure. To say this feels rushed is an understatement. When I went back over the book to clear up some stuff there was a moment I missed on the first page because I was thrown into everything so fast I tossed it aside. Typically I would shrug such a thing off but it comes into play later with a big reveal that meant nothing to me because I was trying to acclimate myself to the world and characters.

This is probably one of the biggest faults of the writing. The main characters have zero development. Reflection upon finishing the book made me realize the only character who had somewhat of a story arch was the human antagonist. That might be why the ending payoff works as well as it does for them, but it also means the end of the book just means ok done for Hatch and Gibson. If this was a later book in a series I could let this pass, but seeing as it is our introduction to the universe it leaves me asking the question of why? Because the author says so? That is not a solid reason to keep reading.

There are some fun characters to be had in the story. The main alien itself was one of the unique characters as far as the writing goes. The character Lindsey is also one of the more entertaining even if her motives and reasons for doing things are never clear. There are also some genuinely funny moments in the book. I can remember at least a dozen that actually had me laughing out loud at something that happened. It was moments like that that made the bad jokes even worse. For almost every good joke there was an equally horrible joke or reference that just made me groan. Most of the bad ones came from really poor uses of pop culture references; The worst being a Sir Mix-A-Lot reference.

So I haven’t spent any time at all discussing the art of the book yet. There is actually a reason for this. I prefer saving the best for last. Unit 44 excels with its art. It even held up a lot of the characters when the writing fell flat. Most everyone in the book sounds like they have the same voice. There was very little difference between the characters dialog. (BTW I live in Nevada. Even the cowboys here don’t speak with southern accents. ) It was often the expressions and looks of the characters themselves that give the attitudes and personality that the dialog often lacked.

The style itself felt like a mix of many 90s era cartoons. Most notably for me was a heavy influence from the Men in Black cartoon series as well as the Clerks cartoon. There is also a heavy inclusion of anime style where emotional characterization is used with many over the top expressions that really do a great job blending into the often more subdued drawings.

The coloring is also a great style for this book. They rarely use any bright colors. Sticking to more muted pallets gives the book a very classic feel. The few uses of bright color they do use are often for either dramatic effect or when using some form of technology. There were a few moments where it didn’t quite feel like an action was conveyed or a scene jumped abruptly, but this was few and far between.

If I were to comment on a flaw in the art it would have to be what I could only assume was the rewards from the Kickstarter. There are a few characters in the book who have way more detail and look more realistic than the rest of the cartoonishly-styled characters. When I first read the book I had no clue it was Kickstarted. I went to the Kickstarter page and discovered some of the backers did have the option for characterization in the book. I just don’t know why they make them look so drastically different from the everyone else. As someone who had no clue about the Kickstarter, the characters just came across as gratuitous and out of place.

Overall I found myself with mixed feelings about Unit 44. The dialog (mostly the rapid jokes) was often a grind to get through but I still found myself compelled to read on. There is a spark of originality to the book that made me interested in where the adventure was going. Despite the lack of real information about the characters, I could see getting into this world and its people through a series. It would be fun to see how the writing develops. If you are looking for a more well-rounded character story then you might be in for a little letdown. If you are looking for a quick read with some laughs, then I would say give it a go.

Review copy of the book provided by the publisher.

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Batman and Superman are two of the most well known superheroes ever created. In fact, I would say they are the most famous ones. It is common to see fans of the characters express their thoughts, but one thing always annoys me. The claim that Batman is better than Superman.

For many reasons, this is foolish. Not just because if there was a fight within actual canon, there is no way Batman could win, but rather looking at the characters and seeing what they represent.

Batman, is a symbol of fear. That’s been a part of the mythos since the origin was given. He chose the bat to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but lets continue. Batman has devoted himself to his life of crimfighting to the point that it takes priority over all else. In many ways,  Bruce Wayne is just a mask for Batman, who is the true personality. And what kind of personality does he have? That of a traumatized child unable to cope with a tragedy.  He fights the villains in Gotham, but more than one character has suggested that his presence actually attracts the villains to Gotham, making things worse.  In fact, the Joker calls Batman out on his mental state several times, notably in The Killing Joke, where he suggests Batman had “one bad day”. Obviously someone who recruits children into his war on crime, and is willing to build a satellite to spy on everyone, isn’t the most stable of individuals.

Batman has contingency plans to take down other heroes if they go rouge, but figures one isn’t needed for him, the man with billions, who can take down the Justice League.  If anything, Batman is one step away from being a supervillain himself. I wondered why that hadn’t been explored more, but then I realized it had been, just with another name you may have heard of: Lex Luthor. But while Lex is more motivated by jealousy and greed, the scary thing is that he still comes off as more stable at times than Batman, given how he is able to outsmart both Batman and Superman. Batman symbolism is less one of comfort and more one of fear and tyranny. While Lex needs to maintain his image, what would stop Batman from just deciding he can fix everything? Batman is a dangerously unstable character if you really think about it.

Now let us look at Superman. Superman is the opposite of Batman in ways people don’t think about. Not just because he has amazing powers, but rather what he represents. He is a symbol of hope, and a source of inspiration. Whereas Batman creates fear, Superman inspires hope in people. This can be traced to his origin as well. Yes he was sent from krypton as a baby to escape its destruction, but he was also raised by a kindly couple in Ma and Pa Kent. They raised him with good values and to be a good person. Superman is said to stand for Truth, Justice and The American Way, but what does that mean. Truth and Justice are easy to understand, but The American Way? The American Way is actually simple and isn’t what most people think it is. Its the one idea that has driven America from its beginnings and still does. If you feel something is wrong, you fight to change it. From the revolution, to the civil war, to the civil rights movements, this has been the driving philosophy in America, you fight for what is right.

Superman  isn’t just an all powerful alien. Whereas I feel Bruce Wayne is a mask for Batman, I feel that the consensus is wrong, Superman is a mask Clark Kent wears. The idea of an evil Superman can make for a good villain, but Superman as a character doesn’t make sense to be evil. Whereas Batman noted he wont kill, but he does hurt people, Superman is more likely to try and resolve a situation without harm if possible. He will only release his power against someone who can take it. If anything, it is Superman who feels more human than Batman. And as noted above, his enemy is Lex Luthor, who is someone Batman could easily become. Superman may have powers far beyond what humans have, but he acts and feels human, whereas Batman is essentially hanging on by a thread to his sanity. The excellent comic story “What’s so funny about Truth, Justice, And The American Way?” proves why Superman is an amazing character in contrast to darker and edgier characters. When contrasted against the Elite, he proves their reasoning flawed and shows that not only does his way work, but they are little more than psychopaths.

It all comes down to symbols in the end. Batman represents fear and control, and Superman represents hope and justice. I know which one I feel is better.

……..

 

The above was the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of ROG or its staff.

By Jonathan Balofsky On 19 Jul, 2017 At 09:05 PM | Categorized As Books, Comics/Manga, News, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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Sad news for comic fans. The Archie Comic Sonic The Hedgehog series will be ending its run after 24 years. The series was the longest running video games based comic and it will be missed.

Sega put out a statement.

 

More comics are coming it seems, but not with Archie anymore.

 

This is the end of an era.

By Jonathan Balofsky On 21 Apr, 2017 At 04:42 PM | Categorized As Books, Comics/Manga, News, News, NINTENDO, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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It was previously noted that a Splatoon manga series will soon begin running in Japan, and now it turns out fans here in the west need not feel left out.

Viz Media posted the following.

Splatoon has quickly become an extremely big hit and a manga is a great way to expand it. It would be great if the manga is as well received as the game was.

Will you be reading it?

By Jonathan Balofsky On 22 Mar, 2017 At 09:52 PM | Categorized As Books, Comics/Manga, News, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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Robert E Howard was the legendary creator of Conan the barbarian. Conan has seen several comic adaptations over the years, including comics from Dark Horse Comics that have been running for some years now. But Howard made other great characters as well, notably Kull the Conqueror, a more cerebral take on the idea of the barbarian hero. Kull has also had adaptations in the past, from Marvel Comics and Dark Horse Comics, but they have not caught on as well.

Now however, IDW Publishing has acquired the license to produce new comics based on the character. Rather than retreading what was previously done, the writers are taking things in a new direction.

“‘Kull Eternal’ is that idea — using the Howard-penned tale (and one of my personal favorites) ‘The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune’ as its foundation, IDW will take Kull on a journey through time… a strange journey that will combine modern conspiracies and political intrigue with the supernatural and sword and sorcery underpinnings of the warrior king’s past. This will be Kull as he’s never been seen before… and yet as legendary as ever. A weird tale we hope is worthy of all the fantastically weird tales that have come before.”

This is a really cool take on the character, and one I personally will have to check out. I have been a massive fan of the work of Robert E Howard for years, including the Kull stories, and so really appreciate this new take on the lore. Here is hoping IDW has a successful run with the character.

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By Nate VanLindt On 22 Mar, 2017 At 07:44 PM | Categorized As Books, Comics/Manga, Featured, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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Chances are you probably grew up reading either the ‘Hardy Boys’ or the ‘Nancy Drew’ novels.  Those old blue and yellow-spined hardcovers on your bookshelf filled with stories of the exploits of Frank and Joe and Nancy and Bess.   Just the mention of Franklin W. Dixon or Carolyn Keene brings back fond recollections for many of us, and they weren’t even real people.  All the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories were ghost written by contract writers for years.  The same goes for the ‘Bobbsey Twins’ books by Laura Lee Hope and the ‘Tom Swift’ novels by Victor Appleton Jr.    These books gave literally generations of young readers the basics of deductive reasoning and entertained them all the while.  The first Hardy Boys book was published in 1927 and the first Nancy Drew book in 1930 and they’ve been in continuous print ever since.

With their long-lasting popularity, it’s not surprising to see Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys occasionally resurface every decade or so for a facelift and some renewed book sales.  But one thing that most any fan would definitely not be expecting is the new comic series from Dynamite Comics entitled ‘Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie.’  ‘The Big Lie’ is everything that no one would expect from a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys team-up comic.  It’s gritty, violent, and hard-hitting right from the beginning.  The content is grim, the artwork has a rough retro feel, and the story is quite frankly, shocking.  It’s hard not to go into details without ruining the plot, but suffice it to say a fair assemblage of well-loved characters manage to make an appearance in issue one without things feeling crowded. On top of that, there are some surprising cameo appearances that might cause you to wax nostalgic.

Anthony Del Col of Kill Shakespeare fame manages to pull together tendrils of all our communal visions of Bayport from our childhood and weave them into the beginnings of a crime drama more reminiscent of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street than a children’s mystery.   On top of that, Werther Dell’Edera’s minimalist art, which echoes notes of Darwyn Cooke but with more rough realism, perfectly rounds out the feel of the story.  Frank, Joe, and Nancy live very much in our present in this story and not in the picturesque Bayport that we read in novels as children.  People in this world are imperfect, petty, vicious, and most assuredly real.  It’s a novel approach to characters that have been relegated to childhood memories for far too long.

For those of you that weren’t raised on a steady diet of old clocks and tower treasures, never fear.  ‘The Big Lie’ stands well on its own regardless of your familiarity with the original source content.  It’s well-written, well-drawn and starts off a solid crime drama with a bang.  Issue one is at local comic book stores now, but it’s hard to expect anything but greatness from the forthcoming issues.  This one is a sleeper waiting to become a hit and whether you’re a fan of Frank, Joe, and Nancy or not, ‘The Big Lie’ is an absolute must-read for the indie comic reader.   One caveat however – this comic is definitely not for young readers.  It’s rated Teen+ and well deserves the rating.

By Nate VanLindt On 5 Mar, 2017 At 06:12 PM | Categorized As Books, Editorials, Featured | With 0 Comments

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Since the advent of Harry Potter, the popularity of teen and children’s writers has skyrocketed.  As many adults are reading these books as kids are and bookstores have assembled whole sections of their stores for the wide variety of teen material available.  Much of the volume of material available tends towards teen science fiction and fantasy, following in the Potter and Hunger Games trends.  Other writers have branched out into suspense and even horror.  But this isn’t a new genre.  A few spectacular writers broke ground in these genres decades ago.  One of these early few was the esteemed young adult writer John Bellairs. 

Bellairs wrote several books in the mid to late 60s, ranging from religious parody to fantasy.   In the early 1970s, he wrote a dark fantasy novel for adults, but publishers recommended he rewrite the book for young readers and in 1973, The House With a Clock in its Walls was born.  With artwork by the legendary artist Edward Gorey, The House With a Clock in its Walls found immediate success.

Bellairs’ flair for the macabre along with Gorey’s edgy panels drew together a uniquely dark story.   His characters were realistic, flawed, and captivating.  The villains had no issues torturing and killing children, much like the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales and this stark look at the supernatural underbelly of 1950s New England went on to win 5 literary awards between 1973 and 1982.  He went on to win 13 more awards for his other books as well.  But Bellairs wasn’t done.

He went on to write a total of 15 children’s horror novels primarily focusing on three main characters.  Of those 15 books, 12 were stunningly illustrated by Edward Gorey.  Notably, the Dial hardcover library editions of Bellairs’ books feature wraparound dust jacket artwork by Gorey and a unique font, creating a wondrous and foreboding atmosphere before even opening the books themselves.

What’s truly remarkable about Bellairs’ work, however, is how enduring it is and how well it has aged.  Each book comes in at around 150-200 pages, but the length belies the quality of the content.  Evil wizards and sorcerers abound and time travel, human sacrifice, and Armageddon are common themes.  They aren’t simply dark, though.  The characters are well-written, the stories cohesive and self-contained.  For an adult going back to re-read these books, they have managed to stay compelling and powerful and should be a must-read for the kid who loves a scary story in all of us.

John Bellairs died in 1991 at the age of 53, but he left a legacy of fiction for all of us to treasure.  Several movies and shows have been made of his work based on The House With a Clock in its Walls and The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, but they are extremely difficult to locate and have low production value.  Eric Kripke, of Supernatural fame, has been rumored to be working on a current movie adaptation of The House With a Clock in its Walls, but the project has yet to have materialized.  Kripke is said to have been inspired by Bellairs’ work as a child.  With any luck, a modern movie of Bellairs’ seminal work will inspire a whole new generation in the years to come. 

For those that are interested, most of John Bellairs’s books are in print (and have been continuously since their release) and available on Amazon or at your local library.  An original set of the Dial hardcover library editions can run upwards of $500.00 on eBay, even for ex-library copies.  A fan tribute website still runs to this day.

 

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