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ARC Review – The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman, Alice Cooper, Michael Zulli, and Dave McKean

Neil Gaiman’s The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition 

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe edition by Neil Gaiman and Alice Cooper; art by Michael Zulli and Dave McKean. October 21, 2014. Dynamite Entertainment, 168 p. $39.99 ISBN:9781606905364.

“Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Coraline, American Gods) brings shock rocker Alice Cooper’s concept album to life in a surreal sideshow of the soul! Join a young boy named Steven on a surreal journey of the soul, as an enigmatic and potentially dangerous Showman seduces him into joining his carnival. Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of this seminal Gaiman work, returned to print for the first time in over a decade. Fully remastered in color, this Deluxe Edition incorporates complete scripts to all three chapters, black-and-white thumbnail art of pre-colored pages, an original outline of the project by Neil Gaiman, and a collection of letters between shock rocker Alice Cooper and the author! “I’m really happy that The Last Temptation is coming out for a new generation of readers, who have not seen Michael Zulli’s glorious drawings, or know of the Showman and his wicked ways,” says Neil Gaiman. “I wrote this a long time ago, driven by love of Ray Bradbury’s dark carnivals and of Alice Cooper’s own pandemonium shadow show. It’s time for it to shuffle out onto a leaf-covered street and meet the people who don’t know about Stephen and Mercy and show what’s coming to town.”” — Publisher’s Description

Imagine if you will the collaboration between a rock and roll icon and an up and coming gothic, macabre author and you have the brilliant result in The Last Temptation.  Both the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, and the concept album by Alice Cooper tell the story of a young boy, Steven, who is tempted by the mysterious, supernatural Showman (depicted as Alice Cooper) to join his “Theater of the Real” in exchange for eternal youth.  All is not what it seems, however, as Steven grapples with the Showman’s twisted morality plays and his own fears about growing up and growing old.

Only Steven can see and enter the Theater, as he was selected by the Showman as “this year’s model” for entry into the cast.  Steven will grapple with the morbid presentations of the Showman to convince him that his life would better be spent with the Theater than in his small town American life.  The book is divided into three acts where we see Steven first enter the Theater and receive his offer from the Showman, a second where he spends a day living his life as a normal tween on Halloween, and the third where he returns to the Theater to meet the Showman and make his final decision.

Set around Halloween, this book draws on the themes of the seasonal change and the symbolic death we see in the Autumn.  It also pulls on the fears that most children have around the end of October.   The artwork is key to getting the feel for this horror and the outright fear Steven feels at times.  It is an older style than most modern comics I have seen (I mean, this is a 20 year old book), but younger or newer audiences will definitely appreciate it and the emotions it conveys clearly throughout the story.  You come to fear and almost loathe the Showman for what he is trying to do, while at the same time rooting for Steven to make the right choices when he needs to.

It wouldn’t be fair to not include in the review here, the definitive elements of the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Last Temptation.  While the art has been fully remastered in brilliant color, the most interesting additions are the reprinted correspondence between Gaiman and Cooper and the original outlines and scripts of the book by Gaiman.  It was wonderful to see how this collaboration was born, and solidified by such diverse artists half a world away.  You can truly see the passion both had for this work and the love and creativity flowing off the pages as it all came together.

I would highly recommend this book along any other coming of age stories for tweens and teens.  The horror and macabre elements will turn some off, but will open up the lessons of the story to a whole new audience that might usually avoid these themes as well.  The wonderful thing about The Last Temptation is that this release is times perfectly with Halloween, making it the perfect gift or story at the end of the month!

Five out of five stars.

Many thanks to Dynamite EntertainmentNetGalley, and Neil Gaiman, Alice Cooper, Michael Zulli, and Dave McKean for the opportunity to read and review The Last Temptation early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version will be released on October 21, 2014.

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on Amazon

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on Barnes and Noble

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on Goodreads

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on LibraryThing

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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review — White Death by Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard

White Death

White Death written by Robbie Morrison with art by Charlie Adlard. September, 2014. Image Comics, 104 p. $14.99 ISBN:9781632151421.

“For four years, The Great War, World War One, raged across the planet. Millions were sent to their deaths in pointless battles. The Italian Front stretched along the borders of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empires, in treacherous mountain regions. In the last months of 1916, a private in the Italian Bersaglieri returns to his childhood home in the Trentino mountain range to find it no longer a place of adventure and wonder as it was in his youth, but a place of death and despair. Amongst the weapons of both armies, none is more feared than the White Death: thundering avalanches deliberately caused by cannon fire… which, like war itself, consume everything in their path...” — Publisher’s Description

This is one of those rare times when I am a little lost for words about a book.  Honestly, I’ve been sitting here for a while thinking about how I wanted to approach this review.  White Death was a wonderfully drawn book, with an intriguing story, but I feel that there was something missing — something more I needed, but I cannot put my finger on it.

White Death was written by Robbie Morrison after the discovery of two bodies in the Italian Alps that were identified as young Austro-Hungarian soldiers from the First World War.  This is one of the few graphic novels that I know of that deal with World War I, and to my knowledge very few books at all cover this theater of the conflict.  In 1915-1916, over the course of five grueling battles, approximately 60,000-100,000 soldiers were killed in the Italian Alps by avalanches caused by enemy shells — The White Death. This is the story of those battles.

Morrison vividly brings to life the despair, heartbreak, and tragedy of war — using the avalanche itself as a metaphor in the sense that it is a terrifying force that consumes everything in front of it without mercy.  The raw storytelling, both in the trenches and in the towns and hospitals behind the lines remind us that war, no matter where or when is indeed hell.  There is a brother against brother element that you do not generally associate with World War I, but in retrospect, I see how this is true of any war.  Also very poignant is the way in which PTSD, or as it was then called – “Shell Shock” was dealt with.  Quite terrifying.

What really stood out to me, however, about White Death was the artwork of Charlie Adlard.  I am relatively new to graphic novels so this is my first time seeing Adlard’s work, even though I have a huge compendium of The Walking Dead waiting on my bookshelf!  As a result I came in unbiased to what he describes in his introduction as nothing less than a landmark book in his career.  The artwork was stunning and masterfully done in a way that was able to capture the intensity and horror of war that Morrison put into words.  The “charcoal and chalk dust” Adlard mentions in the same introduction to White Death seemed to jump off the pages, even through my e-reader, to make you feel dirty, cold, and sweaty with the troops all at the same time.  No other graphic novel has had that effect on me.

My only real criticisms of White Death, and those parts that seemed to have me wanting more were in the fact that I was having difficulty about half way through the book keeping some characters straight in my head, and therefore fully understanding the action and motivations and feelings being expressed.  This could be from my own lack of experience with the genre, but I feel that more detail in the story and the art was needed here.  Also, there seems to be so much potential to have provided more build up and more continuation of the story. I feel as though we were dropped right into the middle of an epic novel and  pulled back out before it was over.  This comes from my not knowing anything about this aspect of World War I, and because of White Death wanting to know so much more!  In a way then, I suppose it served a purpose.

All in all this was an excellent book, and one that makes it easy to see why it has been listed on a few “essential” graphic novel lists.  I highly recommend it to mature young adult and adult readers for the intense story, graphic nature or the art, and the brief nudity and adult themes in a few scenes and panels.

Four out of five stars.

Many thanks to Image ComicsNetGalley, and Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard for the opportunity to read White Death in exchange for an honest review.

White Death on Amazon

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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review – 24: Underground by Ed Brisson and Michael Gaydos

24: Underground

24: Underground  written by Ed Brisson with art by Michael Gaydos. November, 2014. IDW Publishing, 124 p. $19.99 ISBN:9781631400544.

“Find out what sent Jack Bauer spiraling into his darkest days as an international fugitive in the several years following the events of the final season. ” — Publisher’s Description

Jack is back!

24: Underground is a look at what has become of out favorite CTU agent after he had been branded a terrorist by the US government and sent on the run as a fugitive after the last full televised season of Fox Network’s 24.

In this book, we find Jack Bauer living as “Borys Melnchuk” in the Ukraine where he is working as a dock worker under the supervision of Petro and living happily with his girlfriend (and Petro’s sister) Sofyia.  All is well for Jack until in a whirlwind of events, Petro’s brother Roman runs afoul of the Russian Mafia, causing the gang members to seek out Petro to pay the debt.

Of course, Jack cannot let Petro deal with this all on his own and as a result jumps in to help on the promise that with one stolen shipment from the docks, the debt will be paid and all forgiven for Petro.  Things never go as they seem and soon the CIA in the Ukraine is aware of Jack’s presence there, the mobsters kidnap Sofyia as bait for Jack, since they have a personal vendetta against him, and there is that infamous race against time to get everything sorted out before innocent lives are lost in the crossfire.

Sticking to the familiar 24 formula, this story sees Jack betrayed and double crossed at several turns, bringing back the famous line: “I thought we had a deal!”  He’s also involved in several close firefights, gets himself a wound that needs tending to and has a hostage taken to being him out of hiding while running from two different groups after him for completely different reasons and without knowledge of each other. While a little predictable, this formula did work well on television, and it works well here.  Sometimes it feels a little rushed, but the twists and turns you would be expecting and familiar with out of a 24 story are all present and very well executed.

The artwork in this graphic novel is phenomenal as well.  It’s dark, very dark at times, but this adds wonderfully to the tone and feeling of the story.  Granted, we have to remember that 24 always took place over that 24-hour time period so this is expected.  Even more important in the art is the way that Gaydos has captured the edge of your seat quality of Brisson’s writing and story and shows that in the settings, and especially on Bauer’s face.  You really can believe that Keifer Sutherland is there on the page with the familiar intense look and I swear, I was able to read all the lines in his voice and felt that intensity of tone as well. All of that said, this is definitely not a book for the kids.  The brutality and graphic nature of the Russian thugs, as well as Bauer’s fighting style are vividly portrayed and may not be for the weak of heart.

Overall, this is a high quality, albeit short and a little rushed work.  Easy and quick to read at a little over 100 pages, I would have been much happier with another 50-75 fleshing out some of the characters a little more and building up to the final action.

Four out of five stars.

Many thanks to IDW PublishingNetGalley, and Ed Brisson & Michael Gaydos for the opportunity to read and review 24: Underground.  The final version will be released on  November 12, 2014.

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Posted by on September 28, 2014 in Reviews

 

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Review – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher. July 2013. Quirk Books, 174p. $14.95 ISBN:1594746370.

“Inspired by one of the greatest creative minds in the English language—and William Shakespeare—here is an officially licensed retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations—William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.” — Publisher’s Description

For starters, I was almost literally born and raised on Star Wars — I’m only one year older than the franchise.  That brings with it certain biases, including the fact that I hold the original trilogy in my heart with a special reverence for all the happy memories, both as a child, and as an adult, that it brings me.  I also know all three movies in their original forms by heart (and yes, Han will always have shot first!).  Seeing that this unique take on the series had me very excited, and I was far from disappointed.

I admit, that when I first got the book, I was skeptical at how it would play out.  It was either going to be a truly groundbreaking new approach to popular literature and film, or it was going to be an absolute joke.  Fortunately, I think Shakespeare himself would be proud of the results.  Staying true to the original script, Doescher places a very bard-like spin to it that allows anyone even remotely familiar with the film and the story to follow along with no difficulty.  When you have lines like: “But unto Tosche Station would I go, And there obtain some pow’r converters. Fie!“, I think you know where we are in the film!  And I agree, Luke sounds whiny here too!

The writing style is exactly as you would expect from a William Shakespeare five act play.  In fact, it is written as a script, only lacking some stage direction, but containing all the description and scene setting you would expect from any script.  Inner dialogues are spoken aloud, and actions explained in the same way.  While we can see these on screen, simple gestures and actions are either written in as direction, or described by the players.  As it reads, there would be no doubt that any acting company could easily put on a production of this work.

Granted, there is a little bit of cheek, and some subtle nods to both Shakespeare and Star Wars fans alike, but they are hidden almost like Easter eggs throughout the text.  For example, this couplet, a favorite tool of the Bard’s, gives a tip of the hat to the “Han shot first” fans:  “I pray thee, sir, forgive me for the mess/And whether I shot first, I’ll not confess.- Han Solo”.  There are even points in the book where we see action or have a look at some inner dialogues that we don’t see in the film, for instance a Hamlet-like soliloquy by Luke, lamenting the death of the Stormtrooper whose uniform he has stolen on the Death Star: “[Luke, holding stormtrooper helmet.] Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not, Yet have I ta’en both uniform and life From thee. What manner of a man wert thou?”   Even something as simple as “Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!” during the penultimate battle gives a little grin when you get both references.

I simply cannot sing the praises of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars enough.  Perfect for fans of both Star Wars and Shakespeare, it will have you coming back again and again, just like the original.  I personally have recommended this to patrons who enjoy the films, but have poo-pooed plays and Shakespeare both.  Everyone has loved it so far!  I just can’t wait to see the stage production!

If you enjoy William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, fear not, the rest of the trilogy has also been given a similar treatment and you will want to find William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

Five of Five Stars

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope on Amazon

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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Reviews

 

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Review – The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom by Aaron Wallace

The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom

The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom by Aaron Wallace. April 2013. The Intrepid Traveler, 256 p. $15.95 ISBN:9781937011246.

“The Thinking Fan’s Guide is different kind of guidebook for a different kind of theme park experience. Aaron Wallace avoids the ephemera of prices and menus to explore the heart of the Disney experience, the attractions themselves. He provides a lighthearted but scholarly look at the history, lore, and literature that inform the designs and storylines of every ride and attraction in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland, as well as the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, the Celebrate a Dream Come True and SpectroMagic parades, the Wishes fireworks show, and Main Street, U.S.A. itself. Far from being mere “amusements,” these 36 attractions provide a complex, multi-layered narrative that can be experienced and appreciated just like a great novel, play, or film. The Thinking Fan’s Guide will fascinate Disney buffs with the sometimes surprising insights it offers into old favorites while offering newcomers to the Disney magic a much richer experience. If you are ready to immerse yourself in the magnificent achievement that is Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, this is the guide for you.” — Publisher’s Description

As advertised, The Thinking Fan’s Guide is not your typical guidebook, but then again, Walt Disney World is not your typical theme park.  You get some of the “typical” information about attractions like wait times, best time to visit, and “fear factor”, but there is so much more as well.  Playing on the fact that Disney is more about the story than the spectacle and thrill, Wallace gives you more of the back story and notes on the theme and development of the attractions in Walt Disney World as well as some of the hidden meanings behind them.  The result is a guide that allows new visitors and veterans alike to Walt Disney World to see the park in a totally new light and hopefully gets them to slow down on their race to the next ride.

Broken into chapters based on the themes lands of Walt Disney World (Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Main Street, USA), The Thinking Fan’s Guide serves as a vitrtual tourbook of the park, taking guests on a morning ride on Jungle Cruise straight through to a spectacular view of Wishes at the end of the day.  Wallace’s easy to read writing style also adds to this relaxing tour as well.  He is able to introduce attractions in a way that doesn’t make old WDW vets feel as though they are being talked down to, but also allows the uninitiated to understand what they are looking for without even having seen the actual attraction itself.

Learning about the history, subtle differences between the Walt Disney World and Disneyland attractions, and discovering some of the hidden secrets and meanings to these attractions helps you to understand why the Disney properties have been so successful over time.  More time is spent in the details, making it so that each time you visit you will see something new that you may have missed or overlooked before.  Books like The Thinking Fan’s Guide only help to remind us of these subtleties and gives a new incentive to look during the next visit — I know I will be when I am in WDW in August!

My only criticism (and this is almost unfair) of The Thinking Fan’s Guide is that there is very little on the attractions in the New Fantasyland expansion that took place in the Magic Kingdom recently.  The two attractions I was looking forward to reading about, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and Journey of the Little Mermaid are missing here, apparently a victim of time constraints for publication as they only opened in December, 2012.  Hopefully there will be a new edition with these new attractions (as well as the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) will come in the future.

I highly recommend The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom to old and new fans alike.  Make sure this book is either a pre-visit read, or take it along with you so you can fully appreciate all that the Magic Kingdom has to offer.  I sincerely hope that with the success of this edition, we’ll soon see similar guides for the other three parks that make up the Walt Disney World Resort.

Four of Five Stars

The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom on Amazon

The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom on Barnes and Noble

The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom on Goodreads

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Posted by on July 3, 2013 in Reviews

 

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ARC Book Review – Crucible (Star Wars) by Troy Denning

Crucible (Star Wars)

Crucible (Star Wars) by Troy Denning. July 2013. LucasBooks, 336 p. $27.00 ISBN:9780345511423.

“When Han and Leia Solo arrive at Lando Calrissian’s Outer Rim mining operation to help him thwart a hostile takeover, their aim is just to even up the odds and lay down the law. Then monstrous aliens arrive with a message, and mere threats escalate into violent sabotage with mass fatalities. When the dust settles, what began as corporate warfare becomes a battle with much higher stakes—and far deadlier consequences.

Now Han, Leia, and Luke team up once again in a quest to defeat a dangerous adversary bent on galaxy-wide domination. Only this time, the Empire is not the enemy. It is a  pair of ruthless geniuses with a lethal ally and a lifelong vendetta against Han Solo. And when the murderous duo gets the drop on Han, he finds himself outgunned in the fight of his life. To save him, and the galaxy, Luke and Leia must brave a gauntlet of treachery, terrorism, and the untold power of an enigmatic artifact capable of bending space, time, and even the Force itself into an apocalyptic nightmare.” — Publisher’s Description

Crucible is the latest in the long line of Expanded Universe Star Wars novels.  For those unfamiliar with the concept of the Expanded Universe, these are the stories that fall outside of the canon of the six Star Wars feature films.  The events in this universe remain very true to themselves and range from times thousands of years before the first Star Wars film (called BBY – Before the Battle of Yavin) to forty-five years After the Battle of Yavin (ABY) which is when Crucible is set. We are treated to a much older cast of characters than I was used to in Crucible, and obviously much has happened to these characters in the time between last seeing them on screen and this novel.

I was only familiar with some of the events in the Expanded Universe, having read a few novels set immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi, but to fast forward 40 years was a little intimidating.  Fortunately, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this novel as Denning provides ample background to understand characters’ motivations and enough back story to keep the reader informed without having to read the entire EU backlog.  If anything, it’s intrigued me to delve deeper into some of the series that I have missed over the years.

The story itself in Crucible is an enjoyable space adventure.  The action is fast paced, with a few intermittent moments where is slows, but stops just short of becoming dull in those moments.  Even those not wholly familiar or invested in Star Wars or its Expanded Universe may enjoy this novel, but it’s not recommended.  The audience for this will end up being those who have seen at least the original trilogy of movies and/or have read most of the EU books or won’t mind the research.

That said, it was great seeing characters we were familiar with including Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO, and even Lando Calrissian.  On the downside, from the first sentence it seems like we’re constantly being reminded that this is a Star Wars novel.  Constant references to the films and some of those obscure at best (how much mileage has the phrase “nerf-herder” gotten over the years, I wonder) became tiring after a while.  Add to this continual reminders that the Jedi deal all the time with the Force — we have Force lightning, Luke feels something in the Force, Leia reaches out with the Force, objects are moved with the Force — We get it by now, the Force is ever-present and used by Jedi for a great many things, so the phrase “with the Force” became tiresome after a while.

Aside from these minor points, the feel of the novel was definitely Star Wars for me, however.  Interesting villains on many levels with different stages of adventure, wit, and humor with a sprinkle of spirituality keeps the novel moving at fast clip and kept me engaged throughout.  Even with missing many of the previous EU novels, it was pretty obvious that Crucible is going to serve as a bridge between previous stories and a new series of adventures.  As such, it makes for a great one off adventure for those looking at trying a new Star Wars adventure without feeling the need to commit to a five to six novel series.

Many thanks to LucasBooksNetGalley, and Troy Denning for the opportunity to read and review Crucible.  The final version will be released on  July 9, 2013.

Four out of five stars.

Crucible (Star Wars) on Amazon

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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review: The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic

My review of a fantastic Science Fiction Adventure/Mystery!!

NJBiblio Reads

The Far-Time Incident

The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic. 2013. 47North, 342 p. $14.95 ISBN: 9781611099096.

When a professor’s time-travel lab is the scene of a deadly accident, the academic world and the future of St. Sunniva University get thrown into upheaval. As assistant to the dean of science, Julia Olsen is assigned to help Campus Security Chief Nate Kirkland examine this rare mishap…then make it quietly go away!

But when the investigation points toward murder, Julia and Chief Kirkland find themselves caught in a deadly cover-up, one that strands them in ancient Pompeii on the eve of the eruption of the world’s most infamous volcano. With the help of their companions—a Shakespearean scholar and two grad students—Julia and the chief must outwit history itself and expose the school’s saboteur before it’s too late.” — Publisher’s Description

The Far Time Incident is one of those books that…

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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Reviews

 

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