5 stars: The Huns vs. the Romans; excellent historical fiction
As with his other books, William Dietrich gives his readers an excellent blend of historical fact and adventure, this time centering on the invasion and last great battles of Attila the Hun, attacking a crumbling Roman empire.
Set in the years around 450AD, the historical characters of Attila, the Roman General Aetius and a host of others are intertwined with believable fictional protaganists:
- Jonas Alabanda, a young Roman from Constantinople, enlisted in the ill fated diplomatic mission to Attila that harbors a plot to assasinate the Hun leader;
- Ilana, a Roman woman whose city is ravaged by the Huns, her father and fiance killed, and she taken as a slave;
- Skilla, a Hun fighter and future warlord, fighting for Attila and against Jonas for Ilana’s favor.
Jonas journey leads him from the comforts of Constantinople (the Roman capital in the east) into Attila’s camp, a different world where battle and survival rule. While appearing simply barbaric at first, Jonas comes to realize that the Hun way of life could replace the Roman civilization if Attila’s march is unchecked. Forced into slavery after the uncovering of the assination plot, Jonas is forced to fight Skilla for Ilana. He later escapes, losing Ilana in the process, but finds himself thrust headlong into the ultimate Battle of Nations, as Jonas helps the Roman General Aetius diplomatically assemble the armies of Roman and the western barbarians to meet Attila’s barbarian horde, with Ilana in tow. They meet in the Battle of Nations, to decide the fate of Western Civilization.
As with Mr. Dietrich’s other novels, the blend of historical fact with adventure and fictional characters makes for a well-paced read. The descriptions of the battles, the contrast of life in Constantinople vs. life with the Huns and other barbarians, and the imagined descriptions of great and minor historical characters are all well written. Sometimes a backward looking historical perspective intrudes on the main character, but the information provided helps put the fictional story into factual context.
Highly recommended, as are Bill’s other novels I have read (Napolean’s Pyramids and Getting Back).
5 stars: The Drow attack the Dwarves
Book IX in The Legend of Drizzt
Siege of Darkness, book 9 chronologically in the Drizzt series, finally gives what the last few books have been leading up to: the epic battle as the underground drow attack Mithril Hall, home of King Bruenor Battlehammer and his clan of dwarves. The battle turns epic when the forces of the barbarians, the Riders from Silverymoon and Nesme, and even the svirfnebli join forces with the dwarves against overwhelming odds.
The first part of the book cleans up the mess left in Menzoberranzan, home of the drow, after Drizzt and co.’s escape and destruction of House Baenre’s temple. A side story includes the temporary halt of all magic through some battle of the gods, which lets us see more of Lolth the Spider Queen and the Monster Errtu (whom Drizzt and Wulfgar defeated in an earlier book), and this so-called “Time of Troubles” is a useful device in several plots…they have little to do with the epic battle, but they either continue previous story lines or assumingly lay ground for the next book.
Writing battle scenes is one of Bob Salvatore’s greatest skills, and the battles in the caves and out in the valley are some of the best written in this series.
There is also a plot line involving Berkthgar, the barbarian who takes over as king for the fallen Wulfgar. He initially believe he needs Aegis-fang, the weapon King Bruenor crafted specifically for Wulfgar, and Catti-brie and Drizzt convince him otherwise, that he needs to build his own name in battle and not rely on Wulfgars. In the battle scenes, he certainly does that. He becomes an interesting character, hopefully there will be more from him.
Lots of groundwork laid for the next book, including the mysterious prisoner the Lolth gives to Errtu to help him get back to the Material Plan and go after Drizzt. I assume this will be the focus of the next book.
These were originally published as JLA #61 – #65.
Wonder Woman is usually an ensemble character at best in the JLA series. But, in this first storyline written after Mark Waid’s steady hand (written by Joe Kelly), Diana, Princess of the Amazons, takes center stage. A child is kidnapped in a strange land, and Diana, always seeking the truth, comes to a paradox, where there are multiple truths, and her precious Lasso of Truth, the Sacred Rope of Hestia, is “torn asunder” by Diana pursuit of her only belief of what is right. And it breaks the very foundations of truth for the rest of the world and humanity. Wonder Woman must go on a quest to rebuild it, as the other members of the JLA battle events brought down by the distruction of quantum mechanical laws (yes, you read correctly. pg76 Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, explained by the Atom in a JLA graphic novel!).
An excellent story, as Wonder Woman discovers that there can be many truths, showing the frailties and strengths of one of the core members of the league.
Fav panels: pg 102, Wonder Woman with her lasso (of course), and the opposing page of Batman on top of Plastic Man making like a gargoyle.
These were originally published as JLA #55 – #60.
The White Martians, J’onn the Martian Manhunters ‘evil counterparts’ if you will, were first defeated in JLA: New World Order. The White Martians lay a trip for J’onn, thinking that taking him out first is the key to defeating the JLA. The shape shifting Martians were ‘wished’ out of their hypnotic state inadvertently by J’onn while battling ID (United We Stand).
The White Martians should be a great foe for the JLA. But their defeat, while clever (think oxygen and fires, no spoiler here) is somewhat contrived and convenient.
This issue also contains Bipolar Disorder (JLA vs. Polaris infected with a Joker toxin) and a JLA Christmas tale that is better left unread.
Fav panels: page 50, Superman with the White Martians behind him masquerading as the rest of the JLA; page 85, Superman, WonderWoman and GL pulling the moon closer to the Earth.
This is one of those rare albums that you want to listen to over and over again, where you keep hearing new pieces you never heard before.
Like on the track “James Brown Part I and II”: Carl Burnett’s starting guitar, followed by a drum machine? then the horns, with Branford on tenor and David Sanborn on Alto, point/counter point all the way through. One of my favorite driving songs. Then part II goes into record scrachin’ rappin’….then back to the horns. Fantastic.
“Another Day” slows it down, smooth. Then “Try These On” is one of the best mixes of jazz, rap, everything, that I’ve heard…always with Branford’s horn.
“Samba Pop” starts out with a descriptive lyric: “Even if it’s jazz in the quiet storm/Bebop converted in a hip hop form”. That describes this track perfectly.
And don’t miss the unnamed unmarked bonus track (#17 on the CD)…a very tight 4+ minute jazz tune.
I keep wishin’ for a 3rd Buckshot album. How ’bout it, Branford? PLEASE!
These were originally published as JLA #47-#54.
These stories happen right after “Tower of Babel”, where Batman gets voted out of the JLA. The remaining JLAers are still dealing with that, when the Queen of Fables is freed from a book and attacks with all manner of fairy tales. With the exception of the very interesting twist of an Aquaman / WonderWoman relationship which continues in this story (see panel 32), and the appearance of Batman and his supposed betrayal of the team, I found this story tedious compared to the others.
The JLAers then start to become divided, with the three that sided with Batman facing off with the three that sided against. Here the story gets going, with the six of them going after Dr. Destiny, who is changing reality, while Superman confronts Batman. Dr. Destiny is seemingly defeated at the same time that Superman and Batman agree there will be no secrets. They call the six other JLAers to Batman’s cave, reveal their secret identities, join Batman back to the team….and then meet their alter-egos suited up. Their split-personalities have truly been split!
The ensuing story, with the civilian identities of the JLAers trying to resume normal lives, the superhereo identities of the JLAers battling “fulfillment of wishes” problems full time, with WonderWoman and Aquaman in the middle (they have no secret identities), is one of the best in the series. Both sides, with some exceptions, realize they can’t live without their alter-egos, and that the creature “If” has been fulfilling wishes, including theirs to be separated.
The fact that “Eel” O’Brien, Plastic Man’s alter-ego who is a former criminal, somewhat reunites the team, is one of the best stories on him in the series.
Fav panel: pg 137, where Kyle Raynor obsessivly covers his walls with JLA cartoons.
5 stars: His best, and one of the most enjoyable solo piano albums ever
I first heard this album when I was taking classical piano courses in college. It was, and still is, an inspiring album for a piano player, as much for the mixture of styles as it is for the sheer pleasure of the tunes.
This is my favorite George Winston album, even though I have worn out December over the holidays. The songs evoke so many mental images.
The initial track, “Colors/Dance” always makes me picture a ride through the woods, with it’s simple melody and background chord progression.
“Longing/Love” is one of those songs you want to play, even if you don’t know how to play the piano.
My favorite track is “Moon”, starting out slightly fast paced that the other tunes with a little sustain pedal, then slowing down but still with the echo and answer.
I’ve seen Mr. Winston in concert once, delightful if you get the chance.
Great for piano students, lovers of jazz or classical music, or just for a relaxing rainy Sunday afternoon.
4 stars: Funny, G-girl is fabulous, but the ending is trite
An excellent dual-role for Uma Thurman, as she plays shy art studio worker Jenny Johnson and her alter-ego super hero G-girl. Jenny/G-girl is nuerotic and lonely, so when Matt (Luke Wilson) tries to do something nice and heroic for her, she literally goes crazy for him. Matt tries to break it off with his super girlfriend, and that’s when everything starts flying.
Rainn Wilson is great as Vaughn, Matt’s quick/foul mouthed womanizing friend. Great interaction between Matt and Vaughn.
The sex scenes are hilarious (PG-13 rating), as are the scenes where G-girl/Jenny tries to have a normal life, especially when Matt knows who she really is (should she interrupt a date to save the city and leave Matt with another woman at the table? decisions, decisions!).
G-girl’s arch nemesis Professor Bedlam (aka Barry) has a history with G-girl from high school. I would have liked more about what Bedlam had done that made him a villan, that would have made his character more believable and helped the ending.
My only complaint was that the ending was somewhat trivialized and forced. But this is a very funny and enjoyable movie, watched and enjoyed by my wife, myself and our teenage son.
5 stars: Joe Sample fan becomes a Crusaders fan
I found Joe Sample before I found the Crusaders, even through the original Crusaders have been around longer in Houston. But, when Joe and the new Crusaders came to Houston when this album first came out, I bought the album, went to the concert as was hooked. You can hear Joe’s heavy chords on his rhodes and wurlitzer in the background…but this is a team effort, with great a great horn section led by Wilton, and cool guest appearances. And Ray Parker, Jr. does a stellar job on guitar on the album (and was great at the concert too).
The first two tracks (Rural Renewal and Creepin’) start great, with Eric Clapton guesting on the album (although Ray was great on them in concert). But Heartland and Viva Da Funk are my favorites, because of the blend of Joe Sample’s keyboards, the outstanding horn section, tight rhythm and the subtly overlain guitars.
4 stars: Artemis Entreri just won’t die
Starless Night, book 8 chronologically in the Drizzt series, shows the main characters still suffering from the death of one of their own in the previous book. Because of this guilt, Drizzt ventures back to the underground world of Menzoberranzan, to determine the true drow threat himself. Catti-brie follows, once she finds that he has slipped out on his own.
I thoroughly enjoyed the character development of Jarlaxle, the mercenary drow, and it was great to see a small glimpse of strong Belwar again. My only problem with this series is that characters just won’t stay dead once killed (or twice killed!), as Artemis Entreri shows up again. Mr. Salvatore keeps the readers guessing that Entreri and perhaps Jarlaxle are not as evil as they seem.
As with the three initial books in the series, the drow homeland is well described, as are the political machinations that keep the drow world in check.
Not as good as the first three (which are classics), but moves the character development forward and brings Jarlaxle, a very interesting character, to the fore.