Friday, October 20, 2023

Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse

Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse (D&D Campaign Collection - Adventure, Setting Book, Bestiary + DM Screen) (Dungeons & Dragons)Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse (D&D Campaign Collection - Adventure, Setting Book, Bestiary + DM Screen) by RPG Team Wizards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the classic D&D setting, Planescape, translated and reimagined for the fifth edition of D&D. I said 'reimagined' but never read. It just resets things to baseline and brings things in line with the 5e characters and creatures without fundamentally changing the setting. The factions are back as they were in the original box set, portals are the same, the overall philosophy of the setting is present, and Sigil and the Lady of Pain are much as they used to be.

This isn't the kind of thing you read from cover to cover so I'm slowly digesting it over the next few days. It's impossible to encompass all the 2e Planescape material in three slim books but this does a good job as a starter set. Hopefully there's an incoming book of planar locations and more player options but I'm not holding my breath. There are copious references to the 5e DMG, which makes sense since it's way planes heavier than early editions.

The books are well organized. The first details Sigil, the Gate Towns, Factions, and presents a couple new player backgrounds and some new feats. There was no bariaur as a PC race option but I don't know how popular they are/were. Also, I'm mostly reading this as a nerd and not someone who is going to play any time soon.

The second book is the usual monster manual. New creatures and some resurrected ones are present, along with stat blocks for things such as Githerzerai Futurist and other elevated forms of familiar creatures.

The third book is an adventure that starts in the Mortuary ala Planescape: Torment with the characters having little to no memory of their former existence. I only read the setup in the event I might actually get to play this some day.

There's also a DM screen and some maps included in this slipcase. The maps are of Sigil and the Outlands. The screen has the usual screen stuff.

As I said, I haven't fully absorbed the material just yet but I already like it better than last year's Spelljammer release. The setting is as I remember it and not a vaguely similar product with the same name like Spelljammer. Not to shit on Spelljammer, one of my favorite settings of all time.

Age apparently hasn't brought all that much additional wisdom for me re: Planescape, though. It seems a little overwhelming to conceive a campaign that maintains the flavor of the setting as opposed to more standard settings like Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms. Oh well, I'll figure that out when the time comes.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

High Cotton

High Cotton: Selected Stories of Joe R. LansdaleHigh Cotton: Selected Stories of Joe R. Lansdale by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this in that quasi-mythical time before Goodreads. In fact, I thought I'd lost it but my brother found it when he was cleaning out the trunk of his car a few years ago. I'm waiting on the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book I'm missing so it seemed like a good time to give it a whirl. Thanks to the magic of getting older and forgetting a lot of stuff, it was like a mostly new reading experience.

I was 23 when this came out and it was early in my Lansdale fandom. Now I'm pushing 46 and I've read over 50 Lansdale books. Half a life later, this is still a kick ass short story collection. It shows off Lansdale's versatility. There are funny stories, horror stories, crime stories, sf stories, and just plain fucked tales.

I've been on Goodreads for 15 years and still don't know how to competently review a short story collection. Mr. Weed Eater, the tale of a blind man plaguing a good Samaritan, is still one of my favorites. Trains Not Taken, an alternate history tale where Wild Bill Hickok is just a clerk, hit a lot harder than it did back in the day. Other stories, like The Night They Missed the Horror Show and An Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, are just as kick ass as they were back when I could barely grow decent facial hair.

I wouldn't say there's a dud in the bunch. There's a plethora of n-words scattered throughout, something that might turn off some readers but that's how the caliber of people Lansdale frequently writes about talk.

High Cotton is a short story collection that packs a wide variety of punches. Five out of five stars.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder

The Autobiography of Matthew ScudderThe Autobiography of Matthew Scudder by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lawrence Block's recovering alcoholic detective Matthew Scudder sits down to pen his autobiography...

I unexpectedly got this ARC in the mail from Lawrence Block's camp. When you get an ARC from your favorite living crime writer (or one of his guys), you drop what you're doing and get down to business.

The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder really feels like Scudder writing a series of journal entries about his life, from his birth to a brother who died in infancy that may or may not have impacted him, to eventually becoming a cop and later the whiskey drinking detective we first met in The Sins of the Fathers.

Essentially, it's more background to a well loved character that doesn't cut the legs out from anything we already know about him in any substantial way. There are no "Everything you know is wrong!" revelations. Block's style is as it ever was, as smooth as good whiskey. The account of his past fleshes out his past a bit, more details about Estrella Rivera, Elaine, and Danny Boy Bell, for instance. We learn more about his time as a cop and even some of his pre-police activities like taking up boxing and thinking of becoming a plumber before he decided to become a cop.

There's a line Matt uses about meeting friends and wondering if he'll ever see them again. That's what this book feels like, probably the last Matthew Scudder book and maybe even Lawrence Block's last one. Is the Autobiography of Matthew Scudder essential? Probably not. Will Matthew Scudder fans want to read it? Absolutely. My only gripe is that like a bottle of good whiskey, I wish it had lasted a bit longer. 4.5 out of 5.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Tod is God

Tod is God: The Authorized Story of How I Created Extreme Championship WrestlingTod is God: The Authorized Story of How I Created Extreme Championship Wrestling by Tod Gordon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a biography of Tod Gordon, the money man and brain behind Extreme Championship Wrestling.

I snapped this up when I saw it on Netgalley. Tod Gordon, the father of ECW? How could I pass this up?

This is the best wrestling book I've read in a long time. The Gordster doesn't waste any time and makes with the wrestling in short order. Tri-State Wrestling Alliance dies and Tod Gordon's Eastern Championship wrestling fill the void, eventually becoming the Extreme Championship Wrestling some of us knew and loved back in the day.

Tod doesn't really go out of the way to put himself over. He's a funny guy and obviously smart but doesn't sugar coat the decisions that came back to haunt him later. He's also open about the sex and rampant drug use behind the curtain in ECW.

I've probably read 50 or more wrestling books at this point and watched a shitload of documentaries but El Gordo reveals tons of stuff I never knew; the good, the bad, and the extremely fucked up. I don't want to spoil too much but Paul Heyman isn't the Sainted Father of ECW a lot of people make him out to bed.

Crazy shit aside, the Gordonator also makes the nuts and bolts of the wrestling business interesting. Not as interesting as the sex and drugs but it's really cool that guys like Terry Funk and Kevin Sullivan lent a hand when they could.

That's about all I've got to say, I guess. I'll refrain from saying Tod is God hits like Sabu on a table but imagine that I did. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, March 12, 2023

Tommy and the Order of Cosmic Champions

Tommy and the Order of Cosmic ChampionsTommy and the Order of Cosmic Champions by Anthony J. Rapino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tommy's life begins unraveling the summer before junior high, the Create A Character contest for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, sorry, Order of Cosmic Champions is all that's keeping him going. When he doesn't win the contest, something else grips his attention...

I've already forgotten how I learned about this book but it sounded interest. '80s nostalgia, coming of age tale, etc. I had the issue of He-Man magazine as a kid with the create a character contest in it. Oddly enough, the winner, Fearless Photog, wasn't actually made into 2012, something a twitter peep filled me in on.

Anyway, this was a fun coming of age tale with some grim beginnings. Tommy's parents' marriage is on the rocks, his best friend has turned his back on him and joined up with a bulling shithead, and, damn it, that Create a Character contest is his one glimmer of hope.

SPOILER ALERT - Tommy goes on an odyssey across multiple states with only Fierce Phantos as his companion as he goes up against Skullagar and his minions on his journey to find the contest winner and ask him to pull some strings and get Tommy's Mechani-Ghoul character made into an action figure.

First, I'll get my gripe out of the way. This is a Young Adult book written in the last couple years. It's also got a pretty good helping of 1980s nostalgia in it so who's the audience supposed to be? That's pretty much my only gripe.

I found Tommy all too believable as a nerd who was betrayed by friends for more popular ones as a kid. As a father, I was mortified at how little Tommy's parents were paying attention to him. Sure, their marriage was falling apart but they still had a kid to take care of.

The quest aspect was believably done. Tommy's friendship with Fierce Phantos was well done and left up to interpretation for the most part, although what was Carlos looking at and what's with the REDACTED Tommy picked up at the end? I also liked that Tommy's quest did him good but didn't completely fix everything. Still, the ending was very satisfying.

I wonder if any effort to secure the Masters of the Universe license was made for this. It was a little odd that they referenced TV, comics, and movies from the '80s but He-Man and the Masters of the Universe became Masculon and the Order of Cosmic Champions. Whatever. Everyone knew what they were talking about.

Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

God is Disappointed in You

God Is Disappointed in YouGod Is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To set the stage, I went to Catholic school for grades 1-12 and I haven't been to church much in the last 10-15 years other than weddings and funerals. Mark Russell is my favorite comic writer these days so I was surprised he wrote a book about the bible and naturally had to pick it up.

The back cover describes it as irreverent yet faithful. From what I remember from daily churchings and twelve years of religion class, I'd say it is. It's also extremely accessible and doesn't read like it was written in another language thousands of years ago.

Russell, aided and abetted by Shannon Wheeler's New Yorker style art, turns each book in the bible into a hilarious 2-6 page summary, peppered with humor but keeping the central message. Kind of like a Drunk History version of the bible. It was extremely entertaining and while irreverent, didn't feel like it was shitting on the source material.

Five out of five stars. I'm glad I have Apocrypha Now on deck.

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Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Turnout

The TurnoutThe Turnout by Megan Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When their ballet studio catches fire one night, Dara, Marie, and Charlie invite a contractor into their lives but he's clearly after more than just another job...

I've been out of the novel loop for a few years but I took advantage of a 2.99 sale on this a while back and I finally had time to read it.

Like I've said before, I enjoy all of Megan Abbott's books but the ones that hit the hardest are the ones about the secret lives of women. This one, about the dark underside of ballet, is firmly in that vein.

Dara and Marie are intensely close sisters, former ballet stars who trained under their ballerina mother. Charlie, Dara's husband, is a now broken down ballet dancer their mother took in when they were all teens. When a contractor threatens the close bond between the three, the train to hell leaves the station.

Even more than most of Megan Abbott's books, The Turnout almost feels like a Jim Thompson book. The inevitable trainwreck is coming and you have to grab on to something and hope you survive the crash and the aftermath. And what an aftermath it is!

I didn't understand teenage girls when I was a teenager and now I'm kind of terrified of them. The Megster shows us the horrible lives ballet dancers lead, from eating cotton balls soaked in ranch dressing instead of actual food to keep their weight down to hiding razor blades in each others' shoes. It was apparent that Dara, Marie, and Charlie were keeping some dark secrets from the beginning but I didn't think they'd bubble up the way they did.

That's about all I want to say. Five out of five stars.

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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Beware the Woman

Beware the WomanBeware the Woman by Megan Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When newly pregnant Jacy and her husband Jed visit Jed's father on Michigan's north penninsula, When her father-in-law starts saying and doing odd things, is it pregnancy hormones or something more sinister?

I've largely fallen out of reviewing actual books since my son was born in 2019. Now that he doesn't require total attention all the time, I requested this from Netgalley and they approved. Netgalley still thinks I'm somebody, I guess.

I wasn't sold at first. It seemed unsettling and I was horrified to think Jacy would end up banging her father-in-law. Spoilers, she doesn't. The craziness comes in baby steps so things sneak up on your. Reading this on the heels of Lock Every Door, Megan Abbott succeeds with the psychologic suspense where the other book failed. It helps when the characters have some personality and seem pretty fleshed out.

Like I said, I wasn't thrilled with it at first but when I started sensing the wheels would come off at any moment, it was very hard to put down. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Lock Every Door

Lock Every DoorLock Every Door by Riley Sager
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When Jules is down on her luck, she scores the opportunity of a lifetime - occupying an empty NYC apartment overlooking Central Park for three months in exchange for 12 grand? What's the catch? And what happened to the previous tenant?

According to the piece of paper inside that I used for a bookmark, my mom got me this in Christmas 2019. Time flies when you have an autistic toddler and the world is ravaged by disease, I guess.

Okay, I didn't think there was anything wrong with this but I didn't exactly like it either. Sure, it was engaging enough at times. Free apartment, lots of strict rules, sinister goings on, etc.

The first of my problems was with Jules. She's a cypher with no real personality and nothing memorable about her except her dead parents and probably dead sister and a book she was obsessed with as a kid. On the heels of reading two Roxane Weary mysteries, I needed something more that Jules was giving me.

It was an average thriller for the most part, although the glimpses of the future built up the suspense a bit. Jules does something incredibly stupid near the end which made my eyes nearly roll out of my head. I detest when people do stupid things because the plot requires it.

Unremarkable, underwhelming, unimpressed. I think that covers it. Two stars. This one's definitely going into the half price books box.

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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Once You Go This Far

Once You Go This Far (Roxane Weary, #4)Once You Go This Far by Kristen Lepionka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Roxane has a chance encounter with a hiker who winds up dead shortly after, she gets hired by the deceased woman's daughter to look into her mother's death and uncovers a lot more than that...

As I said in my last review, I'm chewing through the backlog of books I've accumulated in the last few years now that I have some extra time on my hands. I wish I would have tackled this one immediately because it was pretty damn good.

In this volume in the ongoing saga of Roxane Weary, she gets entangled with a runaway kid, an evangelical group, and finds out she has a half sister. Some other stuff happens too.

The Roxane Weary books are good mysteries but the main attraction for me now are the characters. Roxane and her two bothers, Tom, Shelby, and probably Blair in the next book even though she hasn't stepped on stage yet. Roxane is a tough lady with problems but that's what makes her so interesting. More importantly, her relationships are in a constant state of flux, something that doesn't always happen in a mystery series. There's no perfect love for Susan Silverman here.

Well, two Roxane Weary books in two days. I'll find some way to amuse myself until the next one comes out, hopefully soonish.

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