James Monroe: A Life, by Tim McGrath

In my presidential biography series, I come to the end of the Founding Fathers.

James Monroe: A Life

Dutton, 2020, 738 pages

Monroe lived a life defined by revolutions. From the battlefields of the War for Independence, to his ambassadorship in Paris in the days of the guillotine, to his own role in the creation of Congress's partisan divide, he was a man who embodied the restless spirit of the age. He was never one to back down from a fight, whether it be with Alexander Hamilton, with whom he nearly engaged in a duel (prevented, ironically, by Aaron Burr), or George Washington, his hero turned political opponent.

This magnificent new biography vividly recreates the epic sweep of Monroe's life: His near-death wounding at Trenton and a brutal winter at Valley Forge; his pivotal negotiations with France over the Louisiana Purchase; his deep, complex friendships with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; his valiant leadership when the British ransacked the nation's capital and burned down the Executive Mansion; and Monroe's lifelong struggle to reckon with his own complicity in slavery. Elected the fifth president of the United States in 1816, this fiercest of partisans sought to bridge divisions and sow unity, calming turbulent political seas and inheriting Washington's mantle of placing country above party. Over his two terms, Monroe transformed the nation, strengthening American power both at home and abroad.

Critically-acclaimed author Tim McGrath has consulted an extensive array of primary sources, many rarely seen since Monroe's own time, to conjure up this fascinating portrait of an essential American statesman and president.

POTUS #5 gave us the Monroe Doctrine, Louisiana and Florida, and an "Era of Good Feelings" that lasted for about five minutes.

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Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel

In the sequel to Sleeping Giants, Earth is invaded by giant robots.

Waking Gods

Del Rey, 2017, 336 pages

As a child Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand buried deep within the earth. As an adult she's dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers - and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer now than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth...and maybe even the stars.

War of the Worlds, but the Martians arrive in mecha.

Also by Sylvain Neuvel: My review of Sleeping Giants.

My complete list of book reviews.

Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré

Brexit and Trump take all the fun out of being a British spy.

Agent Running in the Field

Viking, 2019, 282 pages

Nat, a 47 year-old veteran of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, believes his years as an agent runner are over. He is back in London with his wife, the long-suffering Prue. But with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the office has one more job for him. Nat is to take over The Haven, a defunct substation of London General with a rag-tag band of spies. The only bright light on the team is young Florence, who has her eye on Russia Department and a Ukrainian oligarch with a finger in the Russia pie.

Nat is not only a spy, he is a passionate badminton player. His regular Monday evening opponent is half his age: the introspective and solitary Ed. Ed hates Brexit, hates Trump, and hates his job at some soulless media agency. And it is Ed, of all unlikely people, who will take Prue, Florence, and Nat himself down the path of political anger that will ensnare them all.

Agent Running in the Field is a chilling portrait of our time, now heartbreaking, now darkly humorous, told to us with unflagging tension by the greatest chronicler of our age.

Brexit, badminton, and a very bitter John le Carré.

Also by John le Carré: My reviews of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Mission Song, A Most Wanted Man, and Single & Single.

My complete list of book reviews.

Invincible, by Robert Kirkman

A superhero universe by the guy who wrote The Walking Dead.


Image Comics, 144 issues

Invincible was a comic book series published by Image Comics that ran for fifteen years. In addition to the Invincible series itself, there were many spin-offs and miniseries and one-shots, all set in the same universe. It's now an animated feature on Amazon Prime. (I have not yet watched any of it.)

The series is collected in a variety of trade paperbacks and omnibuses, also available digitally. If you want to read the entire series, then other than reading all 144 issues individually, there are several types of collections. I'll describe them below, but tldr: get the Compendiums as the simplest way to read everything.

Trade Paperbacks

There are 25 of these. Each Volume collects 4-6 issues.

Invincible Volume 1: Family Matters

Ultimate Collections

There are 12 of these. Each Ultimate Collections contains 11 to 13 issues of the series.

Ultimate Collection 1
Ultimate Collection 2
Ultimate Collection 3
Ultimate Collection 4
Ultimate Collection 5
Ultimate Collection 6

Ultimate Collection 7
Ultimate Collection 8
Ultimate Collection 9
Ultimate Collection 10
Ultimate Collection 11
Ultimate Collection 12


Lastly, there are the Compendiums. The entire series collected in three big volumes.

Ultimate Compendium 1
Ultimate Compendium 2
Ultimate Compendium 3

Below will be a review of the original comic series, including huge spoilers below the cut.

Invincible is an unabashed four-color superhero comic book. The main thing that sets it apart, and won it so many accolades, is that having been steered from beginning to end by a single creator, it is able to preserve a consistent narrative without too many continuity glitches across its entire fifteen-year span. While Marvel and DC characters have accumulated the cruft of 60-80 years of history, having been written by literally hundreds of different writers, further complicated by endless reboots, Invincible has always been written by one man: Robert Kirkman. It shows. You can see things in the final few issues that were set up at the beginning of the series. Recurring characters really feel like recurring characters whose reappearance was intended all along. It's not perfect: there are a few silly tangents and a lot of plot holes, some characters who seemed to have no real purpose other than a single scene, and a few early plot threads never resolve, but for the most part, it feels like a very long saga that the writer was able to bring to a conclusion the way he wanted to.

One of the other features of Invincible, though, is that it is graphically violent. When superheroes punch each other, there is blood, sometimes a lot of it, and there are entire issues painted with buckets of blood and gore. Kirkman really likes to show what happens when Superman punches a normie.

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The story starts out as the amazing adventures of Mark Grayson, an ordinary teenager whose dad is Omni-Man, basically this world's Superman, but with a pornstache.


Mark is a senior in high school, trying to juggle girls, an afterschool job, homework, and college applications like any other teenager, and then his powers kick in. He's delighted to take up the cape (not literally, he goes for a more modern, capeless costume) and become a superhero like his old man.


They have Adventures, Invincible joins the Teen Team, there is relationship drama, and the Graysons are adorable, with Mark's mom being so blase about her husband and son running off to save the world on a regular basis, and occasionally disappearing for a week or two while being captured by extradimensional aliens or master villains.

The first volume alone was just plain fun, and enough to keep me reading, though I was starting to get bored with the Adventures of Superboy.

Then, everything changes.


My complete list of book reviews.

Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith

Cold cases, serial killers, and five books in, still playing "Will they, won't they?"

Troubled Blood

Sphere, 2020, 944 pages

Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough - who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.

Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one 40 years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on, adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike.

As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly....

A big bloated book that could have been just as good at half the size.

Also by Robert Galbraith: My reviews of The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, Career of Evil, and Lethal White.

My complete list of book reviews.
Golden Hair

A Bride's Story, Vol. 10

A Bride's Story, Vol. 10 by Kaoru Mori

This is really two tales, half and half. Spoilers for earlier books ahead.

Karluk stays with Amir's brothers to learn hunting and hawking. (I think their story is starting to spin its wheels. I think the only real fix is a baby to give Amir someone to fuss over.)

And the continuing trek of Mr. Smith. He reaches his destination and an old friend, after many notes.

The Life and Times of G*psy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott

the full title is, American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of G*psy Rose Lee.

From Amazon;

America was flying high in the Roaring Twenties. Then, almost overnight, the Great Depression brought it crashing down. When the dust settled, people were primed for a star who could distract them from reality. Enter Gypsy Rose Lee, a strutting, bawdy, erudite stripper who possessed a gift for delivering exactly what America needed. With her superb narrative skills and eye for detail, Karen Abbott brings to life an era of ambition, glamour, struggle, and survival. Using exclusive interviews and never-before-published material, she vividly delves into Gypsy’s world, including her intense triangle relationship with her sister, actress June Havoc, and their formidable mother, Rose, a petite but ferocious woman who literally killed to get her daughters on the stage. Weaving in the compelling saga of the Minskys—four scrappy brothers from New York City who would pave the way for Gypsy Rose Lee’s brand of burlesque and transform the entertainment landscape—Karen Abbott creates a rich account of a legend whose sensational tale of tragedy and triumph embodies the American Dream.

If you've seen the musical G*psy, forget that, it was the sanitized version. One the only things they got right was Rose's mother was the ultimate stage mother, but 1000 times worse in real life. And she might have killed at least one person.

A very interesting look not only at the life of GRL, but the world of Burlesque as it was in the first part of the 20th century. and has a few chapters interspersed about the biggest promoters of burlesque in NYC, the Minsky brothers. (an infamous raid on one of their theaters inspired a movie called The Night They Raided Minsky's.)

They only thing I didn't like is the book wasn't linear, each chapter jumping from the "modern" era of the '40s to the early years of GRL's life or the Minsky's rise in the business.

But over all, I really enjoyed this book. as I did the others I've read by the author; Sin in the Second city; Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul & Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War.
Golden Hair

The Sky on Fire

The Sky on Fire: The First Battle of Britain, 1917-1918 by Raymond H. Fredette

The air war of World War I.

The bombing of London, the difficulties of the Germans in fielding aircraft and training (night flying was regarded as just crazy), the bombings, the diverting of British forces and equipment for defense, the incendiary bomb that wasn't used, and the future history of what was a minor part of WWI.
Golden Hair

Tales From the Fermi Resolution: Vol. 1: Shadow of the Tower

Tales From the Fermi Resolution: Vol. 1: Shadow of the Tower by Moe Lane

Further adventures from the world of Frozen Dreams Only one features a character from that one (the narrator), and they span centuries. They all stand alone, even two that are connected (albeit from quite different points of view) and the one connected to the novel.

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