Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Reading Summary

I have been keeping track of my annual reading for about 7 years now. In 2011, I read 84 books. This compares to 73 last year, 80 in 2009, 110 in 2008, and around 140-150 the years before that. This is because I listen to an absolute ton of podcasts, which cut into my reading time. I have always been a fan of audio, and 43 of the 84 books I consumed this year were via unabridged audio. 31 were traditional dead-tree books, 7 were graphic novels, and 3 were on the Nook.

The 60 novels I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 60, as many books fit into more than one category)
Mystery/Thriller -- 21
Fantasy/SF -- 21
Romance/ Girlie -- 8
YA -- 8
Christian -- 7
Historical -- 3


The 24 non-fiction works I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 24, as many books fit into more than one category)
Christian/Theology -- 17
Sports & Entertainment -- 5
Memoir/Biography -- 4
Other -- 3

Book #84

His Passion: Christ's Journey to the Resurrection, Integrity Publishers. Hardcover.

This was a Christmas present from past year, and was my devotional book for 2011. The one-page daily readings come from authors such as Beth Moore, Ravi Zacharias, Andrew Murray, and a range of ancient writers, including Augustine, Cyprian, and Chrysostom.

The theme of all the devotions is the last week of Christ's life. This is a fine choice, as it is important to keep this aspect at the forefront of our contemplation. But it is also awkward from a church-year persepective, as I was reading about the Passion during Pentecost, Advent, and other times of the year. But once I got used to the theme of the devotional, this became less disconcerting.

I will put this one on the shelf for 2012, but I imagine I will pick it up again in a few years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book #83

Bel-Air Dead, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

I am a big fan of Woods' works, and of his Stone Barrington novels in particular. And this is one of his best.

All of Woods' series take place in the same world, and there have been occassional cross-overs, but this is the most fully integrated mashup I've read. Stone Barrington is called out to the West Coast to help old friend Arrington Calder keep her stake in her movie studio, fighting off a takeover attempt that takes a very dangerous turn. It turns out that the man behind the takeover attempt is in league with the former wife of Ed Eagle, the protagonist of another series of Woods novels. Eagle himeself takes an active role in this novel, and that subplot is essentially a sequel to his last novel. This crossover was very well done.

I do want to point out that the business/stock aspects of the book were handled properly, and that the basic facts of that subplot were accurate.

There is also a change in Barrington's employment status in this novel, which is a natural progression from the last 5 or so of his adventures. Woods is skilled at handling the progression of events in the "long arc" of his characters lives, while making each particular novel a stand-alone book.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Book #82

The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer. Nook.

This little book is rightly considered a modern classic. Tozer's practical teaching on the work of Holy Spirit in the believer's life is insightful and penetrating. Although not an academic work, Tozer's knowledge of the Bible and of human nature are among the strengths he brings to this work.

Tozer refers to himself as a Fundamentalist in the book, but the word did not have the hard cultural edge that it does today. As a matter of fact, he calls his fellow Fundamentalists and Evangelicals out on their propensity to separate from the world. Tozer's view of the life of faith calls for an active involvement in the things of the world.

There have been many wonderful books on Christian living published over the centuries, and certainly many in the 20th. But this one deserves its place alongside the classics.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book #81

The Confession, by John Grisham. Unabridged audio.

This is an extremely predictable critique of capital punishment, presented as a novel.

The concept was solid -- an innocent man is scheduled to be executed, and only the man guilty of the crime can save him. But there was nothing unexpected in the novel -- Texans are racist, defense lawyers are heroes, politicians are corrupt, and cops are thugs.

I read a lot of Christian fiction, and the issues I have with that genre is the lack of subtlety, and the elevation of the message to the highest position. This novel suffers from those same flaws, and was even more "preachy" than some of those Christian novels.

There was very little drama here, especially in the first two-thirds of the novel. I did not become engaged until the last hundred pages.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book #80

Clark Griffth: The Old Fox of Washington Baseball, by Ted Leavengood.

As a baseball fan from Washington (go Nationals!), Clark Griffith was a name I was familiar with, and his basic biography (top-notch pitcher to manager to club owner) I knew. But this in-depth book fills in almost all of the gaps.

Griffith played in late 1800's, leading the league in ERA in 1898. His managing career began in 1901, while he was still playing. and won the pennant in his first year. His last managerial stop was with the new Washington Nationals in 1912, and he was able to gain an ownership stake in the club. After a career as a baseball vagabond, Griffith found his home.

The pinnacle of Griffith's tenure as owner was a World Series victory in 1924, after which the Nationals began their slow descent into mediocrity. The team struggled to stay afloat financially during Griffith's last decade of life. His son Clark moved the team to Minnesota in 1961, shortly after Clark's death.

The book is thoroughly researched and well-written. The focus is baseball, and these aspects of the book are very detailed. But Leavengood manages to work in discussions of historical and social issues of the times, as well. His coverage of the racial tensions in Washington and in baseball during Griffith's life is one of the stengths of this book.

Disclosure: I received this as a free ARC through LibraryThing.com.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book #79

Naked Heat, by "Richard Castle." Unabridged audio.

Richard Castle is the character portrayed by Nathan Fillion on the ABC-TV drama "Castle." In the show, he is a writer of mysteries, and his books play a background role in the series. ABC has begun to release as actual books the novels referred to in the show. This is the second. It is weird to read, because I keep thinking of the characters' analogs from the TV show. But that is what I am supposed to do, now that I think about it.

This is a pretty good mystery story, kicked off by the murder of a gossip columnist being profiled by magazine writer Jameson Rook. The investigation uncovers the involvement of a young female pop star, a Yankees pitcher, limo drivers, paparazzi, etc ... Very good action, and some interesting points of character development. And although I do visualize the TV show versions of the characters, their characters are developing differently in the books, and that is a nice touch.

These books could be just throwaways, but they are not. They are better than average mystery plots, well-written, and worth an investment of time, especially for fans of the TV show.

I am curious as to the real writer of these books are, but I don't want to know enough to try to find out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book #78


Beginning to Pray, by (Monsignor) Anthony Bloom. Paperback.

This short book is wonderful. Bloom, a Monsignor of the Orthodox Church, takes a very interesting different approach to prayer, which is both practical and mystical.

Bloom takes a very practical approach to his topic, including a terrific chapter about time management. This chapter challenged us to turn prayer into a relationship with Christ, and talks in mystical & metaphysical ways about the nature of time, and how we are bound to live in a world ruled by time. He then gives very practical, step-by-step instruction is how to begin the contemplative life.

Bloom is a Russian citizen who served in France during World War II as a surgeon. while also being a secret monk. Yes, he had taken monastic vows, but to do so publicly would have precluded his ability to serve as an army surgeon. As you can imagine, the stories he tells about his life are fascinating, and make a helpful counterpart to the more mystical portions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Teaser Tuesday


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Chapter 1 of Clark Griffith, by Ted Leavengood, a biography of an influential man from the early days of baseball.

MY TEASERS:
"Mining towns in the 1890s were frontier associations of the worst kind, lawless and untamed, where men found entertainment where they could and women only rarely. Baseball was a welcome diversion and the new professional players were welcomed enthusiastically."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book #77

One Summer, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio.

This is the third time that Baldacci has gone "off script" from his wiriting of thrillers and instead written a family drama.

In this one, a man in the last few days of his life is dying from an incurable disease. In the days before Christmas, his wife dies in an accident and his children go to live with her parents. But instead of dying, he miraculously recovers, and takes his three children to the beaches in South Carolina (from their home in Cleveland) to visit his wife's childhood home.

I enjoyed the novel, although it did suffer from genre-hopping. What starts as a family drama turns at times into a coming-of-age novel, a romance, and a legal thriller. I appreciated the main point of the work, but not as much the overall execution. There are some nice character moments, especially in the teenage duaghter.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Podcast marathon

Winter break from school + wife having appointment in evening = nothing but listening to podcasts all day long ... Yesterday I listened to these shows:

The Adam Carolla Show. This is the podcast equivalent of a radio morning show, complete with a news girl and sound effects. This episode featured comedian Dana Gould as guest.

Axed
. I am doing a re-listen project, going back through the episodes of this podfaded show, which covered canceled television shows. This was the classic "Birds of Prey" episode, the horrible TV show based on the very good DC comic book of the same name. Will and Aaron are good when they cover a good show, but they are great when they cover a horrible show. And very few TV shows were as horrible as "Birds of Prey."

The Tony Kornheiser Show. A daily sports (well, about half sports and half news and other sutff) show from the former Washington Post columnist and current PTI host, on ESPN. I listen to it more for the funny parts than for the sports talk.

No Agenda. The best podcast in the universe. Veteran magazine writer John C Dvorak and technology expert (and former MTV dude) Adam Curry talk about news and politics, usually in the ocntext of analyzing (assassinating, as they put it) media coverage. Probably my single favorite show.

From Crisis to Crisis. Episode 117 covered the Superman comics from November 1992. This show is the best long-form comic book podcast out there, and they are ramping up to a major Superman event (spoiler: when he dies). Totally looking forward to what Mike and Jeff have planned for those historic episodes.

Nerdist Writers Panel. As the name implies, this is a podcast that is a panel discussion of TV writers. This episode included the creators of the new shows Once Upon a Time and Ringers.

Death and the Acrid Smell of Gunsmoke. This is part of the Two True Freaks podcast feed. This show is hosted by Scott Gardner, and follows the comic book exploits of the baddest man in the old West, Jonah Hex. This is an extremely well-produced podcast, with sound a score underlying Scott's recreations and dramatic readings from the story.

Katia & KylieMac. The girls have been talking about travel-related topics for the last month or so, and in this one they talked about cuisine. Cuisines from around the world are discussed, as well as the best food in the Paris, the girls' adopted home.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Chapter 19 of One Summer, by David Baldacci.

MY TEASERS:
"Mickey was waiting for him on the front porch, with a copy of another gossip paper with a similar headline. She was trembling, and attacked him as soon as he got out of the truck."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book #76

One of Our Thursdays is Missing, by Jasper Fforde. Hardcover.

This is the 6th in the Thursday Next series, novels that take place in Book World, where all of our literature lives. Like any humorous series, there are hits and misses, but this novel hits more than it misses.

In this one, the "real" Thursday Next has disappeared and the "written" Thursday takes it upon herself to do whatever it takes to find her. This is important because the "written" Thursday has been drafed to impersonate the "real" one in a series of peace talks designed to halt the coming Genre War. Along the way to a satisfying conclusion there is back-stabbing, political intrigue and interesting character moments.

I know the story sounds confusing if you are unfamiliar with the series. But a smile will come to your lips if you are familiar with the absurdist nature of Ffrode's Book World. The plot itself is as odd as the world is, but the world is the star of this series.

The story is not the star here, but it does move along at a decent pace. Along the way are plenty of puns, bizarre literary mash-ups and some interesting thoughts on the state of literature and the publishing industry.

Just when the silliness is getting to be almost too much, Fforde throws in commentary on e-books, new genres and self-publishing. There is just enough thought-provoking material in here to make the book a success.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book #75

Watchmen as Literature, by Sara J. van Ness. Paperback.

This is van Ness' doctoral thesis, an academic examination of Watchmen, the graphic novel by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. There is an emerging field of comics studies in the academic world, as the literary and artistic value of works such as Watchmen (and Persepolis, Maus, The Dark Knight Returns, and others) is being taken seriously. Professors from the disciplines of literature, art, media, communications, sociology, and psychology have penned academic works on graphic novels, and some even include the study of graphic novels and comic books in their classes.

Van Ness' work covers a range of aspects of the graphic novel, including a terrific analysis of how the main characters' journeys fit into various aspects of Joseph Campbell's monomyth structure. I also enjoyed her analysis of how the use of sequential art, the unique aspect of comics among other storytelling media -- comic books and graphic novels are not a genre, they are a medium for storytelling, and can tell any type of story.

The writing can be dense at times (it is an academic work), and I wish the book included more examples of panels from Watchmen to demonstrate various points (there are a few, just not enough for me). She also includes a discussion of the movie version of Watchmen, but this discussion has a "tacked-on" feel and does not add a lot to the understanding of the graphic novel itself.

The biggest praise I can offer this book is that I learned things from reading this, and will take a different view of Watchmen next time I read it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From page 98 of Watchmen As Literature, by Sara J. Van Ness.

MY TEASERS:
"While it is true that the interaction of images and words and the paneled format of sequential art allows readers to potentially see multiple times and spaces at once, readers necessarily have to ingest the information in somewhat of a linear fashion ... The reader recreates Dr. Manhattan's consciousness of space and time, but it is limited by representation."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book #74

Strategic Moves, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

I am a fan of Woods' novels, especially those featuring Stone Barrington. In this one, the retired NYPD officer turned lawyer turned CIA operative finds himself thrown into another adventure. An investment firm which Stone has a passing acquaintance has lost a few billion dollars, and a man being sought out by the CIA seeks Stone's protection. There are potential conflicts of interest, which Stone manages to wiggle out of cleverly.

This book does have one of the single best escape scenes I've ever read. It involves an expensive automobile and a large aircraft. And there are other expected scenes involving the Barrington supporting players, such as Dino and Joan and Eggers.

This is the third book I've read this year, after the death of bin Laden, that deals in some way with the capture or killing of bin Laden. It was published 3 months before the man's death, but I had the misfortune of reading it six months after. Similar to dropping in pop culture references into a literary work, using real-world events and personalities can give a work verisimilitude, but can also (like in this work) make it obsolete.

The subplots did not intersect as much as I prefer in works like this, although this lack of neat intertwining does give the work a more realistic feel. This aside, I found the book to be a fun, fast-paced yarn.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book #73

The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns. Paperback.

Stearns is the leader of World Vision, so he brings experience and knowledge to the discussion of world poverty. The book is a nce mix of cold facts and heart-rending stories.

The book has many memoir aspecs to it, as Stearns tells his life story. He was CEO of Lenox, the fine silverware manufacturer, before leaving that to run WorldVision. The juxtaposition of these two posts is made much of in the early part of the book. Stearn's own "conversion" of sorts, his awakening to the plight of the world's poor, is an effective through-line of the book.

Most of the book is a call to social action for Christians, a much-needed one for many in the evangerlical world. Protestants threw away everything related to Catholicism in the aftermath of the Reformation, no matter how good or bad what they threw out was. In the same way, Evangelicals threw away everything related to mainline liberalism over the last century. Among those things that were shed was a commitment to easing the physical suffering of the poor.

Stearns is a Bible-teaching evangelical, no doubt -- the book is loaded with Bible references, short and long, Old Testament and New. But he is willing to say that the modern American evangelical church has a "hole" in its Gospel, and that hole is caring for the poor and afflicted. And he gives practical tips on how we can help serve, with our treasure, time, and talent.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book #72

Take Two, by Karen Kingsbury. Unabridged audio.

I enjoyed Take One. It stood out among christian novels for taking on the topic of film-making in a way that treated the art of film in a serious way, and as the profession of film-making as a legitimate vocation. And the romance and relationship subplots were mercifully in the background.

In some of these areas, there was a slight step back from the prior novel. The romances were more in the forefront, and I found the more overwrought scenes hard to get through -- but as I point out whenever I review a christian novel, I am not the target demographic. These books are read overwhelmingly by women, so some of my concerns fall into general stereotypes of male/female preferences.

Some of the facts about film-making didn't seem altogether accurate -- there are plenty of examples of two studios producing similar movies and would be easily shrugged off, but in this novel that fact was a major plot point. The novel did not end well, either. It just stopped, albeit at an emotional high point. But none of the plot points are finished up -- they are all left hanging for book three, or perhaps book four.

There were a few bright spots. There was not the obligatory conversion scene, but there was a re-dedication. But this counts as progress in the world of christian fiction. And although some of the characterization was clunky, some characters continue to be well-drawn.

As I mentioned in the review for Take One, the presence of multiple performers makes the listening experience quite enjoyable.

I will certainly pick up books 3 & 4 in the series, but I may take a longer break before resuming the series than I did between books 1 & 2.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book #71

The Gum Thief, by Douglas Coupland. Hardcover.

Up to about 5 years ago, I had read all of Coupland's novels. I am a huge fan of Generation X, Life After God, and Miss Wyoming, the latter of which is criminally underrated. But for no good reason, I haven't read any of his more recent works.

Reading The Gum Thief was my first effort to rectify this situation. Like much of Coupland's work, this is a literary novel that manages to also be a quick read. Always experimental, this time Coupland gives us an epistolary novel, told in letters. Think of a "found footage" movie, but in this time it is a "found notebook" novel.

Like much of Coupland's work, this novel deals with the anonymity of the modern business world; in this case, the setting is Staples, where forty-something loser Roger and twenty-something Goth chick Bethany work. Roger leaves his notebook in the break room, which contains his novel manuscript. Bethany reads it, leaves him a note (or does she?) and the series of journal entries, notes, letters and scenes from Roger's novel takes off.

Not onloy is there a "book inside a book" aspect to this novel, the "book inside a book" also contains a book. Very meta.

I am a fan of Coupland, but I recognize he is an acquired taste. I would not necessarily start reading his novels here, but if you've enjoyed some of his prior work, you'll probably enjoy this one, too.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Back From The Dead!

In a previous post, I lamented the podfaded status of the excellent Super Future Friends show -- but after a brief hiatus of only 351 days, Kristin and Adriana are back! And they have not missed a beat.

The recently released episode 35 covers Adventure Comics 310, yet another crazy silver-age story of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The show documents the nuttiness of the story, the wonkiness of the art, and a bizarre fixation on trophies and tunnelling.

Welcome back, ladies!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From page 123 of The Gum Thief, by Douglas Coupland.

MY TEASERS:
"Kyle told me that he thinks Staples is a piece of s___ and should burn. I'm shocked to find that Trail Mix Boy has an anarchist spark in him."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book #70

The Sixth Man, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio.

Do you remember that story a year or so ago about a certain celebrity (I wish I could remember who it was) who had an eidetic memory, the extremely rare condition that goes beyond "photographic" memory. An eidetic can never forget anything.

Are you familiar with the TV show "Chuck?" In it, someone has the entire corpus of US Intelligence downloaded into their brain.

I am guessing that David Baldacci remembers the news story, and perhaps has watched Chuck. At least his book is a neat combination of the two scenarios. Edgar Roy is an eidetic who is employed as The Analyst by US Intelligence. Not an analyst; The Analyst. The entire flow of data gathered by the US (called "The Wall" in the novel) floods Roy's mind, and he makes recommendations based on that information.

When six dead bodies turn up at Roy's farm, the program is thrown into disarray. Has The Analyst gone insane and turned sociopath? Or does someone want him out of the way? Despite Roy's success, there are people in Washington who are not thrilled by this program. Some for legitimate reasons, some for personal or political reasons.

Former Secret Service personnel Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are hired to look into Roy's case, and shortly after more bodies start to pile up. King and Maxwell find themselves caught between powerful Washington factions, most of whom don't care who they harm (or kill) on the way to meeting their own objectives.

Baldacci has written some of my favorite thrillers, and I have particularly enjoyed most of the King & Maxwell tales. This is one of the strongest ones -- the plot is a bit unbelievable, and I don't buy the motivations of all of the villains, but the plot moves along at a great pace, the drama builds up well, and the resolution is satisfying. All in all, a very fun read.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From chapter 36 of The Sixth Man, by David Baldacci.

MY TEASERS:
"That was beacuse the alarm wasn't on. She whirled around. Shawn stood there, the butt of his gun visible at his waist."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book #69

Academ's Fury, by Jim Butcher. Unabridged audio.

I started reading Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series because it contained fewer books than his more famous Dresden Files series. My thinking was that it would be easier to get into a shorter series.

The part of the equation that I forgot to consider was the length of the novels themselves. The six epic fantasy tales of the Codex Alera come close to accounting for as many pages as the dozen Dresden novels.

Not that I am complaining – epic tales often need epic lengths to be told properly.

Gaius Sextus, the First Lord of Alera is gravely ill, news that would invite invasion if it were made known. Spies are all over the palace, and the land, seeking news of the First Lord’s condition. Tavi, who became a ward of the First Lord after the events of the prior novel, must use all his wits to keep his master.

Unfortunately, he is the only adult in Alera without any fury-crafting powers. Other than him, every Aleran has some ability to manipulate water, air, earth, fire, wood, or metal. With the help of his aunt Isana, who is no fan of the First Lord, and the mysterious young woman Kitai, Tavi strives to protect the First Lord, and thus the Realm.

I enjoy the magic system in these novels, and the character development among all the leads is quite strong. I also like fantasy world’s that are in some ways analogous to our own world, and in this case, Alera is structured very similar to ancient Rome. I look forward to future novels exploring the nature of the bond between Tavi and Kitai, as well as the ramifications of a major revelation that happened in this novel’s epilogue.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From chapter 14 of Stronghold, Book 1 of the Dragon Star trilogy (from the early 1990s), by Melanie Rawn.

MY TEASERS:
"A forced march had brought Tilal and his family to Kadar Water in excellent time. Lord Kolya, knowing his immediate need must be for a Sunrunner, sent his out to meet Tilal with the news that the entire holding was at his disposal."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book #68

Pearls of Lutra, by Brian Jacques. Hardcover.

I love juvenile/YA fiction that makes no pretense of being anything else. There is no subtext in the Redwall stories, nothing sly or subversive, just a rollicking adventure story. Talking animals, sword fights, bows and arrows, pirates, battle strategy, humor. This book contains all of that and more.

Six rose-colored pearls are the heritage of Holt Lutra. Grath Longflecth the otter is seeking them out, to restore her family heritage. Ublaz, a ruthless pine marten who rules the island of Sampetra, has created a new crown for himself to house the pearls.

The pearls themselves found their way to Redwall Abbey, and clues have been left as to their location. Tansy the hedgehog has taken on the mission of following the clues to find the pearls, and is helped on her quest by many of the Redwall animals. Ublaz sends a raiding party to Redwall, the Father Abbot is kidnapped and held for ransom in exchange for the pearls.

And that is where the adventure begins. Martin the warriormouse, Clecky the hare, and an army of shrews set off to rescue the Abbot, and they join forces with Grath the archer to storm Sampetra and recover their Abbot.

Jacques’ strengths lie both in plotting and character. Each animal type has distinct characteristics, and within each group there are individuals with their own unique aspects. And the story makes sense – there is no skimping in the narrative, no gaping plot holes, and no “writing down” to young readers.

Very good stuff.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book #67

Guild of the Cowry Catchers, book 3, by Abigail Hilton. Podcast novel.

This is the middle section of a 5-book audio novel. Middle sections of epic stories often sag, as we have moved past the introductory sections, but have not yet moved toward the climax.

Hilton gets around this natural lull by writing some stunning character moments for Gerard and Silveo. There is just enough action in this book to keep the story moving, and the new character Dakar adds enough to the story to let the Gerard-Silveo moments to breathe.

This is by far the darkest of the 3 books produced so far, and Hilton finally earns the "adult content" warning that she has posted at the beginning of every episode. She hasn't really needed it until now, but perhaps she was simply preparing us for the events of this book.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book #66

The Real Saint Patrick, by J. M. Holmes. Paperback.

I picked this little book up a few years ago when my family was visiting Ireland. There is no particular reason why it took me 24+ months to get around to reading it, but it was definitely worth the wait.

As short as the book is – a number of beautiful color pictures of Irish locales push the book to almost 100 pages – it is an intriguing read. There is extremely little actually known about historical Patrick the man, and only two of his writings are extant.

The first two-thirds of The Real Saint Patrick cover what of his biography we actually know. This is not hagiography, and the less reliable of the legends are dismissed. Holmes is able to take what academic knowledge there is about Patrick and turn it into readable prose. We know that he was taken as a slave from his native Britain to Ireland. There he was converted, and after a dream or revelation, he escaped back to his native land. From there he was called back to be a missionary to the Irish, the people who had enslaved him.

After this biographical section the book includes his 2 surviving works. His memoir (called a “Confession” in the manner of Augustine) recounts his life, and serves as a primary source for his biography. This serves as a fascinating, first-person look into the thinking of a 5th-century Christian. Really interesting stuff.

The second work is a brief letter to Coroticus, a tribe leader whose soldiers had slaughtered a group of recently baptized believers. This work again shows the workings of the ancient mind, in terms of dealing with tragedy and evil. This work is at times angry, at times pleading, and at times evangelical.

As I mentioned, there are some stunning photographs in the book, and the book itself is printed on high-quality paper. I am generally not a keeper/collector of books; most of what I read I get from the library. But the production quality of this slim volume makes it one I will display on the shelves.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mini-casts

Most podcast episodes run close to an hour, and some (including some of the most popular) run 90-120-150 minutes, and single episodes of some can run even longer! But there are some good ones out there whose episodes regularly run less than 10 minutes each. Some of my favorite of these cute little podcasts include:

Grammar Girl's Network.
Mignon Fogerty started her Grammar Girl podcast years ago, producing weekly 5-minute episodes on all parts of language usage, writing, and grammar. She has grown her network Quick & Dirty Tips since then to include similarly-formatted shows covering legal, health, organization, and other topics. The two that I listen to, in addition to Grammar Girl, are Money Girl and the Winning Investor.

Tom vs. _____. Tom Katers has put out consistently entertaining episodes since he decided to summarize early issues of the Justice League comic book in his Tom vs. the JLA. Since then, he knocked out more than 150 episodes/issues of Tom vs. the Flash, before moving on to his current project, Tom vs. Aquaman. Tom loves these early issues, but is more than wlling to point out when the silver-age silliness goes over the top.

The Dennis Miller Show. The full re-broadcast of Miller's daily radio show costs money to subscribe to, but they post a handful of short segments every day as "previews" through iTunes. The opening segment of the show, which is about 10 minutes long, is available every day, as are most of the interview segments of the show, which usually run 6-10 minutes, although a few do go longer.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From chapter 11 of Academ's Fury, book two of the Codex Alera, by Jim Butcher, his high fantasy series.

MY TEASERS:

"The bull yawned, scarcely noticing what must have been half a ton of burden the two earth-crafters had casually lifted into place."

"She pressed her hand against her lower belly, and could almost feel the nearly invisible scars from the pockmarks the disease had left."

Friday, September 30, 2011

Book #65

Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, by David B. Currie. Paperback.

I have read a number of similar books, relating the author's journey (or return) to Catholicism. As a hesitant Protestant, I find these books interesting. I confess that conversion stories have always intrigued me.

This book is less personal than similar memoirs, and is instead more theological in its approach. I prefer this approach. Currie covers the "big" issues he had to deal with as he felt drawn to the Roman Church, such as the Eucharist, salvation, and Mary. He also covers the canon of Scripture, authority, and moral theology. He covers all of these in a consistent, systematic way.

One of my quibbles with the book is the loose use of the word "Fundamentalist" in the title. The word is rarely used in the text of the book, where the more accurate "Evangelical" is regularly used. The book's is targeted at Catholics, for whom the differences between Fundamentalist and Evangelical are minor.

There are also numerous "straw man" arguments against Evangelicalism, where Currie puts words into the mouth of an unidentified "leading Protestant" or "Evangelical professor." Perhaps there were reasons for doing this, to keep the manuscript brief or perhaps even for legal reasons. Nevetheless, I found this annoying, and for an otherwise well-argued book, this does stand out as a weakness.

Those small issues aside, I was impressed with Currie's facility with complex and touchy theological questions. Generally speaking, he presents the standard Evangelical view of issues fairly, and shows that Protestants and Catholics do not disagree on many issues. His point is that they disagree on a few issues, and it is the logical implications of these few disagreements that create divisions on major issues.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book #64

Take One, by Karen Kingsbury. Unabridged audio.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I read a fair amount of Christian fiction, and this is another from that category.

This novel has the advantage (for me) of dealing with a subject of interest to me (film-making) and not being a romance. Along with authors like Dee Henderson and Terri Blackstock, Kingsbury is able to write christian fiction that does not automatically scare off men. For this category of fiction, that is not common.

The story itself revolves around a pair of Christians making a low-budget movie in and around Indiana University, a movie that they believe can change the world. The men, formerly foreign missionaries, see the movie business as their new mission field. How they overcome the multiple issues in the filming of the movie are central plot points, as are the dramas involving a pair of IU undergrads, who land small parts in the film.

All genres have their particular conventions, or expectations. As a matter of fact, it is these conventions that put a work into a particular genre. Genre readers have expectations, and the role of authors is to meet those expectations. Christian fiction is no different, and this novel certainly fits the mold. Miracles happen when needed, Christians behave better than non-Christians, and standard American evangelical theology and politics are presented.

That being said, there were some pleasant surprises here. I liked that artistic vocations were portrayed as not being "second-class" compared to traditional mission work. I also liked how struggles and doubts were portrayed among some of the younger characters. There is a bit more subtlety and nuance here than christian novels usually have, with the exception of the Hollywood stars, who act exactly as you think they will. And the little I know of the film business seemed to track with how Kingsbury portrayed it.

There are more books in this series, and I expect to pick up the next one soon. I am curious about a few of the characters, and want to see what is next for them.

I appreciated the fact that the audio version of the book included two male voice actors, and two female. This made it possible for the multiple POV characters to have distinct voices, a nice bit of production.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From chapter 23 of Take One, by Karen Kingsbury

MY TEASERS:

"Cody had walked her home, right? Which meant her car was still parked across fron the frat house ... Then she remembered thr breaskfast date she'd had with her mother."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book #63

Highland Blessings, by Jennifer Hudson Taylor. Paperback.

I am not the target audience for christian fiction -- I am a dude, and the vast majority of christian fiction is either inspirational or romance, sometimes both at once. Do these genres dominate because the overwhelming proportion of purchasers of christian fiction are women, or are the overwhelming proportion of purchasers of christian fiction women because these genres dominate? Hard to say which came first.

But this does raise a question -- why do I read so much of it?

Well, I am a Christian, mostly an evangelical, and I choose to participate in some aspects of modern christian culture -- and that means including christian fiction in my reading mix. And I do read some mainstram "chick lit," so some books in this genre, although not targeted at me, are within the bounds of what I read.

But on to this book in particular, a historical fiction set in 15th Century Scotland. I found the book overall to be better than average among christian novels. The research and prose style were both particularly strong, especially for a debut work.

My issues were in the story structure itself, where relationships take precedence over action and suspense. There were many opportunities where "stuff" happened, and I would have preferred more time spent on those scenes, but the "stuff" scenes moved on quickly to relationship scenes. The book inlcuded murders, investigations, kidnappings, and war -- but these were merely brief stops as the romance train rolled on.

Another issue I had with the book was that none of the characters seemed to actually be 15th century Scotsmen. I mentioned previously that the research was strong, and this shows up in language, clan structure, geography, and dress. But the characters seemed to all have the beliefs, practices, and worldviews of 21st century American evangelicals. They were thoroughly modern, and the men in particular seemed to be people out of time. One of the roles of fiction is escapism, and in this way I suppose christian romance serves the same function for many Christian women (although less erotically) that mainstream romance or urban fantasy serves for the mainstream female audience.

Both of the issues mentioned above are not at all particular to Highland Blessings, which again is an above-average work within the genre. They are common issues for me within christian fiction. As I said, I am just not the target audience.

Again, this book was strong in areas where christian fiction is not always strong, and despite a few misgivings, I expect that I will read the sequel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Podcast Marathon

My wife was out of town all day last Saturday, so it was just me and my iPod Touch for the day. I listened to podcasts all day long, including these:

Guild of the Cowry Catchers, book 3 -- Full-cast novel, distributed via podcast. I listened to episodes 6, 7, & 8. It is turning darker as the story moves on.

Katia & KylieMac , episode 465 -- Two girls, an American and an Australian, who live in Paris. A great episode with frequent guest, Frog the Frenchman.

Tales of the JSA, episode 58 -- One of the best comic book podcasts out there. Terrific stuff.

A Podcast of Ice and Fire, episode 64 -- This was a listener call-in episode, all about the book series, crazy theories, favorite scenes. They even gave this blog a shout-out, when I mentioned the podcast in a previous entry.

Chaos Chronicles -- It has been great listening to Lian Dolan over the years, as her life has changed. This used to be mostly a mommy-cast, but the show has changed as Lian's life has changed. She published a novel last year, and is now pitching 3 separate TV shows. It's been fun following this unexpected journey.

Golden Age Superman, episode 26 -- I did not finish this episode on Saturday, because it was NEARLY FOUR HOURS LONG! Jon Wilson is one of my favorite podcasters, and he did a great here covering all the Superman activity from May, 1940. The comic books, newspaper strips, and radio, Jon covers them all in and entertaining and infomrative manner.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book #62


Y: The Last Man, Deluxe hardcovers, vols 3 & 4, by Brian K Vaughn, Pia Guerra, et. al. Graphic novel.

Comic books are a medium, not a genre.

I like supeheroes, really I do. But some of the strongest stories being told in sequential art in the 21st century are not of the "caps and cowls" variety. And of these non-superhero books, Y: The Last Man may be the best.

A strange virus has struck earth, killing every male mammal on the planet. All except two, a man (Yorick) and his monkey (Ampersand). Desperately trying to reunite with his girlfriend halfway around the world, Yorick's journey has brought him under the protection of the mysterious agent 355. There seems to be hope for a cure to the plague in Asia, and he detours there. A pseudo-journalist has snapped a photo of Yorick in a pose that reveals his, ummmm, definite maleness. Will this photo be believed, which could hamper Yorick's efforts, or will it be dismissed as a hoax? Will a cure be found? Will Yorick find his girlfriend? These are the questions that are left to be anwered. These volumes take us through issue 48 of the series 60-issue run, so we are entering the last act. I look forward to finishing the series with volume 5.

Unfortunately, Guerra did not draw as many of the issues in this part of the run as I would have liked. Although the other artists tried to ape her style, her strong lines and ability to differentiate characters stand out among the other artists.

Comic books are a medium, not a genre.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

MY TEASERS:

"Bright spring dawn, with no traces of the night's gale, was scarce an hour old over Redwall when little Arven flung himsel fon Tansy's bed in the sick bay and began buffeting her with a pillow ... [w]ith a bound the young hedgehog maid was out of bed and attacking back with her pillow."

From page 58 of the YA novel Pearls of Lutra, by the late Brian Jacques. Talking animals having adventures!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book #61

The Omen Machine, by Terry Goodkind. Unabridged audio.

In 2007, Terry Goodkind released Confessor, the last part of a terrific three-book arc that wrapped up the epic 11-novel Sword of Truth series. At that point, he indicated that he wanted to move away from fantasy and into modern-day novels. This he did with the thriller The Law of Nines, released in 2009. And although it did take place in modern times, there are many “easter eggs” for fans of the Sword of Truth books, and the novel is indeed in some way connected to the previous saga.

For whatever reason, Goodkind has returned to his fantasy roots with his latest novel, The Omen Machine. It is referred to on the cover as a “Richard and Kahlan novel.” The fact that it is not branded as as a “Sword of Truth” novel specifically does speak to the differences that this book has from its predecessors.

First the similarities. Without spoiling prior novels, this does take place shortly after the events of Confessor, and involves many of the surviving cast of characters from that and prior novels. The writing style is classic Goodkind: lots of descriptions, some speechifying, and his objectivist philosophy woven into the narrative.

They story of the novel is this: the people of one of the lands under Richard & Kahlan’s rule believe that prophecy should be used to directly guide people’s lives, while Richard and Kahlan believe differently about the role of prophecy, based on their experiences and understanding of how the gift works. A series of tragic prophecies delivered to ungifted people quickly come to pass, and the discovery of a heretofore unknown machine, hidden cunningly inside the Palace, that delivers the same omens, brings nothing but confusion and distress upon our heroes. Is this a new manifestation of the gift? Are people somehow being manipulated via this machine to bring forth predictions? Are these even real prophecy at all, or are these dark predictions being used as covers for murder and treachery?

On to the difference between this work and prior Richard and Kahlan stories. As interesting as the questions raised by this plot are, the tale operates on a much less grand scale. It is also surprisingly short. The Sword of Truth series consisted of 600-700 page doorstops, while this one checks in at around 400 pages. This is average length, perhaps slightly above average for say a modern thriller, but is much shorter than most epic fantasies. Perhaps that is the most striking difference – it is a fantasy novel, certainly, but not an epic fantasy. The geography of the novel, the timeframe of the novel, the stakes for the character, the literal size of the novel – all much smaller than one expects from a fantasy work, certainly from a fantasy work penned by Terry Goodkind. But I imagine it was these types of changes that prompted the branding decision in referring to this simply as a “Richard and Kahlan” novel. To talk in terms that are used more often in movies and comic books, this novel can be considered a “soft reboot” of the series, a good “jumping on” point for readers who find the combined 7,000 pages of the Sword of Truth epic intimidating.

This is not to say that these changes make the book unenjoyable. As a matter of fact, I thought it quite good, certainly more appealing to me than Goodkind’s attempt to go mainstream, The Law of Nines. There is something to the shorter form that moves the plot along at a good pace, while not skimping on the character moments and interactions that are fan favorites. The villain of the work was interesting, and a type of magic was at work here that we haven’t seen before in this world. That was good to see. There are indications of a villain behind the villain, pulling the strings, which certainly does lay the groundwork for this to be the kickoff of another series of novels for Goodkind set in the worlds of D’hara and the Midlands.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top-of-the-List podcasts

I subscribe to an embarrassingly large number of podcasts. Some of them I let stack up for future listening, some I get to within a few days. But some I listen to as soon as possible after they download – they move immediately to the top of the list. Some of these are:

Geeks On! This is one of the earliest podcasts I found, and am still a loyal listener. Their shows don’t come out quite as often as I’d like, but when they do, I listen as soon as I can. The conversation between these 4 guys (and the occasional guest) is always thought-provoking, and the topics are always interesting. It rarely disappoints.

No Agenda Tech journalist John C. Dvorak and media veteran (including MTV) Adam Curry discuss news and politics, and also dissect the media’s role in that reporting. This bi-weekly show is well worth the 2+ hours they put out twice per week. It is equal parts enlightening, entertaining, humorous, and head-scratching. In the morning!

Tales of the JSA One of the best of the long-form comic books shows, Scott & Mike are covering the modern tales of the Justice Society of America, including the terrific run of All-Star Squadron. They are definitely fans, but not “fanboys” – when the stories stink, they say they stink. If you are a comic book fan, start here with your podcast listening.

The Tony Kornheiser Show I listen to the live stream of this local radio show (local in Washington DC, that is), but when I can’t the podcast is an ASAP listen. Since the radio station releases 24 hours to release the official podcast episodes – which is a problem for a sports and news show – I usually listen to the unofficial version, This Podcast Stinks.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book #60

Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind. Unabridged audio.

This is a re-read for me -- I read the series a few years ago, and then strarted listening to them a year ago or so with my daughter. We didn't quite finish this up during the Summer before she went back to college, so when she came home for an evening recently we knocked it out.

As is typical of this series, the actions of previous novels drive the plot in this one. Goodkind is a strong believer in cause-and-effect, and this aspect of his philosophy is on display here. This novel deals with "The Chimes," which were released at the end of the previous novel. The Chimes drain magic from the world, so all of the main characters (Richard, Kahlan, Zedd, Cara) are growing progressively weaker in the powers as the novel progresses, so the drama is whether they can banish The Chimes as much with their natural abilities and their magical abilities.

The characters are the people we have come to know, but their personalities and relationships are becoming more complex and layered.

In addition to being a (mostly) self-contained adventure, the spectre of the Imperial Order continues to grow as a backdrop. As readers, we are anticipating an eventual confrontation between Richard and Emperor Jagang. Goodkind does a good job of telling specific stories in a world that is definitely moving in a particular direction.

I love this series, and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, even though it was my second time through. Some of the foreshadowing I am sure I missed on the first read.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

MY TEASERS:

1. "Out of the corner of her eye, Kahlan saw the dark thing charge toward them, as Richard dove off her and across the bed."

2. "He stared at her for a moment, then sat on a bench at the foot of the bed and stuffed a leg into his pants."

From Chapter 25 of The Omen Machine, by Terry Goodkind.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Book #59

The Offical Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, vol 2: Wonder Woman, by Michael L. Fleisher. Paperback.

Similar to, although shorter than, the Batman version I read earlier in the year. Arranged as an encyclopedia, in alphabetical order, with mostly brief (and a few long) articles about people and events that occurred in Wonder Woman adventures from her introduction in late 1941 through about 1968. The book took years to compile, being released in 1976. The library version I read is a reprint from the mid-2000's.

I didn't know much about Wonder Woman reading this, being familiar only with a 100-issue (or so) run that I had from the late seventies, so a lot of this was new to me. I didn't realize there were so many puns, especially in the Holliday College locale -- Deans named Strikt and Picklepuss, Professors named Astronimo, Calculus, Chemico, and Toxino -- but other characters have punny names, as well. It was a reminder that these books wree definitely aimed at 8- to 12- year olds, as opposed to comics today with an older readership.

William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, was an interesting man with interesting ideas, especially about men, women, and relationships. I appreciate that the encyclopedia talked about odd part of the story, which manifested in common story themes of slavery and bondage, romance, marriage and submission.

I love the conceit of these encyclopedias, the notion that the compilers are academic researchers, and that the comic stories are texts to be investigated and interpreted. In light of the DC relaunch, it is a testimony to the continuity and consistency of the first 30+ years of comics that such an attempt to synthesize and organize the material is even possible.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

yestercasts (2)

In a previous post, I wrote about a few of my favorite pod-faded podcasts, shows that are no longer producing new episodes. Unfortunately, I have a few more to add to the list. They all still have episodes in iTunes, so go check them out.

Jesus Geeks: One of the first podcasts I started listening to, Cliff and Chris took on pop culture from a Christian perspective. I had started to fall away from the show towards the end, as the sound quality had not improved in 100 episodes, and some of the talk was becoming repetitive. Nonetheless, I was sad to see it sail off into the twilight, as the host's health issues and scheduling conflicts brought the show to the end.

Pete + Janet: This is one I mentioned back in the entry on CoupleCasts, having not released a new episode since I posted that early in the year. Coincidence?

Praxis Podcast: Both of the hosts, DG & Aaron, became very busy with jobs and education and family, as the show ended in late 2009. One of my favorite religious podcasts,

Mad Money Machine: Only two episodes this year, the last one in March, and the pace in 2010 had slowed considerably. This was the first business and investing podcast I listened to, and when it was coming out reuglarly, it was one of the best and most informative podcasts.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book #58

Frankenstein: City of the Dead, by Dean Koontz. Unabridged audio.

This picks up right where book #4 left off, with the town of Rainbow Falls, Montana under attack from Victor Frankenstein's monsters. This is the first part of his plan to (rub hands and laugh maniacally) take over the world.

I liked the way Koontz handled the small-town and religious elements of the story. Both of these aspects can easily fall into stereotypes, but Koontz avoids those writing temptations. The small-town folk, and the religious folk, both contribute strongly to the action in the book. From the days of Mary Shelley herself, the Frankenstein story is one that lends itself to making strong thematic points, and Koontz uses the legend to make points about the nature of humanity and God.

I thought that only a few of the characters were well-drawn and interesting, and the ball seemed to have been dropped on some of the key characters in book #4. Yes, they were here in book #5, but not the same extent that they were previously. Reading the books so closely after each other made this flaw stand out.

Based on the ending of the novel, I am assuming the series is finished up. Yes, we thought that after book #3, but this time I think the story is done.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Writing-casts

Creative people talking about being creative has always interested me, especially interviews with authors. As a writer who specializes in unpublished novels, creativity and writing are topics I enjoy listening about. There are 3 podcasts in particular about the business and craft of writing that I have found enjoyable:

I Should Be Writing. A show for "wannabe fiction writers," veteran podcaster Mur Lafferty talks about her own writing career, which offers great insights into the business life of the writer. Her shows include question-and-answer audience feedback, which is where her advice on technique is often given. Most of her episodes feature author interviews, as well.

Writing Excuses
. Four accomplished authors as hosts (Mary Robinette Cowal, Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler), fifteen minutes, once per week. This show focuses most often on writing technique, but covers aspects of the business of writing, as well, along with a few interviews thrown in along the way.

Nerdist Writers Panel
. A new show, part of Chris Hardwick's growing Nerdist family of podcasts, this one is Ben Blacker hosting a round-table discussion with TV writers. The life of a TV writer is so different from that of novelist that I have found this new podcast very interesting. There is not a large focus on technique here, but instead on the TV industry itself, how to break into it, what the "writers' room" is like on a TV show, those sorts of topics.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Books 56 & 57

Left Behind: The Kids, books #19 & 20, by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye (and Chris Fabry). Paperback.

I picked up this series years ago, after knocking out the entire run of the "adult" version of the series, including the prequels. There were some low points in those books (any 3-book concept stretched to 12+ will have low points, lots of low points), but some of the characters intrigued me. And I'm a completist, so I just kept reading them.

Somewhere along the line, I picked up these, the J/YA versions of the Left behind series. I must have started before I realized there were 40 books in the kid series. At least they're pretty short, and they are certainly quick reads.

Christian fiction often falls short in terms of subtlety and nuance, and the theme is considered more important than literary value. When you add the J/YA vibe on top of that, what is left is pretty simplistic. And that's what these books are.

That being said, the books have some strengths. Chris Fabry (the actual writer of the series, not credited until book 8 or so) writes clear prose, and the action certainly moves along at a nice pace. The books are quick reads, pretty short and fast-paced. And there is some skill in weaving in the chronology/events of the adult series into this series.

I'll pick up the next couple in the series over the Winter, and continue on valianty until I finish.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book #55

Captain America: Winter Soldier, Ultimate Collection, by Ed Brubaker, et. al. Graphic Novel.

If you liked the recent Captain America movie, this is the place to go next. Not a sequel, but this story takes place in the same universe as the movie, and is a great "jumping on" point into the world of Cap's comics.

We all know that Bucky and Captain America both died, but Cap was actually frozen and thawed out years later. But .... what if the same thing happened to Bucky, too? And what if he was found not by the Avengers, but by the Soviets?

That is the question that Ed Brubaker poses in this relaunch of the title from a number of years ago -- this collection features the entire story, all thirteen issues. Bucky becomes a super-agent for the Soviets, known as the Winter Soldier. His exploits are legend on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and as it becomes clear who the WS really is, Cap and the S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives wrestle with the implications.

Most of the art is excellent here, with different artists doing the present-day and WW2 pages. This gives the flashbacks a true sense of being from another age. There are a few fill-in artists along the way whose work seems out of place when the entire story is read as one piece of work.

I have not read Cap in a long time, but found this is a very accessible and enjoyable read.

The guys at Geek Show covered this as their "book of the month" a few weeks ago, and put out a terrific podcast episode about it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

MY TEASERS:

1."But at that very instant, the electronic evolutionizer breaks down, stranding Wonder Woman and her friends in the Golden Age."

2. "Infuriated by the defeat of their mighty leader, the Greeks attack Wonder Woman en masse."

From page 81 of The Original Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, Volume 2: Wonder Woman, by Michael L. Fleisher.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book #54

Blood Oath, by Christopher Farnsworth. Unabridged audio.

I read political thrillers. I read vampire novels. Why would I not read a novel that combines those two aspects?

Nathaniel Cade is a special assistant to the President, a position he has held for a century and a half -- because he is a vampire. He is forced by a blood oath to obey the current President and his specific designee. In this case, that designee is Zach Barrows, who has taken over those duties from former FBI agent William Griffin.

Throw in Dr. Frankenstein, Zombies, and the quest for eternal youth, and you have the outlines of the plot of Blood Oath. There are factions within the President's administration who don't want Cade & Zach to stop the zombies, and who may even be trying to kill the two of them. This worries Zach a lot more than it does Cade, as he is much more killable than the vampire.

Rarely do I read a book just because of the premise, but this one was so compelling -- a vampire on the President's staff -- that I did pick it up on a whim. And I'm glad I did; it moved along quickly, the main characters were developed well, the horror elements were unsettling.

The story here is completed in the main part of the narrative, although an epilogue makes it clear that a sequel is in the works. I worry a bit about that, as there seemed to be a lot thrown into this adventure, and I wonder what is left for Cade to face in further stories, but I will be there to find out.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Longest. Audiobooks. Ever.

In my review of George RR Martin's A Dance With Dragon, I commented that it was the longest audiobook I had ever listened to. I decided to go back and research that assertion, and it turns out that I have listened to a number of long books. Among them are:

1. Atlas Shrugged, 57 hours. I listened to this one in 3 parts from the library, so even though I knew it was long, it didn't stick in my memory as being that long. I actually preferred The Fountainhead more, but am glad I tackled this one.

2. A Dance wih Dragons, 49 hours. Well, it may not have been the longest one I've ever read, but to be fair, it did sort of feel like it was.

3. Gone with the Wind, 49 hours. Another one that was broken into two parts by the library, so it surprised me that this one was in fact this long.

4. The Bear and the Dragon, 46 hours. For a while, Tom Clancy's works had fallen into the pattern of each one being longer than the one before. This one represents the peak of his verbosity. To give him credit, his books do move right along, and I even enjoy the techno-babble description stuff.

5. Don Quixote, 41 hours. This one is here on a technicality, as it includes both Part I and Part II of Cervante's work, which are regularly packaged as a single book. But Part II was released about 5 years after Part I, and even includes references and commentary on the public reaction to Part I. So not only is this the world's first modern novel, it is also the world's first post-modern novel. Anyway, I think it's more appropriate to consider this two books, and book and a sequel. But it's treated as one, so for purposes of this list, I am counting it as one.

6. Anna Karenina, 39 hours. The only of the Russian classics that I've read. Tolstoy is on my long-term list, which would certainly push this one further down the long-book list.

7. Stone of Tears, 39 hours. I am a huge fan of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, so I had to make the list long enough to include his longest book. But it's fantasy, so (like Martin), it's supposed to be a long book.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book #53

Take Time For Paradise, by A. Bartlett Giamatti. Paperback.

A revision of a book that came out shortly after Giamatti's 1989 death, this little work shows off the wide-ranging mind of the man who served a too-brief tenure as Commissioner of Major League Baseball. A Yale professor whose command of language is stunning, this ends up being an impressive melange of philosophy, poetry, and essay.

I say "little" because it takes a foreword and an afterword to get the manuscript over 100 pages. But this does not make for a quick read -- Giamatti takes on big topics, and does so with references to Blake, Shakespeare, and Aristotle. It is a challenge to read, but worth the effort. His meditation on the meaning of "home" in baseball, in the English language, and in literature, is worth the price of admission.

The book is basically three essays or speeches that Giamatti made. He covers the concept of "play" in the modern world, the role of "rules" in sports and in society, and the notion of the sports stadium as a miniature city. Although written more than two decades ago, and by a man from the "Ivory Tower," Giamatti's insights into the relationships between sport, society, and technology are insightful.

Again, not an easy read, but one that is certainly worth the effort.

Disclosure: I received this as an Advanced Reading Copy, from LibraryThing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

MY TEASERS:

"As a result, at night, when fully nourished, the subject has the strength of twenty men. Bench press equals four thousand pounds."

From Chapter 16 of Blood Oath, by Christopher Farnsworth. Part politcal thriller, part vampire novel. No. Really.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book #52


A Dance with Dragons, by George RR Martin. Unabridged audio.

Wow, that was a long wait. And for it, we got a long book. A really long book.

Yes, I know the first four were long, too, but my recollection is that a lot more happened in those books. This one had just a few events, at least as far as I could tell. There was a wedding, a trial, a revelation or two, and a major character death (which just for the record I don't think is permanent). Martin may have sprinkled in key facts and plot points amongst the rest of the novel, but at this point in the series, I doubt it. The characters and plot are firmly in place, and Martin seems to have a direction in mind for the overall story.

The strength of this book was the atmosphere. Snow is falling, and we are seeing the consequences of Winter coming. He have been warned in prior books that "Winter is coming," but this book finally showed us what this ominous warning may bode for the Seven Kingdoms and her inhabitants. There was a particularly emotional scene of a forced march and siege, and the changing weather had a definite effect on that strategy.

There was certainly some wonderfully-written scenes in here, and Martin has a firm control over his prose. And there were some interesting character moments in this volume, but the lack of major plot advancement disappointed me. But I am still a fan of the series, and my faith in Martin's ability to bring the series to a satisfying close has not been shaken.

I hope the wait for books 6 & 7 aren't as long as the wait for this one is. And perhaps if Martin produces the next manuscripts quicker, there will be a little more time for editing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read (audio actually for me)
Open to a random page (audio track)
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

MY TEASERS:

Occasionally they didn't bother with the tent; they just staked her to the ground.
-------------------------------------
"It is unwise to do other than what His Excellency desires."


From disc 15 of 20, of the unabridged version of Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind, a book in the Sword of Truth fantasy epic.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book #51


A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine. Unabridged audio.

A terrific YA author, Levine is best known for 1997's Ella Enchanted. Levine's latest is a mystery novel, although it does not stray too far from her fantasy works.

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner (actress) but luck is against her, as the rules for becoming an apprentice have changed, and she does not have the money required to gain an apprenticeship. She is saved from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who sells cooked meat skewers in the town square (fire-breathing comes in handy), as well as performing a range of services for the human citizens. Included in these odd-jobs are solving problems and finding things. By demonstrating her wit and charm, Elodie secures a position as the dragon's personal assistant, although her dream to act is still alive within her. The young girl is sent on a dangerous mission inside an ogre's castle, and she finds that her acting skills come in handy in solving a murder and facing down a deadly enemy.

This was a very fun read. All of the main characters are well-drawn and have their own perspectives and voices. The young girl proves to be an interesting narrator, and not always reliable. Levine proves herself to be a skilled mystery writer, with clues dropped in the right places, including a few red herrings. And Meenore and Elodie pull of a solid Holmes-and-Watson routine.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book #50

Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street, by Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, et. al. Graphic Novel.

In 2001, DC Comics rebooted the Catwoman title, and it became a hit. This volume collects the 4 back-up stories that re-introduced the character, as well as the first 4-issue arc of her own title. Selina Kyle was thought to be dead, and Catwoman "retired" at the same time. Not until someone begins to poke into the Kyle case does she feel the pull to put the costume back on and resume her career. Lots of female empowerment here, as well as serious butt-kicking.

From her very first appearance nearly seven decades ago, Catwoman has been a nuanced character, an anti-hero 50 years before Wolverine and the Punisher became hot properties. This "new" Catwoman works both sides of the street, doing a little breaking-and-entering (and maybe more) when necessary. Her cause is just in this first adventure, as she is works to track down a serial killer whose victims are not important enough for the Gotham police to pay attention.

I enjoyed the story here, and felt the characters were handled well and the scripting was strong. I am not in love with the art in these issues, although the redesigned Catwoman costume is terrific, especially the goggles. There was a bit of a cartoony vibe, almost manga, that didn't work with the noirish vibe of the stories. The page design was interesting, and there were certainly some very nice individual panels.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book #49

Why Catholics Are Right, by Michael Coren.

I heard Coren interviewed on a radio program, and the title was part of what intrigued me in the book. It is certainly provocative.

I am not a Catholic. I am mostly an evangelical, but I appreciate church history and the works of early Christians -- it's easy for us non-Catholics to forget the fact that every Christian for the first 1500 years of the church was a Catholic. I also recognize that Catholics bear the largest share of modern anti-Christian persecution. Protestant churches are generally too small and/or independent to present a united front in the same way that the Catholic Church can.

Coren's book is a defense of many of the things that Catholics are routinely criticized for, mostly in terms of history and culture, as well as the recent abuse scandal. Their is little theological debate here, as it is not a work of Catholic vs. Protestant apologetics, but rather Catholic vs. anti-Catholic. The Eucharist is addressed, as is the person of Mary, but the largest share of the book covers the role of the Church in history (Crusades, Galileo, Inquisition) and the church in modern culture (pro-life, the male priesthood, celibacy). The most fringe-est Protestant pastors may have hundreds of followers, or the biggest mega-church pastors may have thousands, but the Pope has more than a billion. The target on the Catholic Church is just that much bigger.

Coren's defense of the church's teaching is passionate, his writing is crisp, and his sense of what lies behind the criticisms is interesting. Coren has made his career in the television news business, and so has been on the "front lines" of the cultural issues of the last few decades. These experiences gives the book a practical feel, as theology can often turn towards the dry and academic.

As a Protestant (although I try to not call myself that) who has run into anti-Catholic feelings (mostly mild, but some quite sharp), I have long felt that the Catholic Church is often unfairly maligned. This book brought some of those feelings into sharp relief, and I learned some things from this book.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read (audio actually for me)
Open to a random page (audio track)
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

MY TEASERS:
"Was she you're wife? She was very beautiful."
---------------------------
The hull was creaking, the deck moving, and Pretty was squealing in distress."

From disc 22 of A Dance With Dragons, by George RR Martin, unabridged audio version.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book-Casts

I enjoy reading. I enjoy listening to podcasts. In a previous post, I discussed one combination of those interests, shorts stories and novels available via podcasts. In this post, I will look at another combination of those interests, podcasts about books.

A few of these relate to specific book properties, and a few are more general.

A Podcast of Ice and Fire. Dedicated to the George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, with episodes focusing on particular elements of the books, and also on an an ongoing re-read project. They did turn their attention to the HBO series based on the books ("A Game of Thrones") while it was airing, but they have since returned to discussing books. They are currently at the early stages of talking about Book #2, although the recently released Book #5 will be occupying their attention. Similar to the book series and the TV show, know that the podcast itself "can get quite base at times."

The Seeker Cast. Dedicated to the TV show "Legend of the Seeker," based on Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" fantasy series -- my favorite book series ever. Now that the TV show is done, the hosts have begun a re-read project of the books. The podcast episodes currently alternate between book re-read episodes and TV re-watch episodes. I have contributed feedback to the show a few times.

Paul the Book Guy. A new podcast, only 4 episodes in at this point. But the related blog is very well-developed, so I have confidence that the podcast will continue. They talk book news, review books and play clips from audio books (yay!). I do a lot of my "reading" via audiobooks, so I appreciate this inclusion. They cover a wide range of literary genres, but do seem to have a geeky bent.

The Sword and Laser. Veteran podcasters Tom Merritt (laser) and Veronica Belmont (sword) discuss fantasy and science fiction books. They have a great rapport, the sound quality is excellent, and they have a well-developed community on Goodreads. In addition to talking book news, they run a book club of sorts, alternating between SF & fantasy books. These selections have included both classic and modern books. They have landed some impressive interviews, as well.

The Dragon Page. Although on a summer hiatus, this is the "granddaddy of them all," stranding at well over 400 episodes. Hosts Michael R. Mennenga and Michael Stackpole do an excellent job discussing book news, including how the digital revolution is changing the industry. They do a regular "library" segment, talking about new fantasy and SF books, as well as having regular author interviews.

Literary Views. This podcast has gone on hiatus, the last show having been released a few months ago, but the blog is ongoing and excellent. The podcast is brief reviews of great books, with a "why you should read this" perspective. The host is a Christian, which informs his worldview, but his faith does not overwhelm his reviews.