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 As a writer who specializes in unpublished novels, creativity and writing are topics I enjoy listening about.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.