Friday, August 31, 2012

Podcast marathon

No classes during the day + Not much on the DVR = PODCAST MARATHON DAY!

Here is some of what I listened to yesterday:

Dvorak Horowitz Unpplugged -- My favorite business/investing podcast. Columnist John C Dvorak and money manager Andrew Horowitz host. Quite good.

The Mighty Thorcast, episode 58. A married couple talking about Thor comic books, both old and new. They do a very good job.

No Agenda, live stream. Clearly deserving of the self-awarded title "Best Podcast in the Universe!" John C. Dvorak (again) and Adam Curry (formerly of MTV and many other things) host this off-kilter view of politics and current events.

The Newb 52 podcast, episode 2, Part 1. A pair of British hosts, newcomers to comic books, jumped on to DC Comics "New 52" last year, and have recently decided to podcast about it.

Judge John Hodgman, Gavelbangers Ball episode. Comic and author John Hodgman renders "justice" in cases that are brought to him. This case involves metal music, and the strain it can cause in a relationship.

The Sports Retort -- The Wall Street Journal's twice-per-week sports podcast. I listen to only a few sports podcasts, because it is a hard subject to cover well in the play-on-demand model. But this is one of the best sports podcasts around.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book #48

Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, by Larry Tye. Unabridged audio.

This book covers the history of Superman in all his forms. Tye discusses Siegel and Shuster's creation of the hero in comic books, and his eventual success in almost every other medium. The darker days for the character are also discussed, including the comic scares of the 1950s and the sad final days of TV's first Superman, George Reeves. The Christopher Reeve tragedy is handled well.

The coverage of both the Lois & Clark and Smallville television shows was strong. Tye's coverage of the Death of Superman storyline from the early nineties was very interesting, bringing back my pleasant memories of one the high-water marks in modern comic storytelling. This storyline is currently being covered very well on the From Crisis to Crisis podcast, so I have been rereading many issues from that era.

One consistent throughline in this book is the long-running legal struggles between DC Comics and Siegel and Shuster, and then eventually the creator's estates. Tye does not specifically take one side in the dispute, but gives enough details from both sides of the dispute (or the many disputes) for the reader to make an informed decision. This dispute has been something that I have paid attention to over the years, but Tye's discussion clarified many of the issues for me.

This is one case where as big a fan as I am of audiobooks, and of narrator Scott Brick in particular, something was lost by not having the physical book in my hands. My understanding is that the print version contains a number of very nice illustrations and photographs, and I regret that I missed these by taking in the book in the format that I did.

Cross-posted to the Book Guys Show website.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

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 120 of The Child Who, a  terrific (so far) novel by Simon Lelic: "Leo looked: at the policeman beside him, then back at the window. He expected to see his assailant, the plank of wood on its downward path."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Book Guys promo pic!

That's me on the left, as Doctor Doom! 

Now that new episodes of the podcast are coming out regularly, Paul thought it was about time to get some new album art (and possibly an animation, from what I hear).

Friday, August 24, 2012

Comic Book Review

All-Star Western 4-6.  Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, art by Moritat.
Still in Gotham after the events of issues 1-3, Jonah Hex (still accompanied by psychologist Dr. Amadeus Arkham) is hired for a large amount of money to find a missing boy. This turns into a larger child labor plot, ending after an issue-long action sequence in a large cave under Wayne Manor. A cave that contained bats. Lots and lots of bats.
Jonah survives the child labor adventure, and at the end of issue 6, there is still one loose end for him to work on. This situation sends Hex (without Dr. Arkham, it would seem) to New Orleans for the next story arc. I am looking forward to issue 7, having been greatly satisfied by the storytelling of the first six. The trade paperback collecting the first six issues is scheduled to come out in October.
Again, Moritat's art style fits the story beautifully. His unique drawings (and the unusual coloring techniques used) make it clear that the stories are not taking place in modern times. The very muted palate gives the entire issue an appropriately old-fashioned look.
Each of these issues contained an 8-page backup story, also written by Gray & Palmiotti and drawn by Phil Winslade, featuring the Barbary Ghost. Yan Mei is a woman on a search for vengeance in San Francisco in 1878. Moving from China to the West Coast of America in search of a better life, Mei finds the Chinese mob firmly entrenched when she and her mother arrive. After members of her family are killed by the mob, she seeks revenge in the guise of a ghost. Over the course of the story, she does find her vengeance, but her mother disappears, giving her a reason to continue her journey.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Comic Book Review

All-Star Western 1-3.  Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, art and covers by Moritat.

One of the nice things about DC's "New 52" initiative was that they included a number of non-superhero titles in the mix, including a relaunch of their All-Star Western title, featuring bounty hunter Jonah Hex. This iteration of Hex finds the man back East, working in 1880s Gotham City.

The story arc that takes place in the first 3 issues is narrated by Dr. Amadeus Arkham. The psychologist teams with the bounty hunter to solve a string of murders of prostitutes. "The Gotham Butcher" case becomes personal to Hex when the crime scene of the sixth victim includes a personal message for Hex. This attempt to scare off the bounty hunter fails (of course), and adventure ensues.

It turns out that the civic leaders of Gotham are behind the crimes, as part of their twisted Crime Bible religion, as followers of Cain, the first biblical murderer. Included in this list of villains is Mayor Cobblepot, one of the many name-checks in this first set of issues. Setting this first batch of issues in Gotham was a controversial choice, but I think it works, putting Hex in a "fish out of water" situation for his first "new 52" adventure.
I am not an artist or an art critic, so I hesitate to describe Moritat's work, beside saying that it is very strong. The washed-out style is unique, giving these books a distinctive feel. His work sets an appropriate atmosphere for these stories.

Issues 2 & 3 include a backup story featuring El Diablo, a vigilante with a vaguely supernatural origin. This story, also written by Gray & Palmiotti and drawn by Jodi Bernet, is a more traditional western, taking place in the untamed territories. The character has within him a spirit of vengeance that is activated when he is asleep (or knocked unconscious). This sixteen-page tale was fun, setting the scene for potential future El Diablo stories.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Podcast Review - Arse2Mouse

The English Premier League soccer season has just begun, and after a summer hiatus, the Arse2Mouse podcast is also back. This is an excellent fan show by and for supporters of the North London squad, Arsenal, of which I am one. Two Englishmen and an American host this monthly show, reviewing past matches, analyzing strategy, complaining about the coach, and looking forward to future matches. The podcast feed just released their 2012/13 season preview episode.

The hosts are very knowledgeable about the game, and are major fans of the squad. The passion that is on display in this podcast accurately expresses the discouragement, disappointment and occasional joy that is part of being an Arsenal supporter.

Sports podcasts often do not work for me, despite being a fan. The time-delayed nature of podcasting runs counter to the timely nature of sports talk and sports news. Sports podcasts often become "stale" after just a few days. But the monthly nature of this show creates an atmosphere where this does not take place. This show takes a longer-term view, so the time-delay nature of podcast listening does not hinder enjoyment of this show as it may others that focus on just the latest news or yesterday's match.

On the other hand, a strength of podcasting is that it allows for programming to niche markets. And this podcast is for an extremely small niche (sports fans, narrowed to fans of English soccer, narrowed further to fans of one particular team). But if you are in this small group, or are interested in this group, Ares2Mouse is a terrific podcast.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book #47

The Pirate King, by Laurie R. King. Unabridged audio.

I have read (listened to the audio, actually) every Mary Russell novel. There have been a few that I liked less than others, but in general, this is an excellent series. These novels represent one of my favorite expansions of the Holmes universe.

In this story, Sherlock Holmes' secretive brother Mycroft conspires to send his sister-in-law Mary Russell to the set of a pirate movie. Working undercover as a secretary to the filmmaker, she investigates a series of crimes that may be related to the production team. Desiring reality the crew, along with a dozen teenaged Englishwomen, head to Portugal to begin filming. They find themselves housed in luxury while the producers make plans to begin filming. But it slowly dawns on Russell that they may have in fact been kidnapped. And that is where the adventure starts.

Despite the fact Russell and Holmes are separated for various parts of the novel, you do get the idea that they are working together, as Holmes' shadow hovers over the portions of the novel when Russell is working solo. And (this is not a spoiler) when Holmes does arrive on the scene, the danger and action heats up nicely.

The characterization of both Russell and Holmes, and of their relationship, are very strong. This is an imaginative series, and this particular novel does not disappoint.
As always, Jenny Stirlin does a terrific job narrating this book.

Cross-posted to the Book Guys website.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book #46

White Tiger: A Hero's Compulsion, by Tamora Pierce, Timothy Liebe, Phil Brione, et. el. Graphic Novel.

I am a huge fan of the animated Ultimate Spider-Man series, featuring teenage versions of Spidey, Nova, Power Man, Iron Fist, and White Tiger. The only one of these five I was not familiar with was White Tiger, so when I saw this trade paperback collection, I picked it right up. This reprint was produced in 2007, collecting the series' only six issues.

Angela del Toro comes from a crime-fighting family. A former FBI agent herself, her brother works for the NYPD and her uncle was formerly the White Tiger. She anonymously received the mysterious power amulet, and it transforms her into the new White Tiger, under the tutelage of Daredevil. 
Angela's friends include Luke Cage (PowerMan),  Danny Rand (Iron First), and their portions of the story are among its best moments, both in terms of the plot moving forward and developing Angela's character.  There was history to the character that I did not bring to this story, but I felt that Pierce did a good job making that backstory a vital part of this story.

This adventure finds White Tiger in a street-level fight against an American arm of the Yakuza. Japan's crime organization has brought blank passports and ID's into New York City, and Angela needs to stop these before they are distributed throughout the underworld. She faces numerous dangers, including a few run-ins with the Lizard and Cobra. There was an action sequence stretching over issues 5 & 6 involving a waterproof and a battle with the Lizard that was terrific. The final fight, where White Tiger is joined by Power Man, Iron Fist, Spider-Man, and Black Widow, is also very strong. Despite the multiple heroes in these scenes, White Tiger is never pushed to the side. This is her story, and the eventual victory is rightly hers.

Tamora Pierce is a best-selling YA fantasy author, and she brings her novelist's ear for inner dialogue to this, her only effort in comic books. I thought her work here was solid, and would be interested in reading anything else she brought to the medium.

Cross-posted to the Book Guys site.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Guys Episode 044

After a nice summer break, we recorded a new episode of the Book Guys Show podcast. Me, Sir Jimmy, and Paul the Book Guy talked about The Life of Pi, comic books and the Apple podcast app. We talked to Richard Goodship, author of The Camera Guy, Father Robert Ballecer, host of This Week In Enterprise Technology on the TWiT network, and author Kimanzi Constable.

You can find episode 044 on iTunes and here, on the Book Guys website.

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 3 of The Pirate King, a "Mary Russell" novel by Laurie R. King: "That at any rate was how Lestrade remembered it. However, knowing the House of Lords and its fondness for meddling in the affairs of those who actually work for a living, I thought it equally possible that Lestrade had been handed the plan ready-made."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Guys hiatus is (maybe?) over!

After a nice summer break, it looks like the Book Guys Podcast will be back -- we are planning on recording an episode tomorrow!

Check this space -- I will post when the episode is done, and available on iTunes!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Web-Comic Review: Ace Kilroy

I usually don't review webcomics, but this one has a podcast connection -- half of the creative team is Rob Kelly, co-host of the excellent Fire and Water Podcast.

Kelly & co-creator Dan O'Connor launched Ace Kilroy on Halloween 2011, and his second season (adenture) began on August 6, after a brief summer hiatus.

The strip takes place in 1937, focusing on the adventures of decorated WWI veteran Ace Kilroy, now a working as a soldier of fortune. When FDR hears of Hitler's plans to use monsters in his war efforts, the troubled president commissions Kilroy to investigate. The first season saw Kilroy fighting in Transylvania, and features a terrific blend of historical fiction, pulp adventure, and supernatural fantasy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these strips.

The second season has just started, but it seems to be leading him headlong into a Frankenstein confrontation. I asusme that the Mummy and Werewolves are on the horizon.

I love the format for this webcomic. During an active "season" (adventure), a black-and-white installment is published every day in traditional 3-panel newspaper format. But the sunday installment of the strip is an exrta-large color strip. This format is a perfect fit for the style and content of the strip. This really hits me right in my nostalgia.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book #45

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

A priest is killed in a distinctly non-priestly location. Detective Nikki Heat opens her investigation, and immediately notes a range of strange occurrences, including interference and stonewalling from her supervisor. Her investigation puts both her career and life in jeopardy. The novel includes dirty cops, a Hollywood scandal, and Central American human rights activists.

Knowing the way these books reflect broadly what happened during the related "Castle" TV season, there is a character death that will not come as a surprise to fans of the show. The specifics differ, as the books are not novelizations of the show, but as a fan of the show, the death was not a surprise. 

The plot was strong, and the revelation of the "big bad" behind the crime was a surprise. The handling of this character was very well done, and final shootout was dramatic. The "ruggedly handsome" line and a reference to Mal Reynolds were both laugh out loud moments, and there are other parts of levity throughout, a nice counterpoint to the core tension of the novel.

As always, Heller does an excellent job characterizing the different people in the book. His tough New York accent is perfect for a story like this. And for the characters who are analogs for the TV show characters, Heller is able to bring similar intonation to his reading. Not impersonations by any means, but it is clear that he is familiar to the characters on the TV show. 

This is a very good book, and an outstanding audiobook.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Book #44

The Four Streams, by John Eldredge. Unabridged audio.

I listened to this audiobook as this year's "Virtual Class" via the Daily Audio Bible iTunes feed.
In this teaching, Eldredge teaches on the "streams" of counseling, discipleship, warfare, and healing that the Holy Spirit uses in our lives. To clarify, he uses the word "counseling" to mean walking with the Comforter, not specifically getting therapy.

I have not read any Eldredge before, and his style is generally not one that resonates with me. Teaching based on one's personal experience is not as meaningful to me as teaching based on Scripture, and these teachings do occasionally fall into this style. Certainly personal experience is useful as examples, to make a point, but it seems that Eldredge sometimes goes the other way around. But that having been said, I think the core teaching of the streams is valid, and will be helpful for many people.

I do have a fundamental issue with his "your heart is good" teaching, which is the basis of most of his writings, and perhaps his ministry as a whole. But again, I'm glad that I stretched myself to experience this teaching, and I was able to glean valuable information.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book #43

The Red Necklace, by Sally Gardner. Unabridged audio.

Novels about the French Revolution tend to be pretty intense -- the mobs, the guillotines, these are not the lightest of topics. But when you throw in magical gypsies and make it a YA novel, you have my attention. That's exactly what Sally Gardner does here.

In 1789, the orphaned Yann is being raised by the strange dwarf TĂȘtu, and the two of them work for Topolain the magician. On the night of the magician's death, Yann meets the lonely heiress Sido. Their brief encounter changes the paths of both of their lives.

Sido and her wealthy father are accused of treason against the Revolution, in the person of the devilish Count Kalliovsky, who is involved in a mysterious secret society. By the end of the novel, when their paths cross again, Yann has discovered the powers that come with his gypsy heritage. He sets out to rescue Sido, and the pair fights the power of the Count to rescue Sido's father. 

The setting in Revolution-era France adds color and drama to the novel, ramping up the adventure. The bizarre mix of historical fiction and magical adventure make for a fascinating albeit somewhat unsettling read.

The audio version of the novel is excellent, with Tom Hiddleston (known as Loki in Thor and the Avengers) doing a fantastic job bringing this vibrant cast of characters to life.