Tuesday, October 30, 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 8 of Hell's Bay, by James W. Hall:
"A hundred yards downstream she turned and looked back and he was still standing in the shallows watching her go. After a moment, he swatted at a bug near his ear, then turned back to his pine shack. She traveled almost an hour downstream before her killer appeared."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book #57

Viper Pilot, by Dan Hampton. Hardcover.
While serving in the USAF, Lt. Col. Dan Hampton flew over 150 combat missions, earning himself multiple Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Purple Heart, among other honors. Known as "Two Dogs," Hampton was a top F-16 aviator. This is his memoir of his time in the service.

Hampton writes a little about his upbringing, and touches on his father's career as a flyer. He then moves quickly into his own Air Force pilot training, and we see exactly why so many trainees wash out of the intense program. Much of Hampton's active flying career took place in the Middle East, receiving an injury in the Khobar Towers attack and flying in the 1991 liberation of Kuwait. He returned to the area in 2003, fighting in Iraq. The chapter "Sandstorm" details a few of his missions over Baghdad, showing the reader how difficult it is to fight in desert conditions.

Hampton was in the US in September 2001, and the chapter on his responsibilities the days after 9/11 was riveting. He captures the fear and uncertainty that was abroad in the land in those first few days after the attacks. In addition to detailing his own experience, Hampton also includes some of his own commentary about military and political affairs. He has strong things to say about general officers (that many of them are power-hungry egotists), with Wesley Clark coming in for particularly harsh criticism. He also worries that reliance on drones will weaken the long-term flight capabilities of the military.

The actual writing on display in Viper Pilot is very strong. Hampton is able to mix in enough moments of levity (many at the expense of the French) to ease the tension that is present throughout most of the book. His ability to bring the reader into the cockpit and to give a sense of what it feels like to fly 1,000 miles per hour makes the book very readable. There is a little bit of military jargon thrown into the book, but the glossary in the back is there for readers who may not be familiar with the terminology.

Note: I received this book directly from the publisher in preparation for an interview we conducted with the author on the Book Guys Show. We spoke with the author on episode 056 of the podcast, and he was as interesting to talk to as it was to read his book.


Friday, October 26, 2012

NEW 52 Review: Wonder Woman



Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood, hardcover. Issues 1-6, by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Tony Akins. 

I love Brian Azzarello's groundbreaking noir crime series 100Bullets. It was the first thing I read on my return to comics a few years back, and it was a terrific way to come back to the hobby. When I heard that he was tasked to write Wonder Woman in the New 52, I was intrigued. Azzarello has a history of writing great street-level stories, but Wonder Woman has always been written as more of cosmic character. Azzarello can handle crime and conspiracy, this I knew: but could he handle gods and titans?

The human woman Zola is impregnated by Zeus, and then crosses paths with Diana, whom Zola recognizes as Wonder Woman, but who wants to simply be called Diana. Zeus disappears from existence, and his throne is up for grabs. Poseidon, Hera, and Hippolyta all want the throne. Diana finds herself caught in the middle of this complex family drama, as her status as the secret daughter of Hippolyta & Zeus has just come to light. And Zola, a human woman carrying an heir of Zeus, may be the key to settling this dispute. 

Azzarello shows that he is skilled in handling the melodramatic nature of a story involving personifications of war and strife, of Hermes and centaurs. Nearly all of the action in these six issues takes place in our earth, and this helps ground the stories. The actions of the mythical characters do reflect human behaviors of greed, envy, and jealousy, and Azzarello knows how to write these "human" characteristics into the most non-human of characters.

Cliff Chiang's character designs are impressive -- Wonder Woman's costume is modern and strong, although I preferred the original long-pants version. Hera, Strife, and Hermes are particularly well thought-out designs. His panel layouts are not predictable, and enabling him to match the size of the panel with the importance of the action contained therein.

This book represents what DC's New 52 initiative was supposed to do -- it resets a character's history, storyline, and supporting characters. This first batch of issues lays the groundwork for some potentially fascinating stories. For as long as Wonder Woman has been around, there have been very few sustained iconic runs in her publishing history. But as long as this creative team stays together, this book has a chance to do just that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Guys updates -- interviews!

We have done some exciting interviews the last few episodes of the Book Guys podcast. Go to the website or check us out on iTunes:

Episode 53: We talked to author Steve Bergsman about his book The Death of Johnny Ace, a biography of an R&B singer from the very early days of Rock and Roll. I was actually not on this show, but I must admit, I enjoyed listening to it!

Episode 55: We had two interviews in this episode. We spoke with Allen Dusk about his gritty new novel Shady Palms novel, and about his creative process. We also talked with a father-and-son writing team, Brian D. Anderson and Jonathan Anderson, authors of The Godling Chronicles series. They talked about their new fantasy novel, the first in the series, The Sword of Truth. Their second novel is coming out soon, and I think we have them lined up for another interview.

Episode 56: Dan Hampton joined us for a talk about his 20-year career flying F-16s in the USAF. His story is detailed in his memoir Viper Pilot. A review is coming soon to this very blog!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Books-in-Progress

I was looking at my Goodreads account recently, and noted that I had 7 books in the "currently reading" category. Since this seemed like a large number, I thought I'd list them here, and describe how each landed on the in-progress list.

First, the two books that are related to my duties as a co-host on the Book Guys podcast:

(1) Viper Pilot, by Dan Hampton. We are planning to interview the author in a few weeks, and the good people at HarperCollins sent all us hosts hardcover copies to read beforehand. I am almost finished with this one, and will knock it out in a few days. The author is a retired fighter pilot, and this is a memoir of his 20 years in the USAF.

(2) Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card. We had a very good discussion about Ender's Game, and we all decided to read this one, to discuss it at some point in the future. I am almost done (on disc 11 of 13 in the unabridged audio), and I think I will be the last of us hosts to finish it.

And onward to my non-podcast directed reading.

(3) Hell's Bay, by James W. Hall. I had just started this hardcover when Viper Pilot arrived, so I had ot put this one off. Will pick it up again by the end of the week.

(4) The Simon and Kirby Superheroes. A huge hardcover collection of non-DC and non-Marvel superhero comics from the olegendary team (and creators of Captain America) Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. I am reading this piecemeal, and writing retro-reviews on this site of groups of the stories. So this is intentiaonally a slow-go.

(5) The Gods of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is the e-book I am currently working on. I don't read a ton on my NookColor, but I always have one going, usually (like this one) downloaded from Project Gutenberg. As the holidays approach, and I spend more time in airports and planes, I will make progress on this one.

(6) Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind. I am listening to this one with my daughter, and we will pick it up again over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. It's a long book, so it will stay on this list for a long time.

(7) Swords of the Six, by Scott Appleton. This one really shouldn't be here, because I have actually finished it. But I read it to review on the Spirit Blade podcast and blog, and I can't post the review here until it has been posted there. And since I link my Goodreads review to my blog post here, I won't take it off my currently-reading list until I post the review here, which is after the review appears on that podcast.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book #56

Green Lantern: Sleepers, Book 3, by  Christopher J. Priest.

The final book in the Sleepers trilogy focuses on the character of Hal Jordan, both in his role as a Green Lantern, but more so in his role as the Spectre, God's right hand of vengeance. Despite being a Green Lantern series, Hal Jordan as human and Hal Jordan as Spectre probably take up more pages in the book than Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. This is an interesting choice.

This book does bring closure to the storyline of the "Sinestro rings" that was the major plot in books one and two. Multiple Sinestro rings appear in this novel, bringing the action to a head, after the action followed only one ring in the prior books. And the stars of the prior books, Kyle Raynor and Alan Scott, are very involved in this novel. Even the other 2 Earth-based GLs appear, Guy Gardner and John Stewart, as do a whole host of DC heroes, many of whom turn into Sinestros. This plot point allows for many awesome fight scenes, as heroes who have not turned into Sinestros are forced into action-packed confrontations with heroes who have been turned into Sinestro.

Priest manages to capture the arrogance of Hal Jordan, both before and after his stint as the Spectre. As a heavy reader of DC comics, I think that this aspect of Jordan is often overlooked, as other characters are thought of as arrogant or jerks, but Jordan's actions often put him in this category, as well. This novel captures these flaws in Jordan, making him the unsympathetic hero that I think he is.

As always, the Graphic Audio edition of this DC book is terrific. The voice acting is solid, and the sound effects and musical cues do their job of enhancing the experience.

This review is cross-posted to the Book Guys.

Tuesday, October 16, 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 disk 6 of the unabridged version of Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card:
"But Bean's project wasn't to analyze Wiggin out of scientific curiosity,or to compete with him, or even to understand him. It was to make himself into the kind of child the teachers would trust, would rely on, would regard as fully human."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Retro Review: Stuntman #3 (and unpublished)


The post-war comic book boom faced its inevitable bust. Harvey Comics' Stuntman book (created by comics legends Joe Simon & Jack Kirby) was cancelled after only two issues. Issue #3 (October 1946) went out only to mail subscribers, and then only in black-and-white. These stories, along with a few unpublished tales, only found themselves published in full color years later in Simon & Kirby collected editions.
Actor (and amateur detective) Don Daring, his movie stand-in Fred Drake, and actress Sandra Sylvan are good friends who manage to get into a variety of troubles. When needed, Drake is able to sneak away, returning to save his friends as costumed hero The Stuntman. This template of storytelling may have had a finite number of possible tales, but they were far away from reaching that limit when the book ended.
By issue #3, the pattern of these stories was well established, and the combination of mystery, action, and humor that Simon brought to these is terrific. There was a story of a "rehabilitation center" for criminals, where they could go to rest and relax, which was such a great concept.
The previously-unpublished work includes a pair of 2-page spreads for stories that were not completed (or at least have never been discovered) and a story whose art was completed by a staff worker. It is in this comparison with another artist's work that Jack Kirby's style appears most distinct and original.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Podcast marathon

I gave my students the day "off" today to study for their Midterm ... meaning all I had to do today was sit around the house with my earbuds in!  Here is what I listened to:

Dvorak Horowitz Unplugged: Probably the best business / investing podcast out there.

Tony Kornheiser Show: A (mostly) sports show based out of Washington, DC.

Superman Fan Podcast, #241: Host Billy Hogan does a grat job covering comics from the Silver Age era. In this episode, he talked about a pair of books from April 1958.

Arsenal Review USA podcast: This is  show dedicated to the English football squad (soccer team) Arsenal. This episode covered the games the team played last week against Olympiakos and West Ham, both 3-1 wins.

The Tolkien Professer: I discovered this excellent show from literature professor Corey Olsen a few months ago, and have started the long process of "catching up." This episode was the 3rd in the "Silmarillion Seminar" sub-series.

Tuesday, October 9, 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 the prologue of Viper Pilot, by Dan Hampton. This is a memoir of his career as a fighter pilot: "Then two of the trucks at the back of the convoy blew up. Zipping down the road at a bare hundred feet, I booted the rudder, rolled again, and zoomed up to about 300 feet."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

NEW 52 Review: Animal Man




Animal Man Volume 1: The Hunt, paperback. Issues 1-6, by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman.

With Spider-Man's marriage gone, and Superman rebooted as a young and single, there are few true family stories in comics. Animal Man is one of them, as Buddy Baker's main priority is the safety of his wife Ellen, son Cliff and daughter Maxine. Throughout his careers as stunt man, superhero, and actor, his family is the only thing that matters to him.

Buddy is able to tap into "The Red," the mysterious life-force all around us that all animals are a part of. He is able to manifest any animal-based power, such as a bird's ability to fly, a rhino's tough hide, or a cheetah's speed. But something is very wrong in the life force, and only Animal Man can fix it. Actually, only the four-year-old Maxine can fix it. The first five issues tell the story of the Baker family's first battle against "The Rot," the evil force trying to destroy the Red and bring its destruction to the rest of the world. Issue #6 tells the story of the movie that Buddy is promoting in issue #1, albeit with a clever framing device that sets the story after issue #5.

This series of issues leaves a few questions unanswered, and the family is heading out to find Alec Holland, aka Swamp Thing. I do not know to what extent these books cross over, but I will continue to read this storyline, whichever title it takes place in.

Travel Foreman brings a very refreshing style to this book. There are very few pages that have a traditional bordered panel layout. Instead, Foreman uses diagonals, small and large panel, and odd angles and shapes to create a book that is visually disconcerting. The colorist and letterer add to this by giving us very unusual visuals, as well.

These artistic choices complement the dark, nightmarish nature of the story. This title was part of "The Dark" line of the New 52, books with supernatural or mature themes. This one definitely fits that criteria, especially the scene where  young Maxine demonstrates her own animal-based powers, by bringing back to life the skeletal remains of family pets buried in the Baker's backyard. So even though this is a book about family, it is not a book for the whole family.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book #55



Last Call, by Tim Powers. Unabridged audio.

This novel has some of the trappings of a traditional fantasy story. There is a fight for a crown between warring factions, family debts that need to be repaid, and vengeance to be meted out along the way. There are creatures with strange powers, including the power of body-jumping.

But Last Call does not take place in a faraway make-believe world, because this is not a typical tale of epic fantasy. The setting is the Las Vegas of today, and the characters are immersed in the world of card-playing. And the crown that is being sought is that of the Arthurian Fisher-King. And the battlefield is the mysterious game "Assumption," a bizarre blend of poker and tarot. To some, the game is about gambling and winning sums of money. But to some, it is about claiming the souls of opponents. The mix of tarot and poker is intriguing, as it brings to the surface questions of randomness and chance, along with those of fate and destiny. One can cheat at cards, but can one cheat fate?

This book lies somewhere in the murky world between the genres of "urban fantasy" and "magical realism." There is powerful magic, but only a few people in our world recognize what is happening. Most of the world is unaware of this battle, and the consequences that the world may face depending on who wins the crown. There is a love story, but that is a subplot -- the main thrust of the narrative is the Fisher-King battle, tied into the poker-playing drama. But the plot-centric nature of the story does not mean that character development is lost. Powers does a fine job giving us moments of character development along with keeping the plot moving.

There have been modern takes on the Fisher King, such as C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, Susan Cooper's The Grey King (from the Dark is Rising Sequence), and Matt Wagner's comic book Mage, and this is an excellent one. Actor Bronson Pinchot does a find job narrating the audio version of this book.