Thursday, January 31, 2013

January Reading List

So far, what I've read this year:

 5. Take Three (ua), by Karen Kingsbury
 4. Mary Through The Centuries (hc), by Jaroslav Pelikan
 3. Roil (ua), by Trent Jamieson
 2. The Devil You Know (ua), by Mike Carey
 1. Ender's Shadow Ultimate Collection (gn), by Mike Carey, Sebastian Fiumara, and Guilia Brusco. Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New 52 Review: Resurrection Man

Resurrection Man, volume 1: Dead Again. Issues 1-7, by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, and Fernando Dagnino.    

Mitch Shelley can't die. That is to say, he can't stay dead. He always wakes up a short time after each death, alive and possessing a different super power than last time he died and resurrected. Each power comes with a particular drive to be in a particular place at a particular time, to aid a particular person. Mitch's memory only stretches back a few years, and in these first two arcs, he struggles to discover the source of his power.

The nature of this story -- life and death, resurrection -- does raise religious issues, and I give Abnett and Lanning credit for spending the first four issues dealing with this. Shelley is tracked down by both Heaven and Hell, or at least really hot lady angel beings representing Heaven and Hell. The Angel Suriel is coordinating the efforts  to deliver his overdue soul to Heaven. There is no resolution to this part of the story, which I hope gets resolved in the next batch of issues -- especially since this book was canceled after 13 issues (including the special #0 issue). The cancellation was not a surprise, as Diamond Distribution reported sales figure for issue #7 of just over 15,000 copies, more than a 60% drop from issue #1.
The angelic creatures disappear after Mitch doesn't actually die at the end of their battle, and somehow gets himself transferred to Arkham Asylum. His claims of an ability to die and return with a new power are greeted, as one would expect, as the ravings of a madman. Arkham immediately puts Shelley (who does not appear in any world database) under suicide watch, and he finds himself for the first time unable to die -- he is protected too well to die. But he manages to take advantage of a prison break to escape, to then be heroic, and to escape. Issue 7 ends at a nice point, bringing to a satisfactory conclusion that story arc.
The best art in these issues is on the covers. The first six issues had covers by the great Aquaman (and now Justice League) team of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Rod Reis. Fernando Dagnino does a fine job on the interiors, but the strength of these issues for me were the stories, and the art does nothing to distract from that.

Source: public library.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book #4

Mary Through The Centuries, by Jaroslav Pelikan.

I am a little late in writing this, as I usually try to read a book like this (about Jesus or Mary, or the Christmas story) around Christmas, but to be fair, this book is not a quick read. This is not to say that this is a book written solely for scholars, but it is clearly a book written by a scholar.

Jaroslav Pelikan is a retired historian from Yale, and he brings his scholarly mind to the topic of the Virgin Mary. This book traces the extent of her importance in theology, in history, and in the arts. He makes a strong case that Mary is the most influential and inspiration woman who ever lived. He contends that despite a general lessening of religious influence in the modern world in the last century, Mary's influence remains as strong as ever, and may even be growing. As Pelikan says in the last chapter, "It is impossible to understand the history of Western spirituality and devotion without paying attention to the place of the Virgin Mary."

He contends that considerations of Mary has continually driven theological development. Basic Christian doctrines (to Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox) such as original sin, grace, and the dual natures of Christ all had to deal with Mary's position, either as example or exception. She has continued to have a role in post-Reformation Catholicism, as doctrines such as Mary's Immaculate Conception have been made dogma by Rome. Mary even had a role in affirming the doctrine of Papal infallibility.

The chapter on Mary's portrayal in the Quran is especially interesting, as the chapters covering the Virgin's appearances in literary works of Dante, Spenser, and Goethe. I struggled with parts of these chapters, as they revolve around some literary works that I am less familiar with (in the case of Spenser, not familiar with at all). But Pelikan never lets himself get lost in the academic nature of these discussions. He is able to bring the discussion back to his main point of demonstrating the Virgin's continual relevance to these works of art, and how these works of art reflected theological views, and perhaps even fostered theological views. 

Each chapter begins with a full-page piece of black-and-white art, that Pelikan later references in the chapter. In addition, there are 16 color pages of beautiful Marian art, including works by Fra Angelico, El Greco and Salvador Dali. These also help the book seem less academic, giving the reader a visual cue as to the content of the chapter.

I enjoyed this book very much, and expect to look into Pelikan's earlier, similar work on the life of Jesus. Perhaps next Christmas.

Source: public library.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Year for Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is one of my two favorite fictional characters (the other one is not material to this blog post). I read all the short stories when I was young, and then tackled the novels a few years later. I have a beautiful one-volume hardback of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, with an introduction by Christopher Morley. This must have been a gift, probably from my parents. I still have that copy.

Holmes' adventures have been extrapolated upon, modernized, and expanded perhaps more than any other character in the last 100 years. Some of these have intrigued me for whatever reason, and some of these have not.
I have decided that I am going to re-read as many of the 56 stories and 4 novels that I can manage this year, and write about them here on the blog. I am also going to write a short series of posts over the year about some of my favorites (and maybe not so) adaptations and expansions of Holmes.
I could say that this "Year of Holmes" is to honor the 100th anniversary of the publication of the story "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" in the Strand. Or perhaps the 99th anniversary of the beginning of the serialization of The Valley of Fear, the last Holmes novel to be published.
But no. It's just that I just thought of it a few days ago, and it is still early enough in the year to make such a proclamation and plans.

This series will in no way be comprehensive, and will simply reflect the random choices that I have made over the years in seeking out Holmes and Holmes-related stories. Maybe I will even talk about the ones that I have avoided.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book #3

Roil, by Trent Jamieson. Unabridged audio.

This was a frustrating novel for me. The book has some definite strong points -- the premise is unique, the world-building and setting is impressive, and the lead characters have great potential. But the plot, and aspects of the writing, fell short of what I was hoping for.
Eight of the world's twelve metropolises have been consumed by the Roil. The huge storm, a mix of atmospheric turmoil and frightening monsters, is expanding, and it is up to the world's last humans to fight back. The humans use their ingenuity to build weapons and machines of a vaguely steampunk nature to fight the Roil, but its reach seems relentless. The machines and weapons that inhabit the world -- the partially organic airplanes, endothermic guns, floating citites and huge steam trains -- are incredibly fun to read about.

The three main POV characters -- a drug addict, a revenge-seeking woman, and a man who may be thousands of years old -- are all edgy and non-heroic, and these aspects fit this world well. But the process of bringing this ragtag band together seems a little slow, and I confess that I had trouble paying attention to what was happening, especially for the first two-thirds of the novel.

I am a "plot first" reader, so these weaknesses were especially frustrating to me. But readers who focus on premise, or setting, or characters, are more likely to find Roil an enjoyable read.

Source: From Brilliance Audio, via the Book Guys podcast.

Monday, January 21, 2013

20-Minute Longbox is Back!

Making an early run for the coveted "Back From The Dead Award," Stephen Lacey has released a new episode (#27) of the excellent 20-Minute Longbox podcast, after a 5-month hiatus. The "hook" of this show is that Steve uses a randomizer to select a comic from his collection, and then reviews it in less than 20 minutes.

I enjoy having podcasts of different lengths on my iPod, including nice bite-sized episodes like the ones that come down this feed. With both Thomas Deja and Tom Katers greatly reducing (or ceasing) the production of their comic book shows, 20-Minute Longbox is one of the few comics shows I listen to that fits into this short-form category.

Steve's target in episode 27 was Supergirl #48, written by Sterling Gates and drawn by Fernando Dagnino. The villain was Silver Banshee, and Steve liked the issue well enough. I was glad to have a new episode of this show, and hope that there are many more to come in 2013. I understand that Steve's other projects, including the excellent long-form show The Fantasticast (reviewed here), keep him busy. But I do hope that he is able to produce 20-Minute Longbox episodes on a regular basis -- or at least without another 5-month break!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Podcast marathon

Yesterday I was working out of my home, with plenty of time to listen to podcasts. Here is what I listened to:

Book Guys, episode 63. OK, I am a co-host on this one, and I admit I kinda skimmed through it, having been there when it was recored and all.

Thrilling Adventures of Superman, episode 65. Michael Bradley tackles every golden-age appearance of the Man of Steel. This episode covered Action Comics #27.

Tony Kornheiser Show. A sports show originally broadcast friday on local radio in Washington, DC.

Just One Of The Guys, episode 49. Host Shawn Engel did another excellent job talking about Green Lantern comics, especially Guy Gardner's nineties-testic new outfit. And he said nice things about this blog!

The Social Hour, episode 94. From Leo Laporte's TWiT network, this show is Sarah Lane and Amber MacArthur talking about social media. This episode had an interesting interview with the head of social media for the Maersk cargo shipping line. For such a non-social sounding type of company, they are very active (and successful) in social media space.

The Tolkien Professor. In the first episode of the "Riddles in the Dark" part of the feed for 2013, this show began the speculation of what would be done with the character of Beorn in the next Hobbit movie.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Walking Dead, issues 37-48.

Walking Dead 37-48, by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard.  

In this series of issues, life among our crew at the prison is actually looking up (all things considered). The garden they previously planted is now producing fresh fruit.  Baby Judith is born to Rick and Lori. A wedding even takes place.
Things seem to going well. But writer Robert Kirkman just can't let this be. One thing that we as readers have learned (and the characters have not) is that when things seem to be going well, that is the exact time that they will turn sour. Very sour.

The downhill run of luck begins when Carol kills herself, via the new method of suicide-by-zombie. And then the Governor arrives to wreak vengeance on Michonne and our crew. The battle takes place over a short period of time, but the action takes six issues to cover. Kirkman's scripting and Adlard's art work together to give us brutal action moments and nice character moments, sometimes simultaneously. There are very few moments where it felt like padding. The action -- all of the fighting, retreating, regrouping and fighting some more -- all made sense.

The cliffhanger of one issue is the arrival of the Governor's troops outside the prison, and the entire next issue is backstory of the Governor and the people of Woodbury, following Michonne's attack on the Governor. So readers of the book had to wait an entire extra month for the actual battle to actually take place and the cliffhanger to pay off.  Reading this story in hardcover form, I read it in large chunks. I feel so sorry for those who were reading this as the book came out in single issues.

Many people die in the battle with Woodbury, both in Rick's crew and the Governor's, including a character we've come to know well. A few of the humans are killed by zombies. But most are done in by fellow humans.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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 2 of Roil, book 1 of Tthe Nightbound Land, by Trent Jamieson: "That the city of Tate could have survivied its absorption by the roil was unthinkable. That Shale lost its brightest minds in the Pens was an absolute tragedy ... It could be argued that little effort was expended by the three allied metropolises of the north to aid their southern cousin and that all parties were complicit in it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review of 2012 Podcast-listening Goals

I posted these goals a year ago ... included are my current comments on how well I did accomplishing them, which was much better than how I did on my reading goals.
In addition to keeping up with all the podcasts that I listen to regularly, there are a few I need to get caught up on.

In the pop culture space, I am years (literally) behind on Around Comics, and about 7 months behind on Battleship Pretension. I am also going back into the Two True Freaks feed and picking up various episodes that I did not pick up one I started listening to their shows. (got caught up on all three of these shows, just in time for Around Comics to cease production.)

I am also about 8 months behind on a trio of Christian/devotional shows: The Bible Study Podcast, Bible Study Podcasts (I know those two sound similar, but if you look closely they are not the same), and St. Irenaeus Ministries. I just need to listen to two weeks of these each week, and I will catch up. (got caught up on all three of these shows, as well.)

There are also a few shows that I have not listened to yet, but plan to start this year. They include My Intercontinental Life (I did start and listen to all of these, but it has been 6 months or so since a new episode has come down the feed as Anne-Sophie has turned her attention to her also-excellent Fighting Anorexia podcast) and Comics Slumber Party. (totally forgot about this one) 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book #2

The Devil You Know, by Mike Carey. Unabridged audio.

I discovered Mike Carey's work as a novelist after being impressed by his work as a comic book writer. I am willing to give people who have demonstrated a skill writing in one medium the benefit of the doubt that they can write in another.

In a world where ghosts have started to appear, those with the gift of sensitivity to the unseen world are in demand. "Exorcist" has become a profession, and one of London's freelance exorcists is Felix Castor. He is hired by a museum to drive out a ghost who has begun to haunt the exhibits.

This novel feels like an urban fantasy novel, complete with ghosts and demons and a succubus, but this is really just the atmosphere, the setting for the novel. The real story is more of a standard mystery, with clues and blind alleys and multiple suspects. Carey handles both parts of the novel (the supernatural  setting and the detective story) with equal skill.

In order to drive out the museum's ghost, Felix has to discover who she is, and why she is haunting the museum. And when it appears that she was a victim of a crime, Felix realizes that this is a much a worldly situation as it is a supernatural one. He is followed, attacked, and knifed, and this is just the beginning. As scary as the world of demons and ghosts may be, the worlds of sex trafficking, prostitution and organized crime are even scarier. Whether this was the theme that Carey was driving at, it was a theme that I took from the book.

Felix's brother, a Catholic priest, answers the reader's obvious question of what exactly a "freelance" exorcist is, and how that fits into the Church's traditional role of exorcising demons. And the broader mystery of what exactly these ghosts are (there is a passing reference to zombies) and why they are appearing now is hinted at. I expect these issues to be covered in later books, which I look forward to reading. And the ending scene of the novel, where Felix gains a very unlikely associate, certainly sets the stage for an intriguing sequel or two.

source: public library

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book Guys #062

The podcast returned from Christmas break with a pretty good show, if I do say so myself.

Father Robert was unavailable, as he was checking out the goodies at CES. But Paul, Sir Jimmy, and I soldiered on bravely, joined by Brian Brushwood of ScamSchool and Mike Luoma of GlowInTheDarkRadio.Com.

We talked about a robot that writes books automatically, the implications of electronic items on traditional supply-and-demand pricing, and what exactly I would hide in a hollowed-out textbook. I mentioned that I was reading The Devil You Know, by Mike Carey. And in comic book news, we talked about what has been going on Spider-Man's life recently, and that Walking Dead #100 was the biggest-selling single issue of the year.

Check us out on iTunes or at

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

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 12 of The Devil You Know, by Mike Carey: "You can't banish ghosts without shriving them; otherwise you could be sending innocent souls to Hell. You don't understand what any of this is about. You're like a blind man wandering down a busy street and firing a handgun at random into the crowd."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book #1

Ender's Shadow Ultimate Collection. By Mike Carey, Sebastian Fiumara, and Guilia Brusco. Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card.

Like the Ender's Game adaptation, this book was broken into a pair of 5-issue mini-series, Battle School and Command School. And like the other adaptation, I wonder if someone unfamiliar with the source material would be lost. But that having been said, the story is terrific, and this adaptation moves at a very nice pace. 

Mike Carey is an excellent writer, both of comic books and of novels. The Unwritten series that he co-created and writes is one of the best ongoing series today. His scripts (and Sebastian Fiumara's art) in this series manage to walk the fine line of respecting the basic story of the novel, while turning that novel into a solid series of comic book issues. Each issue contains a readable part of the story, and the cliffhangers keep the pages turning.

The art is fantastic in this book. Bean looked nothing like I imagined him from listening to the audio version of the novel, but his character design was great. Drawing young children regularly trips up even the best comic book artists, and they often end up simply looking like downsized adults. But Fiumara does an excellent job making the children look like children.

As I wrote in the review of the prior series, adaptations are notoriously inconsistent affairs. But these 20 issues have told this story very well, and I look forward to digging more into the comics, as I continue reading the novels.

source: public library.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Review of 2012 reading goals

I posted these goals a year ago ... included are my current comments on how well I did accomplishing them. The main lesson: don't post goals. Or if you do, look at them once in a while during the year.
Keep up with DC's New 52 series Demon Knights and All-Star Western in individual isses. And I have heard so many good things about the New 52 Aquaman that I will purchase whatever trade paperbacks of that series that come out in 2012. (I kept up on Demon Knights, and even wrote reviews of All-Star Western and Aquaman, and also Wonder Woman and Animal Man. I anticipate writing New 52 reviews this year of Catwoman, Frankenstein, I Vampire, Supergirl, and perhaps more.)

Finish Y: The Last Man. I have read the first 48 of the 60 issues. (Reviewed here)

Via the Daily Audio Bible podcast, listen to the entire Bible. (I do this every other year or so. This is my third time through the Bible, via the DAB podcast.)

Not so Accomplished:
Finish the Belgariad series by David Eddings. I am currently reading book 4 of the 5-book series. (Finished 4. Never got to 5.)

Read 2 Terry Goodkind novels with my daughter. We are making our way through his Sword of Truth series, and are currently just at the beginning of Faith of the Fallen. (about 25% through Faith of the Fallen. Still on my to-do list)

Read the first volume of Aquinas' Summa Theologica. I have it on my Nook. (not very far at all.)

Finish up (2 more books) of Karen Kingsbury's Above the Line series. I liked Book 1 well enough, but thought that Book 2 was a step back. Nonetheless, I expect to knock out Books 3 & 4 this year. (nope)

Read another book (or 2) in the YA Redwall series. (nope)

Finish the 40+ issues of the Doom 2099 comic book series. I have read through issue 7. (up to #22)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Own Podcast Awards!

Since I (1) listen to a lot of podcasts, and (2) have a blog, I believe I am qualified to talk about my favorites podcasts of 2012.

Favorite Podcast That I Have Been On
Runners-Up: The Fantasticast (via email comments), Spirit Blade Underground (via audio book reviews)
Winner: The Book Guys Show, which I started co-hosting in late Spring

Favorite Overall Podcast
Runners-Up: No Agenda, Who's Who: The Definitive Podcast of the DC Universe
Winner: The Tolkien Professor, which did an excellent job producing a wide range of excellent shows in the run-up to the release of The Hobbit movie.

Best Produced Podcast
Runners-Up: No Agenda, SQPN: The Break
Winner: Spirit Blade Underground, the excellent podcast by Paeter Frandsen, that is an original mix of movie reviews, video game talk, original audio drama, and Bible study.

Best New Podcast of 2012
Runners-Up: The France Project (reviewed here), From Darkness to Light Online
Winner: Just One Of The Guys, in which Shawn Engel does a great job reviewing the adventures of Green Lantern in the 1990s, focusing mostly on the character of Guy Gardner.

Gonna Miss You Award, for a show that ended in 2012.
Runners-up: The Jen & Dave Show, The Babylon Podcast (discussed here)
Winner: The Katia & KylieMac Show. So sad to see this show go away, after almost 500 excellent episodes.

Just-Almost-Dead Award, for shows that are on a, shall we say, intermittent release schedule.
Runners-up: The Saint Cast (3 episodes), Geeks On! (10 episodes)
Winner: Super Future Friends, the funniest long-form comic book podcast around. The ladies only released 1 episode in 2012, after doing 2 in 2011 and 6 in 2010. I sense a disturbing trend in these numbers.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Reading Summary

I have been keeping track of my annual reading for about 7 years now. In 2012, I read 75 books. This compares to 84 last year, 73 in 2010, 80 in 2009, 110 in 2008, and around 140-150 in the few years before that. This decrease from the mid 2000s 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  38 of the 75 books I consumed this year were via unabridged audio. 24 were traditional dead-tree books, 11 were graphic novels or collections, and 2 were on the Nook.

The 54 novels I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 54, as many books fit into more than one category)
Fantasy/SF -- 33
Mystery/Thriller -- 15
YA -- 11
Religious/Christian -- 10
Contemporary -- 3

The 21 non-fiction works I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 21, as many books fit into more than one category)
Christian/Theology -- 8
Sports & Entertainment --7
Memoir/Biography -- 6
Business -- 4

Books # 74 & 75

The final 2 books that I read in 2012:

74. Spirit Blade, by Paeter Frandsen. Unabridged enhanced audio.
This futuristic sci-fi audiobook takes place in a future where the government mandates the spiritual beliefs of its citizens, outlawing all traditional religions in favor of a generic "one size fits all" church. There are only a few rebellious "Seekers of Truth" who strive to remain free themselves, and who seek to free the world from this spiritual deception. The theme of the story is the power of spiritual truth, and how it will never pass away.

Author Paeter Frandsen is the man behind Spirit Blade productions, whose output includes a regular podcast and a series of audio dramas. This novel is the audio version of the novel which formed the basis for the flagship audio drama, Spirit Blade. The novel in this version is completely read by Paeter, who does a very good job bringing the range of characters to life. The sound effects and musical score add much to the overall listening experience.

I have heard the related audio dramas before, but this was a different listening experience. Enough time had passed so I did not remember the details of the plot, and found myself wanting to keep listening, to discover where the story was going.

75. The Holy Bible, various translations. Unabridged audio, via the Daily Audio Bible podcast feed.