Tuesday, April 30, 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 Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins: "In my mind, President Snow should be viewed in front of marble pillars hung with oversized flags. It's jarring to see him surrounded by the ordinary objects of my room. Like taking the lid off a pot and finding a fanged viper instead of stew."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Review #22

Quitter, by Jon Acuff. Unabridged audio. 

I am not a big reader of self-help or personal management books. So I confess to being a little out of my area of expertise in reviewing this book.  The focus of this book is on the tension many feel between the day job they currently have and the dream job they'd love to have.
The author talks about his own experiences of hopping from job to job, at one point bragging to his wife for actually sticking with one job for almost two years. Then he details how he was able to move into his dream job (working as a writer and speaker with the Dave Ramsey organization) while keeping his current job and maintaining a family life.
As can be the case with self-help books (and why I read so few) is that this book taught me a lot about Jon Acuff and his career path, but I don't know if this taught me about seeking my own dream job (confession: I currently have a pretty awesome job, pretty much a dream job, but let's not tell my employer that, OK?). His dream job (writing) was one that he could develop (via blogging) while continuing to hold his day job until he was ready to leave that old job behind. I don't know that that is the case for all of his readers.
One part of this book that I found most interesting was Acuff's discussion of the "freemiuml" or the "pay whatever you want" models that have been popularized in recent years. He does not take a side in the discussion, presenting both sides of the argument, saying that in some cases giving work away for free may generate loyal customers, while also recognizing that it may train your customers to not pay for your work.
HIs advice about the practical groundwork one must lay before chasing a dream is also strong. He talks about rules in the areas of family and relations, communication, and finance that are very wise. There were other particular moments that resonated with me, although this has not motivated me to go out and read many more self-help or personal management books.
Acuff reads this audio version himself, and as a professional speaker, he generally does a good job. There are even  a few additional stories he tells on the audio that were not in the print version of the book. But I do wonder about the production process, because there were a handful of words that were clearly mis-pronounced, which rarely happens in the many audiobooks that I listen to.
Source: I received this book via the NoiseTrade website, which uses the "pay whatever you want" model.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Adapting Holmes: The Graphic Novels

A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of The Four, by I.N.J. Culbard and Ian Edginton. Based on the novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Published by Self-Made Hero.

These are very faithful adaptations to the source material, containing almost exclusively Doyle's own words. Although there are many necessary compressions, there is very little additional material or substantial changes from the source material. The trick that the writer had to pull off was to decide which portions of each story to include, how to abridge the story in such a way as to manage to still tell the entire story.
One of the best part of the adaptation of A Study inScarlet is the way in which the long stretch in Utah is covered. In the original, Doyle tells this in as an omniscient narrator, while this adaptation makes the story more clearly as Jefferson's Hope's words. This enables the art to bounce back and forth between Hope telling the story, with reaction shots of Holmes and Watson, and the actual flashback scenes in Utah. The artist is then able to give us many "camera angles" from which to show this action, which makes it easier to read in graphic form than in Doyle's prose. This is a very good use of the sequential art medium, and is an example of using the form in a way that prose cannot be used.
The iconic meeting between Holmes and Watson is handled well, and the choices that the writer made in what to leave out and leave in made sense.
There is less "work" to be done in adapting The Sign of the Four, as the original story moves at a terrific pace and tells an entertaining tale, start to finish. The only part of the adaptation that I don't think I would have followed without the original fresh in my mind was the "blind alley" that the dog leads Holmes and Watson on. But other than that one scene, the story was easy to follow, and the adaptation very enjoyable.
It must be hard for an artist to have a "new take" on Holmes and Watson, who must have been portrayed more than a hundred times in various forms. I immediately liked the look of Watson, but it took me forty to fifty pages (each work is approximately 120 pages) to get used to this look of Holmes. I could not reference him to any other Holmes that I was used to seeing, but this is actually a testament to the strength of the character design. The artist also does a fine job distinguishing the many supporting and side characters that populate these books.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review #21

The Bone Bed, by Patricia Cornwell. Unabridged audio.
A famous paleontologist vanishes in a Canadian excavation site, and a bizarre email message leads Scarpetta to believe that the case may soon land in her office in Boston. When it does, she is faced with more danger than she ever could have expected. There is also a body found in a river, booby-trapped to rip apart when moved. But Scarpetta is able to retrieve the body, and then use her forensic skills to determine the perpetrator.

I love the fact that the main action of the book take places over less than 72 hours. This gives the novel a sense of pacing that is exciting. As readers, we experience the same sense of not being able to catch our breath that the main characters are also experiencing. Scarpetta's busy-ness becomes a plot point in the novel. She is tardy to a courtroom appointment, and is dressed down mercilessly by the judge for valuing her time and job above everyone else involved in the trial. We are meant to sympathize with Scarpetta in this scene, but I can't help but notice that the judge is actually making a pretty good point. Due to some clever computer hacking, Marino is implicated in the crime, adding another level of stress to Scarpetta.
This is the 20th Kay Scarpetta story that has Cornwell has written, and the 20th that I have read (prior reviews are here and here). I have followed her from Richmond to Miami, and now to Boston. It seems a little unlikely that all of her cast of characters would follow her around the country, but the advantages of having everyone together outweighs that consideration.
This novel pushes the characterizations forward: Scarpetta and Benton are both tempted to cheat, Marino's marriage may be dying, and Lucy has re-connected with an old flame. I like that a tawdry incident from Marino's past, which Scarpetta thought would be hidden forever, comes to light. All of this reminds us how long we have spent with these characters, and how much of their lives we have seen. There is a nice sense of continuity here, although the specific mystery being solved is a stand-alone story.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review #20

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, by J.D. Greear. Hardcover.

There has long been a fixation in American evangelical culture on the "decision," the act of leading someone into a relationship with Christ via an altar call, or reciting the "sinner's prayer." But discipleship is not a one-time event, and this focus on the "decision" leaves many potential believers confused and adrift.

On the other hand, the impulse among some Christians, in some congregations, is to "come to Jesus" over and over. The author puts himself in this camp, saying in the first chapter that by the time he had turned eighteen, "I had probably 'asked Jesus into my heart' five thousand times."

Using his own life experiences as a Christian, and his experiences as a pastor, Greear focuses on the tension between these two extreme positions, and how neither represents a healthy view of salvation. He walks through the dual theological issues of repentance and assurance. It is a short book and quite readable, but it manages to move through these difficult issues in a thorough manner.

I like Greear's contention that salvation cannot always be traced to a particular moment in time, and a discussion of what repentance is and (more importantly) what it is not. Also, his example of relationship with God to sitting in a chair in insightful: it doesn't matter whether or not one can remember when they first sat in the chair, the only thing that matters is that one is currently sitting in that chair.

Although I don't always agree with Greear's answers to some of the knotty theological problems presented here, I can heartily recommend this book. I was glad to read a book for laymen that addressed the issues, and there is much wisdom contained here.

Source: LibraryThing's early reviewer program.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Between Audiobooks

I used to have a habit of listening to a few episodes of PodCastle or Escape Pod in between audiobooks -- short story palate cleansers between novels. But I noticed that it had been a while since I had listened to short fiction (I'm about 9 months behind on these podcasts), so I listened to a bunch of Escape Pods last weekend, in between Time Travelers Strictly Cash and The Bone Bed. I listened to these episodes:

347. Next Time, Scales, by John Moran. Read by Josh Roseman. Body-swapping, space cops, and lizard girls. 'nuff said.

348. Nemesis, by Nathaniel Lee. Read by Matt Weller. When a middle-school superhero's best friend discovers a new source of power, he has a choice to make. Will he become a sidekick, or become an enemy?
349. Origin, by Ari Goelman. Read by Veronica Giguere. When a superhero's girlfriend becomes pregnant, many questions arise. And when the doctor is a reformed enemy, even more questions arise.

350. Observer Effects, by Tim Pratt. Read by A Kovacs. The third of a three-episode series about super-powered beings, this one also  touches on the effects of universal surveillance.
351. 113 Feet, by Josh Roseman. Read by Mur Lafferty. A father disappears in a bizarre diving accident, and his notes reflect that he may have found a portal to another land. His daughter makes it her life's mission to find him, wherever or whenever he may be.

352. Food For Thought, by Laura Lee McArdle. Read by Christiana Ellis. Talking cows and time-traveling reality TV. 'nuff said.
353. Talking to the Enemy, by Don Webb. Read by John Mireau. In order to negotiate an end to the war, some attempt to become like the enemy. But how far is too far?

354. The Caretaker, by Ken Liu. Read by Tom Rockwell (Devo Spice). The robot seems too human -- do you want to find out just how human the robot is?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Walking Dead, issues 49-60.

The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard.

Our heroes have scattered after the shocking events of issue 48. Lori and Judith are dead. Tyreese is dead. The prison is not safe after the battle with the Governor, and the crew breaks off into different cliques, some of which meet back up in further issues. Being mostly on foot, there is only so far that the crew can wander off, even in different directions. The coincidence of them meeting back up again can be overlooked. 

We see that everyone is going more than a little bit crazy, even Rick. Especially Rick, in this volume. He spends the first few issues having imaginary conversations with his dead wife on a broken phone, shades of Michonne ever since her introduction. The responsibility of leading this ragtag band have left him mentally vulnerable, and the berakdown he suffers in response to his wife's and daughter's death are not unexpected. Writer Robert Kirkman does an excellent job of making Rick's instability believable.

The scenes following on, where Rick takes too many painkillers and drops into a delirium, were very interesting. Even as a veteran comic book reader, I was not sure exactly when he had awoken. For a while, I was not dismissing the possibility that three complete issues were Rick's dream-state, but that was not the case.

The biggest plot movement in this series of issues is Rick and his crew finding Abraham and his scientist buddy, who believes he knows what caused the zombie outbreak. This small group is heading to Washington, and Rick and his ever-shrinking crew team up with them. But life on the road is inherently unsafe, especially now that the zombies are moving in herds. 

This change in zombie behavior, the notion that they may be learning or at the very least adapting, is interesting. I don't know if Kirkman has an idea of what the "origin story" of the outbreak was, or if he ever plans to disclose it us. But these changes in zombie behavior do not bode well for our heroes.

Tuesday, April 16, 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 3 of The Bone Bed, a Scarpetta novel by Patricia Cornwell: "I've magnified the image as much as I can without its deconstructing into a blur, and the visible edges of the incised wound appear sharp and regular. I see no paleness or any hint that the incised tissue is everted or collapsed, which is what I might expect in a dismemberment that occurs long after death."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Books 17-19

Left Behind: The Kids #26-28, by Tim LaHaye, Jerry B Jenkins, & Chris Fabry. Paperbacks.

I grab these books from the library in batches, 2 to 3 at a time, a few times a year. The completist in me needs to finish this series (40 books total), which meands I will have read the entire Left Behind oeuvre. A cultural phenomenon for a time, reflective of evangelical culture of the 1990's, the series was originally intended to be a trilogy, then a seven-book series, and ended as a 12-book series with a trilogy of prequels and a final sequel. And these 40 young adult books. And I am so close to wrapping it all up.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review #16

Time Travelers Strictly Cash, by Spider Robinson. Abridged audio.

This was Robinson's first follow-up to the short story collection Callahan's Cross-Time Saloon (reviewed here).  The original version of TTSC contained a number of non-Callahan's stories, and some non-fiction reviews and essays. I have previously read the terrific "RAH RAH R.A.H.," Robinson's appreciation of Robert A Heinlein, which first appeared here.

Portions of the original book are presented as part of the Callahan's Chonicals audio compilation, which is how I consumed these stories. The Callahan-specific stories pick up where the first collections leaves off, with the crew of Callahan's listening to each other's tall tales. There are stories about a talking dog (a gin-drinking, talking dog) and a loud-mouthed time traveler with an oddly hypnotic power. 

Jake Stonebender and the bar regulars spend the book trying to top each other with their odd, pun-filled stories. But what emerges from these tales is a bit of a through-line, later adapted and expanded by Robinson as the Callahan-verse expanded. By the way, some of the wordplay is delightfully groan-worthy -- puns about coppers, ICBMs and jewel lies abound.

I love the setting for these stories, and Robinson's wacky sense of humor is enjoyable. I do not know what to make of the effort at the end of this and in future Callahan's books to overlay a more serious SF tale onto this patchwork of stories. The last story, about mirror universes and inter-dimensional molecules, was much more serious than the prior stories, and this change of pace was a bit jarring.

I am intrigued to know there are at least four more novels (or collecitons) involving Jake, Callahan, and the crew. But I think I'm going to give them a read.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Guys Update!

Check out our new website, which contain the videos for the shows (also on YouTube), as well as book-related links.

In episode #72, we talked with the excellent Paul O'Connor from Longbox Graveyard, and Brian Brushwood from Scam School and NSFW.   We talked about the digital world, the app economy, old-school comic books, and Moby Dick.

My eye surgery kept me away from the next two episodes, but they were pretty good nonetheless:

In episode #73, mystery writer Pat Flewelling joined the team. They also talked about with Colleen Hillerup of the Doctor Who convention, Reversed Polarity.

In episode #74, Paul and Sir Jimmy were joined by Bill Meeks of Meeks Mixed Media. They talked about which tablets are better for which functions, lots of book news, and related stuff!

We are scheduled to talk to author R.E. McDermott soon, as well as some guys from Comixology -- stay tuned!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Review #15

The Devil's Company, by David Liss. Unabridged audio.

This novel has all the trappings of a modern business thriller: government interference, industrial espionage, and a huge corporation trying to quash its competition and take advantage of its employees. Yes, it has all you would expect from a modern business novel.

It just takes place in 1722. And the big company that everyone worries is too powerful is the British East India Company. The Company worries that its cloth monopoly may by threatened by the development of a machine (never called a cotton gin, but pretty much a cotton gin) that would allow other companies in other nations to create similar fashion fabric that only the Company can currently make.

Nobody uses the phrase "too big to fail," but the English government is portrayed as seeing the Company as a major force for the promulgation of English power, and any problem faced by the Company is seen as a potential threat to the Empire.

This is another in Liss' series of business historicals featuring "thief-taker" and former professional boxer Benjamin Weaver. Blackmailed into acting for the Company, he infiltrates it to uncover a plot involving foreign spies and government agents. A flirtatious mystery woman, nearly as masterful at disguise as Weaver, dogs his trail, and the first thing Weaver needs to determine if she is really friend or foe.

Liss ties interesting facets of early 18th century London into the novel, and does so naturally. The nature of marriage and dowries plays an important part, with the death of a bigamist being an inciting event of the novel. His portrayal of second-class citizens (women, Jews, workers) is also a strength.

This is the fourth of Liss' novels that I have read, and I enjoy his take on both the historical novel and the business thriller. It is a very odd niche that Liss has carved out for himself, but I continue to be a fan.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

New 52 Review: Blackhawks

Blackhawks Volume 1: The Great Leap Forward, paperback collection. Issues 1-8, by Mike Costa, Graham Nolan, Cafu and Bit.

I had mixed feelings about whether I wanted to read this comic. On the one hand, the New 52 version of Blackhawks updated the team to be a high-tech covert ops unit, fighting enemies who use nanotechnology and super-smart weapons. I like the high-tech spy novels of Tom Clancy, Brad Thor and others, and I don't mind comics that feature characters without super-powers. So there was reason to be hopeful.
On the other hand, I have read very few of the prior incarnations of Blackhawk or the Blackhawks, despite DC Comics' many efforts to revive the team over the past fifty years. And by the time I picked this trade paperback up, I knew that the series had terrible sales and mixed critical reviews. The first issue was the #48 seller among the 52 titles, and each of the remaining seven issues ranked wither #51 or #52. So there was reason to be doubtful.
To be fair, the book did meet my lowered expectations, but I can't see for sure whether I would have picked up the next collection, had there been one. There was not enough characterization for my taste, and for a team book, that is necessary. The political intrigue involving the place of the Blackhawks within the United Nations structure was interesting, especially after the team's covert cover was blown. But I did not get to know all of the characters in a manner that would have brought me back to future issues.
Reading this collection, I have not been convinced that the graphic medium is the best way to tell a spy story. Maybe novels and movies, and the occasional TV show, are the best formats for telling this type of tale. I enjoyed this particular story well enough, but I don't know that an ongoing series would have held my interest.
Mike Costa obviously knew in advance that the book would end at issue 8. The adventure wraps up with explosions and battles, and then the one-and-a-half-page denouement contains a nice metatextual conversation.

As the series wraps up, one character says "So the Blackhawks program ends in catastrophe and failure." and the response comes, "Don't be ridiculous. We saved the world a few dozen times over. We're just resting our wings. Trust me."
Source: public library.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mega-Con podcasts

There are many great comic book conventions taking place during the years and across the country, but the annual Mega-Con in Orlando is one of the best-covered conventions out there. Two podcasts regularly attend and post episodes about the con, and 2013 was no exception.

Two True Freaks: Scott Gardner attended Mega-Con this year with his two sons. He produced a special episode, with comic podcasting veteran Michael Bailey. Scott was able to use his press pass to get into the show an hour early, enabling him to interview Boba Fett and Jimmy Palmiotti, among others. The episode runs nearly three hours, and is a very fun re-cap of the event, with Scott & Mike talking about the show and comic creators, with plenty of interviews from the convention mixed in.

Superman Fan Podcast: Every year, Billy Hogan departs from his usual coverage of Silver-Age Superman stories to present coverage of Mega-Con. He has been able to use his press credentials to record a range of panels from the Convention. Items that he posted as his multi-part "Episode 263" include:
  Preview episode: Billy talking about the Con, and what he intends to do, and record.
  Crime Noir Panel II: A terrific panel discussion, consisting of Darwyn Cooke, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Frank Tieri and Dave Johnson.
  Giving Back to Fandom: Discussing Solestar, a comic whose proceeds go to charity.
  Working on Licensed Comics: A large group of comic creators, including Chuck Dixon.
  Dean Cain: The Lois & Clark actor talking about the show, his life, and career.
  Gail Simone: The comics writer talking about her career, and current books.
  Indie Comics: Talking about the good and bad (and ugly) of producing independent comics.
  Kickstarter: Jimmy Palmiotti giving advice on how to crowd-fund comics projects.
  Wrap up: Billy talking about his experiences at 2013 Mega-Con, including a chat with Bob McCleod.

Billy posted a range of panels from the 2012 Mega-Con, as well, as his multi-part episode 218.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book #14

Deadly Straits, by R.E. McDermott. Unabridged audio.

This is a modern espionage/terrorism novel in the style of Brad Thor, W.E.B. Griffin,  or Tom Clancy. What sets it apart is its focus on the high seas, where McDermott's extensive knowledge of naval matters and ship-building is clear. He is able to convey this knowledge in an engaging and plausible manner.
Management consultant (and part-time spy) Tom Dugan is sent on what turns out to be a truly globe-trotting mission to thwart a terrorist plot involving cutting off the world's oil supply. A long-time friend of Dugan's has been framed in the plot, and Dugan himself is considered guilty by association. He has to prove his own innocence by proving his friend's, while simultaneously trying to keep oil tankers around the world from blowing up. Along the way, there are naval battles, kidnappings, and shootouts. All the things you'd want in an espionage novel are here.

The scope of the novel is amazing, as the action takes place in England, Liberia, Malaysia, China, Panama, Russia, Chechnya, Venezuela, and the US, and probably a few locations that I have forgotten. There are so many places that the action takes place, and so many characters that perform those actions, it is a little hard to identify with any one character beyond Dugan.
McDermott does a good job keeping the action going, and the intricate plot actually seems realistic. Sometimes thrillers can go "over the top" with the villains' plot, giving us something totally unrealistic. But McDermott avoids this common pitfall. 

I will definitely pick up the sequel, Deadly Coast, in which Dugan and company take on the threat of Somali pirates.

Source: I received the Audible.com version of this novel directly from the author. We are scheduled to talk to him on an upcoming episode of the Book Guys Show podcast.