Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book #33: Bread and Wine

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, by various. Paperback.

I received this book last year for my birthday (maybe Christmas), and started reading it this year as my Lenten devotional. I try to do "seasonal" reading a few times throughout the church year, and have practiced a slightly more ancient-modern version of Lent the last few years.

Unfortunately, I had eye surgery during Lent this year, during which time my wife started reading these to me, as my own eyes were incapable. As I've recovered, we have kept the tradition going of her reading these to me.

The book is designed to go beyond Lent -- there are 72 readings, 26 of which are specifically categorized in the post-Lent categories of "Resurrection" and "New Life." That being said, I confess that this took waaaaay longer to finish up than it should have.

The readings come from a range of Christian traditions, including Methodist, Lutheran, Evangelical, Catholic, and Presbyterian. There are theologians and pastors represented, as well as poets and activists. Most of the writings are from the 1900s, although some older writers (Pascal, Augustine, John Donne, and Thomas a Kempis) are also included.

Of the writers I was less familiar with, I enjoyed most the reading from Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit missionary to Russia and political prisoner. His "Fear Not" essay begins with the compelling opening sentence of "Facing a firing squad is a pretty good test, I guess, of your theology of death."

Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Guys Show: Doctor Who, TIMES TWO!

We have done a couple fun Doctor Who themed, Book Guys Shows recently.
In episode 080, two Dalek operators visited the studio, and we talked about all of the Doctors, played some of the theme songs, and (of course) talked a lot about Daleks. We were also joined for a little bit by recording artist Geoff Smith, who played a live version of his "Fantastic Rose" song.
In episode 083, we talked with the great Nicholas Briggs. He is voice of the Daleks in the rebooted series, as well as running the audio drama company, Big Finish, which has produced scores of excellent Doctor Who audios. We also talked about his new novel, The Dalek Generation. By the way, the video recording is not great, but the audio version is available in iTunes (search "Book Guys Show")

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book #32: Children of Hurin

The Children of Hurin, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien. Unabridged audio, read by Christopher Lee.

This book was released 5 years ago, a new release designed to take advantage of renewed interest in Tolkien after the success of the movie trilogy. This was compiled and edited by Christopher Tolkien, from his father’s notes and various versions of the story he had written over the years. Christopher’s introduction is helpful for putting the story into context, both in terms of Tolkien's life and his other works of Middle-Earth.

The events of this book take place more than six millennia before the War of the Ring, concentrating on the character Túrin Turambar and his sister Niënor. The Dark Lord (Morgoth) has cursed this pair, along with their father Húrin.  Their story is touched upon in the Silmarillion, but this book expands on the little that is written elsewhere about these characters elsewhere.

Morgoth excapes from the Blessed Realm and makes a fortress for himself in Angband. He wages war against elves to gain control of Middle-Earth, but his efforts fail. Centuries later, after men arise in the land, and the House of Bëor rules over part of the land. Other men, loyal of Morgoth, aid in war against Bëor and his elf allies. Húrin eventually become Lord over Dor-lómin, one of the realms that remained unconquered. Then there are dragons and swords and cliffs.

This book is easier to read than The Silmarillion, where shortened versions of the tale first appeared. This is because this novel tells one narrative story, as opposed to the tales told in The Silmarillion. Tolkien’s use of interesting and poetic language is of course strong. But that being said, this work is only for the most diehard of Tolkien fans.

The narration by Christopher Lee is terrific, making the audio version of this book the one I heartily recommend.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Fond Farewell

As I have written before, the bane of my life as a podcast fan is pod-fading ... when a show just disappears without a final show, it just ... fades away. But when a podcast wraps its run up with an official finale, with an offical "goodbye," I feel like I should point out the show and thank the hosts for actually bringing their show to an end.

The New 52 Adventures of Superman recently released episode #45, the show's final episode. The hosts announced this well in advance, giving their listeners a chance to send emails, and for them to reflect on the entire run of comic book issues that they covered. This allowed for them to release a three-hour final episode that felt like a final episode should feel like. It was a good show, and a great last episode.

Hosts J David Weter and Jon Wilson have other shows that they host, so their podcasting careers will continue. But they did a great job taking on this latest iteration of Superman and the other "super-books" -- my own desire to read Supergirl and World's Finest was spurred on by this podcast, and their enthusiasm for those titles.

I recommend their catalog of episodes for anyone interested in this latest iteration of the Man of Steel and related comics.

Good job, fellas.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Podcasts + people with British accents = fun listening, what what?

Here are brief reviews of some of may favorite podcasts that come from over the pond.  Enjoy your fish and chips, maybe grab a scone, and listen to these fine funny-sounding shows!

The Fantasticast -- One of my favorite shows ever, mostly because they had me on as a guest, to talk about the awesomeness that is Doctor Doom. Steve Lacey and Andy Leyland do a great job hosting this show.

20-Minute Longbox -- This is Steve Lacey's solo show, a random jaunt through his comic-book collection. I talked about the show here.

Hey Kids, Comics! -- This is Andy Leyland's other show, hosted with his son Micheal. They talk about comic books, and have done a lot of Batman issues, but also have covered Preacher, Spider-Man, the New 52 and Marvel Now, and even some TV show. The recently moved to the ever-expanding Two True Freaks network.

Moving away from shows that feature Steve and/or Andy, we have:

Stacey's Pop Culture Parlour -- She puts a "u" in parlor, so you know she's British! This is a monthly podcast, where Stacey and a guest (no repeats through the first 15 episodes) talk about comic books, music, movies, and TV shows. And enjoy cakes and tea.  

Chequered Flag Podcast -- They spell "checkered" funny, so you know they're British! This is a BBC production, hosted by Jennie Gow (although the BBC website spells is "Jenny" at least once). They release shows around the Formual One racing schedule, with a preview show released a few days before the race, and a wrap-up show a few days after the race.

Babble-On Podcast -- I wrote about this excellent Babylon 5 rewatch show before, and I still am enjoying it!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book #31: Atlantyx

Atlantyx, by Chase Dalton. Paperback.

Gamers are disappearing around the world, including college student Teddy Reams. His professors have been studying the mega-popular  game Atlantyx, which was Teddy's main vice -- as it was for the seventy other gamers who have disappeared around the world lately. Valerie Russell and Garland King set out to discover what exactly is happening, and they find themselves in over their heads.

Atlantyx players must take a drug to fully immerse in the virtual world, and most lose track of what is real and what is fantasy. When Valerie enters the game under the influence, things go from bad to worse for her. This is a multi-billion dollar game, and Atlantyx 2 is on the verge of release -- what will the gaming company do to keep Valerie and Garland from discovering the truth behind the disappearances?
The action in the story is well-paced, and the novel is a nice quick read. Dalton does a good job describing the action inside the virtual world, and the hallucinations that effect the gamers in the real world. We only get the briefest glimpses into what makes the characters the people they are, and perhaps slowing the action to give more character development would been preferable to my taste.
The connection between drug addiction and video games seemed far-fetched when the book was published in 2002, but the place of energy drinks caffeine pills among youth culture today makes the book seem forward-thinking.  As the years have gone by, the specifics of the technology are less important, and a book like this becomes more enjoyable. It has become retro in the eleven years since it was first published, and without the distraction of deciding if the virtual world described is "cutting edge" or "realistic," the reader can focus on the story itself.

As a university professor, I commend the attempt to turn my colleagues into action heroes, a trend started by Indiana Jones, and one of which I heartily approve. There are also enough references to intra-departmental squabbles and academic competition that I wonder if Dalton spent some time in front of a classroom as an adjunct instructor at some point in his career.

The Christian message of the story is fairly subtle throughout most of the book, manifesting in basic good vs. evil stuff, and a few references to Garland's work teaching Sunday School and leading prayer group. The last few pages of the story put a more specific spiritual message out front, and it does frankly feel a bit tacked on.

Tuesday, June 18, 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 The Maze, by Jason Brannon: I motioned for Karen to give the bill to me. She had planned to anyway - I saw her phone number and address written on the receipt.  "Call me," she whispered in my ear before disappearing like a beautiful mermaid back into a sea of hungry diners. "Your wife never has to know."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

New 52 Review: Catwoman

NEW 52 Review: Catwoman Volume 1: The Game, trade paperback. Collects issues 1-6, by Judd Winick & Guillem March.

As Catwoman, Selina Kyle was an anti-hero before anti-heroes were everywhere in comics. As a matter of fact, her flirtatious nature and ability to beguile Batman were present in her very first appearances in the comic books, which occurred more than seven decades ago.
When Catwoman's friend Lola, (also her fence for stolen goods), is killed as a direct result of her connections to Catwoman, Selina investigates. When money she is stealing turns out be from dirty Gotham cops instead of the drug dealers she thought she was robbing, things go from bad to worse. Detective Alvarez has long been trying to apprehend Catwoman, but when she sees her being abused by her dirty colleagues in the police force, Alvarez sets her free. I assume these two ladies will cross paths in future issues. The dirty cops use Reach, a thug for hire with electrical powers, to take down Catwoman.
I did not need the obligitory sex scene with Batman in issue #1, as it does little more than make sure that Catwoman fits as a member of the "bat-family" of titles. That connection probably helps keep the title in the top half of DC's sales, as it is continually DC's leading female-focused solo title in the New 52.
The fight scenes between Catwoman and Reach are predictable but energetic. In the last few pages, we see Catwoman working with her new fence and friend Gwen. This is a nice narrative moment, as we fear that there is a cycle at work here that is bound to repeat.
In a prior entry I reviewed a trade paperback from an earlier run, and probably preferred those issues (written by Ed Brubabker) to these. The dynamic energy that was evident before in Catwoman's prior incarnation is not here, making these issues more of a standard street-level comic book than something special.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book #30

Callahan's Secret, by Spider Robinson. Unabridged audio. 

This is the third book in this series -- I have previously reviewed books 1 & 2.

The most interesting point about this series as each successive volume was released was how it morphed from a mostly disconnected series of stories into a single narrative. By this point, he has written almost a novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many of the recognizable characteristics of other Callahan books are here -- the puns, the wacky characters, and more puns.

And the focus in this book is definitely the end, as in the end of the Earth. A character we have met in prior stories, whom we have come to like, is on the run from his otherwordly overlords. Well, they have finally tracked him down to Earth, and to Callahan's. and threaten to destroy the entire planet if the customers at Callahan's don't turn over the refugee alien.

But when Spider Robinson actually shows up at the end of the book, I thought maybe the meta-narrative had gone too far. But most of what this story was, was an extended "author's note," where Spider talks about the online community that had sprung up around his books, and talked about the latest books that were coming 
out (Callahan's-related and non).

There are a few moments where this reads like it was written in the mid-1980s, but that’s because it was written in the mid-1980s.The concerns, the drama, the angst, was a bit dated, but Robinson's sincerity overcomes that, and the book is still a fun read.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Reading-in-Progress

As I mentioned in a recent episode of the Book Guys Show podcast, I have an embarrassing number of books in progress. Here they are, and the reasons why:

The Maze, by Jason Brannon. Approximately 45% complete. I have been tasked by Paeter Frandsen of Spirit Blade Underground podcast to review this book. Another person submitted a review already, but he is holding back to he gets mine, and will play them in the same episode as a "dueling review" segment. So reading this one on the Nook is a top reading priority.

Elizabeth The First Wife, by Lian Dolan. Approximately 30% complete. We spoke with Lian on episode 079 of the Book Guys Show, and I started reading it, to prepare for the interview. As I have written before, I am a big fan of Lian's writing.

The Shambling Guide to New York City, by Mur Lafferty. We spoke with Mur on episode 080 of the Book Guys Show, and I started reading it, to prepare for the interview. Teaser for the book is here.

Bread & Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, by various. Approximately 85% complete. This is a devotional I started during Lent, but when I needed emergency eye surgery, my wife began reading it to me. Even though my eyesight has (mostly) returned, my wife and I enjoyed reading it so much that I don't read it alone. About once a week, my wife and I find a chance for her to read part to me.

Atlantyx, by Chase Dalton. Approximately 40% complete. I picked this one up from a library sale at least 5 years ago, and my daughter read it right away (and she thought it was OK), and it has sat as part of my book pile ever since. It has always been on the "gotta read this one soon" list, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I actually decided to read it.

Callahan's Secret, by Spider Robinson. Approximately 60% complete. This is the audiobook I am currently working on, after knocking out Karen Kingsbury's Take Four last week. I have read the first 2 books in this series, and enjoy the lightness of the language combined with the seriousness of of the topics.

The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks. Approximately 7% complete. This is a large hardcover (600+ pages), and I am going to review it eventually for Spirit Blade Underground, but that is down the road a few months, so I am taking it slow.

Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind. Approximately 20% complete. My daughter and I are listening to this together, but it has been a while since we made any progress.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Guys Show: updates!

We have talked to some terrific authors recently on the Book Guys Show podcast. For more details, check out our new website, which contain the videos for the shows (also embedded below, and on YouTube), as well as book-related links. Audio versions of the podcast are available through iTunes.

In episode #81, we had all four hosts and two great guests -- It was a full house! Authors Selena Coppock and Lian Dolan joined us. Selena talked about her humor book, The New Rules for Blondes. Lian talked about her second novel, Elizabeth the First Wife (her first novel, Helen of Pasadena, was reviewed here), as well as her many podcasting efforts, some of which I covered here.

In episode #82, Paul and I spoke with Mur Lafferty. She has produced many audio novels and podcasts, and has just released her first major-publisher work, The Shambling Guide to New York City.  We also talked about book news, as well as some future podcasts that Paul & I may have coming out in the future.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Book #29

Take Four, by Karen Kingsbury. Unabridged audio.

I have mixed feelings about this book, and about the series as a whole. As I wrote when I reviewed Take One, Karen Kingsbury pushed the boundaries of safe Christian fiction. She portrayed a more nuanced view of the arts and movie-making than is often seen in this genre of fiction. But books two and three in series fell back into the more typical attitudes, and were standard Christian novels.

Take Four, the end of this series (but not the end of Kingsbury's handling of these characters), contains an interesting background piece of a Christian father mocking his son for choosing theatre over sports. The father asks the son if he is gay, and this attitude pushes the son away from Christianity and towards a profligate lifestyle, of the heterosexual variety.
This was a short scene, but stands out for putting a Christian father in a bad light, on what is a delicate subject in the Evangelical subculture. It is scenes like these that make me appreciate Kingsbury's writing skill, but also frustrate me that such scenes about such topics are so rare in this type of novel. I read a fair amount of Christian fiction, and it tends to stay well within safe boundaries.
The story of Take Four continues the story of the Keith Ellison's career in movie production. He and his new partner Dayne Matthews, former Hollywood star, are working a new movie as their prior one is coming out.  But their new star, one of Hollywood's hottest young talents, is causing them trouble with his comments and actions. He is also trying to use his Hollywood charm on Bailey Flanagin, his co-lead in the film, whose own relationship is rocky, at best. Andi Ellison, Keith's daughter, is dealing with a surprise pregnancy, and is struggling with whether  to keep the baby, or give it up for adoption.
The plot moves along predictable lines, with little unexpected occurring, save for the scene mentioned above. The movie production wraps without a hitch, the prior movie is well-received, and Andi's baby finds a fine family.
There are definitely some soap-opera moments here, especially in the relationship between Bailey and her boyfriend Cody. Both need serious counseling,  and I doubt that either one is ready for a long-term relationship. Although I appreciate much of what Kingsbury did here, I doubt that I will read the next series from Kingsbury, which features Bailey as the main character.
source:  public library

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Quarter-Bin Review: Starslayer

Starslayer: The Director's Cut, issues 1-8, by Mike Grell, S. Clarke Hawbaker, Tim Burgard, and Jeff Albrecht. Windjammer /Acclaim Comics, 1995. 

This book had an interesting journey to publication. Starslayer was scheduled to be published by DC Comics, but as the economics of the industry changed, the book was axed from DC's schedule. Pacific Comics released six issues in 1982, written and drawn by Mike Grell, after which the series moved to First Comics. Grell wrote and provided breakdowns for issues 7 & 8 for First, before leaving Starslayer. The title continued without its creator for another 26 issues. These eight issues, titled Starslayer: The Director's Cut, are an expanded version of Grell's original six. The main new material is the framing sequences appearing in the first and last issues.

Tamra.  or is it Shakira?
Celtic warrior Torin Mac Quillon rallies his outnumbered clan against the invading Roman legions. As he faces death at the hands of Roman soldiers, he is pulled into the far future by the beautiful scientist Tamra. She has been tasked by the Earth's Board of Directors to find the perfect warrior from Earth's distant past to aid in their efforts to save the planet's dying sun. Along with their robot companion S.A.M. (symbiotic android mindlink), Torin and Tamra fight enemies without and within to save the Earth. It is a very fun romp of a story, a nice blending of ancient and future. 

or is it Tamra?
Grell handles the time-travel aspect of this tale well. Torin was selected for transport at the moment of his death, so there can be no "butterfly" effect from his temporal extraction. In a nice twist at the end, it is revealed that Tamra is a distant progeny of Torin's wife Gwyneth, from her second husband. This means that Torin cannot be sent back to his own time, because his continued life would cause Tamra to never have been born. In addition, the space aspects of this is also handled well. All of the action takes place in our own solar system, meaning that the travel and communication occur without relying on future technologies such as wormholes or transporters.

I am a big fan of Mike Grell, and have enjoyed his work on a wide range of titles, from Warlord and Jon Sable, Freelance to Green Arrow and the Legion of Super-Heroes. There are enough cosmetic similarities that an appropriate shorthand description of this series could be "Warlord ... in space!"

Mike Grell has a distinctive art style, and one that I enjoy. But I do need to say that there are numerous moments in this story that are similar to his work on Warlord. The most obvious how eerily similar Tamra's outfit is to the one worn often by Shakira in Warlord. Torin's facial hair bears some resemblance to Travis Morgan (also from Warlord), as well as Grell's version of Green Arrow. But his use of unique panel layouts and two-page splashes (usually one per issue) more than make up for that minor quibble, and overall the art adds much to this already enjoyable science fiction story. 

Source: my local comic shop's 25-cent bins!

Tuesday, June 4, 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 The Shambling Guide to New Your City, by Mur Lafferty. "Cities had a heartbeat.When she wasn't in a city, she felt soulless, with an ever-present itch telling her something was missing."

I have listened to some of Mur's audio novels before, and am a big fan  of her I Should Be Writing podcast.

Source: Amazon

Monday, June 3, 2013

Out With The Old, In With The New

I am pretty well booked up on podcasts, and so I only add new ones if I can replace an existing one. With the ending of one podcast by a comic-book blogger, I was able to start listening to a new podcast by a comic-book blogger. As a matter of fact, there is a clear path that led me from the former to the latter.

The excellent Longbox Graveyard podcast is ending its run as a 12-episode maxi-series. The monthly episodes that Paul O'Connor (guest on the Book Guys podcast, episode 76 - video here) put out covered a range of interesting comics-related topics. My favorite episodes were #3 (digital comics), #4 (father and son discussion of Frank Miller's Holy Terror), #9 (Hollywood pitches), and #11 (Top 10 issues of Amazing Spider-Man).

Episode #11 of the Longbox Graveyard podcast introduced me to Mark Ginocchio, proprietor of the Chasing Amazing blog. On the blog, he chronicles his thoughts on comic books, mostly set against the backdrop of his goal to collect every issue ever of Amazing Spider-Man. As of this writing, he is missing five issues, not counting annuals.

On the Chasing Amazing blog, Mark mentioned the The Superior Spider-Cast, which he co-hosts with Dan Gvozden. This is a new podcast (3 episodes, as of this writing), covering new issues of Spider-Man. They claim it is going to be a monthly podcast, although less than two weeks passed between the first and second episodes, and then a few days more than two weeks between the second and third. It is a very informative and entertaining look at the current Superior Era of the character.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

May Reading List

28. Skull-Kickers, Treasure Trove volume 1, by Jim Zub and various artists
27. The Dalek Generation (pb), by Nicholas Briggs
26. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
25. The Areas of My Expertise (pb), by John Hodgman
24. The Skin Map (ua), by Stephen Lawhead
23. Catching Fire (ua), by Suzanne Collins

earlier in 2013:
22. Quitter (ua) , by Jon Acuff.
21. The Bone Bed (ua), by Patricia Cornwell.
20. Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart (hc), by J.D. Greear
19. Left Behind: The Kids #28 (pb), by Jerry B. Jenkins, Tim LaHaye, & Chris Fabry
18. Left Behind: The Kids #27 (pb), by Jerry B. Jenkins, Tim LaHaye, & Chris Fabry
17. Left Behind: The Kids #26 (pb), by Jerry B. Jenkins, Tim LaHaye, & Chris Fabry
16. Time Travelers Strictly Cash (aa), by Spider Robinson
15. The Devil's Company (ua), by David Liss
14. Deadly Straits (ua), by R.E. McDermott
13. Doctor Who: Paradise Towers (ua), by Stephen Wyatt
12. DC Universe Secret Origins (gn), by various writers and artists
11. The Gods of Mars (ua), by Edgar Rice Burroughs
10. Craving Grace (hc), by Lisa Velthouse
9. The Sign of Four (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
8. DC Dead (ua), by Stuart Woods
7. A Study in Scarlet (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
6. The Hunger Games (ua), by Suzanne Collins
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