Saturday, August 31, 2013

Podcast Marathon

With my wife and daughter both out of the house most of the day yesterday, I was able to listen to a ton of podcasts, including these ones:

Just One of the Guys, episode #79. Shawn Engel has managed to put out weekly episodes of this show for a year and a half. Very impressive. And the show (about the comic book character Green Lantern) is very enjoyable.

On The Page, #312. Actress and writer Pippa Hinchley is the guest, as she and host Pilar Alessandra talk about the difference between writing sketch and film.

Major Spoilers, #535. And a long discussion of the first trade paperback of the World War II era graphic novel Pater Panzerfaust.

Hey Kids, Comics! volume 2, episode #35. Father-and-son team Andy and Micheal Leyland

The Tolkien Professor, Riddles in the Dark, #2.10. Professor Corey Olsen and his sidekicks make predictions about how the Ring of Power will be handled in the upcoming second volume of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book 45: Shambling Guide to NYC

The Shambling Guide to New York City, by Mur Lafferty. Paperback.

 I have been a fan of Mur Lafferty for a long time now -- I have blogged about her podcast before, and have reviewed one of her small-press novels. We even talked with her on episode 82 of the Book Guys Show.

And this week, I finished reading her first traditionally published novel, The Shambling Guide to New York City. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A range of personal issues has caused Zoe to leave her job as a travel writer in North Carolina, and she lands in New York City looking for a fresh start in the publishing business.  A flyer in a coffee shop leads her to apply for a job with a firm run by monsters publishing travel guides for monsters. To say that "she just won't fit in" may be an understatement.

But Zoe talks the vampire publisher into hiring her, much to the chagrin of her zombie and death goddess co-workers. The incubus is glad to see her, but he is glad to see everyone. She takes her job seriously, and tries to ignore the odd dining habits of her co-workers to produce an informative guide, snippets of which appear at the end of each chapter. But when a life-bringer (zoetist) comes to New York City to wreak havoc, Zoe finds herself in the middle of battle between coterie factions. There is golem vs. golem action on a grand scale.

I enjoyed the world that Lafferty built here. The monsters (collectively called "the coterie") interact with some humans, and this is a model that makes sense. There is no way that this world could be completely hidden from the human world is not believable. The presence of the Public Works Department is an original take -- in addition to caring for the sewers and utilities of New York City, these hard-working people enforce the coterie/human treaties, and "clean up" out-of-control monsters.

There is not a lot of fresh or surprising about this book. There are certain popular elements from urban fantasy and other genre work that play major roles here. The role of the wise elder, for example, was very standard. I was also mildly annoyed by Zoe's name. It is pointed out that her name means "life," and that was fine. But the presence of a group of beings called zoetists and a character named Zoe was a bit silly, I thought. But of course that is the smallest of all possible nitpicks.

I know from Lafferty's podcast that the second book in the series, tentatively titled "Ghost Train to New Orleans," is scheduled to come out in 2014. And I look forward to reading it.

Tuesday, August 27, 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 1 of Mockingjay,the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy: "The only area that escaped incineration was the Victor's Village.I don't know why exactly. Perhaps so anyone forced to come here on Capitol business would have somewhere decent to stay. "

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Revisiting Holmes: The Third Novel

Book #45. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unabridged audio.

First published in 1901 and 1902 in serialized form, this is probably the most well-known of the Holmes novels. Although A Study in Scarlet has its iconic moments involving Watson meeting Holmes, Hound seems to be the go-to Holmes story. For example, when the kids show "Wishbone" did a Holmes story, they selected The Hound of the Baskervilles. It has been adapted into radio plays and movies multiple times.

There are good reasons for the popularity of this novel. Hound has everything a classic Holmes novel should have: fog, a moor, a spooky house, distant family relations, and a vaguely supernatural mystery. There are some very good Holmes stories told in London, but the atmosphere of stories like Hound make for more iconic stories.
The fun of this novel is that Holmes and Watson split up, and what we get of the investigation is almost all from Watson's perspective. These parts are told via letters written by Watson to Holmes, and conversations between Watson and various members of the Baskerville household.  Of course Holmes shows up in a dramatic way at the end to  solve the mystery and set Watson straight. 

I find the Sherlock Holmes novels to generally be more satisfying that the short stores, or at least more consistently good. The extra space allows Doyle to build a more complex plot, and explore character relationships. And he does so here, without the long diversion to Utah we get in A Study in Scarlet. The Holmes opus can be daunting, containing as it does four novels and fifty-six short stories. But this novel may be the best place for a newbie to start.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Guys Updates!

We have had some very fun episodes 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 #86, Paul, Father Robert, & I talked about the book news, and about Doc Savage, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and what happens when the Royals visit the Doctor Who set.

I missed episode #87, but in #88, Paul, Sir Jimmy and I spoke about Luke Jaconetti's terrific Earth Destruction Directive podcast, my own new podcast efforts, our new sponsor Tonx Coffee,
the upcoming Ender's Game audio drama -- and some books, too!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book #44: Guild of the Cowry Catchers, book 4

Guild of the Cowry Catchers, volume 4, by Abigail Hilton. Unabridged audio, full cast.

This fourth volume of the Cowry Catcher epic (subtitled "Out of the Ashes") picks up where the prior volume left off.  I have reviewed the prior book here.

Gerard and Silveo believe that have made peace with their pasts, and the state of their relationship, but time will tell how accurate their assessments are. The pair expected to leave Wefrivain for a new life. However, an unexpected cry for help brought them and their newfound pirate friends back home. In order to help the fauns, they need to circulate Gwain’s forbidden book. Hilton has used selections from the book as chapter introductions throughout the series, so seeing the book make an appearance in the plot was a nice touch.
Gwain himself has already given up the task as hopeless, but Silveo and Gerard disagree. They know where a printing press is located, but liberating it will be just the start of a dangerous adventure. I like that he has been brought into the story as an active character.

I enjoyed the adventure of the first two volumes more than the more relationship-based drama of the last two volumes. But the final scene of this volume gives me hope that the action will be turned back up in the fifth and final volume.
Source: Guild of the Cowry Catchers podcast. There are many versions of this book, including a beautifully illustrated one.

Monday, August 19, 2013

New 52 Review: Wonder Woman, vol 2

Wonder Woman Volume 2: Guts, hardcover collection, containing issues 7-12, by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Tony Akins. 

Continuing the story of the prior volume (Blood, reviewed here), we are faced with an Olympus where Zeus has removed himself from the throne. And of course there are many who would like to take his place ruling the realm.
The mortal (and pregnant) woman Zola has been stolen away to the underworld, and Diana has to find a way to get her out. At one point, she ends up with her own lasso wrapped around her, confessing that she loves Hades. But Brian Azzarello demonstrates his complete control of this world, as he manages to get her out of this situation in a logical way.

Azzarello continues to fuse his experience writing terrific crime stories into this Amazonian world of gods and heroes. Hephaestus the weapons maker supplies plenty of weapons here, Eros has some awesome magic guns, and even Zola is packing a shotgun. Azzarello makes this ohterworldy setting his own.
His writing of dialogue continues to be very strong. Among the words he puts in character’s mouths are:   "There's birth and there's death. And in between it's all improvisation," and "There isn't space in Hell for love. It's too cluttered with memories and regrets."

Tony Akins takes on the art duties for issues 9 & 10, and his style is very different from the unique style of Cliff Chiang. This could have been jarring, but Azzarello made sure that the stories with the fill-in artist took place in Hades' realm. This made the art changes seem “natural,” in that Hades and Earth should look different from each other, and in these two issue, they do. That was very good schedule planning, or perhaps very good luck.
The ending is intriguing, and it has my hopes up for where the story may be going. Diana's understanding of who she is has changed over these twelve issues, as she has learned the extent to which she has been deceived as to her origin -- perhaps a comment on the many comic book origins that Wonder Woman has faced? As I have written here before, Wonder Woman has experienced more than her fair share of re-boots over the years, but this version of the Amazon is one of the best things to come out of the NEW 52 initiative.

The sales for this title continue to be good. The book is consistently among DC’s top 12 selling books. In the years leading up to the reboot, the prior iteration of Wonder Woman’s title was selling fewer copies than this one, and usually landed around #20 among DC books.

Source: public library.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Between Audiobooks (2)

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 a few weeks ago, in between Free and The Big Cat Nap. I listened to these episodes:

362: Contamination, by Jay Workiser. The problems that long-term space travel have on diplomacy.

363: Flowing Shapes, by Rajan Khanna. Learning the skill of shape-shifting.

364: Techno-Rat, by Brad Hafford. High-tech car thieves versus high-tech cop

365. The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Jay Caselberg. Interplanetary cultural exchange, of the sexy-time variety.

366. Some of Them Closer, by Marissa Lingen. A terra-former returns from space to her home in Montreal, to find things changed just enough for her to not fit in.

367. Lion Dance, by Vylar Kaftan. Chinese New Year in a flu-ravaged future.

368. Springtime for Deathtraps, by Marjorie James. Tales of the legendary death-trap builders. A true locked-door mystery.

369. Passengers, by Robert Silverberg. Being able to jump into another’s body sounds cool; but what about those whose bodies get jumped into?

370. The Care and Feeding of Mamalian Bipeds, v 2.1, by M Darusha When. A robotic view of human dynamics and interactions.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book 43: The Big Cat Nap

The Big Cat Nap, by Rita Mae Brown & Sneakie Pie Brown. Unabridged audio.

I have read every one of the novels in this series, and was excited to read this one, the 20th anniversary novel.  The mystery in this novel focuses on the automobile business. All of the victims worked at the same repair shop. We also learn of a new insurance company dominating the market, and we take in some local drag racing. But what are the connections, and who would want the mechanics dead?

This plot gave “Harry” Hairsteen a chance to show her knowledge as a gearhead, which has been hinted at in prior novels in the series. This is a strength of this particular book – there are times in long series where a character expresses an interest in the 20th book that ties neatly into the plot, that had never been mentioned in the prior 19 novels, and never gets mentioned again! But here, Brown picks up on a trait that has been part of Harry’s character over the life of the series, and builds a very solid mystery around that trait.
No spoilers, but the mystery makes sense in the context given, and the drama in discovering the murderer is exciting. The character moments make sense, although nothing earth-shaking occurs. Over the life of the series, there have been logical life changes, job changes, and relationship changes.
Some series lose steam as they march along, but Brown (and Brown) have been able to maintain a relatively high level over the life of this series, and I look forward to continue reading books in this series.

Tuesday, August 13, 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 Jon S. Lewis' Invasion, Book 1 of the C.H.A.O.S. Trilogy: "From head to foot the creature was covered in fur the color of a sunrise, and it looked like a mad scientist had performed strange experiments on it. There was a second head make out of iron bolted over its left shoulder, and a mechanical arm that connected to a series of metal plates covered its rib cage."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book #42. Free, by Chris Anderson

Free, by Chris Anderson, unabridged audio read by the author.

Chris Anderson, the author of The Long Tail, came back with an exploration of the economics of pricing for the modern world. One of the trends apparent in a technology-based world is the power of the free product -- this blog and my podcasts, for example. Anderson covers many aspects of the internet economy, from the ad-supported model, the freemium model, the gift economy, the app economy, and even pirating.

Some of these pricing models are not new, such as free radio, and ad-supported TV and newspapers, and Anderson writes about the history of those industries. Anderson does a good job talking about the music industry, and how record labels have always been against change, even the free model of receiving music via the radio. His concepts of "atoms" versus "bits" is valuable, as is the notion of "abundance thinking," as a means of promoting economic growth.
Anderson is quick to point out that the word "free" has two meanings ("no cost" and "liberty") and although the two definitions may relate to each other, the "no cost" definition is the important one for new media.

This is a three-year-old book, and in many management texts, that is not a problem. But in this case, it makes for some out-of-date examples, such as the claim that the hottest hardware category is netbooks. But the key concepts of the book are still noteworthy, and the straight economic discussions are very worthwhile.

Source: NoiseTrade website, which has a pay-what-you-want model

Friday, August 9, 2013

Solo Podcast Update

I know that not everyone who reads this blog does so for the comic-book content, but if you do ... the Relatively Geeky Network is now up and running, and there are even episodes available for your listening pleasure!

Check out the feed on iTunes, or the network website, for the shows, which include:

The Quarter-Bin Podcast, hosted by me, in which I review my favorite type of comic books -- cheap comic books.

Uncovering the Bronze Age, hosted by my daughter, in which she talks about comics from the 1970s, when the storytelling became more mature, and social issues of the day were occasionally addressed.

Shortbox Showcase, co-hosted by my and my daughter, where we talk about other miscellaneous comic book topics.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book #41. Iron Man: Legacy of Doom

This review is of 8 comic book issues, written over more than a quarter-century. The story takes place in Iron Man 149 & 150, 249 & 250, and Legacy of Doom 1-4.

In a terrific two-part story from 1981, Iron Man and Doctor Doom first visit Camelot. As the pair battle over a business dispute, a disgruntled Doom employee hits the button that sends the pair back to time of King Arthur. Doom seeks out Morganna LeFey, and asks her help in releasing the soul of his gypsy mother from Hell. She agrees, in return for Doom leading her undead forces against Arthur. But Iron Man is able to force the sorceress to flee, leaving Doom without an army to lead. His purpose for coming to Camelot gone, Doom suggests that their combined circuitry can return them to their rightful time. Returning to the present, the men call a truce, but each recognizes that they will meet again in battle.

In a 1989 sequel, the pair received mysterious high-tech artifacts, which mystically draw the men to London of 2093. There, they are met be the great wizard Merlin, who introduces them to the current incarnation of Arthur, who unfortunately is just a young boy. They have all been called to this time because England (and the Earth) faces dangers from space. They can only return together, and Iron Man is staying to save the day, forcing the reluctant Doom to become his reluctant ally.

The Lady of the Lake finds herself paved over by a modern mega-mall, but Merlin is able to locate her. The sword chooses Iron Man as champion, which Doctor Doom does not appreciate. Both men find themselves battling their heirs, who are allies on the side of destruction, having agreed to share rule after the catastrophe. They save the day, and before leaving for their own time, Doom reveals that he has learned that Iron Man is in fact Tony Stark, but that knowledge does not accompany him back to the present. The men call another truce, but realize that their rivalry will continue: another time.

In 2008, David Michelinie revisited this story, in the four-issue Iron Man: Legacy of Doom. Doom summons Tony Stark’s “lackey” as an aid in his battle against Mephisto’s efforts to bring the End of Days. The pair head off together for another trip, this time to Hell. And in a move that is a surprise to nobody but Iron Man, Doctor Doom leaves the Avenger behind in Hell, having made a deal with the devil. After fighting the spirit of his long-dead father, Iron Man escapes to battle Doom back on Earth.

Doom received from Mephisto a shard of Excalibur, and with it, he drafts Morganna Le Fey into his scheme, and forces her to provide for him a reforged version of Excalibur. The magic-born sword damages Iron Man’s armor, and the pair go toe-to-toe in a terrific series of fight scenes. But they are forced (of course) to join forces, when Mephisto’s plan to end the world actually begins to manifest. They join forces to fight eyeball-creatures from another dimension, with Merlin’s help, after which their memories of the fight fade. They end the story as adversaries, once again.

This is a great collection of stories. The fact that Michelinie manages to keep the characters in character over stories written decades apart is quite an accomplishment. All of the characters or consistent, including Merlin, who appears throughout the issues. And the art remains consistent throughout, as well, with many call-backs and references to confrontations as the story progresses.

I am a huge fan of Doctor Doom, and although he is rightly considered to be primarily a Fantastic Four adversary, the Camelot stories from the 1980s are among my absolute favorite Doom stories ever. And among my favorite Iron Man stories ever. I especially like the fact that Doom had understandable motivation in all of these issues, from rescuing his mother to protecting the entire Earth from destruction.

The hardcover volume that collects Legacy of Doom 1-4 is very good, including an introduction that summarizes the issues from the 1980s. It also contains David Michelinie’s written pitch to Marvel Comics for the 4-issue mini-series. This was a fascinating document, giving insight to the outlining process that a writer goes through in developing a story before receiving a commitment from the publisher.

Source: Issues 149, 150, 249 & 250 are from my personal comic book collection collection. Legacy of Doom is from the public library.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book #40: The She-Hulk Diaries

The She-Hulk Diaries, by Marta Acosta. Paperback.

Most of the time, Jennifer Walters is a highly-skilled, responsible attorney, specializing in superhuman law. But some of the time, she morphs into the 650-pound, crime-fighting, party-loving She-Hulk. To say she has issues of work-life balance is an understatement.

Her alter ego’s late-night adventures have gotten Jennifer kicked out of Avengers Mansion. Think about that for a second – they let Tony Stark stay, but kicked Jennifer out. That’s how crazy She-Hulk’s public antics can be.

This prose novel covers five months in Walter’s life, and the story is told in diary form. There are parallel tracks of a big case involving a defective medical treatment, of Jennifer’s meeting a pair of potential love interests (one of whom she knew years before, and is engaged to one of Jen’s co-workers), and of She-Hulk’s super-heroics. This is mostly Jennifer’s story, and She-Hulk stays mostly in the background.

I liked how Marta Acosta regularly dropped in the phrase “as I always tell my clients,” pulling together legal advice and concepts (the chapter titles are all legal terms, as well). This allows her to apply these ideas to various aspects of Walter’s life, and to anyone with whom she interacts.

Acosta does a good job of regularly intersecting any two of these threads, and then bringing all three together for a climactic ending that is both invigorating and satisfying. The book walks the fine line of being “girly,” but Acosta brings such a light touch, that those moments come across as humorous as much as anything else. Along with the occasional super-powered action sequence, this book fulfills its goal of being accessible to a wide range of audiences.

And as a huge fan of Doctor Doom, I have to say that I liked the many references to the Latverian leader, and to references of past adventures between the novel’s hero and the misunderstood villain.

Source: public library.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Book #39: Elizabeth the First Wife

Elizabeth the First Wife, by Lian Dolan. NOOK.

We spoke with author Lian Dolan in episode 081 of the Book Guys Show podcast, and I have mentioned her many times in this blog, from her podcasting to her prior novel. I have been a fan of hers for almost a decade, maybe more.

This book is not a sequel to Helen of Pasadena, but it does take place in the same universe. There are some fun references towards the end of the book that relate the two books together. In this book, community college professor Elizabeth Lancaster spends her summer with her movie star ex-husband, as they throw together a play for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The ex-husband sees this as a chance to raise his Oscar profile as a “real actor.” Elizabeth sees this as a chance to spend the summer a few hundred miles away from her sisters and parents.

Elizabeth’s family are a highly impressive lot, and even though she enjoys her job, she is nonetheless the least accomplished person in her family. And her mother is skilled in pointing out that fact. Her brother-in-law is a California Congressman launching a bid for the Governorship. And she finds herself attracted to the politician’s Chief of Staff.

The Hollywood director brought in to work on the play has outrageous ideas, including some tasteful nudity on the stage. The ex-husband’s celebrity status makes sure that word gets out about the nudity, and when the connection between the play and the politician become public, Elizabeth finds herself in a public relations firestorm.

This is a great smart read, with a sense of fun, characters whose actions make sense, and plot that moves at a great pace.

The only minor criticism I would have is that the stakes seemed low for Elizabeth. Yes, her burgeoning relationship with the Chief of Staff is at risk, but that was in its very earliest stages, and I don’t know that losing it would have been a tragedy.

Maybe it is because I usually read thrillers and fantasy and comic books, with lives or worlds routinely in the balance. And her family issues aside, Elizabeth seemed to have a pretty awesome life, and (no spoilers) things seemed to continually work out for her and all those around her, in just about the best ways possible.

That being said, Lian is a terrific writer, and her skill is at display throughout the novel. Her books have a breezy readability, and a sense of both fun and humor. While Elizabeth is clearly the central character, most of the supporting cast get their chances to shine.

I understand that there is a third book coming in this series, and I look forward to reading it.

Source: Purchased from the Nook store.