Friday, January 30, 2015

This Week in Reading

The Secret History of Wonder Woman (hc), by Jill LePore, COMPLETED. Reviewed here.
Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way (hc), by Pope John Paul II, pages125 - 201. 
Callahan’s Key (ua), by Spider Robinson, pages 149 - 265.

The Walking Dead 103-108.
Crisis on Infinite Earths 1 
Shado: Song of the Dragon, Book 3

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review of The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Book #4. The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore. Hardocver.

Anyone familiar with comic book history knows about the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston. He was a psychologist who was involved in the creation of the lie detector machine, and lived with both a wife and girlfriend while he was writing Wonder Woman. His views on gender and sexuality filtered were on display in his work, which at times bordered on propaganda for equal rights and his particular view of femininity.

So to a lot of comic book fans, the basic outline of the history in this book was not previously a “secret,” although many of the details certainly were. Lepore does a good job explaining the details of his biography to readers, and details how he developed his particular take on feminism. She does a very nice job comparing scenes in Wonder Woman to literature from the feminist and suffragist movements, as well as from his own life and relational experiences.

Marston’s battles with his DC Comics editors are also covered, as Marston bristled at charges that the rampant bondage in his stories was problematic. The popularity of the character had the effect of pulling her out of Marston’s control, as she appeared in other character’s books. In those, she was reduced in power and authority to a great degree, even serving as the Justice Society’s secretary, rarely joining them in adventures. His death from polio caused the character to lose that fire that Marston imbued her with, but she has remained popular to this day.

There is a lengthy section devoted to his work on the lie detector, and the downward spiral that his academic career seemed to take as he devoted much of his energies to this project, which of course failed to become a credible source of evidence in legal cases. The most surprising (or “secret”) part of the story was that one of the women in his household wrote articles for the popular press extolling Marston, not revealing her relationship with her subject.

There has been a small dust-up recently, in which some of Marston’s descendents have questioned Lepore and her methods. But I am more likely to trust the Harvard professor who has been nominated in the past for a National Book Award. Even though Lepore did have a story to tell, in general I trust her objectivity more than that of the family.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review of A Bear Called Paddington

Book #3. A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond. Hardcover.

Along with Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington Bear is the earliest fictional character that I can remember being a fan of. We got many of his books from the library growing up, and I always considered myself a fan. And as I grew older, I found a similar joy in Michael Bond’s delightful Monsieur Pamplemousse series.

But with a big-budget movie coming out, that doesn’t look all that promising, I decided to pick up the first book for a nostalgic read. And what a fun read it was.

Michael Bond has such a light touch with the storytelling, letting the events just unfold before our eyes. The fact that Paddington is a bear(much less a talking one) is remarked upon, but never really made a big deal. It is just the perfect level of surrealism that these stories need. There is nothing spoon-fed, nothing dumbed-down, just very funny stories. For kids of any age, including mine.

The eight chapters in the book are basically stand-alone stories, with just a bit of connection. My favorite stories were “A Bear in Hot Water,” “A Visit to the Theater,” and “Adventure at the Seaside.” Each of these shows Paddington interacting with something unusual (a bath, the theatre, and the beach, respectively), doing his sincere best to handle it, and somehow overcoming obstacles, with the help of the Browns or another human friend.

Sometimes nostalgia doesn’t work out in the current day. But in this case, it did. It certainly did.

Friday, January 23, 2015

This Week in Reading

The Secret History of Wonder Woman (hc), by Jill LePore, pages 210 - 259.
Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way (hc), by Pope John Paul II, pages114 - 125.
Paul & The Faithfulness of God, by N.T. Wright (pb), pages 135 - 163.
A Bear Called Paddington (hc), by Michael Bond, COMPLETED. Review to follow.
Callahan’s Key (ua), by Spider Robinson, pages 38 - 149.

Catwoman 7-12. Reviewed here. 
Wonder Woman 19-23.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Own Podcast Awards!

My Very 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 2014. And since the official Podcast Awards were delayed into later this year, this is about as official as things can get for now ...

Favorite Podcast That I Have Guested On
Runners-Up: Views From the Longbox, Walking Dead Wednesday, Trentus Magnus Punches Reality, Just One of the Guys, The Fantasticast, The Fire & Water Podcast, Who True Freaks
Winner: Back to the Bins, which has not just had me on, but had me BACK. More than once. That hardly ever happens. They also had my daughter Emily on. 

Favorite Overall Podcast
Runners-Up: Comics Monthly Monday, The Tony Kornheiser Show, More Than One Lesson
Winner: No Agenda

Best Produced Podcast
Runners-Up: X-Files Truth, No Agenda, Arkham Sessions
Winner: Spirit Blade Underground 

Best New Podcast of 2014
Runners-Up:  Parallel Lines, SQPN: Secrets of Doctor Who, Mark's Mess, Earning My Ears. {almost nominated: Comic Book Time Machine}
Winner:  King-Size Comics Giant-Size Fun

Gonna Miss You Award, for a show that ended (or maybe seems to have ended) in 2014.
Runners-up: Authentic Life Radio, The Social Hour, The Bunker Project, Mad Money Machine
Winner:  Superman in the Bronze Age

Back From The Dead Award, for shows that seemed to maybe be dead, but released at least one episode in 2014!
Runners-up:  Praxis Podcast, The Jen and Dave Show, Superman Forever Radio
Winner:  Tales of the Justice Society of America. After taking 2013 off, they released 15 episodes in 2014, and have big big plans for 2015.

Special Award: Best Individual Podcast Episode 
Uncovering the Bronze Age #5, in which my daughter Emily (with audio contributions from some podcasting luminaries) talks about the influential book Seduction of the Innocent, as well as its notorious author Fredric Wertham. It's part audio drama, part book report, part podcast episode.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review of Catwoman 7-12

Catwoman Volume 2: Dollhouse, by Judd Winnick, with art by Adriana Melo & Guillem March. Collecting issues 7-12.

Runaways and prostitutes are being kidnapped off the streets of Gotham. It’s the kind of street-level crime that the GCPD has barely noticed, and that Batman doesn’t often get involved with at this stage, leaving Catwoman to do the job. But working closely with the police to bring down this creep may jeopardize the lucrative business she has going on as a high-end car thief.

She has hooked up with a mildly-electrified character called Spark who helps her with the thievery, but whose ultimately loyalty becomes a plot point by issues 11 and 12. Her new fence and partner, Gwen Altamont, is a nice addition to the cast, and her growing working relationship with Detective Alvarez is also a nice subplot. Issue 10 ends with her surprising the Detective in his home. She just came for a chat, but even a helpful police Detective will not take kindly to an unannounced visit from a wanted criminal. There is quite a fight scene, after which their partnership progresses. 

I far preferred March’s realistic pencils in issues 9 & 10 to Melo’s cartoony style of art in issues 7 & 8, and 11 & 12. Yes, Catwoman should be fun and energetic and have a bit of humor, but there is an underlying grittiness that March expresses better.

Winnick did a good job with issue 9, a Night of Owls crossover that brought the Penguin into the book. But this did not slow down the “Dollhouse” arc, as he was able to include the crossover events without having to divert too far from his own ongoing storyline. The appearance of Batman in issue 12 is also handled well. 

In every iteration of Catwoman, she straddles the lines between villain and hero. This New 52 version of the transition from villain to anti-hero has been enjoyable to see. Winnick has a good handle of the character, and consistently gives her good and entertaining bits of dialogue. I have fallen behind in my reading of this title, which continues to sell relatively well. 

Note: Issues 1-6 were reviewed here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

This Week in Reading

Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way (hc), by Pope John Paul II, pages 79 - 114.
A Bear Called Paddington (hc), by Michael Bond, pages, pages 1-107
Cut & Thrust (ua), by Stuart Woods, COMPLETED. Reviewed here. 
Callahan’s Key (ua), by Spider Robinson, pages 1 – 38. 

Fables 100
America vs. the JSA 3 & 4
King Conan 12, and Conan the King 23 & 31
The New Avengers 26
Doctor Who (11th) 13-16

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review of Cut & Thrust

Book #2. Cut & Thrust, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

As Stuart Woods’ productivity has exploded over the last few years (I assume with co-writers, but I don’t know that), his output has varied in quality. Unfortunately, this book is one of the weaker ones.

The core problem is that there is not one book-length story going on in this book. Yes, lots of little things are happening, but it’s hard to figure out the exact plot. It seems as if Woods had a lot of plot ideas, but couldn’t figure out how to develop them into novel-length plots, so he put them all in this book. Whatever the genesis of book was, the overall novel falls a bit short.

Stone Barrington is the lead character, but most of the plot involves Catherine Lee’s run for the Democrat party Presidential nomination. Much of the story takes place at the party’s nominating convention, and there were enough shortcuts and simplifications of the process to make these parts of the novel annoying. I spent a few years as a C-SPAN junkie, and I know that that is NOT how the nominating process works.

That story wraps up about two-thirds of the way through the book, at which point Ed Eagle moves to the forefront of the narrative. He has been the lead of a handful of Woods’ prior novels including Santa Fe Edge, reviewed here. His storyline wraps up in a nice manner. Stone’s best friend Dino is not in the book very much, just long enough for him to take the next step in his career. 

 And of course, since this is a Stuart Woods novel, everything works out for every character in the best way possible – Dino is just one example. I noticed that this started happening about a dozen novels ago, but there are times that the good fortune of Stone Barrington and his friends is simply unbelievable.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review of A Delicate Truth

Book #1. A Delicate Truth, by John Le Carré. Unabridged audio.

With this, I have read all of Le Carré’s novels. I don’t know if the 80+ year-old writer has any more novels planned, but if he does, I’ll probably read them. That is not to say that I have loved all of Le Carré’s novels from the last fifteen years or so. Certainly, his work was at its best during the Cold War, while some of his post-9/11 novels have left me cold.

I found A Delicate Truth to be a bit of a return to form, following the story of the veteran British civil intelligence officer caught up in the machinations of the British police state in the era of the war on terror. The man is involved in a botched kidnapping attempt in Gibraltar, an event that remains buried for years. But a young intelligence officer’s investigation into the affair turns the story into as much of a mystery tale as it is an espionage tale. The young officer faces many personal and professional risks in his attempts to bring the details of this episode to light. Many of his colleagues and superiors would prefer the events to stay buried.

Le Carré experiments with shifting time lines in this novel, and it took a while for me to realize this. Two main characters are in fact the same person, at different stages of their careers in intelligence, operating under different names. Once I “got” this, I appreciated this literary technique.

This is certainly not Le Carré at his best, this book does not crackle with the intensity of his Cold War novels in the 1970s and 1980s. But it is one of his better post-Cold War novels, and I was satisfied with the reading experience.

Friday, January 9, 2015

This Week in Reading

A Delicate Truth (ua), by John Le Carre. Completed. Review will follow.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman (hc), by Jill LePore, pages176-210 (body of text) , and 369-432 (notes)
Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way (hc), by Pope John Paul II, pages 51- 79.
Paul & The Faithfulness of God, by N.T. Wright (pb), pages 117-135.

Loki Agent of Asgard 1-5
America vs. the JSA 1 & 2
Fables 94-99.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 reading analysis

I have been keeping track of my annual reading for nearly 10 years now. In 2014, I read 55 books. This compares to 66 books read last year, compares to 75 in 2012, 84 in 2011, 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. The continued decrease of my reading in 2014 I blame on the amount of podcasting I did in 2014.  I hope that I can again read 50 books in 2015.

I have always been a fan of audio, and 30 of the 55 books I consumed this year were via unabridged audio. 14 were traditional dead-tree books, 10 were graphic novels or collections, and 1 was on my Nook.

The 47 novels I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 47, as many books fit into more than one category)
Fantasy/SF -- 24
Mystery/Thriller -- 18
Religious/Christian --5
YA -- 4
Historical -- 2
Contemporary --1

The 8 non-fiction works I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 8, as many books fit into more than one category)
Christian/Theology -- 5
Literature -- 3
Memoir -- 2
History -- 1