Saturday, December 31, 2016

This Week in Reading

The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, by L. Frank Baum, COMPLETED. Review here.
Prince Lestat, by Anne Rice, pages 1 – 107.
Boo Hiss, by Rene Gutteridge, COMPLETED. Review here.
Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny, COMPLETED. Review here.

Archie Christmas Classics
Doc Savage 3 – 6
King Conan 8, 15
The Wicked + The Divine 1 – 11
Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 years, COMPLETED.
World of Archie Double Digest 64

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Review of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

Book 48. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, by L. Frank Baum. Unabridged audio.
This is a wonderful imagining of the life of Santa Claus, telling the secret story of how he came to be the loving gift-giver we know him to be.
Published just a few years after the first Oz book, this book is written in Baum’s trademark style. Recasting the story with elements from fairy tales adds an eerie, odd sense to the story. There are forests, woodsmen, and evil beings who can turn invisible, just to name a few of these aspects.
In this telling, Santa is found as a baby by the immortal Master Woodsman of the World. As he grows, he becomes concerned about the poor state of many children, and begins to aid them by carving pieces of wood into things that he calls “toys.” With the help of other immortals, he delivers these toys to an ever-expanding group of children, eventually becoming an immortal himself.
All of the elements that are needed in a story about Santa are here. The traditional roles of chimneys, stockings, reindeer, helper elves and the impossible bag are all worked into the story. The presence of toy stores in the modern world is also explained.
This was a thoroughly delightful story.

Source: The Classic Tales Podcast. As always, BJ Harrison does a wonderful job narrating this story.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review of Project Management for Dummies

 Book 47. Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny. Paperback.
I read this book to prepare for a class I am teaching in the Spring semester. It is a class I haven’t taught in a number of years, so I read this to refresh my memory on the general topic. I like using non-textbook textbooks in class, mostly because they are so much less expensive that traditional texts. But I’m not going to use this formally in the class. As effective as some of these titles might be, students don’t like being called “Dummies.” They can be kind of touchy.
This was a very good refresher on the concept of project management. All of the basic topics are covered, including scheduling, budgeting, managing a team, and effective communication. Each of these topics is covered in two to four chapters, with plenty of checklists and diagrams.
The biggest problem with any book like this is that can become out of date very quickly, especially where technology is involved. Portny does a good job keeping references to technology generic, not focusing on specific features of specific software packages.
Like most “Dummies” books, this is organized to be a user-friendly reference. I read it straight through, but someone involved in an actual project can look up the specific topic that they need to review. If an introduction to the broad topic is what someone needs, this is a good place to get one.

Source: My wife purchased this for work, probably from Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Review of Boo Hiss

Book 46. Boo Hiss, by Rene Gutteridge. Unabridged audio.
Rene Gutteridge stands out among writers of religious fiction in that her books manage to be funny. And the “Boo” series, of which this is the third novel, have consistently managed this “light” tone. “Boo Hiss” is another fun, light read.
Like the prior two novels, this book takes place in and around the small town of Skary, Indiana, where famed horror novelist calls home. In this one, Boone is navigating his struggles as a horror novelist who has recently found religious faith. He hasn’t had a good idea since becoming a believer, and doesn’t even know if he’ll ever be able to return to that life.
But even without the mystery writer writing mystery, strange things still happen around the little town. Like the soccer fields that appear overnight on the outskirts of town, and the strange new coffee shop that opens. Throw in a missing two-headed snake and a maniacal community theatre director, and you have the makings for true shenanigans.
I am used to reading epic adventures, novels where the stakes are incredibly high, and it was refreshing to read a novel where the stakes were smaller, more personal. To the characters involved, the implications of the events of the story certainly mattered. Just because the fate of the world is not at stake,
Many of the funny moments in the novel involve comments about the publishing industry, including a few swipes at Christian publishing. Along with sly comments about modern suburbia and church culture, Gutteridge tells a story that is both entertaining and strangely self-aware.

Source: Hoopla

Saturday, December 24, 2016

This Week in Reading

Boo Hiss, by Rene Gutteridge, pages 1 – 39 
League of Dragons, by Naomi Novik, COMPLETED. Review here.
Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny, pages 207 – 270.

DC Comics Bombshells 20
Doc Savage 1 – 2
Excalibur 17, 19 & 21
Green Arrow 13
Sarge Snorkel 6
Snake Woman 7 – 10
Superboy (starring the Legion of Super-Heroes) 203
Trinity 3 & 4
Wonder Woman 12
Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 years, pages 242 – 320.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review of League of Dragons

Book 45. League of Dragons, by Naomi Novik. Unabridged audio.
Ending things is hard. Whether it’s a movie, a TV series, a comic book series, a novel, or a novel series, it’s always true. Ending things is hard.
With this novel, Naomi Novik ends her excellent Temeraire series on a high note. Many series of this length have a few clunkers along the way (Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels) or seem to overstay their welcome (Stuart Woods’ Stone Barrington novels), but this series managed to avoid both of those unfortunate circumstances. The series is faithful to its historical fiction roots, and as the Napoleonic Wars ended in the real world, they ended in these novels. Novik fills in the gaps of our history books by including the important role played by dragons in her telling of the tale.
Napoleon’s invasion of Russia failed. But even as William Laurence and Temeraire pursue the retreating enemy through an unforgiving winter, the French leader is raising a new force, and he’ll soon have enough men and dragons to resume the offensive. As a final gambit, Napoleon has promised the dragons of every country—and the ferals, loyal only to themselves—vast new rights and powers if they fight under his banner. It is an offer eagerly embraced from Asia to Africa—and even in England, whose dragons have complained about their poor and dispectful treatment.
The inclusion of dragons in various international cultures has long been a strength of this series. With this novel, Novik brings dragons into the English political process, as well. It is a story point I did not see coming, but given the context of the series, it makes a bit of sense.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this series, from start to finish. I will miss the series, but appreciate the way in which it came to a conclusion.

Source: Hoopla

Saturday, December 17, 2016

This Week in Reading

League of Dragons, by Naomi Novik, pages 81 – 231.
Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny, pages 182 – 207.  

Action Comics 655
Adventures of Superman 462
Bizarre Adventures 34
DC Rebirth Holiday Special
Doctor Fate (1987) 3 & 4
Green Arrow 12
Journey into Mystery 520 & 521
King Conan 1, 3, 4, 11, 13, 14 & 18
Sherlock Holmes: Adventure of the Opera Ghost #1 & #2
Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 years, pages 175 – 242.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Late Great Shawn Engel

 A year ago, the podcasting community lost one of the good ones. Shawn Engel, from Just One of the Guys, Who True Freaks, and many other shows, passed away after a brief illness. It was a shock to us all, and his loss is still felt.

To commemorate the anniversary of his passing, Aaron Henley assembled a group of podcasters to talk about Shawn's legacy. I participated in part of that episode, which has recently been released.

I encourage you to listen to the episode, and remember the kind, talented man who left us far too soon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Review of Scandalous Behavior

Book 44. Scandalous Behavior, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.
This novel picks up right where the last one (Foreign Affairs, reviewed here) left off, with Stone Barrington still in Europe. Looking for peace and quiet in rural England, he falls into yet another mystery, another adventure. And as much danger as he usually faces.
Barrington does what he always does when he finds himself in a new country – he buys a multi-million-dollar house, buys a luxury automobile, gets himself a new girlfriend, and generates new business for his law firm. Unfortunately, one of his new British neighbors turns up dead. When the supposed killer also dies, Stone suspects more is going on than meets the eye. At the same time, Stone’s son has released a controversial movie about a controversial religious figure who has a habit of bringing physical harm to those who have crossed him.
The story moves very quickly, as (like the prior one) the action takes place over just a few days. There are some repetitive aspects to Woods’ novels, and the end result is never in doubt. But the journey is often exciting, and this one was dramatic enough to be interesting.
The novel ends with Woods returning to the States, and I assume the next novel will pick up right after this one does.
Note: As always, narrator Tony Roberts does an outstanding job bringing Barrington and his cast to life.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

This Week in Reading

Gutenberg’s Apprentice, by Alix Christie, COMPLETED. Review here.
League of Dragons, by Naomi Novik, pages 1 – 81.
Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny, pages 114 – 182.  

Bargirl & the Birds of Prey 1 & 2
Betty & Veronica Double Double Digest 212                            
Green Lanterns Rebirth, 1 – 9
The Hellblazer 1
Nightwing Rebirth
Titans Rebirth             
Trinity 1 & 2
Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 years, pages 119 – 175

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Podcast Marathon

A day with no classes = a day to listen to podcasts. Here is what I listened to yesterday:

The Tony Kornheiser Show, 12/7. This used to be a radio show, but has moved recently to a podcast-only format. The former sportswriter and current ESPN TV host talks about sports, current events, and his own personal life.

Men in Blazers 12/6. A pair of British ex-pats talk about the going-on in Premiereship soccer.

3rd Degree Byrne, episode 13. Brian and Tim counted down their top 5 stories from comic book creator John Byrne. There was too much Fantastic Four talk for my taste, and not nearly enough Doctor Doom ;O)

Jaig Eyes and Jedi: Phantom Menace. After covering 2 seasons of the animated Star Wars Rebels series, host Hope and Chris recorded and very entertaining and interesting commentary of the first Star Wars prequel film.

The Tolkien Professor: SilmFilm Session 2-15: Host Corey Olsen and his compatriots continued their discussions of the Silmarillion TV show that they are fantasy-producing.

Salty Cinema #1. This is a new podcast I just discovered. Host Jacob Kindberg interviewed author / filmmaker / professor Craig Detweiler about the future of film education, mentoring young artists, and breaking into th screenwriting business.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Review of Gutenberg's Apprentice

Book 43. Gutenberg’s Apprentice, by Alix Christie. Unabridged audio.
I consider Johann Gutenberg to be one of the most important figures of the previous millennium. This novel tells the struggles that he and his team faced as he developed the technology that would eventually become the printing press, one of the most revolutionary advances in human history.
Peter Fust is a scribe in Paris, when his father Johann Fust calls him back to Mainz to meet his new business partner, Johann Gutenberg. He is a driven inventor who has devised a revolutionary method of bookmaking. Faust is financing the operating, and orders his son to become the inventor’s apprentice. Peter’s skills improve, and his admiration grows for Gutenberg, and Peter dedicates himself to aiding Gutenberg in creating his most daring venture yet: printing copies of the Holy Bible.
The novel includes interesting insights into the histories of religion, society and culture of Europe in this era. Some churchmen consider the new invention blasphemous, at least when used in printing religious texts. This technology would drastically change the role of monks, who served the church as scribes. The printers become caught in the middle of a number of struggles between governmental and church authorities.
The details of the printing process are explained well, as are the uncertainties of trying to harness any new technology. Gutenberg’s drive as a businessman is not portrayed in a necessarily positive manner, but the book does make clear that the financial incentives offered by the printing press were a driving force in its development.
This is a first novel, and Christie does a very good job weaving together the plots, characters, and settings. I look forward to what the author produces next. The website for thebook includes some interesting facts about the production of the Gutenberg Bible, the city of Mainz, and other historical items that were fictionalized in the novel.

Source: Hoopla, after seeing the book featured in a “historical fiction” display at Bexley Publuc Library.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

This Week in Reading

Gutenberg’s Apprentice, by Alix Christie, pages 1 – 165
Scandalous Behavior, by Stuart Woods, COMPLETED.  
Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny, pages 82– 114.  

Amalgam books: Generation Hex, Legends of the Dark Claw, Lobo the Duck
Doctor Fate (1987) 1 & 2                                              
Nowhere Man 2 – 4
Power of the Atom 2 & 6
Purgatory 1 & 2
TMNT Presents Mighty Mutanimals: Invasion from Space 
Wonder Woman 11
Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 years, pages 1 – 119

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Podcast Guest Appearances

Over the last month or so, I've been privileged to appear as a guest on a number of my friends terrific podcasts. There are a few more to be recorded and released in the near future, but here are two that have been recently released.

Any time my buddy The Irredeemable Shagg comes through town, a few of us geeks get together for dinner and comic-book shopping. And this time, Shagg recorded our conversation and released it as part of episode 180 of the Fire & Water Podcast. Russell Burbage and Aaron Bias joined us to talk about our favorite "loser" comic book characters, or Morts.

Nathaniel Wayne invited me on to his excellent 90s Comics Retrial podcast. On episode 32, we discussed Alan Moore's story in Spawn #8. It was a great conversation that touched on Todd McFarlane's business acumen, Alan Moore's vision of Hell, and how Spawn has survived to this day.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

This Week in Reading

Scandalous Behavior, by Stuart Woods, pages 1 – 94
Kingdom Come, by Elliot S! Maggin, COMPLETED. Review here.
Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny, pages 49 – 82.  
Shadow Account, by Stephen Frey, COMPLETED. Review here.

B&V Friends Double Digest 246
Catalyst: Agents of Change 5
Green Arrow 11
Necromancer 4 & 6
Richie Rich Cash 24
Richie Rich Jackpots 24
Richie Rich Money World 31
The Walking Dead 139 – 150
Xenozoic!, pages 154 –  175 (*)

(*) covering the stories that were discussed by Ruth & Darrin Sutherland episode 6 of their excellent Xenozoic Xenophiles podcast.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Book Review of Kingdom Come

Book 42. Kingdom Come, by Elliot S Maggin. Paperback. Based on the story by Alex Ross & Mark Waid.
When it comes to reading novelizations, the choice one has to make is the right order in which to consume the various versions of the story. In the case of Kingdom Come, I think I made the right choice, by starting with the original comic books, before moving on to the audio drama, and then finally this novelization. Each successive version that I experienced added more depth and more details.
 The second and third generations of superheroes fail to abide by the guidance offered by Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. After a self-imposed exile, Superman returns to active duty, in an attempt to rally the superhero community to stop an oncoming apocalypse. An apocalypse of their own making.
The story is told through the viewpoint of Pastor Norman McKay, and his spiritual guide, The Spectre. Pastor McKay has seen terrible visions of the coming war, fearing that prophecies from the book of Revelation are coming to pass. He has been tasked by the Spectre with the unenviable job of judging the world for its sins.
In this novelization, Maggin digs into the main characters, giving us insights into the psyches of many. The relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman is one of the strengths of the book, as Maggin explores how their different worldviews lead them to draw conclusions about the best course of action to follow. The fleshing-out of Pastor McKay’s biography and the working out of his theology is extremely well-done. Batman, Lex Luthor, and Green Arrow are also among the characters we get an insight into.
The comic book version of this story is rightly considered an all-time classic. I recommend this novelization (and the audio production) to anyone who appreciates the original, but wants to spend more time with this story. Maggin's novel adds more details about the characters, more details about the backstory, and more details about the action.
To hear a more detailed discussions of the plot and characters of the story, listen to this episode of Views from the Longbox, in which Emily & I joined host Michael Bailey. For a more detailed discussion of the religious imagery and content, the three of us discussed that on this episode of Dorkness to Light.

Source: My friend Michael Bailey sent it to us, in preparation for the above-referenced podcasts.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review of Shadow Account

Book 41. Shadow Account, by Stephen Frey. Unabridged audio.
Lots of thriller writers include occasional financial subplots or aspects in their novels. John Grisham, David Baldacci, and Robert Ludlum all write novels that fit into this subgenre. But Stephen Frey specializes in novels that take place in the worlds of high finance and investment banking. My favorites of his prior novels include “The Vulture Fund,” “The Day Trader,” and “Silent Partner.” Some of his novels feature recurring characters, but this one is a stand-alone.
Conner Ashby is an investment banker on the way up in his career. But when he receives an email meant for someone else, detailing corporate fraud on a massive scale at a huge public company, he finds himself in the middle of a plot that may cost investors billions of dollars.
The plot eventually includes powerful political figures. Between the high-rollers of finance and political power, Ashby finds himself in danger, and on his own. There are betrayals, surprises, twists, turns, and shootouts. It is a solid high-stakes thriller.
Frey does a nice job dealing with the financial aspects of the novel with accuracy, while not turning those sections into lectures. The novel touches on accounting fraud, the role of external auditors, and how little frauds can quickly turn into large frauds. There are some shortcuts taken in this aspect of the storytelling, but the basic facts are correct, and Frey manages to deliver them nicely within the context of an adventurous fictional story.

Source: Hoopla

Saturday, November 19, 2016

This Week in Reading

Kingdom Come, by Elliot S! Maggin, pages 260 – 322.
Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny, pages 1 - 49
Shadow Account, by Stephen Frey, pages 137 – 281

Binky 81
Captain America 306
Empire of the Wolf 1 – 4
Future Quest 3
Jonny Quest 4, 8, 14, 17, 19, 20, 21 & 28
Steel 5
Wonder Woman 10

Saturday, November 12, 2016

This Week in Reading

Kingdom Come, by Elliot S! Maggin, pages 201 – 260.
Wounds That Heal, by Stephen Seamands, COMPLETED. Review here.
The Last Quarry, by Max Allan Collins, COMPLETED. Review here.
Shadow Account, by Stephen Frey, pages 1 – 137.

DC Bombshells 19
Echoes 1 –  5
Eclipso 18
Ka-Zar the Savage 5
Mother Russia 1 – 3
New Mutants 58
Sad Sack & the Sarge 119, 127
Scamp 18
Superman/Gen 13 #3 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review of The Last Quarry

Book 40. The Last Quarry, by Max Allan Collins. Unabridged audio.
This is the first book I’ve read featuring Collins’ trained killer character, Quarry. Quarry was a professional killer, but has now disappeared into his well-deserved retirement. But he finds himself unable to remain aloof when he sees an injustice occur. This character trait brings him into the orbit of a media magnate.
The magnate eventually lures Quarry out of retirement. The killer acknowledges that “one last job” stories never end well, but nonetheless takes the gig. But when he stakes out his target, he wonders what trouble could be caused by this seemingly-harmless woman. His target is a cute small-town librarian with whom he begins an ill-advised relationship.
About two-thirds of the way through the story, I thought I knew where it was going, and that we’d spend the rest of the story seeing Quarry turn the tables on his employer. But a great plot twist occurs at this point, totally changing the direction of the rest of the novel.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable detective story, a quick hard-boiled read that delivered exactly what it promised.
Source: Hoopla

Monday, November 7, 2016

Review of Wounds that Heal

Book 39. Wounds That Heal, by Stephen Seamands. Paperback.
Stephen Seamands, a professor of Christian doctrine at Asbury College, has produced a very readable and insightful study of the healing work of the Cross. His point is that in a world of wounded people, we have hope. Through the ministry of Jesus, God enters our painful situations to bring healing and redemption.
The book does a good job balancing biblical analysis and pastoral care. The book is filled with real-life stories of people finding healing and redemption amidst their painful experiences. Seamands also includes a range of quotes and examples from people from a range of Christian experiences.
The book is valuable for personal or group use. Each of the 10 chapters ends with a half-dozen or so questions for reflection. Along with the wealth of personal stories included in the text, these questions make sure that the book is as practical as it is theological.
The book starts with a discussion of hurt, rejection and shame. He then moves to a discussion of freedom, liberation, and healing. The overarching theme is that at the Cross, Jesus felt all of the emotions of humanity, including shame, abandonment, and rejection. And through His work, all people have the opportunity to receive the benefits of His love and acceptance.

Source: My wife purchased this book, most likely from the bookstore at this church. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

This Week in Reading

The Racketeer, by John Grisham, COMPLETED. Review here.
Kingdom Come, by Elliot S! Maggin, pages 162 –201.
Wounds That Heal, by Stephen Seamands, pages 118 – 165.        
The Last Quarry, by Max Allan Collins, pages 1 – 87 

Adventures of Supergirl 4
Dredd: Dust 1 & 2
Green Arrow 10
Joe Frankenstein 1 – 4
New Gods 7 & 8
Star Trek (IDW) 59 & 60
Wonder Woman 9
Underworld Unleashed: Batman 525, Detective 691, Steel 21, Superboy 22

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review of The Racketeer

 Book #38. The Racketeer, by John Grisham. Unabridged audio.
It has been a few years since I read any Grisham, and they are starting to pile up in my to-be-read list. So I figured I’d start with this one.
The plot starts with federal convict Malcolm Bannister half way through his 10-year prison term, having been caught up in a racketeering case that he was only barely involved with. In that time, the man has been disbarred, divorced, and lost contact with his son. And he is nursing a bitter grudge against the Federal Government. 
He gets his chance at freedom and revenge when a federal judge is murdered. The FBI has no idea who killed the judge, but Bannister does. He also knows that the judge has millions of dollars of gold bars hidden somewhere, and he has a plan to get his hands on them.
This is a fast-paced, exciting novel. Similar to many of Grisham’s protagonists, Bannister is a smart, self-assured fellow. He is always the smartest man in the room, but he is facing tough odds in this one. Major institutions are aligned against him. One way that Bannister is unique in Grisham’s novels in that he is African-American. Grisham has written about race before, but this book only tangentially touches on the topic. It’s an interesting story into which to insert an African-American lead.
This was a solid novel, start to finish. There are hints along the way, but the details of Bannister’s plot did surprise me. I enjoyed this read very much.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

This Week in Reading

The Racketeer, by John Grisham, pages 56 – 132
Kingdom Come, by Elliot S! Maggin, pages 135 – 162.
Wounds That Heal, by Stephen Seamands, pages 73 – 118.

Astonishing Tales 5
Day Men 1 – 8
Green Arrow 9
Legion of Super-Heroes 43
Mars 1
Snake Woman 3 – 6
Unlimited Access 4