Monday, December 31, 2012

Book 73

She Came From Away, by D. Edward Bradley. Nook. 
Toronto college student Riley Barnett is surprised to learn that she is heir to an estate in picturesque Conception Bay, Newfoundland. She didn't even know she had an uncle before the information came from a local lawyer.

She finds the house inviting, the town quaint, and life on the Atlantic coast enjoyable, so she leaves her college and takes up life in her new house. She quickly discovers that her uncle's death is shrouded in mystery and secrets, and also realizes that not everyone in Conception Bay is happy to have her there.

With local weatherman Paul Sutherland in her life (and eventually in her house), and a few loyal friends for support, Riley faces gunshots, break-ins, and worse in her new town. But despite all of this action, very little actually "happens" in the novel. The romance aspect is strong, but my preference is more for stronger plot elements in my fiction. These dramatic scenes don't go as far as I would hope -- the villain is never apprehended, much less identified with certainty. Even the disposition of the house is an anti-climax, although the future of Rily and Paul ends on a nice hopeful note.

The strength of the novel is the enjoyable character development, especially in Riley. And the romance angle was well-told, as was Bradley's ability to describe the setting. But I was a little frustrated that this character development, and Bradley's skillful writing altogether, is in service of a story in which very little happens.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book 72

Book 72. Ender's Game Ultimate Collection, by Christopher Yost and Pasqual Ferry, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card. Graphic novel collection.
This volume collects the 10 issues of Marvel's Ender's Game adaptation, which started publication in October 2008. The first five issues of the series were branded "Battle School" and the last five branded "Command School," but this is a single ten-issue series. Even with ten issues, there are parts of the novel that have to be left out, and some shortcuts that have to be made, mostly involving the political situation on Earth. But the stripped-down version of the novel presented here does move at a brisk pace, and is a very enjoyable read.
Each issue opens with transcript of a meeting between members of the school staff, which is similar to what happened in the novel. This was a nice touch, a way of getting exposition into the story without resorting to the traditional comic methods of TV news  or newspaper headlines. I came to this adaptation having recently read the novel, and was able to follow the plot of the comic easily, but I wonder if the fast pace would have lost someone coming to this without prior knowledge of the story.
There is a happier ending here than in Card's novel. The collection ends on the high note of defeating the enemy, without the lead into "Speaker for the Dead" that the novel has. This probably makes sense, as the comic series goes in a slightly different direction from the novel series. There are some very nice moments of art in the collection, as well.
I am unfamiliar with other novels having been adapted into comics, but movie and TV adaptations are notoriously inconsistent. Knowing the rang of quality that prior adaptations have had, but was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Books 70 & 71

Book 70. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Unabridged audio.
Book 71. Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, by Corey Olsen. Hardcover.

I discovered Corey Olsen's excellent podcast The TolkienProfessor earlier in the year, and have been listening ever since. So when his book came out a few months ago, and with the movie coming out shortly thereafter, I knew I would pick it up.
Professor Olsen does a terrific job taking his academic expertise on Tolkien and turning it into a readable book, in much the same way that his podcast communicates to educated laymen. His book is arranged in parallel to The Hobbit, examining the book in a chapter-by-chapter way. He recommends reading a chapter of The Hobbit, and then reading a chapter of his book. This made sense, so I did it.

The Hobbit, of course, tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, and how the comfortable little hobbit becomes entangled in a scheme (not very well planned, as it turns out) by a company of dwarves to reclaim their treasure from the dragon who had stolen it. With the help of the wizard Gandalf and friendly elves, the company evades trolls and goblins, overcomes the dragon, and reclaims the treasure. There are many iconic scenes contained here, from the arrival of the dwarves to the riddle game to the barrel-riding.
The concept of a story "written for children" has changed drastically in the 75 years since this work was published.  Yes, the tone is light and the words readable, the action has as much humor as horror, but there is no sense of the work being "dumbed down" as can happen in some modern works for children (especially American works for children).

The Hobbit remains a well-deserved classic of children's literature. If you have read it before, and are considering a re-read in light of the movie, I would encourage you read Professor Olsen's book along with it.

Retro-review: The Fighting American

The Fighting American, issues 1-4, April - November, 1954, by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.

When Marvel (through Atlas Comics) revived Captain America in 1954, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (who had created the hero more than a decade before) decided to try their hand at another patriotic hero, The Fighting American. This book was an early example of a creator-owned book, as they made a distribution deal with Leader News, who also distributed the controversial horror and crime books of EC Comics. 

The origin of Fighting American is similar to Captain America's, involving science-fiction science and a bizarre experiment. There is also a weird body-swapping concept that is never, ever mentioned again. The color scheme of the character is a combination of Cap and Superman, nicely combining red, white, blue, and yellow.

In both his role as The Fighting American, and in his guise as newscaster Johnny Flagg, he is able to fight communists and saboteurs on all fronts. His newscaster intern / page boy becomes his sidekick, Speedboy. Each story (or "mission," as the comic calls them) introduces an event or villain through the newscast, and then Fighting American and Speedboy proceed to bring justice to the situation.

There are some very dynamic Kirby fight scenes and poses. And the addition of yellow to the red, white, and blue color scheme adds dynamism to the character design, and the mask/helmet portion of the uniform still looks good almost six decades later. There are also clear references to Dick Tracy's rogues gallery, in such villains as Doubleheader, Square Hair Malloy, and Poison Ivan. There are various other grotesque characters, giving Kirby a chance to display his unique art style.

Issue three features an exciting fight scene staged atop the Statue of Liberty, and issue four stretched the boundaries of the character's world, sending him to both Japan and to outer space (spoiler: the latter was a dream). Whether these globe-trotting tales were intended to set the comic apart from the competition, they certainly made for interesting reads.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Book #69

Silencer, by James W. Hall. Unabridged audio.

I have become a big fan of Hall's series of novels set in an around the Florida Keys. These feature the main character of Thorn, the recluse who would love his life to consist of nothing more than tying flies and living on the water. In the prior novel, he had the misfortune of inheriting a fortune, and I came to this novel anticipating the effects that his change of financial luck would have on his life.

This novel was one of the weaker Thorn novels, for my taste, and for a simple reason: there was not enough Thorn. Although Silencer revolved generally around a business deal that occurred as a result of Thorn's new riches, this is only a minor plot point. Thorn is kidnapped, and spends most of the novel outside of the main action. And this slack is not picked up by his main co-stars, Sugarman and Rusty, whose involvement is important to the novel, but does not drive the action. The action is driven by a family uncovering (and covering up) a current-day murder that is linked to a 60-year-old political conspiracy.

Plot issues aside, Hall's ability to make the characters and locales around the keys are as good as ever. His ability to write in the "Florida noir" style is very strong. This novel includes a team of brother hit-men, and their characterizations help make up for the lack of Thorn's involvement in the story.

There were some nice character moments between Thorn and Rusty, and I look forward to where their relationship goes next.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Books

Books I gave (and got) for Christmas:

To my wife:
Monet's Impressions, a pairing of 16 of the artist's works with words taken from his letters. Produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To my daughter:
A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans.
East, by Edith Pattou. She loved the audio version of this book when she was 10-12 years old, and could not resist picking up this paperback when I saw it.
Doctor Who: Hunter's Moon, by Paul Finch.
Minor Acts of Heroism, Issue 4, by Adriana Ferguson and Kristen Van Dam. A terrific web-comic. We buy the print issues.
Legion of Super-Heroes, Issue 100, January 1998.

To my great-niece:
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, both by Beatrix Potter.
Superman: The Incredible Shrinking Super Hero, by Zachary Rau & Steven E. Gordon.
And what I got:
The Areas of My Expertise, by John Hodgman.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book #68

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer, by William Knoedelseder. Hardcover.

Adolphus Busch married into a small brewing company in 1861. By 1865, he was working for the company, and by 1873he had helped turn in profitable. Shortly thereafter, he had been made a partner in the company, which was rechristened the Anheuser-Busch Company. The resulting company (always run by Adolphus or a descendent) thrived for the next fifty years, survived Prohibition, and then thrived again for another sixty. But then things changed for both the family and the publicly-held company they once held in their tight grasp, and the inevitable happened -- they eventually sold out to the multinational beverage company InBev, based in Mexico. Bitter Brew tells this compelling story, and does so in a compelling manner.
The key to a book like this, a history of a company and family, is access to the people involved and to original source documents. William Knoedelseder was able to get this access -- in the notes, he mentions performing "hundreds of hours" of interviews -- and it shows. This is a comprehensive work, detailing action inside both the mansions and the boardrooms.
There is a nice melding of the business and family dramas, both of which contain their own soap opera elements. The family elements of the drama often play out in the business decisions, such as debates over moving into new regions or product lines that. This culminated in a fascinating moment, in which one Busch rallied board support to vote his father out as CEO, taking the position himself. A move of this sort obviously has ripples in both the business and relationship side of the family.
Each generation of  Busch tried to fill the large shoes cast by the prior generations. I only had a few very minor quibbles with how the business aspects of the book were presented, but I can put these off to being necessary simplifications. Those few minor issues aside, I found this an enjoyable and interesting read.
Disclosure: As a result of my role as a co-host on the BookGuys Show podcast, I received this book directly from the publisher, HarperCollins. It is our hope to interview the author at some point in the near future.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book #67

Europe's Financial Crisis, by John Authers. Paperback.

This is an excellent brief book by an experienced financial journalist. Authers examines where the financial crisis in the Eurozone is leading, and what it means for global markets, including the US.

He pinpoints a few key causes of the current crisis: interconnected financial markets, the moral hazard implicit in a "too big to fail" environment, and the ingerent instability in the creation of the Euro. This latter element was very interesting, as Authers' explanation of how currency traders can take advantage of inefficiencies in the European bond markets made a lot of sense to me.

As much as the crisis is financial in nature, Authers is not hesitant to point out that some of the issues are political. Leaders in both the US and Europe have failed to create a stable environment where investors could behave rationally with trust in the economic and political systems.

This is a very readable book, targeted at educated laypeople. There is very little financial lingo tossed around, and Authers is skilled at explaining in non-technical language some of the more complex topics covered here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book #66

DC Universe Legacies: By Len Wein and an assortment of artists, including Keith Giffen, Jerry Ordway, Walt Simonson, the Kuberts, Dave Gibbons, and Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez. Graphic novel.

Whether it was planned this way or not, it was fortuitous that this book came out shortly before DC Comics rebooted their entire universe with the "New 52" initiative. This 12-issue series is an ambitious (and mostly successful) attempt to tell the entire story of DC Comics' history, from the Justice Society to the Doom Patrol to the dark times of the 1990s and beyond.  Included are great retellings of iconic DC moments, from Bane breaking the Batman, the Death of Superman, Crisis on Infinites Earths, and the controversial Identity Crisis. As a defender of the final story, it was gratifying to see it included here.

The narrative is told using the framing device of a retired Metropolis police officer telling the story of his life. Of course, living in Superman's city, he has had a front row seat to many of these events. The events that took place outside of Metropolis (or off of Earth) are presented through newspaper clipping that he has collected. These devices help turn seven decades of disparate events into a single story.

The backup stories in each issue were also very entertaining -- in the collected edition, these were all included at the end of the volume, which was a smart editing choice. These backup stories were an opportunity to tell the stories of obscure heroes (Challengers of the Unknown, Adam Strange) or thematic characters (war heroes, western characters). The short Shazam story drawn by Bill Sinciewicz may be the highlight of the entire 12 issues.
I loved this volume, and has easily become one of my favorites collected editions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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!)

Prepating for the movie, this is from page19 of Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, by Corey Olsen (host of the podcst The Tolkien Professor): We must remember, however, that there is more to Bilbo, and to hobbit culture in general, than the staid Baggins element. There is a portion of hobbit society that does not stick to the hobbit norm of predictability and sedate living. This is the Took clan, whose members have been known at times to "go and have advenures."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book #65

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell.

There are plenty of great first-contact hard science fiction stories. But The Sparrow contains a number of aspects that set it apart from other works. The fact that the first contact appears on their planet is a change of pace, as is the makeup of the crew , and the time spent on the crew's spirituality and spiritual response to the experience. There is even a sprinkle of courtroom drama.

Emilio Sanchez is part of a crew sent to explore a new planet, a crew financed by the Jesuit order. He ends up being the last survivor of the crew, and the state in which he is discovered when a rescue ship from Earth arrives brings shame and disgrace to Sanchez. His physical injuries are just one part of the trauma he has gone through, bringing harm to his body, soul, and spirit. Most of the crew is found dead, and Sanchez himself is found in a compromising situation, accused of (and also the victim of) heinous acts.

Alternating between a range of time frames, Russell is equally compelling in telling the stories of Sanchez's early life and ministry, of the actual events of the crew of the mission on the alien world, and of the investigation by the Jesuits into Sanchez's acts on the planet. The suspense that this structure builds adds great tension to the book.

I was nervous heading through the last chapter, as it seemed that the clichè of "spiritual person loses faith as a result of trauma" was coming, but even this plot point did not go down the predictable path.

This novel is a great read, a throwback to the thought-provoking stories from the early days of hard science fiction.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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!)

Prepating for the movie, this is from Chapter 1 (An Unexpected Party) of The Hobbit, by  J. R. R.  Tolkien: "By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at the door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed) Gandalf came by. Gandalf!"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book #64

This review first appeared at the Spirit Blade blog.

Sword of the Six, by Scott Appleton.

The first scene in Swords of the Six features a terrific battle, with plenty of weapon blows, blood, and deaths. The climax of the novel features a similar action scene, also of the unsafe and unsterilized variety. These two bookend scenes are the strengths of the novel.

The mighty white dragon Albino, faithful servant of the Creator, has waited a thousand years to set his children on a quest of justice, to set right past betrayals. All six of his new hatchlings are daughters, and their dragon-human heritage makes them critical parts of a prophecy that promises a deliverer to the dark worlds beyond the dragon's peaceful kingdom. The girl's rusted swords still drip with the blood of the innocents the weapons have slain in the past. A message of the power inherent in the blood is woven subtly through the story. When the girls are teens, they are dispatched on their mission of both mercy and justice, and they find themselves facing unheard of dangers.
The world that Appleton presents is complex and multi-layered. The intelligent dragon Albino is a well-drawn character, and his multiples roles as prophet, warrior, and parent round out his personality. Although I would have liked to have known exactly how he sired his human-dragon hybrid daughters. That's a legitimate question that from what I could tell is never addressed, much less answered.
And the book has many other great creations. There is Miverē, a fairy who serves as protector and helper to Dantress, the leader among Albino's daughters. The spectral character called Specter is also a unique take on the idea of the King's mysterious servant / secret agent type of character. My favorite fantastical characters are the talking birds Hasselpatch and Seviar. These are intelligent, faithful Nuvitors, companions  who serve and protect Ilfedo, who eventually becomes Dantress' love interest. The couple is brought together after seeing each other in dreams. It is in this relationship that the book's strongest theme, that of self-sacrifice, manifests.
For all of these positive aspects, the novel does have some weaknesses. Its heritage as a self-published novel is apparent more than once, with some moments of odd grammar and I had some issues with word choices. You get the sense that one more professional edit would have come in handy.
But the biggest problem I had with the book is a confession that the author makes in the preface: That this novel is merely the prologue to the story he wants to tell, and that he "had not intended to" write this one. And I think I could see that -- for an epic fantasy in an epic fantasy world, not a lot happens, except for world-building and the setting in motion of a larger plot. The world and characters do intrigue me enough for me to continue with the series, but this volume may have been better positioned as a prequel, released to more fully explain the history of the world and characters after the epic story itself has been told, the story Appleton really wants to tell.
Note: I received this book as a reviewer for the Spirit Blade podcast, who recieved it directly form the author.

Friday, December 7, 2012


I wanted to take this chance to note the recent passing of Edna Dolan, whose daughters were hosts of both the Satellite Sisters and Chaos Chronicles podcasts.

In both their podcasts and blogs, the Dolan girls have been eloquent about living in the so-called "Panini Generation," feeling the squeeze of simultaneously raising children and caring for their aging parents. Their father had been the main focus of their attention for years, as his health slowly declined. But their mother's sickness came on quickly, and her death seemed (to this outsider) to come totally out of the blue. 

My condolences go out to Julie, Liz, Monica, Sheila, and Lian, and the rest of their family.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Comic Review: Y the Last Man

Y the Last Man: Whys & Wherefores, collecting issues 55-60, by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra.  

Comic books don't need super-heroes.

I returned actively to the hobby of reading comic books about 5 years ago, and it was books of the non-super variety that drew me back after taking nearly 15 years off from the hobby. I have nothing against capes and cowls, and have I do read my fair share of these books, but the books I returned to after my hiatus were 100 Bullets, Fables, and Y the Last Man. It was the shortest run of this batch of comics took me the longest to finish. I started reading Y the Last Man in 2010, and it was nearly a year ago that I read up through issue 48. It took me a year to read the final dozen issues
Perhaps I was trying to put off the end of the story, knowing that once I made it issue 60, I knew it was over. Perhaps it was worry that the end of the story would not live up to the promise that the first 48 held out. I am a plot-first reader, and so I was going to need to what happened, what caused the disaster, why Yorick was immune. In short, I was going to want answers.

Vaughn delivered very nicely on his promises. Each of the last few stories wrapped up important plot point, with issue 60 serving as a very interesting epilogue, jumping into the future six decades. The final ending of the story, the last few pages, the last few panels, all left me satisfied. Both plot and character were taken care of. Endings are notoriously hard to pull off, and this ending  is pretty good.

It was during the time of reading stories like Y and 100 Bullets that I first heard the expression "comic books are a medium, not a genre." I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, and have loved diving into this style of  books. Sequential art can tell any type of story, and even though superheroes are the most popular stories told in this manner, they are not the only stories that can be told in this manner.  In the last few years,  the non-hero books The Walking Dead, Unwritten, and Mouse Guard have all found their way to my stack.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Book #63

Zero Day, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio.

In this book, Baldacci introduces us to John Puller, a combat veteran from an army family. He is now serving in the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, and as purported to be the best investigator in the service. When an Army man is murdered in a remote West Virginia town in the middle of coal country, Puller is sent in to investigate. Not with a whole team, which strikes Puller as odd, but all by himself.

Working with the local Deputy, a woman with family issues of her own, Puller unearths many facts that many people (including his superiors) do not want coming to light. But when the situation turns into a potential terrorist attack, Puller finds himself fighting against enemies both foreign and domestic. The final revelation of the plot seems over-the-top, but thrillers like this are supposed to be over-the-top, and the villain and the villain's plans are certainly suspenseful.

This is a new set of characters for Baldacci, and I enjoyed this novel -- I hope it's the start of a new series. Puller is a fully fleshed-out character, with a professional and personal history that informs his actions. The local characters in coal country, and the setting itself, are strong. This was a very enjoyable read, as most of Baldacci's novels are.

I am a fan of the way Hachette Audio handles Baldacci's novels,  with Ron McLarty doing most of the work, handling the narration and the male voices. Orlagh Cassidy handles the female voices, and they both do a fine job. There are occasional sound effects and musical cues, enough to add to the listening experience, but not enough to be distracting.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wrapping Up

 The TV show Babylon 5 lasted 110 episodes. Counting the TV movies and the short-lived spinoff series "Crusade," the show may have accounted for 130 hours of entertainment. The longest-lived podcast covering the show is wrapping up soon, after delivering twice that amount of entertainment.

The Babylon Podcast, produced through Farpoint Media, and hosted by Summer Brooks, Tim Callendar, and (for the first few years) Jeffery Willerth, began in early 2006. They maintained a consistent production schedule since then, working in a range of cast and crew interviews in between episode discussions and listener feedback episodes.
After finishing up their discussion of all the episodes and related video, the team moved into coverage the last calendar year of related items, such as B5 novels,  games, comic books, and merchandise. Their most recent episode, #279, was their final feedback show. They promise that the last episode will be full of highlights, fun, and excitement.
Pod-fading bums me out. When a show just disappears, with no official final episode, but just stops producing new episodes, it saddens me. But like the TV show it is about, the Babylon Podcast is preparing to end its run right on schedule.
The hosts promise that the old podcast episodes will continue to be available on their website. If you are contemplating a re-watch (or a first watch) of B5, consider doing so with the Babylon Podcast  as accompaniment.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book #62

Simon & Kirby Superheroes, by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.  

I have reviewed specific  batches of stories from this book on this blog already (with more to come), so I don't need to write a long review on the book as a whole. 

The Simon & Kirby Library are beautiful hardcover collections of the comic legends' work for publishers other than the "Big 2" of Marvel and DC. The series has 4 more volumes, a "best of" and separate volumes covering their Romance, Crime, and Horror stories. 

There were moments in reading these stories that it was clear that these were 50+ years old, but there are also many stories and characters could walk right off the pages into the modern comic world. It is this mix of classic and timeless that demonstrate why Simon & Kirby's creations (most famously Captain America) still work today. Although this collection does not contain any specific character or story that is still relevant today, one can see from the work contained in this volume the same creativity and skill apparent in these "forgotten" stories. I was glad I picked this big book up.

Neil Gaiman's introduction and Jim Simon's essays added context and historical facts, much of which I used for my reviews.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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 the prologue of Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer, by William Knoedelseder: "Untethered from both family expectations and company responsibilities for the first time in his life, Augustus IV quickly descended into an abyss. According to friends, family members, and court documents, when the police came for him in February 2010, America's last king of beer was holed up in his mansion, grievously addicted to drugs, gripped by paranoia, beset by hallucinations, and armed with hundreds of high-powered weapons, including several .50-caliber machine guns."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book #61

Crucible of Gold, by Naomi Novik. Unabridged audio.

This is one of my favorite ongoing series. Naomi Novik presents a plausible narrative of life during the Napoleonic Wars. Except that the world contains dragons. These are not mythical beasts, not magical beasts, simply very large (and reasonably intelligent) animals. It is a great premise, and more importantly, Novik has spun some great novels out of it.

At the start of this one, Laurence finds his rank restored, although he does not believe himself worthy. But Napoleon's arms have reached Brazil, and the country (and her dragons) appear poised to ally with the French, via the powerful African Tswana empire. The British government sees Laurance and Temeraire as their best hope of negotiating peace in South America. But the trip from Australia to Brazil is fraught with peril, with death and despair rampant.

Napoleon makes an appearance in the novel, arriving in Rio with a retinue of dragons and gifts. Having left Josephine, he is available as a potential spouse for the queen of the Incas. This is the last thing that Laurence needs if he is to accomplish his mission. The sense of dread, of the long odds against success in this mission, add a great sense of drama to the book.

There is a bit of repetition here, as Novik may be running out of interesting places to send Laurance and Temeraire. But the character aspects are strong as always, and all the characters (both human and dragon) have had interesting arcs over the sweep of the series. The discussion of marriage in this book gave the characters something new to discuss, and there are surprising revelations throughout.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Quarter-Bin Finds!

The local comics shop in the town where I work hold a 25-cent sale, every 3 or 4 months. Most of the books in the quarter bins deserve to be in the quarte bins, but I have fond some fun and enjoyable reads there in the past. The last time, I spent under $5, and got some potentially great reads, including these:

I picked up Thor 409 simply because it has Doctor Doom on the cover,and the rightful ruler of Latveria is my favorite character in comics. To give context to the Doom story in 409, I grabbed 407 & 408. As it turns out, there is a slight cliffhanger, and now I need to track down 410!

I used to have the final 100 or so issues of Warlord, and sold them more than a decade ago in order to cut down my collection before a major move. Via the quarter bins, I have re-collected about 40 of these issues over the last few years, and in this trip I picked up the double-sized 100 and issue 125. I am a huge fan of Mike Grell's work, and although he was long gone from the title by the time these two issues came out, I remember enjoying the story (albeit not as much) after his departure. Disclosure: Although I have found many of the issues my original collection, I have not read any of them. There are sill too many holes in the run.

The terrific podcast From Crisis to Crisis is covering a particular range of Superman-related comics, and they are approaching the 1994 books. I enjoy "following along" with comic book podcasts if I have the book on hand (or can get it for a quarter!) that is being discussed, and the quarter boxes contained a few from this era.

Another podcast I am a fan of is Shawn Engel's Green Lantern show, Just One of the Guys. Shawn focuses on the character of Guy Gardner, so when I found Guy Gardner: Warrior 25, I decided it was well worth all 25 cents. The show will not cover this issue for another 4 or 5 months, but I can wait.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Books I'm Thankful For

In honor of Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow (in the US), I am listing book I am thankful for. These are not necessarily my favorite books, but books that have impacted me, books that I am glad exist, glad that I have read. There are listed alphabetically, so as to not imply an order:

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle. This was the first "real book" I ever owned. I assume it was a birthday present, from when I was maybe 10 years old or so. I still own it.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien. I remember reading it at the school library. I don't think I checked it out, I just remember going there regularly and reading a few pages at a time. It opened my eyes to the world of fantasy fiction, a genre I read regularly to this day.

The Holy Bible. For inspiration, wisdom, and truth.

Superman from the Thirties to the Seventies. A hardcover collection of Superman stories, published in the early seventies.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. I read this in high school, and it was the first time I could not put a book down. I was up until almost 3 AM one night to finish it. I re-read it every 5 years or so.

The World of Pooh, by A.A. Milne. We owned a hardcover version of this volume, which contains both Winnie-the-Pooh and House at Pooh Corner. I loved these stories, from having them read to me, to when I was able to read them myself. Somehow, my older sister managed to snag this book for her kids.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book #60

Renegades of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. Unabridged audio.

I confess that I am not as passionate a fan of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels as some are, but I do enjoy reading one every year or so. What I like about this series is that each book tries to do something a little different, to tell a Pern story from a different location, or different time, or different point of view.

Renegades of Pern takes place in the general timeframe of the novel DragonFlight, and covers the time leading up to (and perhaps slightly past) the events of The White Dragon. But it covers the Southern continent, whose inhabitants have not been central to previous Pern novels.

This novel looks at the events from the perspective of the holdless, nomads who may have ended this way as a punishment, or who chose to live the free life. We meet Jayge, a member of a trader clan, and Aramina (who has a telepathic link to dragon), whose family had lost their holds through the cruelty and injustice of others. Whatever the reason one lives without a hold, living like that is a huge risk -- when the deadly silver threads fall from the sky to ravage the land, the holdless have no natural allies to protect them. There are no dragon-riders who will protect them. Lady Thella, a leader among the holdless, is trying to forge this nomadic people into a force.

This is a fine work, telling a range of interconnected tales of these holdless families and characters. I loved the ending of this story, which is the discovery of ancient artifacts that have important implications on the future (and the past) of Pern. This may have whetted my appetite for more Pern novels, and I will probably not wait as long as I usually do to pick up another one.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A medium, not a genre

In writing a review of the last arc of Y: The Last Man (to be posted here in the near future), I was writing about how great it was that in the 2000s, comic books had moved beyond their superhero heritage and were embracing a wide range of genres.

But I have been reminded by a series of entries at TheLongbox Graveyard blog that comics have long been a way of telling a wide range of stories, far beyond just superhero tales. Paul O'Connor often writes about his love for Marvel's horror comics of the 1970's, and for Master of Kung Fu and Conan. 

To be fair (to me), Paul is a few years older than me, so these particular books were not on my radar screen when I started reading. The only non-hero comics I ran across in my early days of reading were the decidedly not-very-good Gold Key Star Trek, and the disappointing Logan's Run adaptation. These experiences colored my opinions of non-hero books for more than a decade. So I firmly set my feet in the "capes & cowls" world of the mid-seventies, becoming a fan of (of course) Batman and Superman, but also Flash, the Legion of Superheroes, Iron Man, and Captain America. 

There was a local comics shop within walking distance of my college campus, and that was the first time I browsed full shelves for reading, as opposed to subscribing to a few titles, or picking from the limited selections on the spinner rack at the local drug store. At this time, independent comics were breaking into the mainstream, and some of the ones I liked the most from these publishers were non-hero books, including the excellent Jon Sable Freelance (First Comics, 1983), from Mike Grell, whose writing and art I have always been a fan of. Over the years, I also discovered Somerset Holmes (Eclipse, 1983), Eternity Smith (First, 1986 & Hero, 1987), Evangeline (Comico, 1984 and First, 1987), Maze Agency (Comico, 1988 and Innovation, 1989) and Baker Street (Caliber, 1989). 

Somehow I forgot all of my love for these non-hero books when I began to wax poetic about the 2000's boom in this style of books. Yes, these publishers were unstable, and some of these books did not last very long, but I was simply wrong in thinking that the comics world has recently moved from superhero to non-hero books. 

Comics have always been a medium, not a genre. And even though Superman and his powered friends have always dominated comics, there have long been creators using the form to tell very different types of stories.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Guys Show!

We have done some exciting episodes the last few episodes of the Book Guys podcast. Go to the website or check us out on iTunes. And if you like what you hear, leave us a review, and maybe even 5 stars!

Episode 57:We had some audio issues, dealing with the Frankenstorm on the East Coast. We spoke with Brian D. Anderson (for the second time in a few weeks) co-author of The Godling Chronicles series. He was riding out the storm, speaking with us on a cell phone from his automobile (he wasn't driving, he was just in the car). We also talked to Carl Brookins, about his book Reunion, and he was a total delight.

Episode 58: This was a guestless show, or as the say on the Nerdist podcast, it was a hostful show! This one included our discussion of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow, as well as comic book news and other interesting stuff.

Episode 59: Scott McKenzie joined us all the way from England, to talk about the new version of his seasonal book, Krampus: A Christmas Tale. We played the brief audio version of the book, and also talked about Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. And other stuff, too!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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 8 of Crucible of Gold, a Temeraire novel by Naomi Novik:
"In any case, his ornaments of office would have lent even a lesser beast enormous gravity. A band of gold was wrapped about the top of his throat, set into a woolen collar with a tassled fringe in a bright green color, which stood markedly against the deep inense violet of his scales."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New 52 Review: Aquaman 1-6

 Aquaman: The Trench Hardcover Collection, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Rod Reis. 

Aquaman was the surprise hit of the last year's New 52 initiative from DC Comics. His book continually sells in DC's top ten, and critical reaction has been equally as positive. And the good news is that the book deserves all of this praise.

Issues 1-4 introduce a great new villain, the Trench, unthinking monsters of the deep that just want food. And by food they mean humans. The 4 issues are mostly an extended battle, with some action-packed art. The entire art team (penciler, inker, and colorist) is at the top of their game here, putting out dynamic page after dynamic page.

  Issue 5 is a solo story featuring Aquaman lost in a desert, but issues 6 is the best of this batch. All Mera (don't call her "Aquawoman") wants to do is buy food for the couple's new dog. She ends up breaking one man's wrist, escaping from the police, and nearly killing an escaped murderer. What makes this issue great is not just how great Mera looks when she is kicking butt (though this is part of what makes this issue great), but Geoff Johns and the art team are also able to communicate just how "other" Mera is. The "stranger in a strange land" motif has been used many times in many types of stories, but this version is terrific. The joint misunderstandings between humanity and Mera cause both sides to err. But this makes her commitment to serve humanity at her husband's side at the end of the issue all the more touching.

There is meta-narrative at work in these issues, as well. Aquaman is considered a lame hero, nothing but the guy who talks to fish, which is a commentary on how comics readers felt about the character before this series started. There is no reason to think that in the less than five years that Aquaman and Mera have been present on Earth (per the New 52 timeline) that these feelings would have generated, but this is Johns' way of commenting on readers' preconceived notions of the character. The scene is issue 1 where he orders fish and chips at a seafood joint is terrific.

The art team will be leaving the book in the near future, moving on to DC's flagship Justice League book. They deserve this honor, but it does leave fans of Aquaman wonder what is next for the king of the seven seas.