Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another Book Guys appearance

I made a return visit to the Book Guys podcast, episode 43. Despite some Skype hassles along the way, we manages to talk to author Sean Austin, about his YA techno-thriller Echo's Revenge.  Audio book narrator Johnny Heller (of the Richard Castle novels, among many others) also joined us, as we covered book news, comic books, and a few other related topics.

Here is a link to the episode. Check it out!

Book #32

Cursor's Fury, by Jim Butcher.

 This entry was cross-posted to The Book Guys blog.

This is the third book in the Codex Alera, Butcher's high fantasy epic. I am a fan of the series and especially the setting, a land that very closely resembles Ancient Rome. Except for the "furies," the elemental spirits of Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Wood, and Metal that inhabit all aspects of the land.

A few years have passed in the land of Alera since book two, and war (both civil and with the hated Canim) is even closer. Tavi has become a legionnaire, and is growing into the young man of courage and strength that has been hinted at in prior books.

The Canim do eventually attack, but Tavi recognizes that something more is happening here than their regular incursions. Seeds planted in this plot will no doubt bear fruit in future novels. Butcher is able to avoid the typical "middle book" problems that some epic series fall into, as this novel moves both the plot and the characters fully along.

And as should happen at the halfway point of an epic series worth it's salt, the last few scenes contain a revelation that should change the course of the series from this point on.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The TV show is almost 50 years old, and geeks love it, so of course there are tons of podcasts dedicated to Doctor Who. I have barely made a dent in the huge list of Who-casts, but of the ones I have listened to, these are a few that stand out.

The Doctor's Companion. Two Americans, one of whom is actually named Matt Smith (but he's not that Matt Smith), produce mostly-weekly episodes that each cover one story. When the show is airing new episodes on BBC America, the duo covers those shows. But when the show is not airing new episodes (which is most of the time), they cover shows from prior incarnations of the Doctor. They are super-fans of the show, but never fall into the "fanboy" mistake of defending the show when it doesn't deserve to be defended. One of their strongest episodes was #71, which covered the end of New Who series 6, They titled this show "Loss of Faith." I thoroughly enjoyed a recent episode, #96, covering Tom Baker's first adventure. The title of the podcast episode was (of course) "The Scarf Man Cometh."

The Doctor Who Book Club. When I was a young person, I remember reading Doctor Who paperback novels. My memory is a bit fuzzy of those years, but this may have been before I ever saw an episode of the television show. I have no specific memories of the particular books, except that I remember enjoying them. Novels have always been a part of the Doctor Who expanded universe, and Sean and Erik dig into one novel per month, covering it in detail. Their coverage is very detailed, and their reviews are very evenhanded.

Radio Free Skarro. One of the longest-running Doctor-related podcasts, the RFS team has put out over 300 episodes since they hit the Web in the middle of 2006. The generally cover Who-related news in a loose magazine format, covering production events, conventions, and new products. They have had numerous interviews over the years, and have also put out some delightful episode commentaries. They also have the coolest Who-related podcast name ever.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Books 29-31

Left Behind: The Kids, books 23-25, by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye (and Chris Fabry, uncredited). These are among the better in the series (especially 24 & 25), although that could be construed as faint praise. There is some real drama, some page-turning moments, and some actual character development.  Yes the dialogue is clunky at points, and the action slows down numerous times for (literal) preaching, but the scope of the action is epic, and the pacing on these two is strong.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book #28

The Pocket Muse 2: Endless Inspiration, by Monica Wood. Hardcover.

I was in a writers' group a few years ago, and got to know some great people through that. One of them sent me this beek a few weeks ago, and I was glad to read it.

To be fair, reading this book start-to-finish may not be the best way to read it, and probably won't be how I read it next time. It is a collection of inspirational quotes, writing prompts, writing advice, and creativity jump-starts. It is designed to be read at random, as needed.

I found the book to be insightful, and anticipate that it will be helpful when I am back in "writing mode." It is also beautifully put-together.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book #27

The Big Book of Martyrs, by John Wagner & various artists. Graphic novel.

There are many entries in the "Big Book" series, from Factoid Books, an imprint of DC Comics. These black-and-white comic-style books have covered Conspiracies, Urban Legends, Hoaxes, Weirdos, and Thugs. And so despite the religious nature of the stories in this volume, there is enough weirdness, drama, and blood for this topic to fit the series.

The 50+ martyrs who are profiled here range from the biblical (John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul) to the modern (Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein), the famous (Joan of Arc and Thomas More) to the obscure (Phocas and Wilgefortis). But what they all have in common is that they died for their Christian faith. And most of these deaths were quite grisly.

In addition to the wild and crazy stories, the art in the book is interesting, as a different artist was used for each of the stories, so every four pages or so there is a definite change in the art style. For me, the work of Lennie Mace, Joe Orlando, Colleen Doran, and Dave Devries stood out, although much of the work was very strong.

Tuesday, May 22, 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 29 of Cursor's Fury, book 3 of Jim Butcher's high fantasy series The Codex Alera.

"Tavi reached into his pocket and withdrew the silk purse, shaking the small red stone out of it as he did, so that the stone remained in his pocket. He offered the purse to Crassus."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Guys appearance!

I made a return visit to the Book Guys podcast, episode 41. And I got promoted to "host" from "guest."  Yay for me! We talked to author Michael Luoma, about his The Vatican Assassin series of stories, comics, and audiobooks. Paul the Book Guy and I talked about a Doctor Who episode guide, and (of course) there was plenty of Avengers talk.

Here is a link to the episode. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book #26

The Litigators, by John Grisham. Unabridged audio.

David Zinc, A young lawyer at a prestigious firm has a panic attack, quits his job, gets drunk, and stumbles (literally) into a low-end, two-person firm that specializes in ambulance chasing (literally).

Once there, the firm gets involved in a mass-tort case, against a huge pharmaceutical firm. This is supposed to be a slam-dunk, where they will rake in big bucks from a settlement with the many injured person who have taken the drug. As the book wears on, both the legal case and the legal firm begin to unravel, and Zinc ends up litigating what looks like a losing case against a high-priced and highly-skilled opponent.

This one covers similar ground as some of Grisham's prior novels, but since he has written some two dozen legal thrillers, that is bound to happen.  And there are enough differences to keep the plot unpredictable and the suspense mounting, both in the legal case and in Zinc's own character development.

The ending is satisfying. The case, the law firm, Zinc and the other characters all end up in places that make sense, given how the novel progressed.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Year in the Life of Batman

In regular episodes of the podcast Legends of the Batman, hosts Michael Kaiser and Michael Bradley review and discuss one comic book story from the Golden Age era of Batman. This approach allows the hosts to go into depth in their coverage of the story, as well as keeping the episodes to about an hour each.

The most recent episode, episode #28, breaks from this format. For the second time, the Michaels did a year-in-review special, discussing all of the Caped Crusader’s comic book appearances during 1940. In episode #10, they did the same thing for 1939, the year of Batman’s debut. This is a nice change-of-pace episode, allowing the hosts to step back and take a bigger picture view of the character. A nice touch is that they also include world events in this year-in-review episode.

As the hosts point out, 1940 was an important year for Batman, who appeared in 26 stories in 17 separate comics book issues. This year featured the introduction of Batman’s solo comic, the first appearance of Robin, and stories that featured both Catwoman and Joker. By this point in the character’s history, the design for the Batmobile had not been standardized, but a proto-Batplane had appeared. Even Commissioner Gordon showed up a few times.

The hosts talked about the favorite and least favorites of the year, in categories such as cover art, story, and villain. Sometimes they agreed, and often their did not.

There are lot of comic book podcasts, and many of them are very good. But there are not enough that cover the Golden Age era, and among those, Legends of the Batman is one of the best.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book #25

Sixkill, by Robert B. Parker. Unabridged audio.

This is the last Spenser novel that Parker wrote before his 2010 death, but unfortunately it is not the end of the series. A new Spenser novel by Ace Atkins is coming out shortly, continuing the disturbing trend of posthumous novels, where a series continues long after the author's death. Now I understand finishing up manuscript drafts, or finishing up epic stories (such as the Wheel of Time). But I am not a fan of producing new works loosely based on vague ideas left behind by the author or (in some cases) based on nothing at all.

In this novel, Spenser investigates a strange death of a woman in a hotel, where all the evidence points towards a Hollywood actor. But Captain Marty Quirk thinks there might be more to the case than meets the eye. Rita Fiore is the actor's defense lawyer, and she hires Spenser to investigate.

Most of the novel revolves around Spenser's relationship with Zebulon Sixkill, the native American who served as bodyguard to the actor. Showing Spenser as a mentor to this man served as some of the strongest character development in this series in many novels. I worried at first about the lack of Hawk in the novel, but the presence of Sixkill made up for this absence.

The only problem I had with this novel was the unrealistic way in which this celebrity murder charge was treated in the novel. There was no Nancy Grace, no paprazzi, no reference to this celebrity actor facing any public backlash over this suspicious death. It was as if this book was taking place forty years ago, before OJ, before Phil Spector, before the 24-hour news cycle. But these novels are set in the present day, so that was odd.

The solution to the mystery was interesting. And as always, Joe Montegna's narration was strong.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Podcast Marathon

No classes to teach yesterday + Wife out in the evening = Listening to a ton of podcasts!  Here is what I heard:

The New 52 Adventures of Superman: Michael Bailey joined regular co-hosts J David Weter, Jon Wilson, and Michael Kaiser to talk about Action Comics 5, the origin issue for the New 52 Superman.

The Tony Kornheiser Show: Sports and pop culture from Washington, DC.

The Nerdist: I heard the live episode from Minneapolis, with guest Tim Meadows.

Satellite Sisters: 5 real-life sisters, talking about their lives and bunches of other stuff, too.

Sword & Laser: Episode 99 -- only one away from 100!

Hypothetical Help: Funny podcast veterans Scott Johnson and Mark (The Turpster) Turpin dispensing very hypothetical life advice.

Tuesday, May 1, 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 3 of The Litigators, by John Grisham.
"The little pub was showing signs of life. With his brain coated with vodka, David stared at himself in the mirror and tried in vain to put things into perspective."