Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Reading List

 8. DC Dead (ua), by Stuart Woods
 7. A Study in Scarlet (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
 6. The Hunger Games (ua), by Suzanne Collins
Earlier in 2013:
5. Take Three (ua), by Karen Kingsbury
4. Mary Through The Centuries (hc), by Jaroslav Pelikan
3. Roil (ua), by Trent Jamieson
2. The Devil You Know (ua), by Mike Carey
1. Ender's Shadow Ultimate Collection (gn), by Mike Carey,

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book #8

Book 8. D.C. Dead, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

Over the last few Stone Barrington novels, author Stuart Woods has not been shy about killing off characters, and D.C. Dead is no exception. Many people die, mostly women, and in some cases, women whose only mistake was to sleep with Stone.
Stone and Dino are called in by President Will Lee to re-open an investigation into the death of a woman who was killed a year before on the White House grounds. Working with CIA agent Holly Barker, they uncover many of Washington's deepest secrets, and run into a woman who will kill anyone she can to keep those secrets, secret.
All of Woods' novels inhabit the same world, but it is nice when all of his main characters are working together in a single novel. The main plot wraps up with an interesting twist, with a suspect that I did not suspect. The ongoing story arc relating to master villain Teddy Fay advances, and I anticipate that it will come to a head in an upcoming book, as does a very tantalizing plot thread from this mystery.
As always, veteran actor and narrator Tony Roberts does a fine job reading the book, maintaining the various voices and appropriate tone throughout.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Podcasting Opportunity

I have been contacted by my good podcast friends Andy Leyland and Stephen Lacey. They have invited me as a guest onto their excellent Fantasticast podcast, to discuss the seminal Fantastic Four Annual #2. This issue features Doctor Doom, my favorite character in all of comics. The good Doctor, rightful ruler of the Democratic Republic of Latveria, had appeared in Fantastic Four issues off and on for the prior two years, but this issue is the first time that his "origin story" is to be told. We should be recording in a week or two, and I am very excited to talk about this issue with a couple of actual English blokes!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New 52 Review: Demon Knights 1-7

Demon Knights, issues 1-7, by Paul Cornell, Michael Choi, Diogenes Nieves, & Robson Rocha.

Paul Cornell is a terrific writer, having worked in a range of media, from TV, novels, and many comic books. It is hard to think of a better choice of writer for a medieval sword & sorcery epic. Of all of the outside-the-box titles in DC's New 52, this was one I was looking forward to the most, and so far I have been satisfied.

This is basically the medieval version of the Magnificent Seven, bringing together the Demon, Madame Xanadu, Shining Knight, Vandal Savage, Exoristos, Al Jabr and the Horsewoman. Each of these characters have a magical or supernatural  aspect to them, many tying back to King Arthur and Camelot. As we meet this band in issue #1, some of them already know each other, some know each other only by reputation, some are meeting each other for the first time. 

Some of these characters I knew of before reading this, in their prior incarnations, and some of these are brand new (at least to me). The relationship between Xanadu, Jason Blood, and the Demon is a new spin on these characters, and is an odd take on the comics' most famous love triangle, between Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Superman.

Cornell's ability to tell an action-packed story while introducing all of these characters was quite an accomplishment. We got enough character bits to understand who these beings were, what their basic relationships were, and who trusted who. These magical beings come together in these issues to save the town of Little Spring from the horde, commanded by Questing Queen and her consort Mordru. They need to get past this small town in their march to the greater prize of the grand city of Alba Sarum. There are betrayals, magic spells, dragons, battle plans, and some epic fight scenes along the way.

 And the cover to issue 4 is terrific.

Of the original New 52 titles that have survived the first two rounds of cancellations, it is among the lowest-selling books. Critical responses to the title have been strong, and rightfully so. But I do confess that I'm worried about the long-term survivability of the title.

Source: public library.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!
Just do the following:
Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From page 11 of Craving Grace, by Lisa Velthouse:"I am questioning if I'll learn anything in the process, if this will be strictly discipline or if maybe something else will break through. I am asking myself if God really could be sweet, and whether or not that would be enough to help me crawl out of this bland and frantic place I've fallen into."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Revisiting Holmes: The First Novel

Book 7. A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unabridged audio.

First published in 1887, the short novel "A Study in Scarlet" introduced the world to the character of Sherlock Holmes. This is the "origin story" of the relationship between Holmes & Watson, telling of their first meeting and first case. If not for the strength of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and the uniqueness of Holmes as a character, I wonder if the plot alone of this novel would have been enough to begin the massive wave Holmes popularity that has developed over the decades.

The book is infamous for its long (more than a third of the novel) digression about Mormon pilgrims on a wagon train to Utah. This serves as the backstory for the mystery, which is a rather pedestrian case of revenge. The Mormons take in a father and his adopted daughter, who are in danger of dying of thirst in the wilderness. In exchange for rescue, the pair agree to become Mormons, but the father refuses to engage in the practice of polygamy. Upon reaching the age of marriage, the daughter is forced into a Mormon marriage (the father is killed in an escape attempt), although she has fallen in love with a non-Mormon. Her fiancé spends decades tracking down the men involved in the murder and marriage, leading to his killing of them in London, and his eventual capture by Holmes.
Despite the long proportion of time the novel spends in Utah, the strength of Holmes as a character is evident. His observations are impressive and accurate, he is the proper mix of confident and arrogant, he lacks some social graces, and even plays the violin. It is interesting to see how much of the fundamental aspects of Holmes and his world are present in this first novel. His counterparts among the police, the rivals Lestrade & Gregson, both appear. It was nice to see Gregson, as he rarely if ever appears in expansions and adaptations of the Holmes canon. The team of young street urchins that Holmes uses in his work, the "irregulars," also serve an important function in the story.
Because of the odd narrative choice of the extended backstory, it is hard to consider this a great novel, altough it is certainly an important novel. I don't think that I would recommend that Holmes "newbies" start here. There are much better "jumping on" points later in the series.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Podcast Mentions

I mentioned a number of podcasts in my "Personal Podcast Awards" and "Podcast-listening Goals" entries, from earlier in the year, but I want to give each of these podcasts a little more space on the blog. So I am doing brief descriptions and reviews of all the podcasts mentioned in these 2 entries

I am starting with brief mentions and links to the ones I have written about before.

Fantasticast -- Two English blokes chatting about the early days of Fantastic Four comic books.

France Project -- Podcast by an Australian girl living in Paris, talking about her expat life in the City of Lights.

Babylon Podcast -- A podcast that has wrapped up its coverage of the excellent Babylon 5 television series.

The Book Guys -- I am on this show, and talk about it a lot.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book #6

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Unabridged audio.

I decided to step boldly into 2008 and read the mega-popular YA Hunger Games series. I had confidence that it would be strong because this would not be my first contact with Suzanne Collins' writing. My daughter and I had previously read her "Gregor the Overlander" series, a critically-acclaimed series about a boy's adventures in a magical world under New York City.

By the time I picked up this first book in the Hunger Games series, the broad outlines of the story were already well known to me, although I was unfamiliar with the details. And I haven't seen the movie, although I will shortly, now that I have read the book.
In the near future, the United States has become a society of a dozen separate districts, all extremely poor. The land is run with an iron fist by the despotic rulers in the Capitol. Every year, the Capitol put on a "bread and circuses" show called the Hunger Games, pitting a pair of teenagers from each district against each other in a fight to death. The winner's district receives more than their regular allotment of food as a prize, and the winner's family is financially set for life. Viewing the games on television is mandatory for all citizens.
Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, a baker's son, are selected to represent district 12. Katniss had a positive experience with Peeta when she was younger, and feels a loyalty to him. He admits to having had a long-standing crush on her, although this declaration may have been a strategy to gain support from viewers of the Games, support which can bring benefits during the game. Katniss had to balance her need to win the game, while battling the churning emotions she feels for Peeta.
The story is told entirely from Katniss' point-of-view, bringing an immediacy to the action. One of the limitations of this type of storytelling is that it can be limiting, but Collins is still able to tell a tale of epic scope. Katniss has to then carry the entire emotional bulk of the story, and putting us "inside her head" can feel repetitive. But that minor point aside, the book moves at a great pace, and this interesting story is told very well.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Guys update!

In the last few weeks, we have put out some good episodes, even the one I wasn't on. Check them out on iTunes or at

Episode 064 -- As a matter of fact, the one I wasn't on was probably the best episode of this batch. Simpsons animator Alex Ruiz joined Paul, Father Robert, & Sir Jimmy to talk about the process of making the Simpsons, and his career. Despite not being on the show, Alex was kind enough to include me in his "Simpsonized" drawing of the cast. That's me in the upper right, with the goatee!

Episode 065 -- All four hosts were joined by the 3 brains behind the Flash Pulp podcast. About three times per week they release a new episode. The stories feature a recurring cast of characters in a mix of short serialized and one-off stories. We also talked a bit about Ready Player One.

Episode 066 --I missed the first segment of this episode, and Father Robert missed the whole show, but despite that, it was a pretty good show! We spoke with Seth Resler of the Find Dining podcast, and about how social media technologies are changing the restaurant world. In books, we talked about The Hunger Games, and about how Audible seems to try really hard to pick the most boring part of their books to present as previews.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

New 52 Review: Supergirl

Supergirl, Volume 1: Last Daughter of Krypton. Collecting issues 1-7, by Michael Green & Mike Johnson, and Mahmud Asrar.

When DC Comics re-booted their new entire line of comics in September 2011, they were inconsistent in how faithful they were to prior incarnations of particular heroes. Each editor and creative team were free to decide how much of the "old stuff" stayed around in the new continuities. Supergirl received one of the most dramatic overhauls, a much-needed dramatic overhaul. I had heard that this was one of the stronger "super-books" of the New 52, and I think that's right.

This current Kara Zor-el bears little resemblance to either her silver-age or post-Crisis versions, and that is a good thing. Without the silliness of the 1950s and 1960s dragging her down, Green and Johnson crafted a thoroughly modern story of a thoroughly modern Supergirl. They tell a terrific story of the "stranger in a strange world" variety. I love the fact that Supergirl does not speak (or understand) a single world of English over the course of these seven issues, ignoring the traditional sci-fi trope of the "universal translator" that allows aliens and natives to understand each other unbelievably fast and unbelievably accurately. 

After years in stasis around the Earth, Kara's spaceship falls to Earth, and her battling of armed forces claiming her space-pod draws the attention of Superman. From Kara's perspective, she was babysitting little Kal-El just a few weeks before, and the notion that he is now older than her is strange and disconcerting. When he explains that they are on Earth, because Krypton has exploded, her befuddlement turns to rage, and the pair of Kryptonians engage in one heck of a fight.

Unable to accept her cousin's explanation, Kara sets off to recover her ship and go home. She is intercepted by a flying space-station owned by 28-year-old trilionaire Simon Tycho. He tests Supergirl's limits against a range of weapons, and it is clear that her time in stasis soaking up solar energy has made her more powerful than Superman. After dispatching of Tycho and his minions (in a way that sets him up to return later), Kara continues her search for Argo City, and after finding a hologram of her father, she runs into a Kryptonian world-killer called Reign. 

Supergirl flees to Earth, followed by Reign and her three world-killer allies. They fight Supergirl all across Metropolis, battling to a draw. The world-killers flee, dropping interesting clues as they leave. It seems that Supergirl's origin might be more than she had been led to believe. This is a series of issues that definitely feels like the first chapter in an ongoing story, and I look forward to reading the next chapter.

In terms of sales, this title has remained strong over the time frame of these issues, consistently landing just above the midway point in terms of New 52 sales. 


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Adapting Holmes -- The Mary Russell Series

In a post earlier this year, I declared 2013 a year of Sherlock Holmes. This is the first in what I expect to be a series of posts about Holmes, both the original Conan Doyle stories, and expansions and adaptations.

I don't know when I first heard of the Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series, but it was probably browsing the audiobook sestion at a library in the mid-1990s. I saw The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first in the series, and I admit I was a unconvinced by the concept. A story featuring an older, retired Holmes appealed to me, but the idea of pairing him with a 15-year-old girl protege concerned me. This may have been a new concept for versions of Holmes, but as a comic book reader,  "teen sidekick" is a tired trope that I have run across dozens of times.

But I took a chance, and am certainly glad that I did. That was a terrific book, and I re-listened to it with my wife on a summer vacation later that same year. The Holmes-Russell dynamic was powerful, and the books captured both the tone and the energy I was looking for. The next book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, was not as much to my taste, but the third, A Letter of Mary, restored my confidence in the series. Exploring Russell's interest in religion and theology was an interesting place for the series to go, and this part of Russell's character remains with her as the series progresses.

I like all of the next six novels in the series to one degree or another, with The Moor and The Language of Bees among my top choices. The last two that I've read in the series have been good but not great. The God of the Hive was the first book I ever reviewed on this site back two years ago, and I read The Pirate King in the middle of last year. I am one book behind in the series, not having read last year's Garment of Shadows yet.

This series is by far the most in-depth I've gone in the Holmes "expanded universe." The mysteries in these novels are fine enough, but the strength is the world that King has moved Holmes and Russell into, and her characterizations of both. Her Holmes is in the spirit of the original, a reasonable extrapolation. 

I will also point out that the character of Mary Russell has a very nice presence in social media for a fictional character, and I find her Twitter feed entertaining.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!
Just do the following:
Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From chapter 1 of The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks, book 1 of the Lightbringer series: "A pack of giant javelinas had been seen roaming the night, tusks cruel, hooves sharp. They were good at eating if you had a matchlock, iron nerves, and good aim, but since the Prisms' War had wiped out all the town's men, there weren't many people who braved death for a little bacon."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Podcast Review: College-Bound Chronicles

The College Bound Chronicles

This is a podcast that I originally discovered as it came down through Lian Dolan's Chaos Chronicles podcast feed, although the show now has its own standalone feed. In this show, Lian and Dr. Nancy Berk, psychologist and author of College Bound and Gagged, discuss a range of wide topics related to the college application process. Lian's sons are entering this phase of life, and Dr. Berk's children have already gone through the process. This diversity of experiences helps give the podcast a broad "take" on the topic.
As of this writing, a dozen episodes have been released, numbered 101-112 -- but don't worry, you have not missed the first 100 episodes!

This series of 25- to 30- minute episodes have so far discussed many parts of the college application process. Since the process can be so overwhelming both to parents and teens, it wasy a good choice on the hosts' part to offer bite-size episodes, each focusing on a narrow part of the process.

Topics they have covered so far include handling overly competitive parents, what to say if your child is not applying to college, "helping" your child write their college essay, and how to motivate your student to finish the application. Dr. Berk has spoken to many college admissions officers in her research, and has a very good handle on "dos" and "don'ts" for parents and students involved in this process. The show on the ACT and SAT tests was especially informative. Each episode ends with a great "List of 5," giving parents great take-away information.
The mix of expertise, experience, and parental frustration make this a very relatable and informative podcast for parents of middle- and high-school students.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book #5

Take Three, by Karen Kingsbury. Unabridged audio.

I enjoyed the first novel in this series, as I thought that it presented a nuanced story about modern Christians using the arts to express their worldview. It was a refreshing take for a genre that prefers to dwell within established boundaries. But I found that the second book, and now the third, too often fall into the comfortable clichés of inspirational fiction. That being said, Kingsbury delivers the novel with skill, and the novel moves at an enjoyable pace.

The movie production company that Chase and Keith have created is on the precipice of its greatest success, but Chase feels that it is more important to stay with his family in Indiana than to continue to face the temptations of Hollywood. But the problems don't last too long, of course, as another producer is easily found. The newly-formed company faces its own problems, trying to land one of Hollywood's greatest young stars for their next movie. But his reputation and actions may irreparable harm the Christian film company.

Back in Indiana, the next generation have their own issues. The main romantic subplot finds Bailey Flanagan caught between the reliable Tim, her boyfriend of many years, and the boy she really wants, Cody. One of the things I dislike about this book is that Bailey's mistreatment of both boys is never addressed. There is even a "happy ending" that seems to justify her poor treatment of both Tim and Cody. Cody is criticized for never telling Bailey how he feels about her, but not praised for not hitting on a girl who already has a boyfriend.

There is another character who has an unplanned pregnancy, and considers having an abortion. Now this is a Christian novel, so I certainly did not think she would go through with it, but there was some drama there. Except that about 20 pages before she makes a decision, we are introduced to a family who wants to adopt a baby. At this point all of the "will she or won't she" drama related to the unplanned pregnancy goes out the window, as it is clear that she will give up her baby for this family to adopt. And then after she makes the decision to go through with the pregnancy this character, one of the young female leads and a POV character, totally disappears from the book. Time passes for the other characters, but this one literally never appears again -- we never see this young Christian woman "showing," if you will, her out-of-wedlock pregnancy becoming public.

I preferred where the story seemed to be going in the first book, and hope that the fourth book moves back into that more subtle and nuanced territory.

source: public library.