Sunday, March 31, 2013

March Reading List

13. Doctor Who: Paradise Towers (ua), by Stephen Wyatt
12. DC Universe Secret Origins (gn), by various writers and artists
11. The Gods of Mars (ua), by Edgar Rice Burroughs
10. Craving Grace (hc), by Lisa Velthouse
  9. The Sign of Four (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

earlier in 2013;
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
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,

Friday, March 29, 2013

Podcast Milestones

A few of the podcasts I listen to have recently reached major milestones, and I wanted to take this opportunity to recognize these accomplishments.

1000 -- NetCast Studios just released its 1,000th network episode. The network has shows that cover technology, sports, women's interest, and just casual conversation. Mike, Dave, and the team have done a great job over the years producing high quality audio and video programs

500 --  No Agenda, self-proclaimed as "the best podcast in the universe," will reach produce its 500th show on Easter Sunday. I found this show around episode #10, and have been listening to hosts John C Dvorak and Adan Curry do their twice-weekly news and media deconstruction ever since.

300 -- The Bible Study Podcast. Host Chris Christensen has been producing a (mostly) weekly 10-minute Bible Study for more than 6 years. He does a good job putting out a non-denominational, non-partisan, straightforward study, without any particular axe to grind. He moves back and forth between topical studies and chapter-by-chapter book studies.

250 -- Fantastic Fourcast. Dave Elliott does a humorous issue-by-issue review of the Fantastic Four comic book. His episodes run about 10 minutes each, and has already reached the year 1983. He still has hundreds of issues to cover, and I wish him luck.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

EYE and ears is more like it ...

Thanks to the wonder of pre-scheduled posts, the fact that I have been off the computer for just over a week has started to be noticeable. But it will still be a few days before regular postings will resume here.

My retina has been re-attached, but I am still working with one functional eye -- vision in the other is returning, slow and steady.

The only good thing about this forced layoff is the huge number of podcasts and audiobooks I've been listening to. Many reviews to follow!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Guys update!

The Book Guys Show has made some changes lately, and (so far) they have kept me on the show as a co-host!

In addition to our audio show continuing to be available via iTunes and the Book Guys web site, we have begun to record the video for the show, and place that on You Tube.

Our fist joint video/audio episode was #67, which featured author William Kent Krueger as a guest. We talked about his novel "Ordinary Grace." I talked about just finishing up The Hunger Games, and my plans to work my through the Sherlock Holmes novels. And of course there wsa comic book discussion.

In episode #68, veteran actor and audiobook narrator Jeff Gurner joined us to talk about the voice-over business, and his experiences as an actor. We talked about John Scalzi's Red Shirts, a little Doctor Who, and the fact that digital goods may one day be recognized as actual property.

I missed the next episode, but I hear it wasn't all that bad. Narrator Johnny Heller returned, and Pat Flewwelling from CrimeWritersCanada.Com joined the show.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Walking Dead Whiplash

As of two months ago, I had read 48 issues of The Walking Dead comic book, (and reviewed them here. And here. And here. And here.) but had never seen a second of the TV show. Then came Super Bowl Sunday.

In a counter-programming marathon, AMC showed the entire first season on that day, and via my friendly neighborhood DVR, I watched those six episodes in the next 36 hours, and mostly enjoyed them. And then the next Saturday, they showed the entire second season, and the next day, to prepare for the second half premiere of season three, the showed the entire first half of season three. I took more than a week to get through all of those episodes, meaning that totally caught up on the show over about 10 days.

By mainlining the episodes in this way, I was able to fully dive into the world of the TV show, which is very different from the world of the comic books. Some of the changes were dramatic, some less so, but once I jumped into the TV version, its own internal consistency mattered more to me than the differences between the two versions.

And then I read issues 49-60. And then I watched another episode of the TV show. That was my mistake.

Bouncing between the two versions of the story made the differences tand out more. And not just the cosmetic differences of who loses what appendage, or which character dies who should hav elived and vice versa. But more significant differences of pacing, story, subplot, and character development.

And in those comparisons, experiencing both universes in a "back-and-forth" manner, the TV show suffers. Of course, telling a story in 22 pages of sequential, static drawings is quite different from telling a story in 44 minutes of live action, but my complaints with the TV show are not in how (or even what) they are adapting, but how they are telling their story. Both version of the story have a rhythm of mixing fast-paced (action) stories and slower-paced (character) stories. But the "slow" comic book issues are so much more enjoyable than the "slow" TV episodes. Things happen, character is revealed and developed, and most importantly, the tension is ratcheted up. In the "slow" TV shows, not much happens except that we move one episode closer to the season finale.

I imagine that I will continue to watch the show, as well as read the comics, but I realize now that combining those two endeavors is not a wise move.

Tuesday, March 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 Chapter 1 of Deadly Straits by R. E.  McDermott: "Alex Kairouz sat at his desk, trembling, his eyes squeezed shut and face buried in his hands. He shuddered and shook his head, as if trying to physically cast out the images burned into his brain."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book #13

Doctor Who: Paradise Towers. Novelization by Stephen Wyatt, who also wrote the original TV script.

After an exhausting series of adventures, the 7th Doctor and his companion Mel Bush decide to take a vacation. As any fan of Doctor Who in particular or science fiction in general knows, this will not turn out well. All Mel really wants is to spend a few days lounging by a swimming pool, and they fly to the 22nd century's leading luxury apartment complex, Paradise Towers.
They find a building fallen into disrepair, and a divided population. The Doctor and Mel  are split amidst a confusing situation, but they agree to meet back up at the rooftop pool. There are roaming gangs of color-coordinated girls, with names like "Bin Liner" and "Fire Escape." There are caretakers and female residents, and robotic cleaners gone awry. The only free male in the complex is Pex, the other men having fled to fight in a war. He appoints himself Mel's protector, but is less than capable in the role.
In what is a pretty cliché plot at this point, the artificial intelligence that runs the building has decided that the "filthy human parasites" must be destroyed, as they have been the cause for the building's fall into shabbiness. They discover that Kroagnon, the original architect of the building never liked the idea of humans actually living in any of his designs. Having killed the Chief Caretaker and animated his corpse, Kroagnon uses booby traps in the building to declare war on its human occupants.
But the divided people are brought together by the Doctor to fight back against their less-than-human enemies. A sacrifice is made and victory is achieved, ending the building's reign of terror. The outcome is predictable, and none of the major guest characters are terribly memorable. Only Pex and Bin Liner rise above the rest as individualized characters. Overall, there is very little about this story that is other than ordinary.
The unabridged audio performance of this novelization was narrated by Bonnie Langford, who played Mel in the TV series. She does a fine job bringing energy to the story.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book #12

DC Comics Secret Origins, hardcover collection. Various writers and artists.
This is a reprint collections of reprint collections. The hardcover contains 4, 80-page reprint collections originally published in 1961, 1965, 2003, and 2004. Most of the individual stories come from the "Silver Age" of comics, the 1955-1965 era, although a pair were from 1940, and a few came from as late as the early 1970s. This variety of dates gives readers the opportunity to note how drastically comics have changed over the decades, both in terms of the writing and art.
There is a very nice mix of characters included in this volume, including Doctor Fate, Enchantress, Animal Man, and the villain Eclipso. I quite enjoyed the more science-fiction stories involving Hawkman, the Manhunter from Mars, and the very under-appreciated Adam Strange. This collection also reminded me how much I like the Challengers of the Unknown, a team that has never been able to find a foothold in modern versions of the DC Comics universe.
In addition to characters, there are a few "origins" of other things, such as the Green Lantern oath and the sidekick team of  Jimmy Olsen and Robin. In the early days of comic books, companies received favorable postage rates if they included prose pieces, and there are two of these stories reproduced, involving the war character Blackhawk, and the archer Green Arrow.
Some are actual firsts appearances of characters, while many are stories that themselves recount in a flashback (or "clip show" manner) a particular first appearance. That is the setup for the Justice League story, with each character taking turns telling their part of the story that served as the impetus for the league forming. The Superman origin is also a later retelling of the origin from a book published in 1960, featuring his departure as Superboy from his hometown of Smallville.
source: local library

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Guys Goats Intro!

For some reason, somebody took our nice and respectable video intro for the Book Guys Show podcast, and added goats. No, really. Goats. I hear they are the new cats.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book #11

The Gods of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Nook / Unabridged audio.

Many years have passed (at least on Mars) since the last time John Carter appeared on the red planet. And when he does re-appear, it is in the once spot from which none may ever leave: the Valley Dor, representative of the afterlife on Barsoom.

Carter's old friend Tars Tarkas rescues him, and the pair then rescue the slave girl Thuvia. They are eventually recaptured, and Carter must appear before Issus, self-styled goddess of Mars. She communicates via secret means to the Therns, who consider this divine revelation. Carter is imprisoned, and he encounters a young man later identified as his son Carthoris. They lead a revolt, and return to Helium, where Carter is tried for heresy. It is discovered that his wife Deeja Thoris has made the pilgimage to Dor to find him. Carter again escapes and flees to rescue his beloved.

But even that victory is bittersweet, as Deeja is once again taken, and placed in temple cage will cannot open for another full Martian year. Adding to the melodrama of the cliffhanger, the jealous Thuvia has also been captured, and the two women plunge daggers at each other as the door closes, and the novel ends. All that John Carter hears as the doors shut is one woman's death throes. But John Carter must wait a full year to discover who has died: Deeja or Thuvia.
Fortunately, we can just read book #3 (The Warlord of Mars) to find out.

I enjoyed the action in this story, although there was a repetitive nature to it, a continual cycle of capture and escape, capture and escape. The new setting of the first half of the book helped, as through Carter's eyes, we were able to explore previously unknown parts of Mars.

I started this book on my Nook, but I moved to the audio version when I found it at my library. need to mention the excellent quality of William Dufris' narration. John Carter is a Virginian, a Civil War veteran, and it would have been easy for a narrator to overplay Carter's Southern heritage with a stereotypical deep South drawl. But Dufris wass able to capture the much lighter accent of the southern gentlemen, and that nuanced performance was a strength of the audio presentation.

Source: Project Gutenberg (Nook version) /  public library (audio version).

Sunday, March 10, 2013


I was recently invited to be a guest-host on the excellent Fantasticast podcast. We discussed the terrific Fantastic Four annual from 1964, featuring many stories of my favorite comic book character, the sorely misunderstood Doctor Doom. I take the lead in presenting my synopsis of the intro story, the excellent "Origin of Doctor Doom," and then join in with the discussion of the extra-long adventure, "The Final Victory of Doctor Doom."

Andy and Steve were kindly hosts to me, and after speaking with them for just over 2 hours, I am beginning to think that those British accents may not be fake, after all.

The episode is #34 of the Fantasticast, and can be found via iTunes or directly from the show's website.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book #10

Craving Grace, by Lisa Velthouse. Hardcover. 

Lisa Velthouse grew up trying to be the "perfect Christian girl" -- no drinking, no cursing, and always paying attention to her parents. She even wrote a book about her choice to not kiss until her engagement, 2003's Saving My First Kiss, which allowed her to begin a career of speaking at conferences and writing on church staffs. Everything about her life revolved around earning God's approval. And she was convinced that she had done that.

And then a few years later, at a sister's wedding, she broke the no-kissing vow. Convinced that she had lost God's favor, she spent years studying, seeking after, (and receiving) undeserved grace, both from God and from people. Craving Grace is her recounting of that search.

There are many Christian living books where the author will use occasional examples from their life to amplify their theological point. But I prefer books like this, where the author uses the memoir form to tell a very personal story, while also focusing on a particular aspect of faith or theology. Readers of Lauren Winner's books will recognize this format. Velthouse uses the recurring motifs of sheep and honey to tell her story, and her ability to return to these themes, and to continually elaborate upon them, demonstrates her skill as a writer. 

The transparency and vulnerability that Velthouse shows in telling this personal story is impressive. She is able to bring the reader inside her head, and inside her heart, as she talks about her struggles to understand the nature of living in a Grace that is wholly underserved. One subplot in the story is her attempt to fast from sweets for a period of time. It was just good fortune that I read this book over Lent, but that added nicely to my own experience of the book.

The memoir portions of the book are not told chronologically, and this "jumping around" in time (the events of the book cover a three-year period) may be disconcerting to a reader who is used to reading a book like this in order. But that is a minor quibble; the book is excellent.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Retro-Review: The Fighting American

The Fighting American, issues 5-7+, 1954, 1955, & 1966. by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.

In the aftermath of the 1954 anti-comic hearings before the US Senate, EC Comics collapsed, which contributed to the collapse of Leaders, the distributor for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's The Fighting American. Without distribution and with comics sales collapsing all across the industry, their publisher was forced out of business after publishing 7 issues of the comic. Harvey Comics brought out another issue in 1966 in an attempt to revive the title, but that effort failed. All of these issues, and a single story that would have been in Harvey's issue 2, are included in the Simon & Kirby Superheroeshardcover collection.
The strengths of these stories is the humor that Simon brings to them. It seems that by this point, he and Kirby had decided to make these tales as over-the-top as possible. Every issue contains at least one laugh-out-loud moment, and usually every story does. There are crazy situations and characters for Kirby to draw, including Invisible Irving, the alien shape-shifter Space-Face, and the Martian Gulnik.
The Fighting American and Speedboy become world travelers in these issues, chasing Jiseppi the Jungle Boy in India, fighting over oil in the Middle East, and stopping an evil movie production in Italy.
The last story (unfortunately unpublished) tells a surreal post-modern story in which the artist of the Fighting American comics has been driven crazy, announcing that he is "through getting my kicks on a drawing board! I'll live my own life of adventure ... and I'll beat Fighting American at his own game!" The extent to which this is Kirby's own thoughts about the comic industry (or Simon's) is unknown, but it is a fascinatingly weird tale.
These stories show that by this part of their careers, Simon and Kirby had come into their own as elite comic book professionals.
Source: public library.

Note: Issues 1-4 were discussed here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Podcast Marathon

Monday was the first day of Spring Break, and there was not much on the DVR, so I powered through many, many podcasts. Here is what I listened to yesterday:

No Agenda, episode #492. I listened to some of this via the live stream on Sunday, but filled in the rest this morning. Alternative news and media analysis from veteran tech columnist John C. Dvorak and "podfather" Adam Curry.

Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend. In this episode, Alison talks to actress Jenny Mollen about relationships, work, and being married to Jason Biggs.

Back to the Bins, episode #101. Scott Gardner, Paul Spataro, and Bill Robinson talk about old comic books. This is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite comic book podcasts. The vibe between the hosts is great.

Adam Carolla Show. Adam and crew talk with singer Lisa Loeb, and talk about the news of the day.

Writing Excuses. A 20-minute episode in which the crew helps Dan work on an idea for his next novel project.

Fire & Water Podcast, episode #45. Comic-book bloggers Rob Kelly and The Irredeemable Shag talk about Aquaman 17, Firestorm 17, and Justice League 17.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Revisiting Holmes: The Second Novel

Book 9. The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unabridged audio.

First published in1890, this is the second novel to feature Sherlock Holmes. It is a much more enjoyable read than A Study in Scarlet, which despite its historical value, gets bogged down for a long stretch. Although the revenge plot is similar to that in the first novel, this story moves a very nice pace, and both the plot elements and character beats are strong.

This book contains much of what a Holmesian mystery should contain. It has more of a historical fiction feel to it, with all of the action is confined to London. Holmes is in his element in this locale, whether he and Watson are using a dog to track a man through the streets of London, or the irregulars are scouring the ports for a very particular boat, or he is jousting with detective Athelney Jones.

The detective is hired by a beautiful young governess, Mary Morstan, to solve the mystery of the single pearl she receives every year on the anniversary of her father's death.  Holmes reveals the complex plot, which involves a pact of four convicts and a pair of corrupt prison guards to smuggle a treasure out of India. After the case is solved, Watson proposes marriage to Mary, and the two wed.

The novel starts and ends with Holmes' cocaine use. This adds characterization to both Holmes and Watson, in his reaction to his friend's addiction. There is also a nice sense of symmetry here, by beginning and ending the story in the same fashion. 

The very end of the novel is typical Holmes, with Watson asking what the great detective has gotten out of his involvement in the case. Holmes did all the work, while Watson found a wife, and Jones has received credit for the arrest.