Friday, January 31, 2014

January Reading List

 3. The Great Fables Crossover (gn), by Bill Willingham, et. al.
 2. Silent Partner (pb), by Terrence King
 1. His Last Bow (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review of The Great Fables Crossover

Book #3: The Great Fables Crossover, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturgis, Mark Buckingham, Tony Akins, Russ Braun, et. al. Graphic novel, collecting Fables 83-85, Jack of Fables 33-35, and The Literals 1-3. Originally reduced in April, May & June 2009.

In the prior Fables volume (War and Pieces), the Adversary was finally defeated, bringing to a close plot threads that had been brewing since the very first issue. This arc is a transition to what I assume will be a different type of story in coming volumes. And the end of the war seems to be a good time to bring all of the characters together, including the first successful (of many) spinoffs, Jack. This is the Jack of all the tales: Beanstalk, Giant Killer, Frost, Horner, etc ...

Fables has always engaged in meta-narrative, but Bill Willingham turns up the meta-knob to 11 for this 9-issue storyline. The presence of the Literals takes this story to an entirely new level of self-reference.These are the literal embodiments of ideals, such as the Pathetic Fallacy, and the various genres. In the final battle, Blockbuster, Western, Sci-Fi and Noir are among the important participants. But the breakout stars of this series are the three Page Sisters, gorgeous and gun-toting embodiments of the library sciences.

With all of these characters at his disposal, WiIllingham is able to give us plenty of humorous secnarios and fun wordplay as the characters prepare for yet another dangerous fight. But after battling the Adversary, this is a new kind of fight.

They are going up against a pretty harmless looking fellow named Kevin, who is in actuality a Literal himself. He is the Writer, possessing the ability to rewrite reality and make a better version. All he wants to do (all Willingham wants to do, perhaps) is to rein in the characters and situations who've run away from him. This is not only a fun story, but it is surprisingly thought-provoking. We learn some things about the nature of story and storytelling, as well as get to wrestle with concepts of reality, fiction, belief, and the power of the written word.

Source: public library

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review of The Silent Partner

Book #2. The Silent Partner, by Terrence King.

Homer is a defiant (but not fallen) angel, with a smart mouth and a shaky opinion of God. But when he brings her out of isolation for a critical job on Earth,she ends up wondering if humanity is worth saving.

Her mission is to help a struggling magazine columnist get his novel published. The problem is the ending, but if Homer can get him to change it, and then get it published, it may just change the world. But God is pretty picky about humanity keeping their free will, and so Homer is stumped as to how to accomplish her mission.

The scenes with Homer are the strength of the novel, and King's portrayal of God is both interesting and surprisingly reverential. The theology of free will is also an interesting plot point to choose.

Unfortunately there are too many other plot threads going on besides Homer and Tom, and some of those are a bit too meandering or disconnected to the main storyline. But the characterizations of the leads, and the snappy dialogue, keep the book moving at a nice pace, and make it an enjoyable read.

As with most independently-produced novels, one more editing pass would have come in handy, but it is much better terms of grammar and syntax than the vast majority of DIY books I've run across.

Source: From the author, in preparation for a potential interview on the Book Guys Show. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Batman in 2014, too!

In addition to it being another year for Sherlock Holmes on this blog, 2014 is a year for another "world's greatest detective," this one of the Dark Knight variety. 1939 marked the debut of Batman, making this his 75th birthday.

I plan on including some Batman-themes posts this year. Many will be based on the hardcover book "Batman From the 30s to the 70's." My parents gave me this book back when I was around 10, and I have schlepped it to and from college, from state to state, job to job, and house to house. My copy is not nearly as pristine as the cover photo I grabbed from the Internet.

There are a few other books I plan to read this year, including Bruce Scivally's "Billion Dollar Batman," an account of the Caped Crusader's history and cultural impact.

My podcasts, The Quarter-Bin Podcast, and Shortbox Showcase, will both include some Batman-related topics this year, as well. These are both available at the show's web site, and via iTunes.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

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 2 of Inferno Revealed , by Deborah and Mark Parker

"His [Dan Brown's] novel uses Dante's poem as a starting point. His Dante is a version of Dante. This book, Inferno Revealed, offers an account of why the Inferno is a great work of literature and why it has proven so inspirational to other writers."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Revisiting Holmes: The Fourth Collection

His Last Bow, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unabridged audio.  

This short story collection features a nice range of stories, some that I remember reading before (The Bruce Partington Plans), and some that I have no memory of (The Red Circle and the Cardboard Box).

After failing to kill off his famous creation, Doyle does tease his readers with stories that speak of Holmes' death, with stories titled "The Dying Detective" and "His Last Bow." But we learn in these "reminisces" that Holmes is alive and well. The retired detective is living as a beekeeper, a plot thread that Lauri R King picks up in her "Mary Russell" series of novels.

I mentioned the range of stories, and that is a strength of this collection. We are in London and out of London, solving small family mysteries and saving Britain from an espionage scheme. I love this variety, and it keeps the stories from being repetitive.

There is a bit of meta-textuality here, which Doyle may not have intended. But Holmes meets Inspector Baines, who is both a fan of Holmes and of his methods. This indicates that in-world, maybe the police are learning from Holmes, which we know actually happened in the real world.

Source: Unabridged audio via LibriVox, and BooksShouldBeFree.Com, a site that records audio of public domain books. Despite the "amateur" status of the recording, the audio quality and narration is very strong. Surprisingly strong, as a matter of fact.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Own Podcast Awards

Since I (1) listen to a lot of podcasts, and (2) have a blog, I believe I am qualified to talk about my favorites podcasts of 2013. And since none of the podcasts I listen to won an actual, official Podcast Award, so ...

Favorite Podcast That I Have Guested On
Runners-Up: Trentus Magnus Punches Reality, Just One of the Guys
Winner: The Fantasticast, because they had me on first, and they are having me on again soon! That, and they have awesome British accents, and it's a very good show.

Favorite Overall Podcast
Runners-Up: No Agenda, Views From the Longbox, Chaos Chronicles
Winner: The Tony Kornheiser Show, a daily sports and news show. I listen to it every day, often on the live stream. 

Best Produced Podcast
Runners-Up: No Agenda, Star Trek Monthly Monday
Winner: Spirit Blade Underground, the excellent podcast by Paeter Frandsen, that is an original mix of movie reviews, video game talk, original audio drama, and Bible study.

Best New Podcast of 2013 (except my own)
Runners-Up: Dave's Daredevil Podcast, Who True Freaks, Garage Sale Gloat
Winner:  In Country in which host Tom Panarese does an issue-by-issue review of the Marvel war comic The 'Nam.

Best New Podcast of 2013 (including my own)
Runners-Up: Quarter-Bin Podcast, Uncovering the Bronze Age
Winner:  Shortbox Showcase, in which my daughter and I talk about topics related to comic books. 

Gonna Miss You Award, for a show that ended (or seems to have ended) in 2013.
Runners-up: The France Project, Longbox Graveyard, The SaintCast
Winner:  From Darkness to Light Online, a show I wrote about here.

Just-Almost-Dead Award, for shows that are on a, shall we say, intermittent release schedule, but I don't think are actually over yet.
Runners-up: Tales of the Justice Society of America, Golden Age Superman
Winner: Super Future Friends, the funniest long-form comic book podcast around. The ladies only released 1 episode in 2013, after doing 1 in 2012, 2 in 2011 and 6 in 2010. I sense a disturbing trend in these numbers.

Special Award
Best Individual Podcast Episode Name
Winner:  Doctor Who X Ultraman: Big Dueling Showdown Across Time And Space: The Appearance of Time Lord Alien "The Doctor!" an episode in the Two True Freaks feed, where The Irredeemable Shagg and Luke Jaconetti do a compare-and-contrast between Ultra-Man and Doctor Who. By the way, it is also an awesome episode. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Holmes in 2014!

About this time a year ago, I declared that 2013 would be a year for Holmes, for me (and this blog). My intention was to re-read the entire Holmes opus, and dip into other areas of the Holmes Expanded Universe of books, comic books and movies. And I would blog about my experiences here.

Well,I didn't quite get all the way through the corpus, but I did cover some comics, and a few "expansions" and adaptations of the Holmes mythos. So I think it's going to take me another year to totally finish the job. During 2014, I plan to:

* Read and review the last 3 books that I left unread in 2013: His Last Bow, The Valley of Fear, and the Case-Book.

* Read and review the most recent Mary Russell novel.

* Write about the PBS series, and maybe even the BBC one, although plenty of others are doing that.

There are other movies and adaptations that intrigue me, as well. The most interesting possibility for me is that I'm in preliminary discussions with another Holmes fan about potentially doing a podcast on all aspects of the character. I will certainly post more here if that turns into reality.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Christmas re-Listen Project

There are many things I like about Christmas break. As a university professor, I have a nice three-week break. And since most TV shows and a lot of podcasts take breaks (or reduce their output) during this time period, every year I do a "re-listen" project.

I am generally not a podcast re-listener -- once I've listened to an episode, I tend to move on. Similarly, I tend to not be a book re-reader. But this time of year I take advantage of that extra free time to
re-visit an old favorite.

For 2013-2014, I listened again to the 38 excellent episodes produced by the excellent Adriana and Kristen, on their excellent Super Future Friends podcast. They cover issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes comic books, published in the "Silver Age" of the early 1960s. They are fans of the team, but rightly mock the silliness that is often a part of these early comic books. It is a hilarious show, and entertaining from start to finish.

Technically speaking, the podcast may not have "podfaded." But over the last 3 years, they have produced a total of 4 episodes, so I figured this counted.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

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 2 of The Silent Partner, by Terrence King

"She supposed she should be grateful for the opportunity for redemption. Angels - especially banished ones - usually didn't get second chances. Sometimes she cursed anyway, but it was good to keep the bigger picture in mind."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Comic Review: All-Star Western 7-9

All-Star Western, issues 7-9. Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Moritat. DC Comics, cover-dated March-May, 2012.

After the actions in issue 6, Jonah Hex & his “sidekick” Amadeus Arkham visit New Orleans, following Thurston Moody from Gotham. Cinnamon and Nigthawk join him there, and the quarter seek out the anarchist group “August 7.” 

We see the first real instance of mystical powers in the series, in the form of Nighthawk’s necklace. This  amulet gives him his heroic strength,  and is used to restore a desperately injured Hex to health.
Hex beats up a giant of a man in a battle arena, only to be subdued by the petite blonde, Z.C. Branke. She is one of the 7, and invites to Hex to join their cause. All he has to do is blow up a ship in the port to prove his agreement with their cause. 

Meanwhile, Amadeus gets arrested on an opium charge, and after committing psychology on a fellow prisoner, he inadvertently reveals that Hex is a bounty hunter from Gotham, blowing Hex’s cover with the terrorist group. Both of our main characters appear headed to the bottom of the gulf, along with the targeted barge.

Hex’s plan for getting them out of this situation is terrific, as is the way this arc ends. They find Thurston Moody, but so does an owl-masked costumed acrobat. This is the kick-off of the “Night of the Owls” crossover storyline, which introduces the eyepatched-wearing tough girl Tallulah Black.

These three issues also contain backups of the bounty hunter team Nighthawk & Cinnamon, who also appear I the main stories, as mentioned above. These are written also by Gray & Palmiotti, with art chores performed by Patrick Scherberger, Dan Green, and Terry Austin. While telling interesting origin stories for each of them, and for them as a couple, they face ad overcome a range of dangers. It is actually quite a nice little love story. With lots of guns and all.

This title continues to be a terrific read.

Source: My daughter and I are purchasing these regularly from various local comic shops.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Book Guys updates!

At the Book Guys Show, we have moved away from video episodes (yay!), although you kind still find those episode archived on YouTube.

Our last few episodes reflect our return to audio (which is better, because I look way better in audio), and were our last shows for 2013!

In episode  93, we talked with Thomas Deja about his new superhero novel, The Shadow Legion: New Roads to Hell -- which I reviewed here. And we talked about what books we've read recently, and the week's book news.

In episode 94, we chatted among ourselves about books we've read recently, before a longish discussion about the Arthur C. Clarke classic, Rendezvous with Rama.  Then Paul & I talk Doctor Who for about 25 minutes, while Sir Jimmy tries desperately to stay awake.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Reading Summary

I have been keeping track of my annual reading for about 8 years now. In 2013, I read 66 books. This compares to 75 last year, 84 in 2011, 73 in 2010, 80 in 2009, 110 in 2008, and around 140-150 in the few years before that. This decrease from the mid 2000s is because I listen to an absolute ton of podcasts, which cut into my reading time. I have always been a fan of audio, and  38 of the 75 books I consumed this year were via unabridged audio. 24 were traditional dead-tree books, 11 were graphic novels or collections, and 2 were on the Nook.

The 53 novels I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 53, as many books fit into more than one category)
Fantasy/SF -- 25
Mystery/Thriller -- 17
Religious/Christian -- 11
YA -- 9 
Contemporary -- 3
Horror -- 2

The 13 non-fiction works I read break down as follows: (note that the total exceeds 13, as many books fit into more than one category)
Christian/Theology -- 7
Self-Help/Business -- 4
History -- 3
Humor -- 2