Archive for books

High Fantasy Month is back to slay some dragons

Posted in books, pop culture, reviews with tags , , , , on February 16, 2015 by Paxton

High Fantasy Month

The last time I did this was back in July, so I thought it was time to knock out a few more fantasy books.  Next time, I may switch up the media and do High Fantasy movies instead of books only.  I’ve been sort of dying to see Sword & the Sorceror.

Anyway, recently I bought a few fantasy books I’ve been eyeballing during a fire sale on Google Play and Amazon. So let’s see how I did.


The Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two (2011) – Patrick Rothfuss – I read the first book in Rothfuss’ series, The Name of the Wind, back in January 2014 and I enjoyed it. It was very story heavy with lots of characters with weird names but the book is well written and I was very interested in the world that Rothfuss had built.  So, when I found the sequel on sale for super cheap a few months ago on Google Play, I snatched it up. It continues the story of Kvothe, a legendary arcanist (ie magic user) who is relating the unbelievable events of his life story to a scribe.  Overall, this book is good.  However, it’s LOOOOONG.  The eBook is 875 pages long.  And it feels every bit of that length.  And I didn’t realize this, but it’s also a road book.  The main character, Kvothe, is sent out on a journey that lasts FOREVER.  He finishes the initial task on the journey and then goes off on an interlude. And then another interlude.  And another.  To infinity.  I was ready for the book to end.  But the book is written very well and is set in an interesting world with an interesting take on magic.  I just think, since we KNOW this book is continuing into a third book, that Rothfuss should have ended it a little sooner.  And I feel this is a gripe I have with many books in the fantasy genre.


Troll Mountain: The Complete Novel (2014) – Matthew Reilly – I’ve read most of Matthew Reilly’s books. He’s a great action adventure author who’s most famous series involves a special forces officer code-named Scarecrow.  So, this was a bit of a genre departure for Reilly.  It’s a junior fantasy adventure.  Very simple.  Short.  The novel is in three parts and each part is only about 50 pages long.  I actually liked it quite a lot.  It reminds me of L Frank Baum’s fantasy stories.  Like this could have been a lost fantasy fable found in his papers after he died.  It has that type of heart and charm with a touch of morality and lessons to be learned.  The story involves our hero, Raf, who has a sister that has fallen ill to a disease that is plaguing the land.  There are trolls living in a nearby mountain that have an elixir that will cure it but they require a high payment.  Raf, who is poor, decides to travel to Troll Mountain, sneak into their vault and steal the elixir in order to save his sister.  It’s a pretty fun, quick and light read that I highly recommend.


Mistborn: The Final Empire (Book 1) (2006) – Brandon Sanderson – I’ve had my eye on Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy for a while.  Finally Amazon put the Kindle versions on sale for a song (all 3 books for less than $6) and I snatched them right up.  So, I read the first book in the trilogy and it’s pretty damn good.  The world Sanderson creates is interesting and he has filled this world with interesting characters and a very interesting system of magic.  And the setup is similar to something you’d see in another fantasy series I like, The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch.  It’s a group of thieves and cons who are hired to perform an impossible heist.  Exactly the type of plot I love.  I will definitely continue this trilogy.  However, I have a similar gripe about this book that I had with the first book in this list.  The book is a little bit too long.  The first book in this trilogy is nearly 700 pages.  Knowing there are two more books in this series, reading through to 700 pages starts to get a little tiring.  And slightly annoying.  Even when I enjoy the characters and subject matter, story fatigue sets in around 600-700 pages.  However, that being said, I really did enjoy the book and would recommend it.


The Second Book Of Swords – Fred Saberhagen – You’ll recall during my last High Fantasy Month that I read Fred Saberhagen’s First Book of Swords. I actually have the compilation of all three of the original swords books, so I thought I’d pick up the book and read the second book in the series.  But, alas, I didn’t get much further than 4-5 pages.  I just couldn’t get into it.  I kept glazing over reading the pages and nothing would stick.  Not sure what was wrong.  I’m close to saying I’m not reading this series anymore, but I may give it a few months and try again.  When I couldn’t finish this book, I started to read Mistborn instead.  And you see how that turned out, so clearly it was an issue with this story and not with me getting tired of reading fantasy books.

Year End Book Report: The Best Books I Read in 2014

Posted in Batman, books, comic books, movies, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2015 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

I can’t believe I’m doing these year end wrap up reports again.  Where does the damn time go?!

Anyway, if you’ve read this article in the past you know I keep my book log online.  Here’s the link to my Book Log on Google Spreadsheet.  There are tabs for every year since 2007.

Looking at that log it looks like I read about 78 books/comics this year.  That total includes not only books I read for the first time but anything I re-read for the second (or more) time.  For the list below, though, I’ll only take into account books I read for the first time this year.

And I actually have four books on this list that were released in 2014.  That ties my total from last year.  It’s rare when I get to read a currently released book, but I’ve done it four times each in the last two years.  Amazing!

On to the lists!

Below you will find, first, my list of favorite books and following that my list of favorite comic books/graphic novels.  All that I read for the first time this year.  Enjoy.

Books

Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown (2014) – Joe Schreiber – I predicted at the end of my 2013 Best Books I Read article that this book would be on the list for 2014.  And, as you can see, I was right.  Joe Schreiber really hit it out of the park with this one.  A prison thriller that has Maul locked up in a prototype prison that pits its prisoners in gladiatorial matches and broadcasts those matches on pay-per-view.  Very brutal and lots of fun we get lots of awesome Maul in this book.  However, to be honest, the last third of the book sort of goes WAY bananas in a weird way.  It’s still really good, but the book sort of becomes super-gonzo and you’re left scratching your head wondering, “What the f**k is going on?  Did THAT just happen?!”.  However, overall, still one of the best books I read this year.


Point of Impact (Bob Lee Swagger #1) (1993) – Stephen Hunter – I was not aware of this book until I saw the Mark Wahlberg movie Shooter, which is based on this book.  I love that movie and finally picked up the source material this year to give it a go.  And it’s AMAZING.  Even better than the movie.  A bit more story to sink your teeth into and a bit more of an epic bad guy for Swagger to focus his revenge on.  Great action packed book.  I look forward to reading more of Hunter’s Swagger books in the future (there are several).


The Shining (1977) – Stephen King – This Halloween I decided to fill another hole in my Stephen King reading list.  Two years ago I had finally tackled The Stand and just last year I read The Talisman.  So, I thought, let’s continue that trend this year and I decided to read ‘salem’s Lot.  I enjoyed it more than I expected, plus it left me wanting to read more early Stephen King, so even though I only had about a week left in October, I picked up The Shining on my Nook for like $2 and dove in.  And discovered probably the scariest book I think I have ever read in my life.  The Shining is big on plot and character detail as early King likes to be, but once the stuff in the hotel starts happening, it gets seriously scary.  Like several nights I had trouble sleeping it was so scary.  So here it sits on my list.  But as much as I loved this book, I really saw no need for a sequel so I have little to no desire to read Doctor Sleep.  I even tried reading a sample and I couldn’t even finish it.


Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (2007) – James Swanson – Earlier in 2014 I got into an American History phase.  I read Walter Isaacson’s epic Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and was all wrapped up in the days of the early Revolution.  I then watched Spielberg’s Lincoln and loved it before starting this book.  This book is a fascinating account of the days leading up to and the 12 day manhunt that occurred after President Lincoln’s assassination.  Lots of inside stuff I never knew about.  And it’s written in a very modern way that keeps events interesting and not like reading events out of a history book.  Right after reading this book, I watched Robert Redford’s The Conspirator to complete my unofficial “Lincoln trilogy”.  So now, I’m on the lookout for Swanson’s other books he’s written, most specifically the one about Kennedy’s assassination.  But I highly recommend this book.


Star Wars: Tarkin (2014) – James Luceno – This last slot was tough. I had a few REALLY good books I could have put here.  Most notably The Name of the Wind by Patrick RothfussRed Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch and When March Went Mad by Seth Davis.  But I went with my gut and chose this book.  The second Star Wars book on my list.  I really love what they’ve been doing with the Star Wars novels the last few years.  They’ve really been changing it up and getting really good stories out there.  Luceno wrote one of my favorites from a few years ago, Darth Plagueis, and he looked to do the same thing here.  But this is a more intimate story than the galaxy wide epic that played out in the pages of that earlier book.  Luceno really fleshes out the character of Tarkin in this book and investigates a bit more his relationship with Vader and even the Emperor.  Lots of Star Wars-y goodness to be had.  It gets me excited to see what comes next for the Star Wars expanded universe.

Comic Books/Graphic Novels


Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk (2006) – Greg Pak (writer), Carlo Pagulayan (artist) – Oh, man, this book is epic.  It’s bad ass.  It’s just awesome.  Hulk is deemed “too dangerous to stay on Earth” by a think tank of Marvel’s smartest so they devise a way to shoot him off to another world so he can’t hurt anyone.  The only problem, something happens en route and Hulk crash lands on the wrong planet.  A planet that enlaves Hulk and forces him to compete in gladiatorial games until he decides he’s had enough and stages a coup to take over the planet.  So much awesome contained within.  I can’t recommend this enough.


Savage Dragon Vol. 1 (1993) – Erik Larsen (writer/artist) – Back in September I decided I wanted to read the first 10-20 issues of all the original launch titles of Image Comics.  Most of them were forgettable.  However, Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon was not only readable, it was GREAT and deserves a spot on my list.  I was surprised how much I thoroughly enjoyed this comic and I look forward to catching up on all that I missed with this character.


Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon (2012) – Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja (artist) – This was suggested to me by several people but I never listened.  But the more I heard how good it was the more I became intrigued.  So I grabbed the first volume of Matt Fraction’s series for cheap and read it.  And loved it.  This is minimalist storytelling at its finest.  Sort of a “between the panels” look at what Clint Barton does when he’s not being an Avenger.  Quirky, but it’s charming and lots of fun.  I’ll definitely be checking out more of this series.


Thief of Thieves (2012) – Robert Kirkman (writer), Nick Spenser (writer), Andy Diggle (writer), James Asmus (writer), Shawn Martinbrough (artist) – I’ve actually read the first three volumes of this title which cover the first 19 issues of the series.  And it’s pretty great.  Master Thief (retired) Redmond is called back into the life in order to save his estranged son.  This is a pretty great comic with some pretty great writers.  It’s also a nice change from all the super hero books I normally read.  Just a regular guy, trying to get on with his current life but his previous life and his reputation won’t let that happen.  Great book.


Krampus! (2013) – Brian Joines (writer), Dean Kotz (artist) – I think I’ve talked about this book before.  This is such a fun read.  It makes great references to all the Santa/Christmas iconography you can imagine and even makes someone like Doc Holliday, that has nothing to do with Christmas, fit right into the story.  Great art, fun story.  I really hope this gets picked up for some sequels.  So much potential awesome to be mined out of these characters.  GET IT AND READ IT NOW.

That’s my best of list for 2014. It was really hard to pare some of that list down as I read some really good stuff this year. But I also have some good stuff lined up for myself next year. I plan to continue my Stephen King reading by possibly tackling Needful Things as well as possibly It.  There are some good Star Wars books coming out next year featuring Luke Skywalker (Heir to the Jedi) as well as two of our favorite Lords of the Sith.

My High Fantasy Month 2014 wrap up

Posted in books with tags , , , on July 3, 2014 by Paxton

If you’ve been listening to my Nerd-to-Dos on Nerd Lunch the last month or so then you know I’ve been in the middle of what I was calling High Fantasy Month.

high_fantasy

The idea for this is that for an entire month I would read a bunch of “sword and sorcery” books. High fantasy is not really a genre I read. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t. So there’s several popular and famous series I’ve never tackled like The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Shannara and the Sword of Truth.  I’ve read a few, most notably Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley and The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King, but as a whole, I just don’t really dip into the kings and knights sagas very often.

Well, I happened upon a pretty cheap copy of Sword of Shannara at a library sale so I thought, why don’t I make a fantasy reading marathon out of this? So I gathered a few other fantasy books I had lying around my TBR pile and made a reading schedule and started reading the first book on May 19. As of this week, I think I’m ending the first iteration of High Fantasy Month. I’ll do it again, but I want to move on to another genre. I don’t normally stick with one genre like this for so many books and I think I’m getting genre weary. I’m ready to read an action or sci-fi book now.

Here are some quick reviews of the high fantasy books I read this time out.


The First Book of Swords (1983) – Fred Saberhagen – I actually have all three of the original books in one giant omnibus edition.  But I only read the first book.  It’s good.  Saberhagen is a really good genre writer and he’s created a fascinating world with this series.  I’d definitely continue the story about 12 swords created by the god Vulcan and passed out to mortals.  Each sword has a different, terrific power.  The swords become lost for years but are eventually discovered and some unsavory characters do everything they can to get their hands on all 12 swords.  I’ve reviewed two of Saberhagen’s other books before, one was a sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and one was a sequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.


Born to Exile (1977) – Phyllis Eisenstein – Book 1 in the Tales of Alaric the minstrel.  I discovered this book while reading about inspirations for Steven Gould’s Jumper books (click the link and check out the See Also section on Wikipedia). The book is about a traveling minstrel who discovers he has the ability to teleport.  It’s an interesting book in that Alaric is really the only consistent thread throughout the story which features essentially Alaric in a series of vignettes where he tries to not use his power, winds up using it, and then gets banned (or exiled) for using it.  It’s a fun light read that I really enjoyed.

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Making 7 Literary Classics More AWESOME

Posted in books, Classic literature with tags , , , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by Paxton

Bad Ass Book Report

I’m a reader. I love to read. And I sometimes enjoy reading classic literature. However, some of the old stuff is just flat out boring as balls.  I mean, have you actually read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Frank Norris’ McTeague or anything by James Joyce?  Snoozeville.  Population…YOU.  I had to read those in high school and I needed to drink a case of Jolt Cola to get through just one chapter.

So, being the helpful guy that I am, I thought I’d take some boring classics you may have had to read in high school and college and make them better.  More AWESOME.  And easier to read.

So now, here are seven ways to make classic literature a lot more AWESOME. You are welcome, literature.

Don Corleone Quixote
Don Corleone Quixote – Old guard crime boss Don Corleone Quixote sets up shop in an old windmill with trusty right hand man Pancha.

Little Haunted House on the Prairie
Little Haunted House on the Prairie – A family is brutally murdered in their secluded old farm house.  Twenty years later, an unsuspecting couple purchases the old farm house looking for a serene retreat from their hectic lives only to find skin crawling terror and wheelbarrows of blood.

Grapes of Wrath of Khan
The Grapes of Wrath of Khan – The Joad family pick up a hitchhiker on their way to California.  Little do they know their new addition is a genetically enhanced super being from the future looking to overthrow and rule the human race.  Wackiness ensues.

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Year End Book Report: The Best Books I Read in 2013

Posted in Batman, books, comic books, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2014 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

How did this happen!?  It’s that time of year again where I pick my favorite books of the year?  Is 2013 over already?  WTF?!  Time is just flying by.  My son is 3, my daughter is 1 and I’m writing the fifth in my series of year end book reports.  THAT. IS. COCONUTS.

Anyway, if you’ve read this article in the past you know I keep my book log online.  Here’s the link to my Book Log on Google Spreadsheet.  There are tabs for every year since 2007.  Take a look on the 2013 tab and you  can see that I read 58 books/comics/graphic novels this year.  That’s way low compared to 2012 in which I read 80 books/comics/graphic novels.  However, having two kids will do that to you.  Those totals include not only books I read for the first time but anything I re-read for the second (or more) time.  For the list below, though, I’ll only take into account books I read for the first time in 2013.

And I actually have FOUR books on this list that were released in 2013.  That may be a personal record.

Below you will find, first, my list of favorite books and following that my list of favorite comic books/graphic novels.  Enjoy.

Books


Impulse (Jumper Book 3) – Steven Gould – I talked about this series on the Nerd Lunch podcast last year and I sort of reviewed the first two books on the blog back in 2009.  I enjoyed the movie for what it was but it led me to the books which were published first.  And the books are excellent.  There are three of them; the original Jumper from 1992, the 2004 sequel, Reflex, and then this third book which was released early 2013.  All three books are excellent, but you’ll need to read the first two before reading this book.  There’s a lot of continuity that flows throughout the books.  Oh, and if you hated the movie, don’t worry, other than sharing a few of the same characters, the stories are completely different between the two.  Just a warning, though, there is another “Jumper” book by Steven Gould called Jumper: Griffin’s Story.  That book is not really a part of this series, it’s a part of the movie series.  Confusing? Yes, but that’s the way it is.  Read my blog review above for a little bit more explanation.  All that aside, this is a fun read that I thoroughly enjoyed.  And hopefully we don’t have to wait 10 years for another Jumper book.


The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards Book 1) (2006) – Scott Lynch – I forget how I first stumbled across this book, I think it was while I was searching the store on my Nook.  I was intrigued by the title and the premise. It’s somewhat like an Ocean’s 11 con man/heist story but set in a fantasy world.  Hard to explain, but the book is extremely well written, has a great world built up within and interesting, smart and dangerous characters.  Gun to my head, I would probably put this as my favorite book of the year.  Just really fun and well written.  I recently bought the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, with holiday money and I’m eyeballing the third book, The Republic of Thieves, which came out in Oct 2013.  Lynch also plans a series of novellas based within this world.  If you like smartly written, character based fantasy with a nice helping of action, this book is for you.


Star Wars: Scoundrels (2013) – Timothy Zahn – Timothy Zahn is one of the best Star Wars EU writers. He wrote the Zahn Trilogy as well as the awesome books Star Wars: Allegiance and Star Wars: Outbound Flight (which made my favorites list in 2010).  This is a Han Solo adventure that also happens to include Chewie, of course, and Lando.  And it’s great.  I honestly hope that when Disney makes the Han Solo stand alone movie, they use this as the blueprint.  It takes place right after the first Death Star is blown up in the original Star Wars: A New Hope. Han gathers a team of expert con men and thieves in order to steal a priceless piece of art from a Black Sun boss.  Han hopes the proceeds from the job will free him of his debt to Jabba.  Lots of well written, fun dialogue and heist action.  There’s also a short story prequel to this book called Star Wars: Winner Lose All that focuses on what Lando is doing right before the actual book. It, too, is a lot of fun.


Star Wars: Kenobi (2013) – John Jackson-Miller – Oh wow, two Star Wars books get to make my list this year. Yay!  This book was very highly anticipated by myself.  I’ve said for years that a movie or book based on Obi-Wan’s “Tatooine Years” would be amazing.  When Disney was throwing out the stand alone movie ideas I said Ewan McGregor as Kenobi should get one.  And this book should be the basis.  It takes place just after Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.  Obi-Wan has dropped off Luke to the Lars Homestead and he’s setting up base in the Judland Wastes and starts getting acquainted with the denizens of a small moisture farming town who are being attacked by Tusken Raiders.  Great book.  Check it out.

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A review of L Frank Baum’s The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1902)

Posted in books with tags , , , , , , on December 23, 2013 by Paxton

Following the Yellow Brick Road

In 1902, just two years after writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but 2 years before the first Oz sequel, L Frank Baum wrote The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It was illustrated by Mary Cowles Clark.

Life and Adv of Santa Claus cover

This was Baum’s attempt to tell the origin of Santa Claus and explain the beginnings and reasons for all of our different beliefs and practices around Christmas time. It was a very ambitious undertaking.  But Baum does it in his usual dreamy, fairy tale-like manner and, for the most part, it works.

Baum sets up the world by describing all the magical immortal creatures that oversee various aspects of Nature.  We see creatures such as Fairies who watch over humans, Wood Nymphs who watch over forests, Gnomes who watch over the rocks and Ryls and Knooks who watch over the flowers and animals, respectively (along with many other creatures I’ll not name).  All of these creatures are presided over by the Great Woodsman, Ak.

One day Ak stumbles upon a lost child and allows a Wood Nymph, Necile, to adopt him.  Necile names him Neclaus (Nicolas).  Santa is raised by these magical, immortal creatures in the forest until Ak decided Claus must learn more about his own people and takes him on a trip into the human world.  Santa is shocked and frustrated by the wars, greed, child neglect and child abuse he witnesses.  Ak encourages him to not forsake the mortals as he is one of them.  Santa decides to do something about what he’s seen.

Santa moves to the nearby Laughing Valley where all the magical creatures help him build a workshop and get him started making toys.  The idea Baum posits here is that toys don’t currently exist.  Santa invents them when he makes his first toy which then transfixes the children.  So he continues to do it and his operation becomes bigger and bigger as he tries to help more and more children.

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I visited Barnes & Noble for Star Wars Reads Day with my son

Posted in books, movies, Star Wars with tags , , , , , on December 12, 2013 by Paxton

Star Wars Roadtrip

My 3 year old has been slowly getting into the concept of Star Wars. He hasn’t seen any of the movies, he just knows some of the characters because he has several books I read to him at night featuring the more popular ones. Not surprisingly, he gravitates to the more visually interesting ones; Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Chewbacca, Boba Fett, Yoda, etc. And, of course, he loves lightsabers.

So, back in early October, when I saw that our local Barnes & Noble store celebrated Star Wars Reads Day with costumed characters, book readalongs and lots of fun activities, I knew I had to take PJ.  He already loves Barnes & Noble, but to go there and see Darth Vader?  Yeah, this had to happen.

Star Wars Reads Day sign

We got there around 11:30am and there were several costumed characters. First PJ and I got a pic with one of my favorite types of stormtroopers, the Biker Scout.

Biker Scout

PJ was a little shy at first seeing these giant, life size representations of the characters in his book, but he was sort of giggling with happiness as well.

Next we saw a Sandtrooper.

Stormtrooper

And then finally, the man himself. Darth Vader.

Darth Vader

PJ was in Heaven at this point. He loved Vader. Later on he would walk up to Vader and the other stormtroopers and tell them that “his name is PJ”. So cute.

There was only one character PJ was actively afraid of.  That was the Jawa.  I don’t think he’d ever even seen a Jawa before, so it scared him.  Consequently, he wouldn’t get a picture with it.  However, afterwards, that’s the one he asked the most questions about.  He wanted to know more about the Jawa.

Whenever we’ve gone back to Barnes & Noble after this, he asks if Darth Vader and the Jawa are going to be there.  He also has been showing lots of interest in my Star Wars figures.  I have a bunch of loose ones on display upstairs as well as a bunch stored away in plastic divider boxes.  I’ve given him about 4 figures to play with; a stormtrooper, Darth Vader, Darth Maul and The Emperor.  He also wants a Boba Fett really bad, but I don’t actually have one at the house except for a vintage one that is on display.  I’ll have to dig into my stored boxes to find one.

I can’t wait until he can actually see these movies.  I’ll probably show them to him sometime in 2015 right before the new Disney Star Wars movie is released.  He’ll be five.  I think that’ll be PERFECT.

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