Archive for books

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.

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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.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2013: Night of the Living Dead (1974) novelization and a shambling mob of other zombie novels

Posted in books, Genres, horror, monsters, movies, pop culture, zombies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2013 by Paxton

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There are a lot of zombie novels out there. I can’t read and review them all, nor would I really want to. However, there are a few I read that I’ll quickly review for you in an opportunity to get them out there so you have other zombie books to read now that AWESOME-tober-fest 2013 has got you hot for zombies again.

Let’s begin with the novelization of the original Romero classic, Night of the Living Dead.

NOTLD novel
George Romero’s 1966 film, Night of the Living Dead, is a classic in the horror genre. While attending college in Pittsburgh in the 60s, George Romero and John Russo developed a horror script. They pitched it to a film company, received funding and created one of the most important genre-defining pictures of all time.  This book is the novelization of that script.  Surprisingly, the book wasn’t released until 1974, a clear six years after the release of the movie.  Which means that it wasn’t based on an original draft of the script, it was just a page one copy of the movie.  I didn’t realize that before I started reading.  So, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ve essentially read the book.  Except, the movie is actually better.  The book is slow and a LOT less interesting than the movie.  I don’t know if it’s the way Russo writes or what, but I had a hard time staying awake while reading plus there’s not really any new story information you get for reading.  You may as well just watch the movie again.

ROTLD novel
In 1978, after Russo and Romero went their separate ways, Russo decided to write a sequel to Night of the Living Dead.  He called it Return of the Living Dead.  This book has nothing to do with the 1985 horror comedy of the same name other than it inspired that movie.  Russo wanted this book to be the movie and wrote it as a screenplay, but Dan O’Bannon disliked Russo’s story and did a page 1 rewrite.  This book was Russo’s attempt to continue the story they began in Night of the Living Dead.  It’s boring, uninspired and will immediately put you into a reading coma before you finish the first page.  It’s not even worth reading as a novelty.  As a matter of fact, just skip both of these books.  Watch the original 1966 Night of the Living Dead movie and the 1985 Return of the Living Dead movie.  They are much more enjoyable and you’ll get more out of it.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith – This is sort of the grandaddy of the outlandish classic fiction category that has become all the rage the last few years.  Stuff like Android Karenina, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter all began with this book.  All the zombie/ninja embellishments were written by Seth Grahame-Smith who also wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, that Johnny Depp Dark Shadows movie and he helped create and write the MTV TV show The Hard Times of RJ Berger.  I read this book several years ago.  It’s actually very entertaining.  I thought that the structure would be 1 chapter of Austen/1 chapter of Smith.  However, it isn’t.  Smith manages to deftly combine zombies and ninjas into every aspect of this story.  The lines have been blurred and it’s really hard to see where one story ends and the other begins.  It’s actually quite amazing how well this book works.  I can’t speak for the other quirky classic makeovers I mentioned, but at the very least, this deserves a read.  I think you’ll like it.  FYI, a prequel was written by another author called Dawn of the Dreadfuls, but I haven’t read it.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2013: Return of the Living Dead movie novelization (1985)

Posted in books, monsters, movies, zombies with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2013 by Paxton

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Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite things to do on this blog, movie novelizations.  If you read this blog, you know I love movie novelizations.  Especially movies from the 70s and 80s.  Today, I’m going to discuss the novelization of the zombie classic, Return of the Living Dead.

Return of the Living Dead novel

The history of this movie and its novelization is interesting in and of itself. I discussed it a bit when I reviewed the actual Return of the Living Dead movie. Essentially, John Russo who helped Romero write the original Night of the Living Dead movie, also wrote the novelization AND in 1977 a direct sequel book, Return of the Living Dead.  When Romero and Russo parted ways, they split the rights.  Romero went on to create his “of the Dead” movies and Russo went on to adapt his Living Dead sequel novel.  However, when the book was optioned, the studio had Dan O’Bannon rewrite the book as a script with a heavy comedic undertones to the horror.  That was how the movie was made.  John Russo would go on to write the novelization of O’Bannon’s script.

Like I said, interesting.  I’ve always enjoyed this movie so I thought I’d track down the novelization to review.  Because of the convoluted back story, it’s tough to actually track this down.  Many times the original Russo 1971 Return of the Living Dead book is mistaken for the 1985 movie novelization.  You have to make sure you are getting the right book.

But I got it, and I’ve read it.  How does it stack up to the movie?  By the way, in the below review I’m assuming you’ve seen the movie.

As a novelization, it’s not that bad.  Most of the scenes of the movie are there.  The character names are a little different in so far as the punker group of Freddy’s friends are concerned.  The major story details are the same, however, there are a few changes for the book.  It’s a lot more clear in the book that Freddy used to be a major punker.  He and his girlfriend Tina had walked in on their friend Sunshine after he overdosed on dope and the sight, in effect, scared them straight.  Freddy got a job and was determined not to end up the same as Sunshine.  This event is referenced throughout the book, but is only quickly mentioned in the movie.

The major difference in the novelization is a subplot of Russian spies who worked for the government back in the late 60s during the original events of Night of the Living Dead.  They are the reason the barrels of Trioxin are mistakenly sent to the Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse.  The spies sent some of the barrels there to hide them away from the government so the chemical could be released again later.  The spies then leave the country and head back to Russia.  We have several scenes of them in this book drinking and discussing their actions spying for the government and talking about the missing Trioxin barrels.

More differences involve the character Legs (aka Trash), played by Linnea Quigley in the movie.  During her graveyard striptease (which exists in the movie), in the book it turns into actual sex with her boyfriend, Suicide.  And even though, in the movie, Trash returns as a zombie for a short appearance at the end, Legs, in the book, stays dead and we don’t see her again.

We get a bit more fleshing out of certain characters like the mortuary owner, Ernie.  A little bit more with the paramedics that come to pick up Freddy and Frank, and even some back story to a few of the zombies that go on the rampage.  Two of which were being “dressed” by Ernie in the beginning.  They were a couple who died in a car wreck.  As a matter of fact, the zombie that is interrogated at the end of the movie, in the book, is actually the female side of this dead couple from the beginning.

All in all, this was actually a pretty good novelization.  I enjoyed reading it and seeing a little bit more than what we get out of the movie.


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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

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