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Year End Book Report: The Best Books I Read in 2017

Posted in books, comic books, movies, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , , , on January 3, 2018 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

Man, 2017.  That was a RIDE.  Kind of crazy it’s over.  But one good thing we get out of it is another of my semi-famous year end round up articles.

My book/movie logs have sort of gone through an upheaval the last two years. Back in 2008-2009ish I first put them up on Google Spreadsheet. Then, in 2016, I converted over to an online database tool called Airtable. I *really* liked the features and functionality of Airtable plus their iOS app was pretty slick.  However, I found out in early 2017 that the free version of Airtable only holds so many rows of data and that I had just busted up against the ceiling with both of my movie/book log databases.  If I wanted more, I’d have to pay.  Not willing to do that for these logs I once again searched for a replacement and wound up taking another look at Google Spreadsheet.  I decided to see if I could mimic some of the Airtable functionality in Google.  I was partially successful.  Through some fancy custom cell formatting, template sheet data validation and a little bit of script writing I was able to punch up the usefulness of my original Google Spreadsheets logs.  so I created a brand new spreadsheet, called it Book Log v2 and reimported all my data.  Now I have a visually nice representation of the books I read throughout the year including some cell highlighting for the current year and my rating system.  Here’s a quick look at the Book Log v2 in Google.

Book Log v2

All of this maneuvering and formatting is to make articles like this year end list easier to do.  So, let’s get on with it.

The rules, this list contains 5 books and 5-ish comics that I read for the first time in 2017.  No re-reads.  That particular rule really hampered the amount of books I could pick from because I did a lot of re-reads this year.  I’m re-reading the Artemis Fowl series and I did a few Star Wars re-reads this year so my “new to me” books in 2017 were much lower than usual.  But the comics were *also* hard to pick because I read a ton of them this year and there were some stellar entries.  So let’s see what I decide.  I don’t even know myself as I’m typing this.

Books


The Reckoners Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson – I picked up the first two books of this series on a lark in an Amazon sale for super cheap. I was aware of the author having already read one of his other more famous works, Mistborn, which made this list back in 2015. These books sounded interesting, sort of a dystopian future involving super heroes.  Several years before the books begin, a red sun called Calamity appears in the sky and causes certain people to gain powers.  These people are called Epics.  There are different levels of Epics based on the strength of their power profile.  Unfortunately, when someone gains powers and they start to use them, they change.  They become meaner.  More vain.  Paranoid.  It causes the Epics to essentially take over the world and create little fiefdoms in the larger cities.  The books follow a small resistance group called The Reckoners that work behind the scenes to undermine and even kill the worst of the Epics.
So I read the first two books, then there was a short story Sanderson wrote set in this world called Mitosis that I read, and I finally picked up the third and final book in the series and finished it all this year.  One of Sanderson’s strengths is world building.  He creates these super interesting worlds that work like our world but are different in many interesting ways.  Mistborn was the same way.  Just watching the mechanics of these books’ worlds happen is fascinating and he builds interesting characters in both regular humans and Epics.  So, this series is a winner.  Definitely give it a shot.


George Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger – I love reading hyper focused history books involving little known tidbits of US history, especially in the revolutionary war period.  I know the Culper Ring was a hot topic for a while leading to this book, a TV show, and also a fictional thriller series by Brad Meltzer which all revolve around the secretive spy organization (side note: I’ve read that fictional thriller, it’s called Inner Circle and it’s pretty good, if a bit long).  This book is a pretty great condensed history of the Revolutionary War that mostly focuses on the real life exploits of Washington’s Culper Spy Ring and it reveals who all was in the ring and what they risked and sacrificed to be a spy during the Revolutionary War.  It’s totally engaging and I really loved it.  I’m now very interested in reading more of Kilmeade/Yaeger’s history books.  The next book involves Thomas Jefferson and Tripoli Pirates.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling – I decided I wanted to read this book but I also realized it had been a few years since I’d read the original series in full, so I decided to do a re-read of the Harry Potter series first.  I started Sorcerer’s Stone on Dec 14, 2015 and finished Deathly Hallows on Dec 29, 2016.  I borrowed a copy of this book from a friend and with much trepidation I began to read it this past summer (I had no idea how this was going to come off).  I shouldn’t have worried.  It’s delightful.  Almost a celebration of the entire Harry Potter series.  It sort of Back to the Future II‘s the story of Harry Potter.  The story takes place years later.  It involves our heroes’ children and what they deal with having such famous parents.  We get kids that don’t fit in and fall in with friends other people think they shouldn’t have due mainly to parents’ old rivalries.  There are time turners and visits to events from the original books, but now we see them from another angle.  I haven’t gone out to see what the reviews on this are but I could see people possibly not being happy because there’s a lot of retread over the original book stories.  Maybe even a bit of fan pandering.  But honestly, that’s why I loved it.  The characterizations were spot on.  The events were fun and I felt “whisked away” into whatever adventures the book took me.  It was a surprise how much I liked it.  I wasn’t originally going to buy this book, but I liked it so much I wound up buying the paperback at Sam’s to put on my shelf right next to Deathly Hallows.  As good as the original series? No.  But it’s a fun revisit of these characters and a world I was happy to jump right back into.


Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige – I read and reviewed this back in February 2017 for my ongoing “Oz Reviews” that I do here from time to time.  It’s simultaneously a reinvention of Oz and a semi-sequel to the 1939 Oz film.  It’s kind of hard to describe.  I thought I may not like it due to how it may or may not reinvent Oz, but in actuality I quite liked the book.  It uses familiar Oz iconography and builds a world around it that seems both different and the same.  It’s new, but it’s familiar.  I mentioned before how good Brandon Sanderson is at world building in his books.  Paige does an admirable job world building in this series as well.  The sheer number of Oz deep cuts that show up are impressive between characters, objects and events that are mentioned.  And the story around it is interesting.  I’ve since read three of the prequel novellas as well as the sequel, The Wicked Will Rise.  I plan on continuing the series.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: Cavalcade Comics #15 – The Headless Horseman vs Ghost Rider

Posted in books, Classic literature, comic books, Halloween, holiday, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2017

Normally I do my new Cavalcade Comics cover reveal in the “Greatest Hits” section of AWESOME-tober-fest but the cover I have for today fits the ghostly theme perfectly.

Today, the appropriately themed cover I have features The Headless Horseman vs Ghost Rider.

Cav Comics #15

I love this battle. Undead flaming skull vs undead flaming skull. Here are the covers that mostly make up the above.

Headless Horseman Ghost Rider

The Headless Horseman comes from Marvel anthology series Supernatural Thrillers, issue #6, 1973. As a matter of fact, this is the same anthology series that birthed The Living Mummy in issue #5, which I talked about last year.  Ghost Rider comes from his own title, issue #5, 1974.  April, 1974, to be precise, which means this very issue of Ghost Rider *could* have been on store shelves the day I was born in early May 1974.  But it just as likely could have been issue #6 that was on shelves.

Check back tomorrow for a ghostly movie review and the final “ghost” related article of the month!



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

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: Heart Shaped Box (2007) – Joe Hill

Posted in books, Genres, ghosts, horror, monsters with tags , , , , , , on October 18, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2017

I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since before high school. So when I found out his son, Joe, was writing books, I was initially intrigued but ultimately never sought out the kid’s books.  Then I randomly stumbled upon Horns.  I forget how, but the synopsis intrigued me and I put it on my Amazon list making a mental note to check that book out when I get a chance.  Then, in 2013, the Kindle book went on sale so I pulled the trigger and read it.  And really enjoyed the book.  So at that point, I’m wondering, what Joe Hill book should I read next?

Enter AWESOME-toberfest 2015. I was all set to do Ghosts as the theme and I was deciding between two Joe Hill books; the short story collection 20th Century Ghost and the novel Heart Shaped Box.  However, things happen, things change, and I wind up doing invisible man that year instead.  Flash forward to 2017.  I’m really doing ghosts this time. So, I get a sample on my iPad of both books, read the samples and select, with much fanfare to no one but myself…Heart Shaped Box.

So, what is this book about?  The quick elevator pitch is that aging rock star Jude Coyne likes to collect macabre things.  Among other things he has a used hangman’s noose, a signed witch’s confession from the Salem Witch trials, and even a snuff film.  And when his assistant stumbles across a haunted suit in an online auction, Jude decides on impulse to buy it and it to his collection.  Yet when the suit arrives on his doorstep a few weeks later in a black, heart-shaped box, Jude finds that he’s going to get more than he bargained for.

Heart-Shaped Box was Hill’s first novel, published in 2007.  It’s actually pretty good.  Based on the two novels I’ve read, Hill really knows how to set up the atmosphere of his books’ worlds.  Hill’s books exist in this darker, hyper real existence where crazy things can happen but it still feels 100% real.  Like I can easily picture it and it feels like I’m in that world as well when I’m reading the book.  Hill is also good at setting up his main characters.  Jude, in this novel, isn’t the greatest guy.  He’s an aging rockstar, he collects weird memorabilia, he sleeps with goth girls that are way too young for him.  But by the end of the novel you see how the experiences in the book change him.  He realizes that how he’s been acting is wrong.  He sees the unhealthy patterns he’s following.  We also learn a little about his past that brings his current behaviors into focus.  So by the novel’s climax, the things Jude learns and the behaviors that are changed are earned.

What about the ghost aspects of the novel? Hill realizes his ghost very well.  He is CREEPY.  He has black scribbles over his eyes which somehow makes him more terrifying.  You learn a little bit about the nature of the particular ghost haunting the suit, but it’s not really made clear if that applies to all ghosts. There are clearly some rules for the ghost in the book but you don’t know if the rules apply to all ghosts or just him.

I liked this book.  I actually think I liked it more than Horns.  And don’t get me wrong, I liked Horns.   I really like what I’ve read of Hill’s books so far.  They are dark and atmospheric.  They have interesting characters that follow a good arch throughout.  And the story concepts for his books so far have been interesting and different.

I happen to also have two of Hill’s newer books The Fireman and NOS4A2 which are absolutely going to get read sooner rather than later.



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

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: The Frighteners movie novelization by Michael Jahn (1996)

Posted in books, Genres, ghosts, horror, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2017

On Friday I talked about one of my favorite ghost movies, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners from 1996. Well, as luck would have it, they released a movie novelization for it.  It was written by Michael Jahn.

 

I Read Movies

So, I recorded a very special Halloween episode of I Read Movies all about this novelization. I talk about extra scenes, I talk about new plot points, there’s even a good bit explaining the nature of the movie’s ghosts. Lots of good stuff to hear, so either download the latest episode of I Read Movies on iTunes and Google Play or listen to it right here.



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

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: Casting the Runes and other Ghost Stories by MR James

Posted in books, Classic literature, Genres, ghosts, Halloween, holiday, horror, monsters, pop culture with tags , , , on October 4, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest banner

Doing research for ghosts I looked up scariest ghost stories to see what popped up that I want to cover. The name M.R. James kept showing up in lists.

MR James

He’s a very well respected author from the late 19th-early 20th century.  Most of his work with ghost stories shows up in the early 1900s.  James began what is now called “antiquarian ghost stories”.  James abandoned the high “Gothic” cliches of what was then the presiding style of ghost stories and set his stories in a more contemporary setting.  He also generally used a protagonist that was a naive or very reserved scholarly gentleman who had found or come into possession of a mysterious object that drives the crux of the story.

There have been several collections of James’ ghost stories, so I picked one that had the most variety but also one that included several that were generally considered his best.  Hello Oxford World’s Classics edition.

Casting the Runes cover

In this collection, the main ones I wanted to read were Casting the Runes, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, and A Warning for the Curious. I also planned to cherry pick a few others depending on how much I liked what I read first.

So, I read the stories, what do I think?  Honestly, the stories just didn’t grab me.  There’s some interesting things James is doing, but none of them connected with me.  I read the story, liked the setup, but nothing ever creeped me out or scared me.  I came in fully expecting to be terrified of these stories but…nope.  Nothing.  I think James is a good writer, but for whatever reason, these just didn’t punch those specific creepy buttons for me.  I was more scared when I reread those old Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books than I ever was here.

This is a shame because I really was excited to read these stories for some good creepy fun.



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

Announcing I Read Movies microcast all about movie novelizations

Posted in books, movies, podcast, pop culture with tags , , , , , on August 31, 2017 by Paxton

If you’ve read this blog or follow me on Twitter for any length of time you know I’m a fan of movie novelizations. I read them. I collect them. I love finding new ones I never knew existed. If you check back in the Awesome Archives you will find several reviews for many different movie novelizations.

On the Nerd Lunch Podcast, whenever we do genre movie drilldowns, I try to read the novelization for the movie we’re discussing to see if it can add anything.  Specifically, Nerd Lunch did drilldowns on all the Indiana Jones movies and many of the original Trek movies (we are currently waiting to do Star Trek V).  For Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home I did extra helping discussions on both of those movies’ novelizations.

Here are the links:

Star Trek IV novelization drilldown

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade novelization drilldown

In those mini-episodes I talked about the differences between the books and the movies including extra characters, scenes, and story differences. It was a lot of fun and I received a nice response to these solo episodes.  So, since I tend to read novelizations on the semi-regular, I decided to spin these mini-episodes into their own microcast called I Read Movies.

I Read Movies logo

Shout out to CT for creating this amazing looking logo/icon for the show. And another shout out to Shawn Robare for helping me set things up behind the scenes to get this show up and running. Without CT and Shawn’s support I don’t think I could’ve got this venture off the ground. Thanks guys.

Anyway, the two extra helpings above are essentially the prototype for what this microcast will be. It’ll be short, I’ll try to keep it under an hour. Probably even 45min or less. And it won’t have any regular time table. The show is at the mercy of what novelizations I get read. And even then, I won’t do every novelization as not every one is worthy of microcast treatment. But we’ll see. I’ll do as many as I can, even if it’s only a 10 minute episode about why the novelization is not worth a read.

So, to get things started, I already have a few episodes in the can.  The first three episodes of this new show will be a trilogy.  I’ll be doing the original Indiana Jones trilogy.

IRM Raiders

And episode 1, featuring Raiders of the Lost Ark, is LIVE. You can download it from iTunes or listen to it directly right here.

I expect to have Temple of Doom drop in a week or two and I’ll have a special repost of the Nerd Lunch Last Crusade novelization extra helping a week or so after that.  Then, I have a special Halloween episode planned for October.  So things are starting to shake over here in the I Read Movies HDQ.  Stay tuned for some fun shows.

And if there are any novelizations you’d like me to cover, let me know on Twitter.

Dorothy Must Die Stories Volume 1 (2014) by Danielle Paige

Posted in books, Classic literature with tags , , , , on February 16, 2017 by Paxton

inspired_by_oz

A week or two ago I reviewed Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die. It’s the first in a series of books that take place several years after the original Wizard of Oz book by Frank Baum.  It reimagines Oz as a place in serious peril where Dorothy has returned but she’s changed.  She’s become obsessed with magic and has essentially usurped Ozma as the ruler and with the help of Glinda starts literally strip mining Oz for magic.  It’s an interesting enough premise and the author really digs in and reuses characters from the books in very interesting ways that made me want to continue the journey into this Oz.

Aside from the main books in the series, Paige has written a series of novellas that act as prequels to the books.  I went to my local library and I found the very first collection of novellas called Dorothy Must Die Stories Volume 1.

DMD Stories 1

This book contains the first three prequel novellas; No Place Like Oz, The Witch Must Burn and The Wizard Returns.  I didn’t really know anything other than the titles going into these but I was intrigued. Mostly by The Wizard Returns since that character is very cagey in Dorothy Must Die so I was very interested to hear how The Wizard got back to this particular Oz and what his agenda may be.

No Place Like Oz
The first novella, No Place Like Oz, is very Dorothy-centric.  It’s also the longest one by about 100 pages.  It picks up with Dorothy a few years after her original return to Kansas from Oz.  It’s her sixteenth birthday party.  We see that Dorothy is sort of unhappy as many people think she’s crazy with her ramblings about a fairy magic land with talking lions and people made of tin.  Even some of her friends don’t believe her.  Plus, Dorothy is finding out that life on the farm in rural Kansas is not as exciting as it was in Oz.  Once you’ve encountered magic, nothing else can really live up to it.  So we see this Dorothy, who’s become a little bitter because no one believes her about Oz, even her friends.  Plus she sort of enjoyed the fame that her disappearance caused in Kansas and once that started to fade she began resenting her life there.  After her birthday party ends embarrassingly bad, Dorothy shuts herself up into her room and opens a mysterious gift to find a pair of red, high heeled ruby shoes.  She puts them on, clicks them together just as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry walk into her room and transports all three of them to Oz.

This is the gist of the story.  Dorothy is back in Oz, this time with Em and Henry. She meets Ozma and reunites with her old friends.  And being back in Oz, instead of making her happier, starts to enhance some of her feelings.  You see her obsession with magic really take hold.  It’s a really good story.  I feel like Paige made the reason that Dorothy sort of turns bad believable.  It’s not a 180 with no explanation.  It makes a bit of sense.  And you get to see the setup for Dorothy as we find her in Dorothy Must Die.

The Witch Must Burn
The next story, The Witch Must Burn, is told from the point of view of Jellia Jamb, the head house maid in the Emerald City.  She plays a fairly big (and ultimately important) part in Dorothy Must Die.  And Jellia’s story here is really a vessel to tell the story of Glinda and her possible future plans for Oz.  You also get to see a bit of just how horrible Dorothy has become, but it all leads to Glinda “borrowing” Jellia from Dorothy and what happens to Jellia because of this.  I was not expecting this story but it was a good read.

The Wizard Returns
Like I said, the third and final story is really the one I was most interested in.  The Wizard Returns starts off with the Wizard leaving Dorothy at the end of the original Wizard of Oz.  The hot air balloon he’s in crashes and we see him land in the very same poppy field that Dorothy was trapped in.  Fast forward twenty five years and The Wizard is awoken and he has no memory of himself or his past actions.  This particular story started off a bit slow, but the back half really saved it.  You still don’t really 100% know The Wizard’s agenda by the end, but you know what happened to him before the events in Dorothy Must Die.

All three of these stories are honestly good and do a great job of setting up the world we see in Dorothy Must Die.  However, I thought my favorite story was going to be The Wizard Returns, but honestly, I think it turns out being No Place Like Oz.  I’m glad I read this collection.  There is another set of prequel novellas that take place after this.  They are about Dorothy’s friends; Heart of Tin, The Straw King and Ruler of Beasts.  However, I’ll probably get the full sequel novel The Wicked Will Rise and read it before delving back into these prequel novellas.

I guess the ultimate question with these prequel novellas is, should you read them before or after you’ve read Dorothy Must Die.  It could go either way but I’d recommend reading them after DMD.  They fill in the world of the books and I feel like you may want the basis of the full novel first before the novellas.  But I think if you did the prequels first and then DMD, it would honestly still work.