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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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Year End Book Report: The Best Books I Read in 2016

Posted in Batman, books, comic books, movies, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2017 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

Here I go, writing another one of these year end round up articles that I’m shocked to be writing every year. 2017. CRAZY. What a ride 2016 was. Hopefully 2017 will give us a bit of a break.

This past year was an interesting year for my book/comics list.  After so many years of logging my books and comics reading via Google Spreadsheet, I actually converted my logs over to an online data tool called Airtable. It’s similar to Access in that it is a relational database but the user entry interface is very simple to create and similar to Excel. Plus being able to link specific information between tables really helps in cross referencing and spelling.  You have no idea how many times I misspelled author names throughout my logs.

Here’s what my book log looks like now on Airtable.  I’ve converted all my logs back to when I first started in 2007.

airtable_books1

The blue colored fields in the screenshot are actually linked to another table.  I was able to also create the Rating field on the right with different color coded ratings to make it easy at a glance to see what is going to make my year end list and what isn’t.  Plus, Airtable makes all of this data entry even easier with a nice app for my iPhone or iPad that makes it easy to log entries on the go.  Google Sheets had one as well but Airtable’s works better.

So that’s all the behind the scenes stuff.  I had a better year for novels.  I was able to pick 5 this year.  Again, comics were booming and I had a tough time paring down to 5.  But I did it.

So, without further ado, here’s the list!

Books


The Old Man and the Sea (1952) – Ernest Hemingway – I don’t read classics as often as I used to.  I really need to remedy that.  There are two reasons why I read this.  #1, it was featured in the movie The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington as a book he’s reading. #2, Steph checked it out from the library with a bunch of other books and I, on a whim, picked it up to read.  It’s actually really good.  I quite enjoyed it.  I’m probably not going to pick up any other Hemingway, but I’ll definitely try to read more classic lit this coming year.  I’ve been wanting to re-read Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, so maybe I can get that done.


Steve Jobs (2011) – Walter Isaacson – I’ve now read two of Isaacson’s famous biographies and let me say that I’m hooked. Back in 2014 I read his biography of Benjamin Franklin and it nearly made my year end best of list.  This one about Apple founder Steve Jobs actually cracks the list. It’s not only a great portrait of a complicated man, but it’s also a great look at the beginnings of our technological age we live in now.  I would love for Isaacson to tackle Bill Gates in a full book, but I’m not sure that’ll happen.  Isaacson did write a book called The Innovators that really digs into the people who created the computer and the Internet; going as far back as Alan Turing and jumping forward to people like Larry Page and Bill Gates.  That will probably be next on my Isaacson reading list and the closest I’ll get to a full Gates biography by him.


Star Wars: Catalyst – A Rogue One Novel (2016) – James Luceno – The “New Canon” of Star Wars books since Disney has taken over has been very…hit or miss.  Since those books started in Fall 2014, only one has made my year end list.  And honestly, I think that one novel (Star Wars: Tarkin), also written by James Luceno, would work perfectly as a side-quel to this book.  This is the written prequel to the movie Rogue One and it’s pretty great.  It digs deep into the relationship between Galen Erso and Director Krennic.  It also explores a bit more the rivalry between Krennic and Tarkin all while adding in backstory to how the Death Star was built and how it works and what they use to power the planet killing laser.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! (Landover series Book 1) (1986) – Terry Brooks – I talked about this book earlier in my High Fantasy Month article back in March.  It’s a different setup for a fantasy series and I really enjoyed it.  I had bought the collection of the first three books in the series, but I’ve not delved into the second book yet.  However, it’s on the plan for this year.

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Year End Book Report: The Best Books I Read in 2015

Posted in Batman, books, comic books, movies, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , on January 11, 2016 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

And here we are again, my year end wrap up articles.

Queue Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”.

I say it every year, how did we get here already? The year just flies by. Anyway, the particulars: If you’ve read this year end round up before, you know I keep my book logs online in a Google Spreadsheet. I’ve been doing it since around 2009.  Only “new to me” reads in 2015 are eligible, no re-reads.

This past year was an interesting year for my book/comics list.  I really had an off year for books.  It was really hard to get a good list of 5 books that I really enjoyed.  This year as I combed through my list of books I realized I had been in a slump of “didn’t like” and “meh” books that I just didn’t feel comfortable forcing into this year’s “best” list.

Conversely, this was a phenomenal year for comics.  I had SO MANY comics I read that I just LOVED that it became very hard for me to pare it down to only five.  So, I think this year I’m going to cut the book list to maybe three and increase the comic list to 8.  This would be a better representation of the good stuff I’ve read this year.

Looking at the log I see I read around 106 books and comics over the course of the year.  That total includes books/comics I’ve read for the first time as well as any re-reads I did this year which I’ll do from time to time.  Also, I see, after two years of reading 4 books released in the current year, I uptick to 5 books I read this year that were current releases.  Wow.  And none of them are going to make this list.  One of them almost did, but, in the end, I decided no.

Here’s the list!

Books


Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1987) by H. F. Saint – I read and reviewed this book for AWESOME-tober-fest this year.  See my full review there.  But this hands down makes my best of year list and looking at my book log, it’s probably the best book I read all year.


Troll Mountain (2014) by Matthew Reilly – Matthew Reilly is no stranger to my “best of” books list.  His Scarecrow and James West Jr novels have both made it on here.  I read this fantasy novel back in February for the second installment of High Fantasy Month.  It was a serial novel in three parts, each part about 55 pages long.  And it’s junior fantasy, aimed at a younger audience.  But like I said in my review, I really enjoyed it.  The story reminded me of L Frank Baum.  Lots of fun and adventure, full of hope, believing in yourself and believing that good will triumph over evil.  Definitely worth a read.


Mistborn: The Final Empire (Book 1) (2006) – Brandon Sanderson – I really had trouble picking this final spot.  A few things could’ve gone here.  Rick Riordan’s tenth Percy Jackson book, The Force Awakens novelization, Stephen King’s Needful Things or Brad Meltzer’s The Inner Circle.  And I liked all of these choices but I didn’t love them.  So, I flipped a coin and the first book in Sanderson’s fantasy series gets the nod.  It’s a great piece of fantasy world building with a cleverly different system of magic.  Like Troll Mountain, I reviewed it for the second High Fantasy Month back in February.  I just felt that this book runs a little long.  But I liked it and I plan on reading the second book, even if I’m hearing that the second book is even longer.  And unnecessarily so.

Now, let’s move on to the comics I read this year that I LOVED.  And there are lots of them.

Comic Books/Graphic Novels


Aquaman (The New 52) by Geoff Johns and Jeff Parker – I’m including all six of the currently released collections of this title.  This first entry was probably the most relevatory comic I read all year. I’ve never been an Aquaman fan, even with the Peter David series and the hook hand/long hair iterations. I just didn’t like the character. However, I heard such good things about this take on Aquaman that I decided to read the first trade.  The next thing I know, I’ve read all six of the trade paperback collections encompassing the first 40 issues or so plus annuals.  Geoff Johns writes the first four collections and Jeff Parker takes over for the next two.  And they are AWESOME.  All of a sudden, I’m an Aquaman fan.  I even dove into and read the entire side series, Aquaman and the Others, which is not as good, but still enjoyable to read.  I can’t recommend this title enough.  I think Cullen Bunn has taken over the writing from Jeff Parker as of issue 40 or so.  I look forward to more adventures with the King of Atlantis.


Avengers vs. X-Men (2012) – This is the 12 issue maxi-series Marvel event from 2012.  It launched the Marvel NOW! line of comics.  It’s written by a murder’s row of my favorite comic writers; Matt Fraction, Brian Michael Bendis, Johnathan Hickman, Ed Brubaker and Jason Aaron with lots of awesome art by John Romita Jr and Adam Kubert.  The story is epic, it’s awesome, it’s everything you want in an Avengers vs X-men title.  I loved it.  And the conclusion of this entry leads directly into…

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Nerd Lunch Episode 198: Star Wars Episode II Drilldown

Posted in movies, podcast, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , on September 29, 2015 by Paxton

Nerd Lunch Podcast

Here we are, only two episodes away from the big Nerd Lunch 200th episode extravaganza. And I’m telling you right now, we literally have no idea what we’re doing for that. Hope it turns out.

Anyway, THIS week on Nerd Lunch, we are joined again by May and Kay to continue our series of Star Wars movie drilldowns. This time, we are looking at the second prequel movie, Attack of the Clones.

atoc_imax

We all discuss our first time watching the movie, we really dig down deep to talk about what we liked about it and then we discuss the plethora of things we didn’t like.  Some of those things may not be the ones you’re expecting.  Come and check it out.  Along with our insightful commentary on the movie you’ll also get lots of audio issues, several of us forget simple words like panel and arena, and CT confesses his seething hatred for 50s diners.  All packed into this week’s episode!

Download this episode from iTunes, Stitcher or listen to it on Feedburner.

Or listen to it online right here.

Nerd Lunch Episode 194: Star Wars The Phantom Menace Drilldown

Posted in nostalgia, podcast, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , on September 1, 2015 by Paxton

Nerd Lunch Podcast

This week on Nerd Lunch we welcome back our Star Wars expert panelists Michael May and Geek Kay in order to begin discussing the Star Wars prequels. And we are starting, appropriately so, with The Phantom Menace.

phantom-laserdisc-poster2

We talk a bit about the lead up to Episode I, the first trailer in November 1998, Star Wars Celebration I in Denver in May 1999 as well as our thoughts watching the movie for the first time. We then go all over the place talking about things we liked and didn’t like with this movie. There’s some of each, folks, this isn’t just a hate fest on the movie.  Download this episode and join the discussion!

Download this episode from iTunes, Stitcher or listen to it on Feedburner.

Or listen to it online right here.

Nerd Lunch Episode 182: Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back Drilldown

Posted in movies, podcast, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , on June 9, 2015 by Paxton

Nerd Lunch Podcast

This week we are continuing our series of Drilldowns on the original Star Wars movies which began in episode 178.  Now it’s time to delve into the second movie, The Empire Strikes Back.

The panel joining us continues from last time featuring my Jacketeers co-host Geek Kay from Fangirl Blog and Michael May from Kill All Monsters! and the Adventureblog.

the-empire-strikes-back-movie-poster-1980-1020466683

We talk about our first time watching the movie, we talk about our favorite characters and scenes, we even discuss things we have issues with as this particular movie is not the favorite for one of the panelists.  We also discuss changes from the special edition and who could Yoda be talking about when he says “No, there is another”?  Spoiler Alert: We think it’s Lando.

Download this episode from iTunes, Stitcher or listen to it on Feedburner.

Or listen to it online right here.

Nerd Lunch Episode 178: Star Wars A New Hope Drilldown

Posted in movies, podcast, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , on May 11, 2015 by Paxton

Nerd Lunch Podcast

This is it. Nearly 180 episodes in, the Nerd Lunch Podcast is finally tackling the Star Wars movies. And we are starting with the very first one.

Joining us again are the guests from the previous “setting the table on Star Wars” episode of Nerd Lunch back in #153; Geek Kay from Fangirl Blog and Michael May from Kill All Mosnters! and the Adventureblog.

star_wars_episode_iv___a_new_hope_by_1darthvader-d6kcg7l (1)

We talk about our first time watching the movie, we talk about our favorite characters and scenes, we even discuss things we have issues with. Most of those reside in the Special Edition and other “versions” of the movie. It’s a good discussion that begins the Nerd Lunch Star Wars Drilldown trilogy. Join us.

Download this episode from iTunes, Stitcher or listen to it on Feedburner.

Or listen to it online right here.