Archive for book reviews

Year End Book Report: The best books I read in 2009

Posted in Book Report, books, reviews with tags , , , on January 21, 2010 by Paxton

Badass Book Report

I don’t read books like I watch movies.  Most of the books I read in a year didn’t come out that year.  I will rarely read a brand new book the year it is released.  Part of that is because I don’t like reading hardback books.  I prefer sitting down with a nice paperback.  It just feels right.  Are there exceptions?  Of course there are.  Harry Potter.  Dan Brown.  Larry Bird.  All of these will get me to buy a hardback book and read it the moment it is released.  As a matter of fact, two of those three authors released hardback books this year that I got and read (Dan Brown and Larry Bird).  Did they make my favorites list?  Wait and see.

I’ve never really done a book list for this blog and that’s mainly because I’ve never kept a good, consistent log of what I read in a given year.  This past year, however, I did start keeping a detailed log of books I read.  I kept a log in previous years, but it includes only about half the books I read and very little detail about the book.  In Jan 2009 I started keeping track of more data and I did it with consistency (which is key).  I keep it in a spreadsheet on Google.  Well, it started in a book journal called Book Lust (which Steph gave me for Xmas 2008), but then, when I completed the journal on New Year’s Eve I moved it to Google Spreadsheet.

Here’s the Google Spreadsheet containing my book log

The first tab on the left is all the data for every year in the spreadsheet.  Then the tabs moving to the right are each year broken out by itself.  2009 has the most data, 2008 is fairly complete, but 2007 is almost bare.

Perusing my book log I see I finished 52 books last year.  That’s a book a week.  Not bad.  It’s almost exactly the number of 2009 movies I saw last year (53).  Eerie.  Anyway, like I said, most of the books I read were not released in 2009.  The only books actually released in 2009 that I read were Star Wars: Death Troopers, The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

So, without further ado, here are my five favorite books I read in 2009 (in no particular order).

When the Game Was Ours
When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson – Okay, I know I just said these books were in no particular order, but I lied.  Every book but this one is in no particular order.  This book was my favorite book I read last year, and I didn’t even get it until Christmas day and then I read it in 3 days.  Fantastic, fantastic book.  A great look back at one of the greatest times in NBA history, the razzle, dazzle 1980s, by two of the game’s greatest stars, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.  I can’t even begin to describe how great this book is.  If you are a fan of basketball, especially back in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, then you owe it to yourself to READ THIS BOOK.  Hell, I’ve followed Larry Bird since the ’80s, I read his autobiography, Drive (TWICE!), as well has his book on coaching, Bird Watching, and I STILL came out with information I’ve never known before.  Larry and Magic discuss in frank detail what it was like to be them and playing each other.  AWESOME.

Percy Jackson series
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Books 1 -5) by Rick Riordan – I’m counting these as one.  I read Books 1-4 in 2009.  I started Book 5 on Jan 1, 2010.  But, the series, I think, should be judged as a whole.  This is one fantastic series.  For those lamenting the ending of Harry Potter, this is a great series to read to fill that gap.  Of the five books, four of them easily belong on this list.  EASILY.  Book 2, while good, is not great.  Almost a little boring.  But Books 3-5 are so unbelievably fantastic that I can easily give Book 2 a pass.  I hear Riordan may be retiring Percy Jackson after Book 5, but the world he’s created with the Greek/Roman gods and demigods will continue on in another series.  I can’t wait to start those too because the world Riordan created is fascinating and fun.  If you love Harry Potter and/or Greek/Roman mythology, you will LOVE this series.  I can’t wait for the movie of Book 1 in February.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2009: Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein book review

Posted in books, Frankenstein, Halloween, holiday with tags , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2009 by Paxton

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Continuing my look at books inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Today is a series that is a direct sequel to the original Frankenstein by popular thriller writer Dean Koontz.

Koontz Frankenstein 1

This book was first published in 2005 and is book 1 of a (so far) 5 book series. I actually got books 1 and 2 for Christmas from my brother back in 2006 but never got around to reading them. Koontz is a very popular horror/thriller writer. He wrote the popular Odd Thomas series and many years ago I read two other books by Koontz, Watchers and Hideaway. They were both well-paced thrillers, but nothing to get super excited over (I’ve not read another of his books since). This Koontz Frankenstein series is fairly popular so I thought it would be a good time to give it a shot. And the verdict is…AWESOME.

This is a suspense filled, tightly paced thriller. I loved every page of it. There are numerous subplots going on and despite being nearly 500 pages, it’s a fast read. I originally thought Koontz was completely re-writing the Frankenstein story, but this book is actually a sequel, taking place 200 years after the events in Shelley’s novel. Two New Orleans detectives are on the trail of a serial killer known as The Surgeon who is stealing victim’s body parts. The killer keeps eluding the police and the city is held in fear of this madman. The original Frankenstein monster is summoned by an old acquaintance from his hiding place within a secluded monastery to come to New Orleans and determine if his creator is back performing experiments. It’s an intriguing premise written with speed and lots of action. Also, this book is obviously a series, so you get some closure in this book, but it’s left wide open for the sequels. I don’t want to give much more away, but I highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading Book 2: City of Night.

Dean Koontz Frankenstein GN

In fact, I enjoyed this book so much I may go ahead and order the first book in the Odd Thomas series from PaperbackSwap. Koontz (with the help of co-writer Kevin Anderson) may have just shoehorned himself back into my reading list.

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

AWESOME-tober-fest 2007: Some of my favorite scary books

Posted in books, Halloween, holiday, reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2007 by Paxton

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Let the Halloween season begin! I was going through some of my books at home deciding what I should keep, what needs to be thrown out, what needs to be taken to the local used book store or what needs to be put up on my Book Shelf at (great site, check it out). I’m a pack rat. Also, my wife and I love to read, so the paperback graveyard at our house is out of control. So, I was going through some of these books for the above reasons and found many “scary” books that I loved, both recently and when I was a kid. Several of these books seriously freaked me out. The type of book that has you staying up at night staring at the drapes wondering if a guy with a knife is just watching…and waiting. Since it’s Halloween, I thought it would be fun to take a look at a few of these. Maybe you’ve read a few of them.

Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkScary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz; illustrations by Stephen Gammell. This was the first book in a series of three. The two sequels were More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. I read these in elementary school (the first book was released in 1981) and they seriously messed up my sleeping patterns. It wasn’t just the stories that were included in these books, Gammell’s illustrations lean intensely towards the macabre. The combination of the chilling stories and the illustrations helps to build the effect in your mind and it winds up decidedly stopping your ability to sleep for the next few days. Click on the book image to see a bigger picture. Look what they chose to put on the cover of the first book. How insanely creepy is THAT?! That’s the kind of mind job that awaits. Each of these stories is collected from American Folklore and have been passed down, in one form or another for generations. Because of this, you’ll get familiar stories like The Hook and The Babysitter, but there are other stories I’ve never heard of. The one that has always stuck in my mind is called Room for One More. BONE CHILLING. At least, it was to me as a kid. If you haven’t read these books, check them out at your library or you can get the collected set of all three books here.

This series of books has been one of the top ten most challenged books by the American Library Association for inclusion on school library shelves. The ALA feels it is too violent, insensitive and inappropriate for its target age group.

13 Alabama Ghosts13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey by Kathryn Tucker Windham. I was born in Birmingham, AL. I went to elementary, junior and high school in Birmingham. Kathryn Tucker Windham’s Southern ghost story series staring the titular spook, Jeffery, was extremely popular. Jeffrey supposedly haunted Windham’s Selma home and living with him inspired her to write her ghostly series. There were like 12 books in the series and it included other states like Mississippi and Tennessee. Each book told of a “famous” Southern ghost story in a different town of the state. Windham really tried to incorporate Southern lifestyles into the stories. She focused a lot on the characters and the times in which they lived, almost as much as the ghost the story was about. The stories were cool because they happened in places I’d heard of, but they were also pretty creepy. They all seemed to take place in old abandoned mansions or hotels. The most famous story in the book is about the Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, AL. This courthouse is famous for the ghostly image that is seemingly burned into one of its attic windows. Very cool book that is very respectful of Southern life and culture but adds the eerie element of long-ago ghost stories.

Monkeys PawThe Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs. Published in England in 1902, this short horror story is a literary classic. It has been retold numerous times in other books, comics, tv shows, movies, etc. The Simpsons even did a parody of it in one of their Treehouse of Horror episodes. In the story, the monkey’s paw is a magical talisman that grants wishes, but the wishes come at an enormous price. Very, very cool story, yet it’s extremely horrifying. If you want to read the short story you can read it in full on this website.

Monkeys PawThe Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Published by the New Yorker in 1948, it’s a short story that has come to be considered an American classic. I read this in high school and was fascinated by it. For the first two-thirds of the story I was baffled and a little bored about seemingly normal events. It’s the final third of the story that grabs and horrifies you. I liked it so much that for an eleventh grade Honors English project I chose to write a short sequel that I called The Last Lottery. It received very high marks from my teacher and she had me read the story to the class. I, unfortunately, do not have a copy of that story, otherwise I would put it up here. If you want to read The Lottery, you can read the text in full here. I’ll see if I can scrounge up the one copy of The Last Lottery that is in existence.

Whoever Fights MonstersWhoever Fights Monsters by Robert Ressler. True crime account by one of the first and leading criminal profilers. Ressler spoke at Auburn when I was in college and I was fascinated by the killers he has profiled. John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan and many others. He even describes some of the cases surrounding these killers. A truly chilling account of real life crime and how the serial killer thinks.

The Last VictimThe Last Victim by Jason Moss. Another true crime novel. This is even scarier. Teenager Jason Moss starts writing letters to famous serial killers. He tries to become their ideal victim from within his letters to see what makes them tick. He gets too close and actually visits John Wayne Gacy in prison. Absolutely terrifying. A look at how these real life killers think, but from the victim’s point of view.

Monkeys PawSkeleton Crew, Night Shift, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Everything’s Eventual and Four Past Midnight by Stephen King. Stephen King has a lot of scary stories, but his best stuff are his short stories. Not all of them are horror. Some are funny and some are random and weird, but some are chilling. And since the story is shorter, the eeriness seems to be even higher because the text is so concentrated. There are several stories in each of these 5 short story collections that were damaging to my calm. A few of my favorites:

“The Monkey” about a toy monkey that kills every time it beats its cymbals.

“Children of the Corn” about a small town inhabited only by children under 19.

“The Moving Finger” about a regular guy haunted by the appearance of a finger trying to claw its way out of his bathroom sink drain (sounds weird, but it’s almost maddening to think about when you read the story).

Autopsy Room 4 about a man waking up in a medical lab realizing that a doctor is about to perform an autopsy on his body, and he can’t move or speak to stop it.

There are others in the 5 King books that are haunting and chilling and wonderful. I love these collections more than King’s full novels. If you haven’t, and you love Stephen King, read them, please.

Well, those are some of my favorite scary books. What are some of yours?

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Movie Novelizations #3: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Posted in books, movies, pop culture, reviews with tags , , , , , on May 15, 2006 by Paxton

Everyone has heard of the tv show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, the show is a darkly humorous take on horror movies and teen dramas that has captured a very specific and loyal audience. The mythology of the show is very intricate and the rules very strict. In fact, the tv show Buffy the Vampire Slayer bears little resemblance to the 1992 movie that birthed it.

Back in 1992, 20th Century Fox decided to release Joss Whedon’s creation about a cheerleading vampire killer. Unfortunately, they also thought his vision was too dark. They decided to re-write it and make it more humorous and remove some of the darker aspects of the slayer myths and much of the killing. They continued to re-write throughout filming. So much so, that Joss walked off the set never to return. 20th Century Fox went ahead without him and we all saw the result. The movie tanked. I saw it in the theater because I thought it had a very interesting premise. While the underlying ideas were very cool, the execution was a complete disaster. If you are familiar with the tv shows Buffy and Angel, then you can hear parts of the movie that shadow what may have been. Donald Sutherland is great as the watcher, Merrick. Kristy Swanson is a pretty good, Buffy, too. The movie falls apart with the performances of two people. Rutger Hauer as Lothos, and Luke Perry as Pike. These two are bad, laughably bad. Not laugh ha-ha, but laugh “oh my god this is awkward” bad. I expected this from Luke Perry, as I was never a fan of him, even when I was watching 90210 religiously. But Rutger Hauer has had some really good roles. I have no idea what happened, but it wasn’t good whatever it was.

Buffy DVD Angel DVD
Since the movie was so bad, it took Joss another 5 years before he could begin to get the ball rolling on the Buffy storyline again. Figuring the damage done by the movie had long been forgotten, he wrote a somewhat “sequel” to his original Buffy script that became the pilot to a new show about the same character. To further distance the show from the movie, he moved the setting from LA to the fictional Sunnydale, CA and recast the lead actress. The show became a hit and spawned a very successful spinoff, Angel. I didn’t jump on the Buffy bandwagon right away. It was one of the first shows on the new WB in 1997 and I was just not convinced. After hearing about it for several years I checked it out but was a little lost because the storyline was so involved. Although I didn’t like it, I watched Angel which aired right after it. This show, while also confusing, had several characters I very much enjoyed and a darker premise. I really enjoyed Angel and watched it off and on until it was cancelled in 2004. I joined Netflix while consulting so I could watch the entire 5 season DVD collection of Angel. I finished it in Spring 2005 and the show stands as one of my favorite shows of all time. Buffy has been harder to finish. I am currently working through the season 3 DVDs as I have time (I bought the seven season Chosen Collection cheap during a sale last november). The show definately improves each season.

Anywho, that brings me to the 1992 movie novelization. What I was really hoping for was that the book would reflect the original Joss Whedon script and not the shooting script. I was wrong. There are several differences between the book and movie, though. Don Sutherland’s Merrick kills himself in the book to save Buffy, but he gets killed in the movie (like a bitch). The prologue in the book gives more information on the history of the slayers as opposed to the movie. Also, in the end, you see Buffy and Pike ride off into the sunset on a motorcycle. In the book, you see them ascending a long staircase at an old stone building, I guess alluding to their further adventures. The rest is pretty much the same. I enjoyed the book and there was definately more evidence of Joss’ writing in the book than in the movie. It’s an interesting proposition to think what would have been the result of the movie and tv show if they had used his original, and darker script. Would the movie have been successful? Would that have led to more movies and no tv show? Who knows.

A final note on the 1992 movie. I was suprised how many famous faces show up in this movie. One of Buffy’s group of girlfriends is Hilary Swank. Luke Perry’s buddy is David Arquette. If you watch closely at the end during the final basketball game, you’ll see Ben Affleck in a quick scene. The school’s counselor is Stephen Root who played Milton in Office Space and Jimmy James on the TV show NewsRadio. Several suprises I didn’t expect. Doesn’t really help the watchabilty of the movie, though.

Other Movie Novelization Reviews:
Clue: The Movie
Back to the Future Trilogy

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Movie Novelizations #1: Back to the Future Trilogy

Posted in Back to the Future, books, movies, pop culture, reviews with tags , , , , on April 6, 2006 by Paxton

By the mid ’80s I was 10 years old and I loved to read. Now, I wasn’t reading Tolstoy or Shakespeare, but I was reading nonetheless. Movie novelizations were one thing that really got me interested in reading. I’m not talking about books that “inspired” a movie, or the novel a movie was based on. I’m talking about a novel written AFTER the movie script was written or based on the script of an in-development movie. In the ’80s and ’90s, movie novelizations were everywhere, yet today, they are rare if the movie isn’t based on a comic book. Every awesome genre movie got one. Demolition Man, War Games, the Back to the Future trilogy, the Batman movies, even more recent movies like the 1996 Mission Impossible remake had a movie novel based on its script. There was a WaldenBooks in the Riverchase Galleria many years ago (it’s a clothing store now) that had an entire section of movie novelizations. That’s where I spent most of my time at the mall (when I wasn’t in the mall arcade, Diamond Jim’s). Any movie that I enjoyed at the theater, I’d go pick up the movie novelization. For the most part, I still do it. One thing movie novelizations have going for them is that they are, for the most part, only released in paperback. This makes it extremely portable and easy to read anywhere.

In these books, the movie story was basically the same, but since the book was usually written on an earlier draft of the script, scenes that were cut out of the movie are still in the book. In some of the better novels, you also get inner monologue of the main characters. It gave an entirely new dimension to the story.

Being a pack rat, I still have most of these books. I thought it would be interesting to review some of these novels for you and let you know the good ones and the bad ones and how they compare to the movie they represent. Since I have so many of these books, I’ll only do a few at a time and make this an ongoing series. For a preview of some of the books, see the pic above. I have more, but I need to find them as they are hidden away in cardboard boxes after my move from Birmingham, AL to Jacksonville, FL. The first series of books today will be the books based on one of my favorite series of movies…the Back to the Future trilogy.

These were 3 of my favorite movies when I was a kid. When the first was released in 1985, I saw it in the theater at least 10 times. I was a freak for this movie. I almost died when it took 4 years to release the sequel, Back to the Future Part II. Part II was the first novel I bought of this series (at the aforementioned WaldenBooks). I had no idea the first movie had been released in novel form also. Many years later, after all the Back to the Future movies had been released on video, a “garage sale” store opened up about 20 minutes from my house. Now these places are called antique shops, but originally it was a garage sale store. This place was a goldmine for old books as it had an entire room dedicated to selling them. I can’t even tell you how many books I’ve found in this store. It was here that I stumbled across the paperback for the original Back to the Future. It even had the original sales receipt dated 1985. I was dumbstruck. I read it immediately. I began wondering if Part III had a movie novelization. I searched high and low. This was before the proliferation of the internet and or eBay. If it wasn’t at a local bookstore or at a garage sale or second hand store, you weren’t finding it, my friend.

After over a year of going back to the garage sale store, it finally appeared, like a great desert oasis, Back to the Future Part III: The Novel. It was my Holy Grail and I had found it. Giddy as a schoolgirl, I bought it and began reading it that night.

The books in this series are very true to the movies. You’ll find little tidbits here and there that weren’t in the movie. For instance, the original Back to the Future novel starts with Marty in school instead of in Doc’s lab. Some scenes are longer and some dialogue is slightly different, but overall it’s a really good adaptation of the movies.

Years later, before the garage sale store closed, I did find an alternate cover for Back to the Future Part II, it was white instead of blue, but I thought enough is enough. I believe you can find these on Amazon right now from third party sellers, but I’ll always cherish these books because it took me years to complete the set.

Coming up I’ll have looks at the novels for Clue: The Movie, The original Batman movies, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and the X-men movies. If I find my old stash of books, maybe I’ll have some more suprises.

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