Category Archives: Other

My Favorite Reads of 2013

2013During the course of 2013, I read 159 books.  Some were audio books, some were collections of comic books, some were published this year, some were not.  Looking back, these are my favorite reads of the year.

If you haven’t read any of these yet and are looking for something to read in 2014, I highly recommend all of them.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
This one had been sitting on the to-be-read stack for a long time and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it this year.   The story of two Jewish immigrants who pioneer one an iconic comic book line during the golden age of the medium.  Fascinating, compelling and one of those books that was over far too soon, but still left me utterly satisfied.

Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet
One of those books that I couldn’t tear myself away from.  Full of people making horrible decisions and have the worst possible outcome.  It’s like a season of Breaking Bad on the printed page.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Any year with a new novel by Gaiman is a good thing.  When it’s his first novel written for older readers in a long time and it turns out to be this good, it’s a wonderful reading experience.

The Onion Girl by Charles DeLint
Every time I read anything by DeLint, I keep wondering why I haven’t read more by him.  Set in his mythical town of Newford, The Onion Girl brings Jilly front and center, filling in her backstory and exploring her character fully.  Not a great entry point for DeLint, I’ll admit, but it’s still great.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This is one I picked up after seeing it on a number of other “best of 2013” lists.   While visiting an art museum, young Theo Decker is caught in a bombing that kills his mother and finds him with a rare piece of artwork tucked into his backpack.  The novel unfolds as the story of Decker’s ups and downs from that time (a lot of downs).  A rich use of language and some compelling passages make this one of those books that will have you sit back and marvel at how well constructed some of the sentences and passages are.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Gailbraith
While I may not have found this books as quickly had the publisher let the cat out of the bag that Gailbraith is really J.K. Rowling, I hope that I would have eventually stumbled across this one.  A solid, entertaining mystery with a couple of new, interesting character additions to the genre.  Put aside any pre-conceived notions about Harry Potter and give this one a try.

Tempest by Julie Cross
A young adult time-travel romance.  Jackson Myer is a nineteen-year-old college freshman who is totally in love with his girlfriend, Holly.  He also has the ability to jump back in time.  All is going well until one day, Holly is killed and Jackson jumps back in time two years and can’t get back to his own time to try and save her.  What unfolds is a well done, compelling and believable romance all within a story that examines the implications and impact of time travel.  There’s more to the time travel aspect that initially meets the eye and I’m curious to see what Cross will do in the next novel in the trilogy (which is languishing on my to-be-read pile as we speak!)

Joyland by Stephen King
What if Stephen King wrote an episode of Scooby Doo?  That’s the essence of this entry from the Hard Case Crime series. But there’s more to it as a coming of age story and further evidence of King’s later life renaissance.

Snow White Must Die by Nele Nuehuas
The first English-published novel in the Bodenstein and Kirchief series from German writer Neuhaus.   This is actually the fourth in the series and I’m hoping we’ll get the entire series translated sooner rather than later.

Batman: Court of the Owls, City of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
Thanks to Kevin Smith’s Fat Man on Batman podcast, I heard a lot of hype about the work that Scott Snyder was doing on the New 52 Batman.   So, I sought out the collection of the Court of the Owls storyline and was prepared for them to not live up to the hype.  Funny thing is that they did live up to the hype.

Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
After two books of teasing us about Sabetha, Lynch brings her fully into the universe of the Gentleman Bastards.  And her effect on Jean and Locke makes for a fun, fantasy novel.  One of the more anticipated books of the year by many and one that lived up to the expectations.

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
Another books from the YA section of the library or bookstore.  Senior Ezra Faulkner seems to have it all until a car wreck takes away all of what he thought defined him.  Enter Cassidy Thorpe, the new girl at school and former debate squad queen.   If it sounds like your typical teen angst novel and romance, it’s not.  Schneider zigs when you think she’s going to zag and pulls out some nice surprises.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
This is not a book to read to cure insomnia or to try and wind down for the night.  Haynes’ debut novel is a compelling, character driven mystery and one that had me hooked from the first page.

And one last book that I got to read in 2013 but isn’t hitting library and bookstore shelves until January of 2014.  (Thank you Amazon Vine program)

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
A return to form from Lippman.    Like many of her best works, After I’m Gone looks at the impact a crime has on the characters and community and not just solving the central mystery.  In this case, it’s what happens to the family and mistress of Felix Brewer after he disappears in the night for what many presume are greener pastures.   A stand-alone entry from Lippman but it does have ties to her Tess novels.

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And the new Doctor is…

Peter Capaldi Doctor WhoEarlier today, I tuned into the BBC’s world-wide extravaganza, celebrating the revelation of the actor who will play the 12th Doctor.

In many ways, the event reminded me of the season finale of a lot of reality shows — lots of celebratory clips and looks back, all the while keeping the reason for tuning in under wraps until the last possible moment.*

*I enjoyed the reflections by Peter Davison and the first set of panelists.  The second set, not so much.  But then again, I grew a bit tired of Wilf in the overbaked “The End of Time.”  And while it would be easy to go Comic Book guy on the Who fan on the panel, I can’t honestly say that I’d do any better, knowing every word and utterance would be broken down and dissected by a world-wide fan boy audience.

And then finally, the news broke that it’s Peter Capaldi is taking on the role.

At first, my thought was “Who?”  (no irony intended).  Thanks to the power of the Internet, I was able to do some research and find out a bit more.  And, so far, I’m sold on Capaldi as a solid choice to follow-up my favorite Doctor of the modern era.**

**He’s got a Scottish accent…as does my all time favorite Doctor.   Already in good company there!

As I thought about the half-hour celebration and revelation, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a time years ago when I found out that Colin Baker had given way to Sylvester McCoy.  I recall that it was mentioned during a pledge break on the local PBS station and I was completely shocked by the news.  Part of it was because I’d just read an interview with Colin Baker days before saying he wanted to break Tom Baker’s seven-year tenure as the Doctor and part of it was that was in the days before the Internet and connecting with fellow Who fans wasn’t as easy as it is today.

I also recall that my local PBS station (KTEH in San Jose) quickly got hold of a press conference with McCoy, John-Nathan Turner and a couple of other Who dignitaries and aired it one evening as part of a pledge break special.  (I think it took the place of or pushed back an interview with Patrick Troughton, but this was over 25 years ago and my memory is probably not all that reliable).

The difference between then and now struck me.  Back then, the press conference was relatively low-key with little or no production values.  Today’s announcement was over the top with all the bells and whistles.  The McCoy reveal was done early, while today it took 25 minutes of build-up to get to the reason everyone was tuning in.

It’s the difference between fandom then and now.   Back then, I never thought I’d see young people wearing t-shirts proclaiming their love of the show nor did I think there would be all the sheer plethora of tie-in items that I see on the market today.   I see these fans with a mixture of envy because it’s cool to like Doctor Who these days and bitterness since I was a fan when being a fan wasn’t cool.  I also wonder how many of them will be fans of the show ten years from now or a couple of years after it retires again.    Or how many of them will abandon the show with an older actor in the role who isn’t young, hip and fits the profile of sexy?

Oh I’m sure they’ll continue to swoon over David Tennant (the most overrated Doctor of all time) but I wonder how long that will continue and when they’ll move on to the next flavor of the month….

Update:  A quick search of YouTube turns of this video, which I think is the interview/press conference in question.

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Looking Back on 2012: Favorites, Not So Favorites and Everything In Between

With 2013 upon us, it’s time to look back on 2012.  I read a lot of books last year, loving some, enjoying most of them and then there were a few that, quite frankly, I just didn’t care for.  Here’s my list of the best and worst of what I read last year.

The best:

1.  The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner
A locked room mystery that morphs into a sci-fi novel.  To say more would be to give away the twists and turns.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as Renner poured on twist after twist, each of them compelling.  One of the few books I read this year that I wanted to re-read as soon as I was done with it.

2.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Another book that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.  If you’ve read it, you know why.  If you haven’t and you’re wondering if it lives up to the hype–yes, it does.  I read it as the wave of adoration was beginning to build and that may have helped me love it that much more.

3.  The Fault In Our Stars by John Greene
If you’re dismissing this one because it’s a young adult novel, you’re missing out.   A prime example of why books should not be judged by where they’re shelved in the store or library.

4.  What’s the Least I Can Believe And Still Be a Christian
Ten things that Christians shouldn’t believe and ten bedrocks we should, all Biblically based.  Read it if you haven’t already.

5.  Age of Miracles by Karen Walker Thompson
An end of the world book, but it’s so much more.  I’ve read a lot books about the apocalypse and this is one of the best.  It’s different.  Try it, you’ll like it.

6.  Redshirts by John Scalzi
I was so looking forward to this one, I wasn’t sure it could live up to my expectations. It exceeded them.  Read it. You will love it.

7.  A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Audio versions read by Derek Jacobi.  Reminded me why I love the Holmes stories.

8.  The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume I edited by Robert Silverberg
A great collection of classic genre stories.  If you want to see why the genre is so good and get a good sample of some of the great authors and their stories, this is the only collection you need.

9. Call the Shots by Don Calame
A couple of years ago, Swim the Fly had me in stitches.  This year, I caught up on the next two installments.  Of the two, Call the Shots was the best, reminded of me what I loved about the original.   If you’re looking for a book to get teenage guys to read, this is worth it. Think American Pie, only toned down to PG-13.  But be warned–these are told by guys who think and talk like typical teenage guys.

10.   Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good by Kevin Smith
If you’ve listened to his podcasts or commentaries, odds are you’ve heard many of the stories Smith relates about his life and career here.  It doesn’t matter.  Smith’s natural storytelling ability shines here and he may even insprire you a bit.  I listened to the audio version of this one and loved it.

My Least Favorites:
Batman: A Death in the Family  — The worst of 90’s comic storytelling.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I think this one was overhyped.  It had potential, but I never could quite connect with it.  Felt overwritten in some places.
The Secret Soldier by Alex Berenson.   Not nearly as great the cover blurb made it out to be.  I plowed through it but guessed most of the twists long before our hero did.

And if you’re curious, I’ve got the full list of what I read last year below.   It’s a long list, broken down into categories.

Now, onward to 2013 and let’s see what’s out there….

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Legally Blonde: The Musical

Image: Canon County Arts Center Web Site

After taking in and enjoying the Canon County Arts Center production of Camelot early this year, my lovely wife and I decided to take the plunge on season tickets.   Over the past several months, we’ve enjoyed a lot of great shows including a one-act version of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, the stage version of Arsenic and Old Lace and a show that was unfamiliar to us before we saw it, Duck Hunter Shoots Angel.

All were great, but the one we took in this weekend really knocked it out of the park and is my new favorite of the season–Legally Blonde: The Musical.

Based on the movie of the same name, it’s the story of Elle Woods and her pursuit of love from the campus of UCLA to Harvard Law School.  After getting dumped by her long time boyfriend for not being serious enough for his law career aspirations, Elle makes up her mind to prove him wrong.  She gets accepted to Harvard Law School and soon begins to shine there, thanks to a tutor, Emmett and her friend, Pamela, a local beautician.

Now, I’ve not seen the original Reese Witherspoon film on which Legally  Blonde is based (some of you are gasping in horror, I know) so I went into the play with no expectations.   I can’t say whether it was faithful to the source material or not, but to me it doesn’t really matter.  From the opening moments all the way to the final big number, the songs were infectious (I’m still humming them two days later), the cast was superb and the production another winner from the Canon County Arts Center.

Next up is their musical on roller skates, Xanadu.  I can’t wait to see what they do with it.  And no, I probably won’t watch the movie of that one before going to the play either….

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“Game of Thrones” Credits Done in Legos

Every once in a while, you find something cool that you just have to share.

In this case, it’s the credits for Game of Thrones done in Legos.

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A Prairie Home Companion at the Ryman

I’ve been a fan of Garrison Keillor for years now.

I had the privilege of seeing Keillor “in concert” close to decades ago at Wolf Trap in Virginia.   He was there for an evening with he and guitarist Chet Atkins.*  And while it was a great evening in which I got several of my favorite books by Keillor autographed (and even got to shake his hand after the show and have a pleasant conversation with him), the evening wasn’t a live performance of his radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

* The show was before I became so enamored with bluegrass music and really understood how awesome it was to hear Chet Atkins perform live.  In fact, you could almost say the crowd that evening was split in half, with half of us wondering how the guy on the guitar was and when we’d get more Keillor and the other half wondering who the guy telling the stories and singing baritone was and when we’d get more Atkins.

I’d seen filmed broadcasts of a Prairie Home Companion on television and I’d watched the movie a couple of years ago.  But it wasn’t quite the same as seeing the show live and in person.

Last night, I got to cross “See a live performance of a PHC” off my bucket list…and in one of my favorite venues to take in a show, the historic Ryman auditorium.

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