Friday, January 28, 2011

Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Foglio

Agatha H and the Airship CityAgatha H and the Airship City by Phil Foglio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've recently discovered--and become a fan of--the Foglios Girl Genius comics, doing so just before the release of the first novelization of the series was a nice bit of fortuitous timing.

There's a part of me that wonders if they've been wasting their time, the Foglios have a wonderful, playful way of using their words. Certain phrases, sentences, and even whole paragraphs are filled with a whimsy that just makes me smile. Little things like:

"Now I am in control!" He followed this statement with a burst of laughter that showed the owner had done a fair share of gloating in his time, and had the basics down pat.

If you've read the comics, you're not going to find a lot new here--they fill out some details here and there, spell out some things that the reader had to assume, that sort of thing. I honestly don't know if someone who hadn't read at least some of the comics could visualize the clanks, airships, Jägermonsters, etc. That's the closest I can come to a negative to point out about this novel.

Full of laughs, romance, adventure, strong (and smart!) female characters, this is one fun read. Bring on the further adventures of Agatha and co.!

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The ImperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure I'm up to writing up my thoughts on this book, they seem pretty inadequate...but if I don't do it now, I probably won't at all. This is a really good book, a love letter to a medium that's (almost certainly) dying and a rich character study. Touching, funny, moving, and more than capable of throwing a surprise at you.

At the center of the novel is an international English language newspaper based in Rome. The story of this paper, from its founding in the 50's through its coverage of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq is told in brief (2-3 page) spurts between chapters telling us about the people who read and/or work for (and/or their families) the paper.

More than once, I was astounded by how invested I could be in a character I just met by the end of one of those chapters--each of these really could be a short story unto themselves. But when looked at as a whole--once you reach the end--it is a well-crafted novel, not just a series of semi-related short stories.

That's not to say that all the chapters are great--there were a couple that almost missed the mark, and a one flat-out dud (I felt I've read the story of the novice reporter being taken advantage of by the veteran a few dozen times).

From the other reviews I've read (at goodreads and elsewhere), it's easy to oversell or overhype this book--and I don't want to do that, nor do I want to undersell it. It's very good--not fantastic--not a "must read", but a "really, really should read."

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, #1)I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall, this was a fun, fast read, though it wasn't the best written book.

The book opens with a scene that's supposed to grab you by the lapels and not let go for the next 440 pages. Personally, it didn't work at all, particularly because I could see the authors doing that.

Thirty pages or so later, the story did get rolling pretty well and before I knew it I was hip deep in the book, and fairly invested with some of the characters.

I had a list of quibbles I had with the writing, but decided not to bother. While they detracted from my enjoyment, they didn't ruin anything.

The highpoint of the novel was the mix of SF and Magic. It's not often that you come across that kind of thing, and when done right, it's dynamite. These authors pull it off pretty well, as they do the rest of the story. I'll be back for more.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

So Much for that Father of the Year Nomination

I just got an email from Samwise's school administrator, letting me know that he'll be meeting with her tomorrow, thanks to an email I sent his teacher.

It's not that he's in trouble or anything, don't get me wrong (me, least not with the school). No, he's going to be asked some questions, which will lead him to "snitch" on some classmates (I'm using some vernacular here that I understand is used by "skels" on "the street").

What guy doesn't want to do that? What guy isn't filled with gratitude toward the person that put him there?


Friday, January 21, 2011

The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein

The Becoming (Anna Strong Chronicles, #1)The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(3.5 actually, but goodreads won't let me do that) This was just what the doctor ordered, over the last couple of months, I'd tried out a handful of new (to me) urban fantasy series, and had to force myself to finish them. Not this one. A fun ride from start to finish.

It's the kind of start to a series that reminded me of Kitty and the Midnight Hour -- and judging by the fact that of Carrie Vaughn books are now on my shelves at home, that's a good thing. It's very much a start to a series, a good ol' origin story. Butt-kickin', independent woman (with family issues), is out with her partner doing their bounty hunter thing, and unbeknownst to them, try to take a vampire into custody. Hilarity, er, blood-swapping ensues, and you've got yourself a butt-kickin', independent vampire (with family issues).

Sure, our hero, Anna, has a heckuva learning curve in front of her--which Stein uses well to introduce the reader to her vampire rules, society, hunters, history, and whatnot. A good healthy mix of tradition and nouveau vamp lore.

It is a setup novel, so it's hard to predict what form the future installments will take, once Anna's more settled into her fangs, things will be different. But it's a good start, with a likable cast, and a couple of good threads to follow in future books. Sign me up for more.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

So I'm Done with Elevators for a While Now - Updated

Update: TLomL pointed out that in the initial posting, I neglected to mention the name of the movie I was talking about. Which is a pretty dumb thing to overlook. Thanks for the catch, dear.

One guy on screen for 95 minutes, in one set, only interacting with other actors over brief cell phone calls doesn't sound like the most interesting, never mind exciting, movie. This fails to take into account a few things:

  1. The actor is Ryan Reynolds, a man who can be comfortable in any genre
  2. The action takes place in Iraq
  3. The set is a buried coffin
All that together results in Buried--one of the most taut, suspenseful, and pulse-pounding movies I've ever seen, and one of the best I've seen in months.

In case you aren't familiar with the movie or trailer or anything, the premise is pretty simple. Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a contractor in Iraq, a truck driver transporting materials for rebuilding efforts. A convoy he's in is attacked and he wakes up in a coffin underground, with a Zippo and a cell phone left by the attackers (with a less than full battery, it should be noted). Paul starts making calls, trying to get someone to believe what's happening to him, desperate for someone to come looking for him.

And well, things go on from there. Not much else to say without giving the whole thing away. I was sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time, I squirmed a couple of times, chuckled once or twice, had to remind myself to breathe occasionally and hoped I'd taken my blood pressure meds more than once.

Can't say I recommend it, because I really wouldn't wish any of my readers the distress they may feel watching it, but sheee--oot. What a movie.

Oh, and before I forget...honey, if I die in the next month or so, please cremate me. Please. Or a nice pyre. Anything but a coffin.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Possibly the Most Disillusioning Blogpost Ever

I can't remember who on my Twitter feed posted this link, so I can't give credit where it's due, but this post is well worth the read and listen. What is it, you ask, rather than clicking the link blindly.

It's a list of 15 songs you probably didn't realize were covers--one of these I knew was a cover. One. And I really like/love most of these songs.

I know that Rob Fleming and the rest of the crew at Championship Vinyl would be ashamed of me. I am.

Regardless, this post is quite educational and entertaining (and a leeetle scary)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Sentry by Robert Crais

The Sentry (Joe Pike)The Sentry by Robert Crais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So the third Joe Pike novel starts off with him gassing up his Jeep and noticing that across the street that a couple of gang-bangers are up to no good at a sandwich shop. Pike decides to intervene, roughs up the ruffians little (well, by Pike's standards). The shop owner isn't grateful, but his niece sure is.

Pike senses an instant connection with her, the kind of connection that he hasn't felt in a long, long time. Where some guys will do something to show off for a gal, try to impress them, Pike decides to get the gang to back off what what seems to be a straightforward protection racket. And it seems to work, very easily.

Which of course, is where things go very, very badly for all involved. The woman and her uncle go missing, so Pike sets off to find her, rescue her from whatever she needs rescuing from and brings Elvis along for the ride. A twisty, nothing is as it seems (at least twice), ride.

More than maybe any other Pike/Elvis or Elvis/Pike novel, this one is about the friendship between these two men. Yeah, there's the action, the mystery, the bullets (MINOR SPOILER: far, far fewer than we've come accustomed to Pike using), and so on. But at the core, this is about the bond tying Pike and Elvis together.

Told in Crais' (sadly) now-typical shifting perspectives, the action, once it starts, doesn't relent. I flew through this book without realizing it. The only thing that kept me from finishing it in one setting was forcing myself to put it down so I could get a few winks before work. The best of the Pike books so far, better than a couple of Elvis books, too.

Perfect book for immersing yourself into to get out of a crappy day.

Waiting for the next book from Crais, if only he could write faster...

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Current Musical Obsessions (1) - Mumford and Sons

taking a break from blathering about books for a bit, I figured I'd shake things up a bit and talk about music a little bit this week. But as I sit down to talk about Mumford and Sons, I realize I have to idea what to say. This is what music is supposed to be about, catchy tunes, lovely instrumentation, heartfelt lyrics--it's fun stuff, it's quality music, it's...ugh. Listen to it, and like me, I bet you'll be hooked.

Embedding a few things from an acoustical set they have on their youtube page rather than the videos of the studio versions from the cd Sigh No More.

There's "The Cave"

The thoughtful "White Blank Page" (the title alone speaks to me)

and the one you may have actually heard before, "Little Lion Man" (song is musical'll listen over and over and over)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Wolfsbane by Patricia Briggs

Wolfsbane (Sianim, #4)(Aralorn, #2)Wolfsbane (Sianim, #4) by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun, solid read with characters you end up caring a lot about without even noticing, just a touch of action, a splash of romance, and at least one character who switches between species. In other words, it's a Patricia Briggs novel.

Like its predecessor Masques, this was written pretty early in her career, and it shows. It's still a heckuva story, and I'd jump right into a third adventure of Wolfe and Aralorn.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke

A Stained White RadianceA Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Elmore Leonard famously quotes Steinbeck saying, "Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story."

I sincerely wish Burke would follow Leonard's urging to get rid of the hooptedoodle, or as he puts it later, "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

There's a whole lot in here (and most of this series) that sounds like writing. Once you take all that away, there's not a lot in this book. Horribly thin plot, from the get go everyone knows who did what and pretty much why, there's just a few hundred pages of wheel spinning, hooptedoodle, and moments intended to be tense that really aren't.

Not sure if I'll keep going with Burke

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

When the Sacred Ginmill ClosesWhen the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'll be honest, I'm sticking with this series primarily because of the author's reputation, though Eight Million Ways to Die did impress me. I was fairly dismayed when I started this book and it looked like all the progress that Scudder made during his outing was tossed out without explanation or comment. A relapse, or backslide, etc. would've been acceptable if Block had done it right (obviously), but to just start off the book without noting that he'd fallen off the wagon was just horrible.

Thankfully, he didn't waste too much time before he had Scudder inform us that this was an extended flashback. That done, we could see Scudder not at his alcoholic worst, just pretty bad--probably before the first book in the series, now that I think of it. Then he brought us back to the present at the conclusion of the novel, making the whole exercise mean something. What made me ready to toss the whole series at the beginning, in the end made a pretty effective novel. It's not a trick that he can use more than once, I think--and my gut says Block wouldn't try.

As far as the mysteries that make up Scudder's cases? Marginally interesting, at best. I've yet to be really impressed by the whodunit aspect of Block's books, it's how Scudder interacts with the suspects/victims/survivors that makes them interesting--especially as he interacts with himself. But one of the two mysteries here is about as strong as he gets, and the other is about as weak as he gets., whatever.

If you like Matt Scudder, this book will satisfy you. If you've never encountered him before, I'm not sure this is the book to start with.

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2010 Books

I kinda overdid it this year when it came to books. No doubt, helped in part by my Nero Wolfe Corpus project, I read 78 more books than 2009. Which is just insane. I didn't think I was reading more or anything--I was just plowing through stuff. I can't imagine I'll even come close this year, but you never know... Here's the list, for those who are interested.

Now for my personal rankings...

As I looked over my list, I gotta say I was surprised and chagrined to see how little non-fiction I read last year. I wasn't consciously avoiding it, it just happened. Even if I hadn't, I can't imagine much being better than Stephen King's Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I should also note that Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History by Andrew P. Napolitano is great fodder for paranoia, as well as a nice little history primer.

Reading so much, however, leads to more than one stinker. Do yourself a favor and avoid these:
  • Point Omega - Don DeLillo
  • The Ask - Sam Lipsyte
  • Bite Me: A Love Story - Christopher Moore. And I really liked the first two in the series
  • Chemistry for Beginners - Anthony Strong. This thing just didn't know what it wanted to be, and ended up being nothing.
  • Batman: The Ultimate Evil - Andrew H. Vachss I can't even explain how horrible this would-be expose of child sex slavery disguised as a super hero story. It was as bad as it was well-intentioned and misguided.
  • Youth in Revolt - C. D. Payne
  • Zorro - Isabel Allende
  • Hello Kitty Must Die - Angela S. Choi
  • Starter for Ten - David Nicholls. Yup, same Nicholls that wrote my favorite book from 2010.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
  • The Girl who Played with Fire - Stieg Larsson

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Last year, after I gave up on my quixotic goal of blogging my way through the Nero Wolfe corpus (still bummed I failed on that), I made a decision to cut back on my book blogging, 'cuz it felt like I was talking wayyy to much about them. But looking back over my 2010 posts, I saw that really wasn't the case. Also, I remembered that I'd met myself, and I tend to be a bit obsessed with books, so what else am I going to talk about?

At the same time, I started using last year, and while not 100% faithful about writing mini-to-full reviews of what I read, I was a whole lot better at it than I was here. From time to time, I copied things over here, but not that often. I've now decided to automatically post what I put there over here, (see the previous post) just to keep this place as the center of all things me.

If nothing else, this'll keep this place updated regularly -- hopefully, it'll spur some conversation, and maybe even nudge someone toward a good read (no pun intended).

Or away from a bad one, come to think of it.

By the way, if you're a Goodreads member, why not be my friend? If you're not a member, check out the site and think about it. Maybe try your hand at their 2011 Reading Challenge.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1)The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I put off writing this review, because I was pretty sure if I'd done it right away, it'd have been filled with all kinds of hyperbole. With a few days' worth of distance, I can honestly say most of it would've been deserved. I'm going to keep this short and vague, because that's the only way I think I can keep myself from gushing and rehashing this book in detail.

The story, while solid, feels like something I've read more than once (tho' I honestly can't say where, it just feels that way). A lot of the characters aren't that novel, maybe even a bit stock-ish. But not all of them. There are four or five characters for whom the term "multi-faceted" doesn't seem adequate, so that more than makes up for it.

But what truly, truly makes this book great is the way the story's told--both the structure and the voice. As much as I wanted to find out what happened to Yeine and the rest, I didn't want to walk away from the Jesmin's voice and style.

Great debut novel. Sooooo looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Blechy Movies of '10

Like last year, I should probably talk about those movies that weren't that good...scratch that. Those that were horrid. This year, that as 12 of my 147, 8%, a smidge worse than 2009.

There were more than a handful of movies that were just dull, or wastes of time--mostly indie comedies, oddly. But there were a few that I actively disliked--if not downright hated/got angry with. Those were (in order that I saw them, not in order of horribleness):

  • Jennifer's Body - Karyn Kusama

  • Big Fan - Robert D. Siegel

  • I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell - Bob Gosse (truly vile flick)

  • Where the Wild Things Are - Spike Jonze

  • The Blue Tooth Virgin - Russell Brown

  • A Serious Man - Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

  • Remember Me - Allen Coulter

  • The Runaways - Floria Sigismondi

  • Greenberg - Noah Baumbach

  • Babies - Thomas Balmes

  • The Secret of Kells - Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey

  • Agora - Alejandro Amenábar

Two of those, I want to call out for special attention. Remember Me, I thought I'd written a blog post ranting about, but I can't find it...whoops. It was a perfectly uninspired/uninspiring indie drama with competent-to-really good performances, that they totally screwed up by pulling a surprise ending out of nothing, an a horrible attempt to add weight and heft to the movie. So instead of a nice-enough movie I'd have forgotten about within a month or two, I'm going to be carrying around the hate for years.

The other bad movie was The Secret of Kells. Awesome animation, great artwork, love the idea of using this medium to talk about the actual Book of Kells. But, in order to avoid talking about the content of the book (an illuminated Bible, for those who don't know), they go for some silly mystical, pseudospiritual idea where the artwork is what gives hope to people. Just horrid. Horrid thing to do regarding the actual truths contained in the book. Skip the flick, listen to Iona's album instead.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

2010 Movies

So in 2010, I watched 19 fewer movies than in '09 (and man, I wish I tracked '08's, those'd be some numbers). I actually wanted to watch more, but when you're looking for things to help you kill a graveyard shift, a DVD full of TV episodes is worth more than a movie.'s the list of the 147 I did watch, for those who are interested.

Keeping with the tradition that goes back all the way to last year, I tried to narrow down the list to a top 10, but I couldn't bring myself to cut a couple of these from the top of the pile. So let's just say there was a three-way tie for first (Scott Pilgrim, Toy Story 3 and The Hurt Locker)...'tho most of the rest would tie for second, come to think of it.... Oh well. In the order I saw them, not a qualitative statement at all:

  • Trucker - James Mottern

  • The Hurt Locker - Kathryn Bigelow

  • Whip It - Drew Barrymore

  • Up in the Air - Jason Reitman

  • Red Cliff: International Version - John Woo
  • (do not, under any circumstances, watch the edited for US theater length version...travesty)
  • Crazy Heart - Scott Cooper

  • Pirate Radio - Richard Curtis

  • Toy Story 3 - Lee Unkrich

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - Edgar Wright

  • Ondine - Neil Jordan

  • Easy A - Will Gluck

  • How Do You Know - James L. Brooks

  • There were a few that I couldn't justify in my top 1012, cuz they weren't as good, but they had a lotta heart and generally made ya feel all warm and fuzzy watching them, and made the day/week better:
  • Young @ Heart - Stephen Walker

  • Eagle vs. Shark - Taika Cohen

  • City Island - Raymond De Felitta

  • Flipped - Rob Reiner

Anyone see these? What didn't make my list that should've?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Planning my 2011 Reading

One of the things I've been thinking lately is that I'm not as well read as I want to be--or even used to be. That's not to say I don't read a lot (anyone who knows me knows better), like the guys over at Unshelved say, I read irresponsibly and encourage that in others. But I think I need a tad more responsibility in my reading.

I read a lot, and I mean a lot of detective/mystery fiction, urban fantasies, etc. Many people would disdainfully refer to it as, "genre fiction" (totally ignoring the nagging detail that everything fits in at least one genre). Don't get me wrong--I don't plan on stopping, maybe just cutting back a little to make some time for more mainstream fiction, "serious" literature and some classics.

Back in college, I read a lot more along those lines -- and not just for class ('tho certainly that was a part of it), but after graduation, I shifted my reading focus and only read fiction as entertainment and escape. Before I knew it, I got lazy, and only occasionally did any heavy lifting. It's time for me to try to fix that.

So in addition to new books by the likes of Michael Connelly, Patricia Briggs, Carrie Vaughn, Jim Butcher, Robert B. Parker, Jim C. Hines, Anton Strout, Seanan McGuire and knocking out back lists of Zoë Sharp, Lee Child, James Lee Burke, Lawrence Block, Patricia Briggs (that looks like a lot of Briggs), and others I haven't stumbled across yet; I need to add some more serious reads. I'm thinking about some Austen, Franzen, Updike, Salinger, maybe even Dickens (if I get desperate)...but I'm looking for some more ideas.

So, friends, readers, countrymen...lend me your reads. The comment section is wide open--fill 'er up.