Monthly Archives: December 2011

Top 10 Books of 2011

I think there’s a pretty even split between books published in 2011 and those published before. Also, there are more than ten books listed here…that’s what happens when you read a lot of series.

1. The Astounding, The Amazing, and the Unknown, by Paul Malmont

A sequel of sorts to The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, Malmont’s latest novel focuses on a group of sci-fi writers–Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and others–who worked on the Philadelphia Experiment during World War II. Like his previous novel, Malmont throws in a load of cameos (look for a young Vonnegut), as well as bringing back the stars of Death Cloud.

2. The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

I’m not really a fan of stories set in dystopian futures. But, there’s enough going on in The Hunger Games to make me forget that it’s set in a dystopia. I’d bought the first book shortly after it came out, but had never gotten around to reading it, and I’m glad I waited, since I devoured all three pretty quickly.

3. Warehouse 13: A Touch of Fever, by Greg Cox

I love Warehouse 13 and I love media tie-ins. Admittedly, some tie-ins are better than others, and I think this is one of the better ones. The usual Warehouse banter is there (although, at times, Artie doesn’t feel “right”), plus we get to see artifacts that we’d probably never get a chance to see on TV.

4. The Lost Hero and The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus) and The Throne of Fire (The Kane Chronicles), by Rick Riordan

  

If you slap Rick Riordan’s name on a book, I’m probably going to read it. After finishing up the Percy Jackson series, I was excited to hear that the campers from Camp Half-Blood would be appearing in a second series. In addition to introducing new demigods, Heroes of Olympus plays with the idea that the Greeks and Romans had very similar myths. The second book in the Egyptian-based Kane Chronicles series proves that Riordan’s brain is basically an encyclopedia of world mythology.

5. Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher

The latest book in the Dresden Files series manages to accomplish three things: it places protagonist Harry Dresden in a position where his usual skills are useless, it sheds some light on Harry’s past, and it explores the nature of magic in the Dresdenverse.

6. My Soul to Steal and If I Die, by Rachel Vincent

 

The adventures of teen bean sidhe Kaylee Cavanaugh continue in the latest two novels in Vincent’s Soul Screamers series. Vincent doesn’t make life easy for Kaylee, or the readers who adore her. Without spoiling anything, I will say that I did not see the ending of If I Die coming…and I can’t wait to read the next book.

7. Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I always make time for Sarah Vowell’s latest book (I have never hidden the fact that I have a giant brain-crush on Vowell). Vowell looks at the annexation and eventual Americanization of the Hawaiian Islands with her usual dry sense of humor and seemingly endless supply of pop culture references and American history factoids.

8. A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows, by George R. R. Martin

  

I’m going to assume that I don’t have to explain what Martin’s fantasy epic is all about. Thanks to HBO, I think everyone knows about A Song of Ice and Fire by now. I’ve tried to spread these books out, so I don’t have to wait too long for the next book, but now I find myself in the unfortunate position of needing to decide if I want to get the newest book from the library or wait until the paperback comes out. Since the first book in the series, Martin never fails to surprise me–and both A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows have some series WTF moments.

9. The Snow Queen’s Shadow, by Jim C. Hines

This is the final book in Hines’s series that blends fairy tale princesses with Charlie’s Angels. I was really nervous going in, since for most authors “final book in a series” usually means “KILL ALL THE THINGS!!!!” While the bittersweet finale had a fair share of heartbreaking moments, it ends on a hopeful note.

10. The Trouble with Demons and Bewitched & Betrayed, by Lisa Shearin

  

There are a lot of series out there that mix fantasy elements with modern detective stories. Shearin’s series was the first one I found that took a typical fantasy world and infused it with elements of detective fiction. Raine Benares is an elf, a mage, and a seeker (her world’s version of a private investigator). She’s tough, sarcastic, and wanted by every dark mage, demon, and corrupt politician on the Isle of Mid and beyond.

Top 10 Movies of 2011

I always say that I don’t really go to the movies that often… But, I actually managed to see seven of these in the theater. As for the remainder: Thank you, Netflix.

1. Paul

After seeing Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I expected Paul to be more of the same. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be less of an homage to–or pastiche of–an alien encounter story and much more akin to a stoner road trip movie. Pegg and Frost can truly do no wrong.

2. Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

So, there’s this parallel universe where Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen fight zombies, werewolves, and vampires. Dylan Dog seemingly came and went in about a day, which is too bad because it was a lot of fun. And, after seeing this, I could see Brandon Routh playing Harry Dresden.

3. X-Men: First Class

An X-Men movie where the X-Men actually fight evil…amazing! I’m willing to forgive Magneto’s whiny mommy issues and the fact that Xavier continues to be inexplicably British.

4. Bridesmaids

An example of how not to market a movie. Every piece of promotional material for Bridesmaids compared it to The Hangover, a movie I have less than no desire to see. Thankfully, I listened to the opinions of people I actually trust and I was rewarded with a movie that is perfect on so many levels.

5. Captain America: The First Avenger

Cap was always the one Avenger that I found to be next to impossible to cast. But, man, does Chris Evans capture him perfectly. This movie gets Captain America; it gets that, no matter how strong or fast he is, it’s the man that Steve Rogers was before that makes Cap who he is.

6. Page Eight

A tense, British spy thriller starring Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz. Any one of those things would make this a movie I wanted to see. All of them together? Score.

7. Thor

Not the best of Marvel’s 2011 offerings (sorry, that honor goes to Cap), but Thor was a ton of fun with a lot of heart. I could have done without a lot of the political shenanigans on Asgard and with a lot more Darcy…but, what can you do?

8. Super 8

I grew up on movies like Goonies, Flight of the Navigator, and Explorers. Super 8 recaptured the spirit of those movies and several others.

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Do I even have to explain? I’ll watch all eight movies in a row just to see the last fifteen minutes of Deathly Hallows 2.

10. The Muppets

I saw more than one review that called The Muppets “fan fiction.” I think that’s just a term used by people who think they’re too cool to admit to liking something. This movie was a love letter to a group of characters that we’ve all grown up watching. Deal with it. Also: I’m pretty sure this is what it’s like in Jason Segel’s head 24/7.

Top 10 Comics of 2011

I haven’t really read a single issue of a comic in over a year. But, I do love me some collected trades. Here’s a list of my favorites from the last year. (Note: Not all of these were actually published in 2011.)

1. Locke & Key, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

  

I read the first three trades–Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games, and Crown of Shadows–and, aside from a rather brutal beginning to the first trade, these were pretty darn good. The series is about a family shattered by tragedy, who return to the patriarch’s family home…a mansion in New England with a spooky and mysterious past. Oh, and there are keys: magic keys that possess all sorts of weird powers.

2. Red Robin: The Hit List, by Fabian Nicieza, Marcus To, and Ray McCarthy

I was a little annoyed when DC decided to turn former Robin Tim Drake into Red Robin. Thankfully, Red Robin was one of the best books that DC published in the last few years. This third trade continues the story of Tim Drake trying to find his identity as a former sidekick, and includes a city-wide throwdown between Tim and new Robin Damian Wayne.

3. Atomic Robo: Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell

As a fan of Hellboy, I shouldn’t be surprised that I fell in love with Atomic Robo. This isn’t to say that the two series are completely identical, although both feature main characters who are one-of-a-kind monster-stompers. But, where HB is taciturn and occasionally broody, Robo is much more flippant. The tone of the books are different, as well: Atomic-Robo being much more ’50s sci-fi whiz-bang to Hellboy‘s gothic vibe.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man: Big Time, by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

This is probably the best Spider-Man story that I’ve read in years. There was a huge backlash among fans when Marvel decided to “unmarry” Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson (but, when isn’t there backlash among fans?). Now, while I may not agree with how it was done, I loved the result. I like a single Peter Parker. I like watching him struggle and fumble around women. And, giving Peter a job in an R&D think tank was a stroke of genius. Big Time, indeed.

5. Batgirl: The Flood and Batgirl: The Lesson, by Bryan Q. Miller, Phil Noto, Cully Hamner, Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, and Dustin Nguyen

 

Batgirl was the best comic published in the last few years. The. Best. It was fun and funny. It didn’t skimp on action or thrills. And it featured a hero who actually enjoyed what she did. Stephanie Brown may no longer be Batgirl in the current DC Universe, but she’ll always be one of my favorite characters.

6. Sixth Gun: Cold Dead Fingers and Sixth Gun: Crossroads, by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, and Bill Crabtree

 

Cowboys. Undead Civil War soldiers. Witches. Demons. Voodoo spirits. Gunslingers. Cursed six-shooters. Need I say more?

7. Thor: The Mighty Avenger, by Roger Langridge, Chris Samnee, and Matthew Wilson

 

If you were a fan of the recent Thor movie, these two trades might be for you. Thor: The Mighty Avenger is a fun series that doesn’t concern itself with the often impenetrable decades-long continuity of the Marvel Universe.

8. Young Allies, by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon

The Marvel Universe was a dark place for a while: heroes fighting heroes, alien invasions, Norman Osborn put in charge of the defense of the country. Young Allies was part of Marvel’s “Heroic Age” initiative, a period of rebuilding after the heroes toppled Osborn’s regime. Featuring three awesome characters–Firestar, Spider-Girl, and Nomad–this series got off to a rocky start and was unfortunately cancelled after a handful of issues.

9. Superman: Secret Origin, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal

Prior to DC’s big New 52 relaunch, this was to be “the” Superman origin for the modern age of DC Comics. It reconciles both the numerous Crises that have occurred in the DC Universe, as well as giving a slight nod of the head to Smallville. People always want to know about “jumping on points” for comics and, while I’m not sure if this qualifies, it is a nice, self-contained Superman story that hits upon every chapter in Clark Kent’s life, from farm boy, to reporter, to Man of Steel.

10. Spider-Girl: Family Values, by Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, and Sergio Cariello

If I needed to find a Marvel companion for Batgirl, it would have been Spider-Girl. Like Stephanie Brown, Anya Corazon isn’t overburdened by grief or angst (although her life has been far from easy, and this short-lived series only added to her troubles). Spider-Girl does what she does because it’s the right thing to do, and she enjoys helping the helpless. Also: you gotta love the way Tobin replaced traditional comic book narration with Spider-Girl’s tweets.

Top 10 TV Shows of 2011

A large percentage of my favorite shows tend to be ones that have been on for a few seasons. That being said, there were a few shows that premiered this fall that really stand out in my mind–plus a handful that I think really hit their strides in 2011.

1. Grimm (NBC)

NBC’s Grimm is, at its heart, a police procedural. The main difference here is that the suspects are all critters that inspired fairy tales and the cop is the last Grimm, essentially a criminal profiler who specializes in things that go bump in the night. What separates Grimm from its “ripped from the pages of fairy tales” cousin, Once Upon a Time, is the former show’s premise that, while fairy tales may not be real, the monsters that inspired them are.

2. Young Justice (Cartoon Network)

DC has long been the champ of television animation. Young Justice follows in the footsteps of classics like Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Justice League Unlimited. Unlike these older shows, Young Justice exists in a separate universe, one where superheroes are relatively new and Batman assembles a covert team of teen sidekicks to go on missions that are too sensitive for the higher profile heroes to handle.

3. Unforgettable (CBS)

The premise–a detective who remembers everything she sees–may be a little ridiculous, despite being based on an actual condition, but Unforgettable is a fun little show with an appealing cast of characters. Bonus points may have been added for a main character who is (a) not under 25 years old and (b) played by Poppy Montgomery.

4. Happy Endings (ABC)

I’m not really sure how I missed the first season of Happy Endings, but I did. (Actually, I think it might have had something to do with a lot of chatter about it being similar to a certain sitcom about the epic tale of the search for a female parental unit and, if there’s one thing that bores me, it’s something created solely to suckle at the teat of something that’s already an established success.) Anyways, Happy Endings is thoroughly charming and one of the few genuinely funny sitcoms out there.

5. Person of Interest (CBS)

I grew up watching shows like The A-Team, Knight Rider, and The Equalizer, so a show where Ben Linus and Jesus use a top secret super-computer to fight crime is right up my alley.

6. Up All Night (NBC)

I’m not going to talk about the state of the sitcom on NBC. We all know what happened, so there’s no reason to open up old wounds. That being said, Up All Night is a winner and, despite the programming hoopla, deserves every last ounce of faith that the network has seen fit to bestow upon it.

7. Whitechapel (BBC America)

Whitechapel could have easily taken the Sherlock route and simply presented itself as a modern retelling of the Jack the Ripper crimes. Instead, Whitechapel is a modern police drama in every sense, except in the stories it decides to tell. The first series focussed on a suspect who was meticulously recreated Jack the Ripper’s murders, while the following series tells the story of the heirs to ’60s mobsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray.

8. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

    Community (NBC)

Neither of these shows really blew me away when they premiered, but 2011 became “The Year I Learned to Love Them.” I can’t pick a moment when Community finally clicked for me. Parks and Recreation, however, won me over during its third season with the Leslie/Ben storyline and the April/Andy storyline (man, I hated those two characters until they got together and became adorable).

9. Downton Abbey (PBS)

The show for which the phrase “All British and shit” was invented. Created by Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey has much in common with Gosford Park, which was written by Fellowes. Set prior to the outbreak of World War I, when the British aristocracy was slowly losing ground (figuratively and literally) to the growing middle classes, Downton Abbey is as much social satire as anything written by Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. Also, where else can you see Professor McGonagall and Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (yes, we know who you are) snipe at each other for hours on end?

10. Covert Affairs (USA)

If you liked Alias, but thought that running around trying to find giant balls of mysterious red liquid was a little too pulpy, then Covert Affairs might be for you. If you ignore the oh-so-very-pretty cast (or don’t, it’s your call), Covert Affairs presents a fairly accurate portrayal of what I think being a spy is really like, from the inter-departmental backbiting to the boring stretches of downtime during an op.

I Would Control the Horizontal. I Would Control the Vertical.

I just found out that Winona Ryder will be TCM’s Guest Programmer on December 21. That got me thinking–as these things often do–what movies would I choose to air if, by some miracle, I became famous enough for TCM to bestow such an honor upon me? Would I pick four movies from a particular genre? How about four movies that shared a similar theme?

Here’s the problem I encountered: I like a lot of movies. A lot. What can I say? I just like things. I’m a liker. I could easily come up with a list of ten or twenty “classic” movies that I’d want to show. So, in the end, I just picked the first four* movies that popped into my head.

1. His Girl Friday (1940)

Intelligent, forthright, and tough: there is nothing better in this world than a Hawksian woman. And, when I think of that particular archetype, I think Hildy Johnson.

2. The Thin Man (1934)

I love this movie. So much. William Powell and Myrna Loy are brilliant. All I want out of life is a banter-filled marriage like Nick and Nora’s.

3. Animal Crackers (1930)

Of course I would have to include a Marx Brothers movie. But, which one? Asking me to pick a favorite Marx movie is like asking someone else to pick a favorite child. So, I just went with the first one I ever saw.

4. The Invisible Man (1933)

My favorite H.G. Wells novel and my favorite Universal horror movie. Keep your Avatars and your Jar-Jars, the effects in this movie are still amazing.

*: In order to fill an entire night’s schedule, most TCM Guest Programmers choose four movies, unless one of them is particularly epic in length.