Category Archives: books

In Praise of Rick Riordan

I’m about half-way through the second book in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan, and before 2016 ends, I wanted to tell you all that you should be reading Riordan’s books (if you are not already).

You may have heard of Rick Riordan. He created Percy Jackson. Percy Jackson is a regular kid from NYC, who also happens to be the son of Poseidon. The first Percy Jackson series introduced the world to Camp Half-Blood and the demigods who trained there, preparing to go on whatever quests the Oracle sent them on. This series came out during the height of Potter-Mania, and was probably unfairly overshadowed by Rowling’s masterpiece.

moms-cheat-sheet-percy-jackson-feature

Anyway, from there, Riordan wrote a trilogy about Carter and Sadie Kane, siblings who also happen to be magicians loyal to the Egyptian gods. He wrote a second round of Percy Jackson books that introduced the Roman equivalents of the Greek demigods of Camp Half-Blood, a series of short stories were the Greek demigods meet the Egyptian magicians. Then came Magnus Chase, followed closely by a new series about Apollo.

untitled-1

heroes-of-olympus

These books are brilliant for several reasons. First of all, they treat each pantheon as individuals. The Egyptian gods are not just rehashes of the Greek gods with different names. A Greek demigod does not have the same motivations that an Egyptian magician has, and no one has the same motivations as an Asgardian einherjar.

Second, these books feel like superhero stories to me. Whether Percy is calling forth a tidal wave or Carter Kane is summoning mecha-sized mystical Horus armor or Magnus Chase is using his healing powers, it all feels like reading about young superheroes learning about their powers. Whenever I think writing superhero prose the way I want to write it is impossible, I pick up one of Riordan’s books and get inspired anew.

If you like superheroes and mythology, and you’re not afraid to be seen reading middle-grade fiction, go and grab some Rick Riordan books.

2012: The Year In…

Usually, I write up a bunch of Top 10 lists to end the year. Unfortunately, as some of you may know, I had a bit of a meteorological problem a few months back and lost all of the notes I had been keeping regarding my year in entertainment. So, instead of four separate Top 10 lists, I’m just going to give you all one post where I info-dump everything I can recall about what I liked this year.

BOOKS:

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

9361589

There’s a reason the haunted/otherworldly traveling circus/carnival has been used as a setting for stories more times than I can remember. That reason is: It works! Morgenstern’s novel revolves around the doomed love between the apprentices of two feuding sorcerers; however, for me, the best parts were about the goings-on at the Night Circus itself, particularly the story of circus-born twins Poppet and Widget.

Cold Days, by Jim Butcher

12216302

Here’s the deal: Jim Butcher releases a Harry Dresden novel and it goes on the Best of list for that year. End of story. I feel about this series the way a lot of people feel about the Harry Potter series.

The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan

The_Mark_of_Athena

I really do love the kids from Camp Half-Blood. I’ve been amazed at Riordan’s ability to weave genuine Greek myth into a modern setting since The Lightning Thief, but the mythology geek in me was blown away by the way he’s decided to address the whole Greek god/Roman god quandary.

Phoenix Rising, by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

phoenix-rising

Phoenix Rising is the first book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. The best way I can explain it is to compare it to that episode of Warehouse 13 where we got a glimpse of what it was like when H.G. worked as a Warehouse agent in Victorian England. Eliza Braun is a dynamite-loving, armored corset-wearing Ministry field agent who finds herself saddled with a new partner: the prim and proper archivist Wellington Books. Needless to say, there are steampunk-fueled shenanigans aplenty.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

ReadyPlayerOnePB

I’m always wary of anything that’s held up as “OMG Like Totally The New Bible of Geek Culture!!!!!111!!!1!!” Nine times out of ten, I can see the oily, pandering fingerprints of someone’s marketing department all over them. This is not the case with Ready Player One. A joy from start to finish, RP1 never felt like it was just trying to cash in on “geek culture” with a few carefully placed references to Star Wars or video games–other than a rather obvious “OMG HE KNOWS WHAT THE INTERNET IS!!!!!” reference to Wil Wheaton.

TELEVISION:

Gravity Falls (Disney Channel)

I’m not really sure what to say about Gravity Falls. I will say that, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best thing to come from the Disney Channel since Kim Possible. It’s also leagues better than anything I’ve been able to find on Cartoon Network in a long time.

The Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon)

The Legend of Korra is as different from The Last Airbender as a show could possibly be. Set in the generation following A:TLA, Korra focuses on the new Avatar, a waterbender named Korra. Aang’s world was a world of feudal states, kings, and farmers; Korra’s world is a world of industry, airships, and steam power. The animation has matured, becoming less stylized than the designs used in TLA, and the writing has matured, as well, presenting a darker storyline than that of the original series. Bring on the second season!

Bunheads (ABC Family)

Let’s face it, you are never going to recreate the adorable charm and whimsy of Gilmore Girls. Not gonna happen. But, with Bunheads, Amy Sherman-Palladino returns to what made GG so good, a town full of maniacs. Riding a Northern Exposure-like wave, Bunheads replaces a New York doctor with a Vegas showgirl, and small-town Alaska with small-town California. Yes, Sutton Foster’s Michelle is a cynical, slightly edgier version of Lorelai Gilmore, but you fall in love with her just the same. And, if your heart doesn’t melt when shy, awkward Boo finally dances with Carl–to “Rainbow Connection”, at that!–then you have no soul.

***

Finally, I’d like to take this time to thank the creators, cast, and crew of Leverage for five seasons of pulp goodness. This was a show that pushed every single button I have, sometimes at the same time. Never has it felt like a group of people sat down and decided to make something solely for my enjoyment. Thank you. All of you. Thank you.

MOVIES:

Avengers

I paid to see this movie in the theater three times. I have never done that before and probably won’t do it again. (Okay, maybe I’ll do it for Avengers 2…only time will tell.) The point is: this is the movie I have been waiting for since the night I saw X-Men.

Skyfall

I’ve not been a big fan of the Daniel Craig Era of James Bond; I miss the camp-fueled insanity of Classic Bond. Skyfall did a good job of taking a lot of the tropes from the older Bond movies and either incorporating them wholesale (could Javier Bardem’s villain be any more like Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill?) or, at least, tipping its hat to them. I’m a tad annoyed that the new Q looks like a background character from Portlandia or Flight of the Conchords…but, the new Moneypenny? Yes. More of the new Moneypenny, please.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A lot of people are all cranky about making one book into three movies. As someone who can read, I realize that so much shit happens between the lines in that book that you could probably turn The Hobbit into a six-season series HBO. Also, and this is the heart of the matter, Peter Jackson can make a Middle-earth movie every year until he dies and I will pay money to see that shit. Why? Because they are just so damned pretty.

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom manages to be like every other Wes Anderson movie ever made and unlike every other Wes Anderson movie ever made. Visually, musically, verbally, Moonrise Kingdom uses all of the standard Anderson tropes. But, where it differs from–and, I’d argue, surpasses–Anderson’s other movies is innocence. Moonrise Kingdom is his most innocent film to date. It’s utterly charming, without resorting to the usual undercurrent of snark, dysfunction, and melancholia that you usually find in a Wes Anderson movie.

The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is what it must have been like to be inside Joss Whedon’s brain while he was creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Brave

Brave was the most fun that I’ve had in a Pixar movie since The Incredibles. I’m glad that the good folks at Pixar are still able to make a movie that doesn’t reduce grown men to blubbering, emotionally-destroyed shells of their former selves (I’m lookin’ at you, Up). Bows! Gingers! Scots! This movie had it all.

COMICS:

Daredevil

ddmwv1mphc_cover-576

I’ve always liked Daredevil. I’ve also always been confused as to why the only kind of Daredevil books that sell are ones that follow Frank Miller’s Watchmen-ization of the character. Daredevil is a guy who jumped from rooftop to rooftop in bright red and yellow tights. Grim and broody he is not. And that is why I want to thank Mark Waid. Yes, Matt Murdock’s life has been absolute shit for the last few years, but he realizes if he doesn’t lighten up, he’s gonna wake up one day and swallow a bullet. Mark Waid is responsible for making Daredevil a swashbuckler again and we should all send him a muffin basket.

Captain Marvel

Captain-Marvel_7-674x1024

I can’t gush enough about this book. I love Carol Danvers. I loved her when she was Ms. Marvel and, if it’s possible, I love her even more since she was “promoted” to Captain Marvel. Kelly Sue DeConnick can do no wrong (as far as I’m concerned, Marvel Comics is just KSD and Mark Waid in a tiny room with some artists, cranking out comics).

Indestructible Hulk

2719226-indestructible_hulk_vol_1_2__no_bar_code_

Just like he did with Daredevil, Mark Waid offers up a Hulk concept that’s so simple it should have occurred to someone ages ago. Bruce Banner, annoyed that Tony Stark and Reed Richards get all the credit for using their big brains to make the world a better place, agrees to work for SHIELD. He will invent amazing shit for them every day and, if he ever needs to blow off some steam, SHIELD tells him where to aim the Hulk. Simple. Amazing.

Avengers Assemble

MOCT120615

Avengers Assemble is a no strings attached title for folks who just want to see the Avengers being superheroes. It started as an obvious tie-in to the Avengers movie (the team consisted of Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye), but has since found a nice balance between being in and out of continuity at the same time–the characters behave like their standard Marvel Universe counterparts, but the stories seem to take place without regard to what is happening in the other Avengers titles. As far as I’m concerned, this is the only Avengers title Marvel needs. While I’m sending Waid that muffin basket, I should order a second one for Kelly Sue DeConnick.

Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons-and-Dragons-1-Cover-B-2010

John Rogers, the co-creator of TV’s Leverage, shows that a group of competent, bickering characters can work in any genre.

The Sixth Gun

1334771516

The other day, it occurred to me that The Sixth Gun is, basically, the western equivalent of Hellboy. The mythology that Cullen Bunn is creating around the six eldritch revolvers and the various characters hellbent on acquiring them is as layered and complex as anything that Mike Mignola has come up with. Gunslingers. Zombies. Wendigos. Voodoo spirits. Secret Societies. Golems. Mummies. If you want it, it’s probably in an issue of The Sixth Gun.

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.

And the Winner of Shotgun Opera is…

…Richard Lake!

Congrats to the winner and thanks to everyone who entered. More giveaways to come.

Book Giveaway!!

Time to clear out my bookshelves again.

This time, I’m giving away my copy of Shotgun Opera, by Victor Gischler.

Here’s what Amazon has to say about it:

Mike Foley can never forget the night he tagged along with his brother on a job for the mob that ended in a hail of bullets. Now his brother is dead, Mike’s making wine in Oklahoma, and life is almost as good as it gets when you’ve been hiding out for forty years. Until his past comes calling.

Mike’s nephew Andrew needs to disappear, and he needs to do it yesterday. Hanging with the wrong kind of friends, he’s seen something he shouldn’t have, and now he’s running for his life with an assassin on his trail. The consummate professional hit woman, Nikki Enders is the most lethal of a deadly sisterhood. And Andrew Foley is next on her extermination list. Unless Uncle Mike can stop her. As kill teams descend on Foley’s farm, one pissed-off ex—tough guy is about to take a final, all-or-nothing stand with shotguns blazing….

 

Want a free book? Just leave a comment before midnight on Wednesday, January 19 and hope for the best.

 

Year-End Roundup

All in one place, for your reading pleasure…

My Favorite Books of 2010

 

My Favorite Movies of 2010

 

My Favorite TV Shows of 2010

 

And a little something extra…

 

Come on, 2011. Bring it!

Top 10 Books of 2010

It’s time again. Time for a deluge of end of year lists…and why should I be left out of the fun?

We’re going to start with books (for absolutely no reason). As with previous years, these books were not necessarily published in 2010, but that is the calendar year in which I read them. I’ve added an additional rule (hey, it’s my list): I read a lot of series; so, where applicable, I’m including all of the books in a series that I’ve read this year as a single item.

Here we go…

1. Changes and Side Jobs, by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files)

I love Harry Dresden. I’m not going to lie. Butcher’s wizard/private detective is equal parts Peter Parker and Philip Marlowe. Changes is the latest full-length novel featuring Dresden and company and, let me tell you, the title ain’t no lie. Side Jobs is a collection of short stories (some previously unpublished) set in the Dresdenverse. I’m glad these stories were finally all collected in one volume, since my desire to read all things Dresden has been fighting with my general lack of interest regarding anthologies (which is where most of these stories first appeared).

2. The Titan’s Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth, by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & The Olympians series)

Cue Internet rage: I actually like Percy Jackson more than I like Harry Potter. This doesn’t mean that Rowling’s series isn’t fantastic. But, while Hogwarts prepares young witches and wizards for a life of government jobs, Camp Half-Blood trains demi-gods to be heroes. Heroes. Monster-battling, innocent-saving heroes. What I like most about this series is how grounded it is in the actual mythology of ancient Greece. It’s also fun trying to guess the modern-day disguise of a particular god or monster.

3. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire series)

I had A Game of Thrones sitting on my bookshelf for about two years, ever since a friend recommended it to me after I was lamenting how all epic fantasy I’ve encountered read like Lord of the Rings after a find-and-replace. I was hooked almost immediately–I’ve already acquired the next three books in the series. Although A Game of Thrones is epic fantasy, it reads a lot more like Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction. Plus it has a dwarf.

4. Spade & Archer, by Joe Gores

I admit that, as far as hard-boiled detectives go, I’m a bigger fan of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe than I am of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. One of the reasons for this is that there are just more Marlowe stories out there; you get one chance to hang out with Spade and, for me, it just wasn’t enough to for any kind of connection. Spade & Archer gave me a chance to spend a little more time with Sam Spade. Here, Spade has just left the Continental Ops and moved to San Francisco to start his solo career. Gores manages to do something that Hammett couldn’t: he got me to connect with Sam Spade.

5. My Soul to Save, My Soul to Keep, and Reaper, by Rachel Vincent (Soul Screamers series)

Kaylee Cavanaugh–the teenage bean sidhe of Vincent’s Soul Screamers series–continues to be one of my favorite fictional characters. With each book in the series, Vincent adds more layers to her world of banshees, reapers, and demons. And, as a gift for her fans, Vincent recently released a novella starring Tod Hudson, reaper and dead brother of Kaylee’s boyfriend Nash. The next book in the series is scheduled to be released at the end of December or the beginning of January (reports vary) and I can’t wait.

6. City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments series)

City of Glass is the third book in Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. Initially the final installment in a trilogy (which has since been expanded to six books), City of Glass does a nice job of concluding the main conflict of the series, while leaving enough plot threads unresolved to form a believable bridge between the first three books and the next three.

7. The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan (The Kane Chronicles)

Set in the same universe as Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, The Red Pyramid introduces us to Carter and Sadie Kane, estranged siblings and descendants of Egyptian pharaohs. Riordan shows the same attention to detail he did when adapting Greek mythology for Percy Jackson; his portrayal of Egyptian myth and religion is not simply a rehash of Greek stories with different names–instead, the world of The Red Pyramid illustrates just how different Egyptian mythology was from the Greco-Roman myths that we’re most familiar with.

8. Cursor’s Fury, Captain’s Fury, and Princeps’ Fury, by Jim Butcher (Codex Alera series)

In addition to being one of the first fantasy series in a long time to actually hold my interest (I started reading these books before I read A Game of Thrones), Codex Alera provides an interesting counterpoint to Butcher’s Dresden Files series. While Dresden possesses powers in a world of (relatively) powerless individuals, Tavi–the protagonist of the Codex Alera series–is powerless in a society where everyone possesses the ability to control one or more natural elements. I also really enjoy how the world in this series is based on the Roman Empire, rather than the usual medieval Europe model found in a lot of fantasy.

9. The Hunt for Atlantis and The Tomb of Hercules, by Andy McDermott (Wilde and Chase series)

I have a degree in archaeology. This means that I was greatly affected by the Indiana Jones movies as a kid. That also means that I continue to be drawn to treasure hunting, action-adventure stories. McDermott’s series is just that. The first book, The Hunt for Atlantis, introduces us to archaeologist Nina Wilde and her ex-SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase. There are mercenaries and secret societies and betrayals. But, there’s also treasure. And deathtraps. And a spunky ginger archaeologist.

10. The Stepsister Scheme, The Mermaid’s Madness, and Red Hood’s Revenge, by Jim C. Hines (Princess series)

At some point within the last decade or so, someone decided that we’re going to rewrite classic fairy tales with either modern settings, modern sensibilities, or snarky social commentary. This is not what Hines has done with the Princess novels. Yes, he’s given somewhat twisted spins to the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Little Red Riding Hood. But, more than that, he’s turned these characters into action heroes. The three princesses of the series name–Danielle (Cinderella), Talia (Sleeping Beauty), and Snow (White)–are magical Charlie’s Angels, secret agents working for Danielle’s mother-in-law, Queen Beatrice. See, there was a reason why I tore through three of these books in one year. Now, when does the fourth come out…