Tag Archives: 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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…

Top 10 Books of 2009

It is once again time for the Internet–that glorious collection of tubes–to overflow with “best of” lists. This year, I actually kept a list of every book I read, which caused an interesting problem when it came to picking just ten to include on this list. So, because I am the king of this little kingdom, I’ve decided to cheat. If I happened to write a review of a book during the year, it will not appear on this list and will, instead, appear as a link at the end of this post. It’s good to be king.

What follows is a list of the ten (remaining) books that I read this year and thoroughly enjoyed. And, like always, they were not necessarily published in 2009, I simply read them in 2009. So, in no particular order:

1. Hunt at the Well of Eternity, by Gabriel Hunt

I grew up on the Indiana Jones movies. I love ridiculous globe-trotting adventures of a pulpy nature. That’s what this series, from the good folks at Dorchester Publishing, is all about. If you’re adult enough to realize that sometimes a book can just be a rippin’ yarn without trying to teach you anything, then follow treasure hunter Gabriel Hunt as he straps on his Colt revolver and rescues damsels, punches thugs, and searches for the Fountain of Youth.

2. Dull Boy, by Sarah Cross

Dull Boy is the story of Avery Pirzwick, a typical teenager who just happens to have superpowers. As he learns to deal with his abilities, Avery is unwittingly drafted into a team of similarly gifted teens. Cross is obviously a hardcore comic fan and not just following along with the latest popular trend, and it shows in her writing. If you like YA fiction or superheroes, you should read this book. Stat.

3. The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, by Robert E. Howard

I really love Howard’s Conan stories, so I was looking forward to checking out one of his other characters. Solomon Kane, the Puritan swordsman, is a great character: equal parts Conan and The Man With No Name. The only problem I had with this collection was the lack of variety in the stories. Kane is a wanderer, but the bulk of the stories take place in either England or Africa.

4. City of Ashes, by Cassandra Clare

The second book in Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy (or, is it a tetralogy now?). Clary Fray–who continues to be one of my favorite characters in modern literature–is still trying to find her place in the world of the demon-slaying Shadowhunters. If the angsty teen love triangles aren’t for you, the Buffy-esque humor and action scenes will probably make up for it.

5. Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher

The latest book in Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. Get used to seeing these books on my end of year list, since a new one comes out every year and they continue to be awesome. This time around, Harry finds himself trying to save the reputation (and life) of someone who has made most of his adult life a living hell.

6. Death of a Doxy, by Rex Stout

Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe, and Archie Goodwin never disappoint.

7. Black and White, by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge

An interesting counterpoint to Cross’s Dull Boy, Black and White is set in the near future, where superheroes are trained, branded, and owned by corporations. Jet is the hero of New Chicago; Iridium is a wanted vigilante. But, these two rivals used to be best friends. Alternating between Jet’s POV and Iridium’s, the narrative bounces back and forth from the present to the past, when hero and villain were both students at an elite academy for superheroes-in-training.

8. The Last Oracle, by James Rollins

Another in Rollins’s Sigma Force novels. This entry finds the scientist-soldiers of Sigma facing a radical faction within the former Soviet Union that’s intent on bringing forth a new Russian Renaissance, even if it means irradiating the world’s leaders with the remaining fallout from Chernobyl. There are also gypsies, psychic twins, and a chimpanzee with a brain implant.

9. Heretic, by Bernard Cornwell

For my money, no one writes historical action scenes like Cornwell. The final book in his Grail Quest Trilogy is just as action-packed as the first two volumes. Heretic follows Thomas of Hookton on his reluctant quest for the Holy Grail, but does so in a thoroughly realistic manner. While Cornwell’s characters may believe that the Grail is real and possesses supernatural powers, he never once lets that hocus-pocus invade his historically accurate prose.

10. The Lightning Thief & The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan

         

Riordan’s series about Percy Jackson is not a rip-off of Harry Potter (or, if it is, than the Harry Potter series is a rip-off of Oliver Twist). Percy isn’t a wizard, he’s a demigod. That’s right, Mavis, a demigod. He’s the son of Poseidon, the motherfucking god of the earth and sea. Percy (short for Perseus–yeah, he’s not sure why either) fights monsters, goes on quests, and trains at a summer camp called Camp Half-Blood. There’s a lot of fun world-building going on in this series to explain how gods and monsters from Greek myth are currently residing in the United States–Mount Olympus appearing atop the Empire State Building? Hades ruling beneath Los Angeles? Sure, why not. If anything, I’d say that these books are more like a middle grade version of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods than the story about the Boy Who Lived.

Very Honorable Mentions:

My Soul to Take, by Rachel Vincent

Magic Lost, Trouble Found, by Lisa Shearin

The Codex Alera series, by Jim Butcher

 

Top 10 Books of 2008

As the year ends, people start rolling out their lists of the best whatevers of the year.  Why should I be any different?  So, like I did last year, I’ve compiled a list of the ten best books that I read in 2008 (even if they weren’t published in 2008).

1. The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, by Paul Malmont

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The reason I like reading historical fiction is the chance of seeing actual historical figures popping up in the story.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.  It works in Malmont’s novel, which tells the story of some of the greatest pulp authors of the ’20s and ’30s coming together to solve a mystery worthy of the Golden Age of Pulps.

2. City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare

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I’d never have read City of Bones if it hadn’t been recommended to me.  I’m glad it was.  Clare’s novel–about a girl who finds herself thrust into a world of magic, demons, and demon hunters–appealed to the Buffy, Harry Potter, and Harry Dresden fan in me.  City of Bones is the first book of a trilogy, and I’ll be coming back for books two and three.

3. Vagabond, by Bernard Cornwell

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The sequel to Cornwell’s The Archer’s Tale (which made last year’s list), continues the story of Thomas of Hookton, archer and unwilling seeker of the Holy Grail.  Again, Cornwell doesn’t skimp on the brutalities of war (and life) during the Hundred Years’ War. 

4. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, by Robert E. Howard

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As a child of the ’80s, Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer have a certain place in my heart.  But, as much as I love these movies, they can’t compare to the original source material.  Howard’s Conan is the shit, pure and simple.  If Lord of the Rings is a classical symphony, than Howard’s Conan stories are thrash metal–Conan punches, strangles, stabs, or slices anyone (or anything) that gets in his way.  He’s also not above thieving or dallying with the occasional maiden.

5. The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell

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There’s a reason that Vowell’s book is the only piece of non-fiction on this list.  That reason is this: Sarah Vowell is awesome.  No, I’m serious.  As a history dork how could I not love Vowell’s historical dorkiness?  Plus, she’s not afraid to make liberal references to popular culture.  It also doesn’t hurt that she was the voice of Violet in The Incredibles.  This time around, Vowell turns her particular brand of historical analysis upon the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

6. DC: The New Frontier, by Darwyn Cooke

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I’m not really sure where to start with Cooke’s New Frontier.  It’s the story of DC’s Silver Age heroes, with none of the “gee-whiz” nostalgia often ascribed to the era.  No, Cooke’s story is a Cold War story, with all of the paranoia one would expect from the McCarthy Era.  Also of note is Cooke’s art, which balances detail and economy of line.

7. White Night & Small Favor, by Jim Butcher

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Butcher’s Dresden Files series is, hands down, my favorite book series currently in print (possibly of all time, I’ll get back to you on that).  These two titles, the most current of the series, continues the tale of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practicing professional wizard, as he deals with the escalating war between the wizards and the vampires, demons, faeries, as well as a possible traitor within the White Council, the governing body of the wizard community.  How much do I love these books?  Well, I broke my rule about not mixing paperback and hardcover books within a series and actually bought Small Favor in hardcover.

8. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

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Gaiman’s newest book tells the story of Nobody Owens, a boy raised by the ghosts of the eponymous graveyard.  Early reviews of the book described it as being a retelling of Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  Now, the only exposure I’ve had to Kipling’s stories is from the old Disney movie, but I think it’s a valid comparison–from Nobody’s stern guardian (clearly a revised Bagheera) to the menacing figure stalking the Owens boy (can you say “Shere Khan”?  I knew that you could).

9. The Shadow: Crime, Insured, by Walter Gibson & Doc Savage: Dust of Death, by Lester Dent

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I’d heard about the re-issued Shadow and Doc Savage stories for a while, and I’d wanted to check them out.  Then I read Malmont’s Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, and I had to read them.  Both of these are just good, old-fashioned fun.  If you like a darker, noir-inspired crime story, check out The Shadow.  If two-fisted, globe-trotting do-goodery is more your speed, then you’ll love Doc Savage.  Hey, would I steer you wrong?

10. X-Men: Messiah CompleX, by Ed Brubaker, Mike Carey, Peter David, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost

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I’d given up on the X-Men around the time that Grant Morrison was writing them.  I’d tried to keep up with the basic premise of what was happening, until I had enough of Marvel all together.  Then something funny happened: DC pissed me off and I gave Marvel a second chance.  I really liked what Brubaker was doing in Uncanny X-Men, so I thought I’d give Messiah CompleX a shot.  I wasn’t disappointed.  After the events of House of M, mutants are a species rapidly approaching extinction, until a mutant child is finally born.  That sets off a race to find the baby and, depending on who succeeds, either protect or destroy it.

Top 10 Books of 2007

‘Tis the season for lists of this sort.  However, unlike most other Top 10 of the Year lists, not all of these books came out in 2007 (hell, some of them are almost as old as I am!)…I just happened to read them in 2007.  So, in no particular order, here we go:

1. The Big Nowhere, by James Ellroy

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The second book in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet.  Like the first book, The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere builds upon actual events: the Sleepy Lagoon murder case and the Zoot Suit Riots.  A brutal string of sex murders is rocking L.A., but the Law is too busy hunting down Commies to give a damn.  There are three separate storylines that all slowly come together.  The best one?  The story of Buzz Meeks–disgraced cop turned mob bag-man.

2. The Archer’s Tale, by Bernard Cornwell

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Set during the Hundred Years’ War, this first book of Cornwell’s Grail Quest Trilogy,  introduces readers to a young archer named Thomas of Hookton.  The Archer’s Tale doesn’t try to sugarcoat history: the mid-14th Century was a pretty bad time not to be royalty, and Cornwell doesn’t hesitate covering his archers and infantrymen in blood, gore, mud, and shit.  Oh, and for sheer entertainment value, Cornwell throws in a family secret, multiple sackings, revenge, and what may be the Holy Grail.

3. The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie

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So, imagine that Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe found himself dropped into the middle of a Robert Ludlum novel.  Now imagine that the entire thing is told to you by Bertie Wooster.  That’s pretty much all you need to know about Laurie’s espionage pastiche about government conspiracies, arms-dealing, and being in the absolute worst place at the absolute worst time.

4. The Templar Legacy, by Steve Berry

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Poor Steve Berry…he’s been unfortunate enough to get lumped together with dozens of post-DaVinci Code authors.  I understand the comparison.  Many of Berry’s books have cryptic historical puzzles that need to be decoded.  There are frequently Church conspiracies and cover-ups.  But, I’ll be honest, Berry is a much better writer than Dan Brown (and I enjoyed Brown’s two Robert Langdon books).  The Templar Legacy begins when former U.S. government agent Cotton Malone, now a bookseller in Copenhagen, witnesses a purse-snatcher commit some kind of ritual suicide.  From there, Malone is pulled into the search for the fabled archives of the Knights Templar, which reportedly contains information that would destroy modern Christianity.

5. IT, by Stephen King

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After over 15 years, I decided to revisit King’s classic about an evil force that masquerades as an evil clown in a small Maine community.  I had forgotten how truly fucked-up IT actually was–and if you’ve read the book, you understand why it’s so funny that I have forgotten details over time.  It’s not scary, per se (although I’m the first to admit that I don’t scare easily), but it is quite disturbing in the “small-town conspiracy of silence” way, like another of King’s novels, ‘Salem’s Lot

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

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I feel like anyone who doesn’t know what the deal is with this book probably (a) doesn’t own a computer, or (b) has no idea what the internet is.  What I will say about the final book in the epic story of “The Boy Who Lived” is this: despite a few hiccups, it really is an amazing book.  I feel like Rowling kind of beats us over the head a bit with the “This is just what Nazi Germany was like and our society is heading there, too” metaphor, but I credit her with creating the kind of suspense that has you worried that some beloved character will die at any moment (she delivers, of course, but the near-misses are the ones that really get your heart racing).

7. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

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Fans of Moore and O’Neill’s first two League volumes rejoice.  It is now the 1950s, and Moore’s alternate Britain has finally emerged out from under the oppressive regime of Orwell’s 1984.  Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain are on the run from British Intelligence–including a gadget-laden, thuggish lad named Jimmy–after stealing the titular Black Dossier.  Once again, Moore shows that he’s not only read every book ever written, but he can also copy the writing styles of countless writers from numerous centuries (his “lost” Shakespeare play is a prime example).  However, Moore doesn’t limit himself to literary characters, as this volume also includes references to characters from music, film, TV, and radio.  Despite the total awesomeness of the book, I think I would have preferred a straight comic narrative with the excerpts from the Dossier in the beginning and the end, rather than having them inserted into the current storyline.

8. Proven Guilty, by Jim Butcher

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In Butcher’s eighth Harry Dresden novel, Harry–the only professional wizard to advertise in Chicago’s Yellow Pages–is given the unfortunate task of bringing his best friend’s daughter before the wizard’s ruling body, The White Council, for breaking laws she didn’t know existed.  To make matters worse, Harry has to deal with the seductive spirit of a Fallen Angel that’s taken up residence in his subconscious, as well as the on-going war between the Wizards and the Vampires.  Luckily, Harry’s got friends on his side who’ll back him up when his do-gooder tendencies get him in over his head.

9. Black Order, by James Rollins

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James Rollins grew up on adventures stories about Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, and Tarzan.  He turned his love of adventure stories into a career as an author of techno-thriller adventure stories.  Black Order is the third novel featuring Rollins’ Sigma Force–a top-secret unit of Special Forces soldiers who also happen to hold doctorates in various scientific disciplines.  These “soldier scientists” are tasked with defending America’s technological superiority, and this time around that involves hunting down a device that fundamentally alters a creature’s DNA.  Did I mention that this device was built in the 1940s by the Nazis and that Sigma Force has to outrace two factions of still-active Nazis with differing philosophies?

10. Hack/Slash: First Cut, by Tim Seeley, Stefan Caselli, and Federica Manfredi

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Another comic book, this one about young Cassie Hack and her hulking, simple-minded sidekick, Vlad.  Cassie was the sole survivor of the serial killer called the “Lunch Lady”, who also happened to be Cassie’s mom and a Slasher–a person who is filled with so much rage at the time of their deaths that they come back from the grave as an unstoppable killing machine.  Cassie and Vlad travel the country, hunting down and dispatching Slashers wherever they find them–think a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural.  This volume collects the first three Hack/Slash one-shots, which were followed by subsequent one-shots and an ongoing series in May of 2007.