Friday, April 30, 2010

Edgar Award Winners and Everything Old is New Again

The Edgar Award winners have been announced! As usual with most awards, I'm more interested in reading the books that didn't win rather than those that did. If you read any of these, chime in.

And now from the "Everything Old Is New Again" category: Yesterday I drove over to a comic shop I hadn't been to in nearly ten years when I sold just about my entire collection of comics. It was a day of mixed emotions: I knew I had to make space in our new house and six long boxes of comics were just taking up too much room. Yet I hated to part with them. Some of them I'd collected since I was twelve years old, Silver-Age Spider-Man comics from as early as #18, Fantastic Four issues from the early #30s and more.

But yesterday I went to pick up comics for Free Comic Book Day at the library. I got in a conversation with the owner, the same guy I'd sold my comics to ten years ago. He remembered me and the transaction. I'll never forget that day ten years ago when I left and he'd said "When you're ready to get back into it (collecting comics), stop on in." I told him that, yes, I am back into it now in a manner of speaking, but I'm mainly buying graphic novels rather than individual comics, since they are much easier to store in bookcases.

"Tell you what," he says. "Any graphic novel you like - take 50% off!"

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah, I'm serious."


So I pick up a hardcover edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum, a graphic novel I'd parted with in the collection I'd sold him ten years ago, one that has gone on to become something of a classic.

I left and got to the library and opened the book. I looked at it closely. This graphic novel has been reprinted many times, but this certainly looked like a first edition. Actually it looked like my first edition, the one I'd originally bought in a comic shop in Germantown, Tennessee in 1989 and sold to this guy in 2000. I didn't write my name in books in those days, but I did have a really stupid habit of putting labels carrying my name/address/phone number in the endpages. Sure enough, I saw sticker residue on the front endpage.

This was my graphic novel.

And at half-price it only cost me $12.50.

Let me tell you, it was worth every cent.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Books Bought April

The Skylark (2010) - Peter Straub

I was so zipped up after reading the slimmer version of the same novel A Dark Matter that I ordered the longer (200 pages longer, to be exact) version, The Skylark. Straub never ceases to amaze me. Creepy, supernatural, ultra-well-developed characters and a story you think about for days (or weeks) afterward. More Straub, please.

Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle (2010)

I've never read a Peter S. Beagle story I didn't like. Every time I finish one, I think, "Man, I should read more stuff by this guy." Now I can.

Planetary Vol. 2: The Fourth Man (GN 2001) - Warren Ellis, John Cassaday

The Planetary saga is now complete, but I've only read Volume 1. Time to catch up.

Kane Vol. 1: Greetings from New Eden (GN 2002) - Paul Grist

This book was highly recommended in Kennenburg's 500 Essential Graphic Novels, but I've never encountered anyone who'd read it. I figured since I picked it up at a used bookstore for store credit, it wouldn't exactly send me into depression if it's not all that.

Gregor the Overlander (J-Fic 2003) - Suzanne Collins

Orangerful has lately been singing (well, okay, speaking) the praises of this series and since I really like Collins's writing in The Hunger Games series, picking this one up on store credit was a no-brainer.

Kafka on the Shore (2005) - Haruki Murakami

A World Fantasy Award winner from a few years back. I listened to this one on audio a couple of years ago and was utterly captivated. You can't really talk about plot when discussing Murakami; just hang on and enjoy the surrealistic ride. Store credit - Cost: nada.

Zeroville (2007) - Steve Erickson

My favorite novel from 2007, one I wanted to own as soon as I read it. An ex-seminary student with a tattoo of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor on his bald head arrives in Hollywood in 1969, obsessed with the movies. A wild ride that I hoped would never end. Can't wait to revisit it. Another store credit "purchase."

Hellboy Library Edition Volume 3: Conqueror Worm and Strange Places (GN 2009) - Mike Mignola

I've been on quite a Hellboy kick lately. I've borrowed the first two library editions from (where else?) the library and enjoyed them enough to know I'd like to own them. This volume came up on a Scratch & Dent sale at Things From Another World at half-price, so that was all the incentive I needed. Mignola rocks.

That's what I bought in April. Really, that's all. At least I think it is. Hey, what's this package on my desk?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Okay, Stop Everything...

That Dan Simmons, he's a wild man. Here's his new novel, Black Hills, about a young Sioux warrior named Paha Sapa, who witnesses the death of General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. Oh, did I mention that Custer's spirit decides to inhabit the Paha's body? And that Paha, later in life, works as a dynamite handler at the site of Mount Rushmore, just as the site is about to be visited by FDR?

For me, this is one of those "Drop everything and read this NOW!" books. Darn that Dan Simmons....

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Book Would You Memorize?

In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Clarisse introduces Montag to an underground society that has kept books and literature alive by memorizing them. My friend D. and I were talking about that scene yesterday between services at church. She wondered if there would be books in heaven. I told her I hoped so. She said if the Fahrenheit 451 scene played itself out in heaven with people memorizing books of the Bible, she'd like to have the Gospel of John. I told her that with my faulty memory, Philemon would probably be all I could handle.

So what book would you want to memorize? Don't let the difficulties of memorization hinder your choice. Just imagine you could memorize any book, but make it one book. Which would you choose? And why?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Testing

My last two posts didn't cross over into Facebook, so this is a test, only a test.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn (GN 2010) - Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Philip Tan

Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn (GN 2010) - Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Philip Tan

If you haven't been keeping up with Batman lately (and no, watching The Dark Knight doesn't count) you might want to brush up on your Batman Encyclopedia or at least check out his Wikipedia articles. You learn early on in Batman Reborn that this is not your typical Bruce Wayne/Batman adventure. This one's got some serious family baggage that might leave you scratching your head, at least initially. But the essentials get explained without becoming a huge infodump.

This Batman and Robin hit the ground running (or rather flying, in an airborne Batmobile), tackling Toad, then moving on to a whole onslaught of villains, most of whom were new to me. The danger, the violence and the stakes are raised with the turn of just about every page as Morrison does a masterful job of not only providing great fight scenes but also adding depth to the characters and their situations. Commissioner Gordon isn't really sure this is a Batman he can trust, but he's placing his confidence in him anyway. This new Robin? He's not so sure about him... Even Alfred has his doubts. And as for the citizens of Gotham, well... Let's just say things are heating up.

Are these guys even worthy to wear the costumes of Batman and Robin? Are they any good? What is good? What is evil? Who's on the right side and what is the right side? Is there even such a thing as a right side? These were questions explored in the film The Dark Knight, but certainly not exhaustively, for Morrison is able to get added mileage out of them, pushing things further and further as the end approaches. And it is quite an end. Highly recommended.

The Edgar Awards

I never really paid a whole lot of attention to them before, but I'm really enjoying my journey through the Edgar Award nominees. I've read Charlie Huston's The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death and am currently reading Jo Nesbo's Nemesis and listening to Malla Nunn's A Beautiful Place to Die.

These novels are so diverse, each so different from each other that, were I judging, it would be really tough to pick a winner. The Best First Novel By An American Author category looks great, too. And even though I was a bit disappointed with the ending of The Weight of Silence, as a first novel, I think it's quite good. I'm very eager to read the other five nominees.

If you've read any of these twelve novels, let me know your thoughts (without spoilers, of course!). The Edgar Awards will be announced next Thursday, April 29.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Weight of Silence (2009) - Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of Silence (2009) by Heather Gudenkauf is currently up for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. There's lots to like in this gripping tale of seven-year-old girl named Calli, a selective mute who goes missing. Calli's best friend (and interpreter) Petra has also gone missing, setting into motion a powderkeg of pent-up tension, angst and all sorts of family drama.

Gudenkauf tells the story from multiple points of view: Calli's, Petra's, members of their families, and law enforcement officials. With each point of view, we learn more of the relationships between these characters, the baggage they've carried for years, their hopes, dreams and disappointments. Although there are several of them, the point of view changes work because they strengthen both the family tensions and mostly (except when the reflections on the past run a little too long) drive the plot along.

In fact The Weight of Silence works better as a family drama than it does as a mystery. As the book progresses, you soon figure out that there are very few choices as to who has abducted the girls. (Or were they, in fact, abducted?) When it arrives, the solution provides little satisfaction. (Telling you why, at this point, would reveal too much. The book contains many characters, but far too few are really capable of committing the crime[s] involved.) Once the culprit has been identified, the loose ends are wrapped up far too conveniently, so much so that character integrity suffers. The sequence of events that unfolds during the last forty pages just feels far too manipulated.

Still, I like Gudenkauf's writing style and would definitely read more of her work in the future. If you're looking for a mystery that leans more toward family drama, give The Weight of Silence a try.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hellboy Library Edition, Vol. 1 (2008) - Mike Mignola, John Byrne

Mike Mignola’s artwork is highly addictive, at least to someone like me who grew up with the works of Jack Kirby, an obvious influence on Mignola. I’m not sure what it is - maybe it’s those twisted faces that Mignola does so well, maybe the shadow silhouettes or the heavy inking. Maybe it’s the fact that Hellboy is just a cool, fun guy.

If you aren’t familiar with him, Hellboy is indeed one of the good guys. As an infant he was summoned forth from another dimension in order to help the Nazis during WWII, but the little red guy had other plans and sided with the Allies. Working with the Bureau for Paranormal Research, the grown-up Hellboy now (Yes, now. He doesn’t age the way humans do. That whole other-dimension thing, I guess....) fights against the dark forces of the universe, which are seemingly endless.

So what, right? Another superhero fighting the bad guys, just what we need. But Mignola injects an irresistible charm into Hellboy. He’s strong, he’s funny, and usually doesn't take himself too seriously. And like all of us, he’s not perfect. He can slug it out with giant slimy frogs, tackle the most hideous snake-like creatures, then get his butt handed to him from something he didn’t see coming. But throughout, he has an unmistakable moral bent, knowing that the evil side must be fought against.

You may be familiar with the film adaptations Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). The graphic novels (from what I’ve seen in this volume, which covers the stories Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil) are pretty evenly divided between mystery, investigation into the paranormal and action. The movie? Mostly flat-out action. The initial story and the first movie don’t exactly line up, but each version can be enjoyed without ruining anything in the other. The graphic novels tend to be darker, grittier and more Lovecraftian than the films. (Although film director Guillermo del Toro's visual style is just as impressive, just in a different way.) The first graphic novel, scripted by John Byrne, is a little more cohesive than Mignola’s second, but both are stunning. I suppose you could spend a lot of time talking about the philosophies and worldviews of Hellboy, but the main thing is just to sit back and have fun.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Books Read March

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 2 - 10 (GN 2003-2008) - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr., etc.

When I had a stomach virus in early March, I read just about the entire 10-volume run of Y: The Last Man. It’s a very readable, very hard story to put down about a plague that wipes out the entire male population except for a man and his pet monkey. It’s definitely a quest story with all sorts of action/adventure, death/violence, f-bombs and the like, but you can’t say it’s not compelling; Vaughan sure knows how to write a story. A movie adaptation has been in the works for some time, possibly staring Shia LeBeouf.

Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories (GN 2000) - Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura DePuy

Three superhumans, known as the organization Planetary are tracking down the world’s secret history. (C’mon, we’ve all been wondering, right?) Weird things happen, secret things, otherworldly things. It’s sort of like The X-Files with superpowers. Good stuff.

The 13th Hour (2009) - Richard Doetsch

This thriller, about a man who’s been given the ability to go back in time and relive each previous hour with the hope of preventing his wife’s murder, has some exciting moments, but grew tedious after a few chapters. Maybe it's just me always being suspicious of time travel stories...

Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out, Vol. 1 (GN 2006) - Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark

With very little proof, Matt Murdock has been locked behind bars, suspected of being Daredevil (which he, of course, is). As an added bonus, the prison is packed with criminals DD helped put there for years. It’s hard to believe that Brubaker could produce such a nail-biter that barely shows Daredevil in costume, but the tension sustained in this volume (as well as the starkly drawn work of Michael Lark) is incredible.

A Dark Matter (2010) - Peter Straub

Thoughts here.

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? (GN 2000) - Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Avon Oeming

Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim set out to solve the murder of Retro Girl, one of the city’s most popular superheroes. Sounds routine, yet it’s anything but that. A great combination of noir, superheroes and police procedural.

The Death of Captain America Vol 1: The Death of the Dream (GN 2007) - Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins

I highly recommend reading Marvel’s Civil War graphic novel (see below) before tackling The Death of Cap, otherwise you might be as confused as I was.

Jar City (2000/2004) - Arnaldur Indridason

Police procedural set in Reykjavik, Iceland that weighs heavily on atmosphere and detective work, yet still comes across as a gripping read. I definitely plan on reading more by Arnaldur Indridason.

Sacred Scars (YA 2009) - Kathleen Duey

Like it’s predecessor Skin Hunger, Sacred Scars takes its sweet time moving forward, but once it does, it’s fascinating. I’m afraid many teens won’t have the patience to even get to the second book, but the rewards in this series are (so far, anyway) well worth the wait. Told in alternating points of view, both books deal with a school of magic where students must learn or starve. (Hogwarts is a kindergarten compared to this school.) Loaded with mystery and subtlety, Duey has created a fascinating world.

City of Thieves (2008) - David Benioff

A writer asks his grandfather to tell his story of World War II and gets far more than he bargained for. The old man tells of how he survived the Siege of Leningrad, killed Germans, fell in love, and discovered a friend he would never forget. Powerful storytelling. I actually listened to the audiobook narrated by Ron Perlman, which was superb.

The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language - Eugene Peterson

Just what it says: The Bible in contemporary language. A great first Bible for many people, easy to understand and in many instances enlightening.

Cemetery Road (2009/2010) - Gar Anthony Haywood

Three young friends commit a crime in Los Angeles and vow never to see one another again, living with the consequences in silence. Yet twenty-six years later, one of the friends is murdered, causing one of the two surviving friends to break his silence by investigating the murder. This stand-alone novel is wonderfully crafted, full of humanity and suspense. Seek this one out; it’s definitely worth your time.

Civil War (GN 2007) - Mark Millar, Steve McNiven
The characters in the Marvel Universe are being forced to sign a superhero registration act which would (1) allow them to be sanctioned and protected by the government and (2) force them to disclose their identities. Some superheroes are more than eager to comply with the legislation, but others make their feelings known in some very interesting ways. And some switch sides. (I wish I had read this before I read The Death of Captain America.)

Signal to Noise (GN 2007) - Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean

A stunning portrayal of a filmmaker who is dying, yet insists on making one final film, even if the film can only be played in his head. I read this in the midst of a death in my family, so the work had an even greater impact on me than it might have otherwise had. Exceptional art and a hauntingly beautiful story. Probably not for everyone, but it really resonated with me.

Stitches (GN 2009) - David Small

This is one of those books that’s so good, that evokes so many emotions that are so painful that you'll probably never want to read it again. But you should read it once. A dysfunctional family story that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it. Powerful stuff. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

That's it. Get out there and read something.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Books Bought March

Okay, so March was definitely Graphic Novel Overload Month here at the blog. I had a graphic novel binge like you wouldn’t believe, as evidenced below. A couple of actual novels managed to sneak in, but the words & pictures combination really had their day/month. Let’s get started.

I blame Things from Another World‘s Scratch and Dent Sale (and Orangerful, for telling me about it) for getting the graphic novel fever up and running. At 60% off, it was hard to turn these four books down, especially since I’ve been on a Daredevil kick lately.

Daredevil, Vol. 1 (GN 2008) - Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
(Reprints Daredevil #158-161, 163-172)

Daredevil Visionaries Vol. 1: Guardian Devil (GN 2001) - Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada

Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out (GN 2006) - Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark

The Death of Captain America Vol. 1: The Death of the Dream (GN 2001) - Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting

The death of Cap was big news even outside the comic world. Just wanted to see what it was all about. That title and the others were highly recommended in Greg Garrett’s book Holy Superheroes.

The Losers (GN 2010) - Andy Diggle, Jock

From Amazon’s product description: “This collection introduces The Losers, formerly an elite U.S. Special Forces unit that served as the covert bloody hand of America until they stumbled across a C.I.A. secret they couldn't ignore. The C.I.A. tried to kill them, but they're about to learn that it takes more than one try to eliminate The Losers.” There’s also a film version that opens later this month. We’ll see which is the more entertaining format.

Planetary: Crossing Worlds (GN 2004) - Warren Ellis, John Cassaday

Okay, the guy in the comic shop in Tampa talked this one up so much I had to try it. It’s Planetary (the first volume of which I thought was great), an organization seeking the world’s secret history, combined with Batman. Couldn’t resist.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Ultimate Collection (GN 2010) - Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen

What looks to be pure, mindless, hilarious fun. The agents of H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) organize to fight Bizarre Weapons of Mass Destruction. You could really have some fun with this and it looks like Ellis and Immonen did just that.

500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide (NF 2008) - Gene Kannenberg

This looked like an essential reference guide to understanding and appreciating graphic novels.

I managed to purchase some actual books, too:

Pandemonium (2008) - Daryl Gregory

Recommended by one of the many Karens I work with.

My First Summer in the Sierra (NF 1911) - John Muir

Watching the first episode of Ken Burns’ National Parks - America’s Best Idea did me in. I just have to read something by Muir.

That's it for purchases. Next time, what I actually read. (Think there might be just a few graphic novels in the mix?)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Say Hello to Broadway

Today Cindy and I adopted another retired racing Greyhound, Broadway. We've been planning on adopting another hound since our first, Bullet, passed away in October 2009. Broadway will turn five in June.

We looked up his racing record, which was not exactly long (four months) or stellar (17 races, 0 wins), but who cares, other than the people who lost money on him at the track in Palm Beach, Florida.

But he's ours now and we're delighted to have him!