Monday, January 25, 2016

The great NutriBullet debacle of 2016

Anyone who knows me in real life (or irl as the kids say) will know that I eat, for want of a better term, like a four year old. Not as in I start a meal with a smile on my face and end it with the meal all over my face and down my pants, but rather that I don't necessarily eat as healthily as perhaps I could, or indeed should. Which I expect comes as something of a surprise bearing in mind that I teach yoga for a living; in fact, I remember one day someone asked me mid-class if I was vegan. Honest to god I laughed hysterically and stated rather loudly that I was heading out for a cheeky Nandos afterwards. Professional, huh?

But every now and then I do think I should buck up my ideas and look after myself a bit more, which has led to me actually adding the occasional leafy green to a meal and actually quite enjoying it. Spinach is rather lovely as it conjures images of having arms like Popeye, as is rocket purely because its name panders to my sci-fi whims.

However, in these first few weeks of January and after a particularly sugary Christmas, I decided it might be worth throwing caution to the wind and actually trying to be ridiculously super healthy. And that's how last week, after stepping out merely to post a letter, I returned home having bought a NutriBullet.

I've been aware of the NutriBullet for a while now, basically because every yoga person I follow on Twitter has been raving about them for what seems like FUH-EVER. Then, a few weeks back I woke up ridiculously early one morning and found myself watching The NutriBullet Show with David Wolfe and became mesmerised by the idea of its "600 watts of compacted power and Bullet exclusive cyclonic action" which resulted in last week's - *BANG* - spontaneous purchase.

The model I bought was a limited edition cherry red NutriBullet, and three points swayed me to make my purchase. They were, in descending order of importance:

• It was reduced to £69.50 in a Tesco flash sale
• It was cherry red, meaning it would match the kitchen, my kettle and the new Starbucks insulated cup I got for Christmas
• It might make me healthier

Sadly, because I'd only popped out to post a letter I'd walked to Tesco rather than drive, meaning I had to lug it back home in my arms like a big, boxed up cherry red baby, and I didn't have any excess arm capacity to carry any ingredients to put in it. And no, I didn't already have some fruit at home; I've lived in Sparky Towers 10 years now and barely any organic produce has crossed the threshold in that time.

So a few hours later, having learnt my lesson I drive back to Tesco and pick up some almond milk, fruit and kale, which we shall henceforth refer to as HELLSPAWN PLANT for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Upon returning home and with the NutriBullet primed and ready, I hurl some raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, avocado and HELLSPAWN PLANT into the cup, click it in place and blitz the shit out of it using all 600 watts of compacted power and Bullet exclusive cyclonic action.

A minute later I'm staring at a cupful of what I can only describe as a supremely unappetising beige drink. Still, the new healthy me steps up to the plate, and with a cheery fake smile on my face I declare "bottoms up!" to no one in particular and down the malevolent beverage, if not in one, then in at least a couple of mouthfuls. OK, five. And that's after I'd put it down following the second mouthful and gone for a bit of a sit down before returning to it 10 minutes later.

Deciding that HELLSPAWN PLANT was mostly responsible for ruining what should've been a delicious and nutritious fruity drink, I subsequently decided I'd have another bash. This time I used more raspberries, less blueberries, a bit of orange and some almond milk. This attempt was actually quite nice, and I settled down that evening with a look of unnecessary smugness on my face.

It did not last.

I shan't go into too much detail, but suffice to say, like Captain Kathryn Janeway, I now know what a Year of Hell is like. OK, so it was more of a Week of Hell not a year, but as 2016 is literally a few weeks old I think it counts. Basically, it seems my poor, Kitkat and Nandos fuelled system couldn't really cope with me ingesting a bit of fruit and decided to shut down.

Yes, like a desperate drug addict denied their fix, I went full cold turkey.

The first sign was a massive throbbing headache that felt a bit like someone was trying to punch their way out of my head (although on reflection this is entirely possible as there's very little brain in there to fill the space), followed by shaking and sweating, all of which intensified in the days that followed. Friday in particular was peak-cold turkey-ness, as it saw me stay in bed until quarter to two in the afternoon, at which point I got up and could do nothing more than sit on the sofa and stare at the TV, possibly while drooling a bit. Fortunately I'd just started the Gotham season 1 boxset, so I cracked through 10 episodes of that before going back to bed. It's really good and I highly recommend it (I'll leave you to work out whether I mean Gotham or going back to bed, or both).

Now fully recovered and no longer glancing across at the NutriBullet I haven't touched in a week like it's a fully primed nuclear weapon ready to go off, I can say that what I have learnt from this experience is that moderation is key. Yes, I *can* and *should* eat a bit healthier, and work a little harder to get those key five a day portions of fruit and veg into my body (rather than my previous five a year), but it's probably not best to cut out all the fun stuff in one go.

Fortunately, I've since been told in hushed tones of a recipe for a ridiculously healthy NutriBlast (that's what they call the drinks - I know, ridiculous) that legend has it tastes just like a chocolate milkshake. In this way, I reckon I can fool my overly sensitive system into thinking I'm knocking back a Kitkat milkshake when in fact I'm downing the elixir of life. We shall see.

Either way, kale can still go do one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How I ended up writing an audio drama, Part II: fun times with Chancellor Gorkon

Having written the first part of what would eventually come to be The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas I figured my duties were done and dusted and I wouldn’t really hear too much more about it except for little updates here and there from TOH. Which was fine, because in January I landed a massive copywriting gig that had me chained to my desk writing everything from how to look after your roses, to re-roofing a garden shed and what plants won’t die if you’re a hapless idiot who forgets to water them (didn’t really have to research that one too much).

Nevertheless, as March of 2015 rolled along TOH asked me if I’d like to visit the studio to see my script be recorded. What a silly question - of course I would! So I took a cheeky day off from writing about the best way to trim your bush and headed off deeper into West London where I’d get to hang out at the studio, have a lovely lunch and get to meet the cast before seeing them do their thing. Now of course, because Dorian was an ongoing series it had it’s established leading man in the form or Alexander Vlahos, along with Hugh Skinner returning as the vampire Toby. But the main guest role - a villainous Santa Claus no less! - needed to be filled…

I remember when TOH first started discussing ideas for potential Santas. I was obviously intrigued by many of the names he threw out there, but as casting wasn’t really in my remit as writer, I tried to be a little bit… shall we say ‘dispassionate’ about it? I do recall the first time he mentioned David Warner (yes, *that* David Warner), though, because I enthusiastically went “Ooooooo!” before adding “but of course it’s not my decision.”

Anyway, TOH ultimately did ask David Warner, and David Warner said yes. And I did a little nerd squeal because David Warner’s been in two Star Trek films, two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Titanic, Tron and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and now he was going to be in something I’d written. Life can be crazy like that.

So on a brisk March morning TOH and I headed into the studio where I was introduced to Alex, Hugh, and David Blackwell who plays Simon Darlow in the one scene I didn’t write. From the outset they were all absolutely lovely and made me feel very welcome; Alex even popped out to the local shop and bought us all Freddos. Gul Madred David, I was assured, would be joining us around midday (no doubt after having finished asking Patrick Stewart how many lights there are for the day).

Recording got underway and everything was grand. It was a joy to hear such a lovely bunch of actors bring the words I wrote to life, adding a depth and nuance that lifted them beyond what had spilled from my brain onto the pages in front of them. But it wasn't just all me sitting there listening - I got to go into a recording booth too! Firstly to be involved in a brief chat for an interview that’s included as part of the Christmas special’s bonus features, then to record my cameo role as ‘Neighbour no. 2’ where I powerfully delivered the line “PISS OFF!” with a verbal punch that will no doubt lead to me being showered with nominations come awards season, and rewarded with my own critically acclaimed spin-off series in due course.

Shortly after delivering the performance of a lifetime, TOH asked if I would go and sit in the green room while everyone else was kept busy recording so I could open the door ‘when David arrives.’ I was simultaneously thrilled and shitting myself at the prospect.

For the next 15 minutes I sat alone faffing about on Facebook and Twitter on my iPhone when all of a sudden the doorbell buzzed. I jumped to my feet and scampered over to the grainy little screen that showed who’d pressed the buzzer. I couldn't really see who it was, but I *knew* who it is. I thumbed the door release and started hyperventilating. Moments later, he was standing before me: Federation ambassador St. John Talbot The legendary David Warner.

Now, I’ve met plenty of actors before; some are lovely, some require… a bit of pampering and TLC. From the outset, David Warner was just THE LOVELIEST CHAP. Straight away he introduced himself to me before saying “Ah! You must be our writer!” We chatted for a bit, then he whipped out a copy of the script and asked if we could go over some lines so he could clarify exactly how they should be delivered. My response was something along the lines of ‘ER, OF COURSE’/‘HELL YES.’

And that’s how, one Monday afternoon last year, I ended up running lines with Chancellor Gorkon of the Klingon High Council.

All in all, the whole process of being being involved with The Confessions of Dorian Gray was a delight, and just a few weeks ago, almost exactly a year to the day since I delivered my first draft of the script, I got my finished copy through the post. The Spirits of Christmas went on sale on December 21st, and the reaction to it based solely on what I’ve seen on Twitter has been very positive (one review gave it 9.7 out of 10!), which makes me a very happy bunny.

So if you’ve not listened to it yet, do be a dear and go order a copy, yeah?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How I ended up writing an audio drama, Part I: Saying no when you mean yes

As you might’ve guessed from my last post, rather a lot happened in my little life during my absence from this blog. One of the loveliest things was that I got to write an audio drama.

As with many things in life, getting the opportunity to do this came not exactly from what I know, but who I know. And in this instance, that who turned out to be my lovely significant other, who we shall henceforth refer to as The Other Half. Among other things (he’s a veritable swiss army penknife of talents), TOH writes, produces and directs audio dramas, and shortly after we began seeing each other he gave me some episodes of his to listen to. These included some Doctor Who stuff (and assorted spin-offs) and a series that he created All By Himself called The Confessions of Dorian Gray, which suggests that Oscar Wilde’s rebellious literary creation was not in fact a rebellious literary creation, but rather a rebellious real life person, and his confessions are made up of predominantly supernatural tales spanning the last one hundred years or so.

By this point TOH had produced three series of Dorian along with a handful of hour long specials, and I listened to them all in the space of a couple of weeks.

Now, I should interject here to explain that I’ve never really been a massive fan of audio drama because I don’t actually know *how* to listen to it. If I just pop my headphones in and plop myself down on the sofa I tend to fall asleep and thus only get to hear the opening lines and the end credits. And they're not something I can listen to while doing housework because, basically, I don’t do any housework. But as each episode of Dorian was only around half an hour long they were perfect to bung in the car and listen to on my regular drive to the yoga studio - which takes, as if you couldn't guess, about half an hour.

To my delight (because I could imagine nothing worse than having to skirt around TOH’s inevitable questions asking ‘what did you think?’ by nervously shuffling my feet and pretending I was going through a tunnel and clicking my phone off) I found Dorian to be thrilling stuff - exciting, scary, a bit sexy and even rather funny in places, with some wonderful performances. So when the inevitable ‘what did you think?’ question did arise I could honestly answer: ‘I loved it.’ Around this time (late 2014) TOH also started telling me that he planned to produce a two-part Dorian Christmas special for 2015, with him writing the first part and another writer tackling the second. The idea was that the two stories would be loosely connected, with the first being a somewhat lighthearted, scary festive romp, and the second being a bit more serious and tying in more closely with the series’ ongoing arc. Sounded good to me.

As time went on, however, TOH kept dropping into phone conversations that he was struggling to find the time to write his Christmas tale, most likely because he was spending a significant portion of his time in conversation with me on the phone. As a result he said was thinking he might have to hand it over to another writer. “That’s a shame,” I said, because I’m considerate like that. I was nevertheless being sincere, because I knew he had what he thought was a great idea and really wanted to write it himself.

Days and weeks passed and the same thing kept coming up in conversation until eventually one night TOH said: “Do you want to write it?” Now, TOH knew that I wrote stuff - he has a copy of my novella (still available on Amazon, just sayin’), and he’d read and apparently enjoyed a short story of mine - and of course in my head I clasped my hands to either side of my face and shrieked “YES! YES I DO!!” But then I remembered how much he *really* wanted to write it, and how enthusiastic he sounded every time he talked about it, and how he somehow managed to squeeze a ridiculous amount of work into a mere 24 hours each day meaning surely he'd find a way to get it done.

So I said “No.”

Over the next few days TOH asked the question again. And again. And again. And each time I said “No.” And then one day, he just said: “Look, if you don’t write it I’ll just get somebody else to do it.”

So I said “Yes.”

I won’t go into the fine points of writing the script because all that basically entailed was sitting at my desk and relentlessly tapping away at my keyboard. What I will say was that writing it came rather easily to me, mostly because as TOH had planned to write it himself he’d prepared loads of notes for me to work from, but also because having listened to the series in its entirety so recently I really felt like I had a good handle on the characters and their voices. I should also add that while I had all those notes to work from, TOH did give me free rein to go off piste and add in my own bits here and there to spice it up (and then de-spice it later on when he reminded me this was audio and we weren’t working with a £35 million budget). It also helped that I was given a rather tight deadline, and as long-term readers (surely there's at least some still out there?) will know, I do love a deadline.

So anyway, I turned in my first draft just before Christmas 2014 (writing it around the Christmas period certainly helped me bring an authentic festive feel to it) and nervously laughed when TOH said something along the lines of “don’t be surprised if I massively rewrite it if it’s shit.”

As it turns out, he didn’t*. I think the one major change he made was the addition of a scene between two characters (the Toby and Simon one at Dorian’s house, if you’ve listened and you’re wondering) that ties in with the second part, which mainly came down to the fact that I didn’t really know what the second story was all about. Aside from a little bit of fiddling and tidying up here and there, what was eventually recorded was pretty much as I wrote it.

And the recording? Well, we’ll come to that…

*So much so, in fact, that shortly after I'd submitted it, TOH mentioned that at some point in the future he'd let me write a regular episode of my own devising. Being the eager beaver that I am, I subsequently, and very quickly,  devised and sketched out a spooky little half hour episode. Unfortunately for me, around the same time as the Christmas episodes were recorded, TOH and Alex, the lovely chap who plays Dorian, decided that they wanted to end on a high with the fifth series (which has now been recorded and will be released sometime in 2016), meaning my spooky little half hour (which TOH said was a lovely idea) will go no further than the five pages of outline scribbled hastily in my notebook. Ya win some, ya lose some, capiche?

Monday, January 04, 2016

Lost weekend

Sitting here at my desk where I started writing this blog almost 10 years ago typing these words now feels both comfortingly familiar and, after such a long gap since my last *proper* post, dangerously new. Truth be told, I never meant to stop. I think this unexpected break came about because a) I got really busy teaching yoga, and b) after having gone freelance in mid-2011 I got the weird thought in my head that if I wasn't getting paid for writing something I was doing something heinously wrong. Put that down to a strange freelancer's mentality where any minute of the day you spend not working, or at the very least not pursuing something that *could* lead to work brings on a sense of guilt akin to being a virtuous Catholic girl caught flashing your knickers at the hormone-driven boy next door.

And so here we are, a couple of years down the line and as 2015 wheezed its last breath I very randomly got a tiny bee in my bonnet that seems to have led to me spurting a little fuel on the dying embers of this blog just to see what comes of it, and whether anyone (most of all me) actually cares any more. Aren't blogs a little… 2006? I don't know. I mean, I didn't even know what emojis were when I started this. I don't think they even existed then.

So two years, huh? Thinking about what to write by way of a reintroduction (and what to leave out *winky face emoji*) made me realise that the last couple of years have been rather an interesting, tumultuous, heartbreaking, life-affirming, frustrating, exciting, mostly brilliant whirlwind of a time - basically all the emojis, ever. It reminded me a little of how John Lennon went off and had what he called his 'lost weekend' in the seventies where he disappeared, did a lot of drugs and knobbed his PA while Yoko turned a blind eye. I didn't do a lot of drugs (and by that I mean I did none, unless we're including neurofen in which case: OOPSIE) or knob my PA (I don't have one), but the idea of a lost weekend resonated somewhat. And anyway, I don't want to document everything in detail, because that would take two years and that's time we don't have. Plus, by the time I finished I'd have to start all over again with the following two years. So I figured the best way would just be to fling the key points at you, and like birds sitting in a tree shitting on a nice car, see what sticks. Make sense? Good. Here we go:

Taught a lot of yoga, met someone for coffee/they thought it was a date, learned something about myself, had a birthday, did a lot of yoga, lost a lot of weight, got a tattoo, had a very sad birthday, dealt with some shit, had a very sad Christmas, started dating, met someone nice, had a lovely time, walked the length and breadth of London, taught a yoga class dressed like a lady, got dumped, went through some shit, cried a bit, told my mum I liked boys as well as girls, cried a bit more, grew my hair, saw two Star Trek movies at the Royal Albert Hall, went up the Shard, went to Norwich, taught lots of yoga in Norwich, liked Norwich, came home, taught more yoga, drank a lot of coffee, thought about life, messed about on Tinder, tweeted a lot, met a friend of some friends for coffee, watched the Alien movies in order (yes, the AvP ones as well), made an excuse to meet the friend of some friends for more coffee, asked "is this mates or dates?", got told it was "definitely not mates," smiled a lot, went to Cardiff, went to Norwich again, went Facebook official, went to Birmingham, met the mother-in-law, hung out at a Supernatural convention, ate lots of Nandos, cut my hair, had a very happy birthday, wrote an audio drama, went ice-skating, was given the most amazing Christmas present, got a massive copywriting gig for a huge company, got a huge tax bill, introduced the other half to the parents, rewrote audio drama lines with the legendary David Warner, had a post-it note portrait drawn, hosted a Supernatural convention, got hugged by Jared Padalecki, hosted a superhero convention, rode a Segway, got offered a job at huge company (turned it down), hosted a Vampire Diaries convention, got hugged by Ian Somerhalder, got horribly sunburnt, went to Cardiff, bought an Apple Watch, had the other half move in with me for a few months, spent some more time in Norwich, got chased by a man with a chainsaw, had the other half move back in for another month, saw the new Star Wars movie, had an awesome Christmas, saw the new Star Wars movie (again), saw the Peanuts movie, got merry, and started thinking about the future.

How's things with you?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading list 2015

Oh look! It's that time again where I list all the books I've read over the last 12 months and the few remaining people that have any interest in this blog bemoan the fact that I've wilfully neglected it for yet another year. Who knows, maybe that will change in the new year, but for now you'll have to put up with knowing that I filled the time I didn't use to write this blog by reading a lot of books in 2015 -- and some of them were brilliant.

Usual rules apply: I'm grading books on a scale that ranges from A+ for those that made me want to do a special sex wee, to D- and beyond for those that made me put them down and gently nudge them away while wrinkling my nose like they smelt of a particularly pungent poo. I'm also, of course, linking each book title to the page of a huge multinational tax-dodging company, purely for convenience sake I should add. If you fancy any of the following titles, I'd urge you to buy from a real honest to God bricks and mortar bookshop (Waterstones and Foyles are both LOVELY), although graphic novels (of which there are plenty) can also undoubtedly be found in a variety of wonderful independent comic book shops. So there. Shall we begin?

01. Star Trek Volume 8 - The latest volume collecting the ongoing JJ-verse stories of Pine-Kirk and Quinto-Spock features tales in which they meet female versions of themselves, sees the Enterprise gain sentience and a remarkable new member of the crew, and discover what happened to a missing astronaut from NASA's Apollo-era. Entertaining, but not the series' best collection: B

02. The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero - Intriguing novel told in an intriguing way about a 23 year old and his mute 17 year old friend who attempt to unravel the secrets of a haunted house and a conspiracy that spans the globe. An unusual book, and not without its flaws, but it's a good read that for the most part keeps you hooked: B

03. Star Trek: Ships of the Line by Doug Drexler - Updated edition of the coffee table book that collects images from the ships of the line calendars. Considerably bigger than the original edition, and packed with a whole load of beautiful new images from all eras of the Star Trek franchise and beyond. A stunning book: A

04. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix - Great little horror story set in a furniture store that bears an uncanny resemblance to IKEA, made even more convincing and enjoyable for the fact that the physical book is designed to look like an IKEA catalogue with fictional - and increasingly terrifying - products scattered throughout. A very enjoyable read: A

05. All You Need is KILL by Hiroshi Sakurazaka - The book on which the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow is based. It's a fun read, but truth be told, I actually enjoyed the film more: B-

06. The Canary Trainer by Nicholas Meyer - Another Sherlock Homes pastiche from the director of Star Trek II. This tale sees the famed detective living quietly in Paris after having faked his death following the events of The Seven Per-Cent Solution, until his post as a violinist at the Paris opera is disturbed by a series of incidents and ultimately murders committed by a shadowy figure known only as Nobody. A thoroughly enjoyable read: A

07. Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 7 by Los Bros Hernandez - The latest collection of stories from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez continues the brothers' ongoing Locas and Palomar storylines. As brilliant as ever: A

08. Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter (Kindle) - An enjoyable enough novel from acclaimed sci-fi writer Baxter focusing on the second Doctor and his companions Zoe and Jamie, but I felt there was something lacking in the story, and parts of it simply felt hurried: B-

09. Alien: River of Pain by Christopher Golden (Kindle) - The final book in the new Alien trilogy of novels that began with Out of the Shadows and Sea of Sorrows takes us back to LV-426 to see how the aliens overran the colony prior to the events of the 1986 film Aliens. It's a bit of a slow burner, with much of the novel dealing with the personalities and politics surrounding life at the fledgling colony and the xenomorphs only turning up around halfway through… but that's by no means a bad thing, and this turns out to be a very effective story - probably my favourite instalment in this series, in fact: B+

10. The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer - Rounding out the trilogy of Sherlock Holmes pastiches from the writer and director of Star Trek II is this tale of a man called Jack committing murders in London's West End. While the reader is let to believe this story might be a spin on the heinous crimes of Jack the Ripper, the tale that ultimately unfolds is one that is surprisingly terrifying in an altogether more unexpected way, and an absolute thrill to read. I thoroughly enjoyed all three of Meyer's Holmes stories, and can only hope he'll eventually give us another: A

11. Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever - The Original Teleplay - Ellison's original script for the classic original series episode is finally realised as the writer intended, albeit in graphic novel form. It's a cracking read with some truly stunning artwork, and provides a tantalising glimpse of what could have been had budgets and Roddenberry allowed: A

12. The Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis, illustrated by John Cassidy - Collecting every issue of the classic comic book into one gigantic book, this omnibus collection tells the story of Elijah Snow and the Planetary team as they go about keeping our strange world strange. Beautifully written and illustrated, Planetary does a wonderful job of subverting some familiar comics conventions to tell a tale that spans the 20th century: B+

13. Star Trek Volume 9: The Q Gambit - The latest volume in the ongoing adventures of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise as they boldly go in the new movie universe. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this edition – which collects a six-issue storyline that introduces Q to the new crew and throws them into a future timeline where they encounter an alternate reality version of the Deep Space Nine crew – is one of the best Star Trek comics I've ever read: A

14. Paper Towns by John Green (Kindle) - Thought I'd give this novel by one of the bestselling young adult authors a whirl after reading good things about it. Wish I hadn't. It's a dull, drawn out story of a young guy trying to track down a missing girl using clues she's left behind. None of the characters are interesting or sympathetic enough to care about, and it feels like a book that should've been about half as long: C-

15. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Kindle) - After seeing the film and the stage show I thought it was about time I read the original novel on which they're based, and what a cracking, haunting read it is. Thoroughly enjoyable and quietly sinister - I loved it: A

16. Star Trek: The Original Series - Crisis of Consciousness by Dave Galanter (Kindle) - This TOS novel finds Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise trying to prevent a race of Vulcanoid beings from activating a devastating weapon of mass destruction in order to destroy an ancient threat. An interesting premise but only a mildly diverting read with too little plot spread too thinly across too many pages. I never felt the threat was truly threatening enough regardless of the stakes (in fact, the threat of galactic-wide devastation was possibly too silly, thus negating any fear the weapon might actually be used), and it felt very much like a Star Trek novel by numbers: C

17. Revolt at the Beach by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - Book eight in Payne's ongoing Twisp family chronicles that began with Youth in Revolt. This book focuses on Nick's illegitimate son, also called Nick, who is left with his father in L.A. and goes on to star in a movie based on events from the original book. While there are hints of the earlier novel's brilliance, I can't help but feel Payne has returned to the well a little too often and the series has begun to outstay its welcome: C+

18. Stallo by Stefan Spjut (Kindle) - Brilliant story of a woman who investigates the abduction of a young boy, believing that trolls are responsible. A gripping, well-written novel: A

19. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (Kindle) - Haunting tale of a 1937 expedition to the Arctic circle that suffers a series of incidents that ultimately leave just one member of the team alone in the dark. Told through a series of journal entries, the story unfolds to reveal that the lone team member isn't actually alone. A thoroughly enjoyable little ghost story: A

20. Love and Rockets: Luba and her Family by Gilbert Hernandez - More tales from Beto, focusing this time on young Venus and Luba's efforts to get her husband into the U.S. As always, masterful storytelling from one of the brothers behind Love and Rockets: B+

21. Go Set a Watchmen by Harper Lee (Kindle) - Lee's somewhat controversial second novel is finally published after being hidden for years in a bank vault. Not as memorable as To Kill a Mockingbird, but a beautifully written, thoughtful novel that I'm glad we've been given the opportunity to read: B+

22. Star Trek: The Original Series - Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana (Kindle) - Written by one of the original series' best writers, this tale is set during the time of Captain Christopher Pike's tenure as captain of the Enterprise and focuses mainly on Spock, although it is deftly woven with a few other storylines. It's a great Star Trek novel, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed: A

23. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Good that Men Do by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - The first book in the Enterprise relaunch series corrects the television series' greatest mistake (the killing of Commander Trip Tucker) by revealing how Enterprise NX-01's chief engineer faked his own death in order to become a spy charged with infiltrating the Romulan Star Empire. An entertaining read that sets up events to come in future novels well: B+

24. Star Trek: Seekers - Long Shot by David Mack (Kindle) - The third novel in the Star Trek: Vanguard spinoff series has the crew of the U.S.S. Sagittarius visiting a world where the laws of probability have been thrown out of balance. Perhaps not quite as enjoyable as the first couple of books in this series, but still a very enjoyable Star Trek novel: B+

25. Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - An unexpectedly brilliant novel detailing events that tie into the long-running Star Trek MMO game. Told in the style of a series of interviews featuring new and long-established Trek characters primarily discussing the Federation's war with Species 8472, but also tying in with the destruction of Romulus as seen in the 2009 Star Trek film, this book reminded me conceptually of Max Brooks' terrific World War Z, and was all the better for it: A

26. Star Trek: Enterprise - Kobayashi Maru by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - The second book in the Enterprise relaunch series explores the growing Romulan threat against the newly formed Coalition of Planets, and reveals the true story behind Starfleet's Kobayashi Maru 'no-win' scenario: B+

27. Star Trek: A Flag Full of Stars by Brad Ferguson - A classic Star Trek novel that was lent to me by a friend purely because of a subplot involving a Klingon taking care of a kitten! Kittens and Klingons aside, this was an solid read that fills in some of the blanks between the end of the Enterprise's five year mission and its relaunch in Star Trek: The Motion Picture: B+

28. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Romulan War - Beneath the Raptor's Wings by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - After being set up in the two previous novels in the Enterprise relaunch series, we finally get to one of the most fascinating unseen events in Star Trek's long history - the outbreak of war with the Romulan Star Empire. This is a solid tale that gives good insight into the war, not only from the perspective of the Enterprise crew buy from other sources too. Entertaining, if lacking perhaps a little in something that would make it truly brilliant: B+

29. The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David A. Goodman (Kindle) - Without doubt the most entertaining Star Trek novel I've read in a long time. From unseen moments in Kirk's life through to ingenious retellings of familiar Original Series moments from the captain's perspective, this was a wonderful book. My only complaint? The events of Star Trek V are dealt with a little too harshly for my liking when they could have tied in nicely with the ongoing Kirk-Spock-McCoy friendship that runs through the book. But this is a minor complaint: A+

30. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Romulan War - To Brave the Storm by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - the Romulan War continues in… well, a somewhat underwhelming style, if I'm honest. After setting up the conflict between Earth and the devious, pointy eared Romulans so well in the previous three books, what should've been an epic conclusion to this chapter in the Star Trek novel continuity kind of falls at the final hurdle. It's by no means an awful book, but it feels just a little rushed and genuinely in places like the author couldn't be bothered or didn't have the time to write what could've been some rather thrilling and explosive sequences: C

31. The Watchers by Neil Spring (Kindle) - Thoroughly enjoyable novel that puts a paranormal spin on the apparently true life sightings of UFOs over parts of Wales in the 1970s. This is a cracking, page-turner of a read that zips along at a fair old pace; I got through it in mere days and loved every page: A

32. The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring (Kindle) - A wonderful novel that postulates what could've happened during real life ghost hunter Harry Price's visits to what is believed to have been the most haunted house in Great Britain. Thrilling and just a little bit terrifying in places: A-

33. Fun with Kirk and Spock: A Parody by Robb Pearlman - A very amusing take on the original Star Trek series presented in the form of a beautifully illustrated children's book. Laugh out loud in places and highly amusing throughout: B+

34. Star Trek Volume 10 - Another collection of stories from the ongoing new Star Trek comic book series, this time detailing events that transpire when the Starship Enterprise is transported to the distant Delta Quadrant. Not the series' strongest tales, but enjoyable nonetheless: B

35. Intro to Alien Invasion by Owen King and Mark Jude Poirier, illustrated by Nancy Ahn - Graphic novel telling the tale of an outbreak of alien parasites at an isolated college. Easy to read and great fun: B+

36. Star Trek: New Voyages Volume 1 by John Byrne - An interesting collection in which Byrne creates new Star Trek stories via a photo montage technique (basically photoshop). The result is actually quite remarkable and the tales themselves are rather enjoyable: B+

37. Liberty Meadows Sundays: Book 1 by Frank Cho - A beautifully presented collection of the Liberty Meadows sunday strips. It's a hilarious, rude, wonderfully illustrated and often crude collection, and I loved it: A

38. Star Trek: New Voyages Volume 2 by John Byrne - The second collection of Byrne's photo montage stories is rather more assured in its storytelling than the first, and highly recommended: A

39. Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson - A wonderful graphic novel telling the story of a young girl and her two friends as they traverse the depths of the Murky Way in search of her missing father. This book is bright and bold, beautifully written and illustrated and a complete joy to read: A+

40. The 42b - The first book from independent publisher We Are Cardiff Press is a beautiful little book of short stories held together by the thread of a bus line that runs through the city. I thoroughly enjoyed these wonderful stories: A

41. The Complete Peanuts 1991-1992 by Charles Schulz - Catching up with more tales of Charlie Brown and Snoopy as this collection enters the twilight years of Schulz's masterpiece: A

42. Star Trek: Seekers - All That's Left by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore (Kindle) - The fourth book in the Seekers line is a cracking tale of alien parasites attempting to 'collect' members of a Federation archaeological team and the U.S.S. Endeavour crew to ensure their own continued survival. Felt a little like a Star Trek spin on the film Prometheus, and proved to be thoroughly enjoyable: A-

43. The Complete Peanuts 1993-1994 by Charles Schulz - Another cracking collection of Peanuts strips: A

44. Before Tomorrowland by Jeff Jensen, illustrated by Jonathan Case - A wonderful story set in 1939 New York which sees a mother and son drawn into a conflict between a crazed Nazi scientist and a group of forward thinkers including Howard Hughes, Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla who unite under the name Plus Ultra. The book is a prequel to the movie Tomorrowland but both stand alone; I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, and it reminded me a little of Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. It's a beautifully packaged book too, with my only minor grumble being a rather significant number of sloppy proofing errors that should've been picked up before it was published: A

45. Groo: Friends and Foes Volume 1 by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier - I've long been a big fan of Aragonés' Groo the Wanderer comic book, and this collection of the first four issues of the Friends and Foes series doesn't disappoint. Each issue stands alone as a wonderful example of Groo humour, but there's also hints of an over-arcing storyline that will no doubt play out further in the coming second and third volumes. Funny, beautifully illustrated and a great read: A

There we go - 45 books in total, a smidgeon less than the 50 I've managed over the last couple of years. And aside from that what did we learn? I read a lot of Star Trek books this year. A LOT. What was that all about? Anyway, after a wonderful haul of presents at Christmas I've already got a lovely stack of books waiting for me to lay my grubby little mitts on in 2016 (none of which are Star Trek, you'll be pleased to know). But of course, I won't talk about them until this time next year. But who knows, maybe I'll pop back here and write something before then? No promises, of course…

Until then, a very Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reading list 2014

OK, lets get the obvious out of the way ASAP: yes, I've been a rubbish blogger this year for the simple fact that I've not blogged. At all. Oops.

*sheepish grin*

Let's just say it's been an interesting year.

So the last post I wrote was my reading list for 2013, which I would post a link to but seeing as I haven't written anything in the last 12 months all you need to do is scroll down if you're interested in taking a look at it.

But look here! I'm back! With a list of all the books I've read in 2014, and by gum there's loads, which suggests I've done nothing but read this year (I assure you, that is so far from the truth it would make your head spin). As usual, I'm grading from A+ for books I want to love and hug and do naughty things with, to D- and beyond for books I promise I'll arrange a second date with but then 'accidentally' miss their calls and never text them back. So without further ado…

01. The Complete Peanuts 1987-1988 by Charles Schultz - Another two year's worth of this comics masterpiece. Brilliant: A

02. Maria M: Book One by Gilbert Hernandez - The latest in Beto's novelisations of fictional films mentioned in his Love and Rockets stories sees the eponymous title character escaping her past by marrying a drug lord. I never feel these books quite reach Beto's usual high standards, but they're alway fun and quick reads: B+

03. The Complete Peanuts 1989-1990 by Charles Schultz - The latest volume of Peanuts strips enters the final decade of daily fun for Charlie Brown and the gang: A

04. Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon - A new 'official' novel set between the events of the movies Alien and Aliens. The premise of Ripley being woken up, having a new adventure and then conveniently forgetting everything by the time we see her at the beginning of Aliens is a nothing less than a massive cliche, but that aside this was a reasonably entertaining and brisk read: B-

05. Adventure Time: Righteous Rules for Being Awesome by Jake Black - A fun read that's hard to grade because there's so little to it, but it scores a decent rating simply for the fact the voices of the characters carry across to its pages so well: B

06. The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue by Poe Ballantine (Kindle) - A wonderful collection of short stories by one of my favourite authors. Ballantine's writing is by turns funny, touching, heart-wrenching and haunting, and never less than brilliant: A

07. The Free by Willy Vlautin (Kindle) - The latest novel from one of my favourite authors follows a cast of characters whose lives are entwined through misfortune - a comatose soldier, a hospital nurse, and a night watchman from the home where the soldier was living. While not as remarkable as Vlautin's last novel, Lean on Pete, The Free is still a worthy, heartwrenching read: A

08. Star Trek: No Time Like the Past by Greg Cox (Kindle) - An original series era Star Trek novel that unites Captain James T. Kirk with Star Trek: Voyager's Seven of Nine. An interesting premise, and for the most part an enjoyable read, though I did feel it occasionally got bogged down in providing knowing winks for Star Trek continuity junkies: B-

09. Star Trek: The Lost Era - Serpents Among the Ruins by David R. George III (Kindle) - Set in the years between the end of the original series era and the beginning of The Next Generation, this novel fills in one of the most important gaps in Star Trek's history of the future, The Tomed Incident, which in Trek lore was the moment that saw the Romulans withdraw from the Galactic community. Despite being full of characters I was unfamiliar with (and which I believe were introduced in earlier novels) It's a good, solid read that I enjoyed quite a lot: B+

10. Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman (Kindle) - Thoroughly enjoyable Batman prose novel that has the Dark Knight investigating a mystery that delves back into his murdered father's past, and finally reveals just why Gotham city is full of so many bizarre villains: A

11. Walking London by Andrew Duncan - Wonderful book detailing 30 scenic walks around the capital, revealing not only how to get around the city, but also interesting historical facts about each different location. An informative and cracking read: A

12. Fatima: The Blood Spinners by Gilbert Hernandez - Beto's take on the zombie genre is a blood-spattered tale of a young woman working to eliminate the undead victims of a drug called Spin. Maybe not to the high standards of his Love and Rockets work, but fun nevertheless: B+

13. The Joker: Death of the Family - Collected edition of the comic book storyline that saw Batman's nemesis return to Gotham City after a year's absence and quickly setting about tearing apart the Dark Knight's extended family. An interesting idea, but I felt the individual issues' worth of stories didn't particularly hang together terribly well: B-

14. The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez - Simply awesome graphic novel that delves deep into the love life and childhood of Hernandez's Maggie Chascarillo character. Heartbreaking, shocking, brilliantly told and beautifully illustrated; one of my very favourite graphic novels: A+

15. & Sons by David Gilbert - An ageing author's sons return home to meet the illegitimate child that ended his marriage 17 years earlier. An underwhelming read; some lovely moments, but for the most part I found it moved without direction or any real focus: C

16. Star Trek: Seasons of Light and Darkness by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - A short ebook focusing on Dr. McCoy's mission to the planet Capella years before the original series, and bookended by scenes from the movie Star Trek II. It's a quick and easy read, and not a necessarily memorable one, and I didn't really feel the connection between McCoy's story and its relevance to the moments from The Wrath of Khan: B-

17. Star Trek Vanguard: Precipice by David Mack (Kindle) - Book 5 in the Vanguard series, and another solid read from one of Star Trek's finest authors: B+

18. Star Trek Vanguard: What Judgments Come by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore (Kindle) - The sixth and penultimate book in the Vanguard saga sees former commodore Diego Reyes relating the story of his time in Klingon and Orion hands as the series begins to soar towards its conclusion. A good, quick read: B+

19. Star Trek Vanguard: Storming Heaven by David Mack (Kindle) - The seventh and final book of this gritty Star Trek novel series brings the story of Starbase 47 to a close. For the most part it's a fitting conclusion that is both well-written and engaging, but not the best book in the series: B+

20. Star Trek Volume 7: The Khitomer Conflict - The latest collection of the new movie universe comic books sees the crew of the Enterprise drawn into a conflict between the Klingons and the Romulans that is sparked by Starfleet's covert Section 31 intelligence agency: B+

21. Star Trek: Khan - A graphic novel collection telling the story of Khan Noonien Singh's origins and rise to power on 20th century Earth, and his reawakening in the 23rd century prior to the events of the movie Star Trek into Darkness: B+

22. It by Stephen King (Kindle) - A 1400 page monster of a book, and an entertaining, if overly and somewhat unnecessarily long read. For the most part I enjoyed It, but I didn't really feel the story really began to get going until the final 400 pages, and truth be told, I didn't find it at all scary: B-

23. Star Trek Vanguard: Declassified (Kindle) - A collection of four novellas revealing untold moments in the saga of Starbase 47. For the most part an enjoyable collection of stories that expand upon events and characters from Vanguard, and particularly as a result of the loss of a major character in the final story, an essential read for fans of the series: B

24. Star Trek Vanguard: In Tempest's Wake by Dayton Ward (Kindle) - An enjoyable novella that rounds out the Vanguard saga, reviewing various events from the series from the perspective of Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise. By no means essential, but it's a brisk read and worth it for completists: B-

25. Closure, Limited by Max Brooks (Kindle) - A sadly underwhelming collection of four short stories set in Brooks' World War Z universe, one of which inexplicably and somewhat unnecessarily introduces vampires to the fold. Disappointing: C

26. Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (Kindle) - The story of the relationships between old friends in a small American town. Told in the form of vignettes from the different perspectives of the main characters, this was an enjoyable enough novel, but one that didn't blow my mind: B-

27. Star Trek: Dreams of the Raven by Carter Carmen (Kindle) - Cracking old Star Trek novel that sees a crippled Enterprise trying to unravel the mystery of a race of aggressive aliens, while Dr. McCoy suffers amnesia as the result of a head injury. Expectations were relatively low for this novel, but it proved to be a fun, fast-paced and enjoyable read: B+

28. Star Trek: Assignment: Eternity by Greg Cox (Kindle) - An intriguing premise sees the return of Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln from the TOS episode Assignment: Earth in an attempt to thwart a Romulan plot to assassinate Spock. While the premise was interesting, the execution proved less so, and I found this to be an average novel that failed to grip me: C+

29. Star Trek: Debt of Honor by Chris Claremont - A reread of a graphic novel I bought many years ago that sees Captain Kirk and his crew team up with Klingon and Romulan forces to destroy an alien species that threatens all life in the Galaxy. A good story, very well illustrated: B+

30. Star Trek Seekers 1: Second Nature by David Mack (Kindle) - The start of a new series of novels that picks up where Star Trek Vanguard left off. This first book focuses on the crew of the U.S.S. Sagittarius as they explore a distant world in the Taurus Reach that's home to a humanoid species who undergo a horrific transformation when they reach adulthood. Throw some Klingons into the mix and you have a book that is riveting to read, well written, and surprisingly humourous in places. The second book in the series has much to live up to: A

31. The Fuck-up By Arthur Nersesian (Kindle) - Amusing cult novel following the exploits of a 23 year old man in New York City as his life slowly falls apart in front of him. A fun read: B+

32. The Drive by Tyler Keevil (Kindle) - Brilliant novel following the exploits of a young man named Trevor who sets out on an increasingly more surreal, drink-fuelled road trip after splitting up with his girlfriend. Loved this: A

33. Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley - The first book from the creator of the Scott Pilgrim series is an enjoyable read focusing on a young girl joining some friends on a road trip, while trying to relocate her lost soul along the way. An enjoyable read, and this tenth anniversary edition is beautifully put together: B+

34. Fireball by Tyler Keevil - Wonderful story of four teenage friends initially hailed as heroes after saving an old woman from drowning before the events of a long hot summer eventually lead to one of them dying in a stolen police car. An exceptional novel: A+

35. Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley - Wonderful graphic novel telling the tale of a twentysomething chef called Katie who discovers a way to correct the perceived mistakes of her past, not realising the damage she's doing in the process. Great story, beautifully illustrated, and a nice chunky little book: A

36. Burrard Inlet by Tyler Keevil (Kindle) - Fantastic collection of short stories by one of my new favourite authors: A

37. Star Trek Seekers 2: Point of Divergence by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore (Kindle) - Picking up straight off from where the first book in this new Star Trek novel series left off, this book finds the crew of the U.S.S. Endeavour trying to contain the threat of the evolved people of a planet in the Taurus Reach. A cracking story, but one that falls a little short of the first part: B+

38. Alien: Sea of Sorrows by James A. Moore (Kindle) - Second instalment in the new trilogy of Alien novels sees one of Ellen Ripley's descendants blackmailed into taking part in a mission to the planet that featured in the previous book, Out of the Shadows, in an attempt to help Weyland Yutani procure samples of the deadly xenomorphs. Entertaining enough, but the plot felt a little laboured and padded out in places: C+

39. Cheeky Swimsuits of 1957 by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - the latest novel from the author of the hilarious Youth in Revolt books is the tale of a young man in the 1950s sent to the west coast by his father to run his late uncle's swimsuit business. As usual for Payne's books, the novel is packed full of risque humour and innuendo, and while amusing throughout, the overall story feels stretched a little too thinly. Fun, but not among the author's best work: B-

40. The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu - Beautifully told, somewhat Tim Burton-esque fairy tale about, as the title suggests, a boy with a cuckoo clock heart who leaves his home in Edinburgh to pursue his love for a young girl across Europe. I loved this: A

41. Helen of Pepper Pike by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - A rather different sort of novel from one of my favourite authors. Payne's trademark bawdry humour is rather toned down in this tale of a middle-aged woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when she attempts to track down the author of a series of 1950s young adult novels: B+

42. Brenda the Great by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - Payne turns his attention to the shenanigans of an overweight teenage girl in a strict private school in this amusing but somewhat directionless tale. Not among the author's best work - I can't help but feel that Payne is searching too hard for a successor to his wonderful Nick Twisp character - but it's a fun read, and even when not at his best, he's still a wonderful writer with a distinctive tone: B

43. Saga (Vol. 2) by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples - Picking up directly where the first volume left off, Vaughan's epic tale follows two lovers from opposite sides of an intergalactic war as they try to escape the conflict and find a place for them and their baby daughter. Brilliantly written and beautifully illustrated - I'm rather enjoying this series: B+

44. Loverboys by Gilbert Hernandez - A new graphic novel from the most prolific of the Hernandez brothers follows the romantic exploits of a young man torn between older and younger women. Maybe not Beto's strongest work, but his books are always wonderful reads: B+ • Bumperhead by Gilbert Hernandez - Another new book from one of the best graphic storytellers working today. Bumperhead follows various stages in an angry young man's life as he tries to find his place in the world: B+

45. Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks - An enjoyable graphic novel about a girl who has been home-schooled going to high school for the first time, while dealing with a ghost who has been haunting her. Good fun: B+

46. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel by Ransom Riggs, art by Cassandra Jean - Wonderful story of an American boy who discovers the tall tales his grandfather told him as a boy weren't quite as fantastical as he originally thought, leading him to an island off the coast of Wales, and a house that is home to some rather special children. Brilliantly written and beautifully illustrated - I loved this graphic novel edition of Riggs' acclaimed novel so much that it makes me want to read the original prose version: A

47. The Seven Per Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer - Fantastic Sherlock Holmes story from the writer and director of Star Trek II. Meyer's first tale featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyles celebrated detective sees Watson leading his friend to Vienna where he calls upon the skills of Sigmund Freud to help Holmes break his addiction to cocaine, before subsequently helping to track down a missing heiress. Masterfully written, this book rattles along at a superb pace. An absolute joy: A

48. Doctor Who: Spore by Alex Scarrow (Kindle) - A quick and breezy read from one of my favourite authors, with an interesting enough premise that it could, quite frankly, have have sustained a far longer page count. Enjoyable: B+

49. Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 9 by Robert Kirkwood; art by Ryan Ottley - The ninth volume in this large format collection of what I consider the best superhero comic around is a great read, although, like the previous volume in the series, possibly not quite up to the lofty standards of earlier books: B

50. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks - Cracking little graphic novel about a group of robot building high school nerds who join forces with the cheerleading team to enter a robot war contest. Beautifully illustrated and a lot of fun: B+

There we go. Fifty books on the head, which equals what I read last year. How's that for nerdy synergy? Anyway, who knows if I'll write anything here in the next 12 months, whether you'll have to wait another 365 days for another thrilling instalment, or whether anyone actually cares any more, but as I usually do here, I'll sign off by wishing you all (if one accidental link click constitutes an 'all'!) a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reading list 2013

OK, so yes, I've been wildly neglectful of my blog over the last few months, but did you really think I'd let New Year's Eve pass without the traditional run-down of all the books I've read over the last 12 months? Of course I wouldn't. So buckle the hell-piece up because while I may not have blogged much in 2013, I sure as hell read a load of books: 50, to be specific, which I think ranks as the most I've ever read in the space of a year since I started keeping records. As usual, each title is graded, with A+ being a gold star, a pat on the head and a glowing report to the author's parents, and anything C or below ranking as a flaming turd being hurled at the author's front porch from a fast-moving vehicle. And of course there's links in case you approve of my fantastic taste in books and want to read some of them for yourself (I would lend you mine, but TIMMY DOESN'T LEND BOOKS).

Let's begin, yo?

01. John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood by Michael D. Sellers - Fascinating exploration of how Edgar Rice Burroughs' science fiction hero John Carter of Mars was brought to cinema screens 100 years after the first novel in the Barsoom was published, and how a mismanaged marketing effort and various studio blunders led to the film being branded one of Hollywood's biggest ever flops. A remarkable insight into the studio politics surrounding one of my favourite movies of recent years, although sadly the book is blighted by a large number of clumsy proofing errors scattered page after page that knocked me out of the narrative somewhat: B

02. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon (Kindle) - A short, breezy novella focusing on the efforts of an elderly retired detective (Sherlock Holmes, although never named as such) to track down a missing parrot who possesses knowledge that could turn the tide of the second World War. Enjoyable enough, although I felt as if the concept of an elderly Holmes could've been explored in far greater depth: B

03. The Broken Universe by Paul Melko - The sequel to The Walls of the Universe (which I read back at the beginning of 2011) finds universe-hopping John Rayburn recruiting legions of his own duplicates in an attempt to make a safe haven for refugees from various universes, only to attract the unwanted attention of a warlike multiverse-policing species. A fun story and an enjoyable read, though the sheer number of alternate versions of multiple characters sometimes got a bit confusing, and I found it lacking just a little when compared to its predecessor: B+

04. African Adventure by Willard Price (Kindle) - A Kindle omnibus edition bought because I wanted to reacquaint myself with one of my favourite childhood authors, this story sees Hal and Roger Hunt on safari in Africa where they find themselves capturing animals and facing the deadly Leopard Society. Some slightly antiquated phrases and plotlines aside (the Hunt boys are capturing animals for zoos and circuses!), this book reminded me just how enjoyable Price's writing remains: B+

05. Elephant Adventure by Willard Price (Kindle) - The real reason I bought this Kindle omnibus of Willard Price stories; as a child, Elephant Adventure was my favourite book in the series, and years later it remains a wildly enjoyable read; like African Adventure it appears somewhat dated - maybe even a little politically incorrect - in places, but such minor quibbles cannot detract from such a good story and great characters: B+

06. The Collected John Carter of Mars Vol. 1 by Edgar Rice Burroughs - The first three stories in the Barsoom series collected into one volume; I skipped A Princess of Mars as I read it last year, instead jumping straight into The Gods of Mars and its sequel The Warlord of Mars. Both stories are utterly brilliant pulp fiction in the grandest sense: A

07. The Average American Marriage by Chad Kultgen (Kindle) - An underwhelming sequel to The Average American Male, one of my favourite books of recent years. Moments of the inspired original shine through on occasion, but on the whole I found this a mostly unsatisfying and somewhat unnecessary follow-up: C

08. The Candle Man by Alex Scarrow (Kindle) - Fantastic Victorian-era set thriller that puts a fresh spin on the Jack the Ripper legend, bringing vibrant life to London of the 1880s and populating it with some fascinating characters. Scarrow's earlier novel, October Skies, was a brilliant read, and this gripping story just confirms him as one of the most entertaining writers around today: A

09. Burning Bright by Ron Rash (Kindle) - Great little collection of short stories which reminded me a little of Donald Ray Pollock's writing. Nothing really stood out as absolutely amazing, but I enjoyed all of the stories and would certainly check out some of the author's other work: B+

10. Star Trek Volume 3 - Third collected edition of stories set in the new Star Trek movie timeline, including new universe retellings of the original series episodes Return of the Archons and The Trouble with Tribbles. Like earlier volumes, these are entertaining enough stories, but I can't help but feel the new universe should be telling its own tales, not retreading familiar classics: B-

11. Star Trek Volume 4 - The fourth volume in the new universe series finally brings original stories to the alternate Star Trek timelines, and they're not half bad. Sadly, the second half of the book features a somewhat underwhelming retelling of Mirror, Mirror that draws heavily from Star Trek: Enterprise's In a Mirror Darkly, and is made worse by featuring some plain odd continuity errors (the wrong Enterprise design, blatant reuse of TNG-era display screens, etc) that just make it look like no one really cared about the story they were telling: B-

12. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (Kindle) - A collection of short stories that I was drawn to by its comparison to the works of Donald Ray Pollock, one of my favourite authors. As it turns out, the comparison is a little odd, as these stories are nowhere near as gritty or as enthralling as Pollock's fiction; entertaining in their own right, but lacking that certain something that would make them truly unique: B-

13. The Collected John Carter of Mars Vol. 2 by Edgar Rice Burroughs - The second volume in the Barsoom series collects four novels: Thuvia, Maid of Mars, The Chessmen of Mars, The Master Mind of Mars, and A Fighting Man of Mars. With Carter himself making only brief appearances in these stories, I felt that they lacked a certain something when compared to the earlier Barsoom tales found in the first volume, but they nevertheless remain rousing adventure stories: A-

14. The Complete Peanuts 1977-1978 by Charles Schultz - Steadily catching up on Fantagraphics' ongoing chronological releases of Schultz's comic strip masterpiece; naturally, this is another wonderful addition to my collection: A

15. Star Trek: Devil's Bargain by Tony Daniel (Kindle) - After seeing Star Trek into Darkness I felt like reading a trashy Trek novel. This breezy read ticked all the boxes, was far more enjoyable than the dreadful last Star Trek novel I read, and was actually quite a good story with a real feel of the original series about it: B-

16. Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness by Mike Johnson, Art by David Messina - The comic book prequel to the movie Star Trek into Darkness finds Kirk and his crew involved in a violation of the Prime Directive on a distant planet, introduces a never-before-seen figure from Star Trek lore, and brings the Klingons into the new movie timeline. While asserting a number of themes that play out in the latest film (most notably the Prime Directive and the notion that war with the Klingons is inevitable), this prequel does little to expand upon the storyline of the latest Star Trek film, and as such lacks that certain quality that made Star Trek: Countdown a 'must-read' for fans of the last movie. Still, it's a fun read, and nice to see the new crew staring in an adventure of their own, rather than rehashed versions of the classic original episodes as seen in the Star Trek Ongoing comic books: B+

17. Star Trek into Darkness by Alan Dean Foster - After describing the author's adaptation of the previous Star Trek film as 'sadly lacking' back in 2009, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this novel of the 12th Star Trek movie proved to be a cracking read. Maybe not the best novelisation of a Star Trek film (I still rate J.M. Dillard's books higher), but a fun read that gently expands upon the storyline of Into Darkness, and fills in some little plot holes that you might be left wondering about after seeing the film: B+

18. Julio's Day by Gilbert Hernandez - A new graphic novel from one half of Los Bros Hernandez, charting the events of one man's life over the course of 100 years. Beautifully written and illustrated, with some incredibly heartfelt moments: B+

19. Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez - A semi-autobiographical graphic novel from Beto which assembles a cast of children and looks back on times when collecting comic books and playing in the streets were the only cares in the world. Wonderful: B+

20. Star Trek: Destiny - The Complete Saga by David Mack (Kindle) - An epic book containing three novels (Gods of Night, Mere Mortals, and Lost Souls), which span thousands of years, multiple ships, crews, and characters, and tells not only the last Borg story, but also reveals the origins of the Collective. Destiny is a masterfully told story that leaves the Star Trek universe of the 24th century forever changed, but beyond that it proves that a Star Trek novel can be an engrossing, brilliantly written read: A

21. Star Trek: The John Byrne Collection by John Byrne - A beautiful hardback collection of legendary comic book creator Byrne's recent Star trek miniseries, from his Romulan saga to Assignment: Earth, Crew, and Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor. Wonderfully written and illustrated stories, but what's really remarkable about Byrne's Trek tales that wasn't necessarily apparent when they were first released as individual comics is how all the seemingly disparate series actually dovetail together. Thoroughly enjoyable, and among the best Star Trek comics I've read: A+

22. Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 8 by Robert Kirkman; art by Ryan Ottley - The latest volume of what I consider the best ongoing superhero comic book series in print today focuses less on the more character-driven elements that usually make Invincible so unique, and more on epic battles, and is not helped by the fact that the titular character is absent for much of this installment. Still more enjoyable than other superhero books, but perhaps not quite as good as previous volumes in this series: B

23. American Rust by Philipp Meyer (Kindle) - A quietly told novel that traces the fallout of one evening when two friends find themselves responsible for the death of a man, and how their lives take different paths in the days that follow. For the most part I found this a solid read, although not one that I found particularly memorable: B-

24. Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere by Poe Ballantine - The latest book by one of my favourite authors does not disappoint; by turns an honest glimpse into Ballantine's occasionally strained marriage, a touching look at the joys of raising his (possibly autistic) son, a witty insight into life in small-town America, and an attempt to bring closure to the horrifying unsolved death of a local maths professor. A remarkable read: A+

25. Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin (Kindle) - A beautifully written novel about Cadence Roth, a dwarf actress once famed for her role in a wildly successful film but now living her life in increasing obscurity while waiting for her return to the limelight. Touching and imbued with a gleeful streak of dark wit that reminded me of CD Payne's Youth in Revolt novels, I adored this book: A

26. A Thousand Suns by Alex Scarrow (Kindle) - The first novel by one of my favourite authors tells the story of Germany's last ditch attempt to win the Second World War by trying to drop an atomic bomb on New York. A Thousand Suns makes use of Scarrow's trademark storytelling technique which sees the narrative split across two time periods, and while not as accomplished as his later novels (October Skies and Candle Man) it remains a riveting and highly recommended read: A

27. The Complete Peanuts 1979-1980 by Charles Schultz - Another volume in Fantagraphics' ongoing Complete Peanuts project sees Charlie Brown and the gang still going strong as they enter their fourth decade of newspaper strips. By turns laugh out loud funny and heartbreakingly emotional, and nothing less than a joy to read: A

28. 11.22.63 by Stephen King (Kindle) - The story of a 21st century school teacher who travels back in time on a mission to prevent the assassination of JFK. Aside from meandering a little bit in the middle, the first King novel I've read was a riveting read that I rattled through at an astonishing pace for such a lengthy book: A

29. Star Trek Volume 5 - The fifth volume of stories set in the new movie universe is a collection focusing on the backstories of McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. As these were originally published as individual comic books each story only has around 20 pages in which to be told, so they're ultimately entertaining if somewhat slight: B+

30. The Complete Peanuts 1981-1982 by Charles Schultz - More masterpieces from the mind of Charles Schultz; I particularly enjoyed the sequence where Snoopy's brother Marbles hilariously fails to understand his sibling's WWI Flying Ace fantasy. Obviously goes without saying: A

31. Star Trek: From History's Shadow by Dayton Ward (Kindle) - An intriguing concept that attempts to tie together individual moments from the various Star Trek episodes that depicted alien encounters in the 20th century. Despite this, I found From History's Shadow to be an ultimately unsatisfying read; the 20th century elements that formed the bulk of the story hung together too loosely to properly grip me, while the 23rd century parts featuring Captain Kirk and his crew felt tacked on and of little relevance to the overall story: C+

32. Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class by Bikram Choudhury - I decided to brush up on my yoga knowledge by finally reading this book that I bought at Teacher Training last year. Despite being written almost 40 years ago, the information contained within this book is easy to understand and remains relevant to this day. Not only that, but what made reading this a complete joy was the fact that Bikram's voice really shines through on each and every page, reviving memories of my nine weeks in LA with him. Educational, fascinating, and a joy from cover to cover: A+

33. Star Trek: Vanguard - Harbinger by David Mack (Kindle) - The first book in the Vanguard series took me pleasantly by surprise; a gritty, almost Battlestar Galactica-esque story set in The Original Series universe featuring some interesting new characters and and an intriguing premise. More importantly, Harbinger was brilliantly written and had me hooked from the outset and eager for more. A very unexpected: A+

34. Paul Joins the Scouts by Michel Rabagliati - For the latest in his series of semi-autobiographical graphic novels, Rabagliati returns to the younger days of his alter-ego Paul, detailing how he came to join the scouts at a time of civil unrest in Montreal in the early 1970s. Beautifully written and illustrated, Paul Joins the Scouts may lack the emotional punch of Rabagliati's previous book, The Song of Roland, but it maintains the high standard I've come to expect from his work: A+

35. Star Trek: Vanguard - Summon the Thunder by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore - Book two in the Vanguard series proved something of a disappointment after the compelling first instalment, and very much suffers from being a continuation of events from the first book while also introducing new plot lines that are left awaiting resolution in the books that follow. I was also felt that Vanguard's main characters who shone so brightly in Harbinger were sidelined a little here. By no means terrible, but lacking somewhat when compared to its predecessor: B-

36. The Collected John Carter of Mars Vol. 3 by Edgar Rice Burroughs - The third and final volume of Burroughs' classic science fiction stories is for the most part a wonderful read; three of the stories collected here - Swords of Mars, Synthetic Men of Mars and Llana of Gathol - mark a return to form for the Carter novels after the minor disappointment of some of the tales in the second volume. The fourth and final story - John Carter of Mars - is something of an oddity, however, beginning as a poorly written, somewhat childish story told in the third person, before its second part returns to the traditional first person perspective, and begins the tale of Carter's adventure on Jupiter - a story that was sadly left unfinished following ERB's death. A wonderful read, nonetheless: A

37. Star Trek: Vanguard - Reap the Whirlwind by David Mack - The third book in the Vanguard series delves deeper into the mysteries of the Taurus Reach and the story spun around the Vanguard starbase. Not quite up to the level of the first book, but more enjoyable than the second. Enjoyable stuff: B+

38. Star Trek: Vanguard - Open Secrets by Dayton Ward - Book four in the Vanguard series and another enjoyable read as Starbase 47's former commanding officer faces a court martial and war with the Klingons inches ever closer: B+

39. Love and Rockets: New Stories #6 by Los Bros Hernandez - As always, I loved this latest volume of stories by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, although I did feel it wasn't quite as strong as some of the previous editions. But, y'know, it's still Los Bros Hernandez so… A-

40. Actor's Anonymous by James Franco - The second novel by the well-known actor is less a novel, more a collection of connected short stories, much like his first book, Palo Alto. While well-written and in parts entertaining, Actor's Anonymous felt like it was trying too hard to be clever, and in places felt more like a manifesto detailing Franco's thought's on acting and Hollywood than a narrative. Interesting but flawed: C

41. Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz - Beautiful oversized hardback containing each stunning retro art print created by Ortiz for every episode of the original Star Trek series. Not much to read, but wonderful to look at: A

42. The Hive by Charles Burns - Continuing the story begun in Burns' previous book, X'ed Out, The Hive is both surreal, intriguing, and beautifully illustrated, yet suffers from the same criticism I levelled at its predecessor - as good as it is, the story remains unfinished by the end of this volume, and I can't help looking forward to the day when I can read the whole thing in one go without having to wait a year for the next installment: B-

43. The Children of Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez - Collected edition of the Ignatz Palomar stories that were published a few years back. Typical Beto, and all the better for it: B+

44. Star Trek Movies Omnibus - A collected edition of all the comic book adaptations of the classic Star Trek movies (I-VI). An enjoyable read full of faithfully told stories: B+

45. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples - Enjoyable graphic novel telling the tale of two alien beings from different sides of an interplanetary war who seek to escape the conflict with their newborn child: B+

46. Star Trek: Federation - The First 150 Years by David A. Goodman - A fictitious historical recollection of the first 150 years of Star Trek's United Federation of Planets, detailing everything from First Contact through to the end of the Kirk era. A riveting read that brings new life to Star Trek's future history, and adds intriguing details about previously unseen events such as the Romulan War: A

47. RASL by Jeff Smith - Beautiful oversized and full-colour hardback edition collecting the entire run of Smith's parallel universe spanning comic book tale. An engrossing, action-packed and intelligent story brought to life with incredibly detailed illustrations. Simply amazing: A+

48. The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984 by Charles Schultz - Another brilliant volume of this comic masterpiece: A

49. The Complete Peanuts 1985-1986 by Charles Schultz - Two more year's worth of Schultz's daily tales of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang: A

50. Star Trek Volume 6: After Darkness - The first collected edition of comics set after Star Trek into Darkness puts a new spin on the classic original series episode Amok Time, and unlike many of the earlier retreads of old shows, it's a worthwhile and enjoyable tale. Good stuff: B+

And there you go. Pretty bloody comprehensive, I think you'll agree. Who knows if I'll read more than 50 books next year; part of me hopes not and that I'll manage to get a life instead, but we'll see. Whatever happens, though, Happy New Year!