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!


Inexplicable DeVice said...

I have a confession to make: I have never read any of the John Carter books. However, after reading your reviews (and also *really* enjoying the film), I'm going to have to give them a go.

Another marvellous reading list, Mr Leng. And I think you've read more Star Trek than me this past year!

Carry on, and Happy New Year!

P.S. Glad you liked Saga.

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Dear gods! Are we to wait until the next New Year before you post again?

Don't go getting all T-Bird/Dora/Dinah on us.

* tuts *

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