Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Let’s get physical

 Can you believe it’s been almost two years since the doom plague struck? So much for the ‘Roaring Twenties’ we all promised ourselves - it’s been more like the ‘Snoring Twenties’ with the amount of napping I’ve done over the last twenty-four months. It’s almost like I was trying to hibernate through the apocalypse.

That said, I think I’m going to end up as one of those smug, annoying people who, when this whole pandemic-thing is finally over, emerge from their cocoon of agoraphobia and self isolating even when they didn’t actually need to self isolate as a slightly better version of themselves.

And no, don’t think I’m one of *those* people who wrote sixteen novels, founded a charity and started a family during lockdown - I’m not that productive, though I did write a novel - rather, I actually started focusing on getting a bit fitter. Or hench, as I believe the kids say.

I’ll be honest, I spent the first three months of the first lockdown on the sofa with my feet up reading books (which is why my reading lists over the last two years have been insane), but then I got to the point where I looked at myself in the mirror one day and I didn’t approve of the extra chin or the spare tyre (it wasn’t quite that bad, dear reader; this is more of an artistic flourish to set the tone). Let’s not forget I was a chubby kid, and the spectre of that rotund little blonde boy from the 1980s haunts me to this day. So I set about doing something about it.

Obviously being a Bikram yoga teacher my first recourse was, well, yoga. And during the balmy summer months I thoroughly enjoyed a bit of back garden yoga in the sunshine. Plus, in tiny yoga shorts I ended up with a pretty delicious tan. In August of 2020, almost exactly eleven years since I did my first thirty day yoga challenge, I started another one. Thirty days of hot yoga - well, lukewarm yoga, given I couldn’t get the underfloor heating in the living room up to forty degrees. It was a lot of fun, and a little more challenging given I was teaching myself and the inclination is always to zip through the postures I don’t like. But I didn’t, and I did it. Gold star to me and a pat on the bum.

The thing with hot yoga in a not-hot environment is that I found I was focusing on, and building, strength more than flexibility, so at the end of my thirty day challenge I thought fuck it, let’s just try to get buff. I dug out the weights I’d bought when I moved into the first Sparky Towers back in 2006. Back then the intention was to do a weights session every evening and get, well, buff, but the reality was that I used them infrequently and basically left them unloved in the bottom of the wardrobe. But no more! Now they were back in action as I furiously pumped, if not iron, well, certainly tin.

But then I realised I needed to do more, driven slightly by all the fitness stuff on my Apple Watch, which was gently encouraging me to ‘close my rings’ (move, exercise and stand). The move ring was pretty easy to close as I could manually set it at a pretty low number and feel smug when I achieved it; stand was easy too as, y’know, I can stand. But exercise was proving a little trickier.

So I bought a rowing machine.

Back in the dim-distant past when I used to go to a gym, the rowing machine was about the only cardio thing I actually a) liked, and b) saw any benefit from. So I did a little research (basically found the cheapest one) and treated myself. 

I’ll be honest, the first few months I barely used it. It was like a once-a-week-thing. I’d sit on it, get some music blasting, and row for what seemed like an eternity only to find I’d managed a pitiful kilometre and my Apple Watch would say something like ‘well done Tim, you’re so close to closing your exercise ring’ when in fact the only thing I was close to was passing out. But then in January 2021 I went hell for leather. Suddenly I was rowing six kilometres each session, sometimes more. I added long walking workouts to my regime and the weights sessions started feeling … easier? I was building arms like tennis balls in a sports sock and abs like Jesus. 

Then the rowing machine control panel broke. That was annoying, but I got a replacement and somehow using my basic understanding of how to read instructions, managed to install it myself without losing a finger. 

Despite barely rowing in December due to work and the sheer mountain of sugary goodness Sparky Ma threw at me over Christmas, I ended the year feeling fitter and healthier than I have done in a long time. And my Apple Watch stats are bonkers compared to what they were just a little over a year ago.

Look at all those closed rings.

I’ve started 2022 with a renewed focus on fitness. Unfortunately, just eight minutes into a row yesterday morning there was a comical ‘boing’ sound and the rowing machine handles went slack. A swift email to the manufacturer revealed that the ‘coil’ has gone, probably as a result of wear and tear, but possibly because I’m now A MACHINE and my vigorous health regime is to blame. Funny, I thought a coil was something else, but apparently not. Anyway, I’ve got one coming and I’ve got to take the bloody thing apart to install it myself in the next few days. There will be swearing.  

Slack bitch.

In the meantime, I’m left wondering what I can do to keep my momentum going. Weights, obviously. Walking, for sure. Oh, and then a lovely yoga teacher friend asked me last night if I’d ever practiced my own class. Don’t be silly, I replied, I hate the sound of my own voice (surprising, eh?); but she insisted, saying I teach a good one, and sent me a link to a recording of an online class I taught. So, weirdly, I might have a bash at teaching myself.

And then this morning I got an email from Apple offering me a free month of Apple Fitness+. It’s almost like they knew… Anyway, I’ve always fancied trying one of their on-demand dance classes, so maybe now’s the time to turn up the music and throw it down to some phat beats.

 The things I do for cheekbones, arms and abs…

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Bringing specsy back

Four years ago - so definitely somewhere in the wilderness years of this blog where all you got was annual book updates - I started getting stingy eyes and headaches. I was spending lots of time at my computer working (not writing my blog, obviously) and I came to the realisation that I should probably have my eyes tested. 

The upshot of it was that I ended up getting Sparky’s First Pair of Glasses. Well, strictly speaking it was Sparky’s First Two Pairs of Glasses, because it was on a buy one pair get another free deal. The glasses I got were black framed, kinda like Ray-Bans sorta thing, and no you’re not getting a picture of me wearing them. That’s what Instagram is for. Weirdly, my prescription was so slight that the optician, or optometrist or whatever they call themselves these days (eye wizard?!), said if my right eye was out the same minuscule amount as my left they would’ve just turned me around, patted me on the bum and gently scooted me out the door without even bothering to give me glasses. Or maybe they would’ve given me frames without any lenses?

“Do I need to wear them all the time?” I asked excitedly, anticipating an uptick in both my sexiness and assumed intelligence levels.

“No!” Shrieked the eye wizard. “Just when you’re using your computer.”

Anyway, two years ago, just after Christmas and before the doom plague ruined all our lives, I started getting stingy eyes again. By now living in Cardiff, I went to another eye wizard here and got my eyes tested again (once more being subjected to the insufferable puff of air in the eyeballs from that infernal device that does who knows what) only to be told that I didn’t actually need any new glasses and the stinging in my eyes was probably just, y’know, Cardiff weather.

“But I wanted new frames,” I whined.

“You can have some new frames,” said the eye wizard, this time with a gentle Welsh lilt to their voice, “but they’ll cost you.”

Glancing briefly at the frames I liked and wincing at the price sticker (turns out I could see that no problem) I decided I didn’t need new frames, turned myself around, patted myself on the bum and scooted out the door.

Let’s fast forward to the present day and my latest visit to the eye wizard today. Strutting in the door all cocky like, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need new glasses this time around. Seven puffs of air from the infernal device (I blinked once in anticipation, dammit) and a faultless reading of the eye test chart later, I’m told that actually, yes, I do need new ones. That was a surprise. But, cost aside, one I’m not altogether unhappy about. I like my current glasses, but I’m also a fickle follower of fashion and I want this season’s sharpest new look. 

The eye wizard subsequently led me downstairs to Melissa, who would help me find the perfect new frames for my cheeky little face. Sadly for Melissa, she was kinda redundant, because I’d already looked online and found the ones I liked; all she had to do was locate them on the rack.

So the ones I’m going for are slightly rounded frames. To be honest, I considered something similar four years ago as my free second pair, but the moment I put them on the woman helping me choose them looked at me, tilted her head and said “awww, you look like Harry Potter.” Reader, I HURLED them back onto the rack.

Four years later, Melissa did not say I looked like Harry Potter. All Melissa contributed came when I asked her what the difference was between the pair I’d already chosen and another pair that was similar.

“One has a blue bit on the arms, and the other has a red bit.” Thank you Melissa.

So, £175 lighter, this time next week I’ll have new glasses. As an aside, my car (affectionately known as The Bug - yes, I bought a new motor during blog downtime back in 2017) was in for an MOT today. It sailed through, which just goes to show that I’m falling apart quicker than a car with 37,000 miles on the clock.

Anyway, just before leaving, I asked the inevitable, with a hopeful tone in my voice:

“Do I have to wear these all the time?”

“No,” said the eye wizard. “Just when you’re working at the computer. Or looking at your phone for extended periods” - dammit she knows me too well - “Oh, and when you’re reading. To be honest, you’re prescription is a bit stronger than you’re used to so I’d actually suggest you don’t try standing up or walking while you’re wearing them as you won’t be used to it.”

So there we have it: a week today I’ll look significantly sexier and more intelligent while working or reading, but the facade will drop spectacularly if I try to move.

Story of my life, huh?


Friday, December 31, 2021

Reading list 2021

It's that time of year when, once again, I marvel at the fact that it's that time of year again. Honestly, I've been hurled around the sun enough times by now that you'd imagine I'd know how this thing called life works by now, but no, apparently not. So let's do some mock outrage – HOLY FUCK IT'S THE END OF THE YEAR! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?! – and get on with things.

As has by now become familiar to long-time readers, I've barely touched this blog over the last 12 months (honestly, I got huge anxiety that my password wouldn't even work when I logged on to write this), although I did manage a post about a Bichon Frisé back in May. The rest of the time I spent walking (I found a nice 12 mile route around Cardiff), yoga-ing (teaching and doing), working on books and, of course, reading books (if I hadn't, this would be a very slight post). And when we say 'reading books', lordy, I read a lot this year. Hold tight to those socks, because I'm about to try to blow them off: 116 books. Yes, you read that right: ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN. It's almost like I had nothing else to do. 

I'll be honest, the reason for ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN books, as you'll see during what amounts to the first few months of the year in the list (i.e. the bit before your eyes glaze over and you're rendered inexplicably unconscious), is dominated by graphic novels; specifically, Adventure Time graphic novels. I blitzed my way through the television series in the last few months of 2020, and was left bereft by its conclusion, so I sought solace in the arms of the books collecting its long run of comic books. Plus Forbidden Planet had a ridiculous sale on some of them – how could I resist a hardback book discounted to £1.99?! Things evened out a bit as the year went on and I returned to reading grown-up books (Hard Case Crime novels in particular became a surprise joy for me), then petered out a bit towards the end of the year when I was asked to do a shit-ton of work on, you guessed it, some books, which took up a lot of my time. If it weren't for the pesky need to pay bills and whatnot I reckon I could've rattled through a few more and made it a nice round 120, but it was not meant to be. That said, if we count the books I worked on we could add another … five?

I digress. Let's stick with 116 (ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN) and not get picky. This is certainly the most books I've ever read in a year (remember the early days of this list where I'd pat myself on the back for having read 34? Madness), so I'm going to award myself a little trophy, possibly a glass of Sherry, and undoubtedly a slab of lemon drizzle cake.

As usual, I'm slipping on my worn tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches (it's a little more snug around the shoulders these days, thank you home workouts) and settling my peachy posterior into my overstuffed armchair (thank you again, home workouts) ready to judge each book. We'll be following the familiar grading pattern, from A+ (I want to big spoon this book on a cold winter's night) to C and below (fork off, you're hogging the duvet). And no, I won't be providing links to each book: there are ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN and I ain't got no time to be cuttin' and pastin' for you lazy fools. 

Right. Strap in, bitches – HERE WE GO! 

01. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 1 - Having loved the TV show, I decided to give the Adventure Time comics a go, choosing the hardcover mathematical editions rather than the standard paperback collections. The first volume features a story about the evil Lich trying to take over Ooo, and Finn and Jake’s efforts to stop him. Nicely illustrated and a decent if slight story; worth a read if you’re a fan of the show though, and the mathematical edition is a gorgeous book: B+ 

02. Enemy Mine by Barry B. Longyear and David Gerrold - The novelisation of the 1985 science fiction film about a human pilot finding himself stranded on a desolate planet with only his enemy - a Drac - as a companion. An enjoyable, easy read that makes me want to rewatch the film: B+ 

03. Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards - A wonderful art book showcasing the title cards featured at the beginning of each episode of the Adventure Time television series. Though featuring brief reminiscences from the artists involved, the book is light on information; examples of earlier abandoned concepts would’ve been a nice addition, for example. The finished artwork is nevertheless gorgeous, and this makes a fine addition to the bookshelf of any fans of the show: A 

04. Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards, Seasons Three and Four - The second volume of episodic title cards is more of the same; gorgeous artwork, but perhaps lacking in background information about their creation that would truly make it a standout book. Nevertheless, as with the first volume: A 

05. Adventure Time: The Flip Side - A collected edition of a comics miniseries in which Finn and Jake take on a quest that causes things to be flipped in the land of Ooo. A fun read, with some interesting art that deviates from the usual Adventure Time style. Good, but not essential: B 

06. Adventure Time: Sugary Shorts Volume One - A great collection of short Adventure Time stories written and illustrated by an eclectic group of comic creators. Quality is high overall, and there are some standout tales, including one by Paul Pope. Thoroughly enjoyable: A 

07. The Twilight Zone edited by Carol Serling - A superb anthology of nineteen short stories published to coincide with The Twilight Zone’s 50th anniversary in 2009. Great fun, with some inventive twists and turns: A 

08. Adventure Time: Sugary Shorts Volume Two - A second collection of short adventures featuring Finn, Jake and the other inhabitants of Ooo. There are some great stories here, and some gorgeous artwork: A 

09. Adventure Time: Candy Capers - Collected edition of a six issue miniseries in which Finn and Jake go missing and it’s down to Peppermint Butler and Cinnamon Bun to track them down, while at the same time keeping the Candy Kingdom safe. A good story and some lovely artwork, only the rushed conclusion revealing where Finn and Jake really are lets this down: A- 

10. Adventure Time: Marceline and the Scream Queens - Collected edition of a six issue miniseries that focuses on the vampire Marceline going on tour with her band, accompanied by Princess Bubblegum. Enjoyable enough, but there’s no acknowledgement of the relationship between Marceline and PB shown on the TV show (possibly because this was written before that development) and there feels few ties to the characters we know and love from Adventure Time: B 

11. Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake - A collected miniseries featuring the gender-swapped characters Fionna and Cake, rather than Finn and Jake. Written and illustrated by the actual creator of the two characters, this is a fun addition to my Adventure Time collection: A 

12. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 2 - A second hardcover collection of Adventure Time comics, and a thoroughly enjoyable tale of Finn and Jake dabbling in time travel: A- 

13. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 3 - The third volume of Adventure Time comics finds BMO corrupted by a computer virus, leaving Finn, Jake and Marceline to go up against a new foe. A good, fun Adventure Time tale: B+ 

14. The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories Vol. 1 - A beautifully packaged limited edition hardcover (mine’s 78/300) collecting horror stories from around the world. With many of the authors included never having been translated into English before, this is a treasure trove of new voices, each with a wonderful spooky tale to tell. Unlimited paperback and ebook versions are available, and highly recommended: A 

15. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 4 - Opening with a single issue story that didn’t grab me, expectations were low for this fourth volume of Adventure Time comics. But the next four issues’ worth told a brilliant tale of Finn, Jake and Ice King exploring a dungeon that presents each with a unique challenge: A- 

16. Paul at Home by Michel Rabagliati - The eighth story in Rabagliati’s Paul series finds the titular character in middle age, living alone and facing the death of his mother. A melancholy tale for sure, but one that is beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated by one of my very favourite graphic novelists. Each one of Rabagliati’s books is a treat to behold and this latest volume is no different: A+ 

17. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 5 - Another fun collection, this time featuring a story in which one of Princess Bubblegum’s early gum creations comes back to haunt her: B+ 

18. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 6 - This volume features the 25th issue of the comic - a great little tale told across different time periods - and a longer story of Finn and Jake turning into ghosts, which was enjoyable enough but not one of the finer stories the series has produced: B+ 

19. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 7 - Another fine hardcover edition featuring a story in which Finn loses huge chunks of memory after an encounter with a new enemy: B+ 

20. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 8 - Opening with the final story by the comic’s original creators, followed by a four-parter by the new team that sees all the people of Ooo falling foul of a curse that causes them to forget how to cook. It’s a decent enough start for the new writer and artists, but falls a little below the high bar set by the original team: B 

21. Adventure Time Mathematical Edition Vol. 9 - The ninth hardcover edition of Adventure time comics features a story in which Finn and Jake become spies. A decent read, but still lacking some of the series’ earlier charms: B 

22. Adventure Time Vol. 10 - After reading the hardcover mathematical editions, this is the first paperback collection of Adventure Time stories I’ve read (the hardcovers stopped at vol. 9), and it’s a cracker! A really good story of Finn and Jake finding they had a sister, but one who has to wipe herself from their memories to save Ooo from disaster: A 

23. Adventure Time Vol. 11 - In which Finn is made to grow old and Jake must venture into a ghost world to reclaim the essence of his youth. Solid story, nicely drawn: B+ 

24. Adventure Time Vol. 12 - A fun four-part story in which the heroes of Ooo find themselves trapped in a realistic game created by an evil force that has taken over BMO. Good story, although I found the art a little too cartoonish compared to previous volumes and the TV series: B+ 

25. Stargate by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich - Novelisation of the hit film from 1994, in which an ancient gateway provides a team of humans with the ability to travel to a distant alien world. Written by the writers of the film, this novel adaptation adds greater depth and detail to the story, with alternate - and often more grisly and violent - takes on certain scenes. A cracking read then, with the only downside being the sheer number of typos and editorial mistakes littered throughout: A- 

26. Adventure Time: Islands - A short graphic novel prequel to the miniseries of the same name that follows a ship of humans to a new island home, written by one of the show’s writers. It’s a slight tale that I breezed through in minutes, but it’s fun and adds more layers to my favourite Adventure Time miniseries: B+ 

27. Adventure Time Vol. 13 - A thoroughly enjoyable volume that brings together several plot strands from previous books for a cataclysmic, time-bending conclusion. Good fun: A 

28. Adventure Time: Sugary Shorts Vol. 3 - A cracking collection of short tales written and illustrated by a variety of different comics creators. With so many different styles of illustration and interpretations of the familiar characters, this is a visual treat for Adventure Time fans: A 

29. Adventure Time Comics Vol. 1 - The first collected edition of the second Adventure Time comic series. In execution it’s basically the same as the Sugary Shorts collections, with short stories by various writers and artists; as such it’s also a lot of fun: A

30. Adventure Time Vol. 14 - After the conclusion of several ongoing plot threads in the previous volume, this collection is a four-part standalone story of the princesses of Ooo competing against one another to be crowned best princess. It’s fun enough, but one of the more simplistic stories told in this series: B

31. SeaQuest DSV: Fire Below by Matthew J. Costello - Catching up on one of my weird little obsessions from 2020’s lockdown, I return to the old SeaQuest DSV books I tracked down last summer. This second novel is the first original tale in the series (the first being a novelisation of the TV show’s pilot episode), and sees Captain Bridger and the crew of the SeaQuest involved in a terrorist attack that leads them to an underwater research station that has discovered a deadly new form of marine life. I was genuinely surprised to find that this was an effective action-thriller with lots of twists and turns that I devoured in just a few days… if only tales like this had been what the television series had shown: A

32. Adventure Time: Sugary Shorts Vol. 4 - The penultimate collection of short Adventure Time stories from different comics creators, and another treat. Some really good stories here, and some beautiful artwork: A 

33. Adventure Time Comics Vol. 2 - Another collection of short stories, all enjoyable enough but not quite as entertaining as those in the Sugary Shorts books: B+

34. Adventure Time Comics Vol. 3 - More Adventure Time short stories, and a more entertaining collection than the previous volume: A

35. SeaQuest DSV: The Ancient by David Bischoff - The third and final SeaQuest novel finds captain Bridger and his crew searching for a mysterious, millennia-old sea creature. This book is a bit of a mixed bag to be honest; a decent concept is never really given room to develop, ultimately turning into an oceanic version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, while some caricature-ish villains and a slightly inappropriate attraction between 15 year old Lucas and a mid-twenties research scientist don’t help matters. Not bad, but not brilliant: B

36. Captain Future’s Challenge by Edmond Hamilton - The third of the original 1940s Captain Future books that I’ve read sees the titular space hero tasked with tracking down a villain intent on destroying the solar system’s supplies of a mineral necessary for space travel. The least compelling Captain Future adventure I’ve read, but still an enjoyable retro sci-fi read: B+

37. Adventure Time Comics Vol. 4 - A fantastic selection of short Adventure Time stories; one of the most consistently entertaining volumes I’ve read: A

38. Adventure Time Comics Vol. 5 - A great collection of stories, with some of the most stunning artwork so far in this collection: A

39. Adventure Time Comics Vol. 6 - The final collection in the Adventure Time Comics series, and a fine send off for the series. Great stories, varied artwork showing different interpretations of the characters, hugely enjoyable. Of all the Adventure time books I’ve read, these have been among my favourite: A

40. Adventure Time: Sugary Shorts Vol. 5 - The final volume of the Sugary Shorts series is a little more experimental, featuring for the most part more artistic, minimal, speechless tales. A fantastic longer Marceline story giving more detail of her past is included as well. Hugely enjoyable: A

41. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow by K. J. Anderson - A thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of the 2004 movie. Energetic and written in a decent pulp-adventure style, it makes me yearn for more Sky Captain adventures: A

42. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Too Long a Sacrifice - Collected edition of the four issue comic book series in which Constable Odo is tasked with finding a murderer on DS9. It’s nice to revisit Deep Space Nine and it’s characters, but while this was a decent read competently illustrated, it didn’t fully draw me in: B

43. Alien: The Original Screenplay - A graphic novel based on the original storyline for the 1979 film Alien. Beautifully illustrated and very enjoyable, but for me there wasn’t enough difference between this and the final film version, unlike Dark Horse Comics’ earlier Alien 3 based on an unused screenplay. For completists only: B+

44. The Auctioneer by Joan Samson - Another title in Valancourt Books’ Paperbacks from Hell series is this story of an enigmatic auctioneer arriving in a small American town and swiftly using his skills to rid the population of their possessions and livelihoods. Unlike previous books in the series, there’s no hint of the supernatural in this novel, just an unsettling sense of dread as the auctioneer starts spreading his influence across the town and its people. An absorbing tale: A

45. Adventure Time Vol. 15 - Another collection of the ongoing Adventure Time comics, this time featuring a balloon race to find three missing parts of a mysterious statue. Fun, but not the best book in the series: B

46. Adventure Time Vol. 16 - The penultimate collection of the ongoing series sees Finn and Jake facing off against duplicate versions of themselves. A nice idea, but spaced across four individual issues it feels a little drawn out and not very Adventure Time-y. One of the weaker instalments: B

47. Adventure Time Vol. 17 - The final collection of the Adventure Time ongoing comic book series features a story that closes the 75 issue run, plus a couple of back-up tales including the first issue of Adventure Time Season 11. The conclusion to the series is fun, closing the comic’s run in decent, if not amazing, fashion. While this might not be the best the series had to offer, overall I enjoyed these books a hell of a lot: B+

48. Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg - Novelisation of the 1977 film, and to my knowledge the only novel written by Spielberg - which is a shame, as he writes a good book. The story doesn’t deviate far from what you see in the film, but Spielberg’s prose is engaging and easy to read - so much so I devoured this book in only a couple of days. Worth a read if you can track down a copy: A

49. Flash Gordon by Arthur Byron Cover - Novelisation of the 1980 movie in which the titular hero must defeat Ming the Merciless to save Earth from destruction. A surprisingly erotic and tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the film, and all the more enjoyable for it: B+

50. Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales Book 2 - Being a huge fan of Alan Moore’s Tom Strong character, it had somehow slipped by me that a second volume of short stories had been published almost 10 years ago. Fortunately, a hardback edition was not difficult to track down, thus completing my collection of Tom Strong books - and what a good read it is! Tom Strong has always been among my favourite comics characters, and the stories here - including tales of Jonni Future and young Tom Strong - are every bit as thrilling as I remember from years ago: A

51. The World of Moominvalley by Philip Ardagh - A wonderfully comprehensive hardback book that explores the rich characters and settings of Tove Jansson’s Moomin novels, along with background information about the life of Moomin creator Tove Jansson herself. A beautiful book, and one that I cannot recommend highly enough for Moomin fans: A+

52. The Society of Time by John Brunner - A British Library collection of five of Brunner’s novellas; three connected Society of Time stories and two separate tales. All are enjoyable, but it’s the two standalone novellas that intrigued me more. A decent collection overall: B+

53. Over the Garden Wall: Distillatoria written by Jonathan Case, illustrated by Jim Campbell - After enjoying the television series of the same name, I thought I’d try the graphic novels spin-offs. This first one sees Greg, Wirt and Beatrice seemingly out of the Unknown and back in the real world, but not everything is as it appears. A brilliant addition to the Over the Garden Wall canon, made even better by having a copy autographed by the writer: A

54. Over the Garden Wall: Circus Friends by Jonathan Case, illustrated by John Golden - A second Over the Garden Wall graphic novel, and another terrific read. Here, Wirt and Greg discover a circus in the Unknown whose master wants Beatrice to be part of his performance. A great story, and artwork that differs slightly from the previous book and the show itself, but is gorgeous and works brilliantly. Highly recommended: A

55. The Thing by Alan Dean Foster - Novelisation of the 1982 John Carpenter film in which a small team of Americans at an Antarctic research base find themselves confronted by an aggressive alien life form that has been freed from centuries frozen under the ice. At the time of reading I’d not seen the film, but Foster writes a strong novelisation that makes this an enjoyable read in its own right: B+

56. Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson - Having never read any of Robeson’s pulp hero tales, I quickly snapped up this edition from the All Data is Lost website when it appeared for sale. In this first tale, Doc Savage and his team of adventurers find themselves travelling to Central America on the trail of a deadly assassin. I really wanted to like this, but unlike other pulp heroes such as Captain Future, I didn’t engage with the characters and the plot felt slight. It’s fun, just not as fun as I’d hoped: B

57. Howard the Duck by Ellis Weiner - A surprisingly well-written and self aware novelisation of the much maligned 1986 film in which the titular duck is transported across space to the planet Earth, where he finds himself facing off against a Dark Overlord of the Universe. I’ve got rather a soft spot for the movie and the author translates the story well to prose with plenty of humour and verve. A surprisingly fun read: A

58. Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight by Gilbert Hernandez - Two tales by Beto in his line of standalone stories outside of the usual Love and Rockets continuity. This book is unusual in that it’s a ‘flipper’ with effectively two front covers; Hypnotwist is the longer of the two and entirely free of dialogue, while Scarlet by Starlight is a shorter tale of explorers on an alien world. Both are fun, but perhaps only really essential for Love and Rockets completists : B+

59. The Black Hole by Alan Dean Foster - Novelisation of the 1979 Disney film about a ship of scientists discovering a long-missing Earth vessel on the edge of a powerful black hole. A good read that adds extra layers of detail absent from the film: B+

60. Doc Savage: Python Isle by Kenneth Robeson - A Doc Savage novel published in 1991 after being completed by Will Murrey using notes left by Robeson. In this adventure, Doc Savage and his team find themselves drawn into a mystery involving a woman that only speaks an archaic language and an island rich in gold. I enjoyed this more than the previous Doc Savage book I read; it’s more of a fast-paced pulp thriller, but truth be told, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really find Doc or his compatriots terribly interesting characters. Enjoyable, though: B+

61. Into the London Fog edited by Elizabeth Dearnley - An entertaining British Library collection of weird tales focusing on the city of London. As with most volumes in this series, the stories included here are of a consistent quality, especially ‘The Lodger’ which ranks as one of the first tales of Jack the Ripper and is genuinely unnerving; only the inclusion of some non-fiction essays didn’t appeal. On the whole, a good read: B+

62. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton - I first read Crichton’s dinosaur thriller back in the early 90s before Steven Spielberg’s film came out, and thoroughly enjoyed it then. Revisiting almost 30 years later, I’m pleased to find the book remains an absolutely brilliant read. Engaging, action-packed, intelligent and populated by characters you genuinely care about, the novel is much darker and more complex than the blockbuster movie it inspired. Extra marks for this being a gorgeous Folio Society edition, featuring eye-catching artwork throughout the book, and a sturdy dinosaur skin-like slipcase to keep it in. A rare treat: A+

63. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - From a Certain Point of View - Following on from the A New Hope anthology of a few years back, the second (or fifth, depending on how you look at it) Star Wars film gets a collection of short stories that tie into events seen in the movie. There are some decent stories here, but I did feel this collection was less enjoyable the previous and more of a slog to get through, especially when there’s connective strands that go beyond the film series and into the animated shows and wider literary universe that I’ve not explored. Decent enough, though: B

64. The Desolations of Devil’s Acre by Ransom Riggs - The sixth and (for now, at least) final book in the Miss Peregrine’s series finds Jacob and his peculiar friends battling Miss Peregrine’s brother Caul to protect the future of peculiar kind. An epic, rollicking adventure that takes readers from Devil’s Acre, the sanctuary of the peculiars, to the dark days of World War I, modern day London and Florida, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. I’ve enjoyed all the books in this series, and The Desolations of Devil’s Acre is a fitting conclusion: A

65. Inside Star Trek: The Real Story by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman - A comprehensive non-fiction book looking back on the original Star Trek series, as told by two of the most influential people involved in the production of the show. I always regretted not buying this when it was first published in the mid-1990s, so eagerly snapped up a copy for a mere fiver on eBay - and what a treat it turned out to be. Not just a comprehensive look back on Star Trek’s tumultuous early years, but a detailed insight into the complexities and craziness of television production in the sixties. Witty, emotional, and full of stories even I was not aware of, this is one of the very best non-fiction Star Trek books I’ve read, and one I’d recommend to all fans: A+

66. A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson - A young adult novel about three teenagers who find themselves aboard a spaceship with no idea how they got there. An enjoyable and easy to read book, but I didn’t warm to the characters too well, and it takes a while to really get going before reaching a decent conclusion. Fun enough: B

67. Star Trek: Discovery - Die Standing by John Jackson Miller (Kindle) - The latest Discovery novel focuses on Emperor Georgiou, formerly of the Mirror Universe, and her first mission for Section 31. A decent read - Miller captures Michelle Yeoh’s performance well in his prose, and the addition of supporting characters Finnegan (from the original series) and Emony Dax (later to be DS9’s Jadzia) add a flourish of familiarity to proceedings without feeling forced. If I’m grumbling, it felt a little too long in places, but on the whole I enjoyed this: B+

68. Dick Tracy Vol. 15 by Chester Gould - After taking an eight month gap in reading Gould’s complete run of Tracy newspaper strips I pick up again at the halfway point in the collection. Enjoyable crime capers as always, but this volume doesn’t showcase the intrepid cop’s finest tales - 3-D Magee featured here isn’t the most compelling villain, and the storyline he features in runs over seven months worth of strips: B+

69. The Deep by Alma Katsu (Kindle) - Like the author’s previous novel, The Hunger, this book adds a supernatural twist to real life historical events, in this case the sinking of the Titanic and, four years later, its sister ship the Britannic - bridging these two catastrophes with characters present at both events. Though I could quibble that the ending seemed perhaps a tad rushed, this is both an inventive and engrossing story that I thoroughly enjoyed: B+

70. The Haunting of H.G. Wells by Robert Masello (Kindle) - Having read the author’s earlier book, The Jekyll Revelation, I jumped at the opportunity to download his latest when Amazon offered it for free on Kindle. This tale focuses on the author H.G. Wells being sent to the front line during the First World War, the ghosts that haunt him on his return, and a plot to unleash a gas attack on London. A hugely entertaining book that rattles along at a fair old pace: A

71. Dick Tracy Vol. 16 by Chester Gould - Following straight on from the previous volume, this collection of Dick Tracy newspaper strips sees the detective continuing his attempts to track down Rughead, before reintroducing the famed villain Mumbles and giving us our first glimpse of Flattop Jr. A great read with some wonderful rogues: A

72. Later by Stephen King - A new novel from the famed author of horror fiction shares a similar concept with the movie The Sixth Sense, but ultimately takes its own path, one that I found hugely satisfying. To say more would ruin for new readers what was, to me, one of the best books I’ve read to this point in 2021. Utterly brilliant: A+

73. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - I’ve long meant to read Capote’s ‘non-fiction novel’ of the brutal killing of the Clutter family in 1959, and it more than lived up to expectations. A thorough, thought-provoking book that gives a well-rounded glimpse of the victims and ultimately the men who committed the killings, elevating all from mere descriptions to the living, breathing people they were. Chilling in places, emotional in others, and well-written throughout. An undisputed classic: A

74. Somebody Owes Me Money by Donald E. Westlake - A cracking Hard Case Crime book in which a New York cab driver finds himself caught up in the mystery of a bookie’s murder. I was initially drawn to this by the stunning cover art, but the story itself rattles along at a fair old pace, with a likeable main character and some decent humour along the way; I thoroughly enjoyed this book: A

75. Adventure Time: Ice King - A collected edition of the six-issue comic miniseries in which the Ice King finds his favourite penguin, Gunter, has gone missing, and sets out to track him down. There are some nice moments in this, but it felt overly long and I was disappointed by the artwork in places, which seemed like it wanted to try something new but didn’t commit and instead just looked hurried. Not an essential read: B-

76. The Art of Bravest Warriors - A lush, coffee table art book focused on Bravest Warriors, the other show created by Adventure Time’s Pendleton Ward. There’s little text in this oversized hardback, but plenty of gorgeous artwork, development sketches and concepts to feast your eyes on. A must-buy for fans of the show: A

77. Witness to Myself by Seymour Shubin - Fearing that he accidentally killed a young girl on a family holiday 15 years earlier, a man sets out to uncover the truth, only to expose himself further in the process. Another Hard Case Crime book, and another brilliant tale; I was gripped from start to finish: A

78. Charlesgate Confidential by Scott Von Doviak - Another Hard Case Crime novel, this one split across three time periods - 1946, 1986 and 2014 - and telling the tale (inspired by true events) of the theft of 13 paintings and their connection to the real life Charlesgate building in Boston. An absorbing read with plenty of twists and turns; I thoroughly enjoyed: A

79. 253 by Geoff Ryman - I first saw this book years ago and always meant to pick up a copy, finally doing so this year! It’s a rather unique novel, with each page dedicated to telling the story of the 253 passengers on a london tube train one January morning, all within the space of 253 words. And it’s utterly absorbing getting such insight into these fictional, yet seemingly all too real people. Brilliant: A

80. The Cutie by Donald E. Westlake - Another Hard Case Crime novel by the author of Somebody Owes Me Money. In this book, a mobster’s employee finds himself investigating the murder of a woman, a search that becomes more intense when he finds himself accused of the crime. More serious than the comedic Somebody Owes Me Money, and a thrilling read. Westlake’s prose is precise and easy to read, and the journey to the ultimate revelation of who killed Mavis St. John is an enjoyable and satisfying one: A

81. Adventure Time: Season 11 (Kindle) - Available a few years ago as a paperback collected edition but now out of print and difficult to find, I turned to Amazon to fulfil my desire to read this comic book continuation of Adventure Time. There, for the same price as a graphic novel, I got all six issues of this short-lived series, and was able to read them in vibrant form on my new iPad. The series itself is a lot of fun, picking up story threads after the series’ final episode, and it’s a real shame it was cancelled. Beautiful artwork and a degree more maturity to the stories, there was much that this comic series could have explored had it gone on longer: A

82. Star Trek Year Five: Weaker than Man - The third collection of the Year Five continuity sees Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise continuing their journey home as they near the end of their five year mission, encountering a secret Federation medical experiment, Harcourt Fenton Mudd and Gary Seven along the way. A solid read with decent artwork: B+

83. Spaceworlds edited by Mike Ashley - A British Library short story collection featuring stories of life in space. There are some good tales here - especially those about generation ships and the problems that can arise on them - and it’s an enjoyable enough read for the most part, but I didn’t really connect with this anthology as much as some of the previous books in the series: B+

84. Two For the Money by Max Allan Collins - A Hard Case Crime book collecting the author’s first two novels featuring the character Nolan. And it makes absolute sense to package these two books together seeing as how the second is a continuation of the events of the first, with Nolan engineering a bank heist to clear his name with a member of the mob who has a hit on him, and then having to deal with the fallout of the job when things go wrong. A great read from a master of the crime genre: A

85. Bravest Warriors Complete Comics Collection (Kindle) - OK, not strictly speaking a book, but I’m sneaking this on to my reading list on a technicality as most of these comics have been released as collected editions; I chose to read on my iPad via the Kindle app as the last four comics were never released as a book. This is the complete 36 issue run of the monthly comic book series based on the TV series created by Pendleton Ward, plus the Catbug, Paralysed Horse and Tales from the Holojohn specials. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed these - they strike the same tone as the show, and the handful of episodes written by the writers of the series really reach great heights. Very enjoyable: A

86. Captain Future: 1500 Light Years From Home by Allen Steele (Kindle) - The third instalment of Steele’s latest Captain Future adventure for Amazing Stories follows right on from the previous book, with Captain Future held captive and transported across the Galaxy to a distant star system. Although of course this volume relies on you having read the previous two instalments, this is a brilliantly written sci-fi that’s a lot of fun, and it ends on a great cliffhanger that will be resolved in the fourth and final book: A

87. Fifty-to-One by Charles Ardai - As the 50th Hard Case Crime book, this novel has an intriguing concept: each chapter is named after one of the preceding 49 books in the publisher’s catalogue. What could have been a mere exercise in box ticking actually proves to be a thrilling ride in the skilled hands of Ardai, as a young woman writes a crime novel that somehow predicts the theft of $3 million from a notorious crime lord, leading to her going on the run with the fictional Hard Case’s roguish editor. Hugely enjoyable: A 

88. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino - This novelisation of Tarantino’s most recent movie adds extra depth to the story of Western actor Rick Dalton and his stunt man Cliff Booth. Differing in places from the film (the movie’s conclusion occurs only 100 pages into the 400 page book), makes this not so much a straight novelisation, more a retelling from a slightly shifted perspective - and it’s all the more enjoyable for it. Tarantino’s prose is crisp and deliciously witty throughout, making this a very enjoyable read: A

89. Dick Tracy Vol. 17 by Chester Gould - This volume features the conclusion of the Flattop Jr. storyline, one of the best continuities, and the Morin Plenty story, regarded as one of Gould’s least interesting tales - but one that I actually rather enjoyed! Good fun, as always: A

90. The Nice Guys by Charles Ardai - Novelisation of the 2016 movie about two mismatched detectives trying to locate a missing girl, and uncovering a conspiracy in the process. A straightforward adaptation, but a hugely enjoyable and well-written one nonetheless: A 

91. Deadly Beloved by Max Allan Collins - The first - and so far only - novel based on the author’s Ms. Tree graphic novel character, and it’s a blast, as Ms. Tree becomes embroiled in helping a woman accused of murdering her unfaithful husband. One of the shorter Hard Case Crime books I’ve read, coming in just under 200 pages long, but a tightly plotted and entertaining one nevertheless: A

92. The Twenty Year Death by Ariel S. Winter - A remarkable book, told in the form of three 200-page novels, each written in the style of a different crime writer, which together tell a story spanning 20 years. A thoroughly engrossing read: A

93. Help I am Being Held Prisoner by Donald E. Westlake - After enjoying Somebody Owes Me Money, I thought I’d try another of Westlake’s crime comedies, and I wasn’t disappointed. This book tells the story of Harold Künt, sent to prison for a practical joke that results in a 20 car pile up, where he soon finds himself part of a gang planning to perform a bank robbery while they’re all still in jail. A hugely enjoyable read - intelligently plotted, funny and well-written: A

94. Adventure Time: Marcy and Simon (Kindle) - A six issue comic book collection set after the Adventure Time finale, with Simon Petrikov going on an apology tour to make amends for his time as Ice King, only to find his memory starting to falter. An enjoyable tale, with artwork that really looked great when read on my iPad: B+

95. The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway by Una McCormac (Kindle) - Much like the earlier autobiographies of James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, this book takes a look back at the life of Voyager’s captain, supposedly in her own words, but unlike the previous volumes, this isn’t one I found particularly engaging. Short in length and feeling somewhat rushed in execution, this book was fine; if you’re looking for a more involved take on the pre-Delta Quadrant life of Kathryn Janeway, Mosaic by Voyager executive producer Jeri Taylor is well worth a look; it’s been years since I’ve read it, but I recall it being an enthralling novel – but sadly one I believe this new book contradicts in places: B-

96. Secret Fords Vol. 1 by Steve Saxty - I found out about this book via instagram, and being fascinated by the development of cars and with a particular soft spot for 80s Fords, I gave it a whirl - and what a read! Packed full of previously unseen photos and informative text, this is a real treasure trove of information about some of Ford’s most well-known cars. This collector’s edition came with a shorter scrapbook, which although slight in comparison to the main book, provided even more details about unseen concepts and paths not taken with familiar cars: A 

97. Five Decembers by James Kestrel - In this Hard Case Crime book detective Joe McCrady investigates a double murder on one of the Hawaiian islands, an investigation that sees him follow the trail of his suspect all the way to Hong Kong, on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War. An epic, thrilling novel that I couldn’t put down; brilliant characters, beautifully written and perfectly plotted with numerous twists and turns along the way - highly recommended: A+

98. The Dark Knight by Dennis O’Neil - After rewatching the 2008 movie I thought I’d scratch the itch of never having read the novelisation. Out of print, I managed to pick up a pristine copy off eBay for just £1.80 - and it’s a decent read! Crisply written, with some added connective tissue that links it to the previous film, Batman Begins, this was a quick and enjoyable read: A

99. Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay by Pat Cadigan - As the title suggests, this is a novelisation of the unproduced William Gibson script for the third Alien movie, which focuses on Michael Biehn’s character, Colonial Marine Hicks. Regular readers (do you still exist?!) will recall I read the graphic novel version of this back in 2019 (which apparently was based on a different draft of the script) and rated it a ‘B’; with considerably more room to breath life into Gibson’s story, Cadigan’s novel is a much more enjoyable and engrossing read. I still prefer the movie we ultimately got, but I enjoyed this a lot: A

100. Star Trek: Picard - The Dark Veil by James Swallow - The second novel set in the continuity of the Picard television series follows Captain Riker and the crew of the U.S.S. Titan as they discover a friendly but secretive species intend to depart their planet wholesale for a distant part of the universe, while also dealing with the presence of a Romulan ship. Not tied anywhere near as heavily into the series as the first novel based off the show, this felt very much like a regular Star Trek story that just happened to touch on certain plot lines featured in Picard: B-

101. Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg - A short novel following a man who assumes the identity of a crime gang operative in order to disrupt a mob scheme to print and distribute fake bank notes. Short and snappy, this was a solid crime read, with two excellent short stories by the author filling out the book’s length: A-

102. 361 by Donald E. Westlake - Two brothers, one still recovering from the life-changing injuries caused by the shooting that claimed the life of their father, set out for revenge. One of the darker and more grim Westlake novels I’ve read, but a gripping tale nevertheless: A

103. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Kindle) - Recommended to me by my Dad, this book is about a down on his luck writer who, while teaching a writing course, discovers one of his students has developed a tale that promises to be a bestseller. When the student dies, the teacher writes his own version of the story, only to find himself the focus of a targeted hate campaign when it goes on to become a huge success. A slow burner, but one that really gets going as the plot unfolds; I really enjoyed this: A-

104. The Dead Man’s Brother by Roger Zelazny - A Hard Case Crime novel in which a former criminal is charged with discovering what as happened to money stolen from the Vatican. Perhaps the HCC book I’ve enjoyed the least, but one that still tells a diverting enough tale: B

105. Batman by Craig Shaw Gardner - Upon discovering a pristine hardcover edition of this novelisation of the 1989 film, I had to have it – which also gave me an opportunity to revisit the book that probably sparked my love for movie adaptations. I remember devouring this book in a day when I first read it back in ’89 (a paperback edition I still own and treasure); this time around I savoured it a little longer, but enjoyed it every bit as much. Gardner’s book is the perfect novelisation: briskly written, descriptive, and with scenes that differ in places, or expand upon those seen in the film. Huge fun: A

106. Batman Returns by Craig Shaw Gardner - And with a beautiful hardcover edition of Batman, I had to track down a matching Batman Returns edition too. Having given away my paperback of this book back in 2005, I was overjoyed to find an unread hardcover of Gardner’s second Batman adaptation to replace it. The story is well known, and the book a very enjoyable read, though it lacks much in the way of the expanded/extra scenes that helped its predecessor stand out. Still, huge fun: A-

107. The Labyrinth by Simon Stålenhag - The latest book from the author of Tales from the Loop is another oversized book packed full of gorgeous artwork and sparse text filling in a story, this time about a community of humans who have had to retreat below the surface of Earth after an unusual phenomena renders the outside world uninhabitable. But instead of focusing on that story, The Labyrinth instead tells a smaller, more character based tale – which proves every bit as absorbing. Wonderful: A

108. Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner - The actor who brought Data to life in Star Trek: The Next Generation turns his hand to writing with this ‘mem-noir,’ apparently inspired by real events. In this fictional account, set during production of TNG, Spiner tells the tale of Lal, a stalker who threatens his life, and the complex  web of intrigue and, yes, comedy that follows. A hugely enjoyable book, with Spiner’s voice and sense of humour coming across loud and clear on every page. The only question is… exactly how much of it is true? A

109. The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin - The latest novel by one of my very favourite authors takes place across two days and two nights, as a hard-done by young woman tries to raise the money she needs to buy her family home. Like Vlautin’s best works, this is an inspiring story of one person’s determination against insurmountable odd. Tinged throughout with sadness and despair, but ultimately an uplifting tale: A

110. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson - A new version of a book I adore, featuring seven beautiful illustrations by Tove Jansson which have never previously been included in an English language edition. The tale of Moomintroll waking from hibernation remains as enthralling as it was when I first read it a few years ago, and this special edition is a wonderful addition for both Moomin completists and those discovering Jansson’s timeless tales for the first time: A+

111. Future Crimes edited by Mike Ashley - A British Library collection of short stories mixing crime and science-fiction. There are some cracking tales included here, but, as I’ve found with previous volumes in this series, it’s those by obscure authors that prove the more exciting read for me: B+

112. Secret Fords Vol. 2 by Steve Saxty - The second volume in Saxty’s exploration of cars the Ford Motor Company never made. This book - and it’s companion scrapbook - explore the development of the 1989 Fiesta, the flawed CE14 Escort, through the Mondeo and Focus that revitalised the company. Along the way there are fascinating stories about the Scorpio, the Ka, and a whole host of other cars that never made it out of the development workshops. An incredible read for anyone interested in Fords or how a car is developed: A+

113. Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar - A novel written in the style of a true crime book, detailing the hunt for a killer dubbed the ‘boogeyman’ in the author’s home town in the late 1980s. I was gripped by this book from start to finish - and it was made all the more thrilling by successfully keeping me from correctly identifying the identity of the killer. Highly recommended: A+

114. Search For Spock by Robb Pearlman - A fun book very much in the style of Where’s Wally, where the reader must locate the U.S.S. Enterprise’s Vulcan first officer in a variety of colourful artworks showing characters and scenes from Star Trek. Slight, but a fun diversion: B+

115. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei - A graphic novel memoir telling the story of Star Trek actor Takei’s incarceration, along with his family and 120,000 other Japanese American people, in internment camps during the Second World War. Takei’s voice comes through strongly in this book, while clean artwork comfortably runs the fine line between comic book exaggeration and gritty realism. Heartfelt and horrifying by equal measure, this was utterly absorbing: A

116. The Colorado Kid by Stephen King - A short Stephen King novel that was written in the early days of Hard Case Crime. Not so much a crime novel as it is a mystery, with two old newspaper men regaling their younger colleague with the story of a man's body found on a beach years earlier. Short and yet beautifully told, their is no definitive conclusion to the mystery told here – and the story is all the better for it: A

So there we go. ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN books. Phew. I need a lie down. But wait! I've already got 19 on my to-read stack, and I've still got all those Dick Tracy collections to finish. Will I manage them all in the next twelve months?! Tune in same time, same place next year to find out!

Happy New Year!

**Update** 

Just like last year, I read another one.

117. Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. Nevill - A collection of short stories set in the aftermath of cataclysmic events, with no characters present. An interesting idea for sure, and there are some nice touches throughout, but I found the stories almost too descriptive (if that's possible) for the most part. Still, I do wonder if this is a book that will stay in my head for a while: B

Monday, May 24, 2021

That Bloody Bichon

 For a few years now me and TOH have been talking about pets. He’s a dog man, I’m more of a cat man (which does rather make me sound like some awful DC Comicbook character abandoned after three issues in the mid-1980s), but I think we’ve generally settled on the idea of - at some point - getting a small-ish dog. And by smallish I mean something that is of decent size; not small enough that it would fit in a bag, not too large that it could take me down in a fight. There’s a Goldilocks point.

Anyway, TOH is so excited at the prospect that he’s already picked out a name and, I believe, he might also have secured the handle for the inevitable, excruciating Instagram profile. And no, I’m not going to tell you the name in case one of you little deviants steals it for your own pooch like Rachel screwed over Monica in Friends with the name of her kid. Let’s just say at one point we considered Poochini, eventually letting that one go after realising we would’ve had to teach the dog how to howl Madama Butterfly.

Every now and then we look at dogs home websites, because K****** will be a rescue dog, we’ve decided, but as yet we’ve not found a pooch that fits the bill. That almost changed last week while I was out for a walk.

Over the last few years TOH has twice found himself running into dogs loose on the street, and on one occasion, a seagull that he ended up taking to a vets but we shan’t go into that here; he’s like some weird Pied Piper of Cardiff. Anyway, the first dog was utterly adorable; he took it back to the place he was then living in, secured it in the garden and called the number helpfully provided on the dog’s collar. After taking a procession of selfies, he then took the dog back to its owner a few streets away. The next dog he found was a little more aloof, and the owner didn’t pick the phone up when he tried calling. Eventually the little scamp made its own way home, strutting up the driveway of a large detached house like it owned the place. Later that evening TOH got a call from the owner. 

“You tried to call me. Who is this?”

“I found your dog loose in the street earlier.”

“Oh, well it’s here now. Goodbye.”

*click*

People can be awful. I’ve never found a dog loose in the street, and have never really thought about what I’d do if I did. You see, I’m a bit wary of dogs having been attacked by one when I was a kid (hence the thing about not wanting one too large that it could take me down in a fight). Then last week, I came across one.

I was strolling down a long, wide road in a very well-to-do part of Cardiff when I saw something out the corner of my eye behind a parked car. It was a dog; I think it was a Bichon Frisé. Just stood there about six feet from the gutter, a little curly haired paw pressed down on piece of cardboard while it tore it to strips with its little mouth. The focus of its destructive efforts was a discarded packet of, I believe, Lidl-branded frozen prawns; whether the bichon was being destructive just for the sake of it, or making some bold statement about the presence of such middle-class litter in one of Cardiff’s more upperclass neighbourhoods, I can’t say.

It paused for a moment, looked me in the eye, then went back to gleefully ripping the box apart with nary a care in the world. After a moment longer watching it, it dawned on me that nobody else was around. I glanced up and down the street but I was the only living thing on two legs. Whose dog was this? A second later I hear a car and look up to see a lady waiting to pull into the space where a) I’m standing looking wholly bemused, and b) the dog is still ripping the frozen prawn box to shreds. 

The little box-destroying Bichon in action

“Can you move your dog?” She mouths through the windscreen.

I do a passable imitation of the shrugging emoji. “It’s not my dog.”

After a few seconds of her edging her Nissan Qashqai further into the space the dog either gets bored of the box or surmises it’s at imminent threat of being Qashqai’d in the face and scampers off a way. 

“Whose is it?” Says the woman as she clambers out of her car. I tell her I don’t know, but that I’m feeling inclined to go full-on Nancy Drew in order to find out. 

“I can’t help,” she says. “But do you want some dog treats?”

I’m close to saying I’d prefer a Kitkat or a slice of cake before realising she means for the dog. “Yes, that would be helpful,” I say weakly.

By this time the Bichon has trotted off down the road a bit further. I follow, but all my efforts to get close to it end in failure. It looks intrigued when I make kissy-kissy noises, but fails to fall under the spell of my manly charms. At one point it struts boldly into a front garden and looks expectantly at the front door like it knows where it is. In a truly ‘A-ha! I’ve solved the case’ moment I knock on the door only to be told by some unenthusiastic man that it’s not his. 

“It’s yours if you want it,” I say as he eases the door closed.

So we fall into a pattern of me edging closer to the dog and the dog running away. I can see it’s got a collar, but I can’t see if it’s got a number on it and I can’t get close enough to read one if it is there. I consider taking a photo with my snappy iPhone 12 Pro’s all-singing, all-dancing camera and then ENHANCE ENHANCE ENHANCE-ing in, but the little bitch (literally) won’t stand still long enough for me to try.

A few minutes later a bored looking chap wanders over to me and hands me a dog shit bag full of doggy treats. “The wife send me over with these,” he says. He glances at the dog wandering around and then turns away. “Sorry, I can’t stay and help,” he says, “but if you do catch it and need a lead we’re at number [REDACTED].” I wonder what Mister and Missus Qashqai are doing at half three on a Friday afternoon that precludes at least one of them from helping me out, quietly coming to the conclusion that they’re either about to settle down for a banging episode of Countdown or considering seven minutes of explosive middle-aged afternoon delight. 

Returning to the task at hand I try shaking the bag of treats at the Bichon, but to no avail, obviously because it’s seen that type of bag before and knows it’s usually employed to carry toxic doo-doo. I try scattering a few treats on the ground for it, but after a quick sniff it turns its nose up and scoots off, clearly used to a better brand of rank-smelling dog biscuit. 

And so we fall into a routine for the next twenty minutes; me following the dog up and down the road, me having to try to get it back onto the pavement when a car is coming, me having to apologise to pedestrians in a very bumbling Hugh Grant-style when it startles them by running in front of them that no, it’s not my dog and I’m just trying to find out who it belongs to so I can return it. By this time I’ve also called TOH because, as I’ve noted, he’s some kind of bizarre dog whisperer who at the very least can help grab it, and in the best case scenario I can just offload the whole thing onto him and go home.

While he sets out to come find me, I spot a woman power-walking down the road. She also is initially startled by its appearance, but then kneels down, says ‘hello’ and the LITTLE BASTARD WALKS RIGHT UP TO HER AND FLOPS DOWN ON THE PAVEMENT. “Well it clearly doesn’t like men,” I say, before explaining what I’ve been doing for what by now feels like a week.

“She’s a cutie!” Says the woman, stroking the little terror. “There’s no number on her collar though,” she adds helpfully or not, depending on where you stand on such matters. 

“These dogs are very expensive,” notes the woman. “Oh well, good luck finding the owner,” she then says before merrily strolling off down the street. 

By this point I’d been seriously thinking about ditching the pooch and letting it fend for itself against a fast-moving BMW X5, but the idea that it’s worth something piques my interest. Two scenarios present themselves:

1. It’s a nice dog. Could it be that this is how we find our K******?

2. If it’s not, I can eBay the f*cker for top dollar.

TOH calls to say he’s a minute or so away, and as I’m talking to him a door across the street opens and a lady steps out with two dogs on leads. The Bichon makes a mad dash over to them, clearly spotting two potential new poochie friends, or at the very least a couple of bums to sniff.

“It’s not my dog, it’s been loose for about half an hour, do you know whose it is?!” I ask in an increasingly desperate manner. 

The lady scoops it up in her arms with ease. “Why yes, I know her!” She nods her head at a house opposite. “She doesn’t get out much, barely gets walked. She must’ve loved a chance to run around. I’ll take her back over.” And with that she walks off.

I’m so grateful that it doesn’t even occur to me to go with her and inform the actual owner that I’ve spent the last thirty minutes chasing her man-hating dog up and down the road and I’d quite like a reward please. Instead I hand over the by now half-empty dog shit bag of treats and stomp off to find TOH.

On the plus side, it’s only later that I look at my Apple fitness app to find I covered quite a few steps and burnt quite a lot of calories tracking that little bitch up no down the same thirty metres of a Cardiff backstreet.

You can see how furiously I was walking up and down that stretch of road

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reading list 2020

Having spent most of the year vacillating between thinking I'm still in March after 74 months of 2020, to texting friends saying "hasn't this year just zipped by?" I now find myself thinking 'My god, it's that time of year already – it's time for Tim's reading list!'

I know, since I stopped writing this blog so regularly, it's the time that many of you fire-up the dial-up and hang off your screechy modems with expectation to a) know that I'm still alive and b) find out what incredible books I've been devouring this year (I don't mean that literally; 2020 has not quite reached the stage where I'm eating books to survive, and let's hope that trend continues into the new year. Mind you, if it doesn't at least my pantry is well-stocked).

This year has been an interesting one for books. I've been continuing with the huge Dick Tracy collections (I have a complete library to date, with one more to come in the new year, but have yet to read half of them) and also found myself retreating into more sci-fi than normal, perhaps, as a psychologist might suggest, in response to the utter world-wide cluster-fuck that was taking place outside my front door. I also started picking up a lot of books – mostly movie novelisations, as my regret at giving loads away 15 years ago leads me to start rebuilding my collection – from a brilliant website called All Data is Lost, which deals in secondhand books, most of which are in stupendously good condition at decent prices. Honourable mention too, to Blindspot Distro, another online second-hand bookshop which sadly closed its digital doors just a few weeks ago.

That being the case, if you do look down this list and something catches your eye, apologies if it's a daft sci-fi book from the 1960s that is nigh-on impossible to get your grubby mits on now. And no, you can't borrow mine. Timmy doesn't lend books.

Weirdly, given the fact that I've spent a decent chunk of this year with nothing to do BUT read books, I actually ended up reading only one more than last year: 83 vs 82 (let's put that down to book four on the following list, which was a hefty 750 pages long). That said, I did do a load of work for a lovely publisher this year that required me to read a number of classic books as part of their line of gorgeous collectible classics, so to that 83 we can add: a collection of Hans Christian Anderson tales, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book and a whole host of short story anthologies. I'm not going to grade them along with my regular reads because I worked on them, but they're obviously all A+ and you should all go and buy them.

ANYWAY. Let's not faff about any longer. I'll put on my sexy glasses and moth-eaten tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches (I really should get a new one after all these years), pour myself a drink (it's chocolate milkshake masquerading as whiskey) and settle into an over-stuffed armchair and prepare to regal you with my books of the year. As usual, I'm grading on a sliding scale of A+ (smouldering kissy face expression) to C and below (puckered up face like a dog's bottom). I'm not providing links because a) it takes an age to cut and paste and b) you've all got google at your fingertips so stop being so lazy. As always, if there is anything you like the look of, I'd encourage you to buy from an actual book shop, whether in-person or online, rather than a giant all-seeing behemoth. 

LET'S DO THIS!


01. I Know What I Saw by Linda S. Godfrey - A fascinating book exploring modern day encounters with monsters and urban legends, from Bigfoot to large cats, bipedal dog creatures and even elves. Brilliantly written in a sensitive and non-judgemental manner, this really does make you wonder just what mysteries are still out there: A 

02. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy - A simply gorgeous picture book suitable for - and should be enjoyed by - all ages. Full of sumptuous artwork and life-affirming words, I’m not ashamed to say this brought a tear to my eye. Beautiful: A+ 

03. The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson - A terrific science fiction novel in which four men are transported to a distant spaceship to continue a decades-long mission of exploration, only for events to take a turn for the worse, potentially leaving them stranded far away from home. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - made even more special by reading a 1958 first edition of it: A 

04. The Company of the Dead by David J. Kowalski - A huge 750 page novel where a time traveller’s efforts to prevent the sinking of the Titanic results in an alternate reality where Germany and Japan rule the world, and a handful of operatives from the Confederate States of America assign themselves the task of restoring history to its correct path by going back to that fateful night in April 1912. Meandering at times, but on the whole an utterly gripping story: A- 

05. Star Trek: Discovery - Dead Endless by Dave Galanter (Kindle) - A new tie-in novel to Discovery, this one focusing on Stamets and Culber, taking place after the good doctor’s death in season one and before his discovery in the Mycelial plane in season two. It’s a decent enough tale, with the relationship between the two men explored well, but the overall story felt slight and it took a while to really get my attention: B 

06. Star Trek: Year Five - Odyssesy’s End - The first volume collecting issues of the new comic series that explores the final year of the Starship Enterprise’s five year mission under Captain Kirk. Great art and storytelling help bring these new adventures of the original crew to life - can’t wait for the next volume: A  

07. Star Trek: Picard - The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack (Kindle) - The first tie-in novel to the latest Star Trek series and a brilliant read that dovetails beautifully into what we’ve seen of the television show so far (episode four at the time of writing). The book deftly explores a number of storylines, from Picard’s mission to save the Romulan people from the imminent destruction of their home world’s star to the politic machinations taking place on Earth and throughout the Federation at the time. An absolute page-turner, and one of the finest Trek novels I’ve read in years: A 

08. Nightshade and Damnations by Gerald Kersh - A wonderful collection of short stories from this somewhat forgotten master of the art. There’s a wide variety of tales contained within, ranging from science-fiction to horror and mystery, but they all share one trait - they are beautifully written and utterly enthralling: A 

09. Moomin: The Deluxe Lars Jansson Edition - A massive hardback collection of Moomin comic strips written and illustrated by Lars Jansson after he took over work on the strip from his sister, Moomin creator Tove. Despite the change in creator, there’s no obvious difference in the strip itself - the art remains clean and precise, and the stories fun and engaging: A 

10. The Conference of the Birds by Ransom Riggs - The fifth novel of the Miss Peregrine’s series picks up directly from the events of the last book, A Map of Days, with main character Jacob having rescued a new Peculiar named Noor from sudden death. An enjoyable addition to an engaging series: A

11. Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry - A 40th anniversary edition of the novelisation of the first Star Trek movie. I read this just a couple of years ago as an eBay-sourced paperback, and nothing changes in this new version - it remains a decent read, ably transferring the not-quite-so-well-loved film to prose form, and adding some lovely additional scenes and insight in the process. It’s also surprisingly randy, bearing in mind the film definitely wasn’t! Enjoyable: A 

12. Beyond Time edited by Mike Ashley - A British Library short story collection featuring tales about time travel. There are some really good stories included in this volume, many of which are from lesser-known writers. A good read: A- 

13. Nightblood by T. Chris Martindale - One of Valancourt Books' second wave of Paperbacks from Hell, this long-out-of-print horror novel finds a monster-hunting Vietnam veteran (and the ghost of his brother) arriving in a small American town that is overcome by a wave of vampires. A fun read, but one that took me longer to get through than I thought it would: B+ 

14. A Nest of Nightmares by Lisa Tuttle - Another Paperback from Hell, this time a collection of short stories. Not necessarily traditional ‘spooky’ horror tales, many of these stories tread a more psychological line, and are all the more enjoyable for it: A- 

15. Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ by Mendal W. Johnson - Another Paperback from Hell, this time a novel about a group of children taking their babysitter hostage and torturing her over the course of several days. Truly gripping, terrifying, and shocking, this was a book I couldn’t put down: A 

16. The Pack by David Fisher - The last book in this run of Paperbacks from Hell, Fisher’s novel sees a New York couple take their children to an isolated island to see the husband’s elderly parents, only to discover the island has been overrun by a pack of bloodthirsty dogs. One of the shortest books in this collection, and also one of the best - a gripping, fun read: A 

17. Tales of the Tattooed edited by John Miller - A British Library ‘Tales of the Weird’ short story collection focusing on stories featuring tattoos. For the most part a decent read - particularly the novella-length ‘The Tattooed Eye’ - but I do question whether this should fall under the Tales of the Weird umbrella when most of the stories are actually crime drama featuring tattooed characters, rather than fantasy or horror as I expected them to be: B+ 

18. Star Trek: Discovery - Aftermath - A fun, if short, graphic novel detailing Captain Pike and Lt. Spock’s efforts to negotiate a lasting peace with the Klingons following the conclusion of Discovery’s second season. Includes a decent Captain Saru back-up story: B+ 

19. Star Trek: The Klingon Gambit by Robert E. Vardeman - A classic Star Trek novel in which Captain Kirk and his crew start to experience personality changes while trying to protect a Federation archeology team from Klingon attention. A quick read, but a decent tale: B+ 

20. Star Trek: The Unsettling Stars by Alan Dean Foster (Kindle) - The first Star Trek novel set in the Kelvin Universe of the JJ Abrams movies finally sees publication after a decade on hold. It’s a good read, with Kirk and his crew facing the question of what to do with a ship of alien refugees. Foster handles the nu-Trek crew well, with the voices of Chris Pine et al coming across clearly, while the plot takes some interesting twists and turns along the way: A 

21. Bowie’s Books by John O’Connell - A fascinating book listing David Bowie’s 100 essential reads. I’ve always been unsure about books that are about other books, but this is a brilliant read; concise, thought-provoking and littered with snippets of obscure trivia about the great man himself. Loved this: A 

22. Dick Tracy Vol. 11 By Chester Gould - A thoroughly enjoyable collection of the great detectives daily newspaper stories; aside from Mumbles, there are no really memorable villains from Tracy’s rogues gallery in this volume, but that doesn’t detract from the fun one bit: A 

23. Licensed to Revolt by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - The ninth book in the Youth in Revolt series. After loving the earlier books in this long-running series, I’d vowed to stop reading newer instalments after the previous volume left me a little underwhelmed. But for little more than a couple of quid on Kindle I thought I’d jump back in. Licensed to Revolt continues the story of original series star Nick Twisp’s teenage son, also called Nick, as he negotiates teenage life in Los Angeles; as expected it does not mark a return to the laugh out loud hilarity of the earlier books, while too many similar characters, rather too much continuity and too little in the way of memorable plot left me feeling a little cold. There’s still a charm to it, and Payne’s style can still raise a smile, but it does now seem a little too formulaic: B 

24. Star Trek: World Without End by Joe Haldeman - A fantastic Trek novel from the late 1970s. This was Haldeman’s second Star Trek tale, and one apparently he wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about writing; but that doesn’t come across in this tale of the Enterprise encountering a massive generational ship from which there seems to be no escape: A 

25. Star Trek: Planet of Judgment by Joe Haldeman - The author’s first Trek novel is a story of the Enterprise discovering a mysterious world inhabited by powerful telepathic beings who must prepare Captain Kirk and his crew for the coming of a deadly invasion force. Only 150 pages long, but this packs a punch - great characterisation and a gripping story. It’s a shame Haldeman didn’t write more than these two Trek books: A 

26. Revolting Obsessions by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - Book 10 in the Youth in Revolt series continues the misadventures of Nick Twisp II. My comments for the previous book apply here - it’s a breezy, mildly amusing read, but not one that really feels as if it has a discernible plot, rather a series of incidents loosely strung together. So, lacking the joy of the earlier books in the series, but diverting enough: B 

27. Fight Club 3 by Chuck Palahniuk; art by Cameron Stewart - The third instalment in Palahniuk’s Fight Club series, and the second as a graphic novel. Lovely artwork, but the story - something about the coming of a new messiah - wasn’t always terribly easy to follow. That said, I enjoyed it: B 

28. Captain Future in Love by Allen Steele (Kindle) - Author Steele returns to the character of Captain Future, created by Edmund Hamilton during the pulp sci-fi era of the 1930s/40s, after his book Avengers of the Moon from a few years back. The first in a series of shorter, linked novellas, this tale sees Captain Future stopping an attack on a station orbiting Venus, while elsewhere in the solar system a masked villain sets a plan in motion. Short, but great fun; Steele has a wonderful handle on these characters and it’s a joy to see them in new adventures: A 

29. Captain Future: The Guns of Pluto by Allen Steele (Kindle) - Picking straight up where the last book left off, this second instalment of new Captain Future adventures sees the action move to Pluto, where the masked villain and his devious plan are revealed. A great story, but there were some noticeable errors in this book that should have been picked up in an editorial check (most noticeably a character mistakenly noted in one scene where he wasn’t present, and a fair few typos); still they didn’t detract too much, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next: A 

30. Dick Tracy Vol. 12 by Chester Gould - A very difficult volume to get hold of, this one. It was a rather large gap in my Dick Tracy collection until one popped up on eBay at an unexpectedly reasonable price. And it proves to be another solid collection of newspaper strips that see the daring detective battling more classic villains from his rogues gallery: A 

31. Revolting Relations by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - Apparently the final book in the Youth in Revolt series, and much the same as its last few predecessors. A new aspect here is Nick Twisp II’s ability to hear his baby brother Teejay’s volatile thoughts - think something along the lines of Stewie in Family Guy - but while amusing this isn’t given much prominence. Enjoyable, but far from the series’ best: B 

32. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier by J.M. Dillard - On a whim I decided to pick up hardback editions of the Star Trek movies. Having not read this book in 30 years, I was pleased to discover once again how good a job Dillard made of this novelisation. Key moments from the movie are expanded upon, and extra scenes included that bring more excitement and understanding to the fifth film’s story. While the movie of The Final Frontier is generally regarded as one of the franchise’s weakest instalments, this book is a true gem: A 

32. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon - I’ve long wanted to get my hands on a copy of this book, due in part to fond memories of the TV show, but also because I love the artwork used on the front cover. Secondhand editions were either exorbitantly expensive or hugely tatty, until I found a mint copy on eBay that was reasonably priced. I’ve not seen the film this is based on in years, but Sturgeon’s writing makes this a strong read in its own right: A 

34. Sarek by A.C. Crispin (Kindle) - I’ve meant to read this story of Spock’s father uncovering a secret conspiracy in the wake of the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country for over 20 years now, and finally got around to it. It’s an enjoyable enough story, but not as hugely compelling as I’d hoped nor as insightful of his relationship with Spock’s mother Amanda, but it’s saved by Crispin having a beautiful hold on Sarek’s voice: B 

35. Corpus Earthling by Louis Charbonneau (Kindle) - A classic sci-fi novel in which a man hears the telepathic voices of Martians planning to take over the Earth. It takes a while to get going, but the conclusion is a taut exercise in building tension. A good read: A- 

36. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by Vonda N. McIntyre - Another hardback edition of one of the Star Trek movie novelisations. It’s been years since I last read McIntyre’s prose version of what’s widely regarded as the best Trek movie, and it was a real pleasure to enjoy it all over again. What could have been a by-the-book offering is instead a gripping, well-written page-turner packed out with expanded and additional scenes that give added dimensions to what’s seen in the film. A real example of how a novelisation can enhance its source material. Masterful: A+ 

37. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock by Vonda N. McIntyre - Picking up the baton from where she left it at the end of Star Trek II, McIntyre’s work on the sequel gives no indication that two years passed between writing this book and the previous one. Once again she includes extra scenes that bring real value to the story – in particular more of McCoy’s descent into madness as Spock’s katra takes hold of his mind, while Carol Marcus’s absence, which is completely ignored in the film, is more fittingly explained. Another brilliantly written novelisation: A+ 

38. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home by Vonda N. McIntyre - Completing the trilogy that began with The Wrath of Khan and continued in The Search for Spock, McIntyre’s third Star Trek movie novelisation is another treat. Again, she picks up the storyline we’re all familiar with from the film and imbues it with additional touches, scenes and moments that bring it to life on the printed page. A wonderful read: A+ 

39. Star Trek: The Eugenics War Vol. 1 by Greg Cox - A book I’ve had a copy of for years, but have never read. I thought I’d give this a go to see how Khan’s backstory is brought to life in this first book of a trilogy of novels. For the most part it’s a good story, with Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln from the episode Assignment: Earth taking the lead in a story that deals with genetic manipulation in the 1970s. Attempts to tie-in moments and characters from other Trek series – such as Gillian Taylor from Star Trek IV and Shannon O’Donnell from the Voyager episode 11:59 – are not always successful, running the gamut from fun to distracting fan service, but on the whole this is an enjoyable book: B 

40. Devolution by Max Brooks (Kindle) - The author of World War Z, a book I adored years ago, returns with a novel about a Bigfoot attack on an isolated eco-community. It’s good fun, the tension building slowly in the first 100 pages before things really get going – so much so that I whipped through it in just a few days. While not quite hitting the giddy heights of WWZ, Devolution is still worth a go: B+ 

41. Dick Tracy Vol. 13 by Chester Gould - The thirteenth collection of Tracy newspaper strips spans the first two years of the 1950s and includes villains such as TV Wiggles and Crewy Lou, as well as the birth of the famed detective’s daughter Bonny Braids. A strong collection: A 

42. Aliens vs Predator: The Complete Original Series - A 30th anniversary collection of the original Aliens vs Predator comic book series in which the two alien species fight it out on a desert planet that’s home to a human colony. I’ve not read this in, well, 30 years and was delighted to find it’s as enjoyable as I remember it being. If only the movies had been based off it: A 

43. Dick Tracy Vol. 14 by Chester Gould - Picking straight off where the previous volume left off, this book continues the Crewy Lou storyline before moving into an epic nine-month long caper involving a singer turned criminal named Tonsils. Great fun: A 

44. Star Trek: The Eugenics War Vol. 2 by Greg Cox (Kindle) - Continuing the story of Khan’s rise to power and ultimate downfall begun in the first book, volume 2 sees Roberta Lincoln and Gary Seven once more try to quash the genetically enhanced superhumans in place around the world. Less enjoyable than the first book, this volume seemed to drag in places, and appeared rather more slavish to attempts to tie in with real life events. Add in what feels like a rushed conclusion and unsatisfying resolution of the B-storyline featuring Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise and this book really does feel like the middle part of the trilogy it is part of. Still, all the pieces are in place for the last book in the series: B- 

45. Stage Fright by Garrett Boatman - The latest in Valancourt Books’ Paperbacks from Hell range is the story of a superstar dreamer who projects his wildest thoughts on stage for audiences to experience - but when his experiments with a potent drug lead to his thoughts becoming real and committing murder, how will he be stopped? A decent read, with some great ideas and imagery, but lacking that special something to make it a true classic for me: B 

46. Dick Tracy: The Making of the Movie by Mike Bonifer - I never bought this back in 1990 when the film was released, but always wish I had so I picked up a copy on eBay. Was it worth the 30 year wait? Yes and no. There are some insightful glimpses into the film, but unlike the similar Batman making of book from 1989, it lacks any real depth. It would’ve been improved with more colour photos and production artwork; you also get the impression the author had little access to Warren Beatty, the only real cast interview being with Madonna. Still, for a Tracy fan like me it has its moments: B 

47. Dick Tracy by William Johnston - Another online find, this is the first novel featuring Chester Gould’s famous detective, written all the way back in 1970. Here, Tracy and Sam Catchem are on the tail of Mr. Computer, a villain who is kidnapping historical and scientific experts and stealing their memories. In all honesty, it’s not a particularly well-written book: the characterisations are slight – almost as if the book was written as a generic thriller and the Dick Tracy characters were added in later – and it lacks many of Gould’s famous touches such as the two-way wrist radio, but this was a quick read that didn’t outstay its welcome, and one I found myself enjoying despite it’s faults: A- 

48. Star Trek: To Reign in Hell by Greg Cox (Kindle) - Following the two Eugenics Wars volumes, Cox turns his attention to Khan’s exile on Ceti Alpha V, following the events of the original series episode Space Seed. Decent characterisations abound, and Khan’s descent into madness is dealt with well, but the whole proved not quite as gripping as I had hoped, while a framing story featuring Captain Kirk felt tacked on. A solid read, but one that could have been better: B 

49. SeaQuest DSV: The Novel by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood - Having had a bizarre desire to rewatch the television show, I ended up sourcing copies of the three SeaQuest books released back in 1993. This first one is a novelisation for the pilot episode. On television, I found the story rather dull, but in the hands of Duane and Morwood It comes alive, with greater depth and more insight into Roy Scheider’s Captain Nathan Bridger. A well-written, enjoyable book: A- 

50. Indiana Jones and the Hollow Earth by Max McCoy - Having recently rewatched all the Indiana Jones movies I thought I’d give one of the novels a go, randomly picking this one as I liked the cover. What a read! A sprawling tale that takes Indy everywhere from the deserts of New Mexico to the Arctic wastes of the North Pole, pitting him against his familiar Nazi foes. Clearly some plot-lines flow on from previous novels, but this book was easily enjoyed as a standalone, and indeed it makes me want to track down copies of McCoy’s other novels. Superb: A 

51. Star Trek: Year Five - The Wine Dark Deep - The second volume of the Year Five comic book storyline sees the Enterprise encounter a world of aquatic beings and continues the ongoing Tholian arc, while also introducing a greater enemy. It’s a good read, but the diversion to the water world seemed somewhat unnecessary and unfulfilling, though maybe it will come into play more in future volumes: B 

52. Star Trek: Agents of Influence by Dayton Ward (Kindle) - A cracking idea - the Enterprise is deployed to find a Starfleet vessel that’s gone missing after retrieving three agents from the Klingon home world - but this book ultimately proved unsatisfying to me. The plot felt as if it was spread too thin, and there were far too many distracting instances of characters named after real-world people which knocked me out of the narrative. A disappointment: B- 

53. The Rocketeer by Peter David - The novel of the 1991 Disney film adds little to the story of a pilot who finds a rocket pack suddenly falling into his hands, but is nevertheless a very well-written movie novelisation: A-

54. Star Trek: More Beautiful Than Death by David Mack (Kindle) - The second Star Trek novel to be set in the alternate reality Kelvin Universe sees the Enterprise dispatched to a non-Federation planet whose inhabitants claim they are being attacked by demons. Like the first Kelvin book, this is a solid read, with the voices of the movie actors coming through strong and a decent plot with shades of a familiar Original Series episode: B+ 

55. The Bright Lands by John Fram - A troubling text message from his star football player younger brother leads a gay man to return to the small Texas town where he grew up. Part murder mystery, part supernatural thriller, this was brilliantly written and thoroughly absorbing. A real page-turner and one I can’t recommend highly enough: A 

56. Born of the Sun edited by Mike Ashley - A British Library anthology collecting classic stories focusing on the planets of our own solar system. There are some decent tales within, and only a couple that didn’t hold my interest. An enjoyable enough read, and while it’s not one of the series finest books it is far from the worst: B+ 

57. Burro Hills by Julia Lynn Rubin (Kindle) - A young adult novel about a high school kid from a broken home finding himself unexpectedly falling for a new guy in his classes. With strong language and scenes of drug use, this feels a little bit like a grittier, queer version of The O.C. It’s enjoyable enough and a quick read, though rather a lot of typographical errors distracted me from the story: B 

58. Red Noise by John P. Murphy - A rollicking sci-fi with shades of western movies that sees a mysterious miner arriving at a rundown space station where she soon finds herself involved in setting to rights the various opposing factions that call the station home. Funny, action-packed and involving, it’s an entertaining read: A 

59. Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks - A cracking Indiana Jones-esque tale that pits the titular Captain Samantha Moxley against a mysterious group known as The Nine on a race to find a hidden Hall of Records that promises to lead to the lost content of Atlantis. A thrilling ride from start to finish and an ending that’s left wide open for a sequel: A 

60. The Return of Jack the Ripper by Mark Andrews - An old book from the seventies that weaves the story of Jack the Ripper’s killings with the contemporary (well, 1970s contemporary!) tale of a copycat killer in New York. Not the most refined crime thriller, but it kept my attention for most of its 191 page length: B 

61. Herobear and the Kid: The Heritage Edition by Mike Kunkel - When I discovered that one of my very favourite graphic novels had been reissued as an expanded, slipcased hardcover edition I had to have it. Containing the original Herobear story, ‘The Inheritance’, along with a new time-travel tale and an extensive sketchbook section, this was an absolute joy to read: A+ 

62. Your Still Beating Heart by Tyler Keevil - A recently widowed young woman finds herself on the run after agreeing to collect a package while on a trip to Prague – that package being a young boy who she is unwilling to give up after learning why she has been sent to retrieve him. A real slow burner and beautifully written from another, unnamed character’s point of view. Some brilliant twists and turns along the way make this absolutely riveting: A 

63. Star Trek: Picard - Countdown - The three-issue comic book series leading into the recent television series is a slight adventure for Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, but a decent companion to the show and prose novel released earlier in the year. Enjoyable, but I can’t help but feel it would’ve been better with another issue or so for the story to unfold over: B 

64. Short Circuit by Colin Wedgelock - One of a handful of old movie novelisations I picked up, this is a fun read, but a very straightforward retelling of the 1986 film about a military robot finding itself truly alive after a lightning strike. By no means the worst novelisation I’ve read, and a quick read, but more layers could have been added to the story: B- 

65. Nature’s Warnings edited by Mike Ashley - A wonderful British Library collection of science-fiction stories focused on ecological tales, both on Earth and other worlds. Some great classic stories here, making this volume a decent addition to the growing British Library sci-fi range: A 

66. Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone by Max McCoy - After thoroughly enjoying Indiana Jones and the Hollow Earth a few months earlier, I decided to track down McCoy’s other Indiana Jones novels. This, the first in the series that he wrote, sees Indy on the trail of the Philosopher’s Stone, a fabled artifact that can turn lead into gold. A really enjoyable read, and one that sets up plot-lines that I recall paying off in Hollow Earth. Great fun, if you can find a copy: A 

67. Indiana Jones and the Dinosaur Eggs by Max McCoy - The next book in McCoy’s Indy series sees the famed archeologist heading to Mongolia to track down a missing explorer and discover if dinosaurs still roam the Earth. Another rollicking read – great characterisation, lots of action and a fun story: A 

68. Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Sphinx by Max McCoy - McCoy’s final Indiana Jones novel finds Indy in the Far and Middle East on the hunt for the Omega book, a tome that records the entire life of everyone who has ever lived. A shorter book than the author’s previous instalments, and one that I found myself a little less enthusiastic about; it’s nevertheless a fun read and ties up all the ongoing storylines from the previous books: A- 

69. The Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child by Frank Miller; art by Rafael Grampa - A deluxe hardback edition of the one-shot story set in Miller’s DKR universe. It's a short read that adds little to this corner of the DC universe, having little to do with any of the characters (i.e. Bruce Wayne or Carrie Kelley) we really care about. Like the original, it tries to be political (imagery of Reagan in the original being replaced here with Trump), while the return of the Joker (famously killed off in this universe) is confusing. Incoherent and somewhat unnecessary, though that could be said about everything that's followed the 1980s original masterpiece. Nice art though: C+

70. Tek Secret by William Shatner - twenty-five years after reading the first five books in Shatner’s Tekwar series, I finally decided to read those I’d missed back in the mid-90s. A quick search on eBay and Amazon marketplace turned up pristine copies of those I'd not read, and I soon delved back into the world of private detective Jake Cardigan. As I remembered, the Tek novels are huge fun, with this book finding Cardigan embroiled in the mystery of a missing woman. Definitely worth the wait: A- 

71. Tek Money by William Shatner - The next book in the Tekwar series finds Cardigan and his partner Sid Gomez trying to track down a missing shipment of outlawed weapons, destined by all accounts to fall into the hands of the Teklords. Fast-paced, easy to read and huge fun: A 

72. Millennium by John Varley - Having fond memories of the 1989 film on which this was based, I snapped up this novel after seeing it on the wonderful All Data is Lost second-hand book website. And what a delight - a truly engrossing time travel tale in which an air crash investigator finds evidence of involvement by visitors from the future in an accident between two planes. Recommended if you can find a copy: A 

73. Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Inside the Art and Visual Effects by Jeff Bond and Gene Kozicki - An oversized coffee table book exploring the artistry and groundbreaking effects work that went into making the first Star Trek movie. There are some gorgeous pieces of art contained within, but if I’m brutally honest the actual text delivers nothing that wasn’t already explored in the exhaustive book Return to Tomorrow a few years back, and in places it feels like the writing was rushed. In addition, there are a number of glaring typos and a truly shocking example of photoshopping in a photo of the Klingons. On the whole, for completists it’s worth having, but I can’t help feeling it could have been better: B+ 

74. Tek Kill by William Shatner - In this penultimate Tek novel, detectives Jake Cardigan and Sid Gomez race to clear their boss, Walt Bascom, after he’s accused of murder. A fun, action-adventure read: A 

75. Tek Net by William Shatner - The final Tek novel has the agents of the Cosmos Detective Agency trying to uncover a global plot to unleash a new strain of the highly addictive Tek digital drug. The series finishes on a high (no pun intended); I’m so glad to have finally finished reading these books after a 25 year gap, and while I would happily read further adventures in the Tek War universe, this is a suitable conclusion to Shatner’s nine-book series: A+ 

76. Chill Tidings: Dark Tales of the Christmas Season edited by Tanya Kirk - The second British Library collection of haunting festive tales, ranging from the 1800s to the 1950s. This is a slimmer volume than the first (published two years ago), but for the most part the stories within are enjoyable reads: B+ 

77. Paul in the Country by Michel Rabagliati - Okay, so this is more of a comic book than an actual book, but I’m including it here as it’s the precursor to Rabagliati’s Paul series which I’ve been reading over the last 15 years or so. A slight tale, obviously, given that it lasts just 28 pages, but it’s packed full of the cheerful art and emotional storytelling that the subsequent graphic novels feature in abundance. Never thought I’d actually get my hands on a copy of this, but glad I did eventually - well worth the wait: A 

78. The Fugitive by J.M. Dillard - A novelisation of the 1993 film, itself based on the sixties TV show. I wanted to read this due to it being written by J.M. Dillard, probably best known for her novelisations of some of the Star Trek movies, and she doesn’t disappoint. While not bringing anything new to the story of the film, it’s a gripping, well-written thriller that Dillard translates to the page with verve: B+ 

79. RoboCop by Ed Naha - I’d long wanted to read the novelisation of the 1987 film RoboCop, so snapped up a copy in decent condition for a good price on eBay. And it’s a fun read; much like The Fugitive, little new is brought to the story (aside from, perhaps, Murphy’s wife and child moving to the Moon and RoboCop himself gaining a canine sidekick at the end) but it’s a well-written, quick read: B+ 

80. RoboCop 2 by Ed Naha - After reading the book of the first film, I had to reread the second. Frustratingly, I bought a copy of this back in 1990 but had given it away when I moved house the first time. Fortunately, eBay was again my saviour, and again Naha writes a decent novelisation, albeit one that ignores the Moon move and dog sidekick elements he introduced in the first book! B+ 

81. The Shrouded Planet by Robert Randell - An old science-fiction novel in which the arrival of seemingly benevolent Earthmen on the planet Nidor starts to have an adverse effect on its people and their culture over the course of three generations. I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first, but eventually found myself drawn in; unexpectedly, though, it finishes on something of a cliffhanger so I'll have to track down the sequel if I want to find out how the Nidorians deal with the human threat: B 

82. Adventure Time: The Art off Ooo by Chris McDonnell - A sumptuous coffee table book revealing the development and production of the acclaimed TV show. I finally got around to watching and falling in love with Adventure Time during this year's lockdown, and this book adds more to my appreciation of the world Pendleton Ward created. My sole complaint is that it was written before the series ended – but that just means there's more ground that could be covered in a second volume! A+

83. Invasion from 2500 by Norman Edwards - Another old sci-fi, this one a paperback from 1964. Although little more than 125 pages long, it tells the tale of invaders from the future taking over the world in 1964, and one man's efforts to thwart their plans. Short, and very much of its time, this book is nonetheless brilliant fun: B+

Not a bad haul, I think you'll agree, and thank fuck 2020 is done and dusted (the year itself, not the books; the books were on the whole great). Let's hope for a better 2021 ahead, and maybe a bit more blogging for me if the stars align. I do kinda have the urge…

Happy New Year! 

**UPDATE**
I read another one.

84. The Art of Star Trek Discovery by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann - After the slight disappointment of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture art book, this served as a true example of how to do a Star Trek coffee table book the right way. Full of gorgeous artwork, informative text and even the occasional surprise piece of information from the show's early development, this is an absorbing read and one that deserves a place on every fan's bookshelf: A