The Martian

TLDR: Go see it! Then, go buy the book, and read it!

I’ve seen a couple of reviews compare the Martian to Cast Away, and although the premise may be similar, the comparison doesn’t really do the story justice.

Based on Andy Weir’s first novel, the movie tells the story of Mark Watney. Watney is part of a series of manned missions to Mars called Ares, but when a massive storm forces the team of astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet, Watney is struck by debris and tossed out of sight of the others. The electronics in his suit fail, making the others assume the worst. Because of the risk to their own lives, they have no other choice but to leave Mars, assuming that Watney died on the surface.

Only, (spoilers!), he didn’t die. Watney survived, but now he’s the only man on Mars, with no communications, 50 million miles away from Earth, and the next manned mission to the planet won’t arrive for another four years.

The movie is both a story of survival as Watney tries to solve the problems he’s facing on the desolate Martian landscape as well as the drama faced by both NASA and the other members of the Ares crew learn that Watney is alive and was left behind on Mars and struggle to find a way to rescue him.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney, and he does an amazing job in portraying both the humor and the emotional roller coaster Watney experiences as he fights to endure on Mars. The film balances everything well between both Mars and Earth, so viewers aren’t simply watching one man struggle to survive. They do a great job of handling the problem-solving scenes, setting up the problem, then watching as Watney or Watney and NASA work through the task at hand.

The cinematography of the vast, wide shots of the Martian landscape are gorgeous even though they serve to remind us of just how isolated Watney is.

Despite the smooth pacing of most of the movie, the film feels a bit rushed towards the end – as if someone was trying to keep the film from stretching out for three hours (which it may have if they didn’t speed things up). A couple of tense scenes from the end of the book are lost here, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story. As it is, the film clocks in at 2:14.

My only quibbles about the film are that the film ignores the fact that in the book Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. I always felt his expertise in both disciplines helped the character to survive. The film also leaves out some of the best lines from the book (which is why you should really read the book, too)

The movie is a very tense but enjoyable experience. Be forewarned, if you’re someone who gets emotional watching films, you may want to bring some tissues.

Farewell

 

IMG 0434

Isabella, aka Izzie, passed away in the wee hours of Friday morning, Sept 11, 2015 as her fourteen-year-old body suddenly began giving out on her.
 
She was a great cat who loved being around people, which is unusual for a cat (and a stark contrast to my other Persian – who generally only wanted attention on his terms). She was my “lap-kitty” who would curl into my lap when I sat down in a recliner to watch TV. 
 
She always made sure she was in the location of the house – anyone’s house, mine, my folks, my sister, where there was the most traffic. She’d make sure to lay down on a chair or table in the “optimal petting location” to ensure passersby could easily stop and pet her. 
 
The funniest thing, though, is that she wasn’t originally going to be my cat. 
 
Back in 2006, my sister had the bug to get a cat, and she’d always wanted a white Persian with blue eyes. Izzie didn’t have blue eyes, and she was an older cat a breeder in Dallas was selling. The original plan was for me to pick her up (this was late October) and keep her with me until Thanksgiving. I normally went home to Lubbock for the holidays, so I could just bring her home then. 
 
A white cat would have never been my first pick of hair color, but Ozzie’s personality won me over. I took her and my other cat home for Thanksgiving.
 
I left her there with my sister, but realized that I had already bonded with her and wanted to keep her as my own cat. I usually kept two cats around the house, and I had lost a kitten earlier in the year to FIV. I was down to a one cat household, and my cat adjusted remarkably well to Izzie in the house.
 
So, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the negotiations began. I had to scramble to find another white Persian cat in DFW that my sister approved of and bring it to my sister before I could take Izzie home to my house. Luckily, the breeder had a second cat, and we were able to make the swap. 
 
Of all the cat’s I’ve had since being in Dallas, Izzie was one of the most loving cats I’d ever owned. She loved attention from everyone, and she’d quickly purr and stick the tip of her little tongue out to let you know she was content while you pet her. She was loved by everyone in the family, and she will be greatly missed.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Back to Jurassic Park

A few weeks ago, one of my buddies had mentioned that he’d read Jurassic Park for the first time recently, and he was surprised at the number of differences between the book and the movie. I haven’t read the book since 1993 (around the time the movie came out), so it was a bit fuzzy. At this point I’ve seen the movie quite a few times, so it has kind of become “canon” in my memory. 

Last week, I was going through a slow purge of my existing books and stumbled across my paperback copies of both Jurassic Park and the Lost World. Inspired by my discussion with my friend, I decided to re-read both books. 

Here are some of the differences that I thought were interesting and/or was disappointed they left out of the movie. 

(Needless to say – uh, spoilers – for both the book and the movie. C’mon people you’ve had at least 20+ years to see the movie and/or read the book) 

1. The movie flips the ages and a couple of the personality traits of the kids. Lex is the older and the computer nerd, and Tim is the younger one and the dinosaur expert. In the book, Tim is still the dinosaur expert, but he’s the computer nerd and the oldest. Lex is the youngest and really doesn’t do much in the book (outside of petting and naming the dinosaurs they encounter. I prefer the movie switch, since it gives both kids something to do (Although I still cringe every time I hear “It’s a Unix system.” from that scene in the movie). The book also mentions the kids’ parents are divorcing, but it’s left out of the movie.

2. My favorite – and I chuckled at this as I read it – was that Alan Grant “loves kids” in the book. I didn’t mind that they made him uncomfortable around kids in the movie because it gave his character a chance to grow through the film, but it was a funny thing to read that line in the book.

3. The T-Rex is a much bigger antagonist in the book. All of the content about Grant and the kids taking a raft into the lagoon / river in the book are not in the movie. I’d completely forgotten about this, so I was disappointed (again) that they weren’t in the film. A couple of them – the scene where they learn the T-Rex can swim, and the waterfall scene where the raft is about to go over the falls to where the T-Rex is waiting below – would have been amazing on film.

4. I was happily surprised that a lot of the great lines from the movie came directly from the book.

5. The aviary and the opening scenes are left out of the book, but they are used in the other films. The opening scene of Jurassic Park becomes the opening scene for the Lost World movie. The aviary shows up in Jurassic Park III (you know, the one where you root for the dinosaurs to eat Tea Leoni’s character)

6. The main subplot of the book that’s completely left out of the movie is the concern about the dinosaurs getting off (and possibly already have gotten off) the island. It’s another point about “life finds a way” that the movie picks up when they discover that the dinosaurs are breeding, but the other, much greater concern, of dinosaurs getting off the island is left out. In fact, while the book describes the island being bombed to eradicate all life, the movie leaves the island intact, In fact, the end of the movies shows pterodactyls flying along side the helicopter as the survivors leave the island, and nobody is the least bit concerned. 

7. Speaking of survivors, the book makes it pretty clear that both Hammond and Malcolm die on the island. Both survive in the movie. The Lost World book has to quickly explain how Malcolm is now alive since he’s the main character in the story (turns out he was only “mostly” dead). 

Both the movie and the book are excellent, and it’d be worth your time to go and enjoy both again. Read the book first, then re-watch the movie.

For me, I’m moving on to reading the Lost World. 

The New MacBook – Just the Beginning?

This morning, I made a comment on Twitter that the new MacBook is really meant to be a “road” or “travel” or “second” computer for people who already owned Macs. It’s probably not powerful enough or flexible enough to work as an everyday computer. 

But then, on my drive into work, I was thinking that I’d heard that before…

Isn’t that what a lot of people said about the original MacBook Air in 2008?

What’s this? A computer without a CD/DVD drive? Only a single USB port? So thin you could use it as a knife? 

What was Apple thinking?!? 

As we know now, the Macbook Air is one of Apple’s best selling line of laptops, and, in fact, now represents the “budge-conscious” side of Apple’s lineup. It’s only in the last year or so that competitors in the PC world have been able to come close to replicating the Macbook Air’s form factor and weight.

What does it mean? 

Right now, the MacBook is step towards the future. We won’t know for sure until next month, but from what I’ve read the Core M processor won’t match the performance of the Core i5’s in the baseline Macbook Air’s. It probably won’t be fast enough for power users, but it may be plenty fast enough for the average computer user. 

If I remember correctly, the first generation Macbook Air suffered from the same problem. It wasn’t nearly as fast and as the other machines in Apple’s lineup. They had less memory, less hard drive space, etc. 

But that form factor was damn sexy. 

The Air’s design elements eventually spread to the Macbook Pros: thinner, lighter machines with fewer ports and no CD/DVD drive.

Like the original MacBook Air, the new MacBook has taken some gutsy steps of its own. It’s even thinner and lighter, with a Retina display, new keyboard, new trackpad, and a single USB-C port. And, like previous MacBooks, it comes in colors!

i’ve no doubt that we’ll see Apple sell a ton of them. 

Intel is working towards moving the Core i3/i5/i7 processors to the 14nm process, so it’s possible that in a couple of generations, the MacBook may be powerful enough to meet even power user demands. It will probably replace the Air lineup in a couple of years. 

The trackpad is already in the 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro, so it’s a no-brainer that the pad will move to the other MacBook Pros.

What about USB-C? 

This is the one area i’m the most curious about. How soon will (or if) Apple will ditch Thunderbolt in favor of USB-C?  Will there be any adapters, especially since right now – the MacBook won’t be able to connect to any Apple Cinema Display. How aggressive will Apple be in moving the new components into the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro lines?

Basically, how soon will my fancy new Thunderbolt dock become obsolete?

Also, if Retina now appears in the MacBook, does that mean that the MacBook Pros will bump up to 5K displays? 

Picture that: A new, thinner 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 5k display, 4 USB-C ports and weighs less than 4 pounds? 

That would be pretty sweet.

Gotham – Ugh

My quick thoughts on Gotham.

I had really hoped that they would take the story elements from Batman:Year One, which is as much Gordon’s story as it is Batman’s and use that as the foundation for the series. (If you’re a Batman fan and haven’t read Year One, you should – it’s one of the best Batman stories out there)

I guess they should put a disclaimer or something that this series will not tie into the movies? Or, maybe it will tie in with Batman v. Superman (ugh)? 

The pilot was okay. The fact that the story is set back at the point Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered makes me wonder what they’re going to do with 15-20 years of time to kill. (I’m assuming Bruce was 8 — the show makes him look 10-11 — when his parents were killed and probably in his 20s when he becomes Batman)

The overall plot eventually wound up being mildly interesting, but too many elements where thrown in that get in the way. Instead of making a good police show about Gotham, the producers seem to be determined (at least for now) in beating people over the head with reminders that – “Hey, this is a Batman show – but without Batman.”

I’m also not thrilled that other police characters from the “current” Batman are now in the past. it feels like some of the characters were forced into the story because someone scanned through the Batman comics and picked up on them. They didn’t read the story, just kind of skimmed through the comics and brought things in without thinking of how they fit in the context.

Case in point: Officer Montoya – I suspect she’s only in this series to play on the idea that she’s had some type of prior relationship with Gordon’s fiancé, Barbara Kean. Kean appears to be a based on Kathine Kane, aka Batwoman, and she doesn’t belong in this story. 

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the possible lesbian relationship between Kean and Montoya. To me, though, if you want to do a Batwoman TV show, then make one. It’s a disservice to that comic to just force a few elements of those characters here.

The really really annoying thing though? Sticking these not-so-subtle references of characters from Batman’s rogues gallery in the show. This feels like an bad corporate decision. Wouldn’t it be “cool” to show younger versions of Batman villains? 

The short answer is: No

Someone watched Kick-Ass and thought a young Catwoman would be cool to add to the show. Someone else thought it would be cute if Riddler was working for the police. There are four of these characters appearing in the pilot alone, so I shudder to think of how long this will keep going on. Scarecrow is young Bruce’s psychologist helping him deal with the death of his parents? Mr Freeze is driving an ice-cream truck? 

There are so many excellent police shows out there that they could borrow from, I’m not sure why they couldn’t simply make it a good police show.

Take us back in time to the time before Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed. Maybe months? Show us that Gotham was a good place to live, but the first seeds of corruption were already appearing. The death of the Waynes could have made a major statement to the characters in the show and the people of Gotham in general if it had been used later. 

Year One would have been a better point in time to start the show. Gordon has just arrived in town. The town is already corrupt. The show focuses on Gordon trying to do the right thing while facing an uphill battle inside an already corrupt police force. You could even have the show without Batman – directly. He appears and all the cops have to go on are the descriptions from the criminals, Gordon eventually is ordered to try capture the “Bat-Man.” and we could see him stage stings to try lure him out of the shadows.  Eventually, Gordon wonders if stopping the Batman is such a great idea because he seems to be pissing off all of the right people.

Alas…

Maybe they’ll find a way to make the show work, but right now it’s not high on my list of shows to watch. 

Of course, I say that, and yet I suffered through the most of Agents of Shield last year.. 

 

Godzilla – What you'd expect

Much like last year’s Pacific Rim, if you walk into Godzilla looking for an Oscar-worthy performance (well, unless it’s from Godzilla himself), please move along. There’s nothing for you to see here.

But…

If you’re looking for a decent popcorn movie that’s all about giant freakin’ monsters stomping around our world while we helplessly watch with a bit of an “arrogance of man” message, then Godzilla is your movie. It’s not a great flick, but it’s a good movie that follows more in the tradition of the original movies and makes up for that 1998 disaster of a flick by the same name.

For me, the most depressing thing about this movie was the opening scene. It’s a flashback to 1999 (which, I think, is the second summer movie that has a 90s flashback – Spider-Man 2 being the other). I saw the “1999” title and sat there thinking, “1999? That wasn’t that long ago” …before quietly doing the math in my head. 

The flashback introduces an incident in Japan where a mysterious series of earthquakes takes out a nuclear reactor as well as sets up our main characters. The main character, Ford, is a boy at this point, and his parents work at the reactor.

Flash-forward to present-day, and Ford is an adult and a demolitions expert in the Navy who has just returned home to his wife and son in San Francisco.

He has to race to Japan to bail out his father, who, after losing their mother in the accident, has become a conspiracy theorist chasing a theory that the accident at the plant was not a natural occurrence. He believed something caused those quakes and the government has been covering it up ever since. 

Cut to Japan, Ford bails his father out. Dad (played by Bryan Cranston) is determined to retrieve data disks from their old home, which has been quarantined because of the radiation from the reactor, because it will give him the definitive proof about his theory.

For no apparent reason, Ford goes with his dad, and that kicks off the wild ride of the plot involving the humans. 

Every aspect of the human story is pretty forgettable. Ford goes to help his dad, then spends the rest of the movie trying to get home to his family. Along the way, he continually manages to be dragged into the conflict with the monsters. Ford could have handed the story off to another couple of characters and we could have followed them from point B to C. They could hand the story off to other characters to go from points C to D, and it wouldn’t have mattered.

The plot isn’t anything you haven’t heard of before: Stupid humans unwittingly awaken something they have no hope of controlling or understanding. Big monster starts leaving a trail of destruction. Although presumed dead (because the humans awoke something else back in the 50s and then immediately tried to kill it), Godzilla suddenly shows up and is now somehow aware of and in pursuit of the “bad” monster.

The big difference is that instead of tearing up Tokyo or New York, the big battle ends up heading for San Francisco. So, at least ,in one sense, we at least get to see massive destruction of a different city. 

There are a few scenes that dwell on the arrogance of man and argue that despite our bumbling of mankind to destroy our world, nature will find a way to restore the balance. 

Ironically, in a summer full of super-hero movies, Godzilla really plays out a lot like another super-hero movie…

Because Godzilla’s the hero Gotham… er, San Francisco deserves, but not the one it needs right now…and so we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector…a dark grayish green knight.”

I kid, but let’s face it – We’re here to watch giant freakin’ monsters duke it out – and they do. Sort of. 

That’s probably the most disappointing part of the movie. Just as we start to see the big fight scenes between Godzilla and the bad guys, the director decides that’s a good time to cut over to see what Ford or the other characters are doing. 

 The creature itself is also back to the one we know from our childhood and not the oddball super-big yet somehow also super-stealthy creature from the 1998 version.   This Godzilla isn’t all that concerned about all of the military hardware following or attacking him. 

Overall, though, it’s still a decent homage to the original movies from the 60s. Like Pacific Rim, it’s a fun flick to see in IMAX. Like disaster movies? Like giant monster movies? Godzilla is your movie. 

 

The "Amazing" Spider-Man 2 Review

 Okay, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 had some great scenes in it. Every fight scene with the web head doing his thing, swinging through the city, fighting the bad guys while making wisecracks and just plain having fun was amazing. The first confrontation with Electro had a great bit that really gave us a feel for what Spidey’s spider-sense does. 

There’s a couple of nice scenes with Spider-Man and a little nerdy kid. 

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry on-screen and are annoyingly cute to watch even though the are-we-or-aren’t-we-dating story drags on for far too long. 

It’s a good summer popcorn movie that could probably have been shorter if that was the original intent of the producers. It seemed like the producers of the movie were too focused on the long game – meaning – they’re dying to transform Spider-Man into a mega multi-movie universe along the lines of what Marvel Studios has done with the Avengers. (Spider-Man’s movie rights are owned by Sony – and they let you know it throughout the film) 

At the end of the day, though, you have a few great scenes wrapped up in a mess of a 2hr, 22min film that milks the love story as long as it can yet rushes to introduce villains, transform them via the most ridiculous means, and turn them against Spider-Man with very little back story. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that the bad guys will likely be back in the sequels. 

While it may be a great idea to create a multi-movie franchise like Marvel Studios, if the first movie(s) aren’t very good, why on earth would audiences bother going to the sequels? After this film, I have little desire to see a “Sinister-Six” movie. (The next “Spider-Man” movie is going to focus on the villains – and will come out before an Amazing Spider-Man 3)

The movie has the elements there, and if they were shaken up and re-assembled in a different order, you might have wound up with a better overall story.

Case in point – There was a scene between Harry and Peter in the trailers where Harry showed Peter that OSCORP had Peter under surveillance, and it was cut from the movie. There was another cut scene from the trailers between Harry and Norman Osborn where they’re discussing Peter where Harry says “What about Peter?” to which Norman replies “Not everyone gets to have a happy ending.”

The movie focuses so much on OSCORP that it seems a shame that those two bits were cut from the film because it could have helped build up this larger epic conflict between OSCORP and the Parker(s). 

(BEGIN SPOILER) – Skip this section if you don’t want to know anything about the movie.

So, imagine how this would work —

Harry comes back to visit his dying father. His father reveals his legacy and fills him in on the research that he was doing with Richard Parker and that Peter may be the “key” to Harry’s survival.

After Norman dies, Harry is going though his father’s “Special Projects” files and stumbles across the research into the radioactive spiders. He also sees that Peter has been under surveillance and finds a video diary entry from Norman discussing his belief (but can’t prove) that Peter may be Spider-Man. 

Now, Harry has motivation to start hanging out with Peter again in order to rebuild their friendship. Show several quick scenes of them together (not the same sequence – make it clear that it’s different dates). 

Later, they have the conversation in OSCORP that we see in the trailer where Harry is showing Peter the surveillance footage while Harry quietly watches Peter and wonders if his father was right about the idea that Peter is Spider-Man. 

This would occur before Harry asks Peter to help him locate Spider-Man because he may be the key to saving Harry’s life.

(END SPOILER)

Anyway… 

Although The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has some great moments in it, they’re not enough to overcome the weakness of the overall story. It’s a decent popcorn summer movie, but it could have been better or at the very least mercifully shorter.

——————————–

This is a great FAQ (WARNING: SPOILERS!) that jokes about a lot of the good and bad elements of the film. It’s written by Rob Bricken who wrote another ingenious FAQ last year about Star Trek: Into Darkness.

http://io9.com/the-amazing-spider-man-2-the-amazing-spoiler-faq-1572405038

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

NOTE: If you haven’t seen it, remember, in true Marvel fashion, stick around for the credits. There are two additional scenes during the credits. I missed the second one, so I’ll have to catch it the next time.

Despite falling into more of a traditional action movie towards the end, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a solid story that also displays a great deal of depth for its main characters and makes the movie the strongest Marvel Studios movie to date.

You might be turned off by the title, thinking that this is a “super-hero” movie, and, well, it is. Instead, consider Captain America: The Winter Soldier as more of a political thriller whose main characters happen to be super-heroes.

The opening 20 minutes feel more like something out of James Bond than a big super-hero spectacle. Then you realize, oh, wait. SHIELD is supposed to be a spy agency.

I’m not a huge fan of Captain America, and for the most part, nothing in the first movie nor the Avengers changed my mind. But, the opening scene really changed my mind.

This movie transforms Captain America/Steve Rogers into a great character. Although Rogers has always had a desire to serve his country, he begins to question Nick Fury and, once he learns of SHIELD’s latest initiative, both SHIELD and his role in this new world. Add this to Rogers still adjusting to living in the 21st century, and there’s a lot of dimension to this soldier. 

Something else that I don’t remember seeing in the first film that I thought was a great touch was that, like the latest Batman movies, Cap now seems to have his own fighting style and using his shield is a big part of that style. It’s not that Cap needs the shield to fight, but we now see him wield the shield with the same expertise a master samurai would wield his katana.

This time around, Cap is caught in the middle of a much bigger story and he quickly learns not to trust anyone at SHIELD, well, except Black Widow. The two of them begin digging into a mystery involving Nick Fury and someone called The Winter Soldier, which SHIELD treating Cap and Widow as fugitives. The fugitive angle also forces both characters to spend most of the movie out of costume, which helps make them closer to being “normal” people.

There’s a great chemistry between Cap and Black Widow in this movie, and despite a quick kissing scene, there’s no attempt to force Widow into a love interest. In fact, part of the banter they have is Widow trying to play matchmaker for Cap. 

Black Widow has a lot more to do in the movie as well. We learn a great deal more about her character, and being the spy who “gets the job done” plays well against Cap’s sense of justice.

Sam Wilson, a former soldier and veteran’s counselor that Cap meets early in the movie also gets sucked into the story when Cap and Widow need a place to hide. He also gives Cap a glimpse into life outside of being a soldier as well as someone else whose lost a partner in war. We eventually learn that he flew a very, um, unique craft during the war.

There are a couple of big reveals about the villains of the movie before the action ratchets up that I won’t go into. 

Once the action gets going, it almost becomes a completely different film where the explosions are big and the snappy one-liners kick in. The movie quickly recovers though, and there are some big ramifications to the story after the fireworks die down.

Overall, though, the movie works as a great action-thriller with touches of super-hero stuff thrown into the mix. It’s probably the most complex story I’ve seen in any of the Marvel movies, and that’s a good thing. 

2013 Reading List

At the beginning of the year, I wanted to set a goal for myself to read more books. Since I’m working at a job that has a long commute, that goal has been made much easier since I listen to audiobooks to keep my sanity while sitting in DFW traffic.

Anyway, I wanted to share my list and I may add some comments about some of the books. If you see something that you might be interested in, just ask and I’ll tell you what I thought of the book.

2013 books read (so far) – in no particular order

Audiobooks

1) Callis Rose by Mark Tufo

  • Great book!

2) Life of Pi by Yann Martel

3) The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

4) Daughter of the Sword: A Novel of the Fated Blades by Steve Bein

5) Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

  • Interesting twist on a world with people with super-powers. 

6) Spartan Gold by Clive Cussler

  • If you wanted a “popcorn-movie” book to read, this would be a good one. 

7) The Disciple by Stephen Coonts

  • Very interesting fictional story involving Iran.

8)  Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
9)  Lycan Fallout: Rise of the Werewolf by Mark Tufo
10 )Killing Floor by Lee Child
11) Greywalker: Book 1 by Kat Richardson
12) City of Bones The Mortal Instruments, Book 1 by Cassandra Clare

  • Meh. Some interesting ideas about the supernatural world, but not much else.

13) The Cobweb by Neal Stephenson, J. Frederick George
14) Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

  • Super heroes in a zombie apocalypse. ‘nuff said.

15) 14 by Peter Clines

  • Hard to describe this book, but it was a quick and enjoyable read.
  • It has a very Stephen King-like feel to it, because it basically takes a collection of normal people and puts them into a very unusual situation.

16) The Cartel by Ashley & Jaquavis

17) Suspect by Robert Crais
18) Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey

  • Great “hard sci-fi” story. I’m looking forward to picking up the sequels.

19) As the Crow Dies: A Jason Crow West Texas Mystery, Book 1 by Ken Casper
20) Among Others by Jo Walton
21) Blowback, A Retrieval Artist Novel by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
22) Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson
23) The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

  • Ugh. 
  • It’s not that she doesn’t tell a good story, it’s just that I didn’t care about the story or the characters. 

24) The Racketeer by John Grisham

  • Meh. It’s a good read in one sense, but I hated the small-town lawyer goes to jail for a few years and is now some sort of master criminal plot. 

25) The Bat: A Harry Hole Thriller, Book 1 by Jo Nesbo
26) The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

  • Great story for fans of the Dark Tower, but not sure anyone else would enjoy it.

27) The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

  • Another interesting teenage book with a couple of new ideas about magic.
  • Awkward ending, but still pretty good.

28) Paper Towns by John Green

  • Teenage angst story. Quick and good read. 

29) The Keeper of Lost Causes: Department Q, Book 1 by Jussi Adler-Olsen
30) The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

31) Redshirts by John Scalzi

  • Hilarious! – read by Wil Wheaton

32) 11-22-63 by Stephen King

  • More fantasy than horror, but a great story. King puts a lot of detail into the world of the late 50s and early 60s. Great detail about Dallas as well.

33) Under the Dome by Stephen King (re-read)

  • One of King’s best!

Novels

34) Twelve Years a Slave – Enhanced Edition by Solomon Northup and Dr. Sue Eakin

  • This is the source material for the movie of the same name. This book is Northup’s original account of his experience as a free African-American who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery for 12 years before being found and returned home to New York.
  • It also contains footnotes to Dr. Sue Eakin’s incredibly thorough research documenting the actual people, places and events that take place in the book. 
  • If you see the movie, then I’d recommend reading the book. There are a lot of details the movie didn’t cover that are in the book.

35) Near Death: Book 1 of the Near Death Series by Richard C Hale
36) Twittering from the Circus of the Dead by Joe Hill
37) Death Sight: A Will Castleton Novel by David Bain
38) Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
39) Divergent by Veronica Roth
40) NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
41) The Fixer: A Lawson Vampire Novel 1 by Jon F. Merz
42) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
43) Horns: A Novel by Joe Hill

44) A Storm of Swords: A Song of Fire and Ice, Book Three by George R. R. Martin (re-read)

45) Blood Skies (Book 1) by Steven Montano

46) Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (re-read) 

 

Graphic Novels

47) Locke & Key Vol 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
48) Flashpoint by Geoff Johns
49) How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by the Oatmeal
50) Batwoman Vol 1:Hydrology (The New 52) by J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman and Amy Reeder

51) Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis

  • Part of the New 52, I think. A new twist on Superman that fun to read. Superman is  a hard character to deal with, I think. 
52) Batman: Earth One by Gary Frank & Geoff Johns

53) Hawkeye, Vol 1: My Life as a Weapon by Mark Fraction, David Aja and Javier Pulido  

  •  I’ve never read much on Hawkeye and thought he was a strange choice to include in the Avengers. After reading this graphic novel, I was much more intrigued by the character and will probably pick up the next volumes of the comic.

Callis Rose – If "Carrie" had a sister…

While it may feel like it’s not completely original, Mark Tufo’s Callis Rose creates a wickedly intriguing and even cringe-worthy horror story around teenage girls that’s very entertaining.

The best way I can think of describing the story would to be take Stephen King’s Carrie and mix it up with the obnoxious popular girls from Mean Girls. 

The story follows Callis Rose, who is a girl with a special ability that she barely understands and has little control over. Her power turns her otherwise happy world upside down and she ends up abandoned to the overtaxed foster care system. The first part of the story follows Callis through the system and we see her go through a series of foster homes that unfortunately give her opportunities to learn more about her abilities. Using her power has a cost, but a part of her also begins to enjoy using the powers against others. 

The story quickly advances her through several years and she ends up with a stable but indifferent family just as she’s about to start high school. In spite of everything she’s lost and everything she’s encountered in the foster care system, Callis appears, on the surface at least, to be a pretty normal but poor teenage girl. 

On her first day of school she meets two people. One of them will become her favorite person in the whole world, and the other the complete opposite. Kevin, who is a junior varsity quarterback quickly becomes her friend and eventually something more. His cheerleader sister, Mindy, despises Callis and makes it her mission in life to destroy Callis and to prevent the relationship with Kevin from getting serious. 

At this point, the story may feel like something you’ve read before, and with the exception of Callis, most of the characters are pretty one dimensional. There’s plenty of teenage angst here. Nice guy quarterback and nice “normal” girl go through the motions of their first dating relationship. Bitchy sister doesn’t approve of the girl her brother is seeing. Popular cheerleaders pick on the poor but pretty new girl. 

But, as Mindy escalates things, we begin to see something deeper both in Mindy and in the relationships between Mindy and her two cohorts. 

Of course, the story gets more interesting and much, much darker once Callis decides to start fighting back. As things progress, there are a couple of scenes that are very cringe-worthy. By the end, though, the lines are so blurred between Callis and Mindy you’re not sure who to really root for. 

Overall, it’s a very entertaining story, and Tufo adds enough new twists to the story, Callis’ powers, and depth to the characters to keep things interesting. I listened to the audiobook and I also enjoyed Sean Runnette’s performance. The story takes place in Colorado, but there are really no elements to the story that are unique to that location. That didn’t really bother me because I could easily imagine the story taking place in DFW or any large city. 

This is the second book I’ve listened to by Mark Tufo. Earlier in the year, I picked up Lycan Fallout: Rise of the Werewolf. I picked it up because I was on a supernatural kick and was tired of reading books on ghosts and vampires. I hadn’t read a good story about werewolves, so I picked this one up.

it’s a great story as well with a mix of variations on the post-zombie-apocalyptic supernatural world. The main character, Mike Talbot, is a great character and enjoyed the story. I’d recommend that book as well with one caveat. I did not know when I picked the book that it picks up from another series from Mark Tufo. I’d recommend starting with his Zombie Fallout series first before getting to the Lycan Fallout book, if only so you can follow Mike Talbot’s adventures from the beginning.

Anyway, Callis Rose is in a completely different vein from Tufo’s other books, and I think if you liked reading King’s Carrie, you’ll enjoy Callis Rose, too.