Worth mentioning: A great review of the SKL 2013 Desk Calendar

I had to write a quick post about this terrific review of the STEPHEN KING LIBRARY DESK CALENDAR 2013 that I edited and co-wrote with a terrific cast of contributors including authors, editors, and King enthusiasts.

Check out the review here.

David, over at his Talk Stephen King site, really got what we try to do at the calendar every year, and that is to put together a great collection of: trivia, essays, musings, etc., all related to the master himself, Stephen King, and his wonderful body of work. Thanks David, I'm humbled by your words. And thanks for the shout-out about the trivia, which my amazing wife, Fotini, puts together, every year, outdoing herself.
"I celebrate the guy's entire catalog."

In his review, he discussed some of his favorite essays by the likes of Peter V. Brett, Robin Furth and King expert Brian James Freeman--who wrote a special extended piece about putting together a special 25th Anniversary Limited Edition of IT

I have a ball putting this calendar together each year, coming up with a theme, contacting contributors to write, working with the art director to come up with the creative design, and finding a few new contributors each year. 

This calendar is developed exclusively for members of The Stephen King Library, Book-of-the-Month and the related book clubs. Check out the SKL here, http://www.stephenkinglibrary.com/ or here: http://www.bomcclub.com/

Now that I got all of that out, I can get back to watching the 12.12.12 concert, then do some reading later on. I'm just a book guy, but a New Yorker too, so if you can support Sandy Relief in any way, please do. 

Back to my hobbit hole...


Review of BALLS by Julian Tepper

I sit at the keyboard this morning, having just completed reading Balls on the D train on my way down to West 4th Street, and I imagine the keys of a piano in front of me. Melancholy might be the first word that comes to mind when I think about this novel, but also well crafted, like a song its protagonist Henry Schiller is always trying to create. That perfect New York song… the one that will define him.
What else defines him in this novel?
Well, the women he dates, or sleeps with more accurately, as even though there is one flame in his heart, there are many women in his life both past and present that he talks about in great detail. Constantly falling in and out of relationships, most tragically as it often happens, love is something he struggles with, especially with his young and talented girlfriend, Paula.
Manhattan is another large piece of his identity. Although Henry lives in Tudor City, near the UN, and plays piano in a bar nearby, he travels around the picturesque city via cab and on foot, wandering, looking for himself in bars, nightclubs, the bottom of a glass, or more specifically at the piano. He is always seeking out therapy through manipulating the keys and loosing himself trying to write a song.
Lastly, there is the cancer. He is told he has testicular cancer and struggles dealing with the reality of this serious diagnosis. His life takes sudden twists and turns all encompassed by this threat to his very existence. Can he find the love, the support, or the perfect song to guide him through, to make everything alright?
It is a strange trip, but one worth going on. Take this trip if you’re looking for a New York story, or the story of a young man struggling to find his way or if you’re looking simply enjoy the lyrical craft of Tepper’s writing. I saw this talented writer read aloud a sample of this novel at the Brooklyn Book Festival last month, and it was well worth tracking down.
All of it… well played.


DRIVEN by James Sallis -- a book review

Will they ever stop coming for him? 

That is the question on your mind as you start reading Driven, the follow up to author James Sallis' hit book, Drive, which was adapted into the acclaimed film of the same name in 2011 starring Ryan Gosling.

Sallis writes novels as I imagined an L.A.-based writer would. Reads like a screenplay, and at fewer than one hundred pages, it’s ready to be adapted. 

Reads tight—like a Helmet song, his text is tightly woven around a few repetitive chords, except the one-two punch of Sallis' novel comes in the form of the two-man teams continually sent to find the nameless Driver and take him down, a drifter who has caused too much trouble to let him walk away. The problem of course is that he’s always a step ahead keeps easily outclassing the goons. He needs answers before his luck runs out.

Hiding away under the hood of a car he’s rebuilding in an out of the way garage will only get Driver so far, and he has to decide who to befriend and who to trust as it becomes quite clear that anyone who gets in his path is in danger.

Simply, a fast-paced story about a loner trying to survive, turn the corner and start a new life. All that was missing was the white, bloodstained, scorpion-emblazoned jacket from the film that that he wore throughout no matter how nasty things went down. That was cool.

Editorial note:
This is the same review I put up on goodreads. Note that I did not give it a starred rating on goodreads as I think that star system is flawed (and I'm not likely to give star ratings going forward, still mulling over this). I think it's more important for people to read what others have to say about a book than judge by stars only. This is my own personal opinion. Thank you.

2nd editorial note: 
I thought it worth mentioning that I bought this digitally and read it in iBooks on the ipad. I was not given this book to review, I paid for it the regular way. I think format is important and it was worth mentioning. I'm currently reading a print hardcover book (or 3). Good day~


Review: THE BORROWER by Rebecca Makkai

How to write a quick & quirky review of The Borrower:

1. Say that reading this book is like going on an adventure.

2. Actually go on an adventure, where you take the path less traveled

3. Eat a lot of junk food along the way, but remember to keep hydrated.

4. Observe all that you see on this journey. Take notes & definitely keep receipts (you may need them later on).

5. Find a charming, well-read, but potentially troubled young boy and pledge to look out for his well-being.

6. Get in way over your head.

7. While on this journey, question everything, every bad decision ever made, your chosen life path, and exactly how you wound up where you are today.

8. Mention that the author, Rebecca Makkai, is a charmingly witty and engaging writer. Say how you were pleasantly surprised at how much you liked this book (she drops literary classics allusions like Tarantino references pulp films).

9. End by saying that you were given a copy of this book at work, that is if you work at DK Publishing, part of the Penguin Group, like I do.

10. Make friends with a Russian.


A Trip Back To The Cold War Era--My Review of THE COLDEST CITY

Here’s my report / review of THE COLDEST CITY, a graphic novel, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart, published in May 2012 by Oni Press. 
The perpetrators:
Intel etched out on cocktail napkins [words]: Antony Johnston. Visual field scratching [images]: Sam Hart

Disclosure Notice: A sample of the sleek unjacketed hardcover provided by Oni Press [thank you]  

The story: Within Berlin, with the Wall about to crumble, KGB factions are at work deciphering all the spies within the city. Deep undercover agents have informed MI6 that an agent was killed over a very important document--a list of every agent working in Berlin. An agent is sent in to pick up the pieces and find the list.

Sitrep: a classy British agent--Lorraine Broughton--is sent into ice cold Berlin in the late 1980s to find out what happened to a missing file an agent reported to have, a list of all the agents in Berlin was possibly heading to the black market. Bad news as

Communism is starting to come undone and agents, double-agents and defectors are all trying to figure out where they fit into the regime change. When the spy war ends, what is a keeper of secrets to do? And does one ever settle down in the quiet life? Not likely.

Interviews: Interspersed with scenes of the actual events are interviews with a surviving agent, trying to piece together just what happened, and what the "f" went wrong. Because as is usual in the spy game, not everything--or everyone--is as it seems.

Visuals: The artistic stylings are "clean and neat" in their retelling of the story. Each panel is inquisitively cool and subtle in depicting expressions as the dialogue is delivered. All of it must be deciphered as if it's being read through an Enigma machine, really bringing the Cold War era to life.

Conclusion: Bravo to the efforts of scribe Antony Johnston (writer of hit comics: Wasteland, Queen & Country: Declassified and Daredevil--not to mention his Wolverine manga book, reviewed on this blog) and his collaborator, Sam Hart (illustrator on Judge Dredd and Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur) and Oni Press for publishing a cold war spy story, set in stark black & white in an impressive unjacketed hardcover graphic novel format.

I would be interested in reading more adventures about this cunning and crafty cold war spy.


BEA 2012, Day 2, Highlight: A Treat for the Gentleman Gamer

It was another fine day at BEA at the good old [nasty] Javits Center. What a wonderfully crowded day filled with celebs [I saw Rachel Ray and Tim Gunn signing with incredibly long lines] and packed with industry folk and more advance reader copies than you could possibly fit in a tote bag.

I left galley light today, having quite enough to read and get caught up on, having only grabbed a forthcoming thriller from Mulholland Books [an imprint of Little Brown & Co.], BREED by Chase Novak -- which looks creepy and delicious and includes a Stephen King bursted quote on the cover, a pretty good endorsement. I very much look forward to getting into that one.

Some of you may or may not know, I have an alter ego, a late night gaming persona whom likes to mix his exciting videogame playing with spirits of a civilized type; a mashup of the cultures of gaming and imbibing, and for this guy it works out quite nicely. It all started one cold winter day when my wife found me playing SOCOM II with glass of port wine. She said all that was missing was my smoking jacket. And the Gentleman Gamer was born.
Celebrating the 50th Stuart Woods novel, and his main character, Stone Barrington, the good folks at Putnam gave away mini bottles of Knob Creek whiskey, Stone's drink of choice. It was a classy giveaway, and even though I'm not a whiskey drinker per say, this Gentleman Gamer is not beyond mixing a little whiskey with his late night Fallout sessions--soon to become Skyrim sessions. It's the little things after all.

I realize I need to quickly mention the other books I picked up, which I plan to do after the final day of BEA tomorrow, as I might, beyond anything that I can control, grab even more books while at the show. What can I do, it's a disease.

I did leave feeling very positive about the state of things in the book world. Sure there are still some hardships across the industry, but I also saw enthusiasm and the desire for many to have their books [whatever the format] find that elusive new reader.

The sad news of the day, the passing of Ray Bradbury, was something I was crushed to hear. Throughout the day, people across the floor could be heard talking of his great legacy. Certainly a loss, but what an impressive lineage he has left behind. 

On to tomorrow.


My BEA 2012 Day 1 - Favorite item of the day

 My first day at Book Expo America was great fun. I worked with my fellow colleagues at the DK Publishing booth and when able, ran around to scout bound gallies and other giveaways. I ran into friends, old coworkers and business partners and saw several big name authors walking around (like John Grisham and Dennis Lehane).

I wanted to write about my favorite giveaway of the day, which Little Brown & Co. gave out promoting the new Lemony Snicket book. Instead of the tried and true tote bag (of which I did grab a few,  a side effect of working in the book world), LB was giving away this neat faux-leather briefcase, which zipped up and included a bunch of promotional items including a preview of the book, "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" with cover and scattered interior illustrations by renowned comic book illustrator, Seth. The case also included a calendar, pen--with sliding octopus feature--and a boxed bar of soap, with The Lost Arms imprinted on it.

It was one of the hot items of Day 1 of BEA, and I thought a really nice promotional package, and an important reminder to us all as we continue to plunge into the digital age, that it's still nice to see a publisher put together a really fun printed promotional kit. 

 I also grabbed a few books, which I'll talk about soon after I make it through day 2 (and 3) perhaps so that I can write up a whole post on the books I grabbed over the course of the show. Fun fun...


Review of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Time Machines.

If you are a fan of science fiction, you can spend a lot of time thinking about time machines. From H. G. Wells’ classic tale to Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s Delorian. Time travel stories are an integral part of modern pop culture and have been around for a long time. And they can be fun, complex and engaging.

As with many things, I’m still getting caught up reading the books I’ve been meaning to (boy, a time machine would come in handy with that, that is if I could stay out of time paradoxes), and one I’ve been meaning to read for a while, I’ve just finished the entertaining and well written novel by Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

I was first drawn in by the jacket art, being a big fan of ray guns, I thought the design was playful and fun. [I am referring to the hardcover artwork of all the ray guns] It reached out to this fan of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Although now having read the book, I think the design would have been slightly more spot on if they were all little time machines or various space capsules, as the book follows Charles and his experiences as a time travel repair man of sorts. Variations on the TM - 31 time capsule in the book might have been fun.

A sentimental story about a boy and his long lost father. This happens in Minor Universe 31, a far off universe not that unlike ours, just way out on the edge of tomorrow. That’s where Charles comes in, he’s a time travel tech, and his job is to save people from getting locked in time loops as they go back in “recreational” time machines, as for most it’s too tempting to simply watch their past go by like a ghost of Christmas past.

Here’s a favorite quote from early on in the book:

I have seen pretty much everything that can go wrong, the various and mysterious problems in contemporary time travel. You work in this business long enough and you know what you really do for a living.

Aside from interacting with his cast of program friends, operating system TAMMY, faithful dog Ed, he goes on the ultimate trip, back into his own past (or future, or present -- get used to it, many sentences read like this) to find his own father, who just so happend to invent time travel, then immediately disappear.

I recommend this futuristic & nostalgic trip through time, and enjoyed his easy pace and scientific phraseology--even if I didn’t understand all of it. If it means anything, I’m going to pick up Charles’ other book, Third Class Superhero. Plus, I like that there’s a robot on the cover.


The Art of Video Games by Chris Melissinos and Patrick O'Rourke, my review

Like opening a scrap book and viewing my gaming life, I flipped through the digital pages of this forthcoming illustrated book from Welcome Books (who graciously provided me with a digital version to review), and I started to realize just how much a part of my life video games were--and are-- and as I grew, they grew along with me.

In conjunction with The Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit, The Art of Video Games, a full color celebration of video games tie-in book will be released by Welcome Books. Check out the retro clip packed promotional video here.

The Art of Video Games transported me back to the very beginning of gaming, as I read about one of the first releases for the Atari, Combat, which I recall fondly playing on my cousin Jeffery’s Atari (which I did not own) in his parent’s house in Brooklyn. It was a gaming love at first sight, a love affair which continues  to this day. 

The impeccably researched discourse brought me through to my Intellivision days, my favorite console from my youth, where I frantically hunted in the basic and pixel-minimal Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The authors specifically commented about the excellent use of sound effects in this now unabashedly basic game, something I completely agreed with, recalling with fright the heavy breathing of what could only be a dragon in the next cave.

All the classics are covered such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders, as well as modern favorites like Fallout (and Fallout 3), and Mass Effect . This gamer learned lots of interesting things from the insightful text, such as, did you know that the “invaders” in Space Invaders were inspired by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, hence the tentacled sea creature-inspired design looking like squid, crabs and octopi? Fascinating.

Early gaming legendary pioneers, such as Nolan Bushnell (the founder of Atari and arcade friendly Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza-Time Theaters), are interviewed, and these interview pieces break up the lavishly illustrated (in all their pixelated glory) screen shots and gaming design, with some great historic tidbits on early design and the free flowing creativity and hard work that went into early game design. Also many of today’s gaming pioneers are also interviewed.

The book covers all the stages of video game history, including what the authors call the “8-bit revolution” of 1985, when an obscure Japanese company released its new Nintendo Entertainment System to a U.S. audience, thrusting the lagging console market into future, and all of gaming along with it.

The only thing missing from this trip down gaming-memory lane were emulator codes so I could go back and re-play each game painful obsession, because at the time of their release, they were the coolest and most creative escapes and only added to my love of fantasy, adventure, comic books, novels, and even working with science fiction and fantasy, then working for a time at a gaming company myself.

Who would have thought it all those years ago, trying to angle my tank so that I can shoot and ricochet my shot off the wall from behind a barrier to take out cousin Jeffery’s tank, that gaming culture would have grown to be a vivid and enrapturing art form?

If Ready Player One was a fictional love song to video games, The Art of Video Games is the visual poem to gaming—simply a beautiful book filled with gaming nostalgia, inspired innovation and flat-out fun.

As much as I loved reviewing this in digital form, I can’t wait to pick up the printed book as well. I’m sure it’ll be beautiful. And I plan to try to see the exhibit when it comes to New York.

Game Over


My review of LIKE A SNIPER LINING UP HIS SHOT by Jacques Tardi

Remember that scene in True Romance when Christopher Walken (Vincenzo Coccotti) punches Dennis Hopper (Clifford Worley) in the nose and quips something to the effect of, "...and that's as good as it's gonna get, and it ain't ever gonna get that good again."

That is how this graphic novel reads, this ambitious adaptation of the terse French crime novel, The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette, is like a swift punch in the face, and it doesn't let up. 

The stark black and white illustration by Jacques Tardi, a master of the graphic novel form, was dead on. The story was violent enough; I had a hard time imagining all those scenes of gore in full color, the inker would have run out of red pens. And yet, then there are also panels of detached calm, depicting a man quietly drinking a beer, and we forget for a moment what happened the page before.

It's the familiar, desperate story of a killer who wants out of the game, and the lengths he'd go to get out.
Tardi's illustration, the thin-lined expressions, near unreadable emotions of the ruthless contract killer, Martin Terrier, are chilling. Presented is a professional killer, ruthlessly detached from his actions, yet oddly longing for a long lost girlfriend who he pulls into his downward spiral of violence.

Even the panel-heavy unjacketed hardcover from Fantagraphics is awesome, and a nice preview of the pages within. Not to mention this book's title wins as my favorite book title of 2011.

I'd like to note that I was not given this book as a review copy. I went out and bought it. First I read about it somewhere, then I tried to find it at a comic shop or two (which I won't mention here as both usually helpful shops didn't know what I was talking about). Then I went to order directly from the Fantagraphics website, but I'll be honest their first-time order set-up was a pain, so I cancelled that. Then I finally decided to order from bn.com, and that worked out perfectly (I even wound up ordering two of Manchette's other novels, one as an ebook and a paperback). See, good service will get the additional orders every time.

If you like solid noir crime stories, this graphic novel (and any of Manchette's original prose novels for that matter) are worth picking up. I should also mention that this collection was edited and translated by the always wonderful Kim Thompson.

DEAR CYBORGS by Eugene Lim, a little review

I had read a great little article on LitHub.com about this new novel from Eugene Lim and went to seek it out. Soon after I had acquired...