My Favorite Book Reading Experiences Of 2019

Let’s keep this Best Of 2019 thing going! So far, I’ve covered my favorite classic horror movie viewings of last year and now I’m on to books. I keep this rad super hero wall-mounted shelf in my office and stack up the physical books I’ve read throughout the year. As you can see in this photo, I also have a list next to it that I can put digital and library conquests on as well. It sure makes it simple to do a list like this!

Continue reading My Favorite Book Reading Experiences Of 2019

The Great Hannibal Lecter Deep Dive

Do you ever get really excited about a deep dive, go full-boat into it and then wash out? Well, that’s kind of what happened last year when I found myself minorly obsessed with Hannibal Lecter and his exploits throughout television, film and, of course, the written word. I started watching the series, which made me read the books, while still watching the show (a very unique and interesting experience) and then the movies, but I petered out after seeing my third take on the Red Dragon story. But, I still wanted to get these thoughts out there, so here’s most of the original post I started sometime last spring.

For years, I’d been hearing great things about NBC’s three season-long series Hannibal based on Thomas Harris’ character made most famous in The Silence Of The Lambs. It ran from 2013-2015 with Mads Mikkleson starring as the title character and Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, a pure empath who FBI Behavioral Sciences head Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) brought back in from his teaching gig in an effort to help catch a serial killer. I decided to dive right into the series thanks to its presence on Amazon Prime Video and now have a new favorite show! Continue reading The Great Hannibal Lecter Deep Dive

Toy Commercial Tuesday: McDonald’s Changeables

My family and I just got back from a nice vacation at my parents’ lake house in Michigan. While there, I went through a lot of my things that were packed up from our old house that I hadn’t seen in around a decade. I came back with a backpack full of great material for future blog posts, but also spotted an old favorite that I wanted to include here on TCT: McDonald’s Changeables. These were little robot-like toys that came in Happy Meals that took a page or ten from the Transformers playbook.

I’ve got to say, while I don’t remember the actual commercial above, it’s pretty darn impressive. They fully went for the T-Formers vibe and would have easily tricked Young Me into thinking that these were actually part of the Robots In Disguise’ Universe. This spot was more in line with what I remember from those days. Less animated, but still fun.

As it happens, one of my favorite pop culture blogs Dinosaur Dracula just did a post about the three sets of toys that you should definitely go check out if the above commercial gave you all kinds of flashbacks. I had no idea they did three different waves, but do have a few still hanging around including the Big Breakfast and Styrofoam container burger guy. The fry guy has a prominent place on my desk when my daughter doesn’t make off with him.

mcdonalds changeables fry robot

E-Book Triple Feature: The Devil In The Kitchen, Red Rain & Off My Rocker

the devil in the kitchen I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason is that I’m a slow reader, part is that I love reading comics and part is that, thanks to having a pair of kiddos, I don’t have the time or attention span to devote to the hobby as I once did. However, I have discovered that my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime is a good time to get some reading done. After I read her books, I lay next to her bed in the dark until she doses off. So, as long as I have a solid book on my phone, I’m pretty good to go.

The first of the bunch in recent memory was Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about White going into this book, but it looked like a British version of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, so I bit for a couple bucks (like most of my e-books, I got it on the cheap) and really enjoyed the experience.

White’s story begins as a child (as most do) and ventures on up through his development as a chef, to the leader of his own kitchen and ultimately a world-renowned figure in the world of food. He gave jobs to people like Gordon Ramsey and Curtis Stone  while creating award-winning, lavish restaurants in the 80s and beyond. While their stories are different in many ways, if you like Bourdain’s books, you’ll like this one.

Book Review Red RainRed Rain by R.L. Stine is one of the few fiction novels I’ve read all the way through on my phone. This was another discounted book that I grabbed. From the title and the cover, I assumed this was a vampire story, but was way off base. This one follows a woman who goes to a small island for her travel blog but after a devastating hurricane, seems changed to the point where she adopts a pair of creepy twin boys and brings them to live with her husband, daughter and son in New York.

This was an interesting story that never quite grabbed me. For some reason I was never able to zero in on what these kids look like which was a major barrier given plot points I don’t want to spoil. I also had a really hard time sympathizing with the mother character. The father becomes the punching bag, but while he’s getting dumped on, it felt like I was supposed to wonder more about the wife, but instead, I found her far too easy to write off and ignore. Because of that, I also found her to be a wildly annoying character to the point where I almost stopped reading.

But, I did wind up enjoying the end of the book which finally revealed what the kids were up to. I liked how all that played out, so while I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of this book, it ended in a way that I appreciated which is nice because I used to read Fear Street and Goosebumps books constantly as a kid. I don’t say this often, but after I was done, I felt like Red Rain would have made a better movie than a book.

off my rockerOff My Rocker: One Man’s Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissberg was another random purchase for a few bucks (the equivalent of the going through the Barnes & Noble discount table). I knew nothing about Weissberg or his deal, but when I read that he was a DJ, music writer and concert promoter, I was easily sold.

Right off the bat, this book reminded me of three others I’ve read since starting this blog. It’s got a little of The Real Animal House mixed with Sonic Boom and some of George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do in that it’s one man’s (mostly) fond remembrance of an important time in music, told from the inside. Like Hamilton, he used his confidence and skills to move from one part of life to another, often taking chances and risks that paid off.

To get into a bit more detail, Weissberg grew up a huge music fan on the East Coast and eventually wound up becoming one of the biggest freeform DJs in Colorado. Talking about music lead to interviewing musicians on the air and a career in concert and record reviews in print. When that work dried up, he fronted a band before moving to California to promote concerts, a gig that lasted him 20-something years. Along the way he met a variety of music professionals who he doesn’t mind writing about. Weissberg tells his stories with a good nature that brings you into the tales instead of feeling like you’re on the outside and also lets you in on previously unknown details without ever getting mean.

In addition to enjoying stories about people who make their own way in life, no matter how improbably, I also appreciated how Weissberg took this thing he loved and turned it into a series of careers that lasted several decades. That’s something I hope I can say down the line, though I just realized I’ve been doing what I do for about 10, so I guess I’m doing alright.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Burger King Simpsons Toys

I was a big Simpsons fan as a kid. Even before I started really watching the show, I was sold on the concept, even though, at that time, the idea of being a Bart Simpson-style rule breaker was a little terrifying. Still, I had a Simpsons backpack, pencil case (which I still have) and a bunch of the original Mattel action figures, including the couch with built-in launch pad. I wish I still had those because they’re cool and also sell for pretty big bucks if I’m not mistaken. I got rid of mine for a few bucks at a garage sale which is interesting because it would be conservative to say I kept 99% of my action figures.

Anyway, we started watching Simpsons reruns again and my daughter got a pretty rad Lisa doll at the flea market a few weeks back, so they’ve been on my mind. I looked around on YouTube to see if there were any spots for the Mattel toys, but came up empty handed. Instead, here’s a clip for a Burger King toys that captures the spirit of those early, awesome episodes a lot more than I would have expected.

Bryan Lee O’Malley Trade Post: Lost At Sea & Seconds

lost at sea Lost at Sea (Oni Press)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Two weekends back I decided to re-read my copies of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books. Since I’ve already reviewed them back in 2010 after watching and loving the movie when it came out, I won’t be reviewing them again. I will say that, I really enjoyed myself this time around, probably more than I have any other time I’ve read those books. The “ums” and “whatevers” still drove me nuts, but since I was already familiar with the aspects that I didn’t quite like previously, I was already in. I also noticed more elements and details this time around making this a series that works more and more for me with each reading.

After having such a good time, I went to my library’s website and put O’Malley’s first and most recent graphic novels on hold. I knew the older of the two, Lost At Sea, had come in when we went to the library over the weekend, but was surprised to also find Seconds waiting for me because it just came out in the past few weeks. So, for the second weekend in a row, I spent a good chunk of my reading time with words and pictures by O’Malley.

Lost At Sea, finds an 18 year old named Raleigh on a trip from California to Canada with some classmates who thinks a cat might have swiped her soul. Why else would she feel soulless? While on the trip, Raleigh warms up to Dave, Ian and Steph and eventually comes to terms with a few of the things she’s processing.

She’s dealing with huge questions like why is she here, what is a soul, does she have one, what is her relationship with her mom, what is she going to do about this new love that lead her to Cali and that everlasting classic, what’s she going to do with her life? There are other questions that come up that I’d love to know the answer to like, did she really have sisters, was that picture really of her and why did she spend so much time talking about a best friend who doesn’t really have anything to do with the book?

Some of those questions might have actually been answered, but Raleigh is one of those characters who talks in a wildly noncommittal fashion. Whole statements will be followed by “or whatever.” Is that supposed to be the truth or is it whatever? I think this is just the way a certain portion of the population talk(ed) that I have difficulty tapping into because it’s like a snake eating its own tale. Also, if you barely care what you’re saying, why should I?

While I thought this book was generally really well done and a fine first outing for a cartoonist, it wasn’t really for me. I can remember those wildly complicated says when I was 18 wondering what I was going to do, but to a 31 year old guy with two kids, so much of that seems juvenile to me now. Reading Lost At Sea was like watching a really well done, emotional indie movie, but one I just wasn’t plugging into on that important emotional level. I see and understand how good it is and how intensely personal it must have been, but I just wasn’t as emotionally invested, partially because the characters don’t seem connected to much of anything, including each other.

secondsSeconds (Ballantine Books)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I was far more on-board when it came to Seconds, which I think is O’Malley’s best offering to date. This is a 323 page graphic novel (his first work after finishing up Scott Pilgrim in 2010) with additional art by Jason Fischer, letters by Dustin Harbin and brilliant colors by Nathan Fairbairn. I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing, which was kind of a nice treat.

But, if you want some information, Seconds is about an almost-30 chef named Katie who helped open a restaurant that the story takes its title from. But, since she didn’t have any money to invest the first time around, she’s looking forward to the opening of the one she does own with her business partner, but the process is slow going. One night while hanging out in her apartment, which is above Seconds, she finds a book and a mushroom in her dresser drawer with basic instructions: write down a mistake, eat the mushroom, go to sleep and “wake anew.”

So those are the basics, I’ll label this paragraph SPOILER TERRITORY because it’ll get into a few more details. Katie starts using the magic mushrooms and talking to one of her employees named Hazel who introduces her to the idea of house spirits which play a huge part in the book. The one living in Seconds is called Lis and she’s not a big fan of how Katie winds up abusing the mushroom power, mixing things up and tampering with reality.

Alright, no more spoilers. I got a Neil Gaiman vibe while reading Seconds because it does that thing he does so well where very modern characters and put them up against very old supernatural elements and seeing what happens. Fantasy’s pretty far from my realm of expertise outside of comics and Gaiman’s books, but Seconds seems like a solid modern fantasy project that didn’t feel like a rehash of previously existing fairy tales, but instead something new inspired by a classic idea (though a classic I’m not familiar with, which puts it into Hellboy territory). I also appreciate that this graphic novel felt more researched instead of plucked from the author’s life. I’ve got nothing against pouring your soul onto the page with a variety of your longitme influences, but the clear research into restaurant life and food is also impressive.

I also really enjoyed the look of this book along with the feel. O’Malley and Fischer work so well together that you can’t tell that the former’s using a drawing assistant. The drawings of food in this book are actually mouthwatering. I wanted to eat these pages, but didn’t think the library would appreciate that very much. I was also blown away by Fairbairn’s colors. Lately, people have been doing a lot of talking about the credit colorists deserve on covers and whatnot. I’ll be honest and say it’s not the kind of thing I’ve thought of throughout much of my comic-reading career, but Fairbairn really brought it. He also did the colored Scott Pilgrim books, which makes me want to go back and pick up those versions! Hell, this also made me wonder if I could try my hand at coloring. I think I’ll look into that.

Anyway, after reading O’Malley’s full body of graphic novels in two weeks, I found myself picking up a few interesting themes throughout. Most of the main characters feel clueless and empty in some way. They also have a really hard time letting go of a finished relationship (though I’m not sure where Raleigh’s relationship really was). Numbers are also pretty important. Though Lost At Sea didn’t have one I noticed, Scott Pilgrim is set around seven evil exes and Seconds features 12 magic mushrooms. Oh, cats also feature prominently, though less so in Seconds.

Casting Internets

You might have noticed a lack of Casting Internets posts lately. That’s less because I kept forgetting to do them and more because I haven’t been going through my Pocket app for ,well, most of this year. Anyway, here’s a bunch of stories from the past few months that tickled my fancy. manziel browns draft

I’m pretty excited about Johnny Manziel heading to the Browns. They’re not my main team, but I have a special place in my heart for them because my mom’s from there and my grandma was a fan her whole life. (via ESPN)

Rivers Cuomo called Rolling Stone to talk about his love of Nirvana and how the band changed his brain. Fun read for Weezer fans, especially the ones who’ve been hearing for years that he converted Kurt Cobain’s songs into an equation and then wrote his own songs with that formula.

I’m not much of a Buzz Feed fan, but I really dug Kate Aurthur’s interview with Real World San Francisco‘s Rachel about her time on the show.

08-MosEisley

I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to go through this entire post of on StarWars.com about Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars art, but maybe you will!schleprock america's dirty little secret

My buddy Jesse sent me this link to Jason Heller’s AV Club piece on punk in the 90s because he talks about that band Schleprock I reviewed a while back. Even without that, it’s a really solid read on a subgenera of music I still love.

Esquire‘s Jennifer M. Wood talked to director Walter Hill about his classic The Warriors. As you might expect, this is a thing I love.

I’m a big fan of Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain, so when the former interviewed the latter about modern chefs on his blog, I was interested. Personally, I like how conflicted Bourdain is about things like authenticity. It points to the fact that these issues are trickier than some might otherwise present.

Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone that he’s going to start working on his second-ever solo album. Also, I fully support the idea of a Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck tour. Yardbirds Revisited?