Ambitious Summer Reading List: When Eight Bells Toll By Alistair MacLean (1966)

I have a never ending weakness for free stuff. If there’s a table of things up for grabs, I will definitely peruse that. One of the greatest non-work, non-people things I loved about working at Wizard was the killer free table where I encountered all kinds of amazing things ranging from CDs to action figures and every geeky thing in between. With that in mind == always, literally — I was incredibly excited to see that my local library had its own free table. To my understanding, this is where they put the things they don’t place into the system or try to sell in the store. Castoffs? I love them. That’s how I discovered more than a few great books including Clive Barker’s The Inhuman Condition and today’s entry Alistair MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll. Continue reading Ambitious Summer Reading List: When Eight Bells Toll By Alistair MacLean (1966)

Ambitious Summer Reading List: Cary Grant By Marc Eliot (2004)

We just got back from a week-long vacation and I’ve finished another book from the Ambitious Summer Reading List! First, I knocked out The Death-Bringers by Dell Shannon, then I finally finished Stephen King’s Desperation, I read all of Marc Eliot’s Cary Grant in about three days and I’m now nudging my way into Alistair MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll, but that’s a story for another post.

I decided to buy this bio on the Hollywood legend after reading George Hamilton’s fascinating autobiography a few years back. It’s been a while since I read that one, but I have this vague memory of Hamilton mentioning how Grant rode onto a golf course on a horse or something along those lines. It must have been enough to capture my curiosity, because I ordered the book…and then it sat in a box for several years.   Continue reading Ambitious Summer Reading List: Cary Grant By Marc Eliot (2004)

Ambitious Summer Reading List: Desperation By Stephen King (1996)

Two down, fourteen to go! Considering summer only officially started a few days ago and I’ve got a few week long vacations in the offing, it’s almost looking like I’ll make it through a good number of these books! As I said when I wrote about Dell Shannon’s The Death-Bringers, I’d actually been reading Stephen King’s Desperation when I not only put this Ambitious Summer Reading List together, but also when I took a break to read through that much shorter police procedural. Why you ask? Because Desperation is a tough book to read for both good and bad reasons.

Continue reading Ambitious Summer Reading List: Desperation By Stephen King (1996)

Ambitious Summer Reading List: The Death-Bringers By Dell Shannon (1964)

Well, I’m at it again. I’ve done more than a few of these Ambitious Reading List posts in the past and only gotten a few deep each time. So, this time around I decided to give myself even more books to read through! Worse yet, when I decided to start this little project I was already about halfway through Stephen King’s Desperation which is a very big book! Yesterday my son was sick with a stomach bug and I felt like switching gears in between making sure he had everything he needed, so I grabbed Dell Shannon’s The Death-Bringer‘s off the pile and actually read the whole thing in one day (possibly a first for this slow reader). Boy, that felt good! Continue reading Ambitious Summer Reading List: The Death-Bringers By Dell Shannon (1964)

Ambitious Summer Reading List 2015

ambitious summer reading list 2015The other day I was cleaning out the garage and came across a few boxes of unread books that I was able to combine, but only if I pulled a few out. I figured that was as good a reason as any to try my hand (and eyes) at another Ambitious Summer Reading list. There’s just something about the warm weather that makes me want to stay inside and read, I guess.

As usual, I’ve got a pretty eclectic selection here. From the top, Ghosts And Things is a spooky anthology from 1962 that includes stories by Henry James, Ambrose Bierce and others. I’m thinking about reading these stories in between other books, but the James story was SUPER boring, so I’m not sure if I’ll stick with that plan.

Below that is the 1979 Avengers novel The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by the awesome David Micheline. In the 90s I read a lot of superhero novels and am curious to see how this early example is. Then there’s Freddy Krueger’s Tales Of Terror #2: Fatal Games. My buddy Jesse sent me this and I’m pretty excited to read it because I love Freddy and this looks like the Christopher Pike novels I read in grade school.

You can also see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I’ve heard a lot of different things about this series over the years and made sure to get the pre-revised version of this book, so we’ll see how this goes. Switching gears completely, I’ve also got Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. I listened to the audiobook version of Klosterman’s IV a few years back and picked this up not long after. I’m a sucker for music related autobios, so I’m sure this will be awesome.

I know absolutely nothing about Twilight Of The Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg other than the fact that it was like a dollar at one of all time favorite discount stores that’s no longer around. But, hey, it’s about superheroes, so it should be in my wheelhouse (I hope). At the bottom of the pile you’ll see another comic-related book, this one Mark Evanier’s column collection Comic Books And Other Necessities Of Life. For some reason I thought this was a collection of interviews, but I must be thinking of ANOTHER book in one of my boxes. Evanier’s one of the best comic historians around, so I’m sure this will be an interesting read.

That brings us to the last three books. Trevanian’s The Loo Sanction is the sequel to The Eiger Sanction, a book I read last year and really enjoyed. There’s also my first Raymond Chandler book Farewell, My Lovely and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I must have read about that last one ten years ago and always wanted to check it out, but haven’t gotten around to it until now!

As you can probably tell, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to these selections. I tried to balance out longer books with shorter ones just to take it a little easy on myself. I haven’t been taking much time to read actual books lately, but I’m hoping that this will push me in that direction. I’m kicking off with The Loo Sanction because I actually started it like six months ago and want to finish it. I’m about halfway through and trying to spend more time with good books, so I’ll hopefully be posting about that one soon!

Ambitious Halloween Reading List: Creepy Archives Vol. 1

creepy volume 1 Back when I was still at ToyFare, I got a pretty epic box of books including the first two volumes of Dark Horse’s Creepy Archives reprints. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that they’ve been sitting in my closet pretty much ever since. I might have pulled volume one out a few times, but never really dove in properly until this year. Not only was I excited to get into these stories as part of the Ambitious Halloween Reading List, but I was also able to make some money off of it by working on a fun list over at Topless Robot called The 10 Best Stores from the Early Days of Creepy.

I talked about some of the history over there, but basically, back in the mid 60s Warren Publishing figuratively picked up the mantle of EC Comics and rekindled quality horror anthology comics with books like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Many of the old school EC guys came over and did art while most of the stories in this volume were written by editor Archie Goodwin. After reading a few EC collections, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Creepy, but I’m glad to say I had a wonderful time reading these stories.

The big problem I had with the Tales From The Crypt and Weird Science books I’ve read is that, while the art is often amazing, the stories are hokey, boring or built in such a way that the twist ending is just so obvious it’s not even entertaining. I was worried that the Creepy tales would be along those lines and was delighted to find that that wasn’t the case.

ambitious halloween reading list 2013In fact, this book had some incredibly unique stories that I’ve never seen anywhere else which is really saying something. In that regard, these stories reminded me of The Twilight Zone because there was such a variety of stories being told, which is all the more impressive when you think that one guy was writing most of them.

But, the real eye-opening aspect of this book was introducing me to some classic comic book artists that I’m not very familiar with. Classic guys like Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Angelo Torres and Joe Orlando came in ready to rock as did Frank Frazetta whose gnarly style fits perfectly with those vets (not that he was any rookie by this point, but you get my meaning). The one artist that really blew me away, though, was Gray Morrow. His work has such depth and quality to it that you almost wonder if these were more modern stories slid into these others from the mid 60s. I’m so intrigued by him that I want to check out books like Orion and Space: 1999, which both happen to be on my Amazon Wish List if anyone wants to get me a little something.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m pretty darn far away from reviewing these supposedly Halloween-themed books in a timely fashion, but I’m enjoying this mix of books still and will continue on until I find myself distracted by something else. I’m partway through the Wally Wood book and about a third of the way through The Fall right now, so maybe I’ll actually finish this one out before the end of the year (but probably not).

The First Ambitious Halloween Reading List

ambitious halloween reading list 2013I knew I hadn’t been doing very well on the most recent Ambitious Reading List, but then I checked the blog and realized I started it back in November of last year and have only since read three and a half of the books. So, with Halloween in the offing, I figured it was about time to toss that one aside and start a brand new one, this time with more of a focus.

So, I now have nine books that I’m trying to read this month. It probably won’t happen because I’m a damn slow reader, but why not give it a shot, right? Here’s the basic rundown.

The Listeners by Christopher Pike. I was a huge fan of Pike’s young adult books as a kid and figured I’d give one of his adult titles a read. I actually stumbled upon this used book store purchase while looking for the next book in the pile, but it felt appropriate to check out this month.

Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice. This is one of two re-reads on the pile this time around. I can’t remember the first time I read this book, probably late grade school or high school, but I’m curious to get back to it and then give the adaptation another watch.

The Shining by Stephen King. You might not be able to see my Kindle on the pile, but I assure you it’s there. I read this book in high school then lent it to a guy I worked with at the bagel shop when I was 16. He got fired and I never saw him again. So, it’s been quite a while since I’ve given it a read. I will follow this one up by watching all of Kubrick’s film version FOR THE FIRST TIME! By the way, it’s only $4 for Kindle right now!

Vicious Circle by Mike Carey. This is the second Felix Castor novel from Carey. I used to interview him all the time for Wizard and really enjoyed the first installment The Devil You Know. The book explores a world where everyone knows ghosts exist and have to deal with them on a regular basis.

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Since reading The Strain, I’ve actually been able to get my hands on the other two books in the series at Barnes & Noble for less than cover price of one book! I’m really curious to see where this story goes and hope to read all three installments before the TV show premieres.

The Dead Boy Detectives by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Talbot. I read this Sandman spinoff series once before and am a big fan of Brubaker’s. While looking at my trade shelf, it seemed like a good fit for the theme.

Eerie Crime & Horror by Wally Wood. I fell in love with Wally Wood’s artwork after reading Weird Science Volume 2 and have been on the hunt for more of his work since then. I picked this book up earlier this year and figured now’s as good a time as any to finally read it (or possibly just scan it for the pretty pictures depending on how good the writing is).

Creepy Archives Volume 1. Featuring stories by some of the greatest artists in the comics business, I’ve been sitting on this book for years. It’s about darn time I finally sit down and have some fun with it.

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History Of Friday The 13th by Peter M. Bracke. No kidding, I have a whole shelf filled with coffee table books I’ve never read. This oral history of one of the all-time greatest slasher franchises is one of them and seemed like a good non-fiction entry in the list.

Alright gang, so here goes. Hopefully this stack o’ books will get read more efficiently than the other. I’m already working on two of them right now, so I’m thinking it won’t be too long before the first review goes up.

ARL3: I, Robot The Illustrated Screenplay By Harlan Ellison & Mark Zug

i robot harlan ellison isaac asimov I can’t believe it’s been two and a half years since I read Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot for the first time. After finishing that book and doing some reading, I came to understand that renowned sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison wrote a screenplay that took the pieces of Asimov’s anthology and put them together with more of a through story, but it never got made. Reading a few more lines or paragraphs lead me to the realization that the script was made into a book with concept artwork by Mark Zug. After that I added I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay to my Amazon wish list and was lucky enough to get it for Christmas or my birthday, but it wound up taking quite a while for me to get around to it. I’m glad I added it to my third Ambitious Reading List because it got me to focus on this book that wound up being both a great story in and of itself, and a good introduction to Ellison (an author whose work I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with) and showed me how intricate and precise a screenplay can be.

Right away, I’ve got to say that this is not the easiest book to read. It’s in screenplay format which might be confusing if you’ve never read anything along those lines, but it’s also an incredibly dense screenplay packed with all kinds of jargon, some of which even I didn’t understand and I took a screenwriting class in college (though am in no way an expert). Also, since this is a futuristic story packed with all kinds of technology, you’re dealing with a lot of descriptions for ideas that might be hard to grasp at first. I found myself re-reading some  of the descriptions several times to get a good idea of what was going on. In those cases it helps to have Zug’s full color art in the center of the book and some of his sketches throughout the regular text.

Ellison’s tale revolves around Bratenahl, a reporter who finds himself driven by the idea of interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist whose work helped usher in the robot revolution that advanced humanity throughout the cosmos. At first he’s just covering a funeral and encounters the mysterious woman who most people would describe as cold and ultra-scientific, but he sees something else there. Encouraged by his editor to keep digging, Bratenahl winds up becoming obsessed with his quarry and her hidden story. That drive leads him to various locations all over the galaxy — teleportation is common place — which brings him in contact with people who tell him tales of Calvin, those stories are all found in Asimov’s book. The screenplay incorporates “Robbie,” “Runaround,” “Liar!” and “Evidence” as well as elements from the other tales.

I’m glad that I took a few years between reading the source material and digging into this adaptation because it was still able to surprise me. As I got into the first flashback sequence, some of the synapses in my memory started firing and I could remember little bits and pieces of what was possibly coming, but not everything altogether. I also kept remembering elements from the other stories and wondering if they would pop up, which added another layer of mystery and wonder to the proceedings.

arl3

Screenwriting is a form of writing that I’ve always been interested in and a format that I thought I knew pretty well before seeing how freaking amazing Ellison is at it. I’ve read things like Kevin Smith’s scripts as well as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Christopher McQuarrie’s original The Usual Suspects screenplays and while those use the format to convey the story, the way that Ellison so completely understands the form and how to move the camera is just mind-blowing. So if you’re interested in seeing how well executed a screenplay can be while also getting in on a piece of sci-fi goodness that really needs to get made — I picture it as an animated movie, someone start a Kickstarter! — give I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay a look.

As far as the ARL3 goes, I’ve got to admit, I was struggling there for a while. Even with branching out to read Al Capp and The Totally Sweet 90s, it’s taken me a pathetic seven months to get through three books and realize that Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap just isn’t for me (at least right now). I’ve even started working on my next pile which has a few more books that I’m really interested in reading, but finishing the I, Robot screenplay has inspired me to stick with this one and see how things go. I’ve already moved on to Hunger Games which I’m about 60 pages deep into. It’s a pretty quick and easy read so hopefully I can keep that momentum going.

ARL3: Raiders! By Alan Eisenstock

Raiders by Alan EisenstockLike a lot of people, I heard about the Raiders Of The Lost Ark fan film made by a bunch of kids in the 80s. I don’t remember the exact details, but it would have been sometime in college. I even wrote a little bit about it for a huge never-published article my pal Rickey Purdin and I put together for a Wizard movie issue (I should check my files and see if I have a copy of it anywhere). I thought it was cool, but never saw it or thought much more about it. Then I saw Son Of Rambow, a British film that seems to take many of the ideas of the true story, switched the movie to First Blood — which I  incidentally just watched again recently — and made a film I fell in love with. There’s something so amazing about the youthful drive to make something, especially when it took so many years and involved so much work. Again, the Raiders fan film left my consciousness again for a while.

Until I got an email a few months back about a book documenting the making of the movie. Would I like a copy? Hell yes, send it over! I wanted to jump into it right away, but a lot of things got in the way. I wish it hadn’t because Alan Eisenstock’s Raiders! is a fantastic, magical book. Knowing the broad strokes of this story really isn’t enough, it deserves the intense level of research that Eisenstock surely did to get such amazing results.

The Raiders fan film was created by director Eric Zala and star Chris Stromopolos, two kids from Mississippi who loved a movie and decided to remake it. They banded together with several friends and friends of friends and over the course of seven years, shot and edited the film. It was amazing reading how they figured out every shot of the movie, developed storyboards (which I’d like to see, actually), scrounged allowance to buy props, raised local awareness and struggled to find locations to match the film. All that makes the story epic, but that’s only half the story.

In addition to being a story about the making of a film, Raiders is also the story of a pair of kids who become friends, dedicate themselves to a project, both falter, grow up and hit a rough spot before SPOILER rekindling their relationship several times and eventually having their movie discovered and loved by people all over the country. There’s a few chapters in the book after they finish filming the movie. At that point I was like, “What more could happen?” And then, bam, you’re hit with some intense, real world drama, the kind that hits a lot of people. These guys went through a lot of crap, lived together, went their separate ways, built families and eventually became creative partners again. Chris especially had it tough, while Eric used his steadfastness to excel in the video game industry.

The beauty of this story is how theatrical it is. Just when everything seems lost at one point, the boys get word that they can shoot a scene on a dry-docked submarine. Boom, they’re back in it. There’s so many ups and downs like that that you almost forget your reading a biography and have drifted into fiction territory. Eisenstock does a wonderful job of weaving these tales together, taking Chris and Eric’s detailed memories and putting together a narrative that might hold a few things back for dramatic purposes, but always pays off. Well, almost always pays off.

arl3My only complaint about this book is that it didn’t finish one important storyline: Eric and Chris’ in-the-works screenplay. The last section of the book makes a point of the two reuniting to work on something creatively, but then leaves off in 2005.  What happened?! Did they write a screenplay? My quick IMDb search shows that Zala doesn’t have any more credits past his student film, so I’m guessing it never got made, but did they at least finish writing it? Not following up on that one thread seemed odd, especially considering the book came out last year and could have done some kind of follow-up in the eight years between the end of the book and it’s publication. I had a similar problem with Laurie Lindeen’s Petal Pusher which didn’t go into detail when it came to the band’s break-up. If you’re going to go into huge detail about this story, you’ve got to deliver on the important final moments or at the very least,  catch us up on what they’re currently up to.

But, that’s a small complaint. There’s so much goodness in this book, so much that got me fired up both as a fan of things and a wannabe creator of things, that it’s really a minor quibble. I really can’t express how much I loved this book. It made me want to create things, it made me want to be a bigger fan of things and it made me wish I had had more of a creative spark when I was younger. I can’t recommend this book any higher, it’s amazing and deserves to be read by anyone even remotely interested in film or fandom. Read it!

As far as the latest Ambitious Reading List, I’ve definitely stalled out a bit. I started reading Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap, but it really didn’t grab me. I think I’ll read something else and then maybe go back to it and see if I find something in there. I’ve got another book sent to me by PR folks that’s not on the list, but should be read pretty quickly. Seems like the right thing to do.

ARL3: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland By Patton Oswalt (2011)

I have very mixed, split-down-the-middle feelings about Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. Without going through and counting the pages, I think I liked exactly half of this book. It’s kind of a mixed bag of autobiography, faux greeting card explanations, epic poetry and comic stories all written by actor, comedian and long time book fan Oswalt. I’m a big fan of his stand-up, his ultra geeky character on King of Queens and the movie roles I’ve seen him in like the lead voice in Ratatouille and Young Adult.

When it came to this under-200-page book I got from the library for work purposes (I might be working on a list of Oswalt’s geekier non-stand up moments in the future), it didn’t take a long time to read and I’m not perturbed by the parts that I didn’t like, I just skipped or skimmed them. The parts I was drawn to were the autobiographical sections. Oswalt talks about the movie theater he worked at as a kid, how books and music influenced him, how his opinions on his crazy uncle changed over time, how different comedians dealt with their crafts and one terrible week he spent in Canada. My favorite part of the book was the title section in which Oswalt labels many of his fellow geeks, artists and angry young men as either a Zombie, a Spaceship or a Wasteland and how that relates to music, sci-fi and other artistic endeavors. It’s honestly brilliant, solid, well thought out and the kind of thing that everyone who considers themselves a geek should check out.

I was less interested in the epic poem he wrote about his Dungeons & Dragons character, the multiple pages of notes written regarding the punching up of a comedy screenplay or the explanations of fake greeting card artwork. There were definitely funny moments to these portions, but I didn’t want to read that when I wanted to find out more about Oswalt as a person. It wasn’t really fair of me because I was comparing my expectations to the actual product and down that path leads ruin. Oswalt even points out in the intro that the book is a hodgepodge and it really is.

At the end of the day, it only took me a few days to read this book, so my complaints are miniscule in comparison to the enjoyment I did get out of the book in a fairly short amount of time. If nothing else, it makes me like Oswalt all the more and hope that he takes the time to sit down and write more whether that’s a fictional story or an autobiographical one, I’ll be there to check it out. Essentially, ZSW is like a Patton Oswalt writing appetizer. You get an idea of what he can do in various styles and formats and probably have a good idea of what else you’d like to read of him in those styles and formats.