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

Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

buffy season 8 volume 1 the long way home

It’s vampire week here on UnitedMonkee! Let’s kick things off with one of their all-time biggest enemies, Buffy The Vampire Slayer! Like most of the internet, I loved the series (yes, even the first season). Even so, when Dark Horse first announced they were continuing the show’s adventures with Season 8, I was a bit skeptical, even though series creator Joss Whedon was acting as executive producer of the whole thing. See, back in the day, I bought a ton of Buffy comics from Dark Horse until I realized that they were just kind of filling in holes and playing with the mostly un-chronicled summers. Later on I picked up the Buffy Omnibus volumes and read in the intro that that was part of the whole deal because they didn’t want the comics to step on the toes of the show. As a reader, though, I got a bit bored reading about Season Three characters when Season Four was in full swing, but that’s old water under an old, far more crankier bridge.

The timing thing was obviously no longer an issue with the show being off the air. And, adding to the “good” column, Whedon would have an unlimited budget to work with and some of the best names in comics, TV and film like Brian K. Vaughan, Brad Meltzer, Georges Jeanty, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson and Karl Moline.

Really, there was no chance I wasn’t going to start reading this book because I was working at Wizard at the time and free comics were everywhere. Like my fellow Buffy fans in the office, we got to reading and really enjoyed it. I might have been a little taken aback by the whole idea of this army of Slayers working around the world S.H.I.E.L.D.-style, but once I got used to it, I was all in. Continue reading Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

Justice Trade Post: JLoA The Tornado’s Path, JSoA The Next Age & The Lightning Saga

justice league of america the tornado's path Justice League Of America: The Tornado’s Path (DC)
Written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Ed Benes
Collects Justice League Of America #1-7

The last time I was really excited about mainstream comics was the lead-up to Infinite Crisis and everything that went on up until about Countdown. It seemed like DC had done a great job of keeping their universe well organized, using several quality creators to not only tell stories that were unique and fun in and of themselves, but also lead up to something much larger. Sometime during the Infinite Crisis event, I actually started working at Wizard, so I had more of an inside track on what was going on. To be honest, as cool as that can be, it’s not always a great thing and can taint how you feel about different books. It’s the age old bit about seeing how the sausage is made. Sometimes it’s interesting and enlightening, other times it’s pretty gross.

Hit the jump to keep reading!  Continue reading Justice Trade Post: JLoA The Tornado’s Path, JSoA The Next Age & The Lightning Saga

Audiobook Review: The Inner Circle By Brad Meltzer, Read By Scott Brick

brad meltzer the inner circle audiobook Every time we go on a road trip of any real length, my wife and I run over to the library and get an audiobook or two. Before leaving to visit her folks for Christmas, I picked up Brad Metlzer’s The Inner Circle which wound up serving us for two separate trips. I actually had no idea what the book was about, I just saw Meltzer’s name and grabbed it. It turns out, however, that it’s actually a kind of sequel or follow-up to the last of his books we listened to in audiobook form: The Book of Fate.

This time around, the story revolves around normal guy Beecher who uncovers a potential secret spy ring built around the president while trying to impress a woman from his past. As things tend to go in Meltzer novels, the ensuing 12 discs revolve around healthy doses of mistrust, misinformation and misunderstandings all while conveying action and drama the never fails to keep me interested. I should note that I actually forgot very little of the plot in the nearly three months between starting the audiobook and finishing it, which is a testament to the story.

The character who carries over from Book of Fate, though, is the one who really steals the show: Nica Hadrian, the man who tried to kill the president in that book. I had no idea he would appear in this book and would love to talk to Meltzer about why he decided to bring him back, but I think I have a pretty good idea. This guy’s just a super compelling character. He’s belfry-level crazy thinking his last victim still talks to him and also believing in ages old historical conspiracies that continue through reincarnation. But he’s also incredibly smart and has his own set of physical skills that made him such an effective killing machine. He’s basically Batman, but crazier and convinced that the world has an order to it, something I’m not so sure can be said about the Caped Crusader.

Something else I didn’t realize when I picked this book up from the library is that Beecher’s story actually continues on in Metlzer’s most recent book The Fifth Assassin. But don’t worry about this being an Empire Strikes Back kind of situation where you get to the end of this book and feel like you’ve been given part of a whole rather than a whole story. Inner Circle definitely has a solid ending, but also goes on to set up some real potential I’m excited to see explored when we get around to listening to Assassin.

Once again, I was super pleased with my experience listening to or reading a Brad Meltzer book. That guy really writes the kinds of stories I enjoy, constantly keeping the wheels on his “regular guy put into extraordinary situations” thrillers. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m interested in checking out the sequel. Beecher fit a similar model that I’ve seen in other Meltzer lead characters, but he’s presumably more trained and confident in Assassin, so I’m definitely curious to see how that plays out.

Audiobook Review: Book Of Fate By Brad Meltzer, Read By Scott Brick

I’ve talked about how much I dig Brad Meltzer’s books before (The Zero Game, Book of Lies and The Millionaires). He has a great ability to write tight thrillers that never fail to keep my interest. Most of his books that I’ve read involve a regular guy stumbling onto something big that he has to run away from. Said hero tends to go on the run in order to clear their name, usually aided by a friend, family member or confidant. It might seem a little formulaic, but Meltzer also does a boatload of research and puts that into his books that give all kinds of extra information, something fans of his TV series Decoded will not be surprised by.

The Book of Fate is about a presidential aid named Wes who was wounded in an assassination attempt on the president’s life. Because of a misunderstood picture taken during the incident, the prez lost favor with the people and did not get re-elected. The meat of the story finds Wes working for the former president eight years later when it just so happens that a guy who seemed to die during the assassination attempt is actually alive. This gets Wes and his friends digging into what really happened. They stumble onto a powerful organization called The Three and have to deal with the crazy man who shot him, Nico.

As with his other books, this one kept me interested and guessing as to what was really going on the whole time which made it a great audiobook to listen to on our almost 12 hour drive home from Michigan to New York on Monday. I do have one minor complaint though. At the beginning of the book, there’s a note written by Meltzer that reader Scott Brick reads that talks about the Masons. He offers historical information about the group, saying that he doesn’t necessarily believe the conspiracy theories about the group, but does note it’s interesting all the important and powerful people who joined. This is the kind of thing I tend to skip when reading a book, but you don’t really have as much choice when listening to an audiobook. The problem I had with this is that it primed my brain to constantly think of the story in terms of the Masons. But, as it turns out, they’re not even a part of the book, but instead stories The Three tell Nico to get him on their side. Basically, “These evil men built the country as a way to open the gates of hell, so I must kill them.” Maybe it was put in there to do exactly that, but I didn’t like it. I usually just jump in and read a book, I don’t like too much advanced information.

But, that’s a small complaint. Like I said, this one moves along at a pretty breakneck pace making for a great listen. Brick once again did a killer job on the reading just as he did on The Millionaires and the Nelson DeMille books we’ve listened to. On a bit of a funny side note, I let my dad borrow The Millionaires. He really liked it so when I saw The Book of Fate discs on sale for cheap on Amazon, I recommended he check it out. I was actually thinking of The Book of Lies, though, so I told him it had all this stuff about Superman and was partially set in Cleveland. When I saw him on vacation he was like, “I really liked that book, but it didn’t have anything about Cleveland in it.” Whoops! It worked out, though, because I hadn’t read Fate and it wound up being the perfect driving audio for our trip home.

Audiobook Review: The Millionaires By Brad Meltzer & Plum Spooky By Janet Evanovich

My wife and I have been listening to the unabridged audiobook version of Brad Meltzer’s 2002 novel The Millionaires. I read the book back around 2002 after hearing about or actually reading his comic book work. As it turned out, I remembered almost nothing about the story except for a few random bits, so when I started loading up my gigantic iPod with my iTunes back-up files and remembered that I had downloaded a free copy of the audiobook version at some point, I was excited to listen to it. I’ve never listened to a book that I’ve read before, so that was an interesting experience, especially as I kept challenging my brain to remember exactly what happening (and actually questioning whether I read this book or not in the first place).

The key, much like an important part of the book, rests in Disney World. There are some thrilling scenes that take place at the happiest place on earth that did stick in my mind and also helped me convince my wife to give the book a listen. I remember reading or hearing Metlzer say at one point that doing behind the scenes research at Disney was actually more difficult than doing research at the White House. I believe it.

Anyway, the story itself revolves around a pair of brothers who wind up stealing a lot more money than they intended to. What was supposed to be a quick, small grab of money no one would notice turned into an uncovering of a much larger, more nefarious plans that put the brothers on the run. Like the other two Meltzer books I’ve read–Zero Game and Book Of Lies–he keeps the chapters short and the reader on the run along with the characters, making sure not to reveal too much or too little. The reading by Scott Brick–who also does the Nelson DeMille books, which I’ve only reviewed one of, but have actually listened to many more–keeps the story moving along perfectly and matches the tension to a tee. Sure, some of the accents are off, but what are you gonna do?

While The Millionaires was a taught thriller filled with interesting characters I actually cared about and wanted to see do well, Janet Evanovich’s Plum Spooky (2009) was filled with head-scratching events, confusing characters and monkeys. To be fair, neither my wife nor I have read or listened to any of the Stephanie Plum books, but she’s a real world bounty hunter, right? So, why does the end of this book feel/sound like a cut rate James Bond film mixed with superheroes? The bad guys want to control weather! The good guy literally disappears at the end! Another man farts fire! Huh? I swear, I didn’t make any of that up.

The plot revolves around Plum going after a a science guy who skipped out on a bond after smashing his boss in the face and stealing a piece of equipment. Actually, before any of that actually, someone drops off a monkey for her to watch, so he becomes her de facto partner in addition to all her other partners. While going about her job, she happens to smell a dude she knows named Diesel who later shows up at her apartment. He’s what he calls an Unmentionable which means he’s got some kind of supernatural powers or some such. He’s helping Stephanie because his cousin Wolf is also an Unmentionable who is working with the guy she’s after. Confused? If it sounds like a comic, it sure does. Not only with the super-type folk, but also because most people in the book go by colorful nicknames: Wolf, Diesel, Ranger, Flash, Sasquatch, the Easter Bunny, etc. Wolf and the scientist–who also wants to be a rapist, by the way–are working on something that will SPOILER control the weather. To do so, they’ve kidnapped a woman who has her own monkey collection. There’s more, but I won’t get into it.

What threw me with this book is that I felt like I could never get a grip on what kind of reality we’re dealing with. I assumed that it was just the real world, especially after my wife explained that this is the character that Katherine Heigl just played in One For The Money. But then you get the Unmentionables (terrible name, by the way) and her partner Lula constantly talking about the Jersey Devil and even a man who literally farts fire and I just don’t know what I’m supposed to know about this world. Plus, the stakes just felt too high for what I was being shown. As a bad guy, Wolf might have been dangerous, but he came off as super goofy and the science guy was just trying to touch a boob (or worse).

Part of the problem stems from Lorelei King’s reading of the book. Her voice for the science guy is as stereotypical for a nerd as you can get (think the annoying kid from Polar Express and you’re there). I also thought her voice for Lula was grating at the very best, though I’m not sure if that’s a character I could ever get behind as written. In fact, most of the voices were so stereotypical and obvious that they were groan-worthy. At the same time, though, she can only work with what she’s given by the author. There were some genuinely funny moments in there, but I got the overall feeling that Evanovich was trying way too hard to make every single character seem cool and failed. As my wife put it, she missed more than she hit. This was definitely the case at the end when we actually lost track of what was happening and then, bang, it was over. The ending felt anticlimactic, especially given the potential scale for trouble the bad guys were working towards. On the other hand, the abridged version was short and gave us exactly the amount of story we needed to get home from Massachusetts today, so I can’t complain too much.

I know Evanovich spun Diesel and Wolf out into their own Wicked series of books. Did they get even more into the superhero/supernatural stuff? I’d honestly be curious to check them out, especially if she really dove into that realm and had fun with it.

Book Review: The Book Of Lies By Brad Meltzer (2008)

I almost didn’t write a review for Brad Meltzer’s The Book Of Lies. Not because I disliked the book (quite the opposite), but because I’ve got so much on my plate right now that blogging is definitely taking a back seat. But, I decided to for a few reasons. First off, this blog has become like my pop culture back-up hard drive. If I can’t remember reading a book or watching a movie, it’s a great place to check. Sure, it’s not complete by any means, but it definitely helps. Second, in a purely ego-based move, I wanted to let the world know that I read a book in less than a week which is nearly unheard of for me. And third, I just read a post by a college professor of mine named Rebecca Steinitz over on Literary Mama where she talked about having a ton of books on her plate, but not reading any of them. As anyone who read my struggles with what started as an ambitious summer reading list and spread through to the beginning of this year, I’ve been having the same trouble. After trying to get through Lolita and getting way skeeved out, I just had to quit. I started reading James Bond books, but I like mixing things up, so I decided to jump into some books that are just plain fun. And that brought me to Meltzer’s The Book Of Lies.

This is the third of Meltzer’s books I’ve read, though I discovered him through the world of comics on books like Green Arrow and Identity Crisis. From there I got curious about his novels and picked up The Millionaires which I really dug and The Zero Game which I almost dropped, but kept at it and wound up really enjoying (you can read my review here). Ever since I started hearing about The Book Of Lies which would have been around 2007 or 2008, I’ve been curious. The big hook I kept hearing was that this novel somehow connected the creation of Superman with the first murder in the Bible with Cain killing Abel. The premise sounded so crazy that I was super curious. Of course, I’m also super cheap, so I waited and waited for the book to finally make its way to the cheap table at Barnes & Noble, but eventually there it was. I bought the book, but was knee deep in trying to be literary, so it sat on a shelf for a while. Once I finally gave up on my learnin’ for a bit, this was the first novel I wanted to read. Partially because I was so curious, but also because I knew from past experience that Meltzer has a way of writing that almost forces you to continue on. He’s quick to flip the scripts, keeps things incredibly fluid and also writes wonderfully short chapters. For a slow reader like me, that’s like catnip. Not only do I feel more accomplished, but instead of getting tired out in an attempt to make it to the next chapter, I get revved up the more I passed, like those markers on the highway that tell you how many tenths of a mile you’ve traveled.

And I was right. It took me less than a week to read this book. Suck it Dickens. I wouldn’t say I’m enlightened having read the book, but at least I wasn’t endlessly annoyed like with Great Expectations. So I’ve got that going for me. Anyway, as with the other Meltzer books I’ve read, this one’s about a guy who winds up getting sucked into a world filled with intrigue and mystery. This time around, it’s because he winds up following his long lost dad who’s driving a truck that happens to have a corpse in a secret compartment who was buried with a copy of Action Comics #1 (the first appearance of Superman for you non-comics fans out there). Meanwhile, a killer named Ellis is after them who keeps talking about something called The Book of Lies which may or may not be an actual book, the weapon Cain killed Abel with or some kind of gift granted to Cain for repenting to God after killing his brother. What sets this book apart for me, as far as these kinds of books go–Metlzer reminds me of Dan Brown a lot, though I’ve only ever read The Da Vinci Code–is all the Superman history in the book which turns his original writer Jerry Siegel and his dad Mitchell into characters in the book. Much like Code, Lies takes actual events like Jerry’s dad being murdered (never solved) and Jerry tearing up an earlier version of Superman and puts a conspiratorial nature around them. A large portion of the book is also set in Siegel’s home city of Cleveland which is also where my grandma and mom come from and I always like seeing stories set in places I’m familiar with.

I always get a little leery of stories based on real people, especially when their loved ones are still alive (Jerry’s wife Joanne just passed away last month), but it feels like Metlzer handled this thing well, positing along the way without getting offensive. I haven’t looked around to see if there was any reaction from the Siegel family one way or the others. Anyway, I wound up really liking the book. It really seemed to compel itself along and just took me along for the ride. I’m not quite sure about the ending which does in deed reveal what the Book of Lies actually is, but I kind of like that it’s still kicking around in my head. When absorbing something this quickly, there can be an “on to the next one” type feeling, but I’ve let it marinate a bit and it’s been interesting.

Now that I finished something that I enjoyed, I feel rejuvenated when it comes to reading. I’ve got a lot of books to chose from, from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo which I’m honestly not very interested in but was given a copy by my inlaws, to a few Stephen King books I got at a closing-down Borders to pretty much every Nick Hornby book I haven’t read recently coming into my possession to the oral history of punk rock/new wave Please Kill Me, I’ve got a lot to choose from. And those are just the books under my bed. I’ve got a whole Rubbermaid of unread books in our storage unit. Man, why can’t we just download these things into our brains like iPods?