Remember when this blog used to be about book reviews and cool things I found on the internet? Yeah, me neither. This writing business kind of overwhelms everything else. (Speaking of, I recently wrote about the struggles of writing The Battle of Castle Nebula in a feature for Bull Spec called The Hardest Part.)

But! In the spirit of times past, I offer you a comprehensive review of all the books I’ve missed out on talking about since last I wrote a post of this nature. Skim as you please.

I admit, I read a LOT of comic books in the last half of 2014, as my longsuffering boyfriend attempted to remedy my dearth of education in that area by loaning me some of the good stuff. I’m still not a huge comic book fan, but I admit that now I can see the appeal in some cases, and I genuinely enjoyed many of them.

In spite of mighty skepticism, I read the entire Bone series by Jeff Smith, including Out from Boneville, The Great Cow Race, Eyes of the Storm, The Dragonslayer, Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border, Old Man’s Cave, Ghost Circles, Treasure Hunters, Crown of Horns, and Rose. Several friends had recommended it, but the series just didn’t sound appealing…or sensical. It’s true, it’s not that sensical in its initial premise: they never really do explain why the main characters are cute little bone creatures. And the first story was fairly uninspiring. But you could almost see the author getting more into the story, and the plot grew to become far more complex and intriguing than I would have initially given it credit for. I didn’t like the prequel story, Rose. The art was off-putting, to me, and the story was ultimately fairly unsatisfying.

I read The Ultimates, Vol 1: Superhuman and Vol 2: Homeland Security by Mark Millar, both of which are “gritty” Avengers retellings. While they did feel a lot like real people, I could’ve done without some of the more soap opera-y parts of the relationships between the characters. Most characters are morally ambiguous, conceited to some degree, and occasionally downright cruel. Not what you expect to see from so-called heroes, though probably exactly what you expect to see from normal people.

I also read Civil War by Mark Millar, which is also about the Avengers, but not the same timeline as the Ultimates. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned about comic books, it’s that continuity doesn’t matter AT ALL. Not even a little.) Again, Millar’s style is to make the characters like real-life people, which could be good…but he mainly ends up making them unappealing. Captain America is (unsurprisingly) the most decent one of the bunch, but I had difficulty working up too much sympathy even for him.

I wasn’t sure about the idea of Beowulf by Gareth Hinds. My beloved Beowulf as a comic book? I’m not keen on such blasphemy. But wow, this story is actually PERFECT as a comic book, particularly when you think about how this story would have been the oral tradition’s version of an action movie. Very well-adapted, with some excellent artwork.

I read Clone Wars I: The Defense of Kamino by W. Haden Blackman, and I gotta say, this comic book had oodles more character development than the prequels did, which is a little sad. If Episode II had been more like this book, I would’ve thought more highly of it. Pretty sad when the movie is more comic bookish than the comic book.

I reread Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon, mainly because I had completely forgotten that I *had* actually read it a few years ago. It reads much like a Firefly episode, which is great—but there’s definitely something missing. The story doesn’t feel nearly as alive without the actors to bring their own touches to the scenes. I enjoyed it very much all the same, but it made me wistful for more REAL Firefly.

I really enjoyed Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity by Matt Wagner. The focus was on character development, but unlike Mark Millar, Wagner made me like the existing heroes more, not less. Superman in particular felt like a fully fleshed-out character for one of the first times to me, and I loved seeing the big three interact—butting heads or helping each other by turns.

I reread Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum out loud during a few car trips, and that was a delight, as always. Love those wacky, bizarre books. Eureka the kitten is a tiny sociopath.

I also had the pleasure of hearing Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman read aloud with a group of friends one night, which was also a bizarre, delightful book. A little too random in parts—kind of like the more annoying parts of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—but overall a fun frolic through Neil Gaiman’s strange head.

In His Steps by Thomas Nelson Publishers is a comic book retelling of the famous book by Charles Sheldon, which I’ve actually never read. I’m okay with that, though–I feel like I have the gist of the book from reading this comic version. I liked the idea behind the book/comic, but it didn’t particular impact me in the way they were going for, I think. I’m glad I read it and I do value the concept, but the execution was just average.

I read most of the Meridian series by Barbara Randall Kesel. The first volume had incredibly beautiful artwork, reminiscent of Maxfield Parrish paintings. Later volumes switched artists and were not nearly as good, which did dampen my enjoyments in some small part. The writing stays the same, though, and the worlds that Kesel creates are fascinating and lovely.

I got to hear Fred Chappell read from his book Familiars: Poems at a beautiful poetry reading at Quail Ridge Books here in Raleigh. He and his wife tag-teamed some of the poems, and they were just delightful to watch. They clearly adore each other. I got to chat with Mr. Chappell briefly as he signed a couple books for me, and he was such a gentleman, and so kind and encouraging to everyone with whom he spoke. If you know a cat lover, buy them Familiars; they will inevitably relate.

The Face of Battle by John Keegan was an enthralling look at the way battle has changed throughout the years. The book does an in-depth study of the Battle of Agincourt (1415), the Battle of Waterloo (1815), and the Battle of the Somme (1916). I had previously done some study of each of these, but this was far more comprehensive, and being able to compare them side by side and see how warfare has changed (sometimes incredibly drastically, as in between 1815 and 1916) was fascinating. I highly recommend this if you’re at all interested in military history.

I got burned by Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land, but I enjoyed Starship Troopers so much that I was happy to read Tenderfoot in Space and give it a whirl. So different from either of the two works I had already read! This is a boyscouts-in-space story, complete with a lovable dog and some great alien threats. Highly enjoyable young adult scifi.

Because I was remarkably ignorant (for a Christian) of the story, I read Heroes of the Faith: Jim Elliot by Susan Martins Miller after receiving it as a gift from my boyfriend. SO. FRUSTRATING. Reading about Jim Elliot was almost painful—not because of what happened to him, but because of what an insufferable jerk he was for most of his life. I wanted to smack him the entire time. I also have mixed feelings about foreign missions anyway, and this brought all of those conflicting ideas to the fore: as the author hinted, the tragedy might have been prevented if more time had been spent in preparation, linguistic study, and less risky forms of outreach before going out to meet the Auca personally. I still gave the book three stars because the author did a good job of relating the story and of being fairly objective.

Classic Russian Fairy Tales by Chris Burgess is a collection of traditional stories with some serious grammar issues, but I love a good morbid Russian fairy tale, so I was willing to overlook the lack of correct punctuation. The book, oddly, had an extensive section on Matryosha (Russian nesting dolls) and lacquer boxes at the end. Neither of those things are mentioned at all in the fairy tales, so that was a random addendum. The author just really wanted to talk about nesting dolls, evidently.

Of Men and Women by Pearl S. Buck is a nonfiction work (a long essay, really) in which Buck analyzes gender roles in American and China and how, really, neither country has it right. It was written in 1941, before women had really entered the work force as a result of WWII, and a lot of the points she made are extremely valid for the time. A lot of them are also extremely valid now. I found myself sympathizing with a multitude of her points, although she does go to some extremes towards the end.

 

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