Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Books of 2009 (in my humble opinion)

Here we go, after the long wait! It's been a pretty good year, and I've never seen so many finales published at once. Know that this list was really, really hard to make. I've been introduced to many authors, started many series and ended many more. So, without any more of this intro (which half of you probably skipped anyway)...

Here's the list:

Best Debut (Adult): The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks
Runner-Up: The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

Best Debut (Children's): The 13th Reality-- The Journal of Curious Letters, by James Dashner
Runner-Up: Bran Hambric-- The Farfield Curse, by Kaleb Nation

Best Title: The 13th Reality-- The Hunt for Dark Infinity, by James Dashner
Runner-Up: Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie

Best Series Starter: The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Runner-Up: The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks

Best Fantasy World: Mistborn-- The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
Runner-Up: Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth, by Kaza Kingsley

Best Whimsy: Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth, by Kaza Kingsley
Runner-Up: Leven Thumps and the Ruins of Alder, by Obert Skye

Best Christian Fiction: Green, by Ted Dekker
Runner-Up: Curse of the Spider King, by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper

Best Movie Adaptation: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Runner-Up: Cirque Du Freak-- The Vampire's Assistant

Best Fight Scene: PENDRAGON: The Soldiers of Halla, by D. J. MacHale
Runner-Up: Blade of Fire, by Stuart Hill

Best Stand-Alone: Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson
Runner-Up: Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson

Best of Stephen King: Under the Dome
Runner-Up: Duma Key

Best Sequel: Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie
Runner-Up: The 13th Reality-- The Hunt for Dark Infinity, by James Dashner

Best Middle Novel in a Series: Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth, by Kaza Kingsley
Runner-Up: The Shadow Dragons, by James A. Owen

Best Penultimate Novel: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Runner-Up: Whirlwind, by Robert Liparulo

Best Finale (Adult): Mistborn-- The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
Runner-Up: Green, by Ted Dekker

Best Finale (Children's): PENDRAGON: The Soldiers of Halla, by D J. MacHale
Runner-Up: The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan

Best "To be continued..." Moment: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Runner-Up: TIE! Timescape, by Robert Liparulo AND Whirlwind, by Robert Liparulo

Book I'm Looking Forward to Most Next Year: The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Runner-Up: TIE! Erec Rex-- The Three Furies AND The 13th Reality-- The Blade of Shattered Hope

Author of the Year: Stephen King
Runner-Up: James Dashner

Book of the Year: Under the Dome, by Stephen King
Runner-Up: Mistborn-- The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson

So, there it is. Maybe not your favorites, but they are mine. I'd love to hear your thoughts as we enter the uncertain realm of 2010. Happy new decade!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Movies of the Decade (in my humble opinion)

We've done books. We've done this year's movies. Here's a challenge: the best movies of the decade. Or... my favorites, at least.

In no particular order:

V for Vendetta: We'll start off the list with the Wachowski brothers. This film is smart, has great acting, great cinematography, and great source material. It's absolutely compelling, and you manage to still root for even the ambiguous characters. A great achievement.

Pirates of the Caribbean-- The Curse of the Black Pearl: This is the definition of summer blockbuster, as given to us with Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp. The portrayal of Jack Sparrow is endlessly inventive and funny, the story is smart enough to stand out, and this movie revived the long-dead pirate genre of films. That's saying something.

The Phantom of the Opera: A feast for the eyes and ears. Who would have thought the same Gerard Butler who screamed his head off in 300 could deliver a performance as the Phantom-- and a good one? Another surprise is Joel Shumacher, who was responsible for Batman and Robin before this. This is hands down my favorite musical of the decade-- and yes, I've seen Chicago and Sweeney Todd.

STAR WARS Episode III-- Revenge of the Sith: The triumphant return of STAR WARS after two exciting, but ultimately disappointing prequels. George Lucas handles the tragedy with broad strokes, and it works in his favor. The standout performance is Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine, a slimy, manipulative monster whose appearance finally changes to match his true character. The saga ends on a high note.

Harry Potter (Whole Series): Adapted faithfully, this is one of the longest and most profitable film series ever made. You can tell the love everyone involved has for the source material, and although some of the films aren't perfect (I'm looking at YOU, Order of the Phoenix), the heart of the story has never been lost to the callous world of Hollywood.

Avatar: James Cameron's only film of the decade deserves its spot. It's an epic spectacle that wows you every minute, keeping your eyes glued to the screen. This is the third time I've talked about it this month, so I won't bore you all with more of the same, but it's truly great.

The Dark Knight: What every comic book turned movie aspires to be. Real-world grittiness mixed with acts of selflessness and heroism, action mixed with chilling dialogue, suspense, tragedy, and humor all thrown in. Heath Ledger's last full role is perhaps his finest, and it's one that makes us truly miss the talented young star.

The Lord of the Rings (Whole Trilogy): An epic which has yet to be equalled in my eyes. A book adaptation that goes above and beyond the call of duty. The passion for Tolkien's words is evident in the first five minutes, and it deserved every penny it made, along with the 11 Oscars Return of the King got. And the Extended Editions are-- gasp!-- even better. Absolutely wonderful.

Serenity: I'm a bit of a closet browncoat. Let's just get that out of the way. I missed the series on television, and the movie when it was in theaters, but shortly after I got hooked. Why? Because it's pure gold. Perhaps some of the best sci-fi ever made. There is nothing that should keep you from watching this. I mean, really.

Stardust: This is the closest thing this generation has to The Princess Bride. It's a great fairy tale, well told, adapted nicely from the Neil Gaiman book. It's smart, funny, and magical to watch, and everyone I've shown it to has liked it. It's one of those movies that makes you feel truly warm inside. I cannot praise it enough.

That's the best 00's (in my humble opinion). The new decade has plenty of promising movies on the horizon, and I'm sure there will be more than a few surprises to come. I, for one, can't wait.

Coming Soon: The best books of 2009.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dreamhouse Kings: Whirlwind

If you hadn't noticed, serials are becoming a big thing nowadays. There are two Spiderwick serials, Stephen King wrote a serial... they're everywhere. But Robert Liparulo still stands out and delivers, giving a serial story in 300 page chunks every few months. I started reading a year ago, and it's already part 5. the cover for book 6, Frenzy, is on the back of Whirlwind, and it's supposed to be released in March. But Whirlwind is not just a way to describe the publishing schedule for Dreamhouse Kings. It's also exactly the way to describe this serial.

They've been to three worlds in less than a day. Time isn't just running out. It's running wild.

Having been everywhere from the Titanic to the Civil War, David, Xander, and Ed King look for any possible way of defeating Taksidian, the menace who wants their house to himself, and finding their lost mother. Things are getting desperate when they fall into a trap laid by Taksidian in his own lair, but that's only the beginning.

Jesse reveals the secret of the house and of the Kings. The house has a purpose beyond just the portals it fixes into place. In order to achieve this purpose, the Kings must not just survive history... but rewrite it. The clock is ticking, and one false move could be their last.

The key lies with the hulking monster known as Phemus. When is he from? Where is he from? It's these answers that will put the Kings in greater peril than ever.

This is one of those stories that needs to be started from the beginning. It's good news that House of Dark Shadows is so well-written. Robert Liparulo here stretches the boundaries of what a serial can be, making one of the longest ones ever written. Thomas Nelson, who also published Ted Dekker, once again does a nice job, making a great-looking book.

I've really come to enjoy getting to know David and Xander, Toria and Ed, Keal and Jesse, and all the rest of the characters that populate Liparulo's fantasy. Taksidian is truly an unnerving and unpleasant figure, making several chilling appearances in this volume. I know it's been 1500 pages, but it still feels really fresh. Give this series to any child, and they'll love it. Then, when they're done, borrow it from them. It works its magic just as well on adults.

My rating: 9.5/10. I can't wait for Frenzy.

Coming Soon: The best movies of the decade and the best books of 2009.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best Books of the Decade (in my humble opinion)

Well, this is a big one. I kind of cheated on this one, with the inclusion of series as single items, but I hope you'll forgive me. These books are not the best I read this decade, they're the best that were published from 2000 to 2009. And they're in no particular order.

Harry Potter (Entire Series), by J. K. Rowling: The books that got an entire generation reading. And with good reason, too. They're phenomenal. Harry Potter's journey will be classics from now on, to be passed down from parent to child.

Abarat (Parts 1 and 2), by Clive Barker: This is perhaps the least known one, seeing as the most recent volume was published in 2004. But this insane romp through a world where there are 25 Hours in a day (capitalization intended) and there's a new surprise around every corner is a delight. And these are only the first two of five. Look next year for book three-- Absolute Midnight.

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss: One of the best fantasy debuts in recent memory. It balances nicely the departure from genre cliches and the embracing of them in order to turn them into something different. A must-read, and I can't wait for book two-- The Wise Man's Fear.

The Circle Series (Black, Red, White, Green), by Ted Dekker: A genrebending delight for all fans of fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers and a tale well told. The series that started the whole Books of History Chronicles. Give it a whirl. I think you'll dive deep into its pages soon enough,

Duma Key, by Stephen King: This novel has one of the best buildups I've ever seen, giving great characters before whopping you upside the head with some major twists.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield: The most "literary" book on this list. Setterfield returns to the style of Jane Eyre, and this Gothic "ghost story" will keep you spellbound. Perfect for anyone who loves books. Even if it doan't seen like your cup of tea, try it.

PENDRAGON (Entire Series), by D. J. MacHale: A fun, epic, 10 volume masterpiece. Bobby Pendragon's journey through time and space has been considered to be as good as Harry Potter, and I'd say it's close.

Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson: This is how trilogies should be done. The first book accomplshes what it usually takes three books to do, and it only builds from there, challenging your perceptions while thrilling you. Wonderful.

Under the Dome, by Stephen King: A 1000 page book anyone will read. Gripping from the very start. One of King's best.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Whole Series), by Rick Riordan: Absolute fun. A magical mix of Greek mythology and 21st century life. There's a movie coming out in February of the first book; read it before watching. This series has come the closst to Harry Potter in terms of getting kids to read. Truly enjoyable.

Those were the best of the 00's. What wonders will the new decade hold?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Under the Dome

I'm writing this review literally five minutes after reaching the concluding page 1072 of one of Stephen King's longest works of his career. And that's saying something. But everything is very jumbled up in my head, and it could be conveyed in this review.

There is something I know for sure: Under the Dome is a masterpiece.

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when -- or if -- it will go away.

Dale Barbara, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens -- the town newspaper owner, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing to hold on to the reins of power, and his son. Because time isn't just short... It's running out.

That's the story, except it's a lot more than that. It's a huge book, but King wastes no time. Instantly, we are thrust into a thriller-horror-sci-fi epic that all takes place in less than a week's time. The characters are numerous and compelling. The writing has a wondrous fluidity that demands pages be turned (look how fast I read it). The body count is second only to The Stand.

And so much HAPPENS. The book is filled with action and suspense from th moment an airplane crashes into an invisible wall. For the first time this decade, there is a book with a four digit page count that millions of people are clamoring to read. There is a talent behind these words that earns the name King, and I find myself hoping that he lives forever. Well, at least for another sixty years.

But his writing, endlessly compelling will never die... an idea King would love.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The rest of the lists.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Top 5 Movies of 2009 (in my humble opinion)

It's time for the start of my end-of-year lists! I know you're all wondering: will I ever finish Under the Dome? Patience, children. I'm already at page 800.

First up, it's my personal favorite movies of the year. Are these the best of the year? Probably not. But they're the ones that made me feel the bst upon leaving the theater. So, without further ado...

5. Cirque du Freak-- The Vampire's Assistant: I've read all twelve books in the series years ago, and I was really skeptical. But this movie shows those other chumps (do I hear Lemony Snicket, anyone?) that it IS possible to deviate from the books, combine multiple books, and still manage to give a wildly entertaining ride. And John C. Reilly absolutely steals the show. It did poorly at the box office, but don't let that stop you from renting it when it hits DVD and Blu-ray.

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: This shows a real maturity in every aspect-- the writing, the acting, the directing, it's all better than before. Props to Steve Kloves for balancing the right levels of deviation and impressive amounts of detail. The saga becomes darker stll, but there's enough humor to lighten it up. As if you haven't seen it already.

3. Star Trek: A franchise reboot by J. J. Abrams. Fun all around, with good acting from both the leads (i.e. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) and the supporting cast (i.e. Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana-- note that Saldana's work is on the list twice). The goal of this movie was to make a Star Trek the world would love, and it succeeded splendidly.

2. UP: Pixar has done it again. I've liked every one of their movies, with only a few falling below the "excellent" range. In my opinion, this is one of their best. Just watch the first few minutes, and see if any other movie gets a reaction quite that fast.

1. Avatar: And James Cameron comes out on top. This film blew me away completely, from its stunning visuals, masterful score, great directing, and spot-on acting (from Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Zoe Saldana, in order of appearance) that's believable even beneath the truly groundbreaking motion capture technology. See it; when you're done, see it again. Epic in every way.

Well, I don't imagine the list surprised you very much, but there it is. Comments?

Coming Soon: Under the Dome, along with more lists.

Merry Christmas!

May all your hearts be filled with good cheer, may all your Christmases be white, and may you receive many books as Christmas presents!

The Writer

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I promise I'm reading Under the Dome. I'm on about page 550. It's just huge. But the review will come soon.

Yesterday, I saw Avatar. I only saw it in 2D, and only at a middle-of-the-afternoon showing. The theater was only half-full. But you know what? I found the film to be absolutely breathtaking.

When his brother is killed in battle, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge's intentions of driving off the native humanoid "Na'vi" in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland. In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na'vi people with the use of an "avatar" identity.

While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand - and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora. And when I say epic, I mean it takes most of the last hour of film. Yeah, epic.

There are those who criticize the film because of the familiarity of the story. But the familiarity is part of what makes the film work. It helps keep the viewer grounded in a world with infinite strangeness, which is populated on screen only by massive blue Na'vi 75% of the time. So this works for me. In the future, if sequels are made, I think Cameron can go for the more complex story, since we've now adjusted to the world.

The world of Pandora is what absolutely must be addressed next. It's beautiful, it's lush, and there are new wonders around every corner. And they are rendered with computer magnificently, so as not to draw attention to its technological origins. One of the people I was sitting next to said, not "Wow, these are incredible computer graphics," but "Wow, that's absolutely beautiful." And that's the truth. I know, in the back of my mind, a lot of this movie has to be on the computer, but I can't deny the life Pandora exhibits easily. I haven't been so absorbed in an alternate world since STAR WARS. And that should be reason enough to see it.

If not, how about a few more? There's great acting from Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and of course Sigourney Weaver. But remember, a lot of the actors have to project emotion through sophisticated motion capture technology. The performances feel real, even though we can't see the actors' faces most of the time. And the score by James Horner is wonderful, fitting the epic nature of the film beautifully.

What more can I say? Not everyone will like it, but Avatar was my favorite movie of the year. If you're not sure, go watch it. And bring friends.

My rating: 10/10
UPDATE: I've seen it in 3D since this review, and I can say it's groundbreaking in that aspect as well, allowing the viewer to be immersed in the action in a way 2D can't achieve. It's not corny, and there are no Jack-In-The-Box moments where objects fly at you for the sake of flying at you. If you can, see the movie in this format.

Coming Soon: Under the Dome.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blade of Fire

I read and reviewed Cry of the Icemark a while ago. Like, March of 2008. Yeah, it's been a while. Well, like last time, I found myself desiring something a little different for a fair bit of downtime. Unlike the last one, however, it's 600 pages instead of 500. Is it still good? Um... yeah.

Here we go!

It's been seventeen years since Queen Thirrin Lindenshield drove back Scipio Bellorum and the Polypontian army from the Icemark, but rumors are spreading of a return of the menacing force. Things are looking dire, and even the allies Thirrin made almost two decades ago may not be enough to stop the Empire's tide. So she sends her youngest son, Charlemagne Athelstan Redrought Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield (try saying that three times fast), crippled by polio as a child, away as Prince Regent to the Exiles of the Icemark, in case her homeland falls. In fact, the worst danger may be from her daughter, Medea, a powerful girl attuned to the Dark.

But Maggiore Totus, who has seen more than one war in his lifetime, is devising a plan that will use Charlemagne as the catalyst of the most incredible uprising the world has ever seen. Alliances are made, battles are fought, and it all ties into a prophecy from Oskan: "The exile shall return, a blade of fire in his hand..."

I didn't know how Stuart Hill could improve upon the massive epic that was the first book in the Icemark Chronicles, but he did in every way. Charlemagne is a strong character, and he has quite the dynamic character arc. It's great to get to see Thirrin and Oskan again, this time in vastly different roles. Almost twenty years have passed, and the relationships between returning characters have grown and matured nicely.

I find myself once again surprised at how much Hill manages to cram into this book. There's a lot of new locales to be visited, new battles described with broad, impressive strokes (this book includes a Sky Navy, and I'm not saying anything more about that), and fleshed-out internal struggles that all come to nice conclusions. And that's another thing. Like Cry of the Icemark, this book is self-contained and a nice stand-alone adventure. There's a little of everything, and Hill's great writing make the battle scenes never cease to be exciting. I can practically hear the score in my head...

Suffice it to say I'll be reading Book 3, Last Battle of the Icemark, with a much shorter wait than I gave Book 2.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Under the Dome.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Shadow Children

Margaret Peterson Haddix is a semi-well-known author who writes for children (which, if you haven't guessed by now, means everybody). I've read some of her works before, but now it's time to look into her most ambitious to date. It's the Shadow Children, or Among the... books. This post will get a tad long. You've been warned.

Among the Hidden: Luke has never been to school. He's never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend's house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend. Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He's lived his whole life in hiding. But that's all about to change when he sees a girl's face in a house where he knows two other children live. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows. Does Luke dare to become involved?

My rating: 8/10

Among the Imposters: Luke, under the alias Lee, finds himself in hot water. He's finally at school. But there are too many people, all of them with secrets of their own. He finds a door to the outside, but who can he trust?

My rating: 8/10

Among the Betrayed: Nina Idi-- a third child-- has been betrayed by the boy she loved, and arrested by the Population Police as well. The only thing Nina knows is that she is innocent. Now, she has a choice: convince three other prisoners to admit they are shadow children and be spared, or refuse to cooperate and be killed.

My rating: 8.5/10

Among the Barons: Luke Garner, aka Lee Grant, is in yet another scrape: the real Lee's little brother, Smits, arrives at the school, and Luke finds himself in an inescapable web of lies. Can he trust Smits? More importantly, can he trust Smits's bodyguard, Oscar?

My rating: 9/10

Among the Brave: Trey, another third child, goes to Mr. Talbot's home just as Talbot is taken away in chains. Soon Trey, known to be a coward, finds himself with a need to rescue all of his friends from the hands of the Population Police. He also had a need to be brave...

My rating: 8.5/10

Among the Enemy: Matthias saves the life of one of the Population Police, and as a reward, he is taken in among their ranks. In their headquarters, he encounters a young wonam named Nina Idi...

My rating: 9/10

Among the Free: Luke, when he rejects orders to kill anold woman, accidentally kick-starts a revolution. But is freedom really free?

My rating: 9.5/10

Really, I need to post my thoughts about these, but they're all very good, and near impossible to put down. Read them. That's all you need to know.

Coming Soon: I'm not telling you anymore.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What's Coming Soon...

It's that time of the year again: anticipation and good cheer, singing and excitement, tidings of joy and peace and goodwill to men. And Christmas, too.

Of course, I'm talking about the "Best Books of 2009 (in my humble opinion)" awards. This year they're going to be bigger and better than ever, with some interesting surprises along the way. It's been a year of both endings and beginnings, and almost everything I read was quite good. We've had everything this year from the finales of PENDRAGON and Percy Jackson and the Olympians to Mistborn and The Books of History Chronicles. I've discovered both James Dashner and Joe Abercrombie, among many others. There's a lot of good reading out there, and this list will show off my favorites. The categories for this year are:

Best Debut (Adult)

Best Debut (Children's)

Best Title

Best Series Starter

Best Fantasy World

Best Whimsy

Best Christian Fiction

Best Movie Adaptation

Best Fight Scene

Best Penultimate Novel

Best Finale (Adult)

Best Finale (Children's)

Best "To be continued..." Moment

Book I'm Looking Forward to Most Next Year

Author of the Year

Book of the Year
I can't wait to tell you all of what my decisions are!
Until next time,
The Writer

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I'm back, and I'm starting December off with another book from the King of fiction. This time it's Thinner, the last of Stephen King's books to be published under the Bachman pseudonym in secret. Not long after this book came out, King and Bachman were revealed to be one and the same. He was "outed", so to speak. But what about the book?

The plot is pretty simple, so this'll be a short review. Ben Halleck is a good lawyer, a loving husband, and a family man. But he's fifty pounds overweight, and he's not getting any younger. One day, in a bizarre accident, he hits a gypsy lady. She dies, but that won't stop her legacy. The matter is taken to court, where Halleck gets off scot-free... until the gypsy's father places a curse on him. Suddenly, no matter how much he eats, Ben Halleck is getting Thinner. It seems like the only way to free him will be to track down the gypsies, and's destined to go horribly wrong...

Simple story, right? Well, King's writing is good enough to make up for that. As always, it's fluid and easy to read. Nothing he writes ever seems to get boring. All of the stuff I said about Insomnia is true here, too, and even though this isn't his best, it's a book most authors would be perfectly pleased to publish under their own name. But here's a fair warning in advance: the ending will haunt you.

All in all, a very good read.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: That's for me to know and for you to find out. But it's also BIG.