Here we are on July 3rd, 2013. I'm just back from SoonerCon, which was fun. No, I won't bore anyone with my exploits there, and be thankful nobody recorded me doing a karaoke version of "When I'm Gone" by 3 Doors Down because, yes, I would inflict that on everyone.
Instead, I decided it might be fun to toss out some recommended books and movies. I'm going to keep this to things I've read or watched in the last few years. I'll cover TV in a separate post soon.
Books get to go first because too few people read these days. I mostly read non-fiction, but I'm going to focus exclusively on fiction I've read in the last few years. Here are some books that are worth your time with the occasional caveat tossed in based on audience.
By author in alphabetical order:
Bill D. Allen - Gods and Other Children
I read this years ago, but I'm including it because it was recently released as an e-book. Carl is a war-god, and the problem with being a god is that people will worship you. When a new god shows up, Carl is called back to the family business. This fantasy is loaded with action and humor. While you can certainly see the influence of Roger Zelazny, this book is all Bill D. Allen. Excellent voice, terrific writing, and an outstanding story. Way cool cover, too. With a little luck, we'll have more of Carl's adventures coming our way soon.
Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games
I know, I know. You've probably already read The Hunger Games. I loved the first book in the trilogy. The second book was okay, and I didn't like the third book so I put it down. However, the first book is outstanding--great characters, great action, great story. If you're one of the three people who didn't read it, go buy the book and settle in for an evening of entertainment.
Michael Connelly - 9 Dragons
While this is actually a step down for Connelly, it's still definitely worth your time to read. It's a Harry Bosch novel, which means many of you may have already read it. I love the Triad stuff, but thought the ending was a bit weak, and the book should have been tighter, but it was still a good entry.
Robert Crais - Suspect
Anyone who knows me knows that whenever the new Crais book hits the shelves, I'm going to be reading it immediately. This one steps away from the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series and gives us a stand-alone thriller about a cop and his dog. Get ready to cry, folks. This one tugs on the emotions, and you'll be lost in Scott and Maggie's world, thankful for the journey.
Theresa Crater "The Judgment of Osiris"
This is a short story, but I hope she follows up with a novel. I've long had a fascination with Ancient Egypt, so this scratched an itch. The fact that I wanted more says a lot, so check it out.
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers, so he has two books on the recommended list this time around. His latest novel, and one I meant to read when it came out, but kept putting off until long after it won the Newbery.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is light on plot, but has a lot to say about people. You won't forget the Hempstock women, and I hope Neil brings them back in another book soon.
The Graveyard Book is a delight from beginning to end. Neil channels Rudyard Kipling for this one, and it's one that flew under the radar until it won the Newbery.
Barb Hendee - The Mist-Torn Witches
Barb Hendee is the co-author of the bestselling Noble Dead series. While The Mist-Torn Witches is set in the same world, it's the beginning of a brand new series, and Barb is flying solo here. She crafts a terrific fantasy story in a rich world. Celine and Amelie are sisters, and Celine has been pretending to be a mist-torn witch (someone who sees the future and offers advice for a price). When she suddenly starts seeing the future for real, she gets in over her head when she and her sister are offered a place to live provided she can uncover the killer of young women in the village around the castle. Well-written with excellent characters. I look forward to more adventures with Celine and Amelie.
I think Stephen King is one of the best writers working these days, and he makes the list twice here with recent work.
11/22/63 is a long novel about a man who travels back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination, but must live through five years before he can attempt to accomplish that goal. The plot is terrific, but what keeps you riveted are characters you can care about. King is a master.
Joyland is a much different book. This one is short, and combines a murder plot with a coming of age story, and a ghost. It's the kind of mix that Stephen King can pull off so much better than anyone else. I read this one in one sitting.
Glenn R. Sixbury - Night Marshal #2: High Plains Moon
I feel a little strange recommending this one because I wrote the first Night Marshal book and invited Glenn to write the second. That said, his book is better than mine (this is a good thing). Vampire Marshal Jack Talon takes on werewolves in his second adventure in the weird west. Glenn introduces a wonderful character named Dan Wolf. The action is terrific and the humor is in place. An excellent addition to the Night Marshal series.
For movies, I'll stick with the first half of 2013. I've seen quite a few movies, but certainly not all of the releases for the year (nor would I want to see all of them). I would expect Much Ado About Nothing to make the list, but I haven't seen it yet, so it will have to wait. I thought Man of Steel would make the list, but I hated that movie. No, not because they changed Superman, but because they had a terrible story that made zero sense--they relied too heavily on the current Hollywood nonsense of "it doesn't matter if it makes sense as long as we show it up on the big screen because people won't think about it." Clearly, they're right, but it's not a trend I like.
So far in 2013, these are the movies I enjoyed (and I'm sticking with 2013 releases). In alphabetical order we have:
Fast & Furious 6 starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Duane Johnson, etc.
Needless to say, I was a little surprised I enjoyed this movie. The action just keeps on coming, and they took time to give a nod toward characters who have honor and care about their family. Sure, it's unbelievable, with stunts that would kill or cripple people, and it has the world's longest runway, and they let the bad guy go for no apparent reason aside from having one more action set piece, but I didn't care. It was fun.
The Internship starring Owen Wilson & Vince Vaughn
This is another one that surprised me by being fun. The first ten minutes or so, I was worried, but as soon as Wilson & Vaughn make it to Google, the movie takes off and keeps you laughing.
Iron Man 3 starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle
Shane Black is a terrific writer and a terrific director (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang might not have made any money, but it's one of my favorite movies). Okay, this is a comic book movie, so you have to turn your brain off a bit because Tony Stark would have been killed several times in the first big action set-piece, but that's true of most action movies. This one had lots of cool action, plenty of humor, and was just a blast from start to finish. I would have made some changes with the ending, but that's just me. Stick around for the bit after the credits. It's worth it.
The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp & Armie Hammer
Critics are bashing this movie. Some folks are bashing Johnny Depp for playing Tonto. I'll grant you that the movie is too long, and there are some plot holes, but Depp is terrific as Tonto. He carries the movie, so whether you like it or not depends on how you feel about his performance. I enjoyed it.
Now You See Me starring Jessie Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, etc.
Huge cast including Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, and others. This twist on the heist movie by using magicians was a total hoot. It kept me amused and entertained all the way through. So far, this is my favorite movie of the year. It helps that it's not a sequel or reboot or remake.
Promised Land starring Matt Damon & Frances McDormand
Damon co-wrote the script, but the reason I enjoyed this movie was for Frances McDormand's performance. She is awesome in this flick. The story is certainly torn from the headlines--fracking is no longer simple profanity on Battlestar Galactica. It's serious business. The movie doesn't totally take sides on the issue, so it can be enjoyed no matter what you think of fracking.
This movie was uneven, but overall, I enjoyed it. I would have done some things VERY differently because it's a mistake to get yourself compared to a better movie, but I enjoy the new crew, and I like how they're growing the characters. I look forward to more Star Trek movies.
White House Down starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx & Maggie Gyllenhaal
I haven't seen Olympus Has Fallen yet, so this was my first terrorists take over the White House movie. What it lacks in believability, it makes up for in fun. Tatum and Foxx are both terrific in their roles. They keep the humor coming amidst the action. Having dealt with Hollywood producers, I suspect that the screenwriter (James Vanderbilt) had to work in a silly way to keep the daughter involved, but that's all right. Turn off your brain and enjoy the ride.
World War Z starring Brad Pitt
While it shares the name of the book, and the premise of the zombie outbreak, the filmmakers went their own way and told a different story against that backdrop. Pitt is very good as the UN employee who travels the world looking for patient zero and a way to stop the zombie plague. Cool action, some smart writing, and terrific acting make this one a solid win.