Category Archives: ebooks

Best Books of 2015

history-books

This is a list of the best books that I read this year in no particular order. There are some links to full reviews or a podcast so be sure to check those out as well. Comment and let me know what you read so I can add to my list for 2016.


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The Sun and Other Stars

I feel in love with this book and it’s simple story of a small Italian town that is turned upside down when a famous European football star escapes to a villa just outside the city. Pasulka makes you feel as if you are in the seaside village of San Benedetto, as Italy comes alive around you. This is the perfect book for any time of the year when you wish to escape on an exotic vacation.

91PrwyEfcwLAstoria

Six years after the success of the Lewis & Clark expedition, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson dreamed of a Northwest empire along the Pacific coast. This is the true story of the three year journey that would end without an empire but inadvertently blazing the Oregon Trail. It’s a harrowing story of the wild frontier, survival and shattered dreams. Fascinating from start to finish.

star-wars-dark-discipleDark Disciple 

I cannot add anything to my original review, “Christie Golden has written the finest book in the new canon with Dark Disciple. The book immediately feels like an arc of The Clone Wars. In many ways it is a stinging reminder of just how much life was left in this show and the power it had to tell amazing stories. My sincere thanks to Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo for continuing to find opportunities to get The Clone Wars content to fans any way they can. Dark Disciple is now my gold standard for what this new line of canon books can and should be. This book is rated a perfect 10.” Be sure to check out The 602 Club review and interview with author Christie Golden.

81Yengb18CLBecoming Worldly Saints 

Maybe the hardest thing to do as a follower of Christ is to live in the world but not of it. With so many books swirling around the Evangelical world, many with opposing views on how to live as Christ has called, Wittmer wisely and carefully shows that enjoying the life we’ve been given and radically following Jesus are not at odds. “Careful Christian thinking holds these two truths in paradox, never allowing one truth to drown out the other, never allowing the extreme position of one side to lead us to the other. To miss one side of this paradox or the other is to distort the beauty of Christianity.” Excerpt From: Michael E. Wittmer. “Becoming Worldly Saints.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/fBev1.l

Lost-Stars-CoverStar Wars: Lost Stars

This may have been the biggest surprise of the year. Lost Stars was released on Force Friday this year and aimed at the young adult market. In the shadow of the much touted Aftermath, Lost Stars flew under the radar with no expectations and with that eclipsed Aftermath in both quality and praise. Gray weaves an expansive story that moves from before A New Hope to after Return of the Jedi all from the point of view of the Empire’s finest recruits. Next to Dark Disciple, this is the finest example of how to add to the Star Wars canon. Be sure to check out The 602 Club review.

Epitaph hc cEpitaph

Mary Doria Russell has long been a favorite author of mine and this year’s Epitaph was another feather in her cap. A work of historical fiction about the man behind the legend, Wyatt Earp. Russell has dug deep to research this book, giving it an authenticity and reality that will blow you away. This may be the closest you will ever come to reading the true story of the O.K. Corral and the people behind the famous shootout.

book-bag-the-wright-brothersThe Wright Brothers

David McCullough is back as he chronicles the Wright brothers determination to see a man fly. The ingenuity these men had as self-made inventors is astonishing. The “can do” spirit has never been stronger as they take advantage of every benefit American freedom offers to create the first piloted aircraft and make sure their names would be long remembered.  Inspirational to the last.

20150326140533US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set a Watchman

I cannot add anything to my original review, “Go Set a Watchman set the world afire when it was announced. After years of rumors that Harper Lee had written another book and questions about if it would be published, the book’s final discovery continues to be followed by controversy surrounding whether or not Lee had been taken advantage of by her publisher. Regardless, the book is out and with society in upheaval again, it just may be the perfect book at the perfect time. In the story, Jean Louise (Scout) is home visiting from New York and what follows are vignettes on a theme. Each vignette builds to a crescendo as Jean Louise breaks the shackles of childhood to become her own person…Go Set a Watchman is a visionary book about the past yet it is just as relevant today. It’s an important read and well worth your time. I encourage everyone to wrestle with the themes because you just might find yourself changed in the end.”

fellowshipThe Fellowship

The Inklings are the stuff of legend in the literary world and with giants like Lewis and Tolkien in their midst the other members are often overlooked. In The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski look at the lives of the four main members J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams. They never shy away from the imperfections of each, giving a well rounded look at each man’s strengths and weaknesses and just what made this group so special. It’s a long read that is worth the investment. 

Honorable Mentions:

For the Star Wars Fan: Weapon of the Jedi, Smuggler’s Run, Moving Target, Before the Awakening, Shattered Empire, Lords of the Sith and The Star Wars Heresies.

The History Fan: Dead Wake.

The Mystery Fan: Career of Evil.

For the Star Trek Fan: Sight Unseen and Atonement.

The Young Adult Fan: The Sword of Summer.

The Non-Fiction Fan: Into Thin Air.

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Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-324397389357The Force Awakens this week and in an effort to get ready for it The 602 Club has been covering the films and ancillary materials. If you want to be fully ready, check out each episode! All episode cards are linked, so just click the card or find them all in iTunes in the special Star Wars Feed.

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Films:

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Books:

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Article:

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Lords of the Sith – Review

Lords_of_the_SithIt has been a tough start for the new Star Wars book line. A New Daw began things perfectly by telling a story that introduced us to Kanan and Hera of Star Wars Rebels. It chronicled their first meeting, giving us our first canon book as well as our first taste of these new characters. Tarkin followed and unfortunately felt like little more that filler which is more than can be said about the dismal Heir to the Jedi.  A seemingly promising start has been watered down to stories with little impact on the saga, ranking with some of the worst in the old Expanded Universe. Can Lords of the Sith turn things around?

This is the book you are looking for

Paul Kemp’s Lords of the Sith is exactly the book I was hoping it would be. It has weight to its story and adds depth to the characters in the tradition of the best tie-in fiction. The story follows  Cham Syndulla, Hera’s father, as he uses all of his resources to take down Vader and the Emperor who are traveling to Ryloth on their own mission to root out traitors in Orn Free Ta’s delegation.

Kemp is able to add so much to our understand of Vader, his growth as a Sith as well as his relationship with Palpatine. It’s the thing many readers have expected from this new line of books, that they would add something legitimate to the characters, as well as deepening our understand of what drives them. Lords of the Sith has this in spades, in it’s story of the Sith and the Rebels. By telling this story of Cham Syndulla we not only have a greater insight into a character first seen in The Clone Wars, but his daughter who is the star of Rebels. Both stories have the impact you’d hope for.

There is so much that is worth talking about in this book but that would lead to spoilers that are best left to discovery while reading. So pick up Lords of the Sith and enjoy how the Star Wars new canon books should feel every time you read one, significant. Rated 4 out of 5 Sith Lords.

Disclosure: This book was provided by Del Ray as an early review and in no way affects the thoughts or feelings of the reviewer.

The Magicians – Review

The-Magicians-Book-Cover-e1317909429117In 2009, Lev Grossman, a writer for some of the most popular newspapers and magazines in the world gave us a new fantasy book. The premise, what if the Harry Potter series and the Chronicles of Narnia had a child, but that child turned out to be a vulgar, “adult” perversion of it’s parents. This is The Magicians

The Good

The was one thing that stood out as a positive. The innate depravity of human kind is on full display. Every character is lost in a hopeless cycle of searching for happiness and never being able to find it. They are trapped in a life were there is nothing beyond themselves and the material world, even their fantasy realm is just as mundane and morose as the “real word”. It is a fantastic representation of darwinian, atheistic belief and the utter despair that kind of worldview fosters.

The Bad

The Magicians stands on the backs of fantasy genius, Rowling and Lewis, yet it lacks any of the heart, depth or soul of either. The plot meanders for far to long, following pointlessly vacant characters doing aimless things. There is no driving force to the plot or passion in the story. It is the post-modern Harry Potter/Narnia and it suffers under the weight of it’s hollowness.

Another important issue is the amorality of the characters. This fits perfectly with the feeling that Grossman seems to be striving for. The problem is it never rises above feeling like Harry Potter: The College Years. Grossman seems to revel in the salaciousness and profanity of his characters. The whole time it just feels forced, as a way to cover up for his constant and blatant ripping off of Rowling and Lewis; it’s the book’s undoing. By leaning so heavily on these pillars of fantasy, Grossman’s story falters, coming up completely void and empty in comparison. Tolkien and Lewis both speak of the power in fantasy and myth to teach as well as mirror the great story of the Gospel, even George Lucas with Star Wars understood this. Myth can guide and teach in ways no other literature can. Yet as you read The Magicians, the lack of purpose gnaws on you, reminding you that Lewis, Rowling and Tolkien are all on your shelf with the ability to wash away ruinous, joyless fantasy such as this.

Although there are many problems with this book, the last I’ll mention is the lack of joy and fun. All of the characters are completely lost and lifeless, eking out, what can only be considered vapid, wearisome lives that no one reading would wish for. The hopelessness and purposelessness translates to the reader, a rain cloud following you everywhere. It is sad because just as much as there should be some fun, fantasy can also be a very serious work and regrettably here too, the book fails. There is just not enough self reflection for the characters or meat to the story for there to be of any redeeming value. Fantasy should have a sense of awe and wonder, like Harry in Diagon Alley for the first time or Lucy entering the wintered Narnia to find a lamp-post in the wood. Unfortunately all The Magicians has to offer is drunk, drugged miscreants with little worth living for.

Conclusion

Do yourself a favor, pick up Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, something by Le Guin, Riordon or Asimov and leave The Magicians to gather dust at you local bookstore.

Who Mourns For Apollo?

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My mom introduced me to Star Trek when I was a kid, in the pre-TNG era. At the time, one of my favorite episodes was “Who Mourns For Adonais?”, a vision of what happened to the Greek gods by the 23rd century. I loved Greek mythology (and still do), so I was thrilled to see the Enterprise meet Apollo.

As of last week, there’s another vision of what happened to the Greek gods since their heyday. My newly-released comedic fantasy, Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure, tosses the pantheon back into our world following Zeus’s 2009 assassination. For my guest post here on Life, the Universe, and Everything In Between (and hi, it’s great to be here!), I thought I’d compare Star Trek’s Apollo with my own Apollo, who happens to be one of the novel’s main characters.

But first, a quick refresher on the episode: The Enterprise crew find themselves captive guests on a planet by Apollo, the last of the Greek gods after the others “returned to the cosmos” without the worship they need to survive. Apollo, referring to them as his “children,” demands the crew stay, forever, and worship him. Also there may be some light goat-herding.

The Differences

"I am Apollo, god of light and Elton John's wardrobe!"

“I am Apollo, god of light and Elton John’s wardrobe!”

Let’s be honest: Trek’s Apollo is something of a pompous jerk-nozzle. But perhaps he’s got a right to be bitter? After all, he’s the last of the gods, no one worships him anymore, and he has to sit around all day in that ridiculous outfit. This Apollo hasn’t modernized. In Zeus Is Dead, the gods use cell phones, dress in modern clothing, and use Hephaestus’s special plasma-screen TVs for their mortal-watching. Heck, Dionysus hangs around in a casino all day playing video games. Trek-Apollo, while further in the future, is also stuck in the past, and perhaps a little bitter about it. Still, that doesn’t really excuse the sexist cracks (“You seem wise, for a woman.”) and general abusive boyfriend shtick he gives Lt. Palamas. And then there’s that whole forcing the Enterprise crew to stay, herd goats, and worship him all day…

I’ve always considered Apollo to be one of the more benevolent of the pantheon. Yes, he has his jerk moments in the myths, but on the whole, he strikes me as comparatively noble. Sure, my Apollo likes being worshipped, too, but he also feels he needs to hold up his end of the bargain. That’s part of why he’s so stressed out in Zeus Is Dead: there are so many billions of mortals in the modern world, all counting on him to handle his divine duties in a responsible manner.

Trek’s Apollo also goes to using physical threats quicker than mine. He’s in an adversarial position in the episode, so it makes sense for him to be more aggressive in order to put the crew in jeopardy. Trek-Apollo throws thunder and lightning around a lot, too, but that’s Zeus’s thing—or at least it used to be. Presumably this Apollo picked it up after Zeus left. Zeus is gone in Zeus Is Dead, too (it says so right there in the title, after all) but my Apollo still prefers a bow, the occasional sword, or simply his wits. In my world, Athena’s got the lightning tucked away for safe-keeping.

Despite having picked up Zeus’s lightning, Trek’s Apollo seems to have a smaller divine portfolio: “God of light and purity. Skilled in bow and the lyre.” But I’ve always seen Apollo as the over-achiever of the pantheon. Look him up. He’s god of the sun, light, prophecy, literature, music, archery, medicine, gelatin desserts, and the list goes on. Let’s face it, the guy can’t delegate. And here, perhaps, is the largest difference: my Apollo wants LESS attention. He wants to be able to go target-shooting with Artemis now and then without getting interrupted by texts from rapacious mortals every other moment. It’s what leads him to try to—well, I won’t go into the book’s details too much here, but it suffices to say it gets him into an epic amount of trouble.

The Similarities

There are a few. Both can get tired out. It’s a major plot point in both the episode and in Zeus Is Dead. Not only is that from the original myths, but it’s very difficult to use gods as main characters and not give them some weaknesses. (Fortunately, the Greek pantheon has never been considered infallible.)

Both are skilled at prophecy. Trek-Apollo knew humanity would come to the stars one day. “Of all the gods, I knew and I waited.” Though his prophecy is imperfect, too, since he didn’t foresee what happens…much like my Apollo’s visions of Zeus’s return.

Both have their pride – though Trek-Apollo’s is more easily tweaked, at least at first. In Zeus Is Dead, Apollo suffers enough setbacks that he starts getting a bit snippy about things too, and in those moments both Apollos seem to share a need to demonstrate power to comfort their egos.

And, finally, both Apollos crave a break from their current circumstances, but whereas the gods in Star Trek faded away into melancholy non-existence, the gods in Zeus Is Dead have done the exact opposite: Freed from Zeus’s edict of non-interaction, they’ve come back to the world like kids on Christmas morning to dive into the bounty of worldwide celebrity status. They revel in their new temples, casinos, and media empires, their long-starved, superhuman egos now gorging themselves on as much attention as they can get…

…What could possibly go wrong?

Zeus

Is Dead

A MONSTROUSLY INCONVENIENT

ADVENTURE

“A hilarious mythological tale of god-like proportions. Munz has crafted a tale of bizarro comic fantasy that sits comfortably among the ilk of Gaiman and Pratchett.”

—Andrew Buckley, author of Death, the Devil, and the Goldfish

ZID coverBOOK DETAILS:

Title: Zeus is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure

Author: Michael G. Munz

Genre: Contemporary Mythological Fantasy

Release date: July 21st, 2014

Publisher: Booktrope Publishing

Length: 446 pages (paperback)

Synopsis:

The gods are back. Did you myth them?

You probably saw the press conference. Nine months ago, Zeus’s murder catapulted the Greek gods back into our world. Now they revel in their new temples, casinos, and media empires—well, all except Apollo. A compulsive overachiever with a bursting portfolio of godly duties, the amount of email alone that he receives from rapacious mortals turns each of his days into a living hell.

Yet there may be hope, if only he can return Zeus to life! With the aid of Thalia, the muse of comedy and science fiction, Apollo will risk his very godhood to help sarcastic TV producer Tracy Wallace and a gamer-geek named Leif—two mortals who hold the key to Zeus’s resurrection. (Well, probably. Prophecies are tricky buggers.)

Soon an overflowing inbox will be the least of Apollo’s troubles. Whoever murdered Zeus will certainly kill again to prevent his return, and avoiding them would be far easier if Apollo could possibly figure out who they are.

Even worse, the muse is starting to get cranky.

Discover a world where reality TV heroes slay actual monsters and the gods have their own Twitter feeds: Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure!

Find Zeus is Dead on:

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble

ABOUT MICHAEL G. MUNZ

michael photoAn award-winning writer of speculative fiction, Michael G. Munz was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Washington State in 1977 at the age of three. Unable to escape the state’s gravity, he has spent most of his life there and studied writing at the University of Washington.

Michael developed his creative bug in college, writing and filming four exceedingly amateur films before setting his sights on becoming a novelist. Driving this goal is the desire to tell entertaining stories that give to others the same pleasure as other writers have given to him. He enjoys writing tales that combine the modern world with the futuristic or fantastic.

Michael has traveled to three continents and has an interest in Celtic and Classical mythology. He also possesses what most “normal” people would likely deem far too much familiarity with a wide range of geek culture, though Michael prefers the term geek-bard: a jack of all geek-trades, but master of none—except possibly Farscape and Twin Peaks.

Michael dwells in Seattle where he continues his quest to write the most entertaining novel known to humankind and find a really fantastic clam linguine.

Find out more about him at michaelgmunz.com. While there, it wouldn’t hurt to get a FREE copy of Mythed Connections, the spiritual prequel to Zeus is Dead.

Contact Michael on Twitter / Facebook

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

Sign up to win either:

A $25 Amazon Gift Card

One of two signed copies of Zeus is Dead by Michael G. Munz

DVD of Clash of the Titans (1981)

One of five e-copies of A Memory in the Black, Book 2 in The New Aeneid Cycle by Michael G. Munz

Click Here -> a Rafflecopter giveaway

Protectors – Review

51gcPN47wnLOriginally posted at Trek.fm

“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

-Sarah Williams, English poet

When we last left Voyager and the Full Circle fleet, Kathryn Janeway had returned from the dead and helped defeat the Omega Continuum, but at a very high cost. Protectors  picks up right after the events of The Eternal Tide and thrusts Janeway and the fleet into uncharted territory, both emotionally and physically. Beyer, with her usual deftness, weaves a much-needed story forVoyager while never losing sight of who the characters are. Her work here is outstanding, leaving every fan on the edge of their command chairs anticipating the next book in this trilogy.

BASICS

One of Beyer’s strengths in writing Voyager is an inherent knowledge of the characters and their potential. She used the previous four books to create vivid characters that jump off the page, making the reader exclaim, “I always knew the show could have been like this!” This book is no exception. The character of Janeway is brought to the forefront of the story as she is recalled to the Alpha Quadrant to face a battery of tests and evaluations in light of her resurrection. Beyer uses this to her full advantage, stripping Janeway to the bone and rectifying years of inconstencies. Counselor Cambridge says it best when he tells Janeway, “You could try to avoid this work for the rest of your life, Kathryn. But do that and I promise, eventually, it will bring you to your knees.” Janeway is forced to look at her life, her choices, and comes to terms with them.

What works so well here is the illustration of self-examination. Beyer uses Janeway’s personal and professional reckoning, as well as Tom Paris facing his past decisions, to show the ways in which our pasts can be something to fear but also prepare us for the future. We all have things in our lives that we are not proud of or wish we could take back. Gretchen Janeway tells Kathryn, “Just remember, regrets are powerful, but they are also lousy companions.” The past should teach and instruct — not cripple — and Beyer uses these characters to remind us of this important lesson.

CONCLUSION

Protectors is a slower book than The Eternal Tide, but the pace is needed. Janeway becomes a fully-realized character who will now be known for her depth rather than her inconsistencies. She has finally become the character fans always knew she could be, but never was on screen. Characters from Voyager that were so under-utilized, like Harry Kim and Chakotay, are given many shining moments and have become more than their one-note selves from the show. Beyer has also created a fascinating new Delta Quadrant group known as the Confederacy of the First Worlds, which is sure to be a foil for the Full Circle fleet.

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The Decline of the American Book Lover:

354750466_1383346651The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn’t cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.

Why Classic Movies Have Terrible Trailers:

imgpulp20fiction1Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, originally released in 1994, has aged gorgeously. It’s one of those rare films that can be watched and re-watched for 20 years and remain as shocking, vivid, and irresistible as the year it was released.

The 1994 trailer, however, now seems corny and dated by comparison.

Porn and Future Marriage:

Indulgence in pornography is not a problem that only young, unmarried boys face. It’s an epidemic that stretches into the realm of men who are married and women of all kinds (young or old, married or not). However, this post is aimed particularly toward young, unmarried men. The reason I am speaking to this particular group is because I know from firsthand experience the complications that this addiction causes for young men and their future marriage.

On TV: BBC’s Sherlock, “The Empty Hearse”:

673acbad-274c-42fe-96c5-83aabb26bf5e_sherlock-season-3BBC’s Sherlock has become one of my favorite shows on television, and it was immensely fun having some new material and quelling the peremptory curiosity left by the end of last season. It was genuinely enjoyable seeing Holmes back on the screen, even though, last night, Sherlock’s self-absorbed callousness was especially in-your-face – sort of making me wonder why I like BBC’s Holmes at all. All of his flaws were on high display, and they were made all the more irritating by his inability to apologize. And yet he remains compelling, not just immensely likeable, but even lovable, an obsession for some viewers (myself included) which the showrunners not-so-subtly parodied with The Empty Hearse Fan Club. And Sherlock’s disdain for them parallels Moffat’s condescension to the his viewers, opening the episode with a wild bungee jump and James Bond-esque kiss of Molly, followed by a breezy departure. Certainly some viewers would enjoy such action-hero panache, but we’re made to understand, early on, that this conventional smoothness isn’t, at all, who Sherlock is.