May Reading List Wrap-up

I saw some other people do this and since I’ve been reading more lately, I thought I’d try ranking the books I’ve read in May from highest to lowest and the reasons why I liked/disliked them. So, without further ado, here they are!

Oh, there may be light spoilers, but I promise not to give too much away.

camino island1. Camino Island by John Grisham

I first heard about this novel when John Grisham and Stephen King shared a Zoom call together. They were talking about the writing process, their new novels, and other literary subjects. King talked about “Let it Bleed” and Grisham talked about “Camino Winds” and I thought Winds sounded like a pretty cool premise. A few days passed and I noticed Winds was on the bookshelf at Wal-Mart, so I nabbed it and luckily the paperback version of “Camino Island.” It took me three days to burn through Island, I enjoyed it so much.

The characters, both major and minor, immediately caught my attention because they were so lifelike. A short summary: Five manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald are stolen and then promptly disappear. The protagonist, Mercer Mann, is enlisted to spy on a possible dirty rare book dealer on Camino Island which serves as Mann’s childhood summer home. Mann soon gets tangled up with the island’s group of authors and also with the charismatic antagonist, Bruce Cable (the rare book seller).

What I loved about this book is that the group of writers matched the group of writers I spent my college life. There were times I laughed out loud from some of the dialogue when the writers were spending the evening at one of Cable’s parties.

The ending was also one that I didn’t see coming and I absolutely loved it. I’ve never been a big fan of John Grisham. I read a few of his earlier works and didn’t quite enjoy the legal thriller genre, but let me tell you: I’m so glad I watched that Zoom call with King and Grisham because Camino Island is one of my favorite reads this month, if not this year.

go set a watchman2. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

There was a lot of mixed reviews about this book when it was released in 2015. If I’m being honest with you, I didn’t pick the book up then because I let my emotions and prejudices about it get in the way. I hated the fact that Atticus was going to be pictured as a racist and not the pillar of morality that was displayed in the novel and the film adaptation “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Five years passed and I grew up a little, just as Scout did. Harper Lee was as amazing in Watchman as she was in Mockingbird. I can’t imagine reading the second book before reading the first book. The first painted this child’s picture of Atticus and the second book gave you the reality. Reading Scout’s journey as she figured out that her picture didn’t match reality was heartbreaking. There were times as I neared the end of the novel that I wondered how things could resolve with, so few pages left.

And things didn’t go back to normal in the end. Scout had to come to terms with her father not being the man she worshipped as a kid. And that’s okay because that’s reality. And that’s why I liked this book. It was a realistic story that I related to and it was almost as perfect as it’s predecessor.

an easy death3. An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

Having never read a book by Harris before, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I found this one in a suggested Hoopla list so I decided to give it a try. The world that this novel is set in immediately grabbed my attention because it mixed magic and the wild west inside a United States that fractures into several countries after President Franklin Roosevelt is assassinated during the Great Depression.

The protagonist, Lizbeth Rose, is a gunnie for hire. After the rest of her team is killed in action, she’s hired by magic wielding Grigori. Grigori are Russian wizards that Rasputin founded. That’s right, that Rasputin.

The storyline starts with a bang and fires on all cylinders right up until the ending where things are left for a sequel (and there is a sequel, I think). The weird, interesting, plot and setting will keep you wondering how gunnie Rose could possibly live to see the next sunset. This is definitely a must if you like alternate history and/or magical westerns.

Also, I listened to the audiobook version and the voice actress was amazing. I would listen to another book performed by Eva Kaminsky any day.

camino winds4. Camino Winds by John Grisham

Having loved “Camino Island,” I didn’t hesitate to plunge into its sequel. In the beginning, it was like the first never ended. Grisham is amazing when it comes to character development and I still loved the interaction between the familiar writing group. However, when Hurricane Leo kicks the island’s butt it’s really the beginning of the end for the story and the amazing characters.

So, this story centers around reformed bad guy Bruce Cable and how he acts as the anchor of Camino Island. He insists on all his authors to leave the island, but some stay. When the hurricane departs, he finds one of his authors has died from questionable circumstances. Cable leads a crusade to find out who the killer is and who paid the assassin.

This is really a good story with awesome characters, but just as the story heats up Grisham sets it on warm. And that’s where Cable and his team of crime sleuth writers exit the picture until right up till the end to bat cleanup.

One of the things I didn’t care for was that the author that died wasn’t one of the authors from the first book. I really wanted either Cable or a pre-established author be killed. Instead, we have an author that we saw once or twice in the story. This is a problem because I didn’t feel anything when you found out that the author dies. If Mercer, Cable, or another book one author dies, it would have resonated inside the reader and want to have justice just like Cable wants justice.

The ending was too convenient, and things cleaned up almost too nice. Having read “Camino Island” right before this and absolutely loving the ending, my expectations for a similar ending were quashed and I was left unsatisfied by the end. Overall, not a bad read but it wasn’t like the first one.

chain-of-gold-9781481431873_hr5. Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Beautiful cover just wanted to say that first. Second thing, this 580+ page hardcover is extremely light weight and I’m wondering why Stephen King’s publisher can’t use the similar cover/pages.

Having said that, this book was just so-so. I liked the characters and the action, but I really didn’t like how predictable things were. Clare shapes such an original world where angelically charged up fighters patrol the world and defeat demons by night in old-timey London is really intriguing and captured my interest.

However, the romantic triangle between the main characters was sorta boring at times and the ending just seemed to drag on and I wasn’t that satisfied about the cliffhanger. Overall, this was a meh book but I’m glad I spent the time to read it. Most likely, I’ll read the sequel when it comes out. I have two other books in that world, so I’ll probably read the rest of that series in the future.

annihilation6. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

For such a short book, 195 pages total, it took me such a long time to finish. Having seen the film, I purchased the book to see if it was different from the film. I didn’t really enjoy the film so I was hoping for a different experience from Vandermeer’s original content.

Once again, I disliked the book for several reasons. Short summary: Five unnamed female scientists are sent into Area X, a section cut off from the rest of the world for years by an invisible barrier. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. Expeditions into Area X have ended in disaster or death.

The main reason I disliked the book was that there was really no character development that made me care about the teammates or for the protagonist. We find out that her husband was in the prior expedition, but the protagonist really doesn’t care much. At least in the film, Natalie Portman cared about her husband.

Another reason I didn’t care for the novel was that there was little conflict. Except for the ending, there was hardly any rising conflict throughout the second act. If there were more action sequences amongst some animals or maybe from humans from prior expeditions, or even between the teammates it would’ve been more exciting.

I know that most people liked the film and the book, but this was a dud for me.

FIRST-COMES-LOVE-cover7. First Comes Love by Emily Goodwin

This was also an audiobook that I listened to this month. Performed by Philip Alces and Romy Nordlinger, this book follows the lives of Noah, the bad boy, and Lauren, the Disney obsessed little sister of Noah’s best friend. They meet in high school, but years later they hook up because of drinking too much and Lauren finds out she’s pregnant. After dating some, they get married, have the kid, and live happily ever after.

The issues I have with the novel are few, but they’re enough to not really recommend the book to others. Noah is way to articulate for being the “bad boy” he’s supposed to be, and he’s way too emotional. Lauren, I felt, was pretty realistic and I didn’t have much of a problem with her character.

The conflict in the story comes in two forms: Noah’s self-loathing, destructive nature derived from his relationship with his father, and Lauren’s struggle to compare every relationship with that of a Disney/princess film.

I didn’t particularly feel that the voice actress for Lauren, Romy Nordlinger, fit the role. I couldn’t quite fit her voice into Lauren’s tone/attitude.

Having said that, First Comes Love isn’t your traditional romantic novel, but it is a rather quick tale to keep you pacified for a time.

Sidenote – As a fellow Hoosier, I am quite a fan of Goodwin’s other works. This one just didn’t resonate with me.

Harry-Potter-and-the-Cursed-Child8. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (Based on an original story by J.K. Rowling)

I finished this in about two days. Which, as a script, this isn’t a surprise. Harry Potter grows up and has children. One of those kids, Albus, gets sorted into Slytherin when he goes to Hogwarts. He befriends Scorpius, Draco Malfoy’s boy, and instead of gaining his father’s love, Albus finds himself on the opposite end. It’s not like Harry hates Albus, he just doesn’t understand him.

This drives Albus and Scorpius to be friends with Delphi, Cedric Diggory’s cousin. This triad of wizardry decides to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic and steal a time turner from Hermione Granger’s office. She’s the minister of magic, by the way.

Using that time turner, they decide to steal the plots of Back to the Future (1985) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). After some pillaging from Doctor Who they save the day by fixing what they originally broke.

The characters don’t feel like the characters from the original series, the reunions from the dead characters fall flat emotionally, and there’s even a deus ex machina at the end that’s so convenient it’s really just sad.

Ultimately, I wish I had stolen a time turner so I could go back and prevent myself from buying this sad piece of glorified fan faction.

Stuck in the middle with you

As we enter the middle of the year, I thought it would be interesting to examine the middle of a story. For those that don’t know, most stories are split up into a three act structure. The first act serves as the introduction to the story, its characters, the world, and all the other elements that are needed to orient the reader. The first act also sets the plot into motion. The third act…acts… like you’d think an ending should. It ends things. Whatever conflict the main characters are facing will ultimately be decided and the consequences of those actions are played out.

three act structure
Three act structure, click to go to photo credit.

The second act is where things get real. Now that the reader is oriented in the world, the conflict can truly begin. Sure, Frodo and his friends may have left the Shire with the One Ring in their pockets, but that was just the beginning of their adventure. Act two of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” starts with their trek to Rivendell where, along the way, they face some trials.

“The second act is really the heart of your book, the section in which your protagonist’s abilities and resolve are put to the test and his goal is most at risk,” Joseph Bates writes in his book “The Nighttime Novelist” and goes on to say that “It’s also the part of the book most consider the story proper.”

He lists Captain Ahab chasing Moby Dick, Dorothy navigating through the wonderful land of Oz. Frodo making that pledge to take the ring to Mount Doom.

If you’re planning out your novel and you’re stuck when it comes to the second act, here are some questions to ask:

  • What kinds of conflict will stand in the protagonist’s way?
  • What is your protagonist willing to do to achieve his goal?
  • What would happen if the protagonist fails?

Every good middle should have the following:

  • First Culmination, the midpoint of the story where the protagonist has his/her sights on the prize.
  • Darkest Moment, where the protagonist hits rock bottom and seemingly fails in his/her quest.
  • Plot Point Two, where the protagonist finds a new direction which then leads to Act three’s conflict and resolution.

Each conflict the protagonist faces should be harder than the last. This is what’s called rising action. Bates compares the second act to a roller coaster.

“A strong second act has the inevitable momentum of a roller coaster, something you white-knuckle your way through and enjoy the ride,” he writes.

Throw all of these ideas into your middle and you’ll have the good bones for your middle.

Take Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) for example. For the purpose of this example, you’ll have to view Thanos as the protagonist. I know, I know, but trust me when I say that Thanos is the hero of this movie. Spoilers for those that haven’t seen the film yet, but come on that was two years ago.

The second act starts after Thanos sends his kids out to collect the rest of the stones. This begins the rising action. Stark, Strange, and Spider-man (all those S heroes) are attacked by Squidward (another S). The Guardians fight Thanos and Gamora gets taken. The midpoint is when Thanos finds out that Gamora has the location of the Soul Stone. That was the only stone that was truly hidden from the big purple dude and now he sees victory.

For Thanos, the darkest moment is when Scarlet Witch destroys the Mind Stone. This robs Thanos of his long sought quest for galactic balance. The audience believes (celebrates because who really wanted Thanos to win… certainly not me) that his quest is done and he failed to collect all the Infinity Stones.

“Now is not the time to mourn,” says Thanos and he’s right. This is where Plot Point Two comes into play when Thanos utilizes the Time Stone and reverses what Scarlet Witch did.

thanos gets the mind stone
This is what I look like when a Monday hits, by the way.

That leads into Act Three where Thanos gets his chest caved in by Thor, but it doesn’t matter because Thor didn’t go for the head. That’s another rant for another time.

That’s a summary overview of the middle part of a story. Having said all of that, you don’t necessarily have to do it this way. You’re a writer and rules are made to be broken. However, there’s a reason why most of books, movies, and other media utilize the Three Act Structure. It works.

Also, if you haven’t read Joseph Bates book, I’d recommend it. It’s a very good tool for those that can’t write for a living.

Am I Reading Too Much

As I sit at my home office (aka my bed) trying to figure out how to possibly write this week’s rant, I look over and see “Chain of Gold” by Cassandra Clare resting at the other side of the bed. I’m about 59 percent of the way through it. Picking it up, I marvel at how light the huge hardcover book is. Having never read any other books in Clare’s Shadowhunter universe, I definitely purchased “Chain of Gold” because of the beautiful cover. I know everyone saws don’t judge a book by its cover, but how ever actually follows that advice? Opening it up to the bookmarked position, I finish the section I’m on and replace the bookmark. I use a joker from a deck of cards because there’s no way I’m going to dogear a single page from this particular book.

The next thing I know, it’s a half hour later and all I have to show for it is a few pages down in by TBR (To Be Read) list. Which is always a good thing because I have a very large TBR List. To give you a frame of reference, I have an 18-gallon storage tub filled with books and my bedside table has 32 books resting upon it. Granted, most of the storage tub is an incomplete collection of Terry Brooks, but still there’s a lot.

Last weekend, I took a minute before starting a new book (“Camino Winds” by John Grisham) and pondered the question of “Am I reading too much?” Is that even a thing? At the time, I gave it only a passing thought before beginning the newest Grisham novel. I finished the book that same weekend, by the way.

It wasn’t until I read a quote Friday morning by novelist Ann Patchett that the idea came back to me. Patchett says that “Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone.”

As an introvert and divorcee, my skills at being alone are already quite proficient. After my divorce a few years ago, I thought I had to find another relationship to be in. I tried a dating app, went on a few dates, quickly deleted the dating app, had one really horrible “hey I like you moments” which turned into a painful/awkward moment, and resigned myself to living and dying alone.

It wasn’t until Indiana’s stay-at-home order that I realized that I liked being alone. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. With night meetings canceled, for the most part, and no where to go with friends or family I had an enormous amount of free time. I rediscovered a love for an old video game, read 13 books, and stopped obsessively thinking about what people (in particular one certain person) thought about me.

Whenever I began feeling depressed, lonely, or when the real world became…a bit too real…I’d go outside on the front porch and read. Sometimes, I’d spend hours outside with a thermos of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. Sometimes, I’d substitute that book for an audio book, close my eyes, and enjoy the wind and/or sun on my skin. It didn’t matter if it was raining, sleeting, windy, cold, hot. I’d sit out there through all weather conditions. I guess you could call me a literary postman.

Patchett, in her quote, goes onto say that reading “gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we’ve never met, living lives we couldn’t possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character’s skin.” Which makes sense now why most of my 22 books read this year involve characters with romantic conflicts (Team Gale all the way).

My hope is that, since Indiana has entered Stage Three in the reopening plan and a sense of normalcy will be returning, I don’t lose my ravenous hunger for reading in the weeks to come. I don’t want to return to the depressed/lonely/obsessive version of myself before the pandemic.

Too much of a good thing can be bad. Eating too much pizza for example, I’m both guilty and proof of that. Drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication. Addiction to video games is another example, I’d like to say I’ve never experienced that one, but I’d be lying. When it comes to reading a book though, I guess I have doubts. On the one hand, if you are harming yourself or neglecting others because there’s a book in your hands, then okay I can see that. For me though, and I’m sure for others, reading provides that escape from the real world.

If that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be write. And yes, I meant to spell that right.

Why I Hate Writing

As you read the headline, I know what you must all be thinking: “But Jim, you’re a writer. How can you possibly hate writing?”

In reality, hate is probably too strong of a word. I love writing and there’s nothing I would rather be doing. I’m so lucky and blessed to be able to do what I love for a living. With that being said, there are some negative side-effects to being a writer. Take, for instance, finding plot in everyday life.

Lately, I’ve begun telling myself to “shut up, stupid!” There are multiple problems with this. The first problem is that it’s become, as of late, a sort of mantra. I’ll be thinking something, which will be discussed further down, and I’ll say out loud “shut up, stupid.”

That’s the one advantage to the stay-at-home order. Wearing masks in public prevents people from seeing me talk to myself. The problem though is when they think you’re talking to them and not yourself. Try telling yourself to shut up when there’s a six-foot tall linebacker looking type standing next to you in the frozen pizza aisle at Walmart. Luckily, I had an earbud in my ear. When he looked my way, I smoothly transitioned into talking to an imaginary friend over the phone via earbud. If this writing thing doesn’t pan out, I might have to consider a life in theatre.

I really don’t like using those three words so instead of not using them, like a sane individual, I decided to come up with different terminology to express myself. You know, a workaround.

Some examples include: “Be quiet, ignoramus” or “Silence, you son of a silly person” and others of the same ilk.

Because when you’re a fiction writer, you tend to overthink things. You tend to view yourself as the main character of a story. And when you start thinking your life is a story, then you start seeing objects, dialogue, life changing events, as elements of storytelling.

Or at least, I have that problem. I’m not sure if other authors/writers/creators have that problem. Maybe I’m just that self-centered. If that’s the case, and nobody except me experiences this, then that’s another problem for another rant.

When it comes to literature, nothing is random. Any storyteller that is decent in his/her craft writes characters/dialogue/narrative/etc… into the story for a purpose. Unnecessary elements will eventually get weeded out in the editing process. It may seem to be a random or unnecessary element, but the writer (hopefully) is simply setting up for a bigger payout later on in the book or in a sequel. A few weeks ago in another rant I had mentioned Chekhov’s Gun.If you didn’t read my prior rant then I won’t hold it against you. It’s not like I’m obsessed with myself or anything. If you did read it, then you’d already know that Chekhov’s Gun is a foreshadowing technique that states that if there’s a gun in the first scene, then by the end of the final scene that gun will go off. That’s just one item to prove that nothing in literature is random.

There’s another problem with overthinking about one’s life and how something interacts with it. If you’re a Christian, as I am, then you know that God is the author of your life and that he’s got everything written out. If that’s the case, then nothing in life is random. Everything has a purpose, everyone is the main character of their own story/life. If that were the case, theoretically, you could try to guess what will happen next because every main character follows a character arc, a storyline, or is on some kind of quest. And there’s my biggest problem right there. Trying to understand God’s will. Of course, there’s the looming debate on whether or not humans have free will since God’s in complete control. I don’t have the space in this rant to possibly attempt to explore that issue. I guess you could view things like a character in a story. Does the main character know there’s an author plotting out his/her life? Nope, not at all (unless the main character purposely breaks the fourth wall).

Even if I were to attempt to guess at the next plot point, I’d be completely wrong. Every stinking time. Oh, I may be self-centered, but I’m not arrogant enough to presume that I understand God’s will. Nope, not gonna try.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths,” states Proverbs 3:5-6.

So I guess I should stop overthinking about a conversation I had a week ago or what a strange encounter might be interpreted as and just trust that my Author has got everything under control.

In other words… “Silence, unintelligent dummy!”

Hopefully reading

Ever since the coronavirus officially entered Indiana, the state I live in, I’ve been reading books that had a post-apocalyptic and/or world spreading virus theme. For instance, I’m a little under 200 pages left in Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

At first, I thought I was reading it out of sheer morbid obsession. Reading a book about 99.4 percent of the world dying from a super flu while the actual world is living through a pandemic with flu-like symptoms. But then I got to page 904. For those that don’t know, “The Stand” starts with a super flu that kills off most of the population. The survivors are pitted in a battle between God and Satan. The prophet that God has chosen to lead His people is Mother Abagail. Spoiler Alert: She instructs some people to travel to the heart of evil, Las Vegas, and stand up to Satan’s prophet, Randall Flagg.

Here’s the end of Mother Abagail’s instructions. “But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand. You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With God’s help you will stand.”

Now, only one of those chosen four were religious. The other three were skeptical at best, but they all believed in Mother Abagail. And Mother Abagail believed and trusted God.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’ll be finishing the book this weekend. For those that have lost track of the date/time (I know I have on several occasions), it’s Easter. For those that don’t know the specifics, here’s a brief rundown of events.

Beginning in the Bible, Matthew 26:47, Jesus was betrayed by Judas. He was arrested, taken to the high priest Caiaphas, accused of false crimes, condemned to death, mocked, beaten, and crucified. Here’s the thing, Jesus knew this was going to happen. He knew Judas would be the one to betray him and that he would be put to death. Knowing all of this, he didn’t fight the Sanhedrin physically or try to escape (I imagine he could’ve if he so decided).

Now, I’m not saying that the Bible and The Stand are equal in importance. If there was one text, I would advise reading it would be the Bible.

Both have a great moral story to them and teach a valuable lesson. In fact, in each text, it’s the same moral story. The moral is that if you trust in God and stand against evil, you will prevail. Even if your results aren’t what you desire, you’ll eventually prevail.

And that’s why I’m reading the Bible and The Stand. Not for the doom saying or the plagues or the death and destruction. Trust me, there’s a lot of that in each book.
But there’s also hope.

In this time, the Era of Corona, we could use some hope. That’s why Easter is such an important time for those that believe in God. Jesus died and in three days he was resurrected. If we trust in God and are faithful to His instructions, then we will also live again in Heaven. It is my hope that you find something to read that inspires hope. For me, I find hope in the Bible and fictional novels like The Stand.

I wish everyone has a safe and happy Easter. Remain faithful to God, trust in the Word, and do the only thing we can in this harrowing time.

Stand.

What to read in a time like this?

I try to find the humor in every situation I face. Somehow, if I can laugh about something it just doesn’t seem that scary/depressing/overwhelming/(insert emotion). I remember when I was hospitalized for a three foot blood clot and I had made a joke about it to my wife (at the time). She doesn’t share my humor for laughing in the face of disaster.

Maybe that’s why we’re no longer together. Hmmm…

Anyhoo, so for those that are self-quarantined, staying away from the public, or just simply an introvert here are some choices in reading material for this time of season. And please, just know that even though this list is themed toward pandemics, it’s simply a literary book list with some dark humor to it.

So for your reading pleasure, here is my 2020 Pandemic Book List:

the stand1. The Stand, by Stephen King. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this horror classic. The premise of this ginormous novel is a detailed vision of the total breakdown of society after the accidental release of a strain of influenza that had been modified for biological warfare causes an apocalyptic pandemic that kills over 99 percent of the world’s population. It’s an amazing read about what happens to humanity and the good vs evil theme is quite page turning. I’m currently watching the television adapted movie and reading the uncut version of the novel. I’ve been sniffling and coughing up phlegm all the while.

Makes a man a bit paranoid, haha.

the-andromeda-strain2. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton. First off, I love when people call books a techno-thriller. It’s such a great name for a genre. So this novel handles the narrative differently. It documents the efforts of a team of scientists investigating the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial mirco-organism in Arizona.

Year-One-Nora-Roberts3. Year One, by Nora Roberts. Okay, so if you’re not that into Stephen King because of the length of books he writers, I get it. However, if you’re looking for a pandemic themed book that invokes King’s The Stand without the 1,000 + page count then this one is it. I’ll warn you though, it’s part of a trilogy so if you’re wanting a one and done read, then you may reconsider it. It’s a great read about a sickness that spreads suddenly and within weeks, everything starts to crumble. This is different than your basic pandemic. Where science and technology falls, magic rises and people start developing magical powers and turning into elves and other magical creatures.

world_war_z_book_cover4. World War Z, by Max Brooks. So, without getting into all the zombie fiction out there (and believe me there’s a lot) I’ll just offer this one beacon of light among the undead. This book, written by Director Mel Brook’s son, is a collection of individual accounts following the devastating global conflict against the zombie plague. For those that have read The Zombie Survival Guide, this is the same author and it’s equally well written. While the guide was written in a half-comical nature, WWZ is written in a serious tone that examines survival-ism, uncertainty, and the ineptitude of individuals and governments. It’s really a must-read.

As an additional note, I really disliked the movie simply because it was nothing like the book. In my opinion, it would’ve been better to make it a strict adaptation of the novel. And you can fight me on that.

dracula_book_cover5. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Okay, hear me out on this one before I get an angry voicemail about how I need to “get my facts straight.” Dracula is about a vampire that travels to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse. However, the good Count is defeated by a band of humans that wield science as a weapon. Sound familiar? It should because that’s the basic theme of almost all pandemic themed fiction. I once wrote a college paper about how Dracula was a metaphor for Cholera. It was pretty good paper inspired by a very good work of fiction. Check it out.

Well, that’s five pandemic inspired fictional works. While I hope you all don’t fall ill with the coronavirus, I do hope you read some of the books on this list. All have a soft spot in my literary heart and have earned a place on my Hall of Fame for books.

With any luck, I’ll talk to you all next week.

2019 Film Recap: The Best

Last year I ranked the films I watched in three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This year’s film recap, I only watched 23 films that released during 2019. Because of that, I am categorizing this year’s list into two halves: The Worst and the Best. So, without any further ado, here are the top ten. Or as I like to call them… the best of 2019.
Since these films were released in the last year I will caution about spoilers.

Shazam10. Shazam
My Score: 7/10
IMDb Score: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 90%/83%

It’s strange, yet really enjoyable that Zachary Levi can such a great child trapped in a man’s body. Shazam reminds me of Tom Hanks in Big. DC Comics should stick to single hero franchises and not try to create a crossover like Justice League. Shazam, for those that don’t know, is about a kid that gets superhuman powers from a wizard. It’s just weird to me that the kid has to shout out the wizard’s name whenever he wants to use them. I know it’s magic, but, come on. Creepy. The movie has some heartfelt moments and some really sad ones when the kid gets rejected by his own mom. That’s cold. Overall, it’s a really nice, fun, and action-packed superhero movie with a strong family message. However, it suffers from a pretty adult themed bad guy that utilizes demonic seven-deadly sins smoke monsters. This has got to be one of my favorite DC superhero films.

brightburn9. Brightburn
My Score: 8/10
IMDb Score: 6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 57%/67%

What would happen if Superman went bad? What if it happened when he was a child? These questions are explored in this film by James Gunn. I’ve been a fan of Gunn’s since I watched Super (2010) and Slither (2006). Brightburn really is one of those films where you may or may not like it because it’s not about a good guy. It’s about a bad guy. A villain’s origin story. And it’s a great one too. By the end of the film, you start feeling that Anakin was justified in killing all of the younglings. The kills are gory and messy. There’s one moment where this shard of glass sticks out of a waitress’s eye and you see her pull it out. It makes me cringe even now remembering it in my head. Plus, it sets up for a combined movie universe of bad guys including Rainn Wilson’s character from Super using a J. Jonah Jamison type character. It’s like that meme with Fassbender… perfection.

It chapter two8. It Chapter Two
My Score: 8/10
IMDb Score: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 63%/78%

Pennywise the Dancing Clown is back for a second round. This is the continuing chapter to the prior film, in case the title didn’t give that away. The first film focused on the children’s tale, but it also focused on physical terror. Now that the children have grown into adults, Pennywise is focusing on emotional and mental terror. This works out pretty well for the sequel. We already know what and who Pennywise is so there isn’t any use trying to mask what he can do in the film. The casting choices made were great and the CGI was too. However, I didn’t like the ending. It basically says that in order to defeat the bully you have to become the bully. Not such a good message.

 
captain marvel7. Captain Marvel
My Score: 8/10
IMDb Score: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 78%/49%
It seems in the previous article and this article my scores heavily differ from the audience score. Because I really enjoyed the origin film of Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel. I thought that the nostalgia of the 90’s was present but didn’t bash the audience over the head. The twist at the end where the Skrulls were actually good guys was nice. I liked Jude Law being the bad guy. Even better, I liked his portrayal of Yon-Rogg and at the end when he was trying to goad Danvers into a fair fight and Carol just shot him into a wall. I’ve heard the critique about Brie Larson and her stony portrayal of the superhero. I’m alright with it simply because she was trained to suppress her emotions. The de-aging of Samuel L. Jackson was nicely done but having said that I chuckle because when you watch him fight it looks like an old man trying to perform an action sequence. Seeing Clark Gregg reprise his role of Agent Coulson was also a nice touch.

star wars episode nine6. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
My Score: 8/10
IMDb Score: 7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 55%/86%

Personally, I really enjoyed this last entry of the Skywalker Saga. It did a great job of handling the poorly received Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I say poorly received because it received a 43% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. In reference to the rest of the episodic Star Wars films, that’s the worst audience score, even worse than Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I’ve always thought that when you’re making films like the sequel trilogy, Ghostbusters, and other rebooted franchises you have to be able to please your fanbase. Even if you liked Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, you have to admit it split the fanbase like Obi-Wan defeating Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. In my opinion, J.J. Abrams did the best he could do in what he was handed. The thing that I didn’t enjoy about the film was that it heavily lent from Return of the Jedi. Rey verse Palpatine had that “On your left” and “And I am Iron Man” scenes from Avengers: Endgame. Because of those two things, I couldn’t give The Rise of Skywalker a 9/10.

spiderman ffs5. Spider-Man: Far from Home
My Score 8/10
IMDb Score: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 91%/95%

Never in a million years did I think that Sony and Disney could strike a deal to share the Spider-Man property. But they did and because they did, we had five great movies that had an appearance of the web-slinger. Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man. Acting as the epilogue of The Infinity Saga, Spider-Man: Far from Home gives us a glimpse of the next Tony Stark. Maybe that’s why some people didn’t like this film as much as others, but I liked Peter Parker growing into his big boy webs and tackling global events. I get that Spider-Man is supposed to be the friendly neighborhood protector, but you can’t put the genie back into the bottle. Spider-Man is global now after the events of Endgame and Infinity War. Get used to it people. Plus, that end credit scene with J. Jonah Jamison.

Us4. Us
My Score: 9/10
IMDb Score: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 93%/59%

Who knew Jordan Peele could be such a great horror film director? After his debut film Get Out (2017), Peele proved that he could stand in the horror arena just as good as he could stand in the comedy one. The concept is a horrific one. Distorted clones rising up and killing their normal counterparts is crazy. What we find out by the end of the film is even crazier. It’s also more horrific and thought provoking. I knew going into the film that Peele would have some kind of twisty ending because of the twisty ending in his first film. That’s the curse that’s going to follow Peele in his next film. It’s the Shyamalan curse. Going back to Us, this film has such great acting and action that you’ll love this film.

doctor sleep3. Doctor Sleep
My Score: 9/10
IMDb Score: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 77%/89%

My third favorite film goes to the sequel to one of the most iconic horror movies of all history: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Adapted from the novel by Stephen King, the narrative follows an adult, troubled, and drunken Danny Torrance as he tries to find redemption. There are some scenes that are recreated from The Shining using different actors and it’s pretty decent. It’s nicely done. The narrative also introduces a new set of villains led by Rose the Hat, played by Rebecca Ferguson. The villains are a group of vampiric creatures that were once humans that feed on the Shine of others. As Danny and a young child called Abra Stone, played by Kyliegh Curran, develop an uncle/niece relationship, the vampires focus their attention on Abra forcing Danny, aka Doctor Sleep, to come to her defense. Admittedly, it’s not better than The Shining, but it’s a great sequel.

joker2. Joker
My Score: 9/10
IMDb Score: 8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 69%/88%

The second clown film released this year, but it was the better one in my mind. Directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the title character, this origin film does something that prior DC films don’t do. They hold nothing back. It’s dirty, it’s visceral, it’s bleak and dark, it’s also bloody and graphic. The Joker is a character that deserves an R rated film. Say what you want about comic book films entering into the R rating territory, but if there was ever a DC Universe character that was dark and gritty it was Joker. Phillips and Phoenix created such a great movie that makes you sympathize with the villain and also hate him at the same time. They did to Joker what Infinity War did for Thanos. It proves that Batman’s nemesis doesn’t need Batman to survive.

 

endgame2

1. Avengers: Endgame
My Score: 9.5/10
IMDb Score: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 94%/90%

By far, the best film I’ve seen in years. There was such a huge expectation for this film because it was the culmination of over twenty films. It managed to wrap up multiple storylines of heroes and, at the same time, managed to cultivate future stories for newer characters. Like I said with my remarks about The of Skywalker, I love when a film pleases the fanbase. From beginning to the end, Endgame managed to payoff a plethora of fan moments. Cap wielding Mjolner against Thanos, Avengers Assemble!, and Cap’s dance with the love of his life. Those moments and more were what made Endgame such a fantastic movie and it’s what makes it my favorite movie of 2019.

endgame4
My favorite shot of the whole film. Captain America is my favorite character in the MCU and was happy to see him represented well in this film.

I can’t begin to tell you the impact movies have on me. The good, the bad, the ugly. Every film I watch has some sort of lesson. Because at the heart of a movie is the story. And that’s what I am: a storyteller.

What did you think of my list? Were there movies that you thought shouldn’t have made this list? What movies are on your favorite list of 2019? Let me know in the comments.