BOOKGASM’s Best (and Worst) of 2009

Another year, another year-end best-of list. Or several, actually, as a few BOOKGASM reviewers throw their proverbial two cents on the best — and some of the worst — that reading for pleasure had to offer, in fiction and nonfiction.

THE LOST CITY OF Z: A TALE OF DEADLY OBSESSION IN THE AMAZON by David Grann — Grann reconstructs the 1925 adventure of explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett, who sought El Dorado, the fabled lost city of gold. In trying to solve one of mankind’s greatest mysteries, Fawcett inadvertently created another. This is the best kind of nonfiction: that which thrills like its fictional counterparts.

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10 Books I Can’t Wait for in 2010

Not that I still don’t have a bunch of ’09 releases lying around to catch up on, but 2010 is the year I make contact with these 10 titles …

IMPACT by Douglas Preston — Preston is one of those authors I itch to read, no matter what the subject. This sequel to the controversial BLASPHEMY involves meteors and Mars and, yeah, whatever — I’m already there. (Jan. 6)

HORNS by Joe Hill — The heir apparent to the horror fiction, Hill returns with only his second novel proper. Although his HEART-SHAPED debut didn’t blow me away, his short-fiction collection and foray into comics have. Feb. 16)

BLACK HILLS by Dan Simmons — With THE TERROR and DROOD, Simmons has been on quite a roll, so this one — a ghost story of the American West — should provide its fair share of chills. (Feb. 23)

KICK-ASS by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. — Being one of those wait-for-the-trade guys, I haven’t yet tried Millar’s take on the teenaged superhero … who’s actually powerless. If it’s half as wacky as WANTED, that’s still wacky. (Feb. 23)

THE DEVIL AND SHERLOCK HOLMES: TALES OF MURDER, MADNESS, AND OBSESSION by David Grann — Narrative journalism is like hydrocodone to my literary bloodstream, and Grann’s THE LOST CITY OF Z was like a double dose. This collection includes a dozen pieces on an arson investigator, a Sherlock Holmes fanatic found dead, and other askew personalities. (March 9)

DIMITER by William Peter Blatty — Ask me to name one author who doesn’t write enough, and Blatty will be the first name I throw out. (Go on, ask me.) Well, he has a new novel slated for the new year, described as a theological thriller. I hear his man-of-the-cloth stories turn out pretty well. (March 16)

YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS by Vern — Vern’s Steven Seagal retrospective SEAGOLOGY was one of the freshest and funniest film books in the history of ever, so you bet I’m game for another. He’d be the only reason to read Ain’t It Cool News if these books didn’t exist, but they do, so there isn’t. (March 30)

THE GOLDEN TREASURY OF KRAZY KOOL KLASSIC KIDS KOMICS edited by Craig Yoe — After the awesome TOON TREASURY, I’m in the mood for more vintage kids’ comics, and while it may not be as varied, something tells me Yoe’s book will be more insane. Maybe it’s all those Ks in the title. (April 29)

FEVER DREAM by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child — Pendergast. Need I say more? (May 11)

THE BIG BANG by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins — As with THE GOLIATH BONE, Collins completes a Mike Hammer novel Spillane left behind. And this one takes place in the 1960s, which should please fans who got their panties in a wad over BONE’s present-day setting. (May 14) —Rod Lott

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19 Books I Didn’t Review in 2009 … at Least Not Here

Contrary to popular belief (and my dreams), BOOKGASM is not my day job. (All that magic happens on nights and weekends, folks!) But at my day job as managing editor of Oklahoma’s largest and greatest alternative weekly, I review books, too. As it’s tough to write two reviews (much less one!), most of those titles never see ink here. Here are 19 — fiction and nonfiction, good and bad — I covered there in 2009.

THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell — It’s a graphic-novel adaptation of Gaiman’s earlier novella, with Russell providing the lovely art, all keying off the story’s Asian influence with a style that resembles Japanese woodcuts, right down to their subdued colors. It’s a solid, spellbinding tale.

HIGH MOON by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis — This weird Western is a mash-up of cowboys and werewolves. Each third tells its own story, with the subsequent tale moving that plot forward, rather than regurgitating. It makes for an unpredictable read — one that mutates as its incorporates elements of steampunk and mysticism.

WHEN YOU WERE A TADPOLE AND I WAS A FISH: AND OTHER SPECULATIONS ABOUT THIS AND THAT by Martin Gardner — Gardner’s latest book may be a hodgepodge of odds and ends, but it still adds up to an entertaining read: light on his famous mathematical puzzles and problems, and heavy on his opinions on politics, religion, science and literature. But don’t worry: There’s some fun scattered about, too.

DRUNK: A COMIC ABOUT BAR STORIES edited by Michael Ogilvie, Sean Russell and Michael Todoran — Those whose social life centers around the magic elixir of alcohol have their share of bar stories. Now there’s a whole illustrated collection of them in this limited-edition, adults-only hardcover. Forego your bartender tips to buy one.

TRICK ‘R TREAT by Marc Andreyko — When the TRICK ‘R TREAT movie got shelved, that affected WildStorm’s plans to publish a simultaneous four-issue comics adaptation. Now with TREAT on DVD, WildStorm has collected its never-printed series into one trade paperback. Like the film, it’s a blast, worth another knock on the door each and every fall season.

WTF? COLLEGE: HOW TO SURVIVE 101 OF CAMPUS’S WORST F*#!-ING SITUATIONS by Gregory Bergman and Jodi Miller — Few books for the student body come cruder. Yeah, I know it’s supposed to be taken lightly. But it’s also supposed to be funny. And, unless you’re a loyal MAXIM subscriber or Tucker Max disciple, it’s not.

SHERLOCK HOLMES ON SCREEN: THE COMPLETE FILM AND TV HISTORY by Alan Barnes — Barnes’ book is like any of the regular movie guides published annually, only focused on one subject. Each title bears perfunctory credits before getting into a history, a summary and a critical analysis. The more visible and memorable the film, the more Barnes has to say; these have their plots even further broken down into “The Mystery,” “The Investigation” and “The Solution.”

HALLIWELL’S THE MOVIES THAT MATTER by David Gritten — Welcome to the first recession-era edition of HALLIWELL’S. No longer clocking in at 1,400 pages, this one’s been truncated to just more than 700. That means a lot of titles have fallen by the wayside, but the film-snob attitude sure didn’t! This is the kind of work where “preposterous” is used as if it were the word “the.”

POPULAR FICTION PERIODICALS: A COLLECTORS’ GUIDE TO VINTAGE PULPS, DIGESTS, AND MAGAZINES by Jeff Canja — If this were just a price guide, one couldn’t recommend it beyond the pulp cult. Luckily, it’s more. Canja gives a brief, but thorough history of these magazines, some 35 pages’ worth, from dime novels to pulp digests and the few titles that remain today. And then there’s the cover art. Oh, the cover art!

THE HANNIBAL FILES: THE UNAUTHORISED GUIDE TO THE HANNIBAL LECTER PHENOMENON by Daniel O’Brien — Originally released in 2001, the book extensively covered the productions of Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER, Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL, but now is brought up to speed in a new edition that includes Brett Ratner’s RED DRAGON and Peter Webber’s HANNIBAL RISING.

TRUE WEST: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO THE HEYDAY OF THE WESTERN by Michael Barson — The book doesn’t intend to chronicle the history of the real American West — only its mythic one. It does so wonderfully, spotlighting the genre across a variety of media, including movies, television, music, novels, comics and merchandise. It works as an art book, as well as one for the department of pop-culture history.

BATMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER?: THE DELUXE EDITION by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert — This hardback comes highly recommended. Gaiman is one of the medium’s all-time great scripters, and he defies and subverts expectations with this one, alternately puzzling and poignant. So WHATEVER HAPPENED? You’ll want to know, especially since the story is pulled off with this much panache.

FILTHY RICH by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos — This is the first title to be released in the new Vertigo Crime line of small-sized, hardback, black-and-white graphic novels, and is so steeped it is in the loving basics of classic noir, you’ll almost swear James M. Cain had something to do with it.

ABSINTHE & FLAMETHROWERS: PROJECTS AND RUMINATIONS ON THE ART OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY by William Gurstelle — Guys who consider MYTHBUSTERS to be appointment TV might warm to this oddball piece of nonfiction, which aims to put a smile on science, if a rather mischievous one. Trouble is, it’s heavier on the RUMINATIONS than the PROJECTS, taking an awful long time to get to the good stuff.

GIG POSTERS VOLUME 1: ROCK SHOW ART OF THE 21ST CENTURY by Clay Hayes — Anyone who doesn’t consider the posters to be “art” because of their disposable nature is dead wrong. And this hipper-than-thou book proves that, oversized page after oversized page. Each 11-by-14 page is perforated, so if you find one that sears your retinas — and any self-respecting music fan will find dozens — it’s already suitable for framing.

SAMURAI FILMS by Roland Thorne — Never seen a samurai flick? Grab this book and start filling your Netflix queue. From the 1950s to today, Thorne offers a host of great suggestions to taking in some cinematic exploits of kung fu’s smarter, older brother.

THE BEST OF 2000 AD: HUNDREDS OF CLASSIC STRIPS FROM THE GALAXY’S GREATEST COMIC — This heavy hardcover contains nearly 400 pages’ worth of comics culled from issues of 2000 AD, a weekly magazine that’s been a staple of British sci-fi for more than 30 years, featuring such characters as Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper.

SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING: BOOK ONE by Alan Moore — For me, Moore’s finest work in comics lie with DC’s muck-encrusted antihero. Those who already own the work in paperback may think an upgrade isn’t necessary, yet this hardcover boasts his very first issue, #20, which has never been reprinted before. These tales remain enchanting ones of love, loss and outright fright, 25 years later.

MISSION CONTROL, THIS IS APOLLO: THE STORY OF THE FIRST VOYAGES TO THE MOON by Andrew Chaikin and Alan Bean — From historical perspective to addressing the problem of pooping in space, MISSION CONTROL is a special book, made all the more so by the accompanying paintings of Alan Bean, Apollo 12 astronaut. The middle-aged man I am was turned into a kid again absorbing its every page. —Rod Lott

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9 Books I Didn’t Get a Chance to Read in 2009 (But Wish I Had)

F you, time.

HELLBOUND HEARTS edited by Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan
THE GATES by John Connolly
BOX 21 by Roslund-Hellström
THE BROKEN TEAGLASS by Emily Arsenault
UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King

And you? —Rod Lott

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5 Best Sci-Fi Books of 2009

This year was a strange one for science fiction and fantasy (particularly dark fantasy), as horror books got a lot of the fleeting media attention normally given to the robots-and-lasers crowd. But there was some amazing speculation in 2009, and here’s the best of the best.

5. THE QUIET WAR by Paul McAuley — Released in the UK in 2008, but brought to the U.S. by the amazing geniuses at Pyr this year, McAuley’s solar-system-spanning political thriller farms the space-opera fields normally tended to by the likes of Iain M. Banks. From high-level diplomats to rank-and-file “caught in the political whirlwind” normal people, the disparate actions of the characters in THE QUIET WAR slowly, but inexorably sow the seeds for war.

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bullets broads blackmail and bombs

1. PARIAH by Dave Zeltserman — Taking the top spot for the second year in a row is Zeltserman, in the follow-up to last year’s SMALL CRIMES. To say this surpassed that is an understatement. It’s a great ride from a writer who is truly becoming the crime voice of Boston. Screw you, Lehane.

2. RICHARD STARK’S PARKER: THE HUNTER by Darwyn Cooke — The graphic novel of the decade. What this book does is what film directors have been screwing up for years: adapting Richard Stark/Donald E. Westlake to perfection. A must-have for any crime fan.

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SOULLESS came into my life like many great books do: by referral. I knew from the cover it would be a quirky, fun read — kudos to the art director for that spot-on design. Author Gail Carriger said she knew she wanted to write urban fantasy and noticed that a lot of the genre is contemporary. But she figured these creatures — supernatural, werewolves, vampires — had to have been around for a long time, right?

So she set her story in the Victorian times in England, and gifts us with a wonderful protagonist in Alexia, who is a preternatural, meaning she has no soul. This doesn’t make her mean, but it does mean she can’t be harmed by vampires, and in fact, kills a vampire at the beginning of the book — all in self-defense, of course.

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Grimmer Tales: A Wicked Collection of Happily Never After Stories

Do you find this funny? Rapunzel is riding her bicycle, her famous golden tresses flowing behind her. Her hair gets caught up in the spokes, eventually pulling her head clear off her body. Or how about that? Goldilocks samples bowl after bowl of porridge until she finds one that is “just right,” only for three mostly nude men in leather to appear behind her and break the bad news: “That’s not porridge.”

I sure do! Those are but two of many fractured fairy tales in Erik Bergstrom’s GRIMMER TALES: A WICKED COLLECTION OF HAPPILY NEVER AFTER STORIES, a cartoon cavalcade that proves author Erik Bergstrom is one sick bastard … and we love him for it.

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Q&A with ZOMBOCALYPSE NOW’s Matt Youngmark

With the bunny-vs.-zombies ZOMBOCALYPSE NOW, Matt Youngmark has launched Chooseomatic Books, at once a revival and a parody of the old CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE series. One difference: These tricks aren’t for kids. Here, Youngmark discusses the idea’s genesis, the unique process of penning such a title, and Chooseomatic’s future.

BOOKGASM: How did you get the idea to do a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE type book? Now, how did you get the idea to do one with a bunny?

YOUNGMARK: I was reading a webcomic where a dinosaur decided to write a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE book because he wanted to tell his readers directly what they were supposed to feel instead of, like, setting a mood and stuff. I just thought that sounded like the best idea ever. The whole thing with the bunny came about after I settled on zombies for the subject matter, and needed something to set the book apart.

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Direct Your Own Damn Movie!

I’m pretty sure that most people are going to look at DIRECT YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE! as unnecessary, given that Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman’s previous two books, ALL I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FILMMAKING I LEARNED FROM THE TOXIC AVENGER and MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE!, were all about every aspect of filmmaking for the low-budget crowd, all filtered through the hilariously twisted worldview of the elder statesmen of B movies.

And, sure, maybe it is. And, well … maybe it isn’t.

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