2009: Another Year in the Books

January 1, 2010

2009 was not the greatest year of reading, but it wasn’t bad. It has less to do with the quality of what I read, and more to do with the quantity – and diversity – of what I did read. I had a lot of big plans to branch out in the types of reading I do (and I bought the books to back those plans up), but a stranger-than-fiction work schedule and a major mid-year reading slump derailed me a bit. Still, I read some good stuff, some thought-provoking stuff, some new stuff, and a I even re-read a favorite or two along the way. Here’s the complete list, followed by my personal Top Ten.

What I Read
Killing Castro by Robert Block
All You Despise by Tom Piccirilli
The Reach of Children by Tim Lebbon
Dark Hollow by Brian Keene
Ghost Walk by Brian Keene
Master of the Moors by Kealan Patrick Burke
The Keeper by Sarah Langan
Gunpowder by Joe Hill
Last Days by Brian Evenson
The Missing by Sarah Langan
The Coldest Mile by Tom Piccirilli
The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliot
The Nobody by Tom Piccirilli
The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Traveling Circus by Clive Barker
Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale
Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale
Castaways by Brian Keene
Just When You Thought It Was Safe: A Jaws Companion by Patrick Jankiewicz
The Two-Bear Mambo by Joe R. Lansdale
Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale
Diving Into Darkness by Phillip Finch
Button, Button: Uncanny Stories by Richard Matheson
Mind the Gap by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
The Shimmer by David Morrell
Personal Demons by Gregory Lamberson
Hell Hollow by Ronald Kelly
Dark Delicacies III: Haunted edited by Jeff Gelb and Del Howison
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Futile Efforts by Tom Piccirilli
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror Vol. Three edited by Angela Challis
Under the Dome by Stephen King
Stop This Man! by Peter Rabe

The Top Ten
10. The Keeper by Sarah Langan:
Moved beyond the haunted house story to become a haunted town story. Lyrical, taut, suspenseful, and peopled with great characters.
9. The Coldest Mile by Tom Piccirilli: I can’t say enought about this guy and his work, other than it’s frustrating to think of how many people have yet to discover him. His transition from horror to the darkest noir continues with this book, and proves that as long as he’s writing what his heart tells him to, we’re in for treat after treat.
8. Dark Hollow by Brian Keene: Stephen King used to describe his work as “the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.” In other words, you knew what you were going to get every time you picked up one of his books, and as long as you liked the flavor you were sure to be satisfied. King left that description (one that I never really bought, anyway) in the dust a long time ago, but it fits Keene to a “T”. His novels aren’t bound for literary awards any time soon, but they are fast-paced, suspenseful, and a ball to read almost every single time. This is my favorite of all his work so far – and it’s not even a zombie book.
7. Dark Delicacies III: Haunted edited by Jeff Gelb and Del Howison: A collection of short stories that deliver page after page – and, in many cases, long after the book is closed.
6. Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale: I’ve been reading Lansdale for a while, but this is the first time I’ve really got acquainted with two of his best creations, Hap and Leonard, two fictional characters who I find it hard to believe aren’t really alive somewhere, getting into trouble, sniping at each other, and spinning these outrageous tales for Lansdale to write down and deliver to us. These books are ones that I will re-read over and over again.
5. The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliot: Weird, wild stuff. Psychotic clowns, a carnival of the damned, and more. Confounding and terrifying with each passing page.
4. Under the Dome by Stephen King: Midway through this 1,000+ page behemoth, I really doubted it would crack the Top Ten. It was good….but that was all. Comparisons to King epics like The Stand were being made left and right, but this one wasn’t – and isn’t – quite there for me. The last 200 pages moved like a house a-fire, though, and really lifted my opinion of this one. But King, as he’s been known to do, let me down a bit with the ending and the explanation behind the events of the book. Not his worst, and still among the best I read this year, but within the King canon it’s barely a blip on the radar.
3. The Reach of Children by Tim Lebbon: Lebbon, another writer who deserves a wider audience, teaches us the true meaning of “haunted” with this hearbreaking examination of grief and loss. An amazing story.
2. The Two-Bear Mambo by Joe R. Lansdale: Almost made it to the #1 slot by virtue of the reasoning behind the title. Another great entry in Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series.
1. Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale: What can I say? 2009 was owned by Lansdale, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine.

2010 promises lots of good reading as I catch up with stuff released in 2009, anticipate the new books to come, and work to break down the To-Be-Read mountain that has taken over my office closet.


2009: The Year in (Motion) Pictures

December 31, 2009

I watched a lot of movies in 2009. I don’t know if it’s a record number for me, but it feels like it. For one thing, I had the chance to hit the theaters quite a bit this year, and got to see more new release movies in the proper setting than I have in a while. Netflix and a couple of HD movie channels offered by my cable company helped pad the list as well.

Below, for posterity’s sake, is a list of every movie I watched this year. Following the list is my own personal Top Ten. I should mention that, unlike most yearly Top Ten lists, I don’t restrict mine to movies released in the corresponding year. If it was new to me this year, it was eligible for the list.

So, without further ado….my 2009 in moving pictures:

What I Watched (In the order I watched them…)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Friday the 13th Part VII: New Blood
Ocean’s 11
Ocean’s 12
Ocean’s 13
The Fall
Friday the 13th (Uncut)
Burn After Reading
His Name Was Jason
Friday the 13th 3-D Deluxe Edition
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The Dark Knight
Friday the 13th (2009)
Pineapple Express
The Midnight Meat Train
Black Sunday
The Green Mile
The Human Tornado
Isle of the Dead
Groundhog Day
Two Minute Warning
Diary of the Dead
Saw IV
The Mist (B&W)
Let The Right One In
Reservoir Dogs
Blow Out
Ghost World
The Incredible Hulk
The X-Files: I Want To Believe
Synecdoche, New York
Return of the Living Dead
The Wrestler
Pineapple Express
The Strangers
In Bruges
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
A Nightmare On Elm Street
12 Monkeys
Star Trek (2009)
The Illusionist
Flesh & Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror
True Romance
Silence of the Lambs
Born on the Fourth of July
Back to the Future
Black Sabbath
Terminator: Salvation
Raging Bull
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Friday the 13th Part 2
Drag Me To Hell
Friday the 13th (2009)
The Driller Killer
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Role Models
Mystery of the Nile
Friday the 13th Part 3-D
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Runaway Jury
Big Fish
Five Across the Eyes
The Shawshank Redemption
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Sin City (Recut & Extended)
Gran Torino
The 40 Year Old Virgin (Unrated)
Bay of Blood
Uncle Buck
House By the Cemetery
The Conquerer Worm
The Aviator (Blu-Ray)
Blood on Satan’s Claw
Rob Zombie’s Halloween
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Grindhouse: Planet Terror
Grindhouse: Death Proof
Inglourious Basterds
Halloween II (2009)
Dracula (1979)
Audrey Rose
From A Whisper To A Scream
The Dunwich Horror
Trick r’ Treat
Shaun of the Dead
Evil Dead II
The Cooler
Friday the 13th (2009)
Lost in La Mancha
The Raven
Fight Club
I Love You, Man
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Blind Side

My Top Ten

10. The Blind Side: I’ve had a movie-crush on Sandra Bullock ever since Speed, so it’s great to see her having such a good year. This is a feel-good movie that manages to push all the right buttons without feeling manipulative.
9. Adventureland: It’s not just that they got the ’80s right – they did – but they got everything  right. If this doesn’t take you back to the time in your life when you began to realize that you could be your own person, instead of the person your parents and family thought you should be, then you haven’t reached that time in your life yet. Funny, heartwarming, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
8. I Love You, Man: Romantic comedy? Bromance? Buddy movie? I don’t know what you call it, but I call it fun. This movie made me want to gather all my guy friends for a weekend of male bonding – I mean, it really, really made me miss the times when I saw those guys practically every day. As they say, it’s funny because it’s true.
7. In Bruges: Speaking of buddy movies, this is one of the best. Two mismatched hitmen hiding out in a small town. Hilarity and a little tragedy ensue. Colin Farrell, if only you could be this good more often.
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: A beautiful meditation on time and the toll it takes on us.
5. Star Trek (2009): I don’t like Star Trek. Klingons and phasers and the Federation, oh please. So what’s this doing on my Top Ten? Well, it took a series I don’t like, and showed it to me in an all-new way. A really cool, fun way, one that kept all the stuff that was good about the original and brought it up to speed with what’s good today. The most successful re-imagining in film history. Can’t wait for II.
4. Trick r’ Treat: This little anthology film captures the look, feel and spirit of Halloween like no film since, well, Halloween. I’m a guy that loves me some horror movies, and yet only one cracked my Top Ten this year. See it and see why.
3. Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood is in his 70s, and yet he can still convincingly play the toughest SOB on the block. The great thing about this is we get to see what a softy his character really is without losing the fear that he’ll kick our arse if we drop a candy wrapper on his lawn. A movie with a message that doesn’t beat you over the head with it, plus some of the most jaw-droppingly racist language I’ve ever heard in a film.
2. The Wrestler: I’m an old-school wrestling fan from way back, and over the years I’ve watched the guys I grew up cheering for burn out and fade away. This movie tells so much truth: about guys who can’t give up the glory, and about the fans who want to relive that glory through their heroes just one more time. It’s all about taking us to a place when things were better and brighter. Welcome back, Mickey Rourke.
1. Inglourious Basterds: And welcome back, Quentin Tarantino. You haven’t let me down yet, but this one is special, combining everything you already knew about dialogue with everything you learned on Kill Bill and Death Proof about action. I can’t wait to see what you do next…and I can’t wait to see this again.

Finally, while I watched a lot of good stuff this year, I sat through some real stinkers, too. Here are the worst offenders of the bunch:

Four Films I Wish I’d Never Met
The Driller Killer
Five Across the Eyes
The Raven
From A Whisper To A Scream

These aren’t even worth a couple of lines explaining why they are so bad…just trust me on this. I’ve saved you hours that you’d otherwise never get back.