LEGO Steampunk

My Summer 2014 Eclectic Reading List – Part 2

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Summer is over and school is well under way and my book stack is slowly dwindling again. But it’s not quite back to a reasonable 3-4 titles that I can typically handle in a  week. And new books continue to come in! I had considered declaring Book Bankruptcy and starting from zero again, but I just can’t do that… there are just too many good books to share.

So, let me present Part II of what would would most definitely be a great novel given the title — My Summer 2014 (and moving into Fall) Eclectic Reading List.


The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic (The Adventures of Geo, Volume 1)

Plate Tectonics

George has quite an imagination… and a LOT of knowledge to demonstrate on today’s Earth Science test. Written in comic book format, this 36-page story follows George as he ponders everything he’s learned about plate tectonics, the ocean floor, tsunamis, earthquakes, and much more. GEO glides over the Earth’s surface and underneath, examining in colorful detail so much of the science that’s hidden underneath the surface. As George encounters various obstacles on his skateboard-ride to school, GEO encounters seismic activities that the reader can link together to help with memorization.

If your young reader enjoys this book, don’t forget to check out No Starch Press’s other educational books that use comic book/manga-style presentation such as their Can You Survive Inside the Human Body series (my review here) and many of its Manga Guides.


Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS and WordPress

Build Your Own Website

No Starch is on a roll. For kids or adults, this 250-page book also uses a comic book format to teach the basics of web design and a solid grounding in WordPress. I’ve done my share of basic web design before… and I stink at it. I’ve always heard there were better ways — much more organized ways — to create websites and manage them. What writer Nate Cooper and artist Kim Gee have done here is use simple art to supplement a minor amount of written text to explain web design from the beginning and offer me a good reason (actually, multiple reasons) for doing things a little differently than I’ve done in the past.

Even if you know HTML (as I do), you’ll follow along with (cartoon) Kim as she discovers the weaknesses of HTML and traditional HTML design. There’s a lot of information packed into the artwork that helps you understand how website design can get out of hand quickly, and the logical explanations for the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) via Glinda, the Good Witch of CSS. Everything in the first half of the book is helping the reader build up to understanding how to use the power of WordPress to create powerful webpages and sites. What’s funny is how FAST I finished reading this thing. What’s even better is how WELL I understood the content. This one goes on the bookshelf as a resource I will be hitting up again later this year or early next when I put together a website for a new project I’ve been working on… I’m that sold on using WordPress now!

Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards

Title Cards

Okay, I know that not everyone gets Adventure Time. There are still episodes that leave me wondering how my brain shutdown for the previous 20 minutes and what exactly happened. My 7-year-old and I watch Finn and Jake navigate the land of Ooo together, and I get to spend 30 minutes in his shoes watching and enjoying a show that I must honestly admit I wouldn’t watch by myself. That said, there is one thing I enjoy alone about Adventure Time that my son hasn’t yet discovered… the Title Cards. These amazing pieces of art open up each episode, and I’ve actually found myself pausing an episode to get a closer look. Thankfully, I don’t have to do that anymore… well, at least for Seasons 1 and 2.

Titan Books has released a collection of all the title cards for Seasons 1 and 2, and not only do you get a full-size image suitable for framing, you also get commentary from the collection of artists that create them as well as rough drafts showing the progression to the final title card. Some title cards are spins on familiar imagery (“The Silent King,” Season 2 Ep 40 riffs on the Conan look and feel) or 50s style movie posters or book covers. Others are just trippy sight gags. But as I said… all are works of art. If you’ve got an Adventure Time fan (probably older, but who knows?) who really enjoys the title cards, consider this a great gift suggestion.

A Christmas-Tastic Carol

Christmas-Tastic Carol

Yes, another Adventure Time book. This one is going to be a HUGE hit in a few months for my 7-year-old. The old Ice King is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve who try to get him to mend his ways. Will he? Can he?!

It’s a funny spin on the traditional A Christmas Carol, with all your favorite Adventure Time characters showing up in one way or another (and little BMO subbing for Tiny Tim). The rhymes are fun, and kids will love the the artwork… adults may actually appreciate the message the story still manages to get across about how we treat others and how our actions can affect today and tomorrow. Who knows? You and your child may actually show feel a bit of sympathy for Ice King as he discovers just how the rest of Ooo feels about him. Just remember — if Scrooge can change, so can Ice King. No more Bah! Hum Butt!

Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Steampunk Carol

Okay, maybe an Adventure Time version of A Christmas Carol isn’t quite your style. If that’s the case, give this steampunk version a try! Running Press has done three additional outstanding steampunk branded classics in the past such as Steampunk Frankenstein, Steampunk Poe, and Steampunk H.G. As with those other titles, Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol provides the original text but mixes in new steam-infused artwork by Zdenko Basic. At over 200 pages and with over 45 full-color, full-page images, any steampunk fan is going to love Basic’s take on Scrooge and the ghosts (especially Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come) as well as the beautiful framing of each image.

In addition to the main story, the book also includes two short stories — “A Christmas Tree” and “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton.” I had read the former, but never the latter — a nice surprise!

Steampunk LEGO

LEGO Steampunk

My steampunk-loving heart is at full pressure! No Starch has produced some beautiful LEGO source books, filled with unique designs, build instructions (BIs), and professionally photographed dioramas, and its latest has really knocked the ball out of the park. My previous favorite (also from No Starch) was its LEGO Space: Building the Future, but it never really had a chance once I got word that Steampunk LEGO was coming out.

Starting with creations that ride the rails (or a double set of rails for the Ironclad-Class Light Double-Gauge Steam Railship on page 19), you are NOT going to believe your eyes when you see what the creator (Guy Himber) have come up with to fill these pages. Cars, bikes, automata, walking cities, ray guns, waterships, airships, and even steampunk versions of the X-Wing, Tie-Fighter, Y-wing, Millennium Falcon, and Imperial Coach for you Star Wars fans! And there’s hundreds more creations… many that defy classification. I’m in complete awe of Himber and how he managed to collect such an amazing collection of LEGO parts that fit the color, style, and mood of steampunk. The hardback book is 190+ pages of full-color imagery that will make any steampunk fan sit for hours looking at all the details, and that’s not even counting the fun to be had reading all the notes and communications between the various characters that inhabit the book. Well done, No Starch!

The Martian (paperback due out Oct 28, 2014)

The Martian

Written by Andy Weir, all I have to add about this beyond my original review is that the smaller-sized paperback is perfect for sticking in a high-schooler’s backpack (or your own) and will now make it easier to get this book into the hands of young inventors, scientists, and engineers.

Seriously, if you haven’t read this book… do so. BEFORE the movie comes out. It does have some NSFK language here and there, but I’d almost encourage any concerned parent to read the book and black out the bad words because the story is so incredible and motivating. Following along as astronaut Mark Watney tries to stay alive after being left behind on the Martian surface is fun… reading his solutions to food and water and oxygen shortages is even more crazy when you begin to understand the real science behind his solutions. You’ll also find an interview with Weir as well as a new essay titled “How Science Made Me a Writer,” a great little piece that describes how Weir came up with the story and his thoughts on the predicaments he tossed at his fictional hero.

Think Robinson Crusoe on Mars, with a healthy dose of Macgyver (with attitude) mixed in and you’ve got the general idea. I’m reading the book again… I loved it that much.

Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove

Gadget Glove

Nick and Tesla are brother-sister twins living with strange inventor Uncle Newt. This is the fourth book in the Nick and Tesla series, and once again the book provides a fun story along with a number of projects for the reader to build. Unlike previous books, however, all projects in this book are combined to create one amazing creation — the Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove. It has an LED flashlight, a voice recorder, a panic alarm, and a UV light for reading invisible ink. All the components for building the glove can be found at Radio Shack, and all that’s needed beyond that is a hot glue gun and a glove. The instructions for assembly are easy to follow, but parents may want to provide some help for younger inventors.

The story is fun, too — the X-Treme Learnasium is about to open but all the exhibits are going a bit haywire. Nick and Tesla suspect tampering, and it’s this storyline that will encourage young tinkerers to not only read, but to also perform the project tasks to see how Nick and Tesla actually solve the problems they encounter. My son and I will be building the glove (hopefully) this weekend, and I’ll try to get a post up soon showing our work. Young inventors are going to love this series, and I’m hoping Book 5 is in the works! Here’s are Link 1 and Link 2 and Link 3 to my earlier reviews of the three previous books.

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft


As a long-time fan of Lovecraft, I have been anxiously awaiting this book since I first heard of its development. If you’re not familiar with annotated books, just imagine your favorite novels or short stories supported with photos, historical documents, author notes, professional critiques, and more. Instead of footnotes, the annotations appear to the left or right of the original text, and  are numbered to match up to spots in the text where commentary will be useful and/or provide additional information that the editor (in this case, Leslie S. Klinger, who is also responsible for the three volumes making up the The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, another of my most cherished book collections) has selected.

With an introduction by Alan Moore, this 852-page book is a monster — a monster worthy of the subject in question. You’ll find a solid history of Lovecraft, with dozens of black and white photos, historical documents (including examples of his early childhood sketches and some communication), and even a color photo of his gravestone. There’s some substantial background on early critics and researchers of the man, and a lot of color images of the early magazines that would contain H.P.’s work. Of his seventy stories (written under his own name), Klinger has selected 22 that “exemplify the best of the author’s Arkham cycle…” and I have to smile when I see the selection and realize I’ve read them all… and many more than just a few. (For my English degree, I was fortunate to have professors that allowed me to focus many research papers on Poe, Doyle, Lovecraft and other Victorian-era writers who often were grouped in the “pulp” genre and not always viewed as acceptable literature for students to reference.)

I’m only about 1/4 through the book. It’s slow-going as I enjoy reading the commentary and examining the stories all while trying my best to forget what I know and experience them again “for the first time.” The hand-drawn map (Arkham, page 39 is a treasure, as is Innsmouth, page 594), the amazing artwork from Weird Tales 36 (page 59), the movie poster I remember so well for The Reanimator (1985), the original title image for Call of Cthulhu for Weird Tales 11, no 2 1928 *(page 123) as well as Lovecraft’s original drawing of the Cthulhu sculpture that helped define this creature’s look forever (page 126) and numerous photos of his handwritten manuscript pages…  and so many color photos of the various buildings that H.P. used as references for the locales in his stories… it’s a Lovecraft fan’s dream book. With over 300 illustrations and over 1000 annotations, there is zero doubt you’ll learn so many things about Lovecraft and his stories that you never knew before.

My goal is to finish this book by the end of the year — it’s going to be my holiday reading assignment. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

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