The Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015

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So a few weeks before Christmas, I put out my “Best of” list for short stories, fully intending to do the same for books and movies and who knows what. Then…I didn’t. But, I don’t want to leave it all hanging out there, so I’m combining lists and putting out a “Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015” list. You’ll find movies, books, places, people and more. I tried to think of the entire past calendar year, but I know I missed a thing or two I loved. Forgive me. So…here’s my list:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

bb-8_14e2ad77I’ve seen the newest Star Wars film twice now and yet it seems like we’ve just shaken hands. I can’t even tell you how many times I saw IV, V, and VI as a kid. We had the movies on VHS and I watched them over and over and over. I loved them all and when Lucas re-released them in theatres with the latest effects, my dad made sure all of us kids were sitting in the seats.

Then the Prequels. Ugh. Like so many others I wanted to like them. Like so many others I was disappointed. I barely remember watching them and I know I’ve only seen Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith once each. And I know with the final movie I only saw it so I could say I did. There was no hype. No anticipation. No excitement.

Not so here. There are haters, but they can forget about trying to get me to hate it. It checked all the boxes for me and established new characters I care about. A re-tread? Hardly. Similar storybeats, but so was Harry Potter. So have been stories throughout the ages. I am an unabashed fan and I don’t care who knows.

Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

weaponsmass_cvr_lrgBruns and Olson have a great book on their hands, I think. Reading this book brought be right back to the hours and hours I spent reading Tom Clancy’s books when I was in high school and college. Clancy had a knack for telling a complicated story with complex international political ramifications and making me care about it. With Weapons of Mass Deception, Bruns and Olson have done the same. The book is a tremendous achievement and I can only hope that the two coordinate their efforts again to give us more books like this down the road.

Jessica Jones / Daredevil

David-Tennant-Jessica-Jones-Poster-Doctor-Who-BrasilI’m lumping these two together. The first two Marvel properties developed for Netflix and both were daring (pun intended) and showed us a side of Marvel we didn’t know we would ever get on the screen. In Daredevil we got a great introduction to the dirty underbelly of New York and were made aware early on that anything goes. Daredevil showed us that in violence, but keeping with the theme of Murdock’s blindness, a lot was kept in the dark and at night. That violence was brought to light big time in Jessica Jones. I loved Jessica Jones. I think I liked it better than Daredevil and that is saying a lot. As a father of a pre-teen girl, I am worried about the world she’ll grow up in and the boys she may date. As a high school teacher, I see a lot of borderline abusive relationships as well. In Jessica Jones, we see those relationships personified in the villain Kilgrave. What a performance and in a way it’s a shame what the end result was for his character. I’m looking forward to what Marvel and Netflix will be cooking up for us in 2016.

Chicago Architectural Tour

BoatTour2_NatalieTaylorI went on a school trip to Chicago early in the summer and one of the things we did was this. If you ever get the chance, it is a great trip up and down the Chicago River with historical context for nearly every one of the buildings along the shore. There is a lot of new building going on and the new Trump Tower gets its fair share of criticism, but I daresay that is part of what has spurred the new developments along the route. The day we went ended up being a lot colder than we anticipated, but I still wound up fascinated by what I saw and heard along the tour.

Constitution/Warrior by Nick Webb

warriorThese books were great. So great that when I was buying Christmas gifts, I bought them in paperback for my dad. He’s hard to shop for, but he’s a military space sci-fi nut, so I knew I was safe with these books. I enjoyed Constitution, but I wasn’t sure what Webb would give us in the follow up. Wow. He really set up a complex and interesting backstory for each side in the conflict (and there are many more than two) and set up a potentially explosive third book in this series. If you like action and intrigue in your science fiction, check out Nick Webb’s books.

Ant Man

The last movie I remember smiling about so much in the theatre before Star Wars was Ant Man. Such a great movie. Really impressed me with its humor and vibe. Just as Daredevil and Jessica Jones redefined Marvel for the TV audience, so did Ant Man for films after the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. I love the nods to Avengers and how it all fits in with the larger universe without feeling too small.

My Newest Book Cover

Coming Soon…. Check this out:

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The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott

I’d read the book by Andy Weir last year so I can’t credit that here, but the movie exceeded all my expectations. I have been burned too many times by books turned into terrible movies, and so when Scott managed to turn The Martian into not only a decent movie, but a GREAT movie, I was thrilled. Matt Damon did a fantastic job and I thought the changes made from book to film were slight and appropriate for the conversion to the movie theatre.

ALL the short stories

11160045_10207031928225789_1011873126454258904_oI read a lot of short stories in 2015. A LOT. I already did my Best of list for just short stories, so I’m not going to rehash them here, but if you like short fiction, you need to check out the Future Chronicles curated by Samuel Peralta. Some great works by a lot of amazing authors. (Myself included, Full Disclosure.)

My Family

Over the summer I had the opportunity to see a lot of family. My wife and I went on a joint vacation to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with her parents. Unlike some, I do like my in-laws and we had a great kick-off to the summer and good stories for years to come.

We also had a family reunion for my family. My sister lives a couple states away and my older brother is over 2,000 miles away, so getting us all together is easier said than done. Fortunately it worked out and we all met at my parents’ home for a few days. Unfortunately, my 99-year-old grandmother passed away in North Dakota the same week, sending my parents off to handle that business. All of my siblings were able to make it for the funeral, but it did put a bit of a damper on the overall summer get-together. Regardless, it was a great time to see people I don’t typically get to see.

The Dark Man/The White Night by Desmond Doane

26105206A different kind of books than Webb’s offerings, but still just as compelling. If I was going to put out a Best Books of 2016 list, I really think The White Night would have held the top spot. Who is Desmond Doane? That’s the penname for Ernie Lindsey, an accomplished author on his own, but for these horror/supernatural books, he wanted a little edge he couldn’t provide as himself, so Desmond Doane was born. The first book is good, but the second…man, I couldn’t put it down. There was a moment – and you’ll get there too – when I read it and I had to send a message to Ernie cursing him out for what he did to me. I couldn’t wait to write up my review for it and I am strongly anticipating the third book in his Graveyard: Classified series in 2016.

Humbird Cheese, Toma, Wisconsin

humbird-cheese-mart-910750A must stop on our family trips to North Dakota. On our way up for the funeral, we had to stop here. If you love cheese, this is a great place with free samples of nearly all the varieties of cheese. Me? I love a good smoked cheddar and buffalo wing-flavored cheese curds.

Collider Movie Talk on YouTube

We ditched the Dish this year. After over 10 years with either Dish Network or DirecTV, we finally cut the cord so to speak. We rely on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu for most of our traditional TV viewing. However, I’ve come to expect one show each day – Collider Movie Talk on YouTube. Each day, John Campea leads a panel discussion show to discuss movie reviews, box office returns and general movie news. It isn’t dry – each of the hosts have their own unique brand of humor and their passion of movies and genre movies in particular is infectious. In addition to Movie Talk, they also produce weekly shows for comics (Heroes) and Star Wars (Jedi Council) as well as a plethora of TV show recap episodes. If you like entertainment news that isn’t just Kardashian this and Kanye that, check this out.

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Captain America, Bacon and other suggestions

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READER MAILBAG #2

I did this a while ago and thought I’d do it again this weekend. A smattering of my thoughts on a variety of subjects. Thanks to Forbes West, Jeff Carter, Debbie Robbins, Thomas Robins (no relation), Jen George, Travis Mohrman, and my brother for the ideas.


With the impending release of Captain America 2: ‘Merica, I wish to share a story with you. This story will go to show the vast differences between my wife and me (besides the obvious).

So this year for Halloween, my 9-year-old daughter went as Hermione from Harry Potter (she was adorable). While we were out trick-or-treating, we came across more than a few of my wife’s elementary school students. One in particular caught her eye and she exclaimed, “What are you, Captain America?”

Image<——–The boys costume looked more like this.

Yep. That’s Thor. A few weeks later, I was shopping at our local Wally World and came upon this cup and bought a “Captain America” cup for my bride.

She will never live this down.

And on that note, I am pretty psyched about the newest movie in the Marvel universe. In fact, my wife was bemoaning the fact there was a lack of black superheroes just yesterday and I was able to tell her that Falcon, (in fact, the first black superhero) is in the movie. It’ll be nice to have Falcon and hopefully other black superheroes for when I finally bring my son home from Africa.


On a separate note — Bacon.

Consider this: You have been gifted a magnificent ability. You realize one afternoon that your touch can turn the simplest of items into bacon.

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Bacon Candles. (Note — NOT real bacon)

Bread = bacon. Potato chips = bacon. Green beans = bacon. Mushrooms = bacon. Bacon = bacon.

Of course, like any gift, this ability has drawbacks. Your clothes instantly become a slab of pork belly. Grease covers you from head to toe. You attempt to shower, only to find the water becomes little pellets of bacon bits that sprinkle you from above. I know, I know. It sounds delicious and amazing, but you can no longer leave the house. In fact, your house is slowly becoming a giant slab of bacon. (Thankfully, the north-facing side is Canadian bacon — that is, ham.)

Then, you go to bed…bacon wrapped blankets and all, and in the morning you wake to the crackle and smell of smoke. Your house is on fire…check that…it is crisping. Your neighbors have been driven to insanity watching and smelling your house for the past day and will stop at nothing to get at the salty pork fat.

As you lie in your bed, you munch on your cellphone and wait to perish with the rest of your glorious bacon. You realize no one should have this much power. With great power comes great responsibility and you can’t let this ability fall into the wrong hands.

mmmmm….bacon….


I’m just going to leave this bit of knowledge right here:

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Yesterday my wife and I sold our Pontiac Grand Am. We’d had the car for over a decade and it had been a good car. I used it extensively for driving to and from sporting events while working as a sports reporter and it survived a trip to North and South Dakota about six years ago.

It was a bit unexpected so we hadn’t cleaned it out yet. We found a lot of gross things (a pair of pliers covered in the remnants of exploded ketchup packets from the glovebox and a bottle of oil which had leaked in the back seat among others), some odd items (a racketball racket, multiple pens and pencils — the newspaper job, remember) and some nice memories. I found a custom-made Veggie Tales CD with Molly’s name inserted into various songs we used to play on trips. I found a dead watch my wife gave me for an anniversary gift. I sold the car that we brought our daughter home from the hospital in.

We did some cleaning and sold the vehicle. It was a bittersweet day for sure.


I also had a request today to talk about Southern Illinois defecting from the rest of the state and being annexed into Missouri. I must say, that is a fine idea. The corruption and waste of Illinois is well-known, but most people don’t realize the corruption is mostly limited to a fairly small area — Chicago.

Now, I don’t have anything against Chicago, but there is no way for Southern Illinois to be able to swing votes in the General Assembly because they simply lack the votes. I think Illinois could be a great state if everyone could just get along, but even when the House, Senate, and Governor are all Democrats, they can’t get anything accomplished. What a shame.

I’m all for joining Missouri or Indiana. Bring it on.


On a final note, here is a trippy picture of a cat.

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