2017 in Review: Reading, Movies, and TV

Time enough at last!

Welcome to the 2017 edition of my annual Henry Bemis article, in which I reflect on the media I consumed over the last 365 days.

I read 23 books last year.

  1. The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  2. Arena Mode by Blake Northcott
  3. The Goblin Crown by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
  4. Saturdays at Sea by Jessica Day George
  5. Kingdom Keepers: The Return, Book 3: Disney At Last by Ridley Pearson
  6. Ones and Zeroes by Dan Wells
  7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  8. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  9. Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls by Raymond Arroyo
  10. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle
  11. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  12. Railsea by China Mieville
  13. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
  14. The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
  15. Prototype D by Jason D. Morrow
  16. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  17. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  18. Between the Shadow and Lo by Lauren Sapala
  19. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  20. Will Wilder: The Lost Staff of Wonders by Raymond Arroyo
  21. Uncertain Summer by Jessica Lee Anderson
  22. Fairy Keeper (World of Aluvia Book 1) by Amy Bearce
  23. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

The list would be longer, except near the end of November, I began reading Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. And it is a Very Long Book.

Going into the year, I was especially excited for Kingdom Keepers: The Return, Book 3: Disney At Last by Ridley Pearson and Saturdays at Sea by Jessica Day George, as each is the conclusion of a series I’ve much enjoyed. And I liked both of those books, too, but neither one was my favorite in its series.

My two favorites were The Night Circus and When You Reach Me. Both are really unique takes on common fantasy elements — magic and time travel, respectively — and I thoroughly enjoyed both.

Ones and Zeroes and The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre were reminders of why Dan Wells and Gail Carson Levine are two of my favorite authors. I’m at the point where I’ll buy any new book from either of them based solely on the byline.

Perhaps the most unlikely-for-me book on the list is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but it is one of the books that has stuck with me the longest. It might be the only one on the list this year that caused me to stay up way past my bedtime reading. Months later, I still remember specific scenes, and I’ve adopted some of Cather Avery’s phrases into my personal vocabulary. I adored that book.

I made it to a movie theater four times this year! That might be the most in-theater movies I’ve seen in a year since I was a teenager. Of the four, my favorites were Justice League and Wonder Woman. I really couldn’t pick one favorite between the two of them. Wonder Woman is undoubtedly the tighter, better-focused story, but the sheer fun factor of Justice League makes it equal. Plus, Justice League featured Superman giving The Flash a super-speed side-eye:


The other two movies I saw were Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast. I didn’t leave the theater dissatisfied a single time.

I wasn’t crazy about The Flash season 3, which I watched on Netflix. Savitar, Killer Frost, Doctor Alchemy… all of those aspects of the show were just OK or boring to me. But HR Wells was a gift to humanity. By far, he was the best Wells the show has featured yet. And the first half of season 4, which I’ve been watching every week on The CW? Amazing. The Thinker is the best villain the show has had since Reverse-Flash, and maybe better. This could be the best season yet.

Supergirl season 2 was good, but nothing like season 1. We finally got to see Superman, but we lost Cat Grant, at least for much of the season. And while Guardian is pretty cool, I think the writers have no idea what to do with Jimmy Olson anymore. I like Lena Luthor, though, and I’m glad she’s gotten a bigger role in season 3. But that’s about all the good I can say about the first half of season 3. It’s been OK. But Reign just doesn’t do much for me as a Big Bad. And why does Kara have to spend the season all mopey? Living Ray of Sunshine Kara is always the best part of Supergirl, along with the Danvers sisterhood.

Hey, here’s a game I play when watching Supergirl. See if you can spot all the times some kind of lame excuse is used to explain why Martian Manhunter can’t use one of his powers when that power would solve the current problem in seconds. “Darn, I can’t read their minds — they must have some kind of psychic shield!” “Would you look at that, I can’t phase through that wall for some reason. We’ll have to find another way in.”

The Crown season 1 was really great. Every episode left me eager to discuss it and to read Wikipedia articles about the real-life subjects. What I’ve seen so far of season 2 is equally good. Voltron seasons 3 and 4 were both excellent, but I wish they’d just kept them a single season. I especially loved the flashbacks to the creation of the lions and the original Alfor-led Voltron Force.

Stranger Things 2 is not on this list because I haven’t had a chance to sit down and watch it yet.

Looking Ahead
In 2018, the novel I’m most looking forward to is book 3 in Dan Wells’s Mirador series, Active Memory. In TV, I can’t get enough of The Flash season 4. I can’t wait to see how Barry’s fight against The Thinker ends… and at this point, The Thinker’s ultimate goal hasn’t even been revealed yet!

There is no movie I am more looking forward to than Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet.

It’s going to be a great year for people who like stories. Lord, please don’t let me break my glasses.

The season of hope


Photo by Garrett Anderson on Unsplash

It’s the Christmas season, the season of hope. Around this time last year, when I finished the first draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd, the sequel to Yesterday’s Demons, I mentioned how grateful I was to finish it at this time of year because hope is the book’s theme. It’s now one year and one draft later. I’ve spent a lot of that time thinking about hope, and I have some observations.


The three theological virtues, famously mentioned by St. Paul in the beautiful 1 Corinthians 13, are faith, hope, and love. “Everybody, everybody wants to love, and everybody, everybody wants to be loved,” as Ingrid Michaelson sings. I think faith is equally well understood. But I consider hope to be the most often confused theological virtue.

The Christian definition of faith is the belief in the truths God has revealed based solely on a personal decision to believe them. In a wider, more casual sense, it’s the belief in something despite a lack of physical evidence. The theological meaning of hope, on the other hand, is confidence in eternal life; its “pop culture” definition is, “I have no proof XYZ will happen, but I believe it will.”

Hope is sometimes incorrectly labeled as faith. “I have faith my team will win the championship!” No, you don’t. You hope your team will win the championship. This is a common confusion. Faith is a belief in past things you can’t see. Hope is the belief a certain future event will occur.

The most romantic of the three theological virtues is… well, it’s love, of course. But hope is a close second! Hope is at the very core of a lot of epic stories. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins is a living embodiment of Middle-earth’s hope for peace. Luke Skywalker is the embodiment of hope in Star Wars, and Rogue One teaches us rebellions are built on hope.

One of my favorite hopeful moments from any story is the ending of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Wish.” Cordelia’s wish for a Buffy-free world takes her to an alternate Sunnydale overrun with vampires. When Giles discovers Anya’s necklace is the talisman responsible for that dark world, he prepares to smash it.

Anya: “You trusting fool! How do you know the other world is any better than this?”
Giles: “Because it has to be.”

The opposite of hope is despair. And that brings me to my final observation. This world needs a lot more hope. We seem far more inclined to despair than to hope, and that’s sad.

I see this all the time in politics. I remember a co-worker in the early 2000s declared George W. Bush to be the worst President ever – “the worst!” I haven’t talked to that guy in some time, but I reckon since November 2016, he has a new candidate in mind for the “worst President ever” award, if you know what I mean. And Democrats aren’t the only ones who despair. Look at how many Republicans didn’t simply consider Barack Obama a President they disagreed with, but a President who was actively trying to destroy America.

Living in despair is no way to live. I’m not saying the injustices and challenges of the world should be ignored, but we should never see them as permanent or insurmountable. We should not despair, especially in this final week of the year.

This is the season of Christmas. This is the season of hope.

“Call Me Walt,” Part 2

Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Sharon is a recent college graduate who spends her work week at the lab and her weekends at Disneyland. She didn’t think her favorite place in the world could get any more magical, but that was before Walt Disney himself began spending every Disneyland Sunday with her. Only Sharon can tell that it’s him, and their time together is nothing but wonder, until Walt tells her she has a wish she’s not ready to make. What’s the real reason Walt befriended her?

“Call Me Walt” is my love letter to Disneyland and to the extraordinary man who created it. Part one was published last week. This is the conclusion of the story, published in celebration of this 116th anniversary of Walt’s birth.

Sharon watched Frontierland go by from her seat on the Disneyland Railroad. It was almost time for ice cream, but she was not in the mood for ice cream.

“Are we getting off at the Tomorrowland station?” Walt asked. “Or the next time we get to Main Street? Or shall we begin a third grand circle tour around the magic kingdom?”

The railroad chugged past the waterfalls. The secret entrance to the cave where they stored the floats for Fantasmic! was obvious if you knew where to look. And Sharon knew where to look. But she didn’t look.

When the train resumed after a brief stop at the Tomorrowland station, Walt folded his arms across the lapels of his suit. “If you leave what we do entirely up to me, I’ll tell you right now, we’re going to ride my railroad. A lot.”

“I read about Snow White,” Sharon said.

Walt raised one eyebrow. She speaks, at last.

“The first feature-length animated motion picture in history,” she said.

Walt nodded. His smile carried a wisp of pride. “You have seen it, haven’t you?”

“No one had ever made an animated feature before it,” she said. “What made you want to try?”

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” Walt said.

That cracked through Sharon’s malaise enough to make her smile.

“We were doing well with the Silly Symphonies and, of course, with Mickey,” Walt said. “But I knew we could do so much more. Took us a long time to get it right, though. Boy, we broke that story so many times. Went back and forth on what the Evil Queen should be like. And I don’t remember how many sets of seven dwarf names we went through.”

“Did they really call it Disney’s Folly?”

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“Call Me Walt,” Part 1

Photo by NASA, public domain. From Wikimedia Commons.

Sharon is a recent college graduate who spends her work week at the lab and her weekends at Disneyland. She didn’t think her favorite place in the world could get any more magical until the day she meets a man who sounds like Walt Disney and who looks like Walt Disney because he is Walt Disney. Sharon thinks the one thing she wants more than anything is the one thing she can never have. Can Walt teach her that at Disneyland, dreams really do come true?

“Call Me Walt” is my love letter to Disneyland and to the extraordinary man who created it. This is part one. The conclusion of the story will be published in one week, on December 5, the 116th anniversary of Walt’s birth.

The first thing Sharon bought with her first paycheck from her first real, post-college job was an annual pass to Disneyland.

Monday was work, Tuesday was work, Wednesday was work. Thursday was lots of work because the senior chemists enjoyed dumping grunt work onto a junior at 3:00 so they could be done for the week. Sharon spent Friday catching up after the Thursday pile-on, which made the day long, but mostly quiet. She picked up her Friday night feast of pho and french fries on the way home, then went out with friends. She’d only been in Irvine a short time, but she’d already made a decent-sized social circle. Being good at meeting new people and bad at being alone was a powerful combo. Saturday she took care of any chores that needed to get done, bought the groceries, and went to bed early because Sunday was Disneyland day.

She would wake up early and drive up to Anaheim. St. Justin Martyr had a 6:45 AM Mass which never lasted more than an hour. An adorable couple, Mr. and Mrs. Lester, had sort-of adopted her, and she sat with them every Sunday. They told her she felt like another daughter to them. They reminded Sharon of Carl and Ellie, with fewer balloons.

After Mass, it was a five-minute drive down Ball Road to the Mickey and Friends parking garage. Most days, she was on the first tram over to the parks. She’d pass through the gates, walk under the train trestle, and smile at the plaque above her which read, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” And once she got a glimpse of Sleeping Beauty Castle at the end of Main Street USA, she’d breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of thanks for having made it back one more time.

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Some thoughts on the financial well-being of STAR Labs employees

I don’t ask for a lot of believability in stories. I don’t mind that the Death Star makes a loud BOOM when it explodes in the middle of soundless outer space. I prefer violence in TV and film to be bloodless, even when really sharp blades are involved. Show me a hero standing in the middle of a hailstorm of bullets and not receiving so much as a scratch and I won’t have a problem with it. But there’s one aspect of my favorite currently running TV show, The Flash, that tests my willingness to suspend disbelief every time I think of it.

How in the multiverse are Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow paying their bills?


The Flash himself, Barry Allen, collects a paycheck from the Central City Police Department, where he works as a CSI. Iris West is a reporter. Detective Joe West, like Barry, is on the police payroll. They’re all financially secure.

But Cisco and Caitlin worked at STAR Labs for Dr. Harrison Wells at the time the lab’s particle accelerator exploded. It was established in numerous season one episodes that while Wells secretly planned this “disaster,” most of the world considered it a terrible accident. The incident left STAR Labs and Dr. Wells disgraced. Things were so bad, the STAR Labs building was never fully repaired, and it was declared a hazardous site. Four years later, it still features a visibly damaged exterior.

The financial fallout of the particle accelerator explosion – read: negligence lawsuits – should have sent STAR Labs into Chapter 11. If I remember correctly, the pilot episode said the company was headed towards bankruptcy. But on a more human level, Cisco and Caitlin refused to abandon Dr. Wells after the accident. They continued to work at STAR Labs, and they were part of the team that helped Barry discover and hone his speedster abilities. While this is a heartwarming display of loyalty, they still need to eat. How was STAR Labs bringing in enough money to pay their (not insignificant) mechanical and biological engineer salaries?

Idea 1:
Dr. Wells was secretly Eobard “Reverse Flash” Thawne, a super-villain from the future. Knowing exactly what kind of legal and financial trouble STAR Labs would find itself in post-explosion, he put lots of money away in legally sheltered funds. This allowed him to pay for electricity and pay the salaries of Cisco and Caitlin.

That could work, but at the end of season one, Wells was defeated, and he bequeathed STAR Labs to Barry Allen. How does the money keep coming in, post-Wells?

Idea 2:
Dr. Wells also left Barry all of his money, so after Wells’s death, business went on uninterrupted.

My problem with this idea is that I doubt Barry’s moral compass would allow him to keep and spend Wells’s probably illegally obtained cash. He’d take STAR Labs because it was the place from which he and his friends defend Central City. But he’d want a way to keep it financially viable independent of Wells’s shady funds.

Idea 3:
Barry’s rich friend, Oliver Queen, could foot the bill to keep STAR Labs running after Wells’s death.

Could be. But, while I don’t watch Arrow, my understanding is Ollie has lost most of his money. Isn’t Felicity Smoak also rich though, too? A big strike against this idea is that in season three when Barry offers the use of a STAR Labs hangar (that looked a lot like the Hall of Justice) to his team, Team Arrow, the Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl, he says he owns the facility. If Ollie or Felicity was bankrolling STAR Labs, wouldn’t they now own it? Considering they were both present when Barry said he owned it, wouldn’t they have corrected him?

Besides, STAR Labs being bankrolled by someone from Team Arrow seems to me like something too big to not mention. Then again, I may be the only person crazy enough to be bothered by this. (Or not!)

Idea 4:
STAR Labs is bankrolled by Bruce Wayne.

We now know he does exist in Earth-1 of the CW DC Universe!

Idea 5:
Cisco and Caitlin live off income from some sweet patents they own.

They’re both geniuses. They’ve both invented new tech to help Barry defeat a criminal metahuman multiple times. And I’m confident they’re smart enough to monetize those inventions. But if this is the case, then in early season two, when Barry temporarily shut down Team Flash, why did Caitlin go work for Mercury Labs? Was it just because she loves her job that much? Or did she have bills to pay? And of course, while this would explain how Cisco and Caitlin get their money, it wouldn’t explain how STAR Labs, as a company, continues to pay its property taxes and water bill.

Personally, I think the answer is a little bit of all of these ideas.

  • I think Cisco and Caitlin both own some patents and that they collect a little money from them, but not enough to live on.
  • I think Dr. Wells continued to pay them, even after the particle accelerator explosion, and I think after taking ownership of STAR Labs, Barry continues to pay them.
  • I think their salaries must include an extra stipend towards buying their own personal health insurance, because what group health provider is going to offer a plan to a company with only two employees, whose corporate office is a “class four hazardous location”?
  • I think Dr. Wells, a speedster who has mastered time travel far more than Barry ever has (and who paid the price for it), obtained his wealth by putting money in a savings account in the past and living off the beaucoup interest.
  • I think when Barry came into possession of this wealth, he was OK with spending it since the only laws Wells broke in obtaining it were the laws of physics.
  • And I think Barry gives Cisco and Caitlin matching 401(k), continuous education via a generous training stipend, and an extravagant Christmas bonus every year because he’s Barry Allen, the fastest, and nicest, man alive.

That’s my headcanon, and I’m sticking to it. Now don’t even get me started about how CatCo must have an unlimited PTO policy because if they didn’t, Kara Danvers would have been fired halfway through Supergirl season one due to all of her sudden absences from work.

Tomorrow’s Shepherd Cover Reveal

I’m very pleased to reveal to the world the cover of my next book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, the second book of The Verdant Revival.

eBook Cover

Tomorrow’s Shepherd shifts the focus of The Verdant Revival from sword-wielding blacksmith Siv McCaig to his best friend, socially awkward, mechanical genius Fritz Reinhardt. With the alien white demons defeated, Fritz embarks on a worldwide effort to restore the planet’s chipware. He’s the only person who can repair planet Verde’s ancient technology, lost two centuries prior. The promises of instantaneous communication, vastly improved medicine and hygiene, and labor-saving tools fill most people with ecstatic hope for an easier life. But a powerful minority remembers technology’s faults: loss of privacy, deadly high-tech weapons, and devastating environmental impact.

These critics find a powerful ally in Lady Verde, the living spirit of the planet, who demands an end to the technological restoration. How can Fritz build a better future when the planet itself is fighting against him? How will Fritz and his friends defend the people when their planet turns deadly? And what secret is Lady Verde hiding?

Fritz is featured on the cover clad in a high-tech chipware suit. And what is that massive robot he’s just tackled? Back in August, I dropped the hint that Tomorrow’s Shepherd features two villains, and both were mentioned by name in Yesterday’s Demons. The first is Lady Verde. The second is the Steelterrors, a group of giant, sentient robots who nearly destroyed the ancient world a thousand years ago. The Steelterror on the cover doesn’t look too happy to be taken down by a lowly “blood bag,” does it? Fritz is in for quite the fight.

Here’s the entire picture you’ll see on the front and back covers of the paperback edition. Click on it to view it full size.

Tomorrow's Shepherd Cover - Full

The illustrator of this cover is Tommaso Renieri, a gifted artist and a true professional. I’m blessed to have found him, and it was a pleasure to work with him on this piece.

Tomorrow’s Shepherd will be available in ebook and paperback in 2018. I’m currently hard at work finishing it. Check back soon for more updates. I can’t wait to tell you this story!

Tomorrow’s Shepherd cover reveal coming soon

TS Tiny Cover TeaserI have some exciting news today! Next week, I’ll be revealing the cover of my next book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, book two of The Verdant Revival. That reveal will happen right here, on this blog, but a sneak peek will first go out to everyone who subscribes to my newsletter.

I send my newsletter a handful of times a year, anytime I have something I’m especially happy to report. If you’re not already a newsletter subscriber, please become one.

Whatever channel you prefer, stay tuned! You’re soon going to get your first glimpse at Tomorrow’s Shepherd.