Reviews - Fiction

Favorite Books A - Z: Fiction by Todd Henson

Some of my favorite books, from A to Z. Missing books were borrowed or read as ebooks.

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

From time to time I like to talk about things that aren’t directly related to photography, especially when they involve passion and inspiration. And I feel very passionate about and gain inspiration from reading, whether it be prose, poetry, graphic works, or non-fiction.

With this in mind, a couple fiction blogs I frequent recently posted lists with a favorite book for each letter of the alphabet. I thought this was a great idea and loved reading through their selections. It got me wondering whether I’ve even read a book for each letter, so I started going through my goodreads lists and my physical book shelves, and below is what I was able to come up with.

If you enjoy this then try to create a list of your own. It’s not easy, but it can be a lot of fun. And check out the lists that inspired my own:


A - Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds

I’ve loved Alastair Reynolds’ work since I read his first book, Revelation Space. These are far future stories often set in space but sometimes set on planets. Perhaps the fact he used to work as a space scientist helps him create stories that just blow me away.

 
 

B - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief was such a moving story. I couldn’t put this book down. Set in Nazi Germany, about a young girl who finds herself drawn to books. Very touching.

 
 

C - City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

This is the second book of a series, and I’ve still not read the first. But this didn’t stop me enjoying this fascinating fantasy story that felt very different from most others I’ve read.

 
 

D - Dracula by Bram Stoker

I grew up absolutely loving, and being terrified of, vampires. And for me Dracula is still one of the most compelling stories about them.

 
 

E - The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks

This was one of the very first fantasy books I read, and after I finished I couldn’t wait to find and read more. I’ve always had a soft spot for Terry Brooks’ writing, and it all began with the Elfstones.

 
 

F - Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Sometimes you can’t beat the classics. Frankenstein, the book, was so very different from the movie versions I’d seen, and in my opinion, a much more compelling story.

 
 

G - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

What drew me to this book was the title. I was fascinated to learn what it was all about. And once I started reading I soon found myself reading the second and third books in the series. Very engaging and hard hitting.

 
 

H - The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

How could I possibly leave out Douglas Adams? Such a funny, fascinating, and strange story, it will likely always remain a favorite.

 
 

I - It by Stephen King

It may be my favorite Stephen King novel. He does such a great job writing kids, I just find myself being sucked into their lives and all the troubles they find. Granted, I was a little disappointed with the ending, but overall It still remains a favorite.

 
 

J - Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Recreating dinosaurs. What could possibly go wrong? The movies were fun, but as is almost always the case, I find myself much preferring the book.

 
 

K - Kabuki by David Mack

This is the only graphic work I chose to include in my list. I wanted to keep it just prose works, but Kabuki had such an impact on me I had to include it. David Mack has written a fascinating set of stories, but I’m also drawn to his incredible art, which is very different from anything I’d ever seen in comics. If I were to choose a prose novel instead of these graphic ones it would likely be The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan.

 
 

L - The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m treating this as a single novel instead of a trilogy. This is another work that had a tremendous impact on me growing up. After reading Terry Brooks I’d heard about Tolkien so I gave him a try. And I’ve been reading him ever sense, sometimes rereading this series, and sometimes reading from his other works.

 
 

M - The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian was a very personal story with a protagonist I immediately liked. How do you survive on Mars when you’re left there alone with limited resources? Great story.

 
 

N - The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss has a way with words, and this is one of my favorite books both for the story and the way in which he tells the story. I look forward to rereading it before the final book in the trilogy is released.

 
 

O - The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Such a short and beautiful story. Neil Gaiman is another who has a way with words, and whose works really draw me in. I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully magical modern fantasy.

 
 

P - Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy is the first book in a longer series, the first I’d read by David Eddings. I don’t recall much about them now, other than knowing I thoroughly enjoyed them when I was younger.

 
 

Q - Quarantine by Greg Egan

Quarantine was the first book I read by Greg Egan, and I loved it. He took science fiction in directions that were new to me. His stories can be very cerebral and full of ideas.

 
 

R - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I was the perfect audience for Ready Player One, having grown up with the games and movies referenced in the story. A fast paced and fun read. I had a hard time picking just one book for R, and so I’ll also mention Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds, the first book of his I’d read.

 
 

S - The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I was entranced by The Shadow of the Wind and would very much like to reread it soon. I love books about books, and so a book about a hidden library of forgotten books was right up my alley. A magical story. As with R, I had a very difficult time choosing just one book, so I want to mention The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, a very different and personal sort of tale that has really stayed with me. Both beautiful books.

 
 

T - Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein

I had to include Heinlein somewhere in the list. I’ve not read one of his books in quite some time, but growing up I loved them, and Time Enough for Love was one of my favorites.

 
 

U - The Unreasoning Mask by Philip Jose Farmer

A strange but fascinating story, possibly the first I read by Farmer. I certainly hope it isn’t the last I read by him.

 
 

V - The Vagrant by Peter Newman

This book differs from most of the other speculative fiction I read, and it really drew me in. A main protagonist who never speaks? I wouldn’t have thought it would work, but it did. This was the strongest book of the series.

 
 

W - A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I had to include Ursula K. Le Guin in my list somewhere, and where better than A Wizard of Earthsea. Long before Harry Potter, this was my introduction to a school of wizards and the problems kids can cause, both for themselves and others.

 
 

X - Xenogenesis by Octavia Butler

I read Xenogenesis as a single book instead of the originally published series. This was my introduction to Butler, and it left me wanting to read more of her works.

 
 

Y - A Bad Spell in Yurt by C. Dale Brittain

I didn’t have anything that started with Y so I had to get a little creative. A Bad Spell in Yurt is a simple, fun, fantasy read. It’s perfect when you want an entertaining story that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

 
 

Z - . . .

I have nothing yet to fill the slot for Z, so I wasn’t quite able to finish the list. I do, however, own a couple Z books that may one day let me complete this. The most likely book to one day fill this spot is Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi. I have, so far, enjoyed everything I’ve read by Scalzi.


And, of course, this being a website mostly about photography, I’m also working on a list of photography books, as well as non-fiction books. I’ll post those in the coming weeks, though they may have more missing letters than did this list.


Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth - Book Review by Todd Henson

Front and back cover of  Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth

Front and back cover of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

I watched Pan’s Labyrinth in the theaters the year it came out (2006), and it proved to be my favorite movie that year. I love Guillermo del Toro’s work, and thus far Pan’s Labyrinth has remained my favorite of his movies. The book, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: Inside the Creation of a Modern Fairy Tale, by Mark Cotta Vaz and Nick Nunziata, was published in 2016 to mark the 10th anniversary of the movie. I won a copy of this book through a giveaway at tor.com, and I’m very pleased I did. This is a beautiful hardcopy book full of all sorts of details about the making of the film, from behind the scene photos, to concept art, set design, pages from notebooks, storyboards, and lots of interesting text to go along with it all. I love the design of this book. It’s full of inserts glued to the pages. It really gives it the feel of a scrap book created during the making of the movie. As with the movie there are so many fascinating and creative visuals to keep the reader’s/viewer’s interest.

Shows a translucent colored Faun overtop the initial sketch.

Shows a translucent colored Faun overtop the initial sketch.

Lifting the translucent insert you can see the initial sketch.

Lifting the translucent insert you can see the initial sketch.

Guillermo del Toro considers Pan’s Labyrinth the second movie in an imagined trilogy. The first movie was The Devil’s Backbone, another great film. It was set in 1939, the final year of the Spanish Civil War, and centered on an orphanage run by a couple who were loyal to the Republican forces. Pan’s Labyrinth is set in 1944 after the Fascists took control of Spain, but continue to battle Republican holdouts. It centers on an old mill with some people secretly aiding the Republicans. And as noted in the book, “in both stories, an innocent child is driven to a foreboding new home (the orphanage in The Devil’s Backbone; the mill in Pan’s Labyrinth), the supernatural manifests itself the first day in daylight and nighttime, and reality and fantasy intertwine.”

In this film you walk in the shoes of this little girl who is pure, innocent, and sensitive. As she learns, you learn. Even though she’s in the middle of all this horror, once you’re in the mind of a child that has all this imagination and purity of heart anything can happen.
— Guillermo Navarro, director of photography

These stories touch on real events, but are set in fictional settings. They are not just retellings of history, but are fantasy or horror tales that reveal some of the terrible evils of people, along with the fragility of innocence. Guillermo says that “fantasy is a language that allows us to explain, interpret, and reappropriate reality. It is not an escape and I’m very vehement about that.”

The inset storyboard on the right is actually a small booklet.

The inset storyboard on the right is actually a small booklet.

See the opened storyboard booklet.

See the opened storyboard booklet.

Guillermo drew together an amazing team to make Pan’s Labyrinth, both behind and in front of the camera. The book introduces many of them, such as director of photography Guillermo Navarro, who worked behind the camera on other films with del Toro, production designer Eugenio Caballero, visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell, actor Serge Lopez who plays the cruel Captain Vidal, actor Doug Jones who is covered in prosthetics as the Faun, actress Ivana Baquero who plays the young Ofelia, CafeFX who produces some of the amazing visuals, and many others.

On this film I learned a lot from Guillermo Navarro about how to light something and how not to light in terms of purposely keeping things in shadow. And Guillermo del Toro basically taught me how to direct.
— Everett Burrell, visual effects supervisor

I really enjoyed learning about some of the subtle, or not so subtle, concepts or effects used in the film, things I often did not specifically notice, but knowing about them now and re-watching the film adds an extra layer to the experience. For example, the movie has 3 major journeys and they chose to use 3 color hues to represent these journeys. The first journey is reality, the world of Spain, with Ofelia and her mother trying to make a new life for themselves with Captain Vidal, who is in charge of the Fascist forces stationed at the mill. The real world uses blue hues and feels cold. The second journey is when Ofelia is in the fantasy realms, when she is working to complete the tasks given to her by the Faun. This journey uses warm colors. The third, and final, journey is when Ofelia enters the underworld kingdom, and for this they chose red and gold hues. It works so well. This is reminiscent of the green hue used in the movie, The Matrix. Even if you don’t realize how the hues are being used it does affect how the film looks and feels during the scenes that use them. Very powerful. And these are the kinds of things photographers can pick up from watching these sorts of movies. Paying attention to how color is used, how light is manipulated to create the moods and effects throughout a film. There’s much we still image makers can learn from film makers.

The beginning of chapter 5 from the book.

The beginning of chapter 5 from the book.

Showing photos, production sketches, and models.

Showing photos, production sketches, and models.

Towards the end of the book Guillermo del Toro says he wants to finish this Spanish Civil War trilogy soon. He says the third movie will be called 3993 because the movie will open and close on a perfect circle. He mentions how The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak, also were circular, how something from the beginning of the movie has new meaning as the movie ends. He is very deliberate in how he structures his movies, adding elements and meaning, weaving together fantasy, horror, and reality, and in doing so he entertains, gives small glimpses of history, and perhaps teaches a little about the good and bad of humanity.

I always believe things happen for the best. Everyone thinks of the director as a dictator, but it’s not that. You know when you have to do it the way you want it. But I think the big difference in being a first-time director, and one who has directed six or ten movies, is that with experience you learn to identify adversity not as adversity, but as opportunity. That distinction makes you much more flexible.
— Guillermo del Toro
Front and back of  Pan's Labyrinth  DVD

Front and back of Pan's Labyrinth DVD

Front and back cover of  Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities

Front and back cover of Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a great addition to the library of anyone who fell in love with the film and wants to learn more about both the film and those who created it. And if you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s work you might also enjoy the book, Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities - My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions, which I also own.

Cabinet of Curiosities has sections about each of del Toro’s creations as of its publication, as well sections about some of his unfinished works, and other topics important to del Toro. The book doesn’t have the three dimensional inserts contained in the Pan’s Labyrinth book, but it is full of the same sorts of content. I really enjoy both of these books. Check them out if you enjoy Guillermo del Toro’s films. And if you’ve never seen Pan’s Labyrinth, give it a try. You just might enjoy it.


Book Review - Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope by Todd Henson

Today I want to share a review of another work of fiction I recently finished reading. I do this to encourage everyone to look for inspiration everywhere, not just in photography. Read a novel or a biography. Watch a fantastic movie or a fascinating documentary. You may not initially find anything specific in these things that inspire your photography, but everything we read, watch, or experience changes and shapes us, and over time this will affect and improve your creativity. Exposing yourself to the ideas of others can help you develop your own.

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links, at no extra cost to you. I received my copy of Collecting the Dead from a giveaway at CriminalElement.com, a site for folks who love “mysteries, thrillers & all things killer…”

On to the review:

Collecting the Dead, by Spencer Kope, is a thriller about a special team within the FBI called the Special Tracking Unit, who are known for their unique ability to track down criminals and victims when no one else can. The key to the team is Magnus Craig, who goes by the nickname Steps and has been dubbed by the media “The Human Bloodhound.” He and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan, work closely in the field, Steps tracking, and Jimmy backing him up. The third member of their team is Diane, who is always working in the background performing research and coordination.

But it turns out Steps is not really a tracker, though he has slowly learned some of those skills over the years. His real skill is an ability that lets him see where people have been, where they’ve walked, what they’ve touched. It’s like an aura of some kind, almost a residue. He calls it shine, and it is the reason he can track like no one else. Of course, as any gift of this sort, it comes with its own set of problems that Steps has learned to deal with. Very few people know of his ability, and he tries to keep it that way. His father knows. His partner Jimmy knows. And the FBI director knows. That’s all.

The book opens with a case to demonstrate Steps’ abilities and how he and his partner work. It also introduces Steps’ sense of humor which surfaces throughout the book to very good effect. It keeps the book from becoming too dark or depressing. It’s a way people in this line of work can cope and it fits in well in the book.

After solving the initial case the book jumps right into the main case, that of a serial killer who comes to be known as the Sad Face Killer for the calling card he leaves at each crime scene. As happens with serial killers, you don’t always know that’s what you have when you first begin investigating. But as evidence mounts, and background searches reveal other victims with the same patterns, it becomes apparent. In Steps case he knows it without a doubt. Every person has their own shine, each unique, each with its own colors and textures, and he sees the killer’s shine at each crime scene. By seeing this shine he finds clues no one else can.

Once he’s seen your shine he always remembers it. If he runs into your trail years later he knows it’s you. This can be a blessing in tracking down killers, but can also be a curse when he’s not able to find the criminal, when they keep alluding him, even with his ability. But this doesn’t happen often.

I loved Kope’s descriptions of shine, how Steps always sees it and over time learned how to tone it down a bit. And how he learned to identify each persons unique shine. Being a photographer who likes to occasionally experiment with infrared photography, I tend to picture shine almost as the unique glow you get with infrared photos, how living things just seem to shine, to glow, in a way they never do in life or in normal photographs. But of course with shine each person has their own unique color and texture, something lacking in an infrared photograph.

The shine is something that is left on physical things, it’s a trail of sorts. But when the killer gets in a truck and drives away the shine disappears in the parking lot. Steps can track it to where the truck was, but after that it’s gone. So there’s still a lot of old fashioned detective work that has to be done to track down both killers and victims. That’s where Jimmy and Diane come in. And that’s what much of the novel focuses on, looking for one more clue, something to get them closer to the killer, while always seeming one step behind.

Sometimes they don’t get there in time. People do die. “We save the ones we can,” they say to each other, trying to believe they do the best they can, trying to believe saving some is enough. But it doesn’t feel like enough to Steps. So he collects the dead, keeping photos of each person he wasn’t able to save, so he never forgets. But he’s tired of collecting the dead. He doesn’t want to add any more photos to his collection.

I really enjoyed this book. Steps was a fascinating character, and perfectly paired with his partner Jimmy. Steps cares about the people he tries to save. It tears him apart when he fails someone. This added a real level of emotion to the story, left me with that sinking feeling when things went wrong. I was easily able to get caught up in the lives of these characters. I wanted to see them succeed, to find the killer, and to do it before he killed another victim. The ending was a very emotional one and left me a little exhausted, but very satisfied. Collecting the Dead was a self-contained story, but also set itself up for a sequel. I strongly suspect I’ll end up reading that one after it’s released.

Let me know what you think of Collecting the Dead if you do read it.