BOOK: The Rook Crew (2017)

The Rook Crew Year: 2017 Author: Mirella Muffarotto Length: 488 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Usually, when I enter a Goodreads Giveaway, I have an expectation for what the book is about via the title and the cover. With The Rook Crew, my expectations were way off. With the cover, I was expecting a shoujo (a Japanese term signifying an audience comprised of female teenagers) light novel. I didn’t know what to think about the title, but I honestly can’t say it has anything to do with this book. “The Rook Café” is a location in this book that’s visited maybe a half-dozen times, with no indication of why it’s significant or unique. Likewise, the “crew” that visits The Rook Café regularly was never fleshed out beyond the main characters and one or two minor ones. If it were me, I’d title the book something like Soccer Sweetheart, which would accurately convey the sports/romance aspects of the book. I will admit that the pacing is...
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BOOK: Thing Explainer (2015)

Thing Explainer Year: 2015 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 64 pages Growing up in the 1990’s, one of the defining books that helped me understand the world around me was David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work. Using “cartoonish” drawings of plenty of everyday (and not so everyday) machines, I gained plenty of useful knowledge that probably led me to eventually earn my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2009. While Macaulay’s illustrations were straight forward enough that they didn’t need explanations, some concepts around today certainly need some words to help gain an understanding of the way things work. Enter Randall Munroe, famed “xkcd” webcomic author and an all around smart guy. In late 2012, he published a comic that described each of the systems in NASA’s Saturn V rocket with simple words. Described as “U.S. Space Team’s Up Goer Five,” the concept of using shorter, more common words to explain complicated concepts came to its full fruition in Thing Explainer. Using the thousand most common words, Munroe...
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MOVIE: The Circle (2017)

The Circle Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours In an ever-increasingly digital world, practically everyone online is concerned with privacy. Of course, we are willing to give up this privacy to make our lives more convenient. In The Circle (2017), the eponymous corporation is merely a stand-in for Google/Facebook/Amazon/Apple and is essentially a conglomeration of sorts of these tech companies. Of course, just like that antiquated operating system you’ve meant to update, The Circle contains a premise about five years too late. When the book this movie was based on came out, I’m sure it was thought-provoking; now it’s more a matter of “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this already.” Part of what strikes me about this film is that several segments of it probably worked better in the book. When I’m watching characters explain “mandatory fun” I can’t help but cringe and wonder if it reads better than the performance I saw. Granted, there are segments which are better on the...
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BOOK: The Other Side of Magik (2006)

The Other Side of Magik Year: 2006 Author: Michael Lingaard Length: 411 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** The “fish out of water” plot device is not new by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it’s an interesting way to provide exposition in a fantasy world when an individual from our world comes to visit, but often the differences aren’t fully considered. Of course, there are good examples of this form of storytelling. From Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to Marvel’s Thor (2011), both directions of the “world swap” transaction can provide entertainment. Unfortunately, The Other Side of Magik tries to have its cake and eat it too. If The Other Side of Magik had merely focused on the adventures of a single teenage boy unknowingly thrust into a parallel dimension, it could have made sense. Instead, while the majority of the story was in the “magik” realm (of which I still don’t like that spelling), occasionally it would swap back over to our world and give the...
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BOOK: Android Karenina (2010)

Android Karenina Year: 2010 Author: Ben H. Winters and Leo Tolstoy Length: 541 pages Despite struggling through both Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I was pleased to find the most lengthy of these “monster classics,” Android Karenina, was a fast and engaging read. If anything, it proves to me that I can’t grasp Jane Austen’s writing style nearly as smoothly as I can Leo Tolstoy’s. Part of the ease of reading Android Karenina probably came from knowing the original plot ahead of time a little better than I did for Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. And yet, the real reason is more visceral than that. What Android Karenina’s predecessors attempted was to take two vastly different genres and mash them together in the hope that the combination would interest readers. Where Android Karenina succeeds where the others have failed is that the addition of the steampunk/science fiction genre enhances the story. Adding zombies or sea monsters...
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MOVIE: Kong – Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Given how incredibly groundbreaking the special effects in the original King Kong (1933) were, I can understand why they keep re-using this character. Of course, while King Kong (1976) was mislabeled as “original” in its advertising, the advancements in CGI made King Kong (2005) at least as visually stunning as its 1933 predecessor. Still, the story has remained the same: humans visit Skull Island, humans find Kong, humans bring Kong to New York, Kong climbs the tallest building, and humans kill Kong. Consequently, I didn’t have much of an expectation of Kong: Skull Island (2017), since I thought I knew what the plot would be. I can honestly say that Kong: Skull Island is the best adaptation of this character since 1933. A few choices helped to create an original story that deviated from the norm. Sure, humans go to Skull Island to find Kong, but the other creatures they find there...
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BOOK: Winter Witch (2010)

Winter Witch Year: 2010 Author: Elaine Cunningham Length: 368 pages Years ago, after completing my first NaNoWriMo, I received this book as a prize. Seven years later, as I try to read all the “unread” books on my bookshelf, this book finally made its way into my “read” pile. Full disclosure: I haven’t ever played any tabletop Role Playing Games (RPGs), be they Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. Because the Pathfinder universe defines this book's setting, I didn’t have any of the prior background to help me understand the setting better. Still, as this book was a conventional example of the “high fantasy” genre, it was relatively easy to get up to speed. Of course, partly because it is a conventional example of the fantasy genre, Winter Witch didn’t have that many surprises. Characters going on adventures to prove themselves / save someone / avoid responsibility seem to be pretty typical in this genre and this book certainly had all of them. While I did...
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BOOK: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (2009)

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters Year: 2009 Author: Ben H. Winters and Jane Austen Length: 340 pages After struggling my way through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I thought perhaps the next entry in the “Quirk Classics” line of books would be better. After all, it had a new co-author (alongside Jane Austen) and replaced the almost cliché zombie trope with the lesser-seen sea monster framing. Unfortunately, I once again found myself struggling through the archaic language of Austen’s time. Not only that, but I felt there was far too much talking and way too much nonsense, and that wasn’t even about the sea monsters. I’m starting to suspect that I just plain don’t like Jane Austen’s writing. Half of the book is practically filled with young women swooning over eligible bachelors, learning that these bachelors are engaged or married, and then becoming depressed because of this revelation. If they spent less time gossiping and more time communicating, perhaps they wouldn’t have these problems....
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MOVIE: Aliens (1986)

Aliens Year: 1986 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours While I’m sure a Ridley Scott sequel to his smash-hit, Alien (1979), would be fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, the choice to go with similarly-successful James Cameron in the director’s seat helped to keep the franchise from becoming too stale. Of course, with a sequel appearing seven years after the original, Alien had plenty of time to rest on its laurels before the follow-on film came along. Watching Aliens (1986) with the knowledge of James Cameron’s other work, it soon becomes apparent that this movie is all his own. After all, if I told you there’s a James Cameron film about space marines invading an alien world to eliminate an alien threat, many of you would think I’m referring to Avatar (2009) and not Aliens (1986). In the original Alien, much of the focus of the film is on survival, let alone how to defeat such an unstoppable creature. For Aliens, the...
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BOOK: The End of Desire (2007)

The End of Desire Year: 2007 Author: M.R. Sellars Length: 340 pages Much like 7th Son: Descent, I picked this book up at a convention without knowing anything about it. Consequently, while this is the third book in the Miranda Trilogy, I must admit that I have not read the two prior books in the series. As such, I have tried to make my review of this book as it stands by itself, and any confusion from lack of prior knowledge is merely my fault for not having started at the beginning. Of course, after reading this book, I certainly had trouble understanding how there could have been two books before it. First off, the plot was as slow as Louisiana molasses. So many words were spent on practically meaningless interactions that didn’t add anything to the narrative. The few scenes of action were too long in coming and too short in duration. Add to this the stupidity of the characters and you can see...
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