BOOK: Professor Challenger – The Serpent of the Loch (2018)

Professor Challenger: The Serpent of the Loch Year: 2018 Author: Lou J Berger Length: 30 pages Some days, I wonder what amazing new stories we could read if more intellectual properties were allowed to enter the public domain. Even if there is a wealth of characters who might continue to have adventures long after their authors have passed away, we can enjoy some of these expanding stories with today’s public domain works. Case in point, this short story that adds to the lore of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger character, The Serpent of the Loch. Even if you’re not familiar with the characters Doyle created, this story is well worth your time. While I’ve only read The Lost World and was familiar with Doyle’s style via a handful of Sherlock Holmes stories, I can say that Berger has done well to replicate the former author’s style. There were plenty of moments where I had to remind myself that this was written almost a century...
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MOVIE: About a Boy (2002)

About a Boy Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s challenging to define the aesthetic of the early 2000s, but I think About a Boy (2002) is about as close as it comes. From the music and style to themes and plot, About a Boy is a solid little romantic comedy that probably hasn’t aged as well in the time since its creation. Although it is a rare sight to see Nicholas Hoult in one of his earlier film roles, knowing the kind of actor he has become (for such movies like X-Men: First Class (2011), Warm Bodies (2013), and The Favourite (2018)). I’ll admit that Will (Hugh Grant) is a bit of a creeper for going after single mothers as a way to hook up and get dumped without the guilt being on his side of the equation. However, the independently-wealthy status he has based on royalties from a single one-hit-wonder seems a little implausible. Still, maybe it was possible...
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MOVIE: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Cat on a Hot Tin RoofYear: 1958Rating: Not RatedLength: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours While I understand the ease of adapting stage plays into movies, the result still feels a lot like watching a stage play on the big screen. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) is no exception. Adapted from the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, this movie boasts a few big names like Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. I think this movie probably wouldn’t have been as notable unless it had these names tied to it in some way. After all, there’s a reason why we still remember these writers and actors today. Even if Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starts slow, the increasing amount of twists and reveals makes for an entertaining movie. I think part of my issue with the slow start might be with Elizabeth Taylor’s acting. It felt to me like she was reading memorized lines and didn’t put much emotion or effort into her performance....
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VIDEO GAME: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

Super Mario OdysseyYear: 2017Rating: E10Time Played: 20+ hours As is the case with many Nintendo systems, Super Mario Odyssey marked the mustachioed plumber’s arrival on the Switch, much like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy did for the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and Wii, respectively. Taking cues from all its predecessors, Super Mario Odyssey is a gorgeous platformer with plenty to do, almost to its detriment. It’s clear a lot of attention to detail went into this game, but it’s also evident that Odyssey is a celebration of Mario’s history as Nintendo’s de facto mascot. The fact that you can now play as many of Mario’s enemies is a fantastic mechanic that is as unique as it is timeless. Odyssey uses the improved graphics on the Switch to create stunning worlds that are just itching to be explored. The music as well is perhaps some of the best in the franchise, with the theme to the Wooded Kingdom being...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s Sonnets – Abridged (2018)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2018 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 101 pages The third (and currently last) book in Zach Weinersmith’s “Abridged” series, Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness is by far the best of the set. While Holy Bible: Abridged was quite rough, and Science: Abridged showed promise, Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged is wholly focused on its subject matter—and it shows. To top everything off, Weinersmith cleverly sums up each of Shakespeare’s sonnets in his own rhyming couplet, adding to the overall experience and maintaining some semblance of the poetry involved with the source material. If anything, reading all the truncated sonnets together helped paint the picture of what Shakespeare was trying to accomplish. Having never delved into Shakespeare’s Sonnets before, this book was a handy summary of the different “phases” of these poems. Adding context to the flowery language helped to paint a much different picture than most people consider when thinking about Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This book was...
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MOVIE: Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Synecdoche, New YorkYear: 2008Rating: RLength: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours I knew going into Synecdoche, New York (2008), that it was a Charlie Kaufman film. I knew his material could get weird (like Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation. (2002)) but movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) had enough heart that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Except nothing could have prepared me for the madness of Synecdoche, New York (2008). I mean, there are meta films like Adaptation. then there are meta films of a whole different level like Synecdoche, New York. In the end, I think the story suffers due to its insistence on the artistic. I’m all for “smart” films that make the audience think. However, I am not a fan of movies that are so intellectually up their own behind to obscure every piece of meaningful plot and character development behind metaphor and “art.” There is a point where the plot gets so convoluted...
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BOOK: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (2010)

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains Year: 2010 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 83 minutes / 1.38 hours As I’d realized in previous works of Neil Gaiman’s that I’ve read, he excels at (at least) two things: short stories and fairy tales. One could argue that the latter is a subset of the former, but longer works like Stardust cause me to separate the distinction. Perhaps this book was made all the more magical by its audiobook production. Not only did the author himself read it, but it was accompanied with some great atmospheric music to enhance the mood produced by Gaiman’s words. I missed the illustrations this book sports, but I think the words can speak for themselves. In terms of a fairy tale, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains manages to contain the usual flare of morality and truth against a backdrop of riches and mysterious wonder. I’m almost surprised there aren’t more authors writing modern fairy tales...
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MOVIE: Strangers on a Train (1951)

Strangers on a TrainYear: 1951Rating: PGLength: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s a wonder after all these years that a Hitchcock film like Strangers on a Train (1951) escaped me until now. Sure, Hitchcock used trains in many of his films, but the premise here is so diabolically intriguing that it demands a viewing. After all, there’s an amount of logic involved with two strangers swapping the murders that they would like to happen to those tormenting them. And yet, Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) is so unsettling in his ability to follow through that the suspense of the rest of the movie practically films itself. Several camera tricks that Hitchcock uses adds his signature flair to this movie. From a punch to the face to a tension-filled series of shots at the bottom of a storm drain, the cinematography in Strangers on a Train is yet another reason why people need to watch this film. This being said, the ending (despite being...
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VIDEO GAME: Undertale (2015)

Undertale Year: 2015 Rating: E10+ Time Played: By the time I had the chance to play Undertale (on the Nintendo Switch, no less), most of the surprising revelations about its battle system were already spoiled for me. Regardless of knowing the unique playstyle for this game, I tried my best to play by the counterintuitive methods that set this game apart from others of its genre. And while I didn’t get the true pacifist ending for some reason, it was still an enjoyable and humorous game. Despite its somewhat shorter length, I still think making it any longer would have ruined the tight storytelling. Now, Undertale is by no means a perfect game, and I’m sure the diehard fans of this franchise will hate me for saying this. The visual style was pretty good for a retro throwback, but it felt inconsistent from place to place, almost like it didn’t know if it wanted to be 8-bit or 16-bit. Similarly, the fantastic music and audio...
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BOOK: Science – Abridged (2017)

Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2017 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 60 pages Another in Zach Weinersmith’s “Abridged” series, Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness is another tongue-in-cheek examination of topics that require much more than a few witty summations to understand completely. Unfortunately, much like his Nerd Disses book, only those who have extensively studied all of these scientific disciplines will understand every joke. As an engineer, I could understand a lot of the humor here, but even I was ignorant of some of the more obscure (or more social) sciences. That being said, he nailed the abridged version of engineering, which makes me think the other sciences received the same treatment. While not nearly as borderline sacrilegious as The Holy Bible: Abridged, Science: Abridged does get its cheap shots in where it can. I’m sure those who extensively study these sciences will laugh at the sardonic tidbits contained in this book, understanding how ridiculous their chosen field may appear at...
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MOVIE: Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018)

Bathtubs Over BroadwayYear: 2018Rating: PG-13Length: 87 minutes / 1.45 hours To some, the idea that there were whole musical productions that were practically enormous advertisements for companies seems absurd. Since I grew up listening to Stan Freberg, I already knew that musicals could sell products (take his “Omaha” musical, for instance, since it was basically a 15-minute radio ad for Butternut coffee). At any rate, Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018) explores these oddities that most people never realize existed up until only a decade or two ago. It’s a little sad to see these ridiculous odes to corporate marketing go by the wayside…but it also makes sense as well. If there’s anything that Bathtubs Over Broadway gets across, it’s that these musicals were serious business, even if the companies they were selling weren’t. There were songs about bathrooms—repeated throughout its runtime—if that gives you an idea of the content. It is a little awe-inspiring to see famous names tied to these theatrical productions....
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MOVIE: The Founder (2016)

The FounderYear: 2016Rating: PG-13Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours I hate to admit it, but many of these biopics about successful individuals all come off as the same story. Some down-on-his-luck guy stumbles across an idea that he steals (or has stolen from him) and makes his own to enormous success, betraying his friends and family along the way. We saw it in The Social Network (2010), Jobs (2013), Joy (2015), and The Greatest Showman (2017). The Founder (2016) is just another in this almost cookie-cutter genre that covers the origins of the McDonald corporation we know today. That’s not to say that The Founder isn’t entertaining. As an engineer, I was fascinated at how the McDonald brothers were able to be successful by creating efficiencies and eliminating waste in the process of selling hamburgers and other fast food. The trick is that the titular character, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), is half protagonist (the one you want to root for) and half...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017)

Mario Kart 8 DeluxeYear: 2017Rating: ETime Played: 5+ hours Just like how Mario Kart 7 expanded on the core gameplay mechanic of the Mario Kart series by adding gliding and underwater features in its tracks, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe goes a step further and removes the confines of gravity from the franchise. This core change to the Mario Kart formula results in a lot of genuinely unique courses that couldn’t have been possible in previous games. To top everything off, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is presented in gorgeous high definition while also including all the downloadable content from the Wii U version at no additional cost. With a variety of new courses, as well as classic racetracks enhanced to the Switch’s advanced graphical capabilities, I was glad to finally see some representation in this franchise from characters outside the typical Mario franchise. Representative characters and courses from the Zelda, Animal Crossing, and Splatoon franchises felt like welcome additions and perhaps even the...
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BOOK: The Holy Bible-Abridged (2015)

The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2015 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 72 pages Satire is a fine line between comedy and offense. While I can't fault The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness for being precisely what it says—abridged beyond the point of usefulness—there's definitely a bias present in its scant 72 pages. I can take a joke about my faith pretty well, mostly because I understand the reference being made and can identify what's funny about it. Sure, The Holy Bible: Abridged has a few amusing bits in it, but there are almost too many portions that feel too irreverent to be funny. The Bible is a long book, and I know most people probably haven't read through the entire thing. This book tries to remedy this situation by providing a brief comedic sentence about each book in the Bible. Sure, it gets the point across quite succinctly sometimes, but it misses the point in many of its...
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MOVIE: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Magnificent AmbersonsYear: 1942Rating: Not RatedLength: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours Some films are timeless classics, like Citizen Kane (1941), then some are doomed to live in their shadows like The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). It’s easy to see how a success like Citizen Kane would incentivize studios to let Orson Welles direct another film in the hopes that he’d surpass himself. Unfortunately, I don’t feel The Magnificent Ambersons ever achieves that level of cinematic notoriety, merely acting as a footnote to much more famous films. Consequently, this movie hasn’t necessarily aged as well as its 1941 counterpart. I’ll still give credit where credit is due and say that The Magnificent Ambersons contains the visual charm and bold style that defined Orson Welles’ films. If only the story and characters were memorable enough to care about, then we might have a good movie on our hands here. As it stands, I didn’t care for any of the characters, nor did I even feel...
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MOVIE: Milk (2008)

Milk Year: 2008 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours It seems like there are biopics for almost every notable person who has done anything significant in the last 50 years. In the case of Milk (2008), we get a peek into the personal, professional, and political life of gay rights activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn). Unfortunately, as is the case with most biopics, I have found that the titular character is good at enacting societal change but at the cost of their relationship with a significant other. To me, I generally throw my hands up in the air and yell, “Come on!” when this happens since it seems to be ubiquitous with the genre. While I don’t mind watching a film about the activism behind gay rights, I do mind having to watch Sean Penn and James Franco make out. What struck me as odd was a portion of the film where people were encouraged to come out as being homosexual, which a...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario Kart 7 (2011)

Mario Kart 7 Year: 2011 Rating: E Time Played: 2.35 hours One of the challenges of long-running series like Mario Kart is how to maintain the core gameplay mechanic while also continuing to innovate. Previous iterations in the franchise played with having two characters in a Kart (Double Dash on the Gamecube) before reverting to the traditional formula (Mario Kart Wii). Furthermore, with the limitations present in portable and handheld consoles, there’s a point where the experience isn’t quite the same as it would be on a television screen. Fortunately, Mario Kart 7 seems to have struck a good balance between new ideas and embracing nostalgia. Even if I didn’t use the online mode for racing against other individuals (one of the core attractions of the Mario Kart series), I did find that each race in Mario Kart 7 was just long enough for me to play through in a single sitting. If I had more time, the option to race through a series of...
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BOOK: 2^7 Nerd Disses (2013)

2⁷ Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect Year: 2013 Author: Zach Weinersmith and Philip Plait Length: 31 pages Have you ever been in an argument and had a stinging zinger of a remark that would have left the other party completely devastated? I’m sure plenty of socially-awkward nerds have been in this situation, which is probably why this book exists in the first place. 27 Nerd Disses is a small collection of witty comebacks that cover a variety of brainy topics. From economics to mathematics, all 128 of these insults require some amount of knowledge of their source material to get the joke they’re trying to make. Unfortunately, this book contains some knowledge at levels higher than a basic college education. While I understood a good majority of the nerdy references in this book, the parts of these disses that I had trouble with were the references that the uncultured masses were likely comparing these heady subjects to. This ends up being the problematic...
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MOVIE: The Little Prince (2015)

The Little Prince Year: 2015 Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours I understand there are limitations when it comes to adapting picture books into feature-length movies. The amount of content present in these books isn’t even enough to cover a few minutes just reading it aloud, so extending it out over 100 minutes requires a bit of framing and exposition. While movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) took the approach of explaining why there was giant food falling from the sky, The Little Prince (2015) framed its iconic story with your standard “overbearing parent wants their child to succeed at the detriment of said child’s childhood” sub-plot. When I was growing up, I never encountered The Little Prince in all the picture books I read. Even without this prior knowledge, I could get a sense that the entirety of the book’s content was contained in the stop-motion sections of this movie. I felt there was a missed opportunity to do...
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BOOK: Peter Pan (1911)

Peter Pan Year: 1911 Author: J.M. Barrie Length: 302 minutes / 5.03 hours I didn't grow up with Peter Pan as a child. The fact that I'm reviewing this book when I'm 34 merely highlights this oversight. I didn't even get into this story through the animated Disney version. Again, another oversight. About the only reason I know anything about Peter Pan is through the 1991 movie Hook—which I remember quite fondly. At this point, finally getting around to reading the source material was refreshing even if I already picked up most of the pop culture references this book inspired. While I didn't grow up with Peter Pan, I can see its merit. I'll probably even read it to my daughter when she's old enough to understand it. What's perhaps the most notable quality of this book is how its randomness almost makes sense. Do you know how kids make stuff up but have a logical sense about their creations? Well, Peter Pan has plenty...
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MOVIE: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Mary Poppins Returns Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While it’s a somewhat rare occurrence, it usually doesn’t take Disney over five decades to release a sequel to a critically-acclaimed movie (like how Fantasia 2000 (1999) came out sixty years after Fantasia (1940)). The original Mary Poppins (1964) was a triumph in live-action for a studio known for its animation—which also makes an appearance. It raked in the Oscar Nominations, even gaining a nod for Best Picture. As far as sequels go, Mary Poppins Returns (2018) is a sharp and polished upgrade compared to the original but hits most of the same beats for the sake of nostalgia. Emily Blunt was more than passable as the title character, even if her representation seemed a bit more on the sarcastic and irritated eye-rolling side of the spectrum from Julie Andrews’ measured patience in the original. The songs in Mary Poppins Returns were certainly catchy—a trait undoubtedly inherited from Lin Manuel-Miranda—but didn’t seem...
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VIDEO GAME: Metroid II – Return of Samus (1991)

Metroid II: Return of Samus Year: 1991 Rating: E Time Played: 7.5 hours The forgotten child of the original Metroid trilogy, Metroid II is that weird transition between a neat idea and a video game masterpiece. Relying on most all of the same concepts that made the original Metroid on the NES popular, Metroid II suffers from the innate limitations of the Game Boy hardware. Color certainly helped delineate the different areas in the NES game and made the follow-on Super Metroid that much more vivid and haunting, which is why the lack of it in this game poses several problems. Still, it is a solid Metroid game at its base, despite its few flaws. One of the flaws of this game is its lack of a map. Another weakness is the ability for the player to know what exactly changed when the screen shows a rumbling vibration. I spent way too long going back over the same areas, only to learn later that I...
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BOOK: Red Rising (2014)

Red RisingYear: 2014Author: Pierce BrownLength: 400 pages It is difficult to review a book like Red Rising without noting the heavy comparisons to The Hunger Games. Perhaps this speaks to the strength of The Hunger Games’ format, but there are almost too many parallels to ignore. Dystopian class-separated society? Check. A skilled lower-class individual who defies the odds? Check. Violence and a romantic subplot? Check and check. About the only difference between the two is that Red Rising takes place on Mars and over a few years instead of a week or so. Of course, it’s hard to tell the timespan since important details always seem to be missing from the first-person narrative. If anything, I’d peg Red Rising as the gritty, over-violent, and over-sexualized version of The Hunger Games. If The Hunger Games appeals to girls and women, Red Rising should appeal to boys and men. A lot of the content in this book felt a bit over the top and...
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MOVIE: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours There’s one quote in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) that sums up the entire movie. “This isn’t really about Fred Rogers.” Considering this film was based on the magazine article that is central to the plot, it’s no wonder that Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) is merely an ancillary character to the events that happen in Lloyd Vogel’s (Matthew Rhys) life. While Mr. Rogers’ gentle influence is undeniable, I can’t help but think that the recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), is a better examination of his life’s work overall. I do have to give kudos to Tom Hanks for taking on a challenging role that has many fond memories for tons of people. Hanks captured Fred Rogers’ soft-spoken demeanor and gentle mannerisms as best as only he could. Part of the trouble, though, is that Tom Hanks is so recognizable, that half the time I...
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MOVIE: Rocketman (2019)

Rocketman Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours After the critical success of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), it felt like the market was ripe for another movie about a homosexual piano-playing musician. Enter Rocketman (2019), a biopic about Elton John (Taron Egerton) that didn’t quite know what to do with itself. Was it supposed to be the greatest hits of Elton John songs, like Mamma Mia! (2008) was for ABBA? If it was intended as a straight biography of Elton’s life, it falls into all the tropes that seem to be requirements for the genre. There didn’t seem to be anything original here other than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. One aspect of Elton John’s rise to stardom that I found interesting was his ability to pick up and play any song after hearing it once. This skill is quite a rare trait, and I almost wished this film played up that aspect a little more. I also was intrigued to learn...
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VIDEO GAME: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Year: 2018 Rating: E10 Time Played: ~45 hours I grew up playing the original Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64. I loved being able to play as a variety of characters across some well-known (and perhaps less well-known) Nintendo franchises. With each iteration of the series, I’ve enjoyed seeing new characters representing new and classic games join the roster. However, even if I can understand cutting some characters as the series moved forward, it was still a disappointment when I couldn’t play as my favorites in subsequent entries in the franchise. This is why I was hyped up for the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For the first time, I was able to play as a staggeringly large number of characters. The fact that (almost) everything from previous games made it into this one made it feel like this was a celebration of the history of video games and not just a party brawler. And while I didn’t bother...
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BOOK: Cartwright’s Cavaliers (2016)

Cartwright’s Cavaliers Year: 2016 Author: Mark Wandrey Length: 473 pages I don’t generally read military sci-fi, but I picked this book up for free and thought I’d give it a try. Cartwright’s Cavaliers certainly has its strengths. The action sequences are well-described, and the origin story of the main character was a unique setup that seems like it would be uncommon in the military sci-fi genre. That being said, Cartwright’s Cavaliers has a strong start but bumbles along to the point of being cringe-inducing by the end. It’s unfortunate, considering how it could have been better if it had stuck to some of the more common tropes of the genre instead of focusing on a (mostly) unlikeable protagonist. Aside from a sprinkling of typos and proofreading errors, my main qualm with this book is the main character: Jim Cartwright. About one-third of the way through the book, he is revealed to be a fan of an animated series that was popular with men of his...
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MOVIE: Terminator – Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours I’ll admit that Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was a difficult movie to follow. Basically the perfect sequel, this film is generally what we associate with the Terminator franchise. From its plethora of meme-able moments to its fantastic action and visual effects, Terminator 2 set a high bar for any film in the franchise to follow it. While Terminator: Rise of the Machines (2003) tried to tie up the first three movies into a neat little trilogy, most felt unsatisfied with its ending. This is why, almost 20 years after Terminator 2 released, we’re still trying to find that satisfying bit of closure. Compared to its predecessors, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) certainly came the closest to achieving this closure. After all, we’ve seen the effects of time travel in the future with Terminator: Salvation (2009) and an alternate reality with Terminator: Genisys (2015). As a direct sequel to Terminator 2, Dark Fate...
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BOOK: The Final Empire (2006)

The Final Empire Year: 2006 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 1,480 minutes / 24.67 hours Having already read a few of Brandon Sanderson’s later works, I knew I eventually wanted to tackle his Mistborn series. While he has a consistent style that makes his world-building a bit predictable, the concise nature of his magic systems and fantastically-written fight sequences deliver time and time again. After all, if it works, why change anything? In The Final Empire, the source of the magical superpowers is a set of metals utilized by “allomancers,” much like color was for Warbreaker and the energy of storms for The Way of Kings. I’m always in awe of the complexity of his magic systems, but with such simple concepts that I wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” If Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings is the standard for high fantasy and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is the baseline for “realistic” fantasy, I can already tell that Sanderson’s...
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MOVIE: The Gentlemen (2020)

The Gentlemen Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours I’ve enjoyed a good portion of Guy Ritchie’s filmmaking. While many of his more recent movies rely on franchise appeal (Sherlock Holmes (2009), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Aladdin (2019) are of note), I usually associate his style of filmmaking with the British heist film (like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000)). Consequently, I was looking forward to seeing his recent film, The Gentlemen (2020), as it seemed to be a return to the kind of filmmaking that attracted me to Guy Ritchie films in the first place. Unfortunately, it seems Ritchie has been away from his core movies for so long that he’s almost forgotten how to make them. The meta framing with Hugh Grant and Charlie Hunnam was clunky enough that even Hunnam’s character was getting bored with the “telling” in the exposition provided by Grant’s character. Sure, there were a few neat twists here and...
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VIDEO GAME: Nintendo Labo – VR Starter Set (2019)

Nintendo Labo: VR Starter Set Year: 2019 Rating: E10 Time Played: ~5 hours With the increasing number and availability of virtual reality (VR) headsets, I figured it was only a matter of time before Nintendo jumped in on the craze. I always felt the Switch would be ideal for VR, as it has a gyroscopic screen with detachable controllers that have an equal amount of finesse in their movements. It is then no wonder that Nintendo decided to pursue the VR space with its line of experimental cardboard toys: Labo. While I didn’t have too much interest in the previous Labo sets, the fact that the VR Labo could also be used on other games for a VR effect is what pushed me to purchase the starter set. Putting together the cardboard for the VR goggles and blaster accessory took me a long evening to assemble. I appreciated the user interface for the instructions, as it made the whole process easy and basically idiot-proof. Of...
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BOOK: Breach (2018)

BreachYear: 2018Author: W.L. GoodwaterLength: 368 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** It’s always interesting to see an alternate take on history where fantastical elements can help explain some mostly banal events and activities. In Breach, the reader is offered a glimpse into the top-secret realm of magicians in military espionage. Most of my knowledge of Cold War Berlin is based on pop culture representations, so there wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary here that would scream of historical inaccuracies. If anything, Breach almost felt like it could have been an extension of the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise with how well it integrated history and magic. While there was perhaps a bit too much browbeating over women’s role in society during the Cold War, the pacing, twists, and characters were excellent. It was a little difficult to tell the timeframe of this book, but I assumed it was probably in an alternate 1950s, based on the context clues. Of course, with the pacing of a...
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BOOK: Shadow Puppets (2002)

Shadow PuppetsYear: 2002Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 646 minutes / 10.77 hours It’s odd for me to read the third book in a series and be confronted with problems that I usually see by the fourth book. So far, I’ve been on board with the whole Shadow series as it focuses on an interesting character in the form of Bean. For two books, I’ve read about Bean’s survival, made all the more thrilling by the antagonist Achilles. Of course, during Ender’s Shadow and Shadow of the Hegemon, the series picked up plenty of side stories and sub-plots. This is what ruined Shadow Puppets for me: the focus wasn’t on Bean and Achilles, but rather on advancing the story of all these sub-plots. Now, don’t get me wrong, Shadow Puppets has a lot of interesting events. It’s just that it was so entertaining to read about Achilles in the previous books, and he’s relegated to a bookending motif for this book. We don’t get...
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MOVIE: I Lost My Body (2019)

I Lost My Body Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 81 minutes / 1.35 hours Some movies can only be done with animation. Whether it’s the fantastical or alien nature of the content or the visual aesthetic trying to be achieved, animation is pretty flexible with what it can do. Enter I Lost My Body (2019), which is a prime case study in the power of animation. Sure, this could have been done up in realistic CGI, but then it would probably be more in line with the horror genre than the “slice of life” (har har) we have on display here. Either way, I have never seen an entire movie centered on a severed hand trying to get back to the body that lost it…until now. With hints of Homeward Bound (1993) and The Addams Family (1991), I Lost My Body plays out in parallel with the strangely-relatable severed hand and the flashbacks of the whole body, Naoufel (Dev Patel). At times heartfelt (even in...
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BOOK: The Obelisk Gate (2016)

The Obelisk Gate Year: 2016 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 799 minutes / 13.32 hours I’ll admit that reading The Fifth Season had a bit of a learning curve for the Broken Earth series. Not only did I have to learn about the vastly powerful magic system based on rocks (and other rock forms), but I had to get used to a second-person point of view (POV). Jumping between timelines with similar characters who had different names was a bit confusing, but I was able to figure it out by the end. Fast forward to the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, and most of my qualms with the first book were smoothed over or solved outright. One of the things I enjoyed about The Obelisk Gate was the increase in the scale of the magic system. Including the moon in these calculations makes perfect sense considering the nature of the orogeny magic. I also appreciated how the story seemed to focus on a single POV, which made...
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MOVIE: Onward (2020)

Onward Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I always look forward to Pixar films, mostly to see how visually stunning a movie created entirely in a computer can look with each passing year of technological and programming advancements. The other reason I will always go to see a Pixar movie is their dedication to a good story. Sure, there have been some missed steps over the years (The Good Dinosaur (2015) being the latest example), but their track record has been good enough to warrant me seeing their films in the theater. While I was looking forward to this year’s offering of Onward (2020), the result felt a little lackluster overall. Choosing to explore a storyline with a deceased parent was odd in that it felt like something that had rarely been addressed in movies geared toward children while also having a strong “after school special” vibe to it. Either way, putting it in a pseudo-Monsters, Inc. (2001) fantasy world was a fun way to...
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VIDEO GAME: Shovel Knight (2014)

Shovel Knight Year: 2014 Rating: E Time Played: 27.33 hours I grew up in the era of retro video games. My favorite was the Mega Man series, but I appreciated what games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link were trying to accomplish. While Shovel Knight isn’t a spiritual successor to any one game, it lovingly paints the pixelated beauty of classic video games in vibrant homage. I played through this game and all three of its free DLC add-ons on the 3DS, and I found the stereoscopic effect to be just as mesmerizing as the stunning visuals it used to create the effect. Shovel Knight managed to create a world filled with lore and unique characters that far surpasses anything programmed on the NES. Granted, there was a bit of a cheat in not being wholly constrained to NES graphics or audio, but I’d rather have a great game that fudges some nostalgia than one that suffers because of...
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BOOK: The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (2013)

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets Year: 2013 Author: Simon Singh Length: 253 pages My wife picked up this book for me from the library because she thought I might like to read it. To her credit, I am a huge fan of The Simpsons (and Futurama), and there are plenty of interesting mathematical concepts that I’ve loved reading about over the years. Clearly, I would be the target demographic for this book. Except, after reading through it, I’m clearly not. In fact, I’m not even sure who the target audience for this book is. Fans of Matt Groening’s work will already know the episodes and scenes that are re-described here. Fans of mathematics will already know about prime numbers, Fermat’s last theorem, and Klein bottles. In short, this book felt like a mathematician trying to make math seem interesting by pointing at freeze-frame gags in a popular TV show and waggling his eyebrows as if to say, “See how smart the writers of this...
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BOOK: The Opal Deception (2005)

The Opal Deception Year: 2005 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 449 minutes / 7.48 hours As a fan of the three-act structure that trilogies can provide, I’ve found over the years that the fourth book in a series generally determines what the style of future books will be. Plenty of series have strong plotlines and character arcs that span multiple volumes, but some series settle into a tried-and-true formula that works for them. For The Opal Deception, the fourth book in the Artemis Fowl series, it’s the latter. Granted, the series is meant for grade-school readers, so it’s not entirely surprising that the series has become formulaic. There was an amount of status quo (and returning to it) that had to happen after the events in The Eternity Code, which is where The Opal Deception came in. It honestly feels a little like a half-step backward for the series, or at least a realignment to get the characters all back together to continue on future adventures....
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MOVIE: Marriage Story (2019)

Marriage StoryYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Marriage Story (2019) isn’t a movie about divorce so much as it is a movie about the east coast vs. the west coast. While I’ll admit that there were some pretty good performances in this film (notably, Laura Dern was spectacular), there wasn’t anything new here that other movies like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) hadn’t covered. Additionally, it was a bit difficult to separate the two leads (Scarlett Johannsson and Adam Driver) from their other famous movie roles, which made it difficult to commit to the premise fully. Plus, movies like Marriage Story are just uncomfortable looks into lives in shambles that probably hit too close to home for some people. It’s weird how so many successful elements didn’t come together cohesively for me. Randy Newman’s score sounded great, but it made the film sound more like Toy Story (1995) than Marriage Story. Likewise, with the famous acting talent present: they had exemplary...
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BOOK: Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry (2010)

Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry Year: 2010 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I’m all for interesting ways to write books, but using a game of “Twitter telephone” is a new one for me. In fact, can we even call this book written by Gaiman at all? Sure, he’s great at these types of modern fairy tales (like Stardust, for instance), but he only got the ball rolling on this story and let the internet write the rest of it. Granted, he was the one who chose which segments to include next, to help guide it into some limited form of coherence, so maybe he “wrote” it after all? It’s not that Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry isn’t an utterly incoherent story; it’s that it lacks focus at times. Plenty of interesting subplots could have been explored but were quickly abandoned as the story switched over to a different writer. I’m almost glad this book was as short as it was because otherwise, I...
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MOVIE: Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Ford v Ferrari Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a “car guy.” Sure, my education was in Mechanical Engineering, and I can appreciate well-crafted machines, but I see cars as mere tools to get from point A to point B. Consequently, I don’t have much interest in car racing and didn’t initially want to see Ford v Ferrari (2019). Luckily for me, this film was chosen as one of this year’s nominees for Best Picture. After watching it, I can clearly see why. For someone who isn’t into cars or racing, I was completely enthralled and entertained by Ford v Ferrari. This movie is a tour de force when it comes to several filmmaking aspects. It expertly used its sound design, music, and cinematography to give the raw tension of racing highly-engineered machines meant for one thing only: to go fast. In fact, I only had two qualms with this movie on the whole. First, the “marketing...
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VIDEO GAME: Gris (2018)

GrisYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: 3+ hours Much like Journey, Gris is an incredible fusion of art and video game. Taking a watercolor aesthetic and hauntingly beautiful music in stride to tell a subtle story of loss and recovery, Gris ended up being a relaxing trot through its geometric world for me. Unfortunately, much like Journey, the amount of effort that goes into making this game look beautiful was also probably why it ended up being so short. Even if I broke up the platforming gameplay into a few hour-long sessions, I could easily complete it in a long evening. In the end, the platforming of the game is relatively simple. There’s a couple of puzzles that took me a moment to figure out, and I still haven’t found all the hidden items, so I might come back and do a second play-through to complete it fully. The fact that I wanted to play it again shortly after reaching the end credits is...
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BOOK: How To (2019)

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems Year: 2019 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 307 pages I’ve been a fan of Randall Munroe’s work for quite some time. This artist of the xkcd webcomic certainly has a sense of humor that I appreciate, so I looked forward to his latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. While his previous book, What if? covered hypothetical scenarios asked by the users of the internet, How To takes a somewhat opposite approach by using extreme science to do the most basic things imaginable. If you’re looking for simple answers, this isn’t the book for you. While it’s fun to think of the most complicated way to (for example) be on time, often the joke goes on a little too long as the exact science behind the absurdity is explained. There were times I felt I was reading a textbook instead of a humorous treatise on how to cross a river. Even though I...
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BOOK: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

The Man Who Was ThursdayYear: 1908Author: G.K. ChestertonLength: 355 minutes / 5.92 hours On the surface, The Man Who Was Thursday has all the markings of a witty thriller satire. Unfortunately, as the subtitle of this work is “A Nightmare,” things don’t necessarily stay coherent to the end. It’s not that The Man Who Was Thursday is terrible, but rather that it loses focus and becomes absurd the longer it continues. And perhaps that’s the greatest tragedy of this book: that it could have been a solid story if it didn’t devolve into a nightmare at the end. I certainly liked plenty of aspects of the early parts of this book. Infiltrating an anarchist society with day-of-the-week codenames. The revelation that few members of said society were actually who they said they were. The conspiracy and twists as the protagonists and antagonists get flipped on their heads. Of course, this last bit is when things started going downhill. Perhaps it’s that odd...
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MOVIE: Parasite (2019)

Parasite Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours If you haven’t discovered South Korean cinema yet, Parasite (2019) is a fantastic introduction for the uninitiated. Director Bong Joon-ho has been hard at work over the last 20 years, helping craft films that are thoughtful and horrifying. Movies like The Host (2006) and Snowpiercer (2013) give a sense of his artistic style. Parasite merely takes his ability to shed light on class conflict and molds it into a masterpiece that’s half heist-comedy, half horror-drama, and all suspense. If it weren’t for the somewhat lackluster ending, I’d give this film the full five stars it deserves. At the base of Parasite is a conflict between the impoverished and the rich. This theme could be easily applied to any country with a wide income disparity, which is probably why it works so well in the United States as well as in South Korea. To survive in these environments, the poor must do their best to...
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BOOK: Wizard and Glass (1997)

Wizard and GlassYear: 1997Author: Stephen KingLength: 1,656 minutes / 27.6 hours When I started reading Wizard and Glass, it became abundantly clear why The Waste Lands ended with a cliffhanger. While it would have been nice to have a short conclusion at the end of The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass needed a small amount of framing. That way, it didn’t become a book entirely devoted to a flashback. Granted, the large majority of this book is a flashback, even to the point that I’d consider it to be a prequel. Fortunately, Roland’s backstory was something that desperately needed to be expounded upon in this series. I know most writers are discouraged from using flashbacks, but in the context of a more extensive series, Wizard and Glass is an integral part of understanding how the Dark Tower universe works. Plus, Stephen King can get away with a lot since he’s so well established. In the end, this book works well because it...
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MOVIE: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo RabbitYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When I first saw the trailers for Jojo Rabbit (2019), I thought this movie looked like a fun and satirical romp through Nazi Germany. With the director (Taika Waititi) portraying an imaginary Adolf Hitler, the comedy was in full display during the trailers. After all, Waititi directed Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which is arguably one of the funniest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, Jojo Rabbit seemed to focus on a 10-year-old boy (Roman Griffin Davis) in the Hitler Youth, which gave some strong Boy Scout vibes that I could potentially relate to. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the trailers contained all the comedy in Jojo Rabbit. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the remainder of the film gave some amount of cynicism and reality to the fanatical enthusiasm of Jojo and the other members of the Hitler Youth. In fact, there’s a significant scene that really hits home...
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VIDEO GAME: Journey (2012)

JourneyYear: 2012Rating: ETime Played: ~2 hours As someone who enjoys movies and video games, I appreciate how cinematic video games have become over the last decade. Additionally, since many films can be “artsy,” there’s no reason why video games can’t follow the same style. Journey definitely fits this definition, and I’d almost go so far to say that it’s interactive and collaborative art. The story is pretty simple, but the execution of it gave me shivers as I finished and watched the end credits. The visuals and music add to the ambiance that engulfed me for the short time I spent playing this game. Perhaps my only qualm with Journey is the same qualm I have with any artistic video game: its length. I would have loved to spend more time in this world, but as it stands, I can easily complete it in a single sitting. Which I suppose is how it should be when you consider that the “partners” along...
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BOOK: Mist (2013)

Mist Year: 2013 Author: Susan Krinard Length: 384 pages My knowledge of Norse mythology is passable at best. Granted, much of it I “learned” from movies like Thor (2011), so I understand that there’s an amount of fictionalization to my knowledge. That being said, Mist seemed to take this pop-culture understanding of Norse mythology and transplant it into modern-day San Francisco. While solidly in the New Adult genre (there is plenty of sex and allusions to it here), I can’t say that anything is interesting here in terms of story. Sure, there are a few things that happen, but they all seem to be alluding to much more exciting developments that won’t happen until later in the series. One of my biggest qualms with this book was that I didn’t connect with the main character. Mist felt very “Mary Sue” to me. I found the more common elements of her existence (e.g., her employment, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) were mentioned in passing but never given...
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BOOK: Caging Skies (2004)

Caging SkiesYear: 2004Author: Christine LeunensLength: 628 minutes / 10.47 hours When I saw Jojo Rabbit (2019) nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, I decided to give Caging Skies a read to see how close the adaptation came. After finishing this book, I can see why Taika Waititi ended his movie at the half-way point of the plot. This is mostly because this book only has half a plot. I can forgive a bit of blind enthusiasm of Austrian children who thought the Nazis were great, but I can’t forgive a teenager that gaslights (and, let’s be honest, rapes) a captive girl and tries to come off as the victim. While taking a much more serious tone than the one presented in Jojo Rabbit, Caging Skies does a reasonably good job exploring themes of war, disability, and the sacrifices it takes to do what is right. Unfortunately, a lot of the lessons presented by the main character’s parents are entirely lost by the half-way...
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MOVIE: Frozen II (2019)

Frozen IIYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours After the cultural phenomenon that was Frozen (2013) had cooled off a little, a sequel was an inevitable conclusion. The trouble with such sequels is multi-faceted: how do you recapture the magic of the first movie while also creating something new that advances the story? Unfortunately, Frozen II (2019) falls into the trap of focusing on what made the first so successful that it almost feels like it’s mimicking its origins. To top it off, the new elements introduced in this film are either predictable plot points or over-done tropes. But hey, it’s Disney, and it looks absolutely gorgeous, even if some of the main characters seemed slightly more exaggerated in their presentation (perhaps starting to edge closer to the uncanny valley). While the songs all hit similar beats to their predecessors, most of them seem to fall short or were emphasized in the wrong places. Case in point, I found “Show Yourself”...
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BOOK: The Eternity Code (2003)

The Eternity CodeYear: 2003Author: Eoin ColferLength: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours After the last two adventures in the Artemis Fowl series helped to reunite the titular character with his family, it was entertaining to watch him strike out on his own. This was for no other reason than to prove he has the criminal chops his family name is known for. While decidedly middle-grade to young adult in tone, The Eternity Code is still an entertaining read. One might need to have read the previous two volumes to know who all the main players are, but at least the story is strong enough to carry the reader through to the conclusion without too much hassle. While I appreciated the “on top of it” style Artemis had in Artemis Fowl, I could also enjoy the cracks of vulnerability in his façade present in The Eternity Code. After all, Artemis is merely a teenage boy, and it helps to ground him in reality when...
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MOVIE: Little Women (2019)

Little WomenYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours After the success of Greta Gerwig’s debut film, Lady Bird (2017), I was pleased to find her directing again with a tried and true classic, Little Women (2019). This movie isn’t new or its content original by any means (this is the seventh film adaptation after all). However, Gerwig has managed to give it a poignancy and relevance to today’s issues while still maintaining an apparent loyalty to the period. It probably helped that Gerwig had tons of acting talent along for this film, including collaborators from her last film: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. In the end, I found this to be perhaps my most favorite adaptation of this classic piece of literature. Where Gerwig shines in this film is her ability to use flashbacks and dueling timelines to show the contrast and growth of the characters in stark moments of brilliance. My one qualm is that this technique was perhaps used...
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VIDEO GAME: Let’s Go Pikachu (2018)

Pokémon: Let’s Go PikachuYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: 23 hours I hesitated to pick up Let’s Go Pikachu for the sole reason that I already had bought this game decades ago in the form of Pokémon Yellow. I couldn’t justify spending $60 for a re-skin and decreased difficulty to align it with the Pokémon Go-style of catching. That being said, I was able to pick this title up for $20 as a part of Redbox’s video game sale, and I’m glad I did. Sure, the game is the same as before, but there are a few things I still enjoyed about it as I reveled in the nostalgia it brought to me. First off, the visuals are stunning. I think we often forget how limited the Game Boy’s graphics were, but seeing all these classic Pokémon in full HD on my big screen was an experience. I also appreciated how they removed HMs in favor of special techniques for Pikachu to use, which...
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BOOK: Lightless (2015)

LightlessYear: 2015Author: C.A. HigginsLength: 304 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** There seem to be a few cardinal sins most writers are cautioned to avoid at all costs. Two of these sins are exposition dumps and “show, don’t tell.” While the entire book doesn’t necessarily fall into these pitfalls, Lightless spends a big chunk of its 300 pages in telling the reader about all the exposition to the story that’s currently playing out. Instead of reading an interrogation, I would have much rather seen the events that led to the current state of the solar system. On top of all this, I failed to care about any of the characters or their plights because this method of storytelling was so impersonal. I’ll admit that I almost gave up reading this book right before it became interesting again. The ending does a pretty good job of re-invigorating the plot, but it might be a case of too little too late. Furthermore, not...
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BOOK: Storm Front (2000)

Storm Front Year: 2000 Author: Jim Butcher Length: 482 minutes / 8.03 hours The first book in the Dresden Files series, Storm Front is the fusion of urban fantasy and detective noir that I didn’t know I needed. As a wizard for hire, Harry Dresden gets a lot of weird cases that only a wizard could deal with, but it’s done in a way that hearkens back to Sam Spade and other detectives just trying to make a buck investigating mysteries that show up on their doorstep. Perhaps I just haven’t read any modern noir (most of it supplanted by the “thriller” genre), but Storm Front is a refreshing return to a classic form of storytelling. Of my two qualms, only one has to do with the book itself. The narrator of this audiobook had a bit too much breathing, sniffling, and other noises that—while being somewhat infrequent—pulled me out of the story far too often. And while I liked how there was always something...
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MOVIE: 1917 (2019)

1917Year: 2019Rating: RLength: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours While there have been movies filmed to look like they’re one long take (the Best Picture winner, Birdman (2015) comes to mind) and movies that revolve around key moments of retreat during war (Dunkirk (2017) comes to mind), never before have the two been so masterfully combined. 1917 (2019) is a rare piece of cinema that tackles the less-popular World War I as its subject matter, but doing so in a way that’s personal, gruesome, and tense. Those viewers who might be put off by the gore of this film might come to realize that cinema has been censoring the ugly side of war for far too long. None of the violence seems out of place in 1917. Its moments of horror highlight the ugliness of war that results in constant and ever-present death. Fortunately, there are enough moments of peace and rebuttal between these intense sequences to let the audience catch their breath....
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BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)

A Darker Shade of MagicYear: 2015Author: V.E. SchwabLength: 694 minutes / 11.57 hours A co-worker of mine suggested I check this book out, and I have now finally gotten around to it. While he gave this series of books a glowing review, I can only hope that the other books in this trilogy fare better than this one. For what it was worth, A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t seem to be original enough for me to care much about what happened in it. It’s filled with so many fantasy and YA tropes that I could almost swear I’d read the same book somewhere else before. Perhaps part of my problem comes with the audiobook production of this story. I generally liked Lila, except when she was particularly annoying. There were quite a few times the narrator made her sound like Audrey Hepburn in the early part of My Fair Lady (1964), and that’s not much of a compliment. Overall, though, I...
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MOVIE: The Irishman (2019)

The IrishmanYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours At almost three-and-a-half hours long, The Irishman (2019) might seem like a daunting movie to sit through. However, much like Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019) gave Quentin Tarantino the space to make the movie he wanted to, Netflix seems to have allowed Martin Scorsese to create the film he wanted with little-to-no interference. Consequently, the 3.5 hours of this movie could have probably stood a bit of a trim, but the pacing is so well done as to make the time fly by (similar to another movie of epic proportions, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)). One of the most significant strengths of this movie appears to be its de-aging technology. While it’s still a bit on the edge of the uncanny valley, the main actors did look significantly younger than their current ages during the flashback sequences. Instead of relying on look-alikes and teaching them the mannerisms of these incredibly talented actors, Scorsese...
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VIDEO GAME: Untitled Goose Game (2019)

Untitled Goose Game Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 2+ hours The indie breakout hit of the year, Untitled Goose Game, has a lot going for it. The action-synched music, the visual aesthetic, and (most of all) the ability to play as a modern-age dinosaur. While most of the geese I’ve interacted with in my life have been of the Canadian variety, the controls and feel of this British goose are accurate enough for me to become lost in moments of hilarity at the hands of this foul waterfowl. However, for $20, I can’t recommend anyone pay that much for what amounts to a polished tech demo. Despite all it has going for it, Untitled Goose Game is incredibly short. I was able to play through the four main areas in only a few hours, not bothering to complete the expanded list of tasks as most of them were minor variants of the things I had already done. Additionally, while the game seems open-world at...
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BOOK: Shadow of the Hegemon (2000)

Shadow of the HegemonYear: 2000Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 365 pages It’s almost fitting how the follow-on book in the spin-off series to Ender’s Game takes the same tactic as Speaker for the Dead and transforms itself into a completely different genre. While Speaker for the Dead and its sequels still maintained a level of science fiction for the Ender saga, Shadow of the Hegemon pivots into a political thriller with almost no hints of sci-fi to be seen. The strength of the characters helped make this transition relatively smooth, but it still highlights how these child-aged individuals hardly have any child-like qualities. While the Shadow saga certainly needed to start out focusing on Bean, I did appreciate how Shadow of the Hegemon developed many of the supporting characters. For the first time in both series, I felt like the reader was able to know Petra and Peter while also seeing what Achilles was capable of accomplishing. The results of bringing back children...
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BOOK: Schumann – The Faces and the Masks (2018)

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks Year: 2018 Author: Judith Chernaik Length: 773 minutes / 12.83 hours When it comes to biographies of famous artists, it can be difficult to separate their life from their life’s work. It is fascinating to understand the influences of an artist, especially when in the context of their creation. However, much of the ability to talk about the artist’s life depends on common knowledge of their artistic portfolio. For slightly more obscure artists, finding the balance between discussing their personal life and providing an explanation of their art can be a challenge. Schumann: The Faces and the Masks attempts to cover both Robert Schumann’s life and his musical pieces. While revealing some of the more interesting secret codes in Schumann’s music in this book, the moments discussing the songs in detail seem to derail the whole narrative of the biography. Schumann’s life was fascinating enough as it was, with the drama involved in his marriage to Clara Wieck, as...
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MOVIE: Knives Out (2019)

Knives OutYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours One of the most under-utilized genres to date, a good mystery movie is hard to find these days. This is partly why Knives Out (2019) is such a joy to watch. With plenty of twists and turns—and a murderer that subverts all the numerous tropes of the genre—this film is almost on the edge of self-aware satire of mysteries on the whole. This is partly why I found Knives Out to be delightfully amusing: the absurd nature of some of the genre’s most tightly-held motifs were playfully subverted for a couple of genuine laughs. Of course, part of the problem of Knives Out being so self-aware is that it is inevitably predictable at several key moments. Depending on how far ahead a viewer can deduce the solution to a critical piece of evidence might determine how predictable it is for them. I did appreciate that there was always one piece of the puzzle...
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BOOK: The Crystal City (2003)

The Crystal City Year: 2003 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours With the end of this series in sight, it seems that the focus of The Crystal City is back on track. That being said, there are a few curious omissions that made it somewhat frustrating to read. I understand that some stories aren’t meant to be part of full books, but when these side short stories sound much more interesting by their mere inference, then I wonder why they weren’t included in the main storyline to begin with. Still, there were enough exciting developments in The Crystal City to keep me wondering what the conclusion will bring in the next book. While I appreciated the historical name dropping earlier in the series, now they seem to be coming left and right, with little-to-no impact on the story other than to say, “Look! Here’s someone you should know, and here’s how they’re different now!” Part of this is due to the...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Dark Phoenix (2019)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours I’m all for more faithful adaptations of stories into film. However, in long-running series like the X-Men franchise, I can’t help but wonder if efforts could have been spent on different storylines instead of trying to fix past mistakes. I know the “Dark Phoenix” saga is one of the best in the X-Men series, but after X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) tried to fill the gap of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) created by the ret-con in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), I can honestly say I preferred the version in The Last Stand. Up until now, I’ve been okay with the “First Class” set of prequels. They have taken an alternate history approach to lay out the lore of the X-Men, which I like. The problem with Dark Phoenix is that—after covering three decades in the last three films—the timeline finally caught up with the original trilogy. It was fun to...
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BOOK: Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine (2018)

Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine Year: 2018 Author: Jessica Crichton Length: 260 pages While I’m a bit older than the target demographic, I’m not sure I was ever a fan of the kind of “gross-out” tropes that seem to permeate the middle-grade genre. My main problem with Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine is that it relies on this trope in spades. At the very least, it takes this slightly “uncultured” format and takes it to its logical extremes. After all, the amount of accented pidgin adds flavor to this parallel universe, even if it sacrifices some readability. In the end, though, it’s still a pretty good story even if the plot points felt pretty standard for the genre. Aside from some of the content being gross, there were several proofreading errors scattered throughout this book. Not enough to be distracting but enough to be noticeable. I’m also not sure the more complicated “twist” near the end is understandable for the target age range, considering the scientific knowledge needed...
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BOOK: Heartfire (1998)

Heartfire Year: 1998 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 728 minutes / 12.13 hours It’s been a while since I read this far into a series, and I can start to see why I like trilogies and stand-alone books. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this series had evolved into a courtroom drama instead of a historical fantasy. At this point, the whole premise of this series seems to have veered off course and has lost its focus to tackle unrelated issues that were somewhat prominent at the time. Or, at least it’s merely acting as a chance to name drop historical figures and take the side of history against well-known issues that haven’t aged well over time. If anything, Heartfire could have easily been the fourth book in the series, since Alvin Journeyman added nothing to the story. Even so, Heartfire didn’t feel as strong as earlier books in the series. It almost seems like there’s more of a focus on world-building. There...
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MOVIE: Star Wars – Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.37 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan by any means. Sure, I like the original trilogy, but Return of the Jedi (1983) is my favorite of that set (take that how you will). In the end, I don’t look at this franchise through the lens of the expanded universe or all the lore tied to it. I just see them as movies. Are they entertaining? Sure, they have their moments. Are they groundbreaking? Not since A New Hope (1977), in my opinion. So, while The Force Awakens (2015) felt like a rehash/reboot, I did appreciate how The Last Jedi (2017) took some risks in terms of character development. So, how does The Rise of Skywalker (2019) fare? First of all, the plot moves at a hyperspace-clipped pace. There seemed to be so many loose ends to tie up and nostalgia to fit in that...
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MOVIE: An Education (2009)

An Education Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I’m not sure how I missed this film when it first came out. I suspect it was because I hadn’t started making a point to see all the Oscar-nominated films of that year—and 2009 bumped that number up significantly from five to ten. At any rate, I’m glad I eventually came around to it as it was a delightful—if not mostly generic—coming-of-age story. The only modern and recent example I can think of that equates to An Education (2009) is Lady Bird (2017), and I loved that film for similar reasons. As someone who generally grew up feeling “older” than his peers, I could relate to Jenny (Carey Mulligan, in her best Audrey Hepburn impersonation). There’s a point when some teenagers like Jenny think they’ve figured out the “rules” of life and are therefore ready to jump into adulthood with both feet. This is definitely where the titular “education” comes in. It's both...
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MOVIE: Hugo (2011)

Hugo Year: 2011 Rating: PG Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Enchanting. Charming. Magical. After re-watching this film again, I can still confirm Hugo (2011) legitimately earned all its technical Oscars, even if it didn’t end up winning Best Picture. Ironically enough, this American movie about the origins of French film lost out to a French movie about the origins of American talking pictures (i.e., The Artist (2011)). Of course, the more surprising aspect of this film was how Martin Scorsese was able to make such an entertaining (and family-friendly) film that didn’t involve the mafia at all. Personally, as an avid lover of classic films, I enjoyed the romanticism related to the earliest of film magicians. Scorsese’s love letter to the origins of cinema—and the masters of their craft like Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley)—is a stark reminder of how much we've lost of cinema’s heritage due to external events that forced the artistic community to abandon their art. The amount of experimentation and inventive...
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BOOK: Pandora’s Lab (2017)

Pandora’s Lab Year: 2017 Author: Paul A. Offit Length: 471 minutes / 7.85 hours Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry. Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by...
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MOVIE: East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden Year: 1955 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours East of Eden (1955) is one of those films that are famous only for who is in it and who originally wrote it. If this wasn’t one of the few roles James Dean had before his unfortunate death, I’m not sure I’d have watched it. Even if it’s based on a Steinbeck book, I think I’d prefer The Grapes of Wrath (1940) or Of Mice and Men (1939) to this. Still, there is some artistic merit to this film, even if it didn’t cover the entirety of the source material. It just goes to show how a movie can have staying power just from the people tied to it. Notably, I did enjoy pieces of the cinematography in East of Eden. In particular, when James Dean’s character is on the porch swing, that scene was shot in such a way that I haven’t seen done before or since. And while Dean’s performance...
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BOOK: Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018)

Record of a Spaceborn Few Year: 2018 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 696 minutes / 11.6 hours Considering that A Closed and Common Orbit was only loosely related to the first book in the Wayfarers series, I knew that I shouldn’t expect the third book in this series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, to have any significant connection to the previous books. Unfortunately, even the several different storylines in this book were hardly connected, seeming more like a series of short stories that were inter-cut between themselves. While Chambers’ world-building and dialogue are still top-notch, there isn’t anything in this book other than some boring characters living their boring lives. I understand that any author worth their salt will develop vast amounts of details about the universe they create. However, most authors leave the aspects of the minutia and banal day-to-day lives out of their writing in favor of an actual plot with actual conflict. Instead, this book is filled with the details of world-building and nothing else. If these characters...
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MOVIE: One Piece – Stampede (2019)

One Piece: Stampede Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s interesting how different Japanese franchises handle their 20th-anniversary movies. In the case of Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You (2017), a nostalgia tactic was used to bring in those viewers who might not have seen a Pokémon movie since the anime started airing back in 1997. Two years later, and another well-known anime (or at least it should be well known) has a movie that celebrates the 20th year of its animated series. One Piece: Stampede (2019) takes a somewhat different tactic here and embraces everything that turned it into what it is today. While anime movies rarely interact with the canon of the series they’re based on, it is essential to note that the author of the original manga did help create the story for Stampede. The reason why this is important is that this movie was able to bring together 20 years’ worth of extraordinarily overpowered and unique characters in a way...
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BOOK: Tongues of Serpents (2010)

Tongues of Serpents Year: 2010 Author: Naomi Novik Length: 355 pages Up until now, I had only read one other book by Naomi Novik. I had loved Spinning Silver and the unique take on a classic fairy tale it presented. While I understand Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in the Temeraire series, I found it to be inferior to Spinning Silver in many ways. I will also grant that I’m not necessarily the target audience for this genre of historical fantasy when it takes a more nautical tilt (like Far Side of the World does). Still, there was enough of a standalone element to Tongues of Serpents that I was able to pull a story out of it and write a review of it. Some things I had trouble getting used to in this book were the fact that the dragons all spoke in the same English as the human characters. I had a tough time identifying which characters were dragons and which were humans, and I didn’t know why they sounded so similar (I’m...
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BOOK: Quiet (2012)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Year: 2012 Author: Susan Cain Length: 639 minutes / 10.65 hours While it’s taken me a long time to finally get around to reading this book, most of what Quiet presented was what I had already known by living my life as an introvert. I will applaud this book’s ability to help society realize how ubiquitous the introverts that comprise the population are. Quiet also helps show what our needs are in this world that prizes the traits of extroversion over anything else. Even if there are many times where I have to put on my “extrovert suit,” it helps to know that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. Perhaps my only qualm with this book is how anecdotal the evidence is. Whether it’s stories about famous introverts (which can be inspiring) or younger introverts who are being brought up by parents who don’t quite understand the strengths of the introvert type, Quiet uses a lot of case...
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MOVIE: Hero (2002)

Hero Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours After the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) in most of the worldwide markets, it’s no wonder that a film like Hero (2002) would make an appearance. Capitalizing on the choreography and visuals that brought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon success, Hero takes these acrobatic battles to the next level, even to the point of them becoming ridiculous and semi-cartoonish. Add to this the deliberate color theming for each of the film’s different sections, and Hero almost becomes a piece of art in its own right. It’s almost a shame that there haven’t been more movies like this in the years since. While some of the CGI hasn’t aged well since 2002, and the acting can sometimes be too flat or too over the top, the story is still entertaining. The language barrier did make it slightly confusing at times, but the twists were top-notch. It did help to have the “framing” of the throne room to not only show the...
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BOOK: First King of Shannara (1996)

First King of Shannara Year: 1996 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,155 minutes / 19.25 hours While this prequel to the original Shannara trilogy was written well after completing the first three books, First King of Shannara failed to re-capture the magic that made me adore Wishsong of Shannara. If anything, this book seemed unnecessary. It told a story that already had a fixed ending as described in the exposition of The Sword of Shannara (which itself had a pretty un-climactic ending if I remember correctly). Sure, there’s a lot more world-building in this book, but only avid fans of the series will find any of it interesting. Perhaps my main gripe with this book is how I failed to care for any of the characters. Most of their interactions felt cliché and trite, and there was a smidge too many of them for me to want to take the time to know who they were. If anything, the characters were flat stereotypes with no personality. This was...
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MOVIE: Senna (2010)

Senna Year: 2010 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I’ve never been much of a fan of NASCAR racing, mostly because I knew that Formula-1 existed. While I haven’t paid much attention to Formula-1, it was interesting to watch the documentary on Ayrton Senna, especially with how it was put together. Most documentaries will intersperse interviews and other pieces of ancillary information to support the main narrative. Not Senna (2010). Consisting almost entirely of video clips recorded at the time he was racing, Senna is a fascinating look into this racer’s life that benefits from hindsight to piece the video clips together and the full story. The sheer amount of skill and mechanical prowess it takes to race Formula-1 cars at top speeds is what gives this film its initial entertainment value. Added to that, we have the charismatic personality of Ayrton Senna, whose whole goal in life was to be the fastest driver around. He didn’t care about the politics of the...
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BOOK: Weapons of Math Destruction (2016)

Weapons of Math Destruction Year: 2016 Author: Cathy O’Neil Length: 383 minutes / 6.38 hours I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book, Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control or change them. I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are messy, so I understand how finding...
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MOVIE: The Current War – Director’s Cut (2017)

The Current War: Director’s Cut Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I’ve known for some time about the “war” between alternating and direct current. It was such an interesting battle of egos between some famous names that are still known today. Heck, I even included elements of it as a sub-plot in my second book. Of course, I always thought the conflict was between Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and not being mainly between Edison and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). At any rate, I found The Current War (2017) to be an entertaining examination of the events that led the world to finally accept one of these currents as the de-facto way to distribute electric power. Stepping back for a moment to the presentation of this movie, I appreciated the cinematography and the driving music that helped ratchet up the tension between these famous engineers and entrepreneurs. Additionally, the actors chosen to play their respective roles fit quite well....
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BOOK: Cribsheet (2019)

Cribsheet Year: 2019 Author: Emily Oster Length: 642 minutes / 10.70 hours As a new parent and an engineer, I am skeptical when so much advice about raising a baby comes from hearsay or anecdotal evidence. So many controversial topics abound in the early years of a child’s life that I wanted to make sure I was basing my decisions off the scientific data instead of mere wives' tales. Fortunately, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool exists. Unfortunately, it has merely proven to me that there haven’t been enough rigorous studies to show any causal relationships to make my parenting decisions any easier. Similar in the tactics of Zero to Five (whose author was a science journalist), Cribsheet takes the experience of an economist and pits it against the studies that have been performed to determine which of them are legitimate enough to be trusted. In most cases, it seems that plenty of research into the benefits and detriments for children (and parents) merely...
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MOVIE: Blood Diamond (2006)

Blood Diamond Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours For years, I had heard about Blood Diamond (2006) from a variety of different viewpoints. Many friends would mention it about either Leonardo DiCaprio’s accent, the tense action, or the diamond industry as a whole. After a while, I made it a point to eventually see this film, even if I wasn’t sure when that would be. It took a while, but I did eventually have this chance, and I’m glad that I took it. Sure, Blood Diamond is a little difficult to watch in the sense that there are aspects of the African diamond industry that are straight-up human rights violations. However, it is important to know these things are going on to become informed about our world. The fact that there have been (and likely still are) child soldiers being brainwashed by ruthless rebels to overthrow the governments in Africa is a sobering thing to watch and a heartbreaking realization when you see how it...
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BOOK: Sleeping Giants (2016)

Sleeping Giants Year: 2016 Author: Sylvain Neuvel Length: 307 pages After my slight disappointment with Mecha Samurai Empire, I was pleased to find that a book that actually knows how to do "mecha" right already existed years before Mecha Samurai Empire was released. Taking a somewhat unique approach in its narrative structure, Sleeping Giants uses a series of interview transcripts to tell the story of discovering the parts of an ancient, giant robot and learning how to pilot this unique piece of equipment. There aren't any dialogue tags. There aren't any direct action sequences. There are just words describing the events as they happened. Somehow, it totally works. I seriously couldn't get enough of this book and basically devoured every word. I was a little disappointed with the semi-cliffhanger ending, though. Just as everything was starting to finally come together, it just kind of ends. Sure, many of the large plot movements reached a momentary conclusion but now I really want to know what happens...
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BOOK: Assignment in Eternity (1953)

Assignment in Eternity Year: 1953 Author: Robert A. Heinlein Length: 520 minutes / 8.67 hours Back in college, my first introduction to Heinlein was Stranger in a Strange Land. I had to read this book for my “Science in Literature” course, and I found it moderately interesting. Since then, I’ve read other Heinlein books like Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I didn’t realize how dedicated Heinlein was to some of his “supernatural” themes until I read Assignment in Eternity. Sure, most authors will have some concept or idea that they like to revisit. Still, the fact that a majority of Assignment in Eternity ’s included short stories deal in some way with “superhumans” must mean something. The whole concept of ESP and “evolved” humans isn’t interesting to me since I don’t think there’s much that can be done with the concept. While Stranger in a Strange Land covered most of the bases, Assignment in Eternity doesn’t really expand the ideas any further. If anything, Stranger in a Strange Land was the culmination of Heinlein’s obsession...
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MOVIE: City of God (2002)

City of God Year: 2002 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours About a decade ago, I saw a clip from City of God (2002) in my Film Studies course at college. One of my classmates brought it to show everyone how realistic the acting appeared during a scene where young children were initiated into a gang. I had to admit that the acting seemed authentic. However, I didn’t consider it as part of the whole movie until recently, when I had a chance to sit down and watch the entire thing. While I’ll agree that this short clip was a good example of what the film had to offer, I was more in awe of plenty of other aspects it brought to the table. First off, the beginning of this movie wowed me with its cinematography. The whole “chicken chase” sequence is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen. City of God still manages to maintain some exquisite subtlety in showing the audience what it wants...
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BOOK: The Force Doth Awaken (2017)

William Shakespeare’s the Force Doth Awaken Year: 2017 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours As I’ve been working my way through Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations of pop culture movies, I think I’ve hit the point where the novelty has worn off. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like The Force Doth Awaken had the same charm as other entries in this quirky mash-up series. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to one of two factors: 1. The newer movies have more “modern” dialogue that seemed as if it was directly plopped into the Shakespearean format, or 2. The original trilogy had more time to be ingrained in my psyche, and the translation to Shakespearean felt appropriate. I don’t want to downplay the novelty of this adaptation, though. The voice acting is still superb, and the sound effects add a little something extra that immersed me as I listened to this audiobook. Plus, it’s not like these books are that lengthy...
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MOVIE: Zombieland – Double Tap (2019)

Zombieland: Double Tap Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours It's a little weird to me that it's been a full decade since Zombieland (2009) came out. While I thought the original film was goofy and fun, it has since gained a bit of a cult following. What's weirder to me is how—in the years since the original—many of the cast of this franchise have gone on to be nominated for (and in some cases won) Oscars for their acting talent. It's no wonder the advertisements for Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) have picked up on this fact and used it to promote another ridiculous foray into the self-aware satire of zombie films. While I do admit that Zombieland: Double Tap does require having seen the first film to pick up on its numerous references, I also knew that its comedy would be as smart as its predecessor. I appreciated this wit, especially with a few literary references thrown in (like to Of...
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BOOK: The Skull Throne (2015)

The Skull Throne Year: 2015 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,509 minutes / 25.15 hours You’d think a book with (what I assume is) Renna Bales (nee Tanner) on the cover would follow her and the group of people she’s traveling with. You’d think a book titled “The Skull Throne” would spend a lot of time addressing the now-empty Skull Throne. Instead, we only got brief mentions of these two sub-plots. While I’m happy that the latter didn’t have many pages dedicated to it, I’m disappointed that the former was addressed for only a few scant sections at the beginning and end. Instead, the majority of this book spent time in places that didn’t advance the overall story at all. Having read all the books (and the “3.5” novella) up until now, my concerns that arose during Messenger’s Legacy seem to have materialized. Sure, I do enjoy following the three main characters from The Warded Man, but there were certainly moments where I thought I was reading...
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MOVIE: Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours When I saw the first trailers for Yesterday (2019), I had some high hopes for this movie. The premise of only one person remembering The Beatles in a world where this famous band didn’t exist was intriguing enough by itself to warrant a watch. Plus, with Danny Boyle directing, I had perhaps anticipated more than what I actually got. It’s hard to hate a movie with such a great soundtrack full of Beatles songs, but the execution of the entire idea left me wanting a bit more and breaking my suspension of disbelief on more than one occasion. Back in high school, I had a history assignment to perform a thought experiment similar to Yesterday: what happens if The Beatles didn’t exist? Instead of just being a weird gap in the cultural zeitgeist, I think this movie would have done better to see the amount of influence the band had throughout the music industry. Sure, some moments...
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BOOK: Mortal Engines (2001)

Mortal Engines Year: 2001 Author: Philip Reeve Length: 541 minutes / 9.02 hours In yet another case of watching a movie first before reading the books, I finally got around to reading Mortal Engines after absolutely loving the 2018 movie. While I understand middle-grade or Young Adult readers are the intended audiences, it left me wanting in its presentation. Sure, most of the elements that made it into the film were there (with some less-than-necessary parts being cut from the screenplay for obvious reasons), but the way it was written felt a bit too flowery for my tastes. In fact, the engineer in me would have loved a lot more world-building than I got in this short volume. I did still appreciate the post-apocalyptic steampunk world of Mortal Engines—if for no other reason than its ridiculous premise. The idea that whole cities would transform into moving monstrosities that devour lesser towns in a “predator and prey” relationship is such an intriguing notion that I had to give...
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MOVIE: Joker (2019)

Joker Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the saturation of superhero movies between Marvel and DC at all-time highs, it was only a matter of time before a movie like Joker (2019) would come along. If anything, the current socio-political environment in the real world is ripe for this kind of story. While superhero films are appealing to show how individuals with exotic abilities can do battle in CGI-heavy fight sequences, there is a certain amount of horror involved with Joker in the sense that it could realistically happen. There aren’t any radioactive spiders. There isn’t any high-tech gadgetry. There’s only mental illness. I applaud the team behind Joker for not resorting to hackneyed comic book origin stories like chemical spills or “tit for tat” vendettas (even if we had to watch one of the same origin stories again near the end). The casting of Joaquin Phoenix was initially an odd choice, but he nails the role. His type of methodical acting almost humanizes one of...
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BOOK: Ender’s Shadow (1999)

Ender’s Shadow Year: 1999 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 469 pages Those who have already read my reviews of the Ender Saga know I hold this series in high esteem. While this original series follows a format more similar to The Lord of the Rings—in that it starts with a singular prequel then advances into a three-book main story—approaching the first book in the series from another character’s point of view is a compelling tactic. Despite already knowing the outcome of most of the plot of Ender’s Shadow (via Ender’s Game), it was interesting to see how Card had improved his writing in the years since the original book in the series was released. While Ender’s Shadow could stand on its own, the shocking reveal in Ender’s Game is something that I felt lacked the impact it had in this book. Additionally, there was an unusual amount of nudity, even if it was markedly non-sexual. In the end, though, Ender’s Shadow is an excellent setup to a true sequel series instead of having to endure the “time...
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BOOK: Alvin Journeyman (1995)

Alvin Journeyman Year: 1995 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 902 minutes / 15.03 hours With this fourth book in the Alvin Maker series, I’m starting to see why a lot of writers like to stick to trilogies. If anything, I think most readers can probably skip this volume and move on to the next one because there wasn’t anything too new or interesting that happened in it. If anything, it was a re-hash of events in the previous book with a few new characters added to it. I will concede that Alvin Journeyman did finally develop a fitting antagonist for Alvin. Still, so few pages were dedicated to this sub-plot that I’m wondering if it should have just been pulled out and made into its own novella that would span the gap between book three and book five. Once again, the strength of the series as a whole carries through here, and some loose character arcs are tied up before moving on to more important things. However, spending the...
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MOVIE: Ad Astra (2019)

Ad Astra Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with Ad Astra (2019). The trailers I had seen made it seem like it was an action-filled space adventure akin to Interstellar (2014) or Gravity (2013). While it did handle all the outer space issues in a somewhat scientifically accurate way, Ad Astra was a much slower movie than I thought it would be. In fact, I’d probably compare it more to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for its almost plodding pacing. The real trick is that the plot of Ad Astra is basically an outer space version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, of which Apocalypse Now! (1979) is perhaps the most notable movie adaptation. Ad Astra does get credit for the beauty of its outer space environment. The settings felt massive in scale and intimate in their proximity. Each portion and waypoint of the journey seemed precisely how I would picture them eventually occurring in our not-to-distant future. Even if some aspects of the film...
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BOOK: The Fifth Season (2015)

The Fifth Season Year: 2015 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 927 minutes / 15.45 hours It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book with such a unique magic system in place. I truly enjoyed the amount of thought that went into a world where the main source of power was that of the earth itself. From magma to solid obelisks, the ability to control the vibrations of the planet (either to amplify or dampen) had an interesting and logical follow-through in its characters and storyline. I’m honestly looking forward to eventually starting the next book in the series since the world was built so well. It’s no wonder that it ended up winning the Hugo Award for that year. While I suppose The Fifth Season is also partly a pseudo-post-apocalypse story, it was only shown in small snippets and references here and there. Consequently, this would make this story almost “modern fantasy” in comparison to some of the classics. Additionally, this would explain some...
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MOVIE: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams Year: 2010 Rating: G Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Every once in a while, ideal conditions align to preserve a piece of ancient human history. Time and the march of civilization have destroyed plenty of important artifacts of our past, but occasionally something happens that protects this history for future generations to find. In Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), the audience gets a breathtaking look into an amazing discovery that has a cultural impact stretching back eons to the origins of our species. It’s a shame that most will never be able to visit this cave, but this documentary is practically the next best thing. Interspersing first footage and high-quality video of the cave, the music and narration in this film create a mesmerizing quality as we are introduced to cave drawings and other artifacts that haven’t been seen by human eyes in a very long time. The expansive nature of the art and the level of preservation are quite awe-inspiring. I...
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BOOK: Get Thee…Back to the Future! (2019)

William Shakespeare’s Get Thee…Back to the Future! Year: 2019 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 215 minutes / 3.58 hours Having already listened to the audiobooks for the Shakespearean versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, I was curious to see how another beloved pop culture film would fare with the treatment. Get Thee…Back to the Future! had a bit more of a challenge when compared to the Star Wars stories. First, as the plot is set in (relatively) modern times, much of our technology had to be “explained” in Shakespearean format (e.g., a car is “a horseless carriage born on fumes of gas and flame”). At least the Star Wars stories seemed to fit in the Shakespearean timeframe a little better. Despite this clash of modern and medieval, the transformation into Shakespearean form does end up working. I’d probably compare this to some of his comedies like Taming of the Shrew, 12th Night, and Much Ado About Nothing, if for no other reason than the comedy...
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MOVIE: Secondhand Lions (2003)

Secondhand Lions Year: 2003 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours Making a family-friendly film is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in cinema. Not only does it have to appeal to children, but it also has to avoid plenty of material that might not be appropriate for younger audiences. If families can get a powerful life lesson out of it as well, all the better. While modern fare tends to resort to the crass and focuses on bathroom humor for laughs, there are those rare few films that manage to tell a tight story. With legitimate laughs and a heartfelt conclusion, Secondhand Lions (2003) is just such a movie. The two strengths that make this one of my favorite family-friendly films are its characters and its plot. All three of the main characters show some amount of significant character growth by the time the end credits roll. Besides, with acting talents like Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, and Haley Joel Osment, you really can’t miss...
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BOOK: The Green and the Gray (2004)

The Green and the Gray Year: 2004 Author: Timothy Zahn Length: 560 pages I’ll admit that The Green and the Gray is an interesting concept. Two factions of humanoids living in secret in New York, holding on to a tenuous peace because a war would devastate their respective families. Baking this into a bit of urban fantasy was interesting for a while (the action helped). However, there’s so much filler in this book that makes me wonder if authors who write in this genre are required to hit a specific word or page count to even be published. Perhaps I’m just used to snappier action and less retreading of facts that the reader knows, but the characters don’t. There’s certainly a lot of mystery that needs to be solved and a lot of world-building that needs to happen for The Green and the Gray to make sense. As with any standard story of this type, certain aspects of the strange events and people fuel the...
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BOOK: The Waste Lands (1991)

The Waste Lands Year: 1991 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours Before I got into reading the Dark Tower series, I saw the movie adaptation. It’s honestly what inspired me to get into the books. While I was a little disappointed with The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three showed me the series’ true potential. Moving on from my favorite book in the series, we have The Waste Lands. It's sort of a mash-up of the two earlier books in terms of characters and plot points. However, it's ultimately less than the sum of their parts (and that’s mostly due to the ending). What strikes me with The Waste Lands is how it could have been better than it was. Those who have seen the movie version of The Dark Tower will recognize a lot of scenes, if not a huge chunk of them. I can see why they cut the two most interesting characters from the film, especially since everyone ends...
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MOVIE: Chocolat (2000)

Chocolat Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours Chocolat (2000) is one of those movies that I was aware of but hadn’t watched until recently. While it received a Best Picture nomination, I don’t think it was up to the level of the winner for that year, Gladiator (2000). Nevertheless, Chocolat is a charming story that lies somewhere between Footloose (1984), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), and Babette’s Feast (1987). What’s maybe a little odd to me about this movie is how I thought Johnny Depp would have a more prominent role in it, since he covers almost half the movie poster. Instead, it’s more a bit part that comes in about half-way through the film. While the conclusion of Chocolat is practically telegraphed from the start, it was still entertaining to watch the townspeople warm to the newly arrived chocolatier. Despite most of the characters might feeling a little one-dimensional, they are so fully fleshed out in the one or two qualities that make them distinguishable that you can’t help but enjoy...
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BOOK: Messenger’s Legacy (2014)

Messenger’s Legacy Year: 2014 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 172 minutes / 2.87 hours In a series that’s full of exposition and backstory, I found it a little odd that these extraneous details weren’t relegated to side-story novellas so the plot of the main series of books could focus on the current action. What’s even more curious is that Messenger’s Legacy, a side-story novella in this series, doesn’t explore anything new or interesting that hadn’t already been covered in the main books. The only new information I learned in this novella was slightly more detail about bog and swamp demons, which seems unnecessary with all things considered. Following somewhat minor characters from The Warded Man (who haven’t appeared in the series since), Messenger’s Legacy shows it is easier to survive in demon-infested nights than the series initially indicated. While I’m not sure if any of these details will come into play in the main-line books, it does help expand the world-building just a little bit...
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MOVIE: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Anvil! The Story of Anvil Year: 2008 Rating: Not Rated Length: 80 minutes / 1.33 hours Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) is one of those movies I sat down to watch because it’s on the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Before watching this film, I honestly had never heard of this Canadian heavy metal band, and it soon became apparent why. What immediately struck me was how similar the premise was to the 1984 mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap. It was difficult to separate this real-life story of the rise and fall of a heavy metal band with the Rob Reiner comedy since so many of the beats of the plot seemed to match up. Still, it was somewhat engrossing to see how Anvil! followed the progression I’d already seen in Spinal Tap. At first, I thought, “Is this for real?” This was before I realized that perhaps the reason why Spinal Tap worked so well was because that’s just how the music industry functions and has functioned...
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BOOK: The Daylight War (2013)

The Daylight War Year: 2013 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,607 minutes / 26.78 hours I’m glad to see that it only took two books for Peter V. Brett to cut down on some of the extraneous flashbacks and exposition in the Demon Cycle series. While whole chunks of The Warded Man could have been cut with nothing significant lost in the process, and The Desert Spear had what appeared to be an unrelated storyline that weaved through the narrative, The Daylight War has a minimal amount of this “fluff.” Granted, there is still some amount of world-building that helped to explain yet another aspect of this setting, but it’s minimal in comparison to its predecessors. Additionally, I already knew this series was an adult fantasy from my experience with The Warded Man and The Desert Spear. These are tame when compared to the third entry in the series. The sex in this book made the previous two look like nuns in comparison. Sure, it...
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MOVIE: Heat (1995)

Heat Year: 1995 Rating: R Length: 170 minutes / 2.83 hours It’s interesting to go back and watch something by Michael Mann after seeing his later work. I enjoyed Collateral (2004) and considered it to be a well-directed film. Of course, there’s deliberate pacing and acceleration of Collateral that drew me in. Unfortunately, this biased me somewhat when I sat down to watch Heat (1995). Stylistically, both are fairly similar and use similar locales. However, at almost three hours long, some of the pacing in Heat made me think that it could have used a bit of a trim in the first half. I understand the deliberate nature of the buildup of the first half, with each event introducing some core tenet of the main characters that come to fruition by the end of the film. It helps that there’s a good bit of action early on, but until the twist that happens about half-way through occurs, the comparison to the pacing of the second half makes the early part of this movie...
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BOOK: The Drawing of the Three (1987)

The Drawing of the Three Year: 1987 Author: Stephen King Length: 766 minutes / 12.77 hours While it took me a while to get used to The Gunslinger, I was able to dive right in with The Drawing of the Three as I continue reading this Dark Tower series. Personally, I think the simplicity of the story and the immediacy of the danger helped to hook me from the start. Unlike the first book in the series, The Drawing of the Three has a solid set of relatable characters that are introduced just fast enough to get used to their unique personal challenges. If anything, these individuals piqued my interest, and I’m curious to see where their story goes from here. One aspect of this book I found to be extremely entertaining was the action sequences. When there were stakes on the line, and things had to happen, the resulting action in these plot-moving points was both intense and hilarious. Generally, I am not much...
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MOVIE: As Good as it Gets (1997)

As Good as it Gets Year: 1997 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours I’m not sure how it’s taken me this long to sit down and finally watch this movie. I’ve enjoyed other films by James L. Brooks, like Terms of Endearment (1983) and Broadcast News (1987). If anything, As Good as it Gets (1997) is almost like the end of the trifecta of Brooks films, considering how well-received by critics they are. When it comes right down to it, the appeal of these movies is the characters. There’s a heart and realism rarely seen in comedies (most of which resort to stereotypes and fart jokes to get a laugh). As a more intellectual comedy, As Good as it Gets manages to bring together three unlikely people and push their boundaries to grow as characters. Of course, it’s somewhat easy to do this with abrasive characters like Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson). After all, actively trying not to be a jerk is great growth potential. Additionally, other characters grow through their...
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BOOK: Mecha Samurai Empire (2018)

Mecha Samurai Empire Year: 2018 Author: Peter Tieryas Length: 447 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For a genre that’s usually associated with Japanese anime and manga, I haven’t seen many “mecha” novels (or movies, for that matter, with Pacific Rim (2013) being the only notable example). Consequently, when I received an advance reader copy of Mecha Samurai Empire, I was looking forward to reading it. While there were still a few grammatical and proofreading errors in this book—of which I’m sure have been fixed in the final version—portions of the plot didn’t sit well with me. My main qualm is the main character who really isn’t good at anything but still gets to pilot a huge and complicated piece of machinery just because he wants to. A clear and obvious mix between The Man in the High Castle and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the few strong elements of this book were in the mecha battles themselves. The problem is that the references sprinkled throughout...
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BOOK: Roadwork (1981)

Roadwork Year: 1981 Author: Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) Length: 577 minutes / 9.62 hours I wasn’t aware of Stephen King’s Richard Bachman pseudonym until I picked up this book to read on a whim. While it’s clear all of King’s technical prowess is still present in Bachman’s work, the “king of horror” gained a chance to write outside his genre. Of course, King has done this before with a few different books (like Hearts in Atlantis, The Green Mile, and The Dark Tower series), but writing under a pseudonym seemed to unleash an amount of cynicism I’ve hardly seen in King’s writing before. Written in the early 1980s, Roadwork exhibits all the identifying marks of a cynic who has been over-saturated with consumerism. The need to have a job to support a family by buying a house that needs to be filled with the accouterments of modern living is a bit too much for some people. This is especially true for those who don’t...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours Quentin Tarantino has changed. While I loved Inglorious Basterds (2009) for its alternate history, and Django Unchained (2012) was another strong showing, it seems like he’s just getting out of his western phase. For his latest film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019), Tarantino seems to have continued his trend of making very long movies but chose to condense his trademark graphic violence down into an intense sequence that only lasts a few minutes at most  (like The Hateful Eight (2015)). Perhaps he has matured as a director, but that’s what makes this film so jarring compared to his previous work. Anyone familiar with the Tarantino aesthetic knows that he’s particularly fond of the pop culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Consequently, it’s interesting to see how real he’s made this era feel on the big screen. That being said, some of the “fake” movies appearing in this film are...
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BOOK: BlacKkKlansman (2014)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2014 Author: Ron Stalworth Length: 352 minutes / 5.87 hours As someone who lives in Colorado Springs and calls this town my home, I was intrigued by Ron Stalworth's story after watching the 2018 Spike Lee movie based on the undercover investigation into the local Ku Klux Klan. Sure, I didn’t live in the Springs during the period covered in this book, but I did have enough understanding of the town to know the locations referenced throughout. To think that I live close to some of the areas that could have been affected by cross burnings or other Klan events is a little eerie to me, mostly because it’s something I rarely think about. For those who have seen the movie first, this book covers everything that made it to the big screen but also adds some details about other events not directly linked to the Klan (but were still relevant to the discussion of race in the area). I’ll admit that Colorado...
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MOVIE: L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential Year: 1997 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours There are police dramas, and then there are police dramas set in Los Angeles. Something about this town makes the crimes that much more interesting. Maybe it’s the intersection of fame and criminal activity. Perhaps it’s that the crimes are so much more grandiose due to the wealth of the area. Whatever the reason, L.A. Confidential (1997) is a fantastic film that manages to show different perspectives of the seedy underbelly of the glamor and glitz that makes the town so successful. If it weren’t up against Titanic (1997), it probably would have won a lot more awards than it did. It’s almost surprising how many famous actors are in this film. Sure, some of them were unknowns at the time. Even within three years, we’d see Guy Pearce in Memento (2000) and Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2000), both rising into their stardom. This is not to mention the fantastic performances by Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, and Ron Rifkin....
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BOOK: Prentice Alvin (1989)

Prentice Alvin Year: 1989 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 830 minutes / 13.83 hours As I’ve been reading through the Tales of Alvin Maker series, I have found it interesting to see what big societal issues have been covered so far. While Seventh Son tackled religion and Red Prophet delved into politics and war, Prentice Alvin bit off a big chunk of racism and tried to address it in a way that’s half fantasy and half historical fiction. Sure, there’s still some semblance of the religion content present in this book that informs the racism dialogue. Still, these large issues end up taking a back seat to the more fascinating aspects of the titular character learning how to control his incredible powers. In fact, this might be my favorite book of the series so far. It’s always more entertaining to watch a character come into the depth of their abilities, and Prentice Alvin has this in spades (both metaphorically and literally). While there weren’t many instances of Alvin directly being affected by a conflict...
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MOVIE: Spider-man: Far from Home (2019)

Spider-man: Far from Home Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), there were still plenty of questions that remained. While still part of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-man: Far from Home (2019) attempts to grapple with the outcome of such a pivotal film in the superhero franchise. As was the case with its predecessor, Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), Far from Home shows the audience the impacts of the other films in the MCU in a way that’s personable and relatable. After all, it’s easier to connect with a “friendly neighborhood Spider-man” than with a multi-billion dollar playboy. I did appreciate the emotional depth of this movie, especially considering how Tom Holland handles the role of Peter Parker. From grieving over the losses of Endgame while also trying to move forward with his life, Peter has plenty of growth opportunities throughout this film. That being said, Far from Home seems to hit almost...
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BOOK: Origin (2015)

Origin Year: 2015 Author: Dan Brown Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours When it comes to Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of books, I have appreciated his ability to mold art and symbology into a tight and thrilling narrative. His works have not been without controversy, the main perpetrator, of course, being The Da Vinci Code. In Origin, Brown leaves the world of classical art for the modern pieces that are still filled with meaning and symbology, just not in ways that lend themselves to uncovering ancient mysteries. While there is plenty of interesting plot points and twists along the way, Origin seems set to stir the pot of controversy more than tell an interesting story. It’s been quite some time since the last Robert Langdon book released, so this book needed to advance its technology to be able to keep up with the modern times. If anything, I felt the inclusion of artificial intelligence down-played why Langdon was even involved at all, since he was mostly the “answer man” who knew the...
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MOVIE: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4 Year: 2019 Rating: G Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours After the Toy Story “trilogy” ended in 2010, I was honestly a little confused and irritated that Disney/Pixar would open up this franchise again for a fourth entry. That being said, I now see the entire “story” was not complete at that point. There was still some amount of finality that the franchise had not reached. Of course, now I’ll be mad if they decide to make a Toy Story 5 since Toy Story 4 (2019) wrapped everything up so nicely and conclusively. Then again, maybe the next entry in the series will finally explain the odd rules about toy sentience. By far, the most striking thing about Toy Story 4 is its visuals. I was ten years old when Toy Story (1995) came out. Even in the four years between it and Toy Story 2 (1999), I could see massive improvements in what computers could create in terms of CGI imagery. With Toy Story 3 (2010) having just over a decade to improve its visuals,...
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BOOK: How to Tell Fate from Destiny (2018)

How to Tell Fate from Destiny: And Other Skillful Word Distinctions Year: 2018 Author: Charles Harrington Elster Length: 320 pages I’ve written blog posts and recorded vlogs about writers who seem to rely on spell check to make sure they’re using the right word. Most of the time, they probably didn’t have an adequate editor to review their manuscript and thus didn’t check whether or not they were using the right word (even if the wrong word is spelled correctly). With the state of the printed word slipping year after year, a book like How to Tell Fate from Destiny should be a standard reference on any writer’s desk. Although, many of the words covered in this book are slowly changing due to idiomatic circumstances. It is slightly encouraging to see examples provided in this book from reputable sources (like well-known newspapers and magazines) that still have these common errors in their writing. If anything, these examples prove how difficult it can be to distinguish the correct...
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BOOK: Red Prophet (1988)

Red Prophet Year: 1988 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 733 minutes / 12.22 hours Continuing from the previous book in the Alvin Maker series, Red Prophet flashes back and shows certain events from a different point of view before driving forward into some fascinating alternate history. I continue to enjoy the fantastical elements brought into American history, even to the point of explaining how certain famous historical figures were the way they were. Although, if you know enough history, you’ll realize the fates of some of the characters presented in Red Prophet (William Henry Harrison, for instance) might not need the foreshadowing missing from this text. While Seventh Son managed to set up this alternate history and establish some of its rules, Red Prophet delves into the action and excitement that comes from some of the more “kinetic” talents of these characters. Once the plot catches up with where Seventh Son left off, I was hooked. The interactions between Alvin and the Native Americans were quite interesting, and I found everything up until the climactic battle to...
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MOVIE: Aladdin (2019)

Aladdin Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When the animated version of Aladdin came out in 1992, I was seven years old. As a young boy, I could finally relate to the titular character since the focus of this Disney film wasn’t as much on the “princess” as it was on “Prince Ali.” Consequently, this film has remained one of my favorite Disney films over the years and is one I have mostly memorized after repeated viewings in my childhood. As such, I was partly looking forward to this live-action adaptation due to my love of the original. The other part of my anticipation was because Guy Ritchie was directing it (and I’ve loved plenty of his earlier works). Having now seen this version of the rags-to-riches tale, I’m in this weird “uncanny valley” of storytelling. Because I have the original memorized, this version of the story was close enough to be predictable but not a word-for-word re-enactment, which is what I found...
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BOOK: Ideas, Influence, and Income (2018)

Ideas, Influence, and Income: Write a Book, Build Your Brand, and Lead Your Industry Year: 2018 Author: Tanya Hall Length: 214 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ll admit that I initially thought this book was for all kinds of writers, to include fiction authors. I was looking for a few good ideas to push my brand out of the mires of obscurity, and this book seemed like it would help. While Ideas, Influence, and Income is focused mainly on those people who might not even consider writing a non-fiction book, there’s still plenty of advice for authors of all stages. The insight the author brings to the table here is a little intimidating, though, and not for the weak of will. As far as I could understand it, this book caters towards individuals who are “trendsetters” or “influencers” who could turn their original idea into a brand that could support a book, speaking engagements, and other social media content pieces. Because of...
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BOOK: Seventh Son (1987)

Seventh Son Year: 1987 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 547 minutes / 9.12 hours Having loved Orson Scott Card’s Ender Saga, I decided to start into another of his series, Tales of Alvin Maker. I was used to his science fiction writing, so I thought it would be interesting to see how he handled semi-historical fiction. For the first book in a series, Seventh Son certainly has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s clear this book came on the heels of the Ender Saga, as there are a lot of parallels between characters and motifs that I just couldn’t ignore. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing by any means. While the history of colonial America is the setting of Seventh Son, the fantasy elements added to it made for an interesting read. I did appreciate the distinctive “good vs. evil” conflict between the Makers and the Unmaker, even if it’s a little too tried and true. At the very least, while the religious characters had...
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MOVIE: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Captain Marvel (2019) fills this weird space that essentially exists between the “Part 1” of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). While Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) also explained some of the events and plot points that would need to happen before Endgame, Captain Marvel took a slightly different approach by essentially acting as an origin story and prequel for a lot of loose bits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Needless to say, I didn’t miss much by passing on this film and seeing Endgame first. I knew I was taking a risk with watching these movies out of order—especially considering how pivotal Black Panther (2018) was in setting the stage for Infinity War. However, there were key moments in this movie that made me go, “Huh. That explains that little bit from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).” The fact that Captain Marvel was...
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BOOK: Ember Falls (2016)

Ember Falls Year: 2016 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 234 pages Being a fan of children’s series like The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as a lover of rabbits (owning two Flemish giants as pets), I was glad to get back into the Green Ember series with the second book, Ember Falls. Obviously, as this series is mainly geared toward children, there were a few points of the plot of this second book that I either predicted from the start or could see coming from a mile away. In any case, the world building that continued with this book was top notch, despite certainly feeling like a “linking” part of the series. While The Green Ember could stand on its own and laid the groundwork for the books that came after it, Ember Falls certainly needs its predecessor to make sense. It also seems to rely on the next book in the series to reach some conclusion. This is an issue that often arises in book...
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BOOK: Micro (2011)

Micro Year: 2011 Author: Michael Crichton and Richard Preston Length: 833 minutes / 13.88 hours I liked Michael Crichton’s writing. And what I mean by this is that I liked Jurassic Park (and to a lesser extent, The Lost World). Recently, I’ve been delving into a few of his other works, like Timeline and Micro. I understand that authors like Crichton excel in their genre—in this case, the technological thriller—but at what point does it just become the same old song and dance? Sure, I know a different author completed Micro and released posthumously. However, it mostly just felt like another re-hash of Jurassic Park mixed with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). To Crichton’s credit, I feel his exploration of complex scientific principles in his writing are easy to understand and mostly accurate. For Micro, each bit of information that drove the plot seemed to make sense from a scientific standpoint. This was a plus considering how often the “shrink ray” sci-fi trope is...
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MOVIE: Shazam! (2019)

Shazam! Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours As far as self-aware movies go, I think Shazam! (2019) is the best example from the genre of comic book heroes. Deadpool (2016) might have been more “meta,” but Shazam! hits all the bits that make comic books popular to kids, especially young boys. As a fan of self-aware films, I would have seen this movie anyway. However, with Zachary Levi in the lead role, I absolutely had to see it. I’ve generally been a fan of his work from Chuck and Tangled (2010), so seeing that he still has his comedic timing in shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and movies like Shazam! is encouraging. In terms of plot, the premise is somewhat weak, but the pitch is something akin to “Big (1988), but as a superhero film like Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).” In fact, there’s at least one scene in a mall that winks so hard at this reference, I was afraid it...
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BOOK: The Baby Owner’s Manual (2003)

The Baby Owner’s Manual Year: 2003 Authors: Louis and Joe Borgenicht Length: 226 pages You might be shocked to learn that some men do read the instructions. There have been numerous products that I have purchased over the years which necessitated a read-through of the instructions provided. Usually, these were items of extreme complexity or of thorough interest to me to require fully understanding the items before beginning to use them. The Baby Owner’s Manual might seem like a humorous fusion of a parenting book with a repair manual for a vehicle, but somehow the fusion of these two works better than I would have ever expected. Published by Quirk Books (who have created other genius mash-ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Shakespeare’s Star Wars), The Baby Owner’s Manual takes the complicated and frightening task of keeping a newborn alive and presents the necessary information in a format that any guy can understand. In fact, aside from a few choice substitutions that make...
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BOOK: Nightflyers (1985)

Nightflyers Year: 1985 Author: George R.R. Martin Length: 247 minutes / 4.12 hours Those who are familiar with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series may be lamenting the end of the semi-faithful Game of Thrones television show. In the time we’ll all have to wait until the next Song of Ice and Fire book comes out, there are other little stories from this author to satiate our appetite. Nightflyers is a short novella by Martin that also seems to be hinging itself on the success of Game of Thrones, albeit in the science fiction genre instead of high fantasy. Considering how verbose Martin can get with his works, it was almost refreshing to read a story that was so focused and short. Granted, even though Nightflyers is science fiction, all of the notable George R.R. Martin elements were present: mainly, sex and violence. Depending on your tolerance of these elements, I can say that they’re at least naturally integrated with this...
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MOVIE: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Detective Pikachu Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours The transition of nostalgia into live action can be a tricky business. Plenty of franchises have faltered in this aspect, so it was interesting to see Pokémon approach it from a side angle. Instead of adapting the core series of games or anime to a live-action adaptation, they instead used a spinoff game as the framework to create this movie. Despite my initial skepticism, I can honestly say that Detective Pikachu (2019) works much better than any video game franchise adaptation before it. It’s not entirely perfect, but it came a lot closer than any of its predecessors. On the plus side, the “realistic” Pokémon were enthralling—if not wholly terrifying (I’m looking at you, Ludicolo)—to see in a real space interacting with humans. I already had a bit of a visceral reaction to seeing realistic fur, skin, and feathers on Pokémon when I played Pokken Tournament DX. At least they certainly seemed to be at...
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VIDEO GAME: Owlboy (2018)

Owlboy Year: 2018 Rating: E10 Time Spent: 5+ hours I had seen a video of some Owlboy gameplay a while ago that made the game look interesting enough to buy. The retro 16-bit-style graphics were what drew me to this adventure platformer. Now that I’ve played through it, I found it to be somewhat…disappointing. Sure, the visuals are quite striking, and each location certainly has some elemental charm to it. Additionally, the story is relatively simple but also charming in its own way. In the end, though, I don’t think I’ll give this game an additional playthrough. This is mostly because—without trying—I collected almost everything in the game in my first go. First off, this was a fairly short game, which I should come to expect from independent game developers. After all, Cave Story and Undertale weren’t terribly long, but perhaps I’ve been spoiled by games like Hollow Knight. Secondly, even up until the last boss, I could never quite get the hang of the...
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BOOK: Flight of the Kikayon (2013)

Flight of the Kikayon: A Space Opera Novelette Year: 2013 Author: Kary English Length: 25 pages As an avid reader, I am aware that there are different lengths to stories. Novels are usually the longest, followed by novellas and short stories, which are each shorter than the last, respectively. Up until now, I had never heard of the “novelette,” which seems to sit somewhere between novella and a short story. Considering Flight of the Kikayon only took me about a half-hour to finish, it was definitely shorter than a novella. I’m just not sure if defining a new term for short story is necessary. In either case, there were some details that I think could have easily been added to make this a fully fleshed-out novella. What starts as a story that could have been an exciting look into surviving on an alien planet pretty quickly pivots into a flashback. I’m not sure this backstory was entirely necessary, especially since the main antagonist seemed like a...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return (2014)

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return Year: 2014 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 204 minutes / 3.40 hours Of the original Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi has been my favorite for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed how there was some finality to the stories started back in A New Hope, and Empire Strikes Back. Plus, there were a ton of neat creatures (like the Rancor and Sarlacc) and machines (like the Speeder bikes and AT-STs) that grabbed my attention from a young age. Sure, I can understand the depth of Empire Strikes Back now that I’m an adult, but Return of the Jedi always holds that element of nostalgia for me. So, how does the Shakespearean version of my favorite Star Wars story stack up? If anything, Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return is consistent with its predecessors, Verily, a New Hope and The Empire Striketh Back. I enjoyed the voice acting and the little changes that made the audiobook more than...
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MOVIE: Missing Link (2019)

Missing Link Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours It’s been about a decade since I started loosely paying attention to the works of Laika Entertainment. With so few studios committing to stop-motion animation, I’m always intrigued by a movie that isn’t just straight up CGI animation. For the most part, Laika’s films have been entertaining, but not incredibly extraordinary. Movies like Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012) were certainly high points, but my personal favorite was definitely Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). Initially, when I saw advertising for Missing Link (2019), I didn’t realize it was a Laika film. Once I learned that it was, I made sure to see it. Unfortunately, while I would have liked another film along the lines of Kubo, Missing Link was more like The Boxtrolls (2014) in terms of its humor and presentation. I understand these films mostly target children, but the amount of crude humor mostly turned me off. That’s not to say that the technical achievements of Laika’s stop motion aren’t on full display here. With...
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BOOK: How to Traumatize Your Children (2007)

How to Traumatize Your Children: 7 Proven Methods to Help You Screw Up Your Kids Deliberately and with Skill Year: 2007 Author: Knock Knock Length: 144 pages A friend of mine loaned me this book to help prepare me for the joys of parenting by using a slightly humorous slant on the standard parenting books that hand out helpful advice for parents to be. While I chuckled at some of the pages as I flipped through the book, once I sat down to read it, I almost immediately became depressed. Sure, How to Traumatize Your Children is tongue-in-cheek, but that only lasts through the first few chapters. Overall, it’s virtually a traumatizing look into actual bad parenting instead of a comedic take on it. The moment that it hit me how real these “methods” are was when I started to realize many parents inadvertently use them to their children’s disadvantage. From my own experience, and observing the experiences of others, this book presents each one of these methods in...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back (2014)

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back Year: 2014 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 205 minutes / 3.42 hours I said it for my review of Shakespeare’s Star Wars, and I’ll say it again: this combination of old verbiage and meter with popular science fiction is a match made in heaven. The follow-up to the first part of the original trilogy, Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back continues to be an amusing exercise that anyone who loves Shakespeare and/or Star Wars will enjoy. Some consider Empire to be the best part of the original trilogy, and its adherence to the plot won’t disappoint. Additionally, the audiobook version continues to use music, sound effects, and voice acting to recreate an experience as close to the source material as possible. While the audiobook did provide a robust experience of the text (especially the voice actors who recreated Han Solo and C-3PO’s speech patterns), the author’s explanation at the end made me realize there were some aspects that weren’t quite as...
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MOVIE: How to Train Your Dragon – The Hidden World (2019)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours I haven’t always been a fan of DreamWorks movies, but the How to Train Your Dragon series is, in my opinion, perhaps the best they’ve ever created. Of course, I’m probably a little biased because each entry in the series came at a time in my life where I was reaching a milestone. How to Train Your Dragon (2010) came out as I was settling into my life as an independent adult. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) followed me from dating into marriage. Now, the final chapter in the series, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) is on the cusp of my transition into parenthood. Consequently, I had high expectations for the end of this trilogy. I wanted it to go out with a grand finale like Toy Story 3 (2010) did (before they even decided to make Toy Story 4 (2019), that is). Unfortunately, I did not find this to be the case....
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BOOK: The Far Side of the World (1984)

The Far Side of the World Year: 1984 Author: Patrick O’Brian Length: 406 pages Nautical historical fiction is a rare genre for me to read. The last one I read—and that most people would be able to recognize—was Moby Dick, and that was probably 15 years ago. Needless to say, I found myself in brief possession of The Far Side of the World and decided to give it a read. Of course, this was mostly because of the movie of the same name released in 2003 that earned many Oscar nominations (only winning in two). While the plot of both is slightly different in a few key areas, I wasn’t disappointed with having read this book. First, as a historical look into the realms of sailing and whaling at the time, The Far Side of the World does a fantastic job of informing and educating the reader without necessarily resorting to huge exposition dumps. Sure, a few moments were a little obvious that the author was trying to get...
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BOOK: The Desert Spear (2010)

The Desert Spear Year: 2010 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,573 minutes / 26.22 hours The second book in the Demon Cycle series, The Desert Spear practically proves my point that its predecessor, The Warded Man, started in the wrong place. In fact, if there weren’t an awesome battle sequence at the end of The Warded Man, I’d suggest just skipping to The Desert Spear since all the key moments from the first book were referenced in this sequel. That being said, this book has some of its own issues, some of which are gripes I continue to have about this series—which makes me think this is just the way these books are going to be. Before I get too far down the criticism hole, I do want to say that I truly enjoy the magic system in these books. The Desert Spear doesn’t necessarily do anything new with it, but there’s at least a little more world building that happens in terms of the...
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MOVIE: Avengers – Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 181 minutes / 3.02 hours With last year’s semi-cliffhanger, Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019) had a lot of ground to cover to reach a satisfying conclusion of over ten years of filmmaking. It’s no wonder that it’s just a smidge over three hours since there’s a lot of ground to cover here. I’ll admit that the only instantiations of these superheroes that I’m familiar with is via the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, it was probably better to go into the finale this way, having no preconceived notions of how the characters should act or the lore they’re connected to in the comic books. For a three-hour movie, Endgame moves at a steady pace that accelerates toward the inevitable conclusion. Following a standard three-act structure, Endgame benefited from bringing all the heroes together in Infinity War and establishing a baseline to work from and a goal to work toward. It was nice to see how each of these characters handled such a dramatic universal event. This is...
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BOOK: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2008)

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die: 5th Edition Year: 2008 Author: Steven Jay Schneider Length: 960 pages As a movie aficionado, it was only a matter of time before I picked up this book. At the time, the 5th edition covered most of the films that were out at the time, but I do realize there are more recent versions of this book that include some of the latest hits of the last decade. Not one to use this book as a simple desk reference, I took the time to sit down and read through the reviews of these 1,000+ movies. In the time since buying this book, I’ve managed to increase my percentage of films seen, but there’s still a long way to go. Even before I started reading this book, I had already seen a good portion of the movies mentioned, many of which won critical awards for their achievements. With a concerted effort, I’m now sitting at 42% of these 1001 movies...
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MOVIE: Isn’t it Romantic? (2019)

Isn’t It Romantic? Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours I generally enjoy “self-aware” movies. Those films that know which genre they’re in and make fun of it the entire time. While it’s entertaining to see all the various tropes of a particular genre exposed in this method, these films still have to abide by these rules as well. This has been done to varying levels of success for action movies (Shoot ‘em Up (2007)), Disney movies (Enchanted (2007)), and superhero movies (Deadpool (2016)). Filling the hole of the self-aware romantic comedy is none other than Isn’t It Romantic? (2019). Despite not being terribly into romantic comedies, this self-aware film piqued my interest. Isn’t It Romantic? doesn’t necessarily fully commit to the self-aware theme. Instead, it encapsulates the ridiculous romantic comedy bit in the framing of a coma. The main problem I had with doing it this way was that Natalie—the main character played by Rebel Wilson—realizes she’s in a romantic comedy fairly quickly. However, she still seems...
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BOOK: Expeditions of the Mantis (2019)

Expeditions of the Mantis Year: 2019 Author: Jim Henderson Length: 260 pages Sequels are interesting creatures. While the onus of the first book of a series is to lay out some ground rules of the universe and introduce us to the main characters, any follow-on books should dive a little deeper into the characters and explore some of the conflicts that drive the universe. Expeditions of the Mantis attempts a bit of the latter when compared to Jaunts of the Mantis, but ends up falling into old patterns by the end of the book. If anything, I have more questions about this universe now than when I started, since Expeditions of the Mantis only scratched the surface of some fascinating topics. Unfortunately, while the crew of the Mantis was the most interesting aspect of Jaunts of the Mantis, the dynamic didn’t work as well in this sequel. If anything, the inability to add in a strong “third character” (a role held by the preacher in the previous book) highlighted how one-dimensional these characters...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s Star Wars (2013)

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope Year: 2013 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours Much like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies took a classic and fused it with something entirely opposite from its original intent, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope manages to take something modern and combine it with the classic styling of William Shakespeare. It’s no wonder these two kinds of books are both from Quirk Classics. While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies essentially forces the reader to read Pride and Prejudice, but with zombies added in, Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the re-telling of the original Star Wars (1977) screenplay, but in iambic pentameter. To be honest, if someone were to stage this version of Star Wars, I’d pay to see it in a heartbeat. Not only does the basic plot from the movie transfer over almost flawlessly, but the addition of the Shakespeare dialogue and verbiage made this way more entertaining than it had any...
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MOVIE: Vice (2018)

Vice Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours It’s a little weird to me how a director like Adam McKay has gone from directing movies like Anchorman (2004) and Talladega Nights (2006) to entertaining exposés like The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018). Sure, I can see how his comedy background could lead to the razor-sharp wit used to educate the movie-going public about the 2008 mortgage crisis and the former vice president, respectively. It’s evident the Academy likes his new style as well, as both The Big Short and Vice were nominated for Best Picture. While I liked The Big Short a lot, Vice certainly had its moments. I’ll give props to Christian Bale for his ability to mimic Dick Cheney’s mannerisms in this role. Sam Rockwell was also pretty great as George W. Bush, but I couldn’t get past Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. I also appreciated the tongue-in-cheek “false ending” in Vice, as it was probably one of the funniest moments in the film. Just like how learning about the mortgage crisis was...
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BOOK: Jaunts of the Mantis (2019)

Jaunts of the Mantis Year: 2019 Author: Jim Henderson Length: 241 pages Ever since I discovered the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, I found that I enjoyed the “down to earth” (metaphorically speaking) stories of space travel. These books added some realism to the science fiction genre by covering some of the details involved with running a ship in outer space. From ship maintenance to inventory management, these stories tended to focus on the close-knit relationships of the crew and their adventures across the universe as they try to make a living. Modern-era equivalents would be stories with people on submarines or shipping barges, but the addition of space travel makes this sub-genre entertaining for me. Another entry in this genre is Jaunts of the Mantis. Covering a handful of scenarios, the book gets into the adventure reasonably quickly with a minimum of the crew (maybe a few less than might actually be needed). These “jaunts” cover all the standard setups for this kind of book....
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BOOK: Foundation and Empire (1952)

Foundation and Empire Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 575 minutes / 9.58 hours One of my qualms with the start of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series was how different the stories were from each other. Each was set in the same universe but failed to have much of a cohesive narrative that tied them all together. While Foundation covered five different short stories, its sequel, Foundation and Empire managed to whittle this method of storytelling down to two novellas. The result was a clear improvement in clarity and focus as each half of this book only covered a single plot each. In Foundation and Empire, I finally was able to read a story that stuck with me in this series. Up until this point, I probably couldn’t tell you the premise of any of the short stories in Foundation, let alone the plot of the first half of this book. However, once this book transitioned over from topics that were more in line with science...
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MOVIE: The LEGO Movie 2 – The Second Part (2019)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Back in 2014, children at heart everywhere were able to experience the world’s most successful building toy brand on the big screen via The LEGO Movie. With a catchy, Oscar-winning song, this Matrix-like movie was fun and self-aware. Fast forward five years, and the sequel, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) released with hardly the amount of fanfare and advertising that accompanied the original. I think this may have been in part due to how the formula the first movie used to great success has been done to death now. With spinoffs like The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) and The LEGO Ninjago Movie(2017) saturating the market, it's hard to capture the magic of the original. The real problem with The Second Part comes via the twist at the end of the first movie. Now that we know these toys merely exist in the imagination of a young boy, it’s hard to put that reveal back...
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BOOK: The Point (2018)

The Point Year: 2018 Author: John Dixon Length: 320 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** With the rise in popularity of the superhero genre, it was only a matter of time before it leaked into other genres. While some genres like steampunk (like in The Esper Files) make for an interesting twist, others like military YA sci-fi are so similar as to be just one other entry in the zeitgeist. The problem with this is that other, more famous handlings of supernatural superpowers bring much more to the table than books like The Point (which doesn’t necessarily add much to either genre on the whole). As far as I could gather, there are only three or four different “types” of mutants in The Point: telekinetic, pyrokinesis, super strength, and “other” (like dream manipulation and energy storage, the latter of which was reasonably original). I suppose franchises like X-Men and One Piece, which give each of their unique characters unique superpowers and rarely (if ever)...
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BOOK: Foundation (1951)

Foundation Year: 1951 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 518 minutes / 8.63 hours For years, people have asked whether or not I have read the penultimate science fiction series that is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Up until now, I could not say that I had. While I knew the series by its name, I hadn’t ever heard any comparisons or even knew what these books were about. This probably should have been my first indication of what to expect. I wasn’t expecting anything other than its notable status as a pillar of classic sci-fi. If anything, the fact each “section” of Foundation is its own short story says volumes about the origin of the genre. Set within the same universe, Foundation follows five different groups across the timespan of a couple hundred years. Asimov explored a few different concepts and spent most of this book in world-building mode. I’ll applaud his ability to remain fairly consistent across these different stories, but the fact that there isn’t much...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours There’s no hiding that Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. My reviews of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Venom (2018) say as much. I grew up watching the 1990s animated Spider-Man show, so when I saw early trailers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), I half-thought it would be some direct-to-video movie. After all, everything up until now had been live-action. I was encouraged to learn that it would receive a theatrical release, especially when I started to see more footage of its unique artistic style. Not only does Into the Spider-Verse embrace its comic book origins, but it also does so with a flair and panache that I’d almost like to see in other superhero franchises. Over the years, I’d only loosely been paying attention to what was happening in the Spider-Man comics. Sure, I knew about Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) but more in the sense that they were departures from the white-male Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) that...
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BOOK: Kaleidoscope (2018)

Kaleidoscope: Keeping the church from becoming a museum Year: 2018 Author: Kurt Trempert Length: 226 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** In Kaleidoscope: Keeping the church from becoming a museum, Kurt Trempert uses the metaphor of the kaleidoscope to examine what an incarnational church looks like when compared to some of the stagnancies arising in the modern American church. This book addresses many issues and criticisms the church faces in the contemporary era. They're covered in a way that shows not only what’s perhaps behind these shortcomings, but what can potentially be done to fix them. Of course, this then begs the question, who is this book’s audience? Is it for those who run their local church, or the congregation of said churches? Content-wise, I didn’t have many issues with what was presented here. Most of my qualms had to do with the formatting, including right-align text, the font, and lack of indents. Since it was consistent throughout, I eventually got over it. I would...
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BOOK: The Wishsong of Shannara (1985)

The Wishsong of Shannara Year: 1985 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,253 minutes / 20.88 hours One thing that was made clear to me when I read The Elfstones of Shannara was that this trilogy (that started with The Sword of Shannara) didn’t follow the same characters from book to book, per se. Sure, there were characters like Allanon the Druid who managed to span all three volumes, but overall I didn’t find that I needed to have read the previous book in the trilogy to understand what was going on in the story. This was quite beneficial when I started reading The Wishsong of Shannara, as it quickly grew to be my favorite in the series so far. While I had high hopes for the “main quest” of this book, the fact that it’s put into side-story status almost from the beginning was a little frustrating. Don’t make me follow the journey of the character who needs to grow the most! Show me the thrilling adventures...
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MOVIE: Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours Now that Marvel’s 10-year behemoth of its cinematic universe is starting to pay off, it’s becoming more and more obvious that DC is trying desperately to catch up. There’s no doubt that DC has interesting characters, considering how often Superman has been rebooted and how successful Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was. Even Wonder Woman (2017) had its great moments, despite also feeling derivative influences from movies like Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Aquaman (2018) seems to continue this trend, despite again having a strong leading character (both physically and in backstory/lore). I will give DC credit for their casting decisions here. For decades, Aquaman has been the butt of the joke amongst many superhero aficionados. The fact that Jason Momoa is a badass, snarky, and overall entertaining actor to watch in the role speaks to their awareness of “image management.” Perhaps featuring him in previous films like Justice League (2017) also helped to get audiences interested in seeing this superhero in a standalone movie....
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BOOK: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (2019)

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill Year: 2019 Author: Abbi Waxman Length: 352 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’m not sure if The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is a millennial romantic comedy or a hipster romantic comedy. Either way, I did enjoy reading it, mostly because the formula for this genre is relatively straightforward and predictable. It probably helped that I could relate to the main character, or at least her introverted nature. The supporting characters were a bit quirky and fun as well which just added to the entertaining nature of the narrative. At the very least, I could see something like this becoming a movie, even if it was only released on cable television. Since the copy of this book I read was an advanced reader copy, I’m sure some of the errata like missing book images at several section breaks and a few backward quotes near the end will be fixed for the final product. Content-wise, I did find...
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MOVIE: Glass (2019)

Glass Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Much like Incredibles 2 (2018) felt like a movie that came out far too late, Glass (2019) caps a trilogy of films that technically started with Unbreakable (2000). Both the original Incredibles (2004) and Unbreakable were genre-defining movies for the practically non-existent superhero films that are all but ubiquitous today. The fact that they took more than a decade to capitalize on this phenomenon is part of the reason why both sequels feel somewhat dated. Sure, they recapture a bit of the charm of the originals, but that’s not enough to overcome what superhero films have evolved into since then. If anything, Glass owes a debt of gratitude to its predecessor, Split (2016). If it weren’t for James McAvoy’s expert transitions between a dozen different personalities, I wouldn’t have been particularly interested in this final chapter of the trilogy. While Split was a return to form for Shyamalan, Glass seems like a bit of a regression. Perhaps this is due to the heavy burden placed upon Glass to combine two tonally different movies...
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BOOK: The 39 Steps (1915)

The 39 Steps Year: 1915 Author: John Buchan Length: 234 minutes / 3.9 hours It’s weird to think that stories like The 39 Steps have only been around for 100 years. Perhaps their ubiquity in modern action thrillers has made me numb to their “man on the run” plotline, but I didn’t find this book to be as interesting as I had expected. Sure, it’s short, but how many of its twists and turns were merely repeating the same way of escaping the main character’s pursuers time and again? And perhaps that’s the main issue I have with this book: the main character seemed to be too skilled at eluding capture for it to be believable. I know the “wrong man” trope that thrusts an ordinary person into these kinds of circumstances isn’t as realistic as it could be, but when Richard Hannay just happens to know exactly what to do at each instance, I wonder how “ordinary” he really is. Don’t get me wrong, the chase...
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MOVIE: Roma (2018)

Roma Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Don't get me wrong. I like Alfonso Cuarón's films. I liked his films before I even really knew who he was as a director. If anything, he's shown that he's the master of cinematography, especially in long takes that seem to pan through almost the entire film. He first showed this talent in Children of Men (2006) and continued to impress with this technique in Gravity (2013). While he's shown he has mastered the long take, his signature style is still on display in Roma (2018) through its numerous pans. That being said, I found the content of Children of Men and Gravity to be much more interesting than that of Roma. Cuarón pulls us into his Mexican roots in this film, choosing the early 1970s to set this "slice of life" tale. The problem is, while the film looks quite artistic, with the black-and-white aesthetic fusing nicely with the expert camera work (along...
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BOOK: Nobody’s Fool (2019)

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead Year: 2019 Author: Bill Griffith Length: 256 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I was growing up, I occasionally read Bill Griffith’s comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead. While the absurdist humor was a bit above my head at the time, the titular character stuck with me. Fast forward to when I won a giveaway copy of Nobody’s Fool. I thought this was going to be a fake biography about the origins of the comic strip character; I was surprised to start reading and find so many real-life details from the 1930s. I thought it was an odd detail to include a fictional character in a well-known cult classic like Freaks (1932) until I realized that this story wasn’t fictional. It was about the real person who inspired the character of Zippy the Pinhead. Of course, I didn’t come to this realization until I was about half-way through the book. Griffith’s self-insert around this point helped to confirm my suspicions....
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens (2010)

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens Year: 2010 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 382 minutes / 6.36 hours After reading through the last two books in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series, I was hesitant to continue with the fourth book, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens. What I found innovative and hilarious in the first book had become a bit more annoying by books two and three. Book four, however, was a refreshing addition to the series. It helped that the jokes were funny enough that I actually laughed out loud. Moreover, the lore and overall arching plot of the series seemed to coalesce into something that made sense and was actually driving toward a satisfying conclusion. While I can’t completely disregard the previous two books in the series, I felt that there was probably enough backstory explanation in Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens that these other books could be potentially be skipped over altogether. After all, we learn a lot about Alcatraz, his family roots, and the Smedry talents in this book, and...
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MOVIE: Alita – Battle Angel (2019)

Alita: Battle Angel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the plethora of successes that the comic book movie has seen over the last decade, it’s a little disheartening to see the Japanese equivalent fail to make much headway. There are just as many interesting and action-packed stories from manga and anime that deserve the treatment given to comic book movies. Instead, busts like Dragonball: Evolution (2009) and Ghost in the Shell (2017) have shown that live-action adaptations are challenging, especially when there’s already an animated counterpart. This was why I was excited to see Alita: Battle Angel (2019). While many manga/anime film adaptations fail to grasp the feel of the source material, Alita appeared to be a passion project for James Cameron. The fact that Robert Rodriguez directed this movie helped as well, considering how well he brought the graphic novel Sin City to the screen in 2005. Of course, he also directed Spy Kids (2001), which was colorful and full of fun action. In the end, I found Alita to be somewhat...
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BOOK: Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid (2019)

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid Year: 2019 Author: Marcus Emerson Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Once again, I seem to have jumped in on the second book of a series. Fortunately, there was plenty of exposition detailing the events of The Super Life of Ben Braver. Maybe a little too much exposition. This sequel took a little long getting to its own story because of this, along with a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing as well. Regardless of its slow start, Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid is a pretty standard middle-grade book that calls upon the success of the superhero genre to package a lesson about pride between action set pieces. While there are some parallels between the X-Men series, I feel the main character’s arc is perhaps a little more similar to early My Hero Academia. Plus, it wouldn’t be a middle-grade story without a bit of a Harry Potter feel to it as well (i.e., a unique main character with a semi-bumbling male...
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BOOK: The Arctic Incident (2002)

The Arctic Incident Year: 2002 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 387 minutes / 6.45 hours Sequels can be tough. There seems to be a need to incorporate what made the original successful, while also trying out new ideas at the same time. Additionally, the characters need to grow and show that they can handle any new problems thrown their way. In The Arctic Incident, the sequel to Artemis Fowl, I found more of the same military sci-fi fantasy elements present, but with changes to the characters that took away a lot of what I liked about them in the first book. And by characters, I specifically mean Artemis Fowl. While the first book in this series contained a confident, coy, and conniving teenage super-genius, The Arctic Incident took Artemis Fowl and expanded those brief moments of emotional vulnerability into an entire character. Perhaps this was due to Artemis joining forces with the same magical creatures that he swindled out of their gold in the first book, or maybe it was...
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MOVIE: Bumblebee (2018)

Bumblebee Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours While I’m nowhere close to being a fan of the Transformers series, I’d occasionally watch the latest installment when it came to the cheap theater in town. I stopped doing this after the third film and only saw the fourth one on Redbox. I never even bothered with the most recent one. Then comes along this spinoff to the main storyline, Bumblebee (2018). For once, I was legitimately interested. The trailers made it seem like a cute little prequel/backstory for the practically mute robot in disguise. In the end, I was not disappointed, as Bumblebee was a fun and charming romp that showed what this franchise could have been like if Michael Bay didn’t direct. I appreciated how this movie essentially went full-in with its nostalgia. After all, since the Transformers originated in the 1980s, why couldn’t a film take advantage of this timeline to also reference lots of other 80s pop culture? Fortunately,...
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BOOK: Creating Characters (1990)

Creating Characters: How to Build Story People Year: 1990 Author: Dwight V. Swain Length: 195 pages Writing advice is generally pretty timeless. Fundamentally, little changes between the classics written hundreds of years ago and the classics written today. Sure, there might be some new way to go about creating plots, or there might be a scientific breakthrough that tweaks a setting or two, but the one thing that remains constant throughout is characters. Complex characters have always been interesting, even if it can be a challenge to create them for a story. This is where Creating Characters: How to Build Story People comes in to help. While there is plenty of great advice in this book, I did find that it to be somewhat dated in a few spots. We’re now almost 30 years after this book was initially written, so the author's advice for writers working on radio plays might work for someone doing podcasts, but not much else. Similarly, there are tons of great examples...
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BOOK: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Year: 1831 Author: Victor Hugo Length: 1,136 minutes / 18.93 hours Victor Hugo is one of those classic authors who I’ve hesitated reading because his stories tend to have a lot of details that don’t necessarily add to the plot. Sure, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is no Les Miserables, but Hugo’s style made this book perhaps a little longer than it should have been. Either way, now I know a lot more about the architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral. Despite all this, the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is timeless in many ways, not the least of which centers around its titular character. While modern stories are vying to be inclusive and diverse, Victor Hugo managed to write a story in the 1800s that not only included a disabled individual but racially diverse characters (at least for France) as well. The fact that both are sympathetic protagonists helps cement Quasimodo and Esmerelda in my mind. They’re both persecuted in their own ways;...
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MOVIE: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

The Fate of the Furious Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours I’ll be honest and admit that this is the first movie in the Fast and the Furious franchise that I’ve ever seen. Sure, I’ve been aware of the franchise for years, but it never really appealed to me (I’m not much of a car guy after all). I got a free digital copy of this movie somewhere along the line and decided I might as well watch it since I own it. I had plenty of preconceived notions about this series based on little tidbits I’d picked up over the years, and pretty much every one of them was confirmed with this movie. I think this movie might be best summed up by one of the lines of dialogue. “What are you, 12?” A lot of the characters’ interactions and dialogue seemed like how a 12-year-old boy who was really into cars would write them. This was especially apparent during...
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BOOK: Artemis Fowl (2001)

Artemis Fowl Year: 2001 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 281 pages With the movie adaptation of this book coming out in a few months, I figured the premise of Artemis Fowl looked interesting enough that I’d want to read it before seeing the film. After all, a child genius going up against fantasy forces sounded like it would be entertaining. Overall, this was true. Granted, this book starts one of those classic Young Adult series that’s actually meant for children, so I can forgive a bit of its bathroom humor—but only to a point. Still, I found the fusion of modern technology and fantasy elements to be the strength of this book. Much in the vein of the science fantasy genre, Artemis Fowl uses scientific principles and concepts to explain the numerous phenomena connected to creatures like fairies, dwarves, and trolls. It only makes sense that these creatures would evolve technologically along with humanity. Being able to explain how these creatures could remain undetected for thousands of years was nearly...
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BOOK: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Year: 2007 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 1,222 minutes / 20.37 hours Now that I’ve finished the third book in this series, I realize it falls into the “trilogy conundrum” of having a strong, standalone first part, followed by two sequels that rely on each other to finish out the story. Heck, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest should have just been Part 3 of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since it completed the story arc started back in book one. I had my suspicions this book would continue from the exact moment where The Girl Who Played with Fire ended. After all, there were a ton of loose ends, and the story ended abruptly. Part of my issue with this book was that it was primarily tasked with tying up all the subplots from the first two books. However, it still felt like it needed to spend time on new storylines that didn’t add much to the overall plot and were only...
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MOVIE: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ralph Breaks the Internet Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Back in 2012, I was impressed that a movie like Wreck-It Ralph could exist. The amount of licensing agreements needed to bring together so many recognizable characters from famous franchises was a daunting task the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). Similarly, the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) had the challenge of integrating so many brand names and websites into something that could work as a story without becoming too dated as time marches on. In both cases, I think the balance between brand-name recognition and original content helped to make for an entertaining film. In the lead-up to the release of Ralph Breaks the Internet, I was concerned that it was going to rely heavily on internet memes for its laughs—taking a somewhat similar tack from The Emoji Movie (2017). I also had concerns that this movie would also focus...
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BOOK: Clash of Eagles (2015)

Clash of Eagles Year: 2015 Author: Alan Smale Length: 464 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** When I picked up Clash of Eagles, I thought the idea had merit. The Roman Empire remained strong and alive past its original fall and finally managed to work its way over to the North American continent. Just like the Europeans from our history, they encountered the Native Americans who vehemently protected their native land from foreign invaders. Basically: Romans vs. Indians. Since the timeframe for this book was a few centuries after the original fall of Rome, I was expecting a bit more in terms of this alternate history but was ultimately disappointed with the result. While a lot can change in a few hundred years, the Romans remained mostly the same. Sure, the Native Americans had some impressive new technology, but then the narrative felt pretty one-sided. Since the book focused on the advancing Roman troops, I had trouble latching on to the main character for...
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BOOK: Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire (2018)

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire Year: 2018 Author: John August Length: 411 minutes / 6.85 hours Having already read Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon, I decided to go back and read the book that kicked off this series. While I already knew what had happened in Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire—as the sequel frequently referenced it—I still appreciated reading the details myself. I had a few questions and concerns that I hoped this book would address, and only about half of them were answered to my satisfaction. Still, I did enjoy this Harry Potter and Boy Scouts mashup, even if it is literally that. In the sequel, I definitely got the Harry Potter vibe, but I fully realized the almost 1-for-1 influence of the J.K. Rowling series on this series when I read this book. Unsuspectingly powerful main character with a unique physical trait? Check. Overachieving female friend? Check. Somewhat bumbling male friend? Check. Different groups categorized via...
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MOVIE: A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours If this movie feels like the same old song and dance, it’s because it is. This film is the fourth iteration of the same plot that was nominated for Best Picture back in 1937. While it’s been over 20 years since its last incarnation in 1976, A Star is Born (2018) is surprisingly still relevant. While they’re somewhat touchy subjects, alcoholism and depression are still as alive and well today as they were just over 80 years ago. After all, you can’t be an entertainer without sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That being said, I do appreciate this movie’s overarching theme of “words have power.” I did find it hard to suspend my disbelief with the casting in this film, though. I mean, even if Lady Gaga is playing some nobody, it’s not like I have to stretch my imagination to think that her character would suddenly become a music...
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MOVIE: The Favourite (2018)

The Favourite Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours What. The. Favourite. For those of us watching all of this year’s Best Picture nominees, The Favourite (2018) is certainly the token “artsy” film of the set. It felt like it was following in the footsteps of last year’s Phantom Thread (2017) in that the set decoration and costume design were exquisite, despite the—let’s face it—weird characters. Regarding the plot, though, I did find The Favourite to parallel the events in the 1950 Best Picture winner, All About Eve. While its art is on full display for all to see, The Favourite is a bit more than how it looks. Aside from the aforementioned set decoration and costume design, I have to applaud this movie’s cinematography. I’d wager that it’ll win in these three categories, but the cinematography stands out because it’s so different from most films. Heavily utilizing wide-angle fisheye lenses, as well as copious amounts of natural light (perhaps as an aesthetic homage to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), which also shares a somewhat...
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BOOK: The First Five Pages (2000)

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile Year: 2000 Author: Noah Lukeman Length: 208 pages As a writer who is looking to submit to agents soon, I was hoping The First Five Pages would give me some insight into the hook that could lead to the acceptance of my book. Additionally, as an individual who also creates and publishes short story anthologies, I hoped this book would give some useful advice for writers to keep their stories out of the rejection pile. Unfortunately, while this book is almost 20 years old, much has changed since its initial publication. Everyone has computers. Word processors and other tools are in abundance. Nobody prints out manuscripts anymore. Split into three sections and a total of 19 topics, this book doesn’t so much tell an author how to avoid rejection from agents and publishers as much as how to write. I will say from personal experience that the one topic on formatting is the...
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BOOK: The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006)

The Girl Who Played with Fire Year: 2006 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 1,115 minutes / 18.58 hours Despite some of its weaknesses, some of which were due to my reading it via audiobook, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great book. In its sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, some of these weaknesses were addressed, but others manifested in their place. Again, these faults might be attributed to the audiobook format, but are fairly minor when considering how fantastic the story is as a whole. In fact, I probably like The Girl Who Played with Fire more than its predecessor. Of course, part of this was how events in the first book carried over to influence the plot of the second. In the first book of the Millennium series, I didn’t realize just how much sex was in it. This was mostly because of the rape scene that made everything else seem tame in comparison. In this book, the sex is still there, but there’s so much of it...
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MOVIE: Creed II (2018)

Creed II Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While I have only ever seen the original Rocky (1976) and the spinoff/reboot Creed (2015), I’m still aware of some of the details of the Rocky franchise as a whole. I know who some of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) opponents were over the years, including James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Consequently, even though Creed felt like it took the franchise in a new direction by focusing on Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son, its sequel, Creed II (2018) felt too steeped in the franchise’s history and nostalgia to be anything more than a rehash of Rocky IV (1985). If anything, having Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), face off against Ivan Drago’s son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), as a revenge match that followed the same plot points as its predecessor smacks of lazy and clichéd writing. I would have been much more interested in this film if, even despite all the training each son endured, the outcome would have been different...
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BOOK: In Ashes Born (2015)

In Ashes Born Year: 2015 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 310 pages As someone who enjoyed the core Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, parts of it seemed rushed in order to focus on the rise of Ishmael Wang to the penultimate title of “Owner.” Along the way, there were characters and sub-plots that I would have loved to see more of but woefully had to settle with focusing almost entirely on Ishmael’s story. From his time at the Academy to whatever happened with his first marriage, I think these moments not contained in the wrappings of ship life would have added a few moments of reprieve between the exciting world of Solar Clippers. In Ashes Born manages to quench my thirst for more stories set in this universe. It also manages to pull together many of the interesting characters over the core 6-book series and place them on track to have perhaps the most exciting adventure yet. Similar to how Ender’s Game pulled disparate characters together for a final battle...
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MOVIE: Green Book (2018)

Green Book Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that has the right balance of themes and execution to make it into an instant classic. When I first saw trailers for Green Book (2018), I initially thought it was just going to be an inverse of Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Instead, what I got was so much more than that. Green Book tackles the difficult task of presenting a harsh mirror on our past, with a knowing wink that some of these challenges are still present today. It is more subtle than BlacKkKlansman (2018), but the message still gets across in a heartwarming and wholesome way. What makes Green Book so engaging is the simplicity that it approaches such a nuanced and complex approach to the topic of racism. The irony that rich white people in the south would hold Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) in such high regard as a musician but treat him as less-than-human the second he is not performing...
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BOOK: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Year: 2005 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 980 minutes / 16.33 hours For many years, I was hesitant to read this book, mostly due to a few intense sequences that I saw in the David Fincher film adaptation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be subjected to them in book form any more than I had been already. Fortunately, these scenes were quite a bit more tolerable in the book, mostly because the descriptions weren’t nearly as visceral as watching them on the big screen. I’m only now kicking myself for waiting this long to read such a fantastic book. While the book and the movie diverge in a few spots, I can see the reasoning behind the differences. When it comes right down to it, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a showcase for its titular character. Lisbeth Salander is tough, smart, and an overall entertaining individual to follow. While it takes quite a while for her to...
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MOVIE: Mortal Engines (2018)

Mortal Engines Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours If I were to look at Mortal Engines (2018) critically, I’d notice a number of flaws. From fairly flat characters to a string of movies and directors that it tries to imitate, this film should be terrible. And yet, given that I’d already suspended my disbelief by entertaining the idea that an apocalypse would result in cities mounting up on enormous machines and scavenging smaller towns for fuel, I found this movie incredibly entertaining. Perhaps the base plot isn’t too original, but the execution felt fresh and new. Somehow, I was able to turn off my critical brain and just enjoy this movie for what it is: pure, unadulterated fun. As someone who appreciates film as an art form, there is plenty of it on display here. The look, feel, and aesthetic of Mortal Engines is so bold and consistent that the core concept of the plot naturally follows. The visuals and soundtrack merely accentuate the action...
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BOOK: The Warded Man (2008)

The Warded Man Year: 2008 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 453 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For anyone who thinks that fantasy is a childish genre, The Warded Man shows that it can have very adult themes. While this adds an element of realism by including sex and violence, it also means that the intended audience for this book should be mature enough to be able to pay attention. Unfortunately, this book takes a repetitive approach with its character arcs, almost as if writing for children who need the point constantly driven home. In the end, I’m mostly just disappointed at what this book could have been instead of what it was. I’m not sure if there’s a minimum page count/word count for fantasy books, but The Warded Man seems to be an interesting novella, padded out with tons of unnecessary backstory—or at least backstory that could be covered in a relevant line or paragraph when needed. I did like the concept and the magical system in...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (2009)

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 406 minutes / 6.77 hours You know, it’s difficult to review a book that already highlights its flaws in the text itself. Part of me wonders if the reviews from the second book in the series were bad enough to warrant this kind of meta self-awareness. In the end, while Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia does take the time to address these weaknesses in its story and characters, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that they’re in there in the first place. These winking soliloquies seem to gloss over the fact that the book knows what’s wrong with it, but instead decides to gloss over it with self-reference instead of fixing the root of the problems themselves. By this point in the series, I have come to terms with its middle-grade silliness and occasional bathroom humor. I loved the rule-breaking first book in the series, only to become annoyed by this constant...
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MOVIE: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours The idea that an African American could become a member of the Ku Klux Klan is silly enough that it became a joke on Dave Chapelle’s television show. Of course, this movie isn’t a comedy sketch, as it is based on true events. Obviously, there were plenty of elements in this film that were likely fictionalized to make the story more “Hollywood,” but it’s still an interesting story, nonetheless. Part of the trick of this movie, though, is that it treats itself almost like a half-modern documentary of the KKK as well, which makes it seem like there wasn’t enough source material to make an engaging plot. Another part of me was interested in this movie for its setting. Living in Colorado Springs, it was interesting to me that certain landmarks and places in town were referenced, which merely added realism to the story as it was presented. From NORAD and Fort Carson to...
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BOOK: The Graduate (1963)

The Graduate Year: 1963 Author: Charles Webb Length: 366 minutes / 6.10 hours If I could condense this book down to a single phrase, it would be “What?” It’s not that I didn’t understand this book, it’s more that this single word/question was used for every third line of dialogue. Not only was this incredibly annoying to read—as every character seemed to have hearing problems that required the other speaker to repeat themselves—but it just seemed to pad out an already weak plot. I have no idea how this book became so famous that it led to a much superior film adaptation, but now I know that nobody should bother reading this book because of its inspiration for the movie. Let’s talk about character motivations next. Nothing ever made any sense. Sure, there’s a bit of existential ennui involved with finishing something you excel in (school, in this case), but the actions of the main character only make sense up until a point. Once we hit...
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MOVIE: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours It's difficult to hate a film that's filled with so many great songs. Fortunately for Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), almost all of Queen's greatest hits are pulled out and strung together to cover a rather large timeframe of 15 years. Of course, like most musical biopics, it does tend to hit the same notes as predecessors before it. Perhaps this is merely due to the "rock and roll" lifestyle, but I couldn't help but see similar situations in films like De-Lovely (2004), Ray (2004), and Walk the Line (2005). While the cultural landscape has changed a lot from the 1970s and 1980s until now, some of the film's "reveals" that would have been a little more shocking (i.e. Freddie's homosexuality) were perhaps lessened due to the fairly famous end of this talented singer. That being said, some of the lyrics of these well-known songs take on a strikingly more poignant context during the recreated Live Aid concert in...
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BOOK: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (1993)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print Year: 1993 Authors: Renni Browne and Dave King Length: 237 pages Even though this book was published 25 years ago, its advice for aspiring authors is timeless. From those just starting to veterans still polishing their craft, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was initially released. After all, the pre-eminence of self-published authors has spawned a plethora of poorly-written and amateur works that seriously need some form of editing. On the plus side, the more self-published authors who take the advice in this book and put it to good use, then perhaps there will be less of a stigma against them in the future. Breaking down the editing process into 12 distinct parts, this book shows the reader—through numerous examples—how a lousy piece of prose can be edited into something much more palatable. That being said, there are a lot of examples, some of which take up multiple pages. Occasionally, the errors...
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BOOK: A Closed and Common Orbit (2017)

A Closed and Common Orbit Year: 2017 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours After the refreshing sci-fi The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I was ready to follow the crew of the Wayfarer to their next adventure. Unfortunately, the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, decided to take a path more akin to The Godfather Part II (1974). Instead of following the main characters of the first story, this sequel delved into the new life of the AI now known as Sidra, while also interspersing a quasi-related prequel story of one of the new characters introduced in this book. Fortunately, these two stories were well paced against each other. Even though I feel readers could pick up this book without having read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, there are certainly a few details about the diverse races found in this universe left out of this book—probably for the sake of brevity. This didn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of A Closed and Common...
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MOVIE: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 133 minutes / 2.21 hours The Coen Brothers have a curiously innate ability to be able to create stories that can one moment be comedic and laugh-out-loud funny before taking a dark turn into tragic territory. While their latest work, the Netflix film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), looks like it would trend more toward comedy, it basically spends most of its time in the realm of violence and tragedy. Now don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. In fact, once the first few “comedic” pieces conclude, the movie really gets into some fantastic stories. Arranged as a series of six vignettes, the main star of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the setting. Filmed on location in a variety of western locales, the beauty of the scenery is on full display in each of the six stories (even if in lesser amounts in the last piece). The cinematography is superb, only barely outperformed...
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BOOK: Here and Now and Then (2019)

Here and Now and Then Year: 2019 Author: Mike Chen Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ve always found time travel to be an intriguing plot device. There are plenty of rules that come along with this phenomenon, but they can be somewhat flexible based on the situation that demands it. In Here and Now and Then (which is a brilliant title, by the way), the “rules” about time travel are reasonably strict, even if there’s a fair amount of hand-waving to explain away any changes made to the timeline. While this leads to a perfectly suitable ending, there were certainly a few alternative endings that I would have liked to have seen as well. Set in two time periods over 100 years apart, the main plotline follows Quinoa “Kin” Stewart, a time traveler from the future who was stuck in the past with no hope of returning home. Taking some advice from comedian Mitch Hedberg, “If you find yourself lost in the woods…build...
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BOOK: The Elfstones of Shannara (1982)

The Elfstones of Shannara Year: 1982 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,400 minutes / 23.33 hours Back in 2016, I saw advertisements for a TV show adaptation of the original Shannara trilogy, likely trying to cash in on the success of Game of Thrones. While I never watched the show, I remembered enough from these trailers that I was able to recognize that the plot of the first book in the series, The Sword of Shannara, was not the plot of the series. However, when I started reading the next book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara, suddenly memories of the TV show came to mind. Having finished this book, I can see why the TV show wanted to start here. I didn’t particularly care for the derivative Sword of Shannara, as it seemed to steal all its ideas from The Lord of the Rings. While The Elfstones of Shannara still appears to take influence from this quintessential epic fantasy, there are enough other fantasy tropes thrown in to make it feel at least...
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BOOK: Dreadfully Ever After (2011)

Dreadfully Ever After Year: 2011 Author: Steve Hockensmith Length: 287 pages While the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a combination most people never knew they needed, apparently making it into a trilogy was the next logical conclusion. Combined with the prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Dreadfully Ever After puts the series to rest with a sequel that seems to re-hash a lot of similar ideas presented in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but with enough connection to the prequel and at least one or two original ideas that helped to round out the characters. These new ideas were logical extrapolations from the events that concluded Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so they weren’t necessarily shocking, but still entertaining to pull the thread nonetheless. I think, overall, I prefer the prequel and sequel to the original Austen/monster mashup. It probably helped that both were written by the same author, who was essentially writing fan fiction based on the idea that this romantic classic could be combined with the undead. Dawn...
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BOOK: The Black Star of Kingston (2015)

The Black Star of Kingston Year: 2015 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 160 pages Immediately after I finished reading The Green Ember, I picked up this short story/prequel and read through it in one sitting. I had become pretty well invested in the world created in The Green Ember and wanted more of it before diving into the sequel, Ember Falls. While The Green Ember mentioned a story of The Black Star of Kingston in its main plot, I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed as I would have hoped. Sure, all the things that made The Green Ember great were mostly present in The Black Star of Kingston, but it felt a little…underdeveloped. Once again, the strength of the plot and characters helped provide entertainment as I read this story. However, without a more comprehensive understanding of the lore of this series, I wasn’t quite sure where this story fits in with the rest of the canon. I knew it was a prequel...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones (2008)

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones Year: 2008 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 425 minutes / 7.08 hours Earlier this year, I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and absolutely loved it. Consequently, I had high hopes for the next book in this series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. While there was still the same amount of self-awareness and humor in this book, it felt a little…off. Perhaps I should have read these two books closer together, but I had some trouble coming up to speed in the beginning and wasn’t entirely sure why the “goal” of this book was to find Alcatraz’s father. In any case, Sanderson’s world-building is still in top form here. Of course, the “cute” way that this series was self-aware when I read the first book was a bit more annoying this time around. It almost felt like every chapter had to have a soliloquy, even if it didn’t link itself to where the plot was at the time—which often broke the...
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