BOOK: Rumors of Another World (2003)

Rumors of Another World Year: 2003 Author: Philip Yancey Length: 272 pages Having been a Christian for some time, I was familiar with the name Philip Yancey. I knew he often wrote books about Christianity and how those of us in the faith should examine some of the more challenging topics of our belief. When I picked up Rumors of Another World from a friend, I was expecting an examination of the afterlife promised us in God's Word. Part of me was planning to use this book as a bit of research for my own fictional writing, or at least to give me ideas on how to incorporate a heavenly realm into it. In the end, this book was not what I expected. It has been a long time since I've read any Yancey, but I don't think this is his strongest work. My primary issue with it is that it tries to speak to too many audiences. If it either focused on trying to convince...
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BOOK: The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara Year: 1977 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,600 minutes / 26.67 hours Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: an unassuming character is given the task to use a magical item to destroy a great evil that once terrorized the world. To help this character on their quest is their best friend, a magic-wielding individual, a ranger with a love interest, a dwarf, and some elves. Look, I get that The Lord of the Rings redefined the fantasy genre in the 1950’s, but why were fantasy writers still replicating this formula twenty years later? I only half-paid attention to this derivative plot, mostly because I already had an idea what was going to happen. Now, I will admit that The Sword of Shannara isn’t completely a 1-for-1 rehashing of The Lord of the Rings, but enough of it is similar that it feels almost too familiar. The plot does divert from the Tolkien formula, but probably not until about halfway through....
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BOOK: Valkyrie (2009)

Valkyrie Year: 2009 Author: Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager Length: 268 minutes / 4.47 hours I first gained awareness of “Operation Valkyrie” when the film starring Tom Cruise, Valkyrie (2008), was first released. It makes logical sense to me that not all Germans involved in the war were Nazis, and not all Germans agreed with Hitler’s tactics. It is then the logical conclusion that some of them would attempt to assassinate the leader who had brought their country into a sweeping, global conflict. While this assassination attempt failed, I was still curious about the inner-workings of the plot and the people who would go so far as to try and kill Hitler. My expectation of this book was for it to be an in-depth analysis of the many facets of the operation. From Hitler’s security concerns to the backgrounds of the lives of the individuals involved, I was expecting this book to be a non-fictional examination of the assassination that never succeeded. Instead, I was a...
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BOOK: The Other Side of Magik (2006)

The Other Side of Magik Year: 2006 Author: Michael Lingaard Length: 411 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** The “fish out of water” plot device is not new by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it’s an interesting way to provide exposition in a fantasy world when an individual from our world comes to visit, but often the differences aren’t fully considered. Of course, there are good examples of this form of storytelling. From Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to Marvel’s Thor (2011), both directions of the “world swap” transaction can provide entertainment. Unfortunately, The Other Side of Magik tries to have its cake and eat it too. If The Other Side of Magik had merely focused on the adventures of a single teenage boy unknowingly thrust into a parallel dimension, it could have made sense. Instead, while the majority of the story was in the “magik” realm (of which I still don’t like that spelling), occasionally it would swap back over to our world and give the...
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MOVIE: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Having only seen the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) film (and its 2008 remake), and not having read the manga on which it was based, most of my comparisons of the 2017 live-action adaptation are from the anime film adaptations that came before it. For its time, the original Ghost in the Shell movie was revolutionary. Along with similarly violent anime films like Akira (1988), Ghost in the Shell showed the world that animation wasn’t just for kids. The adult and more psychological aspects of these films are what helped set them apart as some of the groundbreaking films in the anime genre. Regarding the live-action remake, I think it honestly took too long to get here. The concepts of cybernetically enhanced humans are surprisingly close to realized technology today. Given that these ideas seemed quite futuristic in the early 1990’s, the fact that they are plausible within the next...
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BOOK: Angels and Demons (2000)

Angels and Demons Year: 2000 Author: Dan Brown Length: 416 minutes / 6.93 hours While Angels and Demons is not nearly as popular as its sequel, the famous (if not infamous) The Da Vinci Code, the elements which led to its successor’s success are certainly all contained within this first book in the Robert Langdon series. Of course, just because you have the materials to build a nice house doesn’t mean that it magically becomes a mansion. Despite containing many of the elements that made The Da Vinci Code so good, Angels and Demons feels a little underdeveloped in quite a few areas. First, the protagonist, Robert Langdon, is supposed to feel like an “Indiana Jones”-type character, but with a specialty like symbology as his background, I just can’t buy the action-hero transformation of this everyday academic. Add to this the almost repetitive nature of his “discoveries” wherein he makes an assessment, then goes to the location of the assessment only to find that he...
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BOOK: Tiger and the Robot (2017)

Tiger and the Robot Year: 2017 Author: Grahame Shannon Length: 250 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In this era of smartphones and artificial intelligence (AI), it's interesting to see a book start to explore the topic of AI without getting too bogged down in the details. With movies like Her (2013) showing just how integrated into our lives an AI personal assistant can be, this book's approach almost takes the idea from that movie and fuses it with the "mute" AI from Person of Interest. Unfortunately, I felt the AI section of the book distracted by the endless sailing adventures. As someone who lives in a land-locked state, I didn't understand much of the sailing jargon in this book (especially when it became technical), but I do think this book had some potential. Despite containing a main character who comes off a bit like a creeper (and thus somewhat unrelatable), one of my main qualms with Tiger and the Robot was the disjointed...
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MOVIE: Passengers (2016)

Passengers Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I have to admit that the plot presented in the trailers of this movie intrigued me. However, in its execution, Passengers (2016) left much to be desired. Of course, this was mostly due to the film using just enough “physics speak” to be partially accurate, but incredibly wrong. Those parts stuck out to me in this movie and I kept scratching my head while watching it and saying, “Wait a minute . . .” That being said, not all of Passengers was bad, just a pretty big chunk of it. I did appreciate the moral conundrum that Jim (Chris Pratt) encountered in the movie’s first act. It did add a bit of predictable drama to the characters, but depicting his struggle highlighted his humanity. In this plot with a clear three-act structure, this first act was the highlight that eventually devolved into a ridiculous setup for the final reveal. With each new character introduced,...
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BOOK: Commanding the Red Lotus (2016)

Commanding the Red Lotus Year: 2016 Author: R.J. Sullivan Length: 236 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Not so much a novel as a collection of three novellas, Commanding the Red Lotus is your standard sci-fi space story. Unfortunately, because these novellas are collected together in this way, it feels like an attempt to string them together to make a novel. If this were a novel, it should have started with the third novella and expounded from there. After all, most of the backstory was mentioned or alluded to in this third story, so more pages could have been spent exploring the dynamic of the spacecraft crew. As it stands, there were a lot of characters mentioned that I couldn’t tell you a thing about. When it comes right down to it, I have two issues with this book. The first is the main character. I feel the main character should have been the pirate captain, mainly because she had such an interesting...
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MOVIE: Superman Returns (2006)

Superman Returns Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours Technically the fifth in the Superman franchise that started in the late 1970's, Superman Returns feels a bit like the black sheep of the bunch. There's a sense that it's just tacked on to try and capitalize on some of the popularity of superhero films, in part because of the director's previous successes with other superheroes. Part of me thinks that Bryan Singer should have directed the third X-Men film instead of this movie; since he clearly knew what he was doing with that Marvel property. But what really gets me about this film is the way it "plays to the audience." If you ask diehard fans of two of the most iconic fandoms what their absolute least favorite film is in their canon, you'll get some telling answers. For Star Wars fans, it's Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and for Star Trek fans, it's Into Darkness (2013). But why do they hate...
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