VIDEO GAME: Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World (2015)

Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World Year: 2015 Rating: E Time Played: 11.35 hours It’s weird to think that it has been 20 years since Yoshi split off into its own franchise. The sequel to Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island established the franchise’s game mechanics and the titular character’s movements back in 1995. Since then, there haven’t been too many entries in the core series. Yoshi’s Story rehashed some of the gameplay a little over a decade after Yoshi’s Island, just like Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World managed to do a decade after that. Part of the problem with this is that the visuals always get an update, but nothing else changes significantly with each iteration. Somewhat in the same universe as Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi’s Wooly World has a tactile and charming aesthetic that revolves around yarn and other fabric crafts. While Yoshi can launch balls of yarn—much in the same way that eggs were used in previous iterations of the franchise—one of the goals...
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man Star Force – Pegasus (2007)

Mega Man Star Force: Pegasus Year: 2007 Rating: E Time Played: 17.30 hours I have fond memories of playing the Mega Man Battle Network games in high school. I liked the RPG/Action/Card mechanics of this series and always wanted more. When the pseudo-spin-off series, Mega Man Star Force, arrived on the Nintendo DS, it seemed like a good evolution of the formula. However, I resisted buying a DS for so long that eventually, I had to come back and play these games a decade after they came out. With this amount of hindsight, I don’t know if I was viewing a series I never played through nostalgia or the evolved gaming landscape of today. Since I had watched the anime based on these games, I was already familiar with the basic story and plot structure. Additionally, not much had changed since the Battle Network games, other than a slight perspective shift and some modifications to the chip system. Even with this familiarity, I found myself...
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VIDEO GAME: Shantae – Half-Genie Hero (2016)

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Year: 2016 Rating: T Time Played: 7 hours After playing through Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse on my 3DS, I was looking forward to experiencing the next game in the series on the big screen. I picked up Shantae: Half-Genie Hero on sale from the eShop, and I believe I got what I paid for. While there seems to be a lot of extra content locked behind DLC barriers, it doesn’t look like any of it adds to the core experience of this game. As far as I can tell, Half-Genie Hero hearkens back to the original Shantae game, relying more on transformations instead of items to uncover the secrets contained in the handful of colorful levels. While the higher definition graphics were great on the Switch, I felt that Shantae handled worse than she did in Pirate’s Curse. Often, I’d find myself trying to perform some action, and the game wouldn’t let me do it (the flying fortress level is of...
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MOVIE: Logan’s Run (1976)

Logan’s Run Year: 1976 Rating: PG Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours In today’s landscape of CGI and superb practical effects, it’s a little difficult to watch movies like Logan’s Run (1976). Sure, there are a few good bits (like dissolving bodies), but there are a lot of effects that look low-budget by today’s standards. Wires clearly hold up flying people, a robot is obviously a man in a boxy costume, and a futuristic society seems to be housed in a mid-1980s shopping mall. About the only reason I don’t necessarily deem Logan’s Run a B-movie fit for a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 ribbing is because it was the best technology they had at the time. Of course, I say this was the best special effects of the day, knowing full well that Star Wars (1977) would come out a year later. If anything, this movie shows the enormous leap in special effects that Star Wars provided the film industry in comparison. And while the...
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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: 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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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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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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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: 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: 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: 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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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: 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: 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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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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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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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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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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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: 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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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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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: 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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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 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: 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: Venom (2018)

Venom Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 112 minutes / 1.87 hours If I haven’t said it before in my review of Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), I’ll repeat it here: I grew up watching the 1990s animated Spider-man series, which makes the Spider-man franchise one of my favorite. Consequently, most of my knowledge of the franchise comes from the show. In my mind, the symbiote storyline that introduced Venom was one of the best in the series, and I was disappointed when Spider-man 3 (2007) woefully miscast Eddie Brock with Topher Grace. Flash forward a decade later, and the big screen is taking another crack at the Venom storyline in a standalone film…but without Spider-man. As a long-time fan, I appreciated the mostly faithful origin story in Venom (2018), with a few minor and vital details still retained to make it close to what actually happened. This time around, Tom Hardy was a much better choice for the titular role, even if his mumbling accent was a little distracting at times. While the physique was a match,...
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BOOK: The Long Utopia (2015)

The Long Utopia Year: 2015 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 725 minutes / 12.08 hours After the events that take place in The Long Mars, I was expecting the next book in the series, The Long Utopia, to be about the CEO of the Black Corporation and the settlement he established to help him live longer. Instead, I got a story that had little to no connection to the previous plots. That being said, at least there was a story with a projected conclusion instead of merely a series of random events that eventually led to the sudden destruction of some location (as had been the case up until now). While I did appreciate some of the back-story for Joshua Valienté, there wasn’t anything in Joshua’s behavior or motivations in any of the previous books that indicated that he was even interested in learning about his past. I also was pleased that some of the “limitations” of this universe were brought back, or at least provided...
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BOOK: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)

One Hundred Years of Solitude Year: 1967 Author: Gabriel García Márquez Length: 844 minutes / 14.07 hours I’ll admit: I didn’t really “get” this book. I had seen a TED-Ed YouTube video that told me how great it was, and I decided to give it a try. While there were parts that were entertaining, most of this book went over my head. I suppose if I understood Columbian history and the culture of Central and South America, I might have had a better grasp of what was going on. As it was, I felt lost most of the time and kind of wonder what makes it so highly-recommended. Perhaps my biggest qualm with this book is how its narrative structure is laid out. There’s practically no dialogue, and it’s basically told in the form of a parable or fairy tale. There are a lot of characters, but their names were so similar that I had trouble keeping track of them all. I get they’re all...
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BOOK: Beyond the Checkup (2018)

Beyond the Checkup from Birth to Age Four: A Pediatrician's Guide to Calm, Confident Parenting Year: 2018 Author: Luke Voytas Length: 288 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While I do not have children yet, I am doing my best to prepare my knowledge for when they do become a part of my life. Consequently, books like Beyond the Checkup seem to be a perfect resource for parents, as it is written by a pediatrician. That being said, I think I'm probably a little biased in wanting an older, more grandfatherly pediatrician writing books like this. After all, a lifetime of experience seems to speak more than just 15-years-worth of it. Regarding the book's content, Luk Voytas does a reasonably good job of presenting the big problems that might come up in a child's first four years. While he does use scientific studies to back up his suggestions, there are some instances where it's unclear whether or not there is any science behind his opinion, or if it's his...
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BOOK: Moonraker (1955)

Moonraker Year: 1955 Author: Ian Fleming Length: 410 minutes / 6.83 hours For those of you who have seen the movie Moonraker (1979), push everything you know about this story out of your head. About the only things that the film has in common with the book are the main character, villain, and an enormous rocket. While the film tried to capitalize on the sci-fi that was popular at the time, the original book takes a look at the threat introduced in World War II by the Germans: ballistic missiles. For its time, the book was relevant in a world that hadn’t even been to space yet. Having now read a handful of the James Bond books, my problem with this book stems from how formulaic it was. Only three books in, and it felt like Fleming was recycling content and would continue to for books to come (like in Goldfinger). I mean, never before has a game of bridge been so exciting, but using card games as...
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MOVIE: Alpha (2018)

Alpha Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours I’m not sure what surprises me more about this movie: that nobody had made a film about the domestication of the wolf or that anyone needed to make that film at all. Consequently, Alpha (2018) seems a little unnecessary and highly predictable as the “hero’s journey” plays out. The trailer doesn’t leave much for the imagination, as a lot of the events in this film don’t have any significant twists that the astute viewer wouldn’t see coming. And maybe I’m biased because I’d be more of a cat person than a dog person—despite being allergic to both. Visually, though, Alpha does provide some fantastic shots of wilderness that one can only find in places like Canada and Iceland. Plenty of the flat silhouette shots of characters traversing huge distances and the stylized slow-motion events made this movie feel a bit like 300 (2006), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The real trouble is that it takes these characters so long...
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BOOK: The Currents of Space (1952)

The Currents of Space Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 475 minutes / 7.92 hours For the first time, it seems that I’m reading a series backward. Of course, it was also written a bit backward, which explains why I’m going about it this way. While Pebble in the Sky was the first book in this series, it actually comes at the end of the narrative. A year later, Isaac Asimov would write the prequel, The Stars, Like Dust, which was then followed by a book that fit between the two. The Currents of Space is that book. Fortunately, there isn’t much tying this book to Pebble in the Sky, other than the universal setting for the events to take place. It is encouraging that Asimov’s writing was able to improve in two short years between his first ever novel and this follow-on prequel. The Currents of Space has a distinct main character, apparent conflict, and well-timed plot revelations. The focus of this book helps to describe a somewhat interesting and thrilling scenario,...
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MOVIE: Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo: A Star Wars Story Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Most superhero franchises start with an origin story. Sure, sometimes the franchise gets to this foundational plot after its first set of films (a la X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)), but these movies are usually pretty rare. Unfortunately, they’re also hampered by the source material that preceded them. While not necessarily “prequels,” these films need to fit within the canon of the franchise while also telling a story that expands the canon as well. Star Wars is not a superhero franchise, but it has its fair share of prequels and origin stories. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is the first to focus on a specific character, though. With Han Solo being such an iconic and fan-favorite character, there was plenty to pull from to expand out his backstory. Unfortunately, most people will only recognize Harrison Ford as the “true” Han Solo, and this film gives them some ammunition for that. Sure, Alden Ehrenreich does a...
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BOOK: Timeline (1999)

Timeline Year: 1999 Author: Michael Crichton Length: 912 minutes / 15.20 hours It’s been a while since I read any Michael Crichton. I thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic Park—and to a lesser extent, The Lost World. I enjoyed the action and the science that went into creating these stories, helping to educate as well as entertain (kind of like my own writing style, if I do say so myself :D). For Timeline, the science in question is more quantum in nature, but I felt the explanations given were sufficient to arrive at a time-travel narrative, even if it did require a small amount of scientific hand-waving. Also, a lot of my perceptions about the dark ages were completely flipped around through this book’s meticulous details. Even though I liked the scientific and historical sections of this book, there were undoubtedly some weaknesses I cannot overlook. First of all, Crichton seems to like hammering home the idea that science as an entertainment business is a bad idea (a la...
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BOOK: Smothered (2018)

Smothered Year: 2018 Author: Autumn Chiklis Length: 288 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Even though I'm a Millennial, I never experienced the embarrassing situation of having to move back in with my parents after college. Of course, my degree was in Mechanical Engineering and not the degree the main character received from Columbia University that left her with no job prospects. If I were to describe the style of awkward comedy presented here, it would be "schadenfreude-esque." I suppose it's funny to watch someone fail in the ways presented here, but it's more of an amusing chuckle than a laugh-out-loud series of situations. In the end, this is still your basic "romantic comedy" where the main character can't communicate worth a darn and leads her to learn hard lessons about life. While I did like the interweaving of social media and technology into the narrative, I don't think it went far enough. Who were the journal entries for? If they were for the main character to...
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BOOK: Monster (2005)

Monster Year: 2005 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 679 minutes / 11.32 hours One of the challenges of the Christian author is being able to craft stories and characters that share their beliefs, but without being too heavy-handed about it. In Frank Peretti’s Monster, the author mostly succeeds, providing characters that can easily be identified as Christian, but also exhibiting the traits of normal humans instead of straight-up caricatures. The main plot of this book was only tangentially related to an argument against evolution, so that was also a plus. Still, the way the book was put together, it was clear where the author’s bias was. While some people might not appreciate the Christian undertones in this thriller, my qualms with it are more structural. Following a few different characters after a woman is abducted by an unnatural beast, the mystery of the disappearances and killings unravels to reveal a semi-plausible explanation. Unfortunately, the man and wife pair that are introduced at the start of the...
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MOVIE: Pacific Rim – Uprising (2018)

Pacific Rim: Uprising Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours I think the trouble with some sequels, no matter how much I loved the original films, is that there's almost an unspoken meshing of elements that made the first movie enjoyable but can be hard to reproduce a second time. That being said, Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) does a pretty good job of continuing the story that came to a mostly definitive end in Pacific Rim (2013). Unfortunately, it looks like they also took a play out of Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) and have teased at a further sequel past Uprising. I will admit that some sequels like Pacific Rim: Uprising have an easier time advancing the plot of the story since most of the exposition has been covered in the previous movie. There was certainly a creative and natural twist that helped bring back the Kaiju so that audiences could see giant robots fight them again. It was also fun to watch these...
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BOOK: Men and Manners (2018)

Men and Manners: Essays, Advice, and Considerations Year: 2018 Author: David Coggins Length: 192 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In a world becoming increasingly modern and digital, it’s a little odd to find a book like Men and Manners, especially since its weird page colors make it seem like it was written in the 1950’s. While this book did have some pieces of advice, it seemed to be as specifically tailored (like a high-end tuxedo) to Manhattan, New York, instead of being general advice for men in Manhattan, Kansas. Many of the locations and businesses explicitly mentioned in this book were complete mysteries to me since I don’t live in New York City. These references made it seem like the manners advice wasn’t relevant to me at all. While I would have appreciated more thorough explanations of why particular manners should exist, this book seemed to be mostly filled with anecdotes from east coast elites about their opinion on certain matters. Sure, some...
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BOOK: The Clockwork Dynasty (2017)

The Clockwork Dynasty Year: 2017 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 650 minutes / 10.83 hours If there's anything Daniel H. Wilson is good at, it's writing about robots. In his latest book, The Clockwork Dynasty, he takes a steampunk approach by setting the book, not in the future, but in the present and distant past. Returning to the origins of robots via the automatons created for the entertainment of the wealthy and royal, Wilson has crafted another workable piece of fiction centered on robots. Unfortunately, as is the case with some of this other writing, I didn't like a few of his stylistic choices. The Clockwork Dynasty jumps back and forth between flashbacks and "present era" actions, which can sometimes be distracting, especially if one of the storylines is particularly interesting at the time. I almost wonder if there could have been a better way to focus on the action in the present and to reveal the details of the past in more of a "show" instead...
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BOOK: The Carpet People (1971)

The Carpet People Year: 1971 Author: Terry Pratchett Length: 335 minutes / 5.58 hours Having now read one of Terry Pratchett's books, I thought it might be interesting to go back and read his very first work. Many authors don't manage to become famous with their very first book, and I think Terry Pratchett is no exception here. The Carpet People is an amusing book with his standard British charm, but I think it never goes far enough in its exploration of the idea. After all, I was expecting this book to be more along the lines of The Borrowers instead of just a straight-up fantasy with a few references to the fact that these creatures lived in the carpet. Part of the problem I seemed to have with this book was the incessant need for fantasy books to create new names for objects and creatures that already (mostly) exist. If you took away the carpet setting, I think this book could be practically indistinguishable from...
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BOOK: The Enigma Strain (2014)

The Enigma Strain Year: 2014 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 271 pages The basic formula for a thriller is as follows: one loner, one love-interest, and lots of running. The Enigma Strain is your cookie-cutter thriller, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The premise is somewhat entertaining, if not downright ridiculous and unrealistic. The pacing is certainly fast enough to keep the characters moving and racing against the clock of destruction (at times even literally). In the end, there were no surprises as the day is saved and the loner opens up enough to attract the love interest. The fact that the ending was predictable just meant that it delivered on the thriller formula. One of the weaknesses of The Enigma Strain is the sense of space and time. There was plenty of driving around to different locations, which made them seem like they were quite close together. However, the love-interest kept talking about flying, which made me wonder how far away these places were. If...
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BOOK: Boneshaker (2009)

Boneshaker Year: 2009 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 822 minutes / 13.70 hours I suppose when I chose to read this book, it would have been a little more steampunk than it was. Sure, Boneshaker has some of the trappings of a steampunk story, like the Civil War and inventions comprised of brass; but in the end, it felt more like light window dressing than something important to the plot. Surprisingly enough, this book was more along the lines of a zombie apocalypse novel than a steampunk one. In that sense, I’m disappointed that the cover didn’t completely deliver on its premise and instead decided to rely on the tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre. The characters themselves were somewhat interesting, but their motivations seemed a little flat. The boy who wants to find his father and the mother who chases after him aren’t that compelling. In fact, the journey of both characters could have probably been accomplished via one of them, with supporting characters providing information about the...
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MOVIE: Downsizing (2017)

Downsizing Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours In the last decade, I’ve come to appreciate Alexander Payne’s films. From The Descendants (2011) to Nebraska (2013), it was clear he was improving as a director. I had high hopes for his latest work, Downsizing (2017) since the premise seemed interesting and ripe for social satire like his previous films. For a movie about becoming small, Downsizing certainly had big ambitions. Unfortunately, it means that this film was kind of all over the place. Sure, there was a somewhat logical progression of events, but even the main character was flabbergasted at the coincidence of it all. While I would fault the movie for Hong Chau’s clipped English, as it almost seemed culturally insensitive at first, eventually the character grows on the viewer. This leads to a very touching ending. Instead, I will fault the science behind this science fiction. I was half-expecting a lot of sight gags on how ordinary objects are much bigger with shrunken humans (a la The Borrowers), which Downsizing delivered...
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MOVIE: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours As someone who never fully immersed themselves in the Harry Potter fandom, this spin-off wasn't high on my "to watch" list. Sure, I liked the movies well enough for the continual narrative they provided (still haven't gotten to the books yet), and I understand that this parallel universe full of magic is a unique idea that hasn't been explored in this fashion, but this just seems like a tag-along to capitalize on a successful franchise. That's not to say that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) isn't good, it's just that it does require a bit of background knowledge in order to fully "get it." Partly because seeing wizardry and magic in the modern era might still seem odd, this throwback to the past is only made better by placing it in the United States. Both of these settings differ from the main Harry Potter franchise enough...
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MOVIE: Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Despicable Me 3 Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Sometimes I wonder how this franchise became so popular. Perhaps this perception is due to the oversaturation of the annoying little “Minions” that seem to pervade every corner of social media. And yet, when I go to see a movie like this, I am soon reminded that there are relatable and underappreciated storylines and plot points contained within this silliness. I have rarely seen a better “adoption” storyline than the one presented in Despicable Me (2010). Of course, Despicable Me 2 (2013) took the natural next step and provided a “single dad looking for a wife” storyline that also is rarely seen in animation. With Despicable Me 3 (2017), the franchise transitions more into a series of vignettes better suited for a television show than a feature-length film. It was a little hard to tell which storyline was the main one for the film, even if they were all intertwined in some...
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MOVIE: King Arthur – Legend of the Sword (2017)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 126 minutes / 2.1 hours Years ago, I watched Guy Ritchie's first film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). I thoroughly enjoyed the comedic repartee, well-paced action, and simple heist scenario. Afterward, I decided to watch the rest of his films (omitting Swept Away (2002) for obvious reasons). Films like Snatch (2000) and RocknRolla (2008) held very similar premises, but even in his other films like Revolver (2005), you could see the distinctive style Ritchie has when he shoots his films. In hindsight, not all of these films are great, but they were certainly entertaining for me. Enter Sherlock Holmes (2009), and this big-budget film gave Guy Ritchie a bit more mainstream attention, as it also sported Robert Downey Jr. on a career hot streak. The striking visual style remained, which also helped in the sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). Because I also enjoyed the 60's period piece, The Man...
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MOVIE: Time Bandits (1981)

Time Bandits Year: 1981 Rating: PG Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours If there’s one thing Terry Gilliam’s films are known for, it’s their imaginative visuals. In a time before CGI was prevalent, the practical and model effects certainly made his films distinctive, especially in the fantasy genre. That being said, one of his earliest films, Time Bandits (1981) was quickly outclassed, not only by Gilliam himself but by other films as well. While Time Bandits is a cute little story about traveling through time, it is precisely that: little story. Even with the spectacular visuals, the plot seemed to be quite lacking, almost as an afterthought to how many interesting set pieces could cram into one film. I will admit that Time Bandits was ahead of its time, but I wouldn’t consider it better than films that came after it. If you want plenty of imaginative fantasy effects, look no further than Labyrinth (1986). A series of time-travel vignettes? Then Bill and Ted’s Excellent...
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BOOK: The Rook Crew (2017)

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

The Circle Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours In an ever-increasingly digital world, practically everyone online is concerned with privacy. Of course, we are willing to give up this privacy to make our lives more convenient. In The Circle (2017), the eponymous corporation is merely a stand-in for Google/Facebook/Amazon/Apple and is essentially a conglomeration of sorts of these tech companies. Of course, just like that antiquated operating system you’ve meant to update, The Circle contains a premise about five years too late. When the book this movie was based on came out, I’m sure it was thought-provoking; now it’s more a matter of “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this already.” Part of what strikes me about this film is that several segments of it probably worked better in the book. When I’m watching characters explain “mandatory fun” I can’t help but cringe and wonder if it reads better than the performance I saw. Granted, there are segments which are better on the...
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BOOK: Winter Witch (2010)

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

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

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Year: 2009 Author: Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen Length: 320 pages Back in the zombie heyday of 2009, the idea of combining one of the most feminine pieces of literature with the oft masculine-marketed gory violence seemed like an interesting idea. I, for one, didn’t particularly care to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but this take on the romantic classic certainly piqued my interest. Because of the addition of zombies to this plot, I was impelled to read this story to see how these drastically different archetypes were combined. I certainly wonder if the book would have been more enjoyable if I had read Pride and Prejudice beforehand, or if I would have remained far abreast of it altogether. Partly due to the severe dichotomy of the original story and the zombie additions, there were certainly moments where I could tell what segments of Jane Austen’s plot were modified to fit the new, apocalyptic sensibilities. The two concepts worked together...
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MOVIE: Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Based on the surprise win of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, I had high expectations for Moonlight (2016). There were some fantastic, motivational, and inspirational films in the running for this award, including the “follow your dreams” story of La La Land (2016), the “communication is key” story of Arrival (2016), and the “overcoming adversity” story of Hidden Figures (2016). So, what did Moonlight have to offer? In my opinion, not much; but maybe that was because I’m a straight white (you could argue, privileged) male and there was little to relate to in this film. Sure, the cinematography was impressive at times, but there wasn’t any story that I felt was impactful enough to warrant its award. I will give credit to Mahershala Ali, as his performance was certainly deserving of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. So, what lessons does Moonlight give us? Do we need to find good mentors in life?...
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BOOK: The Ares Weapon (2016)

The Ares Weapon Year: 2016 Author: D.M. Pruden Length: 268 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** The sci-fi genre is interesting in that it has almost limitless possibilities, but the physics of our universe usually constrains the stories, so they are at least somewhat believable. As a result, and in part due to our past and current space-travel capabilities, the genre has become rather stale. Unfortunately, this is also because a few franchises dominate the landscape and any work that seems similar to it are deemed derivative. Consequently, I have read a number of almost interchangeable sci-fi stories, and The Ares Weapon is just one of them. While the occasional proofreading or formatting error is distracting in this story, much of my qualms lie with the characters’ decisions and motivations. Instead of making sense, the decisions sometimes seem to merely exist only to move the plot along to a pre-determined path the author wanted to take. Similarly, the motivations don’t seem to make...
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MOVIE: Fences (2016)

Fences Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours Before going into this film, I knew it was based on a play of the same name. Of course, even if I didn't know this, I could have told you it was based on a play. Perhaps that's what kept bugging me throughout this movie: it was clearly a play. I could see in my mind's eye how it would look on the stage, which wasn't helped by the actors' cadence and almost continual monologues. If I wanted to see this as a play, I'd see it as a play; I watch a movie to get a more well-rounded experience. So, aside from this film being an almost direct adaptation of the play it's based on, the next thing that caught my attention was how many tropes were contained in the plot. Honestly, with topics like mental health, marital infidelity, inter-generational conflict, and death, the plot didn't seem that original to me at all....
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BOOK: Lonesome Cowboy (2015)

Lonesome Cowboy Year: 2015 Author: Frank Lowe Length: 284 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** The book with the generic cowboy on the cover contains a relatively generic story inside. I wouldn't classify it as "Action/Adventure" due to a pretty significant omission of fight scenes. "Drama" would probably fit it better, since that's the main, driving force of this book. I will admit that, while being about a country singer, it doesn't focus too long on the "losses" in life (i.e. the guy lost his dog, his truck, his girl, et cetera). Of course, the types and magnitude of the successes of the main character do make the story hard to believe at times. Told in the third person, Lonesome Cowboy suffers from having a "telling" narrator instead of the characters "showing" their emotions. Consequently, even if the characters do show their emotions, the narrator telling the reader these emotions before they happen makes the whole bit seem repetitive and redundant. In fact, there's almost...
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MOVIE: Matchstick Men (2003)

Matchstick Men Year: 2003 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours One of the lesser-known Ridley Scott films, Matchstick Men (2003) could have been just another heist film, and in some senses, it is. Upon watching the film again, one can easily pick up exactly when the "long con" starts up and which events lead toward the inevitable conclusion. So, perhaps it doesn't have the ability to demand repeat watchings (past about two) on its heist aspects. However, I believe the characters are what give this movie most of its charm. After all, characters make a story, and this one has some good ones. In one of his best "crazy person" roles, Nicholas Cage does an incredible job portraying Roy, a con-artist with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His performance is often difficult to watch and is cringe-worthy in the opening act. If this is what it's truly like living with OCD, I never want to joke about having it . . . ever. I'm almost...
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BOOK: Robopocalypse (2011)

Robopocalypse Year: 2011 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 759 minutes / 12.65 hours With the ever-increasing proliferation of “smart” technology throughout our society, the thought of a robot uprising remains fixed in the back of our minds. Since the introduction of the concept of robots decades ago, humans have feared their uprising to usurp us as the dominant sentient beings on our planet. Now, as we rely on our computers, smartphones, and connected devices to help run our lives, the threat of a full-on apocalypse resulting from their sentience seems more possible than ever. Author Daniel H. Wilson has certainly done his research on the “what if” scenario of a robot apocalypse (or the titular Robopocalypse, if you will). He manages to build the progression of a robot-themed doomsday scenario from the machines we know and use today. Many of the machines’ decisions and strategic moves mostly make sense. That being said, I did have a few issues with the book and its structure. First...
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MOVIE: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Part of the trouble with the reputation of a film preceding it is the film rarely lives up to the hype. At least, that has been my experience. If I go into a movie with my own idea of what it will be and the movie delivers, I feel it is a good movie. However, if my idea of the movie is skewed based on what I’ve heard about it, then I might be disappointed if it doesn’t match what I was expecting. This is why I’ll likely watch a trailer for a film, but I won’t read any reviews of it until I’ve already seen it. For Amazon’s successful foray into filmmaking, part of me expected a lot out of Manchester by the Sea (2016). After all, they don’t necessarily have to ascribe to the same processes and procedures that hold down other production companies. Add to this my impression...
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BOOK: The Gods of Guilt (2013)

The Gods of Guilt Year: 2013 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 709 minutes / 11.82 hours Despite The Fifth Witness leaving the door open to an interesting diversion from the same defense lawyer story we've come to know and love from Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller, The Gods of Guilt puts Haller back in the hot seat as the counsel protecting a digital pimp from a murder conviction. Some of the depth of the Haller character developed in previous books in this series was eliminated after his unsuccessful District Attorney run, but there was still enough humanity in him to advance his story. After all, his coping mechanisms and needs are some of what we all deal with in our own lives. While I have come to expect a twist ending from Connelly, it was surprisingly missing from this book. For once, Haller's client wasn't as bad as everyone made him out to be, and that's saying something for the digital pimp of Andre La Cosse. Perhaps...
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MOVIE: Daredevil (Director’s Cut) (2003)

Daredevil (Director’s Cut) Year: 2003 Rating: R Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Back in the early days of the rising popularity of the superhero movie, long before cinematic universes and multi-film crossovers, there were a handful of films that brought these comic book characters to the big screen. From Spider-Man (2002) to X-Men (2000) to The Punisher (2004), one of these films was none other than Daredevil (2003). For many years, I had seen these films, even going so far as having seen Hulk (2003). The one I had not seen was Daredevil, mostly because I had heard it was so bad. I had seen Hulk, so I knew how bad they could be. Now that a Director’s Cut of Daredevil was available, I heard it improved on the original and decided to just skip the original cut entirely. With no understanding of what the film used to be, I can say that the Director’s Cut isn’t completely terrible. Sure, some of the lines...
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MOVIE: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil Year: 2010 Rating: R Length: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours I'm not really a fan of the horror genre. Mostly, I feel the plots are contrived, the characters are downright idiotic, and the violence is over-the-top. Of course, when I heard about Tucker and Dale vs. Evil years ago, I said, "pass." The friend who suggested I see it assured me that it wasn't like all the other horror films. The fact is, it is exactly like all the other horror films, but it is self-aware of this fact. Because the film is self-aware, it recognizes every single horror genre trope and makes fun of it. As time went by, more people suggested I see this film, so I finally caved during a slow weekend at home. Being the self-aware film that it is, the plot is simple and the production values are limited, at best. What really makes the film enjoyable to watch is the fact that the whole...
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BOOK: Dark Ages – 2020 (2015)

Dark Ages: 2020 Year: 2015 Author: J.D. Dutra Length: 476 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** If you like to read to escape from reality, this book is not for you. Practically pulled from today’s headlines, Dark Ages: 2020 takes a look at a potential future that could be mere years away. Of course, in order to do so, there’s a lot of conspiracy theories that would need to come true in order for this novel to be a reality. That being said, the one thing this book does well is to remove any hope you might ever have in humanity. Not only on a local and personal level but as a civilization as a whole. Unfortunately, none of the characters in this book are likable. They all have flaws and these flaws aren’t just minor character flaws, but full-blown ethical quandaries. The reason for this is that each one of these characters is an extreme stereotype. Honestly, this book almost comes across as...
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MOVIE: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Perhaps the most controversial film of this summer, Suicide Squad (2016) tells a story that is necessary to highlight the eventual superhero team of the Justice League (2017). While I am aware of the real-life drama surrounding the film, including Jared Leto's method acting, director David Ayer's uncouth comments, and the fandom's revulsion of its negative critical reception, I will try and give an unbiased review here. After all, sometimes the greatest art can stand apart from the artists who create it. Decades from now, most will have forgotten the controversy, resorting to Wikipedia for a reminder. In the realm of superhero films, the motif has always been a dichotomy of extremes. Good vs. evil. In reality, things aren't nearly as clear-cut as this. Sure, there are those who do wrong and those who do right, but each side will have their own motivations. What Suicide Squad does is break down the stereotype of the...
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BOOK: Lightning Rider (2013)

Lightning Rider Year: 2013 Author: Jen Greyson Length: 314 pages I’m not really sure how this book got into my Kindle collection. I think it might have been from a time that I saw someone on Facebook post about a free e-book and I just downloaded it because the title seemed interesting. Now that I’m getting around to reading these books, I’m finding them to be a little outside the norm for what I like to read. That’s not to say I’m against reading anything in the “New Adult” or “Urban Fantasy” genres, it’s just that I wouldn’t choose them first if I had a selection in front of me. Of course, I can see that the popularity of strong and independent female heroines in the YA and NA genres have definitely spawned a number of authors who want to capitalize on this trend, and this book is no different. That being said, most of my qualms with this book lie with the characters....
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BOOK: Live Right and Find Happiness (2015)

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster) Year: 2015 Author: Dave Barry Length: 240 pages I grew up on the humor writings of Dave Barry. Each week I'd take his humor column to school and read it to my friends during my lunch break, laughing at his comedic style and funny topics. Consequently, I found myself enthralled by his books, each one leaving me in stitches due to his observational humor of the weird world around us (or at least around Miami, Florida). I was saddened when he decided to retire from writing these weekly humor columns. As such, each time he releases a new book full of his writings (mainly essays now), I usually pick it up out of habit. While I can usually blow through one of Dave Barry's books in a couple hours, I'm finding that I'm not nearly as amused as I used to be. It could be that I've grown up a bit and no longer find...
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MOVIE: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours First off, I want to admit that I am more of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan. As a result, I have enjoyed the first two of the Star Trek reboot titles because they are structured more like a Star Wars film than a Star Trek one. Of course, this may also be due to my bias toward J.J. Abrams and everything that he directs. For this third installment in the reboot series, we no longer have Abrams, but rather Justin Lin (known for the Fast & Furious franchise). Maybe because of this, I didn't really think this film stood up to the previous two. Sure, there were segments that I thought were interesting and deep, but they were merely bookends in a confusing hodgepodge of action and "buddy up" subplots. I appreciated the beginning, with its humanizing narrative that made sense for the captain's current state of affairs....
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BOOK: Fake Science 101 (2012)

Fake Science 101: A Less-Than-Factual Guide to Our Amazing World Year: 2012 Author: Phil Edwards Length: 272 pages One of the challenges of creating content on the internet is that it is usually quickly and readily consumed and forgotten by the web-browsing public. Monetizing this content is even more difficult because of the aforementioned reasons. That being said, there are many ways the creators of internet content can make some money off of their product. Sometimes this takes the form of T-shirts or other, physical items, but oftentimes the choice of internet creators is a book. For Fake Science, which uses Tumblr for its regular posts, publishing a fake science textbook seemed like a good choice. Unfortunately, since a lot of internet content is quickly consumed, an almost 300 page book seems a little tedious to read once the initial novelty of the idea wears off. There are certainly a lot of amusing bits in this book, but they tend to be lost in the noise of...
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BOOK: Armada (2015)

Armada Year: 2015 Author: Ernest Cline Length: 384 pages When I first heard about Ready Player One years ago, I was excited an author would even try to capture the spirit of the hardcore pop culture lover. After I received a hardcover copy of that book for Christmas, I devoured every word and loved every moment of it. This was why, when I saw Ernest Cline had written another book appearing to be in the same vein of Ready Player One, I had to buy it and give it a read. This book was Armada. Unfortunately, I was not nearly as impressed with Armada as I was with Ready Player One. In Armada, the pop culture references were there, but almost to the point of oversaturation. There were plenty of references I didn’t understand because I haven’t encountered the source material, which was somewhat frustrating. Furthermore, what made the references entertaining and fun in Ready Player One was that they were tied to unravelling the...
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MOVIE: X-Men – The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men: The Last Stand Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours What a difference a director makes. While the previous two films in this franchise used Bryan Singer, the choice to go with Brett Ratner in this final film of the trilogy was a mistake. There was a tone and style to the previous X-Men movies that was just never quite captured in this one. The comedy seemed unnatural, the plot wasn’t taken quite seriously enough, and the new characters were never given enough time to really fully develop. Perhaps some of the weakness of this film can be blamed on the previous two films being strong, independent storylines, thus not giving much to tie into a conclusive chapter of a trilogy. Despite X2 (2003) not holding to the traditional form of “the trilogy conundrum”, the fact that X-Men III has to start with some very main characters missing is a plot point that requires viewers to have seen the previous film. The...
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