BOOK: Blood of Elves (1994)

Blood of Elves Year: 1994 Author: Andrzej Sapkowski Length: 655 minutes / 10.92 hours I’ll admit that I had a bit of a head start understanding the Witcher universe when I picked up this book. I’ve played a few hours of The Witcher 3 on my Switch, and I watched the first season of the show on Netflix. Would the lack of this prior knowledge have hurt my chances of understanding this high fantasy? Not likely. Arranged as a series of vignettes, Blood of Elves reveals its characters and setting based on a collection of almost everyday scenarios. While this approach made understanding the overarching goal of the series difficult to discern, it did make the characters quite a bit more realistic and relatable. When it comes down to it, this book is about its characters. Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer all stood out to me as unique and well-rounded individuals who each had their own stories to tell and plotlines to follow. And while their...
Read More

MOVIE: To Be or Not To Be (1942)

To Be or Not To Be Year: 1942 Rating: Passed Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours I don't know about you, but I've found that World War II movies were released closer to the end of the war have a certain amount of emphasis that has seemed to fade with time. In fact, I'd almost wager that the comedies produced during the war are some of the most poignant films I've ever seen on the subject. Sure, making fun of Nazis is easy when you're not affected by them—but when the threat is still real, there's an amount of satire that can both entertain and thrill. Much like Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) that came before it, To Be or Not To Be (1942) works off a bit of mistaken identity and farse to make the jokes that much funnier. The comedy in this film is expertly carried by a young Jack Benny—who manages to gnaw on every piece of scenery in every shot...
Read More

BOOK: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Year: 2013 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 348 minutes / 5.80 hours It’s nice to know that Neil Gaiman can write engaging, modern fairy tales that are longer than the short story format. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a delight to read, and I can see some parallels to other famous middle-grade fantasies (the Narnia series came to mind here and was mentioned in the book). Everything about this story made sense, and the character and the world-building were top notch—which I’ve just come to expect from Gaiman’s work. Truly, he continues to be the modern fairy tale maestro. One of the unique aspects of this story was how it seamlessly integrated the magical and the mundane. So often, these types of fairy tales transition to a world of magic and leave the boring, ordinary world behind. Not so in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If anything, using the supernatural to...
Read More

MOVIE: The Look of Silence (2014)

The Look of Silence Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours It’s weird how a documentary can make something as deplorable as killing another human being a chilling experience. If the killings that happened in Indonesia were shown on the screen in all their gory detail, there’s a certain point where a viewer’s mind just shuts off from all the violence. It’s almost too much to watch, which is why interviews with those who did the killings is a different and almost more horrifying way to go about exposing this barbaric event. The Look of Silence (2014) is a tough movie to watch, but it is crucial for understanding how anyone could do something so vile. Put in the framing of an optometrist trying to confront his brother’s killers, The Look of Silence has this quiet, stoic energy about the horrific killings in Indonesia. I was in shock when these men talked so candidly, openly, and unabashedly about the atrocities they did...
Read More

MOVIE: A Separation (2011)

A Separation Year: 2011 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Regardless of where you live on this planet, plenty of scenarios are just as likely to happen in Tehran as they are in Toledo. This is where A Separation (2011) pulls its strength. Set in a mostly modern Iran, A Separation is a series of dramatic twists that could probably happen to anyone. After all, tons of people have to deal with elderly parents with Alzheimer’s. There are plenty of divorces for trivial and non-trivial reasons. Good help is hard to find and even harder to afford. The combination of these things results in a gripping narrative that’s only given a distinctive Iranian flavor by its cultural limitations. If anything, A Separation shows how difficult it is to be a woman in a Muslim country. It’s not impossible, but certain limitations become evident when the strict religious rules of the Quoran come into play. It was nice to see a more liberal version...
Read More

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

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

BOOK: Shakespeare’s Sonnets – Abridged (2018)

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

MOVIE: Strangers on a Train (1951)

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

BOOK: The Obelisk Gate (2016)

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

MOVIE: Ford v Ferrari (2019)

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

MOVIE: Parasite (2019)

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

MOVIE: Little Women (2019)

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

BOOK: Storm Front (2000)

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

BOOK: Sleeping Giants (2016)

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

BOOK: Ender’s Shadow (1999)

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

BOOK: The Drawing of the Three (1987)

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

MOVIE: L.A. Confidential (1997)

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

BOOK: Prentice Alvin (1989)

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

BOOK: The Baby Owner’s Manual (2003)

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

BOOK: Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return (2014)

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

BOOK: Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back (2014)

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

MOVIE: Avengers – Endgame (2019)

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

BOOK: The Wishsong of Shannara (1985)

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

BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens (2010)

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

MOVIE: Bumblebee (2018)

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

MOVIE: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

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

BOOK: In Ashes Born (2015)

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

MOVIE: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

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

BOOK: Here and Now and Then (2019)

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

BOOK: The Green Ember (2014)

The Green Ember Year: 2014 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 368 pages On the other end of the spectrum of “fantasy rabbit” stories from Watership Down, we have The Green Ember, the first in a series that probably could have been written without the animal trappings and still been a good story. Where Watership Down had very rabbit-like characters interacting with the human world, The Green Ember has very person-like characters interacting with an animal world. Occasionally, the attributes that make the rabbits unique were used—especially in the battle sequences—but there were often moments when I forgot that these characters were rabbits. I felt the cuteness of rabbits, and the scariness of wolves and hawks, help reach a younger audience without directly confronting them with the realities of the scary world around them. After all, if it was people vs. people in this book, then the intended audience might miss out on some of the important morals and lessons contained therein. Having a clearly evil force...
Read More

MOVIE: Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump Year: 1994 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.36 hours For the longest time, I had only seen pieces of Forrest Gump (1994). After watching it in fits and starts, I finally sat down and watched the whole thing in one go probably ten years ago. Upon re-watching this Best Picture-winner, I realized how it has maintained its cultural appeal for so long. After all, it’s not necessarily a story about a slow southern boy; it’s the story of history and the story of America. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults, but they’re relatively minor compared to the impact of the rest of the film. What’s perhaps the most impressive part of Forrest Gump is the visual effects. From digitally inserting the titular character into archival footage to removing a Vietnam War soldier’s legs, even knowing these computer-aided elements are there doesn’t hinder how real they look. Although, being able to match the visual tone and style of several decades was equally as impressive....
Read More

MOVIE: First Man (2018)

First Man Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours I’ll admit: I’m already a fan of Damien Chazelle. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s only a few months older than I am, or if it’s how I can personally relate to the subjects of his films. I understand the obsession he covered in Whiplash (2014). I can relate to the dreams of creative individuals he brought to light in La La Land (2016). Now, Chazelle has used his filmmaking talent to cover another topic I have a great interest in: space. First Man (2018) feels like a film that’s been waiting for the right director to come along, and Damien Chazelle hit it out of the park. Lying somewhere between The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995), with a little bit of Interstellar (2014) thrown in as well for style, First Man does a fantastic job of showing how dangerous the missions that landed us on the moon really were. There seemed to be an adherence to realism in this film that helped to...
Read More

MOVIE: The Accountant (2016)

The Accountant Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When this movie came out a few years ago, I missed watching it because it seemed like just another generic action-spy film. Sure, the main character might be smart, leading to his professional “skills” (in more than one realm), but the trailers never really hinted at the reason for this attention to detail. Having now seen it, The Accountant takes an interesting approach to the action-spy genre while also including a number of twists that were as satisfying to figure out ahead of time as they were to see revealed on the screen. I will say that the plot of The Accountant was sometimes confusing, but only because I felt like they glossed over some plot holes and leaps in logic. Even if I was asking myself, “Hey, what about . . . ?” I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. The somewhat frenetic pacing of the movie helped to push the plot forward to...
Read More

BOOK: The Descendants (2007)

The Descendants Year: 2007 Author: Kaui Hart Hemmings Length: 550 minutes / 9.17 hours On paper, the plot of The Descendants almost sounds like a bad soap opera. A man who has the deciding vote that could mean wealth for him and his extended family is dealing with an unfaithful wife who is in a life-threatening coma. The execution of this plot, however, brings so much humanity to the forefront that I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these events were real. While I loved the movie adaptation of this book, the first-person narrative of the book helped add so much more depth to the story. It’s difficult to get into the main character’s head when there’s no internal monologue like in the movie. Of course, with such realistic and vulnerable characters, there were bound to be a few that I didn’t like. Ironically enough, I hated the comatose wife. Sure, her husband was probably a bit of a workaholic, but he always meant well and was...
Read More

BOOK: Spinning Silver (2018)

Spinning Silver Year: 2018 Author: Naomi Novik Length: 434 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** About seven years ago, there seemed to be a renaissance of fairy tale retellings and reimagining that swept through popular culture. From television shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm to movies like Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Mirror Mirror (2012) to the books of Melanie Dickerson, it seemed that wherever you turned, you could find someone’s different take on classic fairy tales. While perhaps a little outside this bubble of pop culture, Spinning Silver has the benefit of standing out in a field of genre books that seems to have cooled in recent years. Based partially on the story of Rumpelstiltskin, author Naomi Novik has masterfully combined elements of Jewish and Russian folklore to reimagine this story from a somewhat more modern perspective while also maintaining its fairytale settings and tropes. If anything, her strong and independent female characters highlight how chauvinistic the original fairy tales seem when compared to the culture we’re living in...
Read More

BOOK: This Present Darkness (1986)

This Present Darkness Year: 1986 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 520 pages Back in high school, I had to read this book as part of my Religions class and thought it was pretty good. As I have been preparing for writing The Slumberealm Gambit, I decided to give This Present Darkness another read so I could recall how Peretti combined the fantastical spirit world with the real world. For a book written in 1986, it’s aged surprisingly well, even if the demise of the newspaper and the rise of constant contact via cell phones would make this kind of book set in modern times a hard sell. Even so, I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone adapted this book into a movie, as the plot is thrilling and the action is top-notch. Strangely enough, one of my qualms with this book is with its formatting and proofreading. There were a few missed typos, and the right-align text didn’t seem as professional as I would have hoped a widely-printed book would...
Read More

MOVIE: A Quiet Place (2018)

A Quiet Place Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours I’m not a fan of horror. In recent decades, the “gorenography” surrounding the genre seemed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Jump scares and excessive on-screen violence were the norms. It seems that films like Get Out (2017) have changed that, judging by how expertly A Quiet Place (2018) still holds to some of the horror tropes but tells a story that’s much more thrilling than seeing a group of people gored to death one-by-one. In the end, A Quiet Place is expert storytelling at its finest, based partly on how adeptly it uses the medium of film to convey its horror. While there seemed to be a few minor plot holes and curious decisions on the part of the characters, I’m just going to chalk them up to “horror logic” and move on to why I think this film is required viewing, even for people who hate horror movies. What...
Read More

MOVIE: Ready Player One (2018)

Ready Player One Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 140 minutes / 2.33 hours Ready Player One (2018) is a rare film for me, mostly because I had read the book well before the movie came out. In fact, I read the book shortly after it was released, and was impressed by the sheer volume of pop culture references. Consequently, I figured such a film could never be made. Just based on the incredible amount of coordination it would take to get rights approvals from so many different places, the legal side of such a film would be a nightmare. If it was made into a film, I imagined it would certainly be a fun and flashy romp through cyberspace. The film version, while not entirely faithful to its source material, certainly lives up to my imagination. While the book spends paragraphs describing all the pop culture references, the movie does it one better and gives quick, flashing glances of something that fans of pop culture will...
Read More

MOVIE: Avengers – Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 149 minutes / 2.48 hours It’s difficult to codify something like Avengers: Infinity War (2018) without including everything that led up to it. In reality, it’s probably more along the lines of the 19th episode of a television series that’s taken ten years to realize fully. Because of the interconnected nature of these previous movies, it’s difficult to view it alone without the backstory tied to it. However, there are enough brief moments of exposition to help most people fill in the gaps as to what is happening. Still, as is the case with many finales for television shows, the epic nature of Infinity War is at a level all its own. The scale of such an endeavor is daunting, but with as little backstory as possible holding it back, Infinity War moves at a pretty good pace, jumping between a couple of groups of Avengers. Of course, we can’t just directly jump to fighting the main villain, so the “lesser” bad guys stand...
Read More

MOVIE: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Anymore, superhero films are a dime a dozen. I get that they’re adding up to a greater narrative for Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but a lot of them seem almost indistinguishable from each other. Enter Black Panther (2018). Not only is this superhero not white, but almost all the action takes place somewhere other than New York City. There are a lot of strengths in Black Panther that make it feel like a cut above the rest. From the set design and aesthetic of Wakanda to the well-developed characters (including women warriors and women scientists), Black Panther shows how a superhero movie should be made. Despite its strengths, there are still a few, minor weaknesses in this film. First, some of the CGI felt a little off in the sense that my mind rejected it when I saw it. These moments were usually pretty rare but were unquestionably obvious. Secondly, one of the tenets of the superhero genre is the action/fight sequences. While...
Read More

BOOK: The Green Mile (1996)

The Green Mile Year: 1996 Author: Stephen King Length: 839 minutes / 13.98 hours While most people might not realize Stephen King wrote The Green Mile, I was completely unaware that the original version of this book was released serially—much like Charles Dickens used to do with his books. The novelty of experimenting with this format is somewhat lost now that the volumes are collected together to create a whole narrative. Even so, King is still the master of his craft, even if there’s minimal “horror” contained within the walls of this prison. At least, it’s an expected horror through the system of capital punishment, and not tied to the terror of the unknown. Even though I enjoyed this story for its characters and plot, one element stuck out like a sore thumb: the framing via the retirement home. Sure, there’s a neat twist involved near the end, but so often the narrative would pull away from the time period in the prison to show some...
Read More

MOVIE: Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours It’s weird to think that 2003 was 15 years ago. As someone who graduated high school in 2004, Lady Bird (2017) hit me right in the nostalgia. While there have been plenty of coming-of-age films over the years, Lady Bird simplifies the experience to a quick-paced trot through the senior year of high school for the titular character (portrayed to great effect by Saoirse Ronan). All the trappings of the coming-of-age story are there, including experimentation with drugs, sex, and alcohol, but done in a way that is still innocent and child-like. In the end, Lady Bird is about independence and defining who we are as individuals. What really hits home in the narrative of this film is the things we do to make ourselves stand out. From declaring that our name is different from the one our parents gave us to choosing which friends we spend our time with, we inevitably realize that we’re seeking approval and acceptance...
Read More

MOVIE: Coco (2017)

Coco Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours In the never-ending string of incredible visuals brought to life by Pixar, Coco (2017) continues this trend into the afterlife. At this point, I’m convinced Pixar could just go ahead and shoot live video and put their animated characters in the scene and I’d still think the whole thing was animated. The interplay of color, light, and shadow really come out in this celebration of Mexican culture. All spectacular visuals aside, Pixar again delivers on an emotional impact that left me crying, as always. When it comes to new ideas, Pixar certainly still knows how to create a visually-compelling story. While Coco has a lot going for it, there are a few weaknesses, some of which are my own opinion based on my likes and dislikes. I know the film mostly targets children (and older children at that), but the plot was just a smidge too predictable. Sure, it was enjoyable to see my...
Read More

BOOK: Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box (2018)

Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box Year: 2018 Author: Maédeiva Myre Length: 230 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** When the author contacted me about reviewing this book, he compared it to The Kite Runner. Having now read this book, I think Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box can stand on its own without the comparison. Sure, both focus on the events of childhoods in the Pakistan/India area, but the one scene that both seem to share (the rape) seems completely unnecessary in Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box. This was my only practical qualm with the book. As it is, the author has crafted a well-thought-out narrative that covers plenty of meaningful topics and themes. Except for the violence perhaps being a little too intense in places, I could see myself reading this to elementary-age children to help them understand a culture different from their own. Not only does the author show the differences between varying levels of poverty, but he does so in...
Read More

BOOK: I Am Legend and Other Stories (1954)

I Am Legend and Other Stories Year: 1954 Author: Richard Matheson Length: 652 minutes / 10.86 hours After listening to this audiobook, it became abundantly clear why this story was adapted into a movie on three separate occasions (the most recent being the 2007 movie of the same name). While this latest adaptation didn’t seem to emphasize the “vampire-ness” of the creatures as much as its source material, many of the elements of the story were still present. In fact, I now prefer the original story, as its prose was almost poetic at times in its descriptions of the main character’s struggle to survive. While the ending wasn’t particularly satisfying in either incarnation, the plot development was superb. I appreciated how the author was able to strip away the superstition that surrounds vampires and look at these fantastical creatures in a more logical and scientific light. Why do vampires hate garlic? Why does a stake through the heart kill them? Do crosses work against vampires who...
Read More

BOOK: The Circle (2013)

The Circle Year: 2013 Author: Dave Eggers Length: 822 minutes / 13.70 hours When I saw the movie adaptation of this book, I felt like the presentation of this somewhat interesting idea was already dated by about five years. This made me curious if the book was any better. As is probably no surprise to anyone, the book was much better. Sure, the movie cut a few things from the book that I thought were a bit too unnecessary (all the “sex,” that is) or underutilized (the “Calvin” character), but the book really hits at the intensity of the internet-addicted generation. I would even go so far as to say The Circle is the modern version of 1984. I’m somewhat torn when it comes to the message presented here. I understand how trying to stay on top of millions of e-mails, and thousands of social media updates can be utterly overwhelming. I also agree that a lot of ideas that seem to be beneficial to society will have the removal...
Read More

MOVIE: In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges Year: 2008 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours It’s interesting to see Martin McDonagh’s first film with the hindsight of his two other movies. While I missed In Bruges (2008) back when it came out, I have recently enjoyed Seven Psychopaths (2012) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). Having now seen all three of McDonagh’s films, I see the themes and motifs he uses throughout his directing. I already had hints of these common elements; it’s just that seeing In Bruges for the first time has cemented them. From using short people to drug use to some uncomfortable violence, McDonagh has a style all his own, and it clearly shows in his breakout film. I think what draws me to McDonagh’s films is his expert use of multiple “Chekov’s Guns” as well as tying all these various foreshadowings together in a satisfying way. Whether it’s a fat American, spare change, or the untimely death of a child, each part of In Bruges was included for a purpose that becomes evident...
Read More

BOOK: Freedom’s Fire (2017)

Freedom’s Fire Year: 2017 Author: Bobby Adair Length: 338 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I find it somewhat refreshing to read a dystopian book where the dystopia has already happened. There are far too many that detail the onset of a dystopia, and a scant few that actually deal with the realities of the dystopia. While this does lead Freedom’s Fire to have a cynical and depressing tone, at least there is a growing hope as the story progresses. At the very least, this book was a quick read, helped along by its pacing and action-packed sequences. On a personal note, I also liked the fact that it was set in Colorado, as I could easily connect with the locations and lingo. While Freedom’s Fire was an enjoyable read, it did have a few minor flaws. As I read, I mostly understood the vague goals of the main character and his crew, at least in simplistic terms. Get off Earth. Join the Resistance. It was the...
Read More

MOVIE: The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours The modern master of the monster movie, Guillermo del Toro is at it again with The Shape of Water (2017). Much like the Universal Studios monster classics, del Toro has created a career around directing films about how humans interact with these monsters. From building giant robots to fight giant monsters in Pacific Rim (2013) to hiring monsters to kill other monsters in Hellboy (2004), del Toro has also occasionally shown the more human side of monsters. Or, more accurately, he has shown how monster-like humans can become. Previous films by Guillermo del Toro, like Cronos (1993) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006) have highlighted the negative qualities of man while infusing these films with a sense of fantasy that can often border on straight-up fairy tales. The Shape of Water certainly falls into the "man is the real monster" category of del Toro's movies, but it kind of beats you over the head...
Read More

MOVIE: The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride Year: 1987 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours The Princess Bride (1987) is a movie that defies genres. It’s an adventure film with swashbuckling pirates. It’s a fantasy film with giants and six-fingered men. It’s a comedy with numerous quotable lines. It’s a family film about storytelling. It’s all these things, and more, which is part of its appeal (even if it makes the whole movie difficult to classify or market). The real trick with The Princess Bride is that it is subtle with its self-awareness. While other films may go so far self-aware that they’d break the fourth wall (a la Deadpool (2016)), The Princess Bride manages to poke fun at these classic genres with a knowing wink to the audience. Of course, this is part of its appeal. Many self-aware films make overt references to other big-hitters in their genre, thus relying on the audience who has done their homework to understand the joke. In The Princess Bride, there are no references to The Lord of the...
Read More

MOVIE: Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours Animation has become somewhat easier since the days when every frame was drawn out by hand. This change has been mostly due to the use of computers to simplify the animation process. And yet, there are still those who want to embrace the painstaking process of manual animation, mostly for the artistic merit that it gives the film. Usually, this is done in short form, like the stop-motion film, Fresh Guacamole (2012) by PES, or the paint-on-glass animated short, The Old Man and the Sea (1999). Both of these short films were nominated for the Animated Short Oscar, with the latter winning the prize. With Loving Vincent (2017), we now have a feature-length (albeit at a short 94 minutes) animated feature that took the time to recreate the aesthetic of Van Gough’s paintings via a plentitude of hand-painted oil paintings that comprised the individual frames of the film. If awards are given for artistic merit alone, Loving Vincent deserves to win...
Read More

MOVIE: Spider-Man – Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Of all the superheroes in their respective comic universes, the one I grew up with was Spider-Man. I watched the animated 1990’s television show, and I loved when this relatable superhero made his way to the big screen in Spider-Man (2002). I was even more pleased when Spider-Man 2 (2004) set the tone for future superhero franchises. The first film is the origin film so the second film can dispense with the best villain and not spend all its time in exposition. Unfortunately, I ended up being disappointed by the third entry in this original Spider-Man trilogy, which was a rare miss in my book. Fast forward to 2012, when Spider-Man was rebooted with Andrew Garfield in the title role. Having to sit through the origin story again, but with a different, green-colored villain as the antagonist seemed like it wasn’t exploring anything new. Around the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was...
Read More

BOOK: The Kite Runner (2003)

The Kite Runner Year: 2003 Author: Khaled Hosseini Length: 324 pages In an odd twist, I haven’t actually seen the movie this book was based on before I started reading it. Sure, I was aware The Kite Runner was a notable book, but I knew little about it other than the peripheral knowledge that comes from seeing an occasional movie trailer. About five years ago, I found this book for cheap at a bookstore and decided to pick it up on a whim. Now that I’ve finally read it, I’m glad I bought it those many years ago. Unquestionably, it deserved the notoriety it received, as it is a well-written and engaging story. I’ll admit that there is much I don’t know about the specifics of Afghanistan and Islam. This book certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things I had suspected, but could never confirm. First of all: men are awful. I’m a man myself, but I’m ashamed that so much of human misery is...
Read More

BOOK: The Screwtape Letters (1942)

The Screwtape Letters Year: 1942 Author: C.S. Lewis Length: 216 minutes / 3.60 hours Perhaps the first documented fictional exploration of spiritual warfare, The Screwtape Letters is an expertly crafted examination of what the enemy of our souls is plotting. The reader is given insight into one side of a correspondence between two demons of differing influence and rank, thus providing a “behind the scenes” look at what the enemy is plotting and what they consider to be a victory for them. At moments, it can be difficult to follow along since the context of Screwtape’s “enemy” is really the “good” side of the spiritual battle. Either way, C.S. Lewis has crafted a brilliant satire about how little humans understand of their spiritual lives. While I wouldn’t necessarily ascribe The Screwtape Letters to pure theology, there are plenty of eye-opening and thought-provoking statements in Screwtape’s letters to his nephew. From the demons’ acknowledgment that pleasure is of God’s design but overindulgence in pleasure is in their realm to the...
Read More

MOVIE: Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours Almost like clockwork, Christopher Nolan has directed a masterpiece of filmmaking every two-to-three years since the start of the millennium. While his prior work is certainly entertaining, most of it was set in a fictional environment that allowed him to play with the format of nonlinear storytelling. When I first heard that Nolan would be directing a film about the World War II retreat from Dunkirk, I was skeptical at first. I mean, while he's great at action movies like The Dark Knight (2010), mind-benders like Memento (2000), or even science fiction epics like Interstellar (2014), his only foray into the "historical" was via The Prestige (2006), and even that was mostly made up. What I did not realize going into Dunkirk (2017), was Nolan's ability to create art without the need for fancy camera tricks or mind-blowing plot twists. The simplicity of Dunkirk merely emphasizes the mastery of cinematography and directing that Christopher Nolan can...
Read More

BOOK: Dark Matter (2016)

Dark Matter Year: 2016 Author: Blake Crouch Length: 608 minutes / 10.13 hours It seems to me that the multiverse is a popular topic in fiction today. Sure, there have been plenty of stories about parallel universes and the fractal branching of our decisions, but for some reason, there’s been an uptick in the number of these stories lately. Perhaps these stories are trying to find a better universe in which to live, or perhaps they’re trying to show us that the world we have could be much worse. Either way, Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter nails the multiverse plot by exploring all the different connotations of the ability to travel between parallel universes. Presented in a traditional, three-act narrative, Dark Matter thrusts its protagonist into another version of his reality, ripping him away from his idyllic life. Using quantum physics as a form of magical hand-waving, the narrative then turns to the main character’s relentless search for his original universe. While the result of this exploration fits nicely...
Read More

BOOK: Shadowguard (2015)

Shadowguard Year: 2015 Author: Gama Ray Martinez Length: 228 pages I picked this book up for free on my Kindle recently, probably due to some promotion to heighten awareness of the latest book in the Pharim War series. As the first book in this series, Shadowguard doesn’t waste any time getting down into the action of the story. Somewhat light on exposition and description, the world created here is still vibrant and fascinating, regardless. The story's characters and setting immediately immersed me in the world, and that's not even mentioning the interesting magic system Gama Ray Martinez has created. It fell in line with the fantasy genre without being too derivative of it. Some may say a series of books about a magical boy learning magic at an illustrious school sounds a lot like the Harry Potter series. The fact that the Pharim War series has a fantasy world setting, and isn't just a hidden part of our real world, makes it distinctly different from J.K....
Read More

MOVIE: Kong – Skull Island (2017)

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

BOOK: 7th Son – Descent (2006)

7th Son: Descent Year: 2006 Author: J.C. Hutchins Length: 368 pages I managed to find this book on a table full of free books at a convention some time ago and tucked it away in my “to read” pile. Now that I’ve finished most of the Goodreads giveaways I have received, I decided to give it a read. With nothing other than the title (which doesn’t tell me much) and the cover (which gives a little more information), I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this book. Since it was on a table of free books, I didn’t have much expectation for it, but boy did it ever deliver! With a fantastically engaging idea and a blisteringly fast execution, 7th Son: Descent pulled me in from the get-go and wouldn’t let go. Action! Espionage! Science! Without ever becoming too mired in the details (but providing enough to have the plot make sense), this book successfully made a story about cloning that wasn’t trite or...
Read More

MOVIE: Split (2016)

Split Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours For many years, M. Night Shyamalan’s directing career has been in continual decline. Many people, myself included, felt his groundbreaking work with The Sixth Sense (1999) was the peak of what he had to offer. Sure, Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002) were good movies that had their moments, but from that point onward, the films he made just got worse and worse. Although I have not seen it, 2015’s The Visit seemed to be a return to form for Shyamalan, indicating that his directing was no longer washed up. In Split (2017), we see that Shyamalan has been able to recapture the magic that made his previous films so memorable. The first thing I noticed in Split was the cinematography. The camera lets the audience see just enough to let them know that something is amiss, often preparing the viewer for an occasional jump scare. Secondly, James McAvoy’s performance was impeccable. Taking on the...
Read More

BOOK: The Accidental Superpower (2014)

The Accidental Superpower Year: 2014 Author: Peter Zeihan Length: 739 minutes / 12.32 hours I can’t remember when or why I added this book to my “to-read” list on Overdrive, but I’m certainly glad I did. While it’s a little dated from a 2017 perspective, The Accidental Superpower is an incredibly insightful book that helps to peel back the onion of global politics and economics to reveal the underlying factors that are, and have been, shaping the world into what it is today. As a bonus, after reading this book, I have a better understanding of how countries and societies develop from a geographical and economic standpoint and can use these insights to aid in the world-building for a few of my upcoming novel series. Right from the get-go, The Accidental Superpower opened my eyes to the obvious: geography determines economy. Mountains separate areas almost as well as oceans do, but the best economies are the ones that can move their goods about in the...
Read More

BOOK: Stiletto (2016)

Stiletto Year: 2016 Author: Daniel O'Malley Length: 1,392 minutes / 23.20 hours I’ll be the first to admit that I like sequels. Or, more accurately, well-done sequels. While the first book in a series can be great by itself, it carries the burden of exposition and world-building. A good sequel gives a light refresher of the important points and gets right into the action. I would certainly consider Stiletto to be a well-done sequel to the first book in the Checquy Files series, The Rook. Not only does it expand upon the central conflict in the first book, but it throws in the twist of the warring factions of the Checquy and the Grafters coming together to form a truce. In making enemies into teammates, Daniel O'Malley shows the differences between them are almost superficial. The chess-based supernatural soldiers of the Checquy almost have the same strength of powers that the genetically and surgically enhanced members of the Grafters do. Since the whole plot usually...
Read More

BOOK: Speaker for the Dead (1986)

Speaker for the Dead Year: 1986 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 850 minutes / 14.17 hours In this sequel to Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card continues to provide a smartly-written plot that causes the reader to think about death in a whole new way. While the first book in the series gave some thought-provoking insights into war, simulation and the dangers of following orders, Speaker for the Dead examines cultural differences, religion, and the humanity of individuals who acted like monsters during their lives. Instead of moving on from the life of a deplorable person, Card manages to show the reader that a person's life is made up of all its truths: the bad included with the good. While Ender Wiggin seemed a little young in Ender’s Game, by Speaker for the Dead he’s aged into a wiser and much more complex character. His experiences in the first book helped to set him up as the universe’s devil and savior, a unique attribute set for...
Read More

BOOK: The Captain’s Kid (2016)

The Captain's Kid Year: 2016 Author: Liz Coley Length: 352 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With today's Young Adult genre overtaken by books not appropriate for young adults, it's refreshing to read a book that not only has content for teenagers but realistic teenage characters as well. These are the characters dealing with their first foray into independence and finding their identity separate from that of their parents. Each of these individuals has their strengths and weaknesses, and it's in recognition of these assets and liabilities that they start to realize their true potential in life. The fact that the setting takes place in outer space is simply to keep the reader engaged with the plot. Regarding the science behind the plot, the author seems to have done her research. At a cursory glance, all the elements that come together to create the main thrust of the plot all make sense, and all add to each other to make a believable situation. From microgravity...
Read More

BOOK: The Accidental Billionaires (2009)

The Accidental Billionaires Year: 2009 Author: Ben Mezrich Length: 439 minutes / 7.32 hours Upon a recent re-watch of The Social Network (2010), I came to the realization that the story was based on the book, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. In standard fashion, I put this book in my “to read” list and waited until the audiobook was available. Even though both the book and the movie were created shortly after the meteoric rise of Facebook into the mainstream, the story is still intriguing and captivating. In fact, I think the strength of both works is due to the irony of the whole situation: an anti-social computer genius creates the largest social network ever. While the book doesn’t use Mark Zuckerberg’s legal troubles as a framework to break up the story as the movie does, both hold very closely to the same narrative. The one thing the book manages to emphasize more than the film is the “romantic” aspect of the whole endeavor....
Read More

BOOK: The Infinity of You & Me (2016)

The Infinity of You & Me Year: 2016 Author: J.Q. Coyle Length: 246 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Unlike Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory, The Infinity of You & Me really nails the complex and unique challenges of dealing with multiple universes. Far more serious than its comedic counterpart, Infinity takes the reader on a journey through the multiple lives of a teenage girl. The descriptive writing used for this task was quite adept at conveying the transition between worlds, as well as the numerous dystopian scenarios present within them. Clearly, the Sylvia Plath poems the main character holds dear also influenced the author's writing style. As I've said before, I'm not a fan of the young adult genre, especially when it devolves to cliches. This book managed to reside in that young adult genre, but successfully told a story that didn't make me roll my eyes in annoyance. Sure, the elements were there, but they were handled much more subtly, almost in the...
Read More

MOVIE: Avatar (2009)

Avatar Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 162 minutes / 2.7 hours For being 10 times the amount of money I would normally spend on a movie, I had hoped that this would be worth it. As per my previous stance on 3-D, I was hesitant on going to this film when it first came out. However, since I did some reading up on what forces went on behind this film, I decided to give the 3-D experience a try. What an experience it was! I can see why the film industry was really pushing for more movies to be in 3-D because it is spectacular. The glasses weren't uncomfortable, and if you took them off for a second, it wasn't a terrible color-shifted image, it was just slightly blurry. Although, one thing that 3-D cinema is going to have to fix is to have more things in focus. You can't rely on previous film-making techniques here. At any rate, if you can get over the blatantly...
Read More

BOOK: Lives of Unstoppable Hope (2015)

Lives of Unstoppable Hope Year: 2015 Author: Stant Litore Length: 124 pages As a Colorado author, I often run across other authors at conventions in the state. I’ve seen Stant at a few of the conventions, the most recent being Mile-Hi Con 2016. Because I’m connected to the Colorado author community, I saw some of my author friends post that this book of his was available on Kindle for a very affordable price. While I haven’t officially introduced myself to Stant Litore, after reading this book, I may want to because it really spoke to me on a deep and emotional level. I appreciated Stant’s open and intimate look into the life of him and his family, especially in light of the medical struggles of his daughter, Inara. I’m sure I would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t had at least some member of their family in some sort of hopeless medical condition, be it a parent, spouse, or child. Having had some...
Read More

BOOK: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Year: 2015 Author: Alan Dean Foster Length: 606 minutes / 10.1 hours If you’ve been following along recently, you’ll know that I’ve been on a bit of a “movie” kick when it comes to the audiobooks I’ve listened to. While there are plenty of movies based on books, I haven’t really been one to read novelizations of movies. That being said, I’ve found the writing style in my own novels to be a bit of a novelization of the ideas in my mind, since I usually try and describe scenes in a cinematic way. At any rate, I was expecting a story that held close to the film, and this book certainly delivered on that promise. I’ll admit that the more I think about the plot and characters of The Force Awakens, the more I find that it almost exactly matches the events of A New Hope. However, there were some weaknesses in the first installment of the Star Wars...
Read More

BOOK: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Year: 1962 Author: Ken Kesey Length: 601 minutes / 10.02 hours As one of the few films in American history to win the “big 5” Academy Awards (which are Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay), I was interested in the book that helped One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest attain its award-worthy status. I figured that if such a book could provide such great content to win awards as a movie, it would certainly have artistic merit in its own right. After all, many people posit that a book is better than the movie it is made out of. I wanted to make sure that, at the very least, it wasn’t any worse than the movie. Perhaps the largest difference between the two versions of this story (I’m not going to go into the live-theatre version, since I haven’t seen it), is that the book has a very interesting narrator in the character of “Chief” Bromden, whereas the...
Read More

MOVIE: Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians Year: 2012 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours While the idea of the holidays being connected isn't a new idea (see The Nightmare Before Chrismas (1993) for another take on it), there is something intrinsically interesting with making the respective figureheads of their representative mythos come together in an Avenger-esque fashion against a common enemy. Rise of the Guardians (2012) certainly does a good job of this, even if only two of its characters have anything to do with holidays at all. In its essence, the fanciful characters from our childhood banding together to fight evil personified is based on the belief that we all have something to believe in. What I particularly like about Rise of the Guardians is the surprising depth of the characters chosen to fight for the belief of all children around the world. From a Russian-themed Santa Claus to the Australian Easter Bunny (expertly voiced by Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman, respectively), these added details...
Read More

BOOK: Owner’s Share (2014)

Owner’s Share Year: 2014 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 574 pages Well, here we are. The end of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series has been quite the interesting journey, essentially tagging on to the events that happened in the previous book, Captain's Share. While this was the logical final step for Ishmael Wang, I appreciated that some of the loose ends that had been introduced throughout the series were finally resolved. I also appreciated that the characters weren’t all idyllic or idiotic, thus providing a balance of the likable and unlikeable characters instead of heavily including one side of the spectrum or the other. In terms of plot, Nathan Lowell has spun together a great yarn here with a lot of “what could go wrong next?” scenarios. Even if these events didn’t feel like they carried much in terms of consequences, due to these inevitabilities never coming to pass, they were usually impediments to Wang’s goals. The one twist near the end of...
Read More

MOVIE: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two Strings Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours We live in the future, and it is incredible. I’ve found stop-motion animation to be a fascinating medium, not only for its “dirtiness” when compared to CGI, but also because of the painstaking care it takes to produce a full-length feature with this process. Animation studios like Aardman and Laika are really starting to take advantage of all the tools at their disposal to create some awesome stop-motion movies. We’ve come a long way since the films of Henry Selick, the most famous one being The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Through Selick, we now have a handful of fantastic films through the Laika brand. While their previous work, The Boxtrolls (2014) had started the trend away from more morbid themes and plots, Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) shows just how capable the stop-motion medium is to tell a fantastic story. With an origami motif existing throughout, Kubo and the...
Read More

BOOK: Double Share (2008)

Double Share Year: 2008 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 308 pages Much like Half Share overcompensated for Quarter Share’s naïveté, I found Double Share to take an extreme stance on the dynamic of a ship’s crew. This stance was practically diametrically opposed to the crew of Ishmael Wang’s first crew aboard the Lois McKendrick. While it might sound like I’m complaining about this, I’m actually lauding Nathan Lowell for finally creating a crew that’s a little more realistic than the idyllic one he used during the first three books in this series. Of course, it would have been nice to intersperse difficult characters throughout the books, instead of having to deal with them all at once, but it is what it is. Even though the first three books in this series were fairly close together in timeframes, I would have liked a little more detail given to the handful of years dedicated to Wang’s time at the Academy, especially since the end of Full Share made...
Read More

MOVIE: 42 (2013)

42 Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours In today's charged racial climate, it seems that we haven't come that far from the 1940's. All the barriers that have been broken to allow equal opportunities to everyone don't seem to matter if the heart of the people has not been changed. Needless to say, several films have been made in the last few years which have highlighted the racial struggles of the pioneers in their respective professions. Initially, I was skeptical that 42 (2013) would devolve into your standard "fight against racism" story, but the expert camerawork, peppy pacing, and superb casting really made this movie for me. Having played baseball myself up through my senior year in high school, the appeal of a story about the game is what initially piqued my interest. The fact that this is a story about one of the most recognizable names in baseball was merely icing on the cake. There have been a number of...
Read More

MOVIE: Limelight (1952)

Limelight Year: 1952 Rating: Approved Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours While it is rare to find a film by/starring Charlie Chaplin that isn't uproariously funny, the depth of the drama of this piece certainly shows the range everyone's favorite silent actor could perform. Chaplin will always have the little idiosyncracies in the way he moves, but when they're applied to a washed-up drunk, suddenly they take a much more serious turn. Films like The Dictator (1940) and Monsieur Verdoux (1947) certainly have their amusing moments, but work better as social commentaries, or at least are more direct about their message than the earlier films like The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), and Modern Times (1936). What's really interesting about Limelight is it feels almost as autobiographical as it does groundbreaking. I mean, if we were to name one famous actor who excelled at playing a "tramp", Chaplin is the only one who would come to mind (although Buster Keaton, who also appears in the...
Read More

MOVIE: Road to Morocco (1942)

Road to Morocco Year: 1942 Rating: Not Rated Length: 82 minutes / 1.37 hours It’s unfortunate that many people who might be familiar with this film only know it through the homage done on Family Guy. The unfortunate part of this is that most wouldn’t recognize the origin of the bit and go watch the reference material, which is much funnier than Family Guy could make it. Buddy films have been around for a long time, so it’s nice to see how one of the founding films of this comedy sub-genre succeeded at it. The success of a Buddy film comes from the talent of its two main characters. In this case, Orville "Turkey" Jackson (Bob Hope) is the lovably dim partner to Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby), the snarky singer and brains of the operation. Those who might be looking for a pure slapstick comedy are bound to be slightly disappointed, because the gold of this film is in its repartee. Verbal jabs, wordplay, and double entendre...
Read More

MOVIE: Captain America – Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours When it comes to sequels, I fell very few film franchises do their predecessors justice. In my opinion, a great sequel requires a simple formula: cause and effect. The "cause" should be in the form of the first (or in this case, previous) movie(s). Whatever happens before a sequel should drive the plot of the following movie. This is the "effect." While it wasn't nearly as good as this effort, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) followed the same formula. Cause: Superman destroying most of Metropolis in Man of Steel (2013). Effect: Batman and Lex Luthor wanting to hold Superman accountable. See? Simple as that. What perhaps makes Captain America: Civil War such a great film is the amount of "cause" that led to its "effect." The driving plot of this film was in direct response to the destruction and mayhem brought about by the Avengers trying to save the...
Read More

MOVIE: Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day Year: 1996 Rating: PG-13 Length: 145 minutes / 2.41 hours While most people just roll their eyes at the mention of Roland Emmerich as a director, many forget that he essentially started the revival of the "destructive action" film. What used to be common in the seventies, with movies like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Towering Inferno (1974), films showing catastrophes had taken a bit of a back seat until Independence Day. This revival on a globally-catastrophic scale brought about such films as Armageddon (1998) and Deep Impact (1998). Granted, Emmerich continued to make world destruction a part of his directing career, which is why films like this almost seem hokey today. Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009), and White House Down (2013) haven't been the most critically-acclaimed films of all time, but they certainly carry Emmerich's penchant for demolishing cultural landmarks. One does wonder why Independence Day stands out amongst his other films, almost as an anomaly. While later films by...
Read More

MOVIE: X-Men (2000)

X-Men Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Up until the 21st Century, DC had dominated the comic book adaptations on the big screen. Film franchises like Superman and Batman were essentially the only acts in town. Of course, by the time the year 2000 rolled around, Superman hadn’t been in theaters for more than a decade, and Batman had become almost as campy and goofy as its 1960’s counterpart. This was now Marvel’s time to shine. Partly due to a large cast of recognizable characters, X-Men was the right choice to reboot the comic book adaptation film franchise. Even though X-Men set the standard pretty high for comic book adaptations, very few have followed in its stead. Where most first films in a hero franchise focus on the origins of the main character, the X-Men spans such an enormous timeframe, with characters coming in and out of relevance, that it would be difficult to give all of their origins at once. Instead,...
Read More

MOVIE: Collateral (2004)

Collateral Year: 2004 Rating: R Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours Having seen this film many years ago when it came out, a recent re-watching of the Blu-ray at home with my wife has cemented itself as a tight and well-done film. While most action films like to confuse the audience with shaky cameras and quick cuts, this one starts calm and builds to an exciting conclusion. Of course, it's not just a steady and methodical thriller, it loops back on itself, tying up all loose ends and bookending the whole plot in a neat little package. Each of the segments where they drive to the next destination gives a chance for excellent character building as well as giving the audience a break from the brief moments of action (which steadily get longer and more intense as the film progresses). Along with the overhead tracking shots and expert use of depth of field, this film almost borders on art. These are what good action films should be. What's...
Read More

MOVIE: Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours Let me just start by saying that I've really become a fan of Disney's animation since about 2010. Before then, I was wild for Pixar, but around the time Tangled (2010) came out, Pixar hadn't been making the quality films I had become used to. Instead, Disney was now churning out great films like Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), and Big Hero 6 (2014). Their latest film, Zootopia (2016), certainly upholds the level of quality expected of this animation studio. Not only were the visuals stunning (as always), but the plot and characters were all on-point. As is almost expected of a film meant for children, but made with adults in mind, there were a number of popular culture references that I found myself laughing uproariously for while the rest of the audience missed the joke. From slight alterations to animal-themed products (i.e. "Cub Soda"), to jokes pertaining to certain animal characteristics...
Read More