BOOK: The Essex Serpent (2016)

The Essex Serpent Year: 2016 Author: Sarah Perry Length: 464 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** It’s been a while since I’ve read a book as profound as The Essex Serpent. Perhaps it’s because they don’t write books like this anymore. While written in the last few years, the style of The Essex Serpent is distinctly Victorian. It holds callbacks to the greats of gothic literature, including the physiological studies of Frankenstein and the back-and-forth letter writing of Dracula. All the while, the ever-present gloom of the muddy and foggy Essex shoreline hides the eponymous serpent just outside the reader’s view, providing anticipation of its reveal. Is the Essex Serpent real or is it a figment of so much imagination? Of course, in staying with the Victorian style, the book does suffer somewhat in readability. The vocabulary and description are certainly more voluminous than modern volumes, but my biggest qualm seems to be more along the lines of the seemingly endless talk that occurs in the first half of...
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BOOK: The Pearl (1947)

The Pearl Year: 1947 Author: John Steinbeck Length: 155 minutes / 2.58 hours Perhaps one of the lesser-known of Steinbeck’s works, The Pearl still exhibits his concise and emotionally-powerful storytelling. More along the length of Of Mice and Men than The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck doesn’t waste much time arriving at the central conflict of The Pearl, using realistic characters and settings to weave his story. Some might find the characters in this story to be mere stereotypes, but I would almost argue that they’re the archetypes that have aided good storytelling for centuries. The fact that people today could easily find themselves in similar situations merely speaks to the timeless nature of the story itself. Somewhat of a deviation from the depression-era settings of some of his previous works, Steinbeck uses the natural beauty of the island setting to contrast the ugliness present in the hearts of its inhabitants. Granted, the antagonists of the story are the inherently-greedy colonialists who are trying to take advantage of the indigenous population, but...
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MOVIE: The Greatest Showman (2017)

The Greatest Showman Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours I can honestly say there aren’t nearly enough musicals in Hollywood anymore. The Greatest Showman (2017) certainly helps to fill in the gaps between these occurrences, and with a subject that easily lends itself to the musical format. I really enjoyed the songs and choreography, as well as its message of inclusion and being unashamed of who we are. All that being said, there was still something a little off when infusing pop music and modern dance moves with the 1800’s. It kind of works, but it also doesn’t immerse the audience in the historical aesthetic. While the story of P.T. Barnum’s (Hugh Jackman) rise to wealth and fame (or infamy, depending on the viewpoint) was entertaining enough, so much of its presentation seemed to have the “Hollywood coincidence” to it. Events lined up in such a way that I wondered if they really happened or if it was artistic license. This is also...
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BOOK: Zero to Five (2018)

Zero to Five Year: 2018 Author: Tracy Cutchlow Length: 247 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As an INTJ who is preparing to have kids, I’ve found a lot of advice that seems to be hearsay and old wives tales. As a scientist, I don’t particularly care for “tips and tricks” that are based on emotional responses or limited data sets either. Enter Zero to Five, a book that attempts to gather together the scientific research done to identify the positive and negative methodologies used to raise kids from birth to five years old. Some of the results are not what you’d expect. Of course, many of the snippets of advice contained in this book keep reiterating the same points: empathy, communication, and problem-solving. Early on in Zero to Five, I was engaged with the format and the narrative, but as the book dragged on, the repetition of the same themes became tedious. It also felt like the references to studies and research that were...
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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...
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MOVIE: Logan Lucky (2017)

Logan Lucky Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours I enjoy a good heist film. No heist is ever a straightforward “grab and dash” situation. When overcoming the barriers for the heist one-by-one, I can appreciate the interlocking elements of the robbery. Since one of my favorite heist films, Ocean’s Eleven (2001), was directed by Steven Soderbergh, I looked forward to his latest heist, Logan Lucky (2017). The trailers made it look like a fun film, and it was, but at the expense of all the best parts being conveyed in the trailer. About the only thing you don’t see in the trailer is the twist at the end, which is to be expected. When it comes to the setting, I’m not entirely sure if Logan Lucky is embracing or parodying the hillbilly stereotype. From beauty pageants for children to NASCAR races, this film has all the trappings of a West Virginia based on cultural perception instead of actual reality. At any...
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BOOK: Gaia (2017)

Gaia Year: 2017 Author: J.A. Darmanin Length: 296 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s one of those basic Young Adult stories, replete with the clichés like the “normal girl who finds out she’s super-special” and “main character is the only one who can save the world.” However, it also didn’t have the obscenity, violence, and sexuality that as seemed to permeate most YA books of late. Similarly, I found the main characters to be incredibly annoying, but then they were also written as teenage girls . . . so I guess there’s an amount of realism there. While there are certainly polished elements to this book, including the cover and some of the formatting, there are a few amateur mistakes that reveal that this is the author’s first book. The biggest problem I had was the variety of plot holes present throughout the book. Sure, there were a few moments that came...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (2007)

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians Year: 2007 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours Never before have I read a book that has been so self-aware . . . and I loved every minute of it. There’s breaking the fourth wall, and then there’s Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. A fun and hilarious read for teens and adults, this book’s premise is as ridiculous as it is original. Of course, while it tends to border on the random (for maximum comedic effect), this book also manages to tie all these random pieces together in the most satisfying way. The comedy in this book is effortless, and the plot is certainly the most interesting thing I’ve read recently. I think the ability of this book to successfully break norms and fully immerse the reader in the world is due to Sanderson’s talent as a fantasy writer. The details that seem odd, like receiving a bag of sand for your thirteenth birthday, manage to...
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MOVIE: Pokémon the Movie – I Choose You! (2017)

Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Over 20 years after its debut, it seems that Pokémon is not a fad and will be here to stay for the long haul. Of course, considering the mania surrounding the first games in the series back in the mid-1990’s, by now enough time has passed for nostalgia to be a contributing factor to the franchise’s continued success. The children who grew up with Pokémon are now adults in their late-20’s and early-30’s (i.e., “millennials”). In an attempt to cash in on this nostalgia, Pokémon’s latest movie, I Choose You! recounts some of the memorable first moments of the anime, but with a slightly different storyline. Initially, I was worried that this plot would be a pared-down selection of key moments from the anime, much like what has been done with other anime movies like One Piece’s The Desert Princess and the Pirates (2007) and Episode of Chopper Plus(2008). Fortunately, this film managed to...
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BOOK: Factor Man (2018)

Factor Man Year: 2018 Author: Matt Ginsberg Length: 292 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** First off, basing an entire book on solving the P=NP problem is a bit of a risky gamble. Most people have limited understanding of advanced mathematics, so describing this conundrum of complexity theory walks a fine line between not enough information and an exposition dump. Fortunately, Factor Man is able to maintain that balance, even if many of its sections and POVs did start to trend into exposition for exposition's sake. I mean, I understand the reasoning behind the New York Times' coverage of the lead-up, but each of the articles didn't read like they would have come from the New York Times. I will say that the strength of this book lies in its buildup. A lot is riding on the successful execution of Factor Man's plan, so his meticulous attention to detail to ensure every part of it comes to fruition was entertaining, to say the least. The mystery of Factor...
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