BOOK: The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

The Invasion of Heaven Year: 2013 Author: Michael B. Koep Length: 416 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Every once in a while, I come across an idea so original that it makes me stand up and take notice. These are the ideas that make me wonder why nobody had thought of it before. While the execution of the concept might be stylistically similar to other authors, the core of it is purely imaginative. For the most part, The Invasion of Heaven is such a book. The idea that art can literally affect a person’s mental and/or physical reality is quite a novel concept. Even if the style might be a little bit toward Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series, The Invasion of Heaven is still original enough to stand on its own. While I did mostly enjoy this book, there were a few curious choices that soured my experience. The handful of formatting/proofreading errors aside, and ignoring some of the pacing issues (some...
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BOOK: Ajax Penumbra 1969 (2013)

Ajax Penumbra 1969 Year: 2013 Author: Robin Sloan Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours As I said in my review of Sourdough, I absolutely adored Robin Sloan's debut work, Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore. Since Sourdough didn't necessarily sate my appetite, I found Ajax Penumbra 1969 to be a light snack that brought me back into the world created by Sloan. Acting as a bit of a short story/novella prequel to the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 still maintains the themes common in Sloan's work: mainly, the combination and juxtaposition of analog and digital technology. In this case, the reader just happens to come across this dichotomy in 1969. Following the titular character from the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 gives the origins of this mysterious character as he searches for answers and eventually ends up in San Francisco at a little 24-hour bookstore. The following mystery and intrigue are what I would expect from such a story, but the inclusion of the budding technological aspects of the late 1960's helped to...
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BOOK: The Long War (2013)

The Long War Year: 2013 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 828 minutes / 13.80 hours You think with an inciting incident as extreme as the one at the end of The Long Earth, the follow-on book, The Long War, would be an exciting series of battles. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. Instead, authors Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter take the Speaker for the Dead route by aging the main character of the first book by at least a decade and throwing in heavy doses of non-human racism (speciesism?). For a book that has “war” in the title, there isn’t much war at all. This is disappointing for many reasons. Sure, there’s still plenty of neat science fiction ideas presented here, but The Long War exhibits the same problems that were present in The Long Earth. First and foremost, the wit and humor of Terry Pratchett is hardly to be seen in this book, only occasionally popping up to add levity to a situation. Secondly, there’s so much exposition that...
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BOOK: Farside (2013)

Farside Year: 2013 Author: Ben Bova Length: 580 minutes / 9.67 hours I had never heard of this author before picking up this audiobook to read—I just thought the title and cover looked neat—but apparently he’s been writing science fiction for a few decades now. It shows. While I’m not entirely certain that this 20th part in the “Grand Tour” series connects to any other parts written before it, Farside does stand by itself as a story. Unfortunately, the story’s not that good. It almost seems as though the “old rules” of golden-age sci-fi live on through this author, which allowed for this misogynistic piece of fiction to be written in the new millennium. Much like Fire with Fire, there seems to be some sort of checklist that authors trying to imitate the pulpy origins of sci-fi are using to create their modern works. These tired tropes need to stop. Especially the tropes that have to do with the blatant sexism. None of the sex...
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BOOK: The Atlantis Stone (2013)

The Atlantis Stone Year: 2013 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 480 pages Albert Einstein is often attributed to the quote, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” In that case, The Atlantis Stone, is not creative, as all its sources are plainly on display, jumping from imitations of Dan Brown to imitations of National Treasure, and everything in-between. I wouldn’t mind the obvious homage to better stories if the plot was any good. The Atlantis Stone is not a good story, though. The main reason for this seems to be the characters themselves, but there’s plenty of plot holes to blame as well. Let’s start with the characters: there are too many of them, and many are entirely unnecessary. The token female in the entire group seems tagged on for the mere ability to provide a few moments of exposition, as well as give the lecherous males something to long for. Her uncle is completely unnecessary, as his research doesn’t require him to actually be at these...
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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...
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BOOK: Inferno (2013)

Inferno Year: 2013 Author: Dan Brown Length: 1,033 minutes / 17.22 hours In this, the fourth installment of the Robert Langdon series, Dan Brown has continued to successfully marry science to art, albeit with the same tropes and trappings that occur in the book’s predecessors. With Inferno, we get the same race across Europe explored in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, with the ambiguity of the antagonist’s motives that fueled The Lost Symbol. All throughout this adventure, the now-standard “female who is an expert in her field” accompanies Langdon as he tries to unravel the mystery and save the world. Langdon continues to be part Indiana Jones and part James Bond, that’s for sure. Utilizing the standard “temporary amnesia” plot device, Brown refines his style while also increasing the stakes. While previous books in the series had potential impacts on the local and national levels, Inferno takes the antagonist’s plan to a global scale. With the main character as talented with memory...
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MOVIE: Frozen (2013)

Frozen Year: 2013 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours It's hard to deny the worldwide phenomenon that is this movie. While I'm sure parents now twitch any time "Let it Go" comes on, the fact of the matter is many factors led to the success of this film. Starting in the mid-2000's, Disney saw they had a problem and set about trying to fix it. By rehauling how they told stories, and how they approached the characters in these stories, they soon were back on top of the animation industry (while Pixar continues to be content pumping out Cars sequels). Stunning visuals can only get you so far in a Disney movie, and Frozen (2013) certainly takes the cake when it comes to visualizing snow and ice through computers. What makes Frozen work as a story is its complexity. No one character is completely good or completely bad, each having their faults and limitations, as well as their good intentions and personal desires. This...
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BOOK: Fire with Fire (2013)

Fire with Fire Year: 2013 Author: Charles E. Gannon Length: 656 pages I’m not sure which is more boring in a book: a plot that doesn’t go anywhere, or a main character who is perfect. Unfortunately, Fire with Fire has both. I’ll first start with my qualms about the plot. This story started way too late, as it didn’t get interesting until halfway through. Even when it did finally get interesting, it suddenly became bogged down in committee. Seriously? Didn’t we learn anything from the Star Wars prequels? Adding politics to a story about traveling across space merely makes it tedious. This is also not to mention how heavy and clunky the exposition is, with almost every chapter being filled with information that isn’t important, and the jumps between chapters needing way more explanation. Secondly, let’s take a look at “Mr. Perfect,” Caine Riordan. Aside from the egregious fact that the POV switched between 1st person and 3rd person within most of the paragraphs of...
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BOOK: The Gods of Guilt (2013)

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

Hard Road Year: 2013 Author: J.B. Turner Length: 322 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’m finding that I really like the thriller genre, and books like this convince me that it’s the most exciting genre out there. Practically from page one, the pace is set and is blindingly fast. There’s no time to rest when the fate of the nation is at stake. Equal parts Liam Neeson from Taken (2008) and Tom Cruise from Jack Reacher (2012), Jon Reznick is skilled beyond measure and I wouldn’t be surprised if this novel is made into a film of its own. That being said, I don’t really know why this book was called Hard Road other than all the driving that takes place in it. J.B. Turner manages to keep the reader in the dark about much of the plot that thrusts Reznick into a race against time and terrorists until about half-way through this book. While this was an impressive feat, part of...
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MOVIE: Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours When I first saw the trailer for this film, I became really excited. One of the staples of anime is the "giant robot" subgenre, of which Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann are certainly the classics. And while Pacific Rim (2013) wasn't an adaptation of an anime, it got my hopes up that it could be done well enough that we could see live action versions of these aforementioned anime. After all, adaptations to live-action from anything animated tend to be very difficult, so this would be a step in the right direction. I do have to say that this movie delivered what it promised. Something like a mix between Godzilla (1999) and Real Steel (2011), the premise was a little bit closer to Independence Day (1996) than I initially thought it would be. The visuals were stunning and the fight sequences were both immense and intense, never letting up with the action as...
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BOOK: Captain’s Share (2013)

Captain’s Share Year: 2013 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 420 pages Another book, another jump forward in time. While I do appreciate Lowell’s realism for how long it should take to gain enough experience to even be considered qualified enough to become a ship Captain, a lot can happen in ten years. Ishmael Wang has certainly matured into the role of Captain, even if some of his decision-making in his personal life is left lacking, especially considering how adept he was in Half Share. At least by the end of this book, some things are “back to normal” for him as he continues his meteoric rise through the ranks. In terms of plot, there was plenty of excitement in this entry of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series. Never before have I been so interested in the fate of a simple cargo delivery, let alone the ship that carried it. I haven’t been this attentive to an Estimated Time of Delivery since I ordered...
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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...
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MOVIE: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Year: 2013 Rating: PG Length: 114 minutes / 1.9 hours Let me start by saying that I was skeptical to go see this film, mainly because it starred Ben Stiller. Given his track record of “comedies,” I found myself avoiding his films just because I knew that they’d be crude and not the type of comedy I would enjoy. Much in the same way I was surprised by Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction (2006), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) was a pleasant surprise. I don’t know if it’s because he also directed this film, but I truly enjoyed it on many levels, both as a lover of movies and a lover of photography. The strength of this film lies in its imagery and presentation. The beauty of our world and the way it’s captured in the travels of a man coming out of his shell is truly inspiring. I can honestly say I haven’t seen a...
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MOVIE: Now You See Me (2013)

Now You See Me Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours The key to a great heist film comes in three stages: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. Wait, that’s the key to a great magician’s illusion. Actually, here’s the real trick: both are very similar in structure. Each requires a setup of events which lead to an amazing reveal, followed by an explanation of how the heist/illusion was performed. In Now You See Me (2013), both the heist and magician genres are found to be so closely related that it was nice to see them meld together so well. In a page ripped straight from Robin Hood, the main characters justify their thievery by stating that their actions are to right the wrongs done to the general public. Of course, when a movie uses CGI to enhance the magic of the actors, it’s just that much more fun to see how they are able to pull off each heist using...
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