BOOK: Schumann – The Faces and the Masks (2018)

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks Year: 2018 Author: Judith Chernaik Length: 773 minutes / 12.83 hours When it comes to biographies of famous artists, it can be difficult to separate their life from their life’s work. It is fascinating to understand the influences of an artist, especially when in the context of their creation. However, much of the ability to talk about the artist’s life depends on common knowledge of their artistic portfolio. For slightly more obscure artists, finding the balance between discussing their personal life and providing an explanation of their art can be a challenge. Schumann: The Faces and the Masks attempts to cover both Robert Schumann’s life and his musical pieces. While revealing some of the more interesting secret codes in Schumann’s music in this book, the moments discussing the songs in detail seem to derail the whole narrative of the biography. Schumann’s life was fascinating enough as it was, with the drama involved in his marriage to Clara Wieck, as...
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BOOK: Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine (2018)

Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine Year: 2018 Author: Jessica Crichton Length: 260 pages While I’m a bit older than the target demographic, I’m not sure I was ever a fan of the kind of “gross-out” tropes that seem to permeate the middle-grade genre. My main problem with Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine is that it relies on this trope in spades. At the very least, it takes this slightly “uncultured” format and takes it to its logical extremes. After all, the amount of accented pidgin adds flavor to this parallel universe, even if it sacrifices some readability. In the end, though, it’s still a pretty good story even if the plot points felt pretty standard for the genre. Aside from some of the content being gross, there were several proofreading errors scattered throughout this book. Not enough to be distracting but enough to be noticeable. I’m also not sure the more complicated “twist” near the end is understandable for the target age range, considering the scientific knowledge needed...
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BOOK: Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018)

Record of a Spaceborn Few Year: 2018 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 696 minutes / 11.6 hours Considering that A Closed and Common Orbit was only loosely related to the first book in the Wayfarers series, I knew that I shouldn’t expect the third book in this series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, to have any significant connection to the previous books. Unfortunately, even the several different storylines in this book were hardly connected, seeming more like a series of short stories that were inter-cut between themselves. While Chambers’ world-building and dialogue are still top-notch, there isn’t anything in this book other than some boring characters living their boring lives. I understand that any author worth their salt will develop vast amounts of details about the universe they create. However, most authors leave the aspects of the minutia and banal day-to-day lives out of their writing in favor of an actual plot with actual conflict. Instead, this book is filled with the details of world-building and nothing else. If these characters...
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BOOK: Mecha Samurai Empire (2018)

Mecha Samurai Empire Year: 2018 Author: Peter Tieryas Length: 447 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For a genre that’s usually associated with Japanese anime and manga, I haven’t seen many “mecha” novels (or movies, for that matter, with Pacific Rim (2013) being the only notable example). Consequently, when I received an advance reader copy of Mecha Samurai Empire, I was looking forward to reading it. While there were still a few grammatical and proofreading errors in this book—of which I’m sure have been fixed in the final version—portions of the plot didn’t sit well with me. My main qualm is the main character who really isn’t good at anything but still gets to pilot a huge and complicated piece of machinery just because he wants to. A clear and obvious mix between The Man in the High Castle and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the few strong elements of this book were in the mecha battles themselves. The problem is that the references sprinkled throughout...
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BOOK: How to Tell Fate from Destiny (2018)

How to Tell Fate from Destiny: And Other Skillful Word Distinctions Year: 2018 Author: Charles Harrington Elster Length: 320 pages I’ve written blog posts and recorded vlogs about writers who seem to rely on spell check to make sure they’re using the right word. Most of the time, they probably didn’t have an adequate editor to review their manuscript and thus didn’t check whether or not they were using the right word (even if the wrong word is spelled correctly). With the state of the printed word slipping year after year, a book like How to Tell Fate from Destiny should be a standard reference on any writer’s desk. Although, many of the words covered in this book are slowly changing due to idiomatic circumstances. It is slightly encouraging to see examples provided in this book from reputable sources (like well-known newspapers and magazines) that still have these common errors in their writing. If anything, these examples prove how difficult it can be to distinguish the correct...
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BOOK: Ideas, Influence, and Income (2018)

Ideas, Influence, and Income: Write a Book, Build Your Brand, and Lead Your Industry Year: 2018 Author: Tanya Hall Length: 214 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ll admit that I initially thought this book was for all kinds of writers, to include fiction authors. I was looking for a few good ideas to push my brand out of the mires of obscurity, and this book seemed like it would help. While Ideas, Influence, and Income is focused mainly on those people who might not even consider writing a non-fiction book, there’s still plenty of advice for authors of all stages. The insight the author brings to the table here is a little intimidating, though, and not for the weak of will. As far as I could understand it, this book caters towards individuals who are “trendsetters” or “influencers” who could turn their original idea into a brand that could support a book, speaking engagements, and other social media content pieces. Because of...
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MOVIE: Vice (2018)

Vice Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours It’s a little weird to me how a director like Adam McKay has gone from directing movies like Anchorman (2004) and Talladega Nights (2006) to entertaining exposés like The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018). Sure, I can see how his comedy background could lead to the razor-sharp wit used to educate the movie-going public about the 2008 mortgage crisis and the former vice president, respectively. It’s evident the Academy likes his new style as well, as both The Big Short and Vice were nominated for Best Picture. While I liked The Big Short a lot, Vice certainly had its moments. I’ll give props to Christian Bale for his ability to mimic Dick Cheney’s mannerisms in this role. Sam Rockwell was also pretty great as George W. Bush, but I couldn’t get past Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. I also appreciated the tongue-in-cheek “false ending” in Vice, as it was probably one of the funniest moments in the film. Just like how learning about the mortgage crisis was...
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BOOK: The Point (2018)

The Point Year: 2018 Author: John Dixon Length: 320 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** With the rise in popularity of the superhero genre, it was only a matter of time before it leaked into other genres. While some genres like steampunk (like in The Esper Files) make for an interesting twist, others like military YA sci-fi are so similar as to be just one other entry in the zeitgeist. The problem with this is that other, more famous handlings of supernatural superpowers bring much more to the table than books like The Point (which doesn’t necessarily add much to either genre on the whole). As far as I could gather, there are only three or four different “types” of mutants in The Point: telekinetic, pyrokinesis, super strength, and “other” (like dream manipulation and energy storage, the latter of which was reasonably original). I suppose franchises like X-Men and One Piece, which give each of their unique characters unique superpowers and rarely (if ever)...
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BOOK: Kaleidoscope (2018)

Kaleidoscope: Keeping the church from becoming a museum Year: 2018 Author: Kurt Trempert Length: 226 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** In Kaleidoscope: Keeping the church from becoming a museum, Kurt Trempert uses the metaphor of the kaleidoscope to examine what an incarnational church looks like when compared to some of the stagnancies arising in the modern American church. This book addresses many issues and criticisms the church faces in the contemporary era. They're covered in a way that shows not only what’s perhaps behind these shortcomings, but what can potentially be done to fix them. Of course, this then begs the question, who is this book’s audience? Is it for those who run their local church, or the congregation of said churches? Content-wise, I didn’t have many issues with what was presented here. Most of my qualms had to do with the formatting, including right-align text, the font, and lack of indents. Since it was consistent throughout, I eventually got over it. I would...
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MOVIE: Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours Now that Marvel’s 10-year behemoth of its cinematic universe is starting to pay off, it’s becoming more and more obvious that DC is trying desperately to catch up. There’s no doubt that DC has interesting characters, considering how often Superman has been rebooted and how successful Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was. Even Wonder Woman (2017) had its great moments, despite also feeling derivative influences from movies like Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Aquaman (2018) seems to continue this trend, despite again having a strong leading character (both physically and in backstory/lore). I will give DC credit for their casting decisions here. For decades, Aquaman has been the butt of the joke amongst many superhero aficionados. The fact that Jason Momoa is a badass, snarky, and overall entertaining actor to watch in the role speaks to their awareness of “image management.” Perhaps featuring him in previous films like Justice League (2017) also helped to get audiences interested in seeing this superhero in a standalone movie....
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MOVIE: Roma (2018)

Roma Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Don't get me wrong. I like Alfonso Cuarón's films. I liked his films before I even really knew who he was as a director. If anything, he's shown that he's the master of cinematography, especially in long takes that seem to pan through almost the entire film. He first showed this talent in Children of Men (2006) and continued to impress with this technique in Gravity (2013). While he's shown he has mastered the long take, his signature style is still on display in Roma (2018) through its numerous pans. That being said, I found the content of Children of Men and Gravity to be much more interesting than that of Roma. Cuarón pulls us into his Mexican roots in this film, choosing the early 1970s to set this "slice of life" tale. The problem is, while the film looks quite artistic, with the black-and-white aesthetic fusing nicely with the expert camera work (along...
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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,...
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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...
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BOOK: Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire (2018)

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire Year: 2018 Author: John August Length: 411 minutes / 6.85 hours Having already read Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon, I decided to go back and read the book that kicked off this series. While I already knew what had happened in Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire—as the sequel frequently referenced it—I still appreciated reading the details myself. I had a few questions and concerns that I hoped this book would address, and only about half of them were answered to my satisfaction. Still, I did enjoy this Harry Potter and Boy Scouts mashup, even if it is literally that. In the sequel, I definitely got the Harry Potter vibe, but I fully realized the almost 1-for-1 influence of the J.K. Rowling series on this series when I read this book. Unsuspectingly powerful main character with a unique physical trait? Check. Overachieving female friend? Check. Somewhat bumbling male friend? Check. Different groups categorized via...
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MOVIE: A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours If this movie feels like the same old song and dance, it’s because it is. This film is the fourth iteration of the same plot that was nominated for Best Picture back in 1937. While it’s been over 20 years since its last incarnation in 1976, A Star is Born (2018) is surprisingly still relevant. While they’re somewhat touchy subjects, alcoholism and depression are still as alive and well today as they were just over 80 years ago. After all, you can’t be an entertainer without sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That being said, I do appreciate this movie’s overarching theme of “words have power.” I did find it hard to suspend my disbelief with the casting in this film, though. I mean, even if Lady Gaga is playing some nobody, it’s not like I have to stretch my imagination to think that her character would suddenly become a music...
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MOVIE: The Favourite (2018)

The Favourite Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours What. The. Favourite. For those of us watching all of this year’s Best Picture nominees, The Favourite (2018) is certainly the token “artsy” film of the set. It felt like it was following in the footsteps of last year’s Phantom Thread (2017) in that the set decoration and costume design were exquisite, despite the—let’s face it—weird characters. Regarding the plot, though, I did find The Favourite to parallel the events in the 1950 Best Picture winner, All About Eve. While its art is on full display for all to see, The Favourite is a bit more than how it looks. Aside from the aforementioned set decoration and costume design, I have to applaud this movie’s cinematography. I’d wager that it’ll win in these three categories, but the cinematography stands out because it’s so different from most films. Heavily utilizing wide-angle fisheye lenses, as well as copious amounts of natural light (perhaps as an aesthetic homage to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), which also shares a somewhat...
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MOVIE: Creed II (2018)

Creed II Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While I have only ever seen the original Rocky (1976) and the spinoff/reboot Creed (2015), I’m still aware of some of the details of the Rocky franchise as a whole. I know who some of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) opponents were over the years, including James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Consequently, even though Creed felt like it took the franchise in a new direction by focusing on Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son, its sequel, Creed II (2018) felt too steeped in the franchise’s history and nostalgia to be anything more than a rehash of Rocky IV (1985). If anything, having Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), face off against Ivan Drago’s son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), as a revenge match that followed the same plot points as its predecessor smacks of lazy and clichéd writing. I would have been much more interested in this film if, even despite all the training each son endured, the outcome would have been different...
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MOVIE: Green Book (2018)

Green Book Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that has the right balance of themes and execution to make it into an instant classic. When I first saw trailers for Green Book (2018), I initially thought it was just going to be an inverse of Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Instead, what I got was so much more than that. Green Book tackles the difficult task of presenting a harsh mirror on our past, with a knowing wink that some of these challenges are still present today. It is more subtle than BlacKkKlansman (2018), but the message still gets across in a heartwarming and wholesome way. What makes Green Book so engaging is the simplicity that it approaches such a nuanced and complex approach to the topic of racism. The irony that rich white people in the south would hold Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) in such high regard as a musician but treat him as less-than-human the second he is not performing...
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MOVIE: Mortal Engines (2018)

Mortal Engines Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours If I were to look at Mortal Engines (2018) critically, I’d notice a number of flaws. From fairly flat characters to a string of movies and directors that it tries to imitate, this film should be terrible. And yet, given that I’d already suspended my disbelief by entertaining the idea that an apocalypse would result in cities mounting up on enormous machines and scavenging smaller towns for fuel, I found this movie incredibly entertaining. Perhaps the base plot isn’t too original, but the execution felt fresh and new. Somehow, I was able to turn off my critical brain and just enjoy this movie for what it is: pure, unadulterated fun. As someone who appreciates film as an art form, there is plenty of it on display here. The look, feel, and aesthetic of Mortal Engines is so bold and consistent that the core concept of the plot naturally follows. The visuals and soundtrack merely accentuate the action...
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MOVIE: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours The idea that an African American could become a member of the Ku Klux Klan is silly enough that it became a joke on Dave Chapelle’s television show. Of course, this movie isn’t a comedy sketch, as it is based on true events. Obviously, there were plenty of elements in this film that were likely fictionalized to make the story more “Hollywood,” but it’s still an interesting story, nonetheless. Part of the trick of this movie, though, is that it treats itself almost like a half-modern documentary of the KKK as well, which makes it seem like there wasn’t enough source material to make an engaging plot. Another part of me was interested in this movie for its setting. Living in Colorado Springs, it was interesting to me that certain landmarks and places in town were referenced, which merely added realism to the story as it was presented. From NORAD and Fort Carson to...
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MOVIE: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours It's difficult to hate a film that's filled with so many great songs. Fortunately for Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), almost all of Queen's greatest hits are pulled out and strung together to cover a rather large timeframe of 15 years. Of course, like most musical biopics, it does tend to hit the same notes as predecessors before it. Perhaps this is merely due to the "rock and roll" lifestyle, but I couldn't help but see similar situations in films like De-Lovely (2004), Ray (2004), and Walk the Line (2005). While the cultural landscape has changed a lot from the 1970s and 1980s until now, some of the film's "reveals" that would have been a little more shocking (i.e. Freddie's homosexuality) were perhaps lessened due to the fairly famous end of this talented singer. That being said, some of the lyrics of these well-known songs take on a strikingly more poignant context during the recreated Live Aid concert in...
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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...
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MOVIE: Venom (2018)

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

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours Growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I did spend a fair amount of time watching PBS. From Sesame Street to Bill Nye, one of the shows I would frequently watch was Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Plenty of friends had raved about this documentary, so I finally decided to sit down and watch it. Let me state that most people will probably cry at one point during this movie. After all, there was so much heart present in Fred Roger’s life and profession that you can’t help but be touched by his ministry. This documentary was a little eye-opening in the sense that it took something from my nostalgia and made me realize how groundbreaking it was. I don’t recall the more “serious” episodes, but watching clips where subjects like assassination, racism, and war are all presented in a fashion that children can understand them is astounding. Fred never...
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BOOK: The Astronaut’s Son (2018)

The Astronaut’s Son Year: 2018 Author: Tom Seigel Length: 232 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While the modern landscape for space exploration is expanding in ways that are very exciting, it’s interesting to read a story set in the early 2000’s that actually accomplishes something that hasn’t happened in decades: landing on the moon. And yet, this part of the plot of The Astronaut’s Son takes a minor role when compared with the primary thrust of the story. Sure, I would have thought that there would be plenty of things to occupy an astronaut’s time in the lead-up to a significant accomplishment, but apparently, there’s plenty of free time to explore the validity of a conspiracy theory. I’ll admit that I never thought that there would be Nazi sympathizers in the space program, but The Astronaut’s Son brings up a few interesting and perhaps semi-plausible ideas. These are explored via the main character’s investigation as to whether his father’s sudden death would was truly due to a...
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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...
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MOVIE: Christopher Robin (2018)

Christopher Robin Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a child from a famous story grows up into a businessman who doesn’t have time for his family but eventually comes to face his lack of work/life balance by revisiting the fantastical world of his childhood. If you thought this was the plot of Hook (1991), you’d be right. Unfortunately, it is also the almost-identical plot to the Winnie the Pooh sequel, Christopher Robin (2018). I’d forgive its unoriginality only if I knew who the audience for it was. Is it a morality tale for overworked parents? Is it a lesson for kids to never take work seriously? I honestly don’t know. I will say that Disney did a good job bringing the stuffed animals of the original story to life in this live-action adaptation, except that I was pretty shocked to find out that Rabbit (Peter Capaldi) and Owl (Toby Jones) were actual animals, and not of the stuffed variety....
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MOVIE: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It's a little weird to think that we're already on the sixth Mission: Impossible movie, especially considering how far the franchise has come since (what I consider) its revival in Mission: Impossible III (2006). Since then, the action has been consistently impressive and the stunts mind-bogglingly intense. Fallout continues to provide on this franchise's promise of high-octane action and neat spy tech, even if the latter doesn't seem to be nearly as impressive as in its previous installments. Ironically enough, one of the problems I had with this movie was how it tried to interweave plot from previous films in the franchise. I'll be honest and say that I don't watch these movies for the plot. Sure, I'll follow along to see how the team has to accomplish the "impossible" in the form of setting up a ridiculous stunt. From scaling tall buildings in Dubai, accessing computer servers underwater, and hanging above...
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BOOK: Beyond the Checkup (2018)

Beyond the Checkup from Birth to Age Four: A Pediatrician's Guide to Calm, Confident Parenting Year: 2018 Author: Luke Voytas Length: 288 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While I do not have children yet, I am doing my best to prepare my knowledge for when they do become a part of my life. Consequently, books like Beyond the Checkup seem to be a perfect resource for parents, as it is written by a pediatrician. That being said, I think I'm probably a little biased in wanting an older, more grandfatherly pediatrician writing books like this. After all, a lifetime of experience seems to speak more than just 15-years-worth of it. Regarding the book's content, Luk Voytas does a reasonably good job of presenting the big problems that might come up in a child's first four years. While he does use scientific studies to back up his suggestions, there are some instances where it's unclear whether or not there is any science behind his opinion, or if it's his...
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MOVIE: Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Before we start, I have to say that The Incredibles (2004) is perhaps my favorite Pixar film. Back when superhero films were starting to become successful (albeit, not nearly as lucratively successful as the Marvel Cinematic Universe), The Incredibles artfully blended a superhero film with a family/midlife crisis plot that worked on so many levels. It is then no surprise that I was truly looking forward to its sequel, Incredibles 2 (2018). In the back of my head, I knew that most of Pixar's talent had switched over to Disney about eight years ago, but I hoped enough of the original team would be around to make this sequel something special. Unfortunately, time seems to have worked against Incredibles 2. If this had come out ten years ago, it would have enjoyed some of the originality that comes with beating the Marvel behemoth out of the gate. As it is now, I'm not sure if Incredibles 2...
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BOOK: The Bridge (2018)

The Bridge Year: 2018 Author: Jim Frishkey Length: 240 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ll be honest when I say that I entered the giveaway for this book based on the attractive cover and the premise. Unfortunately, the book delivered on neither (it says it’s a “mystery,” but it had none of that either). There are too many amateur mistakes in this book for me to take any of it seriously. Some of these mistakes are so frustrating that I can’t honestly recommend this book to anyone. It’s a bit sad because a story featuring the spawn of Hitler would probably be pretty interesting. Maybe these interesting stories were in the previous four books, but judging on the errors in this one, I don’t want to read them. Let’s start with the formatting: it’s a mess. Right-aligned text, odd gaps in the paragraphs, and even some text that’s gray for some reason. Moving on to the proofreading errors, they are sprinkled enough...
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MOVIE: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours I'll be the first to defend Ant-Man (2015) from its detractors. Once I realized it was supposed to be a comedy (mostly due to Edgar Wright's early involvement), I knew the superhero aspect would take a back seat to the laughs. That being said, I cannot defend the honor of its sequel. Sure, a lot of the elements that made Ant-Man entertaining are still present in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), but it's really more of a standard superhero film that's meant to answer questions brought up in previous films. While this film picks up well after the events of this first film and Captain America: Civil War (2016), not a lot has changed. The main characters are all there, but now Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) also has a shrinking suit. This is no surprise, considering the after-credits scene from the first movie, so it was nice to see her get into...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours While I have loved the original Jurassic Park (1993) for its ingenious special effects, taut and thrilling plot, and entertaining characters, none of the sequels have been able to live up to its high standard. Sure, all the same elements of the first film are usually present in each subsequent movie, but the magic seems to have been all used up in the first go. Each version is only a slight variation to a story that never ends well. Now in the fifth installment of this franchise, I'm a little surprised that this storyline hadn't appeared yet. Sure, we had dinosaurs making their way to the mainland in The Lost World (1997), which was probably why Jeff Goldblum had an extremely minor (and entirely unnecessary) cameo in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) to act as a framing bookend to the film. Sadly, many of the mostly hidden weaknesses in Jurassic World (2015) came...
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MOVIE: Alpha (2018)

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

Ocean’s Eight Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours As the gender-swapped spin-off of a remake, Ocean’s Eight (2018) feels convoluted merely based on its heritage. While I love the Ocean’s Eleven (2001) remake, I was curious to see what would make Ocean’s Eight something that would distinctly empower women (which I’m assuming was the point). In the end, it seems like Ocean’s Eight merely highlights the 72% wage disparity when compared to Ocean’s Eleven since most of the tropes and clichés almost felt like they were pandering to the very audience they were trying to lift up. While I will praise Ocean’s Eight for its ability to be a passable heist film, both with main and “twist” heists, that’s mostly where my adoration ends. Sure, I get the need to move the setting to New York to better align with fashion and other women’s interests, and part of Sandra Bullock’s character introduction after being released from prison was fun, but there were so many problems with the plot and characters that I’m still...
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MOVIE: Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)

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

Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) Year: 2018 Author: Michael Fry & Bradley Jackson Length: 272 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As can be implied from the title, Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) is the follow-up to an earlier appearance of the titular character in The Naughty List. One does not need to have read The Naughty List to understand what happened to Bobbie since this book does a pretty good—if not too thorough—re-telling of the events of the first book that would eventually lead her to save the world (again). While I’m sure the previous book was focused on Christmas-related shenanigans, this book opens up the potential for weird, random, and bizarre via the same inter-dimensional portals used previously. I will say that I was impressed with this book’s ability to seamlessly intertwine verbal narrative with accompanying pictures. It’s not quite a picture-book, but it’s also not a chapter book either. It’s a hybrid of the two. While I’m assuming the illustrations will be a...
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MOVIE: Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours A few years ago, I got on a Wes Anderson kick. I practically watched his entire filmography to that point in one long binge-worthy day. After catching up, I felt I truly appreciated his quirky, orthogonal cinematography and deeply complex characters. I’ve essentially been a fan of his since Moonrise Kingdom (2012), so I was looking forward to his latest work, Isle of Dogs(2018). After all, he had proven his skill at stop-motion animation with The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and had received nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) since then. Unfortunately, while Isle of Dogs carries Anderson’s distinct style and charm, it felt a little watered down. Sure, the shots were full of their beauty and symmetry, and the story had its cute moments, but it mostly felt like he was on autopilot. Maybe the PG-13 rating was holding him back? I don’t know. In most fiction, there is a suspension of disbelief,...
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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...
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MOVIE: Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours At what point does the fourth wall stop? I only ask this because there’s a point where an audience member will have to know not only the plot of the film that started the franchise, but the subsequent reactions to the film, the complete history of comic books, and the entirety of the lyrics to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Major-General’s Song” to understand the references. While Deadpool (2016) maintained that sly balance between knowing winks to the superhero genre as a whole and being an actual superhero film, Deadpool 2 (2018) almost went toward both extreme ends in order to maintain its balance. There were plenty of references and little sight gags that will leave true fans of the franchise pausing their Blu-rays for years to come, and I certainly did appreciate some of the meta-humor, but only to a point. Strangely enough, Deadpool 2 felt more like a superhero film than its predecessor, which seems odd as it...
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MOVIE: Rampage (2018)

Rampage Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours I didn’t go into this movie expecting much, and it still disappointed me. Seems like every time some Hollywood studio gets their hands on a video game franchise and decides to turn it into a movie, this is the kind of thing we get. I wouldn’t be so mad about it except that nothing in this film seems anywhere close to original at all. In fact, it seems to be cobbled together from summer movie blockbuster clichés and tropes, almost like a CGI-heavy Frankenstein. What’s probably worse is that it could have been somewhat passable if it held to the source material. There’s a weird kind of disconnect when a movie like Rampage (2018) has an actual arcade cabinet of the game it’s based on in the background of the corporate penthouse suite. Like, did they do this genetic-engineering research and name it “Rampage,” fully knowing that they’d create the exact creatures from the game? In any case,...
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BOOK: Wish Upon a Sleepover (2018)

Wish Upon a Sleepover Year: 2018 Author: Suzanne Selfors Length: 208 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While the story of “stone soup” has been around for a long time, and traversed many cultures, apparently it needed another re-telling in the form of this book. Wish Upon a Sleepover is a pretty standard middle-grade book that seeks to teach a number of lessons about judging others while managing to create some interesting characters with unique and modern quirks. It is through these characters—and not necessarily the primary protagonist—that any child who decides to read this book can learn how to interact with others. The irony is that the central protagonist is probably better described as the antagonist of the story. Even though this book is stated as being appropriate from children from grades 3 to 7, as a result of this somewhat broad range of ages, it seems to be more geared toward the low end of the range, while having characters from the upper...
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BOOK: The Ghost Script (2018)

The Ghost Script Year: 2018 Author: Jules Feiffer Length: 160 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I received this book in the mail, I opened it up and was suddenly surprised. First, I suppose I didn’t realize this was the third book in a series. Second, I thought the rough sketching of the cover was an aesthetic choice, but it seemed to permeate the entirety of this graphic novel. Since these first impressions took me for a loop, I had to warm up to the idea of this book before I sat down to read it. Even despite my initial misgivings, The Ghost Script is an enjoyable and quick read with a visual style that somehow works, even despite its “rough” characteristics. Part of me almost wished the book was a little longer, but I suppose if I read all three pieces together, I’d get the length of a book I usually look for in a graphic novel. As it was, I...
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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...
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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...
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BOOK: Smothered (2018)

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

A Wrinkle in Time Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours While plenty of children's books are imaginative, no amount of CGI can cover up the fact that a faithful adaptation to the source material should be the highest priority. Unfortunately, due to the heavy Christian undertones in the original story, an anti-Christian Hollywood managed to churn out this loose adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time that doesn't do much more than waste a few hours of your time. Sure, there are hints to such important ideas as faith, but they're lost in lackluster character development that tries to "modernize" something that has been timeless for decades. Each of the sequences in this film merely seems like an excuse for gorgeous set design. If anything, the alien worlds and settings are neat to look at, but they don't do much to distract from the events that just happen without much explanation as to why, or what purpose they serve. For instance, the scene...
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MOVIE: Pacific Rim – Uprising (2018)

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

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

Louisiana Catch Year: 2018 Author: Sweta Srivastava Vikram Length: 254 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** At a time when the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are at their peak, a book like Louisiana Catch is poised to address something that many American’s might choose to ignore: abuse of women in foreign countries. Sure, there’s sexual harassment in the United States, but in other cultures where there is a firm patriarchy in control, there are much more severe issues like throwing acid and marital rape. While Louisiana Catch does cover these abuses in the context of India, there are other elements to the story that distracts from the impact of overcoming past abuse. First of all, Louisiana Catch is a somewhat misleading title, since most of the action happens in either New York City or New Delhi. Sure, there’s some amount of Louisiana in the characters, and the women’s conference is held in New Orleans (not sure why, since New York would have been a better fit), but the focus of...
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BOOK: Zenith (2018)

Zenith Year: 2018 Authors: Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings Length: 512 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Every once in a while, I'll read a book which is basically the equivalent of literary "candy." It hits all the tropes of its genre, most of its twists are predictable, and the whole thing is purely entertainment for entertainment's sake. Zenith, the first book in the Androma Saga, is just such a book. This book has been described as an all-female Guardians of the Galaxy, and I would tend to agree with that assessment. Overall, it's a fun book, but there's not too much substance to it aside from the typical space opera Young Adult romance. If anything, it proves why the tropes of its genres work the way they do. The writing itself in this book is easy to read, which helped me crank through its 500 pages in just my lunch breaks and time at the gym. Even if I wasn't paying too...
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