BOOK: The Eternity Code (2003)

The Eternity CodeYear: 2003Author: Eoin ColferLength: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours After the last two adventures in the Artemis Fowl series helped to reunite the titular character with his family, it was entertaining to watch him strike out on his own. This was for no other reason than to prove he has the criminal chops his family name is known for. While decidedly middle-grade to young adult in tone, The Eternity Code is still an entertaining read. One might need to have read the previous two volumes to know who all the main players are, but at least the story is strong enough to carry the reader through to the conclusion without too much hassle. While I appreciated the “on top of it” style Artemis had in Artemis Fowl, I could also enjoy the cracks of vulnerability in his façade present in The Eternity Code. After all, Artemis is merely a teenage boy, and it helps to ground him in reality when...
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BOOK: Lightless (2015)

LightlessYear: 2015Author: C.A. HigginsLength: 304 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** There seem to be a few cardinal sins most writers are cautioned to avoid at all costs. Two of these sins are exposition dumps and “show, don’t tell.” While the entire book doesn’t necessarily fall into these pitfalls, Lightless spends a big chunk of its 300 pages in telling the reader about all the exposition to the story that’s currently playing out. Instead of reading an interrogation, I would have much rather seen the events that led to the current state of the solar system. On top of all this, I failed to care about any of the characters or their plights because this method of storytelling was so impersonal. I’ll admit that I almost gave up reading this book right before it became interesting again. The ending does a pretty good job of re-invigorating the plot, but it might be a case of too little too late. Furthermore, not...
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BOOK: Storm Front (2000)

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

Shadow of the HegemonYear: 2000Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 365 pages It’s almost fitting how the follow-on book in the spin-off series to Ender’s Game takes the same tactic as Speaker for the Dead and transforms itself into a completely different genre. While Speaker for the Dead and its sequels still maintained a level of science fiction for the Ender saga, Shadow of the Hegemon pivots into a political thriller with almost no hints of sci-fi to be seen. The strength of the characters helped make this transition relatively smooth, but it still highlights how these child-aged individuals hardly have any child-like qualities. While the Shadow saga certainly needed to start out focusing on Bean, I did appreciate how Shadow of the Hegemon developed many of the supporting characters. For the first time in both series, I felt like the reader was able to know Petra and Peter while also seeing what Achilles was capable of accomplishing. The results of bringing back children...
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BOOK: The Crystal City (2003)

The Crystal City Year: 2003 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours With the end of this series in sight, it seems that the focus of The Crystal City is back on track. That being said, there are a few curious omissions that made it somewhat frustrating to read. I understand that some stories aren’t meant to be part of full books, but when these side short stories sound much more interesting by their mere inference, then I wonder why they weren’t included in the main storyline to begin with. Still, there were enough exciting developments in The Crystal City to keep me wondering what the conclusion will bring in the next book. While I appreciated the historical name dropping earlier in the series, now they seem to be coming left and right, with little-to-no impact on the story other than to say, “Look! Here’s someone you should know, and here’s how they’re different now!” Part of this is due to the...
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BOOK: Heartfire (1998)

Heartfire Year: 1998 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 728 minutes / 12.13 hours It’s been a while since I read this far into a series, and I can start to see why I like trilogies and stand-alone books. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this series had evolved into a courtroom drama instead of a historical fantasy. At this point, the whole premise of this series seems to have veered off course and has lost its focus to tackle unrelated issues that were somewhat prominent at the time. Or, at least it’s merely acting as a chance to name drop historical figures and take the side of history against well-known issues that haven’t aged well over time. If anything, Heartfire could have easily been the fourth book in the series, since Alvin Journeyman added nothing to the story. Even so, Heartfire didn’t feel as strong as earlier books in the series. It almost seems like there’s more of a focus on world-building. There...
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BOOK: The Waste Lands (1991)

The Waste Lands Year: 1991 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours Before I got into reading the Dark Tower series, I saw the movie adaptation. It’s honestly what inspired me to get into the books. While I was a little disappointed with The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three showed me the series’ true potential. Moving on from my favorite book in the series, we have The Waste Lands. It's sort of a mash-up of the two earlier books in terms of characters and plot points. However, it's ultimately less than the sum of their parts (and that’s mostly due to the ending). What strikes me with The Waste Lands is how it could have been better than it was. Those who have seen the movie version of The Dark Tower will recognize a lot of scenes, if not a huge chunk of them. I can see why they cut the two most interesting characters from the film, especially since everyone ends...
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BOOK: The Drawing of the Three (1987)

The Drawing of the Three Year: 1987 Author: Stephen King Length: 766 minutes / 12.77 hours While it took me a while to get used to The Gunslinger, I was able to dive right in with The Drawing of the Three as I continue reading this Dark Tower series. Personally, I think the simplicity of the story and the immediacy of the danger helped to hook me from the start. Unlike the first book in the series, The Drawing of the Three has a solid set of relatable characters that are introduced just fast enough to get used to their unique personal challenges. If anything, these individuals piqued my interest, and I’m curious to see where their story goes from here. One aspect of this book I found to be extremely entertaining was the action sequences. When there were stakes on the line, and things had to happen, the resulting action in these plot-moving points was both intense and hilarious. Generally, I am not much...
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BOOK: Prentice Alvin (1989)

Prentice Alvin Year: 1989 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 830 minutes / 13.83 hours As I’ve been reading through the Tales of Alvin Maker series, I have found it interesting to see what big societal issues have been covered so far. While Seventh Son tackled religion and Red Prophet delved into politics and war, Prentice Alvin bit off a big chunk of racism and tried to address it in a way that’s half fantasy and half historical fiction. Sure, there’s still some semblance of the religion content present in this book that informs the racism dialogue. Still, these large issues end up taking a back seat to the more fascinating aspects of the titular character learning how to control his incredible powers. In fact, this might be my favorite book of the series so far. It’s always more entertaining to watch a character come into the depth of their abilities, and Prentice Alvin has this in spades (both metaphorically and literally). While there weren’t many instances of Alvin directly being affected by a conflict...
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BOOK: Ember Falls (2016)

Ember Falls Year: 2016 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 234 pages Being a fan of children’s series like The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as a lover of rabbits (owning two Flemish giants as pets), I was glad to get back into the Green Ember series with the second book, Ember Falls. Obviously, as this series is mainly geared toward children, there were a few points of the plot of this second book that I either predicted from the start or could see coming from a mile away. In any case, the world building that continued with this book was top notch, despite certainly feeling like a “linking” part of the series. While The Green Ember could stand on its own and laid the groundwork for the books that came after it, Ember Falls certainly needs its predecessor to make sense. It also seems to rely on the next book in the series to reach some conclusion. This is an issue that often arises in book...
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BOOK: Foundation and Empire (1952)

Foundation and Empire Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 575 minutes / 9.58 hours One of my qualms with the start of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series was how different the stories were from each other. Each was set in the same universe but failed to have much of a cohesive narrative that tied them all together. While Foundation covered five different short stories, its sequel, Foundation and Empire managed to whittle this method of storytelling down to two novellas. The result was a clear improvement in clarity and focus as each half of this book only covered a single plot each. In Foundation and Empire, I finally was able to read a story that stuck with me in this series. Up until this point, I probably couldn’t tell you the premise of any of the short stories in Foundation, let alone the plot of the first half of this book. However, once this book transitioned over from topics that were more in line with science...
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BOOK: Foundation (1951)

Foundation Year: 1951 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 518 minutes / 8.63 hours For years, people have asked whether or not I have read the penultimate science fiction series that is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Up until now, I could not say that I had. While I knew the series by its name, I hadn’t ever heard any comparisons or even knew what these books were about. This probably should have been my first indication of what to expect. I wasn’t expecting anything other than its notable status as a pillar of classic sci-fi. If anything, the fact each “section” of Foundation is its own short story says volumes about the origin of the genre. Set within the same universe, Foundation follows five different groups across the timespan of a couple hundred years. Asimov explored a few different concepts and spent most of this book in world-building mode. I’ll applaud his ability to remain fairly consistent across these different stories, but the fact that there isn’t much...
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BOOK: In Ashes Born (2015)

In Ashes Born Year: 2015 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 310 pages As someone who enjoyed the core Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, parts of it seemed rushed in order to focus on the rise of Ishmael Wang to the penultimate title of “Owner.” Along the way, there were characters and sub-plots that I would have loved to see more of but woefully had to settle with focusing almost entirely on Ishmael’s story. From his time at the Academy to whatever happened with his first marriage, I think these moments not contained in the wrappings of ship life would have added a few moments of reprieve between the exciting world of Solar Clippers. In Ashes Born manages to quench my thirst for more stories set in this universe. It also manages to pull together many of the interesting characters over the core 6-book series and place them on track to have perhaps the most exciting adventure yet. Similar to how Ender’s Game pulled disparate characters together for a final battle...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (2009)

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 406 minutes / 6.77 hours You know, it’s difficult to review a book that already highlights its flaws in the text itself. Part of me wonders if the reviews from the second book in the series were bad enough to warrant this kind of meta self-awareness. In the end, while Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia does take the time to address these weaknesses in its story and characters, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that they’re in there in the first place. These winking soliloquies seem to gloss over the fact that the book knows what’s wrong with it, but instead decides to gloss over it with self-reference instead of fixing the root of the problems themselves. By this point in the series, I have come to terms with its middle-grade silliness and occasional bathroom humor. I loved the rule-breaking first book in the series, only to become annoyed by this constant...
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BOOK: Dreadfully Ever After (2011)

Dreadfully Ever After Year: 2011 Author: Steve Hockensmith Length: 287 pages While the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a combination most people never knew they needed, apparently making it into a trilogy was the next logical conclusion. Combined with the prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Dreadfully Ever After puts the series to rest with a sequel that seems to re-hash a lot of similar ideas presented in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but with enough connection to the prequel and at least one or two original ideas that helped to round out the characters. These new ideas were logical extrapolations from the events that concluded Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so they weren’t necessarily shocking, but still entertaining to pull the thread nonetheless. I think, overall, I prefer the prequel and sequel to the original Austen/monster mashup. It probably helped that both were written by the same author, who was essentially writing fan fiction based on the idea that this romantic classic could be combined with the undead. Dawn...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones (2008)

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones Year: 2008 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 425 minutes / 7.08 hours Earlier this year, I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and absolutely loved it. Consequently, I had high hopes for the next book in this series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. While there was still the same amount of self-awareness and humor in this book, it felt a little…off. Perhaps I should have read these two books closer together, but I had some trouble coming up to speed in the beginning and wasn’t entirely sure why the “goal” of this book was to find Alcatraz’s father. In any case, Sanderson’s world-building is still in top form here. Of course, the “cute” way that this series was self-aware when I read the first book was a bit more annoying this time around. It almost felt like every chapter had to have a soliloquy, even if it didn’t link itself to where the plot was at the time—which often broke the...
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BOOK: The Green Ember (2014)

The Green Ember Year: 2014 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 368 pages On the other end of the spectrum of “fantasy rabbit” stories from Watership Down, we have The Green Ember, the first in a series that probably could have been written without the animal trappings and still been a good story. Where Watership Down had very rabbit-like characters interacting with the human world, The Green Ember has very person-like characters interacting with an animal world. Occasionally, the attributes that make the rabbits unique were used—especially in the battle sequences—but there were often moments when I forgot that these characters were rabbits. I felt the cuteness of rabbits, and the scariness of wolves and hawks, help reach a younger audience without directly confronting them with the realities of the scary world around them. After all, if it was people vs. people in this book, then the intended audience might miss out on some of the important morals and lessons contained therein. Having a clearly evil force...
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BOOK: Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon (2019)

Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon Year: 2019 Author: John August Length: 384 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As a Boy Scout that grew up in northern Colorado, I was a little surprised to read a book like this that was able to combine the supernatural elements that would fit well in the Harry Potter universe with the pseudo-military structure and trappings of the scouting program. Of course, I’m also kicking myself for not writing these books myself first, because the two elements combine so well that the fusion is natural and fun to read. The icing on the cake was having the main character go to a summer camp with a “Redfeather Lake” and a layout that seemed suspiciously similar to the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch that I regularly visited when I was a scout. Coming in on the second book of this series, I didn’t feel too out of the loop with what had happened in the previous...
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BOOK: The Long Cosmos (2016)

The Long Cosmos Year: 2016 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 742 minutes / 12.37 hours By the time I reached the end of the Long Earth series, I had a revelation. With the bounding conditions of the universe being that there are multiple worlds accessible via stepping and that no iron can pass between worlds, the ideas to explore these multiple worlds are almost endless. My revelation was that this series would have been better as an anthology of short stories from a collection of authors, instead of a handful of semi-disjointed novels that didn’t ever quite know what they were doing. The story never shined through, instead of feeling like a distracted three-year-old who wants to explore the potential of other worlds. While I felt the series was starting to succeed in telling coherent and solid plots, this book removed that forward progress. When nearly one-third of the first part of the book seems to be comprised entirely of summary and recaps...
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BOOK: The Long Mars (2014)

The Long Mars Year: 2014 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 723 minutes / 12.05 hours While the previous two entries in this series seemed to be disjointed in their writing styles, The Long Mars seemed to iron out some of these discrepancies . . . finally. In The Long Earth and The Long War, you could almost pinpoint the sections that Terry Pratchett wrote and the sections primarily written by Stephen Baxter. By The Long Mars, there are still a few moments of Terry Pratchett’s goofiness, but they are few and far between. Consequently, the narrative of The Long Mars seemed a lot more consistent than its predecessors. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that The Long Mars is absent of problems. While there was plenty of exploration of these parallel universes, the ones that were deemed necessary enough to describe didn’t add anything to the plot. In fact, I felt like this book could have been much shorter if these thought experiments that explored how parallel universes would function were cut out entirely....
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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: The Gunslinger (1982)

The Gunslinger Year: 1982 Author: Stephen King Length: 440 minutes / 7.33 hours With the recent release of The Dark Tower (2017), I became interested in the book series that inspired the movie. I already knew the books would likely take a different direction from the film, and I was prepared for them. Up until now, I’ve enjoyed many of King’s other works, including The Shining, On Writing, and The Green Mile. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Gunslinger; it’s more that most of his books have not been part of a larger series. I still want to know what happens in the next book of the Dark Tower series, so The Gunslinger certainly succeeded in that aspect. Stephen King’s talent for description is in high form here as he crafts a world unlike our own but still linked to it via the wandering boy, Jake. Considering King’s background in describing all sorts of evil creatures and villains, the calm and calculating “Man...
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BOOK: Ganymede (2011)

Ganymede Year: 2011 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 729 minutes / 12.15 hours Now that I’ve read the first three books in the Clockwork Century series, any hope I had of some cohesive narrative is essentially gone. While following a new character for each book helps to provide a different setting of the steampunk alternate universe, when I know these characters won’t matter outside their own books, I kind of stop caring about them. Even previous heroines are relegated to cameo and minor character status as the persistent series of somewhat pointless events drags on. And don’t even get me started on the zombies, which are a distraction to any actual story in my opinion. I think the main problem I have with these books is the fact that things happen without much lead-up or foreshadowing. Sure, there are some fascinating factors involved with making a submarine work in the Civil War era, but the resulting battle and conclusion went exactly as I expected them to. This isn’t...
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BOOK: Soledad (2016)

Soledad Year: 2016 Author: D.L. Young Length: 245 pages This first book in the “Dark Republic” series is a prime example of the New Adult post-apocalyptic genre. I wouldn’t classify it as Young Adult due to the graphic nature of sex and violence, as well as the amount of obscenity peppering the dialogue. I’m not necessarily saying they’re bad things, as they help to define the world created by the author, it’s more that the audience should be prepared for these things. Even more to the point, the one sex scene present in this book was probably more along the lines of rape, even if it was a common element of the characters' backstories. Regardless of the content, the story in Soledad is compelling enough. Considering this is the first book in a series, the author spent almost the entirety of it exploring the three different factions present in post-apocalyptic Texas. While this was great for world-building, by the end of the book, little seemed to change...
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BOOK: The Killing Floor (1997)

The Killing Floor Year: 1997 Author: Lee Child Length: 1,067 minutes / 17.78 hours The first book in the Jack Reacher series is certainly a thriller, through-and-through. I certainly can understand its appeal, especially for male readers, since it has plenty of violence and sex while also exhibiting a number of action sequences. Consequently, it felt somewhat “pulpy” in that it was entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Sure, it’s a fun thrill-ride, but certain elements didn’t invest me in the characters. Jack Reacher himself is probably the majority of this issue, as he’s a drifter with little-to-no connections to anything or anyone, merely acting as a conduit to make action/killing happen. As for the core mystery of The Killing Floor, it was a fascinating premise and had a slow unraveling to keep me intrigued along the way. This was undoubtedly the strength of the book since it was a unique and intriguing twist on a pretty common crime. With a small cast of characters, the plot...
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BOOK: Children of the Mind (1996)

Children of the Mind Year: 1996 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 810 minutes / 13.50 hours Just like Xenocide before it, Children of the Mind is difficult to separate from the previous books in the Ender’s Game series. In fact, Xenocide and Children of the Mind are considered by Orson Scott Card to merely be two parts of the same book, separated at a point in the plot that makes sense. Even further to the point, I would consider Children of the Mind the last “part” of a story that stretches across four books. While it was easy to take Ender’s Game by itself, every additional piece of the story needs the previous parts for it to have the full impact of what Card was trying to accomplish. What’s most interesting about this series is how each book has a different focus, almost putting them in distinct genres. Ender’s Game was militaristic sci-fi, while Speaker of the Dead was more along the lines of a...
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BOOK: Xenocide (1991)

Xenocide Year: 1991 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 1,210 minutes / 20.17 hours Much like authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were well ahead of their time in their science fiction writing, Orson Scott Card once again shows that he understood some of the key concepts of our universe. Written in 1991, Card’s Xenocide deepens and furthers the continuing adventure of Ender Wiggin that he began back in Ender’s Game. Picking up where Speaker for the Dead left off, Xenocide adds a powerful adversary while also tying plot points back to the first book in the series. In this sense, the tight intertwining of Xenocide with its predecessors makes it difficult to separate and review by itself. I appreciate what Card has done by creating a multi-book narrative that requires the reader to have started from the very beginning of the story. While Xenocide is not nearly the end of the series, as made clear by the astounding twist near the end, it does pull enough...
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MOVIE: Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Part of me wishes that the title of this film were true. What I wouldn’t give to have these dead men not tell their tale of revenge. That being said, I had some hopes that this movie would help redeem the franchise after the lackluster On Stranger Tides (2011). After all, Javier Bardem has proven to be an effective villain in such films as No Country for Old Men (2007) and Skyfall (2012), so I thought he could help carry this movie as a solid antagonist. Unfortunately, even he could not save this sinking ship of a franchise. The main problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it feels rote and uninspired. Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow feels more lucky than actually talented at pirating. Granted, that was some of his charm in the previous films, but not all of it. Add to this a...
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BOOK: The Women of Cho – Heart and Seoul (2016)

The Women of Cho: Heart and Seoul Year: 2016 Author: David C. Dagley Length: 294 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** Did you know that this book was the sequel to Cale Dixon and the Moguk Murders? Of course not. Once again, Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co. (SBPRA) has put out another sub par book that has numerous mistakes that should have been caught by a legitimate publisher. Almost all of the same qualms I had with Cale Dixon and the Moguk Murders are back, but now there’s a host of new problems. From the unreadable cover containing a collection of fonts and almost random images to the constant peppering of basic homophone errors in the text itself, The Women of Cho: Heart and Seoul is merely a cash-grab by a publishing company that does nothing but release unpolished manuscripts. I actually started reading this book before its predecessor, mainly because the individual who contacted me from SBPRA said that it had little...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.27 hours I sometimes wonder if the strength of the first film in a series dooms the following films to a condition I refer to as “the trilogy conundrum.” If a single film is original and has a strong story that stands by itself, it almost requires the following films to be weaker in comparison, each sequel needing another sequel to tell a complete story. Films like Back to the Future (1985), The Matrix (1999), and Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) are fantastic films that defined their generation, but their sequels were highly dependent on a follow-on sequel, thus making the trilogy complete, but lacking the strength of the initial film. I hate to say it, but Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) falls into this “trilogy conundrum.” The original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a fun and meaningful departure from its Marvel comic book brethren. This sequel, however,...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours It is comforting to know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes the universe. While most films in this ever-expanding movie multiverse take place on Earth, a few like Thor (2011) and Doctor Strange (2016) explore different realms but still tie back to Earth. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is different in that, almost immediately, Earth is left far behind in favor of alien worlds filled with fantastical creatures. Consequently, this film feels more like a sci-fi movie than a comic book flick. Considering how stagnant the superhero formula has become, this is a good thing. With almost no earthly constraints on it, Guardians of the Galaxy is practically indescribable, probably because it has everything. Comedy. Action. A talking raccoon. With a reasonably well-paced plot, this film excels in developing its diverse cast. These main characters each have their unique traits and little quirks that almost immediately made them amusing and endearing....
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BOOK: Shadowguard (2015)

Shadowguard Year: 2015 Author: Gama Ray Martinez Length: 228 pages I picked this book up for free on my Kindle recently, probably due to some promotion to heighten awareness of the latest book in the Pharim War series. As the first book in this series, Shadowguard doesn’t waste any time getting down into the action of the story. Somewhat light on exposition and description, the world created here is still vibrant and fascinating, regardless. The story's characters and setting immediately immersed me in the world, and that's not even mentioning the interesting magic system Gama Ray Martinez has created. It fell in line with the fantasy genre without being too derivative of it. Some may say a series of books about a magical boy learning magic at an illustrious school sounds a lot like the Harry Potter series. The fact that the Pharim War series has a fantasy world setting, and isn't just a hidden part of our real world, makes it distinctly different from J.K....
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BOOK: Half Share (2007)

Half Share Year: 2007 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 252 pages Well . . . that escalated quickly. In the previous book of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, I found the plot to be engaging and well-paced, despite the naïveté of the main protagonist. Ishmael Wong seemed to be a bit lacking in his romantic knowledge, sometimes oblivious of obvious euphemisms. For a kid of only 18 who really only spent time with his mother, I can understand how he might not know these things. It was the one thing I found a little unbelievable in Quarter Share, but boy did Half Share make up for it. Some of the plot felt a little formulaic and procedural by this point in the saga, which was good in the sense that it continued the realism and engagement of its predecessor. However, this also meant that there wasn’t as much progression of the sub-plots and minor characters like there was in Quarter Share. This book...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men: Apocalypse Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours I’ll admit that I was excited for this film, mostly because I was somewhat familiar with its premise. I grew up on the X-Men: Evolution TV show, so I knew that the defining arc of that series was none other than the Apocalypse arc. This may have actually spoiled the movie for me, because it wasn’t quite in line with the plot I knew. Sure, Bryan Singer returned to direct this penultimate piece of the X-Men franchise, but there were just a few things that bugged me about this movie. First off, one of the elements of the previous prequel films I liked and appreciated was the inclusion of historical events and people into the storyline. This way it felt like an alternate reality not so far removed from our own. While there were loose elements of this present, it wasn’t nearly as integrated as it had been done in the past. Add...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours One of the more difficult plots to pull off in a film is that of the simultaneous prequel/sequel. Perhaps the most famous of this plotline is The Godfather: Part II (1974). However, I would argue that X-Men: Days of Future Past perfected it. Just like X-Men: First Class (2011) before it, Days of Future Past takes the retro stylings of its decade (this time the 1970’s) and places a plot intertwined with the well-known figures and events of the time. It also simultaneously puts the X-Men in a dire and hopeless situation in a distant future, thus driving the need to go into the past to fix the initial conditions that got them into this quandary. Plus, most of the film is driven by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), which just shows how vital he is to the series. In a return to form that was sorely missing in the previous two...
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MOVIE: X-Men – First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class Year: 2011 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours While prequels always hold the distinction of being the one type of movie that you know how it will end, seeing how they get there is certainly entertaining. Much like the Star Wars prequels gave us a point before the original trilogy to learn more about the background of the characters, the X-Men prequels manage to do this, but with a much better result. My only major qualm with prequel trilogies is that, while the mainstays of the franchise were there in terms of characters, the only ones who maintained their actor from the first set of movies were relegated to cameo appearances. This is only heightened by my opinion that the original X-Men trilogy’s cast was perfect in almost every way. That being said, with the prequel trilogy now complete, the younger cast has definitely grown on me as well, James McAvoy’s Xavier being my favorite of the prequel group. Because X-Men: First...
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MOVIE: X-Men – The Last Stand (2006)

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

X2 Year: 2003 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours I’ve often held that the sequel of a superhero film is better than the original. Most superhero film franchises start out with an origin story, so by the time the second film comes around, all the “exposition” is out of the way and the heroes can really take on some powerful villains. However, since X-Men (2000) didn’t have much of an origin story, its sequel, X2 is almost relegated to the fate of a “flashback” sequel. Still, the darker tone does help set it apart from its predecessor, which is nice. Granted, the choice of exploring Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) past was a good one, considering the strength of the character. Heck, he got two more movies outside the main X-Men saga, so clearly he’s a fan favorite. What’s nice about the superhero sequel is that most comic book story arcs are short enough that they can be incorporated into a single film. In this...
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MOVIE: X-Men (2000)

X-Men Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Up until the 21st Century, DC had dominated the comic book adaptations on the big screen. Film franchises like Superman and Batman were essentially the only acts in town. Of course, by the time the year 2000 rolled around, Superman hadn’t been in theaters for more than a decade, and Batman had become almost as campy and goofy as its 1960’s counterpart. This was now Marvel’s time to shine. Partly due to a large cast of recognizable characters, X-Men was the right choice to reboot the comic book adaptation film franchise. Even though X-Men set the standard pretty high for comic book adaptations, very few have followed in its stead. Where most first films in a hero franchise focus on the origins of the main character, the X-Men spans such an enormous timeframe, with characters coming in and out of relevance, that it would be difficult to give all of their origins at once. Instead,...
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MOVIE: Divergent (2014)

Divergent Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.31 hours While The Hunger Games really cornered the market in the "young adult dystopian future" category, many authors jumped on the bandwagon to cash in on this phenomenon. I'll admit that many of these series that got movie adaptations I had never heard of before and likely will not see/read. The Divergent series, though did stand out as the top of "the rest". It can be difficult to create a dystopian world, especially one that's at least somewhat set in our current one. The CGI-modified Chicago looks pretty good for a city that's been through what it has, but where the computer imagery really comes to shine is in the dream sequences. I would have liked them to be a little more obvious so the audience isn't always guessing if it's a dream or not, but that's part of the charm, I suppose. Having since read the book this was based on, I do have to say that the director...
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