Discuss and rate the last thing you read

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dscross:

Zydrate:
The Disaster Artist - 4/5

Very, very readable. It flows very well and blew through it in a couple of nights. My only complaint is that I stopped kind of caring about Tommy Wiseau as a man and the last few chapters regarding the background of him and Greg meeting up... I skipped. Once I read what exact flavor of lunatic he is (his opinions on women, throwing slurs people's way during a temper tantrum when things go his way, denying water and air conditioning at the same time...) I just focused on the chapters regarding the production of The Room itself.

All the odd chapters are dedicated to Greg's first few months knowing Tommy and all the even chapters are based on the production of the Room. After getting through most of it, the last couple of odd chapters I just skipped because I couldn't be assed.
Good book, though.

Have you seen the film yet? I thought they did a pretty good job.

I found it a bit uneven. Their plot kind of hauled ass and I found it jarring. Also they omit a lot of the more gross shit he did and tried to paint Tommy in a more sympathetic light and pretty much erased most of Greg's real-life reasons for doing the movie (he needed money). I just hope people who see the movie first go and read the book or at the very least, go to the TVtropes page which does a good job giving some of the highlights.

hattiegilbert445:
i g̲e̲t̲ ̲p̲a̲i̲d̲ ̲o̲v̲e̲r̲ ̲$90 ̲p̲e̲r̲ ̲h̲o̲u̲r̲ ̲w̲o̲r̲k̲i̲n̲g̲ ̲f̲r̲o̲m̲ ̲h̲o̲m̲e̲ ̲w̲i̲t̲h̲ ̲2 ̲k̲i̲d̲s̲ ̲a̲t̲ ̲h̲o̲m̲e̲. ̲i̲ ̲n̲e̲v̲e̲r̲ ̲t̲h̲o̲u̲g̲h̲t̲ ̲i̲'d̲ ̲b̲e̲ ̲a̲b̲l̲e̲ ̲t̲o̲ ̲d̲o̲ ̲i̲t̲ ̲b̲u̲t̲ ̲m̲y̲ ̲b̲e̲s̲t̲ ̲f̲r̲i̲e̲n̲d̲ ̲e̲a̲r̲n̲s̲ ̲o̲v̲e̲r̲ ̲10k̲ ̲a̲ ̲m̲o̲n̲t̲h̲ ̲d̲o̲i̲n̲g̲ ̲t̲h̲i̲s̲ ̲a̲n̲d̲ ̲s̲h̲e̲ ̲c̲o̲n̲v̲i̲n̲c̲e̲d̲ ̲m̲e̲ ̲t̲o̲ ̲t̲r̲y̲. ̲t̲h̲e̲ ̲p̲o̲t̲e̲n̲t̲i̲a̲l̲ ̲w̲i̲t̲h̲ ̲t̲h̲i̲s̲ ̲i̲s̲ ̲e̲n̲d̲l̲e̲s̲s̲. ̲h̲e̲r̲e̲s̲ ̲w̲h̲a̲t̲ ̲i̲'v̲e̲ ̲b̲e̲e̲n̲ ̲d̲o̲i̲n̲g̲,,
------------------- http://www.Help80.Com

I have a feeling it's a person in a workshop begging for help. Maybe there's some code in the format for his/her location?

So, concluding my reading of old Mr. Howard Phillips' life work, we have

The Shadow out of Time, H. P. Lovecraft - 6/10

Again, not one of his best. My basic problem with it was the same I had with At The Mountains of Madness; same as he does with the Old Ones in that story, Lovecraft here goes into far too much detail regarding the Great Race, which (ironically enough) humanizes them too much for them to be in any way frightening or awe-inspiring. It doesn't help that the physical description he gives of them looks like something out of the silliest tinfoil-wrapped sci-fi of bad early TV shows, which also robs the protagonist's bouts of body dismorphia, that could have otherwise been an incredibly powerful narrative device, of any real punch.

The Haunter of the Dark, H. P. Lovecraft - 7/10

A return to form, in my opinion. Lovecraft was ever at his best, I feel, when working with suggestion and implication and letting the reader's imagination do the heavy lifting, and that's what he returns to here. While it does not reach the level of some of his best works, in my opinion, it's enough to conclude the man's writing career in a high note.

I've also read, in the meantime,

La memoria de Shakespeare, Jorge Luis Borges - 7.5/10

...I'll own up, I'm not a big fan of Borges. I don't consider that to be his fault, mind - if anything, I think the man was an incredibly talented writer; it's just that, for some reason I can't really seem to pin down, his stories almost never seem to really click with me, with rare exceptions (El espejo y la mascara comes to mind)... which is why it caught me somewhat by surprise that there wasn't a single story in this short last anthology of his that I didn't really enjoy.

It's got me seriously considering going back and re-reading his older works.

Jute88:
The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel. It's the fifth part of her Earth's Children series. I'd rate it 9/10, I just couldn't put the book down, I had to finish it!

The main character is Ayla, a cro-magnon girl who was raised by neanderthals (or Clan people), living during the Stone age. The series feels more like a slice of life kind of story, having no great villains (mostly) or major story arcs (except Ayla trying to find her place in the world).

The books heavily focus on cultures Ayla discovers, how they treat sex and pregnancy as separate things, the relationship between cro-magnons and neanderthals, the role (or lack) of fatherhood in societies, the religions they meet, the languages, the way the Clan people can't learn new things but rather they share the memories of their ancestors etc.

Some problems in the book are that Auel really likes to describe in great detail the tools people use in the series. I know that mastering tools was a matter of life and death during the Stone age, but sometimes she talks about one tool for two pages, which I usually try to skip.

One other big problem is just how perfect Ayla is.
She has incredible memory,
most people find her irresistible,
she's one the best healers in the series, if not the best,
she is always in the mood for sex whenever her partner wants it,
she can usually sense when people lie because of her upbringing,
she's first to discover that you can tame animals,
she can throw two stones with her slingshot and
she learns languages very quickly.

Also, a small annoying thing is how Ayla calls herself old, because she compares herself to the Clan people, who have a rather short life span. No, she isn't old. She's not even 20 by the end of the fifth book, everyone tells her that's she's still young, but she still calls herself an old woman!

Yeah, I picked up on Ayla being very awesome after the first book, and didn't bother going back to check the rest out (though to be fair there may have been other reasons for that, it was a long time ago), though I am totally with you in enjoying the fleshing out of the author's ideas regarding prehistoric cultures.

I guess that would be "I hate Fairyland Vol 3"

I bought the first volume last auturm cos one of the people from tumblr (that I follow) was reading it.

To summed it up, it's about a girl named Gertrude got sucked into a fairyland like world and she was tasked on a quest to fine the key to return home. Sound easy right? Well no, not to her. Twenty years later she is STILL on her quest and while her body has mentain her physical apperance but not mentality. Needless to say, she is quite a bitter, vuglar and psychotic girl now which is understandable, imagine being stuck in a colourful world where it is always sweet and happy???

So yeah it's quite a dark humour comedy sort of comedy and since the artstyle is fantastic (cartoony), it make the violence in it (there alot of of since she is a psychopath now) quite interesting to look at!!

I'm not going to mention anything story/ spoilers in it. All I say is that volume 3 is kinda more like volume 1 in that there is a main plot (volume 2 did had a plot but it was resolved in the first issue) and it did bring some interesting development to the main character and her sidekick. Also a character return whose I thought was going to be forgotten from the last volume. Lastly I am looking forward to the next volume due to the ending did bring a new shift to the overall plot.

I recently read two Philip Roth novels: The Dying Animal and The Humbling. Roth was a counterculture bigshot in the sixties, writing about the problematic divide between what you want out of life and what everybody else expects from you (you can see Mad Men's Don Draper reading one of his novels in a latter season). He's all for radical individualism and chasing the id. These last two novels of his, though... I admire the craft and the unabashed style, but at worst they read like fanfiction. He likes doing the Woody Allen thing where young women storm into his life and give themselves to him, always depicted as a blameless casanova. I'm more than ready to buy he has that power over the easily starstruck, I just think it makes for cringey, overly indulgent stories.

Now I'm reading Tales of Soldiers and Civilians by Ambrose Bierce. Bierce was a soldier during the Civil War turned journalist turned writer turned a lot of things; the stories are a mixture of Poe and Twain in their use of creepy (sometimes supernatural) irony and derision of American exceptionalism. Great read and a great find considering my newfound obsession for weird fiction.

Jute88:
The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel. It's the fifth part of her Earth's Children series. I'd rate it 9/10, I just couldn't put the book down, I had to finish it!

I read The Clan of the Cave Bear many years ago and loved it. Went straight for the sequel, Valley of the Horses, and couldn't finish it. One of the rare books in which I got as far as the midpoint and couldn't finish it. Might as well be called Danielle Steel's Improbably Sexy Cavebabe & The Dreamstud Who Fell For Her. What a disappointment.

Ogoid:

La memoria de Shakespeare, Jorge Luis Borges - 7.5/10

I'm curious - did you read Borges in English or Spanish?

Johnny Novgorod:

I'm curious - did you read Borges in English or Spanish?

Spanish. I always prefer reading books in their original language if I can.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (3/5)

I'll be honest, I don't read that much non-fiction. I have misgivings about that, but at the end of the day, I enjoy writing far more than reading, and fiction gives me material to work with. But I got this book via a friend of a friend so to speak, and when I say "book," I mean the PDF file.

That aside, this book is...different, I'll put it that way. Trump's slammed the book as "fake news" (or words to that equivalent), and while I'd trust Trump as far as I can throw him (not far - he's a heavy guy), I will say that reading the book, I did get reminded of the libel claims. What's notable is that it's written in narrative style. Not in the sense of there being dialogue or anything, but because the book progresses entirely chronologically, with some of the personas (e.g. Trump and Banon) feeling like 'characters,' it does give me the sense of me reading a story. A story that just grinds to a halt at the end mind you. But even then, I have to ask how Wolff got some of the info he did. Trump's been president for a year - that's far too early for any kind of definitive take on his presidency. The book doesn't sell itself as a definitive take, but I am curious as to how Wolff got his info.

Also, I don't know if it's me, or if the book is primarily intended for a US audience, but while I'd like to consider myself reasonably well informed, a lot of the names that slid by were ones I didn't recognise. I mean, sure - Trump, Banon, Conway, Spicer, Murdoch, etc., I got those. But I found myself kind of tuning out towards the middle of the book, because it assumes that you know a lot of the context in which it takes place in. It was only with the mention of Charlotsville towards the end that I thought "ah, now I remember." But before that, there's a lot of middle ground stuff that had slipped my mind.

So, mixed thoughts. It's average. But to be honest, I don't get what the fuss is about. I'm sure many books will be written on Trump's presidency in the years and decades to come, but I don't see why this one should be particuarly special.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull
A sappy motivational/self-help book from the 1970s. Obvious allegory is obvious: a seagull wants so much more than being a seagull. Other seagulls settle for gorging on scraps, Jonathan wants to fly as high and as fast as possible. Gets expelled for arrogance, learns to love himself, returns as a Messiah to his people to start its own cult of woke gulls. Do not recommend.

Do audiobooks count? I read abysmally little. I'm going to count because this book deserves more recognition.

And the book is Will Save the Galaxy for Food by our very resident Yahtzee Croshaw.

It's a sci-fi comedy/satire adventure about a former space pilot war hero now turned third-rate tourist guide in a world full of former space pilot war heroes turned third-rate tourist guides. He gets in over his head after being unwittingly forced to impersonate someone whom no one in their right mind would want to impersonate. From there on the story spirals uncontrollably into a maniacal adventure full of twists, turns and memorable characters.

It was already obvious from his previous works that Yahtzee abides very strictly by Chekov's gun, and this book is one of the best executions of the idea I've ever come across. There's hardly a single sentence, scene or character you could take out of this and not have it affect the narrative in some way. The story unfolds in a perfectly natural and logical fashion, with character choices first and foremost driving the plot. It's also riotously funny, original and has great world building. And there's the possibility of a sequel (very unsubtly hinted at by mr. Croshaw himself), which is great, since there's a whole galaxy of possibilities for these characters to go.

Highly recommended.

bartholen:
Do audiobooks count? I read abysmally little.

Well, you do have Toph as your avatar, so...sure?

the December King:

Jute88:
The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel. It's the fifth part of her Earth's Children series. I'd rate it 9/10, I just couldn't put the book down, I had to finish it!

Yeah, I picked up on Ayla being very awesome after the first book, and didn't bother going back to check the rest out (though to be fair there may have been other reasons for that, it was a long time ago), though I am totally with you in enjoying the fleshing out of the author's ideas regarding prehistoric cultures.

It may have been how Ayla, a 11-12-year-old girl was being treated by the asshole, adult Broud in the first book.

I just hope that Auel deals with the upcoming Clan-people-Cro-magnon-conflict, there better be payoff in the last book.

Johnny Novgorod:

Jute88:
The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel. It's the fifth part of her Earth's Children series. I'd rate it 9/10, I just couldn't put the book down, I had to finish it!

I read The Clan of the Cave Bear many years ago and loved it. Went straight for the sequel, Valley of the Horses, and couldn't finish it. One of the rare books in which I got as far as the midpoint and couldn't finish it. Might as well be called Danielle Steel's Improbably Sexy Cavebabe & The Dreamstud Who Fell For Her. What a disappointment.

The third books is even worse. The whole drama of the story is dependant on that two people won't sit down and talk their problems through. The fourth and fifth book are better though. No more bullshit drama. Well, not much anyway.

So, I read some stuff, and I gotz opinionz:

Edgedancer (3/5)

I'm counting this as an entry, because while it's part of the Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson, it's still effectively a novella, what with being divided into chapters and coming in at around 40,000 words. So, I feel I can treat it independently from the rest of the collection. Which is funny, because having read this, I feel I would have really benefitted from reading the first Stormlight Archive book first. It's not impenetrable, and I can pick up on the gist of past events and the setting, but...well, let's just say there's a lot of proper nouns here, and it doesn't hold your hand in working out what they are. This is particuarly detrimental here, because Sanderson's trademark seems to be fleshing out magic systems (see Mistborn), but here, you're expected to already know how things work.

On the other hand, the writing itself is quite good, and what carries it is the protagonist, Lift (no, not the soft drink). She's adorable - she's basically a child, but written in such a way that she's endearing rather than excruciating. Also helps that she has a small demon-like creature called Wyndle for a companion, who's the voice of reason for a girl who's hyperactive, has powers, and loves pancakes. And while there is a plot, to be honest, I'm already forgetting it. It's a story carried by the storytelling rather than the plot, so to speak. If anything, it's made me more interested in someday tackling Stormlight, but given how large those books are, "someday" is the key word.

So, decent. Next up is Serenity: No Power in the 'Verse, but that needs another entry.

Firefly: No Power in the 'Verse (4/5)

...because in the 26th century, poor literacy is still kewl.

Anyway, I have a weird relationship with the Firefly graphic novels - I bought 'Leaves on the Wind' for the main purpose of using it to help me write 'Seven Deadly Sins'. Likewise, I got 'No Power in the 'Verse' to help me write 'All the World's a Stage.' Likewise, I ordered 'Better Days' because I can't get 'Float-Out' anymore, and Dark Horse no longer seems to have the rights to the Firefly IP, so I can no longer get the comic digitally and gah!

Anyway, if the rating wasn't indicative enough, I do like this graphic novel - actually even more than 'Leaves on the Wind', though going by Amazon I seem to be in the minority there. And the odd thing is, both of the graphic novels utilized plot threads that I dislike, the idea that after the movie, the crew would end up spearheading an anti-Alliance revolution. So, does that happen? Well, by the end of this novel, yeah, kinda, but it does it in an interesting way - far more interesting than I've seen fanfic writers do it. Part of the impetus for that comes from the Peacemakers, which are former Browncoats that have effectively become terrorists. We had the New Resistance plot point in LotW, we have the Freemakers plot arc in NPitV, so if there's a sequel graphic novel (which I'm iffy about due to the suspected rights issues), it has done the groundwork.

Also, I like what it does with the characters...though I can understand why people wouldn't. One definite improvement is Kalista, who goes from being rediculously OP in LotW to...well, still OP, but OP in a more believable manner. Plus, we can see the crew fragmenting - Simon and Mal are at odds over the idea of war/terrorism, Zoe and River's former friendship is absolutely broken by the end of the graphic novel, Mal and Inara's relationship is broken by revelations as to what Inara did concerning Fiddler's Green, etc. Especially in the Zoe River case, Zoe's so horrible to River that...I kinda like it. Makes our protagonists falliable, and it's almost a deconstructionist take on the crew. Plus we have Bea and Iris who are okay, I guess.

Like I said, I'm dubious as to the future of Firefly in comics, because like I said, I have a suspicion that the rights are up in the air, given that Dark Horse Digital has taken the comics down, whereas Titan Books is now publishing tie-in novels. I have a fear that this comic will never get a sequel. That said, it's still good. 'Those Left Behind' is still my favorite Firefly comic, but this was still a good read...and almost completely superfluous to 'All the World's a Stage', but that's my problem.

Half a Man (3/5)

So I saw this by chance on the library shelving trolley, and ended up borrowing it, mainly because I recognised the author as Michael Morpurgo - as in, the guy that wrote War Horse. Course it's a children's story, but at 50 pages, it would be a short read. And War Horse was pretty good as well (stage adaptation was excellent), so I figured, hey, why not?

Well, the book is...fine. It's decent. Writing style isn't really juvenile, but it's a bit below my age range. Basically deals with a boy connecting with his grandfather, who was left physically and emotionally scarred after his ship was torpedoed in the Mediterranean in WWII. As an adult, I could see where this story was going, but I think it would be a good read for children, to ease them into 'war fiction.' Plus the art style is quite decent. We're told how grandad's face is scarred to the extent that he's basically missing half his face (hence the title), but the artwork shows everything but his face. Nice touch.

So, it's not going to get on my list of greats, and falls short of stories like War Horse or Letters from the Coffin Trenches, but decent read.

Tales of Soldiers and Civilians by Ambrose Bierce (1891)
A collection of weird stories, many of them with ironic/shocking twist endings that may feel a bit gimmicky to the desensitized modern reader, but I think the superior quality of the better stories more than makes up for the weaker ones. From the 'Soldiers' section the best are "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (Bierce's most famous story), "Chickamauga", "One of the Missing" and "A Tough Tussle"; from 'Civilians' the best is "An Inhabitant of Carcosa". I love how Bierce depicts reality as shaped by the perception of a troubled mind (mental fugue, time stretching/constricting, conflicting POVs) rather than empirical absolutes.

Runa by Rodolfo Fogwill (2003)
Fogwill is best known for his novel Los pichiciegos, about a band of amoral profiteers making a living in the sidelines of the Malvinas war. Runa, I think the last book he published before passing away some years ago, has the same experimental ring to its construction because the narrator freely addresses the reader and seems to be balancing hypotheticals rather than telling a straight story, which broadly concerns a group of hunter-gatherers and its neighboring tribes. I like how everything is named and described with a fantasy outlook even though things are considerably more mundane than they sound. Or are they? I guess that's the point.

Pale Fire By Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov always amazes me how well he can write in two languages. He adjusts the words and tone of his sentence structure for what he wants the character to convey so easily.
Anyway....

Pale Fire is very concept heavy. It's a book presented as a publication of a poem with the often rambling editor's notes forming the story.
I think its fantastic and challenging.
Would recommend for someone wanting to unweave a story hidden behind another.

The Ten Tasks of Mistry: An Adventure in the World of Illusion (4/5)

Ordered this from Amazon because I wanted part of my childhood restored. And was it? Well, kinda, but nostalgia never lives up to the real thing. Doesn't help that I'm an adult now, but hey, at least I percieved back then that Mistry was a jerk, and as an adult, he's even more of a jerk (though I guess the reason he imprisons people in the Cage of Illusion is so that they can't 'spoil' the answers to the riddles for aspiring magicians?)

Well, you guys probably have no idea what I'm talking about, given how obscure this book is (and meant for children at that), so let's move on to...

Doctor Who: City of Death (4/5)

City of Death (the TV episode) is meant to be a classic. No idea if it is, because I haven't seen it, and I will admit I'm not the biggest OldWho fan, where I've found good episodes to be the exception rather than the rule. But going by the novelization...well, it's decent. Mostly. I can't say the plot is that special, and the idea of the jagroth influencing human history feels trite when that idea has been done in Doctor Who at least twice, even if this is admittedly the first one I know of in terms of broadcast order. Also outdated in that the jagroth is meant to have created life on Earth 400 million years ago, when in fact life on Earth arose around 4 billion years ago, whereas the 400 MA mark is closer to the Cambrian Explosion.

But, I do like the book, mainly because of the writing style. The whole tongue in cheek, author's voice, 'whole universe is absurd' sort of writing style that Douglas Adams is known for. Not that the author always pulls it off, but I'd sa it works around 80% of the time.

So, decent read. Hasn't left me clamoring to see the episode, but it at least got me a bit interested in it.

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (1908)

A recluse living in a lonely house in rural Ireland fights off interdimensional evil that keeps crawling out of that bottomless pit in the front yard. On the surface it reads like literary survival horror: "Swine-creatures" show up and repeatedly attack the protagonist's house, who fights them off by taking inventory, going into siege mode and blasting the intruders with a shotgun. It's incredibly pleasing to read something this old with such clear command of present-tense action. Meanwhile the protagonist also has visions, snippets of otherworldly experiences which hint at a grander, incomprehensible cosmic scheme at play. Good weird fiction and a must-read if you like Lovecraft.

I'm in the middle of reading Finch by Jeff Vandermeer.

Genre-wise, it's Steampunk meets Noir meets Mushrooms. A story about a detective forced to solve a murder mystery for his fungal overlords, in order to not be killed or worse by them.

So far, there's a lot to take in. On the one hand, we've got a society that has been taken over by a race of sentient mushroom people, and much like the Mario Bros movie, fungi are sprouting all over the city and seem to permeate almost all technology. Even the gun the detective uses is organic.

This would be easier to slip into if it was about our world post-fungi invasion, but instead, it takes place in its own world with its own history and a bunch of references to historical events I've never heard of. So, while most fantasies take place in another world, here we have another world, being colonized by yet ANOTHER world. As a result, I'm left with little ground to stand on, other than the mystery our main character, Finch, has to solve, and his attempts to cope with being stripped of all power and agency, as he's forced to work for his occupiers.

Still, I'm not even half done yet, so I may get accustomed to it eventually.

One thing I really like is how scary he manages to make the "Gray Caps" their fungal occupiers. He does a great job at conveying how dis-empowered Finch is by them, and always draws attention to details that are inhuman, unsettling and unpleasant.

Another thing to note is the writing style. The writer narrates much like how Geralt of Rivia monologues in Witcher 3, when he's looking at clues. If a word isn't needed to get the point across, it'll be left out. Instead of reading like "He drank some coffee. It was hot with a hint of vanilla in the flavor" it would read like "Drank some coffee. Hot. Hint of vanilla."

It puts me off a bit. I feel like it should be used decisively at tense or focused moments, rather than being used throughout the story. I suppose it fits with the noir theme, and the theme is very dark and dreary. I hope something really gripping happens before I start to feel apathetic about it.

I'll rate it when I finish it.

The Swarm (4/5)

First installment of the Second Formic War Trilogy. And I liked it. A lot.

It's fair to say that this novel is entirely buildup for future events, as the formics and International Fleet are involved in a system-wide chess game as the formics advance on Earth. Like the First Formic War Trilogy, I suspect that the lion's share of the writing was done by Aaron Johnston, as unlike Card, the writing style is far more conventional. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is up to you, but while I liked the original trilogy, I didn't like them more than Card's novels. The Swarm however, currently stands as my #3 Enderverse novel (though apparently there's some canonical errors with the nature of the queens, or rather, how much the IF should know about them in this timeframe). And as usual, the science is good, and like the original trilogy, it's material I can show to the Expanse and yell "look! You CAN write hard sci-fi without sacrificing character!"

So, good job.

Scapin the schemer by Moli?re. 5/5

Probably the funniest play I've ever read or seen. In my childhood I read a Disney comics version of it, and I was surprised to learn that the original play was very much like that comic. The length was shorter, but that was all. The original play was actually just as silly and farcical as the Mickey Mouse comic![1]

[1] Also, one thing had been changed: In the original play, Geronte's daughter was raised far away from him since she was a daughter from his second marriage--as in, a marriage he entered into under a false name without ending his first marriage. In the Disney comic, he had her raised by a poor family far away to avoid the risk of her getting spoiled.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami - 7.5/10

Murakami is one of my go-to authors when I find myself out of ideas as to what to read next, probably because I've yet to read anything of his I didn't enjoy. This one was no exception.

It is the story of group of five high-school friends, the eponymous Tsukuru Tazaki being the only one whose surname doesn't include a color, which is very close-knit until, for some reason, Tsukuru finds himself suddenly shunned by all other four. Initially sinking into depression, he eventually moves on, but finding that that rejection is still causing him intimacy issues in his mid-thirties, he decides to seek them once again and find out what happened.

Murakami's habitual weirdness is a bit more subdued here than in most of his works, but as usual, while he does resolve the central question - why did Tsukuru's friends turn their backs on him? - it leads into more questions which are left unanswered (or, at least, that I wasn't smart enough to puzzle out), and the novel ends in a definitely open note. All in all, I found it a worthy addition to his oeuvre.

There's a Hippopotamus on My Roof Eating Cake (4/5)

Normally I wouldn't bother with the children's books I have to read to the little bastards as part of my library work, but as someone who grew up with this book when I was their age, it does my cold, withered heart good to know that there's at least some things that cross generations (unlike, say, Geronimo Stilton, Captain Underpants, Hey Nate, and various other series that came after my time).

So, I'll give the book credit, when I was a kid, I read it literally. As in, I saw it as a simple story of a hippo being on the roof eating cake, doing various other things, and that was it. As an adult, I could instantly see that the entire story (least as far as the hippo goes) takes place in the girl's imagination, that his actions are a result of her own desires and fears. The hippo isn't really there, it's just a metaphor for a child's frustrations at not being able to do everything they want to do.

So, well played author, well played. I mean, my childhood is ruined now, and I doubt that any of the kids are in on the joke, but, well played. :P

Star Wars: Phasma (3/5)

So...this book.

You ever see the Nostalgia Critic episode where he reviews Lilo & Stich? How he says that while the film is obstensibly about Lilo and, well, Stitch, what he likes the most about it is the relationship between Lilo and her sister? Well, I felt similar about this book, where while it's obstensibly about Phasma, I found the characters around Phasma to be far more engaging than Phasma herself, especially Cardinal. He's easily the best character in the book IMO, given that he's kind of presented as the inverse to Phasma in terms of philosophy, loyalty, and training style, while also both of them being afforded the rare right in the First Order to use their actual names rather than alpha-numerics.

Anyway, never been much of a Star Wars EU fan (bar the prequel era), and the book cribs far too liberally from sources like Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Gladiator for my liking (Phasma is just a few words short of yelling "are you not entertained?" in one scene). I will say it's an interesting style of presentation, how the "present" of the book is Cardinal interogating a Resistance spy about Phasma so that he can gather enough evidence to get her demoted/arrested, only realizing too late that Phasma's crimes are already known to Armitage Hux, and that Armitage, if anything, admires Phasma for it. The flashback characters aren't overly interesting either, nor is the planet. I haven't seen the whole "world was destroyed in a nuclear apocalypse, dirty savages are on the edge, ignorant of their history or the galaxy as a whole" in Star Wars before, but it's been done to death in fiction before, and even in tie-in fiction, done better (off the top of my head, the Doctor Who book 'Night of the Humans'). And admittedly I did do the same thing in a short story I wrote that didn't even meet the publisher's longlist, so if anything, it's a reminder of my own shortcomings along with the novel.

So, it's...fine, it's okay, it's a book I wouldn't have bothered reading if I didn't get it from the library. It hasn't really sold me on Phasma as a character, either in the book or in TFA/Last Jedi, but then again, Phasma's always struck me as a futile attempt to replicate the appeal of Boba Fett (a character whose popularity I don't understand either), and failing to do so.

The Kalevala 5/5

As you know, this book is written
in trochaic tetrameter;
therefore, I will be reviewing
it that way. It just seems fitting.
This might be my favorite epic;
well, Paradise Lost excepted.
I don't mean the most well-written
(though it's certainly well-written);
what I mean is, well, the feeling.
This book has a lovely feeling
of cold, harsh old Scandinavia.
It's the feeling of an autumn
when the leaves are turning yellow
and you're walking in the forest,
far enough into the woods that
you no longer can see houses
or some other trace of humans,
and some crows have started cawing
as the sun is sinking lower...
Even the poetic Edda
cannot match that lovely feeling.
Only five stars is enough for
such a wonderful old classic.

Boy in Darkness and Other Stories, Mervyn Peake - 7/10

Finally got around to reading this, the "lost" chapter of Peake's Gormenghast books. I found it bizarre, even for the series, mostly - but not exclusively - in a good way. The Lamb is an absolutely fascinating antagonist, and what little hints Peake drops about his decayed domain, "the Mines", only adds more mystery and questions to the larger world Titus and Gormenghast exist in. On the other hand, though, the story as a whole seemed like a very prolonged setup with a very rushed resolution, as though Peake started writing at his leisure and eventually found himself running out of space.

All in all, I think it's a worthwhile read for fans of the series.

The other stories in the book are mostly brief, humorous or surreal little pieces, which I found interesting but hardly very memorable.

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation (3/5)

This book is...weird.

Okay, here's the thing - I grew up in the console wars between Sega and Nintendo, so a book about this time period instantly appeals to me on some level. But is the book "good?" Well...I did enjoy it, but I can't call it "good," and the reason for this is also the reason why I like it, if that makes sense...

...it's written as a story.

Let me explain. While this book is non-fiction, it's structured in a way that feels akin to a narrative. Tom Kalinske is arguably the 'protagonist,' who goes on the 'hero's journey' - recruited to help Sega dethrone Nintendo, and for awhile, that works. Unfortunately, a series of wrong decisions on Sega of Japan's part gives the story a tragic ending (the release of the Sega Saturn). It's very rare that the book really deviates from this formula, with various events and decisions being presented as a story rather than taking a more omnipotent POV. The book feels like it's written specifically for a movie, and considering the supposed movie adaptation, maybe that's paid off. And hey, subject matter aside, I could see myself enjoying it - while I know nothing about baseball, and barely use Facebook, I really enjoyed films like Moneyball and The Social Network.

Still, this is a book, so I'm left wondering how much of it is true, and how much of it is fiction. Also, if it is operating like a story, there's a number of structural problems - for instance, about an entire chapter is dedicated to the development of the Super Mario Brothers movie. Which is interesting, but it's a deviation from what the book's been about up to this point. While the book does address how Sega and Nintendo wanted their mascots in the public conciousness (e.g. the two Sonic cartoons we got in the early 90s), the Mario movie gets far too much attention in respect to the actual "console war" being fought, which is the 'meat.' It's actually quite interesting, how through the story, we get to see how Sega was able to sell itself, and how its market share in the console market increased because of that.

I will say that this is primarily Sega's story, so to speak, so if you fought for Nintendo back in the day, you might feel left out. But hey, Nintendo won (or rather, Sony, given that the words "oh shit" are literally used to describe the PS1 reveal vs. the Saturn reveal), so I guess you'll be happy. Maybe?

So, yeah. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, but the book does have issues.

Amazing Spider-Man #612-614, "Power to the People". - 3/5

This is the first part of what was promised to be a massive story arc titled, "The Gauntlet", but it's basically just Spidey's rogue gallery being reinvented for the Brand New Day era. I didn't like some of the changes BND did to Spidey, but in the case of Electro here in "Power to the People", I initially liked what they did to change him. He manipulated the people of New York into supporting him because of the financial crisis going on, and he became sort of a voice of the people. I always like it when Spider-Man stories use more than just the villains' superpowers against Spidey, and here is a creative and interesting display of how brilliant and cunning his enemies can be. It's almost a throwback to Norman Osborn, who also used political manipulations to get into power with his "Dark Reign".

Add to the fact that Electro's own power is literally killing him, and it makes for an almost relatable villain one could get behind.

Unfortunately, Electro's trickery didn't lead to anywhere fruitful, and the story arc was soon reduced to your average fist-fight. I wish Mark Waid had played around a bit more with the people supporting Electro, like put them in the line of fire more often and forcing Spidey to placate the angry mob. Peter is suffering his own financial crisis too, so it would have been nice to see him playing the "I'm one of you and could relate to what you are going through" card.

There's also some continuity error in Part 3 of the story arc relating to the characters' memories of the Daily Bugle being attacked. But that bothers me less than the overarching feel of this arc, like it had potential to lend us some interesting perspectives on New Yorkers, Max Dillon and Peter himself, but ended up being average and formulaic.

A Taste For Rabbit

Dark little sentient-animals tale. Switches between the view of a hare newly appointed as a watchman for his species and debt ridden fox attempting to solve a dwindling meat supply for his community by locating a new source of prey. The drama it'self revolves around...well, imagine you're a deer hunter, and suddenly that prize buck produces a rifle of their own, takes cover and returns fire? Side plots feature a bit of brother-brother family conflict and a conspiracy involving outright cannibalism on the fox's side.

A bit of a throwback to the likes of Watership Down, but a bit too simplistic. Enjoyable enough, but not too memorable afterwards.

3/5

Amazing Spider-Man #617 - "The Rage of the Rhino"

Many people, Marvel Animation included, seemed to forget that the Rhino was initially not just a dumb, mindless brute (the kind you see in the animated series and The Amazing Spider-Man 2) in his first appearance (ASM #41-#43). That's what was so fearsome about him, that he had the brains and brawn. He wasn't a super genius, of course, but he was intelligent enough to be competent in combat tactics.

This was always one of my favorite issues in the Gauntlet arc, not just because it's yet another deliciously interesting character-study that made up some of the best stories of this book, but also because it brought back the level-headed and street-smart Aleksei from the classics. There's yet another twist played around identities, and it makes you think that the horned idiot is back to his old ways of destroying everything again - but of course, this isn't so, and I love how it plays out. It's heartwarming and charming, and I love the relationship between Aleksei and Spidey here, having a form of mutual respect for each other.

However, the major props go to the side story -- "The Walk". This holds up to the gold standards of Spidey stories like "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man". It's a simple and humble tale, very small-scale and personal, much like many of my favorite Spider-Man stories. It shows how Aleksei came to walk the straight and narrow path. Not only does it lend a very inspiring and sympathetic perspective on ex-cons, it's always nice to see a villain who could uphold his moral integrity as much as Peter. It's a very fitting chapter in the ASM mythios where one of Spidey's villains understands as much about choice and responsibility as the titular character. Of course, if all of his rogue gallery's like that, it can dilute the power and uniqueness of such character integrity, but it's always nice to find gems like this that humanize his villains.

I also have to give credits to Pulido for his art here, particularly in the second story. It almost bears a minimalist style that lends more focus on the characters' expressions. You can make out all the pain in both Aleksei and Oksana's eyes, adding a beautiful layer to the story. I also particularly love that panel where Aleksei had to choose between Oksana or returning to his crooked lifestyle. Very nice symbolism there. Top notch work from the writing and art.

10/10

No Man's World series, book one, The Black Hand Gang, by Pat Keheller

7.5/10?

The series of books is about the British Pennine Fusiliers push across to Harcroft forest, November 1st, 1916, during the First World War. The 900 men, as well as sporadic waiting german forces, a single pilot and his Sopwith and a Hush Hush tank division meant to support the manoeuvre, as well as a half a mile of the trenches, are ripped from our reality and left on an alien world, where everything is deadly.

I'm enjoying this series a lot, as the storytelling is competent, characters are fleshed out and distinguished, and there feels like a solid grounding in historical reenactments to support the story (not being an expert myself, mind you, and of course before they all get pulled into another dimension). I also enjoy the monstrous and alien encounters, all feeling quite Burroughs-like, and often the action is brutal.

Children of the Fleet (2/5)

Well this was a letdown. Last Enderverse novel I read was 'The Swarm', which takes the #3 spot of all the Enderverse novels I've read. Now, having read this, this takes the bottom spot.

I could describe this novel, but basically think of it as "Ender's Game, but with a less interesting plot, less interesting characters, and a less interesting setting." Really, that's what it is - Card going through the motions. What's worse is that this seems to be setting itself up for a series of its own (so that's, what, five series within the same universe now?) This is effectively 90% buildup for 10% payoff, only the buildup isn't interesting and the payoff is pretty worthless. Considering how good 'The Swarm' was, I guess I really have to attribute it to Johnston, and ask if Card's universe would be better suited as a playground rather than his own creation. Hopefully this is just a dud though, but it isn't one I'll be returning to anytime soon.

Amazing Spider-Man #655 - "Awakening"

4/5

Near the end of Brand New Day, we've encountered quite a large number of deaths that were largely tasteless in my opinion - specifically the ones in "Shed" and "Grim Hunt", two very well-received story arcs that are still popular today. But for me, I was not only exhausted by the fact that Curt Connors wasn't given the proper rest he deserves after having his entire life toyed around in the history of Spider-Man comics, but also the fact that two characters in these two arcs were killed off as a plot-device to create a contrived emotional impact on both Spider-Man and the readers. That one victim in Grim Hunt, especially, was thrown away and forgotten after her purpose was served. No proper funeral, no words of mourning. "Disgusting" couldn't even describe what I felt reading that.

That being said, I could understand the reasoning behind these deaths. It was to wear down the webslinger, make him feel each death he failed to prevent. I welcome these suffering placed upon our Webhead's shoulders - when they are done well. That's always been Spidey's most defining trait, his perseverance in spite of all the suffering, in spite of his failures. And issue 655, "Awakening", another chapter in Spidey's numerous failures, is one of the finer examples of doing it well. Well, almost.

First off, the "silent" first-half of the comic was of course beautiful. Marcos Martin gave us a display of visual storytelling at its finest. Comics are a visual medium, and much like movies, I always love it when they utilize the visuals to tell the story more so than using mere words. It is a trying task, for sure, since wordless panels can either become too plain or too ambiguous, but Marcos Martin here tells the readers a lot more details using the characters' body language than one ever could with dialogue, like the way Jonah somberly dresses himself without a frown or a tear, or the way Peter seperates himself from the others in a literal panel of his own. There's a very tense and almost 'silent' atmosphere felt in the first-half because of that lack of dialogue, and it's appropriately so. I particularly love the way certain panels connect to the following one and paralleling each other. That's a nice touch that further reflects the different reactions the characters have towards the death.

The church in particular plays a rather depressing role in hindsight. During the time this issue was released, the Ultimate universe would be involved in an even more significant death relating to Ultimate Spider-Man, one that comes with a funeral in a very similar-looking church in "Ultimate Fallout".

After that, we have the dream sequence. This part of the issue left me with a bit of mixed feelings. This is hardly the first time Spider-Man has gone through this phase. Someone dies, he grieves, he becomes embittered, he becomes darker and turns into either "the Spider" or "Back in Black", and eventually, he returns into his light-hearted self once more. It's a familiar phase that can get a bit eye-rolling after seeing it this often. But familiarity isn't always a bad thing when certain differences are added, and this is one of those cases. This particular sequence focused more on Peter feeling guilty for not killing the bad guys, letting them get away to murder the next innocent victim. And it certainly didn't help that he has already killed anyway - Charlie, that one woman, the one single life Spidey has ever taken in the one-shot, "Spider-Man vs. Wolverine". A lot of Spider-Man books seem amnesiac about this single very important manslaughter Peter committed, so it's nice to see Slott utilize this grim part of Spidey's history effectively here.

So by the end of the story, once again, Spidey's committed to preventing tragedy no matter what it takes. Unfortunately for him, as we could see from the final panel of the tale, that's not going to be easy. I love how that ending is such a slap to the face for Spider-Man after he proclaimed his "No one dies" statement. The irony stings.

Hawki:
Star Wars: Phasma (3/5)

They made a book out of Captain "3 scenes 8 lines" Phasma? Where's my Nien Numb trilogy?

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