Discuss and rate the last thing you read

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Currently trying to expand my interests at the moment, so with that in mind the last few books I have read are:

A Beginner's Guide to Cheesemaking - Bloody hell, it's a lot more complicated than I thought! The book is great, very detailed and written in a clear manner, but it takes a bit of getting used to as the author is American and frequently refers to items not commonly found in stores over here. I'm finding that I'm ordering a lot of stuff online, and although the processes involve a lot more precision than I am used to in the kitchen I'm having great fun with it. Would heartily recommend to anyone who fancies giving it a go!

Beekeeping: Practical Advice and Inspiration for Beginners - A charming little pocketbook crammed with information. Not really something I could do living where I do, but a friend has taken a loan of the book and is considering getting a hive for the bottom of her garden. Again, this book is clearly written and full of useful little nuggets of information, and as such is a cracking little 'coffee table' book.

and

The Bow Builder's Book - I have shelves and shelves of books on archaeology, and I bought this book expecting it to be a reference book, more like 'Bow building through the ages' or something like that, but it is actually a very comprehensive guide for practical bow building. It covers everything from simple bows such as the traditional English longbow right the way through to modern compound re-curve bows, and although it's not what I was expecting it to be it's certainly been interesting.

Mistborn Trilogy - I'd heard good things about Brandon Sanderson for some time and I finally decided to give him a go. And I'm quite happy I did. In many ways, Mistborn was exactly what I've wanted to see in fantasy for some time now. There are no orcs, no elves, and the magic system is pretty tight. Mistborn was described to me as part heist novel, part heroic fantasy, and that rather neatly describes the first book, though the others fit different genres.

For all that the books set up grand goals, the books are surprisingly slow going. Much of a given novel consists of the characters planning, ruminating, and reacting to unforeseen complications. Another good part of it is dealing with their doubts, frustrations, and insecurities. And it does a wonderful job of that. I empathize strongly with Vin's distrust and difficulty adapting to a crew that actually seemed to trust each other, with the fact that the sense of hopelessness amongst the skaa after centuries of oppression and abuse is an enormous obstacle towards actually improving their lot in life, with Kelsier's cheerful charisma being itself an act of defiance, with how tired the characters get in the face of their perceived powerlessness.

If you're looking for a different kind of fantasy, consider Mistborn.

Edited: Thanks Hawki

Thresher by Michael Cole, 2018

7/10

It's Jaws, but ramped up to 11. What sold me on this was some of the details of where the eponymous villain comes from, and that there is a little more to the politics behind the scenes (but not much). I would always recommend Jaws in a case like this, of course, but feel that this is a fine homage. Enjoyable!

The Hyde Effect by Steve Vance, 2000

8/10

Enjoyable, if somewhat predictable werewolf story, where science and the supernatural, sort of, collide. Felt a bit like the Strain (book 1) at parts, but not quite as gloomy- somehow it had me feeling more of an 80's slasher vibe. Easily visualized and developed characters, and full of violence- the monster here is as brutal as they come. Some questionable logic as to the setups, of course, but as with a lot of supernatural horror, a little suspension of disbelief (I'd also love a sequel with some further explorations of the protagonists as a sort of supernatural watchdog(heh) team, as well as elaboration of the gore-soaked conclusion of the story), and it makes for a good read.

Asita:
Mistborn was described to me as part heist novel, part heroic fantasy, and that rather neatly describes the first book, and can broadly be said to reflect the greater narrative structure of the trilogy.

Much as I love Mistborn, I'm kinda surprised as to the notion of it describing the first trilogy.

Does it describe the first book? Absolutely. However, I'd say the first trilogy is interesting in part because each book has a different tone, namely:

Book 1: Heist/adventure. Mostly light-hearted.

Book 2: Political intrigue. Gets darker.

Book 3: Epic fantasy. Darkest in tone.

Hawki:

Asita:
Mistborn was described to me as part heist novel, part heroic fantasy, and that rather neatly describes the first book, and can broadly be said to reflect the greater narrative structure of the trilogy.

Much as I love Mistborn, I'm kinda surprised as to the notion of it describing the first trilogy.

Does it describe the first book? Absolutely. However, I'd say the first trilogy is interesting in part because each book has a different tone, namely:

Book 1: Heist/adventure. Mostly light-hearted.

Book 2: Political intrigue. Gets darker.

Book 3: Epic fantasy. Darkest in tone.

Thinking on it more, you're right, I chose my phrasing poorly.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and I am really torn on it. Rothfuss writes really good prose and has that ability to make you want to read on, no matter what's happening on the page. On the other hand, the main character, Kvothe, who recounts the events of his early life to a chronicler, is such a blatant Mary Sue that I alternate between sighing loudly and putting away the book because I can't stomach it. Kvothe is very intelligent (like, really super intelligent, like, learns everything superfast and rarely makes mistakes) and is also really gifted at everything he does. This is a man that is introduced to the reader as being somewhere in his mid-20's, yet has already racked up enough legends about himself (all true, he assures Chronicler) that he surpasses what most Fantasy characters do in their entire lives, and has managed to retire from his life of adventure.

The book is about him telling the reader about how very quickly he learned to master magic and how very exceptional he was to be admitted to the Academy at a very tender age. I fully expect the author to start fellating his own protagonist in any given chapter, because it seems to be all that the book is about. Which is a shame, because Rothfuss actual writing is much better then the story it tells. So if you want (or at least can stomach) a story about a Mary Sue talking about how great it is to be Mary Sue and the exciting life of Mary Sue, I can readily recommend The Name of the Wind. If you'd prefer something with a little more meat to its story, find something else.

The Dreaming Jewels (1950) by Theodore Sturgeon.

It's like a Terry Gilliam movie - wild, rampant, darkly humorous and imaginative - but with a slightly more conventional ending than you'd expect. It's about a kid who runs away from his horribly abusive parents and joins a traveling carnival of freaks run by "Maneater". Fun stuff. I'm pretty sure HBO's Carnivale and Batman's Killer Croc came from here.

Gethsemani:
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and I am really torn on it. Rothfuss writes really good prose and has that ability to make you want to read on, no matter what's happening on the page. On the other hand, the main character, Kvothe, who recounts the events of his early life to a chronicler, is such a blatant Mary Sue that I alternate between sighing loudly and putting away the book because I can't stomach it. Kvothe is very intelligent (like, really super intelligent, like, learns everything superfast and rarely makes mistakes) and is also really gifted at everything he does. This is a man that is introduced to the reader as being somewhere in his mid-20's, yet has already racked up enough legends about himself (all true, he assures Chronicler) that he surpasses what most Fantasy characters do in their entire lives, and has managed to retire from his life of adventure.

The book is about him telling the reader about how very quickly he learned to master magic and how very exceptional he was to be admitted to the Academy at a very tender age. I fully expect the author to start fellating his own protagonist in any given chapter, because it seems to be all that the book is about. Which is a shame, because Rothfuss actual writing is much better then the story it tells. So if you want (or at least can stomach) a story about a Mary Sue talking about how great it is to be Mary Sue and the exciting life of Mary Sue, I can readily recommend The Name of the Wind. If you'd prefer something with a little more meat to its story, find something else.

I'm really torn.

On the one hand, I agree with everything you said about Kvothe.

On the other, it's "Gary Stu," not "Mary Sue." :P

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) by Truman Capote.

Written in the key of a distant, melancholy memory, Breakfast at Tiffany's is about a writer (unnamed, though it might as well be Capote) and his friendship with his quirky neighbor Holly Golightly, Texas trash turned into a chic, caf? society girl in the Upper East Side. She's in pursuit of a vague ideal of personal happiness she offhandedly summarizes as having "breakfast in Tiffany's".

Written in the late 50s but set in the early 40s, Holly is atypically ahead of her time as a self-styled girl about town with a compulsion to fight off her inner angst ("red means" she calls it, as opposed to the blues) by any means necessary. Capote only offers glimpses of the person behind the persona and keeps Holly at a tantalizing arm's length. She's a fascinating characters - scheming and equally scattershot, driven yet easily distracted, with an extroverted personality that is at odds with her fiercely guarded privacy.

Holly's one of a kind yet you get the feeling Capote is describing someone he knows rather than making her up. Like I said, the whole story has a distintict air of fond recollection. And I like Capote's style, which has a candid sense of intimacy and a journalist's skilled blend of directness and discretion. He's completely in control and the ride's a breeze. This is the good stuff.

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book (1962) by Maurice Sendak.

It's a fucking counting book.

The Suicide Club (1878) by Robert Louis Stevenson.

It's a cycle of three short stories, originally serialized in 1878, about a secret society in London that welcomes suicidal members to lethal games of chance. Each story has a different protagonist but all unravel in the same fashion: Prince Florizel of Bohemia and his loyal sidekick Colonel Geraldine come to some kind of confrontation with the scheming President of the Club.

Florizel and Geraldine are your typical Victorian buddy duo, walking arm in arm and "ejaculating" whenever they talk. Their genial relationship and the dynamic with their elusive nemesis is highly evocative of that of Holmes, Watson and Moriarty, who were a good decade from being penned by Doyle. The similarities are superficial though, and I found the characters to be a bit lacking in personality, more the product of convention than imagination.

The stories make good use of suspense and have a couple of nifty twists involving returning characters. My favorite stories are the first and last, though overall I liked the way the cycle was plotted, with the second story's grim ending setting up the third and final chapter nicely. I'd say compared to the slow boil of each story the endings tend to feel abrupt, a little too reliant on happenstance, and with an unsatisfying penchant for switching points of view at their most interesting. Not Stevenson's finest but solid detective fiction if you have the toothache.

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Collected in Fitz's Tales of the Jazz Age as one of its "fantasies", like The Curious Case of Benjaming Button, the story's "designed for the author's own amusement". It shows.

The story's essentially a fairy tale, eased into the realm of the fantastic by the presence of names from Greek mythology: the protagonist is a poor kid from Hades, Mississippi who goes off to St. Midas college (near Boston) and befriends the son of a modern-day Croesus, who owns a diamond literally as big as the Ritz. Probably bigger too. Friends with a kid named Washington (descendant of George), John T. Unger is spirited away to a remote valley in the Catskills where a magnificent mansion stands in secret as its own country, ready to quench every imaginable form of hedonism.

Fitzgerald has a lot of fun coming up with and describing in detail the many ridiculously sumptuous luxuries that bedeck the mansion, some of which border on sci-fi, such as the the many folding walls and ramps that automatically herd the morbidly rich occupants of the house through the rituals of the day. He has just as much fun coming up with the Washingtons' backstory and the ramifications of their evil indulgences, which resonate ever so sinister against their indifference towards human life.

The ending is a bit of a cop out and feels born out of complacent morality, although I suppose it goes with the verosimilitude of a fairy tale. I quite like Scott's farces. I'm ready for more.

The Walking Dead: Volumes 2-8

This isn't really a full review, more just an introspective on this period of the comics. While I did review volume 1 indiviually, I borrowed volumes 2-8 in a single loan, and read through 2-5 in one sitting, and 6-8 in the next. I don't know if that's the reason why I like the 6-8 volumes more than 2-5, but that's certainly the case.

First, let's get something out of the way - the TV series is better. Least in these respective time periods. I've heard all kinds of stories about TWD declining in later seasons (having watched up to season 5, I can believe that), but most agree it started out strong, and in that regard, the TV series is better. There's certainly individual characters I like more in the comics (e.g. Andrea and Lori), but there's also characters that I like a lot less (e.g. Carol and the Governor). But that aside, let's get to how I feel about the comics.

2-5 are...okay. But they're far too grim. That might have you saying "Hawki, it's a zombie apocalypse in a series where a relavant theme is the idea of what happens to people when civilization is stripped away, haven't you read Lord of the Flies?" To which I say "yes, I have read Lord of the Flies, and do understand that that's a theme, but even Lord of the Flies didn't go overboard in intercourse, nudity, and all-round unpleasantness. LotF is sparing in its horror. Volumes 2-5 is unrelenting, to the point it comes obnoxious. Like how Game of Thrones went overboard in nudity and all that before realizing that you can only do so much of a thing before its shock value declines. Similarly, at this point in time, it's hard to care about the characters - partly because they're so many, partly because of a like of likability. I commented for Volume 1 how Shane loses it far too quickly. Here, it seems like it was a sign of things to come.

Oh, and did I mention the Governor? Y'know, that guy that appeared in the TV series who was an excellent villain? How in the TV series you got the sense that he was a good person at some point, and arguably still was, but forced himself to do horrible things for the greater good? Y'know, the kind of character you wanted to be redeemed before you saw just how far he'd gone down the wrong path? Y'know, the type of villain that has shades of grey? Well, fuck that noise, because in the comics, any charade of that ends in a few pages time when Rick and co. reach Woodbury, where we go from "welcome to Woodbury" to "I'm evil, and I'm going to cut off you hand and rape Michone, and have cage matches, because fuck it, I'm evil." Again, schlock and shock value. Raping Michone should be terrible (and is), but the equivalent in the TV series, without actual rape, was far more disconcerting. Implied horror can be far more effective than shock horror. But no, the Governor's evil. Because I guess he always was.

So, let's get to Volumes 6-8, to where things start to pick up...or not, because it could be just different impressions from two reading sessions. But for whatever reason, I liked these volumes a lot more. I think that can come down to a few things - firstly, by this point, we're dealing with a smaller cast of characters, so it's easier to get to know them, and be engaged with them. If nothing else, the comics have indeed established that no-one is safe in this world, so when you're left with likable characters in said world, one tends to care about them more. Second of all, it moves away from the shock tactics of previous volumes to something a bit more nuanced. Nuanced, in the sense that the Governor leads an assault against the prison (which isn't that nuanced), but is more of an indicative commentary on "savagery is the true nature of Man," that humans can't work together even in the apocalypse (similar to Romero's Walking Dead series), rather than "people are sadistic assholes who torture and rape for shits and giggles." Both are arguably saying the same thing, but one of those methods is far more effective than the other.

What also helps is that we finally get a breather, in that Volume 7 is mostly dedicated to Rick and co. taking time out. Lori gives birth, Glenn and Maggie get married, crops they've planted in the prison are growing, etc. Of course, even if I hadn't seen the TV series beyond season 3 I would have known the shit would hit the fan soon, but it's a breather that really helps. Breather that ends in the next volume because the Governor and co. turn up, and this time, breach the fence. Bad stuff happens. Like, really bad stuff. Like, characters dying bad stuff (said characters I now care about). So bad that this even includes Judith being killed in the firefight. That's...dark. Effectively dark. It's the type of dark that works because the comic acknowledges that this is a horrific moment in both its artwork, and how the characters react to the moment. That's not to say it isn't unpleasant seeing other characters die as well, but...yeah. There's certain medias that have children dying just for shock value (hello Modern Warfare 3), but here, it works. It's uncomfortable, but in a good way.

So, yeah. Don't know when/if I'll get to subsequent volumes. Certainly not in the immediate future, as I'm currently reading 'Artemis' by Andy Weir. But, that's my take on the series. Starts strong with Vol. 1, has a period of shlock from Vol 2-5, gets better in 6-8. Go figure.

Finished Star Wars: Dark Disciple today. It's certainly been a very quick and easy read - only took me a couple of days on my commute - but I can't say it's been a wholly good one. The Disney Star Wars canon continues to produce material that doesn't quite do it for me. In Dark Disciple, I mostly felt like characters I thought I felt I knew (Quinlan Vos, Asajj Ventress, Dooku, Windu) were all but strangers. I appreciate that these versions of these characters were drawn from the Clone Wars show but they just didn't feel like they matched up to what I remember of them in any way.

It was disconcerting mainly. I do want to enjoy the Disney canon but it constantly defies me. So far, from everything I've tried from it only The Last Jedi, Rogue One and Timothy Zahn's new Thrawn book have worked for me, whereas Dark Disciple joins the pile of media that is ok, but not really for me. I wonder at what point I should give up and just stick with the old EU.

3/5 - Average.

Hawki:

Gethsemani:
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and I am really torn on it. Rothfuss writes really good prose and has that ability to make you want to read on, no matter what's happening on the page. On the other hand, the main character, Kvothe, who recounts the events of his early life to a chronicler, is such a blatant Mary Sue that I alternate between sighing loudly and putting away the book because I can't stomach it. Kvothe is very intelligent (like, really super intelligent, like, learns everything superfast and rarely makes mistakes) and is also really gifted at everything he does. This is a man that is introduced to the reader as being somewhere in his mid-20's, yet has already racked up enough legends about himself (all true, he assures Chronicler) that he surpasses what most Fantasy characters do in their entire lives, and has managed to retire from his life of adventure.

The book is about him telling the reader about how very quickly he learned to master magic and how very exceptional he was to be admitted to the Academy at a very tender age. I fully expect the author to start fellating his own protagonist in any given chapter, because it seems to be all that the book is about. Which is a shame, because Rothfuss actual writing is much better then the story it tells. So if you want (or at least can stomach) a story about a Mary Sue talking about how great it is to be Mary Sue and the exciting life of Mary Sue, I can readily recommend The Name of the Wind. If you'd prefer something with a little more meat to its story, find something else.

I'm really torn.

On the one hand, I agree with everything you said about Kvothe.

On the other, it's "Gary Stu," not "Mary Sue." :P

Totally feel the same way. Such elegant prose... but such an infallible protag? Frustrating. The second book in the KingKiller chronicles is not much better, in my opinion. Gethsemani, I'd love to hear what you thought of it, if you decide to read it (Hawki, I assume you already have? If so, what did you think of it?).

the December King:
The second book in the KingKiller chronicles is not much better, in my opinion. Gethsemani, I'd love to hear what you thought of it, if you decide to read it (Hawki, I assume you already have? If so, what did you think of it?).

Only read the first book I'm afraid.

So, I should preface: I'm a high school English teacher and I get a lot of recommendations from students. I try to read them all.

The Phoenix Empress by K Arsenault Rivera
It's a little racist, a little queer, and ... generally okay. Appropriation aside, I kind of like the world building, and the characters... but I feel like the plot just moves. so. slowly. If you want queer fantasy Chinese/Mongolian knockoffs and you don't mind a slow plot, you may love this. Me? I didn't hate it, but wasn't entranced. Also, it's the sequel to a book whose entire chronology was a woman reading a journal for a few days. I mean, chronologically, two books in, about three weeks of time have passed, with a whole bunch of flashbacks and journal entries.

Palo Alto by James Franco
This wasn't good. It's terrible people doing terrible things and not learning anything from it. Reading it during the Kavanaugh hearing made it worse.

Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley
Good sequel to an absolutely amazing book, Rook. Basically MI-6 plus Warehouse 13. Can't recommend Rook enough. You should also read Stiletto if you have some spare time and liked Rook. Stiletto does that thing where the protagonist of one book becomes a secondary character in the second book. And it suffers from it because the protagonist from the first book was so much better. Also, the new protagonist has knowledge that is not shared with the reader until later in the book that would have been really useful to know earlier. Which is total BS. It's like having Sherlock Holmes start the final scene by saying, "I also suspected you because when we were in college together, you always used to get drunk and threaten to kill the murder victim."

The Red Fox Clan by John Flanagan
Did you like the earlier Ranger's Apprentice books, but want a new generation of cast? Here's your series, starting with The Royal Ranger. And they really didn't need to fridge that one character in that book. The whole series is still pretty fun though.

Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter
Want your zombie story to have an elite force of spiritual zombie fighters that includes a weird mix of sexy bad guys and strong Christian influence? I didn't want that. But you might, so here you go.

Well, I've gotten through a few more non-fiction works.

The Golden Century: Europe 1598-1715 by Maurice Ashley 1968. I picked this one up in a used-book store. I was intrigued to read something from the 1960s about European history to see what sort of attitudes and ideas would be brought up in comparison to more recent work. Because the author is trying to cover so much in such a short work (only 236 pages), it's obviously a skimming overview of the material. Interesting, and I can recommend it as a bit of a study in historiography, but I was not ecstatic about the work.

Forgotten Heroes: Inspiring American Portraits From Our Leading Historians Susan Ware (ed) 1998. A collection of essays about various Americans who were once in the public eye, but who have since faded from the public memory. The editor and contributing authors all wanted to make certain that these forgotten persons got their due, sometimes because their contributions were important and they deserve better than they got (like Luther Hayden Taylor, a deaf-mute professional baseball player who, despite his excellent stats and record, was never inducted into the Hall of Fame), or because some "heroes" aren't very noble at all and we need to remember the bad along with the good if we are to avoid making the same mistakes (see Frederick Funston, a brutal military man who probably committed war crimes during the American subjugation of the Philippines). I loved the collection because I always enjoy finding out more about any historical period and knowing more about the people of an era can only help in understanding the greater picture of those times.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution - And How It Can Renew America Thomas L. Friedman 2008. Every so often I seem to need to give myself a case of the blues. This book, written 10 years ago, details so much of what the United States should have been doing for the last decade, and hasn't. While there are ideas Friedman brings out that I don't think very highly of, overall the ideas presented have a lot of merit. Unfortunately, none of them were really pursued and the current administration is actively going against all of those ideas. After reading this one, I considered the fact that I don't drink to be unfortunate.

With My Face to the Enemy: Perspective on the Civil War Robert Cowley (ed) 2001. Another collection of essays that examine various aspects and personalities of the American Civil War, this was certainly a palate cleanser after having read Friedman's book. The subject matter is varied, the people talked about were interesting persons, and the essays were very well written. Highly recommended for any Civil War buffs.

EDIT: Woot! 1000 posts! And it only took how many years? :D

Starless, a novel by Jacqueline Carey (my favorite author).

I don't know if I can rate this novel. It's... a beautiful mess.

The novel is divided evenly into three sections: Desert, Court, and Sea. Each section is about the same length. When I started, this did not surprise me as Carey writes LONG novels that can often be divided up into thirds. The Kushiel series, particularly Kushiel's Dart, tended to follow a similar model (albeit without actual section breaks).

Each of the three sections is beautifully written and interesting to read. So far so good.

The Desert section introduces our main character, Kai - a girl chosen from birth to serve as a bodyguard to a Princess and trained by desert-dwelling monks in the art of being an insane badass. Oh, and because they are an all-male order, they raised her as a boy and concealed the biological differences between men and women from Kai literally until puberty hit. This leaves Kai with some series identity issues - made worse by the fact that he (Kai identifies as male) is taught to be willing to sacrifice literally everything for his royal ward.

The Court section, logically enough, continues the story when Kai is introduced to his ward, Princess Zariya, and has to adjust to life in the royal court (a far cry from a cave in the desert). Kai has to protect Zariya from assassins, conspiracy, and the machinations of an evil cult. This section concludes when the Princess is married off to a foreign nobleman, requiring Kai to once again abandon everything he knows and learn to protect Zariya in a new environment.

The Sea section, meanwhile, takes a complete left turn into "what the fuck just happened" territory. For... reasons... the book turns into an adventure tale that reminds me of a Pathfinder Adventure Path (or one of those Pathfinder novels) with pirates, sea elves, fairy people, dragons, sea serpents, the rise of the living dead, and the awakening of a previously sleeping elder god. No, really.

Alone, each of these sections is interesting and engaging. My favorite part was Court, but that's because it was basically another Kushiel novel (and I really miss Carey getting into court intrigue - it's what she's best at). I would happily read a novel about any one of these sections.

The trouble occurs when they are all put together. Each section has a wildly different tone - the first part reads like a shonen martial arts anime with gender issues - a serious take on Ranma 1/2 perhaps? Where, instead of changing when splashed with water due to magic, Ranma was actually always a girl but raised as a boy and lied to his entire life by those he trusted. The second part reads like - well, like a Kushiel novel. The third part is one of the best (and most insane) fantasy adventure stories I've ever read. But none of these disparate parts fit together.

The Sea adventure, while a lot of fun, feels rushed and makes me wish that the whole novel had been the adventure. I'd like more breathing room to allow Carey to flesh out the many, many interesting locations and societies she introduces.

The Court section, while my favorite, often "yada yada"s past important plot points and character development in its rush to get to the sea adventure. An important character is literally introduced, given three pages of character development, and then unceremoniously killed off on the fourth page. Whatever tension or development his character was supposed to have on the plot is wasted because he doesn't have enough time to feel like a real character.

The Desert section, while really well crafted, ends up feeling like an extended prologue when everything in it is just an arduous set-up for the sections to follow. None of the events have any real impact except as a series chekov's guns. Kai is literally handed one of the magic mcguffins necessary for the final battle against the Elder God early in this section and just has it on hand the entire book, useful for nothing other than the final boss fight.

And, because of this, I don't know how to rate Starless. Each section is very good in its own right, and the things that keep each section from being truly great are its connections to the other parts. If each section had its own book - if Carey had written a trilogy and given each idea more room to breathe - then this series might rival the Kushiel series. Instead, each section feels rushed in its own way.

So there you go.

Starless: Less than the Sum of its Parts.

Artemis (3/5)

Years ago, I said something along the lines of this:

"Hard science fiction is where the author says "I want to write a story to show what I know about science." Soft science fiction is where the writer says "I want to write a story and use science to support it.""

Now, obviously that's a generalization of both the above sub-genres, but here, it rings true. Artemis is a case where worldbuilding comes first, and everything else, including plot and character, come second. Which is a shame, because this is by Andy Weir, known for The Martian, which is an example of how you can have hard sci-fi that doesn't come at the expense of plot or character. Artemis however? Not so much. Also, while I'm on the subject, 'The Martian' is confirmed to be in the same universe as 'The Expanse', but 'Artemis' is separate, and I'm left to ask why. I mean, it's not as if it would affect the plotline of either story/series.

But okay, fine, let's look at Artemis on its own terms. Basically, it's a murder mystery set on the moon sometime in the 2080s/90s. If you want to know how Earth is doing, it's pretty much the same - Africa is still poor, China is still rich, etc. (Bring this up because given how grim the outlook for the 21st century is, I already find such 'optimism' dated). Artemis puts worldbuilding first, but that worldbuilding mainly applies to the moon, namely how a colony of 2000 would actually function. And in that, the book succeeds. If nothing else, Weir knows his science. His characters however...they're okay. Upon reflection, I think 'The Martian' might have benefitted from the use of first person and focus on a single character. 'Artemis' uses tight third person, but it's got to juggle far more characters, and while not bad, they're not overly memorable either. Jazz, our protagonist, is reasonably engaging, but, well, that's it - "reasonably engaging." And as for the murder mystery plot, again, it's okay, but nothing special. Like I said, this is hard sci-fi that puts the world first. By design, everything else is second to that, even though on the Five Pillars of Story, I put worldbuilding rather low in terms of priority.

So, yeah. Artemis is "okay." And coming after 'The Martian,' that's disappointing to be honest. Still, the Martian movie didn't live up to the book, so maybe the upcoming Artemis movie will exceed the book? One can hope.

Sonic the Hedgehog: Fallout (3/5)

Before you get any ideas, no, this isn't some kind of crossover with the Fallout universe. If it was, it might be more interesting.

So, this is the first paperback collection of the IDW Sonic the Hedgehog series, collecting the first four issues. Now, I have a mixed relationship with the Archie comics, but if this was meant to be a successor of sorts (Ian Flynn is doing the series after all), I thought "okay, this could be promising." I mean, I didn't really get why it needs to exist in its own canon when by the book's own narrative everything that happened in the games is canon to the comics (and it's only after Sonic Forces that it strikes out with its own continuity), but, yeah. But hey, people were giving it positive reviews, so I picked it up.

Well, it's "back to basics" alright. It's so basic that for those four issues, we pretty much get the same plot recycled four times. As in, "Sonic goes to a town. Sonic meets a friend. Sonic and his friend beat the badniks while commenting on how coordinated they are. Sonic moves onto the next town." Replace the friend, add in some slight variation, and voila, you've got the first arc of the IDW series. Now, obviously this is intended for people younger than myself, and it is the start of a new comic, but if we're comparing it to the Archie comics when they first started...well, sure, they had stand-alone issues, but at least they were memorable rather than rinse and repeat Even Fleetway had some variation, even if it took about eight issues to find its feet and establish its own 'feel' separate from the games. This however, is, well basic. And while I can give it some props (e.g. Amy is bearable, the art style is nice), these are props that other media either did before (e.g. Sonic Boom) or did better (e.g. Archie). It doesn't help that the world feels so...disjointed. None of the towns are named, none of the townsfolk are named, we do get Tangle, but there's really nothing special about her. Seriously, she has no reason to be here because Blaze appears in the same issue she does, and Blaze at least has a backstory the comic can leverage (and I'd argue personality as well, but whatever).

So, yeah. Maybe I'm simply too far past the intended age bracket for this. But I can't help but be disappointed. I know it's not Ian Flynn's fault that the Archie comics ended, and I stopped collecting them at Issue 210, but so far, of the three Sonic comic series, this takes the bottom spot for me so far.

StarCraft: Scavengers (3/5)

Yay, more comic disappointment. Though this is a bit harder to quantify.

Here's the thing - Scavengers appears to be a single 4 issue series, but effectively ends on "to be continued." Now, it's possible that the upcoming StarCraft: Soldiers series will pick up on its threads, but I seriously doubt it. Considering that the original StarCraft comic series ended on a cliffhanger that was never resolved, and there's numerous plot threads in the StarCraft EU that have never been resolved, that we get yet another "to be continued" is irksome to say the least. And it comes off as a wasted opportunity that our Nerazim criminal isn't Ulrezaj - it's been pointed out that she's arguably a darker version of Zamara, but even if that's true, Zamara was an engaging character and had a trilogy of novels to be fleshed out. This lunatic doesn't. Oh, and the UED teases that happen throughout the comic? Never ammount to anything. I'd be more enthused if not for the fact that the idea of UED sleeper agents was teased back in 'War Stories' via the Project Blackstone viral campaign, and that still hasn't come to anything.

But, okay, let's look at the comic in isolation. I commented that it was kind of funny that Dark Horse, known for its Alien/Predator comics, would handle StarCraft and give it similar treatment. Because like so many stories in the Xenopedia universe, it's basically a case of "terran scavengers board derelict protoss ship, bad stuff happens that involves scavengers and marines dying in horrific ways." Replace the races and terminology, and you get a pretty similar story. Still, it's dark. I've seen some say that the 'theme' of it is that our protagonist realizes that the people around him are all terrible and pays the price for it, but, that isn't really an arc. That's just nihilism. And nihilism can fit universes like StarCraft and Xenopedia without a doubt, but nihilism isn't anything deep. Furthermore, I've also seen people saying that this is a "back to basics" approach to the series, trying to recapture the supposedly lost 'grit' of SC1. I've seen people saying that they miss the space western atmosphere of SC2. All I can say is that I'm fine with a variety of tone, just give me a good story with good characters. And on that front, Scavegngers is...okay. Honestly, at this point, I much prefer Shadow Wars. That took awhile to get going, but while Shadow Wars arguably has a bunch of arseholes as protagonists as well, I find them more engaging assholes than the assholes here.

Mistborn: The Bands of Mourning (3/5)

So at this point the Mistborn series is a lot like Avatar, both in context and in quality. You start with a trilogy of books/seasons that's all around solid. Then you get a time jump of decades/centuries to a more advanced time (30s/19th century steampunk) in a quartet of seasons/novels. As you go through this second era, you realize that it isn't as good as the first. Still, unlike Legend of Korra I at least made it to book 3 (gave up after season 2 in LoK's case), but at this point that's not saying much.

Thing is, of Mistborn: Era 2, I actually quite liked the first novel. It was a fun adventure. Then book 2 came and it was...okay. But by book 3, I just don't really care anymore. It's not that these books are bad, but I just don't feel...anything for them really. The original Mistborn trilogy, if nothing else, made each book feel unique, whereas all of Era 2 has the same feel, and it's not nearly as engaging. Nor are the characters as engaging. The protagnists, the antagonists, it's just...okay. Even at this point in time I could barely describe the plots to you, and while I'd have some difficulty with era 1, that was more because of time passed and how complex they were, with plot twists galore. Here, when there is a plot twist, my reaction is "meh" rather than "oh my God!"

But okay, all that aside, is there stuff I like here? Well, if nothing else, I will say that Sterris finally gets some character development...sort of. The whole Steris-Wax-Marasi 'thing' has been kinda weird when you think about it. Book 1, we have Steris and Wayne coming together for what's effectively a political marriage, but Steris gets kidnapped, Wax goes after her, and it's kinda hinted that it might do the whole 'true love' thing with Marasi, but that never happens. Book 2, Sterris is absent for the majority of it. Book 3 is where we finally start exploring Steris as a character, and she's...okay. Nothing special but okay. But apart from that, the other characters remain the same - servicable. Fine. Reasonably entertaining. But these aren't the characters from book 1.

Kinda sucks that I've spent so much time comparing things, but that's it - I just don't really have anything to say on them. Thing is, I don't think Sanderson's lost his touch per se - I've read the first seven chapters of Skyward and Spin is an engaging character in the same way that Vin was. But I can't deny that having started reading The Way of Kings, I'm nervous as to whether Sanderson's 'got it' anymore. Skyward was good (of what I've read) but other stuff I've read since the original trilogy has been pretty average, even if times enjoyable. Maybe it's Sanderson, maybe it's me, but at this point in time, I can only call the Bands of Mourning average, and it takes the second last place in my ranking of the Mistborn novels.

"The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima. 3/5 - Okay.

Saw it in my library's classics section; never heard of it, or the author, and it looked like a short quick read so I gave it a go. It was pleasant enough; there's very little in the way of any real drama, just a little love story set in a remote fishing village in post-war Japan. It's miles out of my usual reading comfort zone but I enjoyed the change all the same.

Herbert West - Reanimator (1922) by H.P. Lovecraft

Serialized in six entries from 1921 to 1922, this is Lovecraft's idea of parodying Frankenstein. The story reads like a farce of cautionary tales about mad scientists, and while pretty straightforward it benefits from Lovecraft's budding penchant for hazy yet evocative descriptions and gruesome imagery. However because of the serial nature of the work each "chapter" in the novella begins with an extensive and repetitive recap of all things preceding, which proves irksome. The cliffhangers are very hit and miss and you can tell Lovecraft was none too keen on cooking them up. Not his best work but definitely memorable.

A Short History of Africa: From the Origins of the Human Race to the Arab Spring (3/5)

First thing to note is that when this book says "a short history of Africa," it means "a shot history of Africa. As in, it's covering its entire history over the span of about 150 pages. And as you might expect, that means it can't go into as much depth as it might otherwise have managed.

Which is a shame really because of all the kingdoms it touches on, any one of them could have provided the basis for a book in of itself by the sound of it. Egypt of course gets a mention. As does the likes of Mali and Ethiopia. But there's various other kingdoms that have risen and fallen, either due to climate change or being swallowed up by other kingdoms. If anything, the book kind of provides a counterpoint to its own theory, the idea that Africa has forever been a continent that's been exploited by other peoples. And while there's certainly elements of truth in this, as the book highlights the various conquests of Rome, Arabia, the Ottoman Empire, and Europe (the colonial period getting the lion's share of the book), what we also see is that Africa's history in of itself is very dynamic. Again, Egypt comes to mind, but there's lots of smaller ones that I can't name off the top off the top of my head.

What's also a shame is that it barely even touches on the Arab Spring beyond "oh yeah, this happened, we'll have to see what the results are." Which is a again, a shame. It's a short history of Africa, and it's focusing on the period of history I'm already most familiar with. Not that this is an irrelevant period on Africa's history, but the book itself poins out it's just a blip in the history of the continent. ​

El angel ajeno (1983) by Ivan Onate.

Poetry book from Ecuador. I'm no good at appraising poetry, but I enjoyed it. What little I ask of poetry is that it make me want to read it aloud - full marks for that. The poems are brief and unsentimental yet filled with that kind of "pining pain" younger poets default to. The title poem is definitely the strongest.

Asterix and the Secret Weapon (1991) by Albert Uderzo.

The mere act of picking up an Asterix book and lounging in the couch to read it is sheer delight. So it's not one of the better ones - the series never quite recovered from Goscinny's passing. Whatever. Watching all these beloved characters go through the routine pantomime of bickering with each other and fighting off Romans was good enough for today.

The Dunwich Horror (1929) by H. P. Lovecraft

Unfortunately the pace and horror is tampered by the Dunwich locals' rural accent (which is so bad that one could mistake it for speech impairment). Seriously, it kinda felt meta trying to decipher their dialog as if it was a made up language to mask plain English text, just to get a grasp of the horrors described in it; and there could be an argument to be made about the forced slow in pace making the intense parts more effective. But it ends up just being frustrating (and almost maddening), because they do a lot of the exposition once the shit hits the fan.

In conclusion, The Dunwich Horror is an effective horror story hindered by the lousy transcription of rural accent.

Score: Incomplete Necronomicon / 5 (real score: 3.5/5)

Currently reading Lord of Light . It's basically Asura's Wrath, if it were a novel and is more Hindu influenced than Buddha themed, thought the latter is in the story too.

CaitSeith:
The Dunwich Horror (1929) by H. P. Lovecraft

Unfortunately the pace and horror is tampered by the Dunwich locals' rural accent (which is so bad that one could mistake it for speech impairment). Seriously, it kinda felt meta trying to decipher their dialog as if it was a made up language to mask plain English text, just to get a grasp of the horrors described in it;

The irony being that H.P. himself was often very critical of the kind of forced, stilted dialect-to-prose dialogue other weird authors would employ for the sake of authenticity, such as "the sort of pseudo-archaic 18th century English" used by W.H. Hodgson.

Just finished Plus-Sized Elf V1. It was entertaining enough and I'll try the 2nd issue for sure when it comes out. I'm actually curious if the stretches and exercises detailed in it are worth a damn though.

3.5/5 for the first issue.

Book of Adria: A Diablo Bestiary (3/5)

...well this was a letdown.

There isn't too much to say about this book, because at the end of the day, there isn't really too much to cover. Book of Cain and Book of Tyrael both had clear reasons for existing - the former was primarily a summarized narrative of the lore of the Diablo universe, from its origins to the aftermath of Diablo II. Book of Tyrael partly serves as an interquel between D3 and Reaper of Souls, but does dedicate a lot of its time to worldbuilding, such as the timeline, factions, and characters. Book of Adria however? Well, it's got "stuff" in it, but it's treading a lot of old ground. Despite its namesake, it's not really some kind of master bestiary, as it only touches of some of the creatures in D3. Touches on the Great Evils and Angiris Council as well, but doesn't really tell us that much new. And while it gives us insight into Adria, we're not really getting any new revelations that previous games or books didn't provide. I mean, there is some new stuff, such as the months of the Anno Kehjistani, but it lacks the 'oomph' of previous volumes.

Art remains good as usual, but it does feel a bit toned down in places. The Cain/Tyrael books held no punches in its depictions of demons and the like, but here? Not so much.

Most of the reading I'm doing these days is between the periodicals that roll through my e-book app (The Atlantic, Edge, Cook's Illustrated) and reading the Artemis Fowl YA series to my daughter.

The Atlantic makes more of an effort to offer politically diverse articles than many news outlets, having published work from both Henry Kissinger and Ta-Nehisi Coates in the last year. I appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to different points of view, these days, even if some of the individual work makes me want to attack the articles with a red pen.

Edge remains one of the more thoughtful video game magazines out there, though I wish they could overcome their tendency to do things like spend half an article complaining about Soul Calibur costumes and find new ways to crowbar the word "bespoke" into their prose.

Cook's Illustrated recently took on a new managing editor, and the last couple of things I made from their recipes were... sadly... not great. I'm hoping this isn't a trend. Older CI recipes remain in heavy rotation in my household, especially some of the roasted vegetable recipes. (You wouldn't think cauliflower could be that good.)

Artemis Fowl... Eh. It's got some interesting ideas, and I appreciate that it's trying to have its characters evolve and change over the course of the stories. But having read through the entire series now in relatively quick succession (arguably not the best way to make any reader more forgiving), certain approaches and weaknesses in the writing become rather glaringly apparent. A female counterpart to the hero is introduced, seemingly as a potential love interest, and as quickly brushed offstage and never mentioned again, seemingly to be replaced with a rather cringe-inducing romantic tension between the hero and a character who a) has an enormous age difference with the hero and b) is of a different species. A high-powered magical character is brought in and the series subsequently has to bend over backwards not to make them the skeleton key that solves every problem. Time travel works in ways that are inconsistent and unlikely, yet serve to drive significant portions of plot. The dwarves are suddenly show to have never-before-mentioned powers when it's handy (and otherwise serve largely to provide a never-ending stream of fart jokes).

For all that, I like many of the characters, especially Butler, who seems like he could front a whole series of his own (perhaps one without the restrictions of a YA series published by Disney). It's one of those series that simultaneously makes you want to reach for the old "it's probably just fine for the intended audience/age range" and makes you want to chide it for not being that extra bit better that would make such excuses unnecessary. Which probably, as a whole, means it rates on the upper slope of works of the genre.

Catcher in the Rye (so-so/10).

Holden Caulfield is basically a young Aldridge Prior the Hopeless Liar.

Callate:

Artemis Fowl... Eh. It's got some interesting ideas, and I appreciate that it's trying to have its characters evolve and change over the course of the stories. But having read through the entire series now in relatively quick succession (arguably not the best way to make any reader more forgiving), certain approaches and weaknesses in the writing become rather glaringly apparent. A female counterpart to the hero is introduced, seemingly as a potential love interest, and as quickly brushed offstage and never mentioned again, seemingly to be replaced with a rather cringe-inducing romantic tension between the hero and a character who a) has an enormous age difference with the hero and b) is of a different species. A high-powered magical character is brought in and the series subsequently has to bend over backwards not to make them the skeleton key that solves every problem. Time travel works in ways that are inconsistent and unlikely, yet serve to drive significant portions of plot. The dwarves are suddenly show to have never-before-mentioned powers when it's handy (and otherwise serve largely to provide a never-ending stream of fart jokes).

For all that, I like many of the characters, especially Butler, who seems like he could front a whole series of his own (perhaps one without the restrictions of a YA series published by Disney). It's one of those series that simultaneously makes you want to reach for the old "it's probably just fine for the intended audience/age range" and makes you want to chide it for not being that extra bit better that would make such excuses unnecessary. Which probably, as a whole, means it rates on the upper slope of works of the genre.

With Artemis Fowl, I only read as far as The Opal Deception back in the day, so a lot of the references are ones I get (e.g. ArtemisxHolly), but I can't comment on others. That said, I do get your point about the intended audience range thing. Artemis Fowl kinda straddles the border between junior fiction and YA fiction (to borrow library classifications), but unlike, say, Harry Potter, I never really got a sense of the books maturing as I read on (compare Goblet of Fire to Philosopher's Stone for instance), nor is there anything deeper. What you see is what you get. And what I got was fun, sure, but nothing more beyond that.

As for Butler though...um, not really sure about him carrying the series. Butler is defined by his relationship to Artemis and Juliet - devoted to both, follows Artemis without question. Course this is just in the context of the first four books only, but I can't imagine Butler as a protagonist of anything without significant changes to his personality.

Also, side-note, but as someone who works in libraries, it's kinda noticable how Artemis Fowl has fallen on the wayside. Stuff like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are as popular as ever for instance, but if we're looking at the realm of JF/YA, Artemis Fowl doesn't seem to have the pull it once did. Make of that what you will.

Callate:
Artemis Fowl... Eh. It's got some interesting ideas, and I appreciate that it's trying to have its characters evolve and change over the course of the stories. But having read through the entire series now in relatively quick succession (arguably not the best way to make any reader more forgiving), certain approaches and weaknesses in the writing become rather glaringly apparent. A female counterpart to the hero is introduced, seemingly as a potential love interest, and as quickly brushed offstage and never mentioned again, seemingly to be replaced with a rather cringe-inducing romantic tension between the hero and a character who a) has an enormous age difference with the hero and b) is of a different species. A high-powered magical character is brought in and the series subsequently has to bend over backwards not to make them the skeleton key that solves every problem. Time travel works in ways that are inconsistent and unlikely, yet serve to drive significant portions of plot. The dwarves are suddenly show to have never-before-mentioned powers when it's handy (and otherwise serve largely to provide a never-ending stream of fart jokes).

For all that, I like many of the characters, especially Butler, who seems like he could front a whole series of his own (perhaps one without the restrictions of a YA series published by Disney). It's one of those series that simultaneously makes you want to reach for the old "it's probably just fine for the intended audience/age range" and makes you want to chide it for not being that extra bit better that would make such excuses unnecessary. Which probably, as a whole, means it rates on the upper slope of works of the genre.

Yeah, Time Paradox was the one where I just stopped reading. With the weird relationship thing between Artemis and Holly, what I felt was the overuse of Opal Koboi, basically every time travel cliche being loaded in there and Artemis being treated as an action hero when literally every other book had stuck to him being the brain not brawn, it really felt like someone other than Colfer had written it

Hawki:
Also, side-note, but as someone who works in libraries, it's kinda noticable how Artemis Fowl has fallen on the wayside. Stuff like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are as popular as ever for instance, but if we're looking at the realm of JF/YA, Artemis Fowl doesn't seem to have the pull it once did. Make of that what you will.

I mean, its getting a movie sometime soon (first trailer is on the interwebz somewhere) so maybe it'll get another boost in popularity

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