Category: book review

The Best (and Worst) Media of 2019

It’s a new year, and I’m back from vacation! (For a bit, at least. I’ll be in Utah starting the end of next week . . .) And launching the new year off, I wanted to do a retrospective of my reading and watching last year. As always, I keep track of what I’ve consumed, media-wise, and I’m here to report in on all the best and worst things I came across. Ready? Let’s go.

Best Reading

In total, I watched 96 things over the course of the year. Some of those things were just movies. Some were entire seasons of television shows. (Still just counts as “1 thing” on my master chart.) Of those 96 “things,” the ones I gave a perfect 10/10 to were:

  • Groundhog Day (naturally)
  • The Americans (season 6)
  • Game of Thrones (season 1)
  • Chernobyl
  • Into the Spiderverse
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Cold Comfort Farm

Movies or shows that got a 9.5/10 were:

  • When They See Us
  • The Rise of Skywalker

And items that got a 9 were:

  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 2)
  • Blackkklansman
  • The Sopranos (season 1)
  • Free Solo
  • Game of Thrones (season 7)
  • Avengers Endgame
  • The Good Place (season 3)
  • Various Game of Thrones episodes (I rewatched key episodes across many seasons
  • Deadpool 2
  • Game of Thrones (season 8)
  • Deadwood (season 2)
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Clue
  • Rogue One

There are some items on there that many people would disagree with me about. I don’t care. I’ve become increasingly tired of the nonsensical need to justify my tastes. As if the entire world has to decide what is “good” and what is “bad.” The Star Wars original series? Good. Prequels? Bad. Sequels? Tons of debate, and people take it as a personal affront if you disagree with them. I love social media and the way it helps bring people together, but I despise the backbiting and nitpicking that happens on it. I love the Hobbit movies. I thought the Game of Thrones finale was great. I don’t feel the need to write a thesis to defend that position, just as I won’t attack you if you say the Hobbit movies are terrible.

Make your own list. 🙂

What about the worst movies and TV I watched? As always, I only review something and give it an official rating if I finish it, and I don’t have a lot of time, so I typically don’t finish things I don’t like, which makes it seem like I like almost everything I review. That said, I still had a couple turkeys this year:

  • Good Omens got a 2/10
  • Murder Mystery (the Netflix Adam Sandler movie) got a 3/10
  • A Wrinkle in Time got a 2/10
  • The Phantom Menace got a 4/10

As for books, I made my goal of reading 52 for the year. Here are the perfect 10/10s:

  • The Reluctant Swordsman, by Dave Duncan
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
  • The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin
  • The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks
  • The Burning White, by Brent Weeks
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

No book got a 9.5/10, but several got a 9/10:

  • Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
  • The First Book of Swords, by Fred Saberhagen
  • The Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis
  • The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins
  • Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson

Did I read anything really bad this year? Well, I had two 4/10s, a 3/10, and a 2/10, but as is my typical approach, I will stay mum on which books got those ratings. Professional courtesy. That said, I will say the 2/10 was a book that’s won multiple awards and been on many “best of the year” lists, and it’s taken me quite a bit of willpower to not say why I disliked it so much.

Anyway. That sums things up for me. How did your reading and watching go this year?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: Starsight

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely adored the first book of Brandon Sanderson’s new Cytonic Series, Skyward. If I could have given it an 11/10, I would have. It became my go-to recommendation for anyone looking for something good to read, regardless of what genre they preferred. It was just that good. So naturally I was excited (and a tad apprehensive) when the sequel was released. Usually, you’d figure I’d just be excited, but when a book is that good, I begin to worry I’ll be let down by the followup.

It’s true that Starsight isn’t at the same level as Skyward, but to use that as the measuring stick would really be unfair. It was one of my favorite books of the decade. Starsight is still a great read, and totally worth your time (though you definitely should read Skyward first). I’d post the summary, but I don’t want to spoil anyone, and the first book has some significant plot points that play into the second book. You almost can’t talk about the plot of the second without spoiling the first. So in broad strokes: science fiction. Space ship dog fights. Salvation of humanity. That sort of thing, but also on a very personal level. It’s one girl’s dream to become something more than what she’s allowed by society to be. That’s what set the first book apart from the rest. The personal story, and how it connects to the greater whole.

So what’s strong about the second book? As with all of Brandon’s works, the ending is fantastic. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a Sanderson fan. Too many times, a book starts off with a fantastic premise but just can’t deliver in the end. The finale is confusing or rushed or just feels tacked on. With a Sanderson book, you know your time investment is going somewhere. The last two thirds of this book just blazed by for me.

He also takes the time to explore some other civilizations in the novel, presenting what they might be like and how they might think. It’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to fantasy and science fiction: the chance to look at the world through completely different lenses. I don’t want to get into any more specifics, though, to avoid spoilers.

I did feel like the set up phase of this book went on longer than I would have liked. Spensa’s goals are clear, but not fully informed. It takes a good deal of time to get the pieces in place for that climax to really pop, and I didn’t find that setup time as engaging. Perhaps if I’d read the first one recently, it would have worked better. I struggled to remember who some of the characters were, and where things had been left at the end of the first.

But in the end, a review of a sequel sort of presupposes you liked the first. So what you really want to know is, “Is the second worth it?” In this case, most definitely. It takes the series some place new and exciting, and it left me eagerly anticipating the next book. 9/10. Check it out!

View all my reviews

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: 1632

1632 by Eric Flint

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The premise of 1632 is fantastic. Take a 15 mile radius chunk of present-day West Virginia, complete with all its inhabitants, stores, infrastructure, and everything, and transport it back to 1632, right in the middle of the Thirty Years War, smack dab of the thick of things in ThĂĽringen. Then wait and see what happens. How will the present-day Americans respond? What will the people from 1632 think of them?

In practice, it doesn’t play out quite to the level of that initial premise. Don’t get me wrong: I had a great time reading the book, for the most part. It’s a page turner, and it’s a lot of fun. But at the same time, the answer to the founding question was just too focused on a single note: “‘Murica!” Because naturally the Americans are going to respond to threats by using their superior firepower. But it just keeps playing that note over and over.

The Americans quickly convince the people in their area that the new way is the best way, which I could understand. Who doesn’t like modern conveniences? And when the surrounding kings and rulers begin to hear about the new innovations, they respond in various ways. Some are threatened and attack, and some reach out to become allies. But always it comes back to “America’s way is the best way,” with almost no portrayal of anything that might conflict with that worldview.

There are no real obstacles that a high powered hunting rifle and a heavily armored truck can’t dispatch with a bit of work. None of the characters every really feel threatened, with the exception of one scene. In many ways, a lot of the book feels like a Shakespearean comedy, with all the people finding marriage partners and pairing off left and right, and there being no cultural conflicts at all to speak of. People in 1632 are pretty much like people today, it seems. There’s a token effort to show that there are a few West Virginians who don’t like the mixing of the peoples, but by and large, everyone agrees with each other.

Which made the whole book just feel too pat. Too much like wish fulfillment, and bloody wish fulfillment at that. There’s certainly a whole heaping serving of violence doled out through the book. On the one hand, I get it. It’s an action-based book, and it’s cool to see Americans get to play the Thirty Years War with God Mode enabled. But it’s all relished a bit too much. I felt a tad . . . icky by the end. There were no consequences to the violence. There were good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys had to be napalmed to be stopped.

So it felt like empty calories, when all was said and done. I finished the book, but I won’t read any more in the series. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because there just wasn’t enough there for me to want to keep going. If the concept and the violence and the America is Awesome description sounds up your alley, you’ll love this series.

It just got to be a bit much for me, and there are other books out there I want to read as well.

View all my reviews

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

I assume most of you have seen the movie, or at least know the general concept of this book: A couple moves into an idyllic neighborhood, excited for the future. Soon after moving in, however, they begin to notice something’s strange. The women are all so submissive, putting housework before everything else, and expressing no desires to do anything other than what their husbands would want them to do. The wife is alarmed by this. The husband . . . thinks she’s making a big deal out of nothing. Mystery ensues

It’s a fast read (just 144 pages), one of the reasons I was drawn to it, honestly, since I was behind my reading schedule for the month. But it’s very compelling, and it holds up as well (or better?) today as it did when it was written, 47 years ago. The ammunition men use in the book to keep the women in their place is still used today. Gaslighting. Dismissing the problem. It all raises the question of what a woman’s place is in society and what men really want out of the situation. (Since the desires of the women turn out to be, shall we say, less important?)

As a man reading this, I wonder what I’ve done unconsciously to exacerbate this problem over the years. When you live with a system that supports sexism, it’s very difficult to get out of that system, even if you’re aware of the problem. In other words, I read this and am horrified that anyone might do this sort of thing to women, but then I think back on my life and see that I’ve done it (to a smaller degree) myself. Case in point: I think I still subconsciously view “cleaning the house” as a problem that’s not my responsibility. If I help out, I’m going above and beyond what I need to do, and I should be lauded for whatever I feel like contributing.

I know that sounds stupid. I know it makes it seem like I’m full of myself, and I don’t agree with the mindset at all. And yet I still end up falling into that routine. So if I can see myself doing that in areas that I can recognize, where else do I do it in areas that don’t even occur to me?

Maybe I’m having trouble expressing the thought, but hopefully it’s making sense to you.

The book’s been adapted twice, once faithfully in 1975, and a second time that was a bit . . . looser with the interpretation in 2004. If you’re looking for a thought provoking, quick read, I highly recommend this one. It would make for an excellent discussion afterward. 10/10

View all my reviews

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: Fall, or Dodge in Hell

I always look forward to a new Neal Stephenson book. I love how he takes ideas and builds around them. His books make me think in ways few other books can and Fall is no different. Except . . .

The book’s first half was completely solid. Stephenson explores a whole slew of different concepts. What “identity” really means, and what it might be like to have your consciousness uploaded to the cloud. It’s a near-future science fiction book that ultimately asks the question: “What would it be like to live inside a simulation,” and the natural follow up: “Are we living inside a simulation right now?”

That’s a concept I’ve already devoted some thoughts to, so it was great to be able to read Stephenson’s take on things. (As far as my own personal thoughts, I find it fascinating that computing is getting to the point now that it’s not an entirely huge stretch to extrapolate a system where we all could live permanently without ever needing to leave. A sort of Matrix-esque lifestyle, without the nefarious machine overlords. There’s a whole slew of religious overlaps this could have implications on, but I’m not going to go into those in the middle of a book review.)

The big problem for me with this book happens once it goes into its second act and begins to explore an example simulation more fully. I don’t want to give any more spoilers about that content, but I will say my central complaint is the rules and restrictions of this new world are so vague that I never had a real idea of how the central obstacles could be overcome. Instead, there’s a series of problems that pop up one after the other that make the central objective feel very arbitrary, as if it’s all being made up as it goes along.

That’s a problem in a novel. You don’t want to get to the point where it feels like the author’s just stringing things along to stretch the conflict out. Any story can be short. “Frodo took the ring to Mount Doom and threw it in.” The end. What makes a story interesting and captivating (for me, at least) is when I understand ahead of time what the obstacles are between Frodo and Mount Doom. Why it’s so difficult. Once that’s set, then I’ll happily go along for the ride to see how it all goes down.

Imagine, however, what it would have been like if you don’t hear anything about what’s between Frodo and Mount Doom or even how far away it is, and instead you get a series of “and then a bunch of . . . goblins showed up! Yeah. Goblins!” And you didn’t even know goblins existed, let alone that they might be a problem for Frodo. It would all just start to feel like padding.

That’s what the second half of this book felt like to me, and that was deeply disappointing. Not to the point that I’d give it 1 star or anything. I still enjoyed the work overall. But the second half had none of Stephenson’s strengths, which was a shame, especially since at that point, the ending was fairly clear, and so it was just a matter of getting to the point where it could finally finish.

Overall, a great first half and a meh second half that together just ends up with “mid to good.” 6/10 stars. If you’re a fan of Stephenson or the concept, I’d still check it out. Otherwise . . . might not be worth the long read.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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