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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Books I Read: March - April 2016


Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

For some reason, my library sent me Calamity, the third book in the series, before Firefight. This made me have to buy Firefight and quickly read it. Last year, Steelheart was one of the very very few five star books I read, so I figured I had to pick up the sequel. It does a good job of expanding on the world established in the first book, while not deviating too much from the formula (going to a city to kill a powerful superhero). This time, it's a water-manipulator in a flooded Manhattan, who's got an exploder and miscellaneous other villains.

Like most second parts of a trilogy, it's the saggiest, weakest of the three. But it's just as fast-paced, raised stakes, and blend of character and action. Once again, the action is pretty cinematic, which means if you have trouble visualizing what you read, you're gonna have a bad time. But if you're reading the second book in a series, you probably read the first. Which means you already know what to expect. So why are you reading this?


Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

So the big thing that everyone wants to know with a trilogy is whether it ends on a satisfactory note. I can tell you that this one does. A proper blend of conclusion and surprises that lets you know the journey was worth it.

If you're on the third book of a tightly-focused trilogy, either you're going to read it or you aren't. You don't need a review, you already know what you're getting into. What I will say is that, although there are definitely flaws (it feels like Sanderson is writing a movie instead of a book) and there are hanging plot threads that make one wonder "what happened with that?" or "how does that work?" But the characters are people you want to be around, and many people report "being blown away". So try it, why not?


Your Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert

I must be some kind of media sadist, because I cannot get enough of tearing down bad movies, books, and songs. That's why I can't stop watching Channel Awesome and YouTube. But before them, we had Roger Ebert. I've already remarked how I never appreciated him enough as a writer, especially when you've got to talk about the same subject over and over in a million different ways. And even more especially when that subject is "Freddy Got Fingered".

These reviews are so fun to read. He's so creative how he finds different flaws in each movie, even when they might be the same exact thing, like Resident Evil and Jason X. I especially love the ire he has for romantic comedies -- the ones with uber-contrived plots and implausible characters. This is probably only for the generation within the timespan of the 2000's or so. If it's a movie you haven't seen, chances are you won't appreciate the snark.

They're not all gold. Sometimes the reviews are just asinine, like the crux of his "Good Dog!" review is that the animals' mouths don't move. In another, he complains that they do. Neither of these things have any impact on the actors, story, cinematography, or anything else. It's a stylistic choice. Of course, if you've already made your decision to see "Good Dog!", there's little a Pulitzer Prize winner can do to convince you otherwise. Like the Nostalgia Critic says - if the movie is good, you overlook the mistakes. And if not, the nitpicks glare at you.


Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy edited by Jiz Lee

All the essays are the same and reinforce the cliches. Either the parents couldn't believe it or didn't care. They come from crappy backgrounds, got into it on a whim, and ended up going nowhere. Lots missed the point of the collection - talking about how one's job in the industry affects those around you. Most are self-centered essays about how hard it is being a porn star when everyone hates you. And they're too short to build up a decent narrative. There's too much focus on the LGBTQ industry and niches-within-niches. I'd only heard of three of the authors, and I try and keep up on the big starlets. Erm, for research. On current events. That's it.


The First Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

Is there such a thing as a revenge-read? In college, my roommate lent me this trilogy because I was writing a fantasy novel. But I was just not in a place to be reading fiction at the time. I forced myself through the first book and gave up partway through the second. But now I'm grown up with a longer attention span and more downtime.

Turns out I didn't remember much of it at all. Things I remember happening in a small town actually happened in a castle, and to different characters, whom I didn't remember. It has all the earmarks of eighties fantasy. Saberhagen's talent for word choice is not great. In one sentence, he uses the term "earth" three times. And that ends up in the front-page excerpt. It has a brutal "Conan the Barbarian" overwritten style -- epic battles are bogged down by too much description and not enough dialogue -- but I do love me some magic weapons.

It's a fine premise, but a product of its time -- poorly executed, full of tropes. It's fine for people who grew up on early D&D. There's a reason I had to buy this used. It's one of those books that could become a good movie, but remains a bad book. Too bad -- imagine the merchandising behind twelve swords. That's twelve collectible Burger King cups!


The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

When I learned in the first chapter it's about a teenager dealing with her dad's sudden death, I wasn't sure I could get through it. But I did, and I'm glad. The problem is it seemed to go on forever (pardon the pun).

It's a romance, which means that the plot events within are few and far between. It's more about two people getting to know each other and overcoming the secrets they keep within. And as far as "sticking it to the bad guys" (in a romance, that means the guy everyone thinks she's 'meant' to be with, like the fiancee in "You've Got Mail"), that is left unsatisfying (especially because he's a little robotic twerp).

But there are some nice lines and some quotable passages. The main characters aren't terribly memorable, but the side characters are (there's one pair of girls that are like a female Jay and Silent Bob). It's not forgettable, but it's not unforgettable. I'd say it's worth a read, if for nothing else than the wit.
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