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Friday, June 23, 2017

The Dark Tower: the Gunslinger

I've put off reading Stephen King's The Gunslinger for years. Everyone told me how good it was. But I didn't want to get bogged down in the huge Dark Tower series, so I never bothered to start it. But now that the movie is coming out this summer, I figured I should actually get my act together and read it.

The Gunslinger is the story of the last gunslinger chasing the man in black across the desert. We don't even learn the gunslinger's name until about halfway through the book (which seemed a bit odd to me). The gunslinger has been chasing the man in black for a long time, but is finally catching up to him. Along the way, the gunslinger meets some people and tells them stories about his past.

The atmosphere and worldbuilding of the book is great, particularly in the early chapters. And I was a fan of King's writing (minus the absurd number of references to the gunslinger's genitals - that seemed really weird as it kept going on through the whole book, especially since it came up pretty randomly - like not as he was having sex or something, but when he was like shooting monsters). But I had a really hard time connecting with the story, particularly in the latter half of the book (a boy from our world finds himself in the gunslinger's world; the two of them chase the man in black together). It was around page 200-250 where I knew I wasn't really interested in reading more of the series (and honestly wasn't too interested in finishing it but I persevered). Of course the book ends in a spot perfect for the sequel. But I still don't feel very interested in continuing (and actually feel less interested in seeing the movie now that I read the book).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

My brother got Batman: the Dark Knight Returns for me during Christmas.  We had talked about how it was super influential in regards to Batman and comics in general (this review by Stephen on Goodreads sums up the historical significance quite nicely), but I purposely didn't really read what it was about so I could just let the story happen with as few expectations as possible. 

The Dark Knight Returns starts with Batman having been retired for ten years.  But unlike in The Dark Knight Rises, Batman hasn't been moping about in his home all alone; he's been living life as billionaire Bruce Wayne.  But with crime spiking in Gotham thanks to the Mutant Gang, something inside Wayne snaps and he can't keep the Batman hidden inside anymore; Batman returns with a vengeance.  But Wayne is a man pushing sixty.  Being the Batman is no longer an easy task for his older body.

But Batman is not alone in his war against these new criminals.  He is joined by Carrie Kelley, a girl who is inspired to become the new Robin after Batman saves her.  Unfortunately though, Batman's return doesn't just inspire the good like Kelley; the Joker also returns with a vengeance! 

I wasn't remotely prepared for how political this story was.  In many ways it reminded me of Watchmen in how much it comments on the very real threat of nuclear warfare that people living during the Cold War were dealing with.  But the book also looked at how people in and around Gotham reacted to the Dark Knight's return, with ordinary citizens, doctors, and politicians commenting on whether or not Batman is a menace or a boon to Gotham City.  This book also dealt with Commissioner Gordon retiring and being replaced by a woman who very much believed Batman was a menace. 

While the story is interesting from so many angles, I have to say, I was not a fan of the art.  The heads were weirdly blocky, and it was hard to distinguish who a good chunk of the characters were supposed to be (Lana Lang in particular - if they didn't say that's who she was, I would have had no idea - but I'm also more familiar with more modern iterations of her character). 

I can usually get through a typical graphic novel in an hour or two of reading.  The Dark Knight Returns is NOT your typical graphic novel.  There's so much dialogue in this that it gets a bit overwhelming at times.  It took me several days devoting a bit of time here and there to get through the whole thing. Luckily it is broken up into four fifty page chapters, so I generally was just trying to make a mad dash to the end of the chapter before I would put it down and go about the rest of my day.

So all in all, I enjoyed Batman: the Dark Knight Returns.  It's very interesting for its historical and political commentaries on the time it was written.  It's very interesting for how it made Batman a much grittier hero than he had been in decades. And it's just a really good Batman story in general.

Monday, May 22, 2017

You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life: Simple 4-Minute Meditations for Inspiration, Transformation, and True Bliss

I've been interested in meditation for a few months now.  I went looking for a local class, but nothing I could find seemed to be at a good time for me.  Then I saw an interview with the author of Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers.  While researching that book (I was hoping to get it from my local library, but it wasn't available), I stumbled on Rebekah Borucki's You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life.  It was rated better, AND it was available for free through Hoopla, the library streaming service.  Sounded like a win to me.

Now full disclosure: I didn't actually try most of the meditations.  Borucki includes 27 guided meditations.  I tried 2 so far. So even though I finished the book, I would not say I have a meditation practice at this point in time. But that's okay.  I'd say I'm on my way to getting one.  Especially since I bought a physical copy of the book for myself.  I really liked how Borucki approached meditation.  Anyone can fit in a few minutes in their day for a bit of self-reflection and calm.  She also shows you how meditation helped her in her life; it's very easy to see how it can help you in yours from her examples.  Some of the later chapters may be a bit of a turn-off to people who aren't overly religious (she talks a lot about divine purpose, etc), but I honestly think that even with this, you will still be able to get the basics of meditation; don't forget, meditation is all about trying to calm your mind and listen to your inner wisdom.  You don't need to believe in a higher power to enjoy these benefits.  So if you're interested in learning about meditation, I think this is a fabulous book to start with.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Terribly Twisted Tales

So I marked Terribly Twisted Tales as a book I was reading back in July 2016.  It's been the only thing sitting on my "currently reading" shelf for that time, so I kept being reminded of it every time I logged into Goodreads.  I guess somewhere along the line I got it in my head that I started it last July...but in actual fact I started reading this book SEVEN YEARS AGO!!!!  I only discovered that when I started flipping back through the notebook where I keep track of the anthology stories that I've read (mainly in case something like this happens - I don't really remember the first few stories in this collection).

Terribly Twisted Tales has 18 short stories by different authors.  All of the stories take familiar (or mostly familiar - I couldn't figure out one) fairy tales and twist them in some way.  Sometimes it's telling the story from a different angle (with a bit of different events).  Other times it's changing the story entirely (so we end up with a Rapunzel who got sucked into her brother's drug scheme).  I have notes on all the stories, so here's a quick run down:

I read "Waifs" in May 2010.  This was a pretty good version of Hansel and Gretel by Dennis L. McKiernan, told from the witch's perspective.  The witch gets free from the oven and starts trying to track Hansel and Gretel down.  But all she finds is death and destruction in their wake.  I don't think I've ever read anything else by McKiernan, but I will have to give his novels a try.

Both "My Great-Great-Grandma Golda Lockes" and "Once There Were Seven" were read in August 2010.  "My Great-Great-Grandma Golda Lockes" was an okay version of Goldilocks.  Apparently Goldilocks and the bears were operating a moon shine cave and got rich off selling their wares.

"Once There Were Seven" is Snow White set in a land of vikings.  The last four dwarves (dvergar) are on their way to kill their Snow White (who is named Isvit).  I found "Once There Were Seven" to be sad but incredibly beautiful....I think it was my favourite story in the whole book.

"Capricious Animistic Tempter" was read in July 2016, when I guess I flipped back through my notebook and realized I had started Terribly Twisted Tales.  I started reading it again as a break from In Celebration of Lammas Night.  Apparently it was the only story I read at that time from this book.  "Capricious Animistic Tempter" was a retelling of Puss in Boots by Mickey Zucker Reichart. It was a pretty awesome story where Jack uses this statue his dad had left him; the statue becomes Puss (of I should mention - he's a cat, but this world doesn't have cats).  His dad warned him that it would grant his most desperate wish but had an aura of evil.  So Jack is terrified that Puss is going to take his eternal soul. Rather like with McKiernan, I'll have to check out more Reichart stories at a later point (that's the best thing about anthologies - finding new authors!!!)

From there, all the other stories were read within the last  five days.

"A Charming Murder" is a Cinderella retelling by Mary Louise Eklund.  Cinderella is murdered.  A detective (I think?) goes to find the killer.  He visits one of Cinderella's stepsisters (the last person known to see Cinderella alive) and finds her waiting for him, covered in blood.  She agrees to go along quietly if he'll just listen to her side of the story.  It was a very interesting take on things (although I don't think the murder was justified, even with the reasons the stepsister gives...)

"Jack and the Genetic Beanstalk" was a super weird story by Robert E. Vardeman.  A scientist named Jack is looking for his co-author (who he has never met in person).  He stumbles into a lab where another scientist has eaten some modified beans and turned into a rampaging giant.  The story had some excellent suspense, but I found it to be overall a bit too weird for my liking.

"What's in a Name?" is a Rumpelstiltskin retelling by Kathleen Watress.  There were two faerie brothers.  In this world, the fae need mortal flesh to live (they wear flesh kind of like a suit of clothes).  One of the brothers backstabs the other and traps him.  The trapped brother is reliving his memories, trying to remember a name to free himself with.

"No Good Deed" is the story I don't honestly know what fairy tale it's supposed to be!  I was thinking "The Lion and the Mouse" but I'm not entirely sure.  It's a sci-fi story where a healer is a prisoner of war.  While trying to escape (he just wants to go home), he comes across an injured lion-man.  He stops to help the lion-man; in doing so, he is recaptured.  The healer is shuffled around for a bit.  He asks the Governor for some extra support and the Governor sentences him to die in the arena.  The healer ends up matched against the lion-man.  The ending is what makes me question whether "No Good Deed" is based off "The Lion and the Mouse" or not, because it felt like it might be something else that I'm unfamiliar with - something where there is no real right choice/satisfying conclusion for the healer.  Well whatever it is based off of, this interesting story was written by Jody Lynn Nye.

"The Red Path" is a Jim C. Hines story written in the same world as The Stepsister Scheme (and apparently the main character from this story, Roudette, returns in book three of that series...) Roudette realizes her grandmother is back and wants to visit her.  Her family doesn't want her to go because the grandmother turned her back on their religion long ago (their religion was interesting - it was similar to Christianity but had a faerie dying for people's sins instead of a man - the nails were particularly important because they were iron and I think killed him but I'm not positive on that point).  So anyway, Roudette goes to her grandmother's place and discovers a wolf there.  The wolf turns out to be her grandmother, who hid her in a closet because a faerie bishop was tracking her.  The bishop decides to cleanse the grandmother on a holy fire (ie burn her alive in the house).  He sets the house on fire then goes to cleanse her bloodline, too.  The grandmother gives Roudette her wolfskin and tells the girl to save her family.  Roudette returns to the house in time to see the bishop murder her mother.  Will she turn her back on her faith (and damn her soul for eternity) by donning the skin and saving her father and brother? 

"Lost Child" was a very sad Peter Pan retelling by Stephen D. Sullivan.  A little girl hears her parents fighting every night.  When she overhears her father talk about divorce, she flees the house and into the woods where she gets lost.  She encounters a little boy and his fairy friend, who offers to take her away to a place where she'll never grow old and no one will ever yell at her again (unless it's all in fun and games).  I really need to read the actual J.M. Barrie novel Peter and Wendy.  Maybe it's as sad as this story was?

"Rapunzel Strikes Back"is the aforementioned Rapunzel stuck in her brother's crazy drug scheme.  This was a weird story (her brother sold people numbers during the day, then they would have to come to his sister's window where she would lower a basket, they would put the number in, then she would give them whatever they bought).  Her brother was abusive and wouldn't let her leave, so she very much was stuck in the house like Rapunzel was stuck in her tower.  As weird as it was as a concept, it really worked (particularly in this collection of stories!)  I should warn you though, it's a bit dark and depressing.  "Rapunzel Strikes Back" is by Brendan DuBois.

Do you remember the story of the poor little match girl, who freezes in the cold?  Well, Paul Genesse re-imagines that in "Revenge of the Little Match Girl." Instead of freezing, the girl sets the buildings of people who have wronged her on fire.  She manages to stay warm throughout the night that way.  This was another dark and depressing story (and was hard to read right after "Rapunzel Strikes Back."

"Clockwork Heart" is Ramsey "Tome Wyrm" Lundock's Pinocchio re-imagining, and was the third rather depressing story in a row.  A female Pinocchio (Pinocchia) is beaten by her master, Gepetto.  She wants to be a real girl so he will stop beating her and they will live happily ever after.  Her wish is granted, and Gepetto is angry so Pinochia runs away.  She lives with gypsies for years as a real girl but is disturbed by how humans don't seem to have a purpose in life.  She decides she wants to be a puppet again (and even accepts Gepetto's beatings because she decides that's part of her purpose).  Yeah.  Dark.  I was not a fan of the message of this one at all.

"The Hundred-Year Nap" was a crazy retelling of Sleeping Beauty by Skip and Penny Williams.  The Maleficent-figure (Xyhille) ends up cursed to share in the princess's hundred-year sleep by her ex-husband.  A prince and his great-grandfather (the very same person who was originally betrothed to the princess one hundred years ago) show up to wake her.  They find the fairy in the topmost tower instead of the princess.  The old lecherous prince thinks the fairy is sexy and wakes HER up with a kiss, ending the spell.  Like I said, crazy but overall pretty fun (except that the court wizard may have given the princess a love potion to make her fall in love with the younger prince...that's not cool).

"Five Goats and a Troll" was another kind of weird story, this time by Elizabeth a. Vaughan.  There are five magic goats (I honestly don't know why they were magic) who are travelling somewhere with their two humans.  The humans keep stopping to kiss (I think?)  One of the goats prances on ahead and has fun making lots of noise on a bridge.  A troll (or really muddy human?) appears.  The other goats all show up to the rescue, and through their combined efforts they knock the troll off the bridge and chew the ropes holding it together so he falls (into the water?)  They're all proud of themselves.  Their humans show up, but the goats are on the wrong side of the (river?), so the goats jump and teleport to the humans.  The end.

"Something About Mattresses" was a sci-fi retelling of "The Princess and the Pea" by Janet Deaver-Pack.  A guy can't sleep and is having weird visions of a pretty woman.  The visions are getting more realistic.  He thinks the woman is in trouble, so he attempts to reach the vision and pull himself through.  This is all while he is sleep-deprived, and throwing mattresses around in a mattress store (the poor girl working there has called the cops who are coming to arrest him).  He actually manages to pull himself through, and ends up in some futuristic world where the people have made it so they don't need sleep (but also now have no urge to mate).  But some of their females are turned on by men who need sleep.  Lol, yeah.

"Three Wishes"was an interesting story by Kelly Swails.  A girl is given an amulet.  At the time, the old man who gives it to her asks what her three wishes would be, if she could have anything.  She wishes for the ability to stop time to savour things, and to be a famous actress.  She is called into a play to replace the lead and accidentally stops time.  Using it to her advantage, she nails the performance, which leads her to bigger and better things.  But she still has one wish left....

The very last story was "The Adventure of Red Riding Hoods" by Michael A. Stackpole.  This was a Sherlock Holmes story set in a world where some animals are humanoid (called "Walkers").  Sherlock Holmes is a wolf names V. August Lupyne, and Watson is a sheep named Dr. Jameson Woolrich.  Lupyne is called to an earl's estate to solve a murder.  An old woman was found dead and a wolf is presumably the murderer.  It's up to Lupyne to deduce what really happened.  This was a very fun story to end the anthology on (and it made me want to read some Sherlock Holmes stories!)

It's taken me a very long time to finish Terribly Twisted Tales, but I'm glad I eventually did.  I also joke that I shouldn't mark anything on Goodreads as "currently reading" because I seem to put those books down and have a hard time going back to them.  Like any anthology, there were stories I liked and others that I didn't.  But that's okay - I discovered some new authors along the way, which is always the fun of reading them!  :)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Halo: The Fall of Reach

Geeze, The Fall of Reach is one of those books I've been meaning to read for a very long time (not that it is the only one...).  I think I meant to read it back around when Halo: Reach came out...seven years ago.  Better late than never, right?

The Fall of Reach tells the story of how the Spartans were chosen and trained for battle against the Covenant.  It shows how John-117 becomes the leader of all the Spartans, and how tightly knit the unit as a whole is.  It also jumps ahead and tells the story (or more accurately a story) of how Reach falls to the Covenant.  Unfortunately, when Reach falls, so do the majority of the Spartans (and the majority of humanity...)  

You have to pay close attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter (particularly in the beginning half) because the book jumps forward in time a bit quickly.  This doesn't happen so much later on.  I did get a bit confused though when the book totally skips the prologue battle later in the book (I have no idea what that was even part of).

The book also suffers from a lack of editing.  It's not horrible, but there were moments where this knocks you out of the story (like at the beginning of Chapter 35, when Kelly shouts something to the Master Chief, even though she's not actually present - I think it was supposed to be Linda). 

I found The Fall of Reach to be a bit of a difficult read.  At times I loved it and didn't want to put it down.  But at other times I found it so boring.  And there never seemed to be a rhyme or reason for what was boring and what wasn't.  (Like sometimes I thought the space battles with Keyes were great, but at other times I wanted them to be over to get back to what was happening with the Spartans; other times it would be the exact opposite).  I liked in the earlier training bits, where the book showed how John learned teamwork and made friends.  But then we don't really get to see his friendships evolve at all - the other Spartans are just there following his orders.  I loved the scene where Cortana gets to link with him, but unfortunately that only happened the once.

That's something I also need to talk about - this story varies quite a bit from the one we're given in Halo: Reach. In the game, the Covenant infiltrate the planet sneakily and then start invading.  In the book, the Covenant show up with an armada for a full-scale invasion with the intent to glass the planet.  Cortana is already on the Pillar of Autumn at the beginning of the battle in the book, so there's no desperate attempt to get her to the ship like in the game.  And all the Spartans actually know one another in the book (unlike in the game where they don't seem to know you, the rookie to their squad).

Oh, I was also very sad to see that a lot of the cool lines from Halo 3 originate in this book....and are a lot lamer here.  And while I'm on the Halo 3 subject, it made me sad that like EVERYONE knew how lucky John-117 was (it wasn't just a Cortana thing, as she makes it sound like at the beginning of that game). 

Having said all of this, I am glad I finally read The Fall of Reach.  It just ended up a lot different from what I expected.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

I bought Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep  by Philip K. Dick at the same time that my brother did. But where he has read it and A Scanner Darkly long before now, I only just finished Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep tonight.

Reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was an interesting experience because I have seen Blade Runner. But I felt like reading the book gave me a lot of missing context for the story. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the story of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who works with the San Francisco Police Department. His job is to hunt and retire (ie kill) androids who are living on Earth. Due to World War Terminus, most of humanity has left the planet; as an incentive to leave, everyone is given an android. The androids have become increasingly life like, to the point that the current Nexus-6 models are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Androids kill their human masters and flee to Earth in an attempt to make a life for themselves. These are the androids that Deckard has to hunt. Deckard is armed with an empathy test, which is the way you can tell androids apart from humans becaus androids have superior intelligence, but lack empathy. Deckard's test measures the speed of the subject's reactions to moral questions. Deckard is first sent to Seattle to determine whether his empathy test will work on the Nexus-6 androids. From there he returns to San Francisco to track down the group of androids. His colleague, bounty hunter Dave Holden, was badly injured by one of the rogue androids. Holden had already retired two of them. It's up to Deckard to get the rest.

Oh one thing I forgot to mention: Deckard owns an electric sheep. The humans who remain on Earth all want to take care of an animal, but many of them are extinct in the aftermath of World War Terminus. Deckard owned a real sheep, but it died; he got the electric sheep to replace his sheep so he didn't lose face with his neighbours. But now Deckard really, really wants a live animal to care for.

Along with Deckard's story, we learn about John R. Isidore, a man whose brain was mentally damaged by the fallout from the war. Isidore is classified as a "special" (or known as a chickenhead) because he failed an IQ test. Isidore meets Pris Stratton, who moves into his otherwise abandoned apartment building. Isidore falls in love with her before discovering she's an android; he doesn't really care though because he's happy for the company. Isidore decides to help Stratton and her other two friends against the bou ty hunter they know is coming for them, not really understanding what they have done to get to Earth.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep takes some really unexpected and crazy turns half way through the book. There were moments where I really didn't know what was real and what was false in the world of Deckard. Was he really a delusional android murdering innocent humans? Did he just time travel to a point where the police department didn't know he or his boss existed? Or was this some crazy ruse set up by the androids? The book was really intriguing from this point, as Deckard had to take a good hard look at his job, his life, and other various moral dilemmas. The end of the book was a bit disappointing and weird in my opinion, but it didn't significantly detract from the book as a whole. All in all, I really enjoyed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and am really glad I got around to reading it!

Oh, I should also mention how the book is a bit dated, specifically in the ideas of women. Women are basically secretaries or else stay home and take care of the animals while the men go off and work (I realize that it is a product of its time, having been written in the sixties). It's also a bit dated in that it was looking at the future (2021 in the edition I read) and we don't have hovercars or laser-tubes (guns?) 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Librarian's Nitty-Gritty Guide to Content Marketing

I attended a webinar at work by Laura Solomon a few months ago. I thought it was really informative and wanted to read her new book, The Librarian's Nitty-Gritty Guide to Content Marketing. It was a bit tough to get (there was only one physical copy of the book available in Canada through interlibrary loans when I ordered it). But I think it was well worth the wait!

The Librarian's Nitty-Gritty Guide to Content Marketing goes through all the steps for a good content marketing plan, from the start (identifying your audience, making personas), middle (creating a calendar for your content, creating the actual content), and the end (looking at ways to measure successes and failures, doing it all over again). I admit that a lot of the book was a rehash of most of what was discussed in the webinar. But of course the book went into a lot more detail. It was also super easy to read. I very much recommend it to anyone who is interested in an east-to-read overview of content marketing (not just people working in libraries).