Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History

The same friend who lent me Cosmic Ghost Rider: Baby Thanos Must Die lent me Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History.  And oh boy is this a ridiculous ride.  After the end of the last book, the Cosmic Ghost Rider got stuck in the past.  So he decides to mess with time a bit while he waits to save his family.  The day before they're supposed to die, he shows up at their house as Uncle Freddo.  He quickly endears himself to his wife and son by telling stories of his adventures with the other superheroes, but he has a harder time winning over his daughter and younger self. 

The majority of this story is Frank Castle telling his stories to his family.  He's definitely an unreliable narrator as the story he tells often doesn't quite match up with the panels we see.  But that makes up a lot of the fun, especially as the story goes on and we get to see all the crazy places and things Frank has done within the Marvel timeline.  The end of the book gives a rundown of all the stories Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti used for this, which was really fun to read too (hilariously, a clone story that popped up in Spider-Man: Life Story popped up here too!)  All and all, this was a really fun read as it unfolded (I especially liked the ridiculous candy story he told to tone down the violence for his kids).

Monday, December 30, 2019

Spider-Man: Life Story

A friend recommended Spider-Man: Life Story by Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley to me a few months ago.  I didn't think the graphic novel was due out for awhile, but ended up pleasantly surprised when I found it at the library.  I don't think I've ever read a Spider-Man story before, so I wasn't remotely sure what to expect.

Spider-Man: Life Story follows the life of Peter Parker starting as a teenager trying to find his way in the 1960s all the way through until 2019.  Each issue (or chapter in the graphic novel) tells a story from a different decade of Peter's life.  Peter grapples with whether or not he should enlist in the Vietnam War, trying to balance work (both as Spider-Man and as a scientist and later businessman) and friends/family life (he has two children)through the decades, being pulled thinner and thinner as more and more things start demanding his time.  I wasn't really sure how I felt about the story at the beginning, but by the end I quite liked the story that Zdarsky and Bagley told (and the alternate world history that evolved from the presence of superheroes)..

Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required

I saw Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung's Quit Like a Millionaire at the library a few weeks ago in the new nonfiction section.  I wasn't sure if I should read it, as I've read a lot of basic books on personal finance already.  But I figured why not? (Especially since there's a foreword by JL Collins, the author of The Simple Path to Wealth, which is the book that got me started on this whole thing). 

Shen grew up very poor in rural China.  She ended up retiring as a millionaire with her husband (Leung) at the age of 31.  In Quit Like a Millionaire, she shares her story of how growing up in poverty set her up to save and ultimately join the wealthy.  The pair have been retired for three years now, travelling across the world while still maintaining their wealth.

The book starts off by talking about Shen's childhood (including how she went through medical waste trying to make toys for herself) and how her family lived on $0.44 a day.  This upbringing left her with a scarcity mindset (when you don't have enough of one of the basic necessities, like food, your brain will ignore almost everything else except that one thing), particularly aimed at money.  But after she moved to Canada, graduated with an engineering degree, and joined the middle class, her scarcity mindset, which can't be turned off, changed into a hoarding mindset (rather than changing life-energy for survival, the hoarding mindset trades for nothing).  In an attempt to get out of this mindset, especially in the wake of seeing the health of her coworkers deteriorate, Shen discovered the freedom mindset, which is all about getting your time back.  And this set her on the path to financial independence and retiring at the age of 31.

The rest of the book explains what Shen and Leung did to build their investment portfolio.  And because Shen is extremely risk-adverse, and neither wanted to risk running out of money in the future, they created their own tools to help see them through any potential market crashes within the first five years of retirement (these crucial years, which can make or break your retirement, depend on luck with the market).  The book also talks about some potential obstacles to early retirement (like needing health insurance, or retiring early with kids), and finishes off with a few appendices that show her math and spreadsheets, as well as the actual numbers Shen and Leung dealt with through their journey to a million dollars.

Quit Like a Millionaire was a very good and easy read.  Shen writes with a very personal tone, making it easy to follow along with her story and points.  As far as personal finance books go, I thought this one was a very good read, showing you how anyone can become a millionaire.  I liked that despite being American-centric, it still had lots of information specifically for Canadians, too.  I'm very glad I picked this book up (and I'm hoping to get myself a copy for reference, too!)

Oh, I'd also like to note, Shen goes through the arguments of why you might be better off renting rather than buying much more succinctly than The Wealthy Renter did.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Stress Less, Accomplish More

Whoops, I actually finished this book like a week ago but forgot to post about it here.  I came across Emily Fletcher's Stress Less, Accomplish More last summer thanks to Betty Rocker (I don't think this was the actual post where I first heard about it, but this gives the just of what I read).  Since the library didn't have a copy, I bought it on my Kindle.  I planned on reading it sooner, but didn't actually get to it until the flight home from my vacation earlier this month.  I read most of the book then, but didn't actually finish it until a few days later (I actually should have finished it a day before I did - I stopped reading that night because I thought there was still like 80% of the book to go, but that turned out to be mostly notes and the index!)

So Stress Less, Accomplish More explains Fletcher's method of meditation (or at least the lite version of her Ziva Method).  She grounds the book in science, showing how meditating just twice a day for 15 minutes can be so good for you, helping you finally beat stress and start accomplishing all that you want to in life.  Many celebrities and successful business people (many of whom share their stories in the book) have used the Ziva method (or other forms of meditation) to do just that.

Now I'm not going to lie: the book gets a bit repetitive.  It takes until chapter 8 before it finally tells you the Ziva method (the other like 7 chapters just keep going on about all the health benefits; while this was good to read, it definitely hit the point where she could have just listed the rest and gotten to the point, rather than going into so much detail).  That being said though, the book is easy to read, even while being so heavily grounded in science (neuroscience in particular). 

I was personally interested in reading Stress Less, Accomplish More because I had started meditating after reading You Have Four Minutes to Change Your Life, but have since fallen out of the habit.  I was hoping that reading this book would help me get back into the habit.  I was a bit daunted at the thought of trying to fit in two fifteen minute sessions of meditation per day (

Friday, December 20, 2019

Oddkins: A Fable for All Ages

Note: this review was originally written in a notebook on Dec 11/19 while I was on vacation last week.  I've made some minor edits to it while transcribing it.

"Oddkins: A Fable for All Ages" is another story I've had on my Kindle for quite some time.   A friend of mine recommended it to me (or at least I think he did - he may have recommended a different Dean Koontz and I got this one accidentally).  I've never actually read any Koontz before and wasn't really sure what to expect.  When I first started reading "Oddkins," I didn't know what to make of it, but once I got into it I liked it quite a bit.

After a magical toy maker passes away, it's up to his creations to find his replacement.  But the forces of evil want to claim the toy factory for themselves; a group of evil toys from the hidden sub-basement awaken and seek to stop the Oddkins, while an evil toy maker arrives to buy the factory.

The Oddkins were a fun group: they were all unique, yet very loyal and good.  I loved how they got through their various encounters (like how Butterscotch talked down the mongrel, or Patch stood up to the alley cats), and how each of them had dreams beyond their initial purpose of helping their special children.

The squad of bad toys were really well done too.  Rex and the others were all rather terrifying in their own ways, especially for the Oddkins (but I felt it too).  I also liked how besides being malevolent, their lack of empathy meant they didn't really work together because in a way they couldn't.  That was a really nice touch.

I have to admit, I'm now quite curious about what happens to Viktor, the adult who saw the toys and had his world unexpectedly awakened as a result.  What does he go on to do now?

My one major complaint was that I found the story a bit heavy-handed at times, particularly at the end.  But overall, I thought this was a well-written good vs evil showdown, which I do recommend.  Just not necessarily to all ages - it's a bit dark for children in my opinion.

The Mooncalfe

Note: this review was originally written in a notebook on Dec 10/19 while I was on vacation last week.  I've made some minor edits to it while transcribing it.

After finishing End Times in Dragon City,  I wasn't really sure what to read next.  But as I browsed through the 13 pages of things I have on my Kindle, I came across a David Farland story called "The Mooncalfe" and decided to go with that.

"The Mooncalfe" is a tale of King Arthur (or more accurately, Merlin).  A fey girl is conceived by the horned moon.  Her mother. who is ashamed of having been seduced, raises her daughter in secret, always warning her of what men will do when they see her (aka ravish her, particularly because she is beautiful)  After her mother dies, the girl seeks out a favour from the Lady, wanting to be made fully human.  Finding the Lady's fount, she encounters her father, Merlin, who seduced her mother because the portents seemed fair.  Upon discovering this, the daughter curses him, leaving him alone in his misery.

"The Mooncalfe" is a very well written little story.  I read it in no time and loved every minute. :)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

End Times in Dragon City

Note: this book review was originally written in a notebook on Dec 10/19 while I was on vacation last week.  I've made some minor edits to it while transcribing it.

Well, here we are: End Times in Dragon City - finished!

This book wasn't as good as Bad Times in Dragon City, although I still enjoyed it.  The problem is that the main character, Max, was stuck in prison for the first while.  And since the book is written from his perspective, nothing really happens until his friends break him out.

Let's back up a bit.  After Max killed the dragon at the end of Bad Times in Dragon City, Max was thrown into the highest level of the Garret so he could see the damage he had wrought to the City.  Freed from the dragon, the Ruler of the Dead immediately sent her armies to take out the city; her zombies are overwhelming the wall.  It's only a matter of time before she breaks through.

Eventually, Max's friends break him out of prison.  After catching him up on what's happening, Max decides they need to bolster the Imperial Guard and save the city.  But after the Guard blow up Goblintown, no one is interested in putting aside their differences in order to band together.  There's also one more problem: the dragon's corpse is decomposing in the middle of the city, a tempting target for the Ruler of the Dead.  If she gains control of it, Dragon City will be lost.

While I didn't think it was as good as the previous book, I still really enjoyed End Times in Dragon City, and thought it was a very fitting end for the trilogy.  I hope one day we'll get more of Max's adventures! 

I'd also love to know more about this setting!  How did the Ruler of the Dead first come into being?  If she's been stuck on this continent, what is the rest of the world like? And what happens next for Dragon City? 

Bad Times in Dragon City

Note: this book review was originally written in a notebook on Dec 9/19 while I was on vacation last week.  I've made some minor edits to it while transcribing it.

Wow. So I wasn't super sure how I felt overall about the first book in this series (although I did enjoy it).  But the second book was absolutely fantastic!

Bad Times in Dragon City takes place about two weeks after End Times in Dragon City.  Belle calls Max to her home to tell him that her sister's body has disappeared.  For most people this isn't a big deal, but for elves it's huge: an elf family has to produce the body within a few weeks or else a living elf must takes the deceased's place.  And because elves consider their elders treasures due to their knowledge and long histories, elf families typically send younger elves to stand in the deceased's place.  So that means Belle will go if Fiera's body isn't found soon!

I loved that detail within the worldbuilding.  And I loved how it was dealt with: Max assumed an elder would go because that's how humans deal with it - elders are near death, so let the young live.

Fiera's body disappeared the night after she died, and the family's manservant, Ford, was found killed around where it should have been.  So Max is determined to save Belle by finding it.  But all the while he's being called across the city to meet with powerful dwarves and the Wizard's Council due to the dragonet (the dragon's heir) hatching and imprinting on him.

I didn't quite catch Max's leap in logic of how he realized Belle and Fiera's parents knew what had happened to Fiera's body, but their father had indeed seen it walk off.  So Max assembles the gang to go and find it.  Rather than simply being possessed by the Ruler of the Dead, Fiera had been in league with her for months.  And as everyone is facing off under the City, the enraged dragon tears through the ground, trying to kill them all.  This ends with Max killing the dragon instead, much to the delight of the Ruler of the Dead - the dragon was the only one keeping her at bay.  And so we'll see how the story ends in the next book!

There was some very neat worldbuilding in this book.  The dragon lives on magic, which is why he wants elf bodies - he devours the built up magic within them.  The other long-lived peoples would likewise have lots of magic for him, while shorter-lived races like humans do not.  I loved this detail.

But I did start questioning Max's tie to the dragonet vs. the dragon's tie to the elf (the Voice of the Dragon).  The latter pair seemed super tied, to the point that the elf seemed to suffer any injuries the dragon received (although I may have misread that and the elf may have simply been caught in the crossfire?  I'm not really sure).  If they are tied like that though, will the dragonet live a shorter life because he or she is tied to a human?  I'm also wondering if Max's personality rubbed off on the dragonet because they seem to be psychically linked?  Hopefully I'll get the answers to these questions in End Times in Dragon City!

One last somewhat unrelated note: as I was reading both this book and Hard Times in Dragon City, I kept reading "glowglobes" as "snowglobes," which are totally not the same thing!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Hard Times in Dragon City

Note: this book review was originally written in a notebook on Dec 8/19 while I was on vacation last week.  I've made some minor edits to it while transcribing it.

Well here we are: over 7 years later, I finally read the first book of Matt Forbeck's second 12 for 12 series, Hard Times in Dragon City.  This trilogy is set in his Shotguns & Sorcery world.  I started reading it on my flight to Toronto last week (when I couldn't sleep on the plane); I ended up finishing it on the flight to Florida that day (with another hour of the flight remaining - Hard Times in Dragon City was a pretty fast read!)

Hard Times in Dragon City is another story about Matt Gibson, Forbeck's hero from "Goblintown Justice" and "Friends Like These" (although I admit I don't really remember much about him because it's been quite awhile since I read those stories).  The story begins with Max getting awakened from his bed by the elven guard captain, Yabair.  Some of Max's good friends have been murdered and he needs to identify the bodies.  From there, Max takes it upon himself to find whoever did this and bring them to justice, especially since he knows that the wrong man has been apprehended.  His journey takes him across Dragon City and beyond, visiting old friends and dodging assassins along the way.

I wasn't sure about Max at first, but by the end I quite liked him.  He's the kind of guy who has your back, and reminded me of the type of character I lik to play in RPGs: well-rounded in abilities (this comparison is quite apt as Shotguns & Sorcery was originally designed as a tabletop RPG).

The world is super fun too.  Max literally uses both a magic wand and a shotgun.  He even has to make snap decisions about which to use - can he pull off casting a spell fast enough? Can he pull out his shotgun before the enemy casts their spell?  The city itself is also a lot of fun, split into various sections for elves, halflings, dwarves, etc, and surrounded by a wall that keeps the undead out.  I hope a later book deals with the leader of the undead because she sounded quite interesting, too!

I also really liked how the story ended. Can't wait for more!

One thing to note though: Hard Times in Dragon City was written hurriedly as part of the 12 for 12 and it showed at times.  There were some minor mistakes all over the book (I even caught one spot where the book was originally written in third person rather than first, which makes me think an earlier draft must have been in third person). 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Die Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker

I discovered Die on the same day as We Stand On Guard.  Like that other book, I'd never heard of Die before.  Die was by Kieron Gillen, so I was definitely willing to give it a shot.  It also had a really interesting premise: "In the nineties, six teenagers disappeared into a fantasy role-playing game. Only five returned. Nearly thirty years later, these broken adults are dragged back to discover the game isn't finished with them yet..." (that's from the back of the book).  I'm sold!

And wow did Die deliver!  The art is gorgeous, and the story was fantastic.  The idea of 40-50 year olds being pulled back into the game from their teens that messed them up...and them now bringing the emotional baggage that they have gathered with them over their lives was fascinating.  The world itself was fantastic - it was a a familiar enough setting for a fantasy rpg, while also being uniquely different - I was super glad Gillen's essays on worldbuilding this comic were included!  I also loved the character classes - again similar enough to things you might know from D&D while being unique.  I loved the whole thing and can't wait for volume 2 (which is currently expected in about three months).