Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kaz Brekker is a street urchin who has risen from nothing to be the second in command of a powerful gang. He is clever and ambitious. He is offered the chance of a lifetime if only he can complete an impossible task. Break into the Ice Court and break out with a prisoner who knows how to make a weapon of unimaginable power.

The characters reminded me a lot of Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series. Each one has their own quirks and destructive nature. The difference is that these characters act like professionals while Lindsay’s tend to bumble around until things resolve themselves due to some insane plan that somehow kind of works. This story takes itself a bit more seriously, but the characters have the same kind of unique personalities that you can really sink your teeth into. I gravitate toward Inej the most as she is very similar to the ninja-type strong female characters that I love to write. She reminds me of The Ghost from The Cursed Armor in her lethal and acrobatic skill.

Six of Crows is a fast paced caper filled with twists. The characters are clever in their solutions to the problems that arise. Even though the story follows criminals that have shady backgrounds, I still felt myself rooting for them. It is a tale of revenge, love, magic, crime, etc… The story is very well done. The only reason I don’t give it a full 5 stars is because it never managed to pull me completely in. Even though they talked about how impossible the task was, there was never a point where the characters felt like they were in any real danger. It was almost too far over the top in some places with how they would escape. The book is a fantastic fantasy story and I will be picking up the next installment.

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Molly’s Game

I want to preface this post to profess my love of the game of poker. It is one of the very few games in a casino where you can play against the other players rather than against the house. If you are playing any game against the house chances are that the odds are stacked against you. You can play a lot of those games in a way to give you more favorable odds, but almost none of them will give you over a 50% chance to win. When you play poker you can often tilt the odds in your favor if you know what you are doing. Many times even if you statistically only have a 30% chance to win, you can tilt those odds in your favor if your opponent will fold to a good bet.

I’m not going to go further into the details of the game as Molly’s Game doesn’t. The film throws around a lot of the terminology, but doesn’t expect anyone to know what they mean. It’s a poker movie that isn’t heavy on the poker. The movie is more about Molly and how she built the game rather than the game itself. This is good and bad for various reasons. Poker is a complex game that could turn off the casual moviegoer, but for people who take the game seriously glossing over the actual poker feels like a cop out. In this case it doesn’t take away from the film, but as an aficionado of poker it is disappointing.

Molly’s Game from a storytelling perspective is an interesting film. It mixes interesting characters with a lot of drama and a seedy underworld. A lot of exposition is used to cut through much of the back story for the various characters. This would usually be lazy storytelling, but for a movie it has to be done to keep the film under 8 hours. The twists in the story were also quite interesting.

Typically true life stories don’t have this kind of entertainment value or the twists that this one has. Those are usually reserved for fiction. True to life stories will usually have something outlandish and crazy in a “life is stranger than fiction” kind of way. Molly’s Game has a story that lends better toward film than most true to life stories. Jessica Chastain is also one of my favorite actresses, and her performance is nearly flawless. Go see this film. I can’t wait to see it again. I have also ordered the book and hope it is as good as the movie is.

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Redshirts follows the adventures of the crew members of the Intrepid. Apparently the Intrepid has an issue with its crew members dying when they go on an away team with specific members of the crew from the bridge. This causes the regular crew to avoid the leadership of the Intrepid like the plague to keep from having to go on away missions. Then there is the magic box that fixes problems that no one knows how to resolve. No one knows where it came from.

The premise of the novel is quite inventive and unique. It is a parody of Star Trek that lends itself to some interesting twists and humor. The characters are sassy and mostly interesting. The problem I have with this novel is the subdued plot. There are many ways that the author could have taken this novel. Instead Scalzi chose to rather mundane adventure filled with sarcasm. Most of it I enjoyed until the last act where everything slid off the page into a ravine. The final bits of the novel tied up the story, but it did it in a manner that ruined all of the build up to that point. I loved the first 3/4 of the novel even with the average plot, but then the novel took a left turn and tried to be something else. That something else did not work very well. It was like Scalzi decided the plane should land on its wing instead of the landing gear, and that just made one unholy mess.

I still thoroughly enjoyed the first 3/4 of the novel. I will just have to pretend the final act didn’t happen. Fans of Scalzi’s other works should enjoy this one as well. I was just not a fan of the way this one ended.

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Update 1/6/18

I know I haven’t been updating here as often as I should. Perhaps that should be a New Year’s resolution for 2018? I am also house hunting, so it is hard to do everything that I am supposed to do within the time frame that it is supposed to be done. I have gone to see every new movie that came out over the holidays. So let’s talk about a few of them.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – This movie is about what you would expect. It loses some of the charm of the original, but it is a worthy sequel/update for the next generation. It captured some of the same magic of the original, but it is more for people who didn’t see it.

The Shape of Water – This is a beautiful and weird sci-fi/monster movie/love story. It is one of Guillermo del Toro’s better films although Crimson Peak is still my favorite. If you like Guillermo’s style and weird love stories then this is definitely for you. I also absolutely loved Sally Hawkins performance.

Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman captures the enigmatic Winston Churchill as I have never seen before. This story is more compelling than it has any business being. I went in thinking it would be an interesting biopic of a British icon that was worth seeing from a historical perspective, but I was surprised at how entertaining the film was. Oldman deserves consideration when awards season comes around for this magnificent performance that would make Godzilla clap. Of course Godzilla would then eat Oldman.

All the Money in the World – There has been a lot of buzz about Christopher Plummer’s performance, but I didn’t think it was any different than any of his other performances. Plummer is a fantastic actor and this is a role that fits his style perfectly. He just wasn’t as big of a character in the story as the trailers make him out to be. Otherwise it was an interesting story with a decent cast that provided some good entertainment.

I also went to see Molly’s Game today and planning to see the new Insidious film tomorrow, but I’ll write more about them tomorrow. I also have a couple of book reviews I am working on, so I should have more updates coming in the near future. Stay tuned!

Currently editing Virtual Wars: Running on Page 11 of 88

The Undead

Hello! I am back once again to talk about the scary BOO! No I’m not talking about ghosts, maybe next time. I am writing this about the undead creatures that go bump in the night because you did not invest in night lights, and they don’t know where they are going. Humanoid undead are going to be my main focus in this post, but undead animals can be super mega robot stalker creepy too.

Humanoid undead hint at the darker nature of humanity in general. They represent the darker impulses within us all. A little part of us dies every time we endure some sort of trauma, but what happens when there is very little left alive in our soul? The stories of vampires, zombies, and werewolves are interesting to me because of the parallel the draw with humanity. There are 2 sides to every coin, but the darkness can overtake both sides.

Zombies

So what makes a zombie? Generally they are dead people who are brought back to roam the earth while their flesh rots. Is there any part of their soul left? What about parts of the person they were before? I have seen many films where they speak to the dead to get information from them. I prefer the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ version of zombie where they lurch around attacking the living.

To me a zombie represents our lowest base instincts. The need to breathe, eat, and pay taxes… maybe not that last one. The desire to cling to life at any cost keeps them moving. They don’t have any higher level thought processing going on upstairs though. Much like some people I know, the wheel is spinning, but the hamster died long ago. What makes them human is gone, but they still look the part… at least until those parts fall off.

Vampires

Vampires have been depicted as everything from sparkly rainbow powered monsters of the dreamy to relentless killing machines that want to suck you dry. Like people they retain more of their soul than zombies do. They all have unique personalities that can make them as diverse as people are. Their bodies are decaying just as the zombies are and they are clinging to life like the zombies do, but they are able to stave off the decay. The blood they drink is restorative. Perhaps if they no longer get the blood they need then they too will become as the zombies are.

I like to think of Vampires as being a bit magical as well. It is mostly used to mask their decay. Their illusions trick some into providing blood to them. The fictional vampires I prefer are masters of illusion who seem to never age, but underneath the illusions they do indeed rot. The blood they consume helps to lessen the rot. It slows the rot down to the point where it is a gradual process, similar to aging but much slower. Their immortality ends up being another illusion that eventually they can no longer maintain.

These illusions are like the fronts all people put up to protect themselves. People try to show their best version to others while hiding all of the deep dark secrets that are held within. Those secrets eat at us and cause us to decay in a way. If only there were some kind of magical restorative liquid to make that darkness go away. Perhaps the violent act of getting the blood further rips at the soul of the vampire which causes the body to decay quicker even as the consumption of blood restores it. Maybe the larger the burden we carry inside does the same to us as well even though for moments we can let that burden go.

This is why I find these creatures so fascinating in fiction. They represent the darker side of humanity. This shows that the real monsters are human in nature. That can be the most terrifying part of the stories that hold these fictional creatures. I think that gets lost in these tales because we are so ready to dismiss them as monsters, but what if they are all people who have simply embraced the darker side of humanity?

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The Last Jedi

I went to see the new Star Wars event movie yesterday and it was very very good. If you haven’t seen it yet then what are you doing reading this????  Where are your priorities at? GO SEE IT ALREADY.

I do have a few thoughts on the film from a writing perspective. There are always some campy moments in Star Wars, but they only seemed natural with the original cast. The new addition of bird creatures added a couple of moments of comic relief, but they kept shoving them in the audience’s face where they served no purpose other than as a marketing tool to sell merch.

The Last Jedi begins with what seems like a large time jump after The Force Awakens. At the beginning of the new films the Empire is dead and the Republic is hunting down the last remnants of The First Order who are in hiding. At the end of the film you get the sense that The First Order are a threat to the Republic and have dealt a massive blow, but both sides are maybe on equal footing now in the battle to come. At the beginning of The Last Jedi it is more like the tiny resistance is trying to fight off an overwhelming force led by Commander Snoke. So what happened in between? Maybe I need to watch both movies again?

The writers also tried to do too much within the confines of one film. They did a great job of tying everything together, but it might have worked better if it had been broken up and parts of this film were used in the next one. Many times when writers do this you end up with parts feeling rushed or they just don’t make any sense (Batman v Superman). With The Last Jedi you get a feeling of it being rushed, but it is so awesome that you don’t really mind it too much.

Now I want to talk about the good stuff. The original trilogy of Star Wars was great because of the underdog nature of the films and the moments that they build up that cause you to watch with your mouth agape like HOLY SHHHH… Moments like the first time you see the Death Star blow up, Vader’s confession that he is Luke’s father, Vader turning on Emperor Palpatine. These moments were for the most part missing from the prequel films, although seeing Yoda fighting with Dooku was epic. The Last Jedi reminds us of why we love Star Wars, and it has several of those amazing moments that will stick with you. This is why The Last Jedi will be considered one of the very best Star Wars movies. I can’t wait to go see it again.

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Lady Bird

I went to see Lady Bird today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actress. It seems like she is only getting better with each subsequent film. Lady Bird is a coming of age film that captures the angst and generational gap that we all feel at that age. The drama isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it is done very well. The biting sarcastic dialogue and relationships between the characters are what make the movie. It isn’t exceptionally great at any one thing, but it is good at nearly everything. The one thing that stuck with me about the film is that you cannot make anyone do what you want them to. They are going to do what they want to. It’s a theme that continues throughout the film and it rings true to life.

One of my writer friends asked an open question on Facebook asking how to build a story off an ending and a vague idea of a beginning. My answer was to develop the character in your head then figure out how their motivations would lead them toward that ending. The steps in a story become easier to write if you understand the motivations of your characters. Each one is going to do what they want regardless of what you (the writer) want them to do. If you force them to do something out of character then it will not feel authentic and your readers will notice.

Writing Update

I just got back from seeing The Disaster Artist film. What I found amazing about it was how ridiculous the story was, but then at the end you realize that the actors pretty much nailed the characters they were playing. The film is based on true events and proves that life can be stranger than fiction. I wasn’t expecting the film to be as good as it was, but was pleasantly surprised. Oh, I guess I should include a writing update here as well. Weeeee

Currently editing Virtual Wars: Running on Page 5 of 88