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Review: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book about nothing.

Literally.

Zero, like infinity, is a difficult concept to fully grasp, and Seife does a great job of pointing out the many ways and reasons this is so. He explores the way Zero has influenced culture, religion, and politics, dropping scads of interesting trivia along the way. I will never think of Pythagoras the same way again, after reading this book.

The book has a tendency to get a little heavy on the math, which is really to be expected in a book about a number, I suppose. The examples in the book are fairly easy to follow and the book has a logical flow, but math phobics might want to look for a different read. I found myself reading it in small doses, so that I could take time to digest the ideas that were presented, and so, though it was a relatively thin book, it took me some time to finish. I’m glad I took the time.

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Posted by on August 21, 2011 in review, Uncategorized

 

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Review: Practical Demonkeeping

Practical DemonkeepingPractical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really quite enjoyed this adventurous tale mixed with a small town story. I found it to be an inventive story with some exciting, if not humorous, twists on some old ideas. The wit practically oozes off the pages, and every character has a certain charm that rings with authenticity.

If I had any complaint about the story, it’s that it seemed, at times, to dwell on giving the back story on each and every character in the book. Stick with it, though, those back stories are relevant and necessary to the payoff at the end of the book. Moore has an excellent gift for building suspense and though the story wraps up quickly, it wraps up thoroughly.

It was an excellent read, and I’ll definitely be recommending it to my reading friends.

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Posted by on April 14, 2011 in review

 

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Lone Star Planet by H.Beam Piper

Lone Star Planet Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a quick, fun read. It’s basically a western, a political satire, and sci-fi rolled into one. Being from Texas, I enjoyed the fantasy of Texas being its own sovereign planet, and the characterizations of the prominent figures could have been based on people I know very well. I know some of the intent was probably to poke a little fun at Texans, and our unique sense of justice, but I found myself fascinated with the prospect of some of the more outrageous parodies being implemented. The story has everything you’d pretty much expect; there’s intrigue, villainous rogues, lovable rogues, the Foghorn Leghorn type guy, the timid government officials, courtroom drama, and a gunfight or two. If this were a movie, you’d likely either mock it for its lack of substance, or laud it for its heaping helping of fun!

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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in fiction, review

 

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Review: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

The Merry Adventures of Robin HoodThe Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

I read the version available on Manybooks.net

Wow. The book is mostly comic relief, and I’d say that surprisingly Mel Brooks probably came closer to capturing Robin Hood than the newer movies have (I haven’t seen Erol Flynn’s Hood yet). The first part of the book is pretty whimsical and quite a bit repetitive, but somewhere around the 60% mark, it turns into a pretty stirring adventure and about 3/4 of the way through, it starts to make a gradual transition to something more mature and gritty. The 3rd act has some pretty tense moments in it, and I found myself genuinely fearing for the safety of some of the beloved characters I had come to know and love.

If you like upbeat, happy endings, I implore you, don’t read the epilogue. At least one villainous character gets his comeuppance in an undignified and much deserved way, but the ending is so terribly sad, and kind of depressing. I kind of knew this going in, but I read it through anyway, for the sake of completion. I wasn’t in any way prepared for the ending of this book. It was far sadder and unexpected than I had anticipated and yet, it felt complete. I’m not sure I would change the ending if I had the opportunity, somehow, it grounds the story in reality. I think it’s that sense of reality and mortality that makes the ending so poignant. It’s like you’ve watched this band of cut-ups, these Merry Men, grow and mature, and like all things in life, the world corrupts this idealism, and the whole thing feels tainted and paradoxically, fulfillingly unsatisfying.

I recommend the book.

If you want it to stick with you, I recommend reading the epilogue.

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Posted by on March 3, 2011 in review

 

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Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little BrotherLittle Brother by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always treated books much the same way I treat movies; the more popular it is, the less inclined I am to check it out. A couple of years ago, when Little Brother was still a new book, the hype was quite prominent, and I avoided reading it. Recently, I saw this nice hardbound copy at my local Goodwill, and figured it might be worth dropping $2 to check it out. I already had a free digital copy sitting on my e-reader taking up space until some unknown later date, but I thought a bound copy might be nice. Having the physical book in hand, I cracked it open to read a few paragraphs. Then I burned through the book, quickly (at least for me).

One of the blurbs on the dust jacket calls it an “important” book, and I’m inclined to agree. Somewhat familiar with Doctorow through sites like boingboing, I knew he was a tech savvy guy, but I was thoroughly impressed with his ability to readily break down some pretty complex technology into layman’s terms. His descriptions of how surveillance can be misused and applied as an invasion of privacy under the guise of protection was both frightening and all too familiar in a world that has trouble drawing the line between terror and freedom.

I’m recommending this book to everyone I know, not so much for it’s mostly believable plot, not for it’s fun and identifiable characters, or even for it’s great use of suspense. No, I’m recommending it because it’s a great reminder to remain vigilant when privacy and personal information is concerned.

I found the ending to be a bit rushed, and the characters to be a bit naive from time to time, but then I have to remember this is a YA novel and I might not totally identify with the protagonist on too many levels, being in my mid-30’s.

Any flaws in the book were really quite marginal, at best, and I heartily recommend everyone read this book–if just for the concepts presented within.

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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in better living, review

 

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Review: Caravan to Xanadu

Caravan to XanaduCaravan to Xanadu by Edison Marshall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this exciting look into the life of one of history’s most famous adventurer merchants. I realized, as I read this book, that I don’t really know much about his life, despite the fame of the name Marco Polo. The story begins with a young Marco Polo living in Venice, and awaiting word from his traveling father whom he’s never met. When his father returns with news of his visit to the great Kublai Khan, Marco’s adventure begins as do his plans to return to Xanadu with his unloving, cunning, and cruel father.

If even one third of the events described in this book are actually true, Marco Polo’s youth was an amazing experience. Marshall does a great job of describing the decadence and splendor of the Khan’s empire and his description of the romantic interludes between Marco and an enchanting slave girl are nothing short of touching and captivating.

Marshall does a great job of making you think this is written in the first person by Marco himself, almost inhabiting the thoughts and impressions of a young man seeing the world for the first time. This book is definitely one of the best $1 purchases I ever made on a whim, and it will find a permanent place on my shelves.

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Posted by on January 21, 2011 in review

 

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Movie Challenge: #81-100 Conclusion


Before I begin this final installment of my 200 Movie Challenge, I’d like to talk a bit about the challenge itself. When I conceived of the idea, my original estimate was that I would be be able to comfortably squeeze in 100 movies in a year. TWGW suggested that 200 should be more of a challenge. Not one to back down easily, I decided she was right, and thus the 200 Movie Challenge was born.

As you may, or may not recall, my original reviews consisted of lengthy disscussions of the movies I had recently watched. In those long reviews, I included still shots from the films–which, most of you probably know, included a fair amount of digital editing to include some sort of relevant easter egg. That took scads of time, and I was reluctant to watch another movie until I had finished a review. This slowed me down considerably. Add to that the fact that I acquired high-speed internet at home for the first time ever, and got a copy of God of War 2 for the PS2, and it was a recipe for procrastination. A third of the way into the year, and I had only watched around 20 movies. I clearly was not on track to meet my goal of 200 by year’s end.

Then I switched to my super-short reviews, using the number scale you’ve grown to love and/or hate. Things really picked up then, and I started knocking out reviews quickly. It looked like I might just make it after all. This Summer, however, life had different plans for me. Work was such a demand, that I barely had the energy to watch movies with any kind of critical eye, but I perservered, and still made a respectable pass at staying on track. (A note on my number-scale: some have suggested that my scores are over-inflated as I tend to rate everything near a 10. Well, this means one of two things, either I don’t waste my time watching movies I won’t like and have refined my skills at picking a worthwile [to me] film–or, as is more likely the case, I’m able to find merit in almost any movie I endeavor to watch. Either way, I like movies of all sorts, and I stand behind my ratings. Your mileage may vary.)

Then came Netflix. Oh how I love Netflix.

For a movie lover, having Netflix is like a heroin addict having a live-in dope dealer. Movies delivered to my doorstep, and more importantly, movies on tap via the streaming feature. Who could ask for more? The problem came in when I discovered that I could stream not just movies, but television shows as well! I started soaking up shows that I haven’t seen in 20 years, shows I’ve only caught glimpses of when visiting family who had cable, and shows I’ve only recently discovered. Since getting Netflix, I’ve watched nearly 4 complete seasons of Futurama, 1 1/2 seasons of Miami Ink, the complete 4 seasons of Good Neighbors (aka The Good Life) series, all 8 seasons of Red Dwarf, the better part of a season of A-team, about 1/3 of a season of Babylon 5, and a good chunk of the Fawlty Towers series.

In short, I’ve watched a pantsload of Netflix. If you add up all those hours, it’s probably the equivalent of 100 movies. I loved every minute of it, and I’m not sorry for missing my goal of 200 movies. This challenge was about enjoying myself, and being entertained. Well, mission accomplished, as far as I’m concerned.

81. Batman: Under the Red Hood
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):8
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman Mask of the Phantasm
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to put on tights and run around Gotham after dark with it”) 10

82. Murder on the Orient Express
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):2
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of: And Then There Were None, House on Haunted Hill
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would help it hide a dead body”) 10

83. Paprika
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):6
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of: Memento, Tekkonenkrete, What Dreams May Come
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would share my dreams with it”) 8

84. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes–in fact, you should make your kids watch it.
Reminds me of: It stands alone, really. Maybe similar-ish to To Kill a Mockingbird
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would endorse it’s run for Senate”) 10

85. An Affair to Remember
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):5
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):5
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes–but some the themes will go over kid’s heads
Reminds me of:Don’t Eat the Daisies
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want book a cruise with it”) 10

86. Man, Woman and the Wall
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):3
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of: Sliver
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would spy on it regularly”) 8

87. The Fantastic Voyage
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes
Reminds me of:Westworld, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I’d put my life in danger to save its life”) 10

88. King of Kong
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):8
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):2
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes, but not “kid friendly”
Reminds me of:A Mighty Wind, Dogtown & Z-Boys
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would let it beat me at pac-man”) 10

89. Casablanca
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):5
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No, mature themes
Reminds me of:Ninotchka
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would take the fall so it could escape the Nazis”) 10

90. After The Thin Man
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):7
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):8
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No, excessive alcohol use
Reminds me of:Clue, Thin Man
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to team up with it and solve crimes”) 10

91. The Knack and How to Get It
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):8
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Not Really
Reminds me of:Lickerish Quartet
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to ride a bed around the city with it”)8

92. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):4
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):10
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Mostly–some mild swearing
Reminds me of:National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to book a month on the beach with it”) 10

93. The Colour of Magic
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):7
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):9
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Not really–scary moments and swearing
Reminds me of:Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Xena, Hercules the Legendary Journeys
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would gift it with magic luggage”) 10 <The books are definitely better, though>

94. Sex Drive
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):4
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):10
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Absolutely not
Reminds me of:American Pie, Road Trip
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would turn Amish for it”) A very surprising 10

95. Moog
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):2
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes
Reminds me of:King of Kong
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would hire it to play at my wedding”) 8

96. Park
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):8
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of:Twenty Bucks, SLC Punk
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would stop it from committing suicide”) 10

97. It’s A Very Muppet Christmas Movie
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):1
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):10
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes
Reminds me of:It’s a Wonderful Life
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would slap a Cusack on its behalf”) 4
Watch this instead:

98. Beowulf & Grendel
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of:Beowulf (The Chris Lambert version), 13th Warrior
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would fight demons to the death for it”) 8

99. White Christmas
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):8
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes
Reminds me of:Holiday Inn, Guys and Dolls
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I’d put on a special benefit show to remind it of how much it’s loved”) 10

100. The Ωmega Man
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):7
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of:The Last Man on Earth, I Am Legend, Soylent Green
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to repopulate earth with it”) 8

Watch this instead, it’s much better:

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2010 in better living, Movie Challenge, review

 

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