Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On The Blinding Knife (Lightbringer #2) - REVIEW

WARNING: Will contain spoilers from The Black Prism (Lightbringer #1).  If you haven't read the first book (which I highly suggest you do) go read something else (did you know Universal is opening a Simpsons section to their theme park where you will be able to buy Duff beer?).

The Blinding Knife (Lightbringer #2)

Gavin Guile is dying.

He'd thought he had five years left - now he has less than one.  With fifty thousand refugees, a bastard son, and an ex-fiancee who may have learned his darkest secret, Gavin has problems on every side.  All magic in the world is running wild and threatens to destroy the Seven Satrapies.

Worst of all, the old gods are being reborn, and their army of color wights is unstoppable.  The only salvation may be the brother whose freedom and life Gavin stole sixteen years ago.  

This book takes up right where The Black Prism left off.  No 100 page recap of what previously happened as so many authors are prone to do.  I find this refreshing, and particularly convenient since I read books one and two back-to-back.  You are thrown right into the fray taking place on multiple fronts (political, militant, religious, philosophical, moral).  Brent Weeks' characters are morally ambiguous (some people have a problem when there is no clear "good guys"), yet I revel in rooting for someone who isn't perfect.  When an author can invest the reader into a "bad" character, he is doing his job.

When the author fails at this, it can make a book unreadable (The Magicians by Lev Gross borders that line).  

The magic system (which I've previously gushed about) is amped up with magical artifacts (cloaks and cards and colors, oh my!), the re-birth of some old gods, the addition of new "colors" and new uses for existing colors.  

The story follows three general arcs - Kip on the Jaspers, Gavin on the seas, and Liv on the Color Prince's army.  Each segment brings something different to the table.  Kip brings a "coming of age" story - the young wizard with new wizardly powers, Gavin brings the fluctuations in religious belief, moral righteousness, and a love story; Liv and the Color Prince bring political debate, moral ambiguity (though this is prevalent throughout the Lightbringer world), teenage angst.  The Liv story-line I felt was the weakest, and thankfully it was also the least prominent.  

The Blinding Knife builds off of the world created in The Black Prism, adding new locales, customs, and characters to what was already a remarkably, refreshingly unique fantasy landscape.  

This series is fantastic.  The best two books I have read this year (and they are not in bad company (books read in 2013)).  Five of five stars and a Bill & Ted "EXCELLENT."

Friday, May 24, 2013

On A Game

Earlier (On Purpose) I proposed seven purposes to strive for during the year.  Those are long term goals that are in various stages of completion (some doomed to fail, but that's besides the point).  For this, I want to keep track of what is capturing my interest.  Consider it an advertisement (maybe an endorsement as that sounds less promoting and more publicizing) for the components of the daily grind that I find worthy of distinguished discussion.

Seven seals of approval (and some speculation):

Do you want to play a game?

If you have been looking over this collection of thoughts/comments/reviews you will have seen by now that I am currently reading The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks.  This is book two of The Lightbringer series, and still not having finished the second book, I fully recommend picking these up.  Book one (The Black Prism) is the first book mentioned on this list of good fantasy books with horrible covers.  

As an aside, there are several other books on this list I would recommend:
The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch
The Warded Man - Peter V. Brett
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss (cannot recommend this enough.  If you haven't read it, ignore everything else I've typed up to this point and pick this up)

Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world.  He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace.  Yet Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live.

When Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he's willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

That is a terrible representation of this book, which contains political and religious intrigue, a unique magic system (seriously, "Chromaturgy is going to blow your mind" - Brent Weeks (ok, so the author may be biased, but it is certainly the most interesting magic I have read)), and numerous twists and turns that will leave you both frustrated (in a good way) and exhilarated.  This is the best book I've read this year, and book two is keeping pace.  

Other than work-related memos, you're reading the extent of my recreational writing.  Land & Sea may be dead in the water (no pun intended), at least for now.

Picture quasi-related
Currently Mega Piranha is on TV - but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone but LE (she loves this giant sea creature stuff - Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus starring Deborah Gibson; sign her up!).  Instead, I will go backwards a few months and mention a show LE and I binge-watched.  Sherlock - the far superior BBC modern take on Sherlock Holmes compared to our Elementary.  

You may recognize the two stars at this point.  Benedict Cumberbatch (who plays Sherlock) is getting quite a few gigs now-a-days being in the currently in theaters Star Trek movie, and voicing Smaug in the coming Hobbit sequel.  Speaking of The Hobbit, Watson (played by Martin Freeman) is Bilbo Baggins in the new Hobbit trilogy.

In this modernized version of the Conan Doyle characters, using his detective plots, Sherlock Holmes lives in early 21st century London and acts more cocky towards Scotland Yard's detective inspector Lestrade because he's actually less confident.  Doctor Watson is now a fairly young veteran of the Afghan war, less adoring and more active.

Note: The each TV season is three two-hour episodes.  

Again, a terrible synopsis.  Who writes these things?  Sherlock is sharp, sarcastic, and fully averse and yet subject to ennui until cases worthy of his talents arise.  Picture young Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark as Sherlock Holmes.  No, not quite right.  Review:  Watch me.  

Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy.  

I first noticed this existed when dining at a chain restaurant (TGI Friday's, Chili's, Applebee's...  I honestly don't remember which).  I happened to be on a work lunch, and therefore couldn't indulge, but I kept the idea in the back of mind knowing that barbecue season was around the corner and there's nothing like a cold one with grilled meat.  After a rough week, LE requested an alcoholic escape from reality, so upon obliging and delivering a bottle of Kraken Rum for her, I picked up a six pack of this Lemonade Beer for myself.

A Shandy is a beer brewed with a little something extra.  Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy is crisp wheat beer brewed with natural lemonade flavor which makes it a perfect summertime refresher for those sun-splashed summer days.

Not caring overly much for the bitterness of most beers, the mixture with lemonade makes this easy to drink for us "tasters" (something about tasters tend to be picky eaters/drinkers because tastes are stronger for them).  The company also makes a Lemon Berry Shandy - must remember to pick this up for a test drink.

Oh, Tom Petty, you know exactly what to say.  The Waiting is the hardest part.  

Here's my watch list:
Joyland - Stephen King (June 4th)
Abaddon's Gate - James S.A. Corey (June 4th)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman (June 18th)
Codex Born - Jim C. Hines (August 6th)
The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch (September 3rd)
Steelheart - Brandon Sanderson (September 24th)
The Winds of Winter - George R.R. Martin (hopefully before he dies)
The Doors of Stone - Patrick Rothfuss (not anytime soon)

Iron Man 3 (Quiet, you!)
Star Trek: Into Darkness (Again, silence!)
Man of Steel (June 14th)
Monsters University (June 21st...  for Crabcakes, really)
Pacific Rim (July 12)
Wolverine (July 26)
Thor: The Dark World (November)

Game of Thrones (no episode for Memorial Day weekend)
Under the Dome (June 24th on CBS)
Sherlock season 3 (tbd)
Downton Abbey (tbd)

Tool (maybe before the end of 2013?)

Running with Friends

Running with Friends has you partaking in the famous Running of the Bulls and as you run away from the pack of charging bulls you'll also need to avoid other obstacles which include fruit carts, other players running for their lives, trains and more.  Along the way, there's your usual star and letter bonus pickups.  Your runs are graded both by distance and the number of stars you pick up, and completing words by picking up all of the letters earns you gems.  Combined, this will give you experience points to level up and gems which can be used to resurrect yourself or buy new avatars.  

Like Temple Run only touch-based instead of tilting.  A fun quick game if you have a few spare minutes to kill.  The downfall is that there is no single player mode.  You are limited to either challenging your Facebook friends (assuming any are playing) or picking up loads of random matches so that you have games available to play when you are looking to jump in.

It's nearly lunch time.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

On Talent Shows

That moment when the congestion that had been clogging your mind drains away and you bask in the clarity of cohesive thought once again.

I began watching the initial episode of MasterChef last night (mind you, this is still in my addled state of bacterial debilitation).  I wouldn't call myself a sucker for ALL shows where contestants are eliminated one at a time on a weekly basis, but there are certainly quite a few of these "reality" shows that I will plug into (particularly when I feel no need to be thought-provoking).  However, the opening episodes of these shows are hardly worth watching unless you are into schadenfreude (which so many of us are, which is why this continues year after year).  For the following rant I am referring to MasterChef, but you can insert any of these types of shows into this same argument.

Prior to the first presentation to the judges, where it will be determined if the contestant (who already made it through several rounds of "judging") will make it to the big show (to Hollywood, to Vegas, to the MasterChef kitchen...) you are inevitably given some tidbit of back-story to this "character" (because let's face it, there is some scripting to this even if the "show" wants us to believe decisions are made on the fly).

Inevitably, this back-story will lead in one of two directions:

Character A: Chaz A. Douchebag is a self taught cook, skateboard master and High School senior.  "I am going to win this whole fVcK"^& thing! Ain't no one going to ^%&#$ stop me!  I am the &^#*# best!"

I know, wrong show.  But you get the point.

Character B: Little Susie Sappyface is here wearing her mother's apron.  Susie had given it to her mother on her 100th birthday.  On that day, her mother rescued 473 orphans from a burning building, single-handedly apprehended the arsonist who had fled the country to jungles of Africa, and took each of the children into her own home to cook each of them a personalized seven course meal.  Her mother died that evening in Susie's arms.  This was last night.  Susie also has brain cancer and has been told she has three days to live.  And she's blind.  And deaf.  And has never cooked in her entire life.

I am not mocking Christine Ha, nor do I doubt her cooking ability, but the picture matches my purpose.  There always needs to be a hook.  The winner is not likely to be Steve, a 34 year old man from New York who is happily married, has two children, a steady uninteresting job, supportive parents, and is generally happy with life. 

Season 1 winner:  Whitney - young, inexperienced and underestimated
Season 2 winner:  Jennifer - former Miss Delaware
Season 3 winner:  Christine - blind (pictured above)

I made it through less than half of the opening episode before retiring to the bedroom to slink under the covers and dive back into The Blinding Knife (currently at 459 / 727).  If I'm going to find out exaggerated back-stories, secret plots, and twists and turns, it might as well be in a format where it's not marketed as "reality" and where the good guys don't necessarily always win.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On A Mental Break (for me)

I continue to exist in the mental fog of sinus congestion, limiting my mental faculties, causing strain on thinking on the simplest of tasks (forgetting to take off one set of clothes before putting on the next?  Check).  As such, contemplating actual discussion points for this blog/journal/review portal/thing has not been foremost in my list of things to do.  So, here are some interesting tidbits I've scoured around the web lately.

Dominos Smell-o-Vision (or something of the sort)

Dominos (in Brazil) has an agreement with certain DVD rental chains to use thermal ink and flavored varnish on discs that, when removed from the case look black, but after running in your dvd player thus getting heated, looks like the above and smells like pizza ("pizza dude's got 30 seconds").

Fantastic Four reboot casting

This is a photo of Michael B. Jordan from the movie Chronicle.  Nothing official here, but rumor mill continues to believe that director of the Fantastic Four reboot (Josh Trank - director of Chronicle) will use Michael B. Jordan here for Johnny Storm (the Human Torch, for the uninitiated).  Comic book purists will cry out (behind their anonymous posts so as to not seem the racist bastard) that he is black.  Well, these people need to get over it.  I already posted a little something on book snobbery, and yes I take part in such actions, so maybe it is my lack of caring for the FF comic that makes it ok for me that the director make this "drastic" change.  Or maybe it's just that aesthetics aren't everything, and a well made character is defined by personality more than physical feature (does anyone really care that TV Tyrion got to keep his nose?).  

Funny things children say

Crabcakes on seeing the Penn State decal on a minivan driving by: "I see a clue!"

Sunday, May 19, 2013

On Aches and Pains

When my body is attacked by the microbial nuisance that is the common cold I tend to exaggerate the feeling; the minuteness of the inconvenience seeming to be the end of all that is holy and good.  

In order to make oneself feel better about this hyperbole one just needs to think on a larger scale.

An alien race planning to take over the Earth for millions of years are moments away from pulling it off before being thwarted by the common bacteria we encounter on a daily basis.  Small things can have devastating effects.  

The last few days has been filled with allergies, doctor visits (Munchkin will henceforth before referred to as CrabCakes - or maybe CC for short - after said doctor associated CC's irritability and crabbiness to her Celiac disease - so we therefore can do nothing about it!), and a lot of coughing (both associated with the aforementioned allergies as well as some form of cold that has taken residence within the Szever household).  

Having caught up on Dexter (I haven't decided if there will be more on that another time or if I will just wait until during/after the next (and final) season to discuss) and not caring about watching True Blood (which LE has started) has made it easier to get back to reading. 

But GoT is on tonight, so no progress in The Blinding Knife will be made today (currently at 328 / 727).  

I expect the remaining hours of the day/night will progressively worsen in the feelings department as the microscopic invading army sets up shop throughout my inner-machinery.  I will find comfort in (mostly) mindless television watching, maybe a hot bowl of something (must research if any Chinese restaurants in the area have a Gluten-Free menu), or perhaps a goblet of some liquid fire to warm the soul raised to health.  

Coming Soon:
  • Perhaps further discussion on Game of Thrones after taking time to absorb tonight's episode (so far this seems a cross journal/GoT blog...  Need to fix that!)
  • A project other dorks/nerds/geeks can relate to...  figuring out what to do with the vortex of wires created from housing electronics in one space (must be a child friendly solution!)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On the 22 Degree Halo

The 22 degree halo is an optical phenomenon caused by sunlight refraction in tiny hexagonal ice crystals within a thin layer of cirrostratus haze.  Easily explained and yet it is something to behold. 

    Photo taken on my iPhone outside my workplace.

Robb: One time she told me the sky is blue because we live in the eye of a blue-eyed giant named Macumba.

Bran:  Maybe we do.

On Book Snobbery

Warning: Anything I discuss (be it books, movies, tv shows, etc.) may or may not contain spoilers and I may or may not mention the potential spoilers before/during a post.  

This seems to be the running screenshot used for discussing "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" episode of Game of Thrones (aired 05/12/13).


I have read all of the published books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and LE made a comment as we watched GoT that got me thinking about book snobbery - which I admittedly take part in. 

It's a rare occasion that I see "the movie" before reading "the book" (picture those as air-quotes) - and yes, I'm prone to outbursts of "the book was better" (not counting you, American Psycho).  So, I will watch Game of Thrones and contemplate the changes in story or character, understanding some of the reasonings behind the changes from canon, other times scratching my head, and other other times not even realizing there was a change at all until reading about it later on WinterisComing.net or the like.  But for the most part, I am willing to drop the "book purist" mode and allow things to flow.

But I digress.

I'll give you your warning this time: if you haven't read the books, SPOILER.

The Robb/Talisa scene comes on and we all watch as the couple continues to fall deeper and deeper into their doomed love, and now with news of a wolf pup on the way we get fed sensations of love and pride and anticipation (separate storyline, but what was it The Boy said to Theon?..  "if you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention").  LE looks over at me, blank, "it's hard to care knowing it won't matter soon." (that's likely paraphrased more than quoted - as a reader/writer you'd think I'd remember dialogue better, but I was also watching the show and unless I really dislike something, I am prone to tune the rest of the world out).  But she means more than "care" here.  It's hard to even pay attention.  Who cares about his discussions, battle plans, love life, family matters, etc. when the Red Wedding is at most three episodes away?  Let's get Arya's storyline moving!

Which takes us to the point of this post; maybe it would have been better to not have read the books first (in this case).  Part of me envies the "non-book reader" reviewers out there that are living in the moment of the show, trying to piece together how it will all work out (I look forward more to reading as they try to decipher the complex puzzle GRRM has laid out - vicariously living through that blank slate view of the GoT world, than I do the other reviewes of those who also know what's coming).  Not having read the book, how much more surprising would it have been to see Sean Bean's head taken off at the end of Season 1?..  Ok, Sean Bean dying is a bad example. 

I suppose in the end it is a matter of preference.  One way or another you will be spoiled.  So, which is worse, reading first and knowing how things are "supposed to" go or watching first and having character images, plot, etc. potentially spoiled and then having additional details filled in with the reading (I mean, the show just doesn't give me the details I need about Tywin Lannister's breakfast choices)? 

I will fess up and admit that I watched Season 1 before reading the book (that'll be 50 DKP minus, for me), and in the end I was not concerned about having the character images ingrained in me as Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, etc. etc. because the show did (and continues to do) a fantastic job in the casting department (I also watched Silence of the Lambs before reading it, and why would I want to picture Hannibal Lecter as anyone but Anthony Hopkins?). 

But there's some form of dork power in reading the book first - in knowing that in front of Cersei is a creamy chestnut soup, crusty hot bread, and greens dressed with apples and pine nuts - bickering over the show's use of Gendry instead of Edric Storm - QQing over the omission of Renly's peaches. 

My personal preference will likely always remain that I'd rather read the book first, and in doing so I accept that the show is manipulating me in adding more details of Robb and Talisa's relationship so I care more about him before "The Rains of Castamere" is playing at Edmure's wedding.  I'll admit a certain lack of caring about storylines in knowing the outcome, but revel in seeing something I enjoyed reading so much transformed in a new (and let's face it, more mainstream) medium. 

What I liked: I am a sucker for witty dialogue and Tywin stole the show belittling Joffrey.

What I disliked: The eight hour march of the Yunkai delegate through the underwhelming Unsullied (LE wants the Unsullied to be CGI copies of The Rock - or maybe the members of 300...  and I can't say I disagree).  At least her dialogue with the slaver was amusing and furthered Daenerys away from the Shinji-esque (Neon Genesis: Evangelion reference) whiney little girl (if I have to hear her little voice cry "I will take what's mine with fire and blood" one more time...)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

On Productivity

We have been in the new place over a week now and boy has it been a whirlwind of activity.  Painting, unpacking, organizing, re-organizing, re-re-organizing, painting some more, etc.  Sweat drips from my brow, my muscles tense and pulse with adrenaline, the smell of man fills the room.  I'm sure LE is intoxicated by this, as what's more attractive than "I lift things up and put them down." It has been a productive week.

But productivity is a snake eating its own tail. 

The house is becoming a home as we aesthetically manipulate our surroundings to coincide with our preference, and really, shouldn't that be first priority?  I think so.  But the tail here is everything else on the list...  reading, writing, watching good tv (currently catching up on the season of Dexter I missed not having had Showtime last year).  So I continue to slowly make my way through The Blinding Knife, and Land & Sea is still trapped on an island of 3,000 words.  Still haven't made it out to see Iron Man 3 (yes, the host of The Dork Portal has not yet seen a comic book movie - nor has he reviewed anything dorkly on this blog yet). 

Behind the scenes, the annivesary of my entering this world was this week.  Another year older... 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

On Today

Need I say more?  I will.  Later.

EDIT:  Later that day...

Back when I was younger, not even much younger (heck, maybe even last year) Free Comic Book Day meant something.  It was a means for publishers to introduce the uninitiated onto what they have to offer (*cough*pushtheirbooksonyousoyouturnaroundandbuymore*cough*).  So, the target audience of these are likely the less-read of the comic community (which I now am a part of - no regrets there though).  But back in the day, it was really just a way to save a few bucks to grab some new titles.  Now, I see things a little differently.  

Here is my Free Comic Book Day haul

A slight change from my usual fare, and the reason for that is the Munchkin.  That's how I view Free Comic Book Day now.  A chance for us veteran readers to get the youngins involved.  Now, Munchkin isn't likely to pick up Spiderman or Deadpool (those are Daddy's books), so how do you at least start by getting an appreciation for the medium?  Mostly that's tie-ins to things they know (the reverse of the Strawberry Shortcake book is Sesame Street, and Munchkin went into the store knowing she wanted to walk away with at least that - mind you, Munchkin is 3 and can't really read yet).  

So, being Daddy, Free Comic Book Day is really more about getting some daddy-daughter bonding material and less about gorging on anything for myself as long as it's free.  Are you passing on your appreciation of the art to your own?

I should note that I cracked and asked about the crowd for Magic: The Gathering at my local store.  Friday Night Magic runs roughly 8pm - 1am.  I haven't been out at 1am in...  We will see.