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Review: He-Man: The Eternity War Vol. 1

He-Man: The Eternity War Vol. 1
He-Man: The Eternity War Vol. 1 by Dan Abnett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What is it about nostalgia that makes folks pick up old pieces of work that should really be left alone? Not everything that we’ve enjoyed in the past, when our minds is not as grizzled or matured or tempered with experience the way it is now, is really as good as it was the first time we encountered it. This should be a universally known fact. However what is also universally true is people cannot resist the call at another go for that lost feeling of wonder. Corporate marketing is one of the first to know this, and is ruthless at exploiting this trait.

Almost every child my generation knows about He-Man, given the lack of choices we have in choosing which cartoons we had to watch. Good thing too, because He-Man wasn’t horrible, but then now that I write this, I’d find it hard to admit which of the cartoons I did watch sucked. He-Man was entertaining, had a mythology that was easy to follow, has colourful characters that had plenty of adventures, and boy was it exciting. So it goes.

Literally 30 years later (minus several years, let’s not worry about precision here), I find that DC has taken the He-Man property and, as it quite the trend nowadays, ‘given it new lease in life’. Dan Abnett, a writer of some reputation (although I can’t really place him in my mind just this second), has been tasked to revamp the story, and give it the grit and veneer of complexity that characterizes a modern take of anything old school. And it worked.

This volume is actually a continuation from a series of stories started by Abnett earlier, where He-Man and all his allies lost their memories in an unexplained universal reboot apparently engineered by Skeletor. Apparently the harmless sidekick Orko, the floaty handkerchief with eyes, was the traitor that allowed this state to happen. The bad guys remembered the old days when the Masters of the Universe routinely kicked their butts, and during Adam’s quest for recollection, they never fail to point out how low Adam has supposedly fallen from his earlier lofty positions. Also changed was She-Ra, who is now a general of evil fighting alongside the bad guys.

The Eternity War is the final cycle for this rebooted universe, and things have moved further along from Abnett’s earlier stories. So in this arc, She-Ra now fights for good, the old Sorceress is dead and has been succeeded by Teela, who leads the army of Snake-Men, which was traditionally He-Man’s foes (I don’t know how this happened – I read the reboot arc, and now this one. I don’t know how they got from that to this state). Hordak, the guy who supposedly pulled the strings in the back and the real bad guy behind Skeletor, dies and has been taken over by Skeletor. Through some mumbo-jumbo about the magic juice from Castle Grayskull, Skeletor is now embued with the power of Grayskull the same way as He-Man is, and meets his arch-enemy for a final showdown. No prizes for guessing who wins.

Which brings me to what I really want to say. After all the excitement of seeing my old friends again, the fond memories of characters that used to occupy my childhood fantasy adventures (and a character whose action figure I used to own! Actually I owned several He-Man action figures), after all the dust has settled, what have we got on our hands? That’s the most powerful thought I had when I finished the entire Eternity War story arc. If you strip everything away, what do you have?

After the final analysis, the answer, for me, was really nothing at all. It wasn’t even a competent story, because it was so convoluted especially the part about the magic of Grayskull somehow having the blood of the Adam’s lineage somewhere in its bowels that can be transfused into anyone willing to receive it. The part about how Adam was actually devoured by Hsss and how that turned into a fight in Adam’s consciousness to regain control of his body. It was an exercise to shoehorn what was already there into a story that made sense, and in my opinion didn’t quite succeed.

It was good to see He-Man and the gang again. But I’m forty years old next year, and this work, more than anything else, made me realize just how silly it has been reading this work. There’s a bit of magic, then, when people read Batman stories for 30 years and not be reminded how old they are, despite Batman being around since before they were born.

So then. What is it about nostalgia that makes folks pick up old pieces of work that should really be left alone?

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Review: Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Finished this earlier than recorded date)

Lots of knights. A damsel in distress. Robin Hood. English King and the French invaders! A titular character who gets injured and was out of action for what I felt was a significant part of the book, but returns to kick bad guy’s ass.

It’s an adventure book, but not a particularly memorable one for me. The one scene that I liked was the one where (and watch closely how I do this) the bad knight (French!) was locked in his room by the old haggly woman who was a slave in the castle for decades. She turned out to be a nobleman’s daughter (noble English!), tortured and used all this while in this castle as a captive from a siege long ago that also killed her family. She encounters an English knight in an escape attempt from the castle, revealed herself to him and was shocked to hear him denounce her as not living up to her noble lineage by sacrificing herself to kill those who dare destroy the English. She apparently wakes up from her desolate existence and decides to kill the main bad guy. Having locked him in his room, she proceeds to burn the tower, killing him and herself in the process.

I wonder what a wonderfully horrible job I did there, and if I deserve an applause.

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Review: The Secret Footballer: Access All Areas

The Secret Footballer: Access All Areas
The Secret Footballer: Access All Areas by The Secret Footballer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Finished earlier than recorded here)

Ok, a little something about their propensity for sex. Nothing too saucy though. Young chaps with testosterone on overdrive. And willing participants. Oh well.
I like that Mr Footballer here is very self-aware about what’s happening, and his observation of the environment in which these footballers spent most of their time changes their view of the world. Not everyone matures at the same rate, and some of these boys cannot recover from the praise that was heaped on them since young.

Anyway, a thoroughly entertaining book. I’ve read three of his books now. One more to go. It’s not a competition or a checklist I have to go through. I like the insider bits he shows us as he paints the picture of a world I won’t have access to otherwise.

Compared to his other books, this is average. I liked his Guide to the Modern Game a little more I think, because I learned a little more about the game from the perspective of how it’s played, rather than learning about the dirty bits that go behind the scenes of the game.

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Review: North Korea Undercover: Inside the World’s Most Secret State

North Korea Undercover: Inside the World's Most Secret State
North Korea Undercover: Inside the World’s Most Secret State by John Sweeney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m fascinated by North Korea, which is really an alternate reality on Earth. The Kims have a lot to answer for to the millions of North Koreans spanning generations lost since its founding.

The book adopts an incredulous tone throughout the narrative that I thought detracted from the book a little. Sweeney’s feelings are understandable, and rightly so, but the way it seeps into the text makes the book more emotional than factual. I realize, of course, no text on any subject is free from emotional bias, but the constant name calling (Fat Boy Kim, Elvis impersonator Kim, etc) I feel weakens the text.

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Review: To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I have this on Audible, and I have literally stopped and restarted this book no less than 5 times, over a period of 3 years. I’ve gotten the furthest with this latest run, but I have to stop. Enough is enough.

I have no idea what this book is about. Maybe I have to actually read it, but usually Juliet Stevenson does an amazing narration. I hear her, but nothing’s coming through at all. At least for Ulysses, which was also similarly difficult to listen to, had spells where I could actually understand what’s happening.

I couldn’t do that here. At all.

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Review: A Little History of Philosophy

A Little History of Philosophy
A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[Forgot when I finished this]

Snippets of the thinkers in philosophy. Short chapters for each thinker, one leading to the next via a clever little setup.

Good introduction to the figures in philosophy.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From a story perspective, this book is weaker than the original 7 books. It almost feels like a “greatest hits” collection, a sauntering lap of honour as the story brings the readers back to pivotal moments in the early books (yes, there’s time-travel involved).

That’s not to say that the story was poor. The originals had a purpose – an almighty quest that took 7 books to bring to closure. It was clear from the onset that this was an addendum, something that simultaneously brings an update to the fans on the state of affairs after 19 years in Potterverse (and 9 years since the publication of the last book), as well as to shoehorn a good story in there. So naturally the story needs to plumb the depths of the canon for familiarity’ sake.

I enjoyed the story very much. As I mentioned the story itself was competently done, but what I really liked was the fact that this was a father and son story. And I’m truly a sucker for those, seeing that I’m also a father of a 9 year old. Being a father made me emotionally susceptible to blatant plot twists involving father-son relationships, threatening my long held reputation as a stone cold-hearted bastard who doesn’t bat an eyelid at the supposedly tear-jerking moments in any book (which was first shattered, btw, by another father-son story). I see the challenges Harry has with his growing second child Albus as something that I have to brace myself facing. So this book actually gets three-stars, with a bonus one for being a father-son story.

(This is my review and I do whatever I want)

This was a fun romp, and I highly recommend this to Harry Potter fans. If you’ve not read HP before, give this a miss for now. Do yourself a favour, set aside any preconceived notions and preconceptions you may have surrounding the originals, and read them.

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Review: Speaks the Nightbird

Speaks the Nightbird
Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Can’t remember when I started).

A monster of a book. It was sitting in my TBR (or more accurately, TBL (to be listened)) pile for years, and I’ve finally gotten around to it.

It’s long, but it doesn’t contain a huge cast of characters – almost like a locked room mystery. All the action takes place in a frontier town called Fount Royal, founded by a loud overachiever called Bitwell. The story is set in 1699, and it revolves around the trial of a supposed witch in Fount Royal, Rachel Howarth, said to be responsible for two grisly deaths, including that of her own husband. British Empire magistrate Isaac Woodward and his clerk Matthew Corbett was summoned to put the witch on trial, and sentence her.

As the story flows along, we find that all is not as it seems in Fount Royal, and young Matthew increasingly believes that there are forces at play here that seem intent on a larger plot beyond the sentencing of a witch. Doesn’t help that Matthew is smitten by the beautiful widow whom he believes is framed for the murder. Running against time, Matthew attempts to uncover the clues that will exonerate Rachel and expose the truth.

I enjoyed the story more than I thought I would. I had expected a horror tale (and looked forward to it too!) given McCammon’s reputation. As the tale wore on I found not only was it *not* a horror tale, but an incredibly interesting whodunnit.

Worth a read.

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Review: Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread

Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread
Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(can’t remember when I read and finished this, but definitely within the timeframe I put up here)

This was forgettable. I mean literally. I forgot what this collection of stories was about. I think I remember the description of a horse’s genitals, and one of the character’s apparently embarrassment over seeing it. That’s it.

Careless of me, really. I should look of the synopsis and redo this bloody review, because this defeats the purpose of me tracking the bloody books in the first place.

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Review: Farthing

Farthing by Jo Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(It was read and finished sometime in June 2016)

Another excellent book, tangentially related to World War II. Again, I found myself liking it. All those things I used to mention about not liking books related to historical military wars, especially revolving around the wars in the 20th century, is turning out to be pretty rubbish.

I learned a lot about Jo Walton on this book, and it opened my eyes about the relationship (or rather, the market perception) about genre writers and their writing prowess is woefully misrepresented. Walton is an excellent writer, and by that I don’t mean story-wise (although that too wasn’t bad, in fact I wasn’t expecting a murder mystery. But then, I didn’t expect anything at all, not knowing much about the book beyond the back cover blurb). No, what I mean about Walton being an excellent writer is her prose is excellent. None of that Cassandra Clare, Veronica Roth level writing (although they are both published and deserve all their fame and success, because they put their work out there, unlike me, your typical armchair amateur book internet commenter).

I actually wrote quite a lot about the book in my book journal, and I’m not about to rehash or reproduce it here. Suffice it to say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, and the story.

Moralistic. Read it.

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