Friday, December 16, 2016

Expand Your Horizons Reading Challenge

As 2016 draws to a close, and 2017 looms ahead, it's time everyone to start contemplating new goals to set for themselves. For me, I tend to think about Reading Challenges.

I've always been a spectator of Reading Challenges, but never a participant. The fact is, most Reading Challenges are simple "Read X number of books this year!", and I read far too slowly for any of that nonsense. However, that doesn't mean I don't challenge myself. Most of my goals, however, are personal. I like to expand my horizons and read new books in different genres and categories, attempting to push my expectation and knowledge of the world. Also, hopefully, such endeavors will make me a better person. (one can only hope)

So, with that in mind, I decided to create my own Reading Challenge. One tailored to suit me, but could also be adapted to suit anyone who wanted to expand their horizons and reach out of their comfort zone.

The way I see it, there are two ways to do this challenge:

1) Easy Mode: For every book you read, check off each item that applies. If you find a paperback Science Fiction Dystopia written by a woman pre-1950 featuring an LGBT character originally published in a foreign language, go ahead and mark all those off. This a great mode for slow readers, ensuring you'll still be well rounded in the end. This is the mode I will be doing, for sure.

2) Hard Mode: One book, one check. The only exception is #52, which you'll see why when you read it. That gives you 52 weeks to read 51 books, because life is hectic and we all need an extra week sometime. I think this is more than aggressive enough, though maybe some avid readers don't agree, but they can find their own damned challenges! 51 books a year is crazy to me, and I'll never be able to do that unless I read every day like a job.

Anyway, here's the list. The "Expand Your Horizons Reading Challenge" that can be applied to any year:

1. Read a book originally published in a language you do not know
2. Read a book by an author born in the same country as you
3. Read a book from the Horror genre
4. Read a Romance and/or Erotica book
5. Read a book written before 1950
6. Read a book written by a man
7. Read a book written by a woman
8. Read a book in the Science Fiction genre
9. Read a book in the Fantasy genre
10. Read a book labelled as Young Adult
11. Read a nonfiction book
12. Read a book with a contemporary setting
13. Read a book written after 1949
14. Read a book published this year
15. Read a popular book, with at least 1 million ratings on any one website
16. Read an unknown book, with no more than 100 ratings on any one website
17. Read a book that was turned into a movie
18. Finish a series
19. Read a History book, fiction or nonfiction
20. Read a short story, one with less than 5,000 words
21. Read a short book, one between 5,000 and 100,000 words
22. Read a long book, one between 100,000 and 250,000 words
23. Read an epic book, one with over 250,000 words
24. Read a self-published book
25. Read an indie book, where the publisher is a small or niche house and not one of the top 6 publishers
26. Read a book published under one of the Big 6 publishing houses
27. Read a Biography, whether normal, Auto, or Memoir.
28. Read a book labelled as a Best-Seller from this year
29. Read a book about Politics and/or Religion
30. Listen to an Audiobook
31. Read a book on paper
32. Read a book that was, or currently is, banned by a government
33. Read a book in the Thriller or Suspense genre
34. Read a Mystery book
35. Read a book labelled as Dystopian
36. Read a debut book from this year
37. Read a book by or featuring a character that is LGBT
38. Read a book in the Paranormal genre
39. Read a book with pictures in it
40. Read a book for the second time
41. Read a book that’s been on your to read-list for more than a year
42. Read a book that features animals
43. Read a book where the main character goes on a journey
44. Read a book where a stranger comes to town.
45. Read a book labelled as a Satire or Allegory
46. Read a book from the Self-Help, Health, Travel, or Guide category
47. Read a collection of poetry
48. Read the first book in a series
49. Read a book that won a literary award
50. Read a book set in your country
51. Read a book not set in your country, but exists today
52. Combining all the letters of all the titles of all the books you’ve read this year, complete the Alphabet

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

Finally finished this one. It took me until November 7th to reach 50% and then I killed the last 50% over the next 2 weeks. Once again, I blame the election cycle. I have troubles unplugging, which is something I intend to correct in the future.



But anyways, on to the book! 4 out of 5 stars for this one. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt tracks the first 3000 years of ancient Egypt's existence, basically from their conception to their time of being acquired by the Roman Empire. The author, Toby Wilkinson, makes clear that he knows this subject well, and he does a remarkable job of covering such a huge swath of time, switching up the pace to keep things moving forward. As a history book, it followed the normal timeline of the rise and fall of royalty, jumping from war to peace and back again. On the whole, I realized Egypt could actually be quite boring if not for Wilkinson's deft hand at explaining what makes this ancient world so unique.

As Wilkinson explains, Ancient Egypt essentially founded the concept of royalty as we know it today. They were the first "bully on the playground," rising to power while most of humanity was still trying to figure out how to survive the winter. The first royalty were in uncharted waters, and as such, they experimented and laid the groundwork for other empires to follow. They were the first demonstrate the need for evil to create an empire (subjecting the people with religion, placating the bureaucrats, dominating and exploiting foreign land), and then also demonstrating the great wonders the could be done with it (pyramids at Giza, Suez Canal), and yet also the great tragedies that could be done as well. Wilkinson shies from none of it.

It also showed me something about our world today. More than once, as Egypt rose and fell in power, Wilkinson would track and show the difference in mentality between those working the fields and never left their home town versus those who lived in the multi-cultural city centers. The difference between those with a local view of the world, and those with a global view. It showed me, quite starkly, that not much has changed from humanity in 5,000 years. Actually, this has been nothing more than a blink of eye, and we're every bit as noble or barbaric, knowledgeable or ignorant and those people were back then.

It would seem history truly does repeat itself, and knowing this, I've come to realize that America as I know it will perish, possibly in my own lifetime. There is no saving it, none, and any attempts to do so will only bring this country's doom closer at hand. Also, I've come to realize that we as a species are not yet beyond are archaic roots. 5,000 years ago, Ancient Egypt made light of slaying thousands just because they could. 70 years ago, Nazi Germany made light of slaying 6 million people who worshiped a different god. Mark my words, we are still capable of such atrocities, and somewhere, sometime, they will be done again.

But beyond that note, about the book. Let it be known that the middle of this book ran a tad dry, hence only 4 stars. However, it was still a great read and I'd recommend it to any fellow history buff looking for an introduction into Ancient Egypt.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: The Intelligent Investor

The Intelligent Investor The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man, this book took a long time for me to finish! This happens every 4 years though; the US Presidential election cycle always consumes me no matter who is running.

Anyways, on to the book! So I decided to pick this one because I wanted something totally out of left-field, a thing completely out of my comfort zone, and it also came highly recommended on some random-website suggesting books that would improve one's self. I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it nonetheless.

In brief summary, The Intelligent Investor is about how to wisely invest in the stock market, written by a guy who survived The Great Depression and really learned a thing of two from the experience. Now, I'm not going to lie, about 25% of this book went too in-depth for me to absorb, but I caught that other 75% and I found it absolutely fascinating.

On the whole, this is one long book that can be summed as "the best path to wealth in investing is patience, diligence, and avoiding mistakes." Essentially, Graham makes a strong argument that the stock market is going up and down all the time with a general upward trend from now to the end of days, so all you have to do is invest across the board, sit quietly, and let the funds roll in. I'm simplifying, but that's the basic premise. According to Graham, the hardest part about being an investor is remembering you can't predict the future and that you should be investing, not gambling.

Sounds basic, right? And yet, The Intelligent Investor provides example after example after example of real life people in real life periods throughout history that made the gambler's error, and over the course of this book one begins to pick up the simple fact that common sense is not actually all that common. Oh, and interestingly enough, this book has quite the comical side, as the author throws around a fair bit of wit. Prepare to chuckle on occasion.

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone thinking about investing in the stock market, but I really can't think of any other reason to read this book. It's a highly specialized piece of reading material (not that I expected any less) but it absolutely owns its area of expertise. I swayed between 4 and 5 stars on this one, but I ended up going with the 4 because the book is a tad dated and can run a bit dry in the details (that 25% I mentioned earlier). A commentary section is needed after each chapter to clarify/clear up what has changed since Graham first wrote this book, and I enjoyed that commentary often times more than the actual chapter itself. For that reason, I went the 4-star route, since I'm not allowed to give 4.5 or anything in between. Still an amazing work though!

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Me Before You

I actually saw this movie about a week ago, but I've kind of been mulling around what to write in my review of it. After some light consideration, I've decided to give it the full 10/10.


And here's why.

So basically, this movie isn't my thing, and I fully knew that going into it. This is a romance movie about a charming young girl giving care to a handicapped rich yet disillusioned man. The themes lean strongly towards the sad-romance as opposed to comedy-romance, so I attempted to judge the movie from what it set out to do instead of whether or not I actually hung on the edge of my seat.

I'll just come out and say it that the main character, Lou Clark played by Emilia Clarke, absolutely 100% without-a-doubt MADE this movie work. Both from a writing perspective and acting perspective, Luo and Emilia are put front and center and made to carry the entire brunt of this movie's charm, and both nail it so well that they are fully responsible for the 10/10 rating I'm giving it.

The character Luo is ridiculously endearing. She's nothing but a gigantic ball of love, fun, and human emotion and empathy that one would have to literally hate life itself to not fall in love with her. This is a good thing as her opposite, Will Traynor, actually does hate his own life, so the task Luo has been set to do seems quite impossible to achieve for anyone but her. And Emilia Clarke! Damn, girl, like seriously. She was so good in this movie. She was given this role to play of this adorable human being that no one in their right mind could ever hate, and she freaking did it! My respect for her as an actress increased tenfold just watching her amazing work bringing this entire movie to life, and also the vast majority of the movie theater to tears.

Other great things about this movie is its ability to avoid making the cheesiness . . . well, cheesy. Luo/Emilia managed to make none of the cheesy parts cringe-worthy, and also the writing of the movie managed to avoid any terrible drops in logic or reason by any of the main or side characters. It's like all the terrible cliches that normally plague these types of movies decided to sit this one out in favor of just watching the romance between the two main characters unfold.

So yeah, 10/10, and it's well worth watching.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Dark Souls III: An Epic Conclusion

​So I'm a rabid fan of the Dark Souls games. There's no denying this fact, not from me or anyone else. I was hooked the moment I played Demons' Souls so long ago, bought a Playstation 3 ​specifically ​to play Dark Souls, pre-ordered Dark Souls II without a second thought, and ordered a steam-controller specifically to play Dark Souls III, which I pre-ordered as well and marked on my calendar the day it was coming out.

Basically, if you're looking for an unbiased source on this game's quality, you will not find it here. If you're wondering what a diehard fanboy thinks of this game, carry on.
Spoiler alert: I LOVE it. From the lore to the gameplay to the design, I'm as much in love with this game as I was with all the previous Souls games. I love the dark, gritty, decayed worlds of lost sanity that make it seem like your character is wandering through a masterwork art piece. I love the hidden lore that is difficult to pry apart and uncover, granting only glimpses into a deep pool of history, like we're some sort of Dark Age's knight glancing at the ruins of the Colosseum, wondering what beings could both create such wonders and yet not avoid their own demise. I love the brutal, relentless combat that makes you fight for every inch and punishes you mercilessly for stepping a fraction out of line. That adrenaline rush when you're invaded, that sense of accomplish when a boss is defeated, that ever so slow but sure grind out of the pit of hell you've been thrust into only to find the pit never ends as you've become one with the madness.
Essentially, Dark Souls III brings back all the best parts of the Dark Souls series and adds some flair of its own. Firstly, it's easier to invade in this game than in previous ones, and covenants aren't as binding as they once were. Players can switch freely between covenants and play for whichever team they want. DS3 also did a better job than DS2 in allowing players to level up their weapons and gear more freely, granting them more options on a single play-through. DS3 eliminated the Soul Memory concept from DS2, which has allowed for twinking to happen again, but it's not that bad in my opinion. I kind of embrace the challenge myself, and even look forward to making anti-twinks, so to speak. DS3 has also added the new feature of weapon arts, which is really a great concept that I've quickly fallen for.
But beyond that, it's pretty much the same game, and I'm so, so happy about that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review: The Black Company: The First Novel of 'The Chronicles of The Black Company'

The Black Company: The First Novel of 'The Chronicles of The Black Company' The Black Company: The First Novel of 'The Chronicles of The Black Company' by Glen Cook
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Black Company is a high, grim-dark fantasy that is almost but not quite in journal-entry form. It follows from the prospective of the company physician who tends to have more heart and soul than his comrades, and also an unhealthy dose of curiosity. I have to be honest. This book just wasn't written for me. I gave up about 2/3 of the way in because I just couldn't bring myself to care about what happened anymore. Let me try to explain in a way that hopefully won't dissuade you from giving this book a try.

What the Black Company does right: This book gets grim-dark well. Everything about this book feels gritty and harsh, and so morally grey that one can't tell the difference between good and bad to the point where it becomes simply "our side vs their side." This book also features some rather interesting god-like villains that are fascinating to watch and read about. Not to mention the plot. This book is straight up plot as you jump from event to event, leading down a long war of attrition being fought from within and without. It's almost "Game of Thrones light" if not for where it went wrong. Speaking of which . . .

What the Black Company got wrong (or at least for me): This book had zero finesse. I like lengthy descriptions, heavy world building, purple prose, and characters that are complex and draw me in. The Black Company pretty much falls flat on all of this as the story skips from event to event, hardly elaborating on anything in a style other than, "I went to the window. Outside I saw a mob. That's not good. I told Raven and we left." If that sort of thing doesn't bother you, than The Black Company is right up your alley but damn did it piss me off. This whole book was just a list of occurrences rather than an actual story in my opinion, and with that comes the inevitable problem I sometimes face: No character depth = no care about the characters. No care about the characters = no care about what happens to them.

And then I lose interest.

I still gave the book 2 stars because I'm certain there's a solid audience for this book out there somewhere. Not to mention I was enjoying myself for about the first half the book, so a 1 star just doesn't feel right. I should probably try Malazan.

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