Friday, January 15, 2021

Booknote: Bloodlines

Chris Wraight, Bloodlines: an Agusto Zidarov Novel. Nottingham, UK: Black Library, 2020. ISBN: 9781789991604. 

Genre: science fiction
Subgenre: detective, mystery, Warhammer 40,000
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley
 
Agusto Zidarov is a probator, a police detective in the metropolis of Varangantua. Varangantua is a sprawling city of extremes: squalor and poverty on one end and obscene wealth and grandeur on the other. The city in reality is run by various large corporate conglomerates and by criminal cartels. Corruption is a way of life, even for the Enforcers (the police force). This is the setting where Agusto works. The story begins when the matriarch of one of the big conglomerates summons him. She wants him to find her missing son. Agusto wonders why because corporations often have their own security forces, often better funded and equipped than the Enforcers. Why bother calling on him? Agusto soon finds out this goes way beyond a missing persons case, and he soon realizes he's being used by the matriarch, but why?
 

This is a Warhammer 40,000 novel, but in heart it is a noir detective mystery novel with a bit of conspiracy and corruption thrown in. If you already read WH40K works, you'll likely enjoy this one. The author pays attention to details to get the ambience and setting of WH40K right. However, you don't have to be a WH40K fan to enjoy this. If you like a good detective story with a bit of noir, the worn down cop who has to step up to solve a case no one really wants solved, you'll likely enjoy this one. If you are not familiar with WH40K, you may be concerned about a term here or there. No need to worry. The author includes a helpful glossary so you can get the lingo and terms. 

The novels starts, and it builds up gradually. As the case builds up, we also learn more about Agusto and his family. He is a relatively ordinary man called to solve a big case; this is a common trope in detective stories. Soon the tension and action pick up the pace, and the truth is revealed in the last act. It is a well paced novel that keeps your attention. I wanted to keep on reading. Setting is crucial in the novel, and it works well. It is oppressive, corrupt, overwhelming at times, reinforcing that the odds are not in Agusto's favor. Throughout the novel, we see bits of Imperial propaganda, such as billboards. It can be a bit reminiscent of Orwell's 1984, and it is a reminder that the universe of Warhammer 40,000 is very much dystopian. The author manages to make a good detective noir story within the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and it works well. 

This novel is part of a new Black Library series: Warhammer Crime, taking place in Varangantua. I do hope there are other Agusto Zidarov novels coming down the line. This looks like it can get interesting. Overall, this was one I really liked. 

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Booknote: Tales from Vader's Castle

Various authors, Tales from Vader's Castle (Star Wars Adventures). San Diego, CA: IDW, 2019.  ISBN: 978-1-68405-407-7.
 
Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: Star Wars, juvenile and young adult
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library
 

When Lina Graf and her Rebels team crash land on Mustafar, they need to figure out how to get out of the planet. This means trying to find and/or steal a ship. The only place that may have a ship is Darth Vader's heavily guarded fortress nearby. In order to distract themselves a bit and lower tension, they tell spooky stories. Stories feature characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo and Chewbacca, and others. 

This volume is basically a collection of light and fun spooky stories for young adult/juvenile readers. The volume features five stories that blend spooky with a sense of humor. If Star Wars characters sat around a camp fire to tell tales, they'd tell tales like this. The book is a light and easy read. The art varies as it is drawn by various artists; some stories look better than others. Stories are light and entertaining. While you can read this any time of the year, it makes for good Halloween season reading. It does have a nice cuteness element coated in Star Wars that works. Overall, I liked it. 

3 out of 5 stars. 


Wednesday, January 06, 2021

My Reading List for 2020

Welcome to my 2020 reading list with a few additional thoughts on the year and on blogging. This year, I did write out a few thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic, more for me to keep from forgetting. If you are interested or you missed it, you can check out that post here.  

My professional blog remains closed on hiatus. I have been giving thought to reopening it, as I have been doing some professional reading I want to write on the blog about, but I am in no rush for that. Part of me just wants to close it down fully and archive it; after all, it has been closed for two years now, but there is a small sense of professional duty that urges me to reopen. One, it was the blog that I started blogging on, and two it served me as a learning tool for librarianship, and I think it can still do that. Checking the stats, I see it still gets a few views. At the moment, I may toss a coin to decide. If I do reopen this year, people will know. If I do not, then after this year I will just keep it close and not think about it further. Either way, I got some good mileage out of it. 

This blog, The Itinerant Librarian, by now is pretty well established as a book blogging and book reviews blog. This is where I am concentrating my efforts, along with Alchemical Thoughts (more on that on that in a moment), and I foresee that I will keep blogging here for a good while longer. I am slowly but steadily developing a decent reputation as a good book reviewer and blogger, and I want to keep working on that. The small work I do in reader's advisory through the blog is worth the effort for me, and it is pretty gratifying as well. 
  • A brief reminder and bit of self advertising: If you are an author, editor, or publisher, and you think you have a book I may want to read and review, check out my book review statement, then let me know. I'd be happy to consider it if fits with my review statement and reading interests. I am also a Tarot and oracle card reader and collector, so if you are an author, editor, and publisher of a deck and/or book on this subject, feel free to pitch it my way. If you want to see a sampling of what I have reviewed in that area, you can check the "Tarot" tag on this blog (right side column).

Alchemical Thoughts is now my Tarot and cartomancy blog with some commonplace elements.  I aim to post every Wednesday during a month. In addition to regular features like the monthly reviews roundup and items about books I want to read, I am posting cartomancy deck interview spreads, other spreads, and a few other writings on Tarot and cartomancy. Feel free to check it out, and as always, comments are always welcome. After Itinerant Librarian, this is where I am putting my creative efforts. 

Last year I mentioned that I had started using NewTumbl in place of Tumblr. NewTumbl is where I keep my commonplace and for fun microblog Alchemical Annex. If you want to know how that is working out, I recently wrote a review of NewTumbl here on the blog.

In milestones, September 11, 2020 marked 8 years of me working at Berea College. As I have said before, not always a bed of roses but overall it has been good, and I hope to stay here. 
 
With the additional thoughts out of the way, let's get on with my reading in 2020. To be honest, given the clusterfuck that was 2020 I find it a bit miraculous that I managed to read anything. However, I found that more often than not reading made for a nice comfort in the Hard Times.  

  • I continue watching a good amount of media, especially older things. TubiTv has been a fun source to explore. It is kind of like browsing the shelves of a video rental store back in the 1980s or so. You can check what I have been watching and reviewing, my "Media Notes: Roundup" posts under the "film and television" tag in this blog. In addition, this year, to keep better track as well as trying something new I set up a profile in Letterboxd. We'll see how it works out. 
  • I am sticking with the politics and social issues moratorium in reading and media. I have no intention of ending it anytime soon. If anything, I may get more aggressive with it and tune out even more. I find that not tuning into that as much as possible helps me keep the sanity. I am not totally tuned out as I do keep up with news in my RSS feed reader, but aside from that, politics and social issues and activism are not in my books or media radar. 
  • My Tarot and cartomancy studies are going pretty well. As I noted above, I am posting content related to that over at Alchemical Thoughts, and you are all welcome to check it out. I am also posting my daily card draws on Twitter (@bloodravenlib) as well as at the Alchemical Annex. I did take a small break from card draws during my holiday break, but I will be back to it as soon as break ends and I go back to work.
Now we look at what and how I read in 2020. After the list, you will find my comments and remarks. Note that books with an asterisk (*) are rereads.
 
January
 
  • René Goscinny  and Albert Uderzo, Asterix and the Black Gold
  • Nicholas Pileggi, Wiseguy.
  • Box Brown, Cannabis
  • Robert Scott, Rivers of Blood
  • Dan Abnett, Titanicus (Warhammer 40,000 novel).
  • Scott Allie, et.al., Star Wars: Rise of the Sith, Vol. 1 (Marvel Legends Epic Collection).
  • Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (audiobook).
  • Davide Avallone, Bettie Page, Vol. 1
  • Pippa Cuthbert, Pizza!
  • Seth Grahame-Smith, How to Survive a Horror Movie.
  • Tim Seeley, Bloodshot (2019), Book 1
  • Reid Mitenbuler, Bourbon Empire.
 
February
 
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Fat Cat 3-Pack #20
  • Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, A Zits Guide to Living With Your Teenager.
  • Kelly Thompson, Star Wars: Captain Phasma (Star Wars: Journey to The Last Jedi).
  • Lon Milo DuQuette, Llewellyn's Complete Book of Ceremonial Magick

 
March
 
  • René Goscinny  and Albert Uderzo, Asterix Omnibus, Volume 1
  • Fred Minnick, Whiskey Women.
  • Stuart Moore, Captain Ginger, Volume 1
  • Stephan Pastis, Pearls Blows Up: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury.
  • Jim Davis, Age Happens: Garfield Hits the Big 4-0.
  • Anthony Louis, Tarot: Plain and Simple.  
 
April
 
  • Jaymi Elford, Tarot Inspired Life.
  • Yoshinori Natsume, Batman: Death Mask
  • Melissa Cynova, Tarot Elements
  • Jim Davis, Garfield: His 68th Book.*
  • Charles Brandt, I Heard You Paint Houses
 
May
 
  • Selwyn Raab, Five Families (audiobook). 
  • Jessica Alaire, Vivid Journey Tarot (deck with companion book).
 
June
 
  • Peter Maas, Underboss (audiobook). 
  • David Morrell, Thrillers: 100 Must Reads
  • Sasha Graham, 365 Tarot Spreads
  • Bakara Wintner, WTF is Tarot?
 
July
 
  • Sean Gordon Murphy, Batman: White Knight.
  • T.J. English, Where the Bodies Were Buried
  • Tom Tomorrow, Life in the Stupidverse.
  • Carlo M. Cipolla,  The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.
  • Jody Houser,  Faith and the Future Force
  • D.L. Hughley, Surrender, White People!
  • David M. Bader, Haikus for Jews.  
  • Heidi Darras (artist) and Barbara Moore (book author), Mystic Dreamer Tarot (kit with book and card deck).
 
August
 
  • Ciro Marchetti, Legacy of the Divine Tarot (deck with companion book).  
  • Naomi S. Baron, Words Onscreen
  • Steve Parker, Deathwatch (Warhammer 40,000 novel). 
  • Ange, Patrick Renault, and Charlie Adlard (artist), Vampire State Building.
 
September
 
  • Andrew Beattie, Sleeping Around America.
  • Rachel Harrison, Mark of Faith (Warhammer 40,000 novel).
  • Ripley Entertainment, Inc., Ripley's Believer It or Not (Zenescope series).
  • Bill Campbell, Baaaad Muthaz, Issue 1
  • Jody Houser, Faith: Dreamside.   
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Takes His Licks: His 24th Book.*
  • Leeza Robertson, Tarot Healer.  
  • Barbara Meiklejohn-Free, Flavia Kate Peters, and Richard Crookes, Divination of the Ancients  (deck with companion book). 
 
October
 
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Cleans His Plate: His 60th Book.*
  • Adam Chandler, Drive-Thru Dreams.
  • Various authors, Deathwatch: Xenos Hunters (Warhammer 40,000 short fiction anthology).
  • Cavan Scott, Tales from Vader's Castle (Star Wars Adventures). 
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Eats and Runs: His 65th Book.*
  • Justice Howard, Justice Howard's Voodoo
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Fat Cat 3-Pack #14.* 
  • Christian Staebler, Redbone
  • Henry Hill and Daniel Simone, The Lufthansa Heist (audiobook). 
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Chickens Out: His 61st Book
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Nutty as a Fruitcake: His 66th Book.
 
November
 
  • Rachel Kramer Bussel, ed., Best Women's Erotica of the Year, Volume 6.  
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Slurps and Burps: His 67th Book
  • Donald Tyson, Essential Tarot Writings
  • Sean Murphy Gordon, Batman: Curse of the White Knight
  • Simon Spurrier, The Shadow: Leviathan.
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Brings Home the Bacon: His 53rd Book.*
  • Michael Cannell, A Brotherhood Betrayed
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Listens to his Gut: His 52nd Book
  • Mike Richardson, et.al., Star Wars: Crimson Empire, Volume 1
  • Joe Benitez, Marcia Chen, et.al., Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte.
  • Mike Norton, Lil' Donnie, Volume 1: Executive Privilege.
 
December
 
  • Mark Millar, Hit-Girl in Colombia
  • Elliot Adam, Fearless Tarot
  • George Carlin, George Carlin Reads to You (audiobook). 
  • Jim Davis, Garfield Easy As Pie: His 69th Book
  • Chris Wraight, Bloodlines: an Agusto Zidarov Novel (Warhammer 40,000).
 
 
Number of books reading in 2020: 80, including 5 re-reads.
 
Number of books read in 2019: 72   (the 2019 list).
Number of books read in 2018: 74, including 2 re-reads (the 2018 list).

  
 
Commentaries and thoughts and numbers:
 
  • Total number of books read: 80. Read eight more than last year. Again, I view it as a miracle that I managed to read much in 2020, so beating last year's number even by a little bit is a good thing. I started fairly strong in January, then lost steam over the year then picked up the pace a bit again in October. Part me picking up the pace was making sure I completed my reading challenges for 2020, which I did. I may do a reading challenge or two in 2021, but I am keeping that very minimal. If I do, I will be posting the sign in posts later this month. 
  • Still using GoodReads to keep track of books read. I usually write in some quick impressions on books read, but I post full reviews here on the blog. 
    • On a side note, some of the authors I have worked with want reviews posted on Amazon. While I am OK with that, the Big A(**holes) now have a policy they do not let you post reviews unless you have purchased at least $50 of goods. I found this out the hard way when I went to post a review and suddenly it was not allowed. So for authors out there, I would strongly prefer you do not ask me to post any reviews on Amazon. I am happy to post on GoodReads and on various social media. While I do buy from Amazon once in a while (a curse of living in Bumfuck, USA), it is not often enough for me to qualify for reviews. Besides, to be perfectly honest, given how badly reviews on Amazon get gamed, as a professional librarian, I do not pay attention to those reviews anyhow. 
  • Books re-read: 5, and these were Garfield comics collections. These were mainly comfort reads. 
  • Book challenges completed: 5. See link above. 
  • Best reading month: January with 12 books. 
  • Worst reading month: May with 2 books. 
  • Number of books in print read: 39.
  • Number of e-books (including galleys): 32.
  • Number of audiobooks: 6.
  • Number of graphic novels (includes comics and graphic novels, not manga): 35
  • Number of manga: 1, and the one I read was for one of the reading challenges. This is an area I may try to read some more in 2021.
  • Number of nonfiction:27
  • Number of fiction (not including graphic novels, comics, nor manga): 8
  • Library books: 
    • Public Library (mainly Berea branch of Madison County KY Public Library): 35
      • Hoopla: 3. This year I discovered and started using Hoopla, which here is provided by Madison County (KY) Public Library. The 3 books I read via Hoopla this year were audiobooks. I do have a list of favorites (really the TBR list), so I anticipate using it more in 2021. While still a bit skimpy in selections (I am guessing they get the cheapest package), it has more choices, especially current choices, than Overdrive. It also features graphic novels and comics.
    • Hutchins Library (my workplace): 1
    • Interlibrary Loan (ILL): 2. 
  • Books that I own (or borrowed from another family member in the house): 12. This was enough to complete my TBR Book Challenge for 2020.
  • Books borrowed from anyone else (outside family) or recommended by others: 1 book that was recommended, and that was Words Onscreen. This was also the one book I borrowed from my workplace library that I read. The book was recommended by a colleague. 
    • I never really borrow books from anybody, nor do I lend any of my books. I do read now and then books that others may recommend, but this is rare too. I have so many options to read I rarely need to seek out recommendations from people. I do now and then add recommendations to the TBR list. 
  • Other numbers of interest (to me at least): 
    • Erotica: 1. I finally managed to start reading erotica again this year. I do have one or two more books in this genre, including one I will start reading next week for review, so I hope to read some more in this area in 2021.
    • LIS, including reference works for my work library: 1. I read an article or two in LIS this year but other than that, not much. I am blaming that on COVID.
    • Tarot and oracle: 12, including companion books for some cartomancy decks.
    • Other esoterica/pagan/spirituality: 2
    • NetGalley/Edelweiss: 25 from NetGalley, which was enough to complete my reading challenge from that for 2020. No books from Edelweiss this year.
    • Other books offered for review, i.e. not from NetGalley or Edelweiss. These are books I got from a publisher, author, so on either because I requested them or they were offered to me for review: 2.
    • Books in Spanish: 0. This fell off the side in 2020. I will try to keep an eye out for this in 2021.
    • Crime/true crime: 8
    • Food and drink: 4
    • Poetry: 1

This time last year, I was reading the following books. Links go to my reviews of the books: 

 
 
As we enter into 2021, I am reading the following books: 

  • Ian Watson, The Inquisition War (Warhammer 40,000). This is an omnibus edition of three novels and two short stories. As of this post, I read the first short story and started the first novel. 
  • Richard Ovenden, Burning the Books: a History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge. I borrowed this from the public library before we left for holiday break. I was hoping to have it finished before I returned to work, but it is not a fast reading. It is an interesting book, and I hope to have it finished in a week or so. 
  • Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: a History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America. I borrowed this one from my work library to read over the holidays break. I paused reading it when I started Ovenden's book. Ovenden's book is new for the public library, so it is on the 14 day plan, and I will be renewing it. Once I finish that, will get back to Washington's book. 
  • Peter Normanton, ed., The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics. This is a reread for me, and I have been reading it in and out at a leisurely pace. Basically read a comic or two here or there. When it comes to big compilation books I tend to read them at a slower pace, more so if the book is mine, which means I do not have to return them somewhere else. Hope to finish it this year. 
  • H.P. Lovecraft, The Complete Fiction. I own this, and it is another leisure read where I pick it up, read a story or two, put it down for a while, come back to it. Aside from the interest in Lovecraft, I am reading this to prepare to work with the Necronomicon Tarot deck, which draws on Lovecraft's work. Also if and when I acquire the Dark Grimoire Tarot, which also draws a bit on Lovecraft, having read his work will be helpful I think. This is one I will finish when I finish. 
    • On a side note, I also have a Sherlock Holmes Tarot deck, and for that, I hope to reread the Sherlock Holmes tales; I do have a complete edition of Conan Doyle's tales. I will probably get to this sometime after I get done with Lovecraft's book. 
  • Rachel Kramer Bussel, ed. Best Bondage Erotica of the Year, Volume 2. Recently received review copy. Hope to start it this week. 
I would like to thank my readers for visiting throughout the year and checking out the reviews and other posts. I hope you continue to visit and read in 2021. Stay safe and healthy in 2021 and beyond. To wrap up, as I usually do for this post, here are some links to other folks I found as of this post who are also doing end of year reading lists and surveys, in no particular order:
 

Thank you for reading. Paz y amor. 
 
 

 

 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Reading Challenge: Manga Reading Challenge 2021

Just a quick note to declare I will be doing the 2021 Manga Reading Challenge over at Anime Planet. This is a new challenge for me this year. The site Anime Planet is new to me as well, so I am giving it a try too this year. The challenge is flexible, though the lowest commitment level is 5 titles. I have been wanting to get back to reading manga, manwha, etc. so I am hoping this challenge will help me out. I will aim for at least 5 titles but I hope to read more in 2021.

List of titles read for this challenge: 
 
  1.  





Reading Challenge: NetGalley/Edelweiss Challenge 2021

The previous host of the challenge had announced they were looking for a new host, and I was worried the challenge would not continue. However, Socrates' Book Reviews picked up the baton, so they are hosting it for 2021. Since I always have NetGalley titles to catch up on, I am doing this once more. 

If you are interested or want to sign up, here is the sign up page.

Some rules details: 

  • Any genre, release date, etc. counts as long as it comes from NetGalley or Edelweiss. 
  • Books can count for other challenges. 

 


 
I will start out with the same initial commitment, and I will upgrade it if I read more. I will add books to the list as I get to them, and I will put review links in the book titles once I post the reviews here on the blog.
 
Silver = 25 books
 
List of books read for this challenge: 
 
  1.  
 
 
 
 
 

Reading Challenge: Audiobook Challenge 2021

I did this one last year, and I figure that I will give it another go in 2021. I am finding a few good things via my local library's Hoopla, so I think I have enough books to have a good listening selection. 
 
If you are interested and want to learn more, you can see the sign up post by the host, Caffeinated Reader.  

Some details from the rules: 

  • Books must be in audio format (but can be any audio format).
  • Any genre counts.
  • Crossovers from other challenges are good.
  • Social online hashtag is #2021AudiobookChallenge.

 


 

I am keeping my initial commitment on the low side, so doing the same as last year: 

Weekend Warrior = 5 to 10 audiobooks. 

If I read more, I will upgrade the challenge. 

Books I listened to for this challenge:

  1. Jennifer McCartney, The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place.  

 

 

 

Reading Challenge: Backlist Reader 2021

 I did this challenge last year, and it was the one challenge I actually completed early, so I am feeling encouraged to try it again. In addition, I can do it along with the Virtual Mount TBR challenge (link to my sign up post) as the purpose of both reading challenges is similar: to read stuff on the TBR list. For this challenge, you can or not own the book.

If you are interested in this reading challenge and/or wish to sign up for it, you can do so here

Some rule details: 

  • Books for this challenge have to be published before 2020 and be on your TBR list already. 
  • Social online hashtag for this is #BacklistReader. 

I am planning to tying this closely to Virtual Mount TBR challenge, so for this challenge I will strive to either get books from my GoodReads TBR shelf and/or books listed in my "Items about books I want to read" series over at Alchemical Thoughts.  


Review linky post link.


I will add books to the list as I get to them. I will provide links to the reviews in the book titles after I post them here on the blog. Goal is flexible, so I am committing to 12 books, same as for Virtual Mount TBR. Naturally, if I read more, I will upgrade the goal.

List of books read for this challenge: 

  1. Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon
  2.  

 

 

 

Reading Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR 2021

This is a new to me reading challenge for 2021. It is hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block, who also hosts the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. The idea behind this reading challenge is to read things you have had on your wish list/TBR list for a while. The difference is that unlike the regular Mount TBR this is for books that you do NOT own. Was there a book at the library you wanted to read? You have some books written down on a to be read list? This is the challenge to do that. Otherwise, it works just like the regular Mount TBR, so I figured I would give it a try and see if I can read a few things I have been wanting to read for a while now. 

If you are interested in the challenge as well, you can sign up here. This challenge also has mountain name levels, but since it is a virtual challenge, Bev has used fictional mountain names. I think this can be fun. 

Some rule details: 

  • It is for books you do NOT own. So if you are borrowing it, either from your local library or say your library's online systems like Hoopla or Overdrive, it counts. 
  • Best I can tell, as in the other challenge, any format works: print, e-books, audiobooks. 
  • The social online hashtag for this is #VirtualMountTBR2021.

For me, as much as possible, I am going to draw my book choices from one or two sources. One, from my GoodReads TBR shelf, where I have about 400 books or so if I recall (it may be more). Two, from the books listed in my "Items about books I want to read" series on my blog Alchemical Thoughts. It will be interesting for me to go back through that series and see if I still want to read some things or not, and if I do, then go see if I can get them through either my work library or my local public library. While the rules do not specify, I am understanding this is for books published prior to 2021, i.e. not for new books or new books I add to the TBR lists this year.


I am keeping the commitment low so I am choosing the lowest level. I am starting out to climb Mount Rum Doodle, which means 12 books. If I read more than that before the year ends, I will upgrade to the next mountain (level). As I always do, I will add books to the list as I get to them. I will then add links to the book titles once I review the book and post the review here on the blog. 

 

Link to Virtual Mount TBR Challenge HQ

image credit--ST:The Next Generation holodeck with Capt. Picard      



Reading list for this challenge: 

  1. Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon.  



Reading Challenge: Climbing Mount TBR in 2021

Once more, I will be attempting to climb the TBR mountain of books in 2021. If you are interested, want to learn more about the challenge, or you wish to sign up, visit My Reader's Block, host of the challenge, here. I do have a lot of books I own that I need to read, so doing this challenge encourages me to read some of those. 

I am keeping my initial commitment low, so I am choosing to attempt Pike's Peak (12 books in a year) from the TBR pile. If I make it past 12, I will upgrade to the next mountain (level). 

Some rule details (see the link above for full details): 

  • "Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2021--items requested or ordered prior to January 1, may count even if they arrive in the new year. No library books."
  • "Audiobooks and E-books may count provided they are yours prior to January 1. ARCs are also fine." I do not think I noticed this rule before, but this may be helpful for me this year. I do have a few ARCs, as e-books, so I may add them to the list here.
  • As I usually do with reading challenges, I will go ahead and add books to the list as I read them, and I will add the links to the reviews as I post the reviews. 
  • The hashtag for this on social media is #MountTBR2021. I admit I am pretty bad about using reading challenge hashtags online when I post reviews online. We'll see how it goes this year. 

 

Mount TBR Reading Challenge HQ Link

 

List of books read: 

  1. Ian Watson, The Inquisition War (Warhammer 40,000 omnibus).
  2.  
 
 

Monday, January 04, 2021

Media Notes: Roundup for December 2020

 


This is a somewhat random selection of the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during December 2020.


Movies and films (links to IMDB.com for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via TubiTv.com or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise). In addition, I will try to add other trivia notes, such as when a film is based on a book adding the information about the book (at least the WorldCat record if available).

It was December, so naturally I made it a point to watch a few holiday films.

  • Black Christmas (1974. Horror. Thriller. Christmas). Plot description: "During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger." Film is also listed in the Grindhouse Database. Amuses me that at start of movie, the killer gets into the house because at side of the house there is a trellis, well built one, that allows him to climb up the side of the house unseen to get into the attic. Because apparently they did not talk to the local cops about making the house was safe. Another amusing moment: early in the film, they get an obscene caller (remember those?), and the one girl calls the others and they stand around to listen and mock. Ah, the days before things like caller ID. However, soon turns out the obscene caller and the killer may be the same. Anyhow, once the guy gets in, soon the deaths start. They do not show the killer right away, which does add a bit to the suspense. In highlights, Margot Kidder plays one of the sorority girls, a drunken somewhat nymphomaniac, and John Saxon plays a police lieutenant. The movie is a slow build up film. In fact, it is quite slow. Couple of deaths, then nothing much happens, some drama ensues, takes a while for the cops to pretend to take it seriously. The lieutenant does once he puts some pieces together, but his sergeant is mostly incompetent. Suspenseful without being gory; in fact, when things may be about to get gory the scene transitions to something else. As usual in one of these films, some characters do not make the best of decisions, but unlike most modern films, the potential victims are not particularly odious or obnoxious, just less than bright, emphasis on seriously less than bright. Overall, a somewhat slow film, fairly minimal on deaths, but some decent suspense. I do not see what the big deal about the film is although it does have some elements that basically became tropes in later horror films, so there is that. It was OK overall, so I'd say two out of five stars. Via TubiTV. Watched 12/5.
  • A Christmas Carol (1999. Drama. Fantasy. TV movie). Patrick Stewart takes a turn as Ebenezer Scrooge in this made for television film. He does a very good performance that I think portrays Scrooge as a more internally tormented man, with a bit more anguish. The film does pretty well in terms of being faithful to Dickens' tale. Overall, a good movie for the holidays season, and I really like it, so giving it 4 out of 5 stars. Via cable on-demand. Watched 12/20.
  • Christmas Blood (2017. Horror. Holidays. Norway film. in Norwegian with English subtitles). Plot description: "Murderer gets caught after terrorizing and killing people during Christmas night for past 13 years in Norway. After being in solitary for almost 6 years, psychopath escapes couple days before Christmas night. Police tracks next target of the psychopath to be in small village in the northernmost part of Norway." The movie does have some good suspense, though you have to pay attention in the early part of the movie as it jumps between the present day in the film, where a group of young folks are having a reunion, and then back in time to instances when the murderer commits his crimes. After that, the pace varies between slow and some intense horror scenes with some gore. Most of the movie is pretty slow, but when the killer is at it, you get the dose of horror. The winter setting and the fairly constant darkness do add to the suspense and tension. Overall though most of the movie is pretty slow, and it drags, so loses whatever potential the premise had. It was OK, so 2 out of 5 stars. Via TubiTv. Watched 12/20.
  • A Christmas Carol (2012. Drama. Horror. Fantasy). Yet another adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens tale. Reason I am watching this one is it was suggested as emphasizing the horror elements and darkness more than other adaptations. Keep in mind the story comes from an old tradition of Christmas horror stories, a tradition that is not really as popular today. The story has been adapted as family friendly fare, musical, as a vehicle for older famous actors, etc. So I was intrigued to see this version that was billed as closer to the horror roots of the tale. The opening brief scene where Charles Dickens reveals his newest tale in 1843, "A Christmas Carol" and will read it is a nice touch. From there, we get into the story. The film feels a bit like a live theater performance, and it does preserve the dialogue of the original story, with Dickens' voice doing narration. On the positive, the story stays as close to the original text as possible, down to the dialogue. On the negative, the production values are fairly low, and the atmospheric element seems a bit excessive resulting in a very slow and dragging film. The acting is pretty stiff as well. If you are expecting anything like most classic adaptations, you will not find it here. This feels more like experimental theater than feature film, and not in a good way. The result overall is a very slow film, and to be honest not that interesting. This movie may do two things. One, get some people to read the original story, and two, go find some other adaptation of the story. This certainly is not an adaptation to show children, not because it is that scary, because it is not, but it is just boring. I would say go watch the George C. Scott or even the Patrick Stewart adaption, which I watched this month, or any of the other good ones available and give this a pass. 1 out of five stars, barely. Via TubiTv. Watched 12/22.
  • Santa's Slay (2005. Horror. Comedy). Plot description: "Santa Claus is actually a demon who lost a bet with an Angel, so he becomes the giver of toys and happiness. But when the bet is off, he returns to his evil ways." Bill Goldberg the wrestler takes the turn playing Santa, a demon who is making up for lost time after that 1000 year bet, and boy does he go on to murder and mayhem. Film features a decent cast ranging from Fran Drescher, Robert Culp, Chris Kattan, and James Caan, in an uncredited role, as the patriarch of the family in the opening scene. The opening scene by now has become legendary, and you can often find clips of it online. It is a favorite scene for me. To be honest, some of the people Santa kills do deserve it like that not so pleasant old lady customer at the deli who gave the employees a hard time (the owner is Jewish); you just can't wait for Santa to get rid of her. Overall, this is a fun, silly movie for Christmas. The horror gore is pretty minimal, and Santa does get some good one liners here. A good movie to watch during the season if you want something light and silly. It is certainly a guilty pleasure for me. 4 out of 5 stars. Via YouTube. Watched 12/24.

Other films:

  • La Cosa Nostra: The History of the New York Mafia (2003. Documentary. Crime). Description: "To understand the violent history of the New York Mafia, this documentary examines the organized criminals’ connection to Sicily." Pretty good documentary that combines some interviews with former gangsters with historical footage and narration. It's not one of those sensationalist documentaries. It also looks at things like the stigma many Italian Americans faced due to the actions of the few mobsters of Italian descent. On a not so fortunate note, they interview a few Italian American celebrities in the segment about stigma, and one of them happens to be Joe Paterno (who later fell from grace from the University of Pennsylvania child sex abuse scandal). The documentary strives to be sympathetic to Italian Americans as well as tell the story. The documentary covers from early days of the Mafia in Sicily to the fall of the New York mob including Gotti. Overall, a basic and interesting overview without the usual sensationalism. I liked it, so I'd say 3 out of 5 stars. Via TubiTv. Watched 12/6. 
  • The Hateful Eight (2015. Western. Crime. Drama. Mystery). Quentin Tarantino's 8th film. Short description: "In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters." The film is quite a character study, and it builds up as we gradually learn the stories of the characters, stories that may or not be true, or with degrees of truth. Story builds up until the explosive climax and revelation of the characters' true motives. Overall, a tight story, suspenseful, tense, and an inevitable ending once things get in motion. It felt like a good piece of short fiction or a novella, or better yet, it felt like watching a good stage play. By the way, the actors all deliver very good performances. It is different that other Tarantino films, but it still is a very good film and worth a look. In addition, there is Ennio Morricone's music, which works at the right times to move the story along and enhance the atmosphere. I really liked it, so I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars. Via DVD from the public library. Watched 12/6.
  •  Hitman (2007. Action. Crime. Thriller. Video game adaptation).  The first adaptation of the Hitman video game starring Timothy Oliphant. Basic plot: "A gun-for-hire known only as Agent 47 hired by a group known only as 'The Organization' is ensnared in a political conspiracy, which finds him pursued by both Interpol and the Russian military as he treks across Russia and Eastern Europe." I've seen this before, but when I saw TubiTv added it this month, I wanted to see it again. I did watch the later adaptation, Hitman: Agent 47, back in January 2018. In this one, what seems a typical assignment for Agent 47 becomes a cat and mouse game when after completing the assignment, someone wants to eliminate him to cover up a conspiracy. The plot can be a bit convoluted, but the film moves at a steady pace, and has just enough action and suspense to be entertaining. This movie does the story in a bit more subtle way compared to the later film, which I appreciate. I also appreciate Agent 47's observation abilities; it makes for a small amusing scene when Nika and him sit in the Istanbul restaurant, and she quizzes him on people in the room. On a small trivia note, Vin Diesel was executive producer for this film. The film does not get too close to the video game, but it does keep the essence of the video game while making a decent thriller with conspiracy elements. Overall, it is a film I really like and enjoy, so willing to give it 4 out of 5 stars. Watched 12/11.
  • Predators (2010. Science Fiction. Action. Adventure). Plot description: "A group of elite warriors parachute into an unfamiliar jungle and are hunted by members of a merciless alien race." Film builds the suspense gradually, and we soon know the group of 8 is being hunted by the alien Predators. The film is entertaining enough. Royce, the mercenary, serves to provide some additional exposition, just enough for folks who may not be as familiar with the Predator lore. Overall, as I said, the film is entertaining enough with a twist or two to keep it interesting. I liked it, so I'd say 3 out of 5 stars. Via TubiTv. Watched 12/12.
  • Carter High (2015. Sports. Drama. Crime). Plot description: "During the 1980s Carter High School in Dallas, Texas was a football powerhouse. This is the story of four of the student athletes whose off the field activities cost them their future." The off field activities were robberies and crime. The movie starts at the end of their trial, then does the flashback thing to go back to the start of the story. If nothing else, this movie reminded me of yet another reason I am glad I no longer teach high school: the less than ethical special treatment teachers are expected to give athletes (and I know. I taught at one of those "athletic power house schools" back in my day). Not even 15 minutes into the film, and that element is made very prominent. A reason I picked up this film is that Charles S. Dutton is in it, as Coach James, and I often like his work. By the way, this is Texas in the days where they do paddling to discipline students, and though you do not get to see the actual paddling (they cut out just as it is about to happen), well, keep that in mind too. Coach Carter tries to do the best for his boys, instill good values, but in the end, the boys, especially the ones who end up in that court room, just refuse to learn and would rather turn to crime. As if that was not bad enough, the school and team, which is predominantly Black, faces serious racism (which is business as usual in Texas) and powerful groups trying to derail the team. The movie's story focuses a lot on the football politics, less so on the games; to add a bit of authenticity, they do use archival game footage but still game action is pretty minimal. A common theme is Coach James trying to teach them to make good choices, but as we get to see, the lesson never stuck for some, leading to the athletes forfeiting their futures. In the end, they were their own worst enemies. The big issue is the film never quite settles down on a story, jumps all over, as I said too much focus on the politics, and just does not make a good story with the material it has. And once they win the championship, you still have a bit under half the movie to go, and then it really drags as things go downhill and you wait to get back to the trial scene at the beginning. I mean you really wait. The last act just drags on painfully. Charles Dutton performs well enough but everyone else not so much. I wanted to like this film, but it is just not a good sports drama, and the tragedy is just painful to watch, as in badly done. 1 out of 5 stars at best. Via Tubi TV. Watched 12/22.
  • Werewolves of the Third Reich (2017. Action. Horror. Werewolves. Nazis.). Plot description: "In Germany at the height of World War II, a ragtag group of American soldiers discover Doctor Mengele's diabolical plan to create an unstoppable army of Nazi werewolves" Once more, another entry in the Nazis trying to create a super weapon to defeat the Allies, this time with werewolves. The film is fairly slow, we do not see much of anything in terms of werewolves well into the film. First 50 minutes (of an hour and 30) is about the soldiers, who are all stockade prisoners who assaulted their superiors. They are being transported to jail when a couple of Nazis ambush the truck, and they managed to escape. Film takes a lot of time on their story as well as on the exposition of Mengele and the experiment. By the way, the MPs could have driven around the few logs the Nazis used to block the road, an example of a lot of dumb things wrong with this movie. The horror, if any, is mostly subtle or toned down, such as a camp prisoner with a tattoo; the next time we see the tattoo it is in a lampshade. The implication is the prisoner was killed, and his skin used to make a lamp shade. This is by now 51 minutes or so into the movie, and not a single werewolf in sight.The movie's idea had potential for a decent B-movie, but they just wasted time in various unnecessary scenes and details that pretty much do not lead anywhere other than to make the movie drag. By the way, after the soldiers make their escape we do not see them again until the end of the film pretty much, at around an hour and 12 minutes (by now, movie is practically over). They could keep on walking but they decide to break into the concentration camp, kill Nazis, and there they find out the truth. I like a good B-movie, but this is just an embarrassment. At the end, the movie tells us the "Fearless Four" (what the four soldiers are called supposedly; this phrase is not used in the film) will return. If this movie is anything to by, I highly doubt there will be a sequel, and if there is, you probably should skip it. In fact, go ahead and skip this waste of time. I watched it so you don't have to. Only reason I picked this up is because one of those YouTube channels that makes movie lists had this one on a list of werewolf movies that are underrated and deserve a look. Well, contrary to what they said, this deserves its low reviews and ratings, and it definitely should be left forgotten. Bad production values. Bad acting with terrible accents and cartoonish characters. 0 out of 5 stars; it is just that bad. Via TubiTv. Watched 12/27.


Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via TubiTv, YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes, or other as noted:

  • America's Dumbest Criminals (1996-2000. Reality. Humor. Crime).  See my June 2020 wrap up for commentary on this. Continued this month with the third season. A new season, and they have a new intro, and David Butler has a new co-host in Debbie Alan (Beaumont Bacon co-hosted during the second season). Also this season the show is filmed in studio with a live audience. Via TubiTv.
  • Empires of New York (2020. Documentary). Plot description: "Set amid the grit, greed, and glory of 1980s New York, Empires of New York chronicles the meteoric rise of five icons - Ivan Boesky, Donald Trump, Leona Helmsley, Rudy Giuliani and John Gotti." A look at the 1980s through the story of 5 New York City big personalities. However, we soon learn they, except for Giuliani, made their fortunes by lying, cheating, stealing, and committing a variety of mostly white collar crimes. I say mostly since Gotti was a mobster and outright killer. They did help shape the city and the decade of the 1980s. If you lived through it, you will remember a lot of this and recall how what they did and those like them set up the disasters that came later as those gilded empires fell and the cons began to end. If anything, Trump managed to keep his con going  long enough to win the U.S. presidency and Giuliani milked his greed for fame to eventually become President Trump's lawyer. I'd say Giuliani lived long enough to become a villain, but back then he was the crusading U.S. attorney. Interesting as it is, it does gloss over a lot of the 80s decade, but then again, it is only a mini-series. We go get glimpses of the arts, the politics, and other things going on at the time, but the focus remains on the five persons from their rise to their falls, or the falls of their empires, at the end of the decade. Overall, limited in scope but worth a look. For those who were born way after this, it may start providing an understanding of why the economic inequality is so bad in the U.S. now. That decade planted a lot of the roots that made that inequality happen and explode. By the way, they do devote a bit to the rise of the AIDS epidemic, which I do remember. When you think about it, the fear and panics may hold lessons for the current coronavirus pandemic. Via CNBC. Watched 12/23 (I recorded it then watched at once).