Saturday, October 21, 2017

TV REVIEW | Arrow Season 5

Imagine that I am Oliver and season 5 of the Arrow  is Felicity and you will get how I feel about this season.  No, not sleepy, but comforted and reassured that the show I know and love is back.

I had problems with season 4. Let’s just get it out of the way, I am an Olicity shipper but more so, I’m a fan of Felicity the character.  In my opinion, Season 4 blithely threw her character under the bus in the service of giving Oliver something interesting to deal with.  I know, I know - the show’s called Arrow and is about Oliver/Green Arrow so it makes sense that he gets to be the hero and get the development BUT I don’t have to like it. So there.  Also, Damien Darhk and the story surrounding him just wasn’t super compelling for me.  

So I was all good riddance to season 4.  And it wasn’t immediately warm cookies and trampolines for season 5 either.  Here was my trajectory:

FIRST 1/3RD of SEASON:  Ho hum.  Really this show should have ended after season 4. Or maybe even 3.  I mean how many ways can they keep having Oliver question his monstrousness and humanity?  And where’s Thea?  Why is she doing a desk job instead of kicking ass?  Have they run out of interesting villains?  This gang fellow is like a bargain basement villain and Prometheus just seems like a shady Arrow.  And seriously show, are you really going to try and shove a new team down our throats? No thank you - these people are boring. Despite all of this, I am oddly compelled and can’t stop watching episodes.

FROM the PROMETHEUS STORYLINE REVVING UP TO EPISODE 19:  So this is getting  good now.  I love all these new characters and the new team and Diggle is back and being awesome.  Prometheus is a SUPER great bad guy  - I love how’s he’s jerking everyone’s strings.  Hacktivist Felicity is kinda awesome.  Oliver’s angst is back to being compelling and I’m actually kind of enjoying the flashbacks in this season. Kind of. All I want to do is watch Arrow.

LAST FOUR EPISODES: OMG. Wow. WOW. wow. CAN’T STOP WATCHING. SO MUCH GOODNESS.  Why can’t I watch all of season 6 right now immediately?  Best. Season. Ever.

Or visually my trajectory was this:
Originally posted by dziesiemdziesiat

So season 5 was great, ya’ll.  I watched the entire season in a week’s time even though it overlapped with some extensive travel for work.  I spent every night, anti-socially huddled over my laptop in my hotel room.  Free Wi-Fi is a beautiful thing.

Every season, the villain/conflict has gotten more and more operatic and I doubted they had anywhere new to go but they proved me wrong. Prometheus’ machinations ended up feeling fresh, surprising and seriously threatening.  His origins and motives actually do force out some interesting development and emotions from Oliver (eventually) AND the present day events and flashbacks intertwine in meaningful ways which hasn’t always been the case.  

The other cool thing about the flashbacks is that they bring us up to where Arrow began. They also answer a lot of questions about earlier sketchy developments, like Oliver’s status as a Bratva Captain and his friendship with Anatoly.  I’m curious if there will be flashbacks in season 6 and what they will focus on?

The new characters that are introduced could use some more development but I did eventually really enjoy their inclusion and thought they added an interesting dynamic.  I am still bummed that Willa Holland (Thea) has decided to cut back on her time on the show so she played  and will continue to play a pretty minor role. However, the new team managed to make assuage my sorrow about the loss of Roy, Laurel and now Thea.

And Felicity?  She claimed back some of her awesome and we finally get a reckoning of what went down in season 4 in a mostly (but not entirely) satisfying way.  Felicity and Oliver’s relationship throughout the season was nuanced and interesting and overall I was very happy!  And really Team Arrow is Oliver, Diggle and Felicity - as long as they are kicking ass and taking names at the core, it’s all good!

So, now I am faced with a dilemma.  Do I go back and do a complete re-watch from season 1 like I mostly want to, even though I will have to suffer through season 4?  Do I just re-watch season 5?  Do I try to move on and forget that season 6 is months away from Netflix?  Such hard, hard decisions.

Thoughts on season 5 of Arrow?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

REVIEW | All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Publication Year: 2017
Genre: Science Fiction (novella)
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Awards: None
Format: Paperback (from Library)
Narrator: NA

WHY?: A LOT of love out there for this novella, it sounded fun and I need some quicker reads to catch up to my reading goal for the year.  

SYNOPSIS:  Self-monikered Murderbot, is a security AI assigned to protect a group of scientists looking for usable resources on an unexplored planet.  Murderbot has long ago hacked its governor chip, meaning it has free will, but it must keep this fact hidden or risk being dismantled, or worse, become a mindless drone again for The Company.  When things go wrong on the expedition, however, Murderbot finds it harder and harder to stay hidden and still keep the humans safe.


My affection for stories about Artificial Intelligence was firmly established a few years ago when I re-watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and found that Data has become my favorite character.  Or maybe it goes all the way back to my teenage years when I unexpectedly fell in love with Terminator 2 which I saw 7 times in the movie theater (I happened to work at a theater at the time so it's not that impressive...or geeky - Much). I think I really enjoy the scope stories abut AIs give to ask big questions like...what does it mean to be human?...what is life?...what constitutes sentience?... but in a way that is more entertaining and less stuffy than reading a philosophy text book.   

And that's the main reason you should read All Systems Red - it's hugely entertaining!  Murderbot is one of the best characters I've read all year.  The very vision of a bored, apathetic, socially awkward corporate worker who can't wait to get off and lose itself in the thousands of hours of entertainment serials it can download.  It has a wicked, sardonic sense of humor and cynical outlook on life that was a beauty to behold and often made me laugh out loud.  We've mostly all been there and had to try to hide that negative, shy, pathetic side of ourselves.

The difference with Murderbot is that it's a made thing out of a blend of organic and inorganic materials and it is not supposed to have a personality. It's also not supposed to care about the humans it is guarding but even though it is inclined not to, it does, because they are a nice, intelligent, tight knit group of friends that don't make Murderbot do horrible or humiliating things.  Against its will, it develops an affection for them or, at least, doesn't want to see them die.

The story is also fast-paced and a lot of fun being part mystery, part sci-fi thriller and part action-adventure.  Given that this is a novella and only has a limited page count, Wells does an admirable job telling a well-rounded, satisfying and complete story that also left me wanting more and excited that this is book one in a series.  You can probably thank Murderbot for me wanting more!  

The society and and context of the "Sec Units" in the universe is also well established, which is again really impressive for such a short book especially since the world-building is well-integrated into the plot and does not slow the pace down one bit.

All in all this was a very enjoyable and neat bit of storytelling which I would highly recommend!

FINAL VERDICT: A really entertaining and well told AI novella! 4 out of 5 stars.

OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: Greg's Book Haven | The Book Smugglers

“I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don't know, a little under 35,00 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.” 
“Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency. I’d rather climb back into Hostile One’s mouth.”  

Sunday, October 8, 2017

REVIEW | The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
Publication Year: 2014
Genre: Middle Grade, Urban Fantasy 
Series: Lockwood and Co. #2
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Katie Lyons
Related Reviews: Book 1

WHY?: Because I really enjoyed the first book, The Screaming Staircase.

SYNOPSIS: While business has picked up since Lockwood and Co. cleaned out the most haunted house in England, it's still not great. Lucy, Lockwood and George have really meshed as a team however and Lockwood really wants to see them tackle another big case.  They agree to help out at the disinterment of a Dr. Bickerstaff, who in Victorian times was accused of grisly acts and murder.  With the body, a mysterious artifact is also dug up that seems to have dangerous effects on any who look on it, so when it is stolen, Lockwood & Co. set about getting it back at all costs so it can be destroyed.  In their quest, they get some unexpected help from a ghostly Skull in a jar, who happens to have known Dr. Bickerstaff in life.


It's a little challenging writing a review for this book because I've already read (voraciously devoured) the final three volumes in the series.  I adore it quite devotedly and it has been one of my most enjoyable reads of the year but that poses some challenges for speaking rationally about this book - book 2.  It was good and I really enjoyed it but the series didn't truly get addictive for me until book 3.  Anyway, I will try to separate out my reasonable and clinical thoughts on this installment without letting my love for the future books cloud my thoughts. Much.

One of the rules learned in book one is that ghosts don't talk except for the very rare type 3s and the last person to encounter one of the those, Marissa Fittes, is long dead.  So, Lucy was shocked at the end of The Screaming Staircase when the haunted and gruesome skull they keep in a jar spoke to her.  Much to her chagrin and unease (because it has nothing nice to say) it becomes downright chatty in this book and no one else can hear him, except Lucy.  Thus is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  (Seriously, just wait!)

It turns out that the skull knew the evil Victorian Dr. Bickerstaff in life and he has crucial information about the deadly supernatural mirror the doctor created which no one seems to be able to look into without dying.  It's obviously very dangerous which is why Lockwood & Co. risk life and limb to retrieve the mirror from an underworld auctioneer of ghostly artifacts after it is stolen of the disinterment site.  Lockwood and George are both excited about Lucy's ability to talk to the skull and think it is a huge ace up their sleeves but Lucy isn't so sure they can trust any of the information the skull is giving to them.  

Like book one, the smart-alecky humor shines and there are plenty of ghosts.  In almost every other way it surpasses The Screaming Staircase.  The characters and their relationships really deepen and become more complex. George in particular, gets a good bit more development as his friends worry he's been possessed by the mirror and also fret a little about how well he fits in.  By the end of this book, the three members of Lockwood and Co. are really and truly bonded and it's ridiculously heartwarming but not in a trite way.  Stroud does a great job writing interesting complex characters for a middle grade audience.  Sure, the characters act and seem quite a bit older than their 13 years but he makes sure to bring in some juvenile humor and recklessness from time to time and you can justify their maturity by the fact that they have to hunt ghosts and face peril for a living.

The plot in The Whispering Skull is also a good bit more cohesive and better paced than book one.  The Screaming Staircase had some serious set up work to do and the flow and plot was sacrificed a bit to establish the world and the characters.  With all that set up out of the way, this book has a good bit more meat to the plot and juggles several intertwining story lines, like Lockwood and Co.'s David and Goliath type rivalry with a team from the bigger, older and fancier Fittes Agency.  This book did not become an obsession for me like the later books but it was a really satisfying read and a step up from book one.

The narrator for the audio book is really good.  She does an excellent job voicing all of the characters.

FINAL VERDICT:  About as good a book series as you can get about young folk fighting ghosts and this second book in the installment is a step up from book one and sets up the rest of the series nicely. 4 out of 5 stars.

OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: The Book Monsters | Navigating the Stormy Shelves

Monday, October 2, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY | The Book Characters I Wish Were Real

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  

It is shocking to me that I haven't done a list like this before! I kind of suspect I have bt can't find it... Anyway, I love writing about my favorite characters and there are so many I'd love to meet as real people. Yes, this week's topic is...
October 3: Top Ten Book Boyfriends/Girlfriends (Which characters do you have crushes on?)
I think I am going to stick with male characters - if I opened it up to females it would be too hard to narrow down.  And these are all men that I have a little bit of a crush on.  It's not weird to crush on fictional characters, right?

1) Anthony Lockwood from the Lockwood and Co.Series by Jonathan Stroud

This is my most recent book crush and it does feel a little skeevy since Lockwood is only supposed to be like 14.  My only excuse is that the way he is written makes him seem much older.  Lockwood is very warm and charming, has a distinctive style, is a great leader, courageous, loyal and has a great sense of humor. He's also got his emotions locked away tight and doesn't open up too easily.

2) Peter Grant from the Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch...Or maybe Nightingale...

I love Peter's sense of humor and how down to earth and loyal he is.  Nightingale is his mentor and boss in the supernatural unit of the London Metropolitan Police and is also very alluring though we don't get to know him as well or as personally.  

3) Augustus "Gus" McCrae from Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Gus is one of my favorite characters of all time.  He's romantic, sweet, genuinely likes and respects women, and is funny and wise.  He's also a bad ass retired Texas Ranger.  I just simply adore him.  

Art by Merwild
4) Kaz Brekker from the Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

Kaz is basically a darker more extreme version of Lockwood, above. I don't know what it is about emotionally damaged men who have reined in their emotions so tight except for that one girl that they are madly in love with, but I adore them with every fiber of my being.  It creates such sweet, slow-burn romance.

5) Frances Crawford of Lymond from the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

So, in reality, Lymond would make me feel like a moronic, awkward clod of earth and I would be no where near interesting enough to capture his attention but I'd surely like to be the type of lady that could turn his head. Lymond is impossibly clever, charming and always 10 steps ahead of everyone.  And yes, he is basically an even darker version of Kaz and Lockwood.  A blonde Tom Hiddleston is probably my favorite fantasy casting for him.

6) Adam Parrish from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

I'm afraid that once again, I fall for the damaged boy who just needs love to start healing him.  You could argue that Ronan is more damaged but I really identify with how Adam deals with his issues in becoming more of a rule follower and striving to excel and get out.  He's so sweet and was definitely the character who had my most steadfast loyalty throughout the series.

7) Zacharias Wythe from Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Oh how I loved the clever, introverted, talented wizard in Sorcerer to the Crown who defeated his enemies by being more polite, more talented and better than all of them.  Sadly, the love interest that Zen Cho chose for him, reckless, impulsive, rule-disdainer Prunella, stressed me out big time and I kind of hated them together.  😢

8) Carswell Thorne from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Just to show what a complete double standard I have, I find reckless, impulsive, disdainer-of-rules Carswell Thorne, delightful.  I don't think it's because he's a guy and can get away with it, I think it's because he's got a great sense of humor and is very charming.  He and Cress are my fave couple in the Lunar Chronicles and I love his and Cinder's dynamic so much as well. He's for sure the quintessential, lovable rogue!

9) Cross aka Jasper Arlesey from One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean

Perhaps my favorite all-time romance hero though my affection for me him may be mostly influenced by his good sense to fall in love with the odd and quirky Pippa.  He's a big old nerd who, you guessed it, is damaged and haunted by his past.  He swears to stay abstinent as a punishment and because he thinks he's no good when really he is known by women low and high as the person you go to for respect and no judgement.  Sigh...I love he and Pippa. AND now I want to do a re-read:).  

10) Mark Watney from The Martian by Andy Weir

A super smart, botanist, astronaut with a goofy, sarcastic sense of humor?  I was definitely smitten with Mark Watney!

That's it for me!  Do you have any book characters that you'd be particularly excited about if you met them in real life?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

September is Dead. Long Live October!

The Monthly Wrap up

Hi!  I don't normally do monthly wrap ups, being more inclined in the past towards a weekly format.  BUT...well...This year has been a weird one for the blog.  I have no desire not to blog but staying on any kind of predictable schedule seems equivalent to performing brain surgery on an earthworm...nigh on impossible.  I've lost my rhythm and that's probably okay.  Jenny @ Reading the End has noticed a trend of blogger burnout of late and she attributes it to U.S. President-related trauma.  If you follow the link you'll see she has a nice simple idea for a Sunday post and link up called Something on Sundays which she describes as "write about something that kept you on your feet during the week."  I plan to participate at least sometimes.  

Anyhoo, I also decided to mix it up a little and do monthly rather than weekly wrap ups. RADICAL, I know.  

Outside In The Garden

September is a bountiful month outside.  Many species of wildlife are migrating.  In Iowa, we had an especially huge hatch of migrating Painted Ladies that were moving south at the same time as the Monarch Butterflies. It was a butterfly-palooza. The Sawtooth Sunflower has also had an amazing bloom this year so they all had good nectar availability.

This is like 8 feet tall!

The latter part of thes season in the garden has been a little disappointing as it often is, to be frank.  I didn't plant enough green beans so never had more than like 5 beans at a time, lol.  Most went to Ella. 🐰 My lima beans have been productive but all the pods are at many different stages so like the green beans I've gotten a small handful at a time.  I find it frustrating to know what to do with these small quantities.  I'm not sure I'd ever be happy though - I'd probably be overwhelmed if I had too many come in at once:). 

Escaping Reality


I read 8 books in September. 
4 Middle-grade Fantasy
2 Mysteries
1 YA Historical 
1 Romance


The highlight of my reading month has to be the last three books of The Lockwood and Co. series by Jonathan Stroud.  I started book 3, The Hollow Boy on September 20th and finished the final book in the series, book 5 The Empty Grave, on September 24th.  The Hollow Boy took this series to another obsessive, amazing level, a pedestal from which it did not fall, right through the amazing conclusion to the series.  I am a little bummed that I will no longer get to share Lockwood and Co.'s ghost-fighting adventures so I was THRILLED to learn that the series was optioned this month for a TV series by a pretty successful production company.  I really hope it gets made  - it would be A-MAZING!

Honorable mention goes to the really excellent The Likeness by Tana French, the second in her Dublin Murder Squad series.  I don't know why it took me so long to read this after I loved In The Woods and it was, of course, fantastic.  If you like character driven, emotionally complex mysteries, Tana French is your author.  

Second honorable mention goes to The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee for being delightful and to The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye, the final book in her Timothy Wilde trilogy for being a wonderful if bittersweet conclusion to a great historical mystery series.

Obviously, it was a good reading month! Only 2 of the eight books got less than 4 stars. 

A Quote - 
 “There's a Spanish proverb," he said, "that's always fascinated me. "Take what you want and pay for it, says God.'" "I don't believe in God," Daniel said, "but that principle seems, to me, to have a divinity of its own; a kind of blazing purity. What could be simpler, or more crucial? You can have anything you want, as long as you accept that there is a price and that you will have to pay it.”  -The Likeness by Tana French
 YTD Books Read: 74 (15 books behind schedule for my Goodreads challenge - yikes!)

Added to the TBR...

I added 9 books to my To-Be-Read list in September with two that I am most excited about which are:

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

I believe both of these were brought to my attention by Danya at Fine Print - go check out her reviews and thanks Danya!


My TV slump continues.  The only show I really watched was The Doctor Blake Mysteries, a historical mystery series set in Australia in the 1950s, featuring, you guessed it, a Doctor.  There are three seasons available on Netflix and I watched all of them.  The show is pretty good but nothing super special.

I did just (like JUST, in the last couple hours) discover a show on Netflix called Very British Problems that has me laughing like a hyena.  I suspect I do have more than my fair share of Brit in me. My favorite thing so far was in fact making fun of Americans:


It's pretty much been all audiobooks all the time so no new podcasts or favorite music to report.

October Forecast

October is one of if not my one and only favorite month of the year.  The weather is usually divine in Iowa and my work is in a lull before all hell breaks loose.  What 5 things am I really looking forward to this October?

1) Kombucha!  A co-worker of mine shared a scoby with me so I am going to embark on experimenting with this fizzy, fermented tea drink.  

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
2) Dickinson, North Dakota!  I will be traveling to Dickinson, ND for a work-related meeting and part of me is kind of nervous about it.  The only real way to get there reasonably is a 10 hour drive and the meeting will be a little out of my comfort zone - most if not the entire attendance will be hunting bro-dudes which generally regard my middle-aged, unmarried, non-hunting, butterfly loving self with suspicion and awkwardness and to be fair, vice versa.  BUT, it's good to stretch myself and I've never been to ND.  Dickinson is a hunting hub and a lot of the hotels allow dogs for free so I am bringing my pups with.  There's a huge National Park just to the west of town which I'm hoping to have time to check out. It won't be winter...yet. It will be an adventure.

3) Something Rotten!  The 2017-2018 Theater season starts with Something Rotten, a spoof  musical comedy ala Spamalot.  

4) Planting Garlic!  The gardening season is winding down here in Iowa but for the garlic it is just the beginning.

5) Dewey's Read-a-thon!  This fun 24-hour readathon is on the 21st and I'm going to try and participate. Any excuse to just read all day long!

SO. How was your September?  Anything in particular you are looking forward to in October?