Fire and Blood by George R.R. Martin: Perfect for the Hardcore “A Song of Ice and Fire” Fan, but Probably not for You

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At this point in its life cycle, everyone knows George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series–which burst onto the fantasy scene in 1996 and amassed cultural clout with the arrival of the HBO adaption in 2011– isn’t going to be completed any time soon. It’s been eight years since the last main-series installment, and, while we’ve been given numerous ASIOF themed books and spinoffs, things have gotten to the point now where the TV series has surpassed the show, and fans who don’t want things spoiled for them (that’s me) will have to hide under a rock for years starting this April, It sucks, but that’s the way it is.

Our constant clamoring for the sixth book in the series, The Winds of Winterhas been heard by Mr. Martin, and while he has continued work to work on the book since the completion of the last one, he’s shared his struggles with completion time and time again.  It’s unfathomable why writing a series with literally hundreds of characters and nearly 5,000 pages of text might get difficult after the fifth book, but George has been having a time with it*. For those of you who are more addicted to ASIOF than a rat to cocaine, there is a silver lining: The end of November saw the release of Fire and Blood, Game of Thrones .5, if you will. The book is the first part in a two-volume history that takes readers back 300 years before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire, to a land ruled by dragons and those damned Targaryens about whom everyone in the main series keeps talking. Fire and Blood is less novel and more textbook, opting for a (mostly) linear march through time as it chronicles the reign of every Westeros king from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III. The book is teeming with historical information, and if you’ve ever wanted to know how Maegor’s Holdfast got its name, Fire and Blood can deliver than answer. It’s absolutely fantastic if you’re immersed in the Ice and Fire universe, but readers who have only dabbled in the first book or two would probably be better served staying away.  Though compelling and characteristically witty, Fire and Blood only sustains its charm for so long. Eventually, it becomes a laundry list of names and places with little significance to the average fan who likes to watch direwolves bite Lannisters. Fire and Blood caters to the niche ASIOF fan, and unless you fit that bill, you may want to wait out The Winds of Winter with the rest of the world.

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2018: Year in Review

To call 2018 a milestone year for me would be doing it a disservice. A lot of big things happened to yours truly, the biggest of those being my graduation from Butler University in May. It’s an odd feeling to spend four years of your life away from home and then have to return to it indefinitely as the minutiae of adult life begins to take hold, but that’s what I ended up doing. I moved back in with Mom & Pops (thanks, dudes, for not kicking me out by the way–I owe ya one) and I took a job at a bookstore. Fitting, right? Well, as of January 7th, I started a new job, and I’m loving it. Technically a 2019 thing, but I was hired at the tail end of last year so it counts as a change.

A lot of my 2018 was spent searching–searching for a career, searching for my next workout plan, searching for my next pet project. I started a baseball-writing website that has since been abandoned. I flip-flopped back and forth on whether or not I wanted to re-start my fitness brand. I accepted a job writing for a film website and to this day still haven’t seen single penny of compensation for my work. I DID finally decide I wanted to spend the rest of my life talking about books, but I won’t get into the Youtube channel for which I made videos for about a month and a half before scrapping that project, too. For every big thing that happened, there were three that flopped and fizzled.

However, 2018 saw the revamp of this website and a reinvigorated personal interest in reading. I read (probably) the widest array of authors since I began to track such things, and I developed the barebones for a format for my reviews. This post is not going to be a book review, but will be a review, of sorts. Goodreads.com does this neat little thing where they summarize your reading year, and I figured we’d take a quick look at mine. I’ll give paragraph-length reviews of the books I ended the year with but didn’t have the time to officially talk about, and I’ll wrap everything up by discussing my expectations for 2019. Continue reading

Elevation by Stephen King: Lightweight, Political, and Meh

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We’re at the tail end of October, so it’s only fitting that the most prolific writer of scary stories this world has ever seen should have a new novel out. Stephen King has graced us with a second book this year, and just in time for us to read in between trips to the door to give candy to trick-or-treaters. The book is called Elevation, and there’s a good chance you’ll finish it before the final goblins show up on your porch for last call–it stands in at a whopping 146 pages, and even that amount is only made feasible due to the small physical dimensions. As others have said, this “novel” would probably have been better served in a collection of novellas a la Different Seasons, but beggars can’t be choosers, and we should just be happy King gave us something new to sink our teeth into–if you can call it that. You know, cause the book is short.  Continue reading

The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation by Michael Matthews: Mastering Drive and Productivity, Both in the Gym and Outside It

“I want to work out, but I don’t have the time or the energy. I’m just. too. busy.”

As someone who has been immersed in the fitness space for years now, I’ve heard the same trite remark from friends, family members, and internet strangers. It’s a common fallback for the unmotivated–those who prefer to spend their nights on the couch than in the squat rack. “Motivation” is a difficult concept to define, but you know it when you see it. Motivated people have some intrinsic force that persuades them to act the way they do as opposed to giving into easier alternatives. Motivation is what one needs to transform his or her life and body, and motivating people is Mike Matthews’ forte.

Matthews has written several books, including Bigger, Leaner, Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body, which has been a constant in the Amazon.com’s top 5 fitness books for a while now. This time, Mike ditches the exercise science and opts for a more psychological approach to fitness, one that focuses more on getting and keeping people in the gym rather than guiding them through what to do once they show up.

The result is The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation, and this glossy hardcover certainly lives up to its name. It’s small in stature and contains just over 200 pages of no-nonsense content, meaning it’s easily read in a couple of hours. However, as you’ll see, this isn’t the optimal approach to the book, as each chapter is packed with “Do This Nows” and additional reading supplements that give it value much beyond the $15 price. Continue reading

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: A Unique, Compelling Take on WWII that Trades Severity for Ingenuity

Every so often, a book comes along that takes the nation by storm. Not just within its generic audience, but throughout all subsets of readers: the literary, the YA crowd, those who enjoy popular fiction, and kids. Of course, Harry Potter is the default example of this sort of trend, but I tend to discredit that a bit considering how many now-adult readers came of age with the series. The best recent example I can think of is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, though I know that tends to select for older readers.

One such book to achieve this phenomenon situates itself chronologically between the other two titles I listed, and is, perhaps, more representative of a jack-of-all-trades piece of literature. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, originally published in 2006, is generally classified as a young adult novel, though you wouldn’t know it based on the scores of adults who claim to have read the tome. A World War II narrative with a twist, The Book Thief has been taught at high schools throughout the US, translated into over 40 languages, and still remains in the top ten of many bestseller lists to this day. Though it may slant toward a younger audience, there is no denying that Zusak’s work has amassed a following beyond even his own expectations. Though it fails to fully realize the darkness of its own setting, The Book Thief  makes for a gripping WWII narrative that speaks to our humanity in a time period where everyone’s chief concern was his own mortality.   Continue reading

The Future of Book Reviews on this Website

Hello, friend, family member, or poor soul who got lost on the internet and accidentally stumbled upon my small corner of weirdness.

I’ve got an update post. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet, but if you’ve been reading my work for any amount of time, you know that I often struggle with being concise. I ramble a lot.

I first started this blog back in 2014 with the intention of putting myself out there as a writer. Since then, I’ve written a couple a few random posts about my life, a narrative capturing of the time I met a famous dude, a satire piece that sent my school up in arms for a week, and a (largely) still relevant post about the Colin Kaepernick-national anthem controversy that gained a surprising amount of traction. The thing I’ve written the most, though, are book reviews. I enjoy doing them, and they give me a chance to practice writing in response to the things I read, which is great for honing my craft.

For the most part, these reviews have taken a rather personal tone. I haven’t chosen to stick with any particular format, and I’ve interjected my daily life into almost all of them. This has resulted in reviews that are too large in content and not as professional as they should be. Along with my many literary endeavors, (writing, attaining a Ph.D. in English, and reading a ton), I also aspire to be a book critic. I don’t necessarily want to make this a full-time job, though I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t jump at the first website to offer me a gig in that vein. However, if I want to make any sort of money or garner any semblance of a consistent readership, I know I’ve got to change a few things, and that starts today.

I’m sorry if you did like the personal anecdotes and interjections. They are now a thing of the past. I can’t expect to be taken seriously by any publication if I continue to waste hundreds of words explaining connections I have to certain books or why I put off reading them for so long. I have to learn how to be straight to the point and spend all my time discussing what works and what doesn’t. I need to find the way I like to speak about novels and repeat the formula consistently. Only then will I have achieved a book review’s purpose: to tell you if it’s worth a damn or not.

Starting with my next review, (Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief) I’ll be completely overhauling the way I’ve done things in favor of something more streamlined and repeatable. I’ll be spending the next few days scouring the annals of The New York Times and The New Yorker trying to get a feel for the stylistic demands of the craft. I got pretty good at doing this for films when I was in college, so it shouldn’t be too difficult of a transition.

Suffice it all to say that any review from this point forward will be my attempt at emulating anything that you might see from professional places online or in a magazine. They’ll still have my voice and idiosyncrasies, but hopefully I’ll be able to provide better content–quick reads that allow you to make a decision. I’ll also be sticking to more current works for the most part, because it probably doesn’t do you any good to read my thoughts on a book that came out 50 years ago. I’m a subscriber of The Book of the Month club, so I’ll be putting out a review of my selections as I finish them. I’m hoping that recency will be on my side and I can gain some real traction. I probably should have done this a while ago, but, then again, I probably should have finished my novel by now, too. I’m slow to adapt.

If you liked my old stuff, I’d encourage you to stick around for this new wave. I’m excited and chomping at the bit, and I think it’ll translate into my work. If this doesn’t sound like your thing, I’m sure I’ll still have content from time to time that you’ll find enjoyable. Either way, thanks for reading anything I’ve posted on here over the years. I appreciate every ‘like’, ‘click,’ and ‘comment’ I’ve ever gotten. You guys rock.

-ELM

Aaron Hernandez, CTE, and Shoddy Police Work: Jose Baez’s UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS Tells All

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You don’t have to be a football fan to know the name Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was the former New England Patriots tight end who took his own life on April 17th, 2017, just days after he was acquitted of all charges in a 2012 double murder case in Boston. After the acquittal, Hernandez remained in jail for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, a man whom Hernandez knew and occasionally hung out with. Before the dust had even settled from the court case, Hernandez was found dead in the jail, hanging by a bedsheet in his cell. He left behind a series of notes, some of which are illuminating and others baffling.

I still remember my reaction after reading the headline on ESPN.com. Why would this man, upon being found innocent of a crime, hang himself so abruptly? If he were truly innocent, did this make him innocent in the Odin Lloyd case as well? Was he actually as evil as we were led to believe? Of course, as I considered all this, a darker possibility loomed: Did Aaron Hernandez take his own life because he really was complicit in the murders for which he’d just been cleared? Was his death the result of a troubled conscience?

I tended to believe the latter. I think most of the country did, too. Hernandez had been portrayed in the media as a gun-toting gangster whose hyper-masculine tendencies had gotten him in trouble on multiple occasions. The prior murder conviction certainly didn’t do anything to help his public image, either.  I, along with a lot of people, assumed that the guilt of his actions had become too much to bear, and Aaron took his own life as a result. I didn’t give the situation much of a second thought until I picked up Jose Baez’s book a year and a half later.  Continue reading

TGAR 1C: Final Thoughts on the (Mostly Overrated) Lord of the Rings

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As I wrote previously, my relationship with The Lord of the Rings dates back several years and includes many start-stops of the series and a couple read-throughs of The Hobbit. Every time I attempted to venture into Tolkien’s vast world that is Middle-Earth, I felt like I was missing the point. Never was I in love with the sensationalized descriptions of landscapes or awed by the clashes of warring cavalries in battle. I’ve only just now finished the final installment, The Return of the King, and this was an ordeal that took me two and a half months. the time I spent reading The Lord of the Rings lengthened between the books, and the final, shortest volume in the series took over a month itself. Now that I’m done, I can speak with some authority (whatever you, my wonderful audience, wish to bestow upon me, at least) on The Lord of the Rings as a whole. If I could sum it up in a sentence or two, I’d say: Though the influence of LOTR for the fantasy genre cannot be overstated and is perhaps understated by today’s standards, the books/novel itself is, undoubtedly, overrated; the reverence with which we hold The Lord of the Rings stems mostly from its generic implications and the Peter Jackson films, and not from the text itself. The adventures of Frodo & company are epic, but the themes of the book are juvenile, the prose is dry and dull, and there are so many unnecessary plot digressions that draw the story out much longer than it needs to be.  Continue reading

TGAR 1B: Slightly More-Coherent Thoughts on The Two Towers

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All right, I know it’s been a while, but I finally finished the second volume of The Lord of the Rings, AKA The Two Towers, AKA the one with Orlando Bloom on the cover. This one is 70-something fewer pages than the first one, but (predictably so) a lot more action happens. However, if I say anything about The Two Towers, it’s this: True to how Tolkien apparently wanted it, The Two Towers reads much more like a continuation of The Fellowship of the Ring than a sequel. The prose doesn’t miss a beat, and essentially what we’re left with is the rising action of the story, compressed into a singular volume for our reading pleasure. Does tons of action and plot development elevate The Two Towers over the previous installment? It depends.

Also, just a heads up–If you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings and have a strong desire to, go ahead and skip the next paragraph. The rest of the review will be spoiler-free, but I can’t help myself from spoiling stuff in at least one spot.

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TGAR 1: Half-Cocked Thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring

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All right, everybody, as promised, here’s the first written review of my journey through The Great American Read! As previously stated, the first book (or books, however you prefer to look at it) on my list was The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve decided to split the review into three parts for the sake of giving us more to discuss, and here’s part number one. I finished The Fellowship of the Ring on June 6th, 2018, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts.

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