Monthly Archives: July 2017

Book Review: Days Of Blood And Starlight by Laini Taylor

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

While the first book in this trilogy, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone“, was light-hearted fare with hints of darkness, “Days of Blood and Starlight” is dark fare with hints of blackness.  Karou, after re-experiencing the trauma of her own death as Madrigal and the revelation that the Seraph she loved both as Madrigal and then again as Karou is responsible for the near annihilation of her fellow Chimaera, is almost unrecognizable from the first book.  She has gone from messenger to the Chimaera resurrectionist, Brimstone, now dead at her lover’s hand, to the heavy burden of resurrectionist for the rag-tag leftovers of the Chimera army and taking unquestioning orders from the new Chimaera commander, Thiago.  This is a little jarring given there’s no real build-up to this and she’s gone from unknown participant in an unknown war to the key element necessary to keeping the war going.  This change of personality is understandable, but it’s a weakness of the book that it’s glossed over.

Much of the rest of the book follows Akiva on the Seraph side and Karou on the Chimera side.  They follow twin paths leading to the same conclusion and their paths cross and separate multiple times throughout.  On Akiva’s side, he’s already dedicated to figuring out a way to stop the madness of this war and must tread a delicate line to see his dreams to fruition.  Karou, on the other hand, starts out as pretty much dedicated to the war effort and only slowly realizes that she’s become kind of a monster and must slowly back away from staring into that particular abyss.  The Akiva story-line is well thought out and the evolution of his two partners is explored in a depth that makes that evolution make sense.  The Karou story-line, on the other hand, is kind of a mess.  If you read it as the tale of someone suffering through post-traumatic stress disorder, Karou’s actions and reactions make a little more sense and this is why a bit of a fill-in narrative about Karou for the time between book one and book two would have been appreciated.  Taylor also kind of shoe-horns Zuzana and Mik from book one into book two and while their interactions between themselves and with Karou are delightful, they really don’t add to the story and it’s obvious that Taylor just needed to include them for the sake of letting people see their favorite characters again.

The biggest problem by far with the book is the facile use of a violent attempted rape to further the plot.  Sadly, I can’t even say that it does that, since the rape scene is immediately followed by a strange coincidence that remains unexplained and made the rape completely unnecessary.  The only possible explanations are to either make the reader hate the attacker, even though there was plenty of reason for the reader to already to do, or to make the victim fear the attacker, even though there was already plenty of reason for her to do so.  If you read the story without the rape, you would miss literally nothing from the book.  It was so distasteful, I pushed my review down a star.

Despite that major bit of distastefulness, I did rather enjoy this book.  Probably better than the first one.  It is certainly not a happy book, but there are good surprises throughout and the Akiva arc is definitely Taylor’s best thought out portion of the series to date.  War makes fascists of us all and this book made that clear while wrapping a compelling story around it.  I’m still kind of on the fence as to whether I would recommend the series to anyone except to the young adults they’re supposed to be written for, but we’ll see if book three can kick me off that fence one way or another.  “Harry Potter” this series is not, but that’s an impossibly high standard.

Glycobiology Rap

In honor of my friend Gaurang obtaining his doctorate, I present to you the Glycobiology Rap!

My name is Gaurang Bhide but you may call me Doc G
For I just got my doctorate in glycobiology!
"What is that?", you ask, well it's really quite simple
The explanation of such is as easy as popping a pimple!
Glyco means sugar, it's tasty and it's sweet
But it really is a substance that you shouldn't overeat.
Then there's biology, the study of all life
There's the simple answer and it shouldn't cause you strife.

Put the two together and it's a little more complicated
For sugar and life intersect in ways you've never contemplated.
Sugars, you see, couple in ways that are many and varied
And there's magic that can happen when these molecules are rightly married.
And by magic, I mean science, because magic just ain't real
And that's the truth you suckas, no matter what your ass may feel.
Getting these guys together ain't as easy as you may think
That's why much of my job consists of cleaning bottles in a sink.

Glucose and fructose are some compounds that I manipulate
Into unique combinations with the hopes that I may demonstrate
From my cultures that I feed in the hopes that they will propagate
Applications that are practical and easy to duplicate
That's what I do and I hope I was able to inculcate
These ideas in your mind in a way that raised your interest rate.

 

Movie Review: Spiderman: Homecoming

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Marvel does it again.  Good mix of humor, action, and story.  Tom Holland is a star.  Michael Keaton is good, but wasted in his role.

Ok, this is going to seem weird, but my favorite thing about “Spiderman: Homecoming” is how it challenges the preconceived notions of family and race.  Spiderman has, of course, always done that to some extent.  Peter, after all, is being raised by his aunt and uncle prior to becoming a superhero.  In this movie, he is now being raised solely by his Aunt May, played by a very 70s hippy looking Marisa Tomei.  The only thing nuclear about this family is Peter from his radioactive spider bite.  Peter’s main crush is a black girl who is also taller than him.  Bye bye Mary Jane.  The debate team that Peter is on is also very diverse, which was nice to see.  There is also a reveal that I will not get into because it’s tangentially plot related which had me almost laughing with delight.  Marvel knows who its audience is and it knows who his audience will be and it’s doing all it can to include everyone.  it’s good to see.

The story starts with a preface just after the first Avengers movie (I think) and then fast forwards to recap the Spiderman events from “Captain America: Civil War”.  It then follows Peter/Spiderman (Tom Holland) as he tries to be something more than just your friendly neighborhood Spiderman.  He has Avenger envy, you might say.  He discovers a group of people led by Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton) who have been stealing the alien technology left over from the first Avengers movie and re-purposing it and selling it on the black market and tries to take them down himself.  Oh, and he also suffers through high school.  Not sure which is more dangerous.  One physically, one mentally.

I was a little disappointed in Marvel’s use of Michael Keaton as the main villain.  This, to me, continues to be Marvel’s weak spot.  Keaton’s a great actor and the Toomes/Vulture character has much to explore, but they give him some weak-ass “anything for my family” background and run with simply that.  I know that Spiderman is the main attraction, but bad guys are cool and I wish Marvel would focus on them a little more, especially when getting top talent to play them.  That said, it really is Tom Holland who steals the show.  He has that perfect mix of awkward teenager/superhero that Spiderman deserves.  And at just 21, it seems obvious that Marvel plans to build their future around him.  The Marvel franchise is strong with this one.

Marvel continues to rule the movies.  It really is astounding how well they have done.  I don’t know if this is Disney’s doing or if Disney has let them have free reign with their creative license, but I don’t really care.  Whatever they’re doing, more of “Spiderman: Homecoming” please!

Book Review: Daughter Of Smoke And Bone by Laini Taylor

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

“Daughter of Smoke and Bone” belongs firmly in the glutted young adult “teen doesn’t know who she is but discovers she is so much more” genre, but does a good job of distinguishing itself from the pack.  Taylor does this by giving the main character a pretty weird life right from the get go.  Taylor does a good job of giving her characters, both human and other, an exotic flavor while keeping them relatable at the same time.

The main character is Karou, a 17 year old with blue hair and tattoos living in Prague and going to art school by day and owning one of the coolest names of bookdom.  By night, Karou is a messenger/gofer for an individual named Brimstone who lives in some sort of trans-dimensional space and collects teeth in exchange for wishes.  Karou was raised from birth by Brimstone and his assistants who are all chimaera, animal/human hybrids of varying sorts.  Karou keeps this portion of her life secret from her human friends, including her best friend Zuzana, a spunky, wisecracky, ball of energy who goes to school with her.  Obviously, since this is a book they want you to read, Karou doesn’t keep her secret for long after it is revealed to Karou that seraphim have invaded Earth and that the seraphim and chimaera have been at war for thousands of years.

Taylor has built a very interesting world here and there is a lot of material that I wish she had covered, but was sadly left unexplored.  This is especially true of the chimaera, of whom very little is explored.  I would have loved to see some anthropological (chimaerapological?) diggings into their society.  Perhaps this will be done in the next book.  Yes, this is the first of a series.  The whole chimaera vs seraphim war is intriguing and the bleeding of it into the human world and its impact therein is well thought out.  The whole system of wishes is well thought out, having varying denominations like currency (scuppy, shing, lucknow, gavriel, and bruxis, from weakest to strongest).  Imagine what you would have done as a teenager with almost unlimited scuppies, which can’t do much more than cause jock itch, and you have an idea of what happens to them in Karou’s hands.

My biggest problem with the book is that there are chapters and chapters dedicated to describing a relationship between the teenager Karou and a hundreds of years old angel named Akiva.  First off, eww.  Second, it’s not that the relationship was there which bothered me, but the superficiality of it.  Everyone is just so beautiful.  Karou, her ex Kazimir, Akiva, all the seraphim.  And if that weren’t bad enough, much of the evil/betrayal portrayed in the novel is done by ugly people or people jealous of beauty.  And before you simply accuse me of not liking romance, there is another romance story in this book that worked well and that I enjoyed.  There is also a lot of heavy-handed foreshadowing which I rolled my eyes at, but in Taylor’s defense, delivers quite effectively even if it is the very end of the book.  That the book just ended there was annoying as there was much left hanging and there was really no sense of accomplishment felt plot-wise.

Quibbles aside, this was a very enjoyable book to read and I’ve already started reading the next in the series.  Given that Taylor most likely started right in on the second book, I don’t have hope that she received much feedback about the first and thus will continue to populate the second book with my quibbles, but that’s ok.  I just have to remind myself that this is young adult fiction and not meant for masterpiece theater, though they are working on a film adaptation of the first book as we speak.

Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5

Bottom Line: Tom Cruise is not funny.  Neither is anyone else in this movie.  Some of the action is pretty cool, though.

Once upon a time, there was a movie called “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser and it was good.  Not great, but good.  It had that perfect mix of oddball corniness and action that requires a sense of comic timing and versatility that goes unappreciated until a movie like “The Mummy” starring Tom Cruise comes along.  Tom Cruise is a fairly accomplished dramatic actor and he has also made a name for himself in the action movie category as well, but by moving from a serious action star to a comedic action star, he has finally found his weak spot.  Now, you might think that a poor comedic action star might still not ruin a movie if you surround him by actual comedic actors and beef up the writing a bit.  And you would be correct as can be seen by the success of the “Mission Impossible” franchise with the addition of Simon Pegg, among other.  They tried that in this movie by adding Jake Johnson of “New Girl” fame.  Johnson has a decent comedic repertoire, but man does he fall completely flat as Cruise’s sidekick.  Every single attempt to be funny in this movie goes over as well as a lead balloon to the point that you almost have to laugh at how poor the comedic attempts are, when you can recognize them as such.

Luckily, the movie isn’t a complete waste of time.  The back story of the Big Bad, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) is pretty cool, if not nearly fleshed out (ha ha, get it, because she’s a mummy?) enough. There is also some decent action to be had, filled with rats and zombie-mummies and plummeting airplaines, but that can’t quite save the movie from the likes of questionable plot points and questionabler appearances by the likes of Russell Crowe in an attempt to make a franchise of the whole affair.

Despite all this, I actually recommend that you do see “The Mummy”, only the 1999 version with Brendan Fraser.  You should mostly pretend that the 2017 version never existed.  And hopefully, the studio execs will as well.