Beer Review: Von Trapp Golden Helles

Beer: Golden Helles
Brewer: von Trapp Brewing
Source: 12 oz bottle
Rating: **** (8.1 of 10)
Comments: The helles are alive with the sound of music! This Austrian-style lager pours out with a golden effervescence and a finger-width head.  The aroma is fresh-mown grass.  The taste is sweet and bready with a spicy tang.  Mouthfeel is medium, and over this beer is smooth and quaffable.  This is my new favorite summer beer.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

AuthorUrsula Le Guin
TitleA Wizard of Earthsea
NarratorHarlan Ellison
Publication Info: San Bruno, CA : Fantastic Audio, p2001. [originally published, 1968]
Summary/Review:

This fantasy novel set in the magical land of Earthsea introduces Ged, a boy whose magical ability shines in a society with numerous witches and practitioners of magic.  After saving his village from an attack, Ged is taken as apprentice by a wise wizard and then sent to wizarding school.  Despite his talent and proclamations that he may become the greatest wizard, Ged is headstrong and impatient and unleashes an evil shadow that follows him around and tries to possess his body.  Ged thus has to face many quests and challenges to learn how to face down the shadow creature and understand himself.  It’s a good novel, and apparently pretty influential as many of the tropes and ideas are picked up by other fantasy novels.  Harlan Ellison’s reading of the audiobook is a dynamic performance that captures Ged’s anger and uncertainty.

Recommended booksThe Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling and Eragon by Christopher Paolini.
Rating: **1/2

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

AuthorEoin Colfer
TitleArtemis Fowl: The Last Guardian
Narrator: Nathaniel Parker
Publication Info: New York : Listening Library, p2012.
Summary/Review:

The final installment in the Artemis Fowl series or so it would seem.  Opal Koboi has her biggest take over the world plot, Mulch Diggums has his biggest flatulence, and Artemis has his ultimate moment of genius.  And sacrifice.  Colfer’s humor stands out as Koboi raises an army with her minions occupying the bodies of the dead with comic results. It’s a nice distraction from the grim reality of a story that puts the entire world in peril.  This is a strong finale the series.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Love and War by Paul Cornell

Author: Paul Cornell
TitleLove and War
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1992.

Previously read by same authorTimewyrm: Revelation
Summary/Review:

This is my 3rd Doctor Who New Adventure, and it’s one that has a notably good reputation among diehard Doctor Who fans.  In this story, the Seventh Doctor and Ace – who is grieving over the death of a childhood friend – go to the planet Heaven.  The entire planet is a cemetery for the people of Earth and the Draconians who die in the Dalek Wars.  Ace falls in with a group of Travellers encamped on Heaven, and begins a romance with a young man named Jan.  The Doctor seems to disapprove of Jan, and Ace begins to drift away.  This is only a preamble for an act of betrayal that will push Ace out of the Tardis for good.

Apart from the tragic situation that divides the Doctor and Ace, this novel has a number of interesting attributes.  It introduces the archaeologist Berenice Summerfield who will go on to be a regular companion of the Doctor.  It also features the creepy villains the Hoothi, who are kind of a sentient fungi.  On the downside there’s a whole subplot involving virtual reality in something called Puterspace.  And like Timewyrm: Revelation, the narrative jumps quickly among a large number of characters and stories, making it a challenge to read. All and all, an imaginative and influential Doctor Who story.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Avengers (2012)

Title: The Avengers
Release Date: 4 May 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Production Co: Marvel Studios / Paramount Pictures
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Action | Adventure | Science Fiction | Superhero
Rating: ***

On a sultry summer night my family and I escaped to a cool pub for supper.  The Avengers was on the tv with the sound off and my wife soon found herself relating the dialogue to the children and explaining what was going on. The next day, my son – who often proclaims that he does not like to watch movies – asked to watch the whole movie with the sound on.  So we watched and were introduced into the Marvel Universe.  As someone who knows little to nothing about comic book superheroes I felt that I got a basic sense of the characters, although I’m sure people who’ve watched all the movies get a lot of references.  All the actors are strong in their roles and are entertaining, funny, and suitably conflicted.  The theme of a team of rivals needing to find a way to work together is well-done without being hit over the head too much as well. On the whole, it’s entertaining, brainless fun.

One unexpected thing is just how militaristic the SHIELD/Avengers world is.  It’s a bit unsettling considering the unrestrained military spending in the real United States to think that in a fictional world there would be need for another whole level of secret military forces.  I also felt that the superheroes are immortal makes the non-stop fighting among themselves and against Loki rather lacking in drama.  The only thing at stake is the amount of collateral damage suffered in human lives, buildings, and vehicles.

A couple of nice touches at the end of the film address this.  First, the Avengers are physically and mentally exhausted after the battle (leading to the famous post-credit shawarma scene).  Second, is the montage of news reports showing some people celebrating the Avengers as heroes, but others questioning whether their responsibility in bringing such devastation to the Earth.  It’s good to have the film’s premise questioned onscreen even if it’s a small bit.

Book Review: Q : a novel by Evan J. Mandery

Author: Evan J. Mandery
Title: Q : a novel
Publication Info: New York, NY : Harper, c2011.
Summary/Review:

An unnamed narrator tells the story of Q, Quentina Elizabeth Deveril, the love of his life.  After meeting, dating, and planning to marry, an older version of the narrator arrives via time travel to tell him that he can’t marry Q.  He takes his elder self’s advice and tries to move on with his life.  But then more and more time traveling future selves arrive, constantly interfering with his life.

This may be the most twee novel I’ve ever read.  It pushed the limits of Poe’s Law, making me wonder if this is the ultimate New York hipster with affectations novel, or just a parody of New York hipster with affectations.  I eventually decided that it’s later, and to its credit parts of this novel are laugh out loud funny. The conclusion is also very satisfying.  But to get to that point – whoa boy – it was tough to not just give up reading.

Recommended booksThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and The Little Book by Selden Edwards.
Rating: **

Book Review: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

AuthorAnthony Horowitz
TitleMoriarty
Narrator: Julian Rhind-Tutt and Derek Jacobi
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio (2014)
Summary/Review:

Horowitz follows up on his authorized Sherlock Holmes novel House of Silk with this mystery set in 1891 immediately after Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarity are believed to have fallen from Reichenbach Falls.  The narrator is Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective who travels to Switzerland seeking American criminal mastermind Clarence Devereux whom he believes will rendez-vous with Moriarity.  In the wake of the supposed deaths of Moriarity and Holmes, Chase joins up with Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones who displays a skill in deductive reasoning. Based on the title, one wonders if Jones is Moriarity in disguise?  Or Holmes in disguise?  I won’t tell.  Chase and Jones return to London to continue the search for Devereux and find themselves pulled into the brutally violent underworld of expatriate American criminals.  It’s a gripping mystery with a lots of twists and turns, and a great companion to the Holmes’ canon.  The performance of Rhind-Tutt and Jacobi on the audiobook is particularly entrancing.

Recommended booksThe New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Martin Harry Greenberg,Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon by Larry Millett, and A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.
Rating: ***1/2

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