Aloysius

Project Hail Mary

I absolutely loved The Martian (against all expectations) but wasn't so keen on Artemis, so I went into the audiobook version of the new Andy Weir book - Project Hail Mary - with some uncertainty.

And my response to it was mixed.

Weir has obviously gone back to what he knows well and what has done well in the past - a man alone in space, not expecting to survive but doing whatever he can to make that happen. In this story, Ryland Grace has the added pressure of having to save humanity as well as himself.

The structure works well - Grace has amnesia so uses what he has on his spaceship to try to figure out what's going on, while chunks of his memory start to come back to him in flashbacks to the last few years on Earth. But, at least for the first third or so of the book, it's very, very slow going.

I was engaged enough by the character (aided by very good audiobook narration) and intrigued enough by the situation to keep listening, though it was touch and go for a while. There's a lot of 'working things out using scientific first principles', which isn't something that generally interests me. All the science stuff in The Martian actually did fascinate me, but here it didn't so much.

Then, another character is introduced to the present-tense space narrative, which leads to another section of very slow progress, which was a bit of a slog. However, once that aspect of the plot really gets going, things pick up massively, and the second half was much more entertaining and emotive.

And the ending was really cute and very satisfying - so, overall, I would say I enjoyed this book, even though I nearly gave up on it before I got really good. And, anyone who is more interested in space and science than I am will likely not have the same problems with it.
Aloysius

Via Magica

A friend introduced us to a new board game the other day - Via Magica.

You assign crystals to different symbol types, based on tokens drawn out of a bag, in an attempt to complete combinations that will open portals to other worlds. Each completed portal gives you points and/or powers, and the game ends as soon as someone opens their seventh portal.

It's one of those games where the mechanics are simple, but the strategy is complex.

I enjoyed playing it and didn't do too badly overall. The art is beautiful and it doesn't take very long - but this latter point could be a disadvantage, as there is a definite possibility of frustration when the game ends abruptly just when you're about to have a really great turn!
Aloysius

Rodham

This went on and off my list for a while before I finally decided to read it, but Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld proved an interesting and enjoyable read. It's written in the first person, from Hillary Rodham's point of view, following her through her life and speculating what might have happened if she hadn't married Bill Clinton.

So, it's an odd premise, taking well-known and still living political figures and fictionalising their lives.

And the narrative voice is very analytical, almost clinical at times - presumably this is an assumption about Hillary's inner monologue, but it does make it difficult to engage with her as a character, emotionally, at least to begin with.

The story is a strange combination of dense politics and relationship melodrama, but I was always interested in what would happen next and how Hillary would react to it. I was a bit disappointed by her response to finding out about Bill's infidelity, but grew much more invested in her as a character, once the 2016 presidential race got underway.

Sittenfeld is a good writer and knows how to keep readers engaged. So, this is recommended if you have any interest in the subject matter.
Aloysius

Jane, Unlimited

I'd enjoyed other books by Kristin Cashore, so I decided to give the audiobook of Jane, Unlimited a try, I went in, knowing absolutely nothing about the story, but assuming it would be speculative as the other Cashore books I'd read were all fantasy.

It starts out as a contemporary sort-of mystery story, about a young woman - Jane - being invited to a weekend party at an exclusive mansion on its own private island. Early on, she sees someone with a gun, arguing with other people at the house, there's the possibility of art theft going on, and some of the servants are acting strangely.

This main plotline continues on in reasonably entertaining fashion for about half the book.

And then it gets weird. Really, really weird. There are certain aspects of the twist that are a bit repetitive and tedious, more that are very confusing, and even more that are just plain weird. In fact, I would say that this is one of the weirder books I have read in my time...

I enjoyed it overall - I particularly loved Jasper the dog and Jane's creative endeavours in the building of umbrellas - but I'm not sure it really holds together as a cohesive whole in the end. The ending itself is a bit abrupt, and the relationship aspect I'd become quite invested in doesn't get enough of a pay-off, in my view.

But, the protagonist is engaging, there's plenty of intrigue in the plot, the writing is good - and it's certainly an interesting concept!
Aloysius

Black Widow

I wasn't going to go and see Black Widow, as Marvel movies (and TV shows) just keep disappointing me, but Dave wanted to go and it would be our first cinema trip together in over 18 months, so I agreed.

And it was okay.

Florence Pugh was great, there were one or two lightly amusing moments, and it briefly got me with the warm and fuzzies towards the end.

But mostly it was kinda boring, when it wasn't being really grim.

I remember Marvel movies being fun, more than anything else (but has that really been the case since Avengers Assemble? I can't even remember now...), and this wasn't much fun at all.

Hey ho.

I'm still obviously going to watch the Hawkeye TV show, because I love Hawkeye, and it looks like Yelena might be in it (and she was by far my favourite thing in this film) so, I guess I'll just prepare to be disappointed again.
Aloysius

The Missing Sister

I've generally enjoyed Lucinda Riley's Seven Sisters series, and was very keen to read the latest instalment, as it promised to answer a lot of the questions raised in the earlier books. I also thought it was going to be the last in the series and was interested to find out how the over-arching framing narrative would be concluded.

There was some clunkiness to the book. I appreciated the references back to events from previous books in the series, but it did mean that the characters spent quite a lot of time telling each other things they already knew, so the dialogue was often stilted and unnatural. They also endlessly repeated to each other the events of the current story - I understand there were a lot of characters to keep up to date on things, but those explanations really didn't need to be on the page.

However, that said, I did still enjoy spending time with these characters, and the new ones were great too. Both main storylines were engaging and interesting, and the new developments to the framing narrative were intriguing.

And then nothing was really explained - and lots more questions were raised - because it's *not* the last book the series, after all! The next one promises to cover a lot of potentially fascinating ground, and I will definitely read it. But it seems I'm going to have to wait a long time for answers!
Aloysius

Draftosaurus

A couple of our gaming friends recently introduced us to Draftosaurus, a cute and also strategically interesting game, where you have to house different types of dinosaur in a (presumably) safe and happy version of Jurassic Park.

The name of the game comes from the fact that there are groups of dinosaurs that get passed around the table. Each turn, you pick one from the group that is passed to you, and place it in your park.

There are multiple different areas in the park, each of which have rules about what kind of dinosaurs you can put there, and also how you score points for the types of dinosaurs that you have at the end of the game.

It's relatively simple - pick dinosaur, place dinosaur - but there are lots of different things to take into consideration when planning how your park will end up.

I really enjoyed it. It's quick and fun, but has enough challenge to it to be interesting. I would definitely play this again.
Aloysius

Review Stats for the First Half of 2021

Review stats for the first half of 2021 are as follows:

Film & TV:
Positive – 3 (100%)
Negative – 0 (0%)

Books:
Positive – 21 (78%)
Negative – 6 (22%)

Live Entertainment:
Positive – 0 (0%)
Negative – 0 (90%)

Audiobooks:
Positive – 10 (83%)
Negative – 2 (17%)

Games:
Positive – 1 (100%)
Negative – 0 (0%)

Reviews total for 2020:
Positive – 35 (81%)
Negative – 8 (19%)

Similar overall good vs bad percentages to usual, but fewer total reviews. I'm just not consuming as much media at the moment as I usually do.
Aloysius

Mister Impossible

I had been looking forward to the release of the next in The Dreamer series by Maggie Stiefvater, but fell victim to the issue of not being able to remember pertinent details from the first one - and there are a lot of things to remember and try to make sense of!

Still, I love the audiobook narrator of these books (even with his very dodgy English accent for the sections from Hennessey or Jordan's point of view!) and it was great to spend more time in this world again.

It did all feel a bit nebulous, though - nothing much seemed to actually happen throughout, though there were a lot of very significant revelations and events towards the end that managed to pull it all together. And I'm definitely still intrigued and engaged enough to continue with the series when it comes out.

As with The Raven Chronicles, it's the character interactions and emotional journeys that keep me coming back for more. Here, I missed the further exploration of Ronan's relationship with Adam, but it was good to spend more time with Declan, and I loved the development of the connection between Jordan and Matthew, as dreams trying to find their independence.

So, a lot to like, some things to scratch my head over - and plenty more to discover and enjoy in the continuation of the series.
Aloysius

A Drama in Muslin

I came across this 1886 novel by George Moore by chance and really enjoyed it overall. It's Austenesque in theme (scheming mother trying to get her daughters married) and also in its sometimes scathing presentation of society and its foibles. But the prose is a lot clunkier and there's a bleakness and harsh cynicism that you don't really find in Austen.

There's some really interesting stuff about the societal hierarchy in Ireland at the time, and a lot of the machinations of the various characters are well observed. But the one disabled character, Cecilia, is disparaged by both other characters and the authorial voice, and the suggestion that she is actually in love with her best friend, Alice, is presented as making her deranged and unstable.

There's a very in-depth and realistically harsh portrayal of pregnancy and childbirth out of wedlock, which I didn't expect to find in a book of this era, but the story tips over into melodrama in places, which undermined its credibility a bit.

Generally, though, I enjoyed this portrait of a very specific part of society at a particular time in history, and may well look out for more works by Moore in the future.