Short on “magic”

Book reviews, Uncategorized

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      Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, Arthur A. Levine Books; Special Rehearsal ed. edition 2016.


 

           Harry Potter was one of the most singular, defining moments of my generation. We anticipated and devoured each book as it arrived, embracing seeing our favourite characters on the big screen year after year. I love these characters and their strange, magical, sometimes dark universe. Simply put, I grew up with Hogwarts.

I wanted to find out what happened to my childhood friends. I had grown up and so had they. We last got a glimpse of their future as Harry and Ginny waved goodbye to son Albus on the train that would take him to his first year at Hogwarts. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 & 2 picks up exactly at that moment we were left off all these years ago. To be honest, Cursed Child is not quite the HP I grew up with. Many factors come into play. For one, it doesn’t feel written by the same author. The pace is altered and it is not as complex and rich as is usual. J.K. Rowling approved the script, but it seems that’s all she did.

Sometimes words spoken or actions taken by the characters feel slightly out-of-place. When Rowling wrote the books she knew the characters inside out and there was no questioning that fact. As such, many fans feel like they know these characters. It was interesting to see how Harry and other characters aged, but I can’t help but imagine some Potterheads might be disappointed by some of their beloved wizard’s actions. I found myself questioning some actions thinking they were out of line with the character. On occasion I felt they were dead-on with Ron and at times I thought they were making him out to be a big goof with little substance.

However, much of the intrigue and action of Cursed Child lies in two characters, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (child of Draco Malfoy). A lot of Cursed Child‘s development happens between those two characters. To have this much weight cast upon  new additions to the Harry Potter world is a considerable and bold move. A good portion of the book focuses on the boys’ relationship. It almost feels fan-fiction driven in that regard. In the HP books we knew Harry, Ron and Hermione were great friends and meant a lot to one another, we weren’t reminded of that fact every five minutes. Neither did we have their friendship shoved down our throats the way Cursed Child does with Albus and Scorpius which wasn’t necessary.

Without revealing too much, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has more to do with time-travelling and alternate dimensions —and frankly, what ifs?— than anything else. It’s mildly interesting but mostly confusing. The idea of revisiting the past is baffling in the first place. I feel J.K. Rowling would have moved forwards in her storytelling, not backwards. Fans have become attached to the stories as they already were and it doesn’t allow this new chapter of the HP universe to truly be its own.

In fact all these time travelling elements hinder from the Cursed Child feeling like its own story. Too much of the play is focus on specific events that happened in the past that we’re forced to revisit. Part 1 was mildly interesting but the good elements of the first start to derail in the second. The ending was fitting but didn’t feel particularly rewarding. There is a big theme in Harry and Draco’s difficult relationships with their sons and the struggles of fatherhood. This added a different perspective to the characters and franchise. If you were hoping for another traditional HP volume, this is not it by any means.

Surely some were apprehensive at the idea of the book being written as a play instead of a novel, I had my own doubts. The play format works surprisingly well and is probably one of the best aspects of the book. The only negative was it made for an especially quick read in comparison to heftier volumes in the series. I was impressed by how strong of a flow Cursed Child had given its format. The brief descriptions and narration complement the story.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will no doubt be a divisive topic among fans of the series. That’s not to say it’s all bad. I liked some aspects of the book and felt it flawed in others. It’s not the heartwarming story it aims to be. Cursed Child struggles with its legacy and embraces parent-children dilemmas combined with the drama and turbulence of teenage years. Try as it might, this chapter doesn’t feel like the true continuation of the tales of our beloved wizard. There is simply less magic this time around. 2 & 1/2 stars.

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Relatabe, self-depricating and humorous

Book reviews, Uncategorized

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It Gets Worse, Shane Dawson, Keywords Press, 2016.

 

Wouldn’t you know it, there’s more self-deprecating humour where that came from! I rarely, if ever pre-order books, but I pre-ordered It Gets Worse by Shane Dawson on the basis of how much I enjoyed his first book.

Shane was one of the first YouTubers l truly paid attention to. He has become synonymous with the very word “YouTuber”. I found Dawson to be very relatable and engaging in his New York Times best seller I Hate Myselfie and by the end of the book I found myself wanting more. Well, more has arrived in the form of Shane’s new volume, It Gets Worse.

Despite its rather depressing title, it is not a negative book and it offers a glimmer of light for all struggling teenagers. While I can’t relate on a personal basis to every (or even most) events described by Shane, he has the ability to be personable and connect with his audience. As proven with his first volume, his ability to reach his audience begins, but doesn’t end behind a computer screen. Dawson is witty, charming and displays surprising dept. He’s watchable but also happens to be highly readable as well. Whether it’s stories of his family pretending to win the lottery or a difficult heartbreak, the book is hard to put down.

I must say I like Shane’s second book more than the first. While I Hate Myselfie was a funny collection of first experiences and essays of embarrassing stories, It Gets Worse picks deep at the metaphorical scabs on the YouTuber’s skin.

We find here a more mature Shane Dawson —that’s not to say he gets all philosophical on us plans to stop making Galaxy videos— he’s just more comfortable with himself and aware. There are some darker moments and references to suicide and Dawson wanting to die as a teenager, but those are not including for comedic purposes. They are honest thoughts he had as he went through adolescence.

The beloved YouTuber has won his battle with depression and perhaps his tale can inspire his following. When Shane tackles his confused feelings about his own sexuality, unrequited loves and life lessons learned he allows himself to be completely exposed.

Most adults would likely gain very little from reading It Gets Worse as they may not completely grasp Shane’s brand of humour. I believe reading about these experiences can be truly beneficial for a teenager going through the hardships that come with adolescence. It gives them a sense of understand and tells them that they are understood. Besides, it’s not all gloom and doom, there are some laugh-out-loud moments in these pages!

For the record, I’ll still watch every Galaxy video you make, Shane. 4/5 stars.

Chuck Klosterman in “The art of questioning everything”

Book reviews, Uncategorized

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But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past, Chuck Klosterman, Blue Rider Press, 2016.


By now Chuck Klosterman has left, perhaps ironically, his imprint on pop-culture with his books dissecting popular-culture. He also holds the distinction of being one of the most renowned writers in his genre of literature. In his latest effort But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past he examines how future generations of humans may view us and the culture surrounding us. Klosterman raises questions such as “What if what we believe about everything is inaccurate?” and “How will we be perceived in a hundred years? Three-hundred?”.

Oftentimes, certainty appears to be a given until we are forced to reconsider what we thought were universal truths. Established truths? Certainly. Factual? Questionable.

Before Isaac Newton, the world thought about gravity on certain terms —or not at all— after sir Isaac’s theories, he went virtually unchallenged in his assessments for two centuries. Until Albert Einstein came along that is, and changed our understanding of gravity. The principle behind But What lf We’re Wrong About Everything? is that time is the one true unit of measurement valid when it comes to determining the cultural value of discoveries, ideas and art.

Just because you’ve been taught to believe so and so doesn’t make them right. The author says certainty is all but illusion. Concepts and opinions develop and change over time, altering the fabric of society. To this point, Klosterman makes the case for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick becoming a literary classic despite being shunned by critics in its era.

Essay topics range from which books will transcend time, TV as art, the merit of established ideas and “facts”. I love Klosterman whenever he talks about music and still slips some music-related themes. Here he ponders who history will depict as the ultimate rock band -Beatles or Stones?- the answer isn’t as easy as you’d think. He also tackles football and the NFL and why realistically the sport might not be around in 25 years —successfully, I may add—among others. It never ceases to amaze me how Chuck Klosterman is able to make sense of just about anything using popular-culture.

It’s hard to justify the amount of what ifs a such book encompasses, luckily the author is more than up to the challenge. Klosterman makes a lot of cohesive points backed by clever arguments. He’s effectively able to hold an idea together with the added benefit of being an engaging writer. This is especially important for a book that holds no definite answers to the questions it ponders.

Not every thought or sentiment expressed in But What If We’re Wrong About Everything? is a gold nugget, yet some are thought-provoking enough that they warrant making the reader question what he or she knows.

But What If We’re Wrong About Everything? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past only slightly tainted when Klosterman announces that it might be destined to be forgotten and quote-on-quote, hopeless. It is after all the concept of the book to question which aspects of science, popular-culture, arts etc. will hold lasting power, and which ones will ultimately be forgotten.

Until the release of his next works it’s hard to determine where this volume ranks on the Klosterman scale. Is it his most accomplished work? No. Did it need to be written? Probably not, but Chuck is just so darn likeable and readable. 3/5*

Le magnifique est le meilleur, mais pourquoi?

Book reviews, Uncategorized

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Mario Lemieux: Le meilleur joueur de tous les temps, Michel Brulé, édition Les Intouchables, 2015.

Le meilleur joueur de tous les temps. Le Magnifique. Je partage l’opinion de l’auteur, Michel Brulé mais Mario Lemieux est le meilleur joueur de tous temps sans raisons apparament. Selon Brulé il s’agit plutôt d’un fait qu’il ne reussit pas réellement a expliquer dans un livre dédié au cinquantième de Mario Lemieux.

Dans son livre Brûlé retrace la vie de Mario Lemieux; son enfance, les tournois, la LMJHQ, la LNH, ses problèmes de santé et bien d’avantage. Mr. Brûlé affirme avoir écrit la biographie la plus complete sur Mario Lemieux. À ce point, son ouvrage couvre toute la carrière professionelle de Lemieux mais de façon très honteuse.

L’auteur s’archarne sur les anglais —les canadiens-anglais plus précisément— avec tellement d’ardeur qu’il est difficile de ne pas se croire à lire de la propagande pro-Québecoise.

Il a aussi des mots de choix à l’égard de ceux qu’il considère assimilés comme Mark Messier. C’est comme si Brûlé n’aime que les français. Il cherche constamment des excuses pour défendre Lemieux tout en rabaissant chaque joueur anglais qu’il mentionne. Il en passe même une au Suédois lorsqu’il affirme que ces derniers “se pensent les meilleurs au monde.” Il y a une difference entre faire des points valides et attaquer un peuple au complet. Selon moi, plusieurs de ses commentaires manquent de classe et de goût et n’ont aucunement place dans un ouvrage sur le hockey.

Pour quelqu’un qui défend supposément l’honeur des canadiens-français, son oeuvre est bourrée de fautes d’orthographe des plus embarrassantes. Mots manquants, lettres déplacées et fautes de frapes sont abondantes dans ce volume. Je peux en supporter jusqu’a un point, certes, mais trop c’est trop. Vérifier les faits n’est pas le fort de Brûlé non plus.

Il me semble aussi qu’il n’est pas un grand amateur d’hockey. Les erreurs s’accumulent à un tel point qu’elles sont embarrassantes pour les lecteurs qui a fait l’achat de ce livre de bonne foie. Il a tendence a vouloir épeler les nom russes de façon différente de la LNH. Ovetchkine au lieu d’Ovetchkin, Kovaliov au lieu de Kovalev. La plupart des noms mentionnés dans le livre sont massacrés. Sellane au lieu de Selane. Izerman au lieu de Yzerman. Moguilny au lieu de Mogilny, et j’en passe… Les “Devills” du New-Jersey, l’Avalance du Colorado. Où alors “la gardien”. Une partie s’est disputée en 2015 au lieu de 1992 lorsque l’auteur retrace la saison 1991-92. Les Penguins “gagne” la coupe Stanley au lieu de “gagnent”.

Même conjuger c’est trop demander. La liste s’aggrave. Brêf, des fautes des plus élémentaires tâchent ce livre.

Monsieur Brûlé aurait peut-être du passer un peu plus de temps sur l’orthographe et un peu moin à s’acharner sur les Canadiens-anglais. Quoi qu’il en soit, monsieur se proclame tout de même “éditeur”. Difficile a croire mais vrai. Commencer un chapitre pour ensuite changer de sujet et critiquer une personne pendant dix pages avant de revenir son point original c’est d’y aller trop fort.

Le livre se lit comme une véritable pièce d’opinion ce qui me dérange particulièrement. L’auteur insiste à offrir son opinion comme fait. Au contraire Mr. Brûlé, votre opinion n’est que cela, une opinion. Je crois certe que Mario Lemieux est meilleur que Wayne Gretzky mais ce livre n’à rien fait d’utile pour representer mon opinion ni convaicre qui que ce soit. Il accuse Gretzky d’être jaloux de Mario Lemieux un “maitre de la tricherie”, ce qui est completement ridicule. Un peu plus de réflexion et de recherche lui aurait sans aucun doute aidé. Peut-être que ce projet aurait été mieux proportionné en tant que lettre d’opinion dans un journal.

Ses rapports de matchs et de saisons semblent tirés tout droit de journeaux. Ils choisit des matchs aléatoires où il discute des performances de Lemieux et il en ignore d’autre. Quelques faits saillants, un peu de contenu lors des series, occasionellement des commentaires intéressants de la part de Mario sous forme de citations.

On apprends à l’occasion, on mémorise, mais rien d’extraordinaire. Lire les exclamations et commentaires —parfois déplacés— d’un fan n’est pas aussi excitant que de l’objectivité, de bonnes recherches et des faits justes. Michel Brûlé ne démontre pas comment Mario Lemieux est le meilleur joueur de tous les temps. Il aurait pu decrire la finesse de Mario, son physique, sa vision du jeu. Niet. Nada. Pas important.

Retour en arrière parfois plaisant? Oui. Surtout lorsqu’il s’agit se l’enfance de Lemieux, des ligues mineures et de ses premiers exploits dans la LNH. Ouvrage exceptionel au sujet de Mario Lemieux? Non. Les opinions et commentaires exprimés par Michel Brûlé sont décevant. Il rate son but. Le résultat est une biographie médiocre bourrée de contenu et de fautes. C’est un livre écrit bien trop vite, avec peu d’arguments et un travail d’editeur des plus honteux.

Je ne suis pas convaincu que l’auteur voulait réellement prouver que Mario Lemieux était un meilleur joueur de hockey que Wayne Gretzky. Je pense plutôt qu’il s’agit ici d’un désir compulsif de prouver que les français sont meilleur que les anglais. Il est juste de dire que Brûlé rabaisse presque chaque personne qui n’est pas québécoise. Un livre rédigé très rapidement, sans éditeur, avec des unes de journeaux, et des faits bien choisis.Si seulement j’aurais un dollar chaque fois que l’auteur utilise l’expression “Le p’ti gars de Ville-Émard”.

N’achetez pas la salade de Michel Brûlé. À éviter. 1.5/5.

Sega vs Nintendo a.k.a Console Wars

Book reviews, Game reviews, Uncategorized

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Console Wars, Blake J. Harris, Dey Street Books, 2014.

Coke vs Pepsi. Nike vs Adidas. Jordan vs LeBron. Nintendo vs Sega. Some of the greatest philosophical debates of our time —at least in the context of popular-culture.

I’m not going to take sides on the whole Sega versus Nintendo argument. I enjoyed and played Nintendo and Sega equally as much in the 1990s. That said, gamers of today have Sega to thank for the delightfully violent and blood-filled games that sit on their shelves. Sega targeted a different audience than Nintendo, a cooler, more mature one. Someone’s older teenaged brother perhaps. Looking back, Sega seems to be focused towards feeding the hardcore gamer crowd. They were edgy and something about them was cool in a way Nintendo wasn’t. I was too young to comprehend the whole console wars as it was happening in the ’90s but my fascination with this era of gaming remained. Why all the Sega talk? Because Console Wars focuses on Sega.

Soon to be a motion picture, Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars is largely told from the perspective of former Sega CEO Tom Kalinske. This choice will perhaps raise gamer’s eyebrows but it makes perfect sense. How can a book on a pivotal moment in video game history be seen from one point of view? The short answer is somehow, strangely, it works. Telling the story through Kalinske’s eyes—at least for the most part—creates narrtive and an emotional connection with the reader. Harris could have chosen just as well to tell it from a faceless, corporate point of view or that of an obsessive and enthusiastic fan. Instead, having someone whom the reader can actively live the console wars through works to maximum effect.

To this aspect, a lot of names are thrown and mentioned. Many are recurring and given importance, others get a mention here and there. That’s not to say readers will remember everyone who was mentioned in the book and played a part in the war, they won’t.

The book portrays Sega as an underdog and rightfully so. Even if one isn’t a fan of The company or overtly prefers Nintendo, its hard not to root for Sega with each page turned and newly arising conflict. Most serious gamers already know how the console war ends (as well as the eventual downfall of Sega as a hardware manufacturer). It’s a long road to get there and Console Wars does an admirable job of helping the reader relive these moments. From the creation of the blue blur, Sonic the Hedgehog, and his rivalry versus Mario and Nintendo, to the internal struggles at Sega, it’s a journey.

Truth is while the book centers on the console wars, a large part of the book comes down to strategy, advertising and marketing. In that sense, its very good business book. Console Wars delves into tactics, resources used by Nintendo and especially Sega. Some tactics are fairly ridiculous and over-the-top and on occasion, downright slander. How appealing that will be to someone who enjoys video games might vary, unless they enjoy the history of games that is.

In retrospect, it is fascinating to read about Sega’s imminent implosion. In this case the manufacturer tried to push too many different products at once effectively cancelling some of its own revenue and marketing. Too much, too fast, too soon.

Most of Sega’s troubles were caused by… Sega. They stuck it to Nintendo and gained the bigger share of the market only to effectively dismantle its own success through internal conflicts. Therefore Sega’s biggest competition may have very well been itself. For instance, it’s almost comical that Sega of America was given the task of finishing Sega of Japan’s 32X concept, a console SoA didn’t want on the market, in order to let their subsidiary concentrate on the Sega Saturn. It’s interesting how Tom Kalinske wanted to prolong the life of Genesis—a system who was dominating the video game market—only to be met with opposition from his Japanese.

I found a few issues with Console Wars. The book focuses almost entirely on Sega. While Harris really delves into Sega it feels like Nintendo is either ignored or overlooked most of the time unless they are mentioned in the context of rivalry. The book takes a look at the history of Nintendo, it’s relationships with third-party publishers such as EA Sports and Rare, it’s grip on the gaming industry and the development of the Nintendo Power publication. There is Nintendo content. Yet I still can’t help but feel the book is extremely one-sided. Nintendo’s coverage is minimal compared to Sega’s. There are a few recurring names from the Nintendo camp, but it’s only a fraction of the amount devoted Sega employees. Same with promotions, games and events. As such, Console Wars might’ve benefited from an alternate title —one preferably using the words “Tom Kalinske” and “Sega”.

Harris tells the reader in the introduction that he had to recreate dialogue for the story to take shape. The problem is that we’re left with dialogue that is not 100% accurate and some of the quotes and sentences are overemphasized and exaggerated for dramatic effect. The author adds dramatic effects and colourful adjectives that, although movie-ready, are out-of-place. I also wasn’t a fan of the occasional two-page chapters, I felt they took away from continuity.

There are great lessons in Console Wars. A lot of what caused Sega’s eventual fall was due to what happened on the inside. The divisions between Sega of America (SOA) and Sega of Japan (SOJ) most notably. It is clear that a company split into parts without clear focus on one singular goal cannot succeed.

Console Wars looses steam towards the end where it feels slightly rushed at some point after the launch of Sonic 3. Reading transcripts of a Nintendo conference and a play performed by Nintendo employees is about as thrilling as it sounds. There is no definitive ending to the war as we know it in the book: Donkey Kong Country came out for the SNES and sold 7.5 million copies, the Saturn came out and Tom Kalinske leaves Sega. It could’ve benefited from more reflection and insight.

The foreword by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg is both amusing and engaging. They are clearly video game fans and I was surprised to see their names in the book and delighted at how their personalities shone through their words.

Is it worth reading? Yes. It’s insightful and offers a worthwhile look at the events that shook the video game industry between 1990-95. Fans of video games will no doubt find great content but it doesn’t delve as deep into the games as they might hope from this type of book. As previously mentioned, it is very business-oriented. I really enjoyed Console Wars and liked that the book was told from Tom Kalinske’s perspective. It is well researched and provides good information. With the issues I’ve addressed, it lacked a certain closure, was too focused on Sega and the recreated dialogue wasn’t always on point.

Some key/interesting points:

*Tom Kalinske’s career pre-Sega, how he came to be at Sega, his decisions, marketing strategies, advertising, etc.

*Nintendo making life difficult for software publishers, stores carrying their products and video rental stores.

*Sega taking advantage of Nintendo’s difficult relationships with the above. Making deals with Electronic Arts, publishers and retailers.

*Nintendo essentially shrugging their shoulders at how bad the Super Mario Bros. movie was.

*Sega’s use of marketing and advertising to brand itself as a hip, edgy alternative to Nintendo.

*Sega gaining the lead in the war only to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot.

*Sega of Japan’s constant insistence on wanting to be in charge, going as far as deliberately sabotaging Sega of America’s efforts.

*Nintendo’s stubborn ways, effectively being labelled as a bully by many game publishers. Console Wars almost pushed the notion of Nintendo as a villain in the video game industry.

*Nintendo’s early relationship with Sony leading to the development of Sony’s Playstation.

*Relationships of Sony with Nintendo and Sega and entry into the world of video games.

Beautiful photography, nice sampler

Book reviews, Game reviews, Uncategorized

before-mario

Before Mario, Voskuil Erik, Omake books, 2014.

 

Nintendo is best-known for it’s iconic Italian plumber mascot. I’m talking of course about the red cap, blue pants-wearing Mario.

What many don’t know is that Nintendo has a rich history dating back to the late 1800s selling play cards before expanding to toys, arcades and video games in the 20th century. Erik Voskuil’s Before Mario examines some of the toys produced by Nintendo between 1965 and 1983.

Before Mario takes a look at 52 toys made by Nintendo prior to the introduction of their famed mascot ). Each toy is accompanied by one or many photograph along with text describing it’s use and tracing its origin, history and other facts. In short, it’s a really nice flip-through book that showcases Nintendo’s innovative spirit long before they ventured into video games and became the established company they are today.

It’s a coffee table book that’s a bit on the smaller side, more wide than it is long. It’s a nice looking book fit for the devout Nintendo fan, video game collector or toy enthusiast. Some of these toys are very creative displaying some interesting ideas and concepts.

The best part of Before Mario is without a doubt the beautiful, high quality photography that graces its glossy pages. The photos are excellent and simplistic with the toys commanding attention with every little detail of their fabric. The toys all come from Erik Voskuil’s collection who claims to own the biggest personal collection of Nintendo products prior to their foray into the world of video games.

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Example of the format with price, release date, picture and history : us gamer.net

The main problem with Before Mario is its content is already available online on the author’s blog along, usually with more detailed information, toys and collectibles. What the consumer is left with are very nice photographs of toys, a foreword by Satoru Okada known for his work with Nintendo and a conversation- starter piece.

Voskuil’s blog beforemario.com is highly worth visiting to discover a little-known part of Nintendo history. His collection of Nintendo artifacts will be the source of envy and admiration from many. Perhaps one day he will release a more complete book with more items from his massive collection.

As such, it is really up to the consumer to decide if he desires such a book when all of this information is already available and expanded with more toys on the author’s blog. For the photography, content and novelty l’m rating Before Mario 3/5 stars.

Nintendo is best-known for it’s Italian plumber mascot. I’m talking of course about the red cap, blue pants-wearing Mario. What many don’t know is that Nintendo has a rich history dating back to the late 1800s selling play cards before expanding to toys, arcades and video games in the 20th century. Erik Voskuil’s Before Mario examines some of the toys produced by Nintendo between 1965 and 1983.

Before Mario takes a look at 52 toys made by Nintendo prior to the introduction of their famed mascot ). Each toy is accompanied by one or many photograph along with text describing it’s use and tracing its origin, history and other facts. In short, it’s a really nice flip-through book that showcases Nintendo’s innovative spirit long before they ventured into video games and became the established company they are today.

It’s a coffee table book that’s a bit on the smaller side, more wide than it is long. It’s a nice looking book fit for the devout Nintendo fan, video game collector or toy enthusiast. Some of these toys are very creative displaying some interesting ideas and concepts.

The best part of Before Mario is without a doubt the beautiful, high quality photography that graces its glossy pages. The photos are excellent and simplistic with the toys commanding attention with every little detail of their fabric. The toys all come from Erik Voskuil’s collection who claims to own the biggest personal collection of Nintendo products prior to their foray into the world of video games.

The main problem with Before Mario is its content is already available online on the author’s blog along, usually with more detailed information, toys and collectibles. What the consumer is left with are very nice photographs of toys, a foreword by Satoru Okada known for his work with Nintendo and a conversation- starter piece.

Voskuil’s blog is highly worth visiting to discover a little-known part of Nintendo history. His collection of Nintendo artifacts will be the source of envy and admiration from many. Perhaps one day he will release a more complete book with more items from his massive collection.

As such, it is really up to the consumer to decide if he desires such a book when all of this information is already available and expanded with more toys on the author’s blog. For the photography, content and novelty l’m rating Before Mario 3/5 stars.

highly worth visiting to discover a little-known part of Nintendo history. His collection of Nintendo artifacts will be the source of envy and admiration from many. Perhaps one day he will release a more complete book with more items from his massive collection.

As such, it is really up to the consumer to decide if he desires such a book when all of this information is already available and expanded with more toys on the author’s blog. For the photography, content and novelty I’m rating Before Mario 3/5 stars.

“One of us!”

Book reviews

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Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes, McKenzie Thomas Scott, It Books, 2012.

 

Thomas Scott McKenzie has no dreams of rock stardom, doesn’t live the fantasy, he doesn’t even care about being proficient at the instrument—he just wants to meet his heroes. His guitar heroes.

In the wrong hands Power Chords: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes would constitute nothing short of alien. It would be misunderstood. Put it in the right fan’s hands and they will find it to be a delight. Power Chord is one man’s quest to meet his idols. Along the way we get some cool backstage stories, interviews and moments with some of rock’s true greats. It’s fun to read how McKenzie faked his way through guitar lessons and fantasy camps just to meet his idols and it’s oddly pleasant when he reminisces about his teenage years talking about bands like Ratt and KISS.

I find it interesting how McKenzie begins his journey a little later than logic would dictate. By the time he sets sights on his quest is already married with a stable career. The author’s prose is not spellbinding nor is it particularly memorable, but he is very relatable and likeable which helps conceal that fact (and makes it somehow insignificant). There’s something about him as a person makes you want to read his journey. Maybe it’s because he’s such a fan of the guitar heroes and artists. But I suspect it’s for a far more practical reason—he’s one of us.

He’s fan first and foremost and it shows. The lengths he goes to in order to meet his heroes show a lot of dedication. From travelling to attending rock n roll fantasy camps to getting private lessons from his heroes —all on his dime and personal time—McKenzie is a man on a mission. While I’m not impressed by his efforts to learn the guitar, I am impressed by the author’s determination to meet his heroes.

The stories he tells about meeting his idols are fascinating. Driving a considerable distance just to take lessons from Stryper axeman Oz Fox. The Steve Vai chapter was one of the shinning moments of the book. Reading about Vai’s treatment of fans and the words and insights he shared with them made the virtuoso seem like more than just a guitar god.

Sometimes McKenzie even succeeds at painting a strong portrait of the interviewee. His overview and insight into Brad Gillis of Night Ranger for instance. You may not be a fan of Night Ranger, but after reading this particular chapter you may gain a new respect for Gillis and his love ’em to death treatment of his beat-up and well-worn instruments. Bruce Kulick seems an incredibly down to earth and fun guy to hang out at guitar shops and Best Buy with. Warren DeMartini comes across as both mysterious and smart. Rudy Sarzo looks like a sweetheart. Ace Frehley is well, Ace Frehley.

This book is written by a fan for fans. I enjoyed McKenzie’s backstory and reading about his experiences as a fan meeting his heavy metal gods. Even the guitar players whom I wasn’t necessarily a fan of. He makes the journey enjoyable with his boyish enthusiasm. MacKenzie also shows it’s not just fans who are fans. On one instance, Glen Tipton of Judas Priest recalled how he waited at a hotel just to meet Jimi Hendrix (and he did). The author unknowingly demonstrates just how devoted heavy metal fans can be when he recounts in great details his musical escapades.

His one mistake is to reference other works. He refers to Chuck Klosterman’s superior Fargo Rock City on a few occasions to hammer in some points. It makes his work and prose look pale in comparison—especially when accounting that both books belong in the same category.

Is Power Chord five star essential reading material? No. It’s not an incredible read but Thomas Scott McKenzie is relatable and engaging. That alone worth it’s fair share of points more than what an authoritative book about music. For those looking for nothin’ but a good time, some rock stories and a healthy dose of nostalgia, it’s worth the trip. 3 and 1/2 stars.

Corey Taylor hates you, etc.

Book reviews

ct

Seven Deadly Sins: settling the argument between born bad and damaged good, Corey Taylor, Da Capo Press, 2011.

I like Slipknot, I like Stone Sour, I like Corey Taylor. Simply put, I’m a fan. Based on the many interviews featuring Taylor I’ve seen over the years, I found him to be fascinating enough to buy his first book, Seven Deadly Sins. The premise behind the book intrigued me —and being something of a music-related books addict— I wanted to read what was in the mind of Slipknot’s notorious frontman.

If you’re expecting something like your average rock autobiography, you’ll be disappointed. The book works as a behind the scenes extra on a DVD rather than the main feature. There are stories of excess and decadence along with the occasional musical reference, but a straightforward autobiography it is not. No, Corey Taylor doesn’t give you all the ins and outs of his musical projects such as Slipknot and Stone Sour. This is his take on the seven deadly sin and what they mean today—hence the book’s title. It also serves as an excuse for Taylor to drop f-bombs, controversial opinions and speak his mind because as he says, “l’m Corey F******* Taylor.” Welcome to Seven Deadly Sins.

Taylor’s psyche is essentially “I don’t want to be saved, I just don’t want to burn.” He proposes that the seven deadly sins we have come to know —lust, sloth, wrath, envy, gluttony, greed, and envy— are outdated and seem distant in our age. He expresses his thoughts and feelings about various human emotions such as rage, using colourful personal experiences to make points relating to sins.

In a nutshell, Seven Deadly Sins is Corey Taylor being Corey Taylor, speaking his mind and generating opinions. Ever outspoken, the frontman formulates his anger towards certain  groups of people and general moments in life. Some of it is warranted, while some little more than good ol’ fashioned venting—and it happens a lot.

Take for instance this segment:

“It seems California has cornered the market on buffoonery. Almost everyone there has a lifetime contract for retardation, so it is not my fault if they end up maimed or limping from a collision with a Chevy, know what l mean? F*** them…”

Some of the content is excessive. I’m not against profanity and was expecting this sort of language here, but claiming that girls he slept with are whores and that everyone makes him mad is just too much. Corey makes some good, albeit very obvious points, but then proceeds to devalue his words by blaming everyone else for his behaviour. I’m not sure some of his preaching is warranted since he finds every outlet possible to blame in order to cover up his own actions and feelings.

The premise of the book is an interesting one. Deconstructing the seven deadly sins is in theory, a wonderful idea. After reading the tome, I’m just not convinced Corey Taylor was the man for the job. The format offers it’s author a lot of room (maybe too much) which turns into excessive navel-gazing and self-congratulatory pats on the back. It’s his book and he clearly owns it and he reminds us at every possible instance which gets very annoying. Examples including: “You make me angry. You make me a sinner. Go f*** yourself” and “I’m going to take a break to suck on my wife’s toe. Oh yeah did l mention my wife is hot?”.

To his credit, Taylor possesses a wide vocabulary of which he makes rather good use (until he feels the need to curse someone, something or the reader itself). I was surprised at the array of words used in Seven Deadly Sins. When he desires, Taylor can come across as a well-spoken, smart individual. Yet being a smart person doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fit to write a book.He later offers his take on what should constitute the sins in our modern age such as murder and rape, but by that point the interest has faded.

Seven Deadly Sins ends up being a little on the short side and lacking in valuable content. It is really just the singer of two bands you love voicing his opinions and rambling on while simultaneously trying to justify his own actions. It was fun for a few chapters but by the end it became more of a chore to finish the book. Just because you’re a fan of someone’s musical talent or vocal abilities does not mean you will enjoy their book. 2/5 stars.

The blood countess revealed

Book reviews

craft

Infamous Lady, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Kimberly L.Craft, 2009. Updated edition 2014.

 

Ahhh! The blood countess. One of my favourite historical subjects. The so-called “most prolific killer of all time”. She bathed in blood (not really)- surely you’ve heard of her name, Elizabeth Bathory?

Kimberly L. Craft’s Infamous Lady shows great premise in that it gathers the most detailed information possible on the “Blood Countess”.  Through research and translation, Craft gives us what is quite possible the most complete book and source on countess Elizabeth Bathory.

Infamous Lady is without a doubt the most complete book on Elizabeth Bathory available today. Unlike most books about Bathory, this is not a fictional story. It’s rather a journey to discover who the countess really was, it is not trying to perpetuate some myth.

Huge aspect of the book include the “if” and “why” Bathory committed those atrocities for which she has become a legend. It all comes from an unbiased and documented approached which appealed to me very much. Craft worked hard to separate the legend from the myth. For instance, the amount of victims by the Countess is not as high as it actually was claimed and there was no indication that she ever bathed in blood for instance. The author wants to paint an accurate portrait of her as much as possible and I believe it succeeds rather well at doing so.

At first glance you can tell this is an independent, self-published book not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s also one of the more scholar works on the Countess you will find. A quick of the author will reveal her credentials and expertise on the subject.

The content is fantastic for a reader who desires to learn about the Countess Bathory; her tale is dark, fascinating and has been passed down through generations. Infamous Lady covers the origins of her family, the Bathory name, introduces her parents, siblings and members of her family, the situation in Hungary and Europe, her childhood, her marriage, teenage years, rise to power, her husband Frederick Nadasdy, her children, the events that lead her to commit those atrocities, witnesses, servants… everything up until Bathory’s arrest and death.

And then when it’s over, there’s more. A glimpse into Bathory’s mind, the court trial, testimony of witnesses and so on. It’s a terrific book although it may seem a bit complicated to the average reader at the beginning. I found myself going back a few pages many times when the author was going through the family history in the beginning because there are so many names and they’re in another language and it gets hard to keep up.  It becomes more straightforward, be assured.

When I say this Infamous Lady is complete, well researched and is possibly the definitive work on Countess Elizabeth Bathory I do mean complete. As much information available on her as there is (and believe some of it must have been hard to find and needed translation), it’s in this book.

It took a great deal of effort from the author to translate all those original documents to the English language and the fruit of her work can be enjoyed in this book. Almost the entirety of the book comes from translation of documents and letters. Ms. Craft a very scholar approach to this work. I particularly enjoyed reading some of the letters translated, it was interesting to read Erzebet’s own writing and some of the letters she sent and received.

However, one point is lacking. I would have liked for the author to go into more details and examine the possible conspiracy against Elizabeth. Some believe Bathory to be a victim. Craft never goes into details on this theory and never seems to consider it as a possibility. Is it plausible that she might have been framed at all? Not that I’m more inclined to believe it was a conspiracy (especially not after reading this work on Elizabeth), but some people support this theory.

Some of the pictures are portraits of the people mentioned often in the book, we also get maps of the castle and what it looked like, Erzebet’s childhood home and such but what disappointed me were the photo pictures. Just looking at them you can see they’re pixilated when on a computer screen so one has to wonder why she chose those not so great pictures to be in the book when there are plenty of better choices (or perhaps she couldn’t use others for some reason?) and looks amateurish. That’s the one of the few real complaint that I have on this book and it’s not even that big but it would have looked more professional is all I’m saying.

As for the author’s sources, she states them in the bibliography, lists some of her translations and it seems as most of it is just that; the author’s own translations is the core of the book but somehow it doesn’t seem complete.

This is fantastic reading on Elizabeth Bathory for those who are like me, fascinated by the tale of the Blood Countess. I can’t say that I’ve read many books on Bathory because there are very few books on the subject. I would highly recommend this one. It seems to me that this is the closest account of what actually happened. It would be worth it even if only for the accounts of witnesses, court documents and such papers.

There’s really not a whole lot to criticize, Infamous Lady is the best book on Bathory out there and it has things like letters and testimonies that separate it from the rest. In addition, it’s hard to put down. I would also recommend Craft’s other books on Bathory; The Private Letters of Erzebet Bathory and Elizabeth Bathory: A Memoire. 4.5/5*

[Note that for her book Craft chose to use the countess’ Hungarian and birth name Erzsebet instead of the anglicized Elizabeth. She states her reasons to do so at the beginning of the book.]

The Spaceman’s perspective

Book reviews, Uncategorized

Ace-Frehley-No-Regrets

No Regrets: A rock ‘n’ roll memoir, Frehley, Ace,  VH1 books, 2011.

 

With the release of Ace Frehley’s Origins Vol. 1, I thought this was a perfect occasion to take a look back at the Spaceman’s account of his time in and out of KISS, No Regrets.

Of course, I’m a huge KISS fan. When I learned that original member and guitarist Ace Frehley would write a book I thought this was his chance to from his perspective and maybe defend himself from some of the bad things that were said about him by Paul and Gene all those years-No Regrets: A rock n roll memoir gave him that chance.

I always liked Ace, he loved to play Rock ‘N’ Roll more than anything, was always in the shadow of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and didn’t have the biggest part in decision making for KISS. He didn’t want to deceive fans, but had to follow when it was decide the band pursue styles found on albums like Dynasty and The Elder. Frehley was the always the rock’n’roll guy in KISS.

Ace’s book is not exactly a typical Rock’N’Roll biography from point A to point B that chronicles every event of his life. Well, maybe to a certain degree -it is mostly in chronological order- but it is more of a collection of wild rock’n’roll stories from his career in and out of KISS along with some biographical content and his thoughts on the events that happened in his life. He does go through everything KISS, including the albums he made with the band. I must admit, I wish he wrote in more details but it’s clear the years of substance abuse have had effect on his memory.

Paul “Ace” Frehley begins the book by explaining some of his relationships with his family and proceeds to demonstrate how he was the black sheep of the family until he joined KISS and latter became successful and a millionaire. Then he goes details his younger years in high school, discovering music, playing guitar, founding bands, playing gigs and girlfriends. Much of the book is about the 1970’s, to give you an idea about halfway through No Regrets he’s talking about the making of Destroyer and you know what? That’s more than fine by me.

A lot of the book is about the KISS years and the decadence that happened around then, not so much for the other members of KISS (except Peter) but surely for Ace. I loved when Frehley went on about the the late 1970’s from 78-80 where he felt KISS made some questionable decisions. The solo albums for one, the making of KISS Meets The Phantom, the disco-flavored “I Was Made For Loving You” (but he credits Dynasty as being one of the best KISS albums) and the ridiculous amount of merchandising that was going on at the time. He didn’t always agree, but to his credit (or blame), he always went along with it.

Ace also gives credit where credit is due: Bill Aucoin, Sean Delaney, Neil Bogart, Bob Ezrin, Eddie Kramer… and he even credits Eddie Solan who is not all that well-known in the KISS universe. Ace felt he should be acknowledged for his contributions, he stresses that Solan played a role in what became the KISS juggernaut which I thought was very thoughtful (never heard anyone mention him previously). This is more surprising: he even credits Gene with saving his life…twice!

Reading about his departure from KISS, those years when he didn’t tour and had not formed Frehley’s comet yet was interesting. So was his solo career but after his departure from KISS, I began to feel like the book was just going through things a little too fast without as much detail or information and overlooking certain things. Definitely some skimming happening there.

It was very interesting to read what Ace had to say about Gene Simmons who slammed Ace in his first book KISS and Make-Up back in 2001. Ace analyzes Gene in a certain way and makes interesting arguments, yet he doesn’t say a whole lot of negative things, I mean, he did but they don’t come off as being terribly hateful, it could have been much worse. He even says he loves Gene.

Frehley talks very little about Paul Stanley, mostly in good, and of course has nothing but good things to say about Peter Criss. In one of the book’s more humorous moments, addressing his thoughts about the current lineup of KISS, he writes: “In reality, I think they’re just a bunch of dirty rotten whores. Awk!” Typical Ace.

I really wish the book was more detailed and longer. For instance the reunion tour and the farewell tour have very little coverage when they were obviously an important part of Ace’s life. The Psycho Circus album is only briefly mentioned and Ace only talks about the inclusion of one of his songs that had to be re-written and how it was the only song with the four original members on the album. He doesn’t give his opinion on the album itself or any other insight. The Psycho Circus tour is completely ignored and the early 1990’s are completely ignored until 1995 when Frehley talks about the Bad Boys of Rock ‘N’ Roll tour he did with Peter, MTV Unplugged and reuniting with KISS.

I liked reading about the days after he left KISS and had a solo career but after mentioning Trouble Walking, Ace says that he toured in 1992 and 94 and decided not to release another album. Or how about the fact that there is nothing written between the years 2003-2008? From the second time he left KISS until his last studio album Anomaly in 2009 there is literally no content on those years except a phone call from Gene in 2007. I wish he would have talked more about those time periods and filled in the blanks.

Don’t get me wrong I love the content and reading things from Ace’s perspective, although at times his perspective is flawed. Much has been said about Ace having trouble remembering parts of his life, maybe that explains why some parts of his life seem to be missing or are simply skimmed through in the book. I also wish there were more pictures.

After reading the book and looking back, it’s amazing that Paul Frehley has been so lucky. He even says so himself. There was always someone, somewhere who somehow came to rescue Ace from whatever trouble he put himself in. Every time he recalls being arrested in No Regrets (and that’s many occasions), the cops always recognized him or let him go after he explained who he was- or had some ridiculous excuse/ was extremely lucky. Even the story about his dad at the beginning of the book shows incredible luck for his father; maybe it’s a Frehley family thing.

I don’t want to say that I know Ace Frehley more because I don’t personally know him. I feel like I understand him more after reading No Regrets. Frehley’s book is a great read for the hardcore KISS fan and no doubt the help of contributors Joe Layden and John Ostrosky helped because even if No Regrets is not written as if Ace himself read to you, it reads surprisingly well.

I think No Regrets is a must read for Ace and KISS fans. It’s a good book, but I hoped for a little more. Overall, still a good read. 3.5/5 stars is my rating, no regrets about reading this book.