Review: Star Wars The Phantom Menace audiobook

I was surprised when I first listened to it that not only it contains sound effects and music but also added bits that aren’t in the films. As such the motivations of some of the characters are flashed out a bit from the films and some of the order of the scenes means they’re in a slightly different order.

Some examples:

  • Anakin’s first race – the one where he crashes the pod – is described. As is him working on his own pod and Watto sending him off to the Jawas to barter for droids including I believe the droid Jar Jar sets off in the shop “hit him on the nose”. To barter he takes C-3PO along with him to advise which is nice to see for a boy who knows everything.
  • Anakin’s motivations: He is obsessed with Padme stating after their first meet that he’ll marry her – a thought he has again a few times. He dreams of her [leading forces into the battle] and admires her when she fights to retake Naboo.
  • Anakin’s motivations of a tough guy surviving slavery and fighting his way through. Anakin’s portrayal in the films isn’t that bad for what we’d think of a slave. He gets to leave early, has a fairly good home, free time. He’s certainly not a kid working 16 hours in a factory doing manual labour. The book hints that life isn’t quite so easy.
  • Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The book talks a bit more about the rift between them following the meeting of the council. QGJ knows him suggesting he’ll train the boy was a sign of rejection to Obi-Wan and they then don’t talk unless about other things for days until they return to Naboo. In the film there’s just a brief scene where Obi-Wan asks if QGJ is sure he’s ready for the trials.

The audiobook was done wonderfully. The occasional sound effects work really well and aren’t too frequent, loud, or overdone. For example R2-D2 doesn’t always make his sounds. Ships make a sound taking off but not continuously. Surrounded by droids the marching sounds is heard by a couple of seconds, but not the entire time. The Duel of the Fates is played at the first appearance, not throughout the entire battle.

Terry Brook’s voices are spot on and so similar to the film. Some of my favourites were the “vote of no confidence” scene in the senate, Obi-Wan and QGJ, Boss Nass, and even Yoda is pretty good. I’d have liked to hear a bit more of the harsh flat voice of Padme, but suppose that’s quite hard to replicate. A major criticism of mine is the pronounciation of Palpatine who is pronounced as Palpa-thai-n rather than Palpa-tee-n. With all the odd sounding names of people and locations, I am surprised that this could have gotten so wrong and really killed immersion for me, especially during the senate part where he’s obviously mentioned a lot.

4/5 – The audiobook and novel don’t change the world, but they supplement well. The extra sections work, similar to the Force Awakens audiobook, and it has the feel of an extended cut. If it wasn’t for the immersion killer of the Palpatine pronounciation it probably would have been a 5/5.

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Review: A Time to Kill by John Grisham

I first read this book in my teenage years. I must have been around 14 and had picked it up after racing through The Firm and The Pelican Brief. I remember loving all of them at the time. This year I’ve slowly been making my way through the audiobooks of John Grisham’s books and they don’t hold up too well either because it’s a reread or because I am more grown up.

AttK was the first book I remembered reading which described a rape. The other books I had read would maybe mention it in a throwaway sentence ‘character was raped’ or ‘he raped her’ or it was implied. This book straight from the first word dumps into a graphic and horrific rape scene. The rape isn’t the focus of the book, but a catalyst to the rest of the events and a key aspect of the trial. The book shocks and makes the reader uncomfortable throughout, such as the constant uses of the word ‘nigger’ and how naturally it’s used in conversation.

In the author notes, John Grisham says that he got the inspiration for the book – the first one printed with fewer than 10k copies – from a rape trial he read about and then wondered the effect the testimonial and trial would have on the family.

Carl Lee Hailey is an irresponsible vigilante murderer who should be sitting in jail for the rest of his life. He meticulously planned the murders over several days, driving a fair few miles to get a gun and staking out the exact route they’d take before hiding in a cupboard and jumping out to kill them and badly injure a deputy. He feels no remorse and instead – when thinking back to the crime – smiles to himself and is satisfied with the action he’s taken. I understand that it’s a very difficult situation and that he doesn’t want to put his daughter through the pain of a trial, however, as several characters in the book, such as the waitress, state, you can’t have people just picking up guns. He needs to be in jail.

He is also a not very nice man, from controlling his wife to shirking responsibilities, such as not telling his attorney that he’s got another one, to not really being that concerned with how his family realistically is meant to have money coming in. I could understand this kind of lack of foresight if this had been a spur of the moment attack, however, he planned it over days and fully knew the consequences.

Jake is also quite unlikable and incredibly arrogant. He pursues the case and sabotages several other attorneys, because he wants the fame and glory the case will bring though he’s not really that dedicated to it, what with getting drunk the night before jury selection and thinking himself over-prepared when in reality he barely did enough for it and only managed to blunder through due to the excellent free clerk and the many mistakes of the prosecution. His treatment of women from the secretary through to his own wife are disgusting. There aren’t really any redeeming features to him.

The plot moves sluggishly forward, a trying to create a slow build up to the Klan vs the African American inhabitants stoked by outside forces yet no one seems to do anything constructive about it! Yeah, sure, deep South small town and all that, but it’s ridiculous that the Klan can put up 20 crosses or access the sequestered jury or kidnap people or burn houses or whatever without anyone going ‘oh, we probably should bring in more security’. It feels about as unorganised as ‘The Client’.

3/5 – All this being said about the content of the book and the flawed characters, it is a captivating book and hard to put down.

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Review: The Martian audiobook

Earlier this year I watched ‘The Martian’.

@noirem then suggested I ought to read the book which I hadn’t even realised existed.

I finally got around to the audiobook and it’s been wonderful. Essentially it’s Castaway in space filled with maths and sarcasm. There are quite a few moments which had me laugh out loud and I found some of his comments, including the swearing, refreshing. I mean he’s stuck on Mars so obviously there’d be some swearing.

I felt his character was so well done that at times I had to remind myself that he’s not real and that I’m not reading some real life publishing of his rescue. Having the vast majority of the book in diary form actually really worked and I found myself missing his diary voice when it came to the end bit of the book where it switched away. The other characters didn’t feel very fleshed out, but at least the ones on Ares III did. It may well be that I used the film characterisations and looks to supplement them though either way it works.

The only slight criticism is the really abrupt ending, I think I’d have liked a few more lines after that.

Overall both book and film were far better than expected – the book certainly ranks in my top books this year and it’s a stong contender for my book of the year.

5/5 – I couldn’t stop listening to it and Mark Watney’s character and ingenuity is brilliant.

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November 2016 Fitbit data

abandoned-building-wehrbergenWell this month didn’t quite go as planned – I started with a very early high [25k steps, 15km on day 1], but got a blister which turned badly very quickly. I won’t go into details, but it’s still not fully healed.

As such for two thirds of the month I’ve had just four days above 10k steps, eight days above 5k steps, and overall just covered 64km [keep in mind that includes the great 15km of the first day]. However, that all changed on the 20th, last Monday. For ten days I got over 10k steps each day which is 55% of the month’s total steps and 80km distance.


autumn-weserI didn’t really have any particular goals set except the one I had already set last month of ‘do better than October [October stats here]’ which I did with flying colours thanks to the last third of the month. The biggest increases are perhaps the days exceeding 10k steps [13 up from 5] and that one day where I exceeded 20k steps! I am not fussed having a lower number of active minutes as I still don’t get how Fitbit calculates that and differentiates between the different stages. I might stop tracking those soon.

wehler-marshMost of this distance came from everyday errands though I have started walking even further detours. This time last month I was feeling the strain slightly if I exceeded 10k steps without a break and that’s no longer the case thus freeing me up to even further detours and allowing me to plan differently. I went for a walk ‘for pleasure’ twice, both around 10km and amidst beautiful countryside.

In a curious coincidence I started listening to the LotR audiobook on the morning of the first and finished it on the evening of the 30th. This means I have spent over 20 hours walking longer distances as I would listen to something else on shorter ones or ones where I would be inside a shop or something. I might listen to a few shorter books for the next few weeks though, especially as I am still shy of a fair few books to reach my arbitrarily decided reading goal for the year.

weserSo I make it sound all great and wonderful, but it’s still hard work, as I said a few days ago when I was excited about having walked 56km in a week. I am finding the motivation easier at the moment as I’m breaking personal records all the time, but ultimately that will stagnate and I won’t be able to dedicate quite as much time to it as I currently do, as walking takes up a lot of time and running isn’t really feasible for me nor something I’m interested in. Ultimately I’ll probably have to look at planning days with long walks every now and then to ensure I reach high overall totals rather than each day.

For December I would like to have a minimum of 20 days at over 10k steps and also more than 5 15k steps days.

Totals: Month Daily average Month before
Steps: 215423 7181 +
Distance: 144.92 4.83 +
Total active mins 43134 1438
Minutes Lightly Active 37805 1260
Minutes Fairly Active 4537 151 +
Minutes Very Active 792 26 +
Avg steps per km 1486  
Days exceeded 5k steps 18   +
Days exceeded 10k steps 14   +
Days exceeded 15k steps 3   +
Days exceeded 20k steps 1   +
Days exceeded 7km 8   +
Days exceeded 10km 3   +
Days exceeded 15km 1   +

Add me on Fitbit.


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Review: Star Wars The Force Awakens audiobook

The other day I came across a couple of articles I’d saved a long time ago to read later. 27 ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ questions answered by the novel and 45 ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ plot details explained by the novelization. Reading through them I got intrigued and figured I should read it for myself, and, having recently started listening to the Star Wars Episode I audiobook, I quite liked the concept of adding in additional sound effects and music. It doesn’t work for each book – I certainly wouldn’t want to listen to the LotR audiobooks with it or even Harry Potter – but in this case it does.

Both of the articles are already talking about some reveals or additional bits of information, but they don’t talk about the book as a whole. It works. It feels like reading an extended edition or a director’s cut and the added in sections mesh well. They also go a long way in exploring the characters – for example Rey is not quite as nice as the film shows, she was about to complete the transaction to sell BB-8. General Hux’s speech spouts more idealistic nonsense and having Unkar Plutt track her to the cantina shows that there’s a lot more we don’t know.

Some choppy writing asides – mostly around Leia or scenes intended to be filled with desperation – the book is good and the audiobook with the differently done voices is brilliant if a tad over-acted at times. Bala-Tik sounds amazingly Scottish, Phasma and C-3PO sound metallic, and most are spot on except perhaps Finn who comes across a little flat. The sound effects are timed well though the music a little heavy handed at times.

4/5 – I enjoyed it!

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I walked a marathon and then some! [In a week]

In the past seven days I have walked 56km. That’s about 84k steps and I’m so far on a seven day streak of at least 10k steps a day.

A bit over two months ago I was so unfit that I struggled even walking 2km. I remember having to take a break and was exhausted when I got there. Granted it was over 30°C and I was still mostly unused to it, but I remember that day. And I remember thinking I really needed to do something about it and started walking more. Even a few days later I could already tell there was an improvement and last month I walked 107km.

I set myself the marathon distance within a week as a loose goal two months ago in a state of madness, but knew it wasn’t achievable as I was doing too much and could’ve caused injury. Then both October and this month saw some days/weeks where I didn’t really get out which is why it’s taken this long. As a goal this doesn’t matter – it’s a thing I have achieved, but I am not doing this to hit milestones though it’s nice to do that every now and then. Rather I am walking more to be more fit to be able to have a life change and to be able to do more.

Not being fit is inhibiting to the point where simple tasks seem daunting and you don’t go somewhere with friends or to events because you’d know that your lack of fitness would cause other people to not being able to do what they want. In my head I would see distances stretch out in my head, like they do in some films or games, because a hundred metres to someone else would be several times that distance to me. It’s incredibly hard to explain this to someone fitter as even I am starting to gloss over the early days, similar to how people forget how awful a cold is and the sympathy for others goes down until they themselves experience another cold. I have a piece of paper with some memories of how hard some early walks were to fall back on, but ultimately that also won’t fully remind me.

me-walk-27-11-2016-smallA thought that occurred to me yesterday [at the end of my 9km walk] was that I was walking along a stretch of road which even a couple months ago would leave me feeling dread at the distance and also leave me slightly breathless at the end of it, yet here I was at the end of a walk at least twenty times the length and I was still energised and happy. Here’s why:

  • I had just walked 9km
  • It was unbelievably sunny [but I was never walking directly towards the sun so had full visibility] and blue skies with pretty clouds
  • It was cold enough that the heat didn’t cause issues
  • I had made significant progress in my Lord of the Rings audiobook [the fellowship made it from Rivendell to Lothlorien]
  • The walk didn’t leave me feeling like I’d overdone it
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Review: Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

I’ve never been a huge Gilmore Girls fan. When I first attempted to watch the lot a few years back I only got a few episodes into season two before getting sidetracked with something else to not return until a few months ago when I watched the entire series. The series is great on the surface – a beautiful little town with an eccentric cast of characters who are delightful if overbearing in the ‘fake TV character’ kind of way. However, within the main cast there are quite a few issues with their choices and characterisation. For example I disliked Sookie [not the actress!] and hated her forcing her husband into getting a vasectomy – that’s something which needs discussing! Likewise Luke’s hiding of his daughter [the daughter storyline could have been great if handled better, but it’s still being handled terribly in the revival] and Lorelai’s obnoxious frequent railroading of anyone and everyone. I also will never agree with Rory’s decision to sleep with Dean when he was already married.

Despite all this I liked where the show ultimately got to in the past few seasons and I was looking forward to the Gilmore Girls Revival to see how it panned out. [Spoilers after here, obviously]

I was glad to return to Stars Hollow and to see the town which hasn’t changed at all and I think that was a bit of a problem for me. I was glad that things felt organic, such as the friendship between Lane and Rory, but by focussing so heavily on the main four, Lane’s appearance [and that of the band’s] felt like complete fan service. Yes, taking them out would have probably shown a gap, but I feel pretty cheated we didn’t get more of her. SImilarly with Dean, Jess, Paris, and Doyle. I was particularly surprised to not see Paris in the later episodes [I did like her empty briefcase and general demeanor whilst at Chiltern though] especially seeing that she surely would have been able to help Rory perhaps? Talking of fan services – I am still not sure if I liked to finally seeing Mr Kim in the flesh!

Tying the whole revival together through the grief of Richard’s passing was brilliant as I didn’t quite see how lost Lorelai was until her epiphany on the non-hike. Yes, Emily’s grief was in your face, as was her change to being more harsh [this is something I can exactly see with grandma, too] and ultimatly telling the DAR how ridiculous they were being, but Lorelai’s was more her being lost and ambling through life without realising. With the epiphany it suddenly clicked and was obvious and I’m glad that as a result things worked out between her and Luke and that they became in sync again. This reminded me of an article I read recently about the sychronicity of couples that it doesn’t matter how much time is being spent together, but on the connection between the two and it was quite nice to see how that was portrayed here.

On to the things I didn’t like – I hated most of episode three. The musical part was way too long and I was even debating skipping ahead. I still don’t see why it would have needed to have that much time devoted to it. Rory’s attitude in the episode was also awful from having Jess yet again come to guide her and then deciding that this one single book idea which wasn’t her own and happened fewer than 24 hours prior was to be her life’s one and only mission felt wrong and I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with her quite as much as there. The lies between Lorelai and Luke didn’t help the episode either. Lorelai’s aprupt firing of the chef was awful. Rory’s relationship wiht Logan was uncomfortable to watch because no matter the chemistry between them, they were still cheating. I wondered during the conversation with her father whether Rory was asking him these questions to find out if Logan wasn’t pursuing her and settling with his fiance because there wasn’t a point with Rory seeing she had previously turned him down though I suspect now it was because she was facing the same choice as her mum did with bringing up her child. Having it be Logan’s would be bringing it all full circle and I hope it won’t be the Wookie’s though that’s too far in the past time wise, I think.

Overall it was enjoyable to watch, but – just as with the many seasons before – there were quite a few parts I didn’t like. I would love to see another revival or a more regular show of this again though, I think the Gilmore Girls is a show which fits into a gap with not another show like it and Stars Hollow is wonderful escapism.

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