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Imagine a couple of three-year-olds playing with their action figures: chasing and shooting and yelling at each other. Good. Now imagine them using a time machine in their disjointed, barely coherent, poorly scripted story as they chase one another around the house. If you do that, you’ll have a fairly good idea of what “Alternate” by Ernie Luis is like.

“Alternate” was a serialized Kindle book, written in four installments, presumably without any idea where it was going to end up. (See also: Lost – the TV show that was supposed to last only six episodes but went on for six seasons and ended in a bizarre, mind-twisting example of grown men writing themselves into a corner.) Mind you, sometimes serialized Kindle novels work – Hugh Howey’s Wool is a good example of that.

The concept behind the book (grandly entitled “omnibus”) is pretty interesting: a society of assassins that go back in time to kill their victims, and who someday might be able to go back and rescue the people from their own past. Think of it as a combination of “Looper” and “Wanted.”

Perhaps, in the right hands, with proper editing and proofreading, the book could have been great. Instead, it ended up poorly written and filled with plot holes: a frail sixteen-year-old girl armed with a knife is somehow able to keep hundreds of people (presumably armed with guns) under her control; the book’s villain leaves a whistleblower alone inside his unlocked office, with a loaded gun and an unlocked computer terminal that contains all the dirty secrets, conveniently written down and explained in great detail. Supposedly efficient assassins turns out to be horribly traumatized alcoholics with emotional issues that would put a typical 14-year-old emo to shame. The list goes on and on…

Some self-published Kindle books turn out perfect: look no further than Andy Weir and “The Martian.” “The Alternate,” on the other hand, is a perfect example why sometimes going the traditional route may be a good idea.

I’m giving this book two stars instead of one because the author did a fairly good job describing the emotional pain of the protagonist – a man who lost his 8-year-old daughter and would do anything to get her back. Too bad those raw emotional moments are grossly outnumbered by all the graphic “torture porn” scenes of people mutilating their doomed enemies just for the fun of it, to indulge some basic, id-driven, caveman instinct that, once again, is not unlike what you’d see if you watch three-year-olds play with their toys.

Final score: two out of five stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Seattle, four months in

So much fresh fish. Such omnipresent hipsters. Fog that hides the world. Oddly shaped towers rise into the sky, illuminating downtown like a film noir as I go home at night. I miss the sun…

“guitar hero” – 21,500,000 search results on Google
“piano hero” – 86,000 search results
“drum hero” – 59,800 search results
“ukulele hero” – 37,700 search results
“keyboard hero” – 36,600 search results
“keytar hero” – 27,000 search results
“theremin hero” – 25,500 search results
“vuvuzela hero” – 15,300 search results
“accordion hero” – 13,900 search results
“bagpipe hero” – 13,200 search results
“sitar hero” – 12,100 search results
“flute hero” – 11,000 search results
“bell hero” – 10,900 search results
“ocarina hero” – 10,200 search results
“banjo hero” – 10,100 search results
“violin hero” – 9,520 search results
“harmonica hero” – 8,220 search results
“saxophone hero” – 5,700 search results
“trumpet hero” – 5,400 search results
“lute hero” – 4,710 search results
“harp hero” – 4,250 search results
“tuba hero” – 3,760 search results
“trombone hero” – 2,900 search results
“cello hero” – 2,780 search results
“fiddle hero” – 2,650 search results
“balalaika hero” – 2,030 search results
“clarinet hero” – 1,570 search results
“xylophone hero” – 1,310 search results
“synthesizer hero” – 1,080 search results
“bugle hero” – 623 search results
“shofar hero” – 585 search results
“didgeridoo hero” – 533 search results
“gong hero” – 526 search results
“oboe hero” – 502 search results
“conch hero” – 74 search results
“cymbal hero” – 50 search results
“autoharp hero” – 21 search results
“mellotron hero” – 14 search results
“clavichord hero” – 12 search results
“omnichord hero” – 5 search results
“steelpan hero” – 2 search results
“pyrophone hero” – zero search results

“walking in circles” – 370,000 search results on Google
“walking in lines” – 47,500 search results
“walking in triangles” – 16 search results
“walking in squares” – 8,760 search results
“walking in pentagons” – 2 search results
“walking in hexagons” – 1 search result
“walking in heptagons” – zero search results

Some books are impossible to put down. Some books make you call in sick to work because you simply can’t stop reading. Some books change your life forever. Max Wirestone’s “The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss” is not one of those books.

The premise is fairly interesting: a broke, unemployed geeky girl gets hired to investigate the theft of a certain unique item that went missing in an MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Pretty soon, however, a real-life crime occurs, and our hapless heroine gets to investigate it too.

There’s a wide variety of wacky characters, a strange online game world and, well, not a whole lot else. Our protagonist, Dahlia Moss, is described in the vaguest possible terms: chronically unemployed, still recovering from a bad breakup over a year ago, suffering from body image issues. That doesn’t stop her from body-shaming other female characters, however (“exceedingly flat. Not just her chest – everything”). I found it hard to feel sympathy for the protagonist when she uses such language against other women, goes to job interviews without any idea what she’s interviewing for, criticizes her charitable roommate who lets her live in the apartment for free, etc.

I’ve seen this book compared to “Scott Pilgrim vs the World,” and it looks like Wirestone had deliberately set out to write a gender-reversed homage. The fact that every character addresses the protagonist by her full name (“Dahlia Moss!”) almost every time they meet her is a rather strong giveaway.

The book tries to be funny, but it didn’t get more than a few chuckles out of me. The in-book continuity is odd: the narrative takes place over the course of about a week, with every day described in detail, yet at one point Dahlia mentions all the detective books she’d read since she started the case. A bad cop shows up for one scene, never to return again, while a good (and secretly geeky) cop inexplicably puts his job on the line by providing Dahlia with very thinly veiled clues about the case.

Normally, I’d give a book like this only 2 stars, but some parts of it were well written and rather quotable. (“My refrigerator is best described in terms of stark minimalism.”)

I wish Max Wirestone better luck with his future (and hopefully less ambitious) endeavors.

Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: October 20, 2015)

“Have gun, will travel” – 406,000 search results on Google
“Have camera, will travel” – 71,100 search results
“Have laptop, will travel” – 13,700 search results
“Have brush, will travel” – 9,760 search results
“Have hammer, will travel” – 5,890 search results
“Have shovel, will travel” – 2,050 search results
“Have chalk, will travel” – 57 search results
“Have frying pan, will travel” – 16 search results
“Have fire extinguisher, will travel” – 13 search results
“Have AP Stylebook, will travel” – 2 search results
“Have platypus, will travel” – 1 search result
“Have Batman costume, will travel” – zero search results

Beauty. Ignorance. Seascapes.

On wanderlust

In five days, I shall embark on a cross-continental journey, driving from Tampa to Seattle, stopping everywhere and nowhere, feeding my wanderlust. Over the past year, I’ve visited Dallas, New York, New Orleans, Omaha, Tampa, Charlotte, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington and Seattle, as well as Mexico and Grand Cayman. In the past four years, I’ve lived in Reno and Vegas and rural Nevadan towns you’d never heard of; in Dallas and Tampa and a few places in between.

The sensation of traveling, of moving and experiencing entirely new parts of the world, is indescribable. It’s confusing and mesmerizing and intoxicating, thought-provoking and inspiring, tinged with the bittersweet taste of nostalgia and vuja de. I have no doubt that within the next decade or so, wanderlust will become listed in the DSM as yet another suspicious condition, another sacrifice on the altar of the Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex.

Throughout history, wanderers and adventures (or misadventurers, as fate would have it) spread ideas and innovations throughout the world, assisting civilization and feeding their own wanderlust. Here and now, in the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century, traveling is easier and cheaper than ever before. Strange foreign lands can be accessed with a swipe of a credit card and several hours in a flying metal vessel.

The full allure of it is hard to put in words. It’s a desire to explore, to see new places and to try new things, to not grow roots in boring little towns, to find something new. Something better. Something else. After all, even Frodo moved on and left his old digs for the Undying Lands when his grand adventure was over.

I spend my last days in Florida packing and reminiscing and enjoying the most of what this state has to offer. It saddens me to leave it all behind, but the exchange will be more than worth it, for there’s a new journey to be had, new city to explore, new land to wander.

Florida – pros and cons

Pros:
no snow
hot weather
beaches
bikinis
cruises
nice roads

Cons:
George Zimmerman within 100 miles of my house
alligators
sharks
brain-eating amoeba
humidity
skin cancer risk
blinding rain
storms

Hellooooooo, everyone!

It’s been a while since I published an e-book, but now there’s a new addition to my growing e-book empire. Ladies and gentlemen and all the conscientious objectors to the binary gender code, I humbly present to you my latest (and greatest!) e-book: Buffett’s Biggest Blunders: The Greatest Investor’s Greatest Mistakes.

Warren Buffett is without a doubt the greatest investor of our time. A humble, down-to-earth man with a talent for mathematics and analysis, he’s managed to build a $350 billion empire known as Berkshire Hathaway in 50 years. He’s a voice of reason, a paragon of patience, the living proof that one can attain wealth without day-trading or memorizing arcane formulas.

His successful trades, business purchases and arbitrage maneuvers have been analyzed time and again. Most Buffett fans know about his brilliant investment in See’s Candies or his lifelong love affair with Geico insurance. At the same time, however, there’s relatively little focus on the investments and business deals where he ended up losing.

It’s impossible to truly understand one’s investing strategy without examining one’s mistakes alongside the successes. They are two sides of the same coin. Both must be studied in order to get a full picture. Instead, even though Buffett has been remarkably open and candid about the mistakes he’s made along the way, very few pay attention to them and learn by analyzing his actions.

Did you know, for example, that once upon a time Warren Buffett paid his shareholders a dividend? That he briefly invested in Disney but then changed his mind? That he tried and failed to corner the market on stamps – and chose not to become a car collector? Those are just a few of the 30 investing blunders contained within this book.

This book collects 30 summaries of Warren Buffett’s investments that went awry. With summaries, charts and commentary from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger themselves, “Buffest Biggest Blunders” provides an excellent opportunity to learn from the greatest investor’s greatest mistakes – and to become better investors by learning about the missteps of the Oracle of Omaha.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about his investing methods and foibles, this is the book for you. (Or, if you’re more of a 1,000-page book person, I highly recommend Buffett’s biography “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life” by Alice Schroeder.) If you’re new to investing and don’t want to lose your hard-earned cash, “Buffett’s Biggest Blunders” might just save you from making egregious investing mistakes. Or, if you’re going to join me at this year’s 50th annual shareholder convention in Omaha (also known as “Woodstock for capitalists”) and don’t want to be lost when Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger start reminiscing about their mistakes, you’ll probably want to skim my book and learn all about it.

And did I mention that it’d make an excellent present for your business-oriented loved ones? If they don’t have a Kindle, they can still read the book on a Kindle app. I have it on good authority that it works on any device that has a screen and an Internet connection. (And pretty soon, the screen will be optional!)

I’m always interested in hearing from my readers, so if you buy my book and love it, I would enjoy getting a 5-star review from you on my book’s Amazon page. I hope you enjoy reading my book every bit as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Happy reading!

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