Writing Report for the Week Ending 23 April 2017

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I think I’m finally adjusting to my crappy schedule (don’t feel sorry for me – I knew what was going to happen when I took the job). Of course, just as that’s happening, I’m adding to things. Well, not just me, but still.

On the good news side of things, I was offered and excepted the PT job of Publishing Assistant for Bards and Sages Publishing. There was a post here, if you want a couple of details. A couple of hours per week exploring a different piece of the publishing industry and hopefully contributing in a positive way to a great little publisher.

And my oldest child is moving out a week from today. That sucks. I was supposed to have him until Labour Day before he went away to school, but he and four friends have rented a house together, taking possession late in the day on the first of May and they’re all moving in on the 2nd. Came up on us fast, and not just faster than it was supposed to. You always think you have more time. You’re usually wrong.

Anyway, last week’s goals:

  1. Hero’s Life 5 chapters of revision notes.
  2. 5,000 words of progress on the third draft of Draugr Rising.
  3. Second draft on my Kyle short story.
  4. Five chapters of scene description step on Bad Teenage Poetry.
  5. ISIRTA*. Finish listening to Series Three.
  6. BSG**. Watch and take notes for The Lost Warrior.
  7. Short Story Submissions: 3.
  8. Stretch Goal: Story selection for inclusion in The Undead.

Actually accomplished.

  1. Hero’s Life revision notes: 6 chapters.
  2. Draugr Rising 3rd draft: 5,400 words.
  3. Second draft on my Kyle short story completed.
  4. Five chapters of scene description step on Bad Teenage Poetry.
  5. Fail.
  6. Fail.
  7. Fail.
  8. Never got there.

So, four out of seven hit, three completely missed, and the bonus goal never really in sight. I did, however, write several blog posts, get set up for my new part time job, and review the first group of stories for that job. All in all, I’m satisfied with the week.

Next Week’s goals:

  1. Hero’s Life revision notes continued. Hoping to get at least five of the nine chapters between me and the end of the book.
  2. 5,000 words of progress on the third draft of Draugr Rising. Just under 41k to get to the end of the story.
  3. Starting the third draft of my Sulu novelette. This is really more of a hybrid 3rd/final draft. The Trek stories I’ve written were all dictated and I did a lot of cleanup during the revision notes and second drafts on them. I don’t expect a lot of changes at this point. Hope to get to the 5k mark here, with the story currently standing at 10.6k.
  4. Five chapters of scene description step on Bad Teenage Poetry. This would take me to the end of the planned narrative. I expect changes during the first draft when I get there.
  5. ISIRTA*. Finish listening to Series Three. Really.
  6. BSG**. Watch and take notes for The Lost Warrior.
  7. Short Story Submissions: 3.
  8. Stretch Goal: Story selection for inclusion in The Undead.

Again, with current life events, that’s probably much more than I really can hope to get done, especially with a new second job and getting ready for my son to move. Have to see how it works out.

Be well, everyone.

* ISIRTA = I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again

** BSG = Battlestar Galactica

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Buffy the 1st Time

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So I’ve recently started watching the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer television series for the first time.

I know, a little late to the party.

But I’ve got this weird thing about retconning and reboots and other stuff that messes with original work. Still, I watched the original movie recently with my youngest and, aside from pointing out all of the young actors who are old now, quite enjoyed it.

So, I thought, why not?

I started making little comments to myself during the first episode. After a while, I wondered if this might be a fun exercise to help me get back to Twitter again. (I used to love Twitter, and sometimes I still miss it. I definitely still have friends on it.)

And so, the hashtag #Buffythe1sttime was born.

I’m a few episodes in, but when I catch up, I may even start live tweeting it to entertain myself. Find below my vague commentary for the first episode. Look me up on Twitter (@WritingDad) to see where I’m at when this posts.

Be well, everyone.

 

S01E01 Welcome to Hellmouth

  1. So I’m going to watch the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series for the first time. No promises on how far I’ll get. #Buffythe1sttime
  2. I don’t know how much I’m going to worry about spoilers. It’s been 20 years, after all. #Buffythe1sttime
  3. Starting with Episode 1. Let’s see how this goes… #Buffythe1sttime
  4. Hey! It’s young Lilly! #Buffythe1sttime #Welcome_to_Hellmouth
  5. High school drama with vampire undertones. #Buffythe1sttime #Welcome_to_Hellmouth
  6. A little info-dumpy. Establishing the world so forgivable if it stops soon. #Buffythe1sttime #Welcome_to_Hellmouth
  7. And young Booth! #Buffythe1sttime #Welcome_to_Hellmouth
  8. A bar that lets in 16yos? Even in the 90s, I would have a hard time with this. #Buffythe1sttime #Welcome_to_Hellmouth
  9. Hints of Whedon to come. Some of the dialogue is actually pretty clever. And well delivered. #Buffythe1sttime #Welcome_to_Hellmouth
  10. Well, at least the vampires are obvious when they’re about to feed. #Buffythe1sttime #Welcome_to_Hellmouth
  11. Seriously? You’re cliffhangering the first episode? #Buffythe1sttime #Welcome_to_Hellmouth
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Book Review: Uprooted

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My oldest daughter read this book early last year, raved about it, and got it on my to-read list. Winning the Nebula sealed it there and moved it much farther up the queue (and part of my annual reading quest each year is to read the winners of the major awards for the previous year). Reading other reviews, apparently this is a love or hate book. I’m neither, but falling on the high side of centre. There were things that I really liked about the book and things I didn’t, but they balance out to a good read.

I’ve grown to like a variety in my mythologies and the moment I read the main character’s name, Agnieszka, if not a little before, I know I’m getting something I haven’t seen often. There’s going to be an eastern European or Russian flavor to this story, and that makes me happy.

That said, I’m not normally much for fairy tales or retellings of them. This isn’t, quite, but it has elements of it. The book does have a fairly slow start and I found the first several chapters a bit on the dull side, predictable, and, honestly, a little underwhelming. Agnieszka comes across as a bit of a stereotype peasant girl from a folk or fairy tale and the Dragon isn’t really all that menacing if he’s supposed to be. There’s a lot of fairly typical story setup here, and I recognize wanting to build the world for your reader, but I’d rather be thrown in off the deep end and figure things out from hints in the narrative as I go.

Rooted in folklore, there’s far more of that eastern European flavor to the story than just names, and it seems more than passing likely that a lot of research has gone into the background and the setting for the story to take place in. Overall, the worldbuilding is wonderful in places and completely lacking in others. Lots of things, like the great enemy nation of Rosya, are just a word. No depth, and nothing more than a distraction from the actual story.

The story does take a long time to build, though, passing through the standard fairytale tropes into a darker place than a lot of modern folks might be used to in those tales. But then, it’s for an older audience, and we should remember that fairy tales were not originally known for sweetness and light.

The magic system doesn’t get a lot of detail, although that’s okay. It mostly seems to consist of very specific words focusing power unless they’re not specific at all. As in you can alter spells by leaving out syllables or mumbling bits of it. And there are two different types of magic, although they’re related and complimentary, one structured and one free flowing.

On the subject of magic, Agnieszka learns too fast, picking up the basics and then figuring stuff out on her own in only a few months. The dragon has been studying magic for a hundred years or more and frequently seems stunned by the things she pulls off. Plus, because she’s sometimes doing a different kind of magic than he is, she leaps ahead of him in certain ways. Doesn’t work that well for me.

The Dragon himself is a bit flat for most of the story. Basically, he’s an arrogant jerk with magic powers who’s divorced himself from the world. He’s kind of disappointing as a character.

And we’re supposed to buy that there’s a romance going on here, too. Romance? Not so much. Almost a bit of Stockholm syndrome going on here until her best friend is in danger. Dragon aside, from hints dropped here and there, I expected, and hoped at times, the romance to build between Agnieszka and her best friend Kasia. That relationship actually had a lot more depth to it even though we spent a lot less time on it.

Not to mention that he’s something like a century and a half old. How does he not consider being with a 17-year-old girl creepy? Wait, she might be 18 by the time that happens. Still creepy.

The Wood, and what we ultimately learn to be at its heart, makes for a fun, creepy adversary, and get some interesting monsters thrown our way, things called walkers that are sort of entish but nastier, and giant mantises. It’s the conflict with the wood in all of its guises that carries things and makes the issues I’m having small enough to pass over while reading.

Overall rating: 4 stars, or thereabouts, rounding up. Not quite low enough to be 3.5. I had problems with the way things worked and worked out, but very much enjoyed the book. I won’t rule out there being a sequel, and it wouldn’t surprise me. There are still some unanswered questions for the heroine. Baba Jaga and the nature of magic spring to mind.

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Exciting News, Everyone!

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Now that stuff is signed and sent back, I think I’m free to say that I’ve accepted a part-time gig as a Publishing Assistant for Bards and Sages Publishing. Bards and Sages is a small publishing house doing both fiction and RPG materials in digital and paper formats, as well as hosting the annual EFestival of Words. Duties to include slush reading, copy editing, and whatever else the publisher decides they need me to do.

Embarking on a new adventure is always fun, and I’m very much looking forward to this one. Now, it appears I already have assignments to read.

Be well, everyone.

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Writing Report for the Week Ending 16 April 2017

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It’s fair to say that life has been kicking my ass for the past few weeks.

And by life, I mean one or two specific events plus the unpleasant work schedule that temporarily goes along with the promotion I accepted at work. The schedule leaves me drained and not interested in trying to accomplish much during my off hours. I have started watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series for the first time ever, but that’s about the extent of my energy level most of the time. There’s been little editing, less writing, and not much creative work at all.

That’s making me unhappy. Unhappier, maybe.

I’m not going to review the bits and pieces I have or haven’t accomplished since taking the new job, but I think I do need to dive back in and start setting some goals again. I don’t know if I’ll get that far with them for the next week or two, at least, but I need to start trying. I’m going to be a little less aggressive than I have been, but not too much. Still worthwhile to push a bit. So…

  1. Hero’s Life revision notes continued. Going to shoot for five chapters this week, with fifteen left to go in this draft.
  2. 5,000 words of progress on the third draft of Draugr Rising. A little more than 46k from the end of the story at the moment.
  3. Second draft on my Kyle short story. The first draft (with notes) stands at 3,226 words.
  4. Five chapters of scene description step on Bad Teenage Poetry. I’ve got ten to go in the planned narrative. Of course, that may change when I start writing the first draft. It often does.
  5. ISIRTA*. Finish listening to Series Three. Really.
  6. BSG**. Watch and take notes for The Lost Warrior.
  7. Short Story Submissions: 3.
  8. Stretch Goal: Story selection for inclusion in The Undead.

That’s probably more than I can hope to get done, but I always like to aim high.

Be well, everyone.

* ISIRTA = I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again

** BSG = Battlestar Galactica

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Writing Report for the Week Ending 19 March 2017

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Weekly recap of writing-related activities. Last week’s goals:

1.   10,000 words of progress on the third draft on Scattered on the Wind.

2.   Second draft on my Scotty short story. First draft stands at 3,953 words.

3.   Hero’s Life revision notes continued. Five chapters would be good.

4.   Five chapters of scene description step on Bad Teenage Poetry.

5.   ISIRTA*. Finish listening to Series Three.

6.   BSG**. Write the post for Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2.

7.   Short Story Submissions: 3. Theoretically, I’m on vacation this week, but there’s a lot going on. I don’t think this should be hard for a change.

8.   Stretch Goal 1: Story selection for inclusion in The Undead.

The Results:

1.   Not just not a bump, but a dramatic underestimate. I finished this draft and still teared up at the last scene. Setting this aside to rest for a bit and I’ll come back to the “read it aloud” draft in a month or so.

2.   Done.

3.   Hero’s Life revision notes: 7 chapters accomplished.

4.   Bad Teenage Poetry scene descriptions: 6 chapters accomplished. Missed one day or it would have been 7.

5.   Nope. Managed to not get to these. Catching up on several podcasts.

6.   Well, I got the notes done for episode 5. I wasn’t at home for more than half the week, but I did have it on the computer I had with me. Time usage noted below.

7.   Zero. Moving right along.

8.   Nope.

I said something last week about an event having some waiting involved? I seam to have used that waiting to accomplish rather a lot of editing beyond the original targets while ignoring a few other goals. Under the general heading of “all writing is good writing” from a polishing your craft perspective, that’s okay, especially because I’m rather happy with what I accomplished.

So now we should set some goals for this week, right?

1.   Hero’s Life revision notes continued. I managed seven chapters last week, so let’s try the same again. Marking this one as the primary project this week, so if I find extra editing time, this is top of the list.

2.   7,000 words of progress on the third draft of Draugr Rising. I actually started this last night, polishing the first chapter.

3.   Second draft on my Chapel short story. With the first draft (with notes) standing at 5,637 words, this is a loftier goal than the same draft on the Scotty short last week.

4.   Five chapters of scene description step on Bad Teenage Poetry. Since I made six last week, this seems reasonable.

5.   ISIRTA*. Finish listening to Series Three.

6.   BSG**. Write the post for “Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2.”

7.   Short Story Submissions: 3.

8.   Stretch Goal 3: Story selection for inclusion in The Undead.

I wrote as the second last line of a story once, Every day is a new one. That’s true for everything, but I’ve got it in my head for writing right now. Every day is a new one. So is every week, bringing new targets and goals, new distractions, and new directions. Wonder what I’ll accomplish and find this week.

Be well, everyone.

* ISIRTA = I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again

** BSG = Battlestar Galactica

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Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind

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by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

So, I found this on several “best genre fiction in translation lists”, and the idea of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (the title trilogy and a location in the story) intrigued me enough to try the book. I enjoyed the read, mostly, but feel rather mislead. This book is in no way Fantasy. And I don’t mean that it doesn’t suit my definition (which I’m generous with), I mean that there is absolutely no speculative element. None.

This is a work of historical literary fiction. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, at times, it’s a beautiful thing in this book, but it’s not what I wanted, and that’s probably one of the main things that hampered my enjoyment of the book.

The Shadow of the Wind takes place in post-WWII Barcelona and is, ultimately, both a coming of age story and a romance centered, mostly, around the primary character of Daniel, only child of a widowed father who owns a bookshop. At the heart of the book is the mystery surrounding Daniel’s favourite author and why someone is systematically hunting through Europe to destroy every copy of the man’s books. There are other, smaller, mysteries in the story, and other characters with issues and tragedies in their past and present. It’s a sweeping tale that nonetheless has a very human, personal grounding.

The other major issue I have with the book is the way we learn about some of those issues and tragedies. The author has a huge tendency of the author to resolve plot points by telling a story within the story, not in a quick info-dumpy kind of way, but in a long, drawn out fashion going on for pages, or even chapters. Sometimes, by the time you get back to Daniel, you’ve almost forgotten what was going on, it had been so long.

It’s an old device, used heavily in earlier decades and centuries, to frame your narrative as if your hero is looking back from a comfortable old age, or some point later in life and the story is being told to catch you up to that present. I’m more than tired of it, and to have the same device used multiple times in the same story was extremely irritating.

Overall rating: 3 stars. The language used to tell the story is lavish and beautiful and I suspect that means the translation is nothing short of spectacular. But I never quite got over waiting for the fantasy element to slip into the book somewhere and the nested narratives just irritated me. I have to come down overall on the side of liking the book, but not nearly as much as I could have.

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Book Review: Flight of the Nighthawks

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Book one of the Darkwar trilogy, which I plan to read all of this year, just not in a row. I’ve found in the last few years that I need the smorgasbord of my reading to have a lot of variety in it. Too much of one thing, no matter how good it is, can get, if not boring, then temporarily stale. And this start to a new trilogy isn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped, so we’re not exactly starting in a great spot.

I started this story with the anticipation of visiting some favourite characters I hadn’t spent time with in years. I got a bit of that, but not as much as I’d hoped. Not nearly as much.

This is a strange book with a lot of shorter story arcs, some introducing new characters who will probably become important later in this trilogy. But those story arcs are only loosely held together. I felt all the way through that this was only barely a complete story on its own. It reads a lot more like set up for the book that comes next and reminds us of all that has gone before. There are actually a lot of references to previous stories, maybe too many.

Add to the weakness of the overall plot, there were significant moments, especially near the climax of the novel, where I Mr. Feist was deliberately hiding things from me. Well, not just me, but any reader. Now, an author is supposed to hide things from the reader, building the plot, building suspense, building anticipation. This is good storytelling. Things should be hinted at, happen off screen, or be misrepresented through the eyes of the characters.

But it’s not good storytelling to have one character tell another character something without actually telling them. “Bob explained his plan to Mary, who thought it was a great idea.” End scene. Or something similar. A very weak storytelling device and one that always leaves me flat. This was how we got from setup of the climax to the climax itself so that everything happening would be a surprise. I spent a little time being irritated with the author.

And the Pug of this story, the master magician, while still having hints of the previous character, is a brooding, slightly full of himself, less edgy version of his original mentor, Macros the Black.

Overall rating: 3 stars. With the scattered storyline, mediocre storytelling, slightly disappointing characters, I still enjoyed it while I read it. Less because of the book itself and more because of the feelings of nostalgia it generated. I read the original Riftwar saga as a teenager repeatedly. It’s sometimes a wonderful thing to catch up with favourite characters, but I wonder if I should just do a Riftwar reread instead.

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Writing Report for the Week Ending 12 March 2017

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It’s that time again, time for what I’m trying to make the traditional weekly recap. Last week’s goals:

  1. 4,891 words progress on the 2nd draft of Draugr Rising, all that remained.
  2. 5,000 words of progress on the third draft on Scattered on the Wind.
  3. Five chapters of scene description step on Bad Teenage Poetry. The outline actually has 30 chapters, not 40. I was remembering a different plot, I think.
  4. ISIRTA*. Listen to 4 episodes in Series Three.
  5. BSG**. Finish the post for Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 1 and make notes for Part 2.
  6. Short Story Submissions: 3.
  7. Stretch Goal 1: 2,935 words of editing on the 2nd draft of the Sulu novelette, all that remained.
  8. Stretch Goal 3: Story selection for inclusion in The Undead.

The Results:

  1. Complete.
  2. 12,765 words of progress on the “make it pretty” draft. This takes me to almost 2/3 of the way through the narrative, and I have to say I’m a lot happier with the story than I thought I would be at this point.
  3. I actually managed 8 here. Not bad progress. The actual first draft isn’t on the list to start for a little while, but since I seem to be struggling so hard with Shrine, I might rearrange the projection a bit.
  4. Somehow, these never made it to the front of the play list. I’ve fallen behind on a lot of podcasts lately, and wanted to catch up on a couple.
  5. Well, I watched the Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2, but I need to go through it again to make notes.
  6. 0 submissions this week. Moving right along.
  7. Finished the 2nd draft of the Sulu novelette. I think this works fairly well, too.
  8. Someday.

I got a little sidetracked this week, or maybe a little focused, or both. Aside from the extra progress on two of the primary goals, I also started the Revision Notes draft of Hero’s Life, the second book in the Heroes Inc trilogy. Enjoying this so far, and I think it can go on the regular tasks list for the next couple of weeks.

  1. 10,000 words of progress on the third draft on Scattered on the Wind. I don’t think this is too much of a bump considering this week’s progress.
  2. Second draft on my Scotty short story. First draft stands at 3,953 words.
  3. Hero’s Life revision notes continued. Five chapters would be good.
  4. Five chapters of scene description step on Bad Teenage Poetry.
  5. ISIRTA*. Finish listening to Series Three.
  6. BSG**. Write the post for Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2.
  7. Short Story Submissions: 3. Theoretically, I’m on vacation this week, but there’s a lot going on. I don’t think this should be hard for a change.
  8. Stretch Goal 1: Story selection for inclusion in The Undead.

Like I wrote above, I’m on vacation for the week, but there are a couple of significant events going on that are going to need a lot of my time. Things that are, gasp, more important than writing. For one of these, there may be an appreciable amount of waiting involved, so things may balance. We’ll see

Be well, everyone.

* ISIRTA = I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again

** BSG = Battlestar Galactica

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Book Review: Best SF 1970

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I was born in 1970, but it wouldn’t be for a couple of years that I’d discover television SF and a few more after that before I’d begin to read it seriously. When I did, I’d read voraciously, but I’d eventually find that a lot of the so called New Wave of SF wouldn’t work all that well for me. Happening smack in the middle of the New Wave, I expected a lot of this anthology to fall flat for me. Much of it did, but not all of it. This particular anthology has the added bonus of having a couple of stories available in translation for the first time. Of course, neither really worked well for me, but a translation doesn’t always do the original work justice.

Still, there were some good stories here.

The standouts:

“Black is Beautiful” probably couldn’t be written today, but it’s an eye-opening and mind-stretching look at what could be if all of the white folks left a major city to the black folks who are allowed to be competent and diverse. What might that society look like after a couple of decades?

“Oil-Mad Bug-Eyed Monsters” is a story of a member of an alien species who, collectively, are trying to buy up all of the oil rights on Earth because, well, they need it for the breeding fleet that’s on the way. Better we don’t think about it too closely.

“Traffic Problem” is an exercise in absurdity. What might happen to the rest of society if the American love of the automobile were taken to a ridiculous extreme. Eye rolling and disturbing at the same time.

Most of the rest of the stories were at least readable, though I’d consider more than a couple of them pointless exercises in throwing words at the page to see which of them might form sentences.

Complete contents:

  • Introduction (Best SF: 1970) • (1971) • essay by Harry Harrison
  • Gone Fishin’ • (1970) • short story by Robin Scott Wilson
  • The Ugupu Bird • (1959) • short story by Slawomir Mrozek
  • Black Is Beautiful • (1970) • short story by Robert Silverberg
  • The Lost Face • (1964) • novelette by Josef Nesvadba
  • Mary and Joe • (1962) • short story by Naomi Mitchison
  • Gorman • (1969) • short story by Jerry Farber
  • Oil-Mad Bug-Eyed Monsters • (1970) • short story by Hayden Howard
  • A Pedestrian Accident • (1969) • short story by Robert Coover
  • Traffic Problem • (1970) • short story by William Earls
  • The Asian Shore • (1970) • novelette by Thomas M. Disch
  • Erem • (1963) • short story by Gleb Anfilov
  • Car Sinister • (1970) • short story by Gene Wolfe
  • “Franz Kafka” by Jorge Luís Borges • (1970) • short story by Alvin Greenberg
  • Pacem Est • (1970) • short story by Kris Neville and Barry N. Malzberg
  • The Day Equality Broke Out • (1971) • short story by Brian W. Aldiss

Overall rating: 3 stars, but that’s probably generous. Not enough of the stories were really a good read for me to say I liked the book, but a two-star rating feels like a disservice to the stories I did enjoy.

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