Book Review – Isabella: The Warrior Queen

I’ve been reading a ton of fantasy these last few years. This might change a little as I recently started a new project that requires a significant amount of Mexican and Spanish history knowledge. So I decided to first start reading about The Catholic Kings, in particularly Isabella.

Queen Isabella I of Castile is undoubtedly the most important female monarch in human history.

Isabella: The Warrior Queen is a book that narrates the life and legacy of this mighty monarch and why she was and still is a very import person. In this biography, we get learn about Isabella’s life:

  • From her birth
  • Childhood upcoming
  • Marriage
  • Crowning
  • Conquest of Granada
  • The Inquisition
  • Christopher Columbus and the Discovery of the New World
  • Her heirs
  • Her legacy

Given that I’ve recently started reading A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s amazing to see the parallels between George R.R. Martin’s fictional world and Isabella’s real life. (Yes, I know, ASoIaF was heavily influenced by the real events that were part of Wars of the Roses). However, the similarities are fairly staggering, like when the different royal family members are battling for the Crown of Castile, reminiscent to the different houses fighting for the Iron Throne all while in Martin’s world the biggest threat to their existence is the Army of the Dead, and on Isabella’s world their biggest threat are the Muslims. Also not to mention the occasional enemy poisoning and bast amount of illegitimate bastard children!

I learned an incredible amount of information regarding the politics of Europe during the middle ages by reading this book. For obvious reasons, the Mediterranean Kingdoms were primarily focused. I already had an idea how much political power the Catholic Church had at time, but I never really imagined to what extend. This book does a really good job explaining the role of the Church and the different Christian Kingdoms were at the time and how incredible corrupt its institutions were.

Reading this book, the popular quote “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” certainly falls into context during the era of Queen Isabella’s life, both in by The Inquisition and Sharia Law.

Finally to conclude, they’re many topics in this book that in today’s politically correct / “safe space” world, many people will deemed it as “offensive”, without given much critical thinking before they start complaining.  Reading the author’s Afterword first, should hopefully convince you that this book was written without any political, racial, or religious biases.

Thus said, as a person who’s native tongue is Castilian, religion is Roman Catholic, and lineage being both Iberian and native indigenous; to my eyes Isabella of Castile is a saint, whose reign shaped the world positively.

2019 New Year’s Resolutions

Keeping with my yearly tradition, these are my New Year’s Resolutions in no particular order:

  1. Lose the weight I gained in 2018
  2. Replace all caffeine with Yerba Mate / Chimarrão
  3. Improve time management and daily schedule routine
  4. Write (edit and research) more
  5. Linguistic studies
  6. Read The Wheel of Time
  7. Be more fiscally responsible
  8. Eat more healthy

Book Review – Season of Storms

I’ve long awaited returning to what is arguably my favorite modern fantasy world (yes, in my humble opinion The Witcher universe is superior of that of A Song of Ice and Fire). As strange as it sounds, the primary reason why I didn’t read Season of Storms originally (English fan translation was available years before the official translation was published) was because I didn’t really wanted The Witcher tales to come to an end. While there are some Witcher comics, which I do plan on eventually reading; I however see these works as just plain fan fiction. Of you which you can say the video games also fall into this category, but I digress.

The events of a Season of Storms take place in between the short stories of the first book The Last Wish. The big difference between a Season of Storms and the short story collections of those in The Last Wish and A Sword of Destiny, is that this book is an actual full length standalone novel. Technically you don’t really need to read the first two short stories or the entire Witcher Saga read this book. While it would definitely help if you read the short stories and the saga first, since in my opinion you will get the most of out this book. There is a caveat though. The entire book is shown from Geralt’s point of view, however there is a small portion that is told from a different character that only appears in the final events of The Witcher saga. So if you read this book before the saga, you might find this small portion of the novel confusion.

A major difference between a Season of Storms the other short story collection books is that this book felt like it was less grim while others had more of a dark fantasy theme to them. This was a really enjoyable book (I practically read the entire book in two sit-ins), their were multiple times  this book had me laughing out loud. The humor and banter in this book definitely shined over other Witcher book.

Andrzej Sapkowski has confirmed that he will eventually write another Witcher novel, however he doesn’t know when. Whether or not we get to see another book of this amazing fantasy universe, I feel that after reading the epilogue of Season of Storms, it gave me some closure to what I felt was an unsatisfactory ending to the Witcher saga.

Book Review – A Storm of Swords

The third novel in A Song of Ice and Fire, I feel this is the novel where “the plot thickens”. I say this because unlike when I read both A Game of Thrones or A Clash of Kings, I didn’t had to refer to any online wikis to understand the setting or plot of the story. In A Storm of Swords, the story is now getting so complex that I had to refer to the online wiki so I can easily find out who’s who and geography of the world. Thus said, all books do include maps and basic Houses and character information.

Character development is a major and focal point in A Storm of Swords. Which I think character development is where George R.R. Martin shines above any other fantasy author that I’ve read. If I hate a character, that means the author is doing a n excellent job telling the story! In this book, on top of hating certain characters, also other characters that I disliked from the first two books (not quite hated or cared for them), I ended up doing a 180 turn and started to like them in this novel.

After finishing reading A Storm of Swords, I’m finally starting to see the premise of A Song of Ice and Fire, the tale. Which was one of my biggest complains when reading the first novel in the series, A Game of Thrones. I must say, I love it.

Eredin Prime 1 Studio Statue

Almost two years of anxiously waiting, it’s finally here. I must say it was definitely worth the wait! The Prime 1 Studio Witcher 3 Eredin statue is absolutely amazing. At 24 inches, this beautiful polystone statue is gorgeous. I’m not an expert in premium statues, but from what I see and read online, Prime 1 Studio is the cream of the crop in this space. I can certainly see why they’re the top premium statue company, the detail in this statue is amazing. The paint job is practically perfect, the plastic that is part of the armor looks like real metal, the detail in texture of the hound and base is incredible.

By the time I pre-ordered my statue through Sideshow Collectibles, all the exclusive editions were sold out. However, this wasn’t a deal breaker for me since the exclusive add-on was only the mask-less head of Eredin.

My primary motivation to purchase this pricey statue was to display it next to Sauron, so the regular masked sculpture was the one I wanted. Which I think visually fits better.

Having both Geralt and Eredin, I now can see why this statue was more expensive. In my opinion the Eredin statue is better, though the Geralt statue might still have a better base overall. I love both of my Witcher 3 Prime 1 Studio statues, and have been incredibly impressed with them, I’m now 100% certain that I’ll be buying both Triss and Yennefer (normal or alternate) statues.

Book Review – The War of the Ring

In the War of the Ring we get read the time frame from the Battle of Hornburg up to Frodo’s capture in Cirith Ungol. This book is divided into three major parts:

  • The Fall of Saruman
  • The Ring Goes East
  • Minas Tirith

Being the book after The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Ring continues from the fall of Saruman, and the connections between Rohan, Helms Deep, and drowning of Isengard by the Ents. Also, in this book we finally get to read the first manuscripts regarding the Palantír and it’s role in the story. Much of the world around Rohan, Hemls Deep, Isengard, and Dunharrow start taking shape. We finally get to see references (albeit brief) of the other races of Men like Dunlendings, Druedains, and the Corsairs of Umbar.

The second part of the book goes into the quest of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum into Mordor. To me, the most meaningful texts were those of the role of Faramir, which symbolically fits beautifully into the narrative of good and evil in The Lord of The Rings.

This book concludes with content regarding Minas Tirith and the kingdom of Gondor. Major themes mentioned in this part are those regarding the role of Denethor in the war, as well as the ride of Rohirrim, and finally arguably the biggest battle all of the War of the Ring, The Battle of Pelennor Fields.

I love reading different variations of final published story, in this case the most interesting one to me was Glorfindel’s Prophecy of the Witch King of Angmar. Finally, also worth mentioning, a significant amount of illustrations are described here in grater detail, same ones that are a part of The Art of the Lord of The Rings.

To conclude, as I continue to read The Complete History of Middle-Earth, the more I profoundly disdain the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movie adaptation. While they can be regarded a good piece of cinema display, it doesn’t come close portraying the entire story and all the themes in the Lord of the Rings.

 

Book Review – The Art of The Lord of the Rings

Unlike The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings did not had illustrations. In this book, you’ll read and see the many different illustrations, sketches, and notes that J.R.R. Tolkien drew and wrote pertaining to The Lord of The Rings. A significant amount of his original unpublished illustrations were related to maps and the geography of Middle-Earth. Having read The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, and as of the time of this writing, halfway through The War of The Ring. Practically, all of the illustrations have been already been thoroughly analyzed and explain by Christopher Tolkien as part of The Complete History of Middle-Earth series. However this art book takes a different approach, the authors give out a brief description of the illustrations and in some occasions, small excerpts of the The Complete History of Middle-Earth that belonged to illustration. Showcasing how Tolkien’s illustration talent helped him to beautifully describe and add the overwhelmly details to his writings.

Not all the illustrations are complete drawings, instead you’ll get to see and read how Tolkien sketched the visions he had in mine when writing The Lord of The Rings.

In addition to maps and Middle-Earth geography, this art book also has different Elvish scripts, the Book of Mazarbul, and the different book covers that Tolkien drew.

Book Review – A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings is the sequel to A Game of Thrones. Like in A Game of Thrones, this epic story continues being told from the point-of-view of certain characters. We also get to read point-of-view chapters from new characters introduced in this book, as well as characters that were already introduced but were never given their own specific point-of-view chapters in A Game of Thrones.

A Game of Thrones was merely an introduction to this great fantasy world. Once knowing the world, and it’s interesting array of characters (fairly large one, I would say), A Clash of Kings definitely felt like a much more past-paced novel. This book is a really good book, and I enjoyed it more so than A Game of Thrones.

I complained about the lack of traditional fantasy elements like faeries and mythical creatures in A Game of Thrones. Without going into any spoilers, in this book magic is finally introduced, as well as dragons! Another aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was the character development. There were certain characters from A Game of Thrones that I thought were good buys, but in A Clash of Kings they ended up being bad, and vice versa.

The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is such an immersive universe, I constantly found myself thinking about the world and of the characters in the story when I’m not reading the book. Which to me, is what a really good book should do. George R.R. Martin has done a fantastic job in the continuing world building process of his amazing secondary world.

Book Review – Skyrim Art Book

I purchased this art book as part of a bundle that also included an Alduin statue, both of which were originally part of the Skyrim collectors edition. This is an art book in every sense of the word. It’s not a strategy guide, nor it isn’t a comprehensive introduction to the world of Skyrim. Instead this book is a beautiful visual to what we expect to see or encounter in the game. It doesn’t go into much detail of Skyrim’s main story quest, but rather illustrates the world that we’re going to playing in. Illustrations include the cities, landscapes, creatures, the different races and their respective clothing and armor.

This art book does not include walls of text, it does however include brief descriptions about the illustrations without going into full details behind the lore of The Elder Scrolls. Lastly, you’ll read about why certain characteristics of such characters where chosen, as well some basic background on why that choice was made.

New Home Lab Hardware Refresh

It’s been roughly six years since I’ve done any significant hardware refresh to my home lab. I’ve been using two Mid-2011 Mac Mini’s (i5 2.3GHz) as my physical servers. Both running Ubuntu Linux server with KVM and VirtualBox as the hypervisors. These tiny machines have been rock solid and have serve me well over all these years, however it’s come time to retire them; after all these two computers have been up and running 24×7 for at least six years respectively.

Originally, my main concern using the now retired Mac Mini’s was heating, which I mainly mitigated by replacing their original spinning disk drives with solid state ones. One of the Mac Mini’s was a major concern in particular as it ran at least 15-20 degrees hotter than the other. During the summer this Mac Mini at times measured 90-99° Celsius! Of which I was force to shutdown the computer to allow it cool down.

Another reason why I decided to finally retire both Mac Mini’s was because of noise. For the most part the Mac Mini’s are relatively silent, however since both machines are located my bedroom, the fan noise it’s quite noticeable (at least for my ears).

So I decided to replace my Mac Minis with an Intel NUC (NUC7i3BNH).

New Setup:
Ubuntu Server 18.04 LTS
Hypervisor: KVM
Intel Core i3-7100U
Crucial 32GB DDR4-2400 (PC4-19200) RAM
Crucial MX500 500GB SSD
Seagate Backup Plus 2TB USB 3.0 2.5 – Backup Storage

With total cost of $711.12, my new Intel NUC is projected to be my primary home lab server for the next 5 years.