YA Novel Giveaway Announcement!

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I recently met Abby Arthur, author of Twins Of Shadow, and I’m excited to say she’s running a HUGE giveaway this month.

The prizes include 17 YA Fantasy novels and a new eReader, the Amazon Kindle Fire 7, over the course of the next 4 weeks.

There are 4 chances to win a prize!

Every entrant will also receive a free copy of the Twins Of Shadow ebook.

  1. Go to the link below
  2. Enter your email address
  3. Follow Abby on her social platforms (Gives you 50X more chances to win!)
  4. Share your lucky URL (extra 20X chances to win per friend to enter)

Click this link to enter: https://abbyarthur.com/giveaways/august2020

A new prize will be drawn each week!

August 3, 2020

The Running Man

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The Running Man Book Cover The Running Man
Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Horror
Signet
May 1, 1982
Paperback
219

The Running Man is set within a dystopian future in which the poor are seen more by the government as worrisome rodents than actual human beings. The protagonist of The Running Man, Ben Richards, is quick to realize this as he watches his daughter, Cathy, grow more sick by the day and tread closer and closer to death. Desperate for money to pay Cathy’s medical bills, Ben enlists himself in a true reality style game show where the objective is to merely stay alive.

 

The Running Man, yet another Stephen King book taking place in a dystopian future. Dystopias have really gotten more popular since The Hunger Games. And even more so thanks to shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Mirror. But back before they had really gone mainstream (mostly), you had stories like this. There is basically just one concrete rule of a dystopia: everything sucks. Not in the same fashion as a post-apocalypse setting like Mad Max, but still awful. Some organization, usually the government or a mega-corporation, has taken over. Things are amazing if you’re one of the 0.001% of people at the top and suck for everyone else.

In this variation, game shows are used by the ruling class’ to keep the poor distracted in line. And considering reality TV was not a thing yet when The Running Man came out, this idea was ahead of its time. Game shows were certainly popular back then though, so tit for tat. Now, we get this average Joe named Ben Richards competing in a game that is designed to be unwinnable because that is the only way to save his daughter’s life. If there is a more solid premise to set up a “man vs. society” story, I have yet to find it.

As the reader, you are clearly rooting for Richards. But as you get deeper in, it becomes more apparent how much the deck is stacked against him. At one point, he’s even straight-up told that by the people who made this “game”. But just because the Grim Reaper is going to catch you eventually doesn’t mean you can’t make the bastard work for it. Richards’ cautionary tale shows that he is a normal man, but also a clever one.

And on that note, I have to mention the movie adaption of The Running Man. This is one of those films that is the same as the book in name only. The book portrays Richards as clever and street smart, doing well enough in the game to make society’s evil overlords look bad. He starts to give the common people real hope and that makes him a threat. The film is a 1980’s movie that casts Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead. That should really tell you everything you need to know about it. Some of the themes are persistent, but that is the only thing that stays the same beyond character names.

So, in summary, The Running Man is a short, entertaining story featuring a brave man and a cautionary tale. And go watch the movie if you like 1980s action flicks.

 

Side note: Be sure to check out my blog tomorrow for a special giveaway announcement, featuring 17 YA books and an Amazon Kindle Fire 7!

August 2, 2020

Top Secret!

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Poster for the movie "Top Secret!"

Top Secret!

Don't tell anyone.

19841 h 30 min
Overview

Popular and dashing American singer Nick Rivers travels to East Germany to perform in a music festival. When he loses his heart to the gorgeous Hillary Flammond, he finds himself caught up in an underground resistance movement. Rivers joins forces with Agent Cedric and Flammond to attempt the rescue of her father, Dr. Paul, from the Germans, who have captured the scientist in hopes of coercing him into building a new naval mine.

Metadata
Director Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker
Runtime 1 h 30 min
Release Date 8 June 1984
Details
Movie Media DVD
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Very good

As much as Airplane is the greatest comedy of all time (and I will die on that hill), there aren’t all that many other comedies in the same style. At least, not ones that approach the same quality. It’s pretty much just the Hots Shots duology, The Naked Gun trilogy, and Top Secret. There are a few others out there like pretty much everything else Leslie Nielsen was in after Airplane, but they’re not quite as funny. Top Secret does take itself a bit more seriously than the other films I’ve mentioned, but not by much.

The main difference here is that the jokes aren’t quite non-stop. That’s not to say they’re far apart, they’re not, but it isn’t quite the same constant stream as Airplane. And it doesn’t have that same modern(ish) setting as The Naked Gun. But that’s actually one of the jokes; Top Secret somehow seems to take place in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s all at the same time and it works, which is just a treat. And the joke structure as a whole is very similar to these other films despite not being as consistent. There are direct jokes, setting jokes, background jokes, and more. This is definitely a film where you won’t catch everything on your first viewing.

One thing that really sticks out is the plot. In Airplane and Hot Shots, the plot doesn’t matter. The Hot Shots movies parody Top Gun and Rambo while Airplane is Airplane. Yeah, The Naked Gun has a fairly important plot (comparatively), but Top Secret makes it even more relevant. And I think this really comes down to Top Secret being a parody of a spy thriller. The genre forces this movie to have a villain, a good one too who’s just as funny as the protagonists. And as far as characters go, a bunch of fun cameos are littered throughout the cast. I will watch anything with Peter Cushing, no matter how minor his role (another hill I will die on).

I probably laughed more watching this film than any other comedy I’ve seen in the last couple of years. Fun fact: Top Secret is Weird Al’s favorite comedy. If that’s not enough of an endorsement, I don’t know what is. And considering all that, I’m kind of surprised it took as long as it did for this movie to fall onto my radar. Best I can tell, it just doesn’t have the same renown as something like Airplane. But despite that, it is very much worth the time for anyone who likes tickling their funny bone.

July 26, 2020

13 Worlds

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13 Worlds Book Cover 13 Worlds
J. J. Hair
Sci-fi
Self-Published
May 18, 2020
E-book
102

Directed by an omnipotent super-being known as the “Guide”, Commander Culben, Dr. Reeves, and the crew of starship Ranus have set out on a mission to destroy thirteen different planets: analogous but unique versions of 1st and 2nd Earth. The planets’ inhabiting civilizations are believed to be on the verge of developing advanced DNA-editing technology known as CRISPR, which would lead to the creation of Supremes: an advanced human species capable of wiping out all life in the galaxy.…If history can be believed. What begins as a straightforward mission quickly becomes a series of moral quandaries. Is the crew doing what’s best for the galaxy? Can the Guide be trusted?While the Ranus pursues its targets, each world begins to learn of its fate through the eyes of Lisa Fry, Clarke Gabriel, and other medical scientists. Can their discoveries change their fate?

 

A copy of 13 Worlds was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Despite only being a 102-page novella, 13 Worlds wears a lot of different hats. There are a lot of references to other works in here. Author J. J. Hair’s biography lists several other works he is a fan of, and it shows. I caught the Ender’s Game reference pretty quickly, among other things, but there were probably other references I did not even pick up on. There are also a lot of real-world allusions, the most memorable one being a planet with pretty much the whole population in quarantine because of a virus. Art imitates life, I guess.

Now, 13 Worlds does jump around a little bit. Assuming you have read the synopsis, you have a basic idea of the plot. The story goes back and forth between the crew of the planet-killer ship and people on the worlds marked for destruction. The idea being that they are knocking off civilizations on the verge of becoming a threat. Getting some Stargate SG-1 flashbacks off that.

The ideas here were great, but it was a little bit confusing in practice. With multiple settings involved, it’s not always clear where a chapter takes place. And it seemed like these different planets were unaware of each other, but they all used very similar naming conventions. For most of the book, I was not 100% sure whether these planets were in the same universe or if the spaceship was hopping between dimensions/realities. That does eventually get cleared up, but it happens pretty close to the end. And everything that happens along the way feels a little bit…incomplete.

By the end of the novella, 13 Worlds felt more like a pilot episode than a standalone story. There is clearly more going on here and, as a reader, I want to know what those things are. Some major events had to lead to what’s happening here. And the current events are just as clearly going to lead to even bigger things.

Another thing that stuck out to me was the world-building and character development. For a short novella rather than a novel with 4x the page count, the world and characters are fairly well developed. But it seems like this is a tiny bit of a much bigger universe J. J. Hair has created. One with a bigger story than what we see here. It feels like this is just the skeleton and could be a lot more once there is some meat on those bones.

July 19, 2020

The Awakened Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker #2)

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The Awakened Mage Book Cover The Awakened Mage
Kingmaker, Kingbreaker
Karen Miller
Fantasy
Orbit
October 2007
Paperback
678

Asher has come a long way for a fisherman's son. Together with his friend Prince Gar, he has defended their kingdom against its bitterest enemy, but at great cost. Now the evil mage Morg is preparing for his most deadly assault. Desperate, trapped in a broken body, Morg has little time and fewer scruples.

 

I liked this duology, but I can see how it’s not for everyone. Things are a little more heated in The Awakened Mage, given how The Innocent Mage ended. A little, but not much. Certainly not much compared to most other fantasy books out there. As I mentioned in my review of The Innocent Mage, this series is really not high fantasy. It takes place in a high fantasy setting, but at it’s core it is a coming-of-age story. With a fair amount of slice-of-life storytelling used to facilitate that. The fantasy element is stronger here than in book 1, but it still takes a back seat for most of the story.

Now, an issue a lot of people had is the pacing. Given how much things started picking up at the end of book 1, it’s reasonable to expect things to be more intense for book 2. Well, that only sort-of kind-of happens. After they deal with the aftermath of the first book’s cliffhanger, not much happens until the grand finale. Everyone is forced to suddenly adjust to this great tragedy, and all their lives change as a result, but things do start getting back to normal until it all comes crashing down very suddenly.

So, when stuff starts happening towards the end of the book, boy does it happen fast. Secrets revealed, action, and more as the characters living slow, everyday lives are suddenly on a ticking clock. And it felt like this could have been done differently in 1 of 2 ways. Option 1: the protagonists dealt with the villain’s general instead of the big bad himself and continued into a greater story. Option 2: just have more stuff happen before the finale. Sprinkle the plot out over the whole story. I liked the main focus being character development, but again, it’s not for everyone.

There are apparently prequels and sequels to Kingmaker, Kingbreaker. The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage do not stand alone. But reading them alone…I don’t know. I enjoyed the books, but it felt like there could have been more. More self-contained within this series alone, without needing follow-up series later. But maybe Karen Miller could only get 2 books initially and this is what she wanted to do; I have no idea. But for all the complaints people have, the characters are (mostly) solid and the political aspect mixed into a slice-of-life story was entertaining. There are definitely worse books out there you could read.

July 12, 2020

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 5

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That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 5 Book Cover That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 5
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
FUSE
Light Novel
Yen On
April 23, 2019 (English) | June 6, 2015 (Japanese)
Paperback
288

Despite Rimuru's absence, Tempest was as peaceful as always. Well, as peaceful as a monster town called "Tempest" could get, anyway. But that was only until they learned that a bunch of heavily armed humans were coming their way. To make matters worse, the Beast Kingdom of Eurazania has declared war on Milim, and Rimuru is nowhere to be found...!

 

Volume 5 of That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime goes past where season 1 of the anime ended. Some changes to the anime actually ignored the cliffhanger from the end of Volume 4, but that is understandable. They probably did not know if they were getting renewed and wanted a real ending if the show ended there. Season 2 is going to be a thing but is not out yet at the time of this writing. So, instead of any book vs. show analysis, let’s start with how Volume 5 compares to the previous entries.

For starters, there is no time-skip between this volume and the last. Up to this point, the various story arcs have been connected but relatively self-contained. This time we actually go back in time, seeing what was going on in Tempest while Rimuru was off in other countries. This covers a substantial part of the book until it catches up to where Volume 4 ended, and the story continues in earnest. All of this is involved with one of my favorite aspects of any fantasy story: world-building.

Up to this point, Tempest has really only dealt with their direct neighbors on a political level. But now that their influence is growing, countries that don’t share a border with them are starting to take notice. And not necessarily in a good way. This world still functions on a number of ye olde medieval principals, like conquering other nations militarily for their resources. Tempest is a new nation, so its military must be small and weak, right? Right? Riiiiiiiiiiiight…

One thing that does continue to be annoying is how unbelievably powerful the characters are. We’re not talking planet-busters on the level of Dragon Ball here, but the series is rapidly approaching the point where each character is a walking, talking nuke. To whatever degree of “being powerful” the story requires of the characters at any given time. Basically, a power structure more similar to the main universe of DC Comics.

If the power was earned, that would be one thing. A slow build-up, a training montage, whatever. But most of the time it’s Rimuru doing one thing and going, “Oh, I’m now 10x stronger than I was before. Cool.” And then all his minions also get powered up because of how power-sharing works in this narrative. I don’t know; it’s one of those things that makes That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime seems more on par with middle school fiction than anything else in Western literature.

The series is still entertaining though, having decent world-building and character development on top of the big flashy fights if that’s more your speed. And honestly, this is probably the best entry in the series so far. Here’s to hoping the next book holds up to the standard this one set.

July 5, 2020

The Big Short

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Poster for the movie ""

The Big Short

This is a true story.

20152 h 11 min
Overview

The men who made millions from a global economic meltdown.

Metadata
Director Adam McKay
Runtime 2 h 11 min
Release Date 11 December 2015
Details
Movie Media DVD
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Very good

The 2007-2008 financial crisis was a dark time for many people across the world. It should go without saying that economics is an extremely complex subject that no single person fully understands. It can seem kind of far away now, given recent events, but it was a huge deal at the time. And despite that, a lot of people still do not understand it because, again, economics is complicated. So how do you put a topic like into a format the average layman can understand? Why you turn it into a black comedy film of course! Enter, The Big Short.

A comedy movie about people in high society doing bad things for money is not exactly a new concept. Every few years we see one of these, like The Big Short or The Wolf on Wall Street. And they are as hilarious as they are terrifying. I like watching horror movies, I’ve seen more than 1,000 of those things, and these films are scarier than anything in the horror category.

Now, you always have to take these “based on a true story” movies with a grain of salt. But The Big Short was surprisingly good about this. Not 100% good, but better than most other films. The big thing is that the movie portrays the characters as if they were the only ones to see the financial crisis coming. But a lot of people back then knew there was a housing bubble. The thing that made these people special was figuring out it would happen soon. And the movie makes a big point of them researching the housing market and realizing how rotten the banking industry’s system is. It turns out that people buying houses they couldn’t afford with money they didn’t have from the banks that weren’t paying attention was a bad thing. Who knew?

And at the end of the day, you cannot really argue that the protagonists are good people. They are all banking on the economy to collapse and have set themselves up to profit from the disaster. But the flipside of that is: what else were they supposed to do? The goal of any business, banks included, is to make more money constantly. Gotta keep those shareholders happy, baby. They probably would have been laughed out of the room even if they could have gotten some banking or government bigwigs to listen to their argument. The lack of action against the bankers following the financial crisis seems to back that up.

Anyway, this is a film everyone should watch since it is a very important piece of recent history. And it’s just, you know, a good movie. Great actors, a strong script, and a portrayal of real-world events that will keep you up at night. Good times.

June 28, 2020

The Long Walk

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The Long Walk Book Cover The Long Walk
Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Horror
Signet
July 3, 1979
Paperback
370

On the first day of May, 100 teenage boys meet for a race known as "The Long Walk." If you break the rules, you get three warnings. If you exceed your limit, what happens is absolutely terrifying.

 

The Long Walk, one of the few Stephen King books not adapted into a movie or TV mini-series. Not yet, anyway. This is actually the very first book Stephen King wrote, although Carrie was published first. And this is one of the rarer Stephen King stories where the antagonist is not some supernatural force or entity. It’s just…people. While this is far from his only book to indicate people can be just as monstrous as literal monsters, it is one of the few to exclude the monsters completely. People can really suck and as crazy as the situation in The Long Walk is, it’s not any more far fetched than any given episode of Black Mirror.

So, the book centers around the titular Long Walk. This is a yearly contest where 100 contestants, all teenage boys, keep walking at at least 4 MPH until only one of them is left. And yes, “left” means “still alive”. People who drop under the speed limit get 3 warnings. While it is possible to have warnings reduced, after the third one your reward is a bullet. Provided by soldiers who get to take turns riding in a half-track along the roadside.

Now one thing that’s amazing about The Long Walk is the level of world-building given the limited setting. The contest takes place in Maine, because this is a Stephen King story, and later spills over into Massachusetts. Just from the characters talking amongst themselves, readers learn a ton about this world. There was some kind of disaster that made society fall apart and it seems like the military, or at least parts of it, picked up the pieces. The Long Walk is one of the ways their leader, the mysterious Major, keeps his thumb on society.

And as much as I like to geek out on world-building, that’s not really what The Long Walk is about. It is a deeply psychological story as the physical and mental stress of the contest starts to set in on the walkers. They have not slept for days, they start running out of food, their bodies are being pushed well beyond their limits, and they keep seeing people dying around them. And the named characters are all fairly complex, each having their own reasons and motivations for signing up for The Long Walk in the first place. Yes, this is a volunteer event. No Hunger Games shenanigans here.

There is so much that can be said about this book, both directly about the book’s content and the themes it covers. Far more than I can do justice to in a short little review like this. Bottom line, it’s a good book about the hardship life puts us through and that we put ourselves through. Reading it is emotionally painful but at the same time, the story remains sincere. And while the whole concept is still horrifying, The Long Walk is less straight-up horror than a lot of King’s other books. So, a good choice for people who want a taste of his writing style without sleeping with the lights on.

June 21, 2020

The Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker #1)

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The Innocent Mage Book Cover The Innocent Mage
Kingmaker, Kingbreaker
Karen Miller
Fantasy
Orbit
January 1, 2005
Paperback
642

Enter the kingdom of Lur, where to use magic unlawfully means death. The Doranen have ruled Lur with magic since arriving as refugees centuries ago. Theirs was a desperate flight to escape the wrath of a powerful mage who started a bitter war in their homeland. To keep Lur safe, the native Olken inhabitants agreed to abandon their own magic. Magic is now forbidden to them, and any who break this law are executed.

Asher left his coastal village to make his fortune. Employed in the royal stables, he soon finds himself befriended by Prince Gar and given more money and power than he'd ever dreamed possible. But the Olken have a secret; a prophecy. The Innocent Mage will save Lur from destruction and members of The Circle have dedicated themselves to preserving Olken magic until this day arrives. Unbeknownst to Asher, he has been watched closely. As the Final Days approach, his life takes a new and unexpected turn ...

 

There seem to be a lot of mixed opinions about The Innocent Mage, so this review will address that as much as the book itself. Fantasy books tend to follow a pretty strict set of formulas. Generally, we can group these into sub-categories like High Fantasy or Epic Fantasy. While The Innocent Mage certainly takes place in a High Fantasy setting, it’s not really a High Fantasy book. This is, at its core, a coming-of-age story placed in a more slice-of-life format. Both for central protagonist Asher and his friend Prince Gar. So, let’s break down exactly what makes this book different, starting with the magic.

You can’t have a fantasy book without magic. Well, you can, but it’s very rare. Fantasy fans tend to obsess a bit over magic systems. What is magic and how does it work in this world? What are the rules? While magic can have some semblance of an explanation, the whole point of magic is that it does the impossible. Characters do have to understand it to some degree but going too deep kind of ruins the point. Not to mention the fact that the two main characters cannot do magic, which is a major plot point, so even though they are surrounded by magical people it makes sense that their own experience is limited.

The other big thing is the setting. This country is the last haven in a world otherwise in a post-apocalypse scenario. But it has been this way for centuries, so everyone is really chill about it. Life goes on normally for these people. This helps to make it more of a slice-of-life story. And most fantasy books do not do that. There is typically a sense of adventure or danger in fantasy books that tends to be prominent or at least semi-reoccurring. But The Innocent Mage is more like Harry Potter; life is normal (with a bit of magic) for most of the story until Voldemort pops up towards the end of the book.

This combination is where I think a lot of readers draw issue with The Innocent Mage. It breaks the mold in several ways. Now it is understandable why some readers are upset with this. When you enjoy a genre, you expect certain things from it. You don’t walk into the theater to see an action movie and enjoy it if the film turns out to be a more of a rom-com. I, personally, liked The Innocent Mage. It was refreshing to see something simple and low stakes, at least for Part 1 of this story. These stories do not always have to be about big epic magic, they can just be about life with the magic in the background. Things will probably pick up more traditionally in book 2 given the cliffhanger at the end of book 1, but I still found The Innocent Mage to be calm and enjoyable.

June 14, 2020

Uprooted

Published Post author

Uprooted Book Cover Uprooted
Naomi Novik
Fantasy
Del Rey
May 19, 2015
Paperback
435

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

 

I consider myself a pretty big Naomi Novik fan. After all, her other books have each been fantastic. Before even starting Uprooted though, audience reactions seemed mixed. And after reading the book, I can see why. While it might be a stretch to say this is overall a weak book, it seems to be Naomi Novik’s weakest book. But not without cause. While I admittingly have not read her short stories, before this her focus was the Temeraire series. And that series is alternate history. Sure, there are dragons, but any semblance of magic stops there. Uprooted was her first published crack at a truly magical world.

So overall this is a pretty standard ‘Chosen One’ story. This being the version where instead of fate or destiny picking the hero, they are chosen by a person. In this case, a wizard. And like in many worlds where magic is more of a rarity than anything else, it is largely misunderstood. Unfortunately, this spills over into audience perception as well. Even by the end of the book, it is not 100% clear how magic really works. The only real requirements seem to be knowing the right magic words and having the sheer willpower and raw talent to pull it off. The low number of wizards is justified in that many people can learn magic, but spell ingredients are expensive.

Then we get to the characters. There are two chief ones, the protagonist Agnieszka and her mentor The Dragon. Agnieszka is a clumsy village girl who never really aspired towards anything on her own. The Dragon is an ancient wizard who has spent a bit too much time alone in his tower away from people. They are such opposites that the dynamic between them in the first half of the book is great as the master-student relationship slowly but fully flowers.

Then you get to the second half of the book. The chief complaint here, and I agree, is that things move too fast. Readers are thrust from this small-scale village setting to a full kingdom. Suddenly the book is filled with classic fantasy tropes: medieval fantasy nobles squabbling, a threat from a rival kingdom, dark mysterious woods full of monsters and evil things, and so forth. The pacing gets turned up to 11 as we go from simple, daily life to a fate-of-the-kingdom/world scenario. It felt like this story was meant for more than one book and was shaven down to the key bullet points to squeeze everything in. That’s not to say Uprooted is a bad book, it’s not, but it could have been more.

June 7, 2020