Every Story needs a good Nemesis

A recent Facebook update from the Uncanny Bookclub (read about them here) asked their fans about their favorite villains of all times. This motivated me to think and write about my preferred bad guys. My list includes one adversary from a video game universe, one of the most famous film villains of all time and one literary nemesis.

I’ll start off by talking about Arthas Menethil from the Warcraft Universe.

In the video game Warcraft 3, Prince Arthas Menethil, son of the king of Lordaeron, starts out as a paladin and a beacon of light. When an undead plague overruns his homeland, he ventures out to stop it. But his actions know no boundaries. When he plans to purge a city from all infested citizens, his friends turn his back on him, pushing him further down his doomed path. Desperately clinging to the faint hope of saving his hometown, he seeks the cursed blade Frostmourne. When Arthas acquires the doomed weapon, his soul is lost forever…

The story of Arthas Menethil is the main reason I love the Warcraft universe so much. It starts out in Warcraft 3 and continues on in the add-on “The Frozen Throne” before finding its ultimate end in World Warcraft and its add-on “The Wrath of the Lich King”. Saving his homeland motivates his character and playing the game, you feel his frustration at his failure to stop the scourge. He literally gives his heart and soul for it. Fascinating about him is his transformation from a human paladin to a more powerful and evil being.

Arthas’ story is similar to the one from our next villain. Of course I’m talking about the legendary Darth Vader from the Star Wars universe.
Anakin Skywalker is the “Chosen One”. He is insanely gifted and talented, but also very ambitious and temperamental. Anakin falls in love with Padme Amidala, even though Jedis are warned not to attach themselves to closely. He fears she will die. The Emperor Palpatine, revealed to be the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, convinces him that he can save Amidala by joining the Dark Side. Anakin becomes his apprentice and turns against the Jedi. In his new quest to kill every Jedi he faces off against his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Jedi Master defeats Anakin and leaves him to die after severing his body. However Palpatine recovers his body and places him in the iconic suit…

Darth Vader’ story is the perfect example of how prodigies can fall and how ambition can lead to the dark side. The second part of his story, told in the original trilogy, however is also a great redemption story. I love Anakin/Vader because he feels real. He is immensely talented, but unable to see his faults and limits. He is powerful, but easily manipulated.

The third villain on my list is from one of my favorite childhood books, “The Three Musketeers” and is the cunning Cardinal Richelieu.

The enmity between Cardinal Richelieu and the Duke of Birmingham is one of the larger threads in the story of d’Artagnan and his companions. Richelieu tries to start a war between England and France and comes up with multiple plans and intrigues to do so.

He is one of my favorite villains, because even though the main characters know he is the person responsible for the intrigues, they can do nothing about it. Richelieu is a master at using pawns and making everything untraceable to him. Acting from a position of power, nothing can get to him. When his plans are thwarted time and time again, he actually starts to appreciate the quality of his foes, even handing the three musketeers a promotion to lieutenant.

So, these are three of my favorite villains. Of course, there are many more to choose from.

Which nemesis have you enjoyed in books, games or movies? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments!

I’m back on Friday with the return of “An Elusive Hero”. Stay tuned!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

 

Tennis, Books and more!

This week is quite a busy week for me, so my post today will be a bit shorter than usual. A few interesting events are going on in Switzerland in the next few days, so I wanted to give you a quick overview of all the interesting experiences you can gain.

Let’s start off with some sports, as the ATP Swiss Indoors Tournament will be played in Basel this week. The tournament is one of the most important indoor tennis tournaments and will host some of the greatest players around this year. Roger Federer, one of the greatest players to ever hold a racket, will be appearing in his hometown as well, hoping to keep the title in the country. Stanislas Wawrinka, who has played an amazing season thus far, will try to do the same. Other fantastic players fighting for glory are Richard Gasquet (FRA), Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) or Nikolai Davydenko (RUS). For anyone interested in sports and tennis specifically, the tournament is the best chance to see it in Switzerland!

As everyone reading this blog regularly knows, I read a lot. And this weekend a fantastic event for book lovers takes place in Zurich as the city hosts “Zürich liest” (Zurich reads).
Over 100 events can be visited in Zurich, Winterthur and the adjacent regions. It starts this Thursday and runs through Sunday. I’ll be visiting a reading from Swiss-American author Stefan Bachmann on Friday at 8pm at “The Bookshop by Orell Füssli”, so maybe I’ll catch you there. Other notable events include the opening of the festival on Thursday at the Kaufleuten and a reading by the nominees for the Swiss Book Award on Friday at the Literaturhaus Museumgesellschaft. However, it is a predominantly German-speaking literature festival, so it might be difficult for non-German speakers to follow all of the action. A lot of the events are aimed at children, so families will find their fair share of opportunities to learn more about the magical world of books. For a full schedule, check out their website.

And last, but not least, the Basler Herbstmesse starts on October 26. The traditional fair has been around for over 500 years and offers it’s 1 million visitors various events. There will be Basler specialties, fun rides and the whole city will be full of interesting booths. The fair runs until November 10. I’ve never visited it before, but plan on checking it out this year, if I find the time. For more information, check out this website.

So that’s it from me for today. If you have any other events to recommend, please let me know on Twitter or in the comments!

Have a great week.

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Autumn Book Recommendations

Even though summer is scheduled to reappear for one weekend and one weekend only, autumn has finally engulfed Switzerland. With the season comes the perfect time to relax at home with a good book. So today, following my posts for summer and August, it’s time for my Autumn book recommendations. The books featured here definitely rank among my top ten for the year, so they’ll probably pop up again on this site come December.

I’ll start off with my favorite book of the year: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider.

2013-10-16 19.17.44The book follows Ezra Faulkner, a cool and popular High School student, who gets his leg shattered in a car accident after his girlfriend cheats on him. Unable to continue as the captain of the tennis team, he feels he doesn’t belong with his old friends among the “jocks” anymore. So he reconnects with his old friend Toby and meets his group of outcasts and misfits. And then there’s Cassidy, the mysterious new girl he can’t help but fall for…

The Beginning of Everything is a wonderfully told coming-of-age story with real characters. Unlike many YA books and series, where characters can be firmly placed among the “jocks” and “nerds”, it’s refreshing to see a character who fits in in both worlds. I liked the description of Ezra’s old tennis friends as superficial and arrogant, but ultimately they’re not bad kids. And it was refreshing to see that there are also mean kids among “nerds”, who are often portrayed as so pure and awesome in books. Cassidy, his love interest, is definitely among the best manic pixie dream girls in YA fiction. She’s intelligent, kind, daring and you never know what exactly is going on with her. I loved every page of this book and couldn’t put it down. I can only recommend it to anyone who loves coming-of-age novels.

My second recommendation comes from a totally different genre: Night Film by Marisha Pessl.

I don’t read many thrillers. In fact, the last thrillers I’ve read were probably the books by Dan Brown and that was before they were made into movies. But Night Film is an unbelievable page-turner.

Ashley Cordova, the daughter of the reclusive horror filmmaker Stanilas Cordova is found dead after an apparent suicide. Investigative reporter Scott McGrath, whose initial foray into the life of the famed director led to him ruining his career, feels there might be more to the death than appears. With the help of Hopper, who met Ashley as a teenager and Nora, one of the many girls living in NYC with dreams of making it big, he begins to uncover the secrets of the Cordova family.

Ms. Pessl has created a superb book. It’s fast-paced, extremely gripping and full of unexpected twists. Unique to Night Film is it’s use of internet webpage screenshots. They’re full of articles about Cordova, which let the reader feel like they’re participating in the hunt for the truth. The characters are easy to root for and extremely multi-dimensional. The most special of them all is Ashley Cordova, whose life is tragic and haunting. Wanting to find out more about her and what role her family played in her suicide, pushes the book forward and makes Night Film a fantastic ride.

The next book I’m recommending is the last book I read: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Harpin

2013-10-16 19.51.41

First off, I don’t think this book is as good as the other books mentioned in this post. I would say, the first two are five-star books, while this one is a typical 3-star for most people, but 4-star for me book.

Justin and Emmy are the new kids at Heartland academy, a reform high school where kids are sent to get better. School in the morning, Therapy in the afternon. In their Anger Management session, they meet a diverse group of teenagers. Together, they just want to find a way to enjoy life again. After all, living takes a lot more guts than giving up.

A Really Awesome Mess is a surprisingly light-hearted and highly sarcastic book, considering the characters’ problems. However, it focuses on giving the teenagers a positive outlook. It does a decent job of showing the struggles the characters are going through. However, for some readers, it might not be enough. I can understand if readers think some of progression feels too easy. But all in all, I think the authors found a balance between their heavier themes and their hilarious ideas.

The book is also full of Harry Potter references, which I obviously enjoyed a lot. My favorite scene was a game they play, talking about which house they’d belong to. Slytherin, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw all get some love, but the seriously underrated House Hufflepuff never gets mentioned (but yeah, for those wondering, I’m still a Gryffindor).

Also highly recommended are the new books from two of the most imaginative authors around. Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of Lane” is a fantastical and quiet book, full of brilliant descriptions and understated action. Patrick Ness’ “More Than This” is a unique blend of afterlife experience, survival scenario and dystopian thriller, which leaves readers wanting for more. I’ll definitely talk about them more in a future post, but I didn’t include them here because I’ve written about them in my recent posts.

On Friday, my post will feature one of the new projects I’m taking part in: collaborative fiction. So stay tuned!

Until then, please like, share and subscribe.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

A Trip down Memory Lane

Two weeks ago I asked my friends on Facebook about their favorite teenage characters or from their teenage years looking for inspiration for a new story I’m working on. I received over 20 responses including, but not limited to, the innocent teenage superstar (Hannah Montana), one of the most annoying love stories in history (Edward Cullen and Bella Swan), the most despicable young king played by a really cool guy (Geoffrey Baratheon) and a whole bunch of Harry Potter characters (Albus Dumbledore, Cedric Diggory, Hermione Granger). Some of the answers really resonated with me and instead inspired to take a trip down Memory Lane to revisit some of the defining shows and books of my childhood.

Captain Tsubasa, Kickers and other Anime Superstars

Tsubasa Ozara was the first answer I received to my question and rightfully so. He is the titular character of an anime series showing his rise from childhood football prodigy to Japanese National Team Captain and Barcelona player. This Saturday, I met up at friend’s place to rewatch the first episodes of the series and all the memories came flowing back. It has aged well.

One of the signature scenes of the TV show was a shot of a player (mostly Captain Tsubasa) running over a curved football pitch for ages, unstoppable by all the ordinary defenders. These displays of skill took up most of the time in an episode and ended by a fantastic shot on goal either resulting in a destroyed net or great save by his rival Genzo Wakabayashi. I remember trying to replicate iconic scenes like the “Tiger Shot” or the “Save off the goal posts”.

Similar to Captain Tsubasa was the football anime series “Kickers” starring the talented Gregor and Mario with their bunch of misfit teammates. I exactly remember the episode of the team captain and number 10 Gregor training hard at the beach before an important game, trying to hit a ball through the onrushing waves, finally succeeding after countless hours of practice. Every time I play football at the beach, I still follow his lead.

Of course these were not the only anime series. I remember “Mila Superstar” having the best opening theme of them all, “Detective Conan” being the perfect replica to satisfy my urge on following a Sherlock-type detective and “Dragonball” showing me how to never give up. But the franchise to rule them all still is…

Pokemon

Ash Ketchum, the star of the Pokemon anime series, was also mentioned in my little poll and it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. The series and this journey with Misty and Rocko (these are the German names) however were only a minor part of the universe. The highlight were definitely the first Pokémon games for the Nintendo Gameboy. I remember saving my sparse pocket money for weeks to finally get hold of Pokémon Red. The games, which offer a high degree of replayability, feature a young hero sent on a journey to catch and train all 151 pokemon, animal-inspired pocket monsters. Most of my friends played the games.  We connected our handheld consoles by cable to battle and trade with each other. Every schoolyard pokémon was centered around which team was the best, how to beat the top four or which starting pokémon to choose (Charmander). Nowadays, I still keep my Gameboy Color around and still train my Pokémon during a boring commute or a lengthy flight. Some of the looks I’ve received by younger and older generations have been priceless.

I also played some of the newer versions of Pokémon, but none of them ever matched the charm and atmosphere of those wonderful first editions.

But now, let me move on to some shows, where none of the characters made it into the answers, but which had a great impact on me nonetheless.

From the Fresh Prince over the Simpsons to the O.C

In the days before highspeed internet and cellphones, connecting to the World Wide Web meant my parents were cut off from the outer worlds by having a busy telephone line. I got a flatrate when I moved to Germany in 2002, but our place in Switzerland still remained devoid from ISDN technology until we moved back in 2005. This meant I spent my time indoors watching TV (yes, and of course reading and studying *cough*).

One of the first shows I remember watching on a regular basis was the show that molded Will Smith into a star: “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air“. I followed his good-natured antics over the years until the final episode. The finale episode with Will punching out the lights as the Banks family leaves their mansion, only for Carlton to hilariously come running down the stairs, still is my favorite series finale ever.

While Fresh Prince was a sitcom often aired together with competitors such as “Tool Time”, “Full House” or “Married with Kids”, for the adolescent me it also fulfilled a function as a coming-of-age in the vein of “Wonder Years” or “Boy meets World”.

And then the Simpsons came onto my screen and I was immediately hooked. I saw many of the episodes as a kid, laughing at the stupidity of Homer and the brashness of Bart, while admiring the cleverness of Lisa. But when I got older and finally noticed the often cynical jabs at society hidden among the more obvious jokes, my admiration for the incredibly smart show only grew. The wit of Simpsons is unmatched, even though there are some fantastic South Park episodes which come close to achieving that sweet balance between hiding criticism and going all-out just for laughs.

And then, exactly ten years ago, I clearly remember seeing the first episode of the O.C while on holiday in Switzerland. The show got me hooked at “Welcome to the O.C…“.
The relationship between Ryan and Seth stood out from the beginning and it portrayed a nerdy character in a positive light. And in that magical first season (the latter seasons range from terrible to okay) even the adult characters had interesting and believable storylines. Seeing Seth struggle choosing between his best friend and his manic pixie dream girl, Ryan saving Marissa in Tijuana and the all-around fantastic soundtrack are memories from the show that stand-out.

But who was my favorite fictional character when growing up? The Count of Monte Cristo.

So, how would you answer my initial question? Who are your favorite teenage characters? Which shows or games do you look back with a fulfilling sense of nostalgia? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

See you on Friday with chapter 19 of “An Elusive Hero”.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

An Evening with the Uncanny Book-Club in Zurich

If you’ve followed my blog for a while (thank you!), you’ll have noticed that my goals are to promote interesting events and opportunities in Switzerland as well as to write about things I love (Harry Potter, Arsenal FC, Travel, generally speaking Video Games/Movies/Books). I was able to combine these two goals earlier this year when talking about the Bookshop and last week in my Zurich Film Festival preview. So naturally I’m delighted to be able to continue this trend by introducing you to the Uncanny Book-Club.

I found one of their flyers at the comic book shop Analph and was intrigued immediately. After all, to quote from the website of the UBC: “First and foremost, we are about books. So we read a lot. Then we sit down and talk about the books. ”

So I decided to join their first event about the terrific (both meanings of the word) novel “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson.

The group gathered in the heart of Zurich’s Old Town at the Cabaret Voltaire, a bar and nightclub famous for being the birthplace of the art movement Dada. The atmosphere was fitting for the book, with candlelight illuminating the closed-off section reserved for us. After a short round of introductions revealing the twelve of us to be a group with diverse backgrounds, the discussion on the book began.

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is the story of Mary Catherine and Constance Blackwood, two sisters living together after the tragic demise of their family. They live near a village with their old uncle Julian, but largely keep to themselves remaining in their large mansion. From the get-go, the reader senses that there must be more to their story. I don’t want to give anything away, but the way their story unfolds over the next 146 pages, is thrilling entertainment.

The discussion at the book club greatly enhanced my reading experience. I gained a deeper understanding of the main characters and noticed details of the book that had eluded me while reading.  As the novel is the only book I’ve read by Ms Jackson, I learned a lot about the author while being inspired to read more of her writings. But what most enlightening about the discussion was the opportunity to see how people react differently to characters and books. This was the first time in a long time I’ve listened to and shared an interpretation of an author.

However, the highlight of the evening came afterwards during the more social part of the event with the group moving to Café Henrici, one of the best cafés in Zurich. There the discussions quickly delved into the various forms of entertainment this world has to over. Movies, TV shows, books; everyone seemed to have an impressive knowledge about the subjects they deeply cared about. One particularly heated debate was centered on House Hufflepuff, often overlooked despite being the home of fantastic students such as Cedric Diggory and Newt Scamander.

I left the event with a deeper understanding of a fascinating book, the knowledge I’m not the only one around willing to discuss fictional characters at great length and with a ton of recommendations I intend to follow up on (i.e. Girls, the new Star Wars comic).

So if you enjoy books, movies and recent pop culture, you’ll find a wonderful and open-minded group to share your thoughts and feelings. Check out their website (linked above) for more detailed information. As far as I’m informed, the next meeting will be in around two months to discuss the latest page-turner by Patrick Ness: “More Than This”.  I finished the book about two or three weeks ago and can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.

Thank you very much for reading.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

August reading recommendations

A few months ago, I published my tips for summer reading and I can say I have progressed quite a bit through the books I wanted to read finishing A Clash of Kings by George R.R Martin and the Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman. I haven’t gotten very far on my non-fiction reading, because the world of fiction will not let me go. Currently I’m reading A Player of Games by Iain M. Banks and the Unwritten Series of graphic novels written by Mike Carey and drawn by Peter Gross. But every time I stop by my favorite bookshop, other books catch my attention, pushing some of my picks further down the to-do list. I decided to recommend some of the books <I read the last month.

Continue reading

A special kind of 4th of July party

My friend and I got back to Zurich from New York yesterday, which means we missed out on the 4th of July festivities in the US. But we managed to return in time for the Zürifäscht starting tonight. It also meant I got to celebrate a different kind of party at the English Bookshop by Orell Füssli.

I’ve loved bookshops since I was little, spending hours of my youth in Bern’s Stauffacher and Thalia as well in Frankfurt’s Hugendubel. Browsing in books, dvds and video games, they have been havens of relaxation for me. When I came to Zurich I quickly discovered the exclusively English Bookshop with its prime location on the Bahnhofstrasse. During my university years reading unfortunately took a back seat to other interests, but since the beginning of the year I’ve made reading at least three books a week a goal of mine. So naturally, I’ve been spending more and more time (and money) at the Bookshop.

Therefore, I was delighted to receive an invitation to a roaring twenties party at the Bookshop a few weeks ago. Fresh off seeing the visual sensation Great Gatsby, a party dedicated to the era of jazz seemed like a great idea. The discounts of 15% for regular customers and 20% for those who dressed up in 20% were another major draw of the evening.

It was a shame the 5% extra discount proved to be too little incentive for most men to bring their Gatsby style. It was left to the band and the employees to hold the banners of 20s style. On the other hand, the attending ladies put a lot more thought into their outfits then their male counterparts. Elegant dresses were seen on all levels with graceful headpieces being the accessory of the night. I can only tip my imaginary hat to all the fantastic get-ups seen yesterday.

The highlight of the evening however was the entertainment. Jill’s cocktail band playing tunes of the era and two skilled dancers providing the ambience for the party.  Watching them move and play I was able to feel like a time traveller. They made easy to imagine the Bookshop turned into a New York backdoor speak-easy with exquisite champagne, carefully curated food and delightful desserts.

I was able to talk to the young British couple Tom & Anna, who were stopping by Zurich on their Europe Interrail journey and came upon the shop by chance. The party and shop left them pleasantly surprised by the city and hopefully also Swiss culture. It’s these spontaneous events that make living in the city such a pleasant adventure.

Between talking to staff and enjoying the entertainment, I spent the rest of my evening browsing through my favorite sections and exploring the redesigned layout of the shop. The ground floor now features the sections probably least interesting to me at the moment: Fiction and Crime. The top level now includes all biographies and an extended young adult section with graphic novels and travel books now grouped on the lower level with fantasy, sci-fi and DVDs. Yesterday, I spent most of my time on the lower level thinking about buying the second season of Game of Thrones. However, I decided to opt for the Blu-Ray edition. The high-quality DVDs and books focused on Internet topics such as blogging are two of the gaps in the otherwise expansive selection at the Bookshop.

I ended up buying four books last night: The first one is Neil Gaiman’s “The ocean at the end of the lane” featured I’ve been looking forward to for a while (see my post on summer reading). To begin my science fiction education, I got “The Player of games” by the late Iain M. Banks. I also finally bought my own copy of the brilliant “A monster calls” to shore up my Patrick Ness collection. The last book is about Creative Writing, which will hopefully benefit the editing process of my story so far. Two graphic novels were on my list at the beginning of the evening, but unfortunately both of them were sold out.

The event yesterday took me on a journey to the twenties and provided me with books ready to take me on a journey to faraway worlds. It just shows that a venue that features books is always a portal into a different and magical world.

I do not work for the Bookshop or am in any way affiliated with Orell Füssli. I’m just a very happy customer and reader and would like more people to discover the store, especially as physical bookshops are under increased economic pressure. Over the years I’ve received many recommendations at the shop and so far I have yet to encounter a book I didn’t enjoy. So thank you to Schira, Rafael and Nick!

In another note, please also check out my new and updated “About me” page, the first step in the improvement to this website. So please subscribe, like and share! I’m back after the weekend highlighted by the Zürifäscht with a week full of more NYC and US-inspired posts.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

PS: I didn’t take my own pictures because, well, I’m a terrible photographer, but I’m sure some of the pictures will appear only at the Orell Füssli Website or Facebook page!