Tag Archives: characters

Review: Serpent’s Smile

(Sick writer was sick, I’m back now though!)

Serpent’s Smile is the latest in the Heaven’s Heathens series, and this time we’re staying close to home. Charged by her grandfather to investigate rumors of another gang moving something through Jasper around their town’s Founders Day celebration, most of the action is centered around Savannah as she takes lead on an unofficial (but really, this is Jasper, it’s pretty official just not on the books) investigation into the other gangs’ around town and their activity. Meanwhile, Gideon is still feeling out his place in the pack, and gets exasperated pretty quickly with the new meat syndrome going on. Savannah proves to be a welcome distraction to all that, and a helpful instigator if needed. Whoever thought it was a good idea to try and move product under the Heathen’s noses obviously didn’t know who they were messing with. But then again, we’re talking about a motorcycle club of werewolves–they rarely do.

Character-wise, I think we see a lot of serious growth in this book. While the backstory of the prior two books gives it more emotional impact on the reader, without it there is still a payout as far as actions taken and the characters changing (the impact is just maybe not as strong). Most of the main protagonist characters are familiar to us at this point, not only Savannah and Gideon but also Frankie and the rest of the foursome, Eberon and Corey, Violet, and several others. We even see Boone from the prior book again! It made me snicker. While the core of these characters remains the same, so it wouldn’t matter in which order I read the three books, because I did read them, some things hit me harder, like Frankie and her love triangle, and we finally get some payoff with Gideon and Savannah. (Only a little, because what’s a little lighter fluid on a building inferno of a slow burn relationship, right?)

The world building and the new characters sort of dove-tail together in this one. We’ve got some expanding upon the conflict between Savannah and her people and Ashley and her group, which is all well and good. And likely leading to some huge stand-off later, sort of like Captain America vs. Iron Man in the Civil War arcs. Right now, we’re at the petty bickering and claiming of territory stage…sort of like in the first Avengers film. I can see the beginning elements and conflicts though that are going to lead to hell later. We also filled in some of who is going to be standing on either side of that conflict…as well as a few who are probably going to stay firmly in the middle rather than get drawn in unless they can help it.

But you’ve also got new characters in the forms of the rival gangs that Savannah is poking her wolfy nose into. The Indian reservation gang is ruled out pretty quickly, but we get two new ones: an Italian run gang and then a primarily black gang. This could easily fall into the trap of racial stereotyping and obviously some other things that should be avoided, right? But many of those stereotypes exist for a reason, and as long as they aren’t the only aspect to the characters, and those aren’t the only POC in the book, I am okay with it. Ginny has a wide variety of characters in her cast, so that isn’t a problem, and there is just enough added to the rival gangs that I don’t think they are completely problematic as they could be. I’m hopeful that this isn’t the last we see of these characters, because if they are built up even more, it will continue to waylay those concerns.

That leads me to the plot, which is a bit different than usual. Yes, there’s still lots of the great character moments that help drive the narrative and speed the reading of the book, but the action isn’t in segments set in particular stages. Rather, there is more of a build and escalation to it, much like what you see in more of a normal book than an action movie, or maybe a combination of both since there are some moments that I could see being shot more like an action scene than it reads. Either way, the flow is just different enough that if you read all three together, it shakes you up a bit so it still feels fresh for you, and yet if you are reading out of order, it still fits with the other books in the series. (Also, I love a lot of the events in the final act, I spent a lot of time giggling.)

There is a little bit crime procedural, a little bit action movie to this one, and I like the change of pace. I also liked that we were given at least a little tidbit to make the long wait to Gideon and Savannah figuring themselves out easier for us to handle, and the fleshing out of upcoming confrontation and existing characters. While there are areas that could be taken wrong, I think they were handled okay and shouldn’t detract from the story at all, especially if further expansion on those characters happens.

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Review: Rodeo’s Run

Preface: Rodeo and his whole family is my fault…or at least his family is, I’m not 100% sure Rodeo himself is all my fault, but you know, probably. But otherwise, I am not responsible or biased more than normal, lol.

Rodeo’s Run takes our familiar friends Savannah and Gideon on a little bit of an unintended adventure. It was supposed to be a simple escort mission. Go down to the Panhandle charter, escort the caravan of horses through No Man’s Land. Unfortunately, bandits decided to get involved. And of course the girls insist that they save the stolen horses. Now Savannah’s “uncle” Rodeo has to keep an eye on several in love couples in various shades of denial, and he’s beginning to understand Brand a little too well. Now if only they could get safely home without bringing the mess home to his folks, he’d be happy.

Alright, where do I start? Well, we have some new characters in the form of Rodeo, his parents, and other people around Jasper, Colorado, as well as the people we already met in the first book. There’s also new characters in Hooker, Texas (…okay, that one is also  my fault). But what’s nice is because the plot is evenly split between locations, the new characters and interactions aren’t as overwhelming, so it’s easier to track names because you can associate them with a particular location. I also think the different personalities really play well in this book when they have the chance to show them. It helps associate the personality with the name strong enough that even if you don’t remember them right away, within a few paragraphs, you recall them.

Much like the last book, the plethora of characters keeps anyone from being the token anything, gender or race. I think my favorite of the new arrivals (besides Rodeo) are the siblings Jorja and Rascal. Not only are they fun because of their relationship with Savannah, but Rascal ends up having one of the strongest friendships with Gideon. (The other men are still getting there, relationships take time, ya’ll.) That lets us see parts of Giddy that we haven’t had a chance to see before, and it also adds new layers to his and Savannah’s relationship as a result. Even if they are still will-they-won’t-they, God, Ginny is going to kill me with the slow burn.

World building wise, this book really let Ginny expand on her world more than the first book did at least in terms of fine detail. While she painted a lot of the broad strokes in The Lone ProspectRodeo’s Run narrowed the focus down to what the environment was like for the people in this world and how the countries are structured. It also let her explain more about how new clubs are founded, and as someone who knows nothing about motorcycle clubs, I was glad for the info dump. There was time spent to research and it shows. It isn’t in your face about the future/sci-fi elements, either, just enough to remind you of what the setting is.

Like I mentioned earlier, the plot ends up splitting between two locations. You have the group that includes our two main protagonists that go on the journey, and then you will sometimes flashback to those who are waiting back at home, for lack of a better word. This helps interrupt tension as well as pass through time, and it honestly helps keep the reader moving through the pages. Like always, there’s a lot of what a traditional publisher would call filler and I call the fun stuff that we all want to see, so it’s easy to just keep going with the flow of the story. It also ends with a sense of satisfaction, so you feel like you got your emotional investment back rather than feeling still on the hooks.

Similar to the first book in the series, it isn’t super-tight in terms of pacing and drama and tension. But if it was, I wouldn’t find it as enjoyable? Drama for drama’s sake is just exasperating and gives me heartburn as I try to figure out how stupid the characters are. What drama there is in Rodeo’s Run and the tension is managed responsibly, with smart characters there to offer advice, and some surprising outside perspectives for those who can’t see past their own noses. And along the way, there’s a lot of fun.


Review: The Lone Prospect

Amazon may block me from reviewing, but I can spread the word to you all! I am doing a series of reviews on the first three books of Ginny’s Heaven’s Heathens series (and yes, that’s a link to all three in a bundle). We’re starting with the beginning which I hear could be a very good place to start… Okay, no more Sound of Music references, I just gave myself bad flashbacks. On to the review of The Lone Prospect!

Gideon is searching for a place to belong now that he has been discharged from the New York military. He can’t go back to his family farm, so he instead begins to wander the other surviving countries that carved themselves out after the Cascading Wars. There may be a place for him in Jasper, Colorado, though when he arrives, nothing is quite like he suspects. Enter one Savannah Barker. Savannah finds herself saddled with the new puppy when her grandfather Brand decides to test Gideon’s mettle by throwing him into hot water to see if he sinks. She’d be (more) annoyed, except for two things, not counting Gideon’s good looks that she isn’t going to think about too hard. One, her grandfather does these sorts of things far too often for his own amusement. And two, as a biker club of werewolves, their concept of dangerous is a little different from everyone else. Add in that they are mercenaries, and well, she has to hold on to her patience by her fingernails. Gideon’s smart mouth is not helping.

Believe it or not, I am capable of being impartial here. (Hell, Ginny’s and my relationship started because of a review, what do you all think of that?) And I can honestly say I love these characters. Everyone has a personality, everyone has a backstory, and everyone has their own goals. While normally in an ensemble writing type book, that could get ugly, Ginny not only keeps the story centered around Gideon and Savvy, she also takes the time to let the story breathe. Rather than worry about the book being too long, she gives us time to know the characters, to be invested in them, and then the plot comes second (it’s still a good plot, you just don’t worry about it as much, you are having too much fun watching Giddy get boggled). The characters, and the relations between them, make this book.

In particular, I love the fearsome foursome and the female-forward approach. There are so many female characters, none of them have to fit this pigeon hole of “every woman” that is impossible to do. Similarly, the men are there to balance them out to avoid the same problem of “every man.” As a result, you are able to pick your favorites and run with them. It also allows for different relationships to be shown–some healthy, some not. And it asks some uncomfortable questions, ones I think we should be asking that I don’t think have right or wrong answers, it just depends on the people. It’s hard, and it sucks, but they are important questions.

Speaking of plot again, its a fun action romp. Don’t look for super deep angst or drama or mystery here, think like a good action movie. I’m not saying there isn’t angst or any of the other flavors, I’m just saying it isn’t key to the story-arc. It does provide you a sense of completion while it continues to lay the ground work for more later. It may meander a bit, but it’s important meandering to help you understand the world that she’s built. Relying on it being similar to current standings will only get you so far, you have to have those bits of facts. Her werewolves are also different, since they rely on both old legends, old Hollywood, and real wolf facts rather than the false stuff they feed you in elementary school. (Even if Savannah is awful at explaining.)

I’ll admit it, the world building is where I get lost. Not because Ginny doesn’t do a good job, I don’t think, but because a) I don’t read sci fi, or even fantasy sci fi like this, regularly enough so my brain isn’t trained for it, and b) first book in the series and unreliable narrators. I understand enough to get through this book, and then it gets significantly better as it has a chance to build, but you do have to keep your mind open and be tracking it all as you go because otherwise you are going to catch yourself thinking it’s an urban fantasy instead of future dystopian and then you are sunk. (Because sometimes labels are important.) There are reminders, so you aren’t Alice in Wonderland with the path getting erased in front of you and behind you, but the book is long enough that if you are reading in sections over several days, I figured I’d give you the warning.

If you like a fast paced book with a tight plot…eh, go elsewhere. There’s plenty of those to read, and then you’ll have to go to fanfic to get any actual emotional weight out of them. (We like Harry Dresden, we don’t see enough of him outside of panic-mode to love him.) But, if like me, you will start a 600k fanfic at midnight and stay up all night reading it… Ginny writes for you. She pays attention to the things we really want out of a long read, and gives it to you. It’s fast, it carries on so quickly you wonder how you got to where you are, and it’s full of lovable characters. I definitely suggest checking it out if that type of book is your cup of tea.


Review: Closer to the Chest

The last in the Herald’s Spy reviews! (At least until I can afford to buy the Family of Spies series, which may be a while, yay happy homeowning and trying to get my life together over here, ugh.)

So where does the final book in this series take us? Someone is blackmailing and then threatening the noble women in Valdemar high court. While normally not too big of a bother and a part of the political game, this time there is a definite malicious edge to it that Amily can’t quite ignore. Meanwhile, Mags finds that businesses being run by women are facing an increasing level of hostility and sabotage. Both events correlate with the introduction of a new religion in Valdemar that is misogynist at its core. It will take approaching both sides of the problem, plus Mags putting himself into a dangerous situation, in order to unravel the truth for the protection of Valdemar!

First impressions, this was the story that Misty wanted to tell. Both of the prior books were just build up to it, allowing for her to introduce characters, skills, and concepts in prior books so she could get to this story. It’s the only explanation I have for the plot being that much tighter and everything being more in keeping with what I expect from a Valdemar book. This means it finishes on a high note, at least, though I fear most loyal readers are going to skip this series entirely as a result.

There were parts of the plot that worked for me, and parts that I just cringed my way through. I like the idea of the enemy being a religion that is preaching against women beyond bad stereotypical roles. I resent that it was Mags who got to go to the bottom of it, that the idea when Amily first presented it was scoffed at or seen as her making leaps in logic, and that despite it being a very female forwarded plot, it still felt like men were the main heroes of this story. Maybe I’m just too harsh of a reader, but when I figure out that these are the people who are doing something wrong, and then when a female character points it out and gets told to either wait as others investigate or until there is evidence of actual wrong doing… It just rubs me the wrong way.

On the plus side, I did find the church having two Gifted of their own among their ranks to be nice. Usually Heralds are either against normal people or people with regular magic, so seeing those with mind magic who aren’t Chosen by the Companions and how they can end up being used for nefarious purposes by a religion was cool. I also appreciated the emphasis on how expensive books were and how women were the best to copy those texts in the days before the printing press. It’s something I don’t think many people appreciate due to how prevalent the written word is in our lives, but Valdemar has always made a point of emphasizing how important the oral stories and thus the Bardic gifts are, and for good reason.

I like the idea of the Queen’s ladies, the group of handmaids, and I’ve seen similar concepts before, but ugh, I feel like there is so much wasted potential as a result. I don’t think enough was done with them besides making them a spy network that Amily has access to, and I feel like between Amily, these girls, and some of the resources they have, we could have written Mags out of the book entirely. I get the importance of male and female power balance, but come on. We don’t have nearly as many female Heralds as the focus of books as it is, being denied it yet again was just irksome.

For me, Closer to the Chest was the closest that this series has gotten to a traditional Heralds of Valdemar book. But overall, the series just felt tired. Like there were certain scenes that were what Misty actually wanted to write, or certain plots and subplots, and the rest of the book was just a vehicle to get to them. One of my writing professors once said that unless a scene excited you, you needed to edit it to death until you did like writing it or cut it entirely. I wonder if that could be applicable to this series for Misty…


Tabletop RP: Picking My Character Class

Okay, first of all, if you are a mechanic person who slaps a name, physical description (if that) and back story onto your character right before the session, turn your eyes away! The following post will horrify you!

Because I am a writer first, and damn it, I am going to pick my classes that way.

So what does that mean for me when I approach the table as a player? Well, I find what I want to emphasize. Whether that’s an interesting class, a racial variant, or if I have a personality type that I want to build, I have a “core part” that is my beginning. I’m going to use my newest character (who has yet to start her campaign) as an example. While I was browsing the races out of boredom, I stumbled upon the Vishkanya race for Pathfinder. They seemed pretty interesting, and then I saw they had a rogue archetype called a Deadly Courtesan. This class stayed in the back of my mind, and after Ginny went on a plunge into Indian mythology, I had to apply all of her babble that seeped into my brain somewhere, so I picked the Vishkanya Deadly Courtesan as my core beginning.

That being said, sometimes I’ll start with a concept I want to recreate. Hekate was actually me wanting to play a (sane) version of Diva from Blood + …she then spiraled off into her own thing, but that’s what I started with, and then she turned into this darkness specialist and I am now helplessly amused by her. Sometimes I have a personality or appearance first. I sketched out this emo-esque medieval character with some interesting jewelry, and eventually that person morphed into Jadzia as she was developed.

Alright, I have my core. Now I need to do a little fleshing out. If I don’t already have a class, this is where I figure out what class fits my core, what race, what variants do I want to apply? (This is where Hekate’s darkness specialty started.) I’m not building the character so much, because I’m not rolling stats or figuring out feats or buying items, but I’m getting a broad overview of my character. This will help me make the decisions later about skills and feats and everything else, so it’s a really important part of the character building process.

With my new rogue, I started by picking out where she was from, so I’d know what culture to do. Of the options at the time (which since shifted but my background survived), the one that made the most sense for what the heck I was doing so far from where my people would normally be, especially considering the core of a Deadly Courtesan, was for her to be a slave in a large empire. I started pulling every bit of culture I could find on the web for both the country and for her people, trying to get an idea of what her life would be like. And then I went digging for names that fit that culture. Danika. No last name.

With a name and her concept now firmly filled out in my head, I start with the mechanics. I start rolling stats, deciding what the key stats were going to be, and throwing in skill points to the skills that I think make the most sense. For a bit of random, I rolled some dice to establish her height and her weight, which ended up giving me a big clue as to her story. I mentioned to my DM that I wanted her to be literate only in her people’s language, though she can speak Common. I also decided she wasn’t just a slave, but a very recently escaped slave, based off of how underfed she was (her height and her weight were not in proportion at all), and as a result I gave her a bare minimum of supplies. I took a few Traits, just to make things interesting, and a racial variant. Since Deadly Courtesan is a bit odd, sort of a rogue/bard hybrid, I had to pick some performances. Thanks to mine and Ginny’s Lindsey Stirling obsession, those picks seemed obvious.

And then it was time for feats. Ya’ll, I suck with feats. Thankfully, because I was running Hekate around this time, I knew a bit about what I wanted to do to at least start with. I have no intention of making Danika a duplicate of a rogue I’m already running, but there are just some basics that it can’t hurt to take. I hate cross bows, so no point to the archery side of things. So Weapon Finesse and Two-Weapon Fighting it was. Planning the rest is going to have to wait until I see where the story took us, and which parts of her character I need to emphasize. (My fellow player is thinking we should take all the Teamwork Feats we can.)

So that’s the icky mechanic side done. Now I needed to decide how much fleshing out I wanted to do. Sometimes, I give my DMs a small book. Sometimes, I give them a few sentences. Danika ended up being pretty simple. She’s an escaped slave from Cheliax, very recent. I gave her parents information as well as some of her siblings (I rolled a dice for the number and sex of each, then found names). And that, I decided, was enough. In my head, her personality started to develop. She is very bitter and angry over her people being enslaved, and worse about the position she was pushed and trained into when she was a teenager. Now she’s determined to use those skills to earn her freedom, long enough for her to get her vengeance on all of Cheliax. So while she will dance and play for crowds to earn her dinner, any one stupid enough to grab her without her consent will find themselves stabbed with one of her poison kunai.

The last touch for me is a doll maker that lets me come up with a picture. Danika ended up with three, because I purchased two different head veils and a reversible cloak to help her hide from those who would turn her in as a runaway slave.

Danika Character Sheet

Danika All

Is this the only way to build a character? Not hardly. Is Vishkanya or Deadly Courtesan some favorite races and classes? Oh heck no. But for me, that’s not how I build my characters for a story, so why would I build them that way for the interactive, storytelling experience of DnD? Instead, I pick something that interests me, that I will enjoy playing.


Review: Tempests and Slaughter

I approached Tempests and Slaughter with a healthy amount of both caution and interest. On one hand, it was more of Numair and that always makes me happy. He and Daine are my OTP in Tortall. On the other hand, this is a prequel. I was going to have to put up with Valarie, guaranteed, and with one of the worst villains in Tortall history being viewed as an okay guy. Blegh. But I finally knuckled down and read it. While I don’t regret it, it definitely wasn’t what I expected either.

Not yet Numair Salmalin, Arram Draper is a young boy at the College of Mages in Carthak. Tempests and Slaughter tells of his late childhood/early adolescence, as he rises with the ranks of powerful mages with the growth of his Gift. As he grows farther away from his family and home in Tyra, he has to learn not only who he is and what he can tolerate, but also who his friends are becoming. In the end, plague hospitals and arenas decide for him where his limits are. Now if only he can bring his only two friends, Valarie and Ozorne, along with him.

So, let’s get it out of the way. I love Tamora Pierce’s writing. I’ve had my style compared to her a couple of times, and it always makes me squee because she has such a way with prose that it just flows, smooth and clear. Thankfully, she spared my overly imaginative butt too much medical in the hospitals, but the way she did it is very real to how people who are in those professions describe how they feel after it is over. I really valued her return to third person and in normal chapter format. It wasn’t so heavily cluttered with slang that I needed the dictionary in the back just to wade through until I adjusted to the dialect, but it was there enough to carry the culture of the world across. It was a little different, because the narrator is a boy for the first time for an entire book rather than a short story, but after a couple of chapters, I managed to fall in with it. I think it’s interesting how she keeps exploring new formats and narrators, rather than sticking to formula.

World building wise, she had some room to play and it shows. Carthak was barely hinted at beyond the capital during the Immortals quartet, and while some of the short stories have touched on other countries as part of the empire, we haven’t seen all of it. There’s a curious mixture of African cultures, and I use that term in relation the continent as a whole. At times, I see the south and the tribal influences, but further north it is reminiscent of Egypt and it’s interactions with Europe. I also saw bits of South Africa, if only because of the way the ruling class appears to be of light skin versus…everyone else. This is also the first time we saw how a mage was trained, from the ground up and without pesky fighting training to overlap, and while at times I felt a little like the magic systems were too muddled, that is more personal taste than anything, and it was interesting to see how magecraft is taught for the Gift when there aren’t deities involved.

Characters is really where this book could have made or break for me. I knew I was going to like Arram, because I liked him as an adult. It was curious to see how clumsy and unsure of himself he was as a boy, though, and how easily swayed he was by others around him until he found his backbone. I also wasn’t suspecting his healing magic to be at the forefront, but then, his entire history is so secretive, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Valarie… Ugh. All of my problems with Valarie still exist. I mean, her “kitchen witch” label aside, she really just irks me. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t like manipulation like I see her doing, even when it is for the sake of those she considers friends, at least without some sort of moral code behind it, which I know she’s lacking in. And then there was Ozorne. He could have gone wrong very quickly, but thankfully Tamora never forgot what he was going to become. The brief flashes alone were enough to sooth me, and then she dropped his ambitions, his goal to unite everything under one Empire, and at that point I knew he was the same person we knew, it was Arram who hadn’t realized it yet. That is going to be fascinating to see continue, and I’m beyond curious to see what the tipping point will be.

As for other characters, the teachers rotated around so much, I had a hard time nailing down a favorite. I did like Yaven and how he applied something most people would consider silly to help Arram concentrate, and how that evolved into other lessons. Sebo and her ties to the crocodile god were also interesting. Oh god, the crocodile god was hilarious, I was very amused by him and his interactions. My only complaint, if you could call it one, was Preet, if only because she seemed like a plot device more than a character. The lack of mention of her to Daine in prior books also makes no sense. But then, we don’t know how Preet’s plot is going to end, so I could end up being placated.

This definitely reads to me like there’s one more book, possibly two, in this series, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quartet and I’m leaning towards just one more like the Aly Cooper books. That seems about right to me, because really this is mostly bringing some light to a mysterious back story that I’m sure fans like me have been wondering about since the first books with Daine. I can’t wait for the next book and to see where this story is going and how it will dove-tail with where we first met Numair.


Review: Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal

And I’m back! This time with a continuation of a series that I enjoy, particularly when it continues a one-shot fanfic that I adored and was so excited to see continued.

Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal picks up a a few years after Tsumiko, following a new reaver. This time, it’s the daughter of modest shrine keepers, with some of the women having big ambitions…except Kimiko, who is content with her lot and finds her happiness in the little things. That is all turned on its head due to a series of circumstances that lead to her courting the Starmark Clan’s youngest tribute, Eloquence, as both of them attend a trial school that is meant to bridge the divides between reavers, Amaranthine, and the rest of us. But more is going on under the surface, particularly some familiar characters, and it looks like there is more trouble on the horizon.

According to one of my professors, the hardest thing you can do is write a sequel. I can usually see where she is coming from. You have to have an overarching story for your main characters, or cause new problems without making your first book pointless. One way to get around that problem is to completely skip around and have new protagonists and antagonists, just set in the same world. That is sort of what forthright did. The focus is definitely on the Starmark clan and the school in this book, but there is such a heavy callback to the earlier book, it isn’t as cleanly divorced as the idea would imply. So this is sort of almost a third way of handling it, because it isn’t following the exact same set of characters, though they make appearances and in some cases feature heavily in subplots, but they aren’t all brand new either.

There are pros and cons to this. On one hand, it’s great for characters who barely got a few chapters to get a little more attention, and Argent’s reappearance and the outside perception of him was fascinating, I always love those sorts of things. (True fact, best Christmas present to me from RP partners is points of view from other characters besides mine in key scenes.) It also gave us an idea of how tightly protected characters like Tsumiko are protected, versus Kimiko who is on the opposite end of the spectrum. But at the same time, it felt like there was a split focus between what was supposed to be our main story, which is that of Kimiko and Eloquence, and instead a lot of focus on what was going on with the side characters, such as Akira and Suuzu. This is what is called “ensemble writing,” and this is definitely more Ginny O.’s specialty than mine, so it’s hard for me to say if it was done well or not. It sometimes annoyed me, having to dig for Kimiko or Eloquence, but it never pushed me so far that I no longer enjoyed the book, so in that regard, it was a success.

Ugh, the characters though. I loved them. Like, as attached as I was to the first group, I love these even more. Kimiko in particular is my precious baby and I want to hug Eloquence. More than anything, I like that even if they find their families are embarrassing, none of the family groupings have been the “evil step-family” sort of situations yet. I feel like that sort of trope is a crutch that a lot of YA clings to, and so I’m excited that instead we’re seeing good examples in these stories without them all being nuclear families. Even the more “comedic” character, or at least more than we’d previously had, of the monkey half-Amaranthine, half-human hybrid just made me snicker and snort in amusement, especially his line drop at the end.

Also, FUCKING MIDORI. AHHHHHHHH!!! (I screamed in person too while reading. I want THAT story.)

World building, I felt like this helped explain a lot of the gaps that I had in the first book, which was excellent, while also adding elements that I hadn’t even thought about. That’s always a huge thing to do, especially as another writer reading it. It also created some cool layers and dimension, and I love how the information sometimes came from unexpected sources. (Like….Kimiko, she was really good at it, actually.) Nothing seemed overly contradictory to me, so that was thankfully balanced out to where if something did contradict the first book, it was so minor I missed it during multiple re-reads. There are also just enough gaps left that I am still left wanting more of this world.

So, out of all of this, what problems do I have? It comes down to Akira and Suuzu. I feel like they horned in big time on the story, taking a lot of the focus away from the “main” pairing, which is ironic since part of the point of this story is Kimiko coming under scrutiny and attention where she was previously considered unremarkable, and look what is happening to her in her own book! This is probably series set up, big time, which I totally respect. It just felt like the subplot started to take over, and I’m worried that this is going to be a reoccurring problem until Akira and Suuzu are resolved. Maybe it was because of the added subplot of the wolves and the dragon representative that just threw the balance off. I don’t know…

Overall, I loved this book even more than I did the first in the series. The first had the challenge of establishing a world and altering a story I already knew, which is hard, but because this second wasn’t hampered by more than a one-shot, it had a lot more breathing room. There was a little bit of a balance issue between the main plot, the subplots, and what was supposed to be our center focus, but overall, I think this is an excellent read, even without having read the prior book. (Which is about the highest praise you can give a sequel.)


Review: MCU Up to Infinity War (Part 1)

This is not the place for an in-depth, full out review of every movie. This is, however, where it seems to be the best place for me to pause and give some of my thoughts and feelings towards the series as the whole. Admittedly as part of a series, I have a lot of movies to get through! It will be somewhat character-focused, because as someone who wants to be entertained, I am highly dependent on the characters, it’s just a fact. And I hate the Guardians, so this is NOT the place for GG talk, you 80’s babies, I’m sorry. But I will try to otherwise be fair!

Let’s go back to the beginning, ya’ll. The Hulk movies…were not the greatest start to this franchise. In fact, there were arguments that the first one isn’t even meant to be tied in with the series. I can see either way on this one, but you gotta admit, this was the early foundations for trying to figure out which way to approach the MCU. It is hard for me to have an opinion on these, they are so fragmented from the rest and the characters just aren’t consistent all across. I vaguely remember enjoying the second one with Ed Norton at least a little, and I wish we hadn’t lost all of it when he left. There were some shards there of something that could have been cool.

But the definite marked beginning of what we know as the MCU was with Iron Man. It was literally all we could ask for out of a Marvel movie. And it helped prove that if you film it and make it good, they will come! And honestly, I didn’t mind Iron Man 2 as much as other people seem to, in fact aside from addressing PTSD, I actually think Iron Man 3 is the weakest of the films. Tony is an idiot, this is a well established fact. I do think they’ve done an excellent job of trying to not only modernize it, because let’s be honest, Iron Man needed some serious help to appear like something of the current century, but also helping with some of the culturally insensitive areas. I do think there are issues with it going so hard-core to the Middle East and portraying them as an enemy, but it also tried to cushion that at least a little. Do I think it was enough? No. Also, Tony is still an idiot, and I cringe my way through some of his moments. But he is so brilliant and so much fun, I can’t help waiting for the next part.

I went into the MCU with two least-favorite Avengers. And Thor was the second-least-favorite, so his movie coming next was definitely my make-or-break with the series. Again, I’m the opposite of normal people. Most people don’t like how serious the first two Thor movies are, and the last one is usually the hand-over-fist favorite. I’m the other way around. Thor and Thor: Dark World were amazing in my opinion. I laughed without feeling like I was dealing with a big blonde idiot with the power of a god, though sometimes I still had second-hand embarrassment issues. And then the third movie was one giant second-hand embarrassment issue at times. Thor has gone the way of the goofy doof from the first two movies, and this brings me great personal pain.

Mostly, the Thor movies provided me with my favorite side-characters. Like so many girls my age, I love Loki, if only because of what crazy amount of character they’ve given him. But I also love Sif, who represents so much to me personally, and feel like she got gipped. (I understand, Jamie Alexander moved on and has a tricky schedule for filming, still not helping!) And of course, for a short scene, we got the premier of my favorite Avenger of all under normal circumstances: Hawkeye. There is a story about the three of us sitting on a sofa, because like hell was I going through this pain fest on my own if the movie was bad, Aubrey was trying to defend herself from Tsuki who was still young and ornery at the time. And we see Barton get the bow. And I lost it. Much to the confusion of Traci and Aubrey, who had no idea who Hawkeye was. We had to pause and rewind.

Captain America remains Aubrey’s favorite of the films to my knowledge, and you know, I can see why. This was almost the perfect movie. (Howard was a little annoying and not enough women, but otherwise, perfect movie.) And while I went in with this boot-laced, stick up his butt image of Steve Rogers in my head, Chris Evans really helped me relate to this figure from comic book history so much better. He’s part of why I was able to feel such outrage during the Hydra snafu that happened a couple years ago (that I’m still mad about), because I now care about this character and I am invested. Chris really helped a lot of people who wouldn’t normally be able to get into comics find something to connect to…and he has a lot of fun, and you can tell. I’m going to miss him. (I’ll get to the sequels further on in this conversation.)

Now we hit the first Avengers movie. Back then, I still liked Joss Whedon…my change of heart will become apparent as we go. But we got to bring all these strong characters together, which means interactions and conflicts as different priorities mix. It soft reset Hulk which I think is for the best because Mark Ruffalo has done some great things with Bruce Banner that have helped modernize him and he has some great chemistry with the rest of the cast. He really brings the sense of humanity to the Hulk that makes him less ridiculous of a character. It brought in some of these side characters we’ve gotten glimpses or short interactions with to help show that hey, us normal people had things handled. We got to see this team come together…and we loved every second of it. I cheered, I wanted to put Tony and Steve in a get-along shirt, I snorted in laughter, it was a great film.

And yet, this is also where some of the big, glaring holes in the MCU started showing. The only female of the original core group called the Avengers is Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, which puts the character in a sucky spot that she’s been in the comics for years too. She has to be not only Every Woman, but Every Spy, Every Assassin… They share the last one a little with Hawkeye this time, but now we have a new problem. This is where the costume reflected the decision right away that we were going Ultimate Hawkeye. And that’s a tricky spot to be in considering what happens with him, not to mention that aside from some stuff at the end, we didn’t get to see any of Clint’s personality due to the story construction, so Hawkeye fans (including Jeremy Renner, if I understand correctly) were vastly disappointed, and female fans continued to feel under represented.

Whether or not those holes will be addressed… Well, look out for Part 2.


Review: Cloak and Dagger Season 1

I swore off the television/Netflix side of the MCU after Agents of SHIELD went down the Bobbi/Hunter road. It was the nail in the coffin for me, partly because they kept bending if not outright breaking their own rules for Rule of Cool. I mean, if Bobbi is good enough to be undercover at HYDRA forever, with no mention of her being former SHIELD that converted, then it’s really dumb to have her get caught a few episodes later by a HYDRA plant within SHIELD. (Not to mention my inner shipper noped out. When Bobbi and Hunter were making tentative steps to become friends after their ugly divorce, I was fine, but then they rekindled their romance and I was just…done with it.)

But Cloak and Dagger have always been a soft spot for me. They used to make guest appearances in X-Men fanfics as filler characters, usually as kids that Rogue and Remy had in class or on trips, and when I started messing around with the MCU for RP purposes, I loved getting to use them as future Avengers. I mean, there’s so many ways that they as characters could go wrong, and there is such inconsistency with them in the comics, that doing them right has always been something I wanted to see. So when I heard that they were getting a series on Freeform, as soon as I knew what the time and days were going to be, I set up my DVR to make them my weekend splurge while I ate brunch.

And I gotta say, I don’t regret it at all.

They managed to make some much needed modernization to the premise. Rather than making them experiments or mutants, both of them usually homeless, they instead decided to focus on more modern (and less stereotypical) living situations. Tandy, rather than being straight homeless, instead uses an abandoned church as a halfway house of sorts rather than live with her mother’s problems, and possible questions as Tandy is an established thief by this point. Tyrone lives in a nicer part of New Orleans, though he grew up in a poorer area before the death of his brother. He attends a Catholic school, where he is part of the championship basketball team, and he tries to keep his head down. Their powers were caused by an accident that cost Tandy her father and Tyrone his brother (sorta), though the exact specifics of what caused the change are still unknown, even at the end of the first season.

Speaking of New Orleans, oh my God. I really wasn’t sure how I felt about the series being set there. I mean, it helps the show have some separation from events like the Invasion and the Spider-Man conflicts, not to mention the events of Infinity War, and that gives the series a lot of wiggle room. But it was also only very vaguely tied to the world as a whole till towards the very end, which for fans like me can be annoying. But then they started to weave the culture of voodoo, of Mardi Gras celebrations, of the division between the wards, and the rich history of the city itself. And I was instantly sold, especially as they began to tie in with this concept of the Divine Pairing. It was some brilliant writing and creative decisions. My only complaint is we don’t see as much of what we, culturally, associate with New Orleans, but you know, they wanted the focus on the characters, so I can respect that.

For the main characters, I loved what the two actors brought to Tandy and Tyrone. There were times where they both felt a little flat to me, but then they didn’t have hardly any moments of levity so the flatness was probably caused because we saw pretty much the normal and then the drama/anger, with nothing on the other end of the spectrum. I can’t say I miss it, though, because the story was so intense. I also liked how they balanced power, and how the characters had to discover those powers. Towards the end, I wished we saw more of how Tandy was figuring out her hope vision like she was, but I was also so happy that Cloak finally ate somebody and what that means for season two, I instantly forgave it. (…I don’t know WHY I love that aspect of his character, okay? I just do.)

One element that really modernized the series is the elements of what happened to Tyrone’s brother and where Tandy’s father worked. Racial tensions and police violence/prejudice has always been an issue, but it’s definitely gotten worse or at least we’re acknowledging that it is a bad thing and needs changed. Having Tyrone, who has moved out of the gang’s territories, still have to be afraid of police and his history with them really adds some needed depth to the character. As for Tandy, we get questions of environmental concerns while continuing to have our way of life, the balance of power, and where is our civic responsibility and where does it become a matter for something bigger than us? She also addresses domestic violence, and at least a little on the violence against women. Both also tap into how do teenagers deal with grief and pressure.

One thing I do have to harp on, at least a little. I think too much focus was put on Tandy and her mother wanting to go back to their rich, opulent life style. They tried to back track a few times and have Tandy focus on the loss of her father, but it kinda got undercut by her focus on money. I mean, this could be a character flaw, but I don’t think there was a strong enough comparable flaw in Tyrone to make it buyable in Tandy. I also wish they had focused a little more on the fact Tandy was assaulted, defended herself before she was gang raped (if I’m remembering the episode right), and yet was told that it was considered even basically because they weren’t going to arrest the boy who attacked her after she agreed to talk to police. This is a huge thing! I wish it was discussed more, for the sake of the teenage girls watching the show if nothing else.

My last note is on side characters. They weren’t the focus of the series, yay, but I loved to like some and hate others, so they served their purposes well. I wish we’d had a little more time with the actual head of Roxxon if only because I wanted more info about what they were digging for, but I’m hoping those answers will come up in season 2 despite what happened to the guy. Similarly, I was super iffy on O’Reilly’s boyfriend and was so sure he was working for the dirty cop until the end, so there definitely could have been some more work done to make us sure that we are supposed to like him and be as devastated by his death as O’Reilly. (Who, btw, I am super excited to see what happened to her in season 2 and what it’s going to be like for Cloak and Dagger to fight against her…if they are fighting against her.)

Overall, this series was definitely amazing. I wish they hadn’t tied it to Iron Fist via O’Reilly and Misty being best friends, but eh. I can shoulder aside my issues with that particular part of the MCU, and I can hope to see some more great things and ties to the rest of the overall universe. I definitely hope Cloak and Dagger continues to have several seasons, and doesn’t go off the rails like some of their compatriots.


Review: Criminal Minds Season 13 Episode 17

I have discovered something, the past couple years. Namely, that I am incapable of watching and keeping up with a show for an entire season. So that leaves me with limited options. Either I binge the season once it’s over, which is a waste of a weekend if I have a full weekend to spare, or I find a show that doesn’t require me to see every single episode of what’s going on, without getting completely episodic. Criminal Minds is a perfect example of the latter.

That being said, they made a grave mistake. The episode last week was in my home town. This is going to get ugly.

(Note: This is not a serious review of the show as a whole, it’s too long and much like Law and Order: SVU, I have mixed feelings on later seasons. I might do it as a series or something at some point, but not right now.)

So I didn’t even make it three minutes in. The first victim pulled up to his house, and I was like, “Okay, I might buy there being a house like that on the north side of Guymon. Maybe. But where do you think we have that many trees?” Fun fact: the Panhandle has SOME trees, but it’s mostly in residential areas, and between the drought and ice storms, a lot of those were dead and chopped down by the city.

…The clown under the bed did scare the crap out of me, not gonna lie.

I’m curious where the BAU flew INTO. There isn’t an airport in Guymon, the closest they could get is either Liberal (doubtful) or Amarillo (more likely), and either way, you are in the car for at least another 45 minutes or two hours. But we skip that, “who doesn’t have an airport, pbbbth…”

We see an overview shot of Guymon, and it’s this neatly spaced out grid, small town, fancy admin-type building, and I’m like, “Uh, no.” I based Imyl off of Guymon, okay, and it is STILL too neatly laid out, I am not even joking. Guymon is an illogical sprawl of a place, and Main Street is very tightly packed in terms of space…sort of. (Okay, the big municipal building is on a block by itself, but it is SOLID BRICK, none of this fancy molding.) What boggled me the most though, was the literal street. Guymon is famous (or infamous) for Main Street being brick. Not pavement, not any type of concrete. Brick.

It’s becoming painfully obvious that no one has done their research, here.

The inside of the police station and the hospital got a pass, I’ve never been in one and the other was close enough. But then we get the second victims. Another nice house. More trees. I’m sorry, maybe I’m biased because I (literally) grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Guymon, but come on! We are not that well off!

Finally, it’s winding down. They are getting enough clues, we are seeing bits of our villains–yes, clowns, circus life fell apart. Okay, fine. I’m even going in my head, “I can think of a couple of fairs, they could maybe get work there?” But nope. We go…rodeo? I’m sorry, someone actually thinks rodeo clowns are actually clowns? Oh honey, no. No, no, no. Trust me, they are not the same thing at all, and being a good clown in no way preps you for what a rodeo clown does. Rodeo clowns are, predominantly, bull wranglers on the ground. Just bad, bad, bad, bad. Someone is going to get hurt.

But we’re going to a rodeo! Guymon has one of the largest outdoor rodeo arenas in the country, Pioneer Days literally is a HUGE DEAL in Guymon (we haven’t seen hide or hair of it, but I will give them leeway), and it goes on for a full week if not longer depending on slack, surely this will be right.

We go to this piddly little arena that I swear could barely host my play-days. Just, just, what is this, I don’t even! And underground rodeo, whaaa? I’ve never heard of this. People hosting roping events for some cash or running play-days, sure, but no one pretends these are rodeos. There’s no point when there’s a huge friggin’ rodeo every year! Color me boggled. (Ginny, btw, was laughing at me by this point.)

At this point, I was very obviously done. Did the ending make me sniffle? Of course it did. But I didn’t see anything really tying it to Guymon, and they definitely didn’t do their research beyond some cursory scans for stuff they could use in the show.

If nothing else, this really disenchanted me with the newer seasons. I swear, the older ones weren’t this dumb. Or at least I hope they weren’t.