Tag Archives: characters

On Writing Dumb Characters Who Aren’t Actually Dumb

(The title is weird, work with me here.)

So one of the “flaws” I’ve given my main character is that she’s a C student. She’s not in any honors classes, so I knew right away that half of the problem is effort since I didn’t give her a learning disability. Considering her defensively prickly personality, I knew it was a matter of whether she cared about who she was with or not. Most of the time, she doesn’t, so her grades are just enough to keep her out of trouble and then the rest of her time she can do what she wants. But I also knew even if she did try… That would get her to B with the occasional A territory, not Honors or AP courses. Just because she likes Shakespeare doesn’t mean she likes analyzing it or higher sciences/mathematics.

As a writer, I like this. Things like having your protagonist be a Dumb Jock (TM) so their Smart Friend (TM) can do their homework and you don’t have to think about it DRIVES ME NUTS. It also means you have to keep the action moving because those aren’t characters that sit and think about what to do, usually. Ginny loves action movies and their plots. I find them good brain relaxers, but they aren’t what I want to write. I want to write about characters who are balanced and like real people we see in reality, which means while some tropes are welcome, some aren’t. So even though I have a core trio (or two, depending on how how you count Moonshine), they all have to pull their thinking weight in different ways.

So for me this is a lot of balancing with my writing. If I make something pretty darn obvious, like it might be with one of my plot points for Page, I have to show that Caley is distracted is all to hell by something else because she has enough intelligence to add two and two and get four. She’s aware of human nature–she knows when someone feels wrong, and she’s good at figuring out what sort of awful things people will do to meet their goals because she’s seen a lot (she calls it having a doctorate in life). So sometimes, she’s more than smart enough to figure something out…she’s just distracted by someone being up to something that threatens her own choices in some way.

When I was building my trio (because YA series having a trio is a staple that I can respect and I’m not tossing out), I decided each character was going to have a different type of intelligence. All three have a heavy dose of common sense, though each can be distracted from it. One character is more emotionally intelligence, one is more book smart, and the other has social smarts. That isn’t to say the others don’t have the other types of intelligence, it just isn’t as strong with them or it’s in specific areas. Quiz Caley on types of dance and famous ballets, you’ll get a wildly different set of answers than you would out of the other two.

What I’m saying I guess is that I don’t like writing a character who is a smarty pants who has all the answers, because then it makes it hard to surprise them, but I don’t want to write the dumb jock who just punches his way through the plot. I think there should be balance, and sometimes that gets tricky to write. It’s hard, but I find it rewarding because I’m not just sticking to tropes or continuing to produce the same story that someone else has already done. (No shade meant.)

This probably comes from my own teen years. While I was in Honors classes, I didn’t always feel like I should be outside of the English or History classes. And while I have writer brain and know how a lot of things are going to end when I watch them, that only applies to genres I’ve analyzed. So when I’d go to a movie with friends and I’d get “caught,” by the ending…I’d feel really dumb when they’d tell me it was super obvious so they didn’t like the whole movie. Because they were used to consuming those types of movies, and they wanted the tropes they were highly familiar with to be subverted or changed. As someone who didn’t, the tropes played straight got me.

All of us were smart, my intelligence and consumption of media just shaped me differently. I shouldn’t have been made to feel stupid because I didn’t always follow the math or science that was math pretending to not be math, or because I didn’t track a twist to the story because it wasn’t my type of media. And I didn’t see this being portrayed in many YA books. So many just lump all the intelligence types together, so either your character is a genius and you’re beating emotional sense into them (which gets old fast), or while some characters do try and deal with the fact they aren’t considered bright, they don’t address a character who is smart in some ways and isn’t in others.

So even though it makes writing an absolute chore because I know I can only distract/drag out mysteries so long before getting Caley wise to them but I also have to give the right kind of clues or she won’t figure it out…I think it’s important to remember no character is truly dumb. Even the Dumb Jock (TM) knows things and skills that the Smart Friend (TM) doesn’t, and should be given the chance to show that instead of being spoon fed the answers.


Review: Frozen 2

…Hey, I’m still doing the occasional review. Plus I figure it’s been long enough that no one will gripe at me about spoilers and still a chance for me to convince the few hold-outs to go see it. Because it is worth it.

Frozen 2 picks up two years after the original film, set in Arendelle’s autumn harvest festival. Elsa has been hearing a mysterious voice calling her, but she is so worried about messing up or not living up to her people’s expectations of her, she’s been ignoring it. But ignoring it is no longer an option when one interaction sparks ancient spirits her father told her about long ago to awaken in Arendelle…and they are not happy. The royal family goes on an adventure into the northern forests of Arendelle’s border, and into their parents’ pasts. Because when all is lost, all is found.

So first word of warning: do not go into this expecting a super intense story line. I’ve long since believed that the point of Frozen, the mini-adventures, and now this sequel isn’t some surprise ending or revelation, but instead about the emotional arcs they are guiding us through. Remember your target demo is like eight and lower your expectations a little for deep meaning/analogies and focus on what it is actually doing and how important that is. The first story focused on not only failed relationships, but how to recognize when to rebuild them and when to kick people to the curb, as well as moving on from past hurts.

Similarly, this movie seems to focus on the past a lot…but it’s more about what these characters are experiencing in the present. You have to look past we’re going from point a to point b. From worries about what the future holds, the pressures of expectations, discovering that the past they thought they knew was one-sided, the film is about coping with the shifting realities of your world. It even tackles acceptance of one’s self and grief, respectively, in ways that I don’t think a Disney film has tackled before. (Not gonna lie, these are the points where I started bawling in the theater. Twice.) Olaf has a whole song about it because, in many ways, he represents the age of the target audience and these are things that not only do they not know how to cope with, it is terrifying. And in balance, Elsa and Anna show that even adults struggle with these things, but give some strategies that are still simple enough for all sorts of people to relate to.

Characters, new characters. Okay, the Northuldra elder and the general were like my favorites of all time. I loved their interactions, and I am so happy with the direction they went with both of their characters. They could have made him a jerk, they could have made her even more uptight than she already was, but they didn’t. It was perfectly balanced. I do like the glimpses and history we see of the parents, but this is also slightly problematic for me? There’s something to be said about the emotional/mental abuse that Elsa went through, and while I hesitate to cast wrathful blame now on her parents after the nightmare that they met under, I also have to look at them, particularly their mother, and go, “Da faq? You should know better!” So yeah, trying to make those two characters from this new movie and from the first meet up is…Ugh. More work was needed.

World-building wise, we got a ton of lore and other info dumped on us. If you follow the Frozen mythos at all, not all of it is surprising–the Broadway musical brought in the Northuldra people or at least something similar to replace the trolls, and had the queen be from them, so that isn’t too shocking. The elements kinda make sense as you bring it in to the relationship with Elsa’s powers. We finally were really able to nail down a time period for the setting between Anna’s Victorian walking skirt in this film, the bicycle in the first film, and now the photographs in this one. Is it a lot? Oh yeah. Is it too much? Meh. For the younger kids who can’t follow that sort of thing, they don’t really care, it looks cool. For the older audience members, we’ve wanted answers so it is satisfying to have them. I’m not saying it’s done in the most elegant of fashions, but it got the job done and I am not going to bash on it for that.

The visuals and the music… Let me just die here. OMG. They did so many intricate touches with the visuals, and all those little touches really show. I wish there was some more in-world explanation for some of it (example: the friggin’ ponytail scene. I had to read an article to get commentary that revealed that Elsa’s braid is mostly ice and so she tied it back with something real before diving into the ocean, it was driving me nuts why they went through the wasted animation but now it makes sense), but the rest is just too cool to be punny. I appreciate the signs that they really consulted with the Sami representatives to get things right with the Northuldra and it shows.

And some of them, like even though I couldn’t understand everything being said on the water memory of the ship, I still go the feeling and it hit me right in the feels (and you know, set me up for more tears later). Also, the water fight with the water horse was brilliant and exactly what it should have been. That is totally how a pissed off horse would behave, especially with power over water and in its element. And then the ending where it got so excited to go for a run and not be sea/water locked? My heart! Speaking of water and memory and music, UGH THAT GLACIER SCENE. All about it. First scene I started crying in, and you know, it just stayed my favorite through both viewings I’ve had of it.

They did a ton more songs, but they ended up cutting so many and I think they really kept the ones that did the emotional work that they needed them to. “I Seek the Truth” is great, for example, but unneeded after the wreckage done to us on the boat. It really lets the others stand out. The only one I sorta wished stayed or had gotten reworked is “Unmeltable Me.” Does Olaf need a second song? No. But it includes some important info, like that Elsa’s powers have grown. We see it through the later half and she mentions it “Into the Unknown,” but still. I wanted to know more earlier on.

Overall, I think as long as you go in with an open mind and being prepared for a simpler story and yet a lot of info on the world being thrown at you, it works out. I didn’t touch on a lot of things, because I think they make some awesome surprises, especially for adult viewers. (I only had second hand embarrassment the first round, so they are probably just funny for everyone else.) Go see it if you haven’t already.


When Your Characters Rebel…

(I’m not saying this is Season 3 Miraculous Ladybug salt… But I am saying it is probably flavored liberally with it. I will avoid spoilers to the best of my abilities in terms of naming characters, but you know, you might get the gists of it anyway.)

So you have been working on this long running series–whether it’s for TV or a book series, comic run or insert other media here–and you have always had a couple in mind for your endgame. This is the pairing everyone needs to love, this is one that they need to get behind and want to be together. You have distractions and miscommunications in mind, whether you have an outline or just a vague concept in your head, but you also have key moments where they are meant to come together and prove that they can work.

So what do you do when they don’t do it organically, and worse yet, your audience soundly rejects it?

I’m not talking about the background characters that everyone is shipping together, cracky or not, or if the fans have decided your platonic best friends who are your main duo are meant to be, and I’m not talking about if you are dealing with a story that has no or only a very small romance plot and you can change the love interest without it changing the story one gram. This is a love-centric relationship that you, the writer, has built into the very premise, and the fans know this from day one. You may have even made the poor decision to use social media to assure everyone that yes, you know what you are doing, and yes, no matter what, the pairing will be endgame.

But remember those distractions I mentioned before? This is where things as a writer can get really gnarly. If I’ve spent time breaking my main pairing apart for the sake of time management, so they can get together in the final one or two chapters/episodes/issues/what-have-you and I have too much time to fill in between them, well… This pokes holes in why my audience is going to believe that this couple is going to work together in the end. (I am not touching my salty examples treatment and twisting of characters to make this possible.) If they fall out of love with this relationship as the characters question their feelings for each other, then when I provide a distraction in the form of new, alternative pairings… I’ve just split my fanbase.

Now, for some marketing people, they think this is a brilliant idea. Ever since Team Edward/Team Jacob, they have been gung-ho about love triangles, since marketing took what was previously a well known if slightly tired trope and fanned it into a fandom war that sold a ton of merchandise and kept people talking about a franchise that honestly didn’t deserve the level of hype and devotion it ended up spawning. See, once a fandom war starts, if you feed the fires right, fans will entrench themselves in their camp and will go out of their way to not prove the other side wrong, but spend a ton of money to show their support of their camp.

But notice my not so nice dig at the franchise? That’s because love triangles have to be written very carefully. In order to actually make sense as a plot device, there needs to be a very obvious reason why one side is better than the other, and writers usually get lazy with this, making it a matter of the nice guy being secretly violent or just saying that the jerkass was the one who really understood the girls promise (and in my opinion encourages abuse way too much). And that’s when they start at the same time! Many franchises spend whole books or seasons establishing a love interest, and then try to throw in a rival in the new season/sequel book. That only works if it’s quite clear to your fanbase that this isn’t meant to be a new romantic angle, and that the new rival is actually really unsuitable for the character he/she is pursuing. While some fans will hop on to the new camp with this rival (it’s inevitable), the majority will stay where you want it–with the mains.

This is where things can get hairy though. If you don’t make the new character unappealing, you can completely split your fanbase. My salty example here did this in two different ways and both failed. For one, they didn’t portray her personality consistently across her episodes, so despite having more screen time than the rival for the other side of the main pairing, it was so inconsistent that fans were irritable over it. That should have been enough by itself for fans to be split on her and to keep attention on their main couple. Except the boy is an oblivious idiot, no matter what the writers say on Twitter, and he has repeatedly stated that he can’t see the female lead as anything other than a friend, but he can see this new girl as a potential love interest to move on from his celebrity crush. For fans, that was digging a grave and a lot of them jumped ship.

But that left the other half of the pairing in the wind, right? Nope, insert our second rival. He didn’t get nearly the level of screen time, but what there is, it is consistent. Now, it’s also too perfect and two-dimensional, so some fans hate him for just that reason. Again, this should have kept everything split up and the focus on the main pairing. But our female lead is not only in the wind as far as her crush and trying to move past it, she has had so many responsibilities heaped on to her that it’s a miracle she’s still standing. And this boy has said that he loves her for who she is, just her, not her superhero self blinding him so badly he can’t see her, but her. And she doesn’t even have to explain everything to her (as our male lead has thrown a tantrum over in the past).

My friends, they not only dug the grave, they put in the final nails themselves. (Supposedly there are two episodes left that will revive it like a zombie, but I doubt it.)

At this point, if I was in that writing room, I would be looking over fan responses and questions, look at my team, and go, “Ya’ll, we have to either spend an entire season fixing this, which by our premise we can’t do… Or we may have to let go of the love square being endgame.” But of course, these are a bunch of men (and one woman) and I can’t see them doing that. What I can do though is take this as an object lesson myself. If you have a couple, it’s fine for there to be complications towards them ending up together–that’s life. There’s also a line in the sand where if you cross it, you won’t get your fanbase back. This is going to apply to me for Sun’s Guard, so I’m going to take this lesson and run.


Review: Tamiko and the Two Janitors

Sorry it took so long for this review, ya’ll, I had to wait for finances to behave. ^^; For those who are curious, I am going to do the other short stories in this universe and Lord Mettlebright’s Man…eventually. It’s a matter of timing at the moment. (A small part of me wants to wait for there to be four and just do my big paperback purchase then, get everything all at once.) But let’s get to what you actually care about.

Tamiko and the Two Janitors takes the Amaranthine Saga to a location that’s only been referenced before–America, where the Emergence has not been going over well (and is anyone surprised? Nooooo). Enter elementary school principal Tamiko Reaverson. While she has no connection to the In-Between, she is determined to help the Amaranthine find a place among humans, opening up her school and the community to them so they no longer have to hide. Unfortunately, it turns out there’s secrets a-plenty in both the school, in her family, and on her family’s farm, and in true fashion, it all starts coming to a head all at once.

Alright, from here on out there may be spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum though.

Characters, as always, were amazing. I think I particularly liked our “B” plot with Melissa and Jiminy the most in this one, watching as they tried to figure themselves out and what they really wanted while working together with the wolf pack. I also liked Ash and Tamiko, though their relationship felt a little rushed to me? Maybe that’s just because the last two books it was this huge…figuring out thing, and this one it was pretty straight forward. It does break the pattern, which I totally appreciate. Kip was amusing, but the relationship between him and Joe is still murky for me, so I want more of that. The wolves sort of got to touch on things that we at least barely skimmed in earlier books, so it was nice to see more of them and how other characters react to these new elements to their world, even the ones who think they are in the know!

This book it really felt like the established characters took a step back. Oh, there were still there, but I think getting away from Japan helped keep them from taking over the whole thing and making it a web. Instead, we just got little flashes, which totally worked for me, since I definitely still want to see these characters, I just want to focus on the current story too. The way their on-going plots were touched on, such as Argent and his hunt for both the rogue fox and the rogue dragon who may or may not be working together and I can’t figure it out yet, and Kimiko and Quen and their courtship, it all wove together with this story so I didn’t question why it was included, and yet I still got an update and to see these characters I love.

Speaking of plot, I wasn’t always one hundred percent sure of where this one was going to take me. Partly because I hadn’t read either of the two fanfics I could see working into the mix (just the summaries so I recognized them, lol), but also because she kept the story moving. It wasn’t in the bad way, either, the way certain writers who shall not be named tried so hard to subvert expectations that they ruined it, but instead in a way that pays off so that the reader stays with the story and is satisfied with the conclusion (aside from the obvious series hooks dangling). Like it shocked me right out the gate, I had a little freak out, and it sort of just kept going. I was highly amused by both my own reaction, and what I was reading.

I am going to touch on world building here. There were some pretty subtle prods at the situation in America being like the civil rights movement. As a local from Oklahoma, I definitely saw it more like the indigenous population and their struggles. This really pushed it more towards being like them in my head. They have a lot more of the land struggles and issues with being between nations in terms of laws and practicalities (spoken as someone who has to work with the tribes as a foreign nation at work). That makes it very personal to me, and something that I’m pretty strong about. I hope we continue to see this situation improve in future books.

As a series whole, this felt like a solid continuation of the series. I didn’t get lost like I did in Kimiko, and it excited me similarly to how Tsumiko did. This isn’t a series I’m going to put down after the third book, like others, so you can expect these reviews to continue. I think each one actually gets better…of course, Argent is still my favorite, so I also could be biased, lol.


Back-Up Characters, Yay or Nay?

We have all heard the horror stories of TPK–where the DM or the dice decided to just off the party. And sometimes it isn’t the whole party, just your character that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Depending on your level and how high the treasure is running, you may have no hopes of resurrection either. Even if you can afford it, you may not have someone able to cast it right away and what are you supposed to do in the meantime?

This is where it can be handy to have a back-up character. Thing of them as second-string, someone to run with the party until your main is brought back to life if they even can be. My group also uses them because sometimes, we get bored with our main or they aren’t the right fit with the party, or even because something story wise has come up that it makes more sense for them to leave the group (usually to settle down somewhere) because their goal has been accomplished or they have been thrust into a role of responsibility.

So this raises a question. What do you do for a back-up character?

I don’t like playing the exact same thing I’m replacing–it feels like cheating. But you have to think about your group dynamics. Do you need a tank, a healer, a damage per second, what? While there is a way around most gaps, it’s something to think about–you can have a party of entirely clerics, but you need to be different types of clerics. So keeping that in mind, then you need to decide what this character is going to be–a loner who is temporarily joining the group, either by their own will or being hired as a mercenary, a permanent addition. That will help you decide on backstory and class archetypes.

Whether or not I have a back-up character usually depends on the campaign. For example, Hekate is basically the linchpin for her campaign. If I lose her, I would need to consult with the DM on what exactly we could do. As a result, I haven’t built a back-up character and probably never will. But for Jadzia’s campaign, where death is a pretty constant threat? I’ve been contemplating a back up for a while, I just hadn’t settled on anything until the last couple of weeks. My new back-up in case of Jadzia retiring or dying is now Aurora, a Justice Archon Legate Paladin of Athena.

Now that I have a concept, the next question is how far should I go in building this character? There’s some schools of thought, such as waiting to build until you need them, but that could bring a session to a grinding halt if you die within the first hour of a planned four hour meeting with your group. (Or at least it would for me.) Sometimes the rest of the group can keep pushing on, sometimes they can’t and they have to wait for you to build. At the same time, your group is going to run into a lot of items that if your character dies, may be good to pass on to your new one. But if you’ve spent your gold on it already, it can become a headache to backtrack. Plus, gold for a new character scales with their level, more headaches.

My personal way is to get the backstory figured out. Race, name, age, family, home region, and class. Also go ahead and get my stats rolled up and assigned as needed. This lets me get my skills sorted, and I usually go ahead and pick out my feats. With all that figured out, I can level this character at the same time as my main, or at least close to it. That will make the needed character creation should something happen to my main limited to just buying items. (Which can also take forever, but once you get your basic kit, everything after that is just bonus.)

Like I said earlier, not all campaigns want or need a back-up character. And you should always talk to your DM if you want to retire your main, and give them plenty of warning. (I saw a tweet where someone had been setting up a character-centered arc for months, only for the player to change characters out of nowhere on them, I felt sooo bad…) If they know who your second string character is, they also know are prepared for what is coming with that new character and can keep in mind how to introduce them if needed.


Review: Descendants 3

I know I live tweeted this during the premiere, but now that I’ve watched it multiple times, I still have feelings that I need to get out, plus the set needs to be complete. As a note, I am trying to be…less abrasive, I suppose?…of my reviews, even if I have issues with them. This is especially true for this movie, since it premiered so soon after the loss of Cameron Bryce (Carlos).

Descendants 3 picks up a bit after the second movie, bringing a fresh class of kids from the Isle of the Lost to Auradon for a chance at turning good. However, a clash with Hades at the gate puts the entire program in jeopardy, especially when a villain appears and begins to wreck havoc on all of Auradon using Maleficent’s scepter. Mal and the others must obtain Hades’s ember, the only force capable of countering the scepter, and bring an end to it…once and for all.

Okay, spoilers from here on out, ya’ll. Look away if you don’t want to see anymore.

Continue reading


Review: Fast and Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw

Normally, I leave the action movies to Ginny. However, the Fast series has a small piece of my heart. I love Vin, and then they brought in the Rock for the first one I ever saw, and I was hooked. So when I saw that we were doing a film centered around Johnson’s character, I had to go see it. I’m even reviewing it while it’s still in theater!

Both Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw are complete opposites, as proven by the opening sequence! But when an artificially created virus is stolen, they are forced to team up, Hobbs because he is the leading tracker in the world and Shaw…because the last one seen with the virus was his younger sister, Hattie, and his mother has laid on a guilt trip. If they don’t kill each other in the process, they will have to face down the considerable might of the Eteon group, who are determined to save humanity from itself, by any means necessary. The lead soldier? An old acquaintance of Shaw’s named Brixton, who remembers the man who left him for dead.

Despite being “presented” by the Fast and the Furious, the only real members of the franchise that we see are Hobbs and Luke, which not only lets us flesh their characters out more, but also gives us new characters to play with that tie specifically to them instead of to the whole Fast gang/family. For example, we got to see more of Sam, Hobbs’s daughter, and of Shaw’s mother. I loved that we got more of Sam and single-dad Hobbs, not only because it’s an unconventional family dynamic in media but also because she is hysterical. And I love the way that they wrote Magdalene, so I’m always happy to see more of her and her interacting with her children.

But the story was very tight on Hobbs, Shaw, and the new addition of Shaw’s sister, Hattie. Hobbs was his usual self, though I saw a little more return to how he was in the first movie Johnson starred in rather than the last one. No complaints, but it was a nice meld of the two characterizations. I also liked how it delved into his back story for the back half of the film, since the front half is more focused on Shaw since it introduced his sister in that part. Speaking of Shaw, I thought he was his usual abrasive and yet suave self. (I don’t know how the actor pulls that off.) It took longer than I admitted to completely comprehend the joke to his prior work, but it still made me snort the half I immediately got. They overly played the combative nature between the characters for me, and I think that was because they didn’t want them getting along too much too soon.

Hattie gets her own special call out. She didn’t use her sex appeal as her only skill, nor was she limited to just a hand-gun. Instead, they gave her a wide range of skills, and didn’t go out of their way to over-sexualize her aside from occasional shots of she’s pretty, it’s going to look that way. She was the Plot Ball, but she was a competent Plot Ball that was doing just fine on her own before our heroes showed up. I like how she was ready to make whatever sacrifice that was needed in order to protect the world. Also, she gets bonus points because even though she had a flirt-mance going on with Hobbs, they didn’t let it take over the movie and it didn’t get hot and heavy, it was just a light little flirt and attraction. This gives me hope for them being a longer romance arc.

(If you want the sexpot thief/spy, there is Madame M and her whole group of girls in Russia, you get your fill, but she is also amusingly competent.)

This gets me talking about a plot a little. Now, I don’t have a high standard for story in action films. It has to be enough to keep me entertained, not necessarily enough to make me think. This one…was about at that level. They pushed jokes and the bad blood between Hobbs and Shaw until the plots broke, and then built them back up again. It was pretty straight forward with not a whole lot of surprises. That being said, it didn’t try to pull a surprise out of nowhere either. (Yes, that’s a GoT call out, no, I do not care.) I’m just happy that they didn’t make the Plot Ball a weeping damsel in distress who needed saved, and at the same time she wasn’t a robot-agent either. It took time to show that she was angry or scared or regretful, and it really focused on the family aspect. Some people may hate it, I for one liked it.

Setting, oh gosh, it was pure scenery porn at times. Samoa in particular was beautiful, and I loved how they changed the lighting depending on which part of the story was supposed to be the focus in terms of Hobbs’s expertise versus Shaw’s, or whose narrative we were following. We didn’t have the usual street racing or custom cars as we did last time, but I think there still some legit car chases and explosions that are very much the standard for a Fast film. It was just of a different type, which makes me wonder if they are trying to pull the “save the world” plots out of the main franchise and focus more on the street-level racing and crime, and then let Hobbs and Shaw deal with spy shenanigans. (But that’s just me guessing.)

Overall, not only was Hobbs and Shaw a fun romp, but while there was some second hand embarrassment from the very guy centric jokes, there wasn’t some of the blatant sexism that the other Fast films have despite their best efforts recently. That made it one of the more enjoyable films for me to watch. If you don’t like the other Fast films, I hesitate to say you’ll like this one, but if you have a couple of nitpicks with them but otherwise find them good, this is right up your ally.

Plus, they brought in Roman Reigns. I DIED.


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.


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.