Tag Archives: plot

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…

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Review: Closer to the Heart

Okay, I’m going to try and get back in the swing of things here!

The next in the Herald’s Spy series, Closer to the Heart deals with Amily and Mags’s wedding….sorta. They quickly take care of the legal side of it, which is a good thing. The formal state wedding turns into a distraction to be wielded against outside forces. Two of Valdemar’s neighboring countries (you know the ones, no one can spell them) are threatening to wage war against Valdemar for threatening their fragile peace due to a child king over one of their countries. While Mags investigates the funding of the rebellion with his mining experience, Amily serves as a distraction and works to maintain diplomatic relations until they can put a stop to it.

Plot wise, the story was at least a little amusing. I felt like the wedding should have been kept a secret to be a cool reveal at the end rather than just being a part of an early plot arc like it was no big deal. But at the same time, that could have made the ending too crowded, so I understand why it wasn’t done that way? I’d have to see drafts going both ways to decide, and obviously, Mercedes Lackey is not among my writer buddies. XD The return of Kirkball was not on my favorite list, but at least she kept it short and it was moderately entertaining since Mags couldn’t be on Companion back this time, so we got to see him actually handle a horse.

I liked the more earthy, proud and take charge maid that we had in Keira, who was a welcome change from the silly little newt from last book. The expansion of Nicholas’s mentor was also at least moderately entertaining, though I found him slightly insufferable. Maybe I’m just over the suave, debonair types. Maybe it was because we saw too much of him as the wise, perfect mentor and not enough to make him seem human. Bleh. I wish we had seen more of him with his wife, that might have saved him. Instead, I was more interested in Tuck and Linden because at least they had personality and problems and flaws that I could empathize and relate to, and a real relationship.

Speaking of relationships, I liked how Mags and Amily got to see a little bit of each other’s worlds in this book. Mags got to pretend to be among the nobility for real, Amily learned how to roof walk from his group of scamps. It was a refreshing change to their relationship. This also opened us up to more about their everyday life and how that worked. Seeing some of the lower Courts work was something that I wildly welcomed. We keep hearing about Heralds stationed there, but rarely got to see it actually happen and what those duties mean. Even if Mags was bored silly, I was glad to finally have that reference to world building, and it was done in a very organic way rather than being forced.

Mags was pretending to be a noble-type, but it was in among his home territory. I feel like this was a wasted opportunity. While we knew none of his old mine owner’s family was going to be around, or it was highly unlikely at any rate, I feel like we could have seen more of either him with someone from that old mine or even in the same area… I don’t know, it just didn’t feel like it had the emotional impact on the reader that I felt it should have. I felt like it got covered up with Kirkball and other nonsense instead. Especially because we saw very little of this setting in the first book due to his emotional state, so we had a lot of high expectations and then they weren’t met.

I did like the way that the tools were being worked into clothing and other disguises, with the addition of Tuck to make it happen. We know that several reigns down the road, the Heralds have all sorts of odd tools, and now we know how they get the designs! Or at least the basics, we all know how things evolve with time. I am all for rogue and spy types having hidden tools and weapons on them, though, and this really brought me a pleased, smug sense of pride in their cleverness, even though I wasn’t the writer.

Overall, this book left me feeling a little…meh. Like, yeah, there were bits of humor and flashes of things I liked, but there weren’t enough to make me absolutely love this book like I did some of the prior ones. But at least the plot wasn’t recycled this time, and even if it didn’t flesh out the emotional impacts as much as I would have liked, it brought in some good world building for the series as a whole in a way that didn’t feel forced. If you don’t already love Valdemar, I would suggest starting elsewhere. But if you’re already invested, it’s decent.


Review: Closer to Home

(Forgive me if this is even more rambly than normal, I’m getting over one hell of a cold followed immediately by getting the flu. I delayed posting just to make sure I was in a quasi-decent head-space.)

Probably because the story about Mags’ continued to wind much longer than her normal books, or possibly as a marketing ploy, or maybe even because of a massive time-skip (like more than normal), but either way, Mercedes Lackey actually continued into multiple series with the same character, rather than others dropping in on new protagonists. I love the first series, and since I got all of the others together in a bundle, I thought I would review the second half for the blog, with a possibility of coming back to the others. (Not sure on that, they were pretty tight and I can only gush so much.)

Closer to Home picks up as Mags and the others are returning to Haven. Lena and Bear have settled somewhere with positions, and he and Amily are trying to establish themselves back into their new lives. But to their surprise, an accident that almost costs the King’s Own Herald, Nickolas, his life gets Amily Chosen as the new King’s Own…except her father, also Nickolas, doesn’t actually die! Mags managed to keep common sense among everyone, pointing out that this means there now allows Nickolas a lot of freedom, as well as providing training so that when the prince inherits, his Own is already up to speed and prepared to work with him. And they get at least partially settled quickly, because there’s a massive feud among the nobility that is threatening to send all of Haven up with it.

I was relieved that the cast of characters was changed up a bit with this book. As much as I loved Lena and Bear, the case was getting very blotted by the end of the last series. She weeded out the cast to its main core needed in Haven now as adults, and that let her add new players as needed. (Also, Lena about drove me nuts and I wanted better girl representation.) This story really gave us a chance to see a working couple who weren’t lifebonded, who weren’t well established in that relationship, and they are having to figure out how to make it work through life changes. That’s a huge thing!

I also felt like Misty did something really brave and important with this series, which is addressed the female nobility characters. Every time she’s used them before, it was either part of being life-bonded, or as part of exceptions to how everyone else behaved. This time, she was right in our faces about how the female nobility were supposed to act, and how if you didn’t have the power to do otherwise, acting against it was going to get you slapped down. I felt awful for Violetta, but with the clear explanations of the other women, you could see how she got herself in trouble and while it was unfair as hell, I couldn’t argue against it within the context of the world. And members of the world acknowledge it sucks and it’s wrong, which… since the nobility lasts for a while longer in the timeline, that’s about all it can do.

The plot….ugh, the plot. I felt like she had this one event that she needed to make happen, and then went, “Well, now what? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, with a twist!”…sorta. Like it stopped even being a nod to the plot and went full-on-commitment about halfway through and I’m sitting there going, “I know how this ends, everyone dies, why am I still reading?” She gave it like a half-twist, but it wasn’t enough to save it for me. On one hand, I’m glad she kept it to something besides wars and assassins, that is a welcome change and I applaud her for trying to branch out. I just wish she hadn’t borrowed a very tired and often repetitive plot to do it with. Even the twist was just making “Romeo” even more of a jerk than he is in the original, that isn’t a whole lot of work!

Worldbuilding wise, not a lot got added to here besides like I said, the female nobility finally being touched on as far as what is considered normal. There being “two” King’s Own Heralds is different, but I don’t think it was touched on very much. I think that probably has to do with the shoe-horned feud plot, since she usually does better with a little more original work. I do find Amily’s Gift to be a cop-out. I want to read the one-shot with Lan and see if she mentions it with Pol, who reportedly has a little bit of every Gift. Otherwise, yeah, I’m not horribly impressed with it. I’d have preferred to see real Animal Mindspeech. It’s come up I think once with a character we’ve met for any period of time? But it gets mentioned all the time.

Overall, I wouldn’t call it a disappointing read. I like the characters, and I like some of the world building elements. Considering I’m planning a similar series-split with the same character, it’s almost a study for me on what to do and what not to do. My annoyance over Shakespeare being reproduced is probably a mostly me thing (I see it….a lot…and I’m probably overly salty), so I definitely still recommend this book to others. But definitely read the prior series so you have the attachment to the characters, otherwise this may seem unnecessarily harsh.


Review: Thoughts on PreCure

Yeah, we’re going down an anime rabbit hole this week, partly because I splurged on hardbacks that won’t be here for a couple more days, mostly because I’m binge watching and have feelings…and a small part because of an upcoming surprise in roughly two weeks that makes me want to touch on my girly obsessions a little more publicly so no one is necessarily surprised out of liking me.

So I am a magical girl genre fiend…provided the story isn’t stupid and the transformation sequences aren’t sexualizing the characters. That means my options are extremely limited. Sometimes something really cool will happen, like Madoka, that break the genre, but usually you have three options: the classics (Card Captor Sakura, Sailor Moon–I can’t speak on Crystal yet, I hated the animation quality of the first season too badly and I hate Rini as a character and she seems to have an even bigger part in Crystal, soooo I’m dragging my feet, etc.), those gross animes that use a genre meant for young girl viewers as a chance to cater to the lowest denominator, or the one magical girl series that is always putting out new content–PreCure, which is short for Pretty Cure and is a bit like sentai shows, just with magical girls.

Now, PreCure feels like it has been around for ages, but it actually only came out in 2004. It just churns out a new team (with two early exceptions) every year, each with a different theme, and the main focus is supposed to be on these girls figuring themselves out and female positivity. The year actually surprises me because the first team, a pair actually, have such 80’s designs…and actually some of the others end up that way too. I’m not sure if it’s because the character designers for those seasons are older and don’t know what girls actually wear or if Japanese fashion during those years has gone weird, retro directions, or what.

The idea of PreCure is that the main characters are supposed to be in middle school, and the early seasons kept with that–the characters looked their actual ages. And sometimes, the newer seasons fall back on that. But PreCure 5 actually pushed up the physical or appearance ages of their team a little, and then Fresh! took it even further. While Heartcatch (which is what I saw a couple of years ago) tried to go backwards with three of the four members reflecting more childish bodies, Suite went right back to high schoolers…which sort of defeats PreCure’s purpose in my opinion and plus I just couldn’t fall in to Suite.

Now what caught my attention to PreCure in the first place? …Oh, I got suckered in, badly. They threw a cold, elegant girl associated with moonlight and roses into Heartcatch, I felt obligated to watch because that is my jam to the utmost. (My favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! character is Seto Kaiba and in Yu Yu Hakusho it is Kurama, I have tropes and aesthetics that you are guaranteed to get my attention with.)

Cure Moonlight

Admittedly, Cure Moonlight is a bad one to use as a measuring stick, she’s overpowered as hell, but I digress. I stayed not because there was one character who matched my preferred aesthetic, but because the writing of Heartcatch was absolutely to die for. I bawled at one episode, it was that intense.

The problem is, it seems like PreCure has one writer who is capable of taking the tropey, overly saturated parts of the genre and making them into something that is enjoyable not only for young children, but also for us old fossils who refuse to stay out of the genre. Yes, Heartcatch is fashion and flower centric, which should be too sweet to stand. But then you add that it also addresses familial commitments and pressure, parental abandonment or feelings of it, grief for passed friends, failing and having to figure out what happens next. It’s so hard to balance without going doom and gloom, but God did Heartcatch manage it.

I couldn’t find another one that caught my attention in the same way (I tried Princess, it made me cringe), though now I’m wondering if I was too hasty with some of the more in-between seasons. Why? Because I finally saw all the transformation sequences for the main team of Kirakira, which I initially dismissed as too stupid. Sweets, okay, animals, sure, together? To paraphrase Ginny, “WHY?! Why not one or the other?!” And then I heard the reasoning behind it and that just made it worse. Too stupid for words, hard pass, thank you. But see, it already had a crumb of my attention because the front three were in the same, more childish designs as Cures Blossom, Marine, and Sunshine had been. And the original clips I saw sped past the older two girls. So when I finally saw Macaron, I knew I was sunk.

Cure Macaron

I knew just from how her face was drawn, this character was too interesting to ignore because that face reflects a lot more personality than usual tropes. A little bit of digging, and I had suspicions that whoever wrote Heartcatch was involved with Kirakira. I am only 17 episodes into it, and I can guarantee that, or at the very least someone there took a few pages out of her book because it is hitting on deeper themes already, and it is also doing it in ways that are different than Heartcatch had previously done (or really, that I had seen everywhere). Cure Macaron being a prime example, who is also smart, finally someone who is as smart as the villains!!! I am also admittedly eating up the Macaron and Chocolat interactions with a spoon…

So, what does that mean about PreCure? Well, it’s like any other sentai show (or the U.S. equivalent which is Power Rangers). Sometimes, everything from story to character designs is on point and something that not only young children, but also older viewers. Other times, the character designs are awful or at least illogical, but the story might be salvageable. Sometimes the character designs are great, and then you are left with superficial garbage for story. And then there are times it’s a total wash. It’s sort of a round robin coin toss on what is going to work, what isn’t, and what is going to survive. But you know what? At least PreCure tries new things with each team, and tries to go, “Okay, you didn’t like this years PreCure, next year is different so maybe it’ll be more your speed.” I can get behind that.


Review: Ocean’s 8

I kept meaning to watch the Ocean’s franchise, and then either something would annoy me within the first few minutes or I’d get distracted and blah. The fact it was an almost entirely male cast probably factored into this, since at this point of my life, I am highly reluctant to invest in male-centric franchises, I don’t care how much I love George Clooney. But Ocean’s 8 is an all female main cast, they didn’t cast the Bitch Who Shall Not Be Named (as I shall refer to the actress who got given the opportunity to PROVE A POINT and to fight for representation and turned it into a fat joke), and while it was in theaters, I was in desperate need of a distraction. So I went. And while it makes my heart heavy to remember what happened that night, I can’t regret getting to see a good movie out of it.

A heist comedy, Ocean’s 8 centers around Debbie Ocean (the late [or better be] Danny Ocean’s sister) as she is released from prison, and falls back into the family business. Her plans are ambitious, her old partner Lou is ride or die though with a touch of emotional concern, and Debbie has spent years making sure everything will work as long as the right people are in the right places at the right time. And without the help of a single man…aside as a fall guy, that is. And she has the perfect one in mind. A diverse cast makes up Debbie and Lou’s contacts and newcomers to their types of games, and in the end, revenge is served best cold as ice.

So the movie starts off in a very subtle way that I think is supremely powerful. It shows exactly how experienced Debbie is at these types of cons, and how she takes control of any situation she is. It proves to us that this Mastermind has the skills to back up her plan. Now cue the character meetings and setting up the bare bones of the heist. Each character, in their handful of scenes, had plenty of time to establish their situations, their personalities, and their own goals, as well as their skill sets. Were some of the backgrounds hokey? Yes, but it wasn’t just the ethnic characters. I mean, how hokey is a stay at home mom who is a fence? The Indian character dealing with a mother being pushy about marriage seems hokey to us because it’s a common trope, but it’s also a common trope because it is important to their culture and the character played with it a little at least.

We also started to establish some back story for Debbie and Lou without it being some giant info dump, it was relevant to the job. There are also plenty of secrets still remaining for the women to dive into later. The heist itself was amusing, with just enough tension to keep the story moving (no spoilers!). I was trying to figure out where the ending was going and where a missing piece went, so the end reveal to me was actually pretty satisfying, even if it was predictable. (It’s a heist comedy, I don’t go in expecting to be super-duper surprised, here.)

With any kind of ensemble cast, you always have to juggle your balls in the air carefully to make sure nothing goes horrible wrong or static. This is especially difficult with an already established franchise, depending on how tightly you want to link back to it. Now, the writers did a very smart thing for Ocean’s 8. They divorced themselves almost entirely from the main group, splintering off after a sister of a main character, and building up around here with a deliberate focus, and then they kept the numbers down. So rather than trying to expand or grow a character, they got to focus the entire movie on these different personalities shifting to slot together as a team, so no one character had to be the end-all-be-all, or worse, all of them having to grow to prevent comparisons. The weakest ones to my memory are Constance and Nine-Ball, but I think both have room to grow and develop further. I also liked how two of the characters weren’t the type we normally expect for their actresses.

Helena Bonham Carter has been pretty type cast to Belletrix and Tim Burton type characters, so getting to see her in an almost bubbly (if frail) and ditzy character was a very welcome change. And I love how Anne Hathaway’s character was trying to sell the image of who we know Anne to be, but actually was a much stronger, more assertive personality type, not to mention much smarter than initially expected by the team. Now with sequels, theycan build on this core group or add or take away, depending on the job. Personally, I hope they tie in with some of the women from the main franchise.

The setting is harder to comment on due to it being set in the real world, but I did like the different shots they used, and I thought Nine-Ball’s comments on the headquarters really was cool commentary on heist clichés. Why are they always set in old abandoned warehouses? I know, out of the way and lots of room, but still, points to the hacker that the cyber security for those places is usually awful. I also loved the different styles of gala dresses that they did for the Met scenes, and actually during the movie, I had a thought. Based on Sandra Bullock’s line about her dress being old, I thought they’d actually had the actresses pull old dresses that they had previously worn to events. Bullock has been blonde before, pulling from her wardrobe at that time would make sense to me, and I thought it was a cool touch about one-time-only dresses and getting a chance to wear them again. (Ya’ll can imagine my vivid disappointment when I found out I was wrong, I was heartbroken. It was such a good idea!!!) I did like how celebrities were there playing themselves except for our main cast, and it really helped add a touch of viewing a world that we normally only get to see on television.

This movie out of all the franchise has gotten a lot of ragging for being unoriginal or lacking in tension. And I’m just really confused. After the first Ocean’s movie, we all know the formula, there is no shocker to be had her. It’s the same as the old book serials–you know Holmes is going to solve the case, you know these set people are involved. The fun isn’t in the conclusion, it’s in getting there, like that missing piece I was hanging on to. (And I started slapping Aubrey’s shoulder over…I’m a violent movie buddy, ya’ll.) It’s about enjoying eight smart women getting to be eight smart women and getting one over a male dominated world. And even if it glorifies thieves and unethical characters… I’m okay with that, because at least it shows that we can do anything we set our minds to, a message that girls and women don’t get enough of, especially in today’s political climate. To quote Debbie, “Somewhere out there is an 8-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. Do this for her.”


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: Love Never Dies

This is joining, “She Slays Monsters,” as a sort of weird review, but I’m been obsessing, so here we go. Note I’ve listened to the original cast recording, and watched the Australian production, soooo. I have opinions.

Love Never Dies picks up ten years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera. Still alive, Eric has relocated to Coney Island with Madame Giry and Meg, running a carnival/side show titled Phantasma. But he is unable to forget Christine, and when opportunity comes, he brings her to his new home. But both Eric and Christine have a secret they are carrying that will change the lives of Madame Giry, Meg, Raoul, and Christine’s son, Gustav. Things aren’t quite settled yet, and Christine will have to chose again…and face the consequences.

People have very strong feelings about Phantom. Some can’t tolerate even the first five minutes of this musical. And you know, I see their point when I listen to the original arrangement. It dragged, badly, with tons of chorus numbers, it made Madame Giry into a monster, confirming that Eric is too violent to deserve a happy ending, and it kept spoiling the ending! Even if people can stand Phantom (and some can’t compared to the book), the sequel tends to give them hives.

That being said, Love Never Dies was rearranged at one point, easing the plot issues, and it also helped make Eric more approachable. Are there still holes? Oh yeah, plus new ones. They cut out important information, such as that Eric has been helping Meg learn to sing (which explains why she is not just dancing anymore), and it emphasized how she was trying to get the Phantom’s attention at her mother’s urging. The production I watched also didn’t have Meg dancing enough, so that was a bad casting call I think, since the character is a trained ballet dancer and would retain at least some skill. Overall though, the restructuring of the musical made it something that those who love the musical of Phantom can appreciate too. Even the original writers and composers agreed that it was better, so proof that editing is important!

The setting of Coney Island was…both fitting and weird? It’s a very obvious place for Eric to hide, in a side show and carnival type setting. It’s somewhere he is familiar with from his childhood and he can blend in there easily. Madame Giry and Meg are the oddballs as far as fitting there, and it takes a lot of plot wrangling to get Christine and Raoul there for the meeting of all the players. That being said, I can’t think of anywhere else this could be set, so by process of elimination, it must be the best place for it. I felt like the music at least helped with the contrast, the songs Meg sang, particular “Bathing Beauty,” what Madame called vaudeville trash in the original and made me snort in laughter, helped contrast with Christine’s opera, showing just how far they’d fallen/shifted around.

Oh, characters. I feel like Raoul pulled a 180, and whether or not it makes sense…sort depends on your experience with the prequel. I had to watch it a couple of times and THINK about it, and realized that what happened was a disillusionment. Raoul believed himself in love with Christine (when he was just infatuated), believed himself to be this big hero (because he was the society favorite between him and Eric), and even won in the end…only to realize he didn’t love her, he wasn’t ever going to be as important as Christine, and so he forced himself to keep winning. Christine, in return, finds herself in a trap of her own making. She went with the society choice, especially considering how intense and violent Eric can be, only to have it all fall apart underneath her and she’s trying desperately to keep it all together.

Eric of course is the defeated villain, but rather than focusing on revenge, he still wants his original goal–Christine. Madame Giry is trying to recoup what she has lost by manipulating her daughter, and Meg… Meg fell for it and can no longer stand herself, so she wants Eric to rescue her like she thinks he rescued Christine from being another girl in the chorus, not realizing Christine’s talent and heart aren’t something that can be learned. It  makes the ending very bittersweet for everyone. As for new characters, the trio of “barkers” makes less sense in the rearrangement than it did in the original, and overall Gustav is very bland, but considering the fact he’s ten, I am betting there is some limitation there.

So what about the plot? Well, it’s pretty straight forward, not a lot of surprises. Even when you cut the spoiler-ridden stuff out of the original scripts, you figure out a lot of it before it happens. I do like the conflict that is shown between Raoul and Eric, and how it shows how time has affected these characters–Raoul is still trying to be the hero and is aggressive in stance and words, but Eric is more willing to let his words fight rather than physically engage until it is defensive. And Meg’s little bit before Christine performs really helps highlight how defeated she is. The ending drags though, even when cut. I honestly think it still needed work to pare it down.

Overall, I think this musical can be watched. Do you have to watch and make sure what version is being performed? Oh yeah. But if it’s the Australian rearrangement, I highly recommend at least trying it if you liked Phantom of the Opera as a musical. It is entertaining, and if nothing else, as a writer it’s a good example of what editing can do to change how a story is presented.


Review: Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox

I liiiive! (Finally done being sick and through the hard part of all my dental work, ugh.) And to start us off is a review of a book series that is quickly going to become one of my favorite series, so you can bet as new books are released, I’ll be reviewing them!

The first in the Amaranthine Saga, Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox begins with the title character, Tsumiko, coming into a surprise inheritance from relative she didn’t even know existed. It is the beginning of her introduction into a world that the rest of humanity is just becoming aware of–that of the Amaranthine, also known as the Rivven. To her surprise, she is a powerful reaver, humans who work alongside both humanity and the Amaranthine to insure peace between the two. And to make things awkward, aside from a new home, she also inherits a person–an Amaranthine butler named Argent. But Argent is no willing services, and foxes are not to be trusted on either side. Tsumiko will have to find her place in this new order of things, as will Argent, though neither is what they would expect.

So, confession time. I read the “original” version of this, that being the fanfic that the bare-bones-basics of the premise came from. I even follow forthright’s blog here on WordPress, so you know I’m a fan. ^_~ That being said, I tried to take a step back and look at this story with fresh eyes. It was a lot easier than you would think. While I can see some of the core characteristics haven’t changed, Tsumiko, Argent, even Sansa and Michael have taken on enough changes that they became their own persons. The world building was also sufficient in that regard to help separate it.

The part that stole my heart the most was the plot. I went in with a very vague knowledge of what was going to happen, but didn’t know how well it would translate to original. Lo and behold, forthright did some amazing work bringing something new to her long time readers. It deviated down some fun ways (I squealed at Gingko’s relation to Argent, for example), and it also added some substantial bones to what was otherwise a very fluffy story. I was caught up in what was going to happen next completely. I think one thing that still bugs me is the rogue dragon(s), but I figure those must be series questions. The climax was also not quite what I would have wanted. I don’t know if the pacing was off, or if its because there were two different “big” problems that had to be resolved in a particular order rather than together. Either way, the third act felt too long.

(Ginny is probably about to call me a hypocrite, but mine doesn’t go quite as long, leave me alone. :P)

Like I said previously, the characters personalities were solid, without depending on their fanfiction counter parts. I had a lot of fun with Argent’s double speak, and even in deciphering the cats’ personalities. Even the religious overtones weren’t overbearing, and I think bringing a different faith in helped break it away from its source material. That being said, as strong as they were in personality and dialogue, there was some lack in the character descriptions. Sometimes it was better than others, such as with the Amaranthine. But aside from being petite and I assume Japanese, I don’t know much about Tsumiko’s looks! This may seem a little picky, but I like to know exactly what I’m dealing with unless the writer is purposefully trying to make it where the reader can insert themselves into it.

Worldbuilding wise, I wish we had gotten some more in England. While Stately House got given plenty of time and attention, as did the surrounding area, England felt like a very rushed pass-through. Same at Akira’s dorm, though at least that served a solid purpose (and my feelings for it are probably link to my feelings over the climax). The Amaranthine culture though was very well developed. It took a second read through for me to grasp everything that I was reading. I really liked how there were very few blanket answers to how things worked too considering how varied the Amaranthine were in types. But even they didn’t have perfect knowledge, which kept them from getting to ridiculous, Tolkien elf territory.

Overall, this book was a delight. I highly recommend it for multiple reads, as new details will be constantly making themselves known, and the characters themselves don’t grow old, just more faceted. Here’s hoping the second is just as big of a success.


Review: Descendants 2

Okay, I’m late to the party, but I’m still determined to keep reviewing this movie series (I’m…ignoring the animated shorts unless forced). I was pretty hyped for this movie, especially as the actors kept saying how great it was turning out. And I see what they were talking about! I’m just…not as sure I agree?

Descendants 2 takes place months after the first film, with Mal and Ben firmly in a relationship…and very much in the public eye. When Mal suffers from anxiety over the level of pressure, there’s an inevitable fight that leads Mal to assume that she has made a mistake, returning to the Isle. Unfortunately, she and the other villain kids left some enemies behind when they turned good, and they will take any opportunity for revenge. The other VKs will have to convince Mal to return, and learn that they are both from the Isle, and from Auradon, and they can’t just abandon either side.

In a lot of ways, I can see why the cast and crew were so sure the sequel was a stronger movie. The story was much tighter this time, with a constant sense of suspense and the character reasoning was apparent to the audience. It was also not afraid to make fun of itself and the cliches of fairy tales, such as true love’s kiss. I was really excited by the show of growth in Mal’s powers, and I hope that is continued to be played with. Auradon seems determined to shove all the magic out, which is annoying, but Mal’s magic keeps asserting itself, so I’m hoping that will end.

New character wise, I feel like we’re beginning to drown in them. I’m not getting enough to be invested in all of the characters, and it forces the old characters to stay in their little story-boxes rather than having a chance to keep up the arcs that were started in the first film. In particular, while Carlos got more of a show this time and Evie got a little bit too, it was very much a focus on the new characters, Mal, and Ben. If the third film is going to introduce even more to the line-up, some cuts are going to have to be made. It took three viewings for me to catch that Lumiere was even present in the film, besides being a name drop early on, which while admittedly more of a nod than anything, is very telling to me.

Appearances, the bedrooms took a change again, which if you count the animated series for sake of argument, that means there have been three different looks to these bedrooms. Consistency apparently means nothing. (I have a feeling that because they are using this one castle that gets used for everything as their primary shooting location for the school, it’s made things extra difficult.) The costumes were great, and I like that there was a character reason for the Mal hair changes, which in trailers had me going, “WTF?” There were some cool details to the costuming, though, and unlike some of the outfits from the original film, these all seemed to be more in-line with each character. (Okay, some of it was still awful to look at, but that’s teen fashion in general sometimes.)

I think where I ended up disappointed the most was with the music. Some of it was great, things that continued the type of music from the first movie. Those, I was happy with. But much like the random Broadway music that had me going, “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE,” this time it was the hip hop. I did okay with the battle-song between the two groups, Uma’s group and the VKs…barely. Uma’s villain song on its own though just made me cringe. I guess they were trying to make use of the talents they had available, but it just didn’t work for me. Of course, my dislike of most hip hop is a well-known fact, so unless it really makes sense or is done in such a way that it works (like Hamilton, I will admit), then I would rather it stay out of my stuff.

The ending was full of sequel bait. Uma’s little repeat of the, “You didn’t think that was the end of the story, did you?” line, Dizzy getting invited to the school, Evie having a list of similar kids who deserved a second chance. This could go really well for the franchise…or rather poorly. It sort of depends on what direction they keep going with it. If they cut down the characters and stick to a little more consistency in terms of sound, I think it will continue to be the success that it has been. The characters are good, the actors are good, the story is finally where it needs to be. Hopefully, it won’t backslide in the third movie.


Review: Justice League-The Flashpoint Paradox

There are two animated movie versions of the Justice League making the rounds, and you can tell them apart by animation styles and who is voicing Batman. One of them has touched on an alternate reality plot line that caught my interest on YouTube, and I just had to watch it.

The Flashpoint Paradox centers around the Flash–Barry Allen–as he is hit hard with the loss of his mother on his birthday. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself in a different timeline where she lives. Not only that, but Gotham is not the city he remembers. Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne, but instead his father Thomas. It seems like it wouldn’t be half bad, except there are other ripple effects. The Amazons and Atlantis are at war. There’s no Superman, and Cyborg works for the government. It’s a mess, and Barry needs to get back to his own time to make sure this doesn’t happen there. But there’s a trick to it, and it’s going to make him realize how important his own actions in his world are.

So, if you didn’t catch it, the whole Thomas Wayne as Batman was the thing that caught my attention. It was a very different Batman, and one that was sort of weird for me to adjust to. Yet it was very fascinating to see how the change, of Bruce dying instead of his parents, led to his father taking up the same mantel that his son would have. And then to counter that, we have a very different Joker. I do wish we had gotten to see Martha Wayne as the Joker in full rather than the little scene that showed who she was going to become after losing Bruce. I’d rather have that confrontation than the little fight with Yo-Yo. But the differences between Thomas and Bruce were cool to see and surprise Barry with, and I was all tearful at the end with what happened there too between them.

I also thought the war was very poorly explained. I mean, I followed along with it, but there was a certain level of random involved too. It also seemed really contradictory to Wonder Woman’s and Arthur’s characters as we know them. I mean, half the point of the Amazons living on their island is they are no longer going to be involved in the world of Man, and suddenly they are conquering Europe? And Atlantis was supposed to be a secret, even from the Amazons, so that even further makes no sense. And as for the affair? Just…ewww. This is probably something that the comics had the time to explain well, but the movie didn’t and it was rushed as a result.

Character-wise, there was a lot to cover and very little time to do it. It left a lot of things feeling rushed, as they try to show what this world did to all the characters but struggled to keep the story going at a good pace. Thomas, Cyborg, and Flash were the ones who really got the chance to show who they were. Everyone else was cardboard flat, and we could have done less with them. It might have involved restructuring or changing the comic book story, but since there was a time issue, focus was obviously desperately needed. Or maybe even dividing the movie into two parts, though that would make selling it more difficult. Either way, something was needed. I also felt like the reason why Flash couldn’t enter the speed force was pretty obvious as far as the source of the differences, despite them trying to cover it up and explain it as something else.

There was one thing that was shown well, and that was the world-building. Even if it was bloated with characters, the differences in the time streams were both obvious and organic. Chains of events led to the differences, a rippling effect of one thing being off. I like that when they went to save Superman, he was the buff farmboy we were expecting but a scared young man who was under developed due to lack of time outside of his containment. Batman was older and it showed, as was the amusing way they went with what happened to the Wayne fortune. Again, the war was poorly explained, but the effects it had on the world were well shown, even down to Cyborg’s enhancements. I get why they wanted to show everything, because it is all very interesting to look at and see what small changes can cause.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, and it actually helped me appreciate the Flash more. He has never been my favorite DC hero (which admittedly, I deal with Wally West more than Barry), but this helped me appreciate him a little more. It also added a new layer to my love of all things Batman, which really didn’t need the feeding.