Tag Archives: review

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.

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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…


Review: Tempests and Slaughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review: 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: Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review: 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: Top Ten Childhood Favorite TV Shows

Here’s a dallop of nostalgia for your Monday. I thought about doing Inktober, but I hadn’t done enough prep work, and we’re heading into NaNoWriMo anyway. So instead, I revisited the top 10 TV shows from my childhood that I still enjoy and think influenced me. They aren’t in actual 1 being the most influential order, 10 least, or anything like that. I just made a list of ten.

Hey Arnold!
With a completely bonkers cast of characters, I think what I loved the most was how complex some of the personalities were allowed to get. And just when you think you have it figured out, and it’s just a kid’s show again, they come out with something that really makes you thing. It also was very real about some of the family lives that kids have, and about some of the unique problems that come from living in the inner-city. Plus, the craziness of the boarding house always seemed super real to me.

The Wild Thornberries
Mixing a lot of fun with some education on animals and conservation, Eliza and family hit a lot of buttons for me. Goofy family? Check. Girl who talks to animals? Check. Various shenanigans due to those two worlds combining? Double check. The only thing that got me was the “wild boy” character. I hated him then, kinda hate him now. I wish we had just gotten to have these two sisters and their parents, rather than this random thing to keep the parents or older sister busy as needed. Hello plot devise disguised as a character.

ChalkZone
I saw this originally as part of Oh Yeah! Cartoons, and it’s always been pretty dear to me. I mean, come on, a whole world that has come to life due to the imagination of an artist. It’s a great concept, and it was executed very well. Plus it was just memorable. I can still hear Snap yelling, “RUDY, YOU GOTTA DRAW SOMETHIN’!” and the ridiculous situations that sometimes landed them in. The limit was really on what the artists could come up with. I just wish it was possible to see them easier, right now they are hard to find in a way that is easily viewed by those of us who are…broke. 😛

Tiny Toon Adventures
This is one of the few shows growing up that my brother and I could agree on. I think he preferred Animatics and Pinkie and the Brain, but it always came back to Tiny Toons for something for us to watch together. The humor and characters, while gendered, actually fairly represented them–there wasn’t the problem of five male characters to one girl, for example, like we ran into with shows like Power Rangers. Plus, it was legitimately funny and clever. Some of the jokes were meant for an older viewer like Taylor (five year age difference, ya’ll) and some were more on my level. Either way, it remains a very fond memory for me.

Madeline
I think this is what kickstarted the French for me. And this was just a really smart TV show aimed at a much younger audience than…just about everything else on this list. It was simpler, it was more about understanding societal rules and girls fighting for agency (or scheming for it, okay, maybe it kickstarted more than my French). Most other cartoons for that age focus so much on basic skills, such as math and color and shape recognition and such, but Madeline really goes, “Nope, you learn that in school. Here’s some of the things you don’t.” Plus, feisty female protagonists for the win!

Gargoyles
Now this list turns towards the “serious” as you all know, comedy is not my thing most of the time. Gargoyles had an amazing story, varied character designs that were still easy to tell apart to my kid brain (though when I first saw it, the episode was far enough in the series for me to be a little lost on the story, oops), and combined the mystic with the tech and the modern. It also addressed things like racism, hate groups, inter-racial relationships and how hard they can be, and dealing with the past so you can embrace your future. Heavy stuff for a kid’s show, but they were so sly about it, it wasn’t like they were preaching at us, it was just a natural, organic way for the story to go.

Batman: The Animated Series
Another one that Taylor and I could agree on, Batman feels like this universal childhood constant for my generation, even if you are now a Marvel fan more than DC (with the way the movie verses are going, I don’t blame anyone on that front). There’s been a lot better discussions on the series than I have space for here, so I’ll stick to the personal. I loved the snark, the smarts, and the action. The animation of the earlier seasons was very eh for me, I much prefer the last when it changed to match the rest of the DCAU, though the Bruce/Barbara relationship is WEIRD YA’LL. But I have never lost my love for the DCAU and that’s partly to thank because of this series. It showed me how the comics don’t have to ruin everything and make it far too complicated.

Sailor Moon
The beginning of the anime invasion, I used to wake up at six a.m. to watch this show, I was devoted. And that’s even with Serena and Rini driving me absolutely bonkers in the anime episodes, though the movies that were more manga-toned in their characters helped save them. I just loved seeing the girls getting in on the action and the fighting, on the stories of the prince and the princess, of the guardians and the way these people had to grow up. I grew up with the Dub, which is…an experience, due to the weird age differences and translations. But without it, I wouldn’t have gotten into the rest of the fandom, and considering how much I relate to Makoto/Lita/Sailor Jupiter, that would have been a damn shame. She really gave me someone to look up to growing up. She was tall, brunette and green-eyed, and tough, but also romantic. Not a lot of those to be found.

Escaflowne
This show confused the hell out of me when I first saw it. (I was too young, admittedly.) But the mystic levels to it, and the relationship of Hiromi with the rest of the world, really stuck with me for some reason. It took several rewatchings for me to understand the story, to track everything. And you know what? That’s part of why I think I enjoyed it so much. It took time and processing and lots of re-examining of information for me to completely understand. But not everything needs to be spoon fed to kids. Sometimes, they need challenged. Especially kids like me, I figured it out and then I’d get bored and moved on. Shows like this helped engage them, and as long as there were elements they didn’t understand, they’d keep coming back to it until they did.

Cardcaptors
On the other end of the spectrum entirely… Yeah, I watched the dubbed version of this too. But you know, I’m not complaining, apparently there is some downright weird stuff in the original and I think I’m better remaining ignorant. XD But this hit me in some of the same ways as Sailor Moon and Madeline. It had the magic/mystic elements of Sailor Moon, but it had confronting personal issues and struggles that elementary school students start going through. It was also about figuring out how to do things your way, rather than what was expected of you, and for someone like me who tended to overthink, it actually showed me other ways to view the world. For Sakura, everything was seen through her emotions, an empathetic way of seeing the world and how to react to it. It was a lesson in other view points that really stuck with it…and along with Sailor Moon, cemented my love of celestial themes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look through my childhood. I might come back and touch on some of these later–I think my hero-worship of Jupiter could be cool to dive into, for example, and you know, sibling exploits are always fun. But for now, I hope you had fun revisiting the 90’s and early 2000’s.


Review: MCU Up to Infinity War (Part 3)

Here we go, the last one! Last time, we touched on Phase 2 and the first of Phase 3, and the last of the sequels that aren’t part of the Avengers. Now to finish what’s left of Phase 3. Starting with the same base I started with last time: 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!

Civil War tore our team into pieces. Following any one of the pieces would lead to problems, as it wouldn’t be fair to the other and give unnecessary biases. So the next movie went completely separate from them, picking up a new hero: Dr. Strange. Now, Stephen Strange can go one of two ways. He can be too much like Tony, so cue lots of repetitive nonsense, and now we’ve got a new style of magic involved, one that is–by nature of the comic source–Asian in influence, and with him being white, this can cause problems. The studio…actually made it worse by casting most of the major “good” characters as white. This hung like a shadow over the film, tainting what is otherwise a fairly enjoyable movie. Strange is a jerk like Tony, but he’s less of an idiot than him, so it’s more watch this self-absorbed man being forced to care about someone outside of himself rather than taking responsibility for his lax behavior.

That being said, I love how they made his magic so different from Thor’s and Loki’s, or even Wanda’s powers, and it really adds layers to the powers of this world. At times, the environments seemed very much like Inception, which got kinda dizzy for me, but at the same time, it was cool. At least until the end when they turned into bad kindergarten drawings, but you know, only so much they could do. I felt the same way about Ant-Man when he just kept shrinking and shrinking, that sort of thing is just really hard to conceptualize.

…Ya’ll, I still haven’t seen Spider-Man: Homecoming. My usual streaming sources don’t have it because of how hard-core they are being about only certain services having it, my Contour doesn’t have it available to rent but only as a digital copy, and I’ll just be honest, I am waaay too Spidey-ed out to want to invest 25-30 bucks buying a movie I may not even like. This is sort of the pitfall they are going to run into with this character. I love watching him in the ensemble films, but I just don’t have the emotional energy to watch his solo films in theaters, and then if I don’t catch the super narrow window where I can rent it… I just don’t see it. But that being said, I’ve heard it was great, and whatever happened in it seems fairly contained. (There was apparently some Tony/Pepper drama that I missed, but it seems somewhat resolved by Infinity War, sooo relevance doesn’t seem high. Yet.)

So now we come to my least favorite of all the Avengers. I just have so many problems with Black Panther. He’s hardly ever written well, which is a problem shared with Thor, and probably how he got on to my dislike list. But then they just do things with his character that just…squick me out, like the betrothal aspect of the Dora (it’s a harem, ya’ll), and the way his relationship with Storm went down (which felt very….”these are two black characters from Africa, of course they should get married!” rather than anything I could invest in), and then his token goddess is BAST who is a predominantly FEMALE worship goddess… You can see why he started leaving a bad taste in my mouth. As did the fact that Wakonda had to be this huge-ass secret from the rest of the world, leaving the rest of Africa to carry on with a pretty huge economical burden, which I am not touching on in this review because that is a mess I don’t know all the details about.

Civil War gave us our first look at this character, and he was…surprisingly tolerable to me. I was very much on the fence, but because he was actually written well, and that fixed half of his problems, I gave the film a chance. And I’m honestly really glad I did. All the parts of his character that I hated got either removed or twisted to make so much more sense, and that includes the side characters and Wakonda as a whole (in fact, it was part of the major plot of the film). The women characters were built up, and allowed to do so much that I really wish it would carry over to the rest of the franchise. My only critique is I think it was released at the wrong time. I think we should have gotten Black Panther right after Civil War, or at least closer to it (like flipping it and Dr. Strange?) because Dr. Strange didn’t do a very serious death-fake-out, and while Black Panther did it, it was when trailers for Infinity War were already out with T’Challa yelling, “Get that man a shield!” Sorta…takes the wind out of their sails.

Whelp, last one. The first part of Infinity War. (Call the next Avengers movie untitled all you want, it is effectively Infinity War Part 2, I can see the elements that they pushed into this movie and Ant-Man and the Wasp to get around doing a two-parter.) I’m not sure what’s left to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. I mean, I’ll be honest, I was cringing my way through 80% of the Guardians and Thor, with the remaining 20% being the big fight scenes, Gamora and Thanos, and Thor at the forge. But I don’t like those Marvel movies, so those sections weren’t for me. The rest of the movie was meant for the people like me, who came for the snarky, action movies.

I loved the dynamic between Wanda and the Vision, as well as with Rhodey and trying to bridge the gap between Steve’s team and the U.S. government. Steve coming in and taking charge filled us with relief, and Tony, Dr. Strange, and Peter Parker working together was a barrel of fun (especially the Aliens joke). The ending conflicts filled me with terror and heartbreak, and it was such a brave choice, I applaud them for it. I think Peter Quill was an idiot…but Peter is always an emotional idiot, so I’m not sure why people are shocked by it. I found the lack of Hawkeye until the end credit scene as a name drop to be a cop-out, though, and… I have strong feelings about Black Widow in this movie, but that’s going to have to be another blog post where I dissect some of the female agents of SHIELD. They barely nodded at this reunion between Natasha and Bruce, which was mildly infuriating. I also feel like this movie made Thor: Ragnorak completely pointless, and that just seems like a waste of everyone’s time.

Now as the last of Phase 3 wraps up, the MCU is at it’s big turning point. Most of the original Avengers cast wants out, due to either wanting to work on other projects or wanting away from iconic characters that are now typecasting what type of movies they can get work for or just an age thing, in addition to some of these characters’ just wrapping up what limited plot was available for them in the initial set-up. The plan (or so I’ve been told) is for Captain Marvel to be the new “center” of the MCU, and that’s…daring. Not because of a female anchor, I am all for that, but because of Carol Danvers. I love Carol, but she has two modes depending on who writes her–she’s either just as awesome as Steve, or she’s a self-righteous bitch. There is no in-between. So either everything is going to keep going on, full-steam ahead, or it’s going to fall apart.

For now, all we can do is wait and see.


Review: MCU Up to Infinity War (Part 2)

Alright, we are going to TRY and keep this from becoming a three parter. Last time, we touched on Phase 1, as well as most (and I emphasize most) of the sequels to those films. Now we’re on to the rest of the series, so lots of ground to cover. Starting with the same base I started with last time: 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!

We’ll just skip Iron Man 3 and Thor: Dark World, I already gave my impressions of those, though I will add a mention that at this point, those two franchises were starting to show their weak points. Not past the point of redeeming, but fraying. We were still lacking in strong female heroes, and we were relying purely on the momentum of the first Avengers movie to get our way to the next arc. And then we got Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Ya’ll. Black Widow and Agent 13 live!

Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, and Bucky Barnes are a joy to watch, there is no doubt about that. But we finally got introduced to two fairly powerful female agents: Sharon Carter in her debut, and she was minor but fun, and then Natasha was finally able to escape her Every Woman shell. We got to see an actual personality to her, her sense of priorities which are wildly different compared to Steve’s and even Sharon’s, because this Natasha is first and foremost an assassin who now works for the good guys. Finally, Natasha could stand on her own. Add in the welcome dynamic between all the boys, and it was like a breath of fresh air.

And then Joss wrecked it. I told you all, I don’t like him anymore, and you are about to find out why. Short answer: Avengers: Age of Ultron. On the more minor, personal level, he confirmed the Ultimate Hawkeye route, which you all know that I am so hardcore on the Bobbi/Clint train, this is a betrayal of the highest order. But even if you push past all of that… This movie was a mess, and it had a lot of potential. Ultron was a great villian, and for all the obstacles of Pietro and Wanda due to them technically being X-Men, they did a great job in-story of modifying them. Pietro’s death even hit me hard!

But it was so much just throwing one-liners at each other, some of them working and some of them not, and with massive plot holes. I guess they just relied on people watching all the side shows and everything else for some of the small things? But I barely kept up with any of it at this point besides knowing some of it existing, so I felt like I was constantly missing something. And Black Widow, who had just come out of Winter Soldier as a better character…was the love interest? And a kinda shitty one at that. (Traci called this, I was shocked that my canon ship somehow became the crack ship and her crack ship became canon. Still am.) This movie felt like a pretty big step backwards for me.

Ant-Man did not help matters. It felt like trying to combine Iron Man and Thor, so not only was I getting the “My main protagonist is an idiot, ugh,” issues, but also second-hand embarrassment like I got from the other. Add in that I don’t like bugs, and yeah. This felt like a wash for me. Not even the fact that, for once, we weren’t focusing on a romantic interest as a reason to change but instead a family including a cute daughter, was enough to pull it back. I was crossing my fingers and praying for something to try and save this universe for me.

And as much as it broke my heart… Captain America: Civil War did it. There weren’t just a bunch of snappy one-liners going on, but an actual heart happening. And yeah. It hand-waved some hard set facts–such as the fact that there is no way the governments were able to create those Accords that fast–in order to make it work. That had to have been something waiting in the wings for years. But I bet that’s still waiting to be fully played out. I love the idea of these heroes trying to wrestle with their accountability. I loved how letter of the law versus spirit of the law had to be discussed, and like real life, no one was able to stay calm about it. And even when they are finally all on the same page again… Tony Stark dropped the sarcasm and the guilt and the need to be the smartest guy in the room to admit that he couldn’t let this go, because of his mother. It was raw emotion, and I left the movie wanting to cry.

Thank God, at this point, the MCU started to pick up again. But darn it all, I’m not going to be able to cover it all here. So I guess we are going to get a third part to this mess, so look out for that this weekend when I wrap up the rest of Phase 3, at least that’s been released.

…You know, this gives me time to finally watch Spiderman: Homecoming. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing.


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.