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Sunday, July 25, 2021

How to Maintain Languages


I just finished reading Robin MacPherson's How to Maintain Languages.  This is a book I've been looking forward to reading for some time as I quite enjoy his YouTube videos.  

How to Maintain Languages looks at MacPherson's method for maintaining (and even improving) languages you've learned.  If you don't work at them, they will atrophy over time.  The majority of the book focuses on how to fit one language into your daily life, but at the end of the book it goes over how to maintain more than one.  I do wish this section had been a little more in depth, but it did give a good overview.

At its heart, MacPherson's method involves finding and utilizing what he calls "dead times" during your day to maintain other languages you know.  Commuting to work? Listen to music or podcasts in your target language.  Waiting in a grocery line?  Whip out your smartphone and go over some flashcards.  Winding down before bed?  Read a book in your other language.  

Once you have your dead times figured out, you also need to work on adding activities that use both passive and active skills.  He has a few chapters that go over both of these activities, as well as another chapter on adding in dedicated study time to improve your language skills.  He also shows you how to create an immersion bubble in your home without having to move to another country in order to immerse yourself in your other language(s).  

In a lot of ways, How to Maintain Languages reminded me of books like Atomic Habits and The One Thing (this was especially true during the habits chapter in How to Maintain Languages, but even the whole dead time discussion reminded me of Atomic Habits).  But the discussion here was less in depth, and obviously more focused on languages rather than other habits.  It was a really nice reminder of those strategies I first learned about in other books though, and, thanks to my familiarity with a lot of these concepts, I was okay with the discussion being less in-depth.  

One other thing I need to mention about this book: the pictures and illustrations.  The book has a lot of beautiful full page pictures of MacPherson going about his daily life.  And also some really fun illustrations by Alexandra Nazario of Kuma, the bear mascot of MacPherson's Kuma brand.  In many ways this book seemed like a coffee table book - it's the type of book you could very easily leave out on display and flip through when you want some language learning inspiration.  

Overall I quite enjoyed How to Maintain Languages.  It's got me thinking of whether or not there are ways I should tweak my current language learning habits, and has given me the beginnings of a roadmap for when I move more to maintaining my languages rather than strictly learning them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Undermajordomo Minor


My family all read Patrick DeWitt's Undermajordomo Minor around the same time as they read The Sisters Brothers.  I remember them having a lot of debate about which of the two books was better (although they all agreed that both were good).  I was a little late to the party (with both books, though considerably later with Undermajordomo Minor), but at least I did eventually make it!

Undermajordomo Minor is the story of Lucien "Lucy" Minor, who is hired to work under Mr. Olderglough, the majordomo of Castle Von Aux.  The castle has fallen on hard times since the Baroness left, down to a staff of three (Lucy, Mr. Olderglough, and Agnes, the one-time chambermaid, now cook) serving the elusive and heartsick Baron.  

Lucy begins to make a life for himself, making friends in the nearby village and falling in love with Klara, though he must compete for her hand against the handsome soldier, Aldolphus.  But that life in the castle is also shrouded in mystery: what exactly happened to his predecessor, Mr. Broom, and just what exactly is going on with the Baron?

I will admit, I had a hard time getting in to the story of Undermajordomo Minor.  I originally started reading it back in March, getting about ten pages in then stopping (I chalked it up to being super tired when I first attempted to read it).  Then a week or two ago, I reread the beginning and soldiered on through.  Though I still had a hard time with the beginning because I found I didn't like Lucy much at all.  His lies really bothered me (he was a compulsive liar and just generally didn't seem like the sort of person I'd like to hang out with).  Luckily things started picking up once he was on the train to Castle Von Aux (although there was a weird interlude about the train engineers) and met Memel and Mewe, who were quite the pair.  Oldenglough himself was very entertaining too (and right from the moment you meet him. His tour of the castle largely consisted of him pointing out rooms and saying things like "This is a room.  We don't use it.")

By the midpoint I was quite enjoying the book, but then things took a turn.  The Baroness returned, and brought guests who changed the whole tone of the castle.  Then Lucy attempts to kill Adolphus, and almost dies himself as he falls into the Very Large Hole.  He manages to escape, but everything is changes when he gets out: the Castle is drained because the Baroness left once again, taking Klara with her as a handmaid.  Adolphus died in his war, and Memel died of sickness.  Lucy goes to collect his stuff from the castle, bidding everyone goodbye, then leaves to chase after Klara.  And that's where the book leaves us.  A rather unsatisfying ending that doesn't really feel like an ending (though it is the end of Castle Von Aux and its inhabitants, who seem to be fading away).

While it's been years since I read The Sisters Brothers, I think I liked that book a lot more than Undermajordomo MinorUndermajordomo Minor was very intriguing, with a wonderful cast of characters.  But it just never really came together as an enjoyable whole for me, especially with the somewhat disappointing bookends of the beginning and ending.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

He-Man: The Eternity War Volumes 1 & 2


I'm a fan of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and have enjoyed the other graphic novels I've read, so I was very excited to read parts one and two of He-Man: The Eternity War.  

The Eternity War opens with Hordak returning to life after millennia imprisoned in Despondos, Realm of Darkness.  He rejoins his Horde, who has conquered Eternia and Castle Grayskull, and sets about forging a weapon that will grant him the Power of Grayskull.  The rebels, under King Adam, She-Ra, and Teela, the new Sorceress of Eternia (who the Snake People worship as the Sorceress of their Goddess, Serpos), have taken refuge in Snake Mountain.  They plan an attack under the cover of the Dark Hemisphere's Mystic Vale, hoping to stave off Hordak's conquest of the entire universe.

Right off the bat, I once again felt like I was in the middle of the story.  What happened to the previous Sorceress?  How did Adam become King?  How was She-Ra with them?  Skeletor is reportedly dead, but how?  But whatever, I got enough information to follow along with this story.

Under Teela's counsel, King Adam (who is known to be He-Man) mounts an attack against the Horde while She-Ra is sent to locate one of the Eyes of Grayskull, the last artifacts that Hordak seeks in order to use Grayskull as a weapon against the universe.  The other one was in Skeletor's possession and presumed lost.  Man-at-Arms reprograms Roboto and heads off to space to sabotage the Horde's Orbital Disrupter.  While He-Man is victorious thanks to Man-At-Arms' sabotage, Duncan is ambushed in space by defender drones and Roboto is damaged; the two fall back to Eternia and are lost.  She-Ra is also defeated: Hordak challenges her with the Power of Grayskull.  She attempts to find the artifact, but Hordak stabs her.  But then she is rescued by an unlikely person: Skeletor!  He takes both her and the artifact to safety out from the clutches of Hordak.

Skeletor talks She-Ra into healing him, as he is still diminished from his last fight where he was presumed dead, and joining him on a journey to Despondos in order to strike directly at Hordak's power.  Unfortunately Evil-Lyn hears him tell She-Ra that when all of this is over, he wants her to heal him back to Keldor so he can start over with a new life.  Evil-Lyn flees with the two Eyes of Grayskull and delivers them directly to Skeletor!

Meanwhile, Teela shows Adam a vision of what will happen if he remains He-Man and uses an even greater power in order to defeat Hordak.  Power, when used for the best of intentions, corrupts, and that road leads Adam to be a dictator.  And so Adam makes the difficult decision to snap his Sword of Power.  Teela rejoices, saying the Goddess has been waiting for Adam because there is something special about him.  But unbeknownst to the two of them, Hssss, the King of the Snakemen, has been hiding inside of Adam.  Remaining He-Man kept him at bay, but now he is free to destroy Adam from the inside!

I'm not going to lie, this story really felt like it went all over the place, and was sometimes a bit hard to follow.  It really liked to flash back in time, especially at the beginning, which definitely didn't help (like when Adam and the armies were marching to battle, the story would jump back a few days to show what had happened that led to that moment, rather than just showing it chronologically.  The same thing happened when it showed how She-Ra started on her quest for the second Eye of Grayskull). There were also so many threads to the story, that at times it felt like one part was completely forgotten (although they weren't - one example of this was when Man-At-Arms disappeared after falling back to Eternia from space - that happened around the midpoint of volume 1, and we didn't get to find out what happened to him until about the midpoint of volume 2.  But at least the story eventually came back to him!)

I'm not really familiar with the Snake Men, so that didn't help either.  

So all in all, I thought that He-Man: The Eternity War was just okay.  It had an interesting enough story, particularly once it got into Volume 2 and Skeletor really got going, but overall it felt like it had too many characters and plot threads that were all over the place.  The ending, after the very epic battle, also didn't feel super satisfying.  So definitely not my favourite He-Man story.  But it might be a lot more satisfying if you read He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Volumes One and Two before it.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Lost Chronicles Volume One


Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Lost Chronicles Volume One 
was a fun and really quick read. It's an anthologu collection of 12 short Power Rangers stories by different authors and illustrators. The stories take place across all different times and places, and generally feature the original 6 Rangers, although a number of them also feature various villains (and Bulk and Skull even get recruited by Zordon and Alpha to vecome Power Rangers!) My favourite was definitely "Sabrina's Day Out," where Goldar and Scorpina end up taking the day off to play carnival games. "It's Putty Time," which featured a putty in love with the Pink Ranger, was also super cute (although Tommy was kind of an ass in it). The Finster origin story was also super interesting, and I didn't know that Goldar had a brother (Silverback).

All in all, I really enjoyed this collection, and look forward to reading Volume Two!

Goddess of Vengeance


I found Jackie Collins' Goddess of Vengeance at the library the other day. Reading the cover, it sounded rather like a Sydney Sheldon book, so I was quite excited to give it a read!

I didn't realize it at the time, but Goddess of Vengeance is the like 8th book on a series about Lucky Santangelo, so there were a lot of characters who had history that the book kept referring to. But I thought the book did a pretty good job of letting a reader like me who hasn't read anything else in the series know what was going on.

So in Goddess of Vengeance, Lucky is the owner of The Keys, a fabulous hotel in Vegas. She has wonderful children and a fantastic husband who she loves very much - life is good. 

Enter Armand Jordan. Armand is a wealthy prince from a Middle Eastern country. He believes women are nothing more than playthings and takes great delight in humiliating them. He has set his sights on owning The Keys, and cannot believe that Lucky, a mere women, refuses to sell (honestly he was quite appalled that she wasn't just the figurehead he assumed she was).  He takes her refusal quite personally and is hellbent on getting revenge against her and obtaining the Keys, no matter the cost.

Lucky also has some children doing stuff in the book. Her daughter, Max, is turning 18, so Lucky is throwing her a giant birthday party at the Keys. Max intends to move out on her own not long after and move to New York. But she gets involved with a movie star, Billy Melina, who is currently divorcing her mom's best friend, Venus. 

And Lucky's older (oldest?) son Bobby owns a bunch of night clubs. He intends to expand his business into new cities. He's also very interested in his new girlfriend, Denver, assistant DA who is moving onto the drug unit in her city. Bobby wants Denver to come with him to Vegas for Max's birthday party so she can meet his family, but she's having second thoughts and very insecure about herself in terms of meeting all these legendary people like Lucky and her father Gino. Plus she hasn't exactly felt welcomed by Max, so she's dealing with that too.

Goddess of Vengeance was honestly not a great book. It pretty much told you over showing you anything (there were a few places where I was really excited to see what happened, like with the board meeting Lucky called. But it completely glossed over everything except for some weird preamble with a guy the book kept telling me liked Lucky). 

I also had no real feel for Lucky (or honestly pretty much any of the characters - they all sounded exactly the same to me, voice-wise, with a few exceptions like Max and Armand). The book kept telling me how awesome she was, but she didn't actually do anything for most of the book. Then when she was finally going off to do something, it took forever for her to get anywhere (there were about three passages of "oh she's mad and going to get him!" "Oh, look at her go, he doesn't know what he's gotten himself into with her" etc before she finally GOT INTO HER CAR and started driving to Armand). 

All in all, I found this a very disappointing read. Very unfortunate, especially since I had such high Hope's for it!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Championess


 The library started getting some nonfiction graphic novels in and I snagged a couple.  The first one I read was Championess by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas.  This is the (based on a true) story of Elizabeth Wilkinson, an eighteenth century female bare-knuckle boxer in London.  I'd never heard of her before, so this seemed like a really interesting read!

Elizabeth is determined to fight.  She's convinced that she can be a champion, having been undefeated in the barroom and back alley fights she's participated in.  Her dream is to win big and get her sister out of debt.  When her sister gives her the money to approach James Figg and ask him to teach her, she jumps at the chance.  But Figg refuses, and doesn't even really take her seriously because she's a woman.  So in a drunken inspiration, Elizabeth publicly challenges another female boxer to a match, claiming to be training under Figg!

I had never heard of Elizabeth Wilkinson before, so thought this would be a great way to learn about the female bare-knuckle boxer. I don't know how accurate this story is though -  I looked her up after finishing reading Championess and it sounds like a lot of the details of her life are rather sketchy (although interestingly, she was well known for quite awhile, but then forgotten in favour of James Figg because society was more focused on gender roles, which she defied).  I also later found this article on thegruelingtruth.com which sheds some interesting light on her and how she most likely was using a stage name as boxing was illegal at the time.

I quite enjoyed the relationship between Elizabeth and James Stokes, the boxer who Figg gets to train Elizabeth.  They both start out thinking they are better than the other for various reasons, but end up learning a lot from each other (in real life, it sounds like they married at some point, too).

Unfortunately, it appears that a lot of the story of Championess is fiction.  I found no record of Elizabeth having a sister (there seems to be little information about her outside of the documented fights).  

There also appears to be no convincing evidence of her background being anything other than English, but I suppose that is open to speculation because so little is known about her.  That being said, in making her heritage half Indian, Championess make for a more nuanced story, adding racism into the mix along with the sexism Elizabeth experiences (and adds in that dimension to Stokes as well - I did a quick search and couldn't find any information on his background, so I do not know if this is historical or fiction). 

While I do believe Championess is a mostly fictional account of Elizabeth Wilkinson's life, I did really enjoy it.  I also enjoyed how it opened all these research doors for me.  It's just a shame that so little is known of her life that this story couldn't have been more factually based.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Vol 7-10


Continuing reading through the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series of graphic novels at the library, I'm now at volumes 7-10, which cover the Shattered Grid and Beyond the Grid story lines, so these four were all rereads for me.  I wasn't sure what I would think of them on the reread (and after reading Masters of the Multiverse, which I seem to have forgotten to talk about on this blog - I loved it though, and will write about it when I reread it!)  But if anything, I actually enjoyed Shattered Grid more!  I felt like I had a better handle on all the characters this time around, and even caught a few things I missed the first time I read it!

And of course, unlike last time, I now know the events that led up to Shattered Grid.  I saw the first time the Rangers tangled with Drakkon, how he was being held by Grace's company, and exactly how he escaped.  So that definitely gave me a better grounding in the story than the first time I read it. 

This read-through also reinforced just how much I love Lord Drakkon as a character.  The idea of an evil Tommy Oliver who remained with Rita Repulsa is just so good!  I love how very flawed he is, and how he just doesn't understand the other Tommy Olivers of the Power Rangers multiverse, and how they can all be so "weak" because of their friends (even though it is their friends who give them their power).  And even at the very end, he refuses to let anyone in and change.  He's such a fantastic villain, and Kyle Higgins did such a great job with all of his nuances.

But one thing that struck me on this time around was that the Ranger Slayer doesn't appear in the story at all prior to Shattered Grid.  I expected to see her in one of the earlier volumes with Lord Drakkon (and to see how she broke free of his mind control), but that didn't happen....but maybe that happened in the 2018 annual comic, which wasn't included in these volumes (that issue also included Lord Drakkon infiltrating a group to steal something from them - he shows Finster Five his spoils of war, but that's all I really know - it seems like that story took place between Drakkon escaping from Grace and Shattered Grid beginning).  I'm going to try to get a hold of that comic issue to see if that fills in the remaining gaps.

Likewise, Beyond the Grid was better the second time around, especially the beginning.  Knowing who Grace was seemed to help a lot - she was the Red Ranger for a team Zordon pulled together in the 60's.  Her team didn't know each other and had no training.  While their mission was ultimately successful, three of her team died.  She's carried this with her, and built everything from her company to her space ship to make the world a safer place.  She's also relentless in her belief that no one will be left behind.  It's knowing Grace that I think makes the beginning of Beyond the Grid a better read, even though the story is ultimately about the other Rangers with troubled pasts who come together into a team.

I also really like the friendship of the Ranger Slayer, Cameron, and Heckyl.  Kimberley and Heckyl in particular have similar pasts, and manage to find both forgiveness and friendship together.  I think that is one of my favourite parts of Beyond the Grid (especially the interlude where Heckyl explains his past - the three of them are having snacks together, and he specifically invited them to that little party to let them in on who he is, and they are both okay with him).  It ties beautifully into the whole theme of Beyond the Grid about second chances for everyone (and the right to choose a better path for everyone).

I'm now excited to read what comes next in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers story.  What happens to the Rangers on board the Promethea?  Do they go back to their worlds without remembering each other?  Do they come together as a new team?  Hopefully volumes 11 and 12 will answer these questions!