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Sunday, October 10, 2021

Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales


 I saw Soman Chainani's Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales at the library and was absolutely intrigued by the first lines of several of the stories.  Like "Red Riding Hood's" "On the first day of spring, the wolves eat the prettiest girl."  Or "Sleeping Beauty's" "To the prince, it was clear: demons were drinking his blood."  How can you not want to know more with lines like these???

Beasts and Beauty is a book of fairy tale retellings.  It includes twelve stories, ranging from the regulars like "Sleeping Beauty," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Snow White," to some lesser known ones like "Bluebeard."  Chainani plays with everything in these stories, moving them to different cultures, and playing with characters' sexuality.  The stories are also rather dark, feeling more in line with the originals rather than the more cleaned up modern versions.  All in all, it makes for a very interesting collection of stories.  And it's a fairly easy read - I blew through the entire book in less than a day.

I really like how a lot of the stories center on making your own way, how you can't wait for your prince to come and save you.  They also point out many of the negative (and often damaging) tropes of the originals before charting a new path.  

I think my favourite was the "Peter Pan" retelling.  It reminded me in a lot of ways of Brom's retelling which I read some years ago (although the two stories are very different).  This story was also different from the others in the collection in that it was written as a letter, while the others are written more like classic fairy tales.  

If you enjoy fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, definitely give Beasts and Beauty a try!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Unreconciled: Family, Truth and Indigenous Resistance

 


For September 30th, the very first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation here in Canada, I wanted to read a book that would further my understanding of Indigenous issues here in Canada in some way.  I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for (and was open to books on everything from culture to residential schools), but while looking over books online I found Jesse Wente's Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance.  It was brand new and already well rated, so I decided that it would be the book I read this year on this day.

I wasn't familiar with Jesse Wente prior to reading this book, which is both his memoir and manifesto, but he is an Indigenous journalist and film critic who has had a very successful career in Canadian media.  In Unreconciled, he talks very frankly about how the residential school system damaged his family, making him and other members of his family feel like outsiders when they visit their family who still live on-res at Serpent River First Nations.  

He also talks at length at how there are so few people of Indigenous descent working in the media.  How Indigenous stories are so often co-opted by white people, put through a white lens and profited off of.  And how people from minorities are often made to speak for their entire group, and how there is tremendous pressure to succeed if you break through into an area because you do not want the door to close for everyone else should you fail.  Or how people of minorities, himself included, can be reduced to tokenism, standing in for their entire group, or, far uglier, being co-opted by institutions and businesses as a kind of endorsement, even if you don't actually endorse what they're selling.

While at times difficult to read, I thoroughly enjoyed Unreconciled. Wente infuses the book with humour while still showing us how Canada as a country has failed, and encouraging us all to do better.  Unreconciled is definitely a book I recommend to all Canadians, for it speaks the truth, which goes hand in hand with reconciliation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Dungeon Eternium

 


Well, here we are: the final book in Dakota Krout's Divine Dungeon series, Dungeon Eternium!  

Dungeon Eternium picks up pretty much right where Dungeon Desolation left off.  They've beaten Xenocide's powerful Runes that were drawing the moon to the planet, but unfortunately that damage has already been done.  While they have more time now, the moon is still going to crash into the planet.  Also, Cal's leylines are also destroying the planet because there will no longer be any free-floating essence, devastating the world even if it survives the moon.  The only option is to have as many people as possible hide in a large enough soul space, assuming the one being with a big enough one (ie Cal) agrees.  

I found Dungeon Eternium a bit dry at first.  Most of the Cal parts were just him by himself.  He was doing whatever on his own without Dani or one of the Bobs to throw ideas around with.  Dale was also just kind of doing stuff - he's no longer a noble, so he wasn't really part of the goings on politically anymore.

But I did find the stuff with the Northmen interesting, mainly from Cal's perspective.  He started exploring their city and found a dungeon underneath them.  The two dungeons made an exchange that Cal thought was well worth his while, and it was interesting to encounter another Dungeon that was so cunning. 

Dani's "brother" also turned up at one point.  He was a dungeon core that grew up with Dani, so they started calling each other brother and sister.  That was admittedly a weird little side bit to the story because he didn't really add anything to the plot (and his character wasn't overly interesting either - he was a core stuck in a backpack - he couldn't spread his influence anywhere, and Cal and Dani just kept shoving him in a chest whenever Grace was around to make sure she didn't bond to him).

But then Dungeon Eternium took a few interesting turns.  First, Cal went to the very North of the world as per Dani's request.  There he found the oldest Dungeon around (Dungeon Eternium), who created the Wisps.  While the Dungeon could have destroyed Cal with merely a thought, he asks for Cal's help because the moon is going to directly impact him (which was apparently Xenocide's plan all along?)  Eternium helps Cal with some stuff, and in exchange, Cal helps bring Eternium into his Soul Space.

What was really fun about this exchange was that Eternium didn't understand Cal's language.  Cal had to give it to him, and he immediately understood and used it perfectly because he is such an immense, ancient, and wise being.  It was a neat moment.

But then the fun really began.  Barry returned and took over Mountaindale once again (but this time from the Master, who was sick of the politics anyway and so didn't care).  He took all kinds of tribute, and started trying to control who would enter Cal's soul space (although when his back was turned, the Dark Elves all snuck in).  Once almost everyone was through, he summoned his new master: Xenocide (this scene had some hilarious dialogue between the two)!  Then he made his way through the dungeon, killing everything in his path with his weird and deadly power.  Cal orders everyone to escape, but Barry catches Cal and tries to eat him and all the souls now contained within his Soul Space.  But rather than die, Cal and Dale become rejoined.  But Dale's human body cannot contain the totality of the two of them (especially since Cal is so much more than a human, plus he's in the A ranks where Dale is B).  So they have to make their way back to where Barry is before their body fails to get the perfect replica Dungeon Core that Cal made (he was hoping to use it as a distraction, but Barry knew which one was really him).  

This whole part was so intense - I loved it!  It felt like a real culmination of Dale and Cal's arcs, and a really fun way to bring them together.

So while the beginning of this book was a bit dry, it's totally worth the read.  Everything (even stuff from Dungeon Desolation, my least favourite book in the series) comes together really well.  I really enjoyed both this book and the series as a whole.  :)

And now my friend who recommended this to me wants me to start reading  

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Narrattive Designer: Fabulator Ludus


Narrative Designer: Fabulator Ludus by Stephen E. Dinehart IV is a deceptively small book.  At a little more than 100 pages, it is packed full of very dense ideas on narrative design and storytelling more generally.  I will not say too much about it because I feel like it is the type of book that you need to read a few times to reach a better understanding.

But I do wish the book had a glossary.  It would have been very helpful!

Dungeon Desolation


Rather than sleep, last night I stayed up super late reading Dakota Krout's Dungeon Desolation, the fourth book in the Divine Dungeon series. The Master's armies of undead are rampaging across the world, but Mountaindale, the town on Cal's floating island, remains relatively untouched.  At least until the Guild decrees that all human titles are forfeit and the town and academy are now in their hands to support the war effort.  They send an obnoxious S-level Mage to conscript Cal as well - he kills an entire floor (even Cal's essence within it), and threatens to kill the rest of the dungeon if Cal refuses to cooperate.  They want to use the dungeon to ferry troops to the back of the Master's armies.

Cal of course does not take this well, and immediately starts planning how to get out of this (and specifically how to kill the S-level mage, even though Cal himself is only a B-Level dungeon).

Dale is no longer Baron (although he remains a Duke with the Dark Elves), and so is in major danger of being conscripted into the army.  So he signs himself up at the academy as the protege of the headmaster whom he had just hired.  The clerk takes a disliking to Dale, and conspires to get him booted out of the academy by not issuing Dale receipts for his tithes to said academy (but luckily Dale gets wind of this and is able to remain in the dungeon long enough to more than make up for the shortfall).  Unfortunately, all his training, specifically to strengthen his aura, makes an imbalance within him, and Dale starts becoming uncharacteristically aggressive, both in the Dungeon and without.  It takes the intervention of his teachers to knock some sense into him (quite literally!)  

While I enjoyed reading Dungeon Desolation, I didn't think it was quite on par with the other few books.  For one thing, there was a lot less Dani than in earlier books (she was training their daughter, Grace).  For another, there was a lot less of Cal doing fun and crazy things - it was kind of more of the same from book 3 (he was mostly finishing up his ley lines, and dealing with flying).  He did make a few new monsters and floors, but nothing really fun (I guess other than his battle royale of elementals that he set up and let fight and evolve on their own).

The ending was rather unexpected though: everyone was manipulated by Xenocide, the super-ranked Mage of Madness (I have no idea what his level is, but it appears to be more powerful than anyone else, even the Master) for the last several hundred years so he could get everyone into a particular place at a particular time to power a ritual for him to attract one of the planet's moons to the planet, killing everyone and "freeing them of their madness."  Now everyone has to work together to stop him, if it's even possible.

While not the best in the series, Dungeon Desolation still had some fun moments.  It'll be interesting to see how the series ends in Dungeon Eternium.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Late Eclipses

After finishing An Artificial Night, I decided to jump straight into the next October Daye book, Late Eclipses.  This time around, Toby is summoned to the court of the Queen of the Mists.  After some vague warnings from Tybalt, Toby finds herself given the title of Countess of Wintergreen.  She knows it's a trap though: changlings never get titles.  But at this point there's no indication of just what the Queen is up to.

Toby's immediately pulled away to the Tea Gardens, to find something equally unsettling: Lily is sick.  As an undine and pureblood, Lily should not be able to get sick.  Toby vows to get to the bottom of it.  But before she can do much investigating, she has to make an appearance at the Torquill's Beltane Ball.  Only while there, she is the only witness to Luna fainting, possibly from being poisoned from wine.  Toby got a whiff of Oleander de Merelands' magic - Oleander is one of the ones who were responsible for turning Toby into a fish for fourteen years.  Oleander is also an assassin extraordinaire, whose weapon of choice is poisons.  But there's one problem: every time Toby seems to believe Oleander is around, no one else can see her.  Is Toby's changeling blood finally making her go mad?  Or is there a sinister plot afoot that she's tangled up in?  

I was quite interested in the story up to about this point (and was even thinking of ordering the next two books in the series because I was having so much fun with it).  But then things started to take a rather...dare I say: familiar...turn.  Rayseline, Sylvester's daughter, hates Toby.  When Luna is incapacitated, and Sylvester turns mad with grief, Raysel uses the opportunity to take control of the Knowe, naming herself in charge.  She banishes Toby, and starts spreading rumours that Toby is the one who hurt Lily and Luna.  After Lily dies, Toby returns to the Knowe, but Raysel uses it as a chance to have her arrested.  You see, having been named Countess, Toby is now no longer under Sylvester's protection, but the Queen's.  And the Queen orders her to stand trial, a sham used to convict Toby and sentence her to execution.  She's locked in an iron dungeon for a few days; her friends break her out and bring her back from the brink of death by iron poisoning.  But Toby cannot stand idly by, and insists on returning to Sylvester's Knowe in an attempt to save Luna.

While the plot trappings are different, the second half of the story was, in many ways, a repeat of An Artificial Night, and how Toby kept charging back into Blind Michael's lands.  She was even held prisoner and poisoned (although it was more a mental poisoning rather than the iron poisoning she suffered here).  But even after all that, she had to charge back into danger after barely healing to see it through.  There's nothing necessarily wrong with this plot on its own merits, but reading it right after An Artificial Night got very, very boring.

Now sure, there was some interesting things going on too. Toby got shot with Elfshot, which is deadly to Changlings.  Her mother mysterious showed up and changed her, making her far more fae.  This saved her life, but also means that iron is now a problem when it wasn't before (the change happened just before she was sentenced and thrown into the iron jail).  Her features even changed, becoming more fae.  

Another thing that was interesting (though sad) was Lily's death.  Lily's subjects were able to mourn, but Toby never was (she was just a crazy exhausted mess running from one fire to the next trying to put them all out).  I would have loved if the book slowed down a bit to deal with (and really show) some of this stuff.  But Toby herself even says that there's no time to deal with it now.

I'm also a fan of the relationship she's developing with Tybalt.  Somewhere along the lines she's started trusting him.  And while he's still very aloof, you can tell he cares for her.  That's all going to get complicated in the coming books because Connor, her one-time crush and Rayseline's husband, is freed from the marriage at the end of the book (Raysel did some unforgivable things, and his Selkie clan dissolved their political marriage immediately).

So all in all, this ended up just an okay read.  I do wish I had waited awhile before reading it, rather than starting it immediately after An Artificial Night.  But thanks to all the repetition in the plot, I'm done with the series for now - if I go back to it, it won't be for a long while.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

An Artificial Night


I finally got around to reading An Artificial Night, the third book in Seanan McGuire's October Daye series.  I've been looking forward to it since reading A Local Habitation (and hearing it was much better than that book was)...it just took me a few years to actually get around to reading it.  :/

This time around, Toby starts off by having a really bad day - her Fetch arrives, which means that Toby's death is immanent.  That's followed by frantic calls from one of her best friends, Stacy, because two of Stacy's five children are missing and one is now in an un-wakeable slumber.   Toby goes to investigate, finding clues but nothing definite that points to what happened to the children.  With Stacy's permission, she brings the slumbering Karen to Lily's Tea Gardens in the hope that the undine can wake her.  Along the way, Tybalt finds her and asks for her help, because several of the children from his Court of Cats have gone missing as well.  Though a great healer, Lily is unable to help Karen.  But she sends Toby to "speak to the moon" - which brings her to Luna, Sylvester's wife.  While figuring out that riddle, she finds Quentin at her place - his human girlfriend has gone missing as well.  

Luna is the one who fills in the missing pieces.  The culprit is Blind Michael, one of the Firstborn Fae, and master of the Hunt.  No one would ever willingly join him and his hunt, so every hundred years he takes the unwilling: the children.  He takes faerie children to be his riders, and human children to be their steeds.  He twists them all and binds them to himself.  And he has taken all of the missing children that Toby is looking for.

To find him, Toby needs the help of the Luidaeg, the Firstborn Seawitch.  The Luidaeg can send Toby to Blind Michael's realm on one of the few roads that are open.  First Toby takes the Child's Road, which involves Toby being transformed into a child.  She manages to bargain with Blind Michael for the children - if she's able to get them out undetected, she can take them home.  But Toby takes more children than were bargained for, and so the Hunt pursues her outside of Blind Michael's realm.  Next she takes the Rose Road, care of Luna, to try to stop the Hunt from pursuing her (and to save Karen, whose soul was taken by Blind Michael while she slept).  Blind Michael agrees only if Toby stays in Karen's place.  He begins to bind Toby to him, but before the final binding can finish, Toby's friends manage to save her (along with some of the other children who were taken).  But Blind Michael has already done some major damage to Toby's mind, and she is determined to end things with him.  Which leads her back using the final road, the Blood Road, which demands a tithe be paid in blood, either Toby's or Blind Michael's.

I wish I had read An Artificial Night a bit closer to A Local Habitation.  It's been a few years, and I forgot who many of the characters were (like Quentin).  Yes, the book kind of explained things well enough so I could follow it alright, but it would have been a lot nicer had I actually remembered people!  But I did enjoy An Artificial Night.  It was a really interesting story and I didn't want to put it down (I read almost the entire book yesterday afternoon).  My biggest complaint (other than some weird things that were repetitive and should have been caught in editing, like how the book explained who Lily was both times Toby went to the Tea Gardens in almost exactly the same words) was that it wasn't scary enough.  When a story is dealing with childhood bogeymen and the main character gets turned into a child, that's a story that's ripe for some creepiness and (childhood) horror!  Unfortunately I just never felt that during the book - Toby went on treating everything kind of just like business as usual.  

Other than that though, I really enjoyed An Artificial Night.  I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Late Eclipses (and without letting several years pass before I pick it up!)

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!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Volume 6

 


Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Volume 6 is the last one before Shattered Grid.  I wasn't really thinking of it as a bridge to that story line when I started reading it, as it was continuing the story of Finster's monsters who were disguised as humans.  The Rangers have agreed to work with Grace, a woman who was previously a Red Ranger for a somewhat disastrous mission (her team didn't train together or know each other at all - while they ultimately saved the world, three of them died, and as the Red Ranger and leader, Grace bears that burden even though it was Zordon's fault for sending the team in unprepared).  She has dedicated her life to making the world a safer place, building Promethea to accomplish that task.  Her people have discovered how to track the monsters when they're getting ready to transform, and so the Power Rangers agreed to work with her.  

In good news though, Alpha Five and Saba have discovered how to return Zordon to the Command Centre!  

Meanwhile, Rita Repulsa has returned from a mysterious errand.  She recalls Finster (that was a really neat scene - he was able to escape the pocket dimension basically whenever he wanted to, and the Rangers still don't know how he pulled it off!) and orders him to set off all his hidden monsters, forcing the Rangers to separate.  Unfortunately, she also made them all grow and their forms weren't able to take that, so the Rangers are able to easily defeat them.

While trying to track down the hidden monsters though, Billy returned to Promethea to boost their scanning equipment.  While there, he discovered that Promethea runs on very little power, but most of that power is dedicated to a particular wing.  Doing some sleuthing, he discovers the reason why: Grace had captured Lord Drakkon after the Rangers' last battle (he was pulled through the portal with them)!  

And that's how we tie into Shattered Grid.  I'd forgotten that Drakkon had been pulled through the portal.  But by the end of this he was able to return to (presumably) his own dimension (with a headless Saba...) and start the events of Shattered Grid!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Volumes 4-5


 I'm very excited, as my local library now has Mighty Morphin Power Rangers volumes 4-12!  I started reading them last night, getting through volumes 4 and 5.

Volume 4 picks up where 3 left off - Billy and Tommy are in Lord Drakkon's world, having gone with Sabba to the Coinless. The Coinless, however, aren't taking any chances with these two in case they are Drakkon's spies.  But their leader, Zach, recognizes Sabba, who, when they last saw each other, had told Zach that he would return with the ones who would save their world.  Unfortunately, Drakkon tracked the sabre to the Coinless's base and mounts a full assault!

Meanwhile the other Rangers are trying to figure out a way to get the Command Centre back from Rita.  Finster finds Alpha 5's head, and reprograms it to lead the Rangers into a trap!  At Rita's behest, he's sculpted an army of Goldars, who are much more savage than the original.

Against overwhelming odds, the Rangers succeed, and even manage to find Billy's power coin!  Trini uses it and the Black Dragon armor to open a portal to the other dimension to Billy and Tommy, just in time to help against Lord Drakkon's forces!  The Rangers save the day, freeing both worlds from tyranny.

Volume 5 opens with the Rangers helping out across the planet.  Rita has been mysteriously absent for quite some time (which happens from time to time after a big loss).  So they repaired the Command Centre, and are working on a way to bring Zordon back (Sabba from the other dimension was accidentally able to find and anchor him, so it's just a matter of time before the sabre and Alpha 5 can get him anchored back to the Command Centre).  Jason is basically watching the world news 24/7 to deploy the Rangers where needed.  But on one of their missions, they are approached by a lady named Grace who asks their help - a pilot team went down while trying to look through what seems to be an illusion.  The Rangers arrive and discover a mysterious town run by Finster.  He's been taking some vacation time to work on his art - which means sculpting monsters that appear human until they're triggered!  After saving the pilots and capturing Finster, the Rangers get reports of two monsters rampaging across different cities - and both appeared human.  While they manage to deal with those two, they know it's just the start....how many monsters hiding as humans has Finster released into the world?

The story continues to be excellent, and I can't wait to see how the Rangers deal with Finster's invisible monster army in the next volume!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Engines of Oblivion

 

I've been excited to read Engines of Oblivion since finishing Architects of Memory a few months ago.  I've had it for a few months on my Kindle, but got caught up in the Divine Dungeon series, so put off reading this until there was a good spot to pause that series.  

Engines of Oblivion follows Natalie Chan, one of the crew members from Twenty Five.  In Architects of Memory, Natalie, a soldier by training, had managed to become a citizen of Aurora, but lost many of her memories during the battle of Tribulation.  It's a year later and she's now the Director of Aurora's research and development team.  When the board sends her janitor indentures to pilot a new rig she designed, Natalie makes the split-second decision to pilot the rig instead because it is going into an actual combat mission (and the janitor indentures are not at all combat trained).  To her horror, Natalie discovers too late that the weapon within the rig was switched out for something far more deadly.

Called to a Board meeting after the demonstration, Natalie's loyalty to Aurora is called into question.  She is informed that she will be going on a mission back to Tribulation to locate Ashlan Jackson, whose heartbeat was detected.  Accompanying her is the one woman Natalie wants nothing to do with: Reva Sharva, the doctor who was the head of the Sacrament Society, and who had been experimenting on people in a secret lab on Tribulation; Sharva is being sent because she is the only one who can save Ash from the sickness she has (and Sharva has a bomb in her head that will detonate if she deviates from the mission).

This mission calls everything Natalie believes in into question.  Will she give up her friends to the company in order to keep her citizenship, even though she knows nothing good can come of turning them in?

I will admit, I didn't really like Engines of Oblivion at first, and that was largely because I didn't really like Natalie Chan.  And her being paired up with Reva Sharman definitely didn't help.  I also found the story a bit weird once the Vai got more involved.  On the one hand, it made sense for how the story went once they were involved (and I did like learning a bit more about them and how they worked).  But at times it got really hard to follow (especially once people were basically fighting inside each others' memories and minds, that got a bit hard to follow).  But by the end, I found that I really did care what happened to everyone, and, while in some ways sad, I really enjoyed the ending.

So while, in the end I did enjoy the book, I think I liked Architects of Memory better.  I missed the quirky crew dynamic of Twenty Five.  I also think this book might be better if read closer to the first book - while I remembered people and plot well enough as the book unfolded, it definitely would have been helpful if that first book was more fresh in my mind.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Fugitive Telemetry


 I've been waiting to get my hands on the newest book in Martha Wells' Murderbot Diaries series, Fugitive Telemetry.  As I said after reading book 5, Network Effect, I was quite interested to see where the series would go now.

Well, Fugitive Telemetry didn't pay off with any of the stuff Network Effect set up.  Instead, it opens on Preservation Station, where a body has been found.  The Station's Security team (reluctantly) brings Murderbot in to consult as they try to find the murderer.  As murder is extremely rare on Preservation Station, they shut the entire port down to investigate the murder.  

What follows is a really fun mystery while Murderbot tries to find the murderer (and both Murderbot and Station Security struggle to trust one another). 

So while Fugitive Telemetry did not have the further adventures of Murderbot and ARK, like I though it would, or feature the newly free SecUnit, Three, it was still a really fun read.  Like most of the other books, I couldn't put it down.  I hope the next (as yet unnamed) Murderbot book is fun like this one was!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Masters of the Universe: Dark Reflections


 Masters of the Universe Volume 2: Dark Reflections opens with the Masters trying to stop Skeletor from entering a tomb.  Unfortunately they are too late and Skeletor finds what he is looking for: the Elixir of Schneidor.  He plans to use the elixir to open a dimensional gateway into Castle Grayskull.  But the Masters of the Universe follow him to Grayskull in the hopes of stopping his plan.  Man-At-Arms attempts to disable the gateway Skeletor and his forces have constructed, but a blast from Skeletor knocks him through the portal, which was damaged in the fight; Tri-klops says there is no knowing where the portal may lead.  Skeletor decides to destroy the portal as it's no longer useful to him, trapping Man-At-Arms inside.  But after Skeletor leaves, the portal somehow opens once again, ejecting a comatose Man-At-Arms!

The Masters rush him back to the capital.  Meanwhile, Stratos arrives, seeking aid: mysterious blasts are destroying the city of Avion!  He requests the aid of Man-At-Arms, but since he is still comatose, He-Man and Man-E-Faces are sent in his stead to try to figure out what is happening.  While they're gone, Duncan awakens, claiming he needs to speak with King He-Man about the rebels.  After being restrained, he breaks free and makes his way to Castle Grayskull, determined to find King He-Man and stop the so-called heroes led by Keldor.

This is a really fun story with dimensional travel that makes me think of He-Man and the Masters of the Multiverse (which I apparently forgot to write about reading on here back in April - I'll have to remedy that, perhaps with a reread because it was so good!) I knew Man-At-Arms was going to end up being evil (you can just tell from that cover art!) but it didn't matter, the story was still really good.  It's unfortunate that these graphic novels don't seem to be a connected story (which I was expecting since they are volumes 1 and 2 by the same creative team), but that's okay, they're still fun reads.  They're also making me want to re-watch the 2002 show (which I have watched since I originally read The Shard of Darkness back in 2010 - it's super good!)

Masters of the Universe: The Shard of Darkness (reread)

 


I first read Masters of the Universe: The Shard of Darkness over ten years ago.  At that time, I felt that it really starts in the middle of the story, and that you're missing what happens first.  While that's still true, with Man-At-Arms and Prince Adam initially discussing the new-found powers that Prince Adam now had responsibility of, I didn't feel like it was a problem.  Most people reading this would already know Prince Adam is He-Man, so why wouldn't he have to figure things out once he newly has his powers? 

When they're called to deal with a minor emergency, they discover that Orko has found the Shard of Darkness, a piece of the Shakarran Crystal, which the Eternian Elders had used to contain an ancient evil long ago.  The Sorceress tasks He-Man to journey alone to find the remaining shards that remain on Eternia so that they can be banished from the world.

Meanwhile, Evil-Lynn is also after the Shard of Darkness.  She plans to use its power to overthrow Skeletor and take over the world in his place.  To that end she has enlisted the help of Trapjaw and Tri-klops.

I have to say, I liked this a lot more this time!  While the story is relatively simple, it still fits really well with the Masters of the Universe.  I liked how Skeletor's henchmen (and woman) were all backstabbing each other (often without you ever really sure who was backstabbing whom!) And I really liked that He-Man was unsure of himself and his powers, yet still manages to overcome great odds, even as Prince Adam.

One thing that I found particularly interesting this time around was the Sorceress.  I've always thought of her as a caring and somewhat motherly figure.  But she seems quite cold here, trusting to prophecy without explaining herself to Man-At-Arms and He-Man.  I'm interested to see if the series will continue and have her grow, as well as Prince Adam?  Well, only one way to find out - I'm reading Volume 2 next!

Some Library Graphic Novels


 I took out a few graphic novels from the library recently and decided to just write one post on all of them together.  

The first one was Covid Chronicles.  I was impressed that a graphic novel was already out talking about the pandemic (although honestly it's not that surprising since this has been our reality for over a year already).  This was a collection of short comics talking about the early days of the pandemic.  While there were some really great comics (I really liked the one that talked about the various pandemics that we've seen over the last 100 years or so), overall I found this a really difficult read because I wasn't ready to be reliving this stuff (which isn't really surprising since we're still living it).  I think it's a fantastic book that's going to have great historical value, but it's too soon for me to be reading or really thinking about it.  

But kudos to all of those creators who documented it!


Next I read Join the Future by Zack Kaplan, Piotr Kowalski, Brad Simpson and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.  I liked this book.  Join the Future takes place roughly 50+ years from now.  Small towns are disappearing; their populations are encouraged to join the megacities where all of their needs will be met.  When no one is left in the town, terraforming machines descend and reclaim the land, erasing the town from existence.  

But not everyone wants to sacrifice their freedom.  This is the story of Clementine Libbey who refuses to join; she wants revenge against the people who killed her family.  

Clementine is a great character.  She's got real grit and refuses to compromise on her values.  She's also an asthmatic who is a terrible shot, which makes her quest for revenge all the more interesting because there is a very real chance that she's going to get herself killed.  She's also a minor, so the grownups around her don't exactly take her seriously (and there was one scene in particular that really pissed me off - because she's a minor, the state decided that they could sign for her and send her to the megacity when she refused).  You just can't help but root for her against these terrible odds.  I definitely recommend it!


Finally I read Aquaman Vol. 4: Echoes of a Life Lived Well.  This is the conclusion of Mera's coma (and wedding to Vulko).  Mera gave Vulko some sort of command, but to carry it out, he decided he had to go through with their wedding.  Meanwhile, the princess, Andy, has been living with Aquaman in Amnesty Bay, cared for by their friends and all those sea gods and goddesses who are around now.  But one night she goes missing, and Aquaman will tear the sea apart looking for her, starting with his half brother, Orm.  Meanwhile, Jackson Hyde, Black Manta's son, goes to his father for help, asking for pieces of the Mech Lex Luthor made for him that is programmed with the personality of Black Manta's father (in order to use the mech to help find the missing princess).  This leads Jackson to Xebel where he decides to live up to his own expectations, not those of other people.

Out of all the Sue DeConnick Aquaman graphic novels I've read so far, this one was the best.  

Die Volume 2: Split the Party and Volume 3: The Great Game


 Huh, I didn't actually write about Die Volume 2: Split the Party on here before now. So I guess this post will have to remedy that!

This weekend, I finally sat down to reread Die volumes 1 and 2, and to read volume 3, The Great Game, for the first time.  The first time I read Volume 2, Split the Party, I wasn't really a fan of it, other than the fact that it was leading into something awesome based on the way it ended.  But last time, I read it without rereading Volume 1, Fantasy Heartbreakers.  But this time through, I read them one after the other and I liked Split the Party a lot more.

After defeating Solomon (and learning what happens to players when they perish in Die), the party splits.  Isabelle and Chuck lead the people of Glass Town away through a portal opened by one of the gods who took Isabelle's request literally: they are now the farthest away from Glass Town where they can be (and in a wasteland with no food).  Meanwhile Ash, Angela, and Matt make their way to Angria where they attempt to build allies.  Isabelle shows up to crash that party, admitting to everyone that the party is responsible for the destruction of Glass Town.

Split the Party has a lot more character development of the other characters other than Ash in it, so when read by itself it is a bit slower than the first volume.  But I found this wasn't the case when reading it right after Volume 1; it added a lot of missing context of what was going on in the world and in the lives of the characters, while not actually slowing down at all.


Then Volume 3, The Great Game happens.  With Isabelle's help, Ash has taken over Angria thanks to forcing Zamorna to marry her.  She intends to discover what exactly Eternal Prussia is doing in Glass Town.  Unfortunately, the people of Little England, who were eternally at war with Eternal Prussia, aren't too happy with Ash on the throne and declare war.  Meanwhile, Angela (who left after Ash was going to leave her in prison "for her own safety") joins up with Matt and Chuck.  They decide to travel to the Fair to get some answers.  Unfortunately the Fair are next set to appear in the Game Master's realm, a perilous journey far away.

The Great Game has some fantastic escalation of the story, as well as finally giving us some answers about just what is going on. I finished it feeling super excited to read more, but sad that it's not out yet.  I'll probably have to wait until either the fall or next winter to see how it all ends. :(