Book Review: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

I actually read Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst (Young Adult, 389 pages) last week and am only just now typing up my review. Better late than never, yes?

“Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.”

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book was how princess Dennaleia clearly demonstrates how the education of a princess can actually be beneficial to running a kingdom. Right from the beginning of the story, we’re shown how much she just wants to help make the kingdom a better place and she understands she can best accomplish that by understanding languages, cultures, geography, and in-depth demographics of the entire population. She was betrothed from a very young age and took her duty and responsibility serious. She studied trade routes and specific geographic regions, listening to the situation from a variety of angles before working to determine a course of action benefiting many instead of the selfish few. She understood her obligations and she did everything in her power to be the best representative for her people. She knows nothing about horses and even after a mildly unpleasant beginning, she still moves forward with riding lessons so she can better serve as an ambassador between her people and Mynaria. She was not a passive princess and that did a lot to make her a likeable and relatable character.

Amaranthine (Mare) is a lot of fun as a character, as her bravery and determination makes her an ideal counterbalance to Dennaleia’s poise and gracefulness. She made so many assumptions about all the people in her life, including Dennaleia, and worked to be accepting when presented with new information. I really liked Mare’s friendship with Nils and I think it was one of the few times in fiction when I’ve seen healthy male/female friendship with no sexual energy. They were best friends and that was enough for both of them. Nils never pushed Mare but he was always there to support her and watch her back and I think that’s not seen enough in anything these days.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and finished it the same day I started it. I’m glad I purchased it and will happily reread it again in the future, which means it’s rated at a high three on my rating scale.

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Movie Review: Pleasantville

My first movie of 2022 was Pleasantville (New Line Cinema, 1998). I haven’t seen this movie in a really long time (probably decades).

“When 90s teens David and Jennifer get zapped into the perfect suburbia of the black and white ’50s sitcom, Pleasantville, what results is a ‘visionary adventure’. Pleasantville’s perfect people include a mild-mannered soda jerk, a socially repressed mom, and a father who always knows best. But, when ’90s pop culture clashes with ’50s family values, chaos ensues, turning the town of Pleasantville upside down and black and white into color.”

This movie was actually one of several sent to me as a gift, intended to watch “together” (we both press play at the same time and chat about the movie as it plays, but not actually streaming or sharing a screen). The note attached with the movie reads: “I haven’t seen this one in FOREVER. Such a visually impressive film and yet another great cast. Curious to see how the themes have held up. It’s probably been at least 10 years since I’ve seen this, so it’ll be fun to watch it with a different (older) point of view. Also, I ❤ that the back of this DVD is SO PROUD of their interactive menus – so cute lol”.

I included the comments from my friend because after we watched this movie, I felt like these comments were definitely applicable. The movie truly is a visually impressive film, especially several of the scenes involving the mix of black and white and color, like when David reapplies his mom’s black and white make up because her skin has turned into color. That particular scene was such a strong scene to me because of how intimate it is, with the intimacy not from sexual content but from a family member working so carefully to help another family member hide who they truly are from another family member. David and his mom both want her to be able to be who she truly is but they both know that things in their family will be so fragile if she walks into the living room as she is in full color while her husband is still only in black and white.

Some people learned beauty from sex, some learned from books, some from the idea of exploration, some from art, some from the rain, some from just the beauty in the world around them. I really enjoyed how Pleasantville demonstrated that different things matter to different people and how beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

I think my favorite part of the whole movie is when Jennifer is upstairs in her room, reading, and Skip shows up outside her house, trying to convince her to go have sex with him. Jennifer turns him down to finish reading the book and that’s her defining moment of, “maybe there’s more to me than I think”. Granted, I am a notorious book lover and I’m going to cheer any time someone chooses books over pretty much anything else, but it was still such a perfect example of learning something about yourself that you might not have expected. And then, later, when the book burnings are happening, she saved that book because it was the first thing she’d ever read. Though, I do have to wonder about her decision to stay in Pleasantville, but then after the several weeks (or even months) they’d spent in the show, it had only been the first hour of the marathon, so maybe Jennifer will have plenty of time to go to college and learn a lot and then still make it back to her own time and house by the end of the marathon like 16 hours later. I would like to think she makes it back after getting a law degree or something and then comes back and does really well on her SATs/ACTs and goes on to be a massive success. Maybe she becomes Elle Woods!

Overall, I would say this movie is a solid 3 on my rating scale. I’m happy I own it now and will likely watch it again in the future.

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Throwing Away 2021 and Looking at 2022

I used to do this thing where I would type out a review of the previous year and then my goals for the upcoming year. The last two years have been so hard on all of us. We’re exhausted and burnt out. I read a lot of books and fanfiction in the last two years but didn’t record any of it here. I’ve also watched a lot of movies and tv shows and, again, didn’t record any of it here. Things keep moving forward and I’m going to use up my energy forcing myself to do things I know need to be done, like updating here more often and working more solidly to take my writing seriously.

“But, CJ, you say that every year.”

I know. But I am also about to be at a crossroads in my life. A very important one which will remove some of my safety nets. Which means it’s time to start taking all those leaps I’ve been meaning to take for the last decade or two. It’s time to actually finish editing my novels and get them submitted. It’s time to put in the work to be successful instead of just hoping some sort of magic happens and I become an international best seller without actually doing anything to earn it.

So. Let’s do this.

  1. I’d like to read a book a week and post a review of it. This should get me 52 newly read books at the end of 2022.
  2. I’d like to watch a movie a week and post a review about it. Which should also give me 52 movie reviews at the end of 2022.
  3. I want Affinity ready to start being pitched before July. I think I want to have the excessively lofty and ambitious goal of submitting to Orbit Books, as many of the books I enjoy reading seem to be coming from them these days. In order to do that, I need a literary agent, as they don’t accept unsolicited, unagented requests. So. I have research for an agent and a lot of work to do there, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.
  4. Surveyors and Academy should both be ready to be pitched/submitted by October, which is likely to be a lot easier if Affinity is already in the works and I have an agent. HA! Such lofty goals!
  5. I intend on attending In Your Write Mind (IYWM) in June and hopefully even teaching a module, assuming in-person gatherings are reasonably safe.
  6. I think it would be great if I got a better handle on my life and started working out consistently again. This whole global pandemic thing has made me feel massively unsafe to go to the gym and I am pretty sure my treadmill will start an electrical fire if I turn it on again. Still. I need to figure out something.
  7. I need a house. No. Really. I need a place to live in a year but the housing market sucks so that’s pretty much my hugest stressor in my life right now.
  8. I am definitely going to continue cleaning, organizing, and shredding old paperwork. My goal is to get down to only two boxes for official paperwork, which is saying quite a lot.
  9. I have a booklist prepared from a variety of sources that all have Asexual characters, sometimes even the protagonists, and I’d like to read at least one of those per month and write up a review for it. But I think I’ll also add wlw books to it, as that tends to be most of what I’m reading right now anyway. I especially have a list of wlw with DRAGONS!
  10. I actually submitted to three different chapbook poetry contests just prior to midnight (in three different time zones) on 31 December 2021. I’d like one of those submissions to actually win and for me to have my very own, very first book published in 2022! How cool would that be?!!? And since I already submitted to the contests, I have no more say in whether this goal is achieved or not but it’s still something with potential that makes me happy.
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Book Review: Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells

My first book review of 2022 is Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells (Young Adult, 342 pages).

“Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…

Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.

Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.”

I found this book at the local bookstore while looking for books on the list of wlw with dragons. Since I couldn’t find Shatter the Sky, but I did see Briar Girls, I decided to at least look at it. And I’m so glad I did! The summary sold me on this maybe being a good wlw story and maybe even one with a happy ending (because, honestly, I’m exhausted of bury your gays, queer trauma, and otherwise unhappy stories). Anyway. I brought the book home and finished it in one go.

The story was well-written and easy to read and events flowed naturally. Briar Girls reminded me of some of the more fun stories from my younger days.

You’ve got running and mystery, moving to a new place unexpectedly (which just happens to be a tiny village in the middle of nowhere where everyone clearly knows everyone else’s business), curses, magic, an enchanted forest, and characters who make reasonable decisions, then actually talk to each other when mistakes and miscommunications happen.

This book was so refreshing in so many ways. Lena wasn’t a passive character, though she was caught up in the actions of the story, she never made excuses. When she made mistakes, she owned those mistakes, apologized where necessary, and learned from the experience. She was honest with her actions and her thoughts and she worked to see things from not just her perspective. She understood when she hurt those around her and she worked to respond responsibly instead of allowing her reactions to make things worse and she acknowledges her feelings. I very much enjoyed reading a story with a main character who does the best she can and learns and grows.

I also really enjoyed the other characters in the story. Miranda clearly has a very interesting story but we only get the parts of it she shows and shares with Lena. I’m hoping there will be more books in this series and we’ll get more of Miranda’s story as they continue to adventure around the known (or unknown!) world.

Overall, I am very glad I purchased this book and I look forward to buying more books by this author and from this series in the future. This is definitely at least a 4 on my rating scale and I am definitely going to read it again.

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Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

“Raya and the Last Dragon travels to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together in harmony long ago. But when evil threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned – and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and unite its divided people.”

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie. I have been not really supporting billionaire corporations lately but the internet said some interesting things about the story, the characters, and the amount of effort put into this movie. You can be an artist and tell a wonderful story even if you work in less-than-stellar conditions. I found it unexpectedly when I was running errands today and watched it as soon as I got home.

First of all, I absolutely have to comment on the beyond gorgeous animation and the beautiful soundtrack. The world-building was amazing. Desert lands, a giant pill-bug with a fuzzy interior, insects called “toot and booms”, giant ride-able hunting cats, clothes for each different areas, and a different take on dragons instead of the fire-breathing, western-style ones often portrayed in other modern media. The distinct colors and styles of each area added immense depth to the story. I also think I need to find the soundtrack, as the score to this movie is very good.

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this movie, which was unexpected. And not something I’m going to go into in depth tonight for a variety of reasons. At the current time, I’m going to say this movie is a 4 on my rating scale. I’m very glad I bought it and have already started watching it for the second time since I bought it several hours ago.

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Book Review: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

I started and finished Jacqueline Koyanagi‘s Ascension (science fiction, 331 pages) last night. I have to admit, this book has been on my shelf for years and I just finally read it last night because I wanted an adventurous story about queer women in space, which pretty much sums up this book.

“Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego … and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything – even destroying planets – to get their hands on her!”

The entire cast of this book is incredibly diverse, with everyone just existing as they are without traumatic coming out stories or the agony of not being accepted by their families. Alana’s ex-wife is mentioned on page 10 and when Alana’s sister sees Alana with Tev, the Tangled Axon‘s captain, she immediately assumes they’re romantically involved and is instantly proud of her sister for scoring such a woman. Alana struggles a little bit with polyamorous relationships but it’s not done in a way showing anything other than confusion and a desire to learn, grow, and love. Nova and Marre might be asexual, as neither of them appear to experience sexual attraction to anyone in the book. Slip could be bisexual or pansexual, as she has varied romantic interests throughout the book. Ascension definitely has a lot of representation.

The universe portrayed in this book is a very uncomfortable mirror of the current western world. The economic and physical care differences in this book between normal workers and those who have basically sold out their souls to the othersiders is a stark reflection of the current situation with workers and medical conditions, especially in the United States. Heliodor and the other planets mentioned in this book have fringe areas where true workers live and work and then shining, fake cities created and managed by the othersiders where you sell your freedom and your soul for creature comforts and the lie of a better life. This really isn’t very different from the lives many Americans lead in rural and urban areas for basically anyone who isn’t a millionaire/billionaire. The main character, Alana, spends the entire book dealing with a degenerative sickness which requires twice a day medications or her body shuts down. While there are ways to treat this illness, without proper funds or societal placement, you’re basically written off as expendable. So people like Alana and her aunt Lai spend their entire lives working as hard as they can to save enough money to pay for treatment while those same people who offer the treatment profit from everyone’s pain. Transliminal Solutions owns everything, including the only ways to earn money, and by starving out all the fringe workers, they then even own the entire workforce.

What does that remind you of? Maybe a giant corporation or two being one of the only steady paychecks during a global pandemic that can then steal $62 million in tips, set up anti-unionizing analysts to keep their workers under their boots, and generally value profit for the billionaires over the actual lives of their people? Honestly, I could be talking about the modern western situation or the situation imposed by Transliminal Solutions in Ascension, a book published over seven years ago.

But, CJ, what does this have to do with your book review?

Here’s the thing – the whole purpose of science fiction is to look at the world we know and then ask the question, “what if?” Science fiction takes the technology we know or envision and shows all the ways humans can interact with that technology, demonstrating the absolute humanity in personalities, societies, cultures, technologies, and aliens that are not classified as human at all. Science fiction shows us who we might become and provides tiny tidbits of how the world can go so very, very wrong. In some ways, science fiction functions as a warning or a wake-up call, showing things going wrong and eluding to the reason they went wrong in the first place, which might encourage people living now to work harder to prevent these stories from becoming reality. After all, the protagonists in sci-fi tend to find ways to survive their space adventure and move on to other things, so why can’t we?

Overall, I would probably rate this book as about a three on my rating scale. I’m happy I read it, I’m likely to read it again, and I’m happy I own a copy.

Works cited: Koyanagi, Jacqueline. Ascension. Canada: Masque Books, 2013.

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Graphic Novel Review: Xena Warrior Princess Omnibus Volume 1

Last night, I wanted something to read but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to invest in new characters, stories, and worlds so I pulled the Xena Warrior Princess Omnibus Volume 1 from my shelf. I’d recently rewatched all six seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess and was curious if the omnibus picked up after the end of the 90s television series and it actually did!

Collection Cover Artist: Stjepan Sejic, Collection Design: Bill Tortolini; Contest of Pantheons writer: John Layman, Artist: Fabiano Neves, Colorists: Richard Isanove, Chris Garcia, Letterer: Simon Bowland; Dark Xena writer: John Layman, Artist: Noah Salonga, Colorists: Chris Garcia, Carlos Hernandez of Inlight Studio, Letterer: Simon Bowland; Strange Visitor writer: Keith Champagne, Artist: Noah Salonga, Colorist: Chris Garcia, Letterer: Simon Bowland.

“Revisit Dynamite’s first foray into the fantasy of Xena: Warrior Princess, as we proudly collect Xena’s complete adventures from the 2006-2007 storylines, ‘Contest of Pantheons’ and ‘Dark Xena’, written by the bestselling comic book writer John Layman, plus the special ‘Strange Visitor’ story from Xena Annual #1! Join Xena and her swashbuckling allies Gabrielle, Joxer, and Autolycus as they become embroiled in a feud reaching all the way up to the heavens, courtesy of the machinations of the ruthless Callisto! Also, Gabrielle makes a request of the gods and learns a heart-wrenching lesson about the care with which one much make a wish … leading to an unsettling change in Xena herself.”

I admit that I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would and it’s exactly the read I was looking for last night. The art work was very well done and the characters stayed true to the tv series. Each part of the story had a beginning, middle, and end and each of the three stories came to a satisfactory conclusion.

One of the fun parts about the entire Xena story is how irreverent the story has been to any semblance of historical timelines and mythologies while still paying respect to the source material and other cultures. For example, Gabrielle goes searching for C’Thulon to help her bring Xena back, which is just after a story about the Greek gods and the Egyptian gods going to war over a stolen trinket, and then followed by a story with an encounter with predator-like aliens. Somehow, each of these stories is completely reasonable, for all realism says they shouldn’t make sense together.

I don’t really have a favorite of the three stories in this omnibus, as I believe all three were executed very well. I don’t know enough about actual mythology to form a more detailed opinion on the characterization of the Egyptian gods and Greek gods and their interactions and I certainly didn’t recognize many things mentioned about the Egyptian gods. The Greek gods still had the same level of pettiness shown in the tv show and were just as susceptible to arrogance and bad ideas while Xena and the rest definitely demonstrated their same level of outside-the-box problem solving.

I was definitely amused by Gabrielle’s changing her name to Evvielle in order to join dark Xena’s gang and Joxer did a much more realistic disguise as Jett than he did in the show, but he also didn’t have as much “screen time” in “Dark Xena”. I’m pretty impressed with Gabrielle’s ability to dye her hair, find a skimpy black leather outfit, and appropriate weapons in such a short amount of time.

I remember sitting in a literature class during my university undergraduate studies in the late 90s, listening to a discussion about feminism in modern media and Xena. As an asexual woman, I could think of no better fantasy world than adventuring with your best friend/partner. There was a woman in the class who advocated heavily for Xena and Gabrielle being in a lesbian/lover relationship and I just didn’t get it because that wasn’t part of my own fantasy. So I’m pretty torn about the way representation is handled in shows like Xena. Granted, Xena came out in the 1990s, which was a very different time for diversity and representation. Not that our current 2020s world is better, but it does have at least a few more options on diverse representation. Anyway. In some ways, I appreciate that Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship was never explicitly sexual because it helps appease my asexual heart, but at the same time, representation matters. Even in this omnibus from the 2006-2007 Xena comics, Gabrielle sacrifices everything to get Xena back because, “she’s her friend and she loves her.” While it’s clear how much Xena means to Gabrielle, the word “friend” isn’t really strong enough to convey everything they are to each other and even in 2006-2007, the writers steered away from using stronger language to describe their relationship.

So one the one hand, I’m glad the canon supports me believing Xena and Gabrielle are best friends/soulmates adventuring together but not sexually involved, but on the other hand, I understand how important obvious and irrefutable representation is and how crucial that representation would be for women in the women loving women (wlw) community.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and wish I had more of the omnibus graphic novels of Xena: Warrior Princess to read. I’d rate this as a 3 on my rating scale, as I am likely to read it again at some point in the future. I will probably see if some comic stores near me have any more and look at picking up some to continue reading the story.

Works Cited: Xena Warrior Princess Omnibus Volume 1, Dynamite Comics, 2017. Collection Cover Artist: Stjepan Sejic, Collection Design: Bill Tortolini; Contest of Pantheons writer: John Layman, Artist: Fabiano Neves, Colorists: Richard Isanove, Chris Garcia, Letterer: Simon Bowland; Dark Xena writer: John Layman, Artist: Noah Salonga, Colorists: Chris Garcia, Carlos Hernandez of Inlight Studio, Letterer: Simon Bowland; Strange Visitor writer: Keith Champagne, Artist: Noah Salonga, Colorist: Chris Garcia, Letterer: Simon Bowland.

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Graphic Novel Review: Runaways (Pride and Joy 1 or Volume 1 issues 1-6)

This review is pretty incoherent and not structured as well as I would like. You’ve been warned.

This is going to be a very lengthy, multi-part review of Marvel Comics’ Runaways and is going to contain a huge amount of spoilers as well as lots of details sprinkled throughout the story relevant to my interests. If you’ve never read these comics, I can’t recommend them enough. Runaways is different from other comic books in the sense that the entire story is character driven, continuous, with good emotional content, and they are not trying to be superheroes. There isn’t a huge battle every issue and there really isn’t much involvement with the rest of the Marvel Universe. This entire series functions as a standalone, though other Marvel Comics characters do show up throughout the series. Here’s a link to Rainbow Rowell’s webpage with information on how to read Runaways if you’ve never heard of it and don’t know how to get started.

While mostly focusing on Runaways: Pride and Joy (Runaways 2003 #1-6), comments about the entire series will show up in this review. Written by Brian K. Vaughn, pencils by Adrian Alphona, inks by David Newbold and Craig Yeung, colors by Brian Reber, letters by Paul Tutrone, Chris Eliopoulous, and Randy Gentile, cover art by Jo Chen, collection cover by Takeshi Miyazawa and Brian Reber, assistant editors Stephanie Moore and Mackenzie Cadenhead, and editor C.B. Cebulski.

“Six normal teenagers, linked only by their wealthy parents’ annual business meeting, discover a shocking truth: Their parents are the secret criminal society known as the Pride! For years, the Pride has controlled all criminal activity in Los Angeles, ruling the city with an iron fist. They’ll take any measure necessary to protect their organization and pass on their legacy – but the kids aren’t interested. Together, they run away from home and straight into the adventure of their lives – vowing to turn the tables on their evil legacy.”

Back in late August/early September of 2019, I was travelling on a work trip and I had some time to kill. I found myself in a bookstore (because, really, where else would I go?). I didn’t really feel like picking up a book so I started browsing the graphic novel section, seeing if anything caught my eye. And something did. I remembered seeing something maybe once mentioning good things about a title called Runaways by Marvel Comics. The bookstore had two sets of Runaways trade paperbacks, one numbered 1-9 and a second numbered 1-2. I read the most recent trade paperback, Runaways: Best Friends Forever (which is not going to be discussed in this review but once I write a review up for it, I’ll link it here).

I didn’t know anything about the characters or the story. I had no idea what happened previously. Reading this book addicted me to the entire series. But reading this book before reading anything else in the story probably had a significant impact on my reading of the rest of the story, as I then went back and started at the beginning. The ending of the “Best Friends Forever” storyline definitely skewed what I wanted to see happen in the rest of the series so starting at the beginning after reading this most likely had me looking for clues that may or may not have been intentional throughout the first series of the Runaways.

The story begins with the introduction of Alex Wilder, a computer gamer and the Runaways’ planner. He functions as the catalyst for the Runaways running away and then takes on the responsibilities as their leader. During the Pride’s annual meeting, Alex convinces the others to go with him through a secret passage in his house to spy on their parents. While at the beginning of the story, he complains about the other 5 teenagers, especially about the white guy (Chase Stein) and the dorky girl (Nico Minoru), his attitude changes when Nico shows up having completed a full makeover, designing her own clothes and developing a keen sense of style. Both Alex and Karolina Dean comment on how hot she looks now but it’s obvious Alex had zero interest in pursuing her until she was attractive to him. Karolina, on the other hand, shows interest in Nico from the very beginning, even before the Runaways run away as a flashback from volume 1 issue 17, where she is asking Nico about wearing contacts while Alex sneaks into the secret passage.

Alex always has just the right information to keep the group moving, making sure Molly Hayes and Karolina don’t witness Destiny’s murder at the hands of their parents, and then sending Gert Yorkes with Molly to the bathroom so she doesn’t learn about the murder while the rest of the teens tell Karolina. Nico tries to break the news gently but Chase blurts out the murder. Alex also starts volunteering himself and Nico to pair off, often away from the eyes of the others, and Nico kisses him volume 1 issue 5. Alex is the one who gets the group together after they witness the murder, but it’s Karolina’s idea to meet at the planetarium. Nico follows Alex’s lead and they vote to call the cops, which cues their parents into their knowledge of Destiny’s murder. Alex also convinces them to check Gert’s house for the body in the box Nico and Alex carried to the car at the end of the Pride meeting, and then to Karolina’s house, but then Chase suggests they go to his house before Molly’s.

This chain of events reveals Old Lace, Gert’s deinonychus, and Karolina’s alien heritage before the Runaways encounter with the Minorus and the Steins, which also winds up giving Chase the fistigons and x-ray goggles and Nico gets the Staff of One stabbed into her chest by her mother. After the confrontation, Alex convinces Nico to leave her unconscious parents and the Runaways make an escape, only to take Alex’s idea to attack their parents at the Hayes house in order to rescue Molly. Once Molly is revealed as a mutant with super human strength, all the Runaways have revealed their powers with the exception of Alex.

I have to admit that Chase is my least favorite of the Runaways, especially in the first issues. He does a remarkable job of being a stereotypical heterosexual cisgender teenager, focused mainly on shallow attractiveness and sports.

I didn’t really have much reaction to Gert and Molly for this first book, but I did like Gert’s realism, though not her “whiny” introduction.

A good portion of my attention in this first book was on the interactions between Nico and Karolina and Nico and Alex, mostly for what happens in Best Friends Forever (volume 5 issues 7-12).

In volume 1 issue 2, Nico makes a comment while they’re in the back of the van about how she has a physical stress reaction with food and I believe that translates into a physical stress reaction in general, as she kisses Alex for the first time when she believes they’re all going to die in volume 1 issue 5. She will continue to have these kind of reactions with every male the Runaways encounter throughout the series.

The entire series, Karolina just goes along with what the rest of the Runaways are doing, though mostly just following Nico’s lead. Even Karolina’s mother in the beginning of the series says that Karolina doesn’t have the spine for a fight, and she really doesn’t. Karolina is used mostly throughout the series as a pretty, conventionally attractive blonde who can hide her alien powers and gets hounded by paparazzi for being the child of prominent actors. She never has her own agency and is often just used as a “dumb blonde” stereotype with no ambition or story of her own. I would also say that Karolina is pretty much the most passive character in the Runaways, never really taking action on her own, always waiting for someone to suggest something and then following along.

While it’s mentioned in volume 1 issue 18 that Nico and Karolina were both in therapy, neither of them indicate this is healthy therapy at all.

Waaaay back in Runaways volume 1 issue #3, when Karolina finds out about her powers that she’s probably an alien, her first comment is to say, “I wish we’d never learned about any of this! I was much happier being in the dark! I hope our parents *do* kill us now!” And then in volume 1 issue #10, when they have to deal with Topher the vampire, Karolina offers herself up so that he doesn’t feed on anyone else. She doesn’t do it because her blood is basically sunshine but because she doesn’t believe she’s a good person and she doesn’t want to be around to get worse. After things with Cloak and Dagger (Runaways volume 1 issues 11-12) go badly, Karolina goes from wanting to punch bad guys to feel better to wanting the adult superheroes to deal with their situation, as she doesn’t feel like she has any fight left in her. And then in volume 1 issue 13 where Karolina finds out that her parents’ reaction to having a kid is to think about how having a child would likely get her parents on the cover of People, it only serves to devalue Karolina in her own eyes even more.

Overall, this first book of the Runaways is different than other comic books in the sense that it’s telling a coherent story. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to read this as it came out because you wouldn’t have been able to read any of this story without having read the previous issues because this is an actual story, with a set beginning, middle, and end, unlike the rest of the comic book world that just keeps going forever with a “villain-of-the-week” or “random personality changes to create a plot” kind of thing. I am absolutely glad I own this and I definitely reread it frequently.

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Another year, another decade, a new chapter

I was going to add a picture here from the walk I took around the local marsh but I’m not quite sure how to do that with the new layout. Seems as though being absent from your own website for 6 months to a year means a whole bunch of things change and then you feel super old for not knowing how anything works anymore. So it goes.

I don’t know what the future will bring. After everything that happened in 2020, I’m not really going to say much about goals, aspirations, plans, or resolutions for the new year. I’m sure someone on the internet out there is doing a full recap of everything we’ve lost this year.

I would have really liked it if we learned the correct lessons from covid-19.

1) I would have liked it if we learned “essential workers” are all those people who actually do work; the obvious workers such as the retail workers, the hospital workers, the food sellers, the first responders, and the less obvious workers such as content creators, artists, musicians, writers, and creative folks of all varieties.

2) I would have really appreciated if we as a country and as a world took the time to realize how detrimental it is for all of us to be working 8+ hours a day and surviving in our lives just to make money for other people. I spent two full weeks this year in home quarantine where I wasn’t allowed to leave my house for any reason. During that time, I got so many home projects done and made so much progress on my actual life that it was hard to go back to occupying a desk for a specified amount of time every day in order to meet someone else’s goals.

3) I pay all my taxes, all the time. Apparently, those with the most finances and resources not only don’t pay their taxes but my tax dollars apparently also go to give billionaires more money. I’d like it very much if my taxes went to pay for infrastructure and public services instead of to dump more money into the pockets of billionaires while the “middle class” becomes homeless and jobless. I’d like very much for my tax dollars to be used to support the actual *people* of this country and not a small handful of arrogant a$$holes who believe their puny lives are more valuable than the lives of those who wait tables or fix cars.

4) Workers should all be treated better.

5) Medical care should never be tied to employment.

6) Housing should never be allowed to be used as a source of income. This is specifically in regards to those who are landlords and whose sole income is charging people rent. Most of those landlords don’t view their tenants as people but as money, they don’t keep the buildings in good repair, and people who want to buy a house as a genuine place to live can’t do so because a small handful of people buy up all the properties and drive up the purchasing cost. I have a stable job with good benefits. I have been saving money my entire career in order to buy a house in my home state so I can live and work in a place that makes me happy. Now that I’m finally back in my home state, I can’t afford to buy a house because those with all the finances and resources already own everything and then sell it for a ridiculous price that only the other rich people can afford.

7) Billionaires serve no purpose and should be taxed at 90% of every penny they make over $999,999.99.

8) Teachers and educators should be treated better and paid accordingly for the amount of work actually required of them. Teachers are often expected to pay for resources out of their own pockets and often work long hours they aren’t paid or compensated for. Teachers are providing the future of the country and the world and they should be treated with dignity and respect.

9) Internet should be included as basic/public infrastructure. Everyone should have access to affordably priced internet, especially with our dependence on technology for the current education during a pandemic. Even after the pandemic, internet should be considered public infrastructure.

This year, I learned how positive it is for my mental health to dedicate time to my own life. The pandemic slowed things down a lot at work, which gave me time at home I would not have had. I was able to get rid of 27 pounds of shredded paperwork. I rebuilt Lego City. My family learned about table top games and how to use video chat platforms to play games and hang out, which has been amazing. Still not as great as in person, but you do what you can with what you have. I was invited to join a dungeons and dragons campaign and have become addicted to our monthly d&d sessions. I wrote and published fanfiction for the first time in my life and learned about the amazingly supportive fanfic community. I wrote. I edited. I started learning how to draw. I can now cook delicious rice that doesn’t explode. I went camping in my home state. Many of my friends have reestablished themselves as pen pals from all over the states and we send real mail to each other!

I want to take a few minutes here to thank you for being in my life. If we are family, friends, buddies, acquaintances, people who barely talk, strangers passing each other in the night, internet mutuals, or someone we each used to know, thank you for being in my life. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for going to movies with me, hanging out at the bookstore with me, going rock climbing with me, traveling around the world with me, inviting me to games, and sending me cards. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in and being willing to honestly discuss those beliefs with me. Thank you for teaching me how to make delicious food. Thank you for laughing with me. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for talking with me. Thank you for being you.

So even though 2020 was a total dumpster fire, maybe I, at least, learned some positive lessons from everything we went through. I also made the concentrated effort to close this year as well as possible. I woke up this morning and went for a long walk around the marsh. I stripped the sheets and blankets from my bed, rotated the mattress, flipped and rotated the mattress cover, put away all the laundry from yesterday, remade the bed, flipped and rotated the couch cushions, washed the couch cover and blankets, and even washed Puppers, my giant stuffed dog!

I don’t know what the next chapter of my life looks like, but at least I am starting it with a clean, comfortable bed and a sleeping room with everything clean and put away correctly. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do 🙂

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Learning and Reflections

I remember walking in the hallways at work, talking about my upcoming vacation to Australia and how excited I was to finally travel to another country for entertainment purposes. I remember talking with one of the people who had been with the company longer than I and knew more things. I remember joking about how people were overreacting to covid-19 and that this wasn’t different than any other flu season.

That was in February 2020.

By the time vacation started in March, things were starting to shut down. It seemed surreal, like nothing could actually impact us. From our first day in Australia until the day we left, much earlier than originally planned, the number of people on our scheduled trips dwindled. While this was wonderful for us, as it meant instead of dealing with large groups of tourists most of our tours involved just us now, it also meant that covid-19 was a real, global pandemic. I monitored the Department of State information very closely and a message came through, stating if you were a U.S. citizen travelling abroad, return home immediately or risk being stuck indefinitely.

We bought expensive plane tickets and came home the next day.

I came home and went into immediate quarantine. Thankfully, I had someone who was checking my mail and as soon as we landed at the airport, she went to the grocery store and fully stocked my fridge and pantry so that I could go directly into my house and not risk infection, either of myself or others.

This is going to sound pretty horrible, but those two weeks in quarantine were really awesome. I’ve been in a world of extremely high expectations for my entire life, where there was always work to do and never enough time to do anything. But finally, FINALLY, I was in a position where I had nothing but time to myself to work on all those really big, really time-consuming projects I’ve been meaning to do forever. I shredded 27 pounds of old paperwork. I reorganized my library. I set up my home writing and creative office. I sorted almost all my digital files and started work on really, hardcore, cleaning up my life.

About two days after my quarantine started, my state shut down. When my quarantine lifted and I was required to go into work every now and again on the rotating occupation roster, I remember having to drop off someone at the airport. It was the ultimate in dystopian future fiction. The airport was empty. The highways were empty. Parking lots were empty. No people roamed inside or out.

I can only think of a small handful of times when I’ve felt that alone and isolated in my entire life.

Time passed. People got bored and did their own thing instead of abiding by the rules designed to keep us all safe. What could have been an easily mitigated situation instead became a true global pandemic.

I feel like we haven’t learned the correct lessons from this pandemic. I feel like we should be learning that essential workers aren’t CEOs or office workers. Essential workers are people in retail and food service. Essential workers are truck drivers and delivery personnel. And yet, those who do the least, those who are already billionaires who treat their employees like garbage, increased their own worth by even more billions of dollars while people were evicted and jobless during a global pandemic.

I feel like we need to treat our educators better. I feel like we need to treat our essential personnel better. I feel like the billionaires who got even richer and didn’t do anything to help the “lesser” people should not be able to be billionaires and hoard so much wealth and so many resources. I feel like those of us who are genuine workers banded together and showed (or in some cases, learned) kindness. People created art and worked to reach out to each other in whatever way made sense to keep everyone safe.

On my list of things to do is learn how to draw. I am also taking a lot of online classes to help me switch jobs when that becomes necessary in the coming years. So here is my very first piece of digital art.

01_mountain_water

I have a lot more I could say on this but it’s getting late for me and I am likely to have a busy weekend. Maybe as I get back into the habit of writing here, my thoughts will be more coherent. Thanks for reading.

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