Book Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

As you can’t really read Six of Crows without reading Crooked Kingdom (Young Adult 536 pages) by Leigh Bardugo, I read Crooked Kingdom in the same weekend when I borrowed both from my local library.

“Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s sunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.”

So this book also started with a first chapter from a character who had really nothing to do with the main characters and their story, but is something that is mentioned as background knowledge throughout the story. I still think it’s an interesting way of starting a novel and it seems to be working out very well for this series but I’m not sure it’s something I would replicate in my own writing.

While I didn’t mention it in my review for Six of Crows, one of the big draws of these two books for me has been how each of the characters are absolutely not neurotypical. What does that mean, you might ask. It means that each of these characters have to often battle their own mental health concerns in order to accomplish anything. In this book, there are characters struggling with gambling, drug addiction, anxiety, haphephobia (the fear of being touched), and a variety of other concerns many neurotypical people may not have exposure to. The characters are never magically cured of their mental health concerns, but with the support of the people who care about them and their own strength of will, they are each able to find positive coping mechanisms to make things more bearable. I think that says a lot about the positive message that even a dark and gritty fantasy series like this can have for readers – that life never has to be perfect, there are people who care about you who will love you just as you are, and you can survive just about anything and be better for it.

Jesper’s addiction to gambling is shown as the compulsion it truly is. Jesper knows that his gambling isn’t okay and he knows that his gambling has gotten him and the people he cares about into a lot of really bad situations. He describes gambling as the draw to find that bigger high like when we was losing and then pulls off a massive win and how he’s always seeking that bigger high. Jesper seemed okay with his lifestyle until he realizes that his gambling has endangered his father’s livelihood. Colm, Jesper’s father, loves and misses Jesper so much that he travels to Ketterdam in search of Jesper and a lot of Jesper’s backstory is revealed. Inej says it best on page 338: “There’s a wound in you, and the tables, the dice, the cards – they feel like medicine. They soothe you, put you right for a time. But they’re poison, Jesper. Every time you play, you take another sip. You have to find some other way to heal that part of yourself. Stop treating your pain like it’s something you imagined. If you see the wound is real, then you can heal it.”

Nina’s addiction to jurda parem is painful to read because it shows what kind of special hell withdrawal is for anyone trying to come off any type of massively addictive drugs. Reading about her struggle and how she treated everyone when the effects of the withdrawal impacted her the most was an accurate reflection of how people in that position will often do anything and everything to get more of whatever substance they crave. She sometimes treated the people around her, especially Matthias, horribly and she knew it but there was nothing she could do to change the physical impact of the drug’s withdrawal except wait it out and be as strong as she could. I have to say, that takes a lot of courage and she wasn’t always successful in behaving as well as she would have liked. Matthias and the rest of the crew helped her and supported her through everything and that was really moving.

Nina really went through a lot in this book, as did all of the characters, but she also had to face something like a loss of identity, as she couldn’t use her Grisha powers anymore without severe repercussions. As she’d grown up with her Heartrender powers and those powers are a key identifying component to her former life as a soldier and member of her society, the loss of those powers impacted her to her very core. She also had to face her people again, standing side-by-side with the person who captured her and intended to take her to his people to watch their religious zealotry justify the genocide of her people. She had to defend the man she loved because of their separate cultures, at war with each other. There is a lot in this book about learning and growing and not judging other people based solely on the brainwashing of their culture or upbringing. And that applies just as much to our modern culture today as it does to this series set in a fantastical world.

While the story itself was interesting, it’s definitely the characters who made this book and this series a worthwhile read. Overall, this book is a solid three on my rating scale and at some point, I might investigate adding this book and Six of Crows to my own collection.

Bardugo, Leigh. Crooked Kindgom. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016.

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Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Based on the recommendation of one of my friends, I picked up Six of Crows (Young Adult 462 pages) by Leigh Bardugo several weeks ago. I actually read it the same weekend I borrowed it from the library but am only just now writing up the review, as life tends to get in the way of just about everything.

“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price – and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first.”

I constantly forgot that the characters in this novel were supposed to be young teenagers and so every time their ages were brought up, it often took me by surprise. The setting in this novel is dark and gritty and absolutely doesn’t sugar coat life on the streets where slavery, human trafficking, violence, and crime are common and everyone is someone else’s property.

I’m not sure if this is a spoiler or not but it’s a minor enough point that it won’t ruin anything about the story. This book is fairly unique in the sense that it started the first chapter with characters who aren’t a part of the rest of the story. While the events that transpire in the first chapter are mentioned elsewhere in the book, the characters themselves aren’t, which is an interesting way of starting a book, in my opinion. I can’t think of any examples where I’ve read other stories where the characters in the first chapter aren’t any of the main characters and are mostly just “throw-aways” like they were here. From a writing perspective, I’m still not sure how I feel about this method of beginning a story. However, this book and its sequel are clearly doing very well so I’d say it must be working for this series and author.

The next viewpoint character is Inej and she is definitely a character I found a great deal to like and enjoy. I can’t recall reading any other series where a main character is such a solid rock climber and the little tidbits about her special shoes and her climb up the super-heated chimney evoked phantom aches in my fingers and toes. I also greatly appreciate Inej as a character for a lot of reasons, probably most heavily because she reminds me a lot of someone who means a lot to me. In fact, most of Inej’s abilities, especially at climbing things, her personality, and her morals remind me a lot of someone who changed everything about my entire life about four years ago. Inej is quiet and observant and seems to always believe the best in the people around her. She’s a loyal and trustworthy friend and she actively works to not hurt people, unless you betray the people she’s loyal to – then she’s absolutely ruthless and merciless. She uses violence as another tool to protect the people who matter in her life and she’s rather brutal when she needs to be. She’s never violent just for the sake of violence. When violence is necessary, she will absolutely ensure that she solves the problem permanently. She also has a really big heart and she cares more about the people in her life than she really lets on, which is remarkable, considering her living environment. Obviously, Inej is my favorite character from this book and I feel like I can empathize with her on many levels. She just sort of makes sense to me.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is dark and gritty and it was often difficult to remember that all six of the point of view characters are supposed to be teenagers. In the world these characters live in, being small and over-looked would be extremely beneficial to survival in a lot of ways, but it also highlighted some fairly nasty aspects of the world in which we actually live. While this story takes place in a purely fantastical world, many of the mentioned social and societal issues are prevalent in our own society today. The brothels, the human trafficking, and the religious vigor with which an entire society will hunt and perform genocide on others just for being different is sickening, but also a part of even our “modern” society today. If you ever did even the basic research on modern sex-trafficking, you would find that old, privileged men are purchasing rights to use and abuse the bodies of young women who were stolen, bought, or sold because the men have the resources and the young women have no options to free themselves from their lives. And all of this is shown in this book – the slavery, the stealing of young women from their families, and those with resources who make leaving the system near impossible.

Did I mention I had problems remembering this is supposedly a YA book with teenage characters?

One of the other really interesting aspects of this book to me is that there is a relationship between Nina, a Heartrender, and Matthias, a druskelle who believes her very existence should be terminated for her special Grisha powers. The interesting part about Nina and Matthias is that they absolutely love each other and neither of them is happy with this situation. The reason this is such a fascinating relationship to me is because this is exactly how love works. Sometimes, love makes sense, but sometimes, love defies all reason and better judgment. I kind of feel like love is a connection that can’t be forced – if you love someone and there’s a connection there, that connection will be powerful and consuming and won’t react well to being ignored. A lot of the relationship between Nina and Matthias showed not only what a powerful force love is but also how much people can change and grow because of love.

As for the story, this novel has a rather interesting heist and a lot of really interesting details. Kaz is clearly a very thorough planner and he also doesn’t share any of his deep plans with anyone. His plans are very in-depth and often present unexpected solutions.

Overall, I’d say this book is a solid three on my rating scale. I enjoyed reading it and I might see if I can find it to add it to my own collection at some point in the future, as the copy I read was from my local library.

Bardugo, Leigh. Six of Crows. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015.

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Book Review: Steel Blood by J.L. Gribble

I actually purchased the very first copy ever sold of J.L. Gribble‘s Steel Blood (Urban Fantasy 188 pages) back in June at the In Your Write Mind workshop back in June, as it was part of the initial pre-book launch, but I didn’t get a chance to read it until this weekend.

“As her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract – to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire. For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray. Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness. This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.”

Steel Blood is the third book in the Steel Empires series and I enjoyed both of the first books so much that I basically devoured them both in the same day, back-to-back. (Here are some links if you want to check up on my previous reviews of Steel Victory and Steel Magic).

As with the previous two books, the world-building here is fantastic. This book focuses more on the Qin Empire, which draws many of its cultural roots from Chinese culture. One of my absolute favorite parts of this series is how the cultural aspects feel much deeper than the surface paintbrush you tend to get with many “diverse” books these days. There are so many aspects of the Qin Empire which feel like part of the culture and it’s all the little details that really support that, things like not toasting by clanking glasses together, to the respect and ancestor worship, to the boat used to transport the characters up to the Qin Empire. The clothes and fashion are different, the tastes in food are different, the views on trade and the outside world are different, and the basic mannerisms are all different. This is one of those very few series where the diversity in the books isn’t a paintbrush but rather a solid representation of different views and different cultures. Even the names are accurate reflections of the source culture.

But because this series is sort of like an alternate history urban fantasy, each of the Empires has distinct ties to their respective source material, but have changed and evolved differently in this timeline than in the world we’re familiar with. I think that was a really interesting way of being able to also show the evolution of culture while still respecting the source material.

The characters in this book continue to be people with a variety of depth and interests. Victory is the main focus for this novel and she’s definitely filled with snarkiness and sarcasm, which made it so I was laughing through most of this book. The writing style is such that I found a good deal of humor with the situations and the characters themselves. I empathize with Victory a lot because she’s in a situation where she’s trying to fulfill her contractual obligations but also take care of the very young and passionate, who do not often think about how their actions could have reactions bigger than they understand. I believe the catch phrase is “Victory is tired of your shit.” Which also amused me greatly.

There is also a scene near the beginning involving oceans and sunlight and it was a very moving scene. I’m not going to say much more about it because it’s one of those things you really need the context of the story and characters to really appreciate.

Overall, this book was well-written with solid, truly diverse characters, fantastic world-building, and a tone that made me laugh. I would probably rate this as a low four on my rating scale. I’m quite pleased that I own this book and I will happily continue to buy each subsequent book in the series as they become available.

Gribble, J.L. Steel Blood. Maryland: Dog Star Books, 2017.

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Movie Review: Ant Man

Ant-Man came out in 2015 when I was heavily engaged in doing work things and I just didn’t get a chance to watch it. As I was hanging out in Baltimore yesterday, it was mentioned that I’d never seen it and the decision was made that this must be rectified.

“Forced out of his own company by former protégé Darren Cross, Dr. Hank Pym recruits the talents of Scott Lang, a master thief just released from prison. Lang becomes Ant-Man, trained by Pym and armed with a suit that allows him to shrink in size, possess superhuman strength and control an army of ants. The miniature hero must use his new skills to prevent Cross, also known as Yellowjacket, from perfecting the same technology and using it as a weapon for evil.”

I laughed throughout most of this movie. To be fair, environmental considerations often play into our memories and emotions of how well or poorly we respond to stimuli. With that disclosure, I will say that I was hanging out with someone fantastic, on a very comfortable couch, with wonderful cats purring and being cuddly, after a fantastic writerly weekend.

The story didn’t follow the comics the way I thought it would and that’s pretty much my own fault for making assumptions about the story and the characters without actually seeing it myself and forming my own opinions. One of the key reasons I didn’t go out of my way to see this movie when it was in theaters, even though work was being exceptionally busy, was because of what I’d read about the Ant-Man/Wasp storyline and how Wasp wasn’t even involved, even though she was pretty much the forming member of the Avengers in the comic books many years ago. As it turns out, Wasp was mentioned and her role in the movie was similar as in the comics all those years ago. That’s pretty much the only spoilers I’m going to give about that portion, but I will say that I vastly misjudged this movie purely based on other people’s opinions.

I liked Scott’s character quite a bit. He was smart and he had valid reasons for his knowledge base. I like how he kept trying to do things “the right way” but the movie also clearly demonstrated how difficult second chances can be in the real world. Scott was about as real as you can be as a brand-new, know-nothing superhero and it was endearing. He had a very steep learning curve and he did the best he could, which was inspirational.

I have to say that I really enjoyed some of the “epic” battles because of the ridiculousness of Thomas the Tank and how fantastic the visuals are for this movie. The special effects were definitely on point and I thought the differences between the small world and the normal world were done quite nicely.

Overall, I would rate this movie as a solid three, or perhaps even a high three, on my rating scale. While I do not currently own a copy of this movie, I feel as though it is something worth investigating for purchase, as it’s a movie I would easily and happily watch again.

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Movie Review: Legally Blonde

So it’s been a really, really long time since I saw this movie, but I decided to watch Legally Blonde while doing some chores around my apartment.

“Elle Woods is a California blonde with couture clothes, fabulous friends and the hottest boyfriend on campus. So when Warner Huntington III suddenly dumps her and heads for Harvard Law School, Elle takes matters into her own perfectly manicured hands. She enrolls too! Now getting Warner back should be a snap, right? Wrong! Elle’s about to begin the toughest fight of her life – for love, honor, justice and respect for blondes everywhere!”

There are a lot of reasons why this movie didn’t appeal to me when it first came out and I was younger. I guess one of those reasons is that I was younger and I allowed the stereotypes and other people’s opinions to influence my tastes.

One of the best parts about this movie is all the support that they all give each other. Elle decided she’s going to go to Harvard Law and her counselor just says, okay, well, you need great recommendations from your professors, at least a 175 on your LSATs, and a great letter. Her counselor doesn’t say Elle can’t do it, her counselor just tells her what she needs to do in order to be successful. Elle then enlists her sorority house to help her study. She does nothing but study the entire time, while she’s on the elliptical, instead of partying, while she’s getting her nails done, whenever she can. Her studying pays off when she gets a 179 on her LSATs and is admitted to Harvard Law.

The day that the results of her LSATs arrive at the sorority house, the whole house celebrates with her, showing that the success of one is the success of many. They are supportive of her, even though they don’t necessarily understand her decision to go to Harvard Law. Her friends and her sorority house support her when Warner breaks up with her and they support her through her decisions during the entire movie.

Elle is actually very respectful of the people she encounters throughout the movie. I can’t think of any time when she is purposefully hurtful or disrespectful of anyone else. She accepts everyone exactly as they are and she offers suggestions to make people healthier.

I also liked how this movie showed that sometimes, first impressions are not always correct. When you first see Elle, you think that she’s a stereotypical rich blonde but she’s actually dedicated and smart. She takes the time to learn what she needs to learn and also is a person of integrity by not violating the trust of her client. When Elle first meets Vivian, they don’t get along and they work to show-up or embarrass each other, but as the movie progresses, they start learning to work together and to become friends.

Overall, I’d say this movie is a low three on my rating scale. I’m glad I have a copy of it now so I can watch it whenever I need a supportive, feel-good movie, but I don’t think it’ll be a movie that I could or would watch repeatedly.

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Video Game Review: Undertale

I’m not quite sure when I first heard about this video game called “Undertale” or how. I know that it showed up in my tumblr feed and a friend mentioned it back in October 2015. As I was currently travelling and very busy when she brought it up, I didn’t really think about it much. More time passed, things at work became busier, and I finally found myself with a bit of free time, so I decided to play Undertale, as it seemed like a fairly simple game that wouldn’t really take me too much time.

I was told way back in October 2015 that the best way to play the game was to not know anything about it so that you could give honest reactions. In fact, the exact comment on the game to me was: “Undertale is a special case, because the less you know about it, the better the experience. xD But I’ll say this: it’s very funny, it has excellent music, and it subverts genre expectations by being an RPG in which you don’t have to kill enemies.”

So what can I say about Undertale that won’t spoil the game for anyone who hasn’t played it?

There are three ways of playing the game: pacifist, neutral, and genocide. I guess playing the game in each path results in different character interactions and different options in the game. I can’t vouch for any of the other routes, as the only play through I did was the total pacifist option where I didn’t kill anyone. The battles were sometimes hilarious in their resolution and some of them made me feel a lot better about my choices to not kill them. However, there were two battles that seriously tested my abilities. The first major battle I just couldn’t figure out also involved a dialogue that said something along the lines of: “You remind a certain character that they have already killed you more times than you can count. The character nods grimly.” And the second major battle I just couldn’t figure out involved a lot of really frustrated, disappointed, and unhappy messages while I chatted with the person who recommended this game to me. With careful encouragement, and maybe a light hint or two, I made it through and I’m very happy that I did.

I will say that I definitely enjoyed the game. The characters are interesting and very deep. Each character is completely unique, has different goals, motivations, abilities, and passions. After meeting the characters, laughing with them or at their shenanigans, and hearing about their world, I didn’t really have the heart to kill them. I think it’s likely that I got more out of the character interaction because of my choice to not kill anyone and I was rewarded with a much more hilarious game with a lot of very amusing romantic pairings.

For a computer game with very “low” graphic quality and a retro-feeling, text-based gaming style, it was beautifully done. I absolutely agree with Sam’s Undertale review when she says that the telling of this story could only be done through a computer/video game. Every decision that you, as the player, makes during the game is used to create the rest of the gaming experience and the story wouldn’t make sense without your interaction, or without the choices you make, or even without how hard you have to work to get through certain sections.

The music to this game is so absolutely addictive that I ordered the soundtrack and I also set up my audio recording device and recorded something like half an hour of my game play. While the soundtrack has not arrived yet, I am excited about it.

Overall, I would say this game is a four on my rating scale. There are really only two reasons why I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy playing this game again, but I’m not going to tell you what they are because I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t played before. One reason is because of that second major battle that I just couldn’t figure out. The other reason? That one will be a mystery because I don’t want to ruin the ending 🙂

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Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword by Cressida Cowell

This week’s book was the ninth book in the How to Train Your Dragon series, How to Train Your Dragon: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword (Young Adult 355 pages) by Cressida Cowell.

“A dragon rebellion is coming – filled with the meanest, nastiest dragons in the Archipelago. Razor-wings, Vampire Ghouldeaths, and Tonguetwisters are attacking Vikings and seem to be seeking one soul in particular: Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third! Only a King can save them … and only a champion with all of the King’s Lost Things can be King. In his adventures, Hiccup has collected quite a few ‘things’ himself. But can a scrawny Viking save the entire Archipelago from certain doom?”

There is absolutely no way I can talk about the best parts of this book without massive spoilers. So if you haven’t read this book (and, to be honest, the whole series to this point) and you want to be surprised by the events in this book, I recommend you stop reading this review right now so nothing is spoiled or ruined for you.

One of the things that I like the most about this series is that all the people who have every right to be a hero are the ones shown to be the most lacking as people. Snotlout, who is a large, beefy, Viking youth, should be a hero. Throughout the series, Snotlout is better at all the Viking tasks the Viking youths are trained in and he behaves as they are trained to behave, by being rude and a bully. Snotlout is shown to be one of the least fit potential leaders in all of the Viking tribes, and yet, he becomes chief of the Hooligans at the end of this book because of Hiccup’s slave mark.

Flashburn should also be a hero. He is a brilliant sword fighter and he works on multiple hero quests. But in the end, he’s selfish and focused only on what is best for him. Hiccup is the only character out of all of the potential leaders who continuously uses a variety of brains, skill, diplomacy, and luck to accomplish impossible tasks while also thinking of the welfare of the humans and of the dragons. He is an unlikely hero, but someone whose character is built out of compassion, which makes him a much more worthwhile hero than those who are supposed to be labelled as heroes.

This series just continues to get better and better. There are a couple of places in this story where you think that it’s going to turn out like some of the other young adult fantasy stories with a happy ending and everything, or where things will just magically work out for the hero, like things have in the past. But that’s not how this book works at all. Hiccup does manage to accomplish some really impossible things, as he has in all the previous books, but sometimes, things just don’t work out.

He finds the crown and gives hope to the Wodensfang and he has a good portion of the King’s Things. He wins the sword fighting competition and things look like they might actually work out. Then the witch with perfect timing destroys everything Hiccup has done and everything Hiccup could accomplish.

One of the most moving parts of this entire book is when Fishlegs stands up to all the Vikings and publicly states how he still believes in Hiccup, no matter what. And while Camacazi didn’t turn her back on Hiccup as the rest of the Vikings did, she also didn’t stand up for Hiccup at that moment like Fishlegs did. She was defiant in her own way and she understood when Hiccup drew away the entire dragon horde to follow him and save the Vikings. The loyalty of friends is truly shown when life is at its worst and this entire section was very powerfully done.

At the end of this book, Hiccup has lost everything; his friends, his family, all of the King’s Things, his status as a Viking, his freedom. And still he promises to fight to make the world a better place. Hiccup’s life has never been easy and he still works to do better and to make the world a better place. This is what a real hero looks like.

Overall, this book is easily a high three on my rating scale. I’m happy I own it and I’m positive I will read this book again in the future.

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011.

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Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart by Cressida Cowell

Today’s book was the eighth book in the How to Train Your Dragon series, How to Train Your Dragon: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart (Young Adult 293 pages) by Cressida Cowell.

“Stranded on the exceptionally dangerous, and possibly haunted, Beach of the Broken Heart, Hiccup must face UG the Uglithug and complete the impossible task – or die trying. Along the way, he’ll have to battle Berserks, dodge Scarers, and save Fishlegs from being fed to the Beast, all while being hunted down by an old enemy with a dark secret about the mysterious Lost Throne. With Toothless by his side, and time to stage his rescue running out, what’s a Hero to do?”

I think this was probably the best book in this series for me so far. That’s probably because there’s a lot of emotionally charged parts of this book that deal with how history really isn’t anything like the fantasy stories read for entertainment purposes. In real history, bad things happen to the heroes and the stories that you hope don’t wind up being true about betrayal and selfishness are just a part of history. I guess that’s one of the biggest draws of reading fantasy and other genre fiction – for just a little bit, the reader can be transporter to a world where dragons exist and the characters are heroes who make positive change into the world in which they live.

But the real world isn’t like that.

There is a story of deeply bonded friendship in this novel and it’s a very moving story to read because it talks about family and hope and believing the best in people can change the world. There is also the opposite which happens in this book where believing the worst in people or misunderstandings can create horrible events that hurt everyone involved.

I’m not really going to say much more about this book because I don’t want to give any spoilers away. I did enjoy it overall and would probably rate it as a minimum of a high three on my rating scale. I’m glad I own it and I am highly likely to reread this book in the future, even if I don’t reread other books in the series first.

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.

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Movie Review: Logan

Upon the recommendations of many and because I was already out running errands today, I went to see Logan.

“In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X somewhere on the Mexican border. However, Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, pursued by dark forces.”

I think that I must have seen this movie at the exact right time and exact right theater. I first attempted to go to the giant IMAX near me but had missed the first show of the day by about 15 minutes. I knew that there would be about that long just of previews, but the movie theater line was also very long and I knew I wouldn’t make it through the line in time for the movie. So I went to one of the older theaters and it was actually a lot nicer than the large IMAX where I’ve seen so many movies recently. I think the movie only had about five rows and maybe could seat 40-50 people. The seats were tall and comfortable and there were maybe 20 people total. It was nice to be in a non-crowded, small theater to watch a movie like this.

This movie was pretty much exactly what I expected, based on the two or so previews I actually saw and the comments I’d heard or read before I attended the movie today. It was a very dark and definitely not a common perspective on the cost and price for being different. The story-telling and the character development were both powerfully done. Even the characters that were only on screen for a short period of time were fully developed and had stories of their own. This movie lacks a lot of expensive CGI, explosions, and excessive special effects, but it more than makes up for it with fantastic story-telling. In fact, I think if movies spent more time on story and character development and less on flashy special effects, we would have a lot more quality movies.

Overall, this movie was probably a solid three on my rating scale. I don’t really want to say too much about the details for the movie or how I feel and why because I think that my thoughts might lessen the emotional impact and I wouldn’t want to do that for anyone.

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TV Show Review: Avatar: the Last Airbender: Book One: Water

Two years ago, in March 2015, I purchased and binge-watched the entire the Legend of Korra and so it only seemed fitting to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender. I started with the first season, Avatar: the Last Airbender: Book One: Water which was produced by Nickelodeon.

“Water. Earth. Fire. Air. My grandmother used to tell me stories about the old days, a time of peace when the Avatar kept balance between the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads. But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar mastered all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless fire benders. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years have passed and the Fire Nation is nearing victory in the war. Two years ago, my father and the men of my tribe journeyed to the Earth Kingdom to help fight against the Fire Nation, leaving me and my brother to look after our tribe. Some people believe that the Avatar was never reborn into the Air Nomads and that the cycle is broken. But I haven’t lost hope. I still believe that somehow the Avatar will return to save the world.”

The first season of Avatar: the Last Airbender has twenty episodes, the Boy In the Iceberg, the Avatar Returns, the Southern Air Temple, the Warriors of Kyoshi, the King of Omashu, Imprisoned, the Spirit World (Winter Solstice, Part 1), Avatar Roku (Winter Solstice, Part 2), the Waterbending Scroll, Jet, the Great Divide, the Storm, the Blue Spirit, the Fortuneteller, Bato of the Water Tribe, the Deserter, the Northern Air Temple, the Waterbending Master, the Siege of the North Part 1, and the Siege of the North Part 2.

The first thing that I’ll say is that Aang is not Korra. I guess I’m one of the awkward people who watched the Legend of Korra before even touching Avatar: the Last Airbender so it’s very different for me watching Avatar: the Last Airbender. In a lot of ways, it’s interesting because I’m getting some of the history that was mentioned in passing from watching Korra. But it’s also very, very different because Aang is a very young, very immature boy and Korra, while young, is not nearly as immature as Aang. Aang does a lot of things that are beyond immature, but I guess that’s part of the charm and part of the character arcs. It allows Aang to learn and grow as a character.

There are a lot of really great characters, especially Katara and Sokka. It’s fantastic to see siblings as the heroes of a story. They disagree about all the things that siblings would disagree about, but they are also there for each other without fail. They also have completely different strengths. Katara is a symbol of hope in one of the biggest ways and Sokka is dedicated in a way that’s rare in any character.

Sokka has a very strong character arc, even in just the first season. In the fourth episode, the Avatar crew gets ambushed by the Kyoshi warriors, who just happen to all be women. Sokka feels like he is supposed to be some sort of macho man and that no women could possibly have defeated a great warrior like him and he challenges them, very disrespectfully. When they kick his butt again, he goes away in shame. But then, he realizes that being a great warrior isn’t dependent on gender. He apologizes in the most fantastic and humble way possible. He comes back into their practice area and admits that he was wrong in the rude way he treated them. He shows them the absolute maximum amount of respect and admits that he should have showed them that respect from the very beginning. He also requests, extremely politely, for them to train him. They agree to do so, but in return, he must abide by all of their warrior traditions, including attire and weapons, which he does. He respects their culture and their traditions and learns to be a warrior on their terms. This is absolutely one of the best examples of seeing and admitting your own weaknesses, admitting you have a lot of work to do, accepting other people who are different than you, and learning how to be a better person. Sokka doesn’t have any special abilities but he’s determined that hard work and dedication will demonstrate tangible results and he’s absolutely correct.

Katara is also a fantastic character for a variety of reasons. It’s interesting to me to see her always taking care of the camp. She gets the groceries and mends the clothes and is always considerate of others while the boys on the team lounge around and complain about how hungry they are. Katara also runs into a lot of sexism and she just goes with it, which is kind of frustrating. She isn’t allowed to learn how to water bend with Aang because she’s a woman and all the women of the Northern Water Tribe learn the healing arts and not how to be a warrior. Katara has to earn her right to learn to be a warrior, which Aang didn’t have to do because he’s the Avatar and he’s male. Katara also appears to be serving as the Avatar’s love interest, which is sometimes done in a cute kind of adolescent way and also kind of a creepy way. Since I’m not much of a fan of romantic subplots, I would rather that people could just travel together and save the world without romance being a thing. But I realize that my being asexual is different than everyone else who enjoys seeing romantic and sexual plots and subplots in absolutely everything.

Overall, I’d say this first season is a solid three on my rating scale. As unfair as it is, I really like the Legend of Korra a lot better and I’ve been judging this series and season against that. So it’s still a good series, but I really do like Korra better.

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