Book Review: The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

I actually finished the fourth book in the Magisterium series, The Silver Mask (Young Adult 232 pages) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare earlier this month but I was mildly distracted by other things that needed to get done.

I lack the ability to talk about this book without some massive spoilers concerning this book and all the books previous in the Magisterium series so if you haven’t read this book and you haven’t read any of the other books in the series and you want to be surprised about the direction of either, you probably shouldn’t read any more of this review and should come back once you’ve finished this book.

“Power over death is the ultimate power. A generation ago, Constantine Madden came close to achieving what no magician had ever achieved: the ability to bring back the dead. He didn’t succeed … but he did find a way to keep himself alive, inside a young child named Callum Hunt. Now Call is one of the most feared and reviled students in the history of the Magisterium, thought to be responsible for a devastating death and an ever-present threat of war. As a result, Call has been imprisoned and interrogated. Everyone wants to know what Constantine was up to – and how he lives on. But Call has no idea. It is only when he’s broken out of prison that the full potential of Constantine’s plan is suddenly in his hands … and he must decide what to do with his power.”

One of the biggest components to this book is the new and budding romance and sexual attraction for Call and Tamara, which is fairly standard for most books in this age grouping, I think. I’m resigned at this point to so many stories, especially coming of age stories, where physical attraction becomes a key motivational factor throughout the story. I guess one of the things that is a little disappointing is that if you’re going to have new romantic and physical attraction, maybe include some queer representation, too. So far, only Master Rufus has any queer inclination and his is mentioned only in passing at the beginning of this book, where he talks about falling in love with a man he met in a library. Out of an entire school of young people, Jasper doesn’t lose Celia because Celia has a crush on Tamara (or any of the other named girls in the series), nor does any character in this series demonstrate any sort of feelings or romantic or sexual attraction for anyone other than the standard heterosexual pairings. I feel like the younger generation I know right now is a lot more in tune with “non-standard” pairings and that it’s fairly common with younger people, so not having explicit representation is frustrating.

Meanwhile, this story has a lot of really interesting ethical considerations and it’s fascinating to me to look at where the line between ethical decisions is drawn. On the one hand, you have a young preteen who misses his friend so much that he’s willing to try to bring him back from the dead, and not just as a mind-controlled zombie, but as a living person with his own personality. Call invests part of his own soul in order to bring Aaron back to life, but even then, it’s still just a shadow of who Aaron was when he was truly alive. Even Aaron says there’s something wrong inside him and Call tries to repair what might be wrong instead of fully accepting that death is something people shouldn’t mess with. Sometimes, horrible things happen and people we care about die or are killed and this series to this point, especially this book and the previous book, make it a point to acknowledge that you have to let people go or you risk doing them more damage.

My personal theory is that Aaron has now moved into Havoc’s body when Havoc was killed so it’ll be interesting to see in the next and last book in this series, The Enemy of Death (scheduled for release in September 2018), how things are tied up. The end of this book had a pretty solid conclusion until you read the epilogue, in which case, things went very badly, very quickly.

Overall, I’d rate this book as a three on my rating scale. I’m glad I own it and will likely reread it in the future. I’m highly likely to purchase the fifth book when it comes own later this year.

Black, Holly and Clare, Cassandra. The Silver Mask. New York: Scholastic Press, 2017.

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2018 Asexual Reading Goals

I recently found an article by Tor about “Five Books With Asexual Protagonists” and I decided to make it one of my goals for 2018 to read at least one Ace book per month. I searched the internet and found this article on tumblr which also has a list of Asexual main characters. There’s also a twitter thread. Those books will definitely be added to my list, but probably not until 2019, as many of them don’t come out until sometime in 2018.

Since the linked articles have a lot more details about the books and about the characters, I don’t want to repeat their information and will instead just list my own reading list for 2018 and the months I intend to read them. Maybe if anyone else out there wants to read some Ace books at the same time as me and maybe discuss them, that might be an interesting thing to pursue?

The list is posted in this order because these are the books I actually have right now and as the year progresses, I’ll order the rest and keep moving forward.

  1. January’s book is Hello World by Tiffany Rose and Alexandra Tauber.
  2. February’s book is Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron. I might also add Sea of Strangers to February, depending on my schedule and the fact that it’s the second book in the series (I like to binge-read 😉 but I haven’t purchased that one yet).
  3. March is going to be a pretty heavy reading month, as I intend to read the entire omnibus of The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon, which includes The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold.
  4. April’s book will be Clariel by Garth Nix, which is the fourth book in his Abhorsen series and means that I will probably need to find and purchase Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen prior to me reading Clariel.
  5. May might also be a heavy month, since Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith appears to be book five in the Inda and Banner series. Banner of the Damned takes place 400 years after the events of the other books in the series, so maybe I won’t read them all? I’ll have to look at what my schedule is like in May.
  6. June’s book will be Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. This looks like a stand-alone book so I should be able to pick that one up just fine.
  7. July’s book also looks like a stand-alone, with Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey.
  8. August’s book will be Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson, which also looks like another stand-alone.
  9. Starting in September, I’ll pick up books that may or may not have actual asexual representation, but I’ll still voice my thoughts on those as well, starting with Bone Dance by Emma Bull.
  10. October will be Dust by Elizabeth Bear.
  11. As November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short), I expect to have a bit less time for reading and writing reviews. Based off multiple recommendations on tumblr, November’s book will be Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee.
  12. My final book for my Ace reading list in 2018 will be Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray, which also appears to be the third book with the previous two books of Lair of Dreams and The Diviners as books I’ll need to read prior to Before the Devil Breaks You.

A variety of black, purple, and white dragons.

I’ll be posting book reviews as I read each book on this list, in addition to my regular book reviews. Here are some of the books I’ve read and reviewed that others said had Asexual characters: Unburied Fables edited by Creative Aces Publishing, Lunaside by J.L. Douglas, the Circle of Magic Books by Tamora Pierce (specifically Sandry), and Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor.

I know there’s a lot of really great stories by Asexuals or with Asexual characters and I’m going to continue to actively seek out these books to read (so if you’re writing them, like I know some of you are, KEEP GOING! I believe in you! I want to read your work!). I’m also going to continue work on my own Explorers trilogy about planetary explorers. The two main characters are women, one is a space pilot and the other is a security person. They are asexual queer platonic partners and the series focuses on their relationship and their otherworld adventures.

Want to discuss the books? Say hi! 🙂

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2017 in Review and 2018 Ideas

While I am normally very good about posting my year in review and my goals for the upcoming year fairly close to the actual beginning of the new year, after the last six months I’ve had, I decided to spend the first week of the new year relaxing and reading and working on some other projects.

I think the only real summary I have from 2017 right now is that it was an absolute mess. Work was unbelievably busy, though I did accomplish a lot of things for all of the people within my field that increased opportunities for success, things haven’t stopped moving. Every day at work is nine, ten, or more hours a day, sitting at my desk, trying to fix and repair things all by myself. Some work things happened at the end of the year that made things extra stressful for me and I’m really just going to pretend like none of it ever happened.

These were my goals from 2017, and how well I accomplished them:

  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 2017. I epically failed at this, only managing reviews for 21 books. I attribute this to how much my work life took out of me from August all the way through December.
  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 2017. I epically failed at this goal with only 12 movies reviewed, as well, and for the same reason. I just didn’t have time to watch movies.
  3. Surveyors and Academy should both be ready to be pitched in June. So this didn’t happen. While I had the best of intentions with making progress on this, everything in my life was put on hold for the previously mentioned issues.
  4. I intend on attending In Your Write Mind (IYWM) in June and hopefully even teaching a module. Ha! Finally, something I actually managed to do! I did attend IYWM and I taught a module called “Sexless Love, Passion for Everyone!” which was about having different relationships in stories and not falling victim to some of the more harmful tropes.
  5. I’d like to travel somewhere in the world and have a new adventure. This also did not happen. Though, I did spend three weeks at the beach and that was really interesting, so maybe I get partial credit for this goal.
  6. I am hoping and working towards moving up at work. Another epic failure. I was not one of those chosen to move up. So it goes.
  7. I think it would be great if I continued my workouts and maybe even lower my body fat percentage even more. I did decrease my body fat percentage by another 3% so that’s apparently another win.
  8. I’d like to continue to place about 10% of my earnings into savings for my retirement cabin during 2017. I definitely did a lot with my financial management this year.
  9. I’d like to attend at least one convention in 2017, not including IYWM. I absolutely did this! I attended ConFluence in Pittsburgh and had a great time.
  10. Above all things, I would very much like for Adventure Buddy to give our friendship another chance. “When all seems lost in the war of light, look to the stars, for hope burns bright!” (Blue Lantern oath).

Here’s what I’m looking at for 2018:

  1. I’d like to read a book a week and post a review of it. That should get me 52 new book reviews by the end of 2018.
  2. I’d also like to post a movie review a week, for 52 movie reviews. I’m not really good with getting enough movie reviews, but if I’m reading a lot, I’m usually okay with that.
  3. I definitely need viable drafts of both Academy and Surveyors and I’d really like them ready to pitch in June. My actual deadline is actually 30 March 2018 to have a viable draft of Academy so we’ll see how well that goes.
  4. I would very much like to attend IYWM again this year and this time, I want to teach a module about clothing and weaponry.
  5. I’d like to be selected to move up at work.
  6. I want to continue my workouts and drop some more weight and body fat percentages.
  7. I definitely want to keep putting 10% or so into my retirement efforts, with the goal of being ready to buy land or a house sometime in 2019.
  8. 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. I’ll do another separate post on that later, so if you want to read along, feel free!
  9. 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.
  10. I continue to maintain hope that someday, the 2013 Adventure Buddy will give our friendship another chance. That individual has a birthday this week and I hope that wherever they are and whatever they’re doing that their life is filled with happiness, laughter, friendship, family, joy, shenanigans, and love.
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Book Review: the Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

I actually started and finished the third book in the Magisterium series, The Bronze Key (Young Adult 249 pages) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare last week on Wednesday but things in my life have been a bit busy lately so I’m only getting to my review now.

“Magic can save you. Magic can kill you. Students at the Magisterium are supposed to be safe. Under the watchful eyes of the mages, they are taught to use magic to bring order to a chaotic world. But now the chaos is fighting back. Call, Tamara, and Aaron should be worrying about things like pop quizzes and magic contests. Instead, after the shocking death of one of their classmates, they must track down a sinister killer … and risk their own lives in the process. As Call, Tamara, and Aaron discover, magic can only be as good as the person who wields it. In evil hands, it has the capacity to do immeasurable harm – unless it is stopped in time.”

This book definitely continues with the thread of a mystery, where Call, Tamara, and Aaron are searching for someone who could be a spy in the midst of their fellow students and instructors at the Magisterium. One of the things that is always at the back of my mind when I read young adult is that the adults in the stories are always so incompetent. The main characters, young and inexperienced, are always in the thick of all of the problems and none of the adults come up with viable solutions. In this particular book, a girl is killed at a very public function in a very public manner but the adults are so focused on politics and such that they aren’t capable of finding the actual conspirator. That’s just one of the common tropes from young adult, though, so I don’t really hold this book and series too harshly for prescribing to such a common trope.

I forget sometimes how old the characters are supposed to be in this book and this series and I think that’s probably a good thing. I certainly don’t remember what my life was like when I was a teenager or a pre-teen so I don’t think having specific ages is strictly necessary. What’s interesting to me in this book, though, is that there is the creeping realization of dating and romantic interest, which follow normal societal roles and expectations. I can’t really use much of my own experience in this category as I haven’t dated very much in my entire life, nor do I ever remember asking what to label my relationships, nor do I really remember what the peer pressure of relationships was like at that age. Basically, I have no ability to judge about how the budding romantic relationships are portrayed because it’s just as foreign to me now as it probably was to me at that age, but it seems like an accurate representation, based on other things I’ve read and how my peers acted when I was that age. I think.

This book definitely doesn’t end anywhere close to where you think a book like this would or should end, which is interesting to me.  While the story does go into the trope of adults being fairly useless, it seems to deviate from many of the other standard tropes. The main character is disabled and that disability is constantly part of his life, not just written in to fill a minority roll. The main character also isn’t popular or well-liked or athletic or muscular. In fact, there’s really nothing unique and special about him, if you were just looking at him from the outside looking in. The series so far is showing that you are who you choose to be and that the decisions you make are what truly demonstrates your character and I think that’s a worthwhile moral.

Overall, this book is a fast read and interesting. I think I like what’s going on so far and I would probably rate this as a solid three on my rating scale. I’m glad I own it and will continue to buy the rest of the books in the series.

Black, Holly and Clare, Cassandra. The Bronze Key. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.

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Book Review: the Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

My first book for 2018 was The Copper Gauntlet (Young Adult 264 pages), which is the second book in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.

“The enemy is close. Very close. Callum Hunt’s summer break isn’t like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wold, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren’t heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall. It’s not easy for Call … and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc. Call escapes to the Magisterium – but things only intensify there. The Alkahest – a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic – has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes – and get closer to an even more dangerous truth.”

This is an interesting sequel to the Iron Trial and I made it about four or five chapters into the story before I realized that it had been entirely too long since I read the first book in the series and I wasn’t entirely clear on who some of the characters were and exactly what was going on. I reread the first book really quickly before finishing the rest of this book and I’m glad I did, as there were a lot of little things that having them fresh in my memory assisted with rather nicely.

I mentioned in my review of the first book that there were a lot of mystery elements in the storyline and that carries over into this book, as well. There’s a lot of hints and clues and small details that can help the reader unravel the threads of what’s really going on in this book.

The friendship between the characters remains strong and continuously growing, which I think is a good thing to show in books intended for a younger audience. I think it’s important for the younger audience to see that friendship sometimes takes work and that things are very rarely easy. The friendship in this story is also really interesting in the sense that none of them are perfect, which is refreshing in a book designed for younger people.

To the best of my knowledge, this book is the second in a series of five and it looks a lot to me as though this entire storyline is going to question what makes someone a villain and what makes someone a hero. I’m intrigued enough by the way that this first book and second book were done that I purchased the next two books in the series and will pick up the fifth and final book when it comes out.

I would probably rate this book as a solid three on my rating scale because it was well-written with interesting characters and I did feel the need to binge-read what I could of the series.

Black, Holly and Clare, Cassandra. The Copper Gauntlet. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015.

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Movie Review: Star Wars: the Last Jedi

The most recent movie I’ve seen in theaters was the Christmas Eve showing of Star Wars Episode VIII: the Last Jedi. This is another one of those movies that I will not be able to review without a number of spoilers. If you have not yet seen the movie and you want to be surprised by anything that happens, I suggest you save reading this review until you have also seen this movie.

“Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares for battle with the First Order.”

I think for this movie review I want to start with the part that really bothered me the most. I’m going to start with Poe’s actions in regards to the resistance fleet and his attempts at doing the right thing. The movie starts with the resistance fleet and the First Order fleet going head-to-head in an epic space battle and the resistance fighters don’t come out of this fight in very good shape. General Leia Organa orders the fleet to withdraw and to flee, but Poe takes it upon himself to order the fleet to attack in order to destroy a dreadnought. While destroying one of the First Order’s extremely heavy ships is a very tempting target, the cost to the resistance fleet is entirely too expensive. They lose all of their bombers in the attack run and while the attack is successful, the cost is far too high.

Then, while the fleet continues to flee, Poe, Finn, and Rose, under Poe’s guidance, set up a plan to remove the First Order’s ability to track the resistance fleet. Poe specifically goes against the orders of absolutely everyone who outranks him because he has zero faith in the abilities of command, or in the experience, of the generals appointed over him. He doesn’t know about the plan to get the remainder of the resistance fleet to someplace more defensible because he doesn’t care to think about how any plan other than his might be in motion. All he sees is the apparent inaction of those appointed over him. As he was just demoted, those over him have specifically left him, and the other junior leaders, out of the full planning process. The resistance leaders know that somehow, the First Order fleet is able to track them and they don’t know if it’s a technology thing or a spy/mole thing, which means the upper level leadership doesn’t want to risk their plan being discovered by the First Order. So when Poe’s plan results in the uncovering of the resistance plan and fleet, even more of the resistance personnel are killed. They’re like ducks in a barrel – being shot one by one while they try to make a break for the safety of an older base. All because of Poe’s lack of faith.

Did Finn and Rose do some good in the universe by tackling the casino? Absolutely. Will it be enough to balance out the harm Poe did by exposing the resistance fleet and personnel to the First Order? That, I don’t know because the resistance is now down to so few people that they all fit on the Millennium Falcon.

Which brings me to the next topic: Rey and Ben. While Ben did tell Rey about her parents being absolute nobodies and that’s exactly what so many fans are hoping for, I’m a little bit skeptical about whether or not he had any sort of motivation at that time to be honest with her at all. I am of the opinion that he told her what he did in order to provide her with information that would motivate her to take the actions she did. I don’t think he told her the truth. I’m still of the opinion that Ben and Rey are siblings at the very least, and I’m actually hoping that’s the case so that the shipping of Rey and Ben is reduced greatly. I was happy to see Rey not pairing off by the end of this movie and I hope that she stays unpaired, but if she is not related to Ben, then the chances of her remaining unpaired drastically reduces.

I am so unbelievably exhausted of every single story having to have a romantic or sexual subplot in some way, shape, or form. While I am happy that Finn might have a new romantic interest other than Rey, I was desperately hoping that romantic interest would be Poe and not Rose, who is also the only living woman in his age bracket. I have ranted so many times about how women always seem to have to be the romantic love interest for some guy in every form of media that I’m exhausted of typing about it. In The Force Awakens, the only people who had any sort of romantic or sexual chemistry was Poe and Finn and it would have been SO easy for the movie to add them as a couple, but instead, they introduced a new woman specifically to give one of the male leads another romantic interest? I like Rose as a character, don’t get me wrong, but I felt cheated when she kissed Finn after rescuing him and then going unconscious. If she had just saved him and not kissed him, I would have been happy. “Yay, new friend!” But she kissed him. And now because another woman was nice to him, he is ignoring his other friends in order to stay at her side. I don’t disagree with him staying at Rose’s side, but he barely gave Rey or Poe a second word, which was inconsistent with Finn’s character, especially after everything the three of them have gone through.

Meanwhile, Luke did what all of the Jedi have done before him when something goes wrong – he went and hid from the universe. When Emperor Palpatine destroyed the senate and defeated Yoda, Yoda went and hid in a swamp. Obi Wan became a hermit and hid in a desert. So it was actually fairly predictable and natural for Luke to feel like he failed and therefore go become a hermit at some remote, inaccessible location and pretend to be crazy. Rey definitely used a lot of patience when dealing with Luke and it amused me how much better their time on the island could have been if Luke had just tried teaching her instead of automatically seeing the worst in her, just as he saw the worst in Ben. Luke was very quick to give up on both Ben and Rey, as he sees the same power in them both. I think the interesting part for me was when Rey is psychically exploring all of the aspects of the island. She is a completely neutral party and Luke absolutely freaks out when she says there was a darkness under the island. Luke has good reason to be upset because he learned about the force when there were clear-cut guidelines of good versus evil, but Rey is learning that everything has to be balanced, which means neither the good nor the evil should have too much sway. Look at what happened when the Jedi had a lot of people and were a huge force in the galaxy in the first three movies – they believed so much in their own superiority that ALL emotions were forbidden, including things like love and personal attachments. That’s not very balanced at all.

Overall, I’d say this movie is a solid three on my rating scale. I’m interested to see where the rest of the series goes and I hope the movies end with Rey still single and Poe and Finn in a tight relationship. I realize that’s completely unlikely, as Disney would have to green-light main characters in their franchise as gay and why on earth would they do that when they now have TWO women with names who are young and “available” to the male main characters? {sigh} Representation matters but I have this horrible feeling that Rey will wind up with one of the male leads, as will Rose, and the series will call that happily ever after. I may or may not invest in this movie when it comes out on video but I will definitely see the final episode when that hits theaters.

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Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon: How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury by Cressida Cowell

The twelfth and final installment in the How to Train Your Dragon series, How to Train Your Dragon: How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury (Young Adult 472 pages) by Cressida Cowell was one I actually read and finished several months ago.

The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show – but everything to fight for. Hiccup’s Quest is clear … But can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be King of the Wilderwest? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!”

As usual, 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.

Three passages from this book really struck me and I marked them in my book. The first of these happened on page 223, where Hiccup tells the rest of the Dragonmark Vikings about Snotlout’s heroism. They don’t believe Hiccup and they say unpleasant things about Snotlout but Hiccup defends Snotlout. Hiccup works to be the King the Wilderwest needs not because of pride or selfishness but because he understands that someone has to be responsible and someone has to work to make the world a better place. Someone has to believe in those who don’t even believe in themselves. Hiccup says: “I wish I could offer you a King who is greater than I am. I can’t turn into someone else; I can only be me. But I have discovered that I am stronger than I thought I was. I think that I can do this. I think I can be King. And if Snotlout believed I can, then maybe I believe it too.”

The power of faith in each other is such a strong motivational force and most of us don’t even realize it. I’m reminded of an episode of Xena: the Warrior Princess (season 1, episode 11) where she comes across a town where she spent some time as a youth and she finds the leader of a resistance group; someone she knew from before, which turns out to be the Black Wolf, the leader of the resistance. The Black Wolf told a story about how Xena would always climb this tree and told the Black Wolf to have faith. During the resistance battle, the Black Wolf realized that Xena was trying to say that you need to have faith in yourself and your own abilities and not be dependent on other people. At the same time, it’s a lot easier to believe in yourself when someone else believes in you. This final book in the How to Train Your Dragon series shows something very similar.

Probably the passage that hit me the hardest was on page 326: “Once we love, we cannot forget, though the flesh hardens around the wound that once bled, though it be buried in one hundred years of chains and twisted around with the cruel, growing thorns of the choking forest.” This is one of the truest and most powerful parts of this series to me, probably because of where I’m at in my own life right now. I have loved and lost and I still feel that loss a thousand times a day. While I do maintain the hope that someday, we’ll be on speaking terms again if not friends, sometimes, continuing to have faith and hope is really, really hard. Maintaining hope in a world full of bleakness and despair is one of the hardest things to do, and yet one of the most important.

Hiccup spends the entire series believing the best in people and working towards a better world. He sacrifices everything that matters to him to stand for that better world and in the end, after everything he goes through, people believe in him and hope and love win the day. It’s not an easy trip and this entire series is about making a hero the hard way, which is what makes this series so good. I admit to having a lot of reservations about the first two or three books but once I really got going with the series, I enjoyed them a great deal.

Overall, I’d definitely rate this book and the whole series as a high three or even a low four on my rating scale. I’m absolutely glad that I own the entire series and that I’ve read them all. I am highly likely to reread them again in the future and to recommend them to others. I realize they’re marketed for a very young audience but I think anyone with an open mind and heart can get a lot out of this series.

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon: How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

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Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

During the holiday break, I did go see Thor: Ragnarök. Everyone I know who watched it said that the movie was hilarious and absolutely the best of the Thor movies. Plus, with both Black Panther and Infinity War coming out next year, I needed to make sure I’m up to speed on my Marvel Universe stuff.

“Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.”

This movie was definitely the best of the Thor movies and it was as hilarious as everyone told me it would be. I’m not really going to say much about this movie because the humor is lost unless you’re actually watching the movie. I will say that playing the same song for every fun fight scene got to be a little tiresome. It was really fun and great when it was played at the very beginning and it was neat the second time, but after that, it felt tired. That was really the only thing about this movie that struck me as less-than-enjoyable, and even that wasn’t really a big deal.

Overall, I’d say this movie is a solid three on my rating scale. I enjoyed watching it and I will probably buy it when it comes out, but I might wait until it comes out at a discount instead of paying full price. It was good, but I’m not really sure how well it will withstand the test of repeat viewings.

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Book Review: How to Train your Dragon: How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero by Cressida Cowell

I’m still working on closing out all the books I read in 2017 before 2018 hits and the eleventh book in the How to Train Your Dragon series, How to Train Your Dragon: How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero (Young Adult 371 pages) by Cressida Cowell was one I actually read and finished several months ago.

“High up in the Treacherous mists of the Murderous Mountains, Hiccup and the Company of the Dragonmark are in hiding. The witch’s Vampire Spydragons are guarding the shores of Tomorrow – but Hiccup is determined to become King of the Wilderwest. Can Hiccup dodge the dragons and steal back the King’s Things from Alvin before the Doomsday of Yule? And is there a traitor in Hiccup’s camp who, in the end, will betray them all?”

As usual, 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.

This book begins fairly close to the end of the last book, with the heroes in hiding while they wait for the days to pass so Hiccup can make his way to Tomorrow for the coronation. They hear the cries of a human in trouble and that human just happens to be Snotlout, who has treated Hiccup and his allies quite poorly for the entire series so far. The last book left Snotlout with some realizations about how his treatment of others might impact his own survivability so it was interesting to see him as the beginning of the hero’s quest for this book. Page 24 was one of those pages I marked because the entire page is about whether or not you should save someone who has done nothing positive for you. But here’s the paragraph that actually got me: “‘If you try to save Snotlout,’ warned the Wodensfang, looking very nervous, ‘you will put us all in peril. By being kind to Snotlout, you may be endangering the lives of those who are loyal to you, who have never betrayed you. Sometimes kindness can be cruelty. These are the kinds of difficult decisions that a leader has to make.'”

This is a horrible decision to make, which revolves around saving one human who has been expressly unkind his entire life and therefore risk your own team of those who believe in you, or going back to the safety of your hiding place and ignoring a fellow human in distress. And they do save him, but at the cost of Camacazi being taken alive by one of the witch’s vampire spy dragons. Fishlegs gets understandably upset and he takes out his rage on Snotlout, which is an interesting look at a situation involving bullies. There is no doubt whatsoever that Snotlout has been a bully this entire time and it’s interesting to see his character development as he realizes that being a terrible person might seem like an easy series of decisions to make but it’s actually very lonely and makes things unpleasant in the future. Snotlout gets a feel for what it’s like to be bullied. What’s interesting to me is that this is a really fascinating look at how some people don’t realize how horrible they are to other people until it’s done to them, but once they realize what life must be like for others, the story is often that these people (characters) will try to change their ways. Snotlout says it was a joke and accuses Fishlegs of not being able to take a joke, which is often a common defense for bullies.

A lot of this book is Snotlout’s story. His perspective, his life changes. Why he is the way he is and what he did during his life to do better at the end. Page 271 has a lot about what happened to him. He says: “If I stop being angry, I have to see what I am, and what I am now is what the witch said. I am a treacherous worm. I am worthless, useless, nothing of value. I am not surprised that all those people turned their backs on me.” And because Hiccup gives him yet another chance on page 274, where he says that sometimes people need third, fourth, and fifth chances, that actually made me feel all the things. Sometimes, one chance isn’t enough to learn and get things right. Sometimes, you keep making mistakes again and again and again but eventually, if people who matter give you enough faith, maybe, just maybe, you’ll finally get things right. And then page 307 really hit me hard.

Overall, this book is definitely a high three or a low four on my rating scale. It’s absolutely worth the read and will give you strong emotions for people who have been unpleasant for ten books. I am absolutely happy that I own this book and will definitely read it again in the future.

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon: How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

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Movie Review: Thor: the Dark World

In preparation to see Thor: Ragnarök, I watched Thor: the Dark World, as I had not seen it yet.

“When Dr. Jane Foster gets cursed with a powerful entity known as the Aether, Thor is heralded of the cosmic event known as the Convergence and the genocidal Dark Elves.”

I’m not really sure what to say about this movie, which usually doesn’t bode well for my thoughts on a movie. I mean, I guess the movie was okay for what it was but the entire concept was kind of ridiculous and didn’t really fit with the Marvel world-building for the other movies so far. I get that Thor is an Asgardian and their world is vastly different, which means this movie didn’t necessarily need to fit into Marvel’s current storylines, but it still felt incongruent.

I also feel as though the characters could have made a bunch of much better decisions about the way things went. Jane gets teleported to a random, very dark and unpleasant cave and her first scientific instinct is to go and touch the creepy looking thing? You would think that as a scientist, she would want the proper equipment so as to not contaminate whatever was going on, or even that she would want to find out how to get back where she came from as a first priority. Science is about exploring the unknown, but if you don’t know how the unknown is happening and you can’t replicate it, it’s not really science. Science is about understanding the world, so yes, there is a certain level of exploration, but it’s usually done in a way that can be proven or disproven later.

What did Erik’s lack of pants have to do with anything? There was absolutely zero reason for him to have a thing against pants except if they were trying to use his experiences with being mind-controlled by Loki in the Avengers as a show of mental trauma, which is a horrible thing to do as it makes fun of people who have experienced really crappy life events which have potentially given them bad coping mechanisms. I think they probably thought they were being funny by using this example but it really just came off to me as being heartless and cruel and it seriously served zero point in the story.

Why, exactly, did Frigga, one of Asgard’s most beloved fighters, get killed? Oh. Right. It’s because male Hollywood writers feel that all women of value must be broken or killed because heaven forbid women are able to do something other than be motivation for the male characters, and usually that motivation is revenge or grief-based on the loss of someone who only mattered because they were killed.

Which then brings me to Sif. Why does Odin keep trying to hook Sif up with Thor? Maybe Sif doesn’t want or need to be arm candy to some prince. Maybe Sif is happy out battling Asgard’s enemies and a relationship would only tie her down, especially a relationship to Odin’s son and all the baggage that goes with it.

Why must every woman in every movie ever always be some sort of love interest for someone? Even Darcy has to have a love interest. But we don’t see old Erik running around, finding love interests everywhere. The everyone must be a love interest thing appears to only apply to women. Because OF COURSE women are only there to be someone’s love interest. What other purpose could women serve?

Ugh.

So overall, I’d definitely rate this movie as a very low two or even a one on my rating scale. I may or may not watch it again if someone else was already watching it and I certainly have no desire to own or watch this movie ever again on my own.

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