Wednesday, December 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Prince of Korin by Melody J. Bremen

Prince Endomer of Korin is not a hero. Nor does he want to be one.

He spends his days in the royal library, poring over old manuscripts, studying archaic languages and playing chess. He’s never been like Krollis, his fearless twin brother, who is an expert swordsman and hunts wild beasts in the forests.

When an army of vizzens, the fearsome old enemy of Korin, attacks from the east and Krollis disappears, Endomer is left in charge of the country. He struggles to find a way to save his people while his soldiers are dying and his citizens are forced to flee. As he fights to gain the respect of the palace court, he discovers a threat coming from within the palace walls. There is no one he can trust.

He isn’t only fighting for his country – he’s fighting for his life.

Fans of Megan Whalen Turner and Jennifer A. Nielsen will enjoy this story of political intrigue and betrayal.

I received an ARC copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review. And boy I'm glad I did!

The Prince of Korin hit that wonderful sweet spot of being exactly the book I wanted at exactly the right time and I love everything about it.

Bremen's tale opens on twin princes, brothers who are polar opposites -and neither know which is to be heir to the throne until their fast-approaching fifteenth birthday. Instead of going the route of rivalry and discord, bookworm Endomer and adrenaline-junkie Krollis have become estranged by their vastly different interests and personalities -a route that, in Bremen's favor, was probably not as easy to write and far, far more interesting to read about.

There's not a drop of sorcery in this tale, but it turns out Bremen didn't need any magic but her own words to tell it. Reminiscent of the master Gail Carson Levine, Bremen spins her tale of fantasy politics, intrigue, treachery, murder, and the rise of an ancient powerful enemy from the eyes of Endomer, a woefully unprepared bookworm of a prince, clever if a little naive, thrust suddenly under the burden of it all.

An easy and enjoyable read for its fast pace and almost effortless flow, The Prince of Korin is a character-driven story with a perfect balance of mystery, action, and intrigue. As the threat of war tears across the country, Endomer is expected to lead his people through the crisis, to either live up to or break under expectations.

Our view is an intimate one as he struggles to find his place, battle his own self-doubt, earn the respect of the court, and -perhaps my favorite of all- find a way to connect with his brother. Their relationship grows and blossoms as they come to understand one another for the first time, to appreciate the others obvious and not so obvious strengths and weaknesses -and not at all in the way you'd expect.

While not unpredictable, The Prince of Korin is still immensely enjoyable and kept me up into the wee hours of the morning.

I'm still trying to decide whether my favorite character is Endomer -bookworm power!- or the intimidating bodyguard Baclen, for his gruffness, tough love, and irreverent sense of humor. As a pair, at least, they're impossible not to love!

"You'll be fine," Baclen said.
I shook my head. "I can't even get on a horse without someone helping me."
"I'll help you get on your horse."
Somehow, I could still smile. "That's reassuring."

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments

If, like me, you were more than a little disappointed in The Last Jedi's contribution to Disney's take on Star Wars, here are some reading suggestions to restore your faith in galaxies close and those far, far away...

1. The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
An obvious choice, perhaps, but with good reason. Widely regarded as one of the best series in the Star Wars Extended Universe (the former canon, since demoted to 'Legends'), this brings Luke, Han, and Leia back to life in true Star Wars fashion. It is a thing of beauty, for both character and story. Zahn is a master storyteller and one who does the universe justice, even creating here two characters -Mara Jade and Talon Karrde- who became favorites in the EU and were later used by many different authors. The Heir to the Empire and its sequels were long-held as the canonical sequel trilogy to George Lucas' originals. In fact, during the early days of the announcement of Disney's new trilogy, many fans believed it would be this story they would adapt to film.

2. The Reckoners by Brandon Sanderson
This epic trilogy of superhero fiction is brilliant and will work as a wonderful salve if anyone else (ironically) lost hope despite The Last Jedi's 'spark of hope' theme. In a world where absolute power corrupts absolutely, superpowers corrupt even the best of mankind into supervillains and a ragtag bunch of vigilantes fight for hope and freedom. Also included: terrible, hilariously terrible, analogies around every corner.

3. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
While this doesn't include lightsabers or a mystical Force, it's a fantastic space opera that includes rebellions, a tyrannical government, mind control, ordinary people turned heroes, political intrigue -and, best of all, fairy tale adaptations. ^_^

4. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Another great addition to the Star Wars EU, this goes into more detail -and tries to make sense of- the events between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. It features fantastic and heartbreaking development for familiar characters with especial focus on Anakin and the events that make his downfall more believable, an in-depth look at the dubious morals from both the Jedi Order and the Republic that led to the galaxy's downfall, but also an incredible arc for EU character Quinlan Vos, a gray Jedi and a kind of anti-Anakin. This series has so many different facets, so many great stories, and definitely worth reading.

5. Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
This sci-fi/fantasy manga will definitely appeal to Star Wars fans for its unique worldbuilding, lovable characters, and depth of mythology. Instead of the mystical Force, it uses magical alchemy, a power more scientific but perhaps not as understood by its practitioners as they'd like to think (reminiscent, I think, of both the Old Republic's Jedi Order and the supposition hinted at in The Last Jedi). Like Star Wars, it too centers around a terrible struggle between good and evil, its villains not drawn to the dark side but instead born of the dark side of humanity. Filled with an eccentric and lovable array of heroes, anti-heroes, revolutionaries, vigilantes, and big-hearted everyday people, this will definitely make a good read for fans who enjoyed those aspects of Star Wars.

BONUS 6. Knights of the Old Republic
Contributed by a follower over on my Facebook page!
"Some good picks! If I might add, for what I feel to be a truly great Star Wars adventure (for the main arc, anyway), the Knights of the Old Republic comic line. Zayne Carrick is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters, and the supporting cast is also great."

Do you have any suggestions?

Monday, December 18, 2017

THE LAST JEDI -Why Bother? (Spoiler-Free Review)

Hey guys! Here's my SPOILER-FREE basic review; I'm also working on my total SW-nerd analysis expounding on my likes/dislikes and that will post within the week! Enjoy!

Check out 5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments
The Last Jedi only serves to finalize the dreaded fear of the Rehash. While itself was a mess of plot points stolen from previous films (primarily Empire and Return), it fully realizes the unsavory certainty that this new trilogy as a whole is nothing more than a rehashing of the original. It's not clever about it, either, which leads me to wonder -outside of the obvious money to be made- why they bothered making a new trilogy at all.

A big stink was made over how closely The Force Awakens plot points followed Star Wars (aka, A New Hope) and it won't escape people's notice that The Last Jedi does the same thing with a mesh of Empire and Return. But it's much, much worse than that. This isn't two individual films simply duplicating pacing and story structure of they're predecessors. (If the story's had been original, we would have forgiven that.) This is Disney, attempting to duplicate the original trilogy -and it's success- as a whole and putting in no real effort or ingenuity into come up with a new story. At all. Don't believe me?

  • Good guys: Ragtag group of humans and aliens fighting for freedom and a republic, feautring potential Jedi alliances.
  • Bad guys: Tyrannical, power-obsessed, Sith-run government.
  • Goal: Defeat the Sith empire, free the galaxy, while the Jedi-potential character attempts to return the Jedi and its light side ideals.

With the huge expanse of the Extensive Universe's former canon at its disposal -still unfamiliar to most Star Wars fans- Disney had a huge advantage, of hundreds of stories that would have been new and refreshing to most minds, and appreciated on screen by those already familiar, but they instead insisted on borrowing almost solely from the films that everyone who's even borderline into Star Wars has already seen.

Despite many claims I've heard that The Last Jedi is 'new', 'fresh', 'original', or 'far better than Force Awakens', there is nothing new here. Even the arguably original additions -like Finn's entire subplot or Poe's, shall we say, 'disagreement' with Admiral Holdor- are either (painfully) unnecessary or mediocre storytelling, at best. Even the poignant moments the film offers up -there are a lot, delivered in the midst of so much drama its downright cheesy- are marred by the preceding acts of pointlessness or by the fact they're obvious and tired echoes of the original trilogy, trying to piggyback on its incredible resonance.

The film is gorgeous, I admit; a beautiful piece of cinematic eye-candy. It's high on action, it's an enjoyable thrill ride of a film that's fun to watch, so I'm not surprised many people loved it at first viewing. But it's also flat on characters, squandering any potential the empty shells of Finn, Poe, or Rey might have grown into and, by the way, completely reducing Luke to nothing more than a plot device, whose every choice and action in the past 30 years was completely out of character. (I'm a fanfiction writer, guys; if you're going to continue a universe and include original characters, you've got to use them right.) Kylo Ren is, in my opinion, the only character who has gotten any substantial and satisfactory depth or development at all, and the only truly decent thing The Last Jedi had to offer. And I hate this character!

Like the characters, The Last Jedi is only interesting on the surface. Once you break down the pieces of the film, you realize there is no substance underneath. What isn't pointless filler scenes, or uncharacteristic if brilliantly acted Luke bits, or vital plot details withheld solely for dramatic reveals, you're left with a slew of fantastic fight scenes, regurgitated plot, and details that don't even mesh with The Force Awakens. (As an acquaintance pointed out, if Luke really went to that island to die, why did he leave behind a map?)

I predict The Last Jedi -and the new trilogy as a whole- will not endure. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a fad. Once the novelty of new Star Wars films starts to wear off, it's going to fade. There is no staying power, no emotional resonance, and no deep connection being made with its audiences, past the nostalgia factor and the adrenaline of its constant stream of actions scenes. Plenty of people will love it for its high-action, cool effects, and cinematography. And you know what? That's fine. I've got no problem with that. But for myself, The Last Jedi has made me realize that the only true continuation lies in the Classic Canon (now dubbed 'Legends') and that's where I'm going to satisfy my Star Wars cravings for now on.

I don't plan to pursue Disney's new franchise any farther. That is to say, not actively or ardently. I'm still currently enjoying Star Wars: Rebels, I've got quite a few of the newer books I still haven't read, and I'll have no qualms about picking up any story or some of the solo movies that might pique my interest. But the new stuff is not canon to me; this is the weird alternative universe version of events that always get spin-offs in the comic book industry and nothing more.

2 out of 5 stars

PSSST! If you were a little disappointed in The Last Jedi -or completely disillusioned by it- I made a list of books to help restore your faith in galaxies near and far, far away! Check out 5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

REVIEW: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

3.5/5 stars
PG-13 for some swearing, sexual references, and irreverence to Judeo-Christian religions
Recommend to fans of humor, the ridiculous, parody, and satire. If you enjoy Douglas Adams or Christian comedian Brad Stine, you will probably find humor here.
According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

Good Omens is completely irreverent and absolutely hilarious.

I adore it.

It's just a figure of speech!
First, let me address the elephant in the room.

This book is super irreverent toward Judeo-Christian religions. I hesitated reading this for a while because of that. In the end, I'm very glad I did, because it's hilarious. Some people might find this book offensive or insulting because of its irreverence -and I get that. BUT, if you think you might be one of these people, let me say this: just don't take it too seriously. It makes light of serious Biblical events, yes, but at the same time, it offers up some good points and interesting commentary about the world. And, in the end, just remember it's a part satire, part parody, fantasy, comedy novel.

On this topic of religion and irreverence, there's actually an interesting theme at play in the fabric of the story which I quite love, pointing at how the worst and the best things in history were devised by humans, not influenced by the likes of demons or angels. It even mentions that Crowley (a demon) took notes during the Spanish Inquisition and sent them back to Hell, because even demons couldn't come up with this stuff. It's almost a running joke throughout the story for Crowley (said demon) or Aziraphale (an angel) to admire one particularly successful blessing or terror, only for the other to reply, "Oh, that wasn't us. We thought that was yours."

Now, I find this so interesting because of the popular idea, both in storytelling and theology, that devils and angels hang around earth, tempting and guiding people in their daily lives.
I've never much liked this concept because it has the stench of brushing off personal responsibility. In a nutshell, I think temptations come from the evil inclinations inside oneself, rather than from an external evil force trying to lead one into darkness; if one simply blames one's sins on the siren call of the devil, one is rather sloughing off one's personal culpability to said sin and one's personal responsibility to keep oneself on the path of the righteous. For example:
It's not my fault
If in God's plan
He made the devil
So much stronger than a man

Hellfire, from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame 
After all, when people put down all the evil in the world to devils and the good in it to angels -or to any spiritual powers!- that certainly begs the question of an individual: "Then what does it matter what I do?"

In Good Omens, Pratchett and Gaiman play around with this idea through the perspectives of Crowley and Aziraphale and -while I don't agree with most of the theology aspects in this book- this side of it is actually quite poignant. It proposes that humans have the capability to be more evil than demons and better than angels.

And you know what? I think they've got a point.

Plus, the book is hilarious. A demon who drives a 1926 black Bentley with 'Dick Turpin' painted on the side? An angel who owns a rare book store? A two-man (not very in demand) army of witch hunters, an 11-year-old Antichrist, and the world's only complete book of prophecy written by one Agnes Nutter, Witch? And all of these elements are thrown into a blender without a top and set on puree. The only thing missing are those identical, little black bags from Oscar!

Of all the parts of this book, what I love most is the friendship between Crowley and Aziraphale. The pair have found common ground over millennia through their shared affinity for earth and humans during their time spent tempting and guiding mankind, and neither of them is much looking forward to seeing the End of the World they've come to love. AND THUS IS BORN THE GREAT COMEDIC TEAM UP. Aside from their poignant dual observations on humanity, theirs is a hilarious and unlikely friendship as they bumble around trying to mess up the Great Plan -and all the better for it, says I!

The plot is a convoluted band of hilarity as Heaven and Hell and everything in between gear up for Armageddon, but while the story tends to bounce all over the place between a wide array of eccentric characters, Gaiman and Pratchett never disappoint to fill a scene to its fullest and funniest potential and it is obvious they enjoyed every second of time they spent in this world.

My one complaint of the whole story is the rather anticlimactic finish. It doesn't necessarily leave loose ends, but it isn't what I wanted, either. There are enough good moments throughout that I still quite love the book but -judge me if you must!- I'm kind of hoping the ending might get tweaked in that BBC miniseries coming next year. *fingers crossed*

Good Omens constantly had me in a fit of giggles, occasionally provoked me to think a little deeper, and easily let me imagine David Tennant in Crowley's shoes just from the way his lines were written.

Besides, any book whose summary ends "And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist..." deserves a read, don't you think?

Have you read Good Omens?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Avengers: Infinity War Trailer Reaction

It gives me chills that the Avengers repeat Fury's line from the original Avengers. Chills. It gives me the impression, too, that they are spoken with the same sense of failure and loss as when Fury spoke them, after the death of Coulson. The questions is: Will they rally the Avengers this time around too?

Scarlet Witch and Vision! I have a feeling major heartbreak is ahead on many levels in Infinity War and I have to admit, I'm glad this looks to be one of them. I have never read a story that has so suckerpunched me in the gut as the comic House of M. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it, but only if you're feeling strong. SUCKER. PUNCH. It's been hinted there are some *feelings* developing between Vision and Wanda, which I've been watching closely, but I hope they really get a chance to develop this angle before... well, see point Will Vision Survive Infinity War?

Is Banner working on the Hulk Buster? It may not, in fact, be the Hulk Buster, but that struck me as an interesting idea, considering Banner's newfound concern of being unable to escape the Hulk form, and of the Hulk's newfound development. Oh. And Banner is Banner again. Considering the last we saw, he'd allowed the Hulk to take over again, despite fear of not being able to regain control.

Loki totally took the tesseract! I've been saying since opening night of Ragnarok, there's no way Loki left the tesseract there. Of course he didn't. But...!

Okay, it's actually better I just show ya'll my first gut reaction, which was of course to message bomb a friend with this:

There's a lot of debate going around on this (for example, this Nerdist video) and another supposition is that Loki is merely giving up the tesseract to #1 buy himself more time or #2 trade it for the surviving Asgardians. These are options which I will allow. I hope it's not #1, because I'd be really mad if Loki does throw away all that beautiful new character depth from Thor: Ragnarok but that, too, in a way, would be another step of character depth and development. But we all know I really just want to make a mostly good guy out of Loki. Okay, at least a mostly good brother, if I can't have a mostly good guy. And believe you me, I far prefer the idea of an amoral Loki with a soft spot for his brother than an outright Hero Loki. Waaaaay more interesting.

But seriously, MCU.




New Spidey suit -Iron Man style! Honestly, I prefer the old-fashioned suit myself, but what I really care about is Spidey getting his moment to SHINE. Spider-man: Homecoming was phenomenal and -while Tony came around in the end to giving Peter the praise and opportunity he deserved- it will be interesting to see how this plays out when the world is in true, intergalactic jeopardy. How much will Tony and the Avengers trust Spidey with responsibility? How hard will Peter have to work to make them take him seriously?

"And get this man a shield." The return of the prodigal son Steve Rogers looks like it will be a huzzah cheering moment! It will be interesting to see how they work all the unresolved -shall we say- politics that have been dividing the Avengers against the backdrop of the most serious imminent threat to date.

Will Vision survive Infinity War? Without the stone, I do wonder. Still, it would suck to lose this character before he's really had his chance to shine. And if we DO lose Vision this early, THEY BETTER SATISFACTORILY DEVELOP ALL THOSE WANDA/VISION FEELINGS THEY KEEP HINTING AT INTO AN ACTUAL RELATIONSHIP FIRST.

Anticipating lots from the Black Panther film. And I mean, lots. How involved will Captain America or Bucky be in the film, if at all? How 'stand alone' is the film actually going to be, since it's the last film before Infinity War hits? I really want to see a solid solo film for Black Panther, but we already know from trailers that Everett Ross is about to get very suspicious about Wakanda and I anticipate that film is going to get a head-start on at least some of the massive amounts of plot we see coming out of this Infinity War trailer.

I, at least, will certainly be reading all the Black Panther comics I can.

And the Thanos comics, come to think of it. I've only read The Infinity Gauntlet so far -which is fantastic and highly recommended, by the way- but also means I have no idea who Thanos' children are.

"Who the hell are you guys?"

Who says you can't have an end-credit scene in a trailer? XD

Overall? Fantastic trailer. I can't wait to see the movie and at the same time I'm kind of dreading it. The comics can kill characters, bring back characters, create entirely new timelines and alternate universes in order to keep characters dead and alive at the same time, and have basically all-around mastered the Immortal Hero thing. The MCU doesn't share this luxury. Unless they start their own version of a Time Lord-like regeneration, our heroes are going to pass the mantel, retire, and -yes- die. Very definitive, finite, and irreversible deaths.

Bring it on, Marvel.


And if there's not at least one argument involving threat of bodily harm (if not actual bodily harm) between Peter Quill and Tony Stark over music selection, I will be one disappointed fangirl.

What are your thoughts and theories on the upcoming Infinity War?

Friday, December 1, 2017

NaNoWriMo Winner | #amwriting

I didn't think I was going to make it. I really, really didn't. Just look at those abominable stats!
I didn't even start writing until day 7 and that smooth plateau mid-month? That's when I got sick, which is apparently my new Thanksgiving tradition. I DO NOT recommend it; it sucks. I was meant to go RVing that weekend -and get ALL OF THE WORDS written- but I didn't wind up going because of that cold. Instead, I stayed in bed. I mean, I rewatched nearly all three seasons of Ashes to Ashes, so it wasn't a total loss, but still.

But you want to see something really cool?

The number of zeros here is completely atrocious, I know. Despite them, though, I still managed 50k. My mind's still reeling from this. Most of the month I wasn't too concerned. "Oh, I've still got twelve days to write that 25k -totally fine!"

It was on November 26th, when I realized I hadn't even hit the halfway mark -and only had five days left- that I started to panic.

Like I said, I didn't think I'd make it. I lost some sleep; I skipped some (most) lunches; I barely read; I certainly didn't watch any TV. (I did make an exception for the Avengers: Infinity War trailer because HOLY CRUMB, YOU GUYS!)

And somehow -without going completely insane or becoming a total bear- I wrote 26,318 words in five days.

It's been years since I wrote that much with such consistency. Like, when I was still in school, before I got a job, when I would literally do nothing but write for 6 hours every day -and even then big word counts were only during good writing days.

Writing has become a real struggle for me over the past years. I think a lot of it has to do with my evolving understanding in style and technique; basically, I have a harder time writing first drafts, because my Inner Editor keeps telling me "This is crap, this is really, really crap, how can you write this drivel?" And it really is drivel; I know for a fact that I used almost the same words and phrasing to describe certain characters every time I described them.

But the magic of NaNo is that it in itself is a habit. I trained myself for years to write for word count, lock away that Inner Editor, and just make myself write. Outside of November, getting my Inner Editor to shut up is a real trick! But I've done NaNo so many times, it's automatic from November 1st to the 30th.

And NaNo has reminded me Yes! I can write complete drivel and still make headway! I had this conversation with a NaNo buddy yesterday as we made that dash for the finish line, because she's been having some of the same writing struggles as me. Over November, we both noticed that letting ourselves write terrible first drafts -focusing on word count rather than trying to fit everything together- actually led to more genuine inspiration and ideas that seemed to slide seamlessly into the story, giving it more depth and pizzazz. For a girl who has been driving herself nuts trying to do exactly that in outline form, this was like winning a million dollar lottery. Twice. 

My friend brought up this idea from Inception, and I had to dig it up, because this is what I realized this November. Just replace 'dream' with 'writing', and this is it exactly.

Cobb: Well, imagine you're designing a building. You consciously create each aspect. But sometimes it feels like it's almost "creating itself", if you know what I mean.
Ariadne: Yeah, like I'm discovering it.
Cobb: Genuine inspiration, right? Now, in a dream, our mind continuously does this. We create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind does this so well that we don't even know it's happening. That allows us to get right in the middle of that process.
(from Wikiquotes)
I've talked some about my ongoing writing woes, especially as concerns my current project Glass & Cinders, and it seems like I'm always finding the 'Aha!' solution to my problems. But I'm pretty sure this is it, the root cause of the problem. This concept of perceiving and creating, of genuine inspiration coming so easily and often during the writing process. Many of my attempts to fix this story via outlining and brainstorming have turned out wooden and flat, because I guess I do my best writing when I'm actually writing. Go figure.

And since I also learned that -given a 15-minute timer and a good song in my headphones- I can easily generate 600 words. Again, for a girl who's been writing words like it's pulling teeth, this is another wake-up call, like lightning to my brain.

So here's to keeping the pace -not the 6,000 words a day thing; that's an epic burnout waiting to happen!- and continuing on til I hit that most desirable finish line of all. The one that says 'The End.'

How did your crazy November go?