Thursday, May 26, 2016

Want to read some Star Wars fan fiction?

Neomara Zareal - Made with Dollmaker on Rinmaru Games with my edits

It doesn't star any big characters, but I think that it'll spark the interest of some of you Star Wars fans. It has been a couple of years since I published any fanfiction, but I've got something new to share at last! This is a piece I originally did for our Star Wars RPG, and Avellina was kind enough to express an interest in publishing it over at The Fellowship of The King. I am excited to have my first piece appearing there, and hopefully it catches the interest of some readers. I had a lot of fun playing in the Star Wars "Sandbox".

Nadesh Zareal - created on Rinmaru Games

It works as a stand-alone piece (and I clarify a couple things up front), so if you've seen the Star Wars movies, you should have no trouble picking this up and understanding it. 

Lowen Aanowen - Created on Rinmaru Games by my friend Anthony

Read and Enjoy: Darkness in the Stars

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

OUAT Season 5 wraps up - finally I discuss!

It took me over a week to sum up my thoughts on the ending of OUAT season 5. That's not a great sign, I'll admit. But oh well, at least most of you will have had time to catch up!

Spoilers after the photo.


Well, I was underwhelmed by this finale. Probably because it felt less like a finale and more like a 'bridging seasons made-for-tv movie.' IMHO, they should have held off on defeating Hades until the finale. Killing him two episodes before the end made the whole half-season battling him seem... insignificant. As though all we were doing was marking time until they could get to the story they really wanted to tell - in the Land of Untold Stories.

OR at the very least, they should have ended with Henry destroying magic. That was a BIG MAJOR happening, and ought to have been more than a minor hiccup, fixed by a cheesy speech scene. I get that they were trying to give Henry a big moment, but it would have worked so much better if he had destroyed magic right after Hyde landed in Storybrooke. Possibly even with the Charmings and co. still trapped in the Land of Untold Stories.

I know some fans are excited about all the new stories to appear on screen in the new season. I'm not so thrilled. They've skimmed or skipped a lot of key fairy tales (We've never seen Tiana, Aladdin or Jasmine on screen, Rapunzel was a minor episode and a major let down, Cinderella has hardly been utilized, Aurora and Ariel have plenty more that could be done with their stories, and that's only mentioning the big Disney names - there is so much they could do with tales like The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the Goose Girl, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, etc).

Sure, Neverland was well explored and Arendelle got a whole half season (which was too much for a lot of fans). Oz keeps popping back up, so we get more and more of that world all the time... but things were less developed in Camelot, with only 5 named characters and very little connection to the original legends. And the Greek Myths? Of the half season designated for them we got... the Underworld, lots of Hades (with a let-down ending), one Hercules episode (with a dash of Meg), and a single scene from Zeus. And that's it. So IMHO, there's no need to bring in even more characters yet, when they're not fully using the opportunities they've already got.

Sure, it'd be fun to see how our heroes interact with the Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes or Dracula. There's a lot of wealth there. I'm just not confident that OUAT will actually give us the stories we want, and it'll be more of a let-down.

You all know how I love this show, and that I have a lot of grace for them because it doesn't have to be amazing to be enjoyable. But I still think this direction was a disappointing choice. Now, they could prove me wrong and pull off some stellar episodes. Dr. Hyde was well set-up, and the dual Reginas will be VERY interesting to watch.

But I'm not getting my hopes up.

To end this 'rant' on a more positive note, I squealed when we got the "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" mention. I have a deep affection for that book, and I dearly hope that we get to see a bit more of that backstory play out.

Now the Hollywood Reporter asks 12 questions, and I have a few thoughts on a couple of those to share.

6. How does the Evil Queen survive without a heart?
I am pretty sure that the Evil Queen is sharing 'Real' Regina's actual heart, just as the Charmings share theirs, and Emma wanted to share hers.

10. Is there a chance for Robin Hood to pop up in Storybrooke again?
Robin wasn't just killed - he was erased from existance. Hades was pretty clear that if you got zapped by the Crystal, you didn't get an afterlife. For Robin to return, I'm fairly certain it will require Time Travel (which would be an easy way to get a return of Hades later on.)

11. Will the Underworld be revisited with King Arthur in charge?
His story is clearly wrapped up for now - BUT we definitely could see him again, at least in Flashbacks. OUAT loves bringing people back, after all. I'd really love to see what happens to Guinevere and Lancelot next, however, so I hope they aren't just forgotten.

If you want to know more about what is coming up next for our heroes, you can check out the following article.
http://www.fashionnstyle.com/articles/85334/20160524/once-upon-a-time-season-6-spoilers-maleficent-and-lily-slated-to-return.htm


Friday, May 20, 2016

"Three Most Wanted" and "Liberation"

This is a spoiler-free review for Books 2 and 3 of the "I am Margaret" series. I have also released a third post dealing with spoilerific content, but for now, if you have read "I am Margaret" you should be safe to read this review.

Read my review of "I am Margaret" here.

First off, I should state that if you can handle IAM, you will have no problem with "Three Most Wanted" or "Liberation." Although there is violence in both books, it isn't stated as graphically as IAM. Corinna Turner has a good grasp of knowing what details are necessary to get her point across without being at all gratuitous.

Now emotionally there is a hard section in "Liberation", but it's impossible to talk about it without giving away major spoilers. All I can say is that be prepared for a strong emotional turn-about when you least want it, and have tissues near.

Book 2, "Three Most Wanted" is a solid follow-up to IAM. In my opinion it is the weakest of the trilogy, but still a good book. While IAM was an escape story, TMW (at least the first half) is a survival story. If you are intrigued by wilderness survival, then the first half of TMW is going to be right up your alley. If that's not your jive, it may drag a little bit for you - but not too much. There are high stakes, and things switch up at the midpoint.

The second half of the book takes a turn I wasn't expecting, mostly in that it advances the plot further than I thought book 2 would take it, so that was cool. Let's just say that if you're a Catholic, the second half of the book is going to hit home for you far more than it would for a Protestant or non-Christian.

Book 3, "Liberation" is a war story that maintains the human drama despite the ever increasing stakes. While book 1 was straight up dystopian, and book 2 felt the least futuristic (because of the wilderness setting), "Liberation" feels, in many ways, the closest to our society. I felt a weakness in books 1 and 2 was a lack of explaining how the world got to the point of allowing the disabled to be organ harvested. The answers come in book 3, through showing, not telling. While I still hope for further clarification in book 4, I appreciated how book 3 created connections between our own society and the future Europe of the IAM series. (More on that in my spoiler post).

Overall I have been very impressed with how Corinna Turner writes a faith-based story that matches the high quality of any good mainstream author. Many of us devout readers have gotten far to accustomed to lowering the bar for "Christian" fiction quality, but you won't find that problem here. IAM has strong characters, high stakes, challenges the mind and keeps you up well past your bedtime. I highly recommend adding it to your reading list this summer. (And hopefully book 4 will be out soon!)

You can purchase the series either digitally or ink-and-paper at Chesterton Press or Amazon, or request your library or local bookstore to order it for you.



Faith-based Dystopian Fiction and the World of "I Am Margaret"

I couldn't say much about books 2 and 3 of the "I Am Margaret" series without risking spoilers for new readers, so I kept my spoiler free review fairly vague. However I know some of my blog readers have already read the series and are probably interested in my more specific thoughts, so here they are!

My spoiler free review of "I Am Margaret"
My spoiler free review of "Three Most Wanted" and "Liberation"

SPOILERS BELOW PICTURE


It's funny, if I had actually looked at the cover of "Three Most Wanted" before reading "I Am Margaret" I would have figured out right away that Jonathan was safe to make it through the first book. But I didn't, and so there was a moment in IAM when I genuinely thought he was dead. Part of this is Turner's great writing, but another part is because I read "Someday" first and knew that Turner had no qualms about killing off characters when necessary. Thankfully, IAM is pure fiction and unlike "Someday" does not have to kill off characters for accuracy's sake. There are still enough deaths in the series to make the stakes real, but not so much that it is too hard to read.

Well, okay, I almost couldn't get through the part where Bane was kidnapped right after the wedding. I was reading this during breakfast, and my husband left for work right before Bane was kidnapped and oh my goodness. I was an emotional mess. That was difficult.

Except that I wondered if Bane really was going to get killed off so that Johnathan could have a chance with Margaret. I know, how awful of me, right? I have to say, I still feel that the weakest link in the story is that we never saw Bane and Margaret falling in love. I think for me I have trouble with the "childhood friends grow up to become sweethearts" because in my observation, when you grow up with someone, you think of them as sibling/playmates rather than romantic interests. If Bane and Margaret had started off platonic and then fallen in love, I think that would have worked better for me because then at least we would have seen it develop. Since we do actually see Jonathan falling in love with Margaret, I (at least) was more connected with that story.

HOWEVER. Stranger things have happened, and honestly it was vital to the plot structure of "IAM" so I understand why Turner made the choice. The love story is an important motivation for both Margaret and Bane, but their romance is not what the story is about. The story is about the choices we make for faith, and the series handles this brilliantly. I really loved every minute of it.

(Although Turner focuses on the Catholic angle, she makes it clear throughout the story that all religions are persecuted under this mandate. I would be very interested in a collection of short stories about the Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Buddist, etc sufferers in this world.)

Perhaps the coolest part of the story is when the Vatican comes into play, and we get to see all of the different religious orders taking various roles as the plot unfolds. Seeing how the Vatican survived as basically a ghetto state, and then how they escape by holding the historical artwork 'hostage' was a pretty brilliant and believable scheme.

I also really loved that Margaret's female hormones came into play. Having her emotions run wild after getting her implant out was so tremendously realistic, and was woven into the story in a way that made it more real, without it seeming (to me, at least) as though Margaret was in any way reduced to "weak female" because of her hormones. Having her chart her cycle is a detail that some readers might find a little squeamish, but to me, made the story all the more solid.

Another part I really loved was the protests. I felt it worked really well, especially with how big protesting has been in our current day and age. Usually in Dystopian Fiction, the EVIL GOVERNMENT will not hesitate to do whatever necessary to maintain their power. However the world of IAM is dependent on a government that became oppressive slowly, with a gradual limitation of freedoms that creepily mirrors our own world today. While I struggled in book 1 to understand how such horrible things could be allowed, book 3 made it more clear. And because the government insisted they were peaceful and making the best decisions for everyone, they couldn't gun down/arrest all the protesters without alienating ALL the populace. Which also felt tremendously real - and hopeful! So I really liked that touch.

One fact that I found interesting was that no one, not once, suggested that Margaret could not marry Bane because he wasn't a Catholic. In my Protestant circles, marrying anyone who doesn't agree with you on fundamental religious doctrine is a BIG DEAL. I briefly dated a non-Christian and that was a major source of contention both externally (with my family) and internally. When I exited that relationship, I knew that I could never again date and certainly not contemplate marrying someone who did not share my religious beliefs. I am not certain if this aspect of Margaret's story is because of the changed world, a difference in Catholic/Protestant doctrine, or an English vs. American thing. I am quite sure that at least one of my Catholic friends will read this blog post and come up with a good explanation. (Hey friends! *waves* got anything for me?)

I continue to really enjoy Turner's ability to use characters with disabilities as her heroes. I CANNOT wait to see what develops with Bane in book 4. There is so much room for drama and character development!

I also hope that book 4 will continue to explain how the many regulations of the European government came to exist. Specifically I hope for more details on how the organ harvesting developed. At this point in the series I can accept that it did develop, but I still have a hard time imagining how. Was it more violently protested at first? How did so many parents over the years willingly give up their 'imperfect' children? How was the idea first presented to the population, and were 'examples' necessary to get everyone to agree peacefully?

Further, I hope to see more details on what the rest of the world is doing during all of this, find a love interest (or vocation) for Jonathan (although I still believe he might end up dying), find out what happened to Margaret's parents, and see Margaret get pregnant (because that would be so epic). I'd also really like to see what other groups or sections of the underground are run by a) people of other religions or b) non-religious who nontheless believe that everyone has the right to freedom of religion. Of course, as an American I would particularly love to see how America has developed during all this, but that is possibly too complicated to explore as a sidenote.

Most of all I just really hope book 4 comes out soon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Force and Forbidden Romance - Symmetry and Storytelling in Star Wars

Wheeeee long blog post title! First up, I should warn you that if you are one of the very few people who has still not seen "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", you will definitely be spoiled if you read any further. So click away, please.

Secondly, if your first reaction is "EEWW ARE YOU SAYING IN THAT TITLE WHAT I THINK YOU ARE SAYING", no I am NOT talking about incest. Bear with me and keep reading, thank you.

(BTW, I'm going to say Kylo Ren instead of Ben because it's less confusing considering Obi-Wan and all that.)

(Also, I'm not discussing the EU or TV shows in this article. I haven't seen the TV shows, and the EU is a moot point these days)

Before I even saw VII, my plot theory/wish was that they create symmetry in the love stories. I-III is about Anakin turning to the Dark Side because the Jedi have no built in capacity for romantic commitment. Yes, they are building off of real life monastic orders, but there's a big problem - real monks don't have magical powers, they have vocations. In Star Wars, if you are born with force powers, you basically either a) become celibate, b) choose to become evil, or c) go crazy because you have no training to control your powers. That is not to say that celibacy is an easy choice for all religious orders taking vows of chastity, but these religious folks can choose to marry without going crazy or evil!

Force users, at least pre-Empire, don't have this choice. And despite this resulting in the near annihilation of the Jedi, this is not a situation that is addressed in the original trilogy (almost certainly because it hadn't been imagined yet, although there's conflicting stories about what Lucas did and didn't have planned in advance).

Yes, Darth Vader chose, in the end, to reject the Emperor's lies. But we will never know how he would have managed his anger in a post-Emperor world, and I'm pretty sure he would never regret loving Padme - nor should he!

(Even if, personally, I think Obi-Wan and Padme would have made a far better match.)

Luke demonstrates how family commitment can keep a Jedi strong - but there's not yet any evidence how romantic relationships played out for him. That's the story that VIII and IX have to tell - as well as how Rey will be instructed to love - or not love.

And then there is Kylo Ren. His story is the opposite of Anakin's - instead of striving for light, he is striving for dark. Instead of giving into his hate, he ought to give into his love. What the romantic epic side of me is interested in seeing (the side of me that appreciates the high romance of the prequels even as I wince at the poor execution) is for love to redeem Kylo Ren. Not "girl reforms bad boy" type of love, but rather how true love, when encouraged rather than forbidden, is a strength for the light side. For true symmetry, this ought to mean that Rey and Kylo Ren are NOT related*  and that Kylo falls in love with Rey, and desires to seek the light because he sees happiness with her rather than with the power of the dark side.

*although Rey could still be AN IMPORTANT JEDI DESCENDANT if she is Obi-Wan's granddaughter, as theorized by some.

My friend Andy and I were discussing this and he mentioned how, though he agrees this subject should be tackled in the new trilogy, the internet would rage over a Kylo/Rey pairing as it would weaken Rey (unless written very VERY well). I responded that perhaps the ideal solution would be to go "A Tale of Two Cities" with it, and cast Kylo in the Sidney Carton role. We agreed this would hit the high drama of the Star Wars "Space Opera" style, without compromising Rey as a strong female heroine.

Now, on the other hand, this does NOT have to be romantic love. I mean, Rey and Kylo are almost certainly related, so he could love her as a brother or cousin and it could have nearly the same effect. However I do feel that they are setting up Leia to be Kylo's redemption. I'm fine with that, it has a symmetry of it's own, allows Leia to play the role that Luke did in VI and would be a powerful act of love and forgiveness. If this is the story that they go with, I won't be complaining, because it will be beautiful. After all, we don't get Mother Forgiveness as a story arc very often. And if they go this route, I hope they don't wait until they end of IX and kill him off - I'd like to see him have a chance to prove his reformation and fight on the good side.

(You know we'll never be sure how reformed Vader really was, because saving HIS OWN SON is not really enough proof that he's actually going to be totally good and never throw murderous rage fits again. Habits of over 20 years are really hard to break.)

But I still think a Jedi Romance needs to be addressed in VIII or IX. Yes, I'll say it again. The love story was poorly executed and highly criticized in I-III and rightly so. (Which is a shame because with proper execution it could have been really powerful). Due to this criticism, they are unlikely to make romance any kind of major focus for this new trilogy. I understand this reasoning, but to not address the Jedi/romance issue at all would, in my opinion, be a mistake.

With no romance for Rey explicitly set up in VII (yes, Finn has a major crush on her, but IMHO she is not in the least romantically interested in him), there's not much time to set this up in the younger generation. But I'm still going to hope that they at least address the romantic love issue, probably with Luke. Hopefully they give Luke a romance that strengthens his light side force (with his wife likely dying in the massacre and the reason why he basically gave up).

So, those are my thoughts. In a little less than two years we'll get a better idea of what direction they are taking, but we'll still be waiting quite awhile to see how it all plays out. In the meantime we are getting Rogue One, which probably won't touch the Jedi romance issue AT ALL (but you never know.)

Monday, May 9, 2016

OUAT gives "Last Rites" to....

Okay you guys. Major Spoilers coming up, so if you haven't seen OUAT 5.21 "Last Rites" yet, click away NOW!!!



When the whole season is about the god of Death, you take a title like "Last Rites" without too much alarm, especially when the last episode basically had us saying goodbye to Hook forever. I (naively) figured that the title refered to Hook and wasn't too concerned.

Oh boy. Now I'm so mad, I could punch something.

Let's focus on the good, first. Beautiful scenes in this episode - Snow White comforting Emma, Arthur pledging himself to fixing the Underworld, Zelena facing the truth and truly reforming, at the cost of her own heart (not literally, though).

And, of course, Hook moving on. It was a very Kings Cross scene, in fact I expected Zeus to give Hook a choice. When Hook walked on, I truly believed this was it. Over. He was gone. So I felt really cheated at the end when he came back. I know it gave a much needed lift to a very dark ending, and without it there would have been a majorly angry horde of fangirls...

... but it weakened the episode. Yes, in the end, I will be glad that Hook came back. Emma has lost too much, and for much of the audience we desperately need her to have her true love with her, besides her, and see her forging and building her life with him. The show would get really depressing without this. After killing so many of her other love interests, they needed to have one stay. I just wish they could have done it in a way that didn't seem so blatantly "haha gotcha!"

Because in the end it turns around into a gigantic slap in the face for Regina. She also has lost too much love, over and over, and Robin (for now) appears not only dead, but gone from existence. It's a far crueler death than Hook's, and to have Hook reappear RIGHT after putting Robin in the grave will no doubt be tremendously difficult for Regina to cope with. The question is, will Regina accept it with her hard-won maturity, or will it once again drive a wedge between her and Emma? Regina has Zelena squarely on her side, so this could cause problems.

Or not. Our heroes are going to have to unite again soon, because Rumple has his own mysterious plan, and we can be certain that he is up to no good.

I'm fine with that. Rumple is the best villain, after all. He's past redeeming himself with Belle - not past redemption, I don't believe that - but I do believe that Belle should not go back to him, not when he has betrayed, lied, and emotionally abused her over and over. She needs to keep herself and the baby far away from him.

What I'm not fine with is killing Robin Hood. Even if he wasn't my favorite hero from childhood, he is still the father of two small children, and I really love the romance with him and Regina - but beyond that, his character has gotten very short shrift this season. This episode was the only episode that really give him much to do - and of course, he died! So we care about him because of past seasons, but not because of recent ones. So I have to wonder - was he getting too hard for the show to juggle? Did they kill him off to make their lives easier and create more drama for Regina? Or do they have plans to bring him back, and is that going to be Regina's next big character arc? Who knows?

Of course, the difference between fairy tales and mythology/ballad stories is that the later usually end with the hero dying. King Arthur. Numerous Greek heroes. And, of course, Robin Hood. We who were raised on Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner and talking foxes forget this - but all of the old legends end with Robin's death, upon being betrayed. It's an ending I really hate, because it's so poisonous and he is neither in old age, nor surrounded by his children. It's an awful way to go - but it's an outlaw's way to go. So if OUAT were to end his story here (which I don't think they will, but who knows), they would be staying truer to his origins than most adaptations.

Still doesn't mean I like it. In fact, I cried, particularity when Roland came up with his rose arrow. That was awful.

But at least now we know why they didn't name Robin's daughter. They knew what her name was, but they couldn't give it to her until they gave us the reason. UGH UGH UGH. (Yes, the moment he died I went 'oh. So that's what they'll name his daughter.')

Friday, May 6, 2016

"I am Margaret" by Corinna Turner

You guys know that I'm interested in any project Regina Doman is associated with. However, despite the good reviews I was hearing, I didn't pick up "I am Margaret" right away. Frankly, this past year has been really difficult for me and I wasn't in the mood for anything proclaimed to be another Hunger Games.

Then I was asked to assist with British idioms in the US version of Corinna Turner's novella "Someday", and I was absolutely captivated by it. Although it was an extremely difficult read, I knew I wanted to read anything else Turner had written. Regina had sent me a review copy of "I am Margaret" awhile ago, and I immediately bumped it up my reading list.

I wasn't disappointed - although I was glad I waited for my health issues to settle down.

"I am Margaret" is the story of a young woman in a future society with extreme population and belief control. Yes, yes, I know, "another dystopian novel starring a heroine?" That's what I thought too. But bear with me - this book is worth trying.

There are a lot of books that put a "Religious" spin on whatever genre is in vogue (although I haven't seen the paranormal romance genre tackled in Christian Lit). It would be easy to label this as a "Catholic Hunger Games" but this would be unfair to both books. Apart from 'dystopian' and 'teenaged heroine fighting the powers that be' the books are quite different. Margaret is not Katniss (I think she's more likeable), and the system is different for more reasons than just being British.

(Oh yes, it's set in England. You know I like that. For some reason when I first heard about the book I thought it was in Germany, which was part of why I wasn't interested. I have no idea why I thought that.)

Anyhow, the plot goes like this. At age 18, young people have to pass a bunch of tests, and anyone who doesn't pass is deemed not worthy of life (this includes anyone with deformities and handicaps of any kind). They are sent off to a center where they are held until there is need of their organs, which are then harvested. The rarer your tissue sample, the longer your chances are of living.

Margaret fails her sorting because of her mathematical dyslexia - otherwise her brain and body are in great condition, which quickly elevates her to a motherly role among a group of girls that consists large of the mentally handicapped. However, she's hiding a secret - she is a Catholic, and her parents work on the religious underground. Should she be discovered, she will be forced to either recant her faith - or be consciously dismantled.

Content warning, folks. Margaret is 18, and unless you're a pretty tough 16-year-old, I'd recommend this book to the adult crowd. Conscious dismantling is not a dismantaling of your consciousness (as I originally had inferred). Rather it is a dismantling of all the organs of your body while you are fully conscious.

And yes, this is described in detail in the book. It is not for the faint of heart.

However, despite this very dark undercurrent, the book is not nearly as dark as "Someday" and I can much more eagerly and heartily recommend it. There are parts that are difficult to read, but there is also sweetness and hope. Margaret is engaged to a lovely young man named Bane, and he passes his sorting. Ordinarily this would mean that he would never see Margaret again, but being imaginative and deeply in love, he swears that he will rescue Margaret.

Margaret is no frail damsel (although she's quite feminine and has a trademark fashion of wearing long skirts), and she masterminds the escape - but also insists that she will only leave if they can rescue all 70 of her fellow inmates.

One aspect of the series that was both greatly enjoyable and deeply personal to me was the presence of the disabled in the cast. (mild spoiler alert) Indeed, the very first person to be organ harvested is a hearing-impaired girl. This was pretty harsh for me to read, as (being deaf myself) I of course immediately put myself in her shoes. Wow.

Turner works with the disabled when she's not busy writing compelling novels, and you can see her knowledge and compassion throughout the story. One of the main characters is blind, and (as always) I was pretty excited to see a handicapped person starring in an action novel. I was very pleased with his role in the book and it's inspiring me to contemplate how I could write handicapped characters into my own novels.

At the moment, I'm anxiously awaiting my copy of book 2, "Three Most Wanted", which I will definitely be reviewing!(I stayed up past 1:00 in the morning reading book 1 - and I was already sleep deprived at the time, so I anticipate more late nights in the near future!

Book 4 is not yet out, but the first three books can all be purchased from Chesterton Press in multiple formats.